Category Archives: Politics

Matthew Lyons on Christian Nationalism(s)

Matthew Lyons on Christian Nationalism(s)

"TFSR 11-20-22 | Matthew Lyons on Christian Nationalism(s)" over a photo of January 6th 2021 participants carrying a picture of Jesus wearing a MAGA hat
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This is a conversation with Matthew Lyons, antifascist researcher, contributor to Three Way Fight Blog and author of, among other books, Insurgent Supremacists: The U.S. Far Right’s Challenge to State and Empire and contributor to the recent AK Press compilation, No Pasarán: Antifascist Dispatches from a World in Crisis (edited by Shane Burley). For the hour, Matthew talks about Christian Nationalist and theonomic tendencies and movements like New Apostolic Reformation, Dominionism, reactionary Catholicism and Christian Reconstructionism to learn more about how they interrelate or conflict with other far right tendencies in the so-called USA and the ongoing assault on bodily autonomy, abortion access and cis-hetero-patriarchy. More of Matthews work can be found at MatthewNLyons.Net

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We’re hoping to bring you voices from graduate student workers and other workers on strike in the University of California system and possibly beyond for this coming Sunday’s show.

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Phone Zap for Shinewhite

BACKGROUND: Joseph “Shine White” Stewart is a long-time incarcerated writer and organizer who is known, among other things, for promoting interracial unity among black and white prisoners in North Carolina as a way to forward their shared resistance against the prison industrial complex and for encouraging abolitionists on the outside to center prisoners’ demands and resistance in their work.  He has most recently been central to prisoners’ organizing efforts to combat racist CO brutality at Alexander Correctional Institution and the extended lockdown at Bertie Correctional Institution.  As one might imagine, he is no stranger to political repression, and he has been repeatedly transferred, held in solitary confinement for years at a time, and physically brutalized as the system has attempted to silence him.  On November 3, in response to his most recent organizing, Shine White was transferred to Granville Correctional Institution in Butner, NC, where he was placed in restrictive housing.  When he arrived, he was placed in a filthy, unsanitary cell which staff refused to allow him to clean and denied access to his property, including legal paperwork related to pending motions in a lawsuit his is pursuing which he was therefore unable to put in the mail on time.  Staff have even restricted his access to paper.  As of his last contact with Solidarity Beyond the Walls, Shine White is still being housed in unsanitary conditions and still does not have his property.  He has requested that SBW support him by organizing a phone zap on his behalf.

  • NCDPS Division of Prisons Central Region Director Loris Sutton 919-582-6125 (direct office line) OR 919-803-0713 (cell phone) OR 919-838-4053 (Central Region main office line);
  • Standard and Performance Director Cynthia Thornton 919-838-4000 (Division of prisons main office line)

Remember that repeat calls are welcome, as the more calls come in, the more likely it is that our demands on Shine White’s behalf will be met.

WHAT TO SAY: Here is a script you can use if you aren’t sure what to say when you call:“Hello.  I am calling on behalf of Joseph Stewart, OPUS number 0802041.  When he was transferred to Granville CI on November 3, Mr. Stewart was placed in restrictive housing in unsanitary conditions and denied his property, including legal paperwork that needed to be put in the mail no later than November 4.  Both of these are violations of NCDPS policy and procedure.  I am calling to demand that Mr. Stewart be released from restrictive housing, be placed in a clean cell with access to supplies to keep it that way, and that all of his property be returned immediately.”

Support Colombian Uprising Prisoners

There is still repression being felt by those swept up by the state during the 2021 National Strike in Cali, Colombia and there’s a fundraising effort for the Paso del Aguante 6 who are facing up to 50 years in prison for participating in the strike. The Colombia Freedom Collective is happy to announce that Christian Andres Aguilar has been released at 14 months of pre-trail detention, though he’s not out of danger yet. You can learn more about the cases of the Paso del Aguante 6 and how to support their defense efforts at: https://colombiafreedomcollective.org/christian-andres-aguilar-released-after-14-months-of-pretrial-detention/

Bad News #62

Check out the latest episode of Bad News: Angry Voices from Around The World from the International A-Radio Network. This month features two really good interviews you may not have heard from Frequenz-A: a chat with a member of Feminist Anti-War Resistance, a movement against the militarism of the Russian state and the war in Ukraine; a conversation with Berlin-based advocates for Alfredo Cospito, Juan, Anna and Ivan hunger striking in Italy against 41 bis. These are alongside shorter versions of our recent chats on heaters in Albuquerque, updates on Eric King & Oso Blanco’s situations and the struggle against Camp Grayling.

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We are entering a period of recording fury. Patreon supporters will get early access to interviews as we get them edited down, as well as behind the scenes conversations between the producers. Upcoming releases include Mitchell Verter, co-author of the 2005 AK Press book, Dreams of Freedom: A Ricardo Flores Magón Reader speaking around the 100th anniversary of the murder by incarceration by the US state of the Mexican anarchist communist revolutionary, RFM, and discussion of his legacy. Another is a conversation with Rhiannon Firth on her recently published book, Disaster Anarchy: Mutual Aid and Radical Action, out from Pluto Press. You can find our patreon at patreon.com/tfsr

Though we’re releasing some content early to patreon supporters, we won’t be paywalling it permanently. Our fundraising goes to operating costs, equipment, and paying our transcribers. We’ve been transcribing each interview we’ve conducted and making them available as zines on our website for coming up on 2 years now, and going back to transcribe past episodes to boot. This makes these important conversations available for translation, for easier access to folks who are more comfortable reading or for whom English is a second language, as well as getting the content more easily into prisoners, reading groups and passers-by’s hands so as to include more people in the discussion.

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Featured Tracks:

  • Gods and Government by Snog from Dear Valued Customer
  • The Voice of God Is Government by Bad Religion from How Could Hell Be Any Worse?
  • Brazil by Django Reinhardt from Django in Rome

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Transcription

TFSR: I’m speaking with Matthew Lyons, Anti-Fascist researcher, activist, and author of multiple books including Insurgent Supremacists: The US Far Right Challenge to State and Empire. Matthew is also a contributor to the upcoming AK Press collection No Pasarán and is a longtime contributor to the blog threewayfight.blogspot.com. Thank you very much for joining. I really appreciate you having this conversation with me.

Matthew Lyons: Happy to be here. Thank you very much for the invitation.

TFSR: I’ve invited you on mostly to speak about the Christian far right, in particular, which is one of the focuses in your book, which has been behind increasing its sustained attacks around issues of gender, sexual equality, and liberation in the so-called USA, including these ramped up state by state erosion of abortion rights, education around sexuality, “CRT” and other topics, and also the recognition of non-cisgender folks.

In May, you published an article on ThreeWayFight entitled “Abortion, the Christian right, and Anti-Fascism” that rehashes some of the content of your “Theocrats” chapter in Insurgent Supremacists. You began this blog entry with the line “It’s time for anti-fascists to stop treating the Christian right as a secondary threat.” I’d like to take this as a starting point. When you’re talking about the Christian right, or the Christian far right, what tendencies are you talking about? What are some overlaps and distinctions in particular in how they understand patriarchy, gender, and sexuality? Broad brush.

ML: Well, the reason I lead with the comments about the need to stop treating the Christian right as a secondary threat is I think that, on the one hand, a Christian right represents a serious force for right-wing authoritarianism in the United States, but it doesn’t fit into the standard categories that people think about when they talk about fascism or fascistic politics. And so it does tend to get less attention and less of a focus from people who see themselves as anti-fascist.

In very broad terms, when I talk about the Christian right in the US, I’m talking about a constellation of movements or organizations or networks that came together starting in the 1970s and have really had very impressive staying power, and have done a lot of work to build a multi-dimensional movement that includes everything from lobbying groups and thinktanks to, just, very grassroots prayer cells and neighborhood church networks. So it’s very much of a full-scale social movement. In political terms, the Christian right is unified by a broad goal of making their interpretation of Christianity central and dominant to the US. But that certainly means several different things. And I would say that in broad terms, there’s a division within the movement between what you could characterize as “reformist” versus “revolutionary” branches where there’s a majority that wants to bring about certain changes within the existing political systems such as banning abortion, suppressing homosexuality and gender nonconformity, reintroducing prayer in the schools, bringing back Creationism as a supposedly legitimate field of study and things like this. And then, on the other hand, there is a minority faction or current that is very powerful and influential. It says that it’s not possible to bring about our vision of an ethical Christian society within the existing framework so there is a need, they say, to replace the existing framework with what essentially amounts to a theocracy.

This, in contrast to, say, white nationalists who center their political vision on race, the Christian right vision of a theocratic future really puts gender and sexuality at the center, rather than race. And it is very much a patriarchal, heterosexist, and transphobic vision that is pretty scary. They have a romanticized image of the past, of how men and women’s supposedly lived in a harmonious but hierarchical manner, with women very clearly limited to homemaking roles, wife and mother kinds of roles, and sex being defined as something that is for procreation, these standard traditionalist patriarchal ideas. So there are different versions of the theocratic model that they advocate. Some of them are very much based on a centralized big state, while others are actually based on a very decentralized model of state power, which nonetheless is extremely authoritarian and repressive. so it doesn’t necessarily all fit together in terms of people’s preconceptions about what far-right authoritarianism looks like.

TFSR: So it has quite a spectrum. But as you say, the central Crux around which a lot of the political organizing occurs counter-poses to ethno-nationalists who focus on nationalities. This idea that sexual reproduction, the expansion of the Christian population in the country, the pushing out of ideologies or belief systems that they view as standing in counter to that and imposition of the accuracy.

One of the umbrellas that come up throughout your book is Christian Reconstructionism. And at first, I was going to glibly compare this to a vision of The Handmaid’s Tale, but maybe that’s a bit flat. Can you talk about some of the roots of Christian Reconstructionism? Are there analogs with other theocratic or theonomic regimes around the world? And also, what’s Dominionism and how does it relate to Christian Reconstructionism?

ML: Okay, Christian Reconstructionism is a particular ideological current within the Christian right that was founded in the 1960s by R.J. Rushdoony, who was a Presbyterian. In theological terms, it’s rooted in certain versions of Presbyterianism, which is originally a branch of Calvinism. But over the decades, it’s certainly spread and it’s not limited to Presbyterians, in terms of who its activists and leaders have been. In political terms, it is based on the idea that, as I said, we need to replace the existing political system with a full-on theocracy, or they call it theonomy, based on their interpretation of biblical law, and it is a pretty grim interpretation indeed. This would involve disenfranchising women, relegalizing slavery, and making the death penalty punishment for homosexuality or adultery, heresy, and many other crimes. And it is a current that has never been a very large movement in its own right, but it is very influential in terms of helping to shape and guide larger forces within the Christian right.

For example, Pat Robertson, who was a longtime televangelist and founded the Christian Coalition, which was a major force starting in the 1980s. His approach to politics was very much influenced by Christian Reconstructionism. Similarly, Randall Terry founded Operation Rescue, an organization that used civil disobedience tactics in the service of trying to suppress abortion providers and the availability of abortion. He was very much influenced by Christian Reconstructionism. It’s a movement that has been particularly influential in the most violent and terroristic wing of the anti-abortion movement. A number of the leading figures in that movement have themselves been proponents of Christian Reconstructionism. Another person of note is Larry Pratt, who was the longtime head of Gun Owners of America, which has been described as a gun rights organization to the right of the NRA. And Larry Pratt also, somebody who played a significant role in helping to launch the Patriot militia movement in the 1990’s. These are some examples of the ways that the movement has played a larger role.

You also asked about Dominionism. One of the things that Christian Reconstructionism in particular has advocated is the notion that Christians have a duty to God to “take dominion” over society at large and to basically take control over all of the leading institutions of society, from the government to the educational system, the media, and so on. You started to see, in the 70’s and later, this notion of taking Dominion spreading to other forces within the Christian right. That’s where the term Dominionism comes from. There are different versions of that: some people make a distinction between so-called Soft Dominionism and Hard Dominionism, depending on how intensive and how comprehensive your notion of imposing theocratic rule would be. But these are all notions that have become central and defining for the Christian right as a whole in one form or another in Christian Reconstructionism. Certainly, it’s not the only place that they come from, but it’s been one of the major influencing pieces of that picture.

TFSR: Another main wing of the Christian far right that you spend some time on and Insurgent Supremacists is the New Apostolic Reformation. Could you talk a little bit about this tendency, and how it relates to other branches of Christianity?

ML: Sure, New Apostolic Reformation is a movement that has different names. It’s been called Kingdom Now, Seven Mountains Theology, and other names. Again, in theological terms, it’s actually rooted in the Pentecostal and charismatic tradition. So, this is a whole subset of Christianity that, among other things, believes in the current-day practice of miracles, such as faith healing and the availability of prophecy to leaders within the movement, who claim to be able to basically give voice to what God has foretold about the future.

So within this broad theological current, there are different political currents, but there have been various right-wing tendencies, among others. And they came together most clearly starting in the 1990s around this concept of an apostolic reformation. And part of what they did is they took some of the Dominionist ideas that came partly from Christian Reconstructionism and combined them with some of the theological and organizational principles from the Pentecostal and charismatic traditions. So the result is something that resembles Christian Reconstructionism in the sense that it is a theocratic movement. It’s a movement that advocates comprehensive control of society and imposition of their version of Christianity on society as a whole. But it’s also quite different in certain ways. One thing, whereas the Christian Reconstructionists advocate a decentralized model of theocracy, the New Apostolic Reformation is very much based on a centralized version. And it’s also been much more effective in galvanizing a mass movement. The numbers are- I haven’t seen what I would call reliable numbers – but one estimate from 2013 places the number of people involved in New Apostolic-associated churches in the United States alone at 3 million people, with millions more in other countries.

It’s also very different in terms of its racial and ethnic composition. Christian Reconstructionism has always been pretty much all-white. But the New Apostolic Movement has a genuinely multiracial and multi-ethnic character, and is also quite international, as I said, with significant branches in Latin America and Asia, Africa. So that’s quite different. And the positions that they’ve taken on issues of race, and also actually issues of gender, have been more sophisticated in a sense. When you look at Christian Reconstructionism, it has tended to either be silent on issues of race, or, in some cases, some of the leaders have embraced, more or less, overtly white supremacist positions, for example, supporting neo-Confederate politics. New Apostolic Reformation has actually taken a very different approach. There are some leaders within the movement who advocate a “colorblind” ideology of basically claiming to just treat everybody as an individual. But others actually advocate confronting and opposing racial injustice, at least, within some context, or at least in words. So, that in itself is very different.

And while Christian Reconstructionism has always been very male-dominated in terms of who is actually seen as having the capacity to be in leadership roles, New Apostolic Reformation from the beginning included women in prominent roles and important leadership roles, and to some degree has been a space where women have been able to speak out against male domination and to challenge misogynistic interpretations of Christianity. And I think it’s important to be careful about this because, to my view, it’s not that these characteristics make New Apostolic Reformation more progressive or somehow less dangerous. Rather, it’s an example of a far-right movement taking elements of progressive or even radical politics and distorting them and harnessing them for goals and purposes that are fundamentally reactionary or right-wing or fascistic. And thereby deflecting a lot of criticism and also channeling some of the frustrations and rebelliousness that people may have… Channeling that into initiatives that end up bolstering hierarchy and bolstering oppression. The New Apostolic Reformation leaders may, in some cases, speak out against racial injustice, but they’re also speaking out against abortion rights, they’re speaking out in favor of transphobic laws and suppression of any gender nonconformity. And they’ve been very outspoken in supporting Donald Trump’s politics and just the whole Make America Great Again approach to politics. So it’s not in any sense a progressive movement but rather something that uses elements of progressive politics in a very dangerous way.

TFSR: Yeah, it, in fact, sounds quite regressive. Jumping back to what you were saying about the occasional cording of racial supremacist perspectives by Christian Reconstructionism. Just to put a point on the position of them working with neo-Confederates at times. Can you talk a little bit about the historical vision that they in particular, but either of the groups, has of not only what the United States or iterations within the United States, such as the Antebellum South? Or what the vision of America was to be as a “City on a Hill” or as an example of a puritanical institution? Because it seems like they’re trying to make what their vision of America being great again is theonomy.

ML: The phrase puritanical is a good one. In the sense that the Puritans, some of the founders of American settler colonialism back in the 17th century, the Puritans were Calvinists, who were theological relatives of the founders of Christian Reconstructionism in the sense of their vision of society being something that was based on certain notions of obedience to God’s law and so on.

As I said, there are different versions of the divisions that these groups have with the Reconstructionists having a very decentralized approach. Basically, their notion is that the theocracy would be exercised through the family, through the church, and through local institutions, primarily, with central governmental institutions, playing much more of a secondary role. Whereas the New Apostolic Reformation, and I think some of the other forces within the Christian right, take much more of a big State approach. And I should mention that the New Apostolic Reformation has also cultivated some pretty active ties with prominent politicians: folks, such as Sarah Palin, former vice presidential candidate; Rick Perry, who was governor of Texas and then was in Trump’s cabinet; Sam Brownback, who was a senator and governor from Kansas; and other folks. So even though they have this comprehensive vision of basically getting rid of the system of government that the US has, they also have done a lot to work with politicians who are involved in the system.

TFSR: So in Insurgent Supremacists, you decided not to cover reactionary Roman Catholicism because it’s not a distinctly US-based movement. But as an ex-Catholic myself, despite a sense of falling numbers of membership in the Church, it seems like there is a rise in right-wing strains, such as those which produce people like Steve Bannon or Amy Coney Barrett, or historically, the trajectory of Father Charles Coughlin and his National Union of Social Justice back in the 1930’s. Do you see any ascendant reactionary Roman Catholicism as one of these other groups that are posing a threat? And do you see in that an influence from a renewed Christian Charismatic Movement? Or does it seem like it’s just the same monster coming back, the same reactionary Catholicism?

ML: Certainly, reactionary Catholicism has played a significant role within the broader Christian right in its current form, all along. And, as you say, there are much older roots. Charles Coughlin, in the 1930s, was one of the most, if not the most influential leaders of what was really a fascist movement at that time in the US. And it was striking that as a Catholic priest, at a time when anti-Catholicism was still a major force within the US and certainly within sectors of the far right. So carrying that forward, during the period of the Cold War, there were many right-wing, Catholic leaders who, in some cases, had ties with right-wing Catholic forces within or in exile from Eastern Europe under the Soviet bloc. So, there is a distinct tradition of right-wing Catholicism, that is being invoked or being built upon by right-wing Catholics today.

One of the things that have been distinctive about the modern Christian right has been its ability to build bridges and alliances between right-wing Protestants and Catholics, in contrast to earlier movements that were often separated and where, as I said, anti-Catholicism was often a major force and was interconnected with anti-immigrant sentiment targeting first Irish Catholics, but then later Italians and other immigrant groups. But the Christian Right has really been successful at setting those and other sectarian divisions aside for political purposes. So you have seen several organizations such as Pat Robertson’s Christian Coalition, for example, which might be majority Protestant but with a significant Catholic presence within it. And then you’ve also had other organizations which are specifically Catholic, taking, for example, the Human Life International, which has been a leading Catholic anti-abortion group for a number of decades, and others. And it’s interesting, there have been a number of prominent right-wing evangelical Protestants who have actually converted to Catholicism, such as Sam Brownback, who I mentioned earlier, the political leader from Kansas.

I’m interested to learn more about Amy Coney Barrett. I confess that I haven’t really delved into her political history that much, but I know that she comes out of an organization called People of Praise, which is a Catholic charismatic group. Charismatic being a movement within Christianity that cuts across the division between Protestants and Catholics. But People of Praise being specifically a Catholic group within that, and one that I believe has had significant ties with leaders within the New Apostolic Reformation movement. So, I don’t know that it would be accurate to say that Amy Coney Barrett herself is affiliated with New Apostolic Reformation, I’ve never heard that claim made. But there are certainly some at least indirect connections and, I’m sure, some significant resonances between her politics in there. I think there are definitely a number of threads that will be important to explore further.

TFSR: I’d be interested in hearing how you think the concept of liberty is espoused by many of these tendencies that also simultaneously are trying to lead a coordinated movement towards theocracy. For instance, I recall adherence to the right-wing Libertarian Party used to make stances of being socially liberal. This is at least when I was growing up in the 90’s and early 2000’s, around drug use, around sexuality in a way that seemed to set them apart from others on the right. That was something they touted, and they were really proud of that. But it seems like a lot of people in the Libertarian movement have embraced this theocratic vision. If you could talk a little bit about how does the concept – to your understanding – of liberty coincide with implementing God’s will?

ML: Libertarianism is a term that covers a number of different political approaches or different philosophies. But there’s a long-standing, certainly, the several-decades-old relationship between libertarianism and Christian Reconstructionism. Specifically, there were a number of important founding leaders of Christian Reconstructionism, such as R.J. Rushdoony, who I mentioned earlier, and Gary North, another important leader, who were involved in Libertarian organizations early in their careers and in conjunction with the development of Reconstructionist ideology. And I think that the connection there is basically the idea of limited government. The Reconstructionists have been dubbed “Libertarian theocrats,” because they want to impose their theocratic rule through small-scale governmental institutions, as well as non-governmental institutions, such as the family and the church. But at the same time, their notion of liberty is based on the idea that humans must submit themselves to God’s authority in any attempt to develop ideas or lines of thinking that are outside of that… That any such effort is sinful, wrong, and satanic. And so it just really calls into question what are we even talking about when we talk about liberty. But, I’m sure they would argue that it is a liberty, but it’s not a concept of liberty that seems meaningful to me. I’m sure others within the Christian right who would stop short of this very hardline notion of submission to God’s will, but that is a concept that you do see in watered-down versions in other places, too.

TFSR: Another point in Insurgent Supremacists – I really enjoy the construction, the way you put chapters leading one into another to show the relationships between far-right movements – you point out how the patriot movement grew, in part, out of the racial supremacist right and groups such as Posse Comitatus, and later gaining an infusion of Christian fundamentalist perspectives in a uniquely American manner. Can you talk about how the Christian far right relates to current tendencies such as Sovereign Citizens or, more importantly, things like Constitutional Sheriffs? And how does this devolution of civil authority relate to the concept of democracy?

ML: Well, I want to just correct a little bit of what you said there. To me, the Christian Right influence was there from the very beginning in the formation of the Patriot movement. It wasn’t something that came later. The Patriot movement came to prominence in the early to mid-1990’s, with the formation of hundreds of so-called “citizen militias” and related groups around the country that were spurred on by fears that there was a plot by globalist elites who were trying to impose a dictatorship on the United States. And so people needed to rise up and defend themselves against it. And a lot of critics of this movement have emphasized the ways that it carried forward ideas and currents rooted in white nationalism and rooted in neo-Nazi and white supremacist movements of the years that came earlier. And that’s an important part of it. But the Christian Right forces, and specifically Christian Reconstructionists, were also there right from the beginning. Larry Pratt who I mentioned earlier was the leader of Gun Owners of America and an advocate of Reconstructionist ideas about politics. He was advocating the formation of citizen militias in the 1980’s. Well before anybody was talking about, them in the national media. Matthew Trewhella, another Reconstructionist leader, advocated forming citizen militias in the context of the anti-abortion rights movement in early 1990’s. So these were very much present from the beginning as part of the mix that created the patriot movement as a hybrid, a blending of a number of different right-wing currents.

And that is something that has carried through to the current-day version. The Patriot movement has had its ups and downs and had a big upsurge in the 1990’s. It collapsed for a number of years and had another upsurge starting, at least partly in response to the election of Barack Obama as the first black president of the United States. And it’s continued to be a significant force, since then. But currents within the patriot movement, such as the Sovereign Citizens, which is a particular branch of Patriot ideology that claims that each person can in legal terms be a country unto themselves, and they can declare that they are no longer subject to United States authority. This is very much rooted in the mix of white nationalist and Christian theocratic ideas, along with other right-wing ideas that came out of the gun rights movement, the anti-environmental movement, and the John Birch Society as a Cold War era champion of conspiracist ideology. All these different currents coming together to Sovereign Citizens is one offshoot of that. The Constitutional Sheriffs organization, which was founded about 10 or 12 years ago, has become an important Patriot movement organization. The founder of the constitutional sheriffs, Richard Mack, is actually somebody who worked for Gun Owners of America along with Larry Pratt, so that doesn’t necessarily mean that he had exactly the same views, but I’m sure that they would have had some pretty interesting political discussions there in which Christian Reconstructionist idea has certainly been in the mix. So these are all examples of the interplay that we’ve had between Christian theocratic political currents and other far-right political forces within the patriot movement and in other contexts.

TFSR: You’ve made the point that many of the far-right Christian movements we’ve been talking about often center patriarchy and religion over race as a central crux within it, which distinguishes them from other elements in the US far right. You’ve mentioned also that the New Apostolic Reformation is a much less blanket white movement.

I wonder if you could talk a little bit more about your understanding of how this tendency or how the far-right Christian movements in general, broad brush, deal with immigration in the US. I know that a lot of the anti-Catholic perspectives on the West Coast have been formulated around fears of immigrants from Latin America bringing in Catholicism, for instance, and the social values that they believe are carried with that. Do you see a shift in the way that the Christian far right has been thinking about immigration? And how it relates to the ethno-nationalist tendencies in other parts of the US far right.

ML: Yeah, that’s a good question. It’s been a complicated story. My sense is that for much of its earlier history, the Christian right didn’t really focus on issues of immigration and was not particularly aligned with anti-immigrant scapegoating. So I’m talking about the 1970’s through maybe the 1990’s or so. Certainly, during that time, you did start to see significant anti-immigrant organizing coming back into the fore. It’s been, a recurrent theme in US history. But that was a period when it was starting to be on the upsurge again. Initially, the Christian right was really not playing to that theme. But after some time, I’m not sure exactly when, but sometime in the early 2000’s, that started to shift, and you started to see much more use of anti-immigrant scapegoating by sections of the Christian right because they saw it as something popular with their base or potential support base that they were trying to appeal to. So they saw it as something that would help win support.

At the same time, they’ve also been interested in reaching out to immigrants themselves, in many cases, whether we’re talking about Catholics or evangelicals coming from Latin America, coming from other parts of the world. There are significant groups there that the Christian right has seen as people that they could hope to attract. And in the case of the New Apostolic Reformation, they’ve been pretty successful to a degree at doing that. So that’s the particular section of the Christian right that, as far as I can tell, has really steered clear of anti-immigrant scapegoating themselves. There may be exceptions, but I think that’s generally been the case, which is not to say that their politics have been good around immigrant rights. They’ve been perfectly amenable to working with others within the right, who have pretty odious politics around immigration, but it’s just something that they would not necessarily promote themselves. So, there is this complicated dance that some of these groups have tried to follow, because there are essentially conflicting aims or conflicting demands on them, in terms of how they could build their base or reach out to more people.

TFSR: You did use the term “Christian Fascism” when talking about Coughlin and the movement that he was involved with, and I’ve been hearing that term coming up a lot recently, or Christofascism. One figure that I can think of that would fall into that tendency that I want to mention is the former Ashevillian William Dudley Pelley and his Silver Shirt Movement in the 1930’s-40’s. Is Christian Fascism an apt term to describe any of the groups that you’ve been talking about today in this conversation?

ML: Well, it depends on what we mean by fascism. There’s no general agreement about what Fascism is within the left, let alone more broadly in society. There’s a common-sense notion of fascism that many people have in which white supremacist ideology is a major piece of the picture. So, if that is part of your definition of fascism, then a lot of the Christian right is not going to fit that.

To me, it’s more useful to use the term fascism somewhat more broadly. To me, fascism is an approach to politics that is about mobilizing or trying to mobilize masses of people to, on the one hand, bolster or intensify systems of oppression and social hierarchy, but also to challenge the established political order and the established political elites. So, it has both an oppressive and a rebellious aspect. But to me, it does not necessarily have to center on race. It does not necessarily have to center on intensifying racial oppression and racist ideology directly. I would argue that the section of the Christian right that advocates not just specific changes, such as outlawing abortion or bringing back school prayer but [that] advocates a more comprehensive transformation of society based on an authoritarian political vision: I think it’s appropriate to call that fascist. But we need to be clear about what we mean when we use the term, otherwise, it just becomes this epithet that gets thrown around. So if that concept of fascism makes sense to you, then I would say, use it that way. But if your concept of fascism is more specific to a white nationalist division, then it doesn’t fit most of the Christian Right, except for that limited section of the Christian Right that directly supports white nationalism.

TFSR: So you’ve advocated anti-fascists focusing on the battleground of gender and bodily autonomy as anti-fascists. Notably, Anti Racist Action took that stance from the 1990s onward in defending abortion clinics as another front of liberation struggles.

So in terms of strategy, in terms of anti-fascists approaching theocratic movements, Christian far-right movements, and trying to counter them, I wonder what you think we’re missing in the approach or in these conversations that we’re having about how we can combat the toxic spread of theocracy? Some of the strongest advocates that I’ve met just anecdotally in my life have been people that have escaped from homeschooling situations or from Quiverfull families or what have you. And I think that there’s something there to work with. But I wonder what you have to say as far as the movement goes?

ML: Well, I guess there are a couple broad things I would say about anti-fascist strategy in this context. First off, one is that coming back to the point where we started this conversation, it’s important for anti-fascists not just to treat the Christian Right as a secondary issue, which I think is tied in with this question of what’s the role of race versus other points of issues of social oppression and what does fascism center on. To me, the white nationalist vision of creating an all-white homeland, whether that’s through migration or mass expulsion or genocide, are all horrific visions that need to be combated, no question. At the same time, the political vision that Christian theocrats put forward of a society where everybody is subordinate to their version of Christian ideology, and that is something that comes down with particular severity on women, on queer folks, on trans folks. Even if it is not directly targeting People of Color, that in itself is a horrific vision. It’s something that needs to be combated on its own terms. And not only if it is something that is seen as supporting a white nationalist vision.

So, I think that in terms of just where people on the left and within anti-fascist circles, where people see the major sources of danger and a political threat coming from, it’s important to pay attention to Christian theocratic forces, especially because some of these forces are enormous. I mentioned earlier that it was an estimate of the New Apostolic Reformation having something like 3 million supporters in the United States. Even if that’s off by an order of magnitude, that’s still enormous. And it’s far, far greater than groups such as the Oathkeepers or Constitutional Sheriffs or the Proud Boys, let alone any smaller neo-Nazi groups that are out there. And it’s not just numbers, but it’s also the organization and the funding and the degree of commitment that people in these movements display. So these are serious opponents that we need to contend with.

The other broad point I want to make about anti-fascist strategy is: to me, it’s important to use a two-pronged approach. On the one hand, we need to work with a variety of political forces, with people with a variety of political views to build broad anti-fascist alliances, broad alliances to combat the far right in different contexts, whether that’s in terms of mass protests in the media, different contexts. And also, the other approach is that it is equally necessary to have radical initiatives that are confronting and seeking to change the systemic oppression and exploitation, and institutional violence that’s at the heart of how our society is organized. And these two approaches are sometimes seen as in opposition to each other, or that we need to subordinate one to the other. I think that may be true in specific moments and specific contexts. But overall, they’re both important, and we need to find ways to pursue both of them. The far right is an immediate danger in terms of it’s something that presents an immediate threat to many of us, and to a number of different communities. So, there is that immediacy that’s needed to push against that. But the far right is also rooted in systemic oppression and the social order that gives rise to supremacist ideologies of different kinds. And so, unless we attack that systemic reality, it’s just going to keep coming back.

Another side of it is also, as I mentioned earlier that the far right has this combination of trying to intensify oppression but also rebelling against the status quo, rebelling against the established elites and established institutions. And that means that it’s a political force that feeds on people’s anger at elites, it feeds on people’s sense of being beaten down and disenfranchised. And if the Left wants to present a serious alternative as an oppositional force, it needs to offer an alternative, it needs to offer radical visions that speak to people’s sense of disempowerment and people’s anger, rather than simply take a defensive posture. So I think, again, there are ways that it’s important in specific moments or specific contexts to join together around just holding actions but it would be a real mistake to just put any notion of radical social change on the backburner or say, “Oh, that’s something we can’t really afford to address at this time of a resurgent right.” It would be self-defeating to take that approach of pure defensiveness.

You made the point about refugees from far-right communities or people who’ve been raised in a Christian theocratic context, how do we engage with them? Or how do we provide space for them to take a different path? I certainly think that’s an important question. I don’t know that I have any particular insights into that, except that, as with anyone, it’s important to take seriously the experiences that people have had and let people tell their stories and engage with them in a way that’s based on respect. And that doesn’t necessarily mean that people who’ve just come out of a Quiverfull community have it all figured out. But, let’s listen to what they have to say. And let’s engage with them from the standpoint that people go into these movements for reasons that are human. It’s not that they’re simply brainwashed, or that it’s based on madness or something like that. Right-wing movements attract people because they speak to the needs or desires or fears that people have. And those are very human things. And we have to find other ways to speak to people in human terms that don’t talk down to them, that doesn’t dismiss their realities, but offer a framework that respects all people and is about seeking human liberation, rather than a supremacist vision of the future.

TFSR: Yeah, thank you. It’s a very big subject you’ve been talking about, I’ve had you on for a while. My questions have been a little scattered and trying to pick out a few different angles. But I’m wondering if there’s anything that I didn’t ask about that you want to touch on as we wrap this up?

ML: There probably is, but I’m drawing a blank right now. There probably is, but I’m drawing a blank.

TFSR: Matthew, thank you so much for taking the time to have this conversation and for all the research that you do. How can listeners follow and support your work?

ML: Thanks again for having me on. As you mentioned, I have a book that came out a few years ago, Insurgent Supremacists: The US Far-Right Challenge to State and Empire was published by PM Press and Kersplebedeb Publishing. I contribute regularly to the blog ThreeWayFight, which is threewayfight.blogspot.com. And I have a website, matthewnlyons.net, where people can find listings for my various writings. So thanks again, and I appreciate the good work that you’re doing.

TFSR: Thank you very much.

The First International and the Birth of the Anarchist Movement (with Robert Graham)

The First International and the Birth of the Anarchist Movement (with Robert Graham)

book cover of "We Do Not Fear Anarchy, We Invoke It!" featuring a woman holding a torch and red flag in what appears to be a scene of chaos
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I’m happy to share this interview with anarchist author and historian, Robert Graham about the split in the historic left that led to the birth of the anarchist movement. Robert published the book We Do Not Fear Anarchy, We Invoke It!: The First International and the Origins of the Anarchist Movement with AK Press in 2015.

As I say in the interview, I was excited to have this conversation with Robert since the 150th anniversary of the first anti-authoritarian International hosted by the anarchist watchmakers in St-Imier, Switzerland. I’m definitely not a history or theory head, so I’ve been pleased to take this opportunity to broaden my horizons and areas of study. To hear about the 150th Anniversary gathering, check out the segment by comrades at A-Radio Berlin from August 2022’s Bad News podcast. And check out Anarchy2023.Org for info on next year’s gathering.

Part 1: [00:11:45 – 01:11:58]

Part 2: [01:14:32 – 02:13:22]

The interview begins at after Sean Swain’s segment on the protests in Iran [00:03:20 – 00:11:45]

The book is available from Firestorm at the above link, also from the publisher at AKPress.Org, and you can check out an online version from Archive.Org for free as well. Or now at TheAnarchistLibrary.Org for easy & free download.

Here’s a link to an archive of Open Road, the anarchist journal Robert participated in in the 1970’s

For a related historical interview we conducted in 2014 with Andrew Zonneveld of On Our Own Authority! on an anarchist historical compilation called “The Commune: Paris, 1871”, linked in our show notes. Also of note, Coffee With Comrades just conducted an interview Jim Yoeman on his recently published AK Press book, Print Culture and the Formation of the Anarchist Movement in Spain, 1890-1915

Next week….

Next week, I hope to air voices supporting prisoner struggle in Alabama and anarchist prisoner struggle in Italy, particularly Alfredo Cospito.

. … . ..

Featured Tracks:

  • The Internationale by Ani DiFranco & Utah Phillips
  • La Internacional (Anarquista) by anonymous

. … . ..

Transcription

TFSR: So I’m speaking with Robert Graham, anarchist, historian and author of many books and articles, including the three volume collection from Black Rose Books and titled Anarchism: a Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas. And more recently, We Do Not Fear Anarchy, We Invoke It: The First International and the Origins of the Anarchist Movement from AK Press in 2015. Thanks for joining us, Robert.

Robert Graham: Thanks for having me.

TFSR: So I wonder if you’d be willing to say a bit about yourself, maybe how you became an anarchist? And if you do any organizing, what sort of organizing do you do?

RG: Sure. Well, I was a college student back in the late 1970s. So I got involved in a local anarchist publication called Open Road, which was an anarchist news journal that came out from 1976 to 1990. It was meant to be informal, non dogmatic and in tune with the times, and there’s actually a Facebook web page, you can go find their back issues. So I think just Google: “Open Road, anarchists, news journal” and you’ll probably find it.

Mainly I’ve been doing research and writing about historical stuff. Since then, I edited a three volume anthology of anarchists writings from ancient China to 2012 — when the last volume came out — covering anarchists movements, well, ideas really, across the globe. So not just your standard European kind of North American stuff, but also material from Japan and Korea, in China, India, and Africa, and in Latin America. So, I mean, there were interesting anarchist ideas popping up all over the place, and of course, anarchists movements across the globe. And up until the Russian Revolution, the anarchists were actually the most significant revolutionary socialist group. The Bolsheviks were a minority until after the Russian Revolution, so the anarchists basically were the far left of the socialist movement, up until then, despite historical misrepresentations by a variety of people that try to make it sound like anarchism was a petit bourgeois ideology and all that other stuff. Yeah.

I also have a blog, robertgraham.wordpress.com, where I added a bunch of stuff that I was unable to include in my anthology, and occasionally update. And currently, I’m working on an intellectual history of anarchist ideas, again, going back to ancient times and bringing it up to the 21st century,

TFSR: Do you have an idea of who you’re going to be publishing that through? Or what the sort of timeframe is on that?

RG: Hoping to publish that through AK press. And unfortunately, I haven’t finished it yet. So I’m not sure when I will. I have not had as much time to spend on it as I would like, but it is going more slowly than anticipated.

TFSR: It sounds like a daunting task, trying to grab that many ideas from such a timeframe.

So, I reached out to you because a network that I’m involved with, the A-Radio Network, which produces the monthly Bad News podcast, was talking about attending the 150th anniversary of the gathering in St-Imier in Switzerland, of the Anti-Authoritarian International. Organized by the Jura Federation — which this event actually just passed. As I understand the events were scaled back a bit this year, because of COVID concerns, but there’s a hope to have a larger event in 2023. And I’m hoping to attend. But because of this, I thought I’d learn a bit more and I reached out to Mark Bray, who suggested reaching out to you about the first International because of your book, which I already mentioned, the We Do Not Fear Anarchy, We Invoke It.

First up, could you kind of describe what the International Working Men’s Association or the IWMA was, who participated in it and what its founding purpose was? For instance: was it a group of organized worker groups seeking to network, or was it revolutionaries seeking to institute themselves as a vanguard? Or some sort of mixture in-between?

RG: Right, yeah, it was basically a broad coalition of working class European people. There were some women involved in the International, but as with many 19th century organizations, it was effectively run by male workers and intellectuals.

They came from primarily two groups: the English trade union movement, which had been going on since at least the Napoleonic era. In fact, it was in the 1790s in England, they brought in legislation essentially banning trade unions and strikes. And that was still the case in the 18th…well, it was starting to liberalize a little bit in both France and England in the 1860s. But trade unions were originally considered to be “illegal combinations against trade.” And in England, they had something called the Chartist Movement in the 1830’s and 40’s, which was really quite radical. That’s when the idea of the general strike was proposed. It was called the Grand National Holiday, and some of the Chartists as they were called, wanted to abolish the monarchy and bring in a republican form of government.

And so there were veteran Chartists involved in founding the IWMA, but also younger trade unionists who were interested in creating a network for international working class solidarity, where the international organization would provide things like strike funds, and other financial support and political support to workers, across the world but primarily it was being organized in Europe.

Then the other major group was the French workers, who were predominantly followers of the French anarchist socialist, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, who had advocated something called “mutualism”. Mutualism is a form of socialism where, in contrast to state forms of socialism — where it’s the state that kind of owns everything and controls the economy — in a mutualist system it’s an interlocking federation of worker and producer and geographical groups.

So the idea was that the workers would create their own credit unions, so that they wouldn’t have to deal with national and capitalist financial institutions. And they would pool their resources to create their own cooperative enterprises. And they would exchange goods between themselves through these cooperative enterprises and arrange for their distribution and sale, with everyone getting fair compensation for their work. And essentially, everything being collectively owned, and then managed by the workers themselves.

Those were the French mutualists. And they really wanted the International to serve as a vehicle for creating mutualist organizations and associations throughout Europe, so that they could eventually abolish capitalism, but through this gradual process, where the workers would — through mutual solidarity, sharing of their resources — create their own kind of alternative political economic system. And eventually, the state and capitalism would kind of just collapse.

That was their approach. And it took many years for the International to finally be founded. There were attempts to create an International in the 1850s, and there was a predecessor organization, but it didn’t last very long. And then these attempts were renewed in the early 1860’s, resulting in the foundation of the International in 1864.

There weren’t really any vanguardists in the International when it was founded. At the time the most significant vanguardist group were the followers of Auguste Blanqui in France. He was a French revolutionary veteran of the French Revolutions of 1830-31, and 1848 who was kind of like a Jacobin. The Jacobins where the French revolutionaries during the French Revolution in late 1780s and early 1790’s, who, for a time had control of the French state, but people who were called Jacobin’s by the 1860’s were the ones who agreed with the Jacobin approach of having a centralized leadership and political organization. And also they were quite in favor of having a Committee of Public Safety, and this comes up again later during the Paris Commune, which would suppress subversives and counter revolutionaries by force.

And so the followers of Auguste Blanqui believed in that approach with a vanguard group that would foment and create a revolution. They would establish a revolutionary dictatorship that would then go about transforming society. But they didn’t get involved in the International until about five years after it was founded. And then interestingly, they allied with Karl Marx, in order to basically neutralize or force out the anarchists and Proudhonist elements and the International.

TFSR: So the Blanquists kind of strike me as like the Bolsheviks before they were Marxists sort of.

RG: Yeah.

TFSR: Yeah. And so at that point, then, of those three elements: the Blanquist and the mutualists and the trade unions out of the UK, or from that influence from the Chartists, none of them — I guess, maybe the Blanquists might be called revolutionary — but the other two don’t necessarily sound like they would be considered revolutionary in the sense of overthrowing state power as much as. Unless I’m misunderstanding — the mutualists were more trying to overthrow the state from within, build counter institutions from within dual power and then just sort of dissolve the state.

RG: That’s right. The mutualists were really gradualist. But they did regard what they were advocating as a form of social revolution. But they thought that it could be achieved through nonviolent means. And that was something that Proudhon had argued after the 1848 revolutions, which he participated in, in France, basically that the workers couldn’t defeat the capitalists and the state by force of arms. And that was based on the experience of the revolutions of 1848, which were across Europe, they had revolutions in France, in Italy, various parts of what’s now called Germany and the old Austro-Hungarian empire, all of which were defeated by the power of the state.

In France, there was a worker’s insurrection in June 1848 that was very violently suppressed by the now Republican French military forces. And this caused a couple of different responses. So, for Proudhon, the answer was: we have to destroy the system from within gradually, by organizing ourselves into counter institutions.

For other people the answer was: we have to smash the state and expropriate the capitalists because otherwise they’re just going to crush us. And so there’s going to have to be a revolutionary contest. And within those groups, which included Marx and Engels, and Blanqui and other people, but it also included future anarchists like Mikhail Bakunin… Bakunin did not agree with the concept of revolutionary dictatorship, he was opposed to it. He felt it would become self perpetuating, and that this so-called, you know, “dictatorship of the proletariat” would become the dictatorship of the Blanquists or the Marxists and that what would happen would be what he described as a barracks regime where people would eat, live and breathe by the drumbeat of the state.

So, there were a number of people, not just Bakunin, but a number of people who drew a revolutionary anarchist lesson from the defeat of the 1848 revolutions. Which was: one, there has to be a revolutionary contest with the state and the capitalist. The workers must organize themselves into bodies that are capable of taking on the state by a variety of means, general strikes, also expropriation and unfortunately, armed struggle. And that the capitalist state system could never be gradually destroyed just through the establishment of cooperatives and credit unions and so forth.

And so in addition to Bakunin, there were some self-identified anarchists who agreed with that approach. Certainly they were a significant minority among the French refugees who had to leave France after the early 1850s, when Napoleon III, essentially established a dictatorship in France, and they went to England, some would go to Belgium and Holland and then a few went to the United States.

The most significant of that group was a fellow named Joseph Déjacque , who ended up in the US for many years. And he wrote a number of very interesting pamphlets, including a critique of Proudhon who was a patriarchal, anti-feminist. Joseph Déjacque was firmly in favor of women’s liberation and was also a proto-anarchist communist. He believed that the wage system should be abolished and that there shouldn’t be any private property, whereas the mutualists believed in some kind of market exchange system. Which today would be described as a form of market socialism. And so I mean, the French refugees in London rejected any cooperation with the Republicans because of the June 1848 massacre of the workers when they rose up against the provisional republican government. And this was an approach that was also endorsed by Bakunin and which he championed when he joined the International in 1868.

TFSR: You’ve drawn out some of the beliefs at the time of Proudhon and people that might be called Proudhonists, Bakunin’s sort of political development around this time, we’ve talked about Blanqui…if you would talk about I mean, just give a very basic rundown, just to set the other pieces on this side of the board, so to speak, of what Marx and Engels were arguing at this phase of the early phases of the International? Of what they were proposing, at least publicly, would be the development of a revolutionary International Workers organization?

RG: Yeah. And so this brings up kind of, we could call it a third current or faction, which I haven’t really spoken of yet. People later became called Social Democrats. And they believed that you could run candidates in elections, where elections were held and where workers had the vote [laughs] — and one thing to remember is that in the 1860’s working class people didn’t have a right to vote. I mean, women didn’t get the right to vote until the 20th century, but working class men didn’t have a right to vote either in the 1860’s. And so, there were campaigns for universal manhood suffrage, and you have to include the manhood part because they were campaigns for a right to vote for working class men, not women. I mean, of course, there were other people who were campaigning for actual universal suffrage where everybody would get to vote, but the predominant campaigns were for working class men to be able to vote.

Some of the mutualists were prepared to engage in that activity. They ran candidates in the elections in France in the early 18th and mid 1860’s. Proudhon himself was still alive and wrote a lengthy open letter to them saying that this was the wrong way to go, that they would accomplish nothing through the electoral process. And that was a view shared by Bakunin.

But some of them were willing to run for office, they weren’t very successful initially. And they wouldn’t have had much power because even though they had elections in France, Napoleon III was still firmly in charge. But Marx and Engels, they had a kind of ambivalent approach. They supported electoral activity from the beginning of the International. Marx, in his correspondence and his other writings, clearly was in favor of creating working class political parties that would run candidates and elections. And the hope — I mean, for him it was the destiny based on his theory of historical materialism — was that the working class would eventually obtain a majority control of the government, and then they would be able to create socialism, using the state which they now controlled as a result of their electoral victories.

And so on the other hand, Marx and Engels like to pretend that they were still in favor of revolution, as they had been back in 1848. And they were very active in the 1848 revolutions in Germany. And so it was kind of an ambivalent stance that they took. They seem to think that revolutionary activity was justified. Marx was publicly a big supporter of the Paris Commune, and that created a lot of conflict between him and the British trade unionists and the International who were not revolutionaries by any stretch of the imagination.

But at the same time, Marx was campaigning to impose on the International an obligatory policy, that the International sections in the various nation states would create working class political parties which would then strive to achieve state power. And whether it was through elections or revolutionary means was unclear in Marx’s writings. In his essay on the Paris Commune, he seems to be in favor of revolution. But in much of his other discussions, particularly within the International, it appeared that he was advocating a social democratic approach of obtaining power through electoral participation.

TFSR: I was trying to find in the book where it referenced it, but it’s kind of funny, just to jump back to Proudhon would be advocating that gaining electoral status wouldn’t make a change, because didn’t he hold public office at least a couple of times?

RG: [laughs] Yeah, that’s right. And it was based on his experience as a… During the 1848 revolution he actually got elected to the new Republican National Assembly, and found that he was completely incapacitated, he referred it to being exiled into the Sinai desert or something like that. And that he was completely cut off from what was going on on the streets. When they had the 1848 June workers uprising in Paris, Proudhon didn’t know anything about it because he was busy in the National Assembly trying to make speeches and get motions passed. I mean, he did try to get the assembly to vote in favor of a kind of mutual assistance. And then he gave a famous speech where he said if they didn’t vote in favor then the workers would go ahead with the so-called social liquidation without them. And then there were very outraged cries, “this means class war!”, and you know, “who are you speaking of when you say ‘we’?”. And Proudhon said “when I say ‘we’ I mean the working class, and when I say ‘you’, I mean the capitalists’ ‘. And so, you know, he was able to make a few speeches, but he was unable to accomplish anything positive, his motion was voted down by like over 600 votes to 2, him and another guy [chuckles].

So, his opposition to electoral activity, running candidates and voting, was based on his own personal experience of how ineffective he was as an elected representative. And also, people don’t know but Napoleon III became the dictator — and Emperor, later he called himself a France — by holding a referendum. So he had a referendum, and at the time they had a kind of close to universal manhood suffrage at the beginning of the 1848 French Revolution into around the time of his referendum. And he got a big majority in favor of basically making him the dictator. And so that’s why Proudon at the time made a quip that universal suffrage is the counter revolution, because Napoleon III manipulated that broadening of the voting base, to basically trick and bribe the workers into voting for him to give him dictatorial powers.

TFSR: [sighs] Politics hasn’t changed.

RG: [clicks tongue and laughs] Yeah.

TFSR: [laughing] So I want to get back to the electoralism that was being pushed by the Marxists in the International, but because we brought it up and because there’s a lot of moving parts and ideas and events occurring simultaneously: you brought up the Paris Commune, can you talk a little bit about that? Who participated and sort of setting context on its impact on the International?

RG: Sure. So the Paris Commune was in 1871. And prior to the Paris Commune you have to take into account the Franco Prussian war which started in 1870. And Napoleon managed to get himself into a war with Prussia. Prussia quickly defeated the French forces and then there were different reactions to that among the various camps within the International. Marx, for example, thought that the workers should support a provisional republican government that was essentially controlled by the bourgeoisie. Bakunin argued that the Internationalist and revolutionary socialist in France should take advantage of the chaos that was being created by the Prussian invasion, to create popular militias, to seize power on a commune by commune basis, and to basically have an insurrectionary guerrilla war against the Prussians, and at the same time against the French bourgeoisie.

And he’d been making these kinds of arguments for quite a while, he said that there was no point in the workers allying with the Republicans and the capitalists to drive out the Prussian invaders because, at the end, they would be left exactly where they were at the time: exploited wage slaves. And that they needed to use this opportunity to create a real social revolution and popular movement that would not only fight against the Prussians, but would seize control of the means of production and create a Federalist socialist system based on the Proudhon-and-Bakunin-advocated organization from the bottom upward, they called it.

You would have base units, like a factory or cooperative and local town or a district in a bigger city, and voluntary associations of different trades and professionals and so forth. And that this would create a complex interlocking network of organizations that would create the new economy. But in order to achieve that, he was of the view that the workers needed to arm themselves and engage in armed struggle against not just the Prussian invaders but also against the French bourgeoisie. And it was only through that process that you could actually abolish capitalism and the state.

So that was kind of the scene. And there were a number of Internationalists, predominantly at this time, the French ones, who were advocating pushing the struggle against the Prussians into more of a social revolutionary direction. They created committees in Paris. So Paris was under siege by the Prussians and the Internationalist’s created councils and neighborhood kind of committees throughout Paris, to organize war relief and to prepare to defend Paris against the Prussian invaders. But also they issued a number of manifestos before the Paris Commune was created, advocating that the workers take over the workshops and take control of them, and begin the transformation to a socialist economy through their own direct action.

Then, we get to March 1871 and there was a skirmish between the National Guard and a group of Parisian revolutionaries over some cannons. An officer, or I think he might even have been a general, got shot and killed. And then that was it, now Paris was in conflict with the national government, which had moved to Versailles, France, which was the seat of the old royal palaces, and it was kind of like the royal capital of France. It’s very close to Paris, basically a suburb of Paris now, but the Provisional Government of France had moved there and controlled the National Guard and the Army, which had been largely defeated by the Prussians. But in any event, the Prussians were happy to leave the Provisional Government in control of their National Guard so that they could suppress any kind of revolutionary activity, which they let them do.

The Paris Commune was proclaimed. The manifesto was largely written by a French Proudhonist, and therefore it includes within it an advocacy of a Federalist system. And the important thing about federalism is this notion of organization from the bottom up. And so the manifesto proclaiming the Paris Commune advocated the creation of revolutionary communes throughout France, and that they federate with one another and create a new system with basically a mutualist kind of economy. And that’s something that Bakunin had been advocating since the beginning of the Franco Prussian war.

And so it was starting to happen. There were attempts to establish revolutionary communes in other parts of France, including Lyon and Bakunin went there to try and do that. That was very unsuccessful. But contrary to Marxist myths, Bakunin didn’t show up one day and proclaim the abolition of the state. He actually had been working with his confederates for quite some time before he showed up, and he’d spent a couple of weeks there. But the attempt to create a revolutionary commune was quickly suppressed, as it was in a variety of other cities throughout France, but it wasn’t just in Paris.

So after that commune was proclaimed, the majority of the Internationalist were Proudonists — although more revolutionary than Proudhon, obviously, because now they were participating in a kind of revolution and they weren’t taking a pacifist or gradualist approach — but the commune itself had a fairly conventional form of government. They elected deputies to the Paris Commune. So it was a representative form of government. It wasn’t a direct democracy.

And that’s the other thing I should contrast at this point. Is that the Proudhonists and the more revolutionary Internationalists, in France for sure, their organizations were directly democratic. So the concept of organizing from below upward isn’t just about how you organize the groups from the local level and the factory level up to regional and national and international level. But it was also about how the base organizations were organized. And they would have assemblies of the workers where they would all get to vote on the policies to be adopted. And then they would elect delegates who would then have meetings with workers from other factories or neighborhoods, so at regional and national conferences.

And this is also how they organize their delegates for the Internationals congresses, which continued up until 1869. And there was a three year interregnum because of the Franco Prussian war in the Paris Commune. But they would elect delegates with something called “irrevocable mandates”, that is they would tell their delegates, “you have a mandate, when you go to the Congress” or conference with the groups from the neighboring municipalities or workers from other areas or the International itself, “you have a mandate to vote in favor of these policies, and none other. And if you don’t follow the mandate, we can immediately revoke your mandate and recall you as a delegate and replace you with somebody else.” This was an idea that was meant to ensure that the workers at the local level actually made the decisions affecting them, rather than electing a representative or delegate who would then be free to politic and adopt whatever position that person thought was best for the workers he was representing.

This was also a conflict within the International, which came to the fore after the Paris Commune, but the seeds of it had been planted much earlier. But after the Paris Commune, a number of the French refugees tried to make clear that the International should have a system of delegates with revocable mandates; they could be recalled if they didn’t adhere to their mandates from their local organization. Marx opposed this, as did Engles. They were on what was called the General Counsel of the International, which they wanted to function like an executive government. And they were quite clear in the internal debates on the General Council, that they were opposed to having a system of direct democracy, where the delegates from the national federations of the International could mandate what their members on the General Council could do. And so that’s a very important distinction between the Marxist approach at the time and the mutualist and anarchist approach regarding how the base units are going to function.

So getting back to the Paris Commune, you had the majority of the Internationalists who were in favor of that form of organization with delegates with irrevocable mandates. And then you had the Blanquist, and other kind of, we’ll call them Neo-Jacobins, who unfortunately formed a majority on the Paris Commune Council. And of course, they weren’t in favor of recall-able delegates, they believed that they acted as representatives of the people, many of them still believed in the concept of a revolutionary dictatorship. They established a committee of public safety, which the French Internationalist, or the majority of them actually denounced as counter-revolutionary.

There were internal conflicts in the commune between the Federalist socialists, and mutualists, against the Blanquist and the other Neo-Jacobins who were in favor of establishing a committee of public safety and essentially, a revolutionary dictatorship. They would suppress the counter revolution within the commune and, you know, organize the defense of the commune against the French state and the national guard.

