Are Riots Counterproductive, and Who Decides?

Yves here. As the author points out well into the article, riots, as opposed to demonstrations, are seldom planned, although the opponents of the controversies at issue would have you believe otherwise. But the bigger issue is that this isn’t as clear-cut a matter as orthodox pundits would have you believe.

By Matteo Tiratelli, who teaches sociology at UCL and is the Chair of Battersea Labour Party. Originally published at openDemocracy

When some of the recent Black Lives Matter protests against the murder of George Floyd ended in riots, the pushback was immediate and predictable: different visions of Martin Luther King’s legacy were fought over, rival interpretations of the Civil Rights Movement were deployed, and contrasting lessons were identified.

There can be no single interpretation of the turbulent 1960s, but there is much we can learn from historical work on this period. In particular, Omar Wasow’ s recent analysis of the tactics of the Civil Rights Movement makes a provocative argument that “nonviolent” protest helped to shape a national conversation which raised the profile of the civil rights agenda and led to electoral gains for the Democrats in the early 1960s.

By contrast, he argues, rioting in US cities after the assassination of Martin Luther King pushed white Americans towards the rhetoric of ‘law and order,’ causing large shifts among white voters towards the Republican Party and helping Richard Nixon to win the 1968 presidential election shortly thereafter.

This is a controversial argument, even costing political analyst David Shor his job when he recently tweeted about Wasow’s thesis and received an angry response from those who saw it as a “tone-deaf” attack on legitimate protest. At the root of this controversy are important questions about whether framing riots as a ‘tactical choice’ is appropriate, who that framing makes responsible for ongoing racial injustice, and what the fact that we’re having this debate says about people’s views of politics and priorities. As King warned in 1968:

A riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it America has failed to hear?…it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquillity and the status quo than about justice and humanity.

But social movements can’t afford to ignore these arguments completely. The idea that violent protests might be risky is not surprising, since in societies that pride themselves on being ‘peaceful,’ riots violate many taken-for-granted liberal values. Wasow’s rigorous, quantitative analysis gives this argument a historical foundation but it also has obvious resonances for today, at a time when President Trump is running for re-election on a ‘law and order’ platform against the background of street protests in cities like Portland and Kenosha.

However, the implications of Wasow’s arguments are not as straightforward as they might appear. One immediate issue concerns his methodology and the size of the effects he estimates. The models reported in Wasow’s paper don’t include any controls for time, which are normally included in statistical analyses to control for general trends affecting society as a whole, trends we assume would have happened anyway.

In an appendix to his paper, Wasow does report some models with a time control, and these significantly reduce the negative effect of rioting on white American opinion. Whether that affects his claim that Nixon would have lost the 1968 presidential election in the absence of riots is difficult to say without further analysis. But leaving the precise size of the effect to one side, it seems plausible to say that violent protests did alienate at least some potential allies of the Civil Rights Movement, and that this could have had significant electoral consequences.

But something else is clear from the public opinion data that Wasow collects. Even during the height of the supposedly “nonviolent”protests of the early 1960s, the civil rights agenda was only momentarily pushed to the front of the national conversation. The sudden leaps that characterise the pattern of protests over time seem to be mirrored in the temporary nature of the shifts in public opinion they can cause.

This raises serious questions about the efficacy of protests whose primary aim is to change public opinion, because they operate at a completely different timescale to the slow cycles of policy development, institution building and cultural growth that are needed for fundamental political change. If politicians know that people’s attention is likely to have wandered away after a few short months, they have little incentive to follow through with meaningful reforms.

Source: Omar Wasow, “Agenda Seeding: How 1960s Black Protests Moved Elites, Public Opinion and Voting”, American Political Science Review, Volume 114, Issue 3.

The transitory nature of changes to public opinion shown in Figure One is backed up by a wider body of evidence. For example, Michael Biggs, Chris Barrie and Kenneth Andrews recently showed that the Civil Rights Movement had only negligible long-term effects on the attitudes of white Americans, making them no more likely to have liberal views on race or to support the Democratic Party. So if the effects of more ‘respectable’ protests can also be questioned, where does that leave riots?

One often-ignored aspect of rioting is its ability to produce new generations of leaders and organisers and to serve as an inspiration for future struggles. As Vicky Osterweil argues in her forthcoming book, In Defense of Looting, many significant political movements were born in moments of riotous insurgency – Stonewall being an obvious and important example. The methodological challenges of measuring and testing these long-term cultural effects are enormous, but that doesn’t mean they should be dismissed.

There’s also the question of whether riots should be thought of as a ‘tactic’ at all. They are obviously not ‘scheduled’ in the same way as a demonstration or a protest. Nor are they as easy to contain and control as a march or a public meeting. Rather than asking whether riots are ‘effective,’ maybe we should ask whether they are justifiable reactions. Expressions of grief or anger may do little to challenge or change the situation which provoked them, but they can still be seen as apt and important responses. I have some sympathy for the consequentialist logic of focussing on the efficacy of riots, but we should be open to other frameworks of evaluation too.

Finally, it’s worth asking whether the reported backlash against the riots of the late 1960s is likely to be repeated in 2020. On the one hand, both sets of riots came shortly before presidential elections. The stakes are therefore similarly high. But on the other hand, today’s very different media environment may alter the power of reporters to frame these events in positive or negative ways.

Social media, for example, has proven vital to the recent wave of protests against racism and police brutality, enabling the sharing of images and videos and serving as a vital educational and advocacy tool. So far, the impact of the protests on public opinion has been largely positive, with far more people overall citing race and racism as the most important problem facing the United States than crime and violence – though the latter has increased since May of 2020, particularly in certain demographic groups.

And while the rise in attention to racism shown in Figure Two is far smaller than the equivalent trend from the 1960s, the context of Covid-19 makes any direct comparison extremely difficult, especially when the question pollsters are asking concerns the ‘most important problem we face.’

Source: Author’s graphic, compiled from Gallup Polling Data, 2020.

It’s also worth emphasising that the effects of any event on public opinion are only partially determined by the characteristics of the event itself. Much more significant is the political struggle to represent it in particular ways in the public imagination.

So rather than criticising riots that have already happened, our focus should be on pointing out the absurdity of a logic in whichsystematic murder is excused but property damage is condemned; on demonstrating the ongoing horror of racist violence; and on depicting the myriad ways in which structural oppression is reproduced. That is the fight to which we must rededicate ourselves.

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  1. Louis Fyne

    For better or worse, traditional mainstream media now longer has a monopoly on framing the media narrative on riots (or any other discrete events).

    Just spend 10 min.on Twitter or Facebook and you’ll find video after video with millions of views on the recent rioting—and interpreted based upon on one ‘s personal political lens.

    But fwiw, but my bet in the camp that the nighttime riots (not the daytime assemblies) are helping Trump.

    1. Generalfeldmarschall von Hindenburg

      They probably are helping Trump to the extent that the President’s media people can associate the mayhem with the somnolent and half sentient Biden with chaos and wanton destruction of small businesses. People tittered when Target was sacked. But people rioting never seem to go after those acually responsible for their immiseration, preferring to burn down little used-car dealerships, nail salons, fast food joints and other franchise operations which present a corporate sheen, but are at least employing the locals.

      GM everyone!

      1. TBellT

        Small businesses and franchises are often just owned by local oligarchs (often who rule from afar in suburbia) profiting off the fact that most of their workers are underpaid. And they’ll keep it that way by fighting $15/hr and other pro-worker policies.

          1. furies

            Is that so inconceivable? Just people…and just because someone is categorized as a ‘small business’ owner, means they’re all good?

            Please. Some of my sh*ttiest jobs were run by ‘small business’.

          2. TBellT

            They are certainly not the paragons of virtue that our culture regularly paints them as. Much of that praise should be directed towards co-ops and other worker owned businesses, which hardly ever get mentioned in the MSM.

            I assume some small business owners are good people. But the two small biz owners in my extended family are also the most selfish people in my family by a mile. I don’t think that’s coincidence.

            1. jsn

              Small businesses provide something like 60% of US jobs.

              They are as diverse as the population with regards to morality, politics and attitudes towards power relations.

              Generalizations conceal more than they explain. My small business went bankrupt because I delivered for my clients and paid my staff well and provided good benefits up until the markets I served vanished in about 2010. Your results may vary. Small business are not a monolith but have been an important space for experimentation that appears to be closing.

