Is The Oregon Wildlife Refuge Takeover Terrorism Or A Protest? Here's A Look At Both Sides
On Saturday, a group of armed men entered a federal building in Oregon with the express intent of staying there indefinitely. Following a march in support of two Oregon ranchers facing jail time for arson, men wielding firearms occupied the headquarters of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge — a federal property run by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service — because as one of the occupiers, Ammon Bundy, maintained in a quote to The Oregonian, "The facility has been the tool to do all the tyranny that has been placed upon the Hammonds." But is the wildlife refuge takeover a protest or actually terrorism?
Dwight Hammond Jr. and Steven Hammond, a father and son duo of ranchers, were ordered to return to prison after their initial sentences — three months and one year, respectively — were deemed insufficient by a judge for fires they lit on public land (in 2001 and 2006) to reportedly reduce the growth of invasive plants on their property. Prosecutors argued otherwise, stating the fires were a cover-up for poaching on the public grounds. The Bundys and their fellow occupiers may feel an obligation to the rights of these ranchers, but the Hammonds, themselves, are not protesting their sentences; they, instead, are greeting marchers and speaking to occupiers with full plans to report to prison on Jan. 4.
Around the nation, people are criticizing the protest, with many on Twitter remarking on the lenient treatment toward these occupiers, particularly compared to the heavily-armed police responses to unarmed protesters in Ferguson and Baltimore. Some voices around the Internet are even calling this occupation of federal property domestic terrorism. Are these people, in fact, correct, or is this simply one of the manifold varieties of a protest?
According to Google, "terrorism" is defined as "the use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims." While no violence has yet occurred, the occupiers do not rule it out, according to Ammon Bundy in his statement to The Oregonian: "The best possible outcome is that the ranchers that have been kicked out of the area, then they will come back and reclaim their land, and the wildlife refuge will be shut down forever and the federal government will relinquish such control. What we're doing is not rebellious. What we're doing is in accordance with the Constitution, which is the supreme law of the land."
Terrorism is not strictly limited to violence — it's also psychological, according to the American Psychological Association. Additionally, to some extent it is strategic in that its overarching aim is often to make a specific population fearful, while it can also manifest as tactical in its approach (e.g. targeted, but apparently random car bombings). Regardless, terrorism is concerned with objectives, so could this armed occupation qualify as domestic terrorism? According to many on Twitter, it most certainly is, although the armed group disagrees.
In any case, it is similar to something of which America has seen a great deal in recent years: that is, a protest, which Google defines as "a statement or action expressing disapproval of or objection to something." These are men who clearly disapprove of the sentences given to their fellow countrymen, and they are formally gathered in an expression of their objection. It is clear they are in protest, so perhaps the better question to ask is, "Does this actually fit the definitions of both domestic terrorism and protest?" People are divided on the matter — some calling the lax reactions of authorities a double standard — though Twitter is exploding with opinionated memes and quotes supporting the idea.
So is it both? According to popular belief on Twitter and the new hashtag #OregonUnderAttack, it looks like it. One thing is for certain, these armed men certainly are not a militia, though they are of the civil population. (A militia requires local government appointment and organization. Interestingly enough, however, a militia can "engage in rebel or terrorist activities," according to Google, but such a group is typically meant to amplify an army in a crisis scenario.) Although the word militia is sticking, so is the popular and suggestive hashtag. There is arguably more criticism than there is support for this occupation.
Ultimately, it is America's duty to analyze and assess these occupations. Is it American to take up arms and call for a revolution when something occurs with which citizens disagree? What does that mean for the American justice system, and what does it mean for Americans? Some stand by this movement wholeheartedly, while others rebuke this behavior. It looks like this will remain a divisive issue among Americans for as long as it remains a topic of interest.