«Within two months, rhetoric about becoming ungovernable had become widespread»

Special interview with Crimethinc, emerged out of the decentralized networks of the DIY underground in the mid-1990s, bringing together people who had already collaborated on small projects together to undertake more ambitious projects. Today, after more than two decades of publishing, organizing, and adventures, it functions as an anonymous network spanning several continents. We contribute occasionally, as here and there. In this interview, we return more specifically to the situation in the United States at the moment, about the protests in Charlottesville where an anti-racist activist, Heather Heyer, was killed by the fascists in a ram car attack, as well as the terrible legal consequences of the demonstrators of the anti-capitalist bloc that disrupted the presidential inauguration of Trump.

What is the state of anarchist forces in the US right now ? 

The anarchist movement was not particularly strong a year ago. We had gained some participants and momentum through Occupy and Black Lives Matter, but when each of those struggles died down, authoritarian left organizations were able to delegitimize and marginalize anarchists, by spreading fear about “violence” or manipulating simplistic interpretations of identity politics. Most of the infrastructure (infoshops, social programs, etc.) of the anti-globalization era had disappeared; anarchists would come together with other rebellious people in the streets during moments of upheaval, but between them we were largely segregated into small activist projects and cliques, relying on the internet to connect us. After Trump’s election, everything changed.

What did Trump's election change?

The Democrats had hoped to win the Presidency with Hillary Clinton, and even authoritarian Leftist groups had been planning around this. Suddenly, Trump was President, and none of them were prepared or had a strategy. Most people on the Left were dazed and confused, blaming each other for losing the elections or struggling to figure out on what grounds they could oppose a democratically elected government. Only anarchists, who oppose state power itself and consider elections to have no legitimacy, were able to spring into action alongside other rebellious sectors of the population, immediately calling for open resistance. 

Within two months, rhetoric about becoming ungovernable had become widespread.

The confrontations during Trump’s Presidential Inauguration on January 20 drew nationwide attention to anarchist organizing. A few days later, the first time Trump tried to implement the Muslim Ban, tens of thousands of people around the US utilized direct action tactics to shut down the airports. Anarchist tactics and analyses were suddenly of use to a much larger part of the population. This process has continued since then, as people participate in organizing against fascists, the racist intensification of border policing, and other aspects of the Trump era.

From here we can see that the permanent threat of Trump's presence in power seems to have the main effect of relegating authorities that are largely responsible for his coming to power. The director of the FBI appears to be a democratic icon after his testimony about Trump's attempts to interfere with the investigation of his ties with Russia, the Pentagon passes for a temple of rationality by temporizing Trump's threats to Korea And the mainstream media can position themselves shamelessly as the guarantors of objectivity to Trump's "fake news" accusations, while not so long ago they were lying blithely on the so-called "weapons of destruction Massive "to justify and support US wars abroad. Finally, should we not see in the Trump threat the best weapon of capitalism to relegitimize itself in times of crisis?

Everything you say is true; Trump’s Presidency has succeeded in re-legitimizing other aspects of the government, including the FBI, for some democrats (what we might call the “extreme center”). But the Trump administration has also delegitimized the US government itself in some people’s eyes. If the democratic system makes it possible for a man like Trump to come to power, it takes a rudimentary anarchist analysis to recognize that if you oppose Trump, you are basically taking a stance against the legitimacy of that system.

I think that rather than imagining there to be a single unitary social body (“public opinion”) that possesses a shared sense of what is legitimate, or imagining two rival social bodies (the Left and the Right), we have to understand the situation in the US right now as a three-sided conflict between the far right (from grassroots fascists to Republican politicians), the neoliberals or "extreme center" (Clinton democrats and everyone else who believes that there could be a “return to business as usual” after Trump), and social movements outside the state (including anarchists, various left formations, and grassroots rebels who don’t describe themselves politically but participate in street rebellion).

When we look at things this way, we see that Trump’s Presidency is helping to polarize all three groups: it is drawing more right-wing people towards fascism, inspiring more left-leaning people to join autonomous movements, and convincing people in the “extreme center” (which seemed to be the majority of the country a year ago, but may soon be the smallest part of the population) that everyone on both sides has gone crazy.

