Ammon Bundy, #NoDAPL, and Obama Administration Hypocrisy


Leader of a group of armed protesters Ammon Bundy talks to the media at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge near Burns, Oregon, January 8, 2016. REUTERS/Jim Urquhart

“If that camp was full of people advocating for fossil fuels, they would have been removed by now,” North Dakota Congressman Kevin Cramer told The Associated Press a month ago. “There is some discretionary enforcement going on.”

Cramer was talking about unpermitted protest camps set up by the #NoDAPL movement on U.S. Army Corps of Engineers land. The Corps has so far refused to take action to remove the protesters, citing concerns over their first amendment rights.

I’m hearing rumblings that we may seem some action on that front this week, though, so stay tuned for that. If last week’s riot was any indication – where #NoDAPL protesters met cops trying to clear them off a public highway and private land with rocks and weapons and fire – we could have more days of ugliness ahead.

Anyway, in a piece up today Washington Times reporter Valerie Richardson makes an apt comparison. Why has the Obama administration dragged its feet on the occupation of federal land by #NoDAPL protesters when they responded with alacrity to the occupation of federal land in Oregon by a group of ranchers led by Ammon Bundy?

The Oregon standoff and Dakota Access pipeline protest have different activists, different locations and different agendas, but the biggest difference may lie in their treatment at the hands of the Obama administration.

Both protests began with illegal takeovers of federal property. Both had leaders who described their actions as peaceful despite indications to the contrary. What happened next has led to accusations of political favoritism at the hands of an administration more sympathetic to the environmental movement than the public lands cause.

The FBI and other federal agents were on the ground immediately after several dozen activists took over a vacant headquarters building Jan. 2 at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge near Burns, Oregon.

Fast forward to North Dakota, where the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has for nearly three months allowed protesters to camp out on federal property near Cannon Ball, citing First Amendment concerns, even as they use the parcel as a launching pad for sieges on the privately owned pipeline construction site.

One could argue that the double standards here extend to much of the media coverage of the two situations.

I’d argue that the overall tone in the coverage of the Bundy occupation was negative – as it should have been, their acquittal last week was a travesty, albeit one apparently brought on by federal incompetence – but much of the coverage of the #NoDAPL protests has been sympathetic.

For instance, this New York Times article about the riot last week describes law enforcement as working “to force the protesters out of an area where they had been camping.” Not mentioned at all is that part of that “area” was a public highway vital to thousands living in that very rural area which the protesters had blocked. The article buries the fact that the rest of the area was private land where the protesters were trespassing toward the end.

These seem like extreme pertinent facts. Central, in fact, to law enforcement’s justification for responding as they did to the protesters.

I don’t remember reading any stories about the Bundy occupation which failed to mention that they were occupying federal land without permit or permission.

We should all be equal under the law. But in the eyes of the Obama administration, and many in the media I guess, some people are more equal under the law than others. Depending on what their politics are.