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Democratic Attack On Gun Rights

New York Attorney General Letitia James (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

I’m not a Second Amendment purist — the First Amendment is my thing — and often believe that many fellow conservatives go way too far in their absolutizing of gun rights. That said, this news today out of New York is very alarming:

The New York attorney general, Letitia James, filed a lawsuit Thursday seeking to dissolve the National Rifle Association, alleging that years of corruption and misspending had irreparably undermined its ability to operate as a nonprofit.

The lawsuit sets up a legal confrontation that could take years to play out and will leave the 148-year-old N.R.A. — long the nation’s most influential gun-rights lobby but recently hobbled by financial woes and infighting — fighting for its survival. The attorney general’s office previously presided over the dissolution of President Trump’s scandal-marred charitable foundation, but the N.R.A., with more than five million members, is a far larger organization that is expected to put up a more prolonged fight.

Ms. James also sued four current or former top N.R.A. leaders, seeking tens of millions of dollars in restitution, including Wayne LaPierre, the longtime chief executive. The others named in the suit are John Frazer, the organization’s general counsel; Josh Powell, a former top lieutenant of Mr. LaPierre’s; and Woody Phillips, a former chief financial officer.

The suit accuses the N.R.A. and the executives of “violating numerous state and federal laws” by enriching themselves, as well as their friends, families and allies, and taking improper actions that cost the organization $64 million over three years. The attorney general has regulatory authority over the N.R.A. because it is chartered as a nonprofit in New York. She is also seeking to oust Mr. LaPierre and Mr. Frazer, and to bar all four men from ever serving on nonprofit boards in New York again.

Read it all. 

If you have a basic familiarity about the way Wayne LaPierre has spent money on himself over his tenure as the NRA’s head, you’ll know that he is a difficult person to defend. Read this, and try to maintain with a straight face that the LaPierre regime is not corrupt. Rank and file NRA members, sick of seeing their dues going to pay for the high life of LaPierre and NRA organizational elites, are mad as hell, and they’re right to be.

The New York AG sees weakness in the LaPierre rot, and is using it to try to destroy the gun rights group, which she once referred to as a “terrorist organization.”

LaPierre and his team have left the NRA vulnerable to attacks like this, no question. But let’s be clear about what this is: a Democratic attempt to exterminate what has been an extremely effective defender of gun rights. If LaPierre’s personal and professional problems are leaving the NRA open to this kind of attack, then they have to go; the cause is more important than they are. Still, the lesson from this is that this is what the Democrats will do in power. Once Biden is in the White House, I expect the full force of the federal government to come down on the NRA as part of a longer war against Second Amendment rights. Perhaps Biden has more sense than to pick that particular fight, given that it’s easier to wage that particular battle as AG of New York than AG of the United States.

Still, this is a shot across the bow about the future of gun rights in a Democratic-rule America. I hope Second Amendment advocates won’t be manipulated into thinking that defending the LaPierre regime is the same thing as defending the NRA and the Second Amendment cause. The New York AG makes it clear that she’s not really concerned about cleaning up the NRA, but destroying it.

Why she made this move just a few months before the fall election, I don’t know. This is going to rile up the Right, and it should. But let us not miss this lesson: we on the Right are not going to be able to sustain ourselves in the many battles ahead with the resurgent progressive Left if we have leaders and organizations that care more about self-aggrandizement and comfort than in fighting for principles and causes.

 

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Charles Péguy And Mystical Politics

Charles Peguy (1873-1914) (Photo by adoc-photos/Corbis via Getty Images)

From an article in Hedgehog Review by Jay Tolson, who favorably reviews a new biography of the French Catholic poet Charles Péguy, who died in World War I:

Much as he liked Benda, Péguy found his extreme rationalism arid and unsustaining, particularly when it came to fostering solidarity among the citizens of a nation. Péguy’s conviction that all politics begins in mystique—that is, in the very mysteriousness of shared transcendent beliefs and myths—made him a shrewd and prophetic critic of the conditions of social separation and anomie that have repeatedly provoked ultranationalist populism in modern democracies, usually to disastrous effect.

One might similarly fault [biographer Matthew] Maguire’s rather scant handling of Péguy’s differences with the reactionary Catholics. While his dealings with Charles Maurras could be cordial—Maurras even reviewed some of his work favorably—Péguy was deeply bothered by the way Maurras and others of the Catholic right instrumentalized religion to advance their antiliberal program. The craven clericalism of the right also repelled Péguy, finally driving him to abandon churchgoing altogether, though he remained supportive of Catholic charitable work and, in his heart, deeply committed to the beliefs of his faith.

More:

Péguy believed that advocates of metaphysical hegemony on both the left and the right were foes of the liberal arts that were indispensable to republican democracy. Joined invisibly in their shared immanentism, these hegemonists embodied the deep intolerance of late modernity—and therefore were to be exposed and resisted for what they so dangerously espoused. Call it one of the great tragedies of modernity that the warnings of this clear and prophetic voice were lost not just to his time but to the century that has since unfolded.

Read it all. I’m tempted to get Maguire’s book, given my interest in Péguy (who re-started the annual walking pilgrimage from Paris to Chartres), and because I’m curious about his critique of the “immanentism” of the Left and the Right of his day.

The conditions of social separation and anomie that led to ultranationalist populism exist today, of course, and, I think, account for the increasing radicalization, on both the Left and Right, of our politics. What I would like to know, and that this new biography can answer, is why Péguy thought late modernity worth defending, given that it is responsible for the disenchantment of the world, and the exorcism of mystique from the body politic.

Could it be that he believed that as deficient as late modernity is, the likely alternatives — dictatorship of the Left or the Right — would be much worse? Péguy was not a liberal, but rather a democratic socialist. I poked around a little on the “Look Inside” feature of Amazon.com, and found a bit of information about Péguy and mystique. Maguire says that the most famous sentence Péguy ever wrote is, “Everything begins in mysticism and ends in politics.” According to Maguire, this simply means that any just political order must be founded on shared convictions about ultimate reality. From the book:

The idea of mysticism (or, less poetically, metaphysics) as the basis for politics is not new:

More:

That critique sounds a lot like today, does it not? Wokeness is an attempt to re-enchant politics from the Left. We don’t have an articulated Nationalism to do the same from the Right, though we may yet; Trumpism was the start of something, but it died in the desert of his ego.

Even so, I don’t really understand what Péguy is getting at here. If it’s a mysticism ultimately grounded in sacrificial love, how do you discern the good kind of mysticism from the bad kind? After all, to the Nazis, Horst Wessel was a martyr. The totalitarian Left has its martyrs too, those who gave it all up for the Sacred Cause. I suppose I’ll need to buy the book if I want to know — or maybe we have Péguy readers in this blog’s audience, and they can enlighten me.

There must be in this something of Eliot’s famous line about if you will not have God, you should be prepared to pay your respects to Stalin. That is, the idea that no society can live for long with a politics that is merely procedural. But how can we establish a politics on shared transcendent belief when most people no longer believe in anything but themselves? You cannot coerce people into believing something that they don’t; that way lies tyranny.

An aside that I believe is related. The other day, a Czech Catholic reader of Live Not By Lies (I sent him an advance copy for review) wrote to me to say:

The people described in the book — the ones you suggest the readers should emulate — were a tiny fraction of a minority. Almost nobody is like that. They prevailed alone, as single families, or, sometimes, in the smallest possible groups. When the time came these people were joined by many others who were not like them but did not want to live in lies.

But why? What was the truth they were after? It was not Christianity or faith per se. In my opinion, it was the roots.

The roots were Christian, obviously, but that did not play a direct role. It was the long historical narrative the Czechs, or Slovaks, etc. wanted to be, and stay a part of. Communism was always viewed as something totally alien and imported. Is American culture/history strong enough — or even definable enough — so it can eventually rejoin the few fools who will dissent and survive the upcoming totalitarians?

I think that American totalitarianism is qualitatively a new experiment because it is being applied to a culturally splintered and historically young environment. From this perspective, the current attempts to rewrite and reframe American history make all the sense. When the US plunges into its totalitarian future, nobody will emerge, and the dissent, like John Savage, will eventually fizzle out.

That was extremely sobering. This man, a Catholic, believes that it wasn’t Christian faith that helped his people resist Communism (those who did resist, that is), but rather the mystique of sharing a long tribal history — a history that was entwined with Christianity, but that was broader than Christianity.

We don’t have that here, do we?

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Letter From An Angry Middle-American Vet

(Photo by Kevin Sullivan/Digital First Media/Orange County Register via Getty Images)

On my “Is A New Civil War Possible?” thread, I posted this reader e-mail as an update:

Just read your latest blog regarding the possibility of a new civil war and had some thoughts. I live in a suburb outside [mid-size Midwestern city] with my wife and two school-age children. [My city] is similar to Austin or Seattle or Portland in that it’s a deeply Progressive city surrounded by a rural conservative population (big difference is that there are more African-Americans here). I’m from [a small town in this state], but after serving for six years as an Army Infantry Officer, my wife and our two kids settled in [this area] because there is little opportunity in the rest of the state.

I say this all because I feel like I’m living on a fault line between the two sides of this civil war we are talking about. Ten minutes south of me they are protesting for Black Lives Matter and demanding government mandated shutdowns over COVID; ten minutes north of me they are holding outdoor high school graduations and Back the Blue rallies. My wife and I are conservative Christians who are very active in our church; our next door neighbors and good friends both work for universities and are very liberal. We hang out several times a week and get along well but avoid talking about anything that could lead to uncomfortable conversations. I’d like to think that we model what a good friendship across party lines is but I don’t have much faith in that.

It’s difficult to picture what a civil war would look like because while the differences between urban and rural are very striking, there are plenty of us in the middle who would have to make very tough decisions on which way to go. My wife and I both work in the corporate sector and feel like we are being slowly backed into the corner with our traditional beliefs and values. If the violence of the cities spills into the suburbs I can’t picture us standing and fighting as we’d be outnumbered. Even though there is a healthy mix of conservatives in our area, how many of them are prepared to fight back? Fortunately, we have family in the rural parts of the state to retreat to, but we’d be forced to give up our jobs and our house and the way of life we enjoy.

And that is how I think this will play out. People with traditional values will be forced to retreat to the rural areas and accept a different standard of living ( which might be better, who knows) while ceding the urban and suburban centers to the Left. We’ll take up a defensive posture with our guns as we really do not desire to use our weapons except for in self-defense. We’ll leave the Left to build their utopian society and they’ll leave us alone because in all reality they’ll have nobody to come tell us what to do. They’ll need rural America to provide them with some food and we’ll need them for…something.

Hmm, sounds kind of like the Benedict Option. Maybe it’s wishful thinking to believe we’ll be left alone but I still believe that Law Enforcement and the military lean right, so I can’t imagine them coming after us. Anyway, thanks for your work, I’ve enjoyed reading you for the past several years and will be sure to get the new book when it comes out.

I heard from that reader just now, and post his letter with his permission (I’m hiding his state):

Thanks for posting my email on your “New Civil War” thread. I don’t want to beat a dead horse, but I think this is a topic that really needs discussing. Some of my fellow readers seem to be naive or maybe just unfamiliar with some aspects of this current culture war and I wanted to offer some insight. Not saying that I have the answers, just giving my perspective.

As I mentioned, I am an Army veteran living in a [Midwestern] big-city suburb. I grew up in a poor rural farm town, put myself through college through a combination of athletic and academic scholarships, student loans, and part-time work. My only privilege comes from the fact that I had a large family support structure that could only offer love, encouragement, and a firm religious foundation as opposed to any monetary support. Following college, I joined the Army to serve my country in a time of war and to support my young wife and son. I was commissioned as an Infantry Officer and led soldiers  in Afghanistan on two separate occasions before I was wounded in combat and forced to medically retire.

Following my retirement, we moved back to [this Midwestern state] and I began working in the manufacturing sector in various leadership roles. My wife works in corporate retail. We’ve made a nice life for ourselves and our two kids in what I would call an upper middle class lifestyle. We’re certainly not rich and the COVID lockdowns have definitely affected our livelihoods. My company implemented several weeks of furloughs to make up for lost sales and her company just had a massive reduction in force in which she was thankfully spared. It’s not in the national news, but our region is home to the headquarters of many retail companies and last week was a bloodbath with regards to layoffs. Hundreds if not thousands of middle-class people lost their jobs spread out over a handful of companies.

I say this because many of your commenters are snidely asking who on the conservative side is going to fight in this so-called “civil-war”. It is people like these who will. The people who have quietly tried to live their lives in middle America. They are not racists. They are not homophobic. They just want the ability to enjoy the freedoms we are supposed to have in this country and want the same for everyone else. Not all of them are conservatives, but since they are mostly white, the Left has no place for them (I’ll admit the establishment Right doesn’t either).

There seems to be this impression that the only people on the Right who have guns are 65 year old NRA Boomers living in Hickville, USA. This is laughable. I have a lot of friends from the military spread out over the United States who I am connected with on social media or send text messages with from time to time. Most of us have a very similar perspective on what is going on around us. We signed up to serve our country during wars that in hindsight cost us a lot of blood and treasure. We came home to a country that is divided on class and race, which is confusing to us because we formed bonds with each other during war that transcended those divides. We aren’t treated particularly great by the government, who just wants to push pills to make us go away, or corporate America, who wants to use us as marketing props. We just want to live in the country that we thought we were fighting for and be free to work hard and raise our kids how we see fit. We don’t deny things could be better for a lot of people in America, but know the current proposals on the table won’t solve our problems.

By the way, we have guns and we know how to use them. Most of us would rather not do so, as we’ve seen firsthand the devastating effects of war, but we will defend ourselves if we have to. We aren’t planning raids on government buildings or seeking vigilante justice on the streets. But if an Antifa mob comes to burn down our neighborhoods you better bet that we’ll be willing to meet them at our front door.

We’re not there yet, but barring some miracle we’ll be there at some point. There are a lot of people in the middle getting squeezed from both sides right now. Corporate America sells us out for profit on one side while Progressive America chastises us as privileged bigots on the other. Another COVID lockdown is going to crush the economy even worse than the first time and put a lot more people out of work. We’re backing a lot of people into a corner and there are few places left on this earth to escape to. Nobody wants another civil war, but we are doing a damn good job at creating the circumstances for it to happen.

Discuss.

UPDATE: A reader writes:

My first thought is that we have actually undergone two civil wars, the first being the War of Independence. The Adams breakdown of support, generally supported by historical research, would indicate that support for independence remained fairly weak for much of the war. I would classify the War of Independence, as many have, as a British Empire civil war or a British North America civil war.
As a historian who has studied conflicts and also US history, I am also frightened by the rhetoric. My old preacher said that when you start to see national institutions breaking apart over politics, such as the Protestant denominations before the civil war, conflict is not far behind.
In all honesty, I see pathways to civil war regardless of who wins in November.
Should Trump win, I do believe we will see secession movements in blue states dominated by major cities. Personally, I favor a “let our erring sisters go in peace” approach.  Additionally, any states seceding after a Trump victory will be obligated to leave their rural areas in the Union to join other states or to form new ones.  We would end up with a string of Singapores or Chile shaped countries in coastal areas, I speculate.
Civil war after a Biden win would be another thing entirely. It would be urban and rural warfare fighting over control of the nation-state more than secession attempts. I see no way the blue states and cities could win in such a scenario. Rural areas have hundreds of millions of guns, many in the hands of irregular warfare combat veterans ranging from the ages of 18 to 80. The same topography that made Appalachia appealing to John Brown still exists, but now is honeycombed by countless thousands of miles of uncharted mine tunnels and natural limestone caves.  The Rockies are like Afghanistan writ large in terms of landscape.
In other words, even if a Democrat led war effort could muster support from most of the military and law enforcement community, they would have to fight a war Democrats warned us against for two generations – another Vietnam.
I also do not see the war progressing as the Midwestern letter writer expects. Like Canaan, US urban areas can be cut off from each other at least at ground level and possibly even besieged to an extent. US cities are vulnerable in ways that country areas are not, especially since a civil war would cut them off of energy and food supplies unless shipped from overseas.
Also, the urban population of the US by and large does not own arms and is less likely to have experienced military training.
Civil war is the worst possible outcome of our current political crisis, which is why I personally say that if cities want to leave the Union they are not worth a fight.  I hope and pray that the country finds a way to live and let live, but I am losing optimism on that front.
This e-mail jolted me, and I’ll tell you why. The break-up of the United States is, for me, an unthinkable catastrophe. At this point, it’s only a theoretical exercise. But let’s say some version of it did come to pass. I live in a big blue city inside a red state. If there was any sort of formal break-up, I would go back to my home parish and stand with my family and the people with whom I grew up. Simple as that. Depending on the particulars, I might talk my way out of it, but that’s my instinct.
Realizing this made me understand the US Civil War in a way I hadn’t quite done before. We talk about the Southerners being “traitors” to the Union, and maybe that’s true. I don’t want to argue that. But what I am saying is that they were being loyal to their primary institutions: their families and their people. If that meant betraying America, then they were going to betray America. Emotionally and psychologically, this is the same kind of thing we hear about soldiers in combat: they don’t ultimately fight for America the Beautiful, the blessing of democracy, the US Constitution, or any of that. They fight for each other.
Don’t misunderstand: I believe that breaking up America would be a terrible idea! I don’t want to fight my fellow Americans. If people wanted to go, let them go. How many people today, I wonder, care so much about preserving the Union that they would be willing to go to war to keep California or Texas from seceding? I don’t, and it’s not because I hate California or Texas. How about you?
But if we’re gaming out scenarios as a thought experiment, and if Blue states and regions sought to separate in some way from the rest, I would leave the Blue if I were living there, and go live in the Red, with my tribe — even if it cost me money. I wonder how common that sentiment is. I talked yesterday with a Louisiana friend who was telling me yesterday about how in his experience with his adult children and their friends, so many people of the younger generations just don’t have that same experience of natural roots that we older people do.
UPDATE: A reader comments:

Yep. This is very much the situation I’m in right now, except that I’m not a veteran. Living in suburbia, conservative, family guy; trying to make sense of the culture wars right now with some objectivity, and getting told that trying to see things “objectively” is itself patriarchy and racism.

