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Has banning controversial ideas ever not lead to much violence in enforcement or resistance?

Has banning controversial ideas ever not lead to much violence in enforcement or resistance?

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In the past year or two I've noticed the public discourse to increasingly contain arguments about "hate speech" and that this shouldn't be covered by free speech laws. I won't be interested in any moral or legal arguments here, but a historical perspective on free speech. The reason I'm getting more curious about that specifically today is because today a Scottish court found a man guilty of a hate crime for teaching his girlfriend's pug to respond to "Sieg Heil" with the Hitler salute.

One of the central arguments in support of free speech is that people do not change their opinion by being threatened with punishment if they voice it; basically the claim that outlawing an opinion won't get rid of it.

Now that sounds pretty plausible to me, but what's actually the historical experience we have with this? Have there been controversial ideas that were successfully outlawed, without generating any significant violence (on the part of the government or the population) or civil unrest? I'm not really looking for a very concrete idea, as hate speech laws themselves don't, say, enumerate a list of concrete notions that you express on pain of certain penalties, but if such ideas existed, that'll be interesting, too.

Question: historically, were any controversial ideas outlawed and then successfully eliminated without requiring significant force to implement that?

Have there been controversial ideas that were successfully outlawed, without generating any significant violence (on the part of the government or the population) or civil unrest?

Apart from the obvious German anti holocaust denial / Nazi laws, there has of course been plenty of ideas banned without much of a reaction throughout history. One particularly widespread example is lèse-majesté laws, which criminalise disrespect towards the sovereign (or some other state authority). Such bans are found in numerous polities throughout history, ranging from ancient Rome to modern Thailand. Enforcement of such laws can sometimes have murderous results (e.g., Imperial China), but did not otherwise generate much violence or unrest.

(Of course, law enforcement generally depends on the use of force; so I am interpreting "significant violence" to mean a level of violence beyond typical policing.)

Perhaps the real difficulty with the question is defining "controversial". Lèse-majesté was widely accepted to be criminal as a matter of course for most of history. Likewise, modern bans on Nazism, or holocaust denial, or hate speech are only controversial because of libertarian concerns for free speech. These ideas are not in and of themselves controversial - the vast majority of people easily agree the holocaust happened, believe Nazis are evil, and abhors hate speech.

In fact, one challenge with this question is that if an idea gets banned without causing much reaction, then one could argue clearly it wasn't that controversial in the first place.

The few surviving instances of lèse-majesté laws still in force today could be considered an example. While they were widely accepted historically, for obvious reasons they are now commonly considered hopelessly antiquated. Nonetheless, it's still on the books of several countries, including even liberal democracies like the Netherlands or Denmark. However, their continuing prosecution of offenders does not appear to have resulted in any notable levels of violence.

Another example might be the suppression of the Hundred Schools of Thought in China. This was first attempted under the Qin dynasty, and then rather more successfully in the reign of Emperor Wu of the Han dynasty. Although the generally brutal Qin regime enforced the policy with characteristic violence, Emperor Wu was much more restrained - his ban primarily concerned only the public sector, and did not appear to have resorted to overt violence.

In both cases, no violent resistance occurred specifically in association with the policies. In Qin's case, this was likely because the people had much more pressing things to worry about, i.e. the brutal regime's heavy taxation - within a few years a series of peasant revolts brought the empire down. In Han's case, Emperor Wu made knowledge in Confucianism the key criteria for job advancement in his empire, and in this way let the opposing schools literally die out in obscurity.

Lastly, a possible example is the Great Schism of Christianity, which was rooted in disputes over some finer points of theology, such as the idea of papal primary. In 1054, (representatives of) the Papacy and the Ecumenical Patriarch excommunicated each other over these and other differences (and politics).

Given the weight of excommunication in this highly religious era, one could say Western Christendom banned the Byzantine version of theology, while Eastern Christendom banned the Roman interpretation thereof. The underlying ideas are apparently controversial enough, that almost 1,000 years later, the two sides have yet to fully resolve their differences.

No significant violence resulted - in fact most contemporary Christians probably didn't notice the split at all. More importantly, support for each side of the controversy was split among geographic terms. That is, the finer points of theology in dispute was controversial in Christianity as a whole, but each half of Christendom largely supported the same interpretation, so the "bans", so to speak, didn't incite internal violence.

Catholic Crusaders did sack Constantinople in 1204, though this was not directly due to theology.

That said, all this is independent of the argument that:

outlawing an opinion won't get rid of it.

Which is technically true. That doesn't mean that the popularity of the opinion wouldn't be affected by a ban, though.

Consider again the ideological history of China. A vast array of ideologies once flourished during ancient China's warring states period, for example Mohism. In some ways it anticipated modern Communism, and at one point even rivalled Confucianism in popularity.

After Emperor Wu's reign, however, most of these schools of thought faded out of history due to the aforementioned government suppression. With the exception of Taoism which survived as a religion, and some of the more technical schools which persisted as technical manuals, China became wholly dominated by Confucianism up until the early modern period.

In Germany and Austria there are laws against reviving the Nazi ideology. As an Austrian I am not aware of any violence involved in enforcing these laws. Every once in a while, people are sentenced to jail or fined. However, physical violence is rarely if ever involved.

On a general note, all laws require a certain extent of (legal) force to be, and remain, implemented. Otherwise, the laws would be either redundant (e.g. banning something nobody actually does) or dead-law (banning something everybody does, however, nobody is prosecuted).

@Dohn Joe has the correct answer; enforcement of law is, by definition, violence. Government is a monopoly on the use of violence; law is legalized violence. The question is a tautology.

In the body of your question you change the context to "leads to civil unrest". If the question is, "Have governmental laws restricting free speech suppressed an idea without leading to civil unrest?" then the answer is unequivocally yes, and there are innumerable examples of governmental suppression of free speech that does not lead to civil unrest.

I suspect that many of the examples below will fall into another logic trap in your question - they are not controversial - but if the question becomes "Has government action against controversy led to civil unrest?" then the question becomes merely an exercise in definitions - those actions that led to civil unrest were controversial, while those actions that did not, were not. I think that the definition of "law" implies "controversy" - any law that was not passed by a unanimous margin is controversial. And if the margin is unanimous, then why pass a law? (In the pre-modern era, that definition won't work - autocrats can pass laws without controversy).

First, free speech is not a given - only very recently has the notion of "free speech" been a thing. Throughout most of history, the concept was unknown. Throughout most of history, in most countries you could be jailed, exiled or executed for speech against the government. This was so commonly accepted as a principle that it did not create social unrest. (it did create violence in the form of incarceration, exile or execution, but that's the tautology.) Governments frequently smashed printing presses. For most of the history of printing, a printer needed a license to publish material, and that license could be withdrawn. Still true today in most countries.

Even today, many countries only partially accept the concept - China, Cuba, most Islamic countries, etc. set a much lower priority on free speech than on other social norms. The overwhelming majority of those cases do not result in civil unrest. Within the French Republic/Empire you could be killed not just for counter- revolutionary speech, but for failure to speak in a revolutionary enough fashion; this did not lead to civil unrest - other things led to civil unrest but the new state religion of reason was just fine. In most revolutionary governments, (e.g. Bolshevik Russia), freedom of speech was an empty notion.

Second, even governments that admit the concept of free speech admit multiple exceptions, including the "Fire in a crowded theatre" exception, and, for example, Copyright law or trademark law. Most countries include some form of restriction designed to maintain public decency - If I recall correctly, discussion of homosexuality in Russia is illegal.

I should have cited the obvious reference - Wikipedia's discussion of Freedom of Speech, under the subheading Limitations

  • In Elizabethan times, it was illegal to discuss the succession of Queen Elizabeth.

  • Most Western European countries imposed religious restrictions on their populations - Ferdinand & Isabella expelled the Jews from Spain in order to ensure religious conformity. Elizabeth imposed the Anglican church on England. Most countries restricted preaching. Profession of religions other than the state religion were illegal, and these restrictions were broadly supported by the population.

A random list of other examples that come immediately to mind.

  • The wide variety of laws against Jews, Romany, and other ethnic minorities.

  • In SUlla's Rome, expressing an opinion that was at odds with the state could lead to proscription.

  • In colonial America there were multiple restrictions on free speech concerning slaves. There were also prohibitions against a variety of minority religions

  • The USA today restricts some forms of religious practice under the guideline that it is legal to believe, but not to take certain actions.

  • Most Islamic countries prioritize Sharia over free speech (speaking broadly)

  • The US Alienation and Sedition acts.

  • US Comstock laws prohibited discussion of birth control.

  • Quick google search picked up this example of governmental restrictions on speech in Elizabethan England; debate, but no civil unrest.

  • DMCA,

  • Defamation laws, including slander, libel, etc.

The Supreme court is currently considering a case about cake baking that is based on public access clauses that restrict free speech - the question is whether baking a cake constitutes an artistic expression (which is to say "speech", or whether it is a commercial endeavor.)

  • All countries have (as far as I know) Treason laws & sedition laws that prohibit speech intended to undermine the government. During wartime these are typically strengthened.

I suspect that statistically speaking, governmental restrictions on free speech are approved more often than they are protested, and civil unrest is very rare.

In Germany, holocaust denial is illegal (as is using Nazi symbols, except for in a context of art or science).

Some people have spent short jail sentences for this, which may or may not count as violence for enforcement for you. However, I don't see signs of any broader negative impacts, where outlawing one negative opinion would lead to outlawing more, or to draconian laws to enforce it.

Conversely, while there is of course some violence from neo-Nazis, I don't see any basis for assuming that this is due them being forbidden from denying the Holocaust/using Nazi symbols.

My overall impression is that outlawing this particular controversial opinion has worked out quite well for Germany. As far as I can tell, this seems to be the broad consensus in the German public, too.

As stated by Amo, there is a real need for consensus. If consensus is missing, no law will work. Whatever the government may try. Take for example prohibition in the thirties. There was enough public support to make alcohol illegal.

Then, as now, people were often forced to support the law. Any politician not supporting a ban on alcohol was walking on very thin ice. Naming and shaming were popular tactics, just as today. Anti alcohol advocates used every trick in the book to sway public opinion in their favor. I don't say they broke the law doing that, but at the very least went as far as possible to sway opinion makers to support them.

The public generally approved of it. Alcohol was a big problem back then. But when the laws were there, they still wanted a drink. They approved of the idea, but not the reality.

There is, thank be the gods, wide public support to ban Nazism in Europe. Hate speech is a different matter. A ban on Nazism is clear enough. What is hate speech exactly? It's getting very close to 'anything I don't approve of, no matter the arguments'.

That makes is very difficult to enforce, because the general public probably doesn't accept that.

In the past, when smoking became popular in Europe, both the authorities and the church try to ban it. Health issues weren't known back then. The church even excommunicated people who smoked. Penalties and fines were harsh. Didn't work, because the consensus wasn't there.

Look at big political changes in society: the French revolution, before that the the Reformation and in particular the liberal revolutions of 1848. The authorities (kings, pope) did what they could to suppress it, in the end without much success. Why? Because the general public in the end didn't support them. They lacked the consensus.

Censorship Is Not All Bad

Censorship is not all bad! Free-speech idealists argue that the solution to bad speech (misinformation, lies, abusive language, etc.) is not censorship but more speech. But bad speech can, and often does, drown out the good.

