#OregonUnderAttack and the occasional authoritarianism of “privilege” discourse

[I try to keep internal left disputes and Twitter stuff off of this blog for the most part but I can’t really restrain myself right now, sorry.]

The recent occupation by an armed militia of a federal building in Oregon has created a predictable stir of indignation on Twitter directed mostly against the media for purportedly either not covering it enough or not immediately labeling the perpetrators “terrorists” as they do for non-white and/or left-wing militants. We’ve seen and heard all this stuff before, and much of the underlying sentiment is understandable. It can be frustrating to see the federal government officially charge animal rights activists with “terrorism” for freeing minks and watch conservative outlets portray desperate refugees as potential terrorists while right-wing militants and their sympathizers appear to receive preferential treatment. However, there comes a point when this type of “privilege checking”  seems to be more focused on revoking certain privileges rather than expanding them to cover marginalized groups.

Case in point: whenever a white mass shooter is arrested alive we hear complaints that this treatment was not afforded to the endless list of black individuals who were murdered by police with impunity. On the surface, there appears to be a legitimate case for pointing out the double standard. But when this point is made over and over and over again (as certain “takes” often are on Twitter), it can subconsciously reinforce authoritarian narratives. Last year, when rival biker gangs and police got into a shootout in Waco, Texas, and 9 of the bikers ended up dead, a presumption in progressive circles was made that the bikers who were arrested (all 177 of them) were beneficiaries of white privilege and thus any further discussion of the incident was Officially Over. Despite the discrepancies in the police version of events, an admission that police bullets hit bikers, media reports of “police threatening to shoot people if they rise from the ground” and a convenient gag order on the accused, self-appointed BlackLivesMatter leader Shaun King decided to push the idea that those charged in the deaths (none of them cops) were somehow the “definition of white privilege.”

Now, we obviously do not have all the facts yet. But it should be considered an absolute disgrace that a self-purported opponent of police brutality would immediately take the police’s account of the event at face value. One can’t help but wonder how far this type of “logic” goes.

In the case of Ruby Ridge, federal authorities shot dead both the son and wife of their target in the initial investigation, Randy Weaver. It turned out that the FBI actually rewrote its rules of engagement for the siege and, as a probable result, Weaver’s wife was shot dead by an FBI sniper as she was standing behind a door and holding a 10 month old baby in her arms.

At the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas, the ATF started the conflagration with a showy and likely unnecessary raid. The FBI was then put in charge and a 51 day siege commenced. The FBI’s own negotiators criticized the bureau’s tactical commanders for “undercutting” negotiations. In the final assault, which was approved by then-Attorney General Janet Reno, the bureau pumped large amounts of tear gas into the compound. A number of fires broke out and killed most of the sect’s members who remained in the compound. The government maintains that the fires were all intentionally started by sect members while some of those who escaped alleged that they were “accidentally or deliberately started by the [FBI] assault.” By the most charitable reading of events that transpired that could be offered by any reasonable person, federal law enforcement was overly gung-ho on finding a militarized solution than negotiating a peaceful means of ending the standoff.

The US left very rarely focuses on either of these events in American history, writing them off mere causes célèbres for right-wing extremists. This is unfortunate, because both incidents were clear abuses of official power. While it is true that Randy Weaver was himself a right-wing extremist and had ties with white supremacists, the Branch Davidian sect had no real sympathies for the far-right or white supremacy. There is actually evidence to indicate the contrary, as 29 of the members who died were black and numerous others were Hispanic and Asian. Additionally, during the seige there was a sign hanging from one the windows that read “RODNEY KING WE UNDERSTAND.” Of course, no one needs to endorse David Koresh’s behavior and beliefs in order to condemn the federal government’s actions at Waco than one needs to endorse Saddam Hussein to condemn the numerous US crimes against the Iraqi people.

So, without in anyway defending the armed militiamen that are occupying a federal building in Oregon, let me just suggest that you try not to justify, or neglect, government abuses of power under the guise of internet “social justice” rhetoric.

UPDATE: People are saying that this situation is considerably different than both Waco and Ruby Ridge and that there is a legitimate public interest in suppressing these militias. Both of these arguments are generally on the right track.

First, it is true that the only people currently inside the building being occupied are either armed militiamen or their willing adult male supporters. As such, any federal attempt to move in on the building would not be restricted by the restraints one would expect of them if it was a private residence with women and children inside. Considering such circumstances, federal agents would be justified in establishing a perimeter around the building, giving those inside a deadline to surrender and then raiding it once the deadline passes. In the case of the Branch Davidian compound, the government had a clear obligation to rely more on negotiation since there were women and children inside.

It is also true that there is a legitimate reason for suppressing anti-public lands militia activity. It cannot be said that these groups have any legitimate grievances. Indeed, they openly represent the interests of wealthy ranchers, miners and others with an obvious interest in privatizing publicly owned lands.

It still needs to be said that the government should abide by the proper rules of engagement upon engaging in any type of raid, individual agents should not open fire unless directly threatened with a gun themselves. That’s about it.

UPDATE 2: After reading this I’m not certain what the solution is. It appears I was mistaken in my earlier assumption that there were no women inside. There’s a lot of contradictory media accounts going around and it seems it isn’t clear if that many of the occupiers are even armed. Now, it may be that the Oregonian is being biased and painting a rosy picture. I honestly don’t know what is going on. I am going to strikeout my most of my previous update until more details come to light. I still stand by my belief that the militia’s demands are ridiculous.

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2 thoughts on “#OregonUnderAttack and the occasional authoritarianism of “privilege” discourse

  1. Pingback: Sunday Interesting Links | Jnana Yuddha

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