In 2020, Americans must decide whether their country is worthy of praise or contempt.
The Riot Party
The Left perfects the mob veto.
America’s present crisis is driven in large part by the Left’s rejection of the rule of law. Those in charge of the riots are not merely blackmailing their fellow citizens on particular issues like defunding the police. Rather, they seek to overthrow the electoral process itself.
Twenty-five years ago, when O.J. Simpson was on trial for murder, there was much speculation about whether there would be race riots in the event of a conviction. I wrote an article in National Review West, a supplement to National Review produced by the Claremont Institute. The title was “Riots and Politics.” Today, it seems prophetic.
I raised the question—not altogether facetiously—why there was no speculation about whether white people would riot in the case of an acquittal. After all, O.J. was on trial for killing two whites, and racial tensions were running high. I noted that “riots and the threat of riots had almost become an accepted part of the judicial system in southern California. ‘No justice, no peace’ was the legal term of art for what had become a part of the legal system.”
The likelihood of riots after a high-profile black conviction has become an unwritten but significant tenet of our legal system. When a state court acquitted the white officers charged in the post-arrest beating of Rodney King, widespread riots successfully prompted a second trial at the federal level and determined its outcome. The jury at that second trial were fully aware of the new rules: “no justice, no peace.” “The outcome,” I wrote in 1995, “was a foregone conclusion. What juror would want to be responsible for provoking a new round of deadly riots?” The officers were duly convicted of violating the civil rights of Rodney King under a federal statute.
I wrote then that Johnny Cochran, O.J.’s attorney, urged the jury “to ignore the guilt or innocence of his client and ‘send a message’ to America’s governing institutions that racism will no longer be tolerated.” This was, I commented, “a plea not just to the jury, but to all people of color in the community. If the jury failed to send a message, the community was to act in its stead—to nullify the jury by rioting. After all,” I concluded, “this procedure had worked to perfection in the Rodney King case.”
I pointed out that “rioting has been praised at the highest levels of politics as a legitimate instrument not only of the judicial process but of social policy as well.” During the Rodney King riots even George H. W. Bush stated that “the rioters’ grievances were justified and would be rectified by federal prosecutors.” During these years and throughout the years of the Great Society, Democratic members of Congress frequently warned that a failure to fund inner-city youth programs would result in “long, hot summers”—meaning summers of sustained riots, all caused by a refusal to extend the largesse of the welfare state to specially protected clients of the administrative state.
This rhetoric (or rather, this thinly disguised blackmail) was common among the Great Society supporters who sought to enlarge their reach and power by any means. Maxine Waters, Congresswoman from Los Angeles and now a prominent supporter of BLM and Antifa, referred to the Rodney King riots at the time as a “rebellion,” implying that they were a justified reaction of the black community against the endemic injustice of white supremacy that dominates American society.
Even before the Rodney King riots, a prominent law professor had made elaborate arguments that rioting is a form of expression protected by the First Amendment—a simple matter of “matching one’s rhetoric to his outrage.” Think of it—one of the most advanced and respected legal minds arguing that rioting is rhetoric!
And yet that is exactly what today’s progressive rioters believe. Destroying property is “not violence,” according to the New York Times’s Nikole Hannah-Jones. NPR hosts conversations with authors who write books In Defense of Looting. Destroying lives is merely a rhetorical display to emphasize or illustrate the evils of white supremacy. No reasoned argument necessary when outrage will do!
How naïve we were to think that the Constitution mattered—that all lives mattered. That phrase has been declared racist by the “woke.” Not through any reasonable arguments—there are none. Only by decree: it is simply an assertion of racial superiority. All lives do not matter in this new universe. Hysteria has supplanted reason in the public square; public discourse no longer exists.
The tactic leftists were advocating in 1995 has today become commonplace. Riots are not only being justified: they are being made into a staple of our judicial system and our public life, the threat of them used to install routine fear and racial supremacy in our homes and cities.
