When the news that a group of dozens of armed militants had taken over a remote federal wildlife refuge in Oregon Saturday night, and were prepared for a lengthy occupation as a protest against "tyranny", much of the public seemed to share a collective WTF moment.
The events leading up to the current siege of the Malheur Wildlife Refuge are complex and difficult to follow, but it started after two ranchers named Hammond were convicted on arson charges stemming from a series of fires on federal land near their ranch. The two men, a father and son, were sentenced under a provision of a federal law called the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, and were sentenced twice because of a judicial conflict over the length of jail time they'd received. The law they were sentenced under didn't exclusively deal with terrorism, but imposed a five year minimum for arson on federal land. The first judge to sentence the Hammonds thought the five year minimum was too harsh and imposed a much lighter sentence which both men served, something the federal prosecutor objected to. The federal government then appealed, and last year the remainder of the mandatory five years was imposed on both of the convicted ranchers.
Since the Hammonds were convicted under a statute that sounds like they were being tried as terrorists and because of the strange legal maneuvers resulting in an uncommon double sentencing, this pissed off a lot of already paranoid folks in the militia movement as well as other people with anti-government leanings.
Add to the mix another rancher (And racist.), named Cliven Bundy, who has been battling the federal government over land rights issues since the early '90s. Bundy disputes the federal government's ownership of land which he allowed his cattle to graze on, sparking a lengthy legal fight over the matter and a standoff last year that had armed protesters resisting the roundup of those cattle by government and law enforcement officials. Eventually the cattle were released to avoid things boiling over, but Bundy has been a pain in the federal government's ass for decades now. As one can imagine, Clivan Bundy has a lot of supporters from anti-government and militia groups, and his son Ammon seems to be leading the militia that stormed that bird sanctuary in Oregon - Inviting "patriots" from all over the country to join them in a lengthy armed occupation. The group of militiamen seek to have the Hammonds released, (although those guys don't want the support of the bird sanctuary terrorists), and they would like to see the government back down and relinquish control over land they claim is not theirs. Apparently, these "patriots" would also like people to send snacks, energy drinks, socks, and other supplies that in their haste to protect freedom, they'd forgotten to bring along for what they believe will be a lengthy occupation
Looking at the facts as we know them- A group of armed men who have clear anti-government sentiments, have stormed a federal wildlife refuge with promises to stay there for years and being prepared to die if necessary - How is it that more people aren't calling these clowns out as terrorists or at least dangerous insurgents? The New York Times referred to them as "armed activists", which sounds serious, but also avoids painting them in as negative terms as they probably should be.
If a bunch of armed minorities stormed a federally owned building, it's difficult to to believe that they wouldn't be called "thugs" or worse by the press and large portions of the public. If a group of Muslims tried an armed protest of anything, it's almost a certainty that they'd be called terrorists within minutes. But for some reason, when the gun wielding occupiers are white guys with anti-government sentiments, they're "armed activists".
It occurs to me that there are reasons for this different standard. The obvious one is institutional racism, along with a lingering belief in some circles that overthrowing the federal government can be a good idea, something that true "patriots" should support. There's also a strange cultural quirk in America, where antisocial criminals are elevated to hero status - Look at the interest in Old West gunslingers or famous gangsters like Bonnie and Clyde. Individuals who killed innocent folks, and are glorified to this day. We love a good bad guy in this country, as long as they're white and not originally from another country.
The clowns occupying the Malheur Wildlife Refuge aren't heroes and they aren't patriots. They're anti-government creeps who feel like they have a right to break laws with impunity, and can launch an armed takeover of a government facility without even being called anything harsh by most of the media. "Armed activists", indeed. These white guys who stormed a wildlife refuge with guns with claims they won't stand down aren't patriots, they're criminals or worse.
KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE...
Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.