- Associated Press - Thursday, February 4, 2016

RENO, Nev. (AP) - The 73-year-old father of one of the four holdouts at the armed occupation of a national wildlife refuge in Oregon says Jeffrey Banta may have learned his distrust of the U.S. government from him growing up hunting and fishing in the wide-open of spaces of rural northern Nevada.

Willard Banta and his wife, Connie, hope their 47-year-old son and the others leave the refuge soon, but he told The Associated Press he sympathizes with their frustration with federal land managers and worries about how it all will end.

Jeffery Banta, an Ohio man and a married couple from Idaho are the only ones who have continued the siege since police shot and killed occupier Robert “LaVoy” Finicum during a Jan. 26 traffic stop.

“I understand it. I support them 100 percent,” Willard Banta said Wednesday from the couple’s home in rural Yerington, Nevada, about 70 miles southeast of Reno. “I’m not going to go out and kill somebody, but I have feelings like that.”

“He may have learned some of this from his dad,” the senior Banta said. “I think the BLM (federal Bureau of Land Management) is a bunch of cold-blooded murderers. If someone else had done what they did, they’d be sitting in prison.”

Jeffrey Banta, a divorced father of two, lived most of his life in Yerington, graduated from the local high school and worked in construction before he moved about five years ago to Elko in northeast Nevada, family members say.

Public records offer little information about his specific whereabouts, home or work since he made the move. The Elko Daily Free Press reported there’s no record of him owning any property there.

His ex-wife, Angela Ellington Banta, said she doesn’t know what he’s been up to in recent years and didn’t want to discuss the current situation. “I have two kids who have been really affected by this,” she told the AP from the hair salon where she works in Yerington.

His 73-year-old mother worked as a medic for the local fire department for nearly 30 years before recently retiring. Last month, she failed in an attempt to be appointed to fill a vacant spot on the Yerington City Council.

Willard Banta said he talked to his son “once or twice” since the standoff began, but he declined to provide details.

“He just said, ‘I’m all right,’ ” he said. “I’m wondering if he is going to make it out. I’d like to see my son come home. I hope he does, but I have my doubts.”

The elder Banta describes himself as “a very bitter man.”

“I love my country, but I don’t love our politicians. The government’s hands are in too damn many areas of our private life,” he said.

“I actually think there is going to be a civil war between the people,” he said. “They tell us this is a country of freedom, but they try to take all our civil rights away. They’re trying to take our guns away, but it’s not the gun’s fault. That’s the way we protect our families.”

Willard Banta said Jeffrey and his brothers and sister grew up around guns, tagging along behind at a young age when he’d hunt for “deer, chukars, sage hens, cottontails” near their home in the Mason Valley, an irrigated agricultural oasis in the area’s otherwise largely barren high desert.

“I had them out in the hills with me as soon as they were old enough to walk and out of diapers,” he said. “They know hunting habits. They’ve all got good morals. They know right from wrong. … But sometimes I wish I never was a parent, you know?”

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