Many politicians, media pundits and commentators, along with the mainstream cultural apparatuses, are decrying property destruction produced by protesters in the face of unrelenting police assaults on unarmed Black people. Their critical focus has been not only on the broken windows, burning cars and alleged "looting" of stores, but also on the so-called violent tendencies of the "left" and anarchists who serve as stand-ins for the thousands of peaceful protesters who have taken to the streets.
Violence in this right-wing logic is equated with the destruction of property while at the same time it ignores "the pain and/or bodily injury" inflicted on human beings, especially those not deemed worthy of civil liberties and human rights. Nobody should justify assaults that lead to needless human suffering and the destruction of neighborhood property, especially in impoverished cities. Nor should violence be used as a rhetorical device to include property damage. Violence is a term that should be limited to assaults, injuries and harm waged against human beings, not property. When talking about violence, it is crucial to make a distinction between the destruction of property and violence against persons.
Right-wing extremists are not only considered terrorists by the FBI but also rank among the most dangerous threats to the U.S. According to the Center for Strategic & International Studies, most terrorist incidents in the United States since 1994 were conducted by right-wing groups. Moreover, the Center noted that, "Right-wing extremists perpetrated two-thirds of the attacks and plots in the United States in 2019 and over 90 percent between January 1 and May 8, 2020." Unfortunately, when the focus of violence is strictly applied by politicians and the media to protesters, the assaults, murders and aggression produced by right-wing groups disappear from public view or get defended as a public service. For instance, the right-wing youth, Kyle Rittenhouse, who was arrested for the murder of two demonstrators and the wounding of another in Kenosha is being hailed by some, such as Tucker Carlson, in the conservative media echo chamber as a "law and order" warrior acting against the lawlessness of the left. President Trump has not only refused to condemn Rittenhouse's actions, along with the violence waged by white supremacists, he has also defended him, stating that Rittenhouse acted in self-defense. As Greg Sargent observes, "that makes Trump not the law-and-order candidate, but rather the candidate of arbitrary violence, lawless abuses of power and civil breakdown.""The most dangerous creation of any society is the man who has nothing to lose." James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time.
Trump is not alone in his denial of systemic racism. Attorney General William Barr, Trump's Roy Cohn, in an interview with CNN's Wolf Blitzer both denied the existence of systemic racism in the United States, and once again repeated his belief that whatever violence and abuse Blacks suffer at the hands of the police is due to their own criminality. As the Associated Press notes, Barr has argued "that there is a 'false narrative' that the country is in an 'epidemic' of unarmed Black people being killed by white police officers."
Furthermore, focusing on the alleged violence and looting associated with groups demonstrating against police violence and institutional racism often sets up a false equivalency. It suggests that there is no difference between the power and brutality of state violence and the incidental violence produced by people often demonstrating against police brutality and institutional racism. The violence produced at times by oppressed groups is often the outgrowth of the despairing circumstances in which people find themselves, especially those who are desperate to retain their dignity, civil rights and a modicum of security. Many oppressed groups find it almost impossible to put up with the massive injustices and assaults on their dignity, ability to survive, and the anxiety of having to live in a constant state of fear and terror. Why shouldn't they revolt and take out their frustrations in a literal display of direct action and in some cases looting? Is it really that hard to understand? The different contexts that produce violence, and the accelerated scale and order of it as part of a network of capitalist institutional violence is what should be focused on, not the minuscule acts of aggression committed by protesters. Racist violence, police brutality and state aggression are in the bones and soul of the United States.
Yet, when car windows are smashed, goods are seized, fences are torn down and buildings are burned, the elite and right-wing press are quick to label all protesters as outside agitators who destroy their own neighborhoods, and invite further police violence. Or, they remain silent when Trump, as he did at the Republican National Convention, labels all protesters as "anarchists, agitators and criminals" code for Black people. These protests are not viewed as moments of direct action rooted in revealing the racial character of oppression, egregious economic deprivations and ongoing life-threatening incidents of state violence. On the contrary, the arguments that focus on the violence in such demonstrations divert any analysis from addressing a fascist politics that embraces white supremacy, economic inequality, the rise of the punishing state, and a range of injustices that threaten both human life and the planet itself. Nor do such analyses focus on the role of white, right-wing militia groups and white supremacists in instigating violence in many of these demonstrations.
