Category Archives: riots

Rogues in the Ranks

On May 25, 2020, African American George Floyd, was arrested and killed by a white Minneapolis police officer. The officer, Derek Chauvin, knelt forcefully on Floyd’s neck, and in effect, crushing Floyd’s wind pipe. Three other officers were involved, two helping to restrain Floyd, and another standing guard between witnesses and the actual killing. Eight minutes passed and Floyd was dead. Video taken by onlookers was posted world-wide which led to protests and riots in Minneapolis and throughout the United States. Protests also broke out in countries around the world, most notably Europe. Absent the video, the question being asked is how many more killings are taking place at the hands of the police, specifically black men.

The cause of the protests and rioting, it is safe to conclude, has been the result of African American men and women being killed by police. George Floyd’s death unleashed rage and subsequently triggered protests which, at times, turned into violence, predominantly through the destruction of businesses and property. Yet the protest and rioting appeared different from the sixties. The African American uprising included whites, ostensibly millennial, a mixed-race, ethnic, gender identity, class struggle coalition of the discontent. In fact, while the immediate cause of the uprising was a concomitant reaction to lethal racist tactics by police, the “feel” of the uprising had deeper overtones. The protest was not only about deadly force used against African Americans, it was also, arguably, a continuation of what Reconstruction failed to do: eradicate the vestiges of white racism and its monuments dedicated to the South’s deviant overlords such as Nathan Bedford Forrest, Robert E. Lee, and host of other lionized sociopaths.

The general trend of African Americans being killed, without justification, has been transpiring increasingly for decades. The ACLU has documented numerous accounts of police harassment, intimidations, 4th and 5th Amendment violations, civil rights and civil liberty violations, and excessive force and brutality. The Innocence Project has documented disproportionately high number of African Americans who have been charged, tried, and convicted, to only be exonerated at a later date. Clearly law enforcement, District Attorneys, and the criminal justice system have all acted in illegal and rogue fashion targeting African Americans. This is systemic racism, and African Americans have been, and continue to be, the primary target.

Rogue Law Enforcement

There is sufficient evidence that law enforcement in the US has been attracting alt-right extremists in law enforcement. An FBI report, “White Supremacist Infiltration of Law Enforcement” Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2006, identifies that white nationalist and supremacist groups have been, and continue to be, hired by law enforcement agencies. They are recruiting, knowingly or otherwise, current law enforcement personnel from extremist groups. The investigation warned that skin head groups were directing such recruits to take on a covert identity as “ghost skins.” The secret identity for white supremacists is to obviously “avoid overt displays” of their true identities, assimilating into society, and then promote the values of white hegemony.

In 2006 the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Office discovered that a neo-Nazi gang had formed within the Department. Similar investigations around the country have revealed that officers, and entire agencies, had ties with hate groups in states such as IllinoisOhio Arizona and Texas. This has been corroborated by an October 17, 2006 Intelligence Assessment from the FBI Counterterrorism Division which detailed the threat of white nationalists and skinheads infiltrating police. Their point of their infiltration: to harass minorities and disrupt police investigations against racists and racist police themselves. The FBI report titled, “White Supremacist Infiltration of Law Enforcement,” found that the use of racist tactics of intimidation, brutality and protecting fellow racists cops from prosecution was, sadly, a highly effective recruitment tool for like-minded supremacists.

In 2009, the US Department of Homeland Security issued a report on right-wing extremism and its relationship to “violent radicalization” in the United States. In the report, “Rightwing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment,” April 7, 2009, Federal law enforcement agencies, according to the report, had been alerted to an extremist threat in which state and local law enforcement have infiltrated these agencies and that other personnel are sympathetic to these groups and their cause. An FBI Counterterrorism Policy Guide, Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2015, gave greatest priority to the investigation of “domestic terrorism” focusing on militia extremists, white supremacist extremists, and sovereign citizen extremists, whose identifiable links connected to law enforcement personnel. On June 4, 2019, an FBI report from the Counterterrorism Division, “Confronting White Supremacy,” and June 4, 2020, FBI “Domestic Terrorism Conference Report,” described in detail the threat that white supremacist groups present to minorities and the public at large. On June 17, 2020, the Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS) described, in their report, the deepening concern that white nationalist groups present to democracy itself. And on July 11, 2020, the PBS News Hour, examined the growth of the Alt-right in a report, “Should the US designate racial violence as terrorism?” The conclusion was not only in the affirmative but also concluded that racial terrorism is as much a concern as Islamic terrorism.

The Center for Investigative Reporting, published an investigation in 2019, that found thousands of active-duty and retired law enforcement officers were members of militia groups ranging from Confederate-sympathizing, anti-Islam, or anti-government. They were both active and interactive with each other on Facebook. Members of these groups are unabashed racists. They have been linked to groups like the Oath Keepers and Three Percenters, whose purpose is to defend white Americans from “enslavement” and the flood of immigrants, legal or otherwise. The investigation reported that active membership in these groups included active-duty and retired law enforcement officers. They are highly involved with explicitly racist Facebook groups such as “Veterans Against Islamic Filth” (the group deliberately lowercases “Islamic” in its name) and “PURGE WORLDWIDE (The Cure for the Islamic disease in your country)”, and more subterranean groups such as the “Patriots for the Reclamation of America,” and the Los Angeles County Sheriffs, City of Compton, “Executioners.” Even Netflix in a series, “Alt-Right: Age of Rage,” identifies the Alternative Right and the Aryan Brotherhood, and its ostensible leaders, Richard Spence and Jared Taylor, as incendiary in their goals to maintain white identity. They argue that white America is being destroyed by integrating different cultures and identities and that Western white culture is threatened with extinction.

The head of the Oath Keepers movement, Stewart Rhodes, proclaimed in 2009, that the anti-government group includes thousands of “retired and active” police, sheriffs, and marshals. On May 30, during protests in New York City, an NYPD officer was making hand gestures (similar to those used by gang members) that has been linked to white supremacist groups, later reported to the New York Attorney General’s office. The Plain View Project, a database of public Facebook comments made by nearly 2,900 current and former police officers in eight cities, suggests that nearly 1 in 5 of the current officers identified in the study made public posts or comments that appear “to endorse violence, racism and bigotry,” as reported by Buzzfeed News and Injustice Watch in a study of the database. In fact, there are 1269 identified problematic posts from active duty Philadelphia police officers on the site. Of the 1073 Philadelphia police officers identified by the Plain View Project, 327 of them posted public content endorsing violence, racism and bigotry. Of those 327, at least 64 hold leadership roles within the force, serving as corporals, sergeants, lieutenants, captains, or inspectors.

Another example of racism and white supremacists in law enforcement can be traced to the 1990s in which a federal judge discovered that a “neo-Nazi, white supremacist gang” of Los Angeles police deputies – “the Vikings” – operated in the police department with full knowledge of the leadership. In San Francisco from 2015 – 2016, law enforcement attempted to terminate the employment of 17 police officers after an investigations revealed racist text messages were being sent within the ranks. Moreover, the Ku Klux Klan historically has been connected to local law enforcement. In 2014 a police department in Central Florida terminated the employment of two officers, one being the deputy chief of police, for membership in the KKK. In 2015, a police officer in North Carolina was photographed giving a Nazi salute at a KKK rally. The failure of police leadership to take disciplinary action on their own officers regarding excessive force and/or racist conduct is inherent to these agencies.

Derek Chauvin, the police officer charged with George Floyd’s death, had been under investigation for over 17 documented complaints. None of those complaints resulted in disciplinary action while only a few resulted in a letter of reprimand placed in his file. The Minneapolis Police Department refused to disclose the exact nature of the investigations or reprimands. The refusal to disclose these disciplinary actions speaks to a larger issue of transparency and public accountability. Between 2011 and 2015, the NYPD recorded 319 law enforcement offenses, including harassment and assault in many cases. All offenses were “cause” for termination. Thirty-eight law enforcement officers were found guilty by police tribunals of excessive force, unnecessary and unprovoked fights during arrests, or firing weapons unnecessarily. Apparently internal investigations took little to no action on accusations of favoritism, racism, and unlawful interrogations to force confessions and guilty pleas.

Large cities, such as Chicago, also have struggles in holding police accountable. According to the Citizens Police Data Project, only 7 percent of complaints have resulted in disciplinary action. These include allegations of law enforcement using racial slurs. In 2018, the chief of police in Elkhart, Indiana, failed to discipline an officer for racial slurs while simultaneously promoting him to sergeant. The chief had full knowledge that the officer was making numerous statements on “white power” on police communications according to ProPublica. The “white power” motto has also been identified with Minneapolis Lieutenant Bob Kroll, who is president of the Police Officers Federation. He was named as a defendant in a lawsuit brought by four black Minneapolis law enforcement officers against the Minneapolis Police Department for discrimination. In the complaint, the allegation by the plaintiffs alleged that the Lieutenant displayed a “White Power badge” on his motorcycle jacket. Kroll,rejects the characterization but has been heard frequently describing the Black Lives Matter movement as a “terrorist organization.”

The Obama administration made serious attempts to address police forces. In fifteen police departments throughout the United States, the administration legally forced these departments into consent decrees implementing reform. Under federal law the police departments were to commence with reforms from racial discrimination to brutality. In one case, the Justice Department report on its consent decree with Chicago, revealed that the police department received over 30,000 complaints of officer misconduct in five years and determined that a systematic pattern of excessive force has undermined confidence within minority communities. But the new Trump administration sought to undue these reforms.

On March 31, 2017, Trump’s former attorney general, Jeff Sessions, ordered the Justice Department to review Obama-era consent decrees on police department reform. Sessions then curbed their use by requiring political appointees to sign off on any future settlements. The Trump administration restriction on the use of the decrees was characterized as a transition away from protecting civil rights to instead promoting “law and order.” This was continued by Trump’s next Attorney General William Barr, who supported Sessions’ policy. To date, the Trump administration has not issued any new consent decrees against police forces within the United States.

Not all law enforcement officers are members of racist or white supremacist groups. Nor do all law enforcement support alt-right ideology. Notable examples of strong relations with citizens and community-led policing in response to this past several week’s protests include New Jersey police officers marching with Black Lives Matters protestors, police chiefs listening to and walking with protestors, and police in both New York City and South Florida kneeling in solidarity with protestors. In Flint, Michigan, Genesee County Sheriff Christopher Swanson removed his riot gear and walked with marchers. In Long Beach, California, Chief Robert Luna fired a rogue officer for posting his picture on Facebook standing with his baton over blood.

*****

To be sure, there are other issues needing attention. Qualified immunity for police and district attorneys, police (unidentified) infiltration disguised as protesters assaulting protestors and damaging property falsely blaming protestors. Most disturbing is the fictional account of the Antifascists (Antifa) as a violent leftist terrorist group. Nothing could be farther from the truth. In an internal memorandum, FBI Director Christopher Wrey, found no evidence of Antifa’s involvement in national unrest, specifically with the George Floyd protests and riots as falsely reported by The Nation, June 2, 2020. The Washington Field Office memo states that “no intelligence indicating Antifa involvement” was initiated during the protests, as erroneously stated from Trump, Attorney General Barr, and various right-wing news outlets such as FOX News. On June 12, 2020, the New York Times in “Federal Arrests Show No Sign That Antifa Plotted Protests,” cleared Antifa and on June 22, 2020, the New York Times, “41 Cities, Many Sources: How False Antifa Rumors Spread Locally,” described how propaganda against Antifa was spread through the media community, most likely from conservative politicians and political action committees. The attempt was to falsely blame the uprising on an orchestrated group such as Antifa, according to Glenn Kirschner, former FBI, counterintelligence. Blaming a “left-wing” group was a ruse created to gaslight the public and divert attention from the “right-wing” police tactics condoned by the Trump administration.

Most disturbing is the training techniques — taught to American law enforcement by the Israeli Defense Forces — involving the neck suppressing technique used on George Floyd. The IDFs use the same techniques on Palestinians as reported by Amnesty International, and also documented in The Progressive in “US Police Are Being Trained by Israel – And Communities of Color Are Paying the Price.” The police training tactics are sponsored by the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the Anti-Defamation League (A-DL), which in turn sponsors the American Jewish Committee Project Interchange Institution and the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs.

The term “systemic racism” means that institutions produce and perpetuate racially disparate effects in the case of minority populations. Professor Bernard Harcourt of Columbia University Law School has conducted and compiled several empirical studies of systemic racism in law enforcement agencies. These include a wide range of police tactics which include the use of policies such as “stop and frisk” and the disparate rates of police activities including traffic stops, searches of motorists during traffic stops, levels of respect shown during stops, misdemeanor arrests, marijuana arrests, use of SWAT teams, individuals jailed for inability to pay petty fines, militarized policing of targeted neighborhoods, resolution of murders of white versus black victims, sustained complaints against police officers, and unarmed victims of police shootings. The evidence of links to explicit white supremacist groups is only the tip of a racist iceberg, according to Harcourt.

