Should Anyone Ever Kill Anyone Who Violates Stay-at-Home Orders?

That’s primarily a question for Jason Brennan, secondarily for Phil Magness, and as a tertiary matter, for the many people at BHL and elsewhwere, who have given them such eager obeisance on the issue at hand.

Back on April 7, I wrote a post seconding David Potts’s earlier recommendation of an article by Tomas Pueyo. Ignoring the point of my post, and ignoring every other post I’ve written on the subject of police work, criminal procedure, and the enforcement of stay-at-home orders, Brennan seized on one sentence in this passage:

Those who refuse to distance are initiating force against innocent victims. And like it or not, that force must be met with sufficient retaliatory force to stop its initiation. We don’t let bank robbers or rapists rob or rape, whether or not they kill their victims. We don’t even just shame them, and hope they’ll stop. We stop them. If they fight back and resist arrest, we escalate force against them; if they keep resisting, escalating force against police escalations of force, they invite death by engraved invitation, and should unapologetically be obliged.

He then interpreted this passage, somehow, as saying or implying (or something) that Khawaja favored killing people on the spot either for resisting arrest or for simply disobeying the order.

Your guess is as good as mine as to the meaning of the following series of rhetorical questions and free associations*:

He says that if people “fight back and resist arrest,” they should be killed on the spot. Why killed rather than, say, subdued? Isn’t killing an extreme measure to be used as a last resort? Why not try to make them go home, and if they absolutely refuse, issue them a monetary fine and call it a day?

I wonder what Irfan considers “resistance”? Does that include simply ignoring the orders and continuing to do things such sit in one’s car watching the sunset near a California beach?

What does Irfan even have in mind? People already avoid strangers on the street. Strangers don’t interact unless they voluntarily choose to do so. No one is walking up to Irfan and coughing on him.

So, does he mean that if my neighbor has an outdoor party with 20 friends who come over voluntarily, the police should show up and kill anyone who refuses to go home?

I don’t usually play the race card in an argument, but I can’t help musing in this case on the presumption of a white guy lecturing to me about the perils of dealing with the police. He writes here as though I had never been in any of these situations–had never faced armed police officers or soldiers under fraught circumstances, had never been frisked, had never been strip-searched, had never been shot at, had never been detained or incarcerated, had never been interrogated, had never been threatened with a gun, or never had one pointed at me. Or, for that matter, had never been falsely accused of a crime. Actually, all of that has happened to me. It started happening when I was seven, hasn’t let up, and may well follow me to the grave.

So Jason Brennan and his sidekick Phil Magness join a long, illustrious list of white people who are evidently much better at shooting their mouths off than they are at shooting straight–at anything. And I’m sorry to offend anyone by the mention of whiteness here–many of my best friends, and all of my wives have been white–but the sad fact is that every accusation of criminality or brutality or terrorism made against me in four decades has been false, and every one has been made by a white person. People like Brennan and Magness and all of my accusers serve the same shit up over and over, then furrow their brows in consternation when I push back.

In any case, he really didn’t need to ask so many questions. The text in question didn’t require all that much hermeneutical sophistication. I said exactly what I said. Then I clarified it to David Riesbeck in the comments a little while later.  The point all along was this: If someone disobeys a justified order, then resists arrests, then escalates their resistance to arrest, then keeps escalating their resistance, eventually they are inviting the police to shoot them. And if the police do shoot them under the relevant circumstances–at whatever point is sufficient to justify the use of firearms–the “victim” will fully have deserved it. I didn’t specify what that point was. I simply implied that there were circumstances such that in them, the police would be justified in shooting. And I think it’s obvious to most people that such circumstances can take place.

So now let me ask some questions. If Jason Brennan disagrees with the preceding, I’d like to see that disagreement written out in print without subsequent alterations, for the world to see. Is his view literally that the police are never justified in shooting anyone ever, simply because they’re resisting arrest for a stay-at-home order? Is the violation of a stay-at-home order an ad hoc sanctuary from arrest? Or is resistance to arrest never a basis for shooting the resister, even apart from stay-at-home orders, and even if the suspect has a deadly weapon and repeatedly uses it?

Some more questions. Let’s go back to the passage of mine that Jason quoted, and claimed to be commenting on. I’m really curious what he thinks about the actual sentences in it, rather than the view he confabulated and ascribed to it.

I had said:

Those who refuse to distance are initiating force against innocent victims.

