Urban Anarchy

New Orleans’ speedy descent from chaos into barbarism is a gut-check warning for all of us.
From the November 2005 Trumpet Print Edition

Two days. That is all it took to loosen a city’s apparently tenuous grip on civility. Two days to create a nightmare of lawlessness.

When Hurricane Katrina veered slightly east just before making landfall, New Orleans natives sighed with relief, believing they had avoided the worst. But then the levees broke and the floods came. Residents who hadn’t evacuated were stranded without electricity, without transportation, without communication, and enclosed by rising toxic waters.

Law enforcement officials turned their attention to search and rescue.

Criminals seized the moment.

First came looting. People smashed their way into evacuated shops and took what they would—not just water and food, but jewelry, small appliances, tvs, computers. They brazenly roamed the streets hauling boxes, trash bags and shopping carts packed with stolen goods. They ransacked casinos, cracking slot machines for change. Most alarmingly, they emptied weapons dealers and pawn shops—even Wal-Marts—of all knives and guns.

Within two days, the city was besieged by thugs and gangs. Arsonists arbitrarily set buildings ablaze.

Many who came to rescue the sick, deliver supplies or restore order found themselves becoming targets: Snipers fired at military helicopters; one shot a policeman in the head; crooks assaulted trucks trying to reach survivors with provisions. The chaos was so violent that beleaguered national guardsmen were given shoot-to-kill orders—against ungovernable American citizens.

Thousands who had sought refuge in the Louisiana Superdome were subjected to trials worse than impersonal gale-force winds. With a handful of police officers and national guardsmen deployed to supervise a horde of 30,000 trapped in increasingly unbearable conditions, anarchy broke loose. Fights erupted with flying fists, blades and firearms. Some sick few saw the mess as an opportunity to beat their fellowman, even to rape and murder.

Each passing hour aggravated the problems. Talk intensified about the sluggishness of government intervention. Emotions flared over the fact that the people most affected were poor blacks; some people began accusing authorities of racism (in the worst-hit neighborhoods, some residents were convinced the government had dynamited the levees to divert floodwaters from “rich” areas to “poor” areas). A hostile mob beat back a crew of 88 policemen that tried to calm them. Some police decided the hassle wasn’t worth it—officers joined in the looting; two committed suicide; some turned in their badges (a week after the storm, close to one third of the 1,600-member nopd force remained unaccounted for). A tourist who asked one policeman for help was told, “Go to h—-, it’s every man for himself.” Such incidents only exacerbated the explosive climate of bitterness, mistrust and anger against all authority.

With the rest of the country and the world watching the unfolding tragedy via the news media, it was clear that Katrina damaged more than just the levees of Pontchartrain and the city canals—it also smashed through the levees of decency and morality.

The worst calamity was not caused by the cruelty of a tempest—but by the harshness of human hearts.

Catastrophes like Katrina always produce stirring acts of heroism. But they also lure the worst elements of human nature from the shadows and expose the ugly underbelly of our culture.

Look squarely at what was uncovered when the floodwaters swept away the top layer of social order within a major American city. The appalling lack of character, the moral depravity on parade there—if only by a criminal fringe—is not an isolated case. It is a symptom.

A Glimpse

It challenges our thinking to conceive that such a state of affairs could occur within our electronic, high-tech world. So it comes as a much greater shock when it actually does occur.

Herein lies the problem.

Few of our political leaders, let alone their constituents, consider the prospect of such catastrophes occurring—not just as one-off events, but as regular phenomena. Yet records show undeniably that natural disasters have accelerated dramatically over the past 15 years.

We must add to this trend the fact that terrorism is common to life in the 21st century. Even if our leaders and the public wake up to, recognize and begin preparing for an intensifying storm of weather disasters, the scenarios that any escalation in terrorist attacks on Western societies conjure up are too much for most to even begin thinking seriously about.

Yet think seriously we must. Now is the time to do so: while the heart-rending images and thoughts remain fresh in our minds of a celebrated American city brought to its knees.

Reflect on what happened there—and on what it tells us about ourselves.

New Orleans gave the world a hint of what wickedness Americans can descend to when plunged into great tribulation.

These are dangerous times. Realistically, city-destroying problems are only going to multiply.

Those evils will soon play out in other cities. Bible prophecy foretells it. We must brace ourselves.

Ripe for Disaster

America is the most affluent nation in world history. Though its consumers comprise 4.5 percent of the world’s populace, they account for 20 percent of global gross domestic product.

Today, the average American home is over 2,300 square feet (compared to 983 square feet in 1950). The U.S. has twice as many shopping centers as it has high schools. It has more registered cars than licensed drivers, and despite high gas prices, the cars are huge: an average of two tons—25 percent bigger than a generation ago. America’s energy needs—per person—are almost double those of Great Britain.

Of course, much of that material prosperity is borrowed. In addition to mortgages and other loans, the average American family owes $8,400 in credit card debt. So glutted on opulence is the American public that, even as quickly as our wealth has increased, it simply has not kept pace with our rising general standard of living!

