August 22, 2017

Why counter protests don't work

Rick Gell, AlterNet - The Charlottesville police, according to Doug Stanglin of USA Today, estimated 2,000 to 6,000 marchers would attend before the event, billed by organizers as the biggest gathering of alt-right, white nationalists, KKK and neo-Nazis in decades.

In 1926, 50,000 KKK marched down Pennsylvania Avenue. Adjusted for current population, that would be close to 150,000 people today. A march before commercial air travel that did not include other groups. Today, Unite the Right has the benefit of a well-oiled, online ecosystem and convenient transit to bring supporters together.

And all they could muster were 500 people.

Without counter-protesters, without violence, there would be no blanket cable news coverage. And probably no innocent deaths. Might the headline have read “Unite the Right march fizzles"? What if the Democratic response was “70 years ago, 50,000 KKK marched down Pennsylvania Avenue, and today white nationalists, neo-Nazis and other alt-right groups combined, could barely muster 500 people. And while one Nazi is one too many, these are troubled, fringe people with an ideology America abhors.”

...Counter-protesting is confrontational, counter-productive and a troubling trend, if every protest in America is now going to be a head-to-head stand-off. A near impossible scenario for law enforcement and first responders.

Any psychology student can cite studies about how people act in a mob and it ain’t pretty. People are pumped-up, taunting each other, and more prone to take actions they might not take in less heated circumstances. Counter-protests put two groups, who may hate each other, together face-to-face at a moment of heightened emotions.

It is simply a prescription for violence. 

A counter-protest by its very existence is going to make an event bigger. In Charlottesville, the number of counter-protesters was double the size of the original protesters, greatly increasing the magnitude of the event. Yes, in Boston the counter-protest was so large the nationalist event didn’t even occur, but in Charlottesville opponents met and violence did happen. Incumbent candidates avoid direct engagement with challengers for a reason. Why legitimize a lesser, fringe candidate? Sharing the stage always places the lesser opponent on a more equal plain.


Claudia Woodman said...

Baloney. This is a very 1990s idea that does not fit our new reality, because ignoring these people did not in fact make them go away.

Anonymous said...

There is no "new reality" this is the same old (very old) human reality. There is no strategy that will "in fact make them go away". The horrible truth is that, as humans, we are all capable of narrow minded bigotry and paranoid hatred just as we are all capable of tenderness and compassion. The difference in our outcomes is foretold mainly by; "which beast do we feed". Right now the "fear and suspicion" beast has been in a glut while our "greater angels" have been experiencing a bit of a lean period.

I think the above article is encouraging thoughtful people to consider that their own efforts and good intentions can sometimes simply lead to more fuel for the fire they had intended to squelch.

It is important for those with a real sense of social justice and fellowship to "show up" and to voice their support for those whose voices these hate groups would hope to silence but it is equally important to be mindful and apply our energies towards efforts that have real, beneficial outcomes.

Shouting matches in the streets with bigots and neo-fascists rarely have "beneficial outcomes".

Tom Puckett said...

I think the point Sam is making understands that a few didn't go away but they are so marginal as to be insignificant.

It takes two to tango. What if they gave a war, protest, Presidential Election with only fools running, and no one came?

Fighting for peace is like fornicating for chastity.

What if they did march down the street chanting this or that and no one looked their way.

Its easy to just shout against what are already known to be bad ideas, but how about doing something - put up solar panels, spend the money it took to get there to shout on something constructive, etc...?

Cheers, Tom

Anonymous said...

Of course they didn't go away -- their membership and actions serve a deep-seated need in them.

Confrontation encourages them, because it tells them that they're *important* and *worthy* of being opposed.

Whereas ignoring them or laughing at them would tell them that they are *not* important enough to merit opposition, or that their pretense of importance is so far from reality that it's actually ludicrous and even, perhaps, delusional.

Anonymous said...

The giant counter protest in Boston is exactly what needed to happen. It's very easy for someone behind a computer to say counter protestors shouldn't show up, but then why wouldn't the "alt-right" be emboldened for greater public displays of hate, if they marched unopposed. These "alt-right" followers would think they have the complicity if not support of the general populace, if they marched unopposed.

In Charlottsville, because of the violence, the "alt-right" is finally being taken seriously as domestic terrorists. The FBI had voiced concerns about the growing body of white supremacist domestic terrorists , and the presence of "alt-right" fanatics in police forces, way back in 2005.

Claudia Woodman said...

Yes, it is a new reality that in this supposedly enlightened age we have a president explicitly backing extremist racist groups. Given that they are receiving support from the top, they need to be resisted by anti-racist activists, and liberal tone policing of tactics has grown so tiresome that many activists are no longer willing to hold hands and sign kumbaya, or ignore these people in the hopes that all they want is attention. Unfortunately, they want more than attention. Find a better excuse for inaction if you can, I am not sure that there is any excuse.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for a thoughtful piece. Totally agree that counter protests only empower those being protested against. If no one paid attention, they'd go home disappointed and give up. Instead, they flourish on the confrontation and attention.

It's a simplistic view that these people will assume they have support if no one challenges them. They don't care if they have support, they just want ATTENTION and, even better, people they can engage, bait, fight with.

I just don't understand what about that is so hard for so many to grasp.