by Samia Warsame
Recently, an armed band of ranchers and farmers have taken over the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Malheur, Oregon. The group has occupied a federal building on the property which prompted the closure of the wildlife sanctuary itself and local schools and instilling a sense of uneasiness throughout the small community. Now for the big question: Are these people, A. Criminals, or B. Patriots? Many Americans would answer B and cheer on the militia, led by brothers Ammon and Ryan Bundy. Their plan? Occupy the land until the government returns it to the ranchers. “We will be here as long as it takes.” Ammon told CNN “We have no intentions of using force upon anyone, if force is used against us, we would defend ourselves,”
First off, how is the government idly standing by and allowing a band of heavily armed people to take over a federal building? Simple, white privilege. Think, why do you think that no tear gas was sprayed at the protesters? No National Guard patrolling the streets? No curfews issued? Not even an arrest? Such courtesy, in fact, is routinely denied to the unarmed black communities that were outraged about the death of a 12-year-old boy at the hands of police and took to the streets to protest have been frequently and inaccurately lumped in with criminals and looters, described as “thugs” Fortunately, people have picked up on this flagrant double standard, and have taken to Twitter with tags such as ‘YallQaeda’ and ‘Vanilla ISIS’, detailing the eerily similar traits of these men to deadly jihadist groups. Meanwhile, the media continues to use peaceful and non-condemning descriptions such as “self-styled militiamen” (Reuters), “armed activists” (the New York Times) and “armed protesters” (The Washington Post) despite occupiers clear intent to cause harm if their demands are not reached. What if the ranchers were Muslims taking over a federal building and armed to the teeth? The media would not be having any problem coming up with a label if these “protesters” had Arab sounding last names or sported long beards, nor would law enforcement be tying itself in knots trying to “avoid confrontation” with them.
The Department of Defense Dictionary of Military defines terrorism as “The unlawful use of violence or threat of violence, often motivated by religious, political, or other ideological beliefs, to instill fear and coerce governments or societies in pursuit of goals that are usually political.” By this definition it is hard to see how the Oregon standoff is anything but domestic terrorism. A group of armed men, motivated by anti-government ideology and with absolutely no legal authority have occupied federal property and are threatening to resist with deadly force any effort by law enforcement to remove them. The problem is, terrorists can’t be God-fearing Bible thumpers, or middle aged white men. Because of this, people are quick to apply the term to outsiders and far more willing to find a gentler word to describe those from their own social group. If members of the Black Lives Matter or Occupy Wall Street movements had shown up to their protests as heavily armed as the men in Oregon, the same people defending the “militiamen” would probably be calling on the government to use all necessary force to apprehend the “terrorists.”
On Jan. 23, as Bundy’s clan was driven out of Harney County Tuesday night in handcuffs, they left behind wounds that won’t easily heal over time. The compound will be a crime scene for a week or more once all the protesters are gone. Displaced federal workers will return, going room by room assess the damage. “We have no information on the condition of the refuge,” said Jason Holm, assistant regional director of the federal wildlife agency. “Once we are able to return, we will assess, repair or rebuild where necessary.”