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Wielding Words Like Weapons: A Change-links Review

By Michael Novice
September 30th, 2017

This new volume of essays by the noted Indigenous activist and scholar Ward Churchill is, as he noted in his own introduction, about a decade overdue because of  the reactionary and racist attacks on the author and his work when right wing media and academic and political authorities. Churchill was forced to defend himself, his work, his indigeneity, and his career from a belated, manufactured outrage over his use of the term “little Eichmanns” to describe some of the global financiers in the World Trade Center that was brought down on Sept. 11. 2001. (He eventually prevailed in a civil suit he brought after he was dismissed by the trustees of the University of Colorado led by a member of the Coors family). Depriving us of these insightful essays, book reviews, politico-legal analyses and personal memoirs in book form for so long is yet another crime of the system of colonialism and white supremacy, a measure of how threatened that system is by Churchill’s well-reasoned and uncompromising critique of the land theft and genocide that continue to this day.

To cite four examples from this nearly-600-page work: In “Subverting the Law of Nations,” Churchill methodically and convincingly uses the legal and diplomatic reasoning and institutions of the United States government itself (in Supreme Court rulings, treaty language and Indian Claims Commission findings well into the 20th Century) to demonstrate the illegality on its own terms of US claims to sovereignty over this land, and the unextinguished nature of “the right of indigenous nations to recover property to which their title remains unclouded, or … their right to recover lands seized without payment…”

In  “Broadening Our View of the Penal Colony, ” his book review of Luana Ross’s Inventing the Savage, Churchill calls attention to her effectiveness in overcoming two weaknesses of much of recent organizing and polemicizing about the prison-industrial complex: “a rather lopsided emphasis on men, and a pronounced tendency to ignore American Indians.” He cites her research into the numbers, where imprisoned Natives are 1/3 of the prisoner population in Alaska, nearly 1/4 in South Dakota, and over 1/6 in North Dakota and Montana; in every case double or triple their share of the general population. In Montana, Native women are 25% of the total female prisoner population. Quoting Ross: “Thus Native women are more likely to be imprisoned than Native men or white women.” Churchill points out the conclusion that Ross draws: The very existence of the US requires an ongoing internal colonization of the indigenous nations upon whose land it has constituted itself.

In “American Indians in Film,” Churchill reviews all the tropes of Hollywood “Indians,” including the most “enlightened” and “progressive” directors, to demonstrate that the notion that the US, or other Western societies built and based on stolen land, are in no way “post-colonial,” and in the process to demonstrate the inadequacies of “post-modernity” and other cultural and political critiques that evade the responsibility to overturn and correct the underlying crimes of this system. In describing his use of such films in his teaching, he also outlines a pedagogy that leads to “not simply an empowering of students to interpret the world more accurately, but to change it.”
In “Kizhiibbinesik/A Bright Star, Burning Briefly”, Churchill writes movingly of the life, destruction and death of his late wife, Leah Renae Kelly, a brilliant, creative writer, painter and film-maker. Alcohol and alcoholism, demonic and overwhelming forms of self-medication for historic, familial and personal trauma, led to her early and tragic death on the cusp of fulfilling some of her creative capacities. Churchill says, “I’ve sought …to draw readers into sharing some facet of my sense of loss … embracing it as their own… What happened to Leah was indeed tragic, but it was no tragedy … it was a crime, an offense against humanity remarkable not in its singularity but because it is so common … and all but universally ignored… Call it, as I have, colonialism. Or, as I also have, call it genocide.”

Other essays in the volume spell out more fully why Churchill rightly calls it genocide, and why colonialism was, and remains a crime. Some may differ with his believe that ultimately, international law can be used as an effective weapon to right these wrongs, but his thinking must be grappled and the profound analyses and carefully documented (and profusely footnoted) research he provides are invaluable. If you can’t afford a copy of your own, get your school, college or public library to buy a few copies. Indigenous Peoples Day would be a good time to start reading it.

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San Francisco Is So Expensive, You Can Make Six Figures and Still Be 'Low Income'

By Karen Zraick
New York Times
June 30th 2018

In the latest sign of the astronomical cost of living in parts of California, the federal government now classifies a family of four earning up to $117,400 as low-income in three counties around the Bay Area.

That threshold, the highest of its kind in the nation, applies to San Francisco, San Mateo and Marin Counties. It’s used to determine eligibility for federal and local housing assistance programs. (But it’s different from the federal poverty guidelines.)

To generate the number, officials at the Department of Housing and Urban Development factor in the median income and average housing costs in an area. The second-highest threshold is in Honolulu, according to the agency — but the third is also in the Bay Area, in Santa Clara County, the heart of Silicon Valley. The New York City area, where a family of four earning up to $83,450 is classified as low-income, came in at No. 9.

Back in the Bay Area, residents and experts said they weren’t surprised.

“It sounds ridiculous, but it’s not,” said Richard A. Walker, a professor emeritus of geography at U.C. Berkeley and the author of a recent book about the tech boom and displacement in the Bay Area. As the tech industry has drawn legions of highly paid workers to the area, home prices aren’t the only thing that has gone up. Transportation, utilities and food are also costly.


“It’s arguably the most expensive city in the country, so what that translates to is really not that much money,” said Ed Cabrera, a Housing and Urban Development spokesman who is based in San Francisco. “Especially with children in an area where properties are considered affordable if they’re going for half a million dollars.”

The federal government pegs the “fair market rent” for a two-bedroom in the San Francisco area at $3,121. The median home price has climbed above $1 million, according to a recent report by the California Association of Realtors, and sales are robust.

The “low income” designation allows people to qualify for affordable housing and a variety of government programs, like ones for first-time home buyers.

But officials noted that a vast majority of San Francisco-area residents who get direct housing assistance, like the vouchers known as Section 8, are well below the maximum low-income standard: The average household that receives assistance makes just $18,000. And the average wait time to make it into subsidized housing is 64 months.

In neighboring San Mateo County, officials say the housing stock — primarily single-family homes, many on picturesque cul-de-sacs — lags far behind demand. Many residents who have been forced to move farther inland now face grueling commutes to their jobs.

“We’re the epicenter of the affordability crisis we’re seeing in the hotter markets throughout the U.S.,” said Ken Cole, the county’s director of housing.

“What it means on the ground is that teachers, first responders, people who grew up here of average income are being forced out by the high prices,” he said.

He called for building new, higher-density housing along rail lines. Others, including Mr. Walker, say the state should abolish a state law that limits rent control and consider other steps to cool the overheated market.

“The very success of the place undermines the viability of life for at least the lower half, if not the lower two-thirds,” Mr. Walker said. “And those are the people who get forgotten in the narrative of the glamour of tech changing the world.”

Kate Hartley, director of the San Francisco Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development, said high construction costs and low federal funding had added to the challenges of keeping low- and middle-income people in the city.

“What makes the Bay Area great is its diversity, its creative and innovative economy, and its free spirit,” she said.

“But the harder it is to house our artists, teachers, restaurant workers, health care providers,” she added, “the more we put that great spirit and strong economy at risk.”

Houses near the Bay Bridge in picturesque, but prohibitively pricey, San Francisco. Housing costs have skyrocketed as the tech industry has drawn lots of high-paid workers to the area.CreditJim Wilson/The New York Times

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PM Press: Ten Years of Literary Molotovs

By Craig O'Hara
Fifth Estate
Summer 2018

"If a revolutionary's first weapon is a book, PM Press has the arsenal. Their texts are battle plans for a new world." —Peter Werbe, Fifth Estate 

PM Press celebrated its tenth anniversary of publishing in May with a bang-up party in Oakland, Calif., where staff, authors, and various well-wishers howled at political sketch comedy, smashed a captured Amazon delivery drone, and danced the night away to good old punk rock.  

