The liberal response to right-wing militias; an abolitionist’s perspective

You may have noticed the trending story of the right-wing militia that has “taken over” the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon. Below I’ll post a brief summary of recent events from one of the first reports. Before any of that, just keep in mind that all of this is in the larger context of the Bundy standoff of 2014 and an ongoing conflict between the Bureau of Land Management and militias associated with a ranching family in Nevada. They are being called the “Bundy Militia,” although their ranks are made up of militia randoms and individuals from around the United States.

Update at 9:15 p.m.: Statement from Harney County Sheriff Dave Ward: “After the peaceful rally was completed today, a group of outside militants drove to the Malheur Wildlife Refuge, where they seized and occupied the refuge headquarters. A collective effort from multiple agencies is currently working on a solution. For the time being please stay away from that area. More information will be provided as it becomes available. Please maintain a peaceful and united front and allow us to work through this situation.”

The Bundy family of Nevada joined with hard-core militiamen Saturday to take over the headquarters of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, vowing to occupy the remote federal outpost 50 miles southeast of Burns for years.

The occupation came shortly after an estimated 300 marchers — militia and local citizens both — paraded through Burns to protest the prosecution of two Harney County ranchers, Dwight Hammond Jr. and Steven Hammond, who are to report to prison on Monday.

Among the occupiers is Ammon Bundy, son of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, and two of his brothers. Militia members at the refuge claimed they had as many as 100 supporters with them. The refuge, federal property managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, was closed and unoccupied for the holiday weekend.

In phone interviews from inside the occupied building Saturday night, Ammon Bundy and his brother, Ryan Bundy, said they are not looking to hurt anyone. But they would not rule out violence if police tried to remove them, they said.

“The facility has been the tool to do all the tyranny that has been placed upon the Hammonds,” Ammon Bundy said.

Militia ideology and liberal ideology are not so different, after all

This kind of right-wing militia may be best described as constitutionalist. By this I mean that they believe: that what they are doing is legal or lawful, insofar as is sanctioned or in accord with the United States Constitution, the “highest law of the land” as they put it. They don’t oppose the Constitution itself, nor the United States as a state or nation, but rather oppose specific legal interpretations and applications of the Constitution, as well as various branches of the state (the federal elements specifically). They believe in a constitution as they perceive it.

This is as valid as any belief in a constitution. All constitutionalism is as-perceived. A text doesn’t interpret and apply itself. The difference between the interpretation of the Constitution by right-wing militias and that of the United States Supreme Court, in reality, boils down to power. The former lacks the power to enforce (or ignore) the Constitution, while the latter wields the full power of the state: police, economy, military and prisons. This is the only important difference, as both the right-wing militia and the state believe they are acting in a lawful (Constitutional) way. They think that they are adhering to the “supreme law” (the US Constitution), that they are working for the people, for the United States, and so on.

The ideology of a constitutionalist right-wing militia and the status quo is so similar, it’s almost identical. This is predictable; the USA was built on these kinds of militias. It was militia members who became the first law enforcers and the first slave catchers. They’ve always had a role, perceived positively, within the common American ideology. We pay them homage as “Founding Fathers” and “patriots” out of one side of our mouths, these early American revolutionaries, then denounce moderns who get into the exact same shenanigans. Why? Because they’re no longer perfectly aligned with the structures of state power that exist today. I’m reminded of what Henry Thoreau and Voltairine de Cleyre said about this double standard:

To the average American of today, the Revolution means the series of battles fought by the patriot army with the armies of England. The millions of school children who attend our public schools are taught to draw maps of the siege of Boston and the siege of Yorktown, to know the general plan of the several campaigns, to quote the number of prisoners of war surrendered with Burgoyne; they are required to remember the date when Washington crossed the Delaware on the ice; they are told to “Remember Paoli,” to repeat “Molly Stark’s a widow,” to call General Wayne “Mad Anthony Wayne,” and to execrate Benedict Arnold; they know that the Declaration of Independence was signed on the Fourth of July, 1776, and the Treaty of Paris in 1783; and then they think they have learned the Revolution — blessed be George Washington! They have no idea why it should have been called a “revolution” instead of the “English War,” or any similar title: it’s the name of it, that’s all. And name-worship, both in child and man, has acquired such mastery of them, that the name “American Revolution” is held sacred, though it means to them nothing more than successful force, while the name “Revolution” applied to a further possibility, is a spectre detested and abhorred.

