By, Siraj Hashmi
On Saturday, an armed militia led by Ammon Bundy took over a vacant federal building on a wildlife refuge in Burns, Oregon to protest both the federal government's methods to increase federal landholdings and the prosecution of two ranchers, Steven and Dwight Hammond, under a federal anti-terrorism statute. The militia alleges that the federal government unjustly prosecuted the Bundy family to drive them from their land.
The Oregon militia takeover has created a national debate on several fronts. Many on the Left have accused the militia of being "terrorists" , using the hashtags #OregonUnderAttack and #YallQaeda. Others have claimed that the militia, mostly made up of white men, would be dead by now had they been black or Muslim.
On the other hand, many ranchers, farmers and folks on the Right sympathize with the Oregon militia's cause, even if they disagree with its approach. A vast majority of those who do sympathize openly disagree with the militia's potentially violent tactics. For instance, both Senators Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Marco Rubio (R-Florida) have called for the militia to stand down peaceably and follow the law. While the debate continues over what to call these militiamen, whether their actions are "justified", and how the federal government should respond, it's worth considering how this takeover fits into the anti-establishment sentiment we see growing across the country, including among millennials.
According to a recent poll conducted by The Economist and YouGov, 64 percent of Americans and 55 percent of millennials believe the country is heading in the wrong direction. While the numbers show that millennials are more-or-less split on their view of President Obama (51 percent approval), their support for presidential candidates like real estate mogul Donald Trump, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, a self-described Democratic Socialist, is far higher than their establishment counterparts.
According to a Harvard Institute of Politics poll conducted in late 2015, Trump (22 percent) and Carson (20 percent) led the Republican field, while all other candidates were in single digits. Meanwhile, Sanders edged out former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton among millennials, 41 to 35 percent. While Carson has since dropped in the polls, Cruz, who is reviled by the establishment of both political parties, is on the rise.
Another poll conducted by Harvard earlier in 2015 showed that nearly half of millennials (49 percent) don't have confidence in fairness in the U.S. Justice system and 83 percent of millennials have no faith in Congress, regardless of political party.
Does this mean that a majority of millennials support the takeover of a federal building by militiamen in Oregon? Polls suggest that millennials might sympathize with the cause.
If the militia was not armed or perceived as violent, the group would likely be even more appealing to millennials. They might be called civil rights activists or be compared to protesters challenging unjust segregation laws through non-violent sit-ins, rather than cast as "terrorists". And if Ammon Bundy was not related to Cliven Bundy, who staged a 2014 showdown with the feds in Nevada and then lost public support when he began lecturing about "The Negro", millennials would probably be more receptive to the militia's cause, without fear of the "racist" label.
For now, the militia isn't budging and it doesn't appear that the feds will move in to take back the government building anytime soon. Millennial attitudes towards the Oregon militia will be colored by how the situation unfolds and how it's covered by the media.