In The Counterrevolution: How Our Government Went to War Against Its Own Citizens, 2018, Harcourt argues that the effort to reduce crime in the United States initiated a terror campaign on its citizens, specifically African Americans, in much the same way the United States supported terror tactics in the Third World. Modern militarized police officers with tanks and drones have become pervasive tools along with government surveillance and profiling. Social media also serves to distract and track citizens from the fact that they have consciously or unconsciously surrendered rights to privacy, unauthorized surveillance, and unlawful searches and seizures. All of these, Harcourt contends, are facets of a new and radical governing paradigm in the United States — one that is rooted in the modes of warfare originally developed to suppress anti-colonial revolutions and, more recently, to prosecute the war on terror. Harcourt provides a penetrating and disturbing account of the rise of domestic counterinsurgency, first as a military strategy, and secondly, as an increasing way of ruling ordinary Americans in an authoritarian manner.

Finally, Harcourt demonstrates how counterinsurgency’s principles — bulk intelligence collection, ruthless targeting of minorities, misleading, gaslighting and pacifying propaganda — have taken hold domestically despite the absence of any radical uprising, that is, till recently with the nascent Minneapolis rioting and subsequent uprisings in urban America. This counterrevolution against phantom enemies, he argues, is the tyranny of government at the behest of the power elite. For Harcourt, seeing and identifying this is the first step in resistance to the white nationalist police state within America. So the immediate task is twofold: demand an end the police killings of innocent black men and resist descending into a fascism.

The post Rogues in the Ranks first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Escalation in Portland

If there is a point at which we realize we are taking our lives in our hands by just going downtown and marching in the streets, this might be it.

Last night a man was shot to death near the Justice Center in downtown Portland, where protests have been taking place every night for over three months. Details are still coming in, but it appears the deceased was a heavily-armed member of the far right. Another member of the far right was just arrested this morning in the working class Portland suburb of Milwaukie. He was arrested for having fired into a crowd the day before with live ammunition, apparently, in a separate incident from the killing at the Justice Center.

For those of you who might just be tuning in here, I’ll try to set the stage.

Prior to Trump, prior to the pandemic, Portland was a city experiencing multiple crises, as with many other cities across the country, but perhaps more so. Between the last two censuses Portland lost more than half of its Black population due to gentrification, a phenomenon known to many as ethnic cleansing. During that time, Portland also achieved #1 status in the nation in terms of the numbers of Black people killed by the police, per capita. Portland also achieved the status as the most rent-burdened city in the country, as determined by the cost of rent relative to the average income of renters in the city. For many comfortable homeowners living in the hills of west of downtown and shopping in the malls of Beaverton, the reality that they were living in a city that was experiencing multiple acute crises may have passed them by. We live in a very divided city, in so many ways. Just take a day-long walk down Burnside Boulevard from the hills west of downtown to the desolate trailers in outer southeast, and you’ll get the picture of the class structure of this society.

Prior to Trump, prior to the pandemic, groups like Don’t Shoot PDX and a multiplicity of other networks focused on police brutality, institutional racism, gentrification and the unaffordability of housing for most Black and working class people were active on the streets, online, and in electoral politics. While the state government is dominated by the interests of big landlords, like the Democratic Party everywhere, in local government on the city and county levels, increasing numbers of solidly progressive people have been getting in, in the city council as well as among elected officials in the judicial branch, such as the District Attorney who just dropped the charges of so many protesters who have been arrested over the past months.

Long prior to Trump, Portland was a hotbed of conflict between fascists and antifascists, between militant believers in white supremacy and militant antiracists. As with cities like Minneapolis, there is a lot of history to this conflict. The streets of Portland, as with the streets of Minneapolis and other cities, were contested ground. Oregon was founded as a white homeland, and Portland was a national home to organized racism for a long time, until relatively recently, and the supporters of these groups have not all moved to Idaho.

The combination of Trump’s election and the social forces he continually strives to unleash, the pandemic, the growing numbers of blatantly racist police murders across the country, the economic crash, the apparent withdrawal of any more real help from the federal government, and the complete incompetence and/or captured-by-the-landlords nature of the state authorities in Oregon and elsewhere, have altogether created a massive powder keg. Add to that a tremendous increase in gun sales over the past several months across the country, very much including Oregon. Add to that wannabe vigilantes speaking at the Republican National Convention, and real vigilantes in Wisconsin being praised by the president, with the blood still fresh on the streets of Kenosha.

OK, stage-setting over.

It’s always been mythology that in the USA the First Amendment gives people the right to peacefully protest. It’s always been mythology that when people commit acts of civil disobedience, such as marching or sitting down in the street, that they will generally be gingerly carried off with one cop taking each limb, carrying the arrested to an awaiting vehicle, and carefully placing them inside it. It’s always been mythology that when there are two opposing groups of protesters, the police are there to act as a neutral party to keep them from hurting each other. Under certain circumstances, peaceful protests go off without a hitch, police escort marchers in the streets, and they keep protesters from killing each other, but there’s nothing predictable about any of these things going that way. In fact, most often, they don’t go like that at all, in Portland, or in most US cities.

And yes, most US cities are Democrat-run, as Trump is so fond of pointing out. There are reasons for that. Unfortunately, these Democrats, like their Republican counterparts, are largely also wealthy landowners, such as Mayor Ted Wheeler, and/or politicians paid off by corporations, incapable of doing anything more than mouthing progressive slogans while they screw the entire working class over and over again with their actual actions. And what is especially telling is that in these progressive hotbeds, the police forces are full of unaccountable human rights abusers and members of the far right, and most of each city’s budgets goes to them every year. And despite the fact that these police departments are constantly losing lawsuits brought against them by the citizens they kill and maim, their killer cops not only almost never go to prison, but they almost all keep their six-figure jobs as our armed protectors.

While it is mythology that there’s anything like a set of rules to adhere to for proper protesting etiquette, to avoid getting attacked by police or fascists, for example, or to get positive media coverage, or any media coverage at all, it is true that there are general tendencies in a given country at a given historical moment in terms of how things will go the vast majority of the time. And to the extent that it was generally the case that you didn’t used to have to worry about people shooting at each other with live ammunition at protest rallies in front of a federal courthouse in the center of a city in this country a few years ago, this expectation is increasingly not valid.

Whoever shot the heavily-armed member of the far right downtown last night, the context was that other members of the far right were spraying crowds with gunfire, a massacre of protesters had just been committed in Wisconsin by a member of the far right, and hundreds of beefy white people with big flags throughout downtown Portland were involved with vehicular assaults on pedestrians and other vehicles, and lots of people were spraying each other with bear mace, hitting, and kicking each other.

Although no one has been killed by a politically-motivated left-winger or anarchist in the United States in decades to my knowledge, while members of the far right kill us regularly at this point, if it indeed is the case that this man was killed in the course of a conflict with a counter-protester, this really shouldn’t come as any surprise. Many people we might broadly define as antifascists embrace armed self-defense and do shooting practice regularly, from Anti-Racist Action to the John Brown Gun Club, and new groups like that seem to be forming daily, along with neighborhood associations forming for people to defend one another from the coming waves of evictions.

Knowing that the police are either unwilling or unable to effectively police events such as the Trump Cruise and ensuing urban combat that we saw last night, given that going downtown to protest, whether you’re protesting in a way that the authorities deem to be “peaceful” or “violent,” you are risking your life by being there.

Of course, you’re also risking your life every time you cross a busy street, or ride your bicycle down one. And when you’re in a crowd of enthusiastic, community-minded protesters from all walks of life, of all ages, catching up with each other, playing music, shouting at the mayor, and taking over the streets, it’s easy to feel invincible. At least for me it is. It’s easy to rationalize away fear, and perhaps for some of us more than others, easy to feel like these bad things can’t possibly happen to me. But if they happen more and more often, people start to change their orientation.

Standing on the precipice we’re all standing on right now here in the USA, my mind delivers me historical parallels, as a sort of desperate measure, trying to make sense of it all. I’m not sure how relevant any of them are, but any of them might be. There are too many different factors that go into creating the future.

But at least in retrospect, some things seem clear. Retrospect is good like that. The massacres at Kent State and Jackson State, along with so many more killings by the authorities of Black radicals especially, in no small part gave rise to networks such as the short-lived Black Liberation Army and the Weathermen. Developments like these tend to reinforce the maxim that violence is made inevitable through the suppression of more peaceful means.

Similarly, in Northern Ireland there was a civil rights movement, that sought equality for the oppressed Catholic minority in the Occupied Six Counties. The movement was consciously modeled after the civil rights movement in the US. Like its counterpart in the US, it was met with tremendous violence, which ultimately took the forms of racist pogroms in 1969, the burning of hundreds of homes by anti-Catholic mobs, a massive propaganda campaign of fake news brought on by the authorities, vilifying the largely Catholic movement, and ultimately a massacre of movement organizers by British troops. All of these events of 1969 and 1970 ultimately led people to conclude that peaceful marches were not working if they would just end in massacres. And this understanding gave rise to the armed resistance movement that followed, which in turn gave rise to a conflict that took the lives of thousands of people over the following quarter century.

There are those examples of fires being fueled by the authorities. Then there are other examples, when governments with intelligent leaders who know they’re in a race against time act decisively. A somewhat random example that comes to mind is how at the end of the Second World War, after years of a terrible occupation that involved a famine and many thousands of deportations and executions, with many more shipped off to work as forced laborers, after the Netherlands was liberated by Allied forces from Canada, the US, Poland and elsewhere, but also in no small part including by Dutch resistance forces as well, the first thing the government did when it came back from exile was collect all the guns that were now all over the country. They were desperately concerned that after all these years of Nazi occupation, there could be terrible conflict in society between those who resisted in some form, and those who collaborated to one degree or another. If there were to be such conflicts, they wanted to make sure that they did not involve firearms.

My orientation is admittedly Eurocentric. I’ve spent most of my adult life somewhere between North America and Europe, and much less of it anywhere else in the world. One of the guests I interviewed for one of my livestream shows/podcasts recently, an Argentinian anarchist and professor at the University of Massachusetts, Graciela Monteagudo, says the fascist comparisons aren’t so relevant, that the divisions in US society and the incompetent, corrupt state ostensibly at the helm of it are much more like a typical kleptocratic banana republic than a well-oiled fascist fighting machine.

Either way, if there is a point at which we realize we are taking our lives in our hands by just going downtown and marching in the streets, this might be it. What comes next, I don’t know that anybody knows – I sure don’t. I only know a little, mostly selective tidbits about what has happened before. The time and place we’re in now is not like those other times and places, however. It’s new, and in so many ways, as they never tire of pointing out in the news, unprecedented.

Anti-racist Uprising in Minneapolis infiltrated by Extreme-right Holligans

Reportage from Minneapolis — The city of Minneapolis is where it all began. It is where the last drop fell on the surface of a proverbial overflowing lake, causing the dam to burst, consequently starting to destroy the foundations of the empire.

A death of just one single man can, under certain dreadful circumstances, put into motion the entire avalanche of events. It can smash the whole regime into pieces. It can fully rewrite history, and even change the identity of a nation. It can… although it not always does.

George Floyd’s death became a spark. The city of Minneapolis is where the murder occurred, and where the ethnic minorities rose in rage.

But it is also where white extreme right-wing criminals, and some even say, entire regime, perpetrated the uprising, kidnapped what could have become a true revolution and began choking legitimate rebellion by a stained duvet of nihilism and confusion.

Here, we will not speculate. We will not point fingers at “deep state” or some multi-billionaire families, and to what extent they have been involved. Let others do this if they know details. But this time, I simply came to listen. And to pass to the world what I discovered first hand and what I was told.

This time I simply went to Franklin Avenue and Lake Street, both in Minneapolis.

I spoke to Native American people there. To those who joined forces with the African-American community during those dangerous days after May 25, 2020. To people who dared to defend their neighborhoods against brutality, against  white gangs, which came to loot, infiltrate, and derail the most powerful uprising in the United States in modern history.

*****

Bob Rice is a Native American owner of Pow Wow Grounds, a local entrepreneur, and a ‘community protection organizer.’ His legendary café is located on Franklin Avenue. During the COVID-19 pandemic, it has been reduced, for the time being, to a takeaway business, but even as such, it is enormously popular among the Native Americans, as well as others.

At the back of the cafe is huge storage, full of food. Everyone hungry, in need of help, can simply come here and take whatever he or she needs.

We grab some freshly brewed coffee from the shop and take it to the public benches outside.

Author with Bob Rice on Franklin Avenue

Bob Rice then begins his story:

There has been police brutality for a very long time, against people of color. Not only talking about Minneapolis but in all these other places, since the 1991 Rodney King incident. Things were boiling and building up – leading to a big blow up.

And all this discrimination did not start here; it came centuries ago from Europe.

After the George Floyd murder, I wanted to show solidarity. Native Americans were experiencing an even higher degree of persecution than Black people. We had to stand together. I went down to the site of the murder of George Floyd, in order to support protests.

For a while, we talked about the mass media in the United States, an official and even some ‘independent one,’ and how it quickly and violently turned against the left, as well as against those who have been daring to expose endemic racism in the United States.

But soon, we returned to the events that took place here, in May and June.

