Sunday, February 21, 2016

Activist-journalists in the Oregon standoff and elsewhere push boundaries and court danger

When a group of armed men took over a wildlife refuge in Oregon on Jan. 2, the story was broken by a right-wing YouTube talk show host named Peter Santilli. With two dogs in his back seat, Santilli, 50, had driven from Cincinnati to Burns, Ore., to support and cover a protest against the conviction of two local ranchers for burning federal land. But that day, the normally loquacious Santilli, who had broadcast a call for fellow "patriots" to join the protest in Oregon, seemed jittery on his live-stream show. He muttered "jeez" to himself before delivering word of what was about to become one of the biggest stories in the country. "There's a group of individuals right now at the Malheur [National] Wildlife Refuge. OK, there is a federal building that a group of individuals are going to take over," said Santilli, publicly marking the start of a weeks-long occupation that would end with one protester dead, many arrests and a final dramatic standoff with the FBI. The stakes grew higher Wednesday when Santilli, a former longtime Hesperia, Calif., resident, was also indicted in Nevada, where he covered — and allegedly participated in and urged on — an armed standoff outside Las Vegas in 2014. In both cases, the government accuses Santilli of going beyond the boundaries of traditional journalism to criminally defy the government and put federal agents' lives at risk with the help of his tens of thousands of YouTube subscribers. Both indictments show Santilli calling for more protesters to come to the scene, at times getting cozy with the key players involved, who are now also under arrest, or getting confrontational with federal officials. Santilli and his supporters say that he was not armed and that the government is retaliating against him for constitutionally protected viewpoints. "This is 1,000% an injustice," Santilli said in a jailhouse phone call uploaded to YouTube. "If this can happen to me, it can happen to any member of the media, especially you independent media journalists, you alternative media journalists." Santilli is a part of a new wave of activist-journalists who, empowered by social media, have taken up the tools of journalism but not the traditional restrictions of journalism, and who have courted danger as a result...more

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