My wife and I are closet conservatives, even in our relatively mild suburb in a red state. Most of our friends and peers have gone WAY to the left of the past several years. My wife and I, at least once a week, converse about current events, and these conversations always end the same way: we can’t tell anyone else we know about this. No one. We’d lose all our friends and social support.

I’ve been putting off buying a gun for years now, because I really loathe the idea of having them around my kids. But we recently decided it’s time to get one and get trained. I hate that. I hate all of this.

We have several close (white) friends who also live in the suburbs, but will regularly drive downtown, protest police “brutality” for a few hours, then pick up a $6 coffee on the way back to their gated neighborhood and make sure that their day’s work is all over social media to show what good “allies” they are. One recently posted that it was unfair, dangerous (and of course racist) for the local police to form barricades around public buildings during these protests, because (and I quote) “if a few buildings need to burn, let them burn.” I’m not sure how to tell these people they will feel differently when it is their cookie-cutter McMansions burning, and that that’s what they’re heading towards. But again, if we were to tell them that, we’d be accused of (you guessed it) racism.

It’s like our society wants to die. Die of Covid, die of mob violence, die of existential boredom. I don’t always agree with your conclusions, but that’s why I follow your blog so closely: the Benedict Option was a prescient book; every day it looks more like the only solution conservative, or even independent-thinking, people are going to have. I’m just so sad about it all. This is NOT the future I want for my kids.

God have mercy.

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George Floyd And ExDS

(Photo by Stephanie Keith/Getty Images)

Lots of mail this morning on yesterday’s George Floyd post. It says something about our times that people are writing to me saying they agree, but can’t say so for fear of losing their jobs. They know that in this free country, there are some lies that we have to live by. It is quite revealing that so many people seem angry that this new bodycam footage has come out, complicating the received Narrative. Why? I can see why professional activists would be angry, but this new bodycam footage shows that the Minneapolis cops aren’t the depraved monsters we all saw on the previous footage — that they had been struggling with a hysterical, possibly delusional man who had spent nine minutes refusing to do anything the cops told him. This doesn’t mean that the cops are morally or legally innocent of wrongdoing — though they might be — but it does mean that the case is more complicated than we have been led to believe by the media and others.

I’m as guilty as anybody. I thought Chauvin was a monster, and have said so on this blog. What kind of man puts his knee on another man’s neck for almost nine minutes, while the subdued man says he can’t breathe, and then dies? A monster. The new bodycam footage, though shows that as part of his nine-minute shrieking freakout prior to being put on the ground, Floyd had claimed, “I can’t breathe!” even though he was standing up, unrestrained except for the cuffs. Maybe he really couldn’t breathe because he was having a panic attack, or was overdosing on fentanyl (which was found in his bloodstream in a high quantity). Or maybe he was just talking smack to keep them from putting him in the squad car. Whatever the truth, the cops made the fatal judgment that he was not serious when he was on the ground with Chauvin’s knee in his neck, saying he couldn’t breathe.

I don’t know precisely how that complicates matters legally, though lawyers have been writing to say (see updates) that it’s going to be very hard for the government to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the cops are guilty as charged. This June piece by former federal prosecutor Andrew McCarthy is a somewhat technical walk-through of the charges, and what prosecutors have to prove (McCarthy believes that Chauvin and two of the three other cops should have been charged with something, but that Minnesota AG Keith Ellison has overcharged them, making it more likely that they won’t be convicted of anything). Morally, it’s up for debate, but I don’t see how one can admit into evidence the nine minutes of video prior to Floyd being subdued on the ground and still believe that this is an easy case to adjudicate morally.

A reader writes to say that complicating information was publicly available before the new bodycam footage, and that I, like others, either didn’t see it, or didn’t go looking for it. In my case, I didn’t go looking for it. I assumed the Narrative — white cops torture black suspect to death — was true, or mostly true. We had video, did we not? That reader sends this June 11 piece in Medium, by Gavrilo David, that works against the received Narrative of Floyd’s death. Excerpts:

The [initial George Floyd] video is unquestionably horrific.

But in our rush to condemn an aggressive use of force and pursue justice for George Floyd, we have ignored crucial information which is necessary in judging the conduct of the officers. While nothing can absolve George Floyd’s death, these facts do cast doubt on the appropriateness of a murder charge for Chauvin, and paint a more nuanced picture of the events leading up to the tragic encounter.

There are six crucial pieces of information — six facts — that have been largely omitted from discussion on the Chauvin’s conduct. Taken together, they likely exonerate the officer of a murder charge. Rather than indicating illegal and excessive force, they instead show an officer who rigidly followed the procedures deemed appropriate by the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD). The evidence points to the MPD and the local political establishment, rather than the individual officer, as ultimately responsible for George Floyd’s death.

More:

These six facts are as follows:

  1. George Floyd was experiencing cardiopulmonary and psychological distress minutes before he was placed on the ground, let alone had a knee to his neck.
  2. The Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) allows the use of neck restraint on suspects who actively resist arrest, and George Floyd actively resisted arrest on two occasions, including immediately prior to neck restraint being used.
  3. The officers were recorded on their body cams assessing George Floyd as suffering from “excited delirium syndrome” (ExDS), a condition which the MPD considers an extreme threatto both the officers and the suspect. A white paper used by the MPD acknowledges that ExDS suspects may die irrespective of force involved. The officers’ response to this situation was in line with MPD guidelines for ExDS.
  4. Restraining the suspect on his or her abdomen (prone restraint) is a common tactic in ExDS situations, and the white paper used by the MPD instructs the officers to control the suspect until paramedics arrive.
  5. Floyd’s autopsy revealed a potentially lethal concoction of drugs — not just a potentially lethal dose of fentanyl, but also methamphetamine. Together with his history of drug abuse and two serious heart conditions, Floyd’s condition was exceptionally and unusually fragile.
  6. Chauvin’s neck restraint is unlikely to have exerted a dangerous amount of force to Floyd’s neck. Floyd is shown on video able to lift his head and neck, and a robust study on double-knee restraints showed a median force exertion of approximately approximately 105lbs.

Let’s be clear: the actions of Chauvin and the other officers were absolutely wrong. But they were also in line with MPD rules and procedures for the condition which they determined was George Floyd was suffering from. An act that would normally be considered a clear and heinous abuse of force, such as a knee-to-neck restraint on a suspect suffering from pulmonary distress, can be legitimatized if there are overriding concerns not known to bystanders but known to the officers. In the case of George Floyd, the overriding concern was that he was suffering from ExDS, given a number of relevant facts known to the officers. This was not known to the bystanders, who only saw a man with pulmonary distress pinned down with a knee on his neck. While the officers may still be found guilty of manslaughter, the probability of a guilty verdict for the murder charge is low, and the public should be aware of this well in advance of the verdict. 

[highlight in the original text]

Gavrilo David then goes into detail on each of those six points. Again, David’s piece was published almost two months ago. I was unaware of it until two different readers sent it to me. David writes:

From the 911 transcript, we know that George Floyd was acting “drunk” and “not in control of himself” before the police were called. The 911 caller is concerned that such an “awfully drunk” man would attempt to operate a vehicle. This is an important departure from the earlier media reports, which indicated the officers were only called over a counterfeit bill.

“Um someone comes our store and give us fake bills and we realize it before he left the store, and we ran back outside, they was sitting on their car […], and he’s sitting on his car cause he is awfully drunk and he’s not in control of himself” […] He is not acting right […] and [he’s] not acting right so and [he] started to go, drive the car.”

This information on its own is of no significance. In fact, aggressively restraining someone who is experiencing distress only makes that restraint all the more heinous. But as will be seen later, when this information is seen in light of George Floyd’s behavior, it led the officers to suspect he was suffering from ExDS — a far more dangerous scenario than simple distress.

Did you know that the original 911 report from the store owner said that Floyd was “awfully drunk and … not in control of himself”? I didn’t. I should have. Part of the reason that I had decided that the MPD overreacted was that I couldn’t believe they were so hard on a guy who was just trying to pass fake bills. As David says, this is really important information to helping us understand the context of the officers’ actions.

This is really interesting too. Remember that Gavrilo David published this on June 11:

For reasons not yet known, Minneapolis is refusing to release the officers’ body cams of this moment. This information is important in order to determine how Floyd was acting the exact moment the officers pulled him from the police car. It is unconscionable that this information has not been released to the public. We must assume, given all relevant information already known, that their reason for pulling him out of the car was his continued resistance as noted in the government complaint.

This is true! Now that we have seen the bodycam footage — which someone leaked to the Daily Mail — we know that Floyd was acting crazily when they pulled him from the car, and was physically resisting being put into the car.

Look at this passage about ExDS (excited delirium syndrome), in light of the new bodycam footage. Remember that David published this almost two months ago:

It must be understood that the public does not yet have enough information to conclude whether the police were accurate in their assessment of ExDS. We have some information indicating that the determination is correct, but absent the full body cam recording, we are unable to make a complete judgment on this point. This is discouraging, because the entire case rests on this point. We know that two officers believed he was experiencing ExDS, and that the other two officers did not comment to the contrary. We also know that George Floyd had some symptoms of ExDS, but we do not know if he had all symptoms of ExDS, or if he had any symptoms indicating the contrary. Below are the symptoms, affixed with whether we know he experienced the symptom or not:

  • Sweating [Y]
  • Police Noncompliance [Y]
  • Lack of Tiring [Y]
  • Unusual Strength [?]
  • Pain Tolerance [?]
  • Tachypnea [?]
  • Tactile Hyperthermia [?]
  • Bizarre behavior generating calls to police [Y]
  • Suspected or known psychostimulant drug or alcohol intoxication [Y]
  • Erratic or violent behavior [?]
  • Ongoing struggle despite futility [Y]
  • Yelling/shouting/guttural sounds [?]
  • Agitation [Y]
  • Inappropriately Clothed [N]
  • Mirror/Glass Attraction [?]
  • Suspected or known psychiatric illness [N]
  • Failure to recognize or respond to police presence at the scene [likely N]

Some of these symptoms can only be determined from body cameras. Unfortunately, other symptoms can only be determined by the officers’ account. It is not possible to know whether he was experiencing tactile hyperthermia except by asking the officers who had touched his skin. We will have to work with these limitations in our analysis of the event. However, that both the brand new officer (Lane) and the veteran officer (Chauvin) suspected ExDS is not poor evidence. And that no officer objected to this determination must also be considered.

Well, the bodycam footage is now available, and as David guessed from the testimony, Floyd fits most of these symptoms to a T. Everything we see on the new bodycam footage supports the officers’ diagnosis of ExDS. Again, this is crucially important in understanding why the cops reacted as they did later.

This is from a white paper on ExDS that the Minneapolis PD depended on for formulating its response:

  • “ExDS subjects are known to be irrational, often violent and relatively impervious to pain. Unfortunately, almost everything taught to LEOs about control of subjects relies on a suspect to either be rational, appropriate, or to comply with painful stimuli. Tools and tactics available to LEOs (such as pepper spray, impact batons, joint lock maneuvers, punches and kicks, and ECD’s, especially when used for pain compliance) that are traditionally effective in controlling resisting subjects, are likely to be less effective on ExDS subjects.”

  • “The goals of LEOs in these situations should be to 1) recognize possible ExDS, contain the subject, and call for EMS; 2) take the subject into custody quickly, safely, and efficiently if necessary; and 3) then immediately turn the care of the subject over to EMS personnel when they arrive for treatment and transport to definitive medical care.”

  • “In those cases where a death occurs while in custody, there is the additional difficulty of separating any potential contribution of control measures from the underlying pathology. For example, was death due to the police control tool, or to positional asphyxia, or from ExDS, or from interplay of all these factors? Even in the situation where all caregivers agree that a patient is in an active delirious state, there is no proof of the most safe and effective control measure or therapy for what is most likely an extremely agitated patient.”

  • “There are well-documented cases of ExDS deaths with minimal restraint such as handcuffs without ECD use. This underscores that this is a potentially fatal syndrome in and of itself, sometimes reversible when expert medical treatment is immediately available”.

Gavrilo David adds:

Each of these bullet points is of the utmost importance in understanding Chauvin’s state of mind. These points must be re-read and thoroughly understood before pronouncing judgment on an officer who was simply following these statements during the arrest. If you are skimming this article I advise you to spend time on these bullet points. Remember: the officer’s job is to follow protocol, not to re-write protocol during an arrest. It is the politician’s job to ensure that the protocols are correct, no the police officer’s.

Here is a knockout paragraph:

It’s important to understand that the public — including journalists — are not well-versed in ExDS, and consequently do not have a good intuition as to what constitutes excessive force. As noted in the white paper, “there is no proof of the most safe and effective control measure,” “any LEO interaction with a person in this situation risks significant injury or death”, “this already challenging situation has the potential for intense public scrutiny coupled with the expectation of a perfect outcome […] Unfortunately, this dangerous medical situation makes perfect outcomes difficult […].” It would helpful here to examine ExDS in depth, and compare it to the George Floyd case.

I plead guilty to this. I didn’t know that ExDS was until reading this Gavrilo David piece. David discusses cases of ExDS in which the suspects died of it even though they were not being restrained as Chauvin did to Floyd. He links to a video of a Las Vegas man’s case in which the police did everything right, but the man still died of ExDS. Why? Because, according to the Journal of Emergency Medical Services, “The patient with excited delirium, however, continues to fight the restraints until cardiac arrest occurs.”

There are documented cases of this happening (Gavrilo David links to them). If George Floyd had ExDS, it is possible that he would have died no matter what these cops did or didn’t do. It explains why George was extremely agitated for the nine minutes or so before he was put on the ground, and refused to do what the cops said. It explains why he said he couldn’t breathe, and was in full-blown panic. If he had ExDS, then he wasn’t listening to the cops. He was in the grips of a drug-induced psychosis, and was doomed to keep resisting the cops until his heart gave out.

Maybe that’s not the explanation for what happened to George Floyd. But the evidence points to it.

Gavrilo David writes at length about ExDS. I strongly encourage you to read it all. And I urge you to go watch the new bodycam footage at the Daily Mail‘s story.

If Gavrilo David could determine all this two months ago, why has it not been widely reported in the media? Again, I admit that I didn’t go looking for this information because I assumed that the story we were all being told by the mainstream media was a full account of what happened. Now it is clear that we were not told the whole story. It appears quite plausible that George Floyd died as the result of his “severe” (the coroner’s word) heart condition and the psychosis induced by the potentially lethal dose of fentanyl he had ingested, and the methamphetamine.

Maybe Derek Chauvin killed him. But maybe he did not. Why is it considered to be a moral outrage to consider facts that undermine the received Narrative?

Defense lawyers are going to present all of this to Minneapolis juries, who will take it into consideration when they decide whether or not these police officers are guilty. It is very important that the rest of us know this information too. George Floyd’s death is still a tragedy. The new information helps us determine the moral nature of the tragedy, and, of course, whether or not it was also a crime.

Maybe George Floyd’s death is not a manifestation of a grand battle between Good and Evil. Maybe it was a case of an ordinary police encounter with a man so high on drugs that he is a danger to himself and others — an encounter that ended badly. If this is so, why is that not good news? Why would people not be relieved by the possibility that vicious racist killer cops were not policing the streets of Minneapolis that day?

I gotta ask too: why did the City of Minneapolis not release this bodycam footage? Why would they hide it?

UPDATE: The official autopsy revealed that George Floyd had Covid-19 at the time of his death:

UPDATE.2: A reader who is a lawyer writes:

I always assumed that Floyd resisted arrest, so the video says nothing to me on that point.  Few arrestees say “yes, I’m on heroin, maybe some Fentanyl.”

Once he’s cuffed and on the ground on his stomach, you or I could hold him down with a knee on his low back.  The knee to the neck while smirking at the camera was a power trip, a “because I can” move.  Chauvin’s defense may turn on how “passively resisting” is defined for purposes of the neck restraint.  I’d say cuffed and refusing to get in a squad car is passive resistance that doesn’t justify the neck restraint, while fighting the cuffs or the cops is active resistance, but it depends on the policy definitions.  In any case, it’s hard to say anything in the original 9-minute video was “active” on Floyd’s part.

“Stop resisting” is dirty-cop horseshit.  I’ve handled one police brutality case.  A ‘roid-raging officer handcuffed my client, put him face down in a parking lot, then started smashing his head into the gravel, then keyed his radio and shouted “stop resisting” several times.  My client (a former prosecutor) thought he was being set up to be killed, because he wasn’t resisting other than trying to keep his head from being smashed into the gravel, so the cop’s instruction made no sense.

All that said, the video and toxicology would provide a good defense in most cases.  I prefer the toxicology angle – that he probably died of the drugs.  Speaking as not-a-criminal-defense-lawyer, though, I think if Chauvin contributed to the death, it could still be murder, even if it’s not the main cause.  So it might not matter if Floyd would’ve died 20 or 30 minutes later and Chauvin merely hastened the death.  If you find a shooting victim who won’t survive, and you put him out of his misery with a bullet to the head, it’s still murder.  The prosecution may prove that Floyd would’ve survived if he’d lasted five more minutes so the EMS could give him a shot of Narcan.

