The ‘Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone’ Is Coming to America

Over the past week, protesters in Seattle have established the “Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone” (CHAZ) in an area encompassing roughly 10 square blocks and 500 local residents. Less than one mile northeast of the city’s downtown core, the enclave includes an eight-acre park, easily big enough to encamp hundreds of activists.

The fate of CHAZ is uncertain, but with a sympathetic mayor, a clueless governor, and funds pouring in from enthralled leftist supporters all over America, it is possible this experiment will linger for a long time, relatively undisturbed by reality. 

If you happen to live in CHAZ, a place that until June 8 was merely a hardcore liberal precinct of a hardcore liberal city, buckle up.

If the consequences of leftist activism were confined to isolated enclaves sprinkled across a handful of blue cities in blue states, apart from the existential disruption these “autonomous zones” would impart to those residents who were unsympathetic to the invasion and occupation of their neighborhoods, America would survive. But “CHAZ” is just the tip of the leftist spear. It is part of something much bigger, and far more dangerous.

For now, Seattle’s Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone is an extreme caricature of what the mainstream Left wants. But they are slowly institutionalizing such “zones” across America. The project is most advanced on the blue West Coast, but it is rapidly proceeding through blue cities and states everywhere. 

Moreover, because Republicans barely recognize the phenomenon, or what is at stake, much less do they have or offer alternatives, the project is stealthily creeping into red cities and states as well.

Here, in stark terms, is what Americans face: Subsidized investors will buy up distressed single-family homes and demolish them to build subsidized apartments to house low-income residents, homeless people, and foreign refugees. If you oppose any of this happening on the lot next to you, then you are a racist and a climate denier, and you are unwilling to check your privilege.

Never mind that you have skipped vacations, worked multiple jobs, and barely managed to support your family while paying down a monstrous mortgage and confiscatory property taxes. Now the fruits of your labor will also pay for the utter destruction of the neighborhood where you invested the best years of your life to call home.

While single-family homes will become worth more to investors when they are demolished in favor of apartments rather than left standing, in cases where the homes aren’t demolished, expect backyards to be filled with “accessory dwelling units,” i.e., new homes on the same property. And expect these homes to yield better returns to investors when they qualify for subsidies both in their construction and their rent, if they house low-income residents, homeless people, and foreign refugees.

If you don’t think this can happen where you live, then you’d better move to a gated community, filled with residents wealthy enough to litigate. Because the threat of endless litigation is the only way that investors and developers will be driven away.

This is why the wealthy donors to leftist movements ranging from CHAZ to the Democratic National Committee don’t care what happens to America’s suburbs. Living where they do, they are exempt.

Four Principles Underlying the Destruction
Of America’s Cities and Suburbs

The degree to which this dismal scenario actually transpires depends on to what extent the following principles become part of the conventional political wisdom in America. Note that many of these principles are supposedly already beyond serious debate, and that they are subscribed to as much by the Romneyesque Republicans as by the Jay Inslee-type Democrats.

1) Cities cannot be expanded, because suburban “sprawl” increases greenhouse gas emissions, and “open space” must be preserved. 

All population growth, by this logic, must occur within the footprint of existing cities. This is a preposterous and misanthropic lie. The entire urban footprint of cities in America’s lower 48 states consumes less than 5 percent of the land. And permitting suburbs to continue to expand onto open land does not increase “greenhouse gas” emissions, even if you actually believe greenhouse gas emissions harm the planet. Jobs follow housing, people work remotely, and emissions-free vehicles for routine commutes are within a few decades of becoming cheap and ubiquitous.

2) Given that America is a racist nation with a history of oppression and capitalism is inherently racist and oppressive, disadvantaged people must be the beneficiaries of “inclusive zoning,” whereby they will live in subsidized housing located wherever concentrations of “white privilege” exist. 

Proponents of inclusive zoning also believe that when the disadvantaged are put into immediate proximity to privileged people, this somehow fosters “greater social and economic mobility.” This is a convenient lie, used to justify building “affordable housing” on expensive real estate, which increases profits for taxpayer-subsidized developers. The reality is harder: telling people they are victims and giving them free stuff undermines their character, no matter where they live.

3) Housing is a public health issue; free housing can be medically prescribed. 

Anyone who doesn’t think a medical emergency cannot disrupt property rights, or any other constitutionally protected right, must have been asleep for the past three months. Expect forced densification of suburban neighborhoods with “inclusive” and subsidized housing because the United States must develop a “culture of health.”

