USA Today's Hampson Promotes OWS 'Violent Fringe' Myth

According to Rick Hampson in what is apparently an analysis piece in Monday's USA Today, the Occupy movement has a violent "fringe," which constitutes just a "fraction" of those involved.

Well, he's right about it being a "fraction," except that said fraction is a lot larger than he apparently believes. The USAT writer also attempts to perpetuate the Occupy Oakland myth that its November 2 "non-violent 'general strike'" was absolutely peaceful until "some masked anarchists broke off from the main protest." Here is some of Hampson's harrumphing:


'Occupy' movement faces challenge from violent fringe

As winter closes in on its open-air encampments and public attention prepares to move on to the next big thing, the Occupy movement faces a dilemma: Conflict and confrontation, which have helped make it a national phenomenon, also can derail it. The scene this month in Oakland, where a fraction of protesters fought with riot police, trashed stores, built barricades and started fires, reminded activists and historians that a movement suffers if conflicts with authority turn violent.

... Political analysts and historians — and many Occupy adherents — agree that violence usually eclipses a movement's message and alienates potential mainstream support. But they say that though public opinion condemns violence's initiators, it sympathizes with its victims. And conflict that stops short of violence creates cohesion within a movement and attracts attention outside it.

The trick is to go only to the brink, according to Tom Juravich, a labor activist and historian. "If militancy stays within bounds, there's mileage to be gained. But not if you hurt people or destroy property."

Occupy Wall Street, the encampment that started it all on Sept. 17 in New York City, was ignored or derided by much of the news media until a police commander was videotaped pepper-spraying two female protesters, and about 700 protesters were arrested for allegedly trying to block the Brooklyn Bridge. ...

"Conflict gets people's attention," says Caroline Pincus, a 53-year-old San Franciscan who marched in Occupy Oakland's non-violent "general strike" that briefly closed the nation's fifth-busiest port. "It's put the story on the front page. It's given permission for much more coverage of income disparity."

In Oakland, a splinter group that included some masked anarchists broke off from the main protest Nov. 2 after a day of peaceful protests. Police made more than 80 arrests.

There's only one problem with Hampson's "violent fringe" contention: Democratic pollster Doug Schoen punctured that myth almost a month ago in a Wall Street Journal report:

Our research shows clearly that the movement doesn't represent unemployed America and is not ideologically diverse. Rather, it comprises an unrepresentative segment of the electorate that believes in radical redistribution of wealth, civil disobedience and, in some instances, violence. Half (52%) have participated in a political movement before, virtually all (98%) say they would support civil disobedience to achieve their goals, and nearly one-third (31%) would support violence to advance their agenda.

There's your "fraction," Rick, and it's almost one-third. That's hardly a "fringe." Given both the Occupiers' failure to make any headway in moving public opinion toward their primarily redistributionist agenda and the personal violence we've seen in so many camps around the country, it's more than a little likely that the street violence-supporting component of the Occupy movement is greater, perhaps far greater, than it was in mid-October.

As to Occupy Oakland:

  • As seen here (picture caption: "Demonstrators from the 'Occupy Oakland movement climb aboard trucks at the Port of Oakland in Oakland, November 2, 2011") at least some so-called "peaceful" participants in the demonstrations at the Port of Oakland prevented workers there from doing their job. It seems that the Port didn't shut down because it wanted to avoid a confrontation; it really shut down because of one.
  • At BigJournalism.com on November 4, P.J. Salvatore showed "that violence began during, not after, the main “general strike” protest conducted by Occupy Oakland on Nov. 2. Masked activists, marching with the main parade, begin smashing windows as the Occupy chants (“Banks got bailed out, we got sold out”) are heard in the background."

One commenter at Hampson's piece wrote: "Violence is not the fringe, it is the mainstream with the OWS." If not the mainstream, arguably darned near it -- and certainly not a "fringe."

Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.

Tom Blumer
Tom Blumer
Tom Blumer is a contributing editor for NewsBusters.