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January 11, 2016

10 Mistakes Made By The Malheur Wildlife Refuge Occupiers

On January 2, a group of anti-government extremists—who would later dub themselves Citizens for Constitutional Freedom—seized control of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge headquarters in remote southeast Oregon. The seizure, led by Ammon Bundy, son of a Nevada rancher who had himself engaged in a standoff with the federal government in 2014, was ostensibly conducted to protest the resentencing of a father and son pair of southeast Oregon ranchers, Dwight and Steven Hammond, on federal arson charges.

For more than a week now, Bundy and his two dozen or so followers—the numbers change daily—have held the headquarters, claiming they will relinquish it only when the Hammonds are released and the federal government turns control of federal land over to the “people.”

Ammon Bundy

Ammon Bundy

Yet the confrontation desired by Bundy and his followers has not gone very well for them so far. Faced with derision, lack of support, and internal bickering, as well as the distinct absence of the federal government they had sought to visibly confront, the occupiers now seem somewhat confused and hesitant. The scenario has so far not played out in a manner that they hoped for or expected.

While the situation at Malheur is still tense and there are plenty of ways that it could worsen—for example, frustrated extremists could try to escalate the situation—it is clear that Bundy and the other occupiers have made several key miscalculations in their planned coup-de-main. These include:

  1. The occupiers did not secure the support of the Hammonds. Though Ammon Bundy and some of the other future occupiers were in touch with the Hammonds over their plight as early as November 2014, they failed in their efforts to get the Hammonds to cooperate.   Reportedly, the Hammonds would not let protesters use their property, which may be one reason why Bundy and his companions chose to seize the wildlife refuge headquarters instead. After the seizure, attorneys for the Hammond family released a statement saying that the Hammonds “respect the rule of law.” Dwight and Steven Hammond reported for prison as ordered.
  2. The occupiers chose a poor target. The Malheur National Wildlife Refuge is not far from the Hammond ranch. Moreover, it was empty at the time, meaning that it was a symbolic federal building that could be seized by Bundy without effort. However, the building is in a remote area away from population centers and also most extremists. In taking the headquarters, the extremists voluntarily isolated themselves. Moreover, the building is not important in any way, nor does its occupation particularly hinder the federal government, or even the wildlife of the refuge. And, of course, the building has nothing to do with the Hammonds, nor did seizing it affect their situation in any positive way.  In their own paranoid fashion, even some of the extremists eventually began to do some second-guessing about the decision to seize the headquarters. On January 7, Joe O’Shaughnessy (at first an occupier, then staying in Burns, Oregon, to organize support for them) posted to Facebook asking if anyone had “stopped to think how did they get some of the greatest men in the Patriot movement to go out in the middle of nowhere to [occupy] a small building…at the coldest time of the year at a time [when] everyone is broke because of the holidays. I don’t know about you but this is all starting to look fishy to me.” O’Shaughnessy speculated that the federal government had deliberately left the place empty and the electricity on because “the place was already pre-bugged.” In other words, somehow the federal government “tricked” them into occupying the refuge headquarters.
  3. The federal government did not act as expected. It is likely that the occupiers expected some new version of the 2014 Bundy standoff, in which anti-government extremists were able to engage in a direct armed confrontation with government and law enforcement and get the government to back down, thus energizing the extremists and their supporters. However, because of the poor target chosen by the occupiers, the federal government has time on its side. Barring other circumstances intervening, the government can, in effect, bide its time and let attrition take its toll. Almost immediately, the federal government adopted a deliberately low-key approach, employing restraint and avoiding media attention. It has not given the extremists what they sought the most: a confrontation.
  4. The occupiers failed to get local support. Ammon Bundy and his followers assumed that their action would get the support of the people of Burns and the surrounding area, many of whom were to varying degrees sympathetic to the situation of the Hammonds. However, the majority of the occupiers were not from the local area—or even from Oregon—but were outsiders primarily from Arizona, Utah, and Nevada. Moreover, they seemed to be seeking attention for themselves as much as, if not more than, for the Hammonds.  The local fire chief told an Oregonian reporter that the group “seems like a bunch of people ready to shoot. I don’t want that in my county.”  Bundy and several of his followers also alienated some of the local citizens who originally had been willing to work with them.  Locals who had helped organize a pro-Hammond rally shortly before the seizure subsequently issued a statement claiming that the activities of the Bundy group were “unfortunate and not related to and contrary to” their own wishes.