              1. Glen

                So true, small business, and innovation are being crushed right now.

                If you are not propped up by the Fed on Wall St, you are closing or about to be bought out by wall St at pennies on the dollar.

            2. drumlin woodchuckles

              I suppose that small business owner-operators run the gamut from White Hat Good Doers to Black Hat Evil Doers.

              Under the New Deal-Fair Deal era’s ” ordered capitalism under law” regime, there were limits on how much practical evil the Black Hat Evildoer small businessman could perpetrate. Which means the Black Hats could only exert only but just-so-much downward pressure on the decent standards which White Hat GoodDoers would have been able to maintain while staying in bussiness.

              Now that we have a ” disordered capitalism under lawless anarchy” regime, the Black Hat small business Perpetrators set the standard and force the White Hat small business Be Gooder into a choice of adopting the Black Hat anti-standards, or going out of business.

              A restoration of “ordered capitalism under law”, strictly and savagely enforced against the Black Hat EvilDoers, would relieve that one particular pressure from off of the White Hat wannabes.

          3. Anonymous

            Good or bad, because of the way the system is set up, small business often uses the PUBLIC’S credit but for their own private gain.

            1. garden breads

              What type of small business and how small a business are you talking about? I always had to provide a personal guarantee to any lease or loan for my couple incorporated businesses. Many small business owners put in everything they have and are at substantial risk.

              Of course many small business owners are worse than one can imagine, but there’s plenty who live here, donate time and money to the community, and hire kids whose parents enjoyed their work in the same places years ago. I tried to treat my workers well and desponded I could not afford health insurance for them (or my own family) even 20 years ago. I fondly remember old bosses advising me “when you have your own place…”. But its gotten really hard to make it as an independent.

              1. Anonymous

                Banks are not truly private but heavily privileged by government. This allows them to create vastly more deposits (“Bank loans create bank deposits”) than they could otherwise and expect to get away with it.

                This has the effect of cheating savers since their savings aren’t really needed that much .

                So those considered “credit worthy” are, in essence, allowed to steal from those who can’t or won’t borrow as much, e.g. their employees.

                It’s a rotten, obsolete, Gold Standard relic model and unstable as well – not to mention politically dangerous.

                We could have an ethical system with low interest rates too so there’s really no excuse that I can see to continue with the present system.

              2. Sheldon

                What kind of small business uses public credit for gain?

                Here’s an example. Preferential loans and guaranteed business.

                The minimum requirements to qualify as a MBE with the National Minority Supplier Development Council (NMSDC) or a local MBE program administered by a city, county or state are:
                “A for-profit business located in the United States; 51% owned, operated, capitalized and controlled by a member(s) of a presumed group identified below, who is the top executive officer responsible for managing daily operations with a technical expertise (experience) in the firm’s primary business expertise.”


          4. Aumua

            The very nature of the employer employee relationship under Capitalism is exploitative and lopsided in terms of power. It’s true all the way down to a mom and pop establishment that employs just a couple of people. If the owner chooses to and and/or treat their employees well then good for them, but the fact remains that the employer is making money off of their employee’s labor. They pay a wage that is necessarily less than value produced by that labor, which they can do solely because they own the means of production. The shop, tools, knowledge, customer lists and whatever else are the private property of the owner/employer.

            Certainly the destruction of that property is taken very seriously (and rightly) as an attack on the Capitalist system of labor exploitation itself.

            1. Aumua

              For small business owners who don’t want to be part of that exploitation, the answer is simple: operate the business under a socialist mode of production. Restructure the business as a worker self-directed enterprise.

              Now, would such a business still get damaged and looted in a riot? Yeah probably, because riots are largely chaotic regardless of any class war aspect they may embody.

              1. Starrygordon

                In order to have socialism (the means of production owned and controlled by the workers) you have to have a set of workers who are interested in undertaking the additional burdens of ownership and control for whatever the rewards may be, with the additional complications of egalitarian group ownership. It is not always easy to find workers who will sign up for this arrangement. Many people are unfortunately used to bosses, and being able to put the work day and its concerns out of mind when they go home.

                However, some riot insurance can be obtained through positive involvement with the community (‘This business is owned by your relatives, friends, and neighbors!’) The community may try to protect it.

                1. Aumua

                  While we remain embedded in a system that favors competition and a ruling class then yes, it is an uphill battle to establish a successful business based on cooperation which serves the working class. But not impossible.

          5. Generalfeldmarschall von Hindenburg

            They’re as mixed a bag as any group of people. Some are run by people slightly to the right of Ayn Rand and some are run by people who are as fair as they think they can be. Even those will screw you over if you somehow beome invonvenient in some way- such as a long term illness or accidental injury. “Oh well- you can’t do the job as described in the manual. We’re gonna have to cut ya loose, Bruce.”

        1. occasional anonymous

          Irrelevant. Whether these small businesses are nice or not doesn’t change the fact that they are local and provide jobs. The lumpenproletariat and (much more likely) lumpenbourgeoisie in places like Kenosha are accomplishing literally nothing when they go around burning down family-owned furniture stores, other than hurting themselves, and in fact are most likely undermining their cause through the bad PR. People as a general rule do not like riots and arson. The only people attempting to justify these actions or provide a nuanced view of them are people already on the side of BLM. For everyone else, whether actively opposed or just neutral, all that’s been accomplished is that Trump has been handed an actually burning city to fear-monger about.

          That they’re effectively punching themselves in the face isn’t a new phenomenon either; the brain genius race riots of the 60s did lasting damage to black communities in the US:

          The big winners in all this will be Walmart and Amazon, as yet more small businesses die and they move in to replace them.

      2. bassmule

        This is one of the great bamboozles of all time: Show pictures of people rioting (including ones from Spain, but hey whatever) during your administration and saying this will be the future under the other guy.

      3. a different chris

        >preferring to burn down little used-car dealerships

        How do you know the people that burnt down said car dealership weren’t using the “riot” to get back at the person who caused their most recent and painful “immiseration”?

        In fact if I was a betting person, I would probably put money on it. I mean, can you think of any single cause of underclass distress greater than the fact that
        1) In America you need a car
        2) In America “used car salesmen” is one of the go-to phrases that needs no explanation from the person using it.

  2. timotheus

    This article makes me recall the anti-nuke movement of the early 1980s and the 800,000-strong march in New York against the next generation of weapons. It was very well behaved and promptly ignored. Not saying it should have been a riot, just that it’s a Catch-22.

    1. TBellT

      Or the protests against the Iraq War in the early aughts, which were some of the most widespread anti-war protests ever seen at that point and yet couldn’t get any hearing in the media.

      Another quote that was in the water cooler that’s stuck with me: “People have been protesting in Louisville for 85 days over Breonna Taylor’s murder. 85 days. And the fact that the powers that be can just withstand that, and just not even respond to it, and be like “That’s nice, just keep doing your thing,” that tells me that we have to develop some sort of new way of applying leverage to them.”

      It’s pretty clear peaceful protests have it’s limits. To really force big changes like in South Korea or Puerto Rico you really need to get the whole country on board so that it becomes a de-facto general strike.

      1. Wukchumni

        I was one of about a quarter million on the streets of SF in the run-up to the debacle in Iraq part deux, and the next day witnessed presstidigitation hard at work in that they only reported on the hooligans who had thrown a large rock through the plate glass window of a retail business, nothing to see here folks, please move along.

        1. Keith

          And Joe Biden had already spent more than half his political career in the senate by then, supporting such war crimes. Your vote can keep up longstanding American traditions, dead and wounded Americans, millions of brown bodies and our squandered economy, fighting for oil and Israel.

        2. Alex Cox

          2 million turned out in London to oppose the Iraq war. Entirely peaceful. Downplayed by the MSM and ignored by the politicians (New Labour). Whereas the poll tax riots a decade earlier smashed up a number of expensive facades and got the policy reversed.

          Destruction of property used not to be described as ‘violence’.

          1. Dirk77

            Is it possible that the poll tax riot was regarded as successful because it smashed up a number of expensive facades? Or was the reason something else? I ask partly bc Thatcher blamed an internal struggle in her party for her getting tossed out and not any external reasons.

  3. Carolinian

    So people who show up in flak jackets, helmets, gas masks, shields carrying baseball bats, large fireworks, green lasers are not planning to riot? I suggest we are dealing with a different animal than the 1960s and a more relevant comparison would be the regime change protest movements of more recent times. It has been suggested that BLM has taken money from Soros as well as The Ford Foundation so the heavy establishment involvement may indicate that BLM itself has a degree of political affiliation in the background.

