Bill Knight column for Mon, Tues., or Wed., Jan. 11, 12 or 13
Media sure seem to be sanitizing the situation.
However, everyday Americans don’t need to abandon common sense.
After all, if these armed occupiers were African-American, or Mexican or Syrian immigrants, or Muslim, it’s very likely they’d be labeled terrorists.
And much worse.
On Jan. 2, a few armed men “seized” the unoccupied Malheur National Wildlife Refuge complex in eastern Oregon, where they pledged to remain until some unspecified redress of vague grievance(s).
Reporting on the takeover featured terms for the armed men including “ranchers’ rights protesters” (NBC News), “protesters” (Reuters), “armed activists” (New York Times), and “occupiers” (Washington Post) – all accurate but incomplete. More than euphemisms, such terminology is almost a justification, if not acceptance of the legitimacy of their claims.
Armed, anti-government extremists who seem to want to inspire insurrection are handled with kid gloves, which I wrote about last January. Last week, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) issued its annual report on such right-wing “militias,” identifying 276 such groups – up 37 percent from 2014. The anti-government movement grew dramatically after Americans elected President Obama in 2008, from 42 groups then to 334 in 2011. Then the number fell for awhile.
As Salon.com writer Ben Norton recently noted, “Of all extremist groups, the Far Right is consistently given the kindest news coverage in U.S. corporate media.”
As of this writing, the men there haven’t used violence but they’ve announced their willingness to do so. The group of mostly Mormon and other Christian men seems focused on the case of Steven and Dwight Hammond. Led by Ammon and Ryan Bundy – sons of family patriarch Cliven Bundy, who had a standoff with authorities in 2014 for 20 years of unpaid grazing fees on federal land (he owed $1.35 per cow per month, compared to other ranchers paying more than $15 to private landowners) – the men are angered about the Hammonds’ guilty-plea arson conviction for setting multiple fires on federal land, and the mandatory five-year prison sentence under the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996. That law was passed after the Oklahoma City bombing by American right winger Timothy McVeigh.
However, the Hammonds last week voluntarily reported to begin their sentences and distanced themselves from the action, one of a series of odd factors here.
Nevertheless, as I’ve written, this occurs amid a backdrop of Right-wing groups implicated in dozens of incidents, from killing lawful abortion providers to planning to attack undocumented immigrant children crossing the border into the U.S. Southwest.
There’s little excuse for violence against those with whom you disagree – nor for media ignoring homegrown terrorists or essentially dismissing them as wronged “patriots.”
Eric Boehler of the Media Matters watchdog organization said, “Fox News has routinely paid very little attention to breaking news stories that feature right-wing, or anti-government, gunmen who target law enforcement officials as a way to deliver their warped political messages.”
Since 9-11 in 2001, more than 62 “major terrorist plots and racist rampages have emerged from the American radical Right,” according to the SPLC, which maintains a data base on such crimes. Those attacks by Americans-on-Americans include Ku Klux Klan members, American Nazis, white supremacists, self-styled militia, and anti-Semitic and other violent extremists. They were nabbed using pipe bombs, hand grenades, firebombs, C-4 explosives, nerve gas, radioactive materials and even an antiaircraft gun. They planned to kill or kidnap police, elected officials, banks, National Guard troops, minorities, Jews, judges, people of other religions, and government facilities.
But, oddly, media almost excuse it all by not calling such actions terrorism.
Finally, there are a few other oddities here. First, the occupied land was established as federal by President U.S. Grant in 1872 as the Malheur Indian Reservation for the Northern Paiute nation. Would these Native Americans have more rights to the land than 21st century ranchers? Next, there’s “government” and there’s “government,” apparently. Ammon Bundy reportedly got a federal loan for $530,000 from the Small Business Administration in 2010, and one occupation participant asked for supporters to send supplies to that address – so the U.S. Postal Service must be OK. Lastly, the mandatory sentencing in question certainly takes judgment away from judges, so would these self-styled right-wing extremists advocate releasing the thousands of other inmates serving time for mostly nonviolent drug convictions? Or is this concern reserved for ranchers who profit off public land?
[PICTURED: Editorial cartoon by Pat Bagley/Salt Lake Tribune.]