  5. The local sheriff “failed” the occupiers once again. For some years, Ammon Bundy and other members of his family have argued that it is the role of the county sheriff to “protect” the people from the federal government and have repeatedly called on local sheriffs to intervene in conflicts with the federal government—without success. Harness County Sheriff David Ward came out early as a vocal opponent of Bundy and his actions (and whose family reportedly got death threats as a result). In fact, Ward helped to crystallize community opposition to Bundy and his followers in a key community meeting. Ward subsequently met with Bundy to offer him “safe passage” out of the county, in an attempt to end the standoff, but Bundy refused.
  6. The occupiers failed to get substantial support from other extremists. Not only did the Citizens for Constitutional Freedom fail to get support from the Hammonds, local law enforcement, or the local community, but they have so far failed to get substantial support from other right-wing extremists, whether locally or further afield. While some anti-government extremists have indeed supported the actions of Bundy and the other occupiers, such support has been far less than the occupiers clearly hoped for. Bundy had already burned bridges with the anti-government Oath Keepers thanks to feuds during and after the 2014 Bundy Ranch standoff, so it was no surprise that the Oath Keepers did not support the Oregon seizure. But many other anti-government extremists also condemned the actions of the Oregon occupiers, on a variety of grounds. Others stated that they disagreed with the “operation,” though they would come to the aid of the occupiers if they were attacked by the federal government. One reason that many extremists were less than excited about the refuge headquarters occupation was because it didn’t seem to be doing anything to help the Hammonds but would simply put extremists in harm’s way.
  7. Media attention did not always work to the occupiers’ advantage. As in the 2014 Bundy Ranch standoff—at which a great many of the refuge occupiers were present—Bundy and the others hoped to attract media attention to their actions. That certainly happened, especially in the early days of the standoff, with media vans crowding the grounds of the headquarters. However, while the media brought them attention, it wasn’t always positive attention. Very early on, reporters on the scene brought down to earth claims by the occupiers that they numbered around 150, observing that the true number might be as little as one-tenth of that figure. Reporters wandered around the refuge, seeking interviews with any and all occupiers—and the extremists did not always come out of the interviews looking good. Moreover, journalists exposed the criminal histories of some of the occupiers and, in the case of occupier Brian Cavalier, revealed that his claims to have served in the United States Marine Corps were false. Cavalier allegedly left the refuge soon after.
  8. Social media is a two-edged sword. Bundy and the other occupiers did not rely solely on the traditional mainstream media. From the beginning, many of the occupiers have assiduously used Facebook, Twitter, and other social media sites to communicate to their friends and followers and get their message out. However, as many corporations and politicians have learned, social media messaging sometimes has a way of getting out of control. In this case, non-extremists, who vastly outnumbered the extremists on social media, began to use the platforms to mock and deride the occupiers, creating hashtags such as #YallQaeda and #VanillaISIS. After a couple of occupiers entreated their supporters to send supplies such as food and “snacks,” the notion of snacks became a viral meme with which the occupiers were mercilessly pilloried. “Will commit treason for Funyuns” was just one of hundreds of mocking “snack” references.
  9. The occupiers have suffered from internal bickering. Never particularly organized to begin with, the occupiers have not showed any real cohesiveness.   As time has worn on, different occupiers have argued and bickered over a variety of issues, ranging from tactics to the presence of women and children at the refuge. At least one of the occupiers left the refuge as a result. The odds of such bickering are likely to increase with time.
  10. The occupiers have no practical end game. As the one-sided standoff wears on, time is likely to take its toll on more and more occupiers. Some have already left, temporarily or permanently, to deal with “real life” issues such as work and family.  Because the federal government seems hardly likely to release the Hammonds based on the demands of Bundy and his followers, and because it certainly will never engage in some sort of mass giveaway of federal land, the occupiers are unlikely to get any sort of satisfaction from the government. And though a couple of the most volatile occupiers have given indications that they would welcome some sort of armed encounter with the government, others seem to have become more wary as the standoff has progressed. The possibility that the occupiers, especially if more attrition occurs, will attempt to come up with some sort of face-saving rationalization for standing down seems like a real possibility. As long as cooler heads prevail, it may be the best opportunity for ending the standoff with no one being hurt and no “martyrs” or “heroes” created, around whom other extremists could rally.

