John Daniel Davidson
The daily spectacle of angry mobs pulling down statues, taunting police, attacking passersby, and taking over entire city blocks makes it seem like Black Lives Matter is a mass movement, that pretty much everyone except knuckle-dragging Trump supporters is on board with its radical agenda, and that the new national consensus is that you’re either anti-racist or racist.
Under these conditions, many ordinary Americans feel disoriented and discouraged. Confusion abounds. When did it become racist to like the national anthem and Mount Rushmore? At what point did we decide George Washington and Abraham Lincoln were moral monsters, or that all police are racist thugs? Why are rioters and looters allowed to terrorize people and destroy property with impunity? Why aren’t local elected leaders enforcing the law?
If you think what’s happening in America right now is crazy, you’re not alone. It’s true that something’s changed, that we’re in the middle of a crisis, that a cultural civil war is underway and escalating.
But it’s not true that this is a majoritarian movement. It’s not true that America fundamentally changed overnight. The hordes of protesters, impressive as them seem, don’t represent the country at large. According to Pew, only about 6 percent of U.S. adults have participated in a rally or protest in the past month, and they skew young, urban, and Democratic. That’s less than 20 million people—a lot, to be sure, but nothing close to a majority.
In some sense this is entirely psychological. A relatively small group of radical left-wing activists is using classic cult psychology to wage psychological war against the rest of us. They are the vanguard of what can only be described as a religious movement in America.
Indeed, Black Lives Matter and its attendant ideology contain all the elements of a religion: it promulgates doctrines that are explicitly normative, it has a cosmology and a morality, its claims are not subject to or consistent with scientific proofs. James Lindsay has gone further and described it as a cult, with recognizable and well-established features of a cult such as initiation, indoctrination, and cult reprogramming.
But this is a religious movement unlike any we’ve seen before, because unlike established religions it’s formally secular enough to be allowed into purely secular institutions of public life. This is why the Black Lives Matter agenda and The New York Times’ 1619 Project are being taught openly in our public schools. It’s why corporate America and professional sports have embraced the cult of wokeness. It’s why Hollywood is scrambling to figure out and adhere to the new doctrines, often in embarrassing and overtly racist ways.
It’s long past time to fight back. That won’t be easy, in part because the radicals are largely in control of messaging. They have the sympathies—if not the outright allegiance—of the mainstream media, big tech, and corporate America. They also more or less control the Democratic Party and much of the petty bureaucracy, including public schools.
That seems like a lot, and it is. But it’s also less than it seems. This is a movement conceived and sustained mostly by elite white progressives. Some 20 million may have shown up to BLM rallies in the last month, but the hardcore activists behind these rallies—the true-believing cult members and leaders—are relatively small in number.
They have been successful thus far in part because their strategy relies on making everyone else feel alone, overwhelmed, afraid, and resigned. They have been able to do this because, unlike the rest of us, they’re highly organized and coordinated, which makes their efforts at psychological manipulation highly effective. That in turn erodes resistance to their tactics at every level. If you don’t believe others will fight alongside you, that you’re alone, then you’re less willing to fight. This is true even of police, as we’ve seen.
The problem to be solved, then, is one of coordination. It’s a big problem and not easily solved. If everyone in America who is horrified and outraged by the mobs pulling down statues and smashing storefronts could coordinate to stop all of it, to strip the mob of their power, they would do it in a heartbeat. The madness would stop overnight.
But the energy, momentum, and mood control lies with the radicals right now. They are optimistic, and optimism makes people aggressive and creative. Pessimism, which is what everyone else is feeling, does the opposite. We feel scattered and helpless—and for now, we are.
It’s time to change that. We have to do it, each one of us. The Democrats who run our cities will not lift a finger to stop any of this. Some of them are sincere initiates into the cult of wokeness, others just think the chaos will help them win the White House in November. Either way, they are willing to go along with it.
Some Democratic members of Congress even said this week that federal authorities should not interfere with mobs pulling down statues. Blue-state governors have likewise ordered law enforcement to stand down in the face of the mob.
President Trump has at times sounded like he would stand up and fight. He has blustered and made threats, as usual. This week he announced that anyone caught trying to topple a monument on federal land would face up to ten years in prison. That’s a start, but it’s not enough.
It’s up to every one of us, in our towns and cities and communities, to pressure our local officials to enforce the law and stop the bedlam. We have to demand it. We have to insist on law and order, insist on due process, insist on equal treatment under the law. These are bedrock American principles, and they have majority and bipartisan support across the country. At least for now, we can be confident of that.
We also have to be optimistic about our country and our institutions. We have to be energetic and creative. We have to defend our Founding principles unapologetically. America is the greatest country on earth, where liberty and prosperity and equality have blossomed as never before in human history. We can recognize our faults and shortcomings without apologizing for all we have achieved. We can defend what is necessary, and what is best, without giving one inch to the radicals who deny the promise of America’s Founding and want to see it transformed into something unrecognizable.
We had better do so, and quickly. The future of the republic depends on it.