Anyone reading this blog knows that I am a strong proponent of the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, among other things for the defense of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. In particular, when it comes to liberty, as, in the final extreme, as a defense against government tyranny. I have also written, with great vigor, in opposition of using violence in protests and how calling violence “protest” does not make it legal, even if the cause of that protest is just (and especially when it’s not).
Some might think that makes me a hypocrite. Well, that’s for others to judge, but hear me out here on my reasons to hold both views.
The first thing to consider is the purpose of protest. In general, the purpose of protest is to bring to light injustice (as those protesting see it) in order to sway public policy by creating a climate of opinion such that those in power will be encouraged to change their ways. This usually involves making people aware of the injustice, convincing them that it is and injustice, and making it important enough to them that it will affect their voting decisions (in places with representative government anyway) thus encouraging those in power to address and rectify the injustice. In Milton Friedman’s words, it creates a situation where it’s politically profitable for the wrong people to do the right things:
For that purpose, violence, leaving aside moral issues, is rarely helpful. If anything, it tends to harden opposition. Usually, these issues are those where the majority would agree if they were only aware of the scope, or even existence, of the problem.
One might ask, then, if peaceful protest is so much more effective than violent, what, then, is the point of supporting RKBA as a hedge against government tyranny. To answer that, one has to look to more serious cases, cases where the entire system is corrupt, where there is no way to peacefully protest and get the message heard. Censorship (whether by government or by monopolisitic or near-monopolistic information distribution channels). Being deliberately misconstrued and lied about in the media. Or a government that simply is not responsive to popular will or does not respect the rights of individuals. Those are the kinds of things that can render peaceful protest moot.
But, here’s the point. When you cross the line from “peaceful protest” to “using violence” you are no longer engaging in protest, per se. Individually, you are engaging in violent crime. If it goes on enough, you are waging war against the government and nation. You may consider the government illegitimate. It may, in fact, be illegitimate, but even so what you’re doing is waging war. Put another way, once you become violent, you are no longer protesting, but rebelling.
And you can expect to be treated as doing so.
In protest, a peaceful protest, you can generally expect to go home at the end and, barring actual injustice (which will only underscore your cause) you can expect not to be arrested and imprisoned for your peaceful protest. If you are, well, that just proves your point and everyone seeing it can recognize that. You can go on basically living your life as normal until the next protest in which you participate.
If your protest was actually peaceful.
If it was not peaceful however you are now an actual criminal. You might be a traitor (as the government and its supporters, however legitimate or illegitimate they may be). You cannot then expect to just go back to your life. This will follow you until you either win, are captured, tried, and punished, or if you’re lucky until you’re forgotten.
Or, maybe you’ll be lucky. Maybe you’ll actually be useful to those in power for their particular political purposes and they’ll let you go unmolested because it suits them. But beware. That only lasts so long as you are politically useful to them. And it tends to have the opposite reaction of the goal of protest given above: it tends to harden opinions against you. Oh, people might voice agreement with you but it’s fear, or at least prudence, talking. They are saying what they hope will prevent them from being attacked. But their minds aren’t changed, not in your favor anyway, and once the threat goes away they go right back to opposition to your views.
Violence, then, is really only justified when there is no other recourse, when speech is shut down, when public opinion no longer matters, when elections are decided, as alluded to by Stalin, not by those who vote, but by those who count the votes. And when you cross that line, it’s not an issue of “protest and go home” but it’s war. Don’t kid yourself that it’s anything else. The war might be justified, but it remains a war and you are an enemy combatant to the powers that be. They might just treat you as a criminal if they don’t want to acknowledge the war. Or they may go ahead and acknowledge the war and brand you a traitor. In either case, you are pledging “your life, your fortune, and your sacred honor” to that cause.
If you aren’t ready to do that, then keep your protest peaceful, and stay far away from those who do not.