Societies–because they’re made up of people–function a lot like people do as individuals. Just as you or I might bottle up our anger and then one day explode, so can a society bottle up its collective anger and then explode all at once.
On an individual level, as well as a societal one, we can prevent that from happening by letting our anger out over time. Sometimes we release that anger because a wrong was made right. Sometimes we release that anger by finding constructive ways to put that energy somewhere else.
Sometimes, though, the only way we are physically and psychologically able to release that anger is with the same brute force with which it’s felt–directed either at ourselves or at others.
This is why, when King says that “a riot is the language of the unheard,” he’s not condoning violence but acknowledging this simple psychological reality: you either give people the justice or the coping mechanisms they need to address injustices, or violence is likely to become an unfortunate inevitability.
One of my great fears for American society was that we would let the pressure build and build with no release. George Floyd was not the first murder of an unarmed black man this year, but he is the first that has stirred up a nationwide response.
Perhaps at a scale not seen since the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., or even before that, we have encountered rioting and looting that are the result of righteous anger to the degree it might better be termed an “uprising” or a “revolution” rather than “rioting and looting.” On the other hand, we have also seen much rioting and looting that appears to be a false flag event: white men showing up dressed as protesters, against the wishes of protest leaders, who break windows and start fires specifically to incite violence.
An article in VICE goes into some detail about how these white men are, in fact, using the moment to provoke a second civil war in the United States–what they call the “Boogaloo”:
The “boogaloo” is code for impending civil war or violent confrontation with law enforcement, and that’s what they’re hoping to get out of the protests. Their main reason for being there is their antipathy toward law enforcement, and so they’re trying to position themselves as allies of Black Lives Matter protesters. […] While some Boogaloo Bois say they’re just libertarians, others will, on occasion, veer into racism — and make no secret of their desire for violence. In addition to their physical presence at the protests, the #boogaloo hashtag on social media has been flooded with memes in the last couple days egging on violence, and talking about how they hope this is the beginning of a civil war.
The egging on of violence is terrifying. The very idea that we could be facing an actual civil war, at worst, or that people are trying to make one happen, at best, is truly abominable. But these are not just hidden, secretive white men infiltrating protests dressed as, say, “Antifa” or #BlackLivesMatter protesters. The inciting of violence goes all the way to the top, with a president who encourages the shooting of looters, dehumanizing Americans at every opportunity. What options are left to the people who can’t report the police to the police, the politicians to the politicians? What peaceful options remain when those in power are only in power for themselves?
When I see righteous anger on the streets of America, I see a clear difference between those fighting, with violence or not, for their own sacred human rights versus those who control the nuclear arsenal fighting to maintain white power–along with those who support them.
Understandably, many people are wont to abhor this uprising, regardless of who instigated it, and the media has maintained a message that such action by protesters is abhorrent. I do not generally condone violence toward police or destruction of property, but I find it equally reprehensible, if not worse, that the media, certain politicians, and those pushing the same tired talking points fail to understand the imbalance of power at play. It’s easy to take pictures and videos of groups of people ransacking a Nordstrom; it’s not as easy to capture the way the wealthiest, political elite have looted an entire generation.
When American billionaires got $434 billion richer during a pandemic that has caused over 40 million layoffs, what one person might call “looting,” another might say the American people have already been looted, left empty-handed, and are simply taking what they know they’re owed. Similarly, when the first hospital bill a teacher received this week for his coronavirus treatment was over $840,000, amid our healthcare being tied to our jobs, looting just seems, well, rather insignificant in the grand scheme of things. That’s why the protests are about so much more than just George Floyd, because when George Floyd was approached after being accused of using counterfeit money, the racial disparities and the class disparities are deeply-linked and cannot go unnoticed.
I don’t think–though maybe it’s because I just don’t want to admit–that we are barreling toward civil war, despite the efforts of some to bring about the so-called “boogaloo.” To pull that off, you’d have to successfully politicize and divide the U.S. military, its generals, the whole of its intelligence community, and there would have to be some sort of flash event, bigger than what we’ve already encountered–a kind of “Reichstag fire” event or a “Night of the Long Knives“-styled attack that involved arrests or killings of political leaders. That’s not always or the only way countries fall into civil conflict, but it’s a pretty common enough route. Suffice to say, I don’t think, I pray, that we’re at that point. But do not miss the warning signs, because they are everywhere.
For example, do not miss the dark money flowing into Facebook groups to make them seem like they are grassroots movements. Do not miss the role of foreign actors, like Russian bots calling for reopening, to manipulate us to their will. Do not ignore the attempt by the U.S. attorney general to suspend habeas corpus in 2020. Do not forget that white supremacists have been trying to get their hands on a dirty bomb or a nuke for decades.
Pay close attention to the U.S. election. A president refusing a peaceful transition of power or de-legitimizing the election results could so gravely damage our democracy, there may not be a way back. Pay close attention, too, to the generals and how they react to any decisions that have been made. A fissure there would so deepen our divide, I fear the ramifications.
And look for the kind of events I mentioned earlier–the style of event that would so outrage the populous that those who are currently peacefully protesting could decide they tried that tactic and they must return like for like instead. I’m talking about things like the arrests of Obama-era officials, a false flag that bombs a police station causing conservative retaliation nationwide, etc.
We are a broken, failed democracy, and the clock is ticking. There’s still time to turn things around, come November, with your vote, but it’s just as likely that America can’t or won’t wait that long. Meanwhile, amid a pandemic that has not ended, if hospitals aren’t overrun by violent bloodshed in the coming weeks, they may very likely be overrun by the virus, or both. It should be telling that protesters in places like New York, so hard-hit by the virus, decided to risk their lives and their family’s lives to take to the streets. That alone should tell you–this is far from over.