Over the weekend, some armed right-wing activists took over a federal building at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in eastern Oregon and announced they intended to stay for months or years. Why they did it is a long story I’ll touch on (but not thoroughly rehash) in a bit.
Now a lot of people on social media have had a bit of fun with this, denouncing the perps and their actions with such hashtags as #YallQaeda and #VanillaISIS and #YeeHawdists who are intent on building and expanding a #cowliphate. I am one of those people. But at bottom, this is no laughing matter.
Is this treason? Almost certainly not. Treason is the one crime defined in the Constitution, in Article III, Section 3:
Treason against the United States shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort. No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court.
In all fairness, I don’t know of anyone who would, or could, argue honestly that these guys with guns have levied war against the United States at this point.
I also question whether it is domestic terrorism, the statutory definition of which can be found at 18 USC 2331(5):
the term “domestic terrorism” means activities that—
(A) involve acts dangerous to human life that are a violation of the criminal laws of the United States or of any State;
(B) appear to be intended—
(i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population;
(ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or
(iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping; and
(C) occur primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States.
A reasonable person can argue that occupying a federal building while it was unoccupied over a holiday weekend does not “involve acts dangerous to human life,” so I’ll grant for the sake of discussion that what the gunmen have done does not constitute domestic terrorism.
But it is seditious conspiracy, per 18 U.S.C. 2384:
If two or more persons in any State or Territory, or in any place subject to the jurisdiction of the United States, conspire to overthrow, put down, or to destroy by force the Government of the United States, or to levy war against them, or to oppose by force the authority thereof, or by force to prevent, hinder, or delay the execution of any law of the United States, or by force to seize, take, or possess any property of the United States contrary to the authority thereof, they shall each be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than twenty years, or both. (emphasis mine)
In other words, what these guys have done is a crime, and a big one, against the U.S. government, which is to say, against the people of the United States.
Now, we got to this point via two converging roads. Road No. 1 had to do with Cliven Bundy, the Nevada rancher who doesn’t believe he should have to pay the government the required fees for grazing his stock on public land. When the Bureaul of Land Management showed up to claim what was rightfully the taxpayers’ due, he got a case of the ass, and a bunch of his gun wielding buddies showed up in support. Rather than arresting the lot of them, which is what the government should have done, it let him off.
Bundy has a son, Ammond, who holds similar anti-government (read: believing it’s OK to steal from the taxpayers what is rightfully the taxpayers’) views. This brings us to Road No. 2. Ammond Bundy and some of his gun-sucking friends showed up to protest the imprisoning of two other anti-government nuts, the father and son Dwight and Steven Hammond, who had 1) killed game unlawfully on federal land and 2) unlawfully set a fire on federal land to cover up evidence of their crime, claiming they had done so to drive out invasive species. The courts took a dim view of this, convicting and sentencing them for arson. But in a misguided attempt to be reasonable or something, the court sentenced the Hammonds to less than the mandatory minimum in prison, an accommodation extended to, I believe, no African American drug dealers ever (and more on this angle in a moment). The state appealed the sentence, seeking longer terms; an appeals court agreed with the state; and the Supreme Court ultimately decided not to overturn the appeals court’s decision.
The Hammonds, meanwhile, had served the original part of their sentence, and when the part they originally should have been sentenced to was finally upheld, they were ordered to report back to prison. This, in the insane or drug-addled perception of Ammond Bundy and friends — not, it should be noted, in the eyes of the Hammonds, themselves, who at last report intended to report back to prison on time — constituted “double jeopardy” or some other such bullshit, and provided an excuse — I won’t call it a justification — for sedition. So the younger Bundy and an undetermined number of his armed friends took over the federal building, claiming to be prepared to stay there for months or years.
Let’s be very clear on several points here.
- The Hammonds were duly charged, tried, and convicted. Their sentencing was messed up, but had it been handled correctly from the outset, there would be no issue here. As it is, there’s no REAL issue.
- Cliven Bundy should have gone to prison, and so should his butt buddies who were able to point firearms at federal agents with impunity because the government has gotten into the unfortunate habit of kissing the asses of white gun-toting seditionists. Had they been dealt with appropriately at the time, this Oregon situation never would have happened.
- What do these two things have in common? The government extended a consideration to right-wing white Christianist men that it has never, and would never, extend to the Occupy movement, the Black Lives Matter movement, the Moral Mondays movement here in North Carolina, or any other “leftist” protest, not to mention Muslims in general whether they’re protesting or not.
I, for one, am tired of my government’s kissing the ass of armed white seditionists. So here’s what I think should happen.
Cliven Bundy can still be charged, I believe, for his earlier actions. He should be charged and tried. If convicted, he should go to prison.
The 12, or 150, or whatever the actual number is of armed men who have taken over the federal building at the Malheur Federal Wildlife Refuge in Oregon should be arrested, charged, tried, and, if convicted, imprisoned and fined. And I mean now, not months from now after they run out of food or whatever. Give them a chance to come out, and if they don’t, tear-gas the building, go in and get them. Because make no mistake: If black protesters or Muslims had occupied that same building in the same way for other reasons, they’d be in custody by now. Hell, for all we know, the building would have been napalmed by now. There’s no legal or practical reason why white men who claim to be Christians should be treated any differently.
Despite heavy right-wing political pressure, the government correctly has identified right-wing anti-government types as the biggest single terrorist threat in this country. Whether these participants actually are terrorists — see above — they definitely are widely engaging in seditious conspiracy. And that needs to be nipped in the bud.
And one other thing: Stop calling these groups “militias.” Artice I, Section 8 of the Constitution makes clear that the power to call, charge, train, arm and discipline militias rests with the Congress, not with the states or any individual. And Article II, Section 2 makes clear that militias are under the command of the President of the United States. If you and your gang weren’t called, charged, trained, armed and disciplined by the Congress and are not under the command of the President, you’re not a militia. You’re just a gang of thugs.