Tune in to crimethinc.com/live to follow along with our coverage. Starting at 8 am Eastern Standard Time, we will be publishing early and often all day long.
We welcome field reports, footage, and updates. Send them to us at J20@crimethinc.com —we’ll sift through them, fact-check them, and blast them out into the world.
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This will be a first for us—an experiment. We have a couple decades of experience building networks, fighting in the streets and in hearts and minds, and offering in-depth narratives and analysis after the fact. But we have never attempted to do battle with real-time 24-hour news networks and publish in the present tense. On J20, we will take a chance at a new format. We’ll take the next chance, and the next, until we win, or the chances are spent.
This is a translation of a solidarity statement from Slovenia, a nation that swept from obscurity into the spotlight as a result of Melania Trump’s impending stint as First Lady. Not everyone in Slovenia is excited about this sort of publicity. “Make Slovenia Slovakia again,” demanded one popular meme in Slovenia last fall, lampooning the ignorance of US citizens and rejecting media coverage as an exotic shopping district for mail-order brides.
Melania Trump’s own immigration history is hardly a model of unblemished legal conduct: like countless other immigrants, she was not always able to adhere to all the regulations. Supporting a politician who swept to power on promises to break up families and deport immigrants, she represents the epitome of hypocrisy and betrayal. She is the perfect First Lady for all the former immigrants who voted for Trump in hopes of excluding others like themselves from competing for a piece of the American pie. Siding with those who have more power than you against those who have less is never a safe bet: as soon as your superiors have no more use for you, you can be sure they’ll treat you the same way they treated those beneath you, and no one will have cause to stand up for you.
There are countless Slovenians who will never have the option to benefit from all the plunder that vultures like Donald Trump have hoarded in the US—just as countless migrants in Slovenia who have escaped from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and other places wrecked by US intervention are now at risk to be sent back to those warzones. Trump and his cronies aim to turn the entire world into a patchwork of gated communities arranged in concentric circles of privilege, in which the only people who are permitted to pass from one circle to the next are the ones who are willing to play a role keeping everyone else out.
We stand with everyone who desires a world without borders and oppression, against Donald Trump and the forces that produced him. Like our comrades in Slovenia, we have concluded that the only hope for humanity lies in solidarity and collective struggle against all forms of hierarchy and exclusion.
This Friday, the Presidential inauguration in the US will offer a brand new chance for local politicians in Slovenia to reaffirm their well-known servility. They already demonstrated it in November when they warmly welcomed Donald Trump’s victory—and not just because the Slovenian nation is now supposedly proud of its daughter Melania, and not only because they think her husband will be good for Slovenian business.
The US election results are echoing around the world, especially in regions affected by US foreign policy—whether that be regular fly-overs of their war planes, the presence of US troops, US and NATO military bases, frequent bombings, or recruiting for devastating wars in the Middle East.
Slovenia is no exception. We still remember how we took the streets chanting “Your wars, our dead” when we fought against US invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. We remember fighting against the militarization of our society supported by membership in NATO war coalitions. We were angry because they were building a NATO airbase in Slovenia—and we were furious when they enforced transatlantic free trade agreements on us. We suffered economic crisis and austerity measures, the consequences of global economic policies dictated to us by the US and their loyal assistants in European Commission. We have not forgotten military interventions NATO carried out under US command against civilians towards the end of the Balkan wars in the 1990s, when they bombed Belgrade and other Balkan cities.
If it seems that Trump himself has been critical of NATO, the truth is that his new plan is to maintain the supremacy of the United States while forcing the countries on the receiving end of imperialist exploitation and occupation to pay for it themselves.
Knowing what it means to be on the receiving end of US imperialism, we had little hope that American foreign policy would be any different under a new Clinton administration. The US would still be dropping bombs, creating war zones, and spreading fear and bigotry in the name of the War on Terror—just as under Trump, we will still see the neoliberal exploitation of the global periphery, including the European South. All this is just the desperate thrashing of a collapsing superpower scrambling to maintain the illusion of economic and political hegemony.
However, Trump’s victory does represent a shift to the right, both symbolically and materially. It stands for the legitimization of the rhetoric of hatred in the streets and in public discourse. It is a signal to grassroots fascists all around the world that their politics are becoming more acceptable. It is also a signal to all the patriots in nice suits who are trying to persuade themselves that they are not fascists when they violently fight for their supposedly autochthonous culture and for conservative values like state control of women’s reproduction and deference to the family, to the nation, and to democracy and capital. And even though Trump will simply continue the mass deportations that intensified under Barrack Obama, along with the torture camp of Guantanamo, invasions in the Middle East, and racist politics within the US, we understand the uneasiness that overwhelmed US and the world. Trump’s election has left little room for doubt about what is taking place in the world. What used to happen in the shadows or was seen as an anomaly has now become official policy.
Trump’s victory puts the US on the world map of authoritarian regimes in a global transformation. In some places, this takes the form of extremist parties openly preaching racism and bigotry. Elsewhere, this process takes place in the name of centrist policies of order and security—values that ultimately produce results that fulfill the fascist agenda. They break society in half, into those who are good and those who are bad—those who are privileged and those who are robbed of their basic dignity. Such is the case in Slovenia.
We were not surprised to discover the Slovenian primer minister Miro Cerar trolling Twitter, expressing happiness over Trump’s victory. He must have been very happy indeed to get an ally in Washington who will understand his desire to close down Slovenian borders for migrants, introduce a state of emergency, increase the authority of the police and army, build a wall of barbed wire on the southern border, and deport migrants in massive numbers. Not to mention they both know how to create a social climate in which a right-wing uprising is just around the corner. What Trump wants, Cerar has already succeeded in accomplishing.
There is a particular twist in Trump’s victory: the origin of Melania Trump, who was born and raised in Slovenia. In US, but also elsewhere, her life story is used to portray a good, beautiful, white migrant—who respects the law, is an exemplary image of conservative values as a wife and a mother, and loves her new state. This image serves to cast a shadow over all the migrants who are living in the US illegally, who are not white, who are supposedly taking jobs from US citizens and therefore deserve deportation and hatred. In Slovenia, the Melania narrative stands for the affirmation of privilege, reinforcing conservative notions of gender in which obedient servitude to a husband is rewarded with a comfortable life.
Melania’s story is the background on which Slovenia is building its national pride by claiming a female body (that belongs to a person who actively supports Trump’s politics of bigotry) as a body that belongs to a nation. In Slovenia, Melania is now served in the form of fancy cake in restaurants; the Christmas tree on the central square in the capital of Slovenia was named after her. Melania has been forced on us as our first lady—though we anarchists refuse to have anything to do with any nation. American, Slovenian, or any other.
The Trumps are telling the world that we can still believe in the illusion that the gated communities of privilege will include us: that we can benefit from the boundaries set up around the white race, Western imperialism, and the neoliberal economy. This is the world in which a few own everything while most of us have nothing. The only way to maintain the illusion that these things benefit us is by imposing a politics of separation: expulsion, wars, and borders. Extreme repression and extreme hatred.
This is why we support the efforts of our comrades in the US and elsewhere who are organizing to fight all the forms of segregation and division in our societies, who are fighting against rising fascism, deportations, the massive development projects that are destroying nature, police killings of people of color, and all sorts of wars.
This is much more than a struggle against Trump. It is a struggle against the global politics of exploitation and a struggle against all politicians, some of whom will now try to persuade people in the US that the only way to stop Trump is to elect them instead. They hope to hide their true agenda: to maintain the world as we know it, a world that actually ceased to exist a long time ago. Trump’s victory is neither a surprise nor an anomaly. It is just a garish reminder that representative democracy always entails the mechanisms of exclusion, violence, and hierarchy. This is the system in which we are all losing while the privileged ones are winning. If today the decision to protest in the US might be a bit easier because a bigot is ascending to the throne, we must never forget that this system deserves our resistance even when a politician with a kinder face comes to power.
