"There is no teacher but the enemy. No one but the enemy will ever tell you what the enemy is going to do. No one but the enemy will ever teach you how to destroy and conquer. Only the enemy shows you where you are weak. Only the enemy tells you when he is strong. And the rules of the game are what you can do to him and what you can stop him from doing to you." -- Mazer Rackham to Ender Wiggin in Ender's Game.
Oath Keepers makes their case of their actions and reactions at the Bundy Ranch in this video. It is necessarily long, reflecting as it does the testimony of five participants and a discussion of how they came to the decisions that they did. That said, it is worth watching all the way through. Please do that now and then return for my comments.
I have spoken with several independent militia commanders who spent time at the Bundy Siege, a couple of Three Percenters who were there from day one, and other Threepers and Oath Keepers who came later (none of whom are in the video). In addition, of course, I have my own experiences with -- and up-close observations of -- the personalities involved. These form the basis of my analysis below.
First, it is necessary to describe how I came to be there and what my relationship with Oath Keepers was and is. As readers know, the way that I came to be at the Bundy Ranch to give a speech on 19 April was strictly coincidental. The Buckeyes, you may recall, decided to dispense with my services without telling me and I was ejected from their meeting. When Stewart Rhodes found out I was available, he asked if I would be willing to come out and speak at the Bundy Ranch. I do not ask for anything for my speeches themselves, merely content with being provided with transportation to and from and provisions for a hotel room or a place to crash in a private home so that I can get a shower, dress the wound on my back in a semi-sterile environment and sleep in a comfortable chair (I have difficulty sleeping laying down since the rerouting of my digestive system). That's it. Generally I do not even ask for a rental car, content to depend upon catching rides with members of the host organization. Sometimes folks pick up the tab for my meals, sometimes not. Stewart agreed to these terms and paid for the economy tickets necessary to fly out to Las Vegas where he and Steve Homan picked me up at the airport for the ride out to the Bundy Ranch.
Further, it is important to remember that I am not a member of Oath Keepers, although I have always believed that their work reminding folks of the ramifications of the oath they took to be among the most important of tasks. There are Three Percenters who belong to Oath Keepers and Oath Keepers who are Three Percenters. That is a given. But I decided from the first that it was inappropriate of me to join the organization, having staked out a different area of operations as it were in the fight to defend the Founders' Republic.
It is also important to recall that Stewart Rhodes, the Oath Keepers board and I have not always seen eye to eye on some things. You may recall that OK at first committed to support, and then pulled out of, the armed march in Northern Virginia back in 2010. At the time there were those who wanted me to -- no, URGED me to -- loudly denounce Oath Keepers in general and Stewart Rhodes in particular for that decision. I did not not do so. I have long had a policy, dating from my work with the constitutional militia in the 90s, that I do not shoot my own side's wounded. I'm glad I had that policy, for Stewart Rhodes has come a long way since those days as a leader and the Oath Keepers are a valuable force in the fight for liberty. Those who accused Stewart then of being a coward did not see him later risk arrest last year at the hands of the Lexington, MA, police force when he refused their order to stay off the green and told them they would have to arrest him to stop him from administering the oath ceremony there. The Lexington PD, gritted their teeth and blinked, allowing the ceremony to go forward. That was entirely Stewart's doing. No, in my experience, Stewart Rhodes is no coward.
That said, Stewart stiffed me that first night at Bundy's, since we drove directly to the camp so that he could relieve some of his guys on outpost duty, despite his own lack of sleep. I got what rest I could in the car. Where Steve Homan -- the Vietnam vet in the OK video with the heart condition and an NVA bullet still lodged in his abdomen -- slept I have no idea, undoubtedly on the ground where he had no business being. Okay, I thought, improvise, adapt and overcome, although I was convinced then and remain convinced throughout my experiences there that neither Stewart, nor Steve Homan, nor Jerry, nor any of Jerry's command structure was getting enough sleep in order to make the best decisions. Tired commanders screw up. They should learn to delegate the routine stuff to subordinates even though it seems selfish, for it is a false economy to spare your troops some lost hours of their own sleep only to put them in harm's way because you lack sleep yourself. Indeed, I spent much of my time with those men urging them to get more sleep. As near as I could determine, they ignored me, which undoubtedly played a part -- a big part -- in what happened subsequently.