In practice, of course, the partisans of neoliberalism are not very different from Trump, in that they want a strong, repressive government—just as Trump does not really represent any sort of nationalist position, politically, but rather is continuing neoliberal policies. His nationalism is really only a question of who the police should direct their violence against… but when we look at the position that The Washington Post and other “centrists” have taken against anti-fascists, saying that they are as bad as fascists, we can see that the centrists, also, are calling for police violence and repression in practically equal measure.

After the events in Charlottesville, how real do you think the fascist threat is in the country?

Fascists represent a growing threat, and they won’t go away any time soon. After Charlottesville, they have reached a limit—it will be very hard for them now to do public organizing or convince people that they are not really fascists. We expect them to shift back to more clandestine organizing and attacks. They are definitely going to kill more people. But the US government remains the greatest threat, when it comes to authoritarianism: even under Obama, the government was doing more to implement a racist, fascist program than any group of fascists in the US could, or even all grassroots fascists and white supremacists taken as a whole.

How do to fight them concretely? Precisely: how is self-defense organized against Nazis in a country where weapons are lawful?

The fascists were defeated in Charlottesville because people used diversity of tactics against them.

Rather than giving them a fight between two symmetrical forces, in which the kind of escalating violence that they are prepared for would be inevitable, a mixture of religious pacifist groups, militant anarchists, angry people of color, and others confronted them all at once. This meant that it was not easy for them to pick a single tactic, and they were repeatedly surprised and confused. The best thing we can do is to respond to fascist events with huge numbers of people acting autonomously, creating an environment in which it is hard for them to control space. But it is crucial that we don’t try to draw more numbers into these protests at the expense of the freedom of action of the participants. Anti-fascist demonstrations have to be uncontrollable, unpredictable situations. They cannot be dominated by Left or authoritarian groups or else they will become powerless to confront and defeat fascists.

Photo: AP

As for the guns themselves, yes, they are dangerous. Right now, most people on both sides of the conflict are not yet prepared to die, so they have mostly not been fired. But things are continuing to escalate, and the more guns appear at demonstrations, the more likely it is that more people will be killed. We must not make the mistake of thinking that guns can solve the problem of fascism—that has to be accomplished with organizing and social transformation, for which guns are only one small tool that can do very little. 

The vast majority of the anti-fascist struggle does not take place in street confrontations.

It takes place in how we raise our children; it takes place in the hard conversations at workplaces and family dinners; it takes place in the ways we relate to our neighbors, the ways we understand togetherness and belonging. To triumph, we have to make it possible for people of all genders and ethnicities and religions to work together to survive the ordeals of capitalism; we have to create movements that can offer everybody more than the fascists ever could.

Is the solidarity with the anti-racist demonstrators of Charlottesville more evident than with the demonstrators of J20?

Yes, to some extent. Tens of thousands of people mobilized against fascist demonstrations immediately after Charlottesville. But the situation is different, as well. 

In DC, on J20, the combined forces of the most powerful empire in the history of the solar system were directed against the demonstrators in the anti-capitalist bloc: 27,000 security personnel against 500 courageous demonstrators. 

(There were tens of thousands of other demonstrators there, but the police did not consider them enough of a threat to arrest any of them.) Considering this, it is amazing that less than half of the number of the participants in the anti-capitalist bloc were arrested, and that the northern part of downtown DC was transformed into an uncontrollable zone for the rest of the day. 

Those arrestees faced unprecedented blanket charges; all of them are threatened with 75 or more years of prison right now.

By contrast, in Charlottesville, the police didn’t do anything. They stood back while neo-Nazis beat people; they didn’t even file a report when a grand wizard of the KKK shot at a group of demonstrators right in front of them. Eventually, they canceled the permit of the fascists and called in the National Guard, but they only did this because courageous anti-fascists risked their lives to force them to do this.

So we are talking about different situations, different kinds of threat: on one side, the systematic controlled repression of the state, on the other side, the unpredictable violence of grassroots fascists, which the police create a space for.

What is the situation now for people arrested during J20 protests?

The first trials for J20 arrestees will not take place until November at the earliest. They are in limbo, in the meantime, with their futures uncertain. We need pressure all around the world to bring attention to their case. If it becomes possible to arrest hundreds of people and sentence them all to spent the rest of their lives in prison simply for being present at a march, we will see the arrival of complete totalitarianism in the streets here and probably everywhere around the world.

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