Merced Prisoner Hunger Strikes | Eric King Trial Ends

Merced Prisoner Hunger Strikes | Eric King Trial Ends

This week’s episode has two audio segments…

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Merced County Prisoner Hunger Strikes

This week, you’ll hear a chat with California-based activist Victoria from Merced Under Construction, who talks to us about the prisoner hunger strikes at Merced County Jail and John Latorraca Center. Over 40 prisoners engaged in hunger strike for 17 days, fighting for issues like protesting black mold, little food, lack of visitation and other issues. The hunger strike ended Saturday, March 28th, despite the disrespect of the jail administration. You can learn more about how to support and keep up on https://linktr.ee/mercedunderconstruction or MIRA’s facebook page

You can find coverage of the 2016 Merced Jail protests, check out ItsGoingDown.Org

Eric King Trial Ends

Then, you’ll hear from Josh from the Certain Days Calendar and Mookie from the Civil Liberties Defense Center do an update on a roundup of the recent trial of Eric King. Eric was found innocent on charges of assaulting a Federal Bureau of Prisons Lieutenant, a charge that would have added another 20 years to his time in prison, thankfully. More on his case at SupportEricKing.Org, more on Certain Days at CertainDays.Org and the CLDC at CLDC.org

Eric King links:

CLDC links:

Certain Days interviews:

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Featured Tracks:

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Transcription (Merced County Hunger Strike)

Victoria Espinoza: Alright, great. My name is Victoria Espinoza, and identify as a Child of God. I’m born and raised in Merced, California, and I’m the founder of Merced Under Construction.

TFSR: And could you tell us a bit about where Merced County is? What listeners should know about the county? The economy, who lives there, what it looks like, that sort of stuff?

VS: Well, Merced, man, not a lot of people know where Merced is. When they hear Central Valley. They’re like, “what is that?” They think of like Bay Area, LA, when you think of California. But we are literally the central of the state of California, like the Central Valley area in between Fresno and Modesto, or Stanislaus and Fresno County. Our city slogan is “we are the gateway to Yosemite.” And, you know, we boast about it, or the city does at least. But nearly 25% of our population is living in poverty. So it’s predominantly white, Latino, like Hispanic, Mexican, indigenous folks living here with some other races mixed in. We have like, less than 4% Black folks, we do have a very strong Hmong community here and a lot of other different nationalities, race that are here.

TFSR: And for like, as far as, you mentioned, 25% of the population living in poverty, what are the sort of industries that people are involved in? Is it agriculture? Since we’re gonna be talking about prisons, I’m sure that prisons, and police and military are like big employers for parts of the population.

VS: Yeah, so we are a very large agriculture community. So we do have a lot of farm workers. We have a lot in many of our cities and our outskirts as well and unincorporated areas. So that is one thing that we do have strong here in Merced is the ag. We have some industry, industrial stuff, but mainly we’re known for agriculture, honestly. We do have UC Merced, last university that’s been built in. They’re building on that. UC Merced is growing, obviously. So we are seeing some of that, some things that are happening in our community, with rent controls not happening, people are getting pushed out and it’s not the Merced that it used to be 10 years ago, definitely.

TFSR: I guess I do want to ask some questions about Merced Under Construction later and imagine that that’s, like, gentrification and issues like that are being engaged with that group. Is that right?

VS: Yes.

TFSR: Jumping off into the main topic, though. So we’re speaking because there’s been hunger strikes among incarcerated folks at the jails in the county. Can you talk a bit about the conditions at Merced County Jail, and also at the John Latorraca excuse me…

VS: John Latorraca, you said it right. It has a nickname called Sandy Mush? I don’t even know that nickname comes from, but it’s its nickname.

TFSR: Yeah, what’s been up with the hunger strike? Can you talk a little bit about what sparked it? And how many folks are participating and sort of like the basic stuff on that?

VS: Yeah, so the last count that we had, it was about 44, initially, but since then, we’ve had people probably come out and people probably go in. So I haven’t got an accurate count as to how many that could be from the initial start of the strike. Yesterday marked day 17. I haven’t heard from anybody since noontime yesterday, so I’m hoping privileges were not taken. But they were dealing with a ton. A ton of stuff going on, black mold in the housing units and that’s impacting health, not being given hot meals, even hot water, just simple basic human asks, just necessities to live on.

The grievances for these things that there were issues in administration, they were being ignored, or they’re getting vague responses, that whole system had failed. Losing mail, incoming and outgoing was already a problem before the pandemic. And since the pandemic had started it became even worse. Since they had their visitations taken for over two years with the excuse of the pandemic, and weren’t offered any other means, the mail and the phones became a vital lifeline. Those were basically stolen from them.

That has impacted them in negative ways. I mean, their mental health, inability to make appropriate decisions. So many people that were in the facility the past two plus years were taking deals just to get out of the jails here so they could go to a prison that offers visitation, and that is crazy. That’s like people at there last, at their wit’s end, like “I’m gonna take a deal just so I could get out of here because this is like living hell.” That was a serious thing.

Being discriminated against based on their housing status, the jail uniforms that impacts them when they’re before a judge or the district attorney. A lot of these same asks were things that we saw from the 2016 prison strikes that Merced county jails were also a part of, and it’s nearly six years later, and not much has changed. It’s just kind of kind of crazy. They were on day 17 as of yesterday, and they were in negotiation. So the agreement was actually yesterday for them to end their strike. They were supposed to end it with the hot breakfast, have their hot water.

But then the morning came, and we ran into issues with the staff. They began to be hostile towards them. And when meals came around, they didn’t bring them anything, they didn’t even bring them cold food, they didn’t bring them anything that did not bring them hot water. They were just being cold. When I think about it, it was just evil towards them. So they basically went through all these negotiations for what purpose? They were with the Sheriff’s corrections, they had agreed to this on day 17, that it would break in the morning on these conditions. Those two basic conditions weren’t even met.

So they weren’t accepting any meals from the admin. They weren’t doing any movements at all. So that means their yard time and they’re getting maybe two or three hours a week, if that. Anyway, they weren’t accepting court movements. They weren’t even seeing their attorneys for meetings. They basically weren’t doing anything, any medical, anything like that, they were basically saying, “I’m not moving, I’m not eating until you guys change some stuff.” And the negotiations after noon time yesterday, they said that they had pulled some folks out. We were doing some phones zaps for them on their behalf yesterday to all the jail facilities and the Board of Supervisors. They did pull some of them out to have more talks. But after that, it’s been radio silence. So I’m hoping everything’s going okay.

TFSR: That sounds like a terrible flex, kind of authoritarian flex, that places like jails and the kind of people that staff them would make. When you’re mentioning people taking deals just so they can go to prison, are a lot of the people that are there and who are participating in this in pretrial conditions right now just sort of awaiting their day in court? And also people who’ve gotten county charges who are being held there, too?

VS: Yeah, we do have some people that serve sentences here locally. I think if it’s under two years, one year. It’s at the discretion of our county facility if they want to house somebody for their time, or if they’re going to send them to state prison. They have that ability. But most of the folks that are here are pretrial detainees, so they haven’t yet been convicted of a crime. Some of these are not sight-and-release offenses with the whole bail reform law. Some of these people are sitting in there on bale-able offenses, but yet they don’t have the funds to make that happen.

TFSR: It’s so so inhumane that you expect someone to be able to put their life on hold and also not be able to necessarily access the means to build a defense for themselves because they’re worrying about how their family is doing on the outside. They’re just kind of waiting until the courts have enough time to see them.

You’d mentioned the uniforms too. And I know that in the demands, there was a statement about how the uniforms that were being assigned to people weren’t necessarily respective to like security threat group status that people were in. I know that even the STG [Security Threat Group] type thing, saying that someone’s in a gang or whatever isn’t always applied according to someone’s actual participation in a criminal organization. But can you say a little bit about people’s experience of the of the issue of the uniforms and what that means for access to programs or to things like ability to research in the library? Not that there probably is a library, but you know what I mean?

VS: Yeah, I think a lot of it… the people that are more impacted by this whole uniform thing, are predominantly brown, Latino, hispanic, Mexican, indigenous individuals, because they separate them by the two gang classifications, Norteños and Sureños. Pretty much everybody else gets housed as general population when it comes to the maximum security facility of the Merced County Jail. But mainly these folks are the southern, northern, or the red and the blue, however the classification deems it. They separate them, and since Merced County unfortunately operates on LA County’s informal gang injunction model, a lot of people come into our jails are impacted and being labeled gang members based on familial association, based on where they live. They might live next to somebody that’s a documented or validated gang member. So they get housed, and they say it’s for their safety to house them this way, but then we have people that are not from any of these origins, being classified like this.

So when they go to court, and you see the northern, Norteño, classifications, they’re in green and white stripes, the southern are in a blue and white stripe. And so that takes a big toll on them, when they’re going through the whole process, how the district attorney is looking at them, how the judges are looking at them, and the bias that comes with that. This has been going on for a long time with this facility. We know that other jails, like in Stanislaus County, have a different system. Basically, people are housed as general population, just like they do in prisons, everybody’s pretty much housed together, and they know how to separate folks.

So that’s what the sheriff’s corrections here in Merced, were talking about introducing a bracelet system. But they’ve talked about this before back in 2016 and no changes have been made. So that’s a problem for a lot of people, especially when they’re going through this whole unfortunate situation, with being incarcerated, being labeled as a “gang member” even if they’ve never even been a part of that lifestyle. It’s pretty disgusting that that’s been going on for so many decades. This has been happening for a long time in this community.

TFSR: Do you have a sense of if they are just gonna keep going as long as they can go with it?

VS: So right now, so what they were doing, they were refusing all admin meals, and basically attempting to survive minimally off what they could get on commissary. Commissary is trash. It’s a lot of things that are not even acceptable for the human body. And these are things that people are forced to buy because they’re not getting proper nutrition from the food that they’re getting from the facility itself. The food, they were protesting, part of the strike was protesting the inadequate conditions of the food and improper nutrition. I mean, people’s health being impacted. They’ve been in there for a few months and we got folks losing teeth. I mean, that that’s how bad it is.

So that was pretty much what they were doing, refusing all admin meals. Because they weren’t even getting hot meals like they should have been. At least two hot meals a day. It’s the minimum. They weren’t getting that for so long. And that’s pretty much what they were refusing. It was affecting a lot of them. I mean, yesterday was day 17. They were in the negotiations ready to say, “All right, we will accept if we get a hot meal. Like it’s been a long time since we’ve had a hot meal.” I can’t imagine going 17 days without a hot meal or even hot water. That’s just like the basic things that you need. Right? That was the other thing, is the hot water, being able to have hot water.

TFSR: So there’s the cruelty of not offering these things. You mentioned that administration had made the agreement that after 17 days, they would offer them a warm meal and hot water and they refused that. How have they been expressing themselves and their reasoning for continuing to treat people in this manner in the media? Because I’m sure that they’ve been making statements, the media has been reproducing right?

VS: Yeah, well, initially, the Merced Sun Star had wrote an article, again, without interviewing any detainees or inmates, and without reaching out and speaking to any of the loved ones, or anybody that was involved in the organizing around the strike out here. They interviewed the Sheriff’s Department. Basically, they were just talking about how they’re supposedly meeting and in negotiations with these asks of the detainees and the inmates. Which was not true at that point. So we had sent out a media advisory, challenging, to show us to tell us exactly what’s being done, because the public has a right to know. Public state funds or whatever is being used to fund that facility and all the things that are happening in there.

So I mean, they’re going to paint their own narrative. That’s basically what they’re going to do and they’re going to do that time and time again, I don’t think that’s going to change. But when they were in negotiations and they had clearly stated, “Okay, we will break our strike on day 17 when we get our hot breakfast and our hot water.” At about five, six o’clock, when they’re usually taking out the trays, they came around, nothing came. Not even cold food. Then when they were trying to communicate with the correctional staff, they were being treated hostilely. They were basically taunting, saying, “Yeah, your hot water is out here. But we’re not going to bring it to you.” Well how are they going to go and get it? How are they going to go and get that water? It’s out there. But we’re not bringing it to you. I mean, that type of behavior, it’s just unnecessary.

So yeah, you’re right, it was just kind of like that flex, “we can pretty much continue to do what we want,” kind of thing. They were reaching out to us. So we started, we had put out posts and numbers for phone zaps to try to get something. Then after a couple of hours, they pulled some folks out, to have more communications with them. But that was around noon time yesterday. And again, like I said, we haven’t heard anything from inside as of now.

TFSR: So yeah, as far as the public needing to know about this and you mentioned the taxpayer money and such. But also all the people that are in there, almost everyone is going to have people on the outside who care about them. I’m sure a lot of the people, not just people who have an idea that this is a wrong circumstance, but they have a personal care for loved ones that are stuck behind these bars. How is the outside engagement, then, as far as you could tell, in terms of organizing, communicating, offering support to loved ones, participating in the phone zaps, or showing up in person?

VS: Oh, yeah, I mean, for instance the rally that we had on the 21st, the turnout was low. We had less than 12, like 12 people total. A lot of that right now has to do with the inmates and the loved ones, they’re concerned with the possibility of retaliation, and also the risk of even advocating for somebody, out here, that’s in there, people that are labeled as “gang members,” you run the risk of being labeled a gang member yourself. I mean, and that’s a consequence, that many folks that are impacted face. I might even be labeled as a gang member, because according to a loved one that I had, that was inside the facility, just recently, the end of last year, they were taken out by classifications and asked questions about myself about “we know she’s a gang member, who does she run with?” and these type of things.

I know that this facility has blocked my phone number so that folks in there can no longer reach out to me. That’s unfortunate, because I didn’t know about the hunger strike, actually, until day 10. Somebody from the family members in there had to find me, and search for me, in order to make the connection because I didn’t know my number had been blocked from the facility itself. So I mean, that’s another thing. Folks trying to organize in there trying to reach out for help and they’re literally blocking their means of a lifeline from within the Merced County Jails, for whatever reason. I don’t know why.

That’s pretty much what we’re seeing. There are people in there that don’t have anyone. So we have people in there reaching out, because they need funds, they don’t have any funds for personal care, or to get anything from the commissary line. And it becomes a community within the facility when you have people like that that are indigent, and they should be able to utilize the welfare funds. And when they utilize the welfare funds, when they do get commissary on their book, then all of a sudden, the staff comes and takes that for anytime they went to the doctor, anytime they got a mail package for the one month, what are those four or five dollars if they’ve been in there for a year. Then somebody puts $50, $100 on their books, and all of a sudden administration comes and says, “Oh, you owe us this money,” and then they snatch it. So that’s kind of a problem as well, for those people that are impacted in that way. They don’t have loved ones out here at all.

TFSR: So, if the administration takes the tack of separating people, according to ostensible gang certifications, or whatever, putting them in these different uniforms, have people been able to, despite that, organize across these lines with each other for the hunger strike and the common understanding that we’re all suffering under this?

VS: Yeah, I have seen that this time around as well, that people were joining in solidarity within the facility itself. But yet, it’s just very hard to try to make those connections inside the facility. The Merced County Jail is the maximum security facility. So it’s heavily segregated. But people were still in solidarity with that, trying to say, “hey, we’re having the same issues, let’s join together, let’s band together.” So that was one thing that they were doing in there to try to show them “hey, we don’t have to be segregated, we don’t have to be labeled like this, and we don’t have to work different uniforms. We could be housed together, we can even organize together inside of the facility for change.”

TFSR: Is anyone on the outside raising the alarm, obviously, black mold is a health issue that that is on the books that black mold can cause mental issues, it can cause lung issues, quite obviously. And, not getting your caloric value or your intake of calories every day can also cause mental anguish, as well as starvation basically. Have there been anyone successfully being able to raise concerns about the demands of the folks inside of these two jail from a legal standpoint saying, “this doesn’t follow the California requirements for how a county jail operates?” Has that been a direction that’s been helpful at all?

VS: We haven’t had any support in that area. And I’ve reached out and it just seems like they’re not. I’ve reached out to ACLU, I’ve reached out to other firms for prisoners rights, and a lot of these places, they’re not based near our area and so they just say, “we don’t have anybody that can cover” or, “we’re at our capacity.” So we haven’t seen any relief in that way. But I’m gonna hopefully be getting together with some folks in the next week to draft something up, because we want to have an external review and investigation because I don’t think our Merced County Grand Jury is doing a good enough job, because they’ve seen these conditions for a number of years and they haven’t enforced any type of action to make them correct it on a permanent status. So we’re gonna have to look to like OGI or OIG, whatever the that external government entity that’s over our prisons and our jails is going to have to come and put eyes on this.

TFSR: I See. So could you talk a little bit about MIRA and about Merced Under Construction, who’s getting involved, and what the groups are about, and talk about the difficulties or any difficulties or wins that you’ve seen with those groups?

VS: Oh, awesome. So MIRA, was actually Merced Inmates Rights Association and it is the page that’s ran by the loved ones of the current detainees and inmates of the Merced county jails and the John Latorraca Jail. It’s pretty awesome, and they’re new to all of this stuff. But they’re so passionate and driven to bring awareness. And that’s kind of where I fit in. I’ve been a directly impacted person, right? It’s kind of how Mercer Under Construction all came together.

Right now, we’re just looking for support. Merced Under Construction isn’t officially an org or anything like that. I’m actually, we’re opposed to the whole nonprofit industrial complex. So we’re really looking to folks, to keep it really grassroots and centered around real people, and being able to find funding for the work and whatnot. Hopefully, we can start doing that here pretty soon. But that’s basically what we’re doing. We’re just centered around incarceration, and the impacts of that on people in their families, a lot of work around police accountability, and creating opportunities for formerly incarcerated folks and their families. One of the pillars is to definitely to reach out to the children that are impacted by it as well.

TFSR: Can you talk a little bit about the name Merced Under Construction? Does it concern that the community is not completed? It’s not done? We’re still building it as we go? Or is it more of a like, “there’s money coming in for development projects, we need to make sure that those developments are actually supporting the people that already live here as opposed to larger entities?”

VS: It’s a little bit of both and the fact that we’re just never done. There’s so much work to be done. When we have developers, and we have businesses looking at Merced to build, and we have more and more funding going into suppression and first-responding in our community. Yet, we still have youth that are being impacted, joblessness, homelessness, houslessness, and people that are struggling trying to stretch a food stamp, people that are just falling through the cracks. I just feel like it’s always gonna be undone until we can finally bring that awareness and bring folks together, have this accountability, and figure out where the money is going. Because some of these funds that they’re they’re getting, like the COVID-19 funding, and all the extra grants and stuff that they get for every arrest that they can deem a gang related arrest, or an incarceration they can deem gang related, they’re getting federal and state fund grants on top of that. So is that a reason? Merced is just always under construction.

TFSR: Kind of like a side note, I did Cop Watch when I was living in Sonoma County. This is like the mid 2000s, and we were seeing that the local Gang Task Force, which was made up to some degree, it did have California Highway Patrol participation, but also it’s mostly the county that was coordinating with local police departments. They would all kind of joined together under the auspices of gang issues, would set up checkpoints. They would also get Driving Under the Influence, like federal anti DUI funding, to set up checkpoints in immigrant neighborhoods where people maybe didn’t have the papers for the car that they were driving because they were sharing it among multiple families, or maybe they didn’t have a license because they weren’t legally allowed to because they were undocumented. Just getting the money to go and set up there under the auspices of gangs, or DUIs nowhere near a bar, and taking people’s vehicles who were absolutely being marginalized by capitalism and white supremacy, and selling those and funding their own department out of that. That sounds kind of like it’s par for the course for California’s policing systems.

VS: Yeah. There’s so many. There’s the minor decoy program grants that they get. There’s just so many little things and it’s all fruit of the poisonous tree, in my opinion. It doesn’t really impact anything like what you’re talking about, the DUIs, and the minor decoy. These little grants get a ton of money. but yet, in my community, violent crime is up, murder is up, rapes are up, child murder… We just had a little girl that was killed in our community, her body was found. Nine years old, Sophia Mason, a beautiful black child. These types of crimes are happening. But they’re putting money into checkpoints. They’re putting money into seeing if anybody’s gonna buy a minor alcohol or cigarettes. But we have some dark, unnecessary crime rising here. My mind is blown. Home invasions are up, it’s just crazy. We’re a very small community compared on the scale of the state of California, Merced County is tiny. We’re very small. So again, it just doesn’t make any sense to me at all whatsoever.

TFSR: Well, how can listeners find out more about the strike and support it from where they’re at? Maybe not locally? Or if or locally? If you have some suggestions?

VS: Oh, definitely awesome. So we will continue posting on the MIRA page, the Merced Inmate Rights Association page, and the Merced Under Construction Instagram and Facebook page. But like I said, we’re unofficial org, so we’re asking folks to support. Right now we have a link tree link up. If folks have it in their heart or their conscience to support us, we’ll be accepting donations through ‘buy me a coffee,’ through that outlet. But we’re putting funds together for detainees and inmates directly. So we want to be able to put, fund several people’s, at least a month commissary account, whether that’s $25, whether that’s $50, we want to be able to put money for them to use themselves, for the phone, for food, for personal care, etc. We’re also going to be having some letter writing days, where we’ll be sending them out handwritten letters, cards, and communication with folks that are inside of the facilities themselves. So we have a direct line. There’s a lot of people like I had said before, they don’t have anybody out on the outside, they don’t come from much. We want to be able to support them, and let them know that they are loved. That they’re cared about and that there are people out here that say that they matter.

A lot of other work we’re doing that we need support with, it’s police accountability part of our work. And man, sometimes we have bits of a drive, we have to drive got to take reports, do our own investigations. We also have to request records from whatever government agency that the officer involved works with. So we have to pay for flex or dash cam or other records. And again, we don’t want to be a part of the nonprofit industrial complex, so we’re trying to just keep it grassroots and just real people funding real work that’s really happening in Merced. We’ve never done this before. It’s only always been on our own time on our own dime. And now we’re like really needing assistance because it’s growing. So that’s basically it. Just check us out on Facebook, Instagram, and hopefully we can get our website up here in like the next month or so.

TFSR: Victoria, thank you so much for having this conversation for the work that you’re doing. Yeah, I guess keep in touch. And we’ll keep trying to cover this when we can.

VS: I appreciate you Bursts. Thank you so much.

[ Editors note: The hunger strike ended Saturday, March 28th, despite the disrespect of the jail administration. ]

Transcription (Eric King Trial)

Josh: My name is Josh, I’m based out of Baltimore. And I do a lot of political prisoner support work and abolition work. I’m a member of the Certain Days Calendar Collective, and the children’s art project with political prisoner Oso Blanco. I’m currently also editing a book with Eric King, where we interview political prisoners about their lives inside. I work in communications with the Zinn education project. And I guess I first started writing Eric in 2017 or so and we’ve been corresponding ever since.

Mookie:My name is Mookie Moss, and my pronouns are he and him. I’ve been on the CLDC board of directors for gosh, maybe six or seven years, my day job has been a farmer for the last 25 or 26 years. But I’ve worked in and around a lot of radical organizations, both in the United States and in South America. A lot of the work that I’ve done has been around indigenous farmers down south, and anti-capitalist movements in South America, and here in the United States, environmental activist, that kind of stuff. So that’s who I am.

TFSR: So for listeners who don’t know, Eric, can you say some words about who he is and what he was convicted of?

Mookie: To be totally frank and honest, I have come to Eric Kings’ case pretty late in the game. But I did jump in with both feet based on this opportunity to work with the organization that I work with, which is the Civil Liberties Defense Center. My learning of Eric’s life and his story was kind of a crash course. But just based on my past experience being there for his trial, he came across to me as an incredibly emotionally sensitive guy, and also a really intelligent guy. He spoke really, really well. Obviously, because he’s a political prisoner, my view is that he really looks at his experience, both in jail and the world around him through a very, very strong political lens. So I would just add that.

TFSR: Oh, yeah. And with, with the usage of the term political prisoner in there, that says a lot, not only for what he was convicted for. Right? For that politically motivated property destruction, but also for the way that he’s conducted himself, and also how he’s been treated by administration’s since he’s been inside.

Can you all talk a bit about as sort of background for this case, what has Eric’s treatment been like in prison? How is he related to other prisoners as an antifascist, and as an anti-authoritarian, and also how the staff has related to him for these reasons?

Josh: Sure. So Eric, currently has been in solitary confinement for over 1,000 days, for over three years. He’s been in federal prisons all over the country, in private prisons as well. And he’s been brutalized and attacked wherever he’s been sent, either by guards or by Nazi-type prisoners. He’s defended himself every step of the way. He’s tried to help other prisoners, whenever he’s been given the chance, to to help voice their concerns.

I think it’s also important to point out that it’s not just Eric being targeted, that this happens to political prisoners and prisoners in general, throughout history. It’s currently happening not only with Eric King, but as you know with Sean Swain having his finger chopped recently by guards, there’s several indigenous prisoners being abused now, for the religious reasons, having their sweat lodge destroyed in a federal prison in California. I mean, it goes back all the way, the Attica brothers, Herman Bell being abused years ago before he got out. You know, it goes back throughout American history of guard abuse. It’s it’s pretty endless.

Mookie: I would also add, just to what Josh eloquently put, is that witnessing what Eric actually just went through as an extenuation of that type of torture, and bullshit, and experience that he has dealt with all along the way. Watching how the Bureau of Prisons handled him even just during this court case, where there was obviously a spotlight put upon him and put upon his conditions and experience was mind boggling to watch and to bear witness to. I have been interested in political prisoners and the struggle for a very, very long time. It’s not like I came into this with a blind eye like people are being treated well in prison, but the amount of punitive and destructive behavior from the Bureau of Prisons towards Eric, just during this case, there was something coming up. I can talk about that. Josh and I can talk about that. But it was just it was a microcosm of a much larger experience of let’s turn the screws against the people that are standing up for themselves and for their their belief system. It was really something else.

TFSR: He was speaking of “screws”, would y’all mind talking a little bit about what this trial was about? And what what sort of outcomes Eric was facing during it, and how long it’s lasted? Because it seems like it’s lasted a very long time to get to the phase of actually going before a judge and jury.

Mookie: Yeah, that’s right. So if I’m getting my dates right, the original incident which caused this recent trial, took place August 17, 2018. It was a situation where an assault had happened in the institution that Eric was spending time in and Eric wrote a[n] email to his wife to sort of blow off some steam and describe the situation that had happened in the institution he was spending time in. Basically, he said… I don’t have the email in front of me. So I’m not going to read it word for word, but basically, he was describing and feeling some excitement over the fact that a prisoner had struck a correctional officer. And beyond that, he went on to describe the feeling of wishing that he could be there to witness it, wishing he could have seen it, he said something along the lines of even watching it in virtual reality.

He was pulled out of his pulled out of his cell, because that email, obviously was read by the correctional authorities and the guards. So he got pulled out of his cell under the guise that they were going to do an investigation. He walked himself from his cell down to a place called the lieutenant’s office. And the lieutenant’s office, which really was a long hallway that had four rooms that came off of that hallway. A couple of them were lieutenants offices, one was a property room, I believe it was described as, and then the last room in that hallway was a broom closet. A broom closet full of mop buckets, rakes, tools, all these different things.

What happened next changes a lot depending on which correctional authority you heard the story from but Eric’s story never really changed a bit. What Eric’s story was as he was led into this broom closet. There were two correctional guards, two lieutenants, Lieutenant Wilcox and a Lieutenant Kammrad. Lieutenant Wilcox got in his face, Eric said, “I don’t want to fight.There’s two of you,” essentially, Wilcox kicked out his subordinate, Kammrad. Wilcox started a fight with Eric and he called him a ‘bitch’ he called him a ‘punk’ in this broom closet and he attacked Eric. Eric, decided that he didn’t think that being attacked a broom closet was going to be good for his life or good for his situation and so he fought back and he struck Lieutenant Wilcox in the face three times very in very quick succession. Lieutenant Wilcox was a really big guy, and Eric is not a big guy.

So it was pretty clear that Eric was more skilled in that expression, and he broke Wilcox’s nose. And after he broke Wilcox’s nose the other guards the other lieutenants ran in and you know, Eric had assumed a neutral position after he put wilt Wilcox down on the ground, and then from there, a whole series of things unfolded. Essentially the case was a “he said, he said” case, you know, where Wilcox said one thing and Eric said the truth. Fortunately for this court case, the guards that all had a story to share, the story was so convoluted and and frankly bullshit that that really came out in the trial.

So this turned out to be a self defense case. And it’s pretty remarkable, the legal team for the CLDC Lauren Regan, Sarah Alvarez, and Sandra Freeman, they did an incredible job of not only showing the inconsistencies and discrepancies in the Bureau of Prisons story, but also did a really good job giving Eric an opportunity to speak his truth up on the stand. And we’re lucky enough to be in one of those very rare situations where justice prevailed.

TFSR: Okay, there’s a few things that are heard throughout the course of the last, I guess, three and a half years, including that Wilcox had said, “Oh, you’re in Antifa, huh?” Something about his daughter running into anti-fascists and having a problem with that. He just sort of threw out a bunch of weird, disconnected shit, it sounded like. But it seemed like it must have been some sort of prefigured situation for them to take him into a room that the only room that didn’t have any cameras, which was a bit suspect, and then afterwards to hold him down in restraint for a number of hours, like 14 hours or something like that. Can you talk a little bit about some of that?

Josh: Sure. Yeah. He was held in four point restraint for hours after the incident occurred, after he was beaten. Yeah, there’s parts of it on video. There’s parts of it that were missing on video. I think it’s also worth mentioning, I listen to the trial from afar, but at one point I think they tried to make the case that a black eye that Eric suffered, was actually his Antifa tattoo on his face, which is just another way of showing that it’s his politics that they’re attacking, which I think does go to show what you were saying that it’s intentional and it is planned out. Anything to add, Mookie?

Mookie: You know, Josh is correct. They did at one point try to pin that black eye on the fact that he had a tattoo there. At another point, they were sort of edging towards this reasoning and this was very skillfully shut down by Eric’s defense team, but potentially that Eric either got the black eye when he was brought down on his face by the rest of the guards who rushed into save their buddy Wilcox. It was sort of hinted at one time that maybe potentially he could have given himself that black eye, which is of course ridiculous. Because after this incident, there wasn’t a moment that Eric was off camera.

Luckily, there was a nurse at the facility that Eric was sent to after this attack took place. This was the only Bureau of Prisons nurse that actually checked Eric out in any sort of realistic way and made notes that he had showed up with a pretty significant shiner. If you look at the video of the medical assessment that they did after this whole incident took place. This should shock absolutely no one who has any sort of understanding about how the Bureau of Prisons works, but the nurse who did the initial medical assessment spent about three minutes. Eric complained of a high level of pain in this temple, he had pain in some other places, but really was like, “hey, yeah, I’m hurt, and I’m hurting right now.” And there was never a second look given to him.

It was really something else. She inquired about a potential new tattoo, which he was like, “No, this tattoos not new.” But you could tell that there was a very purposeful, obfuscation of the truth that started immediately following the incident, because my perception was, is that they knew that they were going to have a difficult storyline to defend. And so at every turn where modicum, a little chunk of truth could come out, instead of asking questions and risking documented truth on Eric’s behalf coming out, they just slid right past it.

So the medical assessment, even though Eric, the State, or the government in this case, showed a picture repeatedly of Eric immediately following the incident, but we’re talking minutes after the incident. They’re like, “look, he’s got no black eye. This isn’t true. This didn’t happen.” Because their whole case hinged on the fact that Wilcox never took a swing at Eric, never assaulted him. That Eric sucker punched Wilcox, which is just blatantly not true. But so yeah, so they showed this picture of Eric right after the incident. And he didn’t have a shiner, because as anybody knows, it takes a good chunk of time after you get hit the eyeball to to get a big black eye. So it was really, really, really something.

TFSR: Eric has had a history of negative interactions with authorities and with guards in the past. And if I recall, a lot of those instances were in relation to private communication with his partner, or poetry that he’s written, or drawings that he’s made, and them being eschewed as threats by administration. So for that he’s gotten time in solitary, he’s had his rights to mail taken away, he’s had his ability to receive books taken away, or magazines. Just sort of exacerbating, and just amplifying the academic isolation as well as personal isolation of prison that he’s had to go through over these years.

Usually, he would just face ,as most prisoners… This this kind of crap is not abnormal in the US Prison System, whether it be in a State system, in a county, where someone’s in jail, or in the BOP, retaliation for petty things by petty guards, and all being adjudicated before some sort of internal rules board or some sort of internal court. Luckily, Eric did not have to defend himself before a kangaroo court inside without press and without legal defense from other parties. How is it that this case, why is it that this case, that could have tacked another 20 years onto his sentence, why did this become a public case? And how did the CLDC get involved, as far as you all know?

Mookie: My understanding, Bursts, is this case was brought to Lauren Regan initially by Daniel McGowan. Correct?

Josh: Yeah, believe so.

Mookie: So Daniel, you know, has a long standing relationship with the CLDC, because they did defense for him back in the day when when he was going through his trial, that he had been in contact with Eric for some time and reached out to Lauren Regan, who’s Eric’s lead defense attorney, and was the founder of the CDC, and said, “Hey, there’s this guy who’s serving time, he’s got a really compelling story. He was assaulted. He’s a really good guy and I really believe in him and believe in trying to seek some sort of justice in this case.” Lauren has a very close friendship with Daniel, and they’ve got really good history together.

So I think that really, Bursts, the reason why this happened is because there was a lot of trust. There’s a lot of historic trusts. And I think that’s a really important piece of this case is that. Lauren, and I were talking about this after the trial wrapped up just that. It’s really incredible when you see real true solidarity pay dividends like it does. Daniel felt solidarity with Eric, and because he had solidarity with Lauren, they came together and Lauren was like, “Daniel, if you believe in this person, I believe in you so much that, let’s go.” And that’s how it went forward. The CLDC, this is one of the things that they specialize in is shining lights in the dark corners of the key parts of our judicial system. So, I think that that’s that’s originally how Lauren got the case.

TFSR: What are the next steps in legal process for Eric? Is the outcome of the not guilty finding by that jury, does that does that mean he’s going to get any sort of reduction in his sentence? Or are there grounds for, because they were able to prove in a public court that the claims from the administration were false and that he had been subjected to harm, are there grounds for other lawsuits to sort of go back and point to the other portions of time when he’s been stuck in solitary? Been put in courtyards with giant Nazis? Gotten diesel therapy? Not had the ability anymore to get visits from his spouse in his family, is there anything brewing in terms of that? Or is he just scheduled for release in December 2023 and we’re just hoping to get him out.

Josh: Yeah, I think a lot of that is still to be determined. Like you said, he’s scheduled to be released in a year and a half, in December 2023. But I think it’s also important to keep in mind that he’s still locked up in there. As of right now, the end of March, he’s still on a mail ban, he can still only receive mail from his family. Last I heard he’s still in solitary confinement, even though he won the case. I think that there’s a likelihood that he’ll probably be transferred, who knows where that might be. Probably a lot of diesel therapy, a lot more diesel therapy.

But I think it’s also again, important to keep in mind that in the face of all this violence, in the face of all this state repression that he’s met it face on with a sense of humor, and he’s been able to build strong relationships, not only with people, those of us on the outside, but with those imprisoned right alongside of him, even when he’s in the worst possible conditions. He’s organizing them. He’s educating and is sharing as much as he can with those around him.

Mookie: I would also just add, Bursts, to echo what Josh said. I mean, Josh is right on there. And also I do know that the CLDC has a civil case filed on Eric’s behalf. I think that ideally, when somebody is wronged to such a grievous level, as Eric was wronged in prison, that there would be some sort of… I don’t even know if I should say like financial or time served retribution, but my understanding is that based on the law, it would be almost impossible for Eric to benefit in any monetary way from this civil case. I believe that there’s a Prison Act that says that you can’t benefit, even if you’re wronged from something that occurs if you [are in] prison if you’re there. I wish I knew and could speak a little bit more articulately.

But I think what’s really important about this, the civil case is that what I really think that the CLDC, and what Eric’s defense team, and what I would imagine Eric is hoping for is that by bringing the civil case, it’s going to effectively shine a spotlight on his treatment and will be a cautionary tale to any of the psychopaths in the bureau of prisons that decide to make his remaining time the hardest time in the world. That’s not to say that it’s not going to happen. I am just always shocked at the level of depravity that the Bureau of Prisons will go to make people are uncomfortable on the inside.

But having said that, every single night of this case, as it went on through the week, Eric was subjected to some new bizarre turn by the Bureau of Prisons, whether all of a sudden he was getting yanked out of his the cell that he’d been in and got transferred to a whole new facility next door. That happened one night. Another day, his cell flooded and coffee was spilled on his documents, another day, his documents and all of his personal property were removed. That made it almost impossible for him to prep for trial. I mean, it was so bizarre that that even the Bureau of Prisons… I’m sorry, there is nothing funny about this. It’s just unreal.

The Bureau of Prisons story when a cup of coffee was spilled on his documents and made them impossible to read, the BOP story was that a bird flew into his cell and knocked this cup of coffee over on his documents. The courtroom, when this was said, was just like… jaws dropped. And the judge who presided over this case, Judge Martinez, he even at that point leaned back in his chair and shook his head and said, I’m not going to be able to quote him verbatim, but basically the gist of what he said was, “I cannot believe that what’s happening to Mr. King is happening to Mr. King and the Bureau of Prisons better watch itself, because they’re setting themselves up for a civil suit.” I don’t know if he knew that was already in action, but all of those actions are going to be added to the suit. So hopefully, that gives them just the tiniest bit of cover from more torture and abuse. But it’s hard to say.

TFSR: Yeah, I remember seeing tweets about the stupidity of that moment. Unicorn Riot had a nice image for their posting of their coverage.

Were there any other highlights that stood out from the case? Either testimony from Eric or… because he was actually able to speak on his own behalf and had to answer like cross examination, I would imagine, but can you talk about any other elements of how the the case itself went?

Mookie: Sure. Let’s see highlights or lowlights. I guess in a case like this, they are kind of one and the same. It was very interesting to see Lieutenant Wilcox walk into the courtroom for his testimony. I think that was on day one. You know, all the photographs that I’d seen of Lieutenant Wilcox. He’s a fairly large, imposing, hulking figure and that was not the guy who walked into the courtroom. The guy who walked into the courtroom had a cane was bent over. Evidently in his off time, he has now since retired from the Bureau of Prisons, probably related to this incident… But he’s got a ranch and I’m not sure exactly if he was supposedly or actually injured on his ranch. I’m really not sure. But he walked into the courtroom and sort of shuffled down the center like an old man. I was like, “wow, the theatrics just don’t stop” and I’m not I’m not saying that he wasn’t actually injured, but whatever was happening, they did their very best to make sure that he didn’t come in as an imposing hulking prison guard type.

He got up on the stand and I would say what was most interesting to me, and I guess this was written and you could have seen it coming from a mile away, but the government’s case was so incredibly weak that anytime he was asked a question by the CLDC, or by Eric’s defense team, in any way that could impeach a previous story, or a previous statement he had made, it was just one, “I can’t remember, I can’t remember, I can’t remember” after another. Then when the government would come and ask him a similar questions, it was remarkable how quickly his memory sharpened up. So that was really, really interesting.

The other Lieutenant that that got on the stand, Lieutenant Kammrad, his his testimony was really weak. And I think the take home, the important take home of that piece was that the government was really trying to flip it 180 degrees, they are trying to say, “Look how authentic our guys are. It’s been three years since this incident and you can tell that our guys are telling the truth, because there’s variation in the story.” Well, the fact of the matter is, is that the variation of the story was was wildly varied. And it was backed up with video evidence that the defense team had brought that just punched so many different holes in the way that this moment in the broom closet unfolded that it just was absolutely unbelievable. Then the inverse of that is when Eric went up on the stand, he told such an incredibly lucid and cohesive story that matched up to every single one of his previous statements. So that was, I thought that was pretty interesting. How about you, Josh, what am I forgetting? Give me a second to think about those highlights.

Josh: No, no, I think you captured them all. My partner and I were kind of glued to the phone all week, working and listening to this in the background. I think you’ve captured all the major highlights. Eric did a great job while he was on the stand, of course.

Mookie: Yeah. Eric did a great job. I guess I would also just say, Bursts, that I had heard lots of things about Judge Martinez going into this case and I definitely had some concern. I’ve got concern anytime in the same realm as a federal judge, of course, but I have to say that… And of course, my experience as somebody in the gallery watching or Josh’s experience listening and I know a lot of people have listened, we don’t have the same experience that the attorneys do, because we’re not privy to all the sidebars. And I will say that there were more sidebars in this case than I’ve definitely ever heard of. I think even judge Martinez said, “there are more sidebars and objections in this case than he’s ever seen in his career.”

So, it was very clear to everybody in the courtroom that this was not only a very contentious case, like any political case can be, but it was really important to find a passage through this story in a way that didn’t bias the jury either way, and because this case was political in nature, and because Eric chose to do a politically motivated act of property destruction, it was very tenuous in in how they would go after Eric. You could tell that the government, the US Attorney’s, were doing everything that they could open up lines of questioning that we’re going to shock and dismay jurors who might not have the same or even a political analysis as Eric’s. I think that Eric’s defense team did a really skillful job guiding the jury through the story in a way where it didn’t open those doors necessarily.

There’s just lots of different feelings on what the term “violence” means and whether a politically motivated act of property destruction is violent. I have very strong feelings that it’s not, but I think that there was some concern that the jury could grab on to certain terminology that would then bias them and they would lose their ability to see this case for what it really was: One side is speaking the truth and one side is making up stories as they go along.

So I have to say that not having access to what has happened in those sidebars, I feel like there was 100 sidebars, I’m sure I’m exaggerating, but there was so many that I felt like judge Martinez did a pretty darn good job running a clean courtroom. I didn’t see bias in him, what I saw was a judge that actually just really wanted to follow the letter of the law. Luckily, you know, in this case, the letter of the law is on Eric side, he was defending himself and that’s a right that every single person has to do in this country, even if you’re locked up. So I thought the judge did a pretty good job walking that middle path. I have to say that I think that he was impressed with Eric’s defense team. I think that because of the nature of this trial would have been very possible to have lawyers that weren’t necessarily prepared to handle something at this high level. I think they hit it out of the park.

TFSR: I can see how like bringing up the fact that there are political views that are held by Eric, and the nature of his conviction, and pointing to that as being potentially counter to the political views of the guards, and thus, motivating them to act in juvenile and petty manners… Differentiating that from like, “he burned down a politician’s office, and someone could have been hurt!” That seems like a very thin line to walk and it sounds like folks did that very, very well. Do you all have any updates on how Eric’s health is these days? And how are his spirits?

Josh: Due to the mail ban, not many people have heard from him. I’ve heard through the grapevine that he is extremely happy about the outcome of the trial, happy to be getting the few visits that he does, that he is able to get. He’s looking forward to getting everyone’s letters and everyone’s love. Everyone keeps sending solidarity from around the world. He’s looking forward to reading everyone’s letters, responding to everyone’s letters. You can follow him on social media. His support site is SupportEricKing.org. You can send a books now, which is great. If you follow him on social media, or check out his website, you’ll find out when the mail ban is lifted, and you can write to him. But in the meantime, just know that he does appreciate all the support. I think he’s vocalized that as much as possible to those he has been able to speak to.

TFSR: So it’s been mentioned that Eric’s a pretty prolific poet, you can find a bunch of his poems up on his support website. I don’t know if y’all want to share any poetry by Eric that you feel especially moved by? If not, that’s totally okay. But I just wanted to put that out there.

Josh: Well, yeah, I’ll share one, actually, if you haven’t picked up the 2022 Certain Days Calendar, Eric wrote a poem for the month of May. So you’re still in time to get one you can go to BurningBooks.com. They are only five bucks at this point and all the proceeds benefit political prisoners. But in May, Eric wrote a poem, he actually wrote it to me one time before this calendar came out when we were just thinking of the theme. It’s called “Mutual Aid is Friendship.” Yeah, it’s a great piece. It’s very short. And it’s one of the last ones he was able to send out before one of the many mail bans he’s faced.

TFSR: Well, that’s about it for the questions that I had. Are there any other topics that you want to talk about? Otherwise if you could remind folks about how they can support the CLDC, the defense work that they do, and the research and we’ve had guests from CLDC on the show a few times to talk about digital security. We’ve had Lauren Reagan on before to talk about political repression more generally. I’d love to hear more about where to find more about that. Also, Josh has prior been on the show to talk about Certain Days, it’d be good to hear about that, too. But were there any other topics other than shouting out projects that I didn’t ask about that y’all want to touch on?

Mookie: I guess I would just like to throw this in the ring a little bit that I know that supporting political prisoners in this country and around the world is something that I think a very narrow band of people who are politically active do. I just would like to say publicly to anybody who’s listening to this podcast, that it’s very easy to find resources to support political prisoners in this country. You can go online and literally Google that. There’s going to be a ton of different places that sends you to, and I just want to encourage people to take 15 or 20 minutes out of their week and find a different prisoner to write to. I think it can’t be overstated how potent this act is. Not only does it have the potential to change somebody’s time on the inside, but I also think that it creates bonds that can last a lifetime, but it’s also an incredible way to build our movement. So I just want to give a “Rah! Rah!” for that. I think that’s something that’s really worth people’s time.

And just since I have the I have the air right now, if people are interested in supporting the CLDC, which I think is a really great to do. The CLDC, one of the things that I love about working with this organization is the breadth of their work in movement building, and resistance, and support for activists. It’s staggering, really the CLDC goes to where the work is, whether it be in pipeline work, or prisoner support, or environmental, or animal rights work. It’s just a really remarkable organization and anybody can find how to support that at CLDC.org.

Josh: Absolutely. Yeah. I’ll just mirror pretty much everything Mookie said. CLDC is great. Actually, in two days now I guess it’ll be in the past when people are listening to this, but the CLDC is hosting a political prisoner talk with Daniel McGowan, with Linda Evans, Ray Luc Levasseur, Rattler, a few other people. I’m sure it’ll be amazing like most of the other projects are. But also yes, just write political prisoners every chance you get. Just try to learn about them. Eric has really been amazing with that. Every time he’s sent to a new prison, he finds friends that he advocates other people writing to and building relationships. I think it really can be life changing not only for those inside, but for those of us on the outside, too.

I guess besides getting a Certain Days Calendar if you can, we’re coming up with a theme now for 2023. But if you’re heading over to burning books to get a calendar, you could get some Oso Blanco greeting cards. It’s a project called ‘Children’s Art Project’ that he and I and a few other people helped start where greeting cards are made with artwork from indigenous political prisoners and the funds benefit the Zapatistas in Chiapas. It’s a really cool project. Oso Blanco is a fascinating person to get to know. And a shout out to Sean Swain. I hope he’s doing all right, even though he’s one digit down.

TFSR: One digit down, but he’s still two fists in the air.

Josh: Absolutely.

TFSR: Yeah, that’s awesome. We didn’t end up interviewing folks about Certain Days this year, but there was one that some of y’all participated in on, “Millennials are Killing Capitalism,” I saw.

Josh: Yeah, yeah. That was Daniel and I a few weeks ago. That was a good one.

TFSR: That’s awesome. I’ll link that in the show notes, too. Mookie and Josh, thank you so much for being a part of this conversation and for the work that you do. I really appreciate it

Josh: Thank you Bursts, it was a pleasure.

Mookie: Hey, Bursts, yeah, it was. Thank you so much. And, Josh, thank you so much for your support for me in this case, you were really instrumental in bringing me along and I’m so grateful for the whole team that came to came together to stand with Eric. It was really a group of outstanding people and thanks again Bursts.

Josh: Yes, thank you.

Transcription (Eric King Transfer)

TFSR: Eric, where are you at right now?

Eric King: Right now I’m at a federal transfer facility called Grady County. It’s one of the marshal’s contracts out in Oklahoma City.

TFSR: It seems like a pretty frequently used facility. This is the one that I talked to Jeremy Hammond at a couple of years ago in 2020. What’s the facility like?

EK: It’s usually fucking sweet but right now we’re having a goddamn Ad-Seg thing where we only get out one-two hours a day tops. It went from being super sweet where you get commissary and video visits to goddamn annoying.

TFSR: Did they give you some reason as to why directly after the trial where BOP was found to have abused you that they transferred you across the country from Colorado.

EK: This makes me sick, for real, because everyone at Inglewood [Prison] during the pre-trial shit was telling me, “If you get found innocent, you’re good, you’re gonna go to a medium or the communication unit, things are gonna be better for you. You could just feel the venom in their kindness. So they’re telling me all these lies, and then I go to pack up for transfer and they are “Oh, we’re sending you back to this miserable, horrible dup of a penitentiary out in Virginia.” “Well, that’s not what you motherfuckers just told me.” “Well, it is what it is.” There’s no way for this not to be retaliation, I’m the one that has low security points. I should be coasting with my feet up wearing shower shoes all day, not having to work, wearing boots for the shower.

TFSR: You’re going to USP Lee, as far as I was aware. Is that a max facility? Or what level is that? Have you been there before?

EK: It’s a penitentiary, so it holds high-security people, max-security people. There are big gang leaders there, but then there are also just violent assholes that can’t function in lower securities. Then there’s me and one of the World Trade Center bombers.

TFSR: What are you thinking in terms of what recourse you and your support folks have right now? I know that getting your voice out right now is an important part of it, that people know what’s going on.

EK: The issue is that most likely, they’re going to dump me in the SHU. In the SHU, you have no radio, books, magazines, newspapers, no pictures, no commissary, no food, you don’t even have pens and pencils, they give you rubber pencils. I’m going to be isolated, I’m going to be cut off. People need to know: get a hold of these Virginia centers, get a hold of the Northeastern Atlantic region. I want people contacting those in charge to get a hold of the designation center in Grand Prairie, Texas, the SEC. Call these people, do mass calling. Call 1,000 times and ask them why is a medium or low-security guy being held at this prison again? Why is he back here? Why are you going to take someone’s mail, take someone’s phone calls, say all this communication shit about them, and then put them somewhere where you can’t be in touch with his family and his life in danger. Now, I can’t let anyone know something’s happening to me. We got to have a spotlight on this. We got this big-ass trial victory, people are watching, people are happy. This is the next stage in that fight. I still need support. I still need people. The trial didn’t end the problems. It ended with one big problem. But now we have this other big problem. I still need people to fight for me and let them know that we’re keeping EK safe.

TFSR: This trial ending is pretty enormous. But you do have a year and just under nine months left inside, and since your whole time inside has been a history of provocations, harassment, diesel therapy, violence by the administration…

EK: I said this to my wife. “Not every win is a win.” If we had two months last maybe, but 19 months is more than enough time to get somebody really fucked up. I don’t want any more goddamn problems in the in here. It’s been such a long arduous hassle with these people.

TFSR: You’ve been two years without mail, with mail bans and books bans and stuff like that, right? You just started getting books recently.

EK: Yeah, and they gave me another mail ban. They just put another one on in February. I’m going to land in this new play. I am just getting things back again for one month in January. Then they immediately say “well, we’re taking it again, because you’re circumventing the mail ban.” So I’m going to land at [USP] Lee with five months left on this new mail ban. God damn it.

TFSR: All the way across the country from your family as you said.

EK: Yeah, they took away my phone. I don’t get any phone calls ever. Because of this phoney-public-safety-factor bullshit they made up. I’m just stuck.

TFSR: What do you want to talk about, we have eight more minutes or something. You got to the point already of how fucked up it is and where you’re heading.

EK: Yeah, things aren’t going to be good. That’s really where my mind is, I want people to know my family needs support too. Send them kindness, be kind to my family, my wife is the one that I give all my information to. If I’m scared, if I’m sad, if I’m depressed, I ask her, “Let people know this.” People hear that shit from her. Please, take it seriously. She’s often literally the only one talking to me. Because if I can pay some dude to use his phone, that’s who I’m going to call. If she puts out the word that I’m in trouble, or I’m sad, or I need something, please show me love and listen to that. We did really well at the trial. It wasn’t a flawless victory, we butted heads and there were things I wasn’t happy about, things that they weren’t happy about. But my legal team did fight for me tough. They spent a lot of money and time and they showed up and had me prepared. But it’s not over. I want them to be able to celebrate because they spent a lot of resources to get this win. It is a win, but for me,…

TFSR: …it’s not a win till you’re out. Right?

EK: Right. I don’t get to celebrate yet because they can still put me in there with someone who is getting drugs from SIS to stab me or some shit like that. That stuff is still in the back of my mind because it’s happened so many times that it doesn’t feel– I can’t celebrate, I got to celebrate for a few days after it happened. But right now it’s back to “Alright, we need to focus on the Bureau and focus on keeping me safe.” It’s just such a horrible way to exist. You can’t be super happy and celebrate with your family because you don’t know what the Bureau’s up to.

TFSR: Yeah, that’s real.

EK: It’s on my mouth on this fucking this $8 coffee that we have here. They sell this little bullshit bag. It’s called Maxima. It’s got maybe 20 scoops in it and it is $8.44. That’s other shit my wife’s having to deal with. God!

TFSR: Spaces like Grady really rely on people being in a panic mode and putting too much money in the commissary and too much money on phones, if people have money available because they don’t know how long they’re going to be there. Do you have any sense of how long you’ll be at this middle facility? Or could it just be they’ll swape you out today?

EK: It’s important to acknowledge that this place is a hella exploitative. They know we’re all panicking, all trying to talk to our family as much as we can. The best way to tell this is these phone calls are expensive. That computer that we use over there is expensive as shit. Commissary, I just told you $8 for a bag of coffee and all of us are having coffee withdrawals, needing some coffee. They’re vicious. I have no idea how long I’ll be here. In my mind, I’ll probably leave on Friday, on Friday morning, they’ll probably come and grab us. But if we make it to the weekend, that’s just two more days of spending shit-tons of money. They give you the lowest quality stuff, just bad.

TFSR: Two fewer days of being at Lee at least…

EK: My dream is that enough people contact them for the right, let’s just get this fucking dope bag out of here. Get him moving. That’s what I’m hoping, that they do it in a way that was different than at McCreary. Let’s get this fucking dirtbag out of here. The way to do it is we’re going to set them up to get jumped. Hopefully, at least they do it a different way. They’re just like, “He’s a problem, let’s move him.”

They don’t have goddamn toilet paper, the toilet paper rolls. They don’t give you those, they give you a little folded bundle, and it’s eight squares in a bundle. You get two bundles a week. Think about that. Think about what that means. You learn to make do your 16 squares a week.

TFSR: That’s so fucking cruel and inhumane. Well, if you did have like 20 sheets, maybe you could make a weapon out of it somehow, an explosive or-

EK: [laughs] Those extra sheets could come in handy for violence, for sure. I don’t know if people understand how horrible the SHU’s get. As I mentioned earlier, we don’t have pens or pencils there. They give you a rubber pencil. You have to sharpen it by scraping it on the concrete. Then you can’t file grievances with that. You can’t write legal mail with that. When I try to write to one person I can write, my wife or my cousin Deb, who was at trial, God bless her. They can’t read what I’m writing. It’s just a complete way to cut you off from the– They can do whatever they want. No visibility has no accountability or whatever. That’s what they do. They bury motherfuckers there and once you leave, you can cry about it, but you’re going to say nothing while you’re there. They might take away your 16 sheets.

Automated voice: This call will be terminated in two minutes.

EK: Do they have to word it that way?

TFSR: Terminated. “I’m the Terminator, enjoy this call.”

EK: Please, stress my gratitude, but also my urgency. This isn’t a sit like, “Let’s plan, and let’s see what feels best.” This is I need action. If we make a mistake, we make a mistake. I need people mobilized quickly. I’m okay with a mistake. I need them to know the eyes are on me.

TFSR: Yeah, for real. How is it you said that you haven’t shared space with other people in years and you just got moved to an open dorm, general population? Could you describe how that feels?

EK: I’ve been in it, literally a 6×8 box for two and a half years, and before that different SHUs for another year. Going from such a confined space by myself and now I am literally surrounded by people. It feels like a fucking wave of people. There’s also a microwave next to me. When’s the last time I use a microwave? There’s a TV above me. I haven’t seen anything from the Ukraine-Russia war. I just now saw the Will Smith hitting Chris Rock thing. It’s super, super positive. But also, the SHU really damages you. I didn’t realize it until I got out, like right now for this brief period. It feels like someone’s stepping on my chest this entire time. It’s exhausting.

TFSR: Are you able to like find the corner and breathe by yourself? You don’t have to say anything about this. But you know someone who’s in there, right?

