The Lure of Violent Revolution

It’s become trendy in some circles mostly on the Right since the election of the first African-American president but also a bit on the Left to talk breezily of armed revolution. But bloodshed is wrongheaded and reckless when political space remains for democratic change, say Bill Moyers and Michael Winship.

By Bill Moyers and Michael Winship

We were struck this week by one response to our broadcast last week on gun violence and the Newtown school killings. A visitor to the website wrote, “It is interesting to me that Bill Moyers, who every week describes the massive levels of corruption in our government [and] the advocates for gun control, don’t understand that we who own guns in part own them to be sure that when our government becomes so corrupt we have guns to do something about it.”

About the same time that man’s post showed up on the web, we saw the startling survey from Fairleigh Dickinson University’s PublicMind polling organization, the one finding that nearly three in ten registered voters agree with the statement, “In the next few years, an armed revolution might be necessary in order to protect our liberties.” Three out of 10! That includes 44 percent of Republicans, 27 percent of independents and 18 percent of Democrats.

Brandishing guns has become a feature of many Tea Party rallies.

That poll also noted that a quarter of Americans think that the facts about the Newtown shootings “are being hidden” and an additional 11 percent “are unsure.”

As Sahil Kapur wrote at the website Talking Points Memo, “The eye-opening findings serve as a reminder that Americans’ deeply held beliefs about gun rights have a tendency to cross over into outright conspiracy theories about a nefarious government seeking to trample their constitutional rights — paranoia that pro-gun groups like the National Rifle Association have at times helped stoke.”

Paranoia and just plain meanness. On May 8, Christina Wilkie in The Huffington Post reported that Connecticut Carry, a pro-gun lobbying group, had issued a press release detailing the arrest record and financial difficulties of Neil Heslin, father of one of the children murdered at Newtown’s Sandy Hook Elementary School. Connecticut Carry accused him of “profiting off of the tragedy.”

Their release read, in part, “Mr. Heslin has found the employment he has needed for so long lobbying against the rights of the citizens of Connecticut and the rest of the country,” and the group implied that he had received payment from New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Mayors Against Illegal Guns, which adamantly denies anything of the sort. Similar smears have been attempted against other Newtown parents.

This hate in our country egged on by fervid ideologues and profiteering fearmongers is palpable, stirred by years of irresponsible invective against public officials and agencies. Gun sales are going through the roof. In a sense, so much anger and so much disillusionment are understandable in a country where the gap between rich and poor is so vast that an environment is created in which brooding resentment is easily hatched.

Sure, there is corruption in government and business crony capitalism is the offspring of it and when the public sees plutocrats who regard politicians as the hired help and Washington as the feeding trough, it’s natural to fear that we are becoming vassals; subjects rather than citizens.

But a violent uprising, with all the bloodshed and chaos that would follow? Armed revolt is when people are so desperate they kill and are killed. Who would wash the blood from the streets, restore order after the chaos and bury the dead? Have we lost our minds?

There is an alternative to force, blood, and suffering. It’s called democracy. Yes, there is plenty of injustice, greed and sheer wickedness. But don’t mourn the fact organize. Stop wringing your hands and berating real and imaginary foes. Join up with others, stand up to the exploiters, throw the rascals out.

If Congress and the White House are crooked and out of touch, come Election Day, you make sure they lose. And on all the other days, when you can, you work for change and demand a say. It’s not easy but slow, hard and demanding it takes long and patient activism to make democracy work. But with committed people organized and united toward common goals of social justice and accountability, victories are possible.

Drop your weapons and celebrate that we live in a country where peaceful change is still possible. Make democracy work.

Bill Moyers is managing editor and Michael Winship, senior writer at the think tank Demos, is senior writer of the weekly public affairs program, Moyers & Company, airing on public television. Check local airtimes or comment at

14 comments for “The Lure of Violent Revolution

  1. Revo
    May 14, 2013 at 23:50

    Aristotle: “The real difference between democracy and oligarchy is poverty and wealth. Wherever men rule by reason of their wealth, that is an oligarchy, and where the poor rule, that is democracy.”