When the elite press does at times acknowledge that Trump enables violence through the incendiary incitement of racist fears while engaging in endless acts of lawlessness, they offer little analysis to how such tactics are central to the workings of fascist regimes. Instead, they either focus on Trump's lawless actions as a wide effort to broaden his appeal or they call upon Joe Biden to respond to the charge that he and a host of Democratic governors are responsible for the violence in some cities.
As a political strategy, this is not unimportant, but it does not get to the heart of the predatory and egregious state violence at work in the United States, which, incidentally, helped create the conditions that got Trump elected to the presidency. For instance, no dots are drawn connecting Trump's camouflaged troops gassing and grabbing protesters off the street, encouraging the police to rough up suspects, refusing to condemn police officers who kill unarmed people of color, and his retweeting of a supportive message regarding Kyle Rittenhouse's "fatal shooting of two protesters and the wounding of a volunteer medic."
Trump is doing more than amplifying white fears, enabling right-wing violence, using racist appeals to sway white suburban voters and terrorizing peaceful protesters -- he is establishing the conditions for a fascist state.
State violence comes in many forms and extends from the criminalization of social problems and the horrors of the carceral state to the militarization of the police and the increasing violence waged against undocumented immigrants, poor youth of color, and anyone who is not white and viewed as expendable, if not disposable.
Consider agents of the state suffocating, with impunity, a Black man, Eric Garner, on the streets of New York in full view of bystanders. Consider police officers shooting 12-year-old Tamir Rice while he was holding a toy gun; consider the police kicking in the door and killing Breonna Taylor while she slept in her bed; consider a cop putting his knee on George Floyd's neck for almost nine minutes until the last breath passed from his body. Consider a government that separates children from their parents and puts them in cages. Consider that waging violence against Black men and women did not end with slavery and Jim Crow, but continues into the present era, especially under Trump, whose call for "law and order" functions as "an enabling tool for providing an open season on killing Black men." Moreover, "law and order" as a defining principle of Trump's mode of governance is best defined by the White House's ties to criminals, such as the eight associates of Trump arrested or convicted of crimes, including Steve Bannon, Roger Stone and Michael Cohen.
The property destruction committed by protesters shrinks in importance compared to this relentless racist state violence. This is in addition to the state violence that results in thousands of children who die in the U.S. every day because of poverty and the elderly who are thrown into nursing homes that have become the new funeral parlors. Consider the more than 192,000 needless deaths in the U.S. as a result of Trump's shameless disdain for public health, science and human life. The COVID-19 disaster was not simply a crisis of health and economics, but also a political crisis. All of which is on full display in Trump's failure to produce a national plan to deal with the spreading virus. The Trump administration has blood on its hands because of its failure to act. There is also his relentless efforts to promote Wall Street profits while shamelessly focusing on economic growth to increase his political ratings and ensure his reelection.
Another failure rested on Trump's use of conspiracy theories rather than science to sacrifice investing in public health in order to revive the economy, all of which was supported by his Vichy Republican allies and his base. What are we to make of Sen. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee stating at the Republican National Convention that, "if the Democrats had their way, they would keep you locked in your house until you became dependent on the government forever. That sounds a lot like Communist China to me." This is hard to make up and reads like a narrative that is a mix of elements from The Truman Show and A Nightmare on Elm Street, all of which is appropriated by Trump and his lemmings to deny the reality of the pandemic itself. In this story, the pandemic crisis and Trump's failed response is just a fictitious plot hatched by advocates of socialism.
State violence enshrines the economy while stating without apology that the elderly, the sick, and those with fragile health and serious conditions should sacrifice themselves on the altar of neoliberal capitalism. Looting becomes a rhetorical tool of the right wing to discredit organized protests against systemic police violence and institutionalized racism. As Robin D. G. Kelley notes, looting is now applied to people stealing from stores in the midst of an uprising rather than viewed as a way to make visible how "Indigenous land was ... seized, the value of Black-owned homes ... suppressed, Black wages suppressed, [and] how the massive transfer of wealth to the financial elite functions as a form of looting."
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