Thoughts on #OregonUnderAttack

If you haven’t heard, a group of armed angry anti-government militia-men – they call themselves the Citizens for Constitutional Freedom — are currently occupying the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Burn, Oregon. Here at the Civil Word, we try to make sense of it all.

First, you should watch CCF’s press-conference from earlier today. It’s simply fascinating in both its tone and aesthetic as a group of middle-aged white men clad in camouflage stand at a bank of microphones. And as they make their demands and explain their cause, one can hardly help but draw the parallels between the Citizens for Constitutional Freedom and some other well-known militant radicals who have gathered much media attention as of late. The video ends with a man, who only identifies himself as “An American,” reciting pieces of the constitution to the crowd of reporters. The whole scene is absolutely mesmerizing.  

In all seriousness, many have called out the media in their utter failure to denounce the occupation for what it is — an aggressive and forceful seizure of a government building by armed conservative radicals.  

Some good tweets:




Of course, the continued failure of mainstream and corporate media to apply the same level of scrutiny to reporting that focuses on white aggression and violence is a surprise to no one. The people who were so quick to point out that Michael Brown ‘was no saint’ or the anger of Baltimore protesters are the same people charged with covering Oregon. That is, it’s still predominantly privileged white people.

And not only the media, but police and public response has been oddly tempered. Federal law enforcement has ‘kept a low profile’ and has not aggressively confronted the armed militants.

This obviously comes in sharp contrast to how police have responded in protests and actions undertaken by groups affiliated with the Black Lives Matter movement. And history offers another interesting perspective on this as well. A history lesson courtesy of Brian Ward at the Socialist Worker:

On February 27, 1973, a caravan of 300 armed Oglala Lakota and AIM [American Indian Movement] activists arrived at Wounded Knee [located on the Pine Ridge Reservation] and declared it a liberated territory. They took over the church and trading post, blocked all the roads, and took several white hostages.

Activists were upset at how poorly the Pine Ridge reservation was being managed. Leadership was seen as corrupt and utilized federal funds to create “a paramilitary” to maintain control over the local population. Occupation was seen as the only solution. Ward continues:

Within hours of the start of the occupation, the federal government mobilized an overwhelming response, sending over 200 FBI agents, federal marshals and BIA police to surround and blockade Wounded Knee.

The senators from South Dakota, George McGovern and James Abourezk, came to negotiate freedom for the hostages–they learned that the hostages were sympathetic to the Indian cause and weren’t staying against their will. Agnes Gildersleeve, the owner of the trading post, said, “We’re not hostages, we are going to remain here. It’s your fault that these Indian are here. Have you listened to them? We’re not leaving because you’ll kill them if we leave!”…

Meanwhile, the response of the FBI was go all-out against the occupation. Former FBI agent Joe Trimbach later recalled: “The [FBI] director said, ‘Tell Trimbach he can have anything he wants!’ Which was pretty neat, because it was like having a blank check. I had agents go up to Rapid City and buy every rifle they could find.”

Interestingly, the article also notes that the Federal government was concerned that others may follow in the footsteps of those at Wounded Knee and “crystallize a revolutionary movement.”

By the end of the occupation, two American Indians had been killed, Buddy Lamont and Frank Clearwater. Buddy Lamont was from Pine Ridge, a Vietnam veteran and well-known on the reservation–the radio station building at Pine Ridge is now named after him…

…[M]ore than 1,200 people had been arrested nationwide in relation to the protest, and 500 elders were indicted. Most were acquitted–however, Leonard Crow Dog ended up serving a couple months in prison.

And twitter:

We draw parallels not to encourage state violence on the militants in Oregon but to point out the disparate treatment against non-white, non-hetero, feminist protests. With this in mind, a much needed note of caution is given by Margaret Corvid via Jacobin Magazine:

Though we hate and fear the worldview the Oregon gunmen profess, subjecting them to the same brutality the state metes out against black people would simply empower the militia movement. Ammon might call this occupation peaceful, but there are people hunkered in that refuge who are ready to die for their beliefs. Giving them their martyrs would only strengthen their cause.

This is a big point — but not the whole point. Yes, we do not wish state violence on the Oregon militants in part because it would only bring new supporters to their cause. But we also do not wish state violence because of the large and often disastrous toll it can take on human life. Like the time Philadelphia law enforcement bombed a residential home to end a stand-off with the radical black organization MOVE. 11 people died — five of them children.

In a similar tone, we must also be cautious in not alienating or deriding different cultures in our repudiation of the militants. As a friend of mine noted in a post yesterday:

Isn’t it possible to call out these dangerous White terrorists without using terms that in a way mocks their rural and/or possible working class backgrounds?

I want to condemn the actions and the motivating ideologies of these people. And I want to do that without name calling and as much as possible recognize that they are still human beings just as much as you and me. Even if they may deny the same to most others

And finally others have questioned whether or not satire and social media do a disservice to the seriousness of this issue. Of course, satire, when done well, is a tool to help people see the absurdity in real world events. It’s funny and also cathartic to see hashtags such as #yallqaeda and #vanillaisis — but it’s also important that the serious conversations take place to understand all of the dynamics which go into a band of white militants occupying a federal building with only a measured and patient law enforcement response. There doesn’t seem to be any indication that these conversations won’t happen — to the extent that they ever happen with any real or significant meaning. So on balance, the satire appears to be a net positive. I’ll leave you with this:

It may be a while before we reach any kind of conclusion. Please send snacks.


  1. Mike, they’re misguided goobers. (Put me in the middle of the picture, and I’d blend right in.) On the other hand, there have been a lot of misguided protests across the country that did not involve middle aged guys in camo. Would it be a surprise to find out that some folks were equally mesmerized by “Hands up, Don’t Shoot”?

    I’m not trying to pick a fight — I’m just hoping that all American “communities” can recognize that there are grievances which take some work to understand. One very crucial difference with these guys is that they are in the middle of nowhere, as opposed to a freeway at rush hour.
    I’ll also note that the Black Lives Matter protesters didn’t always meet with brutality. Sometimes they were left to vent. Mistake? Maybe.

    Well thought-out article. I look forward to updates.

    1. Hey Dave, thanks for the comments/reblog.

      I definitely agree that there are people out there who look at Black Lives Matter in the same way I look at CCF. And likely it’s for similar reasons — it’s just such a foreign scene that looks more like a spectacle than anything based on real grievances.

      But I want to push back on calling these guys ‘misguided goobers’ (although goober is one of my favorite words to describe people). These are armed men who are currently occupying a federal building — some of which have said they are willing to “kill or be killed if necessary” — once you say something like that, you lose your goober status. And even though, between the hashtags and memes, there’s plenty to laugh and smirk at here, at the end of the day there’s a chance that people could get hurt/killed because of all this.

      I’m also not sure this is less disruptive than a BLM protest. I believe local schools canceled classes for the week — a disruption I’m sure many local parents/teachers do not appreciate at all. Another news story noted that before the occupation occurred people from Bundy’s group were following federal employees (and their families) around photographing their homes.

      1. Mike,
        I didn’t hear about that (school and photos.) As far as “willing kill or be killed…” there has been a lot of overblown rhetoric relating to Ruby Ridge and Waco. There’s a lot of talk in the conservative movement about having to be ready for a stand-off with an unjust federal government. I expect the FBI to take these guys seriously but I also don’t expect a shootout. Praying they just figure a way for the occupiers to be identified, charged, disarmed and cuffed.

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