I say the video and toxicology would be good defenses “in most cases.”  I think Chauvin will be convicted of … something.  I don’t know Minnesota criminal law, so I can’t say what.  “Murder” is not always intentional killing, but the intentional use of deadly force, maybe the use of deadly force with reckless indifference to whether someone is killed.  So accidentally shooting the toddler in the yard instead of his big brother is murder.  Hitting someone with a pool cue can be murder.  In more states, the latter would end up being manslaughter because of “heated blood.”  That might be the right outcome in this case, although it’s Chauvin’s cool blood that makes mine boil.  In most states, there are “lesser included offenses” with crimes like murder, so an overcharged defendant can be convicted of a lesser offense that has some (not all) of the elements of the charged offense.  That can be second-degree murder, manslaughter, negligent homicide, etc. – all depends on state law.  They’ll convict him of something, and rightfully so.

I don’t know that the knee on the neck was a “power trip.” That was the prescribed procedure for the MPD. Whether that was wrong or right is a different question, but if Chauvin was following established department procedure, how can we be confident that it was a “power trip” move?

UPDATE.3: Another reader writes:

Thank you for letting us have a deeper understanding of what happened prior to the killing of George Floyd.  I still believe it was grotesque abuse of police power, and a tragic, unnecessary death.  It shows me more than anything that we need to train police in de-escalation techniques, while weeding out those cops who should be nowhere near the force, including the cop who killed him.

But we tend to beatify people like George Floyd after tragic and outrageous events befall such victims (and I DO consider him a victim), and this warps our understanding of how events played out.  We often find these are dysfunctional men with multiple run-ins with the law, erratic behavior, drug problems, and who resist the police in ways which put themselves and the cops in hazard’s way.  This in no way excuses bad policing, or this particular killing, but it’s important to understand that the paeans being made to Mr. Floyd are the kinds of things we say of the dead, but wouldn’t apply to him while he lived.  The people which police encounter on a day-to-day basis are typically not the kinds of people we want our children to grow up to be.
On another note, let’s state the obvious that Rayshard Brooks was a fool, who might as well have run into traffic.  He wasn’t merely “asleep in his car” as the media reports, but black-out drunk in his car.  The police were hyper-professional with him, up to, through and including the moment he decided to violently resist a legal arrest, and grabbed what he likely thought was the cop’s pistol (the taser is intentionally designed to mimic that of a handgun) to run away with it.
Again, the cops didn’t absolutely *need* to shoot him under those circumstances.  It is a tragic situation which is almost entirely the fault of Rayshard Brooks.  Again, it’s a matter of needing to better train the cops in these situations – and to discuss publicly How to Act Around Legitimately Nervous Armed Police.  To simply reduce this to a cold-blooded killing of a black man by racist cops is absurd.  I am certain, as a white man, I would not be living to write this if I had acted in the same idiotic fashion as Rayshard Brooks.
UPDATE.4: A white woman who lived on Minneapolis’s south side writes about the threat from drugged-out men:
Not far from [George Floyd’s] neighborhood a man either on drugs or suffering from mental illness followed me for four blocks yelling that he was going to rape me. Men acting erratically on drugs have tried to put their hand up my skirt or told me they were going to hurt me when I politely rebuffed their advances. I saw brutal fights break out in broad daylight at bus stops in that neighborhood.
I can have pity for George Floyd while also knowing what it is like to be terrified of drugged out men, both black and white, on the streets of South Minneapolis. [In the bodycam video] I see trained officers struggling with an incredibly strong and erratic man, and I think I couldn’t have protected myself against such a man at a bus stop. But I would be the bad guy, because I totally look like a “Karen.”

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Why George Floyd Died

George Floyd, from police bodycam footage obtained by The Daily Mail

This is bracing. Here is the police body cam footage of the Minneapolis police officers’ encounter with George Floyd in the nearly eight minutes between the time they first engaged him, and put him on the ground and suppressed his neck:

Early, one of the officers has a gun on him, and tells him repeatedly to put his hands on the wheel. Floyd says, “I got shot the same way before.” Well then, says the cop, put your hands on the wheel when I tell you to.

The police tell him repeatedly to get out of the car, but he keeps saying, “Please don’t shoot me, please don’t shoot me.” Yet he refuses to obey them. At the 1:28 moment, Floyd says, “I just lost my mom, man.” (He was lying about that.)

At the 1:51 point, a female voice is heard saying, “Stop resisting!”

Floyd continues to resist arrest as they’re trying to cuff him. At about the 2:12 point, the officer says again, “Stop resisting!”

At 2:19, the police finally get the cuffs on Floyd, and put him back into the seat of his car.

In the seconds before a break at 3:57, one of the bystanders (a black woman) tells an officer that Floyd has mental problems. Then, at 3:57, we see Floyd cuffed and standing on the street. An officer says, “Are you on something right now?”

“No, nothing,” says Floyd.

This too was a lie. In fact, the autopsy revealed that Floyd had fentanyl and methamphetamine in his system at the time of his death. The autopsy also found that Floyd, 46, had “severe” heart disease, and that he died of a heart attack. The autopsy ruled that the fentanyl (“fentanyl intoxication”) and the meth might have contributed to his fatal heart attack. The autopsy also called his death a “homicide.”

At 4:38, one of the officers has Floyd against the police SUV, and tells him, “Stop falling down. Stay on your feet and face the car door.” Floyd is not complying with their orders. “Please, I want to talk with you man,” he shrieks at the police.

At 5:26, Floyd tells the police officers that he is “claustrophobic” — this, to say that he does not want to get into the police SUV. Remember that the supposedly claustrophic Floyd had been pulled out from behind the wheel of his own car. This claustrophobic man is not so afraid of confined spaces that he can’t stand being in a car. A reasonable person, by this point, might conclude that the clearly agitated Floyd is just talking trash to keep the cops from arresting him. He has been talking almost non-stop since the police first approached him, trying to convince the police to let him go.

At 5:38, Floyd denies for a second time that he is on drugs.

What’s striking too at this point is how polite and non-confrontational the police have been. They ask him repeatedly to get into the SUV.

“I’m gonna go in!” says Floyd, at 6:18.

“No, you’re not!” one of the cops replies — meaning in context, you’re saying you’re going to do this thing, but you are in fact refusing to do it.

They order him four or five more times to get into the SUV. He keeps refusing. He claims that he is afraid, that he’s claustrophobic, that he won’t be able to breathe. Voices of bystanders tell him to do what the cops tell him to do, to quit trying to “win.” Floyd says he’s “not trying to win.”

And then several more times, they order him to get in the car. One officer goes around to the other side, to try to pull Floyd in. Floyd offers to get into the front seat. No, an officer says. Floyd keeps resisting. At 7:48, he’s still resisting and shrieking, and the frustrated voice of an officer says, “Take a seat!”

Around 8:12, they finally put Floyd on the ground. He is continuing to protest, “I can’t breathe!”

That’s the end of the above video. We know what happened next.

That bodycam footage dramatically changes what we thought we knew about this story.

George Floyd did not just resist arrest. He spent at least eight minutes gasping and shrieking and carrying on like a lunatic, all the while refusing frequent, entirely legitimate orders by police. I had been under the impression that they had brutalized him from the beginning, throwing Floyd to the ground and kneeing him in the neck. That’s not remotely what happened. What happened is that these police officers gave Floyd chance after chance to obey. He was high on fentanyl and meth, though he denied twice that he was on anything, but his behavior was completely bizarre. Was it because he was high? Maybe. It might also be because he had four previous criminal convictions, and had done a prison stint for assault and robbery. What brought the cops in Minneapolis out that afternoon was that he was attempting to pass counterfeit bills in a local store. Floyd must have known that given his criminal record, he was going to be in a world of trouble over the fake currency.

The knee-in-the-neck procedure was only deployed by a cop after Floyd’s repeated refusal to comply with police orders simply to get into the police car. One can certainly argue about whether or not the neck restraint is wise and proper, but one cannot argue with the fact that it was permitted under Minneapolis police procedure:

A neck restraint is listed as a “non-deadly force option” in the Minneapolis Police Department Policy & Procedure Manual, according to the police.

The Unconscious Neck Restraint shall only be applied in the following circumstances:

  • On a subject who is exhibiting active aggression, or;
  • For life saving purposes, or;
  • On a subject who is exhibiting active resistance in order to gain control of the subject; and if lesser attempts at control have been or would likely be ineffective.
  • Neck restraints shall not be used against subjects who are passively resisting as defined by policy.

The new bodycam video shows that Floyd had been actively resisting arrest for at least eight minutes! If George Floyd at any point in that eight minutes had simply obeyed the police’s lawful, legitimate orders, he would be alive today. After watching that video, it is easy to see why Officer Derek Chauvin applied the neck restraint to him. And it is easy to understand why Chauvin believed Floyd was lying when he said, “I can’t breathe” — Floyd had been standing on the street yelling over and over that he couldn’t breathe as a way to convince the officers not to make him get into the back of the car.

Those cops have been overcharged for political reasons, and are going to walk free. Jason Whitlock, the black sports journalist, has watched the new footage, and says:

The behavior of the police officers seems appropriate and restrained given Floyd’s level of resistance and bizarre conduct. The footage reasonably explains how and why Floyd wound up on the ground with multiple officers restraining him.

The video does not justify officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes. But it does offer context why Chauvin would be reluctant to believe Floyd’s “I can’t breathe” cries. Nearly every word out of Floyd’s mouth was a desperate lie.

Here are the takeaways from the footage:

  • Floyd’s behavior escalated a routine arrest into a possible abuse of force.
  • The George Floyd case is not a race crime. No rational person can watch that footage and conclude the police were motivated by Floyd’s black race.
  • It’s going to be virtually impossible to convict former officers Thomas Lane, J. Alexander Kueng and Tou Thao of any crime.
  • It will be equally difficult to convict Chauvin of murder.

When these police officers go free — as they will deserve to, based on what is seen on these cameras — riots are going to sweep the nation. As Whitlock says, sports stars, the media, and many others have promulgated a sacred narrative in which Floyd was the innocent victim of racist police officers. It is not true. I think a decent case could be made that Derek Chauvin used excessive force, even though the neck restraint was legal under Minneapolis police guidelines. But murder? Not remotely. You’re not going to get a conviction for that.

George Floyd is dead today almost entirely because of George Floyd. Watch that bodycam video above (it ends just as he is on the ground with Chauvin’s knee in his neck), and tell me how there is any other reasonable conclusion? All he had to do was obey the police, who gave him chance after chance after chance. They did not come down on him hard, with the neck restraint, because he was black. They came down on him because he hysterically resisted arrest, for at least eight minutes.

The media’s narrative is false. All the George Floyd riots, all the George Floyd protests, have been based on a lie. That lie, though, has become so fundamental to the left’s narrative that disbelieving it will be impossible for countless people.

Watch the video. It really is shocking to realize how badly we have been misled by the media, by politicians, by celebrities, and by activists.

UPDATE:
I have changed the headline, which was needlessly inflammatory, and for that I apologize. I still stand by my point: those cops are going to walk, because of the events leading up to Floyd’s death.

Floyd is dead because Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck for eight minutes. That is a fact. Chauvin should have been charged with something — abuse of force? — but I don’t see how it constitutes murder. I am willing to be corrected, especially by those who understand the law.

What shocked me about this video was how wildly uncooperative Floyd was prior to the neck restraint. I had believed prior to this that the police had thrown him to the ground and subdued him with the neck restraint. I did not realize all that preceded the neck restraint. I think it is a good thing that neck restraints are being abandoned by police. If Minneapolis had not had that policy, Floyd would probably be alive today.

And if Floyd had not resisted arrest for eight minutes, he would be alive today. He shouldn’t be dead, period, but his death was not the simple case I thought it was prior to seeing this video. Context matters.

UPDATE.2: Again, I want to apologize for the former headline. It was bad, and didn’t actually reflect what I believe. I could be completely wrong in my judgment in this post — and if so, I am willing to be convinced of that. I have written here in the past very critically of Chauvin, and I still cannot understand how a police officer can kneel on a man’s neck for that long and justify it. I do want to point out what Dukeboy, a commenter here who is a retired cop, said a while back about the neck restraint: that it’s bad policy, but if it was official Minneapolis PD policy, then it’s going to be very hard to get a homicide conviction against Chauvin. 

My friend Alan Jacobs is appalled by this post of mine, and says that the new video cam image changes nothing. Doesn’t it, though? It provides much greater context for the killing of Floyd. Maybe it’s just me, and maybe the problem is mine, but I honestly thought that the Minneapolis cops roughed Floyd up from the very beginning. I had no idea that he had resisted arrest so strenuously. It does not justify his death — and that is the regret I had about the initial headline: that it gave that impression — but I understand that it reasonably might have happened not from depraved indifference to human life, as I initially thought, but because of that Minneapolis police policy and Floyd’s bizarre behavior as police tried and tried and tried to arrest him without incident.

What the new video changes, at least to my way of thinking, is my understanding of how this incident escalated. What should the police have done, given how he resisted, and how long he resisted? Obviously they shouldn’t have put him in a neck restraint (I hope all police departments have done away with that by now), but seriously, what should have happened? What could they have done differently with a suspect who repeatedly refuses to get into the squad car, after having refused multiple times police requests prior to that moment? What would a reasonable action have been for the police in that instance?

Eight minutes and forty-six seconds of kneeling on a man’s neck was wrong, and would have been wrong even if Floyd hadn’t have died. But I don’t believe it’s legally murder, not in this context, and I believe the messy truth of this case is far from what we have been presented.

I find this new bodycam footage to be bad news, actually, because nearly everybody is convinced that Derek Chauvin murdered George Floyd, but I do not believe a jury will be convinced of that, based on the evidence. Understand that “murder” has a specific legal meaning; not all killing is “murder,” and there are degrees of murder. If Chauvin walks because he has been overcharged by prosecutors, and if his police colleagues walk, I believe there will be widespread rioting. People will believe that there was a clear-cut case of injustice, when the new bodycam footage shows otherwise.

I could be wrong. Convince me to change my mind.

UPDATE.3:Libertarian Scott Shackford watched the same video and came to the opposite conclusion:

The officers’ encounter with Floyd is precisely why police reformers talk about the importance of de-escalation training. The stressfulness of this entire encounter is ratcheted up every step of the way by the officers, even though the crime for which Floyd was being arrested was not violent and his responses to the police were not violent. The violence in this encounter came entirely from one direction: the police.

It’s easy to say after the fact that the encounter could have and should have been handled differently given the fatal outcome. But now that the body camera footage has made its way into the public domain, it’s even more clear that none of Floyd’s responses to the officers merited their aggression. The Minneapolis Police Department was right to fire them all. Chauvin has since been charged with second-degree murder and the other three with aiding and abetting second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.

Even more clear. I respect Shackford’s judgment, though I don’t share it. It is interesting, though, that we could watch the same video and come to very different conclusions (though we both agree that Chauvin went too far).

UPDATE.4: I really hope all of you will watch the bodycam video before you comment one way or the other on what I have written here. You may end up thinking that Scott Shackford’s call is the correct one. But watch first.

I really hope that the media delve into this video, and give it a fair airing — not because I want them to reach a certain conclusion, but because the jury is ultimately going to see this and other bodycam videos, and figure it into their verdict. People should be aware that there is reason to believe that Chauvin et alia will walk, and not because the trial verdict is decided in advance.

I assumed too that the cops in Minneapolis had mistreated Floyd because he was black. I don’t see any evidence at all of that in the way they handled him for the eight minutes or so prior to his being put on the ground. They can still have used excessive force (Chauvin, I mean) without having been racist. I think any man, no matter what his color, who behaved as Floyd did while under arrest would have suffered the same fate with that group of officers.

