The One Detail About The Oregon "Militia" That Everybody Should Be Talking About
A group of heavily-armed white men took over the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge headquarters near Burns, Oregon on Saturday. The local police and FBI are working to peacefully end the standoff, and no one has been injured, but that might not be the case if the Oregon "militia" men weren't white. While the question of whether the takeover is terrorism or a protest has been widely discussed — as the men have said they're willing to use violence and some have semiautomatic weapons — race also seems to be a major factor at play.
After a larger protest about ranchers' rights, the group seized the federal building, maintained by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which was closed for the holiday weekend. They also occupied a guard tower used to spot wildfires and blocked off the entrance with pickup trucks and armed men in camouflage.
The original protest was in support of Dwight Hammond and his son Steven Hammond, ranchers who must return to prison for committing arson in 2001 and 2006. The father and son set fires on land managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) on which they had grazing rights, claiming it was to reduce the growth of invasive plants and wildfires. Dwight served three months in prison and Steven one year, and a judge ruled the terms insufficient and ordered them each to serve an additional four years. Although the armed group came together around the case, the Hammonds' lawyer told the police that they don't speak for the Hammond family.
Showcasing how many viewed the takeover as domestic terrorism, Twitter users began calling the group "Y'all Qaeda" carrying out "YeeHawd," comparing the armed Americans in cowboy hats to Islamic terrorists. While the play on words is entertaining, it still highlights the potential danger of the situation. However, the authorities haven't taken any extreme measures to quiet the men or take back the wildlife refuge headquarters, and the FBI said in a statement Sunday that it was working with the Harney County Sheriff's Office, the Oregon State Police, and other agencies "to bring a peaceful resolution to the situation."
Allowing the so-called militia to occupy the building for days on end is a stark contrast to the action police have taken during protests in Baltimore and Ferguson, when unarmed Black Lives Matter protesters took to the streets. There have also been countless instances of unarmed black people being shot by the police for simply looking suspicious, running away, or appearing to have a weapon. The white men in Oregon aren't just quietly sitting in the federal building in peaceful protest — they're armed with semi-automatic guns and other weapons, and have group members on guard outside the entrance and in a tower above. It's a potentially very dangerous situation for the police at the scene.
Ryan Bundy, one of the men in the group speaking to the press, told Ian Kullgren of The Oregonian that they're "willing to kill and be killed if necessary." However, the police have not used force to disarm the group or remove them from the building. The vast difference in how the police treat white and black Americans is highlighted in how much these white men have been able to get away with, and how long they've dragged out their actions. As many pointed out on Twitter, it appears that an unarmed person of color is more threatening to the authorities than a group of angry white men holding guns.
If heavily armed black men, or even one man of color, occupied the same building, there would likely be a very different outcome — the Oregon militiamen are simply seen as less dangerous because of their race. There's clearly a problem when unarmed black protesters are treated with extreme force, while heavily armed white men are allowed to carry on for days.