© Josh Sager – January 2016
Last weekend, approximately 150 heavily armed militia-members occupied the headquarters of the Malheur Federal Wildlife refuge in Oregon. Nobody was harmed in this takeover and the militia appears to be dug in for the time being.
This occupation of federal land is ostensibly part of a protest over the incarceration of two farmers—Dwight and Steven Hammond—for arson. These farmers decided to set several unauthorized fires, both to destroy invasive juniper plants and to cover up poaching, and these fires spread to federal land. This type of arson has a five-year mandatory minimum sentence under federal law, and many have considered this too harsh. There have been several protests over these sentences and this is the first time they have escalated to the threat of violence.
It appears that the occupying militia members are a sub-group of the militia members who came to the aid of Cliven Bundy—the deadbeat rancher who claimed the “right” to graze cattle on federal land without paying the fee—and Cliven’s son Ammon is one of the leaders of this group. This sub-set of militia extremists believes in a completely non-factual reading of the Constitution which says that the county sheriff is the only valid law enforcement authority and that basically everything the federal government does is illegal oppression. In service of this ideology, this occupation is designed to force the federal government into giving up control over the land and signing it over to “local authorities” (who presumably are county and municipal officials).
Let me say in no uncertain terms: the militia members who have occupied this federal building are terrorists, not simple protesters. They failed to get their political grievances across using their speech and the ballot box, so they decided to take up guns and use the threat of force to seize what they wanted. While they have not harmed anybody, they are using terror tactics against government agents. The threat implicit in this situation is that government agents who offend these right wing extremists will find their offices invaded by unbalanced people with assault rifles.
If you are having a hard time thinking of these people as terrorists, here is a simple thought experiment: Imagine that these militia members were led by a guy named Muhammad Abdul, and they seized a federal building in protest of the extra-judicial incarceration of Muslims in Guantanamo Bay. They haven’t harmed anybody, but are heavily armed and threaten violent resistance if anybody tries to get into the building. Can anybody reasonably claim that these Muslims would not be considered terrorists by our government and the media? Of course not.
The fact that these militia terrorists are white Christian right wingers should not prevent us from accurately labeling them. That said, there are degrees of terrorism, and these militia extremists have not harmed anybody yet—as such, they shouldn’t face criminal sentences similar to those terrorists who have killed people.
The priorities for the government should be to peacefully resolve this situation (to avoid a situation like the one in Ruby Ridge) and to set a strong precedent that there will be zero tolerance for extremists who would attempt to intimidate federal officials. If this precedent is not set, any militia extremists with a gun and some friends will get it into his mind that he can fight “federal overreach” by taking that gun and waving it at federal officials.
Personally, I would cut off all power and access to this federal building and wait for the cold to set in. While it is easy to be a weekend warrior and militia military cosplayer when the lights and heat are on, the situation changes when the Oregon winter cold starts to make you deeply uncomfortable. Anybody to leave the building would be arrested and not allowed to return, and no supplies would be allowed into the area. This is a tried and true way of breaking resistance to a siege and taking an entrenched position without overt violence (which would make these people militia martyrs).
I would charge everybody involved in the seizure of this federal building with a federal felony, which would strip them of their right to legally own a gun. They have clearly demonstrated themselves to be too irresponsible to own a gun and I would get warrants to search the property of these extremists and seize all weapons they own. Additionally, I would make it a condition of their probation/parole that they submit to random and unrestricted searches of their property to ensure that they are not buying guns illegally.