EK: I got a bro in here. There are a few other people from the system that we know the same people. Because it’s a small-ass system. There are people here that have been in the same prisons I have, or we know the same people. It’s all respect, there’s no conflict or tension or anything. It’s all just internal.

TFSR: You’ve been someone who’s done a lot of practice and meditation and yoga and instructed other people on these practices. Are you finding that those are helping you right now? Or are you just having to move through it?

EK: Not right now. The meditation, yes, because I can just focus on breathing and focus on my being. There’s obviously no room to sit in the middle of this goddamn open dorm and start doing yoga. I would look like a complete jackass. Justifiably so. But just being in my own space, being centered definitely helps because in the past, when I did long SHU days– Because I always do these goddamn long SHU bids, I don’t know what’s the deal it, it is just a vindication on resistance, I guess. But in the past, when I got the SHU, it would be so suffocating that I thought I could die. Things have improved drastically.

TFSR: Do you have any more updates, any news about when you think you’re getting transferred out? Have you been able to hear from any lawyers or anything like that while you’re at Grady?

EK: I had my legal call, Lauren did get ahold of me. I told her what I needed. She asked, and I told her, and so I trust that it will help. I’ve heard that they are organizing the calling campaign and doing that which I asked for and have been desperate for. I hope people stick with that and continue to put pressure because these people aren’t going to tell me anything. The people at Grady County are not going to tell me shit because they don’t know anything, they are just the county workers. It is just what I’m hoping on and I’ve read some things and heard some things from different comrades. Everything seems like it’s going in the direction that I need. So often we will need something and maybe the people don’t understand how serious it is, or some people don’t. You just need a few to listen to you and believe you and hear you and they can get this ball rolling. It feels like that’s what’s happening right now. I’m really grateful, that makes me feel safe and seen. What this whole thing is about is just making sure that the Bureau knows that people are watching. They’re not going to get away with any sly shit. People are watching, senators will be checking in or whatever we’re able to do with a little bit of pressure. That makes me feel good. Really good.

TFSR: This is a little bit off-topic. But when Josh was on the show the other day, Josh from Certain Days. He was talking about the book that you all are working on. Can you say a few words about that if it’s interesting?

EK: Josh is the perfect person to talk to, he is just such a clever, beautiful person. I started having this idea after reading some IRA books that talked about not just the bombing and killing, but the trauma of suffering and doing suffering to others and what’s left afterwards? What’s left when the ashes and the smoke clears? It’s not glory. It’s internal. Then I had that time with Jaan in his cell and just hearing him talk, and all these stories that I knew, these aren’t documented, no one will ever hear these stories. These stories could change someone’s life, they changed my life. I, Josh, and all of us really honor our mothers and fathers that were in this struggle before us. What they’ve gone through in prison shouldn’t be negated down to a couple of typed-up quotes for some magazine, or their ideas on the struggle. Their lives inside are equally as valuable in the mundane as they are in the extreme. So I didn’t want just to have their stories about how bad they suffered, I wouldn’t want my story to just be about all the SHU time I did. I’d wanted it to be about my life because I still exist. I want that for those that have been through this.

I had that idea and brought it up to Josh, and Josh is just an astoundingly productive person who just wants to help and work, brought it to life. We typed up a questionnaire and he just got to work. I think he’s interviewed some 7000 people so far. It’s actually just 30 or 40 , but it is still a lot. That’s a lot of work. You got a full-time job. This is just comrade work, which – I don’t want to disrespect movement, but I don’t see that all the time. I haven’t seen that in my entire life. I see it a lot, you do it, a few other people do it, but it’s not the most common thing. No questions asked no, “oh, I don’t know, this might be a bad idea.” It was “Let’s bring this shit to life.” And we have, and some of the things I’ve read have been so touching. Something I didn’t know about people. I didn’t know what Kojo [Bomani Sababu] had been through. I didn’t know that Oso [Blanco] was so aggressive. I didn’t know so much about Ray [Luc Levasseur]. So, to me, it’s a project of honoring our existences, not just our suffering, if that makes sense.

TFSR: Absolutely. Recognizing that people aren’t just these two-dimensional struggle machines that are there for putting on a flyer or sticker whatever. That could be a band name.

EK: Yes. It could be title the cover of the book.

TFSR: We have a minute and a half left, these are 15-minute calls. Is that right?

EK: They’ll tell us the two-minute mark.

TFSR: Are there any other things that are coming to mind right now that you want to express?

Automated voice: The call will be terminated in two minutes.

EK: For me, the most important thing is just asking people to please be there for my family. Mutual aid and community support, she is in prison too. I got two little girls, they’re in prison too. Lend us your voices, keep these eyes on me. I’m not trying to be an attention grabber here, like I’m Mr. Big Deal. But this can get very serious very quickly, it could get very dark. That’s all I can think about right now. Help me fight, help me keep an eye on these people so they can’t bury one of us. Don’t let them put the dirt over me right now after we just got this big-ass plan. Don’t let this win turn into a loss. That’s where my heart and that’s where my head’s at right now. And be nice to my wife.

TFSR: For sure. That’s true.

Automated voice: The call will be terminated in one minute.

EK: Bursts, thank you so much. Please give my regards to both Swains, to Lauren and Sean.

TFSR: I will.

EK: Please give yourself a big hug for me.

TFSR: Thanks, Eric. I appreciate it. Take care of yourself, okay? Make some friends.

EK: How are you doing? It’s been a very selfish call. We only got 20 seconds.

TFSR: I’m good. Just got off of work, and got some pizza and a beer waiting for me. Some local IPAs Chicago area.

EK: Oh, IPA is gross.

TFSR: Right. I’m from the West Coast. It’s what I do.

EK: Oh my gosh, don’t…

Updates from Afghanistan and Iran

Updates from Afghanistan and Iran

"Anarchist solidarity with the revolutionary women of Afghanistan! -Power To The People -Fire To The Prisons -Down With The Patriarchs -Down With The Taliban -Down With The State" showing women cheering and raising fists
Download This Episode

This week, we’re joined again by Aryanum, a member of the Federation of Anarchism Era (ASRAnarshism.Com), mostly made up of anarchists from Iran and Afghanistan. We mostly get updates about the situation of anarchists, atheists and feminists in Afghanistan under the Taliban or in an effort to escape as refugees, but we also get a few updates from Iran as well, including the regime’s founding of a national anarchist group called Iranarshism. At the time of this release, we’ve already got the transcript and a zine available for download, translation, reading and sharing.

You can find out more about the Federation by visiting ASRAnarshism.com, or finding them on instagram, twitter, Telegram, facebook and youtube. You can also hear our past interviews with Aryanum alongside other episodes concerning Iran here: https://thefinalstrawradio.noblogs.org/post/category/iran/

A few links of note:

  • Resistance in Pancheer, Ahmad Massoud: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ahmad_Massoud
  • liberal Afghanistan news source that’s decent: Amajnews.com
  • Tamana (Zaryabi Paryani) whose phone was taken by the Taliban leading to the arrest of 49 people, 25 women trying to leave Afghanistan who had forced confessions:
  • ngo that is all volunteer, anectdotally worth supporting Azadi Charity: https://azadicharity.com/
  • Baktash Abtin, poet dissident died of covid in prison which is causing political prisoner hunger strikes in Iran
  • Ervin prison is where many political prisoners were on hunger strike
  • Sohiel Arabi is an anarchist political prisoner in Iran who Aryanum describes as an FAE correspondent inside the prisons

Announcements

BAD News #54

The March 2022 episode of the A-Radio Network‘s monthly, English-language podcast. This month with additions from: 1431 Social Radio in Thessaloniki, Greece; A-Radio Berlin on workers from Gorilla gig delivery app service; A-Radio Vienna with experiences from a queer anarchist in Kyiv right after the invasion by Russia; Crna Luknja from Ljubljana, Slovenia with a Serbian anarcho-syndicalist organizer on the part in the war in Ukraine played by NATO and resisting from within that framework. Check it out!

Eric King Trial

In a surpisingly good piece of news, a jury recently found anarchist and antifascist political prisoner in the good ole USA, Eric King, not guilty of assaulting an officer, a charge which would have given a 20 year hit to Eric who has been slated for release from Federal prison in July of 2023. You can find updates at SupportEricKing.Org as well as ABCF.Net. You’ll hopefully here more about this in an upcoming interview with members of his support crew and you can direct thanks to the amazing folks at the Civil Liberties Defense Center, or CLDC, for lawyering for him.

Doug Wright Out of Prison!

The remaining member of the Cleveland 4 case, Doug Wright, has been released from prison nearly 10 years since the initiation of the case. You can find our past interviews about the case here: https://thefinalstrawradio.noblogs.org/post/category/cleveland-4/

You can support Doug’s life on the outside: https://fundrazr.com/81xTKc?ref=ab_6jmRCDUT7nt6jmRCDUT7nt

War In Ukraine

Yup, still happening.

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Featured Tracks:

  • Rope (طناب) by Toomaj (توماج ) & Biqlb (بی‌لقب). Tamooj is an Iranian protest hip hop artist released on March 17th 2022. Toomaj Salehi was detained by Iranian officials for propaganda because of his anti-corruption, anti-regime music and Amnesty International had to step in on his behalf, which in addition to popular pressure secured his release from Dastgerd Prison. Tamooj just released a new video on March 17th, 2022: Blind Spot ( نقطه کور) . You can hear more at his soundcloud or watch more videos on youtube.
  • Year of Famine (Sale Ghahti, سال قحطی) by Fereydoon Forooghi (فریدون فروغی), recorded in 1974 and leading to Fereydoon’s ban from acting for it’s public performance by the Shah’s regime. He released an album by this name in 1977.

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Transcription

TFSR: So we’re joined again by a member of the Federation of Anarchism Era. Aryanum, who we have spoken to before, will be sharing some responses to some questions that we had from other members of the FAE. Thank you so much for having the time and putting together the energy to have this chat. Would you introduce yourself further for the audience? Do you have preferred pronouns or any sort of other info?

Aryanum: Yes. Hi, this Aryanum, my pronouns are he/him, and I’m a member of the Federation of Anarchism Era. Thanks for having me here again.

TFSR: Of course.

So the last time that we spoke to y’all, to members of FAE, and to you in particular, it was July of 2021, during the expansion of Taliban forces across Afghanistan, as the US military ran for the exit. Simultaneously, the US and other Western governments froze assets in an attempt to stop the Taliban from stepping into full power, which also threw the population into famine.

Can you speak about what you’re aware of that experience and how FAE affiliates in Afghanistan and their communities are doing these days?

Aryanum: Yes, first I think there is a misunderstanding. I don’t think the Western governments have frozen the assets to stop the Taliban because of their actions afterwards: flying the Taliban members to Oslo even though it’s on their a list a terrorist organizations, sending money for pay directly to Taliban. From what Biden did… these action shows that they were not about stopping the Taliban. They just didn’t want to pay any more money. The previous government in Afghanistan was propped up by the US Embassy and government. They were only surviving through the financial aid that they were receiving from these governments. The change of hands, the change of power, that arguably was helped by the Western governments they stopped providing those funds. They just stopped it.

Regarding how comrades are doing… the majority of them are right now, except one of them, could no longer work because of the current regime. Because some of them were journalists that the Taliban has targeted viciously. Their pictures are going around, there are reports of them going around to be tortured severely and being executed and being killed. Either assassinated mysteriously, which all goes back to Taliban, or being tortured and imprisoned. So they could no longer work. A majority of them evacuated from Afghanistan. They no longer are in Afghanistan. Some of their family members wanted to evacuate as well. But the Iranian Government is making it really hard. Even returning some of the refugees back to Afghanistan, extraditing some of the refugees. For Pakistan, even though Pakistan has opened this consulate. It is in so much demand, that right now a visa to Pakistan is $500. With all of the famine happening, people are selling their children to survive, to child marriages. It is a crisis. A complete crisis.

The Taliban government is not even a government. They don’t know what they are doing. They have no experience. They don’t have any staff to even organize and deal with the issues like governing their country. So recently they declared that the labor that people do, for the work they do, they don’t get money. The Taliban government wants to instead give them wheat, just grains, which doesn’t work in the urban environment. There is no way to sustain on just grains. And that’s the thing that the Taliban is doing at the moment including all the suppression execution, assassinations they are doing.

TFSR: Yeah, there was this this massive displacement internal and external to Afghanistan that resulted from the fighting and fear of the Taliban reprisals and from economic destabilization. When we chatted a little less than a year ago, you all were attempting to fund for resistance to the Taliban, as well as to help get anarchists out of the country, since they’re enemies of the state. And it’s very dangerous to to be any sort of like dissident even in areas that were controlled, ostensibly by the Afghan government. But is the resistance still a thing that you need? Or for getting folks out? Is that still something that you’re fundraising for or that you’re trying to aid in some way? Or is that kind of on pause?

Aryanum: When we the last talked, yes we were trying to gather from comrades, because they were requesting, they were thinking of resisting as much as they can. But after a little evaluation on their part, they realized the neighbors and the people around them are not gonna join up. Some of them are part of the previous Mujahideen and they even though they are armed up, that is no way to cooperate. Since we are so few, unfortunately, you do not have the number of anarchists like in Ukraine to have a detachment of your own. So that plan changed into leaving the country. They’re trying to utilize the money that we gathered up til then, which was around $2,000. They plan to take refuge to Iran. But the day that they were planning to leave to head to toward Iran… Nimruz, a province bordering Iran and Afghanistan, that a majority of refugees were using as a crossing between Iran and Afghanistan. That province was taken the same day that they planned. So that plan had to stop.

We were still gathering more money, but it was kind of slow until Kabul fell. When Kabul fell, since we were basically one of the first people raising funds and basically the only anarchist one in this regard, a lot of comrades started helping out then, we managed to raise about $45,000. We were using PayPal. So PayPal took basically $15,000. So we were only left like around $30,000. But we decided that would be enough money for our comrades to leave the country. We managed to get some of our comrades through Pakistan and they were trying to process the asylum status to leave Pakistan. Firstly, it is not easy from Pakistan, you cannot go to India because the dispute between Pakistan and India. Going from Pakistan to Iran, the border crossing, just to travel there is really, really dangerous. Iran has other issues. So if you’re saying Iran, illegally, basically you’re in danger of being extradited back to Afghanistan. So we managed to get some of our comrades in Pakistan. Some are in Iran waiting to process their information. One comrade is in Afghanistan still, but we managed to get most of them out. We are kind of running out of funds because keeping them in Pakistan and trying to get the application process. Just for the visa for one of our comrades to travel to Iran legally just to get the visa and travel, basically took $2,000. Us trying to evacuate our comrades to Pakistan, that took a lot of money. We might start issuing another fundraising, but we haven’t decided on that yet. We still have some money at this moment.

TFSR: Since the Taliban took power in Afghanistan, their claims of relative normalcy of participation of women in civic, political and economic life seem to have withered. Can you speak about what is known of the realities of life today in Afghanistan, for women, as well as others who are not cis straight men?

Aryanum: They’re were obviously lying from the very beginning, even though as they were taking the provinces, there were videos of them coming up of them flogging women for not wearing their hijab right or not travelling with with a man called mahram. Basically a man which is their father, brother, or husband, basically. Anybody that basically the patriarchy enforced through religious means and through force, basically. So the women started making protests against the regime. Some of them were activists before the regime change during the previous republic of [Ashraf] Ghani and [Hamid] Karhzi. They started protesting during the Taliban’s regime from very beginning. The Taliban started suppressed them as soon as they could. They were assassinated, they were mysteriously killed, they were imprisoned as hostages or for ransom. They’ve were imprisoned. The men basically like the women in Afghanistan, we’re saying, is the chant is “Our war, our fight, our struggle starts from home.” Because basically we have Talib in our homes. The patriarchy and the Islamic patriarchy, it has deep roots in the society, and for them to struggle against the Taliban outside, they had to basically wage war against their own family members that have the same ideology [as the Taliban].

So because of that, men did not support them. Because of that even men did not protest for their own rights against the Taliban and did not protest that much with the government. Recently there was a decree by the Taliban that women cannot leave the country without the mahram. Basically, they cannot leave the country without having a husband, or father, or brother, or any man that is above them in the social hierarchy, approve of them leaving the country, and he needs to leave with them. I know there is an issue with some of the woman activists that want to leave the country after all this oppression but are dealing with some challenges in that regard. We are trying to see how it develops, but at the moment, women get imprisoned if they were protesting, and some cases assassinated, and in some cases we heard from the news that they were raped and then assassinated. There were signs of sexual assault.

Some of the people that we talked to who were talking about, they were like scouting a location just for the graffiti against the Taliban. They were with their fathers and were supporting that. Taliban, scouting the area, having checkpoints all around the area scared them to hell, because they thought they were gonna get arrested right there. Even though they didn’t do anything yet they were just scouting their area for graffiti. But the Taliban was like “Oh, is this woman part of the Woman Justice seeking movement?” They scared the brother and he scared her. So they decided not to do that again.

So it is a big campaign of silences going on. The woman that get arrested, even though they’re released, they cannot talk. They don’t feel safe to talk back anymore. The public movement that are talking directly in the face of Taliban is fizzling. We are hoping it transforms to a more covert form.

TFSR: That sounds really difficult and it’s hard for me to imagine because I haven’t experienced anything like what you’re describing in my life. Just how scary that would be.

Yeah, I wonder, as you say, if things have to go a little more underground and less with the government, and since the patriarchy and the Taliban exist in the households, and the state is empowering, or what there is of the state, is empowering the diffusion of patriarchal violence through the households, and sort of as a reproduction of the state, at a home level… I wonder if people who as imperfect as it was lived under the Republic will see the difference with what they’re experiencing now and will the men, for instance, be more willing to understand, in contrast, the pain? I imagine if the dialogue was more talking about liberation of women and fighting against gendered violence, and then the Taliban is imposed and some strict kind of Sharia is imposed or whatever. If you can compare it to another experience that you’ve had? If that maybe primes you for having a better understanding of alternatives to what’s being imposed. What do you think?

Aryanum: The previous government wasn’t for women’s rights. We had honor killing during the previous government as well. The patriarchy was as strong as it is now. It is just so that the previous government being propped the US was less likely to use it. What achievements women had during the previous government was because of their own making. They worked for it for 20 years to make it happen. It wasn’t just that the previous government was suppressing them. Not because it was actively encouraging them or making their part easier. The woman activist was even active during the previous government.

The path that the Taliban is taking right now is very similar. It is basically they’re using the same tactics that the Islamic Republic of Iran is using. Iran had it’s own moment in the beginning of the revolution opposing the mandatory hijab, but it got crushed. It’s very similar things that Taliban is doing. They were imprisoned, killed, assassinated, either by the militia or by others. The current women’s movements are getting acid thrown at them and get disfigured because of acid. There is honor killing going on in Iran. And the most recent, a woman [Mona Heydari], 17 years old, left her husband. Way way older husband. She went to Turkey because she feared for her life but her father and brother basically forced her to come back and her husband killed her and decapitated her head. Then paraded on the street showing it off. That was one of the most shocking things that I saw. It happened a couple of months ago.

So you just said previous government was not using patriarchy as directly as the Taliban and because of that the women’s movements could move forward and make some achievement for their own autonomy and freedom. But the Taliban is going to use the same tactic as the Islamic Republic of Iran. The patriarchy is going to become worse and more embedded in the society. As it is the patriarchy is so strong that the men do not accompany the women in the struggle. There is no solidarity at the moment. There are some men that are, of course, supporting and they get killed. The treatment they receive is worse than what the captured women receive. Even though they are defending humanist ideal against a fascist organization that is the Taliban. But they get treated worse and they get killed. That scares the other men that are on the fence. They just don’t join. There is no solidarity at the moment.

In the previous government, there are some that want to go back to something like a republic, that they can choose their own, and have a political participation, like men, in the government. Some are saying that Islam is one of the problems that are perpetuating patriarchy and enslavement to our current predicament. Some of them are seeing both state and Islam as a problem. Which is basically our position as anarchists of Federation. I’m not sure if that answered your question.

TFSR: Oh, yeah, absolutely. Yeah. I didn’t mean to put the agency into the hands of the government. But your point that when the government is not as actively repressing, people get a chance to organize and coordinate as opposed to when there’s direct threat of violence or death coming from the State. That’s kind of what I was trying to get at. The point was very well made.

In ways other than the patriarchy, does the Taliban appear to be ruling any differently than they did until 2001? Like how is life for queer folks or for atheists, or people of other faiths than the brand of Sunni favored by the state, or for political dissidents? Is it just kind of the same as you’ve been describing already?

Aryanum: For the atheists and the members of the LGBT community. They were in the closet and in hiding even during the previous government. They just hold their own hidden communities. Because again, the society is very patriarchal and it hasn’t changed. The struggles are very similar. It was deadly then, it is more deadly now. They are in hiding, some of them left the country and some of them because of a financial blockade, extradition of the refugees from Iran and Pakistan. They are they are stuck in Afghanistan and they cannot leave the country.

How the government is ruling since 2001? It is basically the same but it is more vicious, more ruthless. It is more pronounced in Mazar-i-Sharif. Because in Mazar-i-Sharif, they [the Taliban] have a deep hatred of that city because it was one of the last cities that basically fought until the end during the last takeover. It fought against Taliban. A lot of killings that you see happens in Mazar-i-Sharif area in the province of Balkh, where women are mysteriously getting killed, by mysteriously, the perpetrator without a doubt is the Taliban. They don’t announce it as they’re doing it, they just do it. They either give the bodies to the hospitals and make a reason why they died and they falsified the evidence. Or they leave them somewhere, just leave the body somewhere.

It is the same fascist Islamic government that it used to be 20 years ago. Maybe it just got smarter. It’s using the similar tactics that the Iranian government is using. It is probably getting counseled by the Iranian Islamic state, getting supported somehow because the Iran is gonna benefit from the water rights and its going to benefit from the the mines that Afghanistan has. I believe Taliban is going to give them some rights. I just read the news just a few hours ago that the China wants to cooperate with the Taliban in Afghanistan to drill some oil refineries, drill some oil, petroleum and refineries and a copper mine to get copper for cheap. And I’m sure Russia is not that far off. Russia, China, Iran and Pakistan, the governments gave a go ahead for Taliban taking over and they provided support. Mostly Iran, provided support and Pakistan provide their military support, I believe. China just provide political support. The short answer is, it is the same as before, but more brutal.

TFSR: Like you’ve, mentioned women’s protests and protests for gender justice, being repressed pretty heavily. What are the levels of resistance to the Taliban in Afghanistan still that you can tell? Like, protesting Kabul of no longer featured on Western media, and I’m not sure if that’s because they’re not happening or because the Western media has such a short attention span. And the tragedy of the Taliban takeover is such an embarrassing moment for so many people in the West whose governments and taxes went to participate in the occupation and war that lasted 20 years? And what’s the state of resistance information that you can tell getting out of Afghanistan?

Aryanum: Sure. So, there are some militant groups that announced their formations, we are not affiliated with them, and we are watching them from afar. Just observing the situation about them. And majority were previously part of the Mujahideen. There are similar Islamic groups with their belief system that is not that far different from what Taliban is espousing. For example, only one of them is even showing women speaking in their announcement of their formation, the rest of them were just men, and they are just saying how they are defending the country. The language is full of patriarchal Islamic rhetoric. They see the woman as their belonging, their namus, that’s what they are called. That they need to be defended, the patriarchal chauvinism.

So, beyond planning to work with them, we just observing them at the moment. There is another suit in Pancheer province, it was another previous Mujahideen leader basically, that is mounting the resistance in Pancheer province. There are small groups that are forming, but the women’s movement is basically the only radical movement. But it is not militarized because they were not given any weapons. They do not have a chance to have weapons. The military organizations are forming, they had their weapons beforehand from the back when they were part of the Mujahideen organization or another military organization. The new organizations, that were not part of those groups, they did not have opportunity to have a gun. The opportunity to procure a gun, but also experience to do the very covert guerrilla tactics or any other war tactics against the Taliban. Those that do, have a previous experience from, like I said, the Mujahideen or other military groups.

Regarding how the news is getting out, fortunately, there is still internet. Afghanistan during the previous government and even during Taliban, Taliban doesn’t have any expert to oversee censorship on the internet. We can imagine that with the cooperation of China and Iran, they are working to get that capability. But at the moment, the people are using the internet to get the news out. They use Facebook, they use WhatsApp at the moment. With our communication, we try to push into secure communication. Like for example, Telegram, even though Telegram is not that secure, it is more secure to us that WhatsApp. Signal for the best secure communication. But unfortunately, it seems that since the internet is so big over there, the signal processing on WhatsApp is much, much more efficient than Telegram. So our comrades, when they having signal issues, they might be able to communicate through WhatsApp, but they cannot do through Telegram and not through Signal. It’s not as good, unfortunately. Yeah, people are communicating through that. This causes the Taliban to check the phones on every checkpoint. So whoever is sending a message, have to keep clearing their messages, including our comrades that are traveling through, moving anywhere, they just have to keep deleting their messages. Taliban would just show up and force them to show their phone with all the apps open so they can view it. They will check on the phone and see if the name of the person they’re talking to is on a list or database for them to apprehend. So that’s happening, but people still can communicating through internet. The news can get out through there.

There is one news channel which is not related to us. That provides relatively okay news about Afghanistan. That’s Amajnews.com. This seems to be okay for the most part. Some of the language that they use in some articles shows them as very very liberal, statists, it shows the bougie side. But yes, they are getting the news out that way. You can find them on Telegram and their website. But we try to create as much news as we can. We ask the people involved as much as we can, people who we are in contact with and are comrades.

TFSR: Yeah, I know that your networks are very stretched thin. At one point you talked about using satellite networks to be able to produce podcasts or some sort of news or media that could be broadcast in a way that didn’t need to be encrypted but could be consumed relatively anonymously inside of Afghanistan. Is that still an eventual goal?

Are the Taliban still… it sounds like if they’re letting people through with their smartphones at the moment, they’re not doing what they were doing their first rule of destroying technological devices like stereos and whatever else. They’re just sort of dealing with the fact that they’re there now.

Aryanum: Yes, there was one video showing the Taliban member condemning TV to being of the devils and destroying it, but they cannot really control it as much they need. They need phones as well. They try to use phones to infiltrate into groups, and catch the people involved that way. For example, so they arrested 49 people, I think 25 of them were women activists, and they got forced confession from out of them with the promise of them being freed. So when they did that they produced a TV program showing all of these forced confessions. “Oh, yes, we only wanted to leave the country, not fighting for our rights, fighting for self interest… just wanted to leave the country, to go to some country. The people who helped us, lied to us saying ‘hey, we can help you get out of the country.'” Stuff like that.

They put a snippet of conversation between two activists. In which they got a hold of a phone. I believe it was Tamana [Zaryabi Paryani]’s phone. She was arrested with her sister. They got off the phone and extracted conversations. They edited it to their favor and put it in the program to show that “yes, all of this was a ruse for them to leave the country. This had nothing to do with us oppressing them.” It is same tactic that the Islamic Republic of Iran is using with the forced confessions.

They are searching house-to-house. So if they find anything incriminating being shown… well, not necessarily… They just search house-to-house, some take and steal their belongings, they steal whatever people have left. The jewelry, the gold, whatever they find in the house, they steal it. If they find anything showing that the residents of the house had any anti Taliban sentiment, well, they’re gonna get arrested, the men are definitely gonna get tortured. So that’s going on, but there is not a network to intercept the signals midway or record every messages like NSA in the US. I mean, they would like to have something like that.

TFSR: Yeah, what state wouldn’t?

Yeah. So there was, during the war, bombings that were claimed by a group called Islamic State in Khorasan, or ISIS-K. Is this group joining in with the efforts of the Taliban? Or is it waging its own insurgency, or has it sort of disappeared?

Aryanum: That is like Al-Qaeda, maybe it’s inactive. They haven’t done anything recently, and the Taliban may be using it as an excuse for tightening their own security measures and becoming more intrusive and more violent. Using the Al-Qaeda as their legitimation tool. “Yes we are the good government, Al-Qaeda is the bad one. We are not Al-Qaeda so we are good.” That sort of logic is going on. I’m not sure about the ISIS Khorasan, to be honest. I don’t have any information about that.

TFSR: Ok, thank you.

Do any of your federation members have anecdotes or experiences of having to become a refugee, that they shared with you? And if they’ve moved to places where there are anarchist communities, have they been able to integrate or interact with those communities? How have they been received? Finally, are there any NGOs or organizations that are doing refugee support work that you’ve heard are doing a good job and should be supported by general civil society where possible?

Aryanum: We managed to, with the help of a comrade introducing us to somebody, help one of our friend’s families to leave directly to the US. There is another comrade that used their own channels and managed to get their family to the US as well. From their experiences, if I want to start from beginning, after the fall of Kabul and after 12 days, our comrades decided to evacuate because we couldn’t mount a defense. There was no resistance at the moment and he chances of the window of opportunity for us to evacuate was closing.

So some of our comrades try to leave the country, evacuate the country to Pakistan. There are two borders that gets used. And for Pakistan, the one of them is Torkhan, which is near the near Kabul. That was closed in the beginning. The other one was the Chaman crossing. Chaman is the border city in Pakistan. So, it is kind of far away from Kabul, it was 12 hours via the bus to get there and just another hour to get to the border from the city and province of Kandahar. So they arrived there, there were so many refugees just lining up to go to Pakistan. The Taliban and Pakistan, in collaboration with each other were changing the rules every single day. The first day that the comrades tried, they said they’re only allowed the residents of Kandahar and they don’t allow any other residents to cross the border without a visa. Just the Kandahar people. So our comrades basically tried to forge identification that shows that they were from Kandahar so they can pass. The change the rule again! They needed to have a visa now, there needed to be something… they kept changing the rule until they closed the border.

Two of our comrades managed to cross the border. Basically, the rest of them had to be smuggled. There was no path. The only people that could cross the border… none of them could be women or children because leaving the life of your children in the hands of a border smuggler is very risky. The has been horrible news of people missing in the smuggling process. So one of our comrades that came with their family decided that they will not cross a border. One of the times that they crossed that border, the lost their luggage. So they lost their phones, they lost all of their clothes, everything. They only had their identification with them in a bag that they kept with them. In an attempt to cross the border, the last time, the Pakistani border guards really was mistreating the people and every Afghan refugee that was trying to cross the border. They were hitting them, they were hurling insults all sorts of things. One of our comrades decided through a different channel which went to Qatar, then from Qatar, they went to America. In America they reported that they were sent into military encampment, a military base. The building that they were in had no door, just a curtain for the privacy, but there was no door so they could not leave their belongings there because other refugees could come and steal them and they did. They bought their 3 year old kid and some shoes, those shoes that lights up when you step on them so for the three year old to calm her down, to ease her as they keep moving from one place to another. They got stolen. In the refugee camps, there are stealing people. People have needs and people are thinking, “okay, I can sell this for my own thing.” So they steal the stuff.

So, that was happening and one of our comrades was saying the food was really little. I’m not sure why that was, apparently, people were not donating enough and it was hard to divide it, I’m not sure what was the reason, just not allocating enough food and they had to pay their own money that they brought over just to eat. Things were expensive at the camp because they don’t have a choice to go anywhere else. That is only some stores that are allowed to be operating. The choices are limited and they are expensive, because they can gouge people. People had no autonomy to cook for themselves. I think that would have been good if they could cook for themselves. But I guess they didn’t want to give the refugees tools that could be used as a weapon, I guess. I have no idea at the larger military bases, why they don’t give them any things.

In the beginning, they used to be able to eat at their own place. But after that, they were forced to, if they wanted to eat, they had to go to the kitchen to eat. So a family with two kids, yeah, that’s gonna be hard. Like they cannot bring any food out. So they have to all go there and then their belongings getting stolen and stuff like that. They did receive a cell phone so we could communicate with them, which was good, it was paid by some nonprofit organization, I believe. So to help us, one of the groups around Minnesota, they recently met some Iranian family that they became friends with. That is some of their struggles.

Previously, since they are non-believers or atheists, they couldn’t mingle with some of the Afghani groups as well, because some of the Afghani’s are extremely religious. Our comrades are not praying and its really conspicuous, especially if you are leaving your country with basically nothing, your identity is the only thing you have left. For some people, that includes their religious identity, and some people would become extremely dependent on that and if you’re not conforming to that ideal, yeah, it could cause conflict. So, our comrades decided not to intermingle that much. Just with a select group of people, they were not sent to the same place. But they met the Iranian family that are friends with and they are working to a degree to get their legal residence and they are already trying to get a driving license. So they are working on that stuff. None of the other ones are same as this.

Yeah, there was a lot of crazy things that happens in between, but it’s all about them getting out and that’s their experience outside of Afghanistan. For inside Afghanistan, while they were trying to get out, that family was part of a group, but they didn’t go to a safe house same as that group. Because safe houses were not safe and are not safe in Afghanistan. The people who rent those spaces out are not in solidarity with you, with the people who give them money. The people, the neighbors would talk. So, the Taliban would find out real quick, and would come knocking. Some of the people that were in the safe spaces or safe houses waiting to get out of the country to evacuate, they’ve been arrested in the safe houses. Some of these are women activists, they were already in safe houses, but the safe houses were compromised. The owner of the place gets scared if the Taliban comes and just tells them everything. They already got your money so they don’t care, they just tell them everything.

So one of our comrades family decided to take refuge in Iran. He couldn’t get the visa, so they cross the border illegally, but they were shouted by the border guards. And they got into an accident after with another car, which was kind of severe enough to have a broken hand, severe bruises, unfortunately. Not too serious of injuries, but they got caught by the police because of the accident and they got extradited back to Afghanistan. Like I said, the Iranian government keeps sending Afghan people back to the Afghanistan. Land border crossing without visas has a lot of risk. Some of our comrades are trying to process that application for some of the western governments, ut the other government is saying “oh, you need to prove how your life was in danger that made you have to leave the country.” Which is a ridiculous question because it’s very obvious. There’s a famine going on. There is extreme suppression of the religious and ethnic groups in Afghanistan. So, that question is very misguided. But some of our comrades are journalists as well. One of them even had, before the takeover of Taliban, had a lot of sharp critiques of Taliban that everybody in the in the business knew, so their life is in danger. They applied for the French Embassy, they applied for Swiss embassy and trying to see how they can process an application for asylum.

TFSR: Thank you for sharing that.

The one other part of it that I wondered was, and it’s okay if you don’t have an answer to this, but if there are any NGOs that you’ve heard of from folks that have had to go through this, that seem to be doing a decent job, and who would be worthy of supporting if people had money that they wanted to give or if those NGOs operated in areas where the listener lives that they could consider volunteering with. Or maybe just anytime you find that there’s people being resettled to where you live, going and trying to meet people would be a good idea. Does that make sense?

Aryanum: Yes, there is one organizations that are claiming that they are helping targeted Afghans find refugee and resettle, and there is not going to be any expenses and no salaries, and 100% of the donation would go to helping them. And like I said, personally I just heard of them recently, and I’m not sure exactly how they operate, or when they’re operating. So don’t take this as an endorsement. But then name is Azadi Charity. They have a Twitter account, and the website is AzadiCharity.com. That’s what they’re claiming that I understand. There may be few others, but unfortunately, they don’t come to mind at the moment. And unfortunately I’m not familiar with them If they haven’t helped anybody that we were in contact with. But people can help them and inquire about them.

TFSR: Thank you very much. So it’s a little bit of a shift in topic. But I wonder if members of your network have observations or words for anarchists slipping under States in the former Soviet Union such as Belarus, Russia, or Ukraine, or about the war being conducted by Putin’s regime that they’d like to share with comrades there?

Aryanum: They fully support our comrades in the countries Belarus, Russia, Ukraine. We condemn the imperialist action of the Russian State against Ukrainian people. We are not in support of the Ukrainian State. I believe Ukraine was the State government that basically put the news and development of the Ukraine airplane crisis that happened in 2020 in Iran. So, during the shooting down of the Ukrainian airplane, the Ukrainian government cooperated with Iranian regime, we still haven’t found out what was the truth. So they helped the Iranian government to hide the truth. There is no file among Iranian anarchists for the Ukrainian state. But we are anarchists, and we support the Ukrainian people against the imperialist forces of Russia and the opportunist, imperialist actions of the West, of NATO.

Because of this, we are really happy about the anarchist detachments, the militaristic detachments that doesn’t necessarily listens to the State directive, and does not side with their fascist group, like Azov. We wish them the best. We hope for an autonomous region, where it’s similar to Rojava, something like that in Ukraine. We are hopeful about that. During the war in Afghanistan, we consulted some of the comrades that fought in Rojava, to see what we can do. Can we make something like Rojava happen in Afghanistan? Unfortunately, since our numbers are unfortunately so little, we could not have even an anarchist detachment, we could not do something that happened in Rojava. We were not prepared for something of the scale. But as the war continues on, this might be an opportunity for the Ukrainian anarchists, the Belarusian anarchists, the other anarchists, joining the defense against Russian invasion, to find an opportunity to create something like an autonomous region just like Rojava. We are really hopeful about that. And, again, we are saddened about all the losses, all the destructions. It is just a reminder of what happened in Afghanistan. That war just took took a month but all the internal displacement all the external refugees, we understand. We experienced that, we are in solidarity with them.

TFSR: Thank you very much. So I can see from the ASRAnarshism website that there have been mobilizations of teachers in Iran against the economic crisis there and also striking mine workers in the Azerbaijan province within eastern Iran. I guess switching to Iran for a moment. To your knowledge, have anarchist been able to participate in these struggles? Are there other social struggles that are worth noting here for the audience? That they may not have heard about within Iran?

Aryanum: Yes, Iran right now is a hotspot of strikes. Not only from teachers, but like you said, mining workers. And also the financial economical crisis is so big that even then prison guards are striking. Which we spit on them because they tortured our comrades for the little money they get, we are not in solidarity with the prison guard’s strikes. But everybody is striking. They are doing it in waves, it comes and goes. It shows deterioration of the Iranian control on the working population. The way they’re trying to get out is by supporting regimes like Taliban, so they can get some benefits, so they can ease their own crisis to a certain extent.

But yes, a lot of workers are striking. And among them are Iraqi’s as well. They’re not specifically from our organization, but we are aware of the dark movement anarchists organizations. Most of them are covert in Iran. Certain groups here and there. During the workers strikes, plenty of them are going to be anarcho-syndicalists. You could see anarchists in every struggle, just they don’t advertise it because in Iran, anarchism, even though it’s growing, the opposition to that from the government is growing as well. They created fake anarchism group, which is a national anarchism called Irananarshism, which is just to divert attention from the people who are looking for anarchism that direction, they send them in the wrong path. They also are approving translation of anarchists books because they want to control the narrative, they approve what is damaging to them, which is the most mellow stance of anarchism that they can. They change the narrative and done and they control and they can see where the movement is going by. Like how many people are purchasing this book? And maybe they can track who is purchasing this book, who goes to the gatherings promoted by authors of this book. So they’re trying. It is a growing part of the concern of the Iranian government.

TFSR: Yeah, I hadn’t heard of the Iranarshism or Iranarshist national anarchist. That’s so weird. National anarchists are a strange abomination.

Aryanum: It is probably created by a government sponsored group just divert people from anarchism.

TFSR: Yeah, I could, I could see that. What can you say about the situation of political prisoners in Iran at the moment. A news services posted information about hunger strikes going on in a few prisons, right?

Aryanum: Yes, the hunger strike is happening because of the death of Baktash Abtin. He was a poet, writer, and a filmmaker. He got imprisoned because of what the government describes as the propaganda against the state, which he got imprisoned. The government in Iran was using COVID as a weapon. The situation in the prisons was so abysmal. The people could contract it, COVID, the political people. But the people that got in there because of embezzlement. They had all the money that they could use to live a good life in prison. They would get out of the prison soon after. The political prisoners that didn’t have any money, the activists, they either injured them, or used COVID as a weapon. So, the people who contracted COVID were not sent to a hospital, they did not do medical procedures to cure them, or ease their symptoms.

So Baktash Abtin contracted COVID. He got it so bad because of the neglect. He eventually had to be hospitalized and while he was in handcuffs in the hospital bed, he died of COVID. We all know that it was because the government wanted him to die and they were using the COVID as excuse. The larger scale prison hunger strikes started because of that. The hunger strike eased off a little bit, but we have recent news as of this week that they are continuing that again. For some reason they are restarting it again. During their hunger strike in Ervin prison, the head of prison, I think we reported on this as well on our website, the head of prison and head of intelligence started assaulting the political prisoners during the hunger strike. Some of them got severely injured. They wanted to give some benefit to one of them, like a shorter prison sentence, and having a right for a family member to visit them, something like that, for them to stop the hunger strike. But they persisted and got assaulted. But they’re gonna continue on.

TFSR: There had been an article recently about women prisoners inside of Iran doing an action…

Aryanum: About the woman. The prison in Iran is abysmal for both women and men. Women get arrested for petty things. If they are pregnant, they are gonna give birth to the child in the prison. The child is going to grow up in the prison. There are a lot of children. I don’t have a number, but there is a lot of children at the moment are growing up in the prison and are in prison because their mother is in prison. They haven’t seen a world outside of the prison as long as they live. And that’s another situation in prisons that are not talked about that much, but it is a reality that we are experiencing. The children are not put up for adoption. The children are not given to a family member that can be responsible for them or who can take care of them. They are living with the mother. And in some cases there is nobody, left alone. The mother and the child are serving a sentence that is cruel and inhumane.

TFSR: Yeah, the idea of raising kids inside of a prison is… I mean, that doesn’t happen in the US, the child would get taken in either put in foster care or sent to a relative. But definitely people give birth in prisons and obviously, in some cases in assigned women’s prisons, people who have been in for a while sometimes get pregnant. And there’s a question of how that happens, if not the guards.

Aryanum: Yeah. There is sexual assault of men and women is rampant in prisons.

Men’s prisons from our report, Sohiel Arabi, who got released from prison, sent to exile for two years. Then after two years, he needed to report back to prison. They didn’t want to let him go. Even though they keep making the same cases for him to keep extending his prison time. I think for some deals, he was allowed to leave the prison, he was part of some deals, regarding BARJAM, the nuclear deal, to leave the prison and be just in exile. But he will be going back to prison and he has multiple stories about prison that there is a sexual assault, it’s rampant. Prison guards would sexually assault you. You are not allowed to masturbate in prison. So there is a lot of sexual frustration there as well. There are people that take advantage of others, and the prison guards do what they can, what they can get away with. It is not like in the US, where they try to keep it on the low. In Iran it’s just not a concern. It just happens.

TFSR: There are there are laws in the US where whether successful or not prisoners can file with the federal government to the PREA, the Prison Rape Elimination Act. I’ve heard about people filing suits against other prisoners or against administration’s or against guards for that. But, yeah.

Aryanum: One thing that I remember is that some of the censorships that happens from Taliban, is that the people that made it out, if they haven’t hidden their identity, their family members are going to experience the same thing that the Chinese people and the Iranian people experienced. Which is the Taliban would go to their family members, and would threaten them, would beat them to tell their family members to stop talking to silence them. Even though people make it out they have to be careful about themselves and their identity because it can be used against their loved ones that are still in Afghanistan, or Iran, or in China. It’s the same tactic. They just learned it from Iran and China.

TFSR: Yet, it’s terrible. That makes sense. So well, Aryanum, I hope that you’re doing well and thanks a lot for having this chat. And I can point people to the social medias and the telegram channel and the website in the end of the episode. But, thanks so much. Solidarity and appreciation to the work that you and your network do. And I’m glad a lot of them have been able to get out despite difficulties.

Aryanum: Thank you very much for having me and having this conversation. I really appreciate that and having a voice within the podcast.

I just want to say sorry to everybody who contacted us this past few months on asking for an interview for a written interview for the voice interview, sometimes from our Iranian comrades, something from our Afghan comrades. We let them down. We either gave them late responses or something like that. Unfortunately, our core outside Iran and Afghanistan is really a small and we are only responsible for dealing with this inquiry for inquiries and questions. We got overwhelmed and we apologize for it. It is not because we are ignoring you. It is because we just can’t unfortunately, we get overwhelmed. Thank you very much for having me on. We’ll be talking again.

TFSR: Yeah, I hope so too. Yeah, Solidarity.

Aryanum: Solidarity.

A Russian Anarchist Against The Ukraine War

A Russian Anarchist on the Ukraine War

Antiwar protestor in Russia being arrested
Download This Episode

This week, we spoke with Petr, a Russian anarchist member of the group Autonomous Action, who is living in Europe right now. For the hour we speak about the invasion of Ukraine, a bit about the resistance inside of Russia to the war drums and the Putin regime, the dangers of a nuclear conflict, the impacts of increased sanctions and anarchists organizing across the borders of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus against the war and against tyranny. You can learn more about what’s going on by visiting Avtonom.org and finding the English tab, or using tools like google translate to read articles from the Russian there.

If you’d like to support anarchist organizing against Putin and the war in Russia, below you’ll find links to some crypto-currency wallets:

  • Ethereum 0x5DF79A64A9CE5B630B50E490F586716522B746d9
  • Bitcoin bc1qpr0dcvhar5fmysqkg4wuk8p6h0hl7ln20dmjwc
  • Zcache t1SqHUbGW8KDRp1hddNAYoVvYHBZoAfG3oc
  • Monero 49eZzSF4uhni3DYnVPCeBPGFZ7cXrbPnWBJuQVYKUNNg7aDxRz6L87fbh9ZQtVNUn87kpSgNgHadAjKthZWmor7yHq9SkTP

Also, a reminder that you can find links to anarchist solidarity and defense organizing and fundraising as well.

To hear our past interviews, including histories of Antifascist organizing in Russia, queer organizing, state repression, ecological resistance and other topics, we’re linking them here as well: https://thefinalstrawradio.noblogs.org/post/category/russia/

Announcement

Ex-YPG French Anarchist Prisoner Hunger Strike

On Tuesday, December 8, 2020, 9 comrades were arrested by the DGSI, the French anti-terrorist police unit, across France. In Toulouse, in Dordogne, in the Paris region, in Brittany, and in Rennes. Anarchists are accused of being “the criminal association planning a terrorist attack”. All but one comrade were released, some after months in pre-trial detention. They are awaiting trial and are placed under the judicial control. The defendants, not all of whom know each other, have been under surveillance for a long period of time, including digital surveillance such as planting recording devices in vehicles as well as physical surveillance.

On March 4th, 2022 it was announced that it was six days since our comrades started the hunger strike. He did so at the beginning of the invasion of Ukraine knowing very well that this information would drown in the news about the war. That all efforts would be focused on supporting the resistance in Ukraine and the people fleeing from there. It’s amazing what support for Ukraine has gathered, even thought it also came with shortcomings and contradiction; racist sentiment and nationalist visions for the future to name but two of them. Our comrade would in the same way support people fight for freedom. He is in isolation, the method the state use to deprive us of connection and communication with others. He needs us in the same way we need each other, we can never win alone. A person with their body can resist the repression of the state, but without the access we have on the outside his voice will not be heard.

There are suggestions of steps to support the comrade and more information at the blog, https://solidaritytodecember8.wordpress.com/category/english/

Statement from Sanctuary Camp Defendants

retrieved from BRABC.BlackBlogs.Org:

The following is an update from the now 15 defendants facing charges in Asheville, NC as a part of the city government’s attempt to repress food sharing and mutual aid organizing.

“Since our last statement at the beginning of February, the state has targeted 8 more community members in connection with the December demonstration in Aston Park criticizing the City government’s inhumane treatment of homeless folks. We are now a group of 15 locals facing multiple felony charges for participating in mutual aid efforts in our community.

The city government claims we are each responsible for leaving behind more than 500 lbs of trash following a peaceful protest. APD claims this resulted in a 100 hours of “clean-up efforts”, the use of heavy machinery, and a cost of $2,680.

Over the past three months, the taxpayer dollars and time expended surveilling, harassing, arresting, and now prosecuting the defendants vastly exceeds the damages claimed by APD. How many of the same resources and heavy machinery have been employed by the city and county government to remove and destroy homeless camps in the last year alone?

These actions are not an effort to make our city safer, they are an attack on mutual aid. We remain committed to ensuring all members of our community have a safe place to live, a community around them, and agency over their own lives.

We still need your help as we face state repression and attempts to shut down our networks of care.

“Keep sharing food and care and solidarity with one another. Keep delivering groceries, cooking meals, sharing funds, and showing up in the parks. Keep standing with your community. Keep building this beautiful, transformative mutual aid movement. Keep sharing our story. In solidarity and community, the Sanctuary Camp Defendants”

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Transcription

TFSR: Would you please introduce yourself with whatever name, location, preferred gender pronouns, or affiliations that you can give us?

Petr: My name is Petr. I’m located in Europe, I would prefer not to disclose the particular location. I associate myself with he/him.

TFSR: Cool. Are there any projects that you’re involved with for the sake of this conversation?

Petr: I guess, the most important for this conversation is that I participate quite heavily in what the Autonomous Action is doing. This is one of the largest or maybe even the largest organizations of anarchist, libertarian communists in the ex-USSR countries. I’ve been involved in Autonomous Action quite a lot before I moved to Europe. I am still involved while being here. There are lots of projects going on. But mostly, spreading information, organizing more or less a stream of anarchist views, anarchist analysis of the current events for as wide an audience in Russia and neighboring countries as possible.

TFSR: I’m familiar with avtonom.org as a website where I can occasionally find English translations, updates of stuff, and ideas going on in the Russian language sphere. Would you share a little bit about the history of that group Autonomous Action more widely, the shared values and beliefs, like you said, that most people identify as anarchist or libertarian communists? Where the members are? What stuff do the projects do?

Petr: The Autonomous Action was established quite a long time ago, 20 years ago, in fact, in 2002-2003. It used to be an organization with quite solid, libertarian communist and anarcho-communist platform, based essentially on Kropotkin, Bakunin, and Bookchin. But it was not very picky, meaning that we cooperated with all sorts of the progressive left, but still, our opposition towards the state and towards the statist left was quite pronounced always, all the time. During the first 15 years of its existence, Autonomous Action was quite active on the streets. We really organized hundreds of various street actions. We also were quite integrated with the Antifa movement in Russia, I think the Autonomous Action was a major player in the anti-fascist movement on the streets. But then in recent years, since the state repression is constantly increasing, it becomes more and more difficult to actually organize something on the streets openly by anarchists, which means that we are increasingly trying to become a stream of information. That’s why we nowadays don’t call ourselves an organization anymore, but a media project. We’re on our website. We’re on all sorts of social media networks. Those members of Autonomous Action who are still in Russia — and most of them are — participate in street protests and grassroots initiatives, from environmental to political stuff, like the current anti-war protests.

TFSR: You’ve mentioned that you’re in Europe right now. But I wonder if you have a sense, at least among Russian anarchists and Russian-speaking anarchists that you’re in contact with, what are the reactions to the escalation that the Russian government’s been building, but in particular, the invasion of Ukraine, and the justifications behind it? We’ve heard of several marches around Russia with many arrests and beatings, as well.

Petr: It probably will come as no surprise that all the anarchist organizations or movements or projects that I know about in Russia pronounced quite explicitly their position against this war and against Putin’s regime which started this war, and I guess for us as anarchists, it didn’t come as much as a surprise as, for example, for liberals. We were not surprised that Putin will start another war. Wars accompany capitalism, always. Even more, they accompany capitalism in this flavor, which we observe in Russia, this strange mix of neoliberalism, authoritarian regime, and patriarchal propaganda for the crowds. We were not much surprised. But we were a bit surprised by the scale of it. Nobody seriously believed that Putin would really decide to occupy or at least try to occupy the whole of Ukraine. Our guess was that only the Eastern and maybe some southern parts will be under attack. The scale was surprising, but not the war itself.

There were lots of protests around the country. The protests are still ongoing. People still go out in the streets every day. Anarchists, participated quite a lot in these protests. But the protest is quite disorganized. Because, as I’ve said, it’s really difficult to really organize a real demo in Russia, because, it’s just those who will call people to come to some particular place and time will be probably arrested long before it started. It’s really just the spontaneous organization of people via social media, etc. But still, indeed, in the first days of the war, some groups of anarchists in Moscow, for example, and then in St. Petersburg as well, did manage to gather in crowds with banners and with anarchist slogans, etc. But most of the times anarchists were just part of the crowd without any banners or flags because if you have a banner, or if you have a flag, you will be just the first one to be arrested, of course. But the attitude of all anarchists in Russia is anti-war and anti-Putin.

TFSR: From what I hear in the Western media, the Russian government has criminalized media outlets and organizations that call this an invasion or a war. Do you have the impression of if the population in Russia knows what’s going on with the battles, with the shelling of cities, and the refugee crisis that’s building? Do you get the impression that this will be the new Chechnya to bring the country together into Putin’s arms?

Petr: That’s true. Indeed, in the best spirit of George Orwell, the Russian government criminalized calling this war a war. Officially, it is a special military operation. Indeed, even for carrying, for example, a sheet of paper with the words ‘NO WAR’ in it, you can get a fine, you will be penalized. If you do it for the second time, at least in theory, you can get a prison sentence, which is a significant step towards— Putin’s regime was being harder on anyone who has been protesting all the recent years. But this is a really strong step, even for Putin’s regime. Because it’s especially ironic, given that the state propaganda all these years was based essentially on this memory of World War II, and on declarations that “we are peaceful people, and we don’t want war”, etc. This is the reason why Putin and the authorities decided to ban the word “war” because otherwise, it would sound too crazy for the majority of the Russian population.

The question about whether the population knows what’s going on. It is a difficult question. It’s a difficult issue. The urbanized population, which was critical towards Putin even before the war, more or less have the means of accessing Western media, accessing some remaining independent Russian media, they know how to use TOR, VPNs to access blocked websites, so they definitely know what’s going on. About the rest of the population, I’d say that the majority understands what’s going on because nobody really believes the authorities that bombings are aimed only at military facilities, etc because nobody believes Russian authorities in anything. The trust in the government is really low. But it’s just the case that it’s difficult to leave with a feeling that you are a citizen of an aggressor country because the historical memory of people in Russia is that the Soviet Union was under an attack by Nazi Germany. There is this whole myth about a brave country defending itself from the aggressors, and now Russia is this aggressor. I guess many people just try to close their eyes and forget about this. They happily catch on any piece of propaganda on the TV or the Internet, which says “It’s the Ukrainians who are bombing themselves, or we are freeing Ukraine from the Nazis” or that Ukraine was developing biological weapons to destroy all Russians. This is a real claim by the Russian military. It becomes crazier. I think still, people often try to believe that, just because it’s difficult to see the reality often, unfortunately. I think that the role of anarchists and other progressive political movements is to try to open people’s eyes.

The next question of yours, whether this will be the new Chechnya, the idea of Putin definitely was that it will be a quick victory, which would improve the political situation inside the country because people when the wars are won by an authoritarian leader. But now that there is no quick victory — two weeks have passed, and no significant military success up to now — unfortunately, it seems that it could be the new Chechnya in the meaning that it will be just senseless bloodshed for many months or years, which will be horrible. This is definitely a very grim perspective and future. We should do everything that we can to avoid this. We probably can talk later about what we are doing for this and what anarchists and other progressive left can do for this.

TFSR: Thank you.

The claim about the chemical weapons development is kind of a newer one that I’ve just seen popping up over the last few days. Can you describe what that claim is that’s being made by the Russian military?

Petr: Essentially, they invent a new reason to invade Ukraine every day. And at some point, they claimed that they found some documents with the names of some chemical substances, somewhere in Ukraine, in the conquered cities, and based on this, they stated that Ukraine, with the help of the US and NATO, was developing biological weapons to target Russian people. They even claimed something that this weapon will be specifically aimed at the Russian DNA, which is absolute nonsense from the scientific point of view. But it’s just the case that we’ve observed this for many years that Putin and Kremlin propaganda, just their strategy was always just “say as many crazy things as possible so that the truth is just drowning in the sea of shit essentially”. They don’t care about whether what they claim is consistent because one day they say that we invaded Ukraine because we want to defend the people of the East of Ukraine. The next day they say that we invaded Ukraine because it wanted to become a member of NATO, the next day, they say that it was because of nuclear weapon which was being developed there. It’s just a constant stream of nonsense, which nobody actually believes in Russia, except maybe some hardcore patriots, which are definitely the minority of the population.

