A conversation with Corey Lequieu

Former militiaman discusses ongoing social tensions and the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge occupation

I first learned about Nevadan Corey Lequieu as one of 26 people who, in 2016, participated in the armed takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in remote east-central Oregon.

Following the roughly month-long armed standoff in which one occupier died, Lequiueu pled guilty to Conspiracy to Impede Federal Employees from doing their work. He served 26 months in a federal prison for his involvement in the takeover. 

Since the killing of George Floyd earlier this year, a culture of demonstration and counter demonstration has unfolded on the grounds of the Nevada State Capitol in Carson City, and Lequieu has become a fixture.

He is known for wearing fatigues, a helmet, body armor and bodycam, a pistol (a broken bb gun), handcuffs, a bullhorn, and sometimes his German shepherd on a thick, short leash. 

I met Corey Lequieu this summer at a pro-Trump rally. He stood by the side of Carson Street in front of the State Legislature with his dog smoking cigarettes and occasionally picking up the microphone of a bullhorn to say, “Joe Biden is a pedophile.”

Listen to a conversation with Corey Lequieu. Music credits are listed at the end of the podcast transcript.

So what compels Lequieu to show up at the State Capitol?

“The biggest reason why go out there is so BLM doesn’t burn, loot, and murder. That’s kind of our nickname for them.

“And it’s funny because the whole thing … the pretense of Black Lives Matter … they don’t care about black lives because you go to their website and it’s got Act Blue. Act Blue as a Democrat fundraising platform, whatever you want to call it, and I’m going, ‘you know, this is the party that started the KKK, that had every kind of racist racial segregation against Blacks.’ So that’s kind of like an oxymoron. 

“What’s funny is, the last time BLM talked to me, and I sent you a video clip of it, they’re denying they’re BLM now. They said that’s to moderate for them. And what’s really interesting to see is BLM is turning on the Democrat Party. They don’t want Joe Biden either. To them, the Democrat Party and nutjobs like AOC are not far enough to the left. That’s basically it.” 

Joe Biden will be sworn in as the 46th President of the United States on January 20. Lequieu is a devoted Donald Trump supporter and says that word is, there will be an armed takeover of Washington DC on January 10. For Lequieu and other Trump acolytes, the election has been stolen. If not for his wife’s ill health, Lequieu said he’d be headed to DC.

“I’m gonna tell you this right now, this is what I do know. They’re not hiding it publicly. I’m not gonna participate. I got my reasons for it, but my wife has serious health issues as a main one. Here’s what I do know and they’re putting it out on social media. The militia plan on taking over Washington DC, shutting it down, closing off all the roadways or whatever. To keep Biden from getting in there I guess, but they’re going to start on January 9. That’s like what, 11 days before Trump leaves office. They’re putting it on social media. They’re pissed. They totally believe, and I agree with them, the election’s been stolen.”

Since protests began this summer, Lequiueu has been called a racist and a white supremecist. Are these accusations true?

“They call me a racist, militant or a nationalist, I’m a white nationalist, supremacist or whatever. And I do love what Trump says about putting America first and instead of helping out all these other countries, and most of them, they don’t like us very much. Yeah, I’m all for putting Americans first over everybody else. We should, but somehow Antifa has just turned it into a racist thing. I mean, there’s nothing that Trump has ever said that was racist. I mean, he’s pardoned Blacks that were in prison for life over drug charges.”

And it’s true, Trump did pardon three African American women convicted of nonviolent offenses. He also pardoned one-time world heavyweight champion boxer Jack Johnson for a spurious and racially-motivated application of federal law in 1920.  

In 2018, Trump also pardoned Oregon ranchers Dwight Hammond and his son Steven Hammond for a fire that started on their ranch and spread to federal land. At the time of the pardon, Dwight Hammond had been in jail for more than three years. Steven Hammond had been imprisoned for four.

The Hammonds were found guilty of terrorist arson in 2012. A federal judge initially sentenced Dwight to three months in jail and Steven to one year in prison. Momentum for the takeover gained steam when an appeals court in 2015 reversed the original sentences and imposed a federal minimum five-year sentence for terrorist arson. Lequieu lived in Fallon, Nevada at the time and said he was recruited with misinformation.

