Commentary Religion

Progressives Must Not Dismiss the Oregon Militia Standoff as Irrelevant

Andrea Plaid

These anti-government groups, quite a few of whom have deep ideological ties with white supremacist organizations and individuals, should alarm the left. Their philosophies often have foundations of racism, colonialism, and restriction of reproductive rights—and their numbers are growing.

As the standoff in Oregon this month devolved into disparate messaging about the armed militia’s philosophy—and a shootout with state police that resulted in several arrests, including that of leader Ammon Bundy and his brother Ryan, and one death—the group became the butt of jokes for many on the left, even as the rest of the members vowed to continue illegally occupying the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.

However, progressives must not make the mistake of dismissing militias and the people who support them as irrelevant, particularly where their reproductive agendas are concerned. These anti-government groups, quite a few of whom have deep ideological ties with white supremacist organizations and individuals, should alarm the left. Their philosophies often have foundations of racism, colonialism, and restriction of reproductive rights—and their numbers are growing.

The standoff in Oregon, according to Leonard Zeskind, president of the Institute for Research and Education of Human Rights (IREHR), follows the right-wing tradition of militias organizing against racial equity and for land grabs. The Bundy group has already demonstrated a colonialist attitude through its insistence that the land be returned to its “rightful owners”—not the Paiute tribe whose ancestral lands encompass the refuge, but white settlers—and its treatment of Native artifacts.

Zeskind explained at Slate:

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It’s not just a small uptick. IREHR has recorded a massive increase. We are paying closer attention to the growing militia phenomenon. There has been a decided white reactionary response to anti-racist activism by black folks and white folks and brown folks and people of all colors opposed to police violence. They have turned to the militias. … the militia phenomenon should be regarded as a mass movement. It’s not a million people. But it has a wide level of support, much wider than a couple of dozen cranks in Oregon. 

Zeskind continued:

[S]ince 2009, we have had a growing Tea Party movement. The Tea Party movement has done things like take over the anti-immigrant movement. … And some Tea Partiers are joining militias. … What has brought about a growth in the white nationalist movement is that they have figured out a new approach, in the age of Obama. Obama disoriented them because so many white people voted for Obama. And the Tea Party initially supplanted them in a certain way. The Tea Party is not all white nationalists. But the rise of anti-racist activities has given the racists a new focus.

This obsession with “reclaiming” the land has a long history, one that is also bound up in keeping the white race “pure,” especially when it comes to white women.

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) started on the antebellum frontier as well as the postbellum South, both of which became contested lands between the newly freed Black people and white people who tried to claim (and dispute) the promised 40 acres, as well as push west of the Mississippi to homestead. In fact, as Matt Novak reported at Gizmodo, when Oregon entered the Union in 1859, its constitution stated it would be a “No Black People” state, which included forbidding them from owning land.

Deeply tied to the idea of securing the land for white people was—and still is—the notion of white women’s purity. The KKK has held this idea since the 1860s, believing that white women would benefit from at the time “the Southern racial state, without which they would be raped and brutalized by [Black] men.” To its members’ way of thinking, it was a white man’s duty—more specifically, a Klansman’s duty—to aggressively protect white women’s virtue.

As the Klan membership declined in the 1960s, the organization allied itself with racist anti-government militias such as Posse Comitatus, an anti-Semitic group that holds the notion that it doesn’t need to obey federal policies, and the first racist skinhead groups under the religious aegis of Christian Identity. Another far-right wing writer, Martin A. Larson claimed back in 1967 that Black people will become “tax burdens”; thus, white people are under no obligation to pay their taxes.

The Internet allowed the faster spread of the radical racists’ message, also helping to create an individualization of the rhetoric, meaning people didn’t need to belong to a formal affiliation to claim and act upon the philosophies. The most recent example is Dylann Roof, arrested for the slaying of nine Black churchgoers who welcomed him into their prayer meeting in 2015. According to a survivor of the shooting, Roof who reportedly stated, “You all rape women and you’re taking over the country.”

Even so, groups still linger—as in the case of Cliven Bundy, the father of Ammon and Ryan Bundy, who was also involved in a government standoff involving hundreds in 2014. The elder Bundy has spoken on how Black people would be better off in slavery (again) instead of public assistance (and then blamed Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for the ensuing backlash).

The racism undergirding white nationalists’ philosophies about keeping land “safe” for women, in turn, frequently extends into their attitudes toward gender and reproduction. According to these groups, white women’s duty is a simple one: Give birth and rear more white “warriors” to protect and maintain the country, in addition to maintaining the “purity” of themselves and of the white race.

