Freedom Fighter 

When rancher Cliven Bundy engaged in a standoff with the BLM, a Montana man initiated a call to action to militia across the country. He considers it just the first battle in a war to reclaim America.

On April 7, Ryan Payne, a 30-year-old Iraq War veteran, packed his '93 Jeep Cherokee with two sleeping bags, two cots, the rucksack he'd more or less lived out of during his five years in the military and a Rock River Arms Operator LAR-15. He was on his way to the southern Nevada desert to defend the oppressed from the tyrannical force of the federal government, and he knew he might have to fight.

Payne was leaving his family and his home south of Anaconda to support Cliven Bundy, an elderly Nevada rancher engaged in a tense conflict with the Bureau of Land Management, which was rounding up cattle Bundy had been illegally grazing on federal land for some 20 years. When the roundup started on April 5, Payne followed the action from afar. He saw images that seemed to show BLM snipers aiming guns at the Bundy family to prevent them from interfering in the impounding process. He read online that Bundy's son Davey was arrested on April 6 for "refusing to disperse" while protesting the agency's actions. He read that BLM agents had allegedly roughed up Davey Bundy while he was in their custody.

Ryan Payne watched what was happening, and he saw a striking example of what he observed more and more throughout the country: the U.S. government acting far outside its constitutional authority to control and confine the American people. As he watched, Payne felt not merely compelled but obliged to respond, to uphold the oath he'd taken at 17 when he joined the U.S. Army: "I, Ryan Payne, do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic...." He'd fought foreign enemies before. Now, he believed, the enemy was domestic.

So on April 6, Payne called Cliven Bundy and offered his help.

"I told him what OMA was," Payne says, "and that, if he requested assistance, I would be calling in militia from all over the country and individuals to come, armed, to protect his family and his community from whoever it was that was trying to harm them."

OMA is Operation Mutual Aid, a loose coalition of militias and sympathetic individuals from across the United States. Payne started the organization in 2013 with Pennsylvania resident Jerry Bruckhart. They designed OMA as a mechanism for using the power of the nation's hundreds of disparate militias to defend all oppressed Americans. If anyone made a request for OMA's aid, the organization would alert its members, who would, if they desired, act together to defend that individual's rights. No such request had ever come, so OMA started to solicit them. Cliven Bundy was the first to accept OMA's offer of support.

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When he did, Payne and Bruckhart spread the word online and over the phone. Jim Lardy, who lives in Philipsburg and belongs to the West Mountain Rangers, a local militia Payne founded in 2012, immediately said he wanted to go, too. Payne agreed to give Lardy a ride.

After he'd packed his Jeep, Payne said goodbye to his wife, their two young children and his grandparents, who live with them. Not wanting to leave his family without a means of defense, he left behind his FN FAL, an assault rifle used by so many NATO militaries during the Cold War that it got the nickname "the Right Arm of the Free World." Then Payne and Lardy drove to Nevada through the night.




"It started when ... I saw that movie Sniper," Payne says, "and I go, 'I want to be a sniper.'"

After finishing high school in Southern California, Payne went to a Military Entrance Processing Station in 2001 to act on that desire. He went to join the Marines first, but the Marines recruiter couldn't guarantee that he would end up becoming a sniper.

"So, I went over to talk to the Army people," Payne says, "and they said, 'Well, we can give you a Ranger contract and, most likely, if you go into that type of unit then you'll get to go to school and be a sniper.'"

He ended up becoming not quite a sniper and not quite a Ranger, though he has claimed in online forums and elsewhere that he was. In fact, he served in the 18th Airborne Corps' Long Range Surveillance Company. He learned sniper techniques such as stalking and concealment, and he foresaw a long career in military intelligence. "[A]t that point I devoted my life to the cause of liberty and freedom and the pursuit of it for the rest of my life," he says. His goal was to become an agent for the CIA or a non-official cover. "I believed that that would be the pinnacle of patriotism."

