Most Government Action Rests on the Threat of "Serious Force"

What would happen, I wonder, if protesters decide to set up an autonomous zone in the Twitter parking lot?

|The Volokh Conspiracy |

Twitter is barring people from liking and simply retweeting this post from President Trump:

But of course governments normally threaten serious force against people who try to set up zones "autonomous" from the government (for instance, excluding police, or barricading streets, or otherwise enforcing rules that they themselves made up; we're not speaking just of lawful, peaceful protests here). Indeed, governments implicitly and often explicitly threaten serious force as a backstop for most laws.

Say some political activists decided to go onto the Twitter headquarters parking lot and set up an autonomous zone complete with barricades and exclusion of police and security guards, as a means of trying to change Twitter policy. I assume Twitter would ask to have them ejected. Such ejection, to be effective, has to rely on serious force.

Or say anti-abortion activists set up an autonomous zone in front of an abortion clinic, barricading streets to block access to the clinic and trying to stop police officers from entering to protect the women going to the clinic. The activists would and should be stopped through serious force (as much as is necessary to get them out of there). Indeed, if business owners decide to simply not comply with various taxes, regulations, and the like, the regulatory state will ultimately stop them using the threat of serious force.

Now of course such force usually soundly starts small (e.g., citations before arrests), and escalates only as necessary. That's usually better for everyone (the citizenry that expects protection from illegal conduct, the people engaging in the illegal conduct, the police, and other government officials).

But it is the threat of escalation, including ultimately to lethal force, that makes it all work. The police might ask anti-abortion protesters to leave, but if they don't, then the police might physically move them and arrest them. If the protesters resist, the police might use more serious force. And if the protesters continue to resist, in a way that endangers the police officers' lives (or others' lives), then the police can use deadly force.

Whether the government should or shouldn't remove the "autonomous zone" organizers or let them stay until they get tired or worried about being shot or attacked by fellow autonomous zone denizens is an interesting practical question. (My view is that they should be removed, but that decision is not mine to make.) But surely the threat of serious force to enforce the law is at least a plausible, indeed commonplace, alternative.

Indeed, it isn't just the police that can use serious force. I expect Twitter likely has its own security guards who can themselves use serious force against people who set up an autonomous zone on Twitter property. (Those guards can at some point escalate the serious force up to deadly force, though of course not always.) On the public streets, though, the way we deal with people trying to impose their own rules is by threatening serious force by law enforcement.

Now I realize that it's pretty unusual for the government to send the message, "If you violate the rules, you'll be met with serious force." For many violations of the rules, the message goes without saying. In other situations, an influx of armed public servants is usually seen as speaking louder than words. But I see little sound basis for a social media platform to block people from retweeting or liking an elected official's making explicit what is inevitably implicit.

NEXT: Will the Next Eric Garner Be Killed Over Black Market Fireworks?

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  1. Which IDENTIFIABLE group?
    Lying bastards.

    1. That was my take. Definitionally / logically speaking, there can’t be “an identifiable group” here because they haven’t done it yet.

      1. Dot self identifies them.

  2. What you did not see in the autonomous zone was pandemonium and chaos. The threat of force is for the 5% of people that require it.

    1. Did you miss the shooting and murder victims?

      1. That’s my point.

        It only takes one or two to villains killing one or two people out of a thousand to cause everyone to feel unsafe.

        But that doesn’t mean the society falls apart without the police.

        1. One or two people out of a thousand in a single week would basically raise my local murder rate by like, a hundred times. So, yeah, that would mean our (local) society has fallen apart in the absence of police.

          And I’m not a fan of police.

          1. The one shooting in CHAZ is an infinite increase over the previous number of shootings. You need to consider the effects of small absolute numbers when analyzing data.

  3. Gee, when you put it like that maybe Trump isn’t a dangerous lunatic after all! I guess you might as well vote for him in November then, at least as long as he promises more tax cuts!

    1. Lunatic=Wanting to prevent Leftwing Breakaway states from being created in the middle of major american cities.

      1. Lunatic = wanting to stop rioting, pillaging, looting, murder, and American ISIS statue tumbling.

      2. Yes Amos, that’s quite literally an example of a lunatic. Just like someone who wants to prevent the aliens from installing anal probes.