PM Press was founded at the end of 2007 by a small collection of people with decades of publishing, media, and organizing experience. At the outset we strived to create and distribute radical audio, video, and text releases through every available channel in all possible formats. True to one expanded variation of our name, "Print Matters," we're shamelessly biased in favor of hardcopy books as the best format to communicate ideas for social change.

In many ways, book publishing is similar to entertainment-related industries like professional sports or music, where the pressure is heavy to produce recognized, celebrity-driven material aimed at the lowest common denominator, as quickly and cheaply as possible. Our peers in publishing too often chase the wild goose they hope will carry them into a financially secure situation. This includes not just authors but every part of the industry involved with publishing a physical book, most of whom have little active role in promoting social change: rural paper mills, industrial park printers, strained freight carriers, overstocked distributors, and brick and mortar stores.

"When the PM Press book cart rolls into town, it's reassuring to know that the drivers have as much vision as the writers that they carry." —Ian MacKaye, Dischord Records

PM Press has never had a New York Times bestseller, and you will not find our books reviewed in its pages. It's not part of the financial equation for small presses to reach the mainstream by moving millions of copies of single titles—although we have sold millions of copies of books in total, often one at time, face to face. Events like anarchist book fairs and the existence of radical book shops are critical to exposing our work around the world. We organized, promoted, or attended 370 author events and 200 tabling exhibits in 2017 alone. PM is currently staffed by 10 people: several scattered around the West Coast, others working from the Rockies, Appalachia, New England, Montreal, and in the UK. After years of volunteer work, we are able to pay living wages by producing 30 books per year for gross sales surpassing a million dollars. And like Fifth Estate, PM just celebrated our 400th release.

There is a shrinking audience in 2018 for what we'd call historical anarchist texts, which have long been the staple of movement publishers. While anarchism has earned respect as a topic of intellectual study and debate in the universities, the discourse too often takes place apart from the poor and working-class communities that nurtured the movement in the 19th and 20th centuries; defanged by spring-break symposiums and backslapping sabbaticals.

One of our tasks as anarchist publishers, then, is to inject the historical politics of anarchism—active self-organizing, promotion of equality, opposition to hierarchy, the state, and organized religion—into the movements, milieus, and media of the times. Anarchism is always on the side of the oppressed. It never seeks mainstream respectability.

"Working with a press that respects writers and is committed to radical politics is a dream come true. It helps that they also make great and beautiful books. I find PM books all over the world; it's a sign that I've found a great bookseller." —Cory Doctorow, author of The Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow 

The good news is that we have a broad enough umbrella to be a part of the discussion within many different cultures and experiences, from political prisoners to punk rockers, social scientists to cartoonists. Among our bestsellers, books such as Sisters of the Revolution: A Feminist Speculative Fiction Anthology, the full-color Understanding Jim Crow: Using Racist Memorabilia to Teach Tolerance and Promote Social Justice, and the West Virginia history book Gun Thugs, Rednecks, and Radicals, bridge perceived gaps between traditional supporters of anarchist publications, those involved with grassroots social justice activism, and professional writers and educators doing some of the best work in their fields.  

At the tiny level on which independent publishers operate, selling 3,000 copies of a book in one year makes it a bestseller. A handful of anarchist-specific backlist titles, including books on the CNT in the Spanish Revolution, German philosopher Gustav Landauer's collected works, and titles by UK activists Stuart Christie or Colin Ward, may not sell 100 copies annually, combined.

Many of the problems facing independent publishers today are the same as decades ago. Rising physical costs of producing a book—paper, freight, storage, advertising, distribution—are still everyday concerns. And who wants to do the unglamorous and physically demanding work of warehousing, or spend years learning the highly-detailed, solitary skills of proofing, indexing, and book design for projects that will rarely be financially profitable?

Yet countless writers, artists, and activists are submitting more manuscripts and proposals than PM could ever publish. If a dozen independent publishers formed tomorrow to disseminate these texts, in every format and genre, they'd have plenty of work to do, and we would all benefit.

"PM's range is vast—coloring books and cookbooks, polemics, memoirs, novels, pamphlets, treatises, manifestos, and comics. PM's topics are encyclopedic—bicycles, vegetables, squatting, sex, soccer, punks, Wobblies, self-defense, fathering, mothering, striking, sitting in, you name it. PM is an altogether terrific outfit keeping the flags flying—red, black, and rainbow." —Peter Linebaugh, author of Stop, Thief! 

Anti-authoritarian books garner plenty of attention within the modern anarchist movement, but building lasting alternatives to capitalism is what we have to do, not just churn out books. The ideas and examples contained in these books must inspire the doers who create community lending libraries, food-growing and sharing co-ops, non-capitalist child and elder care, prisoner support networks—and yes, as dated as it sounds, revolution against oppression by any means necessary.


Craig O'Hara, cofounder of PM Press and the Tabling Tornadoes, has spent the last twenty-five years publishing and selling radical books to stores big and small, at book fairs, academic conferences, rock concerts, flea markets, and activist gatherings nationwide.

On the Fly in The Washington Post

The Washington Post

July 24th, 2018

In 1915, Charlie Chaplin, to the delight of moviegoers, created “The Tramp,” an enduring image of the sooty and bumbling yet lovable vagrant. Although distinctions were drawn between hobos and tramps, they were American migrants who hopped freight and passenger trains in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, some traveling in search of work, some others for less uplifting reasons.

“On the Fly,” an anthology billed as the first of its kind, guides us through the literature of “hobohemia” — the “jungles” (camps), “decks” (tops of passenger trains) and “main stems” (main streets) haunted by characters such as Sugar Butt Sam, Long Coat Lizy and Slicker Fastblack.

Editor Iain McIntyre has included writing from 1879 to America’s entry into the Second World War, by which time many migrants had taken to highways in automobiles. The tales and ballads demonstrate how hobos inspired both fear and envy in people trapped in domestic routines.

Popular portrayals such as Chaplin’s naïf belie just how literary hobos could be. Harry Kemp describes how he avoided jail a couple of times because sheriffs were awed “to find a tramp reading Shakespeare.” Meanwhile, in Glen Mullin’s white-knuckle tale of “riding the rods” — from his 1925 memoir “Adventures of a Scholar Tramp” — the author imagines the train passengers above him, who have no clue that “under their feet, hanging precariously to a rod, was a grimy hobo reading a socialistic pamphlet by Oscar Wilde.”

Women also rode the rails. Ben Reitman, writing as Boxcar Bertha, describes “the best known of the queens,” Lizzie Davis, who reminded him “of a great turbine engine, throbbing away. She had tremendous sex appeal, in spite of her hundred and seventy pounds and her ill-fitting, shabby gowns.”

Life on the road was not all ad­ven­ture. Many accounts, such as Edwin Brown’s 1920 book “Broke: The Man Without a Dime,” tell of severe deprivation, including one tragic image of an old man lying on the ground, covered in tobacco juice, while vermin scampered around, feasting on last night’s dinner scraps.

Men ride on the “pilot” or “cowcatcher” of a train in the 1890s. (Courtesy of PM Press)

Morley Roberts, one of several English writers who “tramped around” America in search of material, wrote in 1904 that “America is a hard place, for it has been made by hard men . . . the unconquerable rebel, the natural adventurer, the desperado seeking a lawless realm.” Starting in the 1890s, Jack Black spent grueling years as a thief and opium addict before becoming a librarian and writing such books as “You Can’t Win,” a model for William S. Burroughs’s “Junky.”

