The roots of the Capitol riot in the New Left

They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. If that’s true, the fanatics, thrill-seekers and lunatics who stormed the Capitol a year ago today have some surprising precursors.

The respectable backgrounds of many rioters did not bear much resemblance to the “peasant army” that populist commentator Patrick Buchanan threatened to lead against the political establishment in the 1990s. Their anarchic tactics were not reminiscent of “suburban warriors” either. highly organized flocking to Reagan. More than the public faces of the post-war American right, the theatrical flair, indifference to law and established authority, and the threat of serious violence exhibited on January 6 resemble the New Left of the years. 1960 and 1970. The defiant, moralistic and revolutionary spirit that animated the Yippies, Weathermen and Black Panthers has not disappeared, but it now lives on the right too.

Such a migration would have seemed unlikely half a century ago. In the popular imagination, the era pitted radicals with long hair against a stilted majority. The Conservatives wore ties and followed the rules. Young activists from civil rights and anti-war movements practiced free love, fought the police and sometimes detonated bombs. Moreover, unlike the “old left” allied with the unions, the new generation had little interest in promoting the material prosperity of industrial workers, whom they saw as accomplices of capitalism, or in winning elections. “We will not defeat America [sic] by organizing a political party, “proclaimed Abbie Hoffman in a mixture of menace and humor that was once distinctive, but has now become eerily familiar.” We will do this by building a new nation – a nation as strong as the leaf of marijuana. “

Liberal institutions have likened these defiant gestures to the epic self-righteousness of the baby boomers. In the recent Netflix production The Chicago 7 trial, director Aaron Sorkin portrayed Hoffman and his contemporaries as talkative idealists subject to official repression. Angela Davis – who supplied arms to activists who murdered a judge and took hostages in a California courtroom and strolled with Communist leaders in Cuba, East Germany and the Soviet Union – has become quite respectable. Last November, she was the guest of honor at a “diversity summit” organized by the university where I teach.

The Conservatives have better memories of the extreme extremes of these numbers. That’s why names like Bill Ayers, who founded the Weather Underground terrorist group, and Herbert Marcuse, who taught Davis’ philosophy, and Saul Alinsky, who tried (unsuccessfully) to reconcile the old and the new. left, have acquired prominent positions in the demonology of the right. . According to writers like Newt Gingrich, Norman Podhoretz and Mark Levin – as well as less famous talk shows, bloggers and social media influencers – the modern Democratic Party is little more than a vehicle for the aspiration of the new left to fundamentally transform America.

Especially in the more sordid versions, such claims are easy to dismiss as conspiracy theories or guilt by association. What critics tend to miss, however, is that they’re inspired by envy as well as revulsion. Conservative writers and activists are almost unanimous in rejecting the goals of the New Left. But many see them as the authors of a Instruction guide for having imposed an unpopular and disruptive program on an initially recalcitrant majority. The flamboyance, activism and violence of the left of the 1960s may not have worked right away, after all. In the long run, however, ideas about social justice, national guilt, and sexual freedom that seemed bizarre and dangerous at the time are now quite common features of American life.

This is not just a historical argument. Even as they spoke out against violence and destruction, Conservative activists could see the riots that swept across the country following the death of George Floyd in the spring of 2020 as offering both clearance and a model for the explosions that peaked in Capitol on January 6, 2021 In criminal justice matters, violence inspired by questionable factual claims promulgated by ideologically radical groups was not only excused, but celebrated by the media, culture and, to some extent, the establishment Politics. If the end justifies the means for those who seek to transform America, why could they not do the same for those who seek to preserve it?

Probably few actual rioters consciously associated their conduct with the leftism of another time. Many, and perhaps most sincerely, believed that Trump was the victim of massive voter fraud that changed the results. But some of those responsible for spreading this fantasy knew exactly what they were doing. Writer and organizer David Horowitz, who made a career of transitioning from the New Left to MAGA, helped start Steve Bannon and used his own platform to promote election conspiracy theories. As his contemporaries and former allies Ron Radosh and Sol Stern noted in The New Republic, Horowitz’s conception of domestic political warfare against an implacable enemy “may sound daring and original to Trump supporters, but it is in fact a resumption of his earlier support for the revolutionary left’s strategy of ‘bringing back war at home “on the streets and campuses of America”.

Similar ideas have found advocates without Horowitz’s biographical connection to the New Left. Personalities associated with the influential Claremont Institute have also embraced the rhetoric of an emerging war against a fundamentally hostile “regime” and unfortunately accepted by most of their fellow citizens. Despite calls for patriotism and solidarity, this is not Richard Nixon’s “silent majority” policy. As Matt Lewis has described it, the newer, weirder right wing that made its public debut on January 6 doesn’t look much like the staid conservatism of just a decade ago. It looks more like the gonzo nihilism of Abby Hoffman and his comrades, who hoped to demolish “Amerika” and replace it with a fuzzy utopia.

Such dreams are almost always unfulfilled, however. Despite all their success in changing the way Americans viewed race and gender, the New Left never succeeded in shaking the capitalist economy which was its real enemy. This is why big business is among the most generous promoters of social progressivism that conservatives hate.

In remarkable irony, socialist journalist Christian Parenti recently tracked down the author of the first written account of a “privilege march” – a conspicuously anti-oppression training exercise developed by Herbert graduate student Marcuse and his third wife, who has become an essential element of corporate diversity. industry. She’s now a Mark Levin fan and a Republican voter who thinks Trump is the only thing standing between us and totalitarian control. Fifty years ago, a toxic mix of paranoia, Manichaeism, and rejection of legal and constitutional restrictions left a trail of bodies, ruined lives, and corrupt institutions that have discredited the left for a generation or more. A year on 1/6, it is still too early to know what catastrophes this threatens for the right – and the country as a whole.

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