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Mob Rule In Durham

Yesterday, a mob in Durham, NC, tore down a Confederate statue that had been in place since 1924. David A. Graham was there. Excerpts from his Atlantic piece:

Around 7 p.m. Monday, a group of protestors, inspired by the violent riots over the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville, Virginia, decided that if Durham County was in no hurry to take down the rebel soldier, they’d do so themselves. As Durham County commissioners met inside the building, which now houses county offices, a group of protestors wrapped a yellow rope around the statue and pulled. In what might seem a blunt metaphor for the fate of Confederate symbols in progressive Southern cities like Durham, the statue tumbled down with barely any effort, crumpling at the feet of its imposing granite pedestal. (Although the icon was allegedly made of bronze, one doubts.)


By the time I arrived, less than an hour after the statue had fallen, the street was blocked off by sheriff’s deputies’ cars. The protesters had marched a few blocks down Main Street, toward where the Durham Police Department is building a controversial new headquarters. A mix of young and old, black and white, graying hippies and black-clad anarchists, yelled “Fuck Trump” and held signs saying, “Black Lives Matter” and “The Whole Damn System Is Guilty as Hell.” “Street medics” stood to the side, ready if anyone was hurt. One man toted a guitar, seemingly more as prop than instrument.


And it’s hard to imagine that Durham will prove unique in this matter. Video of the statue coming down zoomed around the web, where it will inspire protesters elsewhere. There are plenty of potential targets. Just down the road from Durham is Chapel Hill, a quaint, liberal college town like Charlottesville. On the campus of the University of North Carolina stands a monument to alumni who fought and died for the Confederacy. “Silent Sam” has stood for more than 100 years, but he’s increasingly controversial, and has been repeatedly vandalized recently. If Silent Sam continues to stand watch over campus, will Carolina students and Chapel Hillians wait patiently for his removal through legal processes, or will they, too, turn to extralegal means?

Police did nothing, arrested no one. What an appalling scene — even if you think that Confederate statues should come down. Why was it appalling? Because this is how the rule of law ends: in the violent frenzy of mob action.

This is the ultimate end of identity politics of all kinds. You cannot reason with it. It grounds Truth in identity — in race, in ethnicity, in religion, in sex, and so forth. Its lethal alchemy turns people into arguments, or rather, assertions masquerading as arguments. You cannot argue with an identity politics zealot, because to deny their assertion is to deny their personhood. In turn, you aren’t simply wrong when you disagree with those zealots; you are a threat to their existence. Having depersonalized you, they owe you no respect. The higher cause of asserting and affirming their identity excuses everything.

Again: this is how the rule of law ends, and law is replaced by will to power. An angry mob, no matter what it stands for, is always the enemy of the truth.

That Durham mob (and what it represents) is a far, far greater threat to this country today than Confederate monuments, and what they represent. Where were the police yesterday? Why did they let this happen?

This is a very big deal. You want to see far-right white mobs descending upon civil rights monuments, desecrating them and even tearing them down? That mob in Durham has just laid the groundwork for it. And when the white nationalist mob comes in with clubs swinging, to what is this left-wing mob going to appeal for protection, having defied the same law that protects them and public monuments in their zeal to destroy what offends them? Here’s the video:

UPDATE: You can see in the comments here the toxic effect of identity politics. There are people saying that the racial evil the statue represents is so intolerable that people who tore it down are justified in so doing. What will these people say when a right-wing mob tears down a statue of Dr. King? What would these people say if a mob of pro-life zealots tore down an abortion clinic, in which pro-lifers believe something akin to murder takes place every day? The rule of law is a precious thing.

UPDATE.2: Reader Steve S. writes:

Over the last week and having read Rod’s many posts on recent events, I’ve had many incomplete thoughts and posts of my own swirling in my head. Zapollo’s comments have resonated with me. I feel I have to chime in now because, like Rod, I am somewhat flabbergasted at the many commenters here who seem to support this vandalism.