When the United States invaded Iraq in 2003, Payne was part of the initial push as a member of a six-man team that moved far behind enemy lines and far from friendly support. They moved only at night, under the cover of darkness. It was dangerous and difficult work, but Payne excelled. He rose to the rank of sergeant and became an assistant team leader of his LRS unit. According to Ben Fisher, who served with Payne during two tours in Iraq, "Everyone that worked with his group and his team, they had good things to say about him."

Then, one night in 2005, Payne's military experience took a turn while his team was pursuing an unspecified intelligence target south of the Sinjar Mountains and west of the city of Tal Afar, in a flat landscape of unfamiliar wheat fields. They'd been informed ahead of time, Payne says, that the estimated strength of the enemy was 77. His six-man team would be outmatched, but that wasn't supposed to matter. Their mission was to avoid detection—and if they were identified and attacked, a plan was in place for AH-64 Apaches and other air support to come rapidly to the team's aid.

But things didn't go as planned. First, the target wasn't where they thought it would be. "So we kept moving closer and closer," Payne says. His team came to a Bedouin encampment and dogs there began to bark. "Eventually, the dogs compromised us and people came out of their tents and started shooting, and it went silly," he says.

Payne says his team suddenly faced 26 combatants. As the situation worsened, Payne's team tried to call in the air support that had been arranged—but it didn't come.

"For some reason, the rear, who was our ops center, was canceling all of our requests for gun runs," Payne says. "You know, we're staring at 26 guys in front of us that are shooting at us and stuff, and we're requesting strafing runs—denied, denied." The air support never came, and Payne says his team was in "a very bad spot for very many hours, fighting for our lives."

All six men survived, but Payne was furious. "I lost it, man," he says.

At a debriefing afterward, Payne went off on those who he felt had failed him.

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  • photo by Cathrine L. Walters
  • Ryan Payne keeps a notebook that includes hand-written mission statements, editorials and ideas pertaining to his work with Operation Mutual Aid, the West Mountain Rangers and the U.S. militia movement at large.

"I'm cussing these guys out," he says. "They are officers—captains and things—and I am a sergeant. And, you know, 'Why did it go this way?' And, 'The reason it went this way is because you didn't your job. And people almost died because of it.'"

In the aftermath of the botched mission, Payne became convinced the lack of support wasn't a matter of negligence but of a deliberate decision. "We all came back," he says. "I don't think that was the plan."

Though he won't speculate about what his superiors' plan might have been, his experience that night catalyzed a change in Payne. He became suspicious of the military and came to question its intentions.

"I discovered that I was working for the wrong team if I were in the pursuit of liberty and freedom," he says, "because we're the great oppressors of the world right now, unfortunately. We're the ones who are pushing oppression upon a lot of the world. And I have found that out, especially once I got out and I can look in and I can see what we're doing. It just isn't right."




Payne and Lardy arrived at the Bundy ranch early on April 8. They were among the first supporters to show up. The Bundys were impressed that Payne had delivered on his commitment to come from so far away and were relieved to see help arrive. The BLM, fearful for the safety of its own agents, had brought in armed law enforcement for protection and was using helicopters to assist with the roundup.

"We're just a little farm family down here," says Ryan Bundy, who is one of Cliven Bundy's sons and who lives and works on the family's ranch, in an interview with the Indy. "We have a few hunting rifles and so forth, but we don't have military training, we don't have military equipment, we don't even have a decent shotgun that works right. And so, what are we gonna do against the might and force of the federal government and their paramilitary agents? So, when Ryan Payne shows up and the militia starts showing up, we can finally have a sigh of relief, a ray of hope that we have a little bit of defense."

The Bundy family's conflict with the federal government had been brewing for 20 years. It began in 1993, when the BLM eliminated some grazing privileges of Bundy and other local ranchers in order to protect the threatened desert tortoise. Cliven Bundy refused to obey, calling the action a "land grab" and letting his cattle graze on the now protected area. He was fined repeatedly for doing so but steadfastly refused to pay. Bundy wasn't the only rancher to clash with the BLM, but he was notable for his persistent defiance and his threats to resist enforcement, should it ever be attempted.

