Commentary on Political Economy

Tuesday 16 April 2024



Cotton Urges Citizens to Forcibly Confront Pro-Palestinian Protesters

The Republican senator from Arkansas said citizens should “take matters into your own hands” against demonstrators who have stepped up their civil disobedience to protest Israel’s offensive in Gaza.

Senator Tom Cotton, wearing a dark suit and tie, sitting behind a microphone in a Senate hearing room.
In a series of social media posts, Senator Tom Cotton suggested that pro-Palestinian protesters should be met with force from civilians. Credit... Kenny Holston/The New York Times
Robert Jimison

Senator Tom Cotton, Republican of Arkansas, on Monday urged people whose routes were blocked by pro-Palestinian protesters to “take matters into your own hands” and confront the offenders, endorsing the use of physical force against peaceful demonstrators.

In a series of social media posts after protesters shut down traffic in cities across the country including major roads in Oakland, Calif., the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco and near O’Hare International Airport in Chicago, Mr. Cotton called those responsible “pro-Hamas” and “criminals.”

He also shared a clip of himself during a recent interview in which he said that if protesters had disrupted public roads in his home state of Arkansas, they would have been met with force from citizens.

“Let’s just say I think there would be a lot of very wet criminals that would have been tossed overboard — not by law enforcement, but by the people whose road they are blocking,” he told Fox News in the interview. “If they glued their hands to their car or pavement, it’d probably be pretty painful to have their skin ripped off.”

On Tuesday morning, Mr. Cotton posted a video showing a group of men forcibly removing protesters in orange vests from a roadway that appeared to be outside of the United States. In the clip, one man is shown roughly dragging a protester off the road by his feet.

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“How it should be done,” Mr. Cotton wrote.

Dozens of demonstrators who caused the traffic jam at the Golden Gate Bridge were ultimately arrested on Monday. Law enforcement officials said that is how the process is supposed to work, and that people should not take matters into their own hands.

“We don’t encourage any kind of violence,” Officer Darrel Horner, a spokesman for California Highway Patrol, said in an interview on Tuesday. He said drivers who experience any sort of disruption should let the authorities handle the situation, and he noted that even choosing to exit a vehicle to respond could get a driver into legal trouble.

“You’re not supposed to be a pedestrian on the freeway, so technically you’re not supposed to get out of your car in the first place,” Officer Horner said.

Mr. Cotton’s comments came as protesters angry over U.S. support for Israel’s offensive in Gaza have stepped up their civil disobedience in recent days.

Mr. Cotton ignited furor in 2020 with an opinion essay in The New York Times in which he called for the use of military force to put down riots across the country amid a rash of civil unrest that followed the death of George Floyd, a Black man who was killed by the police in Minneapolis.

“One thing above all else will restore order to our streets,” he wrote at the time: “an overwhelming show of force to disperse, detain and ultimately deter lawbreakers.”

Other elected officials have also strongly criticized the pro-Palestinian protesters. Senator John Fetterman, Democrat of Pennsylvania, who has been among the most vocal supporters of Israel during the conflict, on Tuesday posted video of protesters demonstrating in a Starbucks and said such conduct was egregious.

“I don’t know who needs to hear this, but blocking a bridge or berating folks in Starbucks isn’t righteous,” he wrote on social media, using a vulgarity referring to a contemptible person to describe those who take such action.

But he did not call for protesters to be targeted.

“Demand Hamas to send every hostage back home and surrender,” Mr. Fetterman wrote.

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