Since Saturday, a group of armed men has occupied a federal building in Oregon, threatening to stay “for years” in protest of two local ranchers’ sentencing to prison. On Twitter, many people have expressed shock at how the US media has treated this occupation, arguing that if the men hadn’t been white, this would have made headlines and the “protesters” would have been called “terrorists”.
The pair of ranchers, Dwight Hammond and his son Steven, were convicted of committing arson on federal land on two occasions. Authorities say they set the fires to cover up traces of illegal deer hunting on federal land; they claimed they were just trying to limit invasive species and prevent wildfires on their land, but that the fires accidentally spread onto federal land.
On Saturday, a protest march to support the Hammonds got out of hand, with a portion of the protesters – who bore guns – deciding to branch off and go and take over the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge near Burns, Oregon.
The building’s occupiers are being led by Ammon Bundy, an Idaho rancher who seems to have been inspired by his father Cliven Bundy, known for having led an armed standoff with police in Nevada in 2014. Ammon Bundy’s self-described “militia men” have their own Facebook page, on which they have called upon US citizens to take up arms and join them. A journalist who spoke to Ryan Bundy – Ammon’s brother, who is at his side – reported that the brothers said they are willing to “kill and be killed if necessary”.
Despite all this, the authorities have not yet dislodged the men. Nor has the takeover of the federal building made top headlines in the US media. This did not go unnoticed on Twitter:
While some used the hashtag #OregonUnderAttack to relay the news online, others preferred more sarcastic hashtags. #YallQaeda, in reference to the terrorist group al Qaeda, was widely used this weekend. It had already appeared several times in the past years to make fun of white supremacist groups.
Another popular hashtag was #VanillaISIS. In the past months, this hashtag has also been used to talk about Donald Trump and his supporters.
On Sunday night, no police presence was visible near the federal widlife refuge. The entrance was being watched by members of the 'militia', while others kept a lookout from a tower.
The FBI has issued a statement saying it is working toward a "peaceful resolution" of the standoff.