Such is the spirit of government-provided schools. Ask any child what he knows about Shays’ rebellion, and he will answer, “Oh, some of the farmers couldn’t pay their taxes, and Shays led a rebellion against the court-house at Worcester, so they could burn up the deeds; and when Washington heard of it he sent over an army quick and taught ’em a good lesson” — “And what was the result of it?” “The result? Why — why — the result was — Oh yes, I remember — the result was they saw the need of a strong federal government to collect the taxes and pay the debts.”

Voltairine de Cleyre, Anarchism and American Traditions

All men recognize the right of revolution; that is, the right to refuse allegiance to, and to resist, the government, when its tyranny or its inefficiency are great and unendurable. But almost all say that such is not the case now.

Henry David Thoreau, Civil Disobedience

The mainstream, the plain legal consensus, is going to clearly identify the militia occupation of this building as illegal. And, no doubt, it violates multiple laws from the local to the federal level. But this is not the way right-wing militias view themselves. They don’t portray themselves as people consciously engaging in civil disobedience. (I should digress to say that they could; civil disobedience, despite some degree of popular misconception, is not necessarily nonviolent.) They don’t claim that they are violating unjust laws, nor that they are rebelling against the state. They believe that they are acting in the ultimate purity of the American state. They are in accord with its most supreme law, the Constitution itself. The real lawbreakers, to the militia, are various “rogue” agencies within the state itself. The Bureau of Land Management, in this specific case.

We’re not the real criminals, they say, with a nod at the US Constitution as their trump card. This is why you find so many ex-military and police in these militias, individuals who have previously made oaths to the US Constitution specifically. In fact, we even have militias such as the Oathkeepers who are made up exclusively of law enforcement and military veterans.

Militia ideology, the ideology of the American status quo, and our radical ideologies

From this point we can begin to analyze the relationship right-wing militias have, ideologically, with the non-radical status quo and also with our own radical political beliefs. We’ve just done it, in part, by comparing the militia perception of the Constitution with the Constitutional perception of the status quo. We’ve seen that they are practically the same. The former, the militia, believes it is the truly lawful, the latter, the state and the status quo, also believe they are lawful. They’re merely competing within the same game, trying to win. Both are also defending property, which we will get into more below.

There is no distinction between American liberals and American conservatives here: both are a part of the latter category. They are what I am calling the American status quo. I realize that in the narrow scope of American political discourse conservatives and liberals, or alternately Republicans and Democrats, present themselves as being miles apart, opposite poles of the political spectrum. In fact, placed on a conventional political spectrum of Western politics they are nearly identical and lean right. This is an important point to keep in mind, too, as you watch the militia movement grow in the United States. These are not “conservatives,” even if many use that label to describe themselves. Specifically, they are not the dominant “neoconservatives” of American politics. They are one small facet of a growing “alternative right” movement, a subcategory also known as a “patriot” movement. They’ve become as discontent with the status quo as radicals have, except they have reactionary rather than radical reasons for that discontent.

In this immediate incident we see division between the militia and mainstream conservative ranks. The occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge was not a part of the original protest. An assortment of local conservatives and militia intended to protest the five-year incarceration of two men accused of starting a fire. A group from within that protest splintered. This split and subsequent occupation does appear to have been planned ahead of time, per Ammon Bundy’s comments. I suspect the splinter group desired to use the protest to springboard their occupation of the Refuge building, and/or recruit from an immediate group of armed, right-wing reactionaries and conservatives.

This plan was not really successful. We could say it backfired. Part of the original protest condemned the occupying militia’s action. Local attempts to recruit from among “ranchers, loggers, and miners” have largely been rebuffed. Basically, you’ve got Ammon Bundy walking into these small towns, firearm worn on his hip, and asking people to join him. And they’re refusing. His audience is, of course, mainstream conservative. These are small town bastions of conservatism. And the young Bundy is receiving the exact same response he would receive if he walked into San Francisco or New York City and gave his pitch. The actual conservative response to this militia occupation is no different from the liberal response.

You can see this, too, if you glance through the comments sections of the news or news aggregating websites, like this massive Reddit thread. The rhetoric toward this militia occupation, from American liberals, mirrors the sentiments you’d find in conservative comments on a black “thug,” a radical environmental protest, or crime in general. Let me be specific:

The shared assumption of liberals and conservatives is that the Bureau of Land Management “owns” this land. It is alternately called “federal land” or “government land.” This is the way it is referred to by liberals and conservatives; it’s the way that it is reported by American media across the board. Thus, it is taken for granted that the American state “owns” this land at all. This is often cloaked as vicarious or proxy ownership, “the people” own the land, through the government of course, but “the people” nonetheless. This is also a myth that both liberals and conservatives subscribe to, that it is “the people” and not the state who really own it.

