The Re-Branding of the Alt-Right

Tread
Libertarianism: Because that is exactly what America needs–another capitalist party.

AUGUSTA, MAINE- The alt-right’s pathetic efforts to re-brand itself in the wake of the events in Charlottesville, and its overwhelming defeats in Boston and Berkeley, California, last month, were on full display in Maine, this past weekend. A right-wing “free speech” rally in Augusta on September 30 was little more than a thinly-veiled attempt to disguise the demonstrators’ racist, white nationalist views.

Fortunately, nearly 100 protesters—including many from local socialist organizations—turned out to oppose them.

The coalition of left groups included the Portland, Maine branch of the International Socialist Organization (ISO), along with the John Brown Gun Club, The Socialist Party of Maine, the NAACP of Bangor, the Southern Maine IWW, and the Maine chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), among others. The groups gathered across from the Capitol Building, where the right-wing rally was taking place.

The organizers of the alt-right demonstration, bearing the generic name, “Rally to Denounce Political Violence,” seemed, at first glance, to represent an odd combination of libertarians, right-wingers, out-of-state political candidates (most of them running as Libertarians), and even a few Occupy Wall Street activists.

But closer inspection of the rally’s principal organizers reveals many familiar faces and themes of the so-called “alt-right.”

For starters, John Rasmussen, a Portland native and organizer of the rally, also helped assemble the original Boston “Free Speech” rally, back in May. Boston NPR-affiliate, WBUR, described the rally, at the time, as a coalition of “veterans, ex-police, Tea Party Republicans and young people affiliated with the self-described ‘alt-right’—a conservative faction that mixes racism, white nationalism, anti-Semitism and populism…”

Other rally organizers, including an individual who goes only by the name Jarody, have a clear online history of expressing or demonstrating support for white nationalist and far-right views. The cartoon character, Pepe the Frog, widely viewed as the alt-right’s mascot, features prominently on the organizers’ social media pages. One woman showed up to the Augusta rally wearing a hat featuring the character.

A social media page for the “Rally to Denounce Political Violence” described the event as a “day to denounce the violence that has arisen recently due to political fearmongering. We advocate for peaceful discussion and the spread of ideas from all points of view.”

The rally organizers even had the gall to conclude the event summary with a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Yet as Portland ISO member, Erica Hall observed, the free-market, austerity-pushing, privatization policies libertarians advocate are, themselves, a form of violence.

“Libertarians are capitalists, and capitalism is inherently violent,” Hall said. “They make these forms of oppression make sense to people, as if they are natural. But of course, they are not.”

Indeed, ripping apart the already frayed social safety net, abolishing public programs and social services, replacing public schools with private or charter schools, and valuing private property over human lives, are all forms of political violence against poor and working-class people.

Of course, the “Rally to Denounce Political Violence” conveniently overlooked all of these forms of violence. Its focus was, instead, exclusively on the purported violence of the left—particularly anti-fascist groups like Antifa and the Black Bloc anarchists.

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THE RIGHT in Maine is clearly taking a page out of Donald Trump’s book—condemning violence on “both sides,” even though it is really only their side that is actively seeking to perpetuate violent acts and intimidation. Its members seek to draw a moral equivalency between the Ku Klux Klan and Antifa, suggesting that both are equally responsible for promoting violence.

Jarody pushed this false equivalency in an interview with the Portland Phoenix’s Nick Schroeder, prior to the rally.

“We’ve got groups like Antifa and the John Brown Gun Club coming to oppose us,” said Jarody. “I’d like to see the organizers of the counter-rally make sure to rein in those on their side who might show up to incite violence.”

This is, of course, a baseless comparison.

The efforts of anti-fascists to defend themselves and marginalized people—violently, if necessary—is in no way comparable to the racism and hate-mongering incited by the KKK and neo-Nazi groups. While those of us in the ISO often disagree with Antifa and Black Bloc’s confrontational tactics, we fully reject the alt-right’s attempts to conflate the two.

As a joint press release issued by the left-wing coalitions stated, “This event, the ‘Rally to Denounce Political Violence,’ … is an attempt to provide shelter for alt-right ideologies under the guise of free speech.”

Perhaps most tellingly, Jarody refused to concede to the Phoenix’s Schroeder that the murder of 32-year-old activist, Heather Heyer, is a form of political violence.