I noticed the presence of strange elements right from the start. I was watching guys breaking windows. At about 6 am, the morning after, I traveled down to South Minneapolis.  There were piles of rocks in front of the rioters.  Flash hand grenades.  I kept on moving around the areas and kept on seeing rocks. I noticed the Minneapolis Umbrella Man, dressed all in black, with mask and black umbrella and black hammer smashing things – at the end being stopped by black guys. People were walking out of the store with car parts, and I thought, “why stealing those things”? These guys didn’t seem to be as part of the protest. I started moving and going away from the area, thinking that these guys would burn down stores and places soon. I even called up my insurance company the following morning to see if my policy covers civil unrest. That night they burned a lot of stores – auto stores, liquor stores, all types of businesses. I thought that if we do not do something ourselves to protect our neighborhoods, they will burn down all of our areas, too.

From what I saw, I couldn’t tell you who these guys were, but they were not from here.

So, we put up our protection zone calling out people on Facebook. We became the Headquarters of protection of Native American businesses and nonprofit organizations, as well as banks, shops, investment properties, etc. all belonging to the Native American community around here.

I noticed there were Caucasian people, driving cars very slowly with no license plates, yelling racial slurs out of the windows. We formed a human shield, chain, along Franklin Avenue, to protect ourselves and our people.

At a high point, about 300 people were protecting the area all night long for about eight days in a row. It had to be done, because here we had people from all over, including Wisconsin, descending on us — we had white supremacist group Proud Boys here. They arrived wearing masks. We had young white kids – 16 and 17 years old — coming from Wisconsin, looting liquor stores.  We caught them. Obviously, they came out here because they thought it was an exciting thing to do.  They didn’t even know where they were – this area is very dangerous with drug dealing and gang violence at night. Lucky, they got caught by us.

And the coverage? I wanted to know whether these events, in the heart of Native American neighborhoods, were described in depth by media reports.

Bob Rice replied readily:

There was no media reporting on these matters – mass media blamed everything on the Black Lives Matter movement.  When liquor stores and tobacco shops were on fire, no police or fire trucks were around. Then the National Guard took over – using tear gas.

 Mr. Rice sighed, still in disbelief:

 Just incredible how our so-called President has done all the mess going and even made it worse!

*****

Robert Pilot, Native Roots Radio host, drove me for days all around the cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, explaining what really took place on both Franklin Avenue and Lake Street.

George Floyd Murder Site

But before, we visited an provisory, impromptu monument where the murder of George Floyd took place. There were flowers, graffiti, works of art; there was grief, and there was solidarity. Native American people clearly supported the plight of the African-Americans.

The area was safe; it was well organized. People of all races came here to pay tribute to the murdered man, and centuries of atrocious history of the United States.

As we drove, Robert Pilot explained:

Native American neighborhoods armed themselves after the Floyd murder. But not only that: economic hardships ensued after the murder; food banks have come up.  The Pow Wow Grounds used to be a food distribution deport but ended up becoming a food bank for anyone to donate and get what they need.

Protesters were everywhere; the young generation got fed up.  So different from other murders. The last straw was the murder of George Floyd. Four years earlier, in 2016, Philando Castile, an African American man, got murdered by police. He had worked in a school cafeteria. His murder was broadcast live on Facebook. It was a buildup. 10,000 people protested on 38th Street and Chicago in Minneapolis – the site of the murder of George Floyd. Combination of racial and overall frustration.

 We drove by burned stores, services, gas stations. Everything was resembling a war zone, and in a way, it was.

If you are there, things are extremely raw, emotional. It is not like analyzing things from a distance from the comfort of one’s home.

Robert continued explaining, as we drove by block after block of the Middle East-style combat destruction:

There is a small percentage of African American people as compared to White Americans.  We need allies, too. We have to support each other. Signs everywhere in my neighborhood, ‘Black Lives Matter.’

Some young white people have woken up. They see the truth. The opinion of the masses is moving to the left; they are feeling fed up with what is happening around them and what it is that the country is doing to the world because of oil.

What is interesting is that there is a protest every single day, which is something new and mind-blowing. The media is misreporting, minimizing the enormity and magnitude of protests, CNN, MSNBC, etc.

Robert Pilot is not only a radio host, but he is also a teacher:

White teachers are still teaching history; they are teaching it to black and Native American kids! Political standing of my students – a few are engaged, but definitely not all. Perhaps 10 percent of people are engaged and doing the work for 90 percent.

The white guilt now and then… But many of us feel: You should stand behind us and with us but not in front of us. Revolution is happening in that sense. Everything is changing since protests are happening.

Not everyone likes the changes; definitely not everyone. The establishment is fighting back, trying to survive, in its existing, horrid form.

Robert Pilot concludes:

Generally, Black and Native Americans are together, supportive of each other.

It is symbolic that the Native American movement started on Franklin Avenue, where protests began in 1968. We would never burn down our own stores like grocery stores and hospitals. Why should we?

But we had to mobilize and stop members of the KKK and Proud Boys type of guys.

 *****

We drive some 100 miles north, in order to meet Ms. Emma Needham – a young Native American activist. Emma was kind enough to bring traditional medicine from her area. We met halfway at the Sand Prairie Wildlife Management Area.

Before our encounter, along the highway, we are surrounded by true ‘Americana’: endless open spaces, half-empty highways, more than 100 car-long cargo train pulled by two monstrous engines, while pushed by yet another one. We pass by St. Cloud Correctional Facility – an ancient-looking prison that bears the resemblance of some massive medieval English mansion surrounded by an elaborate system of barbed wires and watchtowers.

Trump Shop in the sticks

In one of the towns along the road, there is a big makeshift market selling posters, T-shirts, and other memorabilia, all related to the current President. It is called Trump Shop. Big banners are shouting at passing cars: “Trump, Make America Great Again,” “Trump 2020 – No More Bullshit,” and “God, Guns & Guts Made America. Let’s Keep All Three”.

Ms Emma Needham, young activist and write

Emma is a storyteller, a writer. She is an intelligent, outspoken, sincere, and passionate person:

Where we were, we did not see a lot of white men with masks attacking, but what we did see were two young white kids, around 16, from Wisconsin, looting a liquor store which was run by Native Americans.

I stayed over Friday and Saturday nights around the Indian American Cultural Center in Minneapolis. On Friday night, within half a mile to a mile in all directors, we could see and hear the riots and looting. There were gunshots, helicopters hovering all around us. But nobody came to rescue us.

On Saturday night, we could see white people on Jeeps, waving flags, cruising around the neighborhood. “The white kids from Wisconsin were there, it appeared to me, opportunistic grabbing whatever was available.

Majority of those who came to protest and loot were outsiders, not from the neighborhoods. It does not make sense for people in Minneapolis to burn down and loot stores they rely on.

I wanted to know whether the Native Americans and African-Americans were helping each other in that difficult hour?

Emma did not hesitate:

There was big solidarity between Black people and Native American people; there was empathy.

It has been lifelong degradation for many of us growing up poor and severely marginalized in reservations, but we had never seen anything like this, so close to what resembled a war.

Those of us who were down in North Minneapolis those nights – Friday and Saturday – could not find words to describe what was happening. But we had a strong sense that what has been happening to us Native Americans was happening to Black Americans, too – 400 years of surviving in a system of oppression. Enough is enough! Shared horrors – same for both groups!

I asked whether everything changed, and this is a new beginning for the nation? As many, Emma did not sound overly optimistic:

A black American female artist once said, ‘I love my white friends, but I don’t trust you because I know when the time comes, you need to choose your skin color. You count on the freedom and safety which you have. Whether you make that conscious decision or not, it will be there for you.

*****

On my behalf, Robert Pilot asked Brett Buckner, his fellow radio host, and an African American activist, whether he could confirm that the majority of rioters were whites and not from the community. He replied:

I would say so. Based on police reports and accounts from the community members, most of the damage was done by outsiders. Unfortunately, their actions will cause our community pain for years and even decades to come.

*****

Before I finished writing this report, “Umbrella man” got ‘identified.’

On July 29, 2020, Daily Mail wrote:

Masked “Umbrella Man” who was seen smashing windows of Minneapolis AutoZone that was later burned to the ground during George Floyd protests is identified as ‘Hells Angels gang member with ties to white supremacist group’… The Star Tribune reported the 32-year-old man has links to Aryan Cowboy Brotherhood, a white supremacist gang based in Minnesota and Kentucky.

He was one of many, but the most notorious one. Looking at his photos when in action, he was bearing a striking resemblance to ‘ninja’ looking rioters — right-wing hooligans – who were unleashed in order to bring chaos to Hong Kong, people who have been supported and financed by Western governments. I know, because I work in Hong Kong, since the beginning of the riots. Coincidence? And if not: who really ‘inspired’ whom?

*****

Before I left Minneapolis, Robert Pilot and his wife Wendy interviewed me on their Native Roots Radio. What was supposed to be just 30 minutes appearance ended up being a one-hour event.

They showed me their city and their state, sharing sincere feelings and hopes, unveiling suffering of both African American and Native American communities.

This time, I traveled to the United States in order to listen. But I was also asked to talk, and so I did.

During the interview, I took them to several parts of the world, where black people still suffer enormously, due to Western imperialism and corporate greed. The world where Native people of Latin America, Canada, as well as other parts of the Planet, are brutally humiliated, robbed of everything, even murdered by millions.

We were complimenting each other. Our knowledge was.

I am glad I came to Minnesota. I am thankful that I could witness history in the making.

I am also delighted that I observed solidarity between the African American and Native American people. For centuries, both went through hell, through agony. Now, they were awakening.

Minnesota is where the latest and very important chapter of American history began. But I also went to Washington, D.C., Baltimore, New York City, Massachusetts. I witnessed protests, anger, despair. But there was also hope. Hope, despite tear gas and riot police, lockdowns, despite mismanaged COVID-19 and increasing poverty rates. Something was ending, something unsavory and brutal. Whether this could be considered a new beginning was still too early to tell.

In Minnesota, I chose to see events through the eyes of Native Americans, people who were here ‘forever,’ to whom this land used to belong. People who were exterminated by the “new America,” by European migrants, in a genocide that claimed roughly 90% of the native lives. These were people who were robbed of their culture and their riches. I am glad; I am proud that I chose this angle.

True peace, true reconciliation can only come after history as well as reality are fully understood, never through denial.

Now, both African Americans and Native Americans are speaking, and the world is listening. It has to listen. At least this is already progress. These two groups are forming a powerful alliance of victims. But also, an alliance of those who are determined to make sure that history never repeats itself.

• First published by NEO – New Eastern Outlook (a journal of the Russian Academy of Sciences)

• All photos by Andre Vltchek

US: Crimes against Humanity at Home and Abroad

Photo Credit:  Albert Eisenstaedt

This month marks the second year since former President of Bolivia, Evo Morales, announced to the world a campaign promoted by a group of Latin American writers and academics to declare August 9 as International Day of US Crimes against Humanity. Appropriately the day is to remember the second nuclear bomb dropped in 1945 on Nagasaki, Japan that came just three days after the first nuclear bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. Imagine how depraved and cold-blooded the then Democratic President Truman could be to find that he had incinerated 150,000 people on one day and turned right around and did it again in Nagasaki instantly killing 65,000 more human beings. US historical accounts love to turn truth on its head by saying how many lives those nuclear bombs saved when Japan was already defeated before the bombs were dropped after 67 Japanese cities had been leveled to the ground by relentless US aerial fire bombings.

The people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were sacrificed as an exclamation point on a proclamation to the world announcing the arrival of the US as the world’s new pre-eminent super power. It also served as an example that the US would commit any murderous crime of any proportion to maintain that imperial position of dominance and they have demonstrated that to be true time and time again. Even now in decline the US has never apologized for this unnecessary crime because that could convey a sign of weakness and a step back from a policy of nuclear blackmail held over the nations of the world. Obama had the chance to do that in the final year of his presidency when he had nothing to lose in a 2016 visit to Hiroshima. Instead of apologizing to the people of Japan or easing tensions in the world Obama, in eloquent fluffy double talk, said, “Mere words cannot give voice to such suffering. But we have a shared responsibility to look directly into the eye of history and ask what we must do differently to curb such suffering again.”

The responsibility for the majority of suffering in the world was then, and continues to be, on an imperialist policy and its inherent neoliberal engine that violently throttles the ability of countries to develop in a way that would bring health and prosperity for the benefit of their majorities. In the end it is an unsustainable system that only benefits a sliver of privileged society.

The US crimes against humanity did not begin or end with the dropping of the nuclear bombs on Japan. As militant civil rights leader Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin (formerly H. Rap Brown) pointed out years ago, “Violence is as American as cherry pie.” Since its inception the US has been ingrained with a motor force of violent oppression against everyone and every country that stood in the way of its expansion for control of resources and its entitlement to limitless accumulation of vast wealth for a few.

The original thirteen colonies that rebelled against England were not motivated solely by being taxed without representation but more for the restrictions that King George had placed on the unbridled greed of the white settlers to expand and steal the lands of the indigenous nations and communities and to establish a system of slavery which was the main source of capitalist accumulation especially for the southern colonies. At the time of the revolution close to 20% of the population consisted of Black slaves.  Slavery actually ran contrary to British Common Law so the only way the emerging class of landowners in the colonies could flourish was to secede from the British Empire. In doing so it established a pivotal component of the original DNA of the United States; structural racism as a means to justify any level of discrimination and oppression with a deeply embedded belief in the inferiority of any race not white and Christian. The cries of Black Lives Matter in the streets of all the major cities and towns of the US today are a resounding echo of resistance that comes from the plantations and the slave ships that came from Africa.

