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  • Victor C. Bolles

I Applaud Civil Disobedience

As Long as it is Civil

Civil disobedience is an activity unique to modern Western Civilization. In antiquity, kings and potentates asserted that their authority (if not their direct descendance) came from God and disagreement with the law and resistance to authority was insurrection or heresy, both punishable by imprisonment, exile or death. It was John Locke in his first treatise on government that refuted Sir Robert Filmer’s argument outlined in his Patriarcha that civil authority was divinely sanctioned. Locke contested Filmer’s arguments drawn from Scripture and concluded that a king’s authority was not divine but secular.


Locke outlined the enlightened basis for government authority in his Second Treatise on Government which was one of the founding documents asserting the rights of citizens and justifying democracy. But if government is secular and not divine, then government and its laws are inherently flawed by human nature. But if government authority and its laws are flawed, it is appropriate for citizens to disagree with such laws and it is their conscientious duty to oppose them. John Rawls wrote in his book, A Theory of Justice, that civil disobedience was “a public, non-violent, conscientious yet political act contrary to law usually done with the aim of bringing about change in the law or policies of the government".


Civil disobedience, however, pretty much remained a philosophical concept rather than an acceptable political activity for a long time. One of the earlier actual practitioners of civil disobedience was Henry David Thoreau who refused to pay taxes to a government that supported slavery and waged war against Mexico, an act he justified in his essay, Resistance to Civil Government.


Mohandas Gandhi was one of the most famous civil disobedience activists. One of his most consequential acts of civil disobedience was the Salt March in 1930. Gandhi and other volunteers marched 25 days to the Dharasana salt works in Dandi with the intention of violating the salt tax laws imposed by the British – speaking to thousands in the crowds along the way. Hordes of protestors surged toward the salt works on May 21st, offering no resistance to the native police barring their way. Hundreds were beaten and two people died. The British responded by imprisoning 60,000 people but Gandhi’s march proved that the British were losing their grip on India.


Following the strategy of Gandhi, whom he admired greatly, Martin Luther King used civil disobedience to advance the cause of civil rights in America. Like Gandhi, King’s protests and marches were non-violent. Supporters of the cause planned to march from Selma, Alabama to the capital Montgomery across the Edmund Pettus Bridge. 600 hundred protesters were met with tear gas and batons wielded by Mississippi state troopers in what became known as Bloody Sunday. As a result of the national outcry from the violence done to the unarmed, non-violent protestors, President Lyndon Johnson held a joint session of Congress a week later urging passage of the Voting rights Act of 1965.


As I write, protests are being held at many university campuses across the country attempting to change US policy in the Middle East. Some of the protests are non-violent but many have exploded into violent confrontations. Many of the protesters are urging violence against Jews and the elimination of the state of Israel from the face of the Earth. This is different than trying to liberate people or securing their right to vote. The main demands of the protesters are beyond the capacity of the universities to achieve. Other demands, such as forcing universities to change how their endowment funds operate or how the universities do business with Israeli entities could be subject to negotiation. But the tactics the protesters have been using threaten other students and deprive them of their ability to continue their college education. Jewish students feel especially unsafe.


On April 30th, protesters at Columbia University forcefully occupied Hamilton Hall. On campuses across America other groups of protestors are violently taking over university buildings, damaging property and threatening Jewish students and faculty. Civil disobedience is supposed to be civil, not violent. Ghandi and King disobeyed laws they felt were unjust but did so nonviolently. The goal of their disobedience was to change public opinion regarding their cause. In Western countries, when public opinion moves in a certain direction, government moves with it (maybe slowly and reluctantly but eventually).


The anti-Israel protesters are using intimidation and threats of potential violence to force the changes they desire. They are openly advocating for violence against Jews, the elimination of the sovereign state of Israel and the genocide of its people. They are making demands of university administrations and threaten additional violence if their demands are not met.


Among the demands of the agitators is a call for amnesty for their actions. They hide behind masks and cover-up with keffiyehs so they will not suffer repercussions from their actions. People disobeying the law in support of their cause, such as the efforts of King and Gandhi, must also be willing to pay a price for their actions. Henry David Thoreau was jailed for not paying his taxes. Gandhi and King were jailed numerous times for their efforts on behalf of human rights. The anti-Israeli protestors want to be exonerated for their disobedience. They want to be able to brag to their friends about how they stood on the protest line but they want to pay no price. That’s not how things work in the real world.


The civil rights marchers of the 1960s were proud that their civil disobedience served the greater good, but they had to pay a price for their sacrifice. The anti-Israel protestors want to be proud without sacrifice. That’s the snowflake way to protest.


 Many of the anti-Israel protesters are likely to escape from paying any price for their illegal actions. Prosecution of criminal trespass and the destruction of university property at Columbia University will be the responsibility of Soros-backed New York District Attorney Alvin Bragg who is more intent on prosecuting former President Trump for paying off porn star Stormy Daniels than making left-wing students pay for their crimes. Other protesters around the country may also get off scot-free because many universities are located in progressive bastions like Washington DC, Los Angeles, Boston and Austin (all with Soros-backed DAs).


But Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost has other ideas on how anti-Israel protesters should be treated for disobeying the law. The Columbus, Ohio Dispatch reports that AG Yost intends to apply Ohio Revised Code 3761.12 which makes it a felony to commit a crime with two or more people while wearing white caps, masks or other disguise. The law was passed in the fifties to protect black people from the Ku Klux Klan (KKK). The anti-Israel protesters are acting very much like the KKK. The protesters whine that they wear the masks because they are afraid of Covid, but to me a keffiyeh is pretty close to a white hood. And signs like “Globalize Intifada” are just as intimidating as a burning cross.


Most protesters around the country are arrested for trespassing which is a misdemeanor. The Ohio anti-disguise law is a felony punishable by up to 18 months in jail and a $5,000 fine. Sixteen other states have similar laws. Many protesters fear that they may suffer professional reprisals if they are identified. They may be right. The Wall Street Journal reports that a group of federal judges have declared that they will not offer clerkships to lawyers from Columbia law School.  But wearing a disguise to intimidate Jewish students has more in common with the KKK than a prestigious clerkship on the federal bench.


As AG Yost said, "The First Amendment is a shield against the government, not a sword against fellow students."


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