The symbiosis of extremism: How 'defund the police' activists are aiding the cause of far right terrorists


Lake and Hiawatha area, near the third precinct, Minneapolis on May 29, 2020. Photo credit: Jenny Salita, Flickr. License

In the wake of George Floyd's horrifying murder under the knee of a police officer in Minneapolis, protests filled the streets of that city and cities across the country. Millions of people marched through American streets, some silent, some loud, demanding justice peacefully and in a determined way. Minneapolis became an epicenter of just outrage at police brutality and systemic racism, and just like many other cities, the massive protests were sometimes tainted by chaos agents who sought to use a movement for Black lives for their own anarchist ends, destroying businesses and property, setting cars and buildings on fire, and even, in the case of Seattle, "occupying" a couple of city blocks for the cameras.

But something happened in Minneapolis that had never happened before in the modern history of American policing. On May 28, the City of Minneapolis decided to abandon the 3rd precinct building of the city's police department. The building, where the officers who murdered and helped murder Floyd were based, had become a focal point of the demonstrations.

As the police forces protecting the building retreated and the building was being evacuated, projectiles were thrown inside it with people still in the building, and it was set on fire in one of the most searing - but in no way representative - scenes of this summer's Black lives matter protests.

At the time, Republicans seized on this and other destruction in American cities, panning them as acts of terror and violence condoned by mainstream Democrats and the movement for Black lives. Donald Trump sought to use the right wing narrative on the protests as an excuse to deploy federal and military forces reminiscent of totalitarian rulers, and there is evidence that the popularity of the protests, as a result of the hyperbolization of the violence and minimization of the vast majority of protesters, who were peaceful, has declined. Trump, to this day, mocks the violence at the protests by handing out 'Peaceful Protester' signs for his supporters to hold at his superspreader rallies.

The facts, as usual, turned out to be much different. In August, the US Attorney's Office in Minnesota charged four men in their 20s for conspiring to set the 3rd precinct on fire, none of them with mainstream Democratic political leanings, and just Friday, a member of the far-right terrorist group the Boogaloo Bois was charged with firing into the precinct building with an assault rifle, as well as looting and helping set the precinct ablaze. Right wing groups like the Boogaloo Bois aim to stir up civil unrest in hopes of sparking race riots and a civil war, and they believed that the volatility of the BLM protests would provide them with the perfect cover.

I believe that it behooves us to explore how it is that narratives like the broad left supporting violent protests take root and are fueled. The media's propensity to bothsides every issue is at the center of it all, of course, but much of the far left - which the right and the media insists on confusing with mainstream liberals - is responsible for sounding the retreat from, if not outright encouragement of, the people who destroy communities under the guise of protest and often with an ulterior motive.

While mainstream Democratic figures like Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, and Nancy Pelosi have denounced violence from the first moment and spoken out strongly in favor of holding accountable those causing destruction, and while we have witnessed countless examples of protest organizers and leaders excoriating violent mobs and even creating barriers to protect their neighborhoods and even their police officers, a significant undercurrent of tacit approval, if not active support, for violent rioters among the radical left has undermined that message.

One of the first people to recommend that the third precinct in Minneapolis be abandoned to rioters was City Councilmember Jeremiah Ellison, a prominent supporter of Bernie Sanders in the Twin Cities. Others in city leadership have argued that the building should have been abandoned sooner. The entire city council voted unanimously to abolish the entire police department in Minneapolis before the dust had even settled on the destruction of the 3rd precinct. Mayor Jacob Frey was the only elected city leader to oppose the move.

The city councilmembers, as well as Mayor Frey, swept into power in a 2017 election, which continued a wave started in the 2013 election to replace progressives with radicals in city government. And at a city council meeting just last year, activists shouted down a proposal to invest additional money in community policing and investigating domestic violence even by the left-wing council because they saw even resources to change police behavior as rewarding the people they hated.

The radical activists' years-long demand culminated in what they celebrated as a victory, when the council voted to abolish the police department. But as it turns out, they are failing even at that. Disrupting civil proceedings and fist-pounding into the air is not the same thing as making actual change, and a hard reality is setting on their pet project of eliminating policing altogether. In Minneapolis, the city charter has to be amended by a popular vote in order to remove the police department, and city council's hasty plan has, at least for now, been blocked from getting on the ballot by a judicially appointed charter commission because of its ill-conceived, rush nature.

At any rate, such a sweeping ballot initiative, whenever it gets on the ballot at some point, does not appear likely to pass. While support for redirecting some funds to social services is strong, residents do not wish to reduce the size of the police department, let alone abolish it, a poll found. What's even more critical, the movement to abolish the police is largely a way for white leftists to pat themselves on the back for being race warriors. Black people, the disproportionate victims of violent crime, oppose reducing the size of the police department by a 15 point margin, while whites are evenly split.

So besides for a complete inability demonstrate or advocate for a comprehensive, achievable reform agenda, what have the far left's 'defund the police' activists accomplished? They have managed to articulate a vision that, in practice, would aid and be welcome by far-right, white supremacist, heavily armed, separatist militia groups.

The 26-year-old member of a group that aims to ignite a second civil war, who now stands accused of destroying more than just the police precinct in Minneapolis, was picked up by the FBI, aka police. A 19-year-old who was just arrested for making an elaborate plan to assassinate former Vice President and Democratic nominee Joe Biden was also picked up by the FBI. The FBI and Michigan state police worked in tandem to foil a far-right terrorist plot to kidnap and execute the governor of Michigan.

The truth is that in the plain meaning of the terms, the far left's demand to defund or abolish - rather the resource and reform - law enforcement, if it were ever given policy form on a large scale, would only empower those who seek to tear our communities apart, cause mayhem, and one day, hope to start a civil war in the streets in a country where they have all the guns and law enforcement is under-resourced, understaffed, and underprepared.

That is not even to mention that by presenting all-or-nothing, abolish-or-nothing messages, activists on the far left are making it more likely that police departments remain the same and less likely that police are reformed. As long as the country is mired in a false choice debate between no police or no accountability for police, reform will remain illusive, and that too is a favorable outcome for the far right.

They may say they have different goals, but make no mistake: the missions of the far left and the far right when it comes to policing and civil unrest may not be literally the same, but are very much symbiotic.