Rules for Democracy-Rescuers
Reflections on a Mask-Mandate Protest Gone Bad
The Context: A Second Wave of Lockdown Despotism
Covid-19-wise, the last few weeks have been ones of general confusion, and on the right, ones of white-hot anger.
The confusion stems from the spread of the Delta variant, with all the usual additional confusion caused by alarmist government and media presentations/manipulations of the data added on top—which in turn provoke various debunkings, often ones of an overdone, too-confident, or too-conspiratorial character. This occurred precisely at the same time that evidence from a number of quarters was giving us greater uncertainty about the effectiveness (and alas, the side-effects also) of the vaccines, and reason to think the vaccines may have been, going back to their trial runs last fall, the key factor that precipitated the variants. (This last idea is the “leaky vaccine hypothesis”—for a quick review, this snarky video can’t be beat.) I should also mention, for what it’s worth, that Dr. Fauci, who should have been forced to resign given what’s emerged in recent months about his obvious conflict-of-interest problems regarding his public statements on CV-19 policy, has been justifying his recent recommendation to retain mandatory masking in schools, by saying that there is evidence that Delta might spread particularly rapidly among the young. Do recognize that whoever is feeding Fauci that hypothesis may turn out to be right, such that we may see an upswing of cases of “junior gave unvaccinated granny the bug that killed her.” Much about what Delta and the other variants are going to do remains in the dark.
The white-hot anger on the right is by and large, justified. It is proceeding directly out of shock, shock that many of our governments used the Delta scare to swing so immediately back into strict measures, many of whose effectiveness has been largely disproved. Mask mandates in schools are only the most front-line of these measures. This happened at the precise same time when the memos went out about the unvaccinated, and suddenly, commentator after commentator ditched the long pretense that they would respect everyone’s decision, and ideas of harming the unvaccinated via segregationist-like measures, including hiring/firing discrimination, were discussed everywhere, and without shame. And such measures were adopted by quite a few governments and institutions. Here also, there is confusion and rancor at every level. Some airlines say no vaccination-requirements for their employees, others adopt them. My home state of Utah had passed a law prohibiting hiring/firing discrimination on vax-status—but evidence now emerges of a way around that law, and of multiple firms and institutions openly discriminating.
There had long been discussion of vax-passports and similar employment discrimination. I had assumed there would be some of that, but like many things, when it actually arrived, when I began to read stories of flesh-and-blood humans losing their jobs, the shock I felt was profound. I felt surprised: “How could our society have come to this?!” I tend to frown on comparing these things to Nazi measures, wanting there instead to be different levels of outrage for decidedly different levels of despotism, but the comparisons of this sort were inevitable. I have myself been thinking about how the passports and the firings amount to a de facto dual citizenship status, and thinking back to Justice Harlan’s dissent against the most infamous experiment in the American tradition with such.
And lingering over all debate was the horrible, deeply-troubling example of what was unfolding in Australia. Open despotism largely backed by public opinion.
This sudden—and clearly coordinated—response to Delta felt like a nasty trick, where a number of concessions were grudgingly made by a number of governments back in April-June when it appeared the vaccination strategy was going to work, were suddenly revoked, and once again with no formal public discussion and debate. In June and early July, some people even began celebrating that freedom, and I noticed a few songs were released that spoke about the lockdowns in retrospective terms. But in a rewind right back to March 2020, we were subjected to this drum-beat from authorities and legacy media which all spoke as if it were undeniable what we had to do, given the latest info, and this info would then be alarmist-ly announced. So many cases, so close to running out of beds here or there, blah-blah-blah…
And it was as if these authorities and those who supported them had learned nothing about the ineffectiveness of many key lockdown policies, even after the data from Sweden and Florida, and had done no reflective or repentant thinking. Many of them were quite evidently shocked that, after repeating the slogans about vaccination for so long, and in what to them must have seemed in a nice way, that no thank you, many of their fellow citizens would remain unvaccinated. For a few weeks from mid-July to the present they indulged themselves in rather high-handed anger against the unvaxxed—a good deal of that will continue, obviously, but as far as I can understand things amid the current confusion, the entire case for if-we-all-work-together-on-this-we-can-arrive-at-herd-immunity is shot to hell by the latest info about the vaccinated being able to spread the variants. I’m not saying that the unvaxxed don’t have a duty to carefully consider the best collective-interest arguments being made, but what I am saying is that the return of so many pro-lockdown types to open rhetorical demonization of those who disagree with them, and now, with the added all-too-concrete stick of second-class citizenship for the unvaxxed, is disgusting, ugly, and reveals that yes, this is about much more than getting the best pandemic policy in place.
