"Harney County Sheriff David Ward on Sunday afternoon said a group of militants that seized an eastern Oregon wildlife refuge is trying to overthrow the local and federal governments," reports The Oregonian.
This event should come as no surprise but it will for many. GOP presidential candidates, congressional leaders and right-wing activists have been trying to fan the flames of fear about Islamic terrorists - making all Muslims suspect - while ignoring the growing reality of domestic terrorist groups.
Terrorism experts noted last summer:
Despite public anxiety about extremists inspired by Al Qaeda and the Islamic State, the number of violent plots by such individuals has remained very low. Since 9/11, an average of nine American Muslims per year have been involved in an average of six terrorism-related plots against targets in the United States. Most were disrupted, but the 20 plots that were carried out accounted for 50 fatalities over the past 13 and a half years.
In contrast, right-wing extremists averaged 337 attacks per year in the decade after 9/11, causing a total of 254 fatalities, according to a study by Arie Perliger, a professor at the United States Military Academy's Combating Terrorism Center. The toll has increased since the study was released in 2012.
Ammon Bundy, the out-of-state militia leader who came to Oregon to begin this siege, did so because the "Lord was not pleased" with an on-going criminal case involving ranchers convicted of arson on federal lands. The national media would be calling this a case of radical Islamic terrorism if just one Muslim were involved in this crisis. There would be calls for drone strikes to end the siege, internment camps and the closure of Mosques (the last two ideas have actually been advanced by leading GOP presidential candidates this election cycle). Few are saying the obvious: these militia groups are Christian fundamentalists with strong ties to the GOP. Cliven Bundy, the father of Ammon Bundy, has himself been involved with an armed standoff with federal law enforcement.
Cliven Bundy, the father of Ammon Bundy, has himself been involved with an armed standoff with federal law enforcement. Ted Cruz came to Cliven Bundy's defense in that episode, saying, "we have seen our liberty under assault" since President Obama came to office and that Bundy's armed standoff with the federal government was simply "the unfortunate and tragic culmination of the path that President Obama has set the federal government on." The Bundy's have cited their
The Bundy's have cited their Mormon beliefs as justification for their actions.
On Monday, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints issued this statement:
While the disagreement occurring in Oregon about the use of federal lands is not a Church matter, Church leaders strongly condemn the armed seizure of the facility and are deeply troubled by the reports that those who have seized the facility suggest that they are doing so based on scriptural principles. This armed occupation can in no way be justified on a scriptural basis. We are privileged to live in a nation where conflicts with government or private groups can - and should - be settled using peaceful means, according to the laws of the land.
There is nothing Christian about any attempt to overthrow the American government with violent means. Christians have and should seek justice by the use of non-violent social change.
As a United Church of Christ minister in Oregon, I applaud the leadership of federal, state and local officials who are offering a restrained response to the siege in Burns. Too often non-violent protests, fighting for changes in our economic system that allow for growing inequity or those calling for racial justice, have not been shown the same restraint - even as these other protests have been largely, and appropriately, non-violent.
What is happening now is, in reality, a culmination of the support too many in the GOP - as it moves further and further into the fringes of right-wing ideology - and from some Christian fundamentalists, have given to anti-government groups. All political leaders and Christians should condemn what is happening in Burns.
At some point, the siege in Burns will end. If it ends with dead law enforcement officers or militia members, the blood will be on the hands not of the government but of those that give legitimacy to these anti-government groups that seek to undermine American principles of pluralism and justice for all.