For its most radical devotees, Black Lives Matter is a revolution, and no revolution would be complete without a cultural purge.
The near-universal outrage over George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis police custody is being leveraged on the left to steamroll its critics in academia, journalism and public life in the name of Black Lives Matter by branding them as racist.
“It’s a really terrifying reign of terror,” said Cornell Law School professor William A. Jacobson on Fox News’ “Life, Liberty & Levin.” “And it is so much worse now than it ever was. We always had political correctness and leftism on campuses. But with this new movement, they are totalitarian in nature.”
He should know. The veteran professor has been targeted in recent weeks by alumni calling for his firing and a faculty letter denouncing “commentators … leading a smear campaign against Black Lives Matter,” apparently referring to Mr. Jacobson’s comments on his conservative Legal Insurrection website.
In a statement, Cornell Law School Dean Eduardo M. Penalver said he found Mr. Jacobson’s comments “offensive and poorly reasoned,” but the university’s commitment to academic freedom “prevents us from censoring the extramural writings of faculty members.”
What did Mr. Jacobson say? In a June 4 post, he reiterated that the “hands up, don’t shoot” narrative was false — in other words, that Michael Brown never said that before being shot and killed in 2014 by an officer in Ferguson, Missouri. In a June 3 post, he said the Black Lives Matter movement was led by “anti-American, anti-capitalist activists.”
Of course, that description wouldn’t apply to most of those who turned out by the thousands to march for Floyd under the Black Lives Matter banner, and therein lies the problem. Seven years in, Black Lives Matter has never been more powerful, yet it remains more of a rallying cry and a brand rather than a specific entity or policy platform.
A Pew Research poll released June 12 found that 67% of adults surveyed strongly or somewhat supported Black Lives Matter, making it more popular than the Democrat or Republican parties.
“Seven years ago, people thought that Black Lives Matter was a radical idea,” Alicia Garza, one of its three co-founders, said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “And yet Black Lives Matter is now a household name, and it’s something being discussed across kitchen tables all over the world.”
That said, it’s still not entirely clear who speaks for Black Lives Matter or what it stands for.
Scott Walter, president of the conservative Capital Research Center, which tracks public policy groups on its InfluenceWatch website, said pinning down the highly decentralized BLM network has been like “trying to untangle a bowl of spaghetti.”
“Early on, the first people to try to ride that slogan were some hard-left socialist slash anarchist slash communist entities,” Mr. Walter said. “But if you turn on your TV and you see hundreds of thousands of people protesting, and folks are holding signs saying ‘Black Lives Matter,’ well, most of those people are ordinary citizens who are sincerely upset about police issues or a particular police acts like the George Floyd case.”
Black Lives Matter began as a hashtag that morphed into an organization founded in 2013 by three leftist activists — Ms. Garza, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi — with an emphasis on LGBTQ issues. The group officially is known as the Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation.
Then there’s a decentralized network of 34 chapters that focus on local issues, such as Black Lives Matter Los Angeles, which has pushed for a “people’s budget” that would shrink the police department’s share from 54% to 6%.
Running parallel is another hub organization, the Movement for Black Lives, as well as groups like Color of Change that promote a Black Lives Matter message.
The multiple entities have even confused donors: A one-man operation called the Black Lives Foundation in Santa Clarita, California, raised $4 million this month even though it has no connection to the 2013 group and works to foster better relations between police and communities, BuzzFeed reported.
Depending on the group, the agenda can range from support for police body cameras to broad calls for restructuring society at large with race-based reparations, free housing, free education, abolishing prison and retrials for all people of color.
“The thing to remember is the left has always exploited and piggybacked on unrest and injustice,” Mr. Walter said. “And most of the people probably don’t know anything about the parasitic hard-left activists trying to attach themselves to these causes.”
Black Lives Matter catapulted to the forefront after the 46-year-old Floyd, who was black, died as a white officer kneeled on his neck for nearly 9 minutes. The four officers at the scene have been charged with murder in his death.
With Black Lives Matter now practically synonymous with Justice for George Floyd, public figures — and even private ones — criticize the movement at their peril.
University of Chicago economics professor Harald Uhlig was fired last week from his position with the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago for a June 8 op-ed, saying Black Lives Matter had “just torpedoed itself, with its full-fledged support of #defundthepolice … We need more police, we need to pay them more, we need to train them better.”
A University of Michigan professor is now leading a campaign for Mr. Uhlig to resign as editor of the Journal of Political Economy, accusing him in a petition of “trivializing the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement.”
Even public figures who have never mentioned Black Lives Matter have run afoul of the movement. Oklahoma State football coach Mike Gundy apologized Tuesday after players threatened to boycott over a tweet showing him wearing a T-shirt on a fishing trip with a logo of the conservative One America News Network.
“Once I learned how that network felt about Black Lives Matter, I was disgusted and knew it was completely unacceptable to me,” Mr. Gundy said in a video.
His critics pointed to a four-year-old commentary by OAN’s Liz Wheeler in which she asked a series of rhetorical questions about how police should handle suspects of different races, then said, “Here’s the thing, it’s a false question to trap the movement, because they can’t answer it, and that means they’re a farce. The Black Lives Matter movement speaks not for race but for racial divide.”
An LA Galaxy soccer player was cut over his wife’s posts criticizing protesters, UCLA accounting lecturer Gordon Klein was suspended for refusing to cancel final exams for black students and Sacramento Kings announcer Grant Napear was fired for tweeting “All Lives Matter … Every Single One.”
“If You Don’t Support Black Lives Matter, You’re Fired,” said the Federalist in a June 11 post listing the incidents of retribution.
Another sign of the movement’s growing power is that corporations and social media platforms are increasingly in the corner of Black Lives Matter, which Mr. Walter views as the inevitable result of the campus “cancel culture” and “silence is violence” message entering the workforce.
“One thing they’re doing is getting big business to go along, and again, that’s because of ‘woke’ culture,” said Mr. Walter. “The wokeness of the campus culture is metastasizing into the boardrooms, into the newsrooms.”
Not even progressives are safe: Earlier this month, New York Times opinion editor James Bennet, one of the fourth estate’s most influential figures, resigned after a staff outcry over an op-ed by Sen. Tom Cotton, Arkansas Republican, in favor of using the military to break up rioting.
Staffers argued that running the op-ed “puts Black @nytimes lives in danger,” as one oft-tweeted message put it.
Meanwhile, critics like Mr. Jacobson argued a distinction needs to be made between championing black lives and endorsing the Black Lives Matter movement.
“This is not going to end well unless people of good conscience, who support black lives but not the Black Lives Movement as it was founded and currently operates, to speak up and refuse to cower in fear,” said Mr. Jacobson.