Oregon Standoff

On #OregonUnderAttack and #YallQaeda: Stop Calling Everyone a Terrorist

Unfounded terrorism allegations are the health of the state.


Oregon Live

A self-proclaimed militia group led by members of the Cliven Bundy family has occupied a federal outpost in the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge and vowed to stay put until their demands are met. As Ed Krayewski notes, the armed ranchers have rallied in opposition to the prosecutions of Dwight and Steven Hammond, who will go to jail Monday for starting controlled fires on their own property they claimed were necessary to avert a greater disaster.

Authorities are closely monitoring the situation. Ryan Bundy told The Oregonian that the militia had no plans to use violence except as a last resort if confronted by the police:

In phone interviews from inside the occupied building Saturday night, Ammon Bundy and his brother, Ryan Bundy, said they are not looking to hurt anyone. But they would not rule out violence if police tried to remove them, they said.

"The facility has been the tool to do all the tyranny that has been placed upon the Hammonds," Ammon Bundy said.

"We're planning on staying here for years, absolutely," he added. "This is not a decision we've made at the last minute."

Meanwhile, a whole bunch of left-leaning people on Twitter are accusing the militia of engaging in domestic terrorism. The hashtags for the story are #OregonUnderAttack and #YallQaeda—as if the Bundy family's activities thus far have something in common with a terrorist attack perpetrated by Islamic radicals.

Gawker, of course, is running wild with the metaphor:

With the domestic terrorism situation that's currently under way in Oregon being almost entirely ignored by local and federal law enforcement, the people have taken to the social media airwaves to call a spade a spade.

While #OregonUnderAttack was trending for most of the day on Sunday, another tag soon followed as a way to combat the reluctance to call a bunch of white men waving around guns at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge terrorists: #YallQaeda. The tag is dumb, yes, but so are these people.

Domestic terrorists? Really? And here I was thinking liberals were just as skeptical as libertarians about the prudence of labelling everything and everyone a terrorist. Don't they remember that every time someone brands someone else a terrorist, the Patriot Act gets a dozen pages longer? Government power relies upon such unfounded suspicions.

Keep in mind that the ranchers haven't taken hostages, damaged property, or hurt anyone. The previous standoff between federal authorities and the Bundy family was resolved peacefully. It's possible the situation at the wildlife headquarters escalates into something horrifically violent, but it seems wildly premature and speculative to assert that it will.

This didn't stop Vox's Jennifer Williams, whose Voxsplainer on #OregonUnderAttack concludes with a section titled "How dangerous is the situation?"

As mentioned earlier, several of the men behind this takeover were also involved in the standoff in Nevada in 2014, which very nearly ended in bloodshed as hundreds of heavily armed militia members stood off with federal agents. Thankfully, disaster was averted when federal authorities made the decision to pack up and leave without any prior announcement.

That may not necessarily be the case this time around. In fact, at least one militia member seems to be expecting things to go very differently this time. Jon Ritzheimer, the former US Marine whose anti-Muslim rhetoric and activities raised alarms with the FBI in November 2015, posted a video to YouTube on December 31 in which he seemed to be saying goodbye to his family and explaining the reason why he felt compelled to fight the US government in Oregon. 

Williams' also puts the words tyranny and patriots in scarequotes in the very first paragraph of her article, which she promoted on Twitter with the manifestly false caption, "The media wasn't covering this. So I did: The Oregon militia standoff, explained."

A more responsible left-leaning commentator, the historian of student activism Angus Johnston, expressed some misgivings on Twitter about such broad use of the term terrorists, but nonetheless maintained that the ranchers' "threats of political violence against state agents strike me as unambiguously terroristic."

They strike me as unambiguously foolish and crazy. But keep in mind that the origins of the current standoff can be traced to the government's treatment of the Hammonds, who were re-sentenced to a mandatory minimum of five years in prison under federal anti-terrorism laws—even though the initial judge in the case said such a lengthy sentence for two counts of arson would "shock his conscience."

In any case, everyone who opposes government-sanctioned violence should remember that unfounded concerns about terrorism are the health of the state. Lowering the bar for what counts as terrorism is not a winning move for critics of authoritarianism and unconstitutional exercises of police power.