A Los Osos resident who was convicted of killing his father in 1977 is one of the armed militia members occupying the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Burns County, Ore.
Neil Sigurd Wampler, 68, has been holed up in the refuge’s ranger headquarters protesting federal government “overreach” since the standoff began earlier this month. The activists have been occupying the property to protest federal authority over public lands in the West and the arson convictions of father and son ranchers outside Burns.
However, court records show that Wampler was convicted of second-degree murder and is precluded from owning firearms.
He has written letters to The Tribune railing against gun control measures and has contacted the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office, arguing that he has a constitutional right to own a gun.
According to public records databases, the former woodworker has lived in Los Osos since 2006. Calls to a cell phone number listed in one database were not answered Friday morning.
In August 1977, Wampler, then 29 years old, was convicted of second-degree murder in the killing of his father, Forey Edward Wampler, in Lake County, Calif., according to Lake County Superior Court and District Attorney’s Office records.
In an interview with an Oregonian/OregonLive newspaper reporter, Wampler denied he is the same man. Since the standoff began on Jan. 2, the newspaper has published a series of profiles of the protesters who took over the refuge. The paper said Wampler’s felony is the most serious criminal conviction among the militants they profiled.
But based on staff experiences and identification made via a YouTube video that shows Wampler speaking about the standoff from Oregon, local officials recognize him as the Los Osos resident, Sheriff’s Office spokesman Tony Cipolla said.
Cipolla said Friday that his office is familiar with Wampler because he had come in to the Sheriff’s Office several times about two or three years ago demanding to speak with a commander about his right to own a gun.
“He approached us, wanting to talk about the Second Amendment and gun rights,” Cipolla said. “He came in on his own volition, arguing that he has a right to own a firearm. The commander, who talked to him a number of different times, told him he’s not because of his homicide conviction.”
He never applied for a concealed weapons permit, Cipolla said.
San Luis Obispo Superior Court records do not show any local criminal proceedings against Wampler.
According to records obtained by The Oregonian, Wampler was accused of hitting his 62-year-old father in the head with a 16-inch rod while he was asleep in bed at his Lower Lake, Calif., home, killing him. Wampler had been staying at his father’s home for eight days before the killing and had a troubled relationship with him. Wampler then left the residence and wound up at a liquor store, where he told an employee to call the sheriff’s office, the newspaper reported.
He pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to a first-degree murder charge, and a judge ordered two psychiatrists to evaluate him. During a hearing in July 1977, Wampler reportedly told the court that he and his father were drinking and his father insulted Wampler’s girlfriend.
Wampler pleaded guilty to a second-degree murder charge on Aug. 8, 1977, according to the Lake County District Attorney’s Office. He was sentenced to five years to life in state prison, California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation spokeswoman Bill Sessa told The Tribune. Wampler served his sentence at the California Medical Facility in Vacaville and later the Correctional Training Facility in Soledad, Sessa said. He was paroled on July 11, 1981.
Locally, Wampler has expressed his opposition to any measures that would restrict a person’s ability to own firearms, urging residents in a March 2013 letter to The Tribune “to go on the counteroffensive against unconstitutional gun laws and the people who make them.”
“Make no mistake, the antigun (sic) people are aggressive, well funded and will scruple nothing in their assault on our rights,” Wampler wrote. “They are not going to just go away.”
Wampler was writing the letter in support of Sheriff Ian Parkinson, who had recently written a letter to U.S. Vice President Joe Biden saying he “will not take firearms from law-abiding citizens and turn law-abiding citizens into criminals by enforcing gun control legislation that will not solve or prevent tragedy.”
According to the Oregonian, Wampler, who has served as camp cook at the Burns County standoff, said he drove to Oregon from Los Osos after seeing an online call for people to support the protest. Wampler told the newspaper about 75 percent of protesters at the refuge are armed. Asked if he was armed, he replied, “Oh yes,” but wouldn’t identify his weapon or say whether it was a gun.
From inside the compound, Wampler appeared in a YouTube video wearing a State of Jefferson hat, discussing the “general, out of control, ever-encroaching nature that the federal government has displayed over a long period of time.”
Asked why he came to Burns, Wampler replies: “I am here to support my compadres in this effort against federal overreach.”
Wampler also attended the standoff with federal authorities at Cliven Bundy’s Nevada ranch in 2014 and was quoted by The Las Vegas Review-Journal at the time saying: “I myself am willing to be shot and killed for constitutional rights and principles.”
Rebecca Woolington of The Oregonian contributed to this article.