Why MPD Pulls Guns on Highschoolers and Sends Tactical Vehicles to Dance Parties

From the Belli Research Institute

Note: The article was hastily written a while back but the narrative and ideas presented still feel as pertinent as ever.

On January 19th, we tried to host a public dance party in Uptown in south Minneapolis. We asked people to meet up in a grassy spot by the Walker Library and were planning on dancing around with strangers to some hip-hop on our tiny mobile sound system and shooting off some fireworks. Since we put the invitation online, we expected a police car or two to watch us and make sure it didn’t get out of hand. But when we arrived at the location, we didn’t find the lone cop parked across the street with his feet up and donuts in hand as we were expecting. Instead, we were confronted by lines of cop cars spanning multiple blocks in every direction, vans, private security guards from The Mansion (a club across the street), and also tactical riot vehicles parked in the Lunds & Byerlys parking lot a block away, along with five or six more police SUVs. They even parked multiple vehicles in the grassy spot we wanted to start in. All we could do was scuttle away, completely deflated, trying at that point to simply avoid getting stopped and potentially losing our fireworks or sound system. We went to Liquor Lyle’s and drank, wondering why the police would go through so much trouble to shut down a dance party.

We have some ideas, but first, a little back story. Following the election, we knew like so many others that a violent storm was coming. We more or less all come from that thing that could be called “activism,” but all feel very alienated and distanced from that world now. We all wanted to do something, we just weren’t confident that more marches and rallies were going to the thing to stop a travel ban or the uptick in racist attacks. Meeting people who are unhappy and like-minded is the first step to making concrete plans. Our problem was that marches are really fucking boring when you just march along the parade route. Plus you can barely hear anyone (and thus can’t have a conversation) over the “Love trumps hate!” chants. It’s simply a bad place to meet people with whom you’d like to do anything other than attend other demonstrations. So when people started making plans to protest inauguration day, we wanted to work to create some space to congregate, talk, and dance. We wanted to see what would happen if we called for an anti-Trump dance party on January 19th in Uptown. We were going to blast music and hand out fireworks and encourage rowdy—but relatively low-risk—behavior and hopefully meet up afterwards at a bar to talk about where to go next. Although some questioned the purpose of such an event, it’s objectively true that had we been able to block a single street in Uptown for an hour without a permit, we would have been “resisting” more than any of the massive, but permitted and planned, marches that took place in the following days. We had no illusions about our capacities though, and did not imagine that this small action would significantly disturb the function of the city. Our goal from the beginning was to open up a space for meeting people, specifically people who were afraid, angry, and confused by the trump presidency and wanted to meet others who hated trump but who didn’t believe in activism, whether because they found it pointless or because it didn’t feel empowering in the way some would hope.

But that didn’t happen. Instead, we walked into what must have been an exciting counter-insurgency fantasy for the Minneapolis Police Department. When we saw all the cops, we moved into a parking lot to get out of sight, but were followed by an undercover sliming around behind us who peaked around the corner and gleefully ran back to report to his team that he’d found the bad kids. Our friends called us to say they’d ditched after seeing the scene, and we imagine many others did the same. One friend who walked from the next neighborhood away said he saw cops parked at steady intervals for about a mile. So we retreated. We were sad.

So why did the cops put all this effort and resources into stopping what would have probably been thirty to fifty people dancing in the street for an hour or two? Why did MPD send a Persian army to our aborted battle of Thermopylae and only a handful to the “mega march against trump” the next day? We imagine they decided to send half of the available cops in the city to shut down a dance party in Uptown for the same reason we chose to host our party there: because Uptown is representative of an ongoing war against those undesirable people of the city that the inhabitants of Uptown never have to see anymore. Yes, the MPD sent their army to defend the most advanced territory of an ever-widening circle of gentrification. Many have had something to say about the process of gentrification in Minneapolis, but few consider the concrete practices of exclusion it entails. We wonder: Do the bros in Uptown, after a night of shuttling back and forth from Coup d’état to Cowboy Slims and back up the stairs to their condos, and who occupy the sidewalks with the same flagrant entitlement as they do their rooftop patios, ever dream of the homeless, the freaks, the drug addicts, or the loiterers who were removed to make way for their adult-sized playground? Are they ever haunted by the curses of the women whose stories of abuse and assault were minimized, ignored, or rejected in a world of silence and tacit agreements among men that makes night life increasingly dangerous for everyone else?

The bellicose occupation by the MPD was an exceptional occurrence, but one that reveals the reserves of force the police keep on deck for whenever they believe an event or a group of people may in any way hinder the commercial operations of Minneapolis’ most affluent districts. The process most critics of gentrification focus on is the rising of rent prices. This long-term form of exclusion is often characterized by the influx of mostly white entrepreneurs, artists, activists, and college graduates. While these individuals absolutely have a role in the process of gentrification, pointing the finger solely at them takes attention away from the systemic cause that drives gentrification, namely, capitalism. Centering in on the individual’s role in gentrification gives rise to solutions based on the individual. Hence the arguments that white people should only move to affluent areas. Surely white people and people with wealth or other social capital ought to be aware of the dynamics of the neighborhoods they intend to move to, but, in addition to this selective moving being impossible for many, this framing of the issue also de-emphisizes the driving forces of capitalism and transforms the political issue of gentrification into a moral and individualistic one. It also tends to take the spotlight off of the police who are the actual people tasked with evicting the previous residents and monitoring or arresting those outsiders (the homeless, black youth, “criminals,” people who “look Muslim”) who remain and wander in the gentrified region. Things may appear normal in a gentrified district, but with the appearance of abnormality or aberrance comes the threat and use of force. This supposition was strongly reinforced by what came next.

About a month later, we got another glimpse of the strong hand of reinforcement and protection that assures a comfortable environment for business owners and rich kids when we were witness to a far more regular event just a block away from where the dance party never happened. As a group of four of us were walking around Calhoun Square on our way to see a weekend showing of I Am Not Your Negro we were passed by a speeding fuzz car and gave it the usual “oh great.” Our cohort up ahead began recording from a spot on the sidewalk with a clear view of the car they were stopping—their guns already drawn and pointed forward. They flung open the doors of the car and we could see within it several black teens all with their hands on their heads. In under a minute, four more police cars pulled up behind the first to block the street entirely. The two police pointing their guns into the backseat of the car began forcibly pulling out the teens, continuing to shove the guns in their faces. One of the teens they pulled out of the car fell hard on the concrete, his ankles wrapped up in all their backpacks in the back seat. As the teens were being patted down, a cop said loudly, “we are making sure the community is safe”—but safe for whom we might ask? As this was happening one of our group was speaking loudly about the right to remain silent and asking why the teens were being detained—of course no answer. One officer did, however, approach and grab him, while saying “you’re being an inciter,” put him in an arm-lock and dragged him farther away from the scene on the sidewalk.

With the teens detained and concealed in squad cars we walked the remainder of the block to the movie theater and all felt like screaming about what was happening to all the totally oblivious Friday night Uptowners flitting around us. Ironically (although not really), the film we were on our way to see addresses the systematic anti-Blackness of society, albeit in a historical context around a respected figure, and yet this was happening literally 100 feet away from where everyone was buying their tickets. We didn’t see the movie then and walked back outside, noticing another bystander who seemed to have intentionally stopped to watch. We joined this person and began talking to him—he was equally upset but not surprised about this happening. We communicated thoughts and feelings with each other about the banality and severity of such occurrences and agreed that though something like what we were witnessing was an everyday occurrence it should not be treated with the levity of an everyday occurrence. So long as people continue to just pass by and believe there is absolutely nothing they can do, police will continue to believe that they can brutalize with no social or physical consequence.

We noticed that the squad cars weren’t going anywhere. The officers were on their cell phones in what we imagined were conversations about whether there was anything they could charge the teens with—anything possible to make them look better in something that was obviously white supremacy at work. During the forty-five minutes of standing around we saw the car the teens were driving get searched in-and-out and towed away and were passed by many groups of people that didn’t even glance at what was happening and others who stopped momentarily, asked what was going on and then shook their head, said it was awful, and went on with their Friday night.

Finally the teens were released on the spot, after their car was towed away by a private towing company. We crossed the street and met up with them as they were being released. They were of course in a total daze and began realizing a whole number of horrible things in the moments that followed: they were robbed of their backpacks with their homework assignments and text books, their cell phones, and their wallets with their IDs and cash. These things were taken for “the investigation.” The teen who was driving was arrested since he had apparently forgotten his drivers license and didn’t have any other form of ID on him. We learned that they were on their way to the McDonald’s (a kind of island in the absurd titanium and glass glaze of Calhoun Square)  just half a block away before they were pulled over. They said the car they were in was one of their mom’s. They told us that they were asked by police first if they were Muslim (all but one of them was) and then were asked if they had grenades or bombs on them and then were laughed at. After talking about what they wanted to do, we gave them rides to their neighborhood. During the car ride they were expressing utter shock but also saying that they had experienced similar things before. They thought that they were going to be killed. The police never told them why they were being stopped, and of course never answered their questions.

Recalling this narrative to some (mostly white liberals) has left them utterly shocked:  “The police stole their money?”, “But why were they pulled over?”, “That is totally illegal!”, “Intervening could be really dangerous“. No matter how many black people are murdered by police, liberals just don’t seem to want to give up on the idea that the police are intrinsically good and it’s just the few bad apples who need to be changed, or similarly that they are a necessarily evil or something like that. This policing (“protecting”/”preserving”) of Calhoun Square which ruined these black teens’ nights, weeks, homework assignments, and probably a lot of potential other things down the line for them, is not an exceptional example of the police’s everyday role in the ongoing process of gentrification in areas such as Uptown. We tried submitting this narrative to the local weekly here, City Pages, in hopes of it getting a wider readership, but we heard back that “there was nothing new to be said about gentrification.” Oh yeah, that “old news.”

