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Oregon standoff shows that white supremacist armed militias want their 'safe spaces' too

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The Malheur Wildlife Preserve, a federal building managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, is currently occupied by a group of armed white men demanding "a base place for patriots from all over the country to come and be housed here and to live here."

This refuge used to protect migratory birds, but now it protects a group of self-described off-the-land patriots who feel their culture and livelihoods, rooted in God, guns and gold bars, are under attack by a "tyrannical" federal government and a creeping liberal orthodoxy.

Many have condemned the double standard used by law enforcement and the media in the way a group of white, armed, hostile occupiers has been treated compared to, for example, the Black Lives Matter movement in Ferguson or Baltimore. Others have denounced the way the militants deploy the myth of the rugged, self-made cowboy to erase the historic right and title of Aboriginal peoples and the actual economic class position of millionaire ranchers who want to use the resources of public land without paying for it.

But one of the most surprising revelations of the standoff comes from language usually reserved for progressive communities or university students: apparently, white supremacist armed militias want "safe spaces" too.

"We're going to be freeing these lands up, and getting ranchers back to ranching, getting the loggers back to logging, getting the miners back to mining where they could do it under the protection of the people and not be afraid of this tyranny that’s been set upon them," Ammon Bundy said in a Facebook video.

The mainstream media scrambled to explain what, precisely, this "tyranny" was, since the vast majority of the world (and, indeed, Americans) had no idea what Bundy was on about. But the tenor of the militants' crie de coeur seems to indicate an encroaching liberal politic choking off, if not exactly their way of life, then at least their ideological oxygen.

There have already been multiple complaints from the militants that the (non-violent) Black Lives Matter movement has received far better treatment -- despite the obvious strategy of non-aggression by law enforcement with respect to Malheur and the brutal crackdowns in Ferguson, Baltimore and elsewhere. The objections would make any neutral that much more empathetic before they remember the Bundys have a history of literally pointing assault rifles at federal law enforcement officers -- who subsequently simply walked away.

More poignant was the touching call by a militant spokesperson at Malheur to supporters to send the militants snacks and energy drinks. Any lefty or student organizer will tell you that if you are hunkered down for a long evening of Robert's Rules or oversharing, you get that pizza money in advance.


Safe spaces: Not just for millennials anymore

In one of his trademark Twitter essays, Jeet Heer pointed out that the popular "coddled student" genre that decries safe space architects as out-of-touch "crybabies" is "radically incomplete." In fact, Heer argues, the problem is shared across contemporary liberal society: "Modernity makes us more fearful because we're more comfortable, less surrounded by death and suffering."

Pointing to the hysteria in the United States surrounding the non-entry of a few thousand refugees and, naturally, post-9/11 America, Heer writes "if you look at how pervasive fear-mongering is in broader culture, PC students looking for safe space are hardly exceptional." We only need look at the collective delirium over Mexican immigration or Donald Trump's proposed wall between Canada and the U.S. to realize that fantasizing over impossible, utopian threat-less spaces is hardly the privilege of millennials or the left.

In fact, if anything, the "safe space" myth is far more concrete a part of liberal society than it is campus or activist life. In "The year of the imaginary college student," Hua Hsu points out that first of all, college students have always been coddled; and second, "safe spaces" and "trigger warnings" are not nearly as pervasive as critics of so-called political correctness seem to believe.

What is undeniably true is that no student group has ever taken up armed insurrection to ensure that they aren't forced to relive a traumatic sexual assault or repeatedly be subjected to racist or oppressive language.

Margaret Corvid at Jacobin movingly argued that calling for state violence against the militants invokes a moral rubric of "injustice for all" that should be rebuked. Meanwhile, the dimensions of what counts as a "terrorist" continue to balloon, even as critics on social media remain unable to view terrorism outside of a Muslim lens -- indicated by parodic hashtags like #YallQaeda and #VanillaISIS.

What we are seeing in Malheur is the neoliberal impulse to exclude undesirables and create a "safe space" for an economic elite taken to its extreme -- some might say natural -- end. Our entire society is organized under the principle that a minuscule minority can amass enormous wealth through unfettered access to resources secured through state-sanctioned theft, dispossession and violence -- and pay nothing for the privilege. This logic is as dangerous as it is unhinged.

The Bundys and their followers just want their piece of the pie.

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