The media hesitates to apply ‘domestic terrorism’ to white insurrectionists


The U.S. has a long history of insurrections and rebellions, so the latest iteration of the “sagebrush rebellion” from the deadbeat rancher Bundy boys in Oregon should come as no surprise. Militiamen Occupy Oregon Wildlife Office in Protest of Ranchers’ Prison Terms.

There is a an element of the anti-government far-right fringe that fantasizes about overthrowing the government and replacing it with their fantasies of what they deem is constitutional. Many of them subscribe to the conspiracy subculture of the Sovereign Citizens Movement that does not recognize the legitimacy of the U.S. government. Inside The Backwards Ideology Driving The Right-Wing Militiamen Who Captured A Federal Building.

President George Washington dealt with similar insurrectionists in the Whiskey Rebellion:

WhiskeyRebellionThroughout counties in Western Pennsylvania, protesters used violence and intimidation to prevent federal officials from collecting the tax. Resistance came to a climax in July 1794, when a U.S. marshal arrived in western Pennsylvania to serve writs to distillers who had not paid the excise. The alarm was raised, and more than 500 armed men attacked the fortified home of tax inspector General John Neville. Washington responded by sending peace commissioners to western Pennsylvania to negotiate with the rebels, while at the same time calling on governors to send a militia force to enforce the tax. With 13,000 militiamen provided by the governors of Virginia, Maryland, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania, Washington rode at the head of an army to suppress the insurgency. The rebels all went home before the arrival of the army, and there was no confrontation.

* * *

The Whiskey Rebellion demonstrated that the new national government had the will and the ability to suppress violent resistance to its laws.

No doubt the Bundy boys, FAUX News and the rest of the conservative media entertainment complex would condemn George Washington today as a “tyrant” who should be forcibly removed from office (as has occurred at numerous Tea Party rallies against President Obama.)

This country has had an Insurrection Act since 1807 which governs the ability of the President of the United States to deploy troops within the United States to put down lawlessness, insurrection and rebellion. 10 U.S. Code Chapter 15 – INSURRECTION. The self-described militiamen in Oregon are insurrectionists who seek a conflict with the U.S. government, despite their denials.

Harney County Sheriff David M. Ward warned in a statement:

[T]he group’s intent was nothing less than total overthrow of the government.

“These men came to Harney County claiming to be part of militia groups supporting local ranchers, when in reality these men had alternative motives, to attempt to overthrow the county and federal government in hopes to spark a movement across the United States,” Ward said.

So let’s be clear about what we are dealing with here: these self-described militiamen are domestic terrorists. They are not patriots, nor defenders of the Constitution, or whatever other rationalization they concoct to justify their insurrection against the U.S. government.

Janell Ross at the Washington Post asks the media, Why aren’t we calling the Oregon occupiers ‘terrorists’?

As of Sunday afternoon, The Washington Post called them “occupiers.” The New York Times opted for “armed activists” and “militia men.” And the Associated Press put the situation this way: “A family previously involved in a showdown with the federal government has occupied a building at a national wildlife refuge in Oregon and is asking militia members to join them.”

Not one seemed to lean toward terms such as “insurrection,” “revolt,” anti-government “insurgents” or, as some on social media were calling them, “terrorists.”

* * *

It is hard to imagine that none of the words mentioned above — particularly “insurrection” or “revolt” — would be avoided if, for instance, a group of armed black Americans took possession of a federal or state courthouse to protest the police. Black Americans outraged about the death of a 12-year-old boy at the hands of police or concerned about the absence of a conviction in the George Zimmerman case have been frequently and inaccurately lumped in with criminals and looters, described as “thugs,” or marauding wolf packs where drugs are, according to CNN’s Don Lemon, “obviously” in use.

If a group of armed Muslims took possession of a federal building or even its lobby to protest calls to surveil the entire group, it’s even more doubtful they could avoid harsher, more-alarming labels.

Donald Trump would be calling for rounding up all Muslims and putting them in FEMA detention camps to “keep an eye on them.”  The media hardly blinks an eye at his fascist rhetoric.

For those who know the father and son — Dwight Hammond Jr. and his son, Steven Hammond — personally, it is understandable that they would disagree vehemently with any government action that implies that the men they know as engaged members of the community are terrorists. But one really cannot help but wonder where similar outrage lives when data clearly indicate that black Americans are far more likely than white ones to face serious charges and jail time rather than misdemeanor penalties for resisting arrest. Where has the lock-step adherence to careful and delicate language been in all of 2015 when unarmed black Americans were disproportionately more likely to be killed by police than others?

Especially at the race-baiting FAUX News (ACORN, New Black Panthers, 9/11 Mosque, Obama Derangement Syndrome, etc.)

