The Illusion of 'Peaceful Protestors'

The rioting is all about politics, not justice.

Bruce Thornton is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center.

Last week we watched the sorry spectacle of aimless destruction supposedly in response to the death of a black man at the hands of the police. The predictable script from Ferguson and Baltimore was reprised, the same bumper-sticker empty slogans brandished, and the same pointless destruction and looting occurred that were worse than useless for solving the injustice the protestors supposedly want remedied.

Just as predictable was the media coverage, which mixed ratings-bait lurid footage of the violence with clichés like “peaceful protestors,” youthful passionate idealists moved by righteous anger over racial injustice, but compromised by “outside agitators” exploiting the tragedy for their own nefarious extremist ends, most likely alt-right and white supremacist ones. And, of course, the blue-state mayors and governors whose appeasing riot-control protocols worsened the riots while frantically trying to avoid blame and exploit them for their own political aims.

What is missing, as usual, is the truth about these protests and their alleged causes––They’re all about politics, not justice.

One thing that is obvious from watching the footage is that these riots have become a rite of passage for the college-age demographic, a sort of “woke” spring break memorialized by cell-phone cameras, selfies, tweets, Instagram, and Facebook postings. The other cohort comprises the shock-troops of left-over leftism like Antifa, the same bougie thrill-seekers and political illiterates who filled the ranks of Occupy Wall Street and the other international outfits that regularly protest at meetings of the IMF and G7. Young people, particularly young males, are naturally drawn to vandalism and posturing, and these “protests” give them ample opportunities to preen before the international press. And who doesn’t like some free stuff looted from stores? Isn’t all property “theft” anyway?

More recently, the cause du jour has been the alleged racist killings of young black men by the police, which spawned Black Lives Matter. This canard has been exploded repeatedly by scholars analyzing FBI and DOJ homicide data. But facts are irrelevant when it comes to the “truth,” as Joe Biden made clear last year when he said “we choose truth over facts.” The lie’s purpose is really to keep alive the idea of the indelible racism manifested now in “systemic racism” and “implicit bias.” These vague ideas are in fact confessions that real racism––obvious in Jim Crow laws, legal segregation, daily violence and humiliation, lynchings, and riots––is negligible today. Thus any pretext, no matter how specious or even false, must be promoted and exploited to keep “racism” and victimization alive. It is the mechanism victim-based identity politics relies on to gain political leverage, and keep the racialist grievance-industry factories humming.

So every time a black man is killed by the police, even if, unlike the current tragedy, it is justified, as it was in Ferguson, the race industry hacks and hustlers congregate like vultures to feast on the dead. After all, such relatively rare shootings are one of those “crises” the left never let go to waste. That’s why the “peaceful protestors” cliché is dubious. First, despite the rote adjective “peaceful,” most of them are willing to act as buffers between the police and the thugs who hurl rocks and bottles, burn cars, and loot businesses. The “peaceful protestors” and Antifa are two brigades in the same army, and there’s no more ideological difference between the two than there is between Hamas’s terrorist and political wings.

Next, their youthful  “passion” and “idealism” don’t cut any ice. Nazis and Bolsheviks were passionate idealists too. What counts is what you are passionate about. Passionate protest predicated on a lie, whether it’s Jewish treachery or racist cops murdering innocent blacks, in the end serves evil rather than good.

Finally, the idea that these “peaceful protestors” should be given the benefit of the doubt because they are trying to effect “change” and promote “justice” is equally bogus. First, even if they are sincere, as no doubt some are, they are protesting against a crime that is relatively rare. It is juvenile utopianism to expect that out of nearly a million police officers in the U.S., there won’t be a few bullies or psychos. Thus given the 50-60 millions of encounters between police and civilians every year, it is equally childish to expect none will not result in abuse of authority. Of course, police departments should be held accountable for their hiring, training, and accountability protocols, but they can’t keep out every potential abuser.

Second, as we’ve already noted, the crime they are protesting is rare. If black lives really “matter,” all this “passionate anger” should instead be directed towards the shameful toll of dead black men every year, 6200 in 2019, the overwhelming majority at the hands of other blacks. This is the real crisis, one that the black establishment elites in government, popular culture, and media shamefully ignore. The reason is obvious: black-on-black crime doesn’t advance the politically and fiscally profitable narrative of white “racism.”

Nor will the “legacy of racism” determinist argument work. It ignores the significant improvement in most black lives since World War II, and the role in weakening black families and communities in the Sixties played by progressive Great Society redistributionist entitlements, changes in sexual mores,  the decline of faith, and the whole “if it feels good, do it” ethos––all of which were promoted and celebrated by the left. Better stick to manufactured crises and fantasies like “implicit bias.”

Finally, as Ross Douthat pointed out last Sunday (amidst his usual irrelevant NeverTrump clichés), disorganized violent protests have been shown to be counterproductive, achieving the opposite of the protestors’ alleged aims. Summarizing the research of Princeton political scientist Omar Wasow, Douthat writes:

Looking at data from the civil rights era, Wasow argues that “proximity to black-led nonviolent protests increased white Democratic vote-share whereas proximity to black-led violent protests caused substantively important declines” — enough to tip the 1968 election from Hubert Humphrey to Nixon. More broadly, in news coverage and public opinion from those years, nonviolent protests (especially in the face of segregationist violence) increased support for civil rights, while violent protests tipped public opinion away from the protesters, and toward a stronger desire for what Nixon called law and order, and Wasow calls “social control.”

Scenes of vandalism and violence such as those broadcast last week, and the destruction of businesses and neighborhoods, some of them black, will likely have a similar effect, contributing nothing to the protestors’ alleged purposes, and more likely turning more and more ordinary voters against them. After all, Derek Chauvin, the cop who leaned on George Floyd’s neck for 9 minutes while Floyd pleaded for help, has been charged with 3rd degree murder, as well as being fired along with three other officers. It’s not clear what more the protestors want done.

Of course, Chauvin could be acquitted, which would indeed be a miscarriage of justice. And if that should happen, we will no doubt see the same violence from last week replayed. But if––a big “if”–– there are sincere “peaceful protestors” who want to demonstrate against that verdict, they’ll avoid last week’s carnival of vandalism and looting. They will look to the protests of the Civil Rights movement, and organize a march in which clergy, politicians, and other civic leaders and adults participate with solemn dignity and decorum, and with specific proposals for avoiding such an outcome. But gathering a crowd of slovenly, entitled overgrown teenagers––mixed in with thuggish punks who somehow can afford to travel around vandalizing and looting–– will harden most citizens’ antipathy to such spoiled ingrates and their specious pretexts.

Of course, that’s all improbable speculation. The point of these violent protests is not to effect change. It is to generate disorder and leverage more power for the left, and more immediately to damage Donald Trump, who of course is already being blamed for Floyd’s death and the subsequent riots. That death is being demeaned by the progressives who are adding it to their long, dishonest indictment of Trump.

That’s what happens when a political party has nothing to offer any voters not already enlisted as its client––photogenic “crises” are created as a diversion from a bankrupt platform and a senile candidate. The “peaceful protestors” are either willing participants in this political theater, or useful dupes.


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