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“Justice Is Supposed To Be Blind”: The Oregon Standoff And America’s Double Standards On Race And Religion

What do you think the response would be if a bunch of black people, filled with rage and armed to the teeth, took over a federal government installation and defied officials to kick them out? I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t be wait-and-see.

Probably more like point-and-shoot.

Or what if the occupiers were Mexican American? They wouldn’t be described with the semi-legitimizing term “militia,” harking to the days of the patriots. And if the gun-toting citizens happened to be Muslim, heaven forbid, there would be wall-to-wall cable news coverage of the “terrorist assault.” I can hear Donald Trump braying for blood.

Not to worry, however, because the extremists who seized the remote Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in southeastern Oregon on Saturday are white. As such, they are permitted to engage in a “standoff” with authorities who keep their distance lest there be needless loss of life.

Such courtesy was not extended to Tamir Rice, the 12-year-old Cleveland boy who was playing with a toy gun in a park on Nov. 22, 2014. Within seconds of arriving on the scene, police officer Timothy Loehmann shot the boy, who died the next day. Prosecutors led a grand jury investigation and announced last month that Loehmann would face no charges. A “perfect storm of human error” was blamed, and apparently storms cannot be held accountable.

Such courtesy, in fact, is routinely denied to unarmed black men and boys who are unfortunate enough to find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time. You know the litany of names — Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Freddie Gray. And you know how these stories end. Just weeks ago, a Baltimore jury failed to reach a verdict in the trial of the first of six officers charged with Gray’s death. Another perfect storm, I guess.

I probably sound cynical, but in truth I’m just weary. And worried.

Justice is supposed to be blind. Race, ethnicity and religion are not supposed to matter. Yet we’re constantly reminded that these factors can make the difference between justifiable and unjustifiable killing — and between life and death.

The yahoos in Oregon are protesting the Bureau of Land Management’s policies, hardly a red-button issue for most Americans. The federal building they seized is in a wildlife refuge, which means that by definition it’s in the middle of nowhere; the nearest sizable city is Boise, Idaho, about 200 miles away. The protesters’ guns pose more of a threat to bears than people.

So no, I don’t think authorities have any immediate reason to blast their way into the woods with a column of armored vehicles. But I would argue there was no good reason to do so on the streets of Ferguson, Mo., either. Is the salient difference that the Oregon protesters are believed to be heavily armed? If so, what message does that send? Does somebody need to found a Minority Rifle Association so that communities of color are given similar deference?

The organization’s name would have to be changed in a few decades, anyway, when whites in the United States cease to constitute a racial majority. This inexorable demographic shift, I believe, helps explain why the world of politics seems to have gone insane of late.

What I want is that African Americans, Latino Americans, Muslim Americans and other “outsiders” be seen as the Americans we are. What I want is acknowledgment that we, too, have a stake in our democracy and its future course. What I want is the recognition that no one can “take back” the country — which happens to be led by its first African American president — because it belongs to me as much as to you.

These are not the sentiments we’re hearing in the presidential campaign, though — at least, not on the Republican side. Following Trump’s lead, candidates are competing to sound angrier and more embittered. That’s why I am so worried.

You’d think there might be at least a few prominent voices on the right expressing horror and outrage at the wrongful killing of a 12-year-old boy. You’d think that Republicans running for president might find the time to condemn the armed takeover of federal property by zealots. Yet all we hear is crickets chirping.

The GOP candidates have apparently concluded that voicing hope, embracing change and broadening our concept of the American mainstream constitute a losing strategy. They see Trump’s success and mimic him in fostering a sense of “beleaguered” us vs. “menacing” them. This may be an effective way to pursue the nomination, but it’s a terrible disservice to the country.

 

By: Eugene Robinson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, January 4, 2016

January 6, 2016 Posted by | Democracy, Domestic Terrorism, Equal Justice, Oregon Militiamen | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Freelance Insurrectionists”: Is The Oregon Standoff The Inevitable Result Of Anti-Government Rhetoric?

Out in Oregon, the Bundy clan has begun another heavily-armed standoff with the government, seizing control of a building at a wildlife refuge and talking about laying down their life for liberty, presumably in some kind of gruesome battle in which plenty of law enforcement officials are killed along with the martyrs to the anti-government cause. Most of the Republican presidential candidates have so far avoided saying anything about this event, but liberals are raising the question of how much responsibility the Republican Party and its leaders bear for this kind of radical right extremism.

It’s a complicated question, but the answer is: not as much as their most fervent opponents might claim, but not so little as they’d like.

