White Nationalists, Hatred, Division, Street Violence and Civil War?
How Would Martin Luther King Confront the Capitol Riots and the Prospect of Martial Law Under Donald Trump?
He and Eugene Goodman Would Do More Than Just Run and “Turn the Other Cheek”
During a week when white supremacists and others may launch another attack on our nation’s Capitol, and as Martin Luther King Day and the presidential inauguration dovetail in what has the potential to ignite into a state of emergency or even into an invocation of martial law by President Trump, I want you to think about “What would Martin Luther King do at this moment?” Before I suggest an answer to that question, I want to provide some historical context to what it felt like to be Martin Luther King Jr. Which should also tell us something about what it was like to be Eugene Goodman, the black Capital policeman in the video above who led a howling mob of hundreds in the direction away from the Senate chambers where Vice President Pence and the members of the United States Senate and almost certainly saved the lives of the people who were in the process of certifying the selection of the next President of the United States. Goodman may not have only saved those lawmakers, he might have saved American democracy from an insurrection or coup.
On Sunday July 31, 1966 in Chicago sixty persons were injured and 30 cars damaged or burned by “howling white crowds” in what the Los Angeles Times called “an afternoon of almost uncontrolled terrorism.” (And this was back in 1966, let me remind you, long before “terrorism” was an everyday word.) But it would be only a pale prelude to what would happen five days later on Friday of the subsequent weekend when Martin Luther King would be hit in the head by a rock in Chicago’s Marquette Park — a place that would become a major venue for white supremacist rallies for the next 25 years.
Reports in the Chicago Tribune and the Los Angeles Times recounted the harrowing story. The Times article reported, that the march started that afternoon,
“… in the middle of the street [where] Dr. King and the demonstrators knelt and prayed for several minutes. They sang a freedom song which was drowned out by the roar of the white crowd surrounding them. By this time the white mob was estimated by police at about 3,000 persons.
At the beginning of the march, the white mob was mostly youthful, but after 5 p.m. it became predominantly adult and mostly male. By the time the demonstrators returned to Marquette Park to board buses which took them to a freedom rally in a Negro church, police said the white crowds had grown to 5,000 to 6,000 persons.
In the park, as the demonstrators boarded the buses, the crowd tossed a few rocks and many cherry bombs and continued its outpouring of curses and obscenities … It was here that the greatest number of arrests were made, as segments of the mob ripped into police lines in forays, rocked automobiles parked nearby and attacked one television news crew.
Police bludgeoned a number of whites into silence, and one police van was filled with men covered with blood. Each time the police opened the van door to push another man inside, the bloody crowd inside would try to escape, and there were several battles of fists and billy clubs before the van finally pulled away, its back door splotched with bloody handprints.
Throughout the march, every time a cherry bomb exploded or a rock was tossed, huge roars went up from the crowd and every time another person was arrested the air was filled with boos and cries of police brutality.
“Kill them. Kill them!”
A frantic woman beat on a reporter’s back with the flat of her hand crying: “Get King! Kill him!”
As bricks, stones, bottles, cherry bombs and other debris had been thrown at Dr. King earlier that day, his supporters had surrounded him and waved their arms in the air in an ultimately futile attempt to fend off the projectiles. “Aides and bodyguards [had] closed in around King, holding placards aloft to shield him from the missiles.”
But finally one rock got through and and struck King in the head just below his ear.
King was stunned. “The blow knocked King to one knee and he thrust out an arm to break the fall,” the Tribune reported. “He knelt there, dazed, in this kneeling position until his head cleared.”
Then King slowly composed himself. He stood up. And said to his followers: “Keep marching.”
Martin Luther King did far more than just “turn the other cheek” on that August day — less than two years before the full intent and reality behind that rock would manifest itself as a bullet into his head on the day he was assassinated. King had the very specific goals of protesting poverty, education and housing disparities and real estate redlining; and he STRATEGICALLY chose the precise place of his march: Chicago.
And he did not just urge his supporters to “keep marching.” He had the self-discipline to inspire them — many of whom may have wanted to protect him by countering violence with violence — to keep marching PEACEFULLY.
King later said of that day’s events, “I have been in the civil rights movement for many years all through the South, but I have never seen — not even in Alabama or Louisiana — mobs as hostile and hateful as this crowd … I [had] to do this — to expose myself — to bring this hate into the open.”
The hate and terror which emanated from the mob that chased Eugene Goodman and others through the corridors of the Capitol Building on January 6 didn’t need to be exposed — it bared itself like an exhibitionist hooligan to the entire world. Eugene Goodman felt the same terror that Martin Luther King had in Marquette Park fifty years earlier and on so many other occasions. It is what African Americans have felt for 400 years. It is also what racism, fascism or anarchy feel like — and it is NOT what genuine “patriotism” feels like or projects onto others.
