The footage couldn't be more daunting, like something from the wilder edges of Hollywood's dystopian fantasy.
A woman sits at a table and shrinks back in fear. She is cooped up, surrounded by a crowd of masked men and women, their clenched fists raised menacingly in the air.
The rhythmic chants can be heard over and over again: “White silence is violence! No justice, no peace! & # 39; The woman continues to shrink back in her chair. The mob moves in. Some of them lean on their faces. They stand over her with their fists raised, screeching and screaming, and demand that she raise her arm in greeting too.
It goes on and on. Nobody comes to their defense. It's a horrific scene reminiscent of the street scenes in Germany in the spring of 1933 when Nazi thugs demanded that the common people raise their arms to pay homage to Hitler.
But this isn't Germany in 1933, nor is it a revised science fiction vision of the future. It was Washington DC two days ago, one of the great capitals of the Democratic West.
The woman's name was Lauren Victor, and her crime was believed to have been discovered over dinner outside a Washington restaurant. The crowd inevitably consisted of Black Lives Matter protesters roaming the streets of the US capital during their recent demonstrations over alleged police brutality against black Americans.
According to a horrified Washington Post reporter, the mostly white activists tried to force common guests to raise their fists and join in their chants. Miss Victor, a city planner, said no.
Ironically, it turned out that she had marched on Black Lives Matter herself before, but now all she wanted was to have dinner in peace. "It didn't feel right," she said afterwards, adding that she felt "attacked".
That seems like a remarkably understated way. I wonder how many of us in Miss Victor's shoes would display the same grace and courage under such terrible pressure. In almost every detail it's a scene that turns your stomach upside down.
The growl of aggression and ritual chant is nothing new. Even the hysterical, bullying tone of the demonstrators is not.
But the face masks give the episode a deeply eerie feel. So did the ubiquitous camera phones, held as if the demonstrators were taping Miss Victor's non-compliance for a future show trial. In America, the images created well-deserved horror.
Many moderate black leaders were quick to express their condemnation, and even some Black Lives Matter protesters sought to distance themselves.
"This is insane," tweeted award-winning black writer Thomas Chatterton Williams. & # 39; That is cult behavior. This is what a moral panic that is driven by technology looks like. & # 39;
A woman identified as Lauren Victor was surrounded by protesters, fists raised menacingly in the air. They yelled at her and asked that she raise her arm in greeting too
He was right, of course. Yes, black Americans are often severely ill-treated by the US police. and yes, racism in any form is, of course, despicable.
But for weeks it has been evident that the Black Lives Matter movement, regardless of its origins, has become a nihilistic, monomaniac cult. And I would go further.
It is now dangerously close to fascism – perhaps not the same type of fascism practiced by Hitler, Himmler, Goering and Goebbels, but fascism of a particularly eerie kind of the 21st century.
Like all true fascists, the most extreme BLM supporters have a crude, conspiracy theory view of history. They believe that the world is permeated with evil thanks to the machinations of their morally ill opponents.
They believe that through the fires of destruction – the police "defuse", demolish statues, empty museums – humanity can be freed from its original sin.
Like the Nazis, they view the idea of objective truth with contempt and claim that language itself is tainted by the past.
Like the Nazis, they see themselves as victims – although, as the pictures show, all but a handful of activists were no blacker than me.
There's a bleak irony here, of course. As time went on, it became clear that the BLM movement is largely fueled by rich, white, expensively educated left wing college graduates, like the people involved in the Rhodes Must Fall movement in Oxford.
A year ago they marched behind the banner of the Extinction Rebellion. But anti-racism has become their new status symbol, their latest fashion thing.
In their twisted heads, the feeling of victims of these spoiled brats entitles them to do whatever they want to advance their cause. Traditions and customs, the basic rules and conventions of everyday life, are their sworn enemies.
Their sacred cause allows them to break any laws they like. If they pillage and get upset, if they tear down busts and statues, that is perfectly justified. And if they violate social distancing rules in a pandemic, it doesn't matter – because, according to BLM supporters, we are also living in a racism pandemic.
It is of course tempting to pretend this is just a crazy aberration, which is exactly what some people were saying in the 1930s. But we know that is not true.
It's a horrific scene reminiscent of the street scenes in Germany in the spring of 1933 when Nazi thugs demanded that the common people raise their arms to pay homage to Hitler. In the picture, Hitler receives Nazi greetings after a lecture in 1934
Here in Great Britain, too, screaming mobs have taken to the streets, demolished statues and yelled at passers-by. When the Outspoken Mail on Sunday columnist Peter Hitchens saw a BLM protest in Oxford, they mocked and howled at him and even followed him down the street.
No disagreement can be tolerated for the believer in the matter. Doubters and skeptics must be silenced. It is of course true that the anarchists and anti-capitalists are only a tiny minority in the BLM movement.
But like all intolerant, authoritarian minorities, they demand the cooperation of the calm, loose majority. And because so few people want to be called "racists", they often get it.
So the scenes in Washington, shocking as they are, were oppressively familiar. Like Hitler's stormtroopers before them, the demonstrators wanted ordinary guests to raise their fists and join their chants. And so many of them did so in the hope of being left alone.
Here in Britain too, cowardly and stupid people in our major cultural institutions, from the BBC to the National Trust to Oxford University and the British Museum, can hardly wait to meekly conform to the demands of bullies. This is how coercion and cooperation work.
In many ways, these horrific scenes are reminiscent of the world Canadian writer Margaret Atwood created in her disturbing book, The Handmaid & # 39; s Tale.
America has come under the rule of a strange fundamentalist sect in Atwood's novel, which has now become an equally terrifying television series. Doubt and disagreement are brutally punished.
With moral certainty, the perpetrators never doubt that they and they alone stand on the side of justice.
But I'm also impressed by the parallels with George Orwell's terribly prescient book Nineteen Eighty-Four. If you remember, Britain is controlled there by the Thought Police who have erased every trace of our history and demand the total suppression of individual freedom.
Like the BLM protesters, Orwell's Thought Police want to control the language themselves and turn plain English into the jargon known as Newspeak.
"Don't you see that Newspeak's whole goal is to narrow your thinking area?" a character says. "In the end, we will literally make thought crimes impossible because there will be no words in which to express it."
According to a Washington Post reporter, the mostly white activists tried to force common guests to raise their fists and join in their chants
I think that perfectly captures the spirit of today's self-proclaimed Thought Police – the kind of people who sing that "white silence is violence," when it obviously isn't.
It is no exaggeration to say that these self-proclaimed activists will not rest until every museum has been remodeled, every patriotic anthem suppressed, every country house “contextualized”, every employee re-educated, every curriculum rewritten. This is how fascism works too.
There is only one way to stop them. They cannot be appeased because with each concession their appetite grows. We can't ignore them and hope they go away. We also can't follow them and hope that they leave us alone. The only way to beat them is to face them and say, "No."
That brings me back to that video in Washington. Because there is another way of looking at these images that tells a slightly more inspiring story.
It is not the story of the intolerant mob who raged and raged, or the story of the countless passers-by who watched and did nothing. It's the story of Lauren Victor, the woman at the table.
Because even as the new fascists came closer and closer and raised their voices louder and louder, she still said, "No."
Do you remember her, the woman who said "no". Because if scenes like this come to the UK, as they surely will, this is the only way we can beat these bullies.