A new suspect in the Oregon wildlife refuge occupation remains at large, and some anti-government activists in the west are hinting that the federal charges could lead to another standoff – this time in Montana.
The conflict brewing in rural Sanders County in northwestern Montana centers on the federal indictment of Jake Ryan, 27, who is accused of conspiring against the government and damaging a sacred Native American site during the standoff at the Malheur national wildlife refuge.
Ryan is the 26th person to face charges in the Oregon militia dispute, which began 2 January in rural Harney County as a protest against federal land-use regulations and continued for 41 days until the final occupiers surrendered to the FBI.
Ryan’s parents now say they are weighing their options to try and prevent the arrest, while online, activists connected to the Oregon standoff are calling on supporters to prepare to back them in some kind of standoff.
When federal prosecutors filed a slew of fresh charges against the jailed protesters this month, officials also added a new defendant to the case, but redacted his name while he remained at large. A judge on Monday revealed that Ryan is the new suspect and unsealed the indictment after the suspect’s family learned of a federal arrest warrant.
Ryan is accused of conspiracy to impede US officers, possessions of firearms and dangerous weapons in federal facilities and depredation of government property. If convicted of all three felony charges, he could face more than 20 years in prison.
Ryan and Sean Anderson, another Oregon protester, excavated lands on an archaeological site considered sacred to the Burns Paiute tribe, the local Native American group, according to the indictment.
Reached by phone Monday night at his home in Plains, Montana, Jake’s father Dan Ryan said, “We’ve got stuff going on here that is in progress … We’re still considering what options there are.”
A federal official served a warrant to the family, according to Dan Ryan, who said he has had intermittent contact with his son and does not know where he is. He said he believed his son was present at the Oregon occupation for about two weeks.
“It’s something that we’ve never gone through before,” he said. “It’s pretty difficult.”
Jake’s mother, Roxsanna Ryan, added: “At this point, we’re trying to work with local people.”
Gavin Seim, an activist who gained fame when he live streamed the final day of the Oregon standoff, recently posted an “action alert” on Facebook, calling on people to support the Ryan family, saying, “We need to help this community stand up.”
Jeanette Finicum, widow of Oregon protester LaVoy Finicum, who was killed by police in January, also posted support for Jake Ryan on Facebook, saying he is “guilty of nothing”, and adding that the “[Ryan] family has said that they have decided ‘the arrests stop here’”.
A separate Facebook page of Finicum supporters said the Ryan family needed “support from American Patriots across the USA”, and the family of jailed Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, who has been a leader in the land-use rights movement, has also called on their supporters to back the Montana family.
Activists are demanding that the local Sanders County sheriff, Tom Rummel, stand up against the FBI and protect Jake Ryan from arrest.
In a press release Monday, Rummel expressed sympathy for the suspect, writing: “From the start of this, it has been my intention to make sure that Jake Ryan’s safety and rights are provided for, and I will continue to do just that … At this point in time, I have no evidence to suggest that Jake Ryan is in this county. At this time, I believe a peaceful resolution is being achieved and outside citizen involvement will not be needed.”
Shawna Cox, one of the Oregon standoff defendants who returned home on house arrest while awaiting trial, said she spoke with the Ryan family, writing on Facebook, “If you would like to help please be on stand by.”
Reached by phone Tuesday morning, Cox said she was hopeful the sheriff would ensure that Jake Ryan avoids arrest and prosecution.
“It sounded to me like the sheriff was supporting defending the county from the feds coming in,” said Cox, who recently filed a counter lawsuit against the federal government. “The constitution says you protect the people. I’m in favor of them standing up for the constitution.”
The Oregon protesters have long argued that local county sheriffs have more authority than the federal government.
Rummel, who did not respond to a request for comment, said in his statement that he has received hundreds of emails and phone calls about Jake Ryan.
An FBI spokeswoman in Portland, Oregon confirmed that both Jake Ryan and Travis Cox, another Oregon suspect named in the recent federal indictment, have not been apprehended.