An Interesting Double Standard

As the standoff between the loony-tunes cowboys who seized the Oregon bird sanctuary and the feds has dragged on, a number of folks have wondered whether federal authorities would be as forbearing if the miscreants were African-American or (gasp!) Muslim.

If history is predictive, evidently not. At Dispatches from the Culture Wars, we learn about a similar incident that did, in fact occur, in 1979, in Harris Neck, Georgia,

where members of the African-American Gullah culture of former slaves had been screwed over by the government. Unlike those in Oregon, these men were unarmed. And they were black. And that seems to have made all the difference.

As the Oregonian reports,

The drama unfolding with armed occupiers holed up at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Burns is similar to a standoff that made national headlines 37 years ago in Harris Neck, Ga.

But there are also stark differences, including the race of the Harris Neck occupiers – mostly displaced descendants of West African slaves — and the tactics used by the FBI to quickly remove what the media casually called “squatters.”

Also, the 40 members of People Organized for Equal Rights who set up a camp on the patch of land south of Savannah on April 30, 1979, were unarmed.

The grievances of the “squatters” were considerably more substantial than those of the Bundys:

Following the Civil War, a white plantation owner deeded the land on the Georgia coast to a former slave. In the decades that followed, the descendants of slaves moved to Harris Neck to build houses, factories and boats. They fished, hunted for oysters and grazed cattle.

Harris Neck evolved into a thriving community. Its members were recognized as a culturally unique group of African Americans called Gullah.

But in 1942, U.S. military officials gave Harris Neck residents just three weeks via eminent domain to leave their property so they could construct an airbase for training pilots and conducting anti-submarine flights.

As the community’s young men fought in Europe during World War II, the U.S. government, encouraged by white county commissioners, came to Harris Neck and gave residents a notice to move, according to historical research by Emory University. Federal authorities bulldozed or burned Harris Neck’s houses, barns, businesses or crops.

The land was never returned to its Gullah owners, and eventually became the Harris Neck Wildlife Refuge;  it was that land that the unarmed protestors occupied. Unlike the situation in Oregon, the federal authorities moved quickly; they obtained a court order to remove the demonstrators exactly one day after the “camp-in” began. Four men who refused to leave were forcibly dragged out, and sentenced to a month in jail for trespassing.

In all fairness, after Ruby Ridge and Waco, federal law enforcement personnel have altered the way they handle these situations, and for good reason.

Still, I wonder whether they’d be this patient if the occupiers were members of a disfavored or disempowered community….


  1. Those idiots in Oregon are willing to die for their cause so I believe that the Feds are using a wait and see approach instead. Your story doesn’t sound like that at all. I believe that is why they have been left to sort it out themselves. I see that one of them used one of the gov’t trucks to run into town for supplies and was arrested thankfully. I see others were drunk and started fighting and guns went off and someone died. Let those idiots kill each other off and see what happens come spring time. I think the Feds are doing the right thing and laughing at them behind closed doors. The rest of us sure are.

    Let’s talk about Feeling the Bern 🙂

  2. As a former Minnesotan, all such incidents in this country take me back to Wounded Knee in 1973. I still believe the Feds. had no business being there as it was a dispute about corruption in tribal leadership. Shooting ensued between the Natives on their own reservation and the FBI.
    Leonard Peltier is still in prison!

  3. Jan Gehris; thank you! Native Americans always seem to get left out of these comparisons. But, to be fair, citing all of the double-standard wrongs done to them since the white man landed on these shores, would take books. Come to think of it; there are books reporting these wrongs, including Wounded Knee, but what has been done to rectify their situation.

    The fact that a group of heavily armed rednecks are now involved in their second anti-government action by taking over a bird sanctuary, with no action taken to resolve it, not only makes us a laughing stock around the world, I’m sure anti-American governments feel no fear if they should decide to invade and take over a national park…or government building. I do believe this government would take action should that happen but…the redneck boots-on-the-ground takeover in Oregon needs to be resolved – two weeks ago.

