In a nutshell: Some armed anti-government folks – they claim to number 150, but probably the real figure is closer to a dozen – have occupied a Federal wildlife management building in Burns, Oregon (which is a long way from basically anything other than Burns, Oregon). The building was empty for the holiday weekend, so there hasn’t been any violence so far; however, one of the occupiers, Ryan Bundy, told a reporter that they are willing to “kill and be killed.”
(Incidentally, it doesn’t seem like any of these folks are actually from Oregon.)
For a much more complete summary of the situation, Vox has a primer.
1) I’m not convinced that the government would already have rushed in with blazing guns if these folks were not white, but the situation were otherwise (isolated Federal building, no immediate threat, no decisions being made on-the-spot by lower-rank police) identical. (There is the example of the bombing of MOVE in 1985 – but that was decades ago, and a local police force, not the Federal government).
There’s no denying that law enforcement is sometimes violently racist. But you can’t go from that to saying “this specific event would definitely go differently!”
2) On the other hand, I agree with Vox that media coverage of protests sure looks different when demonstrators are white. And the different media coverage means that there will be less pressure on government to resolve the situation quickly. (Related example: “CNN Analyst Says Black Protesters Are More Dangerous Than Armed Militiamen“).
3) I’ve seen right-wingers on Twitter suggest that this situation is comparable to Occupy Wall Street, or to Black Lives Matter. But neither of those groups threatened to “kill and be killed” if anyone tried to arrest them. That’s a huge difference.
4) In a situation like this – where there is no one in immediate danger, and the occupiers are shut up in a building far from anyone, and there’s a danger of police getting injured or killed if the situation escalates – we should want the authorities to take their time and be cautious.
5) But seeing these guys treated with kid gloves is infuriating, as David Atkins points out:
So on the one hand it’s understandable that federal officials would not want to make martyrs of the right-wing domestic terrorists who are actively seeking to engage in a confrontation and make themselves appear to be downtrodden victims of the federal beast. But on the other hand, it’s infuriating that they receive special kid glove treatment that would not be afforded to minority and liberal activists. […]
As much as restraint is the better part of valor when dealing with entitled conservative crazies, principles of basic justice and fair play also need to apply.
But the fair play I want is for police to use restraint and care in every case possible – not for them to treat this situation without restraint or care.
6) I don’t think what these folks are doing is “terrorism,” and calling it terrorism seems to be part of expanding the term “terrorism” to cover people who aren’t setting bombs or attacking random people in order to effect political change. So far, these folks have done nothing but occupying a building, and warned that they will defend themselves with force if attacked; that’s deplorable, but it doesn’t meet my personal threshold for calling someone a terrorist.
Mark Kleiman suggests that the correct charge is “seditious conspiracy.”
If two or more persons in any State or Territory, or in any place subject to the jurisdiction of the United States, conspire to overthrow, put down, or to destroy by force the Government of the United States, or to levy war against them, or to oppose by force the authority thereof, or by force to prevent, hinder, or delay the execution of any law of the United States, or by force to seize, take, or possess any property of the United States contrary to the authority thereof, they shall each be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than twenty years, or both.
That seems spot-on. These folks richly deserve to spend time behind bars.
7) Kevin Drum says he “would like to hear all the Republican presidential candidates denounce them in no uncertain terms.” I agree. But so far, all of them but Kasich have been staying studiously quiet. Profiles in courage, ammirite?
8) Some folks (example) have been claiming that the Hammonds – father-and-son ranchers whose sentencing for arson set off this chain of events – were merely setting fires on their own lands, which inadvertently spread onto Federal lands. But according to the US Attorney’s Office, that’s not true.
P.S. A good cartoon from Jen Sorenson’s archives applies to this situation.