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Will It Be Riot Season Again in 2024?


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City Journal

Conservatives must learn the lessons of 2020—and prepare.

Christopher F. Rufo

Dec. 4 2023

The resurgence of public protests in support of Hamas has revealed a disturbing truth: the left-wing rioting following George Floyd’s death in 2020 was not an anomaly, but a tactic that activists can repurpose for any cause. Whether by coincidence or design, these recent outbursts could be a dress rehearsal for possible violence during next year’s election campaign.

Conservative leaders must prepare for that prospect. To prevent 2020 from repeating itself in 2024, conservatives need to consider what might spark a riot, how it can be prevented, and how to understand and manage the politics of rioting.

First, what could generate a riot season? Left-wing agitation has some familiar causes: a police-involved death of a black person; an international conflict; an economic crisis. But another threat looms. Former president Donald Trump, the frontrunner for the Republican nomination, faces multiple criminal indictments. Trump may well be convicted and imprisoned, likely yielding explosive consequences, including possible violence from both sides of the ideological divide.

Progressives are restless and ready. Left-wing activists have established a constellation of institutions to support public demonstrations. Protest NGOs, media entities, research centers, black-bloc (Antifa) networks, and bail funds are all finely tuned to mobilize mass movements. The Left carefully manages its licit and illicit factions: progressive political leaders tacitly delegate the dirty work to anarchist and racialist factions, which can change costumes—for example, from a BLM mask to a Palestinian keffiyeh—at any moment.

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How might the politics of a riot season unfold next year? Civil disorder has often benefited the challenger in recent presidential elections. Richard Nixon won the presidency in 1968 following major riots, just as Joe Biden won the presidency in 2020 after similar unrest. Bill Clinton also won as a challenger in 1992, a year that saw the Los Angeles riots. Voters react against disorder, which they lay at the feet of whoever occupies the highest office. If a Trump-Biden rematch takes place in 2024 and violence breaks out, voters might well blame Biden, just as they blamed Trump in 2020. Then again, given Trump’s polarizing reputation and the distorting nature of mainstream media coverage, it’s conceivable that voters could associate the re-emergence of public disorder with Trump.  

However the politics play out, though, conservative leaders must prepare for potential unrest. First, they should develop plans for state and local deterrence, riot control, and prosecution of anyone found responsible for violence. Second, they should model a strategy for the “air war”: develop a persuasive rhetorical strategy in advance, create the frame of interpretation for any future rioting, and build a rapid-response apparatus for contesting the opposition message. They might recruit strategic planners to game out potential scenarios and responses, with an eye toward breaking the hostage logic that the Left successfully implemented in 2020: “Elect our man, and the pain will stop.”

The success of any society begins with order. This truth is often forgotten until order is disrupted. The prudent statesman has planned for that contingency, both for his own fortune and for the general good of his society. The time to prepare is now.

 

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