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Rally vs Riot by Kevin Diehl

Last year, I wrote about the destructive riots that raged all summer in cities around the country. In that blog, entitled More Than Granite and Glass, I spoke against the violence, the looting, and the vandalism of public buildings and monuments at the hands of Antifa and Black Lives Matter.

On January 6, we witnessed a similar attack on our nation’s Capitol by people who were, ostensibly, in Washington D.C. to protest the results of the November presidential election. The violence and destruction at the hands of that out-of-control mob needs to be condemned just as forcefully as the destruction and violence from last summer.

No matter how aggrieved the protestors in Washington may have felt about the recent election, there was no justification for their actions that day. None. In fact, their behavior was totally counterproductive to their cause. Whether the act was spontaneous or planned weeks in advance, those who engaged in violence, and who smashed windows and busted the doors of our magnificent Capitol building need to be prosecuted and held accountable for the crimes that were committed that day. Period.

While the riot that day was appalling and difficult to watch, it was not – as the media and the Democrats would have you believe – an armed insurrection. Claims of that sort are nothing more than hyperbole designed to score political points. In character, the events of January 6 were not much different than what we saw last year. If anything, the Washington event was less violent and less destructive than the summer riots that left more than two dozen people dead and hundreds wounded, caused a billion-plus in property damage, and crushed countless struggling business owners. The Capitol Hill riot produced fatalities and caused damage, but nowhere on the same scale. (The only fatalities were from natural causes, and one protestor was shot and killed by Capitol Hill police) Yet, it has been spun as one of the worst things we’ve ever seen in our nation’s history. That’s simply not true.

During the summer riots, very few news outlets – and almost no Democrats – criticized the violence and destruction. The events were called “mostly peaceful protests” even while fires raged and bullets flew. By contrast, the rush to condemn the Capitol Hill riot was swift and universal from both the left and the right, and from news organizations all along the political spectrum. The coverage of the event was, and remains, extensive and unrelenting. There has been a far greater effort to track down everyone and anyone who was near the Capitol that day, regardless of whether they had a hand in the destruction than there was to bring the summer rioters to justice.

Furthermore, the reaction to Capitol Hill has been over-the-top. The razor wire around the Capitol and the thousands of National Guard troops in Washington were unnecessary and provocative.

We’ve all watched this double standard play out in the media and across the political landscape. Why the dichotomy? It seems that many people feel more sympathy (or guilt?) for the historic oppression visited upon people of color than for the grievances – no matter how legitimate or deeply rooted – of the mostly white majority. Frankly, that’s a far deeper topic than I’ll attempt to cover in this blog. It touches on history, civil rights, the mainstream media, national polity, and even an examination of the human heart. Perhaps I’ll write about that another day.

For now, here’s a lesser-known example that illustrates the different reactions to both events.

On January 7, the day after Capitol Hill, a prominent local bar association issued a statement that it sent to all its members. Here’s what the statement said:

“Our nation’s Constitution guarantees every citizen the right to free speech, to peaceably assemble, and to protest actions with which we disagree, but violence committed in the name of these rights is intolerable. Those who today turned a lawful protest into a riot that resulted in the storming of the U.S. Capitol should be held accountable for any and all unlawful actions."

“While these events occurred inside Washington, D.C., the ripple effect will be felt across our community and the entire nation in the days, weeks, and months ahead.”

The bar association urged all its members to “speak out now in support of our Constitution, a peaceful transition of power from one presidency to the next, and protection of the rule of law.”

That was a perfectly reasonable statement for a bar association that is, and ought to be, committed to the Constitution and the rule of law. But did that association issue a comparable statement in the wake of the violence committed during the Antifa and BLM riots last summer?

In fact, the bar association had issued a statement, on May 31, 2020 – the day after a protest in Cleveland that turned violent.

That statement read, in part:

“With the tragic turn from a peaceful demonstration by many to criminal acts committed by a few, the central focus of yesterday’s ‘I Can’t Breathe’ protest has been overshadowed by discussion of property damage and curfews. Make no mistake, those who destroyed property and stole from Cleveland businesses should be prosecuted. But our collective focus should remain squarely on the circumstances surrounding the killing of George Floyd.”

The bar association made clear that supporting the rule of law “means all people and all institutions are subject to and accountable to our laws. It also means our laws must be fairly applied and fairly enforced by those who control the legal system, including members of law enforcement.”

The statement continued with this admonition: “The police officers responsible for Mr. Floyd’s death must be held accountable. It is time for men and women who work in law enforcement to stop using – or enabling others to use – the thin blue line to shield criminal wrongdoing. Likewise, it is time for all of us who work within the legal system to improve the entire system so that everyone has access to true justice, regardless of skin color, privilege, or position in society.”

Does it seem there is a difference in tone and content between the two statements? The one issued on January 7 was short, direct, and unequivocal – “violence committed in the name of these rights is intolerable. Those who today turned a lawful protest into a riot that resulted in the storming of the U.S. Capitol should be held accountable for any and all unlawful actions.”

Notice the use of the word “riot.” And the imagery of the term “storming of the U.S. Capitol.”

Now consider the language of the statement made after the Floyd protest. In that statement, the events of the day took a “tragic turn,” as if a natural disaster befell the assembled protestors. It went from a “peaceful demonstration by many to criminal acts committed by a few.”

No doubt the Cleveland event did begin with a “peaceful demonstration by many.” But so did the event in Washington on January 6. Thousands gathered in DC to hear the president speak and to peacefully protest. And then a “few” committed criminal acts, just as in Cleveland.

The statement regarding the Floyd event laments that because of the violence by a few, the central focus of “the protest has been overshadowed by discussion of property damage and curfews.” But there was no such lament for the January 6 protest.

And take note that the events of that day in Cleveland are referred to as a demonstration, a protest, a rally – but never once is the word “riot” mentioned.

Here’s the point: Americans have a constitutional right to peaceably assemble. Once the January 6 protest got violent, those who took part in the violence were breaking the law. The same is true of the people who turned to violence in Cleveland and in all those other cities around the country last summer. There should be no equivocation on that central fact.

But instead, on the one hand, we have a “rally” that “tragically” turned violent, and on the other, we have a “riot” that was “intolerable.”

Frankly, it’s the double standard that ought to be intolerable.

Kevin Diehl

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