So, interlocutors were shocked to hear about black teens being stopped for no reason in a fancy-ass neighborhood as well as to hear that the police shut down an anti-trump dance party (as if both were indicative of some dystopic future to expect)—and City Pages is bored with it all. Certainly tensions are rising: right-wing bigotry and the face of neoliberalism becoming ever-more obvious and talked-about but shock and awe from people about the turns of these events also evidences a total lack of acceptance of the conditions that are now and that have been before a Trump election. If liberals are looking for something to resist they need not look beyond their comfortable life and what makes it possible—namely: capitalist infrastructure, city planning, policing, and a social order aimed at eradicating the “undesirables” from their neighborhoods or from the neighborhoods where they buy their Fjallraven backpacks. Seeing a group of teenagers dragged from a vehicle at gunpoint really should illicit some kind of response. What is this anti-black world—where it is so normal to see blackness as “criminal”—that the yuppies at the Soviet bar watching from behind glass and over their $12 cocktails barely even noticed?

We have yet to fully process the events narrated here, and clearly feel a lot of feelings, but these are some lessons we’ve gleaned from our reflections so far:

1. Gentrification is a process that excludes not only by means of rising rent prices, but also by militaristic mobilization and surveillance.

2. Gentrification is not a process made up of the actions of individuals. Although (mostly) affluent white people do have a role in accelerating the process, gentrification is embedded in the very normal systems of capitalism and social policing and will not go away if white people just “move to their own neighborhoods”, or shop at certain stores and boycott others, but only if these systems are rendered inoperable.

3. The “Muslim Ban” and other methods of racialized exclusion are not apocalyptic futures to come, but are already part of the contemporary and daily function of the city and police who surveil it.

4. If you see police terrorization and can stay close by to watch things, do. You can legally talk loudly (so that those being detained can hear) about how you have the right to remain silent and can ask police why you are being detained (though do expect to get harassed/possibly assaulted too if doing this). Watching and recording the police may not be an effective strategy in the long run (indeed reformists solution, like body cams, have done more to relegitimize the police than anything) but a group of people watching can put pressure on individual cops to not act abruptly. Sousveillance, a sort of “watching from below,” may be a false opposition [look out for more on that subject later] to the police and surveillance generally, but being present in cop interactions can possibly provide help to those being stopped. Intervention would be ideal, but short of such an opening, offering a little “human” connection if/when people are released can be a reassuring gesture that no one should have to deal alone.

Bashing Back!

From Nightfall

The following is the full interview with a former member of Bash Back! Twin Cities. An abridged version was published in issue 6.

Can you give a brief overview of what Bash Back was nationally?

Bash Back! was a queer anarchist network with “chapters” in various cities across North America that existed from 2007-2010. It was initially founded for the explicit purpose of mobilizing queer anarchist blocs for the DNC and RNC, but ended up expanding and serving other purposes as well. Anyone who wanted to could form a chapter in their town, provided they agreed to the 4 points of unity:

  1. Fight for liberation. Nothing more, nothing less. State recognition in the form of oppressive institutions such as marriage and militarism are not steps toward liberation but rather towards heteronormative assimilation.
  2. A rejection of capitalism, imperialism, and all forms of state power.
  3. Actively oppose oppression both in and out of the “movement.” No oppressive behavior is to be tolerated.
  4. Respect a diversity of tactics in the struggle for liberation. Also, do not solely condemn an action on the grounds that the state deems it to be illegal.

Bash Back had a few national convergences, but otherwise chapters were completely autonomous and there was little coordination between them other than interpersonal relationships. Actions varied from confronting Neo-Nazis, to attacking homophobic churches, to disrupting mainstream GLBT functions, to calling for queer blocs at major mobilizations like the G20, to creating a squatted social center for queer youth, to campaigns of vengeance against local murderers of transwomen, to distributing massive amounts of pink camo pepperspray, to dance parties ending in riots…probably anything you could think of that queer anarchists might do was done somewhere during that time in the name of Bash Back! There were also some more theoretical texts circulating in that milieu at the time, probably the most quintessential of which was Towards The Queerest Insurrection which can easily be found online still today.

What was the context for the emergence of Bash Back locally?

Locally, as I would imagine was the case elsewhere as well, Bash Back! brought together folks from the anarchist scene who were also queer and folks in the queer scene who were also anarchists or who had affinity with anarchism. I am not particularly qualified to speak to the local radical queer scene prior to Bash Back!, but I will do my best. The three groups that I am aware of that would be relevant to talk about are The Avengers, the Trans March, and the Revolting Queers.

For those who are unfamiliar, the Lesbian Avengers emerged nationally in the 90s to confront invisibility and misogyny in the larger GLBT movement. They were known for eating fire and for organizing Dyke Marches during Pride weekend in various cities. Locally at the time, the Avengers was not strictly a lesbian group but was predominantly composed of female assigned and trans femme radical queers. The primary activity of the Avengers was organizing the local Dyke March, which was meant to be a more radical alternative to Corporate Pride. They did other things too, like creating a local collaborative Google Map of queerbashings and they were a part of mobilizing marches and demonstrations in response to violent local queerbashing incidents.

The Trans March locally began in 2007 I believe and my understanding is that its reasons for existing were similar to the Dyke March but for trans folks. Just as the Dyke March came out of lesbian identified folks feeling invisibilized and marginalized within Pride, and that Pride had become this sold out Corporate event, the Trans March came out of Trans folks feeling marginalized within the Dyke March and needing to be even more intersectional and radical than the Dyke March. That could be wrong, but that was my perception.

It does seem to point to a couple shortcomings of identity politics though. 1) When we organize on the basis of an identity, some other identities or subgroups will inevitably be marginalized within whatever identity group we are organizing around. In short, we can never be intersectional enough in practice. There will always be the need for more marches, if we think marches based around identities are the answer. 2) When working in coalitions around identity the more radical politics will get dropped in favor of what everyone can agree to so the less radical ends up setting the tone and character for the group: lowest common-denominator sort of organizing. Again if we think coalitional marches are the answer, there will always be room for a march that is “more radical” than the others. So after the Dyke March and the Trans March, what is the logical stopping point?[1]

Anyway, there is one more local group that I know the least about but that I wanted to mention. There was a group called the Revolting Queers. My understanding of that group is that the main organizers were grad students at the UMN and were primarily gay men. They mainly threw parties, but they also paid to be in the official Pride Parade and I think the idea was that each year they would bring some more radical message to the masses watching the Parade and subvert the system from the inside through their participation. They may have done other things too, again, this is the group I know the least about and was never personally involved with.

How did Bash Back Twin Cities emerge and what sort of things did you do?

I had been fangirling over Bash Back! nationally since the iconic Milwaukee Pridefest photo hit the internet in spring 2008 (Neo-Nazis has threatened to attack MKE Pridefest and BB MKE mobilized in response) but around the RNC I was rolling with people I knew well rather than with the BB! bloc. I went to the 2009 Radical Queer Convergence (organized by BB! Chicago) with some friends from school and ended up meeting some folks from Minneapolis there who were in the Avengers. When we got back I started to go to Avengers meetings and Trans March planning meetings and shortly thereafter about 5 or 6 of us formed BB! TC. A few folks came and went over the year that we existed, but it was always a pretty small core group with others occasionally coming to actions with us when invited.

We met weekly and engaged in a variety of activities in the name of Bash Back! Twin Cities. We disrupted an Human Rights Campaign gala and had a fake mass wedding professing our vows to queer insurrection and unicorns and cupcakes, we confronted Neo-Nazis (which unfortunately lead to some arrests but also Nazi uniforms covered in glitter and glue), we threw leaflets and glitter around the Mall of America and had a dance party on the light rail, we vandalized some military recruitment centers and a reserve base in response to mounting pressure to repeal Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, we called for a black bloc in the local march in response to the troop surge, we showed up and disrupted assimilationist marches for Marriage Equality, and there were probably a few other actions I am forgetting given how much time has passed.

Pride is coming up—what was Bash Back’s analysis of Pride events and their history?

Well nationally, BB! engaged with Pride in different ways. The first BB! action that I was aware of was BB! Milwaukee marching at MKE Pride with a banner that said “These Faggots Kill Fascists” and some thick wooden flag poles that looked like they could do some damage if Nazis decided to follow through on their threats to attack. In Chicago, BB! folks marched in the Dyke March with banners saying “Bash Back against Gentrification” and “No Pride in Corporate Greed.” I think Memphis did a banner drop along the Pride parade route. Somewhere out east a Pink and Black bloc snuck into the official parade, uninvited of course. I’m not sure what all other chapters did.

Locally our last action that we never wrote any communique for revolved around Pride. We snuck into Loring Park the night before Pride weekend and wheat-pasted anti-assimilationist propaganda in the Port-a-Potties. That part of the action was successful. But then we also tried to stop the Pride Parade on Sunday with a physical barrier and that failed miserably for multiple reasons. Logistically we did not plan well. We realized when we got there and found a spot that we didn’t have a way to lock the chain or whatever it was on each side of the street, so someone had to make a quick trip to the hardware store. The plan was right before the parade got to where we were we would lock the chain to one side of the street, run across and then lock it to something on the other side of the street as well, and then run away. It didn’t work, but also we didn’t put any thought into how to engage the people around us who were there to watch the parade and who figured out what we were trying to do and intervened to stop us (which we also didn’t anticipate) and had no idea why we were doing it. We needed more people to block for those doing the locking and running across and we needed others distributing leaflets and chanting and whatnot so that people knew why we were trying to block the parade. I am generally into not having slogans and whatnot but it wasn’t the right approach in this situation as there was a built-in audience for the action and it wasn’t obvious to them at all why we were against the Pride parade. I mean hopefully we looked queer enough not to be taken as homophobes but honestly I don’t know. I think to many of the spectators that was the only plausible reason some kids would try to stop the parade. So yeah that was particularly unfortunate that that was the last thing we did as BB! TC and it was not a high note for us. But that was how we engaged with Pride. Does that answer your question?

