The problem with calling armed protests ‘terrorism’
Why it’s dangerous to invoke a politically loaded word that has historically been used to criminalize dissent
Yesterday, rightwing protesters, many dressed in “tacticool” gear and armed with semi-automatic rifles, flooded into the Michigan State House to demand an end to the state’s shelter-in-place order. Liberals responded to the demonstration in unison: This isn’t a protest — it’s domestic terrorism. Many cited the broad Merriam Webster definition of terrorism, which is the “use or threat of violence especially against the state or the public as a politically motivated means of attack or coercion.”
This point of view isn’t without merit, and it’s hard to fault people for taking this position. It was a show of force by an armed group intended to intimidate the government. However, the discourse surrounding the incident didn’t sit well with me — particularly the widespread calls for the demonstrations to be suppressed and the participants arrested.
The legal basis for such an action is shaky and likely unconstitutional. Michigan is a de facto open carry state and there are no regulations prohibiting weapons on the premises of the statehouse. If people can congregate there, they can do it with guns.
Another common theme of these posts: Comparisons to the Black Panthers’ armed occupation of the California capitol building in the 1960s as well as references disparate use of force against any number of demonstrations by people of color, such as the Ferguson uprising or the DAPL water protests. Again, this is a perfectly valid thing to bring up, but with their calls for an authoritarian response, many seem to draw the wrong conclusion.
This double standard is precisely why it’s so problematic to label these demonstrations “terrorism.” There’s this sense that if only white conservatives would be crushed with the same force as black radicals, then that would be progress. But it doesn’t work that way in…