The right-wing lawlessness on display in the armed standoff in Oregon must not stand. The federal government needs to get it right this time, or risk emboldening homegrown extremists.
On Saturday, Ammon and Ryan Bundy — sons of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy — led more than 150 armed supporters in a rally to protest the 5-year prison sentences of a father and son convicted of arson for starting fires on their land, which spread to federal lands. After the Hammonds declined to participate, preferring to surrender to the federal Bureau of Prisons instead, the Bundy’s and their supporters announced that they would occupy the Masher National Wildlife Refuge headquarters, which was unsafe over the New Year’s holiday. The group announced plans to occupy the refuge for years, and vowed to “kill and be killed” if government agents attempt to remove them. The protest is driven by a belief that the federal government has no jurisdiction over lands in any state.
The government made a mistake in letting right-wing extremists get away with pointing guns at federal officers on Cliven Bundy’s ranch in 2014. It was not a mistake to stand down and avoid another Waco-esque conflagration. As Sara Robinson writes, the mistake was in failing to follow-up. That failure sends two destructive messages: (1) That there is one law for white Americans, and another for Americans; and (2) white, right-wing extremists can flout the law and get away with it.
Armed “militiamen” pointed their weapons at federal agents and police officers on Cliven Bundy’s ranch, and threatened to shoot. Yet, headlines about the standoff were not followed by news of Bundy’s arrest, along with several of his supporteres. A handful faced criminal actions, but the indictments that should have resulted never did.
Instead, Cliven Bundy essentially won his “range war” against the Bureau of Land Management, which sought over $1 million in fines from Bundy for illegally grazing his cattle on federal land. Bundy refused to pay, and the BLM began removing his cattle from the land, leading to the standoff. It worked. The BLM backed off, and over a year later, Cliven Bundy continues to illegally graze his cattle on federal land, and hasn’t paid a dime. Most of the Bundy supporters who pointed weapons at, and threatened to shoot, police officer and federal agents faced no legal consequences.
African-Americans engaging in standoffs with police officers is rare. There is a reason: We don’t live long enough to stage standoffs. It’s been studied: people are quicker to shoot a black target than a white target. African-Americans have been killed for less than what Bundy supporters got away with, and in less time. That’s why people say if the Oregon “militiamen” were black, they’d probably be dead by now.
- News of the Oregon standoff followed closely on the heels of the non-indictment of two Cleveland police officers in the death of Tamir Rice. Rice — an unarmed, 12-year-old African-American boy — was shot by officer Tim Loehman within two seconds of the officers’ arrival, because of a toy gun that Rice never even pointed at the police officers.
- Weeks earlier, Americans were horrified by a video of 17-year-old African-American Laquan McDonald’s death. McDonald, carrying a 3-inch knife, was shot to death by Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke, as he turned to walk away from police officers. Van Dyke opened fire less than 10 seconds upon arriving on the scene. He took McDonald down with two shots, and fired 14 more into him after he was down.
The double standard extends all the way to how we talk about such events. Not long ago, conservatives called the Black Lives Matter movement a “terrorist” group that caused and “celebrated” violence against police officers. This went on even though nothing connected Black Lives Matter to any police officers’ deaths.
Meanwhile, when Cliven Bundy, his sons, and their supporters break the law, point real guns as police officers and federal agents, and threaten to shoot, they are not called “criminals” or “thugs”, but “patriots.” And they face no consequences, as William Rivers Pitt noted:
…and note you well: here in America, you can point a high-powered rifle at federal officers and get off scot-free with your gun still in your hand.
Well, you can — if you are white.
Predictably, the lack of consequences has only emboldened the Bundys and their followers. Shortly after the standoff at the ranch, Ryan Bundy joined over 60 armed “freedom riders” for an ATV ride through a 14-mile stretch of Recapture Canyon in Utah, which is the site of Navajo ancestral ruins and burial grounds, and which the BLM closed in 2007, after finding illegal ATV trails cutting through the ancestral ruins.
Now right-wing extremists have upped the ante in Oregon. The Feds have a chance to get it right this time, and make it clear that criminals — even those with white faces and cowboy hats — will face consequences. The Feds have a chance to send a message to right-wing extremists: No more “free passes. ”get out of jail free” passes.
There’s at least one sign that the federal government is starting to get the idea. Federal authorities plan to cut off power to the wildlife refuge where the armed militants have holed up, exposing to sub-zero temperatures. That’s a good start, but doesn’t go far enough. The extremists in Oregon have revealed a weakness in their plan, that gives the Feds a chance to make their stay even more unpleasant.
The Oregon lunatics need snacks. pic.twitter.com/YnAOM3hPQk
— Imraan Siddiqi (@imraansiddiqi) January 3, 2016
In addition to cutting off power, the government should:
- Bring in enough “boots on the ground” to surround the refuge.
- Cut supply lines, and make sure that nothing — not so much as a cheese puff or a square of toilet — paper gets in.
- Jam any/all cellular signals of frequencies the extremists might use.
- Only allow them communications with federal agents, who will repeat the same message: The only outcome will be their surrender They will come out unarmed, with their hands up. They will be immediately taken into custody, arraigned on criminal charges, and held without bail (if possible) until they go to trial.
Even then, the Bundy’s and their compatriots would still eceive more justice and due process than Tamir Rice of Laquan McDonald, despite posing a far greater threat.