TFSR: I also wonder, since we’re going back into reasons for the invasion that have been given… The de-nazification makes sense with what you said about the Russian government playing off— The massive amount of people that died during World War II fighting the Nazis, but talking about this as an extension of the Patriotic War for the Fatherland. The de-nazification — and we know that there are militias that are connected to or integrated into the Ukrainian military that have white supremacist connections or have indeed Nazis within their ranks — I’ve been hearing some other anarchist sources talk about okay, “ there’s Nazis involved in the military of Ukraine. There are Nazis involved in the military of the US. There are Nazis involved in the military alongside Russian troops.” One group, for instance, that’s been mentioned, is the Wagner group? Can you talk a little bit about it, just to even the playing field and to point out that states are bad and Nazis using state militaries? Can you talk a little bit about some of the Nazi groups that are involved in the Russian military?

Petr: Well, the whole business of this de-nazification is of course total bullshit. It doesn’t have anything to do with reality. Of course, there are Nazis in Ukraine, and of course, they are some militias that are somehow associated with the Ukrainian army. But it’s definitely not the real aim of invading Ukraine. Putin doesn’t care at all about Nazis, what he cares about is whether he can order these people or not. Definitely, Nazi mercenaries are fighting on the side of the Russian Army. They were involved in armed conflicts in the east of Ukraine, they were involved in Syria, in many other regions of the world. But actually, it doesn’t matter much that they’re Nazis. They’re much more just soldiers of Putin than Nazis. Because the Nazi groups in Russia have been mostly eliminated or totally subjected to the state about 8-10 years ago. Nowadays, there are no independent Nazi parties or groups that are active on the streets. They are either dead or in prison, or they are part of more or less pro-Putin, pro-regime movements. Nazis are not political players anymore in Russia at all. It doesn’t make sense to even to talk about them. Maybe if you have some, specific questions, I probably can give some answers, but they do not play any significant part in what’s happening in Russia now.

TFSR: Okay, that makes sense. I’ve heard Russian people describe that Nazis aren’t fighting you on the streets. But when you get pulled into a police station, there’s going to be a Nazi with a boot to beat you. It seems like one thing about the way that Putin’s regime operates is to destroy autonomous power that could exist, anything that could destabilize and integrate it into their own power base, which is why it’s hard for Western people sometimes to take a read on Putin’s politics, because they presume it’s left or it’s right or something like that when actually it’s just neoliberal authoritarian.

Petr: I agree. Putin doesn’t care about whether this particular group is left or right, Nazi or Antifa. He cares about whether they pose a threat to him or not, that’s what matters. That was the reason behind crushing the Nazi movement about 10 years ago, and actually, about the same time they started crushing the Antifa movement. Then it was more or less finished by 2014 when it was split along this conflict in the Crimea and the eastern parts of Ukraine because some part, some members of the Russian Antifa movement went to fight on the Ukrainian side, and others went to fight on the side of this newly-established so-called republics. Both sides considered themselves to be anti-fascists. That was sad to observe. But I guess that’s what you expect more or less in such political conditions.

TFSR: Yeah.

Putin has made the argument that Ukraine is a part of Russia, we’ve talked about the claims of genocide and Russian speakers and Donbas. Just as a note, war times are a time of increased nationalism. Have you seen the idea of who is Russian changed shape recently within Russia or to your experience? Where does this leave people of Chechen or Uzbek or other backgrounds or African backgrounds who may or may not be considered as Russian as others right now? How does the race work inside of Russia, basically? Do you get the impression that this has changed around the time of the war drums beating?

Petr: This, I should admit, is a very complicated issue. It probably would require a separate interview or a separate podcast to talk about this in-depth. But in general, on the one hand, Putin and his elite would probably want to establish some ethnic Russian domination or something similar to that. But on the other hand, they understand that they rule a country, which is really multinational and multiracial and multi-ethnic, and pronouncing one ethnic group as a dominant one has its dangers. On the other hand, another thing that stops them from going full Nazi or fully nationalistic is that, I already mentioned, this myths of The Great World War and the fighting against German Nazis, and these myths, these sorts of archetype supports Putin because he and the regime as a whole always claim themselves to be the descendants of these brave Soviet warriors who fought Nazis. That’s why they avoid directly discriminating against ethnic groups, or at least stating this explicitly, although, probably personally, they would these to happen. But politically, they are trying to avoid this. We have no evidence that the situation of ethnic minorities in Russia changed a lot since the war started.

There are problems, but it’s not that there is any apartheid or something like that. We know that the Ukrainian citizens in Russia are now often subjected to questioning. They have visits from the police, because citizens of the country with which Russia is at war right now, even when Russia itself doesn’t mean that it is in a war, up to now at least, it was just questioning. Essentially, the police come to a Ukrainian family and ask them: “Are you going to commit any terrorist acts? Do you have relatives in Ukraine?” It’s relatively soft, up to now, but we closely monitor the situation. We don’t know what might happen next.

TFSR: Because we’ve talked about the censorship that’s occurring around the information getting to parts of the Russian population, do you have a sense of what the morale might be inside of the military? Can you talk a little bit about the universal military obligation or draft in Russia and who gets out of it and how they can do that?

Petr: There is a draft in Russia. Every male after turning 18 has to serve for one year in the army, except when he starts studying at the university and it’s a long and venerable Russian tradition to avoid the draft. It’s been like that in the Russian Empire, in the Soviet Union, and it’s still like this in the Russian Federation. No one or almost no one wants to serve in the army. That’s almost universal. That’s why people try to avoid the army, by all means possible, even before the war, by paying money to the officials, by entering the University, even if they didn’t want actually to study, etc. Of course, now, when there is a real danger of being sent to a real war, even fewer people actually want to serve. Since currently, Russia seems to be losing this war, and there are rumors of actually announcing this total mobilization and sending all the conscripts to the war to Ukraine, we expect that there certainly will be protests or at least conflicts concerning this. We are trying to observe this and once we noticed that anything is happening try to help the protesters, help those who are trying to organize against this conscription, etc.

About the morale inside the military. It’s difficult to say because we don’t have any spies in the Russian army. Judging by the news, I guess, you more or less read the same news as us, it seems that the morale is not that high. Also, because as I’ve said, it’s some a mind-blowing fact to any Russian soldier that he is now serving the role of an invader. Because all his life he was taught that his role is to defend his country against invaders. Now he’s the invader. Also because no one actually wanted to really play a part in the war. All these soldiers didn’t want to really risk their lives in real battle. I’d say that the morale is low. There were some rumors about soldiers rioting somewhere near the border against sending them to Ukraine. But there were no independent confirmations about this. It’s still just some rumors. We definitely expect that there will be some riots, some soldiers rejecting the orders, etc.

TFSR: I guess on Telegram loops and on social media I have seen a video of captured Russian soldiers explaining why they’re there. That sounds also like a terrible situation to be in. But I can’t blame someone for capturing an invading soldier. Or a video of older women confronting soldiers and saying, “You should really put some sunflower seeds in your pockets so that when we kill you, at least something good will grow”. I’m sure the vitriol that they’re facing has done quite a deal on them when they’re being told that if anything they’re going to liberate people or to defend people. It makes me wonder if they’re not doing so well in this facet of the war — this is speculation, but if the Russian government might decide to focus more on the aerial bombardment because it’s easier to push a button and kill a bunch of people than it is to go in and face snipers who know the territory.

Petr: I guess that’s more or less what everyone now agrees on. That it seems that indeed, this is the tactics that the Russian army or the Russian government has chosen now. If we can’t win by conventional weapons, then let’s just bomb them. Because I guess they use more or less the same tactics in Syria and Chechnya. It seems to them that it brings them victory. Why shouldn’t it be used here in Ukraine? Of course, Ukraine is a bit different, because it still has its military, more or less, well, not intact, but still in an operational state. Also, unfortunately, the world didn’t pay so much attention to cities being bombed in Syria, the world does pay a lot of attention to cities being bombed in Ukraine. From this point of view, I’m not sure that these tactics will be actually profitable for the Russian army. But they certainly starting to do something that, they’re bombing more and more civilian buildings, residential buildings, etc. Unfortunately, that’s definitely the case.

TFSR: The last few decades, since the end of the Cold War, and since the end of the Soviet Union have brought a few shifts and changes in international arms treaties. I know, in the last six years, the US has stepped aside from anti-nuclear proliferation treaties that included Russia, as a signatory, and now there’s a lot of concerns that if NATO or US (as a more active element within NATO) decided to escalate participation, or actually start participating on the ground that it could spark a nuclear war. Do you have a sense of people seeing that in Russia as a possibility? How do you feel about that?

Petr: People in Russia definitely do see this as a possibility, especially because Putin himself mentioned that in his speech, when he actually announced the start of the war, he mentioned that we have nuclear power, etc. Also, many people, especially those who are older still remember the Soviet times when the expectation of nuclear war was more or less permanent. It’s not something entirely new.

I’d say that many people that I know at least, definitely are afraid of this. Also, there is a lot of evidence that Putin is not entirely in his mind. He definitely has some mental problems, which means that probably there is not much to prevent him from starting a nuclear war if a demon in his head tells him to do so. Or angels? I don’t know what he has in his head. People are definitely afraid of this, they hope that these are still just hollow threats. But you might never know. I personally think that we should be afraid of this, that, indeed, the Russian nuclear power is now in the hands of, first of all, a person who is definitely a bit mentally unhealthy, second of all, his state apparatus, which is fine-tuned to obey its head and to essentially just tell its head, which is Putin, whatever Putin wants. In this configuration, there is not much resistance to possibly pressing this nuclear button. I think that the danger is real, unfortunately.

TFSR: There’s been a lot of talks of NATO states avoiding sending troops so as not to escalate in that way, but sending weapons instead and imposing further sanctions on the Russian economy, including the ending of purchases of oil, or the capping or slowing of those purchases, which is a major part of the Russian economy, the exporting of petroleum products. How does this affect regular people inside of Russia? How much do you think that it actually affects the rich and the bureaucrats directly?

Petr: It definitely affects regular people. Exchange rates just increased twice or three times over a couple of days, which means that essentially people lost half of their salaries. There are already lots of problems with the goods in the shops, with logistic chains, etc. It’s really a large, profound systemic effect on the Russian economy, even if some people do not yet see it immediately, but it’s definitely there. It definitely will affect regular people a lot. They will become much poorer than they were before that.

How does it affect the rich and the elite class? That’s a good question. It definitely affects them to some extent. We see all these boats being captured all around the world, and we see assets, frozen, etc. The businesses that they own also suffer because of all these sanctions. It’s difficult to estimate whom it affects more, the regular people or the rich. I don’t even know how it can be measured. All I can say is that it definitely influences people.

Some of the sanctions, I guess, make sense in terms of stopping this Putinist military machine and essentially, just slowing down the military part of the economy. But other sanctions, for example, this Visa and MasterCard payment systems blocking transactions of Russians abroad, essentially prohibiting them to use payment cards issued by Russian banks abroad. This makes sense maybe from the pure ethical point of view, but from the point of view of at least allowing people to flee the country and then use their money abroad, this is not that good. I know many people who fled the country because they were some anti-Putin activists, but then their payment cards were blocked, and they essentially were left abroad without any money at all. There are very contradictory opinions about sanctions. I don’t have any clear answer, whether they’re beneficial or not, but definitely, people will suffer. They’re suffering already.

TFSR: Do you think that anti-state, anti-capitalist, libertarian leftists, and anarchists are poised to make good use of the momentum against the war and the increased pressure within Russia to bring about some change? Even if it starts from a small place, including the anti-militarist, anti-draft sentiments?

Petr: The short answer is that I would like to believe it. The long answer is that, as I’ve said, there were literally two decades of destroying the protest landscape, including anarchists. There are very few anarchist or libertarian left organizations that are still capable of actually organizing something massive or mobilizing significant numbers of people.

Having said that I still think that the current situation is somewhat promising as well. It’s bad, but it’s there is some silver lining in this cloud. Because lots of people, including those from the anarchist movement, actually think that based on what we see now, the Russian Federation, as we know it, probably will not survive in the next several months or several years. Because, indeed, the economic situation is quite tough now and it’s really catastrophic, because of the sanctions. And because of the war, war is an expensive business as well. also because of purely political things, because, as I’ve said, Putin probably planned to finish this war very quickly, in a couple of days. But he failed in this. And within the circles of his friends and henchmen and military generals, top hats, etc… they do not do it very much when someone fails. It’s not something tolerated. We expect definitely that the power struggles at the top of the Kremlin chair will intensify. Probably, the regime will somehow collapse in this or that way, comparatively soon, we cannot announce any particular date, but there is this feeling.

In this situation, we probably have good chances to establish or at least help to establish something more decentralized and more libertarian on the ruins of this collapsed regime. It’s still a good question to what extent we’ll be able to do anything meaningful. But at least nowadays, we’re trying to spread the word, spread the libertarian and anarchist ideas, and trying to push gently these anti-war vibes, anti-war protests into a more anti-authoritarian channel. To explain to people that to stop the war, it’s not enough to simply get the troops back, you also have to remove Putin from the Kremlin. We also need to make sure that no second Putin arrives there. I’d say that we can make good use of this moment, we have to try.

TFSR: How have Russians and anarchists in particular reacted to the recent military interventions in Kazakhstan and the backing of the Belarus dictatorship?

Petr: Here the answer is simple, we definitely stood in solidarity with the Belarusian protests. Lots of our comrades, anarchists from Belarus participated in these protests, lots of them are jailed for this, some of them for really long sentences. We supported them and lots of Russian anarchists actually went to Belarus to participate in these protests. The events in Kazakhstan are more complicated, meaning that there is still some fog of war there, it’s still not entirely clear what happened in Kazakhstan. Was it a military coup d’etat or was it a folk revolution? Was it something else? I guess we’re still trying to find out. But we definitely supported the protests in the western parts of the country against gas prices increasing. We definitely tried to resist, to protest against sending Russian troops to Kazakhstan. Because this is all parts of the same chain, sending troops to Ukraine, sending troops to Kazakhstan is part of this empire politics by Putin, by the Russian state. It looks at Kazakhstan and Ukraine and Belarus as its sphere of influence, which they should rule. We as anarchists may surely oppose this way of thinking, in general. We do not think that any empire has the right to tell the people what to do.

TFSR: Do you get much of a sense of Russian sentiments from the wider population about those two interventions or are they kind of hard to gauge?

Petr: In Belarus, there was no military intervention. Russian troops did not enter Belarus, or at least officially didn’t enter. Russia helped the Belarusian dictatorship only with money, lots of money. They also sent some TV propagandists, media managers to help the Belarusian propaganda. There was no clear military intervention, although, Russian troops, are now in Belarus, and they actually attacked Ukraine from the territory of Belarus. But that’s just because they signed lots of agreements. Putin and Lukashenko are best friends now. That’s happening all the time, but there was no intervention.

The general opinion of the Russian public about Kazakhstan, people just didn’t have enough time to actually understand what’s happening. It happened in 10 days, or even less. I don’t think that there is any sentiment, which is shared by a large part of the Russian population about this. Most Russians just don’t care a lot about Kazakhstan in general. It’s difficult for me to give any clear estimate about this.

About Belarus, the Russian society was polarized by the riots and protests in Belarus. Those who were more conservative have this nostalgic feeling about Belarus reminding them about Soviet times. They believed that these were protests inspired by the West, which is poised to destroy this island of the Soviet Union. They definitely were against the protests and they supported Lukashenko. Other parts of the society, more liberal, were unilaterally against Lukashenko and they supported the protests by whatever means possible. It’s very polarized.

TFSR: Do you have any words for comrades internationally or who are in Ukraine, who might hear this? How can anarchists abroad support the efforts of dissidents within Russia, and everyone living under the Putin regime who are resisting?

Petr: We are in contact with our comrades in Ukraine. It’s not like we are disconnected, there is a constant flow of information from here to there, and from there to here.

But anyway, the main words that we can send them is that they are fighting not just for themselves, or for Ukraine, they are fighting for Russia as well, because we really believe that, as it happened a lot in historical times, a lost war often meant the fall of the regime in Russia. We definitely believe this will be another case of that. Stay strong. Defeat Putin. We in Russia, or internationally, will help you to do this as much as possible.

About the question how can anarchists abroad support the efforts of dissidents in Russia? The best way to do this is to spread the information, spread the word that it’s not the case that the entire Russian population supports this war, there are dozens of thousands of people on the streets, thousands of those who are arrested. There are political organizations or groups, even if not that large, but still dozens of people who are actively working against war and organizing protests, meaning designing leaflets, printing leaflets, starting websites or groups in social media, etc. All of this is extremely important. If you want to support people with something else, not just with the word, we have several cryptocurrency wallets, I can send you privately the numbers. If someone wants to give money to printing leaflets, paying for websites, paying for the fees which our comrades have after being arrested in the street protests, please do. We will be grateful for that.

TFSR: Yeah. Is there anything that I failed to ask about that you want to talk about?

Petr: I guess we covered all the important topics. The only thing is probably that in the current situation, it’s quite important not to fall victim to propaganda from both sides. Both from the Russian side, and from the Ukrainian and broadly, the general Western side. Unfortunately, we sometimes see in the Western media some anti-Russian vibe, which is probably understandable in times of war. But at the same time, it’s quite dangerous, I think. As I’ve said, it’s really important to always separate the actions of the Russian government, which Russian people didn’t elect, to begin with, and the actions or the opinions of those who actually live in Russia, and who suffer from the actions of the Russian government. The Kremlin does not occupy just Ukraine, it actually occupies Russia as well. I think that is an important thing to remind people about.

TFSR: Absolutely. Petr, how can people follow your work and the work of Autonomous Action?

Petr: We have a website avtonom.org and it has an English section. We don’t have enough resources to translate all the materials into English but we try to translate at least the most important ones. You can also find the links to our social media there. We have all sorts of channels that you can expect, Facebook, Twitter, Telegram, even Instagram. You can follow us on whatever channel you prefer.

TFSR: VK?

Petr: VK, you mean this Russian social network VKontakte? Yes, we have a page there. But we do not recommend using it. It’s owned by the Russian state. Don’t use VK.

TFSR: If listeners do speak Russian, or besides the written content on the website and on social media, you’ve also got a podcast on Sound Cloud, right? But it’s in Russian.

Petr: Yes, it’s in Russian, it’s weekly. People definitely can subscribe to it on YouTube, Sound Cloud, or whatever, or just listen to it from our website. We are trying to give a weekly anarchist analysis of what is happening. We see that many people actually subscribe. It seems that the format is convenient for the audience. We’re quite proud of it actually.

TFSR: I see that some of the notes from those are getting translated. I imagine if someone does have those language skills also and wants to contribute offering to do translations of some of the stuff published on the site might be helpful?

Petr: That would be great. CrimethInc. actually, did some translation on their own initiative. But we definitely need translators, so if someone feels they have these skills, they’re definitely welcome to contact us by any means possible.

TFSR: It’s been a pleasure speaking with you and thank you again for taking the time and for all the work that you’re doing.

Petr: Thanks for having me and hope that the war will be stopped.

TFSR: And then the states.

Monarchy In The UK

Monarchy In The UK

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This week, you’ll hear my chat with Jon Bigger about the status of the monarchy in the UK, the power it wields, the interventions it makes into parliamentary procedure and where we might see hopes of challenging it from an anarchist approach. Jon is an anarchist who is involved with the Anarchism Research Group, writes a column on UK politics at Freedom News and has been involved in the project Class War. You can find him online at twitter and at his website, jonbigger.uk

Further reading:

If you’re interested in some more commentary from politics in the UK, check out Red and Black’s bite sized opinion pieces on youtube: https://www.youtube.com/user/RedAndBlackTelly/

Announcements

Updates from Ukraine

If you missed our conversation from 2/25/22 with Ilya, a Russian anarchist in Ukraine, you should check it out. Crimethinc’s Ex Worker podcast just recently two episodes (part 1 or part 2) with perspectives from the region on the war that’s worth a listen. We shared a link tree site that contained ways to send international solidarity and keep up with viewpoints of anarchists involved in mutual aid on the ground that can be found at linktr.ee/operation.solidarity .

Since that broadcast, an anarchist and anti-authoritarian formation has announced itself and is seeking defensive and offensive support in the form of equipment and volunteers, an important improvement to the situation where fascists and nationalists will find fertile soil for recruitment and have already used the war in the Donbass to train our enemies abroad. You can learn more about the anarchist grouping and follow updates from the ground by checking out linktr.ee/TheBlackHeadquarter

Eric King’s Trial Begins Soon

Anarchist and antifascist prisoner, Eric King, is facing a jury trial beginning on March 14th in Denver, Colorado. His defense crew is headed by the Civil Liberties Defense Center and will be arguing that employees at the US Bureau of Prisons manufactured a scenario to add 20 years to Eric’s almost completed term as well as consciously endangered him from facility to facility by putting him in harms way of known white supremacist prisoners. You can learn more about his case and how to support his defense at SupportEricKing.Org and we hope to bring some updates with his legal support in the near future.

Bad News February 2022

Members of the A-Radio Network released the Feburary 2022 installment of our monthly, international, English-language podcast roundup with features from Brazil (via Slovenia), repression in Siberia by the Russian security forces, voices from Thessaloniki in Greece on recent police actions against anarchists, and from Poland on the struggle for legal abortion access. Check it out at A-Radio-Network.org or in our show notes.

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Featured Tracks:

  • God Save The Queen (Instrumental) by The Sex Pistols from The Complete Sex Pistols Sessions ’76-’77
  • Anarchy In The UK by Wild Billy Childish & The Blackhands from Play: Capt’n Calypso’s Hoodoo Party

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Transcription

TFSR: Would you please introduce yourself to the audience with any name, preferred gender pronouns, affiliations and location info that could help the audience?

Jon Bigger: Sure, I am Jon Bigger, I write about anarchism and British politics for Freedom News — the world’s longest-running anarchist newspaper. I think I might be the only person writing a regular column on British politics from an anarchist perspective. Not much of a boast, but that is my boast, at least. I’m part of the British anarchist group Class War. I’m also a member of the Anarchism Research Group, which is based at Loughborough University in central England, and I also live in that town. I’ve got a collection of my writing at the website jonbigger.uk. And I’m talking today in a personal capacity about my absolute hatred of the British monarchy.

TFSR: Thanks a lot for taking the time to do this interview. You mentioned that Freedom is the longest-running English-language anarchist publication. As well, it runs a bookstore and a publishing house. Kropotkin participated in it, among many others, Colin Ward, and tons of other amazing luminaries over the years. Could you say a few things about that?

JB: It’s something that I found out about when I was a teenager, I was born in a place called Lincoln in England, and I went off to university in London, and found out that my university building was right around the corner from where the book shop’s based. And at that stage, I probably thought of myself as a Marxist, I think, and I wasn’t quite sure about my politics, my politics were still developing. But I used to go in there and think what it would be like to be a bit more involved and whether I could write for them and things like that. I was interested in being a writer even then. But actually, what I ended up doing, after leaving university, was becoming a civil servant and working for the British government. And my political involvement with anything obviously had to go down, I couldn’t be quite so politically active. In the UK, people working for the government are supposed to be politically neutral. And so it wasn’t until I got sacked from that for organizing strikes that I started to get a bit more political. That was around 2013 and shortly after that, I started thinking, maybe I could write for them. I started getting interested in that. I did a few pieces, I think, in 2014. And then this idea of a regular column came upon me. Because I thought in the past, Freedom used to comment much more on politics and the events that were going on in the country and it stopped doing that to a certain extent. I thought maybe I could offer this as an idea. If people like it, they like it, if they don’t, they don’t. That’s how I got involved, I’m really proud of it. Under its current editor, it just goes from strength to strength: it’s fact-based, it’s really good reporting and I think it’s fantastic. And the fact that it covers the fullest range of anarchism is really, really important. I think a lot of us are involved because we’re Class Struggle anarchists, but it doesn’t shy away from the idea that it should be covering anarchism in its broadest sense, which I think is fantastic.

TFSR: Yeah, that’s awesome. I do want to ask about Class War for a little bit, which you’ve done some speaking and did a recent interview on Dissident Island Radio about. But were there any specific moments or experiences that brought you from that Marxism that you were experiencing when you were in college to identifying as an anarchist?

JB: I think I slowly began to realize that. Let me go further back to why I liked Marxism to begin with. I was studying sociology, and there’s an awful lot of Marxism in that. When I was 18, and discovering Marx had this critique of capitalism, I thought, “Oh, right, okay, someone’s done this work, and they can explain why capitalism is so terrible”. I have always had this hunch that it was awful. And suddenly, there’s this ready-made framework, and it’s nice, it’s lovely, that you’ve got this framework to go to, and everything is nicely ordered. There’s going to be modes of production, and there’s a view of history and we know exactly what’s inevitably going to happen. It’s almost like it’s a religion, right? So it appealed to me because it gave me the answers.

And then, as I was growing up a little bit more… A lot of Marxists like to think that anarchism is for immature people. I absolutely reject that. Marxism is for the immature. Anarchism is for people who have grown up a little bit and aren’t naive about the world. And what I realized was that one of the naiveties of Marxism is this idea of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat. I thought this is horrific. What an absolutely terrible idea. And I suppose I was in my mid-20s when I found out that, I’m now in my mid-40s. So at that stage, I thought, “No, I don’t favor a dictatorship, I don’t care what you call it, I’m not favoring a dictatorship,” I realized that my socialism was in a different direction. And at that point, all of the glances that I’d had at anarchism, turned into proper looks at anarchism. And it really appealed to me.

Then we fast forward to me getting sacked from the British government. When I was a little bit older, back in 2013, it coincided just a few weeks after that, with one of the founders of Class War called Ian Bone— I don’t know if you’ve heard of Ian over the years. He put on his blog that they wanted candidates to stand in the general election of 2015. I’d heard about Class War at the same time that I’d learned Marxism way back when I was in my late teens. And I’d always wondered where they’d gone in a way because I’d looked for their newspapers and never really found them. After all, they’d gone into a bit of a decline in the 1990s when I reached London, and suddenly there they were wanting to stand candidates. I thought, well, when someone’s worked for the government for 13 years, and they’ve got sacked for their trade union activities, what’s the next thing to do with your life? Stand for Parliament as an anarchist candidate? Why the hell not? Well, there are lots of reasons why not, obviously. But I decided to embrace that idea and see what I could do with it. So that’s how I got involved with them. And as that developed and my involvement developed, I managed to turn that into a research project and turn it into a Ph.D. Which is basically how I spent my time and how I came to Loughborough was researching that from the inside and writing about it, and interviewing everybody who was involved with it. It was a really interesting project to stand anarchist candidates not to get elected, but to subvert the system, to get into spaces where anarchists aren’t normally allowed to get to. And just to cause a little bit of trouble, really.

TFSR: So at this time, there were a lot of anarchists that were— Listeners in the United States are going to be familiar with the Anarchists for Bernie phenomenon from 2016. There were the Anarchists for Corbyn that were happening around a similar time in the UK. I know that there were a lot of debates about whether anarchy should participate in electoral politics, how they should participate, and what efficacy they could have. You mentioned that you weren’t standing for the point of actually getting into office, but to trouble the waters a bit and get anarchist perspectives a little bit further into people’s minds. Can you talk about how that was received in the anarchist community, the participation, and also what effects of it, whether it was you or other people that were standing for parliament?

JB: There was a block of people who would simply say, “This is not what anarchists do. This is wrong. We shouldn’t be part of that”. And I perfectly respect that purity of position. I don’t agree with it. But I respect it. I understand where it’s coming from. What I’m not saying is everybody should suddenly start trying to get elected. If you feel comfortable in standing for the office and using it to your advantage, then fine, but if you don’t, I perfectly get that. So there were people who I would call anarcho-purists who perhaps reject it out of hand. What we actually found, though, in Class War was a staggering amount of people who’ve got behind it.

Now, it’s worth bearing in mind, you mentioned the Anarchists for Bernie and Jeremy Corbyn, there was an impact for Jeremy Corbyn, but Jeremy Corbyn became leader of the Labour Party after the 2015 general election. So it occurred after the period that I’m talking about and I was standing in. And certainly, we have seen a lot of people move towards the Labour Party since he became leader, he’s now not the leader. And it’s not clear that those people have drifted back, but of course, we’ve had COVID and everything’s been affected by that. So it’s difficult to tell exactly where British anarchism is right now. I get the sense that anarchism around the world is declined in some ways. I don’t know. National activity seems to have depleted in the UK. And it might be the same around the world, particularly when we go back just a couple of decades and we see the mobilization around the environment and the global order and all the rest of it was really, really high. And people thought this is going to be the anarchist century. It’s not proving to be like that at the moment, despite all the movements, like the Occupy Movement or whatever, providing hope. That seems like a long time ago now, doesn’t it?

But what we got out of it was a sudden influx of people that rallied behind the idea. And what that allowed us to do was have people attend events. There were debates between candidates standing, so we got to actually meet the opposition, the Conservative Party and the Labour Party. And we had a far-right party called the UK Independence Party, we had to meet those head-on and have debates with them in front of real citizens and talk about what anarchism was. And that also provided media opportunities, I ended up writing for a website that was based in the area where I was standing, they gave me a regular platform to espouse anarchist ideas. It was a really exciting time. And it offered up surprising things, actually.

TFSR: Yeah, for what it’s worth, I think that there’s a huge difference in political debate culture between the UK and the US.

JB: Ours is a very entertaining Parliament, and largely distracting as well. There is some serious work that goes on there too, where they actually listen to one another. But on the whole, the bits that get televised, are the bits that are not where people are listening to one another, they are shouting at each other, it’s like a bear pit. And to be honest, we used that culture to our advantage, we turned our debates into confrontational spaces, really. This is the state’s Big Day Out on election. This is where they prove their worth and say, “This is why we’re valid”. And certainly, my Class War supporters at my debate just started shouting murderer at the Conservative candidate, because austerity policies at the time were ripping through public services, and people were dying as a result. And he found that really difficult, he wasn’t expecting to turn up and have that barrage of-

TFSR: And there’s an expectation of respectability from the other standing candidates, right? I mean, they’re mostly of the same class…

JB: Well, that’s true. But also, if you go back further in time, back to the time when working-class people didn’t have the vote. These kinds of debates were like that. Working-class people were allowed in to shout stuff like that. Candidates were judged on how well they handled it. We’ve lost that now, because politics is largely polite, although what you’ve highlighted about the House of Commons is correct. But on the whole, politics is a polite event, where people are respectful because they’re all trying to run the country. And we’ve lost that edge in the UK. But we tried to bring it back. And I think we succeeded in some ways.

TFSR: Could you also describe a little bit more about Class War as a group? You mentioned Ian Bone, back in the 80s, there was a newspaper that was published regularly. There are the Poor Doors as the other thing that I can think of about the group. Where’s it at, and what sort of things does it do?

JB: Poor Doors is wonderful, I can talk about that a lot because I went to a lot of those demonstrations. Back in the 1980s. When I was a child, I wasn’t involved in Class War, obviously. It was started by Ian and some others, really, they were a bunch of punk rockers who were fed up with the non-combative nature of British anarchism at the time. And what I think they wanted was to bring that anger back to anarchism in the UK and to build a social movement based on that, based on working-class people rising up as much as they possibly could. And the newspaper was a big part of that, it was a propaganda tool, it was darkly humorous, it used violent language. It was confrontational. It was designed to horrify certain types of people and for others to embrace it. And it was very, very divisive in that way and in that way, they attracted the people that they wanted. So they took the newspaper to peace rallies and sold it to people at peace rallies and disrupted those sorts of events to get people to do things differently. There’s an argument to be said here that by the end of the 1990’s, Class War had achieved or helped to achieve exactly what it set out to do, that there was an angry anarchist culture out there. The anti-globalization movement was a big thing around the end of the 90’s. It was really engaging in an awful lot of Class War tactics. Class War got involved with theatrical protests as well, which leads me to Poor Doors.

Poor doors was this idea of socially segregated housing that rich people get their own door into a building, a block of flats, and the poor people in the block of flats get a separate entrance around the corner, with separate provisions, and so on and so forth. I think it first emerged in New York from memory. And it was publicized quite a lot in the summer of 2014, I’m thinking was about right. And immediately Class War hit upon this and wanted to do a regular protest. We were looking for a regular protest anyway because we wanted to meet up and build on this momentum running up to the election. So there was an idea here that we could get involved with something weekly, that would draw people together and we could do some election planning at the same time. We started a protest outside this building in London that was doing Poor Doors. And we made it our focus, very symbolic because it wasn’t the only building doing it. But we targeted that building week on week. As we did so, the protest grew, everybody knew what time it was going to start, what day of the week it was going to start. We got a lot of press coverage. We had occasional events like the London Anarchist Bookfair that took place in the October of 2014. We encouraged people to go from that to the building to have a protest there.

It was absolutely glorious times, to be honest. We got close to actually getting that building rearranged. We entered into negotiations, which I’m not sure it’s a good idea, to be honest. But we did enter into negotiations with the management of that building. And ultimately, we didn’t succeed, but we managed to highlight the issue. And for that, I’m pleased. It became quite a spectacle. Each week, we had musicians coming to it. It was something performative about those protests, there were few arrests as well. At times there was a heavy police presence, at times, there was no police presence. I remember an occasion where we actually got into the building. And Ian managed to knock over a vase with his walking stick, he’s got a walking stick these days. And he ended up being arrested for that. There are just all sorts of fun and games, it was really enjoyable. To be honest, it was just a really good time. Felt like we were getting somewhere.

TFSR: That’s awesome. Because you mentioned it, I’d love to hear a few words about the Anarchist Research Group and the work that you do. This is a very long introduction, and I hope that that’s okay for your timeframe, because I do want to talk about the royalty in the UK and everything.

JB: It is the Anarchism Research Group, because you don’t need to be an anarchist to be researching anarchism. Basically, it is a group of academics, scholars researching different parts of anarchism, and people can search for them online, there’s podcast series, there are videos out there. And it just is really a way of promoting anarchism in the academic world. And it’s just amazing, the number of different interests that anarchist scholars have. It’s the full range. Exactly what you’d expect, I guess, but it never ceases to amaze me how much is going on and how much it differs, once you get to that level of research at a university and universities. What you’ve got is people delving into such a niche subject, their own little area, and that can only be a good thing in terms of understanding anarchism, promoting it. I think what’s great about the Anarchism Research Group is that the people making sure that it all takes along and are really active on social media, getting some of this stuff out there as well in really good forms in terms of podcasts and videos.

TFSR: News over the last few months, possibly longer, has been peppered with concerns about Elizabeth Alexandra Mary aka Elizabeth II Queen of the United Kingdom and 14 other Commonwealth realms, following in the regal footsteps of her late husband, Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, or stories about payouts that princes and other royals have made about sexual assaults on minors in relation to Jeffrey Epstein’s network, or biopics on the long-dead Princess Diana, or pomp of a state wedding or funeral, or slow-motion train wrecks of the public discussion of how anti-black the Windsor house is in relation to Meghan, Duchess of Sussex. Racism, the abuse of young people or people in general by the wealthy, the borders between classes are all interesting topics and I don’t mean to minimize them by making a slight joke about their presentation. They’re worthy of discussion and action, but they grab the headline in the mainstream media as a soap opera of the Windsor house that focuses on individuals rather than systemic harms. So I was hoping that we could speak about the monarchy, the political and economic power that it wields, what sorts of opposition there is to it in the UK, the way that Royals are consumed under capitalism, and challenges that anarchists might pose to it. Thank you for being willing to be in this chat with me about it. I’m excited.

Well, first off, do you have any reactions to that?

JB: Yeah, I’m thinking, how long have we got here? Because that’s a hell of a lot, isn’t it, to think about? It’s amazing. You could do a whole podcast series about how horrific the idea of monarchy is, and this actual family is as well.

TFSR: It extends, obviously, beyond the realities of the royal family in the UK or other countries that still have monarchies. In the West, there’s not a lot of celebration of monarchies in Saudi Arabia, for instance, yet we support them with arms [weapons].

JB: Absolutely, yeah. Isn’t that ironic? Certainly in the UK, Elizabeth Windsor is called The Queen, not just a queen, she’s The Queen. That tells us a lot about the mindset of the nation that I’ve grown up in. It is a mindset that doesn’t often question its own faults and failures, I’m afraid, and that historically, it’s not a country that has accounted for or even begun to question in any real sense the legacy of empire and what happened in the name of the monarch, of course. So I sometimes think I’m living in a place where you can scratch the surface and there’s a lot underneath really.

TFSR: I feel you there for sure. Being from the US, everywhere has its own legacy of terror and mythos that they carry, that is not to say that they’re all the same.

Can you give us something of grounding details about the position of the monarchy in the UK, its history and its role, and how it shifted over the years?

JB: Yeah, sure. We could go all the way back to 1215 here and the Magna Carta, how about that? That’s a document that a lot of people around the world will have at least heard of, as well. That is where things started to shift. So a long way back, it was an absolute monarchy, and in 1215, the Magna Carta pegged the power of the monarch back a little bit. But the history of the monarch’s power being pegged back is not a history of the people rising up to stop the monarchy from being powerful. It is a history of other aristocrats and other elites taking power, and putting up with the monarchy, on the basis that they will not interfere with politics. That starts in 1215 and the monarchy becomes a constitutional monarchy more in the 1600s and the 1700s, where its power is really pegged back by Parliament. And then we reach a period where Britain becomes more democratic.

Incidentally, we still have a second chamber in parliament that is not elected. There are some hereditary Lords born into the position, and the others are appointed. So our parliament is not entirely democratic. Also, I think the only other country to do this is Iran. We have clerics in our House of Lords — Church of England bishops — because we have an official church, because of course, God has decided that the monarch is in power, or is on the throne or whatever. So we have this strange hybrid between a fully feudal country and a modern liberal democracy. It’s taken a long time to get here, but it’s happened, it’s happened gradually because the Constitution isn’t fixed. It’s not written down in one document. It’s not entrenched in— not the one that you’ve got. It can be changed with the Act of Parliament. Any government can come along and change the constitutional framework of the UK. But what we’ve settled on is the idea that the monarch can stay in power — and power is perhaps the wrong word — as long as they do not interfere in politics. That is the basic principle, that parliament is sovereign, we have what we call the Sovereignty of Parliament. That suggests that the monarch isn’t the sovereign, and that Parliament is. There is an interesting relationship between the two.

What you end up with in a constitutional monarchy is the idea that the nation is embodied by this family. So there is a unifying aspect to this, it’s designed for us to get behind and be satisfied with. And obviously, we’re now in a situation where Elizabeth Windsor has been on the throne for 70 years. We’re encouraged to applaud that and “isn’t she a nice old lady who’s being devoted to her duty” and all that stuff? It’s just a really odd situation. But that makes her quite a powerful figure, really, in terms of the psyche of the country. Because if you attack the monarchy, or you attack things she’s done, you’re attacking an old lady. That’s quite powerful. Why would anyone do that? It makes it quite, quite tricky. I don’t think me coming on you is treasonable. I don’t think I’m gonna be dragged to the Tower [of London] or anything. But people listening to this will be horrified, I’m sure, some people, if they hear it, will be horrified. Others will think, “Well, thank God someone’s saying it”.

TFSR: I think a little iconoclasm is required in an anarchist discussion?

I listened to this pretty in-depth and amazing podcast called Revolutions. And they did this 30-part series on the English Civil War. And one of the characters — and I’ve seen this covered in British publications, I think in the 80s and 90s mostly — the Levellers, they seem like one example of a commoner movement to undo the concept of the monarchy and bring about direct democracy, get rid of aristocratic titles. But they also seem like a splinter fringe Anabaptist movement that split out of the New Model Army. Could you talk a little bit about them?

JB: I’m certainly not an expert in them. We’re going back hundreds of years as well again. We’re going back to pre-anarchism, really, but we’re talking about peasants, largely. And also it might coincide or combine with a discussion about the Peasants’ Revolt, which was brutally struck down, as well. There is a rich history of revolt. And in the UK, from what we might call ordinary people, not from elites. But actually, at every stage, what happens is that the elite takes over eventually, and it brutally crushes things. These events, perhaps aren’t as significant as they now appear because what they have never managed, of course, is a full-on revolution.

We can get a little bit misty-eyed about these things as well. Oh, wasn’t this amazing? It was happening hundreds of years ago, what people were saying. Yeah, people were talking about direct democracy thousands of years ago. It’s tricky. We can’t avoid the fact that monarchy is, bizarrely, an idea that has persevered and I regularly think to myself, “My goodness, it’s amazing. I actually live in a monarchy”. I think that’s astonishing that that is even possible in the 21st century. It just amazes me and when I look back to growing up and knowing the problems that the monarchy has had, I’m surprised that it survived because right now it looks really solid.

Elizabeth Windsor is very popular. There is no real movement to get rid of her. There is some reformist organization called Republic, which is arguing for a democratically elected head of state that has the same powers as the current monarch. And therefore it’s not a great big change, to be honest. It would be an improvement to have someone elected doing it, but it’s not the change that I really want. And they’re also interested in doing things like making sure that the finances of the monarchy are more transparent and things like that because they know that their campaign to actually get rid of the monarchy is stalling and not really getting anywhere. So there isn’t a groundswell of opinion that is against the monarchy. If I go back to the 1990’s, it was very different. Before the death of Diana in 1997, you had a period during which Charles and Diana got divorced. Andrew and Sarah Ferguson got divorced, nobody knew what Edward was going to do with his life. It came across as shambolic. The newspapers were after them. They were doing secret recordings of things they were saying. And the monarchy was at an all-time low. And people were saying, “How is it going to continue? How is it going to survive this?” There was a fire at Windsor Castle and John Major, the prime minister at the time, announced that the British public was going to fund the refurbishment, and the British public was up in arms. And suddenly, the money had to come from the royal family themselves. We’ve changed a lot since then.

I would say that the turning point in the popularity of the monarchy came after the death of Diana. As you can probably tell from the outpouring of emotion from people at the time, large sections of the population absolutely loved her. And they suddenly saw a monarchy, and particularly a monarch, who couldn’t show emotion, because that’s not what the monarchy does, or historically, and they requested change. And actually, the savior of the monarchy at that moment was the then Prime Minister Tony Blair, who encouraged Elizabeth Windsor to do a live TV speech where she did show some emotion. From that moment on, the British public forgave her for that. Things moved on quite dramatically. And now the monarchy just seems like it will always be there. I don’t believe that’s the case. I think, actually, what this shows us is that it’s a house of cards. I think it could blow over any moment if the circumstances are right. There’s an obligation on anarchists to try to get ready for that moment, if it comes, and try to influence such a moment. Because whilst it might look permanent secure, I’m not buying it, I don’t think so. There’s no justification for it that makes any sense whatsoever. It’s just wrong in principle, to have a monarchy. It’s just dead-easy to argue against. When you look at the arguments for it taking place and existing, most monarchists rely on the idea that it brings tourists to the UK. That is pretty much their argument.

TFSR: Not the unifying cultural principle?

JB: No! People might rely on that, but the one that comes to the fore nearly every single time, that’s really prominent is just how much money comes to the UK. As if we can’t open those palaces to the tourists anyway. Other countries have royal palaces that are raking in a lot more actually. It’s a ridiculous argument. They could be making me 1 million pounds sterling year for myself, and I’d still say as well.

TFSR: Yeah, couldn’t they just replace them with some animatronics, which is moved from room to room and do their waves and just have the House open? That seems amazing. Seems like you’ve saved a lot of money.

JB: How do we know that’s not happening already?

TFSR: That’s true… Clones…

You’ve mentioned the House of Lords and appointments. And you’ve talked about the deep pockets of the House of Windsor. Can you talk a little bit about what political and economic position— What power does the family actually wield within the kingdom and also within the Commonwealth?

JB: Let’s talk about political power, first of all, because it’s easiest, as I found out trying to do a little bit of research for this today. Finding out where they get their money from is really hard. But we’ll come to that in a moment. Pretty much everything politically happens in the monarch’s name. But that does not mean that they wield the power directly. There are an awful lot of powers that the Prime Minister and the Cabinet have in this country that are called royal prerogative powers. And they are powers that have passed from the absolute monarchy days to a more democratic situation. Whoever gets to be Prime Minister gets to wield those sorts of powers. An example of it would be the ability to move armed forces and wage war. It’s passed on the monitor to the Prime Minister.

So the constitutional arrangement is that they can be the figurehead of the country, but they cannot affect politics. This is really interesting because once you scratch the surface, there are lots of examples where they are trying to influence politics, and actually, some where they are succeeding in really serious ways, that a lot of people in the UK don’t even know about.

First of all, let’s talk about Charles Windsor, heir to the throne. He has a large piece of land in Cornwall, the Duchy of Cornwall. He is, of course, the Duke of Cornwall. He’s got a series of farmlands and all sorts of estates going on there. And he has a real vested interest in making sure that he can make money out of that duchy. And there is evidence of him writing regularly to government departments, to senior officials, and members of the Cabinet to press forward the regulations that he wants or doesn’t want to affect his financial status. What influence he’s had is difficult to tell, because… To be honest, people have been requesting the memos that he’s written, which are called the “spider memos”, because his handwriting is so terrible, apparently. The Guardian newspaper took a court case out asking for the “spider memos” to be released, and a few were, but not all of them. Her Majesty’s courts have hidden the information from the public. So we don’t actually know what influence he has had. But we know that he’s tried to influence politics. And of course, he’s the heir to the throne so he’s supposed to not be doing that. He’s not supposed to do it before he becomes the monarch and he is certainly not supposed to do it afterwards.

However, let’s move to his mother because she has been up to her neck in interfering all of her working life — which is the wrong phrase, as she hasn’t actually got a job, it’s a role. There is this little-known procedure called Queen’s Consent. And very few people have looked into it. Again, The Guardian newspaper has done some really good work on this to find out what it is. And what it amounts to, is a provision in government, whereby possible draft legislation has to be passed by the monarch first before it reaches parliament, if there’s a chance that legislation will impact the royal family and its interests. That’s a broad description. There is evidence to show — now that they’ve done some digging — that Elizabeth Windsor has raised a number of objections over her reign. At legislation that could potentially harm her interest or legislation that she just doesn’t like. Now, what Buckingham Palace says about this, is that at no stages, she blocked legislation. Well, that could be true. Let’s take them at face value. So she’s never blocked legislation. What they haven’t told us is what bits of legislation she’s asked to be changed. Remember, this is happening before it ever reaches parliament, so she’s not interfering with things once they’ve gone through Parliament or while they’re going through Parliament. This is before anybody’s ever read it. This is stuff that has been sent to her for approval, because she might have an interest and she might well have said, “No, I don’t like that bit, or I don’t like that bit”. And it turns out she has been doing this. There’s a whole section on the Guardian website of things they think she’s been interfering with.

That suggests to me that if you go down the line of argument that the current monarch is fantastic because she’s devoted to duty, I say, no! What she’s devoted to, is increasing her own assets at the expense of everybody else. This is the most corrupt, hierarchical practice you can imagine. Monarchy is essentially a form of abuse against the rest of us. And here she is actively doing it all the time. And she’s been doing it from the moment she had the opportunity. It’s disgraceful. It’s disgusting.

TFSR: The Guardian newspaper does have exactly some examples of what they think that she’s been applying. But because there’s a lack of transparency, they might not actually know. But in the UK libel laws are very heavy. If they’re making a claim, they likely feel that they can back it up in court, and it’s not just hearsay.

JB: Absolutely. So some of the examples would seem quite minor. The one that I can think of off the top of my head is that the Queen objected to an introduction of ensuring that everybody should wear seatbelts, and she had it so written into law, that that did not apply to the royal estates. It gives us a hint about her view of freedom. We could say, “Well, so what big deal?”, but that’s the information they aren’t willing to give out to us. What are they hiding from us? Are notes even being taken of what she’s objected to? What has she been objecting to financially? Most of that is hidden.

Buckingham Palace has accepted that Queen’s Consent exists? And what they have gone down the line of is saying that she’s never opposed an entire bill. Well, I say, put up the information, show us what she has opposed, let’s have this out in the open. Let’s have a proper public debate about it. Let’s see if some MP’s might be interested in this. Because she’s doing this against Parliament. If the constitutional arrangement is that Parliament is sovereign, then what is this one person doing by stopping things being debated by Parliament?

TFSR: That’s a very good point and the devils in the detail, and if they’re not going to give out the details, then what does that say about that devil?

You alluded that the sovereign or that the royal family might have been making some of these Queen’s Consent decisions concerning economic investments of the royal family of the Queen. Can you talk a bit about what economic power the family wields -or what’s known — either in terms of what stipend they get from the British government, in terms of what holdings they have domestically? And also, indigenous activists and so-called Canada that we’ve had on the show before have described the Canadian government as an extractive corporation serving the pleasure of the Crown. Does that hold more than a symbolic resonance in the situation?

JB: I love the description. I think that’s right. It alludes to the fact that we’ve got a hierarchy. And every bit of taxation that we pay in the UK, and indeed, 14 other Commonwealth countries, a portion of it will go to this family. Anything happening within the capitalist system, within those countries is contributing to this system. All of the horrors of capitalism and the Empire can be connected in some way to the monarchy and this particular family.

In terms of the finances, that pressure group Republic that I mentioned earlier, estimates that the royal family is getting something like 350 million pounds a year from the public. I’m not sure how they’re making their figures. And one of the problems they have — and I have — is that it’s incredibly difficult to find out. The information is hidden. What I found was actually this is true across all of the countries where Elizabeth Windsor is the Head of State. They’re all incredibly secretive about what money she actually gets. So in the UK, though, what I can say is that Windsor is paid what they call a Sovereign Grant by the government. And last year, this was around 86 million pounds. That money is made through the land that the monarchy owns. That’s known as the Crown Estate. And when I say the monarchy owns it, I mean, the monarchy as an institution owns it. It is not owned by her personally. What she’s getting at the moment amounts to something like 25% of the revenue that that estate earns. What happens with the rest of the money I’ve no idea.

It is a really confusing situation. Let me tell you what the UK Government website says about the sovereign grant. Because this is an interesting set of words. So this is a quote: “The profit of the Crown Estate is a reference point for the calculation of sovereign grant. The Crown Estate does not pay the sovereign grant to the monarch directly, it makes a payment each year to the consolidated fund. And Her Majesty’s Treasury pays the sovereign grant to the monarch”. It’s wonderful bureaucratic language to say. Does anybody know where this money is coming from? It’s just some civil servant had fun writing that circular nonsense. But it shows you that this is a smoke and mirrors operation, it’s magic. This money appears, and it could be yours, or it could be theirs, who cares, it’s going to them anyway.

On top of the sovereign grant, the monarch does own land, and lots of it. So one such example is the Duchy of Lancaster. That is worth around 22 million pounds a year for Elizabeth Windsor at the moment. That is money she’s making from that estate — 22 million pounds a year. But this is just in the UK that she’s doing this. Then on top of that — this makes it even more complex and difficult — the security bill for the royal family is picked up by the Metropolitan Police in London, and no figures around that are made available on the pretense that it could risk the security being given to them. We don’t know how much that is costing, that is obviously going to be money coming directly from the taxpayer. I don’t know whether that will be just taxpayers in London or wherever that’s across the UK. I’m not sure.

You mentioned so-called Canada. Elizabeth Windsor is head of state there represented by an appointed governor general who serves for five-year terms. And the governor general is also the commander-in-chief of the armed forces there. Figures I got for Canada from the Business Insider website suggested 50.5 million Canadian dollars a year, figures for New Zealand — 18.6 million New Zealand dollars per year. And they only tried to do a few countries because they found it so difficult to find accurate figures. We are talking about an insanely wealthy woman with an insanely wealthy family, not just from one country, but from 15.

TFSR: Yeah, and I remember her name coming up in the Pandora Papers too. There have been these large exposes where private real estate deals that haven’t been listed on the official receipts in the UK have come up and it turns out they’re doing real estate deals with the Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliev that landed a $42 million profit. There’s so much obfuscation, it seems, as you pointed too, with all of this, as you say, abusive-

JB: Yeah, it is abusive. That legacy of Empire isn’t something that we just need to look back on, we can also see it’s stretching into the future of this arrangement, can’t we? It is something that we have to oppose. I would say that there’s a chance here for struggles across borders and across countries because this is something that is affecting multiple groups of people. That gives a glimmer of hope that we can oppose it collectively, in some way. We don’t have to all accept that— We’re not all facing it in the same way. We’re not all facing the same past from it or future from it but we can all at least, perhaps work together to try to end it.

TFSR: Like radical disinvestment from the monarchy and redistribution of what’s been skimmed off the top back to the former colonies or existing colonies of the monarchy might be a good discussion. I’m sure that there are tons of people, especially in those countries, or people who are from those countries or have heritages from those countries in the UK that are probably pushing for that thing.

JB: Yeah, absolutely. The figure that I got regarding the sovereign grant for last year was 86 million pounds. Well, the 70 million people in this country. It’s a sizable amount of money when you think about how those resources could be divided up and how they could be used and what causes they could be used for, rather than just one person’s satisfaction that they’ve been born.

TFSR: We talked about this already a little bit. But in terms of the symbolic power of the “sovereign”, I imagine that folks will throw punches or insults over party membership or which football club they support or what class they were born into and identify with, but that the role filled by the Windsors, it seems to really help to create this umbrella that can act to subsume those other conflicts. Would you talk a bit more about the role of unifying the domain spiritually and symbolically under the House of Windsor?

JB: Yeah, it’s difficult to know exactly how powerful this is. I don’t know what to say about it, to be honest, because I’ve already presented them as a house of cards, it could blow over at any moment. But there is something in the idea that they are a unifying force. And I think it probably ebbs and flows. And I think it probably depends on the circumstance.

During COVID times, there was a moment where the monarchy was focused on and at the moment, actually, she has COVID-19. And so there will be people who think, “Well, she’s got it, it can happen to anybody. She’s old, and we got to look after her.” She’s one of us, along with 86 million quid a year. At least, who knows how much it is really. There will be a sense of that —

Spiritually, that’s a tricky word, isn’t it? We’ve got a Church of England, nobody pays that any attention whatsoever. Even the people who are Church of England, go to such churches every week, are doing it more for social reasons, I think, rather than spiritual ones. If she genuinely believes that she’s been put here by the gift of some god, I feel sorry for her in a way, because that’s obviously not what’s happening. But it’s difficult to say how much of that really matters. Symbolically, occasionally, but again, part of it is about her, I think, the fact that she’s well respected, the fact that she’s loved by large sections of the population is part of this story. She isn’t going to be there for long, she’s probably not going to be there for much longer, to be honest. The person coming along behind her is not that popular. In a way, there are a lot of people who love the monarchy were hoping it might skip a generation and just go to William and Kate next because Charles is not popular. That again offers up some opportunities for building alliances and trying to achieve something new.

Also, I just wanted to mention, because I’m not sure how much people are aware of this, but we’ve also had a situation where the monarchy has actually lost some power recently because Barbados recently ditched the monarchy, peacefully, and moved towards a republic and is now a republic. I am taking the opinion that this house of cards will have some more people take their card away, as it were, if I can stretch the metaphor to beyond meaningfulness. But I have a feeling that when Charles comes along, there will be other countries that take a look at their relationship and think, “Actually, we’re going to change this now”.

Back in the 1990s, Australia was always talked about as a potential country to become a republic. That seems to have died down a little bit. At least, that’s my impression of it in the UK. It might be that there are people there who can tell you much more about that. But the fact that we’ve now got one country that has left in the last few months and ditched the monarchy gives me some hope.

TFSR: You’ve talked about a little bit of the opposition to the monarchy, that’s been coming from a Republican aim. But can you talk about just the opposition to the monarchy more widely, not just necessarily in one moment when the sovereign or the royal family is coming under fire in the media, but more generally, ideologically? What are some anarchist approaches? What do they look like? Or does the opposition all fall under this more Republican representative democracy-type umbrella?

JB: Yeah, I would say most of it goes under trying to get a republic. And the arguments around that are really complex. Do you have an elected president who does exactly the same as the current monarch? Or do you have an elected president with some power that transforms the British political system in a completely different direction? The former seems to be the easier of the options, so that is what people tend to campaign for. Like I said earlier, I think that would be progress in a way but we’re not really anywhere near that at the moment.

In terms of anarchist approaches, there have been a few over the years. It all comes down from the principle that this is wrong. Monarchical power is wrong. I think there’s a link to capitalism there. Because actually, although we might not have people formally born into positions of power and wealth, widespread in society, we do, people are inheriting huge amounts of wealth and using it to their advantage. There have been some interesting campaigns over the year. I might be going back at least 20 years, there was one called Moon Against the Monarchy, where people went outside Buckingham Palace and dropped their trousers and wave their bums in the air. Some of that has been performative and interesting in that way. But we’re not talking about huge amounts of people here, we’re talking about fringe elements, people that can be easily dismissed as freaks on the television news, like most of us are, really. This isn’t really sustained and serious. Part of that might be that a lot of anarchist action is about what’s happening locally, what’s happening in your workplace, what’s happening in your community. Anarchism doesn’t necessarily have to be a national movement, does it? So it might be connected to that.