“I was basically lied to by one of the militia leaders to even come up there. What I was told was the FBI was threatening the Hammond family through various things doing you know, making these threats to him. And it all come out in the wash that was all fake and false to get people mad, riled up, to go do something. 

“However, what the federal government was doing to the Hammonds was was wrong, was illegal. Trump pardoned them in July of ‘18, Dwight and Steven Hammond. Basically, what had happened was a lighting fire started. The fire was headed to their house. They started a backfire to keep their own home from burning down and they got charged for terrorist arson. 

“Now one thing I am angry about this is why wasn’t that prosecutor charged for malicious prosecution? Because the charges didn’t even fit. And the reason why part of the reason why they got charged because the fire got one acre the wildlife refuge and it burnt up some dead grass, okay, pretty ridiculous stuff. 

“Basically, the Clinton, the Obama administration was trying to rub them out, wanted them gone, wanted their land. Hillary Clinton had signed the uranium one deal, and part of that was to let the Russians come in there and mine for uranium, which is a kind of an act of treason. I would think.”

Lequieu said that he learned later that the takeover was about much more than the Hammonds’ legal trouble. He said there was fear that President Barack Obama would “create a false flag” as an excuse for martial law and associated internment camps. They took over the wildlife sanctuary in an effort to start the second American Revolution. 

“The whole refuge standoff thing in Oregon back in 2016 … that was actually meant for … that was a sideshow for something much bigger. Let’s put it that way. What what some of the leadership really wanted was to start the Second American Revolution and overthrow Obama. Because the fear was that Obama was going to use some excuse to instill martial law, start rounding people up into like these FEMA camps. And everybody was looking at as Obama’s got one year left, and we better make a move now, and I wasn’t a part of all that leadership decision or whatever. I found out a way after the fact. 

“So that’s what they were really pushing for. They really thought Obama was gonna, you know, create like a false flag, shall we say, to come up with the excuse of martial law, and yeah, we’re all screwed. And so that was part of the leadership up there. What they were really concerned more about. So, like I said, I wasn’t in those meetings. That was not … I found that out way after the fact.”

For Lequieu and others, the charge of terrorist arson was an act of tyranny. The Patriot movement was energized. People descended on tiny Burns, Oregon from everywhere. The town of 2,700 was overrun. Who showed up?

“I’ve seen some kids come in here that were just ready to like crap their pants, and then they would leave. One kid came in, he was so obese. He was wearing all this level-four body armor and all this … he fell over in the, I remember the bunkhouse, and people had to help him get back up. 

“I mean, there was some real clowns that showed up there that … oh, Lord … and see, the Bundy’s wouldn’t vet anybody. Anybody was allowed to come in there. I mean, we got some crazy ones that showed up from all over the country.”

Lequieu tells a story of being allowed to use the bathroom in an administrative building on the Malheur Wildlife Refuge when he and his wife and a couple other would-be occupiers visited in December, before the takeover. When they overtook the refuge, Lequieu said there was no one there. He said they were under orders to shoot any employees who resisted. 

On January 2, day one of the takeover, temperatures in Burns, Oregon dipped to 15 below zero at night and peaked at 14 during the day. Winds gusted to 10 miles per hour. What was it like behind the barricade?  

“In the very beginning it was like, everyone was like all go gung ho. And the worst of it was having to do shifts, and if you’ve ever seen pictures of the standoff up there, they had an old firewatch tower that’s probably like 200 feet up. And we’d have to climb this little wooden staircase, and sometimes the steps would break, so I remember I would step on the very edge of the step because where the steel, where it’s bolted into the steel frame, I wouldn’t step in the middle. I didn’t trust those old wooden steps. I think that thing was built back in the 1920s or 30s. 

“But go up there in that watch tower at night and you just like freeze to death up there. Because we kept people on watch in that tower 24/7. And that was miserable. I remember when we first got there, there was like a foot of like owl and bird crap in that watchtower. And a couple days later, somebody finally cleaned it all out. I remember coming down and you’d see all the bird crap dust all over your boots and your pants, which is not probably healthy to breath.” 