The genocide of indigenous people in the US was its initial crime wave against humanity as it expanded westward destined by God to exercise their Manifest Destiny. The early history of this country is littered with hundreds of massacres of the original caretakers of the land from the Atlantic to the Pacific. And that crime continues to this day with Native Americans suffering from the highest infection rates of Covid-19 in the country as a direct result of government neglect and broken treaties that keep the reservations in grinding poverty including in many areas where there is not even running water.

On July 21 Congress passed a $740 billion military appropriations bill, the biggest ever, and $2 billion more than last year. The United States spends more on national defense than the next 11 largest militaries combined.  A well intended but feeble attempt by sections of the Democratic Party to cut 10% of the budget to go to health and human services failed because ultimately funding the 800 US military installations that occupy territory in more than 70 countries around the world takes precedence over something so basic and human as subsidized food programs. Meanwhile approximately 20% of the families in this country are struggling to obtain nutritious food every day just as one example of the growing social and health needs.

Wars and occupations are expensive and that money goes right down the drain. It does not recycle through the economy; rather it is equipment and operations meant to destroy and terrorize, and the only part of it that is reused is the militarization of police forces in the US who are geared out in advanced equipment for the wars at home not even normally seen in theaters of war abroad.

When Obama took over from Bush junior he vowed to end the war in Afghanistan and instead left office with the unique distinction of having had a war going every day of his 8 years in office. He launched airstrikes or military raids in at least seven countries: Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Somalia and Pakistan and Trump came in and did not miss a beat and has carried the war of death, destruction and destabilization of Afghanistan into its twentieth year. The Pentagon knows that the days of outright winning a war are over and relies now on hybrid wars that are perhaps even more criminal. It is now wars of attrition with proxy and contract armies, aerial bombardment, sabotage of infrastructure that turns into endless wars, the intent of which is to make sure that a country is imbalanced, exhausted and does not become independent or develop and use its resources for the benefit of its own people.

This, of course, is not the only type of criminal warfare in the Empire’s arsenal. Economic sanctions are just as much a crime against humanity as military attacks. No one should ever forget the 10 years of the US orchestrated UN sanctions against Iraq in the 1990’s that were responsible for the deaths of 500,000 Iraqi children.  Primarily through executive order Trump has put some sort of sanctions on around one third of the countries of the world ranging in severity starting with the 60 year old unilateral blockade of Cuba for the crime of insisting on its sovereignty just 90 miles away, to the sanctioning of medicines and food to Venezuela causing the deaths of 40,000 people, the outright stealing of billions of dollars of their assets out of banks, and organizing coup plots against the democratically elected President, Nicolas Maduro.

Now the chickens have come to roost with Trump sending shadowy military units of federal agents into cities like Portland, Seattle and other cities like it was a military invasion of some poor country, barging in uninvited not to bring order and peace but to brutalize, escalate and provoke people in the streets who for months now have been demanding real justice and equality. The combination of the failure of the Trump Administration to confront the pandemic with any sort of will or a national science based plan, the existing economic crisis with its glaring separation of wealth and the endless murdering of people of color as normal police policy has exposed the system like never before. The growing consciousness of a majority of the US population that now seem to be getting that there has to be fundamental change will be the catalyst for real change to happen. It will not come from a government that does not reflect their interests but only through a unity of struggle will we be pointed in a direction that will push US crimes against humanity, at home and abroad, to become a thing of the past.

Harlem’s Pearl: James Baldwin

The American idea of progress is how fast I become white. And it’s a trick bag. Because they know perfectly well I can never become white. I have drunk my share of dry martinis; I have proven myself civilized in every way I can. But there is an irreducible difficulty: something doesn’t work. Well, I decided: I might as well act like a nigger.

— James Baldwin, UC Berkeley, 19791

A dangerous individual.

— F.B.I. field report2

Grandson of a slave, the eldest of nine children in a Harlem family rooted in bitter poverty, he grew up amidst junkies, winos, pimps, racketeers, pick-pockets, and con-artists.

Surrounded by despair, he took refuge in literature, reading with such focused intensity that his mother took to hiding his books.3 He knew the Bible so well he became a teen sensation in the pulpit, luxuriating in Old Testament rhetoric and poetry. By then he had devoured everything he could get his hands on close to home. “There were two libraries in Harlem,” he remembered, “and by the time I was thirteen I had read every book in both libraries and I had a card downtown for Forty-second street.”4

His brilliance stood out. One of his teachers, a Communist with a Theatre Project job thanks to the WPA, began giving him books and taking him to plays and movies and museums, nurturing his keen mind while teaching him an ironic lesson about the supposed master race: “She gave me my first key, my first clue that white people were human,” Baldwin said.5

Racism affected everything, often in unexpected ways. Baldwin, for example, had learned from his mother to always offer his seat to a woman when he rode the subway. But in church some preachers taught that he should never surrender his seat to a white woman, because that would be “an act of servility.” Baldwin solved the conundrum by never sitting down on the subway.6  But other racial dilemmas were not so easily side-stepped, such as when two police officers beat him “half to death” when he was but ten years old.7

Somehow emerging literate, self-assured, and honest in a world that defined him as but a half-step removed from jungle savagery, he found himself perpetually in danger of doing or saying something that would trigger disaster. At 18, he lost control of his suppressed rage and hurled a glass of water at a waitress who had refused him service in a segregated New Jersey restaurant, watching along with the astonished patrons as it shattered against the mirror behind the bar. The following year Harlem erupted in a race riot as he buried his father, whose rage had consumed him long before the tuberculosis that finished him off. Five years after that, young James had had more than enough of the brutalities of American life and fled the U.S. “about five minutes before being carried off to Bellevue.”8

Reaching Paris with $40 to his name and no French, he spent his nights there on park benches consoling the victims of France’s Algeria campaign, while his pent-up bitterness at all he had endured in the U.S. came spilling out.9 For an entire year he was busy “breaking up bars, knocking down people,” he later remembered, eventually ending up in jail. “You’ve been taught that you’re inferior,” he explained, “so you act as though you’re inferior. And on the level that is very difficult to get at, you really believe it.”10

When the chaos subsided, Baldwin discovered that his life had at last become personal, allowing him a detached look at the crippling racial obsession ravaging his native land. Like an Old Testament prophet he sounded the alarm in the pages of The Fire Next Time: “This is the crime of which I accuse my country and my countrymen, and for which neither I nor time nor history will ever forgive them, that they have destroyed and are destroying hundreds of thousands of lives and do not know it and do not want to know it.” He saved his richest contempt for the willfully blind: “It is not permissible that the authors of devastation should also be innocent. It is the innocence which constitutes the crime.”11

Brilliant, driven, deeply troubled, he warned that time was running out to atone for slavery. “If we do not now dare everything,” he wrote, “the fulfillment of that prophecy, re-created from the Bible in song by a slave, is upon us: God gave Noah the rainbow sign, No more water, the fire next time!”12

Baldwin’s soaring rhetoric landed with a sickening thud against the deaf ears of the liberal establishment, which was busy dragging its feet in response to a civil rights movement that Baldwin more accurately called America’s latest “slave rebellion.”13 Embarrassed by the screaming headlines and distressed at the propaganda coup the USSR was reaping from racial upheaval in the U.S., the Kennedy administration moved only reluctantly and belatedly to support the black freedom movement.14  While blacks were set upon by mobs, clubbed with lead pipes, and shot, bombed, jailed, and killed, Attorney General Robert Kennedy’s FBI agents took notes and filed reports, but made no general move to enforce the law against rioting police and KKK vigilantes. Concerned about losing support in Congress, JFK opted to shore up his southern political base, appointing racist judges to the bench, including one in Georgia who sought to prevent “pinks, radicals and black voters” from overturning segregation, and another in Mississippi who saw no point in registering “a bunch of niggers on a voter drive.”15

In the midst of all this, Baldwin sent Attorney General Robert Kennedy a telegram taking the Kennedy administration to task for the siege of Birmingham, and Kennedy responded by inviting him to assemble a group of black luminaries for a meeting in his New York apartment. It didn’t go well. Baldwin’s brother David shook a fist in Kennedy’s face. Playwright Lorraine Hansberry blasted the “specimens of white manhood” portrayed in a recent Time magazine photo: Alabama police pinning a black woman to the ground with a knee to her throat, better known today as the George Floyd maneuver. Lena Horne suggested sarcastically that Kennedy try promoting his policy of Jim Crow collaboration to Harlem residents, but warned that “we ain’t going, because we don’t want to get shot.” Freedom Rider Jerome Smith, crippled for life from a Mississippi beating, said he was nauseated to have to meet with Kennedy at all (in order to have his rights respected). He told the shocked Attorney General that he could no longer conceive of fighting for his country in uniform, but was nearly ready to pick up a gun against it.

Baldwin and his guests pleaded with Kennedy to have the president send troops to quell racist violence in Birmingham, and demanded to know why he himself hadn’t escorted James Meredith when be became the first black student to register at Ole Miss.

Kennedy laughed.

Failing to see anything funny, Baldwin and his group demanded a demonstration of moral commitment by the White House. The President, they insisted, should escort a black child into a Deep South school, so that any racist who spat on that child would also be spitting on the nation.

Kennedy dismissed the idea as a meaningless moral gesture. Son of a bootlegger, helped into office by Mob connections, he recommended that blacks pull themselves up the way his family did. With luck, he concluded brightly, one of them might be president in forty years.

Forty more years and blacks might get relief from racist terror — on top of the 400 years they had already endured – and then only if they behaved themselves! Baldwin told Kennedy his comment was absurd. The point was, he said, that a Kennedy could already be president, while blacks, who had arrived in America long before the Irish Catholics, were “still required to supplicate and beg for justice.”

When Kennedy remained unmoved and unmovable, Baldwin emerged from the meeting profoundly depressed, pronouncing him “insensitive and unresponsive to the Negro’s torment.”16  The FBI marked him down as a “Communist,” and though he flew all the way from Paris, he was not allowed to speak to the March on Washington three months later,17 where Dr. King delivered his “I Have A Dream” speech. Eighteen days after that speech a bomb exploded in Birmingham, blasting four black girls attending Sunday school into eternity.

Dreams are one thing; change, quite another.

Though Baldwin regarded himself as “at bottom an optimist,”18 he gradually gave up hope that the United States would change, as a string of assassinations (Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Fred Hampton, Mark Clark) made it increasingly obvious it had no intention of doing so. To the extent the country defined itself as white, he thought, to that same extent it was irrelevant. Change would come, but from elsewhere.

When Black Power emerged and Baldwin expressed sympathies for a new generation of black radicals, white liberals often expressed consternation at what they saw as his retreat from integration and reconciliation. Baldwin took a certain pleasure in setting them straight:19 white people had long ago (forcefully) integrated the country, he reminded them, the facts not being subject to dispute, as “my grandmother never raped nobody.”20 Furthermore, the “negro problem” was actually a “white problem,” as it was they who invented the “nigger” fantasy, and they who were continually tormented by it. The burden was on them to discover why.21 Until they did, all talk of racial reconciliation was premature, if not consciously diversionary.

Such relentless honesty proved hard to handle even for the most balanced and resourceful minds. In a three-part discussion with Baldwin in August, 1970, Margaret Mead’s detailed anthropological and historical knowledge checked Baldwin’s tendency toward poetic exaggeration through seven fascinating hours of wide-ranging conversation. But when Israel-Palestine came up, Baldwin’s passion for truth proved more reliable than Mead’s faltering reason. “I have been the Arab, in America, at the hands of the Jews,” he said, denouncing Israel’s 1948 displacement of the Palestinians by “an entirely irreligious people” based incongruously on “something that is written down by Jehovah on a tablet.” Mead lost her composure at this, and accused Baldwin of making a racist comment, “just because there have been a bunch of Jewish shopkeepers in Harlem.”22

But there was no trace of anti-Semitism in Baldwin then, or at any other time in his career. He was just telling the truth.

And he never stopped. In 1974, he won the Cathedral of St. John the Divine’s centennial medal for the “artist as prophet,” and was invited to address a congregation for the first time since his teen years. Using the Old Testament story of David slaying Goliath and the Philistines, the diminutive Baldwin let loose a blast of hyper-articulate fury at the U.S. “betrayal” of its black brethren, and thunderously dismissed President Nixon as a “motherfucker.”

The sub-dean of the cathedral, unhappy with the tone of the service, confided to the dean: “No one ever before has said ‘motherfucker’ from the pulpit of St. John the Divine.”

The Dean replied that times had changed: “It’s about time someone did.”23

Thirteen years later, Baldwin’s funeral took place in that very same church, and mourners celebrated his wildly improbable and incredibly abundant life. Maya Angelou called him a “great soul.”24  Toni Morrison remembered that “the season was always Christmas” when he was around, and thanked him for replacing evasion and hypocrisy with clarity and beauty in his 6895 pages of published work.25  Amiri Baraka praised his “insistent elegance” and ranked the importance of his work with Dr. King and Malcolm X.26

Of course, taking fair measure of a life lived on three continents, and dedicated to human liberation by embracing every vulnerability, probing all weaknesses, and excavating the most deeply buried truths is an impossible task. Perhaps all one can say is that — by the power of his spoken and written words — Baldwin transformed a horrifying legacy of pain and rage into grace and light.

