Is it time for a violent revolution?

It’s time to face the elephant in the room.

Last week, Eric Frein, an alleged anti-government, anti-police survivalist, opened fire on Pennsylvania State Troopers, killing one and wounding another. Police repeatedly said he only has a “grudge against law enforcement,” while his friends say that grudge is against the federal government itself. He instantly made the FBI’s top 10 most wanted fugitives list, and hundreds of officers have been searching the Pennsylvania wilderness for over a week to catch him.

What most Americans don’t know, however, is this wasn’t an isolated incident.

In June, Jerad and Amanda Miller fired on police officers in Las Vegas, NV. Two officers and a civilian were killed before deputies took out the couple. They screamed “this is the start of the revolution,” were pretty civil-liberties minded, and were associated with several alternative media outlets.

Their actions opened up a deep rift in the liberty community. Yes, the alleged killers look pretty insane, but the debate over violence against the state has been silently raging for years. Many people are already preparing for it. As if to prove that point, in the next two weeks, one man went on a cop-killing spree in Moncton, N.B., and another assaulted a police station in Georgia.

More recently, there might as well have been a revolution going on in Ferguson, Missouri, as police tear gassed, fired rubber bullets at, and corralled the protesters of a controversial police shooting. They had no respect for the press, either, as police gassed an Al Jazeera news crew, detained reporters from the Washington Post, Huffington Post, and others, and ultimately arrested over 17 journalists.

After over a week of unconstrained paramilitary tactics, the police started taking live fire. The protesters started firing back.

One young man perfectly illustrated the frustration there. With a rose in his hand and a bandanna over his face, he told me the rose was for peace. He wanted peace, and it was up to the police to back down and create that peace. “However,” he told me as he slid the bandanna over his face, “if they want war…we’re prepared for war.”

It sounds eerily familiar to Captain John Parker’s last words before the beginning of the Revolutionary War:

“Stand your ground; don’t fire unless fired upon, but if they mean to have a war, let it begin here.”

It’s not just Ferguson. As more events like this happen, there is a steady trickle of people looking to a violent revolution, not as a first, second, or third option, but as a last resort.  Today, 29% percent of Americans believe “an armed revolution might be necessary to protect our liberties. Indeed, America even started with a violent revolt against an oppressive monarchy.

So, it’s time to face the uncomfortable topics. It’s time to start an open debate on whether violence against the state is warranted, will help us at all, or will hurt the movement.

Because if we go violent, there is no going back. There is no turning away. There is no “oops, we made a mistake.” It is the last resort for a reason.

The question is, should it ever be a resort?

(Before I begin, I want to make absolutely clear I am not talking about individual self-defense. Regardless of whether or not the person has a badge, if they are attacking you, you have the absolute right to defend yourself, with as little force as necessary to protect your life, liberty, and property.)

I straddled the fence on this issue for a long time. Whenever people would ask me, I would say “There’s a line in the sand, but it’s up to you to decide where that line is.” To a certain extent, it still is. But over time, hundreds of articles, and thousands of discussions, I have realized that violence is not the way to bring about a better world for ourselves and our children. It will not only bring about more death and destruction in this country, but in the end we will deeply hurt our cause by turning to violence.

For this is not a war with bullets and blood. This is a war for the hearts and minds of the people. We must pick our tools carefully.  Here are 5 things to consider.

  1. The state could bring more arms to bear than the people could ever hope, or have the will, to fight with

When you take on the state with violence, you are spitting in the face of empire. By the lowest estimates, American police departments alone have 432 mine-resistant vehicles, 435 armored vehicles, nearly 50,000 night vision pieces, 533 aircraft, nearly 100,000 machine guns, and nearly 200,000 magazines. Add American military might, even if only half of the troops took the state’s side, and you’re looking at over 700,000 active military and 400,000 reserve personnel. That’s just manpower. Count land and air units, and not only would it be an unwinnable war, it would be over before it started.

That’s if you were lucky enough to start the war in the first place. Between the massive surveillance apparatus of the NSA, FBI, and DHS, and the operations of said agencies, including infiltration of everything from online forums to activist groups, any kind of coordination would be next to impossible. On a moment’s notice, the President could send a message to every smartphone in America giving your information and a number to call if they find you.

What about the people? The overwhelming response to the actions of Jared and Amanda has been condemnation, with the actions of Justin Borque “Rambo” in Moncton eliciting a similar response. The worst thing one can be in today’s society is a “cop-killer,” while thousands of innocent Americans are processed through TSA checkpoints every hour without a word. A vote being a general meter of public interest, Senator Lindsey Graham, who supported and passed a law allowing the President to detain Americans indefinitely without charge or trial, easily won his primary. There have been no major policy changes forced by the people since the execution of at least 4 American citizens, 16 year-old Abdulrahman Al-Awlaki, Anwar Al-Awlaki, Samir Khan, and Jude Kennan Mohammed without charge or trial.

We should never be scared of the state, but to ignore their capabilities is to underestimate our opponent. They would not only have more military might than any revolutionaries could dream of, they would also have the people on their side. They would win in any kind of physical war.

  1. Violent revolutions almost always fail.

As Gene Sharp, in his book From Dictatorship to Democracy, notes:

“Understandably, reacting to the brutalities, torture, disappearances, and killings, people often have concluded that only violence can end a dictatorship. Angry victims have sometimes organized to fight the brutal dictators with whatever violent and military capacity they could muster, despite the odds being against them. These people have often fought bravely, at great cost in suffering and lives. Their accomplishments have sometimes been remarkable, but they rarely have won freedom (emphasis added).”

This isn’t some outdated tome. The book has been credited with creating or inspiring everything from the Serbian revolution to the Arab spring. The Muslim Brotherhood even posted the book on their website in 2011 when they helped oust dictator Hosni Mubarak.

Gene is right. Violent revolutions almost always end up with a greater or the same tyrant in power, because, as Sharp notes:

“The dictators are equipped to apply violence overwhelmingly. However long or briefly these democrats [sic] can continue, eventually the harsh military realities usually become inescapable. The dictators almost always have superiority in military hardware, ammunition, transportation, and the size of military forces.”

The last thing close to a violent revolution, we seem to forget, happened in America not even 200 years ago. The U.S. Civil war was a step below revolution, as the Southern states were merely trying to break away from the union instead of overthrow its leadership. Yet the south still lost that war, and lost it hands down.

That war was the closest to a second American revolution we have had in this country. If the military might of the Confederate south could not win the civil war, then an untrained American resistance trying to overthrow or fundamentally change the state through violence has no chance.

Go through Wikipedia’s list of violent revolutions and rebellions, and count how many ended with another king or dictator in the process. Almost all of them, and many had a much smaller state to contend with. With our children’s lives on the line, do we want to take those chances?

  1. When they do succeed, either the same oppression remains, or a greater tyrant rises to power

Think of the most well-known violent revolutions in history: the Bolshevik revolution, the Intifada, the Chechnyan Revolution, the Bosnian Civil War, the Cuban Revolution and Lebanese civil wars.

Where did they end up?

The Bolshevik Revolution gave us Joseph Stalin. The uprising of the Intifada brought the deaths of 30,000 and resulted in a state of permanent conflict between Palestine and Israel that continues to this day. The Chechen revolution topped those numbers, with a death toll at 40,000, and only managed to be, on paper, recognized as an entity within the Russian Federation. It still remains under both Russian law and rule.

The Bosnian Civil War blew away those numbers, taking to the grave with it over 200,000 men, women, and children, and yet, in the end, neither side gained victory due to UN and NATO intervention. The Cuban Revolution, led by Fidel Castro, plunged the country into a Communist dictatorship. Several nations, including Jordan, Israel, Syria, and Iran, intervened in the Lebanese Civil War, which led to over 200,000 killed and Lebanon in ruins. A recent human rights report points out arbitrary arrests, detention, torture, email monitoring, internet censorship, and violent police action against demonstrators are still common in the country.

These revolutions succeeded. Yet they changed almost nothing but the body count of those killed in action.

