Nine years ago, I stared down the barrel of a rifle pointed at me by a Denver riot squad as the man holding it screamed at me and my companions to “Go home! Now!”
Let me back up.
Nine years ago, a group of disgruntled youth set up camp in New York City’s Zuccotti Park, located in the middle of the Big Apple’s financial district. Their goals and demands were clear as mud. Protest financial inequity, topple the capitalist system, and redistribute all the wealth they saw as being stolen from the people by Big Banks and Big Capitalists…by Wall Street.
They aptly named themselves Occupy Wall Street (OWS) and it became a movement that spread across the country over the next year. Encampments popped up in nearly every major city. At that same time, the Tea Party had just sprung up to protest Obamacare and rising taxes. The mainstream media was portraying old people in walkers wearing American flags on their hats as dangerous, racist terrorists bent on burning down “Obama’s America”, while at the same time touting OWS as a glorious, peaceful example of courageous young Americans marching for equality.
It was anything but. However, these were socialists and they were seen as the antithesis of the free-market Tea Party protesters. President Obama picked his side (OWS) and Democrat politicians across the country followed suit. While they sent out riot squads to monitor the ridiculously tame Tea Party events, they changed city ordinances on vagrancy to allow OWS protesters to set up camp on city properties. In fact, to this day Los Angeles City Hall has a raging homeless problem on their grounds (that resulted in a rat infestation and several City Hall employees testing positive for typhus) because they lifted the ban on camping on city property in order to accommodate the OWS protesters. The homeless came with them. They never left.
The “battle lines” were drawn and the narrative was set. Occupy Wall Street – good and heroic. Tea Party – racist and violent.
In 2011, I attended my first conservative “new media” training conference in Denver – BlogCon.
Because of the media-stoked tension between the OWS and Tea Party movements, there was a lot of interest in our little gathering and soon, protesters showed up and invaded the hotel where the conference was being held. It fueled the bloggers gathered there. This was premium content! We poured into the lobby to meet the protesters. It was glorious chaos.
I found some video and it made me smile to see so many familiar faces in here that went on to become good friends. You’ll recognize some of them, including Steven Crowder, Larry O’Connor, Stephen Kruiser, and my colleague Brandon Morse (I can’t believe all these years later we actually work together. Life is crazy!).
Eventually, police were called to break up the melee and pull away the protesters. We had been portrayed (unsurprisingly) in local media as rabble-rousers and right-wing racists (so funny to think about that now, because it was such a fun and silly little blogger conference but media bias was hitting its stride at the time) but the truth is the OWS protesters were the aggressive ones. The cops pulled them out and we followed them into the street. Somehow I ended up standing next to a police car and watching as police officers stuffed two rumpled but gleeful OWS protesters into the back seat. A young protester beside me began to cry. A clean-cut, professional-looking young man who looked like he was dressed for work at an office turned to her and said, “Don’t worry. We already have lawyers at the precinct and we’ve got bail funds. They’ll be out in time for tonight. Just go get ready.”
That was my first introduction to the concept of professional protesters.
Later that same day, as dusk began to descend we headed to the park where OWS had set up camps for weeks. It looked more like a commune than a protest. People were serving food, playing guitar, smoking weed…some homeless people came around for meals and they were welcomed. It stunk, but it wasn’t violent. But as soon as the sun set, protesters started streaming in with manufactured signs, noisemakers, fireworks, bottles filled with God knows what. They just…appeared. It was suddenly obvious that these were the professionals I had heard the man talking about earlier that day. They were decidedly not peaceful or communal. They were bent on destruction and that’s what they did. Before we knew it paddy wagons and riot squads filled the square. People were running, shouting, throwing things. It was insanity.
And that is how I found myself staring directly down the barrel of a rifle. I had turned around right into it, not really knowing where to go and not really sure of where my friends had gone. I knew it wasn’t meant for me but it still scared the shit out of me. The man behind the rifle could clearly see I wasn’t a dirty hippie or a paid rioter, but that didn’t really move him. “Go home! Now!” he shouted. I backed up, found the people I’d come with and we ran off. I looked back as hurried away. The vagrants and the musicians and artists that had been milling around during the day were gone. Clearly they’d wanted no part of this nonsense.
That was my very first lesson in the reality that there are organized groups in this country whose only goal is to sow chaos and reap violence. That may sound tin-foil-hat-ish but that is the God’s honest truth. At the time, the new media was trying to tell mainstream media and the rest of America that these people weren’t the peaceful, courageous socialists they were being made out to be on the evening news. It was like shouting into the wind. The narrative had been set and everyone was dug into their political positions — just like today. But we knew…we knew that there was a huge difference between the peaceful (if not a bit dopey) hippie set just looking for more love in the world and the professional protesters tasked with straining city services and destroying city property. OWS was never really a grassroots movement. They were professionally organized and sponsored and then a few nice genuine protesters joined them here and there along the way. That’s all it ever was.
So it doesn’t surprise me in the least to see that many of the protesters causing mayhem in Minneapolis are actually from out of state. It doesn’t surprise me that many of them are white (anarchist groups tend to skew white and wealthy) and it doesn’t surprise me that there are two types of protesters in the George Floyd riots — peaceful marchers and destructive morons. I know from my extensive experience since that time that, as crazy as it sounds, there is an element in this nation that longs for anarchy. Piggybacking on racial tensions and stoking the fires of unrest is literally their business model. Antifa is the latest group of professional anarchists but they are nothing more than OWS rebranded. The anarchists never really went away. Agents of chaos still long to see this country burn and that’s who you see breaking windows and lighting fires. Sure, some genuine protesters may have followed but these people know how to use mob mentality for maximum damage.
These are racists disguised as anarchists. There is no doubt in my mind that there is an element of domestic terrorism afoot within all this. Now that the narrative is no longer Tea Party vs. OWS it’s safe for everyone to admit this. In fact, it seems like people want this to be true now. We don’t want to paint concerned and fatigued black Americans as destructive rioters. Lucky for us, it is true.
This is an organized, racist assault on peace and productive protesting aimed at placing the blame at the foot of the black community, just like they aimed to place the blame on sweet old ladies with homemade signs at Tea Party protests all those years ago.
But I know better and so do my colleagues who there that weekend in Denver. The agents of anarchy haven’t ever disappeared, they’ve only rebranded.
I told you guys tonight’s Dallas protest was pre-planned
Organizers were directing people to bricks & where police were
Some of you called me a lair
I risked my life for this footage and always go into the front lines
For the doubters here u go 👇🏼
— ELIJAH SCHAFFER (@ElijahSchaffer) May 30, 2020
What'd I say? Learned this lesson 8 years ago in Occupy Wall Street. There are the genuinely enraged and then there are the professionals. Antifa is OWS rebranded. That's all. #BeenThereDoneThat https://t.co/0UyFHvBwHj
— Kira (@RealKiraDavis) May 30, 2020