With all Donald Trump’s bluster about “terrorism” and “security,” precious little of it has been directed at those elements who put the security and well-being of the country at greatest risk: its own “home-grown” variety in the form of anti-government “Tea Party” types, “militias,” “patriots, “oath keepers,” “freedom keepers” and others who defile the flag and copies of the Constitution they like to waive in people’s faces, almost as much as they do their guns. Unfortunately, there are those—such as the 12 all-white jurors in Portland’s Bundy conspiracy trial—who just don’t “get it.” One can only assume that the Bundy fascists and Storm Troopers are seen as a “frontline defense” against the “others,” meaning minorities and their white “liberal” enablers.
It isn’t that these racists and xenophobes are personally discomfited by minorities—they likely do all they can to avoid “mingling” with them—but federal intervention against local government in enforcing anti-discrimination laws and court rulings dating to 60 years ago was one of the prime motivations behind the militia and “patriot” movements, and still is, despite their claims to the contrary; racism and nativism is a major section of their ideological handbook. It shouldn’t be a “shock” that the number and virulence of these groups increased at the moment Barack Obama was elected; the very idea of a black president in their “white” country was tantamount to the end of days—unless, of course, they did “something” about it, and naturally they called themselves “patriots” based on their misreading of the Constitution and how they were to “defend” it.
Back in the “old” days when there were still broadcast journalists who took their role of informing the public of the truth seriously, movements like the so-called “Tea Party” would have been exposed as the bigoted, nativist groups that they were, descended from the so-called “American Party” from the mid-1800s that was so fearful of being exposed that its members were advised not to talk about their ideology to non-members, hence the moniker “Know-Nothing.” The Clinton News Network—and rightly so—has been criticized for its tenderfoot, almost sympathetic coverage of the armed racist gangsters like the Bundy group, or at least when they covered their activities at all. And now its anchors and “reporters” are shocked and disgusted by the rhetoric of Trump that has brought out these far-right extremists out of their hiding places? I think that Trump will likely be a different president (God forbid he is elected) than his rhetoric, but since he has tapped into a stream that wants a “reason” to vote, he will use them; however, Trump didn’t create this “stream,” which has been enabled by the “mainstream” media because of it hasn’t wanted to “alienate” the far-right by simply telling the truth about them. Why? For ratings.
And because of that, we have been fed a narrative by the media that turns criminals and lawbreakers into sympathetic citizens simply out for “justice.” The Associated Press described the Wild West, armed-to-the-teeth Bundy group as “A peaceful protest Saturday in support of an eastern Oregon ranching family facing jail time for arson and was followed shortly afterward by an occupation of a building at a national wildlife reserve.” In an effort to avoid a shooting war, federal officials treated these militant thugs with kid gloves, which merely further “justified” portraying these people as “peaceful.” This is in contrast with the way law enforcements manhandled the unarmed Native American protesters of the Dakota Access pipeline, of which there is a legitimate complaint, because officials caved into anger from more powerful white constituencies that protested the pipeline’s original trajectory, and realigned it to pass through Native American lands without any input from their concerns. The difference in law enforcement action between heavily armed whites and unarmed Native Americans went beyond the level of “courage” it took to engage in mass arrests of the latter. Yet the media made false comparisons between the two protests. As Aaron Bady of the Los Angeles Times wrote in an op-ed,
White privilege — or white impunity, perhaps — is an unavoidable explanation for the contrast. One man did die in Oregon, on a road outside the refuge and seemingly because he appeared to think the authorities didn’t mean it when they pointed their guns at him. But the last of the occupiers were represented in negotiations by a Nevada state representative. Native Americans with drums and prayer sticks on their own land were not so indulged. That’s one reason the racial component is best understood not just as a double standard, but a single, continuous policy that defines American history.
As the Southern Poverty Law Center has long exposed, the current anti-federal government and racist militia and “patriot” movements is far from a “new” phenomenon, in fact it can be traced as far back as 1791 and the “Whiskey Rebellion,” which President George Washington felt compelled to use military force to enforce federal authority. Today, one-third of all land in the U.S. is owned by either state or federal jurisdictions. That was modified by the Homestead Act of 1862, in which anyone willing to farm or improve land of up to 160 acres over a certain amount of time would be allowed to keep title to the land. That law has since expired, but there are those who use the rationalization behind the act to insist that all land belongs to the public, whether they pay for it or not, as Cliven Bundy refused to do when he illegally grazed a thousand head of cattle on federal land in Nevada without paying the fees for doing so, leading to the first of his confrontations with any law than imposed “hardship” on his alleged “right” to do anything he wished on “his” land. Bundy had many supporters on the right, until he broadcast what he believed to be the “innate” moral characteristics of blacks.