A classic form of bad speech is hate speech. Jeremy Waldron, a law professor at the New York University School of Law, describes it this way:

"Its aim is to compromise the dignity of those at whom it is targeted, both in their own eyes and in the eyes of other members of society. And it sets out to make the establishment and upholding of their dignity. much more difficult. It aims to besmirch the basics of their reputation, by associating ascriptive characteristics like ethnicity, or race, or religion with conduct or attributes that should disqualify someone from being treated as a member of society in good standing."

Thus, hate speech is really anti-speech because it aims to shut down the speech of others. And in the United States, hate speech has shut down the speech of minorities and women for hundreds of years. Defenders of hate speech often disguise it as "pride," "state's rights" or "religious freedom." But we are mistaken to treat anti-speech as if it were normal speech, deserving of protection. We can and should be intolerant of intolerance.

Although the United States has a First Amendment protecting free speech, it does not extend to the workplace, the classroom, or the dinner table. It is limited to the press, to religion, to assemblies, and to petitions. And as every journalist, parishioner or public assembly participant knows, there are powerful limits in these arenas, too. We don't have absolutely free speech because we live within the confines of powerful and interlocking institutions: family, education, entertainment, commerce, career, the law, the military, religion and others.

These institutions offer benefits to their members but also constraints and a narrow range of choices of expression. If these institutions were to offer too much freedom, they would be unable to perpetuate the social relations that keep them functioning. So speech inside an institutional context is limited, but speech outside of an institutional context typically has less power. Speech is limited either way.

The question, therefore, is not whether we ought to have constraints on speech but what kinds of constraints?

Censorship is an institutional constraint. When we hear the word censorship, we often imagine a banned book (i.e. schools and libraries removing the book). This is censorship at the point of reception. Protests erupt. Demand for the banned book goes up.

Censorship happens more frequently at the point of distribution than it does at the point of reception, such as an institution refusing to distribute a speech or a text through its channels. This type of censorship rarely leads to protests because outsiders rarely hear about it.

The most common form of censorship is self-censorship, or censorship at the point of production, which means you have internalized the censor's rules and decided to abide by them of your own volition. Perhaps you learned that the benefits of compliance outweigh the costs of resistance, or you rationalized that you can't win anyway.

We may self-censor for good reasons, such as politeness, but sometimes we self-censor because we see someone else made into a negative example and we fear it could happen to us.

For instance, some journalists who otherwise might have criticized the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq silenced themselves rather than risk reprisal--from the government, their corporate owners, or those in the public who were for the war. The result was that journalism inflicted a major blow to its own integrity for behaving as an administration mouthpiece, and Americans became among the least-informed people in the world about the war.

Beyond self-censorship, there are other limitations: ideologies--such as racism, sexism, xenophobia, and homophobia--that prevent us from even thinking certain thoughts, such as thinking of others as human beings with dignity and rights.

We have too much censorship in some areas of our society and too little censorship in others.

There is too much censorship from some plutocrats who suppress the truth about their misrule. They silence whistle-blowers while their propagandists hog the microphone. They maintain these beliefs either through outright censorship or through a pretense of balance in which the media referee fails to penalize those who lie consistently and brazenly. Might we have learned about the lead poisoning in Flint, Mich.'s, water earlier if we could have heard more of whistle-blowers and less of the politicians' denials?

If we hold to ethical principles, such as truth and justice, we can encourage or demand censorship as needed. For example, we should encourage ordinary citizens to participate in democracy, but ban unlimited political contributions by corporations. We should encourage the release of classified information that reveals government abuses, but ban lawmakers from becoming lobbyists once they leave office.

If you want to change the levels of censorship in our society--in other words, to benefit society by loosening or tightening censorship--the best approach is to appeal to the stated values of our institutions. Thus, to loosen censorship by expanding press freedoms, appeal to journalistic institutions as watchdogs of the powerful. To expand academic freedom, appeal to the university's stated aims to seek truth and benefit humanity.

And to appeal for greater censorship, apply the same appeals to our higher values.

America’s Nazi Problem and the End of Policing

Storefront, Astoria, Oregon. Photo: Jeffrey St. Clair.

The conditions that produce authoritarian societies are with us once again. The ghost of fascism haunts the present, appearing in a relentless number of assaults on the principles and institutions central to a democracy. America’s Nazi problem is evident not only in the 73 million people who voted for a white supremacist presidential candidate in 2020 but also in the attack on the Capitol by Trump’s followers whose “minds [were] waterlogged with conspiracy theories [took] lies as truth, spread hate and bigotry, [and wrapped] themselves in several flags – American, Confederate, Blue Lives Matter – and [who] use the Bible as a weapon of violence and repression.” [1]

This is not to suggest that the United States, especially under the Trump regime, replicated precisely Hitler’s Nazi Germany. Trump is not Hitler nor is Trumpism a precise replica of Nazi ideology. Robert Jay Lifton is right in arguing that the United States may not be “headed inevitably for an authoritarian society or Nazi-like society. What I am saying is that there are parallels. And they’re dangerous. You know, the Nazis didn’t do away with the major institutions of Germany.” [2] Trump, his incorrigible followers, and the Republican Party have unleashed elements of an authoritarian irrationality–a dark and menacing underside of a racist, anti-democratic politics and psychology. This is evident not only in a history of slavery, lynchings, and the mass incarceration of Blacks, but also in conditions that led to the storming of the Capitol by Trump’s followers.

Put in a broader historical context, the attack on the Capital was an act of political terrorism made in the name of white supremacy. It echoes a sordid history that included the violence against Blacks that took place in Tulsa a hundred years ago. Tulsa was destroyed as a result of white supremacist violence and over 300 Black people were killed. That was an act of economic terrorism. Today economic and political terrorism are unified and drive a Republican Party that is relentless in its destruction of the rights of Black people and its willingness to destroy democracy as well. In the current moment, politics has become an extension of racial violence this is a politics that no longer hides in the shadows or margins of society and has become a governing principle of the Republican Party.

The Black Lives Matter movement has made clear that America is reproducing alarming echoes of the past. It has exposed the mobilizing passions and ideological discourses of fascism evident in Trumpland. At a different time in history, Cedric Robinson identified this American form of fascist politics as racial capitalism. [3] According to Robinson, America had its own home-grown version of fascism, which did not simply emulate the fascist European movements of the 1920s but reached back to the era of Jim Crow and the rise of the Ku Klux Klan in the United States. [4] Fascism was no longer viewed as simply an import from Europe. The historical manufacture of fascism was acknowledged as dating back long before its rise in Europe at the beginning of the twentieth century. Its roots in the United States began with the era of settler-colonial racism and evolved into “the violent nexus between the carceral state and racial capitalism,” which became the new site of fascism. [5]

The collective institutions and public spheres capable of resisting the logic of neoliberal capitalism and the emerging fascist politics—from schools and unions to the courts and independent media–are either under attack or being dismantled. In this neoliberal dreamscape, utopia has become privatized, and the state is hollowed out, no longer viewed as a force for good. The inventory of public concerns ignores any notion of the civic imagination and the ideas, values, and institutions that connect it to an ongoing struggle over social, political, and economic rights. There is more at work here than a diminished capacity for democratic resistance, racial change, and the failure of the civic imagination. Yet, this is not meant to underestimate the struggle of emergent movements of resistance to liberate the public imagination from the grip of neoliberal ideology, white nationalism, militarized policing, systemic racism, and right-wing populism. Such movements are alive and offer more than a glimmer of hope for the future. At the same time, it would be reckless politically and morally to underestimate the challenge posed by the ongoing transformation of America into an up-dated fascist-like state, reproduced, in part, through a plague of manufactured ignorance, repression, and racist inspired violence. [6]

The current historical era is plagued by the abandonment of human rights, democratic institutions, and formations the latter is aided and abetted by the concentrated power of a corporate-controlled social media dominated by incivility, bigotry, racism, and lies. Under such circumstances, it is crucial to understand how the different threads of oppression and anti-democratic tendencies mutually inform and sustain a totalizing network of state violence. Furthermore, it is essential to comprehend how the diverse elements of oppression are rooted in the language, symbols, and culture of society’s everyday patterns and social relations. America’s descent into fascist politics demands a rethinking of how education and the shaping of agency, values, and modes of identification have become central to politics while legitimizing and normalizing systemic violence and the punishing state as defining features of governance, culture, and everyday life.

In an age in which all social problems are treated a simply a matter of individual responsibility and unconstrained choices, it has become more difficult to translate private troubles into broader, systemic considerations. The self is now organized around notions of freedom and choice that view matters of the public good, community, and social responsibility as a regressive if not a reactionary set of obligations. Translation as a political form, if not necessity, has been rendered incoherent under the onslaught of manufactured ignorance and the cult of conformity. The failure to connect the dots among a diverse number of issues and social problems is frequently the result of the depoliticizing logic of neoliberal individualization and privatization. There is also the problem that comes with a left politics that defines itself through a range of siloed differences. The result is a politics that is fractured and unable theoretically and politically to develop a unified movement capable of mass struggle and collective resistance.

In 2014, Eric Garner was arrested and murdered for the crime of selling cigarettes on the streets of Staten Island. Prior to his death, Officer Daniel Pantaleo put Garner in a chokehold while another officer put pressure on his chest. Even though he repeated 11 times that he could not breathe, Garner, who was unarmed, died as a result of this inhumane and vicious treatment. [7] Within a short time, “I cannot breathe” became a rallying cry and compelling shorthand for a protest movement against racist-inspired police brutality and mass incarceration. George Floyd uttered the same phase prior to dying as a result of Officer Derick Chauvin putting his knee on Floyd’s neck for over 9 minutes in full view of many people witnessing this act of murderous violence. While these two cases are the most celebrated for launching protests against police brutality across the globe, it has been estimated that over 70 people have used the exact phrase while in police custody. [8]

Building on the work of the Black Lives Movement and other activist groups protesting what Noam Chomsky calls “400 years of hideous crimes and atrocities,” George Floyd’s assassination prompted one of the largest protest movements in American history. [9] What was different about this movement was that it exposed globally acts of police racism, violence, and brutality in terms of both its history and its existing policies regarding domestic terrorism. What this movement illuminated was the notion that police violence could only be understood within the lengthy reach of a racist history whose roots were in the long legacy of slavery, the genocide waged against Native Americans, the Jim Crow era, and the rise of the carceral or punishing state that emerged in full force since the 1980s. [10] George Floyd’s murder, once again, unleashed the brutal cascading violence that comes with decades of institutional racism and the ruthlessness of a carceral state. It exposed and reminded Americans of the racist lies pushed Trump and his Confederate loving allies in the corporate and media worlds. The ghosts of history had come out of the shadows, revealing the detritus of dashed hopes, enduring hardships, and racist violence. The United States had not simply lost its way morally and politically it had slipped into the ugly abyss of fascist politics.

From the 1970s on, neoliberal capitalism nourished, amplified, and intensified fascist passions, and by the time of Trump’s election in 2016 to the presidency of the United States, America had entered the storm clouds of an updated version of fascist politics. The protest movements that emerged in response to the symbolic and real violence unleashed by the cry “I can’t breathe” represent a much-needed form of historical remembrance and the unfreezing of a history of systemic repression and racism. Such movements have also made visible not only the re-emergence of a new wave of white supremacy, police violence, voter suppression, the rise of the punishing state, and the ongoing criminalization of social problems, but also, to a lesser degree, the ascendancy of a savage form of financial capitalism that has destroyed the civic imagination, hollowed out the social state, and created a new political formation that has tipped the alleged American dream into the American nightmare.