It’s ripe for change, I think there is something here that can get going really and improved upon. But of course, it doesn’t require the time and the inclination to do something about it. When you see a really popular family, it becomes a little bit tricky. Where do you start? How do you build momentum when you know most people aren’t gonna listen to you? Maybe the time and the conditions will come around where it’s easier?

TFSR: Yeah, it’s hard to ask people to take part in large-scale politics when they’re just being extracted from all the time by capitalism, let alone living during a pandemic when they’re trying to just figure out how to live day to day.

JB: Also, this can look nasty, this can look personal. Because you’ve got this institution, which is made up of real people who have been there, and been there all their lives, and it seems that it can be presented very easily as a nasty thing to do and an unpleasant thing to do. “How can you hate these people, they’re only doing their job?” You can find yourself in a situation, which is quite tricky like that.

But the way that institution works is very interesting because we’re talking about an institution that is supported when the people involved in it are liked. It ebbs and flows. It’s not like the political cycle, the electoral cycle, where the moment somebody gets elected, they become the most unpopular president ever. Then election time comes along, they’re the incumbent and they get elected again. It doesn’t ever flow in that way, ebbs and flows along decades. It takes a long time to pan out this stuff. And that is what gives it that air of permanence and that feeling that you are helpless against it.

TFSR: That seems like the root of the problem right there, is that it’s the emotional response to it is, “But we’ve seen whoever grow up since they were a child. Can you look at this baby photo? Look at how cute they are in their golden bassinet. Isn’t that perfect? They look like baby Jesus.” That’s not the question at hand here. The question is their bassinets made of gold while there are still colonies, and people are being extracted more and more day to day under austerity measures and the government? They still have their huge palace over there and they get to own countries and islands. It’s not about them as people, that needs to be extracted from them as being people.

JB: First of all, babies, the cute babies always looked like Churchill, no matter what.

TFSR: All the babies look like Churchill.

JB: But in terms of thinking about what change might look like, what you end up with is people saying, “If we had a republic, then we’d be like America”. Do you want Trump to be elected here as president? Would you want that?” It doesn’t matter who it is. They will say, “Would you want Obama? Would you want Bush? Would you want Biden?” Because that is automatically seen as worse than someone born into position, which is odd, at least you’ve got the chance of getting rid of those people at some point. I’m not advocating Representative Democracy. But I am saying it’s an improvement on someone being born into a position, that ordinary people do at least have some say over it.

I nearly started to debate about the Electoral College there. But I’ll stop with that.

TFSR: I don’t think there would be a debate here.

JB: People dead against it.

TFSR: No, there are a lot of people, anyone who believes that more democracy is better rather than representatives choosing representatives choosing representatives. It’s actually been a big point, it’s been brought up in the last five years, more than it has been in my lifetime, although, even around the 2000 election, I remember that being a major sticking point when Gore, (actually it was the Supreme Court that gave the presidency to Bush) but people more and more have been recognizing and talking at least in liberal and progressive media circles, and pushing towards abolition.

JB: I think some states have moved to have legislation that would abolish it if a certain number of states take on the same legislation, and therefore, you don’t need a constitutional amendment, which would obviously fail because the Constitution is incredibly hard to change, isn’t it? So it’d be interesting to see if that threshold of States is ever reached, and then people can stop worrying about what number of Electoral College votes the President is going to get. And it will just come down to the popular vote. I guess that will be progress. I hope people will like it if it happens. It won’t solve the world’s problems, will it?

TFSR: No. And maybe it doesn’t have to, but I think this last few years, it was able to be brought up along with the surge of discussion around abolition, as a holdover from slave ownership and slave owners having a certain higher percentage of votes per them. Interestingly, it was in that context, and for years, it was being pushed as being removed because it is such an impediment to even an indirect representative democracy. So maybe it takes more emotional discourse around the historical implications of that and then tying that to the taking away of the vote of populations of color and other populations that are disenfranchised in the US system. I’m not sure.

JB: It’s incredibly difficult as well, isn’t it? Because you’ve got two parties that are drifting further apart. The idea of some consensus developing on this is pretty slim, I would say.

TFSR: I’d say the Democrats are drifting around the center. And the Republicans are going WAY over here…

JB: So if we see them as being fixed, we are getting further away, but not necessarily moving to the left themselves.

TFSR: Do you have any suggestions for what might be good moves towards an anti-monarchist class-based, anti-authoritarian, anti-nationalist struggle against the Royal family? Are there any things in the past that have specifically piqued your interest towards a material struggle in that way?

JB: I certainly can’t speak for anybody else. And I can’t say that this action or this lack of action is happening because anybody else is at fault. We’ve got to take responsibility. And just as an anarchist in Britain. I’m just as responsible for the lack of activity on all of this. But I am certainly not going to going to speak for anarchists or groups in other countries. Definitely. The things that I’m attracted to are performative actions that get attention and force people to think, and sometimes that means repelling people. I don’t think we should shy away from that. I think we should do elaborate, interesting performative actions that are confrontational, if necessary, mildly confrontational, I don’t mind how confrontational it is, at least challenging. It should be led by action. What that action should be, I haven’t got a list. But there are so many issues to do and so many failings to do with the monarchy, that you pick something and run with it. I’d encourage people to think creatively really, and that should be with everything they do. I think everything anarchists should do should be creative in some way. And it will be difficult to build up a movement, but I remain positive about this. I think that the monarchy’s popularity is transitory, it’s not set in stone, it is going to ebb and flow, there will be moments of extreme dislike amongst the people of the monarchy.

They’re going to be really important, but it’s also important to stand up and be counted at times when they are enjoying popularity. In fact, I went to a Republic event, I went to an event they organized in London on the day that William and Kate got married. They organized their own alternative street party because people were encouraged to have street parties across the country. Things like that are important alternatives. That was actually quite a mild event and frustratingly so. It still had the Union Flag bunting and flags out. It was basically “We’re going to do the same thing but we’re not doing it in support of the monarchy” kind of thing. I think you need to be more creative than that. But that action isn’t worthless, i think how you pitch it is important. We need to build something up, I think, and that will take time, but there will be opportunities. Absolutely. You know at some of the figures in this family, and the things that they’ve done and the things that they will do. I know that that’s going to produce opportunities. Definitely.

TFSR: And if power corrupts, and such absolutist power corrupts so absolutely, divest some of that power, and let them be regular folks who can’t wield quite as much power over other people.

JB: Is it absolute power? It is absolute comfort, isn’t it? She’s got absolute comfort. And she’s and that is perhaps something that she can feel secure in. But actually, she won’t be that comfortable forever. And whoever comes along after her, whether it’s Charles or William, they won’t feel comfortable all their lives either.

TFSR: Jon, thank you so much for this conversation. Are there any things that I didn’t ask about that you wanted to put in?

JB: No, I don’t think so. I think it’s been a really interesting discussion. I wish I could announce to the world that there was more happening to oppose this institution. But I think it’s important to have discussions like this when you want more to be happening as well. And maybe one day we can discuss it again and talk about it in a different light. That’d be great.

TFSR: In the past tense. Once the UK has been abolished and the US has been abolished.

So people can find your writing at jonbigger.uk. You’ve got a Twitter account. Are there any other places that people can find you? Freedom?

JB: Yeah. They can search for me at Freedom News, and see what I’ve written about in the past. That is primarily about British politics. But I’m currently thinking, what on earth am I going to write about Ukraine? Because that is obviously going to— it has already impacted British politics. What a devastating situation that is. I haven’t quite formulated all my thoughts yet. I try to broaden things out a little bit when I can onto other issues, too.

TFSR: Thank you so much, again, for this conversation and for the research that you put in.

JB: Thank you.

Anarchists in Ukraine Against War

Anarchists in Ukraine Against War

"No War Between Nations! No Peace Between Classes!” A mural in Moscow promoting Autonomous Action.
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On Thursday, February 24th, I spoke with Ilya, a Russian anarchist living and organizing in Kyiv, Ukraine. We spoke about the relationship between Russia and Ukraine, the Maidan uprising and war in the Donbass, resistance to the invasion of Ukraine and the Putin regime, conspiracy theories about Ukraine promoted by Russia and Russian-aligned media outlets, critiques of the Ukrainian state, and anarchists choosing their own path of self-defense and revolutionary mutual aid in the face of invading armies.

You can learn more, following anarchists organizing resistance on the ground in Ukraine and find out how to donate to their initiatives and share your solidarity by visiting https://linktr.ee/operation.solidarity .

To hear interviews about resistance and repression in Russia from the last decade, check out our past interviews. You can also find an interview from the period of the Maidan protests as well as experiences from Belarus.

We’re releasing this episode a little early to get this voice out at such an important moment. No war but the class war, y’all!

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Featured Track:

Лютая погодка by Граница from their 2012 album Знамя Цвета Ночи (written by Fedir Shchus of the Revolutionary Insurgent Army of Ukraine / Makhnovichina)

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Transcription

TSFR: Would you please introduce yourself with whatever name, preferred gender pronouns, location or political affiliations that make sense for this conversation?

Ilya: Yes, my name is Ilya . I am an anarchist from Russia, currently living in Kyiv and staying in Kyiv.

TSFR: I’d like to ask you a bit about what’s been going on in Ukraine for the last few months, with international tensions. But I kind of feel like a brief rundown of the sort of the relationship between Ukraine historically and with Russia would be kind of helpful. Could you speak a little bit about the historical relationship? Or the Soviet Union as it was at one point? What sort of like emotional or nationalist claims does Russia make for occupying Crimea or for occupying Ukraine?

Ilya: Oh, yes, sure, we have some, like big tensions at least from the autumn. But it also happened through past several years, several times already, where some threat of war was believed to be in the air. But as we see only now, it really came into reality at full scale.

So this is… how to say, this strategy of blackmailing and of pressure, which was made by the Putinist government on the local authorities, also on the local system. And the relations are very bad between the two countries since 2014. Since after Maidan protests of 2013-14 and removal of the pro-Russian President Yanukovych, Russia invaded Crimea and annexed it and also invaded the Donbass region, using some more loyal parts of the local population to Russia. So historically, I guess maybe it doesn’t making a lot of sense to go really deep into the historical context. So we can say briefly that in the very old times, maybe around 1000 or 700 years ago who are today Ukrainians and Russians (then just Eastern Slavic peoples) were a part of common political entity and also have common linguistic group. We are all still in the Eastern Slavic group, both Russians, Ukrainians, and Belarusians, which speak pretty close languages. But then their historical ways, they really separated for some reasons. And then by the end, it started already in 17th century and finished in late 18th century, when the territory of modern Ukraine was incorporated into the Russian Empire. And since then, we can speak actually about colonization of local territories by the Russian empire. With the Soviet revolution, labels changed, the equality of peoples was declared and also internationalism as a main policy, but still actually we can say that Soviet Union in many aspects, was still a very imperially designed state, with the center in Moscow with the predominance of Russian language. And in many different ways centered the political and economical system of Moscow, of Russia.

So after Soviet Union collapsed, all the republics which constructed the Soviet Union in general, they got actual state independence. But then after Putin came into power in 1999, he started this, I would say, neo-imperialist or neo-colonialist organizational politics of restoring the Russian State influence on the former Soviet Union area. His politics about helping pro-Russian presidents to come into power like with Viktor Yanukovych in Ukraine, and then harsh reaction in situations like when these presidents were overthrown, especially by the popular uprising, such as the Maidan uprising. It was even not electoral protest process, it was a really popular movement which threw Yanukovych out of power and kept him out. Since then, I think we can count the start of the modern stage of Ukrainian-Russian relations, since 2014 with the Yanukovych ousting and Crimea annexation.

TSFR: There’s definitely some people in the quote unquote anti imperialist left in other parts of the world that are saying that the territorial integrity of Russia and its border is being threatened by the de facto participation of Ukraine in the EU or relationship to the European Union or relationship to NATO, as if Ukraine is necessarily it’s either a part of the Russian Federation in the restoration of historical Russia or historical Soviet Union of the Stalin era, or it is gobbled up and controlled as a puppet state by the European Union and and by NATO, by Western capitalist powers or imperialist powers. I’m sure a lot of our conversations going to sort of play with that idea and break it down. But can you talk about that idea, or how that relates to the the Maidan movement and the annexation of the Donbass and Crimea, and what what’s happened in those territories?

Ilya: Yes. So maybe first we can touch on this nationalist sentiment, which you mentioned previously. Because our peoples, Ukrainians and Russians are historically close and also linguistically and culturally close. It’s also because of years of some imperialist role that there is widespread of usage of Russian language around here, especially eastern and southern parts of the country. They speak predominantly Russian. And this gives space for speculations that actually we are one people as, for example, Putin likes to speculate. And that there is some somehow historical reasons for our so called “geopolitical integrity.” Which is, of course, just a propagandistic tool for some authoritarian power with some geopolitical ambitions to use these historical and cultural toys for their own benefit to make some speculative ground for their invasions.

So if we then jump to this problem of NATO and the EU, bringing Ukraine into their zone of influence by NATO and European Union. Of course, it’s really it really takes place, especially since 2014, because new authorities which came into power after the Maidan uprising. They were clearly pro-Western and its’s also hard to deny that a lot of locals have some pro-Western sentiment. Because for people in Eastern Europe, and in all post-Soviet nations, the Western world still creates a role model of lifestyle. I would say, because European Union is very close [geographically] and is not that culturally distant. And still they have this, how to say, nice and comfortable Western life. And many people think in our regions, not only in Ukrainian, Belarusian in Russia, as well, in every corner of post Soviet space… People dream about having a life like this. And this is also a matter to be used by some political manipulators of so called pro-Western orientation. And Ukraine is not excluded or even a bright example of that. However still, any expansion of NATO and European Union is actually superficial, because there were not really even any suggestions or proposals for the Ukraine to join these organizations.

So this, let’s say, very chimerical, artificial threat for Russian statehood is once again used as a tool to justify pressure and invasion. These attempts to make, as you said already, Ukraine [into] a puppet state for Putin’s regime, or to wage war, as we see today.

TSFR: You‘ve mentioned that there are more people in the east and the south who speak Russian, maybe are in the Orthodox Church, or, in some ways identify with Russia. Can you say a few words about the quote unquote People’s Republics in Donetsk and Luhansk. And their relationship to Russia. The Duma just asked Putin to recognize the independence of these states and he said that it was years late, that he should have done this before. But to your understanding, is there any truth that these are republics?

Ilya: How to say… Ukrainian society is a very multi layered in the cultural aspects. So linguistic affiliations, as well as religious affiliations, they don’t necessarily at all construct some political loyalties, especially in terms like pro-Russian or pro-Western. Yes, southern and eastern regions, they are very much Russian speaking. But in no way at all does the majority of the people or even a considerable number of the people support the integration with Putinist Russia. No way! It’s just not like this. Also the Orthodox Church here is separated into different factions. We have here both the Ukrainian Orthodox Church and also Ukrainian branch of Moscow Orthodox Church. This separation somehow influence the political loyalties, but also not totally. Even if a person is Russian speaking, and go into Ukrainian branch of Moscow Orthodox Church, it doesn’t necessarily mean that this person is loyal to the Russian government. But still yes, in Crimea, and in eastern and southern regions, there are more sympathizers for Russian state and also for the Putinist regime. And for example, so called Oppositional Platform, the party which is still present present in Ukrainian parliament, holds clearly pro-Putin positions, and still mostly supported in southern and eastern areas. But by no way by the majority of the population.

So what I want to say briefly that a lot of people who speaks mostly Russian here, they still don’t want to be integrated in some new Russian new empire, or to be subjugated by Putin’s regime.

And about the political nature… Crimea is another story. A lot of people, I would say, actually associated themselves with Russia in this territory. But it is also far from being the social consensus in Crimea. For example, the indigenous people of Crimea, the Crimean Tatars, are a large part of the population and are really unhappy and disloyal to the so called new [Russian] authorities in Crimea. And they even try to resist it somehow. So there is also a split within Crimean community, I would say, would be correct to say.

About so called to popular Republic’s, of course, they are not Republic’s at all, they could never exist without direct support from the Russian state, both in economical conditions and more important by military conditions. So of course, we need to say that there is some support from the grassroots for this republic, but is not not even nearly enough to hold any anti-Ukrainian separatists insurgency. So this is not an authentic, separatist movement. Actually, this is totally orchestrated by Russian state and military. These are not republics at all. Actually, I would say, they’re criminal quasi-states, ruled by some sort of mafias, which is called governments of this so called “republics.” And these mafias hold the power, since they are fully controlled and fully loyal and fully manipulated by Kremlin.

TSFR: In the past month, and particularly, it’s been escalating, you’ve seen more than 100,000 Russian troops along the eastern border with Ukraine, the participation in impromptu drills and war games involving 10s of 1000s of aligned Belarusian troops to the north, naval deployments in the sea south of Ukraine, and the activation of troops in occupied Moldova. There have even been nuclear training exercises in recent days. And as I’m hearing, there’s been shelling already in the Donbass, but I’ve heard that shelling has actually started in other parts of Ukraine, the parts that aren’t occupied.

There’s also this this issue that Western governments and the Ukrainian government saying Russia is going to do a “false flag” activity to claim a reason to do an invasion. And there was in fact, a car bomb of the head of security forces in one of the quote unquote People’s Republics that Russia was claiming was a terrorist act and an activity by the Ukrainian government. I guess we’ve sort of already talked about how this is just Russian expansion.

Is there any sort of activity any sort of truth to these, what’s been called false flag activities? Or or the claims of active genocide in the eastern part of the country against Russian speaking peoples, which the Putin administration regime has been using as an argument of why they needed to defend them?

Ilya: First of all, you’re absolutely correct. Today, early morning, we got up because every parts of Ukraine were actually bombed by heavy airstrikes from the Russian side. As far as I can estimate up to now, their main targets were both civil and military airports, and also other military targets. But they bombed pretty near to the civilian inhabited places, and as far as I know, up to now dozens of civilians already killed by Putinist forces from the sky.

About your question… In no way do I want to whitewash the Ukrainian state. First of all, I would not call Ukrainian state “super nationalist”, even though this is, of course, a classic nation state, actually, with all its obvious shortcomings. And also with some politics for ethnic and national unification, which is unjust, of course. So what else should be said about it? This is also very neoliberal and poor state, providing continuously and extensively neoliberal reforms which are reducing social help and safety for the working people, for the poor people of this country. And some nationalist sentiment, of course, is present in this society. Some people believe that people here should speak only Ukrainian language, because the Russian language was absolutely the colonizer’s language. But this is, of course, nonsense, from my point of view, because millions of Ukrainians prefer Russian language. All this creates splits within this society, and creates tensions and create a space for some political advances of certain political forces.

But of course, there is no ethnic cleansing, there is no genocide. This is absolutely over-exaggeration, which is used consciously by Russian forces, by Putinist forces, I would prefer to say, to play this card of military invasion and of their political expansion. There is no, how to say, forcing people to speak another language, for example, and there is no really repression and violence against people who may not fit well into Ukrainian nation state frame. There are certain problems, of course, but what we see today, is just an attempt to over-exaggerate all the problems and to instrumentalize these problems for clearly imperialist aggression.

Just now curfew is declared in Kiev from 10pm, but we still have a lot of time before it. Okay?

TSFR: Okay. So we see with the air raids, with the bombings that are happening, it’s clear that Russia is not just about saber-rattling, which a lot of people were proposing beforehand… that it was more about getting international attention and proving itself that it can destabilize the Ukrainian economy and bring a lot of other world powers to the table. This was kind of an assumption of Putin’s logic. But at this point, obviously, it’s it’s more than that. A lot of people were saying beforehand that it didn’t seem likely that the Russian regime would end up invading because the military force that they could muster probably wouldn’t be enough to actually occupy Ukraine. Between all of the aid that’s been coming internationally, the buildup of NATO and US troops and neighboring countries, the training of the Ukrainian population in Civil Defense forces that seem to be preparing for the possibility of guerrilla warfare against an occupation… But all of that aside, Russia’s doing what it’s doing right now.

Did trying to figure out what was going on with the Russian administration and where their decision making was.. was that helpful, do you think or was that kind of a distraction, to actually preparing for the real possibility of what we’re seeing now?

Ilya: Well, if I understood your question correctly, I would think that the Russian government… I am far from thinking that they are like stupid or crazy or something, but somehow they are really going wild. Because they feel that they are somehow facing the final battle now. They have lost popularity within Russia actually, and they need some more doping, I would say, to make it increase again, internal popularity. They also feel that the so-called “international community” is actually a weak and fragmented and they try to use these holes within the international community, and with this world establishment consensus, to make some game change and to provide their authoritarian interests. I think we can compare it fairly well with the behavior of Turkish state, which has their own, let’s say, “popular republics” in Syria, for example, and also extending their influence abroad its borders. So I think these two new imperialist states, they make actually very similar politics.

So for me, it seems that they understand… And also we need to do remember that since 2014, when European sanctions were imposed, the economical situation in Russia has been worsening from year to year, which also contributes to a growing unpopularity of this regime, in Russian minds, I would say. Because of this, I think that the Russian authorities feel themselves still very powerful, and they are actually, but at the same time they feel themselves a little bit like in the “Ragnarok” film, like in some final battle for them to protect their privileged position and their full control over the country and abroad. And that is the reason why I think they play such wild games, both inside Russia and abroad.

TSFR: Are you aware of anti militarist opposition inside of the Russian Federation, like this building conflict has been simultaneous to Russia aiding suppression in Belarus by Lukashenko as well as putting down the Kazakh unrest?

Ilya: Oh, yes, I am. I know that a lot of people in Russia don’t like war at all. I know this, I’m pretty sure about this. This is obvious for me. At the same time, you need to know that all political opposition, from liberal, far right, and anarchist and leftist side were extensively smashed during the last year’s. For example, you probably heard, even in the the US about the so called “Network Case” against Russian anarchists, and a lot of different cases like this were going on. So they also killed opposition leaders, like Liberal leader Boris Nemtsov, they have imprisoned Alexei Navalny, who is one of the biggest populist liberal leaders in Russian opposition.

So they did work well to destroy all the opposition forces. Since 2011, we had several sparks, I would say, sparks of a resistance, of really broad protest movements. But they didn’t succeed finally, they were more or less co-opted or smashed by the state or they just died because time passed away and they still gained no results. And after each of these sparks, the government use their opportunity to suppress more and more the opposition. One big last increase of the protests we saw last winter in January 2021 when this populist Navalny returned to Russia and many of his supporters. But also even more of just people unhappy with the situation in the country, they really came to the streets in many, many Russian cities to protest Putin’s politics. But they are all were suppressed. And then repressions became even harder and dozens of people were imprisoned. So now human rights defenders, speak about at least of 1,000 political prisoners in Russia. And we need to know that actually, there are many more because human rights defenders, they do not recognize all the people who are being imprisoned for their political activities.

Because of this now, there are a lot of unhappiness with this war in Russia, but there is no organizational tools, some movement tools, which could mobilize the people of Russia to protest against it. We already saw today, several separate actions against the invasion and against the war in Russia in different cities of Russia, but it’s still not a massive and organized movement. For example, we see no big demonstrations, as far as I know. I still hope to see them and maybe if war continues it will happen. But up to up today, it doesn’t exist, because this government made conscious work to destroy an internal opposition. But still for example, it is interesting that when Coronavirus, vaccination started, this anti-vax movement, they gained also big grounds in Russian society. And authorities even had to go several steps back with this vaccination and certifications programs. You hardly expect from Putin and from Russian authorities to have to go any steps back, but at that time they had to because they really saw a large unhappiness growing within the population. So I’m still far from thinking they are almighty, even internally, not at all. There is some, how to say, some ghosts of protest and revolutionary movement within Russia, which still didn’t take its forms. But it definitely is present. It definitely exists. And this is one of the factors which is making the Putinist government wild enough to make such initiatives, let’s say, as they are today.

TSFR: I kind of a side note, and a question that I have in relation to COVID in Russia is… In the West, media has represented a lot of protests around COVID to be around a distrust of the quality of the shots that the Russian government was making. And maybe that’s a misrepresentation. And maybe it actually is antivax overall, in similar conspiracy-theory-ways that we have in the West too, but is that is there any truth to that? What do you think was motivating the antivax movement in Russia?

Ilya: Well, I think there is actually a lot of how to say, this so called COVID skepticism, and a little bit of being skeptical about medicine, as well as which we can treat as some sort of ignorance which actually exists within the population. But at the same time, another portion of this antivax motivation, which may differ from what we have in the West, but I’m maybe mistaken, is that Russian population highly doesn’t believe the authorities, it doesn’t believe that any good will come from above. They want to resist any invasion of the state programs within their private lives, because they know that the write a lot of lies, going from TV channels, and from the heights persons of the state. They have experienced many tricks from there and because of that they just don’t believe the authorities. And this was one of the factors for why antivax sentiments blossomed in in Russia.

TSFR: So as I understood, the Maidan protests, in part were a push against the rule by Ukrainian oligarchs, although maybe it was in favor of some oligarchs over others. And they had vast control, in many ways parallel to the Russian oligarchs, who Putin rules alongside. Some people, at least, who are arguing against the Russian invasion are positing it as supporting Ukraine, you’ve already laid a critique that it’s a poor neoliberal state, a capitalist state. Can you can you talk a little bit more breaking apart these ideas of being against the invasion and in favor of self-defense of the population versus supporting Ukraine as a political project or state?

Ilya: Yes, I do it with pleasure, actually, because this is, I believe the most important point.

But first of all, some preliminary words. Actually, the Russian system and Ukrainian systems are very different because all the Russian oligarchs are more or less subjugated to this unified authoritarian rule of Putin and his clique, which originates more in former Soviet secret services of which Putin is a former member of. So this is a pretty unified model of control from one center, which is this, we call “Silovic.” I know that even in the West, this word is in usage now, like with this secret services set as the political center. Now in Ukraine situation is another there, there is really competing oligarch clans struggling for power and for bigger zones of economical and political influence.

You’re absolutely correct. Maidan uprising had a lot of anti-oligarchical intention, because this oligarchy rule is really something which makes this country very poor and vulnerable. At the same time, surprisingly, both countries are absolutely neoliberal. Even though Putin has some social populism, year after year for decades now already, he has provided neoliberal reforms. And also, the strengthening social vulnerability of the working people of the ordinary people. And the Ukrainian society is still much less state controlled. That is an important point. The Ukrainian state is not better than other states. But it just has much less tools to control and to subjugate its own population. This is still somehow pluralistic, absolutely unlike the Russian situation. And I would say there is still a much more free atmosphere around here. This is not a coincidence that, for example, many comrades from Russia and Belarus they find shelter exactly here. Because much less political repression and state violence is present here. So here, we still see a lot of grounds for making some grassroots initiatives, direct democracy projects, and any, I would say, even social revolutionary developments. While in Russia, we see just this authoritarian hammer, I would say, which smashes everything which it meets in its way. So this is one of the big reasons why it needs to be confronted. The Ukrainian state has a lot of disadvantages. But the Ukrainian society really should be protected from this totalitarian threat that it faces today and that it has actually faced already for decades, since Putinist expansionist politics are starting to be implemented.

So this is exactly our reason, or why to participate in it. We believe in radical social changes within Ukrainian society. But for this, exactly for this, and not for protecting some state sovereignty, which doesn’t make sense for us. Exactly for the possibility for positive social changes should the Putinist invasions should be severely confronted. And I would say that this is the moment of truth, because in worse situations the grassroots very often is killed off. And self-organization, solidarity, mutual aid really take ground within the population, especially when elites betray the population. Several days before the invasions, many politicians of Ukraine, they just flew away on their private jets. So we see pretty clearly that the state is not a friend at all for the Ukrainian people. So this is our fight! Our fight is for the people is for protecting the grounds for the future revolutionary changes, which is now being deadly threatened by the Putinist threat.

TFSR: So one of the conspiracy theories that has been promoted by authoritarians in the so called “anti imperialist left,” often not promoting leftist values on social justice, but often aligned with Russian regime and others viewed as being oppositional to the USA, has been that the Maidan movement was a CIA operation to promote the far-right groups such as Pravyi sektor or Svoboda into taking power in a bloodthirsty drive to ethnically cleanse Russians in the Donbass. Can you talk about this view of what happened or this view of the Ukrainian state or culture in terms of the far-right influence?

Ilya: Yes, well as the good teacher of the authoritarian propaganda, Göbbels, said that if you want your lies to be believed in, you should use some kernals of truth in it. So yes, the far-right, had a strong presence in Maidan uprising, because they were organizing pretty well before it, like for four years before it. And it was also somehow affiliated with the authorities, with the secret services as far as we can estimate, and also with some criminal business and so on. Because of this, they faced this Maidan uprising on a pretty good footing, which gave them an opportunity to develop somehow their organizations within Maidan upgrising and after it.

But still, in first approach, this is the lie that the Ukrainian far-right took more grounds for ethnic cleansing of the Russian speaking population, because there is still no actually ethical cleansing of this population. And also, really far-right nationalist parties are not even present in Parliament. Because, honestly, I don’t give a lot of shit who is present in Parliament. But more important for me, when I participated in Maidan uprising, I saw by my own eyes 100,000s of just ordinary people, of grassroots people rebelling against the oligarchical rule, against their humiliation imposed by the uncontrollable criminal President Yanukovych. Of course, many powers tried to intervene and tried to influence this. Not only from the Right, it was Liberals, some fake opposition parties created by different local oligarch clans, which we already mentioned today. All of them tried their best to influence the movement. And I would say, oligarch Poroshenko, which became next president, was pretty successful in it. And we can say that Maidan is once again a betrayed revolution, like a revolution which was stolen from the people by the oligarchs. But the Maidan uprising itself was definitely less of a nationalist movement and much more of grassroot popular movement against the authorities, against the government. This I would say.

TFSR: Yeah, and that, I mean, that makes absolute sense. When I think to something similar in the United States, like the Occupy movement, in some areas it was all sorts of different people coming for their own political reasons to be in that space because they had shared experience of misery under capitalism and alienation. And in some places, the Democratic Party was able to harness some of the energy. It definitely tried all over to either harness it or destroy it, if it couldn’t. And also, yeah, the relationship between the far right and and security forces is ubiquitous and international.

So, on the same topic, can you talk about the participation of groups like Azov battalion and fighting in the war in the Donbass that’s been happening since 2014, the training of far right foreigners and in paramilitary skills and the allowance of their existence in or alongside of the armed forces in in the Ukrainian military?

Ilya: Oh, yes, Azov voluntary battalion was formed soon after Maidan and really was a Nazi initiative to intervene in this conflict in Donbass. Soon after, they became a regular regiment of Ukrainian army and somehow integrated within the military hierarchy. So, now, they are not clearly “political” because as a part of the army which, it must be declared to be apart from any politics. But of course, it was a Nazi-originated, Nazi-built structure, these people, these Nazis, still really have a core presence in there and leadership within it. I have no strict information, but I heard many rumors but from believable sources that yes, lots of Western Nazis came, and also Russian Nazis actually, even more Russian Nazis, they came here to participate in Azov and also to train. Yes, this really exists and not only Azov battalion, they organize their civil branch which is called a National Corps Party which intervenes actively in Ukrainian political life but is also is very much discredited because its affiliation with criminal activities and also affiliation with the Interior Ministry of former Interior Minister Avakov. And all this is called Azov Movement, which is a pretty far right movement even now, even though they’re now trying to play somehow that “we are not Nazis, we are not fascists, were just conservative nationalists.” But from origin, they’ve been Nazis. They are really in. Still I honestly honestly no information about any ethnic cleansing performed by them, surprisingly!

There are many Nazis here, for example, Dmitro Yarosh from Pravyi Sektor you mentioned, they originate, or many of National Corps. Dmitro Yarosh is from Dnipro city, and many of National Corps leaders, they’re from Kharkiv, from eastern cities, which are predominantly Russians-speaking. So here you can have a lot of Russian-speaking Nazis actually. So when somebody tries to portray that this is Ukrainian-speaking population against Russian-speaking population, this is a pure hoax and tricks.

So yes, as I said already before, Nazis are present a lot in local political life, this is true. But they are still much more weak than for example, just Oligarchical forces. Like, they are visible, they are horrible, but when somebody tries to manipulate that Ukrainian somehow a “Nazi state,” or a fascist state, this is of course, this is just a lie. This is just not true. And this is just a tool of manipulation for pro-Putinist forces, which unfortunately, too, grounds also in Western so-called “Anti-imperialist Movement,” because, a really anti-imperialist movement needs to be today with us here confronting this purely imperialist aggression.

TFSR: It seems like the opportunity is present, with the recognition that Nazis have been able to organize, far-right has been able to organize, and also that the Putinist forces are simultaneously trying to, they’re taking ground quite literally… It seems like an opportunity for anarchists and anti-authoritarian, anti-capitalists to reach out to their neighbors, provide alternatives, offer what you mentioned with mutual aid and also coordinating. Obviously, people tried to do that during the Maidan and got outflanked, basically.

Can you talk about the situation of anarchists and anti-authoritarian movements in Ukraine at the moment? I just saw messages this morning on social media of many anarchists, who had had to flee Belarus, for instance, to Ukraine deciding to stay and to try to defend the population against invasion. And it seems like a lot of people are sort of hunkering down and making that decision to stay. Can you talk about what that anarchist movement looks like?

Ilya: Yes, of course, I would say that Maidan was a really hard blow and the source of depression for the anarchist movement, because it provided a lot of splits about attitude and position about Maidan. Some comrades took one ground, other comrades took another one. And this provided a lot of quarrels. But even more was the negative influence that Maidan actually appeared as this “betrayed revolution,” as I already said before. Some people really believe that it would lead to some positive political changes, but it hardly led to any good changes within the society. So the anarchist movement, and I would say leftist movement in general, found itself in depression in Ukraine for years. But in the last few years, I think, we can speak about restoring movement because a lot of old participants and also new participants as well, are really making some analytical work around what needs to be done for the movement to reconstruct itself, to organize better and which alternatives we can provide for the society.

Of course, we need to confront a lot this nationalist sentiment, like about “our state of Ukraine,” this national sentiment, of course, is widespread within the society. This pro-Western sentiment I already mentioned about people dreaming of a good Western-like life. This is something we really need to work with and fight against. But this is possible. And of course, this, how to say, this “gray zone of Europe,” this weak state… Because Russia looks pretty stable, even though I believe that it’s not like this, actually. I don’t know, good English words for it, but the Russian Putinist regime is something super big which will collapse very quickly finally, i believe. The European Union, of course, looks as well pretty stable. And Ukraine is not like this. So of course, this is naturally the ground for the grassroots organizing and for some really very different political alternatives to be developed and presented, including our ones.

TFSR: So I guess in your view, and I know you’ve kind of addressed this already, but how have anarchists abroad been reacting to these developments? Not knowing what’s coming, for sure. But I mean, since the shellings already started, it seems kind of clear, but the situation might change… What forms of solidarity would you like to see coming from abroad?

For instance, Crimethinc just put out a tweet about calling for tonight at 7pm or 6pm everywhere for there to be demonstrations at Russian embassies. Is this one of the things that you’d like to see, is there more than that, that you’d like to see?

Ilya: Oh, yes.

First of all, I want to greet my comrades in Moscow, which yesterday held their actions against the invasions. It was anarchists who organized them and several were arrested. It means that actually anarchist comrades and some anti-war actions there actually already exist in Russia.

So the situation here now is actually first of all, a challenge for us… Will we be able to develop the narrative, the concept of libertarian participation, meaningful participation in this anti-imperialist resistance. It needs to be anti-imperialist resistance with some really social-revolutionary goals and prospects. Also, the next challenge to us if we will be able to form our structures, both in terms of self-defense, and of civil organizing, and as long as we will be able to do it, we need growing support informationally, and also by the actions of solidarity, and also maybe by some material support, of course, from our Western comrades. So any expression of solidarity already now is extremely appreciated and extremely needed throughout all the world.

If you want to make graffiti, do it, if you want to make demonstration against Russian or Belarusian embassy, do it. This is also a good point to support anarchists political prisoners, of which there are a lot of in Russia and Belarus. If you want to collect some money, do it, if you want to spread our information (which I hope will be extensively translated, like published first and translated into English as well), this is also a very good way to express your solidarity. So I believe solidarity actions are media and information will help. And also providing material support an infrastructural support for us, for anarchist movement here, for libertarian movement here, would be really good grounds for us to rely on.

TFSR: I guess one more question is… So, I’ve seen this discussed a little bit, not not the perspectives of people in Ukraine, but other anarchists elsewhere, talking about the difficulty of being engaged in or around official State organizations of defense, while keeping autonomy and keeping an anti-state, pro-social perspective. Can you talk a little bit about that balance? And what sort of discussions, anarchists and anti-authoritarian leftists in Ukraine are having about that?

Ilya: Yes, I think I can do it. Of course. Especially, this is the hard question in terms of self-defense because every authorized self-defense is coming from the state, more or less. So there is a challenge, like if we want to have self-defense and not be confronted on every front as we are a very few, so we need to collaborate somehow with the state military structures. And the question is, how not to assimilate to these structures, but still collaborate somehow having some sorts of autonomy and our own vision and perspective.

Well, I don’t want to lie to say that we have a perfect plan how to do it, but definitely we realize this problem and we will work and find some, I would say, tricky ways to do it to really have self-defense as independent from the state structures as possible. And I think this is what really political movements should do, like we see it a lot in Kurdistan, for example, this maneuvering to protect their own perspective and sovereignty. And this is at least in much less chaos than in Kurdistan, but in principle is the same as we are trying to do here.

Another important problem is, I will say ideological assimilation to the State discourse, because many people even who associate themselves with the anarchist movement, starting to say, “okay, we are not now just need to defend our country.” Well, in this situation to defend your country is pretty good, but this is not enough at all for the anarchist revolutionary. You need to develop some perspective for changes, like some ideas on how you want to influence political and social situations within the country. And this is also the matter of discussions of, somehow even very hot discussions, and our continuous thinking here. But more or less , most of us agree that we need within this struggle, anti-imperialist struggle, our participation in it. We need to express, to develop and express our anarchist narrative and program and ideas.

TFSR: Thank you so much Ilya, for having this conversation with me. And we’ll be sure to provide the the links that comrades in Ukraine have shared to keep up and I hope that this conversation helps get more people in the streets and good luck.

Ilya: Thanks a lot to you. Good luck. We’re staying in contact.

TFSR: Please. Yeah, and solidarity and share my love with the people there. I’ll let you go now. But take care.

Ilya: Yeah, thanks a lot. We are now here with the comrades finding out ways to do and we say greetings to you. Thanks for your support.

TFSR: Solidarity. Ciao.

Keith Lamar from Death Row / Lorenzo Kom’boa Ervin (rebroadcast)

Keith Lamar from Death Row (rebroadcast)

Book cover of "Condemned" featuring a picture of Keith Lamar
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Hey folks. This week, we’re sharing our 2020 chat with Keith Lamar aka Bomani Shakur who is facing execution on November 16th 2023. We hope you enjoy his insights and check out his support website, KeithLamar.Org and get involved in helping him fight for his life and for justice. Starting February 25, 2022 you can hear Keith, Albert Marquet and others performing “Freedom First

We’ll have new content coming out next week.

Bomani Shakur speaks to us from death row at OSP Youngstown in Ohio. Bomani is accused of crimes related to the 1993 Lucasville Uprising he claims innocence of and has an execution date set for November 16, 2023. For the hour we speak about his upbringing, his case, injustice in white supremacist and capitalist America, Bomani’s politicization and struggle to find himself, defend his dignity and his life. To hear a longer, podcast version, check out this link on archive.

This interview was originally recorded on April 29th, 2020. Thanks to Revolutionary Abolitionist Movement – NYC for hooking us up with the chat and helping coordinate the Month Of Solidarity. More on his case can be found at KeithLamar.Org, on the facebook page “Justice For Keith Lamar” and at the twitter account, @FreeKeithLamar. On his website you can find a link to his book, Condemned, ways to donate to his phone fund, and a link to the excellent, 30 minute documentary on youtube about his case also named Condemned.

Lorenzo Kom’boa Ervin

Lorenzo Kom’boa Ervin is an author, black anarchist, organizer, former Black Panther and former political prisoner based in Kansas City, Missouri. In this segment, Lorenzo talks about prisoners organizing unions and other associations in the past, the thoughts of George Jackson and Martin Sostre and more.

You can find a recently republished edition out from Pluto Press of Lorenzo Kom’boa Ervin’s classic “Anarchism & the Black Revolution” plus a bunch of other essays. If you order this from Firestorm books here in Asheville, you’ll get a 10% discount and we’ll get a kickback, too! Otherwise, it’s available at any number of renowned booksellers.

And a quick note that the interview with Lorenzo was conducted by a member of True Leap Press. Since 2017, True Leap has provided free print political education materials for imprisoned people engaging in abolitionist study. They have over 200 titles in their new 2022 catalog. They don’t keep a mailing list, as literature is only available upon request. If you would like a new catalog of their 2022 literature selections, please visit them at their website TrueLeapPress.com or at their new address:

True Leap Zine Distro
PO Box 6045
Concord, CA 94524

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Cory Doctorow on “Walkaway” and Post-Scarcity (rebroadcast)

Cory Doctorow on “Walkaway” and Post-Scarcity (rebroadcast)

Book cover of "Walkaway" by Cory Doctorow featuring a house on fire in black, mirrored below by someoen walking away from the house
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This week, we are re-broadcasting an inteview with the sci-fi and picture book author, technologist and social critic Cory DoctorowCory is an editor of the blog BoingBoing, a fellow at the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the book we spoke of on this episode was Walkaway (you get a 10% discount and support for us when you order from the above link from Firestorm Books in Asheville), out from Head of Zeus and TOR books.  The novel plays with themes of open source technologies, class society, post-scarcity economics, ecological remediation, drop-out culture and liberatory social models. It was released a few days ago in paperback, along with matching re-issues of his other adult sci-fi novels.

For the hour, we spoke about themes from the book, sharing, trans-humanism, imagination and monsters.  To find more work by Cory, check out his blog craphound.com.  You can also find him on twitter, free writings on Project Gutenberg, his content on archive.org, or his podcast. In 2019 he released Radicalized, a collection of four novellas, and in 2020 he released Attack Surface, a novel in the universe of his prior works, Little Brother and it’s sequel, Homeland.

We hope you enjoy!

Upcoming Anti-Repression Workshops

This week, the second free, online workshop in the Anti-Repression series hosted by Firestorm Books is happening. You can find out more (plus supplemental info) at the Blue Ridge Anarchist Black Cross website, and sign up for the zoom event on Digital Security coming up at 7pm on Tuesday, February 15th at 7pm EST (UTC – 5) here: https://us02web.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN__ACzJRGGSpKS3rDeQnJ9ZQ!

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Transcription

TFSR: This week we’re presenting an interview that I conducted with sci-fi and picture book author, technologist, and social critic Cory Doctorow. Cory is an editor of the blog BoingBoing.net, a fellow at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and his most recent book is entitled Walkaway, and it’s out from Head of Zeus and Tor Books. The novel plays with themes of open-source technologies, class society, post-scarcity economics, ecological remediation, dropout culture, and liberatory social models. It was released a few days ago also in paperback, along with matching reissues of his other adult sci-fi novels.

For the hour, we chat about themes from the book, about sharing, imagination, privilege, and monsters. To find more work by Cory, check out his blog craphound.com. You can also find him on Twitter. You can find free versions of his writing at Project Gutenberg, as well as interviews and recordings that he’s done at archive.org or his podcast. Links will be found in the show notes for this episode.

Cory, thank you very much for taking the time to chat.

Cory Doctorow: Oh, it’s my pleasure. Thanks for your interest in the book.

TFSR: It was a really pleasurable read. One thing I love about speculative fiction is finding the roots in the current world looking at the divergences between the story and the IRL and playing with those imaginary threads, tying them together. Walkaway mentions Idle No More, the Arab Spring, it alludes to Occupy and even old back-to-the-landers in Vermont. From this history-of-the-future view, what agency is given to resistance movements of today or just yesterday?

Cory: That’s a really good question. My theory of change is that we get to a better place not by laying out a plan that takes us from A to Z, but by taking immediate steps that in some way materially improve the circumstances for resistance or change, that then creates a more favorable landscape from which the next volley can be launched. So it’s a lot more like a software hill-climbing algorithm, where you don’t know the terrain and but all you do is you always try to move up to more favorable terrain, rather than this idea of a knowable world. Maybe this is where I break with Marxism and its so-called scientific theory of history that has this deceptive and seductive inevitability about how we can chart a course. And instead of charting a course, I advocate for a unified heuristic. We all use the same rule of thumb to try to make things better. And the material improvements that we make just in some way benefit the people that come in the future, in some unknowable and unguessable situation. So rather than try to lay in the material needed for a battle whose contours we can’t predict, we just try to make things as versatile and usable as possible for whoever comes next. And so in this future, I think the people who are on the vanguard, are people who are picking up the stuff that we left lying around, without knowing exactly how it would be used. And some of it turns out to be useful in unexpected ways. And some of the stuff that maybe we predicted would be most useful turns out to have no earthly use.

TFSR: That’s really well-said. Actually, that reminds me— I had mentioned in one of the emails that I was interested in and had been looking into Cooperation Jackson recently as a project happening in the deep south of the US. It’s an initiative to grow a tech industry and manufacturing and fabricating belt, employing the mostly black and working-class populations in a democratic, almost permacultural approach. It doesn’t seem perfect, obviously. But they’ve really laid out their plan, really open-source style in this book called Jackson Rising. They’re influenced by Rojava, by the Mondragon cooperative, by Black Liberation struggles, by the Zapatistas, and many other diverse movements. Are there any current anti-capitalist projects or movements around the world that are hacking and making that inspire you or that you’re keeping close tabs on?

Cory: It’s a really good question. Again, I know I keep saying that, but these are good thought-provoking meaty questions.

I’m sure that there are explicitly anti-capitalist projects. I mean, Dmitry Kleiner and the Telekommunisten in Berlin sprang to mind. But I’m interested in the way that projects that don’t have an explicitly anti-capitalist agenda, nevertheless can serve the cause of a post-capitalist or even a mixed-market technological future. So things free and open-source software, the movement for net neutrality, cognitive radio technologies, things like end-to-end encrypted messenger clients. And also, not incidentally, that the tools for evaluating all of these that— We’re getting into better trainer training tools and better critical frameworks for understanding them. So EFF, with whom I work, sometimes the Electronic Frontier Foundation, has historically published scorecards of different kinds of security tools. And they’ve stopped doing it for end-to-end encrypted messengers because they realize that there isn’t a dimension on which an encrypted messaging tool is best. Instead, there are different kinds of threat models for different kinds of users. Now they’re publishing plain-language, easy-to-understand models, or frameworks for evaluating what encrypted messenger you should use and understanding whether any given encrypted messenger is one that you should trust and that you would find useful.

And to me, in terms of aiding insurgency, which I guess is what all these things have in common, they don’t have an explicit political valence, but they have an anti-authoritarian valence, that these tools are really useful. And I think that the place where, again, if I break with the Marxist left on the inevitability of history, maybe the place where I break with the intersectional left, is on whether a tool can be made to benefit insurgents that doesn’t benefit insurgents, we don’t like. The alt-right is an insurgent movement as well. And when I look at movements to throttle the alt-right, I always concern myself with the extent to which that will also throttle anti-authoritarian left-wing movements. For example, any framework in which it becomes easier to remove content from the web-based on the politics of its speech, I think, has to be viewed with extreme caution, not because there isn’t a speech that is bad speech, or that the world would be better without, but because the ease with which speech can be removed based on its content is a threat to anyone who wants to say anything unpopular.

TFSR: Yeah, it’s funny, now becoming personally old enough, I’m almost 40 to have seen this trajectory a couple of times. For instance, I’m in the US, seeing Democrats be in office and then seeing Democrats allowed to push certain boundaries or increase incarceration rates, or deport more people, or do drone strikes without any sort of repercussions to the executive branch. And then a Republican administration follows directly after, it’s terrible when it’s happening when the Democrats are doing it, but there seems to be a lack of understanding to some people that the tool is going to be wielded by someone and you don’t get to choose necessarily who wields that tool. Whether or not it’s positive or “positive” for your goal.

Cory: Yeah, I think that’s right. American liberals were pretty sanguine about the extension of really extreme executive power to Obama when he was using it to fight the hardline TGOP Republican Congress. And now they’re about to have their past sins visited upon them, not least because there’s now the power of the president to create secret assassination lists that a certain liberal defended in the last administration. But also, as you say, mass incarceration, the failure to close Gitmo, and so on. A lot of that triangulation Clintonian political stuff is how they went from convenient instrumental doctrines into pluripotent immortal weapons that now get to be wielded by whoever sits in the President’s chair. And we have a maniac with a lot less discretion sitting in the President’s chair. I’m not going to stick up for Obama, but I do think that if nothing else, he was circumspect and premeditated in a way that Trump isn’t capable of, which at least allowed us to have a threat model. I always like to distinguish, when I think about threat models, between the cat burglar who plans a robbery of your house because they know what jewels you have hidden in your wall safe. And that time I parked my car in Gastown in Vancouver, which is the principal part of heroin ingress into the Americas. I left a quarter sitting on the dashboard and someone broke into the rental car to steal a quarter. It’s possible to think about that jewel thief in a way that rationally defends against it. Like if the jewel thief’s expected return on selling your jewels is less than the cost of breaking into your house, you can secure your house from the jewel thief because they don’t want to waste money. Whereas the junkie is acting without any premeditation, and it’s very hard to defend against. And when we think about political threat models, Obama at least was predictable. We knew where he would squander capital and where he wouldn’t in the political sense. Whereas Trump picks dumb fights. And a loose cannon on deck is much scarier when it’s a really big scary cannon than when it’s a small constrained cannon. And Obama made the president into a much bigger cannon.

TFSR: Yeah. With the aid of the American people.

You mentioned that you’re a fellow at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and a lot of your writing focuses on tech tools, for more secure organizing and knowledge sharing, and resisting tyranny. For instance, Little Brother, as a novel focused largely on ubiquitous surveillance and the socialization of resistance via, for instance, parties where people shared encryption face-to-face. The book was both the commentary as well as a spur to get folks thinking about resistance with actual models of going about it. Can you talk about your views of the cultural and activist interventions that you engage with? How do they overlap?

Cory: Culturally, there is an anti-authoritarian streak that is built into the internet. It’s not determinative, it’s not like using the internet makes you anti-authoritarian. But if you have anti-authoritarian tendencies, there’s a lot that the internet has to offer you. And much of what gave us the internet, as we understand it today, was anti-authoritarian. It may have had its roots and things BBN and the RAND Corporation, building command and control networks for the US military. But its early users and the people who sketched out its contours and built a lot of its infrastructure and a lot of its norms and embedded technological assumptions did so out of a posture of anti-authoritarianism. And so culturally, anti-authoritarianism is not an end in itself. Because anti-authoritarianism can lead to like, “What do you mean, I’m not allowed to say racist things and rape people. You’re not the boss of me!” But anti-authoritarianism is an axis on which to plot other politics, I think good politics are better when they’re anti-authoritarian. That the people who are suspicious of their ability to tell other people what to do, and the likelihood that they’ll get it right produce better outcomes than people who are convinced of their infallibility and the right to dictate to other people.

One of the places where the politics and the culture of the internet overlap, is in that anti-authoritarianism. Going back to Marxism, Marx had this idea that being alienated from your labor made you susceptible to being talked to about the problems of labor alienation. And I think making your friends and enjoying the world through systems that are intrinsically anti-authoritarian, or that have anti-authoritarian roots, makes you a good candidate to talk to about anti-authoritarianism.

You know “there are no atheists in a foxhole”?, it’s harder to be an authoritarian on the internet. It’s not impossible, clearly, but as compared to other systems, the internet, because there’s the coercion on the internet is hard. And not only that, but people who have benefited from the inability of others to coerce them, have then gone on to build other systems on the internet that make coercion hard. Again, it’s not impossible, I’m not pretending that shitty Twitter mobs aren’t coercive. I’m just saying that the shitty Twitter mobs are an aberration, as compared to many other systems that exist to evade coercion. One of the things that I concern myself with a lot is what I think of it as historic revisionism in which we say that early internet optimists were naive about the power of the Internet to be a force for bad, and I happened to know those people really personally and I’m extremely I’m aware of what they had in mind. I was there when they were doing that, I was talking to them about what are we trying to do here, I was working for them and drawing a paycheck from them. And their view was not “the internet is automatically going to be great”. It’s raining soup, let’s fill up our boots. Their view was that the internet could be unbelievably terrible. let’s make sure that that doesn’t happen. And so, when John Gilmore said the internet interprets censorship and rights around it, he specifically meant that people who operate the most anti-authoritarian parts of the internet, which at the time were old Usenet feeds, whenever someone tries to censor Usenet, do these specific things with the protocols that underpin it, and with their own human effort to make it harder to censor, and those tools might have been developed to ride around damage, to ride around drop nodes and an unreliable network. But they work extremely well to fight censorship. And the people who develop them are ready and willing to do so because they view censorship as illegitimate.

That’s a powerful force. And it’s one that the story of the internet’s early proponents being naive fools. One of the things we have on our side, as we work to make the internet safe for human habitation, a force for good and human thriving is the ethos that the internet should be that, and when you turn your firing squad in a circle and say that the people who fought all along for a free, fair and open Internet just didn’t understand how the internet would go wrong and shouldn’t be listened to, then you make it harder to achieve the free, fair and open Internet that we want. And you do so out of petty personal satisfaction that you get from telling other people that they’re idiots.

TFSR: This reminds me of a part of the book that I keep thinking about, and that keeps resonating with me as a very interesting way of engaging with some of these ideas. So just to bring up a couple of characters. There was Limpopo and Jimmy. Limpopo had put in a hell of a lot of work, designing and building and doing upkeep on a way station and home for people who had started walking away for what was called Default or mainstream society in this dystopia. And people collaborated there to create a new life with others. Jimmy comes in as an intelligent, brash, proud young man who believes in meritocracy and wants to leverage a position of power at the compound called the B&B for himself by riding the coattails of Limpopo. There are also some gender norm dynamics that one could unpack from the way that it goes down in the story.

Can you talk about what inspired you to write this out? And what do you hope readers will get from the debates and battles like these that happen in Walkaway?

Cory: In some respects, that is me correcting a sin of my own, which was that I wrote this novel Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom about the ambiguous utopia of meritocracy that like reputation economies, where I posed reputation economies as a not unalloyed good, but as something that can be actually pretty terrible. And people took it as a manual for how to build the future, not as a cautionary tale about how things could go wrong if you use that as your starting point. I wanted to make it less ambiguous, the ambiguous utopia of a reputation economy, I wanted to make it more explicitly dystopic to heighten that, make it visible, make it harder to miss. I think I did that. I hope I did. And I also want people to think a little bit about this starting-life-on-third-base business that when you say someone has done very well objectively, and that something that you’ve measured is bigger for one person than it is for another, that there’s a false quantitativeness that misses out on some qualitative elements, which are all the social stuff that goes into that person’s life, all the reasons that they’re over-performing relative to their peers.

TFSR: Can you break that down a little bit? I saw you had responded to a Q&A from a big bookstore in Portland naming your memoirs, something about like, “I’m a privileged white dude, who’s-” I’m misstating that… Can you unpack that a little bit more about where people start from? Why do they perform in certain ways and the invisibility of privilege?

Cory: Yeah, I mean, I expected anyone listening to this to be familiar with the story, but I’ll tell you, from my perspective.

