War in the Streets Can Lead to Civil War. We Need to Stop It Now

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By John Zmirak, a Senior Editor, The Stream, Aug. 16, 2017

John ZmirakHere’s a short quiz I’d like to see administered to every American. The results would be instructive. They’d reveal whether a person is an informed citizen who actually supports our system of government. Or just some schlump who happens to live here.

Which groups of American citizens, under the Constitution, may march publicly? Which may express their views without being forcibly silenced by counterdemonstrators using home-made flamethrowers:

a) White nationalists and right-wing anti-Semites.
b) ISIS supporters and Islamist anti-Semites.
c) Advocates of legalizing man-boy sexual relationships.
d) Advocates of legal abortion.
e) All of the above.

Which of the following makes someone’s views so repugnant that it’s okay, even admirable, for you to punch him for expressing it:

a) It really, really offends your sense of what’s good and decent.
b) It makes you feel that your group is threatened, politically, by his group.
c) It triggers you and makes you feel emotionally unsafe.
d) It could lead souls to eternal damnation.
e) None of the above.

When is it morally acceptable for citizens to attack public or private property and destroy statues or signs because they think they represent evil ideas:

a) When it honors someone from the past whom you judge guilty of racism.
b) When it represents a religion you think is oppressive to women and gays.
c) When it advertises abortion clinics, or pornographic materials.
d) When it constitutes an idol forbidden by the First Commandment.
e) None of the above.

The job of public authorities in dealing with public demonstrations is:

a) To silence views that are offensive or contrary to American values.
b) To protect the interests of historically disenfranchised groups against stronger groups.
c) To let both sides fight it out on the streets, then arrest just the members of the less politically popular or elite-connected group.
d) To promote the true religion and destroy false religions.
e) To allow everyone who is not directly threatening violence or advocating the forcible overthrow of the U.S. government to express his views, protected from vigilante censorship.

The greatest threat to free expression and public order in America today is:

a) White nationalists and neo-Nazis.
b) Radical leftists such as Antifa.
c) Sharia Muslims and Islamists.
d) Atheists and heretics.
e) Public authorities who selectively enforce the laws and allow groups of violent citizens to silence other citizens by force.

The American answer, in every case, is e). Any other answer, whatever the motive for offering it, is a step down the path to civil war.

How to Avoid the Spanish Civil War in America

I support the right of abortionists, white racists, ISIS supporters, and the North American Man Boy Love Association, to march down our country’s streets in public demonstrations. I will not go to New York City and tear down the street signs marking “Margaret Sanger Place,” honoring that eugenicist. Nor do I tear down subway ads or hack websites that provide abortion information. Nor do I believe in harassing, threatening, or terrorizing abortionists. Or pornographers. Or even liberal Jesuits.

I support the right of abortionists, white racists, ISIS supporters, and the North American Man Boy Love Association, to march down our country’s streets in public demonstrations.

Why? First for the very pragmatic reason that I don’t want them doing the same to me. There are millions of people in this divided country with radically opposed views of the Good. Many of them might find my views as repugnant as I find theirs. I don’t want them targeting me, so I won’t target them. That’s where it starts. With a recognition that first of all we need to keep the peace. From that we can move on upward to principled defense of people’s free speech rights based on their divinely-made human dignity. But the pragmatic argument should be enough.

A counter demonstrator uses a lighted spray can against a white nationalist demonstrator at the entrance to Lee Park in Charlottesville, Va., Saturday, Aug. 12, 2017. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

Anarchy protects nobody’s rights, except those of the strongest. Following your moral outrage to the point where you will use violence is a great way to turn the United States into Libya, Syria, or Venezuela. There nobody is protected.

Or as I’d say to any leftist wearing a “Punch More Nazis” t-shirt: “Can I wear a shirt saying that about abortionists? They’re not just fantasizing about it. They’re actually killing people, every day.” Once we go down that road, there are no offramps. There’s no shoulder on that road. It leads with icy certainty to just one exit: civil war.


John Zmirak is a Senior Editor of The Stream, and author of the new Politically Incorrect Guide to Catholicism. He received his B.A. from Yale University in 1986, then his M.F.A. in screenwriting and fiction and his Ph.D. in English in 1996 from Louisiana State University. His focus was the English Renaissance, and the novels of Walker Percy. He taught composition at LSU and screenwriting at Tulane University, and has written screenplays for and with director Ronald Maxwell (Gods & Generals and Gettysburg). He was elected alternate delegate to the 1996 Republican Convention, representing Pat Buchanan.

He has been Press Secretary to pro-life Louisiana Governor Mike Foster, and a reporter and editor at Success magazine and Investor’s Business Daily, among other publications. His essays, poems, and other works have appeared in First Things, The Weekly Standard, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, USA Today, FrontPage Magazine, The American Conservative, The South Carolina Review, Modern Age, The Intercollegiate Review, Commonweal, and The National Catholic Register, among other venues. He has contributed to American Conservatism: An Encyclopedia and The Encyclopedia of Catholic Social Thought. From 2000-2004 he served as Senior Editor of Faith & Family magazine and a reporter at The National Catholic Register. During 2012 he was editor of Crisis.

He is author, co-author, or editor of eleven books, including Wilhelm Ropke: Swiss Localist, Global Economist, The Grand Inquisitor (graphic novel) and The Race to Save Our Century. He was editor of the Intercollegiate Studies Institute’s guide to higher education, Choosing the Right College and Collegeguide.org, for ten years, and is also editor of Disorientation: How to Go to College Without Losing Your Mind.