    As to counterproductive, guess it depends who is doing the rioting (often a big mystery). But it doesn’t seem to be good for BLM, whose approval ratings, some polls indicate, are dropping among an initially sympathetic public..

    1. The Rev Kev

      Bit ironic when you have the Democrats hoping for a surge in popularity through these riots. Some rioters are better than others. Echoing Star Wars, they are saying “Help Me, BLM Kenoshi. You’re My Only Hope.”

      1. voteforno6

        So, protesting is the same as rioting?

        Do you have any proof that these protestors are the same ones who are doing the rioting? It may be that the reality on the ground is much different than what you think it is.

        1. furies

          Sounds like protective equipment to me.

          When white boys can run around with AR-15 and no one blinks, you best be prepared (not even talking about what the cops can do).

          Suburbia cannot fathom what is going on–it’s beyond them. But people can only be pushed so far…and when ya got nothing to lose…

          1. Carolinian

            Seems most of the people who show up in the above listed equipment are white boys too. And some of them have guns. The Portland shooter–self described “pro snowboarder” and antifa–had a pistol, and the AR-15 shooter in Kenosha was first fired upon by someone with a pistol.

            Plus I’ll give my own opinion that a lot of the people who show up are simply idiots out for excitement and who enjoy smashing things. The Kenosha police said that most of those arrested were out of towners.

            Can BLM therefore be blamed? Yes, for not denouncing all violence. And that goes double or triple for politicians like Biden who did finally say something when it seemed to be hurting him in the polls.

            1. Goyo Marquez

              do you have a source for,

              “ and the AR-15 shooter in Kenosha was first fired upon by someone with a pistol.”

              and Soros giving money to BLM whatever that is?


              1. Carolinian

                The NYT had a story analyzing the video that night and said he was being chased by several people and a muzzle flash was seen. It doesn’t mean they fired directly at him. And more detailed accounts, which may have been from Rittenhouse himself, say the the individual he only wounded did have a pistol.

                That doesn’t mean he should have been walking around with an assault rifle or that anyone should be walking around with an assault rifle.

                But the whole notion that only the right are violent is clearly–after ninety days of Portland–insupportable. And BTW burning down buildings and trashing car dealers also count as violence even if they don’t involve guns.

                  1. Carolinian

                    According to him they are the ones who chased him until he fell, hit him in the head with a skateboard and only stopped attacking him when he fired his weapon. His lawyers are claiming self defense.

                    1. Aumua

                      Maybe they were “chasing” or following him because he was walking around the protest brandishing an assault rifle, and they intended to make him leave and/or disarm him if necessary. I’m talking about before the first shooting.

                      He had already killed someone by the time he was attacked with a skateboard.

                    2. EoH

                      Until the man used his skateboard defensively, against a guy armed with an assault rifle, who had already killed someone. Would have been a lawful citizen’s arrest, if he hadn’t been shot dead.

            2. m sam

              I am not a gun person. Never like them and think there are far too many in our country. But with 800 pickups full armed right wing thugs parading through the streets, ramming their trucks into counter protesters, and jumping out to beat them up, self protection seems prudent to me, particularly since the police were nowhere to be found when all this was going on.

              If armed rightwing thugs weren’t terrorizing the streets in Portland there would be no Portland shooter. If the Kenosha shooter hadn’t shown up with an AR-15 nobody would be dead there. Blaming BLM for not denouncing violence loud enough seems misplaced.

        2. Ford Prefect

          I think there is only small overlap between protestors and rioters.

          Most rioting and property damage occurs after dark. Most mainstream protestors are gone by then. It is the diehard extremists as well as trouble-makers unrelated to the actual protest subject matter that seem to dominate after dark. BTW – that appears to apply to the police as well as many of their big pushes into the crowd seem to be after dark in many cities.

          Old adage that nothing good happens after midnight in bars seems to apply to protests, except it would be earlier, probably 8 pm. I suspect many people are tired and cranky by then, including police, so discipline breaks down on both sides. The trouble-makers then have their opportunity to shine.

      2. Epatmd

        I’m hard pressed finding anything potentially positive about the riots and looting. Dems mayors and politicians who openly supported BLM are finding themselves literally confronted at their doorsteps, and having to carefully backtrack from the violence they enabled, such as allowing a police precinct in Seattle to burn, then giving that part of the city to the perpetrators. The day after demonstrations in front of the Mayor’s house led by a city councilwoman with a microphone, the district was retaken. New example is Portland‘s highly enabling mayor, who just moved from his residence because of damage to his and neighbor’s property by demonstrators. Of course, it’s different when it actually happens to them in their affluent neighborhoods, but politically it’s hard for them to backtrack. Now Trump’s support even among blacks has risen to surprising levels. Polls have tightened against Biden. Oddsmakers are calling the election even.
        Both parties betrayed their constituents; Democrats by not responding to the violent changes promoted by their villification of police, calls and actions to “defund the police“…then refusing to rethink and intervene against growing anarchy. While Trump, narcissistically calculating as always in his own defense, stood back, watching polls rise in his favor, allowing it to go on without intervening to de-escalate the violence.

        Instead of destructive social unrest including deaths, two concrete things needed to be done, which congress and city governments briefly talked about but then failed to follow through with: legislating the end of qualified immunity, and removing police reprimands and discipline from the reach of police unions to civilian oversight.

        Failure of governance at multiple levels.

    2. CuriosityConcern

      I know, those Proud Boys really have been getting up to no good.
      Seriously, they have been deliberately baiting Portland for years now, in my opinion, if you keep baiting a bear, it’s your fault if the bear “defends itself”.

      1. occasional anonymous

        And when you celebrate the bear’s death?

        I don’t have any sympathy for the Patriot Prayer idiots (I also have very little sympathy for the protestors at this point), but not every far-right glassbowl is a ‘Nazi’.

        There is a direct connection between years of ‘Trump is a fascist’ propaganda and these idiots cheering a man’s death.

    3. JTMcPhee

      “it has been suggested that BLM has taken money from Soros as well as the Ford foundation…” Serious question, is this honestly documented, or just one of those “assertions” that float in the craposphere of social media and biased MSM outlets?

      I have no love for Politifacts, given how they cherry-pick points and data to produce a “mainstream” determination of “facts,” but there is this bit in response to the Soros meme:

      It has been suggested that the Russians control our elections and elected officials, too. And that “aliens” walk among us. And it has been suggested that the PMC controls or serves the people at the top of the Democratic private corporation Party…

      1. Carolinian

        Fair enough and I shouldn’t have passed along rumors, albeit discussions of this subject have been running on rumors for months now–on all sides. Perhaps the contents of this particular black box will become clearer once we see what comes out the other side–after the election. But I will suggest that the actions of various Dem politicians–painting BLM on the streets outside the White House and Trump Tower–constitute circumstantial evidence that BLM and the Democratic party are very much aligned. And I’d say the failure of so many of those mayors and Dem politicians to denounce the violence constitute the same.

      2. integer

        By partnering with Borealis Philanthropy, Movement Strategy Center, and Benedict Consulting to found the Black-Led Movement Fund, Ford has made six-year investments in the organizations and networks that compose the Movement for Black Lives. We also seek to complement the important work of philanthropic allies such as the Hill-Snowden Foundation, Solidaire, the NoVo Foundation, the Association of Black Foundation Executives, the Neighborhood Funders Group–Funders for Justice, Anonymous Donors, and many more. As we continue to engage with and learn from the movement, we’re eager to deepen and expand this community of social justice funders. We want to nurture bold experiments and help the movement build the solid infrastructure that will enable it to flourish. As we do so, we believe it’s essential that our funding not dictate or distort the work underway.

        The Black-Led Movement Fund is a donor collaborative supported by the General Service Foundation, the Linked Fate Fund at the Common Counsel Foundation, the Moriah Fund, the Nathan Cummings Foundation, Open Society Foundations, the Overbrook Foundation, Sprocket Foundation, Women Donors Network, W.K. Kellogg Foundation, a donor-advised fund at the Tides Foundation, a donor-advised fund at NY Community Trust, and Anonymous Donors.

