Note To Media: The Heavily Armed, Law-Breaking Oregon Militants Aren’t ‘Protesters’


A man standing guard pushes a videographer aside after members of the "3% of Idaho" group along with several other organizations arrived at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge near Burns, Ore., on Saturday, Jan. 9, 2016. A small, armed group has been occupying the remote national wildlife refuge in Oregon for a week to protest federal land use policies. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

With news that the leader of the Oregon militia occupying a federal wildlife refuge was arrested last night, and another member killed in a confrontation with police, it’s worth taking a look back at how the media has described the crisis in the last few weeks.

The armed militia first seized the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon on January 2, and proclaimed early on that they were willing to kill and be killed if necessary. Since then, their occupation of the land, and their refusal to seriously negotiate with the FBI, has cost the U.S. government over $133,000 per day.

Regardless, much of mainstream media has continued to avoid labeling them as the occupying militia that they are. Rather, the go-to label for the armed group has been “protesters.”

Here are just a few headlines along those lines:

protesters nyt


oregon protesters fox


oregon protesters AP


oregon protesters fox news


Those weren’t the only ones. Another New York Times article from last week reads “Rural Oregon’s Lost Prosperity Gives Standoff a Distressed Backdrop,” but a Nexis search reveals that the article also ran under the much more controversial headline below:

better times nytimes


Other headlines portraying the militia mildly have included “Oregon Protesters Say Occupation of Federal Building Was Last Resort” in the Wall Street Journal, while Reuters ran an article headlined “Lack of government action over land disputes may embolden Oregon protesters.”

Shortly after the militia first took over the refuge, the Associated Press also ran an article framing the crisis in Oregon as a “peaceful” gathering of protesters. After receiving criticism, the AP changed the original headline, but still did not note the potential for violence at the occupied government building.

Although seven other members of the militia have been arrested, and one has surrendered to authorities, remaining members plan to continue their occupation of the federal land. Jason Patrick, one of the remaining militants, compared the death of militia member Robert “LaVoy” Finicum to the police killing of Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old carrying a toy gun. “The government can kill who they want for whatever reason they want with impunity,” Patrick said, according to VICE News.

But regardless of what Patrick thinks, the way law enforcement has interacted with the Oregon militia — and the way the militia have been portrayed in the media — makes the power of white privilege in the United States quite clear.

The media has labeled Black Lives Matter events a “threat,” and activists have even been accused of inciting violence “to the point of a hate crime“, despite the movement being largely peaceful. Police have repeatedly used excessive force against Black Lives Matter activists, deploying riot gear, tear gas, and smoke bombs on the unarmed activists protesting. And just last week, a Minnesota cop encouraged people to run over Black Lives Matter protesters. “Run them over,” Sergeant Jeffrey M. Rothecker wrote in a Facebook comment. “Keep traffic flowing and don’t slow down for any of these idiots who try and block the street.” He then advised drivers how they could use the law to justify running over protesters with their cars.

Some people who have picked up on this double standard have asked the media to begin calling the armed militia in Oregon domestic terrorists — a term fitting for anti-government extremists, willing to kill and be killed, who have taken over federal land — but it seems many outlets still prefer “protesters” instead.


Reprinted with permission from Think Progress, a branch of The Center for American Progress