by Gary Alexander
September 9, 2020
This week, Wall Street traders return from their Labor Day weekends and August vacations, but the protesters may return to New York, too. Friday marks the 19th anniversary of the September 11 attack on the World Trade Center, but there were two other attacks on Wall Street in mid-September – the Occupy Wall Street beginning September 17, 2011, and a violent terrorist attack 100 years ago next week.
In 1920, the “Red Scare” dominated the news. Anarchists were on the loose. Bomb scares were common. On Thursday, September 16, the lunch hour was just beginning when a young man and an old horse drew a cart in front of the J.P. Morgan building in the heart of Wall Street. The driver quickly fled the scene before his cart full of metal fragments exploded, killing over 30 lunching traders and injuring over 300.
Unlike 2001, it was business as usual the next day, with many workers in bandages, laboring under broken windows with debris all around. Theories abounded, but the perpetrator fled the country and the conspirators were never caught. There was a warning letter from the “American Anarchist Fighters,” which demanded release of political prisoners, but the FBI never could apprehend the perpetrators.
Fifty years ago, there were thousands of terrorist bombings in America (the FBI counted 2,500 in an 18 month period in 1971-72, according to Brian Burrough in his book “Days of Rage: America’s Radical Underground, the FBI and the Forgotten Age of Revolutionary Violence”). Many of those bombs were set by groups like the Weather Underground. Burrough called them “exploding press releases,” with various groups taking credit. Their intent was not to kill but to “protest some aspect of the American condition.”
American novelists of the day wrote about this violent trend. Philip Roth’s “American Pastoral” profiled a young woman who killed a man accidentally with a bomb set in 1968. In “Mr. Sammler’s Planet” (1969), novelist Saul Bellow profiled a Holocaust survivor who encountered the angry youth of 1969 in a college campus as they confronted him with their “idea of the corrupting disease of being white and of the healing power of black… Add to this the dangerous lunging staggering, crazy violence of fanatics … in the name of perfect instantaneous freedom. For what it amounted to was limitless demand – insatiability. A full bill of demand and complaint was therefore presented by each individual. Non-negotiable.” Sound familiar?
Such attitudes now find expression in Millennials in the summer of 2020 via Antifa riots currently torching our cities and looting downtowns – with some academic justification in a new best-selling book.
“The Case for Looting” – As Promoted on NPR
Amazon.com’s #1 best-seller in the Radical New Thought category is “The Case for Looting” by Vicky Osterweil, published August 27 and promoted on National Public Radio (NPR) August 29. Not wanting to fund such nonsense, I downloaded a free 30-page sample from Kindle and there are enough bombshells in that little packet to make me question the author’s ethics, plus segments so crude I can’t quote here.
After hearing the kindness of the NPR interviewer, who seemed to approve of this violent form of theft, I downloaded the transcript for closer examination, to see if I could believe my ears. First, on NPR, Osterweil defined looting in this self-contradictory manner: “When I use the word looting, I mean the mass expropriation of property, mass shoplifting during a moment of upheaval or riot. That’s the thing I’m defending. I’m not defending any situation in which property is stolen by force.”
That’s nonsense on the face of it. Mass shoplifting in a riot – with broken windows and destruction of property – is “stolen by force.” The interviewer failed to catch that contradiction, giving the author a chance to continue describing the glories of looting: “It gets people what they need for free immediately, which means they are capable of living and reproducing their lives without having to rely on jobs.”
Looting, she goes on, “attacks the idea that in order for someone to have a roof over their head or have a meal ticket, they have to work for a boss, in order to buy things that people just like them somewhere else in the world had to make under the same conditions. It points to the way in which that’s unjust.… also, it provides people with an imaginative sense of freedom and pleasure and helps them imagine a world that could be [where] riots and looting are experienced as sort of joyous and liberatory.”
Beyond that giggly nonsense, none of this is “free.” It costs real money to buy property and buildings and goods, insurance, pay and benefits for employees, and myriad other costs. It will also cost them mightily to rebuild and restock, if they so choose, but why would businesses rebuild? When businesses disappear from their neighborhood, looters will have no nearby stores to loot, but that fact escaped the author, and NPR.
NPR: During recent riots, a sentiment I heard a lot was that looters in cities like Minneapolis were hurting their own cause by destroying small businesses in their own neighborhoods, stores owned by immigrants and people of color. What would you say to people who make that argument?
Osterweil: “In Minneapolis, there was a small independent bookstore that was untouched. All the blocks around it were basically looted or even leveled, burned down. And that store just remained untouched through weeks of rioting.” [Ha! Why would looters want to steal books?!] “When it comes to small business, family owned business or locally owned business, they are no more likely to provide worker protections. They are no more likely to provide good stuff for the community than big business.”
When she refers our “cisheteropatriarchal racial capitalist society” in “these so-called United States,” you sense that Osterweil is a byproduct of the deconstructionist theories dominating our college campuses, so maybe we can be thankful that many colleges and high schools are closed this fall. Coronavirus is not the only contagion floating around the halls of academia. Socialism and nihilism are also spreading there.
(Note: NPR has since “cleaned up” their original transcript and backtracked on their original neutrality.)
The lesson from history is that radicals may attack Wall Street, but capitalism is resilient and will survive. Even if the terrorists strike again, we can expect the market to recover and rise from the ashes yet again.