In April, in response to a federal court order, the BLM finally acted to stop Bundy's illegal grazing. The agency shut down 322,000 acres of public land and began rounding up his "trespass cattle," which would be auctioned off unless Bundy paid his fees. By the time Payne arrived on the ranch, cowboys working for the BLM had gathered around 100 head of Bundy cattle.

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  • photo by Cathrine L. Walters
  • Payne lives with his wife, their two children and his grandparents in a cabin south of Anaconda. The house is located up a steep dirt road and off the grid.

Bundy wanted them back, and Payne outlined a plan for retrieving them. The plan would require a strong response to OMA's call for militia support. Payne was confident it would come.

"We sat down and we discussed three objectives for the militia effort there," Payne says. "And I presented these objectives to him, and he agreed that they were good. He liked them. The first objective was the safety and security of all people involved—the Bundy family, the supporters and all of the law enforcement and pseudo law enforcement that was involved. ... The second objective was to reopen all public lands that had been shut down by the BLM. They had their signs up everywhere. You heard about the First Amendment Zones [designated protest areas], I'm sure. What a ridiculous notion that is. ... And the third one was the return of all stolen cattle and infrastructure."

As they waited for more supporters to arrive, tensions built. On April 9, they erupted. That Wednesday, members of Bundy's family and a small contingent of supporters clashed with BLM agents outside the ranch. Smartphones and cameras recorded as armed BLM agents pushed a woman to the ground, allegedly threatened a pregnant woman with a police dog and tasered Cliven's son Ammon Bundy.

The footage went viral. Then mainstream news outlets began to cover the rising tensions, some casting Bundy as a brave and righteous rebel fighting the brutal and impersonal government machine. Meanwhile, OMA's call for support spread in message boards and elsewhere online. Militia members, Patriots and other sympathizers from around the country responded, flocking to the ranch with weapons and supplies, forming encampments and preparing for a bigger confrontation with the BLM.

As people came, Payne emerged—reluctantly, he says—as the militia's de facto leader.

"I'm an advisor and coordinator for OMA," Payne says, "and I was Mr. Bundy's militia liaison. He would tell me what he had planned, and then I would advise him as to what the militia could accomplish in support of that."

He organized the militia into units and pursued the objectives he and Bundy had agreed upon. As he set about planning a strategy for accomplishing those goals, Payne drew heavily on his Army experience.

"It's all in the Ranger handbook," he says. "The Ranger handbook is like the quintessential fighting man's story. You know, how to do this—everything to be a fighting guy. And having served in that type of unit, that was my Bible. I carried it around on me everywhere I went."




Twenty years ago, when Ryan Payne was 10 and living in Southern California, the American militia movement was emerging just 240 miles northwest of Anaconda, in the town of Noxon.

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  • photo by Cathrine L. Walters

"Beginning on February 15, 1994, the organizers of the Militia of Montana—John, David, and Randy Trochmann—used gun control as fuel to launch America's first active militia group," writes Kenneth S. Stern in A Force Upon the Plain: The American Militia Movement and the Politics of Hate.

The Trochmanns, Stern continues, effectively argued "that gun control is not really to control guns, but for 'people control' by an evil government." The message resonated in Montana. Crowds came to hear the Trochmanns speak about foreign control of the federal government, the "banking elite" that controlled the world economy, the need for a return to constitutional principles, and the American citizen's right and duty to stop the tyranny of the federal government by organizing into armed militias. The Militia of Montana added members, and similar groups emerged in other states.

As the militia movement grew in the mid-1990s, federal ownership and regulation of public land became another prominent source of anti-government anger, especially in Western states, where substantial amounts of land are federally owned. "As with gun control," Stern writes, "the issues around land use were made for militia. Not only did they involve strongly felt concerns, but also the question of who was 'in control' was meat and drink to conspiracy theorists." Environmental laws, the U.S. Forest Service and the BLM all became sources of suspicion and conflict.

