Monday, January 4, 2016

Why aren’t we calling the Oregon occupiers ‘terrorists?’

In a column at the Washington Post, Jannell Ross says the obvious (which doesn't mean the commonplace, not by any means in this case).

Armed men, threatening violence, occupy government buildings (even if they are in a "bird sanctuary" in Oregon) and they are described in the mildest terms. I wonder what descriptive language would have been used if they were Muslim or black protesters? Actually, we all know. As Ross makes clear, in either of those cases, the descriptive language would be ugly and in the case of Muslims the word "terror" and "terrorism" would instantly be on the table. Whites of a right-wing armed variety seem to be exempt from this. Curious indeed. ViTomDispatch

As of Sunday afternoon, The Washington Post called them "occupiers." The New York Times opted for "armed activists" and "militia men." And the Associated Press put the situation this way: "A family previously involved in a showdown with the federal government has occupied a building at a national wildlife refuge in Oregon and is asking militia members to join them.

Not one seemed to lean toward terms such as "insurrection," "revolt," anti-government "insurgents" or, as some on social media were calling them, "terrorists." When a group of unknown size and unknown firepower has taken over any federal building with plans and possibly some equipment to aid a years-long occupation — and when its representative tells reporters that they would prefer to avoid violence but are prepared to die — the kind of almost-uniform delicacy and the limits on the language used to describe the people involved becomes noteworthy itself.

It is hard to imagine that none of the words mentioned above — particularly "insurrection" or "revolt" — would be avoided if, for instance, a group of armed black Americans took possession of a federal or state courthouse to protest the police. Black Americans outraged about the death of a 12-year-old boy at the hands of police or concerned about the absence of a conviction in the George Zimmerman case have been frequently and inaccurately lumped in with criminals and looters, described as "thugs," or marauding wolf packs where drugs are, according to CNN's Don Lemon, "obviously" in use.

If a group of armed Muslims took possession of a federal building or even its lobby to protest calls to surveil the entire group, it's even more doubtful they could avoid harsher, more-alarming labels. More