Why isn’t the #OregonStandoff being called terrorism? Because it’s not

Published: January 11, 2016

A man stands guard after members of the ‘3% of Idaho’ group and several other organizations arrive at the Malheur national wildlife refuge. PHOTO: AP

Last year, when I wrote about the Chapel Hill murders of three Muslims for The Express Tribune Blogs, I revisited the definition of terrorism because the term is oft misused. Use of corrupted words relates to poor journalism and exhibit one is how the coverage of domestic controversy in the United States lacks rigid examination of facts, a fair analysis of both sides and proper context.

This is not only unique to underground blogs, but endemic in mainstream media as well, where the focus excessively becomes about the race and religion of those involved. While identity is important, it’s as important to adhere to a standard of objectivity when reporting on these issues.

This is evident in the first drama du jour of 2016 where Caucasian armed protestors have occupied a building on the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Eastern Oregon to protest government laws concerning land use and the incarceration of two farmers for setting fire to state-owned land.

The polemics are about the dynamics of controlled burns, property rights, and conservation laws, tied in with militia movements. Yet too many articles entail soft demagoguery, framing the issue as definitely one of race and terrorism. This creates a Sisyphean need to perpetually educate the public, proving to be a burden for journalists. Jesse Walker, dissecting Malheur at the Los Angeles Times, writes,

“The question of what qualifies as terrorism is hotly contested, but the most compelling definitions hinge on whether the perpetrators target civilians.”

Many journalists, like Walker, respect the sanctity of denotations and connotations, but not all. At CNN, Juliette Kayyem pens,

“Face it, Oregon building takeover is terrorism.”

Eugene Robinson, at the Washington Post, under the headline “The Oregon standoff and America’s double standards on race and religion,” opines thus,

“…if the gun-toting citizens happened to be Muslim, heaven forbid, there would be wall-to-wall cable news coverage of the ‘terrorist assault.’”

As Eugene Robinson insinuates a double standard against these ‘white’ protestors, he fails to notice the ubiquitous “wall-to-wall” coverage of Malheur, so much so that you wonder if he doesn’t use social media.

Kayyem and Robinson’s regressive certainties indicate how the mainstream media fails the public. Why? Because their arguments are untrue, unfair, biased, and mistakenly define terrorism. History backs this.

Briefly consider Ruby Ridge, Waco, and Oklahoma City.

In 1992, white supremacist Randy Weaver was involved in a shootout at Ruby Ridge, Idaho, that lead to the death of one US Marshal as well as Weaver’s son, wife, and dog. A year later, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) agents at Waco, Texas, besieged David Koresh’s Branch Davidian compound, driving the Davidians to self-immolate, with over 80 fatalities.

Those events influenced Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols to detonate explosives outside the federal building in Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995. In these instances, the government used force against ‘whites’, or ‘whites’ committed acts of domestic terror that were labelled as such.

Why isn’t the Oregon standoff being called terrorism?

Because it’s not terrorism.

Why were, say, the murders in San Bernardino or in Paris on November 13, 2015 called terrorists?

Because they were.

One standard – the definition of terrorism.

Journalists should not have to constantly remind the public about the meanings of words to correct other journalists’ bias and misuse. Though the individual has access to the media and information and has a responsibility not to allow him or herself to be misled, journalists have a greater responsibility not to mislead. With words, just like with policy, we need one definition and one standard.

A good place to start might be Martin Luther King’s famous quote,

“I look to a day when people will not be judged by the colour of their skin, but by the content of their character.”

Martin Luther Kings’s standard is appropriate. Let’s start there. We’ve progressed a lot as a nation. Let’s not regress.

Caleb Powell

Caleb Powell

The writer is a Polish/Persian American and worked overseas for eight years, in East Asia, the Middle East, and South America. He now lives in the Pacific Northwest with his family. He Tweets @sonofmizrahi (twitter.com/sonofmizrahi?lang=en)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.