Unfortunately, for all concerned, the commune was brutally suppressed. Tens of thousands of people were killed. And then the French International was decimated. The Internationalists who’d been in Paris during the commune, most of them were killed. So some of them were able to escape. And many of the ones who escaped many of them became anarchists. Quite a few of them ended up in Switzerland, where they established or tried to establish their own section of the International as a kind of refugee section of the International. And they took away from the lessons of the Paris Commune, the idea that Proudhon had already expressed based on his experience of 1848, that spending time creating an electoral system and holding elections, and then having basically an executive authority directing the revolutionary forces is actually counterproductive. And that the approach that should be taken is a direct action approach, where the workers don’t spend time in committees and arguing about stuff, but actually do things like take over their workshops, and set up revolutionary committees to organize distribution of food, which is what they did during the Paris Commune.

Nathalie Lemel, who was a female member of the French International, she was very much involved in the cooperative movement. She and Eugène Varlin, had established a cooperative workers restaurant, and during the commune they used it to distribute free food to people and farmland. He was an advocate of what he called “non-authoritarian communism”, which was essentially this idea of a federalist socialism without a central authority controlling the economy or any kind of political system but organized from the bottom upward. He was executed during the commune. So the refugees, the survivors of the commune, who became anarchists said, “this is what we needed to do. We had to, through our own efforts, seize arms, defend ourselves and take over the workshops and have a social revolution”. That was the lesson that they took from it.

It was the same lesson Bakunin took from it. Of course, he already was in favor of that approach. But he was quite clear that the problem was that, essentially, the revolutionary activity was dissipated and incapacitated, even, by people focusing on the electoral activity. Trying to get a majority on the Paris Commune Council, and then passing legislative measures, instead of, the basically, the idea of Bakunin and the French refugees is “we don’t need to ask a Council to pass an order or a directive saying that we can take over the workshops, we’re just going to take them over”. That was their approach.

And, on the other hand, you had the Marxist. And again, it’s kind of contradictory. Marx writes this essay about the Paris Commune where he says “you can’t just seize the state, you have to kind of smash the state bureaucracy,” which was the anarchist view. And then he pretended that he was in favor of recallable delegates with revocable mandates, well irrevocable mandates, but then you would be recalled if you didn’t follow the mandate. But within the International itself, he was completely opposed to that kind of an organization, and Engles was even more clear, he basically said that a revolution is the most authoritarian thing you can think of, and the only way you can defeat the counter revolution is by having a centralized political apparatus that will organize the forces of the proletariat to crush the bourgeoisie.

So, that was their real view, which came out after the Paris Commune, when they held a conference in London in September of 1871, which Marx and Engels have packed with people in support of their position. There were a few Federalists there, who tried to argue in favor of having a delegate system of people with irrevocable mandates, subject to recall, representing the various sections and Federation’s of the International. That was shot down and Marx and Engels had a motion passed that requiring the Internationals members and organizations to create working class- when I say political parties, really what they’re advocating was the creation of one working class political party in each country. And that one party would then somehow seize power either through the electoral process or possibly through more revolutionary means. And that’s the policy they forced through at the London conference in September 1871. That was clearly different from the approach that had been advocated by the Federalists and anarchists and the International, both before and after the Paris Commune.

And just going back, the last Congress of the International before the Paris Commune was in 1869, in Basel, Switzerland, and there essentially a majority of the delegates voted in favor of a form of anarchists syndicalism. They said, “we should have dual organizations, workers should organize by trade, and industry, and then we should also have local communal organizations. And through these dual organizations, we will abolish the wage system and create the free Federation of free producers”. That was the motion that was passed at the Basel Congress. And so that was essentially revolutionary socialist Federalist anarchist kind of position that was agreed to by a majority of the delegates to the Basel Congress.

Before the Paris Commune, and after, the Federalist socialists and the anarchists were advocating that kind of a system. Marx was opposed, despite his essay after the commune. As Bakunin said, he had to say good things about the commune, because otherwise people would have thought him to be a monster. But in reality, he wasn’t really in favor of any of that stuff, as he proved a few months later at the September 1871 London conference where he pushed forward this kind of amalgam of a social democratic and Blanquist approach, where you have more of a centralized organization with representatives rather than delegates, making the decisions with an executive form of government and creating parties to contest elections and trying to achieve power through those means.

TFSR: So yeah, there’s a lot in there in terms of… The remnants of the French sections, the sections, which were mostly at some point deeply influenced by Proudhon, that were based out of France and were some of the most militant had been greatly repressed, because of the aftermath of the commune and the repression of the commune. Also, it’s notable that while the Franco-Prussian War was pitting these two nation states against each other, when the threat of a working class uprising that would undermine the highly centralized, bourgeois government and ruling method in France, when that posed a threat in the form of the Commune, both those governments were willing to work together to allow for the suppression of the radical Parisians.

One thing that, when people think about or when I’ve thought about the International and the split between the Marxists and the anarchists, for years I’ve heard from people on both sides of that, the schism that happens in the left that can be pointed back to the IWMA, was sort of an interpersonal conflict between Bakukin and the Bakuninists on one side, and Marx, Engles and the Marxists on the other that 150 years later, we should really get over.

But what you’re what you’re talking about when you’re referencing the Jacobins, Blanquists and the Marxist saw sort of engaging with this position that there should be mandatory leadership that is not revocable, so that they can make the right decisions, and that all of this authority needs to be centralized. That instead of having it as it had been before the Central Committee had pushed this mandate that countries sections be involved in political parties beforehand, there had been an openness to different sections could participate in politics if they wanted to, but there was no mandatory position from the International that that everyone had to it was sort of left up to the locals.

There was also push by some sections the requirement that delegates to the International, had to actually be working class. Which is not the position that either marks or Engles fulfilled, the latter as a factory owner, the prior as an academic.

So you see the manipulation of this organization in order to create, not only, mandated political parties that follow the same format in all these countries, but a central committee that would have agency and that would not be revocable, and that would actually be able to determine its own membership, orchestrating all of these various chapters or parties in these other countries. If I’m not misunderstanding. Can you talk about this idea of it being personal…these two bearded dudes going at it, sort of thing, versus the ideas?

RG: That’s a myth. And the first point I want to make is that the only Marxist in the International are basically Marx and Engels themselves, and a couple of acolytes. But, you know, the British trade unionists were not Marxist, most of them were reformist, and that’s why quite a few of them were kind of appalled by his essay on the Paris Commune. Because they didn’t advocate violent revolution and wanted to distance themselves from that. In fact, Marx had the International organized so that the English didn’t even have their own Federation in the international until after the Paris Commune. And then there was a split in the English Federation between those who supported Marx and those who didn’t.

So the fact is, in the International itself, anything that could be described as a Marxist, they were few and far between. The primary groups remain the English trade unionists, and the French members of the International who, by the time of the Paris Commune, included Blanquists. They had not originally been involved in the International but then the Revolutionary Socialists and the French mutualists, that was an interlocking kind of group. There were still French mutualists, who were kind of conservative and definitely not in favor of anything that would be considered armed struggle or violent revolution. But they definitely also were not Marxist.

So, that’s the first thing. The second…I mean, Bakunin did refer to them as the Marxians, and so forth, so he actually helped create the myth that Marx had a significant following in the International, which he didn’t. And in fact, the first explicitly Marxist political parties didn’t emerge until the 1880s in France.

But anyway, the idea that this was a conflict between Marx and Bakunin is nonsense. As I mentioned in the 1869 Basil Congress, a majority of the delegates — primarily the French, Spanish and Italian ones — voted in favor of an anarcho-syndicalist kind of program. And at the very least, Federalist socialist program, where you would have organization from the bottom upwards, and a system of men dated recallable delegates, and the creation of a socialist economy under workers control or worker self management. That was pretty clear that that was the majority point of view.

And it was also pretty clear that Marx didn’t actually support that approach. At one point, he basically said that the anarchists had things backwards — and Engles said something very similar — you can’t abolish the State and Capitalism through a federal style of organization, you can only create that after you’ve abolished the State and Capitalism. Which illustrates their approach which favored a form of centralized leadership, and also hierarchical organization. And then somehow miraculously after the revolution, as Engles once put it, the state would wither away.

It’s kind of the inverse version of the old French Proudhonist mutualist thing, where the State and Capital would kind of wither away as the mutualist organizations became more powerful and predominant. In the Marx and Engels version after the Revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat is created, somehow that organization is going to wither away. But then there’s no kind of counter organization to cause it to wither away because everything’s been centralized under the State.

In any event, you had these currents within the International before Bakunin got involved. He didn’t officially get involved in the international until 1868, although he probably had joined it a few years earlier, but wasn’t officially involved. The first Congress he went to was the 1869 Basel Congress, where he advocated a form of revolutionary socialist anarchism; he didn’t use the word “anarchy”, because that would scare people. Bakunin was actually quite clever as a public speaker. Apparently, he could be very persuasive. And he knew how to talk to people and inspire them, but also not frighten them at the same time.

So up until that time, and it was at that Congress that the delegates, the majority voted in favor of an anarchist Federalist kind of approach. Bakunin wasn’t the one who swayed them into that, his main speech was in favor of abolishing the right of inheritance. Although he obviously spoke in favor that the International should be the embryonic form of the future society that they were trying to achieve. And this idea had been expressed before the Basel Congress, by delegates from Belgium and from Spain, and it became a very popular idea. So, the idea is that the revolutionary organization that’s going to try and achieve the social revolution, the social transformation, has to mirror or prefigure — that’s the word people like using now — the future organization after the revolution has been successful. And that was a position that was adopted before Bakunin became involved in the debates within the International, and it was the position that was endorsed by a majority of the delegates at the Bassel Congress in 1869.

It wasn’t Bakunin who got those people to do that. They did it themselves. And then there was a conflict between that idea that the pre revolutionary organization should prefigure the post revolutionary society. Marx and Engels were very vociferous in their opposition to that idea. Engels claimed that what the anarchists and the Federalists were advocating was that the workers lay down their arms, even before there’s a revolution, and act as if utopia had already been achieved [chuckles]. That’s what he said. And he said there’s no way we can defeat the bourgeoisie without a centralized form of party organization that will direct the workers and achieve military victory. Engles was, you know, an amateur General, he liked to think of himself as a great military tactician.

TFSR: I did point, just to step back to something that I said shit talking on Engles and Marx, neither of them being of the working classes, Bakunin himself was a prince so-

RG: Well, he wasn’t a prince, he was just an aristocrat.

TFSR: Oh! Okay.

RG: Kropotkin was a prince.

TFSR: Oh okay. Correction.

RG: But yes, he came from the Russian nobility, there’s no question about it. And it was actually at the founding Congress of the International 1864…no, sorry, I think it was in 1866. Anyway early on in the organization’s history, there was a debate as to whether or not non-workers should be allowed. And someone actually pointed to Marx as an example of “well, we should have people like Mr. Marx in our organization, and if you pass this motion here, he won’t be allowed in”. So the motion was defeated and the non-workers were allowed to join including Marx. Engels didn’t join the International until 1870-71. But yeah if they had passed that motion Bakunin wouldn’t have been allowed to join either [chuckles].

But the thing is, the most important opposing currents within the International from an ideological point of view are the Federalist anarchists, in favor of prefigurative organization, means being consistent with the end and also a Federalist form of organization from the bottom upward. Versus the centralist not just Marx and Engels, advocates of revolutionary dictatorship, advocates of social democratic electoralism. They were themselves an uneasy coalition which disintegrated in 1872 after Marx engineered the expulsion of Bakunin from the first International at the Hague Congress.

But Bakunin simply gave expression to ideas that were already widely accepted by the Spanish, Italian and French members of the International. Now he had a role in convincing the Spanish Internationalists to adopt a kind of anarchist approach…

TFSR: And the Italians too, right?

RG: And the Italians. In fact, his most important work in Italy began before he joined the International. He tried organizing revolutionary socialist groups in Italy, beginning in around 1864-65. He lived in Italy at the time, for a while, in the mid 1860s, ended up going to Switzerland because he was too radical and was going to maybe get arrested if he stayed in Italy. So he ended up in Switzerland, where many political refugees ended up after the Paris Commune. It was a lot easier back then for them to get into Switzerland and is for a refugee today.

Interestingly his most important work in Italy was after the Paris Commune, where this famous Italian patriot who was in at the time — Italy was going through this process of national unification. It was divided up into these various principalities, part of it was controlled by Austria, the Pope’s still controlled large pieces of territory. And so you had people, Garabaldi was one of the famous Italian Patriot revolutionaries who tried to unify Italy and the other guy was Mazzini. After the Paris Commune, Mazzini denounced the communist and atheist materialist kind of thing, which created outrage among his followers in Italy, who thought he was a revolutionary Republican, and maybe even a socialist. Bakunin wrote a couple of famous pamphlets in answer to Mazzini in 1871, where he basically said, “how dare you denounce the Commune, and after all these people were massacred, and advocating a materialist, revolutionary socialist approach”. And that just resonated with the Italian Republicans and revolutionaries. And that’s how many of them ended up becoming anarchists.

But that was in 1871. So prior to then, you had the anarcho-syndicalist program already adopted by a majority of the delegates back in 1869. And amusingly, Marx and Engels at one point thought that Bakunin could help their cause in Italy. They found out that he was advocating revolutionary anarchism, which they were never in favor of, despite, you know, some people’s attempts to make it sound like “no, really, it was just a personality conflict”. No, it wasn’t. And so they tried to recruit people to counter Bankunin’s influence in Italy, once they found out that he was trying to and successfully persuading people to essentially adopt a revolutionary anarchist approach.

One of them was a fellow named Carlo Cafiero. He was an Italian internationalist and Marx and Engels wrote him a bunch of letters, particularly Engles, basically telling him to try and discredit Bakunin and persuade people to adopt a Marxist approach. And Cafiero was so appalled by Engles personal attacks on Bakunin that he basically said, “Well, if this is what you mean by socialism then I don’t want to have any part of it”, and then the ended up by becoming an associate of Bakunin and adopting a revolutionary anarchist perspective.

Meanwhile, he did become kind of an informant or spy for the anarchists in Italy because he would tell them, “Oh look at this latest letter I got from Engles, this is what he wants me to do”. So at least the Italian Internationalists had some idea of what Marx and Engels were really up to, because they were being very frank in their correspondence with Cafiero about what they wanted. And it was not revolutionary anarchism, that’s for sure.

TFSR: I mean, we could do a whole podcast just on the myths that were spread by Marx and Engels and Associates. Some of which had some grain of truth, like around antisemitism or around secret societies or these sorts of things. And as well as like crap talking on Bakunin because of his advocacy for women’s liberation and equality.

RG: At one point Marx, in one of his notes, described Bakunin as a hermaphrodite because he was advocating equality of the sexes.

TFSR: If you can’t see past your own nose and say that someone would advocate because they feel someone else’s equality is good, as opposed to something that serves you personally…

In any case, with this split — as you make the very poignant point in the book — the split and the eviction of a lot of the anti-authoritarians or the anti-authoritarian splitting from this sort of toxic atmosphere that the authoritarians were fostering in the International was a growing moment for anti-authoritarians. There was the first anti-authoritarian International which was hosted by the Jura Federation in 1872. I’m wondering if you could talk a little bit about how that sort of helped to shape the anarchist movement — not that everyone that participated in that were anarchists, but — the anti-authoritarian and the anarchist movement moving forward in terms of its rejection of the political or its anti political, its anti-state and at times anti-organizationalist approaches.

RG: Sure. So, after the September 1871, London conference, where Marx and Engels got a majority of largely handpicked delegates to vote in favor of each national section, create a working class political party to try and achieve power, the Jura Federation issued something called The Sonvilier Circular, which denounced that approach and said that the General Counsel couldn’t dictate to the International Federations — the national and regional federations — what policy or approach they should take to politics. That it was up to each Federation to determine their own approach. But they also did talk about pre-revolutionary organization should be organized in a way that’s consistent with what was hoped to be achieved in a post revolutionary society.

And so they rejected a central governing body within the International and said that it should be a genuine Federation, where each group would be free to decide what approach it wanted to take. And they use this phrase that had become popular and it was originally, I think, used by the Belgians in 1868 and 1869, that the International should be “the embryo of the human society of the future”. And so that was a popular view. And it wasn’t one that Bakunin made up, as I said, it came from the Belgians, originally. But I mean it was consistent with the approach that most of the French Internationalists and the Spanish and Italian ones too.

So that was the beginning of the kind of creation or coalescence of an anti-authoritarian wing of the International. That they were now organizing in opposition to this policy of having political parties attempt to achieve state power in order to bring about reforms for the working class and also ultimately create some kind of socialist society. Of course, that was not something that Marx and Engels were going to tolerate and they were involved in trying to defeat the Federalists within the International in France, in Spain, in Italy. In Italy they were unsuccessful because Cafiero went over to the the anti-authoritarians. In Spain, they were only able to attract a few adherence, and they did stuff like release the names of the Internationalist to the police, putting them at danger of being arrested and many of them had to go underground.

But they engaged in some pretty dirty tactics. In France, they would try and get their people elected as delegates, if they were going to go to the Hague Congress, and were able to do so in some cases. In other cases, they weren’t. But then at the Congress, they persuaded the delegates to support their position.

After they had Congress in 1872, you had a bunch of French sections of the International which were basically underground organizations, because the International was illegal in France and you could face certain imprisonment, exile and possibly even death if you were arrested as a member of the International. This was still during the immediate aftermath of the suppression of the Paris Commune where the French state had shown it would show no mercy to people it felt posed a threat to the existing system.

So, you know, after the Hague Congress, you had French sections denouncing their own delegates because they hadn’t adhered to their mandates and had voted in favor of things like expelling Bakunin from the International and adopting this, basically, mandatory policy of creating a working class political party that was going to attempt to achieve power within each nation that was affiliated with the International through its own organization.

That’s what ultimately led to the St. Imier Congress in September of 1872, it was held within, like, less than a week and a half of the Hague Congress. Now, prior to the The Hague Congress, which is the one where Bakunin and also his associate from the Jura Federation, a guy named James Guillaume, who was like a real proto anarcho”syndicalist and advocate of also a revolutionary commune. He wrote, during the commune before it was suppressed, that this was basically anarchy in the positive sense that Proudhon had always advocated. He was a firm supporter of it, and also helped many of the surviving Internationalists escape France to Switzerland. He also got expelled.

The pretext for Bakunin being expelled was that he had received an advance from a Russian publisher to translate Marx’s Capital into Russian, and then had abandoned the project. And he had an associate from Russia, the notorious Nechayev who was an unpleasant person. He murdered one of his fellow radicals in Russia before fleeing to Switzerland. Anyway, he sent a threatening letter to the publisher basically saying, “don’t try and get your money back from Mr. Bakunin”.

TFSR: This is his “little tiger cub?”

RG: Yeah [laughs], that’s right. And so Bakunin was essentially expelled from the International because of the threatening letter that Nechayev sent to the publisher in Russia, and also for having a secret society, the International Alliance. In fact, the International Alliance was admitted as a section into the International 1868. So it wasn’t really a secret organization. Of course Bakunin had his own inner circles and stuff, but so did Marx and Engels. Both of them were busy writing letters to people trying to get them to support their side. I mentioned how they, Marx and Engels, tried to use Cafiero in Italy. They also used his [Marx’s] son in law, Paul Lafargue, in Spain and in France.

So anyway that was the pretext. But why was Guillaume expelled? There was no rational justification for him to be expelled. It was just because he was a revolutionary Federalist socialist, who is associated with Bakunin, so he was out too. But before the Congress had even been held the Italian International was saying, “look, let’s boycott the Congress and have our own Congress. Obviously we know that the delegates are being stacked for the Hague Congress, so we might as well just boycott it and set up our own Congress”. But Bakunin didn’t like that idea. He didn’t want to be expelled from the International, it would make him look bad. And he was right, in the sense that after he and Guillaume were expelled, many historical treatments, particularly the Marxist ones, of course, make it sound like that was the end of the anarchists, right? Guillaume and Bakunin were expelled so that’s the end of them.

Now finally Marx and Engels had control of the organization, but then they they engineered a motion to the chagrin of the Blanquist who were at the Congress to move the General Counsel of the International to New York, where it soon became an irrelevant rump, and the Blanquists quit the International in disgust and essentially the so-called Marxist International, just collapsed. Whereas the people who were opposed to the more authoritarian approach that was being followed by Marx and Engels held the Congress in St. Imier — after, not before as the Italians have wanted to do, but after — to reconstitute the International, without having a central control, a central governing body. Where each group would be free to adopt whichever policy or approaches they wanted in relation to things like participation in electoral politics, revolutionary socialism, internal organization and so forth.

That’s what they did. And as a consequence the new anti-authoritarian International — I mean, it’s not really new — it comprised the majority of the former members and groups belonging to the International prior to the Hague Congress. The Belgians ended up joining, the Spaniards, the Italians, a large group of French delegates, either as refugees from Switzerland, or some of them actually joined from within France. This was a difficult position for them, because basically they were having to work underground. Many of them ended up going to Spain, where they became involved in the International as well as in the Spanish revolutionary movement.

Just as an aside, there were attempts to establish revolutionary communes in Spain in 1872, that the Spanish Federalist anarchists were heavily involved in, and also an attempt at a general strike in Barcelona. And so, in Spain, things were very unsettled, if I could put it that way, in 1872 as well. But it was the Spanish Federalists, as they were called back then, but many of them were anarchists that were involved in those activities, and they were members of the International. And then there were the French refugees and Spain and Switzerland who were also involved. And so the International that was, I say, continued or reconstituted at that St. Imier Congress in September 1872 after the Hague Congress, it was a pluralist organization. It was not a revolutionary anarchist organization. Even some of the English delegates who had broken with Marx ended up participating in the reconstituted International.

In their subsequent Congresses you also had some German Social Democrats who participated in some of the reconstituted Internationals Congresses. James Guillaume, who I mentioned a moment ago, he was very much in favor of this pluralist approach, and tried to get the Germans to formally rejoin the reconstituted International. Of course, Marx and Engels heard about that and told their followers in Germany — who had never played a significant role in the International even before the Hague Congress — “no way, there’s no way you can participate in this anarchist organization”. So there were no further attempts at that.

But what happened in the reconstituted International is that you continue to have these very significant debates over revolutionary tactics and goals and strategy. And so there were big debates about the General Strike, and whether that was an effective way of taking on the capitalist economy. Many of the Italians were of the view that no, that’s insufficient. Errico Malatesta was one of the Italian Internationalists who later became a very well known anarchists revolutionary, and even back then, he was taking the position that a General Strike wasn’t enough. There would have to be some kind of insurrectionary activity as well. And that was a common view among some of the Italians and some of the Spanish delegates because they were basically either going through revolutionary struggles already, or had recently been through them for the Italians. They’ve been through these decades-long attempt to unify Italy. And it wasn’t just unifying Italy, it was achieving Italian independence from the Austro-Hungarian empire from France and the Vatican.

So both of those groups have been involved in, and there was ongoing involvement in real revolutionary activities. This continued through the early 1870s in Italy and Spain. And so there were these debates about what kind of tactics would be successful. What did they hope to achieve? And the Belgians initially continued their support for a bottom up approach where the International and prefigure the future, free society. But then some of them, the most well known being a fellow named César De Paepe, he had been the guy who had written the pamphlet before the 1869 Basel Congress about the International being the embryo of the future free society. But he was in correspondence with Marx after the split and was persuaded, I think, by Marx that, “no, we really need to pursue an electoral strategy, and then we’ll be able to bring about the social revolution”. So basically, from the top down.

Where this came up was in there was a debate over public services initiated by De Paepe. And he said, “We shouldn’t let the workers control public services,it shouldn’t be a form of worker self management. Because then they’ll have their own agendas and they won’t be fair to people. And the thing is, there’s all kinds of issues that go beyond local boundaries.”

TFSR: How does this mean this municipality relate to this one? And how do they coordinate between one another?

RG: Right. How are we going to build a road from Paris to Lyon and set up an international railway network and communications networks and all these other things. Saying we have to have a kind of public service state that’s going to organize everything. And then the anarchists said, “No, the workers can manage things on their own. We don’t need to create a state bureaucracy to do it, that will just lead to more conflict, again, between the state bureaucracy and the workers. So instead of the conflict being between the capitalist class and the workers, it will be between the state and the workers.” And so they were completely opposed to that idea. And this is a thing that I should mention, it came up at the Hague Congress, it was a concept that Bakunin really originated in his critique of Marx, is the concept of the new class.

TFSR: The “Red Bureaucracy.”

RG: Yeah, the Red Bureaucracy. And it was Bakunin, not Marxist dissident intellectuals in the 20th century disillusioned with the Russian Revolution, it was Bakunin in the aftermath of the Paris Commune, and his ideological disagreements with Marx. And even before the Paris Commune he was writing about if you set up a revolutionary dictatorship, it will become self perpetuating, and we’ll have a new class of intellectuals and bureaucrats who will pretend to rule the People in the People’s name. And the people won’t feel any better when the stick they’re beaten with is labeled the “People’s Stick” [laughs].

And so he came up with the whole theory of the new class, and that the Marxist theory that once you abolish capitalism the state would wither away was nonsense. It’s not going to wither away, it will become self perpetuating, because you have a class of people who benefit from having this kind of a state socialist system, who won’t want their jobs to disappear, and will want to keep the power that they enjoy. There’s not going to be anything that’s going to wither away in that regard.

And James Guillaume at the Hague Congress actually made that argument about the new class. He referred to the Manifesto of the Communist Party that Marx and Engels had published way back during the 1848 revolutions, and said how it described how the State would create industrial and agricultural armies and that there would basically be this central government that was going to dictate to people how they were going to live their lives. This would create a new class of political functionaries and bureaucrats who would then seek to maintain their privileged status, even if you abolish capitalism.

That was an idea that was developed even before they got kicked out of the Marxist-controlled version of the International. And it was also one that was debated within the post Hague Congress and St. Imier Congress, congresses of the anti-authoritarian International. And so that gave rise to the debate between what Malatesta and others described as the “organizationalists” and the “antiorganizationalists”. And so there were some people who said, “Look, we shouldn’t even have like a central bureau of communications to coordinate our activities, because it will end up basically making itself into a governing council like Marx and Engels did with the General Counsel in the original International”. And then there are others who are saying, “well we have to coordinate our activities. Somehow we can set things up so that some kind of central correspondents bureau doesn’t become a political power unto itself, by making sure that we rotate its location between Federation’s every year and that the people on it are themselves recallable, mandated delegates from the from the different Federation’s”.

This also led to debates about trade unions and their usefulness. And whether strike activity served any purpose if it didn’t amount to a general strike, with some saying we should focus on insurrectionary activities, Guillaume argued that just being involved in a trade union and fighting for better working conditions and having to go on strike would increase class consciousness amongst the workers, and that this would make them more radical rather than less radical. And I mean, those debates have gone on for decades now. But it was something that happened within the International.

If you look at the debates within the anti-authoritarian, reconstituted International, they basically gave rise to virtually every anarchist tendency that’s followed since. You had the organizationalists who continued to advocate Federalist bottom up organization; you had anti-organizationalists who are worried that even those kinds of organizations would somehow be corrupted, and would end up becoming top down organizations. You had ones who advocate insurrection, others who thought the General Strike would be sufficient unto itself to achieve the social revolution, including the Belgian Internationals. That was their position until De Paepe convinced a majority of them that they should actually try and create a public service state through electoral means. And you had advocates of legalism, Cafiero who I’ve mentioned a few times, he advocated insurrection, along with Malatesta and many of the Italian delegates for many years, but then ended up as result of persecution… So the Italians, they did try an insurrection in Veneto Italy, in 1874 I think it was, which was quite unsuccessful, very poorly organized. But not because they’re anti-organizationalists, they were organizationalists at that time.

As a result of that, and other activities, the Italian authorities started really clamping down on the anarchists, they were arrested and persecuted, put in jails and in exile and stuff like that. So, Cafiero said, “Look, even having an international organization is counterproductive, because it simply publicizes our involvement in these revolutionary activities. We should go underground, like the Narodnik radicals in Russia” who at that time were basically mounting assassination campaigns against the Tsar and the Russian police state and the aristocracy. He said, “we should go underground like them. We’ll have these decentralized kind of cells or units, and we’ll just use whatever methods we can to achieve our ends”. So he basically was advocating an ends-justify-the-means type thing. He said “it could be illegal activity, but we could even run candidates just as a protest against the electoral system”.

The idea was — and this went back to what happened in France during the Napoleon III era — that people who were imprisoned for their political activities would be nominated to run for office [chuckles], to illustrate the repressive nature of the current system. In fact, I think Blanqui himself, they tried to put him forward as a candidate in France during the Napoleon III Era because he was in prison for most of that time for his revolutionary activities.

So what Cafiero basically advocated was now called illegalism and going underground. And then you had the anarcho-syndicalist kind of groups within the reconstituted International who advocated the general strike, sometimes insurrection to go with that. And that’s certainly what the Spanish anarchists advocated, not one or the other but both, and attempted it in Spain in the early 1870’s. And you had the communalists, one’s who wanted to focus more on organizing on a commune-by-commune basis, which is really a town-by-town basis. We’re not talking about hippie communes, if anybody remembers those [laughs].

Revolutionary communes are basically municipal geographical units and the idea is to create socialism on a kind of commune-by-commune basis and have a general uprising of the towns and create the revolutionary commune. One of the big advocates of that was Paul Bruce, he eventually ended up advocating something similar to Murray Bookchin’s libertarian municipalism. That they should try and achieve power on a local basis and then as people saw what they could do on a local basis, this would lead to people adopting radical socialists getting elected all across these different cities, and then they’d be able to abolish the state.

But the anarcho-syndicalist advocated trade union organization. Federation’s of trade unions and the trade unions themselves would be revolutionary organizations, so they wouldn’t just be trying to get better working conditions and higher wages, but they would be trying to abolish capitalism and organize themselves for the great revolutionary contest, or the social revolution.

The other thing that was important in the debates within the reconstituted International was what kind of social organization or economy would be achieved through the revolution. There was a debate between at that time they are called “collectivists”, but today they wouldn’t be called socialists, or market socialists, who believed in keeping some kind of system of individual remuneration. People would get paid somehow, based on what they’ve contributed to the economy, we’ll say, because you can be involved in production and distribution and all kinds of things. You can be a school teacher, and all that stuff.

So there is a debate between those who felt there has to be some system of remunerating people for the work that they perform, and then there were the anarchists communists who said, “No, that’ll still lead to inequality and conflict, because some people will be in a better location. If you look at it from an agricultural point of view, somebody could be in an area where it’s very easy to grow things. And so their productive activity would generate much more economic benefit than somebody else. And other people, it wasn’t their fault that they lived in a more arid area”, and that sort of thing.

They didn’t want to have a division arising between the haves and the have-nots, and they said, “Look, everybody makes their contribution to the productive process, to the economy, as best they can and in accordance with your own talents and inclinations. It’s really impossible to put any kind of moral value on each person’s contribution because it’s a collective process”. And other than using a wage system, which itself is something that they weren’t prepared to support, there’s really no way of providing a fair determination of the value of each person’s contribution to the economy. So, we should have a communist system where basically people should be free to take what they need from whatever has been produced in order to feed and clothe themselves and provide themselves with housing and so forth. It shouldn’t be based on how much you’ve been able to earn through your individual economic activity. So that was the big economic debate.

There were also debates about the transition. Okay, well, even if you want communism, right now we’ve got this capitalist system, so how are we going to transition from a capitalist wage system to communism? Some advocated a transitional period, but it’s different from the Marxist one. You don’t have a transitional state doing it, but the workers agree to maintain some kind of way of remunerating people based on their contribution to the economy. But as production increases, and goods become more abundant, then it will be possible to transition to a system where people will be free to satisfy their needs without having to earn a wage or have their contribution to the economy measured and doled out to them.

James Guillaume was one of the advocates of a transitional period. And then other people, including ones who ended up becoming reformist socialists like Paul Bruce and Andrea Còsta, who was in Italy. They said, “well, we should just move to a communist system right away”. Malatesta at one time felt that way, but quickly came along to the arms view that there would have to be a transitional period. And Peter Kropotkin, who was famous as a Russian anarchist, joined the reconstituted International in about 1876 after he made a spectacular escape from Russian prison. And he initially agreed with Guillaume’s approach of having a transitional period, but then joined with the more radical anarchists communists, which I think at that time also included Cafiero, in saying, “Look, there can’t be any transitional period, it’s not going to work. It’ll end up becoming interminable. We need to introduce anarchist communism immediately”.

Cafiero’s solution to the problem with some goods that would not be abundant was that “well, then we still share based on need, who has the greatest need?” His example was in a family where you have an old person incapable of any physical labor, like an elderly grandparent, well that person needs food just as much as anybody else, and because of their frail health we should give them the food first. They’re the one who is most likely to expire if we don’t feed them first. So, he said we still do things on the basis of need, but we just agree that some people’s needs are greater. It’s all through voluntary agreement, no one’s imposing these views. You just say, “Okay, we have to decide if there’s a shortage in something, how best to meet the needs of those people in most desperate need first?”

TFSR: Yeah. And the approach also undermines the valorization of certain kinds of labor over others. For instance gendered sorts of labor. The wage system gives wages to people for doing certain kinds of work but the people that do the reproductive labor in our society aren’t paid for tending to kids or cooking the food or doing the wash at home unless it’s a privatized approach.

RG: Right. Yeah, that’s right. And just as an aside, Kropotkin wrote a book about anarchist communism, called The Conquest of Bread, and really the genesis of that book was the debates in International about socialism and communism, and what kind of economy people wanted to create after the revolution. And in that book he took on Marx — if you read Capital and other works by Marx — he argued that the wage differential between, say, an engineer and a janitor was justified. And he had a theory, using his theory of surplus value, was able to say why this was so. And Kropotkin in The Conquest of Bread just says, “no”. He compares the work between the coal miner and the engineer. He says, “Why should the coal miners endangering his life everyday and getting black lung disease get paid less than the engineer?” And he said access to that kind of higher education right now is clearly class based. But in any event, the idea that somehow the white collar jobs have greater value than the blue collar jobs is nonsense.

TFSR: As a sort of wrap up, because we’ve been speaking for a while — and thank you so much for that wealth of information — I can see that some of this has bled out of the book that I initially started talking about to the one that you’re still working on for AK Press, the development of anarchist ideas, or at least some of the thoughts, some of the ideas and some of the history are not stuff that I had come across in the 2015 book, so I’m excited to get to hear this.

RG: Great.

TFSR: So since the authoritarian International, as it became, sort of toddled on for a little while and then expired, there were various other Internationals that were called the Second, Third, whatever, afterwards. I wonder if you could kind of address like the legacy of those? Because people will have heard “Oh, the annoying person in my class claims ascendancy from the Fourth International”, or whatever. And then simultaneously, the anti-authoritarian International didn’t continue in that form afterwards. There were some attempts to sort of create new fusion spaces where authoritarians and anti-authoritarians as anti-capitalist could organize together in that same sort of format. But also since then there have been things, like currently there’s the International Workers Association, IWA-AIT; there’s Anarkismo; there’s the International Confederation of Labor; Rosa Negra; there’s an International of Anarchist Federations. There’s all these other formations that are around that come from the anarchists tendency too. Can you talk a little bit — you don’t have to go through each of these examples if you don’t want to — but just about sort of that trajectory and the attempts at international anti-capitalist organizing today?

RG: Well, just for the history the anti-authoritarian International’s last congress that had participation from the various national federations was in 1877. And then things just kind of petered out a bit, mainly because the Belgians decided to get involved in electoralism. And they ended up participating in a Congress — I think it was in 1878 –which was to reconstitute or create a kind of social democratic International of socialists who were interested in electoral activity. And that’s what became the so-called “Second International”.

Some anarchists thought it was important to participate in the so-called Second International because, by this time, the Marxists were becoming fairly successful in their propaganda to claim that the anarchists weren’t even socialists, that they were either individualist or they were just petit bourgeois. That was the common refrain about Proudhon, that he was petty bourgeois. In fact he was actually way more proletarian than Marx, he worked as a printer by trade before he was able to kind of support himself through his writings. He would tramp from town to town trying to get work and in different printing presses and so forth. In fact he helped typeset the work by Charles Fourier, who’s one of the so called Utopian Socialists.

Anyway, the people like Malatesta thought “we can’t let the Social Democrats hijack the concept of socialism by saying, one: anarchists aren’t socialists. And two: creating this organization, supposedly, of socialist groups and parties, and excluding us from it”. So, he was an advocate of participation in the Second International. And the anarchists like him tried to participate up until 1896, when they were officially banned [chuckles] from the Second International because [mimicking in a snooty voice] “you’re not really socialists and you have to be in favor of electoralism if you want to belong to this organization”. That’s what happened with the Second International.

Malatesta also continued to try and kind of keep the reconstituted International going, along with others, particularly the Spanish Internationalists, but some of the Italians and the French. They had a congress in 1881 in London, which is sometimes referred to as an anarchist congress, the so called Black International. That’s not accurate, because the congress actually included people who did not consider themselves anarchists, but rather revolutionary socialists, some of whom were in favor of revolutionary dictatorship.

At that congress, what Malatesta participated in that congress and what he wanted to do was try to create something sort of like the reconstituted International, a pluralist organization, but this time of revolutionary Socialists who may or may not be Blanquists, may or may not be anarchists, but revolutionary Socialists who were united, at least, in their view that capitalism could only be abolished through revolutionary activity, and that electoralism wasn’t going to work. So, it was more like an antiparliamentarian socialist congress than an anarchist one. It didn’t pan out, nothing really came of it.

You can see that despite Malatesta’s hopes that people who all wanted to abolish capitalism, through some kind of revolutionary activity would still have some pretty significant disagreements about anything. It was kind of an abortive enterprise, in my view. And then after the attempts to at least have a presence in the so-called Second International — based on the anarchists solid revolutionary socialist credentials, despite everything that Marxist were saying — there then began attempts to organize internationally, coming out of what I call the renewed kind of syndicalist movement.

A lot of history’s referred to it as the emergence of the syndicalist movement but in the 1890s, in France, you had people like Fernand Pelloutier who said, “Look, having anarchist action groups, underground cells and stuff like that which had become popular, or engaging in individual acts of propaganda by the deed”, as some people call it, assassinating political figures and so forth. And this had begun to happen in the 1890s in Europe,… [Pelloutier said] “we need to go back to the workshops, and organize the workers into revolutionary trade unions”. Which was what had been advocated by a significant number of Internationalists back in the late 1860s and then during the reconstituted International.

And so what we had was basically the creation of a syndicalist movement in France. But in places like Spain, they had never given up on that idea. There were various versions of workers Federation’s in Spain that were revolutionary and anarchists from the end of the reconstituted International, which was around 1881, throughout the 1880’s, and into the 1890’s. They would have to go underground at times, but they wouldn’t just go into revolutionary cells and stuff like that. Of course they would have to maintain a network of communication, but they would continue their work within the labor movement.

So in Spain, there was basically one kind of anarchist trade union type Federation or another from the time of the International through the 1890’s. Ultimately resulting in the creation of the CNT in 1911. This was going on all over the world. You had anarcho-syndicalist type organizations in Latin America. Malatesta lived in Argentina for a while, and he organized some of the first trade unions there. So that wasn’t something that was new or invented by the French syndicalists. It had continued on from the International by people who had been veterans of the International.

There were other Internationalists, Spanish ones who ended up in Latin America who helped organize trade unions in all kinds of different countries, Cuba and Brazil, in addition to Argentina. You had these working class movements, anarchists movements, developing all over the place and they tried to create another International. There was an attempt before World War I to create a new kind of syndicalist anarchist International…that didn’t pan out, then the war interrupted everything. Basically destroyed the syndicalist movement in France. There was a big split between those who said, “Well, we have to defend the country against the Germans” and others who said, “No, we’re not going to support the war effort of the French state”.

And then there was a split within the International anarchist movement. I mean, they weren’t holding congresses, but there was an international anarchist movement where people were very familiar with each other, they would share their newspapers and write letters to each other. And then during World War I, Kropotkin, and Jean Grave — who was a prominent French anarchist communist — said, “Oh, we have to support all the countries fighting Germany, because the Germans are going to impose an autocratic, authoritarian state that’s even worse than what they’ve got now”. But a majority of the anarchists in Europe said, “No, we’re not going to support that”.

Oh, I should also say there were anarchists in Asia who were organizing trade unions as well, before World War I, in Japan, and China, primarily. So, I mean, syndicalism was becoming a worldwide phenomenon before the war. Then there was this horrible split during the war with Kropotkin, and Jean Grave, and a few other people, about 15 or 16 of them, signing this kind of pro-war manifesto. Far more accepted the anti-war manifesto that was signed by people like Malatesta and Emma Goldman, which came out saying that there’s no way we should support any side in this case. It’s basically a class struggle, why should the workers kill themselves fighting to protect a capitalist economic system with one form of government or the other.

And so the syndicalist movement in France just kind of destroyed by that. And then after the Russian Revolution was taken over the CGT, which is the pre-war syndicalist organization, was taken over by the communists. But there was a big minority who wanted to continue a revolutionary anarcho-syndicalist type path. And then there were, as I said, syndicalists all over the place. So they had their own International Congress in 1922 and they created a kind of anarchists syndicalist International. And that is what is now known as the IWA-AIT. And I can’t get into debates as to whether they’re truly representative of the original IWA-AIT that was founded in 1922. But they still adopt the same principles as were adopted back in 1922.

But they’re, as you said there’s a bunch of different groups that advocate creating International organizations of one kind or another. And the problem is that there’s a multiplicity of them. And then it’s like Malatesta, said, when he was debating Peter Arshinov and Nestor Makhno after the Russian Revolution, with respect to something called the “Organizational Platform of the Libertarian Communists”, I think was the title of the pamphlet, it’s fairly well known.

Malatesta engaged them in a debate and he said “yeah, I supported the International and stuff like that. But the problem is you can’t hope to create some kind of unitary, international organization, because then you get into fights over the policy. You’ll have disagreements, then people will have to quit. You’ll have splits, and either you’re gonna have to adopt authoritarian means like the Marxist did to ensure ideological uniformity, and then everybody does what the congresses mandated, or you’re gonna have a multiplicity of organizations”. And so basically said, “Well, we’ll just have to have a multiplicity of organizations. No one organization is going to be able to claim paramountcy”.

So, that debate I included in Volume One of my anthology, the debate between Malatesta and Pierre Monatte. There was an International Anarchists Congress in Amsterdam in 1907. It didn’t lead to the creation of formal organization, but it didn’t really need to because anarchists already organize themselves internationally, right? [chuckles] They were in constant communication with each other.

To give you an example: in 1905, I think it was a kind of anarcho syndicalist type fellow who wrote a pamphlet about the social general strike and how it was different from a general strike that was just limited to achieving something like, say, manhood suffrage. And that pamphlet ended up getting translated into Japanese and Chinese and Spanish. And I think it was written in German to start off with. And so the stuff that the anarchist press was putting out would be distributed all over the place, translated all over the place. And the people who are writing these ideas were corresponding with each other.

In China, Ba Jin, who was a famous writer — who wrote a book called Family which is considered a classic of Chinese literature — he was in correspondence with Emma Goldman, right? There was something like an international organization, it just wasn’t a formal one. So when something big happened, like World War I, it wasn’t that difficult for Malatesta and Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman and Luigi Fabbri, in Italy, and a whole bunch of other people to organize an anti-war statement and put out a manifesto against the war. Because they had these networks, these informal networks — which are a form of organization — they just don’t have, like, an executive body, or even a corresponding bureau. But they’re still a kind of organization, it’s an organization which is like a network.

It’s very similar to what more contemporary anarchists like Colin Ward advocate, which is that instead of a kind of pyramidal, bottom up kind of structure — where you’ve got the base units who are supposed to make all the policy decisions, and then have these recall-able delegates going up to the national and international congresses — you just have an interlocking web of people and organizations who coordinate their activities. This can also form the model for a post revolutionary society: basically an interlocking web of voluntary associations, which will arise and disappear as people’s needs and wants change.

That’s basically what Kropotkin also advocated. He also supported the anarcho-syndicalist kind of activity, but both he and Malatesta said what anarchists need to do is just to be involved in any kind of emancipatory movement. They were focusing on the workers movement back then, because it was still the most radical and largest anti-capitalist movement.

He said work with people and help them to create their own organizations because that’s what’s going to happen after the revolution: people have to work together, create their own organizations, and to ensure that you actually achieve something called self management. Where people through their own voluntary discussions and agreements come up with ways of reorganizing life so that people can live without starving and being exploited and all those other shitty things [laughs] that happen under capitalism.

That’s kind of the contrary approach. Within the people who like having International organizations there is a big difference between, say, a Platformist who wants to have a unitary program that everyone’s supposed to follow — I think they call it collective responsibility and all that other stuff — and one’s who are in favor of an International organization that’s more like the anti-authoritarian International. Which was quite clear, when they reconstituted it in St. Imier, that any policy that was endorsed at an International Congress would have to be endorsed by the individual Federation’s. Even at a congress with recall-able delegates, those delegates couldn’t dictate or make a decision that was binding on the regional and national federations. It was up to each one to decide.

Some of the organizations you mentioned, I believe, still follow that approach. And others are more Platformists and say “no, we have to have ideological unity, otherwise we’ll be ineffective” and all that other stuff. I have my own personal views that Malatesta was right, that just leads to a whole bunch of schisms and splits. The important thing is just: you do what you got to do, and we’ll do what we got to do. I’m not gonna force you to believe what I believe. I always thought Murray Bookchin’s writings against anarcho-syndicalism are so pointless. One, because anarcho-syndicalism didn’t really exist much as a movement when he was writing this stuff in the 70’s and 80’s against anarcho-syndicalism. And even up until he died, basically. But “okay, Murray, you do your thing and let the syndicalists do there’s and we’ll see what works”, you know? Throw some spaghetti on the wall and hope for the best. That’s kind of my view of things.

TFSR: Yeah, that seems like a really reasonable approach, assuming that we all don’t know the answer, like the big capital “a” Answer.

RG: Right.

TFSR: Robert, thank you so much for this conversation. I’ve really enjoyed it. I think the listeners are gonna get a lot out of it. So you mentioned your blog where people can find your writings, you’ve got that upcoming book that doesn’t have a release date yet, but people can pay attention to AK Press for that.

RG: Yeah. Mostly my blog is where I post translations of stuff by other people that didn’t make it into my book.

TFSR: Okay, that’s helpful.

RG: But I have been posting some early chapters from the current book I’ve been working on. And I have a summary of my book We Do Not Fear Anarchy on my blog as well. Recently I posted something about Gerrard Winstanley on my blog that I wrote. He was a radical during the English revolution in the 1640’s, who I think advocated anarchist communism, some people disagree with that.

TFSR: The Levellers?

RG: He was more radical in the Levellers, he was part of the group called-

TFSR: The Diggers!

RG: The Diggers. They advocated direct action, they said, “look, there’s all this land that we’re not allowed to farm or occupy” usually because it’s owned by the nobility, but they’re also there were these things called “wastelands” that would be in a town or a village that weren’t being cultivated, and he and they just advocated, “okay, we’re just gonna go into that land, we’re gonna clear it, we’re gonna start digging it, we’re gonna plant crops, and we’re just going to share everything”. He talked about how everyone should be free to “take from the common treasury what they need.” Yeah, so he’s quite a radical guy. Anyway, yeah. So that’s one of the things I put up on my blog recently.

TFSR: That’s so cool. Can people still get — I know there’s going to be a lot of what’s in the new book and the chapters that you’re posing now, that was in the Black Rose three volume series — is that still available?

RG: Yeah, that’s still available. I think it might be hard to find Volume One, but of course you can find it on the internet. Someone’s done a PDF version that’s pretty easy to find. But as far as a paperback version, definitely Volumes Two and Three are readily available. Volume Three has a 100 page essay, by me, at the end of it, an afterward where I kind of sketch out my views regarding the evolution and development of anarchist ideas from, basically, ancient times up until 2012 when I published it.

TFSR: [sarcastically] Just a little thing [cracks up].

RG: Yeah, that’s right.

TFSR: Well, thanks again so much for all the work that you put in and for having this conversation. I really appreciate it.

RG: Okay, well, thanks for talking to me. See you later.

TFSR: Yeah.

Feminist Uprising in Iran + Atlanta Radical Bookfair

Feminist Uprising in Iran + Atlanta Radical Bookfair

Image from @loozanar on Instagram, Drawing in black and red of Persian words swirling around Zhina watching over a crowd of people in the streets and a youth holding a giant, burning dandelion
Download This Episode

This week on The Final Straw, we feature two portions.

First up, you’ll hear from Modibo Kadalie and Andrew Zonneveld of On Our Own Authority! Publishing about the upcoming Atlanta Radical Bookfair happening on October 15th at the Auburn Avenue Research Library on African-American Culture and History.

Then, you’ll hear a recent interview with Aryanam, a member of the Federation of Anarchism Era, an anarchist grouping based in Iran, Afghanistan and the diaspora to speak about the morality police murder of Zhina or Mahsa Amini and the ongoing revolt against the imposition of the hijab and general cruelty of the Islamic Republic regime. More by the Federation can be found at https://asranarshism.com and their fundraiser for comrades in Afghanistan & Iran at https://asranarshism.com/donation/

Image from @loozanar on Instagram, Drawing in black and red of Persian words swirling around Zhina watching over a crowd of people in the streets and a youth holding a giant, burning dandelion

Next week….

Next week we hope to share with you an interview about the case of the Pendleton 2, two Black prisoners still suffering punishment in the Indiana Department of Corrections for standing up to defend their lives and that of a jailhouse lawyer in the face of a racist, Ku Klux Klan -affiliated corrections officer gang known as the Sons of Light in 1985. To learn more, check out related episodes of Kiteline Radio or the recent documentary by TheKingTrill on youtube, both linked in our show notes, or by visiting linktr.ee/freedomcampaign

Announcements

Solidarity with Striking Alabama Prisoners

If you’re in the southeast, there is a Break Every Chain demonstration outside of the Alabama State Capital, 600 Dexter Avenue in Montgomery on Friday, October 14th at 9am in support of striking prisoners across the Alabama Dept of Corrections. You can find more info at www.bothsidesofthewall.com or by emailing contact@bothsidesofthewall.com

Certain Days Calendars Out

Also, the Certain Days: Freedom For Political Prisoners Calendars are back from the printers. You can find out how to order one for someone behind bars, for your self or place a bulk order for distribution at certaindays.org

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Transcription

Atlanta Radical Bookfair

TFSR: Would you please introduce yourselves to the audience with any names, gender pronouns, affiliations, or any information that will help the audience have a context for who they’re hearing from right now?

Modibo: I am Modibo Kadalie, you can refer to me with the standard pronouns. I’m glad to say that I was the actual first speaker at the first Atlanta Radical Book Fair back in 2016. That distinguishes me. (laughs)

Andrew: I’m Andrew Zonneveld, also he/him pronouns. I am one of the co-founders of the Atlanta Radical Book Fair. We were away for a couple of years for obvious reasons and making our comeback this year.

TFSR: Awesome. Well, can you tell us a bit about the book fair? You mentioned that the first one was in 2016. How did it come about? Why is it called the radical book fair instead of an anarchist book fair or some other term?

A: Modibo and I co-founded On Our Own Authority! Publishing in 2012. And since that time, the beginning at that time, I had become acquainted with what I call the anarchist book fair circuit, where, as a radical publisher, you get familiar with it, there’s this wonderful proliferation of these anarchists book fairs all across North America and into Europe, as far as I know, and probably elsewhere.

So, in the first couple of years of On Our Own Authority! Publishing, I went to anarchist book fairs in North Carolina, New Orleans, New York, and a couple places in Canada – Montreal, and Toronto. Modibo and I just got back from the Halifax Anarchist Book Fair. But I began to notice some things that made these book fairs really successful and some things that I thought were trends in the book fairs that weren’t the best for community engagement. I also said “I can’t believe we haven’t ever done this in Atlanta,” because anarchist book fairs are pretty damn fun. There’s a lot of great radical publishers there, and usually a lot of community organizations, speakers, sharing ideas, and stuff like that. But we wanted to make sure that when we did it in Atlanta, it’d be something special, that it will be something that reflected the community, something that was inviting and available to a large number of people.

The reason why we called it a radical book fair, as opposed to an anarchist book fair ,was that Modibo and I had never been involved in exclusively anarchist publishing. Because I do consider myself an anarchist, but I’ve always thought that there’s a lot of anarchism that happens that doesn’t necessarily use the label of anarchism. So, I wanted to make sure that we didn’t hold an event that was purely for one counter-cultural scene, that this was something that was going to be inviting to people who, broadly, thought that capitalism and the State power were fucking up the earth and that we want to do something about it. At the same time, I and the co-founders of the book fair also wanted to exercise caution and some of the more toxic left organizations that might be kicking around. This space also wasn’t really for them. So it is curated. It’s not that anything goes broad left thing. But we wanted it to reflect the community. And radical ideas in the South, and definitely in Atlanta, has never been entirely encompassed or represented by people who strictly identify themselves as anarchists.

That being said, in the first year, we had a bit of an issue trying to figure out what our venue was going to be because Modibo and I had been working with Morris at the Auburn Avenue Research Library for a really long time already. But during that year, they were in the middle of a remodel. The Auburn Avenue research library is an African-American History Research Library and Archive. And their programming division is run by a guy named Morris Gardner. And Morris is just an absolute pillar of the literary community in Atlanta. Basically, through his programming, he was able to get funded by the city government, I want to say it was a $10-million renovation for the Auburn Avenue Library, it was incredible. And what they’ve transformed that space into is just this gorgeous event space with multiple art galleries, meeting rooms, and a big event hall, auditorium. Morris at first didn’t think that he was going to be able to open up for the book fair. We were considering a bunch of other venues and the venue that we actually had booked, ended up canceling on us last minute. But as luck would have it, Morris was like “Hey, I think we’re going to be able to open” and we were the first event in the newly remodeled Auburn Avenue Research Library in 2016. And we’ve been holding it there ever since., except for 2020 and 2021. So this will be the fifth time that we’ve done it. And we’re really excited to be back at the Auburn Avenue Research Library, and I was very grateful to Morris and the staff there for making it possible.

M: I just want to add, during the time when the Auburn Avenue Research Library was being renovated, it really expanded, it became something else. We were having our events in various other venues around the city, which Morris helped us get, not during COVID, but during the time when they were renovating. So we weathered that storm. I really don’t know how we did that pod. But we came through and we have a base of people who look forward to the radical book fair every year. It’s a cross-section of people. And it’s not one scene. Looking at the way it has evolved, it has been part of the activist community too. And I think that was because of the founding committee who wanted to create this book fair, they didn’t want to look at the book fair as being separate from the activism in the community. That’s one of its strengths. This particular book fair is going to have some people who are active in the forest movement and trying to stop the police from building a police academy in a natural space in the Atlanta area. And in the past, it was designed to highlight certain lesser-known social motions in Atlanta to counteract the petit bourgeoisie, for instance, Atlanta’s garbage workers strike, and “the bat patrol”, all of these things were integrated into the event planning at the Research Library. Other stuff was just literary stuff, but these were heavy-duty, movement-oriented books that were being published about these things and people who are active in these particular movements. That’s what gave it the strength to endure.

TFSR: That’s awesome. I was only there for the book fair in 2018 or 2019, but I really appreciated what you’re talking about – “the bat patrols” and the sanitation worker strikes. These historical events are being brought in and people with the experience of having been there talking about those things. And at the same time, like you said, with Stop Cops City, you’ve got younger people that are actively engaged in activism simultaneously, really bringing together a multi-generational space. I think that’s super important.

M: Keeping the petty-bourgeois heads out, too, since they think they’re radicals or some shit…

TFSR: …and the authoritarian leftists.

A: I’ll say it because I’m assuming that they probably don’t listen to your podcast because of how they are. Maybe they do. Every year as the book fair approaches, one or two of those organizations reach out to us and ask if they can get a table. We say that we’re full. We do get quite complete because the tabling space is limited in the library. And that creates some barriers because not everybody that we want to have there can come.

M: I think the anarchist book fairs can do that in their name. But since we just call ourselves a radical book fair, we can do it in the policy sessions.

A: That’s one drawback of having a broader name. You have to find other ways to make sure the content represents the values of the collective.

M: But in the long run, though, I think it serves to bring in people who hadn’t really– It doesn’t exclude anybody who hadn’t had the experience of having somebody who calls himself an anarchist outline some things that should be done and some books that should be read. Because I remember that was a big problem in my early development, people just condemn people for being anarchists and they never even read them. “They’re just anarchists, fuck them!”

TFSR: Are we expecting any dramatic expositions that the San Francisco Bay Area Anarchists Book Fair has cyclically where they get to overturn tables of racists, Leninists, or nationalists that show up?

A: I don’t think you can expect any such drama. It’s usually a pretty happy and inviting occasion.

M: I wasn’t aware of what was going on, but it sure is good to know.

TFSR: Yeah, there are some funny videos, I’ll send them to you later.

Can you all give examples of what the visitors are likely to see and experience this year? What tables they might find or what presentations are scheduled? I don’t know if it’s been announced yet.

