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:
— TariqTouré طارق تورى (@TariqToure) January 3, 2016
Not militia. Not ranchers. Not patriots. Not protesters. Armed Terrorists on domestic soil. That’s what your guns make you. #Oregon
— Steve Marmel (@Marmel) January 3, 2016
Interesting. This white militia gets to be called patriots in the media while the Black Panthers were “terrorists” #OregonUnderAttack
— Dante Barry (@dantebarry) January 3, 2016
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.
Did I miss the call for the national guard in Oregon? I recall them in Ferguson and Baltimore. #OregonUnderAttack
— rolandsmartin (@rolandsmartin) January 3, 2016
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:
— Dan Arel (@danarel) January 5, 2016