After the Malheur stand-off resulted in one person dead and several of the original militia members facing felony charges, it seemed like the far-right militia movement that rallied around the Hammond family would take a hit. In recent weeks we have seen them self-reviving, having rallies around Oregon(and around the country) calling for federal lands to be turned over to financial interests like mining and logging. This has been called the great “second wave” of the militia movement, which was declared dead after a previous generation of its activity culminated in the 1995 bombing on the Oklahoma Federal Building. Previous raids by the ATF on the Branch Davidian compound in Waco Texas and the earlier intervention on Randy Weaver at Ruby Ridge had started a wave of their organizing, often being founded around deeply racist enclaves like the Christian Identity church and Posse Comitatus.
On Saturday, March 5th, supporters of the militias and “patriots” came out in Portland and other cities on a call from the Oath Keepers. Beyond calling for the abolition of federal land, many are calling for a prosecution of the law enforcement officers who killed LaVoy Finicum. Many have gone online calling for a “citizen’s grand jury” where individuals are “deputized” to “indict” the people involved in Finicum’s death. Memes, t-shirts, and signs show an LV logo to remind people of LaVoy, as well as the more common symbols associated with the movement, such as excessive number of American flags and notices including coded racial language.
A small counter protest was organized in support of public land, such as the Malheur preserve that was disturbed by the militia occupation, as well as in support of First Nations tribal land, like the Palute tribal land that was desecrated during the stand-off.
While these coordinated rallies show a sign of both the rise of the radical wing of the “patriot” movement, it also indicates the mainstreaming of many of their ideas. While there were regular conservative supporters that came out for the openly racist and Nativist core of the movement, there is also a public “land grab” that is happening on the state level around the country. In Alaska, a legislative committee is going against federal law by assigning 222 million acres of public lands over to the state for dissemination. The Outdoor Industry Association notes that public land brings in over $646 billion in “economic benefit,” not to mention 6.1 million jobs. The attempt to take out federal land is not one that would give it further access to “the people,” but instead an ideological war that large extractionist companies would benefit from as they would gain access to land that was considered a part of the commons. The militia camp sees it as a sign of an overreaching government, which is a point at which lacks even the most basic understandings as to what elements of the state maintain systemic oppression or enable the elements of capital. The militia instead make up a cultural segment of a growing reactionary core that is protesting progress, whether it is environmentalism, racial multiculturalism, or a multi-religious community.
At the rally in Portland, the police prevented intermingling between the “patriots” and the counter-protesters who were calling for a support for publicly accessible land. Masked protesters were blocked when running in to confront the militia supporters, though many were allowed to intermingle when being more unassuming in appearance.
“I almost wish you guys critiquing their racism had the “privilege” to show up as a person of color,” said one counter-protester who made their way through the opposing crowd.
It’s the only time I’ve been watched so closely by people and asked in an angry tone over and over “Why are you taking pictures?”, “Who are you with?”, “Where are these going?”, “Why?”. “Why?”, “Why?”. I’ve been asked that question usually once or twice at every event I cover, but never once in an accusatory manner as if I shouldn’t be there, and NEVER as many times as it happened today, not even close. Then there was the revealing moment when they all got so happy because a black guy had waved out his window and honked as he drove by–you should have witnessed all their back-patting and pleasure and excitement that they got from getting their token PoC for the day. It was a strange reaction when he was just one of many that waved and honked with no fan-fare.
One photographer reported being shoved while taking pictures.
The militia movement was set back after their bizarre overreaching at Malheur, but it is a growing player in the far-right that anti-fascists around the country will continue to encounter.