A: We’re gonna have a variety of different radical publishers and booksellers on the scene this year, some of them – if you’ve been to the Atlanta Radical Book Fair before – you might have encountered AK Press, PM Press, local feminist bookstore Charis Books that is I think the oldest continuously operating feminist bookstore in the country, Firestorm Books is coming down from Ashville, Rebel Hearts Publishing is going to be there. The Final Straw Radio is going to be there. And so is WRFG, our local left-wing radio station. I’m leaving people out. Atlanta Vintage Books will be there.

M: What about the folks from Baltimore?

A: No, I don’t think anybody from Baltimore is coming down. But we’re also going to have Unity and Struggle from New York and On Our Own Authority! Publishing will be there. That gets almost everyone. Oh, and in terms of panels, I guess I should probably talk about that.

We have three panels and a keynote address. The first panel, please excuse me if the order of the day gets changed before the actual event, but we have a panel called Riots, Looting and the Movement for Black Lives. Actually, that’s the subtitle, the actual title is “Big Brick Energy.” So we’re gonna have a panel of speakers reflecting on these massive urban rebellions that have taken place over the last couple of years and drawing some interesting conclusions from that. We have a panel on Land Back and Abolition featuring our esteemed guest Modibo Kadalie and a couple of people from the Stop Cop City movement. We also have a panel on critical race theory and the don’t-say-gay policy in Florida. That’s called the Fight for Youth’s Autonomy. Those would be the three panels of the day. And then we are closing our day with a keynote address by William C. Anderson, who is the author of the Nation on No Map. William C. Anderson is, if you’re not familiar, a black anarchist, writer, and thinker whose work has been published in just a million places. He is on his second book with AK press. And William is also on the book fair collective, so you’ll likely be seeing him around all day in some capacity.

TFSR: That’s awesome. That’s a lot to look forward to. Modibo, did you have anything to add?

M: Everybody’s invited. Just come here with a spirit of positivity. And let’s have some fellowship and some face-to-face conversation about the future of the world. How about that?

TFSR: Sounds good. So, you mentioned how the pandemic– Responsibly for you, thank you for taking precautions and taking that into account. The pandemic isn’t over. Even though the boosters have done an amazing job of dampening the damage that it’s done. Can you talk a bit about the precautions that are being taken around COVID-19 and safety for this indoor event?

A: Thank you very much for asking that question. Because I would have really kicked myself, if I had gotten off this program and didn’t mention: “Everybody, please wear your mask when you come to the Auburn Avenue Research Library.” It is an indoor venue, although the ceilings are really high, so it’s really good circulation in there. And there’s usually plenty of elbow room, you shouldn’t have too much problem putting some distance between you and people who you’re just meeting for the first time. But we are asking that everybody who comes to wear their mask. Masks will be available at the entrance, we’re going to have people handing out masks to everybody who comes in. That’s a big part of what makes it possible for us to do this year. So we would appreciate everybody being cool about that and not giving us anti-mask bullshit or something like that.

M: And some sense of social distances in the auditorium itself.

A: Yes, we’re asking people to make sure that they leave some space in the auditorium and not crowd too much. Usually, there’s a lot of seating there. So that should be quite doable. And when you get there, there’s also auditorium seating on a balcony above. So if the floor level is looking a little too crowded for you, you can go to the balcony. And there’s usually no one seated up there. We’re just asking people to do some social distancing and wear their mask. And masks will be provided if you forget yours at home.

TFSR: It’s some pretty cool content that you’ve mentioned that you’re going to be providing for anyone who starts to feel a tickle in their throat or a little bit too far away to get there, or they find it difficult to travel for whatever reason, a lot of book fairs – London, Montreal, Victoria – during COVID have done a really good job of recording and presenting, documenting the stuff for later consumption. And I’ve seen videos from past Atlanta Radical Book Fairs up online. Are people who can’t make it to the actual event going to be able to enjoy some of the discussions?

A: Yeah, that’s the idea. We do our best to record all the events at the Atlanta Radical Book Fair. The way that we’re able to do that is through a lot of the technology that came on board at the Auburn Avenue Research Library during the remodel. The only problem is that sometimes the library itself, cause it’s a public library in Atlanta where they’re constantly trying to cut funding to such things, sometimes they don’t have enough staff to handle so much stuff throughout the day that we throw their way at the book fair. So I tried to be on top of making sure every panel gets recorded. We have missed some in the past. But our goal is to make sure that each panel gets recorded and that everybody who can’t make it… Because if you’re feeling a little sick, you should definitely stay home. So if you can’t make it, you should be able to see those events online in some form.

TFSR: Cool. Well, awesome. I was just gonna ask the last question about how folks can find out more and get involved? Did y’all have any other comments you wanted to make or reminders for folks or surprises?

M: I just wanted to say something about these book fairs. These book fairs are really widespread. And they’re catching on in communities that have bookstores. They usually start off as a collective of people, voluntarily coming together and beginning to read, sometimes it started off as reading groups, and reading clubs, then they cluster around a bookstore with a certain literature in it. And then they usually end up being active around someplace like a housing cooperative or around the homeless in the community and that draws them closer together, and you bring more and more people involved. I’m very encouraged by what we’ve seen in the places we’ve visited, because it’s getting some steam, getting some motion, and people understand these questions better. In the past, there has been some confusion about what anarchism is and what the state is, what the role of a centralized state and wars are, and what violence is. All these questions are being clarified. So, I’m very encouraged by this process that’s unfolding right in front of our eyes.

TFSR: It’s also awesome that, in my experience, too, these sorts of events that bring people together offer new life and new ideas and new discourse, because this is a long-term culture-building project that isn’t just going to end once everyone reads the right pamphlet. Andrew, what were you gonna say?

A: Well, I think that was really well said. Culture-building and community-building and publicly engaging, I think, are also really important. Inviting people who are just walking by to come through and think critically about shit going on in their community and in the world around them. That’s something I think that we really have strived hard to do at the Atlanta Radical Book Fair. And we really have to thank everybody who’s ever organized an anarchist book fair before us, because I’ve never really thought that this was something that I would do. And here I am six years after the first one is still doing it. It really shows that you can do something that people enjoy and people will take find value in it if you just give it a shot.

Every anarchist book fair that I’ve been to is really exemplifying that. So everybody who’s out there doing it, keep doing it. If you live in a small town, you’re like “I don’t know, if we’re gonna ever have an anarchist book fair,” just do it anyway, because somebody will probably come and that probably be me, probably Modibo, too! We literally just got back from Halifax, Nova Scotia. And it was, in my view, one of the best anarchists book fairs I’ve ever been to. The community was just so wonderful, so welcoming, you could tell that this was an effort that was organized by people who are neighbors, who know each other, and the entire community come out. We saw and met a lot of people, shook a lot of hands, and used a lot of hand sanitizer…

M: And it was in a public library, too, just want to amplify it. You can learn so much from one another but we have to be open to venues like this. Active people, because in Halifax anarchist book fair, they were activist people that came together with their literature and with their books and with their summation of what they’ve learned. That’s what it is there for: we can all learn from one another and from what’s going on in the past, so we can enrich our own understanding of the future.

A: Yeah, and I think what you said about the venues is really important. In some book fairs that you go to, people assume that the place that they’re going to have to do this is sometimes at somebody’s house or in this DIY punk venue or something like that, which is all fine and good. But oftentimes we forget that there are these publicly facing, available buildings that we can make use of. And sometimes the people who work there are all about it, you just gotta ask.

M: It seemed like they were waiting for us up in Canada, didn’t they?. Like “where have you been, welcome back!”

A: Whether it’s a public library, a community center, art museum. Modibo and I did events at the Hammonds House Museum several times. Nowadays in New Orleans one, when I first did that, when I went to New Orleans for the New Orleans Anarchists BookFair in 2014, nobody came because it was in a music venue during the day. Nobody came, except for maybe 10 local anarchists. It was all white people, and it was in New Orleans, which is very weird. But then at some point, they switched to a public library. And it’s a really cool event. It changed, it engaged a lot more people, they had a lot more vendors and everybody had a much more engaging and fulfilling experience. If those spaces are available to you where you live, you can absolutely make an effort to organize something there and it is really just a great experience.

M: Everybody, stay in touch with one another, so we can keep on learning about these things.

TFSR: Yeah, it’s definitely a thing from the uprising in 2020 that I regret is that we were able to have outdoor events in our community here. But there were so many people that I didn’t get a chance to meet because public spaces of interaction with less masking, not necessarily my whole face covered, were just not available and that’s something that I’ve missed.

M: There’s a struggle for these public spaces going on because the state is trying to isolate them and cut them off and put all kinds of shit in there, and you can’t even access. The public spaces have to be defended. That’s really what the anti-police movement in the (Atlanta) Forest there is all about. We need to claim these places with books, singing, dancing, with conversations, in any way we can. We need to keep them wide open.

TFSR: How can folks find out more? How to get there? The physical list once it gets published? What’s the website? How do they get in touch with you to talk about planning their own book fair and get some ideas?

A: Well, the website is atlantaradicalbookfair.com, we are all over social media. Our most followed social media account is our Instagram account. You can email us through the website there. So if you have any questions, feel free to reach out. We’re looking forward to seeing people and doing our best.

M: The library is in the heart of the historic black community on Auburn Avenue. I think it’s all been in Cortland, right down the corner. So it is centrally located, it’s a public library. It’s called Auburn Avenue Research Library. I think you can just Google the address and come up.

A: The address is 101 Auburn Avenue.

M: Yeah, that’s nice and easy – 101 Auburn Avenue. It is the street where… I’m glad they didn’t name that one Martin Luther King Drive (laughs). But Auburn Avenue is a place of great historical notes for the whole area.

TFSR: Easy to find. Well, Andrew and Modibo, thank you so much for this conversation.

M: It’s been a pleasure. I always like to talk to people who are interested in trying to figure out where the hell we going in this world.

TFSR: It’s always a pleasure. Thank you too.

A: Alright, take it easy.

. … . ..

Feminist Uprising in Iran

TFSR: I’m very pleased to have Aryanam, a member of the Federation of Anarchism Era, back onto the show to share perspectives of the Federation about the unrest in Iran since the police murder of Zhina Amini. Would you please introduce yourself to the audience?

Aryanam: Hello, my name is Aryanam. I’m a member of the Federation of Anarchism Era. Thank you very much for having me again.

TFSR: It’s my pleasure. Thanks for coming back on.

People, and women in particular, living under the Islamic Republic of Iran have grabbed headlines due to widespread revolts following the September 16 morality police murder of Zhina or Mahsa Amini for allegedly allowing a wisp of hair to escape her hijab. But I’ve also heard that it was about her jeans being too tight in the view of the pigs. Can you describe what we know of what happened and the protests that have erupted?

And if you could, explain why there are two names? I’ve heard Zhina Amini as well as Mahsa Amini. It gets a little confusing, I think.

A: Mahsa Amini is her legal name which is recorded on her birth certificate. But among her family and friends, she was better known as Zhina which actually means “life” in the Kurdish language. Because of the discrimination that Kurdish people face, they don’t put their Kurdish names on legal document if they have can help it. They use Persian name. Mahsa is Persian, but she was known as Zhina among her family and friends. From now on I would call her Zhina.

So, Zhina came to Tehran with her family from her hometown Saqqez to visit some relatives and family. At the Shahid Haghani Expressway in Tehran, she was with her brother, and they were approached by the guidance patrol, or morality police, and she got arrested because of her improper hijab. There is a picture of her before she gets arrested and her hijab was no problem, but we are talking about the police and they can do whatever with impunity, so she got arrested. Her brother protested her arrest saying that they are not from Tehran, they are new here and they should not arrest her. But the morality police said that it would only be a one-hour briefing class, and she will be released after that. But, as we know, after a few hours her family found her in the hospital in a coma. We know what happened in the police van and the police station because of all the eyewitnesses, all the other women who were arrested and saw what happened. When she got into the [police] van, there was an altercation between the detained women and police saying that they shouldn’t be arrested. Zhina was one of the people who were protesting, and the police wanted to shut the detainees up so they started beating the women inside the van. One of the eye witnesses mentioned that the police hit Zhina’s head against the van wall really hard.

After that, they arrived at the police station and Zhina was not well. She didn’t have color in her face, she was unsteady. This is a place where she fell down based on CCTV footage. The police chose that specific station, to not beat her again. Once again at the police station, she kept saying to the police that she didn’t feel well, and then she fell down unconscious. Then she came to [consciousness] but the police were like “No, you’re faking it. We know all these tricks that you guys are playing.” The other women noticed that it was serious, so they started protesting and demanded help for Zhina. But the police started beating them up again to make them stop. They beat Zhina one more time. This time Zhina went unconscious for the last time, she did not recover after that. The police knew that situation and they started humping her chest and raising her leg and massaging it thinking that she just went unconscious.

In an hour or so, they got an ambulance and took her to the Kasra Hospital. But before they did that they made sure to get all the evidence that the detainee women might have from their cell phones, they might have taken pictures. The police made sure they confiscate all of it. They threatened all the detainee woman’s witnessing what happened to force them to silence. Once they moved her to the Kasra Hospital, we have another eyewitness who actually told her story to a friend who retold that story on Twitter. So Zhina came to the hospital. When she arrived at the hospital, she was unconscious, she was beaten. They moved her to the special care unit and she was kept in a coma for two days and then declared dead. The police threatened the doctors, the nurses, and hospital employees to stay silent and lie to the parents about the cause of death. The clinic that admitted Zhina released a post on Instagram saying that she had heavy brain trauma. They threatened the hospital to stay silent and lie to the parents. They wanted to spin the story as a heart attack, heart failure, and brain stroke. But hacktivists managed to get access to medical data of Zhina and from that, we know that she died because of heavy brain injury and brain edema from internal bleeding. She was in a coma for a few days.

The day she got admitted into the hospital, her brother was smart enough to contact news agencies to cover the story. And the story was already on Twitter and Persian social media on September 14, and it kept circulating. But since she was in a coma, there was hope that she would recover, people didn’t have the whole story of why she got admitted to the hospital. She was declared dead two days later on September 16, in a few hours, there was a protest at the hospital. The police managed to scatter the protests with tear gas and pepper sprays and by arresting and beating the protesters. The actual protest started in Saqqez. But the police started playing all the tricks they could to make whatever was going to happen as small as possible. They had Zhina’s body, and instead of taking it to Sanandaj directly, from where they could drive it to Saqqez, her hometown, they brought it to Tabriz, which is in a different province, it’s in Azerbaijani province, while Sanandaj and Saqqez are in the Kurdistan province. Then they started driving with her body and stopped in the middle of the road to throw off the protesters. They gave the wrong cemetery location to avoid the protesters and they wanted to bury her body at five o’clock in the morning so they cannot gather and the funeral is small or non-existent. But her family resisted all the pressure that they were receiving from the government and they wanted to have a proper funeral.

So the crowd managed to gather and that’s when the first chants started with “Marg bar dictator,” which means “Death to dictators” and the other one was “Jin Jiyan Azadi,” which is Kurdish for “Woman, life, freedom.” This slogan has been with the Kurdish people for a long time. It started with Öcalan, with the feminist ideals that Öcalan was proposing to the PKK, that the women struggle within that party, they managed to win with Öcalan’s support, and they managed to turn the PKK into a more feminist organization. And after that “Jin Jiyan Azadi” became a prominent slogan within Rojava. This is a slogan that has been in the social media and satellite TV for the Kurdish people, so it was in the back of their minds. So “Jin Jiyan Azadi” was, especially in this situation where a woman was killed because of just hijab, was chanted as a counter, including “Marg bar dictator” (Death to dictators). Women started to remove their headscarves with the support and encouragement of men right at the funeral. And from there, protesters spread to other Kurdish cities including Sanandaj. On September 18-19, the uprising spread to Tehran, Rasht, Esfahan, Karaj, Mashhad, Ilam… On September 20th, it went even further, to Sari, Tabriz, Qom, Kerman, Hamedan, and Kish.

There are so many significant cities here, they are all major cities. Something significant here is Qom and Mashhad are the ideological strongholds of the regime. Mashhad is where the eighth Imam of the Shia sect is buried, Imam Reza. Qom is where all the major mullahs train, that’s where they come from, but they were one of the first cities that joined the uprising. And Tabriz was another amazing one. In the first few days, a lot of people from Tabriz didn’t want to join because people were chanting “Jin Jiyan Azadi,” that’s the slogan of PKK, the terrorists (they were following the line of Turkey). So there was a surprise that Tabriz rose as fast as they did. And it was a very pleasant surprise.

By now, all 31 provinces, and more than 100 cities have risen up. And 100 is just an underestimate, I just don’t have the number at the moment. Oshnavieh was a city that got liberated, but unfortunately, it got retaken the following day. The regime used drones thanks to the technology that the US gave them. They had tested those on Baluchistan during previous uprisings, they used it on Oshnavieh and on the stronghold of the Kurdish democratic parties. So Oshnavieh fell into the hands of the regime again, but the uprising is still ongoing. The universities have started a massive strike. By now, at least 110 universities went on strike. The Sharif University of Technology, which is well-known worldwide, went on strike and was brutally suppressed. The police surrounded the University and started shooting at the students and arresting them. They closed down the university for the next few days so the protests cannot happen and so they can erase any evidence of human rights violations. But after the strike, the arrests of students continued. Also, high school students and even younger students are joining the protest. We are seeing 15-17-year-olds are joining the strike. There was one video that high school students throwing their Principal out of the high school.

TFSR: That video was amazing.

A: Yes. They kept saying “beesharaf”, which means “scoundrel,” “without honor.” The universities are getting brutally suppressed, at one university at least there was one dead student, many injured and many arrested, over 100 were arrested in one university. But the uprising is still going on. This is the third week of the protest. It’s been 21 days since the start of the uprising, and this is the longest uprising in the last few years in Iran.

TFSR: Yeah, that’s amazing. Part of me just thinks of how embedded the secret police and security state are in parts of Iranian society, how many levels of policing there are, and how frequently people are getting stopped. I mean, I live in the United States, there’s a lot of policing here too. But it’s so brave that people of all these different generations, especially the youth, would be rising up and refusing to take the shit anymore. When you said that Oshnavieh had been liberated briefly but retaken by the regime, was it just the government was kicked out for a day or two by the population or by a specific group?

A: Oshnavieh is a city in the Kurdistan province near the border, but they managed to take control of all the government buildings, and they threw out all the police and all the regime forces. But that night, there was a military unit from Tabriz that headed towards, and the government used drones to strike all the government buildings, all the possible gathering places for the people. A few people died just because of that. The city was suppressed again.

TFSR: That’s incredible and it’s amazing how widespread, as you say, this has been. Getting back to Zhina’s case, what the morality police or the guidance patrol is, what do they do and what is your impression of how people generally think of them?

A: Guidance patrol is an organization that was established in 2005. But it succeeded an older organization, the Islamic Religious Police, and they have one goal – enforcing the Islamic code of conduct. This is not limited to the women’s Islamic dress code, it is controlling the relationship of the people in all ways possible. The boyfriends and girlfriends cannot be seen together in public. You can only be seen with the opposite gender if they are part of your family, if they are mahram, an Islamic word meaning a member of your family, marrying whom is haram – taboo or forbidden. So you can be together with a member of your family. But, again, this is a patriarchal society in which you need to have either a brother, even a younger brother or younger cousin, or a father, so you don’t get harassed by the regime or other people when you’re going about doing your business as a woman. That’s one of the reasons that Kiarash, Zhina’s brother was with her, because this is how it is expected to be. Unfortunately, as part of the patriarchal society, you cannot be alone. In the boyfriend-girlfriend relationship, if they are seen together, the police harass either both of them or the woman. So people have to play different tricks to circumvent the guidance patrol.

But guidance patrol does a lot of things like harassing transgender or queer people because of lack of gender conformity, they can do everything with impunity. They even monitor men’s attire. Back in Rafsanjani’s presidency, which was from 1989 to 1997, even men could not wear short-sleeve clothing in public. Now, if men are wearing clothing coded as western or whatever guidance patrol sees as improper clothing for men, they get into the same problem as women. Not as bad as women because men can resist more, since it’s a patriarchal society, they are more lenient to men. They would be sent to do 40 hours of the briefing class, and there is not as much beating. But for women, there is much beating to make them stop.

Also, they monitor what people buy, and there are cases when people had to return newly bought goods, such as clothing, bags, shoes, whatever that morality police finds improper for the Islamic code of conduct. As I said, they can do anything with impunity, as long as they can frame it as an issue of the Islamic trust code or Islamic code of conduct in public. As you might expect, the majority of people in Iran hate the guidance patrol. Putting it more concretely, there was an independent survey done by Gaman in 2020. 58% of the people in that survey do not believe in the hijab at all. Of those that believe in hijab, 76% are against compulsory hijab. Only 15% of the people in the survey were for legal obligation and compulsory hijab. There is no family, no individual in Iran that has not experienced the harassment of the guidance police, didn’t have a family member or a relative being harassed or arrested by them. Unless they are part of this regime, they are a religious and patriarchal family that enforces hijab strictly, before even the guidance patrol gets the chance to enforce it for them. So that 15% that are for compulsory hijab, they already enforce it on their family members and are part of the conservative, religious and patriarchal family unit. People pretty much hate this unit called morality police or guidance patrol. And they join in burning down, flipping over the cars, or hitting the police whenever they get the chance.

TFSR: Is Zhina’s killing totally out of the ordinary? Did they just go too far and the family was able to follow up so it didn’t get covered up? Is it a semi-normal thing or was this just an act of brutality that was totally out of the ordinary for how the morality police are?

A: Women experience police brutality similar to Mahsa’s case every single day in Iran. They get pressured, some get raped, some get killed by the police, and the regime managed to silence the family by getting forced confession from them to say something positive about the regime and why their child was wrong. It happens every single day. Before this event happened, there was a video of a woman in Raj being thrown out of the morality patrol’s van, there were multiple videos of morality police beating a woman and forcing her into a van or beating them down. This is normal. This happens every day. The only reason that they failed in Mahsa’s case was that the family resisted the intimidation and refused the pressure. They allowed the large gathering, and Kurdish people were behind them in the funeral and it sparked. Morality police have always been brutal.

But in the last few months, it had been more brutal because of what I believe to be a reaction to the women’s popular grassroots activism. In Iran, some businesses enforce the hijab as well. So what the women of Iran did was blacklist the businesses that do that. They didn’t have any leader, they just gathered the listings saying, “We don’t go to this business. This business just keeps harassing us for a hijab, or being with our boyfriend or girlfriend.” Transgender people of Iran joined as well saying that “these businesses harass them for their gender nonconformity.” The businesses were like, “Oh, you’re shutting our businesses by blacklisting us, don’t do that, we are good people.” But right then the cases of morality police brutality started increasing or it became more visible (to be more honest). People are becoming more aware of what’s happening. The cases of people taking a video of the morality police van, recording the brutality of police inflicting on a woman are being videotaped everywhere. So there was a tipping point. Mahsa’s death, unfortunately, was a tipping point. As they say, her name, the slogan that we use is “Mahsa, you’re not dead, your name became a symbol.” So although being Kurdish in Tehran had a significant effect on how the police treated Zhina but it’s happening all across the country, unfortunately.

TFSR: As you say, the awareness is happening all across the country. You mentioned before, when I asked about the two names, that the regime is generally unfriendly to Kurdish people as a minority. Is that because of a Persian supremacist perspective? Is it because they view any break from what they consider to be the norm, to be a sectarian grouping? Is it because of separatist groups in the Kurdistan region? What do you understand to be the motivating factor for the state to repress Kurds or Baluchi or other minorities?

A: The regime is using Persian supremacy for sure, but their motivation is to keep their hegemony. And their cultural hegemony is rooted in the Persian language and Persian culture. The Kurdish people, the Baluchi people, the Arab people, and the people of Sistan, the Afghani people, are breaking the hegemony. They are outside the hegemony that the regime wants to project. So, it’s not just the people of Kurdistan. The people of Kurdistan are prominent because they can resist, they have organizations, but the regime keeps the people in the periphery poor. For example, people in Baluchistan are getting massacred right now. The number of deaths right now in Baluchistan is at least 91 people. Those are the ones who have birth certificates, a lot of Baluchi people do not have birth certificates. So it is easier to cause genocide when the people do not legally exist. That’s how they do it, it is a colonial and genocidal tactic. And they do that all over the periphery in Iran, which is Kurdish, Baluchi, Gilak, people of northern Iran, which in northern Raj, Sistan… It is a way to have control.

TFSR: In your view, is there an underlying philosophical movement that people are being motivated through their resistance to the morality police at this point? Is there an idea spreading? Or is it just the existent dignity of human beings to not live under omnipresent attack and surveillance that’s motivating a lot of the uprising?

A: People in every uprising have a dialogue with each other. In the uprising in 2017, they ended the conversation about reformism. They started the conversation about overthrowing the regime. Before that, in 1997 when Hatami became the president of the Islamic Republic, he brought reforms into the government, which gave a lot of hope to the people who believed that things can get better through reforms. Before then, it was Rafsanjani’s presidency. So Hatami relaxed some rules about hijab, about Islamic code of conduct, and just gave some breathing room to the people. That helped the regime for 20 years, they could play that reformism game for 20 years, until 2017 when people were done with reformism, their slogans were like “Reformers, this is the end!” In 2019, that continued but it became more radical, and the conversation about overthrowing the government through armed means started happening. And thru the Uprising of the Thirsty, the uprising of Baluchistan, through Uprising of the Hungry, the bread riots that happened this year, every time we are advancing and moving the position to “fuck the police.”

First, we’ve been like “Screw the reformers, we cannot survive through reform. We need to get rid of this government.” People believed in voting, for example, in 2009, it was the Green Movement in Iran, and the main slogan of the people was “Where is my vote?”, people were still believing in the vote. In 2017, that went away, they were not talking about votes that much. They were some small groups, but in 2019, more radical conversations started saying “Marg bar setamgar, che Shah bashe che Rahbar”, which means “Death to the oppressor, be it the Shah or the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic”. So these slogans became more prominent. In 2021, which was the Uprising of the Thirsty, that conversation went forward, and became more radical, until this year 2022, in which the conversation from the beginning was “Death to the dictator”, “Death to the oppressor, be it Shah or leader”, it was against the police. This is a way that people kept going forward and using their previous experience from the last uprising to inform the current action.

TFSR: Thank you. So there have been a lot of videos that have come out of girls and women mobbing authoritarian men, dancing in the streets, and people burning their hijabs. Can you talk about how the word has spread during the uprisings and if any digital tech or social media, in particular, have aided, and maybe a little bit about internet shutdowns too?

A: Yes, the internet had a major effect on the advance of the uprising. As I said, the news of Zhina’s death was spread the moment that she was admitted into the hospital, hashtags were used, and people were learning about it. So, the majority of the population on social media was already aware of Zhina’s situation, they were just not going to act because she was in a coma. One thing worth mentioning is that the majority of the people protesting right now in the uprising were born in 1380 [Islamic calendar]. We call them the 80s, which is generation Z. They were born around 2000. And the oldest of them are about 21 years old, the same age as Zhina. A good section of them is from 17 to 20 years old that are on the street fighting the regime.

So they are very savvy with the internet and social media. And one thing that we are noticing recently in this protest is that the people of Iran are doing an amazing job, they are taking security culture very seriously. This is the first time that we are noticing that majority, if not all the videos that are coming out, are taken from the back of the head or taken with a low angle so that people cannot be identified by their faces. And this is another thing that people learned through the continued protests throughout the last few years – to protect themselves and their friends and fellow people fighting against the regime, they need to take the security culture seriously, and they are doing that correctly. It is really hard to see people without a mask protesting. They are covering their face as much as they can. If they’re not, before posting a video, people are blurring faces. People were using the internet to inform each other of what was happening, where to gather, what to do, what to get and keep motivating each other like that.

Right now, with the shutdown of the Internet, in some cities, people are using a small paper notice on every house, saying “Let’s gather up here.” In some other places, people have gathered in the neighborhood, they already organized themselves in the neighborhood, they know each other, they do talk, they organize themselves, and they set up a meeting time at a certain place. They do it through that or they get each other’s phone numbers because the cell phones are still working. But once in a while, the internet comes in and people can use it to get news and information. WhatsApp, Instagram, Telegram, and Session are filtered, people need to use a proxy to use the Session app, which is another good app for anonymous communication. Signal got shut down, and people were using Signal. But people found other ways, some people are just going out every day at 5pm on the streets, and they find other people protesting and start taking action. They form their own solidarity groups and keep their speaking habit every day. So, this is not like during previous protests and uprisings when the government shut down the internet and could basically shut down the protests.

TFSR: Oh, that’s interesting. I was thinking, “Oh, in the past, when we spoke and you talked about how a lot of people don’t bother organizing online because of the surveillance and the internet getting shut down.” But then I started thinking about the videos being everywhere. That makes perfect sense. But I’m so glad to hear that people have been taking the security of themselves and the people around them seriously. And I’ve noticed that about the videos that a lot of them are from behind or at a low angle. Super smart.

A: Yes. They keep mentioning to the protesters that they need to film from the back and wear a mask. We are glad it happens everywhere, not only in the bigger cities, they learn from their previous experiences. They saw people getting arrested after the protests. So many Arab activists were arrested after the Uprising of the Thirsty because their videos were released in public and people could see their faces. We are really glad that it’s going forward.

TFSR: You’ve mentioned before in past conversations how in Afghanistan, when the Taliban was able to regain control, some men would come out in solidarity with women but also be repressed, maybe not. They would face different repression. Everybody hates the morality cops in Iran but they suffer different consequences often. Have you witnessed or has the Federation expressed witnessing a lot of people crossing the imposed gender lines in these protests, in terms of coming out and supporting and standing with people that are forced to wear the hijab or people who are policed in their body differently? Is it mostly just femme-presenting people that are out there? Or has this shifted conversation of solidarity in the streets or within families to common hatred of the imposition of patriarchal gender?

A: Oh, it definitely moved the conversation toward rejecting the patriarchal ruling of hijab. There were a lot of older women that came out in support of the uprising. They burned their own scars, and some of them were like, “We go old, our time is over, you guys fight on. You’re doing your job.” They are supporting. There was a video of a senior woman in the metro sitting and not wearing a hijab. Another older man was trying to enforce hijabs, saying “Why are you not wearing hijab, are you not ashamed of yourself?” And the woman answered his question really well with a very sharp word, when the man got up, she got up and started beating him for trying to enforce hijab on someone he has no business forcing hijab on her, and people were really supportive. People’s awareness about hijab and patriarchal and religious norms is increasing not just among young people, but all across the family strata.

Whenever women remove their scarves, before they would get harassed by men, now they are getting encouraged and supported by men. This is something that didn’t happen before. Before, there were women’s protests about compulsory hijab. Women would individually go to the streets and removed their headscarves, but they were not getting support from the people around them, and the morality police took them. But this case is different. People are supporting the actions of women, they are at the forefront of the uprising and are getting support from the men most of the time.

There are always some patriarchal men… some who have started a new slogan to basically go against Woman Life, Freedom. Their horrible slogan is “Men, Nation, Prosperity.” An example that comes to mind in the US is “Black Lives Matter” when it was countered by “All Lives Matter,” but unfortunately, some people are chanting it right now, but it is counter-revolutionary, and it counters the ideals set out by this uprising.

TFSR: According to the Iran Human Rights NGO based in Norway, there have been at least 150 killings so far that they’ve been able to record during demonstrations and hundreds detained. Among those killed was a 16-year-old woman, Nika Shakarami, who disappeared on September 27 and was found dead from what appeared to be bludgeoned wounds and their allegations of her body being snatched by the state for a private burial. I don’t know if you can talk about Nika’s situation, I was seeing some videos up on the Federation of Anarchism Era’s social media earlier. And you’ve covered how widespread the demonstrations are, the drone strikes in certain instances, and another government repression, but if you could talk a little bit about if the repression has been successful in your view of dampening people’s resistance, or if people have continued to endure despite it.

A: The number of deaths grossly exceeds 100. 100 deaths were just in the city of Zahedan in Sistan and Baluchistan Province. And that’s just counted deaths. As I said earlier, a large section of Baluchi people do not have birth certificates and their identity is not known. So their deaths will not be counted in the official record. Nobody knows, as if they do not exist and that their deaths don’t count. This is the same in the other major cities. If in Zahedan we had 100 deaths, we can see that throughout three weeks, there are at least 100 dead in Tehran and other major cities. One hundred deaths are grossly underestimated.

Another point, as I was saying earlier, the majority of the protesters are from Generation Z. They are 16-22 years old and coming out on the street fighting the regime. Nika Shararami was a 16-year-old girl who was one of the protesters. She went out to protest with a water bottle and a bag with her birth certificate for identification. She mentioned that she was followed by the police a few minutes before her disappearance. The CCTV showed that she did not go to her relatives’ house, because she knew that she was getting followed, she was trying to get them off the trail. She didn’t want to go straight to her aunt’s house and cause trouble there. So she went to the empty construction area. On that same night, her Telegram account and her Instagram account were deleted and her cell phone was turned off. 10 days later, her family did not get any news from her. They went to the police, they went everywhere – to the hospitals, to the morgue, everywhere to find out anything about her. After 10 days, they got a call from the police saying they should come and identify her body. She, again, had a bad head injury caused by police batons. The police claimed that she fell from the high ground and died. But this is police, so they fabricated that they possibly threw her body down. Who knows what they did in 10 days before calling her parents? She’s not the only 16-year-old that was killed in this uprising. We don’t have a count, but many 16-year-olds like her were killed by the police in the last few weeks.

In her case, the police were so scared about causing another spark in the uprising that they stole her body from the funeral house and they buried it in a village surrounding Khorramabad where her family lived. In the dead of night without the consent and knowledge of the parents. The news started getting out. The mother started talking about their circumstances of Nika’s of death. And today, the police forced a false confession from her, she had to repeat what the police wanted her to tell. In a forced confession from her uncle, we can hear the interrogator. Like a quiet voice was saying, “Talk, talk now. Talk now, dammit.” So the uncle had to say whatever they were feeding him. And he was audible in the video. They didn’t know they had accidentally released it like that. So they threatened and intimidated the family. I think her uncle might be in prison right now, and I can’t confirm that, but that’s the story. That’s how they do it to Nika’s family. They couldn’t do it to Mahsa, but they did it to Nika and to many other 16-year-olds whose names we might not know. They just intimidated and threatened the family into silence.

TFSR: Have you witnessed much solidarity from other places in the region in terms of the uprising against the regime’s brutality and the imposition of the hijab?

A: Yes, absolutely. There was solidarity across the region, amazing solidarity from the women of Afghanistan. They showed their solidarity with the people of Iran for the cause of Zhina and for the cause of freedom for women and the cause of women. And one of their slogans was “Bread, work, freedom,” which is one of the slogans that was also chanted in Iran. Maybe it was in Raj, where there is a video in which people were chanting “Bread, work, freedom” alongside with “Woman, life, freedom,” But there was a bombing that we believe to be caused by Taliban in the Kaaj education center that had the main women’s section and it is in the Hazara ethnicity neighborhood. A suicide bombing happened in the women’s section of the Education Center, and many women were killed in this bombing. That caused a new wave of solidarity. Some of their slogans include “Bread, work, freedom,” and “Death to Taliban, whether it’s Kabul or Tehran.” The other one is “Stop Hazara genocide”. Since this is part of the campaign against the Hazara people, and also against women and women’s autonomy, and the right to education. The women in Afghanistan, across Herat, Bamyan, Kabul, and many other cities started protesting and chanting “Stop Hazara genocide,” “Education is our right,” and “Death to enemies of knowledge.” Everything that goes on in Afghanistan and Iran is basically the same. Taliban is just a younger sibling of the Islamic Republic.

Also in Iran, the government used ambulances to covertly move the detained protesters. Taliban did the same thing in Afghanistan. So Taliban is just copying Iran in all its ways to suppress the people. We also saw amazing protests in Iraq and Lebanon. In Iraq, there were protests in solidarity with the uprising, and also against the intervention of Iran in Iraq’s politics, which we are very grateful for and we hope to see more. This is how we see solidarity. Each of us is acting with our own goals and tactics but at the same time, we are strengthening the movement in our surrounding area. We are acting in solidarity. The people of Lebanon also had a demonstration in solidarity with the uprising for Zhina Amini. We are very grateful and hope to see more.

TFSR: Media in the USA and the West are presenting this revolt as feminist, and the West frequently uses symbols of the hijab, for instance, as a dog whistle for Islamophobia and Orientalism. The part that isn’t said out loud is the idea that there should be regime change and the imposition of a neoliberal “democracy” installed in Iran. But I wonder if you could talk a little bit about what you’ve seen of Western media presentations of what’s going on, where they get it right, and where they get it wrong…

A: First of all, I want to touch on the word Islamophobia. I don’t think that we have a good anarchist critique of religion at all. So far, I saw two reactions. One reaction was, as you said, the West trying to explain this as something that people are rising against backward ways of the region, which use Islam as a code word, which doesn’t mean the culture and, like you said, Orientalism. The other one is that Islam is not the problem, it is just the Islamic Republic, it is just this regime or that regime, there is no compulsion in Islam, which is, I’m sorry, a really ridiculous statement. The vast majority of the Islamic religion, and also the rest of religions are about enforcing the sacred taboos about society and what the consequences would be if we obey or do not obey. I’m from a federation that does not accept the religious tendency of anarchism because we see religion as another mode of power that forces people into obedience. That’s another tool in the masters’ hands to make people obey.

While capitalism is doing that by interfering by sabotaging the production and consumption relations of human beings, religion does lead to sabotaging human everyday relations by using sacredness as property. This was mentioned by Graeber in The Dawn of Everything, that the sacred is the oldest form of property that we observe in human society so far. They have sacred knowledge that only the clergy class can know, which is intellectual property. There are sacred grounds or tools or a base that are all part of the property which is monopolized by the clergy class. These are things that people get enslaved by and forced to obey things against their interests. The problem is the institution of the religion, not the way the religion acts.

As Graeber mentioned– I am using Graeber because it was really instrumental in my thinking about this. He said that capitalism is not natural. It is a social construct that we reproduce every single day. The same is true about religion. Religion is a social construct that is something that we reproduce every day. We decide what religion is and how we conduct ourselves. We decide every day that we obey instead of revolting against these institutions, we are reproducing these oppressive systems. We are not the right-wing fascists who blame the people for failures of capitalism. We are not fascists that are blaming the poor and disfranchised for the problems. They are the victims of this system. We look at the problem systematically: capitalism as a system problem, not the individuals entrapped and enslaved in it. The same is true about religion. The institution of religion is the problem, not the people being entrapped and enslaved by it. We have comrades in Afghanistan giving examples that when the Communist Party took over Afghanistan, they took the land from the Khan, the landlord in the feudal system, and gave it to the people living in it, the serfs. But the serfs, because of their religious upbringing, resisted the fact they could have autonomy and produce and consume as they will, and they saw that as haram and even prayed that land that was given to them as haram.

So religion is not just a branch of capitalism, it is another tree in the poisonous garden that is authoritarianism. In the world we live in, we have to get rid of all of them, or we cannot be free. We cannot live in this world that is created on death. But it is not just regarding the West and a dog whistle, and is not something new. It is not something that only the West does. The Iranian right-wing fascists use Islam as a way to be racist toward Arabs. They blame Arabs after 1400 years for the problems they are having now. So this is not new. But the only way that you can differentiate them is by who’s blaming the people, who’s blaming the individual who’s blaming the system. The anarchist way is to blame the system, blame all the authoritarian systems in the world, which is all the religions, including Islam, Christianity, Zoroastrianism, and Buddhism. Graeber, in Debt: The First 5000 Years, mentions Hinduism and consequently, Buddhism using karma, which is basically a threat for the people to pay their debt, or they’re going to become a slave in their future lives. That’s how they enforce the proto-capitalist way of life. We know that the principle “You always have to pay your debt” is something essential in capitalism. It has been something that was enforced by religion, it was always first introduced by religion, and capitalism used that from religion. Even before Christianity, even before the birth of capitalism, this has been taking place.

So yeah, the Western media uses the current uprising as a dog whistle that they want liberal democracy. It’s liberal democracy, what they did in Afghanistan. We saw what they did with the hypocrisy of inviting the Taliban to Oslo to have a conversation with them. The West stayed silent in the pleas of the women of Afghanistan being suppressed and killed every single day by the Taliban. It was funny when we heard the chanting Jin, Jiyan, Azadi in the EU Parliament. When they listed PKK, whose leader is Öcalan, who basically invented the Jin, Jiyan, Azadi,, basically, which was popularized by PKK and was considered a terrorist slogan of the PKK. Now they are saying it out loud, like all the previous experiences did not happen. What happened to the liberal democracy, when Turkey part of NATO attacked Rojava, the place where Jin, Jiyan, Azadi was chanted every day. It was popularized with Rojava. That’s where the rest of the world heard Jin, Jiyan, Azadi. The liberal democracy failed Rojava, and now they want to help the Iranian people? I don’t think so. It is very hypocritical and disgusting, to be honest.

TFSR: I assume that you can’t see the future. But do you have a sense that this uprising in Iran against the regime will cause enough cracks to be able to sustain itself that something more permanent can come, like an actual overthrow of the regime or this has seemed like another stepping stone in that direction?

A: Yes. The uprising is still going. The regime is doing everything it can to suppress it. People are still protesting, the regime came with tanks and water cannons. Oh, I wanted to add one more thing that I just remembered when I mentioned water canons, regarding the previous question. The water cannons that the Islamic Republic used were possibly bought from Austria or Germany. These same water cannons, the anti-riot water cannons were sold to Chile during the protests and uprising, and now they are being used in Iran. Some of the pellet guns and ammunition are produced locally, but others are purchased from either China or some European countries. They’re still selling to Iran. Just wanted to mention it.

So the regime is doing everything it can to suppress the uprising. They are brutal in Zahedan, in Baluchistan, and there was a very brutal suppression in Kurdistan, in Saqqez and Sanandaj. But people are still taking the streets. Right now, a very visible section of protesters are the university students and high school students, even the middle school students, the 14-15-year-olds who are going on a strike or protesting. People either arranged by themselves where to meet and organize either through their neighborhood or by meeting each other in the protests and exchanging details. It became a habit to come out every single day at a certain time and see what was happening. If there is a significant number of people coming out, we’re going to have a good protest that day.

As I was saying earlier, in every single protest, every single operation we are advancing the dialogue. First, we were finished with reformism, we started going toward overthrowing the government, then it became more radical. This time it became much more radical. Never before have we had this much anger towards the police. This time people did not have any requests from the government, one of their slogans is “No more protests. This is the beginning of a revolution.” People are not asking the government to do something for them, they want it gone. From the very beginning, it was like that. In the Uprising of the Thirsty, Uprising of the Hungry, in the November 2019 uprising, people were coming out because of the hard, economic problems they faced. And in the beginning, it was just to ease those sufferings for themselves, but this time, there was no request for the government to do something because the government is not going to cancel the Islamic code of conduct, it is not gonna get rid of hijab. Sometime in the beginning of the uprising, people were chanting “Voluntary hijab,” but that went away quickly, that didn’t stay. It would direct the movement, the uprising toward the reformist place, and the regime could control the movement. But people realize that and they stopped that completely. All the slogans are against the regime. And it is for Woman, life, freedom.

If we cannot overthrow this regime this time, it’s only because we are not armed. And one of the slogans that people are chanting all across Iran was “Woe the day we get armed!” So people realize that we need to get armed to overthrow the regime. And the problem is that the regime is armed to the teeth. And we need some sort of organization to attack, to get guns and arm ourselves. Nobody else can do about ourselves. Right now, the regime is trying to give free reigns to the militia, to the Basij, the government sanctioned militia to suppress the university student movements. If you could take over a university there might be guns that we can get and start moving there. The military bases are harder to get but the police stations have been taken over and burned down in multiple cities all across the country. So, the only problem we have is that we don’t have arms. Once we get over that, this regime will fall. And after that, our problem will be stopping other forces to take over this revolution and steal it from us, like the Islamic Republic stole the 1979 revolution from us.

TFSR: Yeah, or like the Bolsheviks stole the Russian Revolution in 1917.

A: Yes, exactly.

TFSR: Well, Aryanam, thank you so much for having this conversation. I really appreciate the insights. How can people follow the work of the Federation of Anarchism Era and support the project and the folks that are in Iran and elsewhere?

A: People can follow us on Twitter, Instagram, and Telegram. Also on our website asranarchism.com. I believe you both provide links to them. We’re doing your fundraising at the moment for both our comrades in Afghanistan and the uprising in Iran. I did not mention this during this interview, but it has been mentioned on our social media that we have lost at least one comrade from our federation and many were arrested and injured. We are trying to support them as much as we can. We will be very grateful for people’s support and solidarity. Thank you very much for having me and hope we talk when we win this revolution.

TFSR: I hope that it will happen soon.

The Post-Internet Far Right and Ecofascism with 12 Rules for WHAT podcast

The Post-Internet Far Right and Ecofascism with 12 Rules for WHAT

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This week, our guests are Sam and Alex (not their real names). Sam was until recently the co-host of the 12 Rules for What podcast and is the co-author with Alex of their two books, The Post Internet Far Right and The Rise of Ecofascism. Sam is now focusing on writing at Collapsology Sub-Stack and the Collapse Podcast, and you can support Alex’s ongoing work with 12 Rules for WHAT podcast via their patreon or check out the podcast via Apple Podcasts or Channel Zero Network. We talk about fascism, ecological trends on the far right, Patriotic Alternative, Patriot Front, grifters, the Tories and antifascist activism. Oh, and a lot more.

Next week…

Next week’s show will feature an interview with a member of the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement about the case of Dr. Mutulu Shakur and his struggle for compassionate release despite being 7 years past his date for release eligibility and his diagnosis of bone marrow cancer.

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Shinewhite Phone Zap

Anti-racist, communist prisoner held in North Carolina, James “Shinewhite” Stewart, is facing severe repression and deprivation at Maury C.I. where he was recently transferred; he’s been in solitary since he was transferred, denied food and his blood pressure medicine, and had various pieces of property and correspondence stolen, as well as mail tampered with. He is asking people to make urgent calls and emails to Secretary Eddie M. Buffaloe of the NC Department of Public Safety in order to demand SW’s transfer out of state (called “interstate compact”) to West Virginia:

Shinewhite wanted to share that his politics have evolved in such a way that they no longer align with the Revolutionary Intercommunal White Panther Organization (RIWPO), so he’s stepping down from his role as National Spokesperson for the organization. However, Shinewhite still believes deeply in Intercommunalism and the liberatory vision of the Revolutionary Intercommunal Black Panther Party (RIBPP).

Indonesian Anarchist Paralegal Fund

Anarchist Black Cross in Indonesia, Palang Hitam, is fundraising for their paralegal trainings for anarchists and anti-authoritarians. You can learn more and contribute at Firefund.Net/PalangHitam

BAD News: Angry Voices from Around The World

A new episode of the A-Radio Network’s monthly, English-language podcast, BAD News. This month it includes an interview with Greek Anarchafeminist group “Salomé”, a chat with an organizer of the Weekend Libertaire in St-Imier (Switzerland) on the 150th anniversary of the first anti-authoritarian International, and a call for solidarity with anarchist prisoners. Give a listen!

Bodily Autonomy Rally in the South East of Turtle Island

There’s a rally next Thursday at 11 a.m. at the Justice AA Birch building in Nashville to protest the abortion ban in TN. Others in the area, keep an ear out for demonstrations in South Carolina despite the overturning of the 6 week abortion ban, and because of the 20 week abortion ban now in effect in North Carolina. More on the latter two pieces of news and ways to support folks seeking abortions at linktr.ee/CarolinaAbortionFund

Firestorm Benefit Concert

There’s a benefit party & queer country show at the Odditorium on Wednesday, August 31 for Firestorm’s building purchase, right across the street from the venue. It runs from 6pm to 10pm and you can find out more by checking out their social media.

Blue Ridge ABC Letter Writing Event

We’ve been forgetting to announce, but on Sunday, Sept 4th at West Asheville Park from 3-5pm you can find Blue Ridge ABC writing to prisoners. They’ll provide a list of political prisoners with upcoming birthdays or facing repression who could use some words of support, plus paper, pens and addresses. Come down, meet some folks and send some love behind bars.

. … . ..

Featured Track:

  • Bella Ciao by Nana Mouskouri from Revolutionary Songs of the World
  • Bella Ciao by Redska from the Bella Ciao 7″
  • Bella Ciao by Leslie Fish from It’s Sister Jenny’s Turn to Throw the Bomb

. … . ..

Transcription

TFSR: Would you please introduce yourselves for the audience with any names, preferred pronouns, or other information about yourself that you care to share?

Sam: Yes, my name is Sam Moore, I use he/him pronouns. Someone recently asked me if I had other identifying information, but this name is, of course, a pseudonym. This is not my real name. So I guess the information that we have about ourselves, both of us, we were, until very recently the the co-hosts of a podcast called 12 Rules For WHAT, and the author of two books, Post Internet Far Right and The Rise of Eco Fascism. I’ll let Alex say if he wants to dox himself any further than that.

Alex: I’m Alex, and I use he/him pronouns. I am also the co author of those two books. I’m still a host of 12 Rules For What We are both anti-fascist activists and researchers as well.

TFSR: I’m excited to have you all on the show. I’ve been an avid listener of your podcast. Since you joined the Channel Zero Network of anarchists podcasts, regular listeners to our show may be familiar with your amazing jungle, but for folks who aren’t familiar with the 12 Rules For WHAT podcast, as the shared project that the books are coming out of, can you speak a bit? Give a brief rundown on the project, its scope, and its goals moving forward from here?

Sam: So maybe I could do the history, because I’ve now left the project as of about two weeks ago. I’ll just say what it was when I was involved. Alex can tell you all about what it will become when it becomes its full self in the future.

So starting in 2018, there was a notable absence in the UK anti-fascist movement of understanding of the far right and the different ways in which it had been shifting and moving and changing and adapting to the conditions of the internet, and adapting to the kind of different social forces that were at play on the far right in the UK at that time. It’s quite a peculiar time, for the far right in some ways. Through the Cameron period, so that’s from 2010 to 2016 when David Cameron was the Prime Minister, there had been a large Street movement called the EDL. Which started actually before that. But the basic idea of the EDL, the English Defense League, was obviously far right, but also quite a quite complex movement. It was often accused of being fascist, I think a lot of people felt it was an apt subscription. I don’t think it was necessarily, retrospectively, but I think it was a pretty decent description at the time. It’s politics were militantly Islamophobic. Hatred of Muslims was it’s ruling idea.

However, in 2017, and 2018, there was a kind of a shift. So the EDL started to decline, it has not become the kind of the the most important figure or component of the UK far right and it was replaced, partially because of it’s very charismatic leader, Tony Robinson, left to do other things and became a news grifter or what he described as a ‘citizen journalist.’ He got into various legal troubles, and there was a movement around him being released from prison where he was put for obvious breaches of contempt of court and various other kinds of problems he ran into. That meant that the EDL, which was the clear defined center of gravity on the UK far right side started to dissolve.

It’s also true that on the parliamentary wing of the far right, or not parliamentary because they weren’t in Parliament, but the more electoral wing of the far right – UKIP, Brexit, and so on, had basically won. There was this kind of contestation of what Brexit was supposed to now mean and that meant that all kinds of other things were being pulled into the orbit of the far right, and lots of different kinds of things were at play at once.

So 12 Rules For WHAT, just to get to the very long end of that history, intended to understand this conjuncture. The histories that co-informed it, the ways in which the far right had changed its political forms, the way in which it changed the way it organized over the previous 10 years, the rise of the internet and so on, to get away from the stereotypes of the far right that people have held, which is the all that they are all Neo Nazis, (which is not true), or that they’re all just conservatives, (which is also not true). We needed to differentiate, to pull those things apart, and to see what we could do then, as anti-fascists, in order to counter them.

Alex: I would also say that having a broader audience was was a good thing that we got, but we would mainly try to talk to the anti-fascist movement as it was in the UK. Because of the kind of misunderstandings or misconceptions about how the far right was currently constituting or constituting at the time, there was kind of a failure to act in a way that would properly oppose those forces as anti-fascist needed to oppose them. So, from the start, we also had discussions about anti fascism, about movements, and how you build movements as well. There was two components to it. It was talking about the far right, but also about anti fascism, which oftentimes goes really un-interrogated as a form of political activity and we wanted to discuss that.

TFSR: Now moving forward, are you continuing in the same trajectory now that Sam has left the show?

Alex: Yeah! I think we did some really, really good stuff. I want to continue doing good stuff. I don’t really have radically different positions from Sam. We agree. I think you kind of have to agree to write the kind of books we did. There’s not gonna be a massive diversion.

Sam: If people are looking for gossip about the collapse of 12 Rules, I’m afraid there’s very little. All there is is a sense from me that we had completed the project, to some extent, that we set out to do. I think, if you read our two books, there’s a really quite good account of the far right in those books in scholarly areas. The one thing everyone agrees on at an academic conference, is there must be another academic conference. But I also think that you can get to the end of something. I think, for my part, I got to the end of that. I’m sure Alex will produce things that I could never have conceived of. But nevertheless, I feel I’ve come to the end of the exploration of the far right. That’s kind of it, I suppose.

Alex: I suppose there’s the difference there, because I still care about the far right. I think it’s important to oppose whereas, Sam has moved on to…

TFSR: Oh yeah he has gone social fascist! [laughs]

Alex: He was always a Nazi! Just never exposed himself till now. [laughs]

I was just reflecting on that a bit more seriously, I was thinking about, “was it worth doing on my own?” I was 50/50 about whether to carry on with it, and I kind of got persuaded by a few people in the anti-fascist movement who describe it as like a ‘movement resource.’ I think it has value in itself of being a reflective space for anti-fascists in the UK and elsewhere, as well.

TFSR: Sam, you mentioned that you’re not going to be working on the podcast anymore. I wonder if you wanted to shout out your other podcast and the newsletter that you’re moving along with (Collapse) and maybe introduce listeners who haven’t heard it, to what it is, and also tell us what the hell a substack is?

Sam: So I was mentioning that part of the interesting thing about the far right in 2018, was they had won Brexit, but they didn’t know what Brexit meant. Of course, there’s this wonderfully surreal answer from Theresa May, who is the prime minister from 2016 to about 2018 or 2019 perhaps, when she says, “Brexit means Brexit,” which is just beautifully circular. To be clear we didn’t know what Brexit was supposed to be. So there was this sense that across the political spectrum, and including on the far right, lots of people were trying to work out what they thought they meant by Brexit, and therefore impose something on it.

It seems to me that the basic political fact of the rest of our lives will be climate change, right? That will entail not only hotter summers, like we’re currently going through the UK. We now have a summer which is a new thing for the UK. But also it will entail possibly social collapse, something quite slow, but nevertheless, quite sustained. A fairly likely interpretation of what might happen. So that event will happen. But it will also, just like Brexit, require someone to give it some meaning, require someone to articulate what that collapse is, what its story is, what are we supposed to do now, and so on.

It seemed to me that the prudent thing, or the long range strategic thing for the left, is to consider what left wing politics would be, given that basic fact, given the need for extraordinary levels of solidarity over the next century internationally. But also given the need to re articulate a politics that doesn’t contain some sort of brilliant utopia where everything is saved, where everything is transformed. Our politics, essentially, is without a future, but nevertheless, is hopeful in some other sense. If that sounds like a contradiction in terms, if it sounds like I don’t have the specifics worked out, that’s because I don’t.

So the project is to try and find our way to political theory adequate to our moment of collapse, without simply saying, “everything is different now.” And without saying, “everything is the same as it always was,” and we can just carry on as if the left was in the 20th century or the 19th century or like we’re all heading towards the sunny uplands of the future forever. These are not the facts. That’s the project of thinking about collapse now, I think.

TFSR: I think you’ve definitely set yourself up with a very large project that will keep you busy for a long time. That’s really fascinating, though. I’ve been cutting back on podcasts, actually, so I just only now just got around to listening to the first episode. tIt was the introduction that was in the 12 Rules stream. It was really interesting. So I’m looking forward to that.

As you’ve mentioned, you’ve published two books over the last two years, Post Internet Far Right from Dog Section Press, 2021, as well as The Rise of Eco Fascism from Polity Press 2022. First up, congratulations to both of you on this. That’s awesome.

Alex: Thank you.

TFSR: Yeah. So, Post Internet Far Right… I might call it PIFR from here on out. I was afraid if I called it Piffer, you’d give me a weird look. So I’m going to call it PIFR.

Alex: Some people call it Piffer.