While the current easy acceptance of vaccine passports is the true stunner to those of us on the anti-lockdown side, and must be the top issue, we are more puzzled by the current panic’s relation to mask-mandates. On this issue, the group-think seems particularly needless. Many of us were polite about masks for a long time, but from at least July of 2020, when this viral video was released, most of us knew that either they didn’t work, or at best, perhaps supplied the tiniest of marginal benefit. No studies have emerged that clearly establish their effectiveness. And as far as the issue of masks being mandated for school-children, parents in many districts were already at the point of open rebellion by April of this year—for one thing, quite a few studies now document the real social, educational, health, and developmental harms—even including facial development harms!—of masking children, and everyone now knows that even if kids can spread the virus, the risk it poses to them is near the one-in-a-million range. So it is beginning to look like a form of mass child abuse. And given the way most teacher unions are again, after everything, including all the lost trust and ongoing turmoil about CRT, threatening to hold the return to in-person instruction hostage to the continued wearing of these stinking masks, it is beginning to look like the rawest of power plays. Submit, parents. Submit, you: BE KIND.
One could be polite about mandated masks for a long time, but it is necessary at this point to be firm about the fact that, whatever other harms they involve, they have become a symbol of personal submission and conformity. (For those who know the famous Vaclav Havel essay, a strong case can be made that they are now the “green grocer’s sign” of our time.) Outside of situations where we might comfort a deluded yet vulnerable-to-the-virus person, who has politely requested that we wear one, I and most others right of center are 100% done with the mask. Done not only because we are tired of them, but also, as a matter of fundamental political principle. And we cannot believe those of our fellow citizens, who, after all we have learned, are still finding new ways to demand that we submit to this gesture of feigning agreement.
The Protest Event in Question
I do hope our Postmodern Conservative readers know about, and regularly consult, the news-aggregation site that became the replacement for the Drudge Report once it went sour, Citizen Free Press. Its usual pattern of reporting stories using videos was particularly important in the summer of 2020, when legacy media, and in this case including Fox on most nights, simply refused to report on the extent and severity of the rioting.
This last week, CFP reported on a school-board meeting protest in Williamson County, Tennessee. The initial reporting and video of this protest of parents against a possible mask mandate, made it look very inspiring. Indeed, from my point of view, all the four videos seen in this CFP collection all bear witness to an effective, and I think appropriately impassioned protest. No more masks!!! No more masks!!! No more masks!!! Will not comply!!! Will not comply!!! Will not comply!!! YES, parents, you tell ‘em! (The school board members eventually voted at this meeting for a policy that requires masks for students, staff and visitors inside buildings and buses at the elementary level.) And if, as I suspect, these school board members and admins are guilty of a systematic refusal to consult your opinion, or to grant it the respect it deserves, you should remember that forever, so as to vote the bad board members out, and to have their replacements fire the non-elected officials most responsible for this pattern of anti-democracy and anti-parent governance.
But unfortunately, another video soon emerged, which shows how two of the protesters, apparently leaders, reacted when the board members and others at the meeting emerged from the building. These two let fly a useful kind of manly outrage, but alas, they make statements that are right on the line of being threats of future punitive political action or actual threats of violence:
“You are child abusers! You have a place in Hell! You will never be allowed in public again! We know who you are, you can leave freely but we will find you.”
Some of these statements are from the one guy, others from the other. The second guy, the one who is trying to restrain the guy in the black shirt, get him to back-off from thrusting his finger into the school-board member’s face, and trying to keep the protesters from doing the BLM-like thing of blocking his car’s exit, is actually the one who utters the most threat-like statements: we will find you. And what can he mean by saying you will never be allowed in public again? Probably, merely, that “we will organize against you so strongly that you will never win another election to anything in this area again,” which is a political threat that I suspect I would endorse also, assuming I knew the ins and outs of the Williamson County debate here. But note that it can easily be interpreted as, “we will verbally abuse you whenever we see you in public, and may physically attack you.” The threat of violence is in it.
