Are the Oregon militia members too dangerous to laugh at?

I often succumb to the temptation to mock, or relay the mocking by others, of the efforts of the extreme right wing fanatics who speak with such a loud voice in US politics. Matt Taibbi, while also laughing at the antics of the armed people who have taken over a remote wildlife refuge in Oregon as a stand against government tyranny, addresses the question as to whether this is a good thing.

It has been suggested that it’s somehow wrong to laugh at the Y’all Qaeda/Vanilla ISIS movement. “The idea that satire… can serve as a bulwark against far-right ideas is provably false,” writes Natasha Leonard at She goes on to point out that the paranoia and xenophobic racism of people like Bundy are not funny, and neither are the redneck caricatures that have spilled across the Internet in the last week as this “siege” played itself out.

“Satire that deploys classism to skewer racists and conservatives is certainly such a worst case,” she says. “Why not focus on their very real, very frightening beliefs?”

There’s no doubt that these people are dangerous, but their ridiculousness is a huge part of who they are. Incidentally, this is true of groups like the actual al-Qaeda, too, led as they are by men in beards and Rick-Perry-style “smart glasses” who play at being religious scholars and intellectuals when in fact they are the kind of people who are afraid of cartoons and lie awake at night wondering if it’s permissible to play chess with a menstruating woman. Just because a person is dangerous does not mean he’s not also absurd.

Again, these people may be dangerous, but their boundless self-pity, their outrageous sense of entitlement and their slapstick incompetence as rebels and terrorists are absolutely ridiculous. Sure, it may not help, but how can we not laugh?

The Daily Show has no trouble laughing at the Oregon militia.

(These clips aired on January 5, 2016. To get suggestions on how to view clips of The Daily Show and The Nightly Show outside the US, please see this earlier post. If the videos autoplay, please see here for a diagnosis and possible solutions.)


  1. says

    There are a lot of folks in the media who are afraid to laugh at islam, too.

    Rather than acknowledge: “oh, the intimidation tactic kinda worked” and then, “hey, wait, you intimidated me!” they come up with other reasons. And I suppose we all thought the media was utterly without shame. Apparently that’s not true; they’re ashamed of feeling threatened by violent thugs. Well, duh?

  2. says

    Besides, if we all laughed at them, what would they do? Leave their occupied wildlife refuge and come to mine to exact bloody revenge? That would be even more stupid than what they’re already doing.

  3. John Morales says

    Marcus, that’s not the point. The point is the evidently discretionary enforcement of the law — rule of convenience, not rule of law.

    We laugh at them because of their futile breaching of law, but still they do get to breach the law and get away with it, and so they can equally laugh at us.

    (Wink wink, nudge nudge)

  4. StevoR says

    No one is ever too dangerous to laugh at.

    Indeed often the more dangerous they are, the more mockery they merit.

    (see Jewish humour even in the face of the Shoah and David Brin’s short story with Loki and Captain America and the writing of.)

    As Harry Potter spelled to the boggarts : Ridikulos!

  5. hyphenman says


    Taibbi’s piece reminded me of George Orwell’s 1941 essay, England Your England where he wrote:

    One rapid but fairly sure guide to the social atmosphere of a country is the parade-step of its army. A military parade is really a kind of ritual dance, something like a ballet, expressing a certain philosophy of life. The goose-step, for instance, is one of the most horrible sights in the world, far more terrifying than a dive-bomber. It is simply an affirmation of naked power; contained in it, quite consciously and intentionally, is the vision of a boot crashing down on a face. Its ugliness is part of its essence, for what it is saying is ‘Yes, I am ugly, and you daren’t laugh at me’, like the bully who makes faces at his victim. Why is the goose-step not used in England? There are, heaven knows, plenty of army officers who would be only too glad to introduce some such thing. It is not used because the people in the street would laugh. Beyond a certain point, military display is only possible in countries where the common people dare not laugh at the army. The Italians adopted the goose-step at about the time when Italy passed definitely under German control, and, as one would expect, they do it less well than the Germans. The Vichy government, if it survives, is bound to introduce a stiffer parade-ground discipline into what is left of the French army. In the British army the drill is rigid and complicated, full of memories of the eighteenth century, but without definite swagger; the march is merely a formalized walk. It belongs to a society which is ruled by the sword, no doubt, but a sword which must never be taken out of the scabbard.


  6. says

    The point is the evidently discretionary enforcement of the law — rule of convenience, not rule of law.

    Yeah, I got that. Obviously, I don’t think anyone here favors discretionary enforcement of the laws. So it’s kind of one of those “well, duh” things.

    Here’s a thought: I believe that pattern-matching and probability tree matching systems have gotten good enough that we should no longer have judges or juries. We should replace the ‘justice system’ with a color-blind pattern-matcher that takes certified inputs and renders judgement. It would then spit out a summary of the case and recommended punishment and ‘jurors’ would vote; they wouldn’t need more details than “On XXX date, a person was metered by a police officer as driving 85mph in a 55mph zone. The measurement apparatus had been serviced and found accurate 4 days prior to the event. The defendant claims mititgating circumstances: they were speeding up to pass a driver in a hybrid. We find them guilty.” At this point in the tech, you could probably use natural language, which would have the added benefit of forcing lawyers to submit their briefs with an eye toward maximum clarity, because there would be no ’emotional impact’ to their arguments, except for how prior arguments had resulted in measurable outcomes in juries.

    If it appears that I have just said that the criminal ‘justice’ system would be better replaced with a perl script, that’s pretty much correct.

  7. Holms says

    If it appears that I have just said that the criminal ‘justice’ system would be better replaced with a perl script, that’s pretty much correct.

    And it is a terrible idea.

  8. lorn says

    If you can’t, shouldn’t, laugh at it it is popularly termed: serious.

    Be careful with serious. The press is full of serious people who would be far better serving the public if they would laugh at the ridiculous stories told them by politicians and spokespersons. Failing to laugh they are acting as enablers by propping up the reputations of people spouting complete nonsense.

    When we allow nonsense to be taken seriously we discredit the value and advantages of being reality based. This amounts to underhandedly mislead the public into thinking that all explanations, factual or fantasy based, are equally valid.

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