The States Must Be Crazy: Dissent and the Puzzle of Repressive Persistence


  • Christian Davenport
  • Cyanne Loyle University of West Virginia



According to forty years worth of research, dissent always increases repression whereas state coercive behavior has a range of different influences on dissident activity. If the outcome of government action is uncertain, why do authorities continue to apply repression? We explore this “puzzle of repressive persistence” using official records of U.S. government activities against the Republic of New Africa, a Black Nationalist organization active in the late 1960s and early 1970s. In particular, we investigate three proposed answers to the puzzle: repression is effective but in a way not currently considered; repression functions by mechanisms not hitherto considered by quantitative researchers; or those who use repression are not actually interested in eliminating dissent. We find that persistence in this case can be attributed to: 1) a long-term plan to eliminate challengers deemed threatening to the U.S. political-economy and 2) the influence of particular agents of repression engaged in a crusade against Black radicals. Both factors increased the likelihood of continued coercion despite short-term failure; indeed such an outcome actually called for additional repressive action. These insights open up a new area of research for conflict scholars interested in occurrence, persistence and escalation.

Author Biographies

Christian Davenport

Professor of Peace Studies, Political Science and Sociology


Christian Davenport is a Professor of Peace Studies, Political Science & Sociology at the Kroc Institute, University of Notre Dame, Director of the Illustrative Information Interface (III), the Radical Information Project (RIP) and Stop Our States (SOS) as well as Associate Editor of the Journal of Conflict Resolution.  Primary research interests include political conflict (e.g., human rights violations, genocide/politicide, torture, political surveillance, civil war and social movements), measurement, racism and popular culture. He is the author of four books - two solo-authored: State Repression and the Promise of Democratic Peace (2007, Cambridge University Press series in Comparative Politics), and Media Bias, Perspective and State Repression: The Black Panther Party (2010, Cambridge University Press series in Contentious Politics) and two edited: Repression and Mobilization with Carol Mueller and Hank Johnston (University of Minnesota Press.  2004), and Paths to State Repression: Human Rights Violations and Contentious Politics (Rowman & Littlefield, 2000).  Prof. Davenport is the author of numerous articles appearing in the American Political Science Review, the American Sociological Review, the American Journal of Political Science, the Journal of Politics, the Journal of Conflict Resolution, Comparative Political Studies, and the Monthly Review (among others). He is the recipient of numerous grants (e.g., 6 from the National Science Foundation) and awards (e.g., the Russell Sage Foundation Visiting Scholar Award and a Residential Fellowship at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences – Stanford University).  Prof. Davenport is currently working on numerous books including To Kill a Movement: Mobilization, Repression and Demobilization; Toward Never (Again): Ending Genocide or At Least Trying To; In Search of a Number: Rethinking Rwanda, 1994 (with Allan Stam); and, Understanding Untouchability (with numerous authors).  He is also engaged in various projects concerning state-dissident interactions in the United States and Northern Ireland as well as launching his new data entry program – the Illustrative Information Interface or III (  For more information, please refer to the following webpage:


Cyanne Loyle, University of West Virginia


comparative politics; conflict studies; African politics; transitional justice


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Focus: (De)Radicalization