The rapid growth of the American militia movement culminated on April 19, 1995, when Timothy McVeigh, a veteran from Michigan, detonated a truck bomb outside the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. The explosion collapsed the building and killed 168 people.

All of the movement's theorizing, organizing and threats had led to a horrific act of terrorism. Though the bombing inspired many extremists and instigated a brief surge in militia growth, it also created polarization within the movement and marginalized militias from mainstream American political culture. According to data complied by the Southern Poverty Law Center, a nonprofit organization that promotes civil rights, combats hate groups and monitors militias, the number of Patriot groups in the United States peaked in 1996, when 858 militia and other extremist groups existed. That number dipped to 149 in 2008.

The election of Barack Obama, however, triggered a resurgence in militia activity and sympathy. SPLC counted 512 Patriot groups in 2009, 1,018 in 2011 and 939 in 2013. In a recent article for The New Yorker, Nadya Labi wrote, "The times are conducive to extremist anger: there is a black President, a sputtering economy, a disappearing white majority, and recurring talk of stricter gun laws." Another important factor in the revival of Patriot groups is the growing population—and disaffection—of veterans who served in the War on Terror.

In 2009, the Department of Homeland Security's Office of Intelligence and Analysis produced an assessment titled "Rightwing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment." While the report was never officially released due to objections from politicians about the focus on domestic rather than foreign threats from radicals, it was leaked. The report warned that "rightwing extremists will attempt to recruit and radicalize returning veterans in order to exploit their skills and knowledge derived from military training and combat. ... The willingness of a small percentage of military personnel to join extremist groups during the 1990s because they were disgruntled, disillusioned or suffering from the psychological effects of war is being replicated today."




On the morning of Saturday, April 12, Clark County Sheriff Doug Gillespie showed up at one of the First Amendment Zones the BLM had established near the Bundy ranch. Cliven Bundy had invited him there to give him an ultimatum, but Gillespie preempted Bundy with news intended to diffuse the increasingly hostile situation. Gillespie told Bundy and a crowd of his supporters the BLM was going to end its roundup.

Bundy responded not with conciliation but by setting some conditions. He wanted the BLM agents disarmed, public land access restored and his confiscated cattle returned—and he gave Gillespie one hour to make it happen. When it didn't, Bundy told his supporters it was time to act. "Get it going cowboys," he said from a stage decorated in red, white and blue and heavily guarded by militia. "Let's go get 'er done."

A throng of militia, Patriots, ranchers, supporters and observers rushed off to the area about two miles away where his cattle were being held behind a fence. When they arrived, they encountered a group of BLM and law enforcement agents positioned to protect the livestock. A standoff ensued, and Payne took charge of organizing the militia forces and acted, he says, "as a kind of on-the-ground commander."

"We locked them down," Payne says. "We had counter-sniper positions on their sniper positions. We had at least one guy—sometimes two guys—per BLM agent in there. So, it was a complete tactical superiority. ... If they made one wrong move, every single BLM agent in that camp would've died."

Craig Leff, deputy assistant BLM director, denies the BLM employs snipers. "The BLM went through extraordinary lengths to avoid coming into contact with the Bundy family and protesters," he writes in an email.

Whether or not anyone was aiming back at them, the militia members believed they were being targeted. The perceived threat was defused, according to Payne, Ryan Bundy and other supporters present that day, by the providential appearance of thousands of cranes flying low and circling over the situation several times.

"And literally people that were on the ground were saying, 'Look, we've got air support,'" Payne says. "And people felt like everything was going to be okay. ... Right after that, the BLM started backing their vehicles up and let [the Bundys' cowboys] in to get the cattle.

"Was it an omen? Well, who knows," Payne continues. "People say that's superstitious and blah blah blah. Well, I've had way too many coincidences happen in my life to believe in coincidence."




"What does it mean to have 'a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence'? Do you know?"

Ryan Payne is sitting on his couch, in the living room of his family's log cabin near Anaconda. At his request, a guest has just read aloud the first half of the last line of the Declaration of Independence: "And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence. ...

