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  • Richard Farr

Conservative hysteria about left-wing hysteria

At the GOP convention, Mike Pence has been winning back some nervous Wisconsin voters by promising that Donald Trump, man of Law and Order, will save them from "anarchists." It goes almost without saying that Law and Order is not needed by members of his own circle. Convicted criminals like Roger Stone walk free. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks to the party convention while on official business in Jerusalem, in bright-line violation of the Hatch Act. But we get the message; these are Bigly's people; the law does not apply to them so long as he says it doesn't. Fascinating that when he and they show their contempt for the rule of law, the word anarchism never even comes to the well-schooled journalist's mind. But then Bigly's people only break lives, not windows.

In this depressing context, it's interesting to dissect the way one Dominic Sandbrook of London's Daily Mail reports on an ugly incident in Wisconsin that followed the Kenosha shooting of Jacob Blake:

The footage could hardly be more chilling, like something from the wilder fringes of Hollywood's dystopian imagination. A woman sits at a table, recoiling in fear. She is penned in, surrounded by a mob of masked men and women, their clenched fists raised menacingly in the air. Again and again the rhythmic chants go up: 'White silence is violence! No justice, no peace!' The woman shrinks further back in her chair. The mob moves in. Some of them lean into her face. They stand over her, fists raised, shrieking and shouting, demanding that she too raises her arm in salute.
On and on it goes. Nobody comes to her defence. It's an awful scene, reminiscent of the street scenes in Germany in the spring of 1933, when Nazi thugs demanded that ordinary people raise their arms in homage to Hitler. 

It is an awful scene. The road to hell is paved with self-righteous posturing, and you wish people joining a movement like BLM would think hard, be mature, and above all be both kind and less cripplingly sure of themselves. When people are earnest for a cause, irony is often the first victim, and it really says it all when people waving signs saying "Silence is Violence" threaten strangers with the thing that I suppose we have to now refer to as "actual violence."

And yet.

First, and perhaps least important, Sandbrook's language is filled to overflowing with precisely the inconsistency, grandstanding, self-righteousness and cheap rhetoric of which he accuses the protesters. Plain dishonesty too. The hypocrisy, like the scene itself, "turns your stomach."


As he belatedly admits, "Many moderate black leaders were quick to express their condemnation, and even some Black Lives Matter protesters were eager to distance themselves." But this doesn't prevent him from claiming the incident as proof that "for weeks now it has been obvious that whatever its origins, the Black Lives Matter movement has become a nihilistic, monomaniacal cult" that is "perilously close to fascism."

Let's just pause here to say plainly that this is a bald-faced and morally disgusting lie. We've just been handed the admission that it can't be true, because the leaders of said movement swiftly condemned the incident. But in any case, and leaving that aside: far from being "nihilistic," BLM is a moral crusade for specific aims that the majority of Americans (at long last, and ye gods about time) overwhelmingly support; far from "monomaniacal," it isn't even "mono," since the details of those aims are complex and a matter of (very interesting) continued debate.

Libeling a movement by conflating it with its worst moments (or the worst people to claim to support it) sets Sandbrook off on a veritable Lindy Hop of rhetorical wiggling. "Like all true fascists," we are told,

the most extreme BLM supporters have a crude, conspiracy-theory view of history. They believe that the world is steeped in evil, thanks to the machinations of their morally diseased opponents.

On the one hand: well no - we have so far no evidence that any of these badly-behaved and unsavory people are "true fascists." Funny how sensitive conservatives are to the too-ready use of that term by leftists - but the stark difference is that many right-wing protesters in the US really are (literally, out and proud, leather caps and all) fascists, while others, including so many of the President's friends and even staff, are merely what we might call White Supremacy Curious. Maybe Mr. Sandbrook would need to roam the US in blackface for a while just to get a sense of how frightening that is?

On the other hand: well yes - his is a reasonable description of how some of these people tend to think; but the wind goes out of the persuasive sails a bit when you consider that alas, human nature being what it is, this is true of the most extreme among Italian Catholics, Chinese Communists, American Evangelicals, Israeli settlers, Saudi Wahhabis, Hungarian nationalists, and on and on, including probably Daily Mail-reading "string em up and hang em" Shire Tories. The question is, what does this have to do with whether the BLM movement itself is a good thing or a bad thing? Not a whit, of course - and that brings us to the second and more important point: where is the Daily Mail's outrage about the things the BLM is outraged about?

The BLM protesters threatened a woman in a profoundly ugly way. But BLM didn't start because a few US police officers threatened one Black diners in an ugly way; it started because US police officers routinely threaten, pull over, search, and arrest Black people in all circumstances, and murder them, year after year, at a rate beyond the resources of all the world's terrorist organizations combined. Black people realize this won't change until white people get their heads around what persistent violent racism by the people paid to protect you means for the tenor of a Black person's daily life. And you will search in vain for the long series of articles in which Dominic Sandbrook and his ilk try to get anyone even slightly interested in such matters.

The whole farago is here: It contains other dishonesties too numerous to list, but let's not forget:

Over time, it has become glaringly obvious that the BLM movement is largely driven by rich, white, expensively educated Left-wing university graduates, like the people involved with Oxford's Rhodes Must Fall movement.

The glare is too bright, apparently: in the US, at least, this is nonsense, even where I live, in majority-white Seattle. And let's not close without digging just a little into this:

Here in Britain, too, shrieking mobs have taken to the streets, tearing down statues and screaming at passers-by.

Here in the US, we have just celebrated the hundredth anniversary of a victory by another "shrieking mob" that "took to the streets." They were pilloried by the self-righteous Dominic Nitwits of their time. They were hated, derided, spat upon, described as extremists, described as insane, beaten, arrested. No doubt they would have been described a fascists, if the term had been invented. But a little shrieking, even a lot, is sometimes necessary to penetrate a certain kind of mind. They were called "suffragettes."

So what do we have here? Eh, Dominic? Outright lies. Clever (if you don't look too closely) misrepresentations. Incendiary language designed to rouse to irrational posturing a very different kind of rabble. A smug failure to even glance in the direction of the big story, which in the US is a 200-year history of routine, institutionalized, murderous contempt for the rights and safety of any citizen with the wrong skin color. And (may I borrow a phrase?) a habit of "regarding the very idea of objective truth with contempt."

The incident in Wisconsin was ugly. It should be condemned. But the meta-story is important too: readers of the Daily Mail, like those who somehow manage to believe Mike Pence, have no idea how much they are paying for the warm feeling of righteousness that comes with being lied to.


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