Editor’s note: This commentary is by Shannara Johnson, of Morrisville. She is running for state representative for the Lamoille-Washington district.
Last Saturday, I witnessed one of the great modern dramas that are now playing out in the streets of America every day. Only I didn’t know what it was that I had witnessed until a Twitter post opened my eyes.
This epiphany made me realize that there is nothing random or spontaneous about the “peaceful protests” we see on the nightly news. None of the riots that incite violence, looting, and vandalism are “our youth expressing their frustration,” as our liberal governors and mayors would have us believe.
On the contrary, all of these destructive events are fully planned and scripted by highly organized and experienced agents of chaos — and their intelligent combat tactics come straight from a playbook for radicals.
It’s just that, normally, these scripted dramas take place on such a large stage — our inner cities — and involve such a large cast that it’s nearly impossible to see and track how they unfold.
It’s much easier to do so in a place as tiny as the Montpelier State House lawn, with a small cast of about 50 actors and a group of about 50 unwitting extras. (The numbers in both groups were vastly exaggerated in the media.)
Setting the stage
On Saturday, July 25, a small group of maybe 50 conservative, mostly middle-aged and older Vermonters gathered for a planned event on the State House lawn. It was supposed to be a peaceful, quiet gathering to celebrate and honor the brave law enforcement officers who protect and save lives every day and who, as we all know, haven’t gotten much love lately.
I had signed up early for the event and helped spread the invitation across Facebook. However, my initial euphoria faded when I learned that a local BLM chapter had almost immediately called for staging an “Abolish the Police Counter Action.”
I didn’t realize until much later how appropriate the word staging actually was.
“Keep it civil, keep it nonconfrontational, keep it positive,” Jim Sexton, organizer of the pro-police gathering, had warned the attendees of his event. “We don’t want any trouble.”
Only feel-good stories about the police would be allowed, Jim said, and no incendiary speeches, no lectures, nothing that could be even remotely construed as aggressive.
Being wary of mobs, I’d also phoned Chief Matthew Romei of the Capitol Police and asked if we would be OK, and he reassured me that he and his men would keep a close eye on the two groups.
“We’ll make sure nobody gets hurt,” he said.
Act 1: The build-up (or “Put your target in a decision dilemma”)
As the pro-police celebrators gathered on Saturday morning and the first speaker took the mic, telling a heart-warming story of how a police officer had saved her life, the BLM crowd started trickling in, most of them white teenagers and twenty-somethings.
At first, they were subdued and respectful, quietly holding their signs that read, Abolish the Police, ACAB (All Cops Are Bastards), and F*** the Cops.
Then a BLM organizer arrived, and it was as if a power switch had been flicked on. He marched up on the landing and spurned on the protesters to kick up the volume.
“We can shout louder,” he screamed, pumping his fist in the air, “we can drown them out!”
At his orders, the BLM crowd got louder and more aggressive. Chanting “Black lives matter” and “F*** the police” at the top of their lungs and waving their signs, they started encroaching on the other group’s space. Blaring sirens and horns were used as additional noise generators.
I learned later that this is one of the core principles in the playbook for radicals: “Put your target in a decision dilemma.”
The website called BeautifulTrouble.org states, “Design your action so that your target is forced to make a decision, and all their available options play to your advantage.”
The text cynically continues, “If you design your action well, you can force your target into a situation where they have to respond but have no good options — where they’re damned if they do, damned if they don’t.”
The “Support Our Police” attendees had only two choices, and both played right into the protesters’ scheme: either retreat and close down the rally, or react and engage.
The third and most sensible choice that organizer Jim Sexton tried to pursue — simply ignoring the disruptors and conducting the event as planned — was made harder by the minute due to the cacophony and the physical intimidation from the BLM crowd.
Over the next hour, the tension perceptibly rose, and even though I tried to stay calm, I too got caught up in the emotional tide. Scanning the BLM crowd, what irked me most was a sign with the words, “Say Their Names.” Scrawled around that line were the names of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and others. It was quite obvious to me that only certain black lives mattered to the protesters.
I looked up some other names on my phone and wrote them down: David Dorn, 66 years old, a retired black police officer from St. Louis who was killed by rioters when he tried to protect his friend’s pawnshop; Amaria Jones, 13 years old, from Chicago, killed by a stray bullet as she was showing her mother a dance move in their living room; Secoriea Turner, 8 years old, from Atlanta, killed in the backseat of her mother’s car during a drive-by shooting; Natalia Wallace, 7 years old, shot and killed while playing in a yard in her neighborhood; and Sincere Gaston, 20 months old, shot and killed in his mother’s car when they drove home from the laundromat.
There were many more. I made my way up to the microphone, but Jim Sexton stopped me. “I can’t let you read that,” he said. “We must keep the peace.”
I realized he was smarter than me.