My grandparents did not come from a place where they had a lot of privilege or power. My grandfather was raised on a farm in a part of Belarus that later became Poland. My grandmother was raised in Leningrad, and my grandmother was a child soldier who was inducted into the Civil Defense Corps during the siege of Leningrad at the age of 12. And she served for nearly three years, and then they evacuated the women and children over the winter ice. And she met my grandfather in Siberia when she was inducted into the Red Army. And then the two of them deserted and went to a displaced persons’ camp in Azerbaijan. And that’s where my dad was born. And they came to Canada as displaced people. But Canada had, at the time, a pretty well-developed social welfare network. And it made sure that my dad got a first-class education. There were also relatively few large businesses that dominated the sectors that they operated in. And so my grandmother’s second husband was able to start and operate a successful scrapyard, that gave him the power to go to university, which was also publicly underwritten. And as a result, even though both of my dad’s parents were functionally illiterate, he has a Ph.D. in Education. And that’s why I grew up in a household where in 1979, we got an Apple 2+, because, by that point, he was head of computer science for a large high school. And Apple came along and gave all those heads of computer sciences Apple computers to take home for the summer, to convince them to not have mainframes, to not do time-sharing on mainframes and their computer science courses. My dad had been teaching with PDPs that they time-shared on and punch cards. And as a result, I had a modem in 1980, I was active on bulletin board systems, I was on the ground floor when the internet came along, I was able to drop out of university and walk straight into a job in a new tech sector, I did very well by it. By the time I was in my mid-20s, I was earning as much as my unionized parents were, without a university degree. All of that arises out of privilege.

I got incredibly lucky by being born when I was born, I got incredibly lucky by being born to who I was born. And some of that luck was not just about the great forces of society, but about explicit redistributive practices that were intended to ensure not just equality of opportunity, but to a certain extent, equality of outcome. That was enormously beneficial to me. And so here, I sit in Southern California, having previously emigrated to the United Kingdom and attained citizenship, and then moving to the US and getting a Green Card through a relatively simple process, because I qualified for an alien of extraordinary ability visa that transitions very easily to a Green Card, and we’ve just bought a house and we can afford that house. And we’ve spent a bunch of money on a remodel and all of that. And some of that is because I write good books and work hard. But the reason I got to write good books and work hard and earn enough money to do all those things is that a bunch of forces that are way beyond my control, and that are not well-distributed bored down on my progenitors.

And this is how we went from my grandfather whose mother was kicked to death by a cow on a dirt farm, to me living in a renovated mid-century modern bungalow in Burbank, California in two generations. It wasn’t by pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps. It was because I got to start life on second base. When I look around at other people who are trying to do what I did, who are trying to become successful writers, who want to become activists, who want to get involved in other activities that require a relatively high degree of technical specialized knowledge, as well as the comfort from which to take risks. The reason those people don’t have that is not because of an innate failing of theirs. It’s because I am a privileged white dude who got incredibly lucky to be born who I was, and they weren’t.

TFSR: Do you read a lot of sci-fi yourself?

Cory: I do. Although, I think a lot of people who read a lot for pleasure in their 20s, by the time I got to my 30s and 40s and became a dad and had a career and so on, my reading for pleasure, or even reading for professional purposes, plummeted. I do a lot less reading now than I used to. But I have a chronic back pain problem. And so I swim for an hour every day, and I have an underwater mp3 player. So I listened to about two novels a month through my swimming. And then I probably read two more a month, or two more books a month. Sometimes novels, sometimes not. If they’re novels, they’re usually science fiction, as well as a few graphic novels. And I get sent a lot because I write young adult novels and also I’ve got a picture book coming out, I get sent a lot of kids’ books for review or quotes. And I have a 10-year-old, so I just throw them in her room. And if she reads them, then I read them and review them. She’s my first approximation sorting function. I read reasonably broadly, but when I worked in a science fiction bookstore, I read a lot. And I know exactly how much I’m not reading because I know how much I read back then.

TFSR: Does your daughter ever contribute to the quotes that go on the covers of books?

Cory: Yeah, funnily enough, one time, I got asked to write a quote for the sequel to a book that she liked a lot called Giants Beware! The sequel’s called Dragons Beware! And they sent it to me as a PDF, so we read it together off my screen. And I told her I’m going to make a quote for this. And they’re going to put it on the cover of the book. And she said, “I want to send one in too”. So just for yucks, I sent it to the editor, and the editor cut my quote in half to make room for hers.

TFSR: It sounds she has a feature in writing or at least reviewing. I really like political sci-fi, I’m a one-trick pony. I just gravitate towards reading about ideas around politics and around social engagement and social organizing. But a novel that I was reminded of at some point with Walkaway was March Pierce’s Woman on the Edge of Time. Have you read that before?

Cory: Sure.

TFSR: Especially for its [27:28] of a utopia and a dystopia in a struggle with each other, although her vision definitely had tech serving a visibly more ecologically healing role, rather than what I saw in Walkaway as a sort of mitigating during this hardcore struggle between default and walkaway worlds. I saw more people creating livable structures and the tools that they needed for immediate survival, as opposed to in Pierce’s book, maybe it would have been a little bit further on where people were trying to heal landscapes, for instance. Also, it contained more non-human animals than I found in Walkaway. Maybe I missed it, but was there an ecological bent in Walkaway? Or was it more focused on just this is the destruction, this is us needing to survive and create something new?

Cory: If we’ve been warned about disaster capitalism by the likes of Naomi Klein, Walkaway is, in some ways, a pain to the possibilities of disaster communism. One of the things that walkaways are doing is they’re using the catastrophic remnants of environmental collapse as the raw material for a better world. One of the great challenges to a transitional program towards a more broadly distributed future is property relations and the difficulties of expropriation.

I was just on a panel in Australia at a literary festival with an African woman, a white African journalist who had risked her life to report on authoritarianism in Zimbabwe and had been exiled. I think she was actually born there. Maybe it was another regional country. I think it was Zimbabwe. And she was talking about the ANC’s proposal to expropriate white farmers and redistribute their lands and about how that had been a real disaster in Zimbabwe for lots of reasons, partly because sophisticated agricultural knowledge wasn’t widely distributed, and partly because of the lingering resentments and the difficulty for reconciliation and so on.

And so we talked about it, and I said, “Let’s talk about some other decolonization efforts that had land reform in them. You have the Cubans who after the revolution bought land at market rates. And it’s not like the exiled elites of Cuba in Miami therefore forgave them and didn’t harbor inter-generational grudges against the Cuban Republic for having taken away the family farm. You have American whites in the South who still nurse these horrible grievances about the antebellum period and land changes after that and so on. Or the post-war period and land changes after that. It’s very hard to get people to feel okay about these changes in land ownership. Moreover, it’s very easy to activate grievances. So even if people seem to have forgotten about them for a generation, they can be reactivated by reactionary political actors who want to use those grievances to raise a political movement to pursue some reactionary program. Think about the Balcans, where by exploiting these old grievances, it was possible to create a civil war that still has a reactionary neofascist, nationalist element, who never fully lost the power that they gained by exploiting those old divisions.

I think that one of the things that the book proposes is that when life gives you SARS, you might try and make Sarsaparilla. The fact that environmental catastrophe has basically rendered a bunch of land to be uninhabitable and undesired by anyone means that walkaways can, with relatively low risk, just show up there and take this blighted no man’s land and turn it back into something worthwhile. But of course, the thing that they discover is that as soon as you rehabilitate something that no one wants, all of a sudden they rediscover their property interest in it. But the thing that they exploited in it is that there’s so much blighted land, and remediating it is so easy if you don’t care about profits, that as soon as they build something viable on some blighted land, and some oligarch comes along and says, “Hey, that’s my patch of blighted dirt and I want it back now that you made it attractive again,” they just move on to another patch of blighted dirt and do it all over again. And in fact, each one of these is an opportunity to overcome their previous mistakes and do more ambitious things and just refactor things. They’re in some way benefiting from not having that status quo bias that normally happens in things like free software projects where no one wants to start over and refactor things from go because it’s just so much work. And you’ve got so much sunk cost in the status quo. But if someone comes along and just wipes out all your source code every six months, provided that you really still need the thing, shelter is not optional. So they have to go build shelter somewhere. And they just make a virtue out of that vice.

TFSR: It’s a pretty awesome set up in the novel, and it’s really inspirational, the scope of the book and all the different social conundrums that you’re trying to at least touch on and play with how different elements of, for instance, the Free University that’s developed, that is escalating people’s knowledge and technologies and trying to improve on things all the time. Because you’ve got people that are disenfranchised from mainstream society, and they choose to leave, but they bring this knowledge and this ability with them and put it towards a collective good. There are just so many examples in the novel. I can’t I can’t stop gushing about it.

Cory: Oh, well, thank you. Science fiction does have this tradition of stories about someone wielding an enormous technological power because of their special knowledge, who nevertheless doesn’t have political power, and how the people with political power coerce the people with the technical knowledge into working for them. After civilization collapses, how does Master Blaster and Thunderdome get the mining engineers who actually know how to convert methane to useful source of power to work for them, or how does the technical staff of Immortan Joe get incentivized to work for Immortan Joe, instead of just walking over to the next Arroyo and living without this tyrant?

Telling it from the perspective of people who did have this rare, not widely distributed, extremely powerful technical knowledge, finding solidarity with the people rather than the oligarchs, and taking that technical knowledge and spreading it around, that’s actually a thing that happens. That’s the story of CryptoParty and it’s the story of lots of people who can just work for big tech companies, and instead, or in addition, devote their lives to social justice causes and to widely distributing their specialized knowledge. In this case, you have this scientist class that reaches a breaking point with their paymasters, where they realize that the practical immortality technology they’re developing has the potential to speciate the human race and make their bosses not just powerful, but immortal, and to deprive everyone else of immortality, and that once everyone else is immortal, once everyone else can’t be killed, then the ability of the wealthy and powerful 1% to coerce them becomes significantly reduced, because how do you coerce someone who’s not afraid to die? As these people start to defect to the side of the 99%, it becomes more and more obvious to the ones who remained, that what they’re engaged in is something morally indefensible and that not only is it morally indefensible, it’s morally indefensible and there’s an alternative.

TFSR: That’s a thing in the book that I found really interesting, too, is that I don’t hear many people talk about post-scarcity economics. And I’d to talk about the technologies of immortality that are talked about in the book. Hierarchies are based on the withholding of something from people. People build hierarchies, but social hierarchies that exist in society, whether it be the class-based ones, or the way that gender power is appropriated throughout society, or racial castes, or whatever, is about privileges being withheld from other people, people being disprivileged. And one of the very basic and from time immemorial ways that happens is the withholding of the means towards one’s own ability to have shelter, ability to have food, ability to take care of one’s loved ones. Can you talk about what made you start thinking about post-scarcity economics and maybe some influences on your thinking around it?

Cory: Well, going back to this idea about the cultural and political nexus on the internet, one of the things that the internet does is challenge — at the same time it supercharges it — it challenges rentierism, because the ultimate in rentierism is the idea of so-called intellectual property, which is the idea that you have a thing that has no tangible existence, and that, through its creation, generates passive income. And all you have to do is just sit there and wait for it to roll in. This is one of the ways that this fight that I’m engaged in on the policy side about DRM, I think has this wider significance. When you go back to the early literature of intellectual property in the Chicago school, you find this metastatic choice theory where this idea that someone who owns a piece of intellectual property could use some magic technology dust to infinitely divide that intellectual property into a series of products that are ever more tailored to different audiences.

So like, maybe you don’t want to spend the full freight to read a book anytime you want. Maybe you just want the right to read the book on Wednesdays while standing on one leg, and the market can produce this standing on one leg Wednesday price through some price discovery mechanism. And then the technology somehow sees to it, that having acquired the book you can only read it on Wednesdays while you’re standing on one leg. And it’s one of those things where, in a lot of technology policy fights, the answer is in part wanting it badly is not enough. So we don’t know how to make the technology that only lets you read a book on Wednesdays while standing on one leg, even if we stipulate that that’s a good idea. But once you swallow a spider to catch the fly, you have to swallow a bird to catch the spider.

So once we accepted that that would be this market in the future, and that the way that we would have these passive incomes in a post-manufacturing society where the WTO allowed all the manufacturing jobs to be offshore to China, and the West would remain wealthy through exporting the intellectual property to China that would then be turned into physical objects and then brought back into the West, and that it would be rent-seeking on the people making the things by owning the rights to the plans to make the things, or the images that are embodied by the things or whatever that the West would remain economically dominant, it became politically impossible to say, “We don’t know how to make a technology that stops you from reading books, unless it’s Wednesday, and you’re standing on one leg.” And so instead, we started trying to approximate it. And the way that we ended up approximating it is with technology that just spies on you all the time. Computers that are designed to not take orders from their owners, but instead to take orders from third parties without even informing the owner what the order is, or allowing them to rescind it or terminate it.

This has wider implications for information security, which is, in some ways, the single most important technological question we have to answer: how do we make computers more secure, as we start putting our bodies inside of them and start putting them inside of our bodies? There’s arguably nothing more important for us to answer authoritatively than that question. But the elevation to virtue of it being hard to make as many copies as you want of something is the outcome of this policy, consensus that emerged that we would just someday have this rentier economy. In that rentier economy, the fact that you can take something valuable and make as many copies as you need, without any incremental cost becomes a problem. Historically, that would have been a utopian scenario.

There’s a thing that everyone needs, and we can make as much of it as anyone needs for free? That’s not a problem historically. But we elevated scarcity to a virtue. And so thinking about post-scarcity is in that regard, a subversive act, because it challenges the whole consensus about what a neoliberal future looks like, a rentier future looks like. The first time I really encountered post-scarcity, I’d encountered it in dribs and drabs in the fights about software piracy in the 80s. There was some ambiguity there and there were still a lot of small independent software companies that made this reasonably convincing case that like, “I’m just some dude who made some accounting software, please don’t make me go broke by refusing to pay for it.” But as this turned into the music question, and as Napster came along and became the fastest adopted technology in the history of the world, and as it took the 80% of commercial music that wasn’t available for sale anywhere, at any price, and put it in the hands of everyone who wanted it at any time, night or day, and also automatically started to create communities of interest around music that were not in the mainstream because you would find someone’s collection that you thought was interesting, and you’d open a chat window to them, and you plunder their collection for things that you’d never heard of, but based on them having things that you liked that few other people you could assume that that the rest of it would be interesting to listen to. This thing that was so clearly just good was turned into a vise and became further the rubric for mass internet surveillance and takedown regime where material could remove from the internet without any checks or balances. It became really clear to me that the people who viewed scarcity as a virtue were an existential threat to a free, fair, and open Internet. For whatever reason that that scarcity had become a virtue to them. And so post-scarcity and thinking about it and singing its praises and describing ways in which it could be great, became a cultural project in the service of economic and political projects.

TFSR: I was wondering about this actually because you bring up Napster. And that’s about the time when I was graduating from high school and started paying attention to— I’d been playing on computers for a few years at that point. The things that Gnutella and Napster were providing, the connectivity, the ways of exploring other people’s knowledge and art were just fascinating. And those seem to go away in the early 2000s, because of all this pressure from industries and the FCC, and what have you. Soulseek is still around, but I don’t think people really use it, I mess with it from time to time, and it’s got the same abilities. Do you think it’s just not used as much or talked about because it’s a snake eating its tail, people don’t talk about it, so it doesn’t get used as much. And because people aren’t using it, people don’t talk about it, or just because technologies have maybe the social acceptability of sharing music or sharing art in that way, has now just developed onto a different platform?

Cory: It’s definitely on different platforms. It’s streaming now. Ironically, we lost a bunch of things that would have been very helpful to the industry. We lost a lot of the social elements. It’s much harder to have a community where you post links to music that you might like, that is infringing. You can still point to YouTube, but increasingly, there are risks of communities facing legal sanctions, being shut down because of the preponderance of links to stuff. And so what that means is that the recommendation and the concentration of people who might be interested in your music as a product in one easy-to-advertise-to place, that has been very eroded through these anti-infringement anti-piracy programs, but the infringement hasn’t been eroded. The people who will tell you that there’s more infringement than ever are the people who claimed that this would be what they needed to stop infringement. The record industry, their own stats show that their efforts were worse than useless, that they ended up with more infringement, not less. But of course, their argument is, “well, it would be even more if we hadn’t done all of this.” We swallow the spider to catch the fly, now give us some birds to catch the spider. Once we accepted that any cost is bearable in the service of defending music from copyright infringement, then the sky’s the limit. It turns out that shutting down services didn’t do it, disconnecting people from the Internet didn’t do it, all these other things didn’t do it. So just give us more extreme measures, just keep ramping up our power to be judge, jury, and executioner of people on the internet and the things that they say, and eventually, we’ll be able to get rid of copyright infringement.

The other thing that forcing this decentralization did was it made it harder to charge rent. Napster had a business model that was “we will go to the record labels, we’ll get a license from them, and we’ll charge five bucks a month to be a Napster customer. And then we’ll measure what people are downloading and we will pay out the money in that, according to who downloaded what, whose stuff got downloaded.” It was literally a model where the more people pirated, the more money you got paid. And now what we have is this fragmented underground system that, because of court decisions like Grokster, that said that companies have liability if they know and can measure what’s going on, the systems are deliberately designed so that no one can audit them and figure out which musicians to pay. So they just really shot themselves in the head. They still make tons of money from things like streaming services, the legit streaming services like Spotify. Musicians don’t make any money from them, but the labels make gobs of money from them. And that’s because they have these super abusive contracts. And those contracts have become more common, not less, because there are fewer alternative places to bandy your music about because the copyright enforcement has basically made it very expensive top-rate alternatives to the traditional music industry. And so now we’re down to four giant record labels that all have the same shitty contracts. And they all have the same abusive terms for any musician who signs with them. Even though Spotify is throwing billions of dollars at the labels, the labels contractually have to give only infinitesimal fractions of a penny to musicians out of those billions. You’ve just ended up with a system where it’s hard for them to harness real growth, the anemic growth that there is, they get the windfall from, and musicians are trapped in a sharecropping model.

TFSR: You mentioned that you had a children’s book coming out soon.

Cory: Yeah, I have a picture book. It’s called Poesy the Monster Slayer. And it’s about a little girl who’s obsessed with monsters. And one night when the monsters break into her bedroom, she tears apart all the girly toys in her bedroom and repurposed them as field-expedient monster-killing weapons. When the beholder leaps off of her bookcase and hovers in front of her with its millions of riding eyes, she takes her Barbie bubblegum-scented perfume and mace it. After each monster battle, her parents come in and put her back to bed and say “I’m going to be a zombie tomorrow morning if you don’t let me get a good night’s sleep and stop horsing around in your room.” And then the punchline is that they turn into zombies that she can’t defeat, but the zombie that they can’t defeat just tucks her into bed. Its attack mode is that tucks her into bed and doesn’t let her get out again. And the penultimate monster that she fights is Frankenstein’s monster. And she topples it over and then uses her sewing kit seam ripper to take its head off. And they tuck its head into bed with her and the two of them share a wry glance, the Frankenstein’s head, and the little girl as her parents tuck them in and turn the lights out. That’s the cute little story. Yeah, spoiler. It’s only about 100 words long, so it wouldn’t take you long to get to that spoiler. Just don’t tell your little children before you read it to them and you’ll be fine.

TFSR: That sounds like a story that only a parent could write.

Cory: Yeah, certainly. And the part of the running joke is the name of the kid is very long, and it’s my daughter’s name. So my daughter has a crazy long name. She’s Poesy Emmeline Fibonacci Nautilus Taylor Doctorow. That’s the name of this character. And every time the parents come in, they call her by more of her name. So like, “Poesy has to go back to bed. Poesy Taylor Doctorow, go back to bed. Poesy Emmeline Taylor Doctorow, go back to bed.” And eventually, it turns into the whole name. It’s fun in a kid’s book where there’s a cumulative call and response.

TFSR: That’s funny, too, that reminds me of Etc from Walkaway. What inspired that? Your daughter?

Cory: Well, one of the things about the immigrant experience I come from — it’s different for different people — is that we have a lot of names. My grandfathers had their birth names, which were usually Russian or Eastern European names. And then they had a Hebrew name. And then they had a Yiddish nickname. And then they had an anglicized name, and sometimes more than one anglicized name. And they used different names depending on who they talked to. And I played with this before. I wrote a novel called Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town where the characters have a different name every time they are referred to. It has a specific salience in this technological moment, because of the name wars, where Google Plus and Facebook had this insistence on everyone having one canonical name that they use to face the world, which produced all kinds of shitty problems. But it also sparked a bunch of really good arguments about names. And there’s a beautiful essay called “False things programmers believe about names.” It includes things like everyone has a name, everyone has one name, everyone has a name that can be written down. Everyone has a unique name. Everyone has a name that’s unique when you factor in their date of birth, and so on and so on. This is actually also become the subject of a Supreme Court case over voter suppression because one of the heuristics that the voter-roll-purging software used was that it assumed that it was very unlikely that two people would share the same name and the same birthday. And it turns out that for a lot of reasons, that’s not true. Among them is the fact that a lot of databases, when they don’t have a birthday, default to January 1. There are tons of people who share that birthday. But also guess what month people named June tend to be born in *laughs*. Or people named Carol, guess what day of the year they tend to be born — December 25. There are a lot more collisions than you’d expect. I wanted to play with this idea that you could have a character that had lots and lots of names that would break a database.

There’s a joke that got picked up in XKCD about a kid named Timmy Drop Tables, that is whose name is a MySQL code injection attack, that if you try to enter the kid into the school rolls, the school rolls fall apart. That database-breaking function of names is a really interesting thing. And names, of course, have this resonance in storytelling, where if you know Rumplestiltskin’s name, you can make him do your bidding. If you know the Demon’s name, you can conjure him or banish him, and so on. So the true names of things have always held power. And one of the things that the internet has been really good for, and that has made the name wars so important, is that the internet has always been a place where people could have a new name. And it’s enabled people, because of those new names, to experiment with new identities. And those new identities are part of why we have things like gender fluidity, as a thing that has always existed but has come into prominence, because it gives people a space in which they can be fluid in their identity, without exposing themselves to risk, by budding off a new identity to play with. And then when they feel comfortable about reintegrating it into the main branch of their identity if they ever do. And that has created a real social revolution that’s playing out all over the world.

It’s also a force for evil, the Twitter is full of Nazis who don’t use their real names to avoid reprisals. We now live in an age in which one of the great sins that you can commit that violates the terms of service of almost everything is disclosing the real name of someone, we call it doxxing. Disclosure of someone’s real name, when they operate under a pseudonym has become grounds for online execution, which I’m not saying that’s wrong and I’m not saying it’s right either. I’m saying that it just tells a lot about the right to the name. Giving a character a lot of names, I thought had a currency to it, a Zeitgeist-iness.

TFSR: You could almost write a whole novel, just probably telling the stories behind each of those names.

Cory: Sure. Well, in his case, they’re the 20 most popular names from the 1890 census in order. One of my writing techniques is that when I want to name a character I use, at least as a placeholder, I often use the census. I go like “I want a name that’s really common.” Because the census produces popularity-ranked names. So I pick a first name and a surname from the top of the census, or I want a very uncommon name, so I pick it from the bottom. It’s a cheap and easy way to do it.

TFSR: I’m personally a little uncomfortable with transhumanism as an idea because I fear that— because the people who tend to wield technology, tend to be the powerful people and that sort of scenario that you were breaking down and Walkaway around the elite class becoming gods and then denying everyone else the ability to reach that point seemed like what my cynical mind would actually see happening in the world. But can you talk a little bit about immortality, about technology as a means of escaping the mortal coil, and maybe what values you see in the mortal coil that got troubled by some of the different characters like Tam, for instance?

Cory: There’s a really good book about this, and I nod to it in the book [Walkaway] called Citizen Cyborg by James Hughes, who’s a humanist transhumanist. He has a humanist transhuman program. And he argues that the problem with this kind of tanshumanism is fairly-distributed access to the technologies, not the technologies themselves. So I’m of the view that science-fiction rarely predicts specific technological innovation well, but what it does predict with incredible accuracy is our widespread social fears and aspirations for technology. I think the science fiction stories that we tell that are very current, that are very resonant are a diagnostic tool for what it is we worry about and what it is we hope for, not for what’s actually going to happen, except to the extent that, of course, the things that you hope for me may happen because you might work towards them. But it’s not like it’s got a predictive value. We’re not fortune-tellers.

And I think that the idea that technology will change what it means to be human has a pretty obvious corollary in what’s going on in our world. A lot of the institutions that we define our humanity by, be it family or names or, or nationality, or what have you, are challenged by network communications. And I think the fear of a transhuman rift between the wealthy and the rest of us feel like there might be a rift between the life circumstances of the wealthy and the rest of us, that would make it impossible for the wealthy to understand or empathize or even really be said properly to be in the same species or circumstances the rest of us. If the rich never see the poor, if mating means that the rich never marry the poor, if the rich live a life circumstance that is completely different from the poor, then they are in some way speciating, even if it’s not biological, even if transhumanism isn’t doing it for them. Moreover, if we live in a world in which market logic dictates healthcare, and so poor people die of preventable diseases and rich people get to live very long lives, then that transhumanist idea of some of us being medically privileged and the rest of us being medically deprived is, again, not a difficult thing to understand. But it doesn’t require that we be literally headed into transhumanism for it to be relevant. And I think that’s good because transhumanism is a great science fiction MacGuffin, it has very little connection with technological reality in the biotech realm.

TFSR: Okay. Cory, thank you so much for having this chat. I’ve really enjoyed it. And I think listeners are going to get a real kick out of it. You said some really awesome things.

Cory: Oh, well, thank you.

TFSR: Where can people in the audience find your writing and keep up on the books that you’re publishing?

Cory: I’m pretty easy to find. Let me check if I am still the top query in Google today. I usually am. I’m the sixth Cory on Google this morning. So I’m pretty easy to find, Cory Doctorow. I am one of the editors of a website called BoingBoing at boingboing.net. Craphound.com — it’s my personal site. You can get on my mailing list and get on my podcast, I podcast short stories and articles there. And I have a Twitter feed @Doctorow. My books are available wherever fine books are sold. I should mention that if you want a Fairtrade ebook or audiobook, I actually retail my ebooks and audiobooks, even though they’re published by traditional publishers, I’ve convinced them to let me set up a store. So I sell them at the same price as Amazon, but I get the cut that Amazon would normally take and then I send the rest back to my publisher, and then they give me my royalties. So it’s a way of effectively doubling my royalties. So if you want to indulge in some electronic media purchasing, that’s a way to do it. One of the things that are out there right now is the audiobook of Walkaway, which I self-produced, and which has some really astoundingly good readers. Amber Benson from Buffy and Wil Wheaton from Star Trek and Amanda Palmer, who was in the Dresden Dolls, all read on it, along with several other very talented ebook readers. So I’m extremely happy with how that worked out. I should mention it’s all DRM-free, and there’s no license agreement. You don’t need to give up any rights to buy those books.

TFSR: So thanks for sharing, Cory.

Cory: Well, thank you. Thanks for your interest.

TFSR: This week we’re presenting an interview that I conducted with sci-fi and picture book author, technologist, and social critic Cory Doctorow. Cory is an editor of the blog BoingBoing.net, a fellow at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and his most recent book is entitled Walkaway, and it’s out from Head of Zeus and Tor Books. The novel plays with themes of open-source technologies, class society, post-scarcity economics, ecological remediation, dropout culture, and liberatory social models. It was released a few days ago also in paperback, along with matching reissues of his other adult sci-fi novels.

For the hour, we chat about themes from the book, about sharing, imagination, privilege, and monsters. To find more work by Cory, check out his blog craphound.com. You can also find him on Twitter. You can find free versions of his writing at Project Gutenberg, as well as interviews and recordings that he’s done at archive.org or his podcast. Links will be found in the show notes for this episode.

Cory, thank you very much for taking the time to chat.

Cory Doctorow: Oh, it’s my pleasure. Thanks for your interest in the book.

TFSR: It was a really pleasurable read. One thing I love about speculative fiction is finding the roots in the current world looking at the divergences between the story and the IRL and playing with those imaginary threads, tying them together. Walkaway mentions Idle No More, the Arab Spring, it alludes to Occupy and even old back-to-the-landers in Vermont. From this history-of-the-future view, what agency is given to resistance movements of today or just yesterday?

Cory: That’s a really good question. My theory of change is that we get to a better place not by laying out a plan that takes us from A to Z, but by taking immediate steps that in some way materially improve the circumstances for resistance or change, that then creates a more favorable landscape from which the next volley can be launched. So it’s a lot more like a software hill-climbing algorithm, where you don’t know the terrain and but all you do is you always try to move up to more favorable terrain, rather than this idea of a knowable world. Maybe this is where I break with Marxism and its so-called scientific theory of history that has this deceptive and seductive inevitability about how we can chart a course. And instead of charting a course, I advocate for a unified heuristic. We all use the same rule of thumb to try to make things better. And the material improvements that we make just in some way benefit the people that come in the future, in some unknowable and unguessable situation. So rather than try to lay in the material needed for a battle whose contours we can’t predict, we just try to make things as versatile and usable as possible for whoever comes next. And so in this future, I think the people who are on the vanguard, are people who are picking up the stuff that we left lying around, without knowing exactly how it would be used. And some of it turns out to be useful in unexpected ways. And some of the stuff that maybe we predicted would be most useful turns out to have no earthly use.

TFSR: That’s really well-said. Actually, that reminds me— I had mentioned in one of the emails that I was interested in and had been looking into Cooperation Jackson recently as a project happening in the deep south of the US. It’s an initiative to grow a tech industry and manufacturing and fabricating belt, employing the mostly black and working-class populations in a democratic, almost permacultural approach. It doesn’t seem perfect, obviously. But they’ve really laid out their plan, really open-source style in this book called Jackson Rising. They’re influenced by Rojava, by the Mondragon cooperative, by Black Liberation struggles, by the Zapatistas, and many other diverse movements. Are there any current anti-capitalist projects or movements around the world that are hacking and making that inspire you or that you’re keeping close tabs on?

Cory: It’s a really good question. Again, I know I keep saying that, but these are good thought-provoking meaty questions.

I’m sure that there are explicitly anti-capitalist projects. I mean, Dmitry Kleiner and the Telekommunisten in Berlin sprang to mind. But I’m interested in the way that projects that don’t have an explicitly anti-capitalist agenda, nevertheless can serve the cause of a post-capitalist or even a mixed-market technological future. So things free and open-source software, the movement for net neutrality, cognitive radio technologies, things like end-to-end encrypted messenger clients. And also, not incidentally, that the tools for evaluating all of these that— We’re getting into better trainer training tools and better critical frameworks for understanding them. So EFF, with whom I work, sometimes the Electronic Frontier Foundation, has historically published scorecards of different kinds of security tools. And they’ve stopped doing it for end-to-end encrypted messengers because they realize that there isn’t a dimension on which an encrypted messaging tool is best. Instead, there are different kinds of threat models for different kinds of users. Now they’re publishing plain-language, easy-to-understand models, or frameworks for evaluating what encrypted messenger you should use and understanding whether any given encrypted messenger is one that you should trust and that you would find useful.

And to me, in terms of aiding insurgency, which I guess is what all these things have in common, they don’t have an explicit political valence, but they have an anti-authoritarian valence, that these tools are really useful. And I think that the place where, again, if I break with the Marxist left on the inevitability of history, maybe the place where I break with the intersectional left, is on whether a tool can be made to benefit insurgents that doesn’t benefit insurgents, we don’t like. The alt-right is an insurgent movement as well. And when I look at movements to throttle the alt-right, I always concern myself with the extent to which that will also throttle anti-authoritarian left-wing movements. For example, any framework in which it becomes easier to remove content from the web-based on the politics of its speech, I think, has to be viewed with extreme caution, not because there isn’t a speech that is bad speech, or that the world would be better without, but because the ease with which speech can be removed based on its content is a threat to anyone who wants to say anything unpopular.

TFSR: Yeah, it’s funny, now becoming personally old enough, I’m almost 40 to have seen this trajectory a couple of times. For instance, I’m in the US, seeing Democrats be in office and then seeing Democrats allowed to push certain boundaries or increase incarceration rates, or deport more people, or do drone strikes without any sort of repercussions to the executive branch. And then a Republican administration follows directly after, it’s terrible when it’s happening when the Democrats are doing it, but there seems to be a lack of understanding to some people that the tool is going to be wielded by someone and you don’t get to choose necessarily who wields that tool. Whether or not it’s positive or “positive” for your goal.

Cory: Yeah, I think that’s right. American liberals were pretty sanguine about the extension of really extreme executive power to Obama when he was using it to fight the hardline TGOP Republican Congress. And now they’re about to have their past sins visited upon them, not least because there’s now the power of the president to create secret assassination lists that a certain liberal defended in the last administration. But also, as you say, mass incarceration, the failure to close Gitmo, and so on. A lot of that triangulation Clintonian political stuff is how they went from convenient instrumental doctrines into pluripotent immortal weapons that now get to be wielded by whoever sits in the President’s chair. And we have a maniac with a lot less discretion sitting in the President’s chair. I’m not going to stick up for Obama, but I do think that if nothing else, he was circumspect and premeditated in a way that Trump isn’t capable of, which at least allowed us to have a threat model. I always like to distinguish, when I think about threat models, between the cat burglar who plans a robbery of your house because they know what jewels you have hidden in your wall safe. And that time I parked my car in Gastown in Vancouver, which is the principal part of heroin ingress into the Americas. I left a quarter sitting on the dashboard and someone broke into the rental car to steal a quarter. It’s possible to think about that jewel thief in a way that rationally defends against it. Like if the jewel thief’s expected return on selling your jewels is less than the cost of breaking into your house, you can secure your house from the jewel thief because they don’t want to waste money. Whereas the junkie is acting without any premeditation, and it’s very hard to defend against. And when we think about political threat models, Obama at least was predictable. We knew where he would squander capital and where he wouldn’t in the political sense. Whereas Trump picks dumb fights. And a loose cannon on deck is much scarier when it’s a really big scary cannon than when it’s a small constrained cannon. And Obama made the president into a much bigger cannon.

TFSR: Yeah. With the aid of the American people.

You mentioned that you’re a fellow at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and a lot of your writing focuses on tech tools, for more secure organizing and knowledge sharing, and resisting tyranny. For instance, Little Brother, as a novel focused largely on ubiquitous surveillance and the socialization of resistance via, for instance, parties where people shared encryption face-to-face. The book was both the commentary as well as a spur to get folks thinking about resistance with actual models of going about it. Can you talk about your views of the cultural and activist interventions that you engage with? How do they overlap?

Cory: Culturally, there is an anti-authoritarian streak that is built into the internet. It’s not determinative, it’s not like using the internet makes you anti-authoritarian. But if you have anti-authoritarian tendencies, there’s a lot that the internet has to offer you. And much of what gave us the internet, as we understand it today, was anti-authoritarian. It may have had its roots and things BBN and the RAND Corporation, building command and control networks for the US military. But its early users and the people who sketched out its contours and built a lot of its infrastructure and a lot of its norms and embedded technological assumptions did so out of a posture of anti-authoritarianism. And so culturally, anti-authoritarianism is not an end in itself. Because anti-authoritarianism can lead to like, “What do you mean, I’m not allowed to say racist things and rape people. You’re not the boss of me!” But anti-authoritarianism is an axis on which to plot other politics, I think good politics are better when they’re anti-authoritarian. That the people who are suspicious of their ability to tell other people what to do, and the likelihood that they’ll get it right produce better outcomes than people who are convinced of their infallibility and the right to dictate to other people.

One of the places where the politics and the culture of the internet overlap, is in that anti-authoritarianism. Going back to Marxism, Marx had this idea that being alienated from your labor made you susceptible to being talked to about the problems of labor alienation. And I think making your friends and enjoying the world through systems that are intrinsically anti-authoritarian, or that have anti-authoritarian roots, makes you a good candidate to talk to about anti-authoritarianism.

You know “there are no atheists in a foxhole”?, it’s harder to be an authoritarian on the internet. It’s not impossible, clearly, but as compared to other systems, the internet, because there’s the coercion on the internet is hard. And not only that, but people who have benefited from the inability of others to coerce them, have then gone on to build other systems on the internet that make coercion hard. Again, it’s not impossible, I’m not pretending that shitty Twitter mobs aren’t coercive. I’m just saying that the shitty Twitter mobs are an aberration, as compared to many other systems that exist to evade coercion. One of the things that I concern myself with a lot is what I think of it as historic revisionism in which we say that early internet optimists were naive about the power of the Internet to be a force for bad, and I happened to know those people really personally and I’m extremely I’m aware of what they had in mind. I was there when they were doing that, I was talking to them about what are we trying to do here, I was working for them and drawing a paycheck from them. And their view was not “the internet is automatically going to be great”. It’s raining soup, let’s fill up our boots. Their view was that the internet could be unbelievably terrible. let’s make sure that that doesn’t happen. And so, when John Gilmore said the internet interprets censorship and rights around it, he specifically meant that people who operate the most anti-authoritarian parts of the internet, which at the time were old Usenet feeds, whenever someone tries to censor Usenet, do these specific things with the protocols that underpin it, and with their own human effort to make it harder to censor, and those tools might have been developed to ride around damage, to ride around drop nodes and an unreliable network. But they work extremely well to fight censorship. And the people who develop them are ready and willing to do so because they view censorship as illegitimate.

That’s a powerful force. And it’s one that the story of the internet’s early proponents being naive fools. One of the things we have on our side, as we work to make the internet safe for human habitation, a force for good and human thriving is the ethos that the internet should be that, and when you turn your firing squad in a circle and say that the people who fought all along for a free, fair and open Internet just didn’t understand how the internet would go wrong and shouldn’t be listened to, then you make it harder to achieve the free, fair and open Internet that we want. And you do so out of petty personal satisfaction that you get from telling other people that they’re idiots.

TFSR: This reminds me of a part of the book that I keep thinking about, and that keeps resonating with me as a very interesting way of engaging with some of these ideas. So just to bring up a couple of characters. There was Limpopo and Jimmy. Limpopo had put in a hell of a lot of work, designing and building and doing upkeep on a way station and home for people who had started walking away for what was called Default or mainstream society in this dystopia. And people collaborated there to create a new life with others. Jimmy comes in as an intelligent, brash, proud young man who believes in meritocracy and wants to leverage a position of power at the compound called the B&B for himself by riding the coattails of Limpopo. There are also some gender norm dynamics that one could unpack from the way that it goes down in the story.

Can you talk about what inspired you to write this out? And what do you hope readers will get from the debates and battles like these that happen in Walkaway?

Cory: In some respects, that is me correcting a sin of my own, which was that I wrote this novel Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom about the ambiguous utopia of meritocracy that like reputation economies, where I posed reputation economies as a not unalloyed good, but as something that can be actually pretty terrible. And people took it as a manual for how to build the future, not as a cautionary tale about how things could go wrong if you use that as your starting point. I wanted to make it less ambiguous, the ambiguous utopia of a reputation economy, I wanted to make it more explicitly dystopic to heighten that, make it visible, make it harder to miss. I think I did that. I hope I did. And I also want people to think a little bit about this starting-life-on-third-base business that when you say someone has done very well objectively, and that something that you’ve measured is bigger for one person than it is for another, that there’s a false quantitativeness that misses out on some qualitative elements, which are all the social stuff that goes into that person’s life, all the reasons that they’re over-performing relative to their peers.

TFSR: Can you break that down a little bit? I saw you had responded to a Q&A from a big bookstore in Portland naming your memoirs, something about like, “I’m a privileged white dude, who’s-” I’m misstating that… Can you unpack that a little bit more about where people start from? Why do they perform in certain ways and the invisibility of privilege?

Cory: Yeah, I mean, I expected anyone listening to this to be familiar with the story, but I’ll tell you, from my perspective.

My grandparents did not come from a place where they had a lot of privilege or power. My grandfather was raised on a farm in a part of Belarus that later became Poland. My grandmother was raised in Leningrad, and my grandmother was a child soldier who was inducted into the Civil Defense Corps during the siege of Leningrad at the age of 12. And she served for nearly three years, and then they evacuated the women and children over the winter ice. And she met my grandfather in Siberia when she was inducted into the Red Army. And then the two of them deserted and went to a displaced persons’ camp in Azerbaijan. And that’s where my dad was born. And they came to Canada as displaced people. But Canada had, at the time, a pretty well-developed social welfare network. And it made sure that my dad got a first-class education. There were also relatively few large businesses that dominated the sectors that they operated in. And so my grandmother’s second husband was able to start and operate a successful scrapyard, that gave him the power to go to university, which was also publicly underwritten. And as a result, even though both of my dad’s parents were functionally illiterate, he has a Ph.D. in Education. And that’s why I grew up in a household where in 1979, we got an Apple 2+, because, by that point, he was head of computer science for a large high school. And Apple came along and gave all those heads of computer sciences Apple computers to take home for the summer, to convince them to not have mainframes, to not do time-sharing on mainframes and their computer science courses. My dad had been teaching with PDPs that they time-shared on and punch cards. And as a result, I had a modem in 1980, I was active on bulletin board systems, I was on the ground floor when the internet came along, I was able to drop out of university and walk straight into a job in a new tech sector, I did very well by it. By the time I was in my mid-20s, I was earning as much as my unionized parents were, without a university degree. All of that arises out of privilege.

I got incredibly lucky by being born when I was born, I got incredibly lucky by being born to who I was born. And some of that luck was not just about the great forces of society, but about explicit redistributive practices that were intended to ensure not just equality of opportunity, but to a certain extent, equality of outcome. That was enormously beneficial to me. And so here, I sit in Southern California, having previously emigrated to the United Kingdom and attained citizenship, and then moving to the US and getting a Green Card through a relatively simple process, because I qualified for an alien of extraordinary ability visa that transitions very easily to a Green Card, and we’ve just bought a house and we can afford that house. And we’ve spent a bunch of money on a remodel and all of that. And some of that is because I write good books and work hard. But the reason I got to write good books and work hard and earn enough money to do all those things is that a bunch of forces that are way beyond my control, and that are not well-distributed bored down on my progenitors.

And this is how we went from my grandfather whose mother was kicked to death by a cow on a dirt farm, to me living in a renovated mid-century modern bungalow in Burbank, California in two generations. It wasn’t by pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps. It was because I got to start life on second base. When I look around at other people who are trying to do what I did, who are trying to become successful writers, who want to become activists, who want to get involved in other activities that require a relatively high degree of technical specialized knowledge, as well as the comfort from which to take risks. The reason those people don’t have that is not because of an innate failing of theirs. It’s because I am a privileged white dude who got incredibly lucky to be born who I was, and they weren’t.

TFSR: Do you read a lot of sci-fi yourself?

Cory: I do. Although, I think a lot of people who read a lot for pleasure in their 20s, by the time I got to my 30s and 40s and became a dad and had a career and so on, my reading for pleasure, or even reading for professional purposes, plummeted. I do a lot less reading now than I used to. But I have a chronic back pain problem. And so I swim for an hour every day, and I have an underwater mp3 player. So I listened to about two novels a month through my swimming. And then I probably read two more a month, or two more books a month. Sometimes novels, sometimes not. If they’re novels, they’re usually science fiction, as well as a few graphic novels. And I get sent a lot because I write young adult novels and also I’ve got a picture book coming out, I get sent a lot of kids’ books for review or quotes. And I have a 10-year-old, so I just throw them in her room. And if she reads them, then I read them and review them. She’s my first approximation sorting function. I read reasonably broadly, but when I worked in a science fiction bookstore, I read a lot. And I know exactly how much I’m not reading because I know how much I read back then.

TFSR: Does your daughter ever contribute to the quotes that go on the covers of books?

Cory: Yeah, funnily enough, one time, I got asked to write a quote for the sequel to a book that she liked a lot called Giants Beware! The sequel’s called Dragons Beware! And they sent it to me as a PDF, so we read it together off my screen. And I told her I’m going to make a quote for this. And they’re going to put it on the cover of the book. And she said, “I want to send one in too”. So just for yucks, I sent it to the editor, and the editor cut my quote in half to make room for hers.

TFSR: It sounds she has a feature in writing or at least reviewing. I really like political sci-fi, I’m a one-trick pony. I just gravitate towards reading about ideas around politics and around social engagement and social organizing. But a novel that I was reminded of at some point with Walkaway was March Pierce’s Woman on the Edge of Time. Have you read that before?

Cory: Sure.

TFSR: Especially for its [27:28] of a utopia and a dystopia in a struggle with each other, although her vision definitely had tech serving a visibly more ecologically healing role, rather than what I saw in Walkaway as a sort of mitigating during this hardcore struggle between default and walkaway worlds. I saw more people creating livable structures and the tools that they needed for immediate survival, as opposed to in Pierce’s book, maybe it would have been a little bit further on where people were trying to heal landscapes, for instance. Also, it contained more non-human animals than I found in Walkaway. Maybe I missed it, but was there an ecological bent in Walkaway? Or was it more focused on just this is the destruction, this is us needing to survive and create something new?

Cory: If we’ve been warned about disaster capitalism by the likes of Naomi Klein, Walkaway is, in some ways, a pain to the possibilities of disaster communism. One of the things that walkaways are doing is they’re using the catastrophic remnants of environmental collapse as the raw material for a better world. One of the great challenges to a transitional program towards a more broadly distributed future is property relations and the difficulties of expropriation.

I was just on a panel in Australia at a literary festival with an African woman, a white African journalist who had risked her life to report on authoritarianism in Zimbabwe and had been exiled. I think she was actually born there. Maybe it was another regional country. I think it was Zimbabwe. And she was talking about the ANC’s proposal to expropriate white farmers and redistribute their lands and about how that had been a real disaster in Zimbabwe for lots of reasons, partly because sophisticated agricultural knowledge wasn’t widely distributed, and partly because of the lingering resentments and the difficulty for reconciliation and so on.

And so we talked about it, and I said, “Let’s talk about some other decolonization efforts that had land reform in them. You have the Cubans who after the revolution bought land at market rates. And it’s not like the exiled elites of Cuba in Miami therefore forgave them and didn’t harbor inter-generational grudges against the Cuban Republic for having taken away the family farm. You have American whites in the South who still nurse these horrible grievances about the antebellum period and land changes after that and so on. Or the post-war period and land changes after that. It’s very hard to get people to feel okay about these changes in land ownership. Moreover, it’s very easy to activate grievances. So even if people seem to have forgotten about them for a generation, they can be reactivated by reactionary political actors who want to use those grievances to raise a political movement to pursue some reactionary program. Think about the Balcans, where by exploiting these old grievances, it was possible to create a civil war that still has a reactionary neofascist, nationalist element, who never fully lost the power that they gained by exploiting those old divisions.

I think that one of the things that the book proposes is that when life gives you SARS, you might try and make Sarsaparilla. The fact that environmental catastrophe has basically rendered a bunch of land to be uninhabitable and undesired by anyone means that walkaways can, with relatively low risk, just show up there and take this blighted no man’s land and turn it back into something worthwhile. But of course, the thing that they discover is that as soon as you rehabilitate something that no one wants, all of a sudden they rediscover their property interest in it. But the thing that they exploited in it is that there’s so much blighted land, and remediating it is so easy if you don’t care about profits, that as soon as they build something viable on some blighted land, and some oligarch comes along and says, “Hey, that’s my patch of blighted dirt and I want it back now that you made it attractive again,” they just move on to another patch of blighted dirt and do it all over again. And in fact, each one of these is an opportunity to overcome their previous mistakes and do more ambitious things and just refactor things. They’re in some way benefiting from not having that status quo bias that normally happens in things like free software projects where no one wants to start over and refactor things from go because it’s just so much work. And you’ve got so much sunk cost in the status quo. But if someone comes along and just wipes out all your source code every six months, provided that you really still need the thing, shelter is not optional. So they have to go build shelter somewhere. And they just make a virtue out of that vice.

TFSR: It’s a pretty awesome set up in the novel, and it’s really inspirational, the scope of the book and all the different social conundrums that you’re trying to at least touch on and play with how different elements of, for instance, the Free University that’s developed, that is escalating people’s knowledge and technologies and trying to improve on things all the time. Because you’ve got people that are disenfranchised from mainstream society, and they choose to leave, but they bring this knowledge and this ability with them and put it towards a collective good. There are just so many examples in the novel. I can’t I can’t stop gushing about it.

Cory: Oh, well, thank you. Science fiction does have this tradition of stories about someone wielding an enormous technological power because of their special knowledge, who nevertheless doesn’t have political power, and how the people with political power coerce the people with the technical knowledge into working for them. After civilization collapses, how does Master Blaster and Thunderdome get the mining engineers who actually know how to convert methane to useful source of power to work for them, or how does the technical staff of Immortan Joe get incentivized to work for Immortan Joe, instead of just walking over to the next Arroyo and living without this tyrant?

Telling it from the perspective of people who did have this rare, not widely distributed, extremely powerful technical knowledge, finding solidarity with the people rather than the oligarchs, and taking that technical knowledge and spreading it around, that’s actually a thing that happens. That’s the story of CryptoParty and it’s the story of lots of people who can just work for big tech companies, and instead, or in addition, devote their lives to social justice causes and to widely distributing their specialized knowledge. In this case, you have this scientist class that reaches a breaking point with their paymasters, where they realize that the practical immortality technology they’re developing has the potential to speciate the human race and make their bosses not just powerful, but immortal, and to deprive everyone else of immortality, and that once everyone else is immortal, once everyone else can’t be killed, then the ability of the wealthy and powerful 1% to coerce them becomes significantly reduced, because how do you coerce someone who’s not afraid to die? As these people start to defect to the side of the 99%, it becomes more and more obvious to the ones who remained, that what they’re engaged in is something morally indefensible and that not only is it morally indefensible, it’s morally indefensible and there’s an alternative.

TFSR: That’s a thing in the book that I found really interesting, too, is that I don’t hear many people talk about post-scarcity economics. And I’d to talk about the technologies of immortality that are talked about in the book. Hierarchies are based on the withholding of something from people. People build hierarchies, but social hierarchies that exist in society, whether it be the class-based ones, or the way that gender power is appropriated throughout society, or racial castes, or whatever, is about privileges being withheld from other people, people being disprivileged. And one of the very basic and from time immemorial ways that happens is the withholding of the means towards one’s own ability to have shelter, ability to have food, ability to take care of one’s loved ones. Can you talk about what made you start thinking about post-scarcity economics and maybe some influences on your thinking around it?

Cory: Well, going back to this idea about the cultural and political nexus on the internet, one of the things that the internet does is challenge — at the same time it supercharges it — it challenges rentierism, because the ultimate in rentierism is the idea of so-called intellectual property, which is the idea that you have a thing that has no tangible existence, and that, through its creation, generates passive income. And all you have to do is just sit there and wait for it to roll in. This is one of the ways that this fight that I’m engaged in on the policy side about DRM, I think has this wider significance. When you go back to the early literature of intellectual property in the Chicago school, you find this metastatic choice theory where this idea that someone who owns a piece of intellectual property could use some magic technology dust to infinitely divide that intellectual property into a series of products that are ever more tailored to different audiences.

So like, maybe you don’t want to spend the full freight to read a book anytime you want. Maybe you just want the right to read the book on Wednesdays while standing on one leg, and the market can produce this standing on one leg Wednesday price through some price discovery mechanism. And then the technology somehow sees to it, that having acquired the book you can only read it on Wednesdays while you’re standing on one leg. And it’s one of those things where, in a lot of technology policy fights, the answer is in part wanting it badly is not enough. So we don’t know how to make the technology that only lets you read a book on Wednesdays while standing on one leg, even if we stipulate that that’s a good idea. But once you swallow a spider to catch the fly, you have to swallow a bird to catch the spider.

So once we accepted that that would be this market in the future, and that the way that we would have these passive incomes in a post-manufacturing society where the WTO allowed all the manufacturing jobs to be offshore to China, and the West would remain wealthy through exporting the intellectual property to China that would then be turned into physical objects and then brought back into the West, and that it would be rent-seeking on the people making the things by owning the rights to the plans to make the things, or the images that are embodied by the things or whatever that the West would remain economically dominant, it became politically impossible to say, “We don’t know how to make a technology that stops you from reading books, unless it’s Wednesday, and you’re standing on one leg.” And so instead, we started trying to approximate it. And the way that we ended up approximating it is with technology that just spies on you all the time. Computers that are designed to not take orders from their owners, but instead to take orders from third parties without even informing the owner what the order is, or allowing them to rescind it or terminate it.

This has wider implications for information security, which is, in some ways, the single most important technological question we have to answer: how do we make computers more secure, as we start putting our bodies inside of them and start putting them inside of our bodies? There’s arguably nothing more important for us to answer authoritatively than that question. But the elevation to virtue of it being hard to make as many copies as you want of something is the outcome of this policy, consensus that emerged that we would just someday have this rentier economy. In that rentier economy, the fact that you can take something valuable and make as many copies as you need, without any incremental cost becomes a problem. Historically, that would have been a utopian scenario.

There’s a thing that everyone needs, and we can make as much of it as anyone needs for free? That’s not a problem historically. But we elevated scarcity to a virtue. And so thinking about post-scarcity is in that regard, a subversive act, because it challenges the whole consensus about what a neoliberal future looks like, a rentier future looks like. The first time I really encountered post-scarcity, I’d encountered it in dribs and drabs in the fights about software piracy in the 80s. There was some ambiguity there and there were still a lot of small independent software companies that made this reasonably convincing case that like, “I’m just some dude who made some accounting software, please don’t make me go broke by refusing to pay for it.” But as this turned into the music question, and as Napster came along and became the fastest adopted technology in the history of the world, and as it took the 80% of commercial music that wasn’t available for sale anywhere, at any price, and put it in the hands of everyone who wanted it at any time, night or day, and also automatically started to create communities of interest around music that were not in the mainstream because you would find someone’s collection that you thought was interesting, and you’d open a chat window to them, and you plunder their collection for things that you’d never heard of, but based on them having things that you liked that few other people you could assume that that the rest of it would be interesting to listen to. This thing that was so clearly just good was turned into a vise and became further the rubric for mass internet surveillance and takedown regime where material could remove from the internet without any checks or balances. It became really clear to me that the people who viewed scarcity as a virtue were an existential threat to a free, fair, and open Internet. For whatever reason that that scarcity had become a virtue to them. And so post-scarcity and thinking about it and singing its praises and describing ways in which it could be great, became a cultural project in the service of economic and political projects.

TFSR: I was wondering about this actually because you bring up Napster. And that’s about the time when I was graduating from high school and started paying attention to— I’d been playing on computers for a few years at that point. The things that Gnutella and Napster were providing, the connectivity, the ways of exploring other people’s knowledge and art were just fascinating. And those seem to go away in the early 2000s, because of all this pressure from industries and the FCC, and what have you. Soulseek is still around, but I don’t think people really use it, I mess with it from time to time, and it’s got the same abilities. Do you think it’s just not used as much or talked about because it’s a snake eating its tail, people don’t talk about it, so it doesn’t get used as much. And because people aren’t using it, people don’t talk about it, or just because technologies have maybe the social acceptability of sharing music or sharing art in that way, has now just developed onto a different platform?

Cory: It’s definitely on different platforms. It’s streaming now. Ironically, we lost a bunch of things that would have been very helpful to the industry. We lost a lot of the social elements. It’s much harder to have a community where you post links to music that you might like, that is infringing. You can still point to YouTube, but increasingly, there are risks of communities facing legal sanctions, being shut down because of the preponderance of links to stuff. And so what that means is that the recommendation and the concentration of people who might be interested in your music as a product in one easy-to-advertise-to place, that has been very eroded through these anti-infringement anti-piracy programs, but the infringement hasn’t been eroded. The people who will tell you that there’s more infringement than ever are the people who claimed that this would be what they needed to stop infringement. The record industry, their own stats show that their efforts were worse than useless, that they ended up with more infringement, not less. But of course, their argument is, “well, it would be even more if we hadn’t done all of this.” We swallow the spider to catch the fly, now give us some birds to catch the spider. Once we accepted that any cost is bearable in the service of defending music from copyright infringement, then the sky’s the limit. It turns out that shutting down services didn’t do it, disconnecting people from the Internet didn’t do it, all these other things didn’t do it. So just give us more extreme measures, just keep ramping up our power to be judge, jury, and executioner of people on the internet and the things that they say, and eventually, we’ll be able to get rid of copyright infringement.