One lesson to be learned regarding the racial roots of fascism in the United States is that it is a “protracted social process” that can be understood as a historical arc that identifies the protracted extent of a parasitic fascist politics in the United States and its re-emergence in different forms today. Alberto Toscano rightly highlights this point in referencing the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, which has argued that:

the threat is not of a “return of the 1930s” but the ongoing fact of racialized state terror. This is the ever-present danger that animates present-day anti-fascist energies in the United States—and it cannot be boiled down to the necessary but insufficient task of confronting only those who self-identify as fascists. [11]

One of the challenges faced by the emergence of this new era of fascist politics is the need for a new vocabulary capable of analyzing how neoliberalism works through a wide range of oppressive practices in various sites to reproduce a totalizing system of violence. [12] The aligning of racial violence and fascism necessitates connecting, as Samir Amin once noted, “the return of fascism on the political scene to the ongoing crisis of contemporary capitalism.” [13] According to Amin, fascism rejects the most basic elements of democracy, which includes “theories and practices of modern democracies [based on a] recognition of a diversity of opinions, recourse to electoral procedures to determine a majority, [and ]guarantee of the rights of the minority.” [14] Against democratic values and rights, fascism proposes “the values of submission to the requirements of collective discipline and the authority of the supreme leader and his main agents.” [15]

Connecting racial violence and fascism also suggests a critical historical and contemporary analysis of the rise of the punishing state in a range of institutions, spaces, and social relations that shape daily life. In this logic, capitalism and violence become synonymous. Robin D. G. Kelley reiterates this point in his insistence that capitalism and racism are not distinct from one another and that racial hierarchies are a governing principle of capitalism. [16] Under such circumstances, it is not possible to “eliminate capitalism, overthrow it, without the complete destruction of white supremacy, of the racial regime under which it’s built.” [17]

David Harvey is right in asking how neoliberalism has managed to cancel out the future, render invisible the main centers of oppression, and extend market-driven values far beyond the economic realm to a range of institutions, spaces, and social actors. [18] Similarly, it is crucial to analyze how neoliberalism has enabled the re-emergence of white supremacy, white nationalism, and systemic racism as the foundation for merging neoliberalism and an updated version of fascist politics. [19] A central question here is how has the reach of violence changed under neoliberalism, and how has the ethical collapse of political horizons, language, and a shared sense of meaning and values furthered the destruction of public spaces, public imagination, and the rise of fascist politics? [20]

In an era of rampant anti-intellectualism, rising Christian nationalism, the elevation of blind faith for critical reason, and the advancement of consumerism to a national ideal, manufactured ignorance reinforces the destruction of those crucial public spheres where the discourse of the common good, public life, and social justice can be taught and learned. Under such circumstances, everyday life is militarized as predominantly white males are considered citizen-soldiers waging war against those viewed as disposable in a society where the public sphere is deemed only available to white people. [21] In this view of the social order, only whites have a legitimate claim to citizenship.

Domestic Space as a Battlefield

Domestic space has become a battlefield with tragic results. Heightened fear and paranoia, intensified by a racist culture, has resulted in Black people being killed for reasons as trivial as selling untaxed cigarettes, minor traffic offenses such as jaywalking, failing to signal a lane change, or alleged passing a fake $20 bill at a grocery store. [22] Duante Wright, a twenty-year-old unarmed Black man, was pulled over for a minor technicality, and in an absurd and tragic turn of events, was killed by a police officer who confused her Taser with a gun. Moreover, African Americans are far more likely to be killed by the police. From a broader historical perspective steeped in the brutality of slavery and the public lynching of Black men, deadly mistakes of this sort happen predominantly to those individuals who are rendered faceless, symbolizing pathology, evil, criminality, mayhem. and danger. [23] According to Aaron Morrison, Blacks are “far more likely than whites to die at the hands of the police.” He writes:

Various studies of criminal justice data show that African Americans are far more likely than whites to be pulled over by police and are as much as three times more likely to be searched. Black people are roughly 13 percent of the population, whereas the white population is about 60 percent. Black men were about 2.5 times more likely than white men to be killed by police between 2013 and 2018, according to an August 2019 study published by the National Academy of Sciences. Black women were 1.4 more times likely than white women to be killed by police, according to the same study. [24]

Policing in the United States blurs the lines between the war at home and abroad. America’s police forces have been militarized. They act with impunity in targeted neighborhoods, public schools, college campuses, hospitals, and almost every other public sphere. Not only do the police view protesters, Black people, and undocumented immigrants as antagonists to be controlled, they are also armed with military-grade weapons. This is a process that dates as far back as President Lyndon Johnson when he initiated the 1965 Law Enforcement Assistance Act, which supplied local police forces with weapons used in the Vietnam War. The public is now regarded as dangerous and suspect moreover, as the police are given more military technologies and weapons of war, a culture of punishment, resentment, and racism intensifies as Black people, in particular, are viewed as a threat to law and order. Unfortunately, employing militarized responses to routine police practices has become normalized and barely the object of public criticism. One consequence is that the federal government has continued to arm the police through the Defense Logistics Agency’s 1033 Program, which allows the Defense Department to transfer military equipment free of charge to local enforcement agencies.

The scope of the 1033 Program is alarming given that “Since its inception, more than 11,500 domestic law enforcement agencies have taken part in the 1033 Program, receiving more than $7.4 billion in military equipment.” [25] There is also the federally run 1122 Program which allows the police to purchase military equipment at the same discounted rate as the federal government. In addition, there is the Homeland Security Grant Program, which provides funds for local police departments to buy military-grade armaments and weapons. The military-grade weapons provided through these federal programs include armored vehicles, assault rifles, flashbang grenade launchers, bomb-detonating robots, and night vision items. Arming the police with more powerful weapons reinforced a culture that taught police officers to learn, think, and act as soldiers engaged in a war. Moreover, as Ryan Welch and Jack Mewhirter wrote in The Washington Post, the more militarized and armed the police are, the greater the increase in civilian deaths. As they point out:

Even controlling for other possible factors in police violence (such as household income, overall and black population, violent-crime levels and drug use), more-militarized law enforcement agencies were associated with more civilians killed each year by police. When a county goes from receiving no military equipment to $2,539,767 worth (the largest figure that went to one agency in our data), more than twice as many civilians are likely to die in that county the following year. [26]

This arming and militarizing of the police were intensified after the 9/11 attacks and privileged a police ethos defined by “the use of violent tactics and non-negotiable force over compromise, mediation, and peaceful conflict resolution.” [27] Police brutality is endemic to American history. As Mariame Kaba argues,

There is not a single era in United States history in which the police were not a force of violence against black people. Policing in the South emerged from the slave patrols in the 1700 and 1800s that caught and returned runaway slaves. In the North, the first municipal police departments in the mid-1800s helped quash labor strikes and riots against the rich. Everywhere, they have suppressed marginalized populations to protect the status quo. [28]

Police brutality cannot be separated from the lethal nature of white supremacy, and in its recent incarnations became “the war on crime.” Under President Nixon and every American president after him, the war on crime continued to expand and intensify into a war on Black communities. The call for “law and order” repeatedly served as a smokescreen for racist and militarized police practices that equated Black behavior with criminality and authorized the use of force against them. This is the organizing principle of a war mentality adopted by the police throughout the United States in which the behavior of Black people is criminalized. As the reach of the culture of punishment expanded, its targets included protesters, immigrants, and those individuals and groups marginalized by class, religion, ethnicity, and color as the other—an enemy. [29] It comes as no surprise that as one study reports, “Police kill, on average, 2.8 men per day…. Police homicide risk is higher than suggested by official data. Black and Latino men are at higher risk for death than are White men, and these disparities vary markedly across place.” [30] A militarized culture breed violence. It wastes money on the security industries, policing, and impoverished socially necessary programs to prevent it. Violence is both shocking and part of everyday life, especially for those who are poor, Black, and disenfranchised. In the last few decades, “the US has had the highest homicide rate of any high-income country, and according to preliminary data released in March by the FBI, it rose by 25 percent in 2020, when an estimated 20,000 people were murdered—more than fifty-six a day.” [31]

Police brutality became code for a more violent expression of racism that emerged with the rise of neoliberalism in the 1980s. [32] This was especially obvious under the Trump administration as the racist adoption of both white supremacy and a wave of police brutality against Blacks and undocumented immigrants was presented to the American public as a badge of honor and an act of civic pride.

As the power of the police expanded—edged on by the Trump administration– along with their unions, social programs were defunded. These included job programs, food stamp programs, health centers, healthcare programs, and early childhood education. In many states, more money was spent on prisons than on colleges and universities. [33] Targeted cities inhabited mostly by poor Black and brown people were now under siege as the war on poverty morphed into the war on crime. Instead of “fighting black youth poverty,” the new crop of white supremacist politicians fought what Elizabeth Hinton called “fighting black youth crime.” [34]

As Jim Crow re-emerged in more punitive forms, immigration was criminalized, the war on youth of color intensified, and the culture of punishment began to shape a range of institutions. This was particularly evident as mass incarceration became a defining organizing institution of the narrow racially inspired policies of criminalization in America and, by default, the prison its most notorious welfare agency. America has been in the midst of an imprisonment binge since the1960s. [35] As Angela Davis has noted:

But even more important, imprisonment is the punitive solution to a while range of social problems that are not being addressed by those social institutions that might help people lead better, more satisfying lives. This is the logic of what has been called the imprisonment binge: Instead of building housing, throw the homeless in prison. Instead of developing the educational system, throw the illiterate in prison. Throw people in prison who lose jobs as the result of de-industrialization, globalization of capital, and the dismantling of the welfare state. Get rid of all of them. Remove these dispensable populations from society. According to this logic the prison becomes a way of disappearing people in the false hope of disappearing the underlying social problems they represent. [36]

The numbers speak for themselves. Historian Khalil Gibran Muhammad makes this clear in his new preface to The Condemnation of Blackness: Race, Crime, and the Making of Modern Urban America. He writes:

By population, by per capita incarceration rates, and by expenditures, the United States exceeds all other nations in how many of its citizens, asylum seekers, and undocumented immigrants are under some form of criminal justice supervision…. The number of African American and Latinx people in American jails and prisons today exceeds the entire populations of some African, Eastern European, and Caribbean countries. [37]

Gangster Capitalism

Gangster capitalism trades on a culture that makes people disposable and derails the project of democracy in multiple ways. Michelle Brown has argued persuasively that the rise of police violence, especially against people of color, indicates that increases in the scale of punishment cannot be abstracted from a parallel rise in both power and apparatuses of punishment—extending from the law enforcement, military services, private security forces, immigration detention centers to intelligence networks, and surveillance apparatuses. [38] Moreover, the culture of punishment increasingly defines both subjects and social problems through the registers of punishment, pain, and violence. How else to explain the actions of the South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster, who in 2021 signed “a bill requiring death row inmates to choose between the electric chair and a firing squad as their method of execution.” [39] Frank Knaack, the Executive Director of the South Carolina’s ACLU, stated that capital punishment and the new law “evolved from lynchings and racial terror, and it has failed to separate its modern capital punishment system from this racist history.” [40]

Policing cannot be understood outside of the history of criminogenic culture and racist punishing state marked by both staggering inequities in wealth, income, and power, as well as a collective mindset in which those considered non-white are considered less than human, undeserving of human rights, and viewed as disposable. [41] The journalist Robert C. Koehler rightly argues that underlying both the larger culture and the culture of policing is a deeply ingrained white supremacy marked by a system of grow inequalities in which economic rights do not match political and individual rights. Koehler writes:

it is racism that is the trigger that disproportionately escalates police encounters with people of color. However, even more sadly, it is systemic racism that normalizes it, or legitimates it, making it largely acceptable to white American eyes and consciences. For it is not only the police who have this problem, but our entire society. [42]

As neoliberalism failed to deliver on its promises of upward social and economic mobility, it shifted attention for its broken social experiment to attacks on immigrants, Blacks, and other populations deemed unworthy, inferior, and a threat to white people. In doing so, gangster capitalism has become armed, spiraling into a form of authoritarianism that has merged the savagery of market despotism with the rancid ideology of white supremacy. Cornel West is right in arguing that neoliberal capitalism with its emphasis on materialism, racism, and cruelty “allows for endemic inequality and a culture of greed and consumerism that [has trampled] on the rights and dignity of poor people and minorities decade after decade.” [43] The American nightmare that has descended upon the United States points to a crisis of power, agency, community, education, and hope. The effects of the neoliberalism’s death-dealing-machinery are everywhere, and police abuse is only one thread of this criminogenic social formation.