David Ryder/Getty Images

4) Because Americans caused climate change, which is causing crop failures and political destabilization throughout the global south, Americans will need to admit hundreds of millions of “climate refugees” and pay for their shelter and other basic needs. 

Similarly, Americans must atone for their legacy of slavery and colonialism by paying “reparations” to people of color. These reparations will include inclusive zoning, subsidized housing, and destruction of “racist” suburbia. The single-family dwelling is an abomination; it is racist and ecologically unsustainable.

Readers may be forgiven for thinking these principles are absurd and that normal people will simply dismiss them. Think again. 

With an eye to understanding the general mentality of leftists with respect to housing policies, peruse social media and Google search results on these terms: inclusionary zoning, “snob” zoning, reparations, climate justice and suburbs, climate refugees, smart growth, “infill,” and dozens of others. 

Or just recall the campaign pronouncements of Jay Inslee when he was running for president. With a gleam in his eye that calls to mind the judges in 17th-century Salem, Inslee used his limited presidential primary debate time to declare a “climate emergency.” 

Inslee is not alone. There’s a lot of money to be made and power to be grabbed the minute a “climate emergency” goes into effect. So kiss your suburbs goodbye.

The Alternatives to Destroying America’s Cities and Suburbs

The counter-narrative to these ideas which relentlessly encroach on what constitutes permissible debate are already considered controversial, despite being entirely reasonable.

For starters, the “climate catastrophes” occurring in the world, while often tragic, are either completely normal occurrences of weather or they have nothing to do with climate at all, and more to do with hideous levels of government corruption and incompetence. And in any case, the billions of people abroad who are still victims of these tragedies are never going to fit into the United States. Admitting a small fraction of them would merely destroy our own nation, when for a fraction of the resources that millions of destitute immigrants would consume, we could help billions of people to restore stability and achieve prosperity in their own nations.

Here in America, when housing is unaffordable it is almost always because of government policies. California, as usual, is the cautionary example. Countless laws restrict what land is eligible for housing development. Even in those limited locations, environmentalist litigators exploit state and federal laws to delay projects for years. 

California also enforces extreme building codes, mostly relating to the environment but also to overwrought safety standards and other factors, adding tens of thousands of dollars (or more) to the cost of a home. Then there are building fees, often exceeding $100,000 per home, which are to pay for infrastructure that municipalities used to pay for out of operating budgets. And of course, there are affordable housing set-asides, assessed against the sale price of every market-priced home.

The result of these laws is that fewer and fewer Californians can afford homes, and developers cannot afford to make a profit building them unless they are either subsidized or very high-end. This is a perfect storm, politically concocted. Instead of relaxing the regulations, granting safe harbor from litigation, and reforming the pensions that consume public budgets preventing infrastructure funding, California’s politicians mandate “affordable housing.” These taxpayer-funded boondoggles further enrich subsidized developers and do nothing to solve the problem of homelessness and unaffordable housing.

The only way to avoid destroying America’s suburbs, which is where millions of Americans—especially families with children—prefer to live, is to build more of them. To do this, stand up to the climate change lobby, expose their hidden agenda which is to amass power and consolidate wealth, and stand up to the “inclusion” lobby and their obsession with alleged racism. 

Mandated inclusion and giveaways will not enable upward mobility for the disadvantaged, it will just make them more dependent on government. Lowering the cost-of-living by building new suburbs at affordable prices, on the other hand, is the pathway to a new era of prosperity for all Americans.

Whether considering CHAZ in Seattle, or the movement to erase suburbia across the entire nation, they share much in common with each other. Both are parasitic, both are built on lies and deceptions, both depend on professionally curated emotions—the privileged feel guilty, the disadvantaged feel resentment. 

The differences? CHAZ is concentrated geographically and revels in extreme rhetoric, whereas the assault on suburbia is disbursed and relies on rhetoric that has been sanitized for broader consumption. But behind the theatrics, CHAZ exposes the endgame. Their message is deadly serious, and they aren’t kidding: “We are going to destroy you.”

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About Edward Ring

Edward Ring is a senior fellow of the Center for American Greatness. He is also the director of water and energy policy for the California Policy Center, which he co-founded in 2013 and served as its first president. Ring is the author of Fixing California: Abundance, Pragmatism, Optimism (2021) and The Abundance Choice: Our Fight for More Water in California (2022).

Photo: Toby Scott/LightRocket via Getty Images

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