Given that US warfighters suffer from chronic sleep deprivation, they will almost certainly experience deleterious effects on performance. The most egregious example of the consequences of chronic and acute sleep debt is when combat troops fall asleep when they need to be vigilant. While less obvious, other effects of chronic and acute sleep debt such as microsleeps, lapses in attention, memory and judgment, alterations in mood, and degraded decision-making also have far-reaching consequences for combat effectiveness. Military leaders would never send troops into harm’s way without the safety afforded them by armor and other personal protective equipment; yet sending troops on missions when they are sleep deprived is equally as dangerous to themselves and to others in their organization. -- The Role of Sleep in the Military: Implications for Training and Operational Effectiveness by Nita Lewis Miller, et. al., Pg. 42.
It is important to remember that while OK did retain hotel rooms at a cheap casino -- the Virgin River -- in nearby Mesquite (including one room I shared with Steve Homan), they used the rooms mostly for giving their own members on the line a place to crash, refit and then go back into security role, not for the leadership to enjoy comfort while the membership slept in the dirt. This BS about Stewart and Co, "staying at the casino and gambling away 20K of the member's money," was to my experience a flat lie. In my time there, Stewart and the OKs were too damn busy to play the slots and I never observed any of them in the gambling area. As for me, my Grandpa Nace taught me that "gambling was a tax on the stupid," and I have never been one to waste my fragile and thin resources on a sure bet to nowhere. It would have irked me greatly if I had observed such conduct on the part of Oath Keepers. I did not. The few times I had meals with Oath Keepers at the Casino, they ate modestly and mostly paid for their own. I know I did, most often having breakfast at McDonald's across the street (I also kicked in $20.00 on a big bag of Egg McMuffins for the troops, which I dropped off to Jerry).
For those having trouble visualizing the layout, there were three layers of security at the Bundy Ranch and one layer of insecurity. The first, and outermost, was the "scouts out" operation run by the Oath Keepers that kept track of movement on the roads and back trails leading up to the Bundy property. The second was the main camp posted above the side road leading to the Bundy Ranch, and the shed on the road below that served as the chow hall. Here, eventually, Jerry commanded a mixed and constantly changing force of Oath Keepers, Three Percenters, and the best of the militia formations. The last was the Bundy Ranch security detail itself, hired by the Bundys and providing, at least in the beginning, the liason between the other formations and the Bundys.
Between the "scouts out" of the Oath Keepers and the camp containing Jerry's CP was the "lower camp" (actually the first militia presence that the press and public saw) of what was dubbed "The Fruits and Nuts Brigade." These were people who were not trusted by the other more competent formations, or did not themselves trust the other formations. These people were, in the main, excitable, prickly and resentful -- and ever ready to talk to the press. There was literally nothing the other formations could do about, or with, them, so they pretty much did a great job of representing the worst face of the Bundy defense operation and the militia to the press. They were often the source of unfounded rumors and dangerous weapon handling. One night they almost started the next American civil war by getting spooked by the arrival of six Las Vegas metro cars traveling in fast convoy down the public road that led to the Bundys. Some of them arranged themselves in a hasty ambush and were only persuaded not to fire first by the intervention of cooler heads who were staying down there. Like I said, "Fruits and Nuts" -- and a constant source of trouble.
Which highlights a principal cause of the chaos and confusion throughout the events that I witnessed. This was a come-as-you-are party, with volunteers flooding in from all over the country. I am quite sure that the Bundys were both gratified by the turnout and frightened by the character of some of those who did show up. This probably caused the arrangement that developed, with separate formations, different commanders with different styles of command (or no style of, or ability to, command), who had difficulty communicating with each other and with no shared SOP or rules of engagement other than to "protect the Bundys" -- an admirable if nebulous and constantly shifting target subject to the whims and agendas of individual "commanders," some of whom commanded nothing but themselves and their own egos. That the Oath Keepers donated $12.5K to the Bundys to help them defray expenses says much about the generosity of Stewart and his people. That the Bundys later embraced a person that anyone with any experience could tell was a sociopath and provocateur is to me inexplicable. (I was told that Ryan is attending LDS meetings now with the Bundys. Whether that bit of chameleon trickery plays into their decisions is anybody's guess.)
From the first there was thievery in "Jerry's camp." A $900 Ipad belonging to a media guy hired by the Oath Keepers came up missing. One militia leader I talked to said that they lost nothing because they always maintained a constant guard over their stuff. Heck, somebody even stole my official Knob Creek coffee cup, so I am not surprised that when faced with the temptation of sophisticated electronics that Oath Keepers loaned to "Jerry's Kids" that some came up missing.
