Over the summer, as insurrection gripped the streets, I called to send in the troops if necessary to restore order. On Wednesday insurrectionists occupied the Capitol and disrupted the proceedings of Congress.
These groups waved signs with different slogans, but our response must be the same: no quarter for insurrectionists. Those who use violence to advance their agendas must be stopped with the full force of the law.
Mob violence exploded over the past year. Last May rioters and looters terrorized many cities following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody. Left-wing radicals capitalized on the chaos by attacking courthouses and tearing down statues of Washington, Lincoln, Grant and others.
Local Democratic officials’ response to this outburst of violence was weak and conciliatory, perhaps because the perpetrators shared their beliefs.
Mayor Bill de Blasio assailed the New York City Police Department for “provocations under cover of darkness,” while rioters were running over officers with cars and looters were going on smash-and-grab sprees in SoHo and the Diamond District. Mr. de Blasio called for “mediation and dialogue” to stop the unrest. Unsurprisingly, it was the NYPD, not Mr. de Blasio, that restored order to the city.
The lessons from last summer’s insurrection are clear to sober-minded observers. When leaders indulge the mob, they embolden the mob. The best way to maintain or restore order is an overwhelming display of force, which often can prevent the use of force.
Too few of our leaders learned these lessons. The president heedlessly goaded the crowd on the mall, while some Republicans had spent a week encouraging false hope that Congress could overturn the results of the election. Washington’s left-wing mayor, Muriel Bowser, insisted National Guardsmen come unarmed to the protest. Guardsmen would have to return to their armory to retrieve weapons if things spiraled out of control, which they did. The mob outnumbered and overwhelmed Capitol Police and Secret Service at the Capitol, despite their commendable efforts to maintain control.
Some liberals appear to have shed their reservations about the use of force now that the mob carries different signs and chants different slogans. Some of the same pundits who called roughly half the country “fascists” last year for thinking troops may be necessary to restore order now ask where the troops were on Wednesday. Perhaps they’ve learned the lesson that political violence leads to more political violence. If the lesson doesn’t stick, they’ll soon learn another: Revolutions tend to eat their own.
Mob rule contributes to a more general breakdown of public order. Our country suffered such a breakdown last year, as the number of homicides increased at the fastest rate on record. The victims of violent crime are the most tragic casualties of disorder. Other victims are never recorded in crime statistics, such as the elderly who are afraid to go outside their homes or mothers afraid to take their children to the park.
While law-abiding citizens are the immediate victims of the mob, they aren’t its ultimate target. Mobs attack property like the Capitol and public monuments because they are symbols of civilization. Attacks on these institutions demoralize our people and shake their faith in our government and way of life. The final victim of what Lincoln called “the mobocratic spirit” is thus “the attachment of the people,” the very spirit of civic-minded patriotism that’s necessary to preserve our republic.
Strong leaders maintain order not only to protect their people from criminal violence but also to preserve confidence in civilization. Too many leaders have failed in this foundational task over the past year.
As Lincoln said, we must insist that “there is no grievance that is a fit object for redress by mob law.” Instead of cowering before the mob, we must support the police, arrest the perpetrators, and end the chaos.