The solution is typical liberal-conservative as well: prisons. The recent protest used the fact that two men were sentenced for an arson for too few years. They got two years, but the federal minimum was five. A judge “had to” send them back to prison for the remaining time. Where are the abolitionist voices here? There are none, of course, because neither liberals nor conservatives are abolitionists. The same people who would tout prison “reform” – I’m talking about liberals now – the same group that has latched on to mass incarceration, marijuana legalization, and other assorted prison and crime related reformist issues, becomes the most vociferous in demanding a swift government response.

Because yes, it’s largely liberals, not conservatives, in these comments. The conservatives and reactionaries, in turn, creep out of the comments on liberal-issues-articles. And the liberals are defending the prison-industrial complex, the law, the belief that these two men should be sent back to prison. Just as conservatives do in their own form of anti-liberal discourse. Moreover, that their alleged crime – killing an elk or starting a fire to cover it up – was especially severe. And don’t get them started on the response to the militia occupation. Where’s Trump when you need him? Why don’t they build a big fence around the area and call it Bundy Maximum Security Prison? Drone-strike these “yee-hawdists.” Jokes, clearly, but expressing real sentiments. From liberals. The American so-called “left.” Those are statements almost verbatim I found in multiple comments across multiple websites, by the way.

That’s the paradigm: lock them up. Throw away the key. Add more years on to their sentences. Support federal mandatory minimum sentences. Build more prisons. Liberals unequivocally respond this way to certain demographics of crime: the right-wing militia in this case is an example. Similarly, we see conservatives respond exactly the same way to other demographics of crime: the “thug,” the property criminal, the activist. Prison and police are the solution, endorsed by liberals and conservatives alike. The only dispute is who really belongs in prison.

How about terrorism? You would think that by now the word terrorism would be equivalent to the word bullshit. If not bullshit, it should be code for government oppression. Now go back to the thread I posted and count how many liberals (and let’s be fair, conservatives, whoever – the American political status quo as I called them) are calling this an act of “terrorism.” What’s good for the goose is good for the gander. “Terrorism” is a shibboleth. Liberals have learned that they can wield this word against conservatives the same way that conservatives have used it against minorities, foreigners, political dissidents, and environmental activists.

But what’s the desired result? What are you trying to accomplish by calling someone a terrorist in a liberal or conservative context exactly? Or let’s say an American context, or a Western political context? Well, you’re saying they should be treated like a terrorist. And in recent American history, this means they should be arrested. They should be infiltrated by undercover police. Moreover, they should even be tortured. Perhaps they should be sent to a secret prison, Guantanamo Bay style. How about shot on sight? At the very least, they should be subject to state influence and intrusion, surveillance, and interference in every aspect of their lives from that point forward. When liberals and conservatives call someone a “terrorist” it’s as if they are trying to cast a spell, an incantation, to call down the forces of the state upon their enemies: the NSA, Homeland Security, no-fly lists, the FBI, local police and jails. You know the power of that word.

Punching which way?

It’s not typical that liberals are aware of the concept of “punching up, not down.” Even many radicals seem to forget this. And, fair enough, it is no moral imperative. It’s even a controversial idea. I’m not fully sold on it myself. In a conflict, or on the sidelines, you don’t side with the oppressor. You side with the oppressed. You don’t side with the one who has power, but with the one who has less power, in the conflict. And if you are the one who has power, you use it to rip people from the hierarchy above you, not to stomp on the heads of those below you. This is the idea. Personally, despite not being fully sold, I find it a good rule of thumb.

But when you see a right-wing militia, or let’s say a fascist political organization, come up against the state and the cops, what do you do? Who do you side with? Most of us (lets say radicals, or anarchists, or abolitionists) would probably like to say nobody. We’d like to pretend we can remain neutral, on the sidelines, eating popcorn, completely removed from this conflict, in equal opposition to both, or some position that frees us from this dilemma. In fact, Sartre, Camus, or Zinn had the right idea: you can’t be neutral. You’re already not; we’re already not. Even our very inaction is an action. And, unfortunately, inaction usually benefits the powerful.

(But inaction is understandable nonetheless. What I can’t understand is how someone who identifies as an anarchist can also say put these terrorists in prison. And yes, I’ve seen this. And this is despicable to me. Demanding imprisonment is akin to calling for retaliatory rape or retaliatory enslavement.)