    Based on that we need to dispel the fantasy of being blessed with democracy. This is not a democracy; this is the dictatorship of the riches.

    And those who try to justify their burning desire to carry gun, under the pretext that they would rise against a corrupt government, should wake up and realize that all this military industrial complex is created to protect this criminal, corrupt system; and if need be, to protect this immoral, blood-soaked system, the armed enforcer of this system of plunder and robbery– the government–wouldn’t shy away from slaughtering any American who even dare to fathom replacing it with a true government of the people, for the people, by the people. Otherwise, right now this government is the most corrupt government on the planet.

  2. rosemerry
    May 12, 2013 at 15:22

    “Join up with others, stand up to the exploiters, throw the rascals out.” You are right!

    This would be good if there were enough keen Mercans who were competent and supported, plus RICH, since the rules now insist on that. As well, the (mainly Republican) State gerrymandering has made the “House of Reps” staggeringly unrepresentative. Besides, you have the similarity in policies of the main Parties and the poor support for Greens and progressives. Revolution need not be violent, but it does take courage and actio. Support democracy, if you can find it after the Bush/Obama destruction.

  3. bobzz
    May 12, 2013 at 14:54

    Richard Hodstader wrote Anti-Intellectualism in American Life in 1962; his student, Susan Jacoby, updated that in 2008: The Age of American Unreason. I wish she would update Hofstader’s 1967 book, The Paranoid Style in American Politics beginning with a title change: The Paranoid Style of American Politics.

  4. Frank Pitz
    May 12, 2013 at 10:14

    Sorry Moyers and Winship but you’re talking through your ass if you honestly believe that we can affect change via the ballot box. The system is entirely corrupt and no amount of rhetoric and/or platitudes is going to make change for the better. The only way for capitalism to go away is to smash it completely and if it takes armed revolution then so be it. The fortune 500 can be frightened (after all we scared them back in the 60s) enough to wish to survive, and that is what it is going to take folks.

  5. Parker Harkenfarker
    May 12, 2013 at 09:00

    Democracy won’t work when you don’t have a choice between real alternatives, or when the electorate is too ignorant of the issues to make a valid choice, or when those who vote for a living outnumber the people who work for a living, or when incumbents have such an overwhelming advantage over challengers. We went over a tipping point. We need a second American Revolution to restore the constitution as the supreme law of the land.

  6. Jay
    May 12, 2013 at 04:30


    Social justice is not a code phrase for ‘socialism’. You don’t even know what socialism is, and there is nothing wrong with socialism. Certainly it is infinitely more desirable than capitalism or ANY of your psychotic economic policies and theories. Also, you are the farthest thing from a democrat, and I use that word to refer to someone who is a believer in democracy not a follower of the Democratic Party (USA). Additionally, nearly all of your interpretations of the US Deceleration and the US Constitution are completely FUBAR and fallacious in the extreme. You are the total antithesis of what the actual authors intended. Congrats to you for being yet another fascist fucktard.

  7. Bruce
    May 12, 2013 at 03:56

    “Social justice” is a gibberish code phrase for Socialism which Moyers has long advocated.

    The type of “democracy” that Moyers envisions is completely opposite of the principles outlined in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

  8. Eddie
    May 12, 2013 at 00:22

    I agree strongly with Moyers & Winships’ main point – – – that a violent revolution in this country in this era is NOT something that should be should ever be seriously considered. While it’s fun to fantasize that a small group of righteous people could change corrupt politics for the better quickly by force, it’s wrong for X reasons:
    1.) It’s morally wrong to injure/kill people for any reason other than self-defense. We easily see this when terrorists such as the Oklahoma City bomber, the Unabomber, the 911 ‘cabal’, the Boston Marathon bombers, etc strike, and (unfortunately) too many people do NOT see this when our government practices the same kind of terrorism against other countries.
    2.) It would bring bad->horrible living conditions for millions in this country IF the US infrastructure was disabled by the internal violent revolution. We are 80-90% an urbanized, industrialized society, and rely on things like electricity, gasoline, natural gas, medicines, electronics, etc. If these were seriously compromised by a violent revolution, tens of millions of people in the US (ie; the 98% of us who can’t live off the land, or even camp for 2 wks straight) could starve to death or die due to lack of treatment for medical problems and/or exposure to the elements.
    3.) Even if #1 & #2 don’t stir any moral/empathetic thoughts in would-be violent revolutionaries, the realpolitik of it all is that in today’s US it would NEVER work, it would never achieve it’s objective (ie; of bringing about positive political change).