Rather than fade into the past or disappear beneath the propaganda techniques of right- wing disimagination machines, widespread poverty, racially segregated schools, rampant homelessness, ecological destruction, large-scale rootlessness, fearmongering, social atomization voter suppression, and the politics of disposability are alive and well. [44] It is now unabashedly reproduced and defended by a Republican Party that has become the overt symbol of white supremacy, economic ruthlessness, and manufactured ignorance.

Widespread corruption is now matched by a climate of fear and a willingness on the part of Trump’s political allies to inflict violence on undesirable members of the public along with anyone voicing criticism or dissent. The scaffold of resistance now faces a malignant fascist politics growing across the globe. Fascist politics, especially in the United States, has been on steroids, especially true both during Trump’s reign in office and has continued after his defeat, especially with the rule of the Republican Party in the Congress and among a majority of state legislatures. If the systemic violence and lawlessness that denies Black communities a claim to human rights, citizenship, and dignity are to be challenged, it is crucial to understand how neoliberal fascism becomes a machinery of dread, tearing the social fabric, while cancelling the future. As a regime of ideology, neoliberal fascism wages a political and pedagogical war against the conditions that make thinking, agency, the search for truth, and informed judgment possible.

The heart of American violence does not reside merely in the culture and practice of policing in America, or for that matter in its prison-industrial complex. Its center of gravity is more comprehensive and is part of a broader crisis that extends from the threat of nuclear war and ecological devastation to the rise of authoritarian states and the human suffering caused by the staggering concentrations of wealth in the hands of a global financial elite. The roots of these multilayered and intersecting crises lie elsewhere in a new political and social formation that constitutes a racialized criminal economy that has embraced greed, violence, disposability, denial, and racial cleansing as governing principles of the entire social order. This is the rule of neoliberal fascism on steroids. It is also an extermination machine rooted in a vapid nihilism that fuels the celebration of materialism and social atomization with a belief in unshakable loyalty, purification through violence, and a cult of heroism.

It is crucial to understand how the threads of racial violence in its broader historical context, comprehensive connections, and multidimensional layers shape capitalism in its totality to produce what David Theo Goldberg calls a machinery of proliferating dread. [45] This suggests that any call for police reform must be part of a collective movement to bring an end to neoliberal capitalism rather than limit the call for racial justice to the defunding of the police. Such calls do not go to the heart of violence in America, particularly as it slides into an updated form of fascist politics. Policing as it currently exists must be eliminated. Mariame Kaba illuminates this issue in comments regarding police abolition. She writes:

People like me who want to abolish prisons and police, however, have a vision of a different society, built on cooperation instead of individualism, on mutual aid instead of self-preservation. What would the country look like if it had billions of extra dollars to spend on housing, food and education for all? This change in society wouldn’t happen immediately, but the protests show that many people are ready to embrace a different vision of safety and justice. [46]

Kaba’s challenge does not advocate for liberal reforms. Her call is to advance a radical restructuring of society. Central to her call for social change is that such a task be understood as not merely political but also educational. This necessitates the development of political and pedagogical struggles that take seriously the need to rethink the attack on the public imagination and attack on critical agency, identity, and everyday life. Also at stake is the need to identify and reclaim those institutions that are necessary to produce and connect an educated public to the struggle for a substantive and radical democracy. The crisis of democracy extends far beyond the calls for police reforms and demands a more comprehensive view not only of oppression and the forces through which it is produced, legitimated, and normalized but also of political struggle itself.

2) Bill Moyers, “Losing Reality: Can We Get the Truth Back?” BillMoyers.com (March 3, 2020). Online: https://billmoyers.com/story/losing-reality-can-we-get-the-truth-back/ ↑

3) Cedric J. Robinson, Black Marxism, Revised and Updated Third Edition: The Making of the Black Radical Tradition (Durham, University of North Carolina Press, 2021). ↑

4) Ibid., Cedric J. Robinson, Black Marxism, Revised and Updated Third Edition: The Making of the Black Radical Tradition see also Robin D. G. Kelley, “Birth of a Nation,” Boston Review, [Mar 6, 2017]. Online: http://bostonreview.net/race-politics/robin-d-g-kelley-births-nation ↑

6) See, for instance, Ruth Ben-Ghiat, Strongmen (New York: Norton, 2020) Bill V. Mullen and Christopher Vials, eds., The U.S. Anti-Fascism Reader (New York: Verso, 2020) Timothy Snyder, On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons From the Twentieth Century (New York: Tim Duggan Books, 2017) Jason Stanley, How Fascism Works (New York: Random House, 2018) Henry A. Giroux, American Nightmare: Facing the Challenge of Fascism (San Francisco: City Lights Books, 2018) Cal Boggs, Fascism Old and New (New York: Routledge, 2018). ↑

7) Al Baker, J. David Goodman, and Benjamin Mueller, “Beyond the Chokehold: The Path to Eric Garner’s Death,” New York Times (June 13, 2015). Online: https://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/14/nyregion/eric-garner-police-chokehold-staten-island.html ↑

8) Meagan Flynn, “Another black man who died in custody told officers, ‘I can’t breathe.’ One responded, ‘I don’t care’,” The Washington Post (June 11, 2020). Online: https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2020/06/11/derrick-scott-oklahoma-city-police/ ↑

9) George Yancy, “Chomsky: Protests Unleashed by Murder of George Floyd Exceed All in US History,” Truthout (May 7, 2021). Online: https://truthout.org/articles/chomsky-protests-unleashed-by-murder-of-george-floyd-exceed-all-in-us-history/ ↑

10) See, for instance, Elizabeth Hinton, From the War on Poverty to the War on Crime: The Making of Mass Incarceration in America (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2016) Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness (New York: The New Press, 2010).

11) Ibid., Alberto Toscano, “The Long Shadow of Racial Fascism” ↑

12) On the birth of neoliberalism, see Quinn Slobodian, Globalists: The End of Empire and the Birth of Neoliberalism (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2018). ↑

13) Samir Amin, “The Return of Fascism in Contemporary Capitalism,” Monthly Review (September 1, 2014). Online: https://monthlyreview.org/2014/09/01/the-return-of-fascism-in-contemporary-capitalism/ ↑

14) Ibid., Samir Amin, “The Return of Fascism in Contemporary Capitalism.” ↑

15) Ibid., Samir Amin, “The Return of Fascism in Contemporary Capitalism.” ↑

16) Jeremy Scahill, “Scholar Robin D.G. Kelley on How Today’s Abolitionist Movement Can Fundamentally Change the Country,” The Intercept (June 27, 2020). Online: https://theintercept.com/2020/06/27/robin-dg-kelley-intercepted/ see also, Robin D. G. Kelley, “Why Black Marxism, Why Now?” Boston Review. (Feb 1, 2021) Online http://bostonreview.net/race-philosophy-religion/robin-d-g-kelley-why-black-marxism-why-now ↑

17) Ibid., Jeremy Scahill, “Scholar Robin D.G. Kelley on How Today’s Abolitionist Movement Can Fundamentally Change the Country.” ↑

18) Laura Flanders, “David Harvey: Looking Toward a Moneyless Economy and Sleeping Well at Night,” Truthout, (February 3, 2015). http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/28879-looking-toward-a-moneyless-economy-and-sleeping-well-at-night ↑

19) Paul Street, “We Have a Fascism Problem,” CounterPunch (December 16, 2020). Online: https://www.counterpunch.org/2020/12/16/we-have-a-fascism-problem/ Paul Street, “The Anatomy of Fascism Denial: 26 Flavors of Anti-Antifascism, Part 1,” Counter Punch. (Feb 7, 2021).Online https://www.counterpunch.org/2021/02/07/the-anatomy-of-fascism-denial/ Sarah Churchwell, “American Fascism: It Has Happened Again,” The New York Review of Books, [May 26, 2020].Online https://www.nybooks.com/daily/2020/06/22/american-fascism-it-has-happened-here Timothy Snyder, On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons From the Twentieth Century (New York: Tim Duggan Books, 2017) Jason Stanley, How Fascism Works (New York: Random House, 2018) Henry A. Giroux, American Nightmare: Facing the Challenge of Fascism (San Francisco: City Lights Books, 2018) Cal Boggs, Fascism Old and New (New York: Routledge, 2018). ↑

20) Drucilla Cornell and Stephen D. Seely “What Has Happened to the Public Imagination, and Why?,” Global-e Vol 10. Issue 19 (March 21, 2017). Online https://www.21global.ucsb.edu/global-e/march-2017/what-has-happened-public-imagination-and-why Rob Hopkins, “Drucilla Cornell on the power of the public imagination,” Resilience. (February 10, 2021). Online https://www.resilience.org/stories/2021-02-10/drucilla-cornell-on-the-power-of-the-public-imagination/ Dmitri N. Shalin, “Identity Politics and Civic Imagination,” Tikkun. (April 5, 2021) Online: https://www.tikkun.org/identity-politics-and-civic-imagination/ ↑

21) Henry A. Giroux and Brad Evans, Disposable Futures: The Seduction of Violence in the Age of Spectacle (San Francisco, City Lights Books, 2015). ↑

22) Aaron Morrison, “Floyd’s Death is latest suffered by blacks over trivial activities,” Press Herald. (June 12, 2020). Online: https://www.pressherald.com/2020/06/12/floyds-death-latest-suffered-by-blacks-over-trivial-activities/ ↑

23) Judith Butler, Precarious Life: The Powers of Mourning and Violence, (London: Verso Press, 2004). ↑

24) Aaron Morrison, “Floyd’s Death is latest suffered by blacks over trivial activities,” Press Herald. (June 12, 2020). Online: https://www.pressherald.com/2020/06/12/floyds-death-latest-suffered-by-blacks-over-trivial-activities/ ↑

25) Nathaniel Lee, “How police militarization became an over $5 billion business coveted by the defense industry,” CNBC (July 9, 2020). Online: https://www.cnbc.com/2020/07/09/why-police-pay-nothing-for-military-equipment.html See also, Talib Visram, “Eliminating this federal program would play a major part in demilitarizing the police,” Fast Company (June 8, 2020). Online: https://www.fastcompany.com/90513061/eliminating-this-federal-program-would-play-a-major-part-in-demilitarizing-the-police ↑

26) Ryan Welch and Jack Mewhirter, “Does military equipment lead police officers to be more violent? We did the research.,” The Washington Post (June 30, 2017). Online: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2017/06/30/does-military-equipment-lead-police-officers-to-be-more-violent-we-did-the-research/ ↑

