First of all Happy New Year to the handful of people who will read this! Maybe I’ll try to drop a few more entries here in 2016 than I did last year. We’ll see.
So, I’ve been following the Bundy sons and their right-wing militia buddies as they took over a federal facility in Oregon and said they’ll be occupying it for years and can’t promise they won’t be violent if they are opposed. For the life of me, I can’t figure out why these idiot rednecks are hailed as patriotic heroes by conservatives. I mean aren’t conservatives the law and order crowd? Aren’t they about always supporting law enforcement personnel? Don’t they label protesters as thugs? So what is it about these protesters that is so different?
I had a brief exchange of ideas on the subject with a friend of mine whose opinions I have great respect for. I began that discussion by pointing out the differences in reactions to the protests in Ferguson and Baltimore compared to those at the Bundy ranch and in Oregon. He had an interesting take, that I’ll get to later. Oh, and in case I don’t cite his thoughts properly, let me give him a co-authorship credit now – thanks Steve!
So, let’s take a look at some of the differences…
Catalysts For Protests
The Bundy ranch protests began because Clive Bundy decided he was done getting the required permit and paying the required fee to graze his cattle on federal land. Bundy was ordered by a federal court in Nevada not to graze his cattle on the federal property without the permit and to pay the $1+ million in grazing fees he owes. Bundy continued to graze his cattle in defiance of the court and refused to pay the fees. This had gone on for 20 years when the Bureau of Land Management, the agency responsible for managing the federal land, decided to round up the cattle on this tract of federal property and remove them. Bundy didn’t want to lose his cattle.
The Oregon protest is because a father and son were convicted of arson and sentenced to jail. The father and son, Dwight and Steven Hammond, admit to starting the fires that burned about 130 acres, but contend they did so to get rid of invasive plant species and not to cover up evidence of poaching as the prosecutors contended. So three of Clive Bundy’s sons and a bunch of their right-wing militia buddies grabbed their guns, went to Oregon and took over the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon. Never mind that the Hammond’s have made it very clear they don’t want to be associated with the Bundys, don’t want their help, and don’t want anyone to think the Bundys represent them.
The Ferguson protests were in response to a police officer shooting and killing the unarmed teenager Michael Brown and then left him in the street like an animal offering no assistance or dignity to the young man. The grand jury process was flawed at best with the appearance that the prosecutor was skewing it in order to avoid on indictment for the officer who killed Brown. So people took to the streets to voice their frustrations with police use of force and equal and fair access to the courts.
The Baltimore protests followed a very similar narrative to those in Ferguson. Freddie Gray, a 25-year old young man was arrested by Baltimore Police despite the fact that he had broken no law. He was handcuffed, his feet were shackled, and he was placed in the back of a van without being belted into a seat. Somehow his spine was broken in the back of that van and police failed to get him any medical attention.
So, the things that precipitated the protests were a) a refusal to recognize federal authority over federal land and b) the killing of unarmed members of the community by police officers. Conservatives support the former and criticize the latter.
Goals of the Protests
The Bundy protests sought to be able to graze their cattle anywhere they want on anyone’s land without having to follow the laws that govern any of that land they don’t own. They don’t want to pay the bills for using the land that the courts have determined they owe. And in Oregon, they want the people who refuse to be associated with them to be released from jail.
The Ferguson and Baltimore protests sought to bring awareness to unfair treatment of their communities by police officers, of police brutality, and of the denial of justice in incidents like these. They sought to level the playing field.
Yet conservatives hail the guys who won’t pay their bills and refuse to do what they’re told by law enforcement as patriots and heroes.
Means of the Protests
The Bundy supporters in Nevada confronted the BLM officers with weapons and demanded the return of the cattle. They then put out a call for reinforcements to all their other militia buddies who came from all over the country to surround the Bundy ranch in case the government tried to enforce any of the court orders against the Bundys. During this time, these people strategically positioned snipers around the property with rifles pointed at the federal law enforcement officers in the area.