Sam: Pif is a piece of genuine UK slang, which you can use. So maybe I’ll tell you what that means afterwards. [laughs]

TFSR: Please take some time to think up what it means. So PIFR kind of felt like a theme park ride, if you don’t mind me saying, it was a sort of a ‘not so fun house,’ the reader passes through on a boat as monsters pop up along the way, a presentation of relationally of organizations, events and modalities, but also taking place on a timeline. That seems kind of like an appropriate approach to setting the development and stage of important questions of how to counter the far right while attempting to avoid the pitfalls of writing 1,000 Page academic treatise or homogenizing all the subject matters by saying, “everyone’s fascist that we don’t like.” I do want to note that while I made that little crappy metaphor of the monster house, I don’t mean to say..

Sam: It’s a great metaphor!

TFSR: Thank you very much. You can use it, if you want to. Second edition, you can put that on the back of it. I don’t mean to say that the approach was a menagerie of freaks, to use a phrase (I’m paraphrasing) that you’ve said on the show before, the focus on individual instances, or events, or people personalities, that tend to draw a lot of shallow recognition and attention from people, but more as like a mapping of an ecosystem of relationships.

So first up, I’m wondering if you can talk a bit about this approach to writing your book, how you sort of created this wending path to take the readers on and share your definitions of terms like ‘far right’ and ‘fascist,’ why is it important to be clear about your language when talking about our enemies?

Alex: Well, I think the structure of the book is quite deliberate. We start off with a chapter on feelings, the very kind of blobby feelings you get when you’re online and depressed, or online and angry. We kind of expand out from that very individual, very singular point of reference inside someone’s head and their individual feelings, out to ultimately eco fascism and the end of the world.

In that gap, we kind of trace their journey of expanding far right variation, basically. We wanted to do that, because oftentimes people see these different scales on a level on their own. There’s no connecting them together, there’s no understanding how someone could be radicalized and what that could mean and how that radicalization then transfers to more real world “political action.” Oftentimes, it’s the neo Nazi teenager who commits a mass atrocity is sprung up out of these very pat reasons for radicalization. Like he was bullied or he saw some bad memes and then went bad.

We wanted to understand how someone can go through a process and oftentimes, it’s a very short process as well. There is this idea of the pipeline and we wanted to introduce other kinds of mechanisms in which people could become fascist, or members of the far right, or Nazis or whatever. So also talk about ruptures, we talk about breaks in people’s political thinking and political activity, just as much as a slow, steady pipeline, which we think has been the ‘go to’ easy answer for a lot of these questions.

Sam: I think that the arguments of the book, is the structure of the book. They are the same thing. So it is a winding path, but I think it’s supposed to be also an ascent through a collection of ways, as Alex was saying, I think is really good phrase, “blobby feelings.” There’s a certain sense of numinous things gliding inside you. If you ever just sat for a long time, or even just like a short while and just thought about the kind of various things that are going on inside you, which I recommend doing, they are indeterminate, they are vague, they are inexpressive. So politics can’t just rely on them kind of being fully formed. I think we send the book that it has to make them march. The purpose of the infrastructure of the far right that we explore through the first few chapters after the feelings, is the things that would would make these feelings politicized essentially, which will make them able to reproduce themselves, will provide a community in which they live, will provide a means by which they can be disseminated throughout the world, and so on.

So those are all the kinds of different aspects of that, and that loops through action on the streets in the classical fascist mode, it loops through online communities, it loops through joining organizations, most prominently right now in the UK – Patriotic Alternative, most common in the US perhaps – Patriot Front, but also the Proud Boys and other things like that. So there are there are all kinds of ways in which these feelings are reproduced, remade, politicized, articulated, drawn out and so on.

On this thing about the precision of terminology, far right and fascism. In that book we actually don’t give a good definition of either. We do note that there are gradations, I should say the definition of Eco fascism are absent. It’s not that we shirked that, we delayed it for another book. So the the need for a precise terminology, is not because the world is full of precise objects, which are easily categorized and easily found and easily kind of put in their place. The reason for precise terminology is strategic. The need for that is so that you can do something with the object.

I’m trying to think of the right metaphor. So on a coastal wall, a wall next to the sea. You get these measurements like, “This is how far the tide was up. This how far the tide is up,” and they have numbers on them. But political politics isn’t like that. You can’t say, “oh, this person is this radical. Seven out of 10 radical. This person is nine out of 10 radical. This person is 10 out of 10 radical, you really need to be worried.” This is not possible, partially, because the coastal wall itself is going up and down. Like it’s kind of sinking, kind of moving up or down all the time, there are warps in the wall and the way the measurement works, so it doesn’t quite work. But at least what the precision of the terminology gives you a sense of how the dynamics of the sea are changing or something. This metaphor is really torturous. It’s making your metaphor about the funhouse seem exceptionally crystal clear, although I think it’s a really good metaphor, actually, I really do like it.

So the idea is that it’s not that the world is precise, the world is very messy, and there’s a need to like strategize about the world in order to bring it into its clarity. Not because the clarity pre exists and is out there, and you just kind of go and find it. But because politics is a matter of making clear making distinctions and organizing the world in a certain kind of way. And that requires you to think in a certain kind of strategic way as well.

Alex: Also a kind of trap, quickly before we get into our actual definition, which Sam is gonna give because I can’t remember what we actually wrote… The point of being very definitely clear and defined is oftentimes a tendency on the radical left within anti-fascist movements, and indeed, even wider society, is the way to label something as a bad thing that we must reject wholeheartedly is to is to label it a fascist thing. This is really tricky, because then you start kind of merging lots of different things together into one label, which is very unusable imposing an opposing all different kinds of stuff.

Oftentimes people talk about the transphobes, TERFS, being fascists. It’s like, “okay, we can acknowledge the relationships that transphobic radical feminists have with the Christian Evangelical right wing groups in America and the UK, we can acknowledge those alliances without putting these people who self identify as feminists in with people who definitely don’t self identify as feminists. This is obviously not a defense of transphobia or transphobes. It’s to acknowledge that there are things that are not fascist which are also awful and should be opposed and fought against and worked against as well.

So, oftentimes, in certain kinds of more liberal strains of anti fascism as well, the kind of mass terror of the border, or the mass terror of the prison system, or of policing in general, is kind of put into the realm of acceptability. Because it’s non fascist, and it’s not. The border isn’t fascist, it’s part of the ongoing mechanisms of neoliberal capitalism. You know, it’s the norm. It’s not a fascist thing. It’s a liberal capitalist thing.

So, to draw in all of the other stuff into our critiques, we need to be very clear about what they are and what they aren’t. We’ve said, and this has been a big theme for the show is, “where is the biggest harm, societal harm, being caused on the broad spectrum of the right?” You can look at something like Atomwaffen, they did murders, but they kind of merely murdered each other. The biggest threat on the right comes from Border Force, or the Republican Party, or the overthrow of Roe V Wade and the abolition of abortion in half the states of America. So that’s where we need to acknowledge that that stuff is not necessarily fascist, but also that it should be vehemently opposed.

Sam: One thing Alex said that’s kind of the danger of the thing I was mentioning before about the strategy, is you get into the same kind of traps that Alex is talking about when you pursue that notion of strategic too far. Because then what you do is you decide that whatever you aren’t capable of opposing must be fascism. So, if you’re really good at setting the discourse on Twitter, if that’s what you got as a movement, then you’re gonna decide that the things you need to oppose our part of the discourse on Twitter. And if you’re really good at opposing street movements, then you’re going to decide the thing you need to oppose is street movements, or if you have a legal apparatus, you’re going to decide that thing you need to oppose is the legal apparatus.

In some sense, although I’ve argued in favor of a strict strategic-ness, or the use of a political strategy to guide definitions, at the same time, it is essential that we don’t simply just decide that whatever we happen to have, must be the right answer, because the far right is always changing. You’re gonna build capacity to oppose one part of it, it’s going to change, and then you’re going to be stuck opposing an iteration of it, because that was in the past. There are some really key examples of this in the UK in particular, I don’t want to open old wounds with the audience, maybe I won’t go into that.

TFSR: Anti fascism in the United States’ conception and the way that it could be adopted by a lot of people who were liberals and who were radical leftists, and who are radical centrists is because they can point to this one historical example where, in the 1940’s the US sent military across the ocean and then they fought against this absolute evil above all other evils. So, either something equates with that absolute evil, or it doesn’t. It also puts us in the same boat, as it were, as the institution that was continuing to impose Jim Crow at that period of time in the US South and supporting redlining in northern states and such.

Sam: I think it gets through like a conception of the global far right. It’s important, particularly now, thinking about the way in which, for example, the government of Modi, and the government of Bolsonaro, and the erstwhile government of Trump in America, and various other far right movements around the world, how do they all intersect? How do they kind of how to tactics flow between them? How can you make linkages? That was as true for the historical things you’re talking about? Right? There’s an interesting book, I’m not going to affirm it totally, but an interesting book called Hitler’s American Model, which looks at the way in which certain aspects of race law in the US were implemented by the Nazis, to the extent that some of the Nazis, even quite seedier Nazis, at some points regard the US having gone too far, which is, of course, not historically how it’s borne out. It will not be correct to equate Jim Crow with the Holocaust.

TFSR: But the Reservation system, the use of smallpox blankets…

Sam: So most of the time, most of the things they draw directly, are actually about the policing of Black Americans, rather than than the Reservation system and so on. Because when the Nazis are doing this in 1930’s, they regard the indigenous population as essentially a kind of vanished thing, it’s always in terminal and inevitable decline, a kind of defeated race. It’s interesting that to some extent, actually, the indigenous peoples of America are treated as a kind of a warning for Germans of what will befall them if they do not fight for their racial superiority. They will be crushed, as they see Indigenous Americans as having been. There is a whole complex history there about the way in which they understand again, this question of political events. Then their interpretation, their meaning comes later, this whole question about how they understand the genocide of the Americas as both a glorious achievement of the white people, and also simultaneously as a warning of what will befall them.

TFSR: That whole holding yourself as a discriminated or oppressed population simultaneous to viewing yourself as being Superman and elite and whatever, I’d like to get back to that in an upcoming question.

Pivoting a little bit. So technology and online sociality have shaped how the far right organizes, as well as everyone else in society, in some surface ways what it looks like. Alex set a challenge in its 2019 episode of Dissident Island, unless I’m getting that wrong, in the wake of the Christchurch shooting for anti-fascists to understand the new spheres of radicalization that were visiblalized by that tragedy for a lot of us. I feel like PIFR was meant to be a tool to further that challenge and as more and more interaction is occurring online, especially through the COVID pandemic, and with new platforms, there’s a continual need to grow and learn that terrain.

I’m wondering if you can talk a little bit about some of the shifts in anti-fascist activism, how you feel the movements have done ala the far right and fash and counter organizing online? Are there any projects you know that are working on the cutting edge, delving into challenging the spread of fashy ideas in virtual or augmented reality?

Alex: Do you want to go first? I went first last time.

Sam: How well did we sculpt the internet? Or how well do we understand the internet in that book? Well, the book is, is now one year old, which means that is written two years ago. Therefore the internet has changed immeasurably since that. There’s always this sense that one is kind of discussing something that has happened a long time ago in the past when trying to talk about the dynamics of internet spaces.

One thing that’s happened in particular, is the uneven distribution of things like discord servers, I just need to be really concrete about it, the far right are using discord servers more than they were when I first started writing the book, but they’re also using discord servers less than they were at the peak of the book, because Discord had a clampdown on its terms or conditions. To actually impose them, as opposed to being kind of more or less laissez faire. Telegram continues to be an important workplace where far right meet.

But I think we shouldn’t get too focused on exactly what the interface is supposed to tell us about the far right in general. What is that supposed to inform us about? I think we described in the book. We talked about a realm of affordances. There’s kind of a sense in which, and affordances is like… it’s a thing and an object, or a thing in the environment that presents itself to you as an opportunity for you to do something. So for example, I’m holding out a mug. But it’s so obvious that the way I’m holding the mug is the wrong way to hold the mug. Right, the handle is here. I’m supposed to hold the mug by the handle. This mug has been designed to have an affordance that I can choose to pick up or not. But as you can see, I’m holding it the wrong way.

And that’s important, because in some ways, the way the internet is designed, is as a collection of affordances for action, right? Like the ‘Share’ button looms very large, it’s like, “Please share this thing.” There’s a there’s a consistent vocabulary across websites, and across designs of operating systems to make everything very easy to use. It’s like you’re kind of in an environment where the whole of the thing, everything around you, is this big handle offering itself to you. So, this space is extremely designed and nevertheless, it’s totally possible like it is with a mug, to use it wrong, and to use it against the grain.

I think there’s been excess, at least in the liberal press, about the kind of determinism of technology over far right politics. I can think of some really heinous articles. For example, the article in Rolling Stone about 4chan, which declares that 4chan… the posts are displayed according to an arcane logic, impossible to work out for mere mortals. “Guys, they are in chronological order. The top post is the most recent one, and then it goes down.” It’s not that hard to work out. So, this mystification of the internet that I think happens in lots of the press, and we will try to cut through that. You’re on the internet, you know what it’s like on the internet. Then you read an article, you’re like, “That’s not what it’s like to be on the internet.”

So how does the far right use the internet now? I couldn’t tell you, because I stopped doing this stuff some time ago, but Alex did not. So he can tell you.

Alex: Okay, so how well has the anti-fascist movement done countering the far right online? I think it’s a tricky question to answer because how do you define successful opposition online? One kind of marker of success, of course is deplatforming. So like a certain prominent far right account is taken down, there is cause for celebration, people will move on to the next one. The internet is a mechanism for disseminating information, people dox people, it’s shared widely, there is some kind of regulatory pressure on that person to stop being a fascist or stop being a Nazi, or stop being on the far right, and things like this.

I think what we need to acknowledge is the fact that the internet is owned by these giant companies, and these very rich people, it’s something we can’t ever get away from. So we’ve always talked about just on its own, appealing to our internet masters to delete certain fascists or reject people from from their platforms… That can only be one tiny, tiny part of what we need to do. Ultimately, in my opinion, the way anti fascism is successful is building movements offline, street movements, investigatory collectives, whatever, in order to bring opposition into the real world.

In terms of doxing, it is really useful to be able to spread awareness about a particular individual or a particular organizer, I think we do need to be careful. I think this is a particularly American anti-fascist movement phenomenon of because basically doxing any member of any far right organization as a thing that must happen. The problem with that is that it has some kind of disciplinary function, some of those people who are adopted will stop being fascists. But if there’s a doxing without consequence, then it starts to lose a lot of its power as well. What you end up creating is a movement of out and proud Nazis who don’t mind being very fascist in their public lives, online, wherever. Then you have a problem, which needs to be opposed in a different way.

So basically, I’m just coming back to the fact that it’s quite difficult to measure a successful online opposition. Because the internet is ever changing and ever moving around.

Sam: The sense in which you can kind of like push things, it’s kind of a system with lots of water in it or something. You squeeze one part of it and the water just flows somewhere else, you can’t compress the water, you can’t get rid of it. That’s a bit pessimistic, maybe, as a metaphor.

I should say that in addition to… I am less skeptical than Alex of the utility and power of large card companies to moderate things on their platforms. After the Christchurch shooting, there was a thing called the Christchurch call, which was begun by the government of New Zealand and France, signed on to by Facebook, Google, all kinds of big internet companies. They’ve done a relatively good job at removing some extremist content. Definitely, like the more kind of terroristic and neo Nazi elements of things have been pretty effectively removed because of that. That is a serious victory. I am, of course, also slightly worried about the kind of the creeping States that kind of comes and does your anti fascism for you.

Of course, in Europe, we have models of anti-fascist states that are constitutionality anti-fascist, Germany is the most obvious example. It is illegal to be fascist in Germany. The German police enforce that law very strictly. It’s not easy to be to be a neo Nazi in Germany for very good reasons. I don’t think the German state employees that law upon the left, as far as I’m aware, I don’t think there’s ever been the kind of example of that happening.

I mean, this is something particular about Germany, that other countries wouldn’t do as do as well. But I’m less terrified of the powers of the States and giving them more capacity to organize civil society. Why am I saying this? Maybe I don’t believe any of that. But I said it now. So I’m going to stick with it.

TFSR: Out of pure stubbornness. While it may be difficult to be a fash, like an out and out fash, in the way that people aren’t marching around Germany for the most part flying Nazi flags. However, you’ve had this ongoing crisis where it turns out that members of security forces have been participating in secret telegram groups and organizing among themselves, or then you’ve got people that are flying some old preexisting German flag in replacement of the Nazi flag, and it technically doesn’t check that mark on the box and showing up at QANON events until somebody can write that into law than the government’s unable to respond to it in that way.

I guess what I’m wondering also, in addition to what you all have said is not so much and as it’s been pointed out, you compress the thing and then the water comes out in different places. It seems like the building of the skill set of being able to address the changes as they occur by trying to look for innovation on far right uses of the internet, not just looking at new platforms, and not Just breaking encryption or actually just finding weaknesses and code to get the contents of whatever Discord or Rocket Chat is happening. I wonder if there’s any groups that you’re aware of online, or networks that are public that have been pretty good about keeping an eye on developments and far right applications of technology for organizing? It’s okay if you don’t.

Alex: I would say that the leaks that have come and been published by people like Unicorn Riot, for example, has been really useful to researchers. There is a there is a contingent of antifascist online who have the ability to breach some of these platforms, or at least get into these spaces like Discord. That has proved very useful, like the leaking of the Iron March forum, all the messages, all the DMS, all the profiles, has been materially useful to investigators in the UK, for example. Researching stuff that had come out past National Action, after that was proscribed.

As a society, we still haven’t particularly worked out how to… people share around privacy manuals and how to be secure online, but the mass of people have no understanding of how to do that, there is still an ever increasing trove of information out there if you know how to find it. That is materially useful to anti-fascist movements, and it has been. There’s a group of which I am peripherally involved with in the UK called Red Flare, who have made use of this information quite a lot.

Sam: In providing investigations for the Times, and other newspapers in the UK, as well as publishing their research.

TFSR: Unless anyone had anything else to say I was gonna move on to the next question.

Sam: I was just going to say about the German case right? So there’s the thing called, I’m going to horribly mispronounce this. Reichsbürgerbewegung. It means Reich People’s Movements, or Reich Citizens Movements, in general. And it’s essentially a German Q Anon. The main way in which things like fascist and Nazi sentiment get channeled, because they are definitely there in German society, I’m not denying that there’s a problem with neo Nazis. But the way in which they get channeled is not much more peculiar, much more conspiratorial, much more syncretic movements, like Q Anon in the US, right? There’s no part of US politics more well stated, and this is true for UK as well, than. “we don’t like Hitler.” Hitler is the ultimate enemy even for much of the US far right. Because what justifies the US’s place in the world is the moral authority it gets from crushing nazism. It crushes fascism, it’s capitalist, it’s not fascist, it’s not communist. It defeats both these enemies. That’s what gives the US it’s right to hegemony. It’s a right by conquest of the global order.

The UK, although it’s not hegemonic in the same way as the US nevertheless, also thinks about the right very deeply. Therefore, there’s a need to not express fascism in terms of like sieg heiling, and Roman salutes, and doing silly walks in the streets. There’s a need to kind of express it in these different peculiar ways. That’s obviously much more acute and much more concrete in Germany. Where waving a swastika in the street will not only get you proscribed like it will in the UK, or punched in the head like it would in the US, but will also get you arrested, thrown in jail.

TFSR: I will say I was warned not to wear my RAF shirt when I was in Germany, because apparently it is illegal to wear symbols of the RAF, which is interesting, but definitely not the same scale as what you’re talking about with swastikas. That’s a good point. I appreciate that.

A major contradiction in far right thought often is a simultaneous uplifting of the capital “I” individual as a downtrodden elite, as well as the subsumption of that individual to a leader who represents the greatest possibilities of the collective. This is kind of adjacent to the ‘to many fears in the reich’ problem. This brings us to the topic of grifters and influencers. I feel like looking back to the position of the alt right, generally as an umbrella, it’s street power and media presence. There was an amazing groundswell of talking heads and swarms of neck beards and trads ready to show up in the streets during the heady days of 2016 through 2019. Where are those influencers and swarms now, have they retreated to walled gardens online or been successfully de-radicalized and re radicalized towards an anti racist position? And I wonder if you have any anecdotes that you want to share?

Alex: I think these things are again, fairly hard to track. Obviously the the alt right collapsed quite spectacularly. What we’ve seen in its place has become these massively fragmented subcultures, and micro movements in between the bigger things that still remain, for example, the followers of Nick Fuentes, the proud boys would be another example of that. And, of course, ultimately Q Anon.

It’s not clear that the alt right morphed into Q Anon. I think Q Anon comes from a different place, really. It’s not made up for the same demographics. But what we think is going to happen is these kind of fragmentary bits and pieces of online far right subcultures and online far right activity, are going to kind of reform themselves in some form. We are beginning to see those kind of moves happening behind the activity, for example, January 6, we had an episode on it at the time. You can see some of those movements coming in behind it and going forward in defense of it, and in defense of Trump’s actions in the run up and on the day of January 6, you can see formations occurring.

Most importantly, we’ve seen the capitulation of the Republican Party too much, much more extreme explicit far right movements and ideas than they ever were in the Trump era. Trump kind of opened the door in many respects to these things. There was a general kind of acceptance of the of the “crazies” in order to give their sclerotic party some kind of vitality. But what we’re seeing is that is those kinds of people, now I’m being more institutionalized within the party, and much more open and explicit relationships as well.

So the the kind of danger of this is, the alt right, it was always difficult to work out, when it did kind of materialize in the streets, it was always quite chaotic, always quite incoherent in many ways. You saw that in Charlottesville, where there was a lots of people there, but it was all very cacophonous. The danger, of course, is if these online movements are adopted by the Republican Party, it seems increasingly that it is, these forms, these very extreme forms of politics and very reactionary form of politics will be given an institutional form. We can expect to see much bigger, much more consequential changes in government in the US because of it.

Sam: Yeah, that’s also my sense of how things have moved. A shift from this micro influencer model, where people are often directly monetizing through being on different platforms where they share adverts, or through super chats. This kind of thing. Directly monetizing their capacity to talk to a camera on far right in the period of 2015 to 2018, or there abouts. Then the decline of that economy, there’s a recession, essentially, in demand for this, and there’s a consolidation around a few very key influences.

The other really important part here is the rise in America of Tucker Carlson, and the kind of the increasing centrality of Tucker Carlson to the American media landscape. Because Tucker Carlson, unlike, say, Bill O’Reilly before him, will say the kind of more or less extreme things that the US right were saying amongst themselves, and the far right were saying amongst themselves with these micro influencers. But he’ll do it in a way it’s much more slick, sarcastic. He’s much better at interviewing people than anyone else is, he knows much more than other people. And he has an extremely clearly defined political worldview. He’s not incoherent. He’s not difficult to listen to. Whenever something embarrassing happens on his show. It’s to the embarrassment of the other person on the show. He’s very good at not embarrassing himself. In this kind of existence, Tucker Carlson on TV, these micro influencers just can’t compete. In the same way as the local bookstore can’t compete with Amazon. It’s the same dynamics. So Carlson is Amazon. He’s just taking all your all your demand. There’s a sense in which I think that’s really one of the important parts of it.

Also, Carlson allows for direct connection between the movement and its institutional structure. You can just ring up the Supreme Court Justices. There’s a connection which no one on the far right was able to do. Richard Spencer, does not have Clarence Thomas’s phone number, obviously, but Tucker Carlson does, right? It maps together these different parts of the far right.

There’s also a kind of a sense in which that seems much more palatable to the right wing party, to donors and so on, which is where the kind of the motor of this stuff comes from. I would assume that those big funders, who fund lots of US far right, are breathing a sigh of relief that Richard Spencer is no longer the force he was, or many people on the alt right are no longer the force they were. There’s a sense of almost relief, because everything is kind of coming back into the institutional setting of being kind of therefore much better coordinated amongst its various parts, which is why the far right as an institutional force, is having so many victories in the US right now, even as the far right as a movement is splitting up and going in different directions and kind of not cohering in the same kind of way was maybe even last year, or like maybe five years ago.

TFSR: So you kind of talked about this in a recent episode of your podcast, or the last episode that, for instance, Sam, you were a part of about how this is not the approach in the UK that the Conservative Party, the Tories, have towards holding power and towards pulling in folks from the extreme? Can you talk a little bit about that difference?

Sam: Yeah, so the Conservative Party is an attempt to respond… It’s a flexible political organization with a very long history, which responds to the task it has, which is to govern British capitalism. British capitalism is not US capitalism, but they have important key functional differences in their position to in the global economy. The UK is a financial superpower. But it’s not important as a military power. It’s not important as a manufacturing power. It’s kind of important as a cultural power. Like it has very famous institutions, the BBC, NHS, the Royal Family, it has things that it can export around the world, it’s kind of institutional forms. It’s not for nothing that a lot of the post colonial constitutions, when people are kind of hunting around for a constitution to base their system on, they go for the US one, or the UK, one the French one. Those are normally the three models that are employed.

The UK is a big cultural empire, but mostly it’s a financial empire. It’s just a global financial power. So the task of managing that does not necessarily include questions of the relationship between the UK and it’s military as a kind of heroic and unimpeachable guarantor of collective security. We don’t have that relationship to the military in the UK. People walk around with their army uniforms in near where I live, but no one stops them and thanks them for their service. Whereas the US is the global hegemon, whose function is to make the US stay in that position by forcing everyone else to buy dollars in order to buy oil. It guarantees that people will buy it oil and trade oil by threatening to militarily intervene globally. Everyone else funds its military by keeping the dollar more powerful and stronger than it would otherwise be. That’s the position for US.

In that position, you can well imagine that being really intensely nativist in your politics, valorizing the military as a particularly impressive unimpeachable and valiant dimension of life, valorizing conquest and domination and violence, these are all integral parts of what American capitalism does on a global scale. There’s not necessarily a surprise that those things come out in the politics.

The other thing to say is that the UK was a colonial power, but the US is still a colonial situation. Still colonization going on in the US. It’s a live aspect. The unreconciled, the unfinished process of colonization, is the other kind of thing that informs the US, which doesn’t inform the UK. It isn’t there as much. Obviously, the UK is a colonial power, but in regards in its self conception, colonization is having kind of ended in 1948 when we gave back India. That’s kind of the way in which the UK likes to imagine itself as a colonial power. I think that’s true. Alex is grimacing. I think that’s the way the UK likes to imagine it’s relation to colonialism.

Alex: The thing about the Tories is that they have an ability to absorb the far right political positions and energies without actually inviting the far right into them necessarily all that much. And so you see it in various different waves of the far right activity in the UK. For example, the National Front, that was built in the late 1970’s and was completely kind of absorbed by Thatcherism and Thatcher in a way. It wasn’t as if Thatcher took on these far right elements into her party, it’s that she took on their positions and stole their energy and built Thatcherism and neoliberalism as it is along with people in the US.

In the same way, the sting that was taken out of the EDL, and these movements in the 2010’s was the very explicit institutionalization of what Theresa May called “the hostile environment” to migrants, to refugees, and to asylum seekers. We’re gonna make this a hostile environment to anyone who’s coming into the country. That was basically an adoption of far right politics without adopting the far right.

You can see the kind of ingraining of that within the modern contemporary Conservative Party in things like the the policy of deportations to Rwanda, which is very unclear whether that’s ever going to happen, whether they’re actually going to go through with it, but was another one of these moves of creeping authoritarianism explicitly geared against the kind of hippie lefties, Extinction Rebellion, and the disruptive elements of various movements, and a clamping down on those things. Most importantly, clamping down on unapproved by the State migration. I don’t really know how to say it, un-official migration.

TFSR: In some ways, that description kind of makes me think of the way that the Democratic Party in the US relates to the progressive politics. It’s sort of absorbing and identifying itself with those causes, maybe absorbing individuals, and then shifting them into neoliberal politics that they already had going on. But it appears in some ways to be the party of labor, the party of immigrants, the party of multiculturalism, or whatever, or feminism, at the same time.

A group that you’ve mentioned frequently on the show is Patriotic Alternative in the UK. I wonder if you’d say a few words about where you see this group today and why you consider it to be a growing threat? In the US context, I know it’s not your fishbowl, as it is mine, but we do take up a lot of space. So I know you’re educated on what’s going on the side of the pond. Where do you pin groups like Patriot Front in terms of level of threat as a street fascist group?

Alex: Patriotic Alternative, for people who don’t know, it’s a UK fascist… They kind of danced around the term but they are pretty a fascist organization founded by a guy called Mark Collette, who had a extensive career in the British National Party, which was the last mass fascist, far right party, electoral party, before they collapsed in 2010. What makes them a particular threat, is that at the moment, they’re entirely uninterested in building street demonstrations, ie building through through things that are easily opposed by anti-fascists.

This is a break with the classic tactic of building UK far right parties and movements, which is this kind of approach that’s called ‘March and Build.’ So you have a march you bring people into the march, it’s vital, it’s exciting, they want to go to the next March. This is a classic case of the EDL, where they kind of toured the country building these big marches. Then the idea is you grow your organization on the back of these things. The problem with that, of course, is that these situations become targets of anti-fascists, and once enough anti-fascist power has been built up or an organization’s happened, they are opposed to the point where they’re either smashed as got happened in a couple of instances in confrontations in Dover, which was hours of running street battles which resulted in about 50 members of the far right and fascists being sent to prison for kind of quite extensive prison sentences. About two or three anti-fascists receiving the same thing. There’s obviously an unbalanced there and ultimately, those instances destroyed that movement that was growing in Dover.

What Patriotic Alternative is focusing on is what they call ‘white community building.’ So it’s very private event, their politics are explicitly very racist. They talk about the extinction of white people in the UK, they talk about the need to deport non white people. It’s very much a racial politics. But what they actually do apart from the leafleting and whatever is going on hikes or doing fitness activities and fitness clubs or these private, very difficult to oppose things which is meant to build this white community. They have a director of white owned and white friendly businesses. There’s a tea company, there’s various different things. The idea is to build this kind of separatism, at least in the short term.

Colette, the leader of Patriotic Alternative, his history and his kind of political training is in these confrontational marches. It feels like he’s found a way to build a base of power both in number of activists that are actively organizing for Patriotic Alternative, without the opposition that goes along with it. I think that there’s a real danger there, because they’re quite hard to impose without having an extra level of information about their activities, their private schedules, for example. You don’t get this stuff, usually. So, there’s a danger that anti-fascist don’t try to oppose them, because it’s very difficult to, and therefore, this kind of group is allowed to build itself essentially, unimpeded.

What we do know is that, that kind of form of organizing has created a level of… I don’t want to use the term softness, because it implies a kind of macho thing. But, there’s a kind of fragility to the activists, because they haven’t faced regular confrontation or because they’re not hardened street fighters, like the UK far right scene has traditionally been, it means that when they do get opposed, it’s actually fairly effective.

There was a there was an incident in in Kent a couple of years ago, in which a PA hike walk was very severely disrupted. And it took about two years for that group to get itself together again, and reconstitute itself. Because there wasn’t that same level of resilience. In the 80’s, when we had bands like screwdriver, the lead singer of screwdriver was regularly having his window smashed, was regularly getting beaten up on the street, and was continuing to be a neo Nazi singer and organizing and organizing Blood and Honor and all this kind of stuff. He had it as part of his life style. You can’t say the same thing about PA today. So one thing that has been successful has been these investigations that’s been happening about them as well. The way the media has turned to them in recent months, there was a quite interesting documentary about them on Channel Four and things like this. So I think the increased attention will draw more anti-fascists into opposing them. But yeah, I’m gonna stop.

TFSR: So the final chapter of PIFR share some challenges to antifascist organizers including the scope of our work and our vision as well as our breakout of subculture and into coalition’s. For those of us who are trying to do this work, can you break down some of the pitfalls and weak spots that that the book talks about? Or that you’ve come across that you want to share? Where do you see some room for improvement? Give us some tekmil?

Sam: So I guess there are two things I want to say. One is that we make a distinction in the book, sliding scale perhaps, between minimum and maximum anti-fascism. Minimum anti Fascism is the the actually fairly recent practice of anti fascism, which is that you find the people who are doing the sieg heils, or waving the swastikas, and you trying to stop them from organizing politically. There’s no political content to that in the sense that you don’t try and oppose them discursively, you don’t try like argue with them. You just try and stop them from organizing. And you do that against people who everyone would agree, possibly even them, that they are fascists or Neo Nazis or whatever. You oppose those groups. That’s minimum anti fascism.

Then there’s maximum anti fascism. Maximum anti-fascism, at its fullest extent, is just whatever it takes to stop the conditions for fascist organizing happening at all. Right? So at the very limit of that, that means like transitioning to a non capitalist society that doesn’t revolve around personal domination as a whole. Right? As you can see, there’s a lot of stuff in the middle, between these two things. I’m not saying that minimum anti-fascism is good, or that like maximum anti-fascism is good. I’m just saying that there are attempts that represent totally different poles of a total artifact of strategy. And we’re always moving between these two poles.

I think a lot of the mistakes in anti-fascist movement have been down to an attempt to basically to fixate on one of these two ends of the spectrum. It’s only anti fascism, if you’re opposing people who are actually fascist, actual neo Nazis operating in the streets, or it’s only anti-fascism if you’re doing the deep work of transforming the whole of society so that fascism is not even possible anymore.

I think there are there there are arguments in favor of both. Maximum anti-fascism is of course, much more difficult project in some ways, because it is essentially the same as the left as a scale, but there are lots of kinds of other medium anti-fascisms. Minimized. Fascism is much more physically risky, much less politically risky. There’s a kind of a trade off here between the different kind of aspects of doing that work. So that’s the general framework in which I think it’d be useful to think about the way in which anti-fascism is done as a strategic thing and obviously there is lots more in the book on that.

The other thing that I think is a kind of a big pitfall about anti-fascism, in general, is that anti-fascism has a kind of an uneven rhythm. I think I say sometimes that it’s like a third or fourth order consequence of financial crises, which are by their nature are predictable, right? There is a big financial crisis in capitalism. This becomes a crisis of unemployment, or crisis in the economy more generally, and then there are far right responses that mediate that crisis and try and turn it something else. To mediate fury about the declining conditions of life, and try to get to blame Muslims, or blame on the whoever it is. Then anti-fascism responds to that.

Because of that, because you can’t predict the sequence of things that aren’t actually responding to, you get into situations where there are long periods of time, where there’s just not a very clear far right threat. So at least in the UK, what’s been happening, what’s happened in the past, is that people have said, “Okay, well, we’re anti-fascists. There must be something for us to oppose. Let’s find some fascists.” And not in some ways, waiting for there to be some fascists. So you end up kind of conjuring people, boogeyman, for you to oppose. Conjuring people who you might regard as not particularly fascists, like Alex talked about before, people who are bad in lots of ways, but are not adequately opposed by the kind of tactics that anti-fascism has got useful for it or was able to use. So you simply having the proverbial hammer and trying to find some proverbial nails to engage with because it’s an uneven rhythm, that there’s this problem with it. I think the solution to this problem is to not regard anti-fascism as an identity. You shouldn’t think of yourself as an anti-fascist, you should see yourself as someone who is temporarily fulfilling the role of being anti-fascist.

Of course, the counter argument, there’s something it’s always kind of kept in tension with is that there are specific skills that certain people who are involved in minimum anti-fascism need. Certain practices they need to be good at, certain ways of keeping information secure, certain ways of organizing together, certain physical training even, certain ways of coordinating on the street you need to be good at. But somehow we need to get good at those things without thinking, “okay, that means that I am the anti-fascist and that means that I know exactly what fascism is, and that means I know exactly when it’s gone and when it hasn’t. I know exactly how to oppose it. I’m the expert and everyone should follow my lead.” Because then we end up with this kind of peculiar subcultural authoritarianism. And I think we’ve all encountered that in the past and know its risks.

Alex: Considering coalition building, as well. There’s often a danger that anti-fascists come in to build these coalitions and then expect them to be kind of permanent things that have longevity, instead of recognizing that a bunch of organizations and networks that are dedicated liberatory politics, have their own politics and their own activism that they’re doing all the time anyway. They’re campaigning around housing and racial justice, and whatever. You can’t turn everything into anti-fascism. Anti-fascism should be ultimately opening up space for the liberatory in movements to be able to do good stuff, and to be defensive of attacks on them, but also just recognize when you need to fade back.

A counter to that, again, is that there is a benefit… We critique subcultural politics, I think you need to critique it. You need to be building out beyond all the time. But there is a use in having these kinds of anti-fascist bands, or anti-fascist red gyms, or training groups or whatever. There is a use to having that connection to it, to an ongoing history of resistance and struggle, and to lose connection with that history, or to not understand your anti-fascist history, is to lose some of that generational knowledge, and lose some of that generational kind of meaning. The Spanish Civil War. The resistance in the Spanish Civil war has meaning to anti-fascist today, and rightly so. So we shouldn’t let all that aside. I think we’re both kind of teasing out these tensions. You can’t go one way or the other, you’ve got to find your happy place in that tension, I think.

TFSR: It seems like find a happy place and that position is going to shift as needs be and so be flexible enough to be able to find what makes sense for the moment on that spectrum.

One thing that I’ve heard about in the UK, mostly over the show more than any other source, has been the concept of proscription. I don’t know if that’s just the illegalization of a group or what the legal consequences of that are. Combat 18 or I don’t know if BNP, British National Party, or like these other groups who are examples of groups that have been proscribed. I wonder what the consequences are of being in a group that’s proscribed. And also, in your view dealing with the government… We’ve had recently, a number of charges brought against in the United States context, Proud Boys in relation to the January 6th. I think anti-fascists here have various views on how that feels. I mean, fuck around and find out. If you try to overthrow the US government, there’s going to be consequences from the US government. I’m sure that there’s some liberal people who call themselves anti-fascists who are promoting this sort of approach, or people who, after January 6, we’re using their resources of research tools, in order to feed information specifically to the FBI or to law enforcement.

I kind of wonder, just what your thoughts are, in terms of the concept of the three way fight, that not only is the government not our friend, fascists are not our friend, and that as anti-fascists, or as people that are doing anti-fascist work, it’s questionable about whether or not it’s a positive when the government is able to gain the upper hand and say, “look, we’ve done the anti-fascist thing we are antifascists. Join the NSA.”

Alex: So I’ll take the proscription part, and maybe you can take the next bit.

Okay, so proscription is one of the most repressive instruments that the UK State has available to it. It’s not even a matter of passing a law or anything, it’s a decision of the Home Secretary, under consultation of civil servants, but ultimately, it’s on her to proscribe groups. Proscription brings along a number of criminal offenses. It becomes a crime to be a member of the organization. Basically it becomes a crime for that organization to continue existing. Also, the crime carries a sentence of years in prison, up to 10 years in prison.

What we’ve seen how that works in practice, is after National Action got proscribed, which was the first far right group organization in the UK, to be to be proscribed, is that were people going to prison for being members of National Action after proscription for around four years. Four years in prison is a very significant sanction. It also becomes a crime to speak positively in public, or materially support, morally support, that group, that banned organization in public, to publicly declare your moral support, or to raise money for them as well. It’s also a becomes a crime to found a new organization, that’s basically the old organization under another name or made up of the same members.

Obviously, this is a very terrifying power that is available and its ability obviously rests on basically one person because, it’s the Home Secretary, and it’s something, of course, that you would never have in the US. The First Amendment is sacrosanct in regards to the these forms of political organizing. Now, obviously, there’s many other techniques and instruments that are available to the US, and indeed, the UK, in which you can effectively make the leaders of political organizations, to heavily discourage them of continuing or even take them out completely. You could see some of the tactics of the FBI opposing the civil rights movement, there’s all kinds of very illegal or very repressive things that happened there. Later, with the Black Lives Matter movement as well, you’ve seen the similar kind of repression from State police and from the FBI as well. So that’s proscription.

Going back to Patriotic Alternative, they’ve been really desperate to keep the tent of National Action away from them, and keep that kind of proscription talk away from them as well. They’ve done that to some that success. The question to anti-facsists is, “do you want to try and provoke that instrument being used?” Do you want to highlight and publicize links to National Action which could attract a proscription order. I would say the most desirable way to oppose is a mass movement anti fascism that can oppose them physically and ideologically in the communities in which they’re working. But oftentimes there’s a misconception of how the State operates, it’s kind of seen as an anti-fascist thing. As an instrument that can be used. So the problem the problem is, of course, the first point is that of course, the State can ban radical left groups just as much. If it has the justification, if it has the kind of way laid out for it, considering the circumstances.

TFSR: I just looked it up really quickly. I was like, “I’ve never heard of the proscription of left wing groups,” but I was just like, “Was the Irish National Liberation Army a proscribed group?” At least Wikipedia tells me, ‘Yes.’ So it’s not a tool that’s only wielded against the far right, right?

Alex: The case of Ireland is separate, it’s specific as well. A lot of the proscription orders that have taking place in the island of Britain are modeled on the island of Ireland, the stuff that was happening there, but they are distinct. That kind of politics and that history is distinct in the UK.

Sam: Yeah, there are all kinds of legal instruments that are used in Northern Ireland, that are different in quite marked ways. It’s completely different from the mainland. I think what we’ve been consistently doing for the answers to the last three or four questions actually, has been articulating a feel of tensions. On the one hand, this, but also on the other hand, this. There’s a sense in which there are not particularly good or easy answers. I have contradictory thoughts, as you can imagine about proscription as an instrument wielded by the State. I think it is actually not impossible that it would be done in the US, because the explicit justification of in the UK is not that they said bad things. It’s that they advocated for terrorism and in the US advocating violence is not protected speech. That’s not covered in the First Amendment, if you threaten someone directly, you can be arrested for that, as far as I understand.

TFSR: But there is no list of domestic terrorist organizations, for instance, that’s usually the framing. So it would be it would be framed within as opposed to an ideological argument around like criminal specific activity, prosecuted as criminal activity.

Sam: This is what’s really interesting about the Canadian case. So in Canada, they proscribed three organizations at the same time Atomwaffen, The Base, and the Proud Boys. Just when we came on we were talking about the differences there…

TFSR: Is that because they’re all run by the FBI. Sorry, okay. [laughs]

Alex: You are not the first person to make that joke. [laughs]

Sam: We were talking before we came on, I was just confused with eight different organizations. Atomwaffen, had maybe 50 members at its height, something like that. Of those, six committed some sort of murder. That’s a very high rate of murder. The Base had maybe slightly more members, it was a supposedly international network, but overwhelmingly based in the US, but with members in the UK and Sweden and Canada and Russia as well, where it turned out that the leader was staying for reasons that are completely unconnected from the the shadowy world of spooks and had nothing to do with the the decline of the Soviet Union or the CIA. Nothing to it! Then the Proud Boys, which is a western chauvinists drinking club, essentially, that had been responsible for an immense amount of political violence in the streets, but who, to my knowledge, have never committed terroristic murders.

Of course, we can argue about the definition of terrorism as a category. I think it’s a fact that the category ‘terrorism’ is a mark of the distinction that is made between politics proper and violence in politics. Right. They tend to police that boundary. Proper politics is discursive, people talk about things, they argue heatedly. Terrorism is when there is indiscriminate killing of innocent people, right?

That’s not a stable boundary and the proud boys by kind of wandering around on that boundary, have made it much more difficult for these kinds of proscription legislation in Canada to be enacted clearly. But I think it’s still kind of peculiar, because I think really what is aimed at is not violence, but a certain kind of unacceptable politics. A politics of extremity, and undoubtedly Atomwaffen had that politics of extremity. Atomwaffen’s organizing principle was that it was the most extreme organization on the far right. That was its advertising.

TFSR: One of their main organizers called himself ‘Rape.’ Yeah.

Sam: Whereas the proud boys didn’t have that. I think there’s a complicated thing about who gets proscribed. If I was going to say that proscription shouldn’t be used or should be abandoned as a measure, it would be about that level of political inarticulacy, or political misunderstanding on the part of the Canadian State, which I would assume the Home Secretary of Canada is no less well informed the Home Secretary of the UK. I don’t know who the Home Secretary of Canada is. It’s not of interest to me. It would be on the basis of that kind of, obviously wrong decision. But I would seriously question the use of proscription.

TFSR: As for your second book, The Rise of Eco Fascism. What do you mean by the term eco fascism? And what is far right ecologism? How do they relate? And are there any contemporary examples you think are especially informative for the audience?

Sam: So I think we promised earlier, or as Alex promised earlier, that there will be a definition of fascism. So we’re now getting into that. But first of all, we have to answer another question. Which is the question of what is far right politics? I think far right politics is basically, again, in this kind of unclear zone at the edges of liberalism. Far right politics is a collection, like all politics are, I think, a collection of suggestions and practices for reproducing social roles and relations that utilize tactics that are unacceptably brutal for liberalism. Liberalism won’t accept the far right as part of itself. But nevertheless, the far right is a necessary part of the reproduction of liberalism as a whole. Right. So liberal states need their violent border regimes, they need, to some extent, far right movements to scare the left, they need ways for the anger of politics to be articulated, the anger and the daily humiliation of the working class produces in politics. They need some of that to go. And so the far right is a useful aspect of liberalism.

Fascism is something quite peculiar within that more general category of the far right, in that it seeks to unify different parts of the political forms, that the far right kind of contains. So I would say there are basically broad three broad political forms. There’s electoral politics, or like politics of the government. There’s politics of movements. And there’s the politics of violence, or extrajudicial violence in particular. Obviously, governments contain violence, movements contain violence to some extent as well. This tripartite separation is not some sort of eternal law of how politics works. But it’s specific to the history of neoliberal capitalism in particular.

So the fact that movements can’t get themselves heard in government, or can’t transform the practice of governance, which we’ve seen in the US with Bernie Sanders and so on, or the movements version of the Labour Party that we have for Jeremy Corbyn. The fact that there is no relationship between the politics of movements and the policies of the government is a split that is produced by neoliberalism deliberately. The fact there is a split between movements and terroristic violence, the split that proscription legislation tries to police, that is a product largely of the Second World War, and the kind of horror that fascism represented for liberalism.

And so, what has happened since the Second World War is the security state has become much, much, much, much, much more powerful. There are no movements that are able to physically overwhelm the power of a national police force. Obviously, you had this kind of weird exception, January 6th, in the US, it was very quickly stamped out. Now the FBI, which is extraordinarily well equipped, an extraordinary surveillance state and so on, is now coming down very hard on those people who dared to defy its kind of capacity to organize the structure of violence in society. To have that monopoly on violence that defines the contemporary state.

So, there’s a split between these three different parts. Fascism is a political product that attempts to unify their interests to make governments work with terrorists, or what I’m now describing as terrorists, but extrajudicial violence in general, to work with movements, and it’s kind of the unification of these three parts. Now, the way it does that, is by presenting a notion of the unified nation, the whole nation state and that is mediated through ideas of nature and the natural law, but also physical natural landscapes. And it’s that the we describe as eco fashion.

What we describe in the book is far right ecologism, which can be for many different parts. You can have a governmental far right ecologism, you have a movement far right ecologism, you have a terroristic far right ecologism. But it’s when these three things come together as a political unity. When you get governments that are not doing the kind of reflexive thing that contemporary foreign governments do. We just say, “Oh, these terrorists, it’s terrible. It’s horrible. He was crazy. He doesn’t know what he’s talking about.” “He was on the left,” as the Kellyanne Conway wanted to frame the Christchurch shooter, equating environmentalism with the left. As of course, the US far right is frequently equated fascism with the left. It being a movement with some form of collectivity.

So that’s what eco fascism is, it’s a coordination of these three elements, mediated through a notion of the natural whole. The danger of it, over the period that we’re looking at in the future, 50 years or so, is these three parts of the political separation of neoliberalism will start to recur here and become coherent together. That’s the real kind of terror that I think lies in the notion of ecofascism. All that’s to say, there aren’t particularly good examples right now. Because we’re looking at an emergent political formation, rather than pointing at people who have eco fascist views. Because as we’ve kind of repeatedly tried to get across, the important thing is not to believe, the important thing is what will people able to enact upon the world. That means that the question of politics is not just who is saying the wrong thing or who has the wrong beliefs. But how does the whole structure of society shift and change and fall under the sway of the control of real eco fascist movements, and that is not happening yet.

Alex: Just to build off what what Sam was saying about eco fascism, you have to think about this in the context of the climate crisis, and the increasingly worsening conditions of life that are going to happen, that’re already happening and are going to continue to happen in the next few decades, basically for the rest of both our lives and all of our lives. One of the responses to this increasingly desperate situation that we’re all facing, people in the global south are facing it now and gonna face it much worse. People in the West are going to face it too. In America, there are certain areas that are increasingly becoming completely uninhabitable. You see what’s happening in Texas with the power grid, which fails in cold, and fails in heat. You see what’s happening in Arizona with the water levels, it’s and incredibly dire situation for an area in which millions of people live. The answer is that in these deficit situations, we need to turn to some form of far right, authoritarian environmentalism, in order to make the changes that we need to happen, make him on a top down state level. The only way to do that is some kind of increasingly eco fascist state structure or state intervention.

There’s many problems with this. One is the obvious one, it’s that kind of authoritarianism that comes along with a whole bunch of repressive actions, oppression, the kind of exclusion of people based on their race and the intensification of misogyny and all these things are attendant to this ramping authoritarianism, which we must oppose, and which we probably will be left entirely unequipped to opposed if these authoritarian state instruments are reinstituted and re justified. In the UK, there’s this tendency of the Tories to, every time there’s some kind of thing in the news or thing protesting that they don’t like, they’ll immediately come out with a new law that will will ban it.

So the example for that is Extinction Rebellion, and the groups that came out of them, who used the tactic of locking on to various things, to lock their bodies on to various bits of infrastructure and roadways, and to be as difficult to remove as possible. And that’s not a crime, locking your body to another piece of infrastructure is not the crime, but they brought in a law that has made it a crime and has a prison sentence attached to it. If these kinds of authoritarian instruments are instituted, it means that those kinds of movements that we need, these movements of liberation, are made harder and harder and harder and harder.

The other problem with specifically eco fascist politics is that it only operates on a national scale. Of course, we’re not operating on a national scale, we can’t do that this is a global crisis. For example, the Rassemblement National in France, talk about protecting the French landscape, a kind of green nationalism. What they mean by that is to export their environmental degradation out of France, and to preserve France in some bubble of Western landscapes and all this kind of stuff. And this is obviously inadequate in so many different ways.

TFSR: Yeah. Without a fundamental rejection of capitalism, for instance, whether or not you’re arguing national borders or not, you’re absolutely ignoring one of the essential things that has been contributing and creating the scenario that has put us in the situation that we’re in right now.

Alex: Yeah, I also feel like that for these neoliberal governments and states, the situation will have to get so dire to attract the authoritarian response. But it’s going to be too late in my opinion. You can just see it now with the way people talk about the cost of living crisis in the UK, and the global instability in the oil price, and the war in Ukraine. It seems to me that every answer to a global crisis is to drill for more oil. Russia is this oppressive, authoritarian, imperialist power, we need to increase our national overlooks, and we need to convince Saudi Arabia to drill more oil for us. You know, this kind of stuff. In the UK, the government has started to revive the North Sea oil projects and fracking, shale gas drilling in America as a response, as a kind of thing. We need energy independence, we need UK energy independence, when obviously, once you’ve got that infrastructure in place, capitalism is going to extract as much profit out of it as it can before they have to decommission it. So the the key thing is stopping these projects from happening.

TFSR: Once it’s extracted, it’s gonna get used.

Well, since I have had you on for a very long time. I want to go to my guilty pleasure question of the last one. It may not be a guilty pleasure, it may be like perfectly reasonable question. Is that okay?

Alex: Oh, yeah. I’m interested to hear what your guilty pleasure is.

TFSR: Well, yeah. So I came out of an anti-civilization green anarchist position at a certain point, but I have always felt like I’ve had an allergic reaction to the misanthropy in it. So, this is sort of me reacting in my older age, as I continue to see the misanthropy perpetuated. An element of anti-fascist organizing that I find really important, is working to shift hegemony in contested spaces, which you talk a little bit about in that latter book. It feels like in these contested spaces, we have an immediate agency in pushing hegemonic cultural values. And it’s also spaces where we have the most in common with other participants, or a lot in common with other participants, and so have the leverage to change people’s minds and hearts. I’ve been a bit disturbed by the resurgence and uplifting of Ted Kaczynski in recent years among some anarchists, and this goes back. I mean, he’s identified himself as an anarchist in the past. Green anarchists magazine, the US had a dialogue with them for a while. Crimethinc put out stickers, saying, “Uncle Ted for president,” or something like that in 2000, some edge Lord thing. There was a recent TV show about him… anyway. You’ve alluded a few times in the letter-book with headings like far right ecologism and its future and referenced eco extremist acolytes, ITS or Individuales Teniendo al Salvaje in Mexico, that you list as an example of a climate collapse cult.

One can find themes in Kaczynski’s writings, including in his manifesto, warning of the mitigation of natural scarcity through technology, leading to the weakening of the essence of humans. Also essentialist ideas around gender, sexuality and disability, a post left position embraced by Anders Brevik in his manifesto and other places, by other dastardly people. Misanthropy and concerns about overpopulation mixed in with nativism can be encountered in the writings of Edward Abbey, as you all noted in an earlier chapter of the Eco fascism book, and the early founders of Earth First such as Dave Foreman, notably. While the adherence of these sorts of ideas are quite fringy in the general population, and they’re very few in number. So are anarchists and other libertarian Marxists or like other people that I consider to be comrades? Can you talk a bit about contested spaces? And if you can, a little bit about Uncle Ted?

Alex: Okay, I can see why this is the guilty pleasure.

TFSR: It’s a very long question.

Alex: So this is a really interesting point because what we’ve been talking about for the most part in this interview is not how reactionary, I think we can kind of label the people who coalesce around Ted K as reactionary, in many respects, or are leading to reaction positions. We’ve talked about these kind of reactionary influences in society at large. We talked about borders, we talk about these movements in the left opposing the right. We didn’t speak much about within these spaces, that are our own spaces, what what we can do in them.

I think Kaczynski and the manifest in particular has a really interesting place within both far right and far left discourses. Of course, there’s a far right online subculture, which I don’t know if you’re familiar with called ‘Pine Tree Twitter,’ which actively valorizes Kaczynski and his writing. If you read some of what Pine Tree Twitter writes about, there is an overlap between kind of misanthropic valorization of nature above all else, valuation of wilderness above all else, for example, and the kind of generalized misanthropy against the modern world and the modern human with all his or her comforts and this kind of thing. It’s not something that in the spaces I’ve been a part of in the UK that I’ve particularly encountered. There’s an anarchist bookshop in London, which I am a part of, and there is kind of a generally agreed that certain kind of anti civ writers, not all, but certain particular anti civ writers are not acceptable to have in the shop and this kind of thing.

I think, going forward, a lot of the purchase of Kaczynski’s writing is carried by the violence he carried out. It’s carried out by the bombings and the kind of mystique that surrounded him. I saw that TV show about him, and the investigation to him too. It’s that TV show that kind of translated within, into kind of radical spaces. If Kaczynski had not done those killings, done those bombings, those writings would not have had the same widespread influence that they did have.

So, I think it’s hard because a lot of the anti civ types… I would be very persnickety about definitions again. I don’t think they are fascist and I don’t think they should be opposed using anti-fascist tactics. I think what we need is a way of explaining collapse, explaining civilization, and explaining alternatives to that civilization. So anti civ has ultimately the right ideas in the right direction of travel, I suppose, in that this civilization can’t continue as it is because it is destroying the planet.

But the question is, one, what tactics are opened up in opposing that? What is acceptable to do to other human beings and what isn’t acceptable to do to other human beings? And, two, what kind of world do we want to build? Is it a world built on the exclusion of people who need certain things within civilization in order to live? Now, the obviously the go-to here is people who rely on certain medications that have been produced in contemporary capitalism, but also trans people, for example, as well. A certain anti civ responses to declare trans people unpersons, freaks of contemporary society, who will either cease to exist once this civilization collapses, or will need to be eliminated in some form, societally. Similarly, for people with disabilities, the same thing applies. These people are left aside. That’s one path.

The other path is one of extending and strengthening and kind of all encompassing solidarity with every person who lives in this world as it is now, and how we can transition, together, into some kind of new world, whatever that is. There’s obviously massive discussions about how we get there, and what that looks like. But I think the key thing is, and what we talk about in the conclusion of the book is, the key thing here is solidarity. You need to have solidarity with everyone, all different kinds of people with their experiences and their relationships to the world and their identities within that world as well.

Was that adequate?

TFSR: That’s great. We solved the problem! [laughs] This is going to be in the in the show notes. But would you mind saying a few places where people can find the books, find the 12 Rules project online, social media, whatever, to engage with ya’ll?

Alex: The books, one is available from Polity Press, the Eco Fascism book, and I believe that has now had an American release. So it’s available to purchase domestically in America. The first book Post Internet Far Right, is from Dog Section Press. I don’t think that book does have American distribution, which is a shame but what I’ll do is I’ll check with the publisher and see what they say about it, because I think I’m sure there must be some distro. There should be anyway.