        1. Burned buildings, looted stores, a warlord has taken over part of a city and is extracting tribute from his hostages, and you’ve got the cast iron gall to write that?

          1. Even “a warlord has taken over part of a city” isn’t a thing that happened, except in the fever dreams of Fox News commentators, and “Leftwing Breakaway states” definitely isn’t something that happened. So yes.

            1. So you’re just going with flat denial, then? “Who are you going to believe, me or your lying eyes?” No attempt to even engage in reason?

              That’s pathetic.

              1. You don’t appear to know about what a warlord is, or how they maintain power.

                CHAZ sucks, but your melodrama is…well, expected, I guess.

                1. Yeah, march into CHAZ and suggest they hold an election with secret ballots. Tell me how that works out.

                  1. No elections means warlord.

                    Got it.

            2. Raz Simone? CHAZ? Have you heard of these things?

  4. The Trump administration has already used force against peaceful protesters (during the Battle of Lafayette Square), taking Prof. Volokh’s observation from tone-deaf to disingenuous.

    Prof. Volokh’s sniping at Twitter — despite his record of content-driven censorship at this blog — demonstrates a lack of self-awareness.

    Carry on, clingers.

    1. Is this blog being threatened with 230 changes if they don’t censor harrassment or violence? Did uou not watch the democratic debates where they fall all over each other trying to one-up the punishments they’d apply to companies like twitter for not censoring as they’d like, culminating with Harris just going for it and no longer just backdoor censoring by pulling 230, but advocating direct legal punishment?

      It is my understanding this woman, sorry, person, is on Biden’s short list because she’s a person, and given his state, she may very well inherit the presidency.

    2. Ah, the “peaceful protesters“ who set St. John’s Church on fire!

      The dark cloud of fascism is forever descending upon the right, but it always turns out to be composed of progressives.

    3. OK Artie, how do you feel about the feds burning those Branch Davidians to death (including men, women, and children) during a former Administration? Maybe you’d care to defend the FBI shooting the unarmed Vicki Weaver in the head as she held her baby?
      My guess is that you’re completely comfortable with the government killing people whose politics and/or lifestyle you dislike, but will use the use of force as an excuse to criticize politicians you don’t like. Amirite?

  5. Government, especially the Feds pretty are all about ‘serious force’ other than that what do you have left? Dedicating shopping malls?

    1. Overuse of force indicates oppression. Overuse of dedicating new malls indicates keeping the trade routes of Rome open.

  6. The standard for the use of deadly force has NOTHING to do with resistance and everything to do with whether deadly force is necessary to prevent likely death or serious injury.

    We often hear rhetoric about how if a person had no resisted, they would not have been killed. And that is generally irrelevant. The question is not whether a person resisted, but whether their actions would have likely caused death or serious injury.

    Threatening to use “serious force” even before a situation arises is the wrong message for government officials to send in a democracy. And just another example of why Trump is unfit to be President. He has made the protests much worse and more prolonged than they would otherwise be.

    1. The private sector standard for the use of deadly force is whether it’s necessary to prevent likely death or serious injury, because the private sector doesn’t get to order people around and enforce those orders.

      That’s never been the government’s standard.

      1. That is the government’s standard, Brett.

        1. Yeah, try testing that. You will absolutely find it isn’t.

          Sure, they don’t go straight to shooting you. First they’ll issue an order, and see if you obey it. Then if you don’t obey, they’ll move to physically restraining you. And then, if you successfully resist being physically restrained, you get shot.

          Every order the government issues is backstopped with violence, it’s the fundamental reason people obey orders from the government. The violence might not be immediate, but it’s there, a looming threat.

          1. I once decades ago had a convo with a guy who maintained that backup threat of violence wasn’t violence. It was in the context of some new idiotic law and the guy was a democrat.

            Pick and choose the importance of philosophies based on your goals, severed from same.

    2. Yeah it’s his fault those people are out there rioting, pillaging, looting, murdering and book burning.

      Damn him!!

    3. Threatening to use “serious force” is far from threatening to use “deadly force”.

      Being “tear gassed”, being arrested and thrown into a holding cell for 24 hours while charges are processed, being struck with a baton to stop you from assaulting an officer are all likely uses of force in a situation like this and none of them are considered deadly force but are all “serious force”.

