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The Oregon Standoff Explained
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The Oregon militia standoff has been all over the news for weeks. However, not everyone understands the issues behind the militia’s now nearly month-long occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Preserve.

It started with the story of two men, Dwight and Steven Hammond, who were sentenced to jail time for committing arson on public land, and how protests regarding their case escalated to an armed standoff with a group of extremists.



However, the case became news again when a Federal judge decided the Hammonds’ sentences were too short. They were to be called to be sentenced again, potentially to spend four more years in prison, but anti-government groups and “militias” rallied to their side to protest Federal land use as “tyranny.”

At the beginning of January, armed militia, headed by Ammon Bundy and his brothers, occupied Malheur National Wildlife Preserve near the Hammonds’ farm in Burns, OR.

The Bundys refer to a violation of their constitutional rights as the reason for their protest. However, there isn’t much constitutional backing for their complaint. Basically, they just don’t want to follow federal laws. They think that government is too big – it’s the extreme of the Tea Party small government position. However, it’s entirely constitutional and legal for the federal government to own land. The complaint of the Bundys and those like them is not rooted in any constitutional right, although they cite the constitution – states’ rights – as their reason for protest.

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The militia has a few main concerns. First, they protest Federal ownership of land in the West, saying it limits the solvency of citizens farming, ranching, or mining on the land. They also have protested what they think is the classification of the Hammonds as terrorists. However, this is just a misunderstanding.

The Hammonds were sentenced under an act called the “Anti-terrorism and effective death penalty act of 1996” – so it sounds like they are being convicted of terrorism, even though there’s a clause in the act about arson on Fed lands:

“The federal law in question doesn’t just deal with terrorism. It created a five-year mandatory-minimum sentence for arson on federal land: ‘Whoever maliciously damages or destroys… by means of fire…any…real property…owned or possessed by…the United States…shall be imprisoned for not less than 5 years…’” (Rolling Stone)

The Acting U.S. Attorney General agrees. According to the Washington Post:

“We all know the devastating effects that are caused by wildfires. Fires intentionally and illegally set on public lands, even those in a remote area, threaten property and residents and endanger firefighters called to battle the blaze” stated Acting U.S. Attorney Billy Williams, in a statement issued after the Hammonds were sentenced. “Congress sought to ensure that anyone who maliciously damages United States’ property by fire will serve at least 5 years in prison. These sentences are intended to be long enough to deter those like the Hammonds who disregard the law and place fire fighters and others in jeopardy.”

The militia initially called for “patriots” to protest the “tyranny” of the government. From their video (on OregonLive), they intend for the Malheur preserve to “become a base…for patriots all over the country to come here…and we’re planning on staying here for several years. And while we’re here, we’re gonna be freeing these lands up, getting the ranchers back to ranching, getting the miners back to mining…where they can do it under the protection of the people, and not be afraid of this tyranny…”

Not to mention that the phrase “bring your arms” was mentioned twice.

For many Americans, it was hard not to ask the question – what if these people were black? It’s wildly unlikely that a group of armed black men would still be alive at this point – it’s even hard to believe that unarmed black men would be alive.

This month, the officer accused of shooting 12-year-old Tamir Rice was acquitted of murder. Eric Garner died in New York when he was choked out in a routine check of his corner deli. The numbers of unarmed black men killed when cops used excessive force or opened fire indiscriminately keep growing.

In Ferguson, Missouri, police called in the National Guard on peaceful protesters. White Americans have called the “Black Lives Matter” movement a group of terrorists.

In this case, however, a group of armed white men, flagrantly breaking the law and threatening violence, have been entirely unharmed. The cops and FBI are appeasing them, rather than shooting them, or even spraying them with tear gas.

There is another side to this, however. A few weeks ago, Slate came out with an article reminding us of other horrible stand-offs between armed crazy people and federal officers. The article reminds us of the disasters in Waco and Ruby Ridge, where cops did use force on armed (white) criminals, and it became horrible carnage.

Perhaps the question shouldn’t be “Why do they not use force on white people?” but more “Why do they use excessive force on black people?”

Other sources, such as Time, bring up the same question. Perhaps the FBI isn’t allowing these protesters to stay because they’re white, but because they’re balancing a “delicate situation.” The memories of Waco and Ruby Ridge do stand in people’s memories — particularly law enforcement — and there is an aspect of the FBI’s choice to proceed with caution that is legitimate.

Last week, there was finally an altercation with police, in which four leaders of the occupation were arrested and one was fatally shot. See The Aftermath of Ammon Bundy’s Arrest for more information.






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