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The Ex Worker;
An audio strike against a monotone world
A podcast of anarchist ideas and action;
For everyone who dreams of a life off the clock.
Alanis: Dear listeners – what a wild ride these last months have been. For all of us in the US, we’ve been dealing with the COVID pandemic, with all the grief and isolation and panic and economic hardship that has entailed, plus participating in what may be the largest protest movement in our history, and struggling to fend off the escalating threat of fascism, on top of everything else in our lives. And for us at CrimethInc., it’s been a particularly intense time.
In August, we were cited by name in testimony before a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on “Protecting Speech by Stopping Anarchist Violence”, by staff from an anti-Islamic hate group moonlighting as experts on violent left-wing extremism:
Kyle Shideler: “The reality is that Antifa demonstrates an elaborate but non-hierarchical structure. The most basic structure of Antifa is the affinity group, which is described by the pro-Antifa website CrimethInc. as the essential building block of anarchist organization.”
Alanis: This federal government to “protect speech” has taken the form of increased censorship of anarchist projects and ideas. Just a couple of weeks later, Facebook banned CrimethInc.’s page along with those of several other anarchist and anti-fascist projects, stating in an August 19th press release, “Today we are taking action against Facebook Pages, Groups and Instagram accounts tied to offline anarchist groups that support violent acts amidst protests.” This includes not only deleting pages but limiting recommendations, reducing ranking in newsfeeds and search returns, and removing hashtags; so we don’t even know how thorough the anti-anarchist censorship has been, since its most extensive expression is algorithmic and behind the scenes.
And in the most recent attack on us, the New York Times has published an opinion piece not only condemning anarchists but mentioning THE EX WORKER PODCAST BY NAME. Who would have thought, when we launched this podcast seven years ago, that the leading newspaper in the United States would feel so threatened by us that they’d need to run editorials condemning us? Well, we’re certainly flattered by all the attention, but as it turns out, the journalist who wrote it was pretty much wrong about everything. So since the Times has not as of yet offered us space in their esteemed publication to rebut their charges, we’re replying in our own humble format. We hope you’ll forgive the length and level of detail - in an article that bad, there’s a lot to respond to! But we’re releasing this reply not just to thumb our nose at the shoddy journalism of the Times, but because there are bigger issues at stake.
We’re at a critical point today, both in the evolution of the movement against police violence and white supremacy and in the history of this country. Trump’s refusal to commit to stepping down if he loses the election, his combative behavior at the debate (showing that force alone, not limited by any rules, will determine the outcome), and his call for poll watchers and right-wing thugs to “stand by” indicate the very real possibility of an attempted fascist coup. In this environment, it is more critical than ever that social movements ready to act fiercely and decisively be prepared to launch into action to oppose the coming right-wing storm. There could not possibly be a worse time for divisive maneuvers intended to split militant participants from the so-called good protestors. Yet this is exactly what the New York Times editorial presents.
It’s not that we, CrimethInc., are personally such a big deal in any of these calculations. But we’ve been specifically targeted as representing violent insurrectionary anarchists who care not for Black lives, but only for destruction for its own sake. And when Biden himself has called for all anarchists to be prosecuted…
Joe Biden: Peaceful protestors should be protected, and arsonists and anarchists should be prosecuted. And local law enforcement can do that!
Alanis: …it’s clear that the center intends to throw us under the bus to get back into power and preserve law and order at all costs. Thus the Ex-Worker podcast has been cited by one of the most prominent media outlets in the world as indicative of the kind of harmful extremism that needs to be stamped out, while CrimethInc. has been specifically banned from the largest social media platform in the world in an effort to isolate and silence us.
Yet here we are, dear listeners—here we are, still. We’re not going away and we’re not shutting up. No matter who condemns us and who tries to ban us, we will keep producing anarchist reporting and analysis of the struggles we’re a part of, and we’re committed to finding a way to get it out there to those who want to hear it. For now at least, this podcast channel is still open; so here’s our effort to strike back against the New York Times, to deny their authority to declare “the truth about today’s anarchists,” and to offer a perspective from actual anarchists who are actually in the streets about what we’re actually fighting for.
If you want to read the original Times article—which we don’t recommend, of course, but it’s there—we’ve got a link posted on our website, crimethinc.com/podcast, along with other articles and references. If you’ve got thoughts or feedback, we’d love for you to get in touch – not through Facebook anymore, but via Twitter or Instagram, or by email to podcast at crimethinc dot com.
The Truth about “The Truth about Today’s Anarchists”: The Ex-Worker Responds to the New York Times
On September 30th, Farah Stockman from the New York Times editorial board published an article claiming to be “The Truth About Today’s Anarchists.” It draws on the work of an amateur conspiracy theorist, a poorly researched report from a nonprofit including a former Republican state attorney general and a former NYPD chief, a couple interviews with politicians and reformers, misleading references to two of our own publications, and regurgitated right-wing talking points to argue that violent anarchists are somehow controlling the ongoing countrywide protests but don’t actually care about Black lives.
What follows is a detailed rebuttal of this dangerously irresponsible article. Fortunately, initial reactions on social media suggest that the reading public has largely seen through its distortions. Nonetheless, we want to take the opportunity to reply in full—because despite its absurdity, the article touches on critical issues that deserve to be addressed. This is an opportunity to set the record straight, to explain why many anarchists have participated in these protests, and to elaborate our vision for a freer world.
To read our own account of how the uprising spread and why the authorities themselves were chiefly responsible for the widespread adoption of confrontational tactics, check out the CrimethInc. article “Snapshots from the Uprising.” If you want to know more about what anarchists believe and desire, start with To Change Everything: An Anarchist Appeal. We’ve got links posted to both of these on our website, crimethinc.com/podcast.
“The Truth about Anarchists”
How did Stockman learn this “truth”? She appears to have spoken to at least one experienced activist in the course of her research, as we reported on Twitter, though she didn’t use any of the information or contacts that person offered her. There are thousands of anarchist participants in the protests she could have approached—but she didn’t include perspective from any of them.