      To date, little (if any?) deadly force has been used by LEOs in the past few weeks to curtail the unlawful acts of protesters. Some “serious force” has been used of course. Why would anyone assume that “serious force” suddenly is an synonym for “deadly force”?

      Words have meanings and are used within a context.

    4. I agree that the president’s message was the wrong one to send. However, Twitter’s response did more to discredit them than it harmed the president.

      The answer to bad speech is more speech. As a private company, Twitter is not legally compelled to honor the principle of free speech but we, the public, have the right to be upset when they don’t. As much right as when corporations do other legal but immoral things, anyway.

    5. “He has made the protests much worse and more prolonged than they would otherwise be.”

      Complete nonsense.

      The riots started the first weekend before he said a word.

      1. That’s… not actually a rebuttal.

        “They started before he said anything” does not contradict “He made them worse and prolonged them.”

    6. “He has made the protests much worse and more prolonged than they would otherwise be.”

      That’s nonsense. The so-called protesters, actually insurgents, political opportunists, looters, and rabbel-rousers have made the “protests” worse, more violent, more destructive that they should have been.

  7. Sometimes I know Eugene misses the point on purpose by way of making another point.

    This is one of the times he’s just missing the point.

    1. What is the point?

    2. Damn this is super persuasive. I just wish Lincoln had been decent enough to let a few peace loving states set up their own autonomous zone back in the mid 1800s. But that douche had a war boner and I’ll be damned if he didn’t unleash and orgy of death.

      1. “Speak softly but carry a big stick.” — Somebody should tear down this guy’s statue.

  8. Oh you mean you think Twitter thinks it’s being logical, not just locked in some weird love/hate/parasitical death spiral with Trump? You’re wrong.

  9. This has nothing to do with their terms of service. They decided well in advance of this election that they were going to censor Trump, and this is just their excuse for doing it.

    1. Exactly.

      These applications of subjective policy only apply to President Trump or his supporters.

      1. As opposed to other people who get their Tweets deleted and are sometimes banned.

        1. For lefties expressing the same general grade of content? Oh please do post examples. I’ll wait.

          (While you’re flailing around looking for token exceptions, feel free to search for a few choice phrases like “burn them all down” or “kill the police” and feast your eyes on the sort of vile speech Twitter allows to run rampant. But I credit you with already knowing that full well.)

            1. Those seem to be accounts caught up in a big shotgun ban.

              1. No new goal posts.

  10. Twitter managemwnt supports the Confederacy? It opposes not only Lincoln’s use of force against America’s quintessential autonomous zone, but even any language threatening to use force?

    1. Bingo. A house divided against itself can not stand. And we War Boner Abe didn’t have peaceful persuasion in mind.

  11. Now of course such force usually soundly starts small

    But that’s the point here, isn’t it?

    Trump isn’t talking about starting small. The implication is that “serious force” will be the first step, not a last resort.

    The OP ignores this.

    1. Running tone-deaf interference for the guy who unleashed government firepower on peaceful protesters to set up a photo op. This is why right-wing professors will always be misfits and malcontents on strong campuses.

      1. C’mon Artie, when you gonna get serious about this use of force business and condemn its use by all politicians, not just the ones you dislike? Or would that prevent the feds from getting tough with folks you disagree with? Can’t have that, can we?

      2. the guy who unleashed government firepower on peaceful protesters to set up a photo op.

        Fire set at St. John’s church in D.C. during protests of George Floyd’s death – The Washington Post

        Quote:
        A fire was set in the basement nursery of historic St. John’s Episcopal Church, across Lafayette Square from the White House, during demonstrations Sunday night expressing outrage at the death of George Floyd in police custody.

        Although the protests were largely peaceful in the afternoon and evening, small groups of people began setting fires and smashing windows once darkness fell.

        Shortly after 10 p.m., someone tore down the American flag that hangs outside the butter-yellow church and appeared to toss the flag into a nearby fire. A glass door or window was shattered.

        D.C. police said a small fire was deliberately set in the basement. Under police escort, D.C. firefighters quickly extinguished it.

