No, the Oregon Wingnut Army is not the Second Whiskey Rebellion.

As the “occupation” of the abandoned headquarters of the Malheur Wildlife Refuge in Oregon has unfolded over the last day or so (See the Oregonian for regularly-updated coverage), there have been a number of attempts to place the self-styled “militia” into larger context. The long-standing debate over public lands and their usage in the Mountain West,seems to drive some elements of the armed men that seized the building. Some of their rhetoric has also focused on the conviction of two ranchers for setting fires that burned out hundreds of acres of public land, though the convicted ranchers themselves have disavowed the actions of the terrorists*. At root, a potent and heavily-armed brew of white power, anti-government, conspiracy-theorist and vigilante group impulses has produced this latest attempt of self-proclaimed “oppressed patriots” to “reclaim their constitutional rights,” which apparently involve grabbing publicly-owned land, owning many guns, and not paying any taxes forever and ever.
Continue reading “No, the Oregon Wingnut Army is not the Second Whiskey Rebellion.”

They Shackled Children.

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They’re on display in the “1863” half of the 1863/1963 exhibit in the African American History Gallery on the second floor of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. In a display case, next to the ads for a slave auction and text describing the ways in which humans were bought and sold as chattel in the American South, they sit: a petite-sized set of cast-iron leg shackles, the spare, stark description reading “shackles used for slave children.” Continue reading “They Shackled Children.”

United States History: Each Against All

If my exploding Twitter feed is any indication, plenty of people have had a chance to read Ta-Nehisi Coates’s brilliant, powerful, and persuasive essay “The Case for Reparations” in The Atlantic. If you haven’t, you should. I am convinced that it will ultimately be seen as one of the most important contributions to the national dialogue about race and power since DuBois. It’s that good, and a humble blog post such as this one cannot do it justice.

Among the many other things Coates got me thinking about, though, is a motif I’ve been kicking around in my head for quite a while now–a motif that rejects the progress-oriented, “emancipationist” paradigm in which US history is (sometimes) explicitly or (most often) implicitly conceived, articulated, and taught.* It’s a Hobbesian motif, and one that goes against what I like to think is my generally optimistic nature. Continue reading “United States History: Each Against All”