I had joined other CFP commenters in saluting the initial video, and in that one I really liked the way the guy in the black shirt was stirring the crowd up, but once I saw this one, which CFP did later add, I said the following:
Alas, there was a downside to this otherwise most-inspiring protest. Some protesters, perhaps leaders, threatened medical witnesses and board members with doxxing and unspecified retaliation. Populist-conservatives: DISCIPLINE. Don’t play into their hands. Renounce all on-offense violence in politics or the threat thereof. Demand that protest leaders do the work needed to quickly restrain or reprimand rogue protest action that does or threatens on-offense violence. Refuse to attend protests organized by leaders who repeatedly fail this test. The two men clearly guilty in this video of the threats must be sternly warned by the other anti-maskers: you are not permitted to organize protests, and we will sternly invite you to leave any future protest we hold unless you promise to do no more than to join general chants. If you fail one more time, permanent exclusion from our movement.
Maybe I was little too demanding of the protesters there, but in any case, I rec’d ten “thumbs-downs” marks from CFPers for my pains. So I tried to clarify in a second post, trying to make sure readers saw both videos:
Look at the video I link to in the (vile) Esquire piece. …That video is where you will see the clear examples of threats. LOOK, and think. We cannot win if we allow our hotheads to regularly do this. We might as well be sending bag-loads of money to BLM/Soros than to allow this. Their entire media operation is ready to swing into 24/7 constant play and outrage the very first time some knucklehead loses his cool and pummels a medical doctor at a meeting. We are not going to save our democracy if we cannot gain control over our own (justified!) rage. We have to discipline ourselves. There is no point moaning about BLM leaders allowing their protests to go violent, or violence-threatening, if we cannot insist on protest leaders on our side who make stern efforts. Half our battle here is one of persuasion. CHANNEL the anger. Or lose.
That was met with this retort, from one “USAV82C”:
…chanting does not get their attention. A little fear and intimidation goes a long way. You don’t have to be violent, which they weren’t. And I believe it was more of a warning. You really think they care if even 10,000 showed up? No. But a little fear will really make them think about the stupid (political) decisions they are making…
What do you think? Was I more in the right? Or the CFP-readers like this one?
Rules for Democracy-Rescuers
Yesterday I attended a “Health Freedom Rally” protest event in Salt Lake City, sponsored by the group Utah Revival. (If you live in Utah, see their fb page and join us for future actions!)
But my life is mostly a quiet one, and presently, my main project is working on a book, to be titled Democracy-Rescue in America: Strategy, Constitutionalism, and Political Philosophy. It won’t be a quiet book, however, and this is the first time I’ve unveiled any of its contents. Here are a few paragraphs from the Introduction which describe its overall purposes:
Democracy, even in America, is in grave danger. Those of us who sense this, even if we have been fairly uninterested in politics up to this point in our lives, have a duty to dedicate ourselves to its rescue. …
…The main call, to recapitulate, is for democracy-rescuers to do the intellectual work that will give them a solid sense of what it means to stand for democracy in our times, that is, the work which will equip them with a political philosophy and an approach to constitutionalism that will guide their strategic decisions.
But a number of secondary calls are wrapped up in this one, and the most important of these is pitched to conservatives. It urges them to more fully recognize their duty to defend, and even to celebrate, democratic government. I offer an understanding of political philosophy that allows the conservative to be less conflicted about this duty, and an understanding of America’s constitutional order that allows him to place greater emphasis on its democratic aspects. I do so because I think such adjusted understandings are simply truer, but also because they can ground the newer populism, or to speak more strictly, the newer populist-aspect of conservatism, in something more solid than an imitation of Trump’s intuitions or a merely reactive stance of “anti-elitism.” I say the cause of democracy itself, shored up and set limits by the cause of one’s own nation, should become the defining feature of today’s populism.
In the service of these calls, the book will provide extended discussions of Tocqueville, Aristotle, The Federalist, originalism, amendment, Lawler’s “Keep Locke in the Locke-Box” constitutionalism, and the localism of Wilson Carey McWilliams, but all in an intermediate mode and pitched to those I call populist-conservatives and democracy-rescuers.
One section investigates the need for careful thinking, in an era of populist-conservative talk of a present political “revolt,” and grim talk of perhaps-needed-in-the-future emergency measures, about the topics of non-violent civil disobedience and justification of revolution. Examinations of strategic and ethical commitments of the part of the Civil Rights Movement led by Martin Luther King, and critical analysis of those commitments by the neglected Herbert Storing, will kick that off.
This section is called “Rules for Democracy-Rescuers.” I argue that our 2020-2021 times could become seen down the road as the nadir that provoked the new beginning. I think of Van Morrison’s recent call for “meetings in the forest” and a “new path to freedom,” and from late 2020, and I recall statements like these from prominent conservative writers: “Let the waters roil!” (Bruce Bawer) “We aren’t going back to the old days after the left destroyed any semblance of decency and fair play.” (David Marcus).
