Much as been made of the “kidnappings” of Antifa thugs off the streets of Portland after federal agents wearing military garb effected the arrests of several persons, whisking them away in unmarked rental vans. I agree that it is troubling to see people arrested by other than fully identified law enforcement officers. For example, if the trucks that had rolled up on the streets of Portland been up-armored Homeland Security vehicles, and identified as such, I would feel more comfortable about the tactics used. The fact that so many people are supportive of these arrests tells us something important about the world we live in at this moment, however.
That something is a fact of human nature: In the absence of law, in the absence of civil order, people become ever more willing to embrace authoritarian and even fascist tactics if only this will restore order. There’s a very fundamental reason for this, too: It is impossible for human beings to live and to prosper in an atmosphere of constant threat.
This is the lawless anarchy into which Black Lives Matter, Antifa, and the Democrats have thrust the United States. A nation already reeling from month after grinding month of the COVID-19 pandemic, a nation suffering after our government put a gun to the temple of its own thriving economy and pulled the trigger, was ripe for civil unrest. Foolishly, I thought riots would break out in reaction to the lockdowns, as Americans have a notoriously short attention span for national socio-political phenomena. I still grapple with the question of whether I was correct, in that riots did break out, but through leftist political agitators rather than quarantine protests.
In any locale where governments collapse and anarchy reigns, that state of total lawlessness never lasts. Such power vacuums always see a rise of powerful warlords, as the region descends into a type of feudalism. This is because people who can’t sleep at night for fear they’ll be killed and robbed (not necessarily in that order) are willing to embrace any infringement on individual rights in exchange for safety. If you can’t leave home for fear that your home and your things will be appropriated when no one is there to protect them, you quickly grow weary of that lifestyle.
Yet this is the very atmosphere the Democrats, BLM, and Antifa have created. Portland alone has been under siege for weeks. Because those in power in most of the nation’s major cities are Democrats, they have been content to allow the agitators to destroy, to riot, to infringe on the rights of peaceful citizens without interference. The agitators have been given the proverbial “room to destroy,” complete freedom to do as they will. Dozens if not hundreds of rioters have seen their charges dropped. They will face no consequences for their crimes. (Meanwhile, at least two people who painted over a BLM “mural” on a public street face hate crime charges.)
When it becomes clear that there is no law, that there is no order, that everyone lives under threat of mob violence, human beings become extremely predictable. Those under threat will endorse and support any move that restores order — no matter how great a violation of the Constitution and individual rights this move represents. When Democrat authorities across the nation make it clear to their constituents that leftist “protesters” may beat them, burn their buildings, destroy their monuments, and threaten their livelihoods unhindered, those constituents suddenly become very comfortable with “fascist” tactics.
I had an English professor once who was also an English professor. By that I mean he was from England, and also taught English at my university. We were discussing action films once, during Steven Seagal’s heyday.
“I hate those films,” he said, in his cultured accent. “They’re so fascist.”
“What’s fascist about them?” I asked.
“Think about it,” he told me. “You have one indestructible man who can do whatever he wants. He’s judge, jury, and executioner. Nobody has rights. Nobody can appeal. He walks through them, killing them and maiming them based solely on his discretion. You had better hope he’s always right, hadn’t you?”
I have always remembered that. It brings powerful, valuable context to what we think of as heroic. If we look at the action hero’s enemies, not as cookie-cutter “bad guys,” but as people, and if we view him as fallible, suddenly the moral authority with which he judges and punishes others starts to look terrifyingly weighty. Yet we cheer for the action hero for the same reason audiences made the original Death Wish and Dirty Harry cinematic classics: Human beings hate anarchy and will cheer on anyone willing to stop it.
In this, the agitators have handed President Trump a deadly and double-edged weapon. The more disorder they create, the more they victimize American citizens, the more Democrat leaders allow these actions to persist and to go completely unpunished, the more Trump’s authoritarian federal troops will be applauded. Free citizens should not embrace these tactics, but as long as they believe the only alternative is to live under constant physical, economic, and ideological threat, they most surely will.
That is the real danger here, and blame for its creation lies squarely at the feet of those on the Left.