When two individuals disrupted a performance of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar Friday evening in Central Park, it set off a fierce – and somewhat acrimonious – debate among conservatives and other right-wingers on social media. The war of words between those who supported the brief protest and those who disapproved highlights the differences over how the right should respond to the growing militancy of the left. It also raised questions about the political right’s perception of freedom of speech.
The backdrop to this drama – the debate, rather than the play – is that the character of Julius Caesar was presented as President Donald Trump. In the current climate of outright animosity between right and left, this particular adaptation of the famous play was highly inappropriate. Following on from Kathy Griffin’s decapitated Trump photo and numerous other cases of implied violence against the president and his family, it wasn’t difficult to see the play as an extension of the left’s vicious rhetoric. The recent shooting, by a radical leftist, of Louisiana Republican Steve Scalise and several others drives the point home even harder.
Many conservatives portrayed the protest as an attempt to shut down free speech – something the right does not condone. The play was interrupted for a mere minute, however; no violence was committed, and no one’s freedom of speech was denied. The two activist protesters, Laura Loomer and Jack Posobiec, loudly voiced their objections to the performance. Loomer shouted after mounting the stage: “Stop the normalization of political violence against the right.” Posobiec, who was further back in the audience and filmed the protest, also began shouting. “Goebbels would be proud,” he yelled, at one point, referencing Adolph Hitler’s Minister of Propaganda.
The two were making the point that it was time for people on the right to stand up against the culture of censorship-through-force which has, practically, become normal behavior for the radical left. Using the left’s tactics against them is not something that conservatives are comfortable doing. A new wave of right-wing activists has taken on that role. Classed as ‘alt-right,’ these activists resolve to do that which conservatives cannot, or will not, do; fight fire with fire.
Showing the progressives, the social justice warriors, the Antifa, and their umbrella organization, the Democratic Party, that the right will turn the leftist playbook against them is an effective strategy. When one side in a political struggle knows it has the monopoly on activism and intimidation, it is emboldened to push harder, to escalate and to employ ever more extreme action against what it sees as a weaker foe. Standing against that progression – using the same tactics – becomes almost a matter of survival.
Some conservatives even took to social media to compare Loona and Posobiec to social justice warriors; a comparison that makes little sense. The interruption of the play was about objecting to the portrayal of the assassination of a sitting president – nothing more. Unlike social justice warriors, the protesters were not attempting to bring about the destruction of all social and cultural norms.
A further accusation was that the two activists were engaging in the same type of ‘groupthink’ that guides the radical left — shutting down the opposing voice in a petulant display of intolerance. But aren’t the very conservatives who opposed the protest engaging in their own form of groupthink? By insisting that everyone on the right conform to their notion of principle and not be permitted to express their disgust at the play freely, are they not attempting to impose their own will? Not everyone on the right shares all conservative values; this is neither a bad thing nor a good thing; it just is, and this very diversity of thought is something of which the left is neither capable nor tolerant.
There are legitimate arguments against such behavior. This adaptation of Julius Caesar was not unique; it has virtually become traditional to re-frame this, and other, classic dramatic works to reflect modern conditions and philosophical or political differences. The play itself, as written, does not celebrate the death of Caesar but, rather, suggests the folly – and negative consequences – of political violence. The Friday protest, which was repeated by others at the final performance Sunday, was little more than a spiteful and almost juvenile disruption of Shakespeare in the Park – a beloved celebration of the Bard that should not have been marred by political squabbles. In 2012, when Barack Obama occupied the White House, a black Julius Caesar met his grisly demise on the same spot without such repercussions.
Perhaps it does little good for right-wingers to stoop to the level of the extreme left. Conversely, it is a useful weapon to have in one’s arsenal. When leftists come to understand that their opponents will not always sit in silence; that their militancy will be resisted and disrupted, boycotted and marched against, then they have lost the edge they assumed that they exclusively possessed.
If right-wingers evolve to the point of initiating violent attacks and protests, they will have lost their moral superiority. Hope, for everyone, of civilized political debate and resolution will be finally and permanently lost. Short of that, however, it benefits the right to adopt an ‘all of the above’ strategy. Reasoned debate and discourse, when armored with the truth, facts, and logic, can be a powerful weapon against left-wing ideology.
Logical discussion, however, is not the only answer; extremist progressives simply do not care about reason, truth, facts, and logic; they believe that the end justifies the means and that all morality, decency, and truth can – and should – be discarded to achieve the desired result. In order to combat this lack of reason, the right needs that element of militancy and the option of vocal and physical resistance. Let it not become the hallmark of the right’s battle to preserve what is decent, but let it not be suppressed and ridiculed. The rhetoric will get much worse before it gets better. The violence of the left will likely escalate. Lofty principles are not bullet-resistant, and showing a willingness to fight back with the same tactics, as uncomfortable as that may be, is a useful ace to have up one’s sleeve.