There is a surprisingly good article in the NYT, When Does Political Anger Turn to Violence? I expected it to be another article claiming that the the Tea Party groups are right wing militias in thin disguise who spend their evenings passing around dog eared copies of the Turner Diaries. There were some suggestions of that, but overall it was a serious article articulating one of the points I have made on this blog several times before - that when a group feels their voice is silenced and their vote is stolen or dilluted, that they are shut out of the political process, blood in the streets will likely follow. The NYT agrees:
. . . So far, experts say that the discontent pooling on the right (anti-Washington and anti-Wall Street) and to a lesser degree on the left (anti-Wall Street) has some, but not yet all, of the ingredients needed to foment radicalism.
“As long as there is some possibility of getting results by political means, the chances that any group will turn truly radical are small, and maybe vanishingly small,” said Clark McCauley, a professor of psychology at Bryn Mawr College. But if those efforts to engage are thwarted, he said, the equation changes.
The risk that angry words themselves will incite violence is higher when they are aimed at a despised minority, or a feuding enemy, if history is any guide. . . .
Furthermore, the psychological distance between talk and action — between fantasizing about even so much as brick heaving and actually doing it — is far larger for a typical, peaceable citizen than many assume. In the aftermath of the July 2007 London subway bombings, for instance, polls found that about 5 percent of Muslims living in England said that they believed violence was justified in defense of Islam. “That projects to about 50,000 Muslims in the U.K.,” Dr. McCauley said, “but very, very few of them are acting violently.”
Kathleen Blee, a sociologist at the University of Pittsburgh, said the same was true even for groups that consider violence a central tenet. “In the white power groups I study, people can have all kind of crazy racist ideas, spend their evenings reading Hitler online, all of it,” she said, “but many of them never do anything at all about it.”
Protest groups that turn from loud to aggressive tend to draw on at least two other elements, researchers say. The first is what sociologists call a “moral shock” — a specific, blatant moral betrayal that, when most potent, evokes personal insults suffered by individual members, said Francesca Polletta, a sociologist at the University of California, Irvine, and author of “It Was Like a Fever: Storytelling in Protest and Politics.”
This shock may derive from an image . . . It can also reside in a “narrative fragment,” like the Rodney King beating, which triggered a riot all on its own. . . .
The second element is a specific target clearly associated with the outrage. A law to change. A politician to remove. A company to shut down. “If the target is too big, too vague — say, the health care bill, which means many things — well, then the anger can be hard to sustain,” Dr. Polletta said. “It gets exhausting.”
Not that the rage, or the risk of escalation, necessarily goes away. If a group with enduring gripes is shut out of the political process, and begins to shed active members, it can leave behind a radical core. This is precisely what happened in the 1960s, when the domestic terrorist group known as the Weather Underground emerged from the larger, more moderate anti-war Students for a Democratic Society, Dr. McCauley said. “The SDS had 100,000 members and, frustrated politically at every step, people started to give up,” he said. “The result was that you had this condensation of a small, more radical base of activists who decided to escalate the violence.”
Given the shifting political terrain, the diversity of views in the antigovernment groups, and their potential political impact, experts say they expect that very few are ready to take the more radical step.
“Once you take that step to act violently, it’s very difficult to turn back,” Dr. Blee said. “It puts the group, and the person, on a very different path.”
As I wrote recently in concuring with a Powerline post, violence has no place in our democracy. But unlike the authors of Powerline, I could see acts by our government that could lead to blood in the streets. In my 40+ years, I never entertained such a thought. That changed when Obama speculated that he might give in to calls on the left to actually prosecute the prior administration over political differences on the Iraq War. An act like that - criminalizing political disputes in an effort to destroy their opposition, could well have led to political violence.