What Makes Riots, Conspiracies, Cabals, and Insurrections ‘Good’ or ‘Bad’? 

“Indeed, men too often take upon themselves in the prosecution of their revenge to set the example of doing away with those general laws to which alike can look for salvation in adversity, instead of allowing them to subsist against the day of danger when their aid may be required.

—Thucydides, on the stasis at Corcyra

 If the Republicans take the House or perhaps even the Senate, what new norms will they inherit from the Democratic majority of 2019-2021? 

Will Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) on national television ritually tear up the text of Joe Biden’s State of the Union Address and grimace while he speaks? Was that Speaker Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) intended vision of her new “narrative” for the 21st-century Congress?

Will the new majority, calling back to 2018, almost immediately begin impeaching an unpopular Biden? And will Republicans likewise dispense with a special counsel’s report, or with formal hearings with an array of witnesses with spirited cross-examinations? 

Will they establish a special committee to investigate the rioting of summer 2020? Perhaps, in the new cannibalistic spirit of the age, will they dig into which national political figures—or colleagues—communicated with the Antifa or Black Lives Matter riot leaders, or offered them bail?

Will Speaker McCarthy veto Democratic committee members and instead appoint his own Democrats—on three criteria: one, that they have previously voted to impeach Biden; two, that either they cannot realistically again run for, or cannot conceivably be reelected to, the House; and three, that in advance they publicly praise and agree with McCarthy on the unwarranted virulence of the 2020 riots?

Will Republicans claim as reason to impeach Joe Biden that he failed to execute the laws as he swore to, by nullifying U.S immigration law? Was he not also guilty of an “abuse of power” and “obstructing Congress,” as he allowed 2 million aliens unlawfully to cross the southern border, during a pandemic without either testing or vaccinations, helping to spread the disease with reckless disregard? Will the new Congress subpoena generals to investigate the surrender and flight from Afghanistan, and especially who ordered it and why?

Would the Republicans follow the new norms and thus impeach a once-impeached and acquitted Biden a second time as he leaves office, and have the Senate try Biden in 2025 as a private citizen—again with neither a special counsel nor formal report—nor with the chief justice presiding over the trial, as the Constitution demands?

Will they appoint a special counsel to appoint a dream team of conservative lawyers? And would they allot a budget of $40 million and a lifespan of 22 months to get to the bottom of the Biden family pay-for-play syndicate, as federal investigators try to square Biden family expenditures and lifestyles with reported incomes? 

Would such a counsel subpoena all the records of the Biden family, especially those concerning the financial labyrinth of Hunter Biden, to determine whether the Bidens registered as lobbyists for foreign governments, declared to the IRS their entire incomes, told the truth while under oath, or contacted public officials to influence U.S. foreign policy?

As far as “domestic terrorists”—who, according to Vice President Kamala Harris, rival the Imperial Japanese Navy’s killing of 2,400 Americans at Pearl Harbor or Bin Laden’s 9/11 hit team that murdered 3,000 civilians—should a bipartisan Warren Commission of distinguished citizens, without politicians of either party, be convened and entrusted to look at both the January 6 and summer 2020 riots? 

The goal would be complete transparency: the FBI would turn over all records concerning the use of informants in both riots. Former Attorney General Merrick Garland would be called in to detail what the FBI did and did not do—as the investigation also queried the agency’s other efforts monitoring parents at school board meetings or serving as the Biden family clean-up and retrieval service. 

All communications during days of riot between law enforcement and politicians, and within law enforcement, likewise would enter the public domain. 

The violent deaths of Ashli Babbitt and more than 30 victims of the 2020 riots would be fully reinvestigated: who were the parties responsible for their deaths? Were they arrested, indicted, convicted, and incarcerated—or exempted? Would there be dozens of indictments, in Kyle Rittenhouse fashion?

Which social media platforms were used during both the 2020 and January 6 riots, if any, to coordinate violent activity? Did public officials or candidates contribute to the violence by encouraging exemptions, or offering to bail out offenders? 

Did demonstrators in the violent weeks before the election and in the street modulate their high profiles and calibrate violence on the prompt of “powerful people” in politics and the media, as seemingly suggested in a recent Time magazine braggadocious article (e.g., “There was a conspiracy unfolding behind the scenes, one that both curtailed the protests and coordinated the resistance from CEOs. Both surprises were the result of an informal alliance between left-wing activists and business titans.” [emphases added])

 “Good” and “Bad” Riots?

