Everybody is At Fault in Oregon

oregon-standoffThe “standoff” happening in Oregon right brings out the worst in my mood. There are few things that grind my gears more than grown men running around in the woods somewhere playing militia with their guns.

Me and my friend did that.

When I was 8.

Then I turned 9.

John Pavlovitz really articulated this really, really well:

This is grown men angry playing dress-up.
This is weekend warrior fantasizing, using live ammo.
It’s a Wild West daydream come to life in a way that only white men could get away with.
It is petulance and tough guy bullying wrapped in nationalism and covered with the flag.

All of the threats and the taunts to the President and the “cold dead hand” posturing of these men reveal the truth. What we have here is little more than a bunch of dudes doing Civil War reenactments on Saturday afternoons, only the war they’re commemorating is the one they’re trying to create. It’s a future hero story they’re dying to write for themselves, and so they stand in the town square now with their hands at their sides amid bouncing tumbleweeds and swinging saloon doors, hoping for a chance to draw their weapons, take out the bad guys, and ride off both virtuous and victorious.

If these gentlemen were truly interested in confronting the Government and in speaking truth to Power and in defending innocent, marginalized people against unmerited violence, they would have already assembled months ago in Ferguson or Baltimore or Cleveland to say that black lives really do matter—but that is not the agenda here.

This is basically how I feel about those guys. Grow up. Get a life. Stop with the little boy persecution complex.

But, I want to make a distinct point: The problem I have with these guys is their tactics, not their motivations.

And I think any progressive who has taken a stand against mandatory minimums, the failures of our criminal justice system, and the overreach of authority should as well.

The back story in Oregon is basically this: two ranchers, Dwight Hammond and his son Steven, were convicted in 2001 of arson, after a controlled burn on their land spread to federally-protected land. There was a dispute between the Hammonds and the Department of Justice over why they set the fire, but in the end, Dwight and Steven were convicted to three months and one year, respectively, in federal custody. They both served their time and were released.

However, the law they were convicted under required a five-year mandatory minimum. The original judge in the case wrote that the minimum required was “grossly disproportionate” and would “shock his conscience” to apply. The DOJ, though, appealed on the grounds that the minimum needed to be applied, and the 9th Circuit District Court ruled in the government’s favor. Dwight and Steven Hammond were ordered to turn themselves in and serve their five year sentences for a fire fifteen years ago that did less than $1000 damage to federal land.

This is an injustice.

The Hammonds in no way need to serve five years in a federal prison. Hell, the small sentences they received were probably excessive enough. This is the ostensible reason the Oregon militia has seized the federal facility.

I know, their complaints have also expanded to encompass generalized claims about government overreach, and the illegitimacy of the federal government in general. This is largely due to the involvement of Ammon Bundy, son of Nevada freeloader Cliven Bundy, who has taken up the Hammonds’ cause to advance his own agenda. That is not the issue I am agreeing with. The Hammonds’ complaint, however, is legitimate.

Progressives all agree that mandatory minimums are ridiculous, and fail to advance true justice in our country. This is exactly what we mean by that. We need to see past the ridiculous militiamen and the standoff narrative to recognize that their is grounds for constructive alliances here, to address something that overwhelmingly affects the oppressed and marginalized in this country, but in this case, has struck the privileged.

Labeling the men in Oregon “terrorists” and calling for the government to go in guns blazing, to treat them like ISIS, is to abandon all we have worked for in criminal justice reform. The point is to reign in the ability of the police and the government that empowers them from doing things like going in guns blazing against American citizens. It’s to bring about real justice and peaceful resolution of conflict in situations all across the country.

This is a perfect opportunity for the progressive community to make real progress on an issue near and dear to us. Let’s not let the ridiculous and irrational militia boys, and their outrageous rhetoric, get in the way of that opportunity.

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