        1. Setting aside who set this fire, what does that have to do with the comment to which you responded?

  12. Forget Twitter. 47 USCA 223 criminalizes unprotected threatening communications made via interactive computer service. So, what does it look like when laws apply to everyone in this country and those with government authority are held to account and arrested for harassment?

    1. I’m not sure quite what this is getting at: 47 USC 223 does ban use of “telecommunications device, whether or not conversation or communication ensues, without disclosing his identity and with intent to … threaten … any specific person,” but that’s limited to anonymous communications (another section also covers threats using obscenity or child pornography). 18 USC 875 bans interstate communications that threaten to injure, but in context this has to be limited to threat of unlawful injury. Threat of lawful use of force is generally not criminal, and is indeed generally constitutionally protected.

      1. Okay, 18 USC 875 – Is it lawful to threaten force against people engaged in protected speech and/or activity? Sure, obviously the govt has an interest in keeping the peace by threatening (lawful) force against unlawful conduct and/or unprotected speech. So, the inverse must be true, as well, right? The govt does *not* have an interest in disrupting the peace by threatening (unlawful) force against *lawful* conduct and/or *protected* speech.

        1. “Is it lawful to threaten force against people engaged in protected speech and/or activity?”

          Depends, are they throwing rocks while they’re doing this?

          1. Throwing rocks is not protected, lawful activity.

  13. Our form of govt requires an honest, moral people. If some fraction of 1% of the governed don’t agree to abide by the laws., there is bedlem If there are more that that, our form of govt does not have the tools, or stomach to enforce the rules. Representative form of govt says the laws passed are passed by the majority and can be rescinded the same way. Voluntary acquiescence to rule is the only way this works. An overwhelming show of force is exactly that. Show.

    1. An overwhelming show of force is exactly how you turn a peaceful protest violent, and a violent protest into a revolt.

      You shouldn’t have any illusions about what’s going on, Trump is extremely consistent when it comes to stuff like this. For Trump this isn’t about maintaining order or keeping the peace, it’s about winning.

      Trump campaigned against BLM, and he sees the BLM protests as a challenge to him. So in order to “win” this little news cycle he needs to beat the protestors, and a use of force is a very literal way to win.

      The problem is that also pisses off the protestors even more (especially given the narrative of this specific protest) and people attacked are liable to fight back. If Trump’s administration really did do all he asked without question or push-back his instincts in this case really could escalate to a civil war.

      Honestly, if

      1. “An overwhelming show of force is exactly how you turn a peaceful protest violent, and a violent protest into a revolt.

        But the first half of that sentence assumes exactly what isn’t present. CHAZ isn’t a peaceful protest, thousands of people are being held hostage by, essentially, warlords.

        And a violent protest only turns into a revolt if it has popular support. And you could march the army into CHAZ, and most of the nation would cheer.

      2. “An overwhelming show of force is exactly how you turn a peaceful protest violent, and a violent protest into a revolt.”

        That is not what history says. Its the lack of force that encourages the mob.

    2. Our form of govt requires an honest, moral people.

      Not gonna lie, that’s a pretty unusual place to start a pro-Trump comment.

  14. Just wondering – do US Constitutional rights apply to people voluntarily entering “an autonomous zone”?
    I mean if that is truly “an autonomous zone”, the US Military has to respond, because no local or state police department has jurisdiction, do they?
    Or is it just a bunch of cos-players with egos bigger than their brains?

  15. This is a classic blindspot of the American left. They fail to acknowledge that every law is enforced by the barrel of a gun, thus they don’t think many laws is a problem. That is why they became shocked and appalled by the Atlanta shooting, when any sane person knows that (or some similar incident) is an inevitable outcome if you have a strict DUI regime.

  16. I do not agree that the use of force is implicit

    Most government interactions do not involve force, and I would posit that virtually none actually require it, bloodthirsty Fascist wannabes aside

    A group of protesters need to be moved.
    Why is the use of force on the side of the gov’t implicit?
    There are many non violent means of getting the resolution required. If they are not shooting at you then there is no reason to be shooting at them, which is not saying gov’t agents need be unarmed, but they do not need to use force, if force is not being used against them.

    Force or violence is an ignorant way to get things done.

