There’s an evil logic behind the riots, flag burning, and statue-toppling, and it’s not just America that’s under attack—it’s the Christian faith that’s under assault.
Last week I gave a keynote address at a gathering of conservative Christian Americans in a Birmingham, Alabama hotel. Although social distancing regulations dictated the grand ballroom’s capacity be greatly reduced, it was a sold-out crowd.
The atmosphere was electric. No doubt that was because many were breaking quarantine for the first time. But I attribute the atmosphere chiefly to the fact that many Americans of this ideological stripe are on edge. They are worried that the America they love is committing suicide, and they are looking for answers and direction.
I gave my address the same innocuous title I have given this article. That presentation was motivated by the fact that I see so many Christians and other conservatives who are confused about what is happening in the culture, and quite rightly. There is so much to be confused about.
Part of the reason I think so many are confused is because, on the surface, there appears to be no logic to what is happening. Have you found yourself wondering, What is the goal of these protests? What do the protesters want?
Is it about justice for George Floyd?
Is it about ending police brutality?
Is it about ending racism?
Is it about equality?
None of these keys unlock the mysteries of the political and societal puzzle we are witnessing. In this essay, I hope to make sense of the apparent chaos that fills our streets, the headlines, and the halls of government. I hope that when I’m done the tumblers will line up and we’ll have a key to understanding this moment in our history.
* * * * *
Perhaps the evilest character in all of fiction appears in Shakespeare’s tragedy Othello.
Unlike the typical evil characters in fiction, he is neither a thief nor is he a mass murderer. He is neither a rapist nor a cannibal. His evil isn’t so overt. Indeed, his treachery is hidden from all but the audience throughout most of the play.
His name is Iago, and he is a close associate of the great Moor and Venetian general, Othello. So subtle are Iago’s deceits, so devious are his schemes, that all who know him, trust him.
But he is not what he appears to be.
Iago secretly hates Othello. And for reasons that are never fully revealed, he is determined to destroy him through rumor, inuendo, and a word dropped here and there to various parties, sowing seeds of discontent and pitting people against one other. Like Satan in the Garden of Eden, Iago slithers into Othello’s idyllic world, destroying his marriage and ultimately his life.
Shakespeare scholar Harold Bloom calls him “an artist of evil” and “a pyromaniac who wishes to set fire to everything and everyone.” I shall call him a maestro of evil. Rather than executing the wicked deeds himself, he manipulates others to do the dirty work for him while he directs his orchestra of evil.
Iago has come to mind many times as I watched events unfolding in the streets of America and throughout the Western world. Behind it all is the Iago-like maestro, Marxist political theorist Saul Alinsky.
Alinsky (1909-1972), an American of Jewish parentage who was born and raised in Chicago, dedicated his life to Marxist thought, writing, and political agitation. He was a great admirer of not only Marx, who was, like himself, merely a theorist, but he was also of Vladimir Lenin, who was a practitioner of Marxist thought.
Alinsky authored two books that have become (un)holy writ for the Left:
Reveille for Radicals (1946)
Rules for Radicals (1971)
Both are openly, proudly, Machiavellian in nature: The end justifies the means. That concept (if not the phrase) was given to posterity by Niccolo Machiavelli in his handbook for tyrants The Prince. Alinsky loved it and built on it as a foundation for everything he wrote.
Reveille for Radicals is a primer for organizing labor unions in American industry.
Rules for Radicals—meant to be a sequel to Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto—is a how-to manual for the destabilization and overthrow of existing power structures and the seizure of power.
If we are to properly interpret modern events, we must understand how the thought of Saul Alinsky is driving them, because his writings have been enormously influential on the radical Left. His influence on Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama has been well documented. But now a new generation seeks to put into practice the play this dead maniac drew up on the chalkboard.
Perhaps you are thinking, as so many are, there is no rhyme or reason to what is going on! It is just anarchy! But I assure you that those organizing it—as opposed to those who are simply caught up in it—are following a carefully prepared strategy.
