Social media memes such as Vanilla ISIS and Y’all Qaeda have given me a chuckle, but there is a serious side to what is happening in Oregon. Over 100 terrorists have occupied a wildlife refuge and large parts of America seem fairly unconcerned and even sympathetic. This lack of response and media has been its own source of outrage from those who rightly point out the reaction would be very different these were armed occupiers were Muslim or black instead of white cowboys.
Firstly let’s be clear. Whether or not anyone has been killed yet, the armed group is using the threat of violence to achieve a political end. That is pretty much a textbook definition of terrorism. Forget about what their political goal is and that no one has tested their threats of violence yet. It is still terrorism. I agree that the media’s refusal to make this distinction and preference for words like ‘militia’ is a direct indicator of its bias.
On the other hand, the restrained approach of authorities towards the situation is something I am certainly in favour of.
Calls to send in counterterrorism forces or even use drone strikes without trying to peacefully defuse the situation, “Because that is what would be done if they weren’t white,” are a bit hyperbolic. Comparing these people to suicide bombers and the like ignores the fact that they do not have a stated goal of killing Americans, which means authorities can afford to be patient with them. While the terrorists are in a contained area and posing little danger to anyone else, any rushed decision to initiate a potentially deadly escalation would be reckless at best.
There is simply no need either at this stage. The decision to cut power to the area makes sense and I would hope that if size allows, the area is also cordoned and access is limited- or it will be soon. Liaising with telcos to disable phones and wireless internet devices of those involved may also be possible on the basis that it prevents them spreading a terrorist message. If they need to go further, authorities also have the power to freeze assets. This might seem extreme as well as being a slow play, but it might also avert a bloodbath and the unnecessary loss of life.
It would be interesting how many of these men actually stay true to their promise of occupying the area for as long as they say, if they become both uncomfortable and ignored. Presumably many have their own affairs to tend to which would require them leave the refuge eventually.
When the situation is finally resolved, I would hope that the perpetrators are dealt with harshly, preferably through the criminal courts, but I would be surprised if many face antiterrorism charges. Although failing that, it would be great if this this incident is the type of thing that causes them to fail President Obama’s strengthened background checks for purchasing more of their beloved guns in the future.