Sunday, January 03, 2016

MILITIA ACTION IN OREGON: LET'S BE THOUGHTFUL

The internet is buzzing with commentary about the self-styled militia that has taken over the office of a national wildlife refuge in eastern Oregon. In my opinion, we need to be thoughtful, and careful about what we say.

There are two popular themes I want to discuss: are these folks terrorists, and is the non-response by the authorities racist? 

The terrorist question is perhaps the easier of the two, and the one in which my peril of being accused of not being politically correct enough is less. Based on definitions I found on a FBI website, I think the action of these people is terrorism, specifically domestic terrorism. Here is the definition (footnote a):

Definitions
There is no single, universally accepted, definition of terrorism. Terrorism is defined in the Code of Federal Regulations as “the unlawful use of force and violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives” (28 C.F.R. Section 0.85). 

The FBI further describes terrorism as either domestic or international, depending on the origin, base, and objectives of the terrorist organization. For the purpose of this report, the FBI will use the following definitions:

Domestic terrorism is the unlawful use, or threatened use, of force or violence by a group or individual based and operating entirely within the United States or Puerto Rico without foreign direction committed against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof in furtherance of political or social objectives

Seems very clear to me that these folks are committing an act of domestic terrorism.  I do not, however, agree with those who are lumping these people with the likes of ISIS, Al Queda or other terror groups who are in the news all the time. The armed people in eastern Oregon have not beheaded, raped, crucified, murdered, tortured anyone. I think they have threatened violence if the authorities try to remove them from the federal property. 

So in my opinion, we should be careful not to get too carried away with the moniker of terrorist for these people, and instead talk about how their action is classified. Unfortunately, when most of us hear the word “terrorist” we immediately think of radical Islamists. There have always been terrorists in the United States, such as the Ku Klux Klan and the Aryan Nation, but only recently have they been associated with ISIS or other radical Islamist groups. 

Now let’s move on to the question of racism. I, like many others on the various social media, have had thoughts and have made comments about the assumption that, if these militia people were Blacks or Muslims, they might all be dead or in jail by now. We see too many instances where people of color and people who are Muslim are immediately suspect if they have a weapon. The fact that a SWAT Team or anti-terrorist force or any other heavily armed law enforcement personnel have not shown up at the wildlife refuge begs the racism question. 

But is the non-response really racist? Well, in my opinion, I say a qualified no. Let’s keep in mind that these armed people have taken over a small federal building in the middle of, well, nowhere. I only say “nowhere” because the vast majority of people have absolutely no idea where the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge is located. It is rural - very, very rural. 

Here is a google earth view, including an insert of the building that has been taken over. 



This is not the middle of a dense urban neighborhood. These armed people pose no danger to anyone, because there isn’t anyone anywhere near them. The building they have taken over had no people in it because it was closed for the weekend. I doubt that the Harney County Sheriff Department has a SWAT Team, or anything like it. Harney County has a land area of 10,226 square miles, and a population of 7,146 people. Cattle outnumber people in the county by 14 to 1. The County Sheriff website has a page for “Sheriff’s Posse;” however, it only lists the contact information for the Sheriff. 

Comparing the “non-response” at Malheur to the immediate and heavily militarized responses we see when there is a gunman or a mass shooting in an urban area is apples and oranges (people and cattle?). I also think that saying there would be an immediate and heavily armed response if these folks were African American, or Muslim is, for this situation, without a basis. 

The Sheriff and others have commented that a number of agencies are working together on a strategy to deal with these self-styled militia folk. They have told people to stay away from the wildlife refuge. This could play out in a number of ways, including a violent confrontation. However it ends, I think the people involved in the takeover will be arrested, at least those who are alive, and charged with any number of crimes. 

Earlier I wrote that my opinion on the question of racism is a “qualified no.” Let me explain. I know that there is a deep current of racism in my country, the United States of America. There are racist people, and many of our institutions and systems are racist in practice. This is not a surprise to most people who read the news and news analyses. 

I think it is too early to find any racial undertones in the response (non-response) of the local authorities. But this situation should be watched carefully by all of us to see how it develops, and whether or not we think the eventual actions of the various government authorities are different because the militia are a bunch of good-old white boys. 

These are my thoughts; what do you think?

Footnotes:
a. Source:  https://www.fbi.gov/stats-services/publications/terrorism-2002-2005/terror02_05#terror_05sum

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