I mean, obviously we rejected the corporate, assimilationist, whitewashed festival of recuperation that Pride has become and did not want people to be able to forget the history of rioting and radical transwomen of color that the mainstream GLBT movement appropriates and yet sweeps under the rug.

It seems like one important theoretical contribution of Bash Back was to approach queerness not as another identity category to be enshrined within modern multiculturalism but as a tension or antagonism that leads us in the direction of a frontal assault on the mechanisms which produce us as gendered subjects. How did this approach play out in the work/actions taking place under the Bash Back mantle?

Well someone has been reading their Baedan! With that question I think you’ve hit on one of the tensions that lead to the early demise of Bash Back! both nationally and locally. Yes we were against assimilation, but we were not the first to take up that position. We were also not the first to theorize queer as a destabilizing anti-identity – the refusal of a fixed identity. Queer theorists deserve that credit, but we took queer theory out of academia and developed its implications in the streets. We became that destabilizing force. We wanted to be that force that social conservatives fear will destroy the family and by extension the nation. We were Bashing Back against everything that was hostile to our existence. Overall Bash Back! was antagonistic toward society at large – toward the mainstream GLBT movement, toward the state, the church, the family, capitalism…it fundamentally had an antisocial character and was against the institutions that produce us as subjects, certainly including as gendered and sexualized subjects. Through our words, aesthetics, and deeds, we constituted a queer force of desire and negation. This force encountered gender in a number of ways, from people choosing ridiculous and ever changing preferred gender pronouns (like food items) to genderfucking attire in blocs to disrupting pro-marriage marches and galas to vandalism of churches.

But the tension I think your question leads us to was the contradiction in mobilizing around an identity that is meant to be an anti-identity. We were critical of identity politics and yet at times we were engaging in identity politics, whether we wanted to admit it or not. If identity it is a trap then was Bash Back! not also a trap of our own making? And really this was one of the fundamental tensions in Bash Back!; people related differently to identity politics. Those who came from anarchist scenes tended to be critical of identity politics, while those who came from queer scenes tended to be less so, more like the militant wing of identity politics.

Anyway locally we met again after Bash Back! had officially dissolved to talk about where to go from there. I wanted to continue on as an affinity group and just expand the scope of what we were doing to things that weren’t specifically queer and invite in friends who were not queer. So basically just morph into an informal anarchist crew, but certainly it would retain more of a queer and feminist character than most anarchist crews and scenes. But no one else in BB! TC was down with that and others wanted to focus on bringing radical politics to the queer scene, which didn’t appeal to me. So I was the odd one out. I’m not actually sure to what extent the others went on to do that, either as a group or as individuals.

Before we move on though, there’s a bit more to say about this. Something that came up then but had also come up previously in BB! Twin Cities was that the other folks didn’t feel comfortable in the local anarchist scene. They felt too queer for cis, straight anarchists. I actually felt more comfortable in the anarchist scene than I did in the queer scene. [2] I didn’t feel like the right kind of queer for the queer scene and felt pressure to perform queerness in a way that didn’t feel genuine to me. And so much of it seemed to revolve around parties which didn’t appeal to me because I’m boring and introverted. But the reason I bring this up is that anarchists should be thinking about how queer friendly our scenes are or aren’t. For an example, we ended up working with members of the IWW and punks around antifa activities and I specifically had conversations with Wobblies about doing preferred pronouns during meeting introductions but they didn’t want to because they thought it would alienate the proles or whatever, which I actually think is bullshit. And if you make that choice, you are choosing to alienate queer folks who will otherwise be misgendered at your meetings out of fear of potentially alienating others who you are patronizing. And a couple times we went toe to toe with Neo-Nazis there were punks we had to call out for calling the Nazis pussies and faggots. That kind of bullshit limits who wants to continue to engage in antifa activities. That is something people should be intentional about as antifa makes an upswing in the Trump era.

Bash Back! was overall an insurrectionary project, how did that tendency interact Bash Back’s existence as an semi-organized network?

Yes I would say Bash Back! was an insurrectionary project. It is was conflictual and it did generalize in the sense of quickly spreading around North America. There was definitely an emphasis on attack and experimentation. In the decade or so that I have been an anarchist, the timeframe that Bach Back! was active also seems to me to have been the high point of insurrectionary anarchism in the US, at least in the Midwest but also more generally. I think Bash Back! was a notable part of that. We both influenced and were influenced by developments in that tendency around us.

As far as the question of organization, I mean yes there was a name and local groups calling themselves “chapters” but BB! was a network, not an organization. There was little to no coordination between chapters and chapters were more like local affinity groups or crews. However, Bash Back! locally and nationally dipped its toes both in above ground public organizing and in more clandestine activities, and that was probably ill-advised. It was just formal and public enough to be sued by a conservative group and for individual members to be subpoenaed for being known to be affiliated with Bash Back! Locally, we claimed most of our activities as Bash Back! Twin Cities and then for our glamdalism activities we wrote communiques signed “an autonomous cell of Bash Back!” or something like that as if we were not the same people in BB! TC but I don’t think we were fooling anyone. In a perfect world, those engaged in clandestine attacks would not also be doing anything resembling public organizing. At the very least, we shouldn’t have been using the name Bash Back! for both kinds of activities.

But this question gets to one of the other factors that lead to BB!’s unravelling. It’s extremely loose structure and lack of coherence and coordination meant that there were a lot of different people engaging in a lot of different activities in the name of Bash Back! And that isn’t a problem if people are down with that kind of diversity in struggle. But if people feel ownership over a project and they want that project to line up with their personal persuasions, then that becomes a problem when they don’t align with everyone else who has joined the project. This never bothered me, but I think for some there wasn’t enough ideological and tactical coherence for everyone to be laying claim to the same name. Certainly people had different visions for what Bash Back! should be and how it should operate.

Some felt that Bash Back! was becoming too much of an activist organization whereas it was intended to be a network for queer folks in anarchist scenes, and it had already fulfilled its original function of mobilizing for mass actions like DNC/RNC and G20. I myself am highly critical of formal organizations and am very much wary of organizations existing to exist rather than for a specific purpose. But I didn’t feel at that time that that criticism was apt for Bash Back! as a network. I felt like it was still inspiring a lot of interesting experimentation that wouldn’t be happening otherwise, or at least there would be less of it. It is a shame that having a name and some kind of vague structure spurs activity, but it seems to be true. But the question remains as to whether or not that activity is worthwhile. Overall I felt it was, but obviously others did not. [3]

While Bash Back ended rather quickly, how would you describe its long-term impact? What are lessons you drew from Bash Back that you carry with you today?

Well considering you mentioned that some of the Nightfall collective was unfamiliar with Bash Back!, I guess there isn’t much of a long-term impact, at least on the local anarchist scene. I don’t know but I would guess that is the case elsewhere as well. Anarchist scenes tend to have pitifully short life cycles. That’s why conversations like this are so important.

As far as the impact of Bash Back! on radical queer politics, I don’t really know as I haven’t engaged with those scenes locally or nationally since Bash Back! But I do think the recent attacks on the “#FreeSpeechBus” [4] are very much in the vein of the Bash Back! tendency. It’s interesting – there are radical queers who appropriate the violent, raucous queer history (and often whitewash it), but condemn queer violence and property destruction in the present. That was true in the era of Bash Back! and I’m sure there are still people like that today, but looking online I didn’t see anyone at all criticizing the attacks, insisting on non-violence. I’d like to think that perhaps Bash Back! helped to carve out space for queer militance in the 21st century.

There was another example given in the journal Hostis 2, where someone was recounting a mob responding to the recent murder of a local trans woman by setting fire to the house of the murderer, and young observers believing it to be the work of Bash Back! Something to that effect anyway, I might be remembering the details wrong. The point is, they weren’t entirely wrong. Like yes, that was the ghost of Bash Back!, literally made of some former Bash Backers! and I’m sure others who were never a part of BB! as a network but are a part of that tendency, perhaps consciously so, perhaps not.

Another example might be the sabotage of a bakery in Bloomington as vengeance for Feral Pines. The owners of the bakery had taken advantage of her as a trans woman who couldn’t easily find another job due to employment discrimination. And I’m sure there are other examples that I don’t know about, that do not have communiques that circulate nationally and are not recounted in journals. The spirit of Bash Back! never died, it just lost a corporeal form. But I do think it having had that form, even briefly, helped it spread immensely, growing the material force of queer insurrection and allowing it to cast a bigger shadow in life (i.e. have a larger effect both on anarchism in Turtle Island and on queer scenes) and birth a fierce ghost in death.

As far as lessons from Bash Back! that I take with me today… I feel like I am supposed to say something really profound here and I’m going to let us all down. But I will say that one of the things I most appreciated about Bash Back! was that we managed to be fierce yet simultaneously campy, satirical, and fun. We didn’t take ourselves too seriously and I think that anarchists at large could learn from that, both locally and nationally.

