False Flags and Labels: Don’t Let Them Fool You

Throughout history, warring tribes and politicians have used flags and labels to confuse the public. One famous example was the burning of the German Reichstag (parliament building) in 1933. Imagine, for a moment, the outcry that would occur if someone attempted to destroy the U. S. Capitol Building. That’s the equivalent of what happened during the months after Adolf Hitler was appointed Chancellor of Germany despite the Nazis having received only around a third of the popular votes in the 1932 elections. You can find an excellent Smithsonian Magazine summary of those events at  https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/true-story-reichstag-fire-and-nazis-rise-power-180962240/

Historians differ as to whether the fire was the work of Communists on the extreme political left or Brown Shirts working for the Nazis on the extreme political right. Hitler was quick to pin the blame on the Communists, using the incident as a springboard to frighten citizens across the nation into giving up their rights of free speech, assembly, privacy, and the press as a means of allowing the government to maintain order. As we now know, the German people did not regain those rights until World War II ended in their nation’s crushing defeat.

Those who believe the Nazis caused the fire often use the phrase “false flag” to refer to this form of political manipulation. By secretly causing violence while crediting the damage to your enemy, you hope to sew confusion in the public’s mind. “See how bad those Communists are! They’ll destroy everything we love if we don’t give our government the power to stop them! And, to really stop them, we’ll all need to cede our personal rights to the government.”

It is not the purpose of this blog post, however, merely to draw attention to the definition of “false flag.” The point is to demonstrate the importance of spirited research whenever acts of violence occur around matters involving spirited debate.

Let’s assume, for a moment, that a member of the Communist Party started the Reichstag fire, and that Hitler decided to seize the moment for his own purposes. Would it be fair for Spirited Reasoners to do the same thing: use the extreme actions of one extreme member to tar every other member of that same party? What if historians were to discover, for example, that the person who started the Reichstag fire was emotionally disturbed? What if he or she happened to be a member of the Communist Party who was secretly bribed by the Nazi Party to commit that crime? In either case, his party credentials wouldn’t seem to matter all that much.

We may never know.

Demonstrations, sometimes violent, have been occurring all across the United States over the past few weeks. In almost every case, those demonstrations have been attended by peaceful citizens seeking only to exercise their First Amendment rights to free speech and assembly in hopes of changing unjust policies and laws. In a few cases, those demonstrations have turned violent, almost always due to the actions of a handful of protestors and/or police.

As in the case of the Reichstag fire, we must never allow the actions of one individual or extremist faction to tar the peaceful motives of the greater whole. When violence is perpetrated by the member of an organization, that fact isn’t proof that the whole organization is evil or responsible. That’s why we have a criminal justice system, flawed though it may be. That one person, or handful of persons, should be arrest, charged with the appropriate crime, and arraigned before a court of law.

Therefore, when our President claims, as he has, that an upside down triangle is being used as a label by a certain left-wing group, which therefore (according to him) justifies calling everyone in that group a terrorist, we should take such claims with more than a grain of salt. We must never allow specious calls for “law and order” to trick us into forfeiting our precious First Amendment rights.