Is Brennan’s claim that those who refuse to distance are not initiating force against innocent victims? How then would he characterize what they’re doing?

I had said:

And like it or not, that force must be met with sufficient retaliatory force to stop its initiation.

Does Brennan think that their force should be met with retaliatory force that’s insufficient to stop it? Or does he think no retaliatory force should be used at all? Or does he think that any force used wouldn’t be retaliatory?

I had said:

We don’t let bank robbers or rapists rob or rape, whether or not they kill their victims. We don’t even just shame them, and hope they’ll stop. We stop them.

Brennan disagrees? Brennan has in the past bragged online about his great prowess at fist-fighting. (Yes, really.) Most people would be embarrassed by that sort of thing, but  Brennan is made of sterner, less emotionally intelligent stuff. Would he then like to volunteer to teach cops how to engage in hand-to-hand combat with armed assailants? Even I would pay money to attend such a demonstration. Can’t imagine he’d do it for free.

I had said:

If they fight back and resist arrest, we escalate force against them…

Note that the referent of “they” is rapists and murderers. If a rapist or murderer is being arrested, and resists arrest, is Brennan’s view that force ought not to be escalated against the suspect’s escalation? So if the suspect punches the officer, should the officer turn the other cheek? If the suspect tries to grab the officer’s gun, should the officer offer the suspect his Taser, along with the cloak on his back? Very Christlike. But more than a little stupid.

Last claim of mine:

if they keep resisting, escalating force against police escalations of force, they invite death by engraved invitation, and should unapologetically be obliged.

Brennan disagrees? If a murderer keeps resisting, escalating force against police escalations of force, is there no point at which it’s justified to shoot him? What then is to be done? Nothing? Passive resistance? Surrender? Send the suspect an angry letter?

I’ve read enough of Brennan to know that he loves to prime his readers’ intuition pumps with thought-experiments. In his post, he brags that the thought-experiments discussed in his book When All Else Fails are based on actual events.

Good. So is this one. It’s from the website of Juan Cole, Professor of History at the University of Michigan. As it happens, I didn’t originally hear about it by subscribing to Cole’s site; it was forwarded to me by a Palestinian friend who lives near Hebron, has been on the receiving end of the relevant violence, and has been compiling a list of incidents like this, Cole’s post among them. In other words, this isn’t an isolated incident in the West Bank. This is what life has been like there since the COVID-19 crisis began.

Ann Arbor (Informed Comment) – On Wednesday, a band of 20 Israeli squatters diagnosed with Covid-19, who had been placed in quarantine in their squatter-settlement on Palestinian land in the West Bank’s Ghor Valley, ghoulishly broke out and attacked a nearby Palestinian hamlet. They are members of the violent “Hilltop Youth” extremist group.

The Israeli terrorists, operating in Palestinian territory, burned cars, stoned civilians, and attacked individuals. They beat a young Palestinian woman so badly that she had to be rushed to the emergency room in an Israeli hospital.

Since she has now likely been infected, this injury may be a death sentence, since comorbidity conditions severe enough to require hospitalization would worsen her chance of surviving when she contracts the virus and it attacks her lungs.

Read the whole thing.

So, Jason–what now? You’re a First World philosopher with a big, long, impressive CV and a fancy chaired position at Georgetown. I’m just an obscure lunatic sitting in front of a keyboard and a screen. So you tell me–or rather, tell us: what would you tell my Palestinian friends to do here?

“Subdue” the settlers? How, exactly? What if the attempt to subdue the settlers led to the settlers subduing the would-be subduers? Any thoughts on Plan B?

How about trying to “make them go home,” and imposing a “monetary fine”? Or come to that, imposing a non-monetary fine? Imagine a nearby possible world in which this didn’t quite work. It isn’t hard if you try.

I’m afraid that my dumb Palestinian friends, people with insufficient sophistication to pass one of Brennan’s (dis)enfranchisement exams, would not be impressed with such advice. If they had guns, they’d start by putting holes in the settlers’ heads. But alas, they don’t have guns. So they just have to sit there and be victimized for the nth time in their lives.**

Suppose they called “the police.” Unfortunately, the Palestinian police are unarmed and, by “law,” unable to protect Palestinians against Israeli depredations. But suppose ex hypothesi that the police were armed and had the authority to protect them. Same questions. What should the police do?