When the system attacks us, we respond with fury. When they send the army to our streets, we respond with courage. When they take our voices away, we answer with actions. On January 20, the US is to play the starring role in a performance for the world in which they will try to convince us that reconciliation is possible, that the normalization of the politics of hatred and separation is desirable.
Many will not be convinced. Your courage is our inspiration. #DisruptJ20.
Anarchist initiative Ljubljana
Ljubljana, Slovenia, January 2017
An earlier version of this narrative appeared in the first issue of *Rolling Thunder: An Anarchist Journal of Dangerous Living. It has become more poignant with the passing of time: what if anarchists and others had somehow succeeded in making the invasion and occupation of Iraq impossible? Perhaps the Islamic State would not have come to power, and the Syrian uprising could have turned out differently. What if anarchists had been more successful in opposing Obama, so Trump could not have presented himself as the only alternative? What horrors loom ahead in this next administration—and what would it take to forestall them?*
January 20, 2005, Washington, DC. The second inauguration of George W. Bush.
The riot police were already pouring out of their vehicles and suiting up when we arrived at the reconvergence point. Our first march had hit a wall of armored police before we could reach the checkpoints surrounding the inaugural parade route, and we’d spent the following hour lost in the multitudes outside those checkpoints, trying to figure out where our friends were and how to attain critical mass again. We passed the riot police and crossed the street into the throng assembling at the point we had agreed the previous night.
Many people were gathering here, but there was no clear indication as to what to do next. As far as any of us knew, now that the initial march was over, no one had a backup plan. At a discussion the night before, when I’d broached the question of what we would do if the march failed to break through the checkpoint, one maniac had coldly responded, “What’s with all this talk about backup plans and exit strategies? People are fucking dying in Iraq.”
“So what are you saying, that we should just go until we all get arrested?”
Things hadn’t played out that way in the streets: we hadn’t gotten through, and we hadn’t been arrested. Now we needed to come up with a new strategy—and quick, before the motorcade passed.
The prospects of this weren’t looking good. People were milling around indecisively, conferring in small groups; there was a feeling of dejection in the air. To one side, some activists were bickering about the decisions made during the earlier march. Others—from the looks of it, not the most experienced protesters present—had actually sat down in a circle to hold a formal collective discussion, which didn’t seem to be turning up any answers either. This, while riot police were massing across the street! Perhaps they wouldn’t arrest us all right here, but the longer we dallied, the more difficult it would be to get past them.
I went from one cluster of friends to the next—in each one, ideas were being tossed around, but none seemed to be sticking. In my pessimistic frame of mind, it struck me as a microcosm of protest politics in general: every clique has a pet plan they’d like to see put into action, but none is willing to do more than talk about how great their plan is.
There was no sense in joining the marketplace of ideas. I returned to the friend I trusted most, the one with whom I’d shared so many experiences at other demonstrations. “Listen, nothing’s going to happen unless somebody decides something and goes for it. I trust you to make the call for both of us. Just pick a plan, and count me in.”
One of his friends had an idea—apparently, she’d seen a flatbed truck parked near the checkpoints loaded with wooden pallets we might be able to seize, with which to try to break through the police lines. This seemed hard to believe, but stranger things have happened.
So we had an idea. But how were we going to set it in motion? My friends went around to a few other knots of people, making the proposal. Everything just seemed to turn to mush: “Yeah, we could do that… or maybe we could…”
Regrouping quickly, we decided—insanely, impetuously—that we would just go, the ten of us, and try it, since we had to do something. Ten was a quixotic number with which to storm flatbed trucks and charge police checkpoints, but at this point it seemed like a quixotic attempt could only be an improvement on what would happen otherwise.
We stepped out onto the street opposite the now thoroughly prepared riot police and set off in the direction of the trucks. To our surprise, a dozen more people trailed after us—curious what was happening, perhaps, or just responding instinctively to movement.
Another of my friends seized the chance. “Come on! This way! Join us!” he shouted, waving his arms. I put my riot whistle between my teeth and blew series of blasts in a marching rhythm.
In a matter of seconds, the whole crowd poured off the corner and into the street behind us.
Now something was happening, and the initiative was ours. Behind, the riot police reoriented themselves, as if submerged in molasses, and prepared to follow. We were already well down the street, moving swiftly, once again appreciative of each other’s presence and sure of our collective strength.
It struck me that there was a lesson of sorts in what had just transpired, but before I could explore this thought further, we were swarming over the trucks, unloading the pallets.
Could we really do this? In the full light of day, here we were, commandeering a full truckload of defensive materials in the most occupied zone of the capital city of the most powerful nation on earth. Why hadn’t we done this during the larger march earlier in the day? If we had been equipped then, we certainly could have gotten to the checkpoints, and history might have played out differently. We had passed construction sites, garbage heaps, and plenty of other opportunities to gather what we needed. Did we really want a revolution, or just a protest march?
It remained to be seen if we would be able to get to a checkpoint this time, either. There were police behind us, presumably on the streets to either side of us, and in much greater numbers ahead. I kept close to my companions. We were moving swiftly, almost running.
No squad cars or baton-wielding officers blocked our path. Perhaps as we had reentered the area they had not at first identified us as the anarchist menace against which they had mobilized police from all around the eastern half of the country. We arrived at the street running parallel to the parade route, a scant block from the checkpoints. We could see one of the checkpoints ahead of us, a fence of towering black metal grate with lines of hulking armored police behind it.
Now the police behind us were catching up, and we sighted a larger force in armored vehicles approaching up the street on our left. If we went straight for the checkpoint ahead, we would be surrounded. Instinctively, the crowd veered to the right, increasing speed; some threw down their pallets in the intersection as a makeshift barricade to slow our enemies’ pursuit.
A couple blocks more and we arrived at another checkpoint, having somehow eluded our escort. Here, before the fence, we suddenly paused as the gravity of what we were doing hit us. A thick cordon of police waited ahead for us, behind the metal fortifications. There were only a few dozen of us, really, and we were scarcely equipped with hooded sweatshirts and bandannas, let alone the tools it would take to get this fence down while protecting ourselves from the troops behind it. We were a shoddy bunch in a time that called for far fiercer forces.
At this moment, when, in our hesitation, it seemed like we all might go no further, I heard a familiar voice behind me:
“Ten! Nine! Eight!”
It was the maniac from the meeting the night before. He was wearing a motorcycle helmet, shouting at the top of his lungs with a cool certainty. Until now, his impetuousness had been a liability—but here, he was the only one with enough morale to imagine we would actually follow through with what we had come to do.
This was obviously insane behavior. A few unarmed, skinny lunatics could no more break through this fortification than a bundle of flowers could flip a tank.
Our arms were linked tightly, binding us into lines. My friends and I were in the third line of perhaps seven. Over the heads of the taller people in front of me, I could just make out the front line of police, readying industrial pepper spray dispensers.
There was nothing else for it. If we didn’t do something now, it would just be embarrassing. By the final numbers, we were all screaming:
“Three! Two! One!”
I exchanged a glance with my bosom companion, at my side to the right. In an instant, it conveyed, “This is absurd. But fuck it, here we go.”
“Yes. Here we go,” his eyes responded.
An instant later, we were surging towards the checkpoint—and then, before those of us behind the front line could see the object of our charge, everything went black and our lungs seized up. The crowd heaved forward and broke against the line of police officers showering us with pepper spray, then fell back choking in disarray. The fence shook, rattled, and was still.
I staggered back about fifty yards with the friends on either side of me, all of us blind and unable to breathe. There we paused and helped each other to regain use of our eyes and throats. A cynical television cameraman hurried up to capture this poignant moment; I chased him off. We cleared out of the area before the police could secure it. Maybe they were under orders not to arrest us en masse unless we did something really dangerous.
