Armed Idahoans joined Nevada standoff

One militia leader says it's legally suspect for Gem State residents to take on federal agents in Nevada.

rbarker@idahostatesman.comApril 17, 2014 

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story listed the incorrect number of Branch Davidians who died at Waco.

One of the armed Idahoans in Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy's standoff with the Bureau of Land Management last weekend was photographed in a prone position aiming an AR-15 at federal law officers.

Eric Parker, described only as being from Central Idaho and captured in a Reuters picture by Jim Urquhart, was one of hundreds of people who identified themselves as patriots and militia rushing to the ranch near Las Vegas to come to Bundy's aid after agents started confiscating his cattle.

Jennifer Dobner, a reporter for Reuters, interviewed an Idaho man identified as Scott, 43, who said he came with two others to back Bundy. Dobner described him as being dressed in camouflage pants and a black flak jacket, carrying an AR-15 rifle.

"I'm ready to pull the trigger if fired upon," he told her.

The arrival of armed men and women prompted the BLM officers to back off, avoiding another Waco. That 1993 raid on a religious zealot's Texas compound ended with the deaths of 82 of his followers and four federal agents. BLM official Neil Kornze also might have been thinking of Ruby Ridge, where in 1992 federal agents killed Randy Weaver's wife and son in North Idaho.

The standoff began when the BLM started rounding up the cattle that Bundy pastures on federal land. The agency said Bundy is trespassing because he hasn't paid his annual grazing fees since 1993 and owes the federal government $1 million. Bundy claims that since his family has been grazing the land for more than a century, it's his.

The Bureau of Land Management decided to conduct the roundup after years of federal court actions and decisions. But to people who believe the federal government has no legal claim to that land, Bundy is another American bullied by the feds.

The Bundy standoff has provided a forum for people on the fringe of politics and on the edge of paranoia fearful about the intentions of their government. Not since Timothy McVeigh detonated a truck bomb at the federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995 have so many Americans so openly challenged law enforcement authorities with guns.

That some Idahoans were carrying those guns won't surprise most Americans. But even one of Idaho's militia leaders questions such authority out of state.

In a Facebook post, Jeff Stankiewicz, a former commander and now liaison for the Idaho Lightfoot Militia, called for militia to help the Bundys. But he said he is doubtful that it's legal under the Idaho Constitution for militia members here to take action on their own in Nevada.

"I told people not to go, it would just inflame things," Stankiewicz said.

"Philosophically, I'm on (Bundy's) side," said Stankiewicz, a production manager at a steel manufacturing plant in Bonners Ferry. "I think the states should be running that land ...

"If they want to make their stand, more power to them. But I don't live in Nevada."

Stankiewicz believes that groups like his get treated unfairly in the press when they are linked to the 1990s violence and the hate groups that set up camp in Idaho.

"We don't organize like the militias in the 1990s, where it was set by one guy with a private paramilitary group," he said.

The Idaho Lightfoot has "battalions" in 10 counties, including Ada, and has "hundreds" of members, Stankiewicz said. It was formed after Barack Obama was elected president, by members worried about gun control, growing federal power and threats to state sovereignty, he said.

Its members include former military personnel, retired law enforcement officers and others who are preparing together for an emergency during which the Idaho governor might call on them to serve, he said.

But state officials say the Idaho Lightfoot Militia and others have no authority, even in their own state.

Idaho Code divides the militia identified in the state Constitution into three classes: the National Guard, the organized militia and the unorganized militia.

Idaho National Guard spokesman Col. Tim Marsano said he knows of just two states - Washington and Louisiana - that have organized militias established under the command of the governor and National Guard commander. Unorganized militias would become official only if specifically requested by the governor, which has not occurred, Marsano said.

"I know for a fact my boss, Gen. Gary Sayler, is not in command of any organized militia other than the National Guard," Marsano said.

Rocky Barker: 377-6484

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