Steven Crowder went to Michigan in search of a stereotype. “I went out here to prove the left for who they truly are, certainly these union thugs,” Crowder told Fox’s Sean Hannity Tuesday night, a few hours after he was assaulted on camera outside the Michigan statehouse in Lansing. In a sense, he succeeded. He found union protesters and one of them clocked him in the face a few times.
Crowder is a conservative standup comedian and Fox News contributor. He calls himself a social/political commentator, which is a highfalutin label for the level of commentary he offers. (“Liberalism is a disease,” his YouTube account explains.) As protests intensified in Lansing after the Michigan legislature’s passage of a pair of right-to-work bills, he waded into a crowd of angry union workers, asking them basic questions about why they opposed right-to-work legislation, according to the videos posted to the Internet.
Crowder was trying to provoke the protesters — or, failing that, to make them look stupid if they couldn’t muster an eloquent response. He was trolling a bunch of angry people who had just lost a battle that could cost them a big chunk of their salary. He irritated the wrong guy and got hit in the face.
Which isn’t to say he deserved what happened, as some people told him on Twitter, or that there’s any excuse for violence. Crowder didn’t invite the punch or return it. But he certainly got what he wanted, which was evidence for the widespread conservative caricature that union members are thugs. (“Union thugs” yields 2.76 million hits on Google.) He got footage of a small group of union workers supporting a stereotype — yanking down an Americans for Prosperity tent, threatening to shoot people, and so on.
Ideologies and the protest movements they give rise to are easy to caricature, and caricatures serve a political purpose. Promoting the stereotype that union members are thuggish is the right’s way of demonizing a group they ideologically oppose. So when Crowder tells Hannity that he “never went out here to try and be assaulted,” he’s surely telling the truth. He probably never imagined his trolling would work quite so well.