When American citizens engage in armed battles with either each other or the federal government, the potential for bloodshed is enormous. From the early 2016 militia standoff at a wildlife range in Oregon all the way back to the earliest days of the United States, people who fought the government took on everyone from corrupt local politicians to heavy-handed law enforcement. Sometimes, they just shot at people they were beefing with.
As a result, open rebellions have taken place over a dozen times, with federal officers often firing on anti-federalist Americans - who have no qualms about shooting back. The US Constitution itself was spurred by incidents where citizens took arms against the nascent US, and anti-federalism is alive and well in 2016. Sometimes, government standoffs end with everyone just packing up and leaving. Others, they end in violence and tragedy.Here are the times that anti-government violence threatened to explode in civil war - including one time when it actually did.
In early January 2016, renegade rancher Cliven Bundy's sons led a group of armed militia members in storming a federal wildlife refuge in rural Oregon. Outraged over a prison sentence handed down to a local rancher and his son for setting fires on federal land (one allegedly was to cover up a deer poaching and the other an accidental spread of a backfire), the group took control of the Malheur Wildlife Refuge and issued demands.
What the militias chiefly wanted was the release of the two ranchers, Dwight and Steve Hammond, and the ceding of the wildlife refuge to local control, so it can be used as a home base for patriots to flock to.The standoff went on for weeks with no police intervention, until Ammon Bundy and several others were arrested while they were on their way to a Senior Center to set up a mock trial against local officials. One militia member, LaVoy Finicum, was shot and killed after witnesses said he charged FBI officials while armed. In February, FBI agents moved in on the last four holdouts, attempting to negotiate a peaceful surrender.
A dispute between Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) over arcane grazing rules had dragged on for over 20 years, when it finally threatened to break into armed insurrection. Bundy had failed to renew his permit for grazing on BLM-managed land, and had racked up over $1 million in fines and fees, all to a federal government Bundy didn't recognize as having any authority.
A federal judge ordered Bundy's cattle, which were still grazing on BLM land, be seized in 2013. Bundy responded with a call for armed patriots to intercede, and a standoff between far-right sovereign citizen militias and armed federal agents began. Bundy didn't help his cause when he made flagrantly racist comments during a press conference, and demanded federal agents disarm and sent him their weapon.The showdown lasted over a month before finally being defused without violence, with the cattle being returned to Bundy and the militias going home. The legal dispute goes on, with Bundy continuing to rack up fines. Bundy was finally arrested on February 10, 2016, after flying to Oregon to "assist" in neogitations with militants at the Malheur Wildlife Refuge.
A Clinton-era standoff between anti-government separatists and federal authorities took place in 1996, when Christian patriot group the Montana Freemen were served with arrest warrants for fraud. The Freemen held their "Justus Township" was outside the scope of federal law, and that they were sovereign citizens. The government accused them of writing millions of dollars in bad checks, and had arrest warrants drawn up for the group's leaders.When FBI agents arrived at the farm that encompassed "Justus Township," the Freemen pulled guns, and the FBI, stung by the overreactions at Ruby Ridge and Waco, backed off. 80 days of negotiations followed, until the Freemen finally gave themselves up. A number of Freemen leaders were given long prison terms.
In February 1993, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) agents arrived at the compound of the Branch Davidian cult, led by self-proclaimed messiah and accused child rapist David Koresh. The far-right doomsday cult, which was already in the public eye for Koresh's alleged polygamy, statutory rape, and collection of guns, was thought to have a large stockpile of illegal assault weapons.
When ATF agents arrived at the Waco compound to serve a search warrant, gunfire broke out, with nobody knowing who fired the first shot. The ensuing battle was vicious, with four ATF agents and six Davidians shot dead. The compound was besieged for over 50 days, with the FBI finally leading a raid to breach it. Another gun battle broke out, and this time the compound caught fire - and again, the culprit is unknown.76 Davidians died, including Koresh, and it's likely that most of the victims were shot, stabbed, or poisoned by other other Davidians. The FBI was harshly criticized for its conduct during the raid, and the incident was used by the Oklahoma City bombers as fodder for their attack.