27) Tom Nolan, “Arming our police with more powerful weapons has led to more violence against Americans, ex-cop says,” MarketWatch (June 2, 2020). Online: https://www.marketwatch.com/story/ex-cop-militarization-of-local-police-leads-to-more-law-enforcement-violence-against-citizens-2020-06-02 ↑

29) Radley Balko, The Rise of the Warrior Cop (New York: Public Affairs, 2013). ↑

30) Frank Edwards, Michael H. Esposito, and Hedwig Lee, “Risk of Police-Involved Death by Race/Ethnicity and Place, United States, 2012–2018,” American Public Health Association (September 2018). Online: https://ajph.aphapublications.org/doi/10.2105/AJPH.2018.304559 ↑

31) Francesca Mari, “How Can We Stop Gun Violence?” The New York Review of Books (June 10, 2021). Online: https://www.nybooks.com/articles/2021/06/10/how-can-we-stop-gun-violence/ ↑

32) See Jill Nelson, ed. Police Brutality (New York: Norton, 2000) A Truthout Collection, Who Do You Serve, Who do you Protect? Police Violence and Resistance in the United States (Chicago: Haymarket, 2016). ↑

33) See the ground-breaking work on this issue from Ruth Gilmore, Golden Gulag: Prisons, Surplus, Crisis, and Opposition in Globalizing California (Oakland: University of California Press, 2008). ↑

34) Elizabeth Hinton, From the War on Poverty to the War on Crime: The Making of Mass Incarceration in America (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2016), p. 332. ↑

35) Elizabeth Hinton, America on Fire: The Untold History of Police Violence and Black Rebellion Since the 1960s (New York: Liveright,2021)

36) Angela Y. Davis, Abolition Democracy: Beyond Empire, Prisons, and Torture, (New York: Seven Stories Press, 2005) pp. 40-41. ↑

37) Kahilil Gibran Muhammad, The Condemnation of Blackness: Race, Crime, and the Making of Modern Urban America (Harvard University Press 2nd edition, 2019), p. xiii. ↑

38) Michelle Brown, The Culture of Punishment (New York: NYU Press, 2009), pp. 10-11. ↑

40) Ibid., Jack Johnson, “South Carolina Gov Signs ‘Inhumane’ Bill Forcing Death Row Inmates to Choose Firing Squad or Electric Chair.” ↑

41) Elizabeth Hinton, America on Fire: The Untold History of Police Violence and Black Rebellion Since the 1960s (New York: Liveright,2021)

44) Sasha Abramsky, Jumping at Shadows (New York: Nation Books, 2017). ↑

45) David Theo Goldberg, Dread: Facing Futureless Futures (London: Polity, 2021). ↑

The U.S. Once Had A Ban On Assault Weapons — Why Did It Expire?

A visitor peruses H&K rifles at the SHOT Show in Las Vegas. Such weapons were once restricted under a 1994 ban that expired with changing politics in the United States.

Updated at 1:57 p.m. ET

On the presidential campaign trail in Iowa and on the op-ed page of The New York Times, former Vice President Joe Biden has made the case for going back to a nationwide ban on assault weapons and making it "even stronger."

Some have reacted with quizzical expressions: "Back?" "Stronger?"

Yes. Twenty five years ago, when Biden was chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Congress passed the Public Safety and Recreational Firearms Use Protection Act — commonly called the assault weapons ban.

It prohibited the manufacture or sale for civilian use of certain semi-automatic weapons. The act also banned magazines that could accommodate 10 rounds or more.


Feds: Dayton Gunman's Friend Helped Hide Body Armor And Ammo From Shooter's Parents

"Assault weapons — military-style firearms designed to fire rapidly — are a threat to our national security, and we should treat them as such," Biden wrote in his weekend op-ed. "Anyone who pretends there's nothing we can do is lying — and holding that view should be disqualifying for anyone seeking to lead our country."

The earlier ban was enacted as a subsection of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, an election-year package meant to show that Democrats were "tough on crime."

Times were different then. More Americans said they worried about violent crime and the threat associated with criminals armed with powerful weapons.

So among other things, Biden and Democrats got behind stricter sentencing guidelines and expanding the category of federal crimes punishable with the death penalty.

At the time, Biden defended the legislation against charges of weakness by saying: "We do everything but hang people for jaywalking in this bill."


How Democratic Candidates Have Wrestled With The Question Of The Death Penalty

Eagerness to tackle crime rates made at least some Democrats in 1994 also willing to address the role of guns – particularly those perceived as more dangerous and which had been turned on innocent citizens.

In his Times op-ed, Biden salutes the senator often credited as the architect of the 1994 ban, Dianne Feinstein of California. Then, in just her second year as a senator, Feinstein took over as chief sponsor of a bill originally offered by Ohio Democrat Howard Metzenbaum in 1989 after a mass shooting on a schoolyard in Stockton, Calif.

That shooting took the lives of five children and injured 28 others and a teacher.

Feinstein's resolve to carry this legislation forward was bolstered when eight more people were killed and six injured in another California horror, this time at a law firm in San Francisco.


In Dayton And El Paso, A Search For Comfort And Healing

"It was the 1993 mass shooting at 101 California Street," she later said. "That was the tipping point for me. That's what really motivated me to push for a ban on assault weapons."

But to secure the votes for passage, the ban's sponsors agreed to allow those who already had these guns to keep them. Biden now says he would initiate a buyback program instead, although it isn't clear how that might work or how effective it might be.

Sponsors also accepted a "sunset provision" by which the 1994 ban would automatically expire after 10 years unless renewed by a vote of Congress. Even so, the ban only got 52 votes in the Senate on its way to inclusion in the overall crime bill, which was signed into law by President Bill Clinton.

The world turns

By the time those 10 years had passed, however, the political climate had changed.

Republicans by then had held the House throughout the period and the Senate for all but 18 months. The GOP had just increased its numbers in both chambers in the midterm elections of 2002, a political season dominated by anxiety after the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.


In Dayton And El Paso, A Search For Comfort And Healing

Feinstein and others made numerous efforts to restore the ban that year and over the next several years. When Barack Obama was elected president in 2008 he made renewing the ban part of his agenda. Efforts were mounted again after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in December 2012, but none bore fruit.

The attempt to reinstate the ban after Sandy Hook attracted 12 fewer votes in the Senate than Feinstein had mustered in an attempt to renew the ban in 2004.

Former Vice President Joe Biden says if he's elected, he'd support a new ban on assault weapons, along with a buyback program. Charlie Neibergall/AP hide caption

Former Vice President Joe Biden says if he's elected, he'd support a new ban on assault weapons, along with a buyback program.

Biden has come to rue much about the 1994 legislation.

It led to a surge in prison populations that has since been reviled as "mass incarceration" that proved disproportionately injurious to African Americans. Biden has been upbraided for it by his rivals since this year's Democratic presidential contest began.

But in 1994, the most immediate consequence of the crime bill was a backlash against the assault weapons ban among gun advocates.

The midterm elections that fall were already difficult for the Democrats, who had to defend the new North American Free Trade Agreement, some higher taxes and a scandal in the House banking system.


Examining Who Owns Guns In The U.S.

Adding in the blowback over the assault weapons ban — particularly intense in the rural South and West — turned the midterm into a debacle for Democrats. They lost control of both the Senate and House, the latter for the first time in 40 years.

Among those defeated that fall was 42-year veteran Jack Brooks, a Texas Democrat who had been chairman of the House Judiciary Committee when the crime bill passed.

Brooks had tried to have the assault weapons ban removed from the bill and was himself a longtime member of the National Rifle Association. But it was not enough to save him in rural Texas that fall.

The sense that gun control cost Democrats votes intensified after the presidential election of 2000. That year's Democratic nominee, Vice President Al Gore of Tennessee, could not carry his home state or other swing states won by the Clinton-Gore ticket in the 1990s.


El Paso Mass Shooting Meant To Galvanize Other White Nationalists

Gore surely paid a price for his stances on coal and other issues as well, but much of the blame for his narrow Electoral College loss fell on voters' response to his positions on guns.

In 2004, when the Republican Congress refused to renew the assault weapons ban, the Democrats' presidential nominee was Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, who sought to style himself as a hunter and gun owner but nonetheless supported the ban and its renewal.

The Electoral College that year looked a lot like 2000, and Kerry could have won had he carried Ohio. But in that state, as elsewhere, a poor showing in rural counties doomed the Democratic nominee.

What effect did the ban have?

Today we can look back at the 10 years of the ban and at 15 years since its expiration.

Critics of the ban have argued that it violated Second Amendment rights while accomplishing little, and evidence suggests it did not do much to reduce the incidence of gun violence overall.

What it did, its defenders reply, was reduce the number of people killed in mass shootings.


Americans Largely Support Gun Restrictions To 'Do Something' About Gun Violence

Both sides of the debate claim vindication in subsequent research. Comparing the various studies is difficult because they use different definitions of "assault weapon" and mass shooting.

One thing is clear: Assault weapons like those once restricted by the ban were used in the most memorable events that have defined the current era of random massacre, including at Sandy Hook in 2012, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., in 2018 — and this month in Texas and Ohio.

They are the emblem of the nation's soul sickness over these tragedies.

So today Democratic candidates stand by the assault weapons ban, despite its political costs in the past and potential costs in the future.

President Trump now calls for having "strong background checks" for gun purchases but does not call for new restrictions on assault weapons.

"There's no political appetite for it," he says.


McConnell Says Senate Will Debate Bills Addressing Gun Violence

But many surveys show the opposite.

A survey done this month by Morning Consult and Politico found 7 in 10 voters, including 54% of Republicans, supported "a ban on assault-style weapons." Even higher percentages supported a ban on high-capacity magazines and a purchase age of at least 21 for any gun. The survey, done Aug. 5-7, included 1,960 interviews and had a margin of error of two percentage points.

Given that similar percents supported a ban after the shootings of the early 1990s and after the Sandy Hook and Parkland tragedies, there would seem to be a long-term pattern.

Whether that can be translated into legislative action by the current political establishment is — as always — another question.

Has banning controversial ideas ever not lead to much violence in enforcement or resistance? - History

Numerous critics have called for the ban of the infamous instruction manual for violent civil disobedience.

  • The Anarchist Cookbook provides instructions for making bombs, drugs, and operating firearms naturally, this makes it rather controversial.
  • Concerned citizens, anarchists themselves, and many others have called for the ban of the book, but most liberal democracies have refused to do so.
  • Whether you think dangerous literature should be banned or whether banning books is an inherently anti-democratic position, knowing and understanding why the Anarchist Cookbook draws so much criticism can be valuable.

It's difficult to find a book more eclectic, violent, provocative, and incendiary than the Anarchist Cookbook. It's a bizarre instruction manual that covers a wide array of topics whose only connection is that they are often illegal and dangerous. Broadly, the book covers four areas: drugs electronics, sabotage, and surveillance natural, nonlethal, and lethal weapons and explosives and booby traps.

Since it was first written in 1971, much of its information is out of date. But some topics, like how to make improvised bombs, don't have an expiration date. The book provides instructions for making LSD and teargas, primers on how to operate various firearms, how to sabotage different kinds of infrastructure, and writing on anarchist philosophy.

The book was written by William Powell, a manager of a bookstore in Greenwich Village. Powell quit his job, however, to write the Anarchist Cookbook. "My motivation at the time was simple," said Powell in an article for The Guardian. "I was being actively pursued by the US military, who seemed single-mindedly determined to send me to fight, and possibly die, in Vietnam." Its counter-cultural, violent message proved popular today, it has sold in excess of 2 million copies.