 Now too many see the protests as the problem. No, the problem is what forced your fellow citizens to take to the streets: persistent, poisonous inequities and injustice . . . And please, show me where it says protesters are supposed to be polite and peaceful. Because I can show you that outraged citizens are what made the country what she is and led to any major milestone. To be honest, this is not a tranquil time.” 

—CNN anchorman Chris Cuomo

What if there had been a quite different national reaction following the shooting of military veteran Ashli Babbitt, the petite woman who was killed by an unnamed law-enforcement officer while unarmed and committing the crime of unlawfully entering the U.S. Capitol? 

What if from January to May 2021, 120 days of looting, arson, and violence had followed the killing of the unarmed Babbitt by a policeman whose identity federal police would not divulge? As a result, what if right-wing thugs and criminals for four months in late spring and summer of 2021 had engaged in rioting, arson, and looting that resulted in over 30 deaths and $2 billion in property damage, flame-seared police precincts and torched federal courthouses, and caused 2,000 police injuries? 

What if red state governors gave the rioters and protestors a pass to violate quarantines, given the outrageous killing of an unarmed woman? What if national figures such as a Republican vice presidential candidate bragged of contributing to bail funds for any rioters and looters and arsonists who were arrested? 

Yet what if most of those hypothetical right-wingers in 2021 reacting to the Babbitt killing and responsible for trying to burn down government buildings were either not arrested, or subsequently released after being arrested, or had their charges dropped? And imagine if such exemptions accorded to right-wing thugs and miscreants stood in contrast to the hundreds of summer 2020 rioters still sitting in jail—often in solitary confinement, without recourse to bail—and watched by abusive right-wing deplorable guards?

What would be the reaction if local law enforcement were ordered by red state mayors not to stop such post-January 6 violence, as governors refused to call out their National Guards? What if the top retired military echelon in 2021 had libeled a Democratic president for even suggesting that federal troops were necessary to reestablish calm? What would happen if for days on end, zany armed right-wingers carved out a swath of downtown Phoenix, declaring it their own autonomous zone, and warned police not to dare enter their domain?

Beautiful Conspiracies, Lovely Cabals?

There was a conspiracy unfolding behind the scenes, one that both curtailed the protests and coordinated the resistance from CEOs . . . Their work touched every aspect of the election. They got states to change voting systems and laws and helped secure hundreds of millions in public and private funding. They fended off voter-suppression lawsuits, recruited armies of poll workers and got millions of people to vote by mail for the first time. They successfully pressured social media companies to take a harder line against disinformation and used data-driven strategies to fight viral smears . . . That’s why the participants want the secret history of the 2020 election told, even though it sounds like a paranoid fever dream–a well-funded cabal of powerful people, ranging across industries and ideologies, working together behind the scenes to influence perceptions, change rules and laws, steer media coverage and control the flow of information.

—Molly Ball, Time

So left-wing Time journalist Molly Ball wrote in obvious admiration of the supposed real “heroes” of the 2020 election.

But what if in the next election, copycat, private citizen, right-wing billionaires likewise in “secret” and through a “shadow campaign” pull off a successful “conspiracy”?

What if in this new normal a “well-funded cabal of powerful people” on the Right managed to “influence perceptions, change rules and laws, steer media coverage and control the flow of information”? What would the Left say of all that after their candidate lost the 2024 election?

What if right-wing journalist hacks bragged post facto that their successful effort was the epitome of a “conspiracy,” and “well-funded” cabals—given their noble efforts to modulate and calm down right-wing protests in the streets before the election, and get their allies in the media “to control the flow of information”? 

Would leftists allege that right-wing looters and arsonists obeyed commands from colluding right-wing billionaires and politicians to clean up their act, temporarily, given the bad pre-election media optics? Would that be racketeering across state lines or a conspiracy or an insurrection turned off and on? Would right-wing freelancers be praised for trying to warp the media and channel the “flow of information”? Perhaps, the noble conspiracy would succeed, with the aid of the media and FBI, to squash any embarrassing story about a Trump family diary or laptop?

