You can’t build long-term power by letting white supremacists, nor the government, harm and kill people with impunity.
“We can no longer even try to suggest that we can negotiate with white supremacy and fascism.”
While appearing on Amy Goodman’s Democracy Now, the good and brilliant scholar/thought leader Dr. Cornell West did not mince words, “We would have been crushed like cockroaches were it not for the anarchists and the Anti-Fascists [Antifa ].” He went on to say that Antifa saved his life, as well as the lives of clergy members and others who bravely travelled to Charlottesville, Virginia to confront vitriolic and malevolent white supremacy and anti-Jewishness.
We remember Charlottesville with such melancholy, after the tragic and violent death of our dear and brave sister Heather Heyer. The moment was all too reminiscent of the 1960s, when racist law enforcement officials not only stood by and watched, but in many cases participated in the brutal beatings, maiming and murder of Black Civil Rights activists and their white allies.
In Charlottesville in 2017, the police did nothing to prevent white supremacists from committing brutal and heinous acts.
In fact, a big reason why members of Antifa put their bodies and lives on the line to protect Black, brown, and white lives alike, was directly due to the malfeasance of local police who, through their omission of duty, might as well themselves have participated in the white terrorism that took place that fateful day.
In an impassioned soliloquy that immediately took its rightful place in the annals of straight and veracious talk, Princeton University Professor Eddie Glaude Jr. revealed to us last month that it’s not just hate groups and white-male domestic terrorists that have emboldened the latest rise of white supremacy, racism, and bigotry. It’s not just Donald J. Trump. It’s all of us—and, yes, especially white people in the United States.
In part, Professor Glaude, Jr. declared, “America is not unique in its evils. What makes us singular is our refusal to acknowledge them.”
Glaude’s words are vindicated every day, every hour, and every second in this stolen nation. His words ring true in the the white rage and reprise of post-Reconstruction era “redemption” that led to the election of the current president to “economic anxiety” (even though study after study reveals that it was indeed racism and sexism). His words prove themselves in the constant gaslighting of Black and brown people by their white counterparts following acts of racist behavior. His words are apparent in the minimization of racism/white supremacy as “individual attitudes” rather than accepting that it, in fact, encompasses a fine-tuned, concentrated, and deliberate system of oppressive pogroms, to the abject white fragility exercised by far too many ensconced in privilege.
THIS IS US and THIS IS [the] U.S.
A quick review of history reveals that we are indeed repeating it and marching our way to doom, more effectively than we are marching in the streets (and, incidentally, they aren’t “OUR STREETS” if we’re paying governmental bodies for permits to use them for a few hours) to ostensibly “address” the intersecting crises of climate disruption, rising economic/wealth inequality, and the continuance of white supremacy inflicting this nation and the world at once.
In his latest book, Full Spectrum Resistance: Building Movements and Fighting to Win Volume 1, Aric McBay reminds us,“…public apathy is also driven by a lack of serious action— psychological research shows that when people do not make an appropriate response to an emergency situation, bystanders mentally downgrade the seriousness of the situation.”
To this end, we have to be honest with ourselves: the praxis of the Liberal Left and its non-profit apparatus that obfuscates the truth daily by sending emails, tweets, and Facebook posts declaring perfunctory victories (“Click here and send us more money so we can keep winning!”) can only be described as abject torpidity when measured against the challenges that face us.
This observation is accurate when considering anemic responses to gun violence, the climate crisis, and profoundly lucid as it pertains to white supremacy.
McBay goes on to decry the myopic idea that action will occur once things get bad enough, using Nazi Germany as an example when the Communist Party believed that once Adolf Hitler gained power, the working class would then be compelled to action, rise up, and fight. He concludes his polemic of such languorous and feckless thinking, stating, “Often resistance must happen before a change in mass consciousness and not the other way around.”
It could be argued that there is a striking parallel between the German Communist Party and Hitler, as well as both “major” U.S. political parties, Trump, and white supremacy as a whole. And make no mistake, there were and continue to be many Democrats, so-called “progressives,” and corporate environmental non-profits who view Trump—whether they say it outright or not—as a beneficial paradox. After all, he’s frequently used as a platform for motivating their bases to get out and vote, and as a springboard to send money.