For radical racists, particularly those who adhere to fundamentalist Christian ideals, white women should further the cause by being mothers (giving birth to as many babies as possible to combat the declining white birth rates), homemakers, and homeschoolers while the men are the warriors. As one female white supremacist stated in an interview with ABC News:

Children, they are what drives us to better ourselves and our people. It takes a very strong and deeply committed woman to be a part of the cause. She has to be a mother, partner, and warrior all in one … She must understand that this is not a game nor is it for the faint of heart … It is about securing the existence of our race and a future for white children.

That “future for white children,” in other words, means advocating against abortion rights for some groups while encouraging them for others.

According to racial justice advocate Jessie Daniels, who has studied and written extensively on the subject:

For white supremacists, the decline in the number of white births is directly tied to their fear of a decline in white dominance in the U.S. In this worldview, fewer white births is due to two factors. First, they contend there are fewer white women … who are willing to become pregnant and give birth to white children. Second, they believe that white women are quick to have abortions (or easily persuaded to do so) and are nonchalant about them afterwards.

Journalist Laura Flanders reported back in 1995 that anti-choicers and white supremacists shared people like John Burt, a former Klansman who was the regional director of the Army of God and who was connected to the murder of abortion provider David Gunn in 1993, and tactics, including forming armed militias.

Sex itself also breaks down by an aggressively traditional gender order. A male white supremacist commented on an online forum:

White women expect [dominance] from us and have HIGH subconscious barriers to let only an alpha white male through … Sex is the outward communication of acceptance of the other’s genetic fitness and possible child bearing of his genes. This because white men were always aggressive in a good kind of way.

Or not, according to Kathleen Blee, who did research on women in radical racist groups. In an interview with the SPLC, she said “domestic violence is quite widespread in [these] groups” and, more concerning, the consequences are often more severe because victims can’t report the violence to anyone inside or outside of the groups.

Even as too few white feminists write that they do not want to be used as the impetus for racial violence, according to the uber-masculinist ethos that pervades those particular racist groups, such white women are, at best, confused about their role in the racial scheme—as in they shouldn’t make any common cause with people of color. At worst, they are seen as “race traitors,” who, according to the radical racists’ hyperviolent thinking, will be severely punished during and after the ever-imminent “race war,” out of which white people will emerge victorious.

The Bundy militia standoff is another grasp for a way of life built on the crumbling foundation of white supremacy. As encouraging as it is to read people of color and white people challenging how law enforcement—from federal to local—are treating these armed men, many on the white left still treat them as a joke, sending them dildos and referring to them in dismissive terms. This is to progressives’ detriment. These men are the latest synecdoche for a longstanding struggle for wanting “their” country back, where America is an all-white nation, white men are strong, and white women are pure and purely for procreation.

Because whether or not the white left believes in them, the radical racists believe in white people. The Bundy militias and Dylann Roof, to name a few, are the domestically terrorizing proof of that.

Roundups Politics

Campaign Week in Review: Republican National Convention Edition

Ally Boguhn

The Trump family's RNC claims about crime and the presidential candidate's record on gender equality have kept fact-checkers busy.

Republicans came together in Cleveland this week to nominate Donald Trump at the Republican National Convention (RNC), generating days of cringe-inducing falsehoods and misleading statements on crime, the nominee’s positions on gender equality, and LGBTQ people.

Trump’s Acceptance Speech Blasted for Making False Claims on Crime

Trump accepted the Republican nomination in a Thursday night speech at the RNC that drew harsh criticism for many of its misleading and outright false talking points.

Numerous fact-checkers took Trump to task, calling out many of his claims for being “wrong,” and “inflated or misleading.”

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 Among the most hotly contested of Trump’s claims was the assertion that crime has exploded across the country.

“Decades of progress made in bringing down crime are now being reversed by this administration’s rollback of criminal enforcement,” Trump claimed, according to his prepared remarks, which were leaked ahead of his address. “Homicides last year increased by 17 percent in America’s 50 largest cities. That’s the largest increase in 25 years. In our nation’s capital, killings have risen by 50 percent. They are up nearly 60 percent in nearby Baltimore.”

Crime rates overall have been steadily declining for years.

