Action Alert!

Be prepared for another ‘long hot summer’

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | May 15, 2024

Do you remember the “long hot summer” of 1967, when racial violence broke out in the inner cities all across the US? Then the following year there were melees in the streets of Chicago when the Democratic Party held its national convention there. One more year brought waves of campus unrest, with student agitators shutting down classes to protest the war in Vietnam.

The sequence may be different, but a similar pattern is evident today. First there were the BLM riots—and Yes, they were riots, even if sympathetic reporters characterized them as “mostly peaceful.” Now the campus “protests,” which are actually attempts to shut down rational protest and debate by force and intimidation. And in August the Democrats will be meeting in Chicago again. Brace yourself.

Since I was a college freshman in 1968-69, living in a dormitory adjacent to the administration building that was “liberated” by radical activists, I gained some firsthand understanding of both the uses of violence and the propaganda that inevitably follows. If we are facing another “long hot summer” in 2024, as I fear we are, I suggest that prudent observers bear a few important factors in mind:

  • Radical tactics are designed to provoke violent reactions. When activists provoke confrontations—by blocking roads, shouting down speakers, occupying property—they claim the mantle of non-violence, but hope for a disproportionate response. In 1968 the Yippies scored a “win” when the Chicago police began swinging their batons, because…
  • The purpose of confrontation tactics is to polarize—to “heighten the contradictions,” as Marx put it—forcing people to make choices. On a college campus suffused with liberal ideology, most students will shy away from the radical approach, but if there is a violent confrontation, their sympathies may swing them toward the left. Naïve undergraduates might disapprove of the occupation of administration buildings, but if their classmates and friends are expelled (let alone arrested), they might consider the punishment harsh. Similarly, the people who receive their information about the confrontations though the mainstream media might feel that authorities have overreacted, because….
  • ”Spin control” is crucial, and the liberal media provide it free of charge. The selection of facts and sources, the manipulation of images, the choice of words are all-important. Yes, you could say that the BLM actions were “mostly peaceful”—in the sense that most participants were not actively engaged in violence. In that same sense Ukraine is “mostly peaceful” today; only a minority of the country’s people are engaged in the battles. Liberal reporters will be reluctant to believe that the activists have crossed the line into violent behavior, and quicker to accuse authorities of the same offense. Particularly because…
  • Inevitably some innocent people will be caught up in the violence. A student journalist covering the protests is arrested; a student walking across the quadrangle is charged with assault when he accidentally bumps into a dean. In 1969, when Harvard called in the police to end a student occupation, the police who removed the activists from University Hall were members of a specially trained tactical squad, who accomplished their task with a minimum use of force. But the police who cordoned off the building were from the local Cambridge force, some of them holding grudges borne of town-and-gown hostility, and they used their clubs with much less restraint. (Here too I speak from experience. Police rushed up the steps of the dorm where I was watching the action; when they left there were dents on the walls and a lump on my head.) Needless to say such excesses tend to radicalize the victims.
  • Conspiracy theories will abound. In any major conflict, true believers on both sides will fear that their hard-line opponents are deliberately escalating the tensions, exploiting the confrontations for their own political purposes. And you know what? They’re right.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at CatholicCulture.org. See full bio.

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  • Posted by: suesims19529182 - May. 18, 2024 7:32 AM ET USA

    That's a really thoughtful and insightful analysis. Thank you.

  • Posted by: feedback - May. 16, 2024 2:23 PM ET USA

    That's why the Marxist spin doctors want very young people to vote.