A protest held in support of Oregon ranchers facing prison time for arson turned ugly after a large group of armed men broke in and occupied a U.S. government building.
Dozens of gun-toting protesters, many carrying assault rifles and other semi-automatic weapons, seized the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge on Sunday. However, despite the fact that these men are still occupying a federal property, U.S. government has refrained from calling the militia domestic terrorists. And while the FBI has said they are aware of the situation, the police are reportedly keeping their distance from the armed men.
Ammon Bundy, the rancher whose family appears to be leading the militia, has called on more supporters to join him in order to take a stand against (what he feels is) government oppression.
I talked to Ryan Bundy on the phone again. He said they're willing to kill and be killed if necessary. #OregonUnderAttack— Ian Kullgren (@IanKullgren) January 3, 2016
While the self-titled “freedom fighters” continue to occupy the wildlife management headquarters, U.S. media outlets are struggling with how to refer to the people involved — inadvertently exposing the blatant double standards when it comes to white citizens wielding weapons.
Reuters called the group "self-styled militiamen" while The New York Times has sufficed with “armed activists.” Other variations include “protesters” and “freedom fighters,” but no one has actually called them out for what they actually appear to be: domestic terrorists.
The reaction from authorities — or lack thereof — has also led to an online debate where social media users are arguing if the perpetrators had been Muslims or black, things would have been very different. The hashtag #OregonUnderAttack has sparked a discussion on the role of race, religion and the suspicious lack of media coverage when the occupation first began.
Not a single cable network is covering this Oregon militia situation— jeremy scahill (@jeremyscahill) January 3, 2016
150 domestic terrorists take over a fed building. Can only assume there's wall-to-wall cable news coverage, right? Oh. #OregonUnderAttack— Sahand (@Sahand_1) January 3, 2016
Twitter users have also highlighted the noticeable absence of National Guard, which was deployed during Black Lives Matter protests in Ferguson and Baltimore.
An armed militia group taking over a federal gov't building. How is this not terrorism? Oh right, they're white. #OregonUnderAttack— ThomasBrophy (@ThomasABrophy) January 4, 2016
“White privilege” and “white supremacy” also became much-debated topics among social media users:
Did I miss the call for the national guard in Oregon? I recall them in Ferguson and Baltimore. #OregonUnderAttack— rolandsmartin (@rolandsmartin) January 3, 2016
It's interesting how people are trying to downplay the underlying white supremacist agenda of these militia groups #OregonUnderAttack— Tariq Nasheed (@tariqnasheed) January 4, 2016
Many also wondered what would have happened if these ranchers, who are apparently fighting for their rights, had been Muslim.
If 150 Muslims liked a tweet that indicated sympathy for the possibility of resistance there would be more media outrage #OregonUnderAttack— Muhammad Robert Heft (@robertheft) January 3, 2016
The way American officials and most media outlets differentiate between black and white people with guns, is clearer than ever following the Oregon standoff. Not to mention, the entire situation would have probably gone unnoticed if the social media hadn’t highlighted it — especially when some media companies initially called it a “peaceful protest.”
Many online users believe if the Bundys weren’t white, there would have been accusations of terrorism and a military operation would have been well underway by now. Whereas, as of writing this piece, there have been no reports of a law enforcement raid on the building.
While the situation between the Oregon ranchers and the U.S. government is a different matter altogether, the question here is that what exactly distinguishes terrorism from an armed takeover of a federal building?