  4. I heard that people are sending the idiots sex toys in “supply” boxes. LOVE IT. Maybe that is what they were fighting over

  5. “The land was never returned to its Gullah owners, and eventually became the Harris Neck Wildlife Refuge” – This land needs to be returned to its rightful owners. The wildlife refuge can be relocated.

    This is both sad and disgusting.

    As for the squatters in Oregon, I believe the Feds are better off waiting for them to give up rather than start a gun fight that ends in death. That is actually what they want so they can “prove” how evil the government is and then they would sue for millions. The court case would drag on for years and it would encourage more crazy people to join in on the fight.

  6. Based on what I read via a link in yesterday’s blog, the occupiers in Oregon are republicans tools that are obeying their oligarch overlords and trying to embarrass the federal government/President Obama through their pointless and meaningless actions. Maybe the us marshals should send them a few cases of Jim Beam and then bring in the CIA to steal their weapons and vehicles while they doze.

  7. They should be treated like the (unarmed) protesters were in the Battle for Seattle. They are eco-terrorists (in that they are paving access roads, tearing down fences and other wise destroying the preserve, hence, eco-terrorists–how’s that for turning that word on it’s head). 6 new weapons they could use to prove that resistance is futile are found here: So the technology exists, but our current right wing government refuses to utilize them on violent offenders.

  8. Perhaps the most accurate description of the Oregon birders is a cult. One of the pressures that has been put on them is a bill for, I believe, $70K/day for the extra security by local law enforcement that the squatters require. Perfectly fair especially considering the impoverished nature of the community who will pay the bill if the cowboys turnout to be deadbeats too (probably).

    As far as their treatment is concerned I think that so far it’s been a model that hopefully will be used for any future similar crimes regardless of race and religion. They are just a whiney bunch and not worth risking any lives but theirs to evict. In fact from what I read the government is using about the same process they would for evicting any deadbeats from anyone’s property.

    So starve them of publicity. Wait for boredom and winter to get them shooting each other. Sue them collectively for the cost of their shinanigans. Hold them individually to the highest standards of law enforcement for other crimes like stealing one of our trucks.

    And wait.

  9. I disagree with all who say let it burn itself out. That’s why this happened. And why ole Cliven is still a walking billboard of lawlessness. That said, I agree on non-lethal tactics. I’ve suggested making the psychological conditions difficult, civil fines and property confiscation. Burying the place in foam, isolation strategies, etc.

    I’m loathe to see anyone killed and a community disrupted when they obviously have requested they leave. Im more than pissed off at the unequal treatment that’s been meted out to “undesirable groups.” These guys are not desired. I haven’t looked at the 6 weapons post but I makes my point as well.

    Worst of all is the inability of too many to make the proper judgement about timing. The issue is vetted now. No one can reasonably say they’ve not been heard. It’s time to be heard in court. It’s not necessarily governments role to prejudge a case but it is governments role to educate and explain itself

    I’m disgusted that there’s not justice department officials making the educational case and delineating some boundaries. Perhaps that’s to come later but without a guideline – and in light of the propensity to violent protest – this is as safe a place to begin that process for a never-ending stream of young people.

    So, Mr. Grey should not have died in Baltimore, Occupy should not have been sprayed as they passively kneeled on the curb and these yahoos shouldn’t be shot since they’re armed and a clear danger.

    But that’s not to do so little, so ineptly.

  10. Al; thanks for your wise comments. I do not want to see anyone killed in this Oregon situation but regarding their local government and at the federal level they haven’t yet realized…doing nothing, accomplishes nothing. And so we wait!

    One fat old cowboy and his heavily armed cronies have beat the government with no repercussions regarding their illegal actions. Why would they hesitate to make their second, currently successful, takeover of government/public lands?

