The Bundy Ranch: race, immigration, terrorism, and power

TW: racism, racist criminalization, anti-immmigrant racism, islamophobia, gun violence

Before we get into the heat of it again, I want to apologize for my long and unannounced absence. Life can get hectic, and writing about politics can be uniquely frustrating. One of the things I hope to do on this site is illuminate patterns in how many people approach and respond to certain issues, allowing those interested in improving things to anticipate their opposition. Unfortunately, that causes me to often feel like I’m needlessly repeating the same analysis, to the point that it gets stale, or even abstracted and confusing to someone who hasn’t been reading my posts here for months on end.

I’ll even admit I sometimes get concerned that I’m spotting connections that aren’t there or are less important than the context around them. Or maybe that my own biases are causing me to pick on people or otherwise get rather hyperbolically invested in a certain way of looking at an issue. A bit paradoxically, I’ve even been afraid of simultaneously showing off which news sources I prefer while more or less picking a fight with the journalists that I guess could be called my “favorites”.

So, hopefully I can avoid doing that when I say that Chris Hayes seems to have avoided looking at a crucial wrinkle in the recent controversy surrounding the Bundy Ranch in Nevada.

bundy_ranch_stand_off_april_12_2014_by_pm_beers
(The owner of the Bundy Ranch near Bunkerville in southern Nevada, has refused to pay fees for the use of adjacent federal lands for grazing since 1993. After a decade of court litigation and accumulating fines, the Bureau of Land Management attempted to repossess the ranch’s cattle these past few weeks, culminating in an armed stand-off. Image from here.)

Chris Hayes covered this initially from a variety of angles, but most interestingly invited Nevada State Senator Michele Fiore, a Bundy Ranch supporter of sorts, to speak on the developments. You can see the video of their exchange here.

Fiore immediately summarizes her perspective as one that rejects the governments response to the Bundy case as essentially heavy-handed, but very quickly makes it clear that she doesn’t disapprove of the government having those powers for supposedly distinct situations. She explained, “Generally when my-  when our federal government comes in armed, we expect a bigger problem, maybe terrorist crossing the border, not an unpaid bill”. She later clarified, “If we literally sent our federal government to the borders to secure them against terrorists crossing, hey I got that, but they want to come here with arms because cows are grazing?”

Her perspective is, essentially informed by the idea that not only is the Bundy Ranch not a problem, but it is not a problem because of inescapable comparisons – to a violent other, understood as different from the speaker probably in terms of race, religion, and national status. The idea of who qualifies as a terrorist, as the balking over calling the Bundy Ranch supporters domestic terrorists shows, is difficult to separate from toxic ideas about exactly those ways of distinguishing people, and the political systems that have elevated White people, practitioners of “Western” religious traditions, and US citizens over others. Fiore and others expressing that viewpoint basically want to play a rigged game.

This is a pattern of thought I’ve been talking about for a while now. Especially in contexts that could be described as having to do with “security”, a new way of thinking about those issues has begun to emerge, which is often called “libertarian” or a new sort of “third way“. It’s often discussed as challenging established power, but when examined closely it prioritizes limiting state power and only in selective ways. Typically, the restrictions that remain are designed to be brought up in a racially and ethnically neutral way, but that reflect biases and prejudices that will allow a backdoor profiling to occur. The implicit idea behind these politics is that state surveillance and aggression need to be curbed, in order to better concentrate on the correct populations (this is the part where the person arguing for them winks or says, “you know“).

Now, the question is, how can people wanting to point that out respond to that? Hayes later explained his decision to invite on Fiore, saying that he wanted to create a place where people can interrogate her ideas and better understand her potential disagreements. I applaud that goal, but I have to say, he unfortunately failed in the moment to get her to address the existence of non-violent people of color who are subject to very militarized state aggression that she doesn’t care about.

His even later analysis (with Michael Eric Dyson) is interesting, but fails to call out the fact that she seems to know what she’s doing – she raised the comparison before he did. There is worth in pointing out (to people who simply aren’t aware of it) that the Bundy Ranch probably wouldn’t still exist if people of color had pulled that stunt, but that doesn’t directly address that that’s exactly how Fiore (and those who agree with her) seems to think it should be. Dyson helpfully points out something quite powerful:

“When people have guns who we think should not have guns, our sense of the social order is- is dramatically changed. Think about the big brouhaha occasioned by Thelma and Louise. Here are two women who took up a few guns and had,you know, if you will, a kind of reverie, and of course ultimate, the potential, suicide. But there was more violence in the first five minutes of Lethal Weapon 1, than in that entire movie, but because women, who are the ordinary victims of gun play, are now the agents of gun play, this is seen as toppling the social order. And when race, and gender, and class, and generation get involved, it begins to change our perception of who legitimately has a gun.”

But Hayes responds to that by asking how liberals (here seeming to mean people who hope to challenge that sort of thinking about who is and who isn’t a threat) should react to that distinction working towards a peaceful solution. He was offered up eloquent commentary on the same sort of distinction that Fiore obviously had working from the beginning of her argument for the Bundy Ranch’s perspective, and rather than pushing his guest to make it even more relevant to the arguments he supposedly had on to engage with, he countered it.

Hayes said in fact, that he’s concerned that the good in the government’s (temporary?) backing off has “gotten lost in this”. That’s admirable, and perhaps we should take a moment to be glad when these sorts of situations are resolved peacefully. That said, Hayes didn’t unfortunately seem as concerned about losing his own thread with analyzing exactly what type of unequal policies Fiore was advocating, and which has for the time being been reflected in how the government has treated the situation at the Bundy Ranch.

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