During Donald Trump’s second impeachment, Representative Joaquin Castro asked of his colleagues, “What do you think would have happened if [the insurrectionists] had gotten [into the congressional chambers]? What do you think they would have done to you? And who do you think sent them here?”
The insurrection DID result in the murder of Goodman’s fellow Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick and death and injury to many others.
But Goodman didn’t just feel that terror — the same hatred and violence that both King and Officer Sicknick did — he faced it, and his courageous and intelligent reaction to it make him deserving of the Congressional Gold Medal so many think he should receive. In being a black man confronting a white mob — and not running from that mob, but rather outsmarting it — he may have literally saved our democracy.
Neither King or Goodman ran away and hid like cowards; nor did either merely “turn the other cheek.”
We can feel in that video the dangerous turbulent hatred of that mob — and how Goodman reacted to the unexpected events that came out of nowhere at him.
What would King do in the coming days as we now face the second part of this insurrection but can SEE it coming at us?
I obviously can’t speak for Martin Luther King, but I want to conjecture what I think he would do (even from my relative lack of knowledge about his life and movement).
First of all, King would not be calling for demonstrations at this time. King was a civil rights leader, but as even a friend of mine who unfortunately has a lot of racism in his heart said: “He was a great American. Maybe the greatest American.” And despite the fact that the African American community had lived as slaves for 300 years and then another 50 years under Jim Crow at the time King led his movement, he would know that the most noble aspects of the American political system and the ideal of what America can be are both the best vehicle and inspiration for the civil rights movement for which he gave his life.
If Trump voters feel that the election was “rigged”; and if many of both Trump and Biden supporters feel the entire SYSTEM is rigged — think about how “rigged” the system that Martin Luther King stood up against was rigged against African Americans for those 350 years.
But King would not be calling for demonstrations at this time when the very apparatus of national law enforcement which sparked riots in the summer of 2020 over the death of George Floyd and similar incidents is both the oppressor of the African American community and its protector. Eugene Goodman is a member of the same Capitol Police force that simultaneously saved our democracy and is accused of allowing a mob of rioters go free because they are white.
King would not forsake the struggle against systemic racism in American society that was ignited in 2020. But he would not encourage a suicide mission of fighting white supremacists at this particular moment.
King would pause his struggle for these last days that Donald Trump is in office because the chaos it would produce could give Trump an excuse to declare a state of emergency or invoke the “limited martial law” Trump desires. The odds that Trump would be successful in such an endeavor are low, but the odds that he might try are higher than the chances of its success. And the way we act in the next several days will greatly affect those odds. It could be argued that Trump would actually have nothing to lose in an attempt to raise the stakes to “all or nothing.”
I am only using Martin Luther King as a symbol. Substitute any American behind any political cause for King. The most imminent excuse for Trump to react would arise if his mob successfully disrupted Biden’s inauguration and was met with street protests by Biden’s supporters or others. This would give Trump the excuse he would need to “restore law and order.”
I’m sure many good people in the United States government have prepared all kinds of responses to such a scenario. But remember: this is the same government that was supposed to protect the Capitol Building on January 6; and there is evidence of security breaches of the highest magnitude. Remember that Donald Trump has spent the last two months since his electoral defeat on November 3 consolidating under his command the agencies that were supposed to protect against such an attack.
Melania Trump once said of her husband, “If you hit him, he will hit you back ten times harder.”
The best way to counter Trump until Biden is inaugurated is to give him nothing to hit back at. Don’t demonstrate, don’t counter anything Trump’s wildest supporters might do. Let law enforcement handle them — and make the job of law enforcement officials easier by staying out of their way.
This is not a struggle between Biden Democrats and Trump Republicans; of progressives versus conservatives; or of blacks against whites. It is one between those who use violence to achieve political and social ends versus those of us who believe in and live by nonviolence and the rule of law, regardless of the rage we sometimes feel towards our system of government and society, and despite how hard adhering to those ideals can often be.
In response to the terrorist who encouraged the mob which pursued Goodman by shouting, “He’s one person. We’re thousands”; let me reply on behalf of those of us who believe in nonviolence and the democratic spirit: “There may be thousands of you — there are millions of us.”
For more on this strategy, see my article The War After the Election:
The War After the Election
Scenarios of a Stolen Election, Mass Protest and Even Violence and Civil War Afterwards— And What We Can Do to Prevent…
For more on how to counter a reincarnation of Donald Trump see The Pledge to Safeguard the Constitution, a petition for legislative proposals to limit presidential power: