Epigraph of the Series
“The right of the people peaceably to assemble and petition their Government for redress of grievances.”
– U.S. Constitution, First Amendment
Taxonomy for the Series
“If you … then you are a … ”
peaceably assemble/petition … protester
attack/threaten innocent people … thug
torch buildings/toss hard objects … rioter
break into stores/steal merchandise … looter
organize/direct violent acts … domestic terrorist
desecrate monuments/statues … vandal
topple/demolish/sink statues … member of a mob
This is the third of three articles on recent turns in the convulsions that have wracked the country since May 25, upon the possibly unlawful killing of a criminal suspect resisting arrest. The first article, “The Urban Anarchist Cookbook: Cop-Free Zones,” focused on the consequences of allowing mobs to carve out autonomous zones, and of caving in to radicals demanding the defunding of police. The second article, “Orwell’s Children: Ministries of Historical Untruth,” focused on how restraints on speech have morphed into totalitarian assaults on our history. This third article focuses on how mobs are transforming what originally were group riots into a revolution, aimed at toppling not merely statues and monuments, but the lawfully elected government of the United States.
We begin with a look at mob psychology, and then see how totalitarian ideologies can turn riots into revolution. We look through the lenses of two 1951 classics, and an 1838 prequel from Honest Abe.
The Crowd Becomes a Mass Movement
The great mid-20th-century longshoreman turned philosopher Eric Hoffer, in The True Believer, analyzed mass movements:
All mass movements generate in their adherents a readiness to die and a proclivity for united action; all of them … breed fanaticism, enthusiasm, fervent hope, hatred and intolerance; … all of them demand billing faith and single hearted allegiance.… All mass movements … draw their early adherents from the same types of humanity; they all appear to the same types of mind.
Hoffer dissects the minds of those who gravitate to mass movements:
The less justified a man is in claiming excellence for his own self, the more willing he is to claim all excellence for his nation, his race, his religion of his holy cause.… in exchange for a selfless life we gain enormously in self-esteem. The vanity of the selfless, even those who practice utmost humility, is boundless.
The influence of extremists is easy to underestimate:
The inert mass of a nation … is in its middle section. The decent, average people who do the nation’s work in cities and on the land are worked upon and shaped by minorities at both ends — the best and the worst.
Citing Alexis de Tocqueville on the French Revolution, Hoffer notes that
Discontent is likely to be highest when misery is bearable; when conditions have so improved that an ideal state seems almost within reach. A grievance is most poignant when almost redressed.
Moderates often fail to see that revolution is brewing:
A deprecating attitude towards the present fosters a capacity for prognostication. The well-adjusted make poor prophets. On the other hand, those who are at war with the present have an eye for the seeds of change and the potentialities of small beginnings.
Hoffer compares five group perspectives on mass movements. Conservatives see the present as the best that can be achieved by imperfect humanity; skeptics see nothing new on the horizon; liberals see the present as prelude to further improvement. He contrasts these to the radical, who sees humanity as perfectible; and the revolutionary, who sees a possible restoration of a glorious past. Above all, Hoffer sees leftist and rightist fanatics, nominally at opposite ends of the spectrum, as having underlying kinship; it is moderates whom both detest, and vice-versa.
Essential for a mass movement to succeed is the emergence of a resolute, charismatic leader:
Once the stage is set, the presence of an outstanding leader is indispensable. Without him there will be no movement.… It was Lenin who forced the flow of events into the channels of the Bolshevik revolution.… In the case of Mussolini or Hitler the evidence is even more decisive: without them there would have been neither a Fascist nor a Nazi movement.
The extreme radicalism of those organizing and leading the urban mobocracy is evident. One Black Lives Matter co-founder compared whites to Nazis in a 1995 op-ed. BLM’s agenda is heavily Marxist. And of course, BLM is anti-police. BLM backs cancel culture. A DCCC 2015 BLM memo advises readers to neither say “All lives matter” nor mention black-on-black crime.