It should come as no surprise that the book is infamous and controversial. But the kinds of criticism it attracts varies depending on the source. Governments across the world clearly have a negative opinion of the text. It does, after all, advocate for violent civil disobedience. The Anarchist Cookbook is banned in Australia. In the UK, possessing the book—though not illegal itself—has often been used as evidence in terrorism cases. A teenager was accused and later acquitted of a plot to assassinate British National Party members in 2008. In 2017, a 27-year-old who had traveled to Syria and possessed a copy was accused of being a terrorist. It turned out that he had merely printed a copy of the Anarchist Cookbook for use in a role-playing game in a university society.

In the United States, critics have called for a ban of Anarchist Cookbook ever since its publication. Worryingly, the book has been found in the possession of several mass shooters, including the Columbine shooters, a 2013 shooting at a Colorado high school, and the 2012 shooting at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado. Despite these demands, the book remains legal and easy to purchase or find online.

Though it remains legal, the FBI certainly doesn't approve of it. In their initial investigation of the Anarchist Cookbook, the FBI wrote that it "has to be one of the crudest, low-brow, paranoiac writing efforts ever attempted." Numerous letter-writers exhorted then-FBI director J. Edgar Hoover to ban the book, but he could only reply that "the FBI has no control over material published through the mass media."

A photo of J. Edgar Hoover, under whose administration the FBI investigated the Anarchist Cookbook.

Still others argue that the book should be banned because much of its content is… well… crap. Powell wrote the Anarchist Cookbook when he was just 19, and much of its information is inaccurate. For example, the cookbook provides instructions for extracting a chemical called bananadine—"a mild, short-lasting psychedelic"—from banana peels. Bananadine does not exist it was a fabrication written in the underground newspaper the Berkeley Barb in an attempt to get authorities to ban bananas. Powell, however, believed it to be true.

The explosive recipes are particularly dangerous, though few would feel much remorse if a bomb-maker were to accidentally blow themselves up. Still, since the text attracts many people who are more curious than homicidal, the inaccuracies could have consequences for more innocent readers.

Even anarchists don't find the Anarchist Cookbook particularly compelling. For one, its philosophical stance is questionable. Its preface conflates nihilism and anarchism, a position that many anarchists would take umbrage to. Leo Tolstoy, for example, was certainly not a nihilist he was a thoroughly religious man who espoused an anarcho-pacifist philosophy. Noam Chomsky believed in anarcho-syndicalism, a kind of mixture of socialism and anarchy that very much requires the belief in something, at the very least the virtue of doing work for work's sake.

More inherent to the book's purpose is the fact that the use of violence as a means to anarchy is perhaps the defining divide among different anarchist philosophies. Violent actions in anarchy is referred to as the propaganda of the deed—a kind of terrorist method of intimidating those in power and recruiting and inspiring others for a political revolution. Though this conforms to the public perception of an anarchist, it is very much denied by many prominent anarchist thinkers, like Leo Tolstoy—who was more or less constitutionally incapable of hurting a fly—Noam Chomsky, and Howard Zinn.

But the most important person to level criticism against the book and its violent tactics is William Powell himself. Powell later converted to Anglicanism and became a teacher to students in developing countries in Africa and Asia, a far cry from his anarchist youth. He has been trying to get the book pulled from shelves for decades, but he no longer holds the copyright to the work.

In his article for The Guardian, Powell wrote:

Over the years, I have come to understand that the basic premise behind the Cookbook is profoundly flawed. The anger that motivated the writing of the Cookbook blinded me to the illogical notion that violence can be used to prevent violence. I had fallen for the same irrational pattern of thought that led to US military involvement in both Vietnam and Iraq. The irony is not lost on me. […] The continued publication of the Cookbook serves no purpose other than a commercial one for the publisher. It should quickly and quietly go out of print.

Despite his efforts, the Anarchist Cookbook is still widely disseminated online and easily purchased at Amazon or bookstores. While the commitment to the free and unimpeded distribution of writing is a valuable, admirable quality in any democracy, in the face of so much criticism, perhaps it would be best if the Anarchist Cookbook did, in fact, go quickly and quietly out of print.

Blogger: David Icke

David Icke describes himself as the most controversial speaker and author in the world, and that is probably his one theory that everyone can agree on.

99% of his other theories? Not so much.

You see, David Icke is what is known as a “conspiracy theorist.” However, many of his fans from both the political left and right consider him to be more of a conspiracy realist. In other words, they believe his theories and eat them up.

Icke’s theories are definitely not mainstream. For example, he says the earth is run by reptilian shapeshifters who pull the strings of global events behind the curtain. Another thing that gets in him trouble with many is his focus on the Jews, which is why many call Icke an anti-Semite.

Icke has built his self supporting audience through self published books (in the early nineties his publisher cut ties with him due to anti-Semitic concerns), his website, and by doing many speaking engagements around the world.

While researching Icke, it became apparent to me that some of today’s contemporary conspiracy theories originated from Icke…or he has at least helped make them more widely known thanks to his large platform.

Icke’s content is extremely controversial, which enabled him to join this list with ease. His Wikipedia page will give you an overview of his views.


This introduction highlights the historically oriented scholarship and politically engaged writing that examines places and times without police, which appear in this issue. Modern approaches to governance generally take the presence of police as necessary to maintaining social peace, even though police have proven to fail at fostering public safety and in fact tend to escalate harm and violence. Following the lead of activists working to dismantle police, prisons, and other institutions of state violence, the introduction takes seriously the question of how to imagine, and to build, a world without police. It looks specifically to historical analysis as an especially useful vantage from which to respond to this provocation and outlines how the issue’s contributors detail times and places when people worked without or against formal institutions of modern police.

As we write in summer 2019, we watch Hong Kong’s police in riot gear launch tear gas, water cannons, and batons against democracy activists contesting China’s intrusions on the city’s semi-independent status and against the police brutality they have endured. With the rise of Brazil’s far-right president Jair Bolsonaro, and his associate Wilson Witzel as governor of Rio de Janeiro, we are witnessing the dramatic rise and reemergence of police killings of Rio’s citizens, concentrated in the urban communities inhabited largely by poor Black and Brown people. In the United States, we have just passed the fifth anniversary of Michael Brown’s death and the acquittal of his murderer, Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson. We have also watched as the New York City police department finally fired Daniel Pantaleo, five years after he choked to death Eric Garner, whose last words, “I can’t breathe,” have become a clarion call against police brutality against Black people in the United States. In these five years, Erica Garner, driven by her father’s murder to activism against unjust policing practices, died prematurely at age twenty-seven. She spoke publicly about her struggles with the stress of her activism “The system,” she said, “it beats you down.” 1 Though not an activist, Ramsey Orta, who recorded Eric Garner’s murder, has confronted persistent police harassment ever since and now faces sixty years in prison on drug and gun charges. 2 As with all instances of police violence, the effects of Garner’s murder have radiated through communities far beyond the first victim.

Simply realizing the harm that violent and discriminatory policing causes does not lead automatically to a truly critical, or radical, understanding of what can be done to address that harm. Yet radical ideas are effervescing. Incidents of lethal police violence against Black Americans launched Black Lives Matter in 2013, a movement now with global reach that mobilizes for a complete transformation of society—so complete that police would not just end their brutality, but would not be needed at all. The understanding that police are part of the problem and not the solution to endemic insecurity, social conflict, mistrust, and despair within communities has led people in disparate parts of the world to focus their activism on the need to reappropriate public resources from police to other services like education, health care, and affordable housing. 3 Social scientists such as Naomi Murakawa and Alex Vitale have likewise argued that the problem is not militarization or excessive violence but rather the police force itself. The liberal focus on better training, accountability, and the purging of bad apples fails to move us any closer to a just society, because reforms, in Vitale’s words, “leave intact the basic institutional functions of the police, which have never really been about public safety or crime control.” 4 Thinking about worlds without police helps us, to quote Vitale again, to “move beyond the false choice of living with widespread disorder or relying on police to be the enforcers of civility.” 5

Yet to many people, this idea that any society, and particularly one in our contemporary age, could function without police seems preposterous, inconceivable, like something to be relegated to the fictional realms of utopian science fiction or fairy tale pasts. The idea that police are essential to a functioning social order has become so embedded in our thinking that we fail to connect this belief to the fact that police forces often fail to reduce harm or foster social peace while in fact inflicting violent, even lethal, harm that ripples through and disrupts entire communities.

This issue’s focus on “policing, justice, and the radical imagination” is motivated by urgent, contemporary concerns over police and by our conviction that history provides an insightful vantage from which to react to them. The modern, institutionalized police force, after all, is a recent development. To trace the global emergence of police throughout all time would be impossible here, but it is important to note that while police forces in the modern sense existed nowhere in the world until the nineteenth century, societies in all ages have tasked some individuals with the maintenance of order at a local level. Nobles and monarchs in ancient Egypt had private guards. Town residents in medieval and early modern Europe took turns as watchmen, sometimes as part of a rotating labor draft. Town walls contained the flow of people in and out of communities, and sentinels served to surveil them to look out for danger. Or we might see protopolice in the soldiers who took part in military occupations of cities in emergent situations like wars, invasions, and natural disasters, or the privatized slave patrols that later came under government control. The early state surveillance and punishment complex was always a public-private partnership, where citizens made “arrests” and fed and clothed prisoners, and where private heads of household could contract agents of the state to punish their unruly dependents. Not until the nineteenth century did public security workers who bore the recognizable characteristics of modern police emerge: uniformed, quasi- or paramilitary forces employed by the state and empowered to use coercive force.

Police forces quickly became entrenched in the way the state functioned and in people’s social lives and relationships. From the early nineteenth century on, the modern state was undergirded by the assumption that it could not exist without the police, because the disparate forms of violence meted out by individuals and communities needed to be concentrated in the hands of the state to protect private property. In tandem with the rise of police forces, then, we can also trace the development of the idea that institutionalized police forces are natural and organic parts of society.

In 1929, for instance, Brazil had only had a professional police force for just over a century. Yet in a book published in that year dedicated to the military police of the state of Rio de Janeiro, the author depicts the police as a timeless and organic part of the social body. He remarks, “There is no interest that more closely touches the individual and society than the prevention and the repression of crime. The police thus take responsibility for guaranteeing the lives and the security of property, thereby having a bio-social foundation.” Police officers, he writes, are like antibodies that attack pathogens in the bloodstream. “The State, a complex entity, thus maintains the police to defend the social organism from an invasion of germs and parasites that are pernicious to the collective life of society.” 6 The historian’s task is to reconstruct not only the institutional development and social formation of police forces but also to denaturalize the prevalent idea that modern governance and police go hand in hand, and that there is no way to extricate one from the other.

For insight into worlds beyond police, and into the historical process that made it so hard to imagine these worlds, we need not return to the premodern age. As the works in this issue make clear, even studies of places and times during the age of professionalized policing have uncovered pockets, moments, and interstices—spaces without, alongside, or despite formal law enforcement institutions. Examples abound stories illustrating the range of possibilities of worlds without police, from the radical to the reactionary, have entered our modern folklore: citizens taking over directing traffic during the famous blackout in the summer of 1977 in New York City or the citizens of Kwangju, South Korea, pushing the police and military forces to the outskirts of the city to have an extraordinary five days of self-rule in May 1980, before those forces returned to violently level the citizens’ uprising against the dictatorship.