“Nobody knows what [was] going on in that guy’s head,” Jarody told Schroeder, referring to assailant, James Alex Fields, who drove his car into a group of ISO activists, killing Heyer. “Nobody knows what his intentions were. Even though we have footage of it, that’s basically the work of lawyers [sic]. I’d have to listen to what [Fields] says up on the stand.”

Rasmussen, in an interview on a local right-wing radio station a few days prior to the rally, was similarly evasive in his description of Fields’ murder of Heyer.

“Everybody is attacking everybody right now,” Rasmussen said when asked about the events in Charlottesville, on August 12. This cop-out of a reply prompted the conservative interviewer to respond merely, “Okay,” and move on to another topic.

Rasmussen then launched into a rambling, mostly incoherent tirade about how the alleged violence of the left is “going to cycle incredibly fast,” and conservatives are in danger of “walking right into their [the left’s] trap.”

Still, the right’s newfound strategy is clear. They want to paint leftists and anti-racists as unhinged, violent instigators, deeply intolerant of the right’s freedom of speech. Consider this the alt-right’s attempt to re-brand itself as the “alt-light.” They are desperately trying to bury their overt appeals to white nationalism and anti-Semitism, while casting themselves as victims of an antagonistic extreme left that is out for blood.

But counter-protesters were not buying any of it. They understood all too well that this poorly disguised, “free speech” rally was the same vile, rotten right-wing product in a slightly different package.

Indeed, the left easily outnumbered the 20 or so right-wingers who ultimately showed up the Augusta rally. The Portland ISO raised chants and sold copies of the ISO’s monthly newspaper, Socialist Worker. Our group conveyed the strongest political orientation among a friendly, but politically mixed crowd.

A version of this essay also appeared on Socialist Worker.org.

Editor’s note: Red Flag does not support or endorse any WordPress-sponsored advertisements that may appear on readers’ screens. This is another reason why workers, including writers, need to own the means of production–or in this case, the Internet.

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Solidarity, Not Reductionist Identity Politics, Will Defeat the Right

Screw the Klan

One of the signs at the post-Charlottesville solidarity rally in Portland, Maine on Aug 13 (which I wrote about here) read, “White? Not racist? You/I Still Benefit from White Supremacy.”

I did not get a chance to talk with the young woman holding the sign, but I would have liked to. I find this sort of sentiment—that all white people benefit from white supremacy—endemic among members of the left oriented around identity politics. As such, I think it is worth taking a critical examination of this view, and offering a socialist perspective.

The woman’s sign actually reminded me of an online video that circulated back in 2012, shortly after Trayvon Martin’s murder. The subject of the video—titled, “I AM NOT TRAYVON MARTIN,” in all capital letters—is a young white woman who chastises fellow white activists for wearing t-shirts with the words, “I Am Trayvon Martin,” emblazoned on them.

The woman argues that white activists–no matter how outraged they are over Martin’s racist killing–are not Trayvon Martin. And, by virtue of being white, their attempts to stand in solidarity with Martin and his family are disingenuous at best. Rather, the woman argues, she and her white colleagues have more in common with Martin’s killer, George Zimmerman. According to her a “more accurate t-shirt” for her white colleagues to wear would say, “I Am George Zimmerman.”

Her argument, which is steeped in “privilege” politics, is that white activists can only ever relate to a racist oppressor, like Zimmerman.

(Zimmerman was acquitted of second-degree murder by a mostly white jury, on July 13, 2013.)

“I look at Zimmerman,” the woman says, “and think, ‘There, but for the grace of God, go I.’”

She goes on, “… Realizing that you more closely resemble a homicidal, oppressive force than a helpless victim is a really uncomfortable thing to do. I know. But wanting to identify with the victim is weak and immature when it is not an accurate representation of reality.”

This woman (she never identifies herself) makes the same reactionary argument as the other woman’s protest sign: “If you’re white, you are part of the problem. In fact, you are the problem.”

This is the essence of identity politics. It suggests that all white people are inherently—and perhaps irredeemably—racist, simply by nature of being white. And no amount of education, enlightenment, commitment to social justice or personal growth can alter a “privileged” white person’s–allegedly subconscious–racist, intolerant views.