What worries me about this new spirit, however, is that there is a tension between the 1) idea of revolt against the power that the “oligarchs” and woke radicals now hold over so many institutions, power they were only able to win by working in apparent cooperation with old-school liberal democracy, and 2) the cause of perpetuating that same democracy (“Perpetuate” is the term he uses in a speech famous for its warnings about mob action). So put the tension this way: how can a longing for revolt be used for conservative purposes, for defending, as Lincoln did, the core democratic imperative of the rule of law?
So, what I argue for is the need to adopt a number of rules for the democracy-rescue struggle, which while they often parallel Christian imperatives, could be adopted by the less-Christian and more agnostic of the populist-conservatives, precisely because they are grounded in a consistent theory of what sustainable democracy is.
An initial step out of our confusion will be the adoption of rules that will govern our efforts to save democracy. Had the Trumpist movement adopted these earlier, the blundering disgrace [“disgrace,” not “insurrection”] of January 6th would not have occurred. I offer them in the spirit of wanting to promote the kinds of discussions populists and conservatives need to be having, and readers will forgive me if I mimic the voice of God, the better to more vividly convey them.
I then go onto offer fourteen commandments, seven of which I preview here.:
1) Thou shalt not commit or threaten to commit on-offense violence in democratic politics.
4) When you protest, you shall have clear leadership, methods for shunning tag-along agitators, and rules to limit open-carry or concealed-carry to designated individuals. The protest rally shall not be your predominant form of political action.
5) Thou shalt not say we are at civil war, and shall seek to avoid metaphorical uses of the term.
6) Thou shalt abhor those who fantasize about killing leftists; for the leftist is your misguided brother.
10) Thou shalt prioritize open and democratic forms of organization, and never organize underground cells free from oversight.
11) Thou shall be bound by strict conditions for entering into revolution, such as those articulated in the third and fourth sentences of the Declaration of Independence.
14) It is an abomination to confuse and mix revolutionary action with democratic politics.
I welcome any reader feedback or queries about these commandments, but the first is the most important one, and the one most relevant to this particular protest.
Several things prompted my formulation of the rule in that way. First and foremost was the behavior of “Blamtifa” ( to be specific: nearly all BLM chapters, BLM national, and all Antifa and allied groups) during 2020. They refused nearly all organizational steps that would have had a chance of isolating violence-seekers in their ranks, and over and over, where they did not actually destroy, burn, loot, or attack, they issued threats: they doxxed, and they showed up outside elected officials’ houses.
Early on in the Utah Revival group’s anti-lockdown protest campaign, some members cheered on the actions of some Idaho anti-lockdown protesters who held a protest outside the home of an officer who had been filmed arresting a parent for allowing her children to play on an empty playground. I was so glad and proud, when Eric Moutsos, our leader and a former policeman himself, quickly indicated that this was not our sort of protest. He immediately saw what all democracy-rescuers must, that doxxing and at-home protests are implicit threats. There is a lot of childish leftist talk about speech being violence, but protesting outside someone’s home, or shouting to them that we will find you, really is a form of intimidation. Politically speaking, it belongs to the same class as on-offense violence, and it is the kind of behavior that if it spreads, will drag us down to a Weimar Germany or late-Roman-republic type situation, where brawls and terrorist attacks become everyday “politics.”
Of course, it is “Blamtifa,” and especially the Antifa part of it, that has been bringing the violence, deliberately showing up at populist-conservative rallies with the intent of intimidation, and to unleash attacks if they can. There were five or so Proud Boys at our rally yesterday, at least two open-carrying (in a non-flashy way), probably organized by Moutsos to serve as security, just in case. I have no problem with that, and that is why my commandment is against on-offense violence. Existing populist-conservatives are quite dedicated to the 2nd Amendment and the Lockean natural right of self-defense it rests upon. For purposes of coalitional unity, and for holding non-believers to our coalition’s rules apart from religious command, we have to leave the various ethical issues raised by self-defensive violence out of the rules we articulate. We have to leave those decisions to the individual, within the bounds of the existing laws.
