On Political Violence in 2020

Trump has made the condemnation of violence by the movement protesting anti-Black police violence a central strategy of his campaign to save his Presidency. His weaponized Department of Justice is now investigating leaders of the Movement for Black Lives for criminal conduct.

Well-schooled in Nazi (and McCarthyist) propaganda techniques, Trump’s claims turn reality on its head.

First, the protestors that Trump describes as “thugs and criminals” stand in opposition to violence, particularly the long-standing and continuing police violence against Black men, women and children. While the current upsurge was sparked by the Minneapolis police murder of George Floyd on May 25, the Black Lives Matter movement was already nine years old by then and had already achieved many important victories to curtail police violence through its disciplined organizing efforts. Most importantly, the movement from its beginning defined itself by its love for and by marginalized people. The movement always understood that loving Black people also means love for women, transgendered and queer people and poor people as a whole.

On the face of it, opposition to Black Lives Matter implies that loving Black people is threatening. And it is– to whiteness.  The fact that many police departments adopted the slogan “Blue lives matter” in opposition to this movement only proves the point that American policing defends structural racism and white supremacy.

Secondly, the police response to the protests is itself a major source of violence. Protestors in Minneapolis, for example, burned the Third Precinct to the ground only after three nights of the police using massive force against the protesters. New York City police drove armored vehicles into a crowd of protesters. When Trump sent ICE and Border Patrol agents to Portland, they deployed every weapon at their disposal against peaceful protesters. On September 13, a California Highway Patrol vehicle seriously injured a protestor in Sacramento.

Thirdly, the violence that has occurred at protests is increasingly being committed by right-wing militias. Some of that violence has been overt, such as the killing of two protesters by a 17-year-old in Kenosha Wisconsin. Armed right-wing militias have appeared with increasing frequency at protests across the country, especially in Portland. And these militias often have the open support of the police. The Kenosha killer was openly carrying a long gun (illegally because he is a minor), and police officers gave him water and thanked him for being there…just before he murdered two people.  It is becoming common for people to ram their cars into protests. (Remember that Heather Heyer was killed by a right-wing fanatic who drove his car into a crowd of protestors in the infamous rightwing attack on Charlottesville in 2017). Some of the violence is covert. Protestors in many cities reported acts of vandalism and violence committed by right-wing agitators who had infiltrated the demonstrations in order to discredit the movement.

And, of course, the main cheerleader for all this violence is the President of the United States.

But, in the midst of the violence directed by the right, by the police, and by the President against the movement for Black Lives, there can be no denying that some of the violent confrontations with police and right wingers are by people who think that fascists can only be defeated by violent means.

It is hardly surprising that some who oppose police violence have turned to violence. Many young Americans feel quite hopeless in the current moment and are completely alienated from politics. In this context, some can be seduced by anarchism with its romance of “revolutionary” violent resistance.

But anarchism, and its romance of violence, is not revolutionary. Anarchism stands in opposition to the revolutionary spirit in which people say Black Lives Matter not in service to violence, but out of their love for and defense of Black peoples’ humanity. Not only are anarchists disregarding the Black leadership of the anti-police violence movement but are actually doing precisely what Trump and the fascist militias that serve him hope they will do, which is to enable them to create an “antifa” boogeyman and to discredit the movement.

Trump, of course, is seeking to delegitimize the movement against anti-Black police violence by equating the actions of a few anarchists with the entire protest movement. The Anti-Defamation League estimates that no more than 20,000 people in the U.S. belong to ‘black block’ groups loosely called ‘anti-fa.’ An estimated 27 million people have participated in the anti-Black police violence movement. But Trump has already succeeded at eroding public support for the movement, which stood at close to 70 percent in June and is now down to under 50 percent.

For those who want to fully understand the relationship of anarchism to fascism, one needs look at the history of the Spanish Civil War. The Spanish anarchists at that time were a formidable political force initially fighting against the fascists. But in 1939, the anarchists denounced the communists leading the anti-fascist defense of the Republic and switched sides. Ultimately, anarchists then and now found irresistible their commonalities with fascism—especially their common love of violence. There is nothing revolutionary about this ideology.

The civil rights movement of the 1950s-1960s adopted the strategy of non-violent civil disobedience because it manifested the principles of social justice that motivated the Freedom Movement (i.e. the beloved community).  Also, and this cannot be overstated, non-violent civil disobedience took remarkable discipline. It was never easy to confront the violence of the police or racist mobs with one’s humanity. But with training, hundreds of thousands of people did do this, and it worked. It was effective at giving the movement moral superiority and it also demonstrated what social justice looks like in the day to day practice of the movement for social justice.

One of the main challenges in this moment is to organize the millions of people who have recently been jolted into active resistance to anti-Black police violence. Organizing people is essential for the movement to be able to unite around a common understanding of our goals, and the effective means to achieve them. Organizing this historic energy is essential if the movement is going to continue to build its power and influence. And part of organizing people is to develop in them the discipline necessary to face violence without resorting to violence.

Given what has already happened in Kenosha, Portland, Sacramento and elsewhere, there can be no doubt that right wing and police violence against protestors will escalate in the weeks leading up to and perhaps after the November 3 Presidential election. The ability of the movement against anti-Black police violence to meet this onslaught in a way that keeps the focus on police racism and  builds public support for its legitimate demands will depend on activists’ understanding of the importance of being organized and disciplined.

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