"'Divine' obviously means 'the Creator', but what is providence?" Payne asks. "Providence is the Creator's plan, his involvement with every aspect of every part of the universe. Thus, we are moving along a plan and the only reason that we feel discomfort is when we are not in line with that plan and He gives us pain or evil to make us feel uncomfortable. But when you're completely in line with the Creator's plan, there's no discomfort, there's no pain, there's no suffering.

"You see, these are the concepts that are talked about in the Bible that people have lost," he explains. "But how did the Founders, who all knew they were signing their death warrants—why were they comfortable with this? Because they had a firm reliance on the protection of divine providence, that they were in line with the plan. And you can kill me, you can take all of my money, you can steal all of my possessions, but as long as I know that I'm moving in the right direction, that I have maintained the moral high ground, that I focus on truth, love and unity at all times, there's no fear. There's no suffering. I enjoy the pain that happens, because I know that it's for the right reasons. A greater cause than myself."

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  • photo by Cathrine L. Walters
  • Payne and Josh “Pony” Hartle both participated in the militia action on Cliven Bundy’s ranch. Hartle stayed in an RV in Payne’s driveway after they left Nevada, and he plans to move permanently to the Anaconda area soon.

Payne then moves to the second part of the sentence: "... we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor."

"So what are you willing to pledge your life to?" Payne asks. "Your life, your fortune and your sacred honor—are you willing to put it up for freedom? That's the question that people need to ask themselves."




On April 17, five days after the BLM drew back and the Bundys recovered their cattle, Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., said of the Bundy supporters, "Those people who hold themselves out to be patriots are not. They're nothing more than domestic terrorists."

For Payne, the Bundys and the hundreds of others who had engaged in the standoff with the BLM, the comments were an affront and a terrifying escalation in the terms of the conflict.

"Why it is an escalation?" Payne says. "Because we know how the government deals with terrorists. They don't negotiate, do they? They kill them. ... So that's a gigantic escalation. That's a statement of war. You have made yourself my enemy now. If I'm a domestic terrorist, then you're my enemy, right? Because you want me dead."

Soon after Reid labeled the Bundy supporters "terrorists," the FBI began to investigate militia members and protesters involved in the standoff for making death threats, intimidation, weapons violations and pointing loaded weapons at federal agents. Those investigations are ongoing.

Asked how he's able to continue living his normal lifetaking care of his kids, working on his house, going out for dinner, visiting with relatives—amid the seemingly inevitable threat of arrest and prosecution, Payne says, "If you were planning to go rob a bank, you'd be scared the whole time. You'd be making sure there wasn't infiltrators. You're always looking over you're shoulder. But, if you were protecting a bank, wouldn't you go home and sleep peacefully at night? Okay. Well, that's why we're so calm. 'Cause we're doing the right thing and we know it."




The SPLC's Ryan Lenz was on the Bundy ranch on April 12, and he later spoke at length with Payne and others involved in the standoff about their beliefs and their motivations.

Lenz says Bundy supporters relied on a convoluted conspiracy to justify their aggression against the BLM in Nevada. The conspiracy was based, Lenz says, on a web of premises that simply aren't true: that the BLM isn't part of the government but is rather "a private corporation employed by the federal government to enforce federal rules;" that the BLM introduced non-native desert tortoises in the early 1990s in a deliberate effort to justify closing the land for grazing and recreational use; and that Sen. Reid orchestrated this closure in order to make possible a profitable deal to sell the land to Chinese developers seeking to develop solar farms on the land.

While Lenz acknowledges the room for legitimate policy debate about the BLM and public land policy in Clark County and elsewhere, he says such conspiratorial beliefs and the taking up of arms undermine any possibility for productive discussion.

"It's no longer just a debate about policy," he says. "The debate is null and void, because you believe the debate exists on a premise that's a lie ... and that's where things get really complicated, because this issue about federal lands being managed by the BLM and being managed poorly, that's one for those who debate policy to discuss. But once the militias come in and threaten violence to the federal government if they dare do anything, the discussion is over. The debate is done. What happens at that point is, the only debate that's going to be had is going to be had at the barrel of a gun."




