Culture Wars/Current Controversies

The Capitol riot’s roots in the New Left

By Samuel Goldman The Week

How the left’s 1960s playbook gave us the Capitol riot.

They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. If that’s right, the assorted fanatics, thrill-seekers, and nutjobs who stormed the Capitol one year ago today have surprising precursors.

The respectable backgrounds of many of the rioters didn’t look much like the “peasant army” that populist commentator Patrick Buchanan threatened to lead against the political establishment in the 1990s. Nor were their anarchic tactics reminiscent of the highly organized “suburban warriors” who flocked to Reagan. More than the public faces of the postwar American right, the theatrical flair, indifference to law and constituted authority, and threat of serious violence on display last Jan. 6 resemble the New Left of the 1960s and 1970s. The defiant, moralistic, revolutionary spirit that animated the Yippies, Weathermen, and Black Panthers hasn’t disappeared — but it now lives on the right, too.

Such a migration would have seemed improbable half a century ago. In the popular imagination, the period pitted long-haired radicals against a staid majority. Conservatives wore neckties and followed the rules. The younger activists who emerged from the civil rights and antiwar movements practiced free love, fought the police, and occasionally set off bombs. Unlike the union-allied “old Left,” moreover, the newer generation had little interest in promoting the material prosperity of industrial workers, whom they saw as complicit in capitalism, or in winning elections. “We shall not defeat Amerika [sic] by organizing a political party,” Abbie Hoffman proclaimed in a blend of menace and humor that was once distinctive, but now has become disturbingly familiar. “We shall do it by building a new nation — a nation as rugged as the marijuana leaf.”

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