Online we have a Twitter @12RulesForWhat which we put out our episodes on and we have a Patreon if people want to support but you obviously don’t have to, we run book clubs through there and it’s open to subscribers. But also if you want to just get in on joining and discussing the book, you can DM us and we’ll get you in and it’s not a big deal. We have the patreon to pay our RSS fees or whatever it is. We’re not trying to make a particular career out of podcasting, necessarily. And you can follow Sam’s new project on his substack and it’s called collapsology.substack.com. Its a newsletter and he writes it every Thursday.

As for what we’ve got coming up next we’re going to have another episode on Patriotic Alternative and fascist fitness as a kind of historical trend on a contemporary trend. And we’re going to have a conversation was about Q Anon in America and transphobia and LGBTQ-phobia, homophobia. It’ll be coming out very soon as well.

TFSR: That’s awesome. I really look forward to it, and Alex, thanks a lot for having the conversation.

Alex: Thanks. Thanks Bursts!

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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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!

Housing Struggles in Asheville

Housing Struggles in Asheville

Housing activists occupying the lobby of Downtown Asheville's AC Hotel - Photo by Elliot Patterson (permission of Asheville Free Press)
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This week on the show, you’ll hear from Doug, Onion and Papi, three folks involved in the Aston Park Build, a daily event to hold space in Aston Park in downtown Asheville, creating art, sharing food and music and a wider part of organizing here to demand safer space & redistribution of wealth to care for houseless folks and relieve the incredible strains on housing affordability in Asheville. We talk about the park actions, the housing crisis and service industry wage woes, local government coddling of business owners and police repression of folks on the margins.

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Sean Swain’s Transfer

This week’s segment is Sean’s statement given to the Interstate Compact Hearing he was to face before the foregone conclusion of his transfer far from his spouse & support base. If you want to write to Sean, for the moment it’s a good idea to send to his Youngstown address until his support site says otherwise, but also to hold on to a copy of your letter in case he’s been moved and ODRC doesn’t send back your original. You can find info on how to support his legal campaign (Donations can be made via CashApp to $Swainiac1969), his books and past writings at SeanSwain.org or find updates on Swainiac1969 on instagram or SwainRocks on twitter.

We got an update that the Interstate Compact Committee, during their hearing this week, recommended that Sean stay in Ohio (but they didn’t quit their jobs).

Feel free to reach out to the following public officials to express your concern at the moving of Sean Swain out of Ohio based on the word of a former ODRC because Sean spoke out about torture he suffered in Ohio prisons. More details in the statement at [01:04:19] in the episode…

Biologica Squat in Thessaloniki

The Biologica Squat at the School of Biology at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece, has been open for 34 years and is now under threat of attack by the New Democracy government and their new campus police. There are calls for solidarity at Greek Embassies, businesses and other places around the world during the up til and through January 10th & 17th of January 2022. The original post can be found in Greek on Athens Indymedia or in English at EnoughIsEnough14.org

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Featured Track:

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Transcription

Doug: Hey, my name is Doug. I used to be homeless, now I am not. I have an apartment. And yeah, that’s pretty much it.

Onion: I’m Onion. I use they/them pronouns.

Papi: I’m Papi. I also use they/them pronouns.

TFSR: Would y’all maybe talk about what brings you to talk about the housing crisis in Asheville and the way that the city and the police are dealing with homelessness. Some might think that, Doug, if you’re in a place right now… that since you got yours, you could just kind of chill and wouldn’t be worried about the stuff that the city is doing?

Doug: I could, but that’s not me. I worry about people that I know out there. I worry about if I was homeless again. I would want things to be fixed better, you know? I don’t want to be treated bad like we used to be – when you’re homeless getting kicked in the head by cops. I think if I was not to care, or just to give up to be in my apartment, or whatever, I wouldn’t feel right. Because there’s a lot of things wrong in this scene that have to be fixed.

Onion: I’ve been evicted twice myself. I’m a single parent. It’s kind of a miracle that I’m still able to live in Asheville. So I feel that it’s personal for me. But it’s also a collective issue that if we don’t push hard on right now, it’s gonna get extremely worse.

Papi: I’ve lived in western North Carolina all my life. This is my first time being on my own, can’t afford it… can’t do it. I’m actually living with… well, my family’s living with me now. My family can’t really own places on their own because of documentation status and being immigrants here. So that’s like a whole thing on its own. That’s where I’m at right now.

TFSR: Could someone give a definition or a description of what’s happening right now in Aston Park in downtown Asheville? During the summer Asheville police, for instance, evicted of a bunch of camps around town. And that was during milder weather, despite the fact that it was also amidst a pandemic. Also, could someone give a definition of what Code Purple means?

Doug: Yes, Asheville did. They did a lot of people earlier this year. They put some people in hotels, and if you weren’t on the list, you were just basically stuck out in streets. I was on the first list of people to be in the hotels, and I still haven’t gotten a hotel. All the hotel stuff that happened when COVID first hit was because Buncombe county got money to put to put us in housing, hotels, or create tent cities for us that were safe with toilets and washing. That never came. Came and went, we never had any of that. So we’re still stuck in the woods. Some people are in hotels now. The Ramada, I guess. But it’s institutional living, it’s not happy there. So scratch that.

Code Purple is when it’s gonna be 32 degrees or below freezing. They say it’s unsafe for people. So they provide emergency shelters – a men’s one and a women’s one. Usually we go out, pick people up at night or have a ride to get you there. Last year we got dinner in the evening and breakfast in the morning. I don’t know what they are getting this year. But I haven’t heard anybody complaining. So Code Purple is basically just to keep people alive – from freezing.

Papi: This year was different. Last year, and I guess 2020 shelters didn’t want to open for Code Purple because of the pandemic. So the city decided after a minute to open one up in the civic center. It was a more centralized bigger space. And this year, they didn’t do any of that. No one opened. So there was Code Purple happening. The city calls it when the weather hits. They call Code Purple, but there’s still nowhere to go at the beginning of the winter this year. So it lasted for a bit of time. People can die or lose their limbs or all of that. We decided to start pressuring the city to create and find Code Purple shelter so that we wouldn’t see loss of life.

Doug: Code Purple is weird because if it was 33 degrees and raining or drizzling or just wet outside. There’s no Code Purple. There’s no shelter. But 32? You are in there. Last year the VRQ did it – which is the Veterans Administration Quarters. But they kind of hate homeless people. And I get it because some of my comrades out here are just rude, crude, and they have no respect. But if you offered a service, like VRQ did, no matter what people come into the door you still have to keep your composure and put your hat on and say “Come on in. How are you today?” Yeah, I was gonna go off on a tangent there.

I wasn’t done answering your question, but I got to thinking about the way that we don’t hold ourselves accountable for our own actions out here. People just do what they want and screw people over. Rob and steal, some call it survival. Survival would be like stealing a rabbit or some meat from the store, not my backpack. And we act obnoxious, and we do drugs in places where we probably shouldn’t do them. And people don’t like that. So they hate us, and they don’t help us anymore. And that’s not cool.

Papi: Another thing with the Code Purple is that the city might put some funding into it. But oftentimes they wait. And this year they waited and so the only Code Purple for a minute when it was super cold around Thanksgiving, or before that, was volunteer run, and they had no funding. So there’s a bunch of people running it that are just signing up for shifts overnight and everything. It’s totally inappropriate. It’s not well done or safe, or careful. So, the city is sitting on $26 million of federal funding that they got for relief, specifically this year. They still haven’t, to my knowledge, apportioned it. So they’re just sitting there on piles of money. And people are dying. Right now. They’re dying around us in the streets, like… currently.

Doug: Yeah, not just from the cold. Other things, too. COVID and sicknesses, illnesses. It’s just like, are you gonna wait till there’s five of us left and then help people? Or are we gonna put this thing in action now? I know things cost money but it’s not really hard to say to a bunch of people “come line up and get your shots or get a checkup. Here’s a house.” There’s plenty of abandoned buildings out here. I know a lot of people, even myself, who has taken over abandoned houses. Go inside, black out all the windows, and some have electricity, just live in there. It’s kind of scary, because you’re trapped. But it’s a nice place, but still it’s illegal. The city could take this house and offer the person money.

We need shelter for everybody. So this house is not being used or your family is not using it? Why can’t we? Require us to keep it clean, and to keep it up, just to not be like, disgusting pigs. I myself have been a disgusting pig. And I recommend people to do this stuff. Because as homeless we already got a bad look and then we’ll just do this other stuff. Sorry, I went off again.

Papi: Well, Asheville is full of money, there’s no lack of money. You know, there’s a lot of money moving through this town via tourism. And it’s just that we don’t see any of the money it’s ported. The Tourism Development Authority has a budget of I think it’s $15 million a year for advertising to bring people, tourists, to Asheville. We don’t see any of that.

Doug: Yeah, that’s why a lot of crime doesn’t get reported. Or a lot of cases get dropped. I believe this. If it was all be reported and everybody’s get charged the tourism would stop coming. They would be like “this place really sucks, I don’t want to go there.” We need to get some of our people off the street because they walk around, not in their head, they’re out somewhere. Just go one day to Pritchard Park. Sit down in the corners and just watch the show. You can just see why we need help. If they got the money they gotta take that money and if you want to budget it? Get a bunch of military tents. Make a tent city for us. They were supposed to do that two years ago. That’s not asking for much. I mean I’m asking for a house and walls. I mean, I am. I want that. But we’ll be happy with a canvas tent and a cook. I’ll cook for them!

TFSR: It seems like a lot of those things are intertwined with each other. Like if someone has easy access to privacy, they’re not going to be doing drugs and public. Plenty of people with houses do drugs. You know, if you’ve got a shower and a place to wash dishes, you’re not going to stink as much you’re not going to be walking around. You can do your own laundry. And you’re not going to probably be suffering from as many mental health crises. If you have a place to lay your head and you’re not going to get rousted in the middle of the night or get your backpack stolen or whatever else. It just contributes to this problem.

But the city as Onion said, and as both of you have said – has the money to spend on it, but it’s just choosing to hold that back. It would rather use a bludgeon against people that are on the street than actually help them out of that situation.

Doug: Yeah, they make it worse. I don’t understand why they don’t do anything. They can still keep a lot of money and still help us out. We’re not going to go anywhere. We’re not gonna die off. And quite frankly, a lot of people here do have mental illnesses. That’s why they’re here. They need medications, they need a good safe place. Not necessarily a hospital, or a house. A house, but like a maybe halfway house type situation, where there’s somebody there to give them their meds every day to help them clean their self or their whatever. Some people need to be retrained into life.

TFSR: Or assistance with addiction issues or counseling or access to medication or… right. There’s solutions out there. Folks’ camps have been getting broken up by the city. I wonder if ya’ll could talk about that and what’s been going on in Aston Park and some of the solutions that people are calling for immediately that we could do to resolve the unsafe situations that folks are in right now. If they want to find shelter, what could the city or mutual aid be doing to provide some sort of alternative to what’s going on now.

Papi: So the city of Asheville has gotten some flack this year for sweeps. But the thing is, most of the sweeps that they do aren’t public knowledge. It’s a policy that the city has, to do them constantly. So we’ll hear about one every once in a while if it makes the news for some reason, or if it’s in a prominent place. But it’s kind of ongoing all the time. So it could be in any weather. If enough people call in, in a neighborhood or whatever to complain – they’ll sweep.

There was an encampment underneath the overpass, and one tourist made a complaint through this complaint website to the city. And they decided to sweep right then, right before a cold snap in February. With extremely cold temperatures that day. The larger city found out about that one because people were witnessing people having to walk away from that site and having their tents destroyed by the Department of Transportation and Asheville Police Department. They were bulldozing all their possessions and people were walking away without shoes with nowhere to go. And so that is obviously violent and deadly. The city caught a lot of flack for that. But the thing that most people don’t know is that it’s customary. It’s their policy.

Doug: Yeah. Not to be on the side of the city. What they’re doing is very wrong and very bad. But they are doing it a lot better now than they were two years ago. Like two years ago, they would just come in and slice your tent up and throw all your stuff everywhere and make you go. Now they’re not giving us enough time but they are giving us some time. Tents aren’t being slashed, but they don’t let you take it.

When they closed down the camp by Haywood Street Church. They got people and their bags and put them in cars and took off. I went by there later that night and it was like a free for all with everybody’s left over belongings. It was like a free flea market. I collected lots of it. Everybody was pilfering all the stuff. Why would you kick them out of there and say they can’t take their stuff and leave the stuff there. When they kick us out they don’t have a contingency plan. I don’t know if they’re supposed to but they should because they have to take care of the people. They say they do. But they don’t.

“You have to move. You can’t be here. We’re gonna put you here. You have to go, We don’t know where you are gonna go.” And that’s that. There’s a lot of land out here. This is western North Carolina. I know BeLoved got a big donation a couple years ago. They were going to build a tiny home village and Buncombe County didn’t want to have it in Buncombe County. So they had to go outside of Buncombe County somewhere. I don’t see why that would be the problem. I would live in a tiny home homeless village. But that’s cool. Like, we want more of those. That’s a whole ‘nother story.

Papi: Yeah. So what we’re trying to do now is open up space that’s safer and that’s sanctioned by us. So that’s why we decided to start holding space in Aston Park, which is south of downtown in Asheville. It’s a central location that’s convenient for people and it’s good for camping. We’ve got a lot of flat space and it’s accessible. So we are focusing on that space to create sanctuary camping which a lot of other cities have done in the so called United States. It should be a done deal. It’s very easy to do. It’s been done. It’s not complicated, but the city is holding out because they would rather basically enact social cleansing.

Doug: All they have to do is put in some hand washing stations it’s important out there. And garbage pickup. They will not pick up people’s garbage. Their job is sanitation, to keep the place clean. Every time there’s a homeless encampment, the garbage sits there for weeks. I’m like “well, you guys complain that we look bad but you’re leaving the garbage here after we’re gone.” People know it’s us, but it’s like the tongue to a wall. They’re complaining and complaining but they don’t do anything about it. Like they’re just showing up, shut them down and take off. Couple weeks later, same thing happens again. Who’s door do we gotta go knock on to get this done. All they have to do is put tents in Aston Park… it’s flat. Just throw some Port-a-Johns, a hand wash station, and a dumpster.

Onion: I feel like we kind of skipped where we were saying, why we’re doing this or something about what brought us to this.

Papi: I think a lot about what Doug said about what the city could be bringing, and how the city is not going to do shit. So it’s like, “okay, just let us do it.” Because we’re capable of resourcing and finding things. And if it’s so bothering… just get the fuck out of our way. City don’t bother us. Cops don’t bother us. We’ll put hand washing things there. We’ll put Port-a-Johns there. We’ll put things there and we’ll take care of it. And I mean, people have been showing up every weekend to Aston and been doing that. So we’re capable, we’re very capable, the community is capable of coming in and taking care of each other. and continuing that.

Doug: They are coming in and make us look bad. Like they come in to throw their shovel in there. We’ve done all the work. But they take all the credit and make us look bad. But you know what? Ya’ll know where Hopey’s was? You know it’s empty now. There’s a nice building where people sleep. I don’t know they have plans for it. But that could be a shelter, a temporary shelter.

Papi: We could make plans for it.

Doug: We could just go in there and claim it. But we gotta do it right, though.

TFSR: Well, if you plan on doing that, I can cut that portion out of the radio broadcast. One of the ways that this has been framed recently: the taking space in Ashton Park despite the police evictions has been under the name of Aston Art Build. And I’m wondering if ya’ll could talk about how there’s public invitations for people to gather and create art and to make it a multi generational space.

Papi: Yeah. So when the invites went out… by the way the invites are so cute! I love them! They’re very fun to me. We should make some more. We started Sunday. It’s been pretty fucking cool. I think before we even had donations come in, everyone’s been able to resource around, calls out. Before calls out to social media we were just asking friends and people that we see “bring anything and everything that you can.” It’s pretty cool how quickly people can find furnitures everywhere. I want to bring a bed. There’s been multiple beds brought and built. And a house to put it in. And there’s lots of art. There’s lots of art and very large banners. And so far it’s been very cool. Just yesterday, there was music finally, because we were really lacking in the music area because it’s kind of awkward.

Doug: There wasn’t just music, there was a DJ there.

Papi: It was really nice.

Doug: They were spinning records. I don’t know if this will help Asheville or the conversation but online a while back I saw in other countries. They have homeless issues too, right? So they take a dumpster. And it’s a small living area. It’s clean and they put a little bench or something in there. And it’s like a little home for a person. But they have these little boxes. More than just tents. We should look….

TFSR: Like storage containers?

Doug: Something like that. Yeah, smaller ones. And I mean, some of them were small as a coffin. But I wouldn’t want to sleep in there. But we want to problem to go away. We want housing, we want things in the meantime, we can’t housing like that. So we need shelter till we wait for housing. What are we doing for that? Are we just protesting? Are we actually trying to get some shelters going?

Papi: Yeah, this is a direct action. So we’re creating this solution. I mean, it’s gradual, because of the way the cops are enforcing the issue right now. They’re fudging the law or their own policy that they have been doing which is giving seven days notice to vacate. They decided to stop doing that. And they changed their policy internally in a quasi probably illegal way. Now they’re saying they have the right to just evict people from from camps immediately and arrest if people don’t leave.

Also the issue with it being an art build is pertinent to the culture of the city, because Asheville likes to pride itself on being a creative zone for people to come and listen to music on the street and art festivals and all these sorts of things. Yeah. But that is accessible for some people as a way to be in a city and it’s not accessible for other people. So we decided to make art central in what we’re doing to sort of make that point that it’s important for everyone to have the ability to live creatively. And that’s part of direct action too.

Also the fact that we are prioritizing this being an intergenerational space, because that people suffering right now they don’t have a particular age. It’s from elders to babies. So we need to include everybody in our solutions. That’s how we’ve been organizing, we have childcare for all our meetings, and children are extremely welcome in all our spaces, and parents, and so on and so forth. We try to make the most accommodation for everybody that’s around.

Doug: That’s for sure. You talking about ASP? Or just us in general. Yeah, we definitely help make everybody stay comfortable, more comfortable. I’m very grateful for that. Because when COVID hit it was bone dry. There was nothing. You couldn’t get a cup of coffee. And then one day, in comes —- and I think it was — and —-, —— was there. And here we are today. We are doing big things. So do they have a problem with the art because we can go to beer because it’s also the beer city. We can star making beer! We could make a homeless ale. [laughter]

Papi: If art is controversial…

Doug: Yeah, bring out the little… What do you call that? A still?

Papi: We could just call it a hotel and then they would let us do it.

Doug: Right? Do we have people going to these meetings where they vote? Like zoning meetings? If nobody ever goes to the meeting then zoning gets passed.

Onion: I think the zoning meetings aren’t necessarily up for a vote all the time, like they are a council that kind of like rubber stamps.

Doug: But these policy changes, they should be open to the public. So we have to get a team to go in there and suit up in their best Under Armor hoodie and jump in there.

Papi: I think it’s been interesting to see people going to like the mayor’s lawn and stuff here and just kind of skipping meetings.

Doug: There’s no “No Trespassing” signs on the courthouse. We can camp there. But it’s concrete.

Papi: And I know people have gone to city council meetings. They give you so many restrictions in order to talk. And it’s because they know that they don’t want to hear us. Like I remember people would sign up and they would cut you off after a certain time.

Doug: You have to beat them at their own game, we have to get our words in a certain time. It shouldn’t have to be like that. But we’re stepping up to the plate. So we are doing a lot anyways. I’m not trying to sound bad, because we do a lot.

Papi: I think it’s a question of who calls the shots. And you know, this is our city and we can call the shots and they can listen to us, right? We don’t always have to fit into their framework, they can fit into ours.

Onion: It shouldn’t be the other way around. Right? This is our city. We live here. They’re the ones who should be listening to us. But they don’t they just care about all of our money.

Doug: I mean, if we had guns and cars, we can make them listen, but we’re not doing that. [laughter]

Papi: They will listen.

Doug: Yeah, they will. They will. I see the future of ASP changing a lot of things for homeless people. Not just in Asheville, but like we’re gonna set up in Asheville. It’s gonna be city to city to city. We literally can set the standard to better the homeless all over the United States. And then the world, I guess.

TFSR: Y’all were mentioning calling the shots. And it’s one thing to demand and say “yeah, we’re the people that live here.” Can you talk a little bit about some of the pressures that maybe people from the outside like Onion mentioned the amount of money that the county and the city budget towards advertising towards the tourist industry? But can you talk about some of the motivations on city council and on the county commissioners that are keeping forward motion on actual solutions with public funds to solve the crisis for houseless folks, as well as the cost of housing for regular folks.

Onion: So the city of Asheville is run by a gang and the gang is not publicly accountable. That’s what I mentioned before, the agency called the Tourism Development Authority. They’re not elected or anything like that. It’s a private agency. And so, for example, they have this thing that they call “Heads in Beds.” And it’s their way of saying, of all the hotel rooms, because I don’t know how many 1000s of actual hotel rooms and beds in Asheville, but their push is to get all the beds full.

Their way of measuring that is “Heads in Beds.” And so this is to say, they are completely focused on housing tourists in this town and making accommodations for certain people. If they want to put our heads in beds, there’s no resources for that. But all of a sudden, they have millions and millions of dollars to fill the other beds and build other hotels for all these thousands and thousands. Basically, they have a huge priority of creating space for white wealthy people to come in and visit and social cleansing and hyper gentrification for the poor and the struggling.

So the thing is, is this agency runs the city. City council rubber stamps whatever the TDA wants. They might debate it publicly, or there might be a little bit of dissent. But eventually, they just agree to whatever it is. City council is not calling the shot. They are agreeing with a larger entity, a more powerful entity. So the city manager and the planning and zoning office and other city staff work very, very closely with the tourism development entity. And then you have the Biltmore on top of it, which everyone kind of like forgets about, but it’s like a huge piece of land in the middle of town that’s being privately used for huge amount of profit. That’s basically a feudal type of situation. I mean, I’m saying, let’s take the Biltmore. You know? It’s literally a castle in the middle of Asheville.

Papi: And it’s boring!

Onion: It’s super bad. Yeah.

TFSR: Yeah. So for folks that maybe haven’t heard of the Biltmore Estate, the Vanderbilt family built a huge mansion. It’s the largest private residence in North America. It’s run by a foundation now, so that they can, you know, siphon money through a nonprofit, I think it’s like 60 or 70 bucks to get a visit to the actual house. I’ve never been there. I hear the land is really beautiful. There’s like a dairy farm. There’s a winery. There’s the gardens. It’s also apparently got a really, really intense biometric surveillance system, through the cameras that they have there. I just heard about that.

Papi: It’s a lot of money, and they don’t even pay their employees well.

Onion: Exactly.

TFSR: There was an article that was published a few days ago by Barbara Durr of the Asheville Watchdog. It’s based on a 2021 Bowen national research piece that was commissioned by the Dogwood Health Trust. And I’ll put a link in the show notes to it. But the numbers are not pretty in terms of how much people spend on housing here and the availability of “affordable housing.” Would you all talk about your experience? Papi already mentioned rooming with family now because it’s gotten so expensive And because buying property is so difficult and Onion mentioned being evicted twice. So what does it kind of look like? How does how does housing actually pan out for the people that live in work in the city where the tourists kind of take over the rest of the time?

Papi: Well, just from my experience with housing, and the people that I work around and live around, people kind of have been stuck where they’re at. Working three part time jobs, just to make it as is. Also, it’s now very common to just depend on community which is not bad. Which is what we should be doing. But always it’s like “oh, it’s the first of the month, let’s ask for mutual aid. Let’s ask for some rent assistance. Let’s get some money in our hands that we can afford to survive and live here in this apartment for the next month.”

I know that’s the thing with housing. And then I just see that and hear that a lot. I’ve had friends who try to game with roommates or things like that, but they don’t work. There’s just so many things. Because if you can’t work or live where you’re at, then how are you going to get transportation and then the bus pass.

Doug: Right now my rent is free for a year, because that’s the program I’m in. But after that it goes up to like $895 for a two bedroom, one bathroom in the projects. You know, it is what it is. That ended the median in Asheville is $350,000 per house. That’s the average cost. I couldn’t work two full time jobs and my girlfriend were two full time jobs and sell anything on the side and afford that!

Onion: Yeah, it’s like turbo gentrification up in here we are one of the most gentrified cities in all of the United States. And we’re also in a region that is historically under organized. There’s no housing advocacy organization in Asheville. It’s just us. There’s no resource center for renters. There’s no pushback against the landlord’s. City council and other entities don’t do anything. So the City manages to get away with really intense gaslighting, even when they describe what their idea is of affordable housing. What they call that is not really affordable to people that are working class, it’s kind of more accessible to the middle class.

So you have a situation in Asheville, where the conditions here and their decision making on the city level. In name, it’s progressive people on city council, they’re liberals and Democrats. But it’s not in line with that. It’s more in line with the city in California about the same size that had a bunch of wildfires, and half the houses were destroyed. And after people felt generous for a few months, they started to get irritated that there were so many displaced people around them. And so their city council went from progressive, got voted out, and it was a bunch of Trump supporters that got up in there. But their policy that they’re enacting over there, in their city where there’s really immense amounts of people that are completely precarious and have absolutely no resources. Their policy is the same. The same exact policy that our city council is doing every day. So you know, essentially, we have a right wing city government that calls itself liberal somehow.

Papi: I was just thinking about how, in this past year alone, I moved to Asheville last year around this time, and how right now, for a two bedroom apartment where I’m at, when we first started, it was like about 1,000 – 1,200 for a two bedroom apartment. That’s not including all the utilities and everything. Now I’d looked again after six months, for a one bedroom apartment. It’s at 1,400 right now. 1,400 to almost 2,000 for a one bedroom apartment. And no one’s gotten pay raises at all.

All the jobs I’ve worked at are like… what was it called? What did they call people who worked at grocery? Essential? I’ve been working in essential working jobs for all the entire pandemic. And no, I have never gotten a hazard pay or anything like that. Working at one of the hottest tourist restaurants downtown who caters to tourists, and they came around maskless and everything. I have no more money, not gotten more money. Rent has skyrocketed, and they’re like stealing from us practically. That’s all my money right there.

It just fucking sucks. And then eating here also kind of sucks. I always remember going to Walmart and it kind of sucks seeing a lot of the shelves really empty. And then you go to Earth Fare or something like that, and shits three times as much. And it’s like “oh my gosh, I can’t even eat healthy” or whatever that is. I don’t know, everything is already so much and it’s getting worse.

Doug: A loaf of bread is almost five dollars.

Onion: It’s totally getting worse. Especially I feel like since like the summer, it was like August, maybe July. I don’t know, it was like every week. How many friends are getting pushed out their housing? Their landlords are selling the house from under them. They’re living in their cars. They don’t have a new place to go. There’s literally like 20 slots on Craigslist for 300 people looking.

So there’s just absolutely no housing and nowhere to go. And more and more people getting displaced because the market is just benefiting selling right now, so much. And selling to people that are coming from other places in the country are also converting to Airbnb market. So they can make like $300 a night and city council has just kind of let that go wild. So, you know, it’s basically mass hysteria around money.

TFSR: So the last decade or so that I’ve lived here, it’s been consistently getting harder and harder to find housing. There was a 2014 study that showed that the vacancy rate was less than 1% for Asheville. And that’s not even talking about the cost of that housing and my ability to afford it or anyone else’s. But yeah, it’s kind of interesting because the hotels have been such a power player in terms of Tourism and in terms of pushing the city manager to make decisions that are going to be taxable income for the city.

With more and more of these “short term rentals” like Airbnb…There’s a couple of other companies just gobbling up all of the, in a neoliberal style, just further privatizing all these little spaces that some of us could have long term rental in. So much that it makes sense economically for the owners to hold them off the market and leave the house the room empty for a couple nights so they can charge that $300 A night. It’s weird to see how the city council has bent, instead of how they would have before protected the interests of the big moneymakers in the hotels, and now they’re feeling the pressure of all the little individual bourgeoisie that own the little mini feudal spots. Ah, it’s so frustrating.

Papi: Yeah, it really is a petty bourgeois situation with that. By the same token, I feel our struggle is becoming something more like the landless struggle in other countries where it’s about land, the bottom line is. With so many people without access to a place and without access to resources, we just have to do what we’re doing, which is go where there is land and take it and sit there and do our thing.

Onion: It makes me really angry to have the cops and DOT come around and evict people while saying things like “Y’all can’t be on city property. Y’all can’t be on this.” When it’s like “okay, well, first off, fuck city property. This isn’t city property.” This is land that’s first off stolen. We’re all living on fucking stolen land. And it’s not the city’s. This is new, no one can own land. I’m still learning a lot about land stewardship and what it would look like to… not not buy land necessary, but to literally give land back to indigenous people. To have indigenous stewardship.

Hearing about how there are people coming in to Asheville. I don’t know if ya’ll have ever been on *beeped out*. Which is just a housing thing that people post that they need housing or looking for something on Facebook, and it’s so irritating to be on there. Because a lot of people are like “Oh, my gosh, I’m moving from Atlanta to Asheville. I’m moving from California or something.” And they are a bunch of white couples who aren’t even from here who are making like three times more than what we all are making.

And then it’s funny when they post because then people are like “yeah, so this thread… this thing right here is for people who who can’t pay more than like 1300 for rent.” And all these people are like “Oh, I can do like $2,000 a month for a two bedroom apartment” and all this shit. And I love watching them get torn up in the comments. I do

Doug: There are people who pay $2,000 a week to come stay in Asheville for business or for a doctor’s appointment. They pay, I don’t know, maybe anywhere from like 500 to $1,000 for the week, they’re here for two or three days, probably sits empty.

Papi: Exactly. Exactly. And how many second homes are here? I have a job where I work for homeowners doing land care and I have a lot of clients that don’t live in their houses. They’re sitting there. There’s a huge number of properties that are under or un-utilized in this area.

Doug: And we need each other. We need the tourists because they provide jobs for us. And the tourists need us too because we got to wipe their butts and cater to them.

TFSR: It’s interesting, that report talks about how y’all are saying about 48 and a half percent of the population of Buncombe County pays 30% or more on their rent every month, something like a third of the population pays 50 or more percent of their income on rent. What’s recognized as being an affordable amount is a quarter of your income, tops on housing. So that you can pay for food. So you can save money. So you can pay for medical bills. So that you can pay for education for yourself or for your kids or whatever. All these things. It’s not budgeted in.

And what they’re doing is they’re creating a circumstance where in a couple of years and they’re already seeing it, there’s so many employment signs up all around town. Places can’t hire people and won’t pay them a wage that will actually allow them to live here. And I think like Papa said… they’re not going to have anyone that’s going to be able to actually work the jobs are willing to work the jobs. They’re digging their own grave in terms of an economy.

Doug: So you can only get a fast food job or a restaurant job. You’re gonna max out maybe $300 a week take home. So that’s 1200 dollars a month when your rent is 1100. I mean, how do you pay your electricity? How do you pay?

Papi: The actual condition of housing that people are in, too, is really, really messed up around here. Because of the climate so many people are dealing with intense mold issues and suffering from black mold. Their kids are living in that and they can’t get repairs because landlords just won’t do anything and there’s no one making them do anything.

Because City Council’s is, this is not on their radar. It’s not something they care to talk about. But at least half of us are living in that situation. And you know, we’re all like doubled up and tripled up and 10 people to a house, and we’re still paying $400 a month. So it’s getting to a point where the living conditions aren’t livable, even when we’re housed.

Doug: And when it breaks, it’s gonna be not good.

Onion: Something’s got to give.

TFSR: It has to stop being us.

Doug: I’m 45 years old. I got an apartment with my girlfriend who… she got some issues going on there and I love her to death, but she can’t really work. But even even with her, if I got an $1,100 security check, and she got a little $1100 security check. It’s 2200 bucks, that’s really not much. We get over $500 a month in food stamps. And usually about five days, six days at the end of the month, we’re not shopping. That’s plenty of money to be a lot of food. I have no day of the month that we don’t have any food.

If I get a job, it’s gonna be part time. All these places are hiring. They say they’re hiring, but you fill out an application online. somebody like me who didn’t graduate high school doesn’t have no really real education on paper it just gets tossed out. It’s just deleted right away. So if I went and sold myself to the company, got the job, still would only be &350 a week.

Papi: Yeah, it’s like they want it both ways. They want to own their restaurants and pay you a pittance and still make their big profits. The result from their decision making, which is that we don’t have housing, and we are on the streets. They won’t accept us on the streets. And so they sweep us. So they want to have their cake and eat it too. And they don’t understand that this is something that they’ve manufactured.

Papi: Oh, and also with COVID with a lot of places hiring, as well as not being paid enough. People are getting long haul COVID. People are getting sick and employees are not letting us have time off. They don’t care about us. And what are we supposed to do? I remember seeing these things and hearing things of like “oh, like nobody wants to come to work or anything like that”. It’s like, “No, it’s because you don’t pay enough. You don’t give us sick time. You don’t give us time off.” And it’s like we have to be there constantly like 45-50 plus hours of our lives working and giving your time and energy. And then once we have the money, it goes right away to rent or living necessities. We don’t have the energy to do anything else. We don’t have the energy to come out and into the park and make art. We don’t have that energy.

Doug: You can’t even go to the Chic-Fil-A and get yourself a chicken sandwich because you earned it.

TFSR: There’s been a push, it’s a North Carolina wide push. And I think it’s backed by the SEIU. But the NC Essential Worker Movement and the Fight For 15 has really been pushing around North Carolina. I think the Burnsville Bojangles has been striking because of the conditions around people getting infected with COVID and not being given time off. And the managers not paying attention to safety standards inside of the place in terms of customers coming in without masks and co workers without masks.

Plus people tell their stories on the social media of like people working 80 hours a week between two jobs and having a kid and not being able to afford to make ends meet. But these little franchise fast food shops make hella money. And it’s not even like the fancy restaurant that Papi works in downtown. That’s that’s one end of the scale, but even places you don’t have to go in a white shirt or whatever. It’s yeah.

Doug: The Chocolate Shops downtown. I don’t have clothes nice enough to go in that damn shop. Like they must make a million dollars off of chocolate. That’s crazy.

Onion: Yeah, that’s another thing because that place got off to its start by having the community kind of sponsor them. They were like we pay a living wage. We’re community supported business. And what? Two years later? They changed that to where they were not paying a living wage. And they put all the money that they made into capital resources to build a factory so that they can manufacture their own chocolate and they’re paying worse than they used to.

And that’s really familiar in Asheville to have businesses start out as like, “Oh, we’re socially responsible, small businesses” and then they become these engines of pure exploitation. And so everyone that I know that has worked at that place is like “it’s the worst place to work in town. It’s so exploitive, it’s transphobic it’s disrespectful, the clientele is horrible. It’s it’s a terrible work environment.”

Papi: Or stuff like a decade ago was claiming to paying a living wage or whatever. They were claiming that a part of their, they were paying medical to people by giving them kombucha for free. Yeah, their own product.

Onion: Pay a living wage with parking space. They consider that part of the wage.

TFSR: Or like when you consider the tips getting figured into it.

Papi: Exactly. Yeah. And then there’s no enforcement. So it’s not really a thing. It’s not a real thing.

Onion: I love riots. I’m tired of being like, palatable. I don’t care to be looking nice, being pretty and telling people like “Oh, can you give us this pretty please?” No, I’m gonna scream. I’m gonna yell until you give me what I want. Like, give me more money, stop having rent like this. Stop killing our friends in the streets. I’m ready. I’m already screaming.

Doug: We’ve ain’t even gotta get more money. We just got to stop your price of things going up.

Onion: I mean, all of it. You know? It’s time for us to call the shots. I remember during the uprising here, when downtown was full of anger and we took downtown and the cops couldn’t handle. You were there? Well, there’s a lot of video. And so it was pretty amazing. Because downtown, which is always full of tourists, like completely dominated. Like 95% of people from South Carolina or Atlanta or Knoxville or some shit. Well they were gone. It was just us. And you would never see the surface of the… what’s that hotel called the IRIS? It’s a big fancy new hotel in the center of downtown that spared no expense. That shit was covered. It was covered in tags and people were having a time of their lives. Windows did get broken.

TFSR: So much anti ICE graffiti.

Onion: It was a happy group of people until we got tear gassed.

Doug: I would have been helping y’all smash things and loot and carry stuff out. (laughing)

TFSR: in Minecraft.

Doug: Our buddy got caught in that riot and he ended up dying in Buncombe County Jail. Yeah, shout out to Jacob Biggs. He was a good guy. He just gets lost like most of us. We fall. Some of us stumble and we get back up. Some of us fall and we’re like, “I’m still falling. I can’t get up.” And we don’t need much. Just like hope, like a job, paycheck or something to look forward to. Like the promising of a house. I finally maced somebody at AHOPE because he was threatening me, he attacked me. And that same day is when they told me I had an apartment.

Because if you go through floating like regular “Hey everything is cool” you’re not in danger, your life is not at risk. But if you go in there stressed out every day, and you’re suicidal, and you want to kill the dog you want to kill and you start being irate they will move you up faster. And I don’t see how one person’s life is more or less than another one’s. Some people just lose their minds in the streets because they’re waiting for housing.

Papi: For housing. Yeah. For years.

Doug: I just want a roof over my head.

Onion: That’s the thing at this point. The city doesn’t understand where we’re coming from, which is that we’re not leaving the park. We’re not stopping. You’re not going to push us out. We’re not budging. So, you know, they’re going to have to find some way to compensate and open up their wallets and deal with us because we are here to stay. We have nowhere else to go.

TFSR: Yeah. And the “not in my backyard” approach doesn’t work anymore when people won’t stop being pushed away. Yeah. So y’all are holding space, you’re doing direct action by holding space publicly. You’re inviting families. You’re making art, taking the opportunity to make public art and make statements about it. We’ve already talked about how city council and county commissioners will do their best. People are trying to engage it, but they’ll do their best at silencing people actually making any changes and the city manager calls the shots anyways who is an unelected official. Do you want more people to show up at the park? What do you want people to bring? How long do we expect y’all are going to be out there? What’s the next stepping stone that y’all are reaching for?

Onion: We’re out here, you know. So by the time this airs, Friday will probably be over but it’ll be after Christmas. We’re going to have a big Christmas party and with lots of music and stuff like that. So this is ongoing. And yeah, I think that by the time people hear this on the air, they can just come on out at any time. We’re oftentimes picking up the festivities around four o’clock.

Doug: Yeah, if they don’t have anything… They can come with nothing. They can come with themselves or something, but just as support. They don’t have to bring sodas. A lot of people bring donations. Great. Because we can use them, but if you don’t have anything still show up. A big crowd is better than a little one.

Papi: It’s a nice big park. So there’s space for really a lot of people.

Doug: You play pickle-ball and tennis. They took the tables out. So we need a picnic table.

Papi: We got to bring tables in. But yeah, like anybody’s Welcome. Come over. You don’t have to bring anything. Everyone brings a little bit something. If you have the means and the money, yes, bring something, bring furniture. We people like to sit. We like to be cozy. Bring that. Drinks are always appreciated. Hot warm food. Very appreciated. Of different varieties, please, not all of us can eat everything.

Doug: Bring your Christmas tree.

Onion: Yeah, we like to like build things too, we get really crafty. And so we usually build structures every day. Engineering and stuff like that. And so we go high up in the trees, and we make our art and it’s really a cool scene.

Doug: Yeah, we want to make a birdhouse.

Papi/Onion: Ladders, you want to donate a ladder? Give us a ladder.

Papi: Bring a ladder, bring your client climbing gear!

Doug: We can go get a ladder tonight. I got a big one. Well, I think it stretches. Tools! Bring ingenuity. Bring a good attitude. Just be genuine and sincere to be there helping some people that need housing. Don’t just come for the show. Cuz you’re gonna love that.

TFSR: Musicians bring their instruments DJs bring their setups. It seems like a lot of the more inspiring things that I’ve seen in town around housing… I feel excited having conversations like this with people, because it’s just real that living in the city is much more difficult than it needs to be. And there’s people on the top that are skimming off. And then there’s tons of bureaucrats and cops and whatever and middle management in the middle that make their money off of keeping us out of empty buildings and keeping us from getting the food that we deserve.

And not only that, but also because this city sometimes feels like it doesn’t have actual community. It’s got the drum circle on Fridays, maybe. Especially during pandemic, the uprising felt to me, like the first time for a bit in that year that I felt a real sense of community and inviting people out to a space to share music to share food to be inspired by each other. That’s amazing. Personally, I feed off of that.

Doug: Yeah, and it’s not just in Asheville, it’s a lot of cities. A lot of big cities, small cities, it’s happening everywhere. People need to pull together and get it right. And because if we don’t, then not just us, we’re all gonna be a load of crap. I don’t know how people don’t see it. It’s totally gotta be flipped. Put us in power and power underneath us. I love people that want to challenge people to come out here with us for an undisclosed amount of time. Depending on their attitude they can leave tomorrow go home, are they can leave in 30 days.

You have an undisclosed amount of time of how long you are going to be in the streets like we are. You’re stripped of your whole life and put on the streets and you’re homeless. And then what? Anybody can survive if they know they are going home within a week. Like I can last all week. But if there’s no hope for tomorrow, no, stale sandwiches or nothing. You really get down and hate life. And I would challenge them to come see how we do it. We don’t want to live like this. To see how hard it is to survive some situations.

It’s cold. I don’t know if any of y’all have been outside all day in the winter, but I hated it. I was warming my tent. Because I don’t like the cold. I moved from New England, because I thought it was cheaper here. And when I came from Connecticut here, the only thing that was cheaper was cigarettes. Meat was the same price. It was terrible. I had $1,000 month rent up there, it was a two bedroom. Everything was $1000 month, pay utilities, all your bills to come here and be homeless.

Onion: We also want to make the explicit invitation of people that have nowhere to go to come and visit if they can and see if there’s anything there for them that they want to build with us. So it’s hopefully a space that welcomes people that really don’t have anywhere else to go right now.

Doug: You see our community. See how we shoot, we love each other. How we try to look out for each other. I’ve given people the shirt off my back out here. The food off my plate.

TFSR: Well, I guess if you’re new to town and having difficulty keeping up on stuff. It’s a good place to come and meet people and also to find out about resources that are available. And Doug mentioned ASP before, that seems like a cool place to interface with that with the street side of ASP or the Free-store.

Doug: They talk to us with sincerity, not condescending. I love this group. Like, I’ve never met anybody like that, the people from ASP. I guess that would be me too, I volunteer to help. They’ve taught me a lot. I learned a lot. They keep me in check. I’m grateful for them. Grateful for everything that we do,

TFSR: Where can people keep up on this if they’re not in the area and they want to apply pressure. Or if they want to get involved, but maybe don’t want to show up immediately? I know there’s some Instagram accounts that have been broadcasting news about when police have been coming in or the really cute flyers that have been being made. Yeah, how can people find out more?

Papi: It’s kind of an autonomous group that is forming this project, but it’s being supported by a coalition of collectives and groups. And so you could go to any of those pages to find out about what’s going on. Those could be Asheville Solidarity Network that has a Facebook and an Instagram. There’s Asheville Survival Program. Same thing Asheville For Justice. DefundAVLPD – the movement to defend the police here. So yeah, check those out. And that’s a really good way to get in touch and plug in and find out what we’re doing.

TFSR: Cool. Is there anything that I didn’t ask about that y’all want to bring up and mention?

Papi: I do have something. I remember asking some folk because I’m pretty new to just a lot of stuff. So I was like, anybody want anything to be said, and someone brought up about just what happens when when sweeps happen, and friends and family are displaced Is that you no longer know where your friends are. You no longer know where your family’s at. And it just makes it a shit ton harder to get yourself okay. And shit around you okay. If you’re constantly being removed from your area, and you can no longer make appointments, and you can no longer take care of your dog or go to doctor’s appointments, or go to school or anything like that. And the main thing that someone had told me that they were really thinking about was how you can no longer find your friends and family. And that’s very scary. Fuck sweeps. Fuck DOT.

Onion: I think I wanted to say Fuck them all. Yeah, definitely echoing that. I wanted to say that, to city council, we see you. We see what you say and how what you do doesn’t match up with it. And so we’re coming for you. There is not anybody that’s safe sitting on the city council, because the furthest left member of city council on the first day of Code Purple, when there was no shelter, put up a Facebook post saying “it’s my birthday. Oh, it happens to be Code Purple. What you can do is donate to this tiny nonprofit who doesn’t even do emergency housing support. Give them money, because the city can’t handle our shit.”

And basically, that’s the furthest left that it gets in Asheville is like passing the buck. And so we see you passing the buck. Kim Roney. We’re here watching what you do every day. And you haven’t shown up at Aston Park yet. And we see you. So there’s an invitation for city council to open up your wallet of the city coffers, and give us what we need. Or we will come for you.

Papi: For city council to come down and to shut up and not say anything and hear houses folks and hear them at every single thing they have to fucking say. Everything.

Doug: We want your routing numbers! To your bank accounts,

TFSR: And do a damn thing about it, not just show up and listen and go back to their heated offices, right?

Doug: No, I want them to just come and listen. They’ll hear something but they just come and they’re not listening.

Onion: They hate having to listen to us. They hate it.

Doug: When you’re able to put up a tent and be homeless. That means you’re comfortable there, it’s feel like a safe spot. And then when the police come and sweep it or tell you to move, it’s like you’re being evicted from your home back to first time being homeless. Every single time. I went through 18 tents in two years. That’s ridiculous. You know, police take them down or weather. it just sucked. Fuck the police.

Onion: Yeah, and how many campsites have been burned down in the past couple of years. People need a safe place to go where we have folks watching out. There’s just been a lot of danger for people living outside in every every kind of way.

Doug: Unfortunately when there happens to be like an OD or something. And they shut it down. Like take the OD and deal with it, and not police it but support. Not just beat us down and make us want to go get high. Iv’e been clean for a couple weeks now. It’s a struggle. When they get on me and bad days, I’m gonna want to go out there and you know, do that bad thing. Stay warm.

When I was homeless, I ain’t gonna lie I got high everyday. Because I needed that to get through to get up and get my food for the day, my clothes, my shelter for the night. Take care of my girlfriend’s dog. God they don’t understand. Sometimes you wait 4 hours for a shower at AHOPE. And for lunch, more time. We’re not just sitting around doing nothing with our time, twiddling our thumbs. So this is the south and we are in the Bible Belt, right? This is the holiday season. We need some love like Jesus from these people. I hate to bring religion into it, but show us where your hearts are.

TFSR: Congratulations on keeping sober.

Doug: It’s a little easier with an apartment I can just stay in there and eat and not have to go outside. But I hate it for people who don’t have housing. I was just there not too long ago. And I could be there again. If things were bad, but I’m gonna do my best not too.

TFSR: I guess any of us could. It’s kind of the point, right?

Doug: Most of us are one paycheck away from it. me. Me and my ex-wife we we’re doing fine, two jobs, kids in schools, both the cars, and then both cars died. We were off the bus ramp. But then, here we are. Yeah. Well, she’s not here anymore. She’s here but not here.

Papi: Yeah, I was living outside to after leaving an unsafe relationship. And I had an infant. And so I was in a really precarious situation. And so I was living in a vehicle for a while and you know, it can happen to any of us.

Doug: People lived in a tent with their children. It was okay.

TFSR: Yeah, thank you all for the work that you’re doing and for being willing to come on this and talk about it. And I really hope that it it gets more folks out there. And yeah, thanks for sharing your perspectives.

Papi: Thanks for having us.

Doug: Yeah. Thanks, man.

Onion: Thank you.

Mèo Mun, Anarchist Views from Vietnam

Mèo Mun, Anarchist Views from Vietnam

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Mèo Mun is an anarchist collective working to make anarchist materials and ideas more accessible to a Vietnamese audience, together with providing an analysis of social struggles from a Vietnamese anarchist lens. Over the next hour you’ll hear three collective members, Mai, Will and tùng share their critiques of leftist misrepresentations of the Vietnamese State as Socialist, lasting impacts of imperialism and war on populations of Vietnam, the centering US imaginaries of Vietnam, the struggles of working class people in general (and queer folks and sex workers in particular) in Vietnam, nationalism promoted by the government and other topics.

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Transcription:

TFSR: Would you please introduce yourselves with any names, preferred gender pronouns, affiliations or political identities as make sense for this conversation? Can you tell us a little about… is it pronounced Mèo Mun?

Mai: Yes, it’s pronounced Mèo Mun. I’m Mai, I use any/all pronouns. I don’t particularly use any political label, but I adhere to many anarchist principles.

Will: My name is Will. I use they/them pronouns. I’m an anarcho-communist.

tùng: Hi, I am tùng. I use any/all pronouns, I am an anarchist against the state and capitalism.

TFSR: Thanks for being here!

So, I am excited to have this conversation with you, thanks for making time and effort to chat! As anarchists from Vietnam, could you give us some highlights of the history of libertarian anti-capitalist and anarchist ideas and movements in Vietnam and what the milieu looks like today? And what sorts of topics and engagement drive those groups?

Will: As a preface, we are quite cut off from our roots. Many of us had lived for decades until we even heard of the word that encompasses our ideas and ways of life. The elaborate and complex history of the struggle for liberation in 20th century Vietnam is painted with a single stroke: you were either a patriotic Stalinist or a reactionary traitor, a colonial, fascist collaborator. The Marxist-Leninists who now rule the country only came into power by systemically eradicating all the other oppositional currents, labeling them traitors, and so yeah, of course they’d like to have a clear black and white narrative, of course they’d like for there to be no nuances; they’d look kind of bad otherwise and that’d weaken their grip on power. So, documents about anarchism or general radicalism in Vietnam, that divert from the State’s narrative are usually inaccessible in Vietnamese, either as hard copies, or scattered around obscure corners of the internet. That’s why we are on our very own bumpy road to learn and reconnect with our roots.

Historically, anarchism in Vietnam never grew into a wide-spread political movement. However, the struggle against the state, particularly states of the most populous ethnic group—the Kinh / Viet—can be traced all the way back to feudal times. Ethnic minorities living in upland Vietnam have been resisting the Kinh / Viet state’s expansionism for a very long time. James C Scott remarks in the book The Art of not Being Governed: An Anarchist History of Upland Southeast Asia that many aspects of their cultures and ways of living can be read as anti-state and anti-authoritarian, meaning that they have, in a way, long practiced the tradition of keeping the state at arm’s length, out of their affairs. Their struggles continue until this very day, and we have much to learn from them. We must stress, though, that we should not retroactively apply the label “anarchist” to these groups and their practices, nor should we call what they do “anarchism.” As Simoun Magsalin, our Filipino comrade, observes about the anarchist milieu in the archipelago: we should be critical of the anarchist equivalents of a “noble savage” trope, and the search for a “pure” indigeneity unspoiled by the State that decolonization can return to. In the same vein, we have before criticized the idea popular amongst many Marxist-Leninists, that homophobia in Vietnam is solely a product of Western colonialism, and pre-French colonial Vietnam was a haven for queer people. Oof.

Anarchists, as well as radicals influenced by anarchist principles, also participated in the struggle against colonialism and imperialism of the 20th century. For example, under the yoke of French colonialism, the radical Nguyen An Ninh called for the youth of Vietnam to “reinvent itself and take control of its own destiny.” He critiqued the Confucian family values of parental authority, gender inequality and traditional morality, encouraging people to “break with the past and free themselves from tyranny of all kinds.” He fought side by side with other anarchists and libertarian communists such as Trịnh Hưng Ngẫu and Ngô Văn (a former Trotskyist), in the labor movement. But as we’ve mentioned before, the Stalinists came into power by systematically eradicating all the radicals from oppositional currents like the anarchists, and indeed the Trotskyists who were brutally slaughtered. Ngo Van, the former-Trotskyist-turned-council-communist who we mentioned earlier, went on to produce many materials critical of the authoritarian, counter-revolutionary nature of the Stalinists after fleeing their persecution to France.

Mai: As for the contemporary anarchist milieu in Vietnam, it is extremely vulnerable and atomised. We simply don’t have contact with other groups, even though there might be quite a few out there. Those groups might wisely want to keep more to themselves rather than reaching out, since state repression is quite severe. This is a challenge for us, as one of our goals is to find a way for Viet anarchist groups to safely connect, communicate, and exchange experiences, if they so wish. Another reason is that our milieu has been chronically isolated from the milieus in other countries. There are many reasons for this lack of international interaction, such as language barriers and, again, state repression, but also a relative lack of support, solidarity and understanding from the Western left and anarchist community. We believe that anarchism, as a method of revolution, cannot be applied successfully by an isolated group, in other words, without international solidarity. The exchange of information and ideas, as well as the interlinking of our struggles are absolutely essential for the mutual strengthening of anarchist communities. And so, at the moment, building coalition with other milieus in South East Asia is one of the tasks that we prioritize. It’s also why we really appreciate the opportunity you have given us here on the podcast today!

Having said that, we are aghast that in many leftist circles in the West, Vietnam is painted as this Socialist haven where people think and act like a hive-mind, and the only ones speaking against the state are reactionary traitors, or CIA agents. So-called anarchists are paying to be fed those lies; so-called anarchists are capitalizing on those lies. We’ve lost count of how many times we have been fed-jacketed without any evidence whatsoever, and the people exposing us to harassment and doxxing got away scott-free. This stems from how the struggles in Vietnam and other over-exploited countries have been ignored by the majority of Western leftists for decades, especially when we can’t be used as ammunition in their own political discourse. This makes talking about our experience in Vietnam all the more dangerous, and it actively discourages anyone who might start speaking out.

As we touched on a bit before, organizing outside of the state framework in Vietnam, whether online or on the ground, is dangerous: the threats of police violence and incarceration are always looming over us and our loved ones. Many leftists seem to think of Vietnamese police as heroic defenders of the working class. It really shouldn’t need to be stated, but no, they’re not. Vietnamese police exists to protect the State and capitalist property in Vietnam. Police violence and deaths in custody in Vietnam are a well-documented reality. In Vietnam, the ruling party holds all executive, legislative and judiciary power. Cops don’t even need a court subpoena to enter our houses. Commoners like us grow up being taught to stay away from cops and everyone is used to bribing them. As for the law, there is a clause against the making, storage and spreading of material for the purpose of opposing the state and you could be sentenced to 5 or 12 years, if you’re caught.

Speaking from personal experience, many Viet anarchists seek out anarchism because we are marginalised in other ways on top of being exploited by capitalists as workers. Within Mèo Mun, many of our members are queer, disabled, and/or young. Some were radicalised while trying to organize rather unfruitfully within the liberal framework. Some have cited the horrible abuse they have suffered under the education and medical system. Some used to organize as Marxist-Leninists, simply because Marxism-Leninism is synonymous with Communism in Vietnam, but then can’t reconcile their reality with such an ideology anymore. So queer liberation, youth liberation, as well as disability justice and care are some of the passions that keep us going.

And also, I think I forgot to introduce a bit about Mèo Mun as a collective. Would it be possible for me to do that now?

TFSR: Of course!

Mai: Ok, so Mèo Mun is an anarchist collective working to make anarchist materials and ideas more accessible to a Vietnamese audience, together with providing an analysis of social struggles from a Vietnamese anarchist lens. Specifically, we do the work of archiving, translating, and disseminating anarchist texts, which can be found on the online Southeast Asian Anarchist library. There is also a very gradual translation of English Wikipedia pages related to anarchism into Vietnamese. You know, because Wikipedia tends to be the first place people come to for a basic understanding of new concepts. We try to reach a wider audience on social media as well, and we write and speak to educate people on what our experiences in Vietnam are like. The anarchist milieu in Vietnam is very atomized, so one of our goals is to connect Viet anarchists together, and provide a safer space for them to express themselves and exchange ideas, without fear of state repression, or mass harassment from statists and nationalists. Naturally, we make an active effort to include Viet anarchists in the diaspora in our organizing.

Individually, our members also participate in feminist, queer liberation, youth liberation and prisoners solidarity organizing.

TFSR: Awesome, thank you so much for the really thoughtful answers you’ve been giving, very clear.

So, you’ve already spoken on the pervasiveness of the police state and mentioned capitalist property and some other things in Vietnam. I would love to hear your perspectives on the political and economic direction of the State of Vietnam. An essay of yours that caught my attention is entitled “The Broken Promises of Vietnam” in which you argue that the “Socialist Republic of Vietnam” is not actually socialist. You describe similar instances of neo-liberal national economic infrastructure development taking precedence over preserving ecosystems and leaving intact indigenous communities, let alone general public health. You also describe a government wielding a Nationalistic vision of citizens that excludes ethnic and sexual minorities and that allows for billionaires to rise while the working classes and peasants are displaced. Can you talk about this, about those broken promises and who are some communities most imperiled by the Nationalistic tenor of the CPV?

