Colin Kaepernick, Ammon Bundy, and the politics of protest

Friday night the San Franisco 49ers played the Green Bay Packers in a preseason football game. No big deal. Hopefuls play, hopefuls get cut, fading used-to-be-stars get cut, top players suffer season ending injuries, fans pay good money for little more than a Pop Warner game with larger players.

It appears few people noticed 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick during the playing of the national anthem. He wasn’t standing with the team. He was sitting by the water cooler. Alone.

In fact, until the NFL Network made mention, no one seemed to have paid attention. When asked, Kaepernick revealed he wasn’t hurt. He wasn’t sick. He was protesting.

“This is not something that I am going to run by anybody,” he said. “I am not looking for approval. I have to stand up for people that are oppressed. … If they take football away, my endorsements from me, I know that I stood up for what is right.” adds:

“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”

From the locker room Kaepernick addressed what he sees as a shortcoming in police training:

“You have people that practice law and are lawyers that go to school for eight years, but you can become a cop in six months and don’t have to have the same amount of training as a cosmetologist. That’s insane. I mean, someone that’s holding a curling iron has more education and more training than people that have a gun that are going out on the street to protect us.”

(In case you are wondering he didn’t make that up. A 2015 report found policemen in Louisiana require less training (360 hours) than certified barbers (1,500). Arkansas requires no formal training to be hired, and new hires can serve for 9 months before being trained. Cosmetology license? 1,500 hours.)

Of ducks and ranchers

In January 2016 a group of armed men took control of the Malheurs National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon. Ammon Bundy, son of Nevada rancher and long time federal government antagonist, Cliven Bundy was widely recognized as the leader. After a few weeks of cold, not enough food, and bathroom inconvenience, the group abandoned their protest.

Or, as Wikipedia records it:

The incident began on January 2, when the headquarters of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in eastern Oregon was seized and occupied by an armed group loosely affiliated with various independent non-governmental U.S. militias, and with the sovereign citizen movement, and led by Ammon Bundy, son of Cliven D. Bundy. The standoff was initially justified by the militants as a response to the imprisonment of Oregon cattle ranchers Dwight and Steven Hammond for their having been convicted of arson of federal land. The underlying rationale underpinning the group’s protest of the Hammond’s incarceration was the group’s belief that the federal government of the United States, as it currently operates, is essentially illegitimate.

The standoff initially attracted the members of various regional militia groups and the number of militants continued to grow until on January 17, approximately 40 militants were reported to have been engaged in the standoff. Soon after the leadership of the standoff was apprehended by the Oregon State Police(OSP) and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) on January 26, the majority of the occupying militants began to withdraw themselves from the standoff, peacefully returning to their homes.


By January 28, only four militants remained to continue the standoff. Finally on February 11, government and volunteer negotiators were able to persuade the last four remaining militants to surrender their arms and surrender peacefully. [Footnotes in original]

According to Oregon Live, Bundy

led the occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge intending to force a civil court to take up the constitutionality of federal land management policy, his lawyers contend in new court papers filed Monday.

He had expected the government to issue an eviction or ejection claim instead of arresting and indicting the occupiers on federal charges in criminal court.

But as he now sits in a Multnomah County jail facing conspiracy and weapons allegations, he’s asking the court to dismiss the indictments, arguing that the federal government lacks jurisdiction over the land that includes the wildlife sanctuary in eastern Oregon’s Harney County.


On the one hand we have a football player who refuses to stand for the national anthem, instead lodging a protest about what he deems a group of people who are being oppressed by the government. On the other hand we have a group of ranchers who take unauthorized control of property owned by we the people and illegally occupy it for six weeks in protest to what they deem a group of people being oppressed by the government.

Unsurprisingly, a large swath of those who think Kaepernick is out of his gourd, unpatriotic, offensive, and unAmerican were supportive of or sympathetic to Bundy. And, a large swath of those who might have considered cluster bombing the Band of Bundy Brothers think Kaepernick is making an honorable protest.

A country steeped in protest

I sometimes wonder who remembers we are a country founded in protest. We didn’t like restrictions on religion. We didn’t like unrepresented taxation. It’s hard to read the Declaration of Independence and get the idea all was smooth sailing. Heck, some Puritans thought King George was the Anti-Christ.

More than 100 years before we declared independence Captain John Endicott, the commander of a military company in Massachusetts Bay Colony, defaced part of the red cross of the King’s colors in protest of its alleged connection with the papacy.

In their book Riots and Revelry in Early America, William Pencak, Matthew Dennis and Simon P. Newman remind us:

Between November 17 and 20, 1747, during a war with France, hundreds if not thousands of people in Boston seized some officers of a visiting British fleet and held them hostage. They were protesting what they considered illegal impressment of sailors from ships in the harbor for service in the Royal Navy, and they hoped to trade officers for the release of the unfortunates who had been taken. (p. 3)

Has everyone forgotten the Boston Tea Party? The Civil Rights Movement? Women’s Suffrage?

Protests against the Vietnam War included veterans who had served in it. One slogan used by the Vietnam Veterans Against the War is “Honor The Warrior, Not The War.” At one huge protest in 1971 nearly 1,000 veterans threw “their combat ribbons, helmets, and uniforms on the Capitol steps.”

Are we going to pretend like this didn’t happen?

A country of perpetual protest

Every two years we protest against people in Washington who we think would serve the country better back home as insurance agents, real estate agents, dog catchers, or bug tasters. Every four years we decide who we’ll spend the next four years protesting against.

