I’m very surprised by the number of liberal Catholics who have emailed me defending the Occupy Wall Street movement. They’ve done so quite adamantly, at times somewhat belligerently, calling me names and accusing me of demonizing them—even when I’m merely reporting the alarming, often disgusting things being done at Occupy Wall Street. “Thanks for demonizing us, Paul,” wrote an angry reader who responded to one of my posts at CatholicVote on this subject, and who evidently is a Catholic “occupier.”
Is it my fault that these people are acting obscenely? Could I accuse them of, say, defecating on police cars and calling for the guillotine if they weren’t, oh, defecating on police cars and calling for the guillotine?
The scene from Occupy Wall Street and its sister protests around the nation has been a picture of chaos, belligerence, and violence. Reports abound of property destruction, theft, sexual assaults from groping to alleged rape, stabbing threats, STD outbreaks due to rampant “casual sex” and “hook-ups,” widespread drug use and dealing, mass arrests, refusals to report crimes, and, yes, even defecating on police cars. There continue to be clashes with police protected by riot gear as they are assaulted with rocks and shouted down as “Pigs”. The cases of blatant anti-Semitism are sickening. There have been incidents and violent outbursts across the country, from Baltimore to Boston to Cleveland to Denver to New York to Oklahoma City to Oakland, California. In maybe the most over-the-top, truly insane moment of all, actress Roseanne Barr went to the Wall Street occupation and literally called for guillotining wealthy bankers—yes, that’s right, the guillotine. And Roseanne Barr was deadly serious.
In one case caught on video, the mob cheerfully smashed a statue of Mary (click here).
For merely pointing this out in disgust—and for rejecting the radical politics and ideology and goals underlying the occupiers—I’ve been criticized by Catholics seeking “social justice.” One reader of one of my posts at another Catholic website defended this behavior by commenting that, hey, “Jesus hated the rich, too.”
Well, I wouldn’t quite put it that way.
Jesus no doubt challenged and admonished the rich, but he wasn’t consumed by the hate and anger and vice and class envy and anarchical sort of behavior we are seeing at these protest movements.
And yet, some liberal Catholics and the Religious Left generally are trying to insert Jesus into the Wall Street Occupation. Some are even extending their literal blessings. Recall the bizarre expression by Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, lifetime Roman Catholic, who offered this strange wish to the Wall Street occupiers: “God bless them for their spontaneity.”
That’s an odd request for an assemblage of gatherings that have been anything but religious. Sure, the Religious Left has appeared at these protests here and there, demanding “social justice,” but, by and large, the “occupy movement” is an extraordinarily secular movement. To my knowledge, they’re not stopping mid-afternoon to do the Rosary or Divine Mercy Chaplet or a simple prayer or blessing. When I think of the Occupy Wall Street troops, I don’t think of George Washington on his knees in the snow of Valley Forge.
Speaking of which, that brings me to a final thought on Occupy Wall Street.
There was an especially interesting piece on the occupiers that came from Rose Tennent. Tennent was upset by the occupiers referring to what they called their “Valley Forge Moment.” Invoking the image of freezing, desperate American troops at Valley Forge at a pivotal point in the American Revolution, the Wall Street troops sought to identify with General George Washington and his men. As summed up by one of the occupiers, Michael McCarthy: “Everyone’s been calling it our Valley Forge moment. Everybody thought that George Washington couldn’t possibly survive in the Northeast.” The occupiers vowed that they would persevere, just like at Valley Forge.
Rose Tennent vehemently disagreed with this analogy. Her words strike at the core differences between the occupiers and the founders of this nation, and they constitute a worthy history/civics lesson for Catholics and all Americans. Tennent writes of the occupiers:
Their Valley Forge Moment? They couldn’t begin to handle a Valley Forge Moment. Those men—and only those men—who can claim a Valley Forge moment were part of a company of men who faced hardship like none we will ever know.
The men who fought at Valley Forge did not receive donations daily that included blankets and clothing. Some were half naked and some had no blankets for warmth. They didn’t have the military tents like the weatherproof ones that OWS has pitched. That was a luxury the army at Valley Forge did not enjoy. As a matter of fact, there were many who had no tents to sleep in at all.
George Washington said, “For the want of shoes, their marches through frost and snow might be traced by the blood from their feet. And they were almost as often without provisions as with them.”
The brave men of Valley Forge did not have a fancy former hotel chef preparing gourmet meals for them from food donated by organic farmers. They didn’t have iPhones, iPads, or iPods. They didn’t have half a million dollars sitting in a bank for a rainy day. When they were hungry, and they were hungry often, they didn’t vandalize grocery carts or inns for food they felt entitled to.
By December 1777 there were 2,899 men in camp that were unfit for duty because they were without shoes and clothes. Because of the weather and lack of provisions, many men’s legs and feet froze, turned black and were ultimately amputated.
By February of that same year, over 4,000 soldiers were rendered helpless because of the elements, sickness and under-nourishment.
To the OWS crowd, I say, don’t you—or anyone—dare compare yourselves to even the least of the men who truly lived a Valley Forge moment…. [T]hese men knew why they were there. They didn’t leave Valley Forge at night for the warmth and comfort of their homes and families. They stayed on in spite of their circumstances. They stayed on because they knew without a doubt what needed to be done and why….
These were noble men. No one should ever, ever presume to be “like” them. There are none “like” them. And to make that comparison is the highest insult to some of the most sacrificial men that this country has ever known.
Indeed. And the analogy fails at even deeper level. Consider:
George Washington readied himself for the first and only Valley Forge Moment by dropping to his knees in the snow, begging God for His blessings and protection in the utterly vital moment that lay ahead. Ronald Reagan would refer to this image of Washington on his knees at Valley Forge as “the most sublime image in American history.”
Quite the contrary, the images coming from Occupy Wall Street are not sublime.
And yet, the occupiers continue to claim George Washington’s mantle. As one occupier put it: “I welcome the challenge of this cold weather. This is like war. You know, soldiers do it when they occupy a place.”
Yes, they do. And George Washington and his troops did just that. Can the Wall Street Occupiers even approach that standard? Can they rise to that level?
We’ll learn soon enough. The period of the real Valley Forge Moment was the winter of 1777-78. Well, the Wall Street troops have a winter ahead of them right now. Here it is.
And as Americans nationwide continue to marvel at this spectacle, Catholics might ponder the wish of Nancy Pelosi and the angry “social justice” Christians that I continue to hear from, and will again with this article: Is Occupy Wall Street something we should bless? Did Jesus “hate” the rich? Would Jesus be in New York right now with the occupiers, shouting down with capitalism? Would Jesus not criticize Roseanne’s call for the guillotine? What would he think of the smashing of the statue of Mary? How about the STD outbreaks?
These are not isolated incidents of violence and debauchery. These are the real moments that are too often characterizing these protests around the nation.
I ask liberal Catholics: Is this really a movement that you endorse?
Paul Kengor is professor of political science at Grove City College. His books include The Judge: William P. Clark, Ronald Reagan’s Top Hand (Ignatius Press) and Dupes: How America’s Adversaries Have Manipulated Progressives for a Century.