Will: So, in terms of politics, Vietnam is a crony Capitalist country. The success of a business depends entirely on how well they could navigate the unofficial channels of the state, on their relationships with the government or Party members and how much money they are willing to spend on bribery. Officially, Vietnam is dubbed a Socialist country, but the class stratification can be observed in our everyday life. We have a so-called “People’s” billionaire, Pham Nhat Vuong, who, allegedly, built his empire from shaking hands with government officials to hoard land at a dirt-cheap price. He owns a total of $7.3 billion in assets, equivalent to the total assets of about 800,000 Vietnamese (on average). Very Socialist! Not to mention that Vietnam also has many other billionaires, enough to have a Shark Tank show right on national television. The very first promise, that the commoners who sacrificed everything for Vietnam’s liberation would be directly in charge of it, was shattered the very moment the Vietnamese government came into being.

The current Secretary of the Communist Party also openly praises capitalism, spicing it up with some superficial lukewarm critiques of capital! He said, and I quote: “We acknowledge that Capitalism has never been as global as it is today and has achieved many great achievements, especially in the utilization and development of productive capabilities and scientific-technological progress.” So, we’re just supposed to ignore all the toils the working class has historically and currently endured under capitalist Vietnam, for a Communism that may never even come! The end justifies the inhumane means, apparently.

As for nationalism, we mentioned it in the article “The Broken Promises of Vietnam,” but if you speak up and criticise the State, no matter how valid your points, how copious your evidences, you will be seen as going against the Vietnamese people, the Vietnamese nation, because the government has a vested interest in confusing party loyalty with the very natural and precious love that we have for our culture and fellow Vietnamese.

And as you know, nationalism sells the lie of a trans-class solidarity, that we Viet workers have more in common with Viet capitalists like Pham Nhat Vuong, rather than with fellow workers from China, Cambodia, Myanmar, or indeed the US. While in reality, Vietnamese capitalists and government go hand in hand with capitalists the world over to brutally exploit Vietnam’s cheap labor and natural resources. This can be observed in the outsourced manufacturing of electronic components and textile products to Vietnam, in the many Special Economic Zones that are mushrooming all over the country. There can’t ever exist any meaningful solidarity between us, between the capitalists and the working class, and the people in power are understandably frightened that the workers in Vietnam would one day see through this gross lie.

Consequently, they are dead-set on stoking the nationalist flame in Vietnam. That’s why career communists based in Vietnam spew absolute nonsense like “nationalism is crucial to communism in Vietnam.” Actually, Vietnamese nationalism is crucial to Vietnamese capitalism and authoritarianism. And the indoctrination process starts young.

Let’s examine the 5 commandments that Uncle Ho, Ho Chi Minh, taught Vietnamese youth:

1. Love your Fatherland, love your compatriots.

2. Learn well, work well.

3. Good unity, good discipline.

4. Good hygiene.

5. Be modest, honest, and brave.

These are hung in almost every classroom in Vietnam (usually with a photo of Uncle Ho). Many students are forced to learn them by heart. What comes first in these teachings? “Love your Fatherland.” Your fatherland comes before your compatriots. Children, who have not yet understood the concept of a “Fatherland,” let alone fully grasping what loving a Nation-state implies, are taught to put their “Fatherland” before themselves, before their family and friends. The next commandment: “Learn well” and “Work well.” For whom? In our opinion, also for your Fatherland, which is to say, for the state and the capitalists.

If you dare to question any of that, you’d likely be branded a traitor, a reactionary, a fake Vietnamese. If you dare to be “lazy” and not “work well,” you are a burden on society (disabled veterans in Vietnam are literally called “invalids;” we have “The Ministry of labor – War Invalids and Social Affairs”). The purpose of Vietnam’s education system, in our opinion, is to shape students into obedient workers or cogs in its capitalist machine, similar in essence to any other capitalist education system.

Also, many well-known authors whose works are featured in Vietnamese textbooks also incessantly preach nationalism and the idolatry of political figures like Uncle Ho, Lenin, and yes, Stalin. A 1993 poem by Tố Hữu, famed Vietnamese poet, reads:

Oh, Stalin!

Alas, do the earth and sky mourn Your departure

If I’m to love my father, my mother, my husband

and myself one, then I love You ten.”

So, “I love you three thousands, Stalin.” Ouch! That’s not very good…

Consuming products from Viet brands and Viet media is widely considered “patriotic.” Which makes non-consumption unpatriotic. How convenient for the market economy! Oh and, not only Viet media, but also foreign media which uses Vietnamese labor. In 2018, a Hollywood blockbuster was filmed in HaLong Bay, Vietnam. The film set was then utilized by the authority as a tourist attraction. The whole issue of how that movie depicts US soldiers in Vietnam and local people asides, as we read about and cheer for the ongoing IATSE strike, we can’t help but wonder if Vietnamese actors, extras and crew hired in film productions outsourced to Vietnam are compensated fairly and equally compared to their US counterparts. Fun fact: there hasn’t been a legal strike in more than 25 years in Vietnam. The General Confederation of labor, which is supposed to represent the interests of the workers, hasn’t been organizing strikes, and so all the strikes that did take place were illegal. It’s apparently unacceptable for the workers to organize and demand better conditions for themselves; a workers’ struggle is only legitimate in the eye of the state if the state can control its direction.

Mai: A field where nationalist sentiments are particularly intense is sport, mainly soccer. There was this photo of a person holding a portrait of Uncle Ho at a soccer match, which went viral a while back. That photo was said to be the evidence that Viet people love Uncle Ho. What was conveniently not mentioned is how the sport scene in Vietnam is one of the best showcases for how poisonous Vietnamese nationalism is.

Rampant on Vietnamese Social Media is the xenophobic attitude when our national football team have a match, especially with other Southeast Asian teams. If the referee makes a decision that’s unfavorable for the Vietnamese team, their Facebook or other social media accounts will be flooded with tons of vitriol and death threats. The same thing will happen to the opposing team’s players if they were deemed “too aggressive” or simply scored the decisive goal. It’s even worse with women teams, where there’ll be slews of misogynist, transphobic and degrading language. Many Viet sport fans like to joke that all Thai women are transgender women, with the heavy implication that they are not “real” women. To the nationalist sport fans, all the other teams are inferior, mixed-blooded, full of unnatural citizens, and hence has an unfair advantage. To them, the Vietnamese team is simply the best; any losses are only due to these unfair advantages.

As you may also know, nationalism seeks to create an in-group, out-group mentality, and Vietnamese nationalism constantly and violently excludes Viet ethnic minorities. A stark example is how the education-indoctrination system strips them of their culture and language. There are 54 ethnic groups in Vietnam, with more than 100 Vietnamese dialects, yet there is only one official language taught in school and used in exams, the language of the dominant Viet Kinh group. This naturally puts people from other ethnic groups at a huge disadvantage. Many schools force their students to wear áo dài as uniform, regardless of their ethnicity, even though áo dài is a Kinh garment. Attempts to even out the ground for ethnic minorities face vicious backlash from Viet Kinh people, such as when the government tried to give bonus points in the national university entrance exam for ethnic minority students. Instead of getting rightfully angry at an education system which dehumanizes its students, forcing them to brutally compete with their peers for a chance to be exploited by capitalists, many Kinh people blamed and unleashed their wrath on ethnic minorities.

Those are our observations about the political and economic situation in Vietnam. Based on those symptoms, and dare we also draw some parallels with certain formerly “Communist” countries, we could tentatively share our guess on the direction of the Vietnamese state and its so-called Socialism-oriented market strategy, should it continue to fester unchallenged. However, we are not prophets speaking gospel, nor scientists playing with solid statistics here; we will not invoke some sacred words like “science” and “materialism” and from that claim absolute truth. What we will say is this: without mass mobilization and resistance of the working class, the Vietnamese state will strengthen its grip on the populace, through law, nationalism or hierarchical social conditioning. And capitalism, hand in hand with the state, will dig its claws further into the exploited classes, drawing out from them all they can offer. The working class of Vietnam will be further fragmented as capitalism consolidates its influence together with its exploitation, delegitimizing worker struggles against it. This would ingrain a sense of resignation and self-absorbed struggle in individual workers and prevent the building of solidarity amongst them.

TFSR: Some proponents of what’s called “Socialism” in Vietnam will argue that, in fact, the work that the Communist Party has brought forth has improved the quality of life of people in Vietnam. Have you heard of this claim, does that ring true in your experience that there has been development in the quality of individuals’ lives economically or educationally that could be attributed specifically either to so-called Socialism in Vietnam or through improvements from market society?

Mai: Why yes, we’ve heard this argument before, and our eyes roll every time. First, it is undeniably true that the qualify of life has been raised. And so what? That doesn’t prove that the same couldn’t have been achieved under another political system; life everywhere has been improving. Where is the evidence to pin this development on the so-called Socialism of Vietnam? It’s a wishy-washy way to justify the authoritarianism of the Vietnamese state and deflect from valid criticisms.

Will: And to add on to that, a suitable analogy would probably be prisoners not having to work as much. Sure, it’s an improvement to before, that still doesn’t change the fact that they’re still prisoners, still robbed of freedom and forced to toil under the same old master. Same thing here. Great, now we have internet; we also have no union to defend us against exploitation by the capitalists. Great, we get fastfood; we also have a state that’s just free of any control mechanism and can do what it wants (that’s how’s hierarchies of power work!). Great, we have iphones, ipads and gucci. The workers manufacturing for those corporates certainly can’t afford iphones, ipads and the newest gucci bag! But, whatever. So, okay, nice, quality of life has gone up. We’re not gonna say that’s bad, that’d be kind of stupid. But at what cost, in what context? The growth of quality of life is a good thing, but you can’t just ignore everything else surrounding it. A pizza party is nice, but you know what is nicer? Being in charge of our own life, our fruit of labor, and not being exploited and robbed of freedom. Partially because it includes a pizza party in it.

Mai: This line of argument also exposes a double standard casually applied for us people in over-exploited countries by many leftists and anarchists. Would you say the same to, say, queer people in more prosperous countries. “Hey you can get married now, you can even adopt children now. Why don’t you praise and be grateful to your capitalist government?” I’m sure there are people saying this to marginalised groups in more prosperous countries, but any anarchists worth their dime would vehemently and rightfully refute it. Yet everyone seems to be fine when this argument is casually thrown at people in so-called Third World countries. As if we’re supposed to be grateful for more crumbles! No, we want a seat at the table. We want everyone to have a seat at the table!

TFSR: Yeah, and when you’re referring to industrialists in Vietnam having an income level equal to, I think you said, 80,000 other people.. At what cost and how is that distributed?

Will: Yeah, also it’s 800,000 people.

TFSR: Excuse me, factor of ten… Thanks for being willing to tackle that question

What might be visions of libertarian communist approaches to some of the questions of raising the quality of life for people in Vietnam? Is that the sort of framing that you would use for a positive anarchistic vision forward? It seems like, just to add on, I’ve heard that in some countries that are ostensibly Communist or Socialist that people who are critical of the government sometimes have an allergy to those terms, to a positive turn of those turns, because it’s been shoved down their throats in such a negative way.

Will: Yeah, well…

Mai: Definitely, yeah [laughs]

Will: To me, it’s about representation. The State, this grand old thing, imposed all of those things on them, so I mean what choice do they have?

First and foremost, it must be said before any libertarian communist or anarchist vision can be realised, the people in Vietnam have to recognise that there exists deep problems with the current political system, and that there are solutions to those problems. The sad reality is this: the majority of Vietnamese people are alienated from politics (as authoritarian states tend to do to the people they oppress). So, politics is something done to them, rather than by them.

The state has built up for itself a shining image of legitimacy. And so even though many will say that there are problems with Vietnam as a whole, they are unlikely to be able to pin that to the political system. Maybe they can say that corruption is a severe problem of Vietnamese society. Maybe they can connect it to individual politicians and their supposed moral failing. But they won’t be able to say that corruption is only a symptom of the system and that, more specifically, hierarchies of power are simply incompatible with the interests of those at the bottom of the hierarchy, of the majority. Maybe they would even say that the one-party system is clearly not working, but mistake the illusion of choice of multi-party system for total liberation, for freedom. The root of the problems just eludes many.

There is also a sense of apathy and learnt helplessness that has been ingrained into the population, and so, as of now, the potential of political action and change is not great. This exacerbates the previous problem, in the sense that, even if a majority of people recognize the root of the problem, they do not think that they themselves and, only themselves, have the power solve it. Or they think that the alternatives would only be even worse: either U.S. capitalism/liberalism or the kind of “Communism” with severe scarcity and corruption before the Đổi Mới reform — which mind you many Vietnamese still remember and are understandably frightened of. This is what we mean when we say Vietnamese people are alienated in politics.

We also recognise that historically in Vietnam, the traditional labor movement has alienated many groups, such as ethnic minorities, sex workers, people of marginalized genders and sexuality, disabled people, unemployed people, criminalized people, and young people. Moving forwards, it is important to make our movements inclusive enough for the many fronts against various forms of oppressions, not just class struggles. Of course, the working class is the only class capable of toppling capitalism, but our definition of “work” and “workers” needs to change radically.

So… a vision—a hope even—is that, through putting their predicament under the capitalist society of Vietnam into perspective and laying bare the fact that no one but themselves have the power to change it all for the better, people will gradually be free of the mental limitations and have the want to take control of their lives instead of putting it at the mercy of “the powers that be.” And when the recognition, the will and the want, happens, we trust that they will go only one short step further and come to adopt libertarian communist approaches for their struggles, even if they don’t declare themselves to be affiliated with any specific ideology. Again though, we are not prophets and to prophesize on a strict revolutionary form is an unwise and pointless endeavor.

But if we can say one thing about our approaches and our visions for a better quality of life in the future, we may call attention to community building. Given what we mentioned earlier regarding the alienation of the worker and the fragmentation of the working class, there is merit in considering a parallel process: of healing the wounds of alienation that capitalism left on all of us; and of educating each other on essential political knowledge, examples being food sovereignty, pre-figurative social organizing, and independent union building. And in an age where technology has become an integral part of our lives, it is short-sighted to overlook or undermine the importance of online organizing. The social relations produced and reproduced through online organizing is every bit as pre-figurative as the social relations of on-the-ground organizing. Certain aspects are different, sure, but the essence of it is the same: the building and maintaining of structures capable of facilitating our interactions as equals. Through our own organizing, we’ve also found online archiving and dissemination of anarchist materials to be critical in the context of our milieu in Vietnam, where severe censorship and state repression have proven to be highly effective in weeding out dissenting voices, and isolating those who would otherwise band together to collectively speak out against the state narrative.

And as to the framing… Yes! I think this is the framing that we will proceed with. Unlike the previous revolution in our history, ours won’t be one where the people are pushed into a so-called revolution by some self-righteous vanguard party. That kind of revolution has proven itself to be undeniably disastrous. And we would love to not repeat that. The true revolution should be a continuous process, in which everyone can partake right here, right now, on their own volition.

TFSR: Would you speak about the situation in Vietnam for people of marginalized genders, queer folks in Vietnam as well as folks criminalized for sex work?

Mai: Sure. The situation for queer folks is not great, though getting better. Same-sex marriage was criminalized until 2015. Then, the law prohibiting same-sex marriage was abolished, but it is still not legalized. So, since marriage comes with certain privileges in our current society, many queer people in Vietnam are stigmatized and barred from the medical, financial and other material privileges that their non-queer counterparts couples enjoy. Marriage equality is the front in which liberal organizations working within the state framework seem to pour a lot of effort.

For transgender people, as far as we know, there isn’t a single hospital in Vietnam that is allowed to perform gender-affirming surgeries for so-called “normal” people, only for people who were in an accident or have “birth defects.” At the same time, non-consensual, non-medically necessary medical interventions are still performed on intersex children, as they are permitted by law.

Transgender people who wish to undergo gender-affirming surgery often have to go through an intermediate center, and the whole process (examination, papers and surgery) is usually done in Thailand. Hormone therapies are not easily accessible through mainstream methods, but through the black market. They really have to bet their lives if they want to use hormones. Not only that, because of low supply and having to do surgery abroad, the amount of money one needs to spend to undergo gender-affirming surgeries can be approximately $20,000, even more if you account for long-term hormone treatments. To put this into perspective, the average yearly household income of a Vietnamese person is $2,235, before food and rent/mortgage and such. And remember, the $20,000 is only for the surgery. So, the cost is an absurdly high amount for the majority of Vietnamese people, who have to work hard just to put food on the table and keep a roof over their heads.

About sex work in Vietnam, we will speak not from personal experience, but from a place of legality and personal observation. Legally, sex work and even pornography are criminalized; sex workers used to face incarceration in so-called “rehabilitation centers” and still are charged with hefty fines if caught in raids, they are subjects of systemic stigmatization and discrimination as well, especially sex workers living with HIV. It was not until 2013 that detention center number 05 was shut down; it’s the rehabilitation center in which sex workers and drug users were detained and regularly subjected to forced labor disguised as “career training.” Supposedly, the closing of this detention center happened under the pressure from, as far as we know, an organization by and for sex workers in Vietnam called Vietnam Network for Sex Workers, amongst others. We could not find other sources to corroborate this, however, so we can’t say for certain this is what happened. Although, we certainly hope so! We suspect the reason for the scare sources has to do with the media not wanting to acknowledge sex workers’ existence since sex workers in Vietnam exist in this limbo wherein they’re criminalized, stigmatized, but also hyper-visible.

As for major queer, feminist, and sex worker organizations outside of the State framework, we are not aware of any, unfortunately. Yes, organizations that do not directly associate with the government exist; NGOs are by no means illegal. But that doesn’t mean they’re outside of the State framework. To truly be outside of the State framework, an organization must have the aim to work outside of that framework in the first place, hence giving a reason for organizing that doesn’t involve the State and doesn’t subject itself to the bounds the State establishes. There is no such thing as being accidentally outside of the State framework. And indeed, the organization we mentioned above express quite a bit of friendliness towards the state, which they view as well-intentioned but incompetent in execution with regards to programs for sex workers. We by no means wish to undermine or devalue their achievements; we applaud them for their efforts and are glad to know that there exists an organization standing for the interests of sex workers in Vietnam! But we cannot ignore the fact they achieved this only through the State framework, by cooperating and showing understanding to the machine which in the end perpetuates capitalism, and wish to see them exploited as workers. What they have accomplished is undeniably good, but in the long run, the state can never be a liberatory tool. Another thing is that a substantial part of their funding comes from liberal NGOs and NPOs. They themselves acknowledge that it is a challenge for them to organize without that funding, which will eventually go away. So once again, in spite of the good, we are obligated to point out that this form of organization cannot lead to the total liberation of the oppressed: an organization dependent on funding from liberal sources can never work to break free of the chains of the status quo, only the painstaking lengthening of those chains.

So we would say that the blindspots of the organizing by and for folks of marginalized genders, sexualities and sex workers in Vietnam is that there is no interlinking of struggles. The feminists can pinpoint the un0level playground between men and women, but many are oblivious to, say, class struggles, of ethnic minority women, of queer people and of sex workers. Indeed, feminism in Vietnam applauds the icon of a successful career woman, a girl-boss CEO who are not dependent on men. The same with queer people: many strive to assimilate into the cis-het society by broadcasting that they can be as “normal,” as successful in their careers as non-queer people. And so the poor queers, the disabled queers, the queers who are not Kinh, and many more, are further marginalized and don’t have a place within the queer community. On top of that, their organizing are dependent on the State framework, on funding from NGOs and NPOs: they need NGO and NPO money to campaign for the government to give them more rights. And in our opinion, that kind of organizing is not sustainable and will never lead to total liberation. There will always be people who are unlucky enough to be the scapegoat, who are at the bottom of the hierarchy and cast to the fringe of society.

TFSR: Speaking as someone from the so-called USA, which participated in much of the 35 years of war Vietnam experienced in the mid-20th century following centuries of colonial extractivism at the hands of the states of France, China, Japan and others, I wonder if you can talk about the legacy of colonialism and war are on the peoples and environment of Vietnam?

Mai: This is personal to us. In my family, leftovers are seriously frowned upon, even just a single grain of rice. I remember, this was when I was about 5 or 6, leaving the dining table after finishing the meal, and got called back to eat one single grain of rice left in my bowl. This is because there are family members who are still alive, who survived the Vietnamese famine of 1945, caused by Japanese and French colonialism, together with the US bombing the transport system. An estimated 2 million Vietnamese people starved to death. There is also the persisting catastrophe of Agent Orange. Personally, someone in my direct family was exposed, and we have to deal with various medical complications. Ironically, if you Google “Agent Orange,” the top results are almost all about its effects on US veterans; few are about its lasting effects on Vietnamese people and our ecosystem.

If you’d like to learn more about the atrocities that the US army committed in Vietnam, we’d recommend you to first, well, talk to Vietnamese people. You can also read the “Winter Soldier Investigation,” which consists of first-hand testimonies from GIs about the many daily My Lais that they themselves had committed or witnessed in Vietnam. You may notice that this investigation has the same name as a fictional character from a famous franchise widely regarded as pro-US military propaganda. Now, of course this could very well be a total coincidence, but even so, the incidental effect is quite real. It casts a shadow over the investigation mentioned above regardless. The way information about war crimes and its devastating aftermath on people outside of the US is obscured like that is just one in a million ways how US imperialism and cultural hegemony are harming us right this moment. And as far as we know, the documents from that [Winter Soldier] investigation hasn’t even been translated into Vietnamese for the younger generation to access and read about what happened to our predecessors.

Another product of US-centrism, which manifests plentily in anarchist and leftist circles: in political discourse, Vietnam, a country, a people with our own complex and diverse history, is constantly reduced to and talked about solely in our relation to the US. Not the whole span of that relation either, but only 20 years of slaughter and ecocide. For example, on the website of the longest running anarchist magazine in the US called The Fifth Estate, they have a page about Vietnam that is described as: “VIETNAM The failed US war and resistance to it from an anarchist/anti-authoritarian perspective”

Vietnam is not just a “failed US war.” Refusing to view us as humans with our own complex history and ongoing struggles leads to dissidents like us Viet anarchists, who don’t solely paint Vietnam as the US’ helpless victim, being branded “fake Vietnamese, CIA pawns, agent provocateurs.” The irony here is palpable. If you stop for one second and just look at the whole span of Vietnam’s relation with the US, you’ll see how the Vietnamese capitalists have no qualms shaking hands with US capitalists in their quest to exploit Viet workers. The Vietnamese and the US militaries are being all pally now, with weapon trades and personnel training courses! The US framework of every political topic is also routinely forced upon us, to the point that a Viet person who doesn’t understand every nook and cranny of US politics and its lexicon won’t be able to participate in political discourse without risking being torn apart, figuratively. Meanwhile, many US leftists/anarchists will brazenly insert themselves and their narratives in almost every conversation about Vietnam that we try to have, without taking the time and effort to learn the Vietnamese context.

And this benefits no one but US imperialism and, ironically, the Vietnamese authoritarians and statists. They capitalize on the very real frustration of Viet people who know that their struggle is completely ignored and dismissed by the US and Western left. They’d constantly and only talk about how horribly awful the US is, reducing Vietnam to its helpless victim — a glorious, brave and united nation against a common foreign enemy. On top of that, because social media favors moralized content, they’d build their platform on moralized, hateful language and rhetoric. They target a clueless Western audience who prefer self-flagellation and tokenism, rather than carefully examining information, educating themselves and developing their own analysis. When faced with criticism, the statists will weaponize their identities to silence and even harass their political opponents, accusing any Vietnamese speaking differently of being fake Vietnamese. Statists and career communists capitalizing on disinformation about Vietnam have threatened us with state violence and we have no doubt they will report us to the authority the first chance they’ve got. Of course, US imperialism permeates many corners of this earth, but to view, for instance, a Kinh Viet person living in Vietnam as merely a “person of color” erases the privilege that their ethnicity affords them domestically, erases the reason for their loyalty to the Vietnamese nation-state. We humbly ask people to de-center the US and its bloody war from conversations about Vietnam — it is long overdue. Thank you.

tùng: To add on to that, after the war, information about Agent Orange was slow in reaching Viet people, and so a lot went on to have children without having been adequately informed and prepared. I personally knew a family whose first child is blind deaf with intellectual disability, due to their parents’ exposure to Agent Orange. Without any compensation from the US nor adequate disability care from the Vietnamese government, the Vietnamese victims of Agent Orange have to fend for themselves on their own, generation after generation. They receive about from $5 to $20/person/month, depending on the severity of their conditions and I think this money is not enough to survive on for a whole month.

And there are the millions of people who were displaced by the war, cut out from their cultural roots and families, forced to assimilate into a new society. Many lost their lives fleeing a war torn country with a shiny new state high on victory and hell bent on vengeance. The ones lucky enough to have reached their destinations and settled down know no ways of reconciling and reconnecting with their “đồng bào” — compatriots back in Vietnam. They can’t learn about the struggle in Vietnam without being manipulated and fed lies, thanks to state censorship and hateful nationalist sentiments.

TFSR: How can international listeners in the international community looking to be solidarity with struggles in so-called Vietnam and learn more & help? Are there any projects they can support or other sources of learning that you would suggest?

Will: There is a proverb in Vietnamese: “Nước xa không cứu được lửa gần,” which roughly translates to: “Water afar cannot put out a nearby fire.” So, the absolute best thing you can do for us, specifically, is to organize in your own community, and to educate yourself about the struggles in Vietnam, without unquestioningly absorbing disinformation like a sad sponge. It also helps if you rethink and refrain from projecting your own localized societal standards and frameworks onto situations in Vietnam, which usually have little in common. And this should be obvious, but: don’t use our struggles as mere ammunition in your struggles. When you go to do solidarity, you should not reduce us to media tokens and talking points.

As of now, Viet anarchists are outnumbered, our voices drowned out by pro-state propaganda. And so, every single person who refuses to fall for said propaganda is a win for us! You don’t need to listen to us, to Mèo Mun specifically, of course—we don’t claim to be the best source on every single topic related to the struggle in Vietnam, far from it—but please be very cautious of the disinformation from statists. Talk to as many Viet people as possible, and remember that we are not a hivemind and our experiences and opinions do vary! If you’re a reader, there are many texts on the Southeast Asian Anarchist Library concerning Vietnam and its history. So, do read close if you’re interested.

And if you’re into direct action, please pay attention to the migrant worker scene in your community. The conditions of Vietnamese migrant workers, especially undocumented ones, are often abysmal and they are extremely vulnerable to exploitation. And I’d dare to say that many so-called-Global-South migrant workers are vulnerable to exploitation. We’d be very happy to know that someone is looking out for them.

TFSR: Is there anything I failed to ask about that you’d like to discuss?

Will: Not really, but I’d like to, on behalf of Mèo Mun, express our heart-felt thanks to Burst for reaching out to us, for your very thought-provoking and interesting questions, and for spending time with us today. We appreciate your giving us this platform, and though we try our best to cover what we experience in Vietnam, at the end of the day, our experience is just an experience. It is not universal and by no means can we claim to speak for every Viet person. We only hope that our speaking up gives you some tiny glimpses into our lives and struggles, which similar to any lives and struggles, are human, messy, and imperfect. So thank you for listening and seeing us!

Mai: Thank you!

TFSR: Thank you, all of you, for participating in this and also to the collective for collaboration in the answers. And I appreciate you taking the time doing this in English for the audience, I’m looking forward to this being a contribution towards more international understanding and solidarity. So, thank you!

Belarusian Uprising Revisited

Belarusian Uprising Revisited

Protest flags in Minsk on September 27, 2020 including black and black & red flags
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This week on The Final Straw, we spoke with Vasili and Maria, two Belarusian anarchists living abroad about the aftermath of the 2020 Uprising in their country of birth, lessons learned, the current political prisoners and the Lukashenko regime’s attempts to attack dissidents abroad. Maria is also a member of Belarus Anarchist Black Cross, which does anti-repression education and prisoner and legal support for anarchists in or from that country. More on that group and these topics can be found at ABC-Belarus.Org, including a form to send letters to prisoners in Belarus from the website and a link to a brand new fundraising campaign to help BABC to support their anti-repression efforts. Check it out and spread it around: https://www.betterplace.org/en/projects/99819-support-anarchist-and-antifascist-prisoners-in-belarus

You can find links to our social media at TFSR.WTF/links. You can find a transcript of this conversation online in about a week at TFSR.WTF/Zines.

Belarus-ABC can be followed via their:

Announcements

Eric King Trial

Antifascist and anarchist prisoner, Eric King, has had his trial pushed back to October 14th at 9:30am. If you can show up to court with an ID and your dapper court wear, you can show up to the Alfred A. Arraj Federal Courthouse in Denver to show Eric some support and that he’s not alone. For a good read, check out the recent article by Vice about the allegations from Eric’s legal team that the BOP deleted video of the incident in question in order to cover up his setup and torture: https://www.vice.com/en/article/bvzqqa/prison-destroyed-video-proof-of-guards-torturing-anti-fascist-lawyers-say

Protest AmRen

The annual American Renaissance conference, or AmRen, a gathering of vile ethno-nationalist hucksters is slated to occur in Montgomery Bell Park at the Inn and Conference Center, outside of Burns, TN, from Friday, November 12th to the 14th. Opposition is being organized from all over and you can participate with your crew. For a good intro to what’s expected this year, check out the link in our shownotes or visit the calendar at OnePeoplesProject.Com: https://tockify.com/idavox/detail/136/1636722000000

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Featured Track:

  • Johnny Ryall (instrumental) by Beastie Boys from Dub The Boutique

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Transcription

TFSR: Would you please introduce yourself so the audience with whatever names, gender pronouns, locations, affiliation, or other info that could be useful for this conversation?

Maria: I might go first. I’m Maria, I go by she her pronouns, and I am speaking on behalf of the anarchist black cross Belarus chapter here. So I can’t expose my location at the moment. But at the moment, I’m outside of the country.

Vasili: And my name is Vasili, an activist from Belarus, who is not in Belarus right now. He him, and I’m involved in some anarchist organizations from Belarus.

TFSR: And Maria, can you tell us a little bit about Anarchist Black Cross Belarus, the kind of work that you all do and some of your history?

Maria: Right, the Anarchist Black Cross Belarus started, I think, around 2009. in Minsk, which is the capital. First, it was like, rather an informal kind of network of people who would just make random donations, just not really doing anything other than collecting money. And back then, before 2010, when the first wave of repression hit the anarchist movement in Belarus, the group was not really needed, because the state didn’t look so much at the anarchists as the enemies let’s say, but after 2010, the group was formed and you and now it has membership. And it’s a collective that has been running since then. And over time, we’ve evolved into a stable group that is doing fundraisers for us and supports anarchist and anti fascist prisoners in Belarus, and sometimes also people who have Belarusian citizenship, who have problems in other countries, because of their anti-authoritarian activity. We’re also trying to expand the support not just for material side of providing financial support, but also psychological support, not that we are providing that but we are like, open to pay for that or to look for either professionals or like self help groups and so on. Because we see like activist trauma, like post-repression trauma as like as a consequence of repression that needs to be dealt with, especially also after release from prisons. Yeah, so we’re trying to work on that.

And we’re also quite interested, and I think we were quite successful, in creating a new security culture in the movement, like trying to agitate for like not talking to the cops and giving a lot of trainings and seminars, producing brochures, about what you should expect once you get caught. And what’s the best way to behave and also showing some light at how the police is preparing themselves for psychological pressure, like what methods they use in order to actually make you speak. So this is what we’ve been doing. And I think this last year was a catastrophe for the collective because previously, we had to deal with like, let’s say, 3-6 prisoners a year, let’s say, and maybe also throughout the years would be like the same people who would just be in prison for longer terms, but this year, at the moment, there’s already like 26 people who are either behind bars or have already been convicted after the protests. And a lot of people had to flee the country, and this is also like our Congress that we will we need to help with like migration issues and also like settlement support and stuff like that. So yeah, this is why at the moment we have a lot of work and we also need a lot of support from the outside of the country as well.

TFSR: It feels like, we can also go back and touch on this in later questions too, but since we are talking about ABC Belarus right now, could you tell us of any ways people can find out about your work and any sort of like international organizations or movements that you participate in, like the week of solidarity or the Anarchist Defense Fund. Like that sort of stuff?

Maria: Right. I mean, ABC Belarus is like part of this probably shrinking network of ABC groups here in Europe. We have some connections to also ABC groups in the US, but not so much. But in general, we try to participate in any effort of solidarity here in this continent. And basically, you can find information about the group and also the news on like Belarusian prisoners, or general repression in the country on our website, which is ABC-belarus.org. And we are now trying to publish monthly updates on repression in the country in English. So it’s not only about fundraising, but also like you can forward or like repost, share messages from there, if you have an English-speaking website somewhere. Yeah, so basically, that’s it.

TFSR: Last year, I spoke with a comrade around November of 2020, about a year ago, about the uprising in Belarus, which had already been going for some months at this point. For listeners who somehow missed it, could one of you give a really brief overview of the uprising, at least up until that point and just sort of bring us up to date so that we can, we can move on from there?

Vasili: So, if you missed what was happening in Belarus in 2020… In August, after the elections of the president, pretty much the biggest uprising in the modern history of the country happened with first, dozens of 1000s of people go into the streets, and afterwards, hundreds of 1000s of people are going to protest against the dictatorship of Alexander Lukashenko. This lasted for several months. One of main the reasons that actually this whole thing was possible was the Corona-virus, but also dissatisfaction with the economical problems of the country and so on. And the protests had different momentums. Like in first days, it was really intensive and with a lot of clashes with the police and with a lot of repressions, and at least several people killed by the police. Later on, transformed in some kind of peaceful demonstrations marches every Sunday, however it never managed to grow to the extent that would destroy the governmental power and eventually put an end to Lukashenko’s rule in the country. By the end of 2020, most of the protests were over all around the country, a lot of people were repressed. I think, in this four months from August to December, over 30,000 people were prosecuted. 30,000 people in the frame of 9.5 million people living in Belarus, which was like super big amount of people. That means that everybody knew someone who was eventually repressed. Apart from that, over 1000 people were detained and put on holds for prosecution. 30,000 people were prosecuted through administrative codes, which was like a smaller violation of the public disorder, which would give you like 15 days in prison or fines. And this over 1000 people were arrested and are now awaiting or were prosecuted or waiting for trial for the criminal offenses, which would be, I don’t know, one year in prison up to 25 years in prison.

So the protests were crushed. And at some point, we thought that maybe the Belarusian government would go crazy for the next couple of months, and will calm down as it was happening normally, through the history that if there would be like a protest, there would be some repressions, but then the government would stop. Over one year, since the protests, the repressions are still going on and people are still getting arrested. The police are still processing the videos and photos that they made during the protests. And they are still like catching the protesters and charging them with the more serious charges than they were doing in autumn 2020. Also, apart from that, there is a big wave of migration that started with the mass repressions. Depending on the country, there are also dozens of 1000s of people left, mostly in direction of Ukraine and Poland, which are the nearest countries and some parts went into this mania. And the others went all around the world basically. But the biggest diaspora is right now are concentrated in Ukraine and Poland and trying to organize politically there in any way to undermine the Belarusian government’s politics in the region.

Right. So, at this point, right now, most of the political organizing is actually smashed so all the political organizations were destroyed. Most of the media that is not affiliated with the government is banned or got their license revoked, and journalists actually massively left the country because of the threat of prosecution. The human rights organizations are also en masse leaving the country. And there are several human rights defenders, like big ones in the political sphere, who are sitting in prison. And most of also non governmental NGOs not affiliated with the Belarusian government, are also getting shut down and people who are working for those NGOs are leaving the country to go abroad, under threat of prosecution as well. Yeah, so everything looks pretty dire.

Apart from that, it’s also worth mentioning that when we came to the elections in 2020, Lukashenko was quite close to the Western countries, to European Union, but also to US, and he was getting funding from those countries. But as the protests escalated, and as Lukashenko was making more and more political mistakes, the European Union was kind of cornered into reacting to his bullshit. And now, the regime is under sanctions of the European Union and the US, and that kind forced Lukashenko to the search for another allies. And now his main ally is Putin who, well, doesn’t care about that people are blood flowing on the streets, as long as you are loyal to him. So Lukashenko’s regime is now heavily based on Russian support. And this was happening historically. All in all, Lukashenko managed to survive, because Putin or Yeltsin back then were supporting him economically, but also politically, on the bigger political arena.

TFSR: Are people going to those two countries, in particular, because of those country’s current relationship with the Russian regime of Putin? Or is there other reasons?

Maria: Yeah, I think the reasons are so simple. Just because for Ukraine, you don’t need a visa. So basically, you can just get out as quickly as possible, even if you don’t have any documents. And you can stay there up to 90 days without any reason. This is what people actually did. And also in Ukraine, people speak Russian. And this is like this kind of post USSR, mentality or culture that people are sharing. For those who don’t really speak English or other languages, is the best way to just change the surroundings without actually changing the context, let’s say. Also, because people are feeling more secure than, for example, going to Russia because Russian and Belarusian authorities and the police have like unified databases of people who are like dissidents, let’s say, and they actually can arrest you. And this has been done massively in Moscow and St. Petersburg, where they have face recognition surveillance system in the streets. So people do not feel safe in Russia. That’s why they flee somewhere else. So, for Ukraine, it’s like that. If you speak about Poland and Lithuania, these are the two countries that were the first to react. I think, in October or November, they said they’re going to provide any assistance to people who have to flee the country and they started giving that so-called humanitarian visas. So that’s basically a National Visa that allows you to stay longer than a tourist visa, and you don’t need grounds, like having to work or like some studies and so on. So you can just basically get proof that you have been repressed and you’re going to be issued this visa and you can stay in the country and later apply for like a refugee status or production status. And also because the EU now, I think it’s effectively denying extradition requests from Belarus even via Interpol. So basically, this is where people feel more safe, in terms of not getting extradited. The I think these are the easiest options for people to go to.

Vasili: I would like to point as well that although Poland and Lithuania are giving this humanitarian visas and they’re openly accepting Belarusian refugees, the other EU countries are not that open, although they’re condemning the violation of human rights. It is way more complicated to move to other European Union countries like going to Germany or going to France, Spain, wherever you want to go. It is quite complicated. So for the people who want to, well, leave Belarus and have a secure, safe place, those are like the easiest places to go like you were in within the European Union. Poland and Lithuana in that case.

TFSR: Yeah, so Lukashenko is still in power, people are still having to go abroad, and still organizing resistance against the regime from abroad. If it’s… this is a strange way to put it, but this is like common parlance in the US, at least in English… There was a lot that seemed to come out in the uprising that my understanding and having spoken to a few people from Belarus, there were parts of the movement that seemed kind of unprecedented and sort of unexpected, like, for instance, the running battles with the police, the extreme violence that the police and the jails enacted on individuals when they arrested them from sexual assaults to like literal torture. I think there were some disappearances of people. And this is the thing that police do wherever because they’re police to, you know, at different times. But this is exceptionally cruel and concentrated, the apparent attempt to infect as many people with COVID as possible by cramming them into cells in the middle of the pandemic. And it seems like elements of the Belarusians nation were chipping away from what had been a sort of toleration of the administration to actually… You know, police quitting their jobs in instances, people targeting where police lived to try to pressure them to leave… Workers threatening strikes… This was a massive, massive moment.

And I guess the English term that I was going to point to is called a “post-mortem”. What sort of lessons do you take from that like, what worked, what seemed not to and and why the administration has continued to be able to stay in power.

Maria: My idea is that, actually it went the way it was supposed to go, let’s say. I mean, of course, all all the things you’ve mentioned, like the new expressions of like solidarity and new ways of protests, and actually like attracting masses of people to the protest was something new. And this was new for all of us. And for the people also, what I mean that it was supposed to end like this is because the state knows best tactics on how to suppress the protest. Because you have to understand that for many people in Belarus, it was the first time that they were actually politically interested, and were trying to promote or like, defend their rights, or let’s say, whatever, or a protest against anything. So these people have never been detained. These people have never seen an aggressive policeman beating up someone else in the street. These people have never been arrested, or detained at their workplace. These people have never been harassed, and threatened with taking their kids out of their family if they’re going to continue protesting. So these people have never experienced, like, cunning repressive mechanisms that the state has. And like, for example, for me, they’re not new, because I’m in the movement for 15 years. And like many of them have been used against me or against comrades or against like other people, just because I’m involved. And so many of them didn’t work for me. But people who went to the street in August and September, were in the streets it’s as long as it was safe for them. Like, as long as they could just be in the streets think that they’re going to change something peacefully… And here comes also the question of lacking the political analysis, or like the political history of let’s say, revolutions or like successful protests, or coup d’etat’s so and so on. So people like really thought and they believed that they even if they’re going to be a lot in the street for some time, Lukashenko will just leave. And this has never happened in in history. But for them it was the first time and they didn’t listen to anyone, that it should be like, okay, more offensive, let’s say. At the same time, there was also no one powerful enough in the media, who would actually call them to be offensive. Like everybody in the political sphere, was speaking about the fucking peaceful protest, like this protest was going on because it was supported and promoted.

And so when I was under arrest in October, I had a few women and myself who were at their door, taken to like a car with a black bag on their head, just to be arrested for 15 days. For me, it was clear that the police is just using this as a threatening mechanism. Like before it was really safe, you just go to the protest, you go home, nothing happens. And suddenly, you’ve realized that they know where you live, they come for you, and they bring you like as a hostage, in I don’t know, Afghan movies, or something like that. And they take like 1000 people like that. And these 1000 people is telling their neighbors, what’s what’s happening, and the neighbors starting to be afraid that they’re going to be the next. So like, for me, I knew that they were using it just for that to intimidate the population, and they were really successful in that. So, having this as a picture of like repression, or some kind of exemplary cases, it worked for people. And many people just left the streets as soon as they realized that they can’t post pictures of them in peaceful protests on Instagram, because now police is looking at the Instagrams and checking out the people.

Yeah, so basically, people were quite active, as long as they felt that they could be supported by others. In the first days, like you said, a lot of people quit the state managed jobs, the police, the national television, and so on and so on, like the athletes who are supported by Lukashenko and so and so on. So as long as people saw that everybody else is doing this, they were doing it as well. And they were also like, seeing a lot of solidarity coming. But then when they saw that, actually, nobody else is doing it anymore, and it’s just kind of you against the system, basically, or you and like crazy people like you who are still brave enough to show, this is when people started realizing that, okay, like, I’m just ruining my life because of that.

And also the solidarity structures were crushed. Because special solidarity structures were installed outside of the country to collect, I think they collected like 8 million bucks for solidarity from all sorts of businesses and like from individuals. So basically, they were promising that people are going to have that. If you are going to be repressed, you’re going to have it, for sure, if you’re going to be fired, you’re going to have like money, or salary, like in three months or something like that. And at first it worked, but then also these solidarity structures couldn’t actually process so many requests. So it ended up being super slow, like people who were fired would not get support, like in two months. And these are people with families, you know. And then, of course, everybody’s talking about that they are sharing that, “Okay, this solidarity is just bullshit, I asked for the money, but they’re like, verifying me for ages. I’m being arrested, I’m asking for the lawyers fees. And they’re verifying me for ages. And, like, my mother needs the money to get the food parcel to the prison today, but the money is going to be there after like half a year.” And also the more people got arrested and put behind bars, the more money they needed, right? Also, what they did is basically trying to transfer money in cash inside the country, and there were specific people who would like process tons of cash to pay for fines and to pay for lawyers fees, and so on. And these people were persecuted, they’re now in jail. So that’s why when, when other people who did the same saw that, okay, just for helping out others, I can get in jail, I’m going to stop doing it, you know? Like, I’m going to run out of the country. They weren’t showing some exemplary cases of how something you’re doing could ruin your life. And people were just thinking, Okay, so when we believed in victory, we could do that, but now, we’re doubting victory, now we don’t really believe in it anymore. So I think this is how it works like this, let’s say the morale it was destroyed. And it was like really effectively destroyed. This is why now people do not believe that there’s going to be at any moment a critical mass so they can join. A lot of people wants to join, but they feel like they’re alone in this.

Vasili: And I think, for me, the Western politics or, let’s say, Western Liberal politics played an important role in the way the protest develops. And it started not in August 2020, but historically if we look at the development of the liberal opposition in Belarus, we can see that through the money through like political support, Western liberal powers can control the narrative inside of the country. So, if you would have like really militant opposition leaders in the 90’s, who would be, you know, rioting or calling for riots participate, really confronted with demonstrations… Slowly this narrative change to a peaceful demonstrations, peaceful change of power, peaceful, peaceful, peaceful. And this became like a dogma that it was not possible to change anymore, that it should be always peaceful. And when we came to 2020, the people who were participating in the protests and people who were, let’s say, a political leadership of this whole mobilization, were still insisting on the peaceful protests for the first days, but also like afterwards. Although some of the people had clear understanding of the clear possibilities of clashes with the police. Like there were leaks for example of Tikhanovskaya talking to some allies in the smaller towns where they would be talking about possible clashes and what should be done and so on and so forth. But this cannot be publicly done, as if you start calling for riots, if you start calling for like a militant overthrow of the dictatorship, then you will have issues with those people who are eventually supporting you and do not support this kind of narrative. As the revolutionary agenda is spreading that if you if you start calling for revolution in Belarus, people start asking like “oh, we will so when changes so what are we going to do?” And I think for a lot of liberals in Western European Union or in US right now this narrative is really dangerous taking account the Corona-virus, dissatisfaction and all this stuff.

And of course, a lot of media that is in opposition to Lukashenko is still financed by some grants from the European Union or by some foundations that are also not accepting this kind of narrative, this kind of idea of a revolution happening. No, there could be a peaceful protests and like it was I don’t know when in their heads, and that’s it. And this played a really important role in during the mobilizations. Like a week since the protests started, there was this peaceful march that mobilized hundreds of 1000s of people and this was like a moment of euphoria, where we thought “okay, now the whole thing is over.” And there were a lot of people who were reproducing that narrative. So there were so many people that Lukashenko is like a political corpse, right? And I think like within maybe a German political context, he would be gone, like this is not what you do in a democratic country. But for dictatorship, killing a couple of people, sentencing or arresting 6000 people, this is not a problem. So Lukashenko was going on. But people started getting this idea of, okay, peaceful protest, everything is fine, we are winning. So nothing should be changed. We keep on going with this peaceful marches, and that was a certain moment of blocking. As the bigger crowds started, like doing only that, just Sunday marches.

And the people who were doing the mobilization had the problem that they cannot say to this bigger crowds, “Hey, let’s go and take over the fucking police station, or the City Council,” and stuff like that. And this was done because of the financing. We had as organized anarchists in Belarus, conversations with the media activists or bloggers who would say “We need like anarchists, we need some radicals who would call for radical actions.” But this was already like happening a month too late or something like that. And they started, like there were situations where anarchist calls for actions would be reproduced by the bigger media channels. But this was like too late because the repressions were hitting so hard that there was no mobilisational potential anymore, outside of the Sunday demonstrations. So I think this is the thing that was really important for Lukashenko to maintain his power that the Liberal thought is incapable of overthrowing the dictatorship not only conceptually, like bringing alternatives and saying, “Hey, this is a great idea, maybe jeans and bananas are not selling so well anymore.” But physically, like they cannot call in their liberal ideas for revolution for revolutionary changes. So liberals became a shadow of the liberal movement of the 19th century they were they were like, “Fuck yeah, we are going to free the population and so on and so forth.”

And yeah, so this was like it should show that was somehow happening inside of the country, but also happening outside of the country. And I think like, with what Maria said, people didn’t have experience in protests, people didn’t have experience with all this repressions. And they were searching a lot from outside as well. Like, “Who can help us who can explain this thing happening to us?” And who was explaining things were those liberal bloggers from Russia, or from some other countries that also didn’t have any fucking clue. But they would be so convincing that everybody will be like, “Oh, yeah, that person knows what he’s talking about, or she’s talking about” and so on. Yeah.

Maria: Can I add something?

TFSR: Totally.

Maria: I think also, like another part… I’m in two minds about what I’m going to say, but I’m just gonna mention it. I think one problem or like, one obstacle towards this kind of, like more radical revolution was also in the way that people didn’t know radical methods, like they didn’t know how to implement them, let’s say. And it was the first time people saw smoke grenades or tear gas exploding around them or something. And like basically people, the biggest like bloggers, or like telegram channels with like a massive readership, were advertising all the time “clenching hands.” Like “Clench hands, every time you see the police, because the police is going to take your comrades away, and you shouldn’t let them detain you.” And so people were trained to just be in a row clenched hands and like what I saw in the first days of like, post election protests, people like would just clench hands in front of the police trying to I don’t know, tear gas them or shooting them or something. People like really didn’t understand it’s, it’s a different method now, and you don’t protect yourself against detention, but it’s like a street fight, in a way, you know. Like, this kind of urban guerrilla is not something that people were familiar with. And I think those who understood were a minority group, it’s people who actually either participated in protests demonstrations in Europe, for example, like football hooligans, or some anarchists, and maybe people who just saw it in the media before. So they kind of knew how it should look like, but not really, what exactly they need to achieve with that. Like what would be the strategy with cops.

And I think that is one thing. People really didn’t understand. They wanted to hold a position. But why? They didn’t understand if they wanted to move cops away, or like to be offensive towards cops, they just wanted to be in one place. And that’s it. And of course, that doesn’t change anything, like okay, paralyzes the city for some time, but not really moving you towards a coup d’etat. And, on the other hand, a lot of people like you mentioned, the bloggers who are calling people to kind of go and smash policemen’s houses and, I don’t know, ruin their cars… And this is what people did. Like, they basically went there with their faces uncovered, disregarding the surveillance cameras, disregarding the fact that they were already other cops waiting for them there on the spot, because they were expecting attacks. So people were just doing like really stupid things without thinking about any security culture connected to the radical action or direct action. And they needed to know that but the bloggers didn’t care, like they would just call people do something really stupid, or like maybe smart, but you should be smart in all spheres with direct action. And people would just do it, because they were very emotional. And then they were put in jail and then they would realize that there’s not actually any solidarity because all the human rights organizations are supporting only the peaceful demonstrators and not recognizing political prisoners, those who have, I don’t know, smashed cops’ cars or smashed cops’ faces. So, that was a real kind of contradiction. Because on the one hand, people are getting a lot of information about the fact that they should be more offensive, but they were not explained how and they didn’t have any support after that.

So I think that was also like the biggest mistake and a lot of people after this, the change of the narrative that Vasili was mentioning, this kind of peaceful narrative when it came in… A lot of radical groups just left the streets because there was no place for them anymore. Like, because these groups knew they have to be in their neighborhoods, they know exactly. Together with people they know, instead of going and showing your face on a Sunday morning march, or something like that. So this audience was kind of lost, or it was waiting for some action, you know, like, was waiting for a good moment to step in.

And another problem was that at the same time, there was this split between like radical and peaceful. And the radical ones, or people who just wanted to use them, started organizing online in open chats. So they were basically forming chats, calling them “I want to smash cop cars in the street,” or whatever. And like just discussing it online, without actually protecting their accounts. It was really easy to identify people behind those accounts. And this was what is what cops used. So they were effectively identified a bunch of participants of these chats, and they just punished them, or they were just actually trying to organize actions together, and they would detain them in this in the scene, you know. So basically, people who wanted to be radical did really stupid things. And of course, I mean, anarchists is tried to change this narrative, tried to explain that you should only do a direct action with a person you really know, not just your neighbor you’ve seen for the first time or not that person from online. But anarchists didn’t have this kind of wide influence. We couldn’t spread the message as wide as possible.

So I think that was also something that people saw. Like, “Okay, I’m peaceful, a peaceful demonstrator, maybe I would like to use something else or like use another tactic, but I don’t know how, I don’t know, with whom, because these connections are not built. I know, some neighbors who are protesting, but I’m not sure they are up for it, you know? And I see that what happens with people who try.” So either they are getting caught by the cops, or they are just I don’t know, and then yeah.

But at the same time, why I said, I’m in two minds about that, because I don’t think that revolutions should be like, prepared and people like 100,000 people have to, like really be good at security culture and direct actions. Because usually, successful protests happen, like everywhere, where people are emotional enough, angry enough just to go and smash it. And, of course, in the Arab Spring, people also didn’t know how to do it. But somehow it worked in some cases. So, what I’m saying is that that was totally an obstacle, but I’m not sure that it’s a matter of just learning, and then it’s going to be successful. No.

TFSR: It’s fair to note that, that the Belarusian state had, like 25 to 30 years to figure out, not that they came out of nowhere, but they had decades to figure out how to repress public uprisings. And like y’all had been saying, if people are just suddenly coming to the like, if they’re getting this information, pumped at them, these images of what a revolution looks like, you know, or what’s acceptable, then it seems pretty hard to expand your imagination past that.

Vasili: I think that what is also important in terms of imagination as well, is that the internet is not as it used to be [laughs]. And that means that all the regulations that are passed in, let’s say the US or in some European Council, or whatever, are actually to regulate the internet to prevent terrorism or extremism distribution or whatever shit they have in their hands are affecting what is happening in the other countries. And a lot of bloggers and a lot of people with like media power had fear that if they, you know, start posting pictures of burning police cars, or they would put how to make Molotov cocktails on their channels, the channels would be blocked, because there are regulations that can be like, you know, activated to block this kind of terrorist content. And this was happening, like there were channels, there were groups all around the internet that were blocked by that. This was like the result of not what we were doing in Belarus rather that what the legislators were doing outside of the country, and this is like a fucking circus. Imagine, you know, like the Soviet Union invades Finland, and then Molotov cocktail distribution is banned by the German state or by some crazy fucker sitting in US and saying like, “No, no, this is really bad what you’re making, like, try to stop the Soviets with your bodies and with your mind.” And this was what was happening in Belarus a lot. And this was, I really find it really problematic and most probably it will shoot back in coming years for sure.

TFSR: I was hoping to put opinion that the discussion of Telegram and the mass usage of it and the fact that both of you pointed to people’s anonymity being compromised in the way that they were organizing. Because there were people from the uprising after the execution… er the police killing of Freddie Gray in Baltimore in, I want to say 2015 in the US, there were people… youth using snap chat and Instagram and all these other apps to document what they were doing and that came back to bite them afterwards. In Hong Kong, people were using a lot of online apps to communicate back and forth that also, I don’t know how much that came back to bite people but Telegram… You know going back to the Arab Spring Uprisings, Youtube or Facebook and Twitter were things that the media at least has pointed to as being important tools for organizing, Vasili, the point is well taken that the internet is not what it used to be and all of these regulations, but there’s also… We now have micro computers in our pockets that are often registered to our names and that can track our movements around and data capture is a really easy thing. And I wonder if you could talk about any sort of lessons learned about Telegram, in particular, as a platform that was used so widely and efforts that people have made once they’ve seen the danger of that platform in particular being used to organize potentially illegal activities. What sort of educational or cultural interjections that people have made?

Vasili: I think the whole thing is a huge topic with Telegram, right? Because you can start with the person this who started Telegram, Durov. He’s like Russian businessman who went to US, who actually before that started VK and which was like an alternative to facebook for Eastern Europe. And he was selling his app as the security solution for all the activists, everybody. This was marketed great and he was really aggressive. He has money, he was advertising that, and one of his main audiences is like Eastern Europe to see him say “Oh, I’m so great, I’m going to stop actually any work with Russia over with Belarus. I am really together with people fighting for freedom.” And I think people started buying that and the further you go, the more this narrative is actually getting sold really, how would you say, successfully. And forgetting the fact that VK for really long time, under Durov as well, was cooperating with the Russian government in also repressing the anti-Putin movements in Russia. So Durov is not like an evangelist of freedom, who’s going to give voice to everybody, doesn’t matter who, and this is something that’s just a commercial application, which doesn’t earn a lot of money to the person who made it. And Telegram is really hardly connected with the phone number, which is a horrible idea, as in some countries, I think in US you can still buy sim cards without registration to your passport. In Belarus you can’t do that, in Russia you can’t do that, and this is basically like you get an ID that is connected with to your passport, to your ID, to your name, to everything that is attached to that. This is an incredibly horrible thing, because it is also something that you can’t just drop out of. It’s like your whole contact list is connected to that. Your whole social network is connected to it. Imagine Facebook is doing that from time to time that you need your passport to prove blah blah blah. But imagine you have to register with the Facebook by just sending them your passport and sending your phone and all the shit. Then the phone connected to all of the geo-location data. That’s what happens with Telegram and that’s what happened exactly with Telegram during the protests. All the phones that were used to register people who were protesting were connected with it to their IDs, to their passports.

Of course, if you’re like a turbo anarchist, you could find a way to register a Telegram without using a sim card with your name, but most of the people aren’t turbo anarchists. So most of the people had their like passports already speaking into Telegram to get arrested. And some people had can hide and there is this thing and this thing, but at the end of the day there is there’s dozens of ways to figure out the people’s ID’s and that’s what happened. People were prosecuted for the fucking stupidest shit that can happen. Like there is news of a police officer and when he is home and what he did in the last like two months and then someone writes out “this fucking bastard is a swine dog!”, right? “He’s a pig dog!” That’s what happened to one of the people I know. And he got like two years in, ah, I dunno, house arrest or something like that, right? And this was connected with the fact that this person couldn’t be anonymous to write that that cop is a fucking pig, or pig-dog or whatever he wanted to say in his creative mind.