We cannot, as Gandhi or King did, issue statements whose most evident meaning is a total repudiation of violence. (Those who look closely will see that King, at least, was not a strict pacifist—he called for non-violence when conducting civil disobedience, and never repudiated the right of nations to authorize police and military use of deadly force.) No consistent conservatives are strict pacifists, even if some of us are obliged to bear witness to the Christian warningsthat have been raised from age to age against categorical justifications of self-defensive violence, especially those of the more preemptory kind. And regardless of Gandhi’s and King’s own beliefs, correct understanding of why both were able to attract large movements committed to non-violence depends on seeing their strategic contexts: they were seeking to win needed regime-altering legislation against two societies that were both a.) undefeatable by their side using military means, b.) potentially to be won-over if violence was not used. And when considering their aggregate and most fundamental tendencies, the very least that can be said of both of these societies, the British Empire circa 1900-1945, and the United States circa 1900-1965, is that they were comparatively more decent than most others in human history. Gandhi thus had reason to think a decisive majority of the British could be brought to grant independence to India, and King thus had reason to think that a decisive majority of Americans could be brought to grant, and to make sincere efforts to live up to, an abolition of second-class citizenship for blacks.
That is not like the strategic situation faced by populist-conservative democracy-rescuers today. Contrary to a.), they have some reason to think they have the numbers and guns necessary to successfully fight a revolutionary war, or at least one successful enough to secure an illegal secession, if sometime in the future it appears such a war is necessary to oppose a top-down destruction of America’s constitutional order.
But the present struggle to rescue democracy, while it must involve cultural and institutional aspects, is a primarily political one, a democratic one. Its very purpose is to avoid the future possibility of the cause having to become a revolutionary one, even if it accepts some preparation, on the margins, for that possibility. So it is a struggle of persuasion and coalition-building. And the drum-beat of January 6th, January 6th, January 6th, shows you one of the key strategies of the oligarchs and the woke against our efforts: paint populist-conservatives as lunatic extremists.
In such a situation, we need to think about and commit ourselves to modes of political struggle that are in harmony with democracy, and which can win over coalitional converts from non-conservatives who nonetheless are becoming worried about the current despotic tendencies.
The second chapter lays down a number of rules for democracy-rescuers, rules which will also serve to judge the actions of any political group that claims to be for democracy. …These rules are necessary, first of all, for populist-conservatives to control themselves and weed-out bad leaders. In the second place, they are necessary for enlightening those left-leaning and moderate Americans who do not yet understand how fundamentally anti-democratic the tactics employed by BLM and Antifa really are. We should seek to persuade, by words but even more so by our actions, those who adopt a false moralistic stance that decries the “extremism on both sides,” that their refusal to bluntly oppose BLM and Antifa is helping to foster the only extremist danger that is a clear and present one. We have to show those Americans that, whatever the actions of a handful, that the main body of the democracy-rescue populist-conservative movement is rigorously committed to non-violent political action, and is disciplined enough, like the King-led SCLC of old, to organize serious campaigns. If we can demonstrate such self-discipline, we will discredit groups like BLM, and hopefully, we would then see newer leftist groups whose tactics and ideology do not pose a fundamental danger to the republic begin to emerge as alternatives. ... And a third benefit is this: the fervor of our discipline will show the shadowy oligarchic class that we are a force to be reckoned with, that they cannot “handle” and suppress us by means of provoking us into the tactical errors of extremist gesture and premature violence; they must be brought to conclude, on the basis of our disciplined non-violent resistance, and also due to signs that we are prepared to conduct revolutionary war along similarly disciplined lines if they dare to make a play for outright despotism, that genuine constitutional democracy really is here to stay.
So I say those two guys at the Williamson County protest blew it. They provided video that will be used to alienate people we need to join us. They slipped into a kind of personal-threat style of politics that is, fundamentally considered, anti-democratic. It is one thing to be stern, and warn someone of the losses in social esteem and votes that their actions will earn them. But a threat of violence, even an ambiguous one, is something else. And if either of these men are Christians, they violated the Golden Rule, and the commands against careless use of the tongue in the book of James.
The anger the parents of Williamson County feel is justified. Masks forced upon their children! After all that should have been learned! I say they should want a political shake-up so tumultuous it might be metaphorically called a “revolt,” and it is natural for them to seek a way to make their fellow citizens realize that they have had it.
But this is not the way. Crisis times call for an increase of organizational and verbal discipline, and a channeling of outrage into effective actions and firm collective stands, as the examples of King, and especially of Lincoln, so vividly demonstrate.
E.g., Augustine, On Free Choice, I, 5.11-6.15. Cc. Letter 138, to Marcellinus. (Both are included in the Hackett edition of Augustine, Political Writings.)
I have in mind the famous “a thief puts you in a state of war” situation described by Locke, Second Treatise on Government, III, 18.