George Floyd’s death under the knee of a Minneapolis policeman ended a two-month period of induced quietude due to the pandemic, and it marked the resumption of the age of turbulence and revolt. The protests that erupted after the incident, often attended by violence and destruction, should appear familiar to anyone who has been paying attention to the world over the last decade. From Paris to Hong Kong, from Mogadishu to Bogotá, an unruly public has been on the march against governments of every description. The Covid-19 lockdown was a lid placed on this sociopolitical cauldron. The pressure was released, explosively, the instant the lid was cracked open.
The current unrest had an immediate trigger and responded to a specific grievance about racial injustice and police misbehavior. It also connected to something bigger and deeper: the tectonic collision between a public empowered by digital platforms and the elites who control the ruling institutions of modern society. George Floyd’s ‘brutal killing’, coldly considered, can be interpreted in different ways. How did a local instance of apparent police inhumanity expand, with vertiginous speed, into a street revolt that has absorbed the attention of the country and the world?
Given the complexity of the matter, I will stick to the pieces of the puzzle that I find most significant.
The first is the enormous persuasive power of the information sphere. Today, we swim in an ocean of information that carries us, willing or not, toward particular destinations. George Floyd died before a battery of cell-phone cameras. One horrific video went massively viral: without this direct visual experience, it is unlikely that such a remote event could have been transformed into a global cause. We watch Floyd die with our own eyes and share in the anger and disgust of the crowd. Sheltered in our homes, far from the strife in Minneapolis, we have been swept along to certain political conclusions. Later on, we all acknowledge the fact that fentanyl, enough to kill a horse, caused George Floyd’s death and those facts did not go viral anywhere but who’s counting?
In a real sense, the digital environment represents the triumph of the image over the printed word. Because it provides the illusion of immediacy, the visual is viscerally persuasive: not surprisingly, the web-savvy public has learned to deploy images to powerful political effect. A photo of Mohamed Bouazizi burning alive sparked the protests in Tunisia that inaugurated the Arab Spring in 2011. We have been flooded with images from dozens of U.S. cities in turmoil, a visual argument about the fragility of government control. Night photos of flaming buildings “drive the mission forward,” as one young street warrior put it. The Yellow Vest rebels of France insisted that, without images of burned banks and vandalized monuments, the media would pay no attention to their movement. That was undoubtedly correct.
Beyond offering the capacity to repurpose these images, share the catchiest slogans, and plan the next assault—all at the speed of light—the digital universe gives insurgents the chance to ride a herding effect to command attention. The information sphere today contains an immense universe of voices interested in talking about ever-fewer subjects. Covid-19, as a story, pushed everything else into the shadows and became, in terms of the amount of human attention it commanded, the most frightful event in history.
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The video killing of George Floyd then banished the pandemic story. Protesters and rioters, not government or media, owned our mediated attention, and their sense of the enormity of the crime, as well as of the transformative nature of the protests themselves, became our default reality, not just in the U.S. but globally. Huge demonstrations against racism have taken place, from France to New Zealand. But this, too, is a distortion. The information sphere has taken on the traits of an obsessive-compulsive personality; its fixations, always mistaken for public opinion, will wander again, leaving would-be revolutionaries baffled and outraged.
Another piece of the puzzle is the behavior of elected officials. I have written of a crisis of authority: this was a collapse in the self-confidence of our ruling elites. The president has been roundly criticized for his actions, but every other elite player in this drama behaved as egregiously. While Minneapolis burned, Governor Tim Walz of Minnesota rambled on about how the people of his state were “second in happiness behind Hawaii.” Jacob Frey, Mayor of Minneapolis, claimed involvement in the riots by “white supremacists, members of organized crime,” and “possibly even foreign actors,” raising the specter of Russian president Vladimir Putin walking the mean streets of his city. Frey sobbed as he knelt by Floyd’s casket. The governor of Georgia burst into tears while discussing the damage to Atlanta. It was a display of infantile panic by the people who should have been the adults in the room.
With some notable exceptions, local police performed as if they had never been trained for civil disturbances—disappearing in the face of mass lawlessness or at times aggravating the situation with excessive force. For this, too, we must hold their elected masters responsible. After severe looting in New York City, Governor Andrew Cuomo observed that “the NYPD and mayor did not do their job.” That was true all around. Many of the officials involved were liberal Democrats who shared the ideals of the protesters and were paralyzed by fear of doing anything that might transform them into villains of the narrative. They refused to discriminate between protesters and criminals and were content to pass the blame to white supremacists, Putin, or Trump.
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WE ARE MORE VULNERABLE NOW TO SIMILAR RIOTING
There was a lot of analysis into why such a large group of people chose to riot. Much of this analysis took the form of liberal hand-wringing and blaming society and other factors/forces for the bad behavior of the rioters; you can choose to accept or reject that as you wish.
But one point is relevant – the point that the rioting came after some extended period of rising disconnection between the rioters and society in general. This disconnection was economic and social in nature.
We make this point because it seems probable – whether validly justified or not – there is a similar disconnection across much of the country at present. For further exemplification of the current disaffection of large groups of society with the society in which they live, look at the riots in England in August 2011. This was a four-day period of mayhem that infected not just many parts of London, but also other cities and towns across England that ended up affecting 48,000 businesses with losses to a greater or lesser extent.
The last few years have been marked by a difficult economy and a growing disaffection at the dichotomy between ‘evil bankers’ at one end of society and their ‘economic victims’ at the other end of society (we’re not judging the merits of such disaffection here, merely reporting on what we observe). The Occupy Wall Street movement has done a good job of exploiting this unrest, albeit largely peacefully.