It’s hard not to be grateful for that.

Had he lived, Baldwin would have turned 96 years old today. Happy Birthday, James, and well done!

  1. Reflections of James Baldwin, C-SPAN, March 3, 2007.
  2. William J. Maxwell, James Baldwin – The FBI File (Arcade Publishing, 2017) Chapter 21, p. 167.
  3. W. J. Weatherby, James Baldwin – Artist on Fire, (Donald I. Fine, 1989) p. 15.
  4. James Baldwin and Margaret Mead – A Rap on Race, (J. B. Lippincott, 1971) pps. 45-6.
  5. Ibid., p. 31.
  6. Ibid., p. 55.
  7. Ibid., p. 213.
  8. Ibid., p. 56.
  9. Ibid., p. 242.
  10. Ibid., p. 57.
  11. James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time, (Dell, 1962) pps. 15-16.
  12. The Fire Next Time, p. 141.
  13. Reflections of James Baldwin, speech at UC Berkeley, January 15, 1979 (broadcast on C-SPAN 3 March 3, 2007).
  14. Howard Zinn, A People’s History of the United States, (Harper, 1980) p. 445; Baldwin, The Fire Next Time, pps. 117-18
  15. Tom Hayden, Reunion – A Memoir, (Random House, 1988) p. 59.
  16. The account of the Bobby Kennedy meeting is from: James Campbell, Talking At The Gates – A Life of James Baldwin, (Viking, 1991) pps. 163-5; David Leeming, James Baldwin – A Biography, (Henry Holt, 1994) pps. 222-6; W. J. Weatherby, James Baldwin – Artist on Fire, (Donald I. Fine, 1989) pps. 221-4.
  17. Leeming, p. 296.
  18. A Rap on Race, p. 88.
  19. Leeming, p. 185.
  20. Baldwin 1965 Cambridge Union debate with William F. Buckley Jr.
  21. I Am Not Your Negro (film).
  22. A Rap on Race, pps. 215-16.
  23. Leeming, p. 322.
  24. Maya Angelou, “When Great Trees Fall,” bookpatrol.net, May 29, 2014.
  25. Toni Morrison, “James Baldwin: His Voice Remembered – Life In His Language” New York Times, December 20, 1987.
  26. Amiri Baraka, “James Baldwin, “His Voice Remembered – We Carry Him With Us” New York Times, December 20, 1987.

GloboCap Über Alles

So, how are you enjoying the “New Normal” so far? Is it paranoid and totalitarian enough for you? If not … well, hold on, because it’s just getting started. There is plenty more totalitarianism and paranoia still to come.

I know, it feels like forever already, but, in fact, it has only been a few months since GloboCap started rolling out the new official narrative. We’re still in the early stages of it. The phase we’re in now is kind of like where we were back in February of 2002, a few months after the 9/11 attacks, when everyone was still in shock, the Patriot Act was just a few months old, and the Department of Homeland Security hadn’t even been created yet.

You remember how it was back then, when GloboCap was introducing the official “War on Terror” narrative, don’t you?

OK, maybe you do and maybe you don’t. Maybe you’re too young to remember, or you were caught up in the excitement of the moment and weren’t paying attention to the details. But some of us remember it clearly. We remember watching (and futilely protesting) as GloboCap prepared to invade, destabilize, and restructure the entire Middle East, as countries throughout the global capitalist empire implemented “emergency security measures” (which, 18 years later, are still in effect), as the corporate media bombarded us with official propaganda, jacked up The Fear, and otherwise prepared us for the previous “New Normal” … some of us remember all that clearly.

Personally, I remember listening to a liberal academic on NPR calmly speculating that, just hypothetically, at some point in the not-too-distant future, we might need to sacrifice our principles a bit, and torture some people, to “keep America safe.” I recounted this to other Americans at the time, among my many other concerns about where the post-9/11 mass hysteria was heading. Most of them told me I was just being paranoid, or that they didn’t really care, because we needed to do whatever was “necessary” to protect Americans, and, in any event, “the terrorists deserved it.” Shortly thereafter, I started making plans to get the hell out of the country.

I mention that, not to signal my virtue — leaving the U.S.A. didn’t achieve anything, except for improving my standard of living — but to jog your memory, and maybe prompt you to compare that period to the one we are in now. The parallels are overwhelming. The “state of emergency.” The propaganda. The mass hysteria. The mob mentality. The exaggeration of the actual threat. The police-state atmosphere. The suppression of dissent. The constant repetition of the new official narrative. The exhortative catchphrases and meaningless slogans. The confusion. The chaos. The existential fear. And so on. It is all so very familiar.

I’m referring to the simulated pandemic, of course, but also to the racialized civil unrest and identitarian polarization that GloboCap has fomented throughout the United States, and, to varying degrees, the rest of the empire. I’ve been covering the War on Populism and GloboCap’s “Trump-is-literally-Hitler” propaganda since 2016, so the civil unrest isn’t terribly surprising. But, I confess, I did not see the fake plague coming. Running the two psy-ops together was brilliant. The effect on people has been devastating. Everyone is either depressed or enraged, or in some stage of paranoid paralysis. Some have been so thoroughly terrorized that they are literally refusing to leave their houses. Others are lining up at gun shops. White people are getting down on their knees and publicly washing Black people’s feet in “symbolic demonstrations of forgiveness.” Condiments are changing their names. It’s like we’re all trapped in a gratuitously didactic Netflix zombie-apocalypse series set in the world of The Handmaid’s Tale, written, directed, and produced by Spike Lee.

The official propaganda could not be more Orwellian, nor could people’s willingness to go along with it. It doesn’t even have to appear to make sense. Doublethink has taken over. For example, most of the developed world has been in some form of totalitarian lockdown, and subjected to other police-state measures (like being beaten and arrested for not wearing a mask), for no justifiable reason whatsoever, for going on the last five months, but, according to the corporate media (and the millions of people they have apparently brainwashed), it’s only now that Trump has sent his Homeland Security goons into Portland that, suddenly, “democracy is under attack!”

But wait … no, I take it back. The Orwellianism gets even more Orwellian. According to GloboCap and its sanctimonious minions, that sentence I just wrote about Portland is racist, because nearly everything you can imagine is racist, or is a potential threat to the public health. Calling riots “riots” is racist. Silence is racist. Free speech is racist. Refusing to wear a mask is racist. The BLM protesters are immune to the virus, but other large gatherings (which, it goes without saying, are probably racist) all have to be banned. Normality, as Americans knew it, is over, and it is never, ever, coming back, because white supremacy caused the pandemic. Sweden, Norway, Denmark, and Finland (where life has been going on without mass hysteria) do not exist. They have never existed (and, if they ever did, they were probably racist). Talking on public transportation is deadly. Interacting with children is potentially deadly, as are most other forms of human interaction … unless you’re tearing down a racist statue, or burning down a local family business, while wearing a designer anti-racism mask.

Seriously, though, just like in 2002, when GloboCap was still rolling out the “War on Terror” narrative, the facts are all available for anyone who cares. The falsification of Covid statistics and hospital capacity figures, the unreliability of the tests, and so on … it has all been repeatedly documented. Anyone with a positive test result who later dies of any cause (including a fatal motorcycle accident) is counted as a “Covid death.” Anyone admitted to a hospital for anything who tests positive for the virus is a “Covid hospitalization.” And, I’m sorry to disappoint my liberal friends (assuming I have any left at this point), but systematic racism and police brutality did not suddenly begin in 2016.

What suddenly began in 2016 was a concerted effort on the part of GloboCap to put down a growing populist backlash against global capitalism and its soulless ideology. Yes, most of that backlash is neo-nationalist in character, but it also includes a significant number of old-fashioned lefty-types like myself, and a lot of other un-woke folks who aren’t quite ready to embrace their new identities as interchangeable human commodities.

We are experiencing the culmination of that effort (or what they hope is the culmination of that effort) to put down this motley populist insurgency, and ensure that it never happens again. GloboCap is teaching us a lesson. The lesson is:

This is what you get when you fuck around with GloboCap. This is what voting for Trump, Brexit, and all the rest of that ‘populist’ nonsense gets you … global pandemics, civil race wars, riots, lockdowns, economic depression, societal collapse, chaos, fear. Go ahead, fuck around with us some more. We will make you wear ridiculous face masks forever. We will paint little arrows and boxes on the floor to show you where to walk and stand. We will bankrupt your businesses, shut down your schools, psychologically torture your children. We’ll inject them with any fucking thing we want. There is nothing you can do about it. We will make you get down on your knees and apologize for fucking with us, or we will stigmatize you as a ‘racist,’ sic our mobs of fanatics on you, and ‘cancel’ you and your entire family.

This, essentially, is the message that GloboCap is delivering to disobedient populists (left or right, it makes no difference; GloboCap doesn’t care which political labels we cling to or slap on each other). It is our final warning to quit playing grab-ass, get with the global capitalist program, and start behaving and thinking as we’re told … unless we want to get locked down again, and ordered to wear things on our faces, and be otherwise ritually humiliated.

See, the so-called “New Normal” (i.e., the new ideological narrative that GloboCap is rolling out) is actually not that new at all … or, OK, the pathologization part is (and I’ll be paying close attention to that aspect of it), but, basically, it’s just plain old totalitarianism. It isn’t state-totalitarianism, because our world isn’t ruled by nation-states. It is ruled by global capitalism. We are being reminded of that fact at the moment … and being shown what happens if we start to forget it.

Where we go from here is anyone’s guess. My hunch is, it is only going to get worse until they can get Trump out of office, which Americans are liable to help them do, simply to make the whole nightmare stop. Once he’s gone, they’ll probably retire the fake pandemic, call off the riots, and stage some sort of international celebration of the Rebirth of Democracy, after which they can get finally back to the business of ruthlessly destabilizing, restructuring, and privatizing the planet, sanitizing history, curing humanity of racism, hate, and other pathologies, and otherwise enforcing rigid conformity to global capitalist ideology.

Maybe they could get the Hamilton composer to write them a hip hop Deutschlandlied to use as a supranational anthem. They could call it GloboCap Über Alles … it kind of has a ring to it, doesn’t it?

“Don’t boo, vote.”

These, the derisive words of then-President Obama to an unruly crowd at a campaign stop for Hillary Clinton in 2016. They would become, in the years that followed, a calling card for Democratic operatives, printed on stickers and hats and coffee mugs, taken up as organizational slogan and event title. They are words which would become particularly relevant after the murder of George Floyd at the hands of four Minneapolis police officers and subsequent protests which erupted in the Twin Cities and across the country and world. As people poured into the streets, Democrats like 71-year-old white millionaire Senator Ron Wyden, insisted, don’t protest, vote!

Of course, when Democratic politicians like Obama and Wyden say ‘vote,’ they don’t simply mean ‘participate in the electoral process.’ They mean, vote for Democrats.

Perhaps nowhere in the country has this advice been taken to heart quite like the state of Minnesota and the city of Minneapolis. The state is led by a Democratic Governor and has had a Democratic Attorney General, that is, a Democrat as its chief legal officer, since 1971. The Mayor of Minneapolis is a Democrat, and has been since 1978, while 12 out of 13 seats on the Minneapolis city council are held by Democrats (the final seat is held by the Green Party).

Minnesota Nice’ may or may not involve booing, but it has certainly included voting for Democrats.

The results of this approach are well documented. A 2015 study revealed Minnesota to have “some of the worst racial disparities in the country,” gaps larger than most or all other states in education, employment, household income, home ownership, and poverty. African Americans in Minneapolis are nearly five times more likely than their white counterparts to live in poverty, and nearly three times more likely to be unemployed. They are nearly ten times more likely to be arrested for low level offenses and 13 times as likely as white Minnesotans to be killed by police, a disturbing fact born out in the high-profile killings of Jamar Clark in 2015, Philando Castile in 2016, and now, George Floyd.

It is telling to note that the state’s current Democratic Senator, and, perhaps until this week, the presumptive vice-presidential frontrunner to join Joe Biden atop the Democratic ticket, has been an integral part of the construction of the way Minneapolis functions today. From 1999-2007, Amy Klobuchar was the chief prosecutor for Hennepin County, encompassing the city of Minneapolis. During this period, Klobuchar declined to bring charges in over two dozen cases where people were killed by police, instead, focusing her attention on aggressively prosecuting low-level offenders, disproportionately people of color, for whom she sought longer-than-recommended sentences. Summed up by longtime Minneapolis community activist Michelle Gross, “she’s a racist who basically made our prisons the blackest place in this state.”

As part of her agenda, Klobuchar declined in 2006 to bring charges against six Minneapolis police officers who had shot and killed a man. Among those let off the hook was an officer Derek Chauvin; the same Derek Chauvin who murdered George Floyd.

Incredibly, over his 19-year career, Chauvin has been the recipient of no less than 17 official complaints, all closing without discipline, but for one letter of reprimand. In 2008, he was involved in an altercation during which he shot a man twice, though the man survived, and then again, in 2011, he was placed on a three-day leave of absence after a non-fatal shooting of an indigenous man. Many police officers say they never use their gun over the course of their entire career; Chauvin had been involved in three questionable shootings in five years. And yet still, in a city run by a Democratic Mayor, in a state overseen by a Democratic Attorney General, this dangerous individual was left to prowl the streets, until finally, he killed an innocent person.