African American writer William Attaway — who would go on to write “Day-O (The Banana Boat Song)” with Harry Belafonte — describes horrendous conditions for a group of travelers in 1919, during the Great Migration. He reports that migrants “squatted on the straw-spread floor of a boxcar, bunched up like hogs headed for market, riding in the dark for what might have been years.”

Hobos of all kinds avoided the American South, where they were often rounded up and placed in forced-labor camps.

Who were these men exactly? Some dreamed not of freedom but of “standing at their machines in their factories . . . lined up at the office window on pay day.” For others, life “on the fly” was not about excitement or employment. Writer and transient Henri Tascheraud describes those like him as “for the most part throwbacks, pure and simple. We don’t fit, and that is why we love vagabondage, and disdain respectability.”

McIntyre includes lyrics to folk ballads, protest songs and blues songs, the most affecting being those like “Big Rock Candy Mountain,” which yearns for a promised land “where all the cops have wooden legs . . . and the hens lay soft-boiled eggs.”

The spirit of these roving authors lived on in Jack Kerouac’s restless dreamers, Kris Kristofferson’s “Me and Bobby McGee” and Jack Nicholson’s drifter Bobby Dupea in “Five Easy Pieces.”

In an era when tent cities spring up in prosperous American metropolitan areas, the lives captured in “On the Fly” feel less comfortably distant than we might like. That is perhaps why the best of these classic accounts of “bumming around” retain all their simmering anger and desperate optimism.

Ernest Hilbert is a poet and dealer in rare books.

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Whatever happened to those radical boomer activists from the '60s and '70s?

Boston, MA - 10/15/1969: Participants in the Moratorium to End the War in Vietnam demonstration hold up peace signs while gathered on Boston Common on Oct. 15, 1969. (Paul Connell/Globe Staff) --- BGPA Reference: 180111_BS_003
The Boston Globe/File
Antiwar protesters on Boston Common in 1969.

The “Me Generation” propelled an age of dissent, and then seemed to lose interest. Or so the story goes. 

TOM WOLFE FAMOUSLY TAGGED the 1970s the “Me Decade.” The era marked the coming of age of the baby boomers, who had been outraged students in the late 1960s: for civil rights and feminism, against the war in Vietnam and police brutality. When the world didn’t change fast enough, they sought personal gain and fulfillment instead. The “Me Generation” gorged on the most prosperous period in American history and left a mess for subsequent generations to clean up. Over time they’ve become the “worst generation,” even a “generation of sociopaths.

Or so we’ve been told.

That’s a little harsh, say those who lived it. The “leading edge” boomers — those born between 1946 and 1955 — grew up with regular reminders of the existential threats that lurked beyond the cul-de-sac: “duck-and-cover” drills in case of nuclear attack, a president assassinated for the first time since 1901, civil rights protests and race rioting, and escalating involvement in Vietnam. Then came 1968. The year had just begun when the Tet Offensive, North Vietnam’s massive effort to inspire rebellion among the South Vietnamese and encourage the United States to scale back its involvement, launched on the Vietnamese new year in late January.


Lew Finfer was a high school senior in suburban New York in the spring of 1968, organizing marchers for Martin Luther King Jr.’s Poor People’s Campaign. For him, the reports out of Vietnam that year put the lie to “three things a lot of the boomers were raised with: that our government always tells the truth, that whenever we fight a war we’re completely right and moral, and that the communists are the evil, godless ones.” Finfer never stopped organizing, moving on to school desegregation in Boston in the 1970s. Today, at 67, he serves as co-director of Massachusetts Communities Action Network in Dorchester.

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“There’s a certain mythology that the boomers gave up on their idealism,” says Allen Young, who was a staff member of the Liberation News Service, the “underground” news organization founded in Washington, D.C., in 1967 by Amherst College grad Marshall Bloom and Boston University alum Ray Mungo. Like Finfer, Young, who was born in 1941, begs to differ with that assessment. “I know a number of people who became nurses, doctors, social workers, and therapists,” he says. Even many of the lawyers he knew ended up working on social and environmental issues.

In truth, most boomers did not join protests against Vietnam or anything else. The ’60s did see rallies of sizes unprecedented at the time, with 250,000 people attending the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963, and by some estimates 2 million turning out nationwide for 1969’s first Moratorium to End the War in Vietnam (100,000 came to Boston Common). Relative to the population, the moratorium was probably the biggest protest the country had seen before last year’s Women’s Marches, which drew as many as 5 million Americans. The perception of the boomers as activists extraordinaire lingers, however, perhaps because they were the first generation whose iconic events were widely broadcast on television. Certainly, Doonesbury’s Zonker, Megaphone Mark, Joanie, and the rest of Garry Trudeau’s original Walden Commune residents have kept the cartoon archetypes of the boomers in the public eye.

BTM1582397:TET OFFENSIVE:HUE,SOUTH VIETNAM-FILE PHOTO 7FEB68-His own clothes drenched with his buddies blood, a US Marine looks up in disbelief as he tries to comfort his wounded friend during action at the Citadel wall at Hue, February 3, 1968. U1582397 CREDIT: BETTMANN ARCHIVE
A US soldier tends to a fallen comrade during the Tet Offensive.

One big spark for the era’s activism was the Democratic National Convention in August 1968 in Chicago, where antiwar Senator Eugene McCarthy faced off against Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey. Tens of thousands of student protesters gathered on the city’s streets to demonstrate against the war. Many of them had responded to the call of organizers including the Yippies, the Youth International Party, founded by Worcester’s Abbie Hoffman and friends. The Yippies were notorious for pranks that included dumping fistfuls of money onto the trading floor of the New York Stock Exchange and promising to “levitate” the Pentagon. In Chicago, they would nominate a pig as their party’s presidential candidate. But they were also savvy manipulators of the still relatively new medium of television, and effective organizers.

“There was an incredible feeling there was going to be something happening” in Chicago, says Ron Pownall, now a Boston-based rock photographer, then a college student covering the protests as a cub photographer for the Chicago Tribune. “The tension was palpable.”


Christopher “Kit” Binns drove his Volkswagen Beetle from Princeton, where he was a student, to Chicago to support McCarthy. He found himself in the middle of the so-called Battle of Michigan Avenue. Binns, a South Shore native who is now a 71-year-old retiree living in Dorchester, remembers how the police began charging the crowd “like fish through the sea. They just kind of barged around like that all evening long.”

Pownall’s photos told the story as it unfolded, from the rows of helmeted police forming a human wall to the young man who was pummeled for pulling down an American flag. One image captures a bloodied protester on the ground, glasses in hand, while others tend to his injuries. Pownall learned months later that the injured man was Rennie Davis, another Yippie and one of eight protest organizers, including Hoffman and Jerry Rubin, who would be tried for incitement to riot in the infamous Chicago Seven trial of 1969. (The eighth, Bobby Seale, was tried separately.) An independent report pinned the violence on a minority of officers who engaged in what “can only be termed a police riot.”

Televised nightly on the network news, the footage of Chicago police clubbing and tear-gassing young demonstrators revealed two Americas, literally lined up in opposition. There were the youth, who were being sent overseas to a war they did not support, and the authorities, many of them — such as Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley and FBI head J. Edgar Hoover — men who had lived through the Great Depression, men who would not tolerate dissent. “I do remember Walter Cronkite looking straight into the camera with his tortoiseshell glasses,” says Judy Gumbo, who was a leader of the Yippies along with her late husband, Stew Albert. She recalls Cronkite commenting, “ ‘They’re beating our children.’ ”

0 WAS97:CAMPAIGN-HOTEL:WASHINGTON,20AUG96 - FILE PHOTO AUG68 - Chicago police and anti-war demonstrators fight on Michigan Avenue during the Democratic National Convention in 1968. As Chicago prepares to host the Democratic National Convention beginning August 26, local sites remember the riots and confusion that occurre d the last time the city hosted the Democratic National Convention.jw/CORBIS-BETTMANN-UPI REUTERS ++FOR ONE TIME EDITORIAL USE ONLY WITHIN 90 DAYS OF TRANSM ISSION++ Library Tag 07252004 National/Foreign
The New York Times
Police and protesters clash in Chicago in 1968.