    Police in England rarely carry guns, not because the English criminal is less violent. Because the do not want to use them

    I would say ‘detention’ is a necessary part of gov’t , but claiming ‘force’ is necessary is the root of the very problem under discussion in this country right now

    The fact that a minor criminal running away from a police officer seems a reason to use deadly force is exactly the problem with law enforcement right now

    1. England? You are really going to hold them up as the standard? I guess you don’t read international news.

      1. Yes I am, your lack of facts in support of your argument is duly noted

        1. With the sole exception of homicide, the UK is a more violent country than the US. You are more likely to become the victim of a crime of violence in the UK than in the US.

          UK is violent crime capital of Europe (Telegraph)

          Quote:
          It means there are over 2,000 crimes recorded per 100,000 population in the UK, making it the most violent place in Europe… By comparison, America has an estimated rate of 466 violent crimes per 100,000 population.

    2. “Most government interactions do not involve force,”

      This is remarkably stupid. Most interactions with your local Mafia chief or street gang selling “protection” don’t involve force. So long as you buy it.

      But you know damned well if you don’t buy it your store gets torched.

      It’s no different from the government. The traffic cop flashes his lights, you “voluntarily” pull over because you don’t want your tires shot out and an involuntary stay in a bad hotel. The property tax bill shows up and you pay it, because you don’t want armed men showing up and evicting you from your own home. Every last law has a threat behind it.

      The problem here is that the left want to pretend that they can issue orders through the government, and not be making threats. When every last order from the government comes with an unstated “or else”.

      And then if somebody on the right cites the law and actually says, “or else”, they freak out. Because you can gun down people for not obeying left-wing orders, but you can’t say that you’ll gun down a warlord if he refuses to release his hostages.

      1. Don’t be a child

        If you are paying your taxes and obeying traffic laws under threat of force you have mental issues

        We operate on the consent of the governed

        Only children demand to be spanked in order to obey

        1. “If you are paying your taxes and obeying traffic laws under threat of force you have mental issues”

          If you think you’re not, you’re delusional. It might not TAKE the threat to get you to obey, but that doesn’t mean the threat isn’t there.

          We mostly operate on the acquiescence, or resignation of the governed, not actual consent.

          And anybody who’s raised children knows that the reason older children don’t need to be spanked to obey is that not obeying got them spanked when they were younger.

          1. I am sorry you are so unhappy in your twisted reality

            Most people understand the necessity of gov’t, the existence of laws they agree and disagree with, and virtually none of it involves force or the threat thereof

            People by and large follow the rules because they are the rules, and if annoying enough, work to change them

            Do seek therapy for your depression

            y

            1. Despite your amusing amateur psych evaluation, research does actually show that the number one reason people obey rules is loss aversion – the fear of losing something should they violate the rules.

              This includes doing things the subjects know to be wrong or harmful when directed to by authority figures – see Asch, Milgram, Pastorino, Breckler, Weiten, Wiggins, or the authors of any dozens of other papers I found over the past 60 years.

              1. loss aversion is not force or violence

                paying ones bills on time to avoid late fees is not the implication of the use of force it is loss aversion

          2. Brett, I can’t believe you don’t think soft power exists.

            I manage people; I get them to do what I think is best and there is no hidden threat of force.

            Many people obey the law because they want to be seen as law-abiding. It’s part of their self-image.
            It may not be part of YOUR self-image, but maybe quit assuming everyone is like you.

            1. “there is no hidden threat of force”

              The hidden threat is discipline and firing. That is “force” in an employment situation.

              Oh, that’s right, you work for the government. Sorry, you are probably right.

              1. being fired is an inconvenience

                very different from ‘force’

        2. Thanks for validating my earlier post.
          The government of the United States only works for an honest moral citizenry. If even a full 1% revolted the govt would crumble.

  17. If Trump wrote, “If they try they will be shot on sight,” would you accept the Twitter block then?

    Surely there’s subjectivity in deciding exactly how aggressive a particular set of words is. I’m not saying Twitter got it right, but it’s not totally clear to me that they got it wrong either.

    1. He said “serious force”.

      I don’t see how “shot on sight” is remotely similar. He didn’t even say “deadly” or “military”, let alone a criminal act like “shot on sight”.

      Rubber bullets and nightsticks are serious force.

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