Oregon standoff: Are the Bundy brothers 'terrorists' or just ‘trivial’?
Social media has gone ballistic over the latest small-town American drama, claiming the mainstream media is going easy on the Bundys, not daring to slam them as "terrorists" because they are "white and Christian."
The debate began to rage after Oregon ranchers Dwight Hammond Jr. and his son Steven were both sentenced to five years in prison after being charged with setting fire to US government-owned land in a part of the country where there are reportedly more heads of steer than humans.
The conviction brought about 300 peaceful protesters out on the streets of Burns, a one-light town in northern Oregon (pop. 2,806), to voice their concern that the federal government should not be involving itself in matters the protesters say is a strictly local affair.
The organizers of the siege are brothers Ammon and Ryan Bundy, whose father, Cliven, grabbed headlines last year following a tense standoff in Nevada against the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) over cattle grazing rights.
The group has issued two demands that the government will be very hard-pressed to meet: to release the Hammonds and surrender control of the Malheur National Forest.
“We’re going to be freeing these lands up, and getting ranchers back to ranching, getting the loggers back to logging, getting the miners back to mining where they could do it under the protection of the people and not be afraid of this tyranny that’s been set upon them,” Ammon Bundy, the self-declared leader of the group, said in a Facebook video posted by Sarah Dee Spurlock on Saturday.
A statement released by David Ward, sheriff of Harney County, said the militants want to "overthrow the county and federal government in hopes to spark a movement across the United States."
Terrorists or freedom fighters?
So is it true? Has the mainstream media gone soft on the Bundy gang, who are now holed up inside an isolated government-owned building, because they do not fit the popular stereotypical image of the traditional "terrorist" (Hint: has a dark complexion, does not profess the Christian faith, traditionally wears a heavy beard and seldom travels without foreign documents and explosives). Is America unwilling to come to grip with the fact that there is such a thing as a "homegrown terrorist"?
ABC helped to fuel the suspicion that the media was deliberately downplaying the situation when it released this anticlimactic update via Twitter: “Peaceful protest followed by Oregon wildlife refuge action.” And that was it. The reader could be forgiven for thinking they may have missed a Woodstock-style love-in on some private farmland.
As predictably as thunder follows lightning, the tweet attracted a slew of sarcastic, snarky comments from Americans who were convinced this was an act of domestic terrorism, including this gem by Theresa Rose, who posted: “Here let me help you, ‘Armed white terrorist takeover (sic) take over wildlife refuge... you're welcome.”
Twitter user Willy Wonky fired off: "That's the most sugar coated headline I've ever seen... stop giving us white people headlines like that." Meanwhile, Donald G. Carder opined: "There's nothing ‘peaceful’ about a group of armed rednecks seizing public property. This is terrorism, plain and simple."
Finally, @AngryBlack Lady dismissed all decorum and discretion, asking: "Are you f*cking serious with this headline?! RT @ABC: Peaceful protest followed by Oregon wildlife refuge action."
And this leads us to the $64-million question: Should we categorize every act of public protest – even by some redneck "armed militants" – as an act of terrorism? The American Heritage Dictionary defines a terrorist as somebody who stages "unexpected attacks on civilian targets, including embassies and airliners, with the aim of sowing fear and confusion."
So are the Bundy brothers, whose only crime (so far) has been to seize a government office in the middle of nowhere, now bona-fide terrorists in the same major leagues as al-Qaeda and Islamic State?
This is where we risk getting stuck in a swamp of semantics in an effort to establish exactly how to call such individuals. After all, just imagine if these white Christian "militia members" – apparently willing to wage a war with the government – had been a group of Muslims protesting the treatment of detainees in the Guantanamo Bay facility, for example. It is a safe bet to say the newspaper headlines would be screaming in bold-font print the world "terrorist" and perhaps even "Islamic State" from coast-to-coast.
On the other hand, if we accept the idea that such acts of protest on the part of the people – which Henry David Thoreau elegantly defined as "civil disobedience" – are now acts of terrorism, then we must also accept the disturbing fact that the very founding of the United States, bloody and violent as it was, was based on "acts of terrorism," thus making the entire American experiment in democratic rule null and void.
Consider the Boston Tea Party of 1773, where a group of American colonists, fed up with paying taxes to the British crown, dumped a large shipment of tea into Boston harbor. This single act of protest, in which not a single person was killed or injured, set the stage for what came to be known as the American War of Independence and the Declaration of Independence. For better or worse, there would have been no US of A had those rebels at Boston not ruined the Queen's tea shipment. Is there a single history book that labels these American colonists who went on to found the United States "terrorists"? Certainly not, at least not the history books stored in US libraries. Indeed, they are held up with great esteem as founding fathers of the country.
This is not an attempt to justify the actions of the Bundy brothers, who have certainly committed a crime by their outrageous seizure of government-owned property (which, as a federal offense, could possibly carry a hefty jail term and fine). However, it is extremely important, I believe, to differentiate between full-blown acts of terrorism – where things go boom and scores of innocent people die – and acts of protest against a perceived injustice.
Understanding this difference is crucial at a time when many Americans, instinctively suspicious of their political servants since the founding of the great nation, believe the US government has seized too many powers for itself under the very threat of "terrorism." One need only consider the controversial passage of the so-called US Patriot Act (which few if any legislators had the luxury of reading), which places tremendous restraints on American freedoms and liberties.
But I digress.
The point is, we must be careful not to categorize every pubic dissenter as a cold-blooded "terrorist," which not only does a great disservice to the English language; it instills the dangerous idea in the public mind that every act of protest is the equivalent to an act of terrorism, which is certainly not true.
At the same time, for the US mainstream media to sugarcoat the actions of the Bundy brothers and their supporters as part of some "peaceful protest" is equally ludicrous, and especially more so considering how a group of Muslims would be treated under similar circumstances. The word that comes to mind is “hypocrisy,” which is perhaps the ugliest thing to witness in the media, considering that journalists like to imagine they provide a fair and balanced account of all events, regardless of the background of the actors.
And as is so often the case in such instances, the truth regarding this dangerous standoff with the US government and how to label the Bundy brothers lies somewhere in the middle, and it is our duty – lest every act of protest by an American citizen be either downplayed as “trivial” or overblown as “terrorism” – to define our terms as appropriately and accordingly as possible.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.