        In 2016, the Ford Foundation announced plans to fund M4BL Movement For Black Lives in a “six-year investments” plan, further partnering up with others to found the Black-led Movement Fund.[38][39][40]

        The sum donated by the Ford Foundation and the other donors to M4BL was reported as 100 million dollars by The Washington Times in 2016; another donation of 33 million dollars to M4BL was reportedly issued by the Open Society Foundations.[41][42]

        In 2016, M4BL, which comprises Black Lives Matter and 60 other organizations, called for decarceration in the United States, reparations for harms related to slavery, and more recently, redlining in housing, education policy, mass incarceration and food insecurity in the United States[43], an end to mass surveillance, investment in public education, not incarceration, and community control of the police: empowering residents in communities of color to hire and fire police officers and issue subpoenas, decide disciplinary consequences and exercise control over city funding of police.[44][45]

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          Help me. You don’t even know how to interpret these things. Unless you have an OpenSociety person on the board, you’ve got nuthin, and even then, they’d amount to only one of X votes.

          What your text shows is that the OpenSociety is almost certainly too small a donor to have any influence.

          You have 12 donor organizations in the “supported by” category (second tier!!) in addition to the founders, Ford Foundation plus Borealis Philanthropy, Movement Strategy Center, and Benedict Consulting. You can be sure the founder ponied up at least 40% in total. The anonymous donors would be at least 5% in total or they wouldn’t be mentioned.

          55% (at most) divided by 12 = 4.6%. Not enough to have a say.

          1. integer

            From JTMcPhee’s comment above, to which I was responding:

            “it has been suggested that BLM has taken money from Soros as well as the Ford foundation…” Serious question, is this honestly documented, or just one of those “assertions” that float in the craposphere of social media and biased MSM outlets?

            1. Yves Smith Post author

              Money is presumed to buy influence, otherwise why would anyone care?

              Perhaps you missed it, but Soros is charged with being a big hidden hand on the Vichy Left in the US. It is true he wielded tons of clout in Eastern Europe, and speaks proudly of how everyone in the current Ukraine government either personally got an Open Society grant or has an immediately family member that did.

              And BLM taking money from a group in which Open Society was at best small fry is not at all the same as having Open Society as a direct donor.

              1. integer

                Yes, I read some of the OSF documents leaked by DCLeaks about Ukraine. Wrt to the US, Soros is one of the biggest donors to the D party, so why wouldn’t he be a “big hidden hand on the Vichy Left in the US”?

                Anyway, maybe you’re right, tbh I’m not sure whether I even care anymore, or whether it makes any difference if I do.

                Kind regards.

                1. Yves Smith Post author

                  Supporting the Democratic party is not acting as a hidden hand. Soros has backed causes like serious gun control and that has gotten nowhere, even after school shootings. So the idea that he wields much power is a right wing meme, to counter discussion of the Koch Brothers, who do have serious clout (they were major funders of the hugely successful effort that started in the late 1960 and was codified in the Powell memo of 1971 to move the country to the right).

          2. integer

            Lastly, I have learned a lot from you and Lambert in the 8 years I’ve been reading NC, and I wouldn’t feel right if I left without saying thank you to you and Lambert.

            Thank you.

  4. Mark

    Wasn’t the Boston Tea Party a riotous affair with to the instigators disguising their faces and deliberately destroying property.

    Modern history tells a different story about a political protest…..

    1. Keith

      Riots vs protesting is a lot like a revolution vs a coup, it really depends on one’s point of view and who the winners are. In the end, it is all relative.

    2. Joe Well

      The British East India Company would be more analogous to Amazon, not a mom and pop small business in an urban neighborhood.

      The Boston Tea Party was an act of sabotage voted on, planned and carried out by a vanguard revolutionary group with significant popular backing, not a bunch of self-described anarchist tourists going into an urban neighborhood and burning down some barely middle-class people’s life work.

      The analogy today would be if DSA looted and dismantled half the Amazon distribution centers in the country, taking care to make sure no one was inside them at the time (note to cops: I am not advocating this!). Of course, DSA is mostly a joke and definitely nothing like the Sons of Liberty, so that will never happen.

      1. TBellT

        The analogy today would be if DSA looted and dismantled half the Amazon distribution centers in the country,

        If that actually happened many of the people I know who complain about riots would be calling for those people to be executed on TV. There is no “right” form of looting that these people would approve of.

        1. Joe Well

          Well, that’s why any revolutionary group needs to educate people and try to win over as much of the population as possible. If people more people knew about what Amazon is really doing to the economy, planet and their own workers, public opinion would be different. The Sons of Liberty may never have gotten majority support (I don’t think there’s hard evidence on that), but they weren’t acting on the fringes of public opinion, either.

      2. Bruno

        The “Boston Tea Party” was a tax protest–the only one in our history against a tax *decrease*. Decreasing the tax on legally imported tea threatened the profits of the smuggling industry. Hence the riot, which our corrupt textbooks call “revolutionary.”

        1. Michael Meo

          Treason doth never prosper, what’s the reason? Why if it prosper, none dare call it treason. John Harrington, mid-17th century Britain.

        2. Joe Well

          It was only illegal “smuggling” because an illegitimate unelected government of aristocrats and big businessmen an ocean away declared it to be so (and by the way, that government was in the process of creating a hell on Earth in the Caribbean, India, and elsewhere). That was, like, one of the main points of the whole Revolution…

          As for the history of the Tea Party itself, it has been endlessly studied. This book, The Shoemaker and the Tea Party, was written by an academic historian for a popular audience and it is absolutely amazing. The protest wasn’t just against a tax but against a monopoly imposed from London. It was also a radical populist movement that aimed to abolish social distinctions. The protagonist of this book, for instance, was knocked unconscious by a “gentleman” who could legally do that before the Revolution because it was a social order based entirely on wealth and status with very little consideration for justice. But a group of revolutionaries visited that gentleman at home and made sure he paid restitution and understood he would not be able to that again, even before the laws were rewritten.

    3. Buckeye

      Ben Franklin said (roughly) when revolution is spoken in the first person (such as “our revolution, our war, our power”) then it is NOT treasonous. It’s only the third person (“their revolution, their war, their power”) that such words hold treason.

      LOL. Benny knew the score!

      1. John Anthony La Pietra

        Also, from 1776: “Treason is a charge invented by winners as an excuse for hanging the losers.”

  5. Wukchumni

    Can you remember any 60’s riots in the USA where the protagonists were openly armed, yeah me neither.

    Combine that with 15 minutes of video fame (see me-dig me) and it’s a whole new gig with only a semblance of the sixties, but hardly.

    I had my moment of clarity about 6 weeks ago listening to LA news radio when one of the stories was in regards to the danger of over a million assorted pills being out on the streets, and only towards the end of the segment did the real story emerge, in that said pills had come from 177 looted pharmacies* in the City of Angles.

    * when I was a kid in the 60’s it was very common for say 2 or 3 businesses on intersections with stop lights to be full service gas stations, and the only drug store I can remember was Rexall Drugs. Now it is common for intersections to have a couple drug stores where the gas stations used to be.

  6. Will Shetterly

    This ignores Antifa’s black bloc tactics which seek to create riots and to heighten violence that’s already begun.

    1. Amfortas the hippie

      and that agent provocateurs…even cops…routinely dress up like Black Bloc in order to get the smashing going, and belittle whatever the actual protest is supposed to be about.
      i think that there are legitimate riots…or can be.
      I would likely raise a glass if wall street burned, for instance.
      looting tiffany’s or rodeo drive look like righteous actions, to me…because those represent, quite literally, the Enemy.
      they ain’t “Mom and Pop’s”.
      similarly, in some place like kenosha…a food desert, where the nearest place to buy toilet paper is a walmart…which contributed directly to the demise of any locally owned alternative…that walmart is a legitimate target.(the “associates”, however, should be seen as allies or non-participants)
      however, as has been said, “riots” and “looting” are subjective things, and are not often planned. It ain’t a “tactic”…it’s an epiphenomenon, brought about from rage and hoplessness at that rage….a hopelessness born out of these same tragedies happening over and over and over again, and there being no light at the end of the tunnel, socioeconomically, for people living in those places.
      This, in my mind, is due to the ideology and worldview supported by the same folks that are often the first to condemn such phenomenon.
      “Efficiency” and “Profit Uber Alles” sacrifices these places, and effectively locks those folks into them…and then blames the residents for the results…which contributes further to the hopelessness and rage.

