The Oregon Standoff: How and How Not to End a Siege

The FBI has issued an ultimatum to Owl Qaeda, the people occupying an Oregon bird sanctuary, saying it is time to go. This means the Feds are now besieging the sanctuary. Sieges are not the government’s strongpoint, to put it mildly. They have screwed up at Waco, Ruby Ridge, Rainbow Farm and the MOVE headquarters in Philadelphia.

Although little used in the past century, sieges have been used in warfare for several millennia. As a result the tactics of ending a siege have been studied at length and can be understoon by anyone with even a slight understanding of the uses of force.

Sieges end as a result of three things:

  1. Outwaiting your opponent: For the besiegers that means sitting there until the food and water of the besieged have run out and they surrender. For the besieged it means waiting until a large outside force arrives and chases the besiegers away.
  2. Negotiation: Convincing the other side that there is no way they can defeat you and that it is in their best interest to surrender and/or leave.
  3. Force of arms: Attacking into or out of a besieged place invariably ends in loss of life, usually in significant numbers.

These tactics can be combined in a number of ways: Waiting until the besieged are too physically weak and then attacking; attacking and then negotiating with then enemy who is now in a weakened condition.*

Law enforcement authorities seem unable to recognize a siege when they are conducting one and that explains a lot of the terrible outcomes. Oregon is at risk of becoming another example of this.

In an effort to de-escalate the situation they have allowed the bad guys to recieve both reinforcements and supplies right up until the time the ultimatum was issued. While it is unlikely that the large number of sex toys sent to Owl Qaeda will help them, it is all but certain other supplies were recieved as well.

The supplies and re-inforcements likely emboldened the “militia” members, giving them the sense that they have considerable support beyond the confines of the bird sanctuary. To be fair, isolating them might have just made the more desperate and determined to go out in a blaze of glory. I hope it is easier to judge the mental state of people in the bird sanctuary if you are on the scene than it is from 3,000 miles away. Then again the fact that they appear to be entirely delusional may make any such judgement moot. (This is why it is difficult to say what impact the arrest of the percieved leaders will have on what happens next.)

I hope but am not hopeful the situation is resolved without more bloodshed.

*See Henry V, Scene Three, Act 3 for a dramatization of one of the great bluffs in history when Henry demanded the surrender of the town even as he doubted he could continue the attack. 

#And I don’t just mean the 55-gallon barrel of “personal lubricant” send by one of the inventors of Cards Against Humanity.