Perhaps here, a step back should be taken before things get too heated. Perhaps President Obama’s 2016 calls to vote rather than boo, echoed now by Democratic politicians in the face of an uprising, were more innocuous than they seem. The booing in question, that which precipitated Obama’s famous remark, was, in fact, in response to mention of Donald Trump. Most literally, Obama was saying, in his usually charismatic way, don’t boo Trump, vote for Hillary. It was a continuation of “when they go low, we go high,” the same unsubtle mandate as always – stay away from uncouth Republicans, a Democrat must be President!

It goes without saying that Republicans are not the answer; unlike Democrats, they do not even pretend to be. When protesters took to the streets after the murder of George Floyd, they were called “thugs” by President Trump, that familiar racist dog whistle, consistently used to mute the anguished voices of the oppressed.

A Democrat must be President. No one has followed this suggestion more doggedly than the good people of Minnesota. Literally, no one – they are the only state in the nation won by the Democratic candidate for President in each of the last 11 elections, the only state to go for Mondale over Reagan in 1984. And yet, their current plight, like that of the rest of the country, has grown under Presidents Democrat and Republican.

Consider, after the murder of Freddie Gray by police in 2015, then-President Obama called protesters in Baltimore exactly the same thing as President Trump called those in Minneapolis – “thugs.” While in the White House, the proprietor of ‘don’t boo, vote’ oversaw the continuing militarization of American police forces, and stood idly by while the jackboot of the state hammered down on the people of Ferguson and Standing Rock and elsewhere.

In 2016, President Obama was insisting that we didn’t boo Trump, but rather vote for Hillary Clinton, a woman who, while championing arguably the most racist piece of legislation in the modern history of the country – the 1994 crime bill – called African American youth “superpredators,” a woman whose racism permeated her career up to and beyond when her campaign used racist literature against Obama in their 2008 Democratic primary. Now, President Obama insists that we should not boo, but vote for Joe Biden, a former segregationist who literally wrote the racist 1994 crime bill, a man who casually used racist remarks as recently as last week.

In order to satiate the unheard, Obama suggests a vote for the architects of the current situation.

There is a curious quote in a recent Politico article on the shocking levels of racial inequality in Minnesota:

It seems illogical that inequality could thrive in one of the country’s most liberal states.

Yes, it does seem illogical, but only for those still clinging to the fantasy that Democrats are somehow the opposite of Republicans. The state of Minnesota, to say nothing of the careers of people like Obama, Biden, Clinton and Klobuchar, has quite clearly shown that this is simply not the case.

If a vote for either party delivers the same results, then ‘vote’ is removed as an option for the oppressed to have their voices heard.

That leaves ‘boo.’

As Martin Luther King Jr. said, “a riot is the language of the unheard.” Over 50 years later, a younger generation might say, “fuck around and find out.”

Political ABCs: Maybe the Difference between a “Cop” and a “Crook” is Just a Badge

Not the only “finest” but the ones with the biggest TV and movie coverage

While it may be common knowledge that fire departments originated as private organisations to defend the interests of property insurers, it has probably been forgotten that in the US police were originally the hired gangs of landowners and merchant-industrialists. As urban conurbations like New York City grew, the police were the action arm of the political machines that served to dominate native and immigrant workers. A job in the police department was a patronage post; i.e., one either bought a job or by demonstrated willingness to act for the political boss(es) could be given a shield, a license to use violence and commit crimes on behalf of the machine or for personal gain as long as it did not conflict with the interests of the former.

In the expanding continental empire that became the USA, the rural police were either the auxiliaries of the slave patrols or the “deputised” vigilantes in the service of big landowners, railroads, mining companies or ranchers. Community policing, let alone “democratic” policing was never a meaningful part of the US political system. What has recently been condemned as corrupt and brutal policing is actually consistent with historical tradition of localised repression.

When in the so-called Progressive Era corporate cartels realised it was necessary to counter emergent mass democratic movements, the ruling elite began a process of “professionalisation”. This trend actually covered most of the West. Ideological catalyst for “progressivism” was the adoption of the ideas of Auguste Comte, best illustrated in the case of Brazil whose flag today is adorned with the motto of Positivism (and the Positivist Church) “Order and Progress”. The emphasis was on technocratic order, embodied in the military as an emerging scientific bureaucracy. Progress meant resisting democratic demands with gradual technocratic solutions.

In the US this meant professionalisation of local government and integration of the private/ partisan police forces into a permanent civil service. Thus the gangs of capitalists acquired protected status as part of the new, modern, professional government apparatus which rationally could counter the “irrationality” attributed to democracy, not least of which the horror of communists and anarchists among the immigrant population. In many US cities, this meant that the ethnic hierarchy became entrenched in the forces of “law and order”.  Irish came to dominate East Coast urban armies — later Italians were allowed to join. Blacks were excluded– also because one of the jobs of the police was control over Blacks and other racial inferiors in the labour force. Even today the major urban armies of the US Eastern seaboard; e.g., Boston, New York, Philadelphia, are dominated by Irish and Italian dynasties for whom the police force is also a cult.

Tourist trap, New York City

Not only was the struggle for democratic and socialist government subverted by imposing “progressive” public administration, these professional governments were equipped with private armies which were then given a badge and virtual immunity from any form of civil or criminal prosecution. Although some may know the history, it is important to recall that these policies were developed, supported and ultimately imposed by the plutocrats of the 19th century, Morgan, Rockefeller, Carnegie, later Ford and others both directly and through philanthropic foundations — established to evade taxes and distribute bribery — and make public policy at arm’s length.

Under Woodrow Wilson, that South Carolina racist and Princeton professor promoted to POTUS, the Pinkerton Detective Agency was essentially moved from its role as private and mercenary political hammer to a State apparatus.  Under A. Mitchell Palmer, who installed them under a fascist bureaucrat named John Edgar Hoover — who then turned it into the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the US equivalent of what Hitler established as the Reichssicherheitshauptamt (the controlling office for all Nazi political and criminal police forces).

The US Constitution does not provide explicitly for police powers — except in the Second Amendment. That infamous addition is usually interpreted as the right for anyone in the US to own and bear firearms. However, that is incorrect. The Second Amendment was adopted to protect the slave states from federal interference in their “slave patrols”, the militias organised under state authority to hunt runaway slaves, discipline slaves and prevent resp. suppress slave rebellions. In other words, the implied police power of the Second Amendment was conceived as an instrument for controlling slaves and later Blacks after slavery was abolished. This is the license that the Constitution gives to the thugs clothed in municipal or state uniforms as professional armies for the oligarchy that owns the United States.

After World War I those owners sought means to establish federal jurisdiction over political dissent, especially given the enormous numbers of urban immigrants from inferior European stock. People like Henry Ford realised that suppressing the consumption of alcohol would create a nationwide pretext for social control without openly contravening the supposed constitutional liberties; e.g., the First Amendment or those forbidding unreasonable search and seizure or denial of due process. The Volstead Act was adopted and the Prohibition amendment entered into force. For the first time since the Civil War, the federal government had a mandate to coordinate policing throughout the US and to mobilise the corporate machine police forces for political control. This not only made families like the Kennedys and Bronfmans fabulously rich, it helped establish the corporate form of crime of which Meyer Lansky became the paragon (although popular culture focuses on Italians rather than Jews).

The federal prohibition of alcoholic beverages did not end drink but created the context for a massive expansion of corporate and state police power. Now the taxpayer — obviously not corporations or their plutocratic owners — could pay the bill for their own repression. This would not have been possible were the US not historically saturated with the hypocritical theocratic culture of Oliver Cromwell’s puritan republic. Since “white” American politics — even abolitionism — has always been dominated by the theocratic tradition of the colonial era, prohibition of alcohol could be promoted as a necessary imposition of moral conduct upon inferior European stock — where wine and beer were ordinary food — and as a purification of the body politic. In fact, it was an alibi for political policing of immigrants, socialists, and any other “un-American” activities.

When it became clear that Prohibition’s days were numbered and an enormous army of uniformed thugs would suddenly be unemployed, people like Harry Anslinger, wed to the Mellon dynasty and a former head of the Pennsylvania Railroad’s private army, lobbied for the prohibition of narcotic drugs. One of his barely valid reasons was that policing narcotics would also preserve an instrument for policing Blacks. So the Federal Bureau of Narcotics became the primary national race police while the its senior rival the Federal Bureau of Investigation was the US secret political police (what was called under Hitler the Gestapo — abbreviation for Geheime Staatspolizei, as opposed to the Schutzpolizei or protective police).

Together these two federal agencies began the process of shaping disparate and independent warlords with their municipal armies into forces that could be mobilised either for political or racialist purposes. The so-called New Deal not only introduced a vast array of federal interventions in the economy and social organisation, some of which were barely socialist but most of which were proto-fascist/corporatist, it nationalised the police powers (and overseas subversion). This meant the corporations were no longer directly liable for the actions of their gangs; e.g., the Pinkertons, Ford Service or the numerous railway and factory police forces deployed to control workers and their communities. The uniforms and badges were exchanged and now these private armies were agents of state repression. The fiction of civilian control was preserved in part due to corporate and jurisdictional jealousies. However, these armies became entrenched parts of the civilian bureaucracy, unionised, and established legacies that made many forces virtually hereditary castes.

It is against this background that one needs to understand the decades of opposition to police in the US, mainly from non-white and poor communities in the US. This opposition is not based on occasional abuse or failures in training. It is based on the intuitively recognised fact that the police in the US — as in the rest of the US Empire — are an army of occupation. They are, individual police officers of good faith notwithstanding, the daily terror and threat of terror which is the complement to Hollywood propaganda and the dictatorship of the workplace. It is no accident that someone like Dan Mitreone, an Indiana police chief, became a notorious trainer of torturers in Latin American police forces before he was kidnapped and executed. Michigan State University ran, or served as a conduit for, programs throughout the US war against Vietnam which brought members of these municipal terror organisations to Southeast Asia to torture Vietnamese.

Of course, policing in Britain and throughout Europe is also derived from state terror policies. Yet only in Britain and the US does one have such an enormous investment in the myth of good police officers. The late journalist Alexander Cockburn once wrote that Britain had the only police department that was treated as a global tourist attraction. Hollywood has done everything possible to give the NYPD that reputation too — although even less deserved. FBI and DEA have become “brands” for leisure attire. Have you seen anyone wearing a “GESTAPO” tee shirt?

Tourist trap, London (1981)

The current wave of demonstrations and demands for an end to police repression and even an end to the police force as such may shock some who think that it would be enough to end racialist abuse by the police, to finally convict police of the capital crimes they commit and punish them accordingly. In a country which is proud of its death penalty, the number of police condemned for murder and punished accordingly can certainly be counted on one hand — or less! The number of people wrongly convicted and/or executed for allegedly killing police gangsters is enormous. The City of Brotherly Love is infamous here.

The problem, of which the murder of George Floyd is only one example among thousands (or perhaps millions throughout US history), is complex. First of all, the warlords — the corporate owners of municipalities and their armies called police — have to be restrained. These armies, like the paramilitary units that same US corporate oligarchy maintains in its overseas protectorates, have independent means; e.g., through their control of drug, gambling and other cash flows. They can buy, blackmail or otherwise suborn politicians and judiciary. They are organised in powerful unions with cult-like loyalty through generations. They are supplied by the covert internal security apparatus established since Hoover’s ascent and enriched after the war on Vietnam and 9-11 — officially the Department of Homeland Security. They can rely on a perverse criminal code, both at local and federal level, which legitimates their functions. Last but not least they are integrated in the penal value chain since the privatisation of prisons and other disciplinary operations. There is so much money involved that it is mind boggling.

Although I remain sceptical as to the actual organisation(s) behind the wave of demonstrations and actions aimed at police forces and their crimes, the issues are real. An adequate and dialectically developing movement to address these long suppressed issues will need to deal with the complexity of police history and especially the powerful financial and political interests behind this municipal militarism that plagues the US and constitutes one of the main obstacles to democratic struggle there.

As US Protests Show, the Challenge is How to Rise Above the Violence Inherent in State Power

Here is one thing I can write with an unusual degree of certainty and confidence: Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin would not have been charged with the (third-degree) murder of George Floyd had the United States not been teetering on a knife edge of open revolt.

Had demonstrators not turned out in massive numbers on the streets and refused to be corralled back home by the threat of police violence, the US legal system would have simply turned a blind eye to Chauvin’s act of extreme brutality, as it has done before over countless similar acts.

Without the mass protests, it would have made no difference that Floyd’s murder was caught on camera, that it was predicted by Floyd himself in his cries of “I can’t breathe” as Chauvin spent nearly nine minutes pressing his knee to Floyd’s neck, or that the outcome was obvious to spectators who expressed their growing alarm as Floyd lost consciousness. At most, Chauvin would have had to face, as he had many times before, an ineffectual disciplinary investigation over “misconduct”.

Without the current ferocious mood of anger directed at the police and sweeping much of the nation, Chauvin would have found himself as immune from accountability and prosecution as so many police officers before him who gunned down or lynched black citizens.

