The riots of this past year are unprecedented in scope and duration, and they occurred with the support of many elected officials and with funding from big corporations. This is shocking since these violent actions are based on a fabricated narrative that all cops are racist and America itself is “systemically racist.” The two main groups responsible for this violence, Black Lives Matter and Antifa, are not motivated only by police shootings but by an attempt to transform America into an authoritarian socialist nation. Racial unrest is their vehicle. Their actions have led to thousands of businesses destroyed — many of them minority-owned — at least 30 people killed, and over 700 police officers injured. Given this level of violence and destruction, it is not surprising to see the rise of community defense groups.
Community defense groups have existed in America since its beginning. Such groups were called “militias” in the early years of the Republic and were formed by citizens to maintain law and order when the police were unable to do so. Our founding fathers even wrote into the Constitution that Congress had the power to create a citizen militia in order to “suppress insurrections and repel invasions.” The idea of ordinary citizens organizing to defend their community is as American as apple pie.
But the Left and its media allies can’t stand the thought of citizens voluntarily organizing groups to defend their communities and neighborhoods. They hate the idea of private citizens instead of the government having a role in maintaining order. So the media calls national community defense groups such as the Proud Boys and Patriot Prayer “fascists” and “white supremacists” even though many reporters making such allegations have never met with members of these groups.
In reality, national groups like Proud Boys are probably not the best model for community defense groups. Such national groups have chapters all over the country, and this makes it difficult for their leaders to control who joins the group or what kind of activities each chapter engages in. Nor do such groups have much involvement in the communities they fight to defend. Indeed, these groups often travel to riot-infested areas to confront the rioters.
A much better model of a community defense group has emerged in the eastern part of San Diego County. This is a hard-working, mostly middle-class community with half a dozen medium-sized cities and dozens of smaller towns. Much of the area is rural or semi-rural. The group, Defend East County (DEC), was formed last March after the town of La Mesa was attacked by BLM and Antifa. At least 17 buildings were burned and/or looted. This shocked East County residents, and when leftists announced the city of Santee would be next, a man named Justin Haskins swung into action.
Haskins started organizing his friends and created a group on Facebook called Defend East County. Within 48 hours, 11,000 people joined, and within two weeks, its membership swelled to over 21,000. Haskins was shocked, but clearly there was pent-up demand for this kind of group. Part of this was “due to the media not doing their job,” says Jennifer Thorpe, a DEC organizer originally from West Africa. She added that “people were tired of being kept in the dark by the mainstream media and being told the protesters were peaceful.”
Since the group was formed, every effort by BLM and Antifa to organize a violent protest in East County has been deterred. As Haskins told me, “We were caught off-guard when La Mesa was attacked, but no more. We are not letting these thugs commit any more violence in our community ever again. It’s over for them here.”
Leftists are hysterical that DEC has successfully defended their community, and they lobbied Facebook to shut down DEC, falsely claiming DEC members advocate violence and are racists. DEC has had to reorganize a new Facebook page titled Working Class Patriots.
The group is justly worried about a potential Biden presidency, which will likely order the FBI and the Justice Department to investigate community defense groups all over America under the phony claim that they are “hate” groups. Indeed, there is little doubt BLM sympathizers will be appointed to key positions in a Biden administration and will do what they can to harass community defense groups.
Haskins is a rock-ribbed conservative but allows anyone to join DEC. His sister, Stephanie Linder, who serves as his assistant, told me, “We really don’t care what your race, ethnicity, or political views are as long as you agree with our mission of defending and serving the community.” DEC has members of all races, and its mission statement makes it clear that “no hateful or racist comments allowed, or tolerated. If you spew hate, you will be removed from the group…. all colors of people are welcome, and any hate towards another color will not be tolerated.”
Haskins agrees with Martin Luther King Jr.’s statement that we should strive for a “color-blind society” and that “nobody should have special rights based on race.” DEC gives all local political candidates the opportunity to be interviewed live on the DEC website. When a group is as large as DEC, it tends to moderate more liberal politicians, and DEC hopes to influence their thinking.
