Media Call Out "Racial Double Standard" In Coverage Of Oregon Militia

››› ››› JULIE ALDERMAN & DAYANITA RAMESH

Media highlighted the "racial double standard" in the coverage of an armed group of protestors occupying a federal building in Oregon as compared to recent coverage of minority group protestors like members of the Black Lives Matter movement. While some in the media referred to the Oregon militiamen as "patriots," black and Muslim protesters have previously been labeled as "terrorists" or "thugs."

Armed Militia Takes Over Federal Building Citing Opposition To Federal Ownership Of Land

Armed Group Took Over A Federal Building In Oregon. The Washington Post reported on January 3 that "a group of armed anti-government activists" occupied a portion of a federal wildlife refuge in Oregon to "protest the federal government's treatment of a pair of ranchers set to report to prison" for their illegal burning of federal land:

A group of armed anti-government activists remained encamped at a federal wildlife refuge in Oregon on Sunday evening, vowing to occupy the outpost for years to protest the federal government's treatment of a pair of local ranchers set to report to prison Monday.

The occupation of a portion of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, about 30 miles southeast of Burns, Ore., began a day earlier, after a small group of men broke off from a much larger march and rally held on Saturday evening

The armed occupation is being led by Ammon Bundy, an Idaho rancher whose father, Cliven Bundy, led an armed standoff with federal agents in Nevada in 2014 and who has described his supporters as "militia men."

[...]

Organizers of the rally say several hundred attended the procession through Burns, Ore. -- a ranching town of less than 3,000 residents -- in a show of support for Dwight Hammond, 73, and his son Steven Hammond, 46, who in the conclusion of a decades of clashes with the federal government were sentenced last October to serve five years in prison.

Prosecutors accused the Hammonds of committing arson on federal land in 2001 and 2006. The men and their attorneys argued that the fires had been set on their own property -- once to prevent the spread of an invasive species of plant and once in attempt to prevent the spread of a wildfire -- and had inadvertently burned onto public lands. But prosecutors said the fires were set in attempt to destroy evidence that the Hammonds had been illegally hunting deer on the federal lands.

[...]

At a news conference on Sunday, Ammon Bundy said his group had not heard from law enforcement since taking over the unoccupied site and urged other citizens from across the country to join their effort.

If a standoff resulting in violence occurs, Bundy said, it would begin on the government's side.

"This refuge here is rightfully owned by the people and we intend to use it," he said, adding that they plan to assisting ranchers, loggers, hunters and campers who want to use the land. "We will be here as a unified body of people that understand the principles of the Constitution."

The occupation of the wildlife refuge, which was not occupied when stormed by the men, comes at the conclusion of a lively weekend for an otherwise sleepy stretch of southeast Oregon. [The Washington Post, 1/3/16]

Media Call Out Double Standard: "Media Coverage Of Protests Sure Looks Different When Demonstrators Are White"

Fox's Alan Colmes: "If You Had Muslims Here, This Would Be Called Domestic Terrorism, But These Are White People Who Call Themselves Patriots." On the January 4 edition of Fox News' Happening Now, contributor Alan Colmes highlighted the double standard in media coverage of protests stating, "If you had Muslims here, it would be called domestic terrorism." Colmes concluded that, "If you had a bunch of Muslims doing this, or a bunch of black people ... you'd have a very different reaction":

JON SCOTT (HOST): Double standard, Alan?

ALAN COLMES: Yes, absolutely. You've got black people with Black Lives Matter. You actually had an analyst on CNN say that it's more of a danger when it's black people because it's the threat of looting versus people like this. That's kind of a racist statement, as far as I'm concerned...But to me that's a racist statement. If you had Muslims here, it would be called domestic terrorism. But these are white people who call themselves patriots, been referred to as militia, they're not called domestic terrorists but that's exactly what they are. We have a tremendous double standard in the media about this. It would be referred to, the language would be very different if these were not so-called white militia people.

[...]

COLMES: If you had a bunch of Muslims doing this, or a bunch of black people with a Black Lives Matter handshake, you'd have a very different reaction. [Fox News Channel, Happening Now, 1/4/16]

Washington Post's Janell Ross: The Words "Terrorism," "Sedition," And "Insurrection" Aren't Being Used In Coverage Of Oregon Protests "Because We're Talking About White Americans." On the January 4 edition of CNN Newsroom with Brooke Baldwin, Washington Post's Janell Ross explained that unlike other protests where people are quick to use "labels such as terrorist or thug," the militia in Oregon hasn't been labeled as such "because we're talking about white Americans who are presumed to be innocent":

BROOKE BALDWIN (HOST): OK, so to your point why aren't they being labeled terrorists? Why?

JANELL ROSS: In all fairness, I think that there are many labels that might be applicable here. I think the real question is why is there such speed to labels such as terrorist or thug or any other number of labels when those involved in protests or even those who are interlopers on a peaceful protest, I guess, are on Americans' TV screens. At the same time there seems to be this real reticence and sort of slow pace at which we arrive at the point at which, for instance in South Carolina after events there last year, a mass shooting, there was extended debate about whether that was even a racial crime and then whether or not that was domestic terrorism. And meanwhile, we do have a significant issue in this country with domestic terrorism, it outpaces just slightly Islamic terrorism, which we spend a lot more time talking about, and then --therefore, I'm saying to you that, again, there may be many words that are applicable and reasonable here. Some people may feel that the proper word for what's happening in Oregon is terrorism, perhaps sedition, insurrection, etc., but we don't use that word because we're talking about white Americans who are presumed to be innocent, they're presumed to be individuals with their own minds and their own opinions that don't apply to an entire group, and we certainly don't assume them to be violent from the get-go.