This does not mean we should support right-wing militias just because they are the little guys. (In fact, next to most of us, they’re still the big guys.) But make no mistake, next to the United States these militias are the little guys. They are tiny. And they are standing up to a big guy that has historically been a very bad guy, too.

Let’s get specific again, this time on the Bureau of Land Management. Ever since the first Bundy standoff, liberals have depicted this organization and its role as protecting federal land. There was a dispute over Bundy’s cattle damaging the natural habitat of the desert tortoise. Meanwhile, conservatives said fuck the tortoise, Bundy’s cows aren’t doing shit. As a radical environmentalist presented with this information, where do you fall? It wasn’t surprising to see many fellow radicals, be they indigenous activists or ELF-types, lining up with the liberals and condemning Bundy.

Capitalists don’t freeload in a capitalist state

It’s as if we were all roped in by the narrow range of liberal-conservative discourse in the media. We forgot that the Bureau of Land Management’s job is not desert tortoise protection. At least, not in any significant way. Kind of like how human protection is not the actual job of the police. The purpose of the Bureau of Land Management is the economic and physical administration of federal lands.

Now, let me be clear. Most of those federal lands are not nature preserves. They’re not held benevolently. Even a large part of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge is not an actual refuge, but used for commercial and recreational purposes. These lands are not being administered by the indigenous people who were there first. (Those people haven’t “gone away,” either, by the way.) A dictatorship of the proletariat is not using them for our collective benefit. A revolutionary vanguard party doesn’t hold them in situ until we can use them in an environmentally-friendly or egalitarian way. They’re not made up of local collectives, communes, or federated anarchist communities.

Those are lands owned by a capitalist state. They’re fully controlled by a capitalist state. They are leased to capitalist corporations, for profit. When they’re not leased to big capitalist corporations, they’re leased to small capitalists, even individual families of wealth, people like the Bundy family from our story, for the purposes of ranching, mining, logging, or other commercial endeavors, such as the construction of for-profit solar farms. The largest corporations that use these federal lands, by the way, are the corporate group of Koch pipeline industries.

Even state socialists need to recognize this fact. Maybe you think the state has a role, or prisons have a role, or the police have a role. Fine. But the fact is, the actual states, prisons, and police are capitalist states, prisons and police.

Pipelines, I mentioned. Now that may sound familiar. Because if you’ve been following radical environmentalist and indigenous struggles over the last year pipelines have come up a lot. We’ve seen people arrested and even killed by the police for protesting pipelines. We’ve seen sabotage and civil disobedience, people chaining their heads to the pipelines and having their arms broken. And we’ve seen conservatives respond to these activists in the exact same way liberals responded to the first Bundy standoff, as well as this current occupation of the Refuge building. With disdain, dismissal, calling them crazy, extremist, or terrorist. And, of course, the solution: put them all in prison. Call in the police. Get the National Guard on it. State violence, militarism, handcuffs, the new slavery.

I don’t wish prison on my worst enemies

Now, I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to put Cliven Bundy in prison. I don’t want to see Ammon Bundy in prison. I don’t want to see the two people who did “just” two years do the full five years, regardless of how many elk they killed or how many fires they started. I don’t care if they are the far right-wing. They’ve still fallen quite short of the levels of brutality and evil that constitute the prison and police system itself. They’re probably not nice people; they’re probably nasty and greedy, and racist and all of those things everyone says. And yet, so are prisons. In fact, prisons are all of those things and more. They are nasty, racist, inhuman, fascist, authoritarian and perhaps the most despicable institutions that exist in the entire world today. This is not even hyperbole or exaggeration.

The liberals who jump on the cop-and-prison train disgust and frighten me. They frighten me more than right-wing militias do. This is because they have power. Not in and of themselves as liberal individuals, necessarily, but in representing the status quo and the ideology of the dominant power structures. You follow the law, or you get brutalized by the criminal justice system. Literally brutalized. They’re at the very top punching down. And down here is us. We’re the people who get put in prisons. You could be arrested at an anti-pipeline protest in Oregon and find yourself sharing a bunk with Ammon Bundy or one of his racist militia members. This doesn’t make us the same. It does not mean we are in the same group or the same team. Frankly, we’re still enemies with them. But we’re enemies down here at the bottom and we just happen to share common enemies up there at the top.

