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Political Violence is a Game the Right Can’t Win

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If there’s one thing righties believe, it’s that they could beat lefties in a fight.

You see this attitude reflected over and over again, to the point that it’s probably something engrained in the right-wing psyche.  Pajama Boy vs. tactical deathbeast?  Pffft. No contest. Look, righties have the guns, righties have police and they have the military. If one day the balloon ever goes up, righties will just organize behind a leadership of their veterans, coordinate with the active service, give all the lefties free helicopter rides, and live happily ever after. Right?

That’s pretty much what the Confederacy thought about the Yankees, and it didn’t exactly work out well for them.

From the perspective of a mainstream righty who’s a right-to-keep-and-bear-arms guy, this dismissive attitude is remarkably familiar. It’s the same attitude of somebody who buys a gun “just in case” but never goes to the range, which is a great way to discover when somebody kicks your door in at three a.m. that you don’t know the difference between the magazine release and the safety.  Organization requires time, communication, networking, and above all practice, and vanishingly few right-wingers are interested in doing the necessary work.

Some of this is due to disillusionment.  The determination of ostensibly right-wing politicians to resist giving their voters what they want has, unsurprisingly, motivated a growing number of righties, most notably neoreactionaries, to consider going  post-politics. In this view, the Right cannot achieve its goals through participation in the political system; what the Right really needs is a Moldbug reset, or a restoration: a one-fell-swoop by which the government is fired and rebuilt.  The idea is to build right-wing structures in anticipation of reality’s inevitable selecting-away of  inefficient (left-wing) forms when they can no longer propagate themselves. Entropy will set in and, perhaps, a defining moment will emerge.

Of course, that’s not necessarily going to be the case.  Political violence isn’t fun for the whole family: it’s long, and it’s ugly, and everybody suffers.  And nobody ever thinks this when they have a Great Cause, but maybe, just maybe, your Great Cause won’t win. And then what?  “It couldn’t be worse” is the sort of thing Turkish coup plotters say right before their attempt fails and leaves their bete noire in undisputed charge of writing the purge lists. When it comes to political violence, everybody imagines themselves piloting the helicopters; nobody imagines themselves clinging desperately to the skids.

There’s a famous cartoon by Sidney Harris that shows a couple of researchers at a blackboard, on which is a series of complicated mathematical equations. In the middle of the blackboard are the words “then a miracle occurs.”  The cartoon’s caption, dialogue from one of the researchers to the other: “I think you should be more explicit here in step two.”

“And then a miracle occurs” is a long-standing fringe-right temptation.  You see it in all sorts of places: in Ayn Rand’s hugely influential Atlas Shrugged, once a lone scientist moves to Galt’s Gulch and doesn’t have to worry about the leeches, he literally cures cancer. In the much less influential wish-fulfillment novels by literal Nazi Harold Covington, his Mary Sue goes from poverty-stricken and railing into the ether to the inspiring force behind a mass white nationalist movement because, for no reason, white people suddenly start listening to his screeds and mailing him five-figure checks. Bluntly put: “and then a miracle occurs” is the equivalent of “I don’t have to change or put forth any effort; someday I will be great and people will like me for who I am.”  As Righties know, this is something lazy and inadequate people say.

The organizational capacity required to build a new world is the same organizational capacity have Lefties built to pressure government. So who’s in a better position to shape the big moment when it comes?  Hell, if tomorrow civilization goes completely Mad Max: who’s got existing local networks of people who they’re used to turning out and doing stuff with on a regular basis?  Answer to both questions: not the Right.

Passivists say activism accomplishes nothing. What it actually accomplishes is practice.  Practice for networking, practice for turnout, practice for speed, practice working as a team. Anybody who’s ever tried to get five people together for dinner knows it’s a pain, but look at the airport protests after the travel ban, and see how many people the hard Left can turn out on next to no notice.  Say the balloon were to suddenly go up: forget having a detailed and specific plan; in that first five minutes, do you — not some veterans’ network you’re hoping will salvage things, not some imaginary Great Man; *specifically you* — even know who you’re going to call?

The Lefties do. And that’s why righties who say the Right has nothing to learn from the Left are wrong. That’s because righties don’t read lefty books. I read lefty books and organizational manuals, and I can tell you: they’re smart.

Accordingly, righties face two major challenges: building things, and understanding the strengths, weaknesses, and tactics of their Lefty opposition.  Righties won’t do the same things as the Left, or do them in the same ways, but that doesn’t mean the Lefties don’t have lessons we can learn.