      “but…but…Opportunists!”—using the protests as an excuse to obtain a free TV…
      this, too is a product of the “Common Wisdom” of the propertied and their masters, and the otherwise comfortable looking on from outside…..”move fast and break things”…”creative destruction”…”all great wealth is the product of historical theft”…
      and most importantly, “There is no alternative”…and “there is no such thing as society”: “you are on your own, and must take what you need, because no one will help you”.

      “Walk a mile in my shoes” and “There, but for the grace of god, go I”///are the remedies.
      bring beer, and go hang out in such places…such sacrifice zones.
      after a while…if you’re respectful and Listen more than you talk…the denizens…the Sacrificees…will often open right up to you.
      take their stories seriously…even when they contradict what you think is True(they will).
      only then do you have a leg to stand on in criticizing these phenomena.
      otherwise, it’s just opinion, based on unexamined assumptions about the people doing these things….and about as useful as counting bumps on their skulls.
      There are long term unaddressed grievances that are perfectly legitimate and are almost never taken seriously, by either party…maybe some lip service, or a human interest story once in a while…but none of the bad shit changes. Put yourself in their shoes. Imagine yourself confronted with all that…the racism, the assumptions about “generational poverty” and “welfare as the family business”…and “it’s all y’all’s fault that you must live in the projects”.
      “but he had a record of Theft! so he must have deserved it”(doesn’t take much to get Thief attached to one’s record…it’s attached to mine due to a $19 check that got lost in the homeless shuffle after my paycheck bounced, and i got evicted(illegally, it turns out))

      (writing this, I’m thinking about the bicycle guy with a gun wrapped in his spare clothes, being shot in LA…maybe he had a gun because South Central LA has been sacrificed, and he felt unsafe…which is exactly the reason the McClusky’s cite for arming up—this is the world the Right(both parties) have been busily building for my lifetime. Well done.)

      1. Oso_in_Oakland

        Amfortas the hippie, respect. you see things from an indigenous/black PoV, or at least understand the viewpoint. I’ve learned its pointless to comment here as well as pointless to respond to the microaggressions the moderators don’t get, but you stand out as someone not just surfing the net then voting democrat. much respect, sir.

        1. Amfortas the hippie

          I’m a red headed white dude.
          but i’ve spent the majority of my adult life among the fallen…whether the homeless in austin, or the swamp people and creoles throughout the south, or the Po White Trash just about everywhere i’ve been.
          Or the Hispanic folks out here(which, due to my wife, I am an honorary member of)
          when i said “bring beer”, I meant it.
          whether hanging with the brothers in the hood, or with the cholos in the barrio,the coonasses on the tar paper houseboat in the Atchafalaya Basin, the poor redneck ranch hands on the tailgate in a pasture…
          Or among the at least 3 distinct populations of homeless folks in austin circa 1993(Veterans, “crusties”/”Dragworms”,and families fallen on hard times).
          minor differences in pigmentation and dress…and rather large differences in the details of culture and speech…but sharing all manner of similar travails and indignities.
          I’ve been doing the Chris Arnade thing for almost 40 years.
          It’s a shame, really, that all these folks can’t get together, somehow.

          contrast all those folks, with the “respectable people”…from upper middle on up. I’d trust the former to take care of me in a pinch…the latter are more likely to just call the law and pick my pocket.
          who is the savage, in this country?
          as usual, there’s a lot of projection going on…because to my mind, the savages are the one’s with lots of money and fine clothes.

          1. Aumua

            Hell yeah, we’ll all be ‘rioters and looters’ alongside our comrades before this is over. Either that or we’ll be sitting at home praying the police will protect us, or we’ll be attending the rising nationalist, pro authoritarian rallies…

            Get ready for ‘normal’ to go out the window, cause we’re not headed back there. Biden or no Biden.

      2. Buckeye

        Bravo, Amfortas!

        Using the Enemies’ own (capitalist) words against them! There should be a political advert on all stations laying those evil conservative ideas on top of images of the looting. At the end the voice-over says: “this is what conservatives and capitalists believe in; and what violent looters believe as well. If you agree, keep voting conservative. If you disagree, then break the power of money and take back your Democracy!”

        1. pjay

          Yes. And as an epiphenomenon I can understand it, even sympathize and justify it, for the reasons Amfortas expresses.

          But I think what some of us wonder, given what has happened in the past and what is happening all over the world today, is whether it might *also* be utilized as a “tactic,” and if so by whom, and for what ends? I reject the claim that this question denies the “agency” of legitimate protestors. To the contrary, I worry about the possible hijacking of an authentic and absolutely necessary movement by those with alterior motives.

          1. Amfortas the hippie

            yep. Cops dressed up as “antifa”…or even “boogaloo”…is a lot like screwing with the nuts and bolts of the post office(or medicaid) so that when the wheels come off, you can point to it and say, “See?!”—it’s making certain that your prophecy comes true, by any means necessary. Threat of a successful socialist experiment 90 miles south of Miami? Blockages and subterfuge and subversion and seizing bank accounts and making sure only opponents of the regime get an ear in the press…and if that don’t work, training up the criminal element to knock it down from within. then point to it and say “See?!”.
            It’s what the Masters do when things aren’t going their way…as evidenced by 80+ years of precedent.
            Jakarta is Coming.

        2. Eclair

          Yes, thank you, Amfortas, for encapsulating what has been floating about in my mind.

          It’s like the news reports on the trials and insanely long sentences imposed on women who finally murder their husbands, after years of enduring emotional and physical abuse. They may have tried other options over the decades … seeking support from friends, family, police … but nothing worked. The women are not employing a ‘tactic,’ they are simply trying to survive.

          At least, abused women don’t have to deal with infiltrators.

          1. Oso_in_Oakland

            ++++ ty eclair. “the women are not employing a tactic”. cops refuse to enforce DVRO’s. tragic that the woman still a victim after being forced to choose between death or self defense.

      1. furies

        Man, *where are they*?? This Antifa enemy? I sure haven’t known/seen any and I’ve been on the friendly side of Earth First…WHERE ARE THEY?

        Clocking in over at the fusion center mebbe?

        1. Wukchumni

          You know, the only videos I ever see of the mysterious Antifa folks are always shaky and from a distance, similar to videos of Bigfoot.

          1. Eclair

            I knew some Black Block people back in Denver, during Occupy. Spent an evening once, listening to them philosophize, in the dusty, mildewy upper room, known as The Deer Pile, over a locally famous vegetarian restaurant. Young, earnest. No guns or weapons in evidence, ever. Seemed to rely on the creation of a shadowy mythos of stealth, strength, solidarity. And dressing all in black. They might or might not have been Antifa as well. Whoever Antifa is.

        2. Generalfeldmarschall von Hindenburg

          I’ve known lots of these people and moved amongst them in Portland. There’s a long standing radical tradition. Plus also a tradition of FBI provocation (Christmas Bombing for one…it’s a long list.)

          1. EoH

            Plus, Portland can often feel like an island in a sea of red pick-up trucks. More often than not, police rank and file side with the pick-up trucks.

      2. ShamanicFallout

        I think some of the NC commentariat is not taking the comments section very seriously lately. This is not Twitter. Please read this from Chris Hedges on the black block during Occupy. This is an old article but he knows them very well and has been talking and writing about this for a long time, even very recently on the Jimmy Dore show. Because it’s still going on. Ignore really?

        1. Amfortas the hippie

          and thanks for reminding me of that article.
          I’ve known a few black bloc folks over the years…they are a real subset of the protest crowd, and more or less sincere…but they are also, as Hedges confirms, a wide open avenue for infiltration by the pigs.
          fair or no, that makes all black bloc endeavors suspect, in my mind.
          the Machine is ruthless.

        2. Lambert Strether

          Yep. +100. Oakland Occupy shut down the entire port with a march of IIRC 15,000. Just a couple of months later, it was down to a gaggle of black-clad thrillseekers smashing ATM machines and Starbucks (but never CCTVs. Oddly).

          It’s frustrating that the only people taking the body are anarchists, but it’s also frustrating that black block is what it is, and half cops, too. Ugh.

    2. Barry

      Can you think of any other groups’ tactics which seek to create riots and turn peaceful protests violent?

      Can you tell me how organizers of peaceful protests can control the tactics of people who show up?

  7. TBellT

    Honestly given how little the owners of this country give the working people I’m surprised riots haven’t been a daily occurrence for the last 20 years.

