This is the second in this series of articles. The other four may be found at these links:
In the first part of this series, I said I'd experienced in several countries the failure of the justice system to support the rule of law, and seen how it was overturned (and in some cases replaced) by the rule of the mob. We're seeing precisely that in several US cities right now, so I'd like to present the "lessons learned" in other countries to see whether there are ideas we can use locally.
I'll start with South Africa from the late 1970's to the mid-1990's. This was a time of massive unrest, not unlike a rolling civil war at times. Troubles would break out in one place, be suppressed, and then break out in another. The issue was the white government of the country and its racially discriminatory policies known collectively as apartheid. They included many laws that criminalized what any democracy would regard as normal and legitimate activities. Denied any political avenue to protest, opponents of apartheid became more and more radicalized, and turned to the former Soviet Union for inspiration and support. Increasingly isolated and paranoid, the apartheid government declared itself under a "total onslaught" from external sources, and developed a siege mentality. Ordinary citizens, particularly black people, became so much cannon fodder for both sides.
For ordinary people like you and I, this was an extraordinarily difficult situation. They could be living their normal lives, only to find from one day to the next that their residential area had become a battleground. Outside forces would move in and try to force them to behave in a certain way, or support a particular movement. If they did not, they were "sellouts" or "stooges". The government forces would push back, demanding their support for "law and order" (the same law that classified many of them as, effectively, sub-human). If they objected, or tried to avoid getting caught up in the struggle, they were automatically regarded as suspicious, and might be targeted by both sides.
I recall one incident for which I'll forever feel guilty. A labor organizer (illegal under South African law, where trades unions for black people were banned at the time) was arrested by the police. I knew him, and donated money to his family to help them keep body and soul together while he was in detention. Tragically, I was seen giving money to his wife; and township gossips immediately assumed that if she was getting money from a white man, it could only mean that she was a police informer. That night a group of thugs from the local resistance dragged her out of her house, gang-raped her in front of her three children - hacking off her arms at the elbow when she resisted - then poured gasoline over an old tire, put it around her neck, and set fire to it (the dreaded "necklace"). Her horrified children were forced to watch as she burned to death. They didn't matter to her attackers, of course - they were children of a "sell-out" in their eyes, and therefore of no account. If only I'd taken greater care not to be seen giving her money, she might still be alive, and they would not have been mentally and emotionally scarred for life by seeing what they did . . . but that was Africa, and it still is in many places. Human life is still dirt-cheap there.
Many simply "hunkered down" and tried to live through the chaos. They had no means to resist, and were too afraid to try. They chose to endure, and many became victims. Those who had the courage and initiative to stand up against the violence, and try to defend themselves and others against it, took a greater risk, and some paid dearly for it; but at least they were able to protect their families and groups of like-minded people against the chaos. I was in the thick of those evil years, and I've written about some aspects of them in previous articles:
The first thing that had to be done was to ensure local law and order by keeping as many criminals as possible at a distance. This wasn't easy. In such a lawless environment, many local gangsters set themselves up as warlords, dominating their areas and exacting a toll on residents to fund their criminal lifestyles. Any resistance was met with savage reprisals. Sadly, that meant the resistance also became more and more savage. The Golden Rule tells us to "do to others as you want them to do to you". If gangsters behave brutally, they must expect brutality in return - and they got it, in spades.
(One example: A group of young thugs from the so-called Mass Democratic Movement, or MDM, mostly from the Xhosa tribe, decided to attack a meeting of the women's auxiliary of the Inkatha Freedom Party [a Zulu political organization]. They ran in a loose gaggle up the street, surrounded the hall where the meeting was taking place, and began to force their way in. Nothing loth, the women [who were typical Zulu "mammies", large, well-muscled and pugnacious] poured out of the hall and gave as good as they got. I was there, and watched them literally rip fence posts out of the ground to beat up the interfering MDM youngsters. A group of cops were standing there, watching, enjoying the spectacle [because the MDM was "the enemy" as far as they were concerned]. I asked them why they weren't intervening to stop the violence, only to receive horrified looks at my stupidity in wanting to intervene in what was a tribal, as well as political, fight. Several on both sides were severely injured, and a lot of blood was shed - but the MDM's bully-boy tactics were decisively defeated, at least on that occasion.)
Resisting the gangsters didn't mean challenging them for control. There were usually too many of them and not enough resisters. However, if an area could be made too expensive for them to dominate - because they lost too many people there, or had to commit an inordinate amount of resources to maintain control - they would look for easier pickings elsewhere. Thus, the gang's local people were targeted, and beaten up or even killed. Any replacements met similar fates. The gangs would try to retaliate, but if they met a united front, they would generally back off. They had too much to lose, and too much to gain in weaker areas.
Of course, such resistance ran the risk of ending up as a new gang, also performing criminal acts. This happened with an Islamic group, first calling itself Qibla, then forming PAGAD (People Against Gangsterism And Drugs). The latter started off as a Muslim welfare society and mutual defense association, but rapidly degenerated into a criminal gang itself. There were many such, in all communities in South Africa. It took strong, determined leadership from people such as Inyati to prevent that happening, and keep the group focused on its original purpose - and such leaders were in short supply.
