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Mob Rule In Durham

A preview of an America without the rule of law
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Yesterday, a mob in Durham, NC, tore down a Confederate statue that had been in place since 1924. David A. Graham was there. Excerpts from his Atlantic piece:

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H-uAZa4H1vk&w=525&h=300]

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

UPDATE.2: Reader Steve S. writes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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