Americans seem increasingly unable to distinguish luxuries from necessities. We are virtually all, to one degree or another, accustomed to affluence, softened by push-button technology, reliant on the infrastructure of commerce, dependent on openhanded government.

Though not prosperous by American standards, the poor that filled the bowels of New Orleans—as in all our major cities—still embody a culture of dependency and welfare. (Many considered themselves absolutely incapable of vacating the city without the government plucking them up and moving them.) Leaving aside the fact that America’s poor—including its 2-million-strong prison population—are generally wealthier than much of the world’s middle class, the reality is that they are largely habituated to the dole, like children still on the breast.

This is not a race issue. It is, in many ways, a general American cultural issue.

What if the affluence ended?

What if the government checks stopped coming? Or if they became worthless?

What if the convenient food ran out—if Americans by the millions faced boarded-up fast food joints and grocery stores with empty shelves?

What would happen if gasoline first became too expensive to afford—and then too scarce to find?

How much patience would Americans exhibit? For how long would they peacefully suffer such conditions? How well would they work together under the rule of law?

Likely, the vast majority would bear up relatively well. But what about the rest? And how long before the criminals emerged?

Fire in the City

A peculiar prophecy in the book of Ezekiel is worthy of study. God instructed the Prophet Ezekiel to shave off his hair and divide it into equal thirds. The first third he was to burn with fire; the second, he was to strike with a sword; the third, he was to scatter in the wind. This curious ceremony was intended to illustrate the future downfall of America and the modern nations of Israel (for proof of America’s identity as part of biblical Israel, read our free book The United States and Britain in Prophecy).

America’s destruction will happen in three parts. The first third of the population will be burned “with fire in the midst of the city, when the days of the siege are fulfilled” (Ezekiel 5:1-2). The siege is referring to an economic battering by foreign nations (see Deuteronomy 28:52). As America’s economy suffers, unemployment will become epidemic, bringing with it a host of other social ills.

In this climate of increasing want and desperation—as in New Orleans—the layers of social order will begin to erode, particularly “in the midst of the city.” Inner-city criminality will begin to spread—not merely within a single city, but from city to city.

Ezekiel provides more detail about this future drama: “A third part of thee shall die with the pestilence, and with famine shall they be consumed in the midst of thee” (Ezekiel 5:12). Notice that pestilence is mentioned first—it is actually the principal cause of the famine. Pestilence simply means destruction or death; one definition of the root word is “to lay snares, to plot against, to destroy.” It doesn’t necessarily mean a physical disease; it could refer to a plague of violence and burning—terrorist attacks, race riots, any kind of violent bloodshed in the cities.

The fulfillment of this terrifying prophecy began on Sept. 11, 2001, when 3,000 people were murdered by terrorists on U.S. soil. We witnessed its second massive blow in a flooded Louisianan city.

It will end when a mind-numbing 100 million American souls have been snuffed out by violence in the cities.

Plus 20 million Britons. Plus 11 million Canadians. Plus 7 million Australians.

Why will God allow this? Because of the people’s disobedience to Him (verses 5-7; “Jerusalem” is a type of all the nations of Israel, including America). The curses of weak character and poor government, exacerbated by terrorism and other violence, will precipitate America’s downfall because, God says, “Behold, I, even I, am against thee, and will execute judgments in the midst of thee in the sight of the nations” (verse 8).

“Behold I, even I, am against thee.” This statement should strike terror in our hearts. God puts special emphasis on the statement: “Behold I, even I, am against thee.” Concentrate deeply on that: God is against the nations of Israel. They are not up against mere foreign armies; Israel has made the omnipotent God into an enemy! There is no defeating Him! Israel will lose in a spectacular way, because God is bringing it down.

The New Orleans violence is just a type of what will happen to major cities across the nation. It is a stark prophecy of our future!

The spark igniting the violence could be so-called natural disasters or human terror. We have witnessed the results of each over the past five years. The terror of 9/11 was concentrated on two cities, New York and Washington. Katrina’s wrath was reserved largely for one city, New Orleans. Can we even begin to imagine such occurrences happening either at the same time, or in rapid succession, to a multiplicity of heavily populated American cities?

Terrorist attacks, rioting and burning are the main thrust of the pestilence mentioned in Ezekiel 5. And this violence will spread to other Israelite nations—unless people repent!

God will get our attention one way or another.

One Scenario

Try to envision it.

Multiply the compounding effects of one disaster in one major metropolis by two, four, six or ten.

At a moment in the near future, the U.S. economy is in a slump. The dollar is shedding its value. Factories are shutting down. The number of homeless and hopeless grows in the cities. Shipping grinds to a halt as companies close and energy prices climb.

The inner-city poor are hit hardest. Charity efforts are unable to meet demands. Lines form at grocery stores for dwindling supplies of food at rising prices. Some, desperate for sustenance, resort to crime.

