This week’s protests on college campuses nationwide are a fairly tame reminder of more serious and toxic protests and demonstrations I have experienced as a federal prosecutor, as a lawyer and as a citizen. One of the benefits of age and experience is the ability to rate current events when compared to those of the past.

So viewed, this week’s happenings are very thin soup indeed. Try to tell that to the protesters most of whom believe that they are reinventing the wheel! In comparison to demonstrations in the past in volume, intensity and consequences what I am seeing now is less intense and less consequential even if activities at the affected schools are curtailed.

But today’s protests have a highly significant component that those in the past did not: corrosive, virulent antisemitism.

Protests in this country fall into several categories, some falling into more than one: civil rights; gross injustice arising from police excess and brutality; foreign wars; political disputes; and sexual identity and acceptance.

In my experience, protests do not just happen. They are organized and financed by persons and groups desiring a particular outcome with the actual protesters “useful idiots,” for the most part. The protests themselves are performative with chants, placards, and other paraphernalia supplied by organizers designed for maximum television exposure. The cablenets, on which the current crop of electeds grew up, prize yelling, anger and threats, qualities that these current electeds bring to the bodies in which they serve. Mindless hollering by “both sides” is the order of the day. (See Sen. Everett Dirksen to learn how it used to be.)

As a prosecutor, I witnessed protests against the Vietnam war and how they were handled by my boss, United States Attorney Robert M. Morgenthau. He had the judgment to know what was important and what was not.

When a group of Vietnam protesters chained themselves to the columns of the U.S. Courthouse at Foley Square, the Southern District’s United States Marshal asked Morgenthau what enforcement action he should take, Morgenthau told him, “None.”

“They will have to go to the bathroom at some point,” he said.

But not all protests in that era were so benign and when they weren’t, action was taken. A group of Vietnam protesters, some of whom were clergy, broke into a draft board office in Baltimore and poured animal blood on selective service records yielding an indictment and
subsequent conviction in a case brought by United States Attorney Stephen H. Sachs. In his summation he explained to the jury that sincerely held beliefs do not justify criminality. The jury agreed.

This week’s campus protests are pro-Hamas antisemitic demonstrations against the war in Gaza, using the deplorable suffering of Gazans to slam Israel and Jews. These are initiated and financed by pro-Hamas groups but the protests’ participants believe that they are acting solely to alleviate innocents’ suffering. As a reminder, Hamas is a death cult, vowing to kill all Jews all over the world, a murderous antisemitism.

Protests based on police behavior are not spontaneous either. Notice that the same one or two lawyers seem to represent every widow or grieving parents, with Rev. Al Sharpton appearing at their side. The police perps are evil and vile but the crowds are fueling rich civil settlements, not stopping bad cops.

Campus unrest today is not helped by inexperienced college presidents and trustees. They are flailing because they never saw a campus demonstration and were in grade school during Vietnam.

College students are kids growing up. Protests and demonstrations are just part of that process.