FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Rationality of the Malheur Gunmen: Fighting for the White Future of This Country

by

The Malheur gunmen are not crazy. They act logically out of a long-standing rationality in the United States. And the future of the country hangs in the balance.

The right wing has made increasing noise about the federal government owning lands, particularly in western states like Nevada and Oregon where the feds own 85% and 53% respectively. The complainers argue that government ownership infringes on American free enterprise based on private property. But federal ownership is radically different than private ownership. The feds own this land mostly because its private ownership would be tremendously unprofitable. In other words, federal ownership is a huge subsidy to private interests making profits from these lands. Federal ownership makes private profit possible. The ranchers at the heart of the Malheur conflict, for instance, lease federal grazing lands for pennies on the dollar.

A major aspect of the violent seizing of Malheur, then, centers on the distribution model of these federal subsidies. Should they prioritize the interests of the large resource extraction multinationals? Or should they primarily serve the needs of the manifest destiny frontiersmen? Seen in this way, this is an old conflict at the racist heart of the United States. Poor white men could enjoy their God given right to property through dragging their families into the backwoods and pushing the frontier of the country, therein conditioning the land for eventual corporate exploitation. Communism for white men eventually led to socialism for corporations.

This conflict therein seems to lie between two right wing factions. Why doesn’t the right wing splinter under the pressure? The answer is that the less powerful faction is a well-paid – if not always well-heeled – creature of its much more powerful counterpart. Since the seventeenth century, resource allocation has occurred through white supremacist patriarchal structures, rewarding and reinforcing these cultural practices as the most rational way to succeed. The colonial planter class avoided insurrection while insuring a labor supply through granting small, though historically new, privileges to poor former indentured servants of European origin. The Southern aristocracy upped the ante in a bid to preserve their status during the Civil War. The federal granting of homestead rights to the white trash of the day mobilized this dynamic westward, diffusing post-war tensions by allowing rapacious speculators the lion’s share of spoils. These practices became canonized in law, with some of the more vile rulings eventually repealed – though without compensation for damage done – such as the notorious Dred Scot finding that “Neither Dred Scott nor any other person of African descent had any citizenship rights which were binding on white American society.” Yet some rulings still stand as the law of the land such as John Marshall’s so called Indian Opinions that found, among other things, that white possession of land by whatever means confers ownership.

In all these instances, white male citizenship depended upon the subordination of all other sectors of society. And the upper classes acquired a dedicated, culturally based police force to fight for an elitist structured society. The paradigm holds that white men must boldly fight for their unique entitlements not just as a personal battle for proprietary privileges, but as a patriotic struggle for the benefit of society, preserving the core form of organization that has brought us this far. They therein counter other claims based on distinct rationalities such as equality before the law, equality of opportunity, or scientific inquiry. White women must directly serve this cause, while darker hued folk enjoy the options of bondage, incarceration, or genocide.

This brings us to the armed taking of Malheur. As many others have pointed out, the upsurge in right wing militarism is associated with the relative decline in the fortunes of white men from their more entitled past – lower income, poorer job prospects, even deteriorating health. Rather than a petulant lashing out, however, these actions, while extreme, emerge from well-established and well-structured practices in this country. In other words, these militants are not irrational crazies. Their actions are highly rational. But they are based on a rationality of white male privilege driving the fortunes of the country.

The wellbeing of all but a tiny sector of society has deteriorated over the past forty years, generating diverse forms of discontent. Appeasing armed white men would prove a timeworn solution: empowering shock troops to make all other groups inured to their plight – or at least more afraid of trying to bring change. Indeed, these extremists may have a better chance at success than other groups operating out of different rationalities, such as fairness, equality, or even preserving capitalism. But any appeasement will strengthen the white supremacist rationalities of society. The solution to the Malheur gunmen and their various copycats rests in disempowering them by employing non-white supremacist rationalities to undo the past forty years of inequality and corporate impunity. This is actually not such a huge challenge, with signs of it all around us. Widespread cynicism about change, however, helps empower the status quo. The Malheur gunmen are doing something, are you?