I don’t believe that is sufficient for an alliance – can you imagine an anarchist group teaming up with neo-Nazis to take down a police station? I sure can’t. But it should make us think more about where we’re throwing blows. I don’t find radicals lining up behind liberals any more reasonable than I would find anarchists and fascists teaming up. I’m not calling for the abolition of prisons – or let’s take the newly popular liberal position, major sentencing reform, prison reform, police reform, reformist reform – and then demanding my enemies be locked up in prisons. Because the law, or because it’s an issue personal to me, they’re the bad guys, or because smash fascism. It’s not only hypocritical and inconsistent, it’s counter-productive. It puts us further from our goals, be they abolition (in my case) or even the placating criminal justice reforms of liberals.

Look, there are people in prison right now doing ten years for breaking into homes to sleep at night. Homeless people going into abandoned buildings and warehouses. The mentally ill breaking into apartments so they don’t freeze, literally, to death in Detroit or Chicago. And for what? Because they violated someone’s private property. A property owner who probably was not even there.

And now we have this group of right-wing ideologues, these quasi-fascists or constitutionalists, probably racists but not quite neo-Nazis, however we wish to categorize them. They live in the middle of the desert. This is a desert, folks. The closest living people are miles away. But all of this empty land is owned by the government, the state, or “the people.” Well, let me tell you this: supposedly I’m “the people” and I haven’t seen anything come from my so-called ownership of this land. I don’t possess it. I can’t use it. It isn’t even anywhere near me. It’s being leased to corporations at the exclusion of the indigenous people. Either I’m a bad absentee owner of this land, or I don’t really own it at all. That’s land owned by the government, the state. And this right-wing militia is going to occupy a building that is routinely left abandoned for half of the year.

I can find an abundance of objection to the nature of this militia, their goals, their ideology. There are plenty of valid reasons to hate them, to designate them as my enemies. But I have a hard time finding reasons to be mad that they’ve occupied an unused building in the middle of a desert.

The law and property

In fact, imagine it: a group like the Ku Klux Klan. Now, I’m not saying these constitutionalists are like the KKK. I believe I understand the various militia ideologies quite well, suffice to say they are distinct. But imagine the KKK, I use this as an example because the Klan is and was notorious. Yet, it’s a group that was and still is tolerated. It’s not the past, my friends, the Klan still exists. It’s bigger than this militia. It can spread hatred, it can perpetuate racism. It can call for a race war. The Klan can funnel money into local politics and even infiltrate police stations. I’m not talking about 1960, I’m talking about 2015. But even without lynchings, even without the violence, the Klan can and does add to the suffering of human beings in ways we can’t even begin to quantify.

But if the KKK suddenly took over an abandoned building in the desert – look the fuck out! They’ve just crossed a line. We’re happy to tolerate all forms of evil, but only up to the point that they don’t violate the most sacred tenets of power – the law and property. It is only legalism and ownership that get the full support of the state via the police and courts. Not only that, but they also get the near-universal support of political consensus, liberal and conservative.

They get a support so near to universal that you even start to see radicals, socialists, anarchists – people who might have identified as abolitionists themselves – rallying behind liberals and saying “put those fuckers in jail.”

Because that’s what it comes down to in the end, for the Bundy Militia, for liberals, conservatives, and for unfortunate radicals who fall on the wrong side of this issue: property. No one was advocating that these militias be imprisoned merely for existing, or for spreading hatred, or being racist, or reactionary. The radical left in the USA has done nothing consistent – such as build its own militia movement – to counter this in any significant way. American anti-fascism is practically nonexistent. These militias are culturally and legally tolerated – like the Ku Klux Klan – by everyone until they start fucking with property. “Public” property, property of “the people,” “government” and “federal” property, “property” leased to Koch Industries or Ammon Bundy’s “hereditary” property.

If I can’t count on the capitalist state, who can I count on?

If you want to do something significant, consistent with your socialist/anarchist/radical beliefs, and effective let me conclude with this word of advice: get a gun. The Bundy Militia should be an example to you, not a demon. The so-called progressive media has been solely focusing on the double standard. If they were black, if they were Muslim, if they were anarchists. (They’re not wrong – all this is true – but they offer no solutions beyond complaint.) None of them are saying: arm yourselves, oppressed people. Few have pointed out the fact that what the Bundy Militia has done, as a tactic, worked. It worked the first time in 2014 and it is working right now. Even if they are all massacred by the FBI it will have worked.

Pick up a gun, radicals. Form a militia. Americans are in a unique position insofar as both are legal. You don’t even have to commit a crime (if you don’t want to). Join the Huey P. Newton Gun Club. And don’t forget Newton himself, his life and the Black Panthers. Read Revolutionary Suicide. Try to grasp that the capitalist state is not a vehicle to protect you, the desert tortoise, or the land in Oregon. If you don’t want groups like the Bundy Militia to occupy these lands – or worse, the actual capitalist state that already controls them – then you need to be the one who occupies them.