Liberal identitarians argue, by the same extension, that all men are inherently sexist, all straight people are homophobes, all Westerners are Islamophobic, and all able-bodied people are “ableist,” etc., etc…

Thus, identity politics casts “White People,” (or even just “whiteness”) or “[toxic] masculinity” as the enemy of marginalized people, rather than the structural oppression (be it racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia) intentionally erected and perpetuated by the ruling class as a means of maintaining its power.

As the abolitionist, Frederick Douglass observed of the twisted genius of the capitalist ruling class in pitting white workers against black workers, “The slaveholders, by encouraging the enmity of the poor laboring white man against the blacks, succeeded in making the said white man almost as much of a slave as the black himself.”

“Both,” Douglass added, “are plundered by the same plunderer.”

While there is no doubt that certain segments of society (African-Americans, LGBT folks, women, immigrants, and Muslims to name a few) endure greater forms of oppression than others, the system of capitalism serves to keep all working class people in chains. As such, all workers have an interest in joining together in solidarity, and shaking off those metaphorical chains.

If white working-class people are so “privileged,” why do so many of them struggle in dead-end jobs, performing unrewarding work for dirt wages? Why are so many saddled with thousands of dollars of debt from college loans? Why do so many struggle to afford decent health care—despite the positive gains of “Obamacare”? And why do whites make up the majority of recipients of government assistance programs—despite the fact that blacks and Hispanics endure significantly higher poverty rates?

For that matter, what accounts for the fact that only a tiny portion of white people own the economic means of production?

This is not to suggest there are no obvious advantages to being white in an undoubtedly racist society. There absolutely are. But these predicaments do not strike me as a sign of “privilege.” Quite the reverse, in fact.

Furthermore, I think it speaks volumes to how low we have set the bar for social justice that we now seem to regard freedom from the threat of being arbitrarily murdered on the streets by the police—or those acting on their behalf—as a mere “privilege.” This should be a basic human right.

Yet the dictates of identity politics paint all white people as an undifferentiated mass of reactionary, racist attitudes. The woman in the video claims—with no evidence whatsoever—that the white people disingenuously wearing “I Am Trayvon Martin” t-shirts are all “middle-class.”

To this, I have two questions for the woman: 1) What is this “middle-class” you speak of? And, 2) How do I join it?

No doubt, there is a group of privileged (mostly) white people. (A handful of women and African-Americans have joined their ranks in recent decades.) They are the bourgeoisie, the ruling class, the elite, the wealthy, the capitalists or the one percent. Bernie Sanders calls them the “billionaire class.” Their members include people like Donald Trump, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, and, yes, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.

These are the people who need to “check their privilege.” In fact, they should check some of their wealth, too. And hand it over to the rest of us.

Not only are liberal identity politics incredibly reductionist and deterministic, but one must wonder at the profound cynicism of those who espouse them. If we are all nothing more than our physical identities—rather than the actions that we take from day to day—then what is the point of struggling for a better world…? If white/male/straight/fill-in-the-blank-with-“privileged”-adjective-of-your-choice people are incapable of feeling empathy for anyone other than the oppressors, as “Video Woman” suggests, then activism is all but useless.

And that is precisely the danger of this mindset. It leads to political passivity. Identity politics is a recipe for paralysis.

Likewise, the proliferation of the practices of “calling-out” and “privilege-checking” serves only to deter potential activists from political participation. Who wants to protest racial injustice if they fear they will be publicly shamed and ridiculed for every perceived “microaggression” they accidentally commit?

This is no way to build a multi-racial, multi-ethnic, multi-gender movement to topple capitalism–or to achieve anything, for that matter. It is, however, a way to ensure the left remains small, fractured, atomized, and largely impotent. If we are serious about defeating the far-right and halting the rise of a resurgent fascism, the left must move beyond the narrow confines of identity politics.

“Video Woman” believes stepping out of one’s comfort zone to stand with the oppressed is “weak” and “immature.” I could not disagree more.

“In … a world of conflict, a world of victims and executioners,” Albert Camus wrote, “it is the job of thinking people not to be on the side of the executioners.”

Fortunately, it seems identity politics are beginning to lose some of their currency—particularly in the wake of the mass outpouring of resistance to white supremacy following the repulsive “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville on Aug. 12. That rally—in which white supremacist groups including the Ku Klux Klan, the Proud Boys, and neo-Nazis brandished shields and tiki torches, and chanted Nazi slogans—resulted in the murder of Heather Heyer, a 32-year-old paralegal and activist.

