The Dangerous Lure of Political Violence
Just down the street from the Reason offices in D.C., protesters recently built a guillotine. No necks were harmed that night; it wasn’t fully functional. But they did it in front of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’ house, and the message was clear: While we aren’t going to do violence to you personally right now, we want you to know that we think capitalist billionaires like you are so terrible that some violence may, in fact, be justified. Another iteration of the guillotine had popped up a couple of weeks earlier in front of the White House, with similar implications for the president and his allies.
The question, which has taken on increasing importance as Election Day draws near, is how seriously (or literally) to take such threats.
The best-case scenario is that what we are seeing in the streets is essentially LARPing. If you don’t know what LARPing is: Congratulations. I bet the parties you got invited to in high school were fun! It stands for “live action role playing,” and the most common manifestation is a small group of costumed nerds staging some form of simulated combat, often in a campus quadrangle or public park.
Like the guillotinesmiths of Kalorama, the lefty protesters of Seattle and Portland—dressed in activist goth chic and ostentatiously practicing maneuvers with shields—are looking to trigger disgust and panic in those who disagree with their aims or tactics, and boy is it working. The same is true of the Unite the Right marchers who turned up in Charlottesville three years ago and later in the Pacific Northwest to provoke fear and intimidate their opponents while wearing matching polo shirts and wielding tiki torches.
“So far, this revolutionary playacting has been more annoying than terrifying,” Cathy Young writes in this month’s cover story, an account of the events leading up to France’s Reign of Terror with an eye toward the parallels to the present day (page 18). “It’s about trolling, not killing, the enemy. But it still signals an embrace of bloodthirsty rhetoric—and of ideological homage to one of history’s bloodier leftist dictatorships.”
There are reasons to believe the situation in American cities could take a more deadly turn, however. For one thing, it d
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