I later heard that after our charge, they shut down all the checkpoints around the parade route. I’m not sure whether to believe it was because of our meager effort. I also heard that the truck we unloaded was stocked with grappling hooks, too, with which we could more easily have assaulted the fence had we taken them along with the palettes. Grappling hooks? What were grappling hooks doing there?
But again, stranger things have happened.
Why didn’t we arrive prepared for the work we came to do that day? We could have given our opponents a run for their proverbial money, had we been ready—we simply would have needed protective gear and the conviction that we were really going to go for it. It came out in conversation afterwards that a couple of the friends who had been at my side when we charged the checkpoint—some of the most courageous and capable among them, in fact—actually had goggles and vinegar-soaked rags in their backpacks. Somehow they had forgotten to put these on when it came time to charge the fence.
Why do we sabotage ourselves like this? By and large, our own hesitations seem to pose a much greater threat to our efforts than the assembled might of the police state. It’s as if, even when we are staking our lives and freedom, we find it hard to believe it is really happening. We know well enough in our heads that if we are going to do anything to interrupt all the injustices in progress, we must do so here and now—but it’s another thing entirely to behave with our bodies as if this is the case. When we don our masks and raise our black flags, we seem to enter a tentative, imaginary world in which we don’t take responsibility for believing the things we’re doing are actually possible.
Clearly, as my story shows, it is possible for a few maniacs to seize defensive materials, charge police lines, and change the course of history a little bit—all this, without even getting arrested. It only remains for us to do these things with the sense that the stakes of the struggle are our lives, that we can actually win—to take the goggles out of our bags and put them on before the pepper spray comes out, literally and figuratively. People have done this before—in Quebec City, in Genoa, even in Washington, DC. It’s not too much to ask of ourselves.
Next time, we’ll show up with both backup plans and motorcycle helmets, ready to leave the world we’re familiar with behind once and for all. We won’t hesitate or falter. We’ll know just how lucky we are to get a chance to live and act outside the cages prepared for us, and we won’t count on getting another one.
On January 20, 2001, anarchists nearly stopped the inauguration of George W. Bush. Although there was considerable anger about Bush winning the election while losing the popular vote, the Washington, DC police hoped it would be easy to confine protesters to “free speech” zones. In contrast, anarchists had decided to “disrupt” the inauguration by attempting actively to block Bush’s motorcade from the Capitol to the White House. Passive protest groups complied with police orders, leaving the anarchists out in the cold. An anarchist black bloc a few hundred strong had formed, but most people had no idea how to get through the police barricades between the protesters in “free speech zones” and the bleachers of those who had paid to cheer Bush into the presidency.
However, one affinity group had a bright idea. Out of nowhere, four black-masked anarchists—clad in the Carhartt clothing popular among train-hopping traveler kids of the time—appeared at the edge of the bloc. Clearly, they had scouted the area beforehand. The affinity group seized a rolling dumpster from a nearby construction site and asked the assorted anarchists to pile in whatever construction supplies were nearby—chiefly poles and other garbage.
“One, two, three—go!” the affinity group shouted, with more than a hundred somewhat surprised anarchists behind them. In an almost superhuman effort, they pushed the dumpster straight at the line of police checking IDs to enter the free-speech zone. The police maintaining the checkpoint fled in horror and the relatively fragile barrier separating the free-speech zone from the black bloc was smashed. Anarchists in black masks penetrated the zone right next to the bleachers and the parade route without the police succeeding in checking their identities. In a moment of insane courage, the affinity group continued to rush forward pushing the dumpster, releasing it straight into the parade route. However, one quick-witted police officer drove his car straight into the dumpster’s path, blocking it.
The affinity group scattered, melting back into the crowd. Although Bush’s inauguration itself was not disrupted, the free-speech zone and area near the route descended into chaos at that moment, and Bush’s motorcade was quite nearly interrupted.
CrimethInc. operatives carried out a few other creative direct actions based in affinity groups. One group set up a pirate radio station to broadcast an anarchist critique of democracy, while others throughout DC encouraged residents to get out into the streets, distributing thousands of fliers urging people to tune to the pirate radio station for an “emergency message.”
What can we learn from 2001? Let’s revisit a few fundamental principles of successful direct action from the mass mobilizations against capitalist globalization and the Iraq War.
0. The most important thing is to play your position.
Before we get into the principles, let’s take a look at the protagonists of these mobilizations. The participants in these actions can be divided broadly into the organizers from the host city and the people coming from out of town. It is essential that those arriving from out of town already be organized in affinity groups, so they are prepared to make decisions and act autonomously throughout the events.
The local organizers are the people who, by lucky chance of living in a city like Washington, DC during Trump’s inauguration, have been given the honor of doing a lot of organizational work to make the direct action a success. Often, this is an overwhelming task, and it is generally appreciated if people from out of town arrive early to help. As local organizers are the ones most likely to have their houses raided after the protest, they may delegate some of the action-oriented work to people from out of town who can more easily evade detection and escape local police.
1. The first principle is that the protest should have a clear goal.
Is it simply a media stunt? Or is it a direct action with a specific objective?
Even rioting is often more or less a media action. Often the lines are blurred: blocking people from attending the inauguration or otherwise disrupting it—for example, by getting into the parade route itself—is definitely direct action, but it is also spectacular if it is aimed at the media. While getting beat up by Trump-supporting fascists might be a tactical disaster and set a terrible precedent, in front of the media it could also convey that anarchists are the front line fighting the nascent fascism around Trump. In short—any combination of media actions, direct actions, and covert actions is possible, but it’s important that all the participants are clear what their concrete goal is.
An abstract goal of “disrupting” the inauguration may not be concrete enough to produce solid results. More specific goals could include “stop Trump’s car” or “tear down the so-called ‘free speech’ zones,” as in the above story, or a variety of other objectives. There will always be arguments over what goals are most appropriate for anarchists, but it is crucial to make at least some attempt to formulate and achieve a concrete goal.
2. The second principle of successful direct action is that the organizers should publicize a plan…
…that will create the conditions in which to accomplish their goal, while preparing at least one secret plan that will enable them to achieve it. Ideally, there should be one sensible public plan, one secret backup plan, and a backup for the backup plan. Secret plans should be shared only with trusted affinity groups, but it is essential to be able to articulate them rapidly to others in the streets. It’s important to preserve the element of surprise, but once you are putting your plan into action it is equally important to be able to get other people on board with it. Because…
3. The third principle is to combine forces…
…creating a situation in which it is impossible to isolate a militant minority from the rest of the population. Unless they expect to be the majority of the participants, anarchists should not isolate themselves from everyone else. At the least, they should seek crowd cover from liberal protesters, so it is more difficult for police to attack or arrest them without broader repercussions; at best, anarchists should aim to create a situation in which confrontational action spreads far beyond their ranks.
If anarchists march alone, it is much easier for the police to isolate them, surround them, and arrest them en mass. This happened to the black bloc at the Climate Change summit in Copenhagen in 2009; Washington, DC police did the same thing to tamer protesters in the “Democracy Spring” demonstration in 2016. By contrast, in the successful protests at the Seattle WTO demonstrations in 1999, where the Teamsters infamously joined anarchists fighting in the streets, as well as at the anti-FTAA demonstrations in Quebec in 2001, anarchists enabled black bloc tactics to proliferate throughout a large crowd.
This lesson has not been lost on liberals. Reformists like Gloria Steinem are holding the Women’s March on Saturday, when Trump will have left and downtown DC will be completely empty. Steinem and her friends might as well work for Trump (just as she worked for the CIA): encouraging a purely symbolic march a day after the actual Trump inauguration will discourage people from concentrating their energies on resisting the inauguration itself. It would be more effective for everyone to participate in a single day of direct action, in a framework affirming autonomy and a diversity of tactics.