Racial tensions and resentment against the government escalate. Police officers are trapped between restoring order and being indicted for discrimination. As more people are victimized, both by economic depression and rising crime, emotions boil over.

The evils of human nature begin to emerge in force. Riots and looting break out in a handful of cities.

And then, within this edgy atmosphere, a crude nuclear bomb is set off in New York or Chicago.

Unlike Hurricane Katrina, this attack provides no opportunity for a mandatory evacuation. Eighteen thousand people are instantly vaporized. Power is out; the sanitation system has been disabled; there is no water; electronic communication from the area dies; information is blacked out; interstates clog with city-dwellers desperate to escape and suffering the first symptoms of radiation sickness.

Emergency units from neighboring states rush in to tend to the untold tens, perhaps hundreds, of thousands who are slowly dying from radiation exposure, straining state and federal crisis management resources to their limits within days. Vast mobs of refugees migrate to neighboring cities.

The ripple effects of the strike further paralyze the country’s already-crippled economy and overtaxed police force. Effects are felt nationwide. Reports emerge of people starving to death in what until recently was the most prosperous nation on Earth.

As disorder mushrooms, government intervention buckles. Urban predators go on the offensive. Gangs take over. Pillaging and rioting increase. Buildings burn in the night. The worse the violence and burning become, the worse the famine gets. The worse the famine becomes, the more intensive the violence gets.

In the midst of the chaos, reports emerge of a spreading sickness. Unsanitary conditions in the city have facilitated an aggressive outbreak of cholera and a particularly deadly influenza virus. People begin dying in dozens, then hundreds. Then, the diseases begin popping up in neighboring cities—spread there by the refugees. A massive quarantine effort is needed, but with local law enforcement at its breaking point and the military already maxed out, only so much can be done. The plague spreads, and with it the crime.

This is only one of a thousand possible scenarios we may soon witness. Independent analysts and federal officials are imagining such eventualities based on observable evidence in order to plan their responses and to mitigate the devastation. But their imaginations simply cannot conceive what actually awaits.

What these individuals don’t realize is that—barring national repentance—these disasters are prophesied to claim the lives of one third of the people within our borders. God’s prophecy will stand. “The sword is without, and the pestilence and the famine within: he that is in the field shall die with the sword; and he that is in the city, famine and pestilence shall devour him” (Ezekiel 7:15). The pestilence—the plague of rioting, terrorist violence and burning—will ravage our cities. People in the country, or field, will die from other causes (verse 24).

The seeds of this future calamity have already been sown.

There is only one solution to this nightmare: Our people must repent and turn to God. If we fail to do that, the suffering is just beginning.

Be Soft

The human mind reels at such prospects.

Naturally we want only to put it out of our minds. We want things to stay as they are. We want to forget about the toxic human nature that rose with the fetid floodwaters in New Orleans.

This forgetfulness causes many people, in spite of a massive death toll mounting before our eyes, to carry on as if everything will work out. It is because of this forgetfulness—which is actually a manifestation of hard-headedness—that Jesus Christ warned specifically, “And take heed to yourselves, lest at any time your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting, and drunkenness, and cares of this life, and so that day”—that is, the period of destruction just ahead of us—“come upon you unawares. For as a snare shall it come on all them that dwell on the face of the whole earth” (Luke 21:34-35).

It is also because of our hardheadedness that this “snare” must be so achingly severe.

“Southern Decadence,” an annual homosexual bash in New Orleans, was scheduled to have kicked off just as the Big Easy’s levees gave way. Rather than cancelling this celebration of sin, however, organizers moved the event to nearby Lafayette. People are already talking about how important it is that next year’s Mardi Gras, the 150th anniversary of the bacchanalia, proceed unhindered. That is not courage. That is audacity.

Apparently, it will take more than one city’s destruction to soften some hearts.

In the shadow of such climatic fury and in the aftermath of such despicable human conduct, the proper response is not defiance. It is quiet contemplation. Self-examination. Introspection. Meekness. Repentance. Spiritual rejuvenation. A fearful looking at the great Creator who permitted, perhaps even unleashed, the tempest—and who witnessed every ugly act that followed.

Take heed to yourselves.

That day should not come upon you unawares; it need not ensnare you. The same great God who is measuring this destruction of America and the nations of Israel also seeks your repentance. And to those who truly turn to Him with supple hearts, He offers individual protection—escape—from the worst of the coming storms (verse 36).

There is purpose in prophecy. In the midst of terrifying and tumultuous events, prophetic warning is nothing less than our Creator reaching out to His creation.

A terrible period of darkness is prophesied to occur. But also prophesied is that within this darkness—shining in a sin-sick and war-weary, increasingly terrorized world—would be a burning light: a bold message calling for repentance and proclaiming, beyond the darkness, the glow of eternal hope.

Luke 21:27-28 declare that hope to the disciples of Jesus Christ: “And then shall they see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh.”