Rodney King is back, and his trial is center stage in the freak show of American television. The fact that these legal burlesques are called “the Rodney King trial” is worth pondering, because, the truth is, Rodney King now has immunity from prosecution for his reckless driving, for his violent attack on the officers who arrested him, for his sexual escapades and assaults, and for whatever torts, misdemeanors, and felonies he will commit in his criminal career.
It is the LAPD officers who are on trial and for the second time. The first round was bad enough. I do not condone police brutality. Considering the protection we actually receive from government, I would just as soon see the state’s monopoly on violence broken up and privatized. America is a country in which unborn babies may be slaughtered with impunity, while rapists and murderers arc protected by the vast machinery of criminal justice. Still, the people of Los Angeles pay good money to get protection from Rodney King, and if they are unwilling to take the law back into their own hands, they had better learn to cut some slack to the mercenaries who stand between them and the mob that would like nothing better than to burn their city down.
Contrast Mr. King’s fate with that of Randy Weaver and David Koresh, who were apparently guilty of possessing weapons that a government agency had outlawed. Their crime, before the feds got after them, was nothing worse than a code infringement—something like a parking ticket or a zoning violation. Neither Mr. Weaver nor Mr. Koresh is a model citizen, and in a better world one might cheerfully condone whatever measures were used to run them out of town. But in this age of criminals’ rights and multicultural sensitivity, the official organs of national conscience—the press, the ACLU, the ABA—are strangely silent. Even the reckless tribunes of talk radio have preferred, so I understand, to accept the government’s side of the story, and of the “Middle Americans” I’ve spoken with, very few see anything wrong with the slaughter of Randy Weaver’s wife and son or the armed assault on the Branch Davidian community in Waco. The conspicuous exceptions are the Texans—libertarians and conservatives—who have staged a protest demonstration against the federales siege.
Lots of people buy and sell illegal weapons. The boys clubs that tried to burn down Los Angeles last year maintain impressive arsenals, which are crucial to the success of their business enterprises. If ATF agents would like to make a sweep through any major city of the United States, they could turn up hundreds and thousands of armed enclaves whose dissolution would dramatically reduce the level of violent crime. Why pick on the kooks? Did either of them physically harm anyone, steal anything? Did either have a long criminal record of assault that would justify shooting them and their families down like dogs? Is anyone calling for the FBI or ATF officers to be tried on civil rights charges for persecuting religious minorities?
It is apparently standard procedure, now, to use deadly force in dealing with gun nuts and religious fanatics but unacceptable to apply a nightstick to the head of a violent thug. In a civilized country, there would have been no trial, because a hoodlum like Mr. King would have been flushed out of the social system long before he began experimenting with the use of the automobile as a deadly weapon.
If the first trial represented an attempt to dismantle the living wall that protects Los Angeles, the second is an inquisition that reminds us that American citizens no longer have any protection against a tyrannical government. Most of the protections extended by the Bill of Rights have long since been taken away by one or another branch of government, usually by turning the amendments on their head.
Freedom of religion, for example, now means that the governments that take money from Christians do not allow those same Christians to talk about their religion on the public property they have paid for. Freedom from search and seizure does not apply, it seems, either to the IRS or to state highway patrols running routine checks, and the Fifth Amendment’s guarantee that no one “shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself” is waived in child-abuse cases, along with the Common Law principle that a wife cannot be made to testify against her husband.
The amendment’s other stipulation, that no one shall “be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb,” is so sacred a part of the Common Law that in 1817 an accused rapist/murderer successfully demanded the right to trial by battle, when, by a legal technicality, he was forced to plead a second time, after he had been acquitted by a jury. Even before the trial, the newspapers had found the defendant guilty, and when the jury swiftly acquitted him, one newspaper threatened mob violence: “The Law may acquit the offender but thank God it is the Law only.”
After a bit of digging into legal history, someone discovered an obscure statute of 1488 giving the murder victim’s next of kin the right to appeal in a civil action. The defendant’s lawyer countered with a surprise move: a challenge to trial by battle. The appeal was dropped when the young woman’s brother declined to pick up the gauntlet from the courtroom floor. In response to the legal shenanigans used by both sides, parliament passed a law outlawing both appeals and trial by battle. Lord Eldon, that great conservative, commented in the House of Lords that “it was a great absurdity that a man who had been acquitted by the unanimous opinion of a jury should again be put in jeopardy of his life, provided any person, standing in a certain degree of relationship to the deceased, thought proper to proceed against him by civil suit.”
