Brazil 2016-17: The Political Crisis and Coup d’État–An Anarchist Analysis

After a groundswell of anarchist and autonomous protest in 2013, Brazil experienced a right-wing reaction that culminated with the impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff of the Workers Party (PT). The events in Brazil offer an instructive case study of phenomena that are prevalent elsewhere around the world—indeed, the United States might have experienced something similar had Hillary Clinton been elected. Looking at Brazil, we can identify the dangers of premising social movements on presenting demands to the authorities; we can see how the discourse of “fighting corruption” serves right-wing forces jockeying with left parties to hold state power, while legitimizing the function of the government itself; we can study how right-wing groups appropriate the tactical innovations of anarchist movements, and explore ways to defend ourselves against this. Above all, in a time when left and right parties are engaged in increasingly pitched struggles for control of the state, we have to carve out space for social movements that reject the state itself, resisting the attempts of all parties to manipulate or subordinate us. The Brazilian example offers an important reference point for the challenges and opportunities that face us today.

This analysis picks up where our coverage of
social movements in Brazil between 2013 and 2015 leaves off. For more background on popular struggles in Brazil, read our reports on the 2013 uprising and the movement against the 2014 World Cup, and listen to episodes 7 and 25 of the Ex-Worker podcast.

Introduction: Governing without the Ballot Box

In 2016, the Brazilian parliament dismissed President Dilma Rousseff of the Workers’ Party (PT) after charging her with committing “fiscal irregularities” known as pedaladas fiscais. On April 17, the impeachment vote at the Chamber of Deputies was broadcast live on television like a football match: the whole country watched the politicians declare that they had voted in the name of God, Jesus, the Family, good morality and in memory of the torturers and murderers of the Military Dictatorship (1964-1985). At the end of this disturbing spectacle, 367 of the 513 deputies voted for the president to leave office. Dilma Rousseff temporarily stepped down and her vice president, Michel Temer of the PMDB, took over in the interim. Four months later, on August 31, the Senate finally passed the Impeachment by 61 votes to 20 and Temer became president, undertaking a radical restructuring of the entire government and its ministries. It was the end of the PT’s 13-year rule, the longest tenure of a political party in the country’s presidency since re-democratization.

The deputies and senators who voted to impeach the president are the political spokespeople of Brazil’s industrial and agrarian elites, and many of them are also Protestant Christians. The entire process was openly supported by mainstream media and conservative movements in general—the same groups behind the reactionary “anti-corruption” protests that took place in hundreds of cities.

The fall of the PT government ushered in an even worse future for the whole working class as well as for people in peripheries/ghettos, indigenous populations, and black and LGBTQI people. The economic gains from social policies implemented by Lula and Dilma’s party are insignificant to the traditional elites. Without Dilma, the PMDB of Mr. Temer and his allies promptly implemented aggressively neoliberal and anti-popular measures to meet the demands of the rich. When Temer took power, he acted as if he had not been elected on the same electoral ticket as Dilma. He started to exercise a mandate and a project of his own, one that represented the political and economic elites who have been used to ruling alone for decades now—with or without a victory at the polls.

But the road leading up to the 2016 impeachment is long and much more complex than the dichotomy between betrayers and betrayed. Before being betrayed by its allies, the PT betrayed its own principles and those of many who supported it in order to take control of the government in the first place. In order to understand the current political crisis in Brazil, we must analyze the political trajectory that brought us here.

Not a Class Struggle, but a Class Pact

The only reason Michel Temer is president of Brazil today is because the PT invited him to serve as Dilma’s Vice President. This move was part of the PT’s strategy to reconcile class conflict. However the plan backfired, and in the end Temer bit the hand that fed him. Like Temer, the big economic interest groups were not absent from Lula or Dilma’s government. Even while the PT was in power, those elites were there behind the scenes cooperating when it was convenient for both parties.

The PT used the clever strategy of class reconciliation to win the 2002 elections. In his “letter to the Brazilian people,” Lula tried to calm the financial market and all those who had feared the victory of a pro-union president. In the letter, he wrote that he intended to respect the state’s commitments to external debt and not to take unilateral measures. As was to be expected, when the leftist PT party gained power, it did not make itself an enemy of the elites, but rather an ally in the process of capitalist development.

During the governments of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (2003-2008) and Dilma Rousseff (2011-2016), Brazil became an emergent figure in the world economy based on primary commodity production, high international prices, the creation of 1.5 million new minimum wage jobs, and granting new purchasing power to the poor chiefly via the expansion of micro-credit (i.e., massive indebtedness for the poor and the lower middle class). Meanwhile, public debt only increased; banks and financial systems were profiting at historically high levels.

What was decisive in this scenario were the favorable conditions outside of Brazil. The 2008 financial crisis had a devastating effect on US and European markets. As a consequence, capital from the central countries—the United States and Europe—was invested in the peripheries. In addition, China continued to grow and became Brazil’s most important international partner, buying raw materials and selling industrialized products. This trade partnership provided the resources to implement the massive social programs that relieved 45 million people of extreme poverty. But Lula’s intentions were not purely benevolent: he convinced the rich elites that incorporating impoverished regions and peoples back into the economy would stimulate the economy and provide new opportunities for the country’s elite to make even more money.

Fiscal programs that facilitated access to personal credit were also introduced around this time. This was a strategic move that expanded the domestic market to benefit excluded populations that had been shaped by more oligarchic politicians for decades, such as Northeast Brazil and most urban poor neighborhoods and favelas. In just a short time, all those people received unprecedented economic benefits. Since the overwhelming majority of the Brazilian population is poor, the Workers’ Party secured a solid enough political base to be elected four times in a row.

In the short term, both the rich and the poor had their needs met. The effect was one of social appeasement, causing grassroots social movements to die down. Trade union leaders were elected into government positions and as a result they stopped opposing the federal government’s policies, no matter how reactionary they were. Agrarian reform practically ceased when Lula came to power and under Dilma Rousseff’s administration, and the demarcation of indigenous lands was the smallest in the history of the democratic era. The PT chose to prioritize the interests of agribusiness and latifundia (large landed estates belonging to the wealthy) over guaranteeing indigenous peoples and peasant families the right to land.

The PT fashioned itself the party of the people, the party that cared for the workers and the poor. But inside the palaces, it shook hands with the conservative, corrupt, and neo-liberal groups that took over the economy while the PT administered social restructuring and public policies. Corruption, bribery and other illegal means were essential for the PT; they become a party as dishonest as any other in power.

Belo Horizonte, March 31, 2017: “No government is an option!”

The Decline of a Leftist Latin America

In the last two decades, much of Latin America has grown weary of the traditional bourgeois right. This has opened up space for popular left-wing governments to emerge in several countries. Countries such as Venezuela, Bolivia, and Ecuador chose the “Bolivarian” way—a combination of anti-imperialist, anti-neoliberal, and anti-oligarchic positions. This position gained eminence in countries where authoritarian states turned against their populations. Other countries such as Chile, Uruguay, and Brazil formed coalitions between social-democratic and neo-liberal parties, uniting left-wing parties with other center or moderate parties to preserve neoliberal doctrines and the so-called “Washington Consensus.” They continue to apply progressive measures, instituting social programs that minimally improve the economic conditions of the poor without ever defying the structures that produce and maintain inequality.

Social programs like the Bolsa Família became renowned worldwide. The Lula government counts getting 45 million people out of poverty as one of its greatest achievements. But Bolsa Familia is nothing more than a Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) program recommended by financial institutions that serve the rich, such as the IMF. The average 176 Brazilian Reais granted to each family (about $55 in US dollars) makes a difference for millions of people who have nothing. However, this sum is petty compared to unemployment benefits and other social programs that are in place in rich countries like France or Germany. Furthermore, this small sum of money does not guarantee that excluded classes will actually be integrated into the economy: it only allows people to purchase consumer goods. It does not guarantee access to housing or higher education, two things that would be more likely to give Brazil’s poorest populations the prospect of long-term improvement in their social standing.

The strategic use of these economic and social policies helped Lula come to power and maintain his position. After losing three consecutive presidential elections (1989, 1994, 1998), the PT took a more moderate position. It chose the typical path of social democracy: a socialism that exchanges revolutionary struggle for the electoral contest to control the state and carry out emergency social policies. In practice, this project of governance abandoned the class struggle in order to seek class conciliation that most benefitted the elites. However, the PT made a strategic mistake: they believed that if they governed to benefit the old elite, they would be considered a part of that elite. The elite do not welcome new members and are usually self-sufficient. Even when they worked with right-wing politicians, agribusiness, and industry conglomerates, to the old elite Lula and the PT still represented the image of the working class, of the poor, of black people and leftists.

Temer and Lula during the inauguration of Dilma Rousseff, January 2015: remember how we got here.

It was the elite themselves, not the poor classes, who decided to break the pact created by the Workers’ Party. They took advantage of this opportunity as soon as they realized it was no longer necessary to maintain their previous agreements. The problem was not that the poor were receiving money, but that the rich were not making enough. The years passed, economic conditions in the rest of the world worsened, and finally the recession hit Brazil. When this happened, Dilma’s solution was to try to break the agreements that had provided security for the elites since the early years of the Lula era. The pact was no longer enough, and the same elites behind industry, agribusiness, and banks demanded the purest neoliberalism. They quickly got together with their parliamentary allies and reorganized their agenda to impose austerity policies that made harsh welfare and education cuts while at the same time slashing rights and freedoms.

As Temer himself argues, the motions for impeachment began when Dilma refused to accept a neoliberal project known as “A Bridge to the Future,” which was designed by the PMDB in 2015. The plan was to pay back public debt to banks by using money that would otherwise go towards education, health, and social programs. The accusation of corruption came only later, as a more legitimate pretext to overthrow the president. Eduardo Cunha, also of the PMDB, accepted the impeachment request made against Dilma Rousseff in December of that year on accusations of “fiscal irresponsibility” and a possible relationship with the corruption scandal revealed by the huge police operation, Lava Jato. Government approval ratings, which had reached 80 percent three years earlier, fell to just 8 percent after massive attacks against her by the country’s judiciary and by the media. Dilma Rousseff’s exit door was being opened.

This did not happen only in Brazil: the projects of left-wing Latin American governments are losing momentum and it is not surprising that many people have grown tired of waiting for deep social and economic change and are now being seduced by right-wing discourses. Local elites have already attempted coups in Venezuela, Ecuador, and Bolivia. In Honduras and Paraguay, the elites have succeeded in deposing democratically-elected presidents who attempted to implement superficial reforms that didn’t benefit the rich. In Argentina, Cristina Kirchner’s Peronism gave way to the neoliberal Mauricio Macri. Venezuela, the first country to elect a socialist and Bolivarianist1 president at the turn of the century, has entered into a deep economic crisis that does not seem to have a solution in sight. In Bolivia, Evo Morales, the peasant and indigenous president, disappointed city unions and peasants’ movements and lost a referendum that would have allowed the president to run for a third term. By promising true social justice and economic equality, which cannot be delivered within capitalism, the Left fueled a popular disillusionment that will encourage right-wing politicians to bring back pure neoliberalism or worse.

The Coup: “Fighting Corruption” as a Weapon against Political Enemies

“For me there is no doubt that the worst of democracies is always preferable, if only from the educational point of view, to the best of dictatorships. Of course democracy, so-called government of the people, is a lie; but the lie always slightly binds the liar and limits the extent of his arbitrary power. Of course the ‘sovereign people’ is a clown of a sovereign, a slave with a papier-maché crown and scepter.”

-Errico Malatesta

Although many of the politicians in the PT were either under investigation for corruption or had already been convicted of it, nobody could prove that President Dilma was involved in these crimes. The impeachment procedure was an institutional coup d’etat disguised as a fight against corruption. Distorted interpretations and manipulations of the laws were used to bring about the annulment of the election in order to bring to power a political program that has not won elections for over a decade. Since the elections failed to unseat either Lula or Dilma, the coup was the only way for the opposition to implement social and political measures that were even worse than the social-democratic measures put into place by the PT.

The cause for the coup was political, not ethical. This became obvious when the prosecution failed to prove that Dilma Rousseff had any relationship to the crimes investigated by the Lava Jato operation. This operation, organized by the Federal Police, was an investigation into what became the biggest corruption scandal in Brazilian history. The operation has already indicted 50 politicians from six parties as well as the directors of ten of the largest companies and contractors in Brazil and in the entire world, including the Brazilian company Petrobras. When the police went on to investigate PT politicians, in particular former President Lula, the media made a point of using the investigation to suggest that the PT politicians were the sole forces of corruption in all of politics. This incited street demonstrations that built legitimacy for the coup. The elite had decided that the best strategy would be to put another president in charge and then call off the investigations to spare the rest of the politicians. Perhaps the biggest benefit of the Lava Jato operation has been to show that corruption is inseparable from the capitalist system; it pervades virtually every party and every major business in the country that finances electoral campaigns for the left and for the right-wing parties.

More than half of the lawmakers who investigated the president are also being investigated or have already been convicted of corruption crimes. For example, Deputy Eduardo Cunha, who was responsible for initiating the impeachment process in 2015, was arrested in October 2016 on charges of being involved in bribery and money laundering.

The “fiscal pedals” (the delay in the payment of bank loans used for social programs such as Bolsa Família) are a technique used by many mayors, governors, and almost all former presidents before Dilma. Even the prosecutor of the Federal Public Ministry used these fiscal pedals. But Dilma was the first to be indicted on criminal charges for doing so. The members of Parliament did not take this into consideration when they voted to impeach a democratically-elected president. Just two days after voting for impeachment, the Senate passed a law that made pedaling a maneuver that is lawful when done by the federal government. After using fiscal pedaling as the main charge against Dilma Rousseff, Congress made it impossible for such accusations to be used against the new president.

The term corruption is used only to classify an individual or group as enemies of morality and good manners. The spectacle of corruption thus appeals to “common sense”; it was supported and legitimized by the crowds that took to the streets in protest. Corruption discourse is a political technique that aims to weaken enemies and shield allies. It is a pretext to suspend common democratic procedures, distort laws, and ensure that power remains in the hands of a few people without causing anyone to question the system and the corruption that underpins it. By definition, democratic government entails the control of a few people over the rest of the population. The electoral spectacle is used to give legitimacy to this. By nature, democratic regimes are exclusive, authoritarian, and oppressive systems in which our participation and our self-determination are limited at all times by political representation and police repression.

Yet when their agents and institutions openly violate and distort their own laws, this is an indication that we will have many more problems ahead, and that there will be no constitutional rights or majority vote to protect us.

A Coup d’État? Revolution, State of Exception, and Why We Say Coup

“By referring to the coup d’état, we can say (or want to say) that it is part of the past, or that it is a relic of the past; but in fact, is it not anchored to the heart of contemporary government practice? Is it not possible to say that contemporary governmental practice is based on the permanent modality of a coup? Could using the notion of a coup d’état mean that we are interpreting the general economy of power in our societies as if they are relying more and more on practices of exception? Is not speaking of a coup nowadays a way of saying that the functioning mechanisms of power are based on measures of exception and that, consequently, the exception is the paradigm for interpreting our modernity?”

Roberto Nigro, “Violência de Estado, golpe de Estado, estado de exceção.”

When we speak of a coup d’état, we touch on something that is still fresh in the country’s memory: in 1964, Brazil lived through a civil-military coup that overthrew a democratically-elected government and put generals in power for 21 years. There was no serious evidence that an armed struggle was about to take power in the country, but economic and military elites felt that it was necessary to act “preventively.” This took place in the context of the Cold War and the dictatorships in Latin America created and supported by the CIA and the American military. They feared that Brazil “would become a new Cuba or a China.” Operation Brother Sam, organized by the US Navy in support of the Brazilian military, drove the entire Caribbean fleet to Brazil on the eve of the coup on March 31, 1964. The coup involved classic images of tanks and troops occupying the streets, taking over the palaces and arresting politicians, imposing martial law, as well as the military support of the world’s biggest imperialist power.

The classic image: tanks in the streets of Rio de Janeiro on the morning of the coup d’état on April 1, 1964.

Coup d’état or Revolution?

In the modern era, a coup is a maneuver used either by elite groups or by those within the state to take control of the state and exclude other elites from this control. It does not alter the social order or the position of classes. Since the French Revolution and the rise of modern states, the coup d’état has ceased to be understood as a praiseworthy act undertaken by a noble who must maintain the royal order and is instead seen as an illegitimate violation of the continuity of the State’s reason for existence. On the other hand, there are many narratives that praise the revolutions that constituted the modern states. Not coincidentally, the military involved in the 1964 coup in Brazil called the event a “revolution”—and its current supporters still do, just as the coup that instilled the Republic is called a “Proclamation” and the events that put Vargas in power in 1930 are also described as a “Revolution.”

As we might expect, when the streets were flooded with demonstrations against Dilma Rousseff and the PT in 2015, the conservative middle class and some far-right groups demanded military intervention. But with the end of the Cold War, the CIA has little interest in supporting military governments in Latin America again, since democratic regimes have proved just as effective as dictatorships in keeping developing countries under the political and economic control of financial institutions and the foreign market. This model spread across the globe.2

Either way, “coup” is a term that is frowned upon and outdated. The correct procedure for an elite wanting to get rid of or overthrow another elite (yes, the PT is just another elite) is an approach that appears to be legal and democratic, like a judgment based on controversial accusations that divide the opinions of political scientists and jurists operating in the territory between the legal and the illegal. We saw similar maneuvers in Honduras in 2009 and in Paraguay in 2012. Perhaps this all indicates that we are entering a new era in which a new type of coup is formulated within the democratic game, building its legitimacy with the support of conservative media and street demonstrations. The consequence is that we cannot call it a coup d’etat and they no longer have to call it a Revolution.3

Why We say Coup d’État

With the end of the military dictatorship and the consolidation of the new Federal Constitution of 1988, the Democratic State of Law was constituted in Brazil. According to the constitution, the Brazilian State intended to limit its powers based on the principles of the rule of law (respect for human rights and international fundamental rights) and the Democratic State (respect for democratic elections and constituted laws, promotion of equality of all before the law and of social equality). A state of exception is exactly the opposite of all this, suspending constitutional laws, rights to liberty, and people’s bodies and lives; the government concentrates all power in its hands to deal with an emergency situation or a crisis that threatens the state. Prison without justification or defense, repression of social movements, torture, murder: everything is used to guarantee the reign of law and order.

We do not want to posit a Manichean binary between the rule of law and the state of exception. We know that the rule of law is also a police state under the control of the ruling classes and capitalism. We know that the rule of law protects citizens who submit and that it surveils, arrests, and exterminates those who rebel and those who are not a part of its hegemonic normativity: the peripheral, the non-heterosexual, the black and indigenous populations. We understand that the rule of law does not eliminate authoritarianism or colonial expansion and that the state of exception has become more and more normal. Avoiding the rules, suspending fundamental rights and freedoms—these have become the norm for modern states.

In 2016, we did not see the same militarized landscape of 1964; yet we still call it a coup due to the extralegal and exceptional features that we witnessed during this time. Lula and Dilma’s allies say there was a “coup” to situate themselves as victims—as if they had no connection with those who designed their fall, as if it were redemption after years of laboring to lubricate capitalist machinery while the right had yet to return to the center of government. By proclaiming that there was a coup, they assert that the governments of the PT have an unquestionable legitimacy because they were elected by the democratic vote. We do not agree with this type of analysis. In order to describe what happened in 2016, it is necessary to understand the term coup d’etat with a critical perspective towards the state and its laws. We need to make the use of this word more comprehensible and understand that the term “state of exception” can be used to characterize many of the maneuvers that rulers use to concentrate power. This perspective would be especially beneficial in facilitating an understanding of the measures of exception implemented by the PT itself.

What happened in 2016 is a coup because the PT government was not felled by forces from below, such as the rebellious or the insurrectionary masses. State and economic institutions were left intact. All that happened was that a group of lawmakers proved that it is possible to use an impeachment procedure to overthrow a majority-elected government, and that proving that they committed a crime is not even a prerequisite for doing so.

In democracy, capitalists and career politicians take turns in power according to the outcome of the elections. Eventually, a leftist party or a politician of working class background may reach the government on the condition that they promise to play the same game as those who normally hold office. This game is mediated by laws, that is, by agreements made between elites and imposed on the rest of the population. When these laws are suspended or distorted to favor a powerful group, we call it a coup d’etat because it proves that the outcome of the electoral game can be disavowed when an elite is able to manipulate the laws in its favor. Even if all of this is not followed by the establishment of a dictatorship and even if the same constitutional laws continue to apply in the same way, it is still a coup d’etat.

All of this instability makes it clear that democracy settled here in the Global South according to a very different model than the European and North American blueprint. We can see clearly that the forces dominating this country are more powerful than the parties and the vote. In democratic countries, states inherited their army, their laws, their prisons and their borders from the kings and their empires. In Brazil, the years of dictatorship left the same police and legal apparatus in place and the same bourgeoisie in charge of industry, the media, and the banks. This heritage is far from being overcome—and it is impossible to reform.

A Century of Dictatorships Punctuated by Brief Moments of Bourgeois Democracy

“There is no clear distinction between dictatorship and democracy. All governments dictate, many dictators are elected, and the subjects of typical dictatorships often have ways to influence the government that are more direct than the means enjoyed by citizens of typical democracies.”

Peter Gelderloos, The Failure of Nonviolence

The relationship between the Brazilian Republic, democracy, the coup d’etat, and authoritarian regimes is troubled and intense, but it helps situate us in our present context and the path that brought us here. When Dilma Rousseff was elected president in 2010, she was the only candidate to have a vice president from another party: Michel Temer, of the PMDB (Brazilian Democratic Movement Party). This is the largest party in Brazil; today it represents the center-right, with mostly conservative members.

Dilma’s maneuver was not something new, but a repetition of a tactic used by her predecessor. Lula had become famous as the first president with a working class background and a past as a union leader. However, he invited José Alencar, a wealthy businessman from a center-right party, to be his vice president. From the outset, the PT government sought to build an alliance between state, political, and economic elites and the aristocracy of labor unions and social movements.

The PMDB originated in the Brazilian civil-military dictatorship, when only two parties were allowed to exist. All other parties were prohibited and some of those on the left joined the armed guerrillas. The ARENA was the military party and the MDB was founded in 1966 as the only party to oppose the regime in a non-clandestine way. After the transition back to democracy, the parties ceased to be illegal. The MDB became the PMDB, and parties such as the PT emerged, along with its current greatest opponent, the PSDB (Brazilian Social Democracy Party).

Historically, the PMDB has had a privileged relationship with powerful groups, parties, and politicians. In 2016, Temer became the third PMDB politician to become president since the end of the dictatorship in 1985. Neither he nor his predecessors were directly elected by vote. The first was José Sarney, who took power when Tancredo Neves, the first civilian president elected by an indirect election after the end of the military regime, died of illness before taking office. The second was Itamar Franco, who took over the presidency in 1992 after Fernando Collor, the first democratically elected president, was embroiled in corruption scandals and subsequently impeached. Itamar then supported and guided his successor Fernando Henrique Cardoso of the PSDB, who was president from 1994 to 2001, just before Lula.

These episodes are enough to illustrate how messy and fragile the current Brazilian democratic era is. But we can go further and remember that it was a military coup that overthrew the Brazilian Empire and founded the first Republic in Brazil in 1889; and that we experienced two other coups in the 20th century, the first of which occurred in 1930. Of the eighteen presidents who have come to power in Brazil, only eight were elected, and only four completed their terms.

The coup d’état against the PT in 2016 follows a kind of “natural order” in Brazilian democracy, which always seeks to keep control of executive power in the hands of certain elites through non-democratic means.

Coups within the Coup: How the PT Has Improved the State’s Repressive Apparatus

Rio de Janeiro Integrated Command and Control Center (CICC).

To ensure that their economic development project was successful, the Lula and Dilma governments made huge advancements in forms of control and repression in the peripheries and against social movements. The federal government’s public safety policy is characterized by its dual maneuvers expanding the prisons and carrying out military occupations in the favelas. In 2014, Brazil’s prison population became the third largest in the world, with 570,000 prisoners, most of whom are black. During the PT administration, this figure increased by 620%.

The Pacifying Police Units (UPP) were deployed throughout 38 communities in the city of Rio de Janeiro. They do not intend to ensure the “safety” of the population; they were introduced to secure Brazil for mega-events including the Olympics and the World Cup. They are “coincidentally” situated in areas such as roads that connect airports to tourist districts and the region where World Cup and Olympic games are held. In 2016 and 2016, two separate studies by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch concluded that this police force is the one of the most violent in the world.

The National Security Force was created in 2004 during the Lula administration. In 2010, the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the Armed Forces (EMCFA) was created, a post that was responsible for drafting the “Law and Order Guarantee Manual” (GLO) in 2013 to respond to popular uprisings taking place throughout the country. Their task was to secure the profits of national and international corporations during the mega-events. Under pressure from FIFA, the Dilma government implemented the World Cup Laws, criminalizing the street demonstrations, strikes, and movements against the World Cup.

For the World Cup in 2014 and the Olympics in 2016, the government built units of the Integrated Command and Control Center (CICC) in 12 cities. These units became centers where many different police and intelligence forces (Military Police, Civil Police, Federal Police and Intelligence Agency) came together to monitor and suppress demonstrators. The inauguration of the CICCs happened during the 2013 protests against the cost of public transportation and those that followed against the Confederation’s Cup. Its actions included monitoring crowds from surveillance cameras set up across the city as well as spying on individuals and groups. Disguised police officers infiltrated demonstrations and many undercover agents maintained friendships and relationships with activists in order to gather information.

The list of their operations is vast, but to conclude here, it suffices to mention that the last law implemented by Dilma before the impeachment was No. 13,260, the famous anti-terrorism law. In March 2016, giving in to international pressures from the G20, the UN, and the International Olympic Committee, the parliament and the federal government created a set of vaguely-worded laws that attacked the right to hold demonstrations and left open wide gaps for interpretation. Federal Citizen Rights Attorney Deborah Duprat said that according to the law, “we never know whether an object we carry can be seen as a tool for a terrorist practice. Even a box of matches can be framed as a weapon.”

The anti-terrorism law is described by many social movements and by other politicians as “the AI-5 of democracy,” as it targets movements and individuals that question or organize against the state’s measures. Between 1964 and 1969, the military regime decreed 17 so-called “Institutional Acts” to remove the rights and powers of citizens and institutions alike in order to concentrate even more power in the upper echelons of the state. These acts were considered “coups within the coup,” as they violated laws and rights guaranteed by the Constitution. In December 1968, the military regime decreed Institutional Act number 5 (AI-5), dissolving the National Congress and the Legislative Assemblies. This stripped hundreds of people of their political rights and formalized the State of Exception that was originally only supposed to last 180 days but ultimately lasted for ten years. In this period, real terror was used against the population, including press censorship, arrests, torture, murder, and the disappearances of thousands of people.

Crimes that became framed as terrorism by the new law included looting, vandalism, and arson; these were already considered crimes and did not need a new classification. The laws focus especially on communication and transportation infrastructure. This clearly targets the tactics of civil disobedience traditionally practiced by social movements: blocking streets and highways or occupying schools, universities, and other public buildings.

Carrying, storing, or using explosive or flammable materials may also be framed as a terrorist action. Creating such vague and broad terms for defining what is considered “terrorism” is a way to criminalize movements and minorities. Rafael Braga, a young black man who slept on the streets of Rio de Janeiro at the height of the 2013 demonstrations, offers an example of what happens when police and judges use their freedom of interpretation: Rafael was arrested on charges of carrying “possibly explosive” material because he carried a bottle of soap. In 2017, he is still fighting for his freedom, the only prisoner still incarcerated from the protests of 2013.

The economic crisis has not improved and the public security crisis has escalated to an absurd level. When Temer’s government sent in the army to occupy the streets of Rio de Janeiro in 2017, this represented a continuation of the PT government’s operations rather than a break from them. Dilma’s and Lula’s governments not only improved Brazilian capitalism, they helped form a whole security system dedicated to surveillance and repression. Along with the crisis, Mr. Temer inherited a new apparatus of laws, structures of control, surveillance and repression technologies that will now be used to contain the masses every time we organize and take to the streets.

The army in northern Rio de Janeiro, August 2017: Every favela is an occupied territory under a military dictatorship.]]

The 2016 coup required a series of other small coups against the rights of the working class, those on Brazilian peripheries, and social movements. Just as the 1964 military coup as not just a coup, the parliamentary coup that removed the PT from government is just one more iteration of a long series of authoritarian and exceptional measures.

“In truth, there is no fundamental difference between a dictatorship and a democracy. These forms of governments have all the same capacities for violence, repression, mass murder, torture, and imprisonment as their dictatorial counterparts. In moments of emergency, they can and do use this capacity.”

Peter Gelderloos, The Failure of Nonviolence

From the 2013 Uprisings to the Coup of 2016: How the New Right Rose

“The plague bacillus never dies or disappears for good; it can lie dormant for years and years in furniture and linen-chests; it bides its time in bedrooms, cellars, trunks, and bookshelves; and perhaps the day would come when, for the bane and enlightenment of men, it would rouse up its rats again and send them forth to die in a happy city.”

Albert Camus, The Plague

The social base of the coup: still loving the police.

The Streets in Dispute

During the June 2013 uprising, thousands marched uncontrollably, throwing stones and Molotov cocktails. Eventually, the demonstration surrounded and invaded the palaces that house the federal government’s legislative power and demanded the reduction of the bus tariff. The antagonism on the streets took autonomous forms all over the country, breaking the silence imposed by a decade of the Workers’ Party government. This struggle led to an unforeseen victory by new autonomous social movements on a national scale, with people organizing themselves in ways that outstripped political parties and unions, the traditional forms of organization typically used by movements. The disillusionment with democratic processes and the political class system as a whole was even stronger, indicating that this uprising offered a chance for new autonomous forms of organization and direct action to gain widespread popularity. Indeed, this was the chance many anarchists had been waiting for to disseminate their methodologies on a large scale.

For decades, government elites (including the political left and leftist unions) collaborated to decontextualize and delegitimize what it meant to “do politics.” The practice of doing politics, which had been confined to institutional practices, regained its original meaning: as people occupied the streets, with each gesture, with each choice, with each affect, they were doing politics. The demonstrations became a living body offering an intense and potent experience of collective construction. For many people who had never participated in a street protest before, this was the first time they moved beyond a position of “neutrality,” and the new positions they took were not necessarily coherent. There were dissonant voices expressing many different interests; some tended more towards dialogue, while others preferred confrontation and antagonism. The conservative elites in particular began to construct strategies to co-opt the masses and offer the solutions that many craved, such as those offered by the PT and the government. During that time, the streets become the stage for intense political disputes in Brazil once again, both for those who wanted social justice and for those who wanted a more totalitarian regime.

June 20, 2013: Banners against the PT government with a nationalist tone were seen at the first protests against the increase of the bus fare in São Paulo.

In 2005, a corruption scheme organized by the upper levels of the PT came to light, proving that it was just as corrupt as any other political party. This scandal permanently stained the party’s image. After winning the elections, Lula’s government did not have a majority in congress. To solve this problem, the party leaders decided to pay a monthly allowance (the so-called Mensalão) to the deputies so that they would approve laws favorable to the government. The scandal involved ministers, deputies, contractors, and businessmen and was widely used by the press to find ways to destroy support for the PT in the upcoming elections.

But the plan did not work. A new political contingent was enough to ensure Lula’s reelection in 2006: the poor and excluded classes that benefited from social programs in the government’s early years.

Having witnessed the failure of the 2005 Mensalão scandal to bring down the PT, those elites opposed to the PT realized that it was not possible to neutralize the party while it still had broad support from the poor classes and large social movements during favorable economic conditions. But the uprisings of 2013 showed that the PT no longer engaged in dialogue with rebel youth or the urban middle classes. The mainstream media used this opportunity to co-opt messages from street demonstrations and misrepresent popular unrest as directed against the PT specifically. At the same time, the economy was in decline and corruption scandals once again tarnished the party’s image in government. Then, in this favorable context, the right and the bourgeoisie understood that cooperation between the federal police and the judiciary investigating the scandals was necessary. The media was happy to help by supplying biased and manipulative coverage of the investigations. Another fundamental element was the new right-wing movement composed of young people who were aligned with national conservative parties and international neoliberal organizations. These movements were responsible for creating a new social base aligned with the interests of the right in order to build legitimacy for the coup and frame it as if it were a popular demand.

With all this in mind, we look at the 2013 and 2014 fights as an experience with mistakes and victories. Autonomist movements, the renewed leftist activists, and the new right wing movements underwent renovations and developments. Of all these, the right was the party that was strengthened the most. Autonomists (and anarchists) lost much popular appeal after 2013. Our successes strengthened the autonomous movements and piqued many people’s interest in anarchism. But we also made mistakes that paved the way for the regeneration of the right and conservatism. We introduced many new people to a different form of horizontal struggle that didn’t rely on political parties. But we failed to expand the struggle beyond reformist demands.

A new left gained strength, taking the opportunity to frame their rhetoric in a way that capitalized on popular social movements. Inspired by movements like 15M and the party Podemos in Spain (which was itself inspired by the origin of the PT), activist groups invited people who had no ties with parties to run for election in the legislative branch. In their speeches, they used the words that the autonomous movements made famous: horizontality, autonomy, and “no parties”—even when they temporary affiliation with parties to run for election. Belo Horizonte, a group formed by intellectuals, university professors, young university activists, and cultural agitators, was able to elect two city councilors, one of whom was the most voted-for candidate in the entire city. The political and representational crisis has given way to a recycling of the electoral discourse of those who want to occupy offices and control the state “in the name of the people.” With slogans like “let’s occupy the elections,” reformists showed that thirteen years of a government with a working class man and a woman as president had not been enough to teach them that systems of oppression cannot be changed by putting representatives of oppressed groups in control of them.

We also could not stop some of the people we had invited to the streets from being drawn in by right-wing rhetoric. With immediate proposals and narratives that stirred the fears and insecurities of the average urban citizen, the right drew millions into the streets to demonstrate against corruption—but only the corruption practiced by the Workers’ Party.

Conservatives of the World, Unite

In recent years, a worldwide trend has emerged in which right-wing movements gain popularity shortly after popular uprisings take place. From Brazil and Venezuela to Ukraine, from Greece to the United States, large waves of popular unrest have drawn people out into the streets. Demonstrations and occupations of public spaces have become an essential tool for anyone who wants to promote a cause or pressure rulers. We have observed that after many autonomous, radical, and horizontal uprisings, right-wing movements have been able to take advantage of popular revolt to go out into the streets to spread their agendas.

Right-wing protesters declare support for Donald Trump at the same time they attack Dilma Rousseff, October 2016.

In the case of Brazil, these new conservatives took advantage of a wave of protests that they did not themselves organize to create legitimacy for the coup. These groups fought for space in the streets and for the attention of the new generation of demonstrators as well as the media, and quickly began to organize their own protests to build a social base. From the outset, the new right has been backed by institutions such as parties and think tanks funded by the richest 1%—the national and international elite—to influence political processes around the world. We will talk a little more about the three main organizations that have been central to the Brazil’s new right wing.

The Vem pra Rua! (“Come out into the street!”) movement is headed by a millionaire investor who lived in the US and is connected to the youth of the PSDB, the right wing of bourgeois social democracy. Another prominent movement is the Revoltados Online, which only accepts Christians in its membership board, supports fascist politicians like Deputy Jair Bolsonaro (the “Brazilian Donald Trump”), seeks the return of military dictatorship, and makes money from the sale of anti-PT trinkets on the internet.

The largest and yet most obscure is the Free Brazil Movement (MBL). From the start, the group has sought to latch on to popular dissatisfaction: the name seems to be purposely created to sound similar to that of the MPL (Free Pass Movement). This is an attempt to create confusion in those seeking the networks of autonomous collectives and horizontal organizations that initiated the uprisings of June 2013. With young leaders, the MBL intends to encourage the “youth that left Facebook for the streets” to march on the streets for an “absolute free market,” privatization, and the end of social programs.

The Brazilian right wing chimaera.

The MBL was created in 2013 as the public face of the Students For Liberty (EPL) organization, founded in 2012 as a version of Students For Liberty (SFL) in the United States. Both are funded by the Atlas Network, a network of eleven right-wing organizations sponsored by the US oil tycoons, the Koch brothers. When EPL members wanted to participate in street protests, they had to create the MBL because US federal income tax (IRS) legislation does not allow foundations to participate in political demonstrations. According to its president, Atlas’ goal is “to fill the world with think tanks that defend the free market.”

