Wednesday, January 06, 2016

The Angry American

Burns, Oregon protester John Ritzheimer
"In my mind, he should pack his bags and come home,"

That's Arizona rancher Clay Bundy as quoted in a New York Times article talking about his cousin Ammon Bundy; the leader of the five-day old standoff taking place on a remote federal wildlife refuge outside Burns, Oregon.

Clay Bundy pretty much sums up the feelings of the vast majority of the residents of Harney County, who don't want Ammon Bundy and his heavily-armed posse of angry anti-government followers using their small rural community as an excuse to espouse their extremist agenda.

Or worse, use the imprisonment of two Oregon ranchers convicted of setting fire to federal lands as some kind of excuse to spark a violent confrontation with police and federal agents to incite even further senseless anti-government stand-offs like the one they're already in.

Among the 100 or so armed "patriots" currently holed up in an isolated collection of federal buildings is John Ritzheimer (pictured above).

Ritzheimer made headlines last May when he organized a group of heavily-armed protesters who held an anti-Muslim rally outside of a mosque in Phoenix, Arizona. He also became the subject of an FBI manhunt back in November after posting anti-Muslim hate videos online; including one in which he used an assault rifle to shoot a copy of the Koran.

As an Aljazeera article (see link above) noted, last fall as news about his virulently anti-Muslim video postings spread, Ritzheimer took offense at outraged Facebook users who called him a "Nazi" - which of course conflicts with the black t-shirt he's wearing in the photo above with the SS logo surrounded by the words "Support your local white boy".

As this self-created "siege" moves into its sixth day, a lot of mainstream and social media are increasingly focusing their attention on the non-confrontational hands-off approach of law enforcement in response to heavily-armed individuals facing off with members of local police and federal agents.

It's understandable that federal agents want to avoid creating a violent standoff like Ruby Ridge or Waco, but the longer it goes on, the more it stands in stark contrast to the kind rapid, full-bore crack downs of police against African-American protesters in places like Ferguson, Missouri.

The contrast in response is shedding light on the differences in policing in America based on race.

Missouri National Guard members in Ferguson
White "patriots" in Burns, Oregon man watchtowers, block roads into the compound and openly boast about their willingness to engage in armed conflict with federal agents and freely come and go as they please.

The response to mostly African-American protesters in Ferguson, Missouri in August, 2014 in the wake of the police killing of unarmed teenager Michael Brown was much different.

Almost immediately, heavily militarized police using heavy-handed tactics that included rubber bullets, tear gas and armed vehicles were deployed to public streets to confront large groups of unarmed protesters.

The Missouri Governor called out the National Guard (pictured above).

As essayist and blogger Chauncey DeVega observed on his Indomitable blog yesterday:

"Ultimately, the recent events in Oregon are one more reminder of how white privilege is an existential state of hypocrisy. African-American protesters in Ferguson were met with lethal rounds from police, faced down by snipers, were bludgeoned with nightsticks, shot with rubber and wooden bullets, spied upon by drones, and shown the full range of power that is capable of being summoned by America’s hyper-militarized police forces. The protesters in Ferguson were also confronted by the National Guard—a step that the governor of Oregon has so far not taken in order to neutralize the estimated 150 armed white men who are making terrorist threats and engaging in armed insurrection in his state." 

Like many people, I've read some of the abstract quotes from the Oregon protesters about their desire to "restore freedom" and take back power and land from the federal government.

But I'm genuinely confused about what they're so enraged about.

Ammon Bundy flanked by armed militia members
Most of them (including Ammon Bundy) aren't from Harney County. Plus the two ranchers sentenced to jail for arson peacefully surrendered themselves to authorities to be taken back to jail as required.

So what are all these people still doing there?

As DeVega observed in his blog, these protesters seem prepared to die for the Constitution.

Yet they're in violation of Article I of said Constitution which considers armed resistance to the federal government a violation of the same Constitution they so revere.

Selective Constitutional reverence?

It's like the protester's rage against Muslims, the government, authority, gun control etc. blinds them to what the Constitution actually says and means.

As you may have heard, the results of a recent national poll conducted by NBC and Esquire reveal some fascinating insights into the level of anger in this nation as expressed by white and black Americans.

The poll surveyed 3,000 people and found that white Americans are generally a lot more pissed off than others, less optimistic about the future of the nation and much more pessimistic about race relations in the United States.

Now obviously a poll of 3,000 people can't tell you everything about each one of the more than 320 million people living in this country, but based on the sampling it does offer some insight into the kinds of things that might be on the minds of the "patriots" holed up with their weapons in a remote wildlife refuge in Oregon.

Earlier this morning on WNYC, The Brian Lehrer Show devoted an interesting 21-minute segment to the results of the NBC/Esquire poll and what it means to the idea of the American Dream.

It's worth a listen when you have time; just click the link above.

I think the various callers who phoned in to share their insights help to shed some understanding into the kind of anger that's been so visible in this country - especially with some of the Republican presidential candidates over the past year.

It's not just Republican presidential hopefuls either, with the House passing the 62nd piece of legislation to override the Affordable Care Act today, it's pretty clear House GOP and Senate members are rather angry too.

Personally I think the poll results reflect the stress of an economy that's not doing much of anything for average folks of all stripes - history has shown that when times are tight, people look for something or someone to blame.

Those folks holed up in Oregon are obviously fed up and desperate for some way to show it; but I think they'd get a lot more done without the loaded weapons and the camouflage.

Clay Bundy pretty much sums it up; they should all pack their bags and just go home.

Whatever the Hell it is they're so pissed about it's really not worth dying over.

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