Many on the liberal left, in fact, view Trump as good for business.
“Many Democrats, so-called ‘progressives,’ and corporate environmental non-profits view Trump as a beneficial paradox.”
But what business are they referring to? It’s certainly not mutual justice, because as McBay points out about the liberal left, “Those in leadership or organizing positions, afraid of alienating their sympathizers or (more importantly to some) their funders, often take the least confrontational position they can. They adopt the politics of the lowest common denominator, which means little danger of conflict-and little risk of success.”
At a time when domestic white terrorism has become an epidemic and we need white-led formations to bring it like Metallica and Rage Against the Machine, too many show up with Bon Jovi and Winger as it pertains to anti-racist praxis. We need much less “Living on a Prayer” and “Headed for a Heartbreak” and much more “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” “Damage INC.,” as well as “Killing in the Name Of” when it comes to addressing, dismantling and decapitating white supremacy.
And to be clear, before all of the holy rolling “nonviolent” Martin Luther King, Jr.-sanitizing practitioners accuse me of inciting “violence,” when I say “Kill,” I am not speaking about white people as much as I am whiteness and white supremacy. Rest assured, you don’t need to light an incense stick of nag champa for my soul just yet. But let me also be clear: When it comes to whiteness and white supremacy, as part of my daily ritual I scream from the smallest filaments of my lungs, “BOMAYE!” which keeps me much calmer than a $40 yoga class at McYoga studios in San Francisco and the portion of Manhattan previously known as “Alphabet City.”
“We need white-led formations to bring it like Metallica and Rage Against the Machine.”
The reference to MLK is deliberate.
Because many fecklessly believe that the minor, perfunctory racial justice achievements of the 1960s Civil Rights epoch were achieved solely by nonviolence. They believe the narrative that Black people who were willing to let themselves get the shit kicked out of them by white terrorists while singing Negro spirituals in the process appealed to the benevolent nature of the “good” white people of the North who would, uphold their moral compass and primoradial righteousness. They believe that those whites would swoop in and save them in the form of two pieces of legislation signed into law by a Texas Democrat (who Cuba Gooding, Jr.’s character in The Butler described as, “Negro? That nigga says nigger more than I do.” Yet what continues to be rendered ineffable, if not erased altogether from the history books, is the armed resistance to white terrorism by Black people who, in the words of my brother and teacher Baba Daryl Jordan collectively declared, “Rise up, fuck this shit.”
In 1964, the Deacons for Defense were founded in Jonesboro, Mississippi with the goal of publicly defending Black communities subjected to white terror, primarily at the hands of the Ku Klux Klan. According to Lance Hill in his book, The Deacons for Defense: Armed Resistance and the Civil Rights Movement, “The Deacons guarded marches, patrolled the Black Community to ward off night riders, engaged in shoot-outs with Klansmen, and even defied local police in armed confrontation.” Ironically, the Deacons were founded after President Lydon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act (CRA) into law. So, put that in your “nonviolent” pipe and smoke it. In fact, it was two years after the CRA that the Deacons achieved the pinnacle of their membership (21 chapters in the South), hundreds of active members and thousands of supporters.
“The Deacons guarded marches, patrolled the Black Community to ward off night riders, engaged in shoot-outs with Klansmen.”
So, what has really changed since the 1960s, since the signing of the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act?
The liberal left would have you believe that so much has been achieved since then – after all, according to them, we’re post racial AF: We elected Barack Obama, there are more Black quarterbacks in the NCAA than ever, Serena Williams won lots of hardware, OJ was presumed “innocent,” and, “just the other day I met a very articulate young Black woman who is getting her Medical Degree from Johns Hopkins, we’re having her over for potato salad this weekend.” Black people should be singing along to a Beyoncé remix of “Zip A Dee Doo Da,” not complaining and certainly not demanding radical social, economic and political transformation.
But if the Tea Party, Trump, Dayton, El Paso, Charlottesville, Charleston, the fact that there are still no Black people leading any of the “major” (but really, corporate) environmental organizations, increased exposure of Black and brown folk to the climate crisis (and the pollutants that exacerbate it) and the litany of Black and brown men AND women who have been assassinated, murdered and snatched by the state, then, really, ain’t a damn thing has changed. White supremacy may, in fact, be even more emboldened than at any time in the last 20 to 30 years.
Honestly, the only thing that has really changed is the lack of armed support to protect Black and brown people from the emboldened white supremacists.
Even the idea of a contemporary Deacons for Defense would make a pariah of anyone suggesting it, and the liberal left would see to this before the white supremacists even got word that such a formation was in consideration. This is why, now more than ever, we need formations and social collectives that are willing to flip off the liberal left and their ineffective funding apparatus who give more money to cogitation than efficacious activation, and, in the process, have co-opted, bleached, and breached non-violence as much as they are willing to flip off the systems of oppression “The Resistance” is supposed to be agitating against.
An unapologetic, valor-showcasing, and independent of the liberal left’s illusions of action [like “strikes” that are temporally pre-determined] and ineffectiveness when it comes to dealing with the intersecting crises of our time.
Recently, many have been hearing about the so-called Necessity Defense, brought into the lexicon mainly by climate “activists” who put their freedom on the line to disrupt fossil fuel operations in the form of transport (i.e., oil or “bomb” trains) and infrastructure (i.e., oil and/or fracked gas pipelines). According to the law, the necessity defense may apply when a person, “…acts in a criminal manner when an emergency situation, not of the person’s own creation, compels the person to act in a criminal manner to avoid greater harm from occurring.” The law also requires the person in question to turn themselves in to enforcement officials once the immediate threat has ceased and desisted.
On the surface, it seems like a great idea, getting arrested and then arguing that your “crime” was necessary to prevent further or even worse harm.
But here’s the thing: admitting that you “broke the law” evokes an idea that the law exists to serve and protect in the first place, that it’s righteous, rooted in equity and nominally just. We all know this is simply not the case, and we certainly don’t have to wait every 4 years for presidential candidates to release their “Criminal Justice Reform” plans to accept this truth.
The way Antifa operates is antithetical to the idea of turning yourself in for taking action to protect lives.
They seem to evoke a paradigm of, “we are not breaking the law as much as the law is breaking us.” As such, rather than the Necessity Defense, which stipulates that preventing harm is “breaking the law,” perhaps we need to reframe the entire idea as Defense Necessitated due directly to an ineffective, complicit government and an ambivalent society when it comes to white supremacy and many other clear and present threats including, but not limited to, the climate crisis.
Defense Necessitated directly challenges the idea of turning yourself in for averting harm, which makes no sense to me as a Black man who has never been guaranteed full Fifth and 14th Amendment rights in the history of this stolen nation. Statistically, there’s more of a chance that you’ll see me joining the aforementioned Black woman Medical Student for potato salad at the random white-liberal’s home than me getting justice in the courts for taking part in radical climate action.
“Perhaps we need to reframe the entire idea as Defense Necessitated due directly to an ineffective, complicit government and an ambivalent society when it comes to white supremacy.”
Due to their tactics, many are quick to label Antifa as “violent.”
And that label is applied faster by the liberal left than it is by the right. Even the more “woke” elements of the Left have described Antifa as dangerous to the cause, a threat to the “movement” (whatever the fuck the movement even is these days) and ineffective for building long-term power. But here’s the thing: You can’t build long-term power by letting white supremacists, nor the government, harm and kill people with impunity. That mode of thinking may even be more violent than how Antifa is falsely portrayed.
Moreover, we have to ask ourselves: What is “violence” in the first place? And who gets to decide what is and what is not violent?
In his thought-provoking and thought shifting book, The Failure of Nonviolence, Seattle-based author and anarchist Peter Gelderloos offers, “Put simply, violence does not exist. It is not a thing. It is a category, a human construct in which we choose to place a wide array of actions, phenomena, situations, and so forth.”
Violence is whatever the person speaking at the moment decides to describe as violent.
Usually, this means things they do not like. As a result, the use of the category “violence” tends towards hypocrisy. If it is done to me, it is violent. If it is done by me or for my benefit, it is justified, acceptable, or even invisible.”
We can no longer even try to suggest that we can negotiate with white supremacy and fascism.
We cannot meet people who subscribe to, or allow themselves to be manipulated by white supremacy and fascism “where they’re at.” Both racism and white supremacy (along with their asshole cousin Patriarchy) need to be directly opposed, and this cannot be done with played-out rally slogans, tweets, Facebook posts, and livestreams, or even books and articles like this one.
When we can’t even get lawmakers to condemn white supremacy in Congress, when Antifa is under threat of being designated a domestic terror group (the Klan never was), and when the FBI is spending more time and resources on monitoring so-called Black Identity Extremists than white domestic terror groups, it’s time to step up our game or we will continue to have more seasons in the abyss than the New York Knicks.
While I am not suggesting that there is a direct equivalency, the Deacons actually assisted nonviolent efforts in much the same way that Antifa does currently. For instance, in 1963 the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) attempted to desegregate public buildings (including the library) in Jonesboro, Mississippi. CORE managed to barely enlist 20 people to take part in the effort, but by 1964 the Deacons were able to muster 236 people to take part in civil disobedience and successfully desegregated the library in minutes. To this end, the Deacons were not against nonviolence (although pacifists frequently spoke out against them); in fact they were major supporters.
As one Deacon once said to a CORE activist, “You guys can be non-violent if you want to… and we appreciate you being nonviolent. But we are not going to stand by and let these [Klan] guys kill you.”
Ergo, it’s fair to say that by proclaiming their intent to use “violence” they were actually, in many cases, preventing it.
So when, in 2017, Antifa utilized social media to track down a white man wearing a Nazi arm band who was harassing people and knock him out, who’s to say they weren’t utilizing Defense Necessitated to prevent harm?
“By proclaiming their intent to use ‘violence’ they were actually, in many cases, preventing it.”
And one week after Charlottesville, when 40,000 protestors took to the streets in Boston to counter white supremacy, can we honestly say that, similar to the Deacons in Mississippi, that Antifa, due to their willingness to use “violence” to fight off white terrorists, was not at least partly responsible for getting that many people out and scaring off larger numbers of white supremacists in the process? Because let’s face it, when you can fend off white supremacy in fucking Boston, that’s right up there with bringing cold fusion to fruition and completing the Kessel Run in less than 12 parcecs.
While this is not a call for white folk to go out and start tracking down and kicking the crap out of white supremacists and racists—though I would totally watch that reality TV show—it is a call to not allow white pacifists to interpret history solely through their lens, erasing some imperative components of the 1960s Civil Rights epoch. Beyond the immorality and Anglo-centrism is the omission of Black self-determination from the HIStory books and lexicon, which, makes the, “good solely nonviolent negro” narrative downright apocryphal.
As Charles E. Cobb, Jr. reminds us in his book, This Nonviolent Stuff Will Get You Killed, “People in black communities were willing to do what was necessary to protect fellow blacks who were risking their lives by speaking out against and actively challenging the status quo; the willingness of some to take armed defensive action enabled the civil rights movement to sustain itself during the mid-twentieth century.”
Antifa, in this sense, acts as a catalyst for people to dig deeper and learn the FULL history of the Civil Rights epoch’s nonviolence struggle.
And the diversity of tactics that made it somewhat effective. These lessons are needed today when white supremacy no longer operates insidiously and is, arguably, more emboldened than it’s been in a generation. And while I will offer that Antifa must do a better job of promoting nonviolent practitioners rather than condemning or ridiculing them, it’s fair to say that this December, they will most definitely be receiving Kwanzaa cards, because I most definitely fuck with Antifa.
A New Yorker in Seattle, Anthony Rogers-Wright can be found drinking coffee in the rain, yelling at televisions and chasing his 3 year-old. His book, IntersectionALL is due for release in early 2019.
This article previously appeared in The Prompt .