4. The fourth principle is that it is a mistake to count on decentralized actions by affinity groups.
Realistically, affinity groups may pull off some banner drops or isolated vandalism; if they’re lucky, they might even glean a bit of media coverage. However, such actions are rarely effective by themselves and cannot, by the nature of their size, possibly take the place of large and well-organized street demonstrations. The truth is that there has never been a protest in which decentralized affinity group actions by themselves were the deciding factor. More often than not, calls for decentralized actions produce nothing at all.
Furthermore, closed affinity groups actions rarely create a situation in which people who are not already sure of their politics can get involved and have radicalizing experiences. Short of bank robbery and arson, decentralized actions are almost always ignored. Hoping that other people will carry out decentralized actions is often a coping mechanism used by anarchists to avoid doing any real organizing work themselves. Successful decentralized actions are most likely to come about in the wake of an organized mass action opening a rift in the fabric of order, as at the Seattle WTO demonstrations or the Quebec FTAA protests.
5. The fifth and final principle is that it is crucial to have a working communications infrastructure.
Knowing when and where the police (and others) are attacking protesters is crucial.
Formerly, at anti-globalization and anti-war protests before Trump, the main issue was getting the mainstream media to pay attention to protests in the first place. This is why sites like Indymedia (which still exists in DC) were established in the first place. The Indymedia model of user-provided content was later commodified to produce the likes of Facebook.
However, lack of mainstream media attention is unlikely to be an issue for the Trump inauguration. The more important question will be how to remain apprised of developments throughout downtown. Historically, anarchists have helped trail-blaze the use of mobile technologies to keep the crowd informed of police movements—from TxtMob at the Republican National Convention in 2004 to Twitter in 2008. It usually helps to have bike scouts to verify rumors of police movements, as well. In 2016, the most useful technologies are probably Twitter and encrypted messaging applications like Signal.
It’s worth going the extra mile today to be secure. During the 2008 Republican National Convention, the communications headquarters was raided after police followed the organizers back to it from a spokescouncil meeting. The same problem led to the raid of the “secret” headquarters for the Twitter feed during the actions against the 2009 G20 Summit in Pittsburgh. There should be some separation between any communication center and in-person meetings. Likewise, any group coordinating communications should probably use Tor between their connection and Twitter, and communicate via Jabber over Tor.
Of course, groups involved in possibly illegal decentralized actions should not carry mobile phones or use this sort of infrastructure at all. The likelihood of being tracked is just too high. However, for the rest of the crowd—and for anarchist contingents in particular—a solid communications infrastructure is a vital component of a successful action.
These are just a few of the many conclusions that we could pass on from the era of the 2001 inauguration protests. Those who are preparing to act against the inauguration of Donald Trump on January 20, 2017 are part of a lineage of revolt stretching back generations—a lineage older than the United States itself. Let’s learn from the past to sharpen our wits for the future. Good luck out there, comrades.
Thousands of protestors will stream into the streets of Washington, DC on January 20 to oppose the incoming presidency of Donald Trump. As they march, chant, unfurl their banners, and attempt to disrupt the inauguration, they step into a decades-long history of protests against the presidential spectacle.
What follows is a history of anarchist counter-inaugural activity from its first stirrings in 1969 to the high point of the anti-globalization movement in the early 2000s, through the failures of the Obama years to today. As we plan our resistance to the Trump regime and the world that makes him possible, let’s consider the successes achieved and the limitations encountered by previous anti-authoritarian generations. We have much to learn from the Yippies, flag burners, radio pirates, and black blocs that preceded us. What we do with their legacy is up to us.
For more information about the upcoming 2017 counter-inaugural protests, see the “No Peaceful Transition” call for militant anarchist action against Trump, and the Disrupt J20 page from the DC Counter-Inaugural Welcoming Committee.
The First Counter-Inaugural Protests: The Nixon Era and the Decline of Radicalism
Protestors, anarchist and otherwise, have confronted presidential inaugurations for many years. The earliest known disturbance took place in 1853, when a group of unemployed men attempted to stage a protest at the inauguration of Franklin Pierce, but were easily repelled by police. From that point on, however, no documented protests took place until the heyday of the civil rights, countercultural, and anti-war movements of the late 1960s. In this heady environment of revolutionary militancy, radicals achieved the confidence to disrupt the inauguration spectacle for the first time.
The first major counter-inaugural protest took place in 1969, when Richard Nixon was elected on the heels of the chaotic Democratic National Convention protests in Chicago and massive mobilizations against the war in Vietnam. In this atmosphere of rebellion, the inauguration presented a natural target for resistance. However, at a December 1968 convention of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), delegates rejected a proposal for a protest at Nixon’s inauguration. Speakers from the organization’s Black caucus argued that it would not be in the interest of the Black community, asking delegates to consider “whose heads are going to be busted.” Despite this dissension, a variety of New Left and peace groups took to the streets to articulate opposition to the incoming regime. While most framed their activity through the dominant rhetoric of nonviolence, others proved uncontrollable.
According to the New York Times, “A small, hard core of the country’s disaffected youth hurled sticks, stones, bottles, cans, obscenities, and a ball of tin foil at President Nixon” and his entourage during the inaugural parade. As Nixon’s motorcade approached, the protestors threw firecrackers and smoke and paint bombs, forcing the President’s car to speed away. After police drove them back from the parade route, the 300-400 “ultramilitants” raged through five city blocks, smashing the windows of banks, businesses, and police cruisers, writing graffiti, chucking bottles and stones at police and soldiers, and repeatedly burning the small American flags handed out by Boy Scouts along the parade route. Lest their politics be confused for those of the liberal anti-war organizers, they marched with “a mottled black bag that they said was supposed to represent ‘the black flag of anarchy.’” Eighty-one rioters were arrested. The rebellious young people were condemned by the nonviolent organizers whose limits they surpassed—a dynamic that remains familiar to this day.
Nixon’s second inauguration in 1973 saw larger but tamer protests. A massive crowd thronged the capitol grounds—from 60,000 to 100,000 strong according to various estimates—and a large march organized by prominent left and activist groups took place. The peace police were out in force, with speakers urging the crowd to remain orderly and marshals along the march route preventing disruptions. A radical march including SDS, the Progressive Labor Party, and “uninvited but active contingents of Yippies” aimed to get within audio range of the inauguration ceremony to disrupt it with noise. However, police successfully delayed the demonstration’s arrival until the ceremony had already concluded. Young people removed and burned the flags around the Washington Monument, replacing them with Viet Cong and other flags, while a few stone throwers managed to cause some minor ruckus around the inaugural parade route. Thirty-three arrests were reported.
The internal pacification within the protests foreshadowed the continuing decline of radical movements. As the corporate media drily noted, the protestors, scolded into passivity, quickly got bored with the litany of speakers in a familiar top-down format: “The cold weather and the familiarity of the rhetoric combined to disperse most of the protestors within little more than an hour.” A similar trajectory would emerge when the riotous diversity of the anti-globalization movement gave way to the larger but monotonous and top-down marches of the anti-war movement in the early 2000s.
By 1977, social movement exhaustion and the election of a Democratic president gutted the counter-inaugural protest movement. In what the New York Times described as the most peaceful inauguration since 1965, a handful of peace and environmental groups maintained a quiet vigil, 150 Yippies rallied for marijuana legalization, and an imposing security apparatus maintained order. Even the election of Reagan failed to catalyze a powerful response; demonstrations against his 1981 inauguration included liberal feminist groups, a small anti-racist march organized by leftist parties, and a handful of the ever-present Yippies along with “other anarchistic splinter groups.” In response to bitterly cold weather, Reagan canceled the outdoor inaugural parade in 1985, leaving a few hundred anti-apartheid and Latin American solidarity marchers to shiver in the streets. One went to jail for spray-painting the FBI building while nineteen were arrested in a civil disobedience action at the South African embassy. Shortly after the inauguration, an anti-abortion march drew tens of thousands to the streets of Washington from across the country, indicating the strength of reactionary popular movements working in concert with the conservative administration.
