FBI agents posed as documentary filmmakers to talk to militia members during an armed standoff in the Nevada desert, then used the recorded interviews against two men now on trial in federal court.
The undercover operation, detailed during testimony in federal court Wednesday, shows the extent of the FBI's operation to infiltrate militia groups that organized tense standoffs with federal officials in Nevada in 2014 and Oregon in 2016.
Militia members, now facing charges in Nevada, were heavily armed as they flocked to the property of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy in 2014. Bundy, who owed the government about $1 million in grazing fees, sparked the standoff with agents of the Bureau of Land Management after refusing to pay up.
The standoff reached a boiling point as BLM agents trying to impound Bundy's cattle were prevented from doing so at gunpoint by militia members, forcing federal officials to withdraw.
On Wednesday, FBI Special Agent Charles Johnson testified about how agents crossed into the other side of the standoff pretending to be documentary makers to talk to the militia, the Las Vegas Review Journal reported.
Among the people interviewed for the fake documentary, America Reloaded, were two men now on trial in Nevada for the standoff, Scott Drexler and Eric Parker.
"I want to stand for the Constitution," Parker told the undercover agents in a recording played in the court Wednesday, according to the Review Journal.
During one of the most tense moments of the standoff, Parker laid on the asphalt of a highway overpass wearing a bulletproof vest and aiming a rifle at federal agents.
"If they started shooting at people in the crowd, I would have been able to lay down cover fire," he said in the video.
The undercover agents in Nevada would not be the last time the FBI tried to infiltrate Bundy's support network of militias and other groups.
Emboldened by what they saw as a victory in Nevada in 2014 when agents withdrew, Bundy's sons Ammon and Ryan were among the leaders of a group that in 2016 headed to Oregon for a similar standoff after taking over a wildlife refuge to protest the arrest of a local rancher and his son.
Four men were convicted of various charges in that case, but the leaders of the standoff, including Ammon and Ryan Bundy, were acquitted.
Federal prosecutors in Oregon said there were nine FBI informants who infiltrated the refuge and acted as supporters of the armed standoff. Among them was a man who introduced himself as John Killman. He spoke with a French accent and helped train militia members at the compound.
Mostly anti-government and paranoid, members of the militia seemed to constantly assume they had been infiltrated by undercover agents or paid informants, who they referred to often as "subversives."
Speculation about informants and undercover agents exploded at the end of the Oregon standoff as supporters, fearing an FBI raid as agents surrounded the refuge, began to leave the property.
On social media and in closed Facebook groups, participants of the armed occupation quickly began accusing one another of being an informant and using any reason to speculate about who had "flipped."
Ultimately, many of those accused of being informants were charged with federal crimes. But Wednesday's testimony in Nevada showed that their suspicions of being infiltrated weren't unfounded.
Salvador Hernandez is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Los Angeles.
Contact Salvador Hernandez at email@example.com.
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