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The ‘Nothing Matters’ Rioters

Out-of-staters and professional nihilists have turned protests against George Floyd's death into chaos.

A protester walks past military police in riot gear as they block protesters across from the White House on May 30, 2020 in Washington DC, during a protest over the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man, who died after a Minneapolis police officer kneeled on his neck for several minutes. (Photo by ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP via Getty Images)

It was a funny thing over the weekend. You could turn on CNN and find officials deploring the violence in Minneapolis. You could hear rapper Killer Mike exhorting his fellow Atlantans “to be better than burning down our own homes.” You could listen to George Floyd’s girlfriend, who said that seeing Minneapolis in flames would have devastated her slain beau.

And then you could log on to Facebook and find people lionizing the riots as the next Boston Tea Party.

It’s hard to think of anything more privileged than social media armchairs excusing violence against our poorest and most vulnerable neighborhoods. But so it goes in the Nothing Matters quarter of America. This weekend saw the unrest that began in Minnesota spread across the country. In Louisville, vandals smashed windows and attacked restaurants and hotels. In Washington, D.C., the White House was briefly locked down amid rowdy protests outside. In Oakland, two federal officers were shot; one died. And in Minneapolis itself, the arson and looting continued, drawing out the largest National Guard mobilization in Minnesota history.

All this was done ostensibly to express fury over the murder of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis policeman, as well as other episodes of brutality against African Americans, the killing of Breonna Taylor in Louisville and the lynching of Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia. Yet there was something else at work too. Officials estimated Saturday morning that only 20 percent of the rioters in Minneapolis were actually from Minnesota, and while that was later walked back, reporting confirms that the city has become a bug light for out-of-state anarchists and agitators. Pittsburgh’s police chief, meanwhile, said protests there had been hijacked by “white males” dressed in black. And in Rochester, where cars were flipped over and set ablaze, police blamed “anarchists” and “paid protesters.”

The story here isn’t just that these cities are harming themselves, as is often portrayed. It’s that they’re under attack by evil losers who want only to pillage and torch. Minnesota officials say that among those arrested were militants linked to white supremacist groups. Other rioters, many of them white, wear the black clothes and bandana masks associated with Antifa, the left-wing extremist front. BuzzFeed reports that “black activists and organizers” are “saying some people are seemingly coming for the fight and mayhem, and not to support their expression of anger over the police killings of unarmed black people and their demand for it to end.”

The intent of these carpetbaggers isn’t justice but anarchy. That dovetails neatly with a trend that’s been growing on social media: young men who view recent events, especially the election of Trump, as harbingers of chaos, which they welcome and seek to exploit to bring about the end of the existing order. They hate civic society as is, viewing it as too liberal or too racist or too fascist or too decadent. Many of them see an eschatology at work whereby internal contradictions will collapse America on itself. That will then create a void, in which their hallucinated Brigadoon of choice, a communist paradise or a white ethnostate, can be brought about. So it was in the late 1960s, when Charles Manson and his followers tried to touch off helter skelter. And so it is today, as Minneapolis-bound anarchists seek a so-called “boogaloo,” a civil war between law enforcement and the rest of the country after which a new America can rise from the ashes.

Whether placed by political taxonomy on the left or right, these people are essentially the same. They don’t give a damn about George Floyd; they certainly don’t have time for the kind of reforms that might deter future cop killings. Even their ideological delusions are ultimately secondary. What matters most is disorder, the rush of unleashing a brick, the thrill of transgressing against the normies. There cannot be justice for George so long as his streets are filled with pathetic Joker LARPers acting out what they wish they’d done on the playground years ago. Liberty and justice are dependent on civil society, the very thing these creeps are attacking. Again, chaos is the point. It’s why liquor stores are such a common target.

I’m not going to indulge these people by quoting the Joker’s most famous line. So let’s turn instead to Émile Zola and his best novel Germinal. There’s a scene where the protagonist Étienne is chatting with Souvarine, an anarchist militant—from Russia, naturally—who’s come to France to work in the mines. Souvarine upbraids as “cowards” what he describes as “these intellectuals of yours with all their talk of gradual change.” Étienne then asks what exactly Souvarine wants. His response: “To destroy everything…No more nations, no more governments, no more property, no more God or religion.” Eventually some new world order is supposed to arise. But the more immediate goal is the void, sheer nothingness.

America’s Souvarines have now spilled into the streets, showing where the icy hand of internet nihilism ultimately beckons. The risk now is that they’ll end up discrediting the grievances held by the peaceful demonstrators. That’s what happened last year in France after the so-called yellow vest demonstrations broke out. Intended initially as opposition to President Emmanuel Macron and his tax-heavy policies, they were quickly infiltrated by agitators and spiraled into smoke and tear gas. Afterwards, Macron did make some concessions, though his overall economic agenda remained intact. The yellow vests themselves moved on, many of them saying they couldn’t countenance violence. In last year’s European Parliament elections, the movement’s candidates netted less than 1 percent of the vote.

Turn the streets into a war zone and eventually the chaos itself becomes the issue, eclipsing the original intent and drawing a backlash. As Scott McConnell has written, “It is a political rule of thumb that street violence and disorder eventually redounds to the benefit of the party that can put an end to it.” Consider President Richard Nixon, who declared of criminals and rioters in 1970, “Let’s recognize them for what they are: not romantic revolutionaries but the same thugs and hoodlums that have always plagued a good people.” Two years earlier, he’d been elected after promising to get tough on crime; two years later, he was reelected in a landslide. Now it’s Donald Trump taking a similar tack, warning that “when the looting starts, the shooting starts” and chewing the caps lock on words like “STRENGTH!”

The longer this goes on, the more attractive that kind of thing will sound. The new mandate will be for law and order, which for George Floyd was a misnomer, police breaking the law and sowing disorder. That’s why it’s so imperative that the black masks and the Boogaloos, the assholes and the arsonists, the communists and the racists and the anarchists and the insurrectionists, all hit the bricks instead of throwing them. Otherwise the urgent problem of police abuse will go unmet yet again, guaranteeing another Minneapolis. This isn’t the Boston Tea Party. Colonial Bostonians didn’t burn their city to the ground, then go to the redcoats and say, “Ha ha! QED, chumps!” This country was founded on violent protest, yes, but in pursuit of rational principles and against enumerated injustices. The snickering dweebs en route to St. Paul stand for precisely nothing.

about the author

Matt Purple is a senior editor at The American Conservative.

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