After five years and two tours in Iraq, Payne returned home to Southern California in 2006. He was 23 and married. Later that same year, he and an uncle started a company, SoCal Sand Cars. They built custom, high-end dune buggies that sold for between $40,000 and $100,000. When the housing market started to falter late in 2006, so did the once-booming dune buggy and sand car market. Though they started losing money, Payne and his uncle kept their business going until the California Air Resources Board implemented stricter emissions regulations on dune buggies in the state.

"When they redefined the criteria that sand cars and desert race cars fell under," Payne says, "it destroyed turn-key builders like myself, unless you had a giant buy-in."

That "buy-in" was the high cost of purchasing a dynamometer, a machine that tests emissions, or of paying a lab to do the emissions tests. Unable to afford the price of complying with the new regulations, SoCal Sand Cars closed down.

"And that's what we see in the entire country," Payne says, "that specific entities are being given certain privileges by government regulation and the inability of the little guy, the small business owner, to really keep his head above water. There has to be purpose in this. They claim to have all the answers, they claim to be taking us down the correct path, and yet it seems like there's a lot of destruction and pain and suffering going on. ... Here's the way you have to look at it. Either they're not smart, they don't know what they're doing and they're just downright incompetent. Or they have a plan, and they're doing these things on purpose."

Payne came to believe the latter, that the government uses regulations to deliberately undermine the average American, "that they are purposely destroying industry, they are purposely taking this land from people." The more he looked, the more he saw a deliberate and nefarious plan being orchestrated by a small number of people wielding enormous power. He saw a pervasive conspiracy to control all aspects of the media, the financial system, the entertainment industry, the military and the government.

More specifically, he came to believe that slavery never really existed in the United States and that African Americans in the antebellum South "didn't view themselves as slaves." He came to believe in "an effort by some Jews to control the world." He came to believe the founders of the United States intended for the states to act as sovereign countries. He came to believe taxes are a form of "legal plunder." He came to believe names are spelled in all-caps on driver's licenses because U.S. citizens are actually "corporate entities." He came to believe U.S. courts are actually foreign admiralty courts. He came to believe that "in most states you have the lawful authority to kill a police officer that is unlawfully trying to arrest you." He came to believe when a newborn child's footprint is made on a birth certificate, that child is effectively entering a life of servitude to the U.S. government, which borrows money from China based on that child's estimated lifetime earning potential.

He came to see all aspects of government, culture and society as mechanisms of control. "And they've set everything up so they can maintain that control," Payne says, "because they believe they are God."

As Payne became convinced that conspiracies exist to control the world's people, he also moved from agnosticism to a deep belief in a Creator. "I'm a Jew," Payne says. "A Messianic Jew. A Kabbalist, even." These mystical and often controversial traditions of Judaism accommodated his faith as well as his suspicions of religion, which he considers "clothing for the truth."

With faith, rebelling against control became a matter of fighting to bring about the utopian world God wants for us, a world of complete and perfect liberty.

"The point is," Payne says, "communism is a utopian society. There is not government in communism. The government is the people. So, in order for that to exist, mankind has to reach a state where he is—where he, as a whole, has the responsibility and the morality to control himself. Self-government. Communism is full self-government. What is this an experiment in, America? Self-government."




Payne remained on the Bundy ranch for nearly a month, organizing the militia elements to defend against any potential efforts by the BLM to return and clashing with other supporters. Then, in early May, a man and his family came and asked for Payne's help. Payne was "ungodly sick at the time," he says, but he listened while the man requested he come to Utah and help the people of Blanding, near the Four Corners, open an ATV trail that the BLM had closed.

The trail ran through Recapture Canyon, an area rich with Ancestral Puebloan ruins and artifacts, with ancient cliff dwellings and a prehistoric village. The trail was created illegally in 2005 and severely damaged the valuable archaeological site. Local ATV riders, however, had been campaigning the BLM to reopen it. While the agency conducted environmental and archeological assessments to determine if there were a way to do so, people became restless. San Juan County Commissioner Phil Lyman responded to this restlessness by organizing a protest.