To give you some examples, there was a communique written on behalf of a whale at Sea World that killed it’s trainer and signed Splash Back! or some shit like that, there was a communique written about recruiting the rapper Soulja Boy Tell ’em, there was a satirical piece written in favor of the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell about how we would bring down the military from the inside, there was an essay called “How is it to be done in the Ass?,” Ariel Attack was doing these glamorous photoshoots posing with broken glass for her court dates and her fundraiser shirts were her silhouette in glitter with a hammer and said “It’s Hammer Time.” [5] Locally, we wrote many of our communiques in the style of silly diary entries, we wrote a call-out for a black bloc by referencing Justin Timberlake and the song “Bringing Sexy Back” and included a picture of JT with a badly photoshopped black bandanna on. We disrupted an HRC gala in campy wedding attire and recited vows about queer insurrection and unicorns and rainbows and cupcakes. We wrote ridiculous innuendo-filled love letters that we posted online satirizing Dan Dimaggio, a local straight cis white man who was a paid organizer for Socialist Alternative who formed and lead this GLBT front group that was trying to capitalize on the push for gay marriage. We fucking had fun when we could. I think it’s ridiculous that anarchists write communiques like a banner drop is going to bring the revolution or that a brief, uneventful 8 person march made the halls of power shake in their boots or whatever. Anarchism would be more approachable if we didn’t take ourselves so seriously and seem so delusional about ourselves and our impact. And maybe more people would be inclined to participate if we were actually fun. I do think Bash Back!’s sense of humor and campy qualities may have been part of why it didn’t quite get the respect it deserved from straight anarchists.

There’s another related, but more broad lesson that I take with me as well. That is grounding ourselves and our own needs in the projects that we undertake. I mean this in a few ways. 1) We weren’t about that activist self-sacrifice. And again that’s part of where having fun and following your desires comes into the picture. 2) There didn’t seem to be this focus on building toward the revolution or insurrection or whatever that seems to characterize North American anarchism. What we were doing was about the here and now, about our desires and needs. It had value in and of itself for ourselves and that’s why we were doing it. This world is terrible and it isn’t going to get better, we have to fight for room for ourselves to live the lives we desire (or at least the closest thing to the lives that we want as we can in this shithole). Take care of yourselves and your friends, do things that have meaning in and of themselves, be fierce and have fun. Give ’em hell, not to save someone else or for the fucking children, but because you want to. I think those are some lessons from Bash Back!

Any last thoughts you’d like to share?

Well the main thing people should know about Bash Back! Twin Cities was that we shat on the movements of the oppressed and dabbled in insurrection on the weekends. That was what a local Trotskyist accused us of on the internet back then and I wanted to get that in the interview somewhere.

I was telling a younger co-worker about Bash Back! when she was trying to recruit me for an action to disrupt the Pride Parade last year and she asked me how intersectional Bash Back! was in practice. I would say both locally and nationally we had an intersectional analysis and this was reflected in various communiques and actions, but that as with the anarchist scene at large, it was a predominantly white space. Bash Back! Chicago was probably the most diverse chapter, but unfortunately it didn’t survive the 2009 Radical Queer convergence. I don’t know how much I want to go into that here, but I kind of figured I wouldn’t make it through this interview without recounting that in some fashion.

I think the biggest misstep on the part of BB! Chicago with regards to that convergence was making it this wide open thing and inviting “all radical queers” instead of just making it a Bash Back! convergence that was for people who were either already involved with Bash Back! or who wanted to be or at minimum for people who agreed to the points of unity. Instead they had more people coming than they actually had the capacity to host and we didn’t actually have enough in common to make the convergence productive and instead it just turned into a mess.

Anyway the big controversy of that convergence was that there was an event that was advertised as a queer dance party on the train Saturday night that turned into a stroll through Boystown. [6] There were several controversies around this event. One was that some (white) people (patronizingly) felt it was inappropriate to have this dance party on a train with mostly working class POC riders. Another controversy was that as the dance party turned into a prole stroll in which folks were masking up, some felt that people were lured into a riot that they didn’t see coming, believing the stroll to be a planned event rather than a spontaneous action developing out of the train party. [7] Some (white) people were (patronizingly) upset that this development put POC participants at greater risk than they theoretically expected. Obviously people can decide for themselves if an action is one they want to participate in and how they want to participate (like walking on the sidewalk) and can speak for themselves.

As the police closed in from behind folks moved a newspaper box and a trash can into the street to block them, but others moved them back and yelled “No!” and “This is nonviolent!” and shit like that. Well the police didn’t get the memo about nonviolence and hit people with their cars and ran over someone’s foot and got out and attacked people with batons and asps and while some arrests were thwarted, they did successfully capture 4 folks that night. They specifically seemed to target gender non-conforming folks.

The next day there was a lengthy debrief sort of thing, and then of course the fallout continued after that weekend via the internet. There were a lot of white folks deploying ally politics in a way that I’m sure we’re all familiar with: speaking for others as a monolithic group, assuming that militance and violence are white impositions and that people of color lack agency and cannot make decisions, take initiative or speak for themselves. So yeah, some of the people of color in BB! Chicago understandably got frustrated with what they termed a white liberal takeover of Bash Back! I think it was less a white liberal takeover of Bash Back! itself so much as the result of inviting “all radical queers” to the convergence because a lot of white liberals identify as radical queers, and not in the way that Bash Back! meant that term. But anyway, BB! Chicago disbanded soon after that.

If folks want to know more about Bash Back! nationally and want to read the texts that were circulating at the time they should check out the book Queer Ultraviolence. I think the theoretical implications of Bash Back! are best addressed in the main essay in Baedan 1 which can be found for free on the anarchist library. All of the issues of Baedan are fantastic and should be of interest to anyone who enjoyed this interview.

Endnotes:

  1. I’m not sure when and why the local Dyke March stopped happening and the Avengers disbanded – it could have been just a matter of some key folks moving away, or maybe there were ideological disagreements- I really don’t know. The last local Trans March was in 2010. There were some planning meetings for one in 2011 with a lot of discussion and thought put into how to be more intersectional and if those who were coming to the planning meetings were capable of creating a space truly worth creating and ultimately the project was abandoned.

  2. And perhaps I should clarify here that this wasn’t a matter of me having passing privilege and them not or something like that. Bash Back! was pre-T and pre-top surgery for me. And I was using gender neutral pronouns as I do now. I was definitely a queerdo and was I was consistently read as such in a way that I often am not at this point in my life. My experience was that around anarchists for the most part I could just be myself and everyone was fine with that and it was no big deal. I didn’t feel compelled to act straight or gender normative and I also didn’t feel compelled to perform queerness in any particular way. The exception to that would be around certain Wobblies and wobbly-spaces and around certain antifa punks.

  3. I don’t think the demise of Bash Back! coinciding with pique Tiqqunist influence is incidental. Bash Back! didn’t align with what was cool in North American insurrectionary anarchism anymore. With the Tiqqunist influence came the emphasis on opacity and escaping the milieu and critiquing everything and reading more, doing less.

  4. The “Free Speech Bus” is a bus painted with transphobic slogans sponsored by conservative Christian Non-Profits that has been touring around New England. The bus has been successfully run out of every city it has tried to go to, and was spray painted, had a window broken and was keyed in NYC. Folks in CT also vandalized one of the funding organizations.

  5. Ariel Attack and an anonymous accomplice who got away smashed every window of the DNC headquarters in Denver.

  6. I don’t know Chicago super well but my understanding is that Boystown is a fairly white, well off gay neighborhood. I don’t know that there is really an equivalent here, but I think it be like if there was a gay section of Uptown.

  7. There was no conspiracy or trap but I do understand to an extent why it might have felt that way. I think to those who were down with Bash Back! and with insurrectionary anarchy more generally, there was an implicit understanding that the dance party might or even was likely to turn into something more, hence folks bringing masks along. It’s not that there was some master plan. But if you were a vaguely “radical” queer who came to the convergence but was not in the BB!/insurrectionary anarchist scenes and you thought you were just going to this fun dance party on the train and then people around you start masking up and get off the train, I can see how you might feel like you had been duped into a riot and might not be down with that. The problem again stems from casting too wide of a net for the convergence instead of making it an actual Bash Back! convergence where people were more or less on the same page. Now why those folks who weren’t down still chose to get off the train and join the stroll instead of just riding the train back as a separate group and going home for the night, I don’t know.

This text is available as a printable PDF here.

The Savage Peace

From the Belli Research Institute

The Savage Peace: Democracy’s 2500 Years Of Failure And The Legacy Of Global Civil War

Democracy has failed. The institutions we were supposed to believe in are falling into ruin all around us. Everywhere we look, exceptions to the law replace its normal application. Global civil war is becoming the new normal, and the police, developers, teachers, and politicians are doing everything in their power to prevent this fact from becoming known. Since the beginning of the West, there have been two parallel stories: one is the story of democracy progressing since its glorious founding in Ancient Athens, the other is the story of the wreckage it has left behind, which goes by the name of Civil War.

Table Of Contents:

Introduction

Civil War

Management

Civil War Revisited

Copies of the book are $5 plus shipping, email sashavs [at] riseup.net if you want one.

This book is available as a printable PDF here.

Keep It Local

From Nightfall

FrostbeardStudioThis past month Frostbeard Studio, a Powderhorn shop specializing in “homemade candles for book nerds,” had its windows smashed out and its walls tagged with anti-gentrification graffiti. Responses to this incident have varied, from citizens raging about the nerve of someone carrying out such an attack upon ‘community’ or ‘art’ to people stopping short of endorsing the property destruction yet acknowledging the negative effects shops like Frostbeard, whose candles cost $18 apiece, have on historically black and brown neighborhoods like Powderhorn. In what should come as no surprise to regular readers, we have this to say about the smashings: good. We’ll delve into reasons why we think attacks such as this one, as well as the recent vandalism of a local real estate office/art gallery, could help prevent Powderhorn and similar neighborhoods from becoming homogenized hellscapes like Uptown in a bit, but first we want to spend some time deconstructing the often-invoked but rarely examined concepts of ‘community’ and ‘art’.