At one point, as police were herding protesters into police wagons, the crowd began chanting, “The whole world is watching.”

“We knew it was true,” says Gumbo, “and it gave us confidence. We knew we were on the side of the righteous.” During the primaries, a majority of votes cast had been for antiwar candidates. But most delegates were assigned in party caucuses, and the Democrats nominated Humphrey to run against Richard Nixon.


After Chicago, boomers and their slightly older counterparts ramped up their demands for attention. Across Greater Boston, students seemed to be out in the streets as often as they were in the classroom. Campus buildings were occupied by students at Harvard, Boston University, and Boston College, where African-American students aired a list of grievances, bringing the aims of the Black Power movement to Chestnut Hill. At MIT, students engaged in a six-day standoff with officials in late fall 1968 when they created a “sanctuary” for a soldier who had deserted after turning against the war.

MIT student George Katsiaficas was the son of an Army man; he’d been considering military service himself until the war changed his mind. He was the only undergraduate MIT named to a blue-ribbon panel to evaluate the school’s innocuously named Instrumentation Laboratory, which researched technologies for NASA and the US Department of Defense. “It opened my eyes,” says Katsiaficas. “I had no idea that MIT was so directly involved in developing weapons systems.”

The research center was eventually spun off from the school as the independent nonprofit Draper Laboratory. Katsiaficas became an ardent protester, spurred both by his work on the panel and the death of a lacrosse teammate, Paul Baker, who’d joined the Marines and was killed in Quang Tri. Katsiaficas missed his graduation while serving a 45-day sentence at the Middlesex House of Correction in Billerica for “disturbing a school.” In graduate school at the University of California at San Diego, he studied with radical Marxist Herbert Marcuse, then came back to Boston to teach social science at the Wentworth Institute of Technology, publishing more than a dozen books on leftist politics. His next, The Global Imagination of 1968, is out next month.

“Even for people who were not against the war, those events revealed the character of the world,” says Katsiaficas. “Something about the world and the way it was perceived changed. . . . The United States I thought I knew was not the United States that existed. I was totally shocked, surprised, and horrified at what was on the evening news every night.”

BTM1608809:YIPPIE:WASHINGTON-FILE PHOTO 5OCT68-Before there were Yuppies, there were Yippies. Abbie Hoffman, leader of Youth International Party is arrested in Washington, October 5, 1968. U1608809 CREDIT: BETTMANN-UPI library tag 08272000 new england
bettman upi
Police in Washington, D.C., arrest Abbie Hoffman in 1968.

The unrest continued into the early 1970s. BU even canceled undergraduate finals and commencement in 1970, after a rash of fires set in school buildings. Violence created a rift between protesters who shunned aggression and those who believed it necessary for true change. Surveys have shown that protests, for all their drama, were supported by a small percentage of Americans, and they began to die down. The draft, a hot-button issue for activists, ended in 1973, and boomer activism began to shift to the Equal Rights Amendment, while the country as a whole was buffeted by the oil crisis and then stagflation. Some of the Yippies became Yuppies in the go-go 1980s — Jerry Rubin famously became a stockbroker. But Rubin also marketed a health drink made with bee pollen, ginseng, and kelp. It was called Wow!

Pownall thinks the number of boomers “who went that way, to the money side, is way less percentage-wise than it had been in previous generations. There were still a lot of people with liberal cred.” In fact, polls have shown that older boomers have consistently leaned Democrat, while those born after the mid-1950s, coming of age during the Carter and Reagan presidencies, have tended to be more conservative.

Yet even on campus in the 1960s, the boomers weren’t uniformly hippie. Reid Ashe covered the soldier-sanctuary incident as a reporter for MIT’s student newspaper, The Tech. Ashe, a native of Charlotte, North Carolina, only attended protests as a reporter. “I certainly believed that the war was wrong, that things needed to change,” he says. But while some students “were committed to the movement,” of the students he knew at MIT, many more “were too busy doing other stuff, studying for the next exam.” Ashe became a managing editor at The Tech and then went into newspaper management.

He witnessed another side of boomer activism as president and publisher of The Wichita Eagle in Kansas in 1991, when the “Summer of Mercy” took over the city for six weeks of protests against three abortion clinics. Thousands of advocates on both sides showed up on the streets; by the end, more than 2,500 demonstrators were arrested. It was one example of conservative boomers adopting the language and tactics of social protest associated with their more liberal peers.

Somerville, MA--5/29/2018-- Photographer Ron Pownall poses for a portrait inside his studio in Somerville. (Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff) Topic: 061018BoomActivism Reporter:
Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff
Ron Pownall in his Somerville studio, with photos he took at the Chicago protests.

There was no single response to the events of the times, says Theda Skocpol, a professor of government and sociology at Harvard. She and her husband, Bill Skocpol, had married as students at Michigan State University and came to Cambridge in 1969 to do graduate work at Harvard. “People took different lessons from it all. For me, all those events cemented a lifelong commitment to social justice.”

She does think the ’60s and ’70s were a freer time for activism. “People were not as fearful then as they are now,” she says. “The atmosphere of students being afraid for their futures if they got involved in protest, that was not then.”

Some members of the generation have revisited their youthful spirit of protest since fellow boomer Donald Trump was elected president. They’ve been outspoken on Black Lives Matter and the #MeToo movement, and shown up for the Women’s Marches, where thousands of boomer women joined their younger counterparts in donning pink “pussy hats.”

Boomers are supporting younger activists now. As Finfer sees it, these new generations are carrying on the healthy brand of skepticism the boomers introduced into the national discourse. Ask anyone from subsequent generations if they ever believed their government would always tell the truth, he says, “and they’ll look at you like, ‘Are you kidding?’ ”

In this new age of division and despair, Finfer still sees plenty of reasons to be hopeful. He points, for example, to the young people pushing for gun control laws in the aftermath of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shootings in Florida. It may be years before those young activists see any results, he says. “It’s not like they’re going to demonstrate every day forever. But that’s a major event some of them are passing through, the same way our generation had to deal with the Vietnam War and civil rights and so forth.

“Every generation has its idealism and people who live that in lots of ways, and obviously some people who fall short of that in lots of ways,” he says. “It shouldn’t be a choice between Mother Teresa and Jerry Rubin. There’s a lot of space in between.”

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A new bill aims to send masked Antifa activists to jail for 15 years

By Dakin Andone

Antifa activists could be jailed for up to 15 years for wearing masks under a bill introduced by a US congressman.
If passed, Bill HR 6054 would punish anyone wearing a mask or disguise who "injures, oppresses, threatens, or intimidates" someone else exercising a right guaranteed under the Constitution.
The title of the bill -- "Unmasking Antifa Act of 2018" -- makes it clear that Antifa activists are its intended target, but the bill's text never explicitly mentions them.

The bill, which was introduced by Republican Rep. Dan Donovan of New York last month, has drawn widespread condemnation from critics who claim it unfairly targets Antifa activists, while it could embolden the far-right demonstrators Antifa protests against.

"This is another draconian measure to actually criminalize dissent in the United States," said Scott Crow, a former Antifa organizer and author.

