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Behind a made-for-TV Hong Kong protest narrative, Washington is backing nativism and mob violence

Hong Kong’s increasingly xenophobic protests are devolving into chaos with help from US government regime-change outfits and a right-wing local media tycoon with close ties to hardliners in Washington.

by Dan Cohen

Part 5 - From the “Marginal Violence Theory” to the mob violence reality

After the extradition law was scrapped, the protests moved into a more aggressive phase, launching “hit and run attacks” against government targets, erecting roadblocks, besieging police stations, and generally embracing the extreme modalities put on display during US-backed regime-change operations from Ukraine to Venezuela to Nicaragua. 

The techniques clearly reflected the training many activists have received from Western soft-power outfits. But they also bore the mark of Jimmy Lai’s media operation.

In addition to the vast sums Lai spent on political parties directly involved in the protests, his media group created an animated video “showing how to resist police in case force was used to disperse people in a mass protest.” 

While dumping money into the Hong Kong’s pro-US political camp in 2013, Lai traveled to Taiwan for a secret roundtable consultation with Shih Ming-teh, a key figure in Taiwan’s social movement that forced then-president Chen Shui-bian to resign in 2008. Shih reportedly instructed Lai on non-violent tactics to bring the government to heel, emphasizing the importance of a commitment to go to jail.

According to journalist Peter Lee, “Shih supposedly gave Lai advice on putting students, young girls, and mothers with children in the vanguard of the street protests, in order to attract the support of the international community and press, and to sustain the movement with continual activities to keep it dynamic and fresh.” Lai reportedly turned off his recording device during multiple sections of Shih’s tutorial.

One protester explained to the New York Times how the movement attempted to embrace a strategy called, “Marginal Violence Theory”: By using “mild force” to provoke security services into attacking the protesters, the protesters aimed to shift international sympathy away from the state.

But as the protest movement intensifies, its rank-and-file are doing away with tactical restraint and lashing out at their targets with full fury. They have thrown molotov cocktails into intersections to block traffic; attacked vehicles and their drivers for attempting to break through roadblocks; beaten opponents with truncheons; attacked a wounded man with a US flag; menaced a reporter into deleting her photos; kidnapped and beat a journalist senseless; beat a mainland traveler unconscious and prevented paramedics from reaching the victim; and hurled petrol bombs at police officers.

The charged atmosphere has provided a shot in the arm to Lai’s media empire, which had been suffering heavy losses since the last round of national protests in 2014. After the mass marches against the extradition bill on June 9, which Lai’s Apple Daily aggressively promoted, his Next Digital doubled in value, according to Eji Insight.

Meanwhile, the protest leaders show no sign of backing down. Nathan Law, the youth activist celebrated in Washington and photographed meeting with US officials in Hong Kong, took to Twitter to urge his peers to soldier on: “We have to persist and keep the faith no matter how devastated the reality seems to be,” he wrote. 

Law was tweeting from New Haven, Connecticut, where he was enrolled with a full scholarship at Yale University. While the young activist basked in the adulation of his US patrons thousands of miles from the chaos he helped spark, a movement that defined itself as a “leaderless resistance” forged ahead back home.

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