On Saturday, a group of rebels seized a building on a federal wildlife refuge in Oregon. (Vox has an explanation of the whole thing if you want more detail on the events before and on Saturday. Update: Even more here.)
Did you just say “rebels”?
Yes, rebels. Many, many people have accurately pointed out that there is a huge double standard at work when you compare the media portrayal of these rebels with the portrayal of the unarmed, peaceful protesters in Baltimore and Ferguson (more on that later). Many of those same people have insisted that the media refer to these rebels inaccurately as terrorists. So let’s talk about this for a minute.
Terrorism involves a combination of violence and intimidation. While the hilariously named #yallqaeda are certainly angling for intimidation, they have not (so far) committed any violence against any persons. They don’t qualify for terrorist, yet. And we should be glad!
Even less accurate, the phrase I have seen most often in the media is “armed protester.” It is true that these #yeehawdists are protesting – they have clearly stated their disapproval of, and objection to, the recent re-sentencing of some ranchers, the Bureau of Land Management specifically, and the Federal government generally. However, when you add arms to protesting, what you have is called rebellion. Rebellion is “violent or open opposition” and when we say “violent or open” we mean “have shot people or have said they are willing to shoot people” – and the rebels in Oregon qualify on that last count. They have said plainly that they are willing to use deadly force. They volunteer this information the same way someone tells you they are in Mensa or that they run marathons – they really want you to know. In a comforting twist, they have also said they will leave the wildlife refuge in the event that the locals ask them to. (Though apparently the local sheriff is not sufficient.)
Are they a militia?
Yes, they are a militia, but it is important to understand that these guys are a militia like Hezbollah are a militia – a group of violence-minded extremists who believe their own interpretation of the law (or scripture) places them above the actual law of the land.
I thought militias were proud patriots boldly defending the constitution against blah blah blah?
The United States, in its early days, was not big on having an army. There was no national guard. Militias were formed, their officers often elected by popular vote, among the citizenry to supplement the small, regular army of the US government. This was the arrangement until the National Guard was formed in 1916. The 2nd amendment, which begins with the words “a well-regulated militia,” is actually referring to state regulated, publicly accountable militias that help enforce the law and secure “a free state” against… …wait for it… …citizens who take up arms against the government.
Just to make this really clear: If the minutemen were around today and had a militia in the Burn, Oregon area then they would be mustering to remove Bundy and his thugs from the federal building, in defense of the state.
So what is this really about?
The rebels say they are protesting the re-sentencing of two ranchers who illegally burned some federal land. The short version is that these two guys really did break the law, but they also served time for it, then got re-sentenced and had to go back to prison because an appellate court ruled that they had a mandatory minimum sentence that had not been applied properly the first time. (There is a long complicated version of this story, with lots of facts, that I will include in my follow up post with links.) Mandatory minimums and double-incarceration are both bullshit, so there is lots of room for legitimate peaceful complaint about the situation.
That, along with land ownership issues, are what the rebels claim to be all about. Not everybody believes that is the real purpose of this rebellion (I don’t).
The local sheriff has said that he believes these rebels are simply using the ranchers and land issues as a cover for their true purpose, which is to inspire an armed rebellion across the country and overthrow the local and federal government.
Personally, and with no way to prove it, I think these guys are after money. The Bundy family live off of federal handouts and right wing anger money and several of the other rebels at the wildlife refuge are similar right-wing internet personalities. I believe there is some merit to the cause these rebels have expressed to the media, I believe the sheriff is right in so far about what these guys sit around and tell each other they’re doing, and I believe that deep down inside these petty traitors are just hoping that they can make out with as much rage-money as that pizzeria in Indiana.
Okay, there is some merit to their declared cause, if not their methods, but it is all a cover for crazy bullshit. What is being done about it?
Not much – and there are multiple schools of thought about this. On the one hand they have violated the law and sought to overthrow the government. They have done this while armed and threatening deadly force against anyone that tries to remove them. So the Feds should go in and remove them, guns blazing if necessary, right?
Wrong. This isn’t Waco – there are no kids in the wildlife refuge. There is nobody in there who doesn’t want to be there. As such, I think the Feds are to be applauded for simply negotiating with the rebels in an attempt to end this peacefully. Since the rebels do not enjoy the support of the local population, the family of the men they claim to represent, other rebel groups (e.g. OathKeepers), any GOP presidential candidates, or even the right-wing media, they will probably leave soon. (Then they will post angry videos about how they lost their jobs because of this, and could you please send them money. I stand by my prediction.)
What about that media double standard, is that white privilege?
Sure, but really this is about white supremacy. The constitution that those guys are waving around, as written, values an African-American as 3/5ths of a human being. We live in a country where local black residents who march in the street to protest being extrajudicially executed by police are called “rioters” while heavily armed white out-of-state rebels can seize a federal building and be called “peaceful protesters,” or “armed protesters,” or (my favorite) “militia.”
Black children being executed for having toy guns in a park, while white adults stage armed rebellion with impunity. That kind of existential difference of outcome is not just “privilege,” okay? That’s white supremacy.
Still, I would like to think that the net effect of this event will be to raise even more public awareness that the authorities are able to respond peacefully to citizens when they are armed and white, so why not when they are unarmed and black? In other words, that this anti-anti-racist outburst will provide an easy illustration of the importance of ongoing anti-racist protest. That’s what I would like to think.
What about all the hilarious ironies of this situation and the nutjobs involved? Could you list all of those?
I would, but there are too many – and real journalists (and even other bloggers) have done a much better job of all that already. Check back later today for Oregon Fail Reax (part 1, part 2), a collection of links to the best information and opinion on the situation that I can find. And yeah the gossip too.