The Bundys and their supporters in Oregon literally took control of a federal facility with a group of armed men. They brought generators, food, and water in and have stated that they plan to occupy the facility for years. They again sent out a call for reinforcements to join them in their occupation.
And while we all know there were some violent actions that spun off the main protests in Ferguson and Baltimore, the majority of the protesters walked down the street, held signs, and voiced their concerns.
And conservatives were hypercritical of the Ferguson and Baltimore protests. All we heard from them was how we had to support the police, that it was really blue lives that mattered, and how the protesters were out of line for confronting police officers. None of that applies with the Bundy supporters though for some reason.
Depictions of Protesters
ABC actually referred to the Oregon takeover as a “peaceful protest.” No one seems willing to call these white men standing in armed opposition to the government what they are – domestic terrorists.
Protesters in Ferguson and Baltimore were regularly referred to as thugs and rioters.
Why the difference?
Government Responses to Protests
The BLM agents confronted by armed militiamen about the cattle capitulated. They released the cattle they had seized. Then they left the area of Bundy’s ranch. All this was done we were told so as not to escalate the tension and to avoid any potential of violence. In Oregon, a memo was released to all land management federal employees to find somewhere other than the occupied facility to work. The memo told them to work from home and not show up at the facility.
In Ferguson and Baltimore, police departments deployed their militarized hardware, SWAT teams, put every officer they had on duty, called in backup from neighboring jurisdictions, and Governors mobilized the National Guard to respond.
So to drastically oversimplify things…
– One group protested for money and exclusion from the rule of law while the other group protested to prevent members of their community from being killed.
– One group sought to have debts erased and to be given special considerations not given to any other citizens while one group sought reform that would provide equality to members of their community.
– One group directly confronted law enforcement with firearms and one group walked down the street with signs.
– One group is portrayed as patriots while the other group is portrayed as criminal thugs.
– One group caused the government to back down and leave while the other group caused the government to respond militarily.
I get the conservative criticisms of the Ferguson and Baltimore protests. I don’t agree with them, but I do at least see their criticisms as being in tune with their ideology. But I cannot understand their support for these militias that were born in the white-supremacist movement and whose goal is the overthrow of the government. How are these people and their actions at all in keeping with what conservatives at least purport to believe?
So as I mentioned earlier, I was discussing this with my buddy Steve and he had some interesting takes.
Steve told me that conservatives have put themselves in the position of having to defend anything and anyone conservative and I think there’s something to that. In our “media on demand” lives now, we seek out what we want to hear, what will reinforce our beliefs and biases. Both liberals and conservatives do this. And it has made us more divided. But I’m still not sure why these guys are considered conservative.
The take Steve shared with me that really got my attention though was this, “what if we replaced ‘white militia’ with ‘group of Muslims’?” What if indeed?! Think about that for a moment. What would the headlines read if this was a group of armed Muslim-Americans who took over the federal facility? What would conservative reactions be in that case? I think we can all agree there would be calls for drone strikes, tanks, fighter jets, whatever the hell it took to reclaim OUR federal facility from these outlaws. What if a group of armed Muslim-Americans had told the federal government to pack sand in regards to grazing fees for their goats and confronted BLM officers to demand the return of their goats at gunpoint? Would conservatives support that group? Clearly not. And that’s a problem for me. If your condemnation or approval of a behavior depends on who is responsible for the behavior and not on what the behavior is, that’s a problem. Not only is it bigoted and prejudiced, it is illogical.
And I hate arguments that are illogical. Bothers the hell out of me.
So my only conclusion is that this is more white privilege in action, that conservatives aren’t approving of the actions as much as they are excusing them because of who is carrying them out. At the end of the day I think the differences in the two groups that matter most to conservatives is that one group is white and rural while the other is black and urban.
I welcome your comments, but please understand that I’m not interested in re-litigating the Freddie Gray or Michael Brown cases. I don’t care to hear how much you think they deserved their fate. Let’s keep the discussion about why conservatives support these people who appear to act well outside of what conservative values are supposed to be. If you get off topic, your comment won’t be posted.