The “Arson Rebellion”: justice and due process matters whether you’re rural and white or urban and black
Let me tell you a story about Teddy Roosevelt. As a young man, he lived in the Dakota territory, hunting, ranching, watching the American bison disappear, and resolving to preserve the land and its bounty from a “class that always holds sway during the raw youth of a frontier community, and the putting down of which is the first step toward decent government.” One day, three such men stole his boat, the only one on the river, while he was hunting mountain lions. He and his two companions built another boat, pursued the thieves downriver, captured them, and then marched them three hundred miles to Dickinson and turned them over to the sheriff. During this pursuit of justice, he also managed to read Anna Karenina, musing in his 1888 book Ranch Life and the Hunting Trail that “my surroundings were quite gray enough to harmonize well with Tolstoy.”
Along the way he met a settler who “could hardly understand why [he] took so much bother with the thieves instead of hanging them offhand.” This man, so accustomed to a hard life and hard men, could not even imagine a decent government, let alone take the necessary steps to establish one. He understood the concept of a vigilante, but not the principle that such a man is good only because he serves all humanity and not merely himself. He is a hero inasmuch as he is a public servant, not a judge, and certainly not an executioner. He is a capable pair of hands enacting the will of a free people. Sometimes a man must take the law into his own hands, but he must never be a law unto himself.
This is what the people who have made themselves party to the Arson Rebellion of 2016 fail to understand. The birds of Harney County are being protected because, unless the federal government protects them, a certain class of thoughtless and selfish men will drive them to extinction, as such men nearly did the bison. Teddy Roosevelt understood the distinction between property and plunder, just as he understood the distinction between justice and vengeance. The Arson Rebellion understands neither. They also fail to understand that when an armed militia captures territory under the protection of the United States, it is technically an act of war and not an act of protest. They have become terrorists and traitors through an act of ignorance, either willful or negligent.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation must be commended for their deft handling of this armed uprising. They have correctly assessed the threat and taken appropriate, methodical, proportional action. They have won the vocal support of the Hammonds, local ranchers whose federal court convictions for arson (possibly an attempt to hide evidence of poaching on federal lands) are the ostensible reason for the uprising. This deals a serious blow to the armed bandits’ morale.
Perhaps most importantly, the FBI has refused to play into the narrative that the government is the bad guy. The uprising needs the government to “overreach,” because otherwise they’re just a bunch of poachers, arsonists, and thieves. The FBI is achieving Teddy Roosevelt’s dream of decent government in the wilds of the American west through ingenuity, intelligence, resolve, and an unwavering commitment to justice and the rule of law, even for those who are obviously guilty of multiple crimes.
This is how police are supposed to work. Instead of debating the talking points of the Arson Rebellion, which are basically the talking points of plunderers and thieves, we should discuss the heroic performance of the FBI in this scenario, and why American police so often fail to meet the standard being set here. Professionalism and restraint, combined with dogged determination and vigilance, virtually guarantee that justice will be done in this case. The bandits will be captured, handed over to the sheriff, and have their day in court. Teddy Roosevelt would be proud.
Unfortunately, this is not a typical case. Hundreds of people are shot dead by police in this country every year, on mere suspicion. Why did Freddie Gray not have his day in court? Or Michael Brown? Or Eric Garner? Or Walter Scott? There is government “overreach” happening every day, but it’s not happening to white landowning males in a rural setting. It’s happening to young black men on city streets around the country, not because they’re criminals, not because they’re armed, but because our police are not demonstrating the professionalism and restraint that the FBI is demonstrating in this case. That needs to change. That’s what we need to be talking about, not a bunch of good ol’ boys who have been radicalized by anti-government propaganda.
Unless those boys start killing people.