Sugar Pine Mine, Oath Keepers, and the Circus Its Become

So to be fair. I only recently returned from a short tour in Afghanistan. On top of that, my wife and I have been preparing for our first child – so admittedly, my desire to deal with the daily dialogues from both the Progressive left and Conservative/Constitutionalists is rather low.

Then in breezes miner Rick Barclay.

This one quickly gets as complex as the Bundy Ranch Standoff – and that one ended up being as much about the rancher’s tax evasion/trespassing on government property, as the BLM’s disproportionate response. But unlike the pending litigation against the Nevada rancher, the Oregon miners may actually carry the day here. So bear with me. But in both cases, the negative commonality is the involvement of Oath Keepers and the “members” it brought in with them.

Key Players

R. Barclay

R. Barclay

Barclay and his mining partner, George Backes, are owners of the Sugar Pine Mine near Medford, Oregon. The Sugar Pine is part of the Galice Creek cooperative claim, which is compiled of a number of similar claim owners existing since the 1870’s in a quasi semi-autonomous state where they are able to excise their own mining regulations outside of federal legislation (or so the group asserts). In fact the Sugar Pine Mine itself maintains to have continuously held its claim to the surface rights with the County Clerk since 1858, predating the establishment of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) by over 70 years. (The Sugar Pine Mine)(OregonLive) But the Galice Creek Mining Claim itself has been embroiled with the BLM on land rights issues for over a decade as more miners move into BLM-held lands, and the BLM seeks other areas for resource exploration. Sum total, the Galice Mining Claim has removed over 10 million ounces, only 10% of estimated potential gold, from deposits in the area.

So some time back in late 2014, a team from the BLM was conducting a land survey on (what they assert is) federally-held BLM land looking for abandoned mining shafts left over from Oregon’s 18th century Gold Rush. Mining claims of such nature are typically invalidated when they are exchanged from one owner to the next, and thus nullify any grandfather clause pertaining to surface mining rights, with the current owner having 30 days to appeal the rights of said claim or risk forfeiture back to the government. However, per the federal Chains of Title regulation any claim that predates July 23rd, 1955 states the owner retains surface rights unless the owner relinquishes them per the 1955 Surface Resources Act (aka the Multiple Use Act) and the rights revert back to the government.

Lands held under federal domain (per BLM)

Lands held under federal domain (per BLM)

Since the BLM team was exploring federal lands that had no record of an active claim (again that they were probably aware of), they stumbled across the Sugar Pine Mine that was (1) unmarked in their records and (2) complete with a cabin, water line, watchmen and (3) had begun clear cutting trees and digging with a backhoe and bulldozer. (Associated Press) The BLM, seeing an unauthorized mine on federal land, issued a notice of non-compliance to Barclay and Backes in early 2015 through a Josephine County deputy and BLM ranger. It stated the Sugar Pine Mine was to cease and desist all operations until the owners filed a mining plan (something required for major excavation when digging) with the BLM. If they did not, they would have to tear down the cabin and restore the land to its original state, or appeal the findings to the BLM state director or Interior Board of Land Appeals by April 25th. BLM spokesman for Medford District, Jim Whittington, said the agency was dealing with the dispute administratively and had no plans to send in law enforcement. Whittington went on to say while the owners indeed have mining rights, the surface rights were ceded to the agency in 1961 by the then-owners. (Urquhart) Barclay and mine supporters insist they have sent multiple Freedom of Information requests to several BLM offices requesting proof of the government’s claim on the mine, but to date not received the government’s response.

Call to Arms

If you are a true Militia, true III%, Oathkeeper etc. then you are needed. If you can get away from home to help, NOW IS THE TIME. Just like Bundy ranch, the BLM is out of order! SHUT DOWN THE FOREIGN CORPORATION NOW! The miners need you!!

