The co-owner of a Josephine County mining claim at the center of a land-use dispute with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management says an armed security presence by members of the Oath Keepers movement has "taken on a life of its own," and he is pleading for calm after supporters apparently phoned in threats to BLM employees.
"We don't need any more volunteers, we're not under attack, this is not the Bundy Ranch," said Sugar Pine Mine co-owner Rick Barclay. "Please stop calling the BLM and threatening their personnel."
Barclay said he and co-owner George Backes approached the Josephine County chapter of the Oath Keepers last Thursday after they were confronted April 6 at their mine, west of Merlin, by a BLM law enforcement ranger and a Josephine County sheriff's deputy serving paperwork related to a notice of noncompliance issued by the federal agency.
The BLM said it wasn't aware of any active mining on the claim, and that the men have to file a plan of operations for their mining activities or remove all of their equipment. BLM spokesman Jim Whittington said Tuesday that "every time a mining claim changes ownership, it resets." He said the mine's owners have 30 days to file operational plans or can appeal the BLM's decision.
Barclay said he maintains that he and Backes hold exclusive surface rights to the claim — which was filed before a 1955 law that made all subsequent mining claims apply to mineral rights only — and are allowed to maintain whatever mining-related equipment or structures they need to without having to file operational plans.
Barclay said the ranger's visit made him and Backes worried the BLM would remove or destroy their equipment before they could appear in court to appeal the order.
"So I went to the Oath Keepers (to ask for security) and they said, 'OK,'" Barclay said.
The Oath Keepers is a nationwide organization made up of former and current U.S. military and law enforcement personnel who have pledged to disobey all "unconstitutional" orders. The group received significant media attention for its participation in a 2014 standoff with the BLM over Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy's cattle, which had been corralled by the agency for illegally grazing its lands. After Bundy's armed supporters confronted BLM rangers last April, the agency backed down and released the cattle.
Armed volunteers affiliated with the Oath Keepers began arriving Tuesday and set up camp at a "staging area" on private property on Camp Joy Road. Now things have gotten out of control, Barclay said, describing the fervor surrounding their presence has turned the event into a "circus."
"What you're seeing is mostly a spectacle caused by social media and 'keyboard commandos' whooping it up," he said. "A lot of the stuff going around on social media is absolute bull----."
Barclay said the Oath Keepers' security presence is only intended to secure the mine and their property until he and Backes can be heard by a judge, and he blamed the BLM for creating the dispute.
"We are a constitutional republic — we are a nation of laws," he said. "The BLM would not be in this position had they followed the law."
Still, he expressed eagerness to put the matter to rest. "As soon as I get my court arrangements made, the Oath Keepers are leaving," he said. "It's OK. It's going to be OK."
Reach reporter Thomas Moriarty at 541-776-4471, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at @ThomasDMoriarty.