As public pressure builds on the shoulders of law enforcement, the Federal Bureau of Investigation issued statements on the take over of a federal building in Oregon by armed protestors.
The agency’s Portland office said agents are working with the Harney County Sheriff’s Office, Oregon State Police and other agencies to “bring a peaceful resolution to the situation” at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.
However, the FBI said it will not release specific details about the law enforcement response to the situation, which should come as no surprise.
Law enforcement, especially federal law enforcement, are faced with the difficult decision on how to resolve the situation: take a low key approach and passively suggest there’s little recourse for such actions, or act with force and possibly spur greater resistance?
The armed protest as it’s being called has ties to a standoff between members of a militia movement and federal agents at a Nevada ranch last year. Many in the movement considered it a symbolic win because the feds backed down and although firearms were pointed at federal officers, no one was prosecuted.
The takeover also echoes now infamous incidents from the early 1990s that serve as a black eye for federal law enforcement agencies and a sort of martyrdom that propelled the militia movement.
At Ruby Ridge, Idaho, in 1992, a situation escalated into a 10-day standoff and resulted in the death of two civilians and one federal agent.
Citing political and religious views, Randy Weaver and his wife moved their family off the grid and to a secluded location on Ruby Ridge. However, later Weaver was wanted on a federal gun charge and refused to become an informant for federal officers, leading agents to attempt to apprehend him.
A poorly executed strategy by the feds led to public outcry and a congressional report calling for reform in federal law enforcement. Weaver received an 18-month sentence for the gun charge and his family received a $3.1 million settlement for the deaths of his wife and son.
Less than a year later, in 1993, an even bigger cluster occurred in Waco, Texas, that lasted 51 days and resulted in the deaths of four federal agents, 82 civilians and the arrest of 11 people.
Operating on the belief that federal gun laws had been violated, federal agents attempted to serve search and arrest warrants at a compound for a religious group, the Branch Dividians. When executing the search, a gun battle erupted that resulted in the death of four agents and six church members.
In the aftermath, a standoff began that would last 51 days and ended when federal agents attempted to enter the compound with a tank. They then lobbed tear gas inside the building in an attempt to force church members outside. However, the the building caught fire and church members failed to exit. Seventy-six people — men, women and children — were killed.
Many think both incidents could have been resolved nonviolently. Also, both incidents have been credited for propelling the anti-government and militia movement in the U.S. and cited as a motivator for the Oklahoma City Bombing in 1995, which claimed the lives of 168 people and injured more than 600.
Yet, the pressure is even greater for law enforcement. Many have taken to criticize law enforcement by comparing the relatively weak reactions to predominantly white, armed men breaking laws with violent police responses to unarmed blacks.
The Oregon standoff has been compared to the 2014 Ferguson shooting in which an 18-year-old unarmed black male was shot and killed by an officer. Witnesses said the teen attempted to surrender but the officer said the teen attacked him.
Another is the police killing of 12-year-old Tamir Rice in Cleveland last year. Police responded to a call about a boy with what looked like a toy gun in a park, but when officers arrived they said they mistook the toy for a real gun and they said Rice pointed it at them so they opened fire.
Critics go even further and suggest law enforcement’s reaction would be more severe if people occupying the federal building in Oregon were of color.