Instead he is the first white police officer in the state of Minnesota ever to be criminally charged over the death of a black man. After initially arguing that there were mitigating factors to be considered, prosecutors hurriedly changed course to declare Chauvin’s indictment the fastest they had ever initiated. Yesterday Minneapolis’s police chief was forced to call the other three officers who stood by as Floyd was murdered in front of them “complicit”.

Confrontation, not contrition

If the authorities’ placatory indictment of Chauvin – on the least serious charge they could impose, based on incontrovertible evidence they could not afford to deny – amounts to success, then it is only a little less depressing than failure.

Worse still, though most protesters are trying to keep their demonstrations non-violent, many of the police officers dealing with the protests look far readier for confrontation than contrition. The violent attacks by police on protesters, including the use of vehicles for rammings, suggest that it is Chauvin’s murder charge – not the slow, barbaric murder of Floyd by one of their number – that has incensed fellow officers. They expect continuing impunity for their violence.

Similarly, the flagrant mistreatment by police of corporate media outlets simply for reporting developments, from the arrest of a CNN crew to physical assaults on BBC staff, underlines the sense of grievance harboured by many police officers when their culture of violence is exposed for all the world to see. They are not reeling it in, they are widening the circle of “enemies”.

Nonetheless, it is entirely wrong to suggest, as a New York Times editorial did yesterday, that police impunity can be largely ascribed to “powerful unions” shielding officers from investigation and punishment. The editorial board needs to go back to school. The issues currently being exposed to the harsh glare of daylight get to the heart of what modern states are there to do – matters rarely discussed outside of political theory classes.

Right to bear arms

The success of the modern state, like the monarchies of old, rests on the public’s consent, explicit or otherwise, to its monopoly of violence. As citizens, we give up what was once deemed an inherent or “natural” right to commit violence ourselves and replace it with a social contract in which our representatives legislate supposedly neutral, just laws on our behalf. The state invests the power to enforce those laws in a supposedly disciplined, benevolent police force – there to “protect and serve” – while a dispassionate court system judges suspected violators of those laws.

That is the theory, anyway.

In the case of the United States, the state’s monopoly on violence has been muddied by a constitutional “right to bear arms”, although, of course, the historic purpose of that right was to ensure that the owners of land and slaves could protect their “property”. Only white men were supposed to have the right to bear arms.

Today, little has changed substantively, as should be obvious the moment we consider what would have happened had it been black militia men that recently protested the Covid-19 lockdown by storming the Michigan state capitol, venting their indignation in the faces of white policemen.

(In fact, the US authorities’ reaction to the Black Panthers movement through the late 1960s and 1970s is salutary enough for anyone who wishes to understand how dangerous it is for a black man to bear arms in his own defence against the violence of white men.)

Brutish violence

The monopoly of violence by the state is justified because most of us have supposedly consented to it in an attempt to avoid a Hobbesian world of brutish violence where individuals, families and tribes enforce their own, less disinterested versions of justice.

But, of course, the state system is not as neutral or dispassionate as it professes, or as most of us assume. Until the struggle for universal suffrage succeeded – a practice that in all western states can be measured in decades, not centuries – the state was explicitly there to uphold the interests of a wealthy elite, a class of landed gentry and newly emerging industrialists, as well as a professional class that made society run smoothly for the benefit of that elite.

What was conceded to the working class was the bare minimum to prevent them from rising up against the privileges enjoyed by the rest of society.

That was why, for example, Britain did not have universal health care – the National Health Service – until after the Second World War, 30 years after men received the vote and 20 years after women won the same right. Only after the war did the British establishment start to fear that a newly empowered working class – of returning soldiers who knew how to bear arms, backed by women who had been released from the home to work on the land or in munitions factories to replace the departed men – might no longer be willing to accept a lack of basic health care for themselves and their loved ones.

It was in this atmosphere of an increasingly organised and empowered labour movement – reinforced by the need to engineer more consumerist societies to benefit newly emerging corporations – that European social democracy was born. (Paradoxically, the post-war US Marshall Plan helped subsidise the emergence of Europe’s major social democracies, including their public health care systems, even as similar benefits were denied domestically to Americans.)

Creative legal interpretations

To maintain legitimacy for the state’s monopoly on violence, the legal establishment has had to follow the same minimalist balancing act as the political establishment.

The courts cannot simply rationalise and justify the implicit and sometimes explicit use of violence in law enforcement without regard to public sentiment. Laws are amended, but equally significantly they are creatively interpreted by judges so that they fit the ideological and moral fashions and prejudices of the day, to ensure the public feels justice is being done.

In the main, however, we the public have a very conservative understanding of right and wrong, of justice and injustice, which has been shaped for us by a corporate media that both creates and responds to those fashions and trends to ensure that the current system continues undisturbed, allowing for the ever-greater accumulation of wealth by an elite.

That is why so many of us are viscerally appalled by looting on the streets by poor people, but reluctantly accept as a fact of life the much larger intermittent looting of our taxes, of our banks, of our homes by the state to bail out a corporate elite that cannot manage the economy it created.

Again, the public’s deference to the system is nurtured to ensure it does not rise up.

Muscle on the street

But the legal system doesn’t just have a mind; it has muscle too. Its front-line enforcers, out on the street, get to decide who is a criminal suspect, who is dangerous or subversive, who needs to be deprived of their liberty, and who is going to have violence inflicted upon them. It is the police that initially determine who spends time in a jail cell and who comes before a court. And in some cases, as in George Floyd’s, it is the police that decide who is going to be summarily executed without a trial or a jury.

The state would prefer, of course, that police officers don’t kill unarmed citizens in the street – and even more so that they don’t carry out such acts in full view of witnesses and on camera, as Chauvin did. The state’s objections are not primarily ethical. State bureaucracies are not overly invested in matters beyond the need to maintain external and internal security: defending the borders from outside threats, and ensuring internal legitimacy through the cultivation of citizens’ consent.

But the issue of for whom and for what the state keeps its territory safe has become harder to conceal over time. Nowadays, the state’s political processes and its structures have been almost completely captured by corporations. As a result, the maintenance of internal and external security is less about ensuring an orderly and safe existence for citizens than about creating a stable territorial platform for globalised businesses to plunder local resources, exploit local labour forces and generate greater profits by transforming workers into consumers.

Increasingly, the state has become a hollowed-out vessel through which corporations order their business agendas. States function primarily now to compete with each other in a battle to minimise the obstacles facing global corporations as they seek to maximise their wealth and profits in each state’s territory. The state’s role is to avoid getting in the way of corporations as they extract resources (deregulation), or, when this capitalist model regularly collapses, come to the aid of the corporations with more generous bailouts than rival states.

Murder could prove a spark

This is the political context for understanding why Chauvin is that very rare example of a white policeman facing a murder charge for killing a black man.

Chauvin’s gratuitous and incendiary murder of Floyd – watched by any American with a screen, and with echoes of so many other recent cases of unjustifiable police brutality against black men, women and children – is the latest spark that risks lighting a conflagration.

In the heartless, amoral calculations of the state, the timing of Chauvin’s very public act of barbarity could not have been worse. There were already rumblings of discontent over federal and state authorities’ handling of the new virus; fears over the catastrophic consequences for the US economy; outrage at the inequity – yet again – of massive bailouts for the biggest corporations but paltry help for ordinary workers; and the social and personal frustrations caused by lockdown.

There is also a growing sense that the political class, Republican and Democrat alike, has grown sclerotic and unresponsive to the plight of ordinary Americans – an impression only underscored by the fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic.

For all these reasons, and many others, people were ready to take to the streets. Floyd’s murder gave them the push.

The need for loyal police

In these circumstances, Chauvin had to be charged, even if only in the hope of assuaging that anger, of providing a safety valve releasing some of the discontent.

But charging Chauvin is no simple matter either. To ensure its survival, the state needs to monopolise violence and internal security, to maintain its exclusive definition of what constitutes order, and to keep the state as a safe territorial platform for business. The alternative is the erosion of the nation-state’s authority, and the possibility of its demise.

This was the rationale behind Donald Trump’s notorious tweet last week – censored by Twitter for “glorifying violence” – that warned: “When the looting starts, the shooting starts.” Not surprisingly, he invoked the words of a racist Miami police chief, Walter Headley, who threatened violence against the African-American community in the late 1960s. At the time Headley additionally stated: “There’s no communication with them except force.”

Trump may be harking back to an ugly era of what was once called “race relations”, but the sentiment lies at the heart of the state’s mission.

The state needs its police forces loyal and ready to use violence. It cannot afford discontent in the ranks, or that sections of the police corps no longer identify their own interests with the state’s. The state dares not alienate police officers for fear that, when they are needed most, during times of extreme dissent like now, they will not be there – or worse still, that they will have joined the dissenters.

As noted, elements in the police are already demonstrating their disenchantment over Chauvin’s indictment as well as their sense of grievance against the media – bolstered by Donald Trump’s regular verbal assaults on journalists. That sentiment helps to explain the unprecedented attacks by the police on reliably compliant major media outlets covering the protests.

Ideological twins

The need to keep the security forces loyal is why the state fosters a sense of separateness between the police and those sections of the populace that it defines as potentially threatening order, thereby uniting more privileged segments of society in fear and hostility.

The state cultivates in the police and sections of the public a sense that police violence is legitimate by definition when it targets individuals or groups it portrays as threatening or subversive. It also encourages the view that the police enjoy impunity a priori in such cases because they alone can decide what constitutes a menace to society (shaped, of course, by popular discourses promoted by the state and the corporate media).

“Threat” is defined as any dissent against the existing order, whether it is a black man answering back and demonstrating “attitude”, or mass protests against the system, including against police violence. In this way, the police and the state are ideological twins. The state approves whatever the police do; while the police repress whatever the state defines as a threat. If it is working effectively, state-police violence becomes a circular, self-rationalising system.

Throwing the protests a bone

Charging Chauvin risks disrupting that system, creating a fault line between the state and the police, one of the state’s most essential agencies. Which is why the charging of a police officer in these circumstances is such an exceptional event, and has been dictated by the current exceptional outpouring of anger.

Prosecutors are trying to find a delicate compromise between two conflicting demands: between the need to reassure the police that their violence is always legitimate (carried out “in the line of duty”) and the need to stop the popular wave of anger escalating to a point where the existing order might break down. In these circumstances, Chauvin needs to be charged but with the least serious indictment possible – given the irrefutable evidence presented in the video – in the hope that, once the current wave of anger has subsided, he can be found not guilty; or if found guilty, given a lenient sentence; or if sentenced more harshly, pardoned.

Chauvin’s indictment is like throwing a chewed-dry bone to a hungry dog, from the point of view of the state authorities. It is an act of parsimonious appeasement, designed to curb non-state violence or the threat of such violence.

The indictment is not meant to change a police culture – or an establishment one – that presents black men as an inherent threat to order. It will not disrupt regulatory and legal systems that are wedded to the view that (white, conservative) police officers are on the front line defending civilisational values from (black or leftwing) “lawbreakers”. And it will not curtail the state’s commitment to ensuring that the police enjoy impunity over their use of violence.

Change is inevitable

A healthy state – committed to the social contract – would be capable of finding ways to accommodate discontent before it reaches the level of popular violence and revolt. The scenes playing out across the US are evidence that state institutions, captured by corporate money, are increasingly incapable of responding to demands for change. The hollowed-out state represents not its citizens, who are capable of compromise, but the interests of global forces of capital that care little what takes place on the streets of Minneapolis or New York so long as the corporations can continue to accumulate wealth and power.

Why would we expect these global forces to be sensitive to popular unrest in the US when they have proved entirely insensitive to the growing signals of distress from the planet, as its life-support systems recalibrate for our pillage and plunder in ways we will struggle to survive as a species?

Why would the state not block the path to peaceful change, knowing it excels in the use of violence, when it blocks the path to reform that might curb the corporate assault on the environment?

These captured politicians and officials – on the “left” and right – will continue fanning the flames, stoking the fires, as Barack Obama’s former national security adviser Susan Rice did this week. She denied the evidence of police violence shown on Youtube and the very real distress of an underclass abandoned by the political class when she suggested that the protests were being directed from the Kremlin.

This kind of bipartisan denial of reality only underscores how quickly we are entering a period of crisis and revolt. From the G8 protests, to the Occupy movement, to Extinction Rebellion, to the schools’ protests, to the Yellow Vests, to the current fury on US streets, there is evidence all around that the centre is struggling to maintain its hold. The US imperial project is overstretched, the global corporate elite is over-extended, living on credit, resources are depleting, the planet is recalibrating. Something will have to give.

The challenge to the protesters – either those on the streets now or those who follow in their wake – is how to surmount the state’s violence and how to offer a vision of a different, more hopeful future that restores the social contract.

Lessons will be learnt through protest, defiance and disobedience, not in a courtroom where a police officer stands trial as an entire political and economic system is allowed to carry on with its crimes.

Who’s Trashing Downtown Every Night and Why?

The corporate media and corporate politicians are paralyzed with indecision.  Which fake myth do we adhere to?  “Black people burning down their own neighborhoods” or “outside agitators”?  What if it’s both, and more…?