This latest standoff is led by Ammon Bundy, son of Cliven Bundy and leader of what seems to be a band of freelance insurrectionists. If you’re having a conflict with the federal government, they’ll load up their weapons, come to your location, and set up a confrontation with law enforcement, whether you want them to or not.

You can read elsewhere about what led up to this standoff, but it has to be understood in context of the last one, when rancher Cliven Bundy got into a conflict with the United States government over grazing fees. The problem was that Bundy wanted to use public land to graze his cattle, but didn’t want to pay the fees that every other rancher does, since as he said at the time, “I don’t recognize the United States government as even existing.” Anti-government activists flocked to the standoff, pointing guns at government officials and talking of insurrection. Two of those present at the event would soon after go on a shooting rampage in Las Vegas, murdering two police officers and a bystander.

At the time, some Republican politicians, including Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio, said that whatever Bundy’s gripe with the government, he ought to follow the law. But others were far more indulgent. Ben Carson supported the protest. Ted Cruz blamed it on President Obama, calling the standoff “the unfortunate and tragic culmination of the path that President Obama has set the federal government on.” And Rand Paul not only supported their cause but later had a friendly sit-down with Cliven Bundy. Donald Trump took a middle position, saying that laws should be followed, but that when it came to Bundy, “I like him, I like his spirit, his spunk and the people that are so loyal…I respect him.” (For more details on these reactions, go here).

But most critically, during the standoff Cliven Bundy and his supporters became heroes of conservative media. Sean Hannity practically made Bundy his Fox News co-host for a couple of weeks. Their bizarre claims about the government and the means they were using to lodge their complaints — an armed standoff — were validated and promoted again and again by the media outlets conservatives rely on for their news. It was only when Cliven Bundy turned out to be an unreconstructed racist, of the kind who begins sentences with “I want to tell you one more thing I know about the Negro,” that Fox and the Republicans who supported him finally distanced themselves from him.

Even if they hadn’t been so aggressively supported and promoted by elite conservative figures and institutions, the Bundys’ actions can be viewed as an outgrowth of conservative rhetoric over the years of Barack Obama’s presidency. From the moment he was elected, conservatives said that Obama was not legitimately the president (many of them charged that he wasn’t born in the United States). Virtually everything he did was given a given a dark and sinister spin, with the constant refrain that Obama was a tyrant who had not only usurped power but would shortly turn the United States into a terrifying nightmare of statist oppression. The line between mainstream rhetoric and that of the radical fringe disappeared, with popular television hosts and backbench Republican House members spouting conspiracy theories about FEMA concentration camps and the Department of Homeland Security stockpiling ammunition in preparation for some horrific campaign of repression. Nearly every policy with which conservatives disagreed was decried as the death of freedom itself.

Anyone who took all that literally and believed that the people saying it were actually sincere could well have concluded that armed insurrection was indeed an appropriate response to what was plainly a coup from the enemies of freedom within the government, led by a despot who was literally trying to destroy America. Now combine that with the way so many Republicans talk about guns — not just as a tool of self-protection, but as something whose essential purpose is to intimidate government officials. Second Amendment purists, some of whom are running for president, regularly justify their enthusiasm for loosening gun laws as a way to keep tyranny in check, by showing that gun owners are willing to fight against their government, should it become necessary. As Ted Cruz has said, “The 2nd Amendment to the Constitution isn’t for just protecting hunting rights, and it’s not only to safeguard your right to target practice. It is a Constitutional right to protect your children, your family, your home, our lives, and to serve as the ultimate check against governmental tyranny — for the protection of liberty.”

So on one hand, Republicans regularly say that we need so many guns in civilian hands in case it becomes necessary to wage war on the government, while on the other hand they say that Barack Obama’s government has become tyrannical and oppressive, and freedom is all but destroyed. So why is anybody surprised when people like the Bundys put those two ideas together?

It doesn’t stop there. Republicans were similarly divided on Kim Davis, the Kentucky county clerk who decided that because she doesn’t support same-sex marriage, she could defy the Supreme Court and refuse to grant marriage licenses to anyone in her county. Davis got full support from five of the Republican presidential candidates, while six opposed her move and the rest came down somewhere in the middle. But the point is that a meaningful contingent of elite Republicans said that when you don’t like the law, you can pretend the law doesn’t apply to you, even if you’re sworn to carry it out.

These days, every lunatic corner of the right can find respect and validation from at least some of the most prominent and respected figures in Republican politics and conservative media, at the same time as people are encouraged to strap on their AK-47 when they go down to the supermarket.