Pause here for a digression. When I was co-editor of Reason Papers (back in the summer of 2012), I edited a symposium on Jason Brennan’s The Ethics of Voting. One editorial criticism I made–privately, to Bryan Caplan–was that the book was about voting, but that the contributions to the symposium were exclusively about American politics. Shouldn’t some explicit mention be made of this limitation somewhere in the symposium? Is American politics really a proxy for politics everywhere? Yes, came the confident response from Caplan. The default methodological assumption was and should be that what was true of American politics was true of politics everywhere.

Fine. Who am I to quarrel with such methodological wisdom? So let’s move without further ado from Occupied Palestine to Michigan. The anti-lockdown protesters in Michigan are now carrying guns. They haven’t yet used them, but one of the first things one learns in firearms training is that one doesn’t carry a weapon one doesn’t intend to use. So when I see something like this….

The Associated Press

…I reach immediately for my revolver. Whereupon I discover that I don’t own one, but remember that the police do.

Another heart-warming picture:

Protesters at the  ‘Michiganders Against Excessive Quarantine’ at the Michigan State Capitol in Lansing. Photograph: JEFF KOWALSKY/AFP via Getty Images

I’ve previously written here with admiration about the Malheur protesters, and written semi-sympathetically about their takeover of the Malheur refuge. I simply mention it here to remind readers of the violence involved. Most of us remember Charlottesville. Hard to forget the violence involved there. I’ve also written about the Branch Davidian conflagration at Waco, comparing it, among other things, to the Islamist take-over of the Lal Masjid compound in Islamabad. Plenty of violence in both places. So the specter of violence is not something I’ve conjured up out of the blue.

It turns out that Ammon Bundy, one of the principals of the Malheur protest, has peculiar views on COVID-19, and, with his followers, is now defying stay-at-home orders, and promising violence if his or their “rights” are infringed on:

“If it gets bad enough, and our rights are infringed upon enough, we can physically stand in defense in whatever way we need to,” Mr. Bundy told the meeting. “But we hope we don’t have to get there.”

Yeah, me neither. I wouldn’t exactly call his plans “defensive,” but that’s just me. In any case, Bundy is obviously not deterred by the armed standoff that happened last time he defied the authorities, or by his having been arrested or having to stand trial, or by the fact that one of his comrades was shot dead by the police the last time around.

The preceding incident might give you pause, but then again, you’re probably not Ammon Bundy. He’s willing to do it again. There are a lot of people like this in the world. One discovers them if one ventures past the glorious precincts of the ivory tower.

We all have our views on risk. Here is Ammon Bundy’s:

I also want the flu, the worst strain of it, and I want it as soon as possible. Ideally, it will come wrapped around a case of pneumonia—preferably walking pneumonia, so I can exercise my constitutional right to stretch my legs, but lying-down pneumonia would also do just fine, as I have a right to lie down whenever and wherever I goddam please. Last week, I lay down in the produce aisle at the Safeway in Coeur d’Alene. The floor was kind of hard, but it still felt good to take a load off. And it gave me some time to deliberate about pink grapefruit versus yellow grapefruit; that’s always been a tough one for me. I mean, they both have their advantages—the pink is sweeter, the yellow more invigorating. It’s a matter of taste, of freedom to choose. People looked at me funny as they wheeled their shopping carts along. I don’t blame them—it’s their right to look at me however they want. Just don’t bang into me with your cart, please—I’m a fellow-citizen—and cover your mouth when you cough, will you, Ma’am? That’s just common courtesy.

I’ve lost a lot of friends up here in Idaho, from doing unsafe things together, like playing with live electrical wires in the rain. We always figured we should do those things while we were young instead of waiting until we were old and more easily shocked. Good, red-blooded Americans, every last one of them. I guess in their veins it was blue. Plus, they had white blood cells. All the important colors.

Sometimes, I daydream about getting diagnosed with a really rare disease, maybe a bone disease that no one’s ever heard of. I think that’d be a pretty special development, and I don’t want the government telling me how to go about my business or what I should be doing with my time. I’m a free man, made so by the same God who invented rare bone diseases. See what I mean?


12 thoughts on “Should Anyone Ever Kill Anyone Who Violates Stay-at-Home Orders?

    • Great answer. There’s no genotype for “asshole,” but if there was, you’d definitely have it.

      So can the police ever shoot someone who defies an order, Jason? Or do you just intend to defame me, lecture me about how to deal with the police, and evade that question indefinitely?

