The above screenshot from CNN with a chyron that reads, "Fiery but mostly peaceful protests..." illustrates how blurred the lines have become in mainstream news outlets covering civil unrest.
By Michael Fickess
We will not be able to deal with the civil unrest our nation is facing until we can properly understand it. However, the primary problem we are facing is that both mainstream media outlets and local government leaders are consistently miscategorizing what is happening—often intentionally.The coordinated effort to mischaracterize rapidly growing civil unrest is incredibly dangerous because it confuses the general public and severely hinders the efforts of law enforcement to protect the communities they serve.
In order to deal with the current wave of unrest we are facing, we must first have clear definitions. We will not be able to accurately discern the willful deception on the part of media and government leaders until we have accurate terms to describe and grade the severity of what is happening in each individual city and region.
Category #1: Protest
A protest is a constitutionally-protected form of speech under the first amendment, which guarantees the rights of freedom of speech and freedom of assembly. Constitutionally-protected protests use demonstrations to draw attention to a specific policy message that addresses a problem within American government or culture. In American history, protests have often pushed us towards greater justice and equality and have included marches, mass gatherings, sit-in’s, boycotts, and largely symbolic acts. From the Boston Tea Party to the Civil Rights movement of the 1960’s, peaceful protest has often served an important role in pushing policy-makers towards a greater realization of America’s founding promises.
It is important to note that “peaceful” or “non-violent protest” is actually included in the first amendment of the U.S.Constitution, which specifically protects, “the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” Notice that the constitution acknowledges that grievances against injustice will arise and it guarantees our right to “assemble” and “petition” when change needs to happen. However, this right is explicitly granted only to assemblies that “peaceably” assemble—with the reverse implication that violent assemblies are not constitutionally protected.
Category #2: Riot
A riot is primarily known for its lawlessness. In a riot, carefully-reasoned political messages are abandoned and rampant criminality takes over. Riots are essentially leaderless mobs. The hallmarks of riots are arson, destruction of property, theft, and assault of bystanders and police. These crimes happen in riots because the disorganized nature and size of a riotous gathering gives cover to criminal behavior that would have led to immediate arrest and charges in normal circumstance.
In a riot, the number of people engaging in lawless behavior exceeds the capacity of a local police force to control with conventional means. This is why riots generally require non-lethal methods to control, such as tear gas, rubber bullets, and additional protective gear. A riot generally happens when criminally-disposed elements realize that their numbers are greater than law enforcement’s capacity to control by with normal policing. This is why additional resources, such as National Guard troops, may be called in to regain control of a riot situation.
Riots are generally driven by either emotion, selfish interest, and the sick adrenaline rush that comes with rampant criminality. Rather than being organized to attack specific sites with a coordinated strategy, riots devolve into looting and destruction, often for the sheer exhilaration of doing something that is forbidden. Obviously, it is dangerous to call a “riot” a “peaceful protest” because the former is illegal and against the constitution’s provisions while the latter is a productive exercise of our rights. When the media blurs the lines, all of our society suffers because the response becomes muddled and indecisive.
Category #3: Insurrection
Leadership and organization are the primary features that distinguish an insurrection from a riot. Riots and insurrections both feature crimes such as arson, destruction of property, theft, and assault. However, an insurrection has the primary goal of weakening, destroying, or overthrowing a nation’s government or infrastructure. Like radical Islamic terror cells, American insurrectionists are highly organized—but organizations such as Antifa and Marxist radicals are harder to identify because they do not follow a traditional bureaucracy in their armed opposition and their thirst for destruction.
We can clearly identify insurrection and use this term accurately when insurgents target government buildings, authority figures, infrastructure, and symbols of national identity. By this definition, much of what has been happening already falls into the category of “insurrection!”
The Consequences of Blurring the Lines
As civil unrest has spread to more cities throughout the summer and flames erupt from cities such as Minneapolis, Seattle, Portland, New York, and Kenosha, the description used most often by the mainstream media is “mostly peaceful” protest. Democratic mayors and governors have compounded the problem by using the same watered-down language and mischaracterizing both riots and armed insurrection as “mostly peaceful protests.” In perhaps the most egregious example, Mayor Jenny Durkan of Seattle declared that the six city blocks taken by armed insurgents and declared to be an “autonomous zone” actually had a “block party atmosphere” and could turn into a “summer of love.”
The problem with this rhetoric is that mischaracterizing civil unrest has had disastrous consequences. The immediate consequence is that “protests” are consistently growing in intensity and spreading. When mayors and governors fail to call riots and insurrections what they are, it limits the policing options that law enforcement can use. Earlier declarations of riot with appropriate use of riot-control measures could have ended the civil unrest in many cities months ago. Instead, armed insurgents have now moved in and used cities like Seattle and Portland to refine their tactics and training for new uprisings in other cities and regions. The longer this mischaracterization continues, the more dangerous the situation will become.
The long-term consequence of this mischaracterization is that younger generations who lack first-hand experience of previous protest movements are learning from credentialed journalists and local leaders that “peaceful protests” may include arson, riot, assault, and armed insurgency. In other words, civil unrest is normalized when we mischaracterize it. The terms have become so twisted that a man carrying a flatscreen TV out of a broken Target storefront is now seen as a `social justice warrior’ instead of a criminal.
There are many battlefronts we will have to face in the current wave of civil unrest—with ideology looming largest. However, our starting place needs to be reclaiming the language and properly categorizing what is happening. We need to return to common sense: A crowd marching with signs and chanting slogans is a protest. A mob who burns buildings, smashes windows, loots, and assaults bystanders is properly called a riot. And an organized uprising who targets our government buildings, police, the homes of local officials, and the flow of traffic along the infrastructure of our highway system is properly called an insurgency. We must reclaim these terms and use the level of force appropriate to each situation in order to turn the tide of lawlessness and restore peace and order to our cities.
Based on these definitions, it is obvious that the civil unrest in places like Seattle and Portland can already be properly defined as insurrection. The highly-organized insurgents in these cities, complete with body armor, explosives, medics, and recognized leaders with revolutionary goals are targeting government officials, government buildings, and infrastructure with the goal of destroying the American system. For media to relinquish their duty to report is nothing short of conspiracy.
The good news is that even if this crisis devolves further, there is a constitutional remedy. Article I, Section 8, Clause 15 of the U.S. Constitution gives Congress the power to, “…provide for calling forth the militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections, and repel Invasions…” Yes, we want to guard peaceful protest and use non-lethal means to quell riots. However, lethal force is the ultimate constitutional means we are given to protect our Republic from imploding. Yet, if we want to avoid that confrontation tomorrow, then we must begin to confront the dangerous miscategorization of civil unrest by our media and government leaders today.
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