Since this was inevitable ever since Don Lemon noticed that the riots and looting were starting to affect Democratic polling numbers, we may as well get it out of the way. The media was going to have to find someone to trot out and declare that looting really gets a bad rap in the press and all of you racist white people need to learn to appreciate the social significance of both massive organized theft and violent rioting as well. Riding to the rescue is NPR, where they feature a lengthy interview with someone espousing just such a position. And it’s not some one-off bit of commentary, either. The interview subject actually wrote a book titled “In Defense of Looting” back in May when most of this mayhem was breaking out.
The author is Vicky Osterweil and she has plenty to say on the subject. (Actually, I’m pretty sure Osterweil is a male and trans, but I’m not feeling energetic enough to go research that or any transitional operation status, so I’ll just throw caution to the wind and go with a female pronoun for today.) The NPR reporter dives right into the subject, pointing out Osterweil’s contention that “looting is a powerful tool to bring about real, lasting change in society.” I obviously agree with that (as we’ll get to in a moment) though for very different reasons. Still, let’s take a brief look at her overview of the question.
For people who haven’t read your book, how do you define looting?
When I use the word looting, I mean the mass expropriation of property, mass shoplifting during a moment of upheaval or riot. That’s the thing I’m defending. I’m not defending any situation in which property is stolen by force. It’s not a home invasion, either. It’s about a certain kind of action that’s taken during protests and riots.
Right off the bat, we see the typical socialist/anarchist tactic of attempting to redefine language to fit an alternative and highly radical agenda. As we’ve discussed here on several occasions, this is a move straight out of the Karl Marx playbook. You normalize repulsive behavior by attempting to force people to speak about it in conventional terms. Looting isn’t some sort of naughty behavior that deprives others of their rightful property and leaves massive destruction in its wake. It’s simply the “mass expropriation of property.” She would never defend stealing anything “by force.” Perish the thought. Of course, when I look at the ravaged remnants of the Miracle Mile, I can’t help but feel that a little “force” was required to smash all of those huge plate-glass windows and break all of the anti-theft security locks.
Moving on, the NPR host inquires as to what the difference is between rioting and looting. Osterweil cleverly challenges the premise of the question, pointing out that rioting and looting are both perfectly acceptable. But looting is more of a sub-class of rioting.
During the uprisings of this past summer, rioting and looting have often gone hand in hand. Can you talk about the distinction you see between the two?
“Rioting” generally refers to any moment of mass unrest or upheaval.Riots are a space in which a mass of people has produced a situation in which the general laws that govern society no longer function, and people can act in different ways in the street and in public. I’d say that rioting is a broader category, in which looting appears as a tactic.
Often, looting is more common among movements that are coming from below. It tends to be an attack on a business, a commercial space, maybe a government building—taking those things that would otherwise be commodified and controlled and sharing them for free.
Here we see even more corruption of the language on display. The real purpose of rioting, you see, is to break down the “general laws that govern society.” Once you do that, you’re free to “act in different ways.”
We could do this all day, but I would encourage you to force yourself to read the entire interview. The author goes on to hit all of the typical socialist/anarchist/Antifa points. The entire idea of “property” is unfair and based on historic “whiteness.” (Osterweil appears to be White, by the way.) Things should be free, at least for those in underserved communities. And much the same as the chef’s maxim about making an omelet, if a few eggs have to be broken, smashed or hit with a Molotov cocktail along the way, so be it.
It’s easy to think that this is just an example of an aspiring celebrity giving a series of audacious answers, each one more shocking than the last, in an attempt to attract attention. But her book (and this interview) are not Osterwil’s first trip to the rodeo on this subject. It didn’t take much digging to find a fairly recent article she published praising the burning down of the Third Police Precinct station in Minneapolis as a defining moment of the ongoing revolution. And to the best of may ability to sort this out, the author is not a satirist. She’s being totally serious. She also talks about defunding or reforming the police as tepid, weak measures. The police need to be gone entirely. Along with the jails.
Sure, you can read something like this and write it off as just the furthest edge of the lunatic fringe easily enough. But I’m not so sure about that in 2020, folks. There are people out there who are soaking this anarchist garbage in like baby formula and acting out in the streets as if a new day is dawning. The one thing we know for certain is that we’re going to need a lot more cops and a lot more guns before all of this is over, or people like Osterweil will succeed in turning America into the same sort of lawless, impoverished, desolate wasteland that most socialist revolutions eventually produce.