November 19, 2021

Strategic Violence


Previously: electoral logic of violence

Today: violence for power consolidation

  • Wilmington Riot
  • Power Consolidation vs Electoral Gain
    • difference in motives?
    • difference in opportunities?
    • difference in techniques?
  • Evidence on Lynching in the United States


Wilmington Race Riot

1898 Racial Violence in North Carolina:

  • 21 years after “end” of Reconstruction, return of whites to power in the South

While you watch, compare this to electoral logic of ethnic violence we discussed earlier this week:

  • how are motives for violence similar/different?
  • how are opportunities for violence similar/different?
  • how are techniques for violence similar/different?

Wilmington Race Riot

Discuss with your neighbors: compared to the electoral logic of ethnic violence in India we discussed earlier this week:

  • how are motives for violence similar/different?
  • how are opportunities for violence similar/different?
  • how are techniques for violence similar/different?

Power Consolidation

Comparison: Motives

Electoral logic: politicians/parties interested in winning office.

  • use of ethnic violence is cynical tactic to win support of voters
  • goal is to win next election, no agenda to end elections/change the rules
  • violence “works” by unifying ethnic group around ethnic party

Power consolidation: politicians/parties have specific policy goals (group dominance, or non-ethnic policy around e.g. economy, tax rates)

  • use of violence is tactic to secure policy goals, efforts to change the rules
  • violence “works” by intimidating/disempowering outgroup (as an end in itself)
  • violence “works” by unifying ethnic group, to attain policy goals

Comparison: Motives

Electoral logic

  • only worth it just before an election
  • violence always informal
  • primarily aimed at shifting voters preferences

Power consolidation

  • violence may be useful before or after election to overturn/undo results.
  • violence may be formalized (into violence that constitutes boundaries) with rule changes
  • often aimed at intimidating “wrong” voters

Comparison: Opportunity

electoral logic:

  • parties exploit existing organizational networks

power consolidation:

  • parties exploit existing organizational networks
  • need cooperation from the state (or insurgent organizations)


Race in the US

Before Wilmington Riot, similar events took place in 1870s:

  • so-called “Redeemers” violently repressed black voters, overthrew elected legislatures/governors in the 1870s.
  • E.g. In Louisiana, laid siege to state capital building.

Epperly et al (2020)

Epperly et al (2020) examine whether racial violence was used for power consolidation more broadly in the US:

White Southern elites were interested in either or both policy goals

  • white supremacy
  • limiting progressive economic policies (taxation, workers rights)

violence is strategically useful to

  • inhibit black political power
  • prevent biracial political coalitions that enact progressive economic reforms

Epperly et al (2020)

Different forms of violence available

lynching/mob violence

  • could unify whites (if mob is large), intimidate African Americans
  • but costly: arouse national attention, federal civil rights enforcement
  • inefficient: sporadic, requiring collective action and coordination

legal system

  • could legally bar most African Americans from voting
  • violence is less visible
  • efficient: enforced by state agencies, easier to coordinate

Epperly et al (2020)

If lynching served as a form of power consolidation, then

  1. should expect lynching to follow electoral logic when Jim Crow laws not in force
    • lynchings nearer in time to elections
    • lynchings when bi-racial coalitions are powerful
  2. should expect lynching to no longer follow electoral logic once Jim Crow laws in effect
    • lynching no longer needed to take power; legal institutions replace it as form of power consolidation

Epperly et al (2020)

Comparing counties within the same former slave states with

  • similar proportion black population
  • similar dependence on cotton production
  • in the same year…

before Jim Crow (black lines)

during Jim Crow (gray lines), flat… no electoral logic


Back to Wilmington

Unresolved questions:

  • Why attack Wilmington after electoral defeat of Fusion government?
  • What is the purpose of extensive media coverage invoking racist fears?
  • Why hide the history of this event?

Back to Wilmington

Hints at an answer to Wednesday’s question: why do “followers follow” ethnic elites who manipulate votes using violence?

Ethnic violence is often accompanied by messages that:

  • provide “facts”, narratives, and arguments that justify and encourage violence
    • highlight threat to moral relationship
    • signal support for violence


Power Consolidation motives for violence:

  • involve policy goals (including ethnic hierarchy)
  • willingness to change the rules
  • may transition from “violence that transforms boundary” to “violence constitutive of boundary”