A comparison between the Bundy ranch protests from April of this year to what is going on in Ferguson is telling. It is also very, very instructive on just how to stand up for your rights in the era of a thoroughly militarized government.
Early in 2014 a rancher in Nevada named Cliven Bundy became the focus of an anti-government protest when the Bureau of Land Management swooped in with a paramilitary attack on Bundy’s ranch killing his cattle and claiming he was going to be arrested for supposedly refusing to pay a grazing tax, a dispute over which rancher Bundy and the government had been embroiled since 1993.
As the government swooped in with a militarized retinue of shock troops featuring armored vehicles, fully automatic machine guns, body armor, and hundreds of officers, people around the country began to perk up and take notice. Within a matter of days hundreds of American citizens made their way to the Bundy ranch in Nevada to stand up to the overreaction of the federal government.
Was there a threat of violence between the mostly white protesters and the federal government? Sure. It has to be remembered that every protest is an implicit threat of violence. Even the peaceful ones are shored up by a threat of “acton.”
But regardless of any implied threats–after all, many of the protesters in Nevada were armed–the protests were peaceful, no shots were fired, and no violence occurred.
Eventually the government backed down and vacated the scene handing protesters a big victory.
Again, not a single instance of violence occurred between protesters and the authorities.
Then we have Ferguson.
On Saturday, August 9, police officer Darren Wilson confronted 18-year-old Michael Brown, a nearly 300 pound, 6-foot-tall, black teenager, and a friend in the streets of Ferguson, Missouri. Apparently Brown, having robbed a local convenience store only a short time earlier, engaged in a scuffle with Wilson through the open window of his cruiser as the officer sat in his car.
Brown then ran as the officer exited his car. Then the teen turned and began menacingly to run back toward the officer who in turn opened fire killing the young man.
Almost immediately people began to fill the streets as the police began their investigation at the scene of the shooting. By Saturday night the gatherings began to turn into angry protests. By Sunday night and for a week afterward those protests became riots with police employing a militarized presence confronting the people on the streets.
Sniper positions were erected, riot gear was broken out for police to use, machine guns were distributed among them, and tear gas and flash bang grenades were hurled at the protesters.
Thus far several citizens have been killed during these nightly riots, stores have been looted, fires set, and wide spread property damage has been perpetrated.
Few in the Ferguson crowd have been armed, though some smattering of illegal shootings have occurred from among them. But worse are the Molotov cocktails thrown at police.
Do you notice the difference here? Among the mostly white–and heavily armed–protesters at the Bundy ranch in Nevada no actual violence occurred. The threat was implicit, granted, but no one really stepped out of line.
The oppressive government force was cowed eventually to slink away with their tails between their legs. On the other hand, the overweening government forces in Ferguson have done nothing but grow and gain strength with no sign of backing off.
The difference is not the government. The difference is how the protesters reacted. The Bundy protesters threatened the government but did not act like criminals. While also threatening government the Ferguson protesters did exactly the opposite in its behavior.
Could the Bundy protest have turned into an open battle replete with a dangerous firefight between government oppressors and the people (out of which the people would likely have lost)? Sure. In fact, that was what many expected. But the fact is the Bundy protesters took the correct early route. In Nevada Peaceful but forceful protest made the government blanche and pull out.
On the other hand, the Ferguson protesters acted like lawless thugs and began throwing things, attacking cops, burning and looting local businesses, and by their conduct absolutely guaranteed that the government would ramp up its response instead of turning tail and running.
The difference in conduct and the example of which protest implemented the proper course of action could not be more clear. One did it right. The other couldn’t be more wrong to achieve the intended ends.
Finally we can also see the bias in the press in this situation. During the Bundy ranch standoff the media was universal in its disdain for the protesters and despite that no actual violence occurred, the media routinely condemned the protester’s rhetorical attack on the government.
On the other hand, in Ferguson the media is four square behind the criminal actions by the protesters and suddenly have found reason to complain about the “militarized police” and the over reaction of the police and state and local governments.
Suddenly, the media finds a reason to decry an oppressive government.