As was argued in the anonymous essay ‘The Clash of Communities,’ written during the 4th Precinct occupation back in 2015, the concept of a static overarching ‘community’ that includes all people who live within a certain area or who belong to a certain group holds no weight when examined closely. Instead we would do well to think community as something that is constantly in the process of becoming, with different communities “flowing in and out of each other, forming conscious and subconscious bonds, exchanging words and stories,” and at times coming into conflict with each other. From this perspective, community can for some mean working together to police the neighborhood and protect private property and for others mean working together to safely carry out actions that decrease the ability of trendy businesses to thrive and thus attract further waves of settlement and development to the neighborhood. Criticizing an action on the grounds that it is anti-community flattens out this nuance, perpetuating the myth that those who live in an area and want the rent to stay low and those who own businesses or property in the area and want more capital to flow into it somehow share a set of common interests.

Like ‘community’, the word ‘art’ is deployed again and again to deflect criticisms made about the effects that different actions have upon our environment. Art is assumed to be a universal good and thus anything that is labeled art is beyond reproach. But just as there is no ‘community’, there is no ‘art’, only arts, and different arts clearly impact the world in very different ways. There is the art of beautifying capitalist restructuring and the art of exposing it for the shit-show it really is. There is the art of soothing society’s winners, assuring them that they are human after all, and there is the art of reminding society’s losers that defeat is never final. There is the art of convincing yuppies to buy overpriced candles and there is the art of throwing up tags in the middle of the night. Claiming to act in the name of ‘art’ does not excuse one from having to justify one’s actions on ethical grounds.

Of course if the necessity of justifying one’s actions on ethical grounds applies to artists opening businesses in Powderhorn then it applies to those who smash their windows too. After all, we are sure the owners of Frostbeard were being sincere when they asserted in a Facebook post following the smashing that they are “not a big corporation trying to gentrify the neighborhood (quite the opposite).” Isn’t strategizing to run them out of business a little cruel? Well maybe, from a certain standpoint, but the thing to remember is that gentrification is a structural problem, even as that structure is the outcome of thousands of personal decisions. The owners of Frostbeard don’t intend to gentrify Powderhorn; gentrification is simply an unintended consequence of fulfilling their dream of selling nerdy candles. Conversely, we don’t necessarily wish to see their dream fail (in fact we are fans of many of the books their candles reference), but if their dream succeeding takes us further down the path towards the neighborhood being broken apart then we are forced to take a side and it won’t be theirs. Ultimately the question we should ask in relation to attacks such as these is this: do they work? Because only a reactionary would argue that a few boutique businesses failing and some developers not getting their expected return on investment is somehow ethically worse than hundreds of people being displaced.

Whether or not these attacks work is difficult to determine, and we certainly don’t intend to claim that all that is needed to stop gentrification is to break windows, but in our opinion actions such as these have definite impacts. Despite how it is typically framed, gentrification is not inevitable. Sometimes neighborhoods reach the point that much of Minneapolis is at now and then continue along the road to condo hell, and sometimes they don’t. Much of what determines the success or failure of various development initiatives is out of our control, but not all of it. We have the power to make life much harder for developers. As anyone who has tried to open one will tell you, small businesses are incredibly precarious, especially for the first few years of their existence, and even more so when they are expensive specialty stores that much of the neighborhood can’t afford. For examples of this we need look no further than the multiple trendy restaurants in and around Powderhorn, such as Blue Ox Coffee and La Ceiba, that have gone out of business in the past year or so, not because of any intentional assault but simply because the neighborhood doesn’t yet have the density of yuppies needed to sustain places that charge $5 for coffee or $20 for an entrée. The accumulated costs of the broken windows, higher insurance premiums, and decreased business that could result from increased agitation against these shops could push things into the red for businesses like Frostbeard that have so far been scraping by. If more and more of these businesses fail, fewer and fewer people who desire to live in neighborhoods full of trendy boutiques will move in, preventing the landlords from raising the rent, or at least as much as they would otherwise.

While targeting small businesses will always generate controversy, it is important to recognize that this is a decisive time for Powderhorn and similar neighborhoods. Wait another five to ten years for less-controversial targets like Starbucks to move in and any resistance will be too little, too late. Unlike Frostbeard, stores like Starbucks have sufficient capital behind them to weather broken windows and boycotts if they are confident that they will eventually get a return on their investment. Next year’s Super Bowl also offers developers an opportunity to ramp up their activity across the city; it is likely that this event will have effects that will be felt long after the game is over and all of the drunk executives leave town. Another reason that we can’t afford to waste any time is the fact that various tech companies have their sights set on making hip, progressive, white, artsy Minneapolis the Silicon Valley of the Midwest, “Silicon Prairie” as they call it. The main thing standing in their way is that they are finding it hard to convince top job candidates to endure the winters here when they could get jobs in Austin or the Bay Area, but as the winters continue to grow milder this will hold them back less and less. Now is the time to act—let’s sabotage Silicon Prairie from the get-go.

Beyond the concrete damage done to gentrifying businesses by attacks such as these, in our mind they have an important impact on the semantic field upon which the social war plays out, exposing fault lines within the city that are typically covered up by the progressive image of Minneapolis that is continuously forced down our throats. Such an exposure can be messy, but in our opinion is ultimately therapeutic; certainly it is preferable to the refusal to acknowledge conflict like good Minnesotans. Once an attack like this takes place, everyone who hears about it is forced to take sides, to define their views and act them out, instead of continuing to exist in some progressive fantasy where they can shop at stores like Frostbeard yet claim to oppose gentrification. They may have an “All Are Welcome” sign in their window, but it should be obvious that “All” can’t drop $18 on a candle, much less withstand another rent hike.

A Field Guide to Protests: The Protest Marshal

From the Belli Research Institute

i-94-riotI. The protest marshal wears a neon vest and has a walkie-talkie.
The protest marshal sets themself apart in the protest by wearing a high-visibility vest, making their position look like one of expertise and authority. The intention to be seen is paradoxical: even though they stand out visually, the generic safety vest makes them also look like the invisible worker of any urban environment. The walkie-talkie communicates to the crowd that they are included in a secret loop of information, setting them at a professional distance from the protesters. It appears like they are protesting with you but they are instructed to keep their distance. The protest marshal relies on symbolic markers of legitimacy to aid in the control of the protest.

II. The protest marshal is in constant contact with the organizer.
The protest marshal assumes the position of a protest ‘expert’, whose authority is not supposed to be challenged. The authority of the police can be called into question when it is obvious to everyone that they are acting ‘unjustly’—e.g., when the police tear gas a bunch of ‘peaceful protesters’. The authority of the protest marshal, however, with their aura of activist expertise, is not so obviously repressive. They want protesters to see them as helpful, legitimate, knowledgeable; as experts in dealing with the police and in protest ‘safety’. They use this perceived position to control the protest and maintain the same order that the police keep with their tear gas and guns. The control that the protest marshal wields over the protest stems from the perception that they are a leader of the group, or at least ‘one of us’.

III. The protest marshal wants you to express yourself.
The protest marshal thinks it’s your right to carry the craziest sign, chant the loudest chants, and take the most revolutionary selfies, as long as you follow the unspoken rules of obedience and only express yourself symbolically. The protest marshal has already determined for you how best to demonstrate without causing too much disruption. The protest marshal helps guarantee that expressions of rage have no direct effect on anything and that demonstrations remain non-events. Rather than acknowledging the differences that bring people into the streets and respecting the actions people might choose, they only see the enforced, empty unity espoused by the controlling organizations. Any action that might threaten the actual powers you are demonstrating against will attract the attention of the protest marshal, who is there to step in and stop anything that doesn’t abide by their rules. The protest marshal turns the protest into a parade, a perfect selfie opportunity, in which nothing actually happens.

IV. The protest marshal is trained in the art of managing crowds.
The protest marshal exists on the margins of the protest. They move in formation, encircling the crowd, cutting through groups and forming a line between protesters and the police. This modification of the crowd’s spatial form is effective because it doesn’t appear as control at all. The protest marshal appear as a perfectly objective observer, refraining from chanting or carrying signs, simply moving people along the pre-established route. They undergo professional training given by non-profit organizations and are sometimes directly taught by the police. They’re shown the basics of crowd management, risk assessment, and how to profile and single out anyone deemed ‘undesirable’ or ‘uncontrollable’. The protest marshal subtly conducts the protest to ensure an event that is easily manageable and doesn’t threaten to break out of the limits set by the ‘professional’ activists and police.

V. The protest marshal defends oppressed people from the police.
The protest marshal believes they ‘protect’ protesters from the police while they actually assist in carrying out police operations. Like the police, they see themselves as the guarantor of everyone’s safety, but the ‘safety’ they intend to maintain is seldom defined. How safe is it when the normal order of things produces unsafe and unlivable conditions for most people? Deportations, police murder, and ecological destruction are not exceptional occurrences, they are part of the normal operation of modern society. Open businesses, open roads, and a smooth functioning city all facilitate these operations and help make them possible. By prioritizing the normal functioning of the city, the protest marshal ensures that the protest will not actually disrupt the conditions of a society where black life doesn’t matter. Whatever the intentions and personal identity of the protest marshal, they hold a structural position aligned with the police, which can only fortify white supremacy.

VI. The protest marshal allows the police to be virtually invisible at demonstrations.
The protest marshal helps ensure that the police keep a good image. It looks bad when the police are beating (white) people with batons and deploying their arsenal of weapons, so the protest marshal is there to improve police-public relations. The protest marshal, exhibiting their authority, assures everyone that they ‘know’ the police will react only if ‘provoked’ by certain disruptive actions. Whether the protest marshal is explicitly working with the police (like negotiating with them about getting a crowd off a highway) or imagining themself as protecting protesters from the police (by controlling and subduing the crowd), the protest marshal does the work of police so that the police can recede into the background. The protest marshal is deputized to diffuse the power of the police, which has the duel function of blurring the line between citizen and cop and also expanding the reign of the police by creating a mobile, ‘community’-appointed surveillance unit.