Today, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio both condemned the actions taken by the insurrectionists in Oregon. There are surely plenty of other Republicans who are disgusted by the Bundy clan and actions like this standoff, so it wouldn’t be fair to blame the whole party for the rise of this kind of armed right-wing radicalism. But you also can’t say anti-government rhetoric had nothing to do with it.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line Blog, The Washington Post, January 4, 2016

January 5, 2016 Posted by | Ammon Bundy, Conservative Rhetoric, Oregon Militiamen | , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

“The Bundy Caliphate”: Ammon Bundy Starts Wingnut Woodstock in Oregon

Ammon Bundy’s band of Oregon militiamen include anti-government wingnuts who have fought the feds on behalf of ranchers before, and one activist whose anti-Muslim rhetoric sparked warnings from the FBI.

On Saturday, armed extremists seized buildings at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge—300 miles southeast of Portland—to protest prison time for Dwight and Steven Hammond, father-and-son ranchers convicted of arson for torching more than 100 acres of federal land, allegedly to cover up poaching.

The occupiers are led by Ammon Bundy, the son of Cliven Bundy, the Nevada rancher whose 2014 standoff with the feds made national headlines. The elder Bundy was fighting the Bureau of Land Management, which came to seize his “trespass cattle” that were grazing on public land. Right-wing militias rushed to defend Cliven, and authorities eventually retreated.

Now some of the same anti-government provocateurs are heeding the call to head to Oregon, where Ammon and about 20 others split from a peaceful demonstration on Saturday and drove 30 miles to the wildlife refuge’s headquarters, which were closed for the holidays.

The militiamen took up posts on the snow-covered desert to protest what they call the federal government’s illegal ownership of Harney County land, which they believe should belong to local ranchers.

“I didn’t come here to shoot. I came here to die,” one militiaman told Oregon Public Broadcasting reporter Amanda Peacher. The camouflage-clad man would only identify himself as “Captain Moroni,” Peacher said in a tweet.

While it appeared police didn’t take the bait, the men nonetheless stood guard at a tower typically used to watch for range fires, The Oregonian reported.

Les Zaitz, a reporter for The Oregonian, estimated about 20 people were stationed at the refuge’s bunkhouse—where women were cooking lunch—as well as at the work building and fire tower. In tweets, he described the scene as “calm, quiet, [and] no signs of damage.”

As the story unfolded Sunday, and the militants released online videos, national news and social media spectators feared violence—and observers challenged news outlets for describing the armed occupation as “peaceful.”

Not everyone in rural Oregon was happy to see the militia. Signs reading, “No Bundy Caliphate—Take your Hate Somewhere Else!” and “Protect the Blue—Militia Go Home” were posted on roads heading into Burns. Haney County schools, which were scheduled to reopen on Monday, will be closed all week because of the protest, authorities said.

At the refuge, men bundled in winter jackets and hunting camouflage milled about the parking lot, and a parked pickup truck blocked the gate. Several men, some strapped with knives and sidearms, refused to speak to a Daily Beast reporter at the scene.

While most participants appeared friendly and harmless, a few have reputations within hate groups such as the Three Percenters and the Oath Keepers, The Daily Beast has learned.

On Sunday afternoon, federal officials told Portland’s KOIN 6 that the FBI would work with local law enforcement to end the takeover.

The Harney County sheriff’s office released a statement Sunday vowing to keep citizens safe.

“These men came to Harney County claiming to be part of militia groups supporting local ranchers, when in reality these men had alternative motives to attempt to overthrow the county and federal government in hopes to spark a movement across the United States,” Sheriff David Ward said, according to OPB.

Ammon Bundy said his motley crew planned to stay there indefinitely, KOIN 6 reported.

“We’re planning on staying here for years, absolutely,” Bundy told KOIN 6. “This is not a decision we’ve made at the last minute.”

Indeed, Jon Ritzheimer, a former Marine and Arizona militia activist, released a teary-eyed YouTube video days before the event, on Dec. 31, asking his children to be good while he was gone, before railing against “the oppression and tyranny” in Oregon.

“Your daddy swore an oath… to protect and defend the Constitution against all enemies foreign and domestic, and that’s why he couldn’t be with you on Christmas,” Ritzheimer said. “That’s why I can’t be with you on New Year’s.

“I am 100 percent willing to lay my life down, to fight against tyranny in this country,” Ritzheimer later said in the video, in which he’s sitting behind the wheel of a truck.

The Iraq War veteran concluded: “No matter what happens, no matter what lies are pushed out, just know that I stood for something. Don’t let it be in vain.”

A fellow extremist posted a video of Ritzheimer at the refuge, where he claimed to be “armed with the Constitution and a camera.”