To keep myself honest, I imagined if I saw a Margaret Sanger statue in front of a Planned Parenthood getting torn down by a mob of anti-abortion Christians (my tribe). I’d like to think that I would be as disgusted by that extra-legal exercise of raw power, even when it was done by “my side” against someone revered by my ideological “enemies”. When I joined the Army, I took an oath to swear to defend the Constitution, and I’d like to believe that I still would defend the right of my fellow citizens to their freedom of speech. I can’t believe so many of my fellow Americans are ready to toss that aside and celebrate violence and vandalism against people with whom they disagree. It’s the naked worship of power, and it is nowhere in the Constitution that I swore an oath to defend when I wore the uniform.

As an aside, when I was in east Baghdad, I saw firsthand a society where there was no rule of law. Shia militias ruled by force and intimidation. They were effectively the government, and they didn’t think twice about eliminating people, including other Shias, who they thought stood in the way of their political goals. I know because they murdered some of the local (Shia) Iraqis who translated for us, men whom I considered friends. Americans who have never been anywhere near this sort of thing lose all credibility with me when they celebrate, excuse, or wink at political violence. They have ZERO clue what they are promoting.

(By the way, to commenters who are defending the people in NC by saying that there was no violence against people, give me a break. Imagine if there had been Sons/Daughters of the Confederacy there to try to stop the vandalism. Do you think reasoned debate would have ensued? Like Rod and others on the thread have said, violence against things is the precursor to violence against people. If you deny this, you’re being deliberately obtuse.)

Now to avoid falling into my own version of self-righteousness, I want to share a quote that (I believe by Divine Providence) I stumbled on today. It was from Thomas Merton:

“Instead of hating the people you think are war-makers, hate the appetites and disorder in your own soul, which are the causes of war. If you love peace, then hate injustice, hate tyranny, hate greed – but hate these things in yourself, not in another.”

This was exactly what I needed to hear today and going forward because I have been feeling that self-righteous wrath building up inside me. The Gospel reading on Sunday was about St. Peter beginning to drown in the storm because he feared and didn’t trust Christ. More and more in light of recent events, I feel like Peter in that story. For my fellow Christians who read this blog, I would invite you to pray for me and for all of us that we can keep our eyes on Christ even as we keep an eye on the devil within our hearts.

228 Comments (Open | Close)

228 Comments To "Mob Rule In Durham"

#1 Comment By Alex Brown On August 15, 2017 @ 11:21 pm

Giuseppe Scalas says:
Fascism wasn’t born from the Left, but the Left caused its victory.

The origins of fascism are debatable. (E.g., Jonah Goldberg Liberal fascism). But the end result is pretty much totalitarian, left or right.

#2 Comment By Alex Brown On August 15, 2017 @ 11:30 pm

After Russian revolution, they removed many monuments, renamed streets and entire cities, and built new monuments. That lasted for less than a century. Now they’re back to restoring old monuments, restoring old cities names, renaming streets and removing soviet era monuments. It is interesting to watch supposedly more rational USA on the same path.

#3 Comment By Alex Brown On August 15, 2017 @ 11:46 pm

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
George Santayana

#4 Comment By SmartiCat On August 15, 2017 @ 11:54 pm

FWIW, I’m against the “mob action” to take down the statues. Let it go through legal/civil channels, it’s just turning up the heat on an already inflamed argument. By that token, let’s not pretend this is not itself been inflamed by the armed and torched “rally” to support the monument in Charlottesville that radically underlined why so many are opposed to these monuments in their places to begin with. Like it or not, Dick Spencer and his friends helped make the case for many that these monuments are not about “heritage” and “history” but about symbols of white dominance.

The country will be a lot better off with a respectful “Southern History Museum” erected that gives proper due to the “heritage” of the Confederacy but that is not a white wash of what the Confederacy stood for. There should not be monuments in public squares, many of which were erected during Reconstruction and Civil Rights era times to convey the symbols of Jim Crow, but as artifacts of history in a museum, where those who wish to pay homage may do so but not as as an “in your face” reminder to those whose “heritage” of the Confederacy was not so filled with nobility.