Lord Eldon’s argument is directed not against kinship per se but against the use of a civil action to evade the prohibition against double jeopardy. In other words, changing the name does not alter the thing. The most common exception to the double jeopardy rule occurs in cases where a conviction has been appealed and a higher court finds grounds to impose a stiffer penalty. In Los Angeles, however, the officers are being tried for exactly the same acts for which they have already been tried. If there is any difference, it is that the charges have been lowered rather than raised. Presumably, it is still a more serious crime to batter a man than to infringe his civil rights. If they are innocent of the original charges, that is if they were only doing their duty, how can their legitimate actions constitute a deprivation of civil rights?
By the same token, a man acquitted of shoplifting might be prosecuted for theft or for illegally removing merchandise without the owner’s permission. Of course this logic is only employed when a white is accused of doing something to a nonwhite. In general today, any white man, if acquitted of robbery, might be tried a second time if his alleged victim were black. Where the victims belong to protected minority groups, white Americans are, apparently, guilty until proved innocent, and their guilt is aggravated by the racial difference. In fact, this is the very logic of all the hate crimes legislation that has recently been enacted in such states as Wisconsin and Massachusetts. Break a window and you pay a fine in Boston, but if at the same time you shout “nigger” or “gook” or “spic,” you go automatically to jail.
Status has made its inevitable return to the American legal system. It was inevitable, because wherever two distinct ethnic groups have coexisted within the same territory, one or the other group has imposed a second-class status upon the other. I say coexist, because there are alternatives. The Anglo-Saxon invaders, by practicing a mixture of genocide and expulsion against the Celtic Britons, solved their native problem, and their descendants sometimes employed similar measures both in Ireland and in the New World.
Where the two groups are sufficiently similar in race and culture, they can assimilate and merge, as the various groups of German and Scandinavian invaders did in Britain. But where neither genocide nor fusion is practical, the normal recourse is to some kind of caste system. The “Aryans” in India, the Normans in England, the Dorians in the Greek Peloponnesus, and the white Europeans in America all established legal, political, and social codes that discouraged intermarriage and reduced the less advanced and less powerful ethnic group to a subservient position.
In some cases, where the differences are not great, as between Saxon and Norman, or Dorian and Achaean, the two populations will eventually become one, although I have always wondered if Walter Scott was really wrong in portraying a Norman/Saxon conflict in the time of Richard I. Even in the 18th and 19th centuries one might trace the outlines—however blurred and muddied by constant crossing and recrossing of borders—of at least two Englands—the Anglo-Norman upper classes described by Austen and Trollope and the peasants and cockneys depicted by Dickens and Hardy.
The English classes have certainly behaved, over the years, as if their conflict were really a race war, and similar observations have been made of the contrast between the French upper and lower classes. The distinctions, obviously, cannot be purely ethnic, but what matters is the existence of class antagonisms that resemble ethnic conflict. In medieval Tuscany, many centuries after the Lombard conquests, one class of gentry continued to call itself the Lombards, although by then the ethnic distinction must have been minimal. What cannot be disputed, however, is the ferocity of the fighting between the old nobility and the emerging middle class that triumphed in Florence. Once established in power, the wealthy merchants loaded down their former rivals with disabilities, and the crudest vengeance they could wreak upon members of their own class was to elevate them to nobility.
Whether the differences are purely ethnic, purely economic, or a mixture of the two, it is hard for two peoples to inhabit the same space at the same time. Nations and peoples are families, if only in myth, and families must look out for their own interests. In the subhuman world, the law that goes by the name of Cause’s principle of competitive exclusion stipulates that two species cannot occupy the same ecological niche, and a similar principle applies to subspecies and social groups in direct proportion to the strength of their identity. In colonial South Carolina, French Huguenots were so relieved to find themselves in a Protestant country that they set aside their differences with the English and merged their own churches into the Anglican establishment. French Catholics in Canada, however, have never fully reconciled themselves to the English conquest, and the Quebecois have proved to be masters at manipulating the Anglo-Canadian liberal regime into granting them a privileged position.