VII. The protest marshal is against violence.
The protest marshal is determined to ‘keep the peace’ and promote ‘non-violence’ at events. They assert that ‘violence’ is antithetical to their ‘non-violence’. In doing so, they neglect the reality that the ‘peace’ they are defending is merely the well-ordered violence of those who’ve won—i.e., the violence of the state, going back to Columbus and European slave traders, through rape culture, and carrying on today. This violence is so normalized that it has ceased to register as violence, since it goes into remission once established and only emerges to maintain the status quo. The protest marshal’s insistence on ‘non-violence’ is a grotesque proposition when people’s lives are threatened everyday. They’re willing to betray anyone who would use any means to defend themselves against a world that makes life more and more unlivable. The protest marshal believes that ‘violence’ and ‘non-violence’ are poles on a spectrum, when this spectrum is really only a tool of control to allow for some actions while condemning others that challenge the normal operation of power.

VIII. The protest marshal believes we must respect the free speech of everyone.
The protest marshal advertises tolerance and says we must treat all speech as equal. They believe in protecting everyone’s ‘right’ to ‘free speech’ and think speech is something neutral. In prioritizing ‘free speech’ as a concept above its content, the protest marshal fails to understand that speech comes from a position oriented to history and does not exist in a vacuum of neutrality. Speech from white supremacists perpetuates white supremacy. Despite explicitly advocating for ‘free speech’, the protest marshal implicitly knows that speech is not neutral since they themselves censor speech that is deemed too ‘hostile’. They smile when the crowd chants the harmless love trumps hate but scold those yelling fuck the police‘, insisting on respect because they know where chants like that might lead. The protest marshal speaks as though speech exists in a vacuum but acts in accordance with the reality that speech exists in a war.

IX. The protest marshal is there to prevent outside agitators from hijacking the protest.
The protest marshal propagates the myth that anyone acting according to their own volition (i.e., against the orders of the protest marshal) must be an ‘outside agitator’, there only to hijack the ‘peaceful’ protest and ruin the validity of the message. According to the protest marshal, only tactics imagined to be legal or for ends within the law can be used, even if the means are in fact illegal. They are willing to go to some lengths (such as blocking highways, while deluding themselves that this is legal) but anything past an arbitrary limit is considered ‘harmful’ to the cause since autonomous action eludes the control of the protest marshal. ‘Trouble makers’ who would use any means necessary to oppose oppression are castigated as ‘outsiders’ regardless of what neighborhood they live in. The protest marshal fails to understand that there is no ‘outside’ to police brutality, capitalism, or white supremacy and that all resistance to these things is a part of the struggle.

X. The protest marshal’s role can be fulfilled by anyone at the event.
The protest marshal exists at every protest, even without the neon vest. No one ever just is a protest marshalthey become one through their actions. The protest marshal is anyone who draws upon morality (‘property destruction is wrong’) or perceived privilege (‘fighting back is macho patriarchy) to stop people from doing things. The attempts people make to be ‘helpful’ at events are generally done through actions intended to control and manage, rather than actions that would encourage the fight against those forces destroying our liveslike supporting queers to bash their bashers. Commands such as ‘calm down’ or ‘don’t do that’ only aim to suppress another person’s agency and reflect a fear of genuine expression. People don’t need to undergo specialized training to become a protest marshalall it takes to become one is to reinforce the familiar and normal functioning of things. Anyone who tries to manage and control the protest becomes a protest marshal.

Communique From A Breakaway

Anonymous submission to Conflict Minnesota

no

Our actions may be small now, but with every blow our affinities deepen and we grow stronger.

Propaganda Actions For September 9th

August 23rd, 2016

On January 20th in downtown Minneapolis, a group broke away from the larger, passive demonstration called in protest Donald Trump’s inauguration. This breakaway action was not simply remarkable because it shot off fireworks or blocked the light-rail. Nor because dumpsters were moved into traffic or because paint was tossed at the juvie. These actions and others are welcome, and one can assume they produced great joy in those who carried them out. However, come morning, the paint will have been scrubbed off, traffic flowing as normal, and Donald Trump will begin his first full day as President of the United States.

No, this breakaway action was remarkable because it exemplified the increasing capabilities that social antagonists have been slowing rebuilding in the past years. This growth has been in quality as well as quantity; the January 20th breakaway certainly outnumbered any other autonomous action in recent memory. Various crews came prepared with their own material contributions, all equally important in the shaping the day’s events. Participants both familiar and unfamiliar were able to cooperate quickly and effectively in the street, moving between targets while avoiding police, unprepared as the cops were for any trouble. After the short excursion, everyone was able to safely disperse into the larger rally without incident.

[D]owntown Minneapolis is a non-space where there is no possibility of building momentum or gaining useful territory. Downtown is the symbol and paradigm of pure function with no necessary human contact. But we continue to drift toward safe non-spaces, as the freeway has now become (when permitted marches take it late at night or on weekends, as we’ve seen recently). We always find ourselves wandering about in the concrete desert of downtown with no people around and very few consequential transit conduits, police at an eerie distance.

J19 Minneapolis: Well, We Tried To Have a Dance Party

January 22rd, 2017

We caught a glimpse of our potential on January 20th, potential that would be squandered on symbolic, punctual thrashings of the downtown cityscape. As Trump’s regime continues to present us with new challenges over the next several years, this is the time to explore our capabilities as they relate to our own blocks and neighborhoods. Finding terrain that works to our advantage, eliminating barriers between participant and bystander, remaining undetected by police surveillance. The stale practices of activism have left us ill-prepared for the tasks ahead of us.

An action is greater than the sum of it’s parts. It goes beyond the tally of vandalism and destruction.

Let’s remember January 20th as the ascent, not the peak, of our revolt.

J19 Minneapolis: Well, We Tried To Have a Dance Party

From It’s Going Down


And we failed, maybe.

Following the election, we recognized and felt – like so many others – the gathering of momentum against a Trump world. When people started making plans for J20, we wanted to harness some of the energy that built and dissipated after the election and just create some space to congregate, talk, and breathe under no ideology, no platform, and no unified aesthetic. So we called for a dance party on January 19th in a commercial district with the simple idea in mind to dance and block the operation of the city in some way. We were going to blast music and hand out fireworks and encourage rowdy—but relatively low-level criminal—behavior and hopefully meet up afterwards at a bar to talk about where to go next. Taking to the streets the night before the inauguration was chosen to set it aside from the non-profits’ permitted events and build momentum for the days (weeks, years!) to come.

We got a sound system, some fireworks, and made a simple banner. Basic shit. We passed out flyers around town at parties, bars, and shows. Many people we talked to seemed excited, and, by the last weekend before the event, some people we tried to give flyers to had already heard about it. This process was sometimes awkward and took us out of our comfort zone, forcing us to ask new questions: How much can you emphasize a desire to block the conduits of the city without freaking someone out? How can you tie the idea of a dance party to anti-Trump sentiment? From the beginning, we had decided to avoid the “subcultural” spaces in hopes that we might connect with different people who may have never thought of how to oppose the much-hated cheeto or the apparatuses of the state. We hoped we might expose ourselves to difference and have to explain things anew, outside of coded language and subcultural signifiers.

We also made a Facebook, which may have been our downfall, but we’ll get to that.

Our goal from the beginning was to open up a space for meeting people, specifically people who were afraid, angry, and confused by the Trump presidency and wanted to meet others and gather strength and have fun with them. There was no “event beneath the event,” so to speak, no hidden agendas. We wanted to create a fun situation with new people. No point to prove.

At most demonstrations and public events in the Twin Cities, the police maintain a safe distance, observing and waiting until something drastic happens, like a broken window. The night of the phantom dance party, however, as two groups of freaks in fabulous dance-party rags—pink balaclavas on our heads like a weird gang of petty thieves—rolled up with a stroller (cradling the small sound system) they were greeted by: pigs, pigs crawling everywhere (if only they were literal pigs it would have been really cute). Not only were there lines of cop cars, vans, private security guards, and even fucking tactical vehicles, but they actually occupied the space where we intended to start things by driving their vehicles into and blocking the area.

We moved into a parking lot to get out of sight, but were followed by the most obvious undercover in the world who peaked around the corner and gleefully ran back to report to his squad that he’d found the bad kids. We had to ditch the spot—at least to get rid of the fireworks—and regroup. Our friends were calling us to say they’d ditched after seeing the scene, and we imagine many others did the same. One friend who walked from the next neighborhood away said he saw cops parked at steady intervals for about a mile.

So we retreated. We were sad, yes, very sad, but we’d like to give credence to the tactical retreat.

One major lesson is to certainly use social media more strategically for such things in the future…cops love Facebook. Another is that the cops appear to be really afraid of non-permitted events in the city. This is important. In breakaway marches in the past, participants have broken windows, shot off fireworks, and disrupted traffic downtown, sometimes for hours, with a very small police presence and no arrests. This is because downtown Minneapolis is a non-space where there is no possibility of building momentum or gaining useful territory. Downtown is the symbol and paradigm of pure function with no necessary human contact. But we continue to drift toward safe non-spaces, as the freeway has now become (when permitted marches take it late at night or on weekends, as we’ve seen recently). We always find ourselves wandering about in the concrete desert of downtown with no people around and very few consequential transit conduits, police at an eerie distance. But call for an event in bustling-with-bros Uptown Minneapolis and MPD acts like you’ve declared war on the city itself (of course, not entirely untrue).