What if Joe Biden was not just dealing with his own self-created disasters that have dropped his polls below 40 percent, but also simultaneously with such a right-wing cabal suing in the courts, after failing to persuade purple-state legislative majorities to overturn existing voting laws? What would Biden do if dozens of right-wing funded lawsuits, adjudicated by right-wing Trump-appointed judges, began systematically altering purple-state balloting procedures passed by their legislatures?

What if suddenly and mysteriously in 2024 there were no longer 102 million early and mail-in voters, but a more typical 30-40 million voters casting ballots outside of Election Day? What if the abnormal and surreal 2020 ballot disqualification rate of 0.1 to 0.4 percent in many states, returned to a more normal two to four percent? 

Would any on the Left object if a single right-wing billionaire stealthily channeled $419 million into preselected swing-state red precincts, effectively to take over public oversight of the balloting? Would Hillary Clinton then again say the Republican winner was “illegitimate”? Would celebrities once more appear in videos urging the electors not to honor their states’ voting tallies?

All Ye Need to Know

The point of these hypotheticals is that there is no point, no consistent theme, no constant principle concerning riots, conspiracies, cabals, and insurrections—except one. 

There is only the left-wing desire through any means necessary to obtain, increase, and use power to alter the Constitution and our long-held traditions and customs of governance, especially when the majority in a constitutional republic opposes such efforts. The lesson then is that all means are justified to obtain morally superior ends—with the caveat that only leftists can be morally superior.

As a result, sometimes “dark money” cabals and “unfolding” conspiracies of “powerful people,” who vow to rid the world of Trump, successfully can and should “change rules and laws” and again “control the flow of information” and modulate “protests” and coordinate private enterprise “ resistance.”

But what of the supposedly clueless public? What of the non-powerful people, the clingers, the dregs, and the irredeemables, the smelly in Walmart, and the toothless who have no inkling of such a smug, hip “shadow campaign”? What of those without Mark Zuckerberg’s billions, or Silicon Valley’s control of “the flow of information” or vast sums of “hundreds of millions in public and private funding”?

They are left with only the surreality that sometimes elected legislatures passing laws to require a voter to present an ID is “racist” and “voter suppression,” but at other times private “cabals” and conspiracies of “powerful people,” who outside of government and in secret, should certainly be “changing,” “steering,” and “controlling” voting procedures and the media coverage of such efforts. 

In their deplorable ignorance, they are to accept that sometimes 120-day big riots are admirably not “tranquil,” but smaller one-day ones are terrorism and insurrection. Sometimes unarmed suspects, with a long record of meritorious military service, lethally shot by a policeman deserved it, as the law enforcement shooter becomes heroic and the victim demonized and slandered, as the killing is no indictment of policing.  But then again, sometimes unarmed suspects, with lengthy arrest records, who die while in police custody are deified, as the death contextualizes ensuing riots and mayhem. 

Sometimes renegade impeachments without rules are wonderful to behold; sometimes they would be hateful, vindictive, and destructive of American democracy. 

A cynic who knew nothing of politics, nothing of the contemporary American Left or Right,  might instead conclude in Orwellian fashion that big, lengthy deadly riots, are “good,” smaller, shorter, less-lethal ones “bad”; that bigger, more secret, and more successful cabals are good; but smaller, more open, and less successful ones would be bad. 

Also good is a Congress going to unprecedented lengths to destroy an effective president with a successful record. Bad is a Congress impotently attempting to block a failed president with a catastrophic record. 

And so shut up and keep quiet, since that is all ye need to know . . .

About Victor Davis Hanson

Victor Davis Hanson is a distinguished fellow of the Center for American Greatness and the Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution. He is an American military historian, columnist, a former classics professor, and scholar of ancient warfare. He has been a visiting professor at Hillsdale College since 2004. Hanson was awarded the National Humanities Medal in 2007 by President George W. Bush. Hanson is also a farmer (growing raisin grapes on a family farm in Selma, California) and a critic of social trends related to farming and agrarianism. He is the author most recently of The Second World Wars: How the First Global Conflict Was Fought and Won, The Case for Trump and the newly released The Dying Citizen.

Photo: iStock/Getty Images

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