Sunday, January 31, 2016

On the Soap Box: Some Thoughts On The Failure Of The Oregon Standoff

Oregon protesters during the standoff (Source)

I've seen some calls for analysis of why the Oregon standoff was such a failure, and some comments as to particular failures (including how quickly the leader rolled after his surrender). Here are some of my thoughts on the matter. 


Successful protest movements are built around "legitimate" political parties or special interest groups that are separate from and can claim plausible deniability of the acts of militant followers. This central group (the umbrella organization) acts as a public face for the movement (whatever the movement may be), and works at influencing politicians and public opinion. Part of its mission (and perhaps assigned to "sister" groups) will be fundraising and community outreach, charity work, legal defense, and so forth. But, above all else, this organization must be viewed as legitimate and clean of criminal conduct. A good example of this type of organization is CAIR.

Completely separate from this (and they must be walled off) are the militant or protest groups for the movement. Some of these will organize quasi-legal methods of protests: marches, sit-ins, strikes, etc. The umbrella organization may show up to show support of protesters, but shouldn't be connected to planning or organizing the protests. 

A movement may (but not necessarily) be supported by radical militant groups: those responsible for clearly criminal acts such as illegally gathering intelligence, intimidating witnesses, raising funds through theft or robbery, perhaps even engaging in acts of terror. The umbrella organization may appear to be sympathetic to the causes or plight of the radical militants, but must never publicly be supportive of the methods, and never associated with funding or organizing such groups (although, in reality, the umbrella organization, or its leaders, are probably doing both). The membership of the radical or militant groups must be kept secret; their plans must be kept secret.

Communication between the umbrella organization and the militant group(s), and within the militant group(s), must be limited and secure. Plausible deniability must be maintained at all times. Again, I would refer you to the Lizard Farmer's article entitled "How They Hunt."

The Oregon standoff was a complete failure in this regard. The leaders associated themselves with the actual standoff and occupation, and, consequently, were arrested. They appeared to implement absolutely zero operational secrecy. To the extent that the standoff was a failure, this has now besmirched both the leaders and the movement. 

The Message/Movement: 

What is the group protesting? What is its purpose? What is the message it wants to communicate to the public? This is Fourth Generational warfare, which relies on influencing the human environment; it is a fight for legitimacy. Yet the Oregon group did not seem to have a simple message or understandable purpose--at least not one that appealed to the public or would garner sympathy. 

From what I understand of the Bundy's, their basic motivating principle is that public land should pass into the hands of ranchers and farmers. I doubt that this goal would have much traction with the public, which means that the group needed a message that would advance its goal and still be attractive to the public and/or media. If it had such a message, it wasn't effectively communicated.

A couple of examples. CAIR probably seeks the imposition of sharia in the United States, but its message is a more palatable "the U.S. shouldn't discriminate against Muslims." Something that makes most people feel fuzzy and warm because no one wants to be called a bigot. Of course, the way to not discriminate against Muslims is to let them have their Mosques, the public calls to prayer over loudspeakers, their own holidays, getting rid of Christian Holidays, limit speech that is critical of Islam or Mohammad, their own courts, and so on--as we advance step by step toward the unstated goal of sharia. 

"Black Lives Matter" appears to have a goal of setting up quasi-independent reservations for blacks (actually, fiefdoms for black politicians, but lets not quibble about semantics). Its public message is that police shoot too many "innocent" black youth. The means of correcting this problem, though, is granting more political control to blacks, thus advancing the unstated goals of the group.


Very few movements are true grass roots movements where a resistance rises up spontaneously and out of nowhere. Although the appearance of spontaneity is desired because it gives a certain legitimacy to a movement, movements are planned and cultivated. They require patience, especially to pass up on opportunities to protest that will be ineffective or, worse, counter-productive. You may remember some comments I made some time ago about Rosa Parks, and how the black leaders had passed up organizing protests around earlier, but similar, incidents because the victims of the discrimination would not be able to garnish public sympathy. Such was the case here: although the occupation was nominally in protest of the prosecution of certain ranchers for arson, those ranchers did not present a sympathetic cause: they had pled guilty(!) and had even stated they didn't want any protests. This was just not the right incident to protest. 

Another problem with the Oregon standoff was that it was in an isolated location. Remember, in the country, no one can hear you scream; including members of the media which can easily be kept away by blocking a few roads miles from the scene. This was poor planning and poor messaging.

Use of Force: 

Armed movements have not fared too well in the United States, and violence often has a negative impact on the advancing a movement. Generally, successful movements have relied on non-violent or minimally violent acts such as sit-ins, verbal confrontations, protests, and so on. 

However, if a radical group intends to undertake an act of violence, it needs to be one that also advances the message or movement rather than violence for violence sake. This requires a great deal of discipline, and is why most terrorist groups are ineffective. The goal of violence in advancing a movement is to either alienate the population from the government, or to draw the population to the movement. In either case, though, the movement cannot come across as weak.

The former goal is generally advanced by acts that show that the government is powerless or incompetent, or by prompting a heavy-handed reaction from the government that reduces its legitimacy. The formation and implementation of the TSA is a great example of government action that hurts government legitimacy because it is incompetent, and treats all members of the public as potential terrorists. 

The second goal of drawing the population to the movement is generally accomplished when the movement is seen as protecting the population or providing services that the government cannot or will not. Mao used this quite effectively in winning over the support of peasants by protecting them from bandits, warlords, and tax collectors--all activities requiring the exercise of force--and providing health and education services. This second goal requires a close cooperation between the central movement and the militants, which is why it may be more difficult to put into practice. Nevertheless, it is probably more effective than simply attempting to alienate the people from the government.

The Oregon standoff was ineffective in its show of force because the standoff was essentially a sit-in, to which the members brought guns. They did not use the guns (so why they brought them, I don't know). I can't think of any situation where the members of the standoff could have used force to make the government appear ineffective. By bringing firearms, the members of the standoff opened the door for the government to use force (including lethal force) that would not have been condoned if the members had simply chained themselves to a gate or sat in the middle of the BLM headquarters chanting protests or holding up signs. Thus, rather than make the government's use of force appear to be excessive, it legitimized the government's use of force. Moreover, because the members involved in the stand-off ultimately did not resort to violence, but seemingly threatening it, it made the group appear weak and ineffectual. 

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