Gosar Bundy Ward 14 April 2014Beyond that seeming incongruity, the Hammonds are not among the occupiers. The man who has helped to organize the building occupation in Oregon is Ammon Bundy. Bundy is the son of Cliven Bundy, a Nevada rancher who engaged in a standoff in 2014 with the government over grazing rights. And the younger Bundy has, again, described the occupiers as “armed” and prepared to die.

 [Photo: Congressman Paul Gosar (R-AZ) and Arizona state senator Kelli Ward (R-AZ), now running for Congress, hobnobbing with the racist deadbeat rancher Cliven Bundy during his armed standoff with the federal government in 2014.]

Deliberate language choices are always a wise and reasonable move. That is especially true when telling stories of conflict with government and political protests. But the incredibly limited and relatively soft range of words in wide use Sunday seems to extend beyond all of that. The descriptions of events in Oregon appear to reflect the usual shape of our collective assumptions about the relationship between race and guilt — or religion and violent extremism — in the United States.

White Americans, their activities and ideas seem always to stem from a font of principled and committed individuals. As such, group suspicion and presumed guilt are readily perceived and described as unjust, unreasonable and unethical.

You will note that while the group gathered in Oregon is almost assuredly all or nearly all white, that has scarcely been mentioned in any story. You will note that nothing even close to similar can be said about coverage of events in Missouri, Maryland, Illinois or any other place where questions about policing have given way to protests or actual riots.

You will note the extended debate about whether admitted Charleston shooter Dylann Roof’s apparently racially motivated shooting spree was an act of terrorism or even violent racism and the comparatively rapid way that more than one news organization began hinting at and then using terms such as Islamic extremism to describe the mass shooting in San Bernardino, Calif.

The sometimes-coded but increasingly overt ways that some Americans are presumed guilty and violence-prone while others are assumed to be principled and peaceable unless and until provoked — even when actually armed — is remarkable.

It reflects the innate racial bias of the media, and America in general.

For more on this topic, see David Atkins at the Political Animal blog. The Armed Domestic Terrorists in Oregon Should Be Treated Just as ISIS Terrorists Would Be.


Think Progress has this useful analysis, What You Need To Know About The Current Militia Standoff In Oregon:

If most ranchers adhere to the laws around the management of public lands, what’s behind these small, armed factions challenging that system?

Over the past several years, a network of politicians and militiamen have been trying to roll back federal authority over public lands with increasing intensity, as documented by the Center for Western Priorities (CWP). That group describes Utah state Rep. Ken Ivory (R) as the lynchpin of a growing movement in statehouses across the western United States. The idea that federal authority over public lands is illegitimate has caught the attention of a variety of extremist groups that are convinced the government will sooner or later turn arms against its own people.

The movement has two main channels: foot soldiers like Bundy and the Oath Keepers, who view themselves as the first line of armed resistance against government tyranny, and capitalists, who know that federal land rules are keeping valuable minerals in the ground. Bundy and his ilk have been involved in multiple other lower-profile provocations with federal agents over the past few years across western states. In that same time frame, the CWP has documented dozens of legislative efforts to loosen federal control of public lands, which would ultimately allow state lawmakers to start dishing out mining and drilling permits in wilderness areas that have been preserved by and for American taxpayers for hundreds of years.

In a final bit of irony, this latest militia dust-up stems from a law created in direct response to the perception that right-wing domestic terrorism was surging during the Clinton years.

The Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA) created the five-year mandatory minimum sentences that the Hammonds face for arson on public property. That law sailed through a Republican Congress in the wake of the 1995 bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building by Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols. McVeigh and Nichols were inspired to that murderous act in part by the fatal standoffs between armed resistors and federal agents at Ruby Ridge and Waco in the early 1990s, where multiple people died and law enforcement were blamed for mishandling and escalating the situations.

Had anyone been killed by the fires the Hammonds set, they could have faced life imprisonment or even the death penalty under the AEDPA. But the rigidity of punishments that Bundy’s armed men are protesting today was established in law partly in response to the actions of their ideological forebears.

As I have posted over the years, Arizona’s Neo-Confederate Tea-Publican state legislators have been among the biggest supporters of this federal land grab under the banner of “states’ rights” and the  interposition and nullification of federal laws. There will almost certainly be several of these bills introduced again in the next legislative session.


  1. Western States were created by the Federal Government. The Federal government did not come in and take it from these oversized children.

    The Fed took it from the indigenous people who were already here.

    These whiny little babies are having tantrums because they want to steal land from the American people.

    And of course they’re terrorists and this is why we can’t have nice things.

    • “…this is why we can’t have nice things.”

      Who is whining here? What “nice thing” have you been deprived of?

