Protesters march in support of an Oregon ranching family facing jail time for arson in Burns, Oregon, ahead of the militant takeover of a federal building. Photo: AP
- Oregon stand-off: The long, angry road from Bundy Ranch
- Why aren't we calling the Oregon occupiers 'terrorists'?
There's a pretty big ongoing news story out of the United States this week, involving a group of home-grown militants that many are justified in describing as 'terrorists'. But unlike any other coverage of potentially violent activity involving a large group of armed militants in America, there's a reasonable chance this story has escaped your attention. Especially if you don't have an eye on American Twitter.
Why's that? Well, as many of those talking about it on social media would suggest, the action involves not Muslims or young black people, but a group of white ranchers. And for whatever reason, law enforcement has decided to leave them be, rather than come in, guns blazing and tear gas hazing, to disperse them with force.
Militant leader Ammon Bundy. Photo: AP
This particular standoff began on Saturday, when a large 'peaceful protest' march and rally was held in Oregon by a group of heavily armed anti-government ranchers and libertarians who believe their civil rights are being infringed by the government. Their beef? Apparently, that the government had sentenced two members of a local ranching family to jail for deliberately igniting fires on their property that spread onto public land.
At the end of the rally, around 100 of the most hardline members of the group - led by one rancher who has form leading an armed standoff against authorities in 2014 - took over a government building at a wildlife refuge, and they've been occupying it ever since, calling on likeminded "patriots" from across the country to join them. Even after the two local ranchers surrendered to police.
Although nobody has been hurt yet, the leader of the men, Ammon Bundy, told media on Sunday if the federal government intervened "they would be putting lives at risk". His brother Ryan Bundy said they are willing to fight to the death if challenged. Another member of the group posted an emotional farewell video to his family on YouTube.
So basically, although they are calling the action "peaceful" these men also threatening a violent showdown. And they have enough ammo to go through with it.
If all this action over a jail sentence for a couple of farmers who deliberately set land on fire and have since turned themselves in seems a little strange, the local Sheriff points out it's likely that the militia are using this issue to set off a much bigger and potentially scarier chain of events.
"These men came to Harney County claiming to be part of militia groups supporting local ranchers," Sheriff David Ward said in a statement, "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."
So yeah, probably not really a big deal. Just a few patriots exercising their rights as gun-toting white Americans who also hate the government.
They've surely got nothing on Tamir Rice, that innocent black child who was shot dead for playing with a toy gun. Or, you know, the protesters who were then gassed for speaking out against this shoot-first-shrug-later attitude of police when it comes to dealing with black citizens.
As hip hop artist Talib Kweli pointed out in a Facebook post that has been shared almost 80,000 times in one day, "It seems that when armed white men make a stand, police remember their training and focus on deescalation out o respect for life.
"Do they have a right to protest? Sure. But so do unarmed black people. See the hypocrisy."
Others on Twitter have used the hashtag #OregonUnderAttack to draw attention to the disparity in how authorities, and the media, are handling this situation compared with the #BlackLivesMatter protesters and other instances of unrest involving non-white Americans.
If African Americans loaded up on guns and asked for the land we were promised, we'd be dead by noon... #OregonUnderAttack— Evan Cleaver (@EvanCleaver) January 4, 2016
FYI - If you're occupying govt property with signs, it's a protest. If you're occupying with guns, it's terrorism. #OregonUnderAttack— Stephen Lautens (@stephenlautens) January 4, 2016
No media coverage... No military response... No talk of terrorism... No scapegoating... Why? They're white of course! #OregonUnderAttack— Dr Jez Phillips (@drjezphillips) January 4, 2016
White privilege is holding a federal building hostage and being ignored. #OregonUnderAttack— Judd! (@Judd_Markowitz) January 4, 2016