"Because the law, even if it doesn't explicitly state 'leftists who mask up,' that's who the largest potential target of the law is," he said, "far more than white nationalists."

The term "Antifa," short for "anti-fascist," is used to refer to a loose coalition of individuals with left-leaning political views that often fall outside of the mainstream Democratic Party's platform.

The group has no figurehead or official governing body, but members -- some of whom turn to radical or militant tactics to make their views known -- generally oppose the inequality of wealth by corporations and discrimination against marginalized communities. They often wear black and obscure their faces while protesting.

The Antifa movement's profile has significantly risen in recent years, especially after members clashed with self-described "white nationalists" in Charlottesville, Virginia, last summer -- a day that ended in tragedy when a James Alex Fields Jr. allegedly drove a car into a crowd of counter-protesters, killing one demonstrator, Heather Heyer.

Crow said the bill is an attempt by lawmakers to avoid tackling the issue of hate speech and instead address a "symptom" of it by targeting protests.

"Instead of dealing with that, they'd just rather deal with this," he said, "which is to put a band aid on something."

Walter Shaub, the former director of the Office of Government Ethics, tweeted about the bill on Tuesday, suggesting it advanced "authoritarianism."
"Two groups go to Charlottesville. A big group chants racist filth, wields semi-automatic assault rifles, fires a gun into a crowd & murders a woman with a car," he wrote. "A small group wears masks. It's the small group these Congressmen want to lock up for 15 years. Authoritarianism rises."

Unmasking the leftist Antifa movement
Donovan's office sent out a fact sheet that pointed out other instances in which Antifa activists exhibited violence, including an instance in February 2017 where they turned up to protest at a speaking event held by right-wing commentator Milo Yiannopoulous at UC Berkeley.

Donovan's spokesman Patrick Ryan also pointed out that the bill would simply add a section to federal civil rights statutes to include a penalty for wearing a mask.

"My bill expands upon long-standing civil rights statutes to make it a crime to deprive someone of Constitutionally-guaranteed protections while masked or disguised," Donovan said in a statement sent to CNN.

"Americans have the natural right to speak and protest freely; it is not a right to throw Molotov cocktails and beat people while hiding behind a mask."

But regardless of whether the bill becomes law, Crow said it won't stop protesters from wearing masks.
"If they take away the right to mask up," he said, "people will still do it anyway to fight against authoritarianism in any form."

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Repression & Resistance: From RNC 2000 to Trump

By Eric Laursen
The Fifth Estate
Summer 2018

Crashing the Party
was published three years ago, but it couldn’t be more timely in the age of Trump and Sessions. Kris Hermes’s book is an in-depth account of the legal saga that began with the repression and mass arrests of activists at the 2000 Republican National Convention in Philadelphia.

Much of the groundwork for the hyper-aggressive style of protest policing that’s since become common practice, and that reached a new intensity with the outlandish charges against activists at the Trump inaugural, was laid in Philly that summer. Fortunately, it was answered by new techniques of response by arrestees and a renaissance of legal collectives that carry resistance from the streets and police wagons to the jails and courtrooms.

Hermes, who threw himself into the legal campaign for the Philly RNC arrestees as part of the R2K Legal Collective, is an excellent storyteller. He lucidly teases out the many volatile elements that made the convention a powder-keg: the city’s extreme cop culture, the seething racial tensions encapsulated by the politically motivated incarceration of activist-journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal, the city’s splurge of taxpayer dollars to accommodate the orgy of influence-peddling that was the RNC, and the systematic demonization of protesters labeled violent by a compliant mainstream media.

He detaiLs tHe preparations by activists for a national convergence opposing the convention, and the efforts of the city and the national security state to stop them, from illegal surveillance and infiltration to unprovoked raids, to an extraordinary, secretly negotiated insurance policy immunizing the city from liability for actions such as false arrest, libel, and malicious prosecution.

From the beginning, anarchists were specifically targeted. One a davit submitted by the police listing organizations tagged for search and seizure included the blanket entry, “Anarchists.”
Inside the convention, George W. Bush was anointed Republican presidential nominee. Outside, the city’s insurance policy licensed police to engage in a free-for-all of beatings, preemptive arrests, harassment, and mass round- ups–420 arrests in total.

While the Philadelphia Inquirer editorialized that protesters “acted as if they didn’t realize that breaking the law meant you go to jail,” much of the police tactics were blatantly illegal. Arrestees were detained sometimes for weeks and charged under a sealed a davit that was later revealed to contain next to no evidence.

What those arrested in Philadelphia and their fellow activists had going for them was the grim experience gained during the vast mobilization in Seattle against the World Trade Organization a year earlier.

In some detention facilities in Seattle, Hermes notes, WTO arrestees were “dragged across the floor, sometimes through broken glass, doused with pep- per spray, hogtied hand-to-ankle, and handcuffed tightly enough to cause bleeding.” Some were beaten unconscious.

Later, reports of sexuaL abuse (six counts) and threats of rape surfaced. e lack of support shown by the ACLU in Seattle and the efforts of some attorneys to get individual defendants to break ranks are still distressing to read about today. In 2000, they convinced activists of the need to form a legal collective in Philadelphia that wasn’t dependent on mainstream liberal organizations.

Also, many veterans of the Seattle actions who were arrested in Philadelphia were experienced at jail solidarity.

They and their comrades had good support from civil rights lawyers and their comrades on the outside were organized to provide support as long as a single activist was inside.

R2K Legal got busy raising bail, raising more funds, publicizing police and jail abuses, developing a media strategy, and building a movement to drop the charges. When the district attorney and mayor stood their ground, the collective and its attorneys worked to organize trial trainings and push for pretrial dismissals, some of which were obtained.

They researched and exposed the spectacularly biased judge who heard many of the cases and (un- successfully) tried to get him recused. “While it was a long-short legal strategy,” the recusal effort “became a political success story” by “giving the public a glimpse into the style of justice that gets meted out every day” in cities like Philadelphia, Hermes writes.

One felony arrestee, activist Kate Sorenson, was found to have been subjected to months of police surveillance and harassment prior to the RNC. She was acquitted. Ultimately, fewer than 20 of the over 400 arrestees were convicted, and none was sentenced to jail time.

The police abuses provoked a rash of civil lawsuits, resulting in settlements by the city amounting to $18 million (disclosure: this writer was deposed in one of the civil cases.) e monetary awards aside, was it worth it?

Sometimes, civil litigation exposes crimes by the authorities and results in some measure of reform; on the other hand, the process is long and exhaust- ing and taxes the limited resources of legal collectives and their allies, surely one of the aims of the State.

Yet, activists re ned their skills at jail and court solidarity and took them to other cities and street-level protests, including actions over the Iraq war and at later political conventions.
Crashing the Party is thorough— perhaps too exhaustive for many readers—but the record Hermes compiles is an indispensable part of our experience as activists against the State.

He doesn’t neglect the vast expansion of surveillance by police, the FBI, joint terrorism task forces, and other agencies as a result of Seattle, the RNC, and other mass mobilizations, when law enforcement branded anarchists and “summit hoppers” the nucleus of a new domestic terrorism.

All that expanded vastly after 9/11 and the formulation of the War on Terror. But the State response to the RNC protests undoubtedly was a watershed in making the use of its resources to suppress dissent, often at the behest of private interests, commonplace. Recent example: the suppression of the Dakota Access Pipeline protest community at Standing Rock.

The great question since the RNC has remained much the same: how to join mass protests, often by white radicals, more firmly and productively with existing local activism in communities of color and among impoverished populations.