The other thing that forcing this decentralization did was it made it harder to charge rent. Napster had a business model that was “we will go to the record labels, we’ll get a license from them, and we’ll charge five bucks a month to be a Napster customer. And then we’ll measure what people are downloading and we will pay out the money in that, according to who downloaded what, whose stuff got downloaded.” It was literally a model where the more people pirated, the more money you got paid. And now what we have is this fragmented underground system that, because of court decisions like Grokster, that said that companies have liability if they know and can measure what’s going on, the systems are deliberately designed so that no one can audit them and figure out which musicians to pay. So they just really shot themselves in the head. They still make tons of money from things like streaming services, the legit streaming services like Spotify. Musicians don’t make any money from them, but the labels make gobs of money from them. And that’s because they have these super abusive contracts. And those contracts have become more common, not less, because there are fewer alternative places to bandy your music about because the copyright enforcement has basically made it very expensive top-rate alternatives to the traditional music industry. And so now we’re down to four giant record labels that all have the same shitty contracts. And they all have the same abusive terms for any musician who signs with them. Even though Spotify is throwing billions of dollars at the labels, the labels contractually have to give only infinitesimal fractions of a penny to musicians out of those billions. You’ve just ended up with a system where it’s hard for them to harness real growth, the anemic growth that there is, they get the windfall from, and musicians are trapped in a sharecropping model.

TFSR: You mentioned that you had a children’s book coming out soon.

Cory: Yeah, I have a picture book. It’s called Poesy the Monster Slayer. And it’s about a little girl who’s obsessed with monsters. And one night when the monsters break into her bedroom, she tears apart all the girly toys in her bedroom and repurposed them as field-expedient monster-killing weapons. When the beholder leaps off of her bookcase and hovers in front of her with its millions of riding eyes, she takes her Barbie bubblegum-scented perfume and mace it. After each monster battle, her parents come in and put her back to bed and say “I’m going to be a zombie tomorrow morning if you don’t let me get a good night’s sleep and stop horsing around in your room.” And then the punchline is that they turn into zombies that she can’t defeat, but the zombie that they can’t defeat just tucks her into bed. Its attack mode is that tucks her into bed and doesn’t let her get out again. And the penultimate monster that she fights is Frankenstein’s monster. And she topples it over and then uses her sewing kit seam ripper to take its head off. And they tuck its head into bed with her and the two of them share a wry glance, the Frankenstein’s head, and the little girl as her parents tuck them in and turn the lights out. That’s the cute little story. Yeah, spoiler. It’s only about 100 words long, so it wouldn’t take you long to get to that spoiler. Just don’t tell your little children before you read it to them and you’ll be fine.

TFSR: That sounds like a story that only a parent could write.

Cory: Yeah, certainly. And the part of the running joke is the name of the kid is very long, and it’s my daughter’s name. So my daughter has a crazy long name. She’s Poesy Emmeline Fibonacci Nautilus Taylor Doctorow. That’s the name of this character. And every time the parents come in, they call her by more of her name. So like, “Poesy has to go back to bed. Poesy Taylor Doctorow, go back to bed. Poesy Emmeline Taylor Doctorow, go back to bed.” And eventually, it turns into the whole name. It’s fun in a kid’s book where there’s a cumulative call and response.

TFSR: That’s funny, too, that reminds me of Etc from Walkaway. What inspired that? Your daughter?

Cory: Well, one of the things about the immigrant experience I come from — it’s different for different people — is that we have a lot of names. My grandfathers had their birth names, which were usually Russian or Eastern European names. And then they had a Hebrew name. And then they had a Yiddish nickname. And then they had an anglicized name, and sometimes more than one anglicized name. And they used different names depending on who they talked to. And I played with this before. I wrote a novel called Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town where the characters have a different name every time they are referred to. It has a specific salience in this technological moment, because of the name wars, where Google Plus and Facebook had this insistence on everyone having one canonical name that they use to face the world, which produced all kinds of shitty problems. But it also sparked a bunch of really good arguments about names. And there’s a beautiful essay called “False things programmers believe about names.” It includes things like everyone has a name, everyone has one name, everyone has a name that can be written down. Everyone has a unique name. Everyone has a name that’s unique when you factor in their date of birth, and so on and so on. This is actually also become the subject of a Supreme Court case over voter suppression because one of the heuristics that the voter-roll-purging software used was that it assumed that it was very unlikely that two people would share the same name and the same birthday. And it turns out that for a lot of reasons, that’s not true. Among them is the fact that a lot of databases, when they don’t have a birthday, default to January 1. There are tons of people who share that birthday. But also guess what month people named June tend to be born in *laughs*. Or people named Carol, guess what day of the year they tend to be born — December 25. There are a lot more collisions than you’d expect. I wanted to play with this idea that you could have a character that had lots and lots of names that would break a database.

There’s a joke that got picked up in XKCD about a kid named Timmy Drop Tables, that is whose name is a MySQL code injection attack, that if you try to enter the kid into the school rolls, the school rolls fall apart. That database-breaking function of names is a really interesting thing. And names, of course, have this resonance in storytelling, where if you know Rumplestiltskin’s name, you can make him do your bidding. If you know the Demon’s name, you can conjure him or banish him, and so on. So the true names of things have always held power. And one of the things that the internet has been really good for, and that has made the name wars so important, is that the internet has always been a place where people could have a new name. And it’s enabled people, because of those new names, to experiment with new identities. And those new identities are part of why we have things like gender fluidity, as a thing that has always existed but has come into prominence, because it gives people a space in which they can be fluid in their identity, without exposing themselves to risk, by budding off a new identity to play with. And then when they feel comfortable about reintegrating it into the main branch of their identity if they ever do. And that has created a real social revolution that’s playing out all over the world.

It’s also a force for evil, the Twitter is full of Nazis who don’t use their real names to avoid reprisals. We now live in an age in which one of the great sins that you can commit that violates the terms of service of almost everything is disclosing the real name of someone, we call it doxxing. Disclosure of someone’s real name, when they operate under a pseudonym has become grounds for online execution, which I’m not saying that’s wrong and I’m not saying it’s right either. I’m saying that it just tells a lot about the right to the name. Giving a character a lot of names, I thought had a currency to it, a Zeitgeist-iness.

TFSR: You could almost write a whole novel, just probably telling the stories behind each of those names.

Cory: Sure. Well, in his case, they’re the 20 most popular names from the 1890 census in order. One of my writing techniques is that when I want to name a character I use, at least as a placeholder, I often use the census. I go like “I want a name that’s really common.” Because the census produces popularity-ranked names. So I pick a first name and a surname from the top of the census, or I want a very uncommon name, so I pick it from the bottom. It’s a cheap and easy way to do it.

TFSR: I’m personally a little uncomfortable with transhumanism as an idea because I fear that— because the people who tend to wield technology, tend to be the powerful people and that sort of scenario that you were breaking down and Walkaway around the elite class becoming gods and then denying everyone else the ability to reach that point seemed like what my cynical mind would actually see happening in the world. But can you talk a little bit about immortality, about technology as a means of escaping the mortal coil, and maybe what values you see in the mortal coil that got troubled by some of the different characters like Tam, for instance?

Cory: There’s a really good book about this, and I nod to it in the book [Walkaway] called Citizen Cyborg by James Hughes, who’s a humanist transhumanist. He has a humanist transhuman program. And he argues that the problem with this kind of tanshumanism is fairly-distributed access to the technologies, not the technologies themselves. So I’m of the view that science-fiction rarely predicts specific technological innovation well, but what it does predict with incredible accuracy is our widespread social fears and aspirations for technology. I think the science fiction stories that we tell that are very current, that are very resonant are a diagnostic tool for what it is we worry about and what it is we hope for, not for what’s actually going to happen, except to the extent that, of course, the things that you hope for me may happen because you might work towards them. But it’s not like it’s got a predictive value. We’re not fortune-tellers.

And I think that the idea that technology will change what it means to be human has a pretty obvious corollary in what’s going on in our world. A lot of the institutions that we define our humanity by, be it family or names or, or nationality, or what have you, are challenged by network communications. And I think the fear of a transhuman rift between the wealthy and the rest of us feel like there might be a rift between the life circumstances of the wealthy and the rest of us, that would make it impossible for the wealthy to understand or empathize or even really be said properly to be in the same species or circumstances the rest of us. If the rich never see the poor, if mating means that the rich never marry the poor, if the rich live a life circumstance that is completely different from the poor, then they are in some way speciating, even if it’s not biological, even if transhumanism isn’t doing it for them. Moreover, if we live in a world in which market logic dictates healthcare, and so poor people die of preventable diseases and rich people get to live very long lives, then that transhumanist idea of some of us being medically privileged and the rest of us being medically deprived is, again, not a difficult thing to understand. But it doesn’t require that we be literally headed into transhumanism for it to be relevant. And I think that’s good because transhumanism is a great science fiction MacGuffin, it has very little connection with technological reality in the biotech realm.

TFSR: Okay. Cory, thank you so much for having this chat. I’ve really enjoyed it. And I think listeners are going to get a real kick out of it. You said some really awesome things.

Cory: Oh, well, thank you.

TFSR: Where can people in the audience find your writing and keep up on the books that you’re publishing?

Cory: I’m pretty easy to find. Let me check if I am still the top query in Google today. I usually am. I’m the sixth Cory on Google this morning. So I’m pretty easy to find, Cory Doctorow. I am one of the editors of a website called BoingBoing at boingboing.net. Craphound.com — it’s my personal site. You can get on my mailing list and get on my podcast, I podcast short stories and articles there. And I have a Twitter feed @Doctorow. My books are available wherever fine books are sold. I should mention that if you want a Fairtrade ebook or audiobook, I actually retail my ebooks and audiobooks, even though they’re published by traditional publishers, I’ve convinced them to let me set up a store. So I sell them at the same price as Amazon, but I get the cut that Amazon would normally take and then I send the rest back to my publisher, and then they give me my royalties. So it’s a way of effectively doubling my royalties. So if you want to indulge in some electronic media purchasing, that’s a way to do it. One of the things that are out there right now is the audiobook of Walkaway, which I self-produced, and which has some really astoundingly good readers. Amber Benson from Buffy and Wil Wheaton from Star Trek and Amanda Palmer, who was in the Dresden Dolls, all read on it, along with several other very talented ebook readers. So I’m extremely happy with how that worked out. I should mention it’s all DRM-free, and there’s no license agreement. You don’t need to give up any rights to buy those books.

TFSR: So thanks for sharing, Cory.

Cory: Well, thank you. Thanks for your interest.

TFSR: This week we’re presenting an interview that I conducted with sci-fi and picture book author, technologist, and social critic Cory Doctorow. Cory is an editor of the blog BoingBoing.net, a fellow at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and his most recent book is entitled Walkaway, and it’s out from Head of Zeus and Tor Books. The novel plays with themes of open-source technologies, class society, post-scarcity economics, ecological remediation, dropout culture, and liberatory social models. It was released a few days ago also in paperback, along with matching reissues of his other adult sci-fi novels.

For the hour, we chat about themes from the book, about sharing, imagination, privilege, and monsters. To find more work by Cory, check out his blog craphound.com. You can also find him on Twitter. You can find free versions of his writing at Project Gutenberg, as well as interviews and recordings that he’s done at archive.org or his podcast. Links will be found in the show notes for this episode.

Cory, thank you very much for taking the time to chat.

Cory Doctorow: Oh, it’s my pleasure. Thanks for your interest in the book.

TFSR: It was a really pleasurable read. One thing I love about speculative fiction is finding the roots in the current world looking at the divergences between the story and the IRL and playing with those imaginary threads, tying them together. Walkaway mentions Idle No More, the Arab Spring, it alludes to Occupy and even old back-to-the-landers in Vermont. From this history-of-the-future view, what agency is given to resistance movements of today or just yesterday?

Cory: That’s a really good question. My theory of change is that we get to a better place not by laying out a plan that takes us from A to Z, but by taking immediate steps that in some way materially improve the circumstances for resistance or change, that then creates a more favorable landscape from which the next volley can be launched. So it’s a lot more like a software hill-climbing algorithm, where you don’t know the terrain and but all you do is you always try to move up to more favorable terrain, rather than this idea of a knowable world. Maybe this is where I break with Marxism and its so-called scientific theory of history that has this deceptive and seductive inevitability about how we can chart a course. And instead of charting a course, I advocate for a unified heuristic. We all use the same rule of thumb to try to make things better. And the material improvements that we make just in some way benefit the people that come in the future, in some unknowable and unguessable situation. So rather than try to lay in the material needed for a battle whose contours we can’t predict, we just try to make things as versatile and usable as possible for whoever comes next. And so in this future, I think the people who are on the vanguard, are people who are picking up the stuff that we left lying around, without knowing exactly how it would be used. And some of it turns out to be useful in unexpected ways. And some of the stuff that maybe we predicted would be most useful turns out to have no earthly use.

TFSR: That’s really well-said. Actually, that reminds me— I had mentioned in one of the emails that I was interested in and had been looking into Cooperation Jackson recently as a project happening in the deep south of the US. It’s an initiative to grow a tech industry and manufacturing and fabricating belt, employing the mostly black and working-class populations in a democratic, almost permacultural approach. It doesn’t seem perfect, obviously. But they’ve really laid out their plan, really open-source style in this book called Jackson Rising. They’re influenced by Rojava, by the Mondragon cooperative, by Black Liberation struggles, by the Zapatistas, and many other diverse movements. Are there any current anti-capitalist projects or movements around the world that are hacking and making that inspire you or that you’re keeping close tabs on?

Cory: It’s a really good question. Again, I know I keep saying that, but these are good thought-provoking meaty questions.

I’m sure that there are explicitly anti-capitalist projects. I mean, Dmitry Kleiner and the Telekommunisten in Berlin sprang to mind. But I’m interested in the way that projects that don’t have an explicitly anti-capitalist agenda, nevertheless can serve the cause of a post-capitalist or even a mixed-market technological future. So things free and open-source software, the movement for net neutrality, cognitive radio technologies, things like end-to-end encrypted messenger clients. And also, not incidentally, that the tools for evaluating all of these that— We’re getting into better trainer training tools and better critical frameworks for understanding them. So EFF, with whom I work, sometimes the Electronic Frontier Foundation, has historically published scorecards of different kinds of security tools. And they’ve stopped doing it for end-to-end encrypted messengers because they realize that there isn’t a dimension on which an encrypted messaging tool is best. Instead, there are different kinds of threat models for different kinds of users. Now they’re publishing plain-language, easy-to-understand models, or frameworks for evaluating what encrypted messenger you should use and understanding whether any given encrypted messenger is one that you should trust and that you would find useful.

And to me, in terms of aiding insurgency, which I guess is what all these things have in common, they don’t have an explicit political valence, but they have an anti-authoritarian valence, that these tools are really useful. And I think that the place where, again, if I break with the Marxist left on the inevitability of history, maybe the place where I break with the intersectional left, is on whether a tool can be made to benefit insurgents that doesn’t benefit insurgents, we don’t like. The alt-right is an insurgent movement as well. And when I look at movements to throttle the alt-right, I always concern myself with the extent to which that will also throttle anti-authoritarian left-wing movements. For example, any framework in which it becomes easier to remove content from the web-based on the politics of its speech, I think, has to be viewed with extreme caution, not because there isn’t a speech that is bad speech, or that the world would be better without, but because the ease with which speech can be removed based on its content is a threat to anyone who wants to say anything unpopular.

TFSR: Yeah, it’s funny, now becoming personally old enough, I’m almost 40 to have seen this trajectory a couple of times. For instance, I’m in the US, seeing Democrats be in office and then seeing Democrats allowed to push certain boundaries or increase incarceration rates, or deport more people, or do drone strikes without any sort of repercussions to the executive branch. And then a Republican administration follows directly after, it’s terrible when it’s happening when the Democrats are doing it, but there seems to be a lack of understanding to some people that the tool is going to be wielded by someone and you don’t get to choose necessarily who wields that tool. Whether or not it’s positive or “positive” for your goal.

Cory: Yeah, I think that’s right. American liberals were pretty sanguine about the extension of really extreme executive power to Obama when he was using it to fight the hardline TGOP Republican Congress. And now they’re about to have their past sins visited upon them, not least because there’s now the power of the president to create secret assassination lists that a certain liberal defended in the last administration. But also, as you say, mass incarceration, the failure to close Gitmo, and so on. A lot of that triangulation Clintonian political stuff is how they went from convenient instrumental doctrines into pluripotent immortal weapons that now get to be wielded by whoever sits in the President’s chair. And we have a maniac with a lot less discretion sitting in the President’s chair. I’m not going to stick up for Obama, but I do think that if nothing else, he was circumspect and premeditated in a way that Trump isn’t capable of, which at least allowed us to have a threat model. I always like to distinguish, when I think about threat models, between the cat burglar who plans a robbery of your house because they know what jewels you have hidden in your wall safe. And that time I parked my car in Gastown in Vancouver, which is the principal part of heroin ingress into the Americas. I left a quarter sitting on the dashboard and someone broke into the rental car to steal a quarter. It’s possible to think about that jewel thief in a way that rationally defends against it. Like if the jewel thief’s expected return on selling your jewels is less than the cost of breaking into your house, you can secure your house from the jewel thief because they don’t want to waste money. Whereas the junkie is acting without any premeditation, and it’s very hard to defend against. And when we think about political threat models, Obama at least was predictable. We knew where he would squander capital and where he wouldn’t in the political sense. Whereas Trump picks dumb fights. And a loose cannon on deck is much scarier when it’s a really big scary cannon than when it’s a small constrained cannon. And Obama made the president into a much bigger cannon.

TFSR: Yeah. With the aid of the American people.

You mentioned that you’re a fellow at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and a lot of your writing focuses on tech tools, for more secure organizing and knowledge sharing, and resisting tyranny. For instance, Little Brother, as a novel focused largely on ubiquitous surveillance and the socialization of resistance via, for instance, parties where people shared encryption face-to-face. The book was both the commentary as well as a spur to get folks thinking about resistance with actual models of going about it. Can you talk about your views of the cultural and activist interventions that you engage with? How do they overlap?

Cory: Culturally, there is an anti-authoritarian streak that is built into the internet. It’s not determinative, it’s not like using the internet makes you anti-authoritarian. But if you have anti-authoritarian tendencies, there’s a lot that the internet has to offer you. And much of what gave us the internet, as we understand it today, was anti-authoritarian. It may have had its roots and things BBN and the RAND Corporation, building command and control networks for the US military. But its early users and the people who sketched out its contours and built a lot of its infrastructure and a lot of its norms and embedded technological assumptions did so out of a posture of anti-authoritarianism. And so culturally, anti-authoritarianism is not an end in itself. Because anti-authoritarianism can lead to like, “What do you mean, I’m not allowed to say racist things and rape people. You’re not the boss of me!” But anti-authoritarianism is an axis on which to plot other politics, I think good politics are better when they’re anti-authoritarian. That the people who are suspicious of their ability to tell other people what to do, and the likelihood that they’ll get it right produce better outcomes than people who are convinced of their infallibility and the right to dictate to other people.

One of the places where the politics and the culture of the internet overlap, is in that anti-authoritarianism. Going back to Marxism, Marx had this idea that being alienated from your labor made you susceptible to being talked to about the problems of labor alienation. And I think making your friends and enjoying the world through systems that are intrinsically anti-authoritarian, or that have anti-authoritarian roots, makes you a good candidate to talk to about anti-authoritarianism.

You know “there are no atheists in a foxhole”?, it’s harder to be an authoritarian on the internet. It’s not impossible, clearly, but as compared to other systems, the internet, because there’s the coercion on the internet is hard. And not only that, but people who have benefited from the inability of others to coerce them, have then gone on to build other systems on the internet that make coercion hard. Again, it’s not impossible, I’m not pretending that shitty Twitter mobs aren’t coercive. I’m just saying that the shitty Twitter mobs are an aberration, as compared to many other systems that exist to evade coercion. One of the things that I concern myself with a lot is what I think of it as historic revisionism in which we say that early internet optimists were naive about the power of the Internet to be a force for bad, and I happened to know those people really personally and I’m extremely I’m aware of what they had in mind. I was there when they were doing that, I was talking to them about what are we trying to do here, I was working for them and drawing a paycheck from them. And their view was not “the internet is automatically going to be great”. It’s raining soup, let’s fill up our boots. Their view was that the internet could be unbelievably terrible. let’s make sure that that doesn’t happen. And so, when John Gilmore said the internet interprets censorship and rights around it, he specifically meant that people who operate the most anti-authoritarian parts of the internet, which at the time were old Usenet feeds, whenever someone tries to censor Usenet, do these specific things with the protocols that underpin it, and with their own human effort to make it harder to censor, and those tools might have been developed to ride around damage, to ride around drop nodes and an unreliable network. But they work extremely well to fight censorship. And the people who develop them are ready and willing to do so because they view censorship as illegitimate.

That’s a powerful force. And it’s one that the story of the internet’s early proponents being naive fools. One of the things we have on our side, as we work to make the internet safe for human habitation, a force for good and human thriving is the ethos that the internet should be that, and when you turn your firing squad in a circle and say that the people who fought all along for a free, fair and open Internet just didn’t understand how the internet would go wrong and shouldn’t be listened to, then you make it harder to achieve the free, fair and open Internet that we want. And you do so out of petty personal satisfaction that you get from telling other people that they’re idiots.

TFSR: This reminds me of a part of the book that I keep thinking about, and that keeps resonating with me as a very interesting way of engaging with some of these ideas. So just to bring up a couple of characters. There was Limpopo and Jimmy. Limpopo had put in a hell of a lot of work, designing and building and doing upkeep on a way station and home for people who had started walking away for what was called Default or mainstream society in this dystopia. And people collaborated there to create a new life with others. Jimmy comes in as an intelligent, brash, proud young man who believes in meritocracy and wants to leverage a position of power at the compound called the B&B for himself by riding the coattails of Limpopo. There are also some gender norm dynamics that one could unpack from the way that it goes down in the story.

Can you talk about what inspired you to write this out? And what do you hope readers will get from the debates and battles like these that happen in Walkaway?

Cory: In some respects, that is me correcting a sin of my own, which was that I wrote this novel Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom about the ambiguous utopia of meritocracy that like reputation economies, where I posed reputation economies as a not unalloyed good, but as something that can be actually pretty terrible. And people took it as a manual for how to build the future, not as a cautionary tale about how things could go wrong if you use that as your starting point. I wanted to make it less ambiguous, the ambiguous utopia of a reputation economy, I wanted to make it more explicitly dystopic to heighten that, make it visible, make it harder to miss. I think I did that. I hope I did. And I also want people to think a little bit about this starting-life-on-third-base business that when you say someone has done very well objectively, and that something that you’ve measured is bigger for one person than it is for another, that there’s a false quantitativeness that misses out on some qualitative elements, which are all the social stuff that goes into that person’s life, all the reasons that they’re over-performing relative to their peers.

TFSR: Can you break that down a little bit? I saw you had responded to a Q&A from a big bookstore in Portland naming your memoirs, something about like, “I’m a privileged white dude, who’s-” I’m misstating that… Can you unpack that a little bit more about where people start from? Why do they perform in certain ways and the invisibility of privilege?

Cory: Yeah, I mean, I expected anyone listening to this to be familiar with the story, but I’ll tell you, from my perspective.

My grandparents did not come from a place where they had a lot of privilege or power. My grandfather was raised on a farm in a part of Belarus that later became Poland. My grandmother was raised in Leningrad, and my grandmother was a child soldier who was inducted into the Civil Defense Corps during the siege of Leningrad at the age of 12. And she served for nearly three years, and then they evacuated the women and children over the winter ice. And she met my grandfather in Siberia when she was inducted into the Red Army. And then the two of them deserted and went to a displaced persons’ camp in Azerbaijan. And that’s where my dad was born. And they came to Canada as displaced people. But Canada had, at the time, a pretty well-developed social welfare network. And it made sure that my dad got a first-class education. There were also relatively few large businesses that dominated the sectors that they operated in. And so my grandmother’s second husband was able to start and operate a successful scrapyard, that gave him the power to go to university, which was also publicly underwritten. And as a result, even though both of my dad’s parents were functionally illiterate, he has a Ph.D. in Education. And that’s why I grew up in a household where in 1979, we got an Apple 2+, because, by that point, he was head of computer science for a large high school. And Apple came along and gave all those heads of computer sciences Apple computers to take home for the summer, to convince them to not have mainframes, to not do time-sharing on mainframes and their computer science courses. My dad had been teaching with PDPs that they time-shared on and punch cards. And as a result, I had a modem in 1980, I was active on bulletin board systems, I was on the ground floor when the internet came along, I was able to drop out of university and walk straight into a job in a new tech sector, I did very well by it. By the time I was in my mid-20s, I was earning as much as my unionized parents were, without a university degree. All of that arises out of privilege.

I got incredibly lucky by being born when I was born, I got incredibly lucky by being born to who I was born. And some of that luck was not just about the great forces of society, but about explicit redistributive practices that were intended to ensure not just equality of opportunity, but to a certain extent, equality of outcome. That was enormously beneficial to me. And so here, I sit in Southern California, having previously emigrated to the United Kingdom and attained citizenship, and then moving to the US and getting a Green Card through a relatively simple process, because I qualified for an alien of extraordinary ability visa that transitions very easily to a Green Card, and we’ve just bought a house and we can afford that house. And we’ve spent a bunch of money on a remodel and all of that. And some of that is because I write good books and work hard. But the reason I got to write good books and work hard and earn enough money to do all those things is that a bunch of forces that are way beyond my control, and that are not well-distributed bored down on my progenitors.

And this is how we went from my grandfather whose mother was kicked to death by a cow on a dirt farm, to me living in a renovated mid-century modern bungalow in Burbank, California in two generations. It wasn’t by pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps. It was because I got to start life on second base. When I look around at other people who are trying to do what I did, who are trying to become successful writers, who want to become activists, who want to get involved in other activities that require a relatively high degree of technical specialized knowledge, as well as the comfort from which to take risks. The reason those people don’t have that is not because of an innate failing of theirs. It’s because I am a privileged white dude who got incredibly lucky to be born who I was, and they weren’t.

TFSR: Do you read a lot of sci-fi yourself?

Cory: I do. Although, I think a lot of people who read a lot for pleasure in their 20s, by the time I got to my 30s and 40s and became a dad and had a career and so on, my reading for pleasure, or even reading for professional purposes, plummeted. I do a lot less reading now than I used to. But I have a chronic back pain problem. And so I swim for an hour every day, and I have an underwater mp3 player. So I listened to about two novels a month through my swimming. And then I probably read two more a month, or two more books a month. Sometimes novels, sometimes not. If they’re novels, they’re usually science fiction, as well as a few graphic novels. And I get sent a lot because I write young adult novels and also I’ve got a picture book coming out, I get sent a lot of kids’ books for review or quotes. And I have a 10-year-old, so I just throw them in her room. And if she reads them, then I read them and review them. She’s my first approximation sorting function. I read reasonably broadly, but when I worked in a science fiction bookstore, I read a lot. And I know exactly how much I’m not reading because I know how much I read back then.

TFSR: Does your daughter ever contribute to the quotes that go on the covers of books?

Cory: Yeah, funnily enough, one time, I got asked to write a quote for the sequel to a book that she liked a lot called Giants Beware! The sequel’s called Dragons Beware! And they sent it to me as a PDF, so we read it together off my screen. And I told her I’m going to make a quote for this. And they’re going to put it on the cover of the book. And she said, “I want to send one in too”. So just for yucks, I sent it to the editor, and the editor cut my quote in half to make room for hers.

TFSR: It sounds she has a feature in writing or at least reviewing. I really like political sci-fi, I’m a one-trick pony. I just gravitate towards reading about ideas around politics and around social engagement and social organizing. But a novel that I was reminded of at some point with Walkaway was March Pierce’s Woman on the Edge of Time. Have you read that before?

Cory: Sure.

TFSR: Especially for its [27:28] of a utopia and a dystopia in a struggle with each other, although her vision definitely had tech serving a visibly more ecologically healing role, rather than what I saw in Walkaway as a sort of mitigating during this hardcore struggle between default and walkaway worlds. I saw more people creating livable structures and the tools that they needed for immediate survival, as opposed to in Pierce’s book, maybe it would have been a little bit further on where people were trying to heal landscapes, for instance. Also, it contained more non-human animals than I found in Walkaway. Maybe I missed it, but was there an ecological bent in Walkaway? Or was it more focused on just this is the destruction, this is us needing to survive and create something new?

Cory: If we’ve been warned about disaster capitalism by the likes of Naomi Klein, Walkaway is, in some ways, a pain to the possibilities of disaster communism. One of the things that walkaways are doing is they’re using the catastrophic remnants of environmental collapse as the raw material for a better world. One of the great challenges to a transitional program towards a more broadly distributed future is property relations and the difficulties of expropriation.

I was just on a panel in Australia at a literary festival with an African woman, a white African journalist who had risked her life to report on authoritarianism in Zimbabwe and had been exiled. I think she was actually born there. Maybe it was another regional country. I think it was Zimbabwe. And she was talking about the ANC’s proposal to expropriate white farmers and redistribute their lands and about how that had been a real disaster in Zimbabwe for lots of reasons, partly because sophisticated agricultural knowledge wasn’t widely distributed, and partly because of the lingering resentments and the difficulty for reconciliation and so on.

And so we talked about it, and I said, “Let’s talk about some other decolonization efforts that had land reform in them. You have the Cubans who after the revolution bought land at market rates. And it’s not like the exiled elites of Cuba in Miami therefore forgave them and didn’t harbor inter-generational grudges against the Cuban Republic for having taken away the family farm. You have American whites in the South who still nurse these horrible grievances about the antebellum period and land changes after that and so on. Or the post-war period and land changes after that. It’s very hard to get people to feel okay about these changes in land ownership. Moreover, it’s very easy to activate grievances. So even if people seem to have forgotten about them for a generation, they can be reactivated by reactionary political actors who want to use those grievances to raise a political movement to pursue some reactionary program. Think about the Balcans, where by exploiting these old grievances, it was possible to create a civil war that still has a reactionary neofascist, nationalist element, who never fully lost the power that they gained by exploiting those old divisions.

I think that one of the things that the book proposes is that when life gives you SARS, you might try and make Sarsaparilla. The fact that environmental catastrophe has basically rendered a bunch of land to be uninhabitable and undesired by anyone means that walkaways can, with relatively low risk, just show up there and take this blighted no man’s land and turn it back into something worthwhile. But of course, the thing that they discover is that as soon as you rehabilitate something that no one wants, all of a sudden they rediscover their property interest in it. But the thing that they exploited in it is that there’s so much blighted land, and remediating it is so easy if you don’t care about profits, that as soon as they build something viable on some blighted land, and some oligarch comes along and says, “Hey, that’s my patch of blighted dirt and I want it back now that you made it attractive again,” they just move on to another patch of blighted dirt and do it all over again. And in fact, each one of these is an opportunity to overcome their previous mistakes and do more ambitious things and just refactor things. They’re in some way benefiting from not having that status quo bias that normally happens in things like free software projects where no one wants to start over and refactor things from go because it’s just so much work. And you’ve got so much sunk cost in the status quo. But if someone comes along and just wipes out all your source code every six months, provided that you really still need the thing, shelter is not optional. So they have to go build shelter somewhere. And they just make a virtue out of that vice.

TFSR: It’s a pretty awesome set up in the novel, and it’s really inspirational, the scope of the book and all the different social conundrums that you’re trying to at least touch on and play with how different elements of, for instance, the Free University that’s developed, that is escalating people’s knowledge and technologies and trying to improve on things all the time. Because you’ve got people that are disenfranchised from mainstream society, and they choose to leave, but they bring this knowledge and this ability with them and put it towards a collective good. There are just so many examples in the novel. I can’t I can’t stop gushing about it.

Cory: Oh, well, thank you. Science fiction does have this tradition of stories about someone wielding an enormous technological power because of their special knowledge, who nevertheless doesn’t have political power, and how the people with political power coerce the people with the technical knowledge into working for them. After civilization collapses, how does Master Blaster and Thunderdome get the mining engineers who actually know how to convert methane to useful source of power to work for them, or how does the technical staff of Immortan Joe get incentivized to work for Immortan Joe, instead of just walking over to the next Arroyo and living without this tyrant?

Telling it from the perspective of people who did have this rare, not widely distributed, extremely powerful technical knowledge, finding solidarity with the people rather than the oligarchs, and taking that technical knowledge and spreading it around, that’s actually a thing that happens. That’s the story of CryptoParty and it’s the story of lots of people who can just work for big tech companies, and instead, or in addition, devote their lives to social justice causes and to widely distributing their specialized knowledge. In this case, you have this scientist class that reaches a breaking point with their paymasters, where they realize that the practical immortality technology they’re developing has the potential to speciate the human race and make their bosses not just powerful, but immortal, and to deprive everyone else of immortality, and that once everyone else is immortal, once everyone else can’t be killed, then the ability of the wealthy and powerful 1% to coerce them becomes significantly reduced, because how do you coerce someone who’s not afraid to die? As these people start to defect to the side of the 99%, it becomes more and more obvious to the ones who remained, that what they’re engaged in is something morally indefensible and that not only is it morally indefensible, it’s morally indefensible and there’s an alternative.

TFSR: That’s a thing in the book that I found really interesting, too, is that I don’t hear many people talk about post-scarcity economics. And I’d to talk about the technologies of immortality that are talked about in the book. Hierarchies are based on the withholding of something from people. People build hierarchies, but social hierarchies that exist in society, whether it be the class-based ones, or the way that gender power is appropriated throughout society, or racial castes, or whatever, is about privileges being withheld from other people, people being disprivileged. And one of the very basic and from time immemorial ways that happens is the withholding of the means towards one’s own ability to have shelter, ability to have food, ability to take care of one’s loved ones. Can you talk about what made you start thinking about post-scarcity economics and maybe some influences on your thinking around it?

Cory: Well, going back to this idea about the cultural and political nexus on the internet, one of the things that the internet does is challenge — at the same time it supercharges it — it challenges rentierism, because the ultimate in rentierism is the idea of so-called intellectual property, which is the idea that you have a thing that has no tangible existence, and that, through its creation, generates passive income. And all you have to do is just sit there and wait for it to roll in. This is one of the ways that this fight that I’m engaged in on the policy side about DRM, I think has this wider significance. When you go back to the early literature of intellectual property in the Chicago school, you find this metastatic choice theory where this idea that someone who owns a piece of intellectual property could use some magic technology dust to infinitely divide that intellectual property into a series of products that are ever more tailored to different audiences.

So like, maybe you don’t want to spend the full freight to read a book anytime you want. Maybe you just want the right to read the book on Wednesdays while standing on one leg, and the market can produce this standing on one leg Wednesday price through some price discovery mechanism. And then the technology somehow sees to it, that having acquired the book you can only read it on Wednesdays while you’re standing on one leg. And it’s one of those things where, in a lot of technology policy fights, the answer is in part wanting it badly is not enough. So we don’t know how to make the technology that only lets you read a book on Wednesdays while standing on one leg, even if we stipulate that that’s a good idea. But once you swallow a spider to catch the fly, you have to swallow a bird to catch the spider.

So once we accepted that that would be this market in the future, and that the way that we would have these passive incomes in a post-manufacturing society where the WTO allowed all the manufacturing jobs to be offshore to China, and the West would remain wealthy through exporting the intellectual property to China that would then be turned into physical objects and then brought back into the West, and that it would be rent-seeking on the people making the things by owning the rights to the plans to make the things, or the images that are embodied by the things or whatever that the West would remain economically dominant, it became politically impossible to say, “We don’t know how to make a technology that stops you from reading books, unless it’s Wednesday, and you’re standing on one leg.” And so instead, we started trying to approximate it. And the way that we ended up approximating it is with technology that just spies on you all the time. Computers that are designed to not take orders from their owners, but instead to take orders from third parties without even informing the owner what the order is, or allowing them to rescind it or terminate it.

This has wider implications for information security, which is, in some ways, the single most important technological question we have to answer: how do we make computers more secure, as we start putting our bodies inside of them and start putting them inside of our bodies? There’s arguably nothing more important for us to answer authoritatively than that question. But the elevation to virtue of it being hard to make as many copies as you want of something is the outcome of this policy, consensus that emerged that we would just someday have this rentier economy. In that rentier economy, the fact that you can take something valuable and make as many copies as you need, without any incremental cost becomes a problem. Historically, that would have been a utopian scenario.

There’s a thing that everyone needs, and we can make as much of it as anyone needs for free? That’s not a problem historically. But we elevated scarcity to a virtue. And so thinking about post-scarcity is in that regard, a subversive act, because it challenges the whole consensus about what a neoliberal future looks like, a rentier future looks like. The first time I really encountered post-scarcity, I’d encountered it in dribs and drabs in the fights about software piracy in the 80s. There was some ambiguity there and there were still a lot of small independent software companies that made this reasonably convincing case that like, “I’m just some dude who made some accounting software, please don’t make me go broke by refusing to pay for it.” But as this turned into the music question, and as Napster came along and became the fastest adopted technology in the history of the world, and as it took the 80% of commercial music that wasn’t available for sale anywhere, at any price, and put it in the hands of everyone who wanted it at any time, night or day, and also automatically started to create communities of interest around music that were not in the mainstream because you would find someone’s collection that you thought was interesting, and you’d open a chat window to them, and you plunder their collection for things that you’d never heard of, but based on them having things that you liked that few other people you could assume that that the rest of it would be interesting to listen to. This thing that was so clearly just good was turned into a vise and became further the rubric for mass internet surveillance and takedown regime where material could remove from the internet without any checks or balances. It became really clear to me that the people who viewed scarcity as a virtue were an existential threat to a free, fair, and open Internet. For whatever reason that that scarcity had become a virtue to them. And so post-scarcity and thinking about it and singing its praises and describing ways in which it could be great, became a cultural project in the service of economic and political projects.

TFSR: I was wondering about this actually because you bring up Napster. And that’s about the time when I was graduating from high school and started paying attention to— I’d been playing on computers for a few years at that point. The things that Gnutella and Napster were providing, the connectivity, the ways of exploring other people’s knowledge and art were just fascinating. And those seem to go away in the early 2000s, because of all this pressure from industries and the FCC, and what have you. Soulseek is still around, but I don’t think people really use it, I mess with it from time to time, and it’s got the same abilities. Do you think it’s just not used as much or talked about because it’s a snake eating its tail, people don’t talk about it, so it doesn’t get used as much. And because people aren’t using it, people don’t talk about it, or just because technologies have maybe the social acceptability of sharing music or sharing art in that way, has now just developed onto a different platform?

Cory: It’s definitely on different platforms. It’s streaming now. Ironically, we lost a bunch of things that would have been very helpful to the industry. We lost a lot of the social elements. It’s much harder to have a community where you post links to music that you might like, that is infringing. You can still point to YouTube, but increasingly, there are risks of communities facing legal sanctions, being shut down because of the preponderance of links to stuff. And so what that means is that the recommendation and the concentration of people who might be interested in your music as a product in one easy-to-advertise-to place, that has been very eroded through these anti-infringement anti-piracy programs, but the infringement hasn’t been eroded. The people who will tell you that there’s more infringement than ever are the people who claimed that this would be what they needed to stop infringement. The record industry, their own stats show that their efforts were worse than useless, that they ended up with more infringement, not less. But of course, their argument is, “well, it would be even more if we hadn’t done all of this.” We swallow the spider to catch the fly, now give us some birds to catch the spider. Once we accepted that any cost is bearable in the service of defending music from copyright infringement, then the sky’s the limit. It turns out that shutting down services didn’t do it, disconnecting people from the Internet didn’t do it, all these other things didn’t do it. So just give us more extreme measures, just keep ramping up our power to be judge, jury, and executioner of people on the internet and the things that they say, and eventually, we’ll be able to get rid of copyright infringement.

The other thing that forcing this decentralization did was it made it harder to charge rent. Napster had a business model that was “we will go to the record labels, we’ll get a license from them, and we’ll charge five bucks a month to be a Napster customer. And then we’ll measure what people are downloading and we will pay out the money in that, according to who downloaded what, whose stuff got downloaded.” It was literally a model where the more people pirated, the more money you got paid. And now what we have is this fragmented underground system that, because of court decisions like Grokster, that said that companies have liability if they know and can measure what’s going on, the systems are deliberately designed so that no one can audit them and figure out which musicians to pay. So they just really shot themselves in the head. They still make tons of money from things like streaming services, the legit streaming services like Spotify. Musicians don’t make any money from them, but the labels make gobs of money from them. And that’s because they have these super abusive contracts. And those contracts have become more common, not less, because there are fewer alternative places to bandy your music about because the copyright enforcement has basically made it very expensive top-rate alternatives to the traditional music industry. And so now we’re down to four giant record labels that all have the same shitty contracts. And they all have the same abusive terms for any musician who signs with them. Even though Spotify is throwing billions of dollars at the labels, the labels contractually have to give only infinitesimal fractions of a penny to musicians out of those billions. You’ve just ended up with a system where it’s hard for them to harness real growth, the anemic growth that there is, they get the windfall from, and musicians are trapped in a sharecropping model.

TFSR: You mentioned that you had a children’s book coming out soon.

Cory: Yeah, I have a picture book. It’s called Poesy the Monster Slayer. And it’s about a little girl who’s obsessed with monsters. And one night when the monsters break into her bedroom, she tears apart all the girly toys in her bedroom and repurposed them as field-expedient monster-killing weapons. When the beholder leaps off of her bookcase and hovers in front of her with its millions of riding eyes, she takes her Barbie bubblegum-scented perfume and mace it. After each monster battle, her parents come in and put her back to bed and say “I’m going to be a zombie tomorrow morning if you don’t let me get a good night’s sleep and stop horsing around in your room.” And then the punchline is that they turn into zombies that she can’t defeat, but the zombie that they can’t defeat just tucks her into bed. Its attack mode is that tucks her into bed and doesn’t let her get out again. And the penultimate monster that she fights is Frankenstein’s monster. And she topples it over and then uses her sewing kit seam ripper to take its head off. And they tuck its head into bed with her and the two of them share a wry glance, the Frankenstein’s head, and the little girl as her parents tuck them in and turn the lights out. That’s the cute little story. Yeah, spoiler. It’s only about 100 words long, so it wouldn’t take you long to get to that spoiler. Just don’t tell your little children before you read it to them and you’ll be fine.

TFSR: That sounds like a story that only a parent could write.

Cory: Yeah, certainly. And the part of the running joke is the name of the kid is very long, and it’s my daughter’s name. So my daughter has a crazy long name. She’s Poesy Emmeline Fibonacci Nautilus Taylor Doctorow. That’s the name of this character. And every time the parents come in, they call her by more of her name. So like, “Poesy has to go back to bed. Poesy Taylor Doctorow, go back to bed. Poesy Emmeline Taylor Doctorow, go back to bed.” And eventually, it turns into the whole name. It’s fun in a kid’s book where there’s a cumulative call and response.

TFSR: That’s funny, too, that reminds me of Etc from Walkaway. What inspired that? Your daughter?

Cory: Well, one of the things about the immigrant experience I come from — it’s different for different people — is that we have a lot of names. My grandfathers had their birth names, which were usually Russian or Eastern European names. And then they had a Hebrew name. And then they had a Yiddish nickname. And then they had an anglicized name, and sometimes more than one anglicized name. And they used different names depending on who they talked to. And I played with this before. I wrote a novel called Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town where the characters have a different name every time they are referred to. It has a specific salience in this technological moment, because of the name wars, where Google Plus and Facebook had this insistence on everyone having one canonical name that they use to face the world, which produced all kinds of shitty problems. But it also sparked a bunch of really good arguments about names. And there’s a beautiful essay called “False things programmers believe about names.” It includes things like everyone has a name, everyone has one name, everyone has a name that can be written down. Everyone has a unique name. Everyone has a name that’s unique when you factor in their date of birth, and so on and so on. This is actually also become the subject of a Supreme Court case over voter suppression because one of the heuristics that the voter-roll-purging software used was that it assumed that it was very unlikely that two people would share the same name and the same birthday. And it turns out that for a lot of reasons, that’s not true. Among them is the fact that a lot of databases, when they don’t have a birthday, default to January 1. There are tons of people who share that birthday. But also guess what month people named June tend to be born in *laughs*. Or people named Carol, guess what day of the year they tend to be born — December 25. There are a lot more collisions than you’d expect. I wanted to play with this idea that you could have a character that had lots and lots of names that would break a database.

There’s a joke that got picked up in XKCD about a kid named Timmy Drop Tables, that is whose name is a MySQL code injection attack, that if you try to enter the kid into the school rolls, the school rolls fall apart. That database-breaking function of names is a really interesting thing. And names, of course, have this resonance in storytelling, where if you know Rumplestiltskin’s name, you can make him do your bidding. If you know the Demon’s name, you can conjure him or banish him, and so on. So the true names of things have always held power. And one of the things that the internet has been really good for, and that has made the name wars so important, is that the internet has always been a place where people could have a new name. And it’s enabled people, because of those new names, to experiment with new identities. And those new identities are part of why we have things like gender fluidity, as a thing that has always existed but has come into prominence, because it gives people a space in which they can be fluid in their identity, without exposing themselves to risk, by budding off a new identity to play with. And then when they feel comfortable about reintegrating it into the main branch of their identity if they ever do. And that has created a real social revolution that’s playing out all over the world.

It’s also a force for evil, the Twitter is full of Nazis who don’t use their real names to avoid reprisals. We now live in an age in which one of the great sins that you can commit that violates the terms of service of almost everything is disclosing the real name of someone, we call it doxxing. Disclosure of someone’s real name, when they operate under a pseudonym has become grounds for online execution, which I’m not saying that’s wrong and I’m not saying it’s right either. I’m saying that it just tells a lot about the right to the name. Giving a character a lot of names, I thought had a currency to it, a Zeitgeist-iness.

TFSR: You could almost write a whole novel, just probably telling the stories behind each of those names.

Cory: Sure. Well, in his case, they’re the 20 most popular names from the 1890 census in order. One of my writing techniques is that when I want to name a character I use, at least as a placeholder, I often use the census. I go like “I want a name that’s really common.” Because the census produces popularity-ranked names. So I pick a first name and a surname from the top of the census, or I want a very uncommon name, so I pick it from the bottom. It’s a cheap and easy way to do it.

TFSR: I’m personally a little uncomfortable with transhumanism as an idea because I fear that— because the people who tend to wield technology, tend to be the powerful people and that sort of scenario that you were breaking down and Walkaway around the elite class becoming gods and then denying everyone else the ability to reach that point seemed like what my cynical mind would actually see happening in the world. But can you talk a little bit about immortality, about technology as a means of escaping the mortal coil, and maybe what values you see in the mortal coil that got troubled by some of the different characters like Tam, for instance?

Cory: There’s a really good book about this, and I nod to it in the book [Walkaway] called Citizen Cyborg by James Hughes, who’s a humanist transhumanist. He has a humanist transhuman program. And he argues that the problem with this kind of tanshumanism is fairly-distributed access to the technologies, not the technologies themselves. So I’m of the view that science-fiction rarely predicts specific technological innovation well, but what it does predict with incredible accuracy is our widespread social fears and aspirations for technology. I think the science fiction stories that we tell that are very current, that are very resonant are a diagnostic tool for what it is we worry about and what it is we hope for, not for what’s actually going to happen, except to the extent that, of course, the things that you hope for me may happen because you might work towards them. But it’s not like it’s got a predictive value. We’re not fortune-tellers.

And I think that the idea that technology will change what it means to be human has a pretty obvious corollary in what’s going on in our world. A lot of the institutions that we define our humanity by, be it family or names or, or nationality, or what have you, are challenged by network communications. And I think the fear of a transhuman rift between the wealthy and the rest of us feel like there might be a rift between the life circumstances of the wealthy and the rest of us, that would make it impossible for the wealthy to understand or empathize or even really be said properly to be in the same species or circumstances the rest of us. If the rich never see the poor, if mating means that the rich never marry the poor, if the rich live a life circumstance that is completely different from the poor, then they are in some way speciating, even if it’s not biological, even if transhumanism isn’t doing it for them. Moreover, if we live in a world in which market logic dictates healthcare, and so poor people die of preventable diseases and rich people get to live very long lives, then that transhumanist idea of some of us being medically privileged and the rest of us being medically deprived is, again, not a difficult thing to understand. But it doesn’t require that we be literally headed into transhumanism for it to be relevant. And I think that’s good because transhumanism is a great science fiction MacGuffin, it has very little connection with technological reality in the biotech realm.

TFSR: Okay. Cory, thank you so much for having this chat. I’ve really enjoyed it. And I think listeners are going to get a real kick out of it. You said some really awesome things.

Cory: Oh, well, thank you.

TFSR: Where can people in the audience find your writing and keep up on the books that you’re publishing?

Cory: I’m pretty easy to find. Let me check if I am still the top query in Google today. I usually am. I’m the sixth Cory on Google this morning. So I’m pretty easy to find, Cory Doctorow. I am one of the editors of a website called BoingBoing at boingboing.net. Craphound.com — it’s my personal site. You can get on my mailing list and get on my podcast, I podcast short stories and articles there. And I have a Twitter feed @Doctorow. My books are available wherever fine books are sold. I should mention that if you want a Fairtrade ebook or audiobook, I actually retail my ebooks and audiobooks, even though they’re published by traditional publishers, I’ve convinced them to let me set up a store. So I sell them at the same price as Amazon, but I get the cut that Amazon would normally take and then I send the rest back to my publisher, and then they give me my royalties. So it’s a way of effectively doubling my royalties. So if you want to indulge in some electronic media purchasing, that’s a way to do it. One of the things that are out there right now is the audiobook of Walkaway, which I self-produced, and which has some really astoundingly good readers. Amber Benson from Buffy and Wil Wheaton from Star Trek and Amanda Palmer, who was in the Dresden Dolls, all read on it, along with several other very talented ebook readers. So I’m extremely happy with how that worked out. I should mention it’s all DRM-free, and there’s no license agreement. You don’t need to give up any rights to buy those books.

TFSR: So thanks for sharing, Cory.

Cory: Well, thank you. Thanks for your interest.

Abolition Mixtape with Chris “Time” Steel

Abolition Mixtape with Chris “Time” Steel

A mixtape audio cassette over a rainy city street background, featuring text "Time Talks, Episode 46: Prison Aboliton Mixtape Feat Bursts of TFSR"
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We are sharing a cross-over episode with the Time Talks Podcast (member of the Channel Zero Network alongside TFSR) where Chris “Time” Steel and Bursts share songs about the struggle for abolition and what they like about them.

Show Playlist:

  1. Dead Prez – Behind Enemy Lines
  2. Archie Shepp – Attica Blues
  3. Vic Mensa – Shelter feat. Wyclef Jean & Chance the Rapper
  4. Zack de la Rocha – Digging For Windows
  5. Ric Wilson – Fight Like Ida B & Marsha P
  6. Invincible – The Door
  7. Apani B. Fly feat. L.I.F.E. Long – Outasite
  8. JP Robinson – George Jackson
  9. Rocky Rivera – Headhunter feat. Bambu
  10. Blackbird Raum – Lucasville
  11. Sole & DJ Pain 1 – FTL
  12. Thin Lizzy – Jailbreak

Asheville Responses to Recent Repression

In relation to the subject matter of our late December interview about housing and homeless camp sweeps in Asheville and persecution of activists weeks later, we have this to share:

We stand in solidarity with the 7 defendants in Asheville currently facing charges brought against them in an act of blatant state repression. On Tuesday February 8th, our comrades will have their first probable cause hearing. As these proceedings continue, our comrades are asking our community to amplify their story and continue the essential, revolutionary work of mutual aid.

You can also offer financial support by checking out Firestorms fundraiser (Twitter, Instagram) and donating directly to the Blue Ridge ABC Bail & Legal Solidarity Fund (venmo: @BlueRidgeABC).

Coming weeks will see a series of online workshops featured by Firestorm Books on anti-repression subjects online for free:

  • Tues, Feb 8th, 7-8:30pm EST, Anti-Repression 101:
    • What to expect during door knocks, arrest, jail, & court.
    • Register here 
  • Tues, Feb 15th, 7-8:30pm EST, Digital Security 101:
    • How to secure phones, computers, and communications from falling into the wrong hands.
    • Register here
  • Tues, Feb 22nd, 7-8:30pm EST, Advanced Directives:
    • How to make a crisis plan when facing state repression.
    • Register here

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Additionally, featuring:

Tom Nomad on Conspiracism

Tom Nomad on Conspiracism

Conspiracy cork board in a dark room with title "Conspiarcism with Tom Nomad"
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Tom Nomad is an organizer based in the Rust Belt and the author of The Master’s Tools: Warfare and Insurgent Possibility and Toward an Army of Ghosts. You can find more of Tom’s writings on The Anarchist Library. Tom is @tom_nomad@kolektiva.social on Mastadon, and on their blog

We speak about conspiracy theories and real conspiracies, strategies of tension, the use of extremist actors to set conditions of concentrating power un-democratically and challenging conspiratorial thought patterns. You can find a past interview we did with Tom on “Insurgencies Journal” and “The Master’s Tools”.

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Featured Tracks:

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Transcription

TFSR: We’re joined by anarchist author and activist Tom Nomad. Tom Nomad is an organizer based in the Rust Belt and the author of The Master’s Tools: Warfare and Insurgent Possibility, as well as Toward An Army Of Ghosts. You can find Tom’s writings on the Anarchist Library as well. We’re going to speak a little bit about conspiracy theories and real conspiracies, strategies of tension, and the use of extremist actors to set contradictions of concentrating power undemocratically. Thank you again for agreeing to have this conversation, I am really stoked to have it.

Tom Nomad: Yeah, thanks for having me.

TFSR: Weird world, huh? *laughs*

Tom: *laughs*

TFSR: As a bit of context, I was listening to an episode of The Empire Never Ended podcast, and they mentioned this BBC documentary from 1992 — that’s in three parts, that’s available on YouTube — about Operation Gladio, which is a stay-behind army in Europe put in by NATO and the US meant to disrupt and undermine any communist anarchist organizing or Soviet invasion. This is a subject that I’ve had some awareness of for a while now, but haven’t really dug into, partially because so much of the cloak-and-dagger stuff can be really hard to pull back and to figure out what really happened. It’s like looking into COINTELPRO in the US besides where actual documentation is thorough if redacted. There’s a lot of disinformation around the edges of it. I reached out to you here because there are some important parts of strategy attention, that I know that you’ve written about and thought about, and some theorists that you’ve been studying that deal with this. And I think you’re a smart dude.

Tom: *laughs* Thank you, I’m flattered.

TFSR: I wonder if we could first talk about them— I don’t know if you want to go into — or I could touch on — a few points of the history, at least in the context of Operation Gladio and the stay-behinds after World War II, what that looked like and where the funding was, and what activities people engaged in?

Tom: Yeah, sure. Project Gladio often gets associated with what happened in Italy. And that’s definitely the area of highest concentration for operations. But it was prior to NATO, Western Union, which was the organization that led to NATO, built this program up after World War II. And the idea was that they were going to take non-communist elements of partisan forces. I think we often think of partisans during World War II as communists and anarchists, and most of them were. But in France, for example, the Christian Democratic Union had a militia. The same thing in Italy. So they took these right-wing forces and fused them together into these— they refer to them as paramilitary groups. They were essentially — as you refer to them — stay-behind forces. The stay-behind forces mean a number of different things. And in this case, there’s a wide variety of different things that happened. Most of the time, what it meant was that they were at one point training and funding and organizing a clandestine group of people whose job was to prevent communist infiltration into Western Europe and to be there in case of a Soviet invasion.

Largely, they were trained in things like sabotage operations, intelligence gathering, in the things you would do if you were a resistance fighter behind enemy lines. But a lot of those people were also really well-connected with whatever right-wing political parties existed after World War II, and many of those people rose to positions of power. Very similarly to the way that things operated with the US in Central and South America over the 20th century, where we would sponsor right-wing forces, and oftentimes, those forces would have their own agendas on top of whatever we were pushing them to do. And they would rise to power. And then we would have these allies in power. And this would lead to puppet-state governments. Similar things happened in Gladio, but not in as directive a way. There were definitely alliances that existed between, later, NATO and the offices within NATO that dealt with clandestine warfare. Some of these parties were Christian Democratic parties that existed all the way up through the late 1980s-early 1990s.

