The Right Is a Dissident Movement. Let’s Start Acting Like One

An Iowa man has been sentenced to 16 years in prison for stealing and then burning a rainbow gay pride flag from a local church. Adolfo Martinez is no angel; in fact, he has a record with numerous previous arrests. But the real reason his sentence was so long is that the prosecutor classified this criminal mischief charge as a felony “hate crime.” 

Clearly, the sentence is draconian and excessive. Far more serious crimes routinely are punished with far less prison time, as shown by a perusal of ordinary criminal sentences.

Iowa’s Benjamin Steinbron only got 10 years for child molestation. Cody Brown threw his girlfriend to the ground during an argument, and she later died; he received five years. Donald Harris received five years for involuntary manslaughter when a drug deal went badly and the dealer ended up being shot.   

This Harsh Sentence Is Meant to Send a Message

The criminal law is instructive to hard-headed criminals but also to society at large. It teaches a lesson about who and what the authorities value. The extreme sentence for Martinez reveals the governing class’s values, particularly regarding who is important and privileged. Gays rank near the top. By contrast, Kate Steinle’s illegal immigrant killer was acquitted. In previous decades, Weather Underground terrorists were let off with slaps on the wrist, some later rising to high positions in academia. Their victims—law-abiding white women and cops—were nowhere near the top of the heap. 

One of the horrors of the Jim Crow-era was the casual attitude about racist violence against blacks, where the KKK often acted with tacit approval from the authorities. Books and films rightly decried the corruption that permitted such violence. Now, instead of the KKK acting against blacks with the connivance of the local sheriff, Antifa can brutalize conservative activists in full view of the police. In both cases, the selective enforcement of the law, tolerance for private violence, and the gap between neutral laws and biased enforcement reveal the priorities and loyalties of each society’s ruling class.

The goal of “blind justice” has always been elusive, but today, there is little effort even to pretend. We instead have politicized justice, something shamelessly promoted in top tier law schools, under the rubric of “legal realism.” Instead of promoting the socially unifying message that fidelity to the laws is a necessity and that the laws exist to protect everyone, the message of the Iowa sentencing is that certain groups are privileged and protected above others. 

This message is furthered by the logic of “hate crimes” legislation. Hate crime laws, by necessity, move beyond the traditionally narrow focus of the criminal law on the accused’s actions-plus-intent and examine more abstract questions of belief. Thus, in another message-sending criminal case, various memes of the Charlottesville driver, James Fields, were introduced in his criminal trial. Ostensibly they were proof of his intent, but they had the effect of putting his beliefs—rather than his actions—on trial.  He was sentenced to life plus 419 years, of course, which also was a sentence designed to send a message. 

Stealing a flag and burning it is definitely a rightful concern of the criminal law, and such actions should be punished. The flag is private property, and random individuals should not be entitled to intimidate their fellow citizens or steal from them in order to make a point.  But the theft of a flag should be punished just as much if it were a confederate flag or a symbol of a sports team or business enterprise. Such even-handedness is no longer the guiding light of the legal system. Instead, when the primacy of Leftism may be implicated, the legal system acts in concert with a broader system of social control.

In recent memory, American citizens could have a range of opinions on issues like gay rights. Now they can’t. This is just one dimension of a thorough-going program, and that program does not recognize the value of our traditional freedoms, nor even the value of minimal proportionality.

Notice Who Has Real Privilege

As in other fractured societies, the state selectively and de facto permits some types of violence and violent groups, while aggressively working against others. Even though Trump is President and has substantial support, the broader society and its governing institutions are deeply divided. Trump is not even really in charge of the federal government, as evidenced by its refusal to punish treachery by the FBI and CIA and numerous other acts of “resistance” by the deep state. 

At the state and local level, things are even more fraught. At a Spokane library’s “drag queen story hour,” a SWAT team with snipers was deployed to defend this abomination from a peaceful protest led by local moms.  On the other hand, when Trump had rallies in Chicago and Albuquerque, his supporters were chased into the parking garage and beaten up. The police mostly stood by, and none of those hateful actions by his opponents was pronounced to merit a 16-year sentence.  

