NY Times - With a group of armed, anti-government protesters in control of federal buildings near here, law enforcement officials are again facing a choice they confronted in past standoffs: Whether to act cautiously at the risk of emboldening others, or to react forcefully and risk turning a small group of people into champions for a cause.
The past confrontations at Ruby Ridge, Idaho, in 1992, and Waco, Tex., in 1993 turned into sieges, and ended in violence and death, fueling extreme anti-government views in some quarters. Timothy McVeigh, who bombed the federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995, was motivated in part by those clashes. Continue reading the main story Related Coverage
In contrast, the government retreated from the 2014 confrontation with Cliven Bundy, a Nevada rancher, when supporters rallied around him and threatened a gun battle with federal officials. For more than two decades, Mr. Bundy has refused to pay fees for grazing his livestock on federal land, becoming a symbol of resistance to people who object to federal control of vast acres in the West.
For now, local, state and federal law enforcement agencies have taken a low-key approach, and the people occupying the buildings vow that they will not go away.
Heidi Beirich, the director of intelligence with the Southern Poverty Law Center who oversees the center’s tracking of extremist groups, said the last Bundy standoff set a bad precedent.
“They were emboldened by their ability to run federal officials off at the point of a gun,” Ms. Beirich said. “Now, a year and half later, there have been no prosecutions whatsoever. Pointing a gun at a federal officer is a crime.”
On social media, the conflict led quickly to questions about the treatment of the Oregon group, asking if the situation would have been handled differently if they were African-American and Muslim.