As mentioned before, throughout the whole of U.S. history there have been radical “nationalist” movements motivated by a hatred of civil society governed by laws that all are supposed to abide by. Of more recent date was the Posse Comitatus, which espoused—besides a virulent brand of anti-Semitism and race hatred—the doctrine of “county supremacy” over federal jurisdiction. Violence was a frequent threat toward government officials. The Posse infiltrated farm advocate groups, upon which anti-government extremism replaced progressive policies, until the Posse’s influence was exposed publicly.
The so-called “Sagebrush Rebellion” of 1976, which was supported by Ronald Reagan, was ignited by the de facto ending of the Homestead Act, with government owned lands—by now mostly unfarmable desert or national parks and forests—was placed under the authority of the Bureau of Land Management. This sparked a new round of anti-government extremism in support of free passage and use of land not privately owned. This was followed by the “Wise Use” movement of the late 1980s, which was nothing more than a mining industry-sponsored “movement” which opposed government ownership and regulations on public lands—much as the so-called “Tea Party” movement was funded by the Koch Brothers to advance their far-right agenda.
The movement to advance the authority of the “county” and the county sheriff—entities often motivated by the same anti-government mindset (such as Arizona’s Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio)—over federal and even state jurisdiction continued into the early 1990s with the Catron County, New Mexico, “rebellion” in which 21 laws were passed by local radicals to supersede federal control over public lands. These laws eventually were rescinded by court order, but not before threats like this from county commissioner Hugh McKeen: “This rebellion this time — we’ve had the Sagebrush Rebellion in the past, we’ve had many skirmishes, but this one will go to the end. It will go to civil war if things don’t change.” Then in 1997, Nevada’s Nye County Commissioner, Richard Carver, bulldozed open a national forest road, threatening that if any federal agent tried to stop it, “All it would have taken was for one of those [forest] rangers to have drawn a weapon. People with sidearms would have drilled him.”
That this kind of lawlessness with the threat of violence is largely ignored or empathized by the national media is without question a matter of media irresponsibility and denial of the reality of domestic terrorism by all-white radicals. The Bundy standoff in Nevada ended when federal agents gave-up their attempts to bring Cliven Bundy to justice when threatened by militia snipers under the “command” of Ryan Payne, who told the SPL Center that “Not only did they take up the very best position to overwatch everything, they also had the high ground, they were fortified with concrete and pavement barriers. They had great lines of fire and then, when I sent in that other team, for counter-sniper positions, [the BLM agents] were completely locked down. They had no choice but to retreat.” The Clinton News Network “explained” its failure to report the reality of this incident by claiming that it wasn’t a “story” because nothing was burned down or looted.
Again, it is unbelievable that such actions would be allowed to take place—or is it? Back in the 1970s, the American Indian Movement and the Black Panthers were met with overwhelming firepower by federal and local law enforcement. But after Ruby Ridge and Waco, law enforcement has been loath to take on violent white extremists who have been allowed by the media to cloak themselves as “patriots” out to exercise their “constitutional” right to tread on everyone else’s rights. So perhaps it is not so “unbelievable,” because armed white extremists are held to different standards of “interpretation” than the ordinary street “mobs.”
Yet the truth is out there. According to the SPL Center, the “patriot” and militia movement “Has seen an explosive resurgence since President Obama was elected – growing from about 150 groups in 2008 to more than 1,000 last year. Since 2009, there have been 17 shooting incidents between antigovernment extremists and law enforcement.”
Yet it was against this backdrop that an all-white Portland jury last week acquitted the anti-government Bundy extremists, despite the fact that they were backed by heavily armed militia thugs threatening law enforcement and federal agents, which was clearly a criminal offense. This was a “victory” in their fight to abolish the rights of everyone but themselves. Who wants to visit a national forest guarded not by forest rangers, but by neo-Nazi militia thugs using it as a “training” ground for the coming “race” war? As the Center’s Mark Potok pointed out, “The Bundy ranch standoff may be a preview of things to come if the federal government doesn’t come to terms with the true nature of this volatile extremist movement.” And the same can be said if the media continues to “excuse” the actions of these extremists.