The problems extend beyond sins of omission. Certain states and their cities are selectively rebellious against the federal government—particularly on issues like immigration. Iowa is not San Francisco, but it does tend to take its cues from the culture leaders on the coasts. There’s a reason Mollie Tibbett’s dad went out of his way to defend the illegal immigrant communities even after his daughter was murdered. And there’s a reason this 16-year sentence was handed down in Iowa. 

Whatever is to be done, this is a long struggle, the demographics are against us, and we should remember that we are not in charge.

Best Practices for Dissidents

The Right must get used to seeing itself as a dissident movement. It is a minority, and an oppressed one at that. While the legal regime is certainly corrupt and infused with ideological fervor, long expositions about how this is technically wrong will yield few results. As with the courts’ transmogrification of the Constitution, there is effectively another set of books. This other set of books counsels various rules on how the written laws will actually be enforced. These include the various progressive values, which mandate who is more equal than others, what speech is or is not legitimate, and who is in charge. 

On paper, we have a wonderful Constitution and a mostly sensible set of laws. Then again, so does Liberia. The problem is not with the laws, but with the people in charge, who apply a different set of rules to solidify their own power, designate favored and disfavored groups, and crush any political crimes that may bring them and their system into disrepute. 

While another Trump victory would be energizing, it will not last. Eventually, a Democrat will inhabit the White House again, and when that happens, Democrats will be out for blood.

Instead of putting so much of their energy into electoral politics, the Right should study and emulate successful dissident movements. Some succeeded, but many were snuffed out, such as in China and Cuba. 

It should now be obvious that large public events that lead to “doxxing” or state-supported violence are not useful. Such “street action” aims to follow the Left and its long traditions of protest, but things that work for the Left won’t work for us.  As Jesse Jackson used to say, “Give in to my demands, or we will have a ‘long hot summer.’” The Left uses its street thugs for leverage. The Left’s street demonstrators—including violent groups like Antifa and Black Lives Matter—rather than being spontaneous and grassroots are simply different facets of a united power structure, consisting both of formal and informal power. 

While I would not condone stealing a gay pride flag, I can imagine some of our exuberant young people would. The message of Martinez’s sentence should be heard by the Right’s campus activists, who might be inclined to engage in such guerilla theater, graffiti, or similar pranks. Illegality and violence are a very bad idea. And while college is a good place to form allies and lifelong friends, campus is neither the time nor the place to do effective activism. While there, they are in the heart of enemy territory, and right-wing students should govern themselves accordingly.

Even the social media tools that were used by the Right to great effect in 2016 are being snuffed out. Online activism has its uses—not least in reminding allies that they are not alone. But because of emerging constraints on social media, anonymity, discretion, and real-life meetings are increasingly important.  

As with the Soviet system, depriving dissidents of earning a living is an important tool in the arsenal of the ruling class. Thus, financial independence and organizations devoted to mutual support should be a high priority for those on the Right. Young people should forego student loan debt, consumer luxury goods, and focus on building a life more robust and free of the unpredictable and merciless Eye of Sauron. Good health, money in the bank, and a network of real friends and family—not online clout—is invaluable. 

Don’t Expect a Fair Shake

People tend to accept corrupt and oppressive systems for a very long time, keeping their heads down and hoping to succeed or work within the rules. When it becomes plain even this won’t work—and the doxxings and political imprisonments and open corruption of the ruling class are making this more plain by the day—there is hope for an awakening and, from there, effective activism. 

Whatever is to be done, this is a long struggle, the demographics are against us, and we should remember that we are not in charge. Don’t expect a fair shake from educational institutions, employers, or the justice system, any more than Soviet or Cuban dissidents could have expected a fair shake. The only things we do have on our side is that we are right, that we come from a proud and freedom-loving people, and we have the ability to cooperate and organize due to long civilizational habits. 

In the meantime, the Right, and in particular its young people, should look at this Iowa criminal sentence as a cautionary tale. You will be no good to yourself, your family, or the movement spending decades in prison for undertaking some activist prank. You should not expect fair treatment if you decide to hurl yourself against the system directly. As the Bible says, “Be wise as serpents, and innocent as doves.”

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About Christopher Roach

Christopher Roach is an adjunct fellow of the Center for American Greatness and an attorney in private practice based in Florida. He is a double graduate of the University of Chicago and has previously been published by The Federalist, Takimag, Chronicles, the Washington Legal Foundation, the Marine Corps Gazette, and the Orlando Sentinel. The views presented are solely his own.

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