Resistance meant that weapons had to be obtained from somewhere, and defensive positions prepared. The weapons were usually locally made, unless firearms could be bought on the black market (you should pardon the expression), or captured from the opposition and turned against them (a frequent occurrence). Pangas (a local term for machetes) were acquired (examples made from the leaf springs of heavy trucks were particularly prized for their superior performance); spears (so-called assegais) were manufactured, in both throwing and stabbing varieties; and bows and arrows were produced. I remember one group that made three heavy-duty crossbows from truck leaf springs, including a hard-to-crank windlass to cock them, and rebar projectiles that were sharpened on a grinding wheel. They were absolutely deadly at short to medium range, with enough power to drive a bolt right through a human body. Knobkerries, clubs with rounded heads, were very often encountered, and the traditional Zulu isihlangu, a leaf-shaped cowhide shield mounted on a central wooden shaft, was often carried to provide some protection against similar weapons. Finally, sjamboks - thick, heavy whips traditionally made from hippopotamus hide, but later from other materials, including plastic replicas - were not uncommon, being used by police as well. A skillful wielder could cut flesh from bone with one of them.
Those weapons might not have been very effective against the AK-47's and SKS's of terrorists; but the battlefield could be "shaped" to aid the defenders and hinder attackers. Caltrops were a common tool for the purpose, scattered in areas that couldn't be monitored constantly, or where thick cover like long grass or bushes prevented observation. They could be easily made from heavy-duty wire or rebar, soldered or welded together by local blacksmiths. Screams of pain from those impaled on them were useful warnings to pay attention to where they'd been sown. Molotov cocktails were used to deter vehicles, or to throw at groups of attackers. The sight of a man turned into a human torch was a very effective dissuader. Arrows were sometimes used as a deterrent, to keep enemies at a distance. If, despite all those measures, the enemy managed to get dangerously close, it was time for an attack against them. A sudden charge from cover, or out of concealment in nearby houses, turned many a fight into a rout.
Of course, casualties had to be expected in such fights. The defenders were as much at risk as the attackers, and injuries and deaths were simply something to be expected. However, well-organized groups of defenders, who knew their local area well, had prepared it for defense, and were as well-armed as they could manage, were often able to keep the bad guys at a safe distance. Knowing they would pay in blood if they tried to intrude, they usually chose areas that were less dangerous.
The South African police were at the time pretty much the enforcement arm of apartheid. Many of their members were overtly racist, and they didn't try very hard to protect black townships against this sort of internecine violence. As far as they were concerned, if blacks turned on other blacks, it worked to their advantage, so why not just let them have at it? That was no comfort at all to law-abiding citizens in the black townships, of course . . . which is where groups like that with which I worked came into play. We tried to help the victims of violence, without any political motivation or overtone. That made us enemies both of the apartheid state, which wanted to "divide and rule", and of the terrorists trying to overthrow apartheid, who wanted to rule by terror and didn't want anyone being given any hope unless they supported the "resistance". We lost a lot of dead and injured people in those years.
The lesson we learned was that if you offered no resistance, you would be steamrollered by the forces of violence. They had no compunction about forcing themselves on entire communities, ruling by violence, intimidation and brutality. They knew no other language, and would not tolerate any resistance. One could avoid them in one place by moving to another, but sooner or later they'd turn up there as well. The only sure defense was to organize with like-minded people to defend one's families and neighborhoods. It was literally "fight or die". Communities that didn't do that were rapidly overrun, and became victims.
Many of the lessons we learned in South Africa can be applied to the USA as well. If you look at a Black Lives Matter or Antifa demonstration, they appear to be nothing more or less than the deliberately organized intimidation of white Americans. The demonstrators know that the authorities are very unlikely to act against them; rather, the authorities may target those who resist them, as we discussed yesterday. Therefore, they're emboldened to become even more provocative, violent and aggressive. I don't think that most US police forces are yet at the point where they'll refuse to intervene to stop major violence against the suburbs, but I think that may be coming. For example, Minneapolis police reportedly won't come to your aid if you're at or near George Floyd Square - they'll demand that you come to meet them in a safer area. What happens if you can't? It sounds to me as if in that case, you're on your own. In how many other cities is that happening? Seattle, for one, if a new lawsuit is to be believed.
The form which resistance takes is obviously a troubling factor. I'm not suggesting that US citizens should become as violent as we encountered in South Africa; but that will depend very much on how violent the rioters become. You can't put out a raging fire by throwing a thimbleful of water at it. You need sufficient water, at sufficient volume and pressure, to put it out. The scale of the threat will determine the scale of the response. However, any major response may well lead to a politically correct justice system targeting the defenders, rather than the attackers. This applies particularly if they're stigmatized as "militia" or "right-wing", as seen again just last week. Again, we discussed this yesterday, and in many of the articles linked there. This will call for extreme discretion, wherever possible, on the part of defenders. If they aren't witnessed or recorded defending themselves or their neighborhood, they can't be charged with any crime, real or politically trumped-up.
South Africa is just one example where people were forced to rely on themselves to keep the peace. In the next article in this series, we'll discuss more cases, from more extreme environments.