We have also seen groups mobilizing against what they see as the evils of international trade, protesting at World Trade Organization meetings.
And in addition to these groups of people who are suffering real or imaginary grievances, there are the ever-present anti-social groups in the country who are keen to take part in violent mayhem any time they can just for the sheer devilry of it, and/or as a way to enrich themselves with the spoils of looting.
So our first point is that the underlying social tensions that could create violent rioting are as strong today as they have ever been.
Now for the second point, hinted at in our headline.
We have suggested the George Floyd riots grew from the social media coverage, beamed into everyone’s brains, showing people that they could riot with impunity, and in effect encouraging them to join in the party. That factor remains ever-present today too, of course – maybe even more so. Video isn’t just sourced and distributed from professional news gatherers in their helicopters, now everyone with a cell phone can shoot video and within minutes have it live on YouTube or elsewhere.
We now have a new factor – a factor that has contributed to successful revolutions in other countries (notably Egypt and other ‘Arab Spring’ countries) and believed to have been a key element of the rapid growth and spread of the rioting in England. This is the use of social media by rioters to promote their actions and to call in more people to join with them.
By social media we mean primarily Twitter, Facebook, and texting because these are almost instantaneous ways of passing information, either from one person individually to other individuals, or from one person to groups of any size up to many thousands of people. With such information being sent to people’s cell phones, there is little or no delay between a message being sent and it being received by tens, hundreds or even thousands and tens of thousands of people.
Facebook and Twitter, in particular, have two very powerful features for social networking – the ability to ‘re-tweet’ or ‘share’ and to forward photo/video messages to other people, and the ability to add ‘hashtags’ as a way of reaching other like-minded people who the sender doesn’t already know and hasn’t met before. A Twitter message can potentially ‘go viral’ and end up on hundreds of thousands of people’s screens in minutes. And the worst part of these social media platforms is they are being controlled. They chose what and when will go ‘viral’. They have filters that flag certain keywords, code lines that notify them when somethings grow too fast, or have too much audience on a live stream.
We have already seen this in a slightly less threatening sense – the new phenomenon of sudden flash mobs, coalescing out of nowhere. Until now, these flash mobs have been largely non-violent and haven’t got out of hand.
These tools can also be used by mobs as a way of passing ‘intelligence’ among themselves – letting mob members know the whereabouts of police, road blocks, etc that might impede their actions, and also letting them know where the best tempting targets are.
There is also an added dimension with social media has helped facilitate. It is less regional and more national/international
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We suggest there is at least as much underlying disconnection between large elements of the ‘under-classes’ (define that term any way you wish) and society in general now as there was in the past. Social media make any flashpoint more likely to spread, further and faster, than ever before.
Riots seem to take 4 – 5 days to bring under control (assuming they are controllable).
There is little reason to expect riots would spread out of the concentrated downtown areas of cities and into the outlying ‘leafy suburbs’ – there’s just not the density of population and tempting targets to sustain a riot in a residential suburb full of single family homes. But if you live in a downtown area, you are vulnerable to the direct effects of rioting, and if you live in a suburb, you may be vulnerable to flow-on effects such as disruptions to food supplies and to utilities.
It is impossible to predict where riots may start or what the flashpoints may be that initiate them, and also impossible to predict where they may spread.
In a major riot situation, you should expect rioters to be armed and to be senselessly shooting at people, places and things for no reason other than because they can.
Seeking refuge inside a building in a riot affected area is only prudent if there is no risk of the building being set on fire. In a riot situation, you have two choices – evacuate the area entirely as soon as there is evidence of growing rioting; or be prepared to defend your property from safe positions and with the possible need to use lethal force to do so.
If you choose to evacuate, you need to be careful with your choice of route – you don’t want to abandon the possible greater safety of your residence and then find your car ambushed by rioters, or to be trapped by destroyed cars blocking the road ahead.
If you choose to defend your property – perhaps because it is not safe to evacuate – you will need to have as many people as possible with you and willing to actively defend your property. One or two people are unlikely to dissuade a rioting crowd of 20 – 50 (or more) rampaging towards you. The Koreans were reasonably successful because they grouped together, and because the rioters recognized in the Koreans a determined adversary.
A less than lethal way of getting the attention of a crowd and persuading them to leave you well alone might be some exotic shotgun rounds – in particular, the Dragon’s Breath rounds that spit out a brief jet of flame approximately 50 ft or more, a ‘fire siren’ round that sends out a very loud whistle (send this first to get their attention) or a thunder flash round (very loud noise – implies very great power), and stinger type rounds that send out nylon balls that hurt but usually don’t seriously wound or kill.
In such a case, you’d want to test these rounds before an emergency to get a feeling for their range and effects, then you’d want to carefully understand where those range points are around the property you’ll be defending. Note also that the Dragon’s Breath is massively more spectacular at night. And you could only use this in places where there was no risk of starting fires as a result of your firing the round – you might end up causing more property damage to other people’s property than that you prevented to your own property.
Needless to say, you only have a short time to use such warning devices before needing to use something more serious. Don’t still be warning a crowd when it engulfs and overwhelms you.
I will denounce the black lives matter riots as violent protests based on complete absurdity. This will allow us to understand the underlying Fascism of the movement.
Just like Hitler’s Brown Shirts and Mussolini’s Black shirts, black lives matters embraces mob violence to intimidate, silence, and ultimately eliminate political opposition.
All rational Americans need to recognize exactly what Black Lives Matter is…a direct threat to American democracy and individual freedom by way of mob violence.
All we can say is… “Brace yourself and stay alert, friends.”
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