UPDATE.5: A reader writes:

Two points:
1) I thought the second video at the Daily Mail article (about 18 min long) was more revealing about the whole incident. Though that may have been because I had the audio up higher when I played it.
2) I’m pretty convinced that the ultimate cause of Floyd’s death was the fentanyl. The toxicology study at the autopsy has his level at 11 ng/mL, together with 5.6 ng/mL of norfentanyl, which is what fentanyl metabolizes down to.
There is a New Hampshire public health study on the internet of 505 fentanyl overdose deaths there. The blood level ranged from 0.75 to 113 ng/mL, with a *mean* of 9.96 ng. So, Floyd had a dose somewhat higher than the average NH fentanyl overdose fatality.
But, moreover, given that the data range there is 0.75 all the way up to 113, that means that the *median* level is significantly below 9.96. Elsewhere, I’ve read that 7 ng is considered a “lethal dose.” He’s at 11, and earlier had had even more (hence the 5.6 ng norfentanyl). It seems to me this alone would explain the breathing difficulties. (It would also explain the flopping around: his nervous system was so checked out it could get his muscles to stand.)
Anyway, just to add to this speculation, at one point in the audio Floyd says something about “I was hoopin’ earlier.” “Hooping” in the Urban Dictionary refers to the practice of transporting contraband in the rectum. There’s a loop or “hoop” on the capsule which is hooked for fishing out when you get to your destination.
So, one possibility is that this was an accidental fentanyl overdose. Somehow in the retrieval process, some of the stuff got into his system, and since fentanyl is 100x stronger than heroin, that spelled his doom. He joins the 50,000+ other fentanyl overdose deaths in the U.S. each year. (Incidentally, he also had 100 ng/mL of morphine in his blood: heroin metabolizes down to morphine, so he also had a healthy dose of that in him earlier.)
Note well: In the original cell phone videos which caused the riots, what we see is a cruel cop callously and almost casually snuffing the life out of a defenseless man. But when we consider that he’s actually dying from an overdose, everything changes. The cops have figured out he’s on something really, really bad (PCP? they wonder at one point). He’s expressed difficulty breathing. So: THEY HAVE CALLED FOR AN AMBULANCE. The reason they look so casually indifferent is because they are, in fact, just killing time while they wait for the ambulance to get there. There’s nothing else they can do for him. Every now and then Chauvin does move around a bit, repositioning his knee: but, on this reading, he does so because he is taking care NOT to obstruct Floyd’s breathing while he maintains the restraint.
3) I suppose I have a third point. What we have with Floyd is something very much like what happened in Ferguson in 2015. There is a killing of a black man at the hands of the police, apparently. It becomes a cause celebre to advance the BLM movement. But there is a big big difference this time. In 2015, very quickly after the initial eruption, journalists brought to our attention that the underlying facts were in dispute and at least open to multiple interpretations. As additional information came into the public view, the majority of the public, within a week or two, concluded that, after all, it was a justified police shooting. That happened time and time again during BLM’s first run in 2015-16.
This time, in 2020, it’s different. There were NO mitigating facts, NO suggestions in the media of alternative interpretations. EVEN THOUGH THE TOXICOLOGY STUDY WAS POSTED ON THE INTERNET WITHIN DAYS. I saw that report and I was asking everyone I knew whether they had seen anything in the press explaining what 11 ng of fentanyl meant. Was it a lot or a little? Was it just a trace amount from someone who had used last week? No one in the press “characterized” a fact in plain view. Time and time again we heard that he had some drugs in his system. But NO ONE said: Oh, by the way, that was a lethal dose of fentanyl in him, and unless he got on Narcan immediately, he was done for. So the big “political” thing I take away from this episode is that the media ecosystem has changed significantly from 2015. Because everyone is now in lockstep to destroy Trump, really very elementary fact-finding isn’t happening. (For that matter, I’ve not read anything about the night club where both Floyd and Chauvin worked: Might that have been where the counterfeiting operation was located? It apparently burned down in the rioting. But nowhere have I seen any journalists interviewing people who knew Floyd or knew the night club, etc. It’s all a mystery. It seems the journalists wanted to keep the “context” completely out of the picture.)
Now, you might also say that the reaction this time was more explosive because there was video, whereas there wasn’t in the Ferguson case. And the original video looks very, very bad.
I have two observations about that:
a) In the 1992 Rodney King episode, I seem to recall the original video showing the cops just whaling on King in a horrible way. But then, a week later, additional video came out showing what happened before the original video. And it showed King getting Tasered once or twice to no effect and charging at officers and otherwise being extremely dangerous. So some suspicion about “what happened before” the cell phone video we had in the Floyd case should have been in reporters’ minds.
b) But, also, the authorities in Minneapolis have had this body cam video from the very beginning. They CHOSE to withhold it from public view. It seems whoever was responsible for that decision is a moral criminal, and they should be called out. Had we seen this video in the first days after the encounter, I don’t think cities would have burned all across America.
In that second bodycam video (linked in the reader’s letter), at the 5:00 mark, a police officer tells Floyd that the reason he’s cuffed and seated on the sidewalk is that he would not obey their orders, and that makes them concerned about what might be going on.
At 5:43, a cop asks, “Are you on something right now? ‘Cause you acting real erratic.”
Floyd: “Naw, I’m scared, man!”
Now, if you compare this to the first bodycam video (at the top of the page), you see that the police gave Floyd no reason to be scared, other than that they were going to question him. He acts very strange when they first approach his car, and he refuses to put his hands on the steering wheel. The cops clearly realize that something is really wrong with the guy.
At around the 6:28 mark, Floyd flops onto the sidewalk to avoid being put in the squad car. He begs them not to put him in the car. One cop said, “You not listening to a thing we’re saying, so we’re not going to listen to what you’re saying.”
At 9:36, he’s in the car, and says, “I can’t breathe” for the first time. He is not restrained, except for the cuffs. Floyd is completely freaking out. At around the 11:00 mark, Floyd is on the ground with Chauvin’s knee on his neck, shouting, “I can’t breathe!” You know what happens next. It’s horrible. What I had not realized until watching these videos is how Floyd had been behaving up to the point he was subdued on the ground, and how he had been shouting, “I can’t breathe!” even though he was not subdued — that is, a while before he was pinned to the ground by Chauvin.
UPDATE.6: A reader writes:
One of the things that activists fighting police brutality have been asking for is police bodycams.  I think the suspicion was that the videos from this would show widespread unlawful use of force by police.  Instead more often than not, the footage shows the police response was appropriate.  Whether this is because the presence of cameras inhibit the police hasn’t been conclusively decided.  Instead it is clear that many persons who made unjustified claims of inappropriate use of force by police, have had to retract their claims.

What the George Floyd incident showed is that there is a tremendous desire on the part of certain people to believe a specific narrative about the police and that images when taken out of context can support that narrative.

The bodycam footage that you saw clearly support those who advocate for investigations to be completed before acting.  Here because of the rioting mobs (on a nationwide basis) the D.A. wanted to indict as soon as possible.

The real question that you have to answer, is  how do we get persons who were sufficiently outraged by the knee on that neck that they assumed the context was what you also thought, to wait and withhold judgment.   That requires not just a better educated citizenry but also requires a responsible press, wise local elected leaders and a desire to understand rather than to quickly judge.   Good luck with all that in these tempestuous times.

Well, I assumed like many people who saw the initial video that Floyd was the victim of a depraved and brutal police officer, and the depraved indifference of those cops standing around him. I grant that what may be determined in the trial is exactly that. These new videos, though, show a far more complex situation than I thought was the case. I still don’t understand how it justifies eight minutes and forty-six seconds of a knee on a man’s neck, but I see a lot more nuance than I did before. Will it be exculpatory in a court of law? I think so, but I don’t know. We’ll see.

Another reader writes:

The George Floyd post was so bad. Just please stop doing these posts.

He didn’t say anything more than that, so I wrote to ask him what was “so bad” about it, and what he meant by “these posts.” I’m not trolling him — I really want to know. I have acknowledged that the initial headline was bad, insensitive, and misleading; I took it down and apologized for it. As always with my posts, I write things that can be criticized, and I do change my mind when readers show me where I made a mistake in my perceptions or my logic. Again, if you think this is a bad post, reader, I genuinely invite you to explain why, and try to change my mind. I’m listening!

Do not think that I am saying here that George Floyd deserved to die. He did not. But that doesn’t mean the cop who appears to have killed him committed homicide. I think it is reasonable to ask — to ask! — to what extent the high dosage of fentanyl in Floyd’s system played in weakening his ability to breathe, and stressing his already damaged heart. A fentanyl overdose slows the breathing rate. Yet Floyd remains extremely agitated throughout this video. What’s going on?

UPDATE.7: Sorry for all these updates, but I believe that they are important to many of you. The reader who said this post is “so bad” clarified:

The issue with George Floyd is not the minutiae of the law. It’s the moral matter of the killing of a vulnerable person. Your post neglects that principle which I know that you respect in other circumstances especially when related to sexuality.

I appreciate the clarification, but I sincerely don’t understand it. Let’s think about it for a second.

It’s not “the minutiae of the law” we’re talking about here. It’s a really big deal, morally and legally, whether or not the police officer Chauvin is at fault in Floyd’s death. Legally, it has to do with whether or not he will go to jail for years, or go free. Morally, was this an unintentional killing, or was there fault? I don’t believe that Chauvin intended to kill Floyd, but Floyd died under his knee. Where is the moral fault here, and what is the nature of the fault? I’m not asking rhetorically; I really want to know, and it’s important to know.

The context of what preceded the knee on the neck matters, I think, in terms of determining legal and moral culpability. The cops in this case tried patiently, in multiple ways, to subdue Floyd, who was under arrest. He resisted arrest hysterically. We know now that he was high on drugs, and the police thought so too — that’s why they called the ambulance. The fatal error Chauvin made was not realizing that Floyd was dying under his knee. Floyd had been hollering since virtually the moment he was approached by the police, and was complaining that he couldn’t breathe even before he was on the ground.

Was it because he was high, and the fentanyl was suppressing his breathing? Was it because he was having a panic attack? Both? Was it because he was trying to fool the police?

What is reasonable for the police to have believed? What was a reasonable course of action, under the police procedure? These aren’t side issues. They are both morally and legally significant. A city burned because people believed that a cop murdered George Floyd. You’ll get no argument from me that Floyd ought to still be alive, and that no cop should kneel on a man’s neck for nearly nine minutes (or ever). But we are asked to determine if, in the specific case of Derek Chauvin and these other officers, they are to some degree guilty of criminal homicide.

Alan Jacobs, as I mentioned before, hates this post. He wrote, in part:

The newly released footage might — might — embarrass some of the people who have tried to paint Floyd as some kind of saint, papering over his history. But beyond I don’t see how the footage changes anything. I still think exactly what I thought before I saw that footage: Non-saints, indeed even habitual criminals, don’t deserve what was done to George Floyd. Behaving bizarrely, “shrieking and carrying on like a lunatic,” is not a capital offense. Some of us might even say that a person who is clearly not in his right senses deserves compassion. Instead George Floyd got death. Eight minutes of patient, calm, unrelenting asphyxiation.

He did get death, that is true. But intent matters immensely in murder cases. First-degree murder is murder that is premeditated. Chauvin was not charged with first-degree murder, because there was obviously no premeditation here. Chauvin has been charged with second-degree murder, which under Minnesota law requires intentional killing, but without premeditation. Do we believe that Chauvin intended to kill Floyd? If prosecutors can’t prove that, then Chauvin walks.

It is a judgment call as to whether or not the way those police officers responded to George Floyd was reasonable under existing law and police procedure. All the facts surrounding the event are relevant to making that decision. If Alan and others take what preceded the asphyxiation into account, and still think it doesn’t matter, I respect that decision, but I am not convinced. They may be right! But I believe the newly released footage really does make a difference in demonstrating (or failing to demonstrate) intent to kill.

Alan writes:

I don’t know whether the new footage will change the thinking of a jury, but it doesn’t change my thinking one iota. If George Floyd had tried to attack Derek Chauvin, then maybe; but what I see is a pathetic, desperate, sick, terrified man. The cops could have waited him out. They chose to kill him instead.

And as for Rod’s claim that “if Floyd had not resisted arrest for eight minutes, he would be alive today,” that is true in exactly the same way, and to exactly the same degree, that “If she hadn’t been wearing that short skirt she wouldn’t have been raped” is true.

I disagree. One popular narrative that emerged from this case is that George Floyd is emblematic of police callousness towards black people. The new videos give no evidence at all that Floyd was treated the way he was by those cops because of his race. Furthermore, if the public is under the impression that these cops, and cops in general, commonly treat black people (and others too) with so much depravity that they have no problem killing them with asphyxiation, the Floyd case does not justify that conclusion, in my view. The neck restraint hold was only used on Floyd after between eight and ten minutes of the police trying to subdue him by other, less brutal means. They had given up on trying to arrest him, and were holding him until an ambulance arrived. There is nothing wrong with wearing a short skirt. There is something very wrong with resisting arrest. It does not justify a criminal suspect’s death, but when one refuses for between eight and ten minutes to obey police officers, it escalates the chance that something very bad could happen.

Why is it important to observe that if Floyd had obeyed the police officers, he would be alive today? Because a lot of people are claiming that Floyd had no chance, because these officers had it out for him. That’s just not true. If people come to believe that merely being arrested means that the police will kill you, they may foolishly — and even fatally — decided that resisting arrest is a matter of life and death.

UPDATE.8: My friend Leah Libresco e-mails (and gives me permission to post this):

I agree with Alan’s view of your George Floyd post, and I want to lay out why, since you’ve asked folks who disagree to explain why.
The first issue is that your post seems to teeter between asking whether Chauvin is at fault legally or at fault morally. Given the state of our current laws (particularly qualified immunity) there are many cases where cops are in the wrong morally and in the clear legally. In your post, you linger on the legal question without asking whether the law is a good tutor here.
But my bigger objection is part of a pattern on your posts on race. You’ve had a number of posts on diversity and inclusion initiatives as soft totalitarianism. You’ve also had some posts on the legacy of racism in your hometown, and how long it takes for those wounds to heal (and that denying their existence is further salt in the wounds).
It doesn’t feel like those parts of your blog speak to each other. Racism is a real, persistent evil in our country. And it has its effects not just through animus but through inertia. Racist structures continue to do harm, even when people aren’t aware of their origins and don’t have harmful intent. My high school, for instance, has the school district boundaries drawn in a racist way many years ago, and they still have not been changed.
When you hold up examples primarily of the excesses of the social justice movement, but not the evils it is responding to, I think you let down your readers. We’re called as Christians to bind up wounds. If you don’t like how that’s being done, point your readers at people who you admire who are doing this well, so they can be part of good work.
I was glad to see that your new book is split between pointing at the problem and giving examples of solutions. I think your blog and your readers would be well served by rebalancing your writing to point more toward what you admire than what you abhor. And remember, people act for the sake of a perceived good. Many of the people you disagree with are grappling with real evils, and you will do more to tell the whole truth when you acknowledge that they are motivated by a desire for justice, not just power.
I appreciate the letter. Let me respond.
First, I should be clearer in drawing the distinction between moral guilt and legal guilt — though both are at issue in this case, as a public matter.
I think Chauvin is probably going to be in the clear, legally. Obviously I’m not a lawyer, but it seems to me that it is going to be extremely difficult to prove that Chauvin intentionally killed Floyd. The bodycam footage reveals something I did not know before I saw it (maybe you did): that Floyd had behaved very strangely, and with intense agitation, from the time the police first confronted him until he ended up on the sidewalk with a cop’s knee on his neck. I did not realize that he had resisted arrest so insistently for so long. And I had not realized that he claimed that he couldn’t breathe at a time when no cop was confining him in any way, except for the cuffs.
Why does this matter? Because it seems at least plausible that Chauvin did not understand how seriously distressed Floyd was physically. He was clearly unusually agitated, but would you have guessed that he had a potentially lethal dose of fentanyl, a powerful central nervous system depressant, in his system? The police asked him twice if he was on something. He told them no, as you would expect a person high on an illegal drug to do. Chauvin also had no reason to think that a 46 year old muscled man had a severe heart condition.
All of this is part of building a case for reasonable doubt on the second-degree murder charge. It is important to understand as clearly as possible what Chauvin did from a legal point of view, and what that likely means for his conviction or acquittal. If people believe that this is an open-and-shut case of police murder, as very many people clearly do at this point, then if Chauvin is acquitted, there is going to be extreme outrage. I do not know to what extent the law can hold Chauvin responsible for what happened from the moment he put his knee on Floyd’s neck, and the moment when Floyd breathed his last. Do you? Are you sure about that? Why or why not?
If you were a cop and had been trained to use that neck restraint hold in situations like this, and you followed through with your training, how culpable could you be held if a suspect died while restrained in a prescribed way? As a commenter who is a former police officer said here earlier, that is a potential game-changer. Whether or not the neck restraint was wise policy is beside the point legally. The question becomes (it seems to me): at some point, should a reasonable police officer have realized that the man he held down in that neck restraint was dying, and he should have desisted? We have video evidence, and a jury will see it. What we saw on the new bodycam footage does not change what Chauvin did from the moment he put his knee on Floyd’s neck until Floyd died, but it does speak to the state of mind of Chauvin and the other officers after having struggled for eight to ten minutes with a hysterical and uncooperative suspect resisting arrest.
That doesn’t speak to the question of moral culpability. Things that are legal are not always moral. We now that. I could be wrong — and heaven knows I don’t question the good faith of Leah Libresco, Alan Jacobs, or other critics — but I get the feeling from Leah’s letter that she believes the question of Chauvin’s moral guilt is clear because racism is a real evil. Furthermore, she seems to believe that questioning whether Chauvin is morally guilty of racially-motivated murder is itself an act of … well, if not racism, then at least blindness to racism.
I do not at all deny that racism is a real and persistent evil. Who could? But the fact that racism is a real evil does not make Derek Chauvin guilty of racism in the Floyd case, or of murder. I try to be as fair as I can as I think through these issues, because I believe it’s important to think clearly and rationally — and that means standing apart from our emotions as much as we can, especially when our feelings are strong.
As longtime readers know about me, the greatest intellectual shame I carry is how thoroughly convinced I was that the US had to go to war in Iraq. I honestly believed that the only reason anybody opposed the war before it was launched was because they were too stupid to see what was obvious, or they were morally deficient (cowards, etc.). I was wrong, in fact, and without realizing what I was doing, I allowed my rage at 9/11 to condition my thinking, and to look down on those who opposed me as intellectual or moral defectives.
I have tried hard since then not to let myself fall into that trap. Do I fail? No doubt I do — and that’s why when I tell you I appreciate honest criticism, I mean it. But I have to say, on the issue of racism, I have seen a lot of the same kind of emotionally-driven rationalism in public debate. It is a moral good and a public virtue to want to fight racism, but when those wanting to fight racism believe that their good intentions excuse false accusations and smearing those who disagree, I believe it is important to say so. Same with fighting religious bigotry, or any other kind of bigotry. I write a fair bit about people I believe are badly treated because of their religious convictions. But not every person who claims to have been badly treated out of anti-religious bias really has been. Some people in this blog’s comments section, whenever I point out cases of anti-religious bigotry, say that yeah, maybe so, but Christians were so nasty to gays in the past that they can’t really be surprised that they’re treated this way.
No. That’s wrong. The fact of one kind of bigotry’s existence, historically and otherwise, does not excuse it as payback. Similarly, the hateful fact of racism in America, past and present, does not justify indulging in a different form of racial prejudice. Nobody is promoting programs in universities, government agencies, corporations and other institutions affirmatively encouraging us all to smear ethnic minorities as a group. But this is happening to whites. It’s wrong. I don’t credit people for wanting to use immoral and destructive means to deal with a vice. Communism wants to address the public vice of social inequality, but does so in a grossly immoral way. We don’t — or at least should not — excuse police brutality because at least the police are trying to fight crime, and their hearts are in the right place.
It matters whether or not Derek Chauvin and those other officers are actually guilty, morally and legally, of the things of which they have been accused. If they are guilty, they are guilty for what they did, not because of who they are (cops) and who their victim was (a black man). In our system, we are supposed to judge people as individuals, not as representatives of groups. God knows our history is filled with instances of people who did not receive justice because they were black, or female, or gay, or poor, or some other outsider disliked and disrespected by the majority. Is it really justice simply to rearrange our prejudices?
It is true that I react strongly against what I believe are unjust and even malicious efforts to combat racism by mainstreaming concepts like “white fragility” (DiAngelo) and “antiracism” (Kendi). Why? Because I genuinely believe they are racist, and they tell lies about the human condition, and human nature. I do not wake up every day and read stories in our leading media about why blacks, Latinos, gays, women, atheists, and progressives are bad people who need to be put in their place. I do wake up and see these stories often about people like me, and my family, and people I care about. It’s unfair — and the accumulated effect of this narrative, hammered over and over in the media and popular culture, is destructive not only to private interests, but the common good.
What I see happening in this country is the emergence of a new order in which people are judged not by their character or their deeds, but by their identities (racial, political, sexual, and so forth). And there is no sense of nuance, no sense that life is tragic, and that bad things can happen through human fallibility without there necessarily being a political meaning to the event. If George Floyd had been white, would people have cared nearly so much, even with the video? What hit me so hard about the bodycam footage today is how much it challenged what I thought I knew about the Floyd case, and how very, very far our media and our popular culture had seized on this tragedy to draw from it a politically useful narrative about American life.
It might be the case that Chauvin is guilty, either morally or legally, or both. But very few people have thought of this case as complicated. I know I didn’t. I mean, I don’t have the belief that the police as a whole are racist. Proportionally speaking, black men commit vastly more violent crimes than other racial groups. It stands to reason that the police would have more opportunities to interact with them in violent ways. And yet, I know from the testimony of black men, including friends, that they have been stopped by police for no reason. You can’t convince me that racism doesn’t exist at some level in the system. But you also cannot convince me that racism itself explains the overwhelming disproportion in the black male crime rate, including violent crime. Black, white, and everybody else, I think we should all try to find the truth, as best we can, instead of seeking for narratives that satisfy our need for meaning.
I didn’t see it in 2002, when the Bush Administration was making the case for war, but I needed to believe that Iraq had to be punished, because somebody had to be paid back for what Al Qaeda did to our country on 9/11. It’s crazy to think back on it, and to try to remember what it was like inside that bubble. The sense of righteousness we had, of being on the right side of history. Of keeping faith with the victims, especially the brave firefighters of the NYPD. I went to several firefighter funerals in the fall of 2001. I really did convince myself that if I didn’t support the war, I was breaking faith with those men. I imagine in the same way, a lot of good-hearted people believe that if they concede that specific instances of apparent racism are actually a lot more complicated than it seems at first, then they will be breaking faith with the victims of racism, and giving aid and comfort to the enemy.
Leah says that my posts on diversity programs as soft totalitarianism and my posts about the legacy of racism in my hometown “don’t speak to each other.” I don’t understand the criticism. What would it mean for them to “speak to each other”? Is the point that because racism was a real evil of the past, and continues in some forms to this day — something I acknowledge, and have acknowledged on a number of occasions here (most recently on this long June 13 post, “Black Lives Matter Comes Home”) — that therefore one should not complain about what one regards as illiberal and even racist attempts to rectify those injustices? If so, I cannot see how that is either fair or intellectually honest. If not, then what does it mean?
We live in a time and place in which it seems that normal human behavior is pathologized as “racism.” We are told that we are guilty of “microaggressions” when perhaps we just behaved like normal, flawed human beings. This can be personally catastrophic. I was once, in the office, accused of racism because I referred to a Pakistani mob that burned down an embassy as “savages.” Had my accuser been white, I would have fought that accusation hard. But my accuser was black, and I knew that he had the power to get me fired, because of the bias at that newspaper’s management. I did not challenge it, and withdrew my comment (which had been made at the newspaper’s blogsite). Nothing came of it, but I lived in real fear of that black co-worker, who had been a friend to that point. His accusation could have destroyed me professionally. The fact that in a past era, a white man’s accusation against him would probably have been decided for the white man, regardless of the facts, does not make it right. It is no doubt true that I take this stuff personally, because I had to live in fear of a false accusation in the workplace, and I know how much that fear poisoned me, and the office environment. I have to fight internally not to consider all cases in which bigotry is alleged in light of what happened to me, because that would be unfair. Sometimes people are falsely charged with bigotry. Sometimes, the charge is correct and deserved. My point is simply that I do not accept these allegations as true because it fits a narrative. I do not believe the lives and careers of individuals, and the facts of specific cases, should be sacrificed for the sake of what they call social justice.
UPDATE.9: From the mailbag:

Rod: Long time reader. Please do not use my name. I have a close family member in law enforcement who has followed the Floyd case closely. This family member has 11+ years experience, first as a street cop and now as a detective who deals a lot with gangs and drug dealers. Within days of the original incident, he read the toxicology report – he’s very familiar with them – and said Floyd did not die from the neck hold but from the drugs in his system.  Comments on your article:

(1) “He would have been in a world of trouble for the counterfeit bill.”

– No he wouldn’t have been, but his behavior was typical of most drug addicts stopped by police. They will do or say anything not to go to jail – even for a night – because they don’t want to experience the detox of coming off hard drugs.

(2) If he’d listened to the cops, he would still be alive.

– Not necessarily. Given the high level of fentanyl in his system, Floyd was likely in the process of dying prior to being put on the ground. The added stress may have contributed to the heart attack, but I think he was already ramping himself up to the point where he may have died in the back of the police car anyway. This will be a major point for the defense in the trial.

Another reader:

I’m by no means an expert but I’ve been in Corrections for over 14 years.
Hearing a police officer stating,”Stop resisting!” often means nothing.  The phrase is often used as a “cya” to help justify an officer’s actions.  Witnesses (or those viewing the body cam video) hear it and assume the prisoner is, in fact,  resisting when that isn’t necessarily true. At least not to the degree that the officer is making it sound.
  Obviously, can’t prove that this is the case in this situation but…
As to Chauvin’s state of mind?  I don’t think this was racial. Seeing his demeanor, I think he would have behaved in the same way if Floyd were white.  Just a jaded cop who doesn’t see the people he deals with as people.
A third reader:

There’s one big error in Alan Jacobs’ note to you that you posted in an Update. Jacobs says (and so do you) that Floyd died of asphyxiation. But the autopsy report clearly says that he did NOT die of asphyxiation. There’s apparently something that happens to the eyes in those cases (a doctor friend tells me), and Floyd’s body didn’t have that. Nor was there any damage to the trachea or bruising to the neck. There was a broken rib, but that happened post-mortem during the examination. No, the coroner finds the cause of death to be cardiac arrest. Floyd’s heart stopped, for whatever reason.

Again, the coroner’s report was publicly posted a couple days after the death of Floyd, and it clearly says he didn’t die of asphyxiation. That here we are, months later, and Allan Jacobs (and you) still think he did shows just how thoroughly the media has failed to report the facts.

The reader is right. The cause of death is listed as “cardiopulmonary arrest complicating law enforcement subdual, restrain, and neck compression.” In other words, his heart and lungs stopped working. The official autopsy “revealed no physical findings that support a diagnosis of traumatic asphyxia or strangulation.”
UPDATE.10: A reader writes this morning:
I’m sure you are inundated with comments, but I didn’t see any making this point. Part of what the prosecution will have to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, is that the officers were intending to commit a felony or attempting to inflict bodily harm upon the person. The new body cam videos (particularly the longer one) really muddy these waters.
Part of what was so shocking about the original video was the way that George Floyd cried out for help, and the officers (particularly Chauvin) didn’t react. He yells, says he can’t breathe, calls for his mother, asks for help, says he’s going to die, and the officers don’t do anything. They keep pinning him. My original reaction was the same as the bystanders who filmed it – “are the officers insane?? Why don’t they let him up? He’s begging for help??” This is one reason it seems so cruel – and murderous. It’s the fact that he’s in clear distress, and begging for help, and the officers continue to pin him.
But when viewing the longer video, their behavior no longer appears to be cruel. All of the things George Floyd does in the original video while being pinned – calls for help, says he’s going to die, says he can’t breathe – he does all of those things, repeatedly, before he’s on the ground. He does it standing, and he does it in the police car. He is screaming in clear distress and pain long before he goes to the ground. You hear the officers reassuring him that he’ll be ok in the police car – and that they’ll roll the windows down for him. He continues to plead with them and yell for help.
By the time he goes to the ground, it is evident that something else is going on with him. He is in the throes of some sort of event – a panic attack or a heart attack or something else, that is independent of the police. Once he is pinned, you hear a police officer say that an ambulance is on the way. You hear officer Tou Thao tell the onlookers to stay off drugs (a calloused statement, certainly, but it shows his state of mind that he believed Floyd was in the throes of a drug-related crisis). It seems clear that the officers believed Floyd was having some kind of crisis, and were trying to restrain him until the ambulance arrived. He died before it got there.
Does this mean Chauvin didn’t kill him? No, by no means. It means the scene is complicated. Floyd may have died because of some combination of drugs, heart attack, and pressure from Chauvin’s knee. But it’s clear that he was in distress – maybe mortal distress, well before he was pinned to the ground. It’s also clear that the officers were not callously holding him down, despite his cries for help. They were holding him down because he was in crisis, and they were trying to subdue him until help arrived. Is that what killed him? Maybe. But it’s not nearly as clear (and as cruel) as we all believed after just seeing the first video.
That’s a succinct way of making the point I’ve been struggling to make: that the new video really does change the narrative.
Like this reader, I assumed the cops were being depraved towards Floyd — this, based on what we saw before (the video of him with Chauvin’s knee on his neck). The new video gives context to it all. As the reader says, they had been listening to Floyd talking crap for nine or so minutes; they had ceased to believe him, or even to hear him. Remember at one point, when Floyd is refusing to get into the squad car, he asks an officer to listen to him. The cop says, “You aren’t listening to us, so we aren’t listening to you.”
There is a difference — and a meaningful difference — between a justification for something, and an explanation for it. Was Chauvin justified in holding George Floyd down with his knee for eight minutes and forty-six seconds? No, I can’t see that he was. And no matter what, George Floyd did not deserve to die. But in light of the new video, I can understand how he and the other cops made that fatal mistake. Whatever it is, it’s not murder or accessory to murder. And this matters, both morally and legally.
UPDATE.11: It is really interesting that I’m getting a fair number of letters this morning from people saying that they agree with me, but that if they said so publicly, they would lose their jobs. Here’s a letter from one of them:
Please don’t use my real name – there are issues where taking a stand is worth risking a job, but this isn’t one of them.
I’ve been a practicing attorney for 12 years, mostly doing civil litigation but with a little bit of criminal defense work. The big point you and many others, left and right, have missed about the new bodycam footage is that it’s likely to get Chauvin and the other officers acquitted–not because it shows Floyd resisting, but because combined with the autopsy results, it’s likely to prevent the government from proving causation beyond a reasonable doubt. You wrote: “Floyd is dead because Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck for eight minutes. That is a fact.” But it’s not. A competent defense attorney will likely be able to show that there is at least reasonable doubt as to that question.
This is Criminal Law 101. To get a conviction, the government has to prove beyond a reasonable doubt each element of the charged crime. For any degree of murder or manslaughter, one element of the charged crime is that the defendant’s unlawful actions (generally intentional actions of violence for a murder charge, negligent actions for a manslaughter charge) caused the victim’s death. Both aspects of causation have to apply. If I legally set off a firework in my backyard, and a neighbor has PTSD and dies from a heart attack caused by a resulting panic attack, I haven’t committed manslaughter–the act I took that caused the death was legal and not negligent. Similarly, if I shoot up my neighbor’s house, but the neighbor isn’t home, and just happened to die of a heart attack on the other side of town, I may have committed attempted murder, but I haven’t committed murder.
How does this play out in the George Floyd case? The key fact from the new bodycam footage isn’t that he was resisting arrest, but that he already stated that he couldn’t breathe and he was going to die before Derek Chauvin even entered the picture. The autopsy showed, as other commenters have pointed out, that Floyd had a lethal dose of fentanyl in his body together with other drugs, and that his windpipe did not suffer any trauma. It should be fairly easy for the officer’s defense attorneys to find a credible expert to explain that the bodycam footage, combined with the autopsy results, shows that Floyd died from a stress-and-drug-induced heart attack, not from asphyxiation. And the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard applies to this issue as well, so if there’s a reasonable question in the jury’s mind as to causation, they should acquit.
Now, it’s arguable that Floyd wouldn’t have died if he hadn’t been arrested at all so he hadn’t been put under the stress that led to his panic attack, but that’s where the unlawful act part of the discussion comes in. There’s no question from the bodycam footage that the police acted lawfully at least up until the point where Chauvin puts his knee on Floyd’s neck. If Floyd was already in the process of dying at that point–or at least if the jury believes there is a reasonable question as to whether Floyd could have survived had Chauvin not put his knee on Floyd’s neck–then there’s no conviction for either murder or manslaughter. Now, if you look at that bodycam footage, and an expert credibly explains that the autopsy results together with Floyd’s actions on the video show that Floyd’s death was not caused by Chauvin’s knee, do you think you could conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that Chauvin caused Floyd’s death?
That doesn’t necessarily make Chauvin’s actions right, either in a legal or moral sense, but we should be prepared for the fact that he and the other officers will likely be acquitted. And journalists especially should not be stating as fact that Chauvin caused Floyd’s death, based on the evidence available today.
So noted. I withdraw it.
UPDATE.12: A reader writes:

I’m not surprised most people haven’t changed their minds about the George Floyd incident. What troubles me most is that nobody’s approaching this issue with any greater nuance than they did at the beginning. One would think rational, reasonable people would look at an issue differently when presented with the facts for the first time, but it seems like people are choosing to double down instead (perhaps because  And I’d love to say it’s on both sides, but it’s really not.A common refrain from those who think Floyd was murdered goes something like this: “The video shows he was clearly mentally ill and officers need to be trained on how to properly handle these types of people.” There’s a massive hole in this statement – it takes years of schooling and real-world experience for a psychiatrist to properly diagnose mental illness. Yet, somehow, the critics of police seem to believe officers must be able to make this diagnosis on the spot without possessing anything close to the education and training of a licensed, experience psychiatrist.

This matters quite a bit, because credentialing is the basis for the credibility we bestow upon and the trust we place in the professionals of our society. The idea that merely recognizing the signs of mental illness alone is enough for police to handle the supposedly mentally ill goes against every standard that we hold other professions to. You simply cannot expect cops, whose first duty is to establish order, to make potential life-and-death decisions on limited exposure to something ultimately outside their scope. It’s the same reason why Emergency Medical Technicians can treat illness and injury, but they cannot diagnose, which means they cannot make decisions on the basis of something they’re not credentialed nor professionally qualified to make a judgment about. When it comes to conditions they recognize (like mental illness) but aren’t qualified to handle, cops do what any other responsible citizen would do – defer to the professionals who are qualified. As you pointed out, that’s exactly what these officers did, they called an ambulance to deal with the possibility Floyd was dealing with a medical issue.
Which leads to my second point – even if George Floyd was truly mentally ill, how can anybody, psychiatrist or otherwise, help somebody who cannot or refuses to be restrained? As someone who worked as a first responder, we’re certainly trained to deal with people who are combative, mentally ill, non-compliant, etc. However, unless somebody was about to jump out of the back of an ambulance, if somebody became overly combative and resistant, we were instructed universally to not restrain them and call for police. There are many reasons for this, but the biggest reason is that cops are trained and legally permitted to use force to restrain and subdue people. Emergency Medical Services, doctors, psychiatrists, and social workers aren’t and, at least on paper, only have about the same rights as a citizen with regards to self-defense. I know of no EMS worker, medical professional, nor social worker, who would try to treat someone like George Floyd if he was behaving like that. If you can’t treat someone safely, you can’t treat them at all. This isn’t the battlefield.
Third, someone I spoke with pointed out that people tend to get anxious when approached by police and cops need to understand that. That’s all and well, except it’s clear by now that Floyd was under the influence of something, which meant that his anxiety wasn’t that of someone in an otherwise reasonable state of mind. But, more importantly, being anxious nor under the influence doesn’t justify resisting arrest. A few commentators, like The Daily Show‘s Trevor Noah, peddle this argument that cops should take a “hands-off,” “diplomatic” approach when it comes to people under the influence or in mental distress. This argument possesses zero logic, of course – someone who’s either under the influence or in mental distress, by definition, cannot be reasoned with and the more time an officer takes to resolve the situation means more time for something to go wrong. Furthermore, it makes no sense to say, “Cops make me anxious!” and then say, “Cops should try to calm me down first!” How can somebody/something that makes you panic also be the thing that calms you down? The only argument here seems to be that cops shouldn’t do anything and I feel like many people would honestly prefer that. This is a set-up for police to fail and hardly constitutes reasoned attempt at reform.
Fourth police officers, often deal with all sorts of crazy. But not everyone’s mentally ill. Mental illness is a clinical condition and it’s not the same as just being an irrational, unreasonable person. We all have our moments where we lose our minds to one degree or another. If these critics of police saw the types of people that they deal with, they’d be calling them all mentally ill. Going back to my first and third points, the term “mental illness” is a medically-defined term and shouldn’t be bandied about. We shouldn’t set a precedent where the unqualified begin diagnosing people and where criminals can exploit mental illness as way to get out of arrest or a justification for resisting.
In closing, the video of the arrest doesn’t change my belief that a case for murder could still be formulated against Derek Chauvin. The fact he laid his knee for over eight minutes, even after Floyd went unconscious, is highly problematic and speaks to whether police have any sort of liability for the well-being of those in their custody. The independent autopsy conducted by Michael Baden indicates asphyxiation was involved, meaning that Chauvin did contribute to the death of Floyd. The problem, of course, is that political activist-masquerading-as-prosecutor Keith Ellison upgraded the charges from 3rd degree to 2nd degree murder and the manner in which he did so, according to Andrew McCarthy, suggests that the initial arrest of Floyd was felonious and, therefore, unjustifiable. Keep in mind, Ellison was the reason why the bodycam footage was never released. Anyone want to venture a guess as to why?
While my mind hasn’t changed overall, the case I can make for murder has become somewhat muted. I have no problem conceding that I, too, got caught up in the maelstrom and outrage the initial video (which is still difficult to watch) caused, as did millions of other Americans. Many of those who posted black squares on social media shortly after Floyd’s death suddenly seem to have nothing to say about either his death or the protests, leading me to believe, charitably, even they’re not sure what to think anymore. Which leads me to conclude that scientist-philosopher Sam Harris was 100% correct when he described the protests and rioting as a “moral panic.” The fact that nobody seems to want to even look at this factually and evenhandedly and take doing so as an existential threat to the well-being of Black people only further proves that this is all indeed a dangerous and prolonged moral panic.
About the independent Baden autopsy, Gavrilo David has written:
An official autopsy declared cause of death “sudden respiratory arrest following physical struggling restraint due to cocaine-induced excited delirium.” The legal team hired Dr. Michael Baden, who testified that Lewis died from “asphyxia caused by neck compression.” Baden is the same medical examiner who was hired by the George Floyd family, and made a similar finding. Baden is also the same medical examiner who was hired for Eric Garner, and declared death by “compression of the neck”. Baden is also the same medical examiner who was hired by the Brown family to examine Michael Brown, and Baden found that Brown died while surrendering, an assertion totally disproven by a DoJ investigation spearheaded by AG Eric Holder under Obama. Suffice it to say, Michael Baden has a very specific interest, and a very tenuous track record. The Court will be aware of this when weighing the autopsies.