Instead, the article’s primary source is Jeremy Lee Quinn, an amateur conspiracy theorist posing as an investigative journalist who has no more familiarity with anarchists than one can gain from standing around at a couple demonstrations. Admitting he has no prior background on the subject, he claims to have “gone undercover” during black bloc protests in several cities over a period of months, and has now posted a website full of videos and disjointed rants as “a non-partisan source of information on riot Direct Action [sic] and how it may succeed under the cover of protest.”
Stockman appears not to have vetted or fact-checked her source at all; a cursory reading of Quinn’s website reveals that he lied about his presence at some if not all of the events he claims to have covered, follows social media accounts and shares content from extreme-right figures, and reposted discredited conspiracy theories defending extreme-right murders of protestors, amidst pages of appallingly bad reporting and analysis. Our colleagues at It’s Going Down have published a lengthy thread on Twitter going into many of the specific problems with Quinn’s reporting in detail; we’ve posted the links on our website if you want to dig deeper. Last week, this self-described “centrist” reached out to Enrique Tarrio, the head of the Proud Boys, the group of violent extreme-right thugs who Trump called on to “stand by” during his debate with Joe Biden, and offered to collaborate with them, since, Quinn claimed, “the establishment media has completely dropped the ball.”
Stockman bought Quinn’s story wholesale, casting him as the humble hero of a crusade to save a peaceful protest movement from violent mobs of white anarchists who are working to undermine it for their own agendas. In her account, these anarchists are actually coordinating the unrest through social media, “hiding in plain sight” and conducting a “violent insurgency” under the guise of the legitimate peaceful movement, while relying on the liberal media and duped public to minimize the threat they pose. Black protest leaders who are working for constructive change resent these efforts to appropriate their struggles, but are powerless to stop them. Unless they are checked, Stockman implies, they will not only delegitimize the movement in the eyes of the public, but escalate their violence and mayhem.
Does this sound familiar? That’s because it comes directly from President Donald Trump—who began tweeting that anarchists were behind the protests within their first days—and Attorney General Bill Barr and Homeland Security Director Chad Wolf, who have worked tirelessly to divide and conquer the movement against police and white supremacy by continuously trying to change the subject to alleged anarchist criminals and antifa “terrorists.”
The problem is that it’s nonsense. Worse, it’s a pack of lies. Any self-respecting journalist who repeats it should be ashamed.
Permit us to detail why.
The Roots of the Narrative
So why is a seemingly critical journalist repeating these absurd and harmful stories? On what basis does she make these claims?
Rhetoric about the role of white anarchists as “agitators” surfaced in the first days of the rebellion in Minneapolis. It had existed as a trope for years before the Floyd protests, often used as a wedge to shut out militant participation and centralize control over tactics in protest campaigns. As the rebellion spread from Minneapolis across the US and beyond, participants actively discussed racial, political, and tactical dynamics in the streets. Despite initial reports blaming white agitators for violence, most subsequent accounts recognized that the riotous crowds have been multiracial; that “outside agitator” narratives were false; and that anarchists made up only a small part of most large demonstrations. Black anarchists have been actively participating in the rebellions from the very beginning, and have made it clear that neither Black reformists nor white anarchists are calling the shots. Even the government’s own reports acknowledged that their “antifa” bugaboo had no significant organizing role in the protests, while emphasizing that both countless threats and numerous acts of actual violence were carried out by Trump’s extreme right defenders.
Of course, some anarchists have participated alongside thousands of other people in black blocs that have confronted police and attacked symbols of state violence. The use of confrontational tactics continues to be a controversial issue as the movement evolves. But any moral calculation should recognize that the real issue here is the widespread and thoroughly documented violence committed against protesters, rather than by them. While a range of opinions exists in the movement over how effective confrontational protest tactics usually are and how best to respect our different approaches without undermining others’ goals, it’s clear that our most urgent shared need is to defend ourselves against the attacks intended to terrorize the movement. Protestors have suffered tens of thousands of arrests and countless acts of unprovoked brutality at the hands of police across the country, including the murders of over a dozen people by police, National Guardsmen, and right-wing vigilantes. For self-styled “journalists” like Quinn, however, these facts are unworthy of mention, eclipsed by a single-minded insistence on blaming the “violence” of the protests on anarchists.
Stockman disingenuously reports that Quinn’s investigations were prompted by his concern that anarchists’ militant tactics “would set off a backlash that could help get President Trump re-elected.” It is unlikely that this was a sincere concern for someone so eager to collaborate with the Proud Boys. His shocking conclusion, Stockman breathlessly reports, was that the “mayhem” following Floyd’s murder “wasn’t mayhem at all”—rather than the “spontaneous eruption of anger at racial injustice” that countless reports described, the uprising, she claims, was “strategically planned, facilitated and advertised on social media by anarchists.”
This claim is absurd—and frankly racist. To insist that a small group of white anarchists somehow managed to coordinate a multiethnic movement that brought tens of millions of Americans into the streets and direct it to their own ends smacks of the worst conspiracy theory thinking. Anarchists of various ethnicities certainly supported, promoted, and participated in the protests, and in some instances modeled confrontational tactics that became contagious. But the most spirited efforts would have been meaningless without the autonomous efforts of countless millions of others. Groups of anarchists planned their own participation, but none directed the movement as a whole. Anarchists provided material support and ideas—but they provided them to a horizontal movement drawing on the skills and energy of countless others. Anarchists advertised protests through social media, like most of the other participants, but by any reckoning the participation of self-identified anarchists, online or in the streets, was dwarfed by the crowds with whom anarchists shared many values and desires but no distinct ideology. To claim otherwise misunderstands the nature of leaderless movements, overestimates the power and influence of a single strand in a diverse web, and denies the agency and leadership of countless others without whom the movement could not have happened.
Quinn’s transparent agenda as an attention-seeking aspiring pundit explains his efforts to deceive. But why did Stockman fall for it?