For George H.W. Bush’s inauguration in 1989, security forces welded manhole covers shut and removed newspaper boxes and trash cans, but the kinds of disruptive protests that would have justified these measures failed to materialize. An anecdote circulates about a lone anarchist arrested while vehemently protesting Clinton’s inauguration in 1993—or was it 1997?—who received a one-way bus ticket back to his home in New Jersey for his troubles, courtesy of the DC police. The era of confrontational protests against presidential inaugurations seemed to have passed. While polite interest groups would still have space to hold their signs far from the procession of the powerful, perhaps the disruptive clashes of the Nixon years would join tie-dye and bell-bottoms as the stuff of ’60s nostalgia.
The Bush Era: Anti-Globalization, Anti-War, and Crowd-Surfing to Freedom
The anti-globalization movement changed all that. Amid the complacency of an economic boom and a Democratic administration, anarchism slowly but steadily re-emerged as a vibrant revolutionary force in the United States. Rooted in punk communities and anti-fascist networks, inspired by Zapatistas, pushed forward by the anti-consumerist and do-it-yourself ethos, anarchists around the country began to coalesce into combative anti-capitalist forces. Armed with the formidable new black bloc street tactic learned from European autonomous movements, which made its US debut in the late 1980s and early 1990s in Washington, DC, this new wave of anti-authoritarians formed coalitions with environmental, labor, feminist, and anti-militarist activists. New generations contested state and capitalist dominance of public space through Reclaim the Streets and Critical Mass, while activists from Earth First! and anti-sweatshop movements on college campuses showed the gains that could be made through direct action. Militant anarchist protest exploded into popular consciousness with the dramatic success of the November 1999 World Trade Organization (WTO) protests in Seattle. In addition to a comprehensive analysis that transcended single-issue politics, the new anarchists wielded confrontational and effective tactics that rejected “speaking truth to power” in favor of material disruption.
The modern era of counter-inaugural protest kicked off in 2001, fueled by a surging anti-globalization movement near the peak of its power. Fired up after large mobilizations in the preceding months against the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank in Washington, DC and the political party conventions in Los Angeles and Philadelphia, a wide range of activists set their sights on George W. Bush’s inauguration in January. After the controversial election outcome, many liberals waxed outrage over “hanging chads” and the supposed misdeeds of Florida’s election board and the role of the Supreme Court. Anarchists set a different tone from the beginning, however, having laid plans for demonstrations against whichever president won before knowing the outcome of the election. For weeks leading up to the protests, organizers framed their critiques of the “InaugurAuction,” highlighting how both candidates and parties answered to the dictates of capital above all else.
Between 20,000 and 50,000 protestors converged on DC for the inauguration, countered by some 7,000-10,000 law enforcement officers. For the first time, security forces initiated a system of checkpoints at entrances to the parade route. Although these limited the materials that Bush’s opponents could bring into the parade route, they also created bottlenecks that prevented some of his supporters from being able to reach their ticketed seats, as well as offering chokepoints for demonstrators to disrupt. Al Sharpton led a rally near the Capitol, while thousands more converged at Dupont Circle. Just nine arrests were officially reported, despite clashes at various points along the parade route and throughout the city. A lawsuit filed by protestors would later successfully contend that police had provoked and brutalized protestors and bystanders, forcing the department to revise its policies towards protests and pay out $685,000.
The initial call for a militant anarchist bloc came from the Barricada Collective, a project of the Boston chapter of the Northeast Federation of Anarcho-Communists (NEFAC). An invitation-only spokescouncil took place the night before, at which folks planned the march route and discussed tactics. A substantial black bloc converged on the morning of the inauguration, taking to the streets behind a banner reading, “Whoever They Vote For, We Are Ungovernable.” At one point, when the march had been hemmed in by riot police, an enterprising protestor used a wheelbarrow found at a nearby construction site as a wedge to lead a charge breaking out of the encirclement. The march managed to get quite close to the parade route before being beaten back. Bush, who had previously been traveling the route on foot and waving to onlookers, was forced to get back into his car, speeding in a motorcade past angry crowds to the White House like Richard Nixon in 1969. One protestor chucked an egg that smashed against the side of his limousine. By pushing militant resistance to the threshold of the inaugural parade, anarchists helped to set the tone for the next eight years, marking a turning point in the narrative of how people relate to the president.
After crashing the parade route, the black bloc made its way to the Navy Memorial. Insurgents climbed the flagpole, removed the symbols of patriotism and replaced them with a red and black flag. As infuriated police formed a barrier to close them in, the mischief-makers executed a dramatic escape, demonstrating once and for all the strategic value of experiences in punk subcultures. One jumped and scrambled away, while the other leapt from the flagpole onto the extended hands of the cheering marchers and crowd-surfed to freedom, bequeathing to future generations one of the most iconic images of anarchist resistance in the era. (Reactionaries, drawing on the moralistic strain of anti-globalization activism, were quick to complain that the flying anarchist sprang to freedom allegedly while sporting a pair of Nike shoes.)
In addition to the black bloc, another anarchist group created a pirate radio station in Washington, DC during the inauguration, jamming the airwaves with anti-electoral propaganda. Around the city, small flyers were distributed publicizing the FM frequency to thousands of listeners stuck in traffic snarled by the demonstrations. The station was carefully set up to allow for rapid disassembly as soon as police arrived to shut it down, which was successfully accomplished. In an era before livestreaming and instantaneous crowd-sourced reporting, expressing the “become the media” ethos by seizing the airwaves back from corporate stations seemed like a critical intervention. However, as one participant in the pirate radio project recalled, “We felt like bad-ass Adbusters-style culture jammers… but in retrospect, I wish I’d been in the black bloc.”
By the time of the next inauguration, the political context had shifted in dramatic ways. The Bush administration capitalized on the September 11th, 2001 attacks both to pursue profitable wars and occupations overseas and to crack down on domestic resistance under the new rubric of “homeland security.” Brutal repression hampered decentralized action against the FTAA in Miami in 2003, marking the beginning of a downturn in the “summit-hopping” model of mobile activist subcultures. Years of massive anti-war demonstrations failed to halt the US invasion of Iraq. This wave of protests had drawn huge numbers of people into the streets, but had been far more centrally controlled by non-profits and communist front groups than the decentralized rebellions of the anti-globalization movement. Anarchists took active roles in organizing a “Really Really Democratic Bazaar” at the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston and the DNC 2 RNC march, but a narrower focus on the Republican Party and the war in Iraq attracted more attention. Half a million people protested Bush at the Republican National Convention protests in New York City, driven by a broad coalition of moderates, liberals, and progressives whose “anybody but Bush” logic infected even some radicals. As a result, the overlapping movements converging against Bush’s second inauguration could still mobilize large numbers, but lacked the vitality and foundational respect for diversity of tactics of previous years.
Leading up to January 2005, anarchists from New York City issued a call for a mass anti-authoritarian march. On the morning of the inauguration, a black bloc assembled at a pre-announced convergence point and set off to confront the police lines along the parade route. Miscommunication led to the march departing before many of the anticipated people and materials had arrived, weakening the bloc’s force and prompting frustrating internal debates afterward. The march arrived at police lines a block from the inaugural route behind a reinforced banner that read, “Right Wing Scum, Your Time Has Come.” Unfortunately, the banner was only “reinforced” with flimsy PVC piping, lacking the spray insulation inside that increases its structural integrity. As a result, it quickly shattered when attacked by police, who broke up the banner and beat protesters with shards of PVC pipe.
Participants from that march regrouped at a reconvergence point and set out for the fence again. Encountering a truck stacked with wooden pallets, they chucked them into the street to build barricades against police vehicles and wielded them as shields at the front of march. As the heroic but doomed protestors charged an inaugural checkpoint, police drenched them with wave after wave of pepper spray from behind tall fences. Shortly after, the checkpoints leading into the parade were shut down by security. What role the black bloc’s charge played in their decision remains unknown.