A Pew Research Center analysis found an ethnic breakdown of mobs: 46% whites (64% of U.S. population); 22% Hispanic (15% of population); 17% (11% of population); 8% Asian (5% of population). Only 17 percent of the mobs are Republicans.
Totalitarian Ideology Ascendant
Ray Bradbury’s classic dystopian novel, Fahrenheit 451 — the title chosen because paper spontaneously ignites at that temperature — is set in a future where books are systematically burned. The totalitarian regime’s burner-in-chief justifies its policy as truly egalitarian in spirit:
We must all be alike. Not everyone born free and equal, as the Constitution says, but everyone made equal. Each man the image of every other; then all are happy, for there are no mountains to make them cower, to judge themselves against. A book is a loaded gun in the house next door. Burn it. Take the shot from the weapon. Breach man’s mind. Who know who might be the target of the well-read man? Me?
Abroad, authorities confiscate books in Sweden — including one written by a Swedish Jew on the secret World War II collaboration of Socialist Sweden with the Nazis. Authorities may try to take copies from those who purchased it.
Trump adviser Harlan Hill sees us in the midst of a totalitarian revolution:
What America is going through right now is not merely another, more intense round of “cancel culture.” We’re now in the midst of a full-force, totalitarian remolding of our society, one that seeks to place the petty resentments of an outraged minority of leftist activists above everything else in American life. Because of their willingness to riot, loot, and assault anyone they perceive to be insufficiently sympathetic to their cause, leftists are able to bully ordinary people into submission. As a result, television shows such as “Cops” and “Live PD,” classic films such as “Gone With the Wind,” and iconic brands such as Aunt Jemima, Mrs. Buttersworth, and Uncle Ben’s rice are consigned to the “dustbin of history.”
Essayist Lance Morrow cited an especially noxious instance of politically correct racism: the Smithsonian’s African-American Museum opened a race dialogue page, and features an “aspects & assumptions of U.S. white culture” page (since revised). It listed (see box on page after scrolling down) as whiteness such things as rugged individualism, Protestant work ethic, scientific method, and competition, plus a number of European origin items. For a few days this summer, Oregon required masks for whites but no one else; a public outcry forced the state to end its whites-only policy. Down Orwell’s Memory Hole is a stance taken at the 2004 DNC convention by one Barack Obama: “Parents have to parent, that children have to achieve unless we raise their expectations and eradicate the slander that says a black youth with a book is acting white.” Alas, BO is “woke” now.
A Cuban freedom fighter, educated by harsh experience in the ugly ways of totalitarian dictatorship, warns us how America can unravel. The new “silent majority” may not wake up in time. The danger was foretold 182 years ago, by a young Illinois lawyer. Abraham Lincoln gave his Lyceum speech on Jan. 27, 1838, after an abolitionist printer was lynched:
At what point then is the approach of danger to be expected? I answer, if it ever reach us, it must spring up amongst us. It cannot come from abroad. If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time, or die by suicide.
I hope I am over wary; but if I am not, there is, even now, something of ill-omen, amongst us. I mean the increasing disregard for law which pervades the country; the growing disposition to substitute the wild and furious passions, in lieu of the sober judgment of Courts; and the worse than savage mobs, for the executive ministers of justice. This disposition is awfully fearful in any community; and that it now exists in ours, though grating to our feelings to admit, it would be a violation of truth, and an insult to our intelligence, to deny.
Lincoln warned that the people’s tolerance for disorder is not infinite:
I know the American People are much attached to their Government; — I know they would suffer much for its sake; — I know they would endure evils long and patiently, before they would ever think of exchanging it for another. Yet, notwithstanding all this, if the laws be continually despised and disregarded, if their rights to be secure in their persons and property, are held by no better tenure than the caprice of a mob, the alienation of their affections from the Government is the natural consequence; and to that, sooner or later, it must come.
Mob rule is never justified:
There is no grievance that is a fit object of redress by mob law. In any case that arises, as for instance, the promulgation of abolitionism, one of two positions is necessarily true; that is, the thing is right within itself, and therefore deserves the protection of all law and all good citizens; or, it is wrong, and therefore proper to be prohibited by legal enactments; and in neither case, is the interposition of mob law, either necessary, justifiable, or excusable.