She cites an account CrimethInc. published describing the siege of the Third Precinct in Minneapolis—though she either failed to understand the text, or willfully misrepresents it. She summarizes the text as a prescription for “Asymmetric Warfare 101,” suggesting that black bloc property destruction was used to prompt police violence against “innocent demonstrators” in hopes that this would delegitimize police. In fact, the anonymously submitted text describes how, without central coordination, shared goals, or political ideology, a wide range of different people spread out over a vast area achieved one of the most memorable victories of the entire movement, inspiring resistance around the globe. In misrepresenting her sources, Stockman echoes Fox News, which also misrepresented this report as a prescriptive program to provoke violence, citing an account of an event marked by the diversity of its participants as evidence of a shadowy anarchist conspiracy pulling the strings.
So if Stockman did not talk to anarchists and did not pay much attention to the anarchist sources she cites, what information convinces her to believe Quinn’s account of the anarchists as puppeteers controlling the protests?
Stockman uncritically repeats the conclusions of a report by the Network Contagion Research Institute, a non-profit that claims to have “no political agenda.” The report’s co-authors include a former Republican state attorney general, a former NYPD chief, and a handful of academics, none of whom have ever studied anarchism.
(Incidentally, the NCRI is funded by George Soros’s Open Society Foundation. Not only have anarchists never received the checks from George Soros that right-wing media assured us he would be sending, he’s actually underwriting “research” intended to justify the repression of social movements.)
This report uses a range of dubious associations through word clouds and quantitative analyses of tweets and Reddit posts to imply that what it calls “militant anarcho-socialists” are “using social media to instigate widespread violence against political opponents and law enforcement.”
Over the past months of protest, no one has documented “widespread violence” by anarchists against political opponents or law enforcement, while the widespread violence by far-right groups and law enforcement against protestors has been widely documented. So how do they make this case?
Take Figure 4, a “word cloud” showing associations between different key terms on Reddit. The term “cop,” it turns out, is associated with “reactive outrage and violent depictions in terms like ‘indiscriminate’ and ‘gestapo.’” That’s right—when anarchists post online that cops are indiscriminately beating protestors and using gestapo tactics, according to these brilliant researchers, it’s the anarchists who are being violent. It would be less violent, presumably, to pretend that police never beat anyone at all.
Section 2 warns that anarchists are spreading memes that include “tactical information” such as links that promote “the use of encrypted communication.” So when anarchists share information on how anyone can protect their privacy against surveillance, this is presented as proof of violent intentions.
Section 2.1 shows that during the protests, “anarcho-socialists” used online forums “to recruit support and followers like other extremist groups do.” Very insightful! Clearly, the fact that many people were curious to hear from radicals who want to see an end to police violence during a wave of protests against police violence is hard evidence that anarchists are equivalent to jihadi and white supremacist groups. Figure 14 shows that the number of tweets about July 25th, which some had identified as a day of protest, peaked on—you guessed it, July 25th. Brilliant work here, folks. Worse still, the hashtag in question, “#J25,” could have been used by anyone on the internet aiming to designate this date, not just protesters.
Figure 17 reproduces a tweet calling for the Seattle police chief to be “sacked,” like an earlier chief who was fired during protests in 1999; but the report’s caption falsely claims that the tweet “calls for sacking the police precinct,” then blames this tweet for having incited violence against the building. So when anarchists call for a public official to be fired, we are inciting violence? One might more precisely speak about the violence being done to common sense in a report of this caliber.
This institute with “no political agenda” concludes its report by echoing Trump’s line equating white nationalists to anti-fascists, ominously predicting that “attacks on vital infrastructure” and “the possibility of a mass-casualty event” may be imminent if these nefarious anarcho-socialists are allowed to continue unchecked.
Apart from the willfully poor-quality “research” in this absurd report, its framing and conclusions are lifted straight out of Attorney General Barr and Fox News’s playbook. When anarchists call out state violence, accuse them of being violent for doing so; when anarchists share non-violent self-defense tactics, cite this as evidence of violent intent; make spurious comparisons between diametrically opposed groups based on superficial similarities to heighten fear; pack in some misleading numerical data, and conclude by projecting sensationalized fantasies of apocalyptic violence to justify repression.
This is the report that New York Times editorialist Stockman urges us to “check out.” She is correct in noting that the report “will almost certainly catch the attention of conservative media and William Barr’s Department of Justice,” whose agenda she is apparently keen to promote.
“Anarchy Got Results”
Then comes the strangest part of the article. In a rare moment of honesty, Stockman soberly assesses the impact of the riots, and concludes, “Anarchy got results.”
Of course, as we’ve pointed out, it would be absurd for anarchists to take credit for a widespread, wildly diverse rebellion that was not led by any group nor driven by any single ideology. But it would be accurate to describe the decentralized, leaderless, tactically diverse, direct action-based movement as “anarchy.” This is what anarchists have been calling for all along: egalitarian, horizontal, voluntary movements.
While lamenting the destruction caused by rioting in Minneapolis, Stockman acknowledges that she was wrong to think that “looting and arson would derail the urgent demands for racial justice.” In fact, media attention was captivated and public support soared precisely in response to the fiercest moments of struggle.
But, Stockman notes, more recently there has been a decline in public support for the Black Lives Matter protests (which is to say white support; Black support has held steady, according to the poll she cites). What’s the reason for this?
For Stockman, it’s because “insurrectionary anarchy brings diminishing returns.” In other words, it’s the fault of those who continue to courageously confront police in the streets. Apparently, the same public that once praised rioters now increasingly condemns them as time passes.
But this doesn’t make much sense. The fiercest rioting by far took place in the first weeks of the uprising, when public support was solidly at its highest. While a few locations such as Portland have maintained continuous militant protest, they’re the exception; the widespread looting and property destruction that marked the early days in Minneapolis, Los Angeles, New York City, and beyond have ceased. It seems senseless to lay blame for any shift in support at the feet of the small number of militant protestors who are still involved.
