With the anniversary of the January 6th Capitol Hill riot almost upon us, the Washington Post commissioned a survey of Americans to find out how many people feel that violence against the government is sometimes justified. Of course, the definition of “violence against the government” is ambiguous at best, but you still might find the results surprising. Before we look at the specific results, however, I would ask you to take a moment and consider what your own answer to that question would have been if your phone rang and a pollster asked for your response. Does the idea strike you as unthinkable? Inevitable? Or somewhere in between? As we’ll see in a moment, no matter which option you chose, you are far from alone in those sentiments. (The Hill)
One in three Americans said it could sometimes be “justified for citizens to take violent action against the government” in a new poll, up significantly from previous years.
The poll from The Washington Post-University of Maryland published Saturday found that 40 percent of Republicans said violent actions could be justified, compared to 23 percent of Democrats and 41 percent of independents.
Overall, 62 percent of respondents said violence was never justified, and four percent either had no opinion or answered “justified” but “said in a follow-up question that they did not think violence was justified.”
If a third of the country, including some people from both ends of the political spectrum, are willing to consider violence against the government as justifiable, that has to be making some of the swamp-dwellers inside the Beltway a bit nervous. But I immediately found myself questioning these results, particularly among respondents who self-identified as Democrats. Some of them clearly had to either be lying or very much in denial of their own definitions of what constitutes violence against the government.
It’s easy enough for liberals and their media stenographers to point to the January 6th events and describe it as violence against the government, and that would be accurate. But what about physical attacks and arson carried out against police stations and federal buildings, such as was seen repeatedly during the BLM riots in far too many cities? We saw plenty of liberals describing those actions as “justified” or at least looking the other way. I suspect that these numbers would be considerably higher if everyone was being completely candid in their responses.
It’s also interesting that nearly two-thirds of respondents said that such violence was “never justified.” Keep in mind the words of Thomas Jefferson who once wrote, “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.” Keeping in mind that the original colonies were founded as part of the British empire and subject to the will of the crown, Jefferson and his cronies were part of a generation that gave birth to a new nation via one of the most widespread acts of violence against a government imaginable.
The reasons offered by some of the poll respondents who said such violence was sometimes justified also seem to echo the revolutionary war era. Many cited “the government violating or taking away people’s rights or freedoms” as a just cause. Others mentioned the possibility of a military takeover or “the collapse of democracy.” But who sets the definition of when democracy has truly collapsed? Looking around today at the governmental restrictions imposed in the name of the pandemic, democracy may not be collapsed, but I’m sure many feel that it’s currently walking on stilts on an icy sidewalk.
Don’t misunderstand me in these comments, please. I’m not here advocating for everyone to take up arms and march on your local city hall or start attacking the police. Far from it. I’m just saying that we are still a nation of supposedly free people and there are (or at least should be) limits as to how far we will allow our fundamental freedoms to be compromised, even during a state of emergency. And it’s also worth remembering that states of emergency are designed to be temporary in nature by definition. Trying to turn a state of emergency caused by a medical challenge into a “new normal” on a permanent basis could well wind up being one of those cases where the “tree of liberty” phrase starts being invoked regularly yet again.