  11. Ms Kennedy’s mention of the Gullah nation’s loss of its land in 1942 mirrors a similar situation in West Kentucky during the same time period, 1941-1942.

    As far as I know, no descendant of any West Kentucky farm family who lost its farmland in 1941-1942 to the Federal government ever attempted to muster an armed defense against the government. They used the court system.

  12. I don’t want any more deaths either, but you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t.
    Who wins this?

    Nobody wins.

    It’s a draw. Game Over.

    How does anyone proceed now?

  13. I don’t recall. Were the occupy protestors charged for security for the 3 months they camped out in that park?

  14. Ken, glad you’re here. Another Republican. Do you agree with Brooks above on what we have to do to save the GOP from self destruction?

  15. Hell no, if the Bundy group in Oregon was black they would have been out of there in a New Youk minute.

  16. What they’re doing is illegal, and they shouldn’t be allowed to get away with it. Since the Waco disaster is so much in everyone’s memory, I understand why the Feds don’t want to go in with guns blazing. How about squeezing them out? Shut off electricity, water, internet, anybody trying to go in or out. No food, no water, no heat–shouldn’t take long in 30-degree weather.

  17. Oregon newspaper letter to the editor by a noted Oregon writer:

    The Oregonian’s A1 headline on Sunday, Jan. 17, “Effort to free federal lands,” is inaccurate and irresponsible. The article that follows it is a mere mouthpiece for the scofflaws illegally occupying public buildings and land, repeating their lies and distortions of history and law.
    Ammon Bundy and his bullyboys aren’t trying to free federal lands, but to hold them hostage. I can’t go to the Malheur refuge now, though as a citizen of the United States, I own it and have the freedom of it. That’s what public land is: land that belongs to the public — me, you, every law-abiding American. The people it doesn’t belong to and who don’t belong there are those who grabbed it by force of arms, flaunting their contempt for the local citizens.
    Those citizens of Harney County have carefully hammered out agreements to manage the refuge in the best interest of landowners, scientists, visitors, tourists, livestock and wildlife. They’re suffering more every day, economically and otherwise, from this invasion by outsiders.
    Instead of parroting the meaningless rants of a flock of Right-Winged Loonybirds infesting the refuge, why doesn’t The Oregonian talk to the people who live there?
    Ursula K. Le Guin
    Northwest Portland

  18. “Still, I wonder whether they’d be this patient if the occupiers were members of a disfavored or disempowered community….”

    If this were the case Sheila, I would imagine you wouldn’t even see them broadcast through the eyes of the mass media. It would just be a case of business as usual, unless backed by some greater power structure. It’s unfortunate. However, the disfavored and disenfranchised are accustomed to such things. …calloused, yes. …true, probably. My two cents.

    Thanks, again. I’ll keep reading, if you keep writing.

  19. Let’s face the facts here. We all know of examples where double standards have played a role with almost ethnic & racial groups in this country. We could fill volumes with examples. But what is the point? We KNOW that our government applies whatever policy fits their needs at the time. I don’t think that is even in doubt. But, my biggest question is what do we want our government to do in this situation. No matter how it is handled there will be those that oppose the means that were used. It’s a no-win situation regardless of what is the ultimate solution. I agree that if the squatters or rednecks or terrorists or whatever term you prefer to describe these people were black or Muslim justice would have been swift. But the fact remains that these jackasses are armed where other groups were not. Should that make a difference in the response? I would certainly hope so unless we want another Waco or Ruby Ridge on our hands. These fools are allegedly willing to die for their cause. Let’s not make them into martyrs. I say we do exactly what we are doing at the present time. Let’s wait them out until they run out of food or get tired of playing the “Patriot”. We can arrest & detain them as they straggle out for more snacks or liquor. A nice long winter spent in the wilds of Eastern Oregon with little or no heat & food may be just what is needed to convince them that it’s time to go home. This way the whole thing will end in a whimper & not a bang.

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