in Kulturkampf

Adam Kokesh is Doing it Wrong (and so is the Peace Movement)

Adam Kokesh is not a progressive, and definitely not a pacifist. He’s a Grover Norquist fan, Ron Paulite, and 9/11 “truther” with a habit of going around armed. None of this disqualifies him from the freedom to have an opinion, but it does make me wonder at this latest example of firebagging lefties responding to the siren song of libertarians with agendas. Start with the video in which the self-promoting Kokesh called for volunteers to dance at the Jefferson Memorial last Saturday, because from this misleading beginning the rest of the stupid follows:

For a movement that spent eight years screaming at Bush for ignoring the rule of law, this seems a strange cause to pick up. Dancing? Really? If you dislike a judge’s ruling, it’s usually best to challenge it in court. Nor can we call Kokesh’s flash mob an act of civil disobedience, because it isn’t. As Caradox explained so well the other day, nonviolent protest requires planning and coordination — neither of which was on display at the Jefferson Memorial. Civil disobedience means

yes, Officer, we understand that you will do your job, yes we understand that we will be arrested, we will not allow ourselves to be arrested willingly but we will peacefully resist arrest – we will do that by sitting together or laying down on the ground and you will have to physically remove us. Instead they pepper him with questions that they should already know the answer to, they argue with him, they yell, they snark, they scream, they wander individually across a wide public space – all actions that connote no peaceful coordination, no civil respect for the officers or the public around them. Here’s a tip: If you find yourself yelling at a civil disobedience action, “I don’t understand! I didn’t even hear you!” or “You didn’t give me a warning!” — you are doing it wrong. (Emphasis mine)

Kokesh, whose website is titled “Adam Versus The Man,” had given these issues zero thought prior to Saturday. Astoundingly, several regulars of the peace movement were apparently on hand to participate in his “flash mob” as it degenerated through an utter lack of training or planning beforehand. Medea Benjamin of Code Pink was there, which I find utterly incomprehensible. Last time I saw her, she was waiting to be arrested in the swirling snow of December’s Winter Soldiers event — having been present for the planning and training that organizers held at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church the night before. She should know better. So should most of the arrestees from Saturday’s fiasco.

And that is the correct word for it: fiasco. I’ve been reading accounts of Civil Rights Era disobedience actions lately, and feel quite sure Martin Luther King Jr. would not have approved of this action. Kokesh made no mention in his video of the probability of arrest. He made no attempt to organize the event after calling for it to happen. Instead, he created chaos amid a crowd of everyday tourists and then basked in the undeserved adulation of the progressive ‘sphere for causing his own arrest. Which brings me to the arrests, described as “brutal” by participants who guaranteed their own rough handling.

The DC Park Police are the most professional people in the world at the business of handling civil disobedience; I have seen what smalltown Georgia police departments do in similar circumstances, and it isn’t pretty. The problem, as you’ll see if you watch the full video of the incident below, is that protesters must be equally professional about their actions. The police have to arrest you. How they arrest you — by gently applying plastic cuffs as you stand, or by pinning you to the ground with their knee in the small of your spine — is mostly up to the arrestee, and particularly so with the Park Police.

This is merely the latest worrisome sign that the peace movement is losing its way. Increasingly, I find activists forming attachments and alliances to fringe characters, even hate organizations, simply because their agendas coincide on withdrawal of American military power from Afghanistan. They think they are ‘fighting the man’ together, but in fact they are running the peace movement into the ground through fringe associations and the very cult of celebrity that Chris Hedges talks about in Death of the Liberal Class.

Moreover, I’m worried by a visible decline in the quality of nonviolent action among progressives lately. Take Nicole Sandler, who got herself escorted out of Allen West’s town hall a few weeks ago for trying to ask him a question. So far, so good; it was when she resisted the off-duty police officer working security at the event, pulling her arm away at the indignity, that she began to lose touch with nonviolent principles. Sandler got maced, she says, because she was argumentative and uncooperative in lockup — is anyone surprised? Jailhouse solidarity is not about annoying the jailers, but earning their respect with dignity. As many times as Sandler has had antiwar activist David Swanson on her show, she ought to know better.

All of this runs current with the depressing turn peace activism has taken into the abyss of nontroversy: the “torture” of Bradley Manning, false characterizations of the president, paranoid 9/11 theories, and so on. Kokesh is merely another self-serving pied piper. The peace movement will either grow up and disown charismatic figures like him, or become ever more marginal and irrelevant. The latter scenario is worrisome, because the peace movement needs to enlarge for all our sakes. Unfortunately, since the day that one million Americans took to the streets in protest against Bush’s war in Iraq, the opposite has happened — and I don’t see any sign of its returning.

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