Such was the tone of postings splashed across the websites and email distro of the Oath Keepers circa April 15th and picked up by like-minded sympathizers like Chris Langer, a firearms instructor from Wisconsin. (Rapolla)(Gettys)

“That’s what being an American’s all about. We don’t allow our neighbor to be enslaved or beaten or tortured by government jackboots because they want to steal our land and our resources to keep us under their thumb”, said Blaine Cooper, an Arizona State Militia member headed to Oregon. (Gettys)

Security at the Sugar Pine Mine's Gate

Security at the Sugar Pine Mine’s Gate

Barclay, fearing only for impoundment of his land and property before a proper hearing (and with no apparent evidence of any other actions or intentions by the BLM other than the issued order of non-compliance), contacted the local Josephine County Oath Keepers earlier in the week seeking armed protection. (OregonLive) “All I want is my day in court, with my property intact,” Barclay said. (Urquhart)

Yet the BLM wasn’t exactly in a rush to resolve the Sugar Pine Mine issue, having dealt with numerous such disputes before, and stated the appeals board hearings would be scheduled later in 2015. Both Barclay and Backes have been paying out of pocket in legal fees and ultimately Barclay feared the BLM would move in to impound his heavy equipment, raze his cabin, seize his land, and pillage his women and kill his children…or some such presumption. Contrary to his concern (and unlike the Bundy standoff with the BLM in Nevada moving in and impounding cattle), no evidence exists to suggest the BLMs intent in anything other than to resolve the issue through lengthy (and costly) legal mitigation.

Josephine County Oath Keepers spokeswoman Mary Emerick says the group had volunteers arriving earlier in the week, and that they were defending constitutional rights,

Our mission is simply to make sure that the mine owners constitutional, Fifth Amendment rights are in place-the right to due process,“If this resolves itself tomorrow, we’re ready to pack up and leave, but we’re prepared (for the long term).” (Associated Press)

All manner of individuals from varying Constitutionalist and anti-government wings responded to Medford either personally, via mail, or on social media with the whole event seemingly pushed on by a multitude of online groups who parroted the strong Bundy-Sugar Pine connection. It fell on the local Josephine County Oath Keepers group to “certify” who was fit to pull duty and who would be sent home. Even family members from the Bundy Ranch responded to Oregon and were “monitoring the situation”. (Urquhart)

And the Band Played On

Unfortunately, it didn’t take long for Barclay or the local Oath Keepers to realize those who responded weren’t exactly the most desirable for the situation. As early as 24 hours following the general “all hands on deck” cry for Oath Keeper volunteers, Barclay retracted from his previous position telling people his mine wasn’t under imminent threat, and that the event had become a “circus” pushed on by “keyboard warriors”. (OregonLive) (Gettys) Eventually Barclay was forced to give a public statement,

“We don’t need any more volunteers, we’re not under attack, and this is not the Bundy Ranch. Please stop calling the BLM and threatening their personnel.”(Gettys)

And although the local Oath Keepers website maintains it had no interest in confronting the BLM, clearly others answering their “call” did not share such sentiment. Joseph Rice, the security coordinator for the Josephine County Oath Keepers stated,

“If you are on a fringe element, and you’re here to protest, or provoke a reaction with the federal government, I don’t want you here. Let me repeat that: If you’re here to protest and to provoke a reaction with the federal government, I do not need you.” (Watson)

However, the BLM told its employees that week to avoid the mining area citing safety concerns due to a growing number of armed individuals near the mine and unknown tempers or intentions. (Urquhart) Not helping the Oath Keepers cause, BLM representative Whittington confirmed publicly the agency had fielded an increasing number of threatening phone calls, but would not comment on the details of the calls as they were now under investigation. (OregonLive)

Protest at BLM Headquarters

Protest at BLM Headquarters

Beginning with a rally for support, Oath Keepers and Barclay announced on the 20th they would hold a peaceful protest/rally at the BLM County Headquarters in Medford on the 23rd. (Sebens) (Urquhart) The rally, attended by about 100 peaceful (and some openly carrying – as is their right) Oath Keepers and mine supporters, was to bring public attention to the Sugar Pine Mine standoff and provided Barclay a venue to recite the 4th and 5th Amendments in which he felt the BLM was unjustly denying him. A BLM spokesmen released a public statement on the 23rd saying the agency had received the Sugar Pine Mine appeal and although the offices would remain closed in the interim, it would continue to process the documents. (Fox News)

But the rally didn’t go over well with some local residents, many who fear the influx of outsiders and extreme ideologies will negatively impact the region’s reputation and economy. (Moriarty) At the same time the rally was held at Medford, a small group of “concerned citizens” was at the Josephine County Courthouse holding their own press junket and wound up trading barbs with Joseph Rice. When opening up for questions, Rice immediately jumped at the opportunity ahead of the press, asking if any of the local businessmen had brought their concern to the miners. The residents flatly ignored Rice, insisting they weren’t there to address his questions before themselves heading inside the courthouse.

