It’s geographically a few hundred miles across Oregon from Burns to Portland, but culturally it’s several hundred light years. That gulf of cultural distance serves as an illustration of how the far left and the far right in this country, while divided by ideology, are united by hypocrisy, hatred and a general unwillingness to consider any idea outside of their own bubbles.
It also illustrates, even for the most recalcitrant, how the media is either biased or just not very good. Your choice.
In early 2016, a group of armed right-wing extremists led by Ammon Bundy seized and occupied a seasonally used building, the headquarters of the Malheur Wildlife Refuge, just south of Burns, Oregon. The purpose of this action was to protest law enforcement, specifically the conviction of two local ranchers on federal arson charges, and further to agitate for the government to abandon control of most federal land and turn it over to the states.
Right now, a little over four years later, large numbers of left-wing extremists, along with some peaceful protesters, are or have recently occupied parts of several cities in the United States. The purpose of these actions are to protest law enforcement, specifically the killing of George Floyd, and further to agitate for the government to abandon law enforcement itself (in some regards). The most visible and currently long-lasting of these protests is in Portland, Oregon.
Now there are some limits to these parallels as there always are. But both Oregon protests, in essence, involve fringe elements of our political system attempting to use force and violence, or the potential for violence, to seize and occupy federal property in order to advance a political agenda. The agendas may be quite different, but the tactics are similar. One could argue that the extremists in Portland are less organized and somewhat ameliorated by more moderate partners. But in both cases force, weapons and violence, or the potential for violence, are the tools of protest.
I’d also note that the level of physical damage and disruption in Portland is far greater than at Malheur. It’s significant that despite the overt presence of firearms among the Malheur protesters, no state, federal or local officials were harmed. That’s not the case in Portland. Yet two of the Malheur protesters suffered a fate worse than a face full of pepper spray. Ryan Bundy was shot and wounded and LaVoy Finicum was shot and killed by law enforcement while attempting to evade a roadblock.
I’ve been very clear about both of these protests. Everyone has a right to peaceful protest in this country. Being right has nothing to do with it either. In America, you have the right to be wrong.
There’s also a kernel of genuine concern in both protests. Policing isn’t perfect. Racism is a real issue. So is federal management of public lands — in some instances anyway. But in both cases the protests have devolved into something that more resembles undisciplined children having a violent tantrum than anything likely to encourage meaningful or productive change.
Where I’m at on all of this should not be surprising. It’s wrong both ways. In this country, there are many, many methods of pressing for change peacefully and legally. Our government is designed to allow for all of that. All you have to do is show up, and then be half smart about the way you go about making your case.
The problem is that many on both fringes are motivated far less by a desire for change than by a hatred of the other side. That pretty much negates any need to participate in any process designed to facilitate change peacefully. And there’s the chance that you might actually have to defend your ideas to others who don’t share your point of view. That’s a bridge too far for many.
Especially when the ideas stink.
There’s little chance you’d get any of this from the mainstream media though. Depending on which bubble you are in, one set of protesters are good Americans agitating for much needed change while the others are rabble that deserves to be shot.
Protests make great TV and headlines. And if they turn violent, which has been known to happen, that’s even better for ratings. I would not be particularly surprised to find out that TV executive producers have been supplying water bottles to protesters in Portland with directions on the label on how to throw them at police.
I don’t care what your cause happens to be. You have my sympathy, and possibly even my attention, whether I agree with you or not — until you cross the line into hatred and violence. Then you lost me. Life in this country is pretty good. Not perfect, but pretty good. And if you are motivated more by hatred than a desire to make us all better, then whatever bad thing happens, you probably had it coming.
Associated Press and Idaho Press Club award-winning columnist Martin Hackworth of Pocatello is a physicist, writer, consultant and retired Idaho State University faculty member who now spends his time raising children, llama farming, riding mountain bikes and motorcycles and playing guitars. His video blog, “Howlin’ at the Moon in ii-V-I,” may be found at facebook.com/HowlinattheMoonin251 and on YouTube at bit.ly/2SN745k.