So the infrastructure of Telegram played an important role in repressing the movement through giving this kind of a platform at the beginning, but also in the long run played an important role for the state to repress people. And I think this is also like a, you know, a poisoned apple that you’re like jumping on it and really eager to eat, but then you’re ending up with I dunno, like diarrhea or five years in prison. And as we see right now, what is happening is that Telegram blocked in Russia, we’re not talking about Belarus just jumping to right now, yesterday, the elections in Russia and Telegram blocked the bot for smart voting that the opposition was trying to organize in Russia. Basically, by signing up with the Russian state in repressing this opposition attempts to create some, I dunno, some system that would give people possibility to vote in a different way than Putin organized. Telegram is already giving their, let’s say, open mind to helping repressive apparatus to destroy the efforts in bringing down the dictatorship, and this is going to go further and further. Mmm, yeah. I mean it’s a it’s a huge problem that we are still facing and we have no fucking clue how this will be in the next years. For sure people will switch to another app in, like, three or four or five years, but right now it still goes on and there are people still getting arrested constantly because of their phones once having been connected to their Telegram and Telegram exposing their phones to police and shit like that. Yeah.

Maria: I got to just answer their primary question [laughs] about what people did. Because Vasili didn’t mention that one other thing is that not only identifying people by their phone, but also trying to break in, like hacking the accounts by just cloning sim cards. Because the authorities have the right… well they don’t have that right, but they can. So basically cloning the sim card receiving the SMS with a code, like putting it on their computer and, I don’t know voila, they found an admin of the chat, they found an admin of another channel, of a protest channel. And this is what has been done a lot. And I think, of course, Telegram offers now all layers of whatever security. But the thing is that these layers are not switched on automatically when the person is logging in for the first time, everything is open. And like you need to go through all smallest details until you’re kind of protected. Like if, say nothing of the number, but just to switch on this two-factor identification and la la la everything is so that it’s actually not so easy for the people. We have to also realize that a lot of elderly people like people over 40, 50 and so on, they are not so good with apps. Like they can’t just go, and I don’t know, like manage the VPN and connect to the Telegram in a way that always works when the Telegram is on. I don’t know, like track their traffic, check their IP’s…

So, basically, you can provide some security with Telegram but you’re like needing to be like knowledgeable about this. And people weren’t… It’s too much for a Belarusian person who does the protest for the first time. They need to learn about the security, they need to learn about the facial recognition system cameras, need to know how to speak to cops. Now they need to know how to use Telegram. Everything we had to learn like in ten years of political organizing, they now have to learn in like two months or even less. So, I think answering your question about what was done to education was done by also bigger bloggers, or owners of Telegram channels that where calling people to make the [messages] less unsafe, let’s say. But the problem with Telegram that hasn’t been solved is that people still use it. I think one of the reasons why it’s popular is because it combines a messenger and the news. So, if you want to read the news feed, it’s really easy for you to just change the tab and go and chat with someone. And I think all the options like, let’s say Signal or whatever, that could be a little bit more secure, did not offer you this opportunity. So you, like can’t really read news on Signal or like Facebook is not at all protected in this way. I think there were calls for people using something like Briar or some apps that would be be not tracking the IP or like, but they are quite marginal like that people yeah, it doesn’t catch. Like, people would still use something that is easy to install that their friends are using because everybody’s communicating to each other, where it’s easy to create a chat and so on. So I think yeah, like I said, I agree that this problem has not been solved. I think now, just more people know how to make their settings a bit more secure, that’s it. But people still continue communicating on Telegram.

And I think one of the things they’re trying to do now is like spreading bots. Pretending that they’re making secure bots that are not logging anything but again like how can people check it? If I don’t have knowledge, I can’t really trust it. If my friend is not like an IT specialist or whatever, we don’t know what the servers are and there have already been cases when some oppositional structures were gathering some information from people by bots, and then this information was hacked and like the cops have like all the numbers and all the users who submitted information. And I just wanted to mention that one of the, let’s say, hopes of the protest at the moment is the creation of a bot that is called “Victory Bot” and it was started by Tikhanovskaya and by Pol, which is Belarus police in exile. So, they have created the bot, where you are supposed to register, provide information, including where you’re living, like basically the actual location, where you work, like what is your profession, in which way you would like to help the revolution? Are you ready to be like more radical or not and so on? And so basically they say as soon as they get like enough users, they would later use the bot to send instructions. Like, let’s say they collect five hundred people in one factory who are using the bot and are ready to act, they would just send them the instruction to like block the production or something. But these are promises. I think they started the bought in May and I don’t think there are enough people there to for them to start using it. So yeah. I think, for the moment this problem has not been solved.

TFSR: I can’t imagine what could go wrong?

Maria: Yeah yeah?

Vasili: Actually, the cops already created a bot that has kind of the same name, having just one letter different and people mistakenly would go to that like Belarusian cop bot and they would register there and the data will go to the police and the police would go and arrest people who just wanted to join the Victory bot, but the wrong Victory.

But I think what I forgot as well is the comparison to Hong Kong. And I think for a lot of us was there was kind of a moment of hope that we knew experience from Hong Kong, where people were using Telegram and they were using this kind of chatting, quite intensively, to organize for Belarus, it didn’t work out at all. Like if we would have a chat with five ten thousand people, this is just the garbage like you can talk to people there. It’s just basically like a flow of thought, everybody’s just writing what they think but nobody’s reading what is going on. This is a complete chaos. As for going on the streets with Telegram, the internet works when there is internet. You know this is like a really simple rule, and what Belarusian government was doing is that it was fencing, basically, the zone of demonstration and switching off the internet there, like mobile internet and stuff. This was playing an important role in actually like preventing this, you know, fast communication that Telegram or Signal app or other apps. And it was working pretty well, and people were sometimes quite confused because they were counting on this kind of like coordination through Telegram, they would end up on the street and they wouldn’t have any idea what to do next, like “Okay, we didn’t read the Telegram what are the next steps, so we are not going to self-organize and do some stuff. Rather, we are going to be searching for the internet for next half an hour somewhere where there is no internet.”

 

TFSR: We’ve talked a bit about what repression has look like with, after the fact, people are being surveilled or having their prior images being put into databases and then they’re getting arrested for stuff that they were videoed participating in months before. Or joining up on, apps like the victory bought and kind of turning themselves in. But there are a few instances of the international reach of repression of the Belarusian state that I wanted to point to and see if there are other things… Because, obviously, this is an international concern, this is why I wanted to and very happy to have you both on on the phone, because we resistance struggles in different countries against repression and against capitalism and and hierarchies have to be able to learn from each other, and we also have to be able to offer support to each other. We have an understanding like there’s so many people, as has been mentioned, who have who are now living in exile in Poland or in Ukraine or in other places. So, it’s not just an issue for Belarus and the same repressive apparatuses that are used in all these different places like in Hong Kong or in Belarus are similar they’re controlled from outside. They there’s a lot to learn anyway, blah blah blah. You get the point!

Two examples of the kind of international reach of the Belarusian regime in trying to grab back Belarusian rebels that I can think of that sort of caught my eye: the downing of the Ryan Air flight over Belarus when the plane was forced to land by the Belarusian government, basically saying that there was a bomb on board which resulted in the whisping away of Roman Protasevich, a blogger who ran some of these Telegram channels. And there was also, in the recent past of the last couple of months, the attempted arrest of Alexei Bolenkov in Ukraine. Can you talk about these and other examples that the international audience might want to know about?

Vasili: So the plane story was one of the major mistakes of Lukashenko and what happened there was that for Protasevich was coming from Athens to Lithuania and when you fly back then from Athens to Lithuania, you would pass Belarus if you fly directly. For Lukashenko, somehow he got this awesome idea, or maybe his KGB or maybe his analyst or maybe his fucking dog got this idea “Hey, let’s arrest this guy!” Although his main enemy, Tikhanovskaya, was actually flying on the same flight the day before, which they do didn’t do any kind of arrest. But they decided that they’re going to do him like they’re, going to arrest him. And what happened was this idea that the bomb and then the Belarusian state [started] trying to play the stupid face with [saying] “Oh, this was actually organized by… Hamas” and they showed the email [claiming to be from Hamas]. And for them, it was a thing from one side [of the Belarusian state saying] “Oh, we are going to show all the position that we have control over your body over your freedom and we can snatch you at any point we want!” But at the same time, what they did here is their they actually attacked the power of the European Union in in the world politics. Because Ryan Air is part of the European influence, European property. Let’s say like that. And that arrest pushed quite a lot of action from the European Union, like the the biggest sanctions and the biggest pressure started happening actually after this airplane action of Lukashenko’s. This is not something that happens quite a lot. I think this was the first and only time when Lukashenko did this kind of crazy action. But they are trying to use the, for example, InterPol databases quite often to get the people back or to try to build up pressure. And that was happening as well with the case of an anarchist from Belarus, Bolenkov, about whom Maria will be talking.

Maria: Alright, but don’t you want to the consequences of this downing of the plane?

Vasili: In the sense of what happened to Protasevich, you mean?

Maria: No, no, like in general for the country, politically. It basically was the beginning of all the sanctions that were imposed and also the prohibition on flights from European countries and to European countries? So, basically at the moment, you can’t fly out of Belarus, I think, apart from Russia or like Kazakhstan, something like that. And all the tourist planes have to make a curve around Belarus to even go there or land there.

I think if we speak about anarchists who are persecuted by the State… So, in Belarus at the moment, a lot of anarchist have been arrested because of some prior actions or there prior affiliations, let’s say. Only a few anarchists were arrested just after the protests and in connection with the protests and there’s a case of an
international anarchist criminal organization. And it’s international because they have found one anarchist organization, it’s called Revolutionary Action, that existed in Belarus. Then I think they opened a chapter in Ukraine and they [the Belarusian State] also claimed that ABC-Belarus is also a part of this network according to the police, because the Anarchist Black Cross is supposed to kind of finance all this criminal activity Basically, probably providing solidarity means financing criminal activity. What happened is that they arrested a few groups of people in different cities and, at the moment, they’re all in one big case of this “criminal organization.” And they face think up to 10-12 years, I don’t remember exactly. They are accused of participating in anarchist actions in previous years, so like not really connected with the protests, but they just use the protest and the use the momentum of repression to persecute everyone who could be at some point active in anything in the future.

And the cops also issued a list, I think it was like a 25-person-list, with names of people who are potentially involved in this case or need to be questioned as witnesses and Bolenkov was one of them. He lived in Ukraine for like 7 years now, and basically the local security services came to him and tried to give him the special document that they issued (not the court, but they just issued it from their office) saying that he has to leave the country. So, they didn’t really extracted him, but there it was clear that they have like cooperation with the security service in Belarus and they don’t want these kind of person in Ukraine. They offered him to just leave the country voluntarily. Basically, now, he’s been like trying to appeal it for 4 months. Recently he got the court decision that didn’t up happy did not uphold this order, so he can stay in Ukraine, but the cops appealed again. So now he’s gonna go to the Supreme Court, so the case is not closed. And here we see, like when I was talking previously about safety of Ukraine for people who flee the country, it is safe as long as you’re not an anarchist are not someone who is also being persecuted by the Ukrainian State. So I think the example of Bolenkov is clear about that. This is basically how instrumental cooperation can be between different security services and that you can’t really run away from the State, can’t really run away from the capitalism or from cop’s view. I’m not sure how the case is gonna end, because the pressure from the NGOs and all this kind of concerned public, this is not useful for their Ukrainian police. Probably he’s gonna stay but, anyway, I wouldn’t imagine my life if I was Bolenkov. It would be really weird to just continue living somewhere where you know the [security] services are interested in you and following you and following what you’re doing. It’s it’s a bit hard.

And also, like you said about the other examples… I was already mentioning a few examples of arresting people in Moscow and Russia, so that’s like a kind of the clenches of the regime are there and one of the antifascists from a regional city [Brest], he was persecuted in Belarus for mass riots and he ran away to Moscow. Now he’s been in jail for like half a year. The decision was to extradite him, but his lawyer appealed to the European Court of Human Rights and the court said that Russia can’t do that because he could face threats to life or health. So, basically for the moment he still is in Moscow, but we don’t know like what will happen because Russia can also disobey and doesn’t give a shit about this European court decisions.

TFSR: Please correct me if I’m wrong about this, but I think I recall that last July, the [Belarusian] administration released a bunch of long-standing political prisoners that they were that they were holding onto…

Maria: When you said last year, July, I think you mixing it up in with 2015. There were a lot of people arrested in 2010, anarchists included, and also people who protested the 2010 presidential elections. And, back then, the last pack of people was pardoned in 2015, including Mikola Dziadok, and Igor Oliněvič, who are anarchists and who are in jail again at this time. They were arrested in November of last year.

So, what’s happening now, just to mention the pardoning tendencies, Lukashenko is trying to do it again. Although it’s really, really, weird because what’s happening is that he has a person who was previously a political prisoner and then he was set free, probably on the pretext of cooperation. So now he has formed like, kind of a party or a movement for like democratic change or something like that, and his organization is sending out letters to all the political prisoners and asking them to write a petition for mercy, and some people do [this]. I think it has now about twenty people who has been pardoned starting from March, but either it means that not so many political prisoners are actually writing these petitions for mercy or it means that not all of them get pardoned.

Getting back to prisoners that ABC supports, at the moment, like I said, there is the group of the “international criminal organization”, around 9 people I think. [There are] 4 people from that is called “Anarcho-Partisans”. These are people there who were arrested in the forests on the border between Belarus and Ukraine, and they are accused of setting fire of cop cars or or some prosecutors offices or police stations in the region, in the provinces. And Mikola Dziadok, he turned out to be a blogger recently. So he had a anarchist Youtube channel or something, and he was decided to stay in the country and he was arrested in a [supposedly] “safe flat” (safe house). They found him by surveillance cameras and face recognition system. And there’s a few groups of former football hooligans of the antifascist football clubs that were also participating in the mass riots or attacking cops and stuff like that. So, there are some more individual people who were arrested really recently, because in the late July and August, cops actually attacked like everyone they had on a list or everybody who was even like in contact with anarchists. And some of the people were arrested for fifteen or thirty days, but some actually got to criminally charged for just being in the streets participating in marches. Not really mass riots, but just having a picture of you standing on the roadway is already blocking the traffic or something like that. These are people who now come to my mind but, like I said it’s about like it’s a little bit less than 30 people.

And just to mention it, there’re up to 4,000 people that day prosecution reports about as being prosecuted for mass riots, all for offending the State, offending the president, offending cops online. And a little bit over 1,000 of them are behind bars. So among them are 30 anarchist and anti fascists. And if you realize that the anarchist movement is not so big in the country, the anti fascist movement doesn’t really exist at the movement. So, there’re pieces of some groups, leftovers of like this antifa hooligan scene, let’s say who are not like really organized. We are speaking here about 300, 500 people max, like you are just affiliate themselves with the ideas. And having like 30 of them behind bars out of this number and 1,000 of the millions of Belarus who were protesting means that’s our part of the movement got repressed quite a lot, if we speak about like percentage.

TFSR: Can you talk about the upcoming crowd-funding to the ABC Belarus is going to be enacting, how much funds are needed, where the money would be going and how people can and get involved in supporting that?

Maria: Right. So, basically, like I said previously, we are trying to help people financially in the first place with legal fees and care packages to prison. But also with paying for therapy sessions or providing money for people who have spent like a month in jail, for example, but they couldn’t work at, but they have to still pay for their flats. Or people who have migrated and need some support, at least in the first 3-6 months. And that’s a lot of people. We don’t really receive a lot of the nations in Belarus because there’s almost no one left, everybody is either in jail or outside of the country. Also, it’s not safe to have a personal account where people could donate in Belarus. So most of our donation channels are like electronic wallets or bitcoin, Paypal, or European bank accounts. Which is not to really useful for people in Belarus, because Paypal doesn’t work there and European bank account would require a lot of fees. So most of our donations are coming from abroad and each case costs us like around 5,000 Euros or $6,000 – $7,000. And these are ongoing. Like, people are going to stay in jail for like 5-10 years if nothing changes. And in order to provide assistance on an ongoing basis, once a year we’re putting on a big crowd-funding campaign trying to attract funds. So, it would be really cool if people could spread it, and I think the link was going to appear somewhere in the description to this episode. It would be really cool if you could spread the word, because this is something we really need now.

TFSR: Were there any other things that you wanted to say before we ended this interview?

Maria: Maybe I just wanted to mention that it does sound like a failure and I think it is a failure in a way if we just think about it as that the aim was to change the regime. Let’s say that for me, as a participant in all these process of transformation of the society that used to be totally apolitical and totally not interested (also a little bit anti-anarchist, let’s say), I saw a lot of good things about it. And I think actually, I’m happy that it didn’t change in like a month that people just have another president now and think they leave in democracy. I think it’s perfect that people had to go through this process. Of course it’s painful for them and it’s like maybe doesn’t make sense for many of them, but in general it feels that the next time when something like this happens- and it will happen at some point- we’ve got like a lot of people in the country with experience, with the anger, and with probably not so much illusions about the peaceful protest or whatever. And also people who have experienced solidarity, who have organized solidarity by themselves or who got to know their neighbors, tried some kind of self organizing methods and so on. And especially now they’re got really interested in… not really anarchist ideas, I would say, but… Anarchists became people that everybody likes, let’s say, without knowing what exactly they’re doing, but I think the anarchist movement got like this kind of credit of trust and I think it’s important for us.

Vasili: And I think that for me, what is also important is that for a lot of people in the so-called First World, anarchism is some kind of an abstraction that may be leads to some bizarre utopia, but it doesn’t have connections to the reality. While for us in the east, it is a reality. We are not just, you know, fighting for some utopia on some island or on some other planet, but rather we’re trying to push the anarchist revolutionary ideas towards the society and the moment that we had in 2020 was the moment when the society was transforming as well, under the anarchist influence and under anarchist ideas of horizontal organizing and self-organizing in the neighborhood assemblies and so on and so forth. So, it is really important to remember that we are not standing for some thing that will never happen, rather that we are standing for revolutionary transformation of society that will happen if we believe in that, if we are fighting strong enough. And Belarus is still fighting, and we hope that we will, well, destroy the fucker’s regime and we’ll live not only in the beautiful new Presidential Republic, but will live in the country that is giving an example to the rest of the world, how to be free, how to organize, how to smash the authoritarianism!

TFSR: Thank you, Maria and Vasili both for participating in this conversation and sharing your experiences and perspectives, and I look forward to sharing this with the audience.

Asheville’s Policing Crisis with Ursula Wren of Asheville Free Press

Asheville’s Policing Crisis with Ursula Wren of Asheville Free Press

"Defund APD" sticker on a water bottle, depicting an asheville police officer stabbing and crushing water bottles after raiding a medic table during George Floyd protests in 2020. Based on a photo by Angie Wilhelm
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The city of Asheville likes to make headlines. The Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority, or TDA, has been working alongside other tourism industry groups, to make an impression in the minds of people worldwide and entice you to visit this little mountain city with it’s big fuck-off estate, the Biltmore, the beautiful mountains for hiking, waterfalls for swimming, artsy and craftsy culture for consuming and rivers of beers for tourists to tube down. But in the last year, Asheville has, once again, let its “crisis in policing” also reach national and international audiences with two New York Times stories (1, 2, which are pay-walled fyi), one reaching the front page, which spoke about a 34% attrition rate of the Asheville Police Department since the George Floyd Uprising and renewed, local efforts to defund or decrease the police in Asheville in favor of social and restorative infrastructure. The article spoke mostly from official viewpoints. According to the Asheville Citizen-Times, to deal with the bad press, the APD hired a public relations firm called ColePro Media for $5,000 a month to shift narratives and bring the veneer of progressive policing back to our fair, “land of the sky.”

This week, we spoke with local journalist, activist, abolitionist and anarchist, Ursula Wren of the AvlFree.Press about Asheville’s “crisis in policing”, a brief blooper roll of Asheville police foibles over the last decade, homeless camp evictions, prior and current efforts to restructure public safety, the reactionary business effort to bolster the police with blue ribbons of support, housing issues and other fare.

Here are a few links to sites and events mentioned:

To hear our conversations on struggle against the opioid crisis and overdoses in Western NC, check out our interviews with members of the Steady Collective (2018 & 2020)

You can find a transcription of this interview as well as an imposed pamphlet for easy printing in about a week on the blog post for this chat or alongside many of our past episodes at the link TFSR.WTF/zines . You can find ways to stream the lengthier podcast of this and all of our episodes or follow us on social media by visiting TFSR.WTF/links.

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Featured Tracks:

  • The Big Rock Candy Mountain by Burl Ives from The Big Rock Candy Mountain
  • USA by Reagan Youth from A Collection Of Pop Classics

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Transcription

TFSR: So could you introduce yourself for the audience with any name, pronouns, location or other info that could be useful to the listeners?

Ursula Wren: Yeah, so my name is Ursula Wren. I live in Asheville, North Carolina. I use she and her or they and them pronouns, I kind of alternate between the two. I’m a police and prison abolitionist. I consider myself an anarchist. I’m a writer. I do web programming work, I design. I try to be creative in service of liberation, like a lot of people that you have on this podcast, and I’m really excited to be here.

TFSR: Yeah, thanks so much for being here. We don’t talk about Asheville very much here, but I think that a lot of the discussions and a lot of the work that people are doing around here is interestingmaybe not more interesting and stuff that’s happening elsewhere — but I’m glad this is gonna air on national FM at some point. So random listeners get to hear it.

UW: Very cool.

TFSR: So Asheville has been in the media spotlight for a bit in the past year or so because of the crisis in policing. The uprising from last year seemed to be a major shifting and breaking point for policing here in Asheville, despite obviously, years of the police being a problem, including the reemergence of widespread discussion of the APD murder of Jai Jerry Williams, and the beating of Johnnie Rush a few years back. I’m wondering if you could talk a little bit about if you see that being a major focal pointlike definitely there was a lot more discussion about police abolition coming about and defunding the police — but if you could sort of like set the stage with what you’re aware of, of what’s been happening in the last year to year and a half around policing here.

UW: Yeah, so it definitely seems like Asheville has been in the spotlight quite a bit. You know, we had that front page New York Times article about us, about a month or two months back, something like that. I see that as mostly a reactionary effort, that has been sort of a concerted effort to try to undermine some of the gains that have been made last year, I’m not the only person to make this observation. There’s been a media blitz of pro-police propaganda, and almost exactly one year after the largest civil rights uprising in recorded history, as far as I’m aware. And you know, it’s hard to ignore the implications of that happening almost on a year to date.

I would want to say one thing that comes to mind is sort of why this has been happening, not just Asheville, but everywhere, is that the FBI puts out a quarterly crime reportI think it’s called like the Uniform Crime reporting, UCR, something like that — and in the wake of that report, there’s just been a ton of crime wave propaganda, based on misinterpretation of the data. I mean, even on the FBI website, if you go look at that data, they recommend not trying to look at trends and stuff it, because the way the reporting works changes and all that other stuff.

So I would love to just sort of give a little bit of a brief history timeline of some of the things that have happened with Asheville police in particular, and why we might be more of a hot spot than other places. We’re a bit of a microcosm because we’ve lost something like 30% of our police through resignation and retirement. And just to put that in context, for people who are not around here, Asheville is about a sixth of the size of Portland, about a fifth of the size of Atlanta in terms of population in the city proper. That’s not even including their metro areas, which are way, way larger. So it’s only been about 80 cops who’ve left our force, but that is about 30% of our force. And as you sort of mentioned, the crisis in policing isn’t new here. We’ve actually had five new police chiefs since 2005 and several of them have resigned amid controversy of various kinds. One of the earlier ones was named Bill Hogan, and he actually resigned amid some controversy about missing evidence, including drugs and money that they couldn’t account for. And then you mentioned Johnnie Rush, and Tammy Hooper was the police chief during that incident, it actually came out that the police department was conducting surveillance on several racial justice organizing groups here in Asheville, and she lied about it publicly and then had to backtrack.

TFSR: That was during the Jerry Williams incidents right. Or, or was that Johnnie Rush?

UW: You know, both of them were pretty close together. I actually have a breakdown timeline here we can go through.

TFSR: Cool.

UW:
So yeah, I’ll just start with that. So there were three Black men killed in one week in 2016, and that’s where I’ll start. Jerry Williams was killed on July 2, 2016. He was shot seven times by a cop who’s still in the forest named Tyler Radford. Alton Sterling was killed on July 5, so three days later, by the Baton Rouge police, Louisiana. And Philando Castile was killed July 6, so the very next day, near Minneapolis, where George Floyd was killed in 2020.

So I’d say that the 2020 organizing efforts were an outgrowth of the organizing to happen here in Asheville, back then. In 2016, there were marches, there was even a group that like occupied the police station for something like 36 hours. I don’t know if you remember that. They had some demands, one of the bigger demands that they put forth was something called “Million Dollars for the People, which sort of like, is echoed in defunding the police. But basically, the actual police were expected to get a million dollar increase to their budget. And there was a community effort basically in response to these killings, that demanded that that money be put towards community stuff, community programs for safety. Like I said, very echoed in the defund the police movement several years later. Ultimately, unfortunately, that failed. Then the million dollars went to the police sort of as a nod to racial justice organizers. The city implemented this thing called the equity department, and they put body cams on the cops.

So February 2017, was sort of the crescendo of the Million Dollars for the People thing. In August 2017 Johnnie Rush was beaten and tasered for jaywalking. And for folks who aren’t familiar with that story, I’d recommend looking into it, there’s a lot of details. But basically, it was at night, there was no traffic or anything. This Black man named Johnnie Rush was trying to cross the street and a cop, I mean, just kind of wailed on him and beat him within inches of his life. And this is all caught on body cam. But that didn’t come out until way late. So that happened in August of 2017. It didn’t come out until March of 2018. Tammy Hooper had a meeting with the public. And during that meeting, because of the Johnnie Rush situation, she was accused of surveillance and she denied it publicly. So that was in March and then in May, it actually came out that she was lying, and that she had been surveilling a couple of groups, one group called Showing Up for Racial Justice, and the local BLM group.

So then she has announced to resign in 2018, but she doesn’t actually, it’s not effective until 2019. Then we had another chief for 45 dayswhich is wild to mewho quit for personal reasons. And then in March 2020, we got our current chief. So May 31 of 2020, our brand new chief was giving orders to tear gas children and babies and people in Asheville for demonstrating in the wake of the murder of George Floyd. So that sort of brings us up to the Defund movement.

TFSR: The funny thing about chief Hogan, to break down the evidence from scandal: so at the time, the Asheville 11 conspiracy case was going on people who were arrested, accused to be an anarchist riot, on May Day of 2010the lawyer for a couple of the defendants asked to see evidence in their case. And the evidence room was unable to come up with this bag of broken glass, this broken phone and a hammer that were allegedly in there, tied to the case. And so the lawyers called for a survey of the evidence room and came back with of the 10% of the evidence room that they had surveyed to see what was there something like 20% of it was missing, including 1000s of dollars in money, a whole bunch of weapons, a whole bunch of guns, apparently tools like hammers and stuff. And the civilian who is in charge of the evidence room resigned to just sort of like skip town. We lost the chief and I think there was another cop that quit over that. And I think with that 45daycop, I may be wrong, but it seems like if he came from Greensboro that he was the one whose son had gotten a DUI hitting a pole on Merriman Avenue. And when the cops showed up, they found an unregistered gun in the car. But the charges just sort of seemed to go away for the son of the chief. And so there was sort of a question about them covering up investigations internally.

So we’ve got a great history of good-old-person policing in North Carolina. But yeah, thanks for that breakdown. That’s really… that’s memory lane for me *laughs*. So can you talk a little more about the more recent iteration of the movement to call and pressure the city to defund the Asheville police department? As you said, there were echoes between what happened in 2016 with the Millions for the People and what happened in 2020, and what’s continuing I guess. What sort of tensions exist between like the city’s politicians, the bureaucrats and the police department, and what’s the deal with the monuments and the manure coffin that I keep hearing about?

UW: The manure coffin. Okay, yeah. So had or has depending some aspects of it have died downbut there were a few aspects to it. It was people calling into City Council, like every single meeting and demanding the defunding of the police. There’s some problems with this strategy, namely that the City Council they own that process and they moved very quickly to sort of shut downI mean they were being barraged with calls, every single meeting — so they put in a bunch of restrictive stuff to just tamp that down. And it has largely worked.

TFSR: Which is basically shutting down public comment on a public meeting, right?

UW: Yeah.

TFSR: So the public good and make comments on a lot of different stuff.

UW: Right. And just to be clear, legally speaking, they didn’t shut anything down. They just added a whole bunch of new hoops, you had to jump through, like you had to register in this like, you know, certain window of time, you had to provide personal details about where you live, and your name and your phone number. And basically, they were asking you to give all of the information necessary for them to make a list of dissenters, which is maybe not what they would have done, but it certainly doesn’t feel good to activists to give them that information and so readily. And yeah, they had like names and phone numbers attached to the calls that they were playing publicly. So yeah, unfortunately, that was pretty effective.

There were some other aspects of the defund movement. There were some really good, like militant street actions and shutting down streets and highways that went on for a couple of months, you know. Like, every couple of weeks, there would be a big street action, and I mean, they would do a pretty good job of totally shutting down streets, which was great. There were some theatrical aspects. Like at one point, there was a giant check floating around. Like people had made a giant check for 50% of the police budget. And they taped it to the library door or something like that, to sort of demonstrate where that money could go, I guess.

There was this one demonstration where people made pink slips for the cops, like firing slips, and were handing them out to cops on the street. And like repossession tickets, and putting them on cop cars. Asheville has a bit of a reputation for being like an artsy city or whatever. And I thought that was an interesting waythat stuff got on the news, more, you know, made its way through the public conscious through social media and stuff more than the more militant actions did. So I thought that it was a good way to lift up the rhetoric.

So yeah, there was a decentralized day of action, which was where this like anonymous activist group put out a call for people to go do things like that. And folks, you know, did some, some tagging of buildings and did, like a, there was a bigI’m not sure what the word is, but it was made of cloth — not really a banner because it was attached to the wall of art that you see all over the internet, of a cop under a Klansmen robe, like with the Marilyn Monroe picture with the skirt blowing up. I don’t know if that makes any sense at all *laughs*.

TFSR: Yeah, yeah.

UW:
So things like that, you know. But I would say that overall, the defund movement was largely rhetorical. It was effective in terms of shifting narratives. And if the cops are to be believed, then the shifting narrative has a lot to do with why we lost 30% of our cops. So I chalked that up as a win even if we didn’t get abolition, we managed to get 30% of the cops to quit just by being mean to them. Which I think is a win.

So yeah, that’s sort of the defund movement. I would say the only material gain that we got was council agreeing to remove some monuments. Like you mentioned, they have not really followed through super well. So they removed one monument that was to a Confederate general or somethingI’m not even actually sure what it was for — but it was definitely Confederacy related near the courthouse. They removed that sort of quietly one night without much fanfare. But there is a giant, I mean, I don’t know…do you know how tall the Vance monument is?

TFSR: No idea.

UW:
It’s huge.

TFSR: It’s not very tall right now, which is great.

UW: Yeah, it’s it’s significantly shorter, but it was, you know, like super tall obelisk in downtown, dedicated to this man whose last name is Vance. And he was a slave owner.

TFSR: And a governor. And in the Confederate military, too.

UW: Yeah. All around racist guy. For sure. Yeah, giant obelisk downtown, the community had been trying to get that removed for years and Asheville, after a lot of kicking and screaming, did decide to take it down. It has not come all the way down yet, because it keeps getting ensnared in legal battles with these, like Confederate, you know, historical society groups.

TFSR: Yeah, I think the upkeep was the Sons of Confederate Veterans, like they were the ones who would remove paint and who were, quote unquote, responsible for the upkeep, which sounds like an ability to funnel money to this group of good old boys. But as I understand, like the latestthere was a question along the way in the past when it had been discussed of who had the authority to remove the monuments and this is not dissimilar to the silent Sam question at UNC Chapel Hill, where the University would say we have authority, the county would say we have authority or we don’t have, everyone would say we don’t have authority. The state would be a part of it. And in this case, as I understand the state has put an injunction on removing the base of the monument saying that the city doesn’t have the jurisdiction to remove it under some historical monuments laws on the books. I don’t know if that’s is that sound about right?

UW: That’s not what I have heard. But, you know, I, to be honest I gloss over when I start trying to read about legal proceedings

TFSR: Yeah.

UW:
so I’m not sure exactly who it is I thought that it was a confederate preservationist group that was suing them, but definitely somebody is suing them right now.

TFSR: That could just be the state of North Carolina.

UW: *laughs* I mean, they are kind of a confederate preservationist group. So yeah, somebody’s suing the city right now to get them to stop removing it. Unfortunately, for those folks, they have already removed almost all of the obelisk, all that’s left is the base that says ”Vance. So that’s sort of dragging out. I, you know, I read an article about it every, like couple of weeks where they’re like “oh, and here’s some more nothing that happened in court, and nothing has moved forward with this.

So yeah, in addition to those things, folks asked for them to change the names of a bunch of streets, because we have a ton of streets that are named after slave owners as well. It seems like, at present, they’re not going to proceed with that, because business owners don’t want to change their marketing materials. Just such a perfect demonstration of capitalism and white supremacy coming together against community demands, because it’s just a street name, but people don’t want to change what’s they’d rather have the name of a slave owner on their window than pay somebody to come change the vinyl.

So last thing from what you just said, was the manure coffin, which I’m excited to talk about. It wasn’t really theatrical. It wasn’t meant to be fun. The coffin was part of a protest that happened on the day that some Kentucky grand jury released indictment information in the case of Briana Taylor. And from what I can tell, from what I saw, it was mostly younger Black folks trying to demonstrate their grief and their, you know, they wanted to symbolically bury some of the folks who have been killed by police. So what they did is they took a coffin that appeared to be constructed out of something like plywood, and they dropped it at the front door of APD’s headquarters, and they poured dirt over it.

The cops took that gesture, despite the fact that these folks were standing outside chanting “Say her name, Breonna Taylor!. I mean, the flyer that went out in preparation of this event had Breonna Taylor’s name really big on it, despite all of that the cops turned it into a victim narrative for themselves. And they said that it was a threat against their lives. And they also made the false claim that it was full of manure, which is just such a wild thing to lie about. Because it was, yeah, it was a closed coffin that they poured mostly what looks like regular dirt, and maybe a little bit of potting soil, over the top off. I would say this type of we’re actually the victim here, twist is a big part of their overall media strategy and narratives that they’ve been putting out over the past year. But yeah, it definitely wasn’t not a threat to them at all.

TFSR: Yeah, and there’s like, it’s a pretty terrible PR move also to try to symbolically shift the significance of the soil inside of the box to being animal feces, when it’s about laying to rest people that were victims of state violence or like anyone, but yeah. It’s a grasping at straws type thing.

But to just sort of step back — and thank you, thank you for that breakdown — to sort of step back to the question of because I packed that, that with a lot of different elementsthere is a tension that that has sort of come to the fore visibly between city politicians. Like the pressure, according to City Council, activists had left signs requesting that City Council members vote to decrease police funding at the residences of some of the City Council members, and that was considered to be a threat by the city council members, or was presented as such during one of the one of the meetings that happens every other week.

But during the pressure campaign that folks were trying to call in and apply pressure, it wasn’t just that people were calling into City Council — obviously, this is during COVID and so people couldn’t show up and stand at a podium and talk because these events were close to the public, which creates a huge amount of obscurity to the process and difficulty to like participating in this quote unquote, representative democracy system we have. But also, I think it came to light at some point to a lot of people that actually City Council isn’t directly responsible for the hiring, directly responsible for the budgeting choices for the police, that it comes down to the bureaucratically appointed city manager. Which kind of while people were attempting toI don’t fault people at all for taking the approach of attempting to use the rules in place to shift agency and apply pressure and make the changes happen that they want to see happen — but it seems like the power, the existing power structure for the city already had the barricade set up and ready for people to come up against. Can you talk a little bit about those tensions between the elected city officials who maybe did want to make changes, maybe didn’t, and the police department and the city bureaucracy?

UW: Yeah. So you know, you said something earlier about how they were basically trying to pass the buck on the monuments, right? There’s always mechanisms in place with these systems where everybody can just shrug and say, oh, not my department, you know, it’s sort of they like, they diffuse responsibility in such a way that there are these failure points that are designed to I mean, City Council’s job is basically to be yelled at, and not do anything about it, right? They can pass things…but for the most part, when it comes to actual change, the mayor loves talking about the weak mayor system we have here in North Carolina. I’m not clear on all the details but basically what it boils down to is what you just said, which is: the mayor is an elected person who doesn’t actually have the power to do all the things that she claimed she wants to do, and has to instead defer to the city manager, which is an unelected position, appointed position, and the city manager is actually the person who, in this case, is responsible for the police department for all of city staff.

So a big rhetorical strategy that you see out of city council is basically being like, oh, we’d love to help you with this stuff, but you see, city staff has told us we can’t, and we don’t have the power to override them. So I mean, I’m a cynic. So of course, I see this as a ploy. If they really wanted to, they could find some way…they find ways to make things happen that they want to make happen. In my experience. This sort of diffusion of responsibility is just, is very clever. And there have been a couple of folks, never at the same time, on City Council who we had a council member who did actually support, vocally supported cutting the police budget in half. Which was the demand by a group called Black AVL Demands, which was like a multi generational Black organizing group. And their number one demand was cut the police force budget in half. And we had one council member named Brian Haynes, who actually was in support of that. He’s no longer on Council, we actually had an election in the middle of all of this. So, you know, we lost a potential ally in Brian Haynes during all that. He was planning to retire anyway.

And now we have a new, more progressive council member named Kim Roney, who has not been vocally in support of defunding the police, but has sort of always voted no on anything that gives them more resources or money, things like that. But again, the power is diffused in such a way that she doesn’t really have any power as far as I can tell. It’s more of a symbolic thing, that there’s always one “noon the record.

I’d say there was some other sort of tensions, especially among the leadership because of Chief Zack being brand new, having just started in March of 2020, which is basically right before COVID kicked off here. And I mean, obviously, COVID was already happening across in other places in the world, but typical American fashion, we weren’t really concerned about it until it started affecting us. And that’s started happening in April, late March, early April, so Chief Zack had not been in place very long. And then, of course, the George Floyd Uprising started happening in early summer.

TFSR: So you had mentioned a little while ago about the attrition rate of the police department and the city losing about a third of its police force due to retirements or cops quitting. Can you talk about why this is a crisis? It’s not like the police actually get trained for a long period of time before coming on to the job, right? It’s not like they have to go through a four year degree program or something like that. Why are they so concerned? How abnormal is this? Like, how long does it take for a city to replace a cop? Where are they going and what what are they doing as far as we know,

UW: According to the police department, it’ll take a long time, several years at least, to get the police numbers back to where they were from this attrition. They say it takes as much as a year to get someone from the point of I want to be a cop to actually being able to do that job on a daily basis without being at a training capacity. And this could have something to do with the fact that Asheville is a nominally progressive city and we put our police through more training than the average police does. I’m not actually sure. But I know we do like Verbal Judo training and things like that.

So I know in 2020, for example, they graduated six cadets, and five of them have already quit. So the point in that that I’m making is that they put quite a bit of money, time and resources into training these cops and it does not guarantee the cops will actually stay cops. According to the chief, a lot of the people who are quitting are younger, newer recruits, who basically just feel hated immediately upon becoming cops and decide to change career paths. According to the chief it’s about a 50/50 split between people who are like, Wow, I didn’t realize that I would be this hated, I’m gonna go do something else. Like, I’m gonna go be a refrigerator repairman or something like that.

TFSR: Awesome.

UW:
Yeah, which is great. And people who just moved to Asheville is considered, you know, a blue dot in a red sea because we’re in North Carolina — so a lot of the cops just move to the county or move to a surrounding city where it’s more friendly to police and they continue being. But I think a 50/50 split is pretty good. If we can get 50% of people who quit to stop being cops altogether. That seems like a good number to me.

TFSR: There’s a billboard in the city on Patton Avenue that’s, you know, pretty prominent as you’re driving from West Asheville down towards downtown that’s just like four, I think, four very diverse ethnically and gender police officers in uniform and then an empty spot in the middle with like a frame and it says “This could be you! or whatever. It’s like an advertising campaign from the Greensboro [correction, Winston-Salem -Editor] police department, which like for folks who don’t know, is a much larger city. It’s what? Like two and a half hours to the east of here. And they’re, I guess they’re, they’re being like, “Nobody likes you in Asheville? Come on down to Greensboro. We love cops, we’ll hire you. But I was surprised to hear that that wasn’t where, that wasn’t necessarily what was happening with the police that were leaving, they were probably just like, well, if they’ve already got the training, and that’s paid for, we can just scoop them up.

UW: Right. Yeah, I mean, and again, like I said, we have to trust what the chief is saying. And he has political reasons why he would fudge these numbers. But according to the chief, it’s been about half and half in terms of people who have just totally quit the job, and who have moved to other departments. They also tend to cite low pay, which, without getting too much into the weeds on this, Asheville in general is an extremely expensive place to live, pretty much everybody here is underpaid. It’s the tourists with money who come and drive up costs.

So yeah, the police force despite claiming that they’re underpaid, they start higher than the median salary here in Asheville. Maybe some of them are going to get better pay elsewhere, maybe some of them are going to find a more friendly area to police. And apparently half of them are quitting altogether.

TFSR: Because of paywall *laughs* I didn’t actually read the New York Times article that came out, but I do know, I’m familiar enough with one of the cops that featured prominently in there, is a white officer, is queerLindsay Rose is the name that I saw in the New York Times — it sounded like they had said that they had quit because they had felt people were being mean to them. But I had also heard that they had been rehired. So maybe some of that saved budget from the cop attrition has gone towards upping their pay. I don’t know if you have anything to say about that.

UW: I actually do know for a fact that just a couple of weeks ago, City Council voted for a budget that does increase police pay, they’re all getting raises. And they are actively using the attrition. So they fully funded the police force again, despite this attrition. So they gave them the same amount of funding as they had before with the larger number of cops. And they’re using that extra money to try to refill those positions, but they realize they know that they can’t do all of that in one year. So the extra money is going towards giving all of the cops a raise and more training and technology, of course. So I have more to say about Lindsay Rose, about the media angle, but we can come back to that when you get to that question.

TFSR: Can you talk about what sort of material changes have happened with police in town in terms of patrol areas and frequency of patrols and response times? And has that affected crime rates? Like one thing I’ve seen [that] is good [is] the cops saying that they are not wanting to show up to certain kinds of calls or I guess be doing the foot patrols that they were doing before? Is that, do you have any insights on that?

UW: Yeah, I’ve said it a few times, but just to reiterate: it’s been about 35% attrition, they have refilled some of those roles, but not nearly all of them. So there are substantially less cops. That’s definitely the biggest material impact of the last year. As a result of that they have, as you said, they released a statement saying that they would not always respond to certain kinds of infractions crimes. To me it read as a piece of political theater, because the things that they list are things like a simple assault that is reported after it occurred, or a theft under $1,000 when there’s no suspect, which like, I don’t know, I’ve never been one to call the cops much, but from what I understand, they don’t really help or do anything about in those situations anyway. Like, what? What is the cop going to do if they show up after an assault has occurred, a simple assault has occurred. Which, simple assault, just to be clear to anybody who might not know is something like being punched. It’s not, you know, it’s nothing super violent. It’ssimple.

So yeah, to me, it read as political theater. Of course, the chief has come out and publicly sort of lambasted anybody who says that it’s political theater, but I remained steadfast in my conviction that it is political theater. There have been a few more, in terms of crime rates, as I mentioned, at the top, there was this FBI Uniform Crime reporting standard, they released these reports every quarter. Notably, the reports don’t include a lot of, like, major cities and things like thatI think it’s something like 3040% of police forces around the country are actually involved in this most recent report. And that’s been used to sort of foster this narrative of a crime wave. In terms of our local crime statistics that I’ve looked at, there has been a few more gun related crimes, and things of that nature. It’s also worth mentioning that gun sales skyrocketed in 2020. I don’t know the exact numbers, but it was huge. Like a huge increase in the amount of guns that were sold. And I’m not anti-gun or anything, I just, I think it’s important to point out that if there are more guns, it follows that there would be more crimes committed with guns, because there are more guns.

So in terms of our local crime statistics, it looks, to me, mostly like everything is remaining flat overall. The overall crime rates are people will say this all the time — are way down from like, the 90s. And there are a multitude of reasons that I don’t want to super speculate on as to why that is. But this fear mongering about there being this big spike in crime just doesn’t bear out in the data that we have. And the data is notoriously manipulative, and things of that nature. But you know, if you accept their framing of looking at the numbers, even that doesn’t bear out. The increase in gun crime is offset by decreases in other types of violent crime. So even violent crime rates are not trending upwards right now. They’re pretty much flat.

TFSR: Yeah and I guess a pointa point of mostly white supremacists fear mongering around violent crime and the othering of folks and just, whether it be racially or poor folks or whatever, will tend to focus on gun crime, rhetorically as a thing that is coming from those populations — but so this is-this is like a third hand thing. I was at the grocery store, I was listening to two people talk about a shooting recently that happened at a bar in West Asheville, where somebody drove up and like shot into the place. Which is scary. It’s definitely scary. Yeah, the cops are not going to stop that. Well, super gun advocates say the cops are not going to stop that and that’s why people need more guns. Which is not, I‘m not making the argument that people need to bring guns into bars. But that’s the argument finally that law enforcement makes is we will track down and trace the person that was in traffic that got out and shot into the bar”. Which, possibly from security cameras they might be able to do that sort of thing. But like honestly, it’s pretty, it’s pretty unlikely. And more cops in this situation does not mean less of this sort of incidents. Like there’s a lot of things that can sort of like lead into that situation, including the fact that we’re in the middle of a year and a half long pandemic. There’s relatively high unemployment. People are on the verge to eviction. People are continuing to try not to get sick or care for people that might get sick from this increasingly dangerous pandemic but

UW: — largest wealth transfer in, I mean, I don’t want to, I don’t want to make a false statement, but from what I understand, one of the largest wealth transfers ever occurred during this pandemic. The poor got significantly poorer. And the rich got significantly richer throughout this global crisis. And that has to do with the crime data, stuff too. Like what you just said, speaks to something about the crime data. Which is, there’s so many levels on which we have to sort of combat their narratives, while also combating their framing, right? You have to either accept some of their framing stuff, like that the gun crime thing that you brought up. It’s like, why are we even discussing that in relation to their being police attrition? Because they don’t really have anything to do with one another? More cops does not make there be less gun crime. There’s conflicting evidence on whether or not that is even the case.

TFSR: Yeah. So thanks for running down that engine with me. So can we talk a little bit about what you’ve learned about the media angles on this? Like, whatwhat is mainstream media saying about this? And what is the APDPublic Relations connection? When did that start, and do you have any details on that?

UW: Yeah. So and this goes back to officer Rose, you mentioned earlier. She’s an interesting character in this aspect, in particular. During the protests last summer, to sort of take it back, there was, after the first few days of tear gassing and stuff like that, the community support kind of swelled. One of the ways in which this manifested was people started showing up to protests prepared to take care of folks who were tear gassed. And they actually set up a medical it had medical stuff and snacks and water and things of that nature in an alleyway near where the protests sort of coalesce downtown. Right after, I think it was actually like five minutes before curfewbecause you know, last summer, all these cities were putting out these curfews which drew ACLU ire — but right near the curfew, the cops, according to the folks who work there, without warning, sort of stormed this medical tent. And not only did they like, you know, throw the folks who were working the table to the wall and stuff like that. They started actually destroying the medical supplies. So there’s this photo, that goes around that’s been going around by a local reporter named Angie Wilhelm, of a APD officer stabbing a water bottle. So they were stomping and stabbing water bottles

TFSR: — in full riot gear.

UW: In full riot gear, yeah. And that photo went national, right? It got a lot of attention and went viral on Twitter. Folks who are listening to this might have even seen it, maybe not realized it was Asheville. So that was obviously a horrible PR moment for Asheville, which is a tourist town that tries to market itself as progressive and liberal and stuff like that. Directly after that incident the Asheville Police Department hired this company called Cole Pro Media, which is a PR firm. Interestingly, the PR firm, if you go to their website right now, it’ll have a bunch of talk about how they never spin anything or anything like that. They’re just trying to help police be more transparent and accountable, is their line. But the local paper, Citizen-Times, did a little bit more investigating and found an earlier iteration of Cole Pro Media’s web presence in which they advertised that they would help cops outsmart journalists. Like openly stated that that was one of their goals.

So this transparency and accountability language reappears in that New York Times article. The New York Times sent this guy here to interview the chief of police, the mayor, of a handful of locals and they ran it on the front page. And one of the cops that they interviewed was officer Rose, who you mentioned earlier. Officer Rose quit the force pretty spectacularly. Because as a queer person, they didn’t feel like the queer community was being accepting of them being a cop. And according to the New York Times article they went back to retrieve their badge to give it to their mother or something like that, and

TFSR: *mockingly* Awww.

UW: Right, so sweet. And Chief Zack talked them into rejoining the force as a, I can’t remember the exact term, like community liaison or something like that, right? And in the New York Times article, it’s notable that they use the same language, accountability and transparency”, like it’s almost word for word for their justifications that they gave for hiring this PR firm. Was we want to be more accountable and transparent. So then, you see that she came back to do that job and then is on the front page of the New York Times, like posed up in this very dramatic photograph of her, like, looking sad out a window. And it’s hard not to tie all that together in my mind: the water bottle incident, the PR company, the victim narrative of the coffin and all of the stuff that’s been happening very recently with the, you know, we’re losing cops and we can’t keep up”, the accountability and transparency language, officer Rose going into the New York Times, they started a community engagement division of the police force, which officer Rose is also on whose job is again, using that accountability and transparency language.

TFSR: What do cops in Asheville actually do? It seems like the evictions of houseless folks that happened over the summer this year from public parks put a lot of stress on the APD’s morale. Can you talk about that, and what you see is the relationship between homelessness, nonprofits or what some might call poverty pimpsand harm reduction efforts with the police in Asheville?

UW: You can’t really understand the function of Asheville Police Department without understanding that we are primarily a resort town. We make the majority… I say “we, the people who actually have money and capital in the city… make the majority of their money from tourism. We’re known as beer city, we have a ton of breweries and bars. In fact, it’s been suggested to me very recently that we might have one of the highest numbers of breweries and bars per capita from just about any city nearby or anything like that. We have a ton of breweries, and the craft beer scene is really big, the music scene. We’re also nestled in southern Appalachia, it’s a very lovely environment. All of that to say that those are used as justifications for why we need to focus the lion’s share of our resources, as both a city and a county, on appeasing tourists.

So one function of that, one aspect of that, is that we have the most bloated police force per capita of any North Carolina city. To my knowledge. And the reason for that is because police in the city function to use their fascistic language, in my opinion, keep the streets clean, right? And what they mean by that, of course, is not, you know, like public service of picking up trash. They mean by keeping the streets clean that they want to keep folks who tourists might not like to see, such as unhoused folks, out of line of sight.

So to me, that’s just so remarkably fascistic, the idea that human beings are trash to be cleaned up. But that is one of the major functions of the police. And there are several, you know, reactionary, right wing business groups who are super focused on that tourist money who make this argument themselves all the time. I don’t have to put words in their mouth at all, they will straight up say, why can’t we use more tourist money to keep the streets clean of unhoused individuals? I mean, they’ll call them homeless folks.

So it’s really important to understand that’s one of the major functions of Asheville police, is keeping the town free of things that might remind folks who are coming here to have a cozy vacation. They don’t want anything reminding them of capitalism, the failures of capitalism. You know, as I mentioned earlier, a lot of the folks who work in Asheville can’t actually afford to live here. I think it’s the most expensive city in North Carolina, from what I understand, to live in. So keeping unhoused individuals out of sight is one of the biggest functions of the police. We’ve long had an affordable housing crisis in the city. And it’s just getting worse recently with all of the recent buyouts and stuff that these investment firms are making.

TFSR: And Airbnb’s.

UW:
Oh, yeah, Airbnb, that’s a big one, huge one. A lot of them are not even, like, legally allowed to exist. But of course they do because folks can just list their house on a website. That’s about to get a whole lot worse, because, I mean, we’re recording this today on Saturday [August] the 31st and as of today, the eviction moratorium, federal eviction moratorium has expired. There might be something in place at the state level, but in any case, that’s signaling the end of protections for renters, who are behind due to the pandemic. So that’s sort of a high level. What the police do in Asheville has a lot to do with basically keeping it a comfortable place for rich tourists.

In terms of the like, day to day what they actually do— somebody put out a really cool zine last summer, that’s sort of where they like, actually sat and listened to police calls, or on the scanner or something like that — I’m not actually sure how they did their researchbut documented a lot of calls. There’s also this group called AVL Watchdog that got ahold of call center data and like actually broke it all down. So basically mostly what Asheville actually does, according to this, is traffic stuff. Assist motorists, deal with improper parking and things like that. That’s 23% of their time. According to this. To be more clear, it’s 23% of the calls that they get. How they actually spend their time can look a lot different from the percentage of calls that they get for sure.

What’s notable on this is that when you’re talking about things that a lot of people consider harmful, such as theft or violent crime or anything like that, you’re down in the like, I mean 5% were reports of theft, including shoplifting. 3% of their calls had something to do with mental health, people having issues publicly. So the point being that it’s such a small amount of what they actually do on a day to day basis, they mostly just exist to keep unhoused individuals out of sight. And one part of that is, they have been evicting folks from these public parks. There was a big one, there were two that really drew a lot of attention very recently. One was on literally the coldest day of the year of 2021, so far. And the police decided to evict a camp of folks who were camping under a bridge. And the reason that they did this is notable, it’s because they got a report from this thing called the Asheville App, which is tourists using it as a direct line of communication with police and city council and stuff. And you know, the officials of various capacities. So there was a report made, and then within a few hours, they went out there and evicted this camp that was under a bridge.

And then there were folks camping at a couple of different parks, public parks. Which as I understand it was where they were told to move, to the public parks from more public spaces where they had been under bridges and things like that. I’m not sure of the details of that, but from what I understand they were directed to go there [by the city]. And somewhat recently, they decided that they weren’t allowed to be there either, and sent out notices that everybody had to get out. And they gave them like a week or something like that to get out. Most of the folks not really wanting more trouble for themselves and more legal trouble, did decide to just move on, find somewhere else to be. One camp in particular had some folks who were like, no, we’re not going to move. And they ended up sending out something like 30 cops, which of our police force again, just a reminder, we lost 35%. That’s a big proportion of our police, 30 cops is a lot of our police.

So yeah, they sent out a huge proportion of our police to evict this camp, they made several arrests of folks that they claim are activists. But again, there’sit’s not like those are two distinct categories of unhoused folks and activists. So yeah, that’s what police do in Asheville. They function as an apparatus to basically hide the effects of the policies that they want to uphold, the policies of never ending growth and tourism.

TFSR: So I did kind of bring up harm reduction efforts in that question, and maybe that wasn’t the best place to bring it up. But this next one, I think is. So there was recently a push by a small section of right leaning business owners in the city to put up a very ugly-ass, boot-licky billboard in support of the police, and to get local businesses that specifically support the police to put little blue ribbons in their windows. You know, because the FOP [Fraternal Order of Police] stickers that a bunch of diners have in their windows aren’t enough, or whatever. But I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about the billboard effort and any of the characters or group names that are affiliated with the push against public visibility of homelessness, or of safer alternative harm reduction opportunities for intravenous needle users or other folks that are using illegal or concentrated substances in our community. Like I know Steady Collective and Firestorm and we talked about this a couple of years agowe’re getting a lot of pressure from the West Asheville Neighborhood Alliance. Which sounds like a very legit group but in fact is is spearheaded by some some people that are pretty far to the right and involved in some of the counter-protests to BLM stuff last year. Yeah, wondering if there’s anything you can say about WANA or the billboard or the blue ribbons or that sort of thing?

UW: Yes. So I have not gone down the West Asheville Neighborhood rabbit hole just yet. I only know what I’ve heard from other folks. And like you said, you guys probably have some great information in your archive about the situation with Firestorm collective, which is a local bookstore and coffee shop run by anarchists and in a collective fashion, and the Steady Collective, which is a harm reduction program here in Asheville. Not necessarily run by anarchists from what I understand, but just yeah, harm reduction, syringe exchange program and outreach program that works with drug users to mitigate some of the effects that they face, not only as a result of using drugs, but uhhh being in a society that criminalizes people for things that other folks can do in their homes without facing persecution to the same extent, at least.

