Why Democrats must confront extreme left wing incitement to violence
After two Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies were shot in their heads last Saturday night, a small group of protesters gathered at the hospital where the two deputies were being treated (they are expected to survive). According to an eyewitness, some protesters were chanting “death to the police, kill the police, and they were using all types of curse words and derogatory terms about the police.”
The suspect in the shootings has not been arrested and his motives are unknown. But the ugly scene outside the hospital is a good reason to examine extreme leftwing hate speech and incitement to violence. In fact, according to a just-released report, this type of rhetoric is rapidly spreading on extreme left social media.
The report, titled “Network-Enabled Anarchy,” was prepared by the independent Network Contagion Research Institute, which tracks hate speech across social media, in collaboration with the Miller Center for Community Protection and Resilience at Rutgers University. The report is a follow up to an earlier NCRI study of the “boogaloos,” an extreme rightwing movement bent on starting a second Civil War. Boogaloos, according to charges brought against several of them by federal prosecutors, plotted to firebomb a U.S. Forest Service facility and killed a security officer at a federal courthouse.
For that reason, it bears emphasis that extreme rightwing groups, especially white supremacists and terrorists like the boogaloos, by far pose the greatest threat of violence. Since 2010, more than five times as many people have been killed by rightwing violence as by leftwing violence.
But as the NCRI report found, the online structure supporting what it calls “anarcho-socialist extremism” is expanding rapidly. In the last few months, coinciding with the overwhelmingly peaceful social justice protests following the death of George Floyd, Twitter posts with anti-police outrage and/or memes and coded language with hateful rhetoric increased 1000 percent.
A popular far left code word is “ACAB,” which most typically stands for “All Cops Are Bastards.” One meme cited by the NCRI report has a picture of a burning police car with the caption, “As Crispy as Bacon,” whose initials also form ACAB. Code words like ACAB or associated code such as “FTP,” or “f–k or fight the police,” were sprayed on government buildings, courthouses and statues, and throughout the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone in Seattle, a neighborhood beset with disorder and violence after the police withdrew from it in the face of protests.
More ominously, the NCRI report suggests that leftwing anarchist networks may have mounted a coordinated online campaign that played a role in the violence that marred otherwise peaceful social justice protests in July in Portland and Eugene in Oregon, Seattle, Washington and Richmond, Virginia. “Tactical activity including the use of lasers, projectiles, arson and improvised explosives and fireworks, showed remarkable uniformity across all four cities.”
The NCRI report should be a wake-up call for Democrats, especially progressive politicians like Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), whose social justice credentials carry enormous credibility, to clearly acknowledge and condemn extreme leftwing incitement. Until now Democrats, including the Biden campaign, have condemned violence against police in a general way. (After the shootings of the Los Angeles deputies, Biden stated that “violence of any kind is wrong”) without calling specific attention to extreme leftwing incitement.) Bland statements are not enough.
Perhaps Democrats are afraid of leaving the impression of a false equivalency between extreme right and leftwing violence. Perhaps they are fearful that acknowledging the threat posed by extreme left wing incitement gives credibility to Trump’s false narrative that Democrat-run cities are burning because of leftwing violence (they are not burning) and his promotion of outlandish conspiracy theories, such as that people in “the dark shadows” allegedly control Joe Biden.
These are fair concerns, but nonetheless Democrats, especially the high-profile progressives such as Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez, cannot responsibly ignore the growing threat from extreme leftwing incitement. The NCRI report expressed concern that protests for social justice reform are “being increasingly overtaken by violent resistance to the police,” with the “possibility of a mass casualty event.” If that happens, Donald Trump will be the only one who benefits.
Gregory J. Wallance, a writer in New York City, was a federal prosecutor during the Carter and Reagan administrations. He is the author of the historical novel, “Two Men Before the Storm: Arba Crane’s Recollection of Dred Scott and the Supreme Court Case That Started The Civil War.” Follow him on Twitter at @gregorywallance.