TFSR: My understanding is that the Operation Gladio name gets put on often because that was the name of the project specific to Italy, and that a bunch of these different projects in various countries had their own project names and had to some degree — although, it’s hard to document it — funding from the CIA at the time. It seems pretty normal — you’ve got these formerly militarized forces all around, in a lot of cases, forces that maybe were clandestine far-right groups in countries that were either invaded by the Soviet Union or had a socialistic government or were invaded by the Allies or aligned with the Allies that were ostensibly firming themselves up and readying themselves for a communist infiltration or communist invasion. That was their greatest fear. And so for them to just be activated to do this stuff— Or they were fascists, and they were inherently anti-communist, so they were just doing the same. There are stories about Operation Werewolf in Germany. And that meme and that idea are still being pulled up by the far Right— I wonder if you would talk about what activities that we know of, that you’re aware of that those groups ended up getting engaged in. They have affiliation with the policing structures, to some degree, they have a nod. This is the point that you make in some of your writing, in some of your speakings is that anarchists, and the people in general, often think of the state as a unitary structure, that the right hand knows what the left hand is doing in all cases. And I think that Gladio and stuff this is an example where that’s not the case…

Tom: Yeah, Gladio is actually, according to the CIA documents, a disaster for similar reasons that every other attempt to foster right-wing paramilitary forces by the CIA was a failure. William Colby, who ended up becoming the director of the CIA, during the tail-end of the Vietnam War — he was involved in a lot of the setting up of these very specifically clandestine paramilitary forces. And there’s a common pattern here, whether we’re talking central South America, or Southeast Asia or Europe — there’s this pattern. And the pattern is the following. The CIA has very specific goals, and in the case of Gladio, NATO had very specific goals. Those goals are often relatively straightforward, and they’re relatively easy to identify.

For example, in the case of Gladio, or in the case of fostering right-wing forces in Vietnam, or Korea, or trying to do the same with the Contras in Central and South America, the goal was to prevent the expansion of a Soviet sphere of influence. Now, they talked about it as preventing the Domino Effect or preventing the spread of Communism, but really it was grounded in preventing the expansion of the Soviet sphere of influence, and later, the Chinese sphere of influence, which is where a lot of that tension exists now. In all of these cases, the CIA parachutes in — or in the case of Europe was leftover from the OSS — and they start organizing these groups together, fund them, and give them a relatively straightforward mission. They say, “Okay, we need you to use your newspaper (in the case of Italy) to promote this right-wing political party, and we’re going to give you a bunch of money to continue to run your newspaper.” Or “We’re going to give the Christian Democratic Party in Italy,” for example, “all this money, and the CIA was the source of— Depending on the estimate, somewhere between 20 and 80% of all of the funding that they used in the 60s and 70s— We’re going to do this because the communists are getting popular, we need you to win the parliamentary elections.” In a place like France, a lot of that was about maintaining the power structure around de Gaulle and people like that.

Now, in all of these cases, though, these entities that were selected have their own goals. The Contras, for example, in Central and South America, were running drugs, they were aspiring to power, they had connections to all these big corporations and plantations in these countries. So they had these goals, which were economic and political. In Europe, specifically, in Italy, a lot of the people that were worked with were fascists, and they had this series of goals. The fascists in Italy were allied with the church and the business class. They had this series of goals that they could push partially through the Christian Democratic Party, but also they engaged in street actions.

Now, the question always becomes — and this is where it gets really murky — what was done at the behest of the CIA and what was not. We have a number of documents that we can rely on, and they’re not all from the CIA. Some of them are, and there are plenty of records from the CIA, that just point to the more banal, more innocuous parts of these operations. There are documents from the CIA that point to less innocuous parts as well, but most of them are centered around legal political interventions and the boosting of certain political forces. But we also have documents from Italy, we have documents from France, as socialist governments took over in those places, periodically, they would release documents about what happened with the stay-behind forces. What we really get is we get this picture of a failed CIA operation. I mean, it was successful in the sense that right-wing forces were able to keep communist parties out of power. But it was unsuccessful in the sense that the CIA was not able to keep control of the forces that they themselves were promoting. And in a place like Italy, that turned into a lot of political violence. A lot of what happened during the Years of Lead — what in the US we often talk about the Strategy of Tension— Those same forces were the forces that were carrying out attacks at the behest of the State Police. There’s no record, though, that those were being called for by the CIA. And this is where these operations get really murky. And this is where research skills become really important, and this is where understanding how conspiracy theories work becomes really critical. Because we need to be able to speak about these things realistically, and not through inference or hyperbole as they often are.

TFSR: I definitely want to get into ways of thinking about these kinds of activities that avoid those conspiratorial thinking. We should make the point that there’s a difference between a conspiracy and a conspiracy theory because people conspire all the time, this is a phrase that Robert Anton Wilson used to say that I really appreciate, that anytime you’ve got a backroom full of bankers, or you’ve got a bunch of government ministers getting together making a decision to do something, anytime you got a bake sale being planned, people are conspiring to do a thing. It doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s nefarious, it’s people agreeing to do a thing, which is why gang charges or conspiracy charges that are used against political dissidents oftentimes are like you agreed to be in a place at a time around other people, and ipso facto, you are a part of this criminal conspiracy that we can charge you with. Just blowing up— because you’ve been bringing up Latin America and Southeast Asian examples, as well – the idea that the US goes in and funds certain movements, certain groups… Again, to touch back on what I said that governments aren’t unitary — there are also other ways that intervention happens, and sometimes with the CIA’s affiliation and sometimes not.

Right now, anytime there’s some unrest in a country that has a political position that is somehow in opposition or economic position in opposition to the US government, there’s a lot of people on the far-right, as well, as I would say, tankies, oftentimes, that get drawn into this idea that this is a CIA op, that this is a thing that totally plays into— Cui bono, who does it benefit? This is the approach that people often take is to look at the event and say, “Aha, what part of the international spectrum of power would want this to occur in this way, or to undermine this group?”, and they oftentimes point to the CIA, which takes away the agency of the people that are actually involved in the complex situation. But I’ve seen that pointed to, for instance, with the Otpor movement at the end of Milosevic in former Yugoslavia, this popular movement that got Western “democratic” think-tank money to help them think through their process, and also gave them books on nonviolent theory, movement theory, and also to push them in a certain direction. You got this through a bunch of the color revolutions that happened around Europe and in parts of Asia, and Peter Gelderloos writes about this a bit. You get this today also, where, for instance, there are mass disagreements in the streets, with regimes like Nicaragua under Ortega, or in Cuba, where people are unhappy with what the government’s doing at the time and there’s a mass show of disagreement, and certain sectors of the media and I guess the tankie left say, “Aha, it’s against these administrations, these administrations can’t be doing anything wrong. Therefore, it is a CIA op.”

Tom: This kind of idea, I think, is structured around a number of things, which are important to tease out. Firstly, there’s very obviously confirmation-bias going out here. That’s the simplistic reading. There’s confirmation bias happening. We see this with tankies all the time. You see this with groups the PSL which are entirely comfortable excusing not just people’s motivation, but genocide. To be really clear about this, the PSL excuses genocide, excuses states coming in and say, “Rounding up Uyghurs in China and throwing them into reeducation camps, or they support the North Koreans murdering political dissidents em masse.” Now, of course, they can’t come forward and say “We’re genocide sympathizers,” that’s an unpopular position. So they have to come forward and say, “Oh, none of the genocides are happening. All these videos are doctored by the CIA, blah, blah, blah.”

We see similar things with the right-wing as well. We see things this with QAnon, for example. And the thing that’s fascinating about conspiracy theories now — this is a topic for a different conversation but something I think bears bringing up — is that conspiracy theories now no longer function on this level of there being a body of phenomena and then some narrative that’s constructed retroactively about this phenomenon. What’s happening now is that the narrative gets constructed as things are occurring, which is really different. And what it means is that conspiracy theories have become far more reactionary, even than they were before. That now, it is purely about choose a position, construct a conspiracy that can justify a position in the face of counter-evidence. We see this pretty consistently.

Now, the second part of this that I think is really important, is to recognize that part of the reason that conspiracies can exist in relation to, say, a political uprising in Cuba, or even Venezuela. There were many right-wing forces involved in Venezuela, but it wasn’t everybody. A lot of this falls down into simplistic narratives that are meant to describe things that are by their own nature secretive. Things which we don’t know about. In a situation where we don’t know something, there’s a tendency to want to create an explanation. If we can’t explain, for example, within our own thinking— So, say, we were a member of the PSL and we were watching… for example, there were massive riots in Shenzhen, China this past week, where people were throwing bricks at cops, a lot of them are microworkers. They were protesting COVID restrictions and things like this. Now, of course, to the PSL, that’s impossible. Just like the uprising in Hong Kong was impossible. It wasn’t that there were people that were angry because it’s a socialist utopia, that couldn’t possibly be.

We see similar things in the United States. We saw this during the uprising when Democratic mayors and police chiefs in Democratic cities were saying, “It couldn’t possibly be because of the failure of reformism. Really, this is about professional anarchists and out-of-town agitators.” It’s a very similar narrative. What happens here is that we have this zone of indiscernibility, say, CIA motives, classified information, or something like this. And then we have this phenomenon, which in reality is very complex. We look at, say, the uprising in Kazakhstan, or even the uprisings in Italy in the 70s, which even a lot of anarchists, I think, see in really unitary ways, but they’re really complex things. And so instead of diving into the complexity, instead of sitting there and saying, “Well, the CIA might have this motivation, but people on the ground might have this motivation. And some people might have this motivation. But other people have this motivation.” Instead of really diving into the nuances and complexities, we come to simple conclusions. We say things like “Okay, well, my tankie left-wing party, for whatever reason, supports the Assad regime. Therefore, every single person fighting the Assad regime has to be working for the CIA.”

TFSR: Like the White Helmets.

Tom: Yeah, I’ve even heard tankie say this about the YPG, which fly red-and-black flags and stuff. It’s pretty obvious where their politics are. Then there’s this third element here.

And the third element really has to do a lot with the fact that actually, in a lot of places, the CIA does have precedence, There’s this reality in which, say, we take Otpor, it is an interesting example because I’ve actually been to Serbia and talked to those people. This was more than 15 years ago, at this point. And some of them, interestingly enough, were in government at the time, they were members of the Social Democratic Party. And the thing that they said is, “Yeah, the Democracy Institute came here. And they trained us in things like nonviolent protest organizing and things like that. But we already had to have the motivation to get that going. And we were the ones that had to carry that through.” And so, even if funding was sometimes coming from overseas which it wasn’t always and they said that over time, that was less and less the case, the fact that millions of Serbs are willing to show up in the streets and overthrow the government is the important part. And not all of those people were “CIA stooges”. Most of these people were people who were living through a financial crisis that was spawned by a genocidal war being waged by their government, and they didn’t like living in financial desperation. And they didn’t necessarily agree with the war. We have to remember that in the former Yugoslavia, there was an incredibly cosmopolitan space prior to this rise of nationalism, which played off dynamics that had been present. But many people in the former Yugoslavia weren’t necessarily identifying with the X, Y, or Z ethnic group in the early 90s.

And so their political conditions have led those things to happen. We have these three difficulties. We have these political biases, we have the inherent lack of clarity of things that are secretive, and we have the dynamic in which there is intervention on some level. But I think what’s really important to tease out here, and to understand is where does that intervention stop as being a motivating factor? Where does it begin?

Let’s take, just as an example of something which I think most of us would rightfully reject, that is the narrative of the outside agitator. We know that that narrative was a very powerful narrative in the 1950s and 60s that was used against the Civil Rights Movement. And right-wing politicians and pro-segregationist politicians would say, “Oh, those are outside agitators. That’s communists coming in here and riling everybody up, which of course, asserts that Black activists in the South during the Civil Rights Movement were passive agents that were pushed forward by white communists outside of their own intention, and that these white communists were able to manipulate these people that didn’t really have the intelligence to understand what was happening. It’s a completely racist and absurd narrative. And yet, people on the “left” replicate that narrative all the time, literally all the time, to justify all kinds of things, and to explain away all kinds of things. There’s also the reality that these uprisings when we see them are spectacularly complex. And we often can’t see the complexity. We take something Egypt, the Tahrir Square uprising, there were many political factions on the ground there. I know people that were on the ground there. I know anarchists that were on the ground there. And there were capitalists, there were conservatives. The Muslim Brotherhood was there, anarchists were out in the streets, there are lots of communists, there was no unified political vision, except getting rid of the regime. And that was a common objective. And that’s all that was needed to push forward that uprising.

We can hear the words of the people that participated in these things. We don’t have to explain those words away, we can hear those words. And oftentimes, what those words are, are that regardless of how this thing started, regardless of what motivated its beginning, the second that people hit the streets… And in Egypt, my friends that were over there say, the veil of fear fell away. That’s when things change. And that has nothing to do with outside money, that has everything to do with people’s motivation and intent. When we’re looking at these things, we have to keep these complexities in mind and recognize that the Democracy Institute did trade activists in Egypt prior to the uprising. That’s true, they did it at American University in Cairo, we know this. April 6th Youth Movement talked about this openly.

Often, what happens in these situations is that people are looking for something really secret and hidden, when in reality, almost everything is out in the open if you’re willing to look for it. If you’re willing to dig around social media, if you’re willing to embrace complexity, if you’re willing to suspend your own preconceived conclusions, you can gather the information that you need. We live in this amazing age where I remember, I was writing my doctoral thesis in 2010, the Egyptian uprising was happening, was just getting moving, things were going down in Syria and Libya. And we could follow what was happening minute by minute on Al Jazeera, and it was the first time we could do that, that changed everything. We don’t need to rely on partial reports anymore. We don’t need to rely on what documents we get. We don’t need to rely on biased sources, we can get information straight from the streets.

When we can do that, we can start to see these complexities that exist in ways that I think were really difficult in, say, the 1970s, where a lot of these narratives about the CIA being the secret hand behind everything really built up in the American, specifically authoritarian, left but those built up at a time when there wasn’t necessarily that information. And very specifically, those built up at a time when, as we know now, Soviet disinformation campaigns were a thing. And they were laundering this information through the American left-wing media. And we know this. Actually, a wonderful example of that, if you want to get back to Gladio really quick, is what’s referred to as the Westmoreland Field Manual. The Westmoreland Field Manual is the basis that a lot of people use to connect Project Gladio to the Strategy of Tension. And the term “Strategy of Tension” appears in this document. This document was supposedly a counterinsurgency manual that was signed by General Westmoreland, supposedly, and explained how you carry out false flag attacks and blamed left-wing groups for it. That was published in a Turkish newspaper in 1975. That’s the first time anybody saw it. After the fall of the Soviet Union, we have come to find out that that was a forgery, as were many things that were passed around at that period of time, including documents from the CIA talking about AIDS in Africa. That conspiracy theory started with Soviet disinformation, too. And so when we’re getting into this world in which we’re starting to talk about intelligence agencies, information is key. And hyperbole can be the death of whatever understanding you’re trying to build because you’re starting to move outside of the realm of demonstrability. And losing the patience necessary to dig into that from an information-first perspective.

TFSR: Thank you very much for that and for pointing out the Westmorland document too. There is the confirmation bias thing where when you get information that the CIA was conducting bombings and then blaming it on left-wing groups or claiming to have been left-wing groups or infiltrating left-wing groups, then you see the document, you’re “Aha, see, well, this must be true, because this is embarrassing to the CIA.”

I want to talk a little bit more about some of the other examples of intervention and the complexity that it brings. But also, — maybe this cart before the horse moment — as you said, the information’s there, you can dig into the information, one of the things that I feel is that there is so much information out there. It used to be, I guess, at a certain point, — unless you are a “researcher,” and that doesn’t mean professionally, but what you put your passion and your time into at least — that you would dig into stuff and then interface with other people to “bake out the crumbs” into some picture that makes sense of the world. And that’s the glut of information and the glut of disinformation, that people are pulling from is, that little reference to QAnon. This is what people are trying to do, ostensibly, but they’re missing the mark. And maybe there’s a degree of knowledge for a lot of people that are doing that because it feels like a game because it feels fun because they’re upping the ante with each other. But how do people who are not engaged in that game extricate themselves or recognize when they’re starting to do that and starting to over-complexify issues that maybe Occam’s razor would nix?

Tom: A lot of it comes down to understanding how conspiracy theories are structured. And they’re all structured with a very similar epistemic architecture, if you want to put it that way. Conspiracy theories often start around something that is inexplicable or confusing or difficult to make sense of. Right now, we’re seeing this proliferation of conspiracy theories often because the categories that we used to use to make sense of the world, say, in the 90s, or the early 2000s, don’t really work anymore. Concepts like nation-states, notions like capitalism. Things like this are all getting challenged in ways that make a lot of people really uncomfortable is a very dramatic understatement. They make it really difficult for people to locate themselves in the world. And one of the responses to that is the rise of right-wing nationalism. And one of the responses that arise to conspiracy theories and that’s part of the reason why they’re deeply, deeply tied together.

The question becomes, “Okay, how do we then start to locate ourselves?” One of the things that have happened in the world is that it’s become really obvious that our understandings of the world in the past were tragically simplistic, not just on the level of categorical understanding, but on the level of how we understand how things function, how we understand communities work, how we understand that social dynamics function, or institution success. All of these things have changed as a result of the post-structuralist turn that happened in the 1970s. There’s this open field right now, in which this change of normativity, this collapse of former norms, and the process in which we’re reestablishing notions of sense tend to lead to what is often not a bad thing, but it tends to lead to this notion of self-empowerment. People are now tasked with coming up with their own understanding of the world. And they do this. Now the question becomes how and what is the epistemic structure of what that looks like.

Let’s just jump back quickly to QAnon. If you really pay attention to QAnon people, they don’t consider themselves uninformed. In fact, they consider themselves profoundly well-informed. They do what they call research, which means that they go around on a bunch of blogs that get linked to from Facebook, and they find a bunch of articles that confirm things they already think. And then they cite them. And we look at that, and we go, “That’s ridiculous and absurd and silly.” But then you can read academic papers and academics do a very similar thing a lot of the time. They find sources that agree with what they already want to conclude, and they cite them.

In conspiracy theories, this leads to something really interesting, which is what I refer to as a logical leap of conspiracy theory. Which means that you start off in a realm of observability. We can even take, say, the 2020 election conspiracy theory, just as an example. The observable fact here is Trump lost the election. That’s the observable fact, if you looked at the numbers on the television, Donald Trump lost. Then a lot of those people are combining that with a second observable fact that they’ve talked about this openly on the internet, which is that they didn’t know anybody that didn’t vote for Donald Trump. How could he have lost? Which I’m sure is the way a lot of people in cities felt about 2016. Everyone knew that voted for Clinton, or didn’t vote at all, and I literally don’t know a single Trump supporter, where I live, not a single one. And so, this is that idea that Donald Trump is deeply unpopular, and people feel that the things that he’s doing are potentially going to lead to the downfall of everything that they know and potentially their death, feels really out there for people that live in areas surrounded by Trump supporters.

Now, this observable reality leads to a huge question. And this is always the second step. We can see this with UFO conspiracy theories. People see something they can’t explain that leads to this big question of “what is that?” And then you start to try and answer the question. But when we try to answer the question, we run into what I would argue is a very simple epistemic problem. And this is an epistemic problem that goes back to the very concept that we can know something that we call “truth.” To do that, to engage in that enterprise, where we try and find something that’s true in all possible moments, not only do we have to assume a perspective, which can encompass all of these possible variables, for total information in all possible ways, in all possible moments, but we already have to assume that the universe is logical and explainable and unitary, and that therefore, there already is something true before we know what it is. Now we run into the problem of, once we’ve made that assumption, we don’t know how to find the thing that’s true. Because if we already knew how to find it, we already know what it is. We have this cloudy space. This space of thought, where there is this profoundly important question that you want to answer for yourself, and absolutely no way to begin to do so. And it deepens the sense of being lost.

Now what happens here, and you can see this with people like Alex Jones all the time, they then make the logical leap. In lieu of information, they start to fill in details between a point A and something they posit as a point B. In the election conspiracy theory, point A would be “every single person that this person knows voted for Donald Trump,” and point B is “Donald Trump lost.” What happened in the middle there?

This is where it gets really interesting. And this is where misinformation can insert itself into this discussion. This is where a lot of people’s Boomer parents on Facebook have decided that coronavirus was caused by Italian space satellites or something that. This is the realm in which people like Alex Jones and before him Bill Cooper used to operate in, and it’s this space in which you can concoct relatively elaborate narratives to explain things that then start to build on each other and start to fuse together.

Let’s take global financial cabal theories, for example, the observable fact is that you don’t have any money. And you’re really desperate, and so is everyone around you. And the conclusion is those people have a lot of money and seem to have a lot of power as a result. How do we get there? And in lieu of trying to understand what the International Monetary Fund does or trying to understand what the World Bank does, or trying to understand even what an organization like the Bilderberg Group, which is a real thing, does. People start to make these assumptions: “This is where all the rich people go, rich people have a lot of power. Therefore, they’re making these decisions that are directly controlling, not impacting, but controlling my life.” There’s no discussion about the nuances of this.

And so we see this emerge all the time. We see this with things like Gladio, we see this with even something like the JFK assassination. Back in the 1950’s and 60’s, the period of time that we’re really talking about, and with Gladio into the 70’s and 80’s, we’re really talking about a period of time in which many records that existed are lost, in which many things aren’t digitized, in which stuff that’s not even classified isn’t able to really be found, because it’s shoved in some file box in some government warehouse somewhere. And it creates this lack of information and this big open space for fiction, for stories, to fill in. Now the stories can start to connect to each other. And this is really where it gets dangerous.

This is really where the all-powerful hand of the CIA conspiracy theory really emerges. We see all these things happening in the world. And depending on your politics, you read those in different ways. In my case, I’m reading these all as various acts of the expansion of the US zone of influence, largely for economic gain, sometimes military intervention as a part of the stabilization of financial circumstances, etc. For tankies, they see this as a CIA plot to suppress the truth of Marxism-Leninism or something that. And so from there, if you don’t have information, you can start to really fill these things in and you can say, “Oh, well, there’s this uprising in Hong Kong. And there’s also this thing that’s going on in Russia, and there’s this uprising in Kazakhstan, and there’s this thing happening in Syria, and they all must be connected because the CIA controls everything.” When we hit that point, we’ve left the realm of the actual narrative. We’ve started to jump and apart from a point of assertion and hyperbole. And this is really the operative point of inflection that I want people who pay attention to conspiracy theories to start to identify for themselves. Where’s that point of inflection? Where’s the point in which we leave something that’s observable and start to enter something which is hyperbolic?

Generally, whenever someone says, “There’s a secret government program, but I know about it” and it does this, you already know, you’ve entered the realm of hyperbole for a very basic philosophical reason. If it’s a secret program, how does some random person know about it? And so when we can start to break things down epistemically like this and ask very basic questions, we can start to see where these logical leaps start to get made. And that’s the point in which we all need to step back and we need to leave Chomsky books and start to actually gather as much information from as many places as we can. Because it’s there. If you don’t have the time to do that, well, there are plenty of people that do and those people often write. It does mean at times overcoming something which I think people on the “left” suffer from just as much as the right-wing does at this point, which is an almost allergic reaction to sources that come from good information. Those sources are often what is referred to as mainstream media sources, or academic institutions.

Now, the arguments — and this falls into the realm of conspiracy theory — the reality is, obviously, every journalist has a perspective, they’re humans, they’ve lived experiences, they understand certain things from the mean words, there’s no such thing as neutral journalism as a result. And so everybody is putting forward a perspective. There’s also a reality that the vast majority of those perspectives are relatively what I would consider to be perspectives that fall within the realm of capitalist liberal democracy, not conservative or liberal, but they all reinforce a capitalist line. This is the world that we live in, this is the world we are going to continue to reform and therefore assume the legitimacy of that world. That’s all easily observable. Where it becomes a conspiracy theory is when people say “All the journalists work together, and they’re not covering XYZ story, or they’re covering XYZ story in this very specific way because they’re trying to achieve XYZ thing.” Now with some media outlets like The Post Millennial, which I would barely call media, that is true, The Gateway Pundit, which is just a conspiracy theory rag at this point, that is also very true. But for something like The New York Times, that’s not necessarily the case.

We need to really start to do a couple of things. The first is, we have to actually find information from people that have access to information. Now, sometimes that’s us, and increasingly, what’s happening is that normal users of the internet are far better at putting information out there than traditional media or academic institutions. And so you can rely on sources on the ground, but generally, resisting the attempt to always have an answer or an explanation is really critical here. Things are confusing. The world is a complicated, confusing place, we’re not always going to know what’s happening. And that is okay to say. I think we have this obsession in American political discourse of always being able to know the answer. But that isn’t necessarily, in most cases, the case. And we always have these very partial understandings. Really, it’s this question of patience and time and trust and being able to trust information. Now, sometimes when you can’t trust information from certain sources, the response is to get it from a variety of sources. These are research skills that I think many of us know, but at times are willing to suspend, especially when it starts to lead to a conclusion that we don’t like. And that’s something we have to be incredibly cautious about.

TFSR: I totally agree, I think that we need to be able to say, “I don’t know, I need to think about this or look more into it.” There’s some crossover there with toxic masculinity, which is culture-wide of just “I need to have an answer, I need to control the situation.”

A little bit of a sidebar here. When I was going to college, I was a part of Project Censored at Sonoma State University. I was never in the class, but I participated in some of the judging ceremonies. I got some funding for them to travel. I was at the beginning stages of the radio project, which got shelved for a while, but they sent us to the DNC in LA to cover it. Yeah, it’s fun, that was my first podcast.

One thing that was interesting and that broke me from Project Censored as a project was that— For listeners that aren’t aware they published a book in 1972, we would get a class in the sociology department of Sonoma State University together and they would have the students read through a bunch of different stories and just constantly be reading newspapers and magazines, print media, “legacy media,” as they call it, to pick out stories that that they’re not finding in the mainstream sources, but they were finding in the smaller sources, do some research on them, find out about the authors of them, find out about what moneyed interests are involved in that specific thing that might be critically covered, and then look at connections to mainstream publishing outlets, and those moneyed interests because— As working off of Chomsky’s idea of Manufacturing Consent, and that there’s a concentration of media ownership, and also David Barsamian and other media theorists talking about how, as media is concentrating, as there’s less voices out there, and the voices are also being influenced by the investors that own the newspapers, or whatever publishing house magazine. So, if you are getting funding from General Electric, you’re going to put pressure on your editorial boards maybe to not report stuff about arm sales, or Westinghouse, or any of these companies, since they’re so intertwined. Mapping the corporate networks and saying, “If one of our subsidiary newspapers reports on this thing, that is a giant arms sale to Turkey, or whatever, and Turkey is getting these weapons from Boeing, and Boeing is owned by this company, which also owns our newspaper, maybe have the editors suppress that story, or have it written in a way that’s not going to piss off their funding source.” I think that was an approach towards the idea that journalists may have a bias or there may be bias in the way that a journalist published, which I think makes some sense.

However, as a sidebar to the sidebar, also, the editor when I was working with a Project Censored did his doctoral thesis on Bohemian Grove, which is based in Sonoma County. Then after 9/11 happened, when I was in college and working with the project, they started going Left-Truther. And I was like “Well, maybe I don’t know.” I started reading responses by other people who were a little better-grounded in conspiracy thinking and thinking, “Actually, what you all are doing is a lot of promoting disinformation, you need to stop doing it.” That’s when I started moving away from Project Censored. I don’t know where they’re at right now. But that’s when looking at the biases in the publishing patterns, not necessarily the editorial patterns, not necessarily in the journalist patterns, jumps the shark. But I think that there is some worth in looking at what is the nature of the institution that’s publishing a thing and what biases— As you said, when I read something in The New York Times, I’m not expecting to hear — and I am sometimes surprised — an article about an anti-capitalist alternative to the poverty or a banking crisis that’s occurred in this one place that people are promoting. But it happens,

Tom: Yeah, rather than on a Chomskian level, we have to think about it more of a Foucaultian level. Manufacturing Consent is one of those books — and I feel this way about a lot of Chomsky’s work — that gets so close to heading in the right direction, and then veers into this world that’s very informed by late 60’s, early 70’s radicalism. In reality, we’re looking at structuring of what counts as knowledge, rather than the nuanced management of the individual things that are said.

Again, let’s think about this. And I want to bring forward a mathematical formula, I forget exactly what it is. But someone in the 70’s concocted this, I think, but essentially, what they said is that every single time you multiply the number of people involved in a conspiracy, you exponentially increase the chance that it gets revealed. The example I always use when talking about this is this example that a lot of former FBI people that have been interviewed for 9/11 documentaries I have talked about, but apparently it was 2002, the US government got their hands on the satellite phone number for Osama Bin Laden, meaning they could track his movements, which for the US military is probably a relatively important thing in 2002. And that information was held by an incredibly small group of people. Under a hundred people knew that information. It might be the single most important piece of intelligence data they had at the time. It took less than a day for the media to find out a report on it, less than a day for potentially the single most important intelligence secret that the US had at that point. If we were talking really about a world, which I think a lot of people on the left imagine, where there’s some evil guy in a suit stroking a cat on a black leather chair, calling up journalist going, “You should report this way. Go report this way. Don’t report this.” It’s not just people on the left, people on the right-wing feel this way about the media, too. Not only is that spectacularly work-intensive to the point of being impractical, especially with online media. But it also is one of these structures, which, with almost absolute certainty, people would be talking about on some level or another, especially now on the internet, just mathematically, that would be true.

So what we’re looking at is something a bit more insidious in this case. It’s not even that individual messages are being controlled, or stories are being censored or something that. It is more about the social construction of what counts is important and what counts is valid. Oftentimes — and this has changed in the last 3-4 years, I would say, and around where I’m at, it’s been a little bit longer than that — but in the past, journalists used to say things like “Well, if you don’t give me your name, then I can’t consider this a legitimate source.” Well, why? And I’ve asked journalists why and they’re like “Well, if you’re not willing to put your name to it, then I’m just going to assume that you’re lying,” which is a really silly understanding. But it is really tied to this notion of individuality in a capitalist liberal democratic sense and the exchange of information. And that normativity got carried over into that journalistic norm. We see this with any number of things as far as what’s considered to be “realistic”. How many times have journalists said, “A profound change in society is probably really important, but it’s not realistic. So let’s focus on reform.” That’s not because some editors sitting there going “Well, we’re gonna focus on reformism”. It is that the editor hired reformists because reformists are considered legitimate. These kinds of things, we can read through these that what’s happening here is we’re getting a portrayal of information in a specific way.

And we are able to reinterpret information, we do it all the time. In fact, I would say everyone does it constantly. But as radicals, very obviously we have chosen to do this as something that we do. We have chosen to reinterpret the things we were taught as children, we have chosen to look at the world really critically. And with that, comes a healthy dose of skepticism. And there should always be a healthy dose of skepticism. But there’s a difference between that and what I would argue is the Chomskian Claim and this Chomskian Claim carries through into other forms of inherent mistrust, in which, for example, on January 6, this happened consistently. Now, I’m sitting there watching what’s going on on January 6, and I’m saying, “Okay, well, very obviously, they underestimated how serious people were. Because it’s not they didn’t see the threats online, they were all over the place.” Anyone that was paying attention to literally any anti-fascist Twitter account at any point leading up to January 6, was seeing screenshots from Parlor of people saying things like “They are gonna storm the Capitol.” I’d been talking to people about it for weeks before that, it was really obvious it was happening. There was very clearly a sense in which that risk, that threat was underestimated, that definitely impact coverage patterns in the Capitol complex that day. But then, when it became really clear, that the police were about to get overwhelmed, they fell back and retreated back into what, as someone who’s who studied DC police tactics a lot, is a really normal pattern, which was fall back and cover points of interest, evacuate important people, and then amasse force and move decisively, which is what they did. And they did that at about 5:45 pm. 15 minutes for the curfew went to place. All of that is explainable. You can sit there and you can say, “Okay, we can see data that explains this thing, see data that explains this thing.” And you can follow the data points all the way through that explanation.

Now, what is the narrative that we got from a lot of people? “The police intentionally let people into the Capitol, because someone saw a couple of pictures of some cop shaking people’s hands. So of course, every single cop just gave up and let all these people into the Capitol. That this was part of a conspiracy by the DC police. That it was intentional, that it happened that way. And that the justification for that is that they dealt with protests really differently in the summertime.” Ok, so we can look at all the data that we have from January 6. And we can see individually when decisions were made, how they were made, what the factors were. All of that’s been documented, all that’s been released. People have talked about that. All of the different explanations corroborate each other. There’s one single outlier, which is the Pentagon report from that day. All the other sources corroborate each other. None of those sources talk about how the DC police intentionally tried to help a coup attempt. All of those sources talk about exactly the narrative that I’m talking about from that day. We can see similar things from the J20 protests. During the J20 protests during Trump’s inauguration, I kept hearing from my parents, friends who were reading on Facebook that every single person that got arrested during Trump’s inauguration was a secret white supremacist or an FBI agent trying to make the #Resistance look bad.

TFSR: Fact.

Tom: Fact, absolute fact. Alex Jones was running around the G20 in Pittsburgh yelling about how we were all feds as we were getting tear-gassed by the National Guard. Basically observable things.

We can follow narratives point by point from different data points and concoct an understanding. Where we start to fall off the realm of believability is often when we start to try and impart motives to other people. And this is a really common failure in human discourse, where we sit there and we go, “Okay, this happened. Therefore, the secret motivation of this person that I don’t know, is this other thing.” That is almost always where we run into trouble. That is where we leave observability. We can see these things play out in things like Gladio, we can see these things on the right-wing: January 6 is an FBI op, or it was done by us, or something. For some reason, we all dressed up Trumps supporters or something. Not really quite sure how that theory tracks. But all of this, all of these conspiracy theories start to add up to one thing.

And this is really the important part. They all wrap back around to the conclusion that we started with, and this is the ultimate point to really guard yourselves from, for everyone to be aware of. As the narrative progresses, we’ll see the logical leap occur. And if you’re really attentive, you’ll start to see where that happens. You take UFO conspiracy theories and the difference between early UFO conspiracy theorists and Bill Cooper. For people that don’t know, Bill Cooper wrote a book called Behold a Pale Horse. It’s probably the Penn ultimate contemporary conspiracy book. It’s the reason we have Alex Jones. Bill Cooper is the precursor to that. And he was the first person to start to say, it wasn’t just about the government hiding the fact that UFOs exist. It’s not just that they took the UFO from Roswell and they’re hiding it at area 51. It is that in reality, there’s a secret global cabal that is working with the aliens, and they’re taking this technology, and in exchange for that, they’re giving them human children to experiment with. And he concocts this whole narrative about it. Now, of course, as time goes on, “leakers” start to show up, which corroborate parts of that, retroactively. When they don’t corroborate parts of it, he changes his narrative. And so one of the things that are really unique about conspiracy theories, as opposed to other types of narratives, is the way that they will shift and change sometimes in contradictory ways to maintain their narrative arc.

I was trained in philosophy formally. And one of the things that you learn in that process is that if you have to engage in mental gymnastics, to maintain your conclusion, it’s probably because your conclusion is wrong. If you have to start to concoct alternate explanations, you have to start to leave the realm of observability or believability, if you have to start to posit things as articles of faith, you’ve already drifted away from anything that could be considered to be properly an argument for a conclusion, you’ve started to drift into fantasy.

TFSR: It makes sense at this point to just throw in the term ‘syncretism’. Just see what reaction that gets. That’s what the use of holding multiple contradictory ideas within your head at one time, within your belief structure and being able to still move forward and make a story that unites these things is considered one of the prime elements of fascism, according to certain definitions. This is not to say that everything that’s bad is fascism or that fascism is everything that’s bad or whatever.

Tom: Yeah, I think the thing that becomes really important about conspiracy theories, though, is why? I touched on this a bit, but the “why” is actually really critical for us as radicals to start to understand. Because the “why” indicates something really critical for us. Conspiracy theories arise from situations of uncertainty, necessarily. We saw huge explosions of conspiracy theories around the advent of the printing press, for example. A lot of the wars between Protestants and Catholics happened during that period of tim were being driven by conspiracy theories, were being driven by this idea that “XYZ faction was going to come steal your children and forcibly convert them and blah, blah, blah.” The stories that were told, that carried down in written text in that period of time, sound eerily very similar. They start with these vast changes and these kinds of uncertainties, and then they piggyback off of a sense of threat or disempowerment. It’s not that we have conspiracy theories right now, because everyone in America feels super politically empowered and stuff that. No, it’s that conspiracy theories arise in situations in which people can no longer explain why they feel like their lives are out of control.

We can take a really common example of a really absurd contradiction that arises in the situation. If we talk about white nationalists or white supremacists in general. White supremacy is based on this notion that there is a singular thing called the White Race, which is for some reason superior to everybody. Yet, at the same time, they’re horribly oppressed by everybody else, even though they’re the strongest, most powerful people. It makes no sense. It is an entirely illogical narrative. Yet, it carries forward. We have this notion of confusion, we have this notion of dispossession, which exists. I’m not saying that dispossession is always justified, that feeling of dispossession, but that is part of this, it is a feeling of dispossession. And the lack of information. When we combine those three things together, we get conditions that are absolutely perfect, for lack of a better term for charlatanism. For people who can “fill the gaps in”.

I know a lot of anarchists, most of us don’t do religion for a lot of reasons. And for a lot of us, it has to do with the authoritarianism of the entire concept of religion and the certain notion of this interface of the divine and how that distorts concepts of knowledge. But what is happening here, except that as well? If we take tankies, for example, it no longer is a question of what information they’re getting and repeating. It is purely a question of the source of the information at that point. If the source of the information is Sputnik, then it’s good. If the source of the information is some anarchist blog that disagrees with them, then it’s bad. For Trump supporters, if the source is CNN, then it’s bad. If the source is Fox, it might be okay. If the source is OAN, then you know it is right. What that does, though, is at the tail end of the conspiracy narrative, we go from confusion to threat. The threat really constructs this notion that there is an easy-to-identify singular adversary that’s trying to destroy you, as part of this bigger group. And that then leads to this attachment. Sometimes that attachment is a to the concept of the nation. Sometimes that attachment is to a concept of race. Sometimes it’s to a group of people, like in cults, for example. Or the religious right in the United States, for example. It’s held together entirely by the idea that every single person that is not an evangelical Christian, is some horrible heathen satanist who’s trying to destroy the world. It’s not just that those people disagree with you. It’s that they are conspiring to destroy you.

And this is where conspiracy theories stop being just epistemically damaging and start becoming genocidal. It is when we start to enter this phase in which the threats and the solidarity that threat produces ends up constructing this conflict, in which the only possibility is eliminationism. That’s what we’re seeing with the American right-wing right now. We’re seeing that narrative rising. That’s what we saw in a place like Rwanda, or in a place like Bosnia, it was a similar narrative arising. In Nazi Germany, you had a narrative this arise, in Italy, it was slightly different. But there were still a number of conspiracies that were constructed in order to justify this uniting of a mythological Italian nation, that was the core epicenter of Mussolini’s politics, the building of Italy as a unitary object. And so we run into these situations in which we take something like Gladio. Conspiracy theories about something like Gladio really distort our ability to analyze intelligence operations for what they are. To use a really practical example of that damage, we can take the Snowden leaks. The Snowden leaks were complicated for people that aren’t technical. They were very complicated for people that were technical. I can tell you that for a fact, as a technical person that does computer stuff — the Snowden leaks are complicated. The things that were happening, the things that were talked about, were complicated, but the documents were right there. What we get from those documents is a picture of the National Security Agency, which is trying to build “total information awareness” — being the term that they use, to use the term that General Michael Hayden used to use — and that they were being completely overwhelmed by the amount of data that they were picking up. That there was no way for them to analyze the amount of data that they have. In reality, what they were doing is they were writing all these filtering algorithms to filter the information based on known variables, making it impossible for them to identify unknown variables or to look at patterns that might indicate an anomaly. Because they could only filter based on known things. That’s what we really get from the Snowden leaks. We actually get a picture of the NSA as an institution that aspires to be powerful, but it’s actually really overwhelmed. But that’s not the story we got from Snowden.

TFSR: Literally biting off more than it could chew.

Tom: Right! The story we get though is the NSA is inside your phone, stealing all your contacts and your bank details. And none of us should use technology. The amount of people I know that just cut themselves off from politics as a result of the Snowden leaks is almost immeasurable. People got really freaked out. And a lot of that getting freaked out was the result of not really understanding fully what was happening, being really scared of it, justifiably, and then going online and finding sources that confirmed that fear. As opposed to gathering information, listening to cryptographers that were writing articles at the time, listening to information security people that were writing articles at the time, that were talking about how this wasn’t the sky-is-falling situation, and really, this information is good. Instead of being able to use all of that to build better operational security, what happened for a lot of people is that it became a source of paranoia, as opposed to a source of justifiable and productive fear.

We see this a lot in the 1970’s in left-wing politics, where political positions that people took became really reductionist and simplistic and able to be boiled down into slogans. And as a result of that simplicity, we’re watching the fallout from that today. If we look at organizations that started in the 70’s, that were meant to be these radical groups and have instead become reactionary nonprofits. Or where I live, there’s a neighborhood where all the SDS people move, and they moved there to start the new world in the early 70’s and instead, it’s the most gentrified neighborhood in the city. All of that was a result of the fact that they didn’t develop an analysis, which was complex. Instead, they were willing to fall into and fall back on really simplistic understandings, such as “everything the US government does in foreign policy is the CIA plot,” or “every single thing that the Soviet Union or China or Cuba, depending on what faction you were a part of, did was inherently justifiable and all bad information about that was a CIA plot.” Those narratives still absolutely infest a lot of what we do and have led to a period of time in the last 10 or 15 years where we have really had to build an understanding of what is happening in the world.

Then, when we just leave that realm of imprecision, of course, the other side effect becomes this sense of always engaging with things in a position of extreme vulnerability. Those conspiracy theories are all grouped around an idea that in reality, we’re very powerless in our lives, that when we’re engaging in something when we’re engaging in politics, we’re almost doing that from a point of futility. That this all-powerful group of people, depending on the conspiracy theory, really are the people that are running the show. And they’re able to really control the minds and actions of millions. And so really, any resistance you put forward is this futile effort that you’re only doing to bring forward the truth.

You hear this from Alex Jones people all the time. But you also hear this on left all the time. The anti-war movement was full of people like that who were coming to marches going, “Yeah, I don’t know if anything’s gonna change, but I’m going to sacrifice myself for the Truth.” And they’d have these T-shirts about how whatever thing they thought was right was some absurd thing from some weird right-wing blog that they picked up that was pretending to be anti-war. These understandings can be combated, though. And that is actually a really important task for us, not just when we’re talking about the right-wing. We have to combat that thinking in our own circles as well. And it’s really important to check people on stuff like this because it can do a lot of damage.

TFSR: There’s a fundamental difficulty with the mindset that says if I speak truth to power, I will change power. That misunderstands power and our relationship to it. As someone who participated in the anti-war movement in the 2000’s, I remember hitting that wall of “Okay, cool, there are millions of us in the streets. Oh, it’s happening around the world. Oh, this is great. They can’t possibly— Oh my gosh, they’re bombing. Okay.” They didn’t care. I wonder why.

Tom: Literally four days after the biggest marches ever happened?

TFSR: Yeah. Because literally, when we were in the streets on the day when the bombing was scheduled to start, it just continued. I think that there’s one thing that people— And this is a way that the education that we’ve gotten — not just by the institution that has incorporated and swallowed up movements of resistance into itself and made it a part of its own narrative, but also the way that the remnants of those movements have explained how they succeed and how they want and how they “stopped the war in Vietnam” and whatever else — there is a concession from power based on the righteousness of the cause, as opposed to “No, it’s because they are actually afraid that you are going to hurt them or take them out of power.” The reason that you march and are a crew of people that show up in a place is not because you have righteousness’s numbers, it’s because you can do more damage in those numbers.

I want to touch on a couple of things really quickly. I brought up Gladio and we’ve talked about US intervention internationally to support the far-right, usually and almost always in these instances to stabilize the economy for the extraction or to support some other proxy force that’ll be a bulwark against the spread of Bolshevism, whatever around the world. As you said, there is truth to that thing, but it’s more complex than that. And oftentimes saying that it’s all is CIA takes away the agency of the people that were involved in the complicated reasons for their involvement. But also, I mentioned COINTELPRO earlier, and the US does have a series of examples of domestic intervention by law enforcement and federal intelligence into social movements, in some cases to infiltrate & undermine leftist and social justice organizing, anti-racist organizing, labor organizing, and also in a lot of cases, there has been a lot of infiltration of the far-right that’s occurred in the US, there have been strings of Nazis or militia that have been taken down oftentimes because they were plotting something and it could be provable. Maybe sometimes it was an instance where the government threw the idea out to them and to Cleveland 4 or the NATO 3 case instance, where, in those two instances, anarchists were talked into and propelled. Or the Eric McDavid case where folks were propelled into this position where they say a thing and then it gets used against them. That was used against tons of Muslims in the US, during the whole war-on-terror era. But it’s also been notably used against the far-right in some instances.

And the far-right has also been instrumentalized, such as the second and third KKK might argue the first KKK because it was attached to the southern power structure, which eventually, the federal government ceded back to the white power structure in the South after the Reconstruction failed. But the second and third Clans had FBI involvement and also infiltration and were allowed, in certain instances, to do the things that were wanted to be done. More recently, just on a police level, police in Kenosha dealing friendly with the militia that had come there to counter Black Lives Matter protests, or the Greensboro Massacre, there were cops that knew what was happening and allowed for that motorcade to go and kill all those communist organizers. Or more recently, the Proud Boys leadership, Enrique Tarrio being known to be an FBI informant and somehow getting himself arrested right before J6. On the right, there’s been this claim that Patriot Friont, for instance, is a government op, which I think-

Tom: I really want to encourage people on the right-wing to think that. Please do.

TFSR: I think it is important to note that they are often the dupes of power. Also, for some people, that’s interesting who do— Not seeing that necessarily, they’ll say “Okay, well, how are these people with Blue Lives Matter flags stabbing their flag poles at cops on January 6, or how does Siege or James Mason talk about the system and attacking police and government agents when there’s this shamanistic up-swell for law enforcement, for military, for this masculinist position of force of white supremacy that is the US?” Can you talk just briefly about how those two things can exist simultaneously? And are they existing simultaneously in the same person? Or is it more nuanced?

Tom: Yeah, I think there’s really a number of factors and a number of different factions end up resulting from this that makes sense to break down.

First, there is a distinction to be drawn between a group like the Proud Boys and a group like the Atomwaffen Division. They come from the same roots, if we draw it back to the history of American colonialism, but in a more contemporary sense, they derived from slightly different roots. A group like the Atomwaffen Division does view itself as a revolutionary organization. They’re not necessarily pro-America, they view the American state as degenerate. The precursors to groups that are people James Mason, but also groups the Order, the Aryan Nation falls into this category, the National Alliance. People like Tom Metzker, White Aryan Resistance, those kinds of groups, a lot of the skinhead movement in the 80s and 90s was in this realm, and they didn’t view themselves as good Americans, they viewed themselves as fighters for the White Race. These are the people that showed up at Ruby Ridge, these are white separatists. White separatism is a distinct tendency within the broader White Power movement, where their goal is to start a separate nation, it is not necessarily to exalt or affirm America, it is to leave America. And in the case of William Pearce, to destroy America. The Oklahoma City bombing is a wonderful example of that mentality, where Timothy McVeigh goes and blows up a federal building in the service of the White Race or whatever he was considered himself doing.

Then you have groups the Proud Boys. The Proud Boys come from slightly different roots. And those roots are very similar to the Minutemen who were an anti-communist pro-America militia in the 1960s, their roots come from things like the mass resistance campaigns organized by Southern governors against desegregation, their roots come from groups like the KKK, as opposed to where a lot of their actual cultural norms come from — from the skinhead movement. But their political norms come from this hyperpatriotic tendency within American politics, which views the American states and America as different things. You see some manifestation of that in really extreme versions of Sovereign Citizen Movements, where they have this whole narrative about how in the 1870s, America became a corporation, and no longer was a republic, and there’s only been 12 presidents or something. And they have to return back to the Republic because the Republic was the real America.

There are all of these narratives that exist about a real America. They derive from a common root, which actually is American Founding Documents, and the philosophical foundation for American political thought, which was Aristotelian, largely it’s Greek and Roman, classicalist, neo-classicalist thought. They were proclaiming in the Declaration of Independence, that they have identified these inherent parts of human existence, they call them inalienable rights, and that these are the things which literally typify the totality of what it means to be human and exist in the world, and that America is this utopian manifestation of those ideas. I think that sounds ridiculous to think about today. Especially probably most of the people listening to this show, most of the people that probably have read anything I’ve ever written, probably don’t see America as a shining and glowing utopia city on the hill, and see it as a collapsing wasteland. But that’s not how the people who wrote the Founding Documents thought about things. They thought about this as a very utopian project and there was a certain thread of utopianism that ran through the American Revolution.

It constructs this political ideal, which is not considered— In the Soviet Union, there was this political ideal, but it was something in the future, that in Leninism, they were going to reconstruct humanity, they called it the new man, and use state repression to do that as a way to prepare people for this coming End of History. Or with the Jacobins. There was this idea that they understood virtue. And what they have to do is slowly but surely destroy the unvirtuous in order to enter a virtuous world. Those are projects that had progression. Those are projects that were unfulfilled.The American political project is a project that is thought of as a fulfilled political project. There is no more development to happen. We saw this narrative arise after the Cold War. This is the end of history. We see this narrative pop up in presidential States of the Union, where they talk about America as a “shining city on the hill.” All of those are callbacks to these utopian ideas.

When we see a group of people beating cops with Blue Lives Matter flags in front of the Capitol while chanting “USA” and wearing Trump stuff, what’s happening there is actually a very uniquely American thing. And this is really the power of Trumpism. For Trump supporters, that distinction between the American States and the real America closed completely when Donald Trump was president. I know that that sounds ridiculous. It sounds completely absurd. But that is how Trump supporters talk about it — that for the first time in their eyes, the real America was able to manifest it. Once we start to see that, a lot of other things about what happened in 2020 and early 2021 can fall into place. For example, the Justice Department was calling militias out into the streets. Literally. They were giving this tacit approval for vigilantes to intervene in the uprising. And we’re willing to provide rhetorical cover for that, to the point where Trump was openly advocating for it from the White House. We would think that that would be ridiculous. And on a strategic level, on a level of military strategy, it is ridiculous, it created a lot of problems when these people started showing up. It created a lot more problems than it contained. And in a lot of places in the US, there were cops shaking hands with these guys, a lot of them were also being “Yo, get out of the way.” Because they were creating disruption. But that wasn’t what was at issue. What was at issue was that all of these vigilantes had built up this idea that they were going to go out and defend the real America in the streets from the communists, and then the state called them forward to do so. That moment in which that’s happening becomes really fascinating on the level of statecraft.

To get back to the Carl Schmitt definition of the state, the state is nothing but an entity that can impose sovereignty, or the way he puts it, can make decisions. When he says make decisions, that doesn’t mean a bunch of people sitting in a room going, “Oh, I decided on something”, that means a bunch of people sitting in a room saying they decided on something, but then having the force of arms to force that decision as a condition of possibility of everyday life for others. It inherently constructs this political unity through militaristic police occupation. And that is fundamentally the state. You would say, “Well, if that’s the case, then telling vigilantes to go out into the streets is ridiculous.” Liberals would say, calling the police to go out into the streets is authoritarian. But once we start to understand the state is nothing but logistics to impose sovereignty, those things stop mattering. On the one hand, we have this liberal argument that this is anti-democratic. Well, yeah, it is. And that’s always inherently true. Then when we see these vigilantes coming out into the streets, they see themselves as defending the Real America, and that Real America is this structure of sovereignty.

We have this weird idea in the US, in which political autonomy and law are the same thing. It’s a really strange concept. It’s entirely unique to American political thought, really weird. But people really do attach this notion of the American state, in some form or another, to their idea of freedom. And so they don’t see themselves as vigilantes necessarily, they see themselves as auxiliary police more or less. Their job is to defend the real America from the communists. And sometimes that means attacking the government because the government is acting against the Real America. You saw this narrative under Bill Clinton, you saw it under Obama, you definitely saw it around Joe Biden. Joe Biden’s not an aging, crusty old man, Joe Biden is a secret representative of Chinese communism, in their minds. They’re going out to defend this Real America.

From the perspective of the states, generally, normally, in most circumstances, the state would say, “Hey, you probably shouldn’t do that.” And in most circumstances, has really on some level or another at least created buffer zones between Oath Keeper groups and people trying to show up to oppose Nazis or something that. This happened in Pikeville and a number of other places where they were cops were keeping the Oath Keepers contained. But when the ability of the state to contain crisis breaks down, as we saw in 2020, all of a sudden, all of the political norms that typify that state fall away. And this is a really important part. This is why liberals misunderstand what the state is. Liberals assume that all of these political norms we have in the United States, in which the state limits its own power, somehow function. They never function. But there’s this idea that they somehow do. The Trump administration was a wonderful exercise in watching people come to terms with the fact that just because people had always done something some way doesn’t mean that people have to continue doing things that way. And whenever Trump didn’t have some political norm, he just wouldn’t do it. And it made a lot of them fall apart. But during the uprising, the rest of them also fell apart. And it revealed the State really, for what it was — that they were willing to call vigilantes out to the degree that those vigilantes saw themselves, as in that moment defending the state. Because, again, they saw the State and the Real America as a singular entity at that point. They were defending the State. This was a mentality that really built up after September 11, when people were called forward to “if you see something, say something,” and literally, the government deputized everybody as an intelligence agent, which really constructed this military culture of the civilian defender, the civilian soldier. That’s the idea that we really saw entering into the streets.

If you notice, on January 6, there were not a lot of say, Atomwaffen Division people arrested, you didn’t see a lot of people from The Base get arrested. But you did see a lot of Proud Boys, you did see a lot of Oath Keepers get arrested. And that’s where we can really see where some of those distinctions exist. I don’t say that there weren’t any Atomwaffen people or any people from the Base there, any people from any of the accelerationist groups. They absolutely were, but they definitely were not as numerous as other organizations compared to their size. And you definitely did not see a lot of old, Aryan Nation, Hammerskin types, National Alliance types of January 6, either. Because what was happening on January 6, for a whole faction of the people that were there, was that they were going in to defend America from its enemies that are internal, and that they were getting called forward from a State which had suspended political norms in order to preserve its sovereignty, as all states will do. When the state provides a limitation to itself, it is merely just a facade, it’s a veneer, it can go away at a point in which the further existence of the state is at risk. Those norms can go away. And they did in the United States.

We lived in a post-democratic moment for the entire fall of 2020 into the beginning of 2021. That was not a normal situation in America. And so when vigilantes are getting called out, they’re getting called out as civilian soldiers. When they were attacking the police on January 6, we can hear it in the audio. If you actually watch the bodycam footage that’s been released, you can hear in the audio, people telling cops, “Obey your oath, let us in, drop your batons, join us.” They were very convinced that what the police were doing was against their constitutional duties, and that what they were doing by storming into the Capitol was in support of this Real America, which was embodied in Donald Trump. That really seeds the ground for conspiracy theories to become really damaging. And we’re seeing this now, on the right-wing, they’re starting to talk about secessionism. There’s definitely more of a push into this discussion of military dictatorship, which was something that really started in QAnon, but has generalized outside of that. There are many conservatives in the United States that are perfectly comfortable with authoritarianism at this point. And all of that is the result of this grand conspiracy. And the grand conspiracy is something that was not constructed by Trump, but it was actually constructed by Newt Gingrich, of all people, during the Clinton administration.

We watched a number of things. First, a very clear definition of the real America according to conservatives. We saw this in the form of Ronald Reagan first, but also the religious right, and there was this idea that they were ordained by God to have America function as a Christian nation, we’ve all heard this language, and that everybody else was agents of Satan trying to destroy them. Now we move up through September 11th, when it was all about the secret internal enemy, which at the time was defined through an Islamophobic lens, but it was a secret internal enemy that could be anywhere. Not only was there this enemy that was trying to existentially destroy you, but now they were hidden and secret and everywhere, and it was people’s job to identify who that enemy was, and to tell the government who that enemy was. As time went on, we enter into the anti-war movement, that idea of the internal enemy expanded. Now it wasn’t just Muslims, but there are also anti-war activists who are trying to stop America from fighting terrorism. You move forward into the Obama administration, and that takes on this very specifically racialized component. You start to move up through the Tea Party, you start to move into the beginning of the Trump administration. And you can start to see how this idea of who the enemy is to these vigilante forces changes. It now encompasses every single person that is outside of their very specific social sphere, which is something that is fertile ground for conspiracy theories.