What if we attempted to collect these case studies systematically, putting scholars of various disciplinary stripes in dialogue with activists to ponder these questions together? This issue draws on a range of available resources and methods, including ethnography, political and legal analysis, social and cultural history, art history, literary criticism, and critical inquiry and visual culture by activists organizing to protect people from police violence and, ultimately, to dismantle state policing institutions. In the limited space between the two covers of this issue, we could only include a small—but, we hope, compelling—sampling of the ways communities have pursued public safety and social peace through a variety of means apart from formal policing institutions. The contributions here remind us of the powerful truth at the heart of the study of history: we need to historicize to denaturalize—to comprehend how features of our world taken for granted as necessary elements of a complex modern society emerged out of a historical process.

Envisioning a world without police requires a radical imagination, but contemporary organizers are not the first to attempt such a thorough overturning of social, political, and economic structures. Indeed, by invoking the word abolition to describe their aims, the multifaceted movements working to end policing and prisons recall a long history of such mobilizing. These contemporary movements evoke the legacy of abolitionists who fought to end chattel slavery in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Abolitionists against slavery deployed multiple strategies. In the United States, for example, they aided enslaved people’s escape to freedom by supporting the Underground Railroad and helping them to evade slave patrols, the proto-police forces that hunted those who dared to flee bondage. They lobbied for local laws opposing the Fugitive Slave Acts that put federal resources and legal mandates behind capturing enslaved people who freed themselves.

Abolitionists throughout the Atlantic world, however, did not limit their aims to assisting people who tried to escape to freedom. Rather, they sought to end slavery altogether. The abolition of slavery was an ambitious goal, given that slavery was built into the foundation of governance, social relations, prevalent racial ideologies, and the global and national economies. Enslaved people and free persons who fought for abolition mobilized on multiple fronts and ultimately shifted conceptions of slavery from a mostly unquestioned dimension of a hierarchical society or later, a necessary evil, to a corrosive institution that needed to be fully eradicated.

Even further, abolitionists understood how deeply embedded slavery had become in every facet of society. Indeed, the new society they envisioned and fought for required entirely new social, political, and economic relationships, moving away from the legal fiction of treating the enslaved as property and instead relating to them as people. Building on the radical imaginings of abolitionists, the Reconstruction that followed the US Civil War extended beyond the mere emancipation of enslaved people. It also sought to redistribute wealth (in the form of “forty acres and a mule” and other economic programs) and to empower Black people socially and politically with education, suffrage for all men, birthright citizenship, and laws prohibiting racial discrimination. Abolitionist visions and the promises of Reconstruction were cut short, however, by racist terrorism and by compromises with those who refused to loosen their grip on a society built on white supremacy. Contemporary abolitionists in the United States draw on this legacy to inform their work to dismantle the carceral and policing institutions that, like slavery in the nineteenth century, to many seem so essential to social order as to be unquestionable.

As this historical sketch suggests, abolition as a keyword and an ongoing project of movements seeking to dismantle systems of state violence and social control is rooted in a US-centric genealogy. In the contemporary context, movements seeking the abolition of police and prisons, as Angela Davis argues, are “not only, or even primarily, about abolition as a negative process of tearing down, but also about building up, about creating new institutions.” 7 Beyond the United States, struggles against policing similarly assume that its mere abolition is insufficient. As the organizers of Reaja ou Será Morto/Morta, a Black militant organization operating in Brazil, consider in their roundtable, uprooting formal institutions of police must also simultaneously tear down the towering racist infrastructure on which they are built in order to advance liberation at all. Indeed, Reaja organizers draw less on a genealogy of abolition than on the legacy of quilombismo, rooted in the flight from slavery and creation of self-determined maroon communities, to guide their work. They are not alone. As Micol Seigel reflects in her essay, quilombismo has inspired multiple liberatory communities over time and continues to motivate the work of organizations that confront or operate beyond formal police.

The essays in this issue begin with tenth-century England and close with Seigel’s essay on current Brazil. Collectively, the works challenge a core tenet of the assumed inextricable relationship between the modern state and police: the belief that violence is necessary to the maintenance of public order. In medieval England, the three fundamental systems of institutionalized, coercive force—police, the judiciary, and incarceration—did not exist in their modern-day forms. As Tom Lambert notes in his article, we would be mistaken to imagine medieval England operating under a consolidated “Leviathan” form of state power. He argues, however, that we would also be mistaken to present tenth-century England as evidence of the need for coercive violence in shoring up public order. Indeed, both Lambert and Luke Fidler demonstrate how the “spectacular” violence we imagine associated with a place and time like Medieval England was, in fact, more like a projected fantasy on the part of the elites. As Fidler argues, in a social landscape where “punitive incarceration was rare,” art forms—often sculptures housed in public religious sites—illustrated different narratives of “violent, juridical encounters.” The maintenance of social hierarchy was coded as social order, and these “didactic public sculptures” served as a form of threatened violence to forge a public consensus.

The violence purported to be necessary to modern-day policing goes hand in hand with a notion of protection, especially the protection of property. In exploring how the early Medieval legal order was intensely preoccupied with theft, which elites sought to control through violence, Lambert shows us a surprising countervailing force to elite threats: the messy, ground-level community operations of justice. Arguing that the extreme forms of violence proposed by the elite were in fact based on ideas about retributive justice, Lambert shows us how, in practice, “communal institutions and local political networks proved a formidable barrier to the practical implementation of the harsh retributive vision” of the early Medieval legal order.

In the violent global ordering demanded by imperial expansion, colonies became crucibles in which colonial powers experimented with the relationship between policing orders to naturalize the racial logics of violence and settlement. For colonized people, the undermining of colonial policing always involved challenging the legal authority of colonial states to prescribe social orders. Within the context of nineteenth- and twentieth-century British colonial expansion, violence, and settlement, Gagan Preet Singh and Alex Winder each demonstrate the critical significance of communal justice systems both as the continuing basis for on-the-ground claims to local sovereignty and as resistance against violent attempts to break apart community authority.

Singh begins his article after the 1857 rebellion against British rule, an era of colonial power characterized by “judges and policemen.” Examining the 1913 Karnal cattle-lifting case, Singh focuses on how communities maintained the precolonial indigenous khoji system of cattle tracking in British colonial Punjab and studiously avoided the police, much to the British state’s confusion and dismay. Key to the seeming failure of the British colonial state was the fact that “colonial notions of individual property rights conflicted with indigenous understandings in which communities laid shared claims over property.” In Winder’s article, Palestinians similarly turned to the form of mediated “communal reconciliation” of suhl during the 1936–39 revolt against British rule and Zionist colonization, and the 1987–91 uprising against Israeli rule (or the “first intifada”). These were “complex structures” composed of “judicial committees, peace committees, or mediation committees,” which effectively worked to counter British or Israeli state objectives to fragment, isolate, and divide the community.

In both colonial Punjab and Palestine (under the British Mandate and later Israeli occupation), the forms of communal justice on the ground allow us to focus on community practices of justice rather than the language of protection that comes out of the policing and legal orders from colonial states. The state’s mandate and responsibility to “protect” also became a hallmark of the US imperial state’s mobilizing of the police in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries, when a show of force was considered a preventive measure against greater violence. Indeed, US liberal empire exploited this exact duality in characterizing the police both as the embodiment of state violence and as offering state benevolence. Toby Beauchamp focuses on the figure of the United States park ranger over the course of the twentieth century as conservationists debated what kind of social role the ranger must play, with the effect that the effort to distinguish “rangers from ‘real’ police naturalizes and actively supports the ranger’s authoritative role in hierarchies of power.” Beauchamp argues that the ranger essentially naturalized policing authority in the national parks, formed by violent, forced displacement and seizure of land.

In other words, the state itself always deploys powers beyond policing via the broad realm of extralegal and extrainstitutional violence fundamental to the modern state. White supremacist vigilantism or privatized military labor exemplify the kinds of local “policing” that supposedly fall beyond the purview of the state, but that disavowal is precisely the point. A. J. Yumi Lee turns to Toni Morrison’s Home, a novel about a Black veteran of the Korean War, to bring these two realms of violent rule—a domestic Jim Crow United States and the foreign “police action” of the Korean War—into the same frame of experience, impact, and accountability. Noting that Home was published in 2012, Lee points out that Morrison explicitly stated in an interview that she wanted to challenge the idea of 1950s America as an idyllic time for the nation. Similarly, in their piece on the 2014 Umbrella Movement in Hong Kong, Cho-kiu Li and Kin-long Tong provide further insight on the mobilization of a distinct language, that of “security,” that emerged during the post-1945 era and naturalizes violent policing as an extension of the modern state.

But as Lee’s discussion of Home and Li and Tong illustrate, people challenge the predetermined nature of “security” by creating alternative systems and communities around care and safety. These community-based forms of care and safety, we should note, fully take into account how the violence that the state inflicts through policing happens within both the exercise of juridical power and the realm of extralegal action. In her reading of Home, Lee traces how the protagonists eventually reckon with their trauma within a community separate from “the statist framework of punishment and retribution.”

But the legacies of colonial rule in postcolonial states, in terms of centralized police forces, are highly varied. In looking at postcolonial Nigeria, Samuel Fury Childs Daly attributes the country’s “ineffective policing” and the incarceration rates that rank “among the world’s lowest” partly to how British colonial administrators explicitly avoided replicating “large European-style forces” in their determination to extract as much control as possible under “tight budget” constraints. Also viewing the police as corrupt, people created and participated in different forms of community-based “vigilantism,” which can subvert or, at times, support those in power. The public has also refused the legitimacy, authority, and reach of the police in Hong Kong, where, according to Li and Tong, many people had initially viewed the police as “uncorrupt and reliable” at the point of the 1997 handover from Britain to China. The Hong Kong police at that point symbolized the city’s status as a Special Administrative Region (SAR), distinct from the rest of China. However, as Li and Tong argue, it was the public’s reaction to the Hong Kong police’s tactics against student protesters in 2014 that galvanized many on the streets, as the Hong Kong police began to appear like an extension of Beijing state power. The cases of postcolonial Nigeria and Hong Kong shed light on how the police are embedded socially, and how publics can read, negotiate, and refuse the social authority of the police while also creating parallel infrastructures of power or community.

In looking at community-created alternative structures, Micol Seigel asks us to reflect on how, even when looking at organizations that question the state’s monopoly on the use of violence, scholars have persistently failed to break free of a paradigm that assumes the centrality of the state. “It seems difficult,” Seigel notes, “to imagine that these formations might simply be something else, something different, something for which we do not (yet) have a name.” Her essay, in part, examines the Primeiro Comando da Capital (First Command of the Capital), or PCC, a “political formation” that has come out of Brazil’s “brutal prison system,” composed of “people in prison, formerly imprisoned people, family members, and neighbors in the districts these cities most heavily police.” Seigel then challenges us to unsettle the most basic element we often associate with the state: “the monopoly on force.” Could the meting out of violence within the PCC, in consideration of the broader social infrastructures its members have transformed, mean “something else, something different”? Seigel has us consider “reciprocity” and not the retribution Lambert delineated in his article on tenth-century England. The focus on reciprocity also forces a reconsideration of how people forge meanings in social relations, rather than precluding the possibility of such a social reconfiguration by viewing such a project only through the template of “state” power.