Anarchists talk often about “easily reproducible actions.” All too frequently, such actions are actually inundated with aesthetic choices and preconditions that most people are not aware of. If someone is not already wearing all black, how can they be expected to just join a bloc where they would be the obvious exception? Regular-ass people don’t wear all black. All jokes aside, pretty much anything besides a monochromatic get-up makes joining easier for people on the street. Fashion is a tactical concern. In this case, black is not practical, it’s symbolic. And surely an action is not easily reproducible when aesthetic cohesion is a prerequisite. This is not to say that black bloc as a tactic is ineffective but that it’s effectiveness has static patterns and that it is not as generalizable as it is purported to be. The aborted dance party was an experiment in breaking away from anarchist patterns of organizing as well as from gathering around identifiable signifiers. It fell too short to reveal anything about the latter. But, we do believe that if our goal is to produce ungovernable situations we need to work on broadening strategies in both of these realms. We retreated this time, but no-one noticed except the police and our friends. Failure? Nah, just strategy, bebe!

We saw the next day at the “mega-march” held by the “Resist From Day One Coalition MN” that at least some of our tactical ideas were well-conceived. A sound system, for example, invites people to join better than chanting, and encourages rowdiness and a sense of joy—even in a slow-ass march—and fireworks do too. Neither playing music nor shooting off fireworks are arrestable offenses, as MPD pointed out on their twitter, and both can potentially provide cover for riskier maneuvers. If enough people start dancing and shooting fireworks and refuse to leave the street, then the non-profits and the police have already lost control.

If our goal is to produce ungovernable situations, we believe all effort should go into developing broad, less-identifiable, and less risky maneuvers. Then maybe more people would come out of hiding, feeling emboldened to do riskier things together with more joyousness and less fear.

Autonomous Organizing in the Age of Trump

From Nightfall


So they really went and did it. This time last year the Trump campaign was only just beginning to lose it’s comedic factor. Now Trump is just days away from taking office, and many are at a loss on how to navigate this new reality. Without promising any solutions, we would like to outline a combative strategy against the incoming regime and all manifestations of oppression and authority.

In the days following the election, even cities where riots did not erupt from anti-Trump demonstrations witnessed an antagonism unprecedented in recent history. In every metropolis throughout the country social peace was shattered, even where it was strongest. Even as the immediate momentum slows, calls to disrupt the inauguration ceremony on January 20th have picked up steam. Interfering with this spectacle holds potential, but the prospect of decentralizing conflict on the 20th and beyond is what really piques our interest. The model we elaborate here provides us with a loose strategy for spreading ungovernability, reducing the capacity of the Trump regime, and by extension local authorities of all parties, from operating.

This strategy is what we, and others like us around the world, call autonomous self-organization. Let’s take a moment to unpack what we mean by this. First of all, when we speak of autonomous action we refer to action taken outside of or separate from official groups and organizations. While useful at times, formalized relations such as these can not only hinder our ability to act but also leave us vulnerable to repression when actions can be tied to offices, spokespeople, or membership lists. For these reasons, affinity groups are often proposed as an alternative to organizations. Affinity groups refer to those friendships that most of us already have—those handfuls of comrades with which we have built, or are building, a deep trust. With our affinity groups or even alone we have the freedom to take initiative, acting on our own accord and on our own timelines without waiting for instructions or invitations.

In refusing to become followers in struggle we are also refusing to gather followers for ourselves. For this reason reproducibility is prioritized when acting. Spray paint is 97¢ if you can’t steal it, every home has a hammer, and concealing your identity is simple if you think ahead (see our September issue for some tips). The easier an act is to reproduce the more likely it is to generalize, and as attacks spread and more people join in it becomes more difficult for authorities to profile possible suspects, creating space for more to participate and for bolder actions to be taken. While isolated acts are manageable, generalized unrest can and does make it harder for law enforcement to operate, harder for them to harass, arrest, evict or deport us.

It is important to note that the framework of autonomous self-organization is not exclusive to small or clandestine actions. It can also inform how we approach mass actions such as demonstrations. Rather than the traditional march where we follow the bullhorn from point A to B, we can come together as a cluster of individuals and affinity groups who cooperate to carry out larger, public actions. The tradition of protest marshals solidifies a hierarchy between organizers and participants, stifling self-organization even when marshals aren’t directly facilitating the work of the police. Instead, different individuals and groups can come prepared to achieve their own goals, whether this means bringing a banner along with flyers to hand out, acting as a self-defense squad against right-wing threats, or having the tools necessary to carry out a targeted attack when the time is right. In this sense, every public call should be viewed as a call for self-organization, a call to step up with our own contributions, with the hope that they can come together to strike a chord.

It might be difficult to imagine anything meaningful produced in our current context from a handful of isolated acts of resistance, yet the world abounds with examples: gentrifying businesses closing in San Francisco after repeated vandalism, immigration enforcement raids aborted in London after spontaneous blockades, eviction lawyers in Berlin dropping cases after their cars are burned. These are small victories within western urban centers, but we have just as much to learn from the self-organized communities of southern Mexico, the squatted forest of the ZAD, or the maroons of the eighteenth-century South.

Over the past year, the Twin Cities has seen a number of acts that loosely fit within this framework. Some are claimed through anonymous communiques submitted to counter-information websites such as Conflict MN or It’s Going Down. Others simply rely on the eyes of witnesses and passerby, leaving us guessing as to their intentions or allegiances.

In the spirit of self-organization, we at Nightfall have no interest in becoming the single voice of anti-authoritarian views and critique in the Twin Cities. The actions we cover and the events we promote are not representative of any single group but instead resonate with us regardless of their stated affiliations or lack thereof. We look forward to others with whom this newspaper resonates putting their voices and clarifications out into the world in whatever format appeals to them. This newspaper only requires a printer and a few dedicated friends.

So far we have described a framework of attack—something we find to be a crucial component of liberatory struggle. However it is just that: a component. Equally important is to support each other and build communities to sustain ourselves. The balance between these two has been described elsewhere as spreading anarchy and living communism. Any attempt to sever one component from the other will surely lead to defeat. As a friend once said, the commune is that which sustains the attack and the attack is that which enlarges the commune. We briefly explore this in a separate article [in issue 4.]

Everyone agrees, the situation is bleak. The Democratic Party is scrambling for relevancy, desperate to redirect different struggles and campaigns into membership drives. Every leftist group sees an opportunity for a new organization to take the Democrats’ place; that this organization is always their own is surely just a coincidence. These false solutions only offer the certainty of defeat, of death. We see in autonomous self-organization the potential for something more than bare survival, something like life. Our lives belong to no vanguard, organizer, or leader—only to ourselves.

A First-Hand Account of the Fuck Trump March in Minneapolis

Anonymous submission to Conflict Minnesota

aLast Thursday night, Socialist Alternative and other left-wing and progressive nonprofits and political parties (Neighborhoods Organizing for Change, Students for a Democratic Society, and more) held a demonstration to protest the election of Donald Trump to the presidency. The crowd was huge, bigger than any march I’ve seen in Minneapolis in a while. In fact, the last time I saw a crowd this big it was the march put on by what would eventually become Black Lives Matter the day after a grand jury announced its decision to not prosecute Darren Wilson for the murder of Mike Brown.

I go into this march with my own reservations about participating in a Socialist Alternative action, knowing that they are not for confrontational tactics and tend to only have photo op “actions” to appeal to their fanbase of well off progressive white people who probably voted for Bernie. But upon seeing the crowd and the fact that many people’s reactions to myself and my affinity group all wearing masks was a positive one (or became positive once it was explained) has me feeling optimistic. Maybe the sheer number of people at this march, about 5,000 or so I’d say, will be too much for the parade marshals to handle? Maybe people will be able to carry out some creative actions that up the ante and make a clear statement that we reject not just Donald Trump but the sham of capitalist democracy altogether? Maybe it’ll fuckin’ pop off? These are all the questions my affinity group had been asking each other while chain smoking cigarettes and waiting for the march to start.

bWe finally get out on the street, and the size and scope of the crowd becomes even more apparent to me. After a few more minutes of speeches, we finally start to march. The march kicks off and almost immediately it is greeted with applause and excited cheers. The march was in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood, a neighborhood known for its large population of East African immigrants, some of them refugees fleeing conflicts the United States is fueling in Somalia and Ethiopia. Chants of “say it loud, say it clear, refugees are welcome here!” are met with raised fists and cheering from the neighborhood’s East African population. This was a really nice sight to behold and it was great seeing a neighborhood I spend so much time in coming out to the streets like this. Here’s hoping it happens again soon.

The march is stopped on Cedar Avenue right in front of Palmer’s bar and the Cedar Cultural Center. I’m confused. Why are we stopping? Soon I see marshals telling people to make room for cars to drive through. This is stupid. Absolutely stupid. If the job of the parade marshals is to supposedly “keep us safe” why are they letting drivers through the crowd? While most of the drivers had passengers hanging outside the windows with their fists up in support and nothing happened, what if one of these drivers was a Trump supporter and decided to run us down? Later on I discover that the march had been stalled to allow our real escort, the Minneapolis Police Department, time to catch up and learn our route. Infuriating to say the least, but predictable behavior from Socialist Alternative.

The march kicks off again, this time bound for the GOP Headquarters in the Seward neighborhood just barely a mile away. The march remains largely tame, with the Twin Cities IWW General Defense Committee occasionally starting up more militant chants or changing “not my president” to “no more presidents” only to be immediately shut down and called “outside agitators” by marshals in yellow vests. Again, predictable behavior coming from Socialist Alternative. At this point, it should be very blatantly obvious that the official “left” in Minneapolis, the protest and movement managers, have no interest in showing meaningful opposition to a genocidal social order. Instead, they’d rather be the loyal opposition with occasionally fiery rhetoric, padding the resumes of would-be city councilmen and women, future interns for the DFL, or perhaps even a chance at landing on the board of directors of some progressive nonprofit. As such, while there is potential in intervening in marches and actions put on by these organizations and pushing for militancy or supporting already existing radical elements (case in point, the pitched street fighting on the night of November 18th during the Black Lives Matter occupation of the 4th Precinct) what should be expected from these organizations is a very strictly choreographed protest theater performance.