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This Week in the Prison Industrial Complex (July 7)

Falling Into Incandescence

prison-bar-fistA weekly roundup of news and action alerts about political prisoners, prison struggles, and organizing against the prison industrial complex (PIC), both nationally and internationally. If you’ve got something you’d like to see included, leave a comment or send me an email.

  • From June 25 – July 1, Israeli occupation forces arrested 17 Palestinian civilians in the occupied West Bank, including seven children and two women.
  • On July 1, more than 60 of the currently 401 Palestinian administrative detainees held without charge by Israel announced their intention to “boycott the Israeli Occupation’s military courts in protest of the administrative detention policy and the false trials they are subjected to.”
  • Al-Jazeera conducted a lengthy interview with Gerardo Hernández, former political prisoner and one of the Cuban Five who was released in December 2014 after more than 16 years in prison.
  • U.S. political prisoner Robert Seth Hayes is suffering from “undiagnosed…

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Legal Police, Illegal Fascists: When Law Enforcement Protects Crime

I recently wrote about a peaceful protest in Brooklyn that was attacked by a fascist motorcycle gang called the Hallowed Sons. (I mistakenly called them the Hollowed Sons.) The protesters burned American and Confederate (Battle) flags, in part to protest the Dylann Roof shooting. The Hallowed Sons were having none of that. They attacked the demonstrators, destroying protest props and bragging to the media for having used violence.

No one was arrested. This is less surprising when we take into account that part of the Hallowed Sons membership are police officers and firefighters.

Wait – cops? What gives? Aren’t these supposed to be the good guys, or at least the guys who don’t break the law?

Indeed, since the earlier writeup I have been informed that the Hallowed Sons are not an outlaw motorcycle club. They are a “non-outlaw” motorcycle club. This distinction basically boils down to conformity with the American Motorcyclist Association. The AMA was a racist, whites-only organization up through the 1950s. What made some outlaw motorcycle clubs “outlaws” was the fact they accepted non-whites.

Yet another example of the “outlaws” turning out to be the good guys.

When I revisited the Animal New York report on the flag burning event, someone identifying themselves as Hardway HSMC left this comment:

If I can clarify a few things. Ill start with the embedded video: that was an assault. Notice too the threats “ill be looking for yall bikers. Im gonna remember you” and more: the blatant racism “blah blah white boy” Where is your outrage at this? Instead you paint him in a positive light for “refusing to back down”. Thank you for providing his name. I will speak with my Brothers to see if we want to pursue any charges. Ill be sure and reference this site as proof. Next, in one of your original tweets you called the Hallowed Sons a “biker gang”. This is far from true and is infact defamatory. We will be looking into any legal recourse we may have regarding this as well-dont worry, I have screen shots.

This motorcycle club member seems very keen to disassociate his group from “gangs” and otherwise criminal acts. They’re also very keen on using the law: they threatened to “pursue any charges” for defamation and assault.

If you’ve been following this story, or the Facebook pages of the protesters and the motorcycle gang, you may notice a theme: supporters of the motorcycle gang chiding the protesters for not using violence. We even see this theme reported in the mainstream media, with a journalist poking fun at the protesters for “hiding” behind the police.

The message is clear: the protesters were not valiant or brave, because they did not stand up for themselves with physical violence.

I did ask in my earlier writeup: what if the protesters did use violence? Well, the same people calling them “weenies” (New York Post journalists Gabrielle Fonrouge, Ben Feuerherd and Joe Tacopino actually wrote and published that) would condemn them for violence. They might even be called terrorists. Alternately – here’s a recent one – rioters. I don’t believe that the protesters are pacifists. But they wouldn’t be getting any street cred from the media if they had stood their ground. Unlike a right-wing motorcycle gang with police membership, the protesters would have been arrested. They would have been condemned as violent by the same media currently demeaning them for not using violence.

This raises another question: how should we interpret the comment from the Hallowed Sons member who threatened legal recourse for “defamation” and “assault?” Will the New York Post do a follow up piece and call him a “weenie,” too?

I’m currently reading The Spanish Civil War by Hugh Thomas. In his book Thomas describes actions by the Falange, a Spanish fascist group. And when I first heard of the way the Hallowed Sons responded to the Greene Park protest, the first thing that came into my mind was these guys remind me of the Falange.