In response, cities throughout the country have mounted rallies, marches, and vigils denouncing white supremacy in all its vile forms. At least 400 people turned out for the aforementioned rally in Portland the following day.

About 40,000 people showed up in Boston on Saturday, Aug. 19—a week following Heyer’s death—to protest a pitifully small “alt-right” rally, which ended early. Leftists in Boston literally chased the Nazis out of the city! This was followed by another rally in Portland, on Sunday, Aug. 20, which attracted 1,200 people.

And these are not your run-of-the-mill protests. In the wake of Heyer’s death, these protests are taking place in a pronounced atmosphere of fear. The events in Charlottesville made it terrifyingly clear the far-right has no qualms about using violence and murder to achieve its ends.

It is also painfully clear the increased police presence at these marches is not for the benefit of the mostly peaceful protesters. The police are there to protect the Nazis. At the Boston march, the Boston Police surrounded a gazebo of 20 or so neo-Nazis, and escorted them away when they got scared of the protesters with their, you know … signs, and water bottles… Hence the socialist chant, “Cops and Klan/Hand-in-hand!”

In other words, these anti-racists—black and white–are coming out to these events at great personal risk. They understand that solidarity–the idea that “an injury to one is an injury to all”–is the only way we can defeat the far-right. We won’t defeat them with reductionist, deterministic identity politics.

None of this should be interpreted as a condemnation of workers organizing around a shared identity or history. Nor is it to suggest that class is “more important” than race. Karl Marx, writing in 1867, understood how race and class are inextricably intertwined.

“In the United States of America, every independent movement of the workers was paralyzed as long as slavery disfigured a part of the Republic,” Marx wrote in volume one of Capital. “Labor cannot emancipate itself in the white skin where in the black it is branded.”

What I would like to offer is an alternative sign for the young woman at the Portland rally–one with a more simple and direct message: “Unite to Fight the Right.”

Editor’s note: Red Flag does not support or endorse any WordPress-sponsored advertisements that may appear on readers’ screens. This is another reason why workers, including writers, need to own the means of production–or in this case, the Internet.

If you like this essay feel free to share it widely (Facebook, Twitter, all that stuff…). Adam Marletta can be reached at adamd.marletta@gmail.com.

Thanks for reading!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Love Did Not Trump Hate (So it’s Time to Smash the State)

Boston Protest
Thousands march in Boston to protest a white supremacist “free speech” rally, on Saturday, Aug. 19, 2017. The tiny group of far-right hatemongers received full police protection and dispersed early.

Following the repugnant, white supremacist carnage in Charlottesville, Virginia, author and Princeton professor, Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, wrote an article for Jacobin magazine succinctly titled, “No More Charlottesvilles.”

Taylor calls the violence that erupted on Aug. 12, “the predictable outcome of the Republican Party’s racist agenda and Donald Trump’s ascension to the presidency.”

“More than providing a platform for Trump’s racist hate speech,” she writes, “the Republican Party has boosted his political agenda—an agenda that has imbued the racist right with the confidence that they can succeed in their campaign of terrorizing, marginalizing, and even killing those who stand in their way. This includes black and brown people as well as the white antiracists who challenge them. We are all in their crosshairs.”

Our organizing in the wake of Charlottesville—where 32-year-old activist, Heather Heyer, was murdered when a young neo-Nazi drove his car into a crowd of protesters—should be based on solidarity. It should be rooted in the old labor slogan, “An injury to one is an injury to all.”

The dismissive, ultra-left identity-politics which have become endemic among the left in recent years, will not defeat the far right. We absolutely must continue to support the most vulnerable people within our ranks—especially those that have historically been the primary targets of white supremacists’ wrath, like African-Americans, Jews, LGBT folks, and people with disabilities.

But let’s be clear: The fascists are coming for all of us.

Nor will abstract sentiments of “love” and “decency” be sufficient to fight the right. The members of the so-called “alt-right” are not the disadvantaged, ignorant poor the media portray them as. Most of them are middle to upper-middle class, college educated, and voted for Trump precisely because of his quasi-white nationalist leanings. They are not the uneducated, easily swayed victims of “bad ideas.” They understand perfectly well the hate and intolerance they represent.

As one young neo-Nazi candidly told the Washington Post in an online video, “I’m here because our republican values are, number one: standing up for local, white identity. Our identity is under threat [sic]. Number two: the free-market. And number three: killing Jews.”