 

 

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March 23, 2015

New FBI Hate Crime Training Manual Published

This week the FBI published an updated hate crime training manual. The excellent new guide is the single most important, most inclusive hate crime training resource available for law enforcement officials

DOJ sealThis version of the Bureau’s Hate Crime Data Collection Guidelines and Training Manual  includes new definitions, training scenarios, and a special considerations section to help police officials effectively identify and report the new categories of crime mandated for collection for 2015 – including hate crimes directed at Arabs, Sikhs and Hindus. The first edition of the manual, published in early 2013, included guidance on how to define and identify gender and gender identity hate crimes, based on requirements set forth in the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act(HCPA).

The FBI has been track­ing and doc­u­ment­ing hate crimes reported from fed­eral, state, and local law enforce­ment offi­cials since 1991 under the Hate Crime Sta­tis­tics Act of 1990 (HCSA). The Bureau’s annual HCSA reports pro­vide the best sin­gle national snap­shot of bias-motivated crim­i­nal activ­ity in the United States. The Act has also proven to be a pow­er­ful mech­a­nism to con­front vio­lent big­otry, increas­ing pub­lic aware­ness of the prob­lem and spark­ing improve­ments in the local response of the crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem to hate vio­lence – since in order to effec­tively report hate crimes, police offi­cials must be trained to iden­tify and respond to them.

Although the newest data from the 2013 Hate Crime Statistics Act report showed hate crimes have been declining, the numbers are still disturbingly high.  The addition of anti-Arab, anti-Sikh, and anti-Hindu hate crimes for 2015 demonstrates the Bureau’s commitment to preventing and counteracting these crimes.  After the tragic murder of six Sikh worshippers in Oak Creek, Wisconsin in 2012, collecting data on Arab, Sikh, and Hindu victims of hate crimes became even more urgent. This updated FBI hate crime training manual is a crucial step in the work to address these crimes.

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October 15, 2014

The Shepard-Byrd Hate Crimes Prevention Act: Five Years Later

The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act (HCPA), enacted into law on October 28, 2009, is the most important, comprehensive, and inclusive federal hate crime enforcement law passed in the past 40 years.Matthew_Shepard_and_James_Byrd,_Jr._Hate_Crimes_Prevention_Act

The HCPA encourages partnerships between state and federal law enforcement officials to more effectively address hate violence, and provides expanded authority for federal hate crime investigations and prosecutions when local authorities are unwilling or unable to act.  Importantly, the HCPA adds sexual orientation, gender, gender identity and disability to the groups which previously had federal protection against hate crimes – race, color, religion and national origin.

For more than a dozen years, the Anti-Defamation League led a broad coalition of civil rights, religious, educational, professional, law enforcement, and civic organizations advocating for the HCPA. The legislation was stalled by fierce opposition from some conservative organizations — and, for eight years, by President George W. Bush — in large part because it provided new authority for the FBI and the Justice Department to investigate and prosecute cases in which members of LGBT communities were targeted for violence.  Energetic support by President Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric H. Holder, Jr.  was essential to achieving final passage of the measure.

The HCPA has proven to be a valuable tool for federal prosecutors.  The Department of Justice has brought more than two dozen cases over the past five years – and has successfully defended the constitutionality of the Act against several constitutional challenges.

Enactment of the HCPA also sparked a wel­come round of police train­ing and out­reach – and the devel­op­ment of a num­ber of sig­nif­i­cant new hate crime train­ing and pre­ven­tion resources, including an updated Hate Crime Model Policy prepared by the International Association of Chiefs of Police.

Yet, much work remains to be done.  Hate crimes remain a serious national problem. In 2012 (according to the most recent data available) the FBI documented more than 6,500 hate crimes – almost one every hour of every day. The most frequent were motivated by race, followed by religion and sexual orientation.  Of the crime motivated by religion, more than 60 percent targeted Jews or Jewish institutions.

Unfortunately, more than 90 cities with populations over 100,000 either did not participate in the FBI 2012 data collection program or affirmatively reported zero (0) hate crimes. That is unacceptable. As FBI Director James B. Comey said in remarks to the 2014 ADL Leadership Summit, “We must continue to impress upon our state and local counterparts in every jurisdiction the need to track and report hate crime. It is not something we can ignore or sweep under the rug.”

The fifth anniversary of the HCPA provides an important teachable moment.  It is a fitting occasion for advocates, the Obama Administration, and Congress to promote awareness of the HCPA, to report on the progress our nation has made in preventing hate violence, and to rededicate ourselves to effectively responding to bias crimes when they occur.

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