  1. The state survives on force

In order to understand politics, one must “follow the money.” But it isn’t just politics. In business, industry, science, and any action known to man, to find out who wants a situation, an action, or an object to exist…find out who profits from it.

When it comes to violence, aggressive force, the state is the clear winner. In fact, without aggression, there would be no need, nor want, for a state. If there were no murders, assaults or thefts, very few, if anyone, would want peace officers. If there were no aggressors, there would be no need for defense.

Violence is not only the health of the state, but it is the only way the state knows how to respond.

Two great examples are the state’s reactions to Bitcoin and ridesharing companies Uber/Lyft. Bitcoin is a software-based online payment system, or “cryptocurrency.” It is designed to compete with modern currencies, such as the U.S. dollar, but is not hosted or controlled by any government entity. Lyft and Uber are ridesharing companies, which use mobile apps to connect passengers with drivers of vehicles for hire. Ridesharing is relatively unregulated, and thus a huge threat to the heavily taxed and regulated taxi industry. They are widely considered “illegal taxicab operations.”

With Bitcoin the IRS responded with threats of violence if owners of Bitcoin refused to record their earnings, even though those earnings are impossible to track. The California Department of Financial Institutions issued a cease and desist order against the Bitcoin Foundation, ordering it to cease money transmission without a license, even though the foundation does no such thing. Multiple cities, including Memphis, San Francisco, and Washington D.C., have tried arresting, banning, and strictly regulating Uber and its competitor, Lyft.

In just these few examples, the ability to use aggressive force is threatened in an easy, nonviolent manner. Uber and Bitcoin are taking out, nonviolently, large pillars of government. And despite every effort to stop them, they are getting more popular, innovating further, and rendering states confused and helpless to stop them.

Trying to defeat the state with violence is like cutting down one tree while planting hundreds of seeds. In the end, you are acting in the best interest of violence, the very idea the state profits from. By using government/violence to enforce your own ends, if you’re lucky enough to truly overturn the current system, you will only ensure the state’s existence and continued growth.

By creating nonviolent alternatives, you will not only cut down the size of the state, but at the very root concept of government itself.

  1. The American “revolution” was less of a revolution, and more the removal of an occupying army

In any discussion of a violent revolution around the world, this would be the end of the argument. But in America, there is one trump card laid down any time someone suggests a peaceful solution as the only resort…the first American Revolution was violent, and we won.

Yet much like the U.S. Civil War (or 2nd American “Revolution”), the American Revolution was not, in the political sense, a true revolution.

Firstly, a “revolution,” in that sense, means:

“A fundamental change in political organization; especially:  the overthrow or renunciation of one government or ruler and the substitution of another by the governed.”

The governed, in this case, would be all the people under the governance of the British Empire. The ruler would be the king, as would the established government. American revolutionary forces did not overthrow the monarchy in Britain, nor did they even engage in battle on the British Isles. The king continued to reign after our revolt, and several fundamental ideas on which our political organization was based came from the Magna Carta, a British law dating back to 1215. Even the court system in early America operated much like British courts.

Secondly, during the occupation of Iraq, the U.S. had over 145,000 troops, and a temporary governance system in place. The Iraqi people held no power to vote in, or out, U.S. leadership in Washington D.C. Yet when Iraqis took over the day-to-day governance of their country, it was rightly viewed as the removal of foreign troops and the institution of self-governance, not a revolution. The British Army in 1776 had only 18 regiments, less than 10,000 men in colonial America  Their army was depleted after the Seven Year’s war, and as a volunteer army they were struggling. American colonialists had no power to remove or affect the British monarchy. Diplomatic affairs were handled, and many cases were still tried by courts, in Britain.

The colonial governors often complained about the independence of colonial assemblies, with one governor noting:

“They have the power of nominating once a year the persons that constitute your Majesty’s council, and also of giving the salary of the governor and lieutenant governor for six months…[The Assembly] also provides the salary of the treasurer once a year…and use their authority thus obtained to intimidate the treasurer from obeying roper orders.” Power over the treasury is no small governmental authority, and the colonies had this power before the revolution.