Other statements had circulated among anarchists leading up to the inauguration calling for decentralized autonomous actions. A massive protest rally convened at Malcolm X Park and marched to McPherson Square. Elsewhere in the city, different crews of anarchists created minor disruptions and linked with other protests and marches. Later that night, a packed punk show in a church basement featured speeches from stage and tables of anarchist literature. Afterwards, masked accomplices distributed bandannas, gloves, and cans of spray paint to the enthusiastic concertgoers, some two hundred of whom set off into the streets. The march surged through the Adams Morgan neighborhood, smashing banks and corporate businesses and attacking a police substation with projectiles. A massive banner was dropped over a Starbucks reading, “From DC to Iraq: With Occupation Comes Resistance.” Police eventually detained and arrested dozens of people, including many teenagers participating in a demonstration for the first time, forcing them to kneel in snow in the street for hours. Ultimately none of the charges stuck, and some indignant arrestees successfully sued the police department again and reaped financial rewards for their participation.
Some radicals raised a stink about the march, complaining that the smashed police station included a Latino/a community liaison unit, and initiating a witch-hunt at the 2005 National Conference on Organized Resistance later that winter about who was responsible for the “violence.” Beyond constructive internal debates over strategy and tactics, the controversy over the march revealed the fracturing consensus over diversity of tactics and tensions around responses to white supremacy that would rear their head four years later.
The Obama Era: “Hope From People” and Missed Opportunities
As the anti-war movement waned and protest activity lulled in 2006-2007, the “anybody but Bush” coalition turned their sights to the next presidential election. The Obama campaign successfully appropriated most of the energy that had been directed into grassroots social movements previously, leaving anarchists largely alone in dissenting from the rhetoric of electoral “hope and change.” However, as the Obama campaign crested, the emerging economic crisis prompted a new wave of resistance, as anarchists roused themselves to organize anti-capitalist marches and participate in eviction defenses. Using a model of decentralized, coordinated consultas to build momentum around the country, anti-authoritarians mobilized extensively to protest both the Democratic and Republican conventions in 2008 through the Unconventional Action network, which persisted in some areas as a foundation for future resistance. With Obama triumphant, how would anarchists respond to the inauguration?
Unfortunately, anarchists collectively failed to take a strong stand by undertaking visible and confrontational protest at the inauguration. In the weeks after Obama’s victory, considerable debate erupted over whether or how to protest. Would a protest by a (majority white) group of anarchists against the first Black president be perceived as a slap in the face to Black communities? Or even be mistaken for white supremacists, who were rumored to be planning protests as well? While some constructive conversations about strategy, messaging, and white supremacy did take place, it became clear that many anarchists would forego counter-inaugural activity altogether.
One effort to salvage some anarchist presence amidst the ambivalence led to a dismaying statement of anarchist liberalism and compromise. Cindy Milstein and other anarchists authored a call titled “Hope From People,” calling for an unmasked “presence rather than protest” in the form of a “Celebrate People’s History and Popular Power Bloc.” This convergence was intended to form links with the “true rainbow coalition” of pro-Obama attendees by artistically celebrating forms of popular resistance. Contrasting “breaking things” with serious movement building and meaningful anti-racist work, the “Hope From People” call acknowledged that although anarchists oppose all presidents, “not all heads of state are alike, and if we fail to recognize both the historical meaning and power of this particular moment, we will ensure our own irrelevance.” That barely a dozen anarchists turned out to distribute flyers to the jubilant crowd reflected the true irrelevance of this approach. Yet the call attracted the signatures of dozens of prominent anarchists and radicals from Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn to groups such as Unconventional Denver and Wooden Shoe Books. By diverting experienced organizers into an equivocal non-event, the “Hope From People” mishap splintered any chance of concerted anarchist resistance to Obama’s inauguration.
Not all anarchists succumbed to this diversion. A CrimethInc. analysis noted that “some, afraid of being misunderstood, caution against confrontational organizing of any kind, forfeiting the initiative precisely when it is most important to maintain radical momentum.” (Not to say we told you so, but…) Another statement called for disruptions of capitalist and corporate targets during the inauguration, though few heeded it. Perhaps more importantly, the outbreak of the Oscar Grant riots in Oakland and the student occupations at the New School in New York drew many anarchists into immediate confrontational struggles far from Washington in the weeks before the inauguration. While a number of anarchists arrived in the capitol intent on disruptive action, fierce internal debates foreclosed any possibility of concerted public protest. When the “Hope From People” project, as predicted, came to nothing, many disillusioned radicals turned their attention away from the presidency to other targets.
While anarchists remained active in a variety of struggles, 2009 marked a new low point for counter-inaugural activity. In an effort to avoid alienating potential allies, many lost sight of the basic principles of anarchism—opposition to the state, capitalism, and all forms of hierarchy, regardless of what figurehead stands at the helm. Worse, anarchists missed a critical opportunity to define the meaning of opposition to Obama. In the absence of visible anti-authoritarian resistance, right-wingers and racists stepped into the void uncontested and cornered the market on anti-government sentiment, facilitating the rise of the Tea Party movement and other reactionary formations. The residue of the “anybody but Bush” logic and the desire to see Obama’s election as a symbolic victory against oppression actually bolstered the smooth functioning of US militarism, the prison industrial complex, and anti-immigrant repression, all of which accelerated under the new administration with far less scrutiny or resistance than Bush’s initiatives faced. Meanwhile, within anarchist circles, unresolved conflicts over how to counter white supremacy sharpened, revealing tensions around race, identity, and solidarity that would repeatedly resurface in the years to come.
In 2013, some anarchists approached the inauguration determined not to repeat the mistakes of four years before. Although the unexpected surge of the Occupy movement of 2011-2012 had largely receded, it left in its wake many newly politicized activists uninfected by the equivocations of the “anybody but Bush” era. To these younger radicals, the Obama administration meant mass surveillance, drone strikes, evictions, and deportations, not a symbol of hope and change for marginalized peoples. Still, in stark contrast to the Bush era, the largest demonstrations tended to number in the hundreds rather than the tens of thousands, and a mass convergence with the audacity to charge the inaugural parade route would have been unthinkable.
Local anarchists organized a counter-inaugural weekend of workshops, discussions, and cultural events, including debates that reflected how anarchist analysis had developed beyond the limits of the previous years. On the day of the inauguration, “>an anarchist march behind a banner reading “Without Government We Can Move Forward” marched through the Dupont Circle neighborhood. The night before, a feisty black bloc took to the streets of Chinatown, smashing the windows of banks, ATMs, and a Hooters restaurant before dispersing without arrests. At the night march, an older guard of black bloc anarchists struggled to find common cause with a newer generation of Occupy radicals who, for example, understood livestreaming as a form of radically democratic transparency rather than harmful crowd-sourced surveillance. While these marches numbered only in the dozens, they maintained the continuity of anti-authoritarian resistance to the inaugural spectacle despite the desertion of liberals and progressives.
Conclusion: Lessons Learned for the Trump Era and Beyond
Now as 2017 approaches, the wheel has turned again. The counter-inaugural demonstrations against Trump are likely to be the largest in many years, perhaps ever. And once again, anarchists confront advantages and disadvantages: massive numbers in the streets and broad popular support, but a focus on Trump as an individual rather than democracy and the state as a whole, as well as efforts to contain and control rebellious protest. While the last two years have seen an explosion of large, angry, disruptive street protests, they have also seen a proliferation of policing tactics, both internal and external to these movements. While few will dispute that we should be in the streets, many will attempt to redirect our anger and constrict our possibilities – and the stakes are higher than ever.