Don’t get me wrong: I am all for love, and I do not doubt the noble intentions of liberals who advocate we “fight hate with love.” But it will take more than just “love” and good intentions to send the white supremacists packing. It will take organization and a clear, unambiguous political orientation.

The fact is, love did not “trump hate.” So now it’s time to smash the state.

Fortunately, activists on the left seem to be getting the message. People have an intense desire to fight back against the rising far right—especially in the wake of the events in Charlottesville. They want to know how they can contribute to the left-wing resistance. And they are hungry for serious politics to help guide them in this fight.

This desire for real politics over empty, if well-intended, sloganeering was evident at a post-Charlottesville rally in Portland, Maine, the Sunday following the vile “Unite the Right” rally.

Though poorly organized, and hastily thrown together at the last minute, the rally nonetheless drew a crowd of over 400 people. The first few speakers echoed the familiar liberal themes of showing “tolerance” and “understanding” for those we “disagree with”—as if the threat posed by the alt-right is little more than a mere “disagreement.”

Three speakers in, Caitrin Smith, a Portland resident and member of the Portland branch of the International Socialist Organization (ISO) offered a rousing, politically charged speech that not only received raucous applause from the audience, but also served to shift the tone of the remainder of the rally.

“What happened [Aug. 12] is deplorable!” said Smith. “And we are here today to say to these Nazis, ‘Not today!’, ‘Not tomorrow!’, ‘Not ever!'”

She continued:

… The rulers of this country have always relied on oppression and exploitation to drive working people into submission, to maintain their power. Yesterday’s events cannot be examined without an excavation of this history. … We must dismantle the organization of the right with the organization of the left.

Afterwards, a number of people stopped by our ISO “merch booth,” and signed up for our mailing list or bought copies of our monthly newspaper, the Socialist Worker. Our weekly meeting the following Wednesday had about double the typical number of attendees.

A week later, between 15,000-30,000 anti-fascist protesters marched in Boston in opposition to a “free speech” rally held by a tiny group of white supremacists. The Boston march included contingents of ISO branches from Maine, Vermont, Connecticut, New York, and Boston, as well as members of Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), and Socialist Alternative.

There are two competing, highly disparate theories on the left when it comes to confronting these white supremacists.

Liberals and establishment figures in the Democratic Party argue we do nothing at all—just ignore the racist and hope they go away. Protesting, liberals argue, merely grants the far right the attention it seeks. Thus, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh spent the days leading up to the Aug. 19, Boston protest attempting to dissuade activists from taking part in the march.

But ignoring these hate groups does not cause them to go away. Quite the reverse, the lack of a visible opposition to their racist, xenophobic views tends to leave the right further emboldened, allowing their malicious cancer to grow.

On the other hand, far left groups like the Black Bloc and Antifa (short for “anti-fascist”) seek to confront the right in physical confrontations. These confrontations inevitably end in defeat—and arrest—for the leftists. The police have historically acted as the default bodyguards for the KKK and white supremacist groups. This makes for a decidedly unfair fight. Additionally, engaging the right in fist-fights only feeds in to the media narrative that they are “persecuted” by the violent, free-speech-hating liberals.

Neither of these approaches is an effective strategy for fighting the right.

Instead, we should confront them by peacefully, yet forcefully mobilizing in far greater numbers (as we did in Boston) and drowning out their disgusting message with one of our own. Our message must hold up socialism as a viable alternative for dispossessed workers who may find the right’s immigrant and minority scapegoating a convenient narrative for why their own standards of living have declined.

“Now is the time to overcome the fear that the fascists want us to feel,” wrote the editors of Socialist Worker, in an Aug. 15 op-ed following the Charlottesville attack, “and organize demonstrations with overwhelming numbers–to stop this cancer now, before it can grow into something far more threatening. That means organizing broad protests open to everyone affected by this threat–which is just about everyone–to prove the far right is a tiny minority.”

Editor’s note: Red Flag does not support or endorse any WordPress-sponsored advertisements that may appear on readers’ screens. This is another reason why workers, including writers, need to own the means of production–or in this case, the Internet.

If you like this essay feel free to share it widely (Facebook, Twitter, all that stuff…). Adam Marletta can be reached at adamd.marletta@gmail.com.

Thanks for reading!