As armed militants descended upon Bundy Ranch in Nevada to support a rancher during his standoff with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in 2014, undercover FBI agents posed as documentary filmmakers to collect statements from the militia.
Appearing at the trial of six of the men in federal court on March 22, FBI Special Agent Charles Johnson testified about the operation and the fake film company they called “Longbow Productions.” The agents had claimed to be making a film about the battle titled “America Reloaded” to gain access to the Bunkerville ranch, and videotaped interviews with several of the defendants. The interviews were played for the jury.
“What I was looking for was just a show of support … it seems as if when there are armed people around a situation, then the authorities have to be a little more civil, have to treat you like a person,” Scott Drexler, one of the defendants, said in his video statement. “If nobody is facing any kind of consequences for their actions, they can just do whatever they want.”
When asked about the demonstrators’ motives, Drexler responded that “basically the objective that I think there was was just a show of force.”
“We had the cowboys and Cliven all down below us, and BLM on the other side of the gate,” Drexler said on the footage. He said, according to a report from the Review Journal, that when BLM “started moving to the gate with weapons and full combat gear, it started to get a little bit tense.”
Dozens of militia members had flooded into the area to stand with rancher Cliven Bundy, who claimed that the BLM was plotting to impound his 400 cattle after he refused to pay the taxes and fees associated with allowing his cattle to graze on federal land.
For many years, Bundy refused to recognize BLM authority on the territory. The rancher has accumulated over $1 million in grazing fees, which remain unpaid.
Ultimately, 19 people were charged for their roles in the standoff on April 12, 2014.
“I believe that the FBI was pretending to be members of the news media in order to have lengthy conversations with Ammon and others,” Attorney Dan Hill, who is defending Ammon Bundy, told the Review Journal last year. “Ammon has nothing to hide, but I still find it troublesome that the FBI would sink to that tactic.”
Following the standoff at the ranch, two of Bundy’s sons, Ammon and Ryan Bundy, led an armed occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon over another dispute between a rancher and the BLM.
The militiamen were protesting the prosecution of Oregon ranchers Dwight Hammond Jr. and Steven Hammond, who were sent back to prison for an arson on federal land. The duo had previously served their sentence for the crime, but the state ruled that they were unlawfully sentenced below the mandatory minimum and had to go back.
The armed takeover of the wildlife refuge lasted 41 days. One militant, LaVoy Finicum, was killed by police and 26 people were arrested.