What The KKK Can Tell Us About Black Lives Matter & The Dallas Shooting
July 12, 2016 (Mimesis Law) – Modern politics have become increasingly factional, or as Scott Greenfield might say instead, tribal. Politicians are encouraged to say and do things to “secure” certain blocks of voters. Rather than viewing people as complex beings with equally complex motivations and feelings, the first cut made is between voters and non-voters. Voters matter and non-voters get lip service.
From there voters are segmented into gun owners, blacks, Hispanics, single moms, soccer moms, liberals, conservatives, and so on. With only two political parties, this means each is coalition of voters who may share very few things in common or may actually be in conflict with each other.
For example, libertarians and evangelical Christians mostly make their home in the Republican Party. In many respects they hold vastly different worldviews, namely when it comes to abortion. Yet, they end up feeling forced for vote for the Republican candidate sharing varying degrees of their outlook. With only two choices, it can lead to voting for the lesser of the two perceived evils.
Absent the ability to clone ourselves and coordinate with our clones, we’ll inevitably find ourselves working within groups whose members’ goals do not perfectly align with our own. This is perhaps most obvious with regard to political parties, which are large coalitions. But also it true regarding just about any group or movement. Some members may be looking for graft, others might be true believes, and others might just be looking to score. What’s true for the local civic organization is basically true for terrorist organizations.
There is general consensus that the KKK was the first domestic terrorism organization. And like most organizations, it changed over time in both mission and organization. But through it all, it was undoubtedly a terrorist organization, carrying out many acts of terrorism. In its founding era, (formerly) rich white Southerners, like Nathan Bedford Forrest, stirred racial strife to keep themselves in power, in particular by keeping the poor whites and freed blacks from coalescing behind Reconstruction. And then the powerful used the KKK to enforce the slavery-in-all-but-name post-Reconstruction laws. Meanwhile, the wealthy plantation owners continued exploiting all others. Not at all like Colonel Sanders.
Today, the KKK has little political power (Surprise!). Even a U.S. Senator, who built his early connections through the KKK, was later forced to disavow them and apologize. And the group as a whole has now fragmented and lacks any centralized structure. You occasionally get nuts that put up on the idea of a race war, but it’s a far cry from the points where the Klan had formal and informal power. Yet, they, like Nazis, continue to evoke fear and function as an all-purpose boogeyman.
As the Oklahoma City Bombing demonstrated, you can have extremely damaging domestic terrorist without the need of a vast organization. Terry Nichols, one of the planners, is usually associated with the Sovereign Citizen movement. It is a highly individualized movement with a loose association, at best, between people of a similar viewpoint. Most sovereign citizens mind their own business, filing sui generis documents and avoiding government as much as possible. Yet, this amorphous group is considered a top domestic terrorist group, with Nichols as the poster boy for the reality of that threat. And Sovereign Citizens are feared despite their fragmented and de-centralized organization.
As the entire world with access to CNN knows by now, late Thursday night, in Dallas, a lone gunman assassinated five police officers and intended even greater carnage. Before being killed by a bomb-delivering police robot, the gunman declared he was upset and wanted to kill white people and police officers. In large measure, he was provoked by the recent shooting of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile by police officers. But it is now evident he was planning for a while before he struck. Those deaths seemed to have pushed him over the edge.
A mass murderer saying he hated whites and was targeting them and specifically white police officers, has led some unsurprisingly to declare the Dallas shooting an act of domestic terrorism. Even the Southern Poverty Law Center agrees. Based on what Dallas Police Department has released so far, this event appears to check all the legal boxes. But that’s not enough for some.
If it’s domestic terrorism, then there must be a terrorist group running the show. Many have concluded that Black Lives Matters is the group behind this and other subsequent attacks inspired by the Dallas massacre. This group includes Rush Limbaugh, author Brad Thor, a county sheriff, other local law enforcement, and a number of regular citizens. Because the guiding principles of Black Lives Matters obviously resounds in radical black empowerment movement, it represents a militant group such as the Black Panther Party. And we know the FBI did such a bang up job before, why not a second go around?
Black Lives Matter, while having an official website, named founder, and stated goals, it is still largely a heterogeneous group, which is also somewhat fragmented and de-centralized. Whereas, the original KKK was organized hierarchically to create the capacity to commit acts of terror and violence, Black Lives Matter organizes protests and social media campaigns. Moreover, the KKK enjoyed unofficial sanction, but BLM is an outside political group seeking power. Although, you can make a ready case for similarity in that Black Lives Matters is three words like Ku Klux Klan and can be abbreviated by three letters.
When calls are made to declare all Muslims terrorists or BLM a terrorist organization, it’s premised on a sort of enterprise liability. If one self-identified member says something or acts out, then that is imputed to the group as whole, regardless whether that’s factually justified. So much so that a Like on Facebook is seen as more conclusive than one’s own statements. There is this strong desire to regard the Dallas shooter as something like the Manchurian Candidate.
Matt Ridley has argued that inevitably all of us get struck with fallacious top-down thinking, which he calls Sky Hooks. While emergent bottom-up phenomena are around us all the time and everywhere, we let ourselves be fooled by top-down thinking. The market loving free trader denies natural selection, favoring instead creationism. The atheist and hard-core proponent of Darwin believe that but a few human minds, through government, can create utopia. While most of us call tin-foil hat conspiracy theories rubbish, we all have the capacity to believe in some top-down way of achieving order and possibly perfection.
No one commanded Terry Nichols to blow up a federal building, but he was perhaps motivated by the anti-government notions of many Sovereign Citizens. The Orlando and San Bernardino shooters appear to be Daesh-inspired, though neither appeared to receive direct orders from a shadowy boss at the top of a dark pyramid. As far as we know, in any of these cases, there was no Nathan Bedford Forrest organizing from the shadows. Yet, many amongst us believe that there can be no terrorist without a terrorist organization.
We know that light sometimes comes from fire, but we also know that every time we see light it does not mean wood is being burnt somewhere in the distance. Things may correlate but they are not always related causally. Depending on your cognitive biases, you are inclined to see the Dallas terror attack as either resulting from or merely correlated to Black Lives Matters. And much of that is driven by the tribe with which you already identify.
The KKK and Al-Qaeda, and the like were all up front about their goals and were very public with their methods. Its members committed terrorism because they supported a terrorist organization. But a terrorist supporting an organization does not transmute the group into a terrorist organization. An aspect of freedom of association is that we should generally allow groups to define themselves apart from what an individual member may believe.
But we live in a time when reductionist thinking is fostered by 10-second sound bites filling 24 hours of news. And it’s easy to be afraid and scared people keep watching the news. Somebody doing something unexpectedly horrendous frightens and confuses us. We want to eliminate the fear and restore order. But giving into our fears pushes the boogeyman just to the edge of the light rather than get rid of him altogether.