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China’s AI Present, America’s AI Future

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Rod DThe American people, in my judgment, don’t have much clue about the totalitarian potential of the technology we have welcomed uncritically into our lives. From Live Not By Lies:

Kamila Bendova sits in her armchair in the Prague apartment where she and her late husband, Václav, used to hold underground seminars to build up the anti-communist dissident movement. It has been thirty years since the fall of communism, but Bendova is not about to lessen her vigilance about threats to freedom. I mention to her that tens of millions of Americans have installed in their houses so-called “smart speakers” that monitor conversations for the sake of making domestic life more convenient. Kamila visibly recoils. The appalled look on her face telegraphs a clear message: How can Americans be so gullible?

To stay free to speak the truth, she tells me, you have to create for yourself a zone of privacy that is inviolate. She reminded me that the secret police had bugged her apartment, and that she and her family had to live with the constant awareness that the government was listening to every sound they made. The idea that anybody would welcome into their home a commercial device that records conversations and transmits them to a third party is horrifying to her. No consumer convenience is worth that risk.

“Information means power,” Kamila says. “We know from our life under the totalitarian regime that if you
know something about someone, you can manipulate him or her. You can use it against them. The secret police
have evidence of everything like that. They could use it all against you. Anything!”

Kamila pointed out to me the scars along the living room wall of her Prague apartment where, after the end
of communism, she and her husband had ripped out the wires the secret police used to bug their home. It turns out that no one in the Benda family uses smartphones or emails. Too risky, they say, even today.

Some might call this paranoia. But in light of Edward Snowden’s revelations, it looks a lot more like prudence. “People think that they are safe because they haven’t said anything controversial,” says Kamila. “That is very naive.”

One of the stupidest things I ever did was spitting into a vial and sending it to one of the DNA companies. Yes, it was fun to find out the ethnic composition of my DNA. It was fun for my wife to do the same, and put to rest a family legend for her. But now not only does a company have our DNA, our foolish action compromises the genetic security of our children. Stupid, stupid, stupid. Last month, a big hack at a DNA company revealed the most intimate information of a million people — their genetic profile — to law enforcement. 

Nobody forced me to give my DNA to that company (not the hacked one, by the way). I did it because I couldn’t resist the urge to know more about where my ancestors came from, and if I was susceptible to certain genetic medical conditions. Now that I’ve released that information, it’s gone, and I can’t get it back. I wasn’t tricked into doing that, and neither was my wife. We aren’t naïfs about this stuff, either. We knew the risks, but chose to dismiss them, because we were really curious about our genetic profiles.

I also know a lot more than many people do about surveillance technology in smartphones and smart devices. I would never get a smart TV or an Alexa, but I have a smartphone. I choose to take the risk because that device has become central to the way I live. I bet I will live to regret this.

I urge you to read Ross Andersen’s big piece in The Atlantic about what the Chinese are doing with artificial intelligence and surveillance technology.Excerpts:

China already has hundreds of millions of surveillance cameras in place. Xi’s government hopes to soon achieve full video coverage of key public areas. Much of the footage collected by China’s cameras is parsed by algorithms for security threats of one kind or another. In the near future, every person who enters a public space could be identified, instantly, by AI matching them to an ocean of personal data, including their every text communication, and their body’s one-of-a-kind protein-construction schema. In time, algorithms will be able to string together data points from a broad range of sources—travel records, friends and associates, reading habits, purchases—to predict political resistance before it happens. China’s government could soon achieve an unprecedented political stranglehold on more than 1 billion people.

More:

China has recently embarked on a number of ambitious infrastructure projects abroad—megacity construction, high-speed rail networks, not to mention the country’s much-vaunted Belt and Road Initiative. But these won’t reshape history like China’s digital infrastructure, which could shift the balance of power between the individual and the state worldwide.

American policy makers from across the political spectrum are concerned about this scenario. Michael Kratsios, the former Peter Thiel acolyte whom Donald Trump picked to be the U.S. government’s chief technology officer, told me that technological leadership from democratic nations has “never been more imperative” and that “if we want to make sure that Western values are baked into the technologies of the future, we need to make sure we’re leading in those technologies.”

Despite China’s considerable strides, industry analysts expect America to retain its current AI lead for another decade at least. But this is cold comfort: China is already developing powerful new surveillance tools, and exporting them to dozens of the world’s actual and would-be autocracies. Over the next few years, those technologies will be refined and integrated into all-encompassing surveillance systems that dictators can plug and play.

The emergence of an AI-powered authoritarian bloc led by China could warp the geopolitics of this century. It could prevent billions of people, across large swaths of the globe, from ever securing any measure of political freedom.

This story is breathtaking — I mean, what it reveals about the shocking detail of what the Chinese state can and does know about its population. One more bit:

Until recently, it was difficult to imagine how China could integrate all of these data into a single surveillance system, but no longer. In 2018, a cybersecurity activist hacked into a facial-recognition system that appeared to be connected to the government and was synthesizing a surprising combination of data streams. The system was capable of detecting Uighurs by their ethnic features, and it could tell whether people’s eyes or mouth were open, whether they were smiling, whether they had a beard, and whether they were wearing sunglasses. It logged the date, time, and serial numbers—all traceable to individual users—of Wi-Fi-enabled phones that passed within its reach. It was hosted by Alibaba and made reference to City Brain, an AI-powered software platform that China’s government has tasked the company with building.

Last one, I swear:

In the decades to come, City Brain or its successor systems may even be able to read unspoken thoughts. Drones can already be controlled by helmets that sense and transmit neural signals, and researchers are now designing brain-computer interfaces that go well beyond autofill, to allow you to type just by thinking. An authoritarian state with enough processing power could force the makers of such software to feed every blip of a citizen’s neural activity into a government database. China has recently been pushing citizens to download and use a propaganda app. The government could use emotion-tracking software to monitor reactions to a political stimulus within an app. A silent, suppressed response to a meme or a clip from a Xi speech would be a meaningful data point to a precog algorithm.

Read it all. Of particular interest to my readers is how China is crushing Islam among its Uighur population. A state that can do that to Islam can do it to Christianity. This is religious and cultural genocide, and China is getting away with it, because everybody wants to be on China’s good side. A lot of money to be made there, you know. (I’m looking at the NBA, but it’s way beyond that.)

An unspoken premise of the piece — which is very, very good — is that the United States would never do to its citizens what China is doing. That is a massive error in judgment! The totalitarian instinct is well developed among America’s progressive elites, especially the younger generation. Do you honestly believe that the people who run Silicon Valley, who are in charge of top universities and major companies, would not seize that ring of power to identify and suppress racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, white supremacy, and all the other social evils that so vex the imagination of the left?

I don’t. I don’t trust them. The most militant among them hate conservatives and traditionalists more than they love classical liberal virtues. I find a technology-empowered left within the rising establishment to be a far greater threat to liberty and democracy than anything on the right, if only because the right is so weakly represented among the elite networks. Still, it’s conceivable that in the future, some would-be right-wing dictator could seize that ring of power and use it to secure his own totalitarian rule (and given the nature of AI and surveillance technology, the rule could not be merely authoritarian, but would have to be totalitarian).

Here’s what I think is the most likely scenario: the 2020 election results (whether they favor Biden or Trump) sets off a fresh and more intense round of civil unrest, as the economy sinks further into Covid-related misery. At some point in the next decade, the government and allied business and institutional leaders will convince themselves that much more intrusive monitoring of individuals is necessary to prevent violent disorder. They will convince themselves that they are doing it for Good reasons — that is, to fight white supremacy, bigotry, and the like. They will sell it the same way the Bush administration sold the Patriot Act: as necessary to protect us from Them — except “Them” will be American citizens on the religious and political right.

I could be wrong, but I don’t think I am. In the Atlantic piece, Ross Andersen makes a brief but plausible case for why the US needs to keep up with AI research, so it is not outstripped by authoritarian China. It makes sense, for the same reason that it made sense to build nuclear weapons to keep up with the Soviets. But in the same way, we are building for our own doom. It is quite foolish to assume that our country would not deploy technology like that against the American people. Have you read Snowden? The biggest advantage the Chinese government has over us is that it doesn’t have to contend with constitutional democracy. The second-biggest advantage it has is that it doesn’t have to be hypocritical, and pretend that it is not doing, and would not do, what it clearly and unapologetically is.

 

 

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Is A New Civil War Possible?

Defaced statue of Confederacy president Jefferson Davis, in Richmond this year (Photo by PARKER MICHELS-BOYCE/AFP via Getty Images)

I’ve recommended this many times in this space, and want to do it again: the 1980s-era Granada television documentary about the Spanish Civil War, which raged from 1936-39. It’s all in English (Granada is a British TV production company), and is quite balanced. The first episode (see here) covers the background to the conflict, in the years 1931-35. It details how Spaniards came to hate each other so much in that time that they were ready to shoot each other. It makes for discomfiting viewing as an American in 2020.

There’s a new website, A New Civil War, that aggregates news and op-eds from both the left and the right, on the subject of the possibility of such a conflict in contemporary America. In an American Greatness op-ed, the sites authors, Clifford Humphrey and Juan Davalos, say:

In June, we counted 23 articles written about the prospect of a new or cold civil war in the United States. In July, that number doubled to 46. That’s no mere “uptick.”

Right or wrong, these prognostications from both Left and Right are significant for what they reveal about the nature of the political division in the United States. Interest in this topic will only increase as we approach the election in November and whatever lies beyond it.

For this reason, we are launching a website dedicated to collecting and cataloging all the news and opinions on the prospect of a new civil war. We do not aim to be alarmists but to bring attention to the fact that both Left and Right are talking about this topic, and to make it easy to follow that conversation.

By gathering all of the rhetoric on what is perhaps the most important political subject in the last century and a half in one place, we hope that Americans may better understand the nature of our divisions and work to discover unifying solutions.

Take a look at the site, and bookmark it. They really do have pieces from both sides there. I found Damon Linker’s latest, in which he asks the question, “Can America split up?” Excerpt:

When I try to wrap my mind around what it would look like for political violence to break out and start spreading like brushfire through the country, I come up short. The historical Civil War was waged as a traditional military conflict over territory, with discrete battles, campaigns, victories, and surrenders. That’s because the dispute mapped precisely onto the physical world. The North could have allowed the Confederacy to walk away, but it didn’t, and so the two sides fought it out, with the South eventually losing, bringing the war to a decisive end.

But today? We talk of red states and blue states, but that’s obviously simplistic. It’s not even possible to speak of an archipelago of progressive coastal cities arrayed against a much less densely populated inland empire of conservatism. The fact is that even small cities in America are significantly more liberal than the small towns and countryside that surround them. I live in an inner-ring suburb of Philadelphia that is heavily Democratic, but just a few miles from my house there are neighborhoods and towns filled with loyal Republicans. We are politically intertwined. That’s the way a country is supposed to be — at least when those on different sides of political disputes don’t hate each other.

Do we hate each other? And if we do, what are our viable options as a polity? I don’t know how to answer those questions. What I do know is that it is long past time to begin posing them.

I think the main reason we can’t think very productively about the prospect of a new civil war is because our thinking is conditioned so heavily by history (this is what Linker is talking about in the passage I quoted). It’s why so many Americans today can’t grasp the rising totalitarianism in our society: because their idea of totalitarianism is conditioned by the experience of the Soviet Union and its satellites. In this vision, totalitarianism is about secret police bugging your phone,  gulags, torture, etc. This is wrong. Totalitarianism, in its most essential form, is about the politicization of every aspect of life, and a state with the means to enforce that single vision. In our case, it’s not just the state, and maybe not even mainly the state, but also major corporations, mass media, and other institutions of our society.

The main reason I insist on the phrase “soft totalitarianism” is because I’m trying to shake up the people who won’t recognize as totalitarian anything short of gulags and secret police. Technology has changed what it means to be totalitarian — that is, how elites (governmental and otherwise) within a modern society can see to it that a single view is permitted, and those who dissent from it are marginalized and punished. It is entirely possible that they may get what they want without resorting to “hard” methods. Anyway, my views are all in Live Not By Lies, which we can argue about when it is published in about seven weeks.

If we miss the potential for creating a soft totalitarian society, then we might also miss the potential for a civil war. The culture war has been a civil war by other means. Take the idea of armies fighting each other along battle lines off the table. We are not looking at state secession, and so forth. It would be impossible, in 2020, to do what was possible in 1861. I live in a blue city-parish in a ruby red state. The people of Baton Rouge would be completely divided themselves on which polity to align themselves with — and this would be repeated in most red states, and many blue states too, with the countryside opposing the urban left. The new civil war, if it comes, will primarily be carried out within institutions, all of which are controlled by the left, with purges against the right. But it could turn violent if militias begin attacking each other, and/or if the police cannot stop outbreaks of violent protest and crime. There could be other ways, I’m sure — and we need to think about them, and talk about them, and attempt to stop them before they start.

The root of it is rage. In that documentary to which I link above, a Spaniard who fought on the Nationalist side in the civil war says that by 1935, all sides despised each other so thoroughly that when they saw someone from the other side walking down the street, they reacted as if they were looking at a demon. I think that’s entirely possible here. Think about the coming election. If Trump loses, does anybody think he’s going to go quietly? No, he’s likely to behave as if the result was illegitimate, no matter how fair the election is demonstrated to have been. He will urge his followers to resist the new president. If Trump wins, though, I expect many on the left to refuse to recognize the legitimacy of the election, no matter how fair it is demonstrated to have been — and even if Joe Biden concedes. In either instance, I predict that a significant minority of Americans will not recognize the legitimacy of the president, and will conclude that democracy is a system that can be gamed by the Forces of Evil.

In his column, Damon Linker asks: What are the forces that bind us as Americans? Right now, I’m having trouble seeing those as greater than the forces that are tearing us apart. What could turn that around? The deepest reason for my pessimism is that we have become a people who cannot see any good greater than our own desires. This is not a left-wing or a right-wing thing; it’s who we are here in late modernity. It’s the Triumph of the Therapeutic. 

