Sam Harris’s false equivalence

In this podcast from Jan 9, 2020, Sam Harris criticizes both Trump supporters and BLM protesters and says both hold “grotesque” views.

He spends the first half of the podcast denouncing the extremism and unreasonableness of Trump and his supporters, in particular with regards to the attempted insurrection at the U.S. Capital building.

In the second half he denounces the violence of BLM protests and the many liberal politicians and news outlets who refused to acknowledge the violence and who are now saying that the inadequate police response to the D.C. insurrection is indicative of racism.

Both side of our politics have too many single issue thinkers, Harris says. “It is possible to acknowledge that Donald Trump is the most dangerously unfit person every to have occupied the office of the presidency while also acknowledging that leftist social justice hysteria is terrible and needs to be opposed. You don’t have to be a genius to keep both of these grotesque objects in view.” (my emphasis)

Nearly 50% of Republicans support the attack on the capitol, he says. Yet “this was an insurrection incited by the sitting president of the United States…, who had convinced them over the course of months that their democracy had been stolen from them.” Harris said that the insurrection at the capitol is much worse than a BLM protest that got out of control and devolved into looting and arson. These people “believe there is a global conspiracy of child-raping cannibals.”  He talks of “the absolute madness of the president” We can’t even talk about the other problems the nation faces, “because we have shirtless, fucking Vikings stalking the halls of Congress. We got people in Camp Auschwitz tee shirts hunting down Nancy Pelosi, at the best of the fucking President of the United States. … Trump has been assaulting the foundations of our democracy since before he took office.” “Throughout 2020 he repeatedly refused to offer an assurance that he would cooperate with a peaceful transfer of power. … He shattered the most important democratic norm we home, right before our eyes.”

Then Harris goes on to criticize Biden, Harris, and the Obamas for making the point that if BLM protesters had attacked the Capitol Building, the response would have been very different. “It was the wrong point to make. It would have been wrong even if it was right.” He said the black cop retreating up the steps inside the Capitol didn’t hold back because he had internalized white supremacy. Rather, he retreated because he was out-numbered and because his life was at risk.

As far as he knows, no BLM protesters were shot by cops. But last week in D.C. “A white woman was shot in the neck and killed. It is completely understandable that she was shot. To interpret this as another symptom of white privilege is frankly crazy.” The cops didn’t attack force at BLM protesters. “Yes, absurd force was directed at peaceful protesters in many places, rather than looters or arsonists.”

But I say: the point is that the cops and military allowed the protesters to enter the building. Not enough cops or troops were on hand to hold back the protesters. This wouldn’t have happened with a BLM protest and didn’t happen last June when BLM protesters were in D.C., or when peaceful protester were teargassed so that Trump could have his photo-op.

“Using this abomination that occurred at the capital as yet another opportunity to score a social justice point is frankly idiotic and is incredibly divisive. It convinces everyone right of center that their cynicism and their blind partisanship is totally justified.”

Harris says it’s “sloppy and disingenuous” to portray the Capitol invasion as a symptom of racism, when there were black cops among them.

Harris did acknowledge that further info may be revealed that the reason the police response was inadequate was that they were prevented from responding due to instructions from Trump and his allies, and this appears to be likely. (Harris says he recorded the podcast on January 9.) And this is the case.  See The Capitol Police chief says his pleas for backup were ignored by the sergeants-at-arms and the Pentagon. This article Maryland Governor Says Pentagon ‘Repeatedly Denied’ Approval To Send National Guard To Capitol says “President Trump reportedly refused initial requests to send in the National Guard, with Vice President Mike Pence ultimately interfacing with Defense Department officials and giving the order to mobilize units.”

Moreover, the Washington Post reports, Pentagon placed limits on D.C. Guard ahead of pro-Trump protests due to narrow mission.

Yet Harris say, “What we’re witnessing now is just how high a price we are paying for the hypocrisy and moral blindness of the media during the BLM riots. We would be in a much better place had they not bent over backwards to obfuscate what a sickening eruption of criminality we were witnessing.”

But, as Harris admits, the grievances of the BLM protesters were legitimate: extreme, repeated violence against unarmed black men, along with unaccountable cops and unfair sentencing.  In contrast, as Harris says, the grievances of the Trump supporters are largely illusory. The Trumpists acted on the basis of ridiculous conspiracy theories.  Harris even admists the Capitol insurrection was worse (see above). So why does he denounce BLM protesters and social justice activists and claim a false equivalency?

And though I certainly denounce violence and looting associated with BLM protests,  the vast majority of BLM protesters were peaceful. (Journalists need to study this question.) The looting near Seattle was done by gangs, not by BLM protesters. See Bellevue police chief says looters are part of organized crime ring “Chief Mylett said the looters were separate from the peaceful protesters who were demanding police accountability in the wake of George Floyd’s killing.”

Moreover, there are documented cases of right wing provocateurs instigating some of the violence at BLM protests:

Richmond VA Violence Caused By White Supremacists Posing As BLM

Leaked Documents Show Police Knew Far-Right Extremists Were the Real Threat at Protests, Not “Antifa”

Minneapolis police say ‘Umbrella Man’ was a white supremacist trying to incite George Floyd rioting

Anti-fascists linked to zero murders in the US in 25 years

Harris says, “Our society has been poisoned — verifiably poisoned — by lies, and Trump harbors and enormous responsibility for this. But the antidote to the lies of Trump and his enablers can’t be the lies of the left.”     However, Harris gives only one example of the alleged lies of the left. He mentions only the media’s alleged refusal to acknowledge the violence of the left as an example of the lies of the left.  It’s not even clear that the media ignored the violence or who is responsible.  The lies of the left aren’t as damaging, as extreme, or as commonly held as those of the right.    The lies of the right cover not just the question of whether Biden won the election but also many other issues, such  climate change, covid-19, tax policy, false justifications for wars, and weird conspiracy theories about pedophile sex rings, George Soros, and Venezuelan interference in the election.

Harris’ false equivalence between the extremism of the Trump supporters and the alleged extremism of social justice and BLM activists is unreasonable.

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