On Thursday, we witnessed the outcome of one land occupation in Oregon, while another just started heating up in North Dakota.
In Oregon, Ammon Bundy led an armed occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge were acquitted on all charges.
During the occupation in Oregon, several individuals forcefully took over a federal building and claimed they “would not rule out violence if law enforcement tries to remove them,” and that “they’re willing to kill an be killed if necessary.”
These armed individuals occupied the Wildlife Refuge for 41 days to protest control of federal land they believed should be turned over to the West’s private ranchers.
Their occupation forced local schools to close, employees of the refuge to be relocated, and cost both federal and local governments millions of dollars. More than 30 guns and 1,700 spent casings were found on the reserve and seized after the standoff.
One of the occupiers was even shot and killed by police. Although Ammon Bundy and his supporters like to compare his death to the shooting of Tamir Rice, a black boy who was shot by police while playing with a toy gun, video footage showed the man, Lavoy Finicum, reach for his gun several times in the encounter before he was shot.
The occupation was widely covered by mainstream media, who characterized it as a “protest” rather than the armed occupation that it was. Ammon Bundy even held press conferences with reporters.
Most of us have seen the famous pictures of Harney County Sheriff Dave Ward greeting the leader of the occupation, Ammon Bundy, with a handshake and offering him “safe transit” out of town:
All of the leaders that were involved in the Oregon occupation have been acquitted of all charges. Now we turn to the situation in North Dakota. Native American tribes and their supporters are unarmed and peacefully protesting the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. The pipeline, if completed, will transport 500,000 barrels of crude oil daily through American Indian lands, disrupting ancient atiffcats and burial grounds as well as potentially contaminating local water sources.
The protesters, or as many of them like to be called, water protectors, have conducted a peaceful occupation of federal and private lands despite multiple clashes with armed police. They have endured attack dogs, pepper spray, sound canons, tear gas, and more.
Yesterday, police arrived in armed vehicles, dressed in full riot gear, and used bean bags, loud sirens, and pepper spray against the protesters in order to try to disperse them. Over 300 people have been arrested. Despite widespread public support for the protests, mainstream news has all but ignored the situation in North Dakota.
Those that do cover it make sure to frame the protesters as dangerous combatants, focusing on the fires the protesters started (referring to the tires protesters set on fire in order to block the police from advancing). The stark contrasts in police response, media coverage, and outcomes between these two protests is horrifying.
Under no circumstances should it be acceptable for peaceful protesters in North Dakota to be attacked and arrested, while armed occupiers in Oregon are either left alone or amicably reasoned with.
So what is the major difference between these two incidents? It’s simple: there’s a lot of money riding on the successful construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline, enough money to buy the support of politicians and state police.