Three Species of Protesters

I have participated in numerous public protests in my life – on both sides of the ideological fence.  Regarding the litany of naïve causes I once championed, I will humbly take the Fifth.  While it’s always a risk to generalize, I believe that the people I’ve encountered at these events can be sorted in three basic groups: the sincere, the radical, and the barbarous.

The sincere are generally the largest group one finds at a protest.  These are the people who have come to lend their voices to what they genuinely believe to be a righteous cause.  Only rarely do they have particular goals in mind.  I wouldn’t characterize the sincere as “peaceful protesters.”  The term “peaceful” isn’t really compatible with the word “protest.”  No one ever said to himself: “I think I’ll go down to the protest for a little peace.”  “Nonviolent” is a more apt description — “I’m going to shout, chant, and maybe wave a sign, but I’m going to stop somewhere short of breaking windows and hurting people.”  Protests, of all kinds, are gatherings of angry people.  They may indeed be “peaceable” but are never “peaceful.”  “Peaceful” has become the media code word for violent but excused.

At a protest, you surrender a certain share of your individuality to the emotional energy of the crowd.  You cannot help it.  Protests are not public debates over the finer points of public policy.  The crowd is not an intelligent animal, but a passionate one.  Nevertheless, decent people do not become a mob of anarchists at the drop of a hat — or, for that matter, at the drop of a red baseball cap.  Protests are as good or as bad as the people who compose them.  They are, at best, a means for people to show political leaders that their particular interest group is not entirely powerless.  They are also a means for the protesters to teach the same lesson to themselves.  The crowd is a force to be reckoned with — the individual has only as much power as society’s institutions have integrity.

The first Trump rally I attended (and Trump rallies absolutely are acts of protest) gave me a powerful sense that I was not a lone voice in the wilderness.  All the people around me were fed up, too, and for more or less the same reasons.

Protests are not always bad.  Our founders were wise.  Without the Tea Party and Trump rallies, we would still be waiting for Mitt Romney to act something like a man.

Protests are strong medicine.  Sincerity offers no immunity to being tragically misguided.  People who are angry about problems that are either exaggerated or wholly nonexistent only amplify the lies of the people who misinformed them.  Anyone dutifully chanting, “Hands Up! Don’t Shoot,” for example, is only perpetuating the narrative of an event that never occurred.  There is a difference between objective truth and feeling — but in a protest, feeling always wins.

The radical protesters, though not present at every event, are the local cheerleaders for misinformation.  These are people with an ideological agenda quite apart from the stated subject of the protest.  Whether they are anarchists or neo-Nazis, they share a common contempt for the merely sincere.  Members of Antifa couldn’t care less about the asphyxiation of George Floyd.  His death was, to them, a welcome and useful opportunity.  The radical is not a person of conscience, but a cynical provocateur.  For him, the crowd is a body of lesser creatures to be herded toward some violent altercation.  Far from being at one with the crowd, the radical will be happy to get a fellow protester maimed or killed if it produces an inflammatory video or two that will advance the greater cause of bringing society to its knees.  Bringing society to its knees is quite literally what BLM would like to do.  The radical protester is really little more than a sociopath with political pretentions.  That was Saul Alinsky, certainly.  You have but to read his book to see his nasty motivations.

I cannot speak of radical conservatives because I personally have never met one.  Klansmen and skinheads exist in tiny numbers — but they are not conservatives.  The neo-Nazis and white nationalists that have supposedly overrun America are, we all know perfectly well, a myth.  Or, if you prefer a little snarky irony, they are a neo-Marxist social construct, bogeymen from under the progressive bed.  There are plenty of angry people at conservative events, but all of them I’ve talked to have seemed basically sincere.

Conservatives could not produce a body of cynical bomb-throwing provocateurs if they wanted to.  The best we can manage is the occasional irritating crank.  A disorderly conservative is an oxymoron.  The Tea Party, notoriously, picked up their own trash, refrained from graffitiing buildings, and left the cars of bystanders unignited and right-side-up.  In no instance did they use their own excrement as a medium for political speech.  They never, to my knowledge, went home reeking of Eau de Tear Gas.  I was at a pro-gun rally once where open-carry firearms were out in force.  It was odd to see — but no one brandished a gun at either the police or the Frederick Douglass Republicans (God love ‘em!), nor was anyone there to show off their personal collection of Molotov cocktails.

The last species on my list of demonstration fauna, the barbarous, hardly needs an introduction.  He is a creature fundamentally unfit to live in civilized society.  Whether this is because he grew up without a father or, like Jeffrey Dahmer, simply happened to be born without a conscience is of little practical relevance.  When the cinderblock hits the bystander’s skull, we really need to stop talking about what the perpetrator might have been and deal bluntly with what he is.  Where the radical is an ideologue, motivated by manipulating the crowd, the barbarian is clearly present for the pure bestial excitement of looting, mayhem, and bloodshed.  Far from being outraged by events, the barbarian delights in the opportunity to riot and would riot every day if no one were there to stop him.  When liberal mayors engage in conciliatory tearful sympathy toward an uncoordinated mob of looters, eagerly engaged in wrecking everything in sight, they are simply conflating the barbarian with the sincere.

Rioting with abandon is never a feature of a free society in healthy operation.  It is not a cry for justice.  It is a sharp and terrifying nullification of foundational elements of civilization itself.

Let us be plain: the radical and the barbarous are antisocial characters who add nothing to society but fear, disorder, and suffering.  The barbarous, black or white, live nasty, brutish, and short lives, winding up in prison or dead when their luck eventually runs out.  The radical have fared better in our decadent society, having found ready positions in the professoriate after their youthful ability to throw tear gas canisters back at the police has given way to arthritis and old age.  True to character, they have indoctrinated several generations to their wholly antisocial socialist creed.

All these people are the enemies of civil society.  Only among the sincere do we find any cause for hope.  They are, as I have said, as good or bad as their particular beliefs.  If, at heart, they really do want decent lives for everyone, then they may still be amenable to reason as a means to get there.  If, on the other hand, they think they can have utopia by promoting ideas like defunding the police they are, instead, the tragic enablers of evil — even if they aren’t entirely evil people in and of themselves.

Image: Steve Snodgrass via Flickr.

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