And that more or less catches us up to where things are now. Barclay and the Sugar Pine Mine have submitted the necessary documents for an appeal (and assumably ceased mining per BLM notice), the BLM is too terrified to do its job locally, and local residents are not pleased at the influx of Oath Keepers and their ideologies.


So here’s my take on this. Despite the strong correlations to the confrontation between the BLM and the Bundy Ranch in Nevada a year ago, anyone who thinks it’s the same situation is fooling themselves. And it was amazing to, once again, see how many lunged at the opportunity to grab their “Go Bag”, rifle, and charge down the highway to Oregon without actually analyzing the situation or the facts. And central to it all was Mr. Barclay and the Oath Keepers.

Barclay’s assertion that his 4th and 5th Amendment Rights were being violated was incorrect. Typically you have to wait until a crime is committed BEFORE you can cry wolf. This isn’t the futuristic movie “Minority Report” where we run around exercising law on predictions of  what might happen in the near future. The 4th Amendment clearly states;

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

So while the interpretation of Constitutional law has been debated since almost as soon as the ink dried, the 4th merely secures a citizen’s right to property from illegal search and seizure without “probable cause”. But unlike the situation that unfolded at the Bundy Ranch in Nevada, the BLM never moved into the Sugar Pine Mine to seize anything. No evidence exists (that I could find or was ever published) to demonstrate BLM’s intent to do anything other than go through the legal system by issuing citations or cease and desist forms that left clearly open the ability to appeal. Admittedly the legal system is a ponderous and lethargic beast, and the federal government often doesn’t know what one hand is doing over the other – but Barclay was so terrified that he’d lose his expensive mining equipment and golden-laden land, and realized the only way to ensure security on his property was under armed guard, that he used the entire situation as a lighting rod to preempt the BLM by appealing to the Oath Keepers. And they were more than eager to jump into the fray.

Meanwhile, the 5th Amendment states;

No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

Camp Security

Camp Security

Long story short (and a crap-ton of interpretative litigation later) the 5th ensures protection of citizens against detainment without just cause or legal hearing, double jeopardy, self-incrimination, or be deprived of “life, liberty, or property without due process of law”. However, again like the cited example above, the BLM never actually deprived Barclay, his partner, or anyone else of their lives, livelihood, and freedom to go anywhere or do anything, or indeed actually seized anything. Again, the miners were given opportunity to appeal, and go through the legal system (which they have opted for). But either the process was too costly or lengthy for those at the Sugar Pine Mine to wade through, and they opted for a more immediate course of action using the Oath Keepers as armed security. Moreover, while examples of BLM overreach are often readily cited (as so are miners or other individuals like the Bundy’s), the BLM is a federal entity, meaning its levels of enforcement are not universal. How the situation was handled in Nevada is not how it will be handled in Oregon or elsewhere. And yes, people hate the BLM for its questionable management of lands, and how it addresses grievances. But we are a nation of laws, civil and just (or at least I like to think we are capable of it). If indeed the miner’s surface rights are recorded, and federal law accommodates the fact that the claim existed BEFORE the government (unlike the case with the Bundy’s), then in all likelihood when this goes to the appeals board or court, the BLM will bear the burden of proof (such as evidence of a break in the claim lineage during 1961) and won’t have any. Thus the Sugar Pine Mine will clearly win. If this were some sort of “universal” approach to dozens or hundreds of miners in the Oregon area at once, imprisoning people, or they were seizing lands or equipment without due process or compensation, then there would be a case for a Constitutional violation. But it’s just one mine and several guys that feel their being targeted. Mainly because heavy mining equipment is expensive, and they don’t want to risk their land’s gold deposits.

And lastly this brings me to the Oath Keepers.