“In 2015, there was an uptick in homicides in 36 of the 50 largest cities compared to the previous years. The rate did, indeed, increase nearly 17 percent, and it was the worst annual change since 1990. The homicide rate was up 54.3 percent in Washington, and 58.5 percent in Baltimore,” explained Washington Post fact checkers Glenn Kessler and Michelle Ye Hee Lee. “But in the first months of 2016, homicide trends were about evenly split in the major cities. Out of 63 agencies reporting to the Major Cities Chiefs Association, 32 cities saw a decrease in homicides in first quarter 2016 and 31 saw an increase.”

Ames Grawert, a counsel in the Brennan Center’s Justice Program, said in a statement posted to the organization’s website that 2016 statistics aren’t sufficient in declaring crime rate trends. 

“Overall, crime rates remain at historic lows. Fear-inducing soundbites are counterproductive, and distract from nuanced, data-driven, and solution-oriented conversations on how to build a smarter criminal justice system in America,” Grawert said. “It’s true that some cities saw an increase in murder rates last year, and that can’t be ignored, but it’s too early to say if that’s part of a national trend.” 

When Paul Manafort, Trump’s campaign chairman, was confronted with the common Republican falsehoods on crime during a Thursday interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper, he claimed that the FBI’s statistics were not to be trusted given that the organization recently advised against charges in connection with Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server during her tenure as secretary of state.

“According to FBI statistics, crime rates have been going down for decades,” Tapper told Manafort. “How can Republicans make the argument that it’s somehow more dangerous today when the facts don’t back that up?”

“People don’t feel safe in their neighborhoods,” said Manafort, going on to claim that “the FBI is certainly suspect these days after what they did with Hillary Clinton.”

There was at least one notable figure who wholeheartedly embraced Trump’s fearmongering: former KKK Grand Wizard David Duke. “Great Trump Speech,” tweeted Duke on Thursday evening. “Couldn’t have said it better!”

Ben Carson Claims Transgender People Are Proof of “How Absurd We Have Become”

Former Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson criticized the existence of transgender people while speaking at the Florida delegation breakfast on Tuesday in Cleveland.  

“You know, we look at this whole transgender thing, I’ve got to tell you: For thousands of years, mankind has known what a man is and what a woman is. And now, all of a sudden we don’t know anymore,” said Carson, a retired neurosurgeon. “Now, is that the height of absurdity? Because today you feel like a woman, even though everything about you genetically says that you’re a man or vice versa?”

“Wouldn’t that be the same as if you woke up tomorrow morning after seeing a movie about Afghanistan or reading some books and said, ‘You know what? I’m Afghanistan. Look, I know I don’t look that way. My ancestors came from Sweden, or something, I don’t know. But I really am. And if you say I’m not, you’re a racist,’” Carson said. “This is how absurd we have become.”

When confronted with his comments during an interview with Yahoo News’ Katie Couric, Carson doubled down on his claims.“There are biological markers that tell us whether we are a male or a female,” said Carson. “And just because you wake up one day and you say, ‘I think I’m the other one,’ that doesn’t change it. Just, a leopard can’t change its spots.”

“It’s not as if they woke up one day and decided, ‘I’m going to be a male or I’m going to be a female,’” Couric countered, pointing out that transgender people do not suddenly choose to change their gender identities on a whim.

Carson made several similar comments last year while on the campaign trail.

In December, Carson criticized the suggested that allowing transgender people into the military amounted to using the armed services “as a laboratory for social experimentation.”

Carson once suggested that allowing transgender people to use the restroom that aligned with their gender identity amounted to granting them “extra rights.”

Ivanka Trump Claims Her Father Supports Equal Pay, Access to Child Care

Ivanka Trump, the nominee’s daughter, made a pitch during her speech Thursday night at the RNC for why women voters should support her father.

“There have always been men of all background and ethnicities on my father’s job sites. And long before it was commonplace, you also saw women,” Ivanka Trump said. “At my father’s company, there are more female than male executives. Women are paid equally for the work that we do and when a woman becomes a mother, she is supported, not shut out.” 

“As president, my father will change the labor laws that were put into place at a time when women were not a significant portion of the workforce. And he will focus on making quality child care affordable and accessible for all,” she continued before pivoting to address the gender wage gap. 

“Policies that allow women with children to thrive should not be novelties; they should be the norm. Politicians talk about wage equality, but my father has made it a practice at his company throughout his entire career.”

However, Trump’s stated positions on the gender wage gap, pregnancy and mothers in the workplace, and child care don’t quite add up to the picture the Trumps tried to paint at the RNC.

In 2004, Trump called pregnancy an “inconvenience” for employers. When a lawyer asked for a break during a deposition in 2011 to pump breast milk, Trump reportedly called her “disgusting.”