#5 Comment By Alex Brown On August 15, 2017 @ 11:58 pm

Make no mistake – what begins with statues will end up with ordinary people. History is there for everyone not blind to see it. Santayana was right.

#6 Comment By John Fargo On August 16, 2017 @ 4:12 am

Cities from New Orleans to Charlottesville have voted on and used the rule of law to remove the statues. They are then met with threatened violent resistance culminating with what happened in Virginia. Contractors doing removal have to wear bullet proof vests and helmets to do their work.

#7 Comment By DRK On August 16, 2017 @ 9:00 am

And the cops have arrested someone for topping the statue, and plan to make at least one more arrest. They have been poring over the video footage, just as I predicted. So much for “mob rule”. This will not bring back that statue, but I imagine they will throw the book at this young black women, pour encourager les autres.

A woman has been arrested in connection with the toppling of a Confederate statue during a protest in Durham, North Carolina, authorities said Tuesday.
Durham County Sheriff Mike Andrews said officers are executing search warrants and expect to make an additional arrest in the case using video shot at the scene.

Takiya Fatima Thompson, 22, was charged with two felonies — participation in a riot with property damage in excess of $1,500 and inciting others to riot — and two misdemeanors — disorderly conduct by injury to a statue and damage to property — the sheriff’s office said. She was held on $10,000 bond.

#8 Comment By DRK On August 16, 2017 @ 9:02 am

Oh, sorry, that italicized passage was from CNN, i forgot to put in the attribution. Need coffee…

#9 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On August 16, 2017 @ 11:32 am

You can see in the comments here the toxic effect of identity politics. There are people saying that the racial evil the statue represents is so intolerable that people who tore it down are justified in so doing. What will these people say when a right-wing mob tears down a statue of Dr. King?

There are times in history where spontaneous mob action tears down statues. There were plenty of loyalists in New York City when the statue of King George was pulled down. In fact, British troops soon arrived to occupy the city, and those who had no doubt objected were high in the saddle for a few years.

There were many older residents of the Soviet Union who objected when mobs of younger Russians pulled down statues of Lenin. But, many will say, Lenin was so evil that was justified.

Its hard to set a firm rule for when history will be kind to the perpetrators, and when they will get away without consequences. It depends in part on whether there is an actual revolution going on — which in the U.S. there definitely is not at this time. It also depends on the grievances, and the level of popular support.

Ultimately, as I said before, if there isn’t a sea change in the entire culture and government, then this could easily be reduced to a matter of you pull down my statues, I pull down yours… which becomes self defeating and eventually leads to a stand-down all around.

There is effective government in place to arrest and try those who pulled this statue down. It will probably dampen the fervor.

#10 Comment By It’s Federal Now On August 16, 2017 @ 12:11 pm

“Takiya Fatima Thompson, 22, was charged with two felonies — participation in a riot with property damage in excess of $1,500 and inciting others to riot — and two misdemeanors — disorderly conduct by injury to a statue and damage to property — the sheriff’s office said. She was held on $10,000 bond.”

Not enough by half. This isn’t a “local” matter anymore.

This woman and her associates almost certainly committed civil rights violations. And it looks like a number of them crossed state lines, going (at least) from Charlottesville VA to Durham NC in committing these and other acts of violence.

The FBI and the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department should be investigating the case and filing charges.

#11 Comment By Who Are They? On August 16, 2017 @ 12:16 pm

There should be named photographs of everyone involved in this crime. Especially of the guy seen guffawing and looking around for approval as he kicks the North Carolina soldier statue in the head after it was ripped down.

#12 Comment By KevinS On August 16, 2017 @ 1:02 pm

Seems like arrests have been made. Thank goodness. And thank goodness for cellphone video!

#13 Comment By Ten Percenter On August 16, 2017 @ 2:50 pm

It’s a bit early to celebrate the prosecution of the statue topplers. I’m betting that they walk, either through jury nullification or a hung jury.