The group is organized by a “core group” of volunteers, most of whom are women such as Thorpe and Linder. These women put many hours into DEC, and they insist the group is not just a flash in the pan but rather a “permanent community group.” DEC members monitor BLM and Antifa websites and social media, posting Facebook alerts for planned East County protests. To prepare for potential riots, DEC members place themselves all over the community, usually in front of stores and businesses. Many members use walkie talkies or CB radios to keep in contact with one another. In the group’s seven months of existence, thugs have not damaged an iota of property in the East County area.
But as important as defending the East County community from violent rioters is, that’s not what makes DEC stand out. They also have involved themselves in all kinds of community work. They hosted a car wash to raise money for breast cancer research, are planning charity balls, and will host a food drive this December to assist local impoverished families.
And the event that really put DEC on the map as the leading community group in East County was the fire in September that destroyed over 5,300 acres and destroyed 10 homes.
Due to powerful winds, no one knew for sure how many homes and ranches would be destroyed, so they made a massive effort to evacuate farm and ranch animals. DEC converted an old ranch into a temporary animal shelter. Using their communications network, they quickly mobilized hundreds of volunteers and saved over 600 animals. Some DEC members built stalls and fences at the animal shelter they created; others rescued and transported animals; others collected food for the animals. DEC members also offered assistance to those who lost their homes. The established animal welfare groups like the Humane Society and San Diego County emergency services were of little help. The fact is, groups such as DEC are better suited to reacting quickly to natural disasters.
This is exactly the kind of activity in which a community defense group should be involved. DEC now enjoys the trust and admiration of the entire East County community, and their membership continues to grow. Their size has made them a cultural and political force in the community. Politicians who advocate cutting the police budget or dropping charges against those arrested will think twice about such actions in East County.
Conservative social scientist Robert Nisbet, in his classic book The Quest for Community, wrote about how volunteer groups were essential for giving individuals a sense of belonging to a community: “The quest for community will not be denied, for it springs from some of the powerful needs of human nature — needs for a clear sense of cultural purpose, membership, status, and continuity.”
Alexis Tocqueville’s Democracy in America described how the efforts of private individuals and groups are what defined communities in America in the 1830s. It was not government services: “The health of a democratic society may be measured by the quality of functions performed by private citizens.”
But conservative social scientists also warned that the Left has never embraced this concept, instead favoring all community energy to be carried out by government agencies or by government-controlled and funded groups. Indeed, as we have watched our community groups fall apart the last few decades, the government has filled this vacuum, but with always a more bureaucratic and regulated approach that usually makes problems worse.
A classic example is the Boy Scouts, which often took in boys who were from broken and troubled families and who were likely headed down the path to a criminal lifestyle. The Scouts turned many such boys around, but nevertheless the Left detests the group. As a California State Assemblyman for many years, I spent much time and effort fending off legislative attacks on the Scouts by the Left. They demanded that the Boy Scouts admit girls, hire gay scout leaders, drop all criminal background checks for leaders, support “gender equality,” and so forth. The attacks were unending.
Ultimately, the Scouts caved in from all the pressure, and the Left circled them like sharks. A decade later, the Scouts are barely hanging on. They’ve filed bankruptcy as they are unable to deal with millions of dollars in litigation costs resulting from hundreds of lawsuits.
The Left simply could not stand the thought of a private group that sets their own moral standards for membership. This pattern of the slow encroachment of government into areas traditionally occupied by private community groups has been going on for decades.
Indeed, membership in community groups has been declining for years now. Whether it’s the Kiwanis Club, Rotary Club, or Masonic Lodges, memberships are plummeting. Church membership is also at an all-time low.
Another factor contributing to the decline of community groups is technology, in particular social media. We live in an era when people meet each other online, not in person. They get to know one another through social media “profiles” and not by working alongside each other in a community. Ironically, Defend East County used social media to build their group. But, as Haskins says, DEC is “using social media to get people off social media.”
Haskins views Defend East County as the classic community group where people develop real relationships and members meet people face to face, not screen to screen. He is using Defend East County to return to the in-person relationships that once made our communities so strong. Conservatives need to embrace a similar mission and help to create new volunteer, non-government, community groups.
If you live in an area threatened by riots, consider organizing a community defense group that not only defends against violence but also helps the community undertake charity work, deal with natural disasters, and pursue other activities in which community groups have historically engaged. The nationwide riots designed to destroy our cities may have given Americans an opportunity to reenergize our communities in a way our founding fathers would be proud of. Defend East County is following that model.