The last round of police violence to have convulsed the US speaks to a normalisation of state violence towards minorities.
Violence is a strange word in the American lexicon. In a society that views itself as exceptional, the use of violence in the furtherance of domestic political ends is seen as both practically impossible and morally impermissible.
This idea, in the mainstream, is now strained for two primary reasons.
The first is that the American far-right, further radicalised in the last ten years, is willing to engage in violence against people in defense of its perceived place in American society.
The second reason is that the sustained erosion of civil society and basic overtures of democracy has created an environment where peaceful agitation is no longer able to secure an end to police murders of unarmed Black people.
The duality of right-wing violence and the ineffectiveness of agitation that is “respectable” (i.e. does not destroy property) means that the United States is entering into a period where violence against people in furtherance of politics is normalised and ultimately acceptable.
As protests rage on the dialectical relationship between the far-right embrace of violence and the inability of reform without property destruction means that an escalation is inevitable.
The far-right is composed of many different groups and formations, but they generally share an affinity for reactionary White protestant identity politics and/or an outlook driven by conspiratorial propaganda.
While these tendencies seem marginal, they speak to long-standing anxieties in White small-town and suburban America about the perceived loss of White protestant hegemony domestically, and the collapse of American empire globally.
These anxieties provided the cultural and eventual political fuel for the War on Drugs, mass incarceration, police killings of unarmed black men, and the rise of Donald Trump.
These tendencies emerged initially as raw reactions to the “disruption” of the Civil Rights period and culminated in the Republican Party pursuing President Nixon’s Southern Strategy of efficiently exploiting implicit racial anxieties and explicit racial biases for political gain.
This strategy was employed to galvanise the right-wing Evangelical Christian base of the Republican Party on “wedge” issues like abortion and gay marriage.
The rise of Donald Trump is accompanied and facilitated by decades of far-right infiltration into law enforcement, the military and many other such institutions.
This infiltration takes the form of individuals who hold these beliefs entering into these societal institutions that can legitimately employ the violence of the state, particularly the police and National Guard, and the normalisation of far-right extremist beliefs in mainstream media outlets such as the Fox News Network.
The far-right is also organised into many militias and paramilitary groupings that are both clandestine and simultaneously banal in appealing to the frustrations of the base of the Republican Party. This indicates a degree of political sophistication and organisation that is not present among progressives and “the Left.”
With Donald Trump as the living embodiment of the Republican Party, the far-right in America has a unifying narrative, well-armed civilian factions, support within the police, support within the rank-and-file of the military, and a fearful racially reactionary voting base anxious about the loss of power that comes with the “decline” of Whiteness in America.
Given these facts, it is no surprise that in the US all extremist killings in 2018 were carried out by right-wing extremists.
The ongoing mass protests, sparked by the filmed murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer, are overwhelmingly peaceful, yet it is undeniable that property destruction has accompanied the protests.
While people debate who is really engaging in property destruction, it is clear that the protests are not calling for revolutionary change, but are invoking the most basic human call for the dignity and respect of Black life.
Killings of unarmed black people became the rallying cry of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement after the murder of Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown, Eric Garner and countless others.
While all but right-wing media cautiously entertain the rallying cry of the current protests, the BLM movement, as of 2016, did not have widespread support within the American population.
BLM, the slogan and the movement, which effectively is a modest call for police reforms and the American promise of equality under the law for black people, became a part of the national conversation because of the property destruction that occurred during protests in places like Ferguson, Baltimore and Charlotte.
Without a spectacle of fires and looting, there would be no national discourse on police murders of Black people and the systemic brutality that sustains such killings.
Yet, despite years of rallies, policy proposals and reform efforts, under President Obama and President Trump, police murders of unarmed black people at the national level, and the systems that reinforce it, have continued unabated.
The combination of deliberate police attacks on journalists at the current protests, President Trump’s rhetoric calling for the use of lethal force against protesters who engage in property destruction, deployment of the National Guard across the country, and the lack of action to address the devastating economic effects of Covid-19 on an economy already rife with inequality is dynamite in a pressure cooker.
The last few decades of world history show that a strongman flanked by his armed and fearful following plus widespread anger about injustice equals the normalisation of political violence on all sides. This is the formula for civil war.
In this scenario, the side that is the most well organised and efficient at carrying out violence against “enemy” populations, absent a mass mobilisation of everyone else, wins.
In the case of America, analysed without its myth of exceptionalism, this is undoubtedly the far-right.
Avoiding this scenario becomes ever more elusive the more things escalate in the comings days and months leading up to the 2020 elections.
If those of us who are against a far-right vision of tomorrow would like to alter this trajectory, strategic and dedicated organisation in solidarity with all people who are opposed to this vision is the only way out.
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