Update, Jan. 27: With the death of one of the participants in the Oregon stand-off on Tuesday, we've updated this article from Jan. 4.

If you visit Alcatraz Island in the San Francisco Bay, an unexpected sign greets you. Above a sign identifying the island as the site of a federal penitentiary is block lettering in red: "INDIANS WELCOME."


The landing at Alcatraz. (Christian Haugen/Flickr)

It's a remnant of one of the earlier examples of an occupation of a federal facility by a group seeking recognition of their sovereignty, transfer of federal land or both — an occupation similar to the one of a wildlife refuge that's underway near Burns, Ore.

The good news is that in most examples since the Alcatraz Island one began in 1969, the stand-off has ended peacefully.


We can start the history of these confrontations at Alcatraz.

1. Occupation of Alcatraz, 1969–1971
No civilians or federal agents killed.

A group of nearly 100 people calling itself Indians of All Tribes took control of Alcatraz Island on Thanksgiving of 1969. Their numbers dwindled over time, with the government ousting them in June 1971. No one was killed.

2. Occupation of a Milwaukee Coast Guard station and Mount Rushmore, 1971
No civilians or federal agents killed.

A few members of the American Indian Movement claimed ownership of Mount Rushmore in 1971, occupying the monument for a brief period of time.

The occupation of an abandoned Coast Guard station by the same group was more successful. The government allowed the group to start a school at the site and, for nearly a decade, operated a school there.

3. Occupation of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, 1972
No civilians or federal agents killed.

After briefly taking control of the government agency in 1971, a large group of hundreds of members of the American Indian Movement took it over for a week the following year. They offered a list of 20 demands, including protection of native American sovereignty. The protest ended without injuries.

4. Occupation of Wounded Knee, 1973
Two civilians killed.

Several hundred members of the American Indian Movement took control of the town of Wounded Knee in 1973, holding it for more than two months. The federal government shut off electricity and limited the availability of food and water and the two sides exchanged gunfire on occasion. Two occupiers were killed by gunfire.

Over the course of the 1960s and 1970s, a number of occupations were initiated (largely on college campuses) in opposition to the Vietnam War or around other social issues. (Former attorney general Eric Holder participated in one at Columbia University in 1970.) By the 1990s, the stand-offs with government officials shifted in focus.

5. Stand-off at Ruby Ridge, 1992
Two civilians and one federal agent killed.

Ruby Ridge, Idaho, was home to Randy Weaver, the patriarch of a family that believed the apocalypse was coming. After an initial confrontation between U.S. marshals and members of the Weaver family in which a marshal and Weaver's son were killed, an 11-day stand-off ensued. Weaver's wife, Vicki, was killed by a sniper several days into the stalemate. A number of FBI agents were disciplined for their roles in the stand-off.

6. Stand-off in Waco, 1993
82 civilians and four federal agents killed.

The incident at the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Tex., is the most notorious — and deadly — siege in recent history. Most of the deaths stemmed from a fire that consumed the compound on the last day of the 51-day stand-off. An initial botched raid by members of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms resulted in four agents being killed.

7. Stand-off with the Montana Freemen, 1996
No civilians or federal agents killed.

The deaths at Ruby Ridge and Waco inspired a number of anti-government extremists, and also prompted the government to use more caution. When a group in Montana that rejected the authority of the federal government kept the FBI at bay for several months, the government ultimately negotiated the peaceful surrender of the group.

8. Stand-off in Alpine, Tex., 1997
No civilians or federal agents killed.

Two members of an anti-government group calling itself "Republic of Texas" abducted two people in April 1997, leading to a week-long stand-off with authorities. It was resolved peacefully.

9. Stand-off in Plainfield, N.H., 2007
No civilians or federal agents killed.

Ed and Elaine Brown claimed that they were exempt from income taxes — a contention that the federal government disputed. For more than 200 days, the pair stayed inside their home, the outside ringed with booby traps. As the Oregonian reported, the two were captured when they allowed a federal agent disguised as a pizza deliveryman inside.

10. Stand-off at Bundy Ranch, 2014
No civilians or federal agents killed.

More here. Also, see below.

11. Occupation near Burns, Oregon, 2016
One civilian killed.

The most recent stand-offs between anti-government groups and the feds are related. The first came at the ranch of Cliven Bundy in 2014, when the Bureau of Land Management tried to seize Bundy's cattle. Bundy's son, Ammon, takes the lesson of the successful response to that incident to Idaho, participating in the seizure of the wildlife refuge building this month.

On Jan. 26, Ammon Bundy was arrested and one of the other participants killed after a traffic stop on Tuesday evening.


Since 1969, that's more than 1,000 days that activists and extremists have occupied federal or state buildings or been in stand-offs with federal agents, excluding the Coast Guard takeover in Wisconsin. Half of that total was in the occupation at Alcatraz. And over the course of those incidents — excluding Waco — five civilians and one federal agent were killed.