Race and Oregon

Nice piece from Jamelle Bouie:

Likewise, thousands of people retweeted an image of an armed militiaman captioned “150 armed white men take over a federal building and threaten violence if removed—Not a single shot is fired at them” followed by a photo of Tamir Rice with the caption, “12-year-old black boy plays with a toy gun—is gunned down in less than two seconds without as much as a warning.”

It’s easy to see why both tweets struck a chord. But it’s also worth noting the extent to which the Rice shooting—and many others—are fundamentally different from that of a standoff between armed fanatics and federal law enforcement. It’s not just that these are different organizations—local and city police forces versus the FBI and other federal agencies—and different kinds of confrontations with different procedures, but that there’s also a different history involved. Confrontations at Ruby Ridge and inWaco, Texas, ended with scores of dead (white) civilians, and inspired the Oklahoma City bombing—the deadliest terrorist attack on American soil prior to Sept. 11, 2001.

Law enforcement has been willing to use lethal violence against armed white protesters and the results were catastrophic. It’s no surprise federal agents are cautious; they walk with the hard-learned lessons of the 1990s. Even if the Bundys are paper tigers, no one wants to relive the past. In that, law enforcement officials are correct.

In any case, why won’t they shoot at armed white fanatics isn’t just the wrong question; it’s a bad one. Not only does it hold lethal violence as a fair response to the Bundy militia, but it opens a path to legitimizing the same violence against more marginalized groups. As long as the government is an equal opportunity killer,goes the argument, violence is acceptable.

But that’s perverse. If there’s a question to ask on this score, it’s not why don’t they use violence, it’s why aren’t they more cautious with unarmed suspects and common criminals? If we’re outraged, it shouldn’t be because law enforcement isn’t rushing to violently confront Bundy and his group. We should be outraged because that restraint isn’t extended to all Americans.

Good stuff.  But, I think many of are outraged precisely because that restraint is not extended to all Americans.

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

7 Responses to Race and Oregon

  1. Jon K says:

    It is nice to see what I think are the valid reasons to not force a confrontation with the Bundy’s presented in the media. It is important to remember these guys aren’t a new problem, and dealing with one individual group doesn’t do anything to deal with the thousands of others who are sympathetic to their beliefs and methods. As someone who is trying to start a career in federal service – as well as the son of a person who works on the top floor of a federal building – I consider these milita idiots a problem that cannot be dealt with rashly or without concern for potential future consequences. How police deal with those in the inner cities is a serious problem, but it is not comparable to a movement that is willing to resort to armed resistance and terrorism against innocent federal employees if they feel provoked.

    Spend an afternoon listening to Alex Jones’s radio show and you will see that these people are real, they use conspiracy theories and exaggerations to motivate each other to stay perpetually angry, fearful, and energized to start a new revolution against a government they really believe is evil, has abandoned its core values, and is out to get them anyway it can. These people are nuts (you hear them talk about ‘chem-trails’, FEMA concentration camps, that mass shootings are faked as a premise to disarm them forcefully, and that Obama is going to declare himself president for life) but they all convince each other that their crazy delusions are rational and worth defending with force. There are enough of them that they could be a real threat if they decide they need to be. That is why we have to be very careful how we deal with them. Another Timothy McVeigh is not as unlikely to happen as it may seem.

    • itchy says:

      “How police deal with those in the inner cities is a serious problem, but it is not comparable to a movement that is willing to resort to armed resistance and terrorism against innocent federal employees if they feel provoked.”

      But enough about ISIS. Ba-dump-dump.

      I’m not convinced.

      I agree that they are irrational and will hate the government no matter what the government does. But that’s the crux: “No matter what the government does.”

      I expect the ranchers and their ilk will manufacture the justification to turn to violence regardless of reality.

      It’s probable that forceful government action will trigger an immediate response, but: (a) this doesn’t mean violence wouldn’t have happened anyway and (b) when you have a society built on laws, you can’t ignore them because it isn’t comfortable to confront outlaws.

      I do agree with you that at this point, the best bet is to wait them out. But not because we should be fearful of them.

      (Part of me wants to prod them to secede, so they can have a taste of how valuable our government really is.)

      • Jon K says:

        I’m old enough to remember Waco, and Oklahoma City bombing. I was just a kid then, but my dad was a DoD civillian employee at the time and it was something that hit the community of federal employees like a bag of hammers. I am not saying we should fear them, but we should learn from past mistakes and there is no other way to describe Ruby Ridge and Waco than as huge mistakes. It is a fact that the Branch Davidian compound burning down was the direct motivation for the Oklahoma City bombing. These people haven’t forgotten about it either, and it would take very little for them to turn a confrontation into another symbolic Waco.


  2. itchy says:

    “These people haven’t forgotten about it either, and it would take very little for them to turn a confrontation into another symbolic Waco.”

    In fact, it might take nothing. If the government completely retreats and gives them everything they ask, they still will manufacture justification for violence against the government and call innocent workers “collateral damage.”

    There is no scenario where the government acts in a way that will reduce the threat of these people. But, I agree, there is a way in which the government could give them some cover for their extreme conspiracies.

    Ruby Ridge was a disaster, and Waco was a mistake in execution, if not principal. I agree, the feds should tread carefully here.

    But I’m not convinced that letting gun-toting outlaws have their way is going to reduce their threat at all.

  3. R, Jenrette says:

    Waco – grown men were raping and abusing children. If the government doesn’t act in such cases, when will it?
    There wasn’t a solution that made it possible for everyone to go home unscathed.
    At least in Oregon no one has been hurt so far.
    I draw the line at letting these guys go into town and eat at a restaurant undisturbed. They should have at least put on very loud hip hop music.

    • Jon K says:

      Yes, David Koresh had ‘wives’ that were under 18. As a result of the government’s actions 22 children died a horrible death in a burning building. That did not have to happen. Forcing a confrontation against a barricaded group isn’t necessary. If you wait them out eventually they will have to leave. At that point you can deal with them when it is much easier and safer.

      The police could use the same logic instead of deploying SWAT teams to serve drug warrants. It is much easier and safer to wait for the individual to leave their home and pull them over than it is to burst in with flash-bangs and assault rifles.

      It would be nice if law enforcement tried to figure out the best way to accomplish their goals by using the least amount of force possible. Yes, that would require a bit of patience and planning, but it would result in a lot less collateral damage and unnecessary suffering for both law enforcement and those they are seeking to arrest.

      • R, Jenrette says:

        Can you really wait when victims are being abused and babies are being created by those rapes?

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