What has changed, rather, is that Trump, Barr, and the right-wing media have conducted a relentless campaign to discredit the protests. It’s a classic counter-insurgency strategy: if you can’t repress a movement, try to delegitimize, divide, and conquer it. The primary tactic they have employed has been labeling anyone who opposes the status quo “anarchists” or “antifa,” spelling out the implication that they are all terrorists and criminals, and spreading the lie that anarchists are somehow in control of the whole thing. This has been surprisingly successful. They’ve managed to get everyone from Joe Biden to liberal protest leaders to join them in condemning the most radical participants, sowing discord and weakening the movement. This is the key reason why support for the protests has declined among white people specifically—and to be even more precise, only among white Trump supporters.
Stockman’s editorial plays right into this counter-insurgency strategy. Her text perfectly exemplifies the dynamics that have led to a decline in conservative white support for the movement. It is a part of the exact problem she bemoans.
“Anarchists Complicate Life”
At that point, Stockman levies serious charges against anarchists, claiming that they “complicate life for those working within the system to halt police violence.” She cites a few Black politicians and activists who disagree with or have been criticized by anarchists.
This is important, and we should not sweep it under the rug. There are serious differences of opinion in the movement regarding strategy and tactics, regarding working within systems versus rejecting and dismantling them, and regarding whose perspectives should be centered in resolving these disagreements. In these debates, many white radicals, including some anarchists, have been obnoxious or arrogant, unaware of their privilege, and disrespectful to more experienced or directly impacted organizers. This is inexcusable, and it should be challenged. Anarchists’ desires for a world without hierarchies should inspire them to forge interdependent, accountable relationships with other communities in struggle, to listen respectfully and learn from others in the movement even when they disagree, and to be conscious of how their actions impact others. There is a long way to go to build the bonds of trust across lines of difference necessary to forge durable, powerful movements that challenge the dynamics of white supremacy within and beyond them.
But Stockman’s discussion does not help us to do this constructively. It ignores the many important conversations that have happened in the streets, community meetings, and online regarding how best to resolve political differences. It neglects how the movement’s divisions over strategy and tactics do not break down neatly as a split between white anarchists and Black peaceful protestors, but between older and younger Black activist generations and along other lines as well. And Stockman’s account champions a single path to social change around racism and policing—reform in collaboration with police and local government—which has proved remarkably ineffective at actually stopping racist police violence.
Furthermore, it assumes that all anarchists are white and that we are not directly impacted by police violence or white supremacy ourselves. Vanessa Taylor’s brilliant article on Black anarchists in the recent protests explains how the presence of Black anarchists “complicates the notion of an ‘outside agitator’—to describe anarchists as random white people outside of Black and otherwise oppressed communities is to erase Black anarchists—as well as the ‘peaceful’ protester narrative that others try to conjure to oppose Trump.” But, she provocatively asks, “Why is there an obligation to be peaceful if you are dying?” According to a Black anarchist from Dallas, Texas named Tina, “Trump labeling protesters as anarchists is another form of white supremacy at work. Blackness is already anarchy in white folks’ minds. I don’t think a Black person necessarily has to call themselves an anarchist to be one, because in the land where whiteness is law and order you are already one.”
Centering Black anarchist experiences breaks down the binary logic of Stockman’s article, forcing us to understand political differences in a multiracial movement through a different lens. To Stockman, because anarchist approaches aim to prevent the consolidation of power in the hands of politicians and activists, they can only be destructive, never constructive. On this basis, she accuses anarchists of being “fickle allies,” since even “if they help you get into power, they will try to oust you the following day, since power is what they are against.”
This is as close as she gets to the truth. Anarchists are not trying to get anyone into power over anyone else. Anarchists are trying to get everyone into power at once—to create egalitarian relationships based on cooperation and mutual respect, not force and domination. This is a real difference between Stockman and the anarchists she smears. The question is how to resolve it.
Building a New Order
Stockman’s concluding assessment accuses anarchists of being “experts at unraveling an old order but considerably less skilled at building a new one.” Yet had she actually spoken to a single anarchist in her exposition of “the truth” about them, she would have gotten quite a different picture. From the first moments that the COVID–19 pandemic arrived in North America, anarchists immediately mobilized to form mutual aid networks, drawing on extensive experience doing disaster relief and protest support. These became some of the most popular and urgently needed institutions helping to ensure community survival while our rulers bickered and dragged their feet. Beyond their immediate practical value, mutual aid networks model an anarchist vision of a self-organized world of freely shared resources rooted in an ethic of solidarity—a vision anarchists have been promoting for decades through Really Really Free Markets, Food Not Bombs meals, and many other institutions meant to build a new world. Stockman did not trouble herself to learn who anarchists are, what anarchists actually believe, or how anarchists put it into practice. It was easier for her to copy and paste from Trump’s playbook, backed up by her source—who, his claims to be an “infiltrator” notwithstanding, clearly knows even less than she does.
But Stockman has saved the worst for last. The article concludes by claiming that for anarchists, “it’s not really about George Floyd or Black lives, but insurrection for insurrection’s sake.” This kind of demonizing, divide-and-conquer language is offensive and harmful to all who are striving to cooperate across lines of difference. It’s also absurd and inaccurate.
First and foremost: Stockman herself acknowledged just a few paragraphs before that anarchy got results—her words, not ours! How can she possibly justify claiming that anarchists are only interested in insurrection for insurrection’s sake? Given that the reforms she praises have been tried so many times without making a dent in police killings, it might be more accurate to conclude that reformers are the ones who are only interested in reform for reform’s sake—perhaps because they want to preserve the positions of the reformers in the power structure. By contrast, one could argue that the people who rioted after George Floyd’s killing, including the handful of insurrectionary anarchists among them, apparently did so because that was the most effective thing they believed they could do to force a national reckoning with racist police murder. As Stockman herself admitted, so-called peaceful protests didn’t attract media attention, didn’t result in institutional changes, and didn’t compel the country to confront the racist brutality that characterizes Black experiences with police every day.
