The treatment of the group of right-wing terrorists that have taken over a federal wildlife refuge in Oregon has put the racist double-standards of the media and politicians on full display. The group, led by the son of Cliven Bundy – who had his own armed standoff with the police in 2014 – is heavily armed and prepared to use violence, apparently suicidal, has occupied federal property, and believes it is fighting a “tyrannical government.” And yet, the media, politicians, and police have consistently used only the most euphemistically positive terms for the group, in stark contrast to the ways in which people of color are described and dealt with for far lesser infractions.
The media’s euphemistic treating of these violent extremists – and the racist double-standard it elucidates – is truly astounding. According to the current media narrative, not just from reliable spewer of fictitious bile Fox News but from the mainstream media as well, a group of “armed protestors” led by “activists” conducted an “action” by seizing the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, threatening to hold it indefinitely, and vowing to kill and be killed if necessary to support their fringe cause. This narrative is in sharp contrast to the media’s quickness to describe any Muslim remotely connected to violence as a “terrorist,” “extremist,” or “jihadi.” If a similar siege by as many as 150 terrorists were carried out by Muslims, it would be a national crisis, no matter how irrelevant the target, but the media seems relatively unconcerned with the actions of the so-called “militia” in Oregon.
The subtly racist double-standard quickly descends into disgustingly overt racist hypocrisy when comparing the media’s treatment of the Oregon siege to that of peaceful black protestors, whom Fox News has labeled “terrorists,” “Nazis,” “sub-human,” a “hate group,” “extremists,” and “like the KKK” and even such supposedly objective sources as CNN are wont to refer to as “thugs,” “rioters,” and “grave threats” to the police.
Moreover, the benign police response and desire to negotiate a peaceful solution with this large group of deranged and heavily-armed thugs also stands in stark contrast to the police’s instantaneous resort to execution-style violence towards unarmed black men and children like Tamir Rice, Laquan Mcdonald, and Mario Woods. And, most astonishingly, the same Republican presidential candidates who spread rabid, illogical, and racist fear of Islamic extremism, are quick to propose mass bombings of civilians to fight Islamic terrorists, and peddle the same racist fear-mongering about black protestors, have not only defended but overtly supported the extremists in Oregon, whose patron saint Cliven Bundy is, to no one’s surprise, a Donald Trump supporter.
Beyond the media hypocrisy, the double-standards of police and politicians are put on display when comparing the Oregon siege to another similar incident: The MOVE siege, which occurred in Philadelphia in 1985. Like the Oregon extremists, the members of MOVE, who lived together in a townhouse in West Philly, were rabidly anti-government, antagonized law enforcement, represented a fringe ideology, and were heavily armed. There was, however, one crucial difference: the MOVE adherents were black. And so, on May 13, 1985, police with military-grade weapons surrounded the house, purportedly seeking to make an arrest for a noise complaint, and, when shots were fired back, assaulted the house with a barrage of bullets and tear gas, and dropped two bombs on the American civilians inside from a military helicopter.
The bombs triggered a massive blaze that destroyed several nearby blocks and killed eleven people, including five children. Similarly, when armed supporters of the American Indian Movement occupied the town of Wounded Knee, SD in 1973, simply demanding that the federal government honor their treaties and grant the Indians greater control over their native lands, the police, military, and FBI turned the reservation into an all-out war zone and snipers shot dead two AIM members. In 1967, when the Black Panthers began arming themselves to protect black communities and a group of armed Panthers peacefully marched on the California Capitol in Sacramento, the “terrorists” were so frightening to the white establishment that Ronald Reagan and even the NRA quickly clamored for gun control just to disarm the Panthers.
To be sure, the government has at times resorted to violence in response to right-wing terrorists, but the more common reaction from the police and military is that of seeming nonchalance, as has been observed with the siege in Oregon, which contrasts tremendously with the deadly violence often used against radical armed groups of people of color. And the racist hypocrisy and double-standards of politicians and the media has been a constant, with terms like “terrorists” and “thugs” unquestioningly applied to radical people of color, armed or not, whose murder is readily justified, while similar white radicals are defended and described with a heavy dose of euphemism.
This racist hypocrisy that has even descended into tacit support for terrorism from prominent Republicans like Donald Trump, is a grave danger, not only because it reinforces the proto-fascist mindset of the core right-wing constituency but also because right wing terror is an increasingly grave threat to the nation. Indeed, more Americans have died at the hands of right-wing terrorists than jihadist ones since 9/11 and yet the latter is granted wall-to-wall fear-mongering coverage and the former is almost entirely ignored by politicians and the media.
Colin Taylor is the editor-in-chief of Occupy Democrats. He graduated from Bennington College with a Bachelor's degree in history and political science. He now focuses on advancing the cause of social justice and equality in America.