In the United States, the dominant theme of ethnic conflict has been the difficult relationship between blacks and whites. Tocqueville, among others, foresaw that the race question would be crucial to the survival and success of the Anglo-American republic. The War Between the States, while it was not fought by either side primarily on the slavery question, eliminated one legal strategy for avoiding the antagonisms that lead to genocidal conflict. Jim Crow laws represented a second effort to resolve the question in favor of the white majority.
Ultimately, the legal status of blacks seemed to be settled on the principle of legal and political equality. By the 1950’s and 60’s well-intentioned Americans—in the north as well as in the South—came to believe that the struggle for civil rights had something to do with such old-fashioned Anglo-American virtues as fair play and equality under the law. For some people, black and white, this probably was the case. I think of Roy Wilkins, longtime head of the NAACP, and of many misnamed Southern “liberals,” who objected to the indecencies and discourtesies inflicted upon persons of color all over the United States.
Nonetheless, a concern with fairness and decency was not the only or even the primary motive of the civil rights movement or in fact of any rights movement. Members of an underclass, real (e.g., black) or imagined (e.g., women, homosexuals), want not equality but superiority, not decent treatment but the right to inflict indecency, to bully as they (so they think) have been bullied.
No sensible person should have imagined that legal and political equality would content such intemperate and vicious revolutionaries as Martin Luther King, Jr., Stokely Carmichael, and Jesse Jackson, each one of them the very model of the degraded demagogue who addicts his followers to the stimulating but debilitating fix of greed and envy. An American people capable of preserving itself might wisely have conceded all the demands for legal equality and declared victory. Instead, bent on a course of self-destruction, we have continued to inject higher and higher levels of greed and envy into each minority group that comes to the table demanding what it has not earned. We have blighted the prospects of our children and grandchildren for the sake of strangers, and we have dressed up our failure as parents in the lofty language of affirmative action and social justice. Anyone who finds himself, as I do now, in a city whose schools are under the supervision of a federal judge knows something of what it feels like to live in an occupied country.
The American house was tottering into ruin by the late 1960’s; however, in more recent years, not content with ethnic warfare that is the consequence of slavery, the American ruling class decided, with malice aforethought, to inject millions and millions of aliens from Latin America, Asia, and Africa, each with his own reason to resent Euro-American culture, each to be given preference over the children of citizens whose ancestors worked and fought and died to make this country. And how are we repaid for our suicidal generosity? By resentment against Eurocentric education, by whining against the display of Christian symbolism, by demands for more rights and privileges to make up for what recently arrived Pakistanis and Arabs have suffered at American hands.
The height of absurdity was reached in the bombing of the World Trade Center. Six years ago, Mr. Mohammed A. Salameh apparently entered this country on a six-month visa and was making good money in construction jobs that had been given to him instead of to an American. Nourishing who knows what resentments against American policy in the Middle East, he and his friends murder five or six people they have never met for reasons the victims will never understand.
Sometimes the terrorists are more disciplined. One Mir Aimal Kansi, a 28-year-old Pakistani, told friends he wanted to do something big to protest America’s policies toward the Muslim world. He had succeeded in acquiring a green card, a social security number, and a driver’s license, which made it possible for him to buy the gun with which he shot two CIA officers before sneaking back to Pakistan, where no one is able to find him.
Arab and Pakistani terrorists, Nigerian con artists. Oriental and South American drug lords, Russian gangsters—all are introducing their particular brands of cultural enrichment into an already fragmented United States that increasingly resembles Bosnia more than the America I grew up in. It is interesting, even entertaining, to observe the tender regard our editorialists display toward that former province of Yugoslavia, almost always described as “a multicultural society” or as “Bosnia’s experiment in multiculturalism.”
