The horrifying slayings of eight law enforcement officers in the past 10 days may come back to haunt Democrats funding protests against police behind the scenes in hopes of energizing black voters in November.
Instead of juicing turnout for presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, the unrest may wind up backfiring by whipping up public sympathy for police and creating an opportunity for Republicans to run on a law-and-order message, analysts say.
“The proof of that will be on Election Day. But I would say the problem with the strategy is that it has contributed to a climate of support for law and order, and that, I think, is an immense advantage for Donald Trump,” said political analyst Floyd Ciruli.
“It’s a theme Republicans have often used, and frankly helped elect Richard Nixon in the similarly tumultuous year of 1968,” Mr. Ciruli said. “So I think this is an advantage for Trump, and I think it has contributed to his most recent strength demonstrated in a number of polls where he’s at least closing the gap.”
A surge of Black Lives Matter protest marches pegged to the high-profile deaths of two black men shot by police in early July has been followed by attacks on officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge, Louisiana, in both cases by young black gunmen who had accused police of racism.
Three officers were killed Sunday in Baton Rouge, and five Dallas police officers died from a sniper’s ambush July 7 as they worked security for a Black Lives Matter demonstration. Both gunmen were killed by police.
While Black Lives Matter supporters have called it “dangerous and irresponsible” to smear the movement based on the actions of a few, there is little doubt that the deaths of officers have spawned a backlash.
Milwaukee Police Chief David Clarke said Monday that the situation has devolved into “guerrilla urban warfare” against police, and a petition filed with the White House calling for Black Lives Matter to be labeled a “domestic terrorist” group gathered more than 141,000 signatures in less than two weeks.
The conservative group Accuracy in Media launched a website Monday called Black Lives Matter Exposed, aimed at “uncover[ing] the truth” about the movement.
“The Black Lives Matter movement has metastasized from a valid, legitimate, nonviolent series of demonstrations and public statements, constitutionally protected and fully appropriate, into a terrorist group assassinating police officers,” Republican analyst Dick Morris said in a Monday podcast.
“That’s not to say that all the participants are or all the millions of people who have joined marches for them are terrorists,” Mr. Morris said. “But we have to understand that elements within the BLM are now a terrorist group.”
Republican strategist Michael McKenna compared the movement to Occupy Wall Street, another liberal-funded venture that was aimed at stoking outrage among younger voters over income inequality.
“It’s not coincidental that we see this in an election cycle when the Democratic nominee is going to need African-Americans to turn out in numbers every bit as large as [President] Obama, the guy she hopes to succeed,” said Mr. McKenna.
That’s a tall order: A record number of black voters turned out in 2008 and gave 95 percent of their support to Mr. Obama. Four years later, he won 93 percent of the black vote.
“And if they don’t, she’s going to be in real trouble in about half a dozen states because the African-American vote, the extra thing that Obama brought, was dispositive in about a half a dozen states,” Mr. McKenna said of Mrs. Clinton. “If she doesn’t get that, it’s going to be problematic.”
Data indicate that fewer suspects are being shot by police, but that has not slowed the protests. Neither have studies showing that officers are less likely to fire on blacks than whites over fear of the political and social recriminations. Nor did a report released this month by a black Harvard economics professor showing no racial bias in police shootings.
The movement is “designed to inject this notion of police brutality, police racial bias, when no matter how you look at it, the numbers over the years tell you that instances of brutality and police officers shooting black victims has gone down,” Mr. McKenna said.
“It’s swimming against a pretty significant statistical tide, but that doesn’t slow anybody down because it’s not about facts and it’s not about organic sentiment in the community,” he said. “It’s a political organization designed to drive turnout and complicate Republicans’ lives.”
Heather Mac Donald, a fellow at the Manhattan Institute and author of “The War on Cops,” says it’s a myth that white police are targeting black civilians and that pressure from the Black Lives Matter movement has resulted in a spike in crime in large urban centers.
“And now, after these Dallas shootings, officers are going to be even more reluctant to engage. And the result is going to be more carnage,” Ms. Mac Donald said in a July 8 interview with conservative radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh.
Pro-Democrat donors have been linked to groups affiliated with the Black Lives Matter movement since anti-police rioting and protests launched after the August 2014 death of black teen Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.
The case fell apart after the Justice Department cleared the white police officer who fatally shot the 18-year-old Brown. The movement might have petered out but for millions of dollars from pro-Democrat funders such as billionaire George Soros.
The founder of the Open Society Foundations, Mr. Soros spent $33 million in one year on groups that descended on Ferguson and helped transform a local crime story into a national cause celebre, as reported by The Washington Times’ Kelly Riddell.
Both Open Society and the Democracy Alliance, the richest political fundraising arm of the left, provide funds to Color of Change, a prominent group within the Black Lives Matter coalition that doesn’t pull punches.
Four days after the Dallas rampage that left five officers dead, Color of Change issued a press release accusing police of “terrorizing Black communities.”
Color of Change also has taken on the Republican Party. The group was among the leaders of a petition drive to stop Coca-Cola and other companies from donating to the Republican National Convention, under the slogan “Share a Coke with the KKK.”
Defenders of Black Lives Matter point out that not every group affiliated with the movement is actually Black Lives Matter, which was founded by LGBT activists in 2013 and has espoused nonviolence.
At the same time, groups with more extreme messages, such as the New Black Panther Party and the African American Defense League, have gained prominence as the movement picks up steam.
Mrs. Clinton arguably has benefited from the racial tension. She has aligned herself with the Black Lives Matter movement’s goals, running television ads during the Democratic primary contests naming unarmed black men killed by police and promising to “fight for justice.”
An ABC News/Washington Post poll released Sunday found that 58 percent trusted Mrs. Clinton more on race relations, versus 26 percent for Mr. Trump. At the same time, the poll found that 55 percent believe race relations are getting worse, which the Trump campaign has blamed on Democratic leadership.
“President Obama just had a news conference, but he doesn’t have a clue,” Mr. Trump said on Twitter after the Baton Rouge shooting. “Our country is a divided crime scene, and it will only get worse!”
Given that any social unrest tends to hurt the party in power, that could be a problem for the Clinton campaign, especially with Black Lives Matter showing no signs of throttling back on protests.
Remember the 1968 election, say analysts, when the Republican Nixon defeated the Democrat Hubert H. Humphrey during a time of historic civil rights demonstrations but also after eight years of Democratic rule in the White House.
“Anything that adds to instability and the sense that current leadership is indifferent to that works against the Democrats in general,” said Mr. McKenna, “and Mrs. Clinton in particular.”
• Valerie Richardson can be reached at email@example.com.
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