As many of this issue’s contributions demonstrate, carving out spaces beyond policing requires not just the absence of engagement with institutions of state violence it also necessitates the presence of other social structures and relationships that support communal well-being and social peace. Singh reveals how people in rural northern India relied on systems of tracking and community councils to resolve cases of cattle theft, which enabled them to provide restitution to victims of theft in ways that aligned with their notions of communal property and restored social relationships, all while avoiding repressive colonial systems. As Winder shows, suhl and accompanying enforcement systems were crucial to Palestinian efforts to disempower British and Israeli state police, which simultaneously supported their resistance movements.

Winder’s examination of suhl, however, reveals that these anticolonial justice systems also relied on coercive violence. Indeed, conflicts among Palestinians simmered beneath their anticolonial solidarity, and movement leaders deployed disciplinary violence to enforce cohesion against British and Israeli colonizers, as well as social norms seen as essential to the resistance. Similarly, Seigel uncovers how the PCC were more effective than official police at maintaining social order in the neighborhoods and prisons where they worked, but their methods, too, could enforce that social order with violence, including killings.

As these examples demonstrate, it would be wrong to characterize these times and spaces that operated outside of, and even antagonistic to, police as utopian societies, as free of injustice or violence. This issue aims neither to idealize the actually existing police-resistant spaces it investigates nor to offer models that we propose should be recreated. Rather, we seek to consider what new relationships and ways of dealing with violence and harm might emerge when we focus our gaze on those specific historical moments when people chose to carve out communal relations that operated beyond police.

In present-day Chicago, a city notorious for police violence, grassroots organizers have long called on the city to divest from policing and prisons and to invest those massive resources into institutions rooted in community that actually promote safety, like centers of education and physical and mental health, or community centers and gardens. While insisting on community investment, these organizers must still doggedly fight against the structures that enable the police to harass and target vulnerable populations. For example, a coalition of immigrant and racial justice organizations have been struggling to force Chicago to dismantle the gang database—a registry of people suspected to be gang members that, in reality, serves to criminalize Black and Latinx people who live in hyperpoliced, working-poor communities. Activist-scholars of the Policing in Chicago Research Group at the University of Illinois at Chicago have supported this campaign to “erase the database” by obtaining secret information through Freedom of Information Act requests and by interviewing a range of people affected by or participating in community surveillance. Their work has advanced multiple strategies, including a class action lawsuit and investigations into the gang database.

This work has been crucial in the multifaceted struggle against policing in Chicago. It exemplifies “non-reformist reform,” which Ruth Wilson Gilmore describes as “changes that, at the end of the day, unravel rather than widen the net of social control through criminalization.” 8 As an instance of nonreformist reform, it furthers the work of altogether dismantling the police and its systems of racialized surveillance and violence it thus stands apart from the “reformist reforms” that might mitigate the worst abuses but ultimately entrench those structures of state violence.

How have people dealt with harm when it has happened? The transhistorical and implicitly comparative array of cases presented in this issue of Radical History Review begin to answer this question. In some cases, communities have devised solutions born out of a distrust of the state, or a clash of interests between them. If, as the anthropologist Anton Blok insists, violence is a “cultural category” full of meaning that is deeply embedded in the context of a particular place and time, so, too, are justice and the normative social order, which communities at different levels imagine, impose, and defy. 9 In his contribution to this issue, Lambert shows how in early Medieval England local actors with no formal disciplinary role mitigated the harm that calls to impose order on the kingdom would have brought about at the local level, order was an abstraction, whereas justice was a lived experience. As Daly’s essay shows, historical analysis also sheds light on the mitigating forces that prevent communities from addressing the harm the police cause despite the institution’s perennial failure to serve community interests. Understanding the political and cultural history of Nigeria over a period that stretches back to its colonial era, we can glimpse at the way police—as vestiges of a colonial state, and as themselves workers and members of communities—are embedded in society. The activists from Reaja ou Será Morto/Morta have a long view of both the genocidal violence that Black Brazilians suffer and the autonomous means by which Black communities have sheltered themselves from harm. In a way, they say, theirs is already a world without police.

The movement-based artists of the Chicago-based Project NIA, who created the Restorative Posters in this issue’s Curated Spaces, point us to other possible beginnings of recreating social relations in order to dismantle punitive cultures that demand criminal law enforcement and carceral systems. They ask community youth to imagine different ways of addressing harm and adopting restorative justice together. Project NIA has made the posters available for download on its website, where the project participants say, “We must prefigure the world in which we want to live.” With the combination of their free circulation in everyday spaces and their stunning visual elements, these posters indeed mark beginnings to transform spaces materially and to transform relations imaginatively. They give communities questions to practice, to reflect on, and to challenge relations at every scale: “How have you been affected?” “Who else has been affected?” “What is needed to make things right?” And we can collectively ask, “How can we make sure this doesn’t happen again?”

6. Attitudes towards Islam

Paul Weston, chairman of the Liberty GB party, was arrested last year on suspicion of racial harassment after reading aloud some of Churchill's thoughts on Islam.

Weston was quoting from Churchill's 1899 book The River War, in which he wrote: "How dreadful are the curses which Mohammedanism lays on its votaries! Besides the fanatical frenzy, which is as dangerous in a man as hydrophobia [rabies] in a dog, there is this fearful fatalistic apathy.

"Improvident habits, slovenly systems of agriculture, sluggish methods of commerce and insecurity of property exist wherever the followers of the Prophet rule or live."

Snippets of these quotes now accompany Churchill's face in numerous internet memes purporting to show his anti-Islam stance.

"That was probably the most common view shared by British people of Churchill's era and I've no doubt that he believed exactly that," says Charmley.

But Churchill had a much more nuanced stance on Islam, Dockter says. The 1899 book was written in specific reference to the Mahdists of Sudan, immediately following the war there in which Churchill fought.

It was recently revealed that Churchill was sufficiently fascinated with Islam for his family to be concerned at one point that he might convert.

And in 1940, his cabinet set aside £100,000 for the construction of a mosque in London in recognition of the Indian Muslims who fought for the British Empire. He later told the House of Commons: "Many of our friends in Muslim countries all over the East have already expressed great appreciation of this gift."

"His relationship with Islam is far more complex than most people realise," Dockter suggests, noting that Churchill went on holiday to Istanbul and played polo in India with Muslims.

3 Reasons Why Banning 'Assault Weapons' Is a Terrible Idea

The specter of a federal "assault weapons" ban is once again haunting the land. Here are three reasons why any such federal action is a terrible idea.

1. There is no agreed upon definition of "assault weapon."

Politicians looking to enact stricter gun control laws have always struggled to define what exactly constitutes an "assault weapon." It's like the famous line about identifying pornography: "I know it when I see it." Unfortunately, this feckless approach guided the drafting of the 1994 Assault Weapons Ban and is once again threatening the rights guaranteed by the Second Amendment.

Consider these two versions of the Ruger Mini-14 from a technical perspective:

Both are mechanically identical. They fire the same cartridge they have the same effective range, the same rate of fire, and the same mechanical accuracy. But under the 1994 Assault Weapons Ban (AWB) , only one of these guns, the lower one in the photograph, was banned as an "assault weapon" due to the folding stock and pistol-grip design. Features like a folding stock or muzzle brake have little effect on the function of a firearm. Yet these cosmetic components were explicitly restricted as "common characteristics" of assault weapons in the language of the 1994 law. And despite the ban on the "assault" version, the fixed-stock Mini-14 was classified as a "firearm with legitimate utility" that could be sold by any licensed retailer. None of the features included or exempted in the AWB have any bearing on the lethality or mechanical function of the firearm itself.

Further clouding the issue are contradictory definitions for firearms in state and federal firearms codes. California's laws (the supposed model for gun control) are so complex that even honest compliance can lead to significant legal problems. Scott Kirschenmann found that out when he contacted the California Department of Justice to register his lawfully assembled firearms. As a result of his good-faith attempt to follow the law, he was arrested and charged with 18 counts, including felony possession of an illegal firearm. Thankfully, his case was ultimately dismissed, though not before some of his firearms were destroyed by law enforcement.

Even gun control advocates can get in trouble. Scott-Dani Pappalardo made a video of himself destroying his AR-15 . In the course of that destruction, he inadvertently created a highly illegal, short-barrel rifle. Fortunately for him, he was not brought up on charges.

2. Banning "assault weapons" won't stop mass shootings.

Gun control groups insist "assault weapons" like the Mini-14 or AR-15 are the cause of mass shooting violence in America and must be regulated accordingly. A very broad definition of "mass shootings" compiled by the Gun Violence Archive tabulated 465 fatalities across 417 incidents in 2019. Those deaths represent about 2.8 percent of the 16,425 total homicides that year . Rifles were used in only 6 percent of all gun-related homicides in that same year. Many of these incidents were more commonplace types of criminal activity, such as shootouts over drugs or gang turf. Few of these incidents constitute a "shooting spree" of indiscriminate violence. Rare randomized killing sprees get disproportionate news coverage and politicians rush to the soapbox to proclaim that they are taking decisive action.

While we may not comprehend the motives for these tragedies, we can learn from them by deconstructing some of the more notorious ones. It might surprise some to learn that the presence of a semi-auto rifle is not a common denominator in the bloodiest mass shootings.

The 2007 Virginia Tech shooter was not armed with an assault weapon, just a 9mm Glock, a .22 caliber target pistol, and a duffel bag full of spare 10-round magazines at his hip during his 10-minute rampage . In 1991, a man crashed his truck into a Texas restaurant. Over 15 minutes , armed only with a pair of handguns, he fatally wounded 13 people and systematically executed 10 more. The 1946 " Walk of Death " in Camden, New Jersey, was perpetrated by a disturbed veteran armed with a 9mm pistol, two eight-round magazines, and some loose ammo in his pocket.

There is little evidence that weapon type, caliber, or capacity has any relation to the number of casualties in a spree killing. The spree shooter will always have the best advantages: planning and surprise. Typically, they deliberately select locations where firearms are unlikely to be present. Without resistance they can maneuver aggressively and without fear of reprisal.

The most significant factor in reducing fatalities in these sprees is how quickly an armed defender intervenes. These discoveries have prompted doctrinal changes in police departments. Official police procedure now is to engage the shooter immediately, with or without backup .

3. Assault weapons are a crucial self-defense tool.

Today's gun owners are an increasingly diverse segment of the population. Associations like the National African-American Gun Association , the LGBTQ+ group Armed Equality , and the Well-Armed Woman have seen record growth in the last year. In a time when many people are questioning the role of law enforcement in their daily lives, it makes sense for greater numbers of people to take personal responsibility for the safety of themselves, their families, and their homes.

Experts prize the AR-15 as the ideal home-defense tool. High-capacity magazines are a particular benefit to senior citizens or physically disadvantaged people who might struggle with handling a handgun or shotgun. The lightweight bullets have low recoil compared to shotgun and pistol rounds, they are less likely to over-penetrate walls and barriers. Everything the home defender will need can be prepared and stored safely under lock and key until needed for an emergency (which is hopefully never).

Banning such weapons would make felons out of people who have committed no harm and simply wish to protect themselves. Greater regulation will disarm marginalized groups facing very real threats of violence.

We must be wary of politicians who know little about firearms yet promise fast-acting, feel-good legislation instead of working towards more meaningful solutions.

Ideas for Argument Essays

Sometimes, the best ideas are sparked by looking at many different options. Explore this list of possible topics and see if a few pique your interest. Write those down as you come across them, then think about each for a few minutes.

Which would you enjoy researching? Do you have a firm position on a particular subject? Is there a point you would like to make sure to get across? Did the topic give you something new to think about? Can you see why someone else may feel differently?