Shortly after Dilma left, President Michel Temer invited the MBL to help with the government communications department and make the unpopular reforms affecting welfare and labor rights sound appealing. The MBL decided to move away from the government it helped create when it figured out that it would be impossible to cover up corruption scandals.

The strategies used by these right-wing movements closely resemble those used during Donald Trump’s campaign in the United States. The use of fake news, manipulated data, hate speech, and controversy to give prominence to an idol for Brazilian trolls mirror what happened in America.

The goal of these movements and the millionaires who finance them is to sideline genuine social movements, destabilize progressive governments, and pave the way for neoliberal policies. This cannot be understood without reference to the global geopolitical context. During the riots of 2013, Wikileaks leaked evidence that the Obama administration was spying on both President Dilma Rousseff and Petrobras, one of the largest state-owned oil companies in the world. Soon after the coup in 2016, the foreign minister of the Temer government began procedures to end Brazil’s mandatory oil exploration and to deliver Pre-Sal reserves to multinational corporations such as Chevron.

This can be understood in the context of the East-West clash over Brazilian oil. China, one of Brazil’s major economic partners in recent years, is pushing for access to reserves as companies and the US government turn their attention to South American oil firms. The Cold War is over, but international forces are vying for control over access to the country’s natural resources. Brazil’s colonial heritage has never ceased to depend on the sale of commodities and cheap labor to the foreign market.

Anarchists and other anti-capitalist resistance movements need to be aware of how these global disputes are fought in the territories where we are building resistance. The indigenous Zapatistas who took up arms in 1994 in Chiapas, Mexico knew they would be at risk, declaring independence in a land rich in natural and mineral resources that Mexican and US capitalists coveted. The same kind of challenge faces the revolution in Rojava in northern Syria as it takes up arms to end capitalism, patriarchy, and colonialism in one of the world’s most oil-rich regions. In Brazil, indigenous peoples such as the Mundurukus of Pará have offered examples of honorable resistance against the PT government’s genocidal economic development projects which include building eight hydroelectric plants along the Tapajós River, destroying communities, harming the environment, and threatening wildlife. The Mundurukus, a warrior people known as “head-cutters,” have already occupied and paralyzed the construction of the Belo Monte plant in the heart of the Amazon Forest twice and promise to wage war against the construction of the São Luís dam and the demarcation of its lands.

Global capitalism and its command centers clustered in the rich northern countries are willing to turn any territory from the global periphery into a farm to fuel their economies. In addition, they will not hesitate to neutralize popular organization when it threatens their interests. The ground we walk on, the biome in which we live, as well as our bodies, our desires, and our time—these are battlefields in which the same struggles play out between colonies and metropolises that characterize the history of Brazil. The greater their value to the market, the more intense the battle.

Episodes of Resistance

Since Michel Temer became president, he has been trying to run an economy in crisis and to deal with continual corruption scandals. In less than a year, he has been accused of passive corruption, obstruction of justice, and involvement in a criminal organization. Each move his government makes comes at the cost of the working and excluded classes to favor the elites: he forgave 500 billion Reais worth of entrepreneurs’ debts while at the same time proposing to reduce the minimum wage by 10 Reais in order to save 300 million Reais.

In any case, Michel Temer is increasingly politically isolated. Without popular support, his 4% approval rating is even worse than the 8% that Dilma hit just before she was impeached. But his government has yet to fall, because it serves the interests of the market and big corporations. His policy follows the laws of the “Shock Doctrine” manual developed by the Chicago School and its neoliberal gurus. Its main tenets are to implement reforms that reduce state services through privatization, extreme austerity measures, and suspension of laws that protect rights and the environment. One example is the government’s new attempt to give away natural and indigenous reserves in the Amazon to mining companies, a political project that would hardly receive public support in the polls, but is easily applied amid crises and catastrophes. The new president’s reforms are a desperate attempt to cater to the whims of the market while the right wing prepares for the 2018 elections.

Not surprisingly, since the new government’s first days, there have been several rounds of protest and resistance against the new president’s policies and measures. Some of these struggles have shown the desire to go beyond just making demands for small concessions from Temer’s government, instead staking their protests on the possibility of creating horizontal modes of organizing in which people take matters into their own hands. This was the case in the dozens of building occupations linked to the Ministry of Culture and in more than a thousand school occupations that took place in 2016.

First Fights and Victories

As soon as he took over as interim president in April 2016, Temer changed all the ministers and assembled a team composed exclusively of men. Nine ministries were done away with altogether, including the ones focusing on culture, women, racial equality, and human rights. Such maneuvers had not been seen since the dictatorship.

At that time, anarchists and autonomous movements were not as visible as they had been over the previous two years. Still, when it was announced that the Ministry of Culture would be eliminated, buildings related to it were occupied in 21 capital cities. People organized debates, concerts, and demonstrations of all kinds to pressure the government to recant.

After two weeks of occupations and protests, Temer took a step back and announced the return of the Ministry of Culture, but the occupations continued in many cities, hosting festivals and all kinds of political and cultural activity. This victory gave the movements the impression that the new government could be defeated in struggles for specific demands. Inspired by recent victories, homeless movements organized a protest on July 1 and occupied the building of the Secretary of the Presidency of the Republic in São Paulo, forcing the president once again to step back and reinstate funds he had tried to cut in housing programs.

September 7, 2016: We Have Never been Patriots

September is when patriots celebrate so-called independence from the Portuguese government which was proclaimed in 1822. But not everyone is in favor of this nationalist humbug. September 7 is not only independence day: since 1995, social movements have called it the Grito dos Excluídos (“Scream of the Excluded”) so that the day is also a day to give voice to popular dissatisfaction. Since the uprisings of 2013, demonstrations on that day have been growing increasingly combative. In 2016, after the coup, that day had a special flavor.

The revolt against the mega-events also continued at the end of the Olympic and Paralympic Games: the gringos were still returning home as 23,000 army soldiers and the National Guard returned control to the police in Rio de Janeiro after the number of police shootings doubled in the first week of the games. There were 95 shootings in Rio de Janeiro, where 51 were injured and at least eight people were killed by police during the three weeks of the Olympic Games (August 5-21). Any kind of demonstration or expression denouncing the impact of events was brutally suppressed from day one. Just 10 days after the Olympics ended, on August 31, the Senate voted for the departure of Dilma Rousseff, and Michel Temer was officially the new president of Brazil.

The World Cup and the Olympics are over, but the legacy of legal abuse, police violence, exclusion, and segregation remain under the shadow of the new regime. So it is not surprising that we also witnessed the biggest anti-government demonstrations since 2013: on September 7, there were protests in 24 states—in almost all of the capitals, including dozens of cities. The largest was in Salvador, where 15,000 attended. In these demonstrations, it was necessary to offer resistance to new government policies, but also against the effects of the policies that were established during the PT government. We had old and new reasons to rebel. On the banners in the streets we saw the demand “Direct Elections Now”—the famous slogan from the end of the dictatorship in Brazil—presented by people who wanted to vote for a new president after the impeachment of Dilma Rousseff.

There were clashes with authorities during the week before independence day marked by police violence, the arrest of journalists, and more demonstrators suffering permanent injuries because of less-than-lethal weapons. Leftist movements harassed and repudiated the presence of the black bloc in São Paulo as being “responsible” for the violent actions of the police. The black bloc tactic had become more common since 2014 and now reappeared in the street to respond to the new government policies, causing controversy. In São Paulo and Belo Horizonte, for example, anarchists and others marched in black bloc formation, but they did not attack the police or break anything. This showed that it was possible to march and demonstrate strength in numbers without necessarily acting “violently.” The anarchist presence was important because it emphasized that it would not be enough to say “Temer out,” but instead asserted that no government is an option and that direct and autonomous action—not the regeneration of democracy—remains our best weapon.

São Paulo, Septermber 1, 2016.

Occupying the Schools

The occupation strategy that spread in 2016 was inspired by the struggles of October 2015, when 200 schools were occupied by students throughout the state of São Paulo. Governor Geraldo Alckimin planned to close 94 schools, firing teachers and affecting the lives of about 300,000 students who would have had to study in overcrowded classrooms far from their homes. In response, on November 9, 2015, about 18 students occupied a school in Diadema, the metropolitan region of São Paulo. Two days later, police officers armed with machine guns attempted to enter the school but failed to force the students out of the buildings.

A few days after this, many demonstrations took place simultaneously, with many confrontations with the police on the streets and at the school gates. Within a month, 230 schools were occupied. Schools became real communes with students organizing themselves in cleaning, cooking, and safety committees. They received support from parents and the general public, and more than 1000 people volunteered to offer free classes and workshops on topics such as graffiti, gardening, health, and gender. Shows and festivals were organized in some buildings. Political parties and the student unions linked to them were prevented from participating: the occupations remained autonomous and horizontal. Following the occupations, the governor’s popularity hit a record low, the reorganization plan was repealed, and the Secretary of Education resigned.

After this partial victory, some groups decided to continue occupying some schools. At the beginning of December, 23 schools were already occupied in the state of Goiás, in protest against privatization and militarization. Inspired by students from São Paulo, they demonstrated that the next year was about to open with struggles initiated by an intelligent new generation. In the first semester alone, this new struggle emerged and occupations broke out in Goiânia, Belo Horizonte, Curitiba, Rio de Janeiro, and many other cities

At the end of 2016, schools took the center stage again. At the end of September, a few days after gaining office, the new government announced a constitutional amendment (PEC 55/241) that reduced the state budget ceiling for health and education for the next 20 years. One UN official described this measure as “the most socially regressive austerity package in the world.”

Initially, a new wave of occupations began in state high schools against cuts in social security and education. By the end of October, a further 1200 schools and 100 universities were occupied in 19 states. One of the highlights of this mobilization took place on November 29 when senators voted for the measure; about 30,000 students, workers, indigenous people and peasants from all over the country went to the capital Brasilia to protest and clashed with the police, burning cars and attacking the windows and the doors of the palaces. But it was not enough: the law passed. The government froze the education and health budgets for 20 years to calm the financial market.

Protesters use cars to block the police in front of the congress, on November 29, 2016.

Greve Geral: 2017 Nos Lembra 1917

Posters calling for the General Strike in Porto Alegre, April 2017.

Left-wing social movements and unions mobilized millions of people in an attempt to regain national influence by calling for action in March 2017 and a general strike in April. On March 15, a strike was called in 25 states, but it was not a general strike. On March 31, thousands took to the streets in 23 states against the rollback of labor laws and the outsourcing law proposed by the government of Michel Temer.

On April 28, 40 million people left work in 130 cities across the country in the largest general strike in decades. Workers in transport, banks, schools, universities, airports, commerce, and factories gathered on the streets of every state in the country along with student movements and homeless and landless movements. Protesters in Sao Paulo marched to the door of Michel Temer’s house, but were barred entry by police. Black blocs retaliated by scattering throughout the city to attack banks and shops.

The MST (Landless Farmworkers’ Movement) blocking a road in Brasilia.

Most of the people who took the streets had never participated in a general strike with so much support and mobilization. In 2013 and 2014, the waves of protest didn’t spread with as much force or as radical a critique. Anarchists seized the moment to refresh the country’s collective memory and commemorate the centenary of the First General Strike of Brazil in 1917—also known as the Anarchist General Strike. At the time, anarchist movements and unions were the largest effective political forces in the country. Previously, strikes had been limited to productive sectors or specific categories of workers. Workers in São Paulo fought against low wages, against the 16-hour workday, against meager wages for women and children. All of these struggles were common at the time, since there was virtually no labor legislation.

The strikes of 1917 began and then generalized after the death of Spanish cobbler José Martinez. During his funeral, 50,000 people ceased working and more protests took place. Days later, more protests, rallies, and looting helped increase support among workers and spread the strike across the country. Some demands were partly conceded, such as wage increases, the reduction of working hours, freedom of association, the end of night work for women, and the end of child labor.

The crowd during the funeral of José Martinez, 1917.

During the 1917 strike, direct actions were powerful and the confrontations were fierce. The death toll from repression is still uncertain, but there are indications that state forces murdered dozens or even hundreds of workers. After this period, the repression of revolutionary unionism, of anarchists and socialists was increasingly brutal. They even constructed a penal colony for political prisoners which operated for four years. Located in the middle of the Amazon rainforest and known as the “Brazilian Siberia,” Clevelândia was a concentration camp for all kinds of pariahs in society, but it was the main destination of anarchists and other rebels imprisoned under the regime of President Arthur Bernardes (1922-1926). Domingos Passos, a well-known black worker and Brazilian anarchist, Colombian writer Bólfilo Panclasta and many other famous names are some of the survivors of Clevelândia prison, where hundreds were taken to suffer torture, forced labor, illness, and death.

The 2017 strike was not as intense or as radical as the one a hundred years ago. It failed to make the government back down on its measures. But it reinforced the value of coordinated action between social movements and the importance of direct action. In this new century, anarchists have a long way to go to rebuild a tradition of struggle.

The Bullets of a Police State

The last example of a struggle against the new government and its policies we will address was the biggest and the most tragic. About 50,000 people went to Brasilia on May 24 to protest Mr. Temer’s departure. The occasion was yet another scandal: president Temer had negotiated bribes with the owner of JBS, the country’s largest meat company. This sparked the largest and most intense confrontation yet. Again, the biggest demand was that the president leave office and hold new direct elections. What attracted the most attention was the radical nature of the protests.

Protesters marched toward the police blockades protecting Congress around 1 pm. Members of unions tried to break the barricades and the police attacked with pepper spray. The presence of anarchists and the black bloc gave intensity to confrontations with the troops of Military Police and National Force that lasted more than an hour. The buildings of eight ministries were destroyed and two were set on fire; chemical toilets were turned into barricades while rocks, rockets, and Molotovs were hurled at the police.

Confrontations with Michel Temer and his police on May 24, 2017.

From the sound trucks, members of unions and parties asked the “masked comrades” to calm down. But when they realized that the police attack was not going to stop, they, too, started inviting people to resist. When the Ministry of Agriculture building was set on fire, ordinary police officers began firing lethal ammunition at demonstrators. A 64-year-old man was shot in the face and survived with the bullet lodged in his throat. A young man lost his hand due to the explosion of a police concussion grenade. At least 50 people were injured, five of whom had to be hospitalized. At least eight police officers were injured.

The Ministry of Agriculture building on fire.

Graffiti on the wall of the burning ministry: “General Strike!” and “Anarchist Latin America.”

Demonstrators inside buildings showing they understand that no one represents us.

In response, president Temer declared the demonstrations illegitimate and used the Law and Order Guarantee decree for the third time in his government. The decree, which can only be requested by the president, summoned 1300 Army soldiers and 200 Marines to protect the public buildings of Brasília for a week. After popular pressure from media, the opposition, and the members of the Court, the president revoked the decree the next day. The damage from the May 24 vandalism was estimated to be $360,000 (less than the $400,000 that one of the owners of JBS was reported to pay the president every month in tips).

The crowds were powerful and showed resistance. However, the state of exception quickly became the state’s go-to strategy, as the Armed Forces were called to take to the streets against an internal enemy just hours after police opened fire on demonstrators with lethal ammunition. Fortunately, no one died in the protests in Brasilia. All of this happened on the same day that an operation involving 30 people, including civilian police, soldiers, private security guards, and paramilitaries, invaded a farm occupied by landless workers in Pau D’arco, in the state of Pará. They tortured and executed at least 11 peasants and shot at least 14 in the operation. Extreme cases of state terrorism like this are becoming increasingly common in the country, showing that agrarian conflicts are worsening with the new government’s policies. To date, no police officer who shot protesters in Brasilia has been arrested; 13 of the police officers involved in the Pau D’arco massacre were not even prosecuted by the courts.

In the middle of the uprisings of 2013, we reported that in the city centers, the police use rubber bullets, but in the peripheries of the cities and the countryside, they use lethal ammunition. On May 24, 2017, we feel on our skin the proof that the bullets would be lethal anywhere that resistance arises against an increasingly permanent state of exception.

Solidarity and direct action.

Conclusion: Direct Action Now!

New Terrains, New Fights

The terrain has shifted once again. The forms of struggle that movements have used against the new government show how tactics and strategies have evolved over recent years. We have seen innovations in Brazilian movements since the initial wave of 2013 and 2014. Autonomous movements have contributed to this tactical renewal, the greatest example being the school occupations. However, although it won some minor victories in government reforms in São Paulo, this was not able to stop the Temer administration’s amendments nor its austerity policies. A form of fighting might succeed for one year, but nothing guarantees that it will continue to serve in new contexts, regardless of how inspiring and powerful the initial experience was.

Still, occupation seems to be the tactic that has been most effective at producing a collective group of mutual support and autonomy. The fundamental principles of the student movement were the same ones that generalized in 2013: autonomous action, horizontal decision-making, and political unity of student parties and the movements linked to them. Yet the tactics that appeared during the occupations were diverse and quickly changed according to context in an unprecedented way. What began as a wave of discontent in social networks became a movement with marches and occupations that spread rapidly. In the middle of the struggle, it was common for people to leave the occupations to hold rallies, protests, and road blockades, and to organize public lessons and events in schools or on the streets. In 2015 and 2016, occupations succeeded in creating a new political space within schools, with students organizing classes, cleaning, gardening, cooking, resolving conflicts, and sharing methods of dealing with police violence, all while giving new use to a structure created to control and shape the new workforce. Even when our specific demands are not met, we can experience victory on occasions when self-determination and radical activities receive community support for maintaining space and resisting the police.

Students quickly recognized who was really on their side and who just wanted to capitalize on their struggles. The student unions that serve as an electoral platform for the youth of the parties were not able to take over the occupations and lead a peace-making dialogue with the government. Right-wing groups that tried to infiltrate schools to spread their agenda or to sabotage the occupations were banished and told never to return. It was necessary to occupy not only the physical structures but also the time and relationships that make those structures function. In establishing radical and horizontal relations, we demonstrated in practice that our goals and our ways of fighting for a better world can overcome the superficial polarization between left and right that dominates the press, social media and our daily lives.

There is tremendous revolutionary potential in occupying buildings and public spaces or any piece of land or capital infrastructure. In addition to disrupting and modifying the function of the tools of productive power and political oppression, using these structures to host our movements, even for a limited time, can be a great opportunity to nurture revolutionary forms of struggle and organization. This can jump-start the accumulation of experience, knowledge, and resources for future struggles. Some of the students who started school occupations in 2015 and 2016 had some contacts and influence from the 2013 autonomous movements, such as the MPL (the Free Pass Movement). But in general, the student movements did not succeed because of traditional movements or parties, nor even autonomous movements that had been organizing together for over a decade, which had been the foundation of the movement in 2013. The student movement was created by the power of imagination and innovation of young people aged 13 to 18, the majority of whom had never participated in any protest or social movement. It was the new blood and the capacity to imagine the unimaginable that made the movement strong and attracted solidarity from the whole country.

On the other hand, our newest political enemies, the conservative and neoliberal right, also benefitted from renewing their tactics. These forces were led by young people who were on the streets at the same time that we were in 2013. By using social media and building political alliances with international parties and institutions, they were able to gain influence by co-opting the discontent of the youth and the middle class. We have to overcome our own limits, but also to watch how rival movements are emerging in order to ensure that our tactics and visions will be more attractive than the promise of security and consumer prestige offered by the right wing.

Beyond Polarization

As the presidential elections of 2018 approach, parts of the left once again tried to sell us the image of Lula as the savior of the poor. Now more than ever, we need reject this kind of narrative. The PT is not a solution for the problems of capitalism. Elections will not guarantee us anything. The class reconciliation that the PT organized to keep the rich in charge of the economy and the parliamentary coup that subsequently toppled Dilma demonstrated beyond a doubt that the ballot is powerless when the oligarchy is determined to take over the State.

There is little difference between how the left and the right treat the poor: they both believe that the peripheries are havens of violence, trafficking, crimes, and disposable bodies. The only state institutions really present in those areas are the police and the army. The innovation of the PT and the Latin American left is to simultaneously combine armed repression with social programs. Programs such as the Bolsa Família are compatible with pacification and militarization operations in the favelas, a common form of preventive counterinsurgency. Social programs that include the poor in consumer society and police repression in the communities act in the same way as the movements that aim to prevent the poor from building autonomy apart from the state and the market. The Mexican government did the same thing when the Zapatistas built schools in poor cities: instead of building schools where there were none, the government decided to compete by building schools only in the same cities as the Zapatistas. They offered metal sheet roofs as an incentive to those families that chose to put their children in the state schools. Both the right and the left know that when you ignore poverty, this will ultimately give rise to organized uprisings.

The dividing lines between the right and the left hides what is similar in both of their political projects. The PSDB is usually seen as a right-wing project, on account of being the PT’s chief rival. But this polarization obscures the fact that there are far more similarities between these two parties than both would like to admit. Although the PT grew out of a movement with a broad popular support base, both had their origins in similar social-democratic projects and both ultimately became servants of the elites. The PT has maintained relations with social movements and trade unions, bringing them into its government, while basically remaining allied with the industrial elites of the Southeast of the country. However, it was former President Fernando Henrique who proposed implementing the income transfer programs that were later transformed into the Bolsa Família. In 2003, the PSDB published a formal complaint about having been prevented from participating in the XXII Congress of the Socialist International held in São Paulo. Even the most conservative of the right wing consider the PSDB to be the “left of the right.”

The same corruption was also present in leftist governments. The Lava Jato investigations (at the national level) and the Panama Papers scandal (on a world scale) show what anarchists have always tried to make clear: at their very roots, capitalism and the state are organized by corrupt authoritarian mafias. Their power and existence depend on illegal relationships, bribery, drug trafficking, tax fraud, and money laundering. They depend on these crimes much more than they depend on voting and democratic elections. In a country like Brazil, where elected governments have never been standard, where coups and dictatorships are the rule, this becomes more obvious. At the same time, this context can offer a fertile ground for fascism and state terrorism.

This leads us to other questions: what should we do when far-right discourses grow in a country in the midst of an undeclared civil war? We do not speak of civil war as a metaphor the way students of French philosophy like to. We’re speaking of a state of siege in the Third World, something that the rebels of the northern countries have only had a brief taste of. The Military Police of the state of São Paulo alone killed 459 people in the first half of 2017](, the largest number in 14 years. In the same period of time in 2017, the police in the whole United States killed 624 people. There were more violent deaths in Brazil than in the 12 largest war zones in the world between 2004 and 2007. By 2015, the death toll in Brazil was higher than it was in the war in Syria. In August 2017, a corporate newspaper linked to media monopolies created a war editorial board to address the security crisis in Rio de Janeiro: “This is not normal,” journalists claimed while covering the conflict between warring factions and violence against the general population. This is likely the first newspaper in the world to create a war editorial board in a country that has not officially declared or recognized a civil war. If fascists take over the institutions that are already perpetrating extreme violence against the population, the results could be catastrophic.

Governments elected with left-wing programs and with the support of traditional social movements in Latin America are losing influence, giving way to alliances with new neoliberal forces that are in turn rejecting pacts with the left. Public opinion seems to be that democratic and electoral processes have already given the left a chance, which they squandered. Episodes like the impeachment in Brazil may just be the first step of a right-wing breakthrough that will last for years to come. Neoliberalism won a battle by carrying out the coup that took the PT out of the presidency, but the 2018 presidential elections will see the right wing seeking to consolidate its return by selling its project at the polls. The biggest name of this new face of neoliberalism is perhaps João Dória, the mayor and “CEO” of São Paulo. But there is also Jair Bolsonaro, the deputy and military officer who supports the Brazilian and Chilean dictatorships and argues for using torture and the death penalty. He has already stated that if he is elected, congress will be dissolved and there will be a coup. Bolsonaro is in second place in the polls with 16% of voter support, only behind Lula. The notoriously racist, homophobic, and sexist military that he has promised to use is a great threat to all minorities and social movements, as he proposes to declare war on such groups in order to end indigenous territories and quilombolas. This is another example of hate speech and Brazilian fascism that the right wing cultivated during the protests demanding Dilma’s impeachment.

When hate speech is used against minorities and impoverished peoples that benefit from social programs, a considerable portion of society agrees with conservative leaders and their demand for a police state. In this situation, anarchists face the challenge of showing that there are other possibilities.

It is clear that the movements that support such candidates have already given up on the possibility of building collective power. These movements want to hand over control of the political institutions to dictators like the ones who took office in 1964. With each crisis and scandal, these institutions become stronger and stronger. A dictatorship can be worse than a democracy; an explicitly neoliberal government that comes to power by using a state of exception could be even worse than the PT’s social democracy. But we must not leave any doubts: we are against both.

The real opposition of forces in our society is not just right against left, or social democracy against neoliberal imperialism. These are shallow oppositions that create false dichotomies between groups that have common origins and similar agendas, groups that work together to maintain the control and privileges of the same classes of rulers and entrepreneurs. The only opposition that can make any difference in social struggles is the one between governments and the freedom of all people; between control and self-determination; between representation and autonomy; between hierarchy and anarchy. In a time when it is normal for middle-class youth to feel that being rebellious is primarily a right-wing tendency, the question is how to take part in the social and political struggles of our time in a way that establishes our position as anarchists who are against any kind of government.

Direct Action Now!

In response to the posters calling for “Direct Elections Now,” we assert that our best option is still to take direct action now! To occupy, to riot, to plunder, to organize ourselves to build economic and political structures that guarantee autonomy. At the same time, we must try to spread tactics, strategies, and objectives that strengthen us as a community and release us from the control of the state and the market.

The relationship between direct action and radical politics is not always obvious. As anarchists, we must strive to make this relationship explicit whenever possible. Parties and movements emerged after 2013 with the idea of restoring electoral politics and putting “real representatives” from minorities into government. They did this using slogans like “horizontality,” “autonomy,” and “no political parties.” These words became famous because they were the fundamental principles of the autonomous movements that started the uprisings in 2013. Just as Syriza started small and gained support as the only party that did not condemn the violent protests in Greece in 2008, these movements used the same terminology that became popular with the new political actors in the streets of Brazil, the newly politicized parts of the population. Soon “occupy everything” became “Occupy the Elections.” Social movements tend to rely on what is familiar when they address themselves to public opinion, for fear of isolating themselves as “too radical.” Even anarchists do so when they use democratic discourses and methodologies such as “direct democracy,” as if this would necessarily lead to anarchy one day. Relying on what is familiar, they embrace a populist tone that is easily digested, and forget that if acracy (lack of coercive power) were the same as demo-cracy (the coercive power of one group or majority over the rest), we would not need two different words.

We understand that not everyone will choose to struggle against the government and capitalism in a radical way. We need to learn how to engage with and even fight side by side with reformers and those who support governmental parties like the PT. But we cannot forget our position, nor should we fail to point out the systemic and historical problems with the institutions we fight. When we perceive a crisis of representation, we must use this opportunity to promote disbelief in politicians and their institutions as a whole, rather than looking for ways to take over their positions in order to regenerate bourgeois democracy. If we cannot win victories by presenting demands, we should at least take advantage of street protests and conflicts with the authorities to occupy spaces in which we can work with others to develop revolutionary social skills.

No one said this would be easy, or that only a few demonstrations would destroy the state and capitalism. We cannot expect to repeat 1917 or 2013 just by imitating what has worked in the past. We may not be able to do much to influence when major upheavals will happen, but we can always be prepared for when they do. As the movements against rising public transportation fares in 2013 showed, the system learns to deal with new forms of struggle. We have to constantly outmaneuver the state in order to stay ahead of the process of cooptation. They will give us reforms to calm our anger and draw us out of the streets; they will listen to our opinions and even accept some of us into their governments so that we will feel that the system represents us as well. But we should not content ourselves with inclusion or reform. Our goal is to occupy, resist, and organize ourselves to increase our power collectively against all forms of control and oppression. Whether it is an elected government or a government implemented by a coup, no government is an option—no government is legitimate in our eyes.

Dictatorships are worse than democracies, just as coups are worse than elections. But whatever the scenario, we must be ungovernable.

  1. Venezuela, Bolivia, and Ecuador chose the “Bolivarian” way—a combination of anti-imperialist, anti-neoliberal, and anti-oligarchic positions. 

  2. For more details on the current imperialist maneuvers of the gringos, see the military doctrine of the Hybrid War. 

  3. Within the Hybrid War, the term for this strategy is Color Revolution, such as the political destabilization that happened Ukraine. 

Escaping Washington for Freedom: Let’s not Celebrate George Washington, but the Slaves Who Escaped Him

Presidents’ Day, a federal holiday, observes George Washington’s birthday on February 22. Yet as a slave owner and profiteer on others’ servitude, George Washington is a poor exemplar of the struggle for freedom. Rather than looking to him for a model representing resistance to tyranny, let’s remember the slaves and indentured servants who sought to escape from him and the Native Americans who defended themselves against his attacks.

Washington is celebrated as the father of the American Revolution, itself the blueprint for countless subsequent struggles for independence and democracy. We can’t grasp the meaning of the American Revolution without recalling that George Washington was one of the wealthiest people in North America. Even now, he remains among the wealthiest presidents in US history, with holdings that would be worth about half a billion dollars today. Of all subsequent presidents, only Donald Trump is wealthier.1

As Marcus Rediker and Peter Linebaugh describe in The Many-Headed Hydra. the American Revolution began in the 1760s with a series of protests and riots involving sailors, slaves, stevedores, working women, and other marginalized people. Networked in a global ferment involving mutinies, slave revolts, and strikes, these disturbances threatened to undermine the entire imperial order. Sensing that the empire was overextended and upheaval was inevitable, the colonial elite set themselves at the head of the rebellion, using it to free themselves of the financial burden of supporting the Crown. George Washington and his colleagues were not the initiators of the revolt, but the ones who coopted and contained it—a lesson about what happens when revolutionaries seek to gain legitimacy and resources through alliances with the upper class. Thus the Revolutionary War of the 1770s gave way to the American Counterrevolution of the 1780s and 1790s, climaxing with the establishment of the Federal Government, the Constitution, the Fugitive Slave Act, the Northwest Territory, and the Riot Act.2 Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

From this vantage point, the apparently “individual” rebellions of slaves who set out to secure their own liberty compare favorably with a formal political revolution that did little to substantively alter the circumstances of the most oppressed while defusing social tensions for several generations. From their acts of defiance, whole Maroon and Quilombo communities arose in permanent resistance to white supremacy in both its monarchist and democratic variants. Just as the Russian Revolution might have turned out better if the working class had not permitted the Bolsheviks to seize the reins, the American Revolution could eventually have established a Quilombo the size of a continent had the revolutionaries deposed white supremacists like George Washington as ruling class interlopers.

It’s much easier to study the Great Men of History than to learn about those who set out to get free of their authority. Here, we present some context from Washington’s life and the little we know about the slaves and indentured servants who sought to escape him. Much of this is drawn from the materials in the Founding Fathers database and the Geography of Slavery in Virginia archive. We hope this text will encourage others to uncover all the buried histories of the underclass—those who have been not only forgotten but also erased.

George Washington capitalizing on the labor of enslaved people at his Mt. Vernon plantation.

“It was the sense of all his neighbors that he treated them with more severity than any other man… The first time I walked with General Washington among his [sic] negroes, when he spoke to them, he amazed me by the utterance of his words. He spoke as differently as if he had been quite another man, or had been in anger.”

-Richard Parkinson, A Tour in America, in 1798, 1799, and 1800

Some Background

In 1646, at the end of the Third Powhatan War, all the Powhatan males in their capital village over the age of eleven were deported to Tangier Island as slaves. The Rappahannock River became the dividing line between white settlers and Native Americans. Native Americans were not to go south of it on pain of death; European colonists were not to cross north of it except to avoid bad weather or gather wood.

Two years later, the restriction on colonial expansion was lifted, and George Washington’s great-great-grandfather, Nathaniel Pope, asserted ownership of more than a thousands acres near the land that was to become known as Pope’s Creek, Washington’s childhood home.

This anecdote illustrates the deep roots of the class and race privileges that formed the foundation of George Washington’s life. Washington was descended from a long line of colonial authorities: planters, lawyers, politicians, sheriffs—and slave owners. All of these professions were interchangeable and interdependent, forming the constellation from which the North American ruling class arose.

In 1738, when George Washington was six years old, his father, Augustine Washington, placed an advertisement seeking the capture of a servant of his who had run away in company with other servants:

“RAN away from Capt. McCarty’s Plantation, on Pope’s Creek, in Westmoreland County, a Servant Man belonging to me the Subscriber, in Prince William County; his Christian Name is John, but Sirname forgot, is pretty tall, a Bricklayer by Trade, and is a Kentishman; he came into Patowmack, in the Forward, Capt. Major, last Year; is suppos’d to have the Figure of our Saviour mark’d with Gunpowder on one of his Arms. He went away about the 20th of April last, in Company with three other Servants, viz. Richard Martin, is a middle siz’d Man, fresh colour’d about 22 Years of Age, and is a Sailor; had on a blew Jacket. Richard Kibble, is a middle siz’d young Fellow, has several Marks made with Gunpowder on his Arms, but particularly one on his Breast, being the Figures of a Woman and a Cherry-Tree, and is a Carpenter by Trade; he wore a blew grey Coat with a large Cape, a Snuff-colour’d Wastecoat, and Buckskin Breeches. Edward Ormsby, is a small thin Fellow, of a swarthy Complexion, and is a Taylor by Trade; has a Hesitation or Stammering in his Speech, and being an Irishman, has a good deal of the Brogue. They went away from Capt. Aylett’s Landing, on Patowmack, in a small Boat, and are suppos’d to be gone towards the Eastern-shore, or North-Carolina. Whoever will secure the said Bricklayer, so that he may be had again, shall have Five Pounds Reward, besides what the Law allows, paid by Augustine Washington.”

The Virginia Gazette, June 9, 1738

The masters of these runaways, the McCarthys, Balls, and Washingtons, were all cousins. According to an advertisement placed the previous year, the Irishman, Edward Ormsby, had already attempted to escape “in Company with a Mulatto Woman, known by the Name of Anne Relee, alias Bush; who being whipt last Court held for the County of King George, may possibly have the Marks on her Back.”

On one side, we see the Washington family, already the representatives of economic power, political legitimacy, and white supremacy; on the other side, a multi-ethnic network of rebels and criminals, the class of people who sparked the revolution.

Though these interracial alliances had been forming since the imposition of racial hierarchy in the 1600s, friendships like that of Edward Ormsby, the Irishman, Anne “Bush” Relee, the “Mulatto Woman,” and John, the Kentishman, were reaching a boiling point by the end of the 1730s.3 To quote The Many-Headed Hydra again:

“During these years a furious barrage of plots, revolts, and war ripped through colonial Atlantic societies like a hurricane. No respecter of national or imperial boundaries, this cycle of rebellion slashed through British, French, Spanish, Dutch, and Danish territories, which stretched from the northern reaches of South America through the West Indies to the southern colonies and then the port cities of North America. Most of these events took place in plantation regions and were led by African Americans, but other areas (such as New York) and other actors (such as the Irish) were also involved. The magnitude of the upheaval was, in comparative terms, extraordinary, encompassing more than eighty separate cases of conspiracy, revolt, mutiny, and arson—a figure probably six or seven times greater than the number of similar events that occurred in either the dozen years before 1730 or the dozen after 1742.”

An angry mob takes a stand against impressment during the unruly 1700s.

This was the context in which George Washington grew up. Roles based in race, gender, and nationality were being imposed from the top down by means of laws, religion, and brute force while the rabble were pushing back from below by working slow, running away, malingering, plotting, hiding out, stealing, sharing, and carrying out frontal attacks on the owning class. Over time, through the medium of storytelling, the tactics and strategies of individual rebels became working class traditions and customs. Sailors like Richard Martin, the aforementioned John’s fellow runaway, played an important role as propagandists, as their profession took them all over the colonies and beyond.

As a young boy, George Washington was indoctrinated to take for granted the distinctions between classes and the suffering inflicted on those beneath his station. He would have heard about servants escaping from his father. He also lived in proximity to indentured servants like Mary Monroe “Mol” Bowden.

Born in 1730, at age seven Mary Bowden was indentured for thirty years to George Washington’s father. Her only crime was being the daughter of a mixed-race indentured servant, Mary Hilliard, and William Monroe Jr., an ancestor of President James Monroe. At the age of two, Mary Hilliard had been awarded as an indentured servant to William Monroe senior and subsequently bore his son’s child. She mothered several more children, all of whom were indentured at birth to men of George Washington’s social class.4

George Washington was five years old when Mary “Mol” Bowden entered the Washington household. With the servant’s quarter immediately adjacent to the main house, Mol and George must have known each other and may have played together. When Washington’s father died in 1743, Washington’s half-brother Augustine Jr. inherited the right to control Mary “Mol” Bowden’s life. She did not passively accept this state of affairs, as we shall see below.

