Militia presence at massive Oak Fire sparks concern

Nearly 3,000 firefighters and first responders swarmed the Sierra foothills of Mariposa County to battle the raging Oak Fire, but it was men in camouflage and surplus war vehicles that did the job. some people evacuate and watch extremist groups alarm.

As firefighters battled Tuesday against a blaze that has raged 18,000 acres, destroyed 25 homes and forced thousands of people to flee their homes, the presence of a self-declared militia Claims to have members providing food and offers to help evacuees have raised concerns among some.

Calling themselves Echo Company of the 2nd California Militia Regiment, the group set up a field kitchen near Highway 140 recently and told the Merced Sun-Star they were providing food, water and a housing for those in need. Online, the group posts videos of members practicing with rifles, shields and other gear, along with the group’s tagline: “We dares.”

The Mariposa County Sheriff’s Office announced on Facebook Sunday that it was “aware” of the presence of a local militia in the area. “We appreciate their efforts and any efforts by other private groups or organizations to help our community,” the statement read.

The sun sets behind a ridge burned by the Oak fire near Mariposa on Tuesday.

The sun sets behind a ridge burned by the Oak fire near Mariposa on Tuesday.

(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

But followers of extremist groups question whether their actions are truly altruistic.
They say self-proclaimed militia groups regularly make their way into disaster zones. Sometimes groups claim to provide help and supplies, while actually promoting right-wing extremist ideology, anti-government sentiment and conspiracy theories.

“It puts these groups in a positive light and gives them a kind of de facto authority that they don’t really have under the law, which is this,” said Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate. raises a number of important issues,” said Brian Levin, director of the Center for Hate Research. and Extremism at Cal State San Bernardino. “When you have a system that allows unregulated extremists to cosplay at times of disaster, you get unqualified extremists to cosplay at times of disaster.”

The Sheriff’s Office did not request the presence of the militia and said that members were acting “in their own polite way.”

“The public should be aware that the militia has not been activated or required to act for any purpose by the Sheriff’s Office or any agency working on the Oak Fire,” the agency said. know on Facebook. “We do not endorse groups that help those affected by the Oak fires, however, it is important that we keep the community informed of the resources available to them about the incident and Mariposa County. “

The group’s presence comes as firefighters appear to have made significant profits, even after the fire destroyed 41 structures and displaced thousands of people from their homes.

The debris of a smoldering house is all that remains after the Oak Fire raged through the mountains near Mariposa.

The debris of a smoldering house is all that remains after the Oak Fire raged through the mountains near Mariposa.

(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

The northeast side of the fire is continuing to push up over steep terrain and there is a risk of collision around the 2018 Ferguson fire burn scar, which could then ignite new forest and brooms and make the fire harder to control. Escondido Fire Department public information officer said Dominic Polito, who is working with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection on the fire.

“If it runs around the Ferguson scar, then we’ll start the race,” he said. “If not, then we’re looking good.”

By Tuesday, the fire was 26% contained, according to Cal Fire. Some residents were allowed to return to their homes on Friday night as evacuation orders for some areas were reduced to fire advice.

However, about 1,440 buildings remain threatened as the fire continues to grow on the eastern boundary, and firefighters continue to battle through steep terrain.

Chris Garcia said: “The terrain is very slippery. “Even putting firefighters up there is dangerous. What can happen while walking when a broken rock can hit another firefighter, and we are currently in a lot of traps, which we call a tree that burns and eventually falls down . “

Residents forced to flee are still reeling from the haze of packing what they can and leaving their homes in a state of uncertainty.

“I’ve never seen [smoke] nearby before,” said Richard Perez, a 40-year resident of Mariposa County.

He and his wife packed their belongings, stuffed them into two cars, including their dog and chicken.

“It was my dream home, you know,” he said, “I worked all my life to finally get a place to live.”

A firefighting helicopter is framed by charred branches as it pours water on the Oak fire

A firefighting helicopter is framed by charred branches as it pours water on the Oak fire in a mountainous area near Mariposa on Tuesday.

(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

They put their three German shepherds in one car, and their 11 chickens in the other. After a night at a local hotel, they stayed at the American Red Cross shelter at Mariposa Elementary with about 40 other evacuees.

“I was there for 20 years, and lost everything,” he said, his voice deepening. “It’s just material things, but it’s home.”

It is residents like Perez that the uniformed militia group says they are looking to help.

Daniel Latner, a member of the group, told Mercury News that about 20 members had arrived with large surplus military vehicles to help feed the people. The members were not armed, he said.

However, some residents find their presence disturbing.

“The last thing I’m going to do is get a free three-headed sandwich from a right-wing extremist group,” one woman, who asked not to be named, told Mercury News. free tri-tip sandwiches from a right-wing extremist group.

The group in Mariposa County was once affiliated with a larger militia with a similar name, but the larger militia severed ties with the Echo Company because of an incident in 2020, it said, as they put armed members among Black Lives Matter supporters and police groups during a protest in Atwater.

In a 2020. “excitement”.

The Mariposa County Sheriff’s Office did not respond to a request for comment.

The presence of militias in disaster zones may be well-intentioned, Levin said, but can actually be harmful because members are taking actions that could interfere with the agencies. trained government is coordinating the response.

Many extremist groups also use similar incidents to gain media attention and recruit new members.

Militia groups have also received new scrutiny following similar groups’ involvement in the January 6 uprising in Washington, DC. – was indicted for the alleged role in the attack.

Levin said he is also concerned that, even as the group is assisting residents, the sophisticated approval of law enforcement raises questions about the public’s interactions with them.

“If it turns out that there are extremists in that ranks, that’s an important bottom line where people are most vulnerable,” he said. “People who are vulnerable at times of vulnerability need a qualified response and they do not need to be exposed to the possibility of extremism.”

https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2022-07-27/militia-presence-at-massive-oak-fire-sparks-concern Militia presence at massive Oak Fire sparks concern

Edmund DeMarche

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