The Bare Ruined Choir was a Portland, Oregon band founded by Daniel Wargo in October 2010. It had originated as a solo project in his Portland State University dorm room and had grown into a multi-person outfit by May 2011. Other members of the band were bassist Ben Noyce, the keyboardist Homer Johnson, and the drummer Oliver Templeton, with Wargo fronting the group on guitar and vocals. The Bare Ruined Choir quickly rose to prominence in their home city and attracted national reviews, providing the band with opportunities to open for Beach House in 2012, Father John Misty in 2013, and the War on Drugs in 2014.
Wargo and the rest of the band did not tour in 2015 and decided to record their second album that winter, an album tentatively called Kissing Cousins. Wargo didn’t want the band to record in a studio, though, as the recording of the group’s first album was a process he didn’t want to repeat. He wanted the Bare Ruined Choir to record in a space that allowed for experimentation with the material, a place in which the music would allow itself to find its essence. Studios were constricting, according to Wargo. Their business practices of charging for studio time forced bands to produce rushed and uninspired material, which is exactly what Wargo thought of the band’s self-titled debut.
The frontman began looking outside of Portland and to the countryside for such a place to record and found a cabin in eastern Oregon through Taylor Slick, a member of his food co-op. Thinking that this was the environment that would best foster the band’s creative endeavors, the Bare Ruined Choir packed their instruments and struck out for Burns, Oregon to record their next album.
The band then disappeared. The last time anyone had contact with the Bare Ruined Choir was in January 2016: a phone call by Daniel Wargo to his sister Sarah on her birthday. After three months of silence, Taylor Slick was pressed by worried family members to visit the cabin. He found the cabin empty. No band members and no instruments. The only item Slick found was a CD copy of Rage Against the Machine’s self-titled album and the words FUCK YOU I WON’T DO WHAT YOU TELL ME!!! spray-painted on the cabin walls. Police departments throughout Oregon conducted a statewide search for the missing band, even calling in federal investigators, but no trace of them was found. Not until November 2016.
A week before Thanksgiving, American radical Ammon Bundy released a video to news outlets detailing the continuing goals and progress of his national militia movement. Wargo’s mother
Roxanne spotted Daniel in the video, standing behind the organization’s leader.
“When I saw the video, I couldn’t believe it,” said Roxanne Wargo. “But it was Daniel. It was my boy.”
Before joining Bundy’s rebels, Wargo kept a clean-shaven face and cut his hair in a side part pompadour, rarely wearing hats. Wargo was now growing a beard and donning a Stetson, blending in with Bundy’s militia. Instead of a carrying a guitar, Wargo was wielding an assault rifle.
“We identified Wargo in the November 18 video and then subsequently identified him in other videos and photographs,” said CIA analyst James Hopper. “He was a prominent member of the insurgents, a figure we acknowledged but never knew the identity of. We never thought to use the Oregon missing persons list.”
The radicalization of Daniel Wargo and the rest of the Bare Ruined Choir is a mystery to officials. No one knows if the band travelled to eastern Oregon with intention of joining Bundy or if they were recruited by his troops.
“What prompted Wargo, Noyce, Templeton, and Johnson to join Bundy and his militants is unclear at the moment,” said Hopper. “But our intelligence shows the band sold their instruments and recording equipment to a Burns pawnshop in early February 2016. They used that money to buy tactical gear and assault rifles, joining Bundy at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge shortly after.”
“I just don’t understand how this happened,” said Matthew Goodson, Wargo’s childhood friend. “Listening to Rage Against the Machine was probably the most political thing Daniel had ever done.
“But maybe I should have seen this coming. I thought I saw Daniel nodding his head to Godsmack once.”
On May 24, 2017, federal officials orchestrated a siege on the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. The operation lasted two months and resulted in 93 deaths, eclipsing the 1993 Waco incident. Daniel Wargo was one of the deceased.
Found in Wargo’s personal effects was a box of reel-to-reel tapes. Those tapes are believed to be the surviving recordings of the Kissing Cousins sessions.
“After listening to the tapes, we do believe it is the Bare Ruined Choir. However, none of the tracks are original songs. The four tapes consist entirely of Rage Against the Machine covers,” said Hopper.
Shortly after officials acquired the tapes, the recordings were leaked online. The Kissing Cousins sessions were downloaded a reported one million times within three days. Pitchfork provided the unofficial release a score of 8.3.
The bodies of Daniel Noyce, Oliver Templeton, and Homer Johnson were not found at the refuge following the siege. Their whereabouts are unknown. Authorities believe the remaining members of the Bare Ruined Choir are disbursed throughout the country, operating in or leading other Bundy cells.
“While we don’t know their current locations, we are operating on a couple promising leads,” said Hopper.
The following letter written by Daniel Wargo, dated May 23, 2017 and addressed to his sister Sarah, was found along with the Kissing Cousins recordings.
My Very Dear Sister,
Indications are very strong that a strike will fall on the refuge, perhaps to-morrow. Lest I should not be able to write you again, I feel compelled to write a line, that it may fall under your eyes when I shall be no more.
Remember always, my dearest Sarah…
Anger is a gift.