Reader Enrico called my attention to the New York Times article below, in which editorial-board member Farah Stockman reports that a lot of violence connected with social-justice demonstrations was done neither by black protestors nor by right-wing white supremacists trying to gin up incidents that would turn people towards Trump and away from the Left. No, it was managed and carried out largely by a group of largely white “insurrectionary anarchists” operating in Portland, Seattle and Washington, D.C., who had somewhat unclear aims. The goal was to change society to eliminate its hierarchical nature, but beyond that the “utopia” wasn’t specified.
As Stockman notes:
That’s the thing about “insurrectionary anarchists.” They make fickle allies. If they help you get into power, they will try to oust you the following day, since power is what they are against. Many of them don’t even vote. They are experts at unraveling an old order but considerably less skilled at building a new one. That’s why, even after more than 100 days of protest in Portland, activists do not agree on a set of common policy goals.
Even some anarchists admit as much.
“We are not sure if the socialist, communist, democratic or even anarchist utopia is possible,” a voice on “The Ex-Worker” podcast intones. “Rather, some insurrectionary anarchists believe that the meaning of being an anarchist lies in the struggle itself and what that struggle reveals.”
In other words, it’s not really about George Floyd or Black lives, but insurrection for insurrection’s sake.
Well, read the article by clicking on the screenshot:
The motivations, actions, and philosophy of the anarchists were uncovered by photographer Jeremy Lee Quinn, who, while on furlough, discovered that a lot of the violence was being stage-managed by a group of white black-clad people wearing similar masks. He then masqueraded as one of them for four months, and discovered that their goals and methods, revealed on the fascinating website Crimethinc, involved inducing violence (rioting, looting, arson, etc.) that itself would provoke counterviolence by police. The counterviolence, in turn, would gin up sympathy to the goals of the peaceful protestors. The anarchists thought that their actions advanced the cause of “racial justice,” and were successful in causing violence and getting away with it by hiding amidst the “peaceful, legitimate” protestors.
Quinn documents his association with the “black bloc” on his website Public Report.
What intrigued me about this article was Stockman’s suggestion that the violence actually helped achieve the aims of the peaceful protestors, and did so by frightening citizens into aiding and donating to organizations that used peaceful techniques (my emphases):
There’s an even thornier truth that few people seem to want to talk about: Anarchy got results.
Don’t get me wrong. My heart broke for the people in Minneapolis who lost buildings to arson and looting. Migizi, a Native American nonprofit in Minneapolis, raised more than $1 million to buy and renovate a place where Native American teenagers could learn about their culture — only to watch it go up in flames, alongside dozens of others, including a police station. It can take years to build a building — and only one night to burn it down.
And yet, I had to admit that the scale of destruction caught the media’s attention in a way that peaceful protests hadn’t. How many articles would I have written about a peaceful march? How many months would Mr. Quinn have spent investigating suburban moms kneeling? That’s on us.
While I feared that the looting and arson would derail the urgent demands for racial justice and bring condemnation, I was wrong, at least in the short term. Support for Black Lives Matter soared. Corporations opened their wallets. It was as if the nation rallied behind peaceful Black organizers after it saw the alternative, like whites who flocked to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. after they got a glimpse of Malcolm X.
But as the protests continue, support has flagged. The percentage of people who say they support the Black Lives Matter movement has dropped from 67 percent in June to 55 percent, according to a recent Pew poll.
Well, I’d take issue with the claim that Martin Luther King’s cause was advanced significantly by people fearing the implicit violence of Black Muslims. What got King’s cause advanced was not only the force of his words, but his reliance on peaceful protest, gleaned from Gandhi, which met with police violence—clubbing, water hoses, and attack dogs. It was the sight of people in a just cause being brutalized by racists that finally got the Civil Rights Act of 1964 passed. There is nothing more moving than people being brutalized while advocating a clearly just cause, and doing it peacefully.
Still, violence was an important part of the mix, and King’s associates not only expected it but wanted it. They knew the effect that Alabama cops and their nightsticks would have on the public when those clubs descended on the heads of people practicing both legal protest and peaceful civil disobedience—people simply asking for their rights.
One could thus assert that some kind of violence was a sine qua non for racial justice in the Sixties. We don’t know for sure, as this is not a controlled experiment, but it is plausible. It’s a bit less plausible, at least to me, that the riots, looting, and arson that accompanied the current demonstrations helped the causes espoused by Black Lives Matter (there are several parts of its platform).
The question, then, is whether violence is a key ingredient in advancing racial justice in America—whether the violence be by police or running-dog anarchists. And we don’t know the answer, though I suppose anecdotes can be advanced on either side. (Lynchings, for example, which horrified anti-racists, are also violence, while King’s March on Washington and “I have a dream” speech were neither civil disobedience or violence.)
One can look to other places, though this doesn’t answer the question about America. One might, for example, argue that violence wasn’t necessary to get India out from under the colonialist heel of Britain, even though some violence before the forties did advance the cause of Indian indepencence. (I refer to the Jallianwalla Bagh massacre of 1919, which involved British soldiers massacring unarmed and peaceful Indians.) But by the forties, no violence was really necessary for the Brits to quit India, for that egress was in the cards anyway. And the impetus, of course, was the nonviolence of Gandhi and his followers.
But India isn’t America, and perhaps the powers that be in the U.S. require a demonstration of brutality to gain people their rights. I don’t really think that’s the case, for, despite the Stonewall riots, I’m convinced that gay rights were inevitable, even without violence. And women gained their rights without much violence from the authorities, and with no violence from women. As a pacifist, I reject violence by people as a valid means to moral progress except in drastic situations like wartime (World War II might be an example). But whether violence by authorities is required, well, that’s a different kettle of fish.
Weigh in below.