Last week, Ashton Hess, a 17-year-old from Illinois, was visiting Seattle with his family when he ran into a rather unwelcome welcoming committee in Capitol Hill. Hess, a Trump supporter, was wearing a MAGA hat, and while he was waiting for a ride outside the Starbucks Roastery on Minor and Pike, his hat was ripped off his head by a couple passing by.
Hess posted video of the encounter online.
“Yes, I know what it says,” Hess said after the hat was knocked off his head. “That’s my property, dude, come on.”
“Get the fuck out of this city,” the person yelled back. “You’re not welcome in this state.”
“That’s really necessary,” Hess responded as the anti-Trump brigade walked away. “I didn’t do anything to you.”
When Hess retrieved his hat, it was covered in spit. His video of the encounter quickly went viral on conservative sites, which like nothing better than to parade intolerance of the left. Hess spoke to KIRO's Dori Monson, and said, “I want to expose the left for what they do. ... We have a First Amendment right to believe in whatever we want, and when that stuff gets out about the left side doing things like that, I do think it hurts them more than it helps them.”
While I don’t agree with Hess’s sartorial choices (red looks good on very few people; MAGA red looks good on no one), he’s got a point. At the same time, Ethan Jackson, the person who allegedly spit on the hat, has been crowing about their victory on Twitter, arguing that combating “fascism with passivism” just doesn’t work.
Ok try fighting facism with pacifism and love and see how that works lmao
— ✯ sweethan ✯ (@3thanshane) July 20, 2018
The thing is, it actually does. In the book, Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict, authors Erica Chenoweth and Maria Stephan cataloged over 300 resistance movements, both violent and non-violent, between 1900 and 2006, and they found that non-violent movements were over twice as effective as violent movements. And this was contrary to Chenoweth’s own expectations. As social psychologist Douglas T. Kenrick laid out in a 2014 blog post, Chenowith “was fairly certain that the violent political campaigns would be more likely to accomplish their goals. But she was wrong.”
As the researchers found, if you want to effect political change (or overthrow a government), non-violence is the more effective route to doing it. This, in part, is because fewer people will participate in violent campaigns, and people are more likely to be turned off by them. It’s also true, according to Chenowith and Stephan, that violent protests are more likely to lead to government violence because forces in power are less likely to fire on civilians than they are groups seen as combatants.
Now, you can argue that knocking the MAGA hat off a teenager isn’t violence, but it still has the effect of making the #Resistance seem violent to outside observers. And who do you think a normie watching the footage on the evening news is going to sympathize with, the teenager with spit dripping down his MAGA hat, or the person who spit on it in the first place?
Still, I understand the impulse to be a dick to Trump supporters. Even though Ashton Hess isn’t old enough to vote, he wore Trump paraphernalia in Seattle’s historically queer neighborhood. If he knew where he was (and the rainbow crosswalks should have given it away), he should have anticipated some kind of confrontation. And maybe he did: Hess didn’t immediately return my request for comment, but from his statement to KIRO ("I want to expose the left for what they do."), it seems fair to assume he knew exactly what reaction that hat would provoke. It was a smart move on his part: The right provokes the left, the left responds, and the right gets to claim oppression when the footage goes viral.
If the goal is to win elections and take power back from Trump and his enablers, grabbing MAGA hats off teenagers is not the way to do it. So while attacking Ashton Hess might have made Ethan Jackson feel good, it did less than nothing to actually help push the MAGA man out of office.