If Stockman had the courage to take her own observations seriously, then she might be in the streets rioting, rather than drawing a salary trying to sow division in movements that have finally started to push back effectively against police violence.
Insurrectionary anarchists believe that disrupting the normal functioning of the state and the economy can open up spaces of possibility for people to relate to each other differently, to imagine a different world, to experiment with new ways of organizing daily life. The uprisings have shown that this is possible. From protests to autonomous zones to police-free neighborhoods, the spaces that confrontational tactics have opened up over the past year have helped transform abolition from a pipe dream to a possibility that warrants serious discussion and debate. They’ve served as laboratories for freedom—obviously not utopias, but places we can start to remake the world together. There are serious problems, including how to preserve safety and resolve conflict, how to accommodate differing visions, and how to meet everyone’s basic needs outside of the economy. But it’s a start—rather than repeating the old rituals endlessly, always reaching the same dead ends—and it’s only possible as a consequence of making a dramatic break with the present.
We can’t speak for other anarchists, but we can speak for ourselves. Yes, we do have goals that extend beyond obtaining justice for George Floyd alone. We want to see a world in which all Black lives are valued and no one need fear being killed or terrorized by police—and we believe that to get there will require directly confronting the violent systems of power responsible for Floyd’s death, everywhere, not merely securing criminal charges for the latest killers. We live in a world in which the capitalist economy keeps almost all poor people under the heels of bosses and landlords—particularly Black and brown poor folks. So we’re fighting to transform the economy, too—because “Black Lives Matter” is just an empty slogan if we ignore the poverty that makes so many people’s lives a constant struggle. And while we’re at it, we can’t forget the ways that the same structures of policing hold our borders in place, dehumanize migrants, and inflame xenophobia—or the role of the US military in policing the entire globe to secure access to oil and raw materials—or how the rising fascism in the United States imitates similar authoritarianism from Brazil to Turkey to Russia.
The point isn’t to distract from the central issues that prompted the uprising. The point is to tackle these problems at their roots, we have to understand that there are no single issues, and truly systematic change involves more than charging a few killer cops or passing a few local reforms. To change anything, we have to change everything.
On the subject of insurrectionary anarchism, Stockman cherry-picks two sentences from Episode 9 of the Ex-Worker podcast, released seven years ago:
“We are not sure if the socialist, communist, democratic, or even anarchist utopia is possible. Rather, some insurrectionary anarchists believe that the meaning of being an anarchist lies in the struggle itself and what that struggle reveals.”
She takes these lines out of context to accomplish her purpose: implying that anarchists only care for destruction. In context, however, this quotation describes the process of how movements grow and evolve. As the Zapatistas say, we make the path by walking. That is—what shows us how to move forward isn’t an abstract utopian vision, but the concrete experiences of people resisting oppression together in the streets and in our everyday lives.
This doesn’t mean that we don’t fight to win or that we don’t care about the outcome. Of course we do! Our lives and the lives of our loved ones, our dignity and our freedom, our most cherished ideals—we know that all of these are at stake and more.
Rather, it means that we recognize that the struggle for freedom was going on long before we were born and will continue long after we’re gone. If you think the US is a fundamentally just society and all that is needed is just to make a couple tweaks to keep cops from killing quite so often, then you can imagine political struggle as a simple means to a simple end. But for those of us who intend to spend our whole lives working towards a freer and more egalitarian world, we have to find meaning in the struggle itself lest despair consume us. Like the fighters in the French resistance to the Nazis, we don’t need hope to keep fighting; resistance to tyranny is a way of life. The anarchist hypothesis is that we can still find ways to forge meaningful lives in the struggle against police brutality, racial injustice, economic exploitation, ecological destruction, encroaching fascism, and worse. This does not come from believing that total change is just around the corner—though we cherish the moments when it feels that way. Rather, it comes from believing that acting against oppression is always ennobling and worthwhile, and provides the most meaningful foundation we can imagine for our relations with others.
So let the New York Times side with Trump, Barr, and other right-wing conspiracy theorists. It won’t stop us, and it won’t stop the movements that we have always supported without ever seeking to control. We know what matters. We have not forgotten all the lives lost to the everyday violence of American policing, nor the sacrifices of those who came before us.
As we head into the frightening weeks ahead, with fascism or civil war looming closer than ever, we don’t know how things will turn out. But whatever happens, we will be in the streets, fighting for freedom while there is still breath in our lungs. To all the readers of the Times who have the sense to see through Stockman’s shoddy journalism—who seek the real truth about today’s anarchists—we look forward to meeting you there.
INTRODUCTION: RETHINKING ANARCHY
Okay, so if Stockman’s article doesn’t tell us anything useful, what is the truth about today’s anarchists? In particular, how should we understand the relationship between anarchists or anarchism and the rebellions of the past six months? To offer some insight into this question, next we’re going to share an article with you that we published in conjunction with the anarchist PR project Agency back in June. On the one hand, as we’ve already made clear, it rejects the notion that anarchists are somehow behind the protests, leading or controlling them. On the other hand, it does recognize that the form that the rebellions have taken share many characteristics with an anarchist vision of social change.
This can be easily misunderstood, so let’s be as clear as possible: we’re not trying to “claim” Black Lives Matter as an anarchist movement, or label its participants as anarchists, when many of them don’t choose that label for themselves. The labels aren’t important. Rather, we’re talking about resonances, parallels, and shared values. We’re talking about these movements as expressions in practice of what many anarchists have called for in theory. While we here at the Ex-Worker are obviously anarchists ourselves, our vision for social change or an ideal world isn’t based on making everyone else into anarchists like us. That’s one of the things that sets us apart from authoritarian leftists and from most others on the political spectrum. We don’t care about recruiting; we care about finding a framework in which we can work together without hierarchy to break down oppressive power. So when critics trying to undermine the movement accuse it of being “anarchy,” we’re here to say: yes—and that’s exactly what we should celebrate about it. When millions of people, many of whom have never met an anarchist and have no idea what anarchism has to say, join together to directly challenge injustice in horizontal, decentralized networks—whatever you call it, that’s something that we as anarchists can celebrate.