And so now we’re in a situation in which these people who now view themselves as defending the Real America, view everybody else as a deep existential threat. And the only solution to that is to use the power of the state or to use the power of the militia to eliminate those people. During the National Conservatism Conference past year, there was open talk. Josh Hawley specifically gave a speech. Josh Hawley is a senator from Missouri, for people that aren’t aware of who he is. He gave a speech at the National Conservatism Conference where he was saying, “All of these people outside of conservativism are trying to destroy America. And so we need to take power.” And then as he put it, “not be hesitant to use the power of the state to destroy our opponents.” That is open fascism. All of that is built off of this idea of this conspiracy against the real America. And it was that same notion that led many of the people into the Capitol on January 6, including people from QAnon, because QAnon is also entirely grounded in this idea that there’s a real America, and then a satanic cabal of pedophiles that run the world that’s destroying the real America. And that Michael Flynn taking power in a military dictatorship is supposed to fix that or something. That’s really the whole mythology here. We can start to see how a lot of these ideas of existential threat, these notions of social and political reductionism, and these logical leaps can really create these situations, which, like January 6, feel like they’re the result of political distortions, but in reality, are the product of a completely parallel political reality that is built up within this world, in this stew of conspiracy theory that’s been slowly building on the right-wing ever since the end of the Second World War.

TFSR: Well, on that very depressing note… *laughs*

Tom: Always end on a high note! *laughs*

TFSR: I think this is very succinctly put in and then if you throw in the narrative, I didn’t hear the Minutemen and the anti-immigrant push nationwide, thoroughly in 2005-2006. But that brings us to where we are today and the Great Replacement that’s going on.

Tom, thank you so much for breaking down these ideas and having this discussion. Were there any last things you want to touch on?

Tom: Yeah, I think the other thing that conspiracy mindsets breed is internal mistrust and paranoia. As you brought up, and I’ve lived through this plenty of times, but it’s not there haven’t been infiltrators, there absolutely have been, there’s been many of them. Most of them aren’t very good, but they’re there. And so it really leads to this problem that we face internally a lot. Which is, I would say twofold.

The first is, obviously there’s this tendency to be really suspicious of people and convinced that people are Feds often for reasons of social or political disagreement. That very obviously, if they don’t take your position, they must definitely be a Fed. I’ve seen this happen a bunch of times, that’s one side of it.

But the second side of it, it prevents us from actually identifying the behavior we have to care about. It reduces this whole idea of our accountability to each other down to whether or not someone is actually an agent of the state. We have seen a number of times in the last five years — I’m not going to call specific crews out for this — crews of newer people acting in ways which are really reckless: posting pictures of guns on Facebook, talking about other trips down to the recent anti-fascist protests, live-streaming themselves, just really silly, basic OPSEC failures. And stuff that really creates this sense of risk and danger that isn’t really necessary and exposes things that don’t need to be exposed. In situations that, I have often been in conversations with people who are like, “Yeah, but I don’t think they’re Feds” and I always answer that the same way, which is “It doesn’t matter.” The reality is that when people do things that compromise our safety and our ability to trust each other, and our ability to act and put us in danger, those are behaviors that have to be dealt with. It doesn’t matter whether that person’s a fed or not. And so what happens in this discourse where we become obsessed with federal infiltration, is we stop focusing on the stuff we should care about.

Every fed that I’ve ever been in proximity to that’s been infiltrating something acts recklessly, all of them do. It’s the way that they wrap people up in the things that can attract them for. They act recklessly, they often go, “Oh, I’m willing to do this, and everyone that’s not willing to do this is just not as militant as me, and blah, blah, blah.” But guess what? People that aren’t feds do that, too. And it’s just as much of a problem when people that aren’t feds do that, too. And so really, the thing that we have to care about is the behavior. Whether or not that person’s a fed is a secondary question. But we need to be focused on behavior, on acting with people that we trust, and actually being able to know what trust means, which is not “I’ve met this person on Facebook.” Trust means “I know this person, I know things about this person, I would do things with this person, I have done things with this person.” That’s what trust is. We need to really get back down to basics, when it comes to things like this. We need to focus on trust, on behavior, we need to get away from the paranoia.

When we’re researching things that are going on around the world, we need to be focused on information, gathering information, being comfortable in saying that we just don’t know, we’re not always going to know. But what we can’t do is engage in this incredibly anxious type of discourse, where we’re rushing to answers or suspicion all the time. And we’re trying to have these really serious definitive answers to everything constantly. It’s not the way that information works. It’s not the way that our perspective on thinking can work. And it’s not productive for us either in intervening in what’s going on in the world, or being able to build the communities that allow us to do that.

Conspiracy theories are incredibly damaging, even if conspiracies do happen. And this is where the distinction that I always put between fear and paranoia exists. Fear is a good thing. We should be afraid. I do information security, trust me, people should be afraid, there are a lot of things to be worried about. Now, all of those things can be located, they can be identified, there can be discussions about how to mitigate those risks, those things can be undertaken in relatively simple, usually, really straightforward, pretty logical ways. And that is a really productive thing to do. We should be afraid of infiltration, we should be aware that that’s possible, we should be really looking for people acting recklessly. But what we can’t do is we can’t assume that every single thing is either good or bad, right or wrong, trustworthy or not just based on its source. We can’t sit there and say “I read this blog, and I like this blog, therefore the thing they say is right.” We can’t sit there and allow confirmation bias to overcome our analysis. And we can’t sit there and allow paranoia to overcome our sense of care. I’ve been doing this for a long time. I’ve watched suspicion and conspiracies destroy whole communities. And we can’t let that happen. So patience and care and detail and focus are really critical, especially right now when the world is complicated and confusing and full of misinformation.

TFSR: Yeah, I think it’s really well put. And just to tack on to— If there is someone that you have a relationship with that is acting recklessly, it’s good to recognize that activity and to say, “Hey, I don’t think that’s a good idea. Hey, y’all, maybe don’t do with that person saying.” Also, chances are this person is not fed. And that’s a good opportunity to have a conversation, especially if you’re older and you’ve been doing things for a while and you’ve seen people, some of the mistakes that people have made or the mistakes that you’ve made, take this as an opportunity to take someone aside, doesn’t have to be a call out, but, “Here’s why I think that what you’re saying is a bad idea. Here’s why I think that the approach of bullying people and saying ‘if you are not willing to do it this way, then you are there for a sellout or something that or not revolutionary enough or whatever.’” I think that it’s a good opportunity for those conversations to happen. And it also models good behavior in our communities where if we trust someone and if we’re invested in someone enough, they can be talked to and challenged on their ideas. That’s a road towards building trust. And it challenges us to step up and be able to communicate our ideas and back them up, too.

Tom: Yeah, this is hard stuff. If this was easy stuff, you would solve all these problems already. And nobody knows the answers right now. And so we have to treat what we’re doing not as a religion with an answer, which, unfortunately, I think, too many anarchists approach what we’re doing in that way. But instead, we need to approach what we’re doing as a journey, as something that we’re trying to discover, as a world that exists, but that we’re trying to really understand and manifest the possibilities of. If we knew the answers to all these things, if there were answers to all these things, those possibilities, that world of autonomy wouldn’t exist, everything would just be dictated by those simplistic truths.

And so not only is that not a narrative that’s productive, but it’s not a narrative we should even hope for. We should really be focused on this idea that what we are doing is fighting and creating space for new things to emerge and really explore what those new things are, while we’re exploring the world that we find ourselves in. Because to be perfectly honest— This is a Neil deGrasse Tyson thing of all people, I forget the way he puts it, but I think he says it along the lines that “the only thing that we know is that we don’t know anything.” And we don’t know anything, we have no actual knowledge of anything. Everything that we’re thinking is just our best speculation. And so the speculations have to be collaborative, we have to learn from each other. We have to get past this idea that we can know everything. And so that level of care and patience is really critical. And I really just want to encourage people out there to read, to not jump to conclusions, to really have good reasons as to why they think about things, and to not obsess about having to have a position on everything.

For example, it doesn’t particularly matter what a number of people here feel about US military intervention in Myanmar. We can be completely against it, but that doesn’t mean they won’t do it anyways. And so if we don’t really understand what’s happening in a place, it is okay to not have a well-formed opinion about it, because we couldn’t possibly at this point.

We need to really reduce the scale of what we assume we’re capable of as people. We can do really amazing things, but only within what we can touch and see. We’re not transcendent beings who can see everything and so we should stop trying to pretend we are.

TFSR: I think that Neil deGrasse Tyson maybe got that from Operation Ivy. “All I know is that I don’t know nothing…”

Tom: Absolutely.

TFSR: Tom, is there a place that people can find any work that you’re working on right now any writings, anything that, or just the links that I am going to provide in the show notes based on what I said earlier, your prior books and such?

Tom: Just links in the show notes? I mean, I’m on kolektiva.social on Mastodon, if people want to find me, I maintain a blog every once in a great while called Into the Abyss, which you can find a link to on my Mastodon page. I just write and post places. So, if you come across stuff and you think it’s interesting, then, by all means, have at it.

TFSR: Cool. Well, thanks a lot for the conversation and all the work that you do. I appreciate you.

Tom: Yeah, appreciate you, too. Thanks for having me!

Anarchist Struggle in Rojava

Anarchist Struggle in Rojava

TA members educating YPG members on tourniquet use
Download This Episode

Anarchist Struggle, or Tekoşîna Anarşist in Kurmanji, is an anarchist combat medic collective operating in Rojava since the time of the war against Daesh / Isis, though its roots go back further. For the hour, you’ll hear a voice actor sharing the words of a member of TA calling themselves Robin Goldman about the their experiences of Asymmetric Warfare waged by Turkey and its proxies in the TFSA, the culture of TA right now, the medical work they’re doing, queerness in Rojava and other topics.

You can find TA online on twitter at @TA_Anarsist as well as their website TekosinaAnarsist.NoBlogs.Org. Members of TA suggested that folks interested in queer and trans organizing in Rojava support the group Keskasor, Kurdish for rainbow and based in Diyarbakir, Turkey. It can be emailed at heftreng.keskesor@gmail.com, found on twitter via @Keskasor_lgbti or on instagram at @KeskesorLGBTI, though their social media presence was last updated in 2020.

Some Formations Related to TA:

Groups mentioned ala Rojava:

Announcements

Zolo Azania

Former Black Panther, political prisoner and BLA veteran Zolo Agana Azania is seeking help. Since being released from prison and returning to the streets of Indiana in 2017 after more than 35 years behind bars, he has poured himself into organizing solidarity and support for other former prisoners. He still has not received his 2020 covid relief funds, likely impacted by his housing precarity, and is trying to purchase an inexpensive house to offer him stability in his later years. If you’d like to help, you can cashapp Zolo at $ZoloAzania5 . You can hear an interview with Zolo from 2018 plus his participation in an IDOCWatch panel at our website, linked in the show notes.

Eric King’s Mail Ban Temporarily Lifted

That’s right, you can send mail and books to anarchist and anti-fascist prisoner, Eric King! You can find his writings, art and updates on his case at SupportEricKing.Org, you can find his amazon wishlist there as well and you can send him letters via:

Eric King #27090-045
FCI Englewood
9595 West Quincy Avenue
Littleton, CO 80123

Asheville Continues To Attack The Homeless

In a last minute addition to these announcements, according to a leaked email by a local, Asheville-based non-profit serving houseless folks, Asheville’s City Council may be considering passing an ordinance based on the failed Ft. Lauderdale, Florida ban on the sharing of food in public spaces, which in the Asheville case appears to be based on a suggestion by Asheville Police Captain Mike Lamb. An article just published on the Asheville Free Press explains the context, what the non-profit group Beloved is suggesting as next steps, which includes applying pressure at the upcoming January 25th City Council meeting. This comes on the heels of a wave of knocks, warrants and arrests of people engaged in protests against homeless sweeps here in freezing temperatures at the end of last year. Keep an ear out and toss support for legal fees to the Blue Ridge Anarchist Black Cross legal defense fund at ­ or you can donate to the final straw’s payment methods with a note that it’s for legal defense and we’ll pass it off.

Fire Ant Journal #11 is Out!

You can find the latest edition of Fire Ant Journal, featuring writings and art by Thomas Mayer-Falk, Eric King, Pepe and info on Sean Swain, Jennifer Rose and more via Bloomington ABC

BAD News #52 is Available!

The monthly episode of the A-Radio Network’s English podcast includes Črna Luknja with a member of CrimethInc on the fire at their publishing house recently, A-Radio Berlin brings words on the attack by leftist bro’s on the queer anarcha-feminist Syrena squat in Warsaw, Elephant In The Room gives a brief round up of the uprising in Kazakhstan and comrades at Free Social Radio 1431 AM in Thessaloniki talk about the eviction of Biologia Squat.

Support

Here are a few ways you can give back to The Final Straw

  • You can subscribe to our podcast on various platforms, follow and share our materials online as well as give us feedback via links found at TFSR.WTF/Tree
  • To support our transcription work and wider project, you can subscribe to us via Patreon.com/TFSR, buy some merch or find donation methods at TFSR.WTF/Support
  • Find those transcriptions and zines for distro’ing, mailing into prisons, or translating at TFSR.WTF/Zines
  • And you can get us onto radio stations in your area with info at TFSR.WTF/Radio

. … . ..

Featured Tracks:

  • Yasin  is a remix by Rizan Said of this song (original version based on an Arab folk song from the Hesekê region featured in the film “Darên bi Tenê” or “The Only Trees”)
  • Şervano by Mehmûd Berazî (an article about the song, often played at funerals)

. … . ..

Transcription

TFSR: Would you please introduce yourself to the audience with whatever names, preferred gender pronouns, affiliations, or experience, as you would like (to help the audience orient itself)?

RG: Yeah, so you can call me Robin Goldman. I use they/them pronouns. I am in my 30’s. I’ve been in Rojava for a couple of years now. I have a background in a couple of things in computer work, and then also in healthcare work. And yeah, that’s me in a nutshell.

TFSR: Cool. Thank you, again, for having this conversation. Could you give listeners who may not be familiar with the Rojava revolution, like a brief synopsis of its kind of trajectory that you think people should know for this conversation?

RG: So I’m absolutely not qualified to give a full synopsis of the Rojava revolution or anything, but the very bare bones for somebody who’s not familiar at all, the reason that it’s known as RO-ja-va, or Ro-JA-va, it’s pronounced both ways, is because that’s the Kurdish word for “west”, and Kurdistan as an area the way that it’s historically understood was divided into four regions. So Bakur, meaning “north”, is the part that’s in Turkey; Rojhilat, meaning “east”, is the part that’s in Iran; Başûr, meaning “south”, is a part that’s in Iraq, and Rojava is the part that’s in Syria.

So when we talk about the Rojava revolution, we’re talking about the western Kurdistan portion of Syria. And in 2017, there was the final push to to defeat ISIS and it’s sort of self proclaimed capital of Raqqa, that kind of completed around 2018 and they’re still, like, sleeper cells and Daesh carriers out bombings and stuff but for the most part, they’re not holding any significant territory anymore.

In 2018, Turkey, and its proxy forces invaded Afrin, and in 2019, they invaded Serê Kaniyê. So over the last couple of years, before I came, there was a big shift from the way that the fighting happened and the type of combat and the type of diplomatic situation and everything, from kind of the images that Americans got used to seeing of a person on foot with an AK in their hand, like fighting Daesh, which was very much the image from kind of the Daesh war. Now, a lot of the fighting involves like drone strikes on the part of Turkey, and it’s become much more asymmetrical.

Now we’re in a situation for the last couple of years ever since the Serê Kaniyê invasion, which was a very quick invasion that Turkey did, that took a big swath of territory towards the end of 2019, that Serê Kaniyê a meta-stable situation where there’s ongoing aggression. There’s shelling pretty regularly along the front line, which is like the new border between the area that’s occupied by Turkish proxy forces and the area that is still held by the SDF, which a lot of people who are referred to as “the friends”, so if I refer to area held by the friend, see if that’s that’s usually what that’s what I mean, I might kind of forget and refer to them that way, cause that’s the vernacular. And now, the issue is there’s this constant brinkmanship from Turkey- well, I can get into later because I guess there’s more questions about this stuff. So that’s kind of where we’re at now.

Ideologically it’s based on a lot of ideology that comes from 40 years of armed struggle by the Kurdistan Workers Party, the PKK, which originated in Bakur and the Turkish portion of Kurdistan and originally had the characteristic of like a national liberation struggle as a lot of sort of post-Soviet post-colonial struggles did. But over time, the main thinker of the party, Abdullah Öcalan, who was imprisoned in I believe, 1999, he did a big shift in ideological orientation from an authoritarian, communist, classic Marxist Leninist type of strategy to one that is much more democratic and much more compatible with anarchist ideals, in particular. And he exchanged letters with Murray Bookchin. And this got the name of the new paradigm and it’s based on three pillars, which is ecology, women’s liberation and democratic confederalism. So that’s the ideological basis of the society that’s being built in the autonomously administered area now.

TFSR: Cool, thank you very much. Yeah and I’d like to talk about some of those other specifics of what’s been going on a little bit later. So could you talk a little bit about – and please correct me if I’m wrong on this pronunciation – but Tekoşîna Anarşist, “Anarchist Struggle”. For folks who aren’t familiar with the project, like how long has it been around and what are its goals? How does it operate?

RG: So I haven’t been around since the beginning so I can’t get a super detailed description of the origins, but Tekoşîna Anarşist, which is just Kurdish language for “Anarchist Struggle”, has existed in its current form for I think, between three and four years at this point. And it started as a part of I know people have seen these logos and these groups with names like IRPGF, and IFB. The IFB, the International Freedom Battalion, was something that was, during the time of the Daesh war, a group of sort of various internationalist organizations that had militants – *cat meowing in the background* sorry, my cat is joining this. Our cat Shisha wants to join this interview.

TFSR: Hello Heval cat.

RG: *laughs* So those those were like a coalition of the different sort of internationalist groups that had militants here at that time. And they were like cooperating together – because some of them were kind of smaller groups – and there were multiple groups that have English as the common language, or were otherwise kind of not using mainly Kurdish or mainly Arabic, like a lot of the groups *more cat meowing*. who were from here were doing. And so there’s still a lot of people from that struggle in that time around, but I wasn’t around yet then, I was still in the states then. So I can’t give like a real detailed history. But yeah, we started kind of under this umbrella and eventually kind of became more autonomous. And we’re now an autonomous collective that is doing work with different partners, like we’re involved with both the military work under the SDF, and also like the health committee kind of work. So we kind of have two bosses now at this point *chuckles*.

TFSR: And you described as a collective right? Is it it’s made up of people that are over in Rojava under the autonomous administration? Or is it like international? Or is that a thing that you can talk about? And like how do decisions get made, just collectively among the body of membership?

RG: Yeah, we’re really decentralized in the way that we make decisions, we try to embody our anarchist principles, which means different things to different people too so it’s something that we’re constantly working on within our organization. We’re constantly evaluating our organizational structure and frame and debating about whether we want to change our decision making protocol, or how much protocol we want to have at all. You know, the same sort of things that any anarchist organization is going to be familiar with *laughs*. It’s uh, always a bit of a struggle, but we’re committed to putting our ideals into practice in terms of radical democracy and trying to root out the patriarchy and other oppressive dynamics, not just in society, but within ourselves and within our organization, as a continual process.

TFSR: So would you say that as to the goals of TA that TA is about like supporting the Rojava revolution and challenging it to be more radical and some of its conceptions?

RG: Yeah, I mean, we’re a really small group – the number of us here at any given time is typically less than 10 – and so our purpose and our mission kind of evolves also, as the conditions change, but it offers a place for people that might not fit into another structure really well, like in particular, in terms of queer identity issues. Of course, ideologically, I think we’re definitely not the only anarchists involved in this revolution, there’s people in pretty much every international structure, you know, there’s people of different anarchist ideals that have been or are currently in different groups and different types of work. So we’re not claiming to represent all anarchists, by any means, but um, you know, to people who ideologically want to participate in the work in this particular frame, and to have these types of organizational discussions as they’re, you know, participating in the work.

And also, yeah, to try to find ways to respectfully challenge the revolution, like you said, to push it to remain as what we understand is more radical and more revolutionary, as well as learning from them. I mean, Öcalan also has published critiques, specifically of anarchists, and you know, not saying that anarchism is wrong or bad, but his critiques I think, are actually quite the same as ones published by Malatesta many, many decades ago. So, engaging with these critiques we’re in a unique position because we are not just reading anarchist theory or trying to embody anarchist theory in small collective in the midst of a capitalist economy like collectives in the US, for example, we’d be doing, but we’re in the midst of a messy revolution, full of contradictions and really understanding what that means and seeing how the rubber hits the road, so to speak.

TFSR: Cool and if you feel comfortable, if you don’t, but if you feel comfortable, I’d love to hear a little bit about what inspired you to go over and to join and to, like, participate in this struggle that is, like difficult to get to and also dangerous.

RG: Yeah, for sure. So I’ve been interested in, ever since 2016, when I met with somebody who had been here with YPG and he was just giving a question and answer to some anarchist groups about his experience and he was being really candid about it. And to me when I read about it, and then also, when I heard about it from him, it’s that it really reminded me and a lot of ways of, I was also reading a lot at the time about the Spanish revolution of 1936. It’s something that a lot of anarchists, I think, will be really familiar with, really inspired by. And seeing kind of the similarities there and, you know, when I was reading about 1936 Spain, and thinking like, “oh, you know, if there was something like this in my lifetime,” you know, and then realizing there is! And not only Rojava, Rojava is not the only revolutionary project in the world right now, but it’s one that I was lucky enough to have some contact with. And I was able to join a Kurdish language class, which I didn’t learn very much from at that time, but I, it got me started.

And then so over time, as I was also doing work before I came here with organizations that were inspired by a lot of the same ideas of this movement. I was really getting into ideas inspired by Murray Bookchin’s ideas about municipalism, and social ecology, Democratic confederalism. These sort of ideas were interesting to me, not only at a theoretical level, but because I was working with groups that were trying to implement them, and that were already themselves inspired by hearing about the things that were happening here and other places, with setting up communes and decommoditizing the necessities, communization theory, dual power.

So I was working with groups that were republishing stuff that was being published by the movement here and stuff from Make Rojava Green Again and other groups that were here, and we were, you know, trying to put tekmîl, this critique and self-critique that’s inspired by sort of a Maoist practice originally, you know, we were using some of these tools that came to us through this movement and things that they published.

So we really were curious about, if we could learn more from this revolution, and if we had anything to contribute to it. So yeah, for all those reasons, I came here to see what I could see, see what I could bring back to my organizing back home, and to see what I could possibly contribute, also, to moving the revolution here forward.

TFSR: Can you talk a little bit about how TA, or Anarchist Struggle fits in and relates to the broader constellation of groups in the Syrian Defense Forces – the SDF – and with the Autonomous Administration of Northeast Syria, the long name for AANES, I guess, another name for Rojava? Is that a good way of putting it?

RG: So like I mentioned, TA is one of many groups that are existing for internationalists, some of which are kind of involved with SDF military works, and others are more purely civilian. A lot of people who want to come here they go directly to talking to YPG, YPJ, because they don’t know that non-military works exist. Or then a lot of times people contact us because we’re the only group besides YPG that they’ve heard of that internationals can join.

So I just wanted to like put out there that there’s also quite a few others. For civilian groups there’s the Internationalist Commune, and there’s Jineoloji International, which is studying the women’s movement and I think that one’s only open to women and nonbinary folks. So on the military side, there’s YPG and YPJ. Various communist parties have a presence here that are sometimes bringing internationals from certain places, and sometimes not, I don’t know so much about their…and they range from classic Marxist-Leninist/Stalinist organizations to other ones that are more Maoist inspired. So they have like, even within, you know, having in common that they’re authoritarian communist, they have quite an ideological diversity, as well as tactical diversity among them.

And then there’s also media groups, there’s the Rojava Information Center, which is a great source of information, and also people are coming and working with them in a journalistic capacity. There’s Heyva Sor [A Kurd], which is the Kurdish Red Crescent, which is the civilian medical work that has a huge project of like trying to set up basically a functioning health system in what is now kind of a chaotic systemless soup of various health services.

So those are the words that are available to internationals. And then as well as our relationship to the SDF, we are responsible to the SDF- the way that the SDF works is it’s sort of administered by local military councils. So like, each area has a military council that serves for the defense of the area. Mostly, this was kind of set up, I think, during the Daesh war and continues to function during this phase of the war, that like, for example: in a region where we’ve got a Kurdish community, an Assyrian community, an Armenian community, a Syriac community, there will be both military and civilian sides to the defense so there’ll be like a local community defense which people are familiar with HPC, which got the nickname “grannies with guns”. So it’s like the sort of civilian side of the community neighborhood defense and then the military council is the other side of that. That’s the military side of the regional defense.

So there’s, for example, the Khabour Guards are the Assyrian community, and they speak an Assyrian language, it’s different, it’s not Kurdish, it’s not Arabic. There are quite a few Arabic speaking groups that are participating in the military council. So the military council of a city or of a region will have representatives of all these types of groups that are functioning for the defense of these communities in the area and they’ll coordinate together to coordinate the defense for the region. So we work with the one in the area where we’re operating.

So that’s how the SDF is structured. So when I say we have a relationship to the SDF, that’s how that works. And then in terms of the health structure, there’s a military hospital system that is free for members of the military. So that’s like, where we get our health care from directly, like if we need care. And there’s also civilian hospital systems, and there’s private clinics. Because it’s a time of relative peace a lot of our work is civilian health work. There’s a big epidemic of cutaneous leishmaniasis, which is a skin parasite that’s spread by these little biting insects which requires a lot of injections to get rid of it and there’s been a huge problem with overcrowding in the clinics. So we’ve been assisting with the effort to give injections to people, both civilian and military to get rid of this parasite. So that’s been taking up a lot of our time recently. That’s just an example of the type of work that we have.

TFSR: Awesome. Thank you for that there’s a lot in there, I’d like to also get back to the some of the medical issue and the work that you do a little bit later. In the meantime, in November of 2021, there was a major fear that Turkey would be escalating, like creating a new offensive across the Syrian border into Rojava. Could you explain kind of what happened there to your understanding, and is that still looming danger?

RG: It’s always a looming danger. It seems like Turkey was hoping to get the go ahead from the US and or Russia to launch a full scale invasion and they didn’t get it. They didn’t get the permission they wanted. The impact that this had on us here was that people were really convinced that there was like an imminent full scale war about to happen. We really ramped up preparation, getting extra hospital space ready. And the fact that it didn’t happen…these kinds of things – this was more pronounced example – but these kinds of like “an invasion is about to happen” feeling occurs pretty regularly, and so we’ll ramp up the activity for a little while, and then we don’t really ever, like let our guard down. I mean, I don’t think there’s a feeling that the danger is past, just postponed.

TFSR: So the last time that The Final Straw spoke with members of TA it was before Turkey’s 2019 incursion into Rojava – which, again, correct me if I’m wrong on these points that I’m making – but which seem to end up in a large stretch of territory along the border within Syria’s borders, falling under the control of the Turkish state. I know that TA was heavily involved in the resistance to Serê Kaniyê, but can you tell us a little bit more about this? And have you heard about the Turkish state using the so called “buffer zone” that they put in to demographically shift the area, like pushing out Kurds and other residents from the region and resettling Syrian refugees that they had been taking from Europe within their borders?

RG: Anything that Turkey is doing in terms of resettling people, officially, any information we would have about that would be from the same sources that y’all would have. So I don’t really feel like I can comment on that. I do know there’s been a lot of human rights violations by the occupying forces – the mercenaries and the Turkish state – in particular in Afrin and Serê Kaniyê regions there have been a lot of kidnappings of civilians, there have been a lot of reported rapes and there’s been desecration of graves. There’s been a variety of human rights abuses, there was a year end report that was published by the SDF about this topic. So yeah, people can…I don’t have the exact numbers off the top of my head, but people can look into that.

Another way that they’re using the Serê Kaniyê region and the Afrin region in particular – the reason they chose that region in particular to take – is because it has resources, it’s very difficult to conduct life without. So in particular water the word Serê Kaniyê, I think – I could be wrong about this, my language skills aren’t great – but I think it means “the head of the spring.” It’s where water comes from, or water comes through, Serê Kaniyê, and Turkey has really been using water and dams and the ability to shut off access to water, as well as shutting off access to other resources to try to wage war of attrition and really damaged the civilian morale by making it difficult to come by the necessities of life, really tryna starve us out. They cut so much water the past summer, the Xabûr river, basically completely dried up. Crop harvests were just a tiny fraction of what they were the previous year, especially with the grain. So there’s going to be a huge problem with the grain shortages for the next year. We’re looking at, like, potentially, like massive food shortages because of this, and there were massive water shortages last year. It was pretty grim.

So Turkey’s strategy with this is not only to use the space to demographically create a buffer, which also was Syria’s official policy prior to the to the revolution to the war. [Bashar al-] Assad was also doing this, he was trying to create a green belt of Arab populations through sort of a combination of targeted gentrification and more direct repression of Kurdish inhabitants of the area, to try to cut the unity of the of the Kurdistan geographical region.

TFSR: That’s terrible, I’m sorry. I mean, is part of the goal – besides just starving out and pressuring people – also to make them sort of identify the difficulties that they’re facing with autonomous administration? Or is it a little less subtle than that?

RG: Yeah, no, I think it’s less subtle than that but I think also that’s happening. And I mean, there are people that stayed and fought through years of war that now we’re in relative peace, and they’re just, maybe they have children, they’re just experiencing so much poverty.

A lot of people have family members that have gone to Europe to work to send money back, and more and more family members are having to leave to go to make money to just survive, that like people who are really ideologically and personally connected to their land and to their cultural identity, they don’t want to leave, (but their) finally getting close to throwing in the towel because of the shortages and economic difficulties, even though they weathered the storm of close to a decade of war.

So that’s something that’s like really, also a huge part of the fight that like as we lose civilians, if we don’t have civilian populations, the population become sparsely it becomes much more difficult to defend the land.

TFSR: So you’ve already said before about stuff that goes on in Turkey, you may not have a more immediate connection to but I’m gonna ask the question anyway and you can give me that same answer if you want. But over the last number of years, Turkey’s economy has been sliding into a crisis that’s worsened dramatically – specifically, over the last few months – has this tension spilled over the border in any way that you’ve experienced? And, just speculating, do you think that this could mean the end of the 20 year AKP rule and its neo-Ottomanist push?

RG: I have no idea what this means for specific political parties in Turkey, but the way that this is affecting us is that like everything that goes wrong in Turkey, everyone wants to point the blame onto a different scapegoat. So he’ll blame the Kurdish movement in Turkey, you know, the guerrillas in the mountains there, or he’ll blame Rojava, and he’ll, you know, cut resources. He’s got different alliances with Iraqi Kurdistan, and political parties there. Like, right now, the borders closed between Iraq and Syria, the Semalka Crossing, that’s like the sort of unofficial crossing, that’s been the main one that we’re able to use for the last few years.

It’s estimated it’ll be close for two months, it’s, we don’t know when it will open again. There’s been shortages of sugar, which is a big deal, because people put like, they have half chai, half sugar in there, in their cup of chai. So like, not having sugar for their chai is like a really huge issue for people’s morale, culturally, it’s very important to have, you know, these resources. You know, they’re not letting cigarettes go across, just things that are designed to like, make people’s lives miserable here, they’re doing this to make up kind of political points that they’re losing in Iraqi Kurdistan or in Turkey respectively. So I think Rojava economically kind of becomes the scapegoat or the you know, the whipping post for failing economies in the neighboring countries.

TFSR: So to kind of keep on the Iraq question, like there’s been a lot of conflict in south Kurdistan and Iraqi Kurdistan between the Turkish state and PKK elements that are there with the Kurdish Democratic Party. The more conservative Barzani-led administration, they’re siding with Turkey. For instance, there are allegations also a Turkish use of chemical weapons, but this hasn’t been making news in the US so much. Are you aware of this? And has this affected things in in Rojava?

RG: I’ll be honest, I can’t I don’t really know of an answer to that question. I’m not knowledgeable about that.

TFSR: Cool, I appreciate that honesty. Back to TA a little bit: can you share a little more about the medical work that y’all do? And why this was chosen as a focus? As I understand in 2018 or 2019 y’all got an ambulance, for instance, that enabled y’all to do combat medic work during that time. How widespread was or is this among SDF, I guess the practice of ambulances and mobility, and what’s the general response to your work been in the area?

RG: In the time that I’ve been here, which again, I came after the Serê Kaniyê war, so there hasn’t been a full scale war in the time I’ve been here. We do have an ambulance, we had one already when I got here, I’m not sure when we got it. I know during the time of the war, they were using it to evacuate wounded, to evacuate people from the hospital in Serê Kaniyê out of the city, and that kind of thing, to protect civilians as well as wounded military members. I know that there were members of TA that were here at that time that did very heroic things and saved a lot of lives.

I think that the space for that kind of work opened up because a combination of the disinvestment over decades in this region, plus the brain drain of, you know, 10 years of war, resulted in a situation where there was just like, really a huge lack of people who were both trained and willing to go into dangerous areas to do kind of emergency medical work. And I know, like, for example, I heard from people who were in the time of the Serê Kaniyê war they were giving out tourniquets and, like, there were people who were arriving at the hospital with wounds that they would have been saved by a tourniquet, from people that were their people in their unit or wherever had been given tourniquets, and they weren’t using them. Where people would get these individual first aid kits and just empty it out and use the thing that they came in to carry stuff.

So there was a big gap in understanding or seeing the value in this kind of work. I think that coming from a Western perspective, and also with more of an understanding and experience of how state militaries work, there was more of a value placed on this type of preparation. So seeing how that went down, there’s been a big work not only in our group and other groups as well, to do like education, we’ve been teaching the different military groups about how to use tourniquets, how to improvise tourniquets because we don’t have a good supply of premade tourniquets but you can make a pretty great one from you know, a torn piece of T-shirt and the cleaning rod of your rifle, for example. Giving education on how to stop massive bleeding, how to do chest seals for something that’s punctured a lung, basic stuff for just keeping people alive long enough to get them to the hospital.

We’ve been really shifting our focus from providing the care directly to providing education to people on how to do this kind of care. And like I said, we’ve been doing work with the civilian medical system as well, to try to improve and develop our skills and stay ready when we’re not in a situation of having to provide emergency medical care. There were also reports – and I don’t know how official these are or whatever – but I heard more than one person talking about feeling at least like Turkey had been targeting ambulances, or that marked ambulances were a target. And a lot of times now, especially with the drone strikes and stuff, when people are injured they’re not waiting for an ambulance to show up, they’re being thrown in the back of a pickup truck or a logistics van or something that can go faster than an ambulance can over the shitty roads here and get to the hospital as fast as possible.

So having people that are able to stop massive bleeding or you know, keep their lung from collapsing or whatever, while they’re in the back of their of their Hilux, or whatever, I think we’re seeing that that’s going to make more of a difference than having an ambulance. I mean we do still have the ambulance and we make visits around places where maybe other other ambulances aren’t willing to go. But it’s become more of a mobile clinic for the time being. Like, not a real clinic, but like, you know, we go and we make checkups, we give the injections for leishmaniasis. If people look really sick, and their commanders aren’t letting them go to the hospital, we’ll write them a note and sometimes that carries an extra authority. We give them advice for like if they’ve got a cold or something you know how to take care about and not get sick or this sort of thing.

TFSR: That’s awesome. That’s super insightful. I really appreciate that answer. So how have you seen COVID-19 experienced in Rojava, as far as like how it’s spread, or access to tests, vaccines, and PPE, any of this sort of stuff?

RG: With PPE, it’s really not widespread. Some people are wearing masks now. It’s become not super strange to wear a mask. I would say it’s not normal, like most people aren’t wearing masks or practicing social distancing or anything but at the beginning, like if you didn’t shake people’s hands and give everyone a hug, it was super rude. Whereas now people have started a little bit, if you do like a little bow or a wave instead of shaking hands, or if you are wearing a mask, people don’t think that’s super weird. They started to understand what that is and what it’s about. They still don’t give a lot of attention to COVID, although they it’s been really inconsistent. Because they built a new hospital for COVID but it’s been pretty much empty because people aren’t going to the hospital when they have these symptoms. And people have definitely died of COVID here, a lot of people have gotten COVID, people in our group have gotten COVID and have mostly recovered thank God. So like people are seeing that it’s existing, but sometimes there are tests, we had PCR tests for a while, then we had the rapid antigen tests, and now I guess they don’t have any test? So they’re saying that there’s no COVID anymore like it’s done, just because, I think it’s because they ran out of tests.

So it’s a really inconsistent response, like and they got a vaccine, we got the first dose of the vaccine, but then we couldn’t go on time and get the second dose. And then by the time we went to get the second dose, they didn’t have it anymore. So now we’re trying to figure out if there’s some other city where we can go to get the second dose, it’s really, it’s really a mess. There have been some lockdowns, but they’ve been really inconsistent. It’s been different, like, from city to city and a lockdown pretty much means that you just can’t go in or out of the city for usually like a week or two. It’s been it’s been really inconsistent.

TFSR: Yeah, that doesn’t sound disimilar, actually, to a lot of other places, just maybe on a different scale. But yeah, a lot of the same problems are pretty, seem pretty ubiquitous, as far as accessing testing and the social spreading of like what knowledge there is to protect oneself from it.

This is off topic, but I just heard an interview the other, I think earlier this week on Democracy Now with folks at the Texas Children’s Hospital that had developed an open source and copyright free vaccine and were distributing it, like they were working with a manufacturing infrastructure in India and a few other parts of the world to just get it as widely distributed as possible. That’s pretty hopeful for me, as far as that one specific, like, you were mentioning those bite vectored infections that y’all are helping to inject folks against, but as far as the COVID thing, I don’t know.

RG: Yeah, I mean, part of the issue with the COVID thing here, too, is like, I think part of the reason that they didn’t keep the vaccines around, it’s not like there was so much demand that they were going like hotcakes, I think nobody wanted them.

TFSR: Because they didn’t see it as an actual threat or because they’re, they don’t like vaccines?

RG: I think it’s a combination of as much of health literacy is an issue everywhere, it’s like very, very much an issue here. People aren’t trusting the countries that are manufacturing these vaccines, they’re also occupying forces. Like it’s all coming from either the US or Russia. So there’s like political mistrust, as well as like, kind of the attitude towards you know, after 10 years of war, people are kind of, a lot of people have this sort of like, “you can’t scare me,” like “COVID, I don’t care” kind of attitude. So it’s a combination of things.

TFSR: Yeah, that’s that sounds kind of common also the people that I’ve talked to imprisoned in the so-called US, they’re like, “I don’t want to catch this, but they’re trying to kill me every day and have been over this whole sentence, so whatever. Something’s gonna get me or it’s not.”

RG: Yeah, it’s really, really difficult to fight against this kind of fatalism and this kind of mistrust, because it’s not wrong. Like, it makes sense.

TFSR: Yeah, yeah, for sure. You’ve mentioned with like, ambulances being targeted by drone strikes and I kind of wonder what it’s like being engaged, even though you’re not currently engaged in hot and regular and heavy war with Turkey – even though the threat is constantly looming, and there are things like drone strikes – what’s it like being engaged in such an asymmetrical warfare against the state power was such advantages in terms of resources, weaponry, like drones, and airstrikes and border fortifications, and the ability to organize assassination attempts, notably against leaders of the Turkish Left in Rojava. And I know it’s a big question, but also being party to a conflict that is facing off against in this complex mess between like, Turkey as a NATO force and the second biggest military in NATO, and the US at some points, acting as a support in some parts of the conflict also, as a NATO state, you know, this sort of thing.

RG: I mean, I can only speak for me in terms of like, what it feels like, to me. To be honest, it’s terrifying. It’s very scary. When I first got here, especially for the first few months, I was just conscious constantly of the fact that like, we could all die at any moment. I guess you kind of get used to it, you focus on what you can do. You get to be able to kind of recognize how far bombs are by what they sound like. I don’t know. I don’t have a good answer for that. You just, you try to focus on on what’s in front of you, and you try to have an eye on the long game, you know. To know that nobody knows what’s going to happen, that there are more important things, there are there other determiners of victory rather than who has the biggest guns.

TFSR: I think that I already kind of asked the thing about what is TA working on right now, or you answered it through a lot of the medical discussion. Do you do want to sort of wax philosophical about the future of TA and what directions that might go?

RG: Yeah, like I mentioned, we’re talking about our questions of organizational form. We’re having debates right now about some readings that we did about the Makhnovists platform and we’re talking about platformism, we’re talking about decision making strategies and consensus and you know, a lot of the same things that any kind of anarchist organization struggles with. Because as we grow, and as we develop over time and have different organizational needs, we have to sort of refine our approach to the concept of structuring ideologically and practically what that means for us.

So in ideological terms, we’re doing that. We’re working a little bit on our image, I think, especially early on with the nature of the Daesh war in particular, and the demographics of the group, that it got a bit of a bro-y image. We’ve gotten critique for that, we’ve taken this to heart. We’ve really tried to focus on not only questioning the patriarchal values that get embodied in military works, and the way that we do that, but also focusing more on the women’s liberation in the ecology, pillars of the revolution that we’re involved in.

We’ve gotten more involved in society works, like, we’ve gotten to know people, both civilian and military people kind of in other groups or who aren’t officially affiliated, but are just supportive, that we interact with in the villages around us. We visited some kind of cultural activities, in particular, like Armenian cultural revival. There’s a lot of Armenians in Syria, who ended up here as a result of the genocide. There was a huge forced march of Armenians to Deir ez-Zor. Also a lot of Armenian women and children were kidnapped and sold or adopted by Kurdish and or Arab families.

TFSR: At the beginning of the 20th century, the Armenian genocide by the Turkish state you’re referring to? Or is this something during Daesh war?

RG: No, no, this is the 1915 genocide. So there’s a big effort as part of this, I think that Öcalan calls it “xwe nas bikin”, and it means like, “know yourself”, meaning like, know your roots, know your heritage. There’s a big push for sort of cultural pride among Armenians, Assyrians, people who are kind of cultural and religious minority groups here. So there’s a council that’s doing Armenian language lessons. So we’re trying to get involved with learning about this kind of things, and learning more about the history and the cultures of the area. And try not to have like a white savior complex or anything like this, where we kind of just come in and like do our work, which was sort of, I think, earlier on, there was less opportunity to do anything that wasn’t immediately necessary because the situation was the way it was. But now we have a lot more opportunities.

So yeah, just being more connected and more involved in the many, many facets of this revolution that aren’t immediately obvious, or things that we’re necessarily already thinking about, from the way that – in particular from America – like what we, what we see. And a lot of the news and the image that we have this place, I think in America in particular, is like at least three years out of date at any given time, because we don’t have such strong ties to here the way that Europe has a much more lively exchange of people between this region. And in for example, Germany and England both have big Kurdish movements.

Sorry I’m getting a little bit off topic. So the question what is TA working on now and in the future…so yeah, we’re working on that, we’re trying to bring more people, especially we’re prioritizing bringing women comrades, gender nonconforming comrades, trans comrades. There’s a lot of contradictions on on queer issues in the movement generally, but in terms of our ability to exist an organized as queer internationals, we have been very lucky. We have the space to exist and challenge some of the beliefs and assumptions that people have. So that’s something that we really value as an opportunity we want to make the most of.

TFSR: Yeah that’s awesome. Yeah, in the past, the Kurdish movement in Rojava has been somewhat unwelcoming to gay, lesbian, queer and trans folks. It’s our understanding that the Kurdish movement in Bakur, in Turkish occupied northern Kurdistan, has historically been amazingly pro LGBTQ but because of some local attitudes in shorter time for building up support in the region, the movement has been really impacted by holders of conservative social mores. That said, over the past years, the women’s movement was starting to slowly try and shift that attitude. How do things stand now, if you all have insights on this?

RG: There’s a lot of really contradictory things going on. My experience has been that, especially as internationals, we can get away with a lot more than people from here can in terms of this kind of stuff. Especially because, I mean, they consider it as weird to be vegetarian as they do to be gay, for example. Like, *laughing* we’re just freaks in general like so they kind of just shake their heads and let us get away with being weird. Whereas for a person from here who’s queer, they, they face a lot, a lot of difficulties, a lot of danger that we as internationals are privileged to be largely exempt from.

That said, I think within the movement, there are people who see queer issues as part of the struggle against patriarchy, and there are people who don’t. You get a variety of attitudes, ranging from you know, “homosexuality is a social disease of capitalist modernity”, to you know that it’s just simply doesn’t exist, you know, to people who, like I said have a much more progressive attitude towards it. The comrades from Turkey or from Bakur do tend to have a much more informed and accepting attitude, I would say, in my experience.

We are not the only group by any means that has out vocal queer members. And I think that we’ve gotten more careful and respectful and strategic since the days of the, you know, TQILA banner, if anybody saw that photo, which was a great photo, but it caused huge, huge problems. Especially with like, for example, the more socially conservative tribes that the autonomous administration needs to try to bring into its project and win some goodwill with. There’s just a lot to balance. Because on the one hand, we’re pushing to try to, you know, advance social attitude towards the concept of gender, the concept of sexual orientation.

On the other hand, you know, we had friends that were working in a women’s health clinic, and one of the questions for women that were having various health problems was, “how often do you have sex with your husband? How often do you want to have sex with your husband?” And some of the women were like, “Want? What do you, what do you mean, want? Like, what does this want that you’re talking?” It just, depending, there’s just such a huge range of attitudes and experiences related to gender and sexuality here that it’s a complicated situation.

TFSR: Thank you for that. The broader Kurdish movement has a heavy focus on the ideological aspects of the struggle and the Rojava revolution being part of military training, with studies of Öcalan’s work and structured collective life considered as or more important than the combat related training. What sort of commonalities does life at TA have with the way life is structured in the broader movement? And are there ways in which an anarchist perspective causes it to diverge?

RG: Yeah, that’s a good question. And I think it’s been different at different times in TA’s history. I think for the time that I’ve been here, at least, the last year especially, we’ve had a lot of emphasis on the ideological development. Not only within our organization, like when we did military training, we allocated ample time for discussions of patriarchy, patriarchal dynamics, how we can engage with the realities of our situation without unnecessarily advancing sort of patriarchal values. And we talked a lot about the role of sport, our relationships to our bodies, competitiveness, you know, whether it’s good to be competitive, the destructive nature of competitiveness, toxic masculinity.

So we’ve made time in our training schedule to really intentionally sit down and discuss these aspects, discuss our relationship to the concept of hierarchy, being you know, in a military situation versus in other situations. As well as at various times we do reading groups, discussions on topics that are, as we get time – lately we’ve been really busy – but when we get time we do a rotating seminar where someone will kind of prepare an hour or two discussion about a topic related to women’s revolution, gender liberation, some aspect of anarchist history. We did one on understanding antisemitism, just a variety of topics. We’re a bunch of nerds at heart to like, we’re all always reading things. I’m in like a signal group of people who are reading the book, The Ghetto Fights right now, which is about the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.

I think one of the things we did for a while, it’s a kind of a common practice that we adopted from other groups is when we have our list of who has night watch duty and people take like an hour or two shift for security in the night, and there’s a list and it’s really common to put like an inspirational revolutionary quote on the list, so whoever’s making the list has to like constantly be reading more stuff and finding new sources of inspiration there.

And we don’t only do these kinds of education’s in our own group, we’ve also participated in more formal education with other internationals from other organizations that were coordinated to come together for like a month long, you know, learning about the history of this movement, the history of philosophy in the Middle East, readings and discussions like an intensive 10 hours a day of lectures and discussions and movies about relevant topics, so. As much as we get time for we really we really do take seriously the ideological development.

TFSR: Can you share with us a little about your understanding of the Kurdish movements approach to autonomy and statehood? Do y’all have any insights into the possibility of, I guess the TEV-DEM, or PYD, formalizing an autonomous region with Bashar al-Assad’s government?

RG: Um, as far as the relationship between the autonomous administration and the Assad regime I don’t understand it, and I can’t comment on it. As far as kind of summarizing my experiences or my discussions that illustrate some of the wide variety of opinions within the quote unquote “Kurdish movement”, I would say that – saying “the Kurdish movement” implying that there is just one, or even just several – like, I don’t know. The discussions I’ve had with people, just like random people on the streets sometimes even, like I talked to one guy, this one old guy I met in Qamişlo who was saying he was really supporting the PKK for a long time, and he’s a, he described himself as a Stalinist and he really was pro USSR and but then, when the new paradigm happened and the split in the party happened, he started to support the model of Başûr Iraqi Kurdistan, he became a Barzani supporter. Because to him, a state was just so important. Like even though he called himself a communist, communism was like nothing compared to having a state. So that was a wild ride of a conversation.

So I mean, there’s people you know, that range from, there was like a really, bit irreverent, but quite illustrative meme that was going around of like a political compass of people within the Rojava movement, too, and there was the PKK boomer who doesn’t know that there’s a new paradigm. Like a bit making light of the wide variety of ideological orientations you find towards the concept of statehood. But in terms of how it’s actually being implemented, it seems like there’s a big, almost US-style democracy, I say, “almost”, is something that a lot of just regular people are supporting, as far as I can tell. At least from what I hear from friends, for example, in Rojava Information Center who know a lot more about this than I do, so this is all like third hand information.

But yeah, in terms of like the approach to statehood, there are some people that are like really still hardline, like we need our own state. There are some people that ride around with pictures of Saddam Hussein on the front of their motorbikes because they’re the same flavor of Islam that he was and they see this cultural identification is the most important thing to them. It’s a huge variety of opinions. And what is happening within the more ideological oriented discussions is maybe not completely reflective of what the general everyday man on the street kind of person’s gonna think as well.

And also to call it “the Kurdish movement”, like again, at least in the area where we are there’s a lot of Assyrians, there’s a lot of Armenians, there’s a lot of Arabs. There’s definitely a lot of Kurds as well, but to describe this movement at this point as “Kurdish” is a, it’s Kurdish inspired, it’s Kurdish led but it’s not a “Kurdish movement”.

TFSR: In a recent interview that Duran Kalkan of the Kurdistan Democratic Communities Union, which was conducted by the group peace in Kurdistan, Duran Kalkan spoke about his view that while Western governments like the US may strategically partner with the SDF under Rojavan command in the fight against Daesh or ISIS, they’re not committed to the project of democratic and federalism but only destabilizing Turkey and opposing Russian and Iranian influence in the region. It’s a proxy situation.

This specific radio show and podcast is based in the US, you’ve mentioned that a number of people involved as internationals are from the US, and a lot of our audience, most of our audience, is based in the US, so I think this, this is why I bring up this question: can you talk about the US relationship to Rojava, the illegalization of the PKK and the KCK, and what impact that has on the ground in areas controlled by the autonomous administration of north and east Syria? As I understand many internationals who come back from Rojava face difficulties from the various states that they live under because of some of these are similar illegalizations?

RG: Yeah, I think Americans have a bit easier time than some of the people from other places, I think Brits have quite a difficult situation now, the laws that have been passed in the last couple years are horrific. As far as the criminalization of the PKK, I know that increasingly different countries, including I think England recently, most of them haven’t changed their evaluation, but have at least reopen the debate into a classification of PKK and whether it’s the terrorist organization or not. I don’t know the history of how the illegalization happened, or, you know, I can’t really comment on that, as far as just anecdotally, like I know, I’ve had friends that have come back from Rojava to different places, and in the US, some friends have kind of gotten follow up from the feds, but I don’t know of anybody who’s really faced heavy repression because of it.

However, the issue is there have been some people who have been accused of unrelated things, but then had their prior involvement with this region used to kind of intensify the repression they face for other things. So the repression is there and it’s definitely important to be conscious of it, and for individuals who participate to be careful, but also for people who care about this revolution, or who just care about freedom generally, to fight against the criminalization of the PKK, the criminalization of participation in this revolution, the criminalization of you know, even travel to this region for some people. As far as the impact on the ground for people here who aren’t internationalist, I don’t know that there’s a quantifiable simple like impact, it just makes things generally harder. But I think the impact, as far as I’m at least able to comment on this, you know, is mostly to people going to other places, working in other places….

TFSR: And for listeners who are interested in more on the lasting effects of repression in the US, they can check a couple of episodes ago to our interview with some supporters of Dan Baker, who formerly had participated in the Rojava revolution, and is facing a few dozen months in prison, not for that directly but that was definitely brought up in his court proceedings.

RG: Yeah, he is the one that put something on Facebook, no? And, and it was sort of connected somehow, abstractly?

TFSR: Well he was, yeah. Definitely that has something to do with it, yeah. He basically had said, after the January 6 events in DC, he was in Florida, and he said, “Hey, Trumpists in Florida are threatening an arm siege on the Capitol, antifascist should come out with weapons and like keep them from attacking the general population”. And it had been brought up since he had come back from Rojava, like he had, he was doing some medical work at The CHOP Seattle, and after a shooting had happened had been approached by the FBI. But then also, yeah, his participation in Rojava had been brought up during his court proceedings for calling for people to show up at the Florida capitol to act as a community defense, not a defense of the Capitol, but act as a community defense against armed Trumpists who are trying to commit a putsch.

How can listeners learn more about TA and the social revolution occurring in Rojava, or the struggle going on in Rojava? And how can they get involved or support the communalist movement and aims from where they’re at?

RG: Well I’ve mentioned earlier on this list of different organizations that people can do work with here. So knowing that if people are interested to come here, it’s not only military connected work that’s available to them, their civilian work for internationalist as well.

There’s also, you know, the need for solidarity work in people’s home countries, in the US, in particular, like pressuring lawmakers to reduce the repression on on not just people who come here, but also to remove the PKK from this international terrorist list. There’s a push to have a no-fly zone for Turkey to limit Turkey’s ability to make incursions into the area. There were some boycott movements on companies such as Garmin that were manufacturing drone parts that Turkey was using, which Turkey is also now supplying drones to Ethiopia to suppress the resistance to the genocide in Tigray as well, so that’s worth noting the connection there.

As far as learning more about TA in particular, we have Twitter, we don’t update it super often, our internet’s not super reliable all the time and media isn’t our top priority. And we do answer our email when we can. So if people have questions for us, we can be contacted that way. And as far as supporting Rojava generally: inform yourself, follow the news and the history. There’s a really great book that I read called A Road Unforeseen by Meredith Tax. I know she, Meredith Tax, has done speaking tours with Debbie Bookchin, I believe, who runs the Emergency Committee for Rojava. They have events that you can get involved with, you can educate yourself, you can connect other people. So yeah, Emergency Committee for Rojava is usually a good place to find stuff.

TFSR: I can put links in the show notes to some of the texts that you’ve brought up. There’s, for instance, the one about the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising., there’s like a free PDF on the publishers website, which is really helpful. If you have any other links that you want to share, too, we can happily put those in there. Is there anything that I failed to ask you about that you’d like to share?

RG: I think one of the most valuable things that I’ve quote unquote, “learned” from the revolution here in my time here, and just from the society and seeing the effort, and the slow and steady pace of building the communes and the cooperatives and all of the issues that they’ve run into, and starting over that they’ve had to do, and the perseverance that they’ve had to have, is that the work that that I see a lot of my friends, in particular anarchist, but not only anarchists, doing in the US, and in Canada and other places like it – and I’m talking about like housing cooperatives, land trusts, tenants unions, connecting the tenants unions to labor unions – any kind of organizing like this with the people, that is with the eye to, not just to win a concession from the boss or the landlord, but to further connect the people to their community and to each other and going to city council meetings, doing things that that may seem pretty unrevolutionary and unglamorous at the local level…that’s the quote unquote, “real work”.

Like I think American anarchists suffer the most from a belief that the real revolution is always somewhere else, that the real revolutionary possibilities and activities are always somewhere more exciting. That anything we do is, you know, we like to call each other “cosplayers” or kind of put down each other’s work or our own work, and I think that the most valuable thing that I’ve learned from being here is, is this is the real work, the work that we’re doing here is not significantly different than the work that revolutionaries, I’ll use that word, are doing in the US, are doing in Canada, and that especially those connected to land struggles for Indigenous people, I think that is absolutely the right track. And we should have more faith in ourselves, we should take ourselves more seriously and we should have more of an appreciation for the ways in which the conditions are good for us to do this work, the material resources, the access to knowledge that we do have, and to, to support each other in this and to really see the potential.

TFSR: Yeah, I appreciate that. Thank you. And thank you, Robin, thank you so much, after long days and in the middle of your busy schedule to take the time to, to communicate your views and your experiences. I really appreciate hearing him and I’m excited to share him with the audience. Thank you.

RG: Yeah, thank you for taking so much time to talk to me and being patient with all this, tech issues and everything. *chuckles*

TFSR: *laughs* Blasted technology. And pass my love and appreciation to TA please.

RG: I will do that, thank you