In 2016, Idaho rancher Ammon Bundy and a group of armed militants occupied a federal building at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Harney County, Oregon. They occupied the building for more than a month before being arrested.
The Bundys said they were occupying the land as a way to fight for two Oregon ranchers, a father and a son, who were being sent to federal prison for committing arson on public lands. Ammon Bundy railed against what he called "federal overreach." (The Bundys and most of their followers were acquitted of major criminal charges in a federal trial.)
There's no shortage of reporting on the right-wing movements that coalesced in the Oregon desert that winter. But a new report by the private investigative group the Rampart Group gives new details about the dramatic and frightening lead-up to the occupation, which shows pre-meditated and consistent efforts to intimidate, harass and threaten local law enforcement and local residents by Bundy and his crew.
Perhaps the biggest allegation is that Washington state Rep. Matt Shea (R-Spokane Valley) "planned, engaged in and promoted a total of three armed conflicts of political violence against the U.S Government" by helping to plan the 2016 takeover as well as aiding in two other out-of-state armed insurrections in prior years.
Shea formed the far-right group called the Coalition of Western States, or COWS, in 2015.
The investigation was commissioned by the Washington State House of Representatives specifically to look into Shea's involvement.
The report contains emails sent from Shea to a group of militants instructing them how to proceed with the takeover and giving them an operations manual. It also documents four phone meetings held between Shea and Bundy prior to the takeover.
In a statement issued by Republican House Leader J.T Wilcox, Shea has been suspended from the caucus and from his committees.
"Shea was given an opportunity to communicate with investigators and chose not to," Wilcox wrote. "Allegations this serious, many supported by his own communications and associates, justify this immediate action."
Shea responded to the report in a Facebook post.
"Like we are seeing with our President this is a sham investigation meant to silence those of us who stand up against attempts to disarm and destroy our great country," Shea wrote. "I will not back down, I will not give in, I will not resign."
The report shows that Bundy and his co-conspirators caused severe disturbance and fear throughout the county in the two months leading up to the occupancy, undermining basic county functions like the emergency line and taking over local gathering places, like coffee shops in Burns, Ore., to spread the group's beliefs.
An interview with Harney County Sheriff Dave Ward details the extent of the harassment leading up to the occupation in January. In November, Ammon Bundy and his co-conspirators took severe measures to intimidate and threaten Ward into stopping the Hammonds from returning to federal prison for arson charges on public land.
One of the more bizarre methods, according to Ward, was in mid-November when the sheriff's office was flooded with calls that overwhelmed the 911 line so actual emergency calls couldn't be taken.
According to the report, the calls involved "profanity, name calling, threats of violence and the accusations that the Sheriff was failing to uphold his oath of office."
Two days later, the report says Bundy showed up the Ward's office, armed and accompanied by 6 other armed men, and threatened to "deploy" militia in Harney County if Ward didn't act in defense of the Hammonds.
From there, the report says, Ward and his family were the target of social media threats and harassment.
What followed in the report is a description of aggressive propaganda efforts to coerce Harney County residents into supporting the takeover. According to the report, Bundy and his cohorts "showed up at local churches to get support and handed out flyers at grocery stores."