The cliff of force

When people resort to force to defeat other people’s views, they aren’t starting down a slippery slope. They’re stepping off a cliff. It doesn’t matter how strongly they feel, how contemptible the opponent is, or how carefully legal they are. Resorting to force to silence an opponent means substituting muscle for reason.

Many news outlets reported that “violence broke out” at a white supremacist rally in Sacramento on June 26, but are vague on who engaged in violence. This isn’t necessarily unreasonable; it can be hard to sort out where things started, especially if both sides are spoiling for a fight. All the evidence I see, though, indicates that it was a gang of “counter-protesters” who launched the first attack.

Stabbing victim in Sacramento being carried on a gurneyAccording to the Sacramento Bee, organizer Yvette Felarca “says their violent reaction to a white supremacist rally at the California Capitol Sunday will help prevent violence against immigrant communities by dissuading other supremacist groups from holding events.” Another report quotes her as saying, “We succeeded in shutting them down,” and she’s quoted as saying, “If they trip and fall, good.” A Los Angeles Times article quotes a police officer:

If I had to say who started it and who didn’t, I’d say the permitted group didn’t start it. They came onto the grounds and were met almost instantly with a group of protesters there not to talk.

A Reason article says that attackers “came brandishing wooden bats and shouting ‘fuck fascists. Beat the fascists. Beat them.'” Felarca, according to the article, said she was “very, very proud” of the violence she instigated. (Felarca is a schoolteacher, by the way.)

The idea of initiating violence in the expectation of dissuading people from violence is the worst kind of utilitarianism. It’s significant that Felarca’s gang calls itself “By Any Means Necessary.” The approach doesn’t even work on its own terms, as Sunday’s events show. A melee broke out, and at least ten people were hospitalized. The Traditionalist Worker Party was evidently happy to return violence in kind. They brought knives, and the injuries included stab wounds. They may have been defending themselves, though.

I’m sure the large majority of the counter-protesters simply wanted to make a peaceful statement against the rally. Unfortunately, a group of thugs came intent only on violence.

Most of the news articles don’t mention this. Someone reading the article without this information would probably assume that the TWP attacked the counter-demonstrators. Why has Felarca’s gang gotten so little mention? My guess is that it makes for an inconvenient narrative. The people whose rights are violated aren’t supposed to be unlikable. All victims are supposed to be people we can feel sorry for.

The Traditionalist Worker Party is a contemptible white nationalist group, but that excuses nothing. Using force to silence opponents is an admission of not being able to win in debate, and it replaces superiority of reasons with superiority of power as the standard. It encourages the people it targets to engage in violence in turn.

The same applies to the people who have tried to silence Trump rallies. Seeing two sides, both ready to use force to demonstrate their righteousness, is a frightening sight. If it becomes a common one, it’s a deadly blow to America’s liberal ideal.

Updates, June 30: So far I’m not seeing any reports of legal action against anyone in connection with the violence. Some people have been calling for Felarca’s school to fire her. If the reports I’ve seen about here are accurate, this is reasonable; a person with such violent inclinations shouldn’t be a teacher. However, I’ve also seen smear articles in the media trying to spin these reactions as hostility to her students. They describe her as merely “involved in the counter-demonstration,” not addressing the reports that she led a physical assault. The school probably can’t do anything to her if she hasn’t been charged with anything, which is understandable.

Update, July 10: Only about a week later, we’ve seen the full meaning of “by any means necessary” in Dallas.

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