Lincoln, too, grasped the potency of iron-willed leadership — those “who belong to the family of the lion, or the tribe of an eagle … an Alexander, a Caesar or a Napoleon”:
Towering genius disdains a beaten path. It seeks regions hitherto unexplored.… It thirsts and burns for distinction, and if possible, will have it, whether at the expense of emancipating slaves, or enslaving freemen.
Statues: Symbols of Revolution
Literally hundreds of monuments have been toppled nationwide. An ignorant mob’s insensate rage toppled the statue of abolitionist Frederick Douglass in Rochester, New York.
I think it’s important we protect our history. This isn’t about equality anymore. This is a radical rewriting of our history to take away our freedoms and liberties. It’s really trying to rewrite the foundation of this country. And so it’s alarming to me. I’m thankful that the president made the statement that he made in his speech about protecting Mount Rushmore and other monuments across the country.
It’s incredibly important that we recognize that the founders, those in our past, are certainly not perfect individuals, but we can learn something from them. And we need to focus on the virtues they brought us as well.
The Lakota Sioux are calling for removal of Mt. Rushmore monuments. Having spurned a $17 million award upheld by the Supreme Court, they now call for destruction. Sculptor Gutzon Borglum was a virulent racist. Compare old CNN to “woke” CNN in 2016 versus 2020 on Mt. Rushmore (1:19).
In another cultural assault on an icon, BLM vandals trashed Graceland, the historic mansion of Elvis Presley. Also, USC Cinematic Arts was bullied into removing its exhibit honoring legendary Western star John Wayne. In late July, the Federalist published a list of 183 monuments ruined since the riots started. (Surely there have been more defaced since, but I could not find an updated list.)
As a tweet from the Federalist notes, New York City is named for James, Duke of York, the most prolific of all slave merchants plying Atlantic waters. And as Virgil (nom de plume of a writer today, not the Roman poet) adds: America was coined by Amerigo Vespucci (ca. 1454–1512), the great cartographer who sailed to the New World several times in the early 1500s; he was white, colonialist, and Christian, a politically incorrect trifecta.
Portland has been under constant siege — arson, mobs toppling statues, etc. Orchestrating much of the violence is the little-known youth group, the Pacific Northwest Youth Liberation Front. PNYLF posted guidance online:
1. Be like water, keep moving… 2. If you see someone smashing windows, shut the f—- up…. 3. Walk, don’t run. Hold the front and back lines.
One study shows BLM responsible for 91 percent of summer riots. A Seattle radical reveals what comes next: violent takeover. The Wall Street Journal’s Daniel Henninger traces today’s mobs to campus speech codes; and he identifies elites as the culprits of 2020’s radical revolution. He sees today’s cities broken in spirit:
Outside wartime, with bombardments turning blocks into rubble, I’m hard put to think of any precedent for what is happening to these U.S. cities now. The enforced pandemic closures and isolation were bad enough. But the endless protests — with their instinct to violence and atmosphere of dread — have broken the spirit of many cities.
Gerard Baker, writing in the Wall Street Journal, observes that the 2020 collapse into “mindless Maoism” began 50 years ago:
This country hasn’t passed from great to evil in two decades. America hasn’t failed. But Americans have been failed — misled by inept and deceitful political leaders, deserted by predatory and mercenary corporate chiefs, and, above all, betrayed by a parasitic cultural elite that exploited American freedom to trash the country. It isn’t America’s history that needs to be repudiated. It’s its present.
Classics scholar Victor Davis Hanson sees a “Year Zero” in all cultural revolutions, and a real prospect of backlash:
Puritanical cultural revolutionaries are always a minority of society. But whether they win or lose — that is, whether they end up as Bolsheviks or Jacobins — hinges on how successfully they terrify the masses into submission, and how quickly they can do that before repulsion grows over their absurd violence and silly rhetoric.