Hermes makes a strong case that the real legacy of R2K is the proliferation of legal collectives over the succeeding decade, from Midnight Special in Oak- land to the People’s Law Collective and the Sylvia Rivera Law Project in New York City. These groups not only help arrestees to better leverage their position in the jails and courts, but to use those contexts to extend their activism and build ties to other victims of the system, something a more fragmented legal strategy, dictated by conventional defense attorneys, can’t accomplish.

Donald Trump and Je Sessions, his attorney general, are embarked on a vast (and underreported) project to harden the criminal injustice system and heighten suppression of disfavored communities.

Protest, accordingly, is ratcheting up, but so is repression. “The likelihood of the state conceding to protester demands depends on the amount of political pressure that movements can muster,” Hermes concludes.

A strategy for carrying activism onto the criminal injustice system’s own turf is more important than ever. Kris Hermes’s fine book shows us how legal collectives can continue to play a vital role.

Eric Laursen is an anarchist writer and activist living in Buckland, Mass. His most recent book is The Duty to Stand Aside: Nineteen Eighty-Four and the Wartime Quarrel of George Orwell and Alex Comfort (AK Press, 2018).

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The Demanding, Essential Work of Samuel Delany: The Atheist in the Attic

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Insurgent Supremacists: Truthout Pick of the Week

In his new book, Insurgent Supremacists: The U.S. Far Right’s Challenge to State and Empire, Matthew N. Lyons takes issue with the notion that the far right is a united force. Lyons dissects what is different and what is the same about groups that have varying visions of what is the priority in governance vis-à-vis the status quo of the state. The following excerpt is from the introduction to Insurgent Supremacists.

For people who thought the US far right was an irrelevant lunatic fringe, the 2016 presidential race seemed like madness. It was bad enough that the victor was a right-wing populist who called for excluding people from the country based on ethnicity or religion, advocated torture, boasted about sexually assaulting women, and encouraged his supporters to beat up dissenters at campaign rallies. But on top of that, his campaign received important help from a network of activists known as the alternative right or alt-right, who want to break up the United States into racially segregated “ethno-states.” Styling themselves “fashy goys” (fascistic non-Jews), alt-rightists bombarded social media with gas chamber jokes, rape and death threats against women, and internet memes that vilified both liberal multiculturalists and mainstream conservatives. The alt-right helped Donald Trump score upset victories over his Republican rivals and Democrat Hillary Clinton, gaining unprecedented visibility and attention in return. But alt-rightists were never committed Trump fans, and just a few months after he took office they were bitterly criticizing Trump for abandoning the “America First” nationalism of his campaign for a more conventional conservatism. Around the same time, many began to shift their focus from online activism to street protests and fighting.

Before 2015 or 2016, most mainstream reporters and political pundits had never heard of the alt-right, and they scrambled to figure out what the movement was and what it stood for. Because alt-rightists didn’t look or act like stereotypical Neo-Nazis, people accused them of trying to hide their white supremacist politics behind a “benign” label, even though in fact many of them went out of their way to sound as offensive and bigoted as possible. Because alt-rightists were explicitly white nationalist, many observers didn’t notice that they also promoted a misogyny so extreme that even many Neo-Nazis criticized it. And because some “anti-globalist” conservatives started using the alt-right label, many critics missed the distinction between fellow travelers and committed adherents — between those Trump supporters who wanted to reclaim control of the American republic for white Christian men and those who hoped for the republic’s collapse. Although media coverage of the alt-right gradually improved, this initial confusion underscored the need to rethink superficial, overgeneralized, and outmoded conceptions, and to recognize the far right as a dynamic, changing collection of movements.

This book is about far right politics in the United States. It is an effort to understand movements such as the alt-right: what they want, what they do, who they appeal to, and how they interact with other political forces. It is also an effort to place these movements in historical context, to analyze how and why they have developed over the past half-century, and how current circumstances affect their strengths and limitations.

The term “far right” needs clarification, since it has been used in many different ways. Depending on the user and the context, far right may refer to white supremacist ideology or hard-line conservatism, authoritarianism or laissez-faire economics, a fascist vision of a new order, or a reactionary drive to turn back the clock. Each of these concepts is relevant to the subject of this book to some degree, but none of them really describes what it is about.

Instead of focusing on a specific doctrine, my approach begins with a specific historical turning point: in the 1970s and 1980s, for the first time since World War II, rightists in significant numbers began to withdraw their loyalty from the US government. This marked a sharp break with the right’s traditional role as defender of the established order, as one of the forces helping economic and political elites to maintain social control. In my view, the resulting division between oppositional and system-loyal rightists is more significant than ideological differences about race, religion, economics, or other factors.

As an imprecise working definition (not for all times and places but for the United States today), “far right” is used here to mean political forces that (a) regard human inequality as natural, inevitable, or desirable and (b) reject the legitimacy of the established political system. This definition cuts across standard ideological divisions. It includes insurgent factions among both white supremacists (whose supremacist vision centers on race) and Christian rightists (who advocate social and political hierarchy based on gender and religion, among other factors). It also includes many Patriot movement activists, who may or may not advocate racial or religious oppression but who champion unregulated capitalism and the economic inequality it produces. The definition excludes system-loyal white supremacists, Christian rightists, and Patriot activists, as well as other rightists who want to roll back liberal reforms but leave the basic state apparatus in place. The definition also draws a line between the far right and radical leftists, who reject the existing political system but, at least in theory, seek to transform society based on egalitarian principles.

My analysis of the far right is based on a number of core premises:

The far right is made up of regular human beings…. Far right organizations attract and keep supporters because they speak to human hopes and fears, grievances and aspirations, and because they offer appealing explanations for big problems and confusing changes in society. Understanding the far right’s human appeal is important because it helps us to combat it more effectively and relate that struggle to the larger struggles for human liberation.

The far right grows out of an oppressive social order. The far right is often described as an extremist threat to democracy, yet the United States is not and never has been a democracy. It is a deeply unequal society where a tiny capitalist elite holds most economic and political power and multiple systems of dominance/subordination shape most human relations. These systems foster scapegoating and demonization of oppressed groups — and violence against them — by far right and mainstream forces alike, a dynamic that will not be eradicated as long as these systems remain in place.

This doesn’t mean that the United States is a dictatorship. It has always been a shifting mix of pluralistic openness and repression, where real political space has been won for some people and some ideas that would not be permitted in a wholly authoritarian system, including opportunities to organize, debate, participate in electoral politics, and criticize those in power. Pluralistic space has provided an important tool for managing conflict and a safety valve for popular discontent. Yet those who seriously challenge the underlying structures of power risk jail or worse, and many people (especially low-income people of color) routinely face police harassment and the threat or reality of violence — up to and including death. Such political repression has increased during various crisis periods in US history and has been trending upward for the past several decades.

The far right is politically autonomous. While some liberals have glossed over the deep connections between far right politics and mainstream institutions, some leftists have made the opposite mistake by treating far rightists simply as tools of the ruling class. It is certainly true that economic or political elites have sometimes found white supremacist and fascist forces useful — for attacking the left or the labor movement, for example — but the relationship between them is at best ambivalent. In calling for the US political system to be abolished or broken up, far rightists do not speak for any significant faction of the capitalist elite, although that could change.

The US far right has a contradictory relationship with the established order, reinforcing it in some ways and attacking it in others. This tension is often expressed in a kind of double-edged ideology. On the one side, far right groups offer people a way to defend the relative social privileges and power that they enjoy over oppressed groups such as people of color, women, LGBT people, and immigrants, and speak to fears that traditional privileges have been lost or are under threat. But the far right also speaks to people’s sense of being disempowered and downtrodden by groups above them, by denouncing groups that they identify with elite power, such as the federal government, liberal intellectuals, global corporations, or Jewish bankers.