This Is Anarchy: Eight Ways the Black Lives Matter and Justice for George Floyd Uprisings Reflect Anarchist Ideas in Action
Since Minneapolis police brutally murdered George Floyd on May 25, 2020, demonstrations have exploded across the US and the world. Millions of people have taken to the streets to demand justice for George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and an end to police violence and terror, underscoring the need to eradicate systemic racism by radically transforming our society. Within 24 hours of the explosion of protest, the President of the United States claimed that anarchists and anti-fascists were responsible for the unrest that has occurred in cities across the country. This move to blame anarchists and “antifa” is intended to discredit these popular uprisings while demonizing and isolating the participants. Yet the ways that the prevailing order has failed almost all of us are clearer than ever. Outrage and protest have spread far beyond any particular ideology or group. As tens of thousands fill the streets of scores of cities, it is obvious that anarchists are not responsible for organizing these demonstrations. The demonstrations and the unrest accompanying them represent an organic response to a widely felt need. At the same time, this organic groundswell of momentum, based in reproducible tactics that anyone can employ, embodies anarchist models for social change. Many of the practices and principles that have been fundamental to this movement have long been mainstays of anarchist organizing.
Here, we explore the anarchist roots of eight principles that have been essential to the success of the Black Lives Matter and Justice for George Floyd demonstrations, seeking to center Black initiatives that reflect anti-authoritarian values. For background on Black anarchism specifically, we recommend Lorenzo Kom’boa Ervin’s Anarchism and the Black Revolution or the more recent Anarkata Statement; we’ve got links to these posted on our website.
One of the many things that politicians aim to obscure by insisting that “outside agitators” are responsible for the uprising that began in Minneapolis is that oppressed communities in the United States are already occupied and exploited by outsiders. This began with the colonization of North America by European settlers, the original “outside agitators,” and continues today with the ownership of most of the real estate and businesses in Black, indigenous, and immigrant neighborhoods by non-residents with few ties to those communities—not to mention the policing of these neighborhoods by officers like Derek Chauvin who commute to the districts they terrorize.
In opposition to these ongoing occupations, anarchists call for self-determination, arguing that individuals and communities should control their own bodies and living conditions and determine their own destinies rather than live under the imposition of state power, which is designed to serve the urges of a privileged few rather than the needs of the many. As the horrific murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor show, reclaiming control over public space from the police forces that hold Black communities hostage is an essential step towards self-determination.
Likewise, anarchists believe that those who are directly affected by a situation should be the ones to decide how to respond to it. In taking the initiative to respond to the murder of George Floyd themselves on their own terms rather than deferring to “community leaders” or petitioning the government for redress, the people of Minneapolis made their demand for autonomy crystal clear.
On the streets of their neighborhoods, in their schools and workplaces, ordinary people in revolt are finding support from anarchists in their efforts to attain genuine self-determination for their communities.
As Kali Akuno of Cooperation Jackson stated, “We need to use the greatest power that we have, which is control over our bodies, control of our labor, to make the situation ungovernable and untenable in the United States, and to do it in an organized systemic fashion.”
Contrary to the propaganda of right-wing conspiracy theorists, there has been no single force, organization, or ideology guiding these protests. Demonstrations for justice and against police violence have taken place in all 50 states and nearly 50 other countries over the past week without any central coordination whatsoever.
In contrast to top-down, centralized efforts, this flourishing of grassroots initiatives characterizes the anarchist approach to social change. Like the Occupy Movement, which anarchist activists and tactics helped to launch, local manifestations can take different forms according to context while amplifying the overall message. Horizontal links between participants allow for flexibility, keeping it easy for new people to get involved as they see fit. This model has won historic victories—for example, the mobilization against the summit of the World Trade Organization in Seattle in 1999, during which anarchists and others outwitted police through a networked structure of autonomous affinity groups that worked together to shut down the city.
Today, Black Lives Matter activists are also employing a decentralized approach, permitting the movement to spread organically and ensuring that it cannot be contained or coopted.
Fighting White Supremacy
As proponents of equality, anarchists oppose white supremacy and fascism. Those on the receiving end of colonial violence have always defended themselves against racist violence; anarchists believe in taking action in solidarity even when they themselves are not the targets. In one of the earliest expressions of anarchism in the United States, the prominent American abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison linked his rejection of the institutions of government and property to his opposition to the institution of slavery. In the 1980s and 1990s, anarchists across North America formed Anti-Racist Action chapters to fight against neo-Nazi organizing. Today’s so-called “antifa” groups are part of this longstanding tradition of defending communities against racist and fascist violence. Historically, anarchist organizing spearheaded by Black people and other people of color has played a critical role in pushing broader social movements to challenge systemic racism. From Ferguson to Charlottesville and in Minneapolis today, anarchists of all ethnicities have been on the front lines of efforts to prevent neo-Nazis, neo-Confederates, and other white supremacists from harming people.
The efforts of President Trump, Attorney General Barr, and the right-wing media to declare “antifa” a terrorist organization are a transparent ploy to undermine this popular uprising and distract its supporters. The Ku Klux Klan, the deadliest terrorist organization in US history, receives no such condemnation—nor do the groups that radicalized the racist who murdered Heather Heyer in Charlottesville, nor the white supremacist gang whose symbol a NYPD officer flashed last week at a Black Lives Matter protest. Trump’s government brands those who oppose white supremacy and fascism “terrorists.”
Mutual aid is a practice of reciprocal care through which participants in a network make sure that everyone’s needs are met. It is neither a tit-for-tat exchange nor the sort of one-way assistance that a charity organization offers, but a free interchange of assistance and resources. Anarchists believe that communities can meet their needs through mutual aid rather than cutthroat competition for profit.