    My thinking is that deaths of despair is the balancing item; people have so internalized the stacked deck against them that they kill themselves slowly with drugs or quickly with suicide rather than rage against it. Obviously the elite would prefer it that way, if people are going to die at least let it be quiet.

    1. chip

      And profit off the misery of the poors while we are in the process of killing ourselves. Slow is better, that way more profits. Hey at least they provide choices for a slow death…GMO chips, soda, booze, pills, and the brain rot from tv…the possibilities are endless!

    2. Ford Prefect

      The primary defence the suburbs have from Trump’s feared invasion is that the poor and downtrodden can’t afford transportation to get to the suburbs to invade them.

      I live in a suburb of a city with a very poor inner city. If it wasn’t for some news coverage, I would be unaware of any “riots” (there was only one and it was small and short in a couple of downtown blocks) or impending doom of collapsing society due to the violent underclass. I am utterly disgusted by the fear-mongering as an election tactic as it is not based on reality.

      However, de facto segregation, massive wealth and income inequality, and poor working conditions have been obviosu for a while and are spreading from their original targets fo the black and hispanic population into lower middle-class white America. That is a real threat to our way of life.

  8. PlutoniumKun

    It must be remembered of course that ‘peaceful’ protests can work precisely because of the fear that they can turn violent if the organisers choose. Daniel O’Connells ‘Monster Meetings’ and Gandhi’s huge salt protests scared the hell out of the rulers of the time because they knew it only took a word from the respective leaders for open revolution to break out. I’m convinced that one reason the massive anti-war protests in 2001 didn’t work is precisely because the authorities looked at the marchers and were pretty confident that no violence would happen.

    I think a key criteria is that governments can always feel they can ‘deal with’ a peaceful protest or a violent protest is it is confined to one sector of society, whether it is students or an ethnic minority or trade unions. But when it spreads across to more than one major element, thats when they get scared. The South Korean and Taiwanese authoritarian governments regularly stared down massive street protests for several decades until they pushed the urban middle classes too far, and they joined with other protestors – when that happened, the end was rapid for the dictatorships. So perhaps it is the actual make-up of the protestors/rioters that is the key variable, not whether windows are smashed or even if guns are fired.

    1. JTMcPhee

      Maybe “organizers” don’t have an on-off switch for when the Group Mind takes over and a protest becomes that other kind of thing — where individuals shed their thin veneer of civilization (or see their opportunities to get away with violence against people and “property”) and “run riot.”

      There have been multiple attempts to plumb the granular details of “the crowd” and “mobs,” like George Rude’s “The Crowd in the French Revolution. Complicated stuff, trying to parse the kind of “brownian motion” that converts to degrees of unconstrained anomic behaviors. all through the lenses of intellectuals with biases. There’s a point where an individual just becomes part of a mob, freed from social limits, different points for different individuals. Individuals can trigger mob behavior by tipping over into that violent state, involving others by the kind of magnetism that occurs on the highway, when one person speeds and weaves through traffic and others kind of join in.

      The various levels of governments have spent a lot of time and effort figuring out how to suppress the urges that lead to that transition point, and also on physically suppressing the behaviors when the riot happens — of course sometimes the powers that be are ok with just “letting it burn,” then going in after the fact to tighten the oppression, apparently unconcerned that just increases the likelihood and maybe increases the level of violence “next time.”

      I imagine there’s a playbook developed by the Rulers, in DHS and CIA and FBI, for how to tune the harp of public opinion and group behavior to their satisfaction. There is, by observation, a couple of basic rules as mentioned in NC so often: 1) Because markets, and 2) Go Die.

      All while people of good will and decent try to restrain the mob behavior and palliate the social factors that lead up to the explosions.

      I think the matter is a lot more complicated than is let on by any of the major players in the intellectualization of the behavior of “the people.” Hey, “color revolutions” don’t always work, even. Though of course the CIA/State Department keeps trying…

      1. MichaelSF

        In re “the playbook” there is a crime/comic/suspense novel by Thomas Perry titled “Metzger’s Dog” (2003). In it, a small group (4 people) stumble over a CIA “how to cause mass public disruption/panic” playbook and try to ransom it back to the CIA. They don’t have much luck so they decide to up the ante by applying the playbook to Los Angeles, and the four of them bring L.A. to a standstill.

        The Dog is a junkyard Hound of the Baskervilles that subordinates itself to Dr. Henry Metzger, the cat associated with one of the characters.

        It is an entertaining read if anyone is looking for something light.

        1. jan

          Indeed entertaining, first printed early 80s.
          Have Moved house about 4 times sice then, but managed to keep it.

    2. Ford Prefect

      The major court rulings against segregation and the Johnson-signed Civil Rights acts occurred before the violent protests broke out in Chicago 68 and later. Other than a couple of environmental acts around 1970-72, there was little in significant civil rights advances for several decades after the riots broke out. Even the ERA never got ratified.

      Relatively peaceful gay rights protests and awareness events resulted in monumental court rulings in the past decade.

      BLM was making real progress recently with peaceful protests. The riots need to stop if it is to regain momentum. People should do peaceful marches during the day and go home at night. Don’t let the hooligans dominate the news.

      1. JTMcPhee

        It didn’t hurt that there are a lot of (formerly closeted, and in many cases, “family values conservatives” and church people) gay politicians and notables who got behind the LGBT efforts to do away with oppressive laws and behaviors affecting gays. To make their personal lived easier.

        Same, I believe, is true of liberalized marijuana laws and policies. Bipartisanship can make things move, especially where Important People have a personal interest.

        1. Ford Prefect

          The non-violent protests where they got the crap beaten out of them on TV (Freedom Riders on buses, John Lewis on Edmund Pettis Bridge, dogs and fire hoses, etc.) made it clear to many people that it was people with a just cause on one side and racist thugs on the other. That set the stage for the Civil Rights bills. Boycotts, such as the Montgomery bus boycott, also forced real change including Supreme court ruling on bus segregation

          Willard Straight Hall takeover was able to make some change at Cornell, but not nationally

          The Rodney King riots didn’t change much which is why there are major BLM protests in LA now:

  9. bassmule

    Forgive me, this is still my favorite answer to all rioting/demonstrating questions:

    Republican Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, April 11, 2003:

    “Freedom’s untidy, and free people are free to make mistakes and commit crimes and do bad things,” Rumsfeld said. “They’re also free to live their lives and do wonderful things. And that’s what’s going to happen here.”

    Looting, he added, was not uncommon for countries that experience significant social upheaval. “Stuff happens,” Rumsfeld said.

    “Very often the pictures are pictures of people going into the symbols of the regime, into the palaces, into the boats and into the Baath Party headquarters and into the places that have been part of that repression,” Rumsfeld said. “And while no one condones looting, on the other hand one can understand the pent-up feelings that may result from decades of repression and people who’ve had members of their family killed by that regime, for them to be taking their feelings out on that regime.”

    1. JTMcPhee

      Yes, and how interesting, that “liberty” or “license” is not acknowledged and allowed to people in the Imperial Homeland who are being repressed and oppressed and looted by that other Mob at the top of the financialized pyramid.

      Foolish consistency and all that…

    2. Oh

      Somebody should ask the murderer Rumsfeld whether he feels the same way about the protests and riots in America today.

      [BTW, is this a known known, known unknown or an unknown unknown?]

    3. Ford Prefect

      Those rules apply to other countries.

      Similar to the US not allowing tear gas exports to China and Hong Kong because it would used on pro-democracy protestors. Instead, the the US can stockpile tear gas to use on protestors in the US.

    4. drumlin woodchuckles

      Those Rumsfeld statements were just Rumsfeld’s public excuses for not ordering the US soldiers in place from preventing looting and burning in Baghdad. The reason Rumsfeld prevented “orders to prevent looting” from being issued to the U S Occupation Soldiers is because the Rumsfeld-Cheney ( “Bush”) Administration wanted Iraqi society thoroughly destroyed as fast as possible in order to keep Iraq incoherent and non-resistant. And there is a theory that the neo-ultras in the Administration had a “Year Zero” concept whereby a Neo-Liberal Iraq would be crafted on the ashes.

