It is said that those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it. With the growing culture of shut-down protesting and the disruptive and dangerous mobs on both sides of the political spectrum, exemplified by Neo-Nazis in Charlottesville and Antifa in Berkeley, public discord in America has reached a fever pitch. To better understand what these groups are and how they operate, we can look to a similar period of unrest and mob violence in ancient history. This is the rise and fall of Milo and Clodius, two Roman political gang leaders whose chaos helped bring about the end of the Roman Republic. Throughout this article, look for analogies to today’s political climate in one of America’s spiritual predecessors.
In 58 BC, Clodius was elected as a tribune of the plebeians in Rome and introduced several pieces of legislation that attempted to strip the conservative faction’s ability to check the reformer’s power in the Senate. Clodius’ greatest victory, however, came through his political victory over his rival Cicero, the extremely popular and moderately conservative ex-consul.
Clodius proposed a bill retroactively targeting Cicero for his actions as consul in 63 BC. The bill passed due to Clodius’ populist support, as well as healthy bribes from the reformers. During Cicero’s trial, mobs of Clodius supporters began harassing Cicero, causing him to flee the city out of fear for his life. When the members of the Senate attempted to overturn Cicero’s banishment, Clodius sent his supporters to harass Pompey, their leader. Clodius had taken control of Rome through mob rule.
In 57 BC, Clodius was no longer in office, which allowed Pompey to organize the return of Cicero to the Senate. However, when the vote was given to the people, Clodius returned with his mob, now illegally armed with swords. Clodius’ men began massacring the people. In this moment, a rival to Clodius finally emerges.
Milo was a popular conservative tribune of the plebeians. In response to Clodius’ violence, he organized and armed his own supporters to meet Clodius’ gang wherever they appeared. Milo organized his mob to allow Cicero to return to Rome. When the bill was passed by the public assembly, Cicero attempted to take revenge on Clodius for his banishment. Clodius responded by attacking Cicero in the streets with his mob. The political violence in Rome was so great, elections had to be postponed. The violence even spread into courtrooms, with Milo and Clodius supporters fighting during trials.
In 54 BC, the rivalry between Milo and Clodius reached its pinnacle. When Milo announced his run for consul, Clodius used his mob to indefinitely postpone elections by threatening public safety. The bodies of those killed in the mob battles lined the streets of Rome. Later, in a chance passing outside Rome, the two gangs fought, and Clodius was killed. His body was returned to Rome, and his mob held a funeral pyre in the Senate building, burning it down. Milo was then prosecuted for the murder and was exiled from Rome the following year.
The rise and fall of these two men draws eerie parallels to America today. Populist politics from both sides of the aisle have given rise to dangerous mobs that disrupt peaceful demonstrations in attempts to silence their enemies and further their agendas. Much like the gangs of Clodius and Milo, extremist groups in the mold of Antifa and Neo-Nazi organizations clash across the country, leaving only destruction, violence and hate in their wake. In Rome, the street violence was only stopped through the implementation of martial law, which led to the fall of the Roman Republic. The precedent of mob violence is set, and unless Americans take a stance against extremist mobs from all across the political spectrum, the writing is on the wall, and it will be only a matter of time until the dye is cast.