As the COVID–19 crisis unfolded, communities across the US recognized the need to organize to meet urgent needs collectively. Because anarchists took the initiative in these efforts from the beginning, they came to be known under the banner of mutual aid. Subsequently, even progressive politicians like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez called on Americans to form mutual aid initiatives.
The term was originally popularized by the Russian anarchist Peter Kropotkin and spread through international anarchist networks. Kropotkin, a naturalist and biologist, argued in Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution (1902) that it is reciprocity and cooperation, not bloodthirsty competition, that enables species from the smallest microorganisms to human societies to survive and thrive. This challenged the Social Darwinist dogma of “survival of the fittest” that business elites used to justify the exploitation and inequality that accompanied the expansion of global capitalism in the nineteenth century. Kropotkin made a scientific and philosophical case for reorganizing society according to the principles of mutual aid, which he described as “the close dependency of every one’s happiness upon the happiness of all” and “the sense of justice, or equity, which brings the individual to consider the rights of every other individual as equal to his own.” Since Kropotkin’s day, anarchists have consistently put this principle into practice via efforts like Food Not Bombs, Really Really Free Markets, community bail and bond funds, the Common Ground Collective’s work after Hurricane Katrina, Mutual Aid Disaster Relief, and other projects.
Today, COVID–19 relief volunteers and supporters of the Justice for George Floyd protests collaborate to offer free medical care, water, food, and supplies on the streets of Minneapolis, Washington, DC, and around the United States. These efforts draw on the anarchist principle to each according to need, from each according to ability.
It’s no surprise that COVID–19 relief and protest support efforts are intersecting. Due to the racialized disparities in wealth, health care access, and workplace vulnerability, people of color and Black people in particular have suffered disproportionately during the pandemic. Fighting for the principle that Black lives matter means confronting not only police violence but also all the other systems of oppression that have kept so many Black communities impoverished. These community initiatives reflect the anarchist idea that everyone’s health and freedom are interlinked and can best be preserved through solidarity.
Social Movement Infrastructure
As hundreds of thousands of people have poured into the streets, defying police orders and curfews, over 10,000 protestors have been arrested and many injured by police or right-wing vigilantes. Despite this, the movement has continued to grow, thanks in part to emerging social movement infrastructure including collectives providing health and medical support, pro-bono legal assistance, bail funds, and other forms of solidarity. Anarchists have participated on the front lines of these efforts, leveraging longstanding infrastructure and drawing on decades of experience.
Participating in the worldwide protest network journalists dubbed the “anti-globalization” movement in the 1990s, anarchists took an active role in organizing collective infrastructure for medical, legal, and logistical support at large protests. Bail funds, activist lawyers, street medics, and communication teams played a critical role in mobilizations like the one against the World Trade Organization summit in Seattle. Since then, anarchists have honed their skills in mass mobilizations against government and corporate gatherings from the Republican and Democratic National Conventions from 2000 onwards to the G20 Summit in Pittsburgh in 2009 and Donald Trump’s inauguration in 2017. Organizing horizontally in volunteer networks, building relationships between local and national organizers, and drawing on solidarity and mutual aid to provide resources to participants, they have repeatedly empowered ordinary people to exert an outsize influence on historic events.
We see the legacy of these successes in the emerging legal and medical infrastructures supporting the Justice for George Floyd protests. For example, the Northstar Health Collective in Minneapolis, which provided critical support for the protests, was founded by anarchists during the mobilization against the 2008 Republican National Convention.
Diversity of Tactics
In a decentralized movement, how can various groups employing different strategies coordinate to minimize the likelihood of conflict? How can they ensure that their efforts are not vulnerable to the divide-and-conquer strategies of the state and conservative media interests? For decades, anarchists have experimented with answers to these questions.
When the Republican National Convention took place in Minnesota in 2008, a coalition of protest groups involving many anarchists agreed upon the “St. Paul Principles,” inspired by similar points of unity used in mass organizing efforts anchored by anarchists in major cities in Canada and the US over the preceding years. Models like this assist people of diverse ideologies and priorities in supporting rather than hindering each other’s efforts.
The Justice for George Floyd protests are so diverse and incorporate so many different approaches that by no means all participants adhere to this framework. But many of the most prominent voices are insisting on a similar approach to prevent the movement from being divided. This embrace of a diversity of tactics reflects the core anarchist value of autonomy.
Anarchists reject focusing on petitioning for top-down reforms in favor of seeking solutions that attack social problems at their roots. Reforms can be a step towards fundamental change, but anarchists argue that we should begin from an analysis of the root causes of social ills and a holistic understanding of the systems that both ensure disparities and benefit from them. So far, none of the reforms that politicians propose, such as civilian review boards or body cameras, have served to diminish police violence on a nationwide level. Neither have legal responses, such as bringing lawsuits or charges against officers, nor electoral solutions like lobbying or voting in new politicians. Despite reform efforts following the rebellion in Ferguson in 2014, the number of police killings annually in the US actually increased between 2015 and 2019.
Today, for the first time, mainstream discourse is acknowledging the possibility of defunding police departments or abolishing them altogether. Anarchists join Black feminists and prison abolitionists in insisting that cosmetic reforms will not solve the underlying issues of power, racism, and exploitation that drive state violence. Anarchists have been targets of police and state violence for over a century, from the Haymarket martyrs to the Anarchist Exclusion Act, the Palmer Raids, and the J20 case. These experiences inform the anarchist vision of a world entirely free of police and the exploitation they perpetuate.
As Black anarchist Lucy Parsons wrote in The Principles of Anarchism, “The unjust institutions which work so much misery and suffering to the masses have their root in governments, and owe their whole existence to the power derived from government, we cannot help but believe that were every law, every title deed, every court, and every police officer or soldier abolished tomorrow with one sweep, we would be better off than now.”
People over Profit and Property
The slogan “Black Lives Matter” has radical implications. To assert that human life is more important than preserving state control or protecting corporate property poses a profound challenge to today’s political and economic order. This implies a fundamentally different ethics than the logic of the state.
