Westward Independent

Mid-Level Violence: The Provocateur

by Westward Independent
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What is Mid-Level Violence? It sounds like a strange term. Violence is violence, right? Someone initiates contact without consent. A punch, a shove, some kind of an attack where there is no consent for physical contact. Where is the line that gets crossed that takes an exchange from a heated argument to an assault? 

If you’re walking down the sidewalk and someone comes up to you and shoves you or strikes you, that is an assault and it comes with criminal charges. What if someone is yelling at you? Is that an assault? Mid-level violence is a label for a phenomenon that has become a regular occurrence at certain protests and counter-protests in our world of late (not to suggest it’s an entirely new thing). In the world of protest, Mid-Level Violence is by all accounts, a tactic. It’s the behaviour of “the provocateur”. The tactic is to employ behaviour (s) that will provoke your opponent to lose their cool and do one of two things: 1) Be the first one to make physical contact without consent and thus be the initiator of violence and as such become subject to charges of assault.  2) Give up and walk away, losing respect for themselves having failed to find a way to give voice to their side of the argument.

There are a couple of great examples from recent protests on Vancouver Island. The first one took place on September 20, 2023, at the Legislative Grounds in Victoria, BC. There was a Cross Canada peaceful assembly and march organized in support of parental guardianship called the One Million March For Children. A PA system was set up and there were several hundred people in attendance to hear the speakers present their views that parents should be included in discussions with school teachers and administrators if their children were choosing new names and/or pronouns when the current reality is that children were being affirmed in these choices without parental consent or even notice from the school. So that was the basis for the assembly. There was a much larger group of people who attended this assembly as a “counter-protest”. They were there to express views in opposition. What happened is that the moment the organizers turned on the PA system and the first speaker began to address the crowd, the “counter-protestors” began to shout slogans and drown out the speaker. The slogans were provocative and it could be said, a misrepresentation of the parents and grandparents who had come to hear the speakers. The chants were such as “Transphobes Go Home” and “F**k You Fascists”. This is mid-level violence on a group scale. There was no space for a dialogue and free and political speech was being silenced. The opportunity for the organizers of the assembly and attendees to make use of the public space in a free and democratic society was being silenced and shut down. The video is available. There’s plenty of content to view and make your own assessment of what occurred and whatever side of the argument you are on is not important. All views are welcome. Dialogue around the issue needs to happen. The point here is that it was a “shout down”. Open dialogue and free expression were being cancelled by the louder voice. 

Imagine you are discussing something with someone and it becomes clear you are on opposite sides of an issue. You have something you want to share and perhaps they do as well but instead of being able to share your views openly, the person you are “discussing” things with gets quite close to your face, say about twelve inches or so, and starts shouting “SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP” as loud as they can… and that’s their side of the argument. What are you going to do? They won’t stop shouting. Your voice cannot be heard by them or by you. That’s a provocateur. That’s Mid-Level Violence. Not technically an assault perhaps but it does tend to end the conversation. So in Victoria, that was the behaviour that ended the event. The police eventually demanded that the PA system be shut off because things were getting dangerous. Counter-protestors were getting past the police into the stage area. A police officer was assaulted by one of the counter-protesters. She punched him in the face. It would seem they were willing to do whatever it would take to stop the event from continuing.

Another example is this one in Vancouver: a man wearing a billboard attended a Pride event last year. His billboard read something like “Children cannot give informed consent”. When he got close to the event he was immediately surrounded by people shouting obscenities at him. After a time he tried to move away. They followed him. Again he moved and was followed again. He kept his cool even though he was completely surrounded by people swearing at him non-stop at the top of their lungs. F**k You F**k You F**k You was the chant from a large man right in his face. After several minutes of this, the man with the billboard turned his head to see what was going on behind him and he put his hand up as he did so. His hand brushed lightly against the person screaming in his face and at that moment, the man shouting F-You punched him, knocking him down and jumped on top of him. At this point, the police stepped in. Why not sooner? Well, that’s because what they were doing, while highly provocative is not technically considered assault.

Finally, I’d like to give the example of a recent event in Cowichan. There was an event held at the Cowichan Community Centre called Vancouver Island Speaks: “Pushing Pride – When Activism Conflicts with Women’s Rights, Gay Rights, and the Safeguarding of Kids”. The content of the full presentation is available online at https://tinyurl.com/TWAFJune8 for those interested in learning more about what was being presented. A local organization called Revolve Cowichan organized a protest against the event which was scheduled to take place during the time that attendees would be arriving. I attended the protest in the capacity of a reporter/the press to see if I could ask the attendees of the protest some questions to better understand their views and get that side of the story as well. I was basically harassed. There were two or three individuals who followed me the whole time and the moment I would attempt to engage in an interview/conversation with an attendee, one or more of the people following me would get in between me and my subject and put signs in front of my camera and start screaming in close proximity to block any attempt to engage. They would not stop until I’d moved on. This happened many times. Every time. I had one exchange with an individual on roller skates who approached me seeing I had a camera and was recording and asked me “Are you a friendly?”. I said “I’m independent media”. He asked the name of my channel and when I disclosed it he said “Oh you’re …” and turned to leave but before he did, he quickly reached out and tapped me on the arm. I know that seems small but think for a second. There’s no way that in that environment of open hostility, I would reach out and touch ANYONE. Touch without consent. That’s when people say “Don’t touch me or I’ll charge you with assault”. So in my opinion he did that deliberately to provoke me. A subtle tactic. I wasn’t the only reporter there. The team from The Westward Independent was also there in the capacity of the press and their experiences were similar and worse. They had people backing into them deliberately (as if they didn’t see them) and then saying “Don’t touch me”. Do you see?

Mid-Level Violence is a tactical technique and there are many variations. Shouting to drown out. Close proximity with threatening expressions or wearing masks to hide identity. Shouting obscenities. Finding ways to make physical contact and immediately claiming that it was the other person who made contact. Using props like signs and umbrellas to make physical contact while feigning innocence. Above all, preventing open dialogue.

So one more time, the goal is to stop a conversation, silence free speech and most importantly, make the other person look like the aggressor …and failing that, by silencing the other person’s ability to express their views peacefully, making them FEEL DIMINISHED so they come to believe they have no recourse, no way to be heard, NO VOICE. Mid-level violence is a form of harassment. I can’t say that there is legal recourse because so far the police have done nothing and it would seem that their hands are tied. They know what’s going on though. Perhaps if enough of this behaviour can be documented and presented to the Police as evidence, the pattern will be acknowledged enabling the police to respond. Here are a couple of examples of what constitutes harassment: Repeatedly following a person. Engaging in threatening behaviour. Communicating with a person or anyone known to them in a manner that causes them to fear for their safety

So to wrap this up, I’d just like to say that in a free and democratic society, all sides have the right to voice their opinions and views and employing tactical strategies like Mid-Level Violence and Provocation to silence views is unlikely to lead to a good outcome for anyone. Difficult issues need to be discussed fairly. Through open dialogue, mis-information and dis-information can be identified and weeded out of the conversation creating the possibility of building bridges and finding the common ground. For that to happen, Mid-Level Violence needs to be seen for what it is: Harassment. 

Sincerely, Storm Ryder News

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