  2. One of the interesting things about you, AZbm, is that, unlike most grownups, name calling is still an important part of your psyche. For a supposedly mature man, you appear to draw an unseemly amount of personal satisfaction from calling people and groups with whom you disagree what you consider to be insulting names. It is immature, to be sure, but it does it does give an interesting insight into who you are…

    • Your comment does not address a single substantive point in the post, but rather your emotional response is to attack me because you disagree with the post. That is typical of trolls who have nothing of value to say. And if your emotional response is because you somehow support these lawless insurrectionists, that speaks volumes about your character.

      Charles Pierce has more

      “This is an act of armed sedition against lawful authority. That is all that it is, and that is quite enough. This is not “an expression of anti-government sentiment.” Flipping off the governor as he drives by is “an expression of anti-government sentiment.” . . . This is not an “occupation” following “a peaceful protest.” That would be all those folks who got bludgeoned and pepper-sprayed out of Zuccotti Park a couple of years back . . . These are men with guns who have taken something that belongs to all of us. These are traitors and thieves who got away with this dangerous nonsense once, and have been encouraged to get away with it again, and they draw their inspiration not solely from the wilder fringes of our politics, either. Ammon Bundy and his brothers should have been thrown in jail after they gathered themselves in rebellion the first time.

      This is another step down the road that leads to the broken shell of the Murrah Building in Oklahoma City. There are respectable people in our respectable politics who have been shamefully silent on the subject, and there are respectable people in our respectable media who seem terrified of calling this what it is . . . There is a constituency for armed rebellion in this country that is larger than any of our respectable political and social institutions want to admit. It is fueled by reckless, ambitious people who engage in reckless, ambitious rhetoric.

      * * *

      There is no actual tyranny in this country against which to take up arms. There is bureaucratic inertia. There is pigheaded bureaucracy. There even is political chicanery. But there is no actual tyranny in the Endangered Species Act, or in the Bureau of Land Management, or in the Environmental Protection Agency, or in the Affordable Care Act, or in IRS dumbassery, or even in whatever it is that the president plans to say about guns in the next week or so. Anyone who argues that actual tyranny exists is a dangerous charlatan who should be mocked from the public square. Anyone who argues that there is out of political ambition, or for their own personal profit, should be shunned by decent people until they regain whatever moral compass they once had.

      It does us no good to ignore what is going on in this obscure little corner of the Pacific Northwest. It does us no good to refuse to hold to account the politics that led to this, and the politicians who sought to profit from it. It does us no good to deny that there is a substantial constituency for armed sedition in this country, and to deny the necessity of delegitimizing that constituency in our politics, and the first step in that process is to face it and to call it what it is.”

      This is exactly the point of my post.

      • AZbm, I understood what your point was; I even largely agree with you. I don’t support these yahoos in Oregon in any way, shape, or form. They are a bunch of clowns that are playing a pointless and potentially dangerous game. They have no legal grounds to stand on and the whole point of their occupation is silly. From what little I know of the case, the Bundys did deserve to go to jail and they are poor centerpieces aeound which to build a movement.

        What my response was commenting on (which I thought was rather clear) is your insatiable need, when you encounter people with whom you disagree, to call them derogatory names. In this case, it was “terrorists”. A word loaded with negative connotations and baggage. They aren’t terrorists…they are a bunch of misguided idiot dissidents who think they have an axe to grind against the government. And they aren’t traitors as your featured author stated. No more so than students in the past who occupied buildings with threats of burning them down if they didn’t get their way, or those “99%” people a year or two ago who occupied parks and buildings threatening violence if they didn’t get their way. These numbskulls in Oregon have been talking a big game but doing nothing other than occupying a relatively useless building in a small park. They aren’t recieving any great support and won’t because they are dumbasses spouting an unpopular manifesto. I think the FBI is handling the situation just fine by simply letting these guys and their cause fizzle away.

  3. If they were african-americans they would already be dead. see s.l.a., move ect. Obama is reluctant to exterminate white racists for some reason.

    • You have no basis for stating that other than your personal prejudice and bias. Obama has not attacked ANY group of blacks (or any other group) under similar circumstances. I realize hyperbole has a certain warm comfort to it, but it also has a definite silliness to it.

      • When no one was arrested for pointing guns at Federal Agents in the Bundy standoff, this was the logical next step for the militants.

        • I have seen or read nothing that says they pointed guns at the Federal Agents, or any other law enforcement personnel. In fact, there are very few federal agents there. The FBI is taking a very low key approach to this entire silly standoff.

        • I understand. I also made an error in my response. I overlooked your specifying the original Bundy Standoff. I was thinking about the current standoff when I responded. I can’t address the original Bundy Standoff because I am completely ignorant about what happened there.

          I have to tell you, though, this current standoff is really, really stupid. I understand frustration about the Government, but their approach is ridiculous. Their “rebellion” is pointless and is not going to accomplish anything except make them look more foolish than they are. I applaud the restraint of the FBI in dealing with them…it must be very frustrating dealing with idiots like these.

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