Act 2: The Climax (or “The real action is your target’s reaction”)
As I reluctantly retreated, I spotted Chief Romei up on the hill next to the State House and decided to walk up there.
“So,” I said, standing next to him and looking out over the gathering where the two groups were drifting ever closer to each other, “what do you think? Everything still looks pretty OK, right?”
“Not really,” he said, intently scanning the crowd. “See? Over there is a cluster of BLM folks with helmets on. And over there are several protesters with paint ball gear. There is some really bad juju going on down there. One wrong shove, and the whole thing could explode.”
I said, “But you do have enough officers to take control if something goes wrong, no?”
“Hell no,” Romei said, sounding tense.
A chill ran down my spine.
“You ever watch a hockey game?” he continued. “Sometimes the players just start clubbing each other with their hockey sticks, and the referees are standing by until one of them hits the ground. Then they dive in and throw themselves on top of them and pin them down. That’s what we’re going to have to do if this goes bad.”
It was clear that his mood had shifted drastically from the optimism he had displayed when I had talked to him on the phone a few days earlier. I wondered if some legislator had told him to stand down.
A man from our pro-police group walked up the hill. “Chief,” he said, “I just saw one of the protesters take a black box out of his backpack. It was about the size and shape of a Glock box, and he started opening it with a key. You probably want to keep an eye on that.”
The chief nodded. I excused myself and walked back down the hill. This whole thing was getting way too scary for my taste.
A pastor who had the mic repeatedly asked the crowd to “give us a moment of silence for George Floyd and all the black people who have been unjustly killed by police.”
Eventually, everyone obliged. After all the previous noise, the sudden silence was deafening.
“And now,” he said, “can we have a moment of silence for all the fallen law enforcement officers who died protecting people’s lives?”
Instantly, the BLM crowd started screaming and blaring their sirens again. I noticed at least half a dozen protesters circling the crowd and filming everything, some of them with big, professional-looking video cameras. I wondered what that was all about.
Later, I found out that communist activist Saul Alinsky coined the term “Political Jiu-Jitsu” to describe actions like this.
The website Beautiful Trouble states:
[These actions] enable under-resourced activist groups to use a powerful opponent’s momentum against them by provoking a reaction, and then watching them fall flat, literally or figuratively, in front of the cameras.
When applying this principle, it’s important to understand that you can’t just hope the target reacts in a way that spotlights the injustice. Wherever possible, plan for your target’s reactions, encourage them, and incorporate them into the action. If it doesn’t work the first time, adjust and try again.
Little did I and the other poor schmucks in the pro-police group know that we were the supporting actors in a grand drama that was playing out right in front of our eyes.
As the BLM provocateurs kept working up the crowd, the “documenters” kept circling around, hoping for their million-dollar shot.
And unfortunately, they got it.
Act 3: The Impact (or “Play to the audience that isn’t there”)
The next day, a video made the rounds of a blond woman in a Vermont t-shirt flying into a racist rage and yelling at the protesters: “Black lives don’t matter at all to me! White lives matter. You’ve had everything. Free f***ing everything. Blacks have been coddled for years.”
“When you’re pulling off a prank or staging some kind of media spectacle,” says Beautiful Trouble, “it’s important to keep in mind that those you’re directly confronting are often not your main audience. … Rather, the idea is to use the immediate audience as unwitting actors in a theater piece that is being performed for a secondary audience. That secondary audience is comprised of filmgoers or YouTube viewers or TV watchers or press release readers — and they’re the ones you care most about. Design your intervention with them in mind.”
The video of the racist Vermont “Karen” went viral on Twitter and made it into Newsweek, WCAX, Yahoo News, NewsOne, BET, AP News and other media outlets.
It came to define an event that was meant to be kind and selfless and show support for the people who every day put their lives on the line for the safety of Americans and Vermonters.
Several news articles quoted Noel Riby-Williams, co-organizer of the BLM protest, as saying sadly, “I’m not shocked, because I know Vermont has its really racist undertones. The racism here is probably even scarier than in other places — it’s hidden, and you don’t know when it’s going to come, and it will shock you at any moment.”
Then she went in for the kill: “I just hope and pray that these people really realize what they’re standing for. By standing for police brutality, you’re allowing people to be killed.”
And that’s how the narrative of the rural racists came to be.
Never mind that in 1777, Vermont was the first colony to abolish slavery and give full voting rights to African-American males.
Never mind that in 1823, a black Vermonter, Alexander Lucius Twilight, became the first African-American to earn a college degree.
And never mind that in 1836, Twilight entered the Vermont House of Representatives — becoming the first African-American elected to a state legislature. This was before the Civil War.
Vermont has always prided itself to be one of the least racist states. I hope other communities and groups can learn from our experience and refuse to play into the guerilla tactics of the radical left.