George Washington’s Youth

In 1749, at the age of seventeen, Washington began a career as a land surveyor. His family connections immediately secured him high-paying work as the official surveyor for the newly established Culpeper County. One of his chief employers was the Ohio Company, the leading Anglo-American entity pushing for the colonization and exploitation of the Ohio River Valley. His half-brothers Lawrence and Augustine Jr. were founding members.

Etymologically, “survey” derives from Latin roots meaning “to look over,” just as “surveillance” derives from Latin meaning “to watch over.” The role of surveyors like Washington was to divide the land of so-called North America into privatized properties within a matrix of control—an essential step in the genocide inflicted on Native Americans and the enclosure of the commons in North America.

Surveying: the surveillance of the 18th century.

In winter 1751, Mary Monroe “Mol” Bowden escaped from Augustine Washington Jr. While Washington was mapping the region, she joined countless others in taking advantage of the friction between map and territory to make a break for freedom. She remained at liberty for five months, but was eventually caught and returned to Washington’s brother for a reward of 180 pounds of tobacco. In punishment, an additional year was added to Mary’s 30-year indenture.

In the winter of 1753-1754, Washington went from surveying lands for the Ohio Company to leading a military expedition for them to secure the Ohio River Valley from the French and their Native allies. In the course of this mission, the Seneca leader Tanacharison dubbed Washington “Town Destroyer.” The title itself had originally been given to Washington’s great-grandfather, John Washington, who had killed six Native American leaders gathered for peace talks in the 1670s. Living up to his lineage, George Washington and his colleagues ambushed and killed a group of French soldiers. The French subsequently claimed the officers had been operating in a diplomatic capacity. In response, the French captured Washington and sent him home in defeat, where he was stripped of his rank and resigned. Washington’s rash behavior helped to trigger the French-Indian War, which produced the global Seven Years War.

In the subsequent hostilities, Washington complained about the insubordination of the militiamen under his command:

“In all things I meet with the greatest opposition no orders are obey’d but what a Party of Soldier’s or my own drawn Sword Enforces; without this a single horse for the most urgent occasion cannot be had, to such a pitch has the insolence of these People arrivd by having every point hitherto submitted to them; however, I have given up none where his Majestys Service requires the Contrary, and where my proceedings are justified by my Instruction’s, nor will I, unless they execute what they threaten, i.e., ‘to blow out my brains.’”

Even in the midst of war, ordinary British colonists did not welcome the leadership of representatives of the ruling class like George Washington. The threat they faced from conflict with Native Americans was not mitigated by the governance of such colonial authorities, but exacerbated by it.

The horrors of the Middle Passage.

Washington Becomes a Planter and Politician

In January 1756, Washington married Martha Dandridge Custis, a wealthy widow from the ruling class. Martha’s father, John Dandridge, was a British immigrant who owned Virginia land and about twenty slaves. During Martha’s youth, her father had apparently fathered a child, Ann, with one of his slaves, a woman of African and Ani-Yun-Wiya/Cherokee descent. Ann was forced to follow Martha from the Dandridges’ home to Custis’s home and then to Washington’s.

Martha joined George Washington at Mt. Vernon, a few dozen miles from Pope’s Creek. Washington became a planter and politician. Thanks to Martha’s wealth, he added tens of thousands of acres to his land holdings and expanded the number of slaves in his captivity from 50 to over 300. Without this boost in property—both land and human—Washington never would have been able to achieve the financial, social, and political status he did. He probably never would have been president.

Around the same time, Mary “Mol” Bowden attempted to flee once again. This time, she succeeded in getting away from Popes’ Creek for two years before being recaptured. When she was taken to court in August 1758, six years and six months were added to her indenture in punishment. She was 45 when her indenture expired, having spent her entire life up to that point in servitude—the only exception being the years of freedom she won by taking flight.

On July 10, 1759, John Winter, an indentured convict hired out to paint Washington’s house in Mt. Vernon, ran off after getting £5 but only doing part of the work. Washington recorded that “before he had near finishd Painting my House [Winter] Stole a good deal of my Paint & Oyl and apprehensive of Justice ran off.” John Winter’s master, John Fendell, ran the following advertisement in the Maryland Gazette:

“Ran away from the Subscriber, a Convict Servant Man named John Winter, a very compleat House Painter; he can imitate Marble or mahogany very exactly, and can paint Floor Cloths as neat as any imported from Britain, The Time of his going off is uncertain, as he was hired to a Gentleman in Virginia who can give no Account of the Time. The last Work he did was a House for Col. Washington near Alexandria.”

As a convict servant, John was punished, like Mol, simply for being born into the wrong class. When the commons of Ireland and Britain were enclosed in the 1600s, vast numbers of peasants were forced off of the land they had shared for generations. Centuries-long traditions of subsistence farming, wood gathering, medicine growing, animal herding, and kinship were destroyed as Britain’s poor were driven into Britain’s nascent cities—which became open-air prisons. Life before the enclosures was hardly perfect, but afterwards it became impossible. Those who refused to leave their land were charged with trespassing and loitering, punishable by servitude or death. Those who refused to work in the cities’ sweatshops, foundries, or mines were charged with vagrancy—punishable by servitude or death. And those who continued to gather food or firewood like their ancestors or who stole out of desperation were charged with theft—all punishable by servitude and death.

The first generations of servants to be spared the gallows in London found a slower death in Virginia, where mortality rates were astronomic.5 By the 1750s, the conditions were not as catastrophic, but they remained miserable. We can see why people like John Winter chose the dignity of the fugitive over the life of the servant.

On April 14, 1760, a slave Washington described in his journal as “Boson” ran away from Washington’s home at Mt. Vernon. He was caught and returned on April 18. Boson was likely whipped, deprived rations, or “smoked” in retaliation. “Smoking” involved suspending a slave in an active smokehouse or forcing him to dig a shallow hole big enough for himself to fit. Dried grass, leaves, and stalks were placed over the slave and lit on fire. As the plant matter burned, the slave was deprived of oxygen and showered with tiny embers. This practice was so well established by the 1820s, that Missouri overseers called it “Virginia play.” Knowing the punishments he risked and the separation from his loved ones should he succeed, it speaks to the severity of Mt. Vernon slave life and the courage of Boson that he chose to make another run for it that summer. Sadly, Boson was captured and returned again on August 24, 1760.

In August 1761, four slaves whose names are recorded as Peros, Jack, Neptune, and Cupid fled one of Washington’s plantations together. Washington bought an advertisement offering a ransom for their return, describing the fugitives and asserting that

“The two last of these Negroes were bought from an African Ship in August 1759, and talk very broken and unintelligible English; the second one, Jack, is Countryman to those, and speaks pretty good English, having been several Years in the Country. The other, Peros, speaks much better than either, indeed has little of his Country Dialect left, and is esteemed a sensible judicious Negro. As they went off without the least Suspicion, Provocation, or Difference with any Body, or the least angry Word or Abuse from their Overseers, tis supposed they will hardly lurk about in the Neighbourhood, but steer some direct Course (which cannot even be guessed at) in Hopes of an Escape.”

A record of Washington’s personal servants and slaves published in 1762 lists 71 people in thrall to the man we celebrate today as a hero of liberty. These were some of the people whose labor built Washington’s fortune:

“A List of Tythables in Fairfax County—given into Captn Daniel McCarty—June 9th 1762—viz.1 George Washington Ho. Servants: Thomas Bishop, Breechy, Schomberg, Jack, Doll, Jenny, Betty, Phillis, Moll, Sall, Kate. Carpenters: Turnr Crump, Anthony, Will, Morris, George, Michael, Tom, Sam, Ned. Smiths: Peter, London. Miller: George. Ditcher: Robt Haims. Ho. House: Burgs Mitchell, Jack, Jack, Jack, Ned, James, Charles, Davy. Dogue Run: John Alton, Peros, Will, Cæsar, Troy, Stafford, Betty, Sarah, Sue, Lucy. Creek Plann: Josias Cook, Matt, Cupid, Will, Jenny, Kitty. Muddy hole: Edwd Violette, Grig, Will, Jupiter, Essex, Sam, Betty, Ruth, Hannah, Kate, Phœbe. River Plann: Saml Johnson [Jr.], Tom, Ben, George, Robin, Nat, Peg, Murria, Clœ, Flora, Doll—GW. In all—71”

Meanwhile, following France’s loss of lands between the Appalachian Mountains and Mississippi River, Anglo-American settlers begin to stream into the Ohio River Valley. An inter-tribal Native alliance arose involving members of the Odawas, Anishinaabeg (Ojibwas), Neshnabé (Potawatomis), Wendat (Hurons), Myaamiaki (Miamis), Waayaahtanwa (Weas), Kiikaapoa (Kickapoos), Mascoutens, Peeyankihšiaki (Piankashaws), Lenni Lenape (Delawares) Shawnees, Wyandots, Mingos, and Onöndowá’ga (Seneca). Hostilities broke out in 1763 with an uprising known as Pontiac’s Rebellion, named for Pontiac, an Odawa leader. This stalled colonial expansion and forced the British to modify their policies, albeit at a high cost of lives.

North America in 1763.

Shortly after the uprising began, King George III issued his Royal Proclamation of 1763, forbidding British subjects from settling the newly-acquired lands. Though the proclamation was not related to the uprising, American colonists imagined it to be a result of it—adding to tensions between colonists, Native Americans, and the British Crown.

At that time, Washington was serving as a representative in the House of Burgesses for Frederick County. As the British imposed taxes on the American colonies to pay the costs of the military operations that expanded the territory that Washington and others were colonizing, Washington became increasingly upset with British rule. In 1764, the House sent the British Parliament a letter written by Thomas Jefferson complaining that “the inhabitants of the colonies are the slaves of the Britons from whom they are descended.”

Jefferson made no mention of the irony that he himself had fathered slaves whom he kept in bondage. This contradiction emerged again and again throughout the American Revolution. When the ruling class thought themselves to be treated unfairly, they complained that they were being treated like slaves; yet those who owned slaves always insisted that they treated their slaves so well that the latter had no objection to slavery. During the war of 1812, newspapers once again complained that American POWs were being treated worse than slaves.

In fact, many of the costs of establishing the empire were not imposed on those who benefitted from it, like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, but on ordinary people. Sailors, who were forced to perform manual labor similar to that imposed on chattel slaves, subjected to harsh punishments, and received little pay, were strongly affected by the new Stamp Act. The few goods they were permitted to take from port to port to sell on their own time were subject to new taxes. Consequently, they led some of the fiercest resistance to these taxes.

Rioters chasing officials during protests against the Stamp Act.

At the same time, Washington was gathering slaves from the estates of the investors in the Dismal Swamp Company for the purpose of draining the Great Dismal Swamp. This was another stage in the surveying and pacification of the unruly terrain of North America.

Starting in the 1600s, Native Americans, black people, and unruly whites used the murky swamp as a refuge from British settlements. By the 1800s, thousands of mostly African-American maroons inhabited the high and dry parts of the swamp, known as mesic islands. Self-sufficiency, barter with the outside world, and raids on nearby plantations kept the maroons housed, fed, and moderately comfortable. Numerous attacks against the planter class were conceived in the swamp and carried out from it. Here, the collective acts of individual runaways became a communal force.

Today, Donald Trump’s promise to “drain the swamp” continues George Washington’s legacy. Masking his actions as a rebellion against the powerful, he aims to carry out ecological devastation and crack down on targeted communities in pursuit of his own financial gain.

Knowing that the work would be grueling, possibly fatal, and the conditions horrible, investors contributed the slaves they considered “least valuable”—54 slaves all together. For his part, Washington selected two people from Mt. Vernon, Jack and Caesar, then bought four more from an estate sale: Harry, Topsom, Nan, and a child named Toney.

Harry was likely born around 1740 near the Gambia River in West Africa. Kidnapped and forced across the Atlantic, Harry survived the grueling conditions of the Middle Passage that took the lives of millions, arriving in Virginia around 1761. Thompson, Nan, and Toney may also have been African-born.

Despite the investors’ low opinion of the people they forced to dig and ditch the swamp, these slaves not only survived but repeatedly escaped over the following years. The other acts of rebellion they committed are lost to history. Those must have been considerable, however, in view of the courage it took to risk their lives to escape.

In September 1764, a slave whose name is recorded as Breechy fled from Mt. Vernon. Born around 1740, Breechy had experienced excruciating chest pains and fever during February 1760, requiring bed rest and doctor’s visits. He was given a leather knee brace too during the summer of 1764, presumably from the grueling farm labor. Breechy was captured and returned December 19 by “Christmas (Criemus) Meekins (Meakens) of New Kent County.” Breechy was listed in one of Washington’s last lists of slaves in 1799.

North America in 1767.

On April 10, 1766, Washington paid a bill to a Maryland prison where one of his slaves was housed, a person whose name is recorded as Cloe. At this time, jails often served as an extension of household authority: if a wife, minor, slave, servant, or apprentice was misbehaving and the head of the household could afford to pay his or her keep, the offender could be confined in the jail or physically punished by the jailor. Likewise, women, people of color, or apprentices traveling without their master or his written approval could be locked up until their master located them and paid for their keep. Given how far away from Mt. Vernon she was, Cloe was likely on the lam when she was confined.

Later in 1766, two slaves whose names are recorded as Tom and Bett ran away from Mt. Vernon. Tom, the slave foreman at River Farm, was sold the following year in the West Indies as a punishment for being “both a Rogue & Runaway.” Washington wrote to the ship’s captain to “keep him handcuffd till you get to Sea.” Bett, too, was eventually caught.

In late 1767, several slaves in Fairfax area conspired to kill their masters. Slaves belonging to Washington’s business partner, friend, and fellow founding father George Mason were involved in the plot. Feeling he was not properly reimbursed for the Crown executing his slaves, Mason had Washington collect money from Mason’s debtors to help his business stay afloat. This incident was reported in the Pennsylvania Gazette of December 31, 1767:

“From Alexandria, in Virginia, we learn, that a Number of Negroes there had lately conspired to poison their Overseers, and that several Persons have lost their Lives in Consequence thereof; that some of the Negroes have been taken up, four of whom were executed about three Weeks ago, after which their Heads were cut off, and fixed on the Chimnies of the Court-House; and it was expected that four more would soon meet with the same Fate.”

George Mason later voiced opposition to slavery. Yet he never gave full credit to the courage of those who rebelled against him, convincing him that enslaving people was more trouble than it was worth. Historians have repeated the omission, describing Mason as a humanitarian, not as a man educated by others’ courageous defiance to him.

In April 1767, an African slave whose name is recorded as Tom escaped from forced labor at the Dismal Swamp. He seems to have remained at liberty for quite some time. An advertisement for his capture that Washington’s brother placed in the Virginia Gazette in Williamsburg on June 23, 1768 reads:

“Nansemond, June 20, 1768. RUN away from the subscriber some time in April 1767, a new Negro man named TOM, belonging to the proprietors of the Dismal Swamp. He is about 5 feet 6 inches high, has his country marks (that is, four on each of his cheeks.) Any person that apprehends the said fellow, so that I may get him, shall have three pounds reward.”

On July 21, 1770, Michael Tracey, an indentured servant owned by Washington, ran away. Tracey was born in Ireland and indentured in Virginia. A bricklayer by trade, he was bought by Washington on July 25, 1768, when, according to Washington’s diary, he

“Went to Alexandria & bought a Bricklayer from Mr. Piper & returnd to Dinner.”

Michael was at Mt. Vernon til at least 1770 when he was sold to an Alexandria brewer named Andrew Wales, who later reported him missing.

In June 1771, Will Shag escaped from the Great House Plantation where he was enslaved. The estate belonged to Martha Washington’s son, John Parke Custis, but it was under Washington’s care, as John had not yet fully reached adulthood. Will’s absence was immediately reported to Washington.

Will had repeatedly escaped before. His captors had moved him to the Great Plantation in the hopes it would settle him. Following his escape, he lived for a few months along the York River and passed as a free man by the name of Will Jones. An overseer from Great House went to capture him and bring him back, but on the way, Will beat him and escaped again.

Joseph Valentine, manager of Great House, ran this advertisement in the July 18, 1771 edition of the Virginia Gazette:

“Ran away, about the middle of June last, from Mr. John Parke Custis’s plantation, near the Capitol landing, a likely young Virginia born Negro fellow named Will, about 6 feet high, very full faced, and full eyed. The said Negro broke York gaol some time ago, and was taken again, but in bringing him home to the said plantation he made his escape from the overseer. As he passed at York some time for a free man, I have reason to believe that he will try to get on board some vessel. Whoever will bring the said Negro to me, near Williamsburg, shall receive Twenty shillings reward, besides what the law allows. He is out-lawed. . . . All masters of vessels are cautioned against taking him on board at their peril.”

The process of “outlawing” a slave was set forth in “An Act directing the trial of Slaves committing capital crimes… and for the better government of negroes, mulattoes, and Indians, bond or free.” This act stipulated that in the case of “outlawed” fugitive slaves,

“it shall be lawful for any person, or persons whatsoever, to kill and destroy such slaves, by any ways or means, without accusation, or impeachment of any crime for the same.”

After several weeks of freedom, Will Shag was arrested. In August, Valentine wrote to Washington informing him of the situation, saying of Will “he will not worke and a greater Roge is not to be foun.” A month later, the overseers at Bakers Quarter are reported to have captured Will sleeping in the woods. Valentine insisted that Washington should sell him, as they would never be able to keep him in captivity.

On July 29, 1771, a valuable ostler named Harry made his first escape from Mount Vernon. Harry had spent years enslaved in the mosquito-invested Dismal Swamp digging ditches and cutting wood, then slowly worked his way up to become a house servant caring for Washington’s horses. In June, Harry had been demoted to building a mill at Mt. Vernon’s furthest property, Ferry Plantation. This shift may have been too reminiscent of the swamp; it was almost certainly the catalyst for his July cavale.

Washington paid one pound and sixteen shillings to advertise for the recovery of his property, as Cassandra Pybus relates in The Human Tradition in the Black Atlantic, 1500-2000. Washington noted in his diary on August 2, 1771, “At home all day a writing Letters & Advertisements of Harry who run away the 29th.” Harry was captured and returned a few weeks later, but remained determined to escape.

On December 5, 1771, the Virginia Gazette, Williamsburg, ran the following advertisement:

“RUN away from the Subscriber, in Isle of Wight, a Negro named JACK, about five and thirty Years of Age, five Feet ten Inches high, a slim, clean made, talkative, artful, and very saucy Fellow. Also a Negro Woman named VENUS, thirty two Years old, five Feet four Inches high, stout made, very smooth tongued, and has been five Years accustomed to the House. They worked in the Dismal Swamp about two Years, under Mr. John Washington, and carried with them several different Kinds of Apparel. Whoever delivers the said Negroes to me, or secures them so that I may get them, shall have a Reward of FORTY SHILLINGS for each.”

Venus and Jack, formerly owned by the Washingtons and the Dismal Swamp Company, escaped repeatedly over an eight-year period.

A list of slaves held captive under Washington’s authority in December 1771 includes over 200 people.

In spring of 1772, Will Shag succeeded in escaping again. He was captured once more and returned in July. The following winter, Washington had him sold in the Caribbean. Uncompromising rebels like Will spread revolt wherever they were sent.

In 1773, a slave in his early fifties whose name is recorded as Coachman Jemmy, escaped from Washington’s Great House plantation after being put to work making ditches. James Hill, the manager of the plantation, called Jemmy “one of the Greatest Raschals I ever lookd after in all my life” and advised Washington to get rid of him as soon as possible:

“there is no getg. of him to do any thing more then he Pleases & he only corrupts the Rest & if you dont conclude to Sell him am determined to send him to the Easten Shore that he never Shall Strike a Stroke this side while I stay in the Estate.”

If Jemmy was caught, Hill advised Washington to sell him to the Caribbean like Will Shag, and in no case keep him on the estate—because even if he were kept in shackles, “the negro Blacksmiths in town will soon file them off.” This comment hints at the clandestine networks of solidarity that rendered all these escapes possible.

The same year, the slave who had escaped with “Venus” in 1771, whose name is recorded as “Jack Dismal” on account of the years of hard labor he had performed in the course of Washington’s attempt to “drain the swamp,” escaped again from the man who had bought him from the Washingtons. The February 18, 1773 issue of the Virginia Gazette reads:

“RUN away from Mr. James Hunter’s, opposite Fredericksburg, on his way to Frederick, a Negro man named JACK DISMAL, a black slim made fellow, about 5 feet 10 inches high, has thick lips, and is a cunning, artful fellow. It is supposed he went down Rappahannock in some vessel, in order to get to James river. Whoever secures the said Negro, so that I get him again, shall have FORTY SHILLINGS, or FIVE POUNDS if delivered to William Herndon, my overseer in Frederick county.”

Reading such ads, one is struck by the central role that newspapers played in maintaining white supremacy, and by the fact that would-be slave owners were constantly forced to shell out reward money to maintain their position. Before the American Revolution, as today, wealthy property owners, corporate media outlets, and armed enforcers of order formed a three-way alliance.

Recruiting poster for a fake revolution. The liberties and independence of human beings are far more important than the liberties and independence of any nation.

The Tide of Revolution

All the tensions in the colonies were coming to a head at once. William Webster, an indentured servant at Mt. Vernon purchased in March 1774, ran away immediately. He was captured and returned on April 26, 1774, but he escaped again a year later.

Meanwhile, Washington was railing against the “Intolerable Acts” passed by the British Parliament to punish colonists in Massachusetts for the Boston Tea Party. He wrote to Bryan Fairfax that

“The crisis is arrived when we must assert our rights or submit to every imposition till custom and use shall make us as tame and abject slaves, as the blacks we rule over with such arbitrary sway.”

When colonial Governor Lord Dunmore disbanded the House of Burgessess, Washington chaired a meeting in Fairfax County condemning the taxes imposed by the Crown and calling for the first inter-colonial convention of the colonies. The meeting and ensuing proclamation are known as the Fairfax Resolves: “We will use every means which Heaven hath given us to prevent our becoming its [Britain’s] slaves.”

In April 1775, William Webster escaped again, this time in the company of another indentured servant, Thomas Spears. While preparing to rise in rebellion against the Crown, Washington offered a reward of forty dollars for the return of these two men he sought to keep in subjugation.

On June 14, 1775, Congress created the Continental Army and appointed Washington Commander-in-Chief. His refusal to accept a salary won him acclaim; the truth is that the unpaid labor of his many slaves rendered any salary the rebel colonies could raise for him superfluous.

Ten days later, a slave whose name is recorded as Charles escaped from Washington’s brother. Charles had sustained a serious knee injury, likely while laboring to enrich the Washington family.

On August 7, 1775, Joseph Smith, an indentured painter from Scotland, escaped from Washington’s brother-in-law while on loan from Washington. He went to fight for the British forces under Lord Dunmore, preferring the tyranny of the Crown to the tyranny of his master. As a cousin of Washington’s wrote to Washington, upon Smith’s wounding and capture,

“The Paint(er) was one among the Prisoners taken at Hampton, after recieveg a wound in the thigh—& is now in jail at Wmsburg the wound almost well—I have wrote to Colo. Lewis desireg he woud order him up to Fredrixburg, if he cannot sell him in Wmsburg, & sell him to some of the back people, after Whipg him at a Publick whiping Post—my information is from Thos Davis by last Post—he calls himself Joseph Wilson but acknowledges himse[l]f to be your Servt, & that he Run away from Colo. Lewis, but is unwiling to be sent back.

Our Dunmore has at length Publishd his much dreaded proclamation—declareg Freedom to All Indented Servts & Slaves (the Property of Rebels) that will repair to his majestys Standard—being able to bear Arms—What effect it will have upon those sort of people I cannot tell—I think if there was no white Servts in this family I shoud be under no apprehensition about the Slaves, however I am determined, that if any of them Create any confusition to make & [an] example of him, Sears who is at worck here says there is not a man of them, but woud leave us, if they believe’d they coud make there Escape—Tom Spears Excepted—& yet they have no fault to find[.] Liberty is sweet.”

This letter reveals a great deal about the loyalties of indentured servants. The conditions of unrest that had arisen in the colonies had forced the British to offer them the possibility of freedom—and this was more attractive to them than the mere national liberation that George Washington sought while aiming to keep slaves and indentured servants in chains.

Already, by November 1775, hundreds of runaways had made their way to Dunmore’s camp. By the end of the war, between 80,000 and 100,000 slaves had escaped—roughly 1 in 46—making the American Revolution the first mass slave exodus in American history. However, only 20,000-30,000 made it across British lines. (By contrast, a mere 5000 slaves fought alongside their masters for American Independence.) Where did the rest of the escapees go? Some were captured and returned; others succumbed to disease; but the rest must have melted away into maroon communities or set out for the frontier.

Washington privately feared the defection of servants and slaves to British lines, admitting to Richard Henry Lee, “If that man [Dunmore] is not crushed before spring he will become the most formidable enemy of America… His strength will increase as a snowball by rolling, and faster, if some expedient cannot be hit upon to convince the slaves and servants of the impotency of his designs.”

On July 19, 1776, fifteen days after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, Harry, the slave who had made an escape in 1771, sought again to escape along with a couple of white servants. The group made their way down the Potomac until they reached Lord Dunmore’s overcrowded, disease-ridden fleet. An outbreak of smallpox followed by typhoid fever forced Dunmore to later admit, “There was not a ship in the fleet that did not throw one, two, three or more dead overboard every night.”

Despite the miserable conditions, Harry enlisted in Dunmore’s “Black Pioneers” and rose to the rank of Corporal. During the invasion of Charleston in 1781, Harry commanded a company of black troops. It would seem that the black soldiers saw little to no combat, serving a support role of establishing infrastructure, building earthworks, and assembling grapeshot. People of color played similar roles in the US military during World War II and other campaigns.

In 1778, Washington ordered that a slave named Priscilla be separated from her husband and sent from Mt. Vernon to serve his mother Mary Ball Washington in Fredericksburg. Priscilla and her husband protested the move vigorously until Washington was forced to reunite them a year later. Incidents like this one show that in these unpredictable conditions of social ferment, even enslaved people who did not choose to escape could bring leverage to bear on their captors, forcing them to make concessions.

The same year, Jack Dismal and Venus escaped again with another slave named Zeny and her daughter Nelly. Meanwhile, a slave belonging to George Washington whose name is recorded as Ben, died while being forced to work in the rice field of the Great Dismal Swamp. This tragic episode illustrates the fortitude that Jack, Venus, Harry, and others displayed in surviving their ordeal in the swamp and repeatedly setting out for freedom.

In 1779, Washington earned his title, “Town Destroyer,” by ordering the Sullivan Expedition, which demolished at least 40 Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) villages in New York. Though relatively few of the Haudenosaunee were killed outright, the destruction of their homes, crops, cattle, and winter stores created a situation in which one in five of the 5000 Haudenosaunee refugees died of hunger or exposure that winter. The area we now think of as rural New York was cleared for white settlement by this act of mass killing.

In 1780, John Trumbull painted George Washington with Billy Lee, an enslaved man who was Washington’s body servant during the Revolutionary War. Billy Lee remained enslaved by Washington until Washington’s death in 1799.

In 1781, at the high point of the Revolutionary War, Washington’s cousin, Lund Washington, recorded that 17 slaves had escaped from Mt. Vernon. The fourteen men and three women took refuge on the HMS Savage docked in the nearby Potomac. According to Lund Washington, these included7

“Peter. an old man. Lewis. an old man. Frank. an old man. Frederick. a man about 45 years old; an overseer and valuable. Gunner. a man about 45 years old; valuable, a Brick maker. Harry. a man about 40 years old, valuable, a Horseler. Tom, a man about 20 years old, stout and Healthy. Sambo. a man about 20 years old, stout and Healthy. Thomas. a lad about 17 years old, House servant. Peter. a lad about 15 years old, very likely. Stephen. a man about 20 years old, a cooper by trade. James. a man about 25 years old, stout and Healthy. Watty. a man about 20 years old, by trade a weaver. Daniel. a man about 19 years old, very likely. Lucy. a woman about 20 years old. Esther. a woman about 18 years old. Deborah. a woman about 16 years old.”

Washington wrote back, furious with the British for stealing his property.

The Washington family, with a figure who is likely Christopher Sheels, an enslaved person, on the right.

The War of Independence Concludes, The War on Slaves Continues

When the war ended in 1782, it took the British forces and their allies by surprise. Boston King, a slave who had liberated himself, recalled that in New York City, the peace

“issued universal joy among all parties, except us, who had escaped from slavery, and taken refuge in the English army; for a report prevailed at New York, that all slaves, in number 2000, were to be delivered up to their masters, although some of them had been three or four years among the English. This dreadful rumor filled us all with inexpressible anguish and terror, especially when we saw our masters coming from Virginia, North Carolina, and other parts, and seizing upon their slaves in the streets of New York, or even dragging them out of their beds. Many of the slaves had very cruel masters, so that the thoughts of returning home with them embittered life to us. For some days, we lost our appetite for food, and sleep departed from our eyes.”

Rather than going to New York themselves, masters often hired slave catchers or complained to officials. Virginia Governor Benjamin Harrison was so swamped by complaints that he wrote Washington for help, who answered,

“I have but little expectation that many will be recovered; several of my own are with the Enemy but I scarce ever bestowed a thought on them; they have so many doors through which they can escape from New York, that scarce any thing but an inclination to return, or voluntarily surrender for themselves will restore many to their former Masters.”

Washington still hoped to recover his “property,” however. As the Americans began to take control of New York City, he asked local merchant Daniel Parker to look for his runaways: “If by chance you should come at the knowledge of any of them, I will be much obliged by your securing them so I may obtain them again.” Appointed as a commissioner to ensure no American property was taken away by the British, Daniel Parker succeeded in capturing seven of the over twenty escapees from Mt. Vernon. One of the 1781 runaways, the 18-year-old Deborah, managed to leave New York aboard the Polly on April 27, 1783. Harry, his future wife, Jenny, and over 400 self-liberated former slaves followed in July 1783 on L’Abondance. Finally, on the very last ship to leave New York City with refugee runaways on board, Daniel, the 21-year-old who escaped with Deborah in 1781, left the country for good. All told, thousands of runaways were successfully evacuated to Nova Scotia, Jamaica, the Bahamas, and England.

Yet Jenny and Harry soon found themselves in a freezing, unfarmable section of Nova Scotia, suffering a fate only slightly better than that of Virginia slaves. Here, too, they were considered inferior, prohibited from voting or serving on juries. After eight years of toil, the community sent a delegate to Britain to protest their condition. Hoping to draw new settlers to their colony on the west coast of Africa, the Sierra Leone Company offered free grants of land “subject to certain charges and obligations” to new settlers: twenty acres for every man, ten for every woman, five for every child.

And so in 1791, Jenny, Harry, and over 1100 other refugees who had stayed in Nova Scotia found themselves on their way to Freetown, Sierra Leone.

Mihšihkinaahkwa (Little Turtle), a hero of the struggle against colonial expansion led by President George Washington.

After the Revolution: The Reaction

After the war, the collective ferment of the mid-1700s gave way to the re-entrenchment of bureaucracy.

With the Treaty of Paris in 1783, hostilities between the British and Americans officially ended, and the British turned over lands from the Atlantic Ocean to the Mississippi River. Over 45,000 Native Americans still lived in the region west of the Appalachian Mountains. Before the Americans took control of the land, Native representatives began meeting together to coordinate defense—in some cases setting aside generations of inter-tribal conflict. Many still remembered the burning of Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) villages in rural New York, the massacre at Gnadenhutten of pacifist Lenni Lenape (Delaware People), and other war crimes committed by the Americans during the Revolutionary War. Native Americans had won most of their engagements during the war, yet had not been consulted during the peace process. They did not wish to cede their homes northwest of the Ohio River.

On one side, in 1785, Congress began selling land in the Ohio River Valley to help pay the costs of the Revolutionary War. On the other side, by 1786, a formal self-defense coalition was established involving members of the Wendat (Hurons), Shawnee, Odawas, Anishinaabeg (Ojibwas), Neshnabé (Potawatomis), Lenni Lenape (Delaware), Myaamiaki (Miami), Waayaahtanwa (Wea), Kiikaapoa (Kickapoo), Peeyankihšiaki (Piankashaw), Kaahkaahkiaki (Kaskaskia), and Chickamauga Cherokee. Raids and ambushes against settlers encroaching on Native land soon followed. Mihšihkinaahkwa (Little Turtle) of the Atchatchakangouen (Crane Band of the Myaamiaki), Weyapiersenwah (Blue Jacket) of the Shawnee, Buckongahelas of the Lenni Lenape, and Egushawa (The Gatherer) of the Odawa were among the leaders during the ensuing conflict; the Northwest Indian War is sometimes called Little Turtle’s War or Blue Jacket’s War in their honor.

In 1787, Congress passed the Northwest Ordinance. Not only did this act bullheadedly assert US ownership of the Ohio River Valley, it also proclaimed:

“There shall be neither slavery nor involuntary servitude in the said territory, otherwise than in the punishment of crimes whereof the party shall have been duly convicted: Provided, always, That any person escaping into the same, from whom labor or service is lawfully claimed in any one of the original States, such fugitive may be lawfully reclaimed and conveyed to the person claiming his or her labor or service as aforesaid.”

The Northwest Territories.

Slave owners found a way around this easily enough: family members in a slave state would seasonally send slaves to family members in Ohio, Indiana, or Illinois. Before the slaves could establish residency, they were sent back to slave states, only to be rotated back to “free” territory again a few months later. George and Martha Washington utilized this tactic themselves, bringing eight slaves—Giles, Paris, Moll, Hercules, Richmond, Christopher Sheels, Oney Judge, and her half-brother Austin—to the President’s House in Philadelphia, then rotating them back to Mt. Vernon or taking them on short trips to New Jersey. When Austin died in 1794, he was replaced in the rotation by Postilion Joe Richardson.

In 1789, the Federal government further solidified its power in the Constitution, protecting the rights of slave owners in the process. The Constitution infamously declared each slave to count as three fifths of a human being. George Washington became the first president of the United States.

In 1790, Washington ordered that an army be raised for Secretary of War Henry Knox to launch a campaign against the tribes to the northwest. The first engagement proved a decisive loss for the Americans, who lost over a hundred soldiers. Washington ordered another campaign the following year, but Mihšihkinaahkwa, Weyapiersenwah, and hundreds of Native warriors ambushed the American troops, killing the majority of them. Over the following two years, Native warriors won several more engagements, but the cost of war ultimately took its toll. After the Native coalition surrendered, forts and other European infrastructure began to appear in the Ohio River Valley. So did slave owners.

In 1793, Washington signed the Fugitive Slave Act, giving power to slave owners or their representatives to enter states that had outlawed slavery to regain their slaves. As a Federal law, the Act trumped local or state laws forbidding the kidnapping of self-liberated slaves. The Act also forbid anyone from harboring or aiding a fugitive slave. Those who continued to aid runaways risked corporal punishment, fines, jail time, and, in extreme cases, banishment.

Writing to his manager William Pearce that same year, Washington emphasized the importance of maintaining class society, counseling against managers and overseers fraternizing with slaves and servants:

“To treat them civilly is no more than what all men are entitled to, but my advice to you is, to keep them at a proper distance; for they will grow upon familiarity, in proportion as you will sink in authority, if you do not.”

When a slave whose name is recorded as Abram escaped, Washington counseled William Pearce in a letter written March 1794 that when Abram was captured he should make sure he was punished in front of other slaves, and punished by the crueler of the two overseers at Union Farm.

The following May, towards the start of her second trimester of pregnancy, Priscilla ran away for a week. She may have been away visiting friends, or seeking a respite from working while pregnant—or perhaps she didn’t want another child born into the hell of Mt. Vernon.

Washington’s holdings in 1793.

In 1796, 21-year-old Oney Judge, a dower slave belonging to Martha Washington, walked out the back door of the President’s House and escaped. Martha had been planning to give Oney to her granddaughter as a wedding gift. With over 2000 free people of color in Philadelphia, it was a far more promising place to escape than Mt. Vernon. As Oney later recalled,

“Whilst they were packing up to go to Virginia, I was packing to go, I didn’t know where; for I knew that if I went back to Virginia, I should never get my liberty. I had friends among the colored people of Philadelphia, had my things carried there beforehand, and left Washington’s house while they were eating dinner.”

An ad appeared in The Philadelphia Gazette of May 24, 1796 on behalf of the First Lady:

“Absconded from the household of the President of the United States, ONEY JUDGE, a light mulatto girl, much freckled, with very black eyes and bushy hair. She is of middle stature, slender, and delicately formed, about 20 years of age. She has many changes of good clothes, of all sorts, but they are not sufficiently recollected to be described—As there was no suspicion of her going off, nor no provocation to do so, it is not easy to conjecture whither she has gone, or fully, what her design is; but as she may attempt to escape by water, all masters of vessels are cautioned against admitting her into them, although it is probable she will attempt to pass for a free woman, and has, it is said, wherewithal to pay her passage. Ten dollars will be paid to any person who will bring her home, if taken in the city, or on board any vessel in the harbour;—and a reasonable additional sum if apprehended at, and brought from a greater distance, and in proportion to the distance. FREDERICK KITT, Steward. May 23”

Reclaiming Oney became an obsession for Washington, but she always managed to stay a step of head of him. First, she went to Portsmouth, New Hampshire. But after Senator John Langdon spotted her and snitched on her to the Washingtons, Oney panicked and offered to return to Mt. Vernon if her freedom could be guaranteed at the time of Washington’s death. The President responded furiously to Landgon:

“I regret that the attempt you made to restore the girl (Oney Judge as she called herself while with us, and who, without the least provocation absconded from her Mistress) should have been attended with so little success. To enter into such a compromise, as she has suggested to you, is totally inadmissible, for reasons that must strike at first view: for however well disposed I might be to a gradual abolition, or even to an entire emancipation of that description of People (if the latter was in itself practicable at this Moment) it would neither be politic or just, to reward unfaithfulness with a premature preference; and thereby discontent, beforehand, the minds of all her fellow Servants; who by their steady adherence, are far more deserving than herself, of favor…

Put her on board a Vessel bound either to Alexandria or the Federal City… I do not mean however, by this request, that such violent measures should be used as would excite a mob or riot, which might be the case if she has adherents, or even uneasy sensations in the minds of well disposed Citizens. rather than either of these shd happen, I would forego her services altogether; and the example also, which is of infinite more importance.”

Langdon mostly attempted verbal persuasion after this, agreeing that physical force would likely draw an abolitionist mob to Oney’s defense. He added “It has been remarked that there are many Servants who have escaped from the Southern States into Massachusetts and some to New Hampshire,” forcing Langdon to conclude to Washington that the practice of slavery was more trouble than it was worth.

Oney fell in love with a free sailor named Jack Staines. Despite Langdon’s attempts to block their marriage license, the two wedded, moved to Greenland, New Hampshire, and had a daughter, whom they namd Eliza. In 1798, Washington renewed his efforts to capture Oney, going so far as threatening to take Eliza, whom the law deemed his legal property, but to no avail.

Advertisement announcing the escape of Oney Judge.

Back at Mt. Vernon, Priscilla also fled again in 1796, after giving birth in January. This time, she was captured and returned by a William Minter Green around October 24. Over the next couple years, Priscilla was frequently ill, being forced to live in unhealthy conditions while raising children without her husband, who was owned by Washington but kept on a different farm in the Mt. Vernon complex.

The following three years saw a series of further escapes. On February 22, 1797, Hercules, who had served as the Presidential chef, escaped. Another slave named Caesar was repeatedly absent from work. In April 1798, slaves named Lucy and Dundee disappeared for several days, as did Joe, a gardener, and another slave named Sophia later that year.

Hercules had always appeared to be loyal to the Washingtons. Bought by the Washingtons in 1767 as a ferryman, he worked his way up to serve as head cook at Mt. Vernon. As cook, Hercules followed Washington to the President’s House in New York and Philadelphia. Known for ruling the kitchen with an iron fist, Hercules served the food eaten by the first First Family and all the dignitaries they hosted. One guest later recalled, a feast of “roast beef, veal, turkey, ducks, fowls, hams, &c.; puddings, jellies, oranges, apples, nuts, almonds, figs, raisins, and a variety of wines and punches.”

Due to his worth, Hercules was given considerable freedom: he walked to the local markets each morning, perusing the latest arrivals in the cosmopolitan Philadelphia, and was even allowed to sells scraps from the kitchen, earning him an income similar to top-paid chiefs—$200 a year.

Living in Philadelphia gave Hercules the chance to showcase his latest wears. After serving dinner at the stroke of 4, Hercules would dress and stroll the streets of the city. His dandyism was widely known.

Yet as a slave, Hercules was rotated between Philadelphia and Mt. Vernon, and on one visit south he was demoted to the humiliating task of digging ditches. Hercules had served fine meats and wines to foreign dignitaries! He could not abide this change in status.

February 22, 1797 was George Washington’s 65th birthday. He celebrated the day in Philadelphia, where sixteen rounds of cannon fire announced the general’s birthday. February 22 was also a holiday for the slaves and servants of Mt. Vernon, and Hercules intended to make good use of it. Perhaps using the river-faring knowledge of his youth, and counting on the free people of color in Philadelphia, Hercules made his way north. The last the Washingtons ever heard of Hercules, he was living well in New York City in 1801.

Hercules, enslaved chef to the President of the United States and, more importantly, successful escapee.

During the summer of 1799, 25-year-old Christopher Sheels plotted to escape with his fiancée, a woman enslaved to Washingon’s neighbor, Roger West. The plan was discovered in September when written correspondence including a map of their route was found in the yard of Mt. Vernon.

Born around 1774 to Alyce, an enslaved spinner, and Christopher Sheels, a white wagon driver, Christopher spent his first fourteen years at Mt. Vernon. His grandmother, whose name is recorded as Old Doll, was one of the original dower slaves brought to Mt. Vernon by Martha in the 1750s. As an adolescent, Christopher had accompanied Washington to New York City and then Philadelphia, acting as the President’s loyal body servant the whole time. Even the winter after his attempt was foiled, as Washington lay dying, Christopher Sheel stayed by his bed—witnessing the inflammation and bloodletting that ended the first president’s life.

After Washington

“Shame! Shame! That man should be deemed the property of man or that the name of Washington should be found among the list of such proprietors.” –Edward Rushton, letter to Washington, February 20, 1797

America began the 19th century in mourning. Congress wore black and set aside $200,000 to build a pyramid mausoleum for Washington beneath the Capitol’s rotunda, a proposal Martha vetoed. America’s major cities held funeral processions attended by the thousands. In France, Napoleon ordered ten days of morning; the ships of the British Navy lowered their flags to half mast. When February 22 arrived, patriotic Americans were as determined as ever to celebrate the first president’s birthday.

But the slaves of Mt. Vernon must have received the news of Washington’s death with mixed emotions. Washington owned well over 100 of them; they’d long been told that they would be set free when he passed away. Yet many had befriended, intermarried with, and parented children with Martha’s dower slaves and those of the neighbors. What would emancipation mean for those whose loved ones were still in chains?

The problem was soon rendered moot, as it was revealed that Washington’s will did not free his slaves at the time of his death, but rather at the time of Martha’s. George had lied through his teeth.8

On August 2, a 16-year-old slave whose name is recorded as Marcus ran off. Though Washington’s slaves hadn’t been freed yet, newspapers around the country were carrying news that they had been. Perhaps Marcus hoped to take advantage of this.

“MARCUS, One of the House Servants at Mount Vernon, Absconded on the second instant, and since has not been heard of. He is a young lad, about 16 years of age, a bright mulatto, dark blue eyes, long black hair, about 5 feet 4 or 5 inches high, and of a slender make. He had on when he left this place a coat and jacket of dark mixture, black and white, and black breeches – but having various suits, one of black, and another of very light drab, it is uncertain which of these he now wears. Originally, his name was Billy and possibly he may resume the same. It is very probable he may attempt to pass for one of those negroes that did belong to the late Gen. Washington, and whom Mrs. Washington intends in the fall of this year to liberate – the public are therefore warned against any such imposition, as he is one of those negroes which belongs to the estate of Washington P. Custis Esq. and held by right of dower by Mrs. Washington during her life. I will give Ten Dollars Reward to any person who shall apprehend the said negro and lodge him in some safe gaol, upon producing me a certificate to that effect; and will also pay all reasonable charges over and above this reward, for the delivery of him to me at this place. Ship Masters are hereby forewarned not to take on board Marcus; and those who are found to secret or harbor him, will be punished as the law directs. JAMES ANDERSON, Mount Vernon, August 28.”

The Philadelphia Gazette & Daily Advertiser, September 22, 1800

Advertisement announcing the escape of Marcus.

Around this time, Martha began fearing for her life. There were rumors at Mt. Vernon to the effect that Washington’s slaves intended to kill her in order to hasten their freedom. Martha started to suspect that her food would be poisoned. A series of suspicious fires that year pushed Martha to her breaking point: all of Washington’s 123 slaves were to be freed the first of the year.

To put this in context, the Creole Slave Mutiny is considered the largest US slave revolt in terms of the number of people freed: 128. Here at Mt. Vernon, we see a similar number freed as the consequence of at least a handful of people conducting a campaign of harassment and intimidation against Martha Washington. When First Lady Abigail Adams visited Mt. Vernon in mid-December 1800, she noted that Martha “did not feel as tho her Life was safe in their Hands, many of whom would be told that it was there interest to get rid of her.”

Though life outside Mt. Vernon would be hard—some of the liberated slaves had never left the property or learned trades—most thought the risk was better than life there.

When Jack Staines died in 1803, Oney Judge Staines was left destitute, her children suffering a fate similar to other free poor people, both black and white: Eliza and Nancy became indentured servants, while her son Will was apprenticed as a sailor. Yet despite the hardships, Oney maintained until her death in 1848 that she had no regrets about leaving the Washingtons. “No, I am free, and have, I trust been made a child of God by the means.”

After leaving Nova Scotia in 1791, Harry and his wife Jenny found themselves mistreated yet again in Freetown, Sierra Leone. Though Jenny and Harry were able to start their own farm, sustaining it proved impossible under the tax system imposed by the Sierra Leone Company. This diabolical form of debt-slavery later became the sharecropping industry that dominated the lives of former slaves in the American South after the Civil War.

But Harry did not quit. He and hundreds of other self-freed former American slaves refused to pay the tax and eventually, to the horror of the Sierra Leona Company, formed their own government. If not for the arrival of 500 Jamaican maroons from Nova Scotia in the summer of 1800, Harry and the rest might have succeeded in push for self-determination.

Instead, the British were able to use the tried-and-true method of offering privileges to one section of the underclass in return for their assistance suppressing another part of the underclass. The Company promised better land to the maroons on the condition that they pacify the rebels. Rounded up and charged with “open and unprovoked rebellion,” Harry, Jenny, and other insurgents were eventually exiled across the Sierra Leone River to the Bullom Shore.

From the Gambia River in West Africa to the Dismal Swamp of America to South Carolina, New York, and Nova Scotia and then Sierra Leone, Harry never stopped seeking freedom. He passed the last years of his life as an influential member of the new settlement in the Bullom Shore. Freedom is not comprised of guarantees, but of the willingness to continue setting out for the horizon.

In the 1800s, slaves no longer ran away from George Washington, but for the next sixty years they fled from cities and counties that bore his name. Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries and into the 21st, people of color have been confined to schools, workplaces, and prisons named after the first president, in which they are afforded no more respect than he accorded them while he was alive. The fact that people celebrate his name, his birthday, and his legacy while forgetting or erasing those of Harry and Oney Judge is an insult to those who suffered at his hands; that he is remembered as a revolutionary hero shows that the American Revolution has yet to take place.

The Dismal Swamp Company that Washington helped found was a colossal failure. Only after decades of little success were the investors able to recoup any money by logging a small portion of the swamp. By the end of his life, Washington dreaded the occasional company updates; he sold his shares in the 1790s. Perhaps this is an indication of how successful Trump’s efforts to “drain the swamp” will ultimately be.

“George Washington was a slave owner… are we going to take down statues to George Washington? How about Thomas Jefferson? What do you think of Thomas Jefferson? You like him? Good. Are we going to take down the statue? ‘Cause he was a major slave owner. Are we going to take down his statue? So you know what? It’s fine. You are changing history; you’re changing culture.”

-Donald Trump, responding to fascist violence and murder in Charlottesville. Virginia

Here’s to changing history and changing culture.

Faster comrade, the New World is behind you.

George Washington’s false teeth, which were apparently taken from the mouths of slaves..

The Dollar Bill: A Postscript

One of the authors of this cursory summary, a Leopold Trebitch,9 toyed with the idea of telling readers to burn a portrait of George Washington—the one-dollar bill. How ubiquitous its presence! How invented its worth—yet how real its power! Burning a dollar bill is an act of freedom, mixed with discomfort: “What am I doing! I’m going to regret this!” Yet, what do we consume that costs less than a dollar? It’s hardly an expensive lesson.

In the end, we concluded that in order to honor those who escaped George Washington, it is more sensible to give that dollar to one of the following causes. Burn a dollar if you like, but then give a hundred more to…

On August 22, 2017, Kiwi Herring, a trans woman, was killed by the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department while defending herself against a homophobic neighbor. As the only witness to the murder, Kiwi Herring’s widow, Kris Thompson, has been punitively charged with Assault in the First Degree and Armed Criminal Action in order to silence Kris from speaking out against the police. If convicted, Kris faces a minimum of three years in prison with no probation or parole, and up to the maximum of two consecutive life sentences. Please give generously.

Ferguson Prisoners

The revolt in Ferguson breathed new life into many of the current struggles against police and white supremacy for a truly egalitarian world. Yet when the tear gas clears, we often forget those who remain locked up—who risked their freedom in order to put a limit on the abuse of the police, celebrate the life of Mike Brown, or send a heartfelt fuck you to those in power.

A list of Ferguson prisoners and mailing addresses at can be found here. Donations to their commissary funds may be made here.

Further Reading

Marie Joseph Angélique

Oney Judge

Mary Monroe “Mol” Bowden




  1. John F. Kennedy would have inherited a legacy worth a billion dollars, but was killed before he could come into his inheritance. 

  2. “The motley crew had helped to make the revolution, but the vanguard struck back in the 1770s and 1780s, against mobs, slaves, and sailors, in what must be considered an American Thermidor. The effort to reform the mob by removing its more militant elements began in 1766 and continued, not always successfully, through the revolution and beyond. Patriot landowners, merchants, and artisans increasingly condemned revolutionary crowds, seeking to move politics from ‘out of doors’ into legislative chambers, in which the propertyless would have no vote and no voice. Paine, for his part, would turn against the crowd after Philadelphia’s Fort Wilson Riot of 1779. When Samuel Adams helped to draw up Massachusetts’s Riot Act of 1786, designed to be used to disperse and control the insurgents of Shays’ Rebellion, he ceased to believe that the mob ‘embodied the fundamental rights of man against which government itself could be judged,’ and detached himself from the creative democratic force that years before had given him the best idea of his life.”

    The Many-Headed Hydra, Marcus Rediker and Peter Linebaugh 

  3. We can cite a few examples here to evoke the spirit of the era.

    On a cold night in April 1734, Marie Joseph Angélique, a 34-year old Madeira woman enslaved in Montréal, and Claude Thibault, her white lover indentured to the same household, lit their master’s home ablaze as cover for their escape. The fire consumed 46 buildings, a considerable part of Montréal, and led to looting by the underclass. While Thibault was never seen again, Angélique was captured, viciously tortured, and executed across from the church her flames had gutted. Her ashes were thrown to the winds.

    In 1739, twenty miles southwest of Charleston, South Carolina, twenty slaves unfurled a banner proclaiming “LIBERTY!” and chanted the word as they stormed a local warehouse, killing two guards and seizing weapons. The armed rebels proceeded south along the Stono River towards Spanish Florida, only fifty miles away. In hopes of destabilizing the British, the Spanish had promised freedom and land near St. Augustine to any slaves who escaped the British colonies. Since 1732, at least 250 runaways had seized this opportunity.

    On their way to Florida, sixty slaves joined the insurrection—burning seven plantations and killing two dozen members of slave-owning families along the way. Unfortunately, the next day, a better-armed militia intercept the Stono rebels, killing 44 and scattering the remainder. Rounded up in the following days, the insurgents were exported to the Caribbean or executed. Their decapitated heads dotted the local highways of colonial South Carolina. To counter this rebellion and two others in Georgia and South Carolina around the same time, the South Carolina legislature passed the Negro Act of 1740, restricting slave assembly, movement, and independence. Slaves were prohibited from growing their own food, earning money, or learning to write. The Assembly also enacted a 10-year moratorium against importing African slaves on the premise that a homegrown slave population would be less prone to uprisings.

    Just two years later, African and Irish conspirators in New York City managed to burn thirteen buildings over the course of March and April 1841, including Fort George, the chief military installation of the colony and one of the greatest fortifications in all British America. Retaliation was quick and severe: over thirty conspirators were hanged, burned at the stake, gibbeted, or banished to places as far away as Newfoundland, Madeira, St. Domingue, and Curaçao.

    Though New York was over two hundred miles away from Pope’s Creek, Charleston over four hundred miles away, and Montréal nearly a thousand, the specter of slave revolts and interracial alliances ceaselessly haunted the ruling class. 

  4. Notes And Documents of Free Persons of Color: Four Hundred Years of An American Family’s History, by Anita Willis. 

  5. Of the first 600 or more colonists sent to Jamestown between 1607-1611, all but 60 died of starvation, disease, exposure, Native attacks, or being worked to death. By 1624, only 1200 of the 6000 colonists sent to Jamestown had survived. 

  6. There were approximately 450,000 black slaves in the colonies at this time. Twice that many black people are in prison in the United States today, still performing slave labor. 

  7. Note that the aforementioned Harry is listed here, though he had escaped years earlier. 

  8. Washington suffered from tooth pain for much of his life; in later years, he wore dentures. His teeth were not made of wood; they may have been made from the extracted teeth of his slaves. In May 1784, Lund Washington noted in Mt. Vernon’s ledger books, “By Cash pd Negroes for 9 Teeth on Acct of Dr. Lemoire.” Dr. Lemoire was George Washington’s dentist, Dr. Jean Le Mayeur, who corresponded with George Washington about his visit to Mount Vernon that summer. 

  9. Leopold Trebitch is a rogue and rabble-rouser, living in the caves of St. Louis. Rants, musings, and diggings of his can be found at The Trebitch Times

What We Need from You: How You Can Help with CrimethInc. Projects

A year into the latest incarnation of this project, we’ve accomplished a lot—but we could be doing a lot more with a little assistance. We’re hoping trustworthy comrades will step up and help us to continue expanding our efforts, freeing up time and resources with which we can produce more books, articles, posters, speaking tours, and the like.

Here is a list of roles and tasks that you could fulfill. Needless to say, all this is volunteer work: we do these things out of love and desire for social change, and for the pleasure of working on creative projects with other brilliant and virtuous opponents of the existing order.

Help Us with Printing, Art, Design, and Video

Do you have free printing at your school or workplace? Print copies of our zines and posters to distribute in your community! Better yet, if you can, make copies in bulk and ship some to us so we can pass them on to folks who lack the means to produce zines themselves.

If you have access to fancier printing options such as letterpress or silkscreen, we’d love your help making lovely covers for our zines, as well. If you want to help with this, or simply to receive an alert when new designs are available for printing, email Ben.

We would love to work with more artists and videographers to illustrate our literature. We also need more designers to produce zines and posters. If you are an artist, videographer, or designer, contact us and send us examples of your work.

Our two-prong program for world liberation.

Help with Speaking Events and Tours

If you would like to invite a team of CrimethInc. agents to speak about any of the subjects we’ve published on at your community center, school, book fair, or conference, please contact us and we’ll see what we can do. The same goes if you would like to set up a tour for us or help us with booking. Over the years, we have participated in events from Des Moines and Cincinnati to Chile and the Philippines and if you can help us figure out how to cover the costs of transportation, we will gladly travel anywhere on earth.

Help with Signal Boosting

We’ve grudgingly acknowledged the importance of social media in modern-day outreach, but we could still use your help with it. Because Facebook’s algorithms are designed to disadvantage small projects that don’t pay for advertising, we need assistance with signal boosting. All we need is for people to share our posts from their own profiles. To help signal boost our posts, send us a Facebook message and we’ll make sure to tell you when articles come out.

Help with Editing

Although we spend long hours in group process co-authoring and editing texts, we still need help proofreading articles. At this point, we’re backed up months behind with texts we could publish if only we had assistance polishing them up. If you are an experienced editor and you can volunteer to help, contact us.

Join the ranks of the CWC Tech Crew.

Help the CrimethInc. Tech Team

The CrimethInc. website is built by volunteers during their nights, weekends, and clandestine hours stolen away at their jobs when the bosses aren’t looking. While the code collective has accomplished a lot with limited resources, we would love to do more. We need your help. Here’s where you come in:

  • Are you a Ruby/Rails developer? Or are you curious about Ruby or Rails? There are several issues for the website and the content collective’s CMS ranging from small bugs to large features (such as automated syndication to Twitter, Tumblr, Medium, etc). Check the issue tracker on GitHub.

  • Are you a CSS developer or designer? There are issues to improve content presentation (like article text size on mobile). There is also an opportunity to refactor the SCSS into a DRYer system.

  • Are you a visual designer? You could help us design a better reader experience. There are also standalone mini-sites to be designed and built, like the To Change Everything mini-site.

  • Are you a devops engineer? We need better automation around database backups, static site rendering, developer onboarding scripts, etc.

If you’re ready to dive in, here’s how:

Help the Hotwire

On a regular basis:

Send us reports! Write your own 1-2 paragraph reports of exciting acts of resistance or experiments in living without authority. Better yet, record 90-second segments about such acts and send those in to us—it’s easy to do on most smartphones! Or just send us links to exciting news that we wouldn’t already find on It’s Going Down, Dialectical Delinquents, Insurrection News, or the Earth First! Newswire.

Get your local community station to carry us! KEPW 97.3 in Eugene, OR already broadcasts us weekly, and we’re working with two other stations to regularly share The Hotwire. Every episode is radio ready, conforming to FCC regulations. We can prepare precise, 29-minute-long episodes if needed. Get in touch if you need more guidance or assistance with this.

One-time helps:

We would love professional software that can securely and irreversibly disguise voices.

We also welcome equipment donations. We can always use better equipment, like…

  • clip-on lavalier microphones

  • microphone stands

  • cables and adapters

  • digital recorders

  • mixing boards

  • professional soundproofing material

  • external hard drives & USB memory sticks

  • a new computer, desktop or laptop

  • a VPN

If you can help us with anything from our wish list, please write us at

Also, are you involved in an anarchist group? We like to represent the breadth of the anarchist movement with little plugs for It’s Going Down. Get in touch and we’ll record a jingle for It’s Going Down with your voice, plugging your group as well!

Help the Ex-Worker

In addition to all the same technology required by the Hotwire, the CrimethInc. cells involved with producing the Ex-Worker podcast request:

Help with transcription! We’re committed to providing a full transcript for all of our episodes to make them as accessible as possible. But transcribing can be pretty time-consuming. We could use volunteers to transcribe interviews. It doesn’t take any specialized skills—just the time and patience to go through the audio files from interviews and type them out.

Help with reviews! We also welcome folks who are interested in reading newly released books or periodicals and writing short reviews responding to them. Contact us to strategize together about how to go about this and which titles to start with.

Tell us what you think anarchists need to be discussing. What are the important issues, practical and theoretical debates, and areas for analysis that we should focus on? Let us know what they are, what you think about them, and what texts or groups we should consult.

We Will Remember Freedom: Why It Matters that Ursula K. Le Guin Was an Anarchist

I’ve never liked the part of the story when the mentor figure dies and the young heroes say they aren’t ready to go it alone, that they still need her. I’ve never liked it because it felt clichéd and because I want to see intergenerational struggle better represented in fiction.

Today I don’t like that part of the story because… I don’t feel ready.

Last week, I lived in the same world as Ursula Le Guin, a grandmaster of science fiction who accepted awards by decrying capitalism and seemed, with every breath, to speak of the better worlds we can create. On Monday, January 22, 2018, she passed away. She was 88 years old and she knew it was coming, and of course my sorrow is for myself and my own loss and not for a woman who, after a lifetime of good work fighting for what she believed, died loved.

It’s also a sorrow, though, to have lost one of the most brilliant anarchists the world has ever known. Especially now, as we start into the hard times she said were coming.

To be clear, Ursula Le Guin didn’t, as I understand it, call herself an anarchist. I asked her about this. She told me that she didn’t call herself an anarchist because she didn’t feel that she deserved to—she didn’t do enough. I asked her if it was OK for us to call her one. She said she’d be honored.

Ursula, I promise you, the honor is ours.

When I think about anarchist fiction, the first story that comes into my head is a simple one, called “Ile Forest,” which appeared in Le Guin’s 1976 collection Orsinian Tales. The narrative is framed by two men discussing the nature of crime and law. One suggests that some crimes are simply unforgivable. The other refutes it. Murder, surely, argues the one, that isn’t for self-defense, is unforgivable.

The chief narrator of the story then goes on to relate a story of a murder—a vile one, a misogynist one—that leaves you with both discomfort and with the awareness that no, in that particular case, there would be no justice in seeking vengeance or legal repercussions against the murderer.

In a few thousand words, without even trying, she undermines the reader’s faith in both codified legal systems and vigilante justice.

It wasn’t that Le Guin carried her politics into her work. It’s that the same spirit animated both her writing and her politics. In her 2015 blog post “Utopiyin, Utopiyang” she writes:

“The kind of thinking we are, at last, beginning to do about how to change the goals of human domination and unlimited growth to those of human adaptability and long-term survival is a shift from yang to yin, and so involves acceptance of impermanence and imperfection, a patience with uncertainty and the makeshift, a friendship with water, darkness, and the earth.”

That’s the anarchist spirit that animated her work. Anarchism, as I see it, is about seeking a better world while accepting impermanence and imperfection.

I spend a lot of my time thinking about, reading about, and learning from others about how fiction can engage with politics. I don’t want to put Le Guin on a pedestal—she herself, in perfect form, refused to let people call her or her work genius—but no one wrote political fiction with the same flair for well-told book-length metaphor as she did.

The easiest book for me to talk about is The Dispossessed, because it’s the most widely-read anarchist utopian novel in the English language. When an anarchist like Le Guin writes her utopia, it’s explicitly “an ambiguous utopia.” It says so, right on the cover. It’s the story of an anarchist scientist at odds with his own anarchist society and the stifling social conventions that can grow up in the place of laws. It’s a story of that anarchist society, far from perfect, favorably compared to both capitalism and state communism. It’s also a story about how beautiful monogamous relationships can be once they’re not compulsory. When the anarcho-curious ask me for a novel to read that explores anarchism, I don’t always suggest it, since the anarchist world represented is so bleak (my go to, more often that not, is Starhawk’s The Fifth Sacred Thing). It’s too anarchist of a text to serve as propaganda.

Le Guin was also a pacifist. I’m not one myself, but I respect her position on the matter. I think it was that pacifism that helped her write about violent anti-colonial struggle with as much nuance as she did in The Word for World is Forest. There’s an inherent kindness in the violence in that book, which pits an indigenous alien race (the inspiration for the Ewoks of Star Wars, incidentally, in case you needed more proof that anarchists invent everything) against human invaders. The glory of struggle is muted, rendered realistically. The glory of it is as dangerous as the actual violence, as it should be.

Le Guin and other authors blew open the doors of what science fiction could be, presenting social sciences as equal to hard sciences. Her novel The Left Hand of Darkness is about people who alternate between male and female. As I understand it, it was an unprecedented work when it came out in 1969. I didn’t love it the way that I’ve loved some of her other books, but I’m not sure I can imagine what the world would look like if it had never been written. I can’t point to another work that has done more to seed the idea that gender can and should be fluid. It’s possible that my life as a non-binary trans woman would be completely different had she not written that book.

The Lathe of Heaven is psychedelic fiction at its finest and a parable of the power held by artists and those who imagine other worlds. Presciently, it explores a society destroyed by global warming.

For the luckier kids of my generation, Le Guin’s fantasy series, Earthsea, filled the role that Harry Potter has for people younger than me. I wish I’d read it as a kid, though I don’t regret how often I read The Hobbit. In the world of Earthsea, the villains who threaten the world are aspects of the heroes who have to save it.

The words Le Guin has written that have meant the most to me, though, are her short stories. If you want to understand why so many people cried to hear of her death, read “The Ones Who Walked Away from Omelas.” It is, simply, and I don’t say this hyperbolically, perfect. It’s short, and beautiful, and it’s exactly the kind of story that can change the world.

I haven’t read all of Le Guin’s books, and I have to admit, I’m glad about that today. I’m glad that there are more of her stories waiting for me.

The Left Hand of Darkness.

When I was a baby anarchist, I wanted to know what anarchism had to do with fiction. I get most of my ideas by talking to smart people, so I set out to ask smart people my question. I wrote Ursula Le Guin a letter and sent it to her PO Box. She emailed me back and I interviewed her for what I thought would be a zine.

That zine became my first book, which started what has since become both my career and, presumably, my life’s work. She had literally nothing to gain by helping me, encouraging me, and lending her tremendous social credibility to my project. I like to think she was excited to talk explicitly about anarchism in a way she didn’t often get to, but frankly I might be projecting my hopes onto her.

I think of her kindness to me as an act of solidarity between two people fighting the same fight.

That’s a big part of why I’ve cried so much since her death.

Later into that same book project, I started to ask myself why I cared so much why this or that author identified as an anarchist or worked for anarchist projects. I’ve always been less concerned with the boundaries of our ideology and more interested in words and deeds that encourage freethinking, autonomous individuals who act cooperatively. Whether or not Le Guin calls herself (or lets us call her) an anarchist doesn’t change what she’s written or how she’s impacted the world. Many of the best and most beneficial writers, activists, and friends I know or know of don’t call themselves anarchists, and that doesn’t change the love I have for them. I’ve also never been particularly excited about celebrity culture, idol worship, or really just fame as a concept.

Yet it mattered to me—still matters to me—that Le Guin was an anarchist.

I finally came to terms with why I care so much. I care because it means that those stories that have meant so much to me were written by someone with whom I’m aligned on a lot of very specific hopes and dreams. I care because I can use her own words to eviscerate anyone who attempts to recuperate her into some other camp—say, liberal capitalist or state communist—and use her celebrity to promote causes she did not support or actively opposed. I care because the accomplishments of anarchists have been written out of history time and time again, and Le Guin is famous for some very specific and undeniable achievements that will be very hard to erase. Maybe it’s hero worship. Maybe it’s basking in reflected light. I don’t know. I just know that she makes me proud to be an anarchist.

I don’t have a lot of heroes. Most of my favorite writers, I aspire to be their peers. Ursula Le Guin was a hero. She mentored me without knowing it. She encouraged my writing both directly, by telling me she was excited for what I would write, and indirectly, by telling me why writing is worthwhile and also with her book on writing Steering the Craft.

Right now, I’m thinking about her words on the importance of words. As I step back from most organizing, I think about what she told me a decade ago:

“Activist anarchists always hope I might be an activist, but I think they realize that I would be a lousy one, and let me go back to writing what I write.”

But she knew that words alone weren’t enough. Art is part of social change, but it isn’t anywhere near the whole of it. Le Guin did thankless work, too, attending demonstrations and stuffing envelopes for whatever organization could use her help. It’s that dichotomy that makes her my hero. I want everyone to leave me to my writing and not expect me to organize, but I want to be useful in other ways too.

Powell’s Books remembers.

Last night, three of us exchanged Signal messages about her passing. “It’s up to us now,” we said. “We have to work harder without her now,” we said. Signal messages are like whispers sometimes. In the dead of night, we say the things that scare us.

In 2014, Le Guin told the world:

“Hard times are coming, when we’ll be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now, can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies to other ways of being, and even imagine real grounds for hope. We’ll need writers who can remember freedom—poets, visionaries—realists of a larger reality.”

I don’t feel ready, but no one ever does. The truth is: we are ready. There are writers who remember freedom. Maybe more now than there have ever been. There are stories that need to be told, and we are telling them. Walidah Imarisha will tell them. Adrienne Marie Brown will tell them. Laurie Penny will tell them. Nisi Shawl will tell them. Cory Doctorow, Jules Bentley, Mimi Mondal, Lewis Shiner, Rebecca Campbell, Nick Mamatas, Evan Peterson, Alba Roja, Simon Jacobs, and more people than I can know or count will tell them.1

All of us will tell them, to each other, by whatever means. We’ll remember freedom. Maybe we’ll even get there.

The author speaking with Ursula Le Guin at Powell’s Books in 2010.

  1. This list is not to imply any specific political affiliation of the authors, only to tell you about writers who, I believe, remember freedom. 

Anarchists: Government Shutdown Doesn’t Go Far Enough–Make the Shutdown Comprehensive and Permanent

Once again, the threat of a government shutdown looms over the capital. Politicians exchange barbs, pundits wag their fingers and wring their hands, and the rest of us get up and go to work like we do every day. The news anchors demand to know: whose fault is it? What labyrinthine eleventh-hour compromise will they devise to avoid it? The rest of the nation yawns with indifference.

But we want answers! What if the government does shut down? Who will funnel our taxable income to military contractors? Who will tap our phones and read our email? Who will raid 7-Elevens and deport people? Who will indoctrinate our children? Who will stop people from driving while black? Who will build the wall?

It doesn’t sound all that bad, actually. Unfortunately, the “shutdown” they’re talking about won’t interrupt any of those things. Compared to what this country needs, it’s just a bit of theatrics.

So here’s a different proposal for how to respond to the imminent shutdown of the US government. Let’s make it comprehensive and permanent.

What better way to cut through “partisan gridlock” than by abolishing both parties outright? Seriously, what have they ever done for us? Two gangs of thieves and swindlers competing to boss us around and bleed us dry. It’s hard to imagine a single problem that any of them can resolve better than we could on our own. They themselves are responsible for most of the issues they claim to address.

In recent years, societies around the world have discovered that the absence of a functioning government has produced remarkably little change in their daily lives. Since its prime minister quit a year ago, Northern Ireland has functioned without its elected assembly doing a thing. In Belgium, in 2010 and 2011, 589 days passed without the establishment of a government with no noticeable change in everyday life for most Belgians. Similar interludes went by in Spain and Germany with similarly insignificant consequences.

This goes to show how much of a joke democracy is in postmodern capitalism. Cybernetic bureaucracies keep capital and goods flowing while states do little more than skim off the top and perpetuate violence against us. For the time being, it would be too controversial to entrust all that violence to private security, so they make us pay for it and call it a public service. But hardly anyone is still pretending that governments exist to care for human beings.

In this context, the dazzling and infuriating spectacle of partisan politics is basically a shiny distraction, while the corporations and functionaries who make most of the choices that shape our lives with no oversight from us continue redesigning the world to facilitate their profits. Voting is little more than an anachronistic ritual reinforcing this illusion. It’s not good news that the average citizen of a Western democracy is so alienated from practical self-determination that he barely notices how irrelevant the only avenue for “participation” has become.

Elsewhere across the planet, however, we can find much more inspiring examples of society without government. In the autonomous cantons of Rojava, using a system of popular councils organized from the bottom up in neighborhoods and workplaces, Kurdish and other peoples are taking control of their lives and making decisions collectively on the most local level possible, with federated structures coordinating to address matters of collective concern. In stark contrast to the everyday indifference that is so prevalent in US democracy, these and other scattered instances of life without a centralized state offer far more robust and authentic model for self-determination than anything you can find on an American ballot.

But what about the impact a government shutdown will have on our lives? Won’t we suffer the loss of critical services? Sure, we all gripe about Washington and hate politicians, but when it comes down to it, don’t we need them?

Government shutdown? A good start.

According to most summaries of the shutdown scenario, most of the actually useful services we get from state bureaucracies or federal programs—Social Security, food stamps, the US Postal Service, free school lunches—will still continue. If we look at the history of these programs, this isn’t surprising. Many of them were modeled on autonomous initiatives started by powerful social movements; the government needs these programs to keep us from getting used to relying on ourselves. FBI chief super-villain J. Edgar Hoover called the Black Panthers’ breakfast program “the greatest threat to efforts by authorities to neutralize the BPP and destroy what it stands for”; the US Department of Agriculture was forced to start the School Breakfast Program in response, which now feeds 13 million students every day. Early anarchist Lysander Spooner created an independent postal system; in response, the government passed a law granting the US Postal System a monopoly, although Spooner forced the USPS to lower its prices to levels that ordinary people could afford. Advocates of “the people’s pension” deserve the credit for social security. If the government weren’t hogging all the resources, we might discover that we could maintain these programs better through grassroots organizing.

Now let’s look at the government functions that will actually be impacted under a shutdown.

We might not be able to get new passports. But believe it or not, for the vast majority of human history, people traveled freely without them. The problem here is simply that the shutdown doesn’t go far enough: if we could shut down government agencies and governments completely, we wouldn’t need passports in the first place. Tens of millions who lack citizenship status or proper visas could visit their families without fear of losing their homes. Dissidents could leave North Korea and Iran. People with arrest records could travel to Canada from the US without some arrogant fuckhead in a uniform talking down to them. You could go anywhere on earth without having to fill out a form or apply for a visa.

The shutdown could delay tax refunds. But the IRS will still continue collecting taxes—they just won’t give us back the pittance beyond what they claim we “owe.” Here’s a simple solution: they should stop stealing from us in the first place! It would be better if we could devote our resources to addressing problems directly, not sending checks to Washington so that nepotists and their cronies can buy more pork barrels and cruise missiles. Not only will this save us money—once the Pentagon budget runs out, it’ll make nuclear war a lot less likely. If you’ve been paying taxes in hopes of providing support to the retired senior citizen down the street, you could just give her the money directly instead of giving it to a bunch of bureaucrats taking up a collection in her name.

The fancy dining hall at the House of Representatives during the 2013 shutdown. If the shutdown went further, we could open it up to some of the 41 million people who struggle with hunger in the United States while politicians fatten themselves at our expense.

Federal courts might close if the shutdown lasts longer than ten days. That’s a good start, but it would be better if they shut down for good! Two and a half million people are in prison already—as many as were in the gulags under Joseph Stalin. Mass incarceration is one of the most serious problems in the US today and one of the key linchpins of white supremacy and class domination. Judges and prosecutors should stay home for good; they can count themselves lucky no one gave them a taste of their own medicine. With the foot of the criminal legal system off our necks, we could focus on rebuilding our communities and resolving our problems ourselves without police or prisons. For people who grew up with no models for conflict resolution except for running to the biggest gang in town, this is hard to imagine, but there are plenty of alternatives.

National parks might be shut down. Wait a minute—why would we need politicians and bureaucrats to enjoy the wilderness? It would take about an hour to crowdsource the basic maintenance functions of cleaning and upkeep for facilities. Then we could enjoy all of these supposedly public resources, free of charge.

Last time there was a shutdown, in 2013, one enterprising individual took over mowing the lawn around the Lincoln Memorial. This worked out fine—until the US Park Police interceded and forced him to stop. Obviously, the shutdown didn’t go far enough if there were still police on the job to keeping people from learning to take care of problems themselves!

Direct action gets the goods! A volunteer mowing the lawn around the Lincoln Memorial during the last shutdown.

Let’s be clear: the ones who are most worried about a government shutdown are the politicians themselves. Not for the reasons they claim—that one gang will lose votes to the other gang, or that the paychecks of federal workers will be delayed. No, they’re worried because a real shutdown could just show how pointless and parasitic their entire protection racket is. They’re worried that if we get a taste of what it’s like to organize collectively to solve our problems, we’ll never want to stop. Then they would be permanently out of a job.

As anarchists, we’ve got a hunch that people can get along just fine without a government. We’re convinced that everything the government does is either harmful and should be abolished outright (borders, prisons, armies, surveillance) or can be done better by groups of people working together freely (social welfare, preserving wilderness, coordinating production and distribution, collective self-defense).

Don’t confuse us with the so-called libertarians who laud the shutdown because they want the capitalist market to reign supreme over everything else. There’s no way that the prevailing regime of inequality and private property could exist without the coercive force of the state to enforce it. As anarchists, we’re in this for freedom—not the freedom to accumulate profit and property at everyone else’s expense of others, but the freedom to flourish in tandem with everyone, to pursue the concert of our interests without coercion.

Are you with us? Regardless of what the politicians do in the coming days or years, let’s work together to shut down the US government once and for all. Then we can get on with our lives.

J20, 2018: A Week of Solidarity and Outreach–Resources, Listings, and More

A year ago, January 20 saw massive mobilizations and clashes around the United States, from Washington, DC to Seattle, Washington. This year, in conjunction with our call to action “Build the Base, Take the Initiative,” organizers in more than 50 cities are hosting outreach and solidarity events. This is an excellent opportunity to support J20 defendants from Trump’s inauguration, Water Protecters from Standing Rock, and the grassroots projects that offer a foundation for our movements.

Here, we present some materials you can use for outreach and education, resources about previous counter-inaugural struggles, and a full listing of the events taking place this coming week.


Show Educational Videos!

Antifa, a new documentary about anti-fascist struggle in the US that is appearing to observe J20.

Black Snake Killaz, a feature-length documentary film about the resistance to the Dakota Access Pipeline.

Trouble, a monthly show from our friends at sub.Media exploring a variety of forms of grassroots resistance.

Print out Fliers and Zines to Share!

Here are some materials you can print to share with people this week, at J20 solidarity events or elsewhere:

General Purpose Flier about the J20 Charges

Three Posters about the J20 Charges

A Comic Zine about the J20 Case

Whoever They Vote For, We Are Ungovernable: A history of anarchist counter-inaugural protest

How Anti-Fascists Won the Battles of Berkeley: A Play-by-Play Analysis—An overview of one of the most significant flashpoints of anti-fascist conflict throughout 2017

You can find a lot more material at the Defend J20 site. For general introductory material about anarchism, you can order or print out copies of To Change Everything, which is now available in over 30 languages.

Learn about Previous Counter-Inaugural Struggles

Whoever They Vote For, We Are Ungovernable: A history of anarchist counter-inaugural protest across the decades.

Five Principles of Direct Action: What we can learn from the 2001 inauguration protests.

No More Presidents: A narrative from the 2005 inauguration.

Yes, We Also Protested Against Obama: Video footage from anarchist demonstrations against the 2013 Inauguration.

Making the Best of Mass Arrests: 12 Lessons from the Kettle During the J20 Protests, an instructive reflection on how to respond to mass arrests like the one that swept up over 200 demonstrators on January 20, 2017.

J20 Events on Three Continents: An Overview

Check out and Defend J20 for more listings. If you want us to add your listing here at the last minute, send a frantic email to

On the East Coast

Baltimore, Maryland: Prisoner Letter Writing and J20 Solidarity, Fundraiser

Friday, January 19 at 6 pm, there will be a fundraiser party supporting the legal defense of over 200 people mass-arrested for participating in a march last year at Trump’s inauguration. There will be homemade food, music, and drinks available, with all money raised going towards the legal defense of our arrested comrades.

The same night, January 19, at Spiders House, Reservoir Hill, from 7 to 10 pm, you can also join comrades to write letters to prisoners.

Washington D.C.: Benefit Art and Music Shows

On Friday, January 19, the 411 Collective is presenting DC Rises: A Year of Resistance, an art show to benefit and support J20 defendants and the J20 Legal Defense Donations fundraiser.

On January 20, the Messthetics, Gauche, Bacchae, and Weird Babies will play a J20 benefit show. Doors 6 pm. The show is downstairs at St Stephen; all ages, cohosted by Positive Force DC.

Philadelphia, Pensylvania: J20 Vegan Brunch and Film Screening

North Philly Food Not Bombs is hosting a J20 Vegan Brunch from 10 to 3 pm.

“That’s right, it’s time! Us North Philly Food Not Bombardiers wish to honor the one year anniversary of a day that shook this planet: January 20th of 2017, the day trump seized the mantle of control of this (lol) ‘democracy.’ To oppose trump and his zombies, there were some brave and marvelous souls that took to the streets, galvanized into fierce action, and kicked off a wave of rebellion that has not ceased yet (we hope it never does!). Essentially they put their lives on the line, as hundreds are facing what amounts life sentences for their public defiance.

“We want to offer up another all vegan brunch fundraiser as a means for people to get together, forge bonds and to hold space for this important day. Everything will be completely vegan and delicious. We will invite some other wonderful radical groups into the mix too, there will surely be some fantastic books and art.”

Afterwards, at 7 pm, the Wooden Shoe will host a screening of “Street Politics 101” and “Continuing the Beginning,” a documentary about Nuit Debout and related movements in France.

Worcester, Massachusetts: J20 Workday and Benefit Potluck

On January 20, at Stone Soup, 4 King St, Worcester, we’ll host a workday at the local radical library followed by a J20 benefit potluck. The workday starts at 5 pm; the potluck at 7 pm.

Join us as we gather to put some work into one of our spaces and to reconnect with one another in the face of repression. We will be reorganizing, cataloging and decorating the HX Library. After there’ll be a potluck where funds will be raised for those arrested last year on J20. Please bring some donations if you can for the J20 arrestees. We ask that you label any food for allergens.

New York City, New York: Screening of the Global Uprisings documentary, ANTIFA

On January 26, at 7 pm, there will be a film screening and gathering in support of J20 defendants at Deep Dish TV, 168 Canal St., 6th Fl, New York. The screening is free; donations will go to the J20 defense fund. This is Episode 1 of “We Interrupt This Program,” a new video series produced by Deep Dish TV & Paper Tiger TV.

Ithaca, New York: Community Meal and Tabling

309 N. Cayuga St. Ithaca, NY 14850. On January 20, at noon, Food Not Bombs Ithaca is serving free vegan food and hosting their really, really free store. Ithaca InfoShop will be tabling at the event to raise awareness and support for the J20 defendants. Also, at midnight on January 20, 2018, the newly formed voluntary collective Ithaca InfoShop will launch its website.

Albany, New York: J20 Benefit Show

On January 20, Albany will host “an epic concert with a ton of bands and entertainment and a raffle for great prizes to raise some much-needed funds for the almost 200 brave defendants still facing felony charges and potentially up to 60 years in prison.” Further details to come.

Rochester, New York: Screening of ANTIFA

On January 20, at 5 pm, there will be a screening of the ANTIFA documentary followed by a discussion at the Flying Squirrel Community Space.

Newburgh, New York: Anarchism 101

On January 23, there will be an introduction to anarchism at The Moon Infoshop and Community Space, 188 Liberty Street, Newburgh, New York. Speakers will include folks from The Moon!: Infoshop and Community Space, Hudson Valley Earth First! and Hudson Valley Anarchist Network. Vegan food, tea, and coffee will be available.

At 6 pm at Local Sprouts on 649 Congress Street, various speakers, distributors, and musicians will host a fundraiser including a film showing.

Brattleboro, Vermont: Benefit Concert to Defend J20 Resistance

On January 20, 2018, defendants and supporters have organized a benefit concert to defend J20 resistance here in Wantastiquet, so-called Brattleboro, Vermont. More information here.

Washington, DC: Art Show and Punk Rock Benefit for J20

On January 19, a J20 benefit art show entitled “DC Rises: A Year in Resistance” will take place from 4 to 11 pm at the Uptown Arthouse.

On January 20, a benefit show starts at 6 pm at St. Stephen & the Incarnation Episcopal Church.

Richmond, Virginia: Benefit Dance Party

At 8 pm on January 20, at the Crystal Palace, there will be a benefit dance party featuring sets from DJ Cell Saga, DJ Pawn Shop Shawty, DJ Raggamuffin & DJ Marvo, and DJ Double Earth Sign. A suggested donation of $5 will go to J20 legal defense.

Asheville, North Carolina: A Block Party and a Week of Events

In Asheville, we’re kicking off a week of rebellious activities with a block party on January 20 on Haywood Road to share food, fun, and knowledge. This is a free event open to everyone, so bring your friends and let’s talk about where we want to go from here!

From 3-6 pm, the block party will feature workshops at Firestorm Books, including “Uprooting White Supremacy in Appalachia,” an interactive presentation by Holler Network. At 6 pm, there will be a community vegetarian potluck at Firestorm. Workshops will resume at 7 pm, including a presentation by The Callisto Collective. Afterwards, at the Local 604 Bottle Shop, there will be a DJ dance party starting at 9 pm.

The following day, on Sunday, January 21, there will be a Documentary Film Night at Static Age Records. On Tuesday, January 23, there will be a Karaoke Fundraiser at The Lazy Diamond. Finally, on Friday, January 26, the subMedia show “Trouble” will be screened at Firestorm.

Carrboro, North Carolina: Benefit Screening of ANTIFA

There will be a screening of the documentary Antifa at 7 pm at the Recyclery on 108 South Graham Street. All donations will go towards J20 defense.

Chapel Hill, North Carolina: Punk Benefit Show

On February 2, at the Nightlight in Chapel Hill, there will be a punk show benefitting J20 defendants.

Atlanta, Georgia: Trump Inauguration Protesters Speak out about Repression

A panel discussion at Little Five Points Community Center—L5P Community Center Café—on January 20 from 7-9 pm. Come here from one of the defendants, watch a screening, and join a discussion. Refreshments provided.

Tampa, Florida: A Weekend of Workshops

A full weekend of workshops at 5107 North Central Avenue, Tampa in solidarity with J20 defendants:

January 19

5:00 – 6:00 OpSec

6:00 – 7:00 Against Electoral Strategies

7:00 – 8:00 Marxism

January 20

11:00 – 12:00 Mutual Aid

12:00 – 1:00 History of Anarchism

1:00 – 2:00 Consent and Accountability

2:00 – 3:00 Proletarian Feminism & Practice

3:00 – 4:00 Nonviolent Direct Action Training

4:00 – 5:00 Indigenous Struggles Against Colonization

5:00 – 6:00 The History of the American Indian Movement

6:00 – 7:00 History of Labor

7:00 – Complete; Screening of the documentary Antifa

January 21

3:00 – TBD Radical Kickball Game @ Henry and Ola Park baseball field

Tampa Anarchist Black Cross will have a table for writing letters to prisoners. All donations will go to the fund that helps get defendants housed and reimbursed for their travel to and from court dates in DC.

In the Midwest and the Heartland

Lansing, Michigan: To Live and Love We Must Fight—Solidarity & Defense Winter Conference

On January 19-21, 2018, Solidarity & Defense will host a conference focused on building skills for community self-defense.

Solidarity & Defense is a network of people committed to providing solidarity and defense to communities under attack, organized along directly democratic and participatory lines and independent of all political parties and affiliated groups. The conference will consist of a weekend of workshops and political discussions. On Friday evening there will be a dinner and public panel discussion featuring some of the most dynamic community self-defense projects from around the Midwest. Saturday will be packed with workshops and political discussions, followed by an all-ages hip hop show.

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: J20 Benefit Potluck, Karaoke, and Film Screening

On Wednesday, January 16, Steel City Autonomous Movement will host a J20 Defense Benefit Potluck from 6 to 9 pm at the Big idea Bookshop.

On Friday January 19, there will be a Karaoke Benefit for J20 defendants at The Glitter Box Theater, 460 Melwood Avenue.

The Pittsburgh chapter of the National Lawyers Guild has announced a benefit screening of America is Waiting, a documentary about the inauguration protests in Washington DC last January. The event will take place in Pitt Law School’s Barco Law Building, 3900 Forbes Avenue, in room 107 at 5 pm on January 20. Organizers are asking for a $5 to $15 suggested donation, but no one will be turned away for lack of funds. All proceeds will go to the legal defense of protesters arrested at the inauguration.

Cleveland, Ohio: Wandering Aesthetics to host Electric Pressure Cooker Cabaret

Inauguration Protest Station,” January 20, 7:30 pm, Aqueduct Brewing, 529 Grant Street.

Columbus, Ohio: J20 Benefit Show

On January 20 at 9 pm, there will be a benefit show to raise money for J20 defendants.

Denver, Colorado: Punk Against Trump

J20 supporters will operate a literature table at Punk Against Trump at Summit Music Hall. Two dollars of every ticket does to the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition.

Kansas City, Missouri: A Discussion, Film Showing, and Meal

At the Lucile H. Bluford Branch Library at 3050 Prospect Avenue, Saturday January 20, from 2:30 to 5 pm, we will host a recap of the events of January 20, 2017 and the ongoing legal battle, a free hot meal courtesy of Kansas City Food Not Bombs, a screening of episodes of Trouble (the Submedia documentary series) on state repression and surveillance, and a discussion on the connection to the repression faced in Black liberation movements.

Chicago, Illinois: Bloodfruit Radical Library Grand Opening, Coordinated Banner Drops, Benefit Show

On January 19, we will celebrate the grand opening of Bloodfruit Radical Library and Coffee at 3084 South Lock Street.

Announcing a brand new radical library, coffee shop, and community space at Blood Fruit Printworks in Bridgeport. We will continue to operate the print shop for DIY publishing while adding a library and community space for events. We aim to have a curated collection of around 2,000 books including many self-published and underground titles you won’t find at the city library.

We will be collecting book donations all day. These donations can come in two forms. If you have books that you don’t wish to get back, just drop them by and we’ll do the rest. In addition, we are also inviting people to bring their own personal collection of books into a common space for others to use. We hope to collectivize the care of the space by having a plethora of people add their own books that they love to the collection. They will be archived under your name and if you wish to get them back at any time you can simply take them out.

On January 20, there is a plan for coordinated banner drops to be followed by a punk show benefit for J20 defendants. Meet at 6:30 at BRKWY, banner blitz at 7 pm, group reflections at 8:30, show at BRKWY at 9:30.

Carbondale, Illinois: Build the Bloc—A Week of Events in Solidarity with J20 Defendants

Carbondale will host a week of presentations, music, poetry, and a comedy show to benefit J20 defendants and the wider movement. Events, collective work projects, and shared meals will take place at the Flyover social center, in collaboration with other projects on “the block,” a short block in Carbondale that capitalism left for dead, which comrades and fellow travelers have been working on for years. The week will end with an anti-Trump rally, with a contest for best sign, banner, or puppet depiction of the president.

Milwaukee, Wisconsin: Anti-facists Unite—Food Not Bombs Meal & Info Picket

A meal, discussion, and table at
6th & National.

Des Moines, IA: J20 Fundraiser/ Solidarity

Wednesday, January 16: WPW presents an evening of J20 solidarity and action. Dress warm. Meeting place TBA.

Saturday, January 20: fundraiser/ outreach booth at the Capital. Iowa Autonomy will be taking up space during the Women’s March IA in solidarity with the J20 defendants to raise awareness, hand out literature, and collect donations for the defendants. Come to the booth / rally in solidarity. Bring your banner and wear all black.

Bloomington, Indiana: Two J20 Benefit Shows in One Week

On Tuesday, January 16, at 8 pm, at the Blockhouse Bar at 205 S College Avenue in Bloomington, Punks Give Back will host a night of music and poetry benefitting J20 defendants based in Indiana.

On January 20, there will be a House Show Extravaganza to benefit the general J20 Defense Fund, featuring hardcore, thrash, and DJ sets!

Fort Collins, Colorado: A Full Week of Events

A week of outreach and solidarity events including a free showing of Unicorn Riot’s “Black Snake Killaz,” a noise demonstration, and many other activities, described in detail on this flier:

Austin, Texas: Pop, Lock, and #DropJ20! A Solidarity Dance Party & Fundraiser

On January 16, at 7 pm, at Casa de Resistencia Books, 4926 East Cesar Chavez Street, C1, Austin, there will be a free screening of two episodes of the subMedia show Trouble. Donations will go to benefit J20 defendants.

On January 20, starting at 6:30 pm and running late into the night, there will be a full night of education and entertainment at Cheer Up Charlies, 900 Red River Street, Austin.

Join us for a lively fundraiser supporting J20 defendants on the anniversary of the Inauguration Day protests in DC that led to the mass arrest of protestors.

Alexei Wood, a journalist from San Antonio will speak to his experience live-streaming his arrest and subsequent tribulations posed by the prosecution.

There will be music on both stages! With visuals provided by Hyperreal Film Cub, bands will start the night playing on the outdoor stage at 7pm and then we’ll move indoors for DJ performances and dance party to end the night.

Suggested donations will be $5 entry, sliding scale – no one will be turned down for lack of funds.

Collaborators: Hyperreal Film Club, Austin Anarchist Black Cross (ABC), DJ Dada of Chulita Vinyl Club, bands & additional performances TBA.

We will be tabling J20, prisoner support, and anti-repression literature. We’re happy to talk with folks who are new to these ideas & movements!

On January 21, at 6 pm, at Treasure City Thrift at East 7th Street 2142, join a coalition of community and student organizations for a potluck and celebration fundraiser for the J20 defendants. The recently acquitted J20 defendant Alexei Wood will speak; there will also be kid-friendly games and organization tables.

Dallas, Texas: J20 Benefit Show

A night of music, poetry, and literature hosted by the Emma Goldman Book Club.

Minneapolis, Minnesota: “Fuck Trump and His World”

January 20, 4:30 PM, at Boneshaker Books,
2002 23rd Avenue South, a workshop covering the J20 court cases, the history of repression preceding them, and proper security practices, followed by a benefit dinner at another location.

Knoxville, Tennessee: Support the Radical Library and J20 Defendants!

$5-10 donation (sliding scale, no one turned away). Bring books and zines to share and partake in the following activities:

  • Prisoner letter writing

  • Screening of ANTIFA by Global Uprisings

  • Book and zine fair by Knoxville Radical Library

  • Zines, buttons, stickers for sale!

  • Music by Maspeth, Bunny, Erin Laine, Dalton Manning and more

Detroit, Michigan: J20 Rally and March

At Campus Martius Park, 800 Woodward Ave, Detroit, Michigan—part of a week of action demanding that the J20 charges be dropped.

Salt Lake City, Utah: Demonstration and Letter-Writing Night

On January 20, there will be a demonstration at noon at the Wallace Bennett Federal Building at 125 South State Street in Salt Lake City, observing a year of resistance to Trump. Afterwards, there will be a political prisoner letter writing event at the library in between 700 East and 900 East on 3300 South.

New Orleans, Louisiana

At 6 pm on January 20, there will be a show in a parking lot at a place called Hank’s, expressing support for J20 defendants.

On the West Coast

Seattle, Washington: We Don’t Forget—Rally and Noise Demo in Remembrance and Solidarity

On January 20 at 1 pm, on Red Square at the University of Washington, there will be a noise demo and rally in remembrance of the shooting of a member of the IWW GDC by a right-winger on the UW campus on January 20, 2017, in solidarity with the J20 defendants elsewhere in the so-called United States, and in solidarity with victims of state repression everywhere. A Facebook event can be found here.

Portland, Oregon: Winter Autonomous Convergence

There are apparently plans to take the streets in downtown Portland on January 20 in solidarity with the J20 defendants.

That night, Cider Riot at 807 NE Couch St will host Rock Against Fascism, a benefit concert to raise money for the International Anti-fascist Defense Fund. Performers include Mic Crenshaw (Hip-hop), Chartbusters Portland (Oi!), Glenn Waco (Hip-hop), All Worked Up (Oi!), and Empire Justice (Hardcore/Oi!); DJs from the Bay Area’s Left of the Dial will play the finest of Boss Reggae, antifascist Oi, soul, and punk.

Monday, January 23 from 4–7:30 pm at North Portland Library, 512 N Killingsworth, there will be an assembly to serve as a forum for strategizing and an entry point to get plugged into radical organizing. You can find a facebook page for this here.

San Francisco, California: J20 Get Money – A Benefit for Inauguration Defendants

A benefit at El Rio, 3158 Mission Street, San Francisco, at 7:30 pm on January 20. The evening will begin with a special screening of the documentary ANTIFA, followed at 9 pm by DJs, a photo booth, and merchandise. The DJs include Ambr33zyBA! (FELA KUTCHii), Abrilita (B-Side Brujas), TR4VI3ZA, Lonely Girl, Marvelouz, and Eastside Xicana (Noche Romántica).

Oakland, California: RIOTcon

In Oakland on January 20, RIOTcon (Radical Interactive Open Technology Conference) will take place at the East Bay Community Space. RIOTcon is a new conference seeking to highlight the intersections between radicalism, art, and technology and how to better utilize resources. They are looking for talks from Bay Area-based individuals who want to explore the intersections between artists, radicals, and technologists. To submit a talk, please fill out the form at or send an email to

Chico, California: Two Weekends of Events for J20 Defendant Solidarity

On Saturday, January 20, there will be as-yet undisclosed solidarity actions and outreach efforts. On Saturday January 27, at 1 pm, there will be a film screening and fundraiser presenting the new documentary ANTIFA at The Pageant Theater (351 E. 6th St., Chico CA) featuring speakers, discussion, and an AK Press bargain book sale table. $5 – 10 suggested donation (no one
turned away for lack of funds).

At 7 pm on Saturday January 27, there will be a live music fundraiser at Blackbird Bookstore Cafe (1431 Park Ave., Chico, CA) featuring Black Magnet, Bran Crown and Cat Depot. $5 – 10 suggested
donation (no one turned away for lack of funds).

Los Angeles, California: Solidarity Demonstration

A call for a demonstration and banner drop against the J20 charges, LAPD and ICE, Trump, and capitalism on Friday, January 26, at 6 pm, on the Wilshire overpass over I-110, downtown Los Angeles (2 blocks west of Wilshire and Figueroa).

Riverside, California: Tabling

Anti-fascists will be tabling to raise awareness in solidarity with J20 defendants on Mission Inn Avenue on January 20 after the Women’s march.

San Luis Obispo, California: J20 Week of Action

Starting on January 15, there will be a week of action at Cal Poly.

Monterey, California: Letter Writing Night

On January 21, at 7 pm, there will be a letter writing night at Old Capitol Books at 559 Tyler Street to support J20 defendants.

Merced, California: “What Is Fascism” Workshop

Free event and zine, January 20, 1666 North Street, 4:30 to 5:30 pm.

Elsewhere around the US

Even if you can’t organize a massive conference or benefit show, you can still drop a banner, paint graffiti or put together a gathering, however small, to mark the day and create new points of departure for 2018.

Outside the US

Ottawa, Canada

Ottawa-based anti-fascist group No Pasaran will be holding a screening and discussion of the movie ANTIFA at the Garden Spot (329 Bell St. South) January 20 at 6 pm. Vegan food will be provided! The suggested donation is $5.

Stockholm, Sweden: A Week of Events

In Stockholm, Sweden, INFo-44 will host a week with different activities every day, starting on Sunday January 14 and ending on Sunday January 21. There will be self-defense classes, a storytelling session, a film screening, a demonstration, and more. More information here.

Amsterdam, Netherlands

On January 22, 2018, there will be a screening of ANTIFA at Joe’s Garage. Food at 7 followed by the film.

South Korea

Around the last week of January, events will take place in Korea
inspired by the “Build the Base, Take the Initiative” call and the
resistance of our comrades expressed on J20 and many other occasions
last year in the so-called USA. To get in contact with the events and
anarchists in Korea, email

Confronting Escalating Repression in Germany: In the Aftermath of the G20, a Call for Resistance from the Rigaer 94

Following the popular rebellion in Hamburg during the 2017 G20 summit, the German state has sought to crack down violently on dissent. In August, the police shut down the most widely used German-language platform for radical politics. In September, the neo-fascist party Alternative für Deutschland secured seats in the German parliament. On December 5, police carried out 24 raids on leftist and autonomous infrastructure across Germany, seizing laptops, cell phones, and other means of communication. On December 18, the police published photos of people they accuse of participating in the G20 protests. Four days later, an anonymous threatening letter arrived at various autonomous centers around Berlin. Together, these events indicate a rapid descent towards tyranny. Yet German anarchists are resisting every step of the way. The Rigaer 94, a social center in Berlin, is emblematic of their courageous defiance. Here, we present some background on the Rigaer 94 and share translations of two statements on the conflict unfolding in Germany.

Background: The Rigaer 94

The Rigaer 94 is an autonomous housing project and social center in the Berlin neighborhood of Friedrichshain. The house has been at the center of many conflicts with the police, especially over the past two years. In 2016, the police declared the area immediately surrounding the Rigaer Strasse to be a “danger zone.” This designates a zone in which the police do not have to obey the law, where they may act according to the supposed imperatives of “security.” Berlin police regularly carry out illegal searches and set up control checkpoints in the neighborhood to harass inhabitants of the Rigaer Strasse.

In summer 2016, a 500-officer SWAT team raided the Rigaer Strasse and occupied the building’s social center, The Kadterschmiede. Police held the social center for three weeks. In response to this siege, hundreds and hundreds of luxury cars were burnt in night actions all over Germany. A 5000-person demonstration mobilized people from all over Europe to defend the autonomous center. The demonstration clashed with the police, receiving support from the neighborhood and from autonomous centers across Europe.

The fate of the Rigaer was to be decided in a court battle. Yet on the night before the verdict was to be announced, a car belonging to the state’s prosecutor caught fire. As a result, the prosecutor failed to appear in court the next day. The prosecution thus forfeited the case and the Rigaer Strasse won by default. Since then, the police have tried numerous times to provoke the autonomous center into conflicts.

This statement by the Rigaer gives a more in-depth look at the challenges it currently faces.

5000 people gathered in front of the Rigaer 94 on July 9, 2016 to defend it. The banner on the left reads “Government doesn’t create order—only subordination.”

Rigaer 94: Call for Resistance / Release of Manhunt Photos of Berlin Police

This text appeared in German on December 17, 2017.

The police state has set its forces loose: on Monday, December 18, the police published photographs of the faces of one hundred people who took part in the resistance to the G20 summit in Hamburg. The state has discarded the pretext of criminal prosecution entirely. Instead, it has made a major provocation against our movement by launching a new campaign of repression. This campaign is intended to strike fear into the hearts of those who participated in the G20 summit in order to crush all resistance. We will not be silent about this attack. The task of dragging this society of police collaborators, murderers, and fascists onto the funeral pyre remains before us.

It is clear to every reasonable person that the resistance in Hamburg was necessary. The forces of repression and the right-wing media have failed to reframe the narrative of the outpouring of defiance against the G20 summit. In a country that proclaims itself to be among the most democratic in the world, a country that presents itself as invincible, a country equipped with a sophisticated apparatus of violence, and in the face of enormous risks and serious consequences, tens of thousands of people dared to rise up. A mix of protests and offensive actions turned the summit of the ruling class into a disaster. A disaster for the city of Hamburg and a disaster for the powerful 20 leaders themselves, whose most important meeting now faces an uncertain future.

The summit was also a disaster for the police. In the Kaiser’s Germany, in fascist Germany, and today in democratic Germany, the police have never limited themselves to a merely executive function. They have always served as the front line for this nation of murderers. We all know how deeply anchored the ideology of the police is in our society. A society that threw Rosa Luxemburg’s corpse into the canal; that hunted Anne Frank behind her bookcase, to throw her into the extermination camps alongside millions of other “subhumans”; a society that ends up crowning the German-national military as the resistance1—this is a fascist society. The security apparatus of Germany, which was established during those slaughters and is now used to relentlessly hunt rebels and anti-fascists in the name of the German people, is also fascist. Just a few years after its “liberation,”2 this society and its executives were able to unite in the hunt against communists.

The German security apparatus was refined to perfection when it was used against guerrilla groups like the Red Army Faction, which carried out the long-overdue execution of Hanns Schleyer,3 a member of the Nazi Party. The faces of rebels were posted on every corner on manhunt posters; at every intersection, heavily-armed police maintained checkpoints. The death penalty was re-introduced and the nature of police work shifted. A new social discourse devised by a coalition of media, politicians, and police paved the way for state assassinations, psychological torture, and new special laws to be used against a large part of the population. The police state, still in its infancy when it murdered Benno Ohnesorg4, had to reckon with the permanent threat of insurrection.

Over the years, the German police have developed into a state within the state. Following the end of the urban guerilla groups and the new social movements of the 1980s and 90s, we are confronted with a society that can no longer generate any relevant opposition to the system. Not even when people are tortured and murdered in the bunkers of police stations, like Oury Jalloh from Dessau, who was burned alive by the fascist pigs. At the moment, the only factor inhibiting the completion of this totalitarian police state is its hesitance to scandalize civil rights activists too much. These civil rights activists, who like us are continually deprived of resources and support from civil society, have made their decision—whatever the state does cannot be wrong, whatever the press says is true: resistance is futile.

The time of comfortable protests is long gone. Today, German society has arrived at an extreme it hasn’t reached in over 80 years. Those who resist face the following challenges:

-Mere presence at a demonstration can mean receiving a prison sentence of many years.

-The police can designate zones in which their own laws are valid.

-The police can designate anyone as dangerous in order to lock them up and surveil them completely without approval from a judge.

Already in the lead-up to the G20 summit, sanctions were made against rebels. People who were designated by the police as “dangerous” received notice that they were forbidden to travel to Hamburg. These people were required to sign in every day at the police station while the summit was taking place, and were threatened with fines and jail time if they failed to obey. In a bid to intimidate rebels, police made their surveillance of certain people extremely obvious, not to mention the extensive secret surveillance that surely took place.

During the G20 summit, people undermined police control throughout the entire city of Hamburg, leading to the “adjustment” of citizens’ rights and massive amounts of violence by heavily armed troops of police.

portrait The mass demonstration on the final day of the G20 summit. Such scenes were significant because the image of the Kurdish leader Öcalan is banned in Germany. To see so many people bearing banners and flags with his face was an inspiring confirmation that the state had lost control.

The police activities before and during the summit were not qualitatively new. For many years now, the security apparatus has utilized every major event as an opportunity to mount new attacks on social conventions. What was exceptional this time was the number of attacks and how shamelessly they carried out these attacks against protesters.

What began after the summit was a qualitative leap. Some people invented conspiracy theories, claiming that the riots were carried out by the state in order to draw radical infrastructure into a final repression campaign in which it could be defeated once and for all. This kind of thinking is idiotic. We know precisely that the political disaster we created in Hamburg was desirable for us. In order to end this conspiracy theory, we claim full responsibility for everything that happened in Hamburg: from the first citizens’ protests to the very last stone that flew at the police.

As a part of that radical infrastructure, shortly after the summit we organized a demonstration in solidarity with all of those who were targeted by repression. In the future, we will not shirk our responsibility to take revolt further. Those who can only see state conspiracy behind every act of struggle deprive resistance of all its characteristics; they have no legitimacy to speak in the name of revolt.

It is clear that the state is fighting to ensure that its narrative of the events is the definitive one. It must conquer the narrative as it conquers everything else: our lives and our social structures, the environment and technology. In this battle for capitalist and nationalist ends, the state will always end up demanding fascism. With the same tactics, they try time and time again to delegitimize resistance by branding it criminal, antisocial, and apolitical. For this purpose, the German state can rely on its police, its media, and the German people, as well as its representatives.

It’s difficult to say who is the sleaziest of all participants in this process is. The boss of Soko schwarzer block,5 who would hunt everything he could get his hands on with the same fervor; or the nauseating Scholz,6 who represents the rotten bourgeoisie of Hamburg and their fancy cars; or the representatives of the press who serve to carry out PR work for the police; or the craven police collaborators, who deliver people up to brutal repression with the pictures they took with their cell phones, who would rather march behind every Hitler figure than take their lives in their own hands.

Some laughed at the latest wave of raids, which we saw coming far in advance. Others laughed because they knew that Fabio,7 a nice young man from Italy, would be a problem for the state’s strategy of repression. However, we should not underestimate the police strategy. An essential part of this strategy is to use PR to achieve long-term sovereignty of interpretation over the events in Hamburg.

All the same, who would have thought that so many months later, thanks to their regular appointments with the press, the G20 would still be a top theme on the daily news? And who would have thought that despite having almost unlimited resources at their disposal, their professional press work would fail without our doing anything?

Shoppers experiment with post-capitalist economics during the G20 summit in Hamburg.

For these reasons, and on the occasion of the manhunt for participants in the Hamburg riots against the G20, we want to emphasize anew the importance of our struggle against the state—against fascist organizations like the police, the secret services, and the right-wing structures—and also against the collaborators and informants within the population and the press. Fabio and everyone else who remains defiant in front of the judge are role models demonstrating a dignified approach to dealing with repression. The same goes for everyone who sends messages of solidarity to those targeted by repression, despite the intimidation of the state.

On the occasion of the police manhunt and the state’s call for a new wave of denunciations against 100 people, we have decided to release photographs of 54 police officers who took part in the eviction of the Rigaer Strasse last year. We would be glad to receive any tips, including where these police officers live and where we can meet them in private. Aside from taking part in the eviction, they should also be held responsible for all the violence they unscrupulously perpetrated during the three-week-long siege of our neighborhood in Freidrichshain.

It is important that we stop hesitating and put our strength into mobilizing solidarity and structures that are capable of action. The demonstrations8 after the raids were a beginning. After the next raids, we must become even more numerous. It is important that when all else fails, we take the streets to show our solidarity with all the comrades who are hunted by the henchmen of the ruling class.

So—out into the streets! Determined and angry, despite the repression, we will fight against the ruling order!

Burning barricades erected by demonstrators filled the skyline of Hamburg with smoke during the G20 summit.

Response to the Rigaer 94’s Call for a Police Manhunt / Threatening Letter Received from the Police State

This text appeared in German on December 30, 2017.

On December 22, an anonymous letter was delivered to various locations that the authorities have designated as “left-extremist meeting points.” The nine-page letter, double-sided with three photos on each side, contains threats against 42 people whose full names are listed. For 18 of those people, their photos were taken from the Berlin police department’s records or from people’s ID cards and are accompanied by partly relevant, mostly slanderous commentaries. This information can be directly traced to the data records from the state security departments. In addition, 24 people were named without their photos.

The letter, reproduced below for the sake of documentation, is signed by a fake organization called “The Center for Political Correctness.” The letter claims to be a reaction to the behavior of the radical autonomous house project Rigaer 94: “Your presence annoys an entire neighborhood.” The letter proves that the people who sent it were directly affected by the publication of the Rigaer 94’s call for a manhunt against the police. In the call, photographs of 54 police officers who took part in the summer 2016 eviction of Rigaer 94 were publicly released.

The letter threatens to publish more information about the individuals it targets. It is highly likely that the information and data records listed in this letter were passed on to Nazis. Many Nazi organizations are named in the letter, including “Autonomous Nationalists” and the “Identitarian Movement.” For the time being, we do not know to what extent this personal data has already been sent to Nazis. The letter makes nebulous threats—for example, against people’s cars or families, or that lawyers or investigation committees will become involved. The letter also threatens to send the data records to the police. This particular threat is an alibi that proves the letter’s authorship. An initial evaluation by a number of those targeted by the letter has confirmed that the information can only have been made available to the “scene-aware” state security officers (LKA 5) that work within the Berlin police department. The data records are pulled from approximately the last ten years. We are certain that the letter was created and sent by the Berlin police, since no one else would have access to these photos or the biometric information and investigation files.

The fake moniker reveals more about the authors. “Center for political correctness” is a play on “Center for Political Beauty.” The Center for Political Beauty is a leftist organization that uses publicity campaigns to fight against racism and fascism. Their last action was directed at the Alternative For Germany (AfD, the far-right German party) politician Björn Höcke. Höcke made a name for himself with his pro-fascist remarks about the Holocaust memorial in downtown Berlin: “We Germans, our people [Volk], are the only people in the world that has planted a monument to shame in the heart of our capital.” In addition, he complained about the “stupid” coping policy (Bewältigungspolitik)9 and demanded that the “memorial policy shift 180 degrees.” In order to stigmatize him and the AfD, the Center for Political Beauty secretly rented the empty lot adjacent to Höcke’s home and set up concrete slabs or “stelae” that looked exactly like those of the Holocaust memorial in Berlin. They also publicly threatened to publish the results of their 10-month-long observation of Höcke from near his house. From this much, we can conclude that the letter that was sent to us was sympathetically received by the ranks of the Berlin police with their fascist activities and sympathies—to say the very least.

The official Holocaust Memorial in Berlin.

Observing the house of the anti-Semitic politician Björn Höcke from the Holocaust memorial set up beside it by the Center for Political Beauty.

The threat to forward the data to extra-parliamentary Nazi organizations such as the Autonomous Nationalists shows that the authors of this letter are actively involved in far-right organizing. Furthermore, sending such a letter demonstrates that the authors have a great deal of confidence in and support from the police department. This is shown not only by the downright fascist ideology that the letter expresses, but also by the means itself. Slander and the sending of anonymous threats are known in all parts the world where political tension is high and regimes entrust their stability to security organizations. These techniques were developed in the 1960s in the US, where the FBI used similar methods to target the Black Panther Party. Named COINTELPRO, this program was exported to all dictatorships. The East German secret service, utilizing their strategy of “decomposition,” employed similar measures.

Cooperation between organized Nazi groups and the police is nothing new. During the siege and eviction of the Rigaer 94 in the summer of 2016, the personal information of people recognized by the police at the demonstrations was leaked to a Nazi blog in the “Halle-Leaks.” In addition, fliers illustrated with SS symbols were distributed in the area expressing support for the police. We also recall the right-wing activist Marcel Göbel,10 whose false testimony about the Rigaer 94 and the Kadterschmiede 11 was enough for the secret service to classify these places as “Autonomous strongholds.”

Lastly, the threatening letter confirms the claim made by the Rigaer 94 in their call for a manhunt against the police: fascist ideology lives inside the police departments, especially the secret services and state security. This is cause enough for us to renew our struggles.

We are not shocked that the police are carrying out this kind of repression. We are talking about the same police that murdered Oury Jalloh. The same police that made headlines throughout Germany because of its contacts with neo-Nazi groups and its escapades with individual Nazis.12 The same police force that let one of their officers be killed in order to prevent the full investigation of NSU activities.13

To everyone involved in our movements: we must prepare for further acts of disinformation, slander, false reporting, psychological and physical attacks, and “inexplicable” fires like the one that occurred in October 2015 at the entrance of the Liebig 34.14 The ones responsible for these acts are members of the Berlin Police department. The police figured out a long time ago that anarchy cannot be fought with legal means; they have decided on a strategy of direct escalation in the conflict with the Rigaer 94.

One final detail: the letter was sent from the post office in Tempelhof-Schoenenberg, the same district as the police precinct. We could never imagine that the police would make such an amateur mistake, even though they tried to conceal traces that would reveal who sent the letter. As can be seen in the photos posted with this statement, we were able to make the fingerprints on the letters visible. To do so, we made a solution composed of ninhydrin, ethanol, and acetic acid. We used a spray bottle to mist the letter and hung it up on a shelf to dry at 80 degrees Celsius. After about 10 minutes, the results were developed, as seen in the photos.

–Some of those targeted by the letter.

The threatening letter delivered on December 22 with the fingerprints on it revealed.

  1. The German military is so unpopular that it has to portray joining the military as an act of “resistance,” as nobody wants to join. The military released a new youtube series which is an example of this. 

  2. The end of World War II and subsequent occupation of Germany by Western powers and the Soviet Union is usually referred to as Germany’s “liberation,” implying that Germany was successfully cleansed of fascism. 

  3. Hanns Martin Schleyer served in the SS during World War II. After the war, he became an important industrial leader in West Germany. The fact that prominent Nazi figures could still hold power after WWII confirms that de-Nazification never took place in Germany. This helps to explain why the RAF kidnapped and murdered Schleyer in 1977. 

  4. The university student Benno Ohnesorg was murdered by German police during a demonstration in 1967. His death was an important moment in the German student movement; the June 2 movement was named after the date of his death. 

  5. Soko Black Block is the official name the German police gave to their campaign of repression against G20 participants. 

  6. Scholz is the Mayor of Hamburg, famous for suggesting that the police give people poison to make them vomit in order to prove that they took drugs. 

  7. An 18-year-old Italian arrested at the G20 and held in prison for 4 months. 

  8. On December 5, police raided several homes belonging to people accused of participating in a black bloc that the police brutally attacked during the G20 summit. Demonstrations took place all over Germany in response to the raids. 

  9. This concept is specific to Germany and means “the politics of coming to terms with the past.” 

  10. Marcel Göbel was a right-wing activist who infiltrated leftist movements. During the summer of 2016, when the Rigaer Strasse was being evicted by the police, luxury cars caught fire every night for months on end to protest the eviction. The police only caught one person committing arson—and that person happened to be right-wing activist Marcel Göbel. Göbel tried to light a poor person’s car on fire to make it appear that leftist activists were indiscriminately burning cars. In fact, left activists only burn luxury cars. After Göbel was arrested, it was revealed that he had worked extensively with the police. 

  11. A social center and event space associated with the housing project Rigaer 94. 

  12. In October 2017, police officers in Rostock came under fire for their involvement in a Nazi plot to murder left-wing activists. 

  13. The National Socialist Underground [NSU] carried out a series of murders between 2000 and 2006, mostly against people of Turkish background. 

  14. – Another leftist housing project in Berlin. 

How Anti-Fascists Won the Battles of Berkeley–2017 in the Bay and Beyond: A Play-by-Play Analysis

The perilous politics of militant anti-fascism defined 2017 for the anarchist movement in the United States. The story in the Bay Area mirrors that of the country at large. It’s a narrative full of tragedies, setbacks, and repression, ultimately concluding with a fragile victory. Yet there was no guarantee it would turn out this way: only a few months ago, it seemed likely we would be starting 2018 amid the nightmare of a rapidly metastasizing fascist street movement. What can anti-fascists around the world learn from what happened in Berkeley? To answer this question, we have to back up and tell the story in full.

Fascists chose Berkeley, California as the center stage for their attempt to get a movement off the ground. The advantage shifted back and forth between fascists and anti-fascists as both sides maneuvered to draw more allies into the fight. Riding on the coattails of Trump’s campaign and exploiting the blind spots of liberal “free speech” politics, fascists gained momentum until anti-fascists were able to use these victories against them, drawing together an unprecedented mobilization. As we begin a new year, anti-fascist networks in the Bay Area are stronger than ever. Participants in anti-fascist struggle enjoy a hard-earned legitimacy in the eyes of many activists and communities targeted by the far right. By contrast, the far-right movement that gained strength throughout 2016 and the first half of 2017 has imploded. For the time being, the popular mobilization they sought to manifest has been thwarted. The events in the Bay Area offer an instructive example of the threat posed by contemporary far-right coalition building—and how we can defend our communities against it.

2016: A New Era Begins

Clashes escalate outside a Trump Rally in San Jose on June 2, 2016.

The clashes between far-right forces and anti-fascists that gripped Berkeley for much of 2017 were the climax of a sequence of events that began a year earlier. On February 27, 2016, Klansmen in the Southern California city of Anaheim stabbed three anti-racists who were protesting a Ku Klux Klan rally against “illegal immigration and Muslims.” The rhetoric of the Klan echoed the same vulgar nationalism that the Trump campaign was broadcasting. Under the banner of the alt-right, many white supremacist and fascist groups began to use the campaign as an umbrella under which to mobilize and recruit. They aimed to build an ideologically diverse social movement that could unite various far-right tendencies within the millions mobilized by Trump. A reactionary wave had steadily grown across the country in the last years of the Obama era. The combination of continued economic stagnation, proliferating anti-police uprisings of Black and Brown people, and rapidly changing norms related to gender identity and sexuality had spawned a violent backlash. This was the wave that Trump rode upon and his campaign had broken open the floodgates.

Trump rallies became increasingly contentious in cities such as Chicago (March 11) and Pittsburgh (April 13) as protesters held counterdemonstrations to confront these open displays of bigotry. On April 28, 2016, small-scale rioting erupted outside a Trump rally in the southern California city of Costa Mesa. The next day, in the city of Burlingame near San Francisco, large crowds disrupted Trump’s appearance at the convention of the California Republican Party, leading to scuffles with police.

Days later, on May 6, a newly-formed fascist youth organization, Identity Evropa (IE) held their first demonstration on the other side of the Bay—an ominous portent of things to come. This initial experiment was organized by IE as a “safe space” on the UC Berkeley campus to promote “white nationalist” ideas and their particular style of business-casual far-right activism. Inspired by European identitarian movements, IE worked to coopt the rhetoric of liberal identity politics and use the contradictions inherent in those politics to build a new white power movement. Their strategy was part of a larger effort across the alt-right to recruit young people and legitimize white supremacist organizing as an acceptable form of public activism. The rally brought together Nathan Damigo, the founder of IE, with members of the Berkeley College Republicans and the alt-right ideologist Richard Spencer, who flew in from out of town to attend. Although the event was barely noticed, the participants declared it a success and a first step towards building a new nationalist street movement.

The most violent clashes outside a Trump campaign rally unfolded in San Jose on June 2. A handful of experienced activists attended the counterdemonstration, but the vast majority of protesters were angry young people of color from the South Bay unaffiliated with any organization. The police response was slow and confused; clashes between the crowds raged into the evening. Photos of people punching and chasing Trump supporters spread online, leading to calls from many on the far right for revenge.

On June 26, over 400 anti-racists and anti-fascists converged on the state capitol in Sacramento to shut down a rally called for by the Traditionalist Workers Party, an Ohio-based neo-Nazi organization. The rally was initially billed as an “anti-antifa” rally organized in response to the protests at recent Trump events. It was also an attempt to build bridges across various far-right tendencies. The majority of the anti-fascists wore black masks; other crews represented various leftist cliques. Together, they successfully prevented the rally from ever starting. Comrades held the capitol steps, chasing off scattered groups of Nazis and alt-right activists.

About three hours after the counterdemonstration began, two dozen members of the Golden State Skins, geared up in bandanas and shields decorated with white power symbols and the Traditionalist Workers Party emblem, suddenly appeared on the far side of the capitol and attacked the crowd from behind. Nine comrades were stabbed, some repeatedly in the neck and torso, while riot police watched impassively. Nearly all those targeted in the attack were either Black or transgendered. Miraculously, all of them survived.

Members of the Golden State Skins attempt to kill anti-fascists in Sacramento on June 26, 2016.

After the bloody clash, many people urgently felt the need for a new politics of militant antifascism. Over the preceding decades, one rarely heard the term antifa among anarchist and anti-capitalist movements in the Bay Area. Previous generations of anti-fascist and Anti-Racist Action (ARA) organizing in Northern California were largely situated within subcultural contexts. Much of the work these activists accomplished in the 1980s and ’90s focused on kicking Nazis out of punk and hardcore scenes.

The events in Sacramento helped usher in rapid transformations of the local anarchist movement. A network of comrades formed Northern California Anti-Racist Action (NOCARA) to research and document increasing fascist activity across the region. Other crews linked up to practice self-defense and hone their analysis in the rapidly shifting political terrain. Antifa symbols—the two flags and the three arrows—quickly became as ubiquitous as the circle A in the Bay Area anarchist milieu. Some lamented this as a retreat from struggles against capitalism and the police into a purely defensive strategy singularly focused on combatting fringe elements of the far right. But the majority understood it as a logical step necessitated by the rising tide of fascist activity around the country and world. They aimed to situate an anti-fascist position as a single component of the larger struggles against capitalism, patriarchy, and white supremacy that comrades had been engaged in for years. Most participants had cut their teeth in various rebellions and movements in the Bay area over the preceding decade, including Occupy Oakland and Black Lives Matter. They saw antifa as a form of community self defense against the violent reaction to those struggles for collective liberation. Many were also eager to use anti-fascism as a means to open a new front against white supremacy and the state.

On November 9, the night after Trump’s electoral victory shook the world, a march of thousands followed by the most intense night of rioting in recent memory took place in downtown Oakland. Fires broke out in the Chamber of Commerce, the Federal Building, and the construction site of the new Uber building. Angry crowds of thousands fought police with bottles, fireworks, and even Molotov cocktails as banks were smashed, barricades blocked major streets, and tear gas filled the air. Other cities across the country also saw significant unrest; rowdy protests in Portland, Oregon lasted for days.

This made 2016 the eighth year in a row that serious rioting took place in Oakland. 2017 would end that pattern. The locus of street conflict in the Bay was about to shift up the road to the neighboring college town of Berkeley.

Starting the Year off with a Bang

Thousands swarm San Francisco International Airport to protest Trump’s “Muslim Ban” on January 28, 2017.

The tone for 2017 was set on the cold morning of January 20 in Washington DC. As mainstream media pundits nervously reiterated the importance of a peaceful transition of power, a black bloc of hundreds chanting “Black Lives Matter!” took the streets to disrupt Trump’s inauguration. In the course of the day, hundreds were arrested, a person in a black mask punched Richard Spencer as he tried to explain alt-right meme Pepe the Frog, and video of the incident went viral.

That same evening in Seattle, Milo Yiannopolous spoke on the University of Washington campus as part of his “Dangerous Faggot” tour. Milo had made a name for himself over the previous year peddling misogyny and Islamophobia in his role as tech editor for Breitbart News under the mentorship of Steve Bannon. He had become a leading spokesperson for the alt-right auxiliary known as the alt-lite. The logic behind his tour was similar to IE’s strategy of targeting liberal university enclaves using a provocative model of far-right activism rebranded for a millennial audience.

[Hundreds turned out( to oppose Milo’s talk in Seattle. As scuffles unfolded outside the building, a Trump supporter drew a concealed handgun and shot Joshua Dukes, a member of the Industrial Workers of the World, in the stomach. Milo continued his talk unconcernedly as the critically injured Dukes was rushed to emergency care. Fortunately, he survived, though he spent weeks in the hospital.

Despite the unprecedented degree of tension in the air, Oakland was quiet on J20. A few small marches, mostly departing from high school walkouts, crossed downtown. But by nightfall, the rainy streets were empty; hundreds of riot police deployed for the anticipated unrest packed up their gear to go home. This new year was not going to play out along familiar lines.

The next day, millions across the country marched against Trump in the Women’s Marches, many of them wearing pink “pussy hats.” Oakland was the location of the main Bay Area march and tens of thousands walked through downtown in a staid and orderly display of disapproval. Later that week, Trump signed executive order 13769 suspending US refugee resettlement programs and banning entry for all citizens of seven predominantly Muslim countries, including people with valid visas. By the following afternoon, a spontaneous and unorganized national mobilization was underway as tens of thousands swarmed the international terminals of every major airport in the country to oppose the “Muslim ban.” Loud marches and blockades continued for two days inside San Francisco International Airport.

In many ways, the airport protests marked the high point of the year in terms of mass action that undermined the regime’s ability to carry out its agenda. The mobilization immediately disrupted the implementation of the executive order and provided momentum to challenge it in the courts, where legal maneuvers continued throughout the rest of the year. Nevertheless, the protests did not coalesce into a more sustained sequence.

The Real Dangerous Faggots

Sproul Plaza outside Milo’s cancelled event on February 2.

On February 2, Milo arrived in Berkeley for the final talk of his tour, hosted by the Berkeley College Republicans. Days earlier, his talk in nearby UC Davis had been successfully disrupted by student protesters; all eyes were now on UC Berkeley campus.

Berkeley is an upper-middle-class city of 120,000 bordering Oakland, defined by the prestigious flagship campus of the University of California system that sits adjacent to downtown. The city’s history as a national hub of countercultural movements and far-left political activism stretches back to the early 1960s. In 1964, student radicals returning from the Freedom Summer campaign in Mississippi set up tables on campus to distribute literature about the growing Civil Rights movement. The administration cracked down on their activities, sparking a wave of civil disobedience that came to be known as the Free Speech Movement (FSM). In many ways, it was the beginning of the student activism against racism and imperialism that proliferated across the country throughout the 1960s. Yet by the turn of the new millennium, Berkeley could be more accurately described as a hotbed of liberalism, not radicalism. The legacy of the FSM had been successfully coopted and rewritten by the university administration for their prospective student marketing materials. Students can now sip cappuccinos as they study for exams in the Free Speech Movement Café on campus.

On the south edge of campus sits Sproul Plaza, site of some of the most important demonstrations of the FSM and subsequent waves of activism. As the sun set on Sproul that Thursday evening, between two and three thousand students, faculty, and community members filled the plaza in a rally against Milo, the alt-right, and Trump. Layers of fencing surrounded the Martin Luther King Jr. Student Union as platoons of riot police watched the chanting crowd from the balconies of the building and the steps leading down to the plaza.

Milo’s talk was about to start. Despite the large protest, it appeared that the massive police presence would enable it to proceed without a hitch. Then a commotion on neighboring Bancroft Way drew the attention of the crowd. A black bloc of roughly 150, some carrying the anarchist black flag and others carrying the queer anarchist pink and black flag, had just appeared out of the neighborhood and was busy building a barricade across the main entrance to the student union’s parking garage. As the barricade caught fire, the bloc surged forward to join the thousands in Sproul.

The sound of explosions filled the air as fireworks screamed across the plaza at the riot cops, who hunkered down and retreated from their positions. Under cover of this barrage, masked crews attacked the fencing and quickly tore it apart. Thousands cheered. Police on the balconies unloaded rubber bullets and marker rounds into the crowd, but ultimately took cover as fireworks exploded around their heads. With the fencing gone, the crowd laid siege to the building and began smashing out its windows.

Antifascists rip down fences on UC Berkeley campus on February 2.

“The event is cancelled! Please go home!” screamed a desperate police captain over a megaphone as the crowd roared in celebration. A mobile light tower affixed to a generator was knocked over, bursting into flames two stories high. YG’s song “FDT” (Fuck Donald Trump) blasted from a mobile sound system as thousands danced around the burning pyre. Berkeley College Republicans emerging from the cancelled event were nailed with red paint bombs and members of the Proud Boys, the “Western Chauvinist” fraternal organization of the alt-lite, were beaten and chased away. Milo was escorted out a back door by his security detail and fled the city. A victory march spilled into the streets of downtown Berkeley, smashing every bank in its path. Milo’s tour bus was vandalized later that night in the parking lot of a Courtyard Marriot in nearby Fremont.

The cover of the next day’s New York Times read “Anarchists Vow to Halt Far Right’s Rise, With Violence if Needed” below an eerie photo of a hooded, stick-wielding street fighter in Berkeley. “Professional anarchists, thugs and paid protesters are proving the point of the millions of people who voted to MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!” Trump tweeted that morning before threatening to withdraw federal funds from UC Berkeley if the university could not guarantee “free speech.” Milo had been stopped and militant anti-fascism was now a topic of national conversation.

But a confused controversy over free speech was just beginning. Liberals quickly fell into the trap set by the alt-right. UC Berkeley professor Robert Reich, who had been Secretary of Labor under Clinton, went so far as to embarrass himself by groundlessly claiming that “Yiannopoulos and Brietbart were in cahoots with the agitators, in order to lay the groundwork for a Trump crackdown.”

From organizing “white safe spaces” to pretending to represent a new free speech movement, the ascendant fascists understood that the hollow rhetoric of liberalism utilized by hacks like Reich could be weaponized against anyone opposed to white supremacy and patriarchy. Liberal enclaves were especially vulnerable to this strategy. They had become the chosen terrain on which 21st-century American fascism sought to step out of the internet to build a social movement in the streets.

Meanwhile, Milo’s days were numbered. Despite liberal commentators’ assertions that paying attention to Milo would only make him more powerful, Milo’s career imploded two weeks later. Under the intense scrutiny that followed his spectacular failure in Berkeley, a conservative social media account circulated footage of Milo condoning consensual sex between underage boys and older men. His invitation to speak at the American Conservative Union’s annual conference was quickly rescinded, as was his book deal with a major publisher. The next day, Milo was forced to resign from Breitbart. While emblematic of the rampant homophobia of the right, none of this had anything to do with his views on sex. After Berkeley, Milo appeared to be an increasingly controversial liability that conservatives could no longer risk associating with.

A Repulsive Rainbow of Reaction

Based Stickman (left) leads the goons on March 4.

While many celebrated Milo’s downfall as a blow to the alt-right, various far-right and fascist cliques hastened to take advantage of liberal confusion around the emerging free speech narrative.

On March 4, modest rallies in support of Trump occurred across the country. In the Bay Area, vague fliers appeared calling for a Trump Rally in downtown Berkeley’s Civic Center Park. There was considerable confusion among local anti-racists and anti-fascists over who had called for the rally. Many assumed it was just right-wing trolling that would never materialize in public. Nevertheless, various small crews of anarchists, members of the leftist clique By Any Means Necessary, anti-racist skinheads, and an assortment of unaffiliated young people converged on the park to oppose any attempt to hold the Saturday afternoon rally. They found a bizarre scene that few could have previously imagined.

A grotesque array of far-right forces had assembled from across the region to celebrate Trump and defend their ability to propagate various forms of nationalism, xenophobia, and misogyny. One man in fatigues and wraparound sunglasses carried a III% militia flag. Another man with a motorcycle helmet, tactical leg guards, and a kilt sported a pro-Pinochet shirt depicting leftists being thrown from helicopters to their deaths. Still another right-wing activist happily zipped around on his hoverboard while taking massive vape hits and live-streaming the event via his phone.

Many in the right-wing crowd were not white. The alliances being formed through public activism had brought together a range of fascist tendencies, some more interested in defending violent misogyny or building an ultra-libertarian capitalist future than promoting white power. MAGA hats and American flags were everywhere as the crowd of nearly 200 attempted to march into downtown Berkeley. Fistfights broke out, flags were used as weapons, and pepper spray filled the air as anti-fascists and others intervened to stop the march. A masked crew of queer anti-fascists dressed in pastels, calling themselves the Degenderettes, used bedazzled shields to defend people from the reactionary street fighters of this strange new right-wing social movement. Chaotic scuffles and brawls continued off and on for three hours.

Riot police located around the perimeter of the park made some targeted arrests; yet as in Sacramento, they largely avoided wading into the melee. Ten people were arrested altogether, from both sides of the fight. One of these was alt-right sympathizer and closet white supremacist Kyle Chapman. Chapman had helped form the vanguard of the right-wing brawlers throughout the day. He wore a helmet, goggles, and a respirator while carrying an American flag shield in one hand and a long stick as his weapon in the other. News of his arrest combined with footage of his assaults immediately elevated him to celebrity hero status within the online world of the alt-right and alt-lite. Memes of Chapman went viral under his new nickname, “Based Stick Man.”

Tactically speaking, there were no clear winners in Berkeley on March 4. But the nascent fascist street movement was energized and ready for more. Anti-fascists had underestimated the momentum of this new far-right alliance and were quickly trying to figure out how to play catch up.

On March 8, a group of revolutionary women and queer people in the Bay Area organized a “Gender Strike” action in San Francisco as part of the national “Women’s Strike” planned for International Women’s Day. The strike was called for as a means of moving beyond the liberal feminism of January’s massive Women’s Marches against Trump. From Gamergate trolling to Trump’s gloating over his sexual assaults, from the Proud Boy’s valorization of traditional family values to the bizarre right-wing alliance manifesting in the streets of Berkeley, the rise of neo-fascism was being fueled by misogynists intent on preserving and expanding patriarchal power relationships as much as it was being fueled by white supremacists. The organizers of the strike aimed to connect radical tendencies within the growing feminist movement with various anti-racist and anti-fascist struggles. Nearly a thousand protestors marched on the downtown Immigration and Customs Enforcement building in a demonstration of support for San Francisco’s sanctuary city status and solidarity with those targeted by surging xenophobia. An even larger crowd of Women’s Strike demonstrators marched in the streets of downtown Oakland that evening.

The Alt-Right Strikes Back

DIY Division (left) and other fascist thugs on April 15.

Two weeks later, on Saturday, March 25, over two thousand Trump supporters held a “Make America Great Again March” in the southern California city of Huntington Beach. Marching with the large crowd was an imposing squad of athletic white men clearly looking for a fight. These were members of the openly neo-Nazi group known as the DIY Division or the Rise Above Movement. When a handful of anti-fascists attempted to disrupt the march, this squad assaulted them and beat them into the beach sand. The fight was broken up and the anti-fascists fled as the crowd joined the DIY Division fighters in chanting “Pinochet!” and “You can’t run, you can’t hide, you’re gonna get a ’copter ride!”

To the horror of many in the Bay Area, another alt-right demonstration in Berkeley’s Civic Center Park was announced for April 15. Billed as a “Patriots’ Day Free Speech Rally,” it featured a lineup of speakers flying in from out of town. As the date grew closer, it became clear that every crypto-fascist wingnut, weekend militia member, millennial alt-right internet troll, alt-lite hipster, civic nationalist, and proud neo-Nazi from up and down the West Coast wanted to attend. The growing movement got a critical boost when the Oath Keepers militia announced two weeks ahead of time that they would be mobilizing from across the country under the name “Operation 1st Defenders” to protect the so-called “Free Speech Rally.” The Oath Keepers are a right-wing militia composed of active duty and veteran military and police officers that claims to have 35,000 members. The “operation” was to be led by Missouri chapter leader John Karriman, who oversaw the armed Oath Keeper operation to protect private property during the Ferguson uprising of 2014. Oath Keepers’ founder Stewart Rhodes would also be on the ground.

Bay Area anarchists met regularly during the weeks leading up to April 15 in hopes of developing some kind of strategic response to what was shaping up to be the most important showing yet of this far-right popular movement. Many comrades believed it was necessary to find a new approach in order to avoid spiraling into a violent conflict with an enemy that was better trained and better equipped than anti-fascists and anti-racists could ever be. A general plan was hashed out through meetings and assemblies that prioritized reaching out to the broader left and other activist circles in hopes of mobilizing large numbers of radicals who could drown out the alt-right rally while avoiding the kind of conflict that would strike the general public as a symmetrical clash between two extremist gangs. There was no specific call for a black bloc, which by this time had largely become synonymous with militant antifa tactics. Instead, fliers and posters began to circulate promoting a block party and cookout that could occupy the park at 10 am with large crowds listening to music and speakers before the “Free Speech Rally” started at noon.

Early in the morning of April 15, these plans collapsed disastrously. Dozens of Oath Keepers in tactical helmets and flak jackets established a defensive perimeter before sunrise alongside riot police who sectioned off various zones of the park with fencing and checkpoints. The organizer of the rally, the Oath Keepers, and the police had coordinated for weeks ahead of time.

Riot police surrounded comrades arriving in the park for the counter-demonstration; they confiscated trays of food for the cookout, musical instruments, flags, and signs. Police intervened to stop small scuffles as members of the DIY Division, in town for the rally from southern California, began to exchange taunts with anti-fascists. As noon approached, the 200 or 300 anarchists and anti-fascists who mobilized that day realized with terror that their attempts to reach out to other activists had fallen on deaf ears. They were alone, badly prepared for a fight, and were quickly becoming outnumbered by hundreds and hundreds of right-wing activists led by a street-fighting fascist vanguard and protected by a disciplined patriot militia.

Chaos erupted as the first speakers at the rally began to address the MAGA hat-wearing crowd inside the Oath Keeper perimeter. In a desperate attempt to give momentum to the demoralized and scattered anti-fascists, a crew with a mobile sound system in a street next to the park began blasting “FDT” to the cheers of many counterdemonstrators. People coalesced around the sound system and began moving around the edge of the rally. Some threw M80s into the park; others tried to breach the fencing. Most simply tried to stay together.

Chaos erupts outside the Free Speech Rally in Civic Center Park on April 15.

The police withdrew from the streets as fascist squads of young men emerged from within the rally to go on the offensive. Bloody fights broke out. Kyle Chapman, flanked by similarly geared-up brawlers including one man wearing a Spartan helmet, led a series of forays that split the crowd and left comrades bleeding on the ground. In one such attack, an anti-fascist was beaten by masked white men and dragged behind enemy lines to be stomped out. It was only through the intervention of the Oath Keepers and others functioning as “peace police” for the alt-right rally that the beating was interrupted; the comrade was shoved back across the skirmish line into the hands of friendly street medics. During the short pauses between clashes, fascists chugged milk and screamed as they pumped themselves up for the next assault.

Though outnumbered, anarchists and anti-fascists fought as best they could. Many Nazis and their sympathizers left that day bruised and bloodied. But the counterdemonstrators could barely hold their own against the fascist street fighters, let alone the Oath Keeper presence maintaining the interior perimeter. The rally of hundreds continued uninterrupted. As fatigue set in, the fascists made their move led by Chapman, members of DIY Division wearing their signature skull bandanas, and members of IE including Nathan Damigo. They blitzed the remaining counterdemonstrators and pushed them away from the park through a cloud of smoke bombs and into the side streets of downtown. A cautious retreat became a hasty run as the remaining anti-racists and anti-fascists were chased off the streets by Nazis. The fascists had won the third Battle of Berkeley.

Kyle Chapman, DIY Division (right), and Identity Evropa (far right) prepare for their final offensive of the day on April 15.

The fallout began immediately. Emboldened by the victory on the ground, an army of alt-right internet trolls on 4chan’s /pol thread and elsewhere began a doxxing witch hunt to identify all those who had opposed their shock troops in Berkeley. Within hours, they had used footage to identify a woman who had been brutally beaten by Damigo and others during the final assault of the day. Louise Rosealma had previously worked in porn; a misogynistic campaign of harassment against her began immediately. Oversized posters showing her naked next to Damigo’s smiling face with the words “I’d hit that” soon appeared on the streets of Berkeley.

Eric Clanton, a Diablo Valley College professor, became another doxxing target. Trolls claimed to have identified him as the masked anti-fascist caught on camera hitting a man in the head with a bike lock. The man on the receiving end of this blow wore a “Feminist Tears” button and had been seen attacking people alongside members of DIY Division throughout the battle. Eric received a slew of death threats; his online accounts were hacked and angry calls poured in to his employer that would eventually cost him his job.

On April 23, Kyle Chapman formalized his new role as leader of the militant vanguard of the alt-lite. He announced the formation of the “Fraternal Order of Alt Knights,” which was to function as the “tactical defensive arm of the Proud Boys.” Gavin McInnes, the founder of the Proud Boys and co-founder of Vice Magazine, had helped promote the “Free Speech Rally” and had welcomed Chapman to his show multiple times.

On April 27, McInnes joined another far-right rally in Berkeley’s Civic Center Park. The rally had been organized to coincide with Ann Coulter’s visit to UC Berkeley, which she cancelled at the last minute. Nonetheless, a large crowd of Trump supporters, fascists, and reactionary goons of various stripes flocked to Berkeley that day to get their piece of the action. They found themselves unopposed. Anarchists and anti-fascists were still licking their wounds; they had collectively decided to avoid a confrontation that could lead to another painful defeat like the fiasco of April 15. Later that night, the windows of the Black-owned Alchemy Collective Café were shot out. The café is located just blocks from Civic Center Park and its windows had been displaying posters in solidarity with Black Lives Matter and indigenous struggles.

A bullet hole in the window of the Alchemy Café on April 28, the day after another far-right rally in Berkeley.

Soon after, Eric Clanton was arrested by Berkeley Police in a house raid and charged with four counts of assault with a deadly weapon. During his interview at the police station, the detective expressed appreciation for 4chan’s /pol forum and informed Eric that “the internet did the work for us.” Eric’s case is pending and he faces years in prison.

The Turning Point

Solidarity demonstration with Charlottesville, August 12.

In chess, a player is said to “gain a tempo” when a successful move leaves their units in a more advantageous position while forcing their opponent to take a defensive move that wastes time and derails their strategy. The growing far-right social movement had gained a tempo at the expense of anti-fascists during spring 2017. The February victory against Milo and the alt-right in the first days of the Trump presidency had played an important role in disrupting attempts to normalize a dangerous new form of far-right public activity. Each attempt that fascists made to materialize in public risked extreme conflict. But anti-fascists’ success had helped to spawn an ugly reaction, which anarchists and other militant anti-fascists were unable to handle on their own.

There was nothing normalized or “respectable” about the armored and belligerent fascists who were determined to mobilize in Berkeley. Yet on a tactical level, they had proven they could leverage the necessary resources and foot soldiers to hold the streets in enemy territory. Anti-fascists had been forced into a downward spiral of responding to each new move without a strategy of their own. Paranoia, anxiety, and self-criticism characterized the local anarchist movement during late spring and early summer.

Yet important changes were underway. April 15 had caught the attention of many Bay Area activists who had remained outside the fray thus far. They were not convinced by the “free speech” rhetoric that had confused so many liberals. Militant anti-fascists had no interest in giving the state additional repressive powers to criminalize or censor speech. That was never what this struggle was about. Confronting fascist activity in the streets to stop its normalization and proliferation is a form of community self-defense. Increasing numbers of anti-racists understood this. Bay Area movement organizations such as the prison abolitionist organization Critical Resistance, the Arab Resource Organizing Committee, white ally anti-racist groups such as the Catalyst Project and the local chapter of Standing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ), and the Anti-Police Terror Project, who had played a leadership role in the local Black Lives Matter Movement, began to work with those who had been in the streets throughout the first half of the year to build a coordinated response.

Many of these groups had previously been at odds with anarchists. Some of the most bitter disputes revolved around issues of identity and representation within the various social movements of the preceding decade. Many anarchists rejected most forms of identity politics after seeing them used time and again by reformist leaders from marginalized groups to manage and pacify antagonistic movements. Liberal city officials, organizers of non-profits, and some social justice groups had regularly dismissed local anti-police and anti-capitalist rebellions in Oakland and elsewhere as the work of white anarchist “outside agitators” corrupting otherwise respectable movements led by people of color. This paternalistic and counter-insurrectionary narrative intentionally obscured the diversity of participants in these uprisings and erased their agency.

Things had begun to change in 2014 as anti-police rebellions spread across the country and the forces of racist reaction mobilized in response. Despite unresolved tensions, the anarchist movement played an important role in helping sustain struggles against white supremacy and other movements of oppressed people. Increasing numbers of activists and movement organizations supported the uprisings and understood the necessity of working together as part of a united anti-racist front. This convergence helped lay the groundwork for the unprecedented alliances that arose out of anti-fascist organizing.

The urgency of building these coalitions was tragically underscored on May 26, when a white supremacist cut the throats of three people who had intervened to stop him from harassing a young Muslim woman and her friend on a commuter train in Portland, Oregon. Two of the men died. The attacker, Jeremy Christian, had attended Free Speech Rallies organized by the Portland-based alt-lite group Patriot Prayer. At his arraignment, Christian yelled “Get out if you don’t like free speech… Leave this country if you hate our freedom—death to Antifa!”

A few weeks later, on June 10, thousands of anti-racists and anti-fascists in Seattle, Austin, New York, and elsewhere successfully mobilized against a day of anti-Muslim rallies attended by various groupings of neo-Nazis, militia members, alt-lite activists, and alt-right activists. During the Houston rally, scuffles between patriot militia members and an alt-right activist attempting to display openly fascist placards exposed growing cracks within the far-right alliance that had been built up through the spring.

On July 9, the growing anti-fascist network in the Bay Area held a packed forum in the Berkeley Senior Center, blocks from the site of the spring’s clashes. A range of speakers from the coalition helped educate the hundreds in attendance about the rising tide of white supremacist and fascist activity as well as the necessity of organizing for community self-defense. The crowd left the forum energized and eager to mobilize.

Another round of alt-right rallies was on the horizon. Many hoped that this time the response would be different. Patriot Prayer was calling for a rally in San Francisco on August 26 and a “Rally Against Marxism” was planned for the familiar battleground of Berkeley’s Civic Center Park on the following day. As the end of summer approached, fascists across the country made it clear they aimed to double down on their offensive. When a reporter for the New York Times asked Nathan Damigo about IE’s goals for UC Berkeley during the new school year, he laughed and responded, “We’ve got some plans.”

Before any of this could unfold, events on the other side of the country changed the course of history.

The first step of this renewed fascistic offensive was a mobilization in Charlottesville, Virginia promoted throughout the summer as a rally to “Unite the Right.” Building on their successes in targeting liberal enclaves over the previous months, alt-right leaders including Richard Spencer and Nathan Damigo aimed to take their movement-building to the next level by forging an alliance with Southern white supremacists under the banner of their rebranded far-right activism. Charlottesville is a liberal college town that, along with other cities throughout the South, had been planning to remove monuments celebrating the Confederacy. Spencer had previously led a small torch-lit rally in Charlottesville on May 13 to protest the proposed removal of a Robert E. Lee statue. The August 12 rally was supposed to be the turning point that could transform the young movement into an unstoppable reactionary force under the cover of the Trump regime.

On the evening of August 11, a surprise torch-lit demonstration on the University of Virginia campus attended by hundreds of white supremacists gave the impression that this turning point had arrived. Footage of fascists surrounding and attacking outnumbered anti-racist demonstrators at the foot of the statue of Robert E. Lee spread around the country, provoking terror and urgency in equal measure.

Yet the following day turned out to be a historic disaster for the fascists. Anarchists and anti-fascists managed to interrupt the fascist rally, ultimately forcing police to declare it an unlawful assembly. The white supremacists retreating from the streets of Charlottesville knew that they had lost: their rally had been cancelled and the media was turning on them. They had failed to create a situation in which the volatile white resentment they drew on could be gratified by a successful show of force. That is why James Alex Fields, a member of the fascist organization Vanguard America, plowed his car into a crowd of ant-fascists that afternoon, killing Heather Heyer and grievously injuring 19 others.

Fascists had sought to obtain the upper hand in the media narrative by presenting their opponents as enemies of free speech. But after “Unite the Right,” the alt-right was inextricably linked with images of armed Klansmen and Nazis carrying swastika flags. The connection between far-right activism and fascist murder had become too obvious for anyone to deny. Charlottesville immediately became a rallying cry for an emerging broad-based anti-fascist movement that mirrored the microcosm of cross-tendency networking unfolding that summer in the Bay Area.

The heroes of this story are the anarchists and other militant anti-fascists who put their bodies on the line to throw the “Unite the Right” rally into chaos. Grotesque images from the streets of Charlottesville on August 12 showed armored fascist street fighters engaged in combat with outnumbered anti-fascists. These delivered a fatal blow to the alt-right’s stated goal of using the rally to legitimize the popular movement they hoped to build. Anti-fascists had forced the alt-right to show its true face; the results were catastrophic for the movement’s future. If the brutality of April 15 forced the Bay Area to reconsider far-right propaganda about “free speech,” August 12 in Charlottesville did the same thing for the whole country.

Resistance movements in the Bay Area are always strongest when they are not alone. When rebellions in Oakland, Berkeley, or San Francisco are simply militant outliers or exceptions that prove the rule, they are ultimately isolated and neutralized. Comrades in the Bay are most effective when their actions are a reflection of what is happening elsewhere around the country. The events in Charlottesville kicked local anti-fascist coalition-building into high gear. Within hours of Heather’s murder, nearly a thousand anti-racists and anti-fascists gathered in downtown Oakland and marched to the 580 freeway, where they blocked all traffic and set off fireworks in a display of solidarity with comrades in Charlottesville. Many drivers waved and raised fists in support.

Solidarity with Charlottesville demonstration shuts blocks the 580 freeway in Oakland on August 12

Over a hundred solidarity demonstrations took place around the world over the following days. Many targeted Confederate monuments in the South. On August 14, demonstrators in Durham, North Carolina pulled down a statue of a Confederate soldier. Meanwhile, the Three Percenters Militia, which had deployed fully-armed platoons as part of the Unite the Right rally, issued a national stand-down order stating, “We will not align ourselves with any type of racist group.” Infighting between various far-right tendencies blaming each other for the disaster reached a fever pitch.

The national discourse around militant anti-fascism that had begun in response to the events in DC on January 20 and Berkeley on February 2 shifted dramatically. After Charlottesville, anti-fascists were suddenly riding a tidal wave of support from the left and many liberals. Cornel West, who had attended the counterdemonstration with a contingent of clergy, pointedly stated on the August 14 episode of Democracy Now, “We would have been crushed like cockroaches if it were not for the anarchists and the anti-fascists.” Traditional conservative leaders such as Republican senators John McCain and Orin Hatch even lent tacit support to anti-fascists as they went on the offensive against Trump. Mitt Romney weighed in on August 15, tweeting, “One side is racist, bigoted, Nazi. The other opposes racism and bigotry. Morally different universes.” By August 18, Steve Bannon, the most powerful and visible face of neo-fascism within the Trump regime, was forced out of the administration in an apparent act of damage control responding to the growing crisis. Anti-fascists were once again in control of the tempo.

The Final Battle of Berkeley

Black Bloc helps settle the score in Berkeley, August 27.

Far-right activists from the Bay Area who had attended the Unite the Right rally returned home to find they had lost their jobs. Fascist podcast personality Johnny Monoxide was fired from his union electrician job in San Francisco after posters appeared at his workplace outing him as a white supremacist and neo-Nazi sympathizer. Cole White, who had assaulted people in Berkeley alongside Kyle Chapman and others throughout the year, was fired from a Berkeley hot dog stand after being outed by the @YesYoureRacist twitter account for attending the torch march.

By mid-August, a complex network of spokescouncils, coalition meetings, assemblies, and trainings were bringing together a diverse range of activist, left, and anarchist tendencies in the Bay on a nearly daily basis to prepare for the alt-right rallies of August 26 and 27. Honest conversations about how to allow for a diversity of tactics while respecting different risk levels and different vulnerabilities forged an unprecedented level of trust and solidarity. On August 19, in Boston, Massachusetts, over 40,000 counterdemonstrators confronted a few dozen alt-right activists and Trump supporters, including visiting alt-lite celebrity Kyle Chapman, who were attempting to host another “Free Speech Rally.” This was the largest demonstration against fascism and the alt-right in the US throughout 2017. It was another sign of the turning tides. In Laguna Beach, just down the coast from where 2000 Trump Supporters had marched with DIY Division in March, a small “America First” rally against immigration was vastly outnumbered by 2500 anti-fascists and anti-racists.

Morale was high among Bay Area anti-fascists and anti-racists as the weekend rallies approached. Local graffiti crews lent support, spreading a campaign of writing anti-Nazi and anti-Trump messages in cities around the region. Various local businesses announced that they would not serve alt-right rally attendees while opening their doors to offer spaces of refuge for anti-fascists. Calls to action emerged from almost every single Bay Area activist and movement organization. A common thread in many of these calls was a respect for different approaches to confronting fascism and a commitment to “not criminalize or denounce other protesters.”

Saturday’s alt-right demonstration was planned for San Francisco’s Crissy Field with the Golden Gate Bridge as a backdrop. On the eve of the rally, Patriot Prayer organizer Joey Gibson announced the event was cancelled due to safety concerns. Instead, Patriot Prayer planned to hold a press conference across the city in Alamo Square Park.

Despite the apparent change of plans, over a thousand anti-racists and anti-fascists converged on Alamo Square the next day. Among them were members of the ILWU and the IBEW, Johnny Monoxide’s former union. This labor contingent had mobilized to support the counterdemonstration and to make it clear that fascists would not be tolerated in their ranks.

They found the park completely fenced off and occupied by hundreds of riot police, but no sign of Patriot Prayer or other far-right activists. Gibson and others including Kyle Chapman had retreated to an apartment down the coast in the city of Pacifica, from which they issued a statement over Facebook blaming city leaders and antifa for their own failure to hold a rally. It was becoming clear that their movement was imploding and the real obstacle to their rally was the potential of an embarrassingly low turnout. A colorful and celebratory victory march took the streets of San Francisco, making its way towards the Mission district. Throughout the rest of the day, anywhere far-right activists were sighted, counterdemonstrators swarmed the location and chased them off. Late in the day, Gibson and a handful of others made a surprise photo-op appearance in Crissy Field. A large crowd of counterdemonstrators chased them to their cars and they fled.

The “No to Marxism in America” rally planned for Berkeley on Sunday at 1 pm was also cancelled by organizer Amber Cummings. Nevertheless, the anti-racist and anti-fascist mobilization showed no signs of slowing down and Berkeley police were preparing for the worst. Berkeley City Council had passed a series of emergency ordinances giving the police special powers to set up multiple security perimeters around Civic Center Park and to ban items ranging from picket signs to masks. Over 400 police officers stood ready in and around the park on that sunny morning.

Two major rallies against the alt-right and against white supremacy were planned for the day in Berkeley. The first was organized by a coalition including local chapters of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), campus student groups, and a range of unions. It began across downtown on the edge of the UC Berkeley campus at 10:30. By 11, thousands were in attendance.

Other smaller groups went straight to Civic Center Park, where numbers had been growing since early in the day. As noon approached, nearly a thousand anti-racists and anti-fascists milled about between concrete barriers and various layers of fencing as hundreds of riot police monitored the scene under an increasingly hot sun. Screaming and shoving erupted multiple times as scattered Trump supporters and alt-right adherents attempted to enter the park. Some punches were thrown; this time, in contrast to March 4 and April 15, squads of riot police responded immediately to break up the fights and make arrests. The few antifascists who arrived with their faces concealed were tackled by police and arrested for violating the emergency ordinances.

Riot police face off against thousands of anti-fascists in Civic Center Park on August 27.

A few blocks away, in Ohlone Park, the second rally, organized by the local chapter of SURJ along with other anti-racist groups, was just beginning. Thousands were preparing to march. The call to action for this mobilization explicitly asserted the necessity of confronting fascists with a diversity of tactics and asked all attendees to respect those utilizing more confrontational forms of resistance. As a sound truck began leading the crowd towards Civic Center Park, a black bloc of nearly 100, many wearing helmets and protective gear, emerged from a side street ahead lighting off flares and chanting “¡Todos Somos Antifascistas!” The bloc parted for the sound truck and joined the front of the march to the cheers of the crowd. There were now nearly 10,000 antifascists of all stripes on the streets of Berkeley.

The black bloc doubled in size as it marched. Riot police standing guard around the Berkeley Police station on the corner of Civic Center Park looked on in dismay as the bloc led the crowd right up to the edge of the outer security perimeter. Tensions quickly escalated as riot police formed a skirmish line along the perimeter facing off against the bloc. One cop attempted to grab a masked comrade’s shield; others forced him back. Another cop fired a rubber bullet into the bloc as masked comrades with shields moved to the front line. A speaker on the sound truck announced that those wanting to help form a defensive line could move forward with the black bloc and all others could step back across the street to the steps of the old City Hall to hold space. Dozens of large shields were distributed from others in the crowd to those on the “defensive line.” Riot police began strapping on gas masks and aiming their various projectile weapons at the crowd. A major clash between two well-prepared sides was about to break out.

Anarchists hold the defensive line with shields on August 27.

Suddenly, the cops pulled back. All riot police in Civic Center Park had been ordered to withdraw to side streets in order to avoid instigating a riot. The crowd surged forward over the concrete barriers with the black bloc at the front chanting “Black Lives Matter!” Thousands flooded into the park, openly disobeying the emergency ordinances. Many chanted “Whose Park? Our Park!”

When Joey Gibson and his crew of patriots arrived minutes later, the crowd cheered on militant anti-fascists as they chased the pathetic showing of alt-lite reactionaries down a side street, where police fired smoke grenades to end the confrontation. Back in the park, the mood was jubilant and calm. Many applauded the black bloc and thanked them for keeping the crowd safe from neo-Nazis and white supremacists, who had been spotted leaving the area after seeing the size of the anti-fascist crowd.

A second march from the morning rally arrived in the park and members of the DSA, carrying red flags, gave high fives to members of the black bloc carrying black flags. Clergy members made speeches and sang from the sound truck as people dismantled more of the police barriers. After an hour and a half of holding the park, the decision was made to leave together. The clashes had been minimal, the police had been forced to back down, and no one had sustained serious injuries: this was undeniably a massive victory.

A diverse yet united front of 10,000 anti-fascists had finally settled the score in Berkeley. As the black bloc joined the march out of Civic Center Park, they chanted “This is for Charlottesville!”

The top story of next morning’s San Francisco Chronicle began,

“An army of anarchists in black clothing and masks routed a small group of right-wing demonstrators who had gathered in a Berkeley park Sunday to rail against the city’s famed progressive politics, driving them out—sometimes violently—while overwhelming a huge contingent of police officers.”

What this description left out was the coordination and solidarity with thousands of other demonstrators that had allowed this “army of anarchists” to take back Civic Center Park without any significant clashes. That was the important story of the day. But the narrative emerging from the anti-fascist victory in Berkeley looked very different to those who were not there. Corporate media described anarchists and militant anti-fascists as hijacking an otherwise peaceful movement. These media outlets focused on a few scuffles that broke out with Gibson’s crew and some other reactionaries, including a father-son duo, wearing a Trump shirt and Pinochet shirt respectively, who had entered the park and pepper sprayed the crowd at random.

A father-son duo, wearing a Trump shirt and a Pinochet shirt, are pushed out of the park after pepper spraying the crowd on August 27.

August 27 was a relatively relaxed and celebratory day in the streets of Berkeley. Yet from the outside, national media outlets that had ignored the much uglier violence of April 15 painted it as a disturbing street battle between extremist gangs. The short-lived window of mainstream support for militant anti-fascism that had opened after the tragedy in Charlottesville was now closing. As long as anti-fascists were understood only as victims of white supremacist violence, liberals could support them. Yet as soon as those wearing black gained the upper hand, they were described as a threat to the status quo—potentially as dangerous as the Nazis themselves.

“The violent actions of people calling themselves antifa in Berkeley this weekend deserve unequivocal condemnation, and the perpetrators should be arrested and prosecuted,” read a quickly-issued statement from Democrat house minority leader Nancy Pelosi. “I think we should classify them as a gang,” said Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguin. “They come dressed in uniforms. They have weapons, almost like a militia and I think we need to think about that in terms of our law enforcement approach.”

However, the diverse coalition that had been forged over the summer stood its ground. “We have no regrets for how they left our city. We do not want white supremacists in our city,” said Pastor Michael McBride in a press conference on the steps of the old City Hall the following day. “We don’t apologize for any of it,” said Tur-Ha Ak of the Anti-Police Terror Project. “We have a right and an obligation to self-defense, period.” A declaration of victory published by the Catalyst Project stated that it was “hard to convey how meaningful it was, after Charlottesville, for a very disciplined group of antifa activists to offer protection to the crowd from both police and white supremacists.”

Within activist, left, and anarchist circles in the Bay Area, there was no infighting after August 27. The unprecedented levels of trust and coordination that had developed between various groups held firm. Compared with the intense sectarian conflict that followed the spectacular demonstrations of the Occupy movement and the various waves of anti-police rebellions in the Bay, the revolutionary solidarity of 2017 was unheard of. This was the real victory of the Battles of Berkeley.

Make Total Decomposition

Milo exits the stage escorted by his $800,000 police security detail on September 25

The emergent fascist social movement that had grown throughout the first half of 2017 was now in ruins. Anti-fascist victories in Charlottesville, Boston, and Berkeley had shattered reactionary dreams of a far-right popular movement coalescing in Trump’s first year. The various tendencies that had converged under the banner of the alt-right were running for cover and turning on each other.

In a desperate attempt to give a new lift to his falling star, Milo had been hyping his triumphant return to Berkeley for a so-called “Free Speech Week” from September 25-28 in collaboration with an offshoot of the College Republicans calling itself the Berkeley Patriot. Together, they promised days of provocative events on and around campus featuring far-right speakers including Ann Coulter, Blackwater founder Eric Prince, and even Steve Bannon. The anti-fascist coalition in the Bay braced for another wave of reactionary posturing and violence. On the eve of Free Speech Week, hundreds took to the streets of Berkeley as part of the No Hate in the Bay march. As the march ended without serious incident in a rally at Sproul Plaza, Chelsea Manning made a surprise speech in a show of support for anti-fascists.

Over the preceding days, signs of infighting among the organizers of Free Speech Week had become increasingly apparent as venues changed, plans were cancelled without explanation, and the media received contradictory messages from Milo’s PR team, student Republican leaders, and campus administrators. In the end, Free Speech Week fizzled completely, reinforcing the increasing irrelevance of Milo and the alt-lite. On Sunday, September 25, about 60 far-right activists and Milo fans stood in an empty Sproul Plaza listening to Milo talk for 20 minutes while waiting in line to get his autograph. They were surrounded by a massive militarized police presence that cost the university $800,000.

BAMN and the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP) turned out about 100 counter demonstrators who made some noise outside the police perimeter. But most anti-fascists stayed away. Milo had already been beaten back in February and the fascist reaction to that victory had now also been overcome.

Within less than hour, it was all over and Milo fled the city once again. Small groups of alt-right activists who had flown in for Free Speech Week tried their best to build momentum throughout the rest of the week. One group stood outside the RCP’s Berkeley bookstore and banged on its windows. Another rallied outside the Black Student Union on campus. Joey Gibson and Patriot Prayer even held a small demonstration in People’s Park. Students organized a rally that Monday to protest the fascists’ presence on their campus; militant anti-fascists were on edge all week as they monitored each of these events. Yet none of this activity enabled the insurgent far right to reach critical mass again. Evaluated as publicity stunts, recruitment tools, and tactical advances, all the events surrounding Free Speech Week were pathetic failures. They were barely noticed and did nothing to change the balance of forces.

On October 12, alt-right and white supremacist sympathizers within the Berkeley College Republicans were deposed in an internal coup that gave more traditional conservatives more control of the student organization. Bitter infighting within the group continued throughout the rest of the semester, reflecting similar splits on the state level within College Republicans. Identity Evropa also faced unstable leadership following the collapse of the strategy of targeting liberal university enclaves, which they had pioneered on Berkeley campus in May 2016. Nathan Damigo resigned as IE’s leader on August 27 following his disastrous participation in the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville. He was replaced by Elliott Kline, who was then replaced at the end of November by Patrick Casey. In an interview in which he announced his plans to move away from the damaged brand of the alt-right and to stop attempting to hold any kind of large public demonstrations, Casey stated, “We can’t go into these liberal areas and essentially repeat what happened with Unite the Right.” Reflecting on his movement’s shortcomings, the Daily Stormer’s Andrew Anglin admitted that “large rallies on public property, where we know there is going to be confrontation with antifa, are not a good idea.”

Meanwhile, in southern California, on October 21, former member of Kyle Chapman’s Fraternal Order of Alt Knights and fellow alt-lite leader Johnny Benitez accused Chapman of not being racist enough and personally profiting off of his “activism,” leading to a fist fight between the two men at the California Republican Party’s 2017 convention in the Anaheim Marriott. The next day, Chapman led a squad of Proud Boys to disrupt a Laguna Beach Benghazi rally organized by Benitez. Both men accused each other of being Federal informants and infiltrators. Fully 150 riot police were deployed to keep the quarreling factions apart. Later that week, Chapman found himself in yet another messy public split with Florida fascist August Invictus who had previously been FOAK’s second in command. The alt-right meltdown was in full swing.

The core leadership of the fascistic far right continued desperately attempting to regain all they had lost. Patriot Prayer returned to Berkeley yet again for another tiny and insignificant rally in People’s Park in November. In December, Kyle Chapman and a few others marched through San Francisco in an attempt to use the acquittal of the man charged with Kate Steinle’s death to protest the city’s “sanctuary city” status. Other far-right activists in Portland, Oregon, Austin, Texas, and elsewhere across the country attempted to use this same issue to mobilize the crowds that had stood beside them earlier in the year. Yet by December, their numbers were minuscule; in most cases, they found themselves overwhelmed by anti-fascist counterdemonstrations.

Nowhere was this clearer than in DC on December 3, when Richard Spencer, Matthew Heimbach of the Traditionalist Worker’s Party, former IE leader Elliott Kline, and other fascist leaders attempted to hold a rally. They were forced to cancel their march when less than 20 people showed up. They had failed to reignite the momentum that neo-Nazis and white supremacists rode on in 2016 and early 2017. By the end of the year, their movement was in total decomposition.

Solidarity Is Our Most Powerful Weapon

The August 27 black bloc marches in front of a sign printed and distributed by the city of Berkeley

The alt-right has been defeated. The convergence of fascist and white supremacist tendencies under this rebranded far-right umbrella has been successfully disrupted, cutting off the core leadership from the base of Trump supporters from which they sought to draw power. Militant anti-fascists who took action in Berkeley, Charlottesville, and dozens of other cities across the country should be proud of the role they played in achieving this victory.

It is important to emphasize that this was not accomplished through a militaristic application of force. During the darkest days of the spring, when the alt-right mobilizations in Berkeley were at their strongest, it was not certain that even the largest of contemporary black blocs could have defeated the array of fascistic forces prepared to do battle. What tipped the scales, ultimately leading to the Nazis’ downfall, was the strength of solidarity between various anarchist, left, and activist groups committed to combatting white supremacy, patriarchy, and fascism with a wide range of tactics. As anti-fascist networks expanded and grew increasingly resilient, the ideologically heterogeneous networks of the far right imploded. The alt-lite turned on the alt-right, the civic nationalists turned on the ethno-nationalists, the patriot militias turned on the neo-Nazis, and the average Trump supporter who had dabbled in this growing movement was left confused and demoralized.

Yet the struggle against fascist and reactionary forces in the United States during the Trump era is just beginning.

There is no going back to a time before the stabbings, doxxing, Pinochet shirts, Pepe memes, torch-lit marches, and murder. Movements struggling for collective liberation must remain hardened and ready to face down whatever future fascist mutations rear their ugly heads from the cesspool of the far right. This is especially true for the anarchist movement in the United States, as anarchists have stuck our necks out further than almost anyone else to combat the rise of the alt-right. We cannot lower our guard; comrades will have to continue prioritizing individual and community self-defense for the foreseeable future. Many of these radicalized fascists will seek to exploit future crises to jumpstart their movement-building in new and unexpected ways. Other far-right activists will likely attempt to gain positions of power within law enforcement and other security agencies. Lone wolf attacks and other manifestations of far-right violence will almost certainly continue.

So we must remain on high alert. But if the threat of an imminent far-right popular movement with a fascist vanguard continues to recede, the politics of militant antifascism can evolve. This is what happens when we win.

Anarchist projects and initiatives can once again set their sights on the foundations of white supremacy, patriarchy, and capitalism. Some comrades can work to develop a revolutionary anti-fascist tendency that builds on the momentum of recent years. Others can take what they have learned from this sequence and refocus on advancing the struggles they have always been a part of.

Either way, anarchists and other militant antifascists are starting 2018 in a much more advantageous position than we held a year ago. The diverse networks of affinity and solidarity that turned the tide in 2017 will remain vital to the safety and resilience of everyone engaged in these dangerous activities.

At the same time, it must not be forgotten that fascists took advantage of the contradictions inherent in liberalism and the elitism of liberal enclaves to gain strength in 2016 and 2017. We must not water down anti-fascism via “popular front” politics until it becomes nothing more than a defense of liberal capitalism. We have to defend ourselves against co-optation as well as fascist agitation. The victories of 2017 have afforded us a brief opening to catch our breath and reaffirm the profoundly radical nature of our struggle for collective liberation. Imaginative revolutionaries must now lead new offensives on their own terms that bring us all closer to the world we wish to build.

Some Bay Area Antagonists
January 2018

Taking the Park on August 27.

2017: The Year in Review–A Few Highlights from Our Coverage

2017 has been a banner year for both tyranny and resistance. All around the world, autocrats like Donald Trump are attempting to escalate to even more repressive strategies of state governance. In response, people have mobilized to confront police and fascists—to blockade railroads, highways, and airports—and to support migrants, defendants, and others targeted by the state. Although popular movements have been forced to react to one assault after another, there has also ben a significant influx of new participants into anarchist organizing. If we spend 2018 putting down roots and spreading systemic critiques of capitalism, democracy, and the state—so those who currently oppose Trump will not withdraw into merely electoral reformism—we will consolidate a much stronger position.

What We’ve Been Doing

Our collective has also expanded our activities, eager to contribute our small part. Since we overhauled our site at the beginning of 2017, we’ve published several articles a week. We’ve released two new books, along with new posters and stickers. We launched the Hotwire, a weekly show on the Ex-Worker Podcast. We updated our downloads library, bringing the total to 68 zines and 71 posters. Skip to the appendix below to print out zines to distribute and posters to wheatpaste!

We accomplished all this by 100% volunteer labor with practically no funding: we sell our books and posters at roughly the cost of production and offer everything else for free. Besides the kickstarter campaign to print the books, we haven’t even solicited donations. We do this because our hearts are in it—because we want to do our part to create a better world—because the adventure of living in defiance of tyranny is its own reward.

Below, we review a few of the highlights of our coverage from an inspiring year of resistance. As 2018 gets underway, it is more important than ever to support the J20 defendants arrested a year ago. To this purpose, a week of solidarity actions in coming up.

In August, we published No Wall They Can Build and *From Democracy to Freedom.

Becoming Ungovernable: A Few Highlights

In January, the year opened with a massive showdown at Trump’s inauguration, pitting thousands of demonstrators against over 28,000 security personnel on what came to be known as J20. We reported live throughout the day, providing some of the first news about the blockades, the anti-fascist/anti-capitalist march, the punching of Richard Spencer, police repression, and above all why anarchists and other rebels were risking their freedom to confront

The iconic burning limousine at the protests to Trump’s Inauguration.

Students participating in the demonstrations of J20.

The prevalence of rhetoric about being “ungovernable” at the opening of 2017 was a sign of how anarchist analysis was filtering out to the general public.

Two weeks later, Trump signed legislation banning people from seven countries; in response, thousands mobilized to shut down airports around the country. Once again, we reported live on the blockades around the country. In retrospect, this was the high point of mobilization against the Trump regime to date.

Shutting down SFO airport.

Meanwhile, as fascists attempted to use Trump’s victory to create a grassroots fascist movement, we debunked the “free speech” rhetoric that they were using to secure space in which to organize.

In February, we reported on why anarchists shut down far-right troll Milo Yiannopoulos in Berkeley, ultimately helping to bring an end to his career.

We also began a series of introductions to anarchist practices with a guide to organizing in affinity groups.

The fiasco resulting from Berkeley offering a platform to pro-fascist Milo Yiannopoulos.

Becoming ungovernable in Berkeley the night Milo was supposed to speak.

Graffiti in Berkeley.

In March, we continued this series with an introduction to direct action. We also refuted the false promise of police reform represented by body cams and the analyzed the implications of right-wing narratives about “fake news.”

In April, in addition to celebrating our annual holiday Steal Something from Work Day, we presented an exhaustive account of two years of upheaval in France as the French elections loomed. We also published a rare interview with anarchist guerrillas in Rojava, exploring the issues of armed struggle in critical depth.

French police attempting to break up a demonstration in Paris, as detailed in our report on the struggle against the Loi Travail.

In May, we offered a detailed history of May Day covering a century and a half of labor struggle. We also reported immediately from the streets to show readers how they, too, might construct giant papier mâché spiders like those seen in Portland, Oregon.

The spiders of mutual aid, solidarity, and direction action in Portland on May Day.

Make your own spider!

In June, we traced the history of June 11 as a day of solidarity with long-term anarchist prisoners. We published an exhaustive analysis of three years of struggle in Brazil, tracing social movements from the protest movements of 2013 through the World Cup and the reactionary crackdowns that followed. As fascists stepped up their organizing efforts in the US, we reported on a showdown at a rally in Portland and offered a poster identifying how police and fascists work in tandem.

A bus burns during a general strike in Rio de Janeiro on April 28, 2017, as detailed in our exhaustive analysis of three years of struggle in Brazil.

In July, the G20 summit took place in Hamburg, Germany. For context, we published retrospectives on previous summits in 2005 and 2007, then offered a week of continuous reporting throughout the G20 and its aftermath.

Police in front of Hamburg’s occupied social center Rote Flora ahead of the G20.

Without provocation or warning, police attack a march at the opening of the G20 summit. The participants at the front courageously held their lines until those behind them could escape.

Hamburg defends itself against the police.

Back in the US, when Trump announced that trans people would be banned from the military, we immediately responded with two articles from trans authors presenting the case against reformist assimilation politics and the military itself.

In August, we published our full narrative of the G20 and the battle of Hamburg.

On August 12, fascists mobilized in Charlottesville, Virginia for the “Unite the Right” rally, the apex of their efforts to normalize murderous white supremacy as an acceptable part of the political landscape. We responded immediately with a series of articles published while the clashes were still unfolding. After fascists murdered Heather Heyer, we helped publicize over 100 solidarity actions that took place in response.

Clashes between anarchists and fascists in Charlottesville, Virginia on August 12.

One of the countless solidarity demonstrations that took place around the world after Heather Heyer was murdered in Charlottesville.

In episode #56 of the Ex-Worker podcast, “Triumph & Tragedy in the Struggle Against Fascism,” we published interviews with participants in the clashes in Charlottesville, recorded just a few hours afterwards. Over the following weeks, we offered more reflection on the confrontations and on anti-fascist strategy in general.

At the close of the month, we also offered examples to students hoping to organize anarchist groups at their schools.

In September, while tabling at book fairs on all three coasts of the US, we offered more context for student movements around the world with an article focusing on Chilean student resistance from the dictatorship through democracy.

Students winning against militarized riot police in Chile.

In October, we offered extensive reporting and commentary from anarchists on the conflict between Catalan separatists and the Spanish state.

We published two controversial texts in October, “The Femme’s Guide to Riot Fashion,” a cheerful primer on how to dress safely for public order situations that is not aimed at the masculine audience presumed by most such guides, and “Restless Specters of the Anarchist Dead,” selections from the voices of anarchists who were murdered by the Bolsheviks in the course of the Russian Revolution so Lenin and Stalin could reestablish an authoritarian state.

In November, on the actual anniversary of the October Revolution, we followed this up with another article detailing all the steps that the Bolsheviks took to destroy social movements and clamp down on those who had helped to make the revolution in Russia. We also published articles about anarchism in Korean cinema, grassroots resistance in Algeria, and anti-fascism in Russia, illustrating our international focus and ties.

In December, we were pleased to close the year with good news from the first round of the J20 trials. Yet the innocent verdicts just underscore that the police, the prosecutor, the judge, and the state are all guilty of using these baseless blanket charges to terrorize protesters. We are more determined than ever to make it impossible for them to threaten or harm anyone, ever again.

Appendix I: Report from the Hotwire

Soon after returning from its long hiatus in August, The Ex-Worker spawned its first spin-off show, The Hotwire, offering news, interviews, and a review of upcoming actions and events. In our first sixteen-episode season, we…

Honored and Remembered Our Dead

-including Scout Schultz, Nathan Hose, Heather Heyer, and Santiago Maldonado.

Offered Anarchist Perspectives on Mainstream News

-the #TakeAKnee NFL protests,

-the independence referendum in Catalunya,

-the ongoing turmoil in Syria, Iraq, and Kurdistan,

-and the mass shootings in Las Vegas and Sutherland Springs, Texas.

Covered Little-Reported Stories

-the victory of wildcat strikes from rural Virginia to New York City;

-the Juggalo March on Washington, DC,

-round-ups of actions against confederate monuments in the wake of Charlottesville, and actions against settler monuments on Columbus Day and Thanksgiving;

-student walkouts in middle schools and high schools;

animal sabotage of the capitalist system;

-the ongoing anarchist struggle to abolish standardized time;

-and plenty of prison uprisings, anti-extraction camps, and anti-fascist actions.


-anarchists organizing mutual aid recovery efforts after Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria;

-an anarchist DACA recipient about undocumented immigrant resistance under Trump;

-anti-police rebels in St. Louis about the weeks-long
resistance after the Stockley Verdict;

-anti-fascists on the ground in Berkeley, Gainesville, and Murfreesboro;

Defend J20 Resistance as the first J20 defendants were on trial;

-anarchists in Catalunya, Brazil, and Poland about responses to electoralism, repression, and reaction abroad;

-and student rebels in North Carolina, squatters in Chicago, and anti-fracking communards in Olympia about opening up occupied spaces for resistance and liberatory relations.

We are looking forward to bringing The Hotwire back for its second season in February 2018. Every episode is radio-ready, and we already had three radio stations carrying our show weekly in 2017. Feel free to simply download the episodes and put them on your local airwaves. Also, we’re always looking for contributions, correspondents, and people to interview from ongoing struggles. Our goal is to bring rebels across North America relevant and timely news so that our movements can be better informed and cut through any static that holds us back from acting. Get in touch with us at to contribute or offer feedback on how The Hotwire can better serve anarchist efforts near you. Stay rebel.

A burning police car, pictured in our coverage of this year’s arson trials in France.

Appendix II: New Zines and Posters

For your printing convenience, a review of the new zines and posters we produced this year.


Surviving a Grand Jury

We Endlings

Fighting for Our Lives

Don’t Try to Break Us: The G20 and the Battle of Hamburg

We also published the G20 zine in German.

Not Your Grandfather’s Anti-Fascism: Anti-Fascism Has Arrived—Here’s Where It Needs to Go

June 18, 1999: The Storming of the City


Fighting in Brazil, 2013-2015

“The Struggle Is Not for Martyrdom, but for Life”: A Critical Discussion about Armed Struggle with Anarchist Guerrillas in Rojava

Slave Patrols and Civil Servants: A History of Policing in Two Modes

The Syrian Underground Railroad

How to Form an Affinity Group

This is Not a Dialogue: Notes on Anti-Fascism and Free Speech

Whoever They Vote For, We Are Ungovernable: A History of Anarchist Counter-Inaugural Protest


Anti-Fascism Is Self-Defense

Everyone Dreams of a Better World—Our Crime Is Making It a Reality

When the Police Knock on Your Door

Immigrants Welcome

Inmigrantes Bienvenidxs

Police Officer vs. Wheatpaste

The Two Faces of Fascism

Hope Is in the Streets

Support the J20 Defendants

We beat ‘em before—We’ll beat ‘em again

Surviving a Grand Jury: Three Narratives from Grand Jury Resisters

We’ve prepared a zine version of our guide to grand jury resistance, which originally appeared as episode #59 of the Ex-Worker podcast. This zine presents the voices of three people who successfully stood up to grand jury indictments: one who served jail time for resisting, one who went on the run rather than testify, and one who supported a grand jury resister from the beginning to the end of the process. You can also read their narratives below.

Please print out copies of this zine and share them with anyone who is curious about what it looks like to confront the full force of the so-called justice system and win. For a wide array of resources on resisting grand juries, consult this list. You can also watch this live video presentation.