* * * * *
As the title of his book suggests, Alinsky laid out a number of “rules.” Rather than binding myself to his verbiage and his characterization of those rules, I will offer you eight rules presented in a straightforward reading of Alinsky as well as in the historical observation of the tactics employed by the figures he so admired.
- Divide and conquer
This is done through carefully targeted agitation of various people groups, playing on their latent fears and suspicions of one another: black vs white, rich vs poor, Red States vs Blue States—it doesn’t matter so long as it brings conflict. It is the opposite of the “Melting Pot” philosophy and E Pluribus Unum—“Out of Many, One.”
Diversity—perhaps you’ve heard this word tossed about?—is emphasized over commonality. The idea is to stress differences and perceived inequalities. Finding a loop rope handle in a NASCAR garage, calling it a “noose,” and sensationalizing it as a hate crime is a perfect example of this tactic. Why? Because it plays on the fears of those who really believe a segment of society is out to lynch them.
This is what Iago does: he successfully drives a wedge between Othello and his beloved wife, Desdemona, by convincing Othello of her treachery. After that, he needed only to sit back and watch them destroy themselves.
- Create scapegoats
In his magnum opus Let History Judge, Russian historian Roy Medvedev writes, “Every despot building the cult of his own person needs a scapegoat.” Perhaps you think I am referring to President Trump. Not at all. I am referring to the Democrat Party.
While Alinsky proudly asserts his kinship to Marx, he undoubtedly learned this strategy from Joseph Stalin and the man whose political ruthlessness Stalin admired: Adolf Hitler. In creating a vast, scary enemy in the public mind it unites your side in hate if not in an actual principle, and it offers them an excuse for their own failures. Are you poor? Have you been denied a promotion? Has success in life eluded you? It’s not your fault! It’s theirs! For Stalin and Hitler, the scapegoats were both imaginary and real, but always demonized and greatly exaggerated: chiefly, the Trotskyists, Jews, and the Church.
For Democrats, the scapegoats are Trump, evangelicals, white people, a “vast right-wing conspiracy,” Russian collusion narratives, white supremacists, Red State Americans, non-Democrat minorities—they have all become scapegoats.
- Create chaos
Riots, looting, and other criminal activity is to your benefit because it undermines your in-power opponent, making him look weak, indecisive, and incompetent. If, however, he does respond decisively, so much the better! Now your narrative becomes that he is a violent oppressor of the people.
- Make it a movement
The Bolsheviks were always about the seizure of power in Russia. That was the goal. But to rally proletarians to their banner, they hid that agenda in a clever slogan: “Peace, Bread, Land.”
Who could say they were against that? So, you’re against the Bolsheviks? I guess you’re against peace! I suppose you don’t think I deserve land to feed my family!
This tactic, almost always successful, gives a virtuous veneer to a sordid agenda with mass appeal. Those unwary souls who flock to your cause are what the late economist Ludwig von Mises called “useful innocents.” (Others call them “useful idiots.”) Soon they’ll be hanging red banners, swastikas, or posting black squares on social media, wholly unaware that you are using them to accomplish something altogether different from the stated purpose of your movement.
- Political trash talk
How many times has this scenario played out during the course of a football game:
Player A sucker punches Player B or refers to his mother in unflattering terms.
Player B hits Player A back.
The referee, who didn’t see that the conflict was instigated by Player A, throws Player B out of the game.
Alinsky’s radicals are coached to use the tactics of Player A: “Ridicule is man’s most potent weapon,” he wrote, because “it is almost impossible to counterattack.” Furthermore, “it infuriates the opposition, who then react to your advantage.”
This is what you’re seeing in all of those videos of the woke mob shouting at police and counter-protesters. As Project Veritas has demonstrated, they are being trained to do it. And they are doing it with a modern twist: they are equipped with GoPro and phone cameras. When someone reacts, it’s all captured on video and is then edited to cut out the provocations of Player A.
This is what happened to St. Louis’s embattled couple Mark and Patricia McCloskey—Players B in this scenario—who had the nerve to stand ready to defend their home when protesters trespassed the property of their gated community. The McCloskeys have been held up for public ridicule by a vicious, demeaning, and grossly unfair media.
