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Examining Violent Protest

Don Wyeth

Examining Violent Protest

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4 mins
October 26, 2020

The year 2020 has been fraught with struggle and upheaval. The stress produced by the pandemic, protests against police abuse and systemic racism, and our volatile political climate have combined to separate our citizens into ideological camps that increasingly polarize the country and make meaningful and productive dialog between these groups next to impossible. Being a resident of the City of Madison has given me a front-row seat to this tumultuous time. This summer and fall have been witnesses to a series of protest actions, some violent, which have captured the headlines and filled the airways; giving some pundits and politicians ammunition for holding certain groups responsible. People are asking who is at fault for the violence that many times accompanies these protests. Although it is easy to single out specific groups as scapegoats and lay the blame squarely at their doorstep, the reality of the situation is much more complicated.

Black Lives Matter

The protests in downtown Madison have been mostly organized by Black Lives Matter. “Black Lives Matter (BLM) is a decentralized political and social movement advocating for non-violent civil disobedience in protest against incidents of police brutality and all racially motivated violence against black people.” 

Based on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s non-violent philosophy, this movement evolved from the efforts of three black women, Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi. Between 2014 and 2016, a national network evolved, which consisted of 30 local chapters. Basically, “…[the] movement is a decentralized network of activists with no formal hierarchy.” Some blame this organization for the violence and property destruction which have occurred. “[President] Trump claims Black Lives Matter protests are violent, but the majority are peaceful.” (usatoday.com) In fact, of the 10,400 protests since the murder of Trayvon Martin, 96% of been peaceful. 

Why the Violence?

So, why was there violence and property destruction in Madison, and who was responsible? To answer this question, we have to examine a number of factors.

A very curious thing happened during the Madison protest on several consecutive nights. The protest which began normally around 5 PM remained peaceful until the 11 o'clock curfew. Many eyewitnesses reported that the arrival of curfew marked a palpable change in the energy of the protest. One protester remarked that “…it was like somebody turned on the switch.” On the three nights that I followed this protest, in fact, this ‘shift from peaceful to violent, did occur promptly at 11 PM. It was later reported that observers noticed several additional groups appearing on the scene at that time. 

Who were these groups?

An anonymous source has reported to me that they had observed members of the Proud Boys, a far-right hate group, joining the protest at curfew each night. Proud Boys is a “… neo fascist, male-only organization that promotes and engages in political violence in the United States and Canada.” They have loose affiliations with other white supremacy movements, as well as militias such as the one in Michigan. One of the objectives of Proud Boys, et al. is to precipitate another Civil War. They have been identified by the FBI as a clear and present threat to national security.

On the other end of the spectrum we find a black-clad, radical left-wing presence labeled as ANTIFA. According to the New York Times “… It is impossible to know how many people count themselves as members. Its followers acknowledge that the movement is secretive, has no official leaders and is organized into autonomous local cells. It is also only one in a constellation of activist movements that have come together in the past few years to oppose the far right.” One of their main objectives is militant self-defense. Many times, they will align themselves with BLM. In some cases, Black Lives Matter would prefer to distance themselves from ANTIFA due to the fact that it endorses aggressive resistance tactics. There is evidence that ANTIFA also had a presence at the Madison protests.

It becomes obvious that the Madison demonstration was not made up from one homogenous group. To direct blame to any one group without noting the presence of others is myopic. Passing simplistic judgement is a mistake if we are to begin to understand what is really going on. My suspicion is that there is another factor at play here; a kind of ‘man behind the curtain’. To really understand the underlying causes of violent protest we need to ‘read between the lines’ to discover the truth. I encourage the reader not to rush to judgement but to remain vigilant.


This article was orginally reported by
Don Wyeth

Passionate and intelligent columnist from Madison, WI.

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