UPDATE: A reader writes:

Thank you for your posting this morning.  I agree that a new Civil War in the US will not be like the last one – and that one was horrific enough.  Some historians are now pushing the total death toll closer to 700,00-800,000 from the war – well beyond the official military casualties by looking at the wider net of destruction the war cast.  When talk of the need or the advisability of a Civil War began emerging on the Right during the late 2000’s early 2010’s, especially after Romney’s defeat, I kept saying, it won’t be Gettysburg 2.0 it will be Guernica 2.0.
The Spanish Civil War seems the most likely parallel in many ways, but even so, it is interesting to dig into the numbers and specifics of the last war to find it wasn’t as neat and tidy as we remember.
When I moved to the South and began studying the local history of my new home I was astonished to discover that my current home county voted against secession in it’s state’s vote in 1861.  When the main town was invaded by the Union Army in 1865 it was generally warmly received and little or no violence ensued.  Earlier in 1864, even the nearby and much larger metropolis welcomed (or at least some of the community did) the Union Army, and then when it was retaken by the South there were recriminations and reprisals that were then repeated when the city fell a second time to the North in 1865.  Also, there were plenty of places, especially in the mountain counties, and Missouri and Kansas, that were far more like Spain than we want to remember.  I thought the generally lousy movie Cold Mountain did a good job of showing this world of bushwhacking, as does the movie The Free State of Jones.
On top of that we aren’t attempting to be a Christian Civilization (flawed and hypocritical as it may have been) that we were in 1861-1865.  Then further couple that with modern weapons, technology, the fact that the army would likely break up and fight itself (there are plenty of progressive officers, perhaps a slight majority, especially in the upper echelons) and we’d have a royal, bloody, horrid mess.  It would be people fighting house to house, neighborhood against neighborhood, roving armies and militias, and the minorities of all kinds (politically, religious, ethnic) killed, evicted, and harassed in any given territory held by the other side.  There would be reigns of terror and reprisal killings and massacres.  I know, I’ve heard people right and left making stupid blood curdling statements when they thought no one would disagree or take them seriously, but if you are willing to say, as one political activist did in my presence, assuming I was a liberal, “we just need to put all those f**** … against the wall” referring to local politicians of the right, and I’ve heard similar statements from people on the right, we’ve a problem.  A new Civil War would be the worst of all possible worlds.  Plus most people in 1865, North and South grew their own food or at least knew how to or live by hunting and fishing, not so now.  The suffering would be horrific, look at any of the Civil Wars — Syria, Iraq, and think of that in the US.
Any time someone wants to advocate for a Civil War or anything that pushes us toward one we should seek to counter that sort of talk.  I do wonder though, if talking about it at all, is a dangerous thing.  Having a discussion, only seems to garner more discussions.  I think we need to make an effort on both sides of the political aisle to throw cold water on all of this.  I used to think that most American’s were too apathetic to care, but I think that many of our boiling and legitimate grievances and hurts, as well as the more dangerous imagine ones are eating away at us, and that is why destroying all the symbols that helped bind us together is so dangerous.  If “all men are created equal” is no longer sufficient, along with “we the people” there isn’t anything left to hold us together.  When a nation founded on an idea gives up on the idea, there isn’t much left.
I agree with this, mostly, but I do believe that it’s important for us to talk about the prospects of civil war, no matter how remote them seem at the present time, for the sake of making Americans take seriously where all this unbounded rage could end up. Is that really what we want?
UPDATE.2: A reader writes:
Just read your latest blog regarding the possibility of a new civil war and had some thoughts. I live in a suburb outside [mid-size Midwestern city] with my wife and two school-age children. [My city] is similar to Austin or Seattle or Portland in that it’s a deeply Progressive city surrounded by a rural conservative population (big difference is that there are more African-Americans here). I’m from [a small town in this state], but after serving for six years as an Army Infantry Officer, my wife and our two kids settled in [this area] because there is little opportunity in the rest of the state.
I say this all because I feel like I’m living on a fault line between the two sides of this civil war we are talking about. Ten minutes south of me they are protesting for Black Lives Matter and demanding government mandated shutdowns over COVID; ten minutes north of me they are holding outdoor high school graduations and Back the Blue rallies. My wife and I are conservative Christians who are very active in our church; our next door neighbors and good friends both work for universities and are very liberal. We hang out several times a week and get along well but avoid talking about anything that could lead to uncomfortable conversations. I’d like to think that we model what a good friendship across party lines is but I don’t have much faith in that.
It’s difficult to picture what a civil war would look like because while the differences between urban and rural are very striking, there are plenty of us in the middle who would have to make very tough decisions on which way to go. My wife and I both work in the corporate sector and feel like we are being slowly backed into the corner with our traditional beliefs and values. If the violence of the cities spills into the suburbs I can’t picture us standing and fighting as we’d be outnumbered. Even though there is a healthy mix of conservatives in our area, how many of them are prepared to fight back? Fortunately, we have family in the rural parts of the state to retreat to, but we’d be forced to give up our jobs and our house and the way of life we enjoy.
And that is how I think this will play out. People with traditional values will be forced to retreat to the rural areas and accept a different standard of living ( which might be better, who knows) while ceding the urban and suburban centers to the Left. We’ll take up a defensive posture with our guns as we really do not desire to use our weapons except for in self-defense. We’ll leave the Left to build their utopian society and they’ll leave us alone because in all reality they’ll have nobody to come tell us what to do. They’ll need rural America to provide them with some food and we’ll need them for…something.
Hmm, sounds kind of like the Benedict Option. Maybe it’s wishful thinking to believe we’ll be left alone but I still believe that Law Enforcement and the military lean right, so I can’t imagine them coming after us. Anyway, thanks for your work, I’ve enjoyed reading you for the past several years and will be sure to get the new book when it comes out.

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Living In The 8:20

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A reader writes:
I am an educator at a Catholic school in Canada (I’ll refrain from being too specific). I’ve been at this position for about 3 years. I am a product of the Catholic education system. I never went to public schooling except for university.
At first, I was very excited to start a new job in education. I had planned to become a teacher for a number of years. I thought this would be a good experience to see if teaching was right for me.
I had also recently come back to the Catholic faith and was actively practising and volunteering within my parish. For me, this was a win-win situation as I would be able to practice my faith in a Catholic environment.
However, I soon realised that this was not the Catholic education that I was brought up in. From the get go, I could see that an overwhelming majority of my colleagues didn’t respect or even understand basic Catholic theology. To make matters worse, we were forced to hire more and more non-Catholics to help fill an employee shortage. Some of them had no idea about the Catholic faith and practices.
A majority of staff members espoused various beliefs that were in direct conflict to Catholic teaching. Almost everybody else was pro-choice, pro same sex marriage and supportive of some elements of the woke tyranny that we are now seeing. Staff members took pride in bashing the Catholic faith and calling it archaic! Almost nobody took a traditional stance on things such as marriage, gender and sex. If you did have a personal opinion that actually matched the Catholic Church’s, then you would essentially be ostracised and ridiculed.
We did have a pro life club, but it was a joke to say the least. Students were open in saying that they joined it just to get out of school. Other teachers would often mock the club and the teacher sponsors who were in charge of it. I can’t recall talking to a student or staff who legitimately believed in the pro life cause. When the heartbeat bills in your country came out, I expected various staff members to be supportive. To my dismay, almost all of them repeated the typical woke narrative that these men were just trying to control women and that America was full of misogyny and sexism that had gotten worse since Trump.
To make matters worse, there is hardly any religiosity amongst the students. Most of them don’t go to Mass, and those that do are often too embarrassed to admit it. Many openly challenge Catholic teachings in class, which is then met by teachers just shrugging their shoulders and for the most part agreeing with them. We have various LGBT students who are allowed and encouraged to embrace themselves. We have male students wearing makeup and borderline cross dressing. In response, the administration simply says that they will not police what people wear, despite there being a clear uniform guideline.
When we do have school Masses, the priests often go on about the same thing over and over again. “Be nice and help one another” sermons that don’t have any substance in them whatsoever. The one time a visiting priest came in and talked about how being a Catholic requires discipline and hardship, he was mocked behind his back and never invited back again. Our Religion classes often revolve around “kumbaya” and being accepting of everybody regardless of how they live their life. There is literally nothing substantive in the topics that we discuss. Catholicism to these people is simply believing in some higher power and being nice to your neighbour.
To make matters worse, our school has sold out to international students and special needs students. International students often pay a drastically higher tuition, while special needs students generate more funding from the government. Our staff is stretched to the max, and is seeing increasingly high turnover rates. When confronted about this, our administration simply states that our school is concerned about “equality and equity” and the whole woke education crap that has infiltrated pretty much every level of schooling in the province. Discipline is extremely discouraged and teachers have been reprimanded for rightfully putting a disrespectful student in their place. We are also discouraged from penalising students for handing in late work. People are walking on eggshells trying to please students and their parents. Oftentimes teachers will have to chase down a student to get homework or a project as we are heavily discouraged from failing a student, even if their lack of work or abilities completely warrants it!
Overall, my experience in education has not at all been a good one. Not to mention that my Catholic faith has suffered. The mindless platitudes that we hear at school Masses and the lack of any religiosity amongst staff members has me rethinking my faith. I thought Catholic education would provide relief from the woke tyranny. Instead, I found that the Pink Terror you and other readers speak of, have infiltrated the very institution that I grew up in. I have chosen not to become a teacher anymore as I don’t wish to work in an environment like this for the rest of my life. While the experience hasn’t been as horrific as the ones you have posted before, it has been eye opening and soul shattering that this is what Catholic education looks like in 2020.

I shared that e-mail with one of my Catholic teacher friends, who has been telling me similar things about his school. In his response, he said in the many years that he has been on faculty,  he estimates that maybe about one in 20 of the students his school has graduated still practice the faith. As he sees it, it’s not just the ethos of the school, but the ethos of the people who send their kids to it.

This teacher — let’s call him Mr. Smith — told me that he attended Catholic high school in a red state, and graduated decades ago. He’s bitter about it, and says that the entire purpose of that school was to train Catholics in his hometown on how to be good middle class conformists, not Christians. Not one of his religion teachers believed in the Resurrection, he said. How did he know this?

“I asked.”

Mr. Smith said he lost his Catholic faith after that, but regained it later, in the process or re-conversion. He had to teach himself all the things that he never got in Catholic school, or in his parish. Today, said Mr. Smith, he figures that 80 percent of the Catholic schools in the US are pretty much like the Canadian Catholic school the reader above describes. Mr. Smith estimates that there are about 17 percent that are wavering, but only about three percent that really teach the faith and take formation of students seriously. He said:

There’s about 3% that are rock solid, but very few of these are diocesan. Most are Ben Op independent Catholic schools. But there are literally about 100 of these nationwide. At best.

Of course you are free to disagree with him. I can’t identify Mr. Smith for obvious reasons. All I can tell you is that he is a veteran Catholic school teacher who knows that world pretty well. I would invite everyone involved in a religious school (teachers, administrators, parents, and students), Catholic or not, to reflect on the extent to which the Canadian Catholic teacher’s description of his school fits your own.

Smith and I kept texting last night. He is pretty down about the future of Catholicism in this country, post-Covid. In his view, the virus and its forced breaking of the habits of mass-going is going to devastate US Catholicism. Mr. Smith says that Covid will have been an apocalypse for the American church, because it will have revealed its true condition — something that will be undeniable once the crisis passes, and Catholics are free to return to masses unimpeded. Mr. Smith predicts that Americans will see a European-style collapse in church attendance.

We have been living, he said, in a condition “like the eight minutes twenty seconds between when the sun dies and we experience it.” He’s talking about the time it takes for light from the sun to reach earth. If the sun suddenly went out, it would take eight minutes and twenty seconds for people on earth to realize it, because that’s how long it will take for the sun’s final rays to arrive here.

That 8:20 metaphor has been sticking with me since my conversation with Mr. Smith over the weekend. An alternative title for The Benedict Option would be The 8:20 Project, given that the point of that book is that we are facing the collapse of Christianity, and that Christians should use the time we have now to prepare themselves, their families, and their communities for a situation unlike that seen in the West since the collapse of the Roman Empire. No, the Church itself did not collapse when the Roman state and economic apparatus did; my point is that there was a dramatic collapse of a civilizational ethos and system. For Christianity in the advanced industrial nations of the West, the 20th century was like the 4th century was for the Western Roman Empire: a period in which decay advanced to the heart of the civilization, but the institutions and habits of the old ways still remained, concealing the depth of the rot. Historian Edward J. Watts’s book The Final Pagan Generation is a startling account of how the world of pagan Rome declined rapidly during the fourth century, even though all the outward signs were relatively normal.

Imagine a school like the Canadian Catholic one above, but set in fourth-century Rome. Now imagine it is a school whose purpose is to educate young Romans within an ethos that instructed them also in piety towards the gods of Rome. What if that school instead made all the motions of teaching the old religion, but in truth was faking it, and even taught the precepts of the new religion? And what if deep down the parents of these young Roman children didn’t really care about this, but rather wanted their youth to gain whatever knowledge they needed to succeed in what Roman society was becoming? How likely do you think it would be that these Roman schools would successfully transmit the faith to the next generation?

That’s what Christians in 21st century America are facing. We are living in the 8:20. We are a post-Christian civilization, but most people haven’t yet realized it. Those who do must busy themselves making preparations for keeping the light alive through the long night ahead. I’ve mentioned here before, and mentioned over the weekend in conversation with Mr. Smith, the story I heard from a German Catholic I met in Rome. This man told me that he and his Catholic friends have accepted that at some point in their lifetime, and certainly in the lifetime of their children, the institutional Catholic Church is going to collapse in Germany. They are busy now thinking of ways to keep the faith alive. One thing they can do is to form their children strongly in the faith at home, and to encourage them to marry only other strong Catholics raised in the same way. Endogamy, in other words: marrying within the “tribe.”

That’s one way to live in the 8:20. There are others; there has to be. I talk about them in The Benedict Optionbut that book is not meant to give all the answers, but rather to catalyze creative thinking among Christians living in the 8:20.

Do you not believe that we are living in the 8:20? Please explain yourself.

If you accept that we are living in the 8:20, what are you going to do about it? Can you point to rallying points for the faithful? Here’s one: Martin Saints Classical High School in suburban Philadelphia, a strongly Catholic, Benedict Option-style Catholic school started by laity who are completely supportive of the Catholic Church’s Magisterium.

This is not, by the way, a questions for Catholics only. The sun that is going into eclipse by our godless civilization is not just a Catholic sun.

UPDATE: Great comment by reader Annie of Arc, who is a Catholic convert:

In the last ten years I have met a half-dozen people employed by the Catholic Church who do not seem dead set on destroying the Church, or who do not consider it their personal middle-class fiefdom with a few hymns. What does one do when one is raising small children, but every single authority figure from the Church to the Government to Education to the Media, seems absolutely hellbent on smashing everything around them? I pray everyday for either a miracle by which my family will have enough money to go buy land and a well in some quiet place, or for a tragedy to come sooner rather than later so that perhaps there is something left to pick up.

There are a great many people who read you with an angry eye, looking to scorn the people who say “the sky is falling.” This is because the sky has not fallen for them, and thank goodness they have been so blessed. There are people who accuse those of us who are worried of merely pining for Eisenhower and public Christian prayer. My goodness, what a joke. It is not “mere Christianity” which is vanishing before our eyes, it is the shared trust and structures and pace of life which allow people to be mentally healthy.

Over the weekend I was asked to talk with some young women trying to navigate the culture and figure out how to build families (no adult entrusted with their education ever considered it important!), and when I talked about my fear of raising daughters in a culture saturated with porn they became despondent: they’re living it. They’re living the brutality, the lovelessness, the dull glaze of addiction which overtakes the victim as much as opiates. They talked about how the culture is so rootless, you make friends for 2 years and then 90% of your friend group has relocated. These were strong, healthy, inquisitive, bright young women, certainly not all Christian, completely capable of navigating the urban coastal scenes, and they are saying behind closed doors that what once was natural and normal has been decimated. It takes angelic strength to do what almost everybody once did. Young people don’t know how to form relationships let alone families. Young men don’t know how to build intimacy. Young people are having pills pushed on them from every angle, and who are they not to take them when everything is so broken and they really are hurting?

The public Christianity of my grandparents generation was a joke, a wicked joke that ushered this age forward. Nonetheless it was still a real structure, not totally melted by the French philosophers or the American cults of speed, power, control. Without the public Christianity the rot has come to the surface and we see it in millions of suffering mentally ill young people who are absolutely lost. God have mercy on us.

UPDATE.2: I’ve been reading for the past three days a book recommended by a reader: The Revolt Of The Public And The Crisis Of Authority In The New Millennium, by Martin Gurri. It’s really eye-opening. So far in the book, it’s an analysis of how and why the Internet is so politically revolutionary, like nothing we’ve ever seen. It’s about information theory and the radical undermining of traditional hierarchies and authorities by the Internet. I’m not too far into the book, but it helps me understand why, for example, same-sex marriage went from being unthinkable to inevitable almost instantaneously. Yes, it took about twenty years of sustained campaigning by its supporters, but to make a social change as radical as changing the definition of marriage in such a short time is virtually without precedent.

I have said since the mid-2000s that same-sex marriage is inevitable because it depends on what most people already believe that marriage is: a contract between two people who love each other, and wish to formalize their commitment. Marriage was believed to be something more than that up until around the middle of the 20th century. That’s why the divorce culture was so quick to be accepted. You cannot separate marriage and divorce from the Sexual Revolution, and as Philip Rieff and others plainly saw, there is an inverse correlation between Christian faith and the Sexual Revolution.

By the early part of the 21st century, traditional beliefs about marriage had grown very thin. When the news and entertainment media began campaigning to normalize homosexuality, the mass audience began to see that an alternative to the status quo was possible. Yes, it is certainly true that the news media had no interest in presenting the traditionalist case fairly or with balance, and it is unquestionably the case that the entertainment media propagandized for the cause. But we must not neglect the fact that they were planting seeds in soil that had been well-tilled by forty years of Sexual Revolution, with its valorization of sexual individualism and autonomy. What the masses needed to see was that the way things were, in terms of marriage, did not have to remain that way.

Now, progressives flatter themselves, and make a serious mistake, by believing that History is unfolding according to a plan, and that History’s plan favors their beliefs and priorities. The election of Donald Trump and the victory of the Brexit referendum are two counterexamples to the “right side of history” thesis. Nevertheless, events rarely come as a bolt out of the blue, even if they feel that way to many of us, owing to our own epistemic bubbles. One reason many conservative Christians have rejected the Benedict Option diagnosis (i.e., that Christianity in the West is in what might be a terminal decline) is because they still see people showing up at church on Sundays, and most people they know still more or less believe in God.

A small but telling example: Just last night I was talking to my mom, who is in her 70s, and she said that she was appalled that an obituary for a friend of hers did not mention that the woman was a member of such-and-such church. I knew the lady too, and I knew that she had not been to church for half a century. My mother said yes, that’s true, but the lady had been baptized in that church, and was therefore a member. I’ve noticed this is a fairly common view among my parents’ generation: that to be formally a member of a church, however tenuous the connection, is the same thing as being a Christian. And in some sense, they’re right: to have been baptized is to be in some mystical sense part of the universal Church. But sociologically speaking, it’s not very meaningful. The lady who passed away did not raise her children in any church, and none of them, and none of her grandchildren, to my knowledge, are churchgoers. Christianity has de facto ceased to exist in that family’s line.

In 2002, I went to Catholic mass near Amsterdam (I was Catholic then). There only people among the small congregation who didn’t have gray hair was a family. We introduced ourselves to them, and they invited Julie and me and our toddler over to dinner. We talked about their experience as practicing Catholics in the Netherlands, a profoundly post-Christian nation. The father said that he was one of eleven children born to a Catholic family in Rotterdam. He must have been in his mid-40s when we met, and he told me he was the only one of his siblings who still practiced the faith. Eleven children baptized into the church, but only one still Catholic in any socially meaningful sense.

