How can the “armed militiamen” who occupied the federal government’s Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon be engaging in a “peaceful protest”? If they’re white men doing the occupying they can be called anything but thugs, criminals or terrorists, according to the Associated Press.
This weekend white ranchers Ammon Bundy and his brother Ryan Bundy, along with a dozen others, stormed the building to protest the federal government’s ownership of public land that ranchers are restricted from using. Ranchers like the Bundys believe this is unconstitutional. The white militiamen’s rage was triggered by rancher Dwight Hammond and his son Steven Hammond’s five year prison sentence for committing arson on public land.
But AP wasn’t alone in the American news media’s racist coverage of the white ranchers. The New York Times dismissed them as an “armed group” while Fox News blandly called them “armed protesters.” In its January 4, 2015 print edition, The Washington Post printed the following milquetoast headline: “Occupiers in Oregon pledge long standoff”.
What a difference race makes in news coverage and law enforcement response to men (or boys) with guns. When blacks rioted, looted and burned down buildings in Ferguson, Missouri, and Baltimore, Maryland, the media, myself included, referred to them as rioters and thugs, not peaceful protesters – because that’s what they were.
US law enforcement is just as complicit as the press in this racial double standard. The National Guard was called to Baltimore to control the 2015 riots. But in Oregon, the government is sitting in wait and see mode, standing down in the face of white armed militiamen who are threatening violence if police try to arrest them.
In 2014, the federal government acted the same way with the Bundy brothers’ father, Cliven Bundy. A Nevada rancher, Cliven refused to stop his cattle from illegally grazing off federal land. He and a gang of supporters engaged in an armed stand off with federal law enforcement agents and threatened to shoot them if they stepped on the government property that Cliven was using illegally (he owed over $1 million in 20 years of grazing fees to the government). At the time Republicans rallied around Bundy, a lawless tax evader, and the government gave into this white criminal’s demands.
The message in America seems to be clear: white men with guns aren’t a threat, but black men are.
Some people compared the gunmen’s siege of the Oregon building to the Black Lives Matter movement protests. While I’m not a fan of the later, there’s no comparison. To date, the Black Lives Matter groups have been mostly peaceful protests conducted by students and others not armed takeovers of buildings, threatening to shoot people who are only trying to enforce the law.
While the armed Bundys flagrantly violated multiple laws, the media, law enforcement and conservatives condone their lawlessness under the umbrella of “unconstitutional government overreach”. But when the unarmed Black Lives Matter folks protested against the perception that blacks’ constitutional rights are being violated by police killing young black men, the media calls them “a hate group”.
Thank goodness that in America, our constitution affords us the right to protest. It also explicitly states under the second amendment that: “the right of the people to keep bear arms, shall not be infringed.” But the right to own a gun is for legal protection and the defense of one’s person or private property from harm, not to terrorize or commit crimes against others. In fact, the first amendment protects the right of Americans “to peaceably assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” Peaceful protests don’t involved loaded guns at the ready to shoot position.
What our constitution doesn’t give us is the right of sedition, no matter what the colour of our skin is. The Bundy brothers, like their father Cliven, are just as much thugs and criminals as the black looters were in Baltimore and Ferguson. America needs to stop this racial bigotry in how it deal with guns. A white man with a gun should not be immune from being called a terrorist, thug or criminal.