Among the accomplishments of last week’s protest mob at the Wisconsin state capitol in Madison:

* The mob pulled down two statues. One was “Forward,” a replica of an allegorical representation of a female figure created by sculptor Jean Pond Miner in 1893, both created and later preserved through subscription contributions from Wisconsin women.

* The other was of Hans Christian Heg, a fervent abolitionist and Free Soil Party member who helped command a militia devoted to protecting runaway slaves and was later appointed the founding commander of the only Union Army regiment composed entirely of Scandinavian‐​Americans. Heg rallied immigrants to join the Union cause and was killed battling the rebels at Chickamauga.

The mob, which presented itself as acting against white supremacy and on behalf of the interests of black Americans, rolled Heg’s statue down the street and dumped it in Lake Monona; the statue’s body was soon recovered, but its head was removed and as of this writing is missing.

* The assemblage also attacked several public buildings; someone threw a Molotov cocktail into the city‐​county administration building. “Spokeswomen for [Gov. Tony] Evers and Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes‐​Conway did not respond to questions late Tuesday about [the] police force’s slow response.”

* When veteran liberal state Sen. Tim Carpenter (D‐​Milwaukee) stopped to take a picture of the crowd, he was set upon by what he estimated as 8 or 10 participants who punched him and kicked his head. Carpenter collapsed attempting to make his way back to the Capitol but recovered. Just as there is a right to take photos of what police do on public streets without their beating you up, so there should also be a right to take photos of what protesters do on public streets without their beating you up.

It should not be that hard to distinguish between peaceful, lawful assembly in pursuit of political causes, on the one hand, and property destruction, assault, intimidation, looting, and riot, on the other. Yet at this particular moment, many seem to think that to draw the line against the latter is somehow to undercut the ground on which the former stands.

Libertarians oppose countless actions by the government and its officers, notably police, that violate individual rights, interfere with peaceful and cooperative activity, or break from the impartial rule of law. It is only fair to recognize that actions by private crowds can accomplish those evils too — when they beat down bystanders like Sen. Carpenter, when they smash and trash store windows, when they block freeway traffic and surround terrified motorists, when they replace a public deliberative process over whether a statue should stay on its pedestal with the answer that is brute force.

We should be just as clear in opposing that too.

Commentary by Walter Olson. Originally published at Cato At Liberty.

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