Arthur Scarritt is an Associate Professor in the Department of Sociology at Boise State University. He is the author of Racial Spoils From Native Soils: How Neoliberalism Steals Indigenous Lands in Highland Peru.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

August 29, 2016
Eric Draitser
Hillary and the Clinton Foundation: Exemplars of America’s Political Rot
Patrick Timmons
Dildos on Campus, Gun in the Library: the New York Times and the Texas Gun War
Jack Rasmus
Bernie Sanders ‘OR’ Revolution: a Statement or a Question?
Richard Moser
Strategic Choreography and Inside/Outside Organizers
Nigel Clarke
President Obama’s “Now Watch This Drive” Moment
Robert Fisk
Iraq’s Willing Executioners
Wahid Azal
The Banality of Evil and the Ivory Tower Masterminds of the 1953 Coup d’Etat in Iran
Farzana Versey
Romancing the Activist
Frances Madeson
Meet the Geronimos: Apache Leader’s Descendants Talk About Living With the Legacy
Nauman Sadiq
The War on Terror and the Carter Doctrine
Lawrence Wittner
Does the Democratic Party Have a Progressive Platform–and Does It Matter?
Marjorie Cohn
Death to the Death Penalty in California
Winslow Myers
Asking the Right Questions
Rivera Sun
The Sane Candidate: Which Representatives Will End the Endless Wars?
Linn Washington Jr.
Philadelphia District Attorney Hammered for Hypocrisy
Binoy Kampmark
Banning Burkinis: the Politics of Beachwear
Weekend Edition
August 26, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Louisa Willcox
The Unbearable Killing of Yellowstone’s Grizzlies: 2015 Shatters Records for Bear Deaths
Paul Buhle
In the Shadow of the CIA: Liberalism’s Big Embarrassing Moment
Rob Urie
Crisis and Opportunity
Charles Pierson
Wedding Crashers Who Kill
Richard Moser
What is the Inside/Outside Strategy?
Dirk Bezemer – Michael Hudson
Finance is Not the Economy
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Bernie’s Used Cars
Margaret Kimberley
Hillary and Colin: the War Criminal Charade
Patrick Cockburn
Turkey’s Foray into Syria: a Gamble in a Very Dangerous Game
Ishmael Reed
Birther Tries to Flim Flam Blacks  
Brian Terrell
What Makes a Hate Group?
Andrew Levine
How Donald Trump Can Still be a Hero: Force the Guardians of the Duopoly to Open Up the Debates
Howard Lisnoff
Trouble in Political Paradise
Terry Tempest Williams
Will Our National Parks Survive the Next 100 Years?
Ben Debney
The Swimsuit that Overthrew the State
Ashley Smith
Anti-imperialism and the Syrian Revolution
Andrew Stewart
Did Gore Throw the 2000 Election?
Vincent Navarro
Is the Nation State and Its Welfare State Dead? a Critique of Varoufakis
John Wight
Syria’s Kurds and the Wages of Treachery
Lawrence Davidson
The New Anti-Semitism: the Case of Joy Karega
Mateo Pimentel
The Affordable Care Act: A Litmus Test for American Capitalism?
Roger Annis
In Northern Syria, Turkey Opens New Front in its War Against the Kurds
David Swanson
ABC Shifts Blame from US Wars to Doctors Without Borders
Norman Pollack
American Exceptionalism: A Pernicious Doctrine
Ralph Nader
Readers Think, Thinkers Read
Julia Morris
The Mythologies of the Nauruan Refugee Nation
George Wuerthner
Caving to Ranchers: the Misguided Decision to Kill the Profanity Wolf Pack
Ann Garrison
Unworthy Victims: Houthis and Hutus
Julian Vigo
Britain’s Slavery Legacy
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail