A burner phone is a single-use phone, unattached to your identity, which can theoretically be used to communicate anonymously in situations where communications may be monitored. Whether or not using a burner phone is itself a “best practice” is up for debate, but if you’ve made the choice to use one, there are several things you should keep in mind.
Burner phones are not the same as disposable phones.
A burner phone is, as mentioned above, a single-use phone procured specifically for anonymous communications. It is considered a means of clandestine communication, and its efficacy is predicated on having flawless security practices. A disposable phone is one you purchase and use normally with the understanding that it may be lost or broken.
Burner phones should only ever talk to other burner phones.
Using a burner phone to talk to someone’s everyday phone leaves a trail between you and your contact. For the safety of everyone within your communication circle, burner phones should only be used to contact other burner phones, so your relationships will not compromise your security. There are a number of ways to arrange this, but the best is probably to memorize your own number and share it in person with whoever you’re hoping to communicate with. Agree in advance on an innocuous text they will send you, so that when you power your phone on you can identify them based on the message they’ve sent and nothing else. In situations where you are meeting people in a large crowd, it is probably OK to complete this process with your phone turned on, as well. In either case, it is unnecessary to reply to the initiation message unless you have important information to impart. Remember too that you should keep your contacts and your communications as sparse as possible, in order to minimize potential risks to your security.
Never turn your burner on at home.
Since cell phones both log and transmit location data, you should never turn on a burner phone somewhere you can be linked to. This obviously covers your home, but should also extend to your place of work, your school, your gym, and anywhere else you frequently visit.
Never turn your burner on in proximity to your main phone.
As explained above, phones are basically tracking devices with additional cool functions and features. Because of this, you should never turn on a burner in proximity to your “real” phone. Having a data trail placing your ostensibly anonymous burner in the same place at the same time as your personally-identifying phone is an excellent way to get identified. This also means that unless you’re in a large crowd, you shouldn’t power your burner phone on in proximity to your contacts’ powered-up burners.
Don’t refer to yourself or any of your contacts by name.
Given that the purpose of using a burner phone is to preserve your anonymity and the anonymity and the people around you, identifying yourself or your contacts by name undermines that goal. Don’t use anyone’s legal name when communicating via burner, and don’t use pseudonyms that you have used elsewhere either. If you must use identifiers, they should be unique, established in advance, and not reused.
Consider using an innocuous passphrase to communicate, rather than using names at all. Think “hey, do you want to get brunch Tuesday?” rather than “hey, this is Secret Squirrel.” This also allows for call-and-response as authentication. For example, you’ll know the contact you’re intending to reach is the correct contact if they respond to your brunch invitation with, “sure, let me check my calendar and get back to you.” Additionally, this authentication practice allows for the use of a duress code, “I can’t make it to brunch, I’ve got a yoga class conflict,” which can be used if the person you’re trying to coordinate with has run into trouble.
Beware of IMSI catchers.
One reason you want to keep your authentication and duress phrases as innocuous as possible is because law enforcement agencies around the world are increasingly using IMSI catchers, also known as “Stingrays” or “Cell Site Simulators” to capture text messages and phone calls within their range. These devices pretend to be cell towers, intercept and log your communications, and then pass them on to real cell towers so your intended contacts also receive them. Because of this, you probably don’t want to use your burner to text things like, “Hey are you at the protest?” or “Yo, did you bring the Molotovs?”
Under normal circumstances, the use of encrypted messengers such as Signal can circumvent the use of Stingrays fairly effectively, but as burner phones do not typically have the capability for encrypted messaging (unless you’re buying burner smartphones), it is necessary to be careful about what you’re saying.
Burner phones are single-use.
Burner phones are meant to be used once, and then considered “burned.” There are a lot of reasons for this, but the primary reason is that you don’t want your clandestine actions linked. If the same “burner” phone starts showing up at the same events, people investigating those events have a broader set of data to build profiles from. What this means is, if what you’re doing really does require a burner phone, then what you’re doing requires a fresh, clean burner every single time. Don’t let sloppy execution of security measures negate all your efforts.
Procure your burner phone carefully.
You want your burner to be untraceable. That means you should pay for it in cash; don’t use your debit card. Ask yourself: are there surveillance cameras in or around the place you are buying it? Don’t bring your personal phone to the location where you buy your burner. Consider walking or biking to the place you’re purchasing your burner; covering easily-identifiable features with clothing or makeup; and not purchasing a burner at a location you frequent regularly enough that the staff recognize you.
Never assume burner phones are “safe” or “secure.”
For burner phones to preserve your privacy, everyone involved in the communication circle has to maintain good security culture. Safe use of burners demands proper precautions and good hygiene from everyone in the network: a failure by one person can compromise everyone. Consequently, it is important both to make sure everyone you’re communicating with is on the same page regarding the safe and proper use of burner phones, and also to assume that someone is likely to be careless. This is another good reason to be careful with your communications even while using burner phones. Always take responsibility for your own safety, and don’t hesitate to erase and ditch your burner when necessary.
The year is 1871. Revolution has just established a democratic government in France, following the defeat of emperor Napoleon in the war with Germany. But the new Republic satisfies no one. The provisional government is comprised of politicians who served under the Emperor; they have done nothing to satisfy the revolutionaries’ demands for social change, and they don’t intend to. Right-wing reactionaries are conspiring to reinstate the Emperor or, failing that, some other monarch. Only rebel Paris stands between France and counterrevolution.
The partisans of order have their work cut out for them. First, they have to get the French people to accept the unpopular terms of surrender dictated by Germany. To force the armistice on its citizens, the new Republic bans the radical Clubs and shuts down the newspapers, threatening Paris with the combined armies of two nations. Only then, after warrants have been issued to arrest the insurgents who overthrew the emperor, do elections take place.
With the radicals in prison or in hiding, the conservatives win the elections. The chief victor is the banker Adolphe Thiers, Proudhon’s old nemesis, who helped to sell out the revolution of 1848—if not for him, the emperor might not have been able to seize power in the first place. Propelled into office by voters from the provincial countryside, Thiers’ first act is to negotiate peace with Germany at a cost of five billion francs.
This strikes Thiers as a cheap price to pay to take the reins of the state—especially since the French people will be paying it, not him personally. And should they refuse? He would still rather fight France than Germany.
One of the terms of Thiers’ surrender is that German troops are permitted a victory march through the capital. After starving through months of siege, this is the last thing the Parisians want. Rumors spread that the Germans are coming to loot the city. The Vigilance Committees that sprung up after the revolution continue meeting, despite the ban.
On the night of February 26, tens of thousands of rebellious members of the National Guard gather downtown on the Champs-Elysées in defiance of government orders. Alongside them are stone-faced revolutionaries like Louise Michel, a forty-year-old schoolteacher from the suburb of Montmartre. Together, they break open the prison in which the latest round of political prisoners are held and set them free. Then they wait in the frigid darkness for the Germans to come, preparing to die for Paris.
When dawn still shows no sign of the invaders, the rebels seize the cannons that remain in Paris from the war. These cannons were paid for by donations collected from the poor during the siege; the rebels believe they rightfully belong to those who are prepared to use them to defend the city, not to the politicians who have betrayed it or the Germans who are coming to disarm and humiliate it. They drag the heavy guns from the wealthy district back through the hovels and trash-heaps of their own neighborhoods to park them on the hilltop of Montmartre.
On March 1, 1871, the German troops finally enter Paris. They stick to downtown, avoiding the restless slums. The shops are all closed; the statues along the parade route wear black hoods and black flags fly from the buildings. Ragged hordes watch from a distance through narrowed eyes; their cold stares make the well-fed Germans shiver. The occupiers withdraw to camp outside the city to the east.
Days later, Thiers’ government announces that landlords can immediately claim rent payments that were suspended during the siege. All debts are due with interest within four months, and the moratorium on the sale of pawned goods is canceled. The salaries of the National Guard are also canceled, except for those who can demonstrate special need. It will take all this and more to pay the terms of the peace Thiers has signed.
On the morning of March 18, Montmartre wakes to find the walls plastered with a proclamation. In patronizing tones, Adolphe Thiers explains that—for the sake of public order, democracy, the Republic, the economy, and their own skins—the honest people of Paris must turn over the cannons, along with the criminals by whom they have been led astray:
To carry out this act of justice and reason, the government counts on your assistance. It believes that the good citizens will separate from the bad, and will support, instead of resisting, public opinion… Having received this notice, you will now approve our recourse to force, because there must be peace, without a day’s delay.
On the previous evening, Louise Michel had climbed to the crest of Montmartre to bear a message to the rebel Guardsmen watching the cannons. It was late, so she stayed overnight at their headquarters. All night, suspicious characters kept turning up with stories that didn’t make sense, pretending to be drunk, trying to get a look at the hilltop.
She awakens to gunfire. It is still dark. By the time she is on her feet, French troops loyal to Thiers are already in control of the building. They arrest the men and ransack the house, but take little notice of her—she is a woman, after all. After the troops have secured the area, they bring in a captured Guardsman who has been shot. Michel tears strips from her dress to staunch his bleeding.
Montmartre’s liberal mayor arrives. Michel can only shake her head at his dismay: he is concerned about the injured Guardsman, but above all he hopes the troops will take the cannons away swiftly before his constituents get unruly. Not knowing that Michel has already dressed the Guardsman’s wound, he asks for clean bandages. Michel offers to go out for them.
“You’re certain you’ll return?” He gives her a sidelong glance.
“I give my word,” answers Michel, deadpan.
As soon as she passes out of view, she is sprinting down the hill through the dim streets, past small knots of early risers reading Thiers’ proclamation posted on the walls. She is yelling out “Treason!” at the top of her lungs when she turns onto the street where the headquarters of the local Vigilance Committee are. Her friends are already there; they grab their guns and rush back up the hill with her. In the distance, the drums of the National Guard can be heard, beating out the call to arms.
Now the streets are thronged: bearded Guardsmen, young men in shirtsleeves fumbling with their rifles, women in twos and threes. They thicken into a human sea, rushing upwards. Ahead of them, Michel sees the hill, crowned in the first soft light of day. At the top, an army waits in full battle array. She and her friends are going to die. The effect of this revelation is almost exhilarating.
Suddenly, Michel’s mother is beside her in the crowd. “Louise, I haven’t seen you in days! Where have you been? You’re not going to get mixed up in all this, are you?”
When she reaches the crest of the hill, the crowd has already breached the infantry cordon. The soldiers are surrounded. Women are heckling Thiers’ troops:
“Where are you taking those cannons? Berlin?”
“No—they’re taking them back to Emperor Napoleon!”
“You can fire on us, but not on the Prussians, eh?”
A shame-faced officer pleads with a matron who has planted herself between a cannon and the horses pulling it. “Come, my good woman, get out of the way.”
“Go on, you coward,” she yells back, “Shoot me in front of my children!”
“Cut the cables!” someone shouts from the back of the crowd. A knife passes from hand to hand until it reaches the woman blocking the cannon. She cuts the straps attaching it to the horses. The crowd cheers.
General Lecomte himself rides up, high and haughty. He assumes command in a voice that resounds above the tumult: “Soldiers! Prepare arms!”
A hush falls. The soldiers ready their weapons. They look pale. Someone cries, “Don’t shoot!” but the crowd does not fall back.
A line of matching rifles goes up. A woman is trembling; another grips her arm, sneering at the young men in their army uniforms. Behind them, Michel and her friends raise their rifles as well. They see that some of the soldiers are shaking too.
“Fire!” There is an instant’s pause.
An officer throws down his weapon and steps out of the ranks. “Fuck this!”
“Turn your rifles around!” someone else shouts. This is the moment Michel will always remember.
The next day, the red flag flies over the Town Hall—the flag of the people, the flag they should have raised in 1848. The Vigilance Committees occupy the neighborhood administrative buildings. Lecomte has been shot. Thiers and his henchmen have fled to the nearby town of Versailles with the remains of the military. The financiers have retreated to their country estates. Victor Hugo has run away to Belgium. From the East, the German troops are waiting to see whether the French government can subdue this new revolution, fearful it might spread across Europe.
Paris is in the hands of commoners known only to each other. Mysteriously, the city has never been so peaceful.
This is a selection from our forthcoming narrative history of anarchism, which we hope eventually to finish—if only the struggles of the present would offer us some respite. In the meantime, if you want to learn more, for starters, you could try:
A l’Assaut du Ciel—: la Commune Racontée, Raoul Dubois
Surmounting the Barricades: Women in the Paris Commune, Carolyn J. Eichner
Unruly Women of Paris: Images of the Commune, Gay L. Gullickson
The Paradise of Association: Political Culture and Popular Organizations in the Paris Commune of 1871, Martin Phillip Johnson
History of the Paris Commune of 1871, Prosper Olivier Lissagaray
We know that police violence is a real problem in the US, and it makes sense that people are strategizing ways to protect themselves and their loved ones from being assaulted or murdered by the police. Many who are concerned about this issue have begun advocating for police to wear video cameras on their uniforms. The idea is that cameras will prevent police violence, or at least hold officers accountable after the fact. Groups like Campaign Zero (a reformist Black Lives Matter offshoot) and the American Civil Liberties Union are advocating this measure, and even police departments themselves, after initial resistance, have signed on. But the idea that more cameras translates to better accountability (however we define this) relies on a faulty premise. Police get away with murder not because we don’t see it, but because they’re part of a larger system that tells them it’s reasonable to kill people. From lawmakers, judges, and prosecutors to juries, citizens, and the media, every level of society uncritically supports and transmits the police point of view. In this atmosphere, police can murder with no fear of repercussions.
Advocates of police-worn body cameras, as well as advocates of bystanders filming the police, constantly claim that cameras act as equalizers between police and people, that they are tools for accountability. But there is very little evidence to support this. Many assume visibility will bring accountability—but what does accountability even look like when it comes to police violence? If charges are all that police reformers would demand, where do they go when those charges end in verdicts of innocence or mistrial, as they almost inevitably do? Do they just go home and revel in the process of the justice system? Or are there other options situated outside official channels? The reality is that we don’t have a visibility problem but a political problem. The only “accountability” we see seems to be in occasional monetary settlements (paid by taxpayers). These settlements don’t hold officers accountable, or prevent future assaults and murders.
Though initially hesitant to adopt body cameras, police departments and officers quickly changed their tune as they realized that cameras benefit them far more than they benefit the general public under surveillance. We now have 4000 police departments in the US that employ body cameras, including the two largest, Chicago PD and NYPD, no strangers to inflicting violence on people and getting away with it. The largest marketer of officer-worn body cams, the leader in a $1 billion per year industry, is Taser Inc. After creating their namesake product, which was used to kill at least 500 people between 2001 and 2012, Taser started adding cameras to their stun guns in 2006, and introduced the body-worn camera in 2008. Since this introduction, their stock value has risen ten times higher. This was in no small part helped by grants from Obama’s Justice Department, which spent $19.3 million to purchase 50,000 body cameras for law enforcement agencies. Taser has since introduced a cloud storage service marketed to police forces (yes, a privately owned evidence storage service), proposed manufacturing drones with stun guns (and of course, cameras) attached to them, and recently bought the company Dextro, which has developed software to identify and index faces and specific objects.
The other night I was standing on a subway platform and looked up at the digital sign that announces when the next train is coming. But at that moment the sign was delivering a different message: “Surveillance cameras are no guarantee against criminal activity.” It fascinated me that the very institution installing surveillance cameras would admit this, while so many people on the receiving end of that surveillance are blind to this idea as they advocate for police body cameras.
Far too many believe that people “behave” while others are watching. What rarely gets discussed is that there is no way to “behave” that will seem appropriate to everyone. If police believe, as has been shown that their actions are justified, and that their superiors, the legal system, and the population as a whole approve of their actions, no matter how deplorable a few of us find them, they will continue to “behave” the way they have since their inception, despite (and potentially because of) the cameras watching.
Police don’t fear legal or extralegal repercussions because they don’t have to.
There are several reasons police that kill so rarely get charged with murder. First, laws and court decisions require an incredibly high burden of proof that an officer acted without “reasonableness.” Washington State has the highest barriers to bringing charges against police. Because of the wording of laws concerning police use of deadly force, only one Washington cop was charged with killing someone during the years 2005 through 2014, despite police having killed 213 people. That one officer was found innocent, despite having shot a man in the back. Beyond legal mandates for proof, police are the ones who investigate officers that kill. A notoriously self-protective bunch, they even have a nickname for their code to stick up for each other at all costs. Prosecutors come next. They depend on the police on a day-to-day basis to be able to, well, prosecute. They have a heap of motivation to keep the police officers they work with happy. Below this we have judges and juries who, the great majority of the time, believe police officers over those who would speak against them. Finally we have the media, who more often than not parrot official police opinions without question, and the consumers of this media that make up the juries. Juries are also often comprised of those who can afford to take time off work, while those killed by police are most often from lower economic classes, hardly “peers” to those serving on the juries.
So far as I can find, in the nine years that police body cameras have been in use, there is only one case of police facing charges after they murdered someone while wearing cameras. On March 16, 2014 in Albuquerque, New Mexico, James Boyd was camping in a city park when a citizen called police to report him. Eventually nineteen officers responded to the call, including two with dogs and a sniper. Boyd was known to have schizophrenia and was carrying two knives for protection. After a three-hour standoff, two of the officers, Keith Sandy and Dominique Perez, shot Boyd a total of six times. On October 11, 2016, the officers’ trial was declared a mistrial, as the jury was deadlocked with nine believing them to be innocent and three finding them guilty. Officer Sandy’s and Perez’ body cams did not prevent them from shooting Boyd, nor did the video they captured help hold them accountable for his death. The prosecutor claimed that video “cannot lie,” yet nine jurors saw the video of a man in mental distress, surrounded by nineteen cops, get shot six times and decided those cops acted reasonably. Video might not lie, but it isn’t necessarily neutral. It shows a point of view, and is subject to interpretation. As of this writing, Keith Sandy has retired, and Dominique Perez is set to get his job back. As so often happens in these cases, charges against the cops resulted not in any accountability for the officers, or even the department, but in a $5 million settlement paid by the taxpayers of the city of Albuquerque to the family of James Boyd.
While the prevalence of videos documenting murders by police has certainly risen with the popularity of video-equipped cellphones, we have yet to see a rise in “accountability.” More cops aren’t being charged with murder, more cops aren’t being convicted of murder, and numbers of murders by police aren’t going down. Eric Garner’s murder at the hands of NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo was documented by a bystander, but this video didn’t save Garner’s life or lead to any accountability for Pantaleo (though he was later docked two vacation days for an illegal stop-and-frisk that occurred two years before he killed Garner).
“The Whole World Is Watching!” is a phrase countless crowds on the receiving end of police violence have chanted. Leaving aside the hyperbole, we have to ask ourselves: So what? Journalist and activist Don Rose claimed to have coined this phrase when he said, “…tell them the whole world is watching and they’ll never get away with it again.”
But history shows otherwise. Protesters being attacked by police most famously delivered the chant outside of the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in 1968. Despite Rose’s claim, Chicago’s mayor at the time claimed he received 135,000 letters of support. Not a single officer was punished for the violence. Even when almost the whole world is watching, as in famous cases like the Rodney King assault, that is still no guarantee the cops responsible will be punished (a jury acquitted the officers who assaulted King). From the 1999 WTO protests in Seattle to Occupy Wall Street, no matter how many times protesters beat this dead horse of a chant, police have continued to bring down blows on their heads, with no substantial repercussions and no end to the violence.
Advocates of police body cams often tout a study of the Rialto Police Department, which began using body cams (on some officers) in 2012. The study showed a large drop in complaints against the police force. Far too many media outlets and advocacy groups have touted this drop in complaints as a positive result, attributing it solely to the use of body cams. What few acknowledge is that the study author, Tony Farrar, had a conflict of interest as Rialto’s chief of police. Farrar had been brought in to save a failing police department whose use of force was excessive enough to threaten their very disbanding—he had strong motivation to decrease his officers’ use of force, with or without body cameras. Another angle media ignored is that a drop in complaints doesn’t imply a drop in reasons to complain. Just like body cameras themselves, a drop in complaints will always benefit the police, but won’t necessarily benefit the rest of us. People may still have valid reasons to complain, but fear of possible repercussions restrains them. This fear may be magnified as body cameras represent yet another form of surveillance. In this case, body cameras increase an atmosphere of intimidation, being far more likely to pacify the general population than it is to pacify the armed killers wearing them. Whatever a body camera records, its perspective always supports the logic of the state and its foot soldiers.
Far too many people assume that video footage is itself neutral. They think anyone who watches a video of police killing someone can only react with outrage, or at least a clear sense of injustice. But one has only to spend a few minutes reading comments on news articles with embedded videos of police killings to see that a substantial number of people react with thoughts such as “the cop was in danger,” “s/he shouldn’t have run from the police,” etc.1 People’s existing thoughts and opinions, and not least their politics, color how they interpret video footage. We have no reason to believe that police oversight boards, prosecutors, judges, or juries will look at these videos and see the same thing that victims and critics of the police see. It is dangerously naïve to assume that accountability will follow a “reform” such as body cameras, when all the evidence says otherwise. The point of view of the police is nearly always privileged over those who would criticize them in the eyes of judges, juries, and the rest of the public. Because police body cams quite literally show the point of view of the police (an aspect that Taser specifically mentions in their marketing materials), these videos offer a perspective in which it is easy for viewers to place themselves in the officers’ shoes, and sympathize with the positions and actions taken by the cop wearing the camera.
As a child of 1980s television, I learned from G. I. Joe that knowing is half the battle. But one thing far too many miss is that knowing is ONLY half the battle—the other half is action. We can depend on technologies to save us no more than we can depend on the court system, a court system that is part and parcel of the system of policing.
Anywhere you travel these days you can see signs that read, “if you see something, say something.” Many would-be police reformists (such as The Cato Institute’s National Police Misconduct Reporting Project) have extended this to: “if you see something, film something.” But this injunction relies on the idea that merely bearing witness is enough—that in documenting an atrocity you have fulfilled your moral obligation. It presumes that after you’ve filmed the incident, the wheels of the system will turn and eventually justice will prevail … which we’ve seen is mere wishful thinking. What if, instead, we say “if you see something, DO something?” What if every time a police officer intends to harm someone, they have to fear that a bystander will not merely bear witness, but attempt to stop them BEFORE they can act—before they can traumatize or kill someone? What would it take to make this reality?
Those who advocate for police body cameras want to believe in accountability through official channels, and hope that visibility will protect us from the very real threat the increasingly militarized police present. Sadly, these tools haven’t worked, and are contributing to more broad forms of surveillance that affect all of us. We don’t need more thorough information about what the police are doing. We need to stop them from doing what they do. We’re not looking for transparency, or accountability. We’re looking for a world without police. We want to go beyond the demands for accountability, to build a world that not only doesn’t need police but is inhospitable to those who would police us.
The annual number of cops that have been killed has gone down as the number of overall cops has gone up (there are now more than 1 million cops in the US). Cops are safer on the job than they have been in decades, safer at work than roofers, farmers and truck drivers. In the time that cops’ jobs have become safer, the number of people they kill has remained steadily high (1,154 in the US in 2016). And yet, the excuse we most often hear for murders they commit is that they feared for their own safety. Who are these cowards? ↩
The police are the absolute enemy. Grounded in slave patrols in the early American South, the institution has an unbroken history of protecting and upholding white supremacy. Recent movements in the United States have clarified this lineage of racist violence, beginning with slave patrols and culminating in indiscriminate police killings of black bodies. But white supremacy is not the only function of the police: the history of British policing is one of capturing and controlling unruly workers—of the creation of “white working class” subjects through a process of inclusion, discipline, and education. The police have a dual history: one of violent exclusion, one of insidious inclusion. If our opposition to the police rests only on their heritage of racism or class oppression, then we risk attacking a symptom instead of uprooting the whole. We are against the police not only for their clubs and their guns, but also for the ways they infiltrate our minds, making us citizen-cops and unwitting accomplices.
Therefore, instead of tracing the history of policing from start to finish, I offer here a metaphysical history of the police, a history that takes place on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean, in Britain and the British colonies in America. From two exemplary moments we can trace separate but entangled logics of policing—two signatures, inseparable from the origins of policing and from its current manifestations. The first is a story of slave patrols, of anti-Blackness and the foundations of slavery that underpin white civil society. The second is a story of inclusion, of certain bodies being incorporated into civil society, granted certain privileges while being educated and disciplined into new subjects. Absolute violence and contingent violence; punishment and discipline; racism and cybernetics; slave patrols and crowd control: these are some of the binaries that continue in contemporary policing. Separate but sharing a common body, these continuing stories are like the two hands of the state: one offers a friendly hand shake, the other extends only a gun.
We begin our tale in 1819.
Two Moments of Policing
South Carolina, 1819.
Cotton plantations formed the backbone of the economy. The black population outnumbered whites, and white fear of slave insurrection was rampant. The South Carolina General Assembly enacted a law requiring all white men over the age of 18 to participate in slave patrols, punishable by a fine of $2.00 and 10% of the offenders’ last taxes. 1 Slave patrols in South Carolina, while ongoing since 1671, transformed in this moment from the responsibility of slave owners to the responsibility of all white society. Patrols rode through the countryside and the cities, terrorizing any black person found outside after dark, checking passes, and raiding homes in search of weapons or plans of revolt. The new law followed two attempted insurrections, and reflected a growing fear among propertied whites of widespread slave rebellions. This law served to deputize all of white society against black slaves and freedmen.
“Slave patrols had full power and authority to enter any plantation and break open Negro houses or other places when slaves were suspected of keeping arms; to punish runaways or slaves found outside their plantations without a pass; to whip any slave who should affront or abuse them in the execution of their duties; and to apprehend and take any slave suspected of stealing or other criminal offense, and bring him to the nearest magistrate.” 2
These slave patrols gradually became more professionalized and institutionalized, until evolving directly into the modernAmericanpoliceforce.
St. Peter’s Field, Manchester, Great Britain, August 16, 1819.
Sun shone down on a mass meeting of working men demanding parliamentary reforms and suffrage in St. Peter’s Field. Dressed in their Sunday best, with strict orders to remain peaceful and respectable, 60,000 workers gathered in formation to hear speeches and make plans to demand, by legal means, parliamentary reforms. Fearing insurrection, a combination of militias peopled by shop-keepers and privileged tradesmen, as well as multiple military forces and cavalries, gathered to “keep the peace.” As soon as Henry Hunt began his speech, the Yeomanry militias charged; a survivor describes it thus:
“On the cavalry drawing up they were received with a shout of good-will, as I understood it, They shouted again, waving their sabres over their heads; and then, slackening rein, and striking spur into their steeds, they dashed forward and began cutting the people. ‘Stand fast,’ I said, ‘they are riding upon us; stand fast.’ And there was a general cry in our quarter of ‘Stand fast.’ The cavalry were in confusion: they evidently could not, with all the weight of man and horse, penetrate that compact mass of human beings; and their sabres were plied to hew a way through naked held-up hands and defenceless heads; and then chopped limbs and wound-gaping skulls were seen; and groans and cries were mingled with the din of that horrid confusion. ‘Ah! Ah!’ ‘for shame! for shame!’ was shouted. Then, ‘Break! break! they are killing them in front, and they cannot get away’; and there was a general cry of ‘break! break!’ For a moment the crowd held back as in a pause; then was a rush, heavy and resistless as a headlong sea, and a sound like low thunder, with screams, prayers, and imprecations from the crowd moiled and sabre-doomed who could not escape.”3
The event was later titled “the Peterloo Massacre,” a tongue-in-cheek reference to the Battle of Waterloo, four years prior. Fifteen people were killed and hundreds more wounded by the sabres and horses of the militias. The immediate consequence was a nationwide crackdown on dissent, but there was also a public opinion backlash. Even the petit bourgeoisie present, political opponents of the working class Republicans, were horrified by the indiscriminate violence. The state and the capitalists required the working class; they must be controlled, but not eradicated. New techniques were needed to govern unruly crowds, to control them and integrate them into civil society. The British government cited the Peterloo Massacre, and the need for “less-lethal” forms of crowd control, for the formation of the London Metropolitan Police by Robert Peel.
Signatures of Policing
Different as they are, these two moments are inextricable. From the Peterloo Massacre and subsequent British police reform we can trace disciplinary society, the foundations of liberalism, and the seeds of cybernetic and neoliberal social control: subjects must be identified, educated and incorporated into society. But liberal Western society, with its good citizens, its Fordist workers, its neoliberal entrepreneurs of the self, cannot exist without the slave patrols and what Frank B. Wilderson, III calls the “paradigmatic violence” that suffuses Black existence. This is a violence that can be issued at any time, without cause: not as a punishment for transgression, but as a punishment for one’s existence. If the response to the Peterloo Massacre represents one side of policing, concerned with civilizing and managing white society, the moment of slave patrols and the conscription of all white men into policing black bodies represents the other.
A metaphysical history of the police takes these two elements of policing, these two beacons, and shines a light through history towards them. If the light is bright enough, and tightly focused on the right places, it might also obliquely illuminate other hidden reefs, those submarine counterrevolutions that lurk just below the surface in every radical program.
This history does not seek to be causal, or linear, but instead highlights signatures that shine with particular clarity. The first signature of the police is slave patrols: the requirement of black social death for white civil society, and the indiscriminate racist police violence that continues today. The second signature is the management of civil society. Starting from two different contexts—the antebellum American South and industrializing Britain—these signatures carry through to the present until they combine in the dual function of the modern police: management and exclusion; contingent violence against transgressors, and absolute violence against racialized bodies. The techniques required by these motives bleed into one another, while the originary split remains. We see this in the everyday harassing and targeting of black bodies (in police shootings, stop and frisk policies, and more), as much as in the friendly police presence accompanying the recent Women’s Marches across the country.
Slavery in the New World: Exclusion, Surveillance, and Social Death
Slave patrols did not begin in 19th century South Carolina, though they may have reached their symbolic apotheosis there. Beginning in the 1500s in the newly colonized Americas, colonizers began using slaves, either imported from Africa or captured from local indigenous populations. And, consequently, some slaves tried to escape, and the first seeds of slave patrols emerged, militias organized to hunt down runaway slaves, punish them, and bring them back. One of the first formal organizations was founded in the 1530s in Cuba, called the Santa Hermandad or the Holy Brotherhood. But, for the most part, these arrangements tend to be casual and extra-legal, composed of volunteers or hired thugs.
In 1661, the Barbados Slave Code was written, one of the first legal frameworks for managing slaves. The Slave Code codified the treatment of slaves, and in particular specified the responsibilities of white men and indentured servants in managing and tracking them. The need for a formal arrangement, and for the ability to inflict direct relations of force, was highlighted by the British governor of Barbados, Willoughby:
“Though there be no enemy abroad, the keeping of slaves in subjection must still be provided for.”
The need to manage and violently control slaves led, ultimately, to the importation of 2000 British soldiers between 1692 and 1702, who were tasked explicitly with controlling slaves. It’s worth noting that Barbados never experienced significant, successful slave revolts. Haiti, on the other hand, which lacked as intense a counterinsurgency apparatus, saw the largest successful slave rebellion in history in 1791.
These forces are the precursors of slave patrols in the American South, and, subsequently, of the police. They were concerned with tracking and managing certain, racialized, people, with preventing insurgencies and uprisings, with protecting private property and violently enforcing an arrangement that turned certain humans into property. Slave patrols went through a variety of iterations, regionally and historically, before we reach 1819, and the mandatory conscription of white men. This is the example par excellence of the logic that Frank Wilderson, III describes: “white people’s signifying presence is manifested by the fact that they are, if only by default, deputized against those who do magnetize bullets. In short, white people are not simply “protected” by the police, they are—in their very corporeality—the police.”
This logic is extended with the introduction of slave passes in the rapidly industrializing South and lantern laws in New York City. Unlike Britain, with its uprooted proletariat, stripped of their means of subsistence through enclosure and sent wandering into the cities looking for work, and unlike the American North, with its interminable supply of immigrants sent over from Europe as a result of starvation, criminalization, or persecution, the South was particularly devoid of free, landless laborers. As a consequence, slave owners begin renting their slaves out to industrial capitalists. (This practice, incidentally, never ended, but today takes the form of prison labor being rented out to various factories, corporations, and agricultural operations.) The increasing mobility of slaves, traveling on their own to factories, with passes from their plantations, led to an increased need to police public urban spaces. Increasing mobility also required newer, more complex technologies for tracking and identifying bodies. At first there was the handwritten pass, and then, in various states and at various times, there were printed forms, metal badges, and other early forms of identification; the precursors to passports and state IDs that we all carry today.4
Likewise, in New York City, “lantern laws” introduced in the 18th century after failed slave insurrections required all slaves to carry a lantern when traveling in the city after dark; Simone Browne describes the lantern as “a prosthesis made mandatory after dark, a technology that made it possible for the black body to be constantly illuminated from dusk to dawn, made knowable, locatable, and contained within the city.”5 Subsequent additions to the law also forbade “assembly, the carrying of weapons, riding on horseback through the city by ‘trotting fast’ or in some other disorderly fashion, gaming and gambling, along with other regulations to the racialized body in the city.” 6 We can see here the creation not only of “public order” laws that have always been racist, but of conditions in which black bodies can be found guilty at any time. We have only to look at Eric Garner’s murder by New York Police for the crime of selling untaxed cigarettes to see that this logic, with its violent and racist consequences, continues today. Likewise, lantern laws continue today in the form of floodlights installed in overwhelmingly Black and Latinx housing projects. The lights pour into apartments, flooding the interior with light and ensuring that the racist history of light as a disciplinary apparatus continues to this day. These technologies, and their uses, continue to render black bodies exceptional, remarkable, and notable: always subject to police violence, white paranoia, and constant surveillance.
Passports and urban illumination alike share these racist roots, but have extended far past their original intent. On the other side of the Atlantic, in France, Alphonse Bertillon created his own system of biometric measurement and control to catch recidivist criminals. And now, we all carry these markers of our identity, mandated by the state. Through this process, the state uses pseudo-scientific methods to justify existing oppression, by identifying certain physical markers, linking them to race and deviance, and creating the appearance of a neutral social order. But biometric identification, while beginning in excluded populations, quickly spreads to encompass all of society. As the policing of cybernetic management and the policing of violent white supremacy share tactics, they begin to bleed into one another. Individuals benefitting from white supremacy suddenly find themselves subject to some of the same mechanisms of control. This explains in part the angry white libertarian, who can in the same breath denounce police for enforcing government regulations and the “criminal protesters” who fight them, or the “blue lives matter” supporter who is also in an anti-government militia.
Counter-insurgency in Europe: The Creation of White Civil Society
Ten years after the Peterloo Massacre, London still lacked a formalized police force. In contrast to the French gendarmerie—military police, directly involved in counter-insurgency efforts—London’s policing apparatuses were scattered and unprofessional, consisting of (often drunk) night-watches, tax-collectors, thief-takers, and detectives. The public backlash from the Peterloo Massacre, and a desire to appear different from the obviously repressive function of the gendarmerie, led the British Parliament to create the London Metropolitan Police in 1829. This police force—professional, uniformed, and unarmed—was largely inspired by Robert Peel’s Royal Irish Constabulary, a police force established in occupied Ireland. As usual, mechanisms of control and repression begin in the management of specific excluded populations—colonies, slaves, criminals, etc.—and then gradually expand to incorporate the entirety of a population. This is a process that continues today, as repressive techniques developed by the US military in Iraq against popular insurgencies are brought home to manage mass protests, or when the Oakland police received training from the Bahraini military in counter-insurgency and crowd-control techniques during the Occupy movement.
Despite their repressive function, the London Metropolitan Police were, from the start, intended to be part of the working class. Robert Peel emphatically believed that police work should be “performed by working-class men, supervised by working-class men.”7 While their function was primarily one of crowd control, they participated in daily patrols designed to familiarize themselves with neighborhoods and communities—a precursor to today’s “community policing” model. David Whitehouse sums up the division neatly: “When the London police were not concentrated into squads for crowd control, they were dispersed out into the city to police the daily life of the poor and working class. That sums up the distinctive dual function of modern police: There is the dispersed form of surveillance and intimidation that’s done in the name of fighting crime; and then there’s the concentrated form of activity to take on strikes, riots, and major demonstrations.”
The policing of daily life is of particular interest here. With the new concentration of large populations in London came new attempts to use outdoor and public space for collective needs. Workers lived in miserable, cramped conditions, and many people who came to cities didn’t have work. People began to use public spaces for assembling, for informal markets, for selling stolen goods, and for entertainment. Police patrols enforced “public order” laws that were directed towards the poor and the working class, and an intensely patriarchal Victorian morality, specifically regulating and controlling the movement and activity of women’s bodies in public.
While there is certainly some similarity here with the racialized “public order” policing in New York City, there is an important difference. Slave patrols in the American South, and public order policing in Northern cities, were based on an explicitly racial order: it was the duty of white men and citizens to apprehend and punish slaves or freed Black people who were found violating these ordinances. In London, however, while the laws being enforced were clearly based on class and gender divisions, those doing the enforcing were also of the working class. Absolute violence, justified by real or imaginary transgressions, was not an option; the police exercised contingent violence, in a process of class self-management. The backlash from the Peterloo Massacre demonstrated that the state could not treat citizens as dispensable. Instead, civil society depended on an educated, civilized, and managed working class.
On the rainy spring day of April 10, 1848, the Chartists planned a mass demonstration in Kennington Common. In many ways, the demonstration had similar goals, though more progressed, to that in St. Peter’s Field in 1819. As in 1819, the government was fearful of the crowd—revolutions swept Europe in that year, shaking the feudal system to its core. As in 1819, there was a large military presence, prepared to squash dissent. And, as in 1819, the demands of the crowd were essentially democratic and reformist—male suffrage, the elimination of property requirements for members of Parliament, and so on. It was a demonstration of a part of the working class, clamoring for participation in the institutions and structures that constituted civil society.
Unlike in 1819, however, the London Metropolitan Police were present, including Robert Peel. Armed with truncheons, organized into disciplined battalions, the police were prepared to disperse the crowd if necessary. But there was no cavalry charge this time, no slashing of sabres or blood spilled in the rain. The crowd was smaller than anticipated, and their plan to march on Parliament was foiled by the police cordon blocking a bridge—an early kettle. The London Police Commissioner quickly targeted one of the leaders of the Chartists and informed him that they would not be allowed to cross the bridge; the leader returned and spoke to the crowd, which dispersed shortly afterward. In this moment, just as in the massacre of 1819 and the mandatory slave patrols in South Carolina, lies a crystallized moment of policing—the birth of soft policing. All of the elements were present in their early forms: the threat of overwhelming force; the calm, uniformed, and disciplined police; and the strategy of enlisting political leaders to help manage and de-escalate the crowd. The goal of the police was not to eradicate the crowd, or to punish them for assembling, but to pacify the crowd, to ensure that their assembly was rendered respectable and toothless.
What is notable here is the invention of a new type of policing, one that can claim alliance with the idea of liberty. The British cited their aversion to the political and military police of the French gendarmerie in their creation of a professional, and public, police force. But this rhetoric of liberty and self-management still relied on a racist global regime of slavery and colonization. The “liberty” of the British, defended by philosophers like John Stuart Mill, required colonial subjects as examples to contrast with the “free” British ones, as well as institutions, disciplines, and, of course, the police, to create a civic sphere in which “freedom” could be exercised. The Western idea of liberty was conceived of in the shadow of slavery and colonization.8
Two Modes of Policing
So far we’ve contrasted a simple binary of police origins: slave patrols in the American South, and working class discipline in England. From the former, we can trace a lineage of social death, of paradigmatic violence, of a universaljustification for violence against black bodies. From the latter, we can trace a police which, while repressive, and while always violently on the side of property and bosses, claims to be part of a working class community. Not too long ago, liberals were claiming that the police, too, were part of the 99%, and therefore not the enemy of the Occupy movement.
In the white imaginary, the idea remains that one can appeal to the government and reform the police, that we can improve our lot in society.
The Chartists sought the vote for themselves, while ignoring the violent colonial structures that supported their lives. In this framing, the police might exist as a limit to push against, but not as an existential threat. Frank Wilderson sums up this relation neatly in his condemnation of socialist coalition politics, which are “able to imagine the subject that transforms itself into a mass of antagonistic identity formations, formations that can precipitate a crisis in wage slavery, exploitation, and hegemony, but…are asleep at the wheel when asked to provide enabling antagonisms toward unwaged slavery, despotism, and terror.”
This willingness of white people to accept the regulations of the police in exchange for some benefits and privileges explains why anti-police movements primarily erupt in black communities and communities of color. The Black Lives Matter movement has popularized the idea that the police evolved from slave patrols in the South. This is an important evolution and opens up new space for anti-police movements to grab hold in the mainstream. At the same time, an analysis of the police that understands them only as evolved from slave patrols, and primarily as a tool of white supremacy, leaves us with a partial story. It is a narrative that is particularly conducive to ally politics: if the police are primarily bad because they are racist, then the only role for white people is as allies. Anti-police work then easily becomes limited by a moral imperative of charity rather than a strategic and ethical linkage of struggles. It becomes impossible for white people to fight the police on their own terms, and for us all to find strength together, fighting because our causes are linked.
At the same time, analyses of social control as an array of cybernetic management techniques often ignore the very real, and very brutal, violence that defines policing of communities of color. When Deleuze and Tiqqun speak of “soft policing” or the ways that social media dulls our senses and restricts our political imagination, they erase the jackboots on the ground of the police in communities of color or resistance.
If we understand policing as a spectrum of tactics and techniques drawn from both slave patrols and civil servants, then we begin to see that policing adapts itself to what is socially permissible. That is, they use the violence they can get away with.
This modulation of violence flies in the face of the idea that we are all equal before the law. The problem is not that the law is applied unfairly and needs to be reformed, but that law and policing require this differentiation. John Stuart Mill realized this from the start, and built it into his own framework of civilized liberty. Liberty was to be reserved for those who were responsible and had been fully integrated into self-management. As Lisa Lowe puts it, this formulation “justified, in Mill’s writings, the despotism of colonial rule for those ‘unfit’ for representative government.”9 We see this logic at play every single time politicians and police condemn Black communities for rioting, every time Trump talks about the “carnage” in Chicago or Baltimore as justification for sending in federal agents, every time right-wing trolls call for the police to use live ammunition against “savage” protestors.
A better understanding of policing and control allows us to develop a more nuanced critique of social control, civil society, and white supremacy, and to discover more ways to intervene in and disrupt mechanisms of control.
Opposition to the police must not come from an abstract morality, in which the privileged recognize their unjust impact on other communities, but from our shared needs and desires—the police stand between all of us and a free world.
Seeking the moral high ground in anti-police struggles will only lead to respectability politics or to minor reforms that integrate some privileged few more fully into whiteness and civil society. Instead of symbolic protest, we should disrupt their ability to police. We can sabotage the soft management and surveillance enabled by social media, the jail cells and police cars that form the backbone of their coercive power, and the weapons factories that supply them. A free world requires the destruction of policing.
H.M. Henry,The Police Control of the Slave in South Carolina (Vanderbilt, 1914), 36 ↩
P.S. Foner History of Black Americans from Africa to the Emergence of the Cotton ↩
Kingdoms (Westport: Greenwood, 1975), 206; Humphrey Jennings, Pandaemonium, 1660-1886: The Coming of the Machine as Seen by Contemporary Observers (New York: The Free Press, 1985), 151 ↩
Christian Parenti, The Soft Cage: Surveillance in America from Slavery to the War on Terror (New York: Basic Books, 2003), 13-19 ↩
Simone Browne, Dark Matters: On the Surveillance of Blackness. (Durham: Duke University Press, 2015) 79 ↩
There are countless scenarios in which you might want to employ direct action. Perhaps representatives of despicable multinational corporations are invading your town to hold a meeting, and you want to do more than simply hold a sign; perhaps they’ve been there a long time, operating franchises that exploit workers and ravage the environment, and you want to hinder their misdeeds; perhaps you want to organize a festive, community-oriented event such as a street party. Direct action can plant a public garden in an abandoned lot or defend it by paralyzing bulldozers; it can occupy empty buildings to house the homeless or shut down government offices. Whether you’re acting in secret with a trusted friend or in a mass action with thousands of people, the basic elements are the same.
Direct Action in a Nutshell: A Step-by-Step Guide
First of All…
Brainstorming: Choose a project and devise a plan
Brainstorming can start with a problem you want to solve, or a social contribution you want to make; it can be informed by the resources you have, the kind of experience you desire, or the people you want to work with. You can plot a single short adventure or a long-term campaign. Often, the best brainstorming occurs in the course of daydreams and informal conversations—it’s good policy to trust that your craziest ideas can become reality and try them out.
By the same token, even when attending events organized by others, it’s best to bring a plan so you can contribute in your own way.
If it makes sense for your action to be organized openly, establish a format, such as a public assembly, in which to work out a strategy and tactics. Invite friends, or circulate fliers, or go from door to door announcing it. Come up with your own proposals ahead of time, in case no one else does.
For more clandestine actions, brainstorm in a secure environment with a trusted friend or two. Keep your ideas to yourselves as you hash them out so you won’t have already given them away when you’re ready to try them.
Goals: Establish and prioritize the goals of the action
Who is your action for? Is it directed at on-the-spot spectators, corporate media viewers, the owners of specific corporations, their stockholders, the police and government, other members of the community, the participants themselves?
What is it intended to accomplish? Is it meant to communicate ideas, to call attention to an injustice, to inspire people, to secure resources, to set a particular tone, to inflict crippling material damages, to provide a deterrent, to demonstrate a model others can apply, to serve as a learning and bonding experience for those involved?
Establishing a shared understanding of the goals of the action from the outset will save a lot of headaches later when your plans shift and potential conflicts arise.
Affinity Groups: Work tightly with those you know
One of the most efficient and secure models for direct action organizing is the affinity group model. An affinity group is a group of friends who trust each other deeply and share the same goals; working together over a long period of time, they become efficient and effective.
For a small action, the members of an affinity group can take on different roles. For a larger action, affinity groups can work with other affinity groups in a “cluster,” each group playing a role. This can make decision-making easier than it would be in one big mass, as each group can send a representative to a spokescouncil. Clusters of affinity groups can work together over long periods, building trust and effectiveness.
Recruiting: Bring in other individuals and groups carefully
Once you have a plan to propose, figure out how many people you need to accomplish it. If your plan requires secrecy, invite only people you trust to keep secrets and that you are sure will want to join in—everyone you invite who doesn’t end up participating is a needless security risk. Extend invitations one by one, or affinity group by affinity group, so those who decide against participating will not know anything about the others involved. Start by asking general questions about what a potential participant could be interested in, and don’t reveal critical details of the plan such as exact target or date until he or she is ready to make a commitment. As people are brought into a plan and go on to bring in others, make sure everyone has the same understanding of the appropriate degree of security.
As more people become involved in the project, it’s important that everyone understands how much commitment is expected of them. Sometimes the group that first presents a plan will be more invested in it than others; if they do months of work preparing, only to have another group they depended on drop out at the last minute, all that work is wasted. Everyone shares the responsibility of being honest from the beginning about what is realistic to expect of them. At the same time, those who initiate a project should be careful to share ownership with everyone else involved.
Dynamics: Make sure power is distributed evenly within your group
Make all decisions in a participatory and consensual manner. If your group is large enough to warrant it, use an informal or formal consensus meeting process to make sure all voices are heard: set the agenda of each meeting together and pick a facilitator to keep things on track. The more that everyone participates, the better informed the decisions you make will be.
Be aware of internal dynamics that may be unbalanced, such as those between people with different backgrounds, or between local organizers and participants from out of town. The more everyone participates in planning and preparing for the action, the more invested in its success everyone will be. A group with good internal dynamics is smarter than any individual can be; individuals can bring in ideas, but together the group can work out the best way to apply them.
Make sure everyone feels supported and comfortable throughout the project; check in with each other outside of formal structures as well as inside them. Though often overlooked, maintaining morale is a critical aspect of successful direct action organizing. Keep level heads in the face of surprises and uncertainty.
Security Culture: Circulate information on a need-to-know basis
Security culture is a way to avoid unhealthy paranoia by minimizing risks at all times. If you and your friends always conduct yourselves wisely, you’ll have less to fear from infiltration and surveillance.
The essence of security culture is that information is shared on a need-to-know basis. In some cases, the whole town needs to know about your action for it to be a success; in others, it is crucial that the action is never spoken of outside the circle of those directly involved. Everyone privy to the action needs to share a sense of what level of security has been deemed appropriate, and to respect others’ needs regarding safety.
Consent is as important in security as it is in sexual intimacy; it is never acceptable to violate another’s wishes regarding security issues. Make your own security needs explicit from the beginning; swear an oath of silence together if need be. Never talk about your or others’ involvement in past actions, however long ago, except with their express permission.
When a group comes together to work on a project, make sure everyone present is vouched for by others in the group as reliable and trustworthy. To protect each other, you should be prepared to remain silent under interrogation and legal pressure.
From the beginning of a project, you should operate according to the highest possible level of security it might require; you can always become less cautious later, but if you start out being careless you close off a lot of options.
Be aware of all the ways your actions can be monitored or tracked: the records of surveillance cameras, the purchases you make, the places you go and the people with whom you are seen, the location of meetings, the items you throw in your trash, the websites you visit, the files on your computer, the fingerprints you leave (on the batteries inside a flashlight as well as on the outside of it, for example), and virtually everything that has to do with a phone. Devise codes and prepare alibis as need be.
Legal Support: Prepare infrastructure to provide support during and after the action
Everyone involved in the action should be aware of and prepared for the risks they are taking and the potential criminal charges associated with them. It’s important not to take things farther than you feel ready to go: if you get hurt or arrested while engaging in a level of risk for which you are not emotionally prepared, the effects can be debilitating. Far better that you get started slowly, building a sustainable involvement with direct action projects that can continue over a lifetime, than rush into an action, have a bad experience, and swear off all such activity.
If your action may result in arrests, prepare a legal support structure for those who participate. This could include a legal aid number for arrestees to call, legal observers to monitor and document the actions of police, money for bail, lawyers to provide immediate support to arrestees and to represent them in court, and a circle of people prepared to offer emotional, financial, and logistical support throughout court cases.
The legal aid number should be open to receive incoming calls at all times throughout the action; bear in mind that in some cases, you cannot call a cell phone from jail. The legal aid number should not incriminate the arrestees or the people who receive the calls—if part of your alibi is that you don’t know each other, don’t all call the same number from jail. If you fear you will forget the number, write it on a concealed part of your body in permanent marker. The person operating the legal aid number should know the full names of those who may be arrested, so as to check on their status.
To bail someone out of jail, you can either give the entire amount of the bail to the court system, in which case you should receive it back after the legal process is finally concluded, or you can go to a bail bondsman and pay about 10% of that; in the latter case, the bondsman’s fees may cost you a significant amount of money. If no one can pay bail, an arrestee may sit in jail until the court date, although in the case of minor infractions it can happen that police release people on their own recognizance so as not to have to deal with them.
If you are risking arrest, decide whether you want to have your identification on you to expedite processing, or to be without it, so they cannot identify you immediately. A large group of arrestees who refuse to give their information can tie up the legal process and sometimes gain bargaining power. If you need medication, consider hiding it on your person, or carry a note from a doctor explaining what you need.
Find a sympathetic and trustworthy lawyer—or perhaps a few of them, since a lawyer cannot represent more than one defendant on the same charges. You can research which lawyers have taken on similar cases in the past, or approach the American Civil Liberties Union or National Lawyers Guild. If you don’t give away anything sensitive, you can ask sympathetic lawyers about the charges associated with hypothetical acts, or specify the dates and times you may require their services—but don’t let them know anything that could implicate them.In order to do their job, they need to be able to prove that they are not connected to anything illegal.
Any community whose members may suffer arrest would do well to establish a bail fund in advance; this can save a lot of running around in the middle of emergencies. Throw benefit shows, sell t-shirts, solicit donations from wealthy sympathizers, have your friends at the university book you speaking dates at their school in return for student funds. Make sure the bail fund stays with someone who is even-handed, trustworthy, and always easy to reach.
Likewise, consider what your media strategy will be—whether it will be wise to direct public attention and support to arrestees.
Media: Establish what coverage you want and get it
Long before an action, when you are establishing and prioritizing goals, work out exactly how much media coverage you want, from which sources, and how you are going to obtain or avoid it. This could mean composing and sending out a press release (Who, What, When, Where, How, Why) or a communiqué, electing a spokesperson to represent your project to the press, inviting corporate or independent reporters to the action or to a press conference, faxing announcements or making press calls, offering interviews (in person or anonymously over a burner phone), or having members of your group cover documentation themselves. If you want to avoid certain kinds of coverage, it could also mean assigning a participant to make sure photographers do not aim their cameras at you.
If you are communicating with the media, compose talking points, sound bites that your spokesperson repeats to be sure they get in the media coverage. Give representatives of the press as little material to work with as possible so they will have to use the part you want them to. Keep track of which reporters tend to provide positive coverage, and approach them personally. If you have a website, get this address into corporate media coverage to reroute their viewers to your media. You can also provide information to the public yourselves by postering, pirate radio, speaking events, or starting conversations door to door.
If your action warrants high security, send your communiqué securely: for example, from a public computer that leaves no record of who uses it. Be aware of how the devices you use can incriminate you.
Planning: Study the context, chart a strategy, plan for different scenarios
Proper planning is the essence of safe, effective direct action. Keeping your goals and priorities in mind along with the resources you have to work with, plot and compare different strategies. Weigh out the risks and potential rewards of each: always pick the safest way to accomplish a given objective, and make sure you can afford to take the risks you choose. It sometimes happens that as the planning process goes on, a project will get more and more ambitious and hazardous, until some of those involved start to have doubts; at that point, it may be necessary to work out a safer or scaled-down version of the plan, so it can still take place.
There are countless factors to take into account in planning. You must pick the most effective tactics in the context of the current social and political situation. You must pick the best location for the action and take into account all its attributes; you must pick the best date and time of day. You must bear in mind the others who will be in the area, and how they will react—will they be sympathetic, or may hostile vigilantes interfere with your activities? You must coordinate the timing of different parts of the action, predicting how long each will take, and figure out how those involved in the action will communicate.
When predicting the responses of others—say, for example, the police—consider the factors influencing them: Are they expecting what you’re planning, or do you have the element of surprise? If you have the advantage of surprise, how long will it last? Will there be a lot of attention focused on the event? Will it be immediately apparent what you are doing? Will there be middle-class citizens or reporters around, and will their presence put a damper on the authorities’ response? What is their strategy likely to be, based on previous precedents for police behavior in this context? Do their bosses want them to come down hard on you—or to avoid provoking a scene? How well do they communicate, how fast do they move, where are they located, what routes will they take?
Don’t underestimate the challenges of simple logistical matters, such as transporting people or communicating in stressful situations. Don’t forget to plan an exit strategy, either.
Because plans rarely come off exactly as they are laid, it’s important to have backup plans worked out for different scenarios: “If ____, we’ll ____; if ____, we’ll ____.” Have a few different objectives in mind, in case your first choice turns out to be impossible. Having a basic structure for communications and decision-making in place will help you to be prepared for situations that play out differently than any of the scenarios you had imagined.
Be careful not to put others at risk for your actions; the authorities will probably charge whomever they get their hands on with the worst crimes they can, so it’s important both to get those who take risks out of the area safely and to make sure serious charges can’t stick to anyone else. In some cases, you can bring together multi-leveled groups in which everyone knows the general goal but only a few know critical details such as what the target is or who is to carry out the riskiest activity.
Be prepared for the best-case scenario as well as the worst. New ideas, if they are good ones, tend to fail because people don’t take them far enough, whereas older ideas usually fail because they are too familiar to everyone, including the authorities. Sometimes the best results come from applying familiar tactics in entirely new settings.
Look back in time for precedents, occasions when similar actions were attempted in similar contexts. These can be very instructive. As you gather years of experience and learn from others’ successes and failures, you’ll develop skills for predicting and preparing for a wide variety of situations.
Preparation: Gather equipment and dress appropriately
Once your plans are laid, draw up a timeline until your action, counting backwards from the big day to establish the deadlines for all the pieces that must be in place.
Early on in the planning, work out what funding, materials, and other resources you will need and how to obtain them. If security is a priority, obtain what you need in such a way that it cannot be traced to you; affinity groups from out of town can acquire potentially incriminating materials far from the site of the action.
Make sure everyone has appropriate clothes for the action, including different outfits in layers if necessary. Take security issues into account as they relate to clothing: if everyone is dressing in black for anonymity, be sure no one’s clothes have unique identifying features; likewise, if you’re going to be posing as random passers-by, remember that civilian dress is different in Miami than it is in Seattle. If timing is important, make sure everyone’s watches are synchronized.
Double-check to make sure everything is ready by your deadline. Go through a practice run, verbally if not physically. If participants are unfamiliar with the area, distribute maps. If need be, plant necessary materials in the area in advance of the action—being careful not to give anything away in the process.
Scouting: Study the site of the action and stay abreast of changes
Before the action, study the area carefully. Chart safe routes in and out; look for hiding places, obstacles, potential targets, and surveillance cameras (including those in ATMs and stoplights). Note how long it takes to travel key distances, and be aware of the visibility from and of key locations. How close are the authorities, how long will it take them to arrive? Can their approach be delayed? Who else is in the area?
While scouting, be careful not to call attention to yourself or leave an obvious record of your passing. Be sure to do at least some of your scouting at the same time of day as the planned action, and if possible do a quick check immediately before it to make sure nothing has changed. If your action calls for daunting tasks, such as climbing a steep rooftop, it may be good to make an actual practice run at some point.
Information can also be gathered from photos, maps, and brochures; aerial maps or blueprints may be available. In some cases you can obtain information from a tourist center, or call and ask questions on a pretext (as a student doing a report, for example), or even receive a guided tour. Once you’ve collected a lot of information, it can be helpful to consolidate the important parts into a map suited to your needs. Be careful to dispose of all files and paperwork securely.
Roles: Divide up responsibilities and set up decision-making structures
Identify all the roles necessary to pull off your plan, and make sure every one of these is filled. Some potential roles include:
internal (“embedded”) media
legal aid contacts
“plants” (for example, people disguised as innocent bystanders who are ready to intervene if necessary, or who will politely honk their horns while a barricade is erected in front of them)
people to transport materials
people to receive information and make tactical decisions
people to carry out the actual action
In some situations, it is wise to have understudies for important roles, in case it turns out at the last minute that someone can’t participate. This is especially true if you don’t know in advance what the date of your action will be—for example, if it is to coincide with an event that you cannot predict in advance, such as the announcement of a verdict or a declaration of war.
Diplomacy: Consider the way the action will affect others
If your action is taking place during or as part of a larger event, there may be large meetings at which different groups try to coordinate their efforts. These can be useful, but they tend to consume a lot of time and energy, so make sure you go into them knowing exactly what you hope to accomplish.
Whether you’re acting in the midst of thousands of other activists or far away from anyone, take into account the way your actions will affect other people. Will they endanger others? Will they provoke police repression? If so, will others bear the brunt of it, and is it possible to offset this? Will your actions make it more difficult for other people to do important work in a given community? Are there negotiations or reassurances you should engage in before, during, or after the action?
Honor all agreements you make with other groups; some might be willing to help you, with or without knowledge of the specific details of what you’re doing. Over time, if you prove reliable and considerate, you’ll build alliances with them.
During and After the Action
Awareness: Stay alert throughout the action
Awareness is key to the success of any action. Often, the atmosphere can change very quickly. It is important to keep up with what is going on around you, and to have established in advance how you will react to a given scenario. For example, is the arrival of a single police car a big deal? How about ten? Is it common for police to tail marchers in this city? While you can never be certain of exactly what will happen, going over possible scenarios in advance and having an idea of how your group wants to deal with them will give everyone a more solid idea of how to react—and how not to overreact—as the situation develops.
When informing others of a development, announce the raw information, not the conclusions you may have drawn from it (“The police are putting on gas masks,” not “They’re going to gas us!”), so others can draw their own conclusions. Resist the urge to panic, and the tendency to get carried away as well.
Communications: Keep each other informed
During the action, scouts can keep track of changes in the terrain such as arriving police, crowd movements, others’ activities nearby, and safe zones. They can use communication systems such as burner phones, encrypted text messaging, two-way radios, or whistles to keep in touch; audio or visual signals such as car horns or fireworks can also serve. A police scanner can be used to monitor police communications.
To make communication more efficient, scouts can report to an individual or sub-group in the center of the action; in a larger setting, they can phone in their findings to a central information hub, which others can call with questions.
Just as communications equipment can make you more efficient and effective, it also increases the risk of surveillance. You can use codes and code names, but be judicious—complicated codes are easy to forget, and prosecutors can argue that your codes meant something more drastic than they actually did. Even if no other communication system is used, it can be useful to have the option of an “abort” signal for emergencies.
Dispersal: Quit while you’re ahead
A safe escape is the most commonly overlooked part of direct action organizing. Be sure to have an exit strategy worked out in advance. If you’ll be in a large group, especially with others who haven’t been part of the planning process, think about how to avoid the herd mentality that keeps crowds together after it would be better to split up. Know when to press your advantage, and when to quit—when to run as fast as you can, and when to walk nonchalantly. Discard anything that could incriminate you, if possible in a place it will not be found; wait to change your appearance until you’re sure you’re no longer under observation.
If need be, gather in a safe place afterwards and make sure everyone is accounted for; collect bail money, seek outside assistance, write press releases. While everyone involved is still around, get contact information for anyone who might be able to testify or provide documentation to assist arrestees.
Debriefing: Regroup to discuss what went well and what lessons can be learned
After the action, destroy any evidence that could be used against you; keep tools that could be tied to the action in a hiding place outside your home. If you may have to testify in court at some date in the far future, consider writing down all the details you might need to remember on a piece of paper and concealing it in some place where you can be sure it will never be found. Get together in a secure setting and go over what happened. Follow up on ongoing matters, such as supporting those with court cases, providing further clarification to the public as to the goals of and ideas behind the action, and sorting out conflicts. Celebrate your victories, offer each other constructive criticism, learn from your mistakes, and lay plans for the next project.
Over two hundred people mass-arrested during the demonstrations against Trump’s Inauguration are facing felony rioting charges punishable by up to ten years in prison apiece. Though these people were arrested simply for happening to be on the same city block, the prosecutor has not dropped or diminished the charges, instead using the court process as a kind of judicial harassment.
Since April 2016, when the Sacred Stone camp was founded, there have been nearly 800 arrests in the struggle against the Dakota Access Pipeline. These include state charges ranging from misdemeanor criminal trespass to felony terrorizing and rioting, federal charges against six Indigenous Water Protectors, and an active grand jury convened to investigate the activities of everyone resisting the pipeline. While the camps have been evicted and the people forcibly removed in a militarized operation, resistance continues.
Meanwhile, Trump and his cronies have been spreading conspiracy theories about protesters, alleging without a shred of evidence that they are being paid to protest. The idea is to delegitimize dissidents by accusing them of the same profit motive that Trump and his cronies are flagrantly pursuing in the full light of day. These outright lies send a message to far-right vigilantes that they will have a free hand to attack demonstrators and dissidents without consequences from the state.
In short, the state is opening a new phase of repression. Having done nothing to protect the black people, Muslims, and Jews targeted in an explosion of racist and anti-Semitic attacks, the state is openly carrying out its own attacks on Middle Eastern refugees and immigrants from Mexico and Central America, and now aims to crush everyone who opposes this. The one-two punch of state repression and vigilante attacks is calculated to destroy social movements, softening up America so Trump can force through his totalitarian agenda.
What We Can Do
Make sure that everyone who has been arrested has all the resources they need to see them through the court process so they can get back out on the street and active again. Below, you can find a list of fundraisers to support arrestees. Donate right now while you’re thinking about it! What do you want people to do when you are facing charges?
Set up benefit events to raise funds for the defendants. You could set up a punk show, a dance party, a cake auction, or a bake sale; you could do the rounds with a donation jar at a bookstore or farmer’s market.
Organize an event for the upcoming grand jury resistance tour that the Water Protector Anti-Repression Crew from Standing Rock is setting up.
Help people understand Trump’s disinformation campaign as propaganda intended to set the stage for a totalitarian crackdown. This isn’t an issue for protesters alone—everyone’s freedom is at stake here. Any precedents that are set in repression against protesters will be used against everyone else.
Identify key figures responsible for this wave of repression and put direct pressure on them, connecting them with the crackdown on freedom. Make it clear that there will be personal consequences for taking the side of oppression.
Drop banners, post fliers, set up educational events, and distribute information about the charges and how to support arrestees. Make sure the subject is on everyone’s minds at all times.
Refuse to cooperate with state investigations and grand juries. Teach people to know their rights, to remain silent when police and federal agents interrogate and threaten them, to support grand jury resisters.
Keep fighting. The best defense is a good offense! If there is a powerful movement against Trump and the forces he represents, defendants from the previous clashes will be more likely to receive the support they deserve. Keep organizing new efforts against Trump, police, nationalists, and the pipelines and profiteering from which they draw their power.
Publishing the following links to these support campaigns in no way indicates that the defendants in question endorse this call for solidarity, nor that they have ever been exposed to anarchist politics or this site in particular. The point is simply that everyone swept up in these charges deserves support.
If you’ve used the internet at any point since May 2013, you’ve probably heard that you should use encrypted communications. Edward Snowden’s revelation that the National Security Agency logs all of our calls, texts, and emails sparked a surge in the development and use of encryption apps and services. Only a few years later, encryption is widely used for daily communication. If you use any of these encryption tools, you’ve probably also heard the phrase “end-to-end encryption,” or “E2EE.” The name seems straightforward enough: end-to-end means content is encrypted from one endpoint (generally your phone or computer) to another endpoint (the phone or computer of your message’s intended recipient). But what level of security does this promise for you, the user?
Since the beginning of Trump’s administration, the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has stepped up its invasions of travelers’ privacy. The CBP has been demanding that both US citizens and visitors log into their phones and laptops and hand them over to the CBP for inspection. They’ve also demanded that travelers provide their passwords or log into their social media accounts. Travelers who don’t comply face the threat of being denied entry.
Yesterday, Wikileaks publish a trove of leaked CIA documents including knowledge of security vulnerabilities and exploits that the CIA paid for and kept secret from the general public. Now that this information has leaked, it’s no longer just the CIA that knows these vulnerabilities—it’s everyone. The New York Times and others misreported that the CIA had broken the encryption in apps like Signal and WhatsApp, when in fact what the CIA did was target and compromise specific people’s Android devices.
In short, this revelation confirms the importance of using end-to-end encrypted communications, which hinder state-level actors from performing broad spectrum dragnet surveillance. E2EE is still important.
Many reports around Vault 7 have given the impression that encrypted apps like Signal have been compromised. In fact, the compromise is at the device level—at the endpoint. There is no reason to believe the encryption itself does not work.
Limitations: Plaintext Endpoints
First, it’s important to understand that if you can read a message, it is plaintext—that is, no longer encrypted. With end-to-end encryption, the weak links in the security chain are you and your device, and your recipient and their device. If your recipient can read your message, anyone with access to their device can also read it. An undercover cop could read your message over your recipient’s shoulder, or the police could confiscate your recipient’s device and crack it open. If there is any risk of either of these unfortunate events taking place, you should think twice before sending anything you wouldn’t want to share with the authorities.
This particular limitation is also relevant to the recent “Vault 7” reveals, which demonstrate how apps like Signal, WhatsApp, and Telegram may not be useful if an adversary (like the CIA) gains physical access to your device or your contact’s device and is able to unlock it. Many reports around Vault 7 have been somewhat misleading, giving the impression that the apps themselves have been compromised. In this case, the compromise is at the device level—at the endpoint. The encryption itself is still good.
Limitations: Targeted Surveillance
Considering that you can’t control the security conditions of your message’s recipient, you should consider the possibility that any message you send them might be read. While rare, there are cases of state powers targeting people with direct surveillance. In these cases, targets may be working with malware-infected devices intended to log all of their incoming and outgoing communications. This compromise functions at the endpoint level, rendering E2EE useless against these specific adversaries. Because it is difficult to know whether you (or your message recipient) are the target of this type of attack, it is always best to default to not sending overly-sensitive information via digital communications. Currently, such attacks appear to be rare, but one should never take risks needlessly.
The third thing you should know about E2EE is that it doesn’t necessarily protect your metadata. Depending on how communications are transmitted, logs may still show the time and size of communication, as well as the sender and recipient. Logs may also show the location of both sender and recipient at the time of communication. While this is not typically enough to land someone in jail on its own, it can be useful in proving associations between people, establishing proximity to crime scenes, and tracking communication patterns. All these pieces of information are useful in establishing larger behavioral patterns in cases of direct surveillance.
So, if end-to-end encryption doesn’t necessarily protect the content of your communications, and still gives up useful metadata, what’s the point of using it?
One of the most important things E2EE does is ensure that your data never hits someone else’s servers in a readable form. Since end-to-end encryption starts from the moment you hit “send” and persists until it hits your recipient’s device, when a company—like Facebook—is subpoenaed for your logged communications, they do not have any plaintext content to give up. This puts the authorities in a position in which if they wish to acquire the content of your communications, they are forced to spend a significant amount of time and resources attempting to break the encryption. In the United States, your right to a speedy trial may render this evidence useless to prosecutors, who may not be able to decrypt it quickly enough to please a judge.
Another use of E2EE serves is to make dragnet surveillance by the National Security Agency and other law enforcement agencies much more difficult. Since there is no point in the middle at which your unencrypted communications can be grabbed, what is grabbed instead is the same encrypted blocks of text available by subpoena. Dragnet surveillance is generally conducted by collecting any available data and subjecting it to automated sorting rather than individual analysis. The use of encryption prevents algorithmic sifting for content, thus making this process much more difficult and generally not worthwhile.
In addition to NSA’s data collection, federal and state law enforcement agencies around the country have, and frequently use, cell site simulators known as “IMSI catchers” or “Stingrays.” IMSI catchers pretend to be cell towers in order to trick your phone into giving up identifying information, including your location. Cell site simulators also grab and log your communications. As with other methods of interception, encryption means that what is retrieved is largely useless, unless the law enforcement agency is willing to go to the trouble to decrypt it.
Encryption At Rest
In addition to using end-to-end encryption to protect the content of your messages while they’re being sent, you can use full-disk encryption to protect your information while it’s stored on your device. Proper full-disk encryption means that all of the information on your device is indecipherable without your encryption key (usually a passphrase), creating a hardened endpoint which is much more difficult to compromise. Although encrypting your endpoints is not necessarily protection against some of the more insidious methods of surveillance, such as malware, it can prevent adversaries who gain possession of your devices from pulling any useful data off of them.
End-to-end encryption is by no means a magical shield against surveillance by nation states or malicious individuals, but Vault 7 highlights how using it can help force a procedural shift from dragnet surveillance to resource-intensive targeted attacks. When paired with good sense, encrypted devices, and other security practices, E2EE can be a powerful tool for significantly reducing your attack surface. Consistent, habitual use of end-to-end encryption can nullify many lower-tier threats and may even cause some higher-level adversaries to decide that attacking you is simply not worth the effort.
Thanks to you, we’ve successfully funded our next two books, No Wall They Can Build and From Democracy to Freedom! Altogether, you pledged more than $17,000; over 600 print copies of each of the print books are already spoken for. We are eager to get these out into the world and grateful for your assistance.
In addition to the books, we will be printing tens of thousands of our new full-color poster “Borders: The Global Caste System.” You can see the front of the poster here; we will publish the complete design shortly. We hope to see these adorn the walls everywhere that people are indoctrinated with racist propaganda about immigration while families are torn apart by deportation.
We came within a couple thousand dollars of our stretch goal to print stickers and arrange translations of the books—but we wouldn’t be us if we didn’t do stuff that we can’t afford, would we? One way or another, we’ll print the stickers and put them at your disposal. Likewise, with enough volunteer assistance, we still hope to offer Spanish translations. If you’re interested in publishing these books in another other language, please get in touch.
In 2-3 weeks backers will receive a survey in which we collect your shipping address, email address, as well as the custom inscription (if any) you’d like in your PDFs. We still are on track with our projected timeline of sending the PDFs in March and the printed rewards in April.
Since April 2016, protesters have maintained encampments aimed at stopping the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. On February 22nd and 23rd, police evicted the Oceti Sakowin camp. We spoke with a participant in the Water Protector Anti-Repression Crew, who witnessed the camp’s eviction, about the past several months of struggle, the current wave of repression against water protectors, and how participants’ feelings about leadership and tactics have changed in the course of events.
The Water Protector Anti-Repression Crew will kick off a tour on April 2, starting in Minneapolis and heading across the territories and cities west of the Mississippi. To arrange a date where you live, contact them at WPantirepression@protonmail.com. The Water Protector Anti-Repression Crew works with the Water Protector Legal Collective and the Freshet Collective to coordinate resistance to state repression against those fighting the pipeline. Donations for long-term legal support are still desperately needed and can be made through the Freshet Collective.
CrimethInc. Ex-Worker’s Collective: So, who are we speaking with and what are you doing up there at Standing Rock?
Water Protector Anti-Repression Crew: I’m a part of the Water Protector Anti-Repression Crew, which is a group of people who have been at the camps at Standing Rock for many months. We work in coordination with the Water Protector Legal Collective and the Freshet Collective helping to coordinate mass defense efforts, but also working on anti-repression education in the camps and elsewhere and then also on broader movement defense development.
CWC: How long has the protest camp been going on, and what are some of the major events that are important to understanding the timeline of the camp?
WPARC: The camp first started at Sacred Stone last April. It’s been going on for almost a year. That camp started initially on Ladonna Bravebull Allard’s land in April as a small prayer camp and then grew from there, especially over the course of the summer, and expanded into what then became Rosebud Camp. This all was on the reservation side of Standing Rock. Eventually, people crossed over the Cannonball River to the north side, which became the Oceti Sakowin Camp. This is the camp that some people know has been evicted as of yesterday and today, February 22nd and 23rd.
The camps have been going on for quite some time and there’s been a lot of different tactics and some people might characterize it as different battles that have occurred over the course of that time, catching and capturing world-wide attention back in September with something that a lot of people refer to as Day of the Dogs where water protectors were attacked by privately hired mercenaries that were hired by the Dakota Access Pipeline to provide security for the pipeline. They used attack dogs to move water protectors off of what Dakota Access Pipeline considered its land along the pipeline route. From September 3rd—that Day of the Dogs—onward, things really escalated in intensity. Then in early October, again things really escalated in intensity where people had established a camp that was called the 1851 Treaty Camp. In camp, people oftentimes just referred to it as Frontline Camp or North Camp. It was set up in the direct line of the pipeline and it created a shift not only in an assertion of indigenous sovereignty over whether the people of Standing Rock wanted a pipeline built on their land, but also brought into the mix the assertion of treaty rights as well, which is something that hasn’t really been seen in the States in the last 30 or 40 years on that level of intensity.
That camp was raided and evicted by North Dakota and other law enforcement brought in from other states on October 27th. People refer to this as the Raid of North Camp or Raid of Frontline Camp. This was a battle that became particularly heated in a literal way. There were burning barricades, there was a very difficult direct confrontation with law enforcement, and there were multiple points of struggle happening at one time. Moving forward into November, there were again some moments that really captured worldwide attention.
On November 20th, there was the Battle of Backwater Bridge which captured, again, worldwide attention from people. Many people probably have memories of Morton County sheriffs utilizing fire hoses against hundreds of water protectors in sub-freezing temperatures. This resulted in over 300 people being medically treated for hypothermia and other injuries from different munitions that law enforcement were using; tear gas, pepper spray, and other types of less-than-lethal bullets.
Also on that night of November 20th was the night that Sophia Wilansky was injured, presumably by a concussion grenade thrown by law enforcement. She nearly lost her arm and will continue to have to have medical treatment and surgeries, probably many surgeries, to regain any use of her arm. Another woman named Suzie was shot in the eye and has lost vision in her eye as a result of the actions of law enforcement on that night. About a week or maybe two weeks later, there was a temporary moment of celebration in the camps where there was initially a denial of the easement to Dakota Access Pipeline that was put out by the Army Corps of Engineers. In that timeline, around December, at the same time that the denial of the easement happened, that was also when we found out that a federal grand jury had been convened. At least one water protector that we know of has been subpoenaed to that grand jury, Steve Martinez, and he has chosen to actively resist cooperating and continues to resist cooperation with the grand jury. There has been quite a lot that’s happened since April of last year, when about 20 people started a prayer camp at Sacred Stone. Over the course of almost a year now, almost 10,000 people have come and gone through the camps. It has been a long 10 months or so.
CWC: Wait, I thought the 10,000 number was for the most people that were there at one time
WPARC: I guess that’s probably accurate. Around the time of that denial of the easement in early December, there were about 9,000 people in camp at once. Probably the number of people who have come and gone through camp is higher than that, but that is the peak number of how many people were there at one time.
CWC: How has the camp changed and shifted since November? What does it look like now in late February?
WPARC: Things have changed a lot since the end of November. There were some moment of celebration amongst some when the denial of easement came from the Army Corps. And there was also, amongst many people at camp, a sense that this was temporary and unlikely to last. Trump was about to be inaugurated and take office, he had already been quite a proponent of extraction during the lead up to his administration, and he has actually been an investor in the Dakota Access Pipeline himself. On his campaign trail he had spoken about wanting to see the Keystone XL Pipeline go through after that had been shut down by Obama some time back, and he had spoken about his insistence that Dakota Access Pipeline would be completed. So, even with that denial of the easement, there was tension within the camp that this was something that wouldn’t last past January 20th.
The mood in camp has shifted quite a lot. The winter in North Dakota is harsh. At the beginning of December, there were a number of blizzards back to back. It was some of the highest snowfall the state of North Dakota has seen in many years. People in camp have been in survival mode as much as they’ve been in resistance.
The ways that camp has changed is definitely the numbers grew smaller over the last few months. It’s not an easy place to be, and also many people had put in long months at camp and had given up a lot in their personal lives. People left jobs, people left their homes, their families, their relatives, and their communities, to come here and be not only in solidarity with the people of Standing Rock, but also for a lot of indigenous people, saw it as connecting to their own struggles in their own territories at home. People have put quite a lot on the line and it makes sense that people need to return to their own homelands and territories and communities. We say it a lot up here that the frontlines are everywhere, and I think that rings true for a lot of people during this time.
In the sense that people have been in survival mode at camp, people have also never really lost that willingness to continue to fight. There have not been, in the last few months, as intense of battles as there were in the months of September through November. There have been smaller, skirmishes with law enforcement as they started to really push the boundaries and come closer and closer to camp, especially to the big camp on the north side which is on Army Corps land, the Oceti Sakowin Camp.
During this time there were a lot of people who were facing harsh repression from the state. As of today there are almost 800 people who have open cases in the state of North Dakota. There are 6 people currently facing federal felonies and looking at long prison sentences, and there is also this active grand jury that is going on as well. As the numbers grew smaller at the camps, the intense state repression started to fully manifest in the courts.
CWC: Can you describe the current situation of repression, and how this has developed over the course of the encampment?
WPARC: Starting at the beginning of December, we found out about this grand jury that had been convened, investigating the activities of water protectors. As I mentioned before, there’s one person, Steve Martinez, who we know has been subpoenaed and is actively resisting and refusing to cooperate with the grand jury. That’s been going on since the beginning of December.
Going back to October 27th again, at that Raid of the North Camp, or Battle for Sacred Ground, a woman named Red Fawn Fallis was arrested and initially charged with North Dakota state charges for an attempted murder on a police officer. They said that she had a firearm and that she tried to shoot a police officer during her arrest. At first, it was just the state charges that she had. And then, shortly after that, around a month later, the Feds came in with federal charges against her. The charges against her on the federal level are felon in possession of a weapon, which carries a mandatory minimum of 2 years and up to 5 years. The state of North Dakota never dropped the state charges against her, the attempted murder charges. They’re just kind of tabled and in limbo. If things don’t work out on the federal level, if they aren’t able to get a conviction, her legal representation feels strongly that the state of North Dakota will proceed with the state charges.
Red Fawn had been a large part of the camps and had been a huge helper and member of the community at the camps. It felt like at the time, back in October, that it was a strategic act on the state’s end to have that kind of chilling effect. If you’re somebody who is integral to support of a movement, then they’re going to try to incapacitate you and hopefully frighten others from filling those kinds of roles. About a month ago now, we found out that one person was also being charged with federal charges. His name is Michael Markus, also known as Rattler around camp. He was charged with two federal counts. One, a civil disorder count, and the second, a use of fire in committing a crime. During a very unusual release hearing, where an ATF agent who is part of the ground team here in North Dakota and part of the investigatory body that the Feds have put together looking into the activities of water protectors, we found out during his testimony that there’s a pretty massive federal investigation into the activities of water protectors. They seem fairly focused on the happenings on and around October 27th that involved burning barricades. This is what they allege that Michael Markus was a part of. About a week or two later, a previously sealed indictment became unsealed and we found out that Michael Markus has 4 co-defendants whom the state alleges were in a conspiracy of sorts together to use fire in committing a crime. Specifically, that fire was used to impede the movements and actions of law enforcement on that day in their efforts to raid the North Camp.
Shortly after that, it was also made public that the joint terrorism task forces on the ground here in North Dakota as well, were looking into the activities of water activities. Some of our suspicions from the Anti-Repression Crew over the last few months were exactly this. The state of North Dakota is racking up charges, mostly misdemeanors, although there are some felonies that people are facing which carry a maximum of 5 years in prison. We assumed that there was also a larger federal schematic being put together in the background and we found out through Agent Hill from ATF’s testimony that that was indeed the case.
Today and yesterday there was an eviction of Oceti Sakowin Camp that had been announced for several weeks by the Army Corps when they approved the easement, ultimately at the urging of the Trump administration. We’ve also noticed that ATF and FBI were on the scene of the eviction as well. Many other law enforcement agencies were also present, including Homeland Security. Today they had a Border Patrol helicopter doing surveillance over the camps. There’s quite an amassing of federal forces here in North Dakota at Standing Rock that seem not only to have the purpose of shutting down this camp, but it also seems to be very intentional as this is not the only pipeline that is being built or is proposed to be built. There are many other pipelines that will be going through many people’s territories across North America and across the US. This is a moment where we believe that the Trump administration and federal government want to make a strong statement of zero tolerance around indigenous sovereignty and earth defense.
CWC: What has been going on the past couple of days with the eviction of the Oceti Sakowin Camp?
WPARC: A few weeks ago, when the Army Corps ultimately approved the easement for Dakota Access Pipeline to drill underneath the Missouri River at the Lake Oahe point, they gave a deadline of February 23rd. They actually ended up coming in with a fairly large amassing of law enforcement yesterday on February 22nd. There were about 10 arrests yesterday at the camp. Primarily the people who were arrested yesterday were independent journalists, legal observers, and one water protector, someone who wasn’t fulfilling a support or a media role. Yesterday they seemed to really be targeting media in a pretty overt way. Today around 9 am, they came into the big camp, Oceti Sakowin, in a much more militarized fashion. Most people had left Oceti yesterday, though there were a few people who had chosen to remain. There were about 20 people at the Cheyenne River Camp within Oceti who had made very clear yesterday and very publicly stated that they would passively resist the eviction. Many of the people at the Cheyenne River Camp are Oglala Lakota and come from the Pine Ridge area. Pine Ridge has a long history of struggle against the State and they also have quite a stake in seeing this pipeline stopped. They are reliant on the water from the Oglala Aquifer which is fed by the Missouri River and is actually Pine Ridge’s last opportunity for clean water, as the remaining portion of their water is already contaminated by Uranium mining. Not only do people from Pine Ridge feel very strongly that their water is in danger, but they also feel very strongly about asserting their treaty rights. A big part of their choice in passively resisting the eviction yesterday, was to assert their treaty rights. The land that the Army Corps claims as theirs in that area is unceded treaty land that was never ceded to the federal government nor the state of North Dakota and still belongs to the Great Sioux Nation according to the Treaty of Fort Laramie of 1868.
There were around 70 other people remaining in Oceti as of the morning. Many of whom, as law enforcement moved in, chose to move south across the Cannonball River which is currently frozen. People were walking across the frozen river to the reservation side, assuming that if they went over to the reservation side it would be a safe place, as there had been no eviction notice given to the camp on the other side of the river at Rosebud where people were fleeing to. But then, in the afternoon the Bureau of Indian Affairs, or BIA, entered into Rosebud Camp and also started arresting people on the Rosebud reservation side as well. There seems to be an attempt at evicting the Rosebud encampment, and there had been an attempt to, in a very sneaky, shady way evict Sacred Stone Camp as well. But Sacred Stone is on land that is privately owned by Ladonna Bravebull Allard and her family. There seems to be a strong collusion between tribal governance at Standing Rock and federal law enforcement and the Trump administration to push out Sacred Stone Camp as well. A few weeks ago, Sacred Stone was served an eviction notice and the tribe asserted that they owned 66% of Ladonna’s land, which is untrue. Ladonna, with the help of a legal team, was able to call off that eviction and resist that eviction. But we all assume here on the ground that they will continue to try and find ways to push people off of Ladonna’s land at Sacred Stone as well.
CWC: Can you speak to the different elements of leadership within the camp and how that may or may not intersect with collusion with the state?
WPARC: Any time that you get a mass movement together, in my personal experience and in my knowledge of history, there are many forces at play. There is no such thing on the ground as unity. I think this rings true for the struggle at Standing Rock as well. With as many thousands of people who have come to and from this camp, there are people who come for many different reasons. There are definitely NGOs and “movement manager” types that have come to and from camp; but I think the thing that sticks out the most, as far as where some dark kind of collusion with the state or with capital exists, is in tribal governance in this situation in particular. If people know the history of tribal government and how they were set up, these are not the ways in which indigenous communities historically, traditionally governed themselves. This is a colonial model of governance that has been imposed upon indigenous people in North America in the US. As much as people want to say they are here at the camps in solidarity with Standing Rock Sioux reservation, that becomes very blurry. On the ground over the months that these camps have existed, it has become blurry over and over again, including for myself. There was a time back in early December when the Army Corps denied the easement, that Dave Archambault, the tribal chairman of Standing Rock, came to the camp to announce this and then drove around camp in his pickup truck telling everyone it was time to go home. The tribal government has repeatedly insisted that people need to go home, that this battle is in the courtrooms now, and that the need for the camps is over. That’s not how people at the camps feel, and while they wish to be in solidarity with Standing Rock Sioux reservation and the people of Standing Rock, it becomes about being in solidarity with the people and the land and the water, as opposed to being in solidarity with the tribal government.
The history of tribal governments across the US is that they often are in collusion with the federal government and their wishes, or with the wishes of capital. Over and over again on many reservations, you see tribal governments sell out their own people and act against the interests or wishes of people on the rez. This is not an unusual turn of events when it comes to struggles for indigenous sovereignty over their lands and waters, but it is heartbreaking for people to watch. There’s also been moments where individual people’s desires for how struggle is enacted on a frontline come to a head, where some people have one view of a tactic that might be useful and others have a different view. Many people are familiar with the assertion that this is a prayerful movement, and I think for a lot of people who don’t come from indigenous spiritual practice, it can be hard to understand what people here at the camps mean when they say that this is a prayerful movement. For indigenous people, the way it has been explained for me–I’m not native–but the way that I’ve heard many people talk about it, who are native, is that prayer for them is not something that you do at church. A lot of Christians view prayer as something that you do, and then you brush your teeth and move on with your day. For indigenous people, prayer is something that you enact. To set up a prayer camp in resistance to a pipeline, your prayers are your resistance. And it’s your words and your ceremony as much as it’s your actions on the frontline. I think that’s important for people to take into consideration in this situation. There are differences between indigenous practices and the practices of tribal government or individuals’ choices on a frontline and the choices of an NGO that has grants to uphold and that they hope will be renewed in the future.
CWC: While you’ve been up there, have you seen any shifts in participants’ views on tactics as a result of their time being at the camps?
WPARC: I definitely have seen how not just individuals’ views about tactics have shifted and changed over their time in camp, but I’ve also seen how organizations’ tactics have changed with their time in camp. An organization called IP3, Indigenous People’s Power Project, came to the camps back in September or October. They’re a non-profit indigenous organization that provides all types of training. They do a lot of direct action trainings and know your rights trainings across the US in a lot of different territories. Initially when they came to camp, there was a very strong dynamic within the camp of elder leadership and that being very central in indigenous struggles traditionally. But, the way that played out in the camp became very confusing for many people. An action would be occurring, people would be on a frontline, there would be tear gas flying and all of a sudden someone would run up and say, “the elders say that everyone needs to go home, return to the camp!” But it was very unclear who these elders were and where they were to tell us this, and why they had sent this person who is clearly not an elder. Had this person ever spoken to an elder?
It became really confusing on frontlines many times over, especially October through November. This dynamic of the frontline, things are heated, people are battling with the police, and then the elders have called everybody back. What I watched with IP3 was a shift from automatically telling their folks to come back any time that some random person ran up and said the elders say go home, to then starting to train their people in direct action trainings which they were running every single day at camp for months. They were telling people that when you go out to an action, whether it be an action near the pipeline or an action in town in Mandan or Bismarck, the two big towns about an hour north of where the camps are, that you go out with an objective and you stick to the objective no matter what.
On Thanksgiving Day, or “Thanks-taking,” there was an action at a place called Turtle Island which is a sacred spot for the people of Standing Rock that’s just on the northeast side of the Oceti Camp. There’s a creek called the Cantapeta Creek that is a water barrier between where the camp is and where Turtle Island is. Law enforcement had taken over Turtle Island. To the people of Standing Rock and to indigenous people who were at the camp, it was very offensive to watch law enforcement desecrating this sacred place. There had been many attempts previously in the weeks prior, to retake Turtle Island [with] people building bridges or running boats across. Then on Thanks-taking Day, IP3 helped to organize an action where they successfully built a bridge and got hundreds of people across onto Turtle Island for prayer and ceremony.
The same thing played out again where suddenly people come from nowhere saying, “The elders have called everybody back, we need to go home. This shouldn’t happen, it’s not sanctioned by the elders…” I watched people from IP3 tell the people who had come for this action, “Stay here and finish what you’re here to do. We’re here for prayer and for ceremony, and we’ll complete our prayers and our ceremony before we go home. We go home when our action is done.”
Even with some of these people we may consider more liberal entities, I did see their shift and their change. One of the most dramatic shifts on that front was when Red Warrior Camp established itself at Standing Rock. Along with Red Warrior came a much more direct action approach. Back in September, October early November, a lot of direct actions came through Red Warrior. While some of the more liberal “movement manager” types worked very hard through a gossip campaign to malign Red Warrior within the camps at Standing Rock, it also helped to embolden people from other camps to really step up the kind of actions they were willing to take. Many people have a lot to say about Red Warrior: they’re wild, they are not prayerful, they have no elder leadership. None of those things are true. All of their actions were done with intention and ceremony and prayer, but they really viewed their prayers as action. In speaking with people from Red Warrior Camp, that was clear over and over again. They had their own elders and they knew who their elders were. They are very aware and in relationship with their elders, as traditionally it should be. That kind of model shifted for a lot of people coming through the camps as to what that could look like, what traditional leadership from your elders can look like. But it also really needs to be traditional. It needs to be people you are in relationship with. That started to be modeled in other encampments and groups of people within the larger camp framework.
When people talk about “the camps” at Standing Rock, there’s actually a whole lot of camps. As much as there was Red Warrior Camp, there were like 20 other crews of people that came with their tribe or their community and set up their own camp within the camp and really had their own structure within it and were making decisions within their own smaller encampment. They had their own grandmothers and their own elders they were getting leadership and wisdom from.
CWC: Finally, what are some of your most cherished memories from Standing Rock and the No Dakota Access Pipeline resistance?
WPARC: I’m really glad that you asked this. Today and yesterday have been pretty dark days for people up here, with the eviction of Oceti Sakowin. The visions in our minds from the last two days are burning structures that many of us have spent time building. Many of us spent time in those structures, or for our comrades or loved ones or relatives, those were their homes for many months. It’s a good time to remember some of the really beautiful things that have occurred at camp. When I first came to camp I was spending the majority of my time at Red Warrior Camp and living there amongst friends and comrades, some old and some new. There were a lot of times where it was just a mess of children running around camp while grown-ups are scurrying around and doing the work of the day, chopping wood and cooking food.
Some of my favorite memories are that, I’d watch people who are very busy, elders and people who are planning stopping a multi-billion dollar pipeline also take time out of their day to play with little ones who are begging for their attention. There are a lot of really beautiful moments at camp and one thing that I remember someone saying on that note is from Savage Fam, who spent many months at Red Warrior. I remember her saying one night at a concert, “We’re not supposed to live this way. We’re supposed to be at home in our own territories building up our own people. But we’re here and we’re fighting.” As much as we’re not supposed to live this way, we’re not supposed to be living in constant struggle and battle, there’s something really beautiful about the camps. In some ways, maybe we are supposed to live this way. Not so much living under the sniper scopes and floodlights of Dakota Access Pipeline, but living in real community with one another, where there’s plenty of work to do but no one is leaving their children at home to go to a job. Their children are alongside of them while they’re doing the work of their day.
Those moments at camp are things that a lot of people will carry with them. I’ve also seen some incredibly powerful moments of ceremony and prayer. Back in December, there was a Women’s March up to where Morton County Sheriff had barricaded off Highway 1806 on the north end of camp. That barricade still remains there, it has been there for many months. When this Women’s March happened there was a group of elders, grandmothers at the front and it was hundreds of women behind them, totally silent. All you could hear from the back all the way to the front of the barricade where these grandmothers were facing down snipers and a militarized barricade, were their prayers and their ceremony. It was one of the most beautiful and impactful things I’ve ever seen. I come from a very different spiritual tradition and practice, but it’s maybe the most impactful spiritual practice I’ve ever seen, in that moment, those particular grandmothers on that frontline. I hope that as much as it has been a dark time these last couple days with the eviction happening and 45 people sitting in jail tonight, I hope people will hold onto all those things they’ve experienced at camp and that they’ve returned to their homes and their territories with, and will carry some of those ways that we’ve kind of all discovered together. Maybe we are meant to live a little bit like this.