Far right ideology is not just about race. When people say “far right” they often mean white supremacist or white nationalist. There are several problems with this. For one thing, people who want a society dominated and defined by people of European descent don’t all necessarily want to overthrow or secede from the United States. And equating the far right with white nationalism leaves out important rightist forces that reject the legitimacy of the US political system but don’t put race at the center of their ideology. A prime example is the Christian right’s hardline faction — embodied most clearly in Christian Reconstructionism — which wants to replace the US government with a full-scale theocracy based on biblical law. In addition, while all major far right currents in the United States are predominantly white, some have made real efforts to recruit people of color, and these efforts could grow.

Far right politics don’t stand still. The Marxist historian Isaac Deutscher commented once that after World War I, many German leftists thought the main danger from the right was going to be efforts to restore the monarchy. They were blindsided when the main rightist danger turned out to be a movement that had no interest in restoring the monarchy, but instead carried a red flag and put both “Socialist” and “Workers” in the name of its organization — the National Socialist German Workers Party, also known as the Nazis.

One of the most striking features of the US far right over the past half-century has been its repeated efforts to develop new doctrines, arguments, strategies, and forms of organization. As an example, many opponents assume that far rightists remain oriented toward classical fascism’s vision of a strong state and a disciplined, top-down political organization. In reality huge swaths of the far right have abandoned this approach and have embraced some form of political decentralism, ranging from the Neo-Nazi-based “leaderless resistance” strategy to Christian Reconstructionism’s vision of a locally based theocracy enforced through the small-scale institutions of church and family.

The far right presents multiple kinds of threats. In the short term, it’s extremely unlikely that far rightists could seize power and bring about the kind of society they envision. While this cannot be ruled out in the longer term, there are several more immediate reasons to take the far right seriously. First, far rightists carry out harassment and violence against targeted groups, and they encourage other people to do the same. Second, far rightists create more space for system-loyal forces to intensify their own bigotry, scapegoating, and violence, both by offering an example for system-loyal groups to learn from, and also by providing an “extreme” example that helps more “moderate” versions look legitimate by comparison. Third, far rightists can exploit popular grievances to draw support away from left-wing liberatory alternatives. Fourth, far rightists can infect the left itself with their poisonous ideas or recruit leftists to work with them.

Copyright, Reprinted with permission

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Donald Trump Uses Right-Wing Populism to Unite Divergent Groups

By Mark Karlin

July 8th, 2017

No, the right wing is not a monolithic force. One of the key points Matthew N. Lyons details in his book Insurgent Supremacists: The U.S. Far Right’s Challenge to State and Empire is that the right wing is composed of groups with different historical roots. Trump, Lyons argues in this interview, is a right-wing populist.

Mark Karlin: Why is it important to break the far right in the United States into distinctive components?

Matthew K. Lyons: Because different branches of the far right represent different types of threats. They have different social bases, target different scapegoats, pursue different strategies, and have different strengths and weaknesses. Understanding these differences helps us fight them more effectively.

For purposes of analysis in Insurgent Supremacists, I define the US far right as encompassing those political forces that (a) regard human inequality as natural, desirable or inevitable; and (b) reject the legitimacy of the existing political system. That cuts across a lot of political divides. Many far rightists put race at the center of their program, but others focus more on religious doctrine, or gender or a more generic form of elitism. Some far rightists advocate paramilitary organizing while others focus on electoral activism, or building community institutions, or a “metapolitical” transformation of cultural norms and assumptions. Some sections of the far right are working-class oriented while others have a base that’s predominantly middle class or professional. Some recruit whole families while others are only interested in men.

Matthew N. Lyons.Matthew N. Lyons.PM Press

It’s not just the differences and divisions within the far right that are important, but also the interactions and creative tensions between different factions. Every far-right upsurge in the US over the past 40 years has been powered by different rightist currents coming together. In the 1980s, the convergence between Klan and Nazi forces — which had distrusted each other for half a century — gave us the modern white nationalist movement. In the 1990s, the explosion of Patriot/militia groups was fueled by a new mix of white nationalism, Christian Reconstructionism, John Birch-style conspiracism and gun rights ideology. Over the past decade, the rise of the “alt-right” has followed the same dynamic.

Where does the “alt-right” fit in?

The “alt-right” is the newest major far right current to emerge in the United States. It started to cohere around 2010, when Richard Spencer founded the online journal to foster intellectual debate and discussion among right-wing critics of mainstream conservatism. A lot of different ideological ingredients have gone into the mix, but some of the most notable ones have been paleoconservatism (a dissident branch of US conservatism that has advocated economic nationalism and white Christian cultural dominance and opposed most US military interventions abroad), the European New Right (a high-brow initiative to rework fascist ideology that started in France in the late 1960s) and the manosphere (an online anti-feminist subculture that has fostered some of the most virulent misogyny, in both theory and practice). White nationalism has always been a dominant force in the “alt-right,” and at this point, those “alt-rightists” who didn’t embrace white nationalism have apparently all left the movement. Both Nazi and non-Nazi versions of white nationalism are represented.

A key feature that sets the “alt-right” apart from earlier far-right movements is its emphasis on web culture, social media and the use of memes. Neo-Nazis have pioneered in the use of computer networks and information technology since the 1980s, but the “alt-right” started out by developing a major online presence and only later started to form member organizations and hold physical rallies. “Alt-rightists” got very skilled at using political irony and mounting meme campaigns, such as the #cuckservative campaign in 2016, which significantly helped Donald Trump in the presidential primaries by attacking his main Republican competitors. Borrowing a tactic from the manosphere’s Gamergate campaign, “alt-rightists” also barraged political opponents with vicious online harassment, such as flooding their inboxes with rape and death threats.

The “alt-right” has suffered a series of setbacks over the past year, through a combination of internal failings and external pressures, and it’s a lot weaker and more isolated than it was when Trump was elected. But it’s had a lasting impact, not only by helping to put Trump in the White House, but also by fueling supremacist violence and injecting supremacist ideology into mainstream discourse. And even if the “alt-right” itself never recovers, it’s likely that sooner or later we’ll see a resurgence of another far-right movement that builds on its example, promoting similar ideas in different form.

Why do you think there are so many different perceptions of fascism?

To some extent, it’s because fascists have never developed an agreed-upon body of political theory the way Marxists, anarchists, liberals and even conservatives have done. Mussolini declared that fascists were more concerned with action than with doctrine, which has misled some critics into thinking that fascism doesn’t stand for anything except grabbing power and brutalizing people. But opponents also perceive fascism differently because of their different starting points, different ways of understanding the world. Is fascism fundamentally an expression of “hate,” a mass psychology of exclusion? Is it an outgrowth of capitalism, or even a “stage” of capitalism in decline, as many Marxists have claimed? Or is it, as some conservatives have argued, essentially “big government” run amok?

People on both the left and the right have often used “fascism” more as a political epithet, a way to denounce your opponents, than a term of analysis. There’s a long tradition of liberals and leftists denouncing every repressive move by right-wing politicians as “fascist,” from Joseph McCarthy’s witch hunts to George W. Bush’s “war on terror” to Donald Trump’s anti-immigrant policies. To me, all of these are actually examples of authoritarian conservatism, which is a top-down impulse to defend the established order and ruling-class interests. I see fascism as an outgrowth of an organized mass movement that wants to sweep away established institutions and impose a new kind of supremacist order. Fascism may cut a deal with established elites, but is at root an autonomous force with its own agenda, not a ruling-class puppet. Contrary to popular usage, fascists are not the only ones who impose dictatorships, and they are not the only ones who carry out genocide.

Are many far right groups populist in nature?

Yes, in the United States, pretty much all of them are populist to one degree or another. I follow political scientist Margaret Canovan’s approach in defining populism as an effort to rally “the people” around some form of anti-elitism. There are a lot of different versions of populism, some of which have positive elements. But right-wing populism, as Chip Berlet and I and others have argued, is a subcategory in which anti-elitism is combined with a drive to bolster the oppression, exclusion or annihilation of one or more oppressed or marginalized groups. In addition, the anti-elitism that right-wing populists promote is distorted, in that it diverts people’s anger away from the actual systems of power (such as capitalism, patriarchy, white supremacy) onto a scapegoat (such as “globalist elites,” or “liberal intellectuals” or “Jewish bankers”).

There have been many right-wing populist movements in US history, but most of them have been system loyal, in the sense that they have not really called the established political order into question. The far right of recent decades is part of a larger right-wing populist upsurge, which regards the limited gains made by oppressed social groups since the 1960s as the result of a plot by “sinister elites” to undermine Western civilization. There are different versions of this narrative — some racial, some religious, some economic, and so on. System-loyal right-wing populists essentially argue that the sinister elites can be put in their place through reforming the existing system, while far rightists believe that the system is beyond repair and a political revolution is needed — a revolution of the right, an insurgency to impose a new supremacist order.

What are the relationships between national security forces, law enforcement and the paramilitary right?

This is a complex story and delving into it is one of the elements that sets Insurgent Supremacists apart from most books about the US far right. There’s a long history of federal agencies colluding with — or actively sponsoring — right-wing violence against people of color, organized labor and the left. For example, in the early 1970s, federal agencies sponsored right-wing organizations in the Chicago area and southern California that carried out break-ins, physical attacks and assassination attempts against leftists. In 1979, an FBI informer and an agent of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms both helped plan an operation in which neo-Nazi and Klan groups murdered five members and supporters of the Communist Workers Party in Greensboro, North Carolina.

Candidate Trump got more help from far rightists than any other major presidential candidate in living memory.

But when right-wing paramilitaries have turned against the state, federal agencies have cracked down hard on them. In the 1980s, security forces smashed The Order, a neo-Nazi group that had issued a declaration of war against the “Zionist Occupation Government” in Washington, and rounded up members of half a dozen other armed fascist organizations. In the 1990s, the FBI created a phony neo-Nazi organization called the Veterans Aryan Movement to help it gather intelligence about genuine far-right groups — a classic counterinsurgency tactic. The federal government has also sometimes used far-right violence as a useful scapegoat to justify increases in state repression. For example, the Clinton administration used the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing to help push through the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, which civil liberties advocates have excoriated. Yet in recent years, federal security forces’ responses to the paramilitary right have been largely reactive, inconsistent and even passive. At the Bundy Ranch confrontation in 2014, federal officers backed down when confronted by armed Patriot movement activists pointing guns at them, and the government waited almost two years before bringing any charges for the incident.

This kind of cautious response partly reflects pressure from conservatives, but it may also point to awareness that federal government efforts to control the paramilitary right have sometimes backfired — spectacularly. In the 1960s, FBI infiltration of Ku Klux Klan groups (carried out not to end racist violence, but to bring to heel a heavily armed network operating outside government control) significantly weakened the Klan in the short term, but it massively discredited the Bureau in the eyes of white supremacists, and helped push many of them to embrace revolutionary, far-right politics. The 1992 assault on the home of white supremacist Randy Weaver — in which federal agents shot to death Weaver’s teenage son and gunned down his wife while she was holding their baby — helped spark the rise of the Patriot movement as a reaction against fears of government tyranny.

Federal security forces do their job clumsily at times and skillfully at others, are subject to a variety of internal biases and external pressures, and have to contend with shifting political circumstances. Fundamentally, however, their purpose is to protect ruling-class power. Broadly speaking, paramilitary rightists serve that purpose when they defend the existing order, and clash with that purpose when they seek to overthrow it.

How does Trump fit in with the history of insurgent supremacists in the United States?

I see Donald Trump as a right-wing populist who is system loyal, but whose rise is symbiotically connected to the far right. Trump has skillfully appealed to the double-edged sense of grievance that many Americans feel — a fear that their traditional privileges have been or are being eroded, coupled with an anger and resentment at economic, political and cultural elites above them. Many successful US politicians have done this, but few of them have opposed the political establishment as squarely as Trump did, and few of them have leaned on far-right support the way he has. Candidate Trump got more help from far rightists, especially the “alt-right,” than any other major presidential candidate in living memory. And in turn, his campaign helped “alt-rightists” gain visibility, media access and a degree of legitimation they would never have had otherwise. Several of the advisers Trump picked for his administration echoed the “alt-right” to varying degrees. Some of them (such as Steve Bannon) have left, but others (such as Stephen Miller) are still there.

Most “alt-rightists” supported Trump’s candidacy because of his anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant positions, because he repudiated standard taboos (for example, advocating torture, calling for violence against political opponents and bragging about sexual assault) and because he made establishment conservatives look like fools. In the early days, long before anybody thought he could win, “alt-rightists” saw him as somebody who could destroy the Republican Party. Their view of Trump was essentially: He is not one of us, but he is useful to our cause, because he can buy us time and open up more space for us to get our message out. Since the inauguration, “alt-rightists” have applauded some of Trump’s moves, but they’ve also been frustrated and alienated by some of his actions (such as his missile strikes against Syria) and what they see as his capitulation to the conservative establishment on many issues.

As many “alt-rightists” have understood clearly from the beginning, Donald Trump is not a far rightist. His policies are racist but not white nationalist (because he doesn’t advocate a white ethno-state and the mass expulsion of people of color) and authoritarian but not fascist (because he wants to suppress opponents but doesn’t aim to impose one totalitarian ideology on all spheres of society). Also, unlike fascists, he did not build an independent organization, but instead cobbled together an elite coalition of “America First” nationalists and mainstream conservatives, and over time the latter have mostly come out on top. Despite some inconsistent steps away from the establishment line on free trade and foreign policy, Trump’s main impact has been to intensify conventional conservative policies, such as deregulating industry, making the tax system even more regressive and making life even harder for undocumented immigrants.

To be clear, Trump isn’t just more of the same. He builds on his predecessors (Republican and Democrat), but he is qualitatively worse than them. Trump is accelerating the decline of the United States’ liberal-pluralist system (often mislabeled “democracy”), and his rise has helped to mobilize popular forces that have the potential to turn toward more insurgent forms of right-wing politics. In this situation, it’s important for leftists to join with others in opposing the growth of repression, demonization and supremacist violence. At the same time, it’s also important for us to strengthen and amplify our own critiques of the established order, our own visions of radical change — and not let far rightists present themselves as the only real opposition force.

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Insurgent Supremacists: The U.S. Far Right’s Challenge to State and Empire

There are many different strains to far right groups in the US. To take on their insidious challenge, Matthew Lyons educates us about their histories and ideologies.
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Mark Karlin is the editor of BuzzFlash at Truthout. He served as editor and publisher of BuzzFlash for 10 years before joining Truthout in 2010. BuzzFlash has won four Project Censored Awards. Karlin writes a commentary five days a week for BuzzFlash, as well as articles (ranging from the failed 'war on drugs' to reviews relating to political art) for Truthout. He also interviews authors and filmmakers whose works are featured in Truthout's Progressive Picks of the Week. Before linking with Truthout, Karlin conducted interviews with cultural figures, political progressives and innovative advocates on a weekly basis for 10 years. He authored many columns about the lies propagated to launch the Iraq War.

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