Violent Protests are Hurting the Liberal Cause


This article was originally published last year by in response to political riots during Donald Trump's presidential campaign. In response to recent political violence associated with the Antifa movement, an edited version of that article is republished here.

On April 28th 2016, Donald Trump held a rally in Costa Mesa, California ahead of that state’s June 7th primary vote. During the rally, another burst of violence broke out among those who were present protesting the event. According to a report by the Washington Post and several videos of the event, the protestors attacked riot police, smashed police cars, and violently bloodied at least one Trump supporter who was in attendance. Twenty of the protestors were eventually arrested and many people being injured—thankfully none were injured seriously.

This event is the continuation of a series of violent clashes this political season between liberal protestors and and Donald Trump supporters. The most infamous incident happened back at the beginning of March when protesters successfully shut down a rally Trump was meant to hold in Chicago ahead of Illinois primary.  This demonstration turned violent as rioting broke out in the streets after the announcement of the cancelation of the event. As supporters of the divisive candidate and liberal demonstrators clashed in the streets, the Chicago rally became one of the most talked about political events of this entire campaign season. There was also the incident in when anti-Trump protestors shut down a highway leading to a rally that was being held in Fountain Hills, Arizona—when protesters blocked traffic not only for those who were attending the rally but also for everyone else using the road. Three people were arrested at that event and thankfully no violence broke out.

The recent violence in California has sparked a new conversation about the role of protestors at these events and the effectiveness of their actions at influencing the narrative around the presidential candidates. One thing should be clear, however: violent outbursts of the nature that we saw in Costa Mesa and Chicago are hurting the liberal cause. Everyone should be appalled at these demonstrations. They have no place in modern political discourse. But those who should be most worried are those who position themselves in agreement with the demonstrators. If the left believes it has a duty to oppose the violent and hateful rhetoric coming from Donald Trump and his supporters, then it has a duty to not fall into those same actions themselves.

This kind of violent and riotous behavior from the liberal demonstrators does nothing except undermine the real and valuable message that the majority of those protesting are trying to spread. It is a major distraction from real issues. By all accounts, those in California and in Chicago who were engaging in this violent behavior were only a small minority of the total number of the people protesting Mr. Trump’s message. This kind of behavior also gives an image to the media and to the public at large that any form of protest against Donald Trump and his message is without substance and only seeks to cause trouble.

This regressive form of protest also serves as a divisive marker in the liberal movement itself. This violence drives away many moderates who are sympathetic to the cause championed by these protestors but are unwilling to support the rioting. These protests are also almost exclusively orchestrated and attended by those who would consider themselves far left. After the violence in Chicago many supporters of Senator Bernie Sanders were bragging that they were the ones who sparked the events. "Everyone, get your tickets to this. We're all going in!!!! #SHUTITDOWN,”  Ja'Mal Green, a Sanders supporter posted on Facebook before the event. This kind of action is what moderate liberals do not support. Peaceful protest is one thing, and make no mistake Donald Trump’s message deserves to be peacefully protested, but actively stifling political speech is not a liberal ideal. It is counter to the liberal platform. More and more moderates will begin to distance themselves from these far left protestors until they are left alone with no support from any part of the political spectrum. When these protestors no longer have the support of the broader liberal base because their protests turned into violent outbursts similar to those exhibited by Trump supporters themselves, the entire message begins to completely lose legitimacy.

These violent outbursts give conservatives nothing but ammunition to fire back at the faces of liberals who demand that the political right are the ones who are causing political division. Many will remember the series of tweets that Donald Trump sent out following the Chicago riots. “Be careful Bernie.”  he said, threatening to send people to disrupt the Senator’s own political rallies. But platitudes from Trump are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to conservative criticism of these events. The headline from the New York Post on April 29th read, “California chaos: Rioters storm the streets to protest Trump.” “Chaos,” “Storm,” and “Rioters” are words that liberals absolutely should not want to have associated with their message. Additionally, headlines like these seem tame in comparison to the more ardently conservative media. The far right-wing news site Breitbart ran the headline “Meet Hillary Clinton’s Not-So-Secret Weapon” accompanied by a picture of a bloodied man in Trump t-shirt during the violence in California.  “Hillary Clinton will also benefit from the support of a community of organized thugs, miscreants and academically poisoned zombies.” The article shows videos of the violent outbursts which took place in Costa Mesa. This is the image that conservatives are getting of liberals—where the left has become a mob of unabashedly violent extremists. Why do liberals need to give conservatives this kind of ammunition? They don’t, and that’s the problem.

It seems that with this election season, the old liberal adage of protesting—where peaceful protest equals good and rioting equals bad, has been blurred. As leftists have confused this point more and more, the primary outcome is that the concept of disruption has replaced demonstration. In the minds of many on the left, it is no longer enough to simply speak out and make your voice heard or be present in opposition of an idea. Instead, you must violently react to that idea and push back with the same methods that you are seeing employed by your opponents. Demonstration is making your voice heard, putting out your message, and giving exposing your ideas to others. Disruption is the activity stifling speech. It is marching in and making so much noise that the other side is no longer able to conduct themselves. By stopping the other’s message, many leftists have come to the conclusion that their platform will be better heard. But in most cases, it is just the opposite. Stifling speech is no way to run a liberal democracy. In doing so, liberals are suppressing their own rights without even seeming to realize it. One could only imagine the reaction from the left if violent conservative riots erupted outside of venues where President Obama was speaking during his elections. The outrage would be universal. The cries of censorship and anger over the suppression of first amendment rights would be near deafening in the liberal press. However, there has been almost no liberal introspection when it comes to the suppression of speech being propagated towards Donald Trump and his supporters.

Is Donald Trump a victim in this? Not necessarily. Donald Trump has incited violence. One of the most succinct summaries of the violent rhetoric that Trump has spread comes from Rachel Maddow, who in the aftermath of the Chicago rally attempted to explain how he drums up the violent actions of his supporters. The violence incited by Trump at his rallies and the violence of his supporters against others is perhaps the most important thing happening in American politics right now and could shape the future of this country in horrifying ways. Liberals must stand up to this political violence without committing the same sins.

If liberals are to stand up and present themselves as the more mature and pragmatic party compared to the GOP, then they must act that way. They must embrace liberal ideology in all aspects of their behavior. Liberal ideology bases itself in the basic principles of enlightenment philosophy which founded this nation. The concepts of free speech and free expression are essential to a functioning democracy. Donald Trump and his supporters have the right to express their views and the left has equal rights to express their opposition in kind. The left must not fall to its lower vices. It must mount a coordinated, mature, and upstanding protest movement if it wishes to be effective in countering any narrative put forward by the right. Suppression of speech, and violence serves no other purpose than to drive a further wedge in American political discourse, and it should have no place in American politics. 

Zachary Sizemore is the Managing Editor at Sojourn Review. You can follow him on Twitter here.