Authoritarianism’s Ugly Losers
Before beginning to attempt a reaction to the senseless, horrifying and calamitous violence in Ferguson, Missouri, I should begin with something of a personal story. Late in the evening on March 19, 2012, I published an article originally titled “Tawana Brawley 2.0? Al Sharpton Sides With ‘Aggressor’ in Self-Defense Case” at what was then my current workplace, TheBlaze.com. The story concerned a segment that Sharpton had aired on his show on MSNBC on the then-only just recently discovered shooting of Trayvon Martin. At the time, the shooting was presumed to be the act of an unhinged wannabe-cop vigilante who was using a poorly-worded law to beat the rap for shooting an innocent child.
As the original headline makes clear, I was thoroughly unconvinced by this narrative and wrote the article as such, pointing out that the media’s treatment of Trayvon Martin as a presumptive innocent when he was accused of attacking another person was unjustified. Moreover, I pointed out that there was a massive hole in this account of Martin-as-Saintly-Martyr in the form of his suspension record, which the media claimed was only the result of tardiness in willful defiance of the written disciplinary policies of Martin’s own school, and of the county-wide school system in which he had lived. Therefore, Martin had to have done something worse than just be tardy, I argued, and gave an extensive list of the acts that could have earned him his suspension record, including many that I described as unlikely (e.g. arson, kidnapping, murder), but still listed as cause for such a punishment.
The article was almost immediately retitled “Al Sharpton Dismisses Self-Defense Argument in Shooting of Teen,” and some of the more snarky language was toned down. However, as mine was one of the first articles to officially reject the dominant narrative, and as my comprehensive list of crimes that Martin could have committed included some very clearly improbable, if not impossible options, the Left (Media Matters foremost among them) pounced on it as evidence of both my being racist, and of my then ultimate superior, Glenn Beck, being racist. Cenk Uygur, on his show “The Young Turks,” openly spoke to the camera as if speaking to me and said, “You disgust me.” I’ll spare you the details of the hate mail I got. What I will say is that my story was motivated not by racism, but by a reflexive suspicion that anything Al Sharpton was involved in must be bunk.
The manufactured outrage against me lasted precisely three days, as the following Monday, stories broke about Martin having been suspended for being in fights, applying graffiti, and being caught with drug-related paraphernalia. The whole story eventually unraveled and, by the time of the trial a year later, I felt thoroughly vindicated in my suspicion. To this day, I still believe that Trayvon Martin attacked George Zimmerman (most likely out of mistargeted homophobia), and that Zimmerman defended himself in line with Florida law.
I say all of this to establish that my skepticism of Al Sharpton, and the so-called anti-racist movement generally, is about as deep and stubborn as any person’s can get, so that what I am about to say will be absolutely clear in its gravity.
Even if I still believe that the case of Trayvon Martin was a manufactured racist incident ginned up by the Left, there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that the recent incidents in Ferguson, Missouri are incontrovertible proof that brutal, thuggish, racist authoritarianism can still rear its ugly head in this country. The situation in Ferguson is everything the Left imagined about Trayvon Martin’s killing and worse.
Let’s leave aside the question of the originating incident (i.e. the shooting of Michael Brown). It is a story without angels, and one best resolved by an investigation. However, if there was any doubt that the Ferguson, Missouri Police Department is willing to engage in ruthless police brutality and thuggishness in response to even peaceful protest, it is the fact that apparently the only person who could manage to speak to Ferguson’s officers without being somehow damaged was a 74-year-old Vietnam Veteran who shamed by police by openly daring them to shoot him. Even a State Senator has been tear-gassed by Ferguson police in their overzealous, frightening response to the protests. Entire news teams have been arrested simply for the crime of covering the situation.
To be fair, preventing rioting is a difficult job, and police should react to it with force if necessary. But what happened in Ferguson looks more like the Boston Massacre than the Watts riots. While the subsequent looting has cast an ugly shadow over what should have been a peaceful response to injustice, when elected officials and members of the free press are treated as casualties in a battle to stop looting, we may as well be living on the Death Star.
This is not simply the fault of racism. Several deeper strains of American political thought are implicated by this atrocity, and not necessarily racist ones, though some of their most eloquent exponents have been racists. Communitarianism and populism are the two leading contenders, both of which have had their most potent expression through the pen of writers such as Samuel T. Francis, author of “Shots Fired,” and which have at times made their home at sites like VDare (though to its credit, even the latter site has sounded the alarm about police brutality in the past). Francis himself gave expression to the very sentiments that allowed Ferguson to exist when he railed against what he called the “cosmopolitan ethic” for denigrating “the small town, the family, the neighborhood, the traditional class identities and their relationships – as well as for authoritative and disciplinary institutions — the army, the police, parental authority, and the disciplines of school and church.”
In Ferguson, we see that this sort of blind adherence to the whims of a community’s authority figures, and contempt for its political outsiders, ultimately produces tragic results. It is the same blindness that led a small Southern town to lynch Leo Frank for the crime of being Northern and Jewish and better educated than most, and therefore other than them, and that drove admiration for Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s mangling of due process and creation of a prison hellscape for those under his charge.
Of course, for people like Francis, the random shooting of blacks, the lynching of Jews, and the prison abuse of Hispanics probably would have been features rather than bugs. This is the same man who considered capitalism an enemy because it treated everyone’s dollars as equally valuable, and celebrated David Duke and Pat Buchanan for carrying on what he falsely and perversely believed to be the ultimate goal of the Reagan Revolution – the Middle American Revolution, or the “awakening of a people who face political, cultural, and economic dispossession and what that dispossession will mean for them and their descendants, and who are also starting to think about reversing the processes and powers responsible for their dispossession.” Why was this necessary? Because, according to Francis, “the historic racial and cultural core of American civilization is under attack.” By who? Judging by Francis’ later career as the editor of the house journal for the infamous hate group the Council of Conservative Citizens (an outgrowth of segregation-era “Citizens’ Councils”), one can work out the answer pretty well.
If Ferguson teaches us anything, it teaches us that we should be happy that Francis considered his own “Middle American Revolution” movement to be “beautiful losers” and said as much in a book by the same name. If Francis aspired to lead a Middle American Revolution of angry, dispossessed blue collar whites against the iron laws of demography, then Ferguson is the Middle American Counter-Revolution, and its ugliness is all the proof one needs that the dispossession Francis railed against is a dispossession that is richly deserved.
Unfortunately, there are still those who would like to resurrect Francis’ Middle American Revolution, and who look to the ethnically and culturally homogenous world he hoped to create with the gauzy sentimentality of a Norman Rockwell painting. But with Ferguson, the authoritarian insularity of the small town and its panicky inability to cope with a changing world has been laid bare, and the power of the petty, provincial local state to crush the individual when subsidized by a communitarian Leviathan has been properly reviled.
In short, at long last, we can see that the road back to Mayberry is paved with the gassed and bullet riddled corpses of Ferguson.