Again, Alinsky takes a page from Hitler, who, as a vagabond in Vienna, observed the power of the Social Democrats to create a political movement and intimidate their rivals. Years later he would write in Mein Kampf:
I understood the infamous spiritual terror which this movement exerts, particularly on the bourgeoisie, which is neither morally nor mentally equal to such attacks; at a given sign it unleashes a veritable barrage of lies and slanders against whatever adversary seems most dangerous, until the nerves of the attacked persons break down … This is a tactic based on precise calculation of all human weaknesses, and its result will lead to success with almost mathematical certainty …
I achieved an equal understanding of the importance of physical terror toward the individual and the masses … the defeated adversary in most cases despairs of the success of any further resistance.
This is precisely what happened to Drew Brees, too. He makes some rather innocuous remarks about the flag and its meaning for him. He is savagely attacked with “a veritable barrage of lies and slanders,” his nerves break down, and he offers no further resistance. Mission accomplished.
Maintain an unrelenting campaign of public disinformation while accusing your enemies of deception. The more outrageous the accusations, the better. Keep them busy defending themselves against lies while you move forward with your plans.
I recently reread (for the third time) William L. Shirer’s classic The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. For the uninitiated, Shirer was a correspondent posted in Berlin in the years leading up to the Second World War. The parallels are striking. Here’s a passage about the Nazi propaganda machine:
I myself was to experience how easily one is taken in by a lying and censored press and radio in a totalitarian state. Though unlike most Germans I had daily access to foreign newspapers, especially those of London, Paris and Zurich, which arrived the day after publication, and though I listened regularly to the BBC and other foreign broadcasts, my job necessitated the spending of many hours a day in combing the German press, checking the German radio, conferring with Nazi officials and going to party meetings. It was surprising and sometimes consternating to find that notwithstanding the opportunities I had to learn the facts and despite one’s inherent distrust of what one learned from Nazi sources, a steady diet over the years of falsifications and distortions made a certain impression on one’s mind and often misled it. No one who has not lived for years in a totalitarian land can possibly conceive how difficult it is to escape the dread consequences of a regime’s calculated and incessant propaganda. Often in a German home or office or sometimes in a casual conversation with a stranger in a restaurant, a beer hall, a café, I would meet with the most outlandish assertions from seemingly educated and intelligent persons. It was obvious that they were parroting some piece of nonsense they had heard on the radio or read in the newspapers. Sometimes one was tempted to say as much, but … one realized how useless it was even to try to make contact with a mind which had become warped and for whom the facts of life had become what Hitler and Goebbels, with their cynical disregard for truth, said they were.
The Left, with a propaganda machine to rival that of Joseph Goebbels, has just the same disregard for the truth. History and facts that are inconvenient are disregarded or distorted. Remember, the end justifies the means.
- “The thing is never the thing”
Many thought they knew what this was all about in the beginning: police brutality. But then they were caught off guard when the protests took an unexpected turn and began attacking not just perceived racism, but America in general.
This was the mistake of Tucker Carlson recently when he wondered why Black Lives Matter protesters were tearing down the statue of Colonel Hans Christian Heg, an abolitionist. Ann Coulter wondered the same thing.
The idea is to obfuscate the issues by continually moving the goalposts. Keep your enemy frustrated in his search for what you want. Don’t give him the endgame he seeks. Don’t be reasonable, but continually accuse him of being unreasonable. If he meets one demand, make another. And then another. And still another.
To quote Alinsky, “The thing is never the thing. The thing is the revolution.” Alinsky, whatever his skill as an agitator, wasn’t a great writer, and this is a bit nonsensical. But you get the point. The goal is power, not social justice or black lives or racial equality—power. Writes Alinsky, radicals must remain “flexible and opportunistic and say anything to get power.”
This is what happened to Senator Tim Scott last week when, during discussions with Senate Democrats on the so-called “Justice Act,” they refused to discuss it. Said Scott: “I offered to include an amendment for every concern that was presented by Democrats. They offered zero and walked out.”
Says Alinsky: “You cannot risk being trapped by the enemy in his sudden agreement with your demand.”