      Liked by 1 person

      • You win, Irfan. I hereby agree that your continued obsessive posting about Phil and me does not mean that you are mentally deranged.


        • Yeah, I won this awhile ago. If I’m “mentally deranged,” you just lost a debate to a mentally deranged person. And I’m not done.

          Why don’t you just answer the question in my post? “Vulcans…are self-aware, and only as confident as the evidence allows” (Against Democracy, p. 5). Oh yeah, “self-aware.” That’s Jason Brennan to “T.”

          The evidence is in front of you, Jason, staring you in the face and contradicting every lie you’ve told about me. Have some confidence, like the big, bad, coldly rational-scientific Vulcan you’re supposed to be. Truth is, you don’t sound much like a Vulcan to me. You sound like a fucking idiot who’s told some obvious lies, dished up a lot of obfuscatory bullshit, and pretended to diagnose someone you’ve never met. All in a day’s work, I reckon. Maybe you should carve out another space in your political taxonomy alongside “hooligan” for “fucking idiot,” and regard yourself as a sui generis entry in it. Because no description fits you better.


        • For what it’s worth (not much to some, I suspect), responses like this sure look like a concession that the speaker has lost the argument. I suppose in this instance that wouldn’t be technically correct, because there was never a serious argument in the first place — can’t lose if you don’t play, right?


    • Just looked your picture up, Jason. Congratulations! You sure pass as white! You pass so well, I bet you could get a Klan membership!

      BTW, what is your heritage? In fairness; I’m an American Euromutt: Irish/English/German and rumors of Black Irish (if you know what that refers to).

      sean s.


  1. Here is one answer (maybe or maybe not what Jason has in mind or would endorse): at least in most cases, violating stay-at-home orders or otherwise refusing to participate in a scheme of collective action where, relative to the whole scheme, lives are saved if there is adequate participation, is not like initiating force against someone (or otherwise violating individual boundaries, e.g., by imposing risk of death above a certain level). Such cases of collective rule/norm enforcement for the common good — even when the rules/norms are instrumental in preventing death — should perhaps only be enforced via physical force when adequate levels of compliance do not happen (or are in immediate danger of not happening) and when there is sufficient certainty that super-bad consequences will happen if there is inadequate compliance.

    On this kind of view, if people start playing soccer games in the parks and if this happens to the point of inadequate collective compliance with the rules (no masks, not social distancing, a gathering of more than X number of people) and if we know the results of inadequate collective compliance are really bad (a lot more people die, real danger of hospital system being overwhelmed), then you get permission to (and presumably justification of) clampdown, permission to (and justification of) non-bluffing threat of force by the police (and actual force at the relevant point of escalation in rule-breaker defiance). Of course, in such cases, you still need to specify the conditions under which force is permitted (and justified), but how this is determined will not fit the pattern for enforcing rights-violations, force being permitted due to the initiation of force, etc. But there would also be many cases in which the police should leave people alone (and would not be permitted to escalate to the use of force): maybe when a few people break the rules and play a soccer game, probably when people fail to wear a mask in public (but not in a grocery store or other allowed public gathering) when this has been mandated.

    As a matter of evidence, argument and the appropriate norms of honest debate, I do think that Jason owes you some answers, Irfan. You are quick to personalize, attack, become hostile, call out, etc. — but avowedly and seriously in the name of good evidence and argument, adhering to the norms of paying attention to such in debate. And also in the name of the subject matter being deadly serious. Yours is not my style (to say the least), but there is a certain truth-crazed (justice-crazed, death-is-super-bad-crazed) logic to it and, since your basic lines of argument are clear and credible, I do think you deserve answers (you would not if you were clearly hostile for other reasons or if your hostility, whatever its ground, made you incompetent at paying due attention to good evidence and argument). Paraphrasing Billy Joel: you just may be the lunatic Jason should be looking for. (Of course, I use ‘crazed’ and ‘lunatic’ figuratively, not literally. Not endorsing the inference from being obsessed to being literally mentally ill!)


    • I don’t want to discuss that here. I’m cool with your making a separate post, and our discussing your views there, but I don’t want anyone putting words in Brennan’s mouth, or answering the question for him, or reconstructing the counterfactual argument he should have come up with. I’m more than a little done with interpretive charity at this point. Let him answer the question himself, or not at all. He doesn’t need any help. He’s not just a big boy, but a big shot–to cite another Billy Joel song. It’s time for him to answer for the bullshit he’s been trundling out for the last week or so. He’s got a big fucking mouth, but no arguments to fill the void created when he opens it. I’m happy to have people see that. Anything else muddies the waters.


