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Opinion: Should we call the Oregon militia members 'terrorists'?

Good morning. I'm Paul Thornton, and it is Saturday, Jan. 9, 2016. Look at this rainfall measurements map — after all these dry years, El Niño has made it interesting again — then let's take a look back at the week in Opinion.


There's been a lot of tough talk about the armed militia members occupying the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon — and you won't find much of it on The Times' opinion pages.

Otherwise violence-averse liberals have been wondering aloud why law enforcement hasn't responded more aggressively to the anti-Obama insurrectionists, with some going so far as to call for drone strikes (a Times editorial counsels the opposite). Many want the militia members to be called something that they believe would be applied to a less conservative, less white group of armed radicals who took over federal property: terrorists.

Jesse Walker, the author of a book on conspiracy theorists, says calling them such would be inappropriate. In his op-ed article, he writes:

"Heavily armed domestic terrorists have occupied a wildlife preserve in Oregon," military historian Tom Mockaitis wrote in the Huffington Post. In the Daily Beast, columnist Sally Kohn complained about "the federal government's hyper-passive response to such flagrant acts of menacing and threats of domestic terrorism." Former Homeland Security official Juliette Kayyem, now the host of a podcast called Security Mom, declared on CNN's website that the occupation in Oregon is terrorism "by any definition."

Really? By "any" definition?

The question of what qualifies as terrorism is hotly contested, but the most compelling definitions hinge on whether the perpetrators target civilians. Political philosopher Tony Coady, for example, says that terrorism involves "intentionally targeting noncombatants with lethal or severe violence for political purposes," while Peter Simpson, another academic, refers to "acts of indiscriminate violence directed at civilians or nonhostile personnel."

That framework would certainly include Islamic State's slaughter of 130 people in Paris in November. It also would include the racist massacre of nine worshipers at a Charleston, S.C., church last summer. But breaking into an unoccupied building?

The occupiers do have guns, and they have said they're willing to use them if the cops come storming in. Yet they have no hostages, they haven't fired at anyone, and if they do fire, they will almost certainly not aim at a civilian but at someone professionally charged with removing them from the premises. You can call that a lot of things, but it's absurd to call it terrorism.

Not everyone invoking the T-word has called for a quick assault. Kayyem, for example, noted that time is on the feds' side and that it would be dumb to send in a SWAT team now.

Nonetheless, the word's general effect is to inflame emotions. There's a reason it has been applied to everyone from hackers to nonviolent environmentalists: That makes it easier to justify a harsh crackdown.

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His being black wasn't a disadvantage, and some liberals don't believe him. Thomas Chatterton Williams, a black American author living in Paris, says his racial heritage didn't prevent him from growing up in a household where he "took as a birthright the kind of first-rate college education the majority of kids are denied." He writes of sharing his experiences publicly only to be told that his personal experiences don't matter, which is emblematic of the "ways in which left-leaning discussions now share assumptions with the worst conservative and even white supremacist ideology." L.A. Times

It really can rain in L.A., and here's how we should deal with it. Mariel Garza shares some insider tips on how to cope with El Niño like an Angeleno. Her advice: Avoid flood-prone freeway fast lanes, especially on the 101 through the Valley; wait until summer to repipe your house; wipe your dog's ears out; and please, no more Uggs. L.A. Times

Might this serve as a warning to L.A. about dealing with a certain San Diego football team? In an editorial, the San Diego Union-Tribune notes the half-truths and exaggerations told by the Chargers' owner in the saga of his team's stampede north to Los Angeles. If the NFL lets the Chargers leave San Diego for L.A., it should do so at least knowing the facts about earnest local efforts to keep the team, the editorial says. San Diego Union-Tribune

Watching "Making a Murderer" doesn't make you a juror in Steven Avery's trial. Meghan Daum provides a reality check for those who binge-watched the 10-part Netflix documentary and insist that the Wisconsin man who had been wrongfully convicted of rape is now serving a life sentence for a murder he didn't commit. She writes: "As engaged and enraged as we are, it doesn't change the fact that we watched a multipart movie, not the trial itself. I'm not saying the filmmakers' cut isn't trustable — the reporting looks to be solid — but it's still not the whole story." L.A. Times

Applying for a job? Better delete your social media accounts. There's evidence that employers may be discriminating in hiring based on the religious or political preferences expressed by applicants on Facebook. Companies need to perform background checks in ways that do not unfairly bias their hiring, and we all need to be more careful about what we post on social media, writes Steven Strauss. L.A. Times

Jonah Goldberg does not like the term "neocon," and he thinks we should stop using it. The term, often used pejoratively to describe hawkish Republicans who supported the Iraq war, is a useless, possibly anti-Semitic catchall for "things I don't like," Goldberg says. Evidence to support this abounds among the Republican presidential candidates, especially Ted Cruz — himself a proud hawk — who is using the term to criticize Marco Rubio. Republicans need to engage in a debate about how to conduct foreign policy, but they should leave "neoconservative" out of it, Goldberg says. L.A. Times

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