When the standoff between federal agents and militia groups supporting rancher Cliven Bundy ended peacefully a few weeks ago, much of the nation breathed a sigh of relief. It had seemed to many that the situation was likely to end in a modern version of an Old West shootout or worse, a battle on par with the 1993 botched ATF raid on David Koresh’s Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas. Now Examiner has learned just how close violence came to erupting in Nevada as an exclusive new report indicates that some of Bundy’s defenders may have planned to raid a U.S. Air Force base to resupply their ammunition.
The information, which comes from a person with contacts inside the militia movement, states that a small number of militia members who refer to themselves as “Three (III) Percenters” had plotted via Facebook chats to raid what one of the militia members identifies as an “ammo dump” on the grounds of the Nellis Air Force Range northwest of Las Vegas. The location that was pinpointed by the plotters has been confirmed by Examiner to be on the outskirts of the Nellis range.
The information provided indicates that the plot was allegedly spearheaded by Richard X. Nelson III, who is connected to several militia groups. The “III” does not signify that Nelson is the third man in his family with the same name, but rather is an appellation to identify him as a Three Percenter. On his Facebook page, Nelson claims to be the “Nevada administrator for the Three Percent Club.”
According to several militia related websites and blogs, “Three Percent” (III%) refers to the percentage of the American colonists who actually fought against the British in the American Revolution. The connotation is that Three Percenters are ready, willing, and in some cases eager to take up arms to fight “for the freedoms the nation we love and honor was founded on.” Many view the federal government as the enemy threatening those freedoms.
A similar group in which Nelson also claims membership is the Oath Keepers (OK), a group for military and police founded by Stewart Rhodes, a former Ron Paul aide. The Oath Keepers, according to its website, is a “nonpartisan association of current and formerly serving military, police and first responders who pledge to fulfill the oath all military and police take to ‘defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic.’” The group’s website lists ten orders that members will refuse to obey. Several of these orders relate to conspiracy theories such as imposing martial law, blockading cities to “turn them into giant concentration camps,” forcing Americans into detention camps, and aiding the use of “foreign troops on US soil against the American people.” More realistic scenarios include detaining US citizens as “unlawful enemy combatants” and conducting warrantless searches. The Oath Keeper website further notes that while the OK and the III% are each “unique” and “autonomous,” due to common interests and values “it follows naturally that some Oath Keepers are also III%ers, and vice versa.”
In online conversations that occurred more than a week after the standoff ended on April 12, Nelson can allegedly be seen attempting to convince other members to join in an attack on what he believes is “a secret base that I discovered being built out there in the middle of nowhere that contains a hardened dirt landing strip, 2 [sic] f-117 stealthy [sic] bombers parked in the dirt (really bad for the engines by the way) as well as thre [sic] facilities of very odd design... one of which is a personnel training facility that is clearly shown as such by the track and shooting ranges located near it.”
In one conversation on April 22, a week after the federal retreat from the Bundy ranch, Nelson calls the federal actions equivalent to the first shot of a war being fired and asks, “Since government is firing upon us why is it so [expletive deleted] HARD for me to get a strike force together to go raid ammo dumps?”
Frustrated that other Three Percenters and Oath Keepers are not responding to his calls for action, Nelson threatens to get help from a different militia group, the OMA, in order to carry out the attack. The source identified the OMA as “Operation Mutual Aid” and referred to them as “radicals.” The OMA has been confirmed to be the “support operation” for the Cliven Bundy defense effort.
Another of the militia members in the conversation notes, “OMA is the enemy of all who stand for patriot[ism] and truth. They are the ones wanting a revolution to get bloody and were willing to [t]rick the Bundy's [sic] to get it. They do not care who is sacrificed in order to start a bloody revolution.”
Nelson later responds, “I don’t wish for blood but its [sic] evident[ly] inevitable.”
This exchange was preceded by a discussion that included theorizing about several conspiracy theories including the possibility that solar flares would trigger earthquakes, that foreign troops from the United Nations were supplementing the federal agents around the Bundy ranch, and that the government was about to detonate nuclear bombs in an electromagnetic pulse “false flag” attack that would be used to implement martial law and keep President Obama in power.
The group was concerned about infiltration by federal agents and monitoring by federal law enforcement and intelligence services. One says, “My phone turned on last summer and took my picture while setting [sic] on a dresser. Not cool. I had just spoke [sic] a couple days earlier with people of their [federal authorities] interest.” Another says, “I have come in the house and found my computer on and someone trying to type in passwords remotely. And I know I had turned it off before I left.”
According to Examiner’s source, the member’s concerns were valid. One or more members of the circle publicized Nelson’s alleged intentions among the other, more mainstream, militia members. When the plot was exposed, Nelson lost his command status with the Nevada III% and the other members of the circle, in the words of the source, “had their moral compass corrected to true North. By true North, I mean constitutionally correct in defense rather than rules of engagement for offensive posture (domestic terrorism….”
Because the source believes that the other members of the circle were duped and caught up in the group think of the moment, he asked that plotters other than Nelson not be identified. The others “were and are only guilty of being stupid and talking stupid stuff,” he says. “The person planning, however, needs to be made an example of what not to do.”
Dawn Appelberg, a self-described intelligence analyst with the Glass Antler Facebook page who was also involved in the Bundy protection effort, denied that there ever was a plot to raid a military installation. “We were in a conversation about finding out who is coming in and where to send them when someone posted a picture of what he considered to be a secret military installation,” she told Examiner. “No one responded to the picture.” Appelberg and other members of the circle also said that Richard Nelson has been excluded from the Facebook group where the discussion took place.
Attempts were also made to contact Richard Nelson. Mr. Nelson was not reachable by phone and did not return emails.
The conversations do indicate that many of the people involved with the Bundy effort were not eager to respond to Nelson’s calls for a raid. His comments indicate that it was difficult to find volunteers to take part. Conversely, it also seems that few were willing to take a principled stand against an attack on a military base. There is no evidence that anyone took Nelson to task for suggesting a first strike against the federal government or that he has been separated from the Bundy defense effort.
There is also no evidence at all that any member of the Bundy family was aware of the plot. Several comments were made by members of the circle that some of the Bundys were uncomfortable with having large numbers of armed men surrounding their home.
Neither the OMA, the Three Percenters nor the Oath Keepers are listed as a hate or terrorist group by the FBI or the Southern Poverty Law Center although a 2009 report by the SPLC, “The Second Wave: Return of the Militias,” does call the Oath Keepers “particularly worrisome” due to the involvement of many active duty law enforcement and military personnel. In contrast to the opinions in the SPLC report, there was no evidence of racism among the circle of plotters. Majority leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) was criticized just as sharply as America’s first black president, if not more so.
The existence of individuals within the militia movement who are willing to foment a revolution that they see as inevitable may not surprise many in law enforcement. According to a Fairleigh Dickinson poll from May 2013 nearly a third of Americans believed that armed revolution to protect civil liberties would be necessary within the next few years. Since that time, the revelations of IRS targeting of conservative groups and NSA surveillance programs have made the situation seem all the more dire and urgent for many. As one law enforcement officer told the SPLC, “All it’s lacking is a spark. I think it’s only a matter of time before you see threats and violence.”