The footage could hardly be more chilling, like something from the wilder fringes of Hollywood’s dystopian imagination.
A woman sits at a table, recoiling in fear. She is penned in, surrounded by a mob of masked men and women, their clenched fists raised menacingly in the air.
Again and again the rhythmic chants go up: ‘White silence is violence! No justice, no peace!’ The woman shrinks further back in her chair. The mob moves in. Some of them lean into her face. They stand over her, fists raised, shrieking and shouting, demanding that she too raises her arm in salute.
On and on it goes. Nobody comes to her defence. It’s an awful scene, reminiscent of the street scenes in Germany in the spring of 1933, when Nazi thugs demanded that ordinary people raise their arms in homage to Hitler.
But this is not Germany in 1933, and neither is it some overwrought science-fiction vision of the future. This was Washington DC, one of the great capitals of the democratic West, just two days ago.
The woman’s name was Lauren Victor, and her crime was to have been spotted having dinner outside a Washington restaurant. The mob were, inevitably, Black Lives Matter protesters, roaming the streets of the US capital during their latest demonstrations about alleged police brutality towards black Americans.
According to an appalled reporter from the Washington Post, the predominantly white activists were trying to force ordinary diners to raise their fists and join in with their chants. Miss Victor, an urban planner, said no.
Ironically, it turns out she had previously been on Black Lives Matter marches herself, but now she just wanted to have her dinner in peace. ‘It didn’t feel right,’ she said afterwards, adding that she felt ‘under attack’.
That seems a remarkably understated way of putting it. I wonder how many of us, in Miss Victor’s shoes, would show the same grace and guts under such horrendous pressure. In almost every detail, it’s a scene that turns your stomach.
The snarls of aggression and ritual chanting are nothing new. Neither is the hysterical, bullying tone of the protesters.
But the facemasks give the episode a deeply sinister feel. So do the ubiquitous camera phones, held up as if the protesters are recording Miss Victor’s non-compliance for some future show trial. In America, the pictures inspired well-deserved horror.
Many moderate black leaders were quick to express their condemnation, and even some Black Lives Matter protesters were eager to distance themselves.
‘This is insane,’ tweeted the award-winning black writer Thomas Chatterton Williams. ‘This is cult behaviour. This is what a moral panic powered by technology looks like.’
A woman, identified as Lauren Victor, was surrounded by protestors, their fists raised menacingly in the air. They shouted at her, demanding she too raises her arm in salute
He was, of course, quite right. Yes, black Americans are often grievously mistreated by the US police; and yes, racism in any form is self-evidently despicable.
But for weeks now it has been obvious that whatever its origins, the Black Lives Matter movement has become a nihilistic, monomaniacal cult. And I would go further.
It is now perilously close to fascism – not, perhaps, the same kind of fascism practised by Hitler, Himmler, Goering and Goebbels, but fascism of a peculiarly sinister 21st-century variety.
Like all true fascists, the most extreme BLM supporters have a crude, conspiracy-theory view of history. They believe that the world is steeped in evil, thanks to the machinations of their morally diseased opponents.
They believe that through the fires of destruction – ‘defunding’ the police, tearing down statues, emptying museums – humanity can be purged of its original sin.
Like the Nazis, they regard the very idea of objective truth with contempt, and claim that language itself is tainted by the past.
Like the Nazis, too, they see themselves as victims – even though, as the pictures show, all but a handful of the activists were no blacker than I am.
There is, of course, a bleak irony here. Over time, it has become glaringly obvious that the BLM movement is largely driven by rich, white, expensively educated Left-wing university graduates, like the people involved with Oxford’s Rhodes Must Fall movement.
A year ago, they were marching behind the banners of Extinction Rebellion. But anti-racism has become their new status symbol, their latest fashionable bien-pensant cause.
In their twisted minds, these spoiled brats’ sense of victimhood entitles them to do whatever they please to advance their cause. Traditions and customs, the basic decencies and conventions of everyday life, are their sworn enemies.
Their sacred cause permits them to break whatever laws they like. If they loot and riot, if they tear down busts and statues, it is entirely justified. And if they break social distancing rules in a pandemic, it doesn’t matter – because, according to BLM supporters, ‘we are living in a racism pandemic’ as well.
It is tempting, of course, to pretend that this merely a mad aberration, which is precisely what some people said in the 1930s. But we know that’s not true.
It’s an awful scene, reminiscent of the street scenes in Germany in the spring of 1933, when Nazi thugs demanded that ordinary people raise their arms in homage to Hitler. Pictured, Hitler receives Nazi salutes after a speak in 1934
Here in Britain, too, shrieking mobs have taken to the streets, tearing down statues and screaming at passers-by. When the outspoken Mail on Sunday columnist Peter Hitchens went to watch a BLM protest in Oxford, they jeered and howled at him, even following him down the street.
For the believer in the cause, no disagreement can be tolerated. Doubters and sceptics must be silenced. It is true, of course, that the anarchists and anti-capitalists in the BLM movement are only a tiny minority.
But like all intolerant, authoritarian minorities, they demand the collaboration of the quiet, easy-going majority. And because so few people want to be called ‘racists’, they often get it.
That’s why the scenes in Washington, however shocking, were also depressingly familiar. Like Hitler’s stormtroopers before them, the protesters wanted ordinary diners to raise their fists and join in their chants. And hoping to be left alone, many of them did so.
Here in Britain, too, cowardly and foolish people in our major cultural institutions, from the BBC and the National Trust to Oxford University and the British Museum, can hardly wait to fall meekly into line with the bullies’ demands. That’s how coercion and collaboration work.
In many ways these dreadful scenes recall the world created by the Canadian novelist Margaret Atwood in her disturbing book The Handmaid’s Tale.
In Atwood’s novel, now an equally chilling TV series, America has fallen under the sway of a weird fundamentalist sect. Doubt and disagreement are savagely punished.
Suffused with moral certainty, the perpetrators never doubt that they, and they alone, are on the side of justice.
But I’m also struck by the parallels with George Orwell’s terrifyingly prescient book Nineteen Eighty Four. There, if you remember, Britain is controlled by the Thought Police, who have erased any trace of our history and demand total suppression of individual freedom.
Like the BLM protesters, Orwell’s Thought Police want to control language itself, turning plain English into the jargon known as Newspeak.
‘Don’t you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought?’ one character says. ‘In the end we shall make thoughtcrime literally impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it.’
According to a reporter from the Washington Post, the predominantly white activists were trying to force ordinary diners to raise their fists and join in with their chants
That, I think, perfectly captures the spirit of today’s self-appointed Thought Police – the kind of people who chant that ‘white silence is violence’, even though it manifestly isn’t.
It is no exaggeration to say that these self-styled activists will not rest until every museum has been remodelled, every patriotic hymn suppressed, every country house ‘contextualised’, every employee re-educated, every curriculum rewritten. That, too, is how fascism works.
There is only one way to stop them. They cannot be appeased, for with every concession their appetite grows. We cannot ignore them and hope they will go away. Nor can we go along with them and hope they leave us alone. The only way to beat them is to stand up to them, and say: ‘No.’
That brings me back to that video in Washington. For there’s another way of looking at those pictures, which tells a rather more inspiring story.
It’s not the story of the intolerant mob who ranted and raved, or the story of the countless passers-by who looked on and did nothing. It’s the story of Lauren Victor, the woman at the table.
For even as the new fascists came closer and closer, raising their voices louder and louder, she still said: ‘No.’
Remember her, the woman who said: ‘No’. For when such scenes come to Britain, as they assuredly will, that is the only way we’ll beat these bullies.