Perhaps by now, you’re among those suffering from riot fatigue. Since the May 25 death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, protests have spread from that city to both coasts and most places in between, making it impossible for any but the most avid news junkie to keep up with all the freeway disruptions, looting, clashes with police, and general mayhem. You discuss the events with your friends and coworkers but have trouble remembering where any given incident may have occurred. “I think it was in Portland,” you say, but then you’re told it was really Seattle. “No,” says someone else, “that happened in New York.” The incessant descriptions in the media of these protests as being “mostly peaceful” reminds one that in 1944, France, Belgium, and Holland could have been similarly described if you merely overlooked the war going on.
On Friday, another “mostly peaceful protest” was held in Chicago, this one resulting in injuries to 49 police officers. Chicago police Superintendent David Brown and some of his senior staff held a press conference on Monday, displaying video of the event that began with a march through Grant Park before devolving into a melee as a brave band of Chicago police officers protected the statue of Christopher Columbus from a mob bent on toppling it.
Perhaps “devolving” isn’t the proper verb here as it implies spontaneity. As was made clear in the video, there was nothing spontaneous about the assault on the police officers defending the statue. It was planned in advance and coordinated as it occurred, with some members of the mob supplying the projectiles that were thrown and others moving so as to conceal the people throwing them. Large signs carried during the march had been attached with lengths of PVC pipe, the ends of which had been sharpened to use as weapons when the signs were later detached from one another at the fountain. Some people initially presented themselves as peaceful protesters before changing into the head-to-toe black garb that identifies the wearer as an antifa goon.
Similar scenes have played out in city after city, and yet the “mostly peaceful” theme continues to be peddled on television and in print. “Protests over the killing of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis have taken place in downtown Portland for more than 50 consecutive days,” says an AP story that appeared Wednesday on the New York Times website, “drawing at times more than 10,000 mostly peaceful demonstrators.” (Emphasis added.) The story goes on to allow that a “relatively small number of activists has vandalized downtown buildings, including the federal courthouse, and attacked police and federal agents,” but how numerous must the rioters be, how many fires must be set, how many police officers must be assaulted, before the “mostly peaceful” trope is abandoned?
It will not be abandoned, not ever. Instead, it will be buttressed by another, equally hoary trope, that of a “war” being waged against American citizens. Standing up to advance this new motif, as one might have expected, is the sacred text of the modern left, the New York Times, and one of its leading evangelists, columnist Thomas Friedman.
In his July 21 column, Friedman accuses President Trump of engaging in a “wag-the-dog” strategy of starting a war in an effort to shore up his reelection prospects. “Some presidents,” the column begins, “when they get into trouble before an election, try to ‘wag the dog’ by starting a war abroad. Donald Trump seems ready to wag the dog by starting a war at home. Be afraid — he just might get his wish.”
Friedman goes on to liken President Trump to Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, eschewing the more common but equally fatuous comparisons to Adolph Hitler. “So, in a desperate effort to salvage his campaign,” he writes, “Trump turned to the Middle East Dictator’s Official Handbook and found just what he was looking for, the chapter titled, ‘What to Do When Your People Turn Against You?’”
Give Friedman credit for acknowledging the reason President Trump deployed federal agents to defend the U.S. courthouse in Portland. “I have zero tolerance,” he writes, “for any American protesters who resort to violence in any U.S. city, because it damages homes and businesses already hammered by the coronavirus — many of them minority-owned — and because violence will only turn off and repel the majority needed to drive change.”
The next paragraph allays any suspicion the reader may have had that the remainder of the column would continue in this reasonable vein: “But when I heard Trump suggest, as he did in the Oval Office on Monday, that he was going to send federal forces into U.S. cities, where the local mayors have not invited him, the first word that popped into my head was ‘Syria.’”
Portland Mayor Says ‘I Saw Nothing That Provoked’ Use of Tear Gas … as Rioters Set Courthouse on Fire
Perhaps the first word that popped into your head on reading this was the same one that popped into mine.
In accusing President Trump of operating from the Middle East Dictator’s Official Handbook, Friedman fails to admit he and his newspaper are working from a handbook of their own, this one also of Middle Eastern provenance. Call it the Have Pity on Us Handbook, whose guidance is followed whenever Israel retaliates for a rocket attack or some other terrorist atrocity against Israeli civilians. In such cases, the precipitating event is invariably overshadowed in the media – nowhere more so than in the New York Times – by the “disproportionality” of the Israeli response.
It is not only in Friedman’s column that this strategy was recently evident in the New York Times. A July 21 photo essay in the paper (available online here) depicts the rioters outside the Portland federal courthouse as stalwart opponents of a corrupt system, enduring tear gas, rubber bullets, and all manner of oppression from the federal agents, who themselves are made to appear as menacing, shadowy figures. As Andrew Sullivan pointed out on Twitter, the Times didn’t include a single photograph of protesters attacking the courthouse, though such images have been captured nightly by other outlets.
So it is with press coverage of the rioting in Chicago and elsewhere. On June 20, the Chicago Tribune reported on the riot in Grant Park but devoted several paragraphs to the 20 complaints of excessive force made against the police. Highlighted in the story was Miracle Boyd, an 18-year-old who claimed her tooth was knocked out when she was struck by a police officer near the Columbus statue. Boyd’s allegations went unchallenged in the Tribune story, though you can watch the video she shot of the incident here and decide for yourself if she is the saintly, peaceful activist she claims to be. (Warning: abundant coarse language.)
Whatever the veracity of Boyd’s complaint, the movement has its next heroic figure to be used in the campaign against the police. Delegitimizing law enforcement has long been among the goals of the radical left, and any story they can use to further that goal is compliantly passed along by sympathetic members of the press.
A 2006 RAND Corporation paper addressed this issue as it applies to warfare. Commissioned by the U.S. Air Force, “Misfortunes of War, Press and Public Reactions to Civilian Deaths in Wartime” described incidents resulting in civilian casualties as “mediagenic” events that are used by adversaries to undermine public support for a military campaign. The same strategy is on display now, with people like Miracle Boyd paraded out in the hope of arousing public sympathy and resentment of the police.
As of this writing, there have been no deaths among the protesters in Portland, though with the escalation of violence in that city and others, one fears it’s only a matter of time before we see a deadly incident such as occurred at Kent State University fifty years ago when National Guard troops opened fire on protesters opposing the Vietnam War. I suspect there are those on the left who would welcome such an incident if it serves to weaken the resolve of the police and bring about the president’s defeat in November. After all, there must always be martyrs to the cause, comrades.