A Betrayal

In Bill Barr’s recent testimony before the House Judiciary Committee, the Attorney General asked “Since when is It okay to try and burn down a federal court?” adding later that: “What makes me concerned for the country is this is the first time in my memory the leaders of one of our two great political parties, the Democratic Party, are not coming out and condemning mob violence and the attack on federal courts.”


Most of our major media companies wish to elide the differences between protesting and rioting. The scene of an MSNBC reporter standing in front of a burning building while trying to reassure us that the gatherings are mostly peaceful and “not unruly” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y1mxJMIIMuE) will not soon be forgotten. The “mostly peaceful protests” phrase is repeated endlessly; meanwhile, federal officers defending the courthouse in Portland, and local police in many cities, are being assaulted, wounded and in some cases killed.

The idea that a law-abiding citizen who is sad or angry about the murder of George Floyd – or about the perceived mistreatment of blacks generally – would suddenly don a mask and body armor, then attack the police or burn buildings down is, frankly, ridiculous. Rioters use real protesters as cover for their criminality.

The media don’t want us to think about the rioters. They have no interest whatsoever in highlighting their violence – or the harm done to property or to those who are trying to uphold the law.

Where are the journalists who are looking into who’s organizing and funding the rioters? There aren’t any, as far as I can see. 


As Barr noted, we have yet to hear a straightforward denunciation of the rioters by any leader of the Democratic party. I have read of Nancy Pelosi saying that federal officers – the ones defending the Portland courthouse – were acting like storm troopers, but not of her issuing condemnations of – or even mentioning – those who blinded federal officers and endangered many lives by repeatedly trying to burn down the building. (I don’t mean to equate the two actions, defending and attacking; the former is wholly legitimate, the latter criminal).

Pelosi and other leading Democrats, including the Mayor of Portland, would rather blame the federal officers who are defending the courthouse than the rioters who are attacking it. They have adopted the Jacobin philosophy of “No enemies to the left.”  Like progressives in the thirties, they prefer to think of Antifa, Black Lives Matter and other strongly communist-influenced groups (https://nypost.com/2020/06/25/blm-co-founder-describes-herself-as-trained-marxist/) as “liberals in a hurry.”

The financial ties between these organizations run deep. They share many of the same donors and ultimate goals. Their methods differ, sure, but it doesn’t seem wrong to see them as playing for the same team. Indeed, it’s not far-fetched to assume that some Democratic politicians think that the mayhem in the streets will help them in the upcoming elections: things are bad right now? Just get rid of Trump and those damn Republicans and everything will settle down. If not, not. Rather like a protection racket: nice downtown you got there, shame if something happened to it.


Protests play an important part in any democracy. They convey the public’s (or at least a segment thereof’s) anger over whatever is being protested with an immediacy that screams: we want you to know how strongly we feel about this! Don’t wait for the next election – do something! The people have every right to express themselves, and be heard, in this manner.

Riots, on the other hand, are profoundly anti-democratic (even if presently perceived by some as pro-Democratic). They are nothing less than the attempted instigation of mob rule.

If you believe in democracy, you don’t attempt to blind federal officers or burn down courts. Those are the actions of would-be revolutionaries who believe their cause justifies any means. When successful, such revolutions – the French and Russian ones come to mind – always end in tyranny. Democracies are about elections; riots – and tyranny generally – about force.


Four years ago, I rode my bicycle from California to Connecticut. Along the way, I saw what an astoundingly beautiful land this country is, and how culturally different from place to place, but all of it free and overwhelmingly friendly. I rode through (and stopped to enjoy) the enormous differences in topography, climate and culture. I came away from that journey with a clear sense that irrespective of our different backgrounds and circumstances, we Americans are really one people working hard and moving forward together.

It’s hard to square that happy impression with the hatred now on display nightly in some of our cities. The rioters want to burn it all down. I guess they have internalized (among other things) the premises of The New York Times’s 1619 Project, which cast this nation as irredeemably racist and evil.

That’s not the America I saw while riding across the country. It’s also not the America I experienced in 15 years of helping to build a great inner-city school to give underprivileged children the educational opportunities that their local public schools are manifestly failing to deliver.


It doesn’t really surprise me that there are thousands – maybe tens of thousands – of young Americans who will riot, given the chance and an excuse. In a nation of 330 million, you’re going to have some sad, deluded people who are looking for ways to vent their frustrations by attempting to unilaterally assert power over others.  

What does shock me, though, is that leading Democrats would be playing footsie with them. The Democrats’ unwillingness to stand up for democratic processes and the rule of law is a betrayal of our government, the principles it stands for and those of us who play by the rules.

Which, I’m pretty sure, is what Barr meant.

M.H. Johnston      

PS: A mostly unrelated point – I strongly recommend that you watch the movie Mr Jones now available on Amazon Prime. Excellent movie/true story about how the NYT’s man in Moscow covered for Stalin re the Holodomor. Plus ça change…

3 comments to A Betrayal

  • DP  says:

    Couldn’t agree more. For every voter they win by this cynical approach, they will lose others.

  • Vivian Yess Wadlin  says:

    DP, that may be good if the elections don’t turn out to be more “reason” for riots. Also, let’s consider the main in ballot issue. We are used to knowing the outcome of elections soon after the polls close. With the potential of not knowing for weeks, it is anybody’s guess what those less stable elements will do.

    Mr. Johnston’s points are clearly valid. Unfortunately, saying them aloud in New York can elicit physical reprisal.

  • Ron Cypers  says:

    It’s shameful conduct by the Democrats not to condemn the rioting. The BLM movement is eminently valid and the initial rage over Floyd’s murder is understandable. The burning of the police station was a clear reflection of the extent of the rage. The property damage should have stopped there. Both parties should then have together crafted a joint message that protests are meaningful and acceptable, not riots. Our leaders in both parties have lost their balance and moral compass, so much blame on all sides. Are there any adults left in the room?

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