“We will not fire unless fired upon, but we will stand and defend the Constitution,” Ritzheimer said.

In May 2015, Ritzheimer organized an anti-Muslim protest at a Phoenix mosque that drew 250 people, many of them armed, and invited them to draw cartoons of the prophet Muhammad following the Garland, Texas shooting.

After the Dallas-area attack, Ritzheimer began walking near the mosque waving an American flag and wearing a “Fuck Islam” T-shirt. He also tried raising $10 million on GoFundMe last summer, after claiming his life was being threatened because of his protests and that his family had to go into hiding. (The donation site came down as soon as the media spotted it.)

In October 2015, the bigot helped spur more than 20 anti-Muslim protests across the country called the “Global Rally for Humanity.

One month later, the FBI issued a warning to local authorities about Ritzheimer after he published a video of himself brandishing a gun and claiming he was heading to Hancock, New York to confront a Muslim group.

Ritzheimer was targeting Muslims of America, publisher of the The Islamic Post, which had called the Marine an “American Taliban,” the New York Daily News reported.

“Fuck you Muslims. We’re gonna stop at virtually every mosque along the way, flip them off and tell them to get fucked,” Ritzheimer says before brandishing his weapon.

The hate-mongerer is affiliated with the Three Percenters militia group, which takes its name from the mythical statistic that only 3 percent of American colonists supposedly fought in the war for independence.

Other rightwing activists descending on Oregon include Blaine Cooper, who at a 2013 town hall event told Sen. John McCain he’d have him arrested and tried for treason over his support of intervention in Syria.

Ryan Payne, an Army vet who claimed to organize militia snipers to target federal agents during Cliven Bundy’s Nevada standoff, was also present.

Payne once told the Missoula Independent he took charge “as a kind of on-the-ground commander.”

“We locked them down,” Payne said of the BLM agents. “We had counter-sniper positions on their sniper positions. We had at least one guy—sometimes two guys—per BLM agent in there. So, it was a complete tactical superiority… If they made one wrong move, every single BLM agent in that camp would’ve died.”

Brand Thornton, a political activist from Las Vegas who is now at the wildlife refuge, told The Daily Beast he was a member of the Southern Nevada Militia, which on its Facebook claims not to identify with racist, violent, or anti-government groups.

Thornton said he’s tried getting the word out about the Hammonds’ alleged plight for months. The weekend’s mission is “not haphazard at all; it’s very, very calculated,” he said.

“Whatever it takes,” Thornton told The Daily Beast. “I think we’re going to be here for at least two months, and possibly six months, that’s what I’m figuring. There’s a lot we got to do, we got a lot of education, educating people.”

Meanwhile, Arizona rancher LaVoy Finicum, Cliven Bundy’s neighbor across the border who participated in the 2014 Bundy ranch standoff, told a reporter on Sunday that he’ll stay in Oregon “until the Constitution is upheld.”

The cowboy-hat enthusiast, who like Cliven, apparently refuses to pay grazing fees to the government, told The Daily Beast he “came up here just to support the Hammond family” because the Bundys did.

“When the Bundys came here, I said, ‘Well I rode with them once, I’ll ride with them again,’” Finicum told The Daily Beast.

“It’s atrocious what they’ve done,” he said. “How can you throw them in prison for something that happened 11 years ago. They served their prison time, and now they get thrown back in jail for the same thing again. That’s unconscionable.

“Let me be very clear, this is to be peaceful,” Finicum said. “We have no intent of pointing a gun at anybody, and why would they come and point a gun at us?

“These are just some rock buildings. This isn’t about the buildings, this is about issues, this is about ideas, it’s about the Constitution. If [we] weren’t [armed], they’d roll in here and taze us all and zip-tie us and be done by supper time.”

The Hammonds said they’d turn themselves in for their prison terms on Monday. The father, who has already served three months, and the son, who’s served a year in prison, said they lit the fires to reduce invasive plants and to protect their land from wildfires. Meanwhile prosecutors said that the duo set the fires to cover up their deer-poaching on federal lands.

In October, a judge ruled their prison terms were too short under federal law and ordered them to return to the clink for about four years.

Still, the Hammond family appeared to distance themselves from the militia antics. Dwight Hammond’s wife, Susan, told OPB, “I don’t even know what ‘occupying the refuge’ means.

“I don’t really know the purpose of the guys who are out there,” she said. “I kind of understand where they come from, as far as their priorities in life.”

 

By: Anna Bird and Kate Briquelet, The Daily Beast, January 3, 2016

January 4, 2016 Posted by | Ammon Bundy, Domestic Terrorism, Oregon Militiamen | , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

   

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