For @#$&’s sake, you people should have known better. You should have acted better. And given how the standoff at the Bundy Ranch unfolded and the facts that came to light during and after, the Oath Keepers should have assessed how to better (and more professionally) respond to the Sugar Pine request when a single miner claimed “oppression”.

Oath Keeper

Oath Keeper “Security”…ever vigilant.

But while the mission fit the Josephine County (and national) Oath Keepers objectives, it’s obvious that no one assessed capacity vs. competence. The local Oath Keepers chapter clearly had the capacity to staff the 10-man unit it wound up needing to establish security at the mine without needing a nation-wide alarm. So why the desperate cry to arms from Oath Keepers, III%ers and other Constitutionalists, aside from the attention itself? Simple, members saw what they wanted to see – an opportunity to put its message and militia in the spotlight at the cost of its objectivity/credibility. But the competence in professionalism, public affairs, and low-profile operations was clearly absent as the group struggles to maintain its public legitimacy as many other Oath Keepers (and others) from outside the region came to their call and threatened BLM employees or hindered more than assisted.

Many of the Oath Keepers are former military, and the group/militia itself holds an “oath” to refuse unconstitutional orders (yet the group is oft vague as to who or what it defines as “an unconstitutional order” as Constitutional law has been debated for decades with varying interpretations). So its “mission” and members are highly suspect to me; as evident between the standoff in Nevada and again here in Oregon, as the members of its roster are more than ready to run headlong into a conflict without examining if they should. The assorted straphangers it also brings into a volatile situation under its flag are worse. By putting out an “all hands” nation-wide call they brought in every tin-foil hat window-licker and lead paint eater with an AR who sees themselves as vigilantes against government tyranny. What they needed were professionals, in training and stature, a public affairs representative that was not confrontational (and knows how to frame an argument/situation favorable to an outcome), and an understanding of the word “transparency” with the locals. Despite the Oath Keepers assertion they weren’t there for a confrontation, their approach to operations, lack of public engagement, and rank-and-file has already staked the “us and them” battle lines and at the end of the day many of them have the luxury of not living in the Medford area.

 Works Cited

Associated Press. Protesters defend Oregon gold miners in government dispute. 15-April. 2015 15-April <;.

Bowan, Spike. Tension Between BLM And Mining Operation, Oath Keepers Set Up Camp. 15-April. 2015 15-April <;.

DeSoto, Randy. ‘Oath Keepers’ Join Oregon Miners In Stand-Off With BLM. 16-April. 2015 16-April <;.

Fox News. Armed Oregon protesters gather at Bureau of Land Management office over mine dispute, report says. 24-April. 2015 24-April <;.

Gettys, Travis. ‘This is not Bundy Ranch’: Oregon miners beg militia nuts to stop threatening federal agents. 17-April. 2015 17-April <;.

—. Militia groups fock to Oregon for Bundy-style standoff with ‘government jackboots’ over gold mining claim. 14-April. 2015 15-April <…y-style-standoff-with-government-jackboots-over-gold-mining-claim/&gt;.

Kouri, Jim. Josephine County Oath Keepers and Militias React to Obama’s BLM “Claim Jumpers”. 20-April. 2015 22-April <;.

Macson, Erin. Rally for Sugar Pine Mine Remains Peaceful but BLM Close Office as Safety Precaution. 23-April. 2015 23-April <;.

Moriarty, Thomas. Residents say armed mine supporters sully Josephine County’s reputation. 24-April. 2015 24-April <;.

OregonLive. Oregon gold miners in BLM dispute call on armed supporters to stand down. 20-April. 2015 20-April <;.

Rapolla, Brandon. Sugar Pine Mine Official Oath Keepers Call to Action And “The Oath”. 21-April. 2015 21-April <;.

Sebens, Shelby. Oregon miners call for peaceful protest after enlisting armed guards. 20-April. 2015 20-April <;.

The Sugar Pine Mine. The Sugar Pine Mine. 15-April. 2015 20-April <;.

Urquhart, Jim. Oregon mine that summoned armed guards in land dispute files appeal. 23-April. 2015 23-April <;.

Watson, Paul. SPLC Accuses Oath Keepers of Inciting “Armed Confrontation” Over Sugar Pine Mine. 24-April. 2015 24-April <;.


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