  2. Sigh. I’ve been commenting to another at BHL that “libertarianism makes the sociopath king.” This story and the replies to it just confirm that in my mind. You have my sincere sympathy, Irfan.

    Let’s be clear about something: the core driver to libertarianism is NOT “freedom”; it’s a sense of entitlement and the sociopath’s disinterest in the welfare of others.

    The Police should NEVER kill someone for violating stay-at-home orders. But if that person resists and escalates that resistance; then the police have to do what they have to do. If the resister ends up dead, well: that’s tragic. Tragedy happens.

    sean s.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for your comment. I guess I wouldn’t take such a severe line on the motivations behind libertarianism. I was more sympathetic to libertarianism than I now am, and know libertarians who are motivated by a genuine desire for freedom. But as a broad sociological matter, the libertarian movement gives sanctuary to a lot of morally challenged people. That said, I’m not sure that that’s really what’s going on here. Brennan’s views are not an example of plumb-line orthodox libertarianism. In some ways, his defects of character are distinctive to him as an individual. They’re not entirely ideological. But he’s widely seen as an asset to “the cause,” which is what explains the sycophants who surround him, and the excuses that otherwise reasonable academics will make for him.

      Yes, the police should never shoot (or kill) anyone for violating stay-at-home orders. I literally cannot conceive a situation in which such a thing could be justified. As I think you’ve figured out–and as I think both Brennan and Magness fully knew–the point I was making was trivially obvious: the police can shoot those who resist arrest, once we reach a certain level of violent resistance. For Brennan to lecture me piously about how police officers often confabulate or provoke the resistance they respond to is the epitome of bad faith. I’ve probably seen it happen far more often than Jason Brennan ever has, and likely ever will.

      The laughable irony is that his book, When All Else Fails: The Ethics of Resistance to the State, has a chapter that discusses “Defensive Ethics: The General Framework.” He drags the reader through examples designed to identify the obvious and non-obvious norms that govern defensive action. On pp. 48-53, he gives “example cases of rightful defensive action.” Lo and behold, some of these cases involve rightful shootings in which people get killed. His point is that the same norms apply to ordinary people as apply to police officers.

      Gee. So wouldn’t it follow that if you just changed all the examples so that the police officer rather than the ordinary person is on the receiving end of the same exact violence described in the “example cases of rightful defensive action,” the police officer is entitled to take the same rightful defensive action as the ordinary person? I think it would. The differences between cases like that and the case I describe are trivial.

      So it’s reasonable to infer that Brennan himself thinks that police officers can sometimes shoot people. Not only does he think this, it’s impossible to believe that in responding to me, he wasn’t fully aware of this very fact. If you’ve read his book, what you see in his BHL critique of me is an attempt to wield the book’s thesis against me while fighting the realization that it won’t work in this case: nothing in my example requires me to deny the book’s thesis. So blathering at me about the book haplessly bounces off what I said. It’s his way of advertising to the world that he knows what he’s talking about. What it really advertises is his skill at deploying red herrings.

      This is what happens when hubristic people start to buy their own bullshit. They get bested in argument by the people they deride as “unhinged.” The more he calls me crazy, the more he underscores the fact that he’s ineptly lost an easy argument to a crazy person. I’m happy to accept a bargain like that.


      • Irfan;

        In my youth I harbored libertarian ideas too. I think the young are walking-talking-living examples of Dunning Kruger.

        I admit it: I was young and stupid once.
        But I’m not young anymore.

        ; )

        Libertarianism’s advocacy of freedom is all well and good; but some libertarians become so focused on their goal that they’ve lost sight of the costs of that goal. That’s not unusual at all.

        I don’t know much about Brennan; so I’ll offer no opinions on him. If he’s surrounded by sycophants; then it’s doubly hard for him to acknowledge error. Adoration makes it difficult to avoid hubris.

        Forced (by ego) to defend the indefensible, people say and do all manner of crazy stuff.

        Carry on. And keep people around you who are eager to give you therapeutic dope-slaps! It sounds like you’ve got that covered.

        sean s.


  3. Pingback: I Call That a Concession–the Best I Ever Had | Policy of Truth

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s