As they should.

Let’s wait and see.

#14 Comment By FiveString On August 16, 2017 @ 5:34 pm

Cart before the horse. I do not support the behavior in Durham, but dog-whistling Trump and his gang of blatantly racist hooligans (from Bannon on down) are directly responsible for the escalation of this lawless behavior. People are rightfully disgusted by Trumps’ amoral acceptance of the KKK and Nazis. Many were adorned in Trump paraphernalia, so in his narrow, narcissistic mind they must be good people.

Don’t be surprised when Trump uses chaos to postpone the next election. But hey, with logic like this you can just blame the left.

[NFR: “The Devil made them do it!” — RD]

#15 Comment By CharleyCarp On August 16, 2017 @ 6:52 pm

I don’t have any problem with the prosecution of people who commit crimes. i’m not sure, though, that kicking a statue that’s already on the ground is a crime.


#16 Comment By Adam Shilling On August 16, 2017 @ 7:05 pm

Amen to Steve S (Update 2):
I too have been to Iraq and seen a society without rule of law. You don’t want to live there. Without law, the strong rule the weak. They do what they will and the weak then suffer what they must.
I also want to second Steve’s Merton quote because I fear the anger that boils inside of me sometimes, and I also must cling to God’s rule of law lest I be lost.

#17 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On August 16, 2017 @ 7:23 pm

I’m not sure its possible to commit a civil rights violation against a statue.

#18 Comment By Rose On August 16, 2017 @ 9:07 pm

I don’t cheer on the statue topplers in Durham but I am a little surprised you see them as such a threat. I don’t see the legal statue removal trend as either particularly helpful or threatening, but on balance it’s probably a net positive. You blogged once about looking at lynching photos and how whites in the south, “respectable” people, participated in these executions and then carried on with life, normal as anything. They were never held accountable and God knows how mant confessed on their death beds any inkling of guilt.That left a strong impression on me, people have a threshhold, and given enough participation around them they will join in doing things that would otherwise be totally uncharacteristic. Imagine how much the threshhold has lowered for African Americans in Trump’s America. I have battled a low level of constant discouragement since’s Trump’s election, but if I were a black woman, I think it would be a more crippling type of anxiety and concern for my children. I don’t cheer this kind of vandalism, similarly to how I wouldn’t cheer an abused wife for killing her husband (I realize the level of tragedy there differs greatly). I think the statue topplers deserve the benefit of the doubt. Not justification, not to be championed but to understand that in a heated moment, living with such a history of systemic racism and with a dangerous man in the White House that this should be regarded more as an overzealous expression of legitimate outrage than a moment for America to fear. Could it not reasonably be viewed as very mild collateral damage for the far from fully reconciled horror and legacy of slavery, Jim Crow, (which include police violence, segregation, systemic racism, poor health and education outcomes)?

#19 Comment By FiveString On August 16, 2017 @ 11:26 pm

“[NFR: “The Devil made them do it!” — RD]”

I agree, Trump does in fact own this. It’s the inevitable result of his blatant dog-whistling.

[NFR: Every time I see the word “dog-whistling,” I think it’s a marker for a liberal who can’t point to a concrete bad thing a conservative has said, but who knows — who just knows — that it must have been some secret evil code word. — RD]

#20 Comment By Ellimist000 On August 17, 2017 @ 12:13 am

Sigh…yes I have mostly negative feelings about this. It is nice that so many whites (what seemed to be the majority of both this crowd and Antifa) so strongly want to denounce the legacy of white supremacy. And of course, this whole thing started with violent actions against local governments that took down statues democratically.

But I was not entirely comfortable with taking down the statues in the first place. A mob is not the way to go, it is too much. Making such a statement against the evil that the statues represent isn’t worth what could come of it.

I would caution you to balance your concerns of who is provoking who. I would remind you that there have been a number of vandalisms of pro-civil rights monuments since the election. And the answer to, “What will these people say when a right-wing mob tears down a statue of Dr. King?”, could easily be, “Say nothing, just march into their town with guns and torches, and then run a truck through them.”

