The Breaking Windows Fallacy


Take THAT, community rating!

There's a lot of hyperbole out there about Mike Vanderboegh, an Alabama militiaman who reacted to the health care bill by urging all patriots to break windows at Democratic Party headquarters around the country—a suggestion that a handful of brick-throwers seems to have embraced. It's a lousy idea, but it isn't a sign of racism, anti-Semitism, or any of the similar maladies being diagnosed by some of Vanderboegh's critics. I've been aware of Vanderboegh for a while. His chief claim to fame is being one of the more vocal anti-racists in the militia milieu, a guy who went out of his way to antagonize the neo-Nazi types who tried to hitch their wagons to the movement back in the '90s. Comparing his brick campaign to Kristallnacht is ridiculous.

That said, his plan is pretty ridiculous as well. Breaking windows at Democratic offices will do about as much to stop Obamacare as breaking windows at Starbucks did to stop international trade agreements. Scattershot vandalism of private property is the sort of polarizing action that turns the people in the middle against you, not the kind that brings them to your side. As I've written elsewhere, "Nonviolence makes it harder for the government to demonize you [and] easier to attract popular support. Besides, the government has greater firepower; if you use violence, you're fighting on its turf." That applies to violence against property as well.

If you want to "get their attention BEFORE the IRS thug parties descend upon us each in turn" (the words are Vanderboegh's), then here are 198 nonviolent—not passive, but nonviolent—ways to get a message across, all drawn from a very smart book about political conflict. The further down the list you go, the more confrontational the methods get. You can put the authorities in the position of enforcing an unpopular law requiring everyone to buy insurance, or you can put them in the position of enforcing a popular law against breaking other people's windows. One approach will earn public sympathy. The other will earn you a reputation as a public nuisance.