  10. martell

    FWIW, a longtime friend of mine took part in the first big BLM protest in Portland in response to the George Floyd killing. This was the one that started at Peninsula Park. He said that it began as a very large gathering of all sorts of people, but that he noticed during the speeches that there was a distinct group, clad mostly in black, set off to one side. When all of the protestors began to walk downtown, that smaller group moved to the front. My friend was in the middle of the march and could see what the smaller group had done all along the way to the Justice Center: graffiti, smashed windows, and other forms of property damage. That’s the night that most everyone involved says turned into a night of rioting. Unplanned? Apparently not, at least according to one witness, someone whose opinion I trust.

    As far as consequences go, my friend went to a few more protests, despite his misgivings about parts of what happened at the first. But he’s since dropped out. He didn’t wish to be associated with the violence, and he found the rhetoric increasingly ridiculous, as with calls to abolish the police or slogans like ACAB. And it is perhaps worth noting that this guy is ordinarily quite moderate in his political views, works as a school principal, is well respected in the local community, and actually has some money to spend on things like support for candidates for local political office. This is the kind of person that a movement for racial justice should like to have on its side. But he’s dropped out.

    One example, I know. But I’m not buying that the riots are, all of them, spontaneous. The consequences already appear to be counterproductive. It’s not just the polls. Violence on the part of one political faction invites opposed factions to do likewise, quickly, and with better guns. Tit for tat, it’s called. Seems to be happening. Nor do I have a lot of sympathy for people who, out of passion (or maybe just sophomoric political opinion) do things that they themselves should know undermine their own cause.

    1. Laughingsong

      And as someone who attended more than a few protests both here (WTO) and abroad (Afghanistan and Iraq) I can tell you that there is almost always some black-clad or other group like that here in the states but never saw abroad . I feel fairly certain that they are provocateurs brought in by the authorities. Why? The last 2 WTO protests I attended, these groups showed up partway in, started almost immediately trying to gin up feeling, and then when no one seemed to bite, started their own violence (rocks mostly). And then the police started disrupting the rally and violently arresting people…. but strangely enough NOT the actual violent ones.

      Okay so anecdotes but cui bono? Especially in trumps case?

      Overseas, neither these types of groups nor the police themselves did what ours do to escalate the issue. Here they definitely wanted escalation, apparently to get license to bust heads. That was my experience fwiw

      1. marym

        There’s documentation of right-aligned protesters openly attacking BLM protesters, so it’s not unimaginable that they’re also among those presenting as left-aligned blac block or ANTIFA too. That we seldom hear of actual arrests of black bloc or ANTIFA makes it difficult to assess, and suspect.

        There are also known connections and expressions of support tying right-aligned protesters, cops, media, and establishment politicians. Other than endless accusations of “Soros” and Democrats attempting to co-opt (and weaken rather than promote) grass-roots movements, I don’t know of comparable connections of people, money, and organizations, on the left.

    2. drumlin woodchuckles

      But if the night rioters and the day marchers are two different sets of people, then they probably have two different sets of causes.

      And the day marchers are probably unarmed and therefore able to exert zero influence on the night rioters.
      So lets don’t blame the daytime BLM marchers for what the recreational rioters do by night.

  11. Susan the other

    “…the absurdity of a logic in which systematic murder is excused but property damage is condemned…” It could now be the dawning of a consciousness that changes everything. This particular absurdity is such an ancient one that it’s beginning to look like it is now past its shelf life. It is too disgusting to continue to ignore. In 1964 the country took a strange dive: the chart above shows concern over foreign relations plummeted just as concern over civil rights peaked. I find that reading strange. Because there were two competing protests, sometimes overlapping, the chart shows exactly that but instead of noting that, what is termed “concern over foreign relations” and showing that is depicted as decreasing is pure nonsense. In 1964 the country was on the brink of revolution over the Vietnam war. The underlying commonality with civil rights was obviously that an unjust society was causing misery – A society that arrogantly ignored systematic murder but protected material wealth inequities everywhere. It is the most ancient of stories, let’s not kid ourselves. We might be luckier now – it’s possible it has run it’s course; it’s out of alternatives; it’s done. That’s almost a safe bet since it no longer serves any purpose whatsoever.

    1. caucus99percenter

      > In 1964 the country was on the brink of revolution over the Vietnam war.

      Sorry, but this doesn’t at all square with the timeline I remember. The Gulf on Tonkin incident, now known to having been as fake as any of the worst war-excusing hoaxes in history, hadn’t even happened until the second half of 1964. LBJ and the Democrats were coasting, headed for a comfortable landslide win over Goldwater. Civil rights was in the forefront; the US’s big escalation of the war and the ensuing public concern that it was becoming a meat grinder pointlessly devouring people’s sons was still far in the future.

      Or is there some level of snarky ironic humor intended that I’m not getting?

  12. Pookah Harvey

    Louis Vuitton, Chanel, and Gucci stores were looted in Atlanta, Chicago, NYC, Los Angeles, and Portland but I never see much news coverage. MSM always seems to concentrate on small businesses or middle class establishments such as Target for their coverage. Is this just me or has anyone else noticed this?

    1. Keith

      It is more relatable to more people. The media’s job it is sell ad time to the advertisers. Their product are viewers. Most people do not shop at a Gucci, but they will at Target or will know or patronize a local store, creating a connection to the viewer and the story, hooking them into watching.

    2. Off The Street

      TV in LA showed the rioting around the area, from Santa Monica through Beverly Hills to downtown Los Angeles. As a sign of the COVID distancing times, that seems like a long while ago. Time and memories tend to distort or dilate.

  13. will nadauld

    From my perspective as an uneducated working class white Bernie supporter, riots are ineffective at affecting positive change. The working class fence sitters that I know from work are now switching to Trump as much as they dislike him. They can’t really relate to systemic racism being both white and from small town Utah. Incidentally , the two black 20 somethings we have on our shift are now adorned with blue lives matter bracelets and stickers for the trucks etc.. One of them has applied for the police academy.

    We had some very alarming things happening in S.L.C a few months back. Protesters burning police cars and small scale destruction. We arent used to this sort of thing here. Another case of a hispanic man shot by police caused protests until police released video of him repeatedly pointing a gun at officers. The protesters in that one were allowed to paint all over the district attorneys office. Later, the D.A. fought his case on the local news for over an hour repeatedly showing the3 tapes of the man getting shot. Didn’t seem like justice to me.

    My tenant upstairs is black and has an end systemic racism sign in her window. She took down the BLM sign months ago. She is from Chicago. If she puts up a Biden Harris sign, I will have to put up a neither sign. I’m sitting this one out.

  14. Jeremy Grimm

    People have gone into the streets to protest because the Elite have no regard for the needs, concerns, and desires of the public. What protest has the primary aim to change public opinion or needs to worry about the effects on public opinion when public opinion doesn’t matter to anyone but the uninvolved public? Protests aren’t a public relations gimmick. Protests intend to change Elite opinion, or they don’t deserve to be called protests.

    Violent versus non-violent protest seems the wrong contrast to make. It is more important that violent and non-violent protest have impact on the Elite. The Elite send their proxies to the streets and sit far away in comfort. I believe protests should focus on doing harm to the Elites and their interests, and should avoid doing harm to persons on the street. Our Elites care most about their Wealth and Prestige — which should be the targets for protest. The proxies for the Elite care about their toys and Prestige. Those should be the targets. The goal of protest should be to change Elite opinion and create sufficient fear and dread in the Elite that the needs, concerns, and desires of the public become Elite concerns. Direct conflict with proxies is only fills hospital beds and morgues.

    1. OpenThePodBayDoorsHAL

      “All Trump voters are idiots” and “re-electing him will end democracy in America”.

      Do you really think talk like that advances your “side”?

      I’m just an old guy who saw what worked to get actual change: peaceful people in huge numbers, all demanding a single discrete change, in a cause that unites, not one that has division as its basis.

      Can I suggest M4A? And the triggering actions would be the castration of Bernie and the subsequent removal of M4A by the DNC? Occupy that why don’t you.

      Instead we get a race-based incitement; that then becomes a confused, all-encompassing Festivus “Airing of Grievances”. Whose “meaning” is thus a simple matter to hijack by whichever Establishment faction wants to “own” it?

      We ended the war. And the chance is to end the economic war waged on all Americans by the Health-Industrial Complex. With the unbelievable added gift of the pandemic throwing the issue into high relief.

      And the model is not goons, it’s Gandhi.