From past cycles of demonstrations, we’ve learned that we can exercise a surprising capacity for disruption – but attempting to do the same thing twice rarely succeeds. The DC police department operates under considerable restrictions due to frequent lawsuits attacking their repression of protest, so marchers may have more latitude than in other cities. However, the concentration of police, military, and private security will be prodigious, and the explosion of surveillance technology inside and outside of popular movements increases our risks after the fact. We will also likely have to confront the presence of armed white supremacists and fascists emboldened by Trump’s election, potentially a serious escalation from the shouting matches with Bush supporters in previous years. Popular sympathy for Black Lives Matter has at least opened conversation in broader circles about the legitimacy of rioting and disruption. Yet no consensus around diversity of tactics exists between distinct social movements, and the discourse of nonviolence has received a boost – however misguided – from heroic resistance at Standing Rock and misreadings of revolts overseas. These contradictory realities mean that possibilities as well as risks are extraordinarily heightened in this new terrain.
Above all, when we resist Trump and all politicians on January 20, whether in DC or in our own communities, we’re not just fighting to shut down business as usual. We’re fighting to define what it will mean to be against Trump in the years to come. Will our energy be diverted into rallying support for Democrats or raising money for nonprofits? Or will we build towards a world beyond all parties and politicians? Can our opposition to Trump transcend single issues and undermine the legitimacy of capitalism and the state altogether?
On January 20, we will take to the streets. But what we do in the months and years beyond the inauguration will determine the nature of resistance the world that made Trump possible.
References and Links
For more information about the anarchist counter-inaugural actions discussed above, check out these resources:
“Not My President,” an Indymedia documentary about the 2001 inauguration protests (including the infamous “stage dive to freedom”).
“Stay the Course,” a CrimethInc. analysis from late 2008 anticipating directions for resistance in the Obama era.
-“Hope From People,” the text of the infamous call for a “Celebrate People’s History and Popular Power Bloc” at the 2009 inauguration.
And most importantly, to prepare for the 2017 counter-inaugural demonstrations, see the “No Peaceful Transition” call for militant anarchist action against Trump, and the Disrupt J20 page from the DC Counter-Inaugural Welcoming Committee.
In an age of rising sea levels and rising fascism, people across the United States and beyond are looking around and wondering, how the hell did we get here?
The question is not merely academic. Much as many might long to hide their heads under the covers with Netflix and a cup of cocoa until Trump goes away, we can’t sidestep the urgency of this moment. It’s never been more crucial for us to devise collective strategies to transform the world. To do that, we need some sense of the path that brought us here—and the forks that might have led elsewhere.
The End of History?
For as long as hierarchies have existed, people have resisted them. The irrepressible urge to defy authority stretches back long before written records existed to document it. Yet most of the cultures that successfully avoided states and class societies left few traces for us today—just the scattered fragments of archaeology and the distant echoes of oral traditions. Thus history, too, often denotes little more than a chronicle of the cancer-like growth of hierarchical relations—the memory of states, in Henry Kissinger’s memorably evil phrase.
Over the past 200 years, capitalist democracy gradually displaced older modes of social organization in much of the world. By making social and economic relations more liquid, it widened the range of people who feel they have a stake in upholding a hierarchical and unequal order—a stabler solution than merely imposing it by force. Meanwhile, traditional forms of autocracy continued, in left and right varieties, providing useful counterpoints to the democracies as scapegoats and bogeymen to stimulate to the war economy. With the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, some prophets of this vision felt confident enough to proclaim the end of history. They believed that capitalist and state relations had achieved a hegemony so absolute that all that remained was to tweak the details and enjoy the ever-escalating standard of living in a stable world, sailing serenely forward with the United States at the helm.
Today, we live in the ashes of that triumphalist vision. Assumptions that seemed unshakeable twenty-five years ago—that the United States led the world, that the economy would keep growing and growing, that racial tensions and ethnic hatreds were subsiding, that the American consumer lifestyle was the best, indeed the only viable way to live—have collapsed entirely. We live in a world buffeted by catastrophic climate change, massive displacement and millions of desperate refugees, economic crises and escalating poverty, and resurgent nationalisms fueling racial and ethnic hatred. History, it seems, did not get the memo.
Dominant political wisdom still holds that our political and economic institutions are inevitable, but has lost its confidence in our rosy future. We find ourselves trapped in an increasingly insecure and chaotic world ever less of our making, but without any vision of how it could be transformed.
Understanding history as “the memory of states” enforces amnesia about all the other ways we have lived, curtailing our imaginations about all the other ways we could live. Understanding post-Cold War capitalist democracy as “the end of history” served the same purpose, limiting our horizons to the terms set by politicians and landlords. To free our imaginations to create different futures, we have to reexamine and redefine the past.
That goes for our radical history, too. The traditions of the revolutionary past weigh like a Marxist nightmare on the brains of the living. If, as the Eastern European joke goes, socialism was the painful transition between capitalism and capitalism, we’re not going to get far simply regurgitating the outdated formulas of the 19th and 20th century Left. State socialism is dead, regardless of what the earnest Bernie supporters and dinosaur leftist sects might hope; not even social democracies can preserve the last century’s compromises in the face of global economic meltdown.
We have to discard the historical paradigms we’ve inherited from these bankrupt legacies. Whatever its use to past generations, a concept of historical materialism rooted in modes of production marching through linear stages towards the glorious communist future offers just another progress narrative breaking against the rocks of reality. Even our vaunted traditions of “people’s history” need challenging and updating in light of the waves of reactionary populism that characterize our time. From our vantage point in the 21st century, we’ve got ample reason to let go of the old radical models for making sense of history, but no new ones to replace them. Let’s clean the slate, sweeping away the baggage of discredited authoritarianisms, and reconsider how anarchism might inform our perspective on the past.
Hence, comrades, we bring you: THE CRIMETHINC. HISTORY DESK.
Thinking about history today is like sifting through the ashes of centuries of defeats, seeking still-smoldering embers we might blow back into flame. We new Prometheans, bearing the torch handed down to us by our anarchist ancestors, pledge to relentlessly pursue those elusive sparks from the past to light today’s Molotov cocktails.
As part of the new CrimethInc. web platform, each month we’ll release several new explorations of history through an anarchist lens. Since our attention is fixed on Trump’s upcoming inauguration and the protests and strikes that will accompany it, we’ll kick things off with a detailed analysis of anarchist counter-inaugural activity over the past 50 years. Some of our posts will present historical research about the anarchist past, or critical reassessments of social movements and popular struggles. Others will analyze contemporary trends in how histories are narrated in mass media and popular venues. Some weeks we’ll present reviews of historical works by other scholars, post obscure texts or images from the archives, or translate texts that we haven’t seen in English before. We’ll try to mix it up, keep it interesting, and focus on stories with immediate strategic relevance—even as we also offer obscure tidbits for radical history buffs just because they intrigue us.
Interested? If you’re a dumpster diver of the dustbins of history, a collector of anarchaicisms, an iconoclast or myth-busters, an antiauthoritarian antiquarian or anarchaeologist, or an enthusiast for the radical past, we need you! Send word and let us know you’re out there. If you have articles to contribute, obscure sources you’ve unearthed, requests for historical analyses that would support your organizing, or any other insights into the past that can help subvert authority today, email us at email@example.com.
The past doesn’t pass until the future is unwritten.
With love and in struggle,
The CrimethInc. History Desk
Protests in Portland following the election of Donald Trump.
The inauguration of Donald Trump is right around the corner. Disrupt J20 is publicizing a wide range of demonstrations all around the US on January 20, including a call for an anti-capitalist and anti-fascist contingent in Washington, DC.But why focus on this particular day, of all days? And why would it be worth driving across the country to a city crowded with reactionaries and police? Here are ten reasons why we think everyone needs to pull out the stops on January 20.