Anyway, my point is this: when people conceive of an alternative to the status quo, and experience it as a realistic possibility for themselves, it undermines the status quo. This is pretty basic stuff, I grant you, but social change can happen in the same way that Hemingway’s character said he went bankrupt: gradually, then suddenly. In the Netherlands, the middle-class consensus behind the Christian faith collapsed suddenly in the 1960s. It had been shattered by the war and the Nazi occupation, and people tried to rebuild it afterward, but their hearts weren’t in it. When the first winds of the counterculture began to blow, the whole thing fell apart.

Mr. Smith, above, believes that the Covid crisis, which has halted churchgoing in many places, will prove to be one of those events that causes most Catholics to recognize that they have been going through the motions for a long time, regarding mass attendance, and that they won’t feel any special obligation to return when things get back to normal. I hope he’s wrong, but I’m strongly inclined to believe him. And I bet other churches — non-Catholic ones — will suffer something similar. I really hope I’m wrong about this, but reading this Gurri book makes me think that Covid will have proven to have been a real crossroads moment in which a whole lot of churchgoing people reckon with their lack of conviction, and slough off their commitment to church.

UPDATE: Amazing comment by reader Heidi:

I haven’t been adding to the conversation in many months now, but I’ve been keeping up with you, with us, this group of radicals and our very real concerns. I want to give you a small positive note, based on my personal experience of this last weekend and in response to this post. I’m sure you don’t remember, but last year, prior to the current state of affairs, I had been in very serious spiritual trouble and was at the point of leaving the Catholic church after all the scandals. I had, in fact, stopped going to mass and was very vocally angry about how I felt about the church and how I “didn’t care what happened to her” any more. Well, and isn’t God just the funniest…enter Covid and now Heidi *can’t* go to church and isn’t going to church just exactly the thing she wants The Most in Life At The Moment. Yes, yes…a master of irony is our God.

Anyway, the lesson was not lost on me, praise the Lord. At any rate, our churches only began to be open to mass in June-ish and there were very strict limitations on attendance and meanwhile I’m beating my breast in repentance over my flippant attitude and berating myself on a regular basis about taking church for granted. Cathedrals! Shuttered! Locked doors! What had we done?!? And wasn’t this anti-constitutional?! There were protests and riots but locked churches?!?

Anyway, once it opened, my regular church was only open to allowing people in on an alphabetized schedule and the weekend that our letter came up, we were out of town. The images of the service online were shocking. In a church that once had hundreds of parishioners on a weekend there were 13, yes 13, people. And a priest in his undershirt. I just don’t know what to say about that. I can say that on-line mass ain’t cutting it. Period. And I did try.

At any rate, I searched and found a church in a neighboring town which had fewer restrictions on attendance and went. Lo and behold it was a Tridentine mass and there were…dozens of people. I started counting and had to stop at 70 because I couldn’t very well crane my neck during the gospel to see who was behind me. I’m going to say between 70 and 80 people. And! There were several large families with lots of children, small children! Dressed up and quiet! They had clearly been here before… The age mix was very healthy; it was definitely not just a blue-haired service. And it was the third mass of the weekend! I’m not ashamed to say that I cried during the Eucharist; fortunately the mask hid my tears pretty well.

Part B of this story is that I came home and was singing the praises of the mass to my now non-church going family (yes, it’s true, you can lead a kid to church for their entire lives and they will still give it the back of the hand when they are 20 and your spouse will get disillusioned and decide they aren’t going anymore etc. etc.) and one of my young adult children said that it sounded amazing (there was organ music and singing and gorgeous light streaming in through the stained glass windows) and then asked me the name of the church because her boyfriend’s father wanted to go. He’s not Catholic, but, because his life-long Presbyterian southern father has been attending Catholic mass in TN and had been speaking so positively about it he was interested. So, there you have it. All is not lost, although it may be greatly diminished.

I’m not even remotely suggesting that Christendom is not in deep trouble. We are. But we do need these bits of hope.

UPDATE.2: Another hopeful comment, this one by Frances Moyer:

All this is very painful to read. One thing I hate to read it that all of anything is true. All Catholics are this, all schools are that. So I will tell you about my parish. My husband and I retired to this county four years ago. We had visited relatives in this state for 45 years, but never lived in it. We were convinced to choose this specific town because of a Mass we attended. We had attended fairly liberal churches for 25 years, but believed and felt that they failed to emphasize the Eucharist and many important tradition, as well as ignoring all Catholic teachings on sexuality, pro-life, etc.. This church is conservative: large families: a thriving K-8 school; good sermons by all three priests (in the case of the pastor, superior); very pro-life.

Ours is the only church in the county and has 10,000 members. After our first year the young pastors were transferred and the elderly, ill pastor moved to a smaller parish and then retired. Our new pastor is a dynamo. I’ve heard him talk numerous times and he is quite aware of the state of the Faith among Catholics and is determined to evangelize them. He has a dedicated staff and many active parishioners. He is transforming this parish. He knows that the foundation of the faith comes through the parents and has brought two people (a priest and a lay person) from the Augustinian Institute 2000 miles away to establish a solid four year Bible Study as well as a program for parents. He has established a summer camp for young children, the main purpose of which is to evangelize the older high school students and college students who teach and lead the camp through: prayer, adoration of the blessed sacrament, and classes. Several times a year the Institute of Catholic Culture offers dinner and an educational talk. Our church offered a retreat for those suffering deep emotional and spiritual pain. I really feel that our pastor is building a Benedict Option Community in that all his programs have a clear goal of building the Faith in adults and the younger generation,.

Our church has a Spanish mass and ministry; a more traditional mass; a mass that appeals more to those accustomed to the reforms of Vatican II and subsequent hymns; and a Latin mass.

The Knights of Columbus operate a Wednesday Soup Kitchen and a weekly donation of food and toiletries to 70 people. And they do so much more charity work. Eight years ago our parishioners started a home for homeless pregnant women and their children. It takes about 60 volunteers to support all the needs in small and large ways. Our pastor just blessed a second home the board just purchased.

I would like to inform you of nationwide Catholic apostalates. Look them up: FOCUS (Fellowship of Catholic University Students): Students for Life; Walking with Purpose: The Modern Woman’s Guide to the Bible (40,000+ Bible students throughout the US including 50 last year in our parish). And there are web sites such as Bishop Baron and Magis; the later has solid science articles as part of its focus on faith. Then there are The Augustinian Institute and the Institute of Catholic Culture.

PS I am in a Book Club of some parish women and I have suggested The Benedict Option which I have read. We will read it in September!

I feel much hope in my parish and I am so sorry so many people feel disappointment and despair in theirs.

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American Totalitarianism

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It’s not just me who thinks the US is sliding into a woke-led totalitarianism. Prof. Andrew Michta, writing in last weekend’s Wall Street Journal, says that America is “resegregating.” More:

Czesław Miłosz, a future Nobel Prize-winning poet who had just defected from Poland, began work in 1951 on a book called “The Captive Mind.” Even as Stalinist totalitarianism tightened its grip on Eastern Europe, many Western European intellectuals lauded the brave new world of Soviet communism as a model for overcoming “bourgeois forces,” which in their view had caused World War II. Living in Paris, Miłosz wrote his book, which was published in 1953, to warn the West of what happens to the human mind and soul in a totalitarian system.

Miłosz knew from experience, having lived through the Communist takeover, how totalitarianism strips men and women of their liberty, transforming them into “affirmative cogs” in service of the state and obliterating what had taken centuries of Western political development to achieve. Totalitarianism not only enslaved people physically but crippled their spirit. It did so by replacing ordinary human language, in which words signify things in the outside world, with ideologically sanctioned language, in which words signify the dominant party’s ever-changing ideas of what is and is not true.

Since the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, nationwide protests, which quickly turned to riots, have been hijacked by the neo-Marxist left, morphing into an all-out assault on American cities and institutions. This assault is underpinned by an audacious attempt to rewrite history that turns specific past events into weapons not only to overpower political opponents but also to recast all of American history as a litany of racial transgressions.

The radicals have turned race into a lens through which to view the country’s history, and not simply because they are obsessed with race. They have done so because it allows them to identify and separate those groups that deserve affirmation, in their view, and those that do not. What is taking place is the resegregation of America, the endpoint of which will be the rejection of everything the civil-rights movement stood for.

Michta offers a solid, useful definition of the difference between authoritarianism and totalitarianism; the woke militancy is unquestionably totalitarian:

What is driving the radical protesters and rioters—who are enabled and manipulated by the “digital intelligentsia” in the press and an expanding segment of the political and business classes—is contempt for the freedom of anyone who fails to comport with their image of a just society. In authoritarian systems those in power seek to proscribe certain forms of political speech and social activity. Totalitarians claim unconditional authority to reach deep into each person’s conscience. They prescribe an interpretation of the world and dictate the language with which citizens are permitted to express that interpretation. Authoritarian regimes leave largely untouched the private civic sphere of human activity; totalitarians destroy traditional value systems and reorder the culture. That is why they are harder to overthrow.

More:

This is about more than statues and history. Those who control the symbols of political discourse can dominate the culture and control the collective consciousness. If you doubt this, ask yourself why there has been so little backlash from ordinary, non-elite Americans. Our sense of self has been progressively deconstructed. We feel in our bones the wrongness of the violence being visited on the nation but lack the language to speak against it.

And:

American society is faced with a stark binary choice. Either we push back against the unrelenting assault of the neo-Marxist narrative, or we yield to the totalitarian impulse now in full view in our politics. It is no longer enough to wait for the next election, or to pin our hopes on a “silent majority” that will eventually stop the madness. There may be no such majority. If there is, its members may no longer be able to articulate what they see unfolding around them.

Read the whole thing (if you have a WSJ subscription; it’s behind a paywall).

None of this is news to me, of course — all of this and much more is in my forthcoming book Live Not By Lies— but what struck me the most about Michta’s essay is his speculation that there may not be a “silent majority” waiting to rise up against this.  

Last week in this space I wrote about a long lunch conversation with a pastor who is deeply frustrated by what he says is the inability of his fellow clergy to grasp the scale and the significance of the present crisis within the churches (or rather, the related crises of people falling away from the practice of Christianity, and those who remain knowing nothing at all about the faith, meaning their ties are highly tenuous). In his telling, the pastors he knows either refuse to acknowledge the facts right in front of their noses, or get angry at him for pointing them out. The result is a leadership class in the churches that huddles in false security behind the Maginot Line in their mind. They are not prepared to fight the war that’s actually upon the church, and are not preparing their flocks to resist.

I told the pastor over lunch that I had been dealing with this kind of thing for the three years since The Benedict Option was published. Lots of pastors and church leaders — Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox — have rejected the book’s diagnosis and prescription without giving any indication of having read it. As Alan Jacobs has written about this phenomenon, Dreher might be wrong in his prescriptions, but only a blind person could deny that the churches are in big trouble today. So what’s their solution? (says Jacobs). “More of the same things we’ve been doing” is a suicidal strategy.

Having read Michta’s piece this morning (thanks to the reader who sent it), I think I understand better why these pastors are so paralyzed with fear. They may have no strong reason to believe that their congregations would be behind them if they stood up to this madness. Four years ago, when I was traveling around researching The Benedict Option, I spoke to the pastor of a large conservative Protestant congregation. He told me the main obstacle he faced in his congregation was the constant fear of the people. What they were afraid of, though, were the threats they perceived Out There: e.g., radical Islam. He said that when he would preach on other things, things that had to do with the spiritual lives and threats they faced within their own hearts, they tuned him out. They only wanted to hear that the threats were external. He was pretty discouraged, and I found out later that he left that congregation.

Mind you, these were all conservative people, theologically and otherwise. But they had a fixed idea of what the threat to their existence was, and it had nothing at all to do with their way of life. This pastor I talked to, I don’t know if he supported the Benedict Option idea, but having spent time with him, I came to believe that he absolutely was trying to pastor that church in a way to make its members more truly and deeply Christian, and that he (the pastor) understood deeply how the currents of ordinary American life bear the church farther and farther from shore. But if his account of the congregation was true, the people of that church did not want to hear any of this. They only wanted their own prejudices validated.

I heard something very similar from the pastor in Louisiana with whom I lunched last week. (I wrote about it in “The Finder-Friendly Pilgrim Church,” in case you missed it.)

Now, think about that in context of the Michta column. Michta isn’t writing about religion. He’s writing about an American public that has been so propagandized and demoralized that it cannot see the true nature of the threats to it, or if it can, it lacks the wherewithal to respond appropriately. The rot has gone very deep. On this blog, I report on things going on within the culture of universities, of major corporations, of schools and religious institutions, and so on — as well as reporting on things happening in the public square. We are witnessing the dismantling of American liberal democracy, and the conditions under which it thrives. It is an emergency, but relatively few people are treating it like an emergency.

Are people waiting for this supposed “silent majority” to rise up and save the day? With Michta, I ask: How do you know that such a silent majority exists? I know a lot of people are planning to vote for Trump as their contribution to the fight against this madness. Vote for Trump if you want to, but understand that all of this has happened under Trump. I think there’s no question that it will accelerate under Biden, and in that sense, a vote for Trump is reasonable. But don’t think for one second that Trump is going to stop any of it. He doesn’t know how. Whether Trump is re-elected or not, the war on faith, family, and the foundations of American democracy will continue.

Again, let me be clear: I’m not telling you to vote for Trump, or not to vote for Trump. I am telling you that your vote matters a lot less than you might think.

Here’s a big reason why: consumer surveillance technology. The Houston Chronicle reports:

Operating in the shadows of the online marketplace, specialized tech companies you’ve likely never heard of are tapping vast troves of our personal data to generate secret “surveillance scores” – digital mug shots of millions of Americans – that supposedly predict our future behavior. The firms sell their scoring services to major businesses across the U.S. economy.

People with low scores can suffer harsh consequences.

CoreLogic and TransUnion say that scores they peddle to landlords can predict whether a potential tenant will pay the rent on time, be able to “absorb rent increases,” or break a lease. Large employers use HireVue, a firm that generates an “employability” score about candidates by analyzing “tens of thousands of factors,” including a person’s facial expressions and voice intonations. Other employers use Cornerstone’s score, which considers where a job prospect lives and which web browser they use to judge how successful they will be at a job.

Brand-name retailers purchase “risk scores” from Retail Equation to help make judgments about whether consumers commit fraud when they return goods for refunds. Players in the gig economy use outside firms such as Sift to score consumers’ “overall trustworthiness.” Wireless customers predicted to be less profitable are sometimes forced to endure longer customer service hold times.

Auto insurers raise premiums based on scores calculated using information from smartphone apps that track driving styles. Large analytics firms monitor whether we are likely to take our medication based on our propensity to refill our prescriptions; pharmaceutical companies, health-care providers and insurance companies can use those scores to, among other things, “match the right patient investment level to the right patients.”

More:

Surveillance scoring is the product of two trends. First is the rampant (and mostly unregulated) collection of every intimate detail about our lives, amassed by the nanosecond from smartphones to cars, toasters to toys. This fire hose of data – most of which we surrender voluntarily – includes our demographics, income, facial characteristics, the sound of our voice, our precise location, shopping history, medical conditions, genetic information, what we search for on the Internet, the websites we visit, when we read an email, what apps we use and how long we use them, and how often we sleep, exercise and the like.

The second trend driving these scores is the arrival of technologies able to instantaneously crunch this data: exponentially more powerful computers and high-speed communications systems such as 5G, which lead to the scoring algorithms that use artificial intelligence to rate all of us in some way.

Read it all.

This is the basis for the coming American version of China’s social credit system. Notice that none of this has to do with the government. If you think totalitarianism is only something that the state can impose, you’re wrong. This is what Woke Capitalism is doing to us. We are in a different world now. As I write in Live Not By Lies:

It is not at all difficult to imagine that banks, retailers, and service providers that have access to the kind of consumer data extracted by surveillance capitalists would decide to punish individuals affiliated with political, religious, or cultural groups those firms deem to be antisocial. Silicon Valley is well known to be far to the left on social and cultural issues, a veritable mecca of the cult of social justice. Social justice warriors are known for the spiteful disdain they hold for classically liberal values like free speech, freedom of association, and religious liberty. These are the kinds of people who will be making decisions about access to digital life and to commerce.

The rising generation of corporate leaders take pride in their progressive awareness and activism. Twenty-first
century capitalism is not only all in for surveillance, it is also very woke.

Nor is it hard to foresee these powerful corporate interests using that data to manipulate individuals into
thinking and acting in certain ways. [Age of Surveillance Capitalism author Shoshana] Zuboff quotes an unnamed Silicon Valley bigwig saying, “Conditioning at scale is essential to the new science of massively engineered human behavior.” He believes that by close analysis of the behavior of app users, his company will eventually be able to “change how lots of people are making their day-to-day decisions.”

Maybe they will just try to steer users into buying certain products and not others. But what happens when
the products are politicians or ideologies? And how will people know when they are being manipulated?

If a corporation with access to private data decides that progress requires suppressing dissenting opinions, it
will be easy to identify the dissidents, even if they have said not one word publicly.

Pre-order to read the whole thing when it comes out September 29.

I’m telling you, this new order is already largely in place, and we are passively accepting it. We are being conditioned to accept it. I am absolutely not saying that we should surrender to it — in fact, quite the contrary. What I’m saying is that it is no surprise that the American people have been demoralized and manipulated. The “silent majority” is not going to save us, because if it even exists, it is likely already neutralized, or soon will be — and might never understand why or how. We should be standing behind political leaders who recognize the threat from this data grabbing, and who are prepared to fight it, and fight it hard. (Donald Trump is not that leader; Sen. Josh Hawley and Sen. Mike Lee might be.) But in the meantime, we should be preparing ourselves for the long resistance. Totalitarianism is coming. It will be softer than what existed in the Soviet bloc, but totalitarianism it certainly will be.

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