  15. RMO

    “For example, Michael Biggs, Chris Barrie and Kenneth Andrews recently showed that the Civil Rights Movement had only negligible long-term effects on the attitudes of white Americans, making them no more likely to have liberal views on race or to support the Democratic Party”

    I believe that Adolf Reed has said that the Civil Rights Movement did however have a long term effect on policies which have made concrete improvements in for people of colour. I recall him saying that changing the thinking of of millions upon millions of people to make them less racist through demonstrations isn’t likely to be very successful but that laws and policies can be changed to make things better as has been done in the past.

  16. David

    This is another of those highly-specific-to-the-current-situation-in the-US questions masquerading as something more general. As I understand it, the real question here is “are people more likely to vote for Biden if demonstrations are peaceful or if they are violent?” I personally have no idea.
    But the point is that in most political cultures, riots and violent demonstrations are indeed planned. They are not a way of gaining electoral support or favourable media coverage, but rather a way of frightening and intimidating other political forces, and bringing down governments by force. I’m slightly surprised the author doesn’t recognise this.
    In the end, though, it depends on the government you are trying to intimidate. Gandhi, as George Orwell pointed out many times, was lucky that he only had the British to deal with, and it was cynically acknowledged at the time that, by diverting effort away from possible violent protest, he shored up the British position in India. Had it been more or less any other colonial power, or the Italians or even the Germans … well, the conclusion writes itself.

  17. Louis Fyne

    This broadbrush idea emerging on the left that small businesses are bad and they’re getting their just desserts from looting is INSANE.

    You know who are more likely to give a chance to an ex-con or someone without a pristine background report? Small businesses. (One among a multitude of things that small businesses act in ways that technocrat favorite Amazon will never do)

    Don’t hold your breath for Amazon to hire 10,000 ex-cons as your next delivery driver.

    1. Oh

      If they hire ex-cons, it’s because they exploit them by paying them quite a bit less. I think that many “small businesses” are frachaises. The looting of the government payout by large businesses calling themselves small businesses makes me wonder how many are really small businesses. (when businesses loot the government, why is it not called looting?). Most barber shops, restaurants, grocery stores, bike shops are not small businesses anymore.

      1. TBellT

        “Be grateful for the crumbs we give you, no one would give you anything if not us” seems to be the mantra of these small businesses. Quite like the language of an abuser.

        1. pjay


          You, and several others here, have no problem demonizing small business people. I’m curious about your experience with them. My impression (and it can only be an impression) is that most of the harshest critics here are either academics, members of the PMC who have no real experience with actual small business people, or those who have had bad experiences as employees. I might fit the latter, as I had a number of pretty crummy jobs when young. But I’ve also known some very decent small business people, including my father, who came from a very poor background and became a successful small town businessman through a lot of hard work. I also have several such acquaintances currently. Some of the most selfish assholes I’ve known have been academics who are all-in for BLM. So please try to avoid over-generalization. A lot of decent small business people are sympathetic to the BLM cause, and appalled at the videos of police violence they have seen. But they are not schooled in Marxist theory or rhetoric. They don’t understand themselves as exploiters of labor. Many of them have worked their own butts off to eek out a living, so they don’t quite get the labor theory of value. And they will not understand some privileged academic saying looting and burning out small business is a legitimate expression of outrage or a useful political tactic.

          That’s the reality. Do you want allies, or do you want to feel good through righteous condemnation? Just sayin’.

          1. furies

            Behavior is behavior. Does it matter it’s origins? Isn’t the culture what needs to change?

            I’d rather work for a small business, I’d rather rent from small time landlords, but these situations have gone sideways for me many many times. Petty tyrants wielding power are in everywhere. Anti-maskers come to mind…

    2. EoH

      It would be helpful if you had a cite for the claims in your first paragraph: that it’s the left that derides small business and it’s happy that they are being looted, because it sounds like a Tucker Carlson talking point.

  18. furies

    So all small business owners are “good”, right? and deserve our fealty regardless of owner’s character and business practices.

    oooh scary! ex CONS!!


  19. John Beech

    I overheard four folks arguing black people should take one for the team because it’s more important to get Trump out of office. The sole woman present (the spouse of one, I suspect) was of a similar mind. Anyway, the gist was BLM should reign in demonstrations until after the election because they’re helping Trump.

    Considering it’s been more than 50 years since a similar expression of rage in the black community ended with a big fat nothing, added to which I suspect these white Democrats don’t grok how galling ‘having the talk’ must be to parents, or even what’s meant by ‘driving while black’, then asking blacks to shut up to benefit Biden strikes me as a big ask.

  20. stefan

    1. Try reading Walter Benjamin’s “Critique of Violence”

    2. Humphrey lost the 1968 election because of the riots at the Chicago Convention (a police riot, btw), not the race riots that many people thought were justifiable.

    3. The riots after the murder of MLK had the perverse effect of eviscerating the fabric of inner cities for decades afterwards (the scar tissue in DC, for example, is visible to this day).

    4. Rioting in the Pacific Northwest seems to have a tradition all its own going back in time. (Anarchists?)

    5. A General Strike by American workers today would be far more effective in generating positive change than all the protests we have seen so far lately.

  21. EoH

    Riots are a danger to everyone. But nothing makes the hair on the back of an aristocrat’s neck stand up and salute as much as live bodies filling the streets, demanding change in unison. The right of assembly is vital, never more so than when inequality is as high as it is – and is climbing by the day.

  22. Wukchumni

    I’m hesitant to bring up what happens next, lets just say we become Neo-Anasazi once the shooting starts, and food delivery is haphazard at best, most everybody cut off from their just in time eating lives in a much more severe fashion than not being able to dine in their favorite restaurants, you might say.

    That other American Revolution commenced with Shot Heard Round The World

    Our will be more like an exciting reality show, oh too real, to our overseas audience, but this time it’ll be Video Shot Seen Round The World

    Cops are all right wing, of course they’re going to align with gunslinger militias of that ilk, and so warlordism comes.

    Why did it have to come to this?

  23. VietnamVet

    Protestors have something to lose. Rioters – nada. The unrest is at the gang verses gang level, right now.

    The truth is being hidden. There are two driving forces towards open warfare. 1) Global and national oligarchs fighting for power not unlike the first American Civil War. 2) The US federal government has failed. The USA is in an uncontrolled viral pandemic and a economic depression. Equivalent to 1918 and 1932 occurring at the same time with incompetent leadership.

    The only way out is a national public health program (daily antigen testing, school and work bubbles, plus free healthcare) to control the virus this year and income for the unemployed so they have food and are not evicted onto the street. Since the ruling elite have nixed these fixes, escalation of the unrest is certain.

  24. tongorad

    Working for small businesses was the most precarious period of my working life. I’ve often wondered if maybe this is why small business is valorized as the place from where all blessings flow – gotta keep workers on-their-toes and “flexible” dontchaknow.

    What is the small business failure rate?
    20% of small businesses fail in their first year, 30% of small business fail in their second year, and 50% of small businesses fail after five years in business. Finally, 70% of small business owners fail in their 10th year in business.

  25. Slithis Leb

    We should remember the suffragettes were trying peacefully for nearly 100 years to get the right for women to vote, it wasn’t until the final 10 years of that when they resorted to smashing windows and blowing stuff up, that they finally won the right to vote.

  26. Mattski


    How would MLK respond to this? Frederick Douglass? I find it all a little bit obtuse. A riot is the explosion that follows some horrific event–it’s not programmatic or planned, part of some political strategy.

    “Power concedes nothing without a demand,” Douglass said, and it’s so damned true. Empty liberal protests, carefully orchestrated, coordinated with the police. . . fantastic. But then we have to coalesce around what we want.

    When people say that there is no ORGANIZED left, that’s what they mean. We have to have a program. Bernie had a program. Simply crying to “defund” the police is too easily misconstrued to suggest that we leave everyone unprotected. What we need are the programs of redistribution that end ghettoes, which the police patrol. What we need is the wide development of social programs, including interventions that see social workers rather than armed white kids with six months training showing up at people’s door when family violence occurs. . .

    This can be done. But wondering whether riots are efficacious. . . not terribly availing.

  27. HippoDave

    “Riot” needs a definition. I spent several minutes reading this article hoping for such a definition, but instead the author seems to define “riot” as “bad thing”. 100,000 more words will also be useless if the definition of “riot” won’t be proffered.

    No definition, so kind of utterly useless and cowardly article, imo.

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