At this date, Jerry (and especially his conduct since the failed coup attempt by Ryan Payne --if that is his real name), remains a puzzle to me. An impressive former Marine NCO, he had a real command presence, the absolute loyalty of those who came into contact with him and, like most NCOs, an absolute inability to delegate responsibility and tasks. I include Stewart Rhodes in that critique as well. Both men took on too much themselves, got little to no sleep and made bad decisions as a result.
Example: One afternoon a couple showed up at the camp: a young tattooed white male wearing a holstered pistol and his girlfriend toting a shotgun. In the entrance interviews, which Jerry insisted upon mostly conducting himself, it developed that the guy was an admitted felon, but he didn't believe that it was constitutional to deny him his firearm rights. This came with a long, sad story about how they had quit their jobs to volunteer for the Bundys and do their part. Both Jerry and Stewart were inclined to accept their help until I called them over and explained the ramifications of accepting a self-admitted, armed felon into camp. They were impressed by the man's "honesty and sincerity," in admitting up-front that he was a felon. I said, among other things, that of course he admitted it. If he hadn't, then they would have plausible deniability when later confronted about it. By stating it up front, it was actually worse for them because they could not later deny having known that fact.* "How do you think that is going to sound in the grand jury?" I asked them. They changed their minds and sent the couple on their way with gas money. I am convinced that neither man would have needed any assistance from me to take that decision had they been in their right minds. That is, if they had been even semi-rested and on the bounce, which commanders must be to the best of their ability if they are to carry out their solemn duty to do their best to take care of their people and execute the mission.
*NOTE: Throughout my stay at Bunkerville I gave a lot of advice to men and women for whom this was their first rodeo. Among the most often repeated (second, I think only behind my constant harping to get more sleep) was the old Marine intelligence officer's dictum when dealing with sources -- "Why is this SOB telling me this, and why is he telling me this NOW?"
As an aside, weapons handling in Jerry's camp was terrible and I observed numerous unsafe practices about muzzle discipline with loaded rifles. It was a wonder that no one was killed or injured by a negligent discharge during my stay. As they say, if I may paraphrase, God takes care of drunks, little children and the American militia. I counseled some of these safety scofflaws personally and privately. Eventually I gave it up as wasted effort and just tried to stay out of the line of potential fire. The sight of a newbie clerk sitting at the check-in table in the CP wearing a loaded FAL on a sling in front of his body muzzle-up while he filled out new arrival cards was as comical as it was appalling. That this was apparently with the tacit approval of Jerry, whose life was also endangered thereby, can only be excused by extreme sleep deprivation, which as I have mentioned is itself a command failure.
But this business of allying with the same guy -- a likely federal provocateur -- who tried to displace you at your job, and lying by omission and commission about Oath Keepers and the whole drone strike business at a joint presser with the same moke who stuck several knives in your back is inexplicable to me. One of the ploys of a sociopath or a provocateur is to shrink your perceived universe and get you reacting to him and his artificial constructs without reference to outside reality. At such moments you have to be able to have the presence of mind to step back out of the box that he has created for you so you can see the whole picture. It is evident to me that Ryan Payne (or whatever his real name is) is an expert at that trick. On my last day, the moke tried provoking me and I finally blew him off with the comment, "Well, like Grandpa Vanderboegh said, 'Don't try to to teach your Grandma how to suck eggs." He thought I was joking and broke off the engagement. I wasn't joking. This ain't my first rodeo and I ran into pukes like him all the time in the 90s. I am convinced that if there had been more Bob Wrights at the event and fewer wide-eyed newbies a lot of this debacle would not have happened.
Unfortunately Bob wasn't able to get away from some serious work commitments to be there. A Bob Wright anecdote to illustrate my point: In 2005 when Bob became what amounted to operations officer for the Minutemen in one of their first border vigils, he discovered that in the bible college they were using as a dorm for volunteers that some idiots had taken the mattresses from the beds and blocked the windows with them "because the Feds are going to come in the night and throw grenades in the windows." What Bob is reported to have said is not for delicate ears and the Minutemen volunteer roster was short a half-dozen idiots come the next dawn, but Bob did not, does not, EVER suffer fools gladly. We needed some hard heads and harder hearts like his at Bundy's Ranch. Nothing illustrates this more than the reaction to the drone strike.