When the backlash comes, as it must when mobs destroy statues at night, loot, burn, and obliterate what Mao called the “four olds” of a culture revolution — Old Customs, Old Culture, Old Habits, and Old Ideas — it may not be pretty.
The BLM problem is that never in history has a radical cultural revolution at its outset declared itself both race-based and yet predicated on a small minority of the population, whose strategy was to shame and debase the majority that was sympathetic to the idea of relegating race to insignificance.
If sowing the wind has been getting ugly, reaping the whirlwind will be more so.
Ironically, as the revolutionary summer unfolded, civil rights icon John Lewis passed away. Lewis was savagely beaten in 1965, while crossing Edmund Pettus Bridge, named for an openly racist Alabama sheriff. Upon his demise, prominent politicians called for renaming the structure John Lewis Bridge. But Lewis himself had said that he did not wish this, because he wanted the name to stand as a monument to how far the nation has come in recognizing civil rights since 1965:
The Edmund Pettus Bridge symbolises both who we once were, and who we have become today.… Renaming the bridge will never erase its history. Instead of hiding our history behind a new name we must embrace it — the good and the bad. The historical context of the Edmund Pettus Bridge makes the events of 1965 even more profound. The irony is that a bridge named after a man who inflamed racial hatred is now known worldwide as a symbol of equality and justice. It is Biblical — what was meant for evil, God uses for good.
Revolutionary Prelude: The 1960s
The mid- to late-1960s saw hundreds of riots nationwide — 300 between 1965 and 1968 (700 between 1965 and 1971). The response of government was to embrace identity politics — racial set-asides, etc. Central to this was the Ford Foundation, which concluded that such remedies were essential. They proved disastrous, driving racial separatism, and the resentment that inevitably is generated among those on the losing side, when government stacks the deck on racial lines.
A Princeton study counts 570 violent demonstrations, in 220 locations, were staged this summer, from late May to the end of August. Many violent clashes were organized by Antifa and/or BLM; they have borrowed from the tactics used in the “color revolutions” in Eastern and Southern Europe; in this analysis, what is unfolding is America’s own color revolution. Estimates of BLM/Antifa riot damage inflicted nationwide show $2 billion worth of insurance claims, the most expensive ever. In early September, Antifa/BLM rioters chanted “Death to America” in Oakland. BLM is also deeply anti-Semitic — witness crude chants in an LA mob riot, described by one rabbi as “Kristallnacht (“Crystal night”: the infamous Nov. 9–10, 1938, riots in Austria and Germany, named for the countless glass windows shattered by rampaging Nazi mobs) all over again.”
And the public has noticed. The year has seen serial monthly gun sales records: five million first-time buyers in seven months, of which 58 percent were purchased by women or black men. Signs posted by Oregon rural folk warn looters, “Home and Armed. U loot, we shoot!” In Minneapolis three months after riots began, in the hardest hit areas the only storefronts intact are those protected by guns.
Under the radar has been what late-1960s German radical Rudi Dutschke called the “long march through the institutions” of Western society. An essay published by the Federalist counts six phases from freedom to communist tyranny: groundwork, propaganda, agitation, state takeover of societal institutions, coercing compliance, and elimination of enemies.
The revolutionary rage and violence sweeping 2020 America is eerily reminiscent of Communist China’s revolutionary and genocidal founder, Mao Zedong, and his “Cultural Revolution” (1966–76). Students — “Red Guards” — roamed the streets and countryside, rampaging, killing, looting, and forcing public confessions from those in all walks of life in their sights. While the government was able to pursue a major foreign policy goal of opening up to the U.S., daily life was virtually paralyzed nationwide.
The 2020 Meta-Election
Much of the sturm und drang recounted above may well be resolved come Nov. 3. Cultural commentator Roger Kimball sees the contest this way:
And just about now, a great chasm is opening up. The choice, they see, is not so much between Donald Trump and Joe Biden. It is between the America they love — that Donald Trump celebrates — and the out-of-control forces of anti-American hatred that, though he does not understand them, Joe Biden manages to blink and nod and gibber around.
