Anyone who enjoys studying history has most likely come to the same dismal conclusion I have regarding the CHAZ / CHOP zone experiment, namely that it was a disaster which caused unnecessary destruction and loss of life in the process. With that said, we shouldn’t de-legitimatize what happened by dismissing the CHAZ/CHOP zone as a fringe group of radicals. After all, those who considered themselves citizens of CHOP / CHAZ during this experiment gone awry wouldn’t wish to be described this way. In fact, it’s evident that those who were part of the CHAZ / CHOP zone were committed to their cause. Some even paid the ultimate price for it. For this reason, we should take this situation in Seattle very seriously as we have witnessed in real time what happens when progressivism goes completely unchecked – more on that in a little bit…
What is the Seattle CHAZ / CHOP Autonomous Zone? – A Brief Overview
I’ll keep this brief as there are better resources that go into the specific details of CHAZ / CHOP. My aim isn’t to detail an account of what went on; there are far more qualified reporters and media outlets to discuss that topic. Instead, I wish to analyze what transpired, attempt to understand the motivations behind it and point out some of the reasons why it’s not so easy to build your own utopia.
With that said, for those new to this topic, let’s start with a basic understanding of CHAZ / CHOP. In the wake of the George Floyd riots which rocked the nation as a whole, the city of Seattle saw heavy riots in the Capitol Hill section of the city. The protests began around June 1st culminating in the evacuation of the Seattle Police Department East Precinct on June 8th. With no police force present, a contingent of rioters and protesters began to establish barricades in Capitol Hill, starting with the East Precinct building. The barriers extending out some blocks to encompass a small area within the Capitol Hill itself. Shortly thereafter, this area was declared the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone or CHAZ for short. The name was subsequently changed to CHOP: Capital Hill Organized Protest or Capital Hill Occupied Protest.
The Seattle CHAZ / CHOP Autonomous Zone was Modeled after the American Republican Idea of a Nation State
The nascent birth of the CHAZ / CHOP zone was steeped in irony from the start. As I’ll illustrate, the zone was far more similar to a nation state run by Republicans than utopia minded anarchists. Let’s start with the subject of borders. Prior to the pandemic and subsequent riots, the situation at the southern border was a contentious issue that captured many news cycles. If you recall, most of the Democratic presidential candidates raised their hand during the debate when asked if they would offer government sponsored health care to illegal immigrants. This position represents a fundamental shift on immigration policy, an issue that not so long ago both parties were roughly in agreement about.
To see how far leftward the Democratic party has shifted, consider the fact that Clinton administration’s policy on border crossings and illegal immigration in the ‘90s now represents what the Republican party currently stands for. Furthermore, the Obama administration was quite aggressive with deportations, a fact that never got the same attention it does under Trump even though he’s deported less illegal immigrants than Obama (as of this writing). As a Senator, Obama even went on record explaining that illegal immigrants should not try to come to America, that they would be turned back as it was a violation of the law.
What do changes in immigration policy have to do with the CHAZ / CHOP zone? Well, the first action taken to establish the said zone was to construct a border wall of sorts, complete with ID checks for those entering. Patrols, in some cases armed, were even deployed to monitor the perimeter, ostensibly for security purposes.
Many CHOP/CHAZ citizens were critical of America’s border policies, specifically the deportation of illegal immigrants. It’s surprising then, that their own experiment didn’t offer the open borders and tolerance they so strongly advocate for. Not only were borders anything but porous, many journalists and cameramen were turned away from the newly formed country, so much for freedom of the press!
The next issue relates to defense and security. As I understand it, one of the main advantages of the CHAZ / CHOP zone is that there is no police presence. In fact, a portion of the zone consisted of the abandoned police station. In effect this means that the policing of issues fell on their own community, many of whom were toting guns but most likely haven’t gone through any of the training involved. The majority of Americans are in favor of police reform, which was the point of the riots that swept through the country and something I also support. The majority of Americans, however, would also agree that despite the problems the Seattle police may have, their force is still favorable to the newly deputized insurgents of CHAZ / CHOP, who may have never been trained before on how to use a firearm. Once again, how was the security situation in the CHOP / CHAZ zone any improvement over the existing Seattle police department? It’s a very grim situation indeed that not just one but several people have died as a result of this failed social experiment.
Now let’s move on to the ever exciting themes of fascism and dictatorship, a quite common criticism leveled against the current president. Whether or not you support Trump, it’s worth a reminder that authoritarians, fascists, and dictators generally do not tolerate any form of criticism whatsoever let alone the vandalizing of public property or hostile takeovers of police stations.
It turns out that CHAZ was not a communal organization run by various appointed tribal leaders who collectively decided upon policy, a warlord assumed command of the state. Keep in mind that he refers to himself as a warlord, which if you ever watched the Nicholas Cage film bearing the same name, sounds better when you say, Lord of War 🙂 Once again, how is an appointed warlord with apparent no checks and balances on his actions a superior form of governance over a President, who despite his many flaws is bound by checks and balances?
Why Did the Seattle CHAZ/CHOP Autonomous Zone Form?
A starting point would be to discuss the state of education in this country, which has only increased in cost over the last decade yet has seemed to diminish significantly in quality. I disagree with the conservative pundits who argue that the American education system has turned into Marxist training camps, as their alarmism serves as a simple mirror to the extreme rhetoric we see on the very left side of the aisle. With that said, you can’t completely dismiss the claim that something strange is happening in our universities when the CHOP / CHAZ zone appears on the scene.
Any university educated student who has at least passed a course in government, civics, or basic American history should have known the outcome of a CHAZ / CHOP zone in advance. It would be one thing if we were speaking of ancient history but we’ve already seen failed government experiments in the not so distant past. One of the main lessons from the 20th century were egregious costs that the world faced when such utopias modeled after CHAZ / CHOP zones were allowed to flourish: Mao, Pol Pot, Stalin to name a few.
With the massive amount of money flowing into universities, It’s discouraging that a type of governmental modeling software hasn’t been developed that would allow students to experiment with ideological issues in the equivalent of a laboratory setting. For anyone who has played SimCity or The Sims, we are testament to the fact that the technology is present to model complex variables along with their outcomes. We really don’t even need new software to witness the obvious outcomes of some the more radical ideas like the Defund the Police movement. Anyone who ever played SimCity before knows what happens to your city if you delete all the police stations. How such radical notions ever left the university in the first place is beyond me.
I bring up the subject of education because not all, but many who make up these protests and participated in the CHAZ/CHAP zone experiment are highly educated relative to the American population at large. This is an interesting fact since on paper it appears to be a populist uprising, at least that’s how most mass protests in the past began. Instead, the situation in Seattle is very much an elitist movement, a point I’ll return to later on.
Understanding the Motivations Behind the Seattle CHAZ / CHOP Autonomous Movement
My policy is to never lay harsh critique on a movement or group of people without taking the time to try to understand the motivations behind it. After all, that’s the purpose of a thought experiment, which is what I’m trying to do here. Although I’m no fan of Trump, I do not demonize his supporters the way it has become common to do so, nor do I collectively write off Trump voters as a bunch of racist loonies. Not only is such a statement untrue, the sheer act of making such a bold claim, namely that all Trump supporters are backwater hicks, is simply a mirror reflection of one’s own ignorance.
For this reason, I take the same approach with those who are part of the CHAZ / CHOP zone. As much as I’ve gone at length to attack their beliefs and ideas, it would be wrong to dismiss them or their movement completely. Similar to Trump’s surprising election victory, we are witnessing another form of backlash at the system, a system so terrible in fact that it seemed prudent to tear it all down.
Similar to ardent Trump supporters, once you strip away all the bumper sticker slogans and media talking points of those who are behind the CHAZ / CHOP movement, you’ll find something buried deep beneath that deserves to be heard. While I disagree with the methods used to get to this place, we should try to learn from it. I would argue that a perfect storm resulted in the formation of the CHAZ / CHOP zone which means it can be pinned down to a single action or idea. In the outline that follows, you’ll see my attempt at putting together the ingredients that have led to CHAZ / CHOP:
1) The Lock down Release Valve – We locked down the entire country to all citizens without offering a healthy release valve. Traditional outlets for recreation were all shutdown: bars, concerts, movies, and sporting events. As a result, many students and unemployed individuals took to the streets, partly out of boredom, partly out of anger, and also for the sheer fun of it.
2) Covid 19 Boredom – The pandemic and subsequent lock down put plenty of young citizens out of work, as the saying goes idle hands do the work of the devil.
3) The Economy – Prior to the pandemic, the economy wasn’t so rosy as some made it out to be, meaning people were already hurt by it. The lockdown ended up being the last straw for many Americans.
4) Student Debt – Student debt is astronomical leading to an entire generation of students who correctly argue that the notion of working hard and picking yourself up by your bootstraps won’t get you the same return that the prior generation was able to achieve.
5) Better Living Through Chemistry – There is an increasingly higher number of young adults taking a variety of prescription medication for anxiety, depression and other mental ailments, the consequences we don’t know of yet.
6) Likes and Tweets – Social media and media in general are more polarizing than ever, pouring fuel on a variety of negative emotions.
7) Community – Religion is on the decline and an effective replacement does not exist, the lack of community combined with social isolation makes it far easier to destroy one’s own environment without feeling an association with it.
The Consequences of the Seattle CHAZ / CHOP Autonomous Zone
The consequences of the CHAZ / CHOP zone are dire and mark a major set back in resolving contentious issues where we were once making progress. Ah yes, progress. I had alluded to that hot potato of a word earlier, which has taken a life of its own as of late.
Jordan Peterson was correct in his warning that a stopping point exists for the extreme right, but not the extreme left. Look no further than the CHAZ/CHOP zone as ample proof of his theory. Note how the local government and law enforcement sat back while their own police precinct was taken over by rioters and protesters. As much as you may disagree with Jordan Peterson’s opinions, let’s play a simple thought experiment. Would the country even for a moment tolerate the Tea Party taking over a police department and establishing their own autonomous zone?
When Democratic run cities like Seattle or Portland do nothing to immediately stop violent protests or destruction of property while simultaneously calling to defund the police (yes, we mean literally abolish the police), it sends a message to the rest of public: you are on your own. It’s no surprise then that new gun ownership is on the rise in the wake of these protests. Even worse, by signaling to completely abandon the concept of a police force rather than call for reform, only further crime, damage and loss of life will result. Citizens in Minneapolis, for example, are now forming their own citizen patrols as they can no longer rely on the police to protect thems. As an ardent fan of 80s movies, I invite you to heat up some popcorn and watch Young Guns starring Emilio Estevez and Charlie Sheen to see what happens when average citizens deputize themselves.
Unfortunately, the long term consequences of destroying your own community are far more depressing than you may have initially thought. It’s rather obvious but we do have empirical evidence which demonstrates the economic impact of riots. Consider the case of Ferguson, Missouri which still hasn’t fully recovered.
As mentioned, we don’t need the studies, it’s a basic exercise in logic. What entrepreneur would consider, even for a moment, the thought of opening a business in a city where law is neither enforced nor taken seriously? Many small businesses across the country were completely ransacked in wake of the riots. After seeing the footage who would want to risk their hard earned money and suffer the same consequences? Furthermore, what insurance company would even offer a reasonable premium in any of the areas most impacted by riots?
I haven’t even touched upon the question of who pays to clean up all the destruction, which leads me to an interesting point about those behind these protests. As mentioned, from a class point of view, their level of education puts most of these rioters not at the bottom of the ladder. After all, many of the working poor in America don’t have the luxury of protesting night after night like what we have seen in Portland. It’s why, as I pointed out, this is not the traditional populist type of uprising. For most, rioting and protesting on the scale seen in cities like Seattle or Portland, is dare I say, an act of privilege.
This point is significant because those who can afford to protest until the wee hours of the night also have the luxury to pick up and leave after their city has been ruined. It means that it won’t be their future dollars being taxed to clean up the mess they created, rather those who cannot afford to leave Seattle. After all, who would want to still live in a city without a functional police department? Furthermore, who would want to be a police officer right now in Seattle or Portland? When police officers are treated like American soldiers who served in Vietnam, it’s no wonder early retirements are on the rise across the country. With less funds available to police, you won’t be able to attract the best candidates which will only result in a lower quality police force. Yikes!
A Failure in Leadership on the Local and Federal Level
The fact that leaders of several American cities even allow their citizens to willfully flaunt the law shows that extremes of both political sides lead to undesirable outcomes. As much as the Republican party has had to maneuver and pivot to somehow explain Trump, so will the Democratic party face a reckoning with the extreme left faction that is slowly seeping into the party mainstream.
Where were the local leaders when this was going on? Well, when the CHAZ zone first formed, the mayor of Seattle, Jenny Durkan likened it to a block party, in her words it could be the summer of love! She was confident that the experiment would remain peaceful: “But we will make sure that all of Seattle is safe where we take Public Safety seriously.”
Even more damning is her interpretation of the event: “Our country was born out of protest. The right to gather, the right to protest, the right to challenge government, when it’s wrong, is our most fundamental constitutional right. It’s a reason it’s the First Amendment.” Mayor Durkan should revisit her civics class as she conveniently omitted the part of the Constitution that highlights peaceful assembly. The Constitution states that Congress isn’t allowed to [prohibit]: the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.“ The CHAZ/CHOP Zone formation was not peaceful. Violent protesters ran the police out of their own precinct! This action is a complete violation of the rights of the citizens of Seattle because it was an unlawful seizure of property both public and private conduced under violent means. The protection of both types of property, public and private, is a cornerstone of the modern state and governance. When it’s taken away, well, we see the consequences before our eyes.
Our news cycle moves so fast that by the time I was able to put my thoughts together, the CHAZ situation was already considered old news. Nevertheless, as of this writing, Seattle’s police Chief Carmen best has stepped down. Setting emotions aside, I would just hope that one could see why people like myself will not be fully onboard with a movement that has gotten so worked up in a hysteria about itself that it seems to have missed the entire point of the movement’s own name. As a result of Mayor Durkan’s ineffective and cowardly leadership, 2 black men are dead on her watch, a 14 year old boy is still in the hospital and the first African American police chief is stepping down. There were also a variety of reported assaults, rapes, and other crimes that could not be properly addressed by local law enforcement since they were not allowed in the CHAZ / CHOP Zone. Can any rational person not see some problems with this movement and why some, like myself, are highly critical of this movement’s true motivations?
Trump’s Leadership Has Fanned the Flames of Protest
It doesn’t help that Trump is leading the country right now, if you would call it that. Because he is in non-stop campaign mode, Donald Trump’s words divide the country in a time when strong, bipartisin leadership is sorely needed. For this reason, there is an incentive for local leaders like mayor Durkan to let their cities run out of control, it’s what we saw unfold in Portland. The hyper partisan nature of politics allows blame for everything to be shifted to Trump and it’s assumed these protests will hurt his election chances. Don’t misunderstand me, I’m not insinuating in the least that this makes Trump the victim, rather pointing out the consequences of poor leadership.
Thankfully local leaders finally shut down the CHAZ / CHOP Zone before it got worse but in Portland, Ted Wheeler, the mayor, allowed things to get so out of hand that federal forces had to be brought in. In case of Portland a federal building was under violent attack by rioters. Knowing that even a government as mismanaged as the Trump administration would eventually have to respond, allowing the attack to continue was a wise political move on Portland’s part. Ted Wheeler could simply blame all the violence in his city at the federal government, shifting the narrative completely away from the fact that the protests had been going on, unchecked for over 50 days. What on Earth was he doing that entire time?
It’s a dismal state of affairs that Trump’s combative nature only invites the worst elements of society to run rampant. After all, as I pointed out, if we really had a fascist in charge, I wouldn’t be writing an article about local citizens taking over a part of their own city. Donald Trump is too obsessed with himself to ever be a fascist, simply look at how little he’s achieved during his administration. Going a step further, there wouldn’t be a speck of graffiti on any federal building, in any part of the country under a fascist regime, so we can stop with the childish comparisons of America to Nazi Germany.
If you disagree with my take on fascism, look at what’s unfolding in the Minsk, the capital of Belarus and some nearby cities in Belarus. I’ve visited Minsk on several occasions during my travels and enjoyed the city which is very clean and pristine. The streets are immaculate in Minsk because Belarus is led by an authoritarian government that has zero tolerance for the slightest pushback.
As much as there are problems in America, I implore you not to use words like fascist to describe a government, although flawed at times, that has specific checks and balances in place to prevent true authoritarianism from taking over, a government by the way that was responsible for ending the 3rd Reich. Look to the people of Belarus if you want to witness what real oppression and suffering looks like when you call for change. I’m incredibly thankful we live in a country where criticizing the president is a multi-billion dollar industry, a country where people can peacefully protest, call for change, and have it heard.
Picking Up the Pieces – Final Thoughts on the Seattle CHAZ / CHOP Autonomous Zone
The only way forward is for both sides to begin to look past differences, as hard as that may be right now, and attempt to work together again. Ever the optimist, even I find situations like the emergence of the CHAZ/CHOP autonomous zone very disturbing. The autonomous zone movement in Seattle means that a group of people had such distaste for their own country that they felt motivated enough to form their own. This action represents a failure in the trust of institutions, misguided education, and a general apathy about the future of America. Having already highlighted my thoughts about how the CHAZ / CHOP zone formed, where can we go from here?
I am hoping that America can soon get beyond the division we are witnessing because it is seeping into every aspect of life, from masks, to sports, and even in the work place. Only the ultra elites are insulated from the pandemonium happening across America, which in my view says it all. There is no doubt that change is needed, but such change can be enacted peacefully. American history, in fact, has many examples upon which today’s protesters can draw from.
On the subject of history, note that future generations will look down upon those who espouse violence to achieve their goal. It’s why many of the violent rioters who participated in America’s destruction this year will never attain the hero status they believe they deserve. For those who were part of the CHAZ / CHOP experiment, although I recognize their grief, their motives were misguided, which history will also show to be the case, after all their movement is already history.
In the coming months, with an election looming, I do hope better minds prevail and we can look at the summer of 2020 as a low point in contemporary history, moving forward, in a positive direction from there.