In 1838, shortly after an Illinois lynch mob put abolitionist Elijah Lovejoy to death and destroyed his press, Abraham Lincoln spoke to a group of fellow young men engaging in self-education and the arts of rhetoric at a lyceum in Springfield about the dangers of the spirit of anarchy that he saw threatening the well-being of the United States. Calling upon the restraint of popular hostility against accused wrongdoers, Lincoln saw even in his day that the intemperate call for justice to prevail through extralegal means was a threat to the legitimacy of the United State as a constitutional republic, and that it would be possible for a demagogue to seek to free the slaves whose state troubled the peace of the nation by enslaving free men just as at that time men who should have been free were considered to be mere property. It is no exaggeration to say that the spirit of the lynch mob and the threats of anarchy against the constitutional order still exist and are a major problem in our nation. Justice is often slow and deliberate in its workings and we are impatient creatures who believe that it should be speedily executed against evildoers, confident in our own goodness and heedless of the dangers that we suffer when courtesies to the accused are neglected.
It is a cruel irony, I suppose, that Democrats have long been the leaders of lynch mobs. Such it was in the 19th and early 20th century when abolitionists and blacks were their target, and such it is today with movements like #MeToo and Antifa, which engage in brownshirt thuggery as a way of seeking to intimidate those who are right of center while confusing their own partisan opinions with a morally elevated view of justice. It is a good thing, if a worrisome thing, if people use the sacred right of assembly to peacefully and orderly protest the wrongs that people and institutions and governments occasionally engage in. Such actions send a message that those who defend rights will not endanger the rights of others to life, liberty, and property, and that message is that such wrongs will be met with civil disobedience so long as they continue. But to protest in a spirit of lawlessness and anarchy that seeks to act with violence towards people and property is to demonstrate a lack of fitness for one’s own right to be respected, since those who do not respect the humanity and dignity of their rivals and opponents demonstrate merely their own lack of a sense of justice that includes all of sinful and fallen humanity.
Recently there have been at least a few situations that have reminded us of the need to hold due process in higher regard. A young man named Ahmaud Arbery took a peaceful jog, at least by all accounts I have seen, and was set upon by a father and son, whose arrest followed the leak of videotape that showed their attack. The right of peaceful people to engage in their pursuits without the threat or reality of violence, regardless of their background, is something that should not be necessary to defend. It is my fervent wish, fervent all the more for being so difficult to achieve, that every law-abiding and decent man, woman, and child should feel safe when they go about their business seeking to harm no one. Even so, to engage in lynch mob tactics against a cautious DA with broad discretionary authority on what cases to pursue or against even racist murderers is to threaten our own humanity and to justify such pressure being used on criminals whose identities are different. By the standard we judge, we shall be judged. Similarly, we recently saw an example in the case of General Flynn that the malicious prosecution for process crime in his case, and the coercion to plead to something, anything, that would discredit the current administration, was itself accompanied by process crime that showed the corruption of our national police establishment, which threatens the well-being of all Americans if it is allowed to continue unchecked.
None of us know if and when we will find ourselves to be people of interest in the investigations of governments and thus people whose lives and liberty and property are no longer held sacrosanct because of thoughts that we are enemies of the state. It is a light thing to declare that orderly and fairly ordinary people are horrible fascists who desire to completely destroy the constitutional order of our country even as they are continually subject to the temptation to do so based on the intemperance and defamatory speech of their rivals and opponents. It is dangerous to our liberty that we cannot recognize or express our differences from others in terms that are not paranoid hostility, or that we view human rights as belonging only to people of one or another privileged identity group and not to human beings as a whole on universal grounds. Those who blithely call for revolution and fancy themselves as being part of the party of the just may have cause to lament finding that such revolutions invariably eat their children and destroy their supporters and friends, because lo and behold they cause unjust and insecure people to rise into power who use the power of the state and military and other institutions to pursue their private vendettas and to view even their friends and allies as potential threats. The denial of due process not only demonstrates our own unfitness for freedom because it shows that we need to be kept under restraint for the well-being of others, but it threatens anyone who becomes a potential person of interest to the paranoid and insecure fears of anyone whose political or social power is threatened. And, speaking from personal experience, none of us can be safe in such a world where loudmouthed but otherwise peaceable people are viewed as potential rebels and traitors rather than as witty conversation partners.