Z e t e o
Reading, Looking, Listening, . . . Questioning

Common Ground: What the Oregon Militia Gets Right

Categories: Drew Whitcup, ZiR

imagesArmed activists took over a small government building in Oregon this weekend, eliciting mostly negative reactions from left-leaning commentators who have (quite fairly) pointed out a number of inconsistencies in the so-called militia’s message. More troubling still has been the notable difference in how the Oregon protesters are being treated compared to, say, members of the Black Lives Matter movement. Some have gone so far as to call the building occupation an act of terrorism.

Atlantic writer Conor Friedersdorf offers a different perspective in his recent piece, highlighting the common ground between leftist thought and the far right populism these protesters espouse. The protest—at least in part—is a reaction to harsh mandatory sentences received by Dwight and Steve Hammond, a father and son convicted of arson for burning small portions of public land under rather innocuous circumstances. This opposition to mandatory minimum sentences has the potential to bridge some very wide gaps:

Mandatory minimums really are objectionable as a matter of principle, as a policy that has resulted in countless individual injustices, and as a significant driver of over-incarceration.

In theory, those on the left who care about vanquishing mandatory minimums could have used the news story about the Hammonds to broaden awareness and opposition to the practice among members of the [political right]. Libertarian intellectuals oppose mandatory minimums. Why not the populist right, too? Some folks in rural areas who’ve never known about the laws, or think that they only affect people in cities, might change their minds if they were to find out that what happened to the Hammonds is routine; that many Americans have suffered far more egregious sentences; and that mandatory minimums affect all sorts of defendants. Yes, the Oregon protestors have a larger agenda about the management of federal lands in the West and the degree to which they ought to be under local control.

Still, in their opposition to mandatory minimums, they share common ground with the left.

Friedsdorf takes note of the numerous left-leaning publications that have skewered the Oregon occupiers in their editorial pages. He imagines a different rhetorical approach:

‘While federal management of public lands is legitimate and occupying a federal facility is unjustified,’ a left-leaning publication might have editorialized, ‘it’s easy to see why the Hammond case struck some observers as unjust. The notion that judges are there to exercise discretion based on context––that it’s odious to force them to give severe sentences even when they judge them to be “grossly disproportionate”––is exactly what criminal-justice reformers have long argued. There have been bipartisan reforms on this issue before. Let’s abolish all mandatory minimums for good through the civic process, not counterproductive armed protests.’

It would be naive to ignore the many reasons this particular protest is dangerous, misguided, and the object of a glaring double standard. Taken as a whole, their cause is an illegitimate and illogical one. But common ground is valuable, and Friedersdorf has done the admirable work of finding and illuminating it:

We’d all do better to focus on forging red-blue alliances to address injustices of common concern rather than behaving as if it is either useful or morally righteous to denounce, demonize, and dehumanize the members of opposing ideological tribes.

— Drew Whitcup, Zeteo Contributing Writer

CLICK HERE to subscribe to parts or all of Zeteo. $0. Thoughts many.

Leave a Reply