As the COVID–19 crisis has shown, business as usual can be deadly. Alongside environmental destruction, workplace accidents, massive consumer debt, and the waste of human potential that characterizes the capitalist economy, the pandemic is adding another layer of tragedy to the costs of valuing profit over people. Many workers, forced to return to their jobs by politically motivated reopening efforts, are being punished by their employers for attempting to protect their health. All of this, on top of the pervasive police violence that sparked the Floyd protests, suggests how little the powerful value the lives of everyday people.
Anarchists join the Black Lives Matter movement in promoting a different conception of value. Insisting on the value of Black lives means challenging the institutions that prioritize profit and control over them—the police as well as the politicians protecting them, exploitative employers, polluters, profiteers, and many others. This means taking a stand against capitalism as well as police. From the Industrial Workers of the World, a union that challenges the wage system itself, to the mutual aid networks that put gift economies into practice, anarchists consistently strive to foster a world of cooperation beyond the market. The Movement for Black Lives, too, outlines that they are explictly anti-capitalist in their organizing principles. Valuing Black lives requires profoundly transforming the economic system.
Many voices both inside and out of the protests are joining the chorus demanding that human life must take precedence over property. Even business owners who have experienced looting or fires in the course of the protests have spoken up to insist that the focus should remain on the core issues of anti-Black violence, policing, and social justice. This points the way toward an ethics of solidarity that characterizes anarchist approaches to social transformation.
What Will It Take to Get Free?
President Trump is wrong. It’s not “anarchists” who are responsible for the courageous militant actions we’ve seen in the streets—though anarchists of many ethnicities have participated. Above all, it has been Black and brown youth and other marginalized people whose bravery and determination have compelled the entire world to take notice. As we’ve seen, there are significant overlaps between the values and strategies of anarchist movements and of Black Lives Matter and other anti-police and liberation struggles. While anarchists should not displace other participants’ ways of describing their activities to claim these as examples of anarchist ideology, these resonances are the basis for mutual exchange and solidarity in the process of building multi-racial movements for liberation.
Anarchists believe that it is worth fighting to create a society based on mutual aid, autonomy, equality, freedom, and solidarity. For any movement to be effective, the participants must identify what it will take to change things. The courageous response to the murder of George Floyd showed the effectiveness of uncompromising direct action—not only to raise the social costs of injustice, but also to make it possible to imagine another world. After the burning of the third precinct in Minneapolis demonstrated that ordinary people can defeat the police in open conflict, defunding and abolishing the police became thinkable on the scale of nationwide public discourse.
In Minneapolis and then in Louisville, Los Angeles, New York City, and around the world, Black, brown, and other marginalized people have converged to shut down business as usual. Anarchists have participated, contributing experience with resistance tactics, infrastructures that offer support to all in need, and visions of a world in which the institutions that killed George Floyd and so many others would not exist. Ideas and approaches that resonate with anarchist values can be seen in action throughout these protests, regardless of whether those who employ them give them political labels.
These values and practices, which transcend any single ideology or tradition, can be the basis for people to come together across lines of difference as they confront state power in the streets. The indigenous anarchist collective Indigenous Action and others have argued that modern movements need “accomplices not allies”—people dedicated to sharing risks and taking direct action together, motivated by a vision of collective liberation rather than guilt, duty, or prestige. The Justice for George Floyd protests have demonstrated the effectiveness of multiracial, decentralized, grassroots efforts. Informed by a horizontal, participatory ethos that rejects police violence as well as every other form of state coercion, anarchists insist that everyone has a role to play in the process of getting free.
One of the most central messages from anarchist organizing over the past decades—including struggles for refugee and migrant solidarity, queer liberation, prison abolition and beyond—is that each of us can only be free when all of us are free. Ashanti Alston, an anarchist activist, speaker, and writer, has articulated this beautifully. As a former member of the Black Panther Party and the Black Liberation Army and a former political prisoner, Alston has had plenty of experience confronting state violence. Informed by the Zapatista uprising in Chiapas, his vision of collective liberation reflects an anarchist ethos shared across many movements and communities, echoing forward to inspire our efforts today:
“We have to figure out how to create a world where it’s possible for all different people to be who they are, to have a world where everyone fits.”
Hopefully this episode has given you a different perspective on the “truth about today’s anarchists.” Please check out our website at crimethinc.com for ongoing reporting, analysis, and practical tips for participating in movements for liberation, not just in the US but around the world. And also check out media projects like It’s Going Down, who’ve also been under heavy fire from the right wing, as well as The Final Straw, Rebel Steps, and all the other excellent podcasts from the Channel Zero Network.
We don’t know what the coming weeks will bring. As we go to press, Trump is in the hospital with COVID and his campaign appears to be in shambles. But will an increasingly desperate right-wing rely on even more extreme measures in their bid to stay in power?
So many of our friends are going down rabbit holes of paranoia, convinced like the Oath Keepers and Three Percenters that civil war is just around the corner, afraid that every knock on the door means that the stormtroopers have arrived to haul us away. It’s tricky – ignoring the risks of the moment we’re in could be very dangerous, but so can obsessing over them to the point where we’re immobilized with suspicion and fear. Please, dear listeners, remember that you’re not alone – even if you’re stuck inside and feeling isolated. We are vulnerable, yes, but we are also strong and interconnected. They can beat us, arrest us, shoot us; but they would be very hard pressed to get all of us, and all of the others who will come to our aid in moments of crisis. Remember to take a breath, feel sunshine and air on your skin. Remember that there’s a world outside the screen. Remember that for many, many years now, anarchists across the world have faced far worse repression, but none of our enemies never been able to kill the beautiful idea.
Whatever happens, to us at CrimethInc. or to the movement as a whole, we will continue to communicate in whatever medium we can, to share our reports on what’s going on, our take on the developing situation, the tactics and strategies that can keep us safe and advance the struggles we’re part of, and messages of solidarity and encouragement for everyone in rebellion.
So stay strong, and stay tuned. Till next time, this is Alanis from the Ex-Worker, with love and and in struggle.