Prosecute the Rioters
And make sure that we condemn them as well.
by Andrew C. McCarthy February 4, 2017
From time to time over the years, the eminent historian Daniel Pipes has lamented that treason, not just as a crime but as a concept, appears defunct in the West. The question of bringing treason charges against jihadists has been raised from time to time. Often its very asking proves Dr. Pipes’s point: Most radical Islamic terrorists are not American citizens; as to them, treason is not a cognizable offense because traitorous conduct is central to the crime.
Even against American jihadists, a treason charge is of dubious usefulness. The 1996 overhaul of federal counterterrorism law codified crimes tailored to terrorism that are easier to prove than treason. The aim of an indictment in a national-security case should be the surest route to the severest sentence. The point is not to teach a civics lesson, regrettable as our education system’s default has been in that regard.
Yet what is true of treason is not true of sedition. There are charges to bring against those who would destroy our society. They should be brought. Case in point: the University of California at Berkeley. As our National Review editorial observed in the aftermath of this week’s Berkeley rioting, “there is within the American Left an increasingly active element that is not only deeply illiberal — fundamentally opposed to free speech — but also openly violent.”
I’d further contend that the problem is not confined to this increasingly active element, the Left’s “progressives in a hurry.” Whether it is Berkeley or Benghazi, it is standard operating procedure among the most influential, most allegedly mainstream Democratic politicians to rationalize rioting as mere “protest.” In their alternative reality, violence in the name of sedition is “free speech” — a passionate expression of political dissent — while the actual political speech they so savagely suppress is the atrocity.
There is no mystery about how we got to this dark place. Violent rampaging was the coming-of-age rite of the New Left. That would be the Sixties Left that eventually won the battle for control of the Democratic party and, in its extremism, has estranged that party from its traditional working-class base, and thus from much of the country. The New Left rioted against racism, capitalism, colonialism, and the Vietnam War. They gleefully announced their hatred for AmeriKKKa. They bombed and killed. And in large measure, they got away with it. In fact, they got rewarded for it.
One of the worst legacies of those Days of Rage was the failure of will to prosecute violent leaders of the radical Left to the full extent of the law — particularly the likes of Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn, Weather Underground terrorists who got a complete pass. In its madness, the nation drew a moral equivalence between anti-American terrorism and the excesses of American government agents who pursued the terrorists, as if warrantless searches and spying, however concededly outrageous, were comparable to plots and attempts to commit mass murder. The government did not want the depths of its misconduct explored, so charges were dropped in some cases and pled away for a song in others — denying an exploration of the depths of the terrorists’ depravity.
“Guilty as sin, free as a bird,” crowed Ayers, waxing nostalgic on the eve of the 9/11 attacks.
For too long, our elites have portrayed transgressive behavior (very much including its allegedly artistic expression) as virtue. The constant undercurrent is that our country, our principles, and our norms are not worth having — much less admiring or defending. We are perversely taught to loathe ourselves, and thus to excuse and even revere those who raise the loathing into intimidation, aggression, and violence. Much of this phenomenon is cultural, which means government cannot fix it. But government is duty-bound to uphold the rule of law, and thus to ensure that our problems can be addressed peacefully.
Sedition and its related pathologies must be prosecuted. Equally important, they must be condemned. Without that, there cannot be a pluralistic, flourishing society.
Read more at National Review
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