Eugene Robinson Gets Oregon Stand-Off Right

The Washington Post’s Eugene Robinson highlights the hypocrisy governing the official response to the right-wing militia’s occupation in Oregon.

The Oregon standoff and America’s double standards on race and religion

Let’s call the Oregon occupiers what they are: terrorists

Ammon Bundy and his armed supporters aren’t being called “thugs.” They aren’t being called “rioters.” They’re not even being branded “terrorists.” But that’s exactly what they are, says The Post’s Jonathan Capehart. (Thomas LeGro/The Washington Post)

Opinion writer January 4 at 7:07 PM

What do you think the response would be if a bunch of black people, filled with rage and armed to the teeth, took over a federal government installation and defied officials to kick them out? I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t be wait-and-see.

Probably more like point-and-shoot.

Eugene Robinson writes a twice-a-week column on politics and culture, contributes to the PostPartisan blog, and hosts a weekly online chat with readers. In a three-decade career at The Post, Robinson has been city hall reporter, city editor, foreign correspondent in Buenos Aires and London, foreign editor, and assistant managing editor in charge of the paper’s Style section. View Archive

Or what if the occupiers were Mexican American? They wouldn’t be described with the semi-legitimizing term “militia,” harking to the days of the patriots. And if the gun-toting citizens happened to be Muslim, heaven forbid, there would be wall-to-wall cable news coverage of the “terrorist assault.” I can hear Donald Trump braying for blood.

Not to worry, however, because the extremists who seized the remote Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in southeastern Oregon on Saturday are white. As such, they are permitted to engage in a “standoff” with authorities who keep their distance lest there be needless loss of life.

Such courtesy was not extended to Tamir Rice, the 12-year-old Cleveland boy who was playing with a toy gun in a park on Nov. 22, 2014. Within seconds of arriving on the scene, police officer Timothy Loehmann shot the boy, who died the next day. Prosecutors led a grand jury investigation and announced last month that Loehmann would face no charges. A “perfect storm of human error” was blamed, and apparently storms cannot be held accountable.

Such courtesy, in fact, is routinely denied to unarmed black men and boys who are unfortunate enough to find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time. You know the litany of names — Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Freddie Gray. And you know how these stories end. Just weeks ago, a Baltimore jury failed to reach a verdict in the trial of the first of six officers charged with Gray’s death. Another perfect storm, I guess.

I probably sound cynical, but in truth I’m just weary. And worried.

Justice is supposed to be blind. Race, ethnicity and religion are not supposed to matter. Yet we’re constantly reminded that these factors can make the difference between justifiable and unjustifiable killing — and between life and death.

The yahoos in Oregon are protesting the Bureau of Land Management’s policies, hardly a red-button issue for most Americans. The federal building they seized is in a wildlife refuge, which means that by definition it’s in the middle of nowhere; the nearest sizable city is Boise, Idaho, about 200 miles away. The protesters’ guns pose more of a threat to bears than people.

So no, I don’t think authorities have any immediate reason to blast their way into the woods with a column of armored vehicles. But I would argue there was no good reason to do so on the streets of Ferguson, Mo., either. Is the salient difference that the Oregon protesters are believed to be heavily armed? If so, what message does that send? Does somebody need to found a Minority Rifle Association so that communities of color are given similar deference?

The organization’s name would have to be changed in a few decades, anyway, when whites in the United States cease to constitute a racial majority. This inexorable demographic shift, I believe, helps explain why the world of politics seems to have gone insane of late.

What I want is that African Americans, Latino Americans, Muslim Americans and other “outsiders” be seen as the Americans we are. What I want is acknowledgment that we, too, have a stake in our democracy and its future course. What I want is the recognition that no one can “take back” the country — which happens to be led by its first African American president — because it belongs to me as much as to you.

These are not the sentiments we’re hearing in the presidential campaign, though — at least, not on the Republican side. Following Trump’s lead, candidates are competing to sound angrier and more embittered. That’s why I am so worried.

You’d think there might be at least a few prominent voices on the right expressing horror and outrage at the wrongful killing of a 12-year-old boy. You’d think that Republicans running for president might find the time to condemn the armed takeover of federal property by zealots. Yet all we hear is crickets chirping.

The GOP candidates have apparently concluded that voicing hope, embracing change and broadening our concept of the American mainstream constitute a losing strategy. They see Trump’s success and mimic him in fostering a sense of “beleaguered” us vs. “menacing” them. This may be an effective way to pursue the nomination, but it’s a terrible disservice to the country.

Read more from Eugene Robinson’s archive, follow him on Twitter or subscribe to his updates on Facebook. You can also join him Tuesdays at 1 p.m. for a live Q&A.

4 responses to “Eugene Robinson Gets Oregon Stand-Off Right

  1. Eugene Robinson is consistently one of the dumbest columnists in a country full of dumb columnists. How many people have these terrifying Bundy family terrorists shot? How many bombs have they set off? How many buildings have they burned? The protesters in Baltimore and Ferguson did burn buildings and shoot people:

    http://www.foxnews.com/us/2015/03/16/st-louis-county-officials-announce-arrest-in-shooting-police-officers-in.html

    So the comparison is shamefully stupid.

    Some dudes have occupied an empty government building in the wilderness, killing or wounding precisely no one. BFD.

  2. That’s Nick Nolte, whose appearance amuses me enough that I like to use it for my own profiles. Second thought about the Hammond ranch: The Hammonds were indicted in 2011, and tried in 2012, for supoisedly very dangerous fires they set in 2001 and 2006. Ten years, and five years, between crime and charge. While the government was very clear about its intent to take the Hammond ranch and add it to the BLM’s landholdings. My sense of the DOJ’s agenda in this instance is enormously dark and skeptical, and in ways that echo my sense of the Boston College subpoenas. I think the Bundy family and the militia “occupiers” have highlighted a legitimate grievance that needs investigation.

    • you’re probably right about a legitimate grievance here but doesn’t the real legitimate grievance predate all this by more than a century or so? the people occupying the federal building are demanding the handover of federal land to locals, as i understand it, but if their demand was to return the land to its original owners, i would have much more sympathy for them. the original owners were, of course, the native americans. as i understand the story the land was taken away from them by the feds on foot of demands from local ranchers who wished to use the land themselves; in later years, during teddy roosevelt’s time, the land was then confiscated by the feds and this is the origin of the present ‘stand-off’. the indians were, apparently, force-marched across oregon in a manner reminiscent of what the nazis did to the jews as the russian army approached poland and the death camps. they were the true victoms of all this but are utterly overlooked and ignored. what these militia people are doing is to ignore the original crime. the fact remains that the original crime was to steal the land from the indians to give to the ranchers. the ranchers now complain that the land was then taken from them by washington. in effect they want the original proceeds of the crime restored to them. it seems to me that the only people with a moral right in this fight are the people no-one is talking about – the indians……

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