The results of our own experiment may well turn out to be as grim. The future of urban America was made very clear during the L.A. riots in which blacks and Mexicans teamed up against Koreans. The alignments will shift, but the violence can only increase. This has nothing to do with the way things ought to be or the way we would like them to be. “Can’t we all just get along?” is the cry of either a saint or an imbecile. Of course we cannot. There is too much at stake. The state of nature, of human nature, is not a helium omnium contra omnes, unless we supply some noun like familia or genus. It is the war of families and kindreds and gene pools that dominates human existence, and while a few privileged individuals may be spoiled into believing they can lead their own lives selfishly, most of them end up marrying and rearing families whose interests they promote as ruthlessly as a mother tiger.
The American ruling class holds power by pretending to believe in equality—racial, ethnic, political, social. But when they send their children to private schools, while a few editorialists may sound off against the hypocrisy of the first couple, no one even hints at the obvious significance. Our schools have been systematically gutted of content, turned into war zones in which teachers dare not stand up to youth gangs, and for what? For the principle of equality, which roughly translated means; “If my kid can’t get an education, then I’ll make damn sure yours can’t either.” So, who is exempt? Why the very ruling class that has taken steps to insure the illiteracy and powerlessness of our children. That is the whole point. It is us against them, and them gots the power to do what them likes with us, and that, by the way, is how a public school graduate talks in the 1990’s.
Some years ago, Paul Fussell pointed out that the American status hierarchy is determined by education. The rich and powerful attend Ivy League schools to which they also admit select members of the minority groups who keep them in power. The middle classes struggle to afford state universities of various types, and the rest of the population—I do not speak now of the welfare/criminal classes—go to community colleges and trade schools. But in this land of opportunity, it is important to note that the gap between Harvard and the University of South Carolina is almost as wide as the gulf between South Carolina and a secretarial school. Of course there is upward mobility and a process of circulation, but when middle-class kids can graduate from Madison and Austin without learning English or math, their chances of cracking the real glass ceiling are very slim.
To what degree the Clintons and Kennedys are aware of their motives is almost beside the point. The only conspiracy theories I believe in are genetic, and most of us play out our game strategies in blissful ignorance of our goals. But most of the white population of the United States is now being treated like the downtrodden nobility of Florence, even though the ruling class consists almost exclusively of Europeans, nominally Jewish, Catholic, and Protestant, who treat their fellow countrymen like Spartan helots.
The reason should be obvious. The members of our ruling class do not regard themselves as our fellow-countrymen. Like the patricians of early Rome, they are of a purer stock, mingled with the race of the gods and heroes. Isolated in their bunkers and fortified compounds, they look upon the rest of us as so much canaille, fit perhaps to work and pay taxes but not to have a say in how our money is spent or how our children are educated. Some of them are old WASPs; others, like the Kennedys, descended from shanty Irish bootleggers, have never entirely succeeded in acquiring the patina of old Boston and old New York, but, at this late date, who can tell the difference? Besides, such distinctions belong to the world of the Old Republic. One generation of wealth and power is enough to raise even a Middle American to a position on the board of the Council on Foreign Relations, if he is willing to grovel hard enough.
The real point of the second “Rodney King trial” is not about special privileges for the urban underclass that is ready to riot whenever the Republicans or Democrats give them leave, which they did the last time around. The entire American regime is now built upon a foundation of inequality and redistribution, and any challenge to that regime will be met by the unrestrained power that has already been used against Randy Weaver, David Koresh, Gordon Kahl, and God-knows-how-many religious crackpots and tax protestors who have been gunned down by federal agents.
In a republic, the citizens have some chance of gaining equal access to justice. In a polyethnic empire, like Rome in the third century, or America on the verge of the 21st, the mixture of tribes, races, and nations reduces the privilege of citizenship to a trifle. For the subjects of an empire, it is status alone that counts, and it is only the privileged classes of honestiores who can escape torture, receive due process, or participate in polities. We take all this for granted now and rarely give a second thought to the condition of servitude that has been forced upon us. If, listening to talk radio in the dark of night, we entertain any wild thought of freedom, the cold blue light of day dawning on our TV sets brings us back to reality. The news is what they report, reality is what they show, and in their morality all the real evil in the world is caused by overzealous cops and Christians who want to defend their families.
The Spartans used to declare war annually against the helots, just to show them they could be killed with impunity. The helots knew their place, and we, contemplating the simultaneous demonstrations of power staged by the federal government in Los Angeles and Waco, Texas, had better know ours.