On May 10, locals would push past a BLM gate and drive the 11-mile Recapture Canyon loop to protest the closure. The man from Blanding wanted Payne to come and do what he'd done for the Bundys: protect the ATV riders from the BLM.

Payne agreed to do it. He and some others from the ranch, including Ryan Bundy, drove east to Utah. The BLM, meanwhile, decided to avoid confrontation, pull its agents back and allow the ride to proceed. In a statement, the agency's state head, Juan Palma, assured the public, though, that "BLM-Utah has not and will not authorize the proposed ride and will seek appropriate civil and criminal penalties against anyone who uses a motorized vehicle within the closed area."

click to enlarge militia, patriot, freedom, montana, news
  • photo by Cathrine L. Walters
  • Payne joined the U.S. Army at 17. He served in a long-range surveillance unit that moved far behind enemy lines during and after the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Though he considers himself a fervent patriot, he now sees the government he once served as a threat to the Constitution he pledged to defend.

With no ostensible need to protect the protest, Ryan Payne participated that Saturday, May 10, driving the loop with everyone else.

"So here's another win," he says.




Days after the Recapture ride, Payne finally returned home to Anaconda. His wife, his infant daughter, his 4-year-old son and his elderly grandparents had been making do without him for more than a month, living off the grid. Payne had lots to catch up on around the house, but he wasn't leaving the last month behind. The proof was in his driveway, where an RV was parked. Josh "Pony" Hartle, an itinerant militiaman from Minnesota, and another man, an amateur geologist and confirmed Patriot who does not want to be named, were staying inside. They were here to help keep the effort that had begun on the Bundy ranch moving forward.

"One of the things that the powers that be—and I say that as meaning all those that desire control over mankind—really, really hate about the Bundy situation is that it brought a bunch of people that all have the same ideas but have been moving in different directions together," Payne says, with Hartle and the amateur geologist sitting on the couch beside him. "And now, we'll all focus our energies in this way or that. Or utilize our different skills to approach the entire battle in a full manner, encompassing every avenue of engagement: legal, financial, military, every single aspect of it is being put together now on how to counter this control mechanism that's been set up. This is what they fear the most."

The geologist is committed to staying in the area; he believes he's found valuable meteoritic rocks near Payne's house and is hoping to have them verified. Hartle is planning to return to Minnesota, sell his house and then move with his wife back to Anaconda. They would live, Hartle explains, in a 32-foot school bus he's converted into a mobile home, so he could keep working with Payne. Meanwhile, Payne is training with the West Mountain Rangers and pursuing a philanthropic business venture that would employ out-of-work and homeless veterans. He is also trying to get back to his normal life as a father and an electrician.

"They want to paint militia in this light of complete insanity and extremism," Payne says, "but you see my house. You see my family. I live with my grandparents. My wife's at work. My kids are here. I live in this place, this beautiful place. I would much rather work as we were intended. You should be working for your own prosperity, shouldn't you?"

While Payne says he would rather not leave his family again, it seems inevitable that he will. He could be forced to leave, if charges against him are pursued and he's arrested for his part in the Bundy standoff. Or he might leave of his own free will, to respond to OMA's next request for aid. Either way, Payne says he's willing to lay down his life to resist and defend against tyranny.

"Not only would we take a shot for each other," he says, "we'd take one for you. If somebody infringed on your rights, you call me up. I'll come stand in between you and the police. It doesn't bother me, if they're infringing on your rights. Whoever it is. If somebody's threatening your life, if somebody's trying to say, 'You're not allowed to do this because we're the authority'—no. You're the authority. You're free to do whatever you want in your life as long as you don't take your brother's feet out from under him. That's what freedom is."

Though Payne keeps talking for another hour or so, eventually he has to go. He canceled plans earlier in the afternoon to shoot gophers with visiting relatives, and he can't be late for dinner. His family is counting on him being there.

This story was updated June 12 to correct a date in Payne's military experience.

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