“I don’t support candidates on the presidential level, but I’m supporting a terrain that I want to fight on. So if Hillary Clinton gets elected, then I know what that terrain is and I’m going to fight like hell to make sure that she is accountable for all of the atrocities that she’s been involved in. And if Donald Trump is president, that’s another kind of terrain….and a less favorable terrain to fight and win on.”–Black Lives Matter cofounder Alicia Garza, October 2016 (Black Youth Project interview)
“Some people feel that Donald Trump will bring the revolution immediately, if he gets in. Then things will really, you know, explode.” – Actress Susan Sarandon, March 2016 (MSNBC)
The good news is that the accelerationists (who believe electing fascists speeds the revolution by heightening the contradictions in capitalism) and the mitigationists (I made up that word for people who believe it’s easier to organize under liberals) can patch things up: you were both right.
The bad news is, you were both right.
If the first 150 days of kkktrump is an indication of things to come, activism just got a lot riskier. A few examples:
Disrupting the Disrupters in DC
Most of the 200 people arrested at counter-inaugural protests in Washington, D.C. in January were charged with felonies under the “felony riot act.” They are charged with rioting and inciting to riot, which don’t require prosecutors to prove the individual activists had anything to do with property damage or alleged injury to police (DC police claim that six cops were injured). Although it’s by no means the first time that protesters have been charged with felonies, Mark Goldstone of the National Lawyers Guild told AlterNet that it’s the first time he’s seen mass charges of this severity.
New charges of conspiracy and property damage were added in late April, after over 100 of the defendants signed a pledge not to rat each other out. Some protesters have already plead out, including at least one to multiple felonies. Dane Powell is scheduled to be sentenced on July 7. Journalist Aaron Cantu, a staff writer for the San Jose Reporter, was arraigned last week on felony charges that could carry a 75-year sentence; his trial is set for October 2018 (that’s right, a year and a half from now). Cantu, who has written for The Intercept and The Baffler, says he was covering the protests, not participating. Local activists speculate that the trials are being set far ahead to give the government lots of time to pressure people to testify against each other.
The home of at least one member of the organizing group, DisruptJ20, was searched in April based on information gathered by cops who infiltrated the group’s planning meetings. Police seized computers, cell phones and a black flag from the home of Dylan Petrohilos, a 28-year-old graphic designer. Devices seized from the people arrested have also not been returned; the police say they are keeping everything as evidence.
Three members of Code Pink, Desiree Fairooz, Tighe Barry and Lenny Bianchi, were arrested on January 10 for disrupting senate hearings for jeff sekkkssions to become attorney general. They were convicted May 1 and are to be sentenced next week; the misdemeanor carries a maximum $2000 fine and/or a year in jail. Barry and Bianchi were arrested for standing in the gallery wearing kkk robes and hoods with signs saying, “Go, Jeffie Boy” – pretty reasonable, given sessions’ history. Fairooz was arrested for laughing when senator richard shelby stated that sessions’ record of “treating all Americans equally under the law is clear and well-documented.” At Fairooz’s trial, a lot of the testimony centered on how loud her laugh was, and whether a particular Capital cop thought shelby’s remark was funny enough to be laughed at.
Run Them Down, Then Take Their Houses
In North Dakota and Tennessee, bills have been introduced that would make it legal to run over blockaders, as long as it’s “unintentional.” Rep. Keith Kempenich, whose North Dakota bill was a direct response to the NoDAPL protests, told CNN “It turned from a protest to basically terrorism on the roadways, and the bill got introduced for people to be able to drive down the roads without fear of running into somebody and having to be liable for them.”
A new Oklahoma law makes trespassing on property that contains a “critical infrastructure facility”, including fossil-fuel facilities, a felony carrying a minimum $10,000 fine; if protesters are convicted of actually damaging the “infrastructure,” they could be subject to a $100,000 fine or 10 years in prison. Moreover, reports Sarah Lazare of Common Dreams, “any organization ‘found to be a conspirator’ can be hit with fines that are ‘ten times’ those imposed on an individual convicted of trespassing — as much as $1 million. A second bill, passed by the Oklahoma House of Representatives, would allow courts to impose ‘vicarious liability’ on groups that “compensate” protesters accused of trespassing.”
The Arizona senate passed, but later withdrew due to popular outcry, a bill allowing the government to criminally prosecute and seize the assets of protest organizers at a demonstration “where, for example, a window was smashed, no matter who did the smashing — even if it was a non-affiliated protester or someone from the opposing side.” (Common Dreams) Local activists nicknamed it the “Plan a protest, lose your house” bill.
Minnesota considered a bill to charge protesters who block freeways (as some did a few days ago, protesting the acquittal of the cop who killed Philando Castille) for the costs of police to arrest them.
A number of states including Illinois, Tennessee, Colorado and Arizona are considering introducing legislation that would, according to NPR, “require public universities to remain neutral on political issues, prevent them from disinviting speakers, and impose penalties for students and others who interfere with these speakers.” The draft bills are based on a model from the ultra-conservative Goldwater Institute.
Surveil and Search
Here in the Bay Area, police seem to have largely given up on the tactics of kettling and mass arrests at demonstrations, in favor of after-the-fact surveillance and cooperation. At the April 15 rumble in Berkeley between white nationalists and antifa (antifascist) militants, police were largely hands-off during the major confrontations. Some lefty organizers had called for a street party and bar-b-q, hoping to forestall a fight. They arrived hours before the white supremacists were scheduled to show up, to claim the space; police set up flimsy orange fencing to separate the two crowds and then confiscated all the food the organizers had brought, thus ensuring there would be nothing for people to do but knock down the fencing and go at each other.
Over the several hours that I was there, the cops did nothing but occasionally rush into the antifascist crowd to grab someone who presumably was wanted for a prior action (likely the Milo Yiannopoulis rout a few weeks earlier), a move guaranteed to escalate the tension while doing nothing to control the violence of the moment. At one point a masked protester came over to the light post where I was standing with some friends and started throwing stones at what he said was a camera attached to the light.
On May 25, Eric Clanton, a 28-year-old philosopher formerly at Diablo Valley College, was arrested after Berkeley cops searched a collective house in Oakland where Clanton may have been crashing. Clanton was charged with three counts of assault with a deadly weapon, the deadly weapon being a U bike lock he allegedly used to hit fascists with.
With a little help from their friends
According to the East Bay Times “amateur sleuths” from the infamous racist-misogynist bulletin board 4chan led police to Clanton: “Following footage of the bike lock assault by a masked attacker, which drew widespread attention on social media, members of 4chan mobilized their ‘weaponized autism’ to sift through hours of video footage and hundreds of photographs of the protests to identify the masked attacker.”
This cooperation between police and right-wing freelancers has also been documented in Portland, Oregon. Following a white supremacist “free speech” rally there on June 3, journalist Arun Gupta posted video showing right-wing militia members jumping in – uninvited but also unhindered – to help police arrest antifa counterprotesters.
The Portland rally was called after a white nationalist murdered two people and injured another on a rapid transit train. In response to the killings, the chair of the republikkkan party for the county that includes Portland told The Guardian newspaper that republikkkans should use militias at rallies to protect them from “belligerent, unstable people who are convinced that Republicans are like Nazis.”
So after six months of the new regime we have: increased criminalization of small acts of dissent; a culture of fear heightened by intensified use of surveillance tools; and open collusion between private thugs and the state apparatus of repression. I would say the contradictions are being heightened. I’d also say it looks a lot like nazi germany.