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Militias emboldened by acquittal of Bundys in Oregon standoff

The armed occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge brought out supporters and opponents to the occupation. (KATU File Photo)

REDMOND, Ore. — Inside a brick building at the Redmond Senior Center BJ Soper recently held a constitutional crash course.

“Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Well, that is the core concept of government,” he told the crowd of nearly two dozen.

Soper is an Oregon co-founder of the Pacific Patriots Network.

“It was our job to keep the elected in check, and we failed at and we realize that, we recognize that, and that is part of our education process to show the rest of the public that it’s our job to keep the government in check,” he said.

Soper played a prominent role in organizing protests against the FBI and county leaders during the occupation at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge earlier this year.

He repeatedly called on militia members to travel to Oregon.

“The last thing we wanted to see was another Waco, Texas or another Ruby Ridge, and so we said, we’re going to stand in the middle and hold you guys in check up on the refuge and try to hold the government in check so we don’t have another gunfight at that point,” Soper said.

The PPN was formed in 2012, following a land-use standoff between miners and the Bureau of Land Management in southern Oregon. A few years ago, there were just a handful of members. Now there’s thousands. Soper believes more will join following the jury’s recent acquittal of the Bundy brothers and others involved in the wildlife refuge standoff.

“It definitely emboldens the movement,” he said. “It lets people know that what took place out there, whether they believed in the course of action or not, it wasn’t a dangerous action, it was a protest.

Jennifer Applegate, an eastern Oregon mother, is one of those new participants.

“I don’t feel like it’s extreme at all. I feel like it’s fiercely overdue,” she told KATU.

Applegate feels the government is overstepping its boundaries and views the PPN as a platform where she is heard among like-minded people.

“And if my kids can see that I care, then I’ve done my job,” she said.

However, Ryan Lenz, editor for Hatewatch, a blog that’s part of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s intelligence project, tracks militia groups like the PPN and Three-Percenters.

“The verdict in Oregon – while we can’t really quibble with the will of the jury – is ultimately a disaster for any efforts to quell this rising movement of anti-government extremism,” he told KATU via video conference.

Lenz estimates there are hundreds of anti-government militias, many of them constitutionalists.

“It’s a document that they use to justify threats and the promise of violence should the federal government operate outside of their own interpretation of it,” he said.

Without legal consequence, Lenz fears more standoffs are possible.

“What happened at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge was nothing short of domestic terrorism,” he said.

Soper strongly refutes Lenz's claim. He says the PPN is not an anti-government group.

"Do we need the Bureau of Land Management? Absolutely," he said. "Otherwise, we have people running all over the land destroying it. There's a fine balance, so we need to find it."

Soper believes the militia represents all Americans.

"I'm an everyday person, and I just believe in taking care of my country and my family. Being called militia or militant, that doesn't fit my lifestyle," he told KATU. "Government starts right here at home. it starts right here in the areas that we live, so it's really important to get people active in that process."

Soper says PPN members we're not part of taking over the refuge; rather, he said they were merely there to act as the middleman and protect the occupiers’ rights to assemble.

"We're there to defend the people if it's needed," he said. "If somebody's in trouble and they feel like they need our assistance, we will look into it form all angles, from both sides of the story. If we feel like their rights are being violated, we are going to assist them in any way possible."

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