Should Terrorists Who Damage Great Works of Art Face the Death Penalty?

The Associated Press reports: “Climate activists targeted Johannes Vermeer’s masterpiece ‘Girl with a Pearl Earring’ with glue and liquid on Thursday.” This isn’t the first such attack. “Earlier this month, climate protesters threw mashed potatoes at a Claude Monet painting in a German museum and a similar protest happened in London, where protesters threw soup over Vincent van Gogh’s ‘Sunflowers’ in the National Gallery.” And, of course, for different motives, historic churches are burning all across Europe, by the hundreds. France loses one every two weeks.

Such vandals should be hanged. 

But no European country (where most such attacks occur) will even execute jihadists who slaughter civilians. Instead, countries like Belgium will house these Islamic invaders in comfort, with internet service, warm beds, radical chaplains, and porn. But the same nations are willing to euthanize terrorists’ victims. The squeamish refusal to execute the guilty and the cowardly willingness to snuff out the innocent flow from the same impulse: post-Christian moral collapse and utilitarian hedonism.

Notice that nobody targets dead sharks floating in formaldehyde or random “splash” paintings by Jackson Pollock that could pass for dropcloths. No, the self-righteous Malthusians who want to vandalize our economy, destroy the poor’s access to heat and electricity, and hand unaccountable power of life and death over billions to globalist bureaucrats only target real art, classic art. Again per AP, one of these despicable terrorists,

wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with the words ‘Just Stop Oil,’ shouted, ‘How do you feel when you see something beautiful and priceless being apparently destroyed before your eyes? Do you feel outrage? Good. That is the feeling when you see the planet being destroyed before our very eyes.’

If he’d trashed an Andy Warhol, it would still be evil. But honestly, nobody would really much care.

Yes, death is the fitting penalty for those who commit cultural terrorism against the lifeworks of dead, helpless artists. But I’m a realist. I’m willing to settle for life in prison without parole. Someone who blows up the Statue of Liberty, or burns a Gutenberg Bible, or fills the Grand Canyon with plutonium so nobody can visit it for millennia, deserves to spend each day until he dies in some windowless cell in a supermax prison. He should never see anything beautiful again.

At a minimum, we shouldn’t cater to these infantile destroyers engaged in political violence against whole nations’ cultural heritage. For instance, when several climate terrorists glued themselves to a famous painting, I joked on Twitter that museum officials should leave them there to starve: their skeletons would add a profoundly theological “memento mori” element to the artwork—such as many pious Christian painters included in their works. (Think of artists who’d leave a skull sitting on a shelf in the room of some wealthy noble they’d painted.)

Now you know why the Twitter simps went and canceled my account.

When adults engage in tantrums that violate the God-given rights of others, nobody should cater to them. Reward such behavior, and you’ll get more of it. You’re violating justice and encouraging chaos. You’re also caving in to a perverted, post-Christian impulse, which weaponizes compassion to hand power to bullies.

But isn’t it disproportionate to end or swallow with prison a human being’s life just for a crime against property? That’s a legitimate question, and it deserves a serious answer. Happily, I wrote one two years ago, advocating citizen militias using firearms against looters. Below are the critical arguments that “Obadiah” offered in response to hysterical, blue-state “Karen”:

KAREN: So you’re just going to demonize people for legitimate political outrage, and fantasize about violence aimed at peaceful protesters. If that isn’t fascism, what is?

OBADIAH: By “peaceful,” you mean simply that as long as nobody tries to stop them looting, smashing, stealing, and destroying what others poured their own toil, time, and treasure to build, that mob will just menace bystanders instead of beating them. That’s not peace. That’s just blind thuggish force, prevailing without opposition. By that standard, Hitler annexed Czechoslovakia “peacefully,” too. The government, betrayed by the Allies, had its army stand down. They were conquered without firing a shot.

I’d fire a shot. If a mob came to smash the irreplaceable stained glass church windows that my immigrant ancestors sweated to build, and the marble altar they sacrificed to buy, I wouldn’t just wave a gun. If the police wouldn’t protect the place, I’d defend it myself. Same deal with a house I’d scrimped and saved to buy. Or my neighbors’ house, if he asked for help. If the police are going to leave us unprotected from the mob, we’re going to have to organize citizens militias to take their place. Or else the whole country turns into one big Minneapolis.

KAREN: And you call yourself a Christian! You’d shoot human beings, whom you claim to see as images of God, to protect bricks and mortar, glass, and marble?

OBADIAH: Without losing sleep. Violence against property is violence against people. Let’s say you spent a year’s salary on your car. And I came up to it with a sledgehammer and smashed it. I would be stealing every hour you worked to buy it, turning that time into slave labor. Burn a cathedral, as just happened in Nantes, France, that took hundreds of years to build. You’re erasing the lives of the people who sweated blood to build it, just as surely as if you smashed the headstones on their graves.

Just the same if a mob trashes the shop, restaurant, or other small business some hard-working family built from the ground up. People who try that kind of violence deserve to be met with proportionate force. We have an absolute human right to defend ourselves against being pillaged, raped, beaten, or robbed.

So it’s right to use deadly force if necessary to defend your private property. How much more fitting to use it in defense of exquisite artworks that are the property of the whole human race—and the legacy of a dead person who cannot defend himself. 

Deny that, and you’re saying much more than you realize.

Most times, police arrest offenders, it’s over property crimes, not threats to human life. To make arrests, they have to use force. If people resist arrest, police are permitted to escalate, even use their guns if need be. If they couldn’t, because mere “property” rights weren’t as important as human lives, we wouldn’t have a government or laws. Just a happy hunting ground for bullies and thugs.

While life is an inalienable right, we can forfeit it for ourselves. That’s what you do when you violently attack someone or his property, much less his lifework. Or when you betray your country. The government has the right and duty to punish such attacks harshly. As St. Paul famously wrote:

For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of him who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain; he is the servant of God to execute his wrath on the wrongdoer. (Romans 13:3-4)

You’ll notice that Scripture makes no mention of “rehabilitation.”



About John Zmirak

John Zmirak is a senior editor at The Stream, and author or co-author of ten books, including The Politically Incorrect Guide to Immigration and The Politically Incorrect Guide to Catholicism. He is co-author with Jason Jones of God, Guns, & the Government.

Photo: Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

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