- Seize power
This is done by presenting yourself as the solution to the chaos you created. Your bargain with the public is essentially this: you will have no rest until we are in power. In a recent interview with Fox News, a Black Lives Matter spokesman said if America “doesn’t give us what we want, then we will burn down this system.”
This is precisely what the Democrats are doing with Biden. Have you noticed his message has been about “unity” and “peace” and blaming the absence of both on Trump? Be it knowingly or not, this tactic is consistent with the teaching of the Quran on the same subject. Surahs 8:12 and 8:39 essentially say that the unconverted are to be terrorized and given no rest until they submit.
To recap: you set fire to your neighbor’s house and then extort him for the water to put it out!
* * * * *
What fascinates me about Alinsky’s program is what is implied about the enemy he describes. His strategy for the seizure of power—and that of Lenin, Stalin, and Hitler before him—assumes the opponent is motivated by some semblance of moral principle. His are, in effect, immoral tactics to be used against moral opponents. It’s a bit like the TV trope where an evil criminal is finally cornered by the good guys and, as they point their guns at him, the baddie says something like, “You won’t shoot me. You can’t. Your conscience won’t let you.” The Black Lives Matter and Antifa terrorists are counting on their enemies being bound by a moral code. This is why they can taunt police with confidence. If your enemy is as unscrupulous as you are it won’t work. Try taunting police in, oh, Iran or China or any of a hundred other countries and see what happens.
Kneeling, Flag Burning, Statue-toppling, and the Christian Connection
Where does the attack on America fit in all of this?
This is the part that has confused so many. Whether you agreed with it or not, toppling statues of known racists had a certain logic to it in the wake of George Floyd. But then it morphed into a much broader attack on America and her heroes in general. None, it seems, are to be spared. What’s this all about?
It has long been maintained by Marxist theorists that for socialism to truly work it must be implemented globally, thus achieving the highest stage of socialism: communism. Indeed, this was Marx’s own contention. There can be no free, capitalistic outliers, especially if they are successful in the manner that America surely is. I mean, how will you ever convince the impoverished masses that they live in a workers’ paradise if they can look over the fence and see that their neighbor has a pool, a shiny SUV, and a wife with all of her teeth? To put it in Hegelian terms, there can be no “antithesis,” and America is a swaggering anthesis.
The problem for Marxists, however, is that Americans are traditionally a deeply patriotic people. We wave our flags, shoot our fireworks, and sing our national anthem with brimming emotion. We celebrate our victories and our national heroes. Simply put, we love our country. Patriotism is contrary to the globalist spirit so necessary for socialism to flourish—or so the theory goes. So, it naturally follows that American patriotism, rooted as it is in a Judeo-Christian worldview, is the worst kind of poison to socialism.
It is for this reason that globalists—i.e., Marxists—have set out to destroy patriotism under the acids of cynicism. This was done more than two generations ago in Europe where, in the post-war era, patriotism was equated with the fascist nationalism of Nazi Germany, thus paving the way for the European Union. You’re proud of your country? You’re a fascist! is typically the way the conversation goes.
In America the process is repeating itself with alarming rapidity. If I can make you feel ashamed of your country, I can destroy your patriotism. You like Washington? He owned slaves! Lincoln? He was a racist! Teddy Roosevelt? He was an animal killer! Eisenhower? He had an affair! The idea is to erode the pillars of patriotism until the whole of it crumbles under a cynical application of a retroactive law. (I discussed this here.)
So, when a radicalized Colin Kaepernick (the subject of an earlier column) takes a knee during the national anthem and the raising of the flag, and his defenders claim, as a foolish Aaron Rodgers did, that “It has NEVER been about an anthem or a flag,” they couldn’t be more wrong. It has everything to do with both, because both represent America in all of her patriotic glory.
* * * * *
But what about America’s past sins? Do we just ignore them?
Earlier this year I concluded a three-year, 35-country, around-the-world expedition to compare America to her would-be rivals. I have written a book about it that will hit shelves in October. (By all means, pre-order it.) At journey’s end, I love what my youngest son Zachary said:
“America is the greatest country in the world because of the idea of America.”