Everything that is happening between now and November 3 is about November 3. But the fundamental choice is not really Donald Trump or Joe Biden. It is civilization and America on one side, anarchy and woke tyranny on the other. The Democrats thought they could ride the tiger to victory. Instead, they will be consumed by the monster they created but could not control.
What Kimball describes here is what I call a “meta-election.” It is midway between a traditional substantive policy election and a constitutional convention. Unlike the classic convention, a meta-election is not a formal assembly, as was the Grand Convention convened in 1787. Collectively, the triad of COVID-19, urban anarchy, and cancel culture raise an umbrella question: Will we remain a free, democratic republic, or will we morph into an unfree, socialist dictatorship? The difference is best understood by reference to the fundamental individual freedoms enshrined in the First Amendment, in that freedom of speech is the defining bedrock of individual freedom; its mortal enemy is collectivism. Former Soviet dissident Natan Sharansky, who a generation ago emigrated to Israel and rose to become part of Israel’s governing class, wrote a book titled The Case for Democracy (2002). He divided societies into “free” and “fear” societies. If you can walk into a public square, and without fear of reprisal, criticize the government and/or its supporters, you live in a free society. Conversely, if you reasonably fear reprisal, you live in an unfree society. Ask yourself: Would you feel safe wearing a MAGA hat while walking around in public in any major cities run by Democrats?
Bottom Line: The “Collapsing Building Rule”
Moments before a building pancakes due to internal structural failure, it looks to the observer as solid as the day it was completed. And when it starts to pancake, there are but seconds before the falling mass accelerates to unstoppable velocity.
In the summer of 1984 I visited Berlin, then still divided. What had been barbed wire in August 1961 had become, 23 years later, mile upon mile of massive wall. Guard towers were everywhere. But there was no sense of danger; my visit was uneventful. Yet a year later, the East German Volkspolizei — “people’s police” — shot and killed Col. Arthur Nicholson, firing across the dividing line. The wall looked as if it could stand for a thousand years. It divided the immensely prosperous West Berlin from the shuttered, ramshackle East Berlin. But outwardly, East Germany seemed rock stable.
Then came the summer of annus mirabilus 1989, when a fresh exodus from Eastern Europe began, the largest since 1961. Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev decided not to do what all his predecessors would have done: use force to keep the Evil Empire together. One Soviet spokesman, asked by a Western journalist what has going on, said that the Soviets had adopted the “Frank Sinatra ‘My Way’ doctrine.” Even a change to a harder line German leader, in October, proved to no avail. And on Nov. 9, 1989, the Berlin Wall was toppled. Then came three days in August 1991, when the Soviet Old Guard made its last stand, with a coup against Gorbachev. But Boris Yeltsin led citizens to Red Square and successfully got Army units to back his move. The plotters were arrested, Gorbachev retired, and for a decade Russia was a democracy. In two blinks of the eye, 75 years of Soviet tyranny were tossed away. But now Vladimir Putin has ended democracy in favor of kleptocratic oligarchy. Vlad the Bad rules like a 19th-century Tsar, complete with a cult of quasi-royal personality.
The frightening reality is that modern societies, for all their massive wealth, immense infrastructures, and global reach, are endemically fragile to myriad sources of great disruption. A pandemic unleashed by China that shut down Western economies for months; our police getting embroiled in racially charged shootings that sparked massive urban riots; the all-out revolution pushed by hard-left radicals have collectively brought America to its knees. Seemingly solid and secure as a newly erected structure as 2020 began, only eight months later America’s foundation cracks. One decisive shock can initiate the building pancake sequence. And one likely is on the way.
The upcoming presidential vote, unless one ticket decisively wins, could cause our rickety election machinery to collapse, with no final verdict for weeks, perhaps months, and with whoever wins discredited in the eyes of half of America’s voters. Two polls taken last week show that voters are keenly aware of post-vote perils: one poll found 56 percent fearing mass violence; the other found 61 percent fearing a civil war. The republic itself then might rapidly descend into multiple sanctuary regions, de facto secession, or even full-bore civil war.
Source: The American Spectator