Media coverage of the past few days and nights of the multiracial uprising that is currently taking place in various forms in cities small and large across the United States has been confused and misleading, as usual.  Media coverage of such events is usually either confusing, misleading, or both, because of the influence of the media owners, and because of the implicit biases, insufficient resources, and/or ignorance of the journalists who work for them.  So, it begs for a bit of helpful clarification.

But, first of all, they keep saying these are the biggest urban disturbances in the US since 1968.  This sounds huge, and while it’s certainly impressive, the basic phenomenon taking place, and the various dynamics within it, are not new, not unprecedented, and, in fact, are very commonplace.

Most people, from my experience, never go to protests.  Among those who do go to protests, many people only go to one big one in their lives, if any.  At pretty much every big protest I’ve ever been to, which is a lot, I’m surrounded by people of all ages who tell me and others around them that they are attending their first protest.  Whatever got them out — a racist police murder, a massacre, an imperialist war, a massive bank bailout — they say they just had to come out this time, even though they never went to a protest before.  The hardcore protest-hopping crowd like me is a very select group, for a lot of different reasons.  We are not representative.

As a consequence, at every protest I have been to, there are participants who are under the impression that the tactics the protesters are employing were just invented yesterday, and that the militarization of the police is a new phenomenon.  In Ferguson in 2014 I remember hearing many local people of all ages saying things that made it abundantly clear that they thought large groups of riot police rioting in their town and making use of tear gas, stun grenades, and tank-like vehicles was something that had not been seen since the Civil Rights movement in the 1960’s.  They were under that impression simply because that was the last time anyone remembered tanks on the streets in Ferguson, and for many older people in town, that was also the last time they attended a large protest.

Before I start contextualizing the current situation, let me say that although me and many other radicals did certainly predict most everything that is currently taking place, I have no idea where this is going.  Predictions made by people like me are usually wrong.  If they’re right, it’s because they were obvious — everyone knows powder kegs eventually explode, but nobody really ever knows exactly when this might happen, or what will be the spark.  But the keg is now burning.  It may have started with one spark, but the lynching of George Floyd, although horrific, is only symbolic of what this is all about.  Justice in this situation most certainly does not begin or end with the sentencing of all four of those cops with murder.  They’re certainly guilty, but there’s a lot more of that to go around, at far higher levels of authority than the local cops, fascist as they may be.  (To anyone who was not literally born yesterday, living in the US today, who is aware of who the president is, this is a very obvious statement.)

The main question I want to focus on here is a burning question in the minds of the corporate media and for many regular people from all walks of life across the country — who is smashing, looting and burning buildings, torching police cars, and throwing projectiles at the riot cops all over this country?

The “Peaceful Protesters” Myth

It is probably the case that the vast majority of the people assembling during the day and during the evening to hold protest rallies against the tendency of the police in the US to lynch black people on a regular basis are not the same people who are engaging in some of the other aforementioned activities.  But it would be very wrong to put them all in this fake “peaceful protester” box.

What the media calls “peaceful protesters” are people who stand around in a public space with signs and make speeches.  They can be angry speeches, that’s OK.  This is what they call “peaceful protest.”  If they don’t have a permit, it might not be “peaceful” anymore, in the media’s eyes.  If the police attack peaceful protesters and a single person from within the ranks of the protesters responds in any way that can be construed as violent — such as if someone raises their hand to attempt to block a billy club that’s about to come down on their face — this will be labeled a “clash,” such as, “there are now clashes taking place between the police and the protesters.”

When people occupy an intersection and stop traffic, or block the entrance of a building, this is what people from within social movements generally refer to as civil disobedience, or direct action.  It is considered by anyone involved with a social movement anywhere to be solidly within the “nonviolent” category, and it is often referred to by its full name, “nonviolent civil disobedience.”  People like Gandhi and MLK popularized these sorts of tactics, which were pioneered long before, by other social movements that were also led by oppressed people, such as the labor movement, very much including the multiracial movements of tenant farmers and sharecroppers in the early part of the twentieth century.

The corporate media, however, will often start referring to protests as “violent” as soon as any law is being broken, such as traffic laws, when an intersection, highway, or building entrance is blocked.  This use of the term “violent” is very confusing for many, because it’s patently inaccurate, when people learn enough to understand what the reporters actually mean — if they are allowed to get to that point, which is generally not the case.  If people are looking to the media to understand what’s happening around them, this is very unhelpful.  One of many very unhelpful aspects of their coverage.

The “Black People Are Burning Down Their Own Neighborhood” Myth

As soon as a police murder or the acquittal of a killer cop lead to anyone setting fire to a building, the media will tend to shift into a different gear, where they start focusing on the popular response to the racist, elitist system, rather than on the problems that led to the response.  This happens, again, partly because this is what the corporate propagandists who own most of what remains of the press want to focus on, not just because it’s sensationalist and keeps eyes glued to the screen, but because it is consistent with their perspective, and that of most of their reporters, who were generally raised in totally different circumstances from most of the folks currently burning stuff down.

Thus, for different reasons, but amounting to the same effect, the media will talk about people burning down “their own” neighborhoods.  It’s unfashionable these days to refer to them as “animals,” which was a common refrain during the national uprising in 1991 that the media refers to as the “LA riots.”  Trump prefers the racially loaded term, “thugs,” which is just a slightly updated version of “animals.”

No rent-burdened renter who has been evicted multiple times, which is the case for millions and millions of people in the US, feels like the neighborhoods they live in are “their own” neighborhoods.  Most working class people in urban America are struggling to stay in “their own” neighborhoods.  They are constantly being evicted and driven out of “their own” neighborhoods.  Yuppies flip houses and sell them at impossible prices, and “their own” neighborhoods become quickly unrecognizable and unaffordable.  There is a massive rate of displacement and what can accurately be described as ethnic cleansing taking place in cities throughout this country, that has been going on for centuries now.  It has only been interrupted for periods of time through strong rent control legislation, which used to exist in states like New York and Massachusetts.  But multi-generational, real communities are fewer and farther between, because of the fact that housing is an investment for capitalists in this country, not a right, not at all.

So no one is burning down “their own” neighborhood.  To the extent that local people are involved with these activities — which lots of them are, let’s be very clear about that, and this is nothing new, not at all — the neighborhoods they are burning down are not their own.  They are owned by people that often feel like invaders.  However, these invaders may be “mom and pop” business owners, or “mom and pop” landlords.  The media will refer to any business as a “small business” if it’s not a big corporation.  But someone running a restaurant that serves food that many people in a given neighborhood can’t afford to eat, while easily fitting the media’s description as a “mom and pop” small business, is not often seen by local people as part of “their community” or as particularly distinguishable from a chain store like Target.  Either the “mom and pop” establishment in this instance, or the chain store, will have the same impact, of raising the cost of housing in the now more “desirable” neighborhood.

The “Outside Agitators” Myth

Traditionally, when there is a major protest that involves some forms of civil disobedience or other forms of direct action, so that business as usual is sufficiently interrupted to the point where the protests can’t be ignored, the media will adopt one of two tropes.  If it’s not people “burning down their own neighborhood,” then it’s some kind of “outside agitators” who did it.

The “outside agitator” is generally someone like me, who cares about society, and other people in it, so much that they want to leave their own homes and even their own home towns or states or countries, to go to another place to practice what is known as solidarity or mutual aid, depending on the situation.  It’s easier for the media to blame “outside agitators” when there’s a national or international meeting of the elite taking place, say a G8 or G20 meeting, and tens of thousands of people show up to protest against or try to shut down those meetings.  This scenario has been played out many times in the US, Canada, and many other countries, and I’ve personally been to many such events throughout the world since I’m more or less an outside agitator by profession.

From my experience, even at a big international event in Washington, DC or New York City, most of the people involved with the protests will be from the local area.  They may not be from the actual city the protest is taking place in, but most of them will be from a nearby state.  Locals, by a broader definition than the media likes to use.  So when they say that 20% of those arrested in Minneapolis were not from Minnesota, they don’t mention that of those 20%, the vast majority were from the state of Wisconsin, a short drive away.  (I don’t know this to be true, I’m just guessing based on past experience.)  Of course, if they came from further afield than Wisconsin to show solidarity with people in Minneapolis, this still does not make them bad people.

One of the wonderfully confusing things going on right now with media coverage and the reactions to events by politicians trying to spin the picture the way they want us to see it is they can’t decide on which false trope to fall back on here.  Is it people burning down their own neighborhoods, or are these outside agitators?  Obviously, it’s both — and so much more.

The outside agitator theory also becomes very hard to maintain in this situation, because they are everywhere at the same time.  Traditionally, outside agitators have to come from outside.  By outside, usually they’re talking about select groups of highly committed young anarchists going from supposed anarchist hubs like Seattle, San Francisco and New York City, to places where big, pre-planned events are taking place, such as the G20 meetings in Pittsburgh in 2009 or the Free Trade Area of the Americas talks in Miami in 2003, to name a couple random examples.  In the face of protests happening in every major city at the same time, the “outside agitators” now must have come from a nearby suburb, which doesn’t seem all that “outside” to me.

The fact is, the city of Minneapolis has thousands of people in it who probably identify explicitly as anarchists.  There are many other cities in the US that have a high concentration of radicals.  Minneapolis has been one of them for a very long time.  The radical tradition in Minneapolis is a multiracial one, like this uprising, and includes prominent people from every major ethnic background, very much including white, black, brown, Asian and indigenous resistance in many forms.

Within the ranks of all of these communities, and within the ranks of radicals within all of these communities, there are many different opinions on effective strategies.  While many people understand how folks might not differentiate between burning down a locally-owned upscale restaurant and a big chain corporate store, many would be critical of burning down anything, ever.  And those who think burning down buildings is a good tactic might distinguish between these two targets, intellectually.  Where radicals of all backgrounds tend to unite is around the understanding that oppressed people will tend to rise up, and those uprisings will tend to be messy, especially in the absence of a radical labor tradition, and in the absence of any kind of viable third party option to the two capitalist, imperialist ruling parties who are largely responsible for the terrible disparities in society in the first place.

The “You’re Just Being Paranoid” Myth

In their efforts to confuse people and manage the situation from their corporate elite vantage points, the stenographers of CNN and NPR will rarely mention that local, state and federal police forces have a long and terrible history of infiltrating, undercutting, planting evidence, sowing division and otherwise destroying social movements in any way possible, including killing activists and then blaming others for the killings.  Dozens of leaders of the Black Panther Party and the American Indian Movement were systematically killed by the authorities at various levels of power, and no one has ever been brought to justice for these many crimes against these immensely popular organizations.  If you familiarize yourself with the public record on the FBI’s Counterintelligence Program or Cointelpro — which has never ended, to be sure — you will find they have committed every crime imaginable, both very overt and extremely underhanded, to cause movements to implode or explode, depending on what works best.

So, are FBI agents and undercover cops among those who are attacking the police and burning down buildings across this country?  While we may not yet have any concrete proof of this, we can assume, based on massive amounts of concrete proof of past activities of these so-called law enforcement agencies, that their agents are involved with many of the most egregious cases of small or ethnically-owned businesses being burned down.  This has been their modus operandi for a very long time in order to sow division.  You would have to be completely ignorant of recent history to think it’s not happening now.  Yet on the off-chance anyone might suggest on a mainstream media outlet that this sort of thing is probably happening, they would likely be lampooned as a conspiracy theorist.

Currently, it appears right-wing actors who may or may not also be cops are trying to start a “race war” by targeting certain buildings for arson attacks and by firing into crowds of protesters.  This adds another level of complexity to the situation, obviously.

Collateral Damage

In a war, many innocent lives are lost.  If you have ever known a person who participated in a war that they even thought was completely just, you will find just one more person who is traumatized by the things they have seen, and the innocents who have died in the course of the conflict they participated in.  If you meet someone who participated in a war that they realized at the time, or later, was unjust, this trauma will tend to be even more intense.

In an uprising like what is currently taking place, this is no different.  When you set about to burn down a police station, this is a difficult task that involves many challenges.  Without going into all the details, suffice it to say that if you’re burning down a building, neighboring buildings might also catch fire, whether you wanted them to or not.  If the fire department were assisting the arsonists, as with a controlled burn of a forest or building, to make sure nearby trees or houses didn’t catch fire, it would be different, but that’s not the situation here.  If it were the military accidentally bombing the wrong house, or a hospital, or a wedding party, as the US military has so often done in recent years in so many parts of the world, they’d just say oops, it was collateral damage.  But if a small business gets torched by accident, or on purpose, by people in the course of an urban rebellion, then it’s a different story you’ll hear from the media and others that these wackos are burning down very nice nonprofit centers that no sensible person would want to harm.  The collateral damage angle, though obvious from a logistical standpoint, will rarely be mentioned — as rarely as the possibility that a particularly destructive action might have been carried out by an FBI agent posing as a protester, despite the abundant evidence of this kind of systematic behavior over the course of past decades.

In Conclusion

Rebellions, uprisings, and revolutions have some things in common, regardless of the outcome:  they are messy, they are dirty, they smell bad, people get hurt, people get killed, buildings get burned, and a lot of innocent people suffer.  They don’t happen unless conditions were completely untenable to begin with.  And as they grow, for some there are rays of hope amidst the flames.