Riot by Election, Election by Riot
After O.J. was acquitted, a liberal academic wrote in the Los Angeles Times that white people have been “rioting” at the ballot box every election day: “when white people riot, they do it silently, almost invisibly, albeit painfully.” African Americans in Los Angeles, this author continued, made a visible display of “celebrating a symbolic court victory” after the O.J. verdict. But they would more than likely suffer real and irreparable harm from the backlash of an angry, albeit invisible and silent, white majority.
I asked in response: “what will result from this backlash? The angry majority will move to eliminate affirmative action programs [quoting the academic] ‘so that jobs and education will be more readily available to whites.’” This did indeed happen, but not for the reasons the author claimed. Proposition 209, passed by voters in 1996, banned affirmative action based on equal protection grounds to ban racial preferences—not to protect white jobs, as our author mistakenly suggested.
“Other results of white rioting,” I continued, “will undoubtedly be the elimination of welfare and free medical services to illegal immigrants, the elimination of bilingual education and, if this liberal academic is to be believed, the dismantling of the entire welfare state.” Most of these predictions were accurate for California: bilingual education was ended by voter initiative, and welfare for illegal immigrants was ended by initiative, although the initiative was overturned by federal courts. The entire welfare state was not dismantled in California, but the election of Donald Trump in 2016 promised the beginning of a move against the federal bureaucracy.
“The ballot box,” I wrote, “may be the indispensable tool of democracy, but it is also the silent, deadly killer of the welfare state.”
I then asked:
How can this stealth killer—the HIV virus of the body politic—be stopped? Simple: election nullification. If elections are dominated by angry whites who are bent on doing harm to discrete and insular minorities [a legal term of art from the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s referring to minorities who are supposedly isolated from the majoritarian political process and therefore cannot defend their racial class interests in elections], there is no reason that majorities should have any moral authority in the welfare state. Jury nullification—a powerful lesson learned from the O.J. verdict—can be expanded to “send a message” to the invisible, silent rioters who hide behind their ballot boxes. Think about how easy it would have been to protect the welfare state if the November 1994 election had not resulted in a Republican victory. Affirmative action would be safe; welfare would be safe; indeed, all the Great Society programs would be beyond the reach of angry whites.
The group that contributed most solidly to [the 1994] Republican victory was white males. That in itself should have been enough to nullify the election. It is a matter of little wonder that that a suit to invalidate the election has not been entertained by some federal court. But, then again, wouldn’t it be healthier for democracy if these stealth rioters abandoned the privileged shelter of their ballot boxes and appeared openly and honestly in public?
Rioting to influence jury decisions was a lesson easily transferred to elections. If elections were a form of silent riot, then, in the simple-minded analysis of race-baiters, open riots have an equal claim to be elections. Elections, in their perfervid imaginations, are thus taking place in cities nationwide today, directed by BLM and Antifa with the complicity of the Democratic Party.
These riots can disrupt or cancel previous forms of election by intimidating voters and candidates, to say nothing of canceling elections. In fact we may no longer need elections. The logic of “no justice, no peace” has been extended to elections. Michelle Obama practically said as much at the Democratic National Convention: “if you think things cannot possibly get worse,” she warned, “trust me, they can; and they will if we don’t make a change in this election. If we have any hope of ending this chaos, we have got to vote for Joe Biden like our lives depend on it.”
As Michael Anton explained on this website recently, Democratic operatives are now speaking openly of rejecting the results of the election. A recent article in the Daily Beast states that “the larger game plan is to apply pressure through mass mobilization.” Within the Democrat Party today “there is dispute over whether Biden should even concede if he wins the popular vote but loses the Electoral College.” What I warned of in the ’90s is now playing out in real time: Riots are fast on their way to becoming elections by other means. If leftists have their way, they will decide all electoral questions from here on out with mob rule. Many of them have been aiming at this target since the ’90s, and probably before. It all makes sense now.
The American Mind presents a range of perspectives. Views are writers’ own and do not necessarily represent those of The Claremont Institute.