The RNC hatefest and Kenosha on fire

President Donald Trump shrugging and making a face looking skeptical disbelieving
Donald Trump Credit: Gage Skidmore CC BY-SA 2.0

White fear is a central theme of the Republican National Convention this week.

Take Mark and Patricia McCloskey, the St. Louis personal injury lawyers charged with felonies for waving loaded guns at unarmed Black Lives Matter protesters who were walking past their house. 

“What you saw happen to us could just as easily happen to any of you who watch from quiet neighborhoods around our country,” Patricia McCloskey warned convention viewers during prime time on Monday night.

The “Marxist liberal activists” who shouted through a bullhorn outside the McCloskeys’ house “are not content with walking in the streets, they want to walk the halls of Congress,” added Mark McCloskey, sounding like a White Knight of the South during Reconstruction. Appalled that Cori Bush, a Black minister and registered nurse, whom he threatened at gunpoint, won the Democratic primary to represent Missouri’s First Congressional District in the House of Representatives, Mark McCloskey called on Trump supporters to unite.

And that’s not all. Those dreadful radicals want to “abolish the suburbs” his wife declared, through Obama-era zoning laws that should strike fear in the hearts of white Americans who dread “low-quality apartments” coming to “a neighborhood near you.”

“Your family will not be safe in the radical Democrats’ America,” she warned. 

Vote Trump, the McCloskeys urged, to protect an America where you can “play in your backyard without fear, worship in a church without shame and express your beliefs without retribution.”

Unless, that is, you are an unarmed nurse and minister who is expressing your belief that Black lives matter.

The demonization of people protesting police violence across the country is so intense at the RNC this year, and the racist fear-mongering behind these attacks is so heavy-handed, the idea that the protesters are themselves American citizens exercising their First Amendment rights is completely lost.

In Trump World, protesting state-sanctioned violence against Black people is enough to warrant, well, state-sanctioned violence against Black people.

I guess it shouldn’t come as a surprise, since the incumbent Republican president is a friend of white supremacists and has been spewing bigotry since he came down the escalator to announce his candidacy in 2016.

And, unfortunately, the GOP has hit on a timely theme, as police violence, protests and riots continue with video footage ready-made to inflame passions, just in time for the RNC.

While Republican convention-watchers are basking in their alternate reality, reality keeps feeding them news clips to stoke their outrage.

The video of a police officer calmly emptying his revolver into Kenosha father Jacob Blake’s back as he climbed into his car provoked protest, anguish, and then full-on rioting.

The footage of those riots is just what the Republicans are counting on to win the frightened white vote.

Tragically, on late Tuesday night the protests in Kenosha turned lethal. Armed men who said they were defending a gas station, according to The New York Times, shot and killed one person and injured two others. It wasn’t clear yet on Wednesday morning who the men were, but as Isiah Holmes reports, a group of militia members had been hanging around the protests with guns. These Second Amendment defenders are more in line with the McCloskeys’ way of thinking than with Black Lives Matter.

Ramping up the rhetoric about how unsafe our cities are is not just cynical, it is dangerous. actually makes us less safe. The president is attacking the very public officials who are trying to protect public safety and calm things down, fanning the paranoia of conspiracy nuts, and inciting violence.

Because fear helps win elections, Republicans are trying to suggest that Joe Biden and the Democrats are somehow directly involved in breaking windows and setting dumpsters on fire.

The attacks on Gov. Tony Evers started the minute he announced that the state would investigate the Kenosha police shooting of Blake and demanded action from “elected officials in our state who have failed to recognize the racism in our state and our country for far too long.”

The Kenosha Professional Police Association, in a statement announcing that the state’s Department of Justice would investigate, added: “Governor Evers’ statement on the incident was wholly irresponsible and not reflective of the hardworking members of the law enforcement community, not to mention the citizens of the City of Kenosha.”

Meanwhile on the national stage, RNC speakers are accusing Biden of aiming to defund the police, attacking the suburbs and encouraging looting, violence and hate.

As Sen, Tim Scott (R-South Carolina) put it, “Our side is working on policy, while Joe Biden’s radical Democrats are trying to permanently transform what it means to be an American.”

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From the White House, Trump is blaming “radical left mayors” across the country for coddling “anarchists.”

Connecting Biden, Evers and progressive mayors including Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway with the looters is ridiculous. Evers called in the National Guard to Kenosha, even as he called a special session to try to deal with police violence.

Rhodes-Conway put out a statement on Tuesday condemning destruction of local businesses and looting in Madison’s downtown. 

“This behavior does not build a movement — it undercuts the movement, and in Madison, it divides a community that largely supports change,” she said.

The hard work of managing protests that are getting out of control while trying to lead a response to deeply entrenched systemic racism is messy and complicated. It’s a lot harder than standing on your porch and pointing a gun at people.

It’s nearly impossible to work toward a real solution and satisfy anyone. But acknowledging the pain and anger of Black Americans who have been repeatedly traumatized while trying to hold together civil society and deter destruction is the only path forward. It takes real leadership.

Just for the record, according to local observers, the unruly crowds in Madison and Kenosha were not made up of the earnest, peaceful protesters who came out earlier. Instead, peaceful protests were followed by disparate groups of hangers-on who started the looting and window-smashing after the official marches were over. 

On Facebook, Dane County Boys & Girls Club CEO Michael Johnson posted a flyer from a group that appeared to be trying to instigate looting and violent clashes with police — a trap for people who genuinely care about police violence. “Don’t go!” he said. 

“The flyer was a scam to get local youth of color caught up in destructive behavior. I am thankful many listened and did not attend or left early,” Johnson posted later.

“The Blake family has asked for peaceful protest,” he wrote, adding that the family does not “condone what is being done in their family name.”

He called on the community to have the courage to “listen to the real protesters and push back on those causing destruction.”

The same challenge could be put to the officials speaking at the Republican convention, where leadership is in desperately short supply.

Editor’s note: this piece was updated on Wednesday morning to reflect the news of the shootings Tuesday night in Kenosha.