To be honest I find it more odd that those who support Bundy are critical of Kaepernick, and have to wonder whether the object of the protest isn’t the actual objection. Even then, the two have something in common: rightly or wrongly perceived objections to actions of the government. One against predominantly white land owners in the midwest and west. One against predominantly black victims killed at the hands of law enforcement. There is a clear political dividing line.

Is the peaceful protest “against” the national anthem as offensive as mounting an armed offensive against a publicly held refuge? A protest that broke no laws is more problematic as one that broke numerous laws?

Protest, by definition, calls attention to a situation, issue, or condition. Protest with no object of concern is a parade. As such, protest is always controversial whether it’s Operation Rescue, Black Lives Matter, or a bunch of guys in knickers and powdered wigs thumbing their nose at the king.

And, while protesting those who protest the flag, remember these two who apparently saw no problem with using Old Glory as a tablecloth.

President Lincoln and General McClellan talk shop beside an American flag being used as a tablecloth.

President Lincoln and General McClellan talk shop.

Marty Duren

Just a guy writing some things.

  • Dennis D Hill

    The American flag and its meaning is different for me, and I
    am sure that if you asked any solider what it meant I am sure you would get a
    similar response. The flag represents us, the American people. It doesn’t
    represent just the white, black or any specific race. It represents, We the
    people. It represents the freedoms that we have in our country today, such as
    the freedom of speech. In order to form a more perfect union, we as Americans
    paid the price with the lives of our forefathers, fathers and now our sons.

    Our fathers brought forth on this content, a new nation, conceived
    in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that “all men are created equal.” (Lincoln)
    While the National Anthem has some dark history with regard to slavery, it has
    transformed to mean something different. Coffins come home with a flag draped
    over them. Someone, somewhere has paid the ultimate price. Men and women come
    home from war forever more changed by these events, and what their eyes have
    seen, no one wants to look at. A sacrifice was made. It is not about politicians,
    it is about the people that stepped up, volunteered, and went to protect these
    values we so strongly believe in.

    One does not come home under a white, black or any other
    color of flag. They come home under the American flag. The Westboro Baptist
    Church protests military funerals. Protesting the National Anthem holds the
    same amount of disrespect for all soldiers of our nation that have made the
    sacrifice. They died to give you the right, but there has to be a better way to
    protest. You are not just disrespecting white people, black people, but all
    races of people, We the people, all men. It is not just about one instance in
    history, but our dedication to the proposition that all men are equal.

    I am bothered by the protest. I took it as I don’t care
    about you or any other solider that has ever put on the uniform or died for the
    country. Soldiers don’t put on the uniform and go out and just fight for the
    freedom of whites, freedom is for all people. While I am not naive enough to
    think that there are not race issues in America, I just don’t believe sitting
    is the way to invoke a positive response or change. While he is sending out a
    very loud message, it is one of disrespect and insult. Instead of bridging the
    gap it seems that he is adding width to it.

    • Lewis Orne

      Colin Kaepernick isn’t protesting veterans nor the actions of veterans. He is specifically addressing the violent and murderous behavior of law enforcement in various cities around the United States. This shoehorning of veterans into Colin’s protest is bizarre and disturbing, especially when you consider how many veterans have come out in support of his actions.

      Your argument also fails to address the issue at hand which is the brutalization and murder of black and brown people by law enforcement in this country.

      It is Kaepernicks constitutional right to sit down during the National Anthem if he wishes. Also there is nothing that specifically says you have to stand up during the National Anthem.

      If you have no critique on the murderous and violent behavior of police forces against black and brown people then you have no right to critique how black and brown folks protest against said violence and brutality perpetrated against them by law enforcement.

      This rampant fetishizing of the military and the U.S. flag which is nothing more than a guise for white nationalism and white hegemony is vile, disgusting and disturbing.

      • Dennis D Hill

        I have no clue what you mean by bizarre and disturbing. I don’t know how you can separate the National Anthem from veterans. It was composed by a man that was amazed at the spirit of a few soldiers to ensure a flag flew at the cost of their lives. Furthermore, I never said he didn’t have the right, just that it was disrespectful and like you, he has that right to be.

        My argument was not about brutalization of blacks, but showing respect for those who died so we have the freedom to sit. I can add to that argument though. A white person is 27 times more likely to be attacked by a black person than a white person. Of all black homicides in America .6 % of them are by police. However, 93% of them are from black on black crimes. Statics show that there is no difference between police killing between white, black, brown, or other colors of Americans. My argument now contains murder of black and brown people by law enforcement.

        We have a black president, and black chief of justice and if you want to call that hegemony vile, disgusting and disturbing I know several people that would agree with you.

        Seeing you wanted to talk about race. I love what one move star said. He wanted the spewing of hate, lies and propaganda to stop. On both sides of the fence. It is now time to start bridging the gap smartly.

  • Scott G. North

    URANIUM At Malheur Bundy Standoff! Follow the Money..You tube….murdered Lafoy…
    Folks are still in jail.
    Kaepernick needed to be reprimanded for not standing to honor those gone before by the shameless 49er’s. Protest on your time and dime not the companies. Give it to the 49er’s organization for rolling over as well as the media. If people would obey the laws there would be less trouble. Chicago is a prime ex. as mayhem is weekly with a body count…oppressed.???…When I see Kaepernick and his Muslim girlfriend coming off the hip for the ‘oppressed’ I might listen. Obama doesn’t even salute or place his hand over his heart. K needs to man a post and travel with his millions o the middle east and learn what oppressed is all about.