Click the image for a zine version of this text.

A Few Words about Grand Juries

Grand juries serve the state as a sort of auxiliary legal proceeding to force people to inform on each other. A grand jury isn’t a criminal trial; there’s no judge present. It takes place entirely in secret. As a witness, you can’t even obtain transcripts of your testimony.

Only the prosecutor and the jurists are allowed in the room with the witness. The jurists are chosen according to the prosecutor’s agenda and not screened for bias. The grand jury doesn’t have to inform you about the details of what they are investigating; you have no way to know what information might be incriminating for you or another person.

Grand juries suspend Fifth Amendment rights. They can subpoena you and give you “immunity” in order to force you to testify; if you refuse, they can jail you for up to eighteen months. This immunity does not protect you from prosecution; it only stipulates that the information you personally provide cannot be used against you, although the same information provided by someone else can be.

All this explains why people who do not want to be complicit in enabling the state to persecute communities refuse to give any information to a grand jury whatsoever. You never know what detail might be used against someone else. Even if no one is guilty of any crime, providing information to a grand jury can result in ongoing legal harassment that can ripple out and affect many people.

Grand juries serve to gather information on dissidents far beyond what police and prosecutors could gather on their own; they have been used to isolate, divide, and destroy social movements since the 1960s. Grand juries are currently being used to target anarchists, anti-fascists, and indigenous water protectors who struggled at Standing Rock.

If you’re subpoenaed by a grand jury and you decide to resist, you have two options: show up in court and refuse to testify, then serve time in prison for contempt, or go on the run before your first court date.

Click the image for a pdf of this poster.

Three Who Fought the Law and Won

The following stories are from three comrades: Esme, who served jail time for resisting; Devlin, who went on the run rather than cooperate; and Cora, who was the partner of a grand jury resister and supported them before, during, and after imprisonment.

We’re deeply inspired by the choices these people made in resisting the state. We hope that if you ever have to face a grand jury, criminal charges, or police harassment, their words will give you strength and faith in yourself. It can help to learn from the experiences of those who walked in your shoes before you—to know that you are not alone.

A Knock on the Door

Esme: I remember when those douchebags first came to my door. I particularly remember the tall man with sharp features and creepy blue eyes. He knocked on my door at 6 am. When I answered, still half-asleep, he said, “Oh, hi, sorry to wake you. I saw through your window that you were sleeping. You know this is my least favorite part of the job.” He was there to subpoena a friend of mine. I slammed the door in his face. Over the following months, my friends got served their subpoenas and had to go to court dates. I helped to organize support for them. At the time it felt like an agent was lurking behind every corner—and the tough part was sometimes they were.

Cora: I was awoken that morning by my partner, who was in shock. Federal agents had come looking for a friend and former housemate of ours. They wanted to serve him a subpoena to testify before a grand jury. The days that followed were a flurry of hushed conversation, larger displays of solidarity, crying, and panic.

Our house was awkwardly built with four doors to the outside and many windows. It wasn’t the greatest layout for feeling protected when paranoia struck. I was home alone one evening when I heard car doors slam outside our house. This wasn’t strange for our neighborhood, but my fear of the feds turned every sound into impending arrest or another subpoena. This time, it was federal agents. A group of five medium-to-large men with flashlights, in black clothing, began assessing our home from the outside, starting near my partner’s bedroom door, around to our backyard, around the side yard and completing the circle up front. I stayed hidden. I was afraid they would enter the house, thinking it to be empty, and corner me there alone—but they only seemed interested in our yard and our home’s exterior.

It was after this that all of us—my partner, and housemates, and I—decided it was absolutely necessary to move. They had already subpoenaed the people they had originally been searching for. Why were they still coming around? What did they want with our house? We weren’t under the illusion that a new house would provide more safety, but the anxiety mounting in that space was beginning to feel overwhelming and we needed a change of environment. We found a new home quickly and eagerly moved in. We had just begun to settle in when the FBI visited us again.

Esme: One day two men were lurking outside my house. I pushed away what I thought was an irrational paranoia. I let myself believe they were Mormon missionaries. I walked outside to my car and they addressed me by my name. I shut the car door and ran into my backyard. I couldn’t think fast enough. I fumbled with the latch on the gate and they yelled after me that they had positively identified me, so the subpoena had been officially served. I turned around and grabbed it out of their hands. They offered to take me into the grand jury right then. I didn’t answer them, but walked into my house and burst into tears. I remember crying and repeating the words “I don’t want to do this, I don’t want to do this” over and over again as my friends read the subpoena. I knew what it meant by that point, as several of my friends were already in jail over this shit. It never occurred to me to do anything other than resist, but I was terrified.

Cora: When my partner was issued a subpoena it felt like a nightmare. It was the same grand jury that had already subpoenaed our friends, who were now serving jail time for resisting. None of us felt we had the tools to navigate what was ahead of us. I treated it like a job, because there was so much we didn’t know.

Esme: I called a public defender and explained the situation. I told him that I intended to not cooperate. He said in a condescending tone, “Oh you can’t just NOT cooperate with a grand jury subpoena.” I explained that I knew exactly the consequences: eighteen months max in jail for civil contempt, and that I was prepared to do it. I told him that if he was going to represent me he would have to respect that. After that he never questioned my resolve once. Ultimately, I would have to educate him about how grand jury resistance works.

Cora: It surprised me how little the defense lawyer understood about grand juries. Maybe that was just me giving too much credit to lawyers, cause I was like, you go to school for eight years for this, you should know what’s going on. It boggled my mind. Luckily, we were able to talk to other, radical lawyers. There wasn’t a lot of information online, and a lot of it was contradictory. So we talked to lawyers who had explicit experience in political cases. It’s not that our lawyer was incompetent, it’s just that grand juries are so outside the scope of regular court cases—to the point that the lawyers can’t even be in the room.

Esme: Just like my lawyer, my parents initially encouraged me to “consider my options.” I told them flatly that I knew I was going to go to jail over this and that if they wanted to visit me while I was in jail they were going to need to respect my decision. In this one conversation, our relationships changed from a parent/child dynamic to one of adults. Being clear and upfront with both my parents and lawyer about how this was going to go it made it much easier for all of them to support me in the ways I needed. This meant they never pressured me to cooperate even if they didn’t understand my ethical reasons for non-cooperation.

Cora: No one knew how long punitive detention for refusing to cooperate with a grand jury subpoena would actually be. One isn’t sentenced to a particular length of time, but attorneys told us that eighteen months was the maximum. We were told to expect the maximum because of my partner’s public refusal to cooperate and the overt political nature of the investigation. We went from meetings amongst friends, to meetings amongst family, to meetings with attorneys, to phone calls with comrades trying to gather as much information as possible in the short time before inevitable incarceration. We stayed busy.

The wait was agonizing. No matter what we did amongst friends, amongst our political milieu or in our romantic relationship, I never felt prepared to have my partner’s physical and emotional presence stripped from my life. I never felt prepared to watch them experience detention and isolation. We talked with people who had experienced similar repression, made plans for communication, strengthened our relationship while supporting one another through the trauma of uncertainty and constant harassment from the State. We made big banners for demonstrations and, after, hung them in our house as encouragement. We even got married in order to grant ourselves some luxuries and legal rights regarding prison visits and attorney-client privileges.

Esme: We’d had some time to talk out scenarios before this happened, and we decided to get married—not out of love, but practical necessity. We knew that was the only way Cora would be able to visit me. They would continue to be an unwavering support person to me through the hard months to follow. Thankfully, they were not the only person to rise to the occasion. Many friends and loved ones showed up to hold me up and support me. Friends would come by our house and drop off food and treats and gifts on the regular. This isn’t to say everything was rosy—the stress of the time definitely reverberated throughout our friendships. Many stepped up to mediate conflicts—it really did take an extended community to support us.

Cora: In those days leading up to Esme’s incarceration, we were hardly ever alone. It would have been easy to be isolated as a couple, to feel trapped in this intense experience that was effecting the two of us most intensely, but luckily that didn’t happen. I think that’s part of why our relationship has stayed as strong as it is through all of this—even when friends couldn’t always show up in the ways I wished they would, we were really held by a large community.

Threats and Pressure

Esme: After the subpoena, the prosecutor hurled all kinds of threats at me. I was told I would be charged with criminal as well as civil contempt and other crimes if I refused to cooperate. The paranoia that had been a dull roar in my mind increased to full-blown panic. I blamed myself for lack of vigilance for letting myself get subpoenaed. I had been anxious before, but now I started to experience more intense panic. It was getting more difficult to determine which fears were worth paying attention to.

We knew from affidavits in the case that some of us had been followed, so it would make sense to believe I was being followed. Sometimes I would see an SUV with government plates parked outside my house—but that blue-eyed man who came to my door the first time had been driving a beat up old Pontiac. So there was really no way of knowing how deep the surveillance went.

Sometimes clearly absurd fears would enter my brain and I couldn’t push them away. Once I was driving and heard a series of ticks and beeps. I began to fear a bomb had been planted under my seat. I sat stopped at a red light and considered my options. I was almost certain this wasn’t real, but the Feds had bombed Judi Bari’s car this way in 1990. But surely I was not as high a priority as she had been. Waiting for the light to turn, I couldn’t reason my way out of this. I pulled over into a Burger King parking lot and got out of my car. I walked a safe distance away I waited a few minutes before cautiously approaching the vehicle again. I checked under the seat, then under the car itself: nothing. I felt the seat for anything inside it: nothing. I got back into my car, took a deep breath, and got to work just a couple minutes late.

Experiences like this helped me develop a framework for how to handle these kind of fears. I created a set of four questions, and for each one I’d either ask a friend’s advice or imagine what advice they might give. The questions were:

  1. How likely is it that what I fear right now is real? What evidence do I have for it? Has this happened to others?

  2. If what I fear is real, how serious of a threat is it to me in this situation?

  3. Can this situation be addressed? Is there anything that I can do to make myself safe from this?

  4. How costly or inconvenient is this precaution? Is this response illegal? Could I get hurt or get in more trouble?

Using this framework, it made sense to get out of the car to check for a bomb. Though the likelihood of the threat being real was remote, the precaution I took was low cost and only made me slightly late to work. Having this structure helped me feel like I was doing all I could to keep myself safe.

Often, in scary repressive situations people oscillate between feeling strong fear and then pushing it out of their mind—without taking basic precautions to handle what they’re afraid of. Dealing with repression is about risk management. We can’t be completely safe from the state or from the far right, but there are steps we can take to mitigate some of the potential harm. Since then, I’ve used this framework with households and other groups to assess risk from both feds and neo-Nazis.

Cora: As Esme’s court date approached, we rented a hotel room with friends and talked all night. It was moments like this that kept us going, and something worth doing if you’re facing any kind of repression, because everything will feel like shit. In hindsight, I realize there are a few things I would have done differently, especially around asking for support. I mean we got amazing support, especially all the fundraising and one friend who gave us a few hundred dollars to cover Esme’s rent and car insurance and stuff. At the time I didn’t want to ask for support just for me because it felt like a finite resource. Thinking about asking close friends for more than just basic friendship felt like taking something away from others. I didn’t really realize how the experience was affecting me. I also don’t know how receptive I would have been to someone saying “this is just time for you.” On a certain level, I wasn’t able to do all the intense support I was doing and also check in with all my emotional needs. Esme was the same way, and we brought that out in each other. We both stayed really task-focused.

Esme: That night in the hotel I could feel my freedom slipping out from under me. I hadn’t seriously considered going on the run, but in that hotel room it suddenly seemed so appealing. How was I going to walk into the hands of my enemies the next day, when I could just as easily breath the free air for another day? I thought about trying to live underground in the States or leave the country and start a new life under a different identity—but both would have to be indefinite if not lifelong exile, which seemed hard to imagine. Jail time at least had a max of eighteen months, and it seemed like most people usually did more like six. And I could get letters from my loved ones, something much harder to pull off from underground. So, going on the run seemed like the harder option, although it perhaps represented an even larger middle finger to the law. I reconciled myself to my choice.

I spent the night embracing my friends and watching Mean Girls 1 and 2 (spoiler: the second one is terrible, don’t bother). I appeared at the courthouse the next day delirious from lack of sleep but ready to face my incarceration.

Devlin: I didn’t decide to become a grand jury resister on the day the federal agents emerged, seemingly out of nowhere, forcing their subpoena into my unwelcoming hands. Decisions like this are rarely made in the moment. For me, it would be more reasonable to say I started to make this decision five years before I was subpoenaed, when I first learned of Dr. Abdelhaleem Ashqar. At the time, he had just been sentenced to eleven years and three months for resisting grand juries in New York and Chicago. A fighter for Palestinian liberation, Dr. Ashqar was jailed several times between 1998 and 2007 on civil contempt charges. These were intended to coerce his testimony to a perennial grand jury investigating Palestinian nationals on racketeering charges. As exhausting as the protracted struggle must have been, Ashqar was unyielding in his defiance, refusing to implicate anyone, saying in court that he refused “to live as a traitor or as a collaborator.”

In 2007, the case came to a head. As they admitted defeat in turning Ashqar into a state agent, the law played their final trump card: a punitive prison sentence, meant to strike fear into all of us watching from the sidelines. For me, as I’m sure for many others, it didn’t have that effect.

I was in awe of Ashqar, of his contempt, in the choices he made to reject his status as innocent witness and take on the complicity of solidarity. Resistance felt alive and real to me in that moment. I decided then that if ever I was called upon to resist a grand jury, a thought that seemed impossibly far away to a young anarchist who had yet to see the inside of a jail cell, I would try to breathe as much fire into the legacy of grand jury resistance as I was capable of.

I wanted my resistance to be as defiant as it could be. I didn’t want it to be based on the fact that I was “innocent,” but rather to be a clear and outright refusal of everything they wanted from me. I hoped that this complete defiance would inspire others as Dr. Ashqar had inspired me.

I also thought about it from a security standpoint: my brain was like a hard drive that stored valuable information, and I had no way of knowing what stray detail I remembered could be used to incriminate comrades of mine. So my perspective was that the best way to prevent the state from having access to that information was not only to encrypt the information (stay silent) but also to never give them physical access to the hardware (in this case my body). Thus, I went on the run.

Esme: On the morning of my court date, my parents, my partner, my lawyer and I got coffee across the street from the courthouse. My lawyer noticed a stocky man with a military haircut holding a newspaper in front of his face and staring at us. My lawyer said we should talk outside. For my parents, this one fairly minor act of surveillance seemed to shatter their cherished view of a benevolent government.

A number of people had shown up to the courthouse to support me, including some older folks who had done support for grand jury resisters in the 70s. I met two who had been part of an urban guerrilla group back then and wished me their support. One of them told me about an oath that they used to say to each other back in the day:

If ever I should break my stride, or falter at my comrade’s side

This oath shall kill me.

If ever my word should prove untrue, should I betray the many or the few

This oath shall kill me.

If ever I withhold my hand, or show fear before the hangman

This oath shall surely kill me.

It was powerful to feel like included in a tradition of resistance, even if some of our political inclinations were different.

I walked in to the courthouse with my lawyer. We were led to the third floor where two men introduced themselves as prosecutors. One of them was the man with the creepy blue eyes and sharp features I had seen months earlier on my doorstep. When my lawyer introduced himself, the blue-eyed man identified himself as the lead agent on the case.

I remained silent while my lawyer schmoozed with the prosecutors, and then I entered the grand jury room with them. My lawyer, of course, had to stay behind.

The room resembled a community college classroom. It had an overhead projector and the dozen or so jurists sat in chair/desk combos arrayed in rows facing me. I was at the front of the room as though I was a guest lecturer. The prosecutor asked me my name and date of birth. I told him. Then he asked me where I worked and I figured it was as good a time as any to start resisting. I stammered out a refusal. He then asked me a slew of questions: peoples names, where I was on certain dates, where others were on specific dates. With growing confidence, I refused to answer each question. As I wasn’t allowed to have my lawyer present or record any of the questions, I would ask for a break after every three questions and go into the other room and write them down so I wouldn’t forget them. This way I could share what they were asking about with everyone else, and make this secret process more transparent. Leaving the room frequently was also a way of demonstrating to my lawyer and others that I wasn’t answering their questions, so there would be no doubt.

After a dozen or so questions and refusals, the prosecutor said he had heard enough. As I got up to leave the room, a jurist in the front row smiled and raised his fist in salute to me. I still wonder to this day what that guy’s deal was. Maybe he had something to do with the outcome of things? But I may never know—that’s the thing about repression, there are so many bizarre unknowns that you just have to accept. 

After that I was taken in front of a judge, granted immunity, questioned by the grand jury again and refused again. By the time all this was over the workday was over and I was given another court date a few weeks away. It felt a bit anti-climactic. I had prepared myself to go to jail. I had packed up all my stuff, found someone to rent my room, and now I had to go back to my house where I no longer really had a room and kill time until I went to jail.

As I waited, I searched for ways to prepare for what really can’t be prepared for. I talked to more former political prisoners who offered incredible advice and emotional support. I made plans with my partner, parents and friends about my support.

After another court date I was given a self-report date and at 9 am on a grey morning, after all that waiting, I gathered with a small group of comrades and my parents to say goodbye. As the time approached for me to go in I started to hug people goodbye I started crying and an older comrade grabbed me by my shoulders and looked into my tear-filled eyes and said “Hey, you’ve got this! Seriously, don’t doubt it for a second, you’ve got this!”

That phrase would come back to me often in the following months.

Jail Time

Cora: I wasn’t prepared for what it would feel like to have my partner be so physically absent from my life. While Esme was in jail, I focused all my emotional energy on supporting them. This involved writing long letters every day, micro managing their support, talking with friends about our visits, meticulously planning my trips to visitation and really trying not to plan for life after they got out. I tried not to think about the future. They could be in for over a year, and at the end of that could end up indicted as part of the ongoing investigation. There was also the fear that I would be indicted as a result of the grand jury’s findings. The future was so unclear that the present was all I could grasp.

I buried myself in work every other day of the week. Shortly after my partner’s subpoena, I took on a second full-time job. I used my 60- to 70-hour work week as a way to exhaust myself and dissociate from the trauma I was incurring. It gave me purpose while I felt aimless and heartbroken. I withdrew from many friendships and stayed firmly in high-functional crisis mode. If you had asked me at the time what kind of support I needed, I wouldn’t have been able to say. I felt like any care someone gave me was taken away from Esme. In retrospect, I’d do a few things differently. But I do think it was important for both of us to focus on practical details and things we could control. It wasn’t until much later that we both realized how not okay we had been.

Esme: When I walked through the front door of that jail, I was shuttled between various booking rooms for hours. Around 11 am, I was given a ham sandwich and some pudding in a brown bag. I decided that if the state wanted to lock me in a cage and attempt to ruin my life, I would resist by making my time in jail the best thing that had ever happened to me. I looked at that ham sandwich on white bread and decided that I was going to eat as healthily as I could for this meal and all the ones to follow. So I left the white bread and pudding in the bag. It sounds weird but this helped me feel like I was regaining some amount of agency.

They took me in front of a guard sitting at a desk who called himself a counselor. He asked me a slew of questions to figure out if I was eligible for placement in General Population. I tried to answer every question so that I would qualify. I remember him smirking and rolling his eyes when I told him I was straight. But at the end he said I looked like I was eligible for GP. He sent me back to a holding cell, then came back a while later and inexplicably took me into the solitary confinement unit and put me on cell alone status. The guards told me, “Since you haven’t committed a crime, and you’re being held here coercively not punitively, we can’t house you in GP with criminals.” I responded that my co-defendants were in GP, but they didn’t offer any other explanation. I found out later that at that same time my co-defendants were being transferred to other solitary confinement units as well. It’s clear to me that the prosecutor was trying to apply extra pressure to us to get us to break.

I woke up the next morning at 6 am to a tray of warm food being slid through the trapdoor inside my door. I again picked through for the less processed seeming parts and ate them, even though I wasn’t hungry and wanted to keep sleeping. I figured I would take what I could get.

After breakfast, they asked me if I wanted to go to the rec yard. I had assumed I would be in this one cell all day and jumped at the opportunity to get out. They put me in what passed for a rec yard in solitary, which turned out to be a triangular cell with chain link fence on all sides and a vent through which cold air blew but you could see the sky if you stood in the right place. It was barely larger than my cell and it was so cold I couldn’t really do anything other than shiver. After that, I stayed in my cell during rec time.

I started journaling: planning out workouts and other self-improvement activities. In the evening a cart came by my cell and I was told I could pick two books from it. I picked out the longest one I could see. Then scanned the titles for anything familiar, to my surprise I found an Octavia Butler book I had been meaning to read. The familiar author brought warmth and joy to me when I was confused and alone. Her writing, bleak but yet so honest and nuanced, felt like just the emotional tone I needed set going into the next few months of my life.

I asked about phone calls and was told that I could make one 15-minute phone call each month. It seemed unbelievable, but it was true. I would have to be sustained by letters. On the third day, when I started receiving them, everything got so much better. The guards seemed resentful of having to read all my mail but their resentment just made me feel better and better. The first book I received was Vida by Marge Piercy, which follows a woman in a fictionalized Weather Underground type group as she tries to survive living on the run. I knew some of my comrades who had also faced repression had gone on the run, but I had tried to avoid any contact with them or knowledge of what they were going through so as not to lead the authorities to them. Vida made me feel connected to what they might be going through. The story doesn’t glorify life on the run—it left me feeling like I was the lucky one to be safe in a cell rather than precariously waiting for the cops to come busting my door down like my comrades surely were.

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Life on the Run

Devlin: At the beginning of my time on the run, my comrades and I had to leave the area quickly and figure out a more concrete plan along the way. Much of the work hinged on having a network of solidarity and computer skills. It’s actually quite a bit of work to protect yourself digitally. I won’t go into specifics, but the skills we needed were not those we could have learned on a whim. We were able to do it because we had years of experience to draw from.

At one point, a security breach meant that we had to relocate for fear of being tracked. We relied on the quick thinking and very generous solidarity of comrades from all over who helped tremendously with our transition. This type of anarchist solidarity was invaluable and without it we would never have been able to do what we did.

Getting needs met like health care and money were major obstacles. Over time, living in a situation not of our own choosing was physically and emotionally detrimental. We had organized our lives around fighting the state. Suddenly, when we didn’t have any fight to do or decisions to make, our camaraderie eroded. Bonds between close comrades started to break down and I felt trapped and without an outlet or shared fight to channel my energy into.

Those stresses caused health problems which became harder and harder to address because I was on the run. These compounding effects became major obstacles.

At home, I had lived through highs and lows of struggle and repression but they were shared highs and lows. All of a sudden, no one around me understood the constant crisis I was going through or even why I had moved to that place at all. People didn’t even know my real name, yet I was trying to build authentic bonds of camaraderie with them.

I remember once a cop showed up at my house and they waited at my door and wouldn’t leave. My mind raced. I remembered that I had mapped out a way to escape by jumping between rooftops, but I hadn’t tested it and didn’t know if it would work. I had this internal freakout but I quieted my fears because I would have to deal with the implications later. Right now, I just needed to get out. My body became weirdly calm as I went through the house burning everything that could be used to identify me. I also ate a package of cookies cause I didn’t know the next time I would be able to eat. I sent word to let friends know what was going on, got a backpack together for my rooftop journey, and looked out the window one last time—and the cop was gone.

Friends later found out through social engineering that the cops were involved in something entirely unrelated, and we were able to return to that spot. Even so, it was incidents like that that shook my nerves so much. The simple act of interacting with a cop—something many people would consider routine—would have completely changed my life at that time. I lived in constant fear of having to interact with law enforcement.

I see how I needed every moment of that build up, all of the reinforcement of self that I put into the previous ten years to get me through the experience intact. When the focus of the radical left had moved on to the next crisis, when I hadn’t seen my dearest friends in years, when I was puking blood from a mysterious illness with no way to see a doctor, when I didn’t even have my own name to give coherence to my words, what I did have to hold onto was the promise I had made to myself—and implicitly to all others engaged in struggle—that I would put everything I had into the fight. Prolonged psychological dissonance can really disorient, subjecting what seems like our strongest foundations to deterioration. Anarchy became the one place to which I could recede that remained intact; resistance struggles the thread that connected my past to a possible future.

Maintaining Mental Health

Esme: As the days became weeks, I got some basic stuff on commissary and had a routine planned in half-hour increments so I would always be busy. I was teaching myself to eat and write with my left hand, practicing Spanish in the evening, reading Foucault in the morning, writing three long letters after dinner, and starting to meditate.

My cell looked west out over a park, but the tiny window was opaque and foggy. There was one corner, though, where the clear epoxy that sealed the window hadn’t been fogged over. Through that tiny gap I could make out two trees in the distance on a hill, silhouetted against the sky. I would watch them for hours as the light changed. I still feel a happy sense of nostalgia when I think of how beautiful those two trees were. Since my release I’ve gone back and tried to find them, but none of the trees really seem right. Maybe they have been cut down, or maybe I imagined them.

Every now and then the guards would transfer me to another cell. None of the others had a view like the first one. One cell was so cold my bones ached from the pain of it, and I couldn’t sleep. I asked for a second blanket but they never gave me one. This was the hardest time: I felt so alone and sad, and not being able to sleep much made everything harder. If I slept during the day when it was warmer, I’d be up awake at night with no light, unable to read or distract myself from my thoughts, which were often dark. When the dark thoughts came, I would do ten burpees and then sit for a minute and scan how I felt, and do it again, as necessary. As bad as that was, I could hear other inmates having harder times—once I heard one pounding the walls and screaming about being suicidal. A unit of cops in riot gear beat them until they were quiet. Incidents like this were impossible to ignore, because they stood out so starkly from the monotony of my days, but each time they happened I was plunged into much darker thoughts.

After the cold cell I was transferred to one with a window that faced a wall, and no mirror. This detail may seem insignificant, but my ability to see my reflection had previously allowed me a sense of identity that was suddenly lost. Without an image of myself or a companion, my mind became a stranger and stranger place. I looked inwards and saw nothing. So instead I turned to my letters. It was these correspondences that gave me a sense of self. I was not an island but an amalgam of my relationships, conversations, and collective passions. Whether I was working out, meditating, eating, reading, or writing letters, I was doing it to strengthen my interactions with the outside world. I lived off of the letters, zines and books I received.

Right when I’d learned how to handle the cold isolation and identity crisis of solitary confinement, when I felt ready to endure this for the next sixteen months, I was transferred to General Population.

It was nothing like what you see on television.

People were initially suspicious of me, as I didn’t have the normal paperwork that other inmates had. My story didn’t quite make sense to some. Most people had never heard of civil contempt. Once I was able to show them a newspaper clipping about my case people started to trust me. Then I met an older bank robber, John who said he had been in prison in the ’70s, the same prison, in fact, as the ex-urban guerrilla folks who had come to my court date and shared their oath with me. I asked John if he knew those people and he did a double take. He said, “Holy shit, you’re into that stuff?” I said “No, no, no, they are just friends of mine—but we believe in a similar cause.”

After that John, dedicated himself to looking out for me. He said that he missed the old days of principled convicts who didn’t betray each other and he saw me as staying true to that legacy, I was flattered.

I made other friends in general population, kept up with my workouts, started to fall behind on my correspondence, played cards, tried to explain anarchism to people and generally had an OK time. One thing that I found difficult to navigate ethically was racial politics. I am white and thus I had to sit with white people at lunch, watch the white TV, etc. I tried my best to buck these rules and build friendships with people of color, since I’m ideologically opposed to white separatism—moreover, some of the other white inmates were affiliated with white supremacist gangs. One way I managed to do this, oddly enough, was by hanging out with evangelical Christians. The Christians were organized on a multiracial basis. Though I didn’t go to their Bible study I would work out with them, and play cards and chess with them. 

In some ways time went by fast as I started to build real friendships with other inmates based on emotional support and vulnerability. I was also able now to have hour-long contact visits with my partner and my family.

Cora: The waiting room, the same room where I last saw my partner before they were taken into custody, was grey. The walls were large, painted brick interrupted by the occasional bulleted list of rules and expectations. I always arrived right when visitation hours began. We waited there until the guards called visitors up in groups to go through security.

I and handful of others, often families with children, were led through a long series of heavy doors to the visitor area. As we entered the room, I watched as people recognized one another, briefly hugged and sat to talk with their incarcerated loved ones. I didn’t see my partner, but thought maybe they would be one of the few inmates trickling in. Over the following few minutes, my mind went directly to the worst-case scenarios. I knew they were in solitary confinement. Were they hurt? Were their visitation privileges rescinded? Did I misunderstand the visitation guidelines?

A guard came from behind and asked me to follow him. I was led into a small room off the main visitation room. This room had two small television screens with telephones attached. The visitation wouldn’t be in-person but over the screen. My heart sank as I waited for a familiar face to appear on the screen. Their body was small on the screen, the camera was an awkward distance from where they sat. This made our communication feel less personal. I remember moving closer and closer to the screen instinctively, trying to hear their words more clearly and see their face more clearly. The visit was brief. It was hard to know what to talk about with one another. I can’t quite remember how long visitations were, but I do remember that video visitation was shorter than in-person ones. Our time together was via video for the majority of their incarceration. Two visits in a row, the video wasn’t working, so we could only communicate over the audio.


Esme: At a certain point, my co-defendants had all been released after refusing to cooperate. I was the last of us left inside. After a few more months the judge finally determined what my comrades and I had known: that my incarceration had become punitive since there was no way I was going to cooperate. Much earlier than I’d expected, I was released back into the world.

Cora: I had almost no warning that Esme would be released. It was so surreal. It might have been the day before, or the day of—I ended up getting a call for our friend letting me know. I was preparing for eighteen months; we’d gotten married, I had my schedule down for visitation. We had a system, and we’d been getting good at it, and then it was suddenly over. I hadn’t planned for what would happen after. I felt like if I started to think ahead, I’d get caught up in longing for that. So when they were released, I didn’t even know what to do. It was hard to even feel relief, since the grand jury was still convened and the possibility of future subpoenas and indictments still hung over us. It seemed impossible that three or four people would be incarcerated over this for months and no indictments would follow. Esme was home for now, but would it even last? Or would I be the next one taken in? A lot of us had experienced being detained or mass arrested, things that were a direct result of certain conflicts with the police and state, but this felt like a different category. It’s not like there was a sentence to be served and then it was over. We had no timeframe for how long we had to wait. One lawyer identified the date they thought the grand jury convened, but because they could always reconvene and subpoena more people, it never felt like there was an end. It just hung over us until it eventually dissolved into our past. But I put it in the back of my mind because there wasn’t a lot I could do except keep functioning.

Esme: The shock of release was intense. Riding in a car felt so bizarre. I had lost so much weight none of my clothes fit. I had picked up strange mannerisms and new anxieties. But I was overjoyed to be with my comrades in the flesh again. The collective trauma we all experienced brought us much closer and forged powerful bonds that continue today. Some of my friends would stay on the run for years after, but that’s another story. There were some who betrayed their comrades and capitulated to the state’s demands. I won’t waste my breath on them, except to say that their mistake was tremendous. They lost all their friends and endured just as much trauma as any of us, but they cut themselves off from any support because they chose to throw others under the bus. Not only was their decision unethical, but in the end it wasn’t even self-serving. My experience was painful and lifechanging. Many years have passed and I’m still healing from it, but I do not regret my decisions for an instant.


Cora: Now that this is as behind me as it will ever be, I can see the ways it has shaped me. I moved out of town and onto a farm, in part because of my fear of the police. I had so many traumatic experiences about having them in my home. On the other hand, I feel much stronger and more capable than I did before—specifically, I know exactly how to do this and I could do it again. I know how to navigate the prison system, and I have much more empathy for incarcerated people. When I write them letters now, it feels more personal. I’m also proud of how I was able to build relationships that held a foundation for us all to hold each other through this experience. It helped us get out of the theoretical realm and solidify what we really think and believe. Being able to watch someone I love so much make those decisions based on their personal beliefs was inspiring. We can also say of course we would never crack, but it’s interesting to see someone actually rise to that challenge. It made it seem possible for me, because I was terrified I was going to through the same thing.

Esme: When I first got out, I thought I was fine. It wasn’t until years later that I realized how not okay I had been. Thanks to therapy, hallucinogens, learning about trauma, writing and the loving patience of friends I’ve healed a lot. I’m forever changed but in many ways I am stronger and I’m able to come to anarchist struggles with a focus and intention that I learned from my experience.

Devlin: After several years had passed we assumed that the grand jury had ended, since usually they have expiration dates. But even so lawyers I had talked to suggested that if I ever interacted with police again in my life I would certainly go to jail—so the question of coming out of hiding could not be taken lightly. But the life I was living on the run felt so difficult and I didn’t feel like I could keep living it. I had repressed my feelings during this time so much that I had in a sense lost my ability to feel, I started taking more and more dangerous risks because I didn’t see the point in anything.

But some part of me was aware of the self-destructive path I was on and I discussed it with my comrades. We made the decision that the cost of staying underground was no longer viable.

None of this is to say that it was all bad. It’s easy to emphasize the negative, but there were so many incredible high points I may not have experienced otherwise. Like when I drove for hours in a car full of friends and swam with dolphins in the ocean I remember thinking, “I’m supposed to be in jail right now!” It made the joy feel that much more intense.

Returning to my life felt like exiting one dream world for another. My first run-in with the police felt like the real test of whether or not things could settle down for me for awhile. I had no idea if I would be in jail just for a few hours or if I would be in there for way longer. I wondered to myself, “What do the cops know? How much info did they share between agencies?” But in the end I was released.

Coming back to my life and seeing people was hard, seeing how their lives had moved on. Distance had grown between us. I had to immediately find a job and a place to live. I got a bizarrely normal job in an office and just went through the motions of a functioning person. Over time, it’s grown to feel more and more like my life again.

I still feel rootless and disconnected in big ways at times, but I’m starting to feel comfortable with that. I have been able to make deep friendships with people all over, engaged in disparate but consistently inspiring work. I feel appreciative of the people and struggle around me even if I don’t entirely know where I belong. I embrace emotionality and a more communicative process of dealing with the difficulties of lifelong anarchist struggle. I expect to face harder things in the future than my experience on the run and I think now I’m more prepared to deal with what may come. I feel really strong now and as committed to my politics as I ever was. In some ways I feel less isolated that I did before I went on the run.

Being on the run brought contradictions between many of us, between who we wanted to be and who we are on the surface. So many people set aside their own needs and did support to make resistance to repression possible. At the same time, there were people who I feel let us down and that added to the pain of the whole experience.

If I had to offer anything resembling advice to someone who was thinking about grand juries or repression more generally, from the comfort of a home or stable life, it would be to decide right now who you are going to be. Know what your struggle looks like and spend every fucking day building that context in one way or another. If you are serious, you will be tested. In those moments, you can lean on the continuity of your resistance, and on the rest of us and our experiences. You, too, will be fanning the flames of someone else’s defiance.

Our thanks to all of these comrades for sharing their stories with us. State repression affects everyone, even those who aren’t directly in the line of fire, but there are ways to survive. Years after the ordeal, Devlin has reassumed every aspect of their old identity, as far as the state is concerned, and has a decent paying tech career, despite their stint on the run. Esme is directing amateur theater companies, and Cora is tending to animals on a farm while studying to be a nurse practitioner. Esme and Cora’s relationship with each other and with most of the friends who supported them through this time is still incredibly strong.

As Devlin said, if you’re serious, you will be tested. We may not all face the same kinds of repression, but it’s easy to live in fear when we see what happens to our comrades. We hope these stories have given you some tools and perspectives to use if you or your friends are ever in this situation. As a side note, Dr. Abdelhaleem Ashqar, who was such an inspiration to Devlin, was released this June!

Part of how the grand jury holds its power is through secrecy. The people in charge of these proceedings want us to be mystified and terrified. They want us to live in fear, knowing that fear can keep us docile and contained. The more we learn about how grand juries work and how we can keep ourselves whole and sane as we navigate them, the less power they can hold over us.

“The state demeans everything that we hold dear when they threaten us in this way. The most free and wild thing we have in this world is our love for each other, and we know that our health, our safety, and our liberation can only exist in a world without their cops, their courts, and their cages. Our strength lies in knowing that we can provide that for each other, and that nothing they offer or threaten is worth betraying our commitment to our communities.

“As state repression escalates, I know that all of us are struggling with the trauma and the grief that comes from the forces we fight against, and the vulnerability that we feel to the state in its despicable efforts to attack us. What I also know, what I believe with all my heart and everything I have, is that we have the strength we need to take care of each other and to fight back until we win.”

-Katie Yow, grand jury resister