    First of all, the US government has built up the strongest military in the world over the past six-plus decades. The US militaries have huge armories of small arms, plus weapons that non-military personnel can not possess. They have food supply rations. They’ve been spending 100s of BILLIONS of dollars EVERY YEAR on all of these. They’ve got trained personnel, many of whom would love to ‘see action’ and get the chance to use these weaponry especially against a quickly-demonized rebellion. You only have to look at the outcome of the Waco Texas episode, where the military was even initially somewhat restrained to see how futile it would be to go up against the US military. If the US military establishment thought you or I was a military threat, we’d see a drone coming through our bedroom window tonight.
    Secondly, how would the chaos of the violent destruction of our society lead to a more benign society? Would people who saw their homes & families destroyed somehow be amenable to the political ideas of the instigators? Even people on the lowest rungs of our current society have SOME (not enough, definitely, but ‘some’) access to emergency food, shelter, medical care, etc.- – – does anyone seriously think that these precariously surviving individuals wouldn’t be the first to succumb to the shortages that would occur? The violent revolution wouldn’t win many converts since material conditions would deteriorate.

    Yes, the American Revolution was relatively successful in breaking the US away from the British, but there were a whole lot of differences between that situation and possible internal revolution in today’s US, that end up making it non-analagous. The British were 6-8 wks away, they were off-and-on involved in other wars in Europe, the US was a large, sparsely-populated region, filled with many people who COULD live off-the-land (existence was obviously a whole lot less technological and not as dependent on infrastructure), and who were sometimes militarily aligned with native Americans and French, and the British were more dependent on ‘classical’ battlefield tactics, as opposed to guerilla warfare.

    • bobzz
      May 12, 2013 at 14:44

      And it might be added that a volunteer army is more likely to kill civilians that did not volunteer. Let’s hope it does not come to that.

  9. Bob
    May 11, 2013 at 20:31

    We have less Democracy every year….every election. If this is the solution, the solution is further than ever from our reach. I don’t want an armed insurrection, but our elected leaders need to start taking care of their constituents or the unthinkable may occur. The Powers That Be do not currently have to abide by the law. This is a good place to start. Don’t you think?

  10. Erin
    May 11, 2013 at 16:10

    Revolution is not a dirty word. It’s how the country came to be. When governments and corporations merge, we have big problems. Big Brother has happened. No conspiracy theory about it. Look around.

    • BillB
      May 12, 2013 at 12:53

      “Revolution is not a dirty word. It’s how the country came to be. When governments and corporations merge, we have big problems.”

      Unfortunately, it seems the American Revolutionary War seems to have established an American tradition of resolving problems by violent means.

        May 12, 2013 at 17:29

        We gave the world the deadly myth that something politically worthwhile can be accomplished through violent means. Smithsonian historian Barbara Clark has written a thought-provoking book called “The Freedoms We Lost: Consent and Resistance in Revolutionary America”, which vividly contrasts the rights the average American enjoyed under British rule to what they were subjected to two decades later under the Federalist regime.

  11. BillB
    May 11, 2013 at 12:59

    I have always admired the comments of Bill Moyers and Michael Winship but have to take exception to this: “If Congress and the White House are crooked and out of touch, come Election Day, you make sure they lose.” It’s not that simple, especially when the best we can do in most cases is vote for the lesser evil. If, however, Moyers and Winship mean we can get together and place an honorable candidate on the ballot then that is a different proposition, but again that is not so simple, especially when so many people on the left can’t agree on a candidate if she or he is less than 100 percent aligned with their positions.

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