Upon arriving at the GOP headquarters, things start to get interesting. I hear some cheering and some people saying “stop that shit!” I look over and see that the GOP headquarters now reads “FUCK TRUMP” in black spray paint. Whoever you are invisible, anonymous graffito, I salute you. As we’re standing around in front of the GOP headquarters I can overhear a few arguments, with some of the protesters calling the vandalism of the GOP headquarters “violence.” This is pretty ridiculous, but with so many of the participants being first time protesters by their own admission, it makes sense that their first taste of seeing a small, symbolic act of resistance is met with immediate opposition. We’ve been conditioned to believe that as long as we are respectable, as long as we are peaceful, and as long as we give coherent demands that power will listen to us and give in to our demands. I was at that point once and after the dust settled from the eviction of Zuccoti Park and the death of Occupy I no longer had any faith in the State, capitalism, or any of the protest managers. I attempt to explain why people might take action such as this small act of vandalism and that the police will brutalize us regardless of whether or not we spray paint a few walls, peacefully disrupt traffic, or start tearing shit up and turning over cop cars. The police will only tolerate even the most peaceful protest for so long before the tear gas, pepper spray, and batons come out. To assume that protesters who take militant direct action deserve whatever police violence eventually comes down on them is not only victim blaming, it also hurts the movement itself. In light of a Trump presidency, our only enemies should be the police who will enforce Trump’s laws, the capitalists who will profit from Trump’s rule, and the liberals and protest managers who will collaborate with Trump’s regime. We all need to get very serious about resisting fascism, and if people are scared of or upset by a little spray paint we got a long way to go.

The march continues winding through Seward. As we pass by the onramp to get onto I-94, a crowd surges towards it. Parade marshals urge people to continue marching down Riverside avenue and to stay away from the highway. These pleas are ignored. More and more people sprint towards the highway and soon a few hundred people have taken over one, then two, then four, and eventually all 8 lanes of I-94. Tactics honed over the last 2 years of anti-police brutality demonstrations were put to good use. Once on the highway, the march takes on a different tone. Marshals have briefly been outmaneuvered and the police are nowhere to be found. I see “fuck Trump” graffiti on just about every flat surface and start laughing.

cAs we continue marching down I-94, I am excited but also nervous. The last time I was on this highway I was in St. Paul on July 9th and a flashbang grenade went off just a few inches away from my face. Having those traumatic images still fresh in my mind, once we’re in sight of the police line I am hopeful but still more than just a little worried about what might follow. Protesters link arms and begin marching towards the police. The exit ramp to get back out onto the street and wind up back where we started in Cedar-Riverside is still unblocked at this point. Another exit ramp is also not blocked, and the only police vehicle visible is a paddy wagon not nearly big enough to contain all 3,000 of us or so still on the highway. But before we could even directly confront the police and possibly clash with them, marshals run to the front and begin demanding that we stop, in the name of “keeping everyone safe.” Police soon have us completely cut off and the only way out is scrambling up a hill. I see that marshals are negotiating with police. After a thirty or forty minute standoff, the police eventually allow us to leave through the exit ramp that put us right by the Triple Rock Social Club and back in Cedar-Riverside. My affinity group disperses and we regroup at a comrade’s home, debriefing, unwinding, and plotting for next time.

The next few years of a Trump presidency are going to be interesting to say the least. The thin veneer of compassion and respectability that is neoliberalism has been pulled down to reveal the brutality and barbarity of capitalism. A resurgence of extreme nationalist politics is gaining ground in countries that have been ravaged by neoliberal policies. At the same time, combatants have brought the struggle to new heights of intensity in places like Greece, Spain, England, France, and now the United States. If the past 8 years of an Obama presidency gave us Ferguson, Charlotte, Baltimore, Milwaukee, the prison strike, Occupy Wall Street, Standing Rock, and the G-20 and NATO counter-summits, what will a Trump presidency bring? What new levels of repression should we expect? What is rebellion going to look like under Trump? These are the questions we asked ourselves after the march and going forward they are questions we should all be asking ourselves as we prepare for Trump’s presidency. However, we must also remember that regardless of who is in office, capitalism will still be capitalism, white supremacy will still be white supremacy, and cops will still be fucking cops.

Whoever they vote for, we are ungovernable

Mask Up: How & Why

From Nightfall


The events of the July 9th highway shutdown were inspiring, to say the least. Those who struck back against the police state inflicted significant financial damages on the city of St. Paul and the businesses that rely on I-94, as well as injuring 21 cops. Headlines the next day juxtaposed this number with the 102 arrests made that night to imply that the violence directed against the police did not go unpunished. However, the vast majority of those arrests were either negotiated surrenders by pacifists among the highway blockaders or misdemeanor citations issued hours after the shutdown was over. As it stands now only one person is facing felony charges stemming from the shutdown. The fact that there were many more who fought back that night and got away with it shows that it is possible to put the police on the defensive without resorting to suicidal lone wolf attacks such as the recent ones in Dallas and Baton Rouge. However, one person facing felony charges is still one too many, and that number could easily have been higher had the police been only marginally more prepared. Many people engaged in a variety of risky activities without taking basic precautions to conceal their identity. While the police were temporarily driven out of the streets surrounding the highway there were still cameras present, as well as pacifist enforcers eager to impose their own tactics upon those with differing ideas of how best to oppose the police. Nekima Levy-Pounds, the influential leader of NAACP-Minneapolis, stated in a speech at the Governor’s Mansion following the shutdown that “I ain’t no snitch, but if I see you smashing things I’m running to the 5-0.” With this in mind we offer the following reflections and fashion tips for today’s security-minded rebel.

HOW

The first order of business is to cover your face. A bandana will work, but a t-shirt is better. Simply put it around your head as if you were putting it on, tie the sleeves together behind your head and pull it up to just below your eyes, covering as much as possible. Combine with a hoodie and/or stocking cap to completely cover your face. Another important point is that the more similarly-dressed people there are, the harder it tends to be for police to get charges to stick to any one of them. For this reason black is the preferred color for masks and protest-wear in general, as it is one of the most common clothing colors and it makes us look fabulous. Beyond the mask it is best to stick with plain clothes that can’t be easily tied to your everyday style, such as a simple hoodie and jeans combo. If something could be used to identify you, cover it up or leave it at home. That means tattoos, hair, shoes, bags and other distinctive accessories. Glasses are not ideal but you definitely do not want to have contacts in if the cops bring out pepper spray or tear gas, so wear them if you need them and ditch them if you can manage.

In addition to having your all-black ensemble ready to go, you will generally want to wear something inconspicuous when entering and exiting areas of conflict. Avoid changing in sight of cops, cameras and people you don’t know or trust. A change of clothes is also crucial in case the cops start shooting marker rounds, little pellets that hurt like hell and leave a colored stain wherever they hit. If you are tagged by one of these, ditch the marked clothes as soon as possible, as police use marker rounds in situations where they have lost control, tagging individuals to send snatch squads after once control has been reimposed. In fact, much of the state’s case against the person facing felony charges from the night of the 9th appears to rest on the fact that when they were picked up they were allegedly sporting a tag from a round fired earlier in the night. It might suck to ditch your favorite pair of jeans, but a new pair will be cheaper than a court case.

WHY

There are many reasons you might choose to maintain anonymity at protests and other moments of rupture, the most obvious being that many effective methods of resisting the brutalities of this world, from white supremacy to patriarchy to the destruction of the earth, fall outside the boundaries of acceptable protest as defined by cops, politicians and respectable citizens. Actions such as defending oneself from the police, attacking the assets of white supremacist collaborators such as the private prison-funding Wells Fargo and expropriating the physical manifestations of the life stolen from us at work (aka looting) all carry with them the possibility of repression and are therefore best done as anonymously as possible. However, there are many other reasons you might choose to mask up. Even if, for whatever reason, you do not personally engage in confrontational actions masking up can respect and protect the autonomy of those who do. As we said before, the more masked people there are the safer are those who are most likely to be targeted by the police. Or maybe you don’t come to the protest expecting to engage in any risky behavior but are overtaken by the course of events, as happens in unpredictable situations. If you see a cop trying to drag one of your friends away and have the opportunity to snatch them back, you will be happy you masked up. And beyond your feelings on whether or not outright confrontation with the cops is tactically sound in our current moment, the long history of state repression in this country demonstrates pretty conclusively that the state will mobilize all of its power to crush any movement, peaceful or not, that poses a real threat to its hegemony. You can be sure that the police were filming the night of the 9th, in addition to monitoring the feeds of those livestreaming; those who did not have their faces covered are now that much more likely to have attention paid to them in the future.

A word or two should also be said about white supremacists. Much has been made of the fact that the white supremacists who shot five protestors outside the 4th Precinct in Minneapolis last year were wearing masks. Respectability-obsessed activists have manipulated people’s legitimate concerns about another white supremacist attack to pressure anyone wearing a mask, regardless of their political position or their perceived race, into removing it, thus consolidating their control over spaces of potential rupture. What has been completely overlooked in the discussion of this incident is the fact that in addition to wearing masks the white supremacists were filming everyone at the camp. These creeps have shown a pattern of harassment against known anti-racists both online and in real life, as evidenced by the death threats received by the individual who originally sounded the alarm that white supremacists were using 4chan to plan an assault on the occupation. They used their camera as a weapon much like the gun they would shoot soon after. Clearly this is a conversation that should be happening before we are on the streets confronting the police and the racists, but in our opinion the existence of white supremacists is another reason to wear a mask, not a reason to expose yourself. Perhaps in this sense these white supremacists were being more realistic than our side; they recognized that this is a conflict between two irreconcilable forms of life and took steps to protect themselves accordingly. It’s time we do the same.

This text is available as a printable PDF here.