According to a June analysis conducted by the Boston Globe, the Trump campaign found that men who worked on Trump’s campaign “made nearly $6,100, or about 35 percent more [than women during the April payroll]. The disparity is slightly greater than the gender pay gap nationally.”

A former organizer for Trump also filed a discrimination complaint in January, alleging that she was paid less than her male counterparts.

When Trump was questioned about equal pay during a campaign stop last October, he did not outline his support for policies to address the issue. Instead, Trump suggested that, “You’re gonna make the same if you do as good a job.” Though he had previously stated that men and women who do the same job should be paid the same during an August 2015 interview on MSNBC, he also cautioned that determining whether people were doing the same jobs was “tricky.”

Trump has been all but completely silent on child care so far on the campaign trail. In contrast, Clinton released an agenda in May to address the soaring costs of child care in the United States.

Ivanka’s claims were not the only attempt that night by Trump’s inner circle to explain why women voters should turn to the Republican ticket. During an interview with MSNBC’s Chris Matthews, Manafort said that women would vote for the Republican nominee because they “can’t afford their lives anymore.”

“Many women in this country feel they can’t afford their lives, their husbands can’t afford to be paying for the family bills,” claimed Manafort. “Hillary Clinton is guilty of being part of the establishment that created that problem. They’re going to hear the message. And as they hear the message, that’s how we are going to appeal to them.”

What Else We’re Reading

Vox’s Dara Lind explained how “Trump’s RNC speech turned his white supporters’ fear into a weapon.”

Now that Mike Pence is the Republican nominee for vice president, Indiana Republicans have faced “an intense, chaotic, awkward week of brazen lobbying at the breakfast buffet, in the hallways and on the elevators” at the convention as they grapple with who will run to replace the state’s governor, according to the New York Times.

“This is a party and a power structure that feels threatened with extinction, willing to do anything for survival,” wrote Rebecca Traister on Trump and the RNC for New York Magazine. “They may not love Trump, but he is leading them precisely because he embodies their grotesque dreams of the restoration of white, patriarchal power.”

Though Trump spent much of the primary season denouncing big money in politics, while at the RNC, he courted billionaires in hopes of having them donate to supporting super PACs.

Michael Kranish reported for the Washington Post that of the 2,472 delegates at the RNC, it is estimated that only 18 were Black.

Cosmopolitan highlighted nine of the most sexist things that could be found at the convention.

Rep. Steve King (R-IA) asked, “Where are these contributions that have been made” by people of color to civilization?

News Abortion

Pennsylvania’s TRAP Law Could Be the Next to Go Down

Teddy Wilson

The Democrats' bill would repeal language from a measure that targets abortion clinics, forcing them to meet the standards of ambulatory surgical facilities.

A Pennsylvania lawmaker on Wednesday introduced a bill that would repeal a state law requiring abortion clinics to meet the standards of ambulatory surgical facilities (ASF). The bill comes in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling striking down a similar provision in Texas’ anti-choice omnibus law known as HB 2.

A similar so-called targeted regulation of abortion providers (TRAP) law was passed in Pennsylvania in 2011 with bipartisan majorities in both the house and state senate, and was signed into law by former Gov. Tom Corbett (R).

SB 1350, sponsored by Sen. Daylin Leach (D-Montgomery) would repeal language from Act 122 that requires abortion clinics to meet ASF regulations. The text of the bill has not yet been posted on the state’s legislative website.

The bill is co-sponsored by state Sens. Art Haywood (D-Philadelphia), Larry Farnese (D-Philadelphia), and Judy Schwank (D-Berks).

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Leach said in a statement that there has been a “nationwide attack on patients and their doctors,” but that the Supreme Court’s ruling upholds the constitutionally protected right to terminate a pregnancy.

“Abortion is a legal, Constitutionally-protected right that should be available to all women,” Leach said. “Every member of the Pennsylvania General Assembly swore an oath to support, obey and defend the Constitution of the United States, so we must act swiftly to repeal this unconstitutional requirement.”

TRAP laws, which single out abortion clinics and providers and subject them to regulations that are more stringent than those applied to medical clinics, have been passed in several states in recent years.

However, the Supreme Court’s ruling in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt that struck down two of the provisions in HB 2 has already had ramifications on similar laws passed in other states with GOP-held legislatures.

The Supreme Court blocked similar anti-choice laws in Wisconsin and Mississippi, and Alabama’s attorney general announced he would drop an appeal to a legal challenge of a similar law.