I don’t know how similar the political ideology of the Hallowed Sons and the Falange are. It probably doesn’t matter – like Noam Chomsky said in Understanding Power, “fascism takes different forms depending on the country’s cultural patterns.” What reminded me of the Falange was the way the Hallowed Sons attacked the protest and, to the point, the way the police stood by and let an armed gang of bikers run the protesters off.

There has always been a sort of contradiction in fascist thought and behavior. The Falange glorified Spanish symbolism, such as the flag, as well as the Spanish state and authority, while at the same time illegally working against the state and its legal authority. Thomas described Falangists in motorcades with machine guns driving into working class neighborhoods and shooting the place up. The police and the military stood by and did nothing; some Falangists came from the military or the Civil Guard. And despite a fascist attempt at manufacturing a working class image, most Falangists were privileged “señoritos.

The Hallowed Sons follow the same pattern. Here we have a gang of men who have also manufactured a working class image – the attire of the outlaw motorcycle club – despite being modern-day señoritos from privileged classes (such as the law enforcement class). The symbolism of the American state, the flag, is of the highest value to them. It’s even more important than actually following the laws of that state. Disobeying the laws of the state is portrayed as an heroic act if it is for the greater glory to the state, or for an abstract idea of “America” distinct from the political reality. The uniformed police also do nothing, while the fascist motorcycle gang is made up of former military and police officers.

With a little imagination it is easy to mentally overlay a recent event, such as the Waco biker shootout, with one of the Falangist shootouts in the 1930s.

We see a similar inconsistency from many so-called “patriots” as well. And I don’t mean the Patriot militia movement, but Americans in general who describe themselves as patriotic. If you read the comments left on articles about flag burning protests, you will see what I mean. It isn’t uncommon for someone to claim that the United States is the “most free” because you can legally burn a flag – and then turn right around and say that flag burning should be illegal or suppressed with extralegal violence. Many of the people who would, on one hand, say that America offers “free speech” also qualify that by saying “but flag burning is not free speech.”

They negate the very virtues they claim make the United States unique, in other words.

None of these individuals are the “I disagree with what you say, but I will defend your right to say it” type. That’s a liberal, or more specifically a classical liberal, catchphrase. These are people who believe that the United States is a near-divine political entity, that blasphemy against it should be stopped either by the violence of law or by the application of illegal violence. If you read about historical fascism in Spain, Italy or Germany, this will seem very familiar to you.

We can look into the history of American policing and find the pattern again. Throughout the American South were law enforcement officers who routinely disregarded the law when it came to protecting black Americans. Robert F. Williams shared his experience of this in Negroes With Guns. These police officers would either turn a blind eye to racist crime (like the police at the Greene Park protest), or would participate in it directly. It should come as no surprise that many of those law enforcement agents were also members of what was America’s largest fascist group, the Ku Klux Klan.

If we go back even further, we find the history of American policing in Slave Patrols. And, while Slave Patrols were legal, even these agents of law transgressed the legal limit. It was not unheard of for the forefathers of America’s modern police to engage in extra-judicial killings, or the re-enslavement of freed men and women of color.

There has always been a link between fascism and law enforcement. While the police enforce the letter of the state’s law, fascists reflect the spirit of the state. Fascist organizations are a natural home for law enforcement, examples of which we have seen above. And law enforcement is a natural home for fascists; examples of which we have seen in recent scandals involving racist police forces and Klansman-cops. The intersection of fascism and law enforcement means that the police can enforce the agenda of the state with the law, while fascist organizations and individuals can enforce the state’s agenda beyond the reach of the law.

Thus we shouldn’t be surprised when the police do nothing to stop fascist violence, or when it is discovered that fascist groups and the police intersect. The role of the police is not to stop pro-state fascism. Fascism and law enforcement are two sides of the same coin.

This lesson was well-learned during the Spanish Civil War. As soon as the state returned power to the police, law enforcement immediately dismantled workers militias and let the fascists in. This prompted the FAI/CNT militant Buenaventura Durruti to note that “no government fights fascism to destroy it.”

Frederick Douglass on the 4th of July

frederick douglassA day late. Independence Day doesn’t mean independence for everyone. It didn’t then, it doesn’t now. What Frederick Douglass said about the 4th of July:

What, to the American slave, is your Fourth of July? I answer: a day that reveals to him, more than all other days of the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is a constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciation of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, are, to Him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy—a thin veil to cover up crimes that would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation of the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody than are the people of these United States at this very hour.