BALDWIN: I think words are important, I think from a law enforcement perspective, from a charging perspective, and just from a societal perspective. I want to just quote you, because you make this point: "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." You also make the point, if it were a group of Muslims as well this would be a totally different story.

ROSS: I think so. It seems to me, based on recent events, that at minimum the progress at which we would get from wondering what happened and what might be motivating these events to a series of very serious and in some cases deeply insulting labels being applied to people automatically because of who they are, not because of what they are doing. [CNN, CNN Newsroom with Brooke Baldwin, 1/4/16]

Vox: "Media Coverage Of Protests Sure Looks Different When Demonstrators Are White." A January 4 Vox article explained the different standard used in the media's coverage of the Oregon standoff, noting that "the media reacted to black protesters over the past few years in a very different way" than they have reacted to the white armed militia in Oregon. Vox highlighted the sentiment "that if these were black or Muslim protesters, the media would be much more alarmed in nature":

It's a big story. This is an armed militia using the threat of violence to get the federal government to change the law -- specifically, the gunmen want the feds to give up publicly managed land to local ranchers, loggers, and miners. And, yes, they are using the threat of violence: As Les Zaitz explained for the Oregonian, "In phone interviews from inside the occupied building Saturday night, Ammon Bundy and his brother, Ryan Bundy, said they are not looking to hurt anyone. But they would not rule out violence if police tried to remove them, they said."

Yet media outlets don't seem to consider this an alarming story, instead treating it by and large as a peaceful protest.

[...]

The media reacted to black protesters over the past few years in a very different way

Behind these complaints is the media's verydifferent reaction over the past few years to Black Lives Matter demonstrators protesting racial disparities in the criminal justice system and, specifically, police use of force. Those protests led media outlets not just to cover the demonstrations as wholly violent, but to suggest that the protests led to a wave of crime and violence in 2015.

For one, there were several instances in which victims of police shootings and Black Lives Matter protesters -- even largely peaceful ones -- were called thugs or other racially charged language. This is a problem that CNN, the New York Times, and Fox News all ran into.

[...]

Asked about the discrepancies, CNN law enforcement analyst Art Roderick suggested that the differences make sense because the Oregon protesters are in a largely empty rural area and "they're not destroying property, they're not looting anything."

But, while the Baltimore and Ferguson protests resulted in some rioting, the overwhelming majority of Black Lives Matter protests have been peaceful. And Black Lives Matter protesters never showed up to a rally with guns and vowed to take over a government building "for years" with the threat of deadly force, as those in Oregon have vowed.

[...]

Similar media standards seem to apply to Muslim Americans. After a terrorist attack, pundits are quick to suggest that the entire Muslim community should apologize for the tragedy -- as if every Muslim is in someway culpable for it. (In a particularly egregious example, CNN anchor Don Lemon asked Muslim-American human rights lawyer Arsalan Iftikhar if he supports ISIS, drawing a clearly baffled Iftikhar to ask, as Lemon nodded, "Wait, did you just ask if I support ISIS?") But there are no comparable cries demanding that all white people apologize for the militiamen in Oregon.

To be clear, it's not that critics necessarily think the Oregon militiamen should be subjected to the same wild, unfounded accusations as black or Muslim people. The complaint, instead, is that the media seems to be quick to treat minority groups as violent, while giving a predominantly white group a pass even when it's heavily armed. [Vox, 1/4/16]

Salon: "If Muslims Took Up Arms" And "Occupied A Federal Building ... They Would Be Called 'Terrorists.'" In a January 4 article, Chauncey DeVega explained the "racial double standard" in media coverage of the Oregon occupation, noting "white conservatives who gather by the dozens and hundreds and point loaded guns at federal authorities are described by the right-wing news entertainment as 'patriots'" but if black Americans or Muslims organized an armed takeover of a federal building, they would be referred to as "terrorists," "'thugs,' 'militants,' or 'anti-police'":

White privilege has many components. One of its most powerful aspects is the ability to twist reality, and by doing so, free white folks from personal responsibility (as well as group accountability) for their actions. There are many examples of this phenomenon in the United States. White men who commit mass shootings are "mentally ill" and not "terrorists." Heavily armed white cops who kill unarmed and defenseless black people were acting "in reasonable fear of their lives." White conservatives who gather by the dozens and hundreds and then point loaded guns at federal authorities are described by the right-wing news entertainment media as "patriots."

[...]

If Muslims took up arms, occupied a federal building, recorded martyrdom videos, and threatened to kill police and other authorities, they would be called "terrorists."

Likewise, black Americans would be called "thugs," "militants" or "anti-police." [Salon, 1/4/16]

We've changed our commenting system to Disqus.
Instructions for signing up and claiming your comment history are located here.
Updated rules for commenting are here.