When it comes to terrorism, many in the Western world have the tragedies of Paris and San Bernardino fresh in their minds. Given recent events, many have called for action against ISIS in the Middle East and stronger action to prevent Muslim jihadists from creating more acts of terror. However, many turn a blind eye to terrorism when it comes to the non-Muslim extremists creating terror right here at home.
On Jan. 4, 2016, armed anti-government protesters, led by 40-year-old Ammon Bundy, took over a federal wildlife refuge in Harney County, Oregon due to the convictions of Dwight and Steven Hammond, ranchers who face a five year prison sentence.The protesters also claimed that government officials were unjustly punishing ranchers who would not sell their land, although reports on the how and why were vague from them.
The ranchers use the threat of violence under the extremely vague label of “defending the Constitution.” The militia claims that they are not terrorists, and that all they want is their voices to be heard, but they are willing to defend themselves if need be. However, I could say that I am a Super Bowl Champion quarterback for the NFL, but just because I say it doesn’t make it true, especially when there is evidence pointing to the opposite. Some of the FBI’s criteria for domestic terrorism are as follows: “1) Involve acts dangerous to human life that violate federal or state law; 2) Appear intended (i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; (ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion … or 3) Occur primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the U.S.” Bundy’s militia has used terror to push their agenda, is occupying a federal building, has an armed militia, spouted vicious and unspecific anti-government rhetoric and has made people in their community feel frightened rather than represented. Their “my way or the highway” attitude combined with the potential to commit acts of terror makes them just as dangerous to their community as any jihadist.
Their leader, Bundy, has a history with anti-government protests, including a standoff with the government in 2014. Although he believes his cause is representative of his community, many of his neighbors not only disagree with him, but are outright afraid of the militia. “I don’t like the militia’s methods,” local resident Monica McCannon told KTVZ. “They had their rally. Now it’s time for them to go home. People are afraid of them.” Even town officials discredit Bundy. “The battle was brought to us,” said Dan Nichols, a county commissioner who is also a neighbor of the Hammond family. “This county isn’t supportive of what’s being done here at ahall.”
It is hard to say the militia is a voice for the people when the very people they are “fighting for” are scared of them, and would rather them pack up and go home. This also implies that despite what the militia thinks, there are a good amount of people within the community that disagree with Bundy’s militia. Similar to terrorists abroad, Bundy’s group is trying to persuade both members in their community and law enforcement about the legitimacy of their cause, but by protesting and occupying a federal building while armed implies that they are willing to use deadly force to “persuade” more people to support their cause.
Some may argue that although dangerous, Bundy and his militia have not caused physical damage to people or property, so how could they be categorized with the Paris and San Bernardino terrorists? When the threat of domestic terrorism is staring you in the face, is it better to wait until people are hurt until you act? The presence of the guns the protesters carry while in the middle of spouting dramatic anti-government speech changes the entire context for their occupation of the building.
Protesting for what you believe is right is by definition an American right. It is part of what keeps America in check. However, the presence of arms at a protest, regardless of how peaceful its initial intentions are, sends the wrong message and introduces the possibility of serious harm to protesters, law enforcement and bystanders alike. Combine that with a blatant intention to defy law enforcement with force, an anti-government rhetoric based on a vague, cult-like, biased principle of “defending Constitutional rights no matter the cost” (whatever that means) and fear among the entire community, and there seems to be ground-level similarities between Bundy’s militia and crusading jihadists. Just because Bundy and his men are not Muslim extremists does not mean that they are not dangerous extremists.