Placing the Militia Occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Harney County, Oregon
This intervention examines the recent militia occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon. There is no consensus on how to place the group. Some commentators suggest the group was white supremacist. Others argue that it was animated by religious fanaticism. Still others emphasize the group’s grievances with the Bureau of Land Management. I argue here that the Malheur occupiers’ politics cannot be understood with reference to a single identity position. Rather, we need to focus on the group’s anti-government rhetoric because it funnels and shapes multiple interests at once. Here I examine how the group’s anti-government rhetoric frames race and class interests. In terms of race, I argue that anti-government rhetoric obscures the white interests behind the occupation. This concealment is based on a selective reading of history that emphasizes the end of settlement, when the government took ownership of land not claimed during the settlement period, instead of the stage leading up to it, when the government seized Indigenous land for white settlement. So construed, the occupiers could claim they were taking the ‘people’s’ land back from the government rather than engaging in a second round of white theft of Indigenous land. In terms of class, I argue that because the occupiers framed their fight as against government tyranny instead of as for privatization, the occupiers did not have to confront the inequities that come with privatization.