Now, after talking to all the major participants in the Oath Keeper chain of decision and command regarding that remarkable and skillfully delivered piece of federal disinformation as well as some outside witnesses who were there when this came down, I am inclined to believe the Oath Keeper version of events as presented in the above video. Their failure was not one of cowardice as has been alleged. Stewart was sincerely motivated, I believe, by a concern for his troops, the Bundys and the innocents in the camps. The failure was one of lack of hard-headed analysis and an equal lack of hard-hearted decision taking.
When I was told that Oath Keepers was actually reacting to such an obvious piece of federal disinformation, I exploded on the phone. The guy I was talking to said that yes, they had initially thought that it was disinformation but they had it confirmed from multiple sources (as Stewart explained in the video), one of whom "was in the Governor's office" who had given them several smaller tips earlier that had all proven to be true. Of course it came from from the Governor's office, I blew up, for only if it came from an absolutely impeccable source would you believe it. The use of a drone strike on American soil would cause such an outcry that even Obama would be impeached within a week. Did they think that such calculating bastards were really that stupid? Besides, let us assume for the purposes of argument that the information was true. If the enemy is willing to make such a fatal mistake, it is our duty not to get in the way of it. Sure, they kill the folks on the scene, I argued, but their entire regime would be swept away. Isn't that our larger purpose? Indeed, I pointed out then and in subsequent conversations with others, our JOB is to fight and if need be to die interposing ourselves between the tyrants and the people. If someone is doing this and is unwilling to make that trade he should find another avocation. With the video explanation, I am mindful that Stewart was motivated by the highest concern for innocents and did not advocate the precipitate pullout as has been claimed by his federal enemies (Ryan Payne) and his erstwhile friends (Jerry). But the public reaction to inform the media (which we now know Jerry agreed to) was stupid. The smart thing to do was to make the adjustments that Stewart and Jerry did initially and then to sit down in the CP, drink coffee, "smoke 'em if you got 'em" and await events. If it was disinformation we win points for being smarter than the Feds think we are and if it wasn't disinformation we REALLY win.
The subsequent chaos and lack of discipline, including the wanton and unprovoked assault on a Vietnam Vet with a heart condition, is on Jerry's shoulders. That little out-of-control thug of his damn near killed a good man, a hero in my eyes, who because of his health had no business being there yet was because he saw it as his simple duty. I took the measure of the man named Steve Homan during my stay there and I say without fear of contradiction that there is no finer American. Lord knows how much the stress of the whole experience took off his life.
My final conclusion is that if Oath Keepers is guilty of anything it is that they were too trusting, too helpful and too eager to make peace with people who obviously had their own agendas, some simple thievery and others in service to their federal masters.
The key is, will they survive and learn from the experience. In conversations with Stewart and other board members, I have learned that they will be after-actioning this cruel lesson taught by the enemy -- and by people they thought were their friends. They will be developing rules of engagement and an SOP for future Bundy Ranches, and there WILL be future Bundy Ranches.
Lesson One: Get some things in writing up front from the folks you intend to protect, establishing a clear-cut chain of command and authority for the various spheres of action. Don't charge in without some vital issues clearly understood by all parties.
Another lesson: maintain control of your supplies. People donated good money to put them in your hands and you have a fiduciary duty to them to spend them wisely and to prevent their theft by people with other agendas.
Another lesson: Have a system of working with and integrating individuals and small units into larger ones, of vetting out the fruits and nuts and provocateurs and sending them on their way.
Another lesson: The Feds won back all the ground they lost by their direct attack on the Bundys with an indirect campaign of subversion and disinformation. If they destroy the Oath Keepers along with the Bundys' defensive arrangements it will be a huge win-win for them. They probably won't make the first mistake again, except with truly low-hanging fruit. They WILL repeat the other successful strategy. We need to be wise when dealing with disinformation and just as determined in our ability to physically interpose ourselves between the iron fist of tyrannical government and their intended victims, even if that means our lives.
There are many other lessons. The enemy has taught them to us at a great price at the Bundy Siege. The only question is can we be smart enough, self-critical enough, honest enough, to grasp them and to refuse to make such mistakes in the future. This is a long war, an eternal war really. The domestic enemies of the Constitution and the Founders' Republic will be there until we defeat them -- or we are ourselves defeated by our own failures to learn the lessons that they teach us.