I can say that the billboard is part of a very concerted effort for this group that’s calling themselves AVL Business Owners. They actually had a private meeting with the mayor about a month ago. I say private, it was at a place called the ISIS Music Hall, which is a concert venue in West Asheville. And they only invited business owners, that’s why I say it was private. They sent it out via email to local business owners and invited them to come. And we’re very upfront about the fact that they were not going to talk about defunding the police or anything like that. They asked for people to submit questions in advance. And then they were going to have a moderator who basically spoke on behalf of all these folks.

So over the course of this meeting, they brought up a lot of issues, mostly anecdotal issues around folks using drugs and sleeping and sort of just existing in their line of sight. And their solution to that is to crack down on them, to have more police and more punishment for these folks who are already being displaced by the systems by these very business owners and their insistence on profits, through the means of tourism. So, that business owners group is called Asheville Business Owners and they are responsible for both of things that you mentioned. The big ugly billboardthat’s, I think, at the intersection of patented Haywood, in West Ashevilleit just says, Thank you, Asheville police department. We support you or something like that, and has their email address avlbusinessowners@gmail.com, I’m sure they wouldn’t mind if folks drop them a quick line to let them know how much they appreciate that billboard.

That same group is also responsible for the Blue Ribbon campaignwhich is kicking off on August 1, which is tomorrow as of the recordingwhere folks are going to be putting blue ribbons up on their business fronts to signal their support for police. So these folks are all very concerned about unhoused individuals in particular. In the invitation email, to their meeting, they were very much like we are not going to be discussing homelessness, the majority of the meeting was about homelessness. Without even meaning to they make these connections for us. At one point, one of the folks who were in the meeting asked why can’t we use the money that’s generated from tourism to do something like build a facility to send homeless folks to? So yeah, the connections between drug users and unhoused folks, and these right wing businesses is super thick, there’s a lot of stuff there. To bring the harm reduction efforts into it, they are all of course, very against harm reduction, because they see it as you know, through that sort of outdated lens of enabling, as opposed to you know, helping people stay alive. And they want instead there to be further criminalization, further punishment of these folks.

TFSR: I know, it’s it’s impossible to speak on everyone’s behalf, but if you could talk a little bit about some of the alternatives that people are proposing to police here in Asheville or have been or were last summer. If your impression is that people from overpoliced communities are participating in creating those demands, or if it’s like… I know sometimes it gets proposed that it’s a bunch of white middle class activists that are presenting these things when really they don’t have a sense of the problem. Outside agitators, I think they call them.

UW: So yeah, I’ll start off by saying that I think that the idea of alternatives is sometimes the wrong framing for what a lot of folks actually say in this space. From what I understand from reading abolitionists like Mariame Kaba and folks like that, in many cases, they say the best alternative to the things that police do is simply nothing at all. And that sometimes trips up well meaning progressive liberals who do think we need to one to one alternatives. But in reality, the alternatives I hear from a lot of abolitionists are focused on background needs, and giving resources to people in ways that don’t have a one to one relationship with crime” but instead, they’re more focused on building healthy communities.

And again, I don’t want to speak for anyone, but I can tell you that, from what I’ve observed, there was a group that formed very early on last summer during the protest movement called Black AVL Demands. It was, according to them, a multi-generational Black organizing group. They put forward the demand that sort of overtook the public discourse locally of defunding the police by 50%. To my knowledge, they didn’t really put forward any direct alternatives.

There is another group, totally anonymous group, that has identified themselves as multiracial, including Black folks, just to be clear, and they’re called the Defund AVL PD Instagram account. They actually put forward some more concrete ideas. I actually have a little list of those here. They suggested that the police funding could go towards jobs programs, restorative justice programs, affordable housingwhich as we’ve talked about is a huge issue in Ashevillepublic education, mental health service, evidence based substance use treatment and harm reduction services, rent subsidies and eviction diversion, and free public transportation, which we do not have here.

In addition to the Defund AVL PD group, there’s another group called the Racial Justice Coalition. They have a community liaison named Rob Thomas, who is a Black man who is from Asheville, has a deep ties to the community here, the Black community and has some personal experience with the justice system in particular. I just want to quote him, because I think it’s really important that we hear from somebody who’s not me, who’s not a white person on this issue. So this is Rob Thomas talking about defunding the police:

I want to be totally transparent about my stance on defunding the police departments. I don’t think that the call to defund the police is going to solve all of the issues within law enforcement. What it does do is free up funding so that we can start up alternatives while keeping law enforcement active. We can create structures that can replace some of their duties as has been has been shown in other cities. The culture of policing is directly reflective of the culture of America. Structural and institutional racism is embedded in the DNA of America. And the only way to change disparities in policing, disparities in school systems, disparities in government, and disparities in the criminal justice system, is to completely dismantle the systems as they currently stand and restructure them completely. This may sound drastic, but if you look at where we are now in racial equity, and where we were 100 years ago, you will see that many systems have been completely overhauled. I’m looking at where we need to be measuring against where we are right now.

So that’s to offer some outside perspectives. You know, folks have offered everything from we need these specific things that will help folks have the resources that they need to prevent crimes in general. And then we have, yeah, spoke to people saying we need to completely tear down the system and then restructure it from the ground up. There’s also been talk of Reparations in Asheville. The City Council passed a resolution for reparations. And for folks who aren’t familiar with some of the sort of city government jargon, a resolution is really just them all agreeing to read something out loud that they agree with. It’s not really an actionable plan. So they basically apologized for racism and said that they would do better. Part of that was they’ve been attempting to institute a reparations program, which does not provide any cash payments, it sort of uses market mechanisms and city contracts to attempt to transfer some wealth towards Black folks. But even that program has not been going well.

TFSR: Yeah, for folks in town, there’s actually a really nice mural about reparations and the demand for the city to actually cut a check on it on the side of the El Dorado building on Haywood Road in West Asheville by the artist Destro. Shout out to Destro.

UW: I mentioned way earlier that they created the Office of Equity in response to some of the protests a few years back. That office is currently sitting with zero, not a single person who is a full time employee of that office. They had an interim director that they just appointed, like the day before yesterday, after two directors have quit. The first director who quit very publicly said that they were not getting support from the city, from the city manager in particular and that’s why they were quitting. And there is no other staff in that department at all. So they had made a promise to have this Reparation, I’m not sure the exact word, but this “Reparations Coalition or something like that, up and running one year from the day that they declared it. And that deadline passed kind of without fanfare, I think like a week or so ago.

So yeah, the only material thing that I’ve seen and heard in terms of alternatives to policing is: there is talks the city is looking into a CAHOOTS model crisis intervention team. Which, again, for folks who aren’t super familiar with that, CAHOOTS is a program that I believe was started in Oregon… Eugene! Yeah, there we go. And the point of that group is basically if someone’s having a mental health crisis or something like that, you can call these folks and they’ll come and they’re not police. And they will help defuse the situation and de-escalate and that sort of thing without getting cops involved. So that’s the only like, straight up alternative that I’ve heard really being floated.

TFSR: I understand that you did not just do all this preparation for this conversation. I’m wondering if you could talk about projects that you’re involved in, any sort of support that they need, or how people could learn more?

UW: Yeah, so I try to do as much as I can in service to liberation. I do design work and things like that, for anybody who needs it. One of the things that I like to do, or spend a lot of time doing at least, is researching the police and the media narratives, as I mentioned earlier. One of the group projects that I’m working on as an outgrowth of that is we’re trying to launch a new locally focused news blog. We’re calling it the Asheville Free Press. By the time this airs, it will have launched if everything goes according to plan. So if folks want to find me on Twitter, it’s just my name, Ursula Wren and the Asheville Free Press is just going to be a website http://avlfree.press. And yeah, we’re gonna do, we actually have a couple of pieces lined up about things that we’ve talked about in this this interview. I have a more in depth reporting of what all was said at that Asheville Business Owners meeting with the mayor, and a more thorough debunking of the manure coffin victimization narrative that cops have talked about. Both of those should be out by the time that this airs. So yeah, that’s, that’s what I’ve been working on. Asheville is home to lots of great media projects and my goal is to just sort of do what I can to help contribute to that in any way I can. I’m so glad that I got to be on here and talk to you about this. That’s definitely part of that for me.

TFSR: Aww, that’s, it’s my pleasure. I’m glad to have you on.

UW: In addition to the media project that I just mentioned, I am 1/4 of a screen printing collective called Syndicate Press. We do, like, live events where we print propaganda t-shirts, for lack of a better term. There’s a shirt that you’ll see all around Asheville that says “Fund communities, not cops, and that was something that we put together. So, those are the projects that I’m involved in.

TFSR: Well, Ursula, thank you so much for taking the time to have this chat and all the work that you do. *trying to keep a straight face* We’ll see you at the barricades, comrade.

UW:
*laughs* Alright. Thank you so much Bursts.

Aric McBay on “Full Spectrum Resistance”

Aric McBay on “Full Spectrum Resistance”

Download This Episode

This week we are re-airing a conversation that Bursts had last year with Aric McBay, who is an anarchist, organizer, farmer, and author about his most recent book called Full Spectrum Resistance published by Seven Stories Press in May 2019. This book is divided into 2 volumes, and from the books website [fullspectrumresistance.org]:

Volume 1: Building movements and fighting to win, explores how movements approach political struggle, recruit members, and structure themselves to get things done and be safe.

Volume 2: Actions and strategies for change, lays out how movements develop critical capacities (from intelligence to logistics), and how they plan and carry out successful actions and campaigns.”

This interview covers a lot of ground, with topics that could be of use to folks newer to movement and ones who have been struggling and building for a while. McBay also talks at length about the somewhat infamous formation Deep Green Resistance, some of its history, and tendencies within that group that led him to break with them.

Links to Indigenous and Migrant led projects for sovereignty and climate justice, and some for further research:

Links for more reading from Aric McBay:

Announcements

Xinachtli Parole Letters

Chicano anarchist communist prisoner, Xinachtli, fka Alvaro Luna Hernandez, has an upcoming parole bid and is hoping to receive letters of support. Xinacthli has been imprisoned since 1997 on a 50 year bid for the weaponless disarming a sheriff’s deputy who drew a pistol on him at his home. The last 19 years of his incarceration have been in solitary confinement. Details on writing him letters and where to send them can be found at his new support site, FreeAlvaro.Net, as well as his writings and more about him. He is also one of the main editors of the Certain Days political prisoner calendar, author and a renowned jailhouse lawyer. Parole support letters are requested no later than March 20th, 2021.

Mumia has Covid-19

It was announced last week that incarcerated educator, broadcaster, author, revolutionary and jailhouse lawyer Mumia Abu-Jamal has been experiencing congestive heart failure and tested positive for covid-19. There are actions scheduled in Philadelphia before the airing of this broadcast, but you can find more info and ways to plug in at FreeMumia.Com

Transcription, Zines, Support…

Thanks to the folks who’ve been supporting this project in various ways. You can pick up merch or make donation that support our transcription work with the info at TFSR.WTF/Support. Our transcripts are out a week or so after broadcast and we’re slowly starting to transcribe older episodes. Zines can be found at TFSR.WTF/Zines for easy printing and sharing. You can find our social media and ways to stream us at TFSR.WTF/links and learn how to get us broadcasting on more radio stations at TFSR.WTF/radio! Thanks!

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Transcription

TFSR: So I’m very proud to be speaking with farmer, organizer, artist and author Aric McBay. Thank you so much for taking the time to have this conversation. Would you mind telling us a little bit about yourself, what stuff you’re farming, for instance, where you are, and what sorts of organizing you’re involved in?

Aric McBay: Sure. And thank you so much for having me on your show. So I farm just east of Kingston, Ontario. We have a vegetable CSA farm Community Supported Agriculture. So we grow about 40 or 50 different varieties of vegetables, and we provide those to about 250 households in our area. We do kind of a sliding scale to make it more accessible to people. And we normally host a lot of different educational events and workshops. But of course most of those are on pause right now.

In terms of community and activism or community engagement, I have worked on many different causes over the years. I’ve worked with militant conservation organizations like Sea Shepherd or doing tree sits. I’ve been a labor organizer, I’ve been a farm organizer. I’ve helped start community gardens. A lot of the work that I do right now is about climate justice and about other issues that are topical, at different times in my area, especially prisons, and housing right now. Prisons are quite a big issue that the nearest city Kingston has the largest number of prisons per capita of any city in Canada. So prisoners issues continue to be very important and I think that the situation with COVID has only kind of highlighted the ways in which prisoners are treated unfairly, and in which the prison system actually makes us less safe, makes our society more dangerous rather than less so.

TFSR: Well, you did an interview with From Embers at one point, which are friends of ours and members of the Channel Zero Network. They also had a show recently, or I guess a couple of months ago, about the pandemic and the history of pandemics in the Canadian prison system. And it’s like, yeah, it’s pretty sickening. And you’re on occupied Anishinaabe and Haudenosaunee land, right?

AM: That’s correct. Yes.

TFSR: And this is Tsalagi and Creek land where I’m calling you from. So you’ve been thinking and working around big picture ecological survival, and as you said, ecological justice for quite a while. For someone picking this up on the radio and maybe not keen on environmental concerns, can you give a kind of a quick snapshot of where the civilization is in terms of destroying the Earth’s capacity to carry complex life?

AM: Sure, and it’s so easy to forget about or to push aside because the other emergencies in our daily life just keep kind of stacking up. So right now, we are in the middle of really a mass extinction on on this planet. And industrial activity, industrial extraction has destroyed something like 95% of the big fish in the ocean, has fragmented huge amounts of tropical forest and deforested many tropical areas, including much of the Amazon at this point. But it’s really climate change that’s kind of that global, critical problem. The temperature has already gone up nearly one degree from their kind of pre-industrial norm, but the emissions that human industry have put into the atmosphere of the greenhouse gases, like carbon dioxide and methane, are already enough to set us on a path of significantly greater warming. That’s even if we stopped, you know, driving cars, or burning coal today.

And so that produces a bunch of different challenges. Of course, we’re going to see already more and more hot weather heat waves, like we’ve certainly been seeing this summer, more extreme storms happening more frequently. But in the long term, the outlook is potentially very grim. Depending on the emissions that are produced around the globe, we could be looking at not just one or two degrees of warming, but potentially five or six degrees of warming by the end of the century. And that produces a very different world from the one that we live in. Even two degrees of warming would be enough to essentially wipe out all of the coral reefs on the planet, to wipe out entire biomes.

We’re at the point where even relatively conservative international organizations understand that climate change could displace hundreds of millions of people, could create hundreds of millions of climate refugees around the world. And there’s never been any displacement like that. You know, when you talk about making a place where where potentially billions of people live, much harder to live in, and much harder to grow food. And, you know, we’ve seen things like the so called Arab Spring, for example, and the situation in Syria where those areas of unrest or those uprisings were triggered, in part by prolonged droughts and agricultural failures. And we have seen the streams of refugees coming from those places, especially in the United States, has really increased the amount of xenophobia and racism I think that a lot of people on the right feel comfortable demonstrating.

So the ecological crisis is not just about fish and trees, it’s really about the kind of society that we’re going to have in the future. For human beings, are we going to have a society where fascism is considered kind of a necessary response to streams of refugees moving from equatorial areas, as of local economies collapse? Are we going to see an even greater resurgence of racism in order to justify that? Are we going to see much more draconian police response to deal with the unrest and uprisings that could happen? So our future, our future in terms of justice and human rights really depends on us dealing effectively with climate change in the short term, because climate change is not something that we can kind of ignore and come back to and 20 or 30 or 40 years. There’s a real lag effect, that the emissions now those are going to cause warming for decades or even centuries. And the response is really nonlinear. So what I mean by that is, if you double the amount of greenhouse gases that you’re putting out, that doesn’t necessarily double the temperature impact. There are many tipping points. So as the Arctic ice melts in the Arctic Ocean, and that white snow turns to a darker sea, then that is going to absorb more sunlight, more solar energy and accelerate warming. It’s the same thing in the Amazon rainforests, the Amazon rainforest creates its own climate, creates its own rainfall and clouds. So you can easily hit a point where the entire forest is suddenly put into drought and starts to collapse.

We really need to prevent those tipping points from happening and to act as quickly as possible to prevent catastrophic climate change, because it’s going to be almost impossible to deal with, in a fair way once that happens. And that’s really the idea of climate justice, right? That the impacts of global warming are disproportionately put on people of color, on low income people, on poorer countries. And so if we want to have a fairer future, then that means those of us who are living in more affluent economies have a responsibility to reduce those emissions. Those of us who have more affluent lifestyles, their main responsibility to deal with that, to produce a future as well, that is fair and just and where human rights are still important.

TFSR: And like to, I think, reiterate a point in there, it seems like fairness and justice are good rulers to kind of hold ourselves to, but it seems like it’s for the survival of the species, as well as for the betterment and an improvement of all of our lives with these eminent and emergent threats. Resolving this and working towards working together with everyone is the best option.

AM: Yeah, I mean, I think it’s true. And I think one of the reasons that I’m interested in organizing around climate justice is because it’s one of the ultimate areas of common ground, right? It kind of connects people who are in many different places and working on many different struggles. Because activists who I work with, who are mostly anti-racist activists, understand why this is important. I mean, we’re already seeing that impact around the world. And activists who work on food security and hunger, I mean, it’s totally clear why climate change is important, because our ability to grow food in the future depends on avoiding catastrophic climate change. When I’m working with anti-authoritarians, it’s the same thing. So I really do see climate justice as an important movement building issue, something that can connect a lot of causes that might seem more disparate from from kind of a distance.

TFSR: I think your work does a really good job of pulling together, the fabric, sort of like weaving together these pieces and patchwork to say that these are all interrelated. And for us to ignore one of these elements means that we create a much weaker fabric, if even something that’ll hold together at all. Your most recent and huge two part book was entitled Full Spectrum Resistance, and the first subtitle was Building Movements and Fighting to Win, and the second was Action and Strategies for Change. Can you share what you mean by “full spectrum resistance”, and what you hope these books will bring to the table for folks organizing to not only stop the destruction of complex life on Earth, but to increase the quality of our survival and our living together?

AM: Of course. So I wrote this book because I’ve been an activist for more than 20 years, and almost all of the campaigns that I worked on, we were losing ground, right? I mean, that was the case for many environmental struggles, but also in struggles around the gap between the rich and poor, around many other things. But I saw in history and around the world, many examples of movements that had been incredibly successful. And the fact that a lot of the rights that people take for granted today – a lot of our human rights – come from movements that learned really valuable lessons about how to be effective. Movements that didn’t know necessarily know at the beginning, what would create kind of a winning outcome. And so full spectrum resistance is an idea that I think encapsulates some of the key characteristics that successful movements need to have, especially when they want to move beyond maybe a single issue or a local concern.

So one of those components of full spectrum resistance is a diversity of tactics. I think that’s really critical. I think one of the reasons that the left hasn’t been as successful in recent years, is that it’s really been whittled down to a couple of main tactics, it’s been whittled down to voting, and to voting with your dollar, right? To kind of ethical consumerism. And those are very limited tools. And they’re tools that leave out the vast majority of tactics that movements have used in the past, right? Successful movements like the Civil Rights Movement, or the suffragists or their movement against apartheid in South Africa. They used a huge range of tactics. I mean, they certainly use things like petitions and awareness raising tool at different times. But they also use tactics that allowed them to generate political force and disruption. So a lot of people don’t realize that, you know, to win the right to vote suffragist movements use property destruction and arson quite frequently. When people are talking about Nelson Mandela and the anti-apartheid movement, people often use Nelson Mandela, ironically, as a reason why we shouldn’t be disruptive. They think of him as this really peaceful guy because he spent close to 30 years in prison. But Nelson Mandela helped to create the underground armed wing of the African National Congress. That was a struggle that used armed self defense and sabotage extensively in South Africa. And allies used all kinds of economic disruption, especially divestment around the world to try to pressure the South African government. And we can take a look in more detail at some of these case studies if you want. But I think a diversity of tactics is really critical in building movements that win. Because if we stick to only one tactic, then that really limits our ability to escalate, and that limits our ability to adapt. It’s easy for those in power to understand how to undermine one tactic, if it’s the only one that we use.

I think another aspect of full spectrum resistance is cooperation among different kind of…constituencies, you might call them. So those in power can stay in power through divide and conquer, right? That’s one of their primary tools is to split resistance movements or social movements into different manageable chunks, like “militants” and “moderates”. So they can split the people who are willing to go out into the street and protest with kind of maybe a broader, more moderate group of people who support them. And they can just go ahead and arrest you know, a small group of militants in the street, if they’re able to separate those people.

Let me, actually let me give you an example of how a diversity of tactics and this cooperation can work. One of the movements that I talk about, or one of the campaigns that I talk about in the book, is an anti-apartheid group that organized in New York City at Columbia University in the 1980’s. And they were an organization that was trying to get Columbia University to stop investing in companies that did business in South Africa, right? South Africa was kind of a resource empire at the time, there were huge mineral resources that were being extracted, and people were making a lot of money. But because of the racism, because of the authoritarianism of that apartheid system, people around the world were really struggling to generate political force to put the pressure on to end the system of apartheid.

And so Columbia University, like many universities had big endowments, big investments. And there is this group is called the committee for a free South Africa at Columbia University. And they started with kind of classic strategy of awareness raising, so they held discussion groups and teachings about apartheid. They had, you know, petitions to try to convince the government of Columbia University to divest from South Africa. And they really did everything that you were supposed to do, right? They did all of the things that we’re kind of told, told that we are supposed to do in order to succeed. They built that public awareness and understanding, and they hit a wall. They got to the point where the administration and faculty and student representatives in the student government all voted for divestment by the top level of government, their board of trustees overruled them. And I think that point that they reached is a point that a lot of our struggles eventually meet, right? Where we’ve done the things that we’re supposed to do, but still those in power refused to do what is right. And it was a real turning point for those anti-apartheid organizers. And their attendance at events started to decrease after that, because well people thought “hey, this struggle is over, the Board of Trustees isn’t going to diverse, so what can you do, we just lost this one.” But those organizers, they weren’t willing to just give up, they realized they needed to escalate to win.

They decided to plan a series of disruptive simultaneous actions, they started a hunger strike. And they took over a building, they blockaded a building on campus and said “we’re not going to go anywhere until Columbia University divest.” And this was a big risk for them, right? Because they’d seen this declining participation. But it actually worked. They started with a handful of people at this blockade. And more and more people started coming. There’s this fascinating statistic about this campaign. Before the blockade, only 9% of the student body considered themselves at least somewhat active in that campaign for divestment. So only 9% had shown up to a rally or you know, signed a petition. But in the weeks to come, 37% of the entire student body participated in that blockade, by joining rallies or by sleeping overnight on the steps.

So, you know, that kind of divestment campaign, I think is very important. Now, in part because that campaign worked, Columbia University eventually did give in and did agree to divest. And that shows to us, you know, the value of a diversity of tactics, the value of disruption, the value of cooperation between people who are using different kinds of tactics. I think that really is something that we can learn and apply very effectively. And then the current day, another key part of full spectrum resistance is that solidarity between movements, to avoid the divide and conquer tactics that those in power try to use. And the fourth thing is really an intersectional approach is to try to synthesize the different ideas and the different philosophies that motivate different campaigns and that motivate different movements. Because we’re in a time when I don’t think single issue campaigns can succeed anymore, certainly in the context of climate change, but also in the context of rising authoritarianism. We need to look at how we can build that shared analysis, build genuine intersectionality in order to create movements that are truly powerful and effective.

TFSR: So with the Columbia example, it’s really interesting to point to that, I hadn’t heard of that before, and that seems like there’s a lot of lessons to be gathered from that. With what we’re talking about with the scope of climate change, like the larger scope of climate change, obviously, is you can break it down into smaller and smaller points of this extraction thing happens in this place, those materials are transported here, they’re processed here, they’re consumed or subsidized by these populations are these organizations. So I guess, like the level of amplification of resistance that you’re willing to apply to a situation should scale according to what you’re trying to succeed at doing.

With this wider scope of resistance to something that you could look at as a whole as the way that governments backup energy infrastructure, and monocrop industrial agriculture, the scale of this…I get kind of lost between that point of pressuring the people at the top of the university to divest once all the other steps have been denied, like the scaling between that and looking at, say, for instance, the US government and pressuring them…I kind of just get lost in the clouds at that point. I’m like, well, the US government is going to want to continue business as usual as much as it can, in part because of its investors, much like Colombia, but also because it’s sustaining a more “holistic” system. How does the anecdote of Colombia and the resistance there fit into a wider scope of looking at governments and the ecological destruction that they’re involved with?

AM: Yeah, that’s a great question. And I think one of the biggest challenges of the climate justice movement is the way that climate change and fossil fuel emissions, it all just feel so overwhelming and so diffuse, it’s hard to figure out, where should we actually focus our energy. But I think that many, or most movements in history, at some point, faced a similar problem, right? I mean, the anti-apartheid movement that Colombia was was a part of and were supporting. That was a movement that lasted for generations, the African National Congress was founded in 1912. And certainly at different points it was very unclear what people should do, you know, what was actually going to work against such a violently repressive regime. And so for me, I think there are a bunch of things that we can and should do to help address problems that seem really overwhelming or diffuse. And one of them, of course, is just to keep building our movements and to keep building our capacity and our connections. Because as long as we feel like we’re kind of isolated individuals or isolated pockets of resistance, it’s hard for us to see how we can tackle bigger problems. And that isolation is not an accident. Any authoritarian power especially wants to keep people divided and distrustful. So it’s important that we build cultures of resistance, that we build real connections with each other, and that we celebrate movements in the past that have won, so that we can kind of build up our capacity.

And I think it’s also important to look for areas where we can have early wins or kind of low hanging fruit. Areas where the problem is not as diffuse, but where the problem is more, is much more concrete or much more tangible. And so a great example of both of those things that work would be some of the mobilization against fossil fuel that has happened in so-called Canada in this year, and in recent years. So I don’t know if all of your listeners have been following this, but in February and March of this year of 2020, we saw some of the biggest Indigenous solidarity mobilizations in Canadian history. And those were kind of provoked by a particular flashpoint on the west coast. So there’s a settlement called Unist’ot’en which is on a pipeline route, there’s a site where the Canadian government and a variety of oil companies have been trying to build a series of pipelines to the west coast so that oil and fracked natural gas can be exported. And the Indigenous people who live there, the Wet’suwet’en, the traditional hereditary leaders have been very committed for many years to stop that from happening, and have essentially built this community on the pipeline route to assert their traditional rights and to assert their Indigenous sovereignty.

And in February at the beginning of February 2020, the government sent in really large armed force of RCMP officers and other officers, to try to kind of smash through different checkpoints that Indigenous communities had set up on the route leading to this site on the road, and also to destroy the gate that was keeping oil workers from going in and working on the construction of this pipeline. And the community there had been really good at building a culture of resistance over years, not just amongst Indigenous people, but among settler allies across the country. And so when that raid began, there was a really powerful response from many different communities. So a Mohawk community located just west of me, Tyendinaga, they decided to blockade the major east-west rail line that runs through Ontario, and that is kind of a bottleneck for the entire country. And other Indigenous communities started to do this as well, to set up rail blockades. And essentially, the entire rail network of Canada was shut down for weeks. You know, there were massive transportation backlogs.

And there were other disruptive actions as well, things like blockades of bridges – including international bridges – blockades and slowdowns of highways. And there was all of this mobilization that a year or two ago seemed inconceivable, it seemed impossible that any kind of disruption would be able to happen on that scale because nothing like that had happened before. And it was a really powerful movement that did cause the government to back off and cause the police to back off and start these new negotiations. And you know the COVID pandemic was declared at the same time as a lot of this organizing was still happening, so it’s kind of unclear what might have happened if that action had continued without a pandemic. But the rallying cry for a lot of organizers at that point was “shut down Canada”, which the pandemic did on a much larger kind of unanticipated scale.

But I think that example of the Wet’suwet’en solidarity and the disruption around it really points the way to potential successes and potentially more effective styles of organizing for the climate justice movement. And I think they have done a lot of things, right. They built that culture of resistance. So they didn’t just wait around for kind of a spontaneous uprising to happen, which I think almost never happens. They had built these connections over many years and build capacity and people had trained each other and trained themselves. And they had a particular location that they were trying to protect, right? So it wasn’t just “let’s go out and protect the entire world and protect all people.” You know, it’s hard to mobilize movements around something that’s so vague, but there is a particular community of a particular group of Indigenous people on a particular spot. And I think it’s much easier to mobilize folks around tangible sites of conflict like that.

The last thing that they did that was really effective, and that I think we can learn from, is that they turned the weakness of having the fight against this diffuse industrial infrastructure into a strength. So instead of just saying, “Oh, well, there’s so many pipelines, there’s so many rail lines, there’s so many highways, nothing we can do is going to make any difference.” The movement kind of said “Hey, there are all of these pipelines and rail lines and highways that are basically undefended, and that we can go and disrupt – even if it’s only for a day or two – and then move to another site. This actually gives us the potential to be incredibly effective, and to cost oil companies a lot of money and to cost the Canadian economy a lot of money.” Because that’s often what it boils down to right is “can we cost a corporation or a government more than they’re getting from doing this bad thing?” And I think that the Wet’suwet’en struggle has been an example and a demonstration of how to do that.

TFSR: Yeah, absolutely. And I think that that points to a really cogent point in terms of how to think about this sort of resistance. There were, what, 200 years for the Canadian government to think about its relationship to Indigenous communities and the sovereignty of like…them just pushing through sovereign territories to get what they want to extract, to run railways, to put pipelines in or whatever. And so appealing to the logic or the “reasonability”, or the sense of justice of the people that were representing the bodies that were sitting in the chairs in the suits in government – who were enacting the logic of capitalist settler colonial government – was not working.

But what did work was showing that if you do not see this point, we will shut down your ability to do this, or we will escalate to the point that you will have to like, step up further, and push back. And I think it’s a point that often gets lost. And I think, consciously, it’s been inculcated out of us, I guess, that’s a way to say it? Like, in the United States at least, we’re educated that the example of the suffragettes, the example of Gandhi, the example of the resistance to apartheid in South Africa, all of these examples, the winning view that’s given by the power structures when they educate us is that reasonability won out because of the justice of the cause. And because people went out and put their bodies on the line, but also like their petitions were eventually heard, their voting actually was the effective measure that changed the balance of power and that forced those in power to recognize the justice of the demands. And I think that’s like pandemic offers an interesting insight into, again, how that’s BS, like marches don’t stop people in power from making decisions. The threat that marches bring with the amassing of angry people who can do damage, or who can disrupt things, is what actually makes people in power look at marches and why that specific way of engaging is considered dangerous to those in power and why they want to stop that sort of thing.

I think that there’s a parallel to be drawn between that great example with the Wet’suwet’en folks and the resistance that was given to the attack on Unist’ot’en and Gitdimt’en gate, alongside of what we’ve seen, during this pandemic, in a lot of countries, and particularly the United States – where I’ve heard this morning on the radio, which, hopefully, hopefully, it’ll be wrong by the time this gets broadcast – but the US where I’m based, has a quarter of the deaths from COVID-19, around the world, and yet we are something like 5% of the world population. Those are similar numbers to how many people are incarcerated in this country versus the rest of the world. And people in power, at this point are not representing that they have the ability, the capacity, the interest, the will to actually stop this pandemic from spreading, and killing off the people that are most marginalized – starting off with the people that are most marginalized – in our society.

And so it seems like appealing to that same wing of power, the ones that profit off of ecological destruction when it comes to scaling back ecological destruction, and trying to reverse that trend, doesn’t seem that reasonable. But the sort of like direct action instances that you’re talking about, in coordination with other methods of dialogue and culture building, feels really important and exciting to me. I don’t know if you think that seeing the reaction of governments during pandemic is comparable to the vast amount of knowledge of ecological destruction, is an apt comparison or not?

AM: Yeah, I think you make very important points. And I think that, especially under capitalism, one of our continuing challenges with those in power is that they always consider profit more important than life, right? They always consider profit more important than human safety and human wellbeing. And that applies whether we’re talking about incarceration or COVID, or climate change, or police departments. And because of that, those in power are almost never convinced or persuaded by arguments to do the right thing. And that’s the case in the examples that you’ve mentioned, as well. If we look at those historical movements, we have been given a really sanitized kind of false narrative about how things like the Civil Rights Movement worked, or the suffragettes – or the suffragists, rather – we’re told, hey, that, you know, the Civil Rights Movement, just finally convinced people because people like Martin Luther King were willing to risk getting beaten up. And that’s what changed things. But that is not primarily what changed the people who are in positions of power, right? I’m sure there were a lot of people on the sidelines, especially in the north, who saw Black people and white people being beaten up by police on the Freedom Rides, for example, and that changed their opinion about things, or that helped mobilize them to do something about racism. But the racism, especially in the Southern states, and segregation, that didn’t end because of the Civil Rights Movement, giving a good example, that was dismantled, essentially, because of different kinds of force, political force, and sometimes physical force.

So in the Civil Rights Movement, we can look at the example of the Freedom Rides, when groups of white and Black organizers rode buses through the South where they were supposed to be segregated. And those buses were attacked by police and vigilantes, violently attacked, people ended up in hospital, buses were set on fire. And that didn’t actually end until essentially the federal government intervened, the federal government sent in troops to escort those Freedom Riders around the South to kind of complete their journey. And I think that’s something that people forget often, that racist violence didn’t just end because of a good example. It ended because there was some other form of force being employed. And I think people also forget that a lot of the non-violent demonstrations, the Civil Rights Demonstrations in the south, were protected by armed groups like the Deacons for Defense. The Deacons for Defense were an armed group before the Black Panthers, that was in many cases made up of military veterans, Black military veterans, who decided that they were tired of seeing civil rights marches getting attacked by the KKK or their police, and said we’re going to use our right to bear arms, and we’re going to go down there and defend people. And so a lot of the nonviolent actions that happened, were protected by armed Civil Rights activists.

So these sorts of things get written out of the history, especially by the in power, because those in power want to seem like the good guys, right? They want to seem like, “Hey, we are the ones who are going to come down and give you the rights, if you can provide us a good example, we’re just going to gift you these rights, these human rights” and that’s almost never have things will wind they will one because people were willing to struggle and people who are willing to disrupt.

I think that ignorance of social movement struggle is a form of white privilege. I have seen this at many different workshops, and many different talks that I’ve given, that often at the start of a workshop, I’ll ask people when they’re introducing themselves to name movement that inspires you, or name a campaign that inspires you. And oftentimes, the people who are coming to that workshop who are white organizers, who are newer organizers, they don’t have such a large repertoire to draw on, right, they’re much more likely to name a movement that happened locally or a movement that’s been in the news. Whereas a lot of the organizers who are people of color or from other marginalized communities, they can list off a ton of movements that inspire them that they’re learning from. And that’s important because marginalized communities understand better how to deal with those in power, how to get rights and how to protect your rights. And that’s often through social movements and through struggle, whereas people who are used to those in power looking out for their interests, especially, you know, middle class white men, they can afford to ignore social movement history, because they haven’t really needed social movements in the same way, or they don’t appreciate them.

And so when we have situations like we have now with growing authoritarianism, much more obvious racism, the climate emergency, people who are in positions of privilege, they find themselves at a loss, because they don’t know that movement history, so they don’t know how to respond. And it’s often movements of color movements of marginalized people, those are the movements that are going to teach us how to deal with these deep systems of injustice, these deep systems of inequality.

TFSR: So I guess, shifting gears back to like questions of wider approaches towards resisting ecological change, over the last couple of years there have been a few groups that have garnered a lot of headlines, and gained some sort of recognition and interplay with mainstream media, with governments around the world. I’m wondering what your full spectrum approach towards resistance sort of use the efficacy, or the impact of groups. I’m thinking of 350.org, Sunrise Movement and Extinction Rebellion, do those feel like single issue approaches towards ecological struggle? Because I know that there was some critiques definitely in the UK about extinction rebellion, specifically, the leadership weeding out people who are wanting to bring up questions around not only ecological devastation, but also around racism and around the existence of industrial capitalism, and its impact on that.

AM: Yeah. And I think that’s a big problem. I think that you can’t really address climate change without talking about capitalism, you can’t address climate change without talking about racism. And I think that, in general, the big liberal movements against climate change, or the big liberal organizations have failed. Partly for that reason, probably, because they’re not, they’re not looking at the root problems. They’re not radical organizations, right, they’re not going to the root of the issue. And so they’re not going to be able to use the tactics that will resolve it.

I think at this point, companies like Shell Oil, and you know, a variety of petroleum companies were very aware of climate change, going back to the 1960s. I mean, they had more extensive research at that point into climate change than the general public. And when I’ve done research into organizations that have fought against offshore drilling, for example, you can see that even in the 1980’s, oil companies like Shell are already building their oil rigs with taller legs in order to compensate for the sea level rise they expect to see. So the issue is not that those in power are totally ignorant of climate change, it’s that they’re making a lot of money from climate change and they think with all of the money they are making, that they can deal with the consequences for themselves personally, although not for everyone else.

And so that’s a huge problem and in some ways it’s slightly different from COVID. You know, in Canada, I think one of the reasons that we’ve seen a much stronger national response is because very early on the prime minister’s wife tested positive for COVID. And so clearly the impacts of the Coronavirus have been disproportionately bad for communities of color and for low income communities, but there still is much more potential for affluent people to get it. Whereas something like climate change, I think those in power have felt very isolated from especially in more northern countries. So that’s a huge problem. And that’s one of the reasons that just appealing to the good sensibilities of those in power is not going to succeed.

Maybe I’ll speak mostly about Extinction Rebellion, because when I was doing my book tour last here, and traveled from coast to coast in Canada, I ended up doing workshops about direct action and movement strategy for a lot of different Extinction Rebellion groups here. And I think, you know, from what I’ve seen, the people who have participated in those events have been very committed and strongly motivated, they understand that it really is an emergency, but they don’t always have a lot of history in kind of activism, or they don’t have as much movement experience as some of the other groups that I’ve worked with. Which can be good and bad, right? I mean, I think, you know, a lot of the liberal left, the reason that groups keep failing to address the climate crisis is because there’s kind of a standard issue dogma about how we need to convince governments to change and ask politely, and so on. And that’s really a dead end. So I think for people new to a movement or getting newly active, they are potentially more open to new ideas and new ways of doing things.

But I think that the Extinction Rebellion kind of movement in general, in Canada, and definitely in the UK, has not done a very good job of, of including the needs of Indigenous communities, and has not done a good job of including the needs of communities of color. And in particular, I think we see that in the relationship between Extinction Rebellion, and the police. This was a discussion that came up in almost every XR group that I have spoken with, that that kind of official line from XR in the UK is that you’re supposed to have a good relationship with the police, you’re supposed to go to the police in advance of an action and let them know what’s going to happen. And, you know, as a direct action organizer myself, and on many different issues, that sounds absolutely ridiculous, for a lot of reasons. One of which is that you lose the element of surprise, which is one of the key strategic advantages that smaller resistance movements need to have. But also, because if you go and try to cozy up to the police, or try to expect them to give you a good treatment because you’re bringing them a cake or something, I mean, that is really kind of a white focused thing to do, right? And that ignores the long standing grievances of Black and Indigenous communities in particular, because of the violent treatment that they’ve experienced at the hands of police. And of course, that has become even more obvious in recent months, and you know, the amount of attention and mobilization is long overdue. I think that’s been a real weakness of Extinction Rebellion, and I think it’s going to need to address that, and other climate justice movements will need to address that in order to succeed.

I think another challenge to Extinction Rebellion has been that they still are kind of assuming that if they make a strong enough argument that those in power will change their behavior. Because one of their big demands has been for those in power to tell the truth. And from my perspective, as an organizer, that almost never happens, right? Well, those in power rarely tell the truth and you don’t want to give them the opportunity to dominate the messaging. Those in power, whether it’s the corporate PR officers or government PR, I mean, they almost always dominate public discourse. And so if we have an opportunity to put in our own message, we should be doing that not kind of punting it back to those in power so they can either repeat the same business as usual line, or try to co-opt or undercut what we’re saying. I think there’s a huge strategic mistake. And what it means is that even if you’re blocking bridges, you can be doing that essentially as a form of militant lobbying, because you’re putting the potential for change in the hands of other people. And I think that movements that have succeeded in overturning deeply unjust systems In the past, they have been able to build up communities of resistance, they’ve been able to build up movements that can direct the changes that need to happen, and movements that are led by the people who are affected. In climate justice, that means, you know, we really need to highlight the voices of Indigenous communities, we need to highlight the voices of communities of color in the global South. And if we don’t do that, not only is it morally wrong and a moral failing, it’s going to be a strategic failing as well, because we’re not going to have the experience and the perspective we need at the table to create movements that will win and to create strategies that will win. It’s a real dead end.

So, you know, from my perspective, the most exciting movements that I see around climate justice are being led by communities of color, are being led by Indigenous communities, and that are incorporating people from a lot of different backgrounds. But keeping in mind that it’s not an option to fail here, it’s not an option to say, “Oh, the government should reduce emissions. And if they don’t, I guess, oh, well, we’ll go back to what we’re doing”, we actually really have to commit ourselves to to winning this struggle. And I think a lot of affluent white communities, because they’re insulated from the effects of climate change, at least so far, they don’t have that same motivation. They don’t have that same drive to win, they don’t have that same genuine sense, I think maybe of desperation even. So for them, the risk of getting arrested a few times maybe feels like a bigger risk than the risk of the entire planet being destroyed. I think the calculus of risk for Indigenous communities is often different, which is why we see them taking so much leadership like in the case of the Wet’suwet’en.

TFSR: So there’s the example of the Wet’suwet’en in terms of not only a sovereignty issue, but also the ecological impacts and the solidarity that they’re offering to the world by trying to blockade the extraction and eventual burning into the atmosphere of, I believe the tar sands, right, from Alberta. And then skipping to a not specifically ecological movement, the Black leadership and leadership of color in the Movement for Black Lives and the movement against white supremacist violence and police violence that sparked off with George Floyd’s assassination, but also has spread around the world because anti-blackness is so endemic in Western civilization. I’m wondering if there’s any other examples of current movements, particularly around ecological justice, that you feel inspired by that are led by communities of color and frontline communities?

AM: Hmm, that is a great question. I think that we have seen, you know, in Canada in particular, but all over we have seen many different movements that are Indigenous lead, I think that’s often the movements that I end up working with or supporting. The Dakota Access Pipeline is another example of a movement that has been Indigenous lead and has been very successful. I think, around the world, I see a lot of hope in organizations like La Via Campesina – the international povement of peasants and small farmers – which is a very radical movement that looks to overturn not just fossil fuel emissions, but also capitalism in general, that looks to create fundamentally different relationships between people and the planet, and to create community relationships. I think that sort of thing is really exciting. And I think when you look at food and farm based movements, there’s a lot of mobilization potential there, because food, like climate, is one of those commonalities between people that’s common ground. Everyone has to eat every day. And so I’m very excited about the tangibility that movements around food like La Via Campesina have the potential to lead to. I think there are a lot of migrant worker and migrant justice movements as well that really understand the connection between climate and justice in a way that a lot of liberal movements don’t.

I also think that a lot of the really effective movements and groups that are led by people of color, they’re often more local, kind of environmental justice movements, they are not necessarily as big or as well known. And they sometimes don’t want to be, right? I mean, they’re not trying to kind of mimic the corporate structure. They’re not trying to become a gigantic NGO. And I would encourage people to look for those movements that are close to you, to look for those movements that are led by communities of color and that are led by Indigenous people, and to try to connect with them and to support them. If that’s not the work that you’re doing already, how does that work connect? And how can these movements help to support each other, and to develop a shared understanding, and a shared analysis of what’s needed for action.

TFSR: Cool, thank you for responding to that one. One thing I thought of was the Coalition for Immokalee Workers – which is an immigrant led struggle based out of Florida – they do a lot of media work, but they also are addressing like the real impacts of the epidemic on undocumented populations and farm worker populations in so called USA.

So people who are also familiar with your work are going to be familiar with the fact that you co-authored a book called Deep Green Resistance, alongside Lierre Keith and Derrick Jensen some years back. And DGR, besides being a book, is also an organization or a movement, a call out for a movement. And I know one notable thing that was mentioned around Extinction Rebellion was the idea of putting your name out publicly and saying “I’m going to be participating in this direct action”. And that was the thing that I recalled anarchist being critical of DGR, and ecological resistors, where people were asked to sign up publicly and make a pledge to participate in this movement. But I know that you’ve left DGR, you have made public statements about why you have left Deep Green Resistance, but I would wonder if you could reiterate those right here and talk about the group and like why you came to leave it?

AM: Sure. So when writing Deep Green Resistance, what I really wanted to do was help people to understand the climate emergency and to understand better some of the tactics that would be required to deal with it. I do think now versus 10 years ago there’s a much greater understanding that we are in a climate emergency, and that more effective action is called for. It wasn’t my intent for there to be a group or an organization by that name. I kind of figured well, other people who are doing work already and other organizations will hopefully incorporate this analysis, or it will help to mobilize new people as well. And when some of the people who had read the book said, “Oh, we should make an organization about this”. I said, “Well, okay, great”. And it was really a fairly short period that I was participating in that, in kind of the first few months, because unfortunately, what happened when groups started to organize and people started wanting to get together for kind of trainings and conferences, my co authors became very transphobic. There were, you know, people who are asking, very reasonably, “oh, can I use the correct bathroom when I come to this event?” And they would say no. And, you know, it reminds me a lot of what’s been happening with JK Rowling recently. Instead of kind of responding to this critique, or instead of responding to people’s concerns about this, they really doubled down in a way that made it impossible for me to keep working with them, or to keep working with that organization.

I’m someone who is fully in support of trans rights and trans inclusion. And I think that their anti-trans attitudes were really detestable and really destructive. In part, because, you know, a lot of experienced organizers who had been getting connected to the organization left after that, totally understandably. So, it was really disappointing and heartbreaking. And I think that the choice that they made, basically destroyed the potential of that organization to be effective, to be kind of a viable movement organization, because it was such a toxic attitude. And I believe that, in general, it’s good to give people a chance to change their opinions or to learn from their mistakes, because there’s no perfect organization, there’s no perfect movement, right? There has to be potential for growth and for improvement, there has to be potential for everyone to kind of take feedback and learn. But at the same time, if it’s clear that someone is not going to do that, then I’m not going to keep working with them, because it’s not a good use of my energies, and it’s not an I don’t want to be connected with an organization that’s going to be transphobic, or that’s going to endorse any other kind of oppression.

It was a very disappointing experience in a lot of ways, but I think there’s still a lot of valuable content in that book in the book, Deep Green Resistance. I think it still had an an impact and beneficial ways in that it helped to in some communities or in some sub cultures, to accelerate and understanding of the climate emergency. It’s just disappointing that that was the outcome. I think that hopefully it will be a lesson for other activists in the future and for other organizations, to really, from the very beginning of your organization, to set out so much clearer ground rules and clearer points of unity about anti-oppression that everyone will agree on. I think a lot of movements or organizations can emerge out of kind of an ad hoc approach, can kind of coalesce together. And I think it’s really important to pause and make sure that you’re on the same page about everything, before putting in too much effort before putting in too much commitment.

TFSR: So besides the transphobia, another critique that’s come to the DGR approach that that was sort of laid down in the book, was valorization. Maybe not in all instances, but in some instances of like a vanguard, or like a military command structure. Which, in a military scenario and like combat zones, I’ve heard it like I’ve heard anarchist talk about like, yes, it makes sense to have a clear lines of communication, someone who’s maybe elected into that position for a short period of time, and who is recallable, be a person that will make decisions on behalf of whatever like a group is in an activity. Is that an effective approach towards organizing ecological resistance? On what scale is that an effective or appropriate model for decision making? And is there a conflict between concepts of leadership versus vanguard command structure?

AM: Sure, I don’t think that we should be having military style command structures. Part of the critique that I was trying to create speaking for myself, was that consensus is not always the ideal decision making structure for every single situation. And I think, especially in the early 2000s, in a lot of anarchist communities, there was this idea that consensus is the only approach and if you don’t believe in always using consensus, then you’re kind of an authoritarian. And I think that’s really an oversimplification. I think consensus is very good for a lot of situations, right? It’s good for situations where you have a lot of time, it’s good for situations where people have a similar level of investment in the outcome of a decision or where people have a similar level of experience, perhaps.

But consensus has some flaws, as well. And I think one of them is that, you know, if you have a group of, say, mostly white people and a handful of people of color, who are trying to make a consensus-based decision about something that has to do with racism, then you’re not necessarily going to get the outcome that you want, because that is a system that can downplay inequalities in experience that are real, right? Some people have more experience of racism or, or systems of oppression and consensus doesn’t always incorporate that.

So we were talking a lot about the Wet’suwet’en example earlier, the Wet’suwet’en struggle. And when settler allies have gone to Wet’suwet’en territory to help, they actually have to basically sign off and say, “Yeah, I’m fine to accept Indigenous leadership for the duration of my time there. And if I don’t want to accept it any more than I can leave.” And I think there’s a place for a lot of different kinds of decision making structures. So for me, it’s like tactics, right? I mean, there are some tactics that are really good in some situations, and really not very helpful and others. And I feel like with decision making, it’s the same way. For myself, I prefer to work in consensus situations most of the time, because that’s a way of making sure that you’re incorporating a lot of different perspectives. But I think when you do have a very tight timeline, you know, it makes sense, as you mentioned, to consider electing people or to have people who are maybe on a rotating basis kind of in charge for that action. I think that there’s room for a lot of different approaches in terms of decision making. And like our tactics, our form of decision making has to be matched to our situation and to our goals.

TFSR: So it feels like when talking about ecological devastation, and like the precarity of where we’re at as a species, in particular – again in western civilization – that there’s this misanthropic approach towards looking at problems and solutions in terms of human caused ecological unbalance. It’s sort of a Manichaean approach. And people talk about there being too large of human populations, or historically, that sort of numbers game kind of leads to a eugenicism position. That puts blame on poor people or indigent people, and darker skinned people, as they tend to be more marginalized in the settler colonial societies in this parts of the world. And often, like, even just those nations are taking up more resources, those nations are developing in a way that’s inconsistent with you know, ecological balance.

It feels like that sort of approach is one that ignores the question of how populations are interacting – or the economic systems that populations are kept within – with the world with, quote unquote, “resources” with other species. And there’s often a presumption affiliated with that, that we as a species are alien to or above the rest of the world, that we’re not a part of nature, that we’re separate from it. And I think there’s some kind of like Cartesian logic in there, because we can think about ourselves to be self aware, in a way that we understand. We presume that not only is there a lack of agency to other elements, within our surroundings, with other living things…I guess it goes back to, like, in the western sense, stories of genesis. Of human beings being given control over the natural world to determine how those quote unquote “resources” are used, as opposed to being a part of that natural world, and that we have a responsibility for ourselves and for our siblings. Can you talk about why it’s important to challenge like, sort of the fundamental weaknesses of the misanthropic approach that looks as us as outside of the natural world? And how shifting that question actually allows us to make the changes that will be required for us to possibly survive this mess?

AM: Sure, yeah. I mean, I understand why people get frustrated with humanity. But I think, both from a philosophical perspective and from an organizers perspective, blaming humans in general for the problem really kind of obscures the root of the emergencies that we’re facing, and it obscures the things that we need to do. I think some of what you’ve talked about, it’s really different forms of human exceptionalism, right? There are some people who don’t care about the environment at all, who are human exceptionalist, who think humans can do whatever we want, we’re immune to the same kind of rules that other organisms follow. We’re immune from the effects of the weather or the planet or the ecology. And of course that’s ridiculous. But at the same time, we have at the other end, people who really believe a different form of human exceptionalism and believe that humans are doomed to do bad things, that we’re kind of doomed to destroy the planet. And I don’t think either of those things are true. I think, you know, if you look at that history of humanity and our immediate ancestors, for millions of years we managed not to destroy the planet, or even put the planet in peril. It’s really a fairly new phenomenon that specific societies, and especially specific people in specific societies, have been causing this level of destruction. And that destruction is not really about population, it’s about wealth.

If you look at someone like Jeff Bezos, the CEO of Amazon who’s bringing in what? $12 billion a day that he’s adding to his his fortune, $12 billion in profit every day, compared with someone living in, say, Bangladesh, who’s barely emitting any carbon dioxide at all. There’s a huge disparity. And I think that people like Jeff Bezos would probably be happy to have us say, “Oh, well, the problem is just humanity. The problem is we’re going to destroy the planet. And I guess we have to build rocket ships and go to other planets, because that’s the only way to solve this problem.” Whereas really, it’s about wealth and capitalism. It’s that people in very wealthy countries, and especially the richest people in those countries, are doing most of the ecological damage, and who also have the power to stop doing that ecological damage if they chose and if they were willing to give up some of the money that they’re making every day.

So as an organizer, one of the reasons that I avoid that misanthropic approach is because it just doesn’t give us a lot of options, right? Like, if humans inherently are the problem, then do we just wait for humans to go extinct? I mean, I’ve certainly heard people say, “Oh, well, I guess the earth is going to come back into balance.” So you know, that kind of line of thinking. But for me as an organizer who works on many different issues, from prisons to gender equality, to you know, farm worker issues, that’s not a good enough solution. It’s not good enough to just throw your hands up and say, “oh, what can we do? It’s human nature,” because it doesn’t address the root power imbalances. And it also doesn’t give us any models for how to live better. Because that’s also what the misanthropy kind of obscures. It obscures the fact that the majority of Indigenous societies for the majority of history have lived in a way that has been beneficial for the land around them. And there are still many traditional communities and many societies that managed to live without destroying their environment and destroying the land.

And so I think, you know, if we say, “Oh, well, humans are just the problem”, then that kind of frees us up that burden of of learning more and actually changing our lifestyle, maybe, or changing our approach. I think it’s really important we look at the root of the problems that we’re facing, which in terms of climate, and many other things, is really about capitalism, colonialism, white supremacy, patriarchy, these overlapping systems of inequality. And I think, again, the solutions that we need to find have to do with looking to those communities that have been living in a better way, whether that’s Indigenous communities or communities that have struggled for genuine equality, genuine racial equality, gender equality, all of these things. And those are the kinds of communities that can help us to not just survive this climate emergency, but after that, and now to have communities to have societies that are actually worth living in. That are fair and inclusive, and where people aren’t constantly in this competitive struggle, and on the edge of precarity in this, you know, doggy dog situation. I think it’s a very good news story to look past that misanthropy and to look at societies that are worth living in.

TFSR: So your two books, in a lot of ways – just at least by the titles and by what we’ve been talking about – a lot of what they map out is strategies for resistance and strategies for challenging the current system. And I’m not sure if there’s a strong focus on what you’re talking about right now the like, “what are people doing in other places, what have people been doing?” Are there any examples, or any good roads towards gaining that knowledge that you can suggest? You mentioned just listening to people that have been living in other ways and to the people that have been most affected by the impacts of climate change and racialized capitalism? Are there any authors or any movements in addition to the Wet’suwet’en for instance, that you would suggest listening to or looking to?

AM: Sure, well, in closer to me, I think the Indigenous Environmental Network is a movement I look at a lot, the Migrant Rights Alliance is an organization that I’ve been paying a lot of attention to. So a slightly older book that I think is important is called Igniting a Revolution: Voices in Defense of the Earth, which is edited by Steven Best and Anthony J Nochella, and that’s a compilation of writings from many different people that kind of brings together anti-racism, anti-colonialism, anti-capitalism. I think that book is a really great place to start. And I think also, for me, a lot of the case studies that I talked about, a lot of movements that I talked about, are examples of people who’ve tried to kind of bring this intersectionality together in the past; Black Panther Fred Hampton was an incredibly powerful organizer who brought together, you know, this anti-racist, anti-capitalist approach. People like Judi Bari, the environmental activist who put forward a philosophy she called “revolutionary ecology”, that synthesized feminism and Earth First! and kind of working class analysis of capitalism.

I think people like that are really important to listen to. And I think, you know, it’s no coincidence that Fred Hampton was assassinated by the police, or that Judi Bari was bombed by the police. Those in power are really terrified by movements that take this intersectional approach and by people who do this, because, you know, when we start moving in this direction we can be incredibly effective and bring together a lot of different groups and movements, and have a really powerful transformative impact.

TFSR: Thank you so much for having this conversation. Aric, could you tell listeners how they can get ahold of any of your books or where they can find your writings or follow your ongoing journalism?

AM: Yeah, so you can find out more about Full Spectrum Resistance by visiting fullspectrumresistance.org. And you can also download some additional resources and read or listen to the first chapter there. If you want to look at some of my other work, you can visit aricmcbay.org, A-R-I-C-M-C-B-A-Y dot org. And I also have a Facebook page, Aric McBay author.

TFSR: Thank you again, so much, for taking the time to have this conversation. And yeah, I appreciate your work.

AM: Thanks so much. Likewise, it’s been a pleasure.