(If you like what Bishop Barren has said here, please go to the Catholic World Report, and give them and Bishop Barren an attaboy. He has provided an important link to understanding the structural phenomenon we’re encountering, which is the strategy, plowing the row, so to speak, of a new type of authoritarian government through Gestapo tactics, as with the establishment of the Third Reich in the early days of Hitler, employed BEFORE their new kind of government is actually installed. Alinsky also had this in mind. This is not a Soviet-style strategy.
(A big difference, and it matters that we know in advance what sort of Evil we are confronting, for if it is to preempted, we have to launch the preemption ourselves. We cannot rely on government until we also plow the row.)
By now the entire country has seen a video of a supposedly racist confrontation, in front of the Lincoln Memorial, between a grinning young high school student and a Native American elder, chanting and beating a drum. The immediate and ferocious judgment of the internet community was that the boy was effectively taunting and belittling the elder, but subsequent videos from wider angles as well as the young man’s own testimony have cast considerable doubt on this original assessment. My purpose in this article is not to adjudicate the situation, which remains, at best, ambiguous, even in regard to the basic facts. It is to comment, rather, on the morally outrageous and deeply troubling nature of the response to this occurrence, one that I would characterize as, quite literally, Satanic.
When the video in question first came to my attention, it already had millions of views on Facebook and had been commented upon over 50,000 times. Eager to find out what this was all about, I began to scroll through the comments. They were practically one hundred percent against the young man, and they were marked, as is customary on social media, by stinging cruelty. As I continued to survey the reactions, I began to come across dozens urging retribution against the boy, and then dozens more that provided the addresses and email contacts of his parents, his school, and his diocese. I remember thinking, “Oh my goodness, do they realize what they’re doing? They’re effectively destroying, even threatening, this kid’s life.”
At this point, my mind turned, as it often does today, to René Girard. The great Franco-American philosopher and social commentator is best known for his speculations on what he called the scapegoating mechanism. Sadly, Girard maintained, most human communities, from the coffee klatch to the nation state, are predicated upon this dysfunctional and deeply destructive instinct. Roughly speaking, it unfolds as follows. When tensions arise in a group (as they inevitably do), people commence to cast about for a scapegoat, for someone or some group to blame. Deeply attractive, even addictive, the scapegoating move rapidly attracts a crowd, which in short order becomes a mob. In their common hatred of the victim, the blamers feel an ersatz sense of togetherness. Filled with the excitement born of self-righteousness, the mob then endeavors to isolate and finally eliminate the scapegoat, convinced that this will restore order to their roiled society. At the risk of succumbing to the reductio ad Hitlerum fallacy, nowhere is the Girardian more evident than in the Germany of the 1930s. Hitler ingeniously exploited the scapegoating mechanism to bring his country together—obviously in a profoundly wicked way[…]