4 Things People Are Getting Wrong About Oregon Under Attack

by Taia Handlin

Over the past few days, the media has been covering the story of #OregonUnderAttack. If you’ve missed it, here’s what happened: A federal building in the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge has been occupied since Saturday night by an armed group of radical ranchers led by Ammon Bundy, son of known antigovernment radical Cliven Bundy. The ranchers claim to be protesting on behalf of the arrests of Dwight and Steven Hammond. The Hammonds were convicted in 2012 of burning federal land in Burns, Oregon, in 2001 and 2006. They were sentenced to three months and one year, respectively. In October, a judge ordered the father and son back to prison for four years each, in accordance federal antiterrorism mandatory minimums for burning federal land. 

#OregonUnderAttack has been trending, but people are getting a few things wrong. Here’s what they’re missing:

1. Why the Hammonds were burning federal land.

The Hammonds claimed they were burning “their” land – land they had been leasing from the U.S. Bureau of Land Management for cattle grazing – to kill invasive plants and prevent wildfires. According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, however, witnesses in 2001 saw the Hammonds illegally hunting deer on the federally protected land shortly before setting the fires, which destroyed all evidence of the illegal hunting. Despite Steven Hammond’s claims that the fires were started on his property and did not endanger anyone, one witness testified that he “barely escaped the eight to ten foot high flames caused by the arson.”

The militants taking over the Oregon wildlife refuge are not freedom-loving, land-protecting activists. They are antigovernment terrorists who want the freedom to hunt wherever and whenever, with no regard for the effect their actions have on the land they so claim to love, nor the people near them.

2. We insist on constructing Bundy’s men as romantic cowboys instead of violent terrorists.

There is a romantic vision of outlaws in the west: Long-forgotten ranchers and cowboys, fending for themselves in the wild and coming up against the government that wants nothing but to take away their freedom and pride. The Daily Beast called  #OregonUnderAttack “Wingnut Woodstock.” People love Woodstock. Les Zaitz, a reporter for The Oregonian, tweeted that the terrorists “picked an isolated place to make stand – a refuge way out in the desert where it will get -10 or so tonight.” Bundy and the other terrorists are principled cowboys, taking a stand but doing it far from people so as not to endanger them, because they’re cowboys with morals. They’re also selfless, willing to put themselves in tragic conditions like below zero degree weather.

Even statements meant to reject the idea, put forth by Bundy himself, that the takeover is in support of local land rights and in protest of government corruption, cast them as romantic revolutionaries: In a statement, Harney County Sherriff David M. Ward said that rather than supporting local ranchers, “these men had alternative motives, to attempt to overthrow the county and federal government in hopes to spark a movement across the United States.” Like the American Revolution or V For Vendetta.

These are not romantic outlaws. These are terrorists. They have taken over a government building, they have guns and are willing to use them.

3. Calling Bundy’s terrorists “peaceful” exposes the double standards regarding Black Lives Matter.

The media has been slow to remember that the terrorists have guns and have told The Oregonian that they are ready to “kill or be killed.” The takeover occurred after a protest regarding the resentencing of the Hammonds, which people stress was “peaceful.” Was the rally peaceful? Sure. Was its direct result? Not at all. The militia have guns and are willing to use them. Yet news outlets are also still stressing the “peaceful” nature of the takeover: The Oregonian’s Les Zaitz went to the wildlife refuge and described it as “calm, quiet, [with] no signs of damage.” He also tweeted that they got in because they “found a stack of keys” (his quotes). While his use of quotes might imply that he knows they broke in illegally, possibly by stealing keys, he also makes them sound darn incorrigible, not dangerous.

Despite the fact that the occupants of the wildlife refuge are armed and the terrorists have announced their willingness to kill, the response has been that they are thus far peaceful, and therefore of no concern. Yet when a 12-year-old black kid has a fake gun, he is immediately a threat and killed by police in the name of public safety. Hell, when concerns arose that an October Black Lives Matter protest was going to interfere with a marathon in the Twin Cities, civilians and Mayor Chris Coleman flipped out until the protesters assured them they would never do anything so dastardly. Black Lives Matter demonstrations never occur without waves of public concern and scrutiny before, during and even after. According to CNN Law enforcement analyst Art Roderick, the reason for the double standard regarding BLM and the Oregon takeover is that Bundy’s group are “not looting anything.” This statement fantastically supports a centuries-old stereotype of black Americans as lowly criminals and it exemplifies our nation’s obsession with measuring every instance of white violence against black violence and inevitably determining black violence to be worse.

4. #YallQaeda reinforces the connection between Islam and terrorism

#YallQaeda, while a good attempt to bring awareness to the double standards regarding violence and race, only furthers the conceived connection between Islam and terrorism. Why must we construct a relationship between Muslims and the violence of white extremists before calling white people terrorists?

Image via CNN (screenshot)

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