Margaret Thatcher once said, “Europe was created by history. America was created by philosophy.” Bono, the lead singer of the Irish band U2, said something very similar: “America is not just a country; it is an idea.” But it was G. K. Chesterton who identified the philosophy, the idea to which Thatcher and Bono referred: “America is the only nation in the world that is founded on a creed. That creed is set forth with dogmatic and even theological lucidity in the Declaration of Independence …”
Lord of the Flies author William Golding argued that the problems of human society are the problems of human nature. Let that sink in. It is a profound observation. Whether a country is predominantly Christian, aggressively secular, Muslim, fascist, Hindu, Buddhist, socialist, Confucian, or obsessed with Kim Kardashian matters because those ideologies will either serve to restrain that nature or exacerbate it.
If you visit Germany as I have many times, you can feel that it is a nation still trying to come to terms with her past. Even generations that had absolutely nothing to do with the Holocaust wallow in the guilt of it, crying into their beer steins. As a consequence, they are rendered incapable of sound moral judgments that are in the interest of national security. Their guilt has been weaponized and used against them. They fear calling out evil within their own society because they fear the specter of Nazism. All of this is because they don’t have the antidote for their collective sin as a nation. They don’t know how to move past it because they have no national philosophy of redemption. Europe long ago abandoned it in favor of secular gods that can offer no remission of sin.
America is different.
Not because America doesn’t have sins in her past. She does, as the Left never tires of reminding us. Rather, it is that in America, a country with the largest Christian population in the world, the prevailing worldview has historically been guided by that religion above all others. Thus, every great reform movement in our history has appealed to the laws of God, not to the laws of men or to some vague, anchorless altruism. It is encoded into our national DNA:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
This is what Chesterton meant. This is the standard that we have aspired to as a people, so that even in our darkest days of civil war, Jim Crow, a world war, the Great Depression, another world war, and the civil rights movement, healing was found not in our inherent goodness, but in the goodness of God. That goodness may be summarized in a single, theologically pregnant word: grace.
Grace is a word that carries so many ideas rolled into one—unmerited favor, forgiveness, reconciliation, and restoration—and it has served to guide, as Lincoln put it, “the better angels of our nature.” Americans, made in the image of their God, have been a forgiving people; forgiving not only one another, but their enemies, rebuilding and restoring them to the community and fellowship of nations. That quality, above all others, has enabled Americans to move forward with an eye toward the past, but not to be mired in it. It has served as a bulwark against the barbarism that is engulfing the rest of the world.
Now, the self-righteous types filling the ranks of Democrats, BLM, Antifa, and the radical Left in general, themselves wronged by no one and possessed by a hateful, secular, utopian ideology absent any notion of grace, see themselves as the embodiment of retribution and national reckoning. They are determined to keep America’s sins—both real and imagined—ever before her, reminding her, flogging her, as a means of reducing us all to a pathetic national guilt that will be leveraged for evil purposes.
Don’t fall for it.
America paid for and repented of the sins of slavery and racism long ago. And a tenet central to the Christian faith—and, incidentally the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution—is that one is not tried twice for the same offense.
Last week Daily Wire published a column with the headline: “Trump is Our Only Hope.” This headline is problematic in more ways than I care to name. Suffice it to say that President Trump, meaningful as his role is, is not the repository of our hope. It is more than any mere mortal can bear. Furthermore, no legislation, no executive order can save this country if it is, in fact, hellbent on suicide. There is one thing and one thing alone that can heal America’s deep divisions. Indeed, what Americans need individually is what they need corporately:
The grace of God.
Larry Alex Taunton is the Executive Director of the Fixed Point Foundation and a freelance columnist contributing to USA Today, Fox News, First Things, The Atlantic, CNN, Daily Caller, and The American Spectator. He is also the author of The Grace Effect, The Gospel Coalition Book of the Year The Faith of Christopher Hitchens, and the soon-to-be-released Around the World in (More Than) 80 Days. (Available for pre-order now) You can subscribe to his blog at larryalextaunton.com and find him on Twitter @larrytaunton.
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