The first thing righties have to understand about Lefties is that lefties have a lot more practice building their own institutions, and assuming control of existing institutions, than their counterparts on the right do, and they share their practical experience with each other. Righties who like to build churches will build a church and worship in it. Lefties who like to build churches will build a church, write a book telling people how to build churches, go out and convince people church-building is the thing to do, run workshops on how to finance, build, and register churches, and then they’ll offer to arrange church guest speakers who’ll come preach the Lefty line.

Righties need to do a better job of teaching each other.  And not just teaching the right-winger closest to them. The most organized groups on the Right are the pro-life and RKBA activists; everybody else on the Right should be learning from them.

The second thing to understand about Lefties is how they actually function.  There’s a lot of independence involved. Righties like hierarchy, so often think of the Lefties as taking marching orders from George Soros or whoever in a very hierarchical fashion. Not so much. A lot of left-wing organization is very decentralized, and they negotiate with other lefty groups as to exactly how they’ll do things and time things to not hurt each others’ work, so the labor movement’s march is not derailed by black-bloc window-smashing (see, for example, DIRECT ACTION, L.A. Kauffman’s excellent history of the Left from the 60s on).

The Lefties call that approach “embracing a diversity of tactics,” which, taken to its logical extent, is a weasel-worded way of saying that the lefty mainstream is comfortable with radical leftist violence. People don’t like to talk about this much. But while it’s impossible to imagine, say, an abortion clinic bomber getting a cushy job at an elite university, that’s exactly what happened to a number of alumni of the 1970s leftist terror group known as the Weather Underground. As fugitives, they were financially and operationally supported by members of the National Lawyers’ Guild; afterward, they were so normalized that the 9/11 issue of The New York Times infamously ran a profile lauding Weatherman alumnus Bill Ayres.  By contrast, right-wing terrorist Eric Rudolph’s fugitive days were spent hiding in the wilderness because no one would help him. He was caught literally dumpster-diving for food. Potential right-wing extremists face opportunity costs that their left-wing counterparts do not.

Righties frequently make allegations of paid protestors when Lefties get a bunch of people together. Again, that’s not how it works. Think of Lefty protests as being like a Grateful Dead concert.  People absolutely got paid at a Grateful Dead concert: the band got paid, and the roadies got paid. But the Deadheads who followed the band around didn’t get paid.  They weren’t roadies, they weren’t the band; they were there because they loved the music.

Lefties are excellent at protests, not because they pay seat-fillers, but because they’ve professionalized organizing them, as you’ll discover if you read any of their books. The protestors aren’t paid.  The organizers are paid.  The people who train the organizers and protestors are paid. Basically, the way the Lefty protest movement works is sort of like if the Koch brothers subsidized prepping and firearms classes.

Left-wingers have a combination of centralized and decentralized infrastructure, because they have different kinds of groups.  Some groups use centralized organization: they’ll go out tabling, recruit people, trying to grow big.  Other groups, particularly anarchists, favor a decentralized approach, where actions are performed by the collaborative actions of multiple small cells called affinity groups.

The affinity group structure began in Spain: anarchists there organized themselves into small groups of very close friends who knew each other very well, because such small groups were difficult to infiltrate.  Even if they were infiltrated, exposing one group wouldn’t blow the whole organization.

The American Left picked up on affinity groups in the late 1960s. They started as a means for organizing protests and turned into a means of organizing movements.  To coordinate, they send members back and forth to spokescouncils.  The idea is to create a very collaborative discussion.  This is partly due to the influence on the modern hard Left by Quaker organizers — if you remember those lengthy Occupy meetings that just went on and on and on, it’s because that’s how decision-making is done in Quaker meetings, and Quaker organizers taught the technique to Lefties in the ’70s anti-nuclear movement. And it spread, because lefties in different movements talk to each other and work together all the time.

By contrast, righty organizations have historically been slow to organize. When they do, right-wing activists tend to stay in their own lanes and not work together, share notes, or reach out to one another’s followers.  Think about the mishmash of signs you typically see at a Lefty protest, and then try to remember the last time you saw, say, an RKBA sign at a pro-life rally.  More unfortunately, when righties do become active, they tend to do something like start a blog. Or make a YouTube channel. Or write a magazine article. In short, they become street-corner evangelists.  They tend not to do things in meatspace.

Lefties do the work in the real world. Guess who wins?

The recent Battles of Berkeley have shown that right-wing defense groups can acquit themselves admirably in street-fights, but hard experience has taught Lefties that an all-one-tactic mentality is a good way to give your opponents time to figure out how to counter you. If righties going to build things, they need to look at how the lefties are doing it, because they’ve been working on it for forty years. To paraphrase Trotsky, you may not be interested in politics, but politics are interested in you — and you can learn a lot from the people who’ve been working them to their advantage.