The Meaning of July Fourth for the Negro, presented to the Rochester Ladies Antislavery Society, Rochester, New York, July 5, 1852

The Actual Fascist Response to a Flag Burning

Hollowed Sons Motorcycle Club
What “pro-Americans” look like, per NY Senator Marty Golden

A few days ago, a group of activists including individuals from Disarm the NYPD protested at Fort Greene Park in Brooklyn, New York. They were confronted by a “motorcycle club” called the Hollowed Sons. In full view of the police, members of the Hollowed Sons committed acts of violence against the activists. You can see videos of this yourself from Animal New York.

Nonetheless, no one was arrested. In fact, local political leaders and the media differed only in the degree of whitewashing the violent fascist response from the Hollowed Sons. CBS Local New York cited moderate critics, such as one Steven McKie, who said, “It’s two different things. One stands for freedom and democracy, another stands for something completely different.” The New York Post ran a headline that said: “Weenies burn flag to protest cops, get attacked by bikers, need cops to save their asses.” The Post quoted one of the bikers:

“They took off like little bitches,” said one biker. “They lit the fucking flag and took off running once they got slapped once or twice.”

(How would the New York Post have responded if the activists used superior violence to the motorcycle gang? Would they be called the opposite of “weenies,” “brave” perhaps – or would they be called “terrorists” or some such thing instead?)

Incidentally, neither the New York Post nor CBS decided to quote the threats Disarm the NYPD received. These included support for racist violence – “I am praying that a few patriots with some automatics and dum-dum rounds attend and blow their black stupid ignorant asses to hell.”

Don’t forget, this protest was intended to be a response to the racially motivated shooting of nine black individuals in a church by Confederate-flag-waving Dylan Roof.

Most articles, the New York Post being particularly noteworthy here, focused on the illegality of starting a fire in a public park, and the subsequent loophole of burning a flag in a barbecue grill. They didn’t mention any of the minor crimes or park violations committed by the pro-flag reactionaries. If we wanted to nitpick, for example, we could point out the fact that kicking over the barbecue grill or trying to “steal” the burning flag are technical offenses, at least on par with starting an illegal fire.

But they’re not even talking about the fact that a fascist motorcycle gang used violence on peaceful protesters exercising “First Amendment rights.”

Authority figures lined up to condemn the activists and support the motorcycle gang. Brooklyn Borough President Eric L. Adams said he was merely “sympathetic to those protesting institutional racism,” but went on to condemn the act of flag burning. Bill de Blasio, Mayor, called the flag burning “divisive, disrespectful,” but also said nothing about the acts of violence committed by the motorcycle gang.

NY Senator Marty Golden condemned the activists. He even went further, expressing his support for the motorcycle gang and calling them “pro-Americans”:

As a proud American, I was disheartened to learn that an American Flag was burned tonight in historic Fort Greene Park. It is a sad day for all of us to watch this despicable act of hatred take place on sacred Brooklyn ground. I salute the many pro-Americans who showed up and stood tall in the name of our rights and liberties.

To all, remember that freedom is not free. Never forget it. And fly those flags. The stars and stripes, the red, white, and blue, are not going anywhere. These colors don’t run.

Disarm the NYPD issued a statement on their Facebook highlighting facts that that no one in the media has covered. They said that the motorcycle gang, or other “pro-Americans” as Senator Marty Golden called them, were carrying weapons; “far right counter-protesters, flanked on all sides by rungs of NYPD officers, were permitted to openly and menacingly brandish hammers in public in Fort Greene Park.” They also pointed out that the Hollowed Sons is a motorcycle gang “primarily composed of former and off-duty police officers.” And no one in the media has mentioned that the Hollowed Sons were wearing Nazi regalia: “As the green Iron Cross on their leather jackets indicated, those who don Nazi regalia are more than willing to stage another Draft Riot in the same way that Dylan Roof acted on the ideology of the insignia that he wore.”

Keep this in mind the next time someone refers to “media bias.” Bias isn’t merely a pro-Republican or a pro-Democrat spin. It has to do with the full marginalization of certain perspectives, and the whitewashing and endorsement of others. The idea that individuals exist who oppose the American regime is intolerable to American institutions across the political spectrum. This results in the fabrication of a narrative across the board; politicians, the police, the media – and even fascist criminal gangs – collude to tell a story in a way that benefits their interests and minimizes critical analysis.

Francisco Sanchez Shooting: We’re Irrationally Fearful, Easily Distracted

Francisco Sanchez Shooting Spectacle
The police and the media make a spectacle; an accidental tragedy is exploited for profit and political gain.

Francisco Sanchez, an “illegal” immigrant with seven prior felonies, was arrested for shooting a young