By Robert F. Sanchez, JMI Policy Director
When Americans awoke the other day, they were treated to disturbing TV footage of mobs rioting in far-flung foreign cities. In Athens, Greece, demonstrators were protesting the austerity measures that the Greek government has proposed to deal with the nation’s debt crisis. That crisis, which is roiling financial markets from London to Wall Street, is quite possibly a preview of crises to come in other profligate countries, even the United States, if the deficit problem continues to fester.Meanwhile, in Canada, mobs ran amok in the downtown district of Vancouver, B.C., in an outbreak of violence and vandalism that included widespread looting and arson. Why? Because the city’s National Hockey League, the Canucks, had just lost the deciding game of the Stanley Cup playoff to the Boston Bruins. (Evidently the authorities’ efforts to calm the rioters by reminding them that they had “free” health care were unsuccessful.)The Vancouver fans’ misbehavior stands in stark contrast to the behavior of Miami Heat fans when that city’s National Basketball Association team lost to the Dallas Mavericks in the final round of the NBA playoffs. Immediately thereafter, the blasé fans filed out of the American Airlines Arena in an orderly and peaceful manner and headed to South Beach to party. Granted, Miami is the only city in which an NBA game was postponed because of a riot – but the unrest in January of 1989 had nothing to do with basketball but rather alleged “police brutality.”It’s easy to dismiss sports fans’ rioting in the wake of defeat – or victory. Indeed, some of the worst outbreaks have occurred in cities such as Chicago, Detroit, and Los Angeles after various teams representing those cities actually won a title. Such mobs – essentially rebels without a cause other than drunken delirium – are usually spontaneous and mercifully brief, though also potentially dangerous and often destructive.Even more dangerous and destructive, however, is the carefully orchestrated violence ginned up by the extreme left – not only in Athens, but in the past in Seattle, Washington, in Davos, Switzerland, and wherever else the leaders and finance ministers of the world’s largest economies meet to discuss trade and other matters. Ironically, these kinds of violent protests were applauded by some of the same left-wing militants who falsely accused Tea Party groups of strong-arm tactics and other misconduct.Sadly, unsettling scenes of innocent bystanders put at risk of being killed or injured – and of businesses being torched and looted – raise the risk that demagogues promising “law and order” will emerge again, as occurred in the United States and elsewhere when widespread rioting occurred in America’s inner cities in the 1960s and ‘70s. That, in turn, could lead to the enactment of Draconian laws that diminish the liberty of peaceful and law-abiding citizens, allegedly in order to protect us all from disorder. It has happened before – even in the United States – as the pendulum between liberty and law has swung back and forth.Therefore, whether the scenes of mob activity occur because of political and ideological motivations or because sports fans had too much to drink, their spread could pose a potential threat to our freedom and therefore ought to be discouraged and, where possible, anticipated and prevented. It’s a reminder of the truth of the principle that “eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.”