What is at stake here is not a single day of protest, but the paradigm of what it will mean to resist Trump. Right now, people around the US are outraged and terrified at the prospect of being governed by a megalomaniacal buffoon. This is an opportunity to expand the networks of people who are prepared to stand up to the government, but it won’t last long. If the demonstrations are basically a rerun of the anyone-but-Bush years in which protesters simply carried signs powerlessly expressing their disapproval, everything that currently feels intolerable about a Trump presidency will be normalized soon enough. On the other hand, if the demonstrations interfere with the inauguration and the maintenance of order, that will help to normalize the kind of resistance that will be necessary to prevent Trump from implementing his agenda.
Whatever happens on January 20 will shape the popular imagination about the era we are entering. It will help to determine what people feel entitled to do, what they expect of themselves and each other, and how they conceive of the long-term horizon of social change.
Trump has benefitted from being able to portray himself as a rebel against the political establishment, a sort of billionaire underdog. This narrative is laughable already, but after January 20, when he and the Republican Party control the federal government in its entirety, there must be no confusion in anyone’s mind that they are the establishment, and the real rebels are those who defy them.
The inauguration is an opportunity for a wide range of people to work together, building new networks that could act together for years to come. People from many different organizations and contexts are calling for demonstrations on January 20. For example, alongside Disrupt J20, Ungovernable 2017 is bringing together partisans of Black autonomy and many other groups around the US under the same principles of self-determination and combativeness that motivate anarchist opposition to Trump. If the actions on January 20 go well, new fighting formations might arise that could continue to act together as the Trump era gets underway. When we approach days of action like January 20, it is important to aim beyond the target, understanding such days as steppingstones in the long process of building powerful movements.
Demonstrators in DC can choose between a wide variety of tactics and points of intervention. Some are calling for blockades at the checkpoints around the parade route, in hopes that Trump will ride into office in front of silent, empty bleachers. Others are preparing to rove the city, supporting and defending other protesters and responding to situations as they arise. Still others are looking at blocking the transportation infrastructure. Washington, DC offers countless possibilities for self-organized groups to set their own goals and choose their own targets on their own time.
What happens in the United States on January 20 will have massive repercussions all over the world. Right now, nationalist politicians like Marine le Pen are hoping to ride Trump’s coattails to victory all around the world, while people in Mexico, Syria, and elsewhere fear for the policies Trump has promised to implement. If people outside the US see resistance directed against Trump from the first day of his term, that will renew their morale, set an example of what it means to fight back, and give them a reason not to fear or hate ordinary US citizens—which could save lives by discouraging terrorist attacks. It will also show the global ruling class that propelling the most explicitly reactionary and repressive candidate into office only creates havoc and disorder, discouraging them from supporting additional far-right nationalist parties.
The price of failure is dire. Imagine the worst case scenario, in which millions of fans cheer for Trump while fascist gangs beat up protesters around Washington, DC. That would embolden right-wing thugs all over the country, provoking a new wave of racist attacks and recruiting: it would make 2017 the equivalent of 1932 in Germany. At the very least, we owe it to those who are determined to demonstrate in DC to make sure that they are not alone.
On the other hand, if the demonstrations succeed, we shouldn’t let them be a missed opportunity. In the best-case scenario, Trump’s inauguration will be massively disrupted. Even in that case, however, it is still possible that the message that comes out of the protests will be the kind of reformism that failed so catastrophically under Obama, the same authoritarian liberal politics that set the stage for Trump to come to power in the first place. Everyone who has a thoroughgoing vision of liberation should be in Washington, DC to present it to the world.
This is our only chance to fight Trump under the laws and police protocol of the Obama era. Later, when the Trump administration introduces new laws and surveillance programs and government agencies and FBI operations, it will be too late to build up momentum to resist them. We have to do that right now, while millions of people are angry, before it becomes significantly more difficult to organize. Neither hiding out in secretive closed circles nor behaving passively and obediently will keep anyone safe. If no one puts up any resistance, the crackdown will hit everyone sooner or later. The only surefire guarantee of safety is a powerful movement that can support arrestees and impose material consequences for repression.
The DC police will have their hands full. At the turn of the century, DC police carried out a series of mass arrests in an attempt to suppress “anti-globalization” protests in the city; consequently, they were forced to pay out many millions of dollars in lawsuit settlements. (In one famous instance, two “black bloc anarchists” escaped from a mass arrest of over 500 people by crawling through the sewers, only to miss out on $18,000 each.) Since then, DC police have been much more cautious in their treatment of protesters. They may change their protocol for January 20—anything is possible—but in a crowded situation with many different protagonists in the streets, it will be difficult for them to isolate demonstrators or to use violence against them without creating a volatile situation. If they are forced to employ tear gas, LRADs, or other indiscriminate weapons with the streets full of rich Republicans, that will be a humiliating defeat for them. It will show the world that—contrary to his promises—Trump’s inauguration does not herald the return of order but a period of intensifying chaos, and that real peace can only come about on mutually agreeable terms, not through the suppression of dissent.
Anything that happens in DC will be worth 100 actions anywhere else. With all the police pressure concentrated on the nation’s capitol, it will be difficult indeed to pull off actions around the parade route—but with the eyes of the whole world fixed on Washington, DC, any effective action that takes place within the city limits will have a tremendous impact. Actions in other parts of the country may enable people to build ties locally, but they will likely be overshadowed in the nationwide narrative by whatever happens in DC. Indeed, if the demonstrations in DC go well, people in other parts of the country will likely be much more enthusiastic about getting involved with local organizing. Likewise, any new tactics that are demonstrated in Washington, DC will spread rapidly around the country.
If you can’t make it to DC, there are plenty of models for organizing where you are: student walkouts, wildcat strikes, demonstrations, and more. You could decorate your city in advance, or pick a target and carry out an offensive strike to shut down business for the day. Everywhere in the US and around the world, January 20 will be an opportunity to connect with people on the basis of opposition to the regime. Go into the day ready to promote plans for the next action, so you can build from one event to the next. Any actions that take place before January 20 will help to build up enthusiasm for it, just as actions immediately after the 20th will help continue momentum. Aim beyond the target!
If you find all this persuasive, you can find considerable information on the Disrupt J20 website about how to prepare for the demonstrations in DC and elsewhere around the US. Good luck and hope to see you soon.
As 2017 opens, we face new challenges in an increasingly volatile world. Since last summer, we’ve been hard at work expanding our networks and updating our infrastructure to prepare for the global situation that is now unfolding. Over the next month, we’ll be announcing several ambitious new projects.
The first of these is this website itself. We’ve assembled several new editorial groups and are in the process of overhauling the web design.
Effective immediately, we’ll be publishing at least four new articles a week, extending our coverage to a much wider range of topics and formats. We’re not just proposing a subculture or a particular methodology of protest, but a total way of living. Accordingly, in addition to current events and analysis, we’ve established separate CrimethInc. cells to focus on technology, history, the arts, and more. Over the next two weeks, each of these groups will introduce itself here and outline its goals for this new phase of activity.
Meanwhile, we have completely rebuilt this website. The design is now responsive, meaning that it will work equally well on your phone, tablet, laptop, and big screen.
The complete archives of everything that has appeared online under the CrimethInc. insignia are now all in one place, the feed. For now, you can explore the feed chronologically; soon, we’ll have it organized categorically and topically as well.
Along with overhauling this website, we’re also expanding our social media presence. You can find and share CrimethInc. articles on a wide variety of networks and platforms. Links to all of our profiles are in the website footer. You can also join our new email list to receive a forthcoming newsletter.
We’ll be putting the finishing touches on the redesign over the next two weeks. If you notice a problem or want to offer your input, please drop us a line.
The website is powered by an app built with Ruby on Rails. If you’re a designer, a developer, or an adventurous explorer and want to help us build a better world, send up a signal flare—we’ll be waiting for you. There’s still plenty of work to do (and always will be until we finally destroy empire). Front end HTML and CSS—backend Ruby and Rails—UI/UX design—copyediting—language translation. There’s something for everyone.
And we’ve only just begun. Stay tuned for several more surprises.