A key figure of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge occupation is scheduled to plead guilty on July 19 to federal charges related to the occupation.
Ryan Payne, a military veteran and electrician from Montana, also faces federal charges in Nevada related to the April 2014 standoff at Cliven Bundy’s ranch with the Bureau of Land Management.
Federal public defender Lisa Hay confirmed Payne’s intent to plead guilty. She said details of his plea agreement would be released after his July 19 hearing. He’s charged with conspiring to impede federal officials from doing their jobs at the refuge and weapons possession at a federal facility.
In January, Payne told OPB that ranchers Dwight and Steven Hammond needed to be defended from the federal government.
“The Hammonds are being brutally oppressed,” he said.
The Hammonds were sentenced to prison in accordance with federal anti-terrorism laws for arson on federal land.
But Payne’s role in taking over the refuge was not his first visit to Harney County.
In December 2015, Payne traveled to the rural Oregon county with Ammon Bundy to try and establish a so-called “committee of safety.”
Speaking to a gathering of Harney County residents, Payne pointed to Colonial Era committees of safety as an extrajudicial model for dealing with “corrupt” governments.
“In western Massachusetts, committees of safety sent armed militia to force the resignation of judges appointed under the Massachusetts Government Act of 1774,” Payne said.
“So, the committees of safety sent the armed militia,” he emphasized, saying that militias should be accountable to citizens.
The Nevada indictment charging Payne and others for their 2014 standoff with the BLM describes the Montana resident as affiliated with a group called Operation Mutual Aid.
“OMA purported to be ‘a coalition of states militias, patriotic civilians, individual freedom fighters, and media relations personnel from patriotic political activism groups,’” Nevada prosecutors wrote.
The prosecutors accuse Payne of recruiting gunmen who came to Cliven Bundy’s defense in 2014. They also allege he “led the armed assault on federal officers” at the site where BLM workers had impounded Bundy’s cattle because of overdue grazing fees.
A trial in the wildlife occupation case is scheduled to begin Sept. 7.