The colonies held great power over certain elements of the governing structure already, only had a small occupying army to deal with, and never truly overthrew the political system, whether in process or in practice. None of this fulfills the requirements for a true revolution, and the extent of the change they effected in their day wouldn’t be anywhere enough to restore liberty in the United States today.

The framers just broke away from a political ruler. We would have to overthrow ours.

It would be the first-ever American revolution.

It would be a revolution where the resistance would be badly outgunned, outmanned, and out-trained. It would have to break hundreds of years of precedent showing that violent revolutions fail. It would go down a path that, even if we won, it would be highly likely that we would bring even greater tyranny, the type of tyranny and destruction wrought by violent revolutions in the past, to this country, and with America’s global reach, the world.

Worse still, it would be taking part in the very action the state grows, profits, and expands from. Perhaps we could preserve freedom for a generation, but we would only sow the seeds for the next state to be even more oppressive than our current one. We would continue the cycle of oppression and our children, our grandchildren, and untold thousands we will never meet would lose in the long run.

Our lives are at stake. If we sacrifice them in a violent revolution, not only will we have sacrificed them for nothing, but will have only perpetuated the idea that created the machine we fought against. We will have allowed emotion, without looking at the facts, to destroy us. We will have taken our generation’s chance to turn back tyranny, and instead foolishly perpetuated it.

But there are alternatives.

We can follow the path of Uber, Bitcoin, and countless others. We can choose nonviolent, creative alternatives to everything the state does. We can make it possible, even better, to live without government intervention, without the intervention of force. Maybe that means living without government. Maybe that means living with limited government. Maybe that means just slightly shrinking our current system.

Whatever your ideal world is, whatever size of force you wish to see in this country, nonviolence is the path the only provable, successful method to reduce the state. We can choose it.

We can choose, right now, not to fall into the state’s trap, not to be goaded into violence. We can choose not to become the enemy we fight. We can choose nonviolent resistance as our first, only, and last resort.

Finally, this is not to be the definitive article on this issue. I’m sure there are holes in my arguments, great points I missed, and counters to everything I’ve said. But we need to stop ignoring the elephant in the room, we need to have this debate now, because if this movement goes violent, and our streets turn to Baghdad, or even Ferguson, there will be no going back.

Look to your neighbors. Look to your friends. Go through the family photos. You will fight them. You, and your compatriots, will kill them. At the very least, you will never speak with many of them again. The U.S. civil war turned brother against brother, father against son, daughter against mother. This would be no different.

What if we just stay silent? What if we choose nonviolence, but stay quiet when violence is advocated? It only takes a few. Perhaps a hundred, perhaps a thousand, but even if just a few of us turn violent, life in America will change forever. Watchlists will turn into detentions. Martial law will be a daily reality. Blood will spill in our streets, and innocents will be tortured and murdered as the state tries in vain to assuage the fear of the general public.

One only needs to look to the War on Terror to see how even the innocent among us would be treated by every government in the world.

We must have this debate in the open, and we must have it now. If we remain peaceful, we can easily resort to violence. Once we turn that corner, however, we cannot easily return to peace. We cannot wait, because if even a few people decide it is time for a violent revolution, there will be no going back.

We must shout it from the rooftops. There will be no going back.

At the end of the day, the decision to side with violence, or nonviolence, is a decision each of us must make for ourselves. But instead of asking “Is it time for a violent revolution?” maybe it’s time to ask if it will work. Maybe it’s time to ask if we will really get the results we want, if we will really secure liberty for the days to come.

Maybe, instead of asking when peaceful resistance is no longer possible, it’s time to ask if we want to continue this cycle of violence, hatred, and fear…or if we want our children to live free.

(I founded the first ever Activism Consulting Firm, the Solutions Institute, to help bring that peaceful change. Contact us, and get help changing your world here.)

Dan Johnson is the President and Founder of the Solutions Institute. Want to discuss this topic more? Invite Dan on your radio show, to your group, or just send him an email at thesolutionsinstitute [at] Much gratitude to Garry Vettori, Kelly Owens, and Justin Sirois for providing editing assistance. 


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