Never forget that the other side here are not just SJW bogeymen, or forces of nature out to “change our culture” for no good reason at all. They are human beings with motivations and interests, and are exactly as capable of response and resentment as whites on the right are, for good or ill.

#21 Comment By Ellimist000 On August 17, 2017 @ 12:23 am

March Hare,

“Southern town squares need more statues, not fewer.”

This would be my preferred solution. I believe they are planing to do this in Birmingham, so that’s encouraging.

+1 to the North’s own issues on race. And no need to shy away from depictions of lynching or sexual assault. There are ways to portray those things tastefully.

#22 Comment By Ellimist000 On August 17, 2017 @ 12:34 am

“[NFR: The Soviets were foreign occupiers who ran totalitarian police states. Is that the case in the American South? — RD]”

At the time the statues went up it was close enough as far as blacks were concerned, as you know. A lot of the first black politicians were elected before the Jim Crow era. The progression of Black rights didn’t progress in a straight line from slavery to now, as people like the think. Along the way, they got “occupied” by white supremacist, by illegal and legal means. The legal means are why a lot of blacks look at the modern criminal justice system with such skepticism.

Doesn’t justify the mob, though.

#23 Comment By Ellimist000 On August 17, 2017 @ 1:05 am

“[NFR: Why is that “identity politics”? You can’t just call a political result you don’t like “identity politics”. If a city wanted to take down a monument to MLK and the state legislature, within its legal rights, blocked them, would you feel just as strongly about localism? ”

Yes to the MLK question, a city ought to be able to vote on what it wants to put up. And the populace would have the right to call out that city and encourage businesses to seek placement elsewhere in response. “Small government”.

It sounds like they forced their will on local government to favor the sensibilities of a culture of whites that self-identifies with each other over others. The statue was directly put in place to essentially support one group over another. The “Southern white” identity was the center of that legislation. Of course, it’s identity politics. How else would you define it?

I’m quite curious. If a state government forced a city to let Trans-women use female bathrooms or, say, prevented a local school from firing someone like Prof. Curry, wouldn’t you consider it identity politcs?

Why or why not, I’m genuinely curious?

#24 Comment By abogado On August 17, 2017 @ 1:29 am

“I’m not sure its possible to commit a civil rights violation against a statue.”

But it may well be possible to commit a civil rights violation in the course of smashing a statue.

#25 Comment By violation? On August 17, 2017 @ 10:29 am

abogado wrote it may well be possible to commit a civil rights violation in the course of smashing a statue.

If your destruction of the statue has the effect of intimidating me, physically endangering me, or making it impossible for me to peaceably view the statue in a public place then you may be violating my civil rights. The threshold for civil rights violations is surprisingly low.

#26 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On August 17, 2017 @ 1:24 pm

But it may well be possible to commit a civil rights violation in the course of smashing a statue.

Could you elucidate on that point, preferably with reference to specific statutory language and/or case law?

Note that I’m not saying it could not be various degrees of vandalism, theft, destruction of property, maybe there’s even a non-flammable equivalent of arson… but how is it a civil rights violation. Whose civil rights have been violated?

#27 Comment By FiveString On August 17, 2017 @ 5:53 pm

[NFR: Every time I see the word “dog-whistling,” I think it’s a marker for a liberal who can’t point to a concrete bad thing a conservative has said, but who knows — who just knows — that it must have been some secret evil code word. — RD]

Seriously? Mexican rapists (only “some” are good people), a Federal judge must be biased because of his Mexican descent, inner-city ethnic communities are hell (meaning white ghettos aren’t that bad). I could go on, but you know all this already.

#28 Comment By IranMan On August 19, 2017 @ 5:41 pm

It is clearer more than ever now the US needs a new czar to fight the impending epidemic of causing injuries to statues, which impacts practically everyone’s life on daily basis.

Which country erects statues to remember the people who fought their own people and government to preserve slavery?!