Corey Lequieu near the ranch of Dwight Hammond who, along with his son Steven, were imprisoned for terrorist arson. A variety of militia members descended on the tiny town of Burns, Oregon in late December of 2016 in support of the Hammonds who did not want militia assistance. – photo: courtesy of Corey Lequieu
Corey Lequieu on watch in a fire tower on the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, January 2016 – photo: courtesy of Corey Lequieu
A view from the fire tower on the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, January, 2016 – photo: courtesy of Corey Lequieu
Temperatures dipped to minus 20F at night and peaked around 20 during much of the standoff – photo: courtesy of Corey Lequieu
A view from the fire tower on the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge – photo: courtesy of Corey Lequieu
Corey Lequieu with a flag signed by those who overtook the Malhuer National Wildlife Refuge in 2016 – photo: courtesy of Corey Lequieu
Lequieu has an American flag signed by all the occupiers, to include LaVoy Finicum who died in a standoff with police as he was attempting to leave the wildlife refuge – photo: courtesy of Corey Lequieu
Lequieu has received hundred of letters from people thanking him for taking over the wildlife refuge – photo: courtesy of Corey Lequieu

People sent him bracelets they wore in his honor – photo: courtesy of Corey Lequieu

This summer, Lequieu received more than two terabytes of discovery information that federal law enforcement and prosecutors had compiled on him. He learned during the trials and by studying the giant cache of discovery evidence from his case that the Malheur occupation was rife with federal informants.

Last Saturday, Ally reporter Quest Lakes caught Lequieu on video chatting with a dozen or so armed militia members at a “Stop the Steal” rally in Carson City at the State Capitol, but since his experience in Oregon, he is not a member of an organized group militia, though he wears a patch on his uniform for the Nevada Three Percent militia.

“One of the things I’ve learned, the feds always have an informant in every militia group out there. And the bad thing about that is, these informants will make up lies because the one that they had on me certainly did. They’ll make up lies on you, because they get paid for this stuff. But they’ll make up some pretty outrageous stuff and tell their FBI handlers just crazy stuff so they can get paid. I mean, my handler told me, he told the FBI. His nam is Robert Seaver, by the way, big guy like 6’3’ – 6’4’. Anyway, he was from Portland, Oregon originally. I think they moved him down to Fallon Nevada, where I used to live to put him on me, but anyhow. 

“Robert told the cops and the FBI that I went up to Oregon to kill cops … my wife is an ex cop. Makes a lot of sense – no. That was used against me a little bit in court there. But I mean, there was informants at the refuge that were trying to get people to make bombs and do other criminal stuff. And that’s part of why the Bundys won their case because it got exposed in court that these federal undercovers were encouraging and or doing criminal activity themselves, and to the jury look like a big setup.”

Federal prosecutors have been criticized for failing to send Cliven and Ammon Bundy to prison for organizing the Malheur takeover. Prosecutors attempted to get a retrial earlier this year, but an appeals court shot down the motion in August. 

For his involvement in the Malheur takeover, Lequieu served 26 months in the Federal Correctional Institution at Victorille, California.

“You want to see reverse racism? Victorville is an ICE prison. It holds mostly illegal aliens that have broken federal laws, committed whatever crimes … most of it was drug trafficking, but they’re doing prison time and they’re gonna get deported back to Mexico or whatever country they’re from, because they’re not all from Mexico. There’s a few I think that like Central America, Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, but anyway that they’re gonna get deported back. So if I remember right … I’m trying to remember the the actual number of inmates on that yard but … I think it was like 16 or 18 hundred. But I can tell you this, only 70 were white when I got there.”

Did they send you to Victorville intentionally?

“Oh yeah, there’s no doubt about it because I was sent to a medium … what the feds did to screw me … see, they have a classification system and they take points and add points or take away points for like if you’re … they didn’t didn’t credit me for a high school diploma … they didn’t credit me for … high school diploma or my age because if you’re over 35, they take points or something else they didn’t credit me. 

“So I should have went to a camp. And instead they raised my classification points up to send me to the most violent prison they could. Yeah, I should never … and when I got it all straightened out, they only do the classification hearings every 18 months, and by the time I got to Victorville, that’s about what I had left. So even once I got them to change all that, they still, they weren’t gonna have another classification hearing for another 18 months, so there’s nothing I could do about it.”

Because he was in jail, Lequieu and his wife lost their house in Fallon. They moved to Carson City where he qualified for federally subsidized housing for veterans. Out of fear that the federal government would charge him as much as a million dollars for damages to the wildlife refuge, he asked his father to write him out of his will. His father did and subsequently died, so his father’s estate was bequeathed to a cousin. Lequieu was ultimately charged some $7,000 dollars for damages to the Refuge, which he has paid.

The hundreds of letters and gifts he’s received from people thanking him for the refuge takeover do not make up for what he’s lost to the Malheur incident.

When he demonstrates at the State Capitol, he wears a pistol in a holster, but the gun is a broken bb gun. As a felon in Nevada, he cannot own a firearm. He said his wife owns a 40mm Glock pistol and wears it at rallies. Is he bitter about how Malheur turned out for him?

“Not really … as far as am I bitter about it or anything? I mean, it is what it is. I mean, I’ll put it to you this way, knowing what I know now, I probably wouldn’t have gone because, like I said I got conned and lied to about what was being done to the Hammonds. Because I asked this person that came to my house I said ‘look, because the Hammonds were asked if they wanted militia help. The original idea was to go to their property and basically get as many militia as they could in there on their property and keep the feds out from arresting them or whatever.

“And the Hammonds were like, ‘No, we don’t want that. We’re just gonna take our lumps, go to prison and deal with it.’ And so I told this individual, I said, ‘so if the Hammonds don’t want our help, then why are we getting involved,’ and he goes, ‘Well, they’re, they’re scared to death. They’re being intimidated by the FBI. And he made all this drama up that wasn’t even true. 

“My whole point was, if people don’t want your help. Don’t interject yourself into a situation where you’re not wanted. And that’s exactly what happened. The militia interjected themselves into a situation where the Hammonds did not want our help.”

Corey Lequieu was behind the barricade at the Malheur Wildlife Refuge from January 2 to January 27. Four others, Sean and Sandy Anderson, David Fry, and Nevadan Jeff Banta stayed until February 11.  

David Fry live streamed the final days of the occupation. A memorable scene showed the group of four sitting around a camp fire smoking moldy cannabis and drinking alcohol they smuggled into the Refuge. Ammon Bundy, reportedly, did not approve of drugs or alcohol at the takeover, but he and everyone else had surrendered.

Fry, during the final hours of the occupation on his live stream, threatened to kill himself. Nevada Assemblywoman Michele Fiore talked him into surrendering. Fiore had encouraged the takeover and came in person at one point with supplies for participants.

But these days, the Trump presidency has emboldened militia movement thinking. For Corey Lequieu and others, Trump has yet to concede the election and continues to exhort his followers with claims of a rigged election, despite repeated failures to overturn the results in court. In this context, more “Steal the Vote” rallies and other militia actions are foretold before Joe Biden takes the oath of office on January 20.

Brian Bahouth is the editor of the Sierra Nevada Ally. Support his work between now and the end of the year, and NewsMatch will match your contribution dollar-for-dollar.

Music credits as reported to the Public Radio Exchange, in order of appearance: 

Song: 70 MPH Isn’t Fast Enough to Get out of Nebraska
Artist: Shawn Lee and Clutchy Hopkins
Album: Fascinating Fingers
Label: Ubiquity Records
Year: 2009
Duration: 1:44 

Song: 6th Chamber
Artist: Bill Laswell
Album: 6th Chamber
Label:  Axiom, Palm Pictures
Year: 2001
Duration: 2:23

 Song: Mimi Tatonka
Artist: Shawn Lee and Clutchy Hopkins
Album: Fascinating Fingers
Label: Ubiquity Records
Year: 2009
Duration: 1:14 

Song: Orphan Coal
Artist: Bass Communion
Album: Bass Communion
Label: Hidden Art Recordings
Year: 2020
Duration: 4:04 

Song: Augusta
Artist: Bathysphere
Album: Bathysphere’s Daylight Shrubbery EP
Label: Deep-Water Recordings
Year: 2002
Duration: 2:03 

Song: Alsema Dub
Artist: Bill Laswell and Jah Wobble
Album: Radioaxiom – A Dub Transmission
Label: Palm Pictures
Year: 2001
Duration: 3:05 

Song: 7 Inch
Artist: Shawn Lee and Clutchy Hopkins
Album: Fascinating Fingers
Label: Ubiquity Records
Year: 2009




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