On October 27th, seven members of the force that staged an armed occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in January, including leaders Ammon and Ryan Bundy, were acquitted of all charges by a jury. The acquittal came as a shock to the nation, stunning even the most venerable of legal scholars with the verdict as most believed that a conviction was almost assured. Even the militants themselves were surprised they were acquitted as a few planed on using their inevitable convictions to garner more attention to their cause and rally supporters by portraying themselves as martyrs for their cause. The reason for the acquittal owes as much to the dangerous overconfidence of the federal prosecutors as it does to the persuasions and prejudices of a jury of these militants peers.
It is almost comical that a group of white-right-wing extremists, who staged a violent occupation of a federal facility, ostensibly to protest the sentencing of two ranchers with mandatory minimums. Which quickly morphed into a movement to challenge the federal governments authority to manage public lands and then demanding that those lands be turned over to them, get away without so much as a slap on the wrists. The real kicker is that while this is taking place in another part the country, indigenous people peacefully standing up for their legally guaranteed rights to input on the fate of lands that they have had claims to centuries before the first europeans glimpsed, and that possess many sites of archaeological and spiritual significance to them, are arrested and violently opposed by the government.
This acquittal and the current national context in which takes place sets a dangerous precedent for the future and sends out an all clear signal to other groups across the nation. The number of self described militias has increased dramatically across the country in the last eight years and will likely continue to increase as the nations demographics continue to change. Many of these groups will look to the example of the Malheur occupiers as an example of what to do and many will try to outdo their perceived success. It is inevitable that eventually this continued escalation of actions will lead to some significant bloodshed. This time may not of lead to significant loss of life but the next time may not be so fortunate.
It may be easy for the more skeptical to dismiss these militias as small, unorganized lunatics who shout nonsense about government but are incapable of any significant action or causing lasting harm to the nation. However there is considerable historical precedent to be concerned about what a group of armed anti-government extremist fighting for their perceived constitutional rights can accomplish. After all weren't the confederates under those dashing uniforms and chivalric declarations just a group of armed anti-government extremists with better organization and more teeth? And these extremist caused the deaths of over 600,000 Americans in a war whose effects are still shaping the country a century and a half later. What would happen today if these extremist gained the confidence to carry out their threats? How many would die? Let us also not forget in more modern history that the second deadliest terrorist attack in US history was the Oklahoma City bombing an attack not protracted by a foreign fanatics, but a homegrown anti-government extremist.
In the context of this election the acquittal takes on special significance. A Trump victory would temporarily sate these extremists militancy at the cost of giving them increased legitimacy in society as they expand and coordinate together while perpetrating ever more outrageous acts to further their cause. A Trump loss would further radicalize these groups and push many disillusioned Trump supporters into their ranks while increasing their militancy and denial of reason. Either way the days of right wing extremism being confined solely to media broadcasters and a few reactionary politicians are over and as a new political violences has been born in the wake of Trump and fed on a steady current of anti-government and racist rhetoric originating from one of the nations major political parties. An increase in right wing militancy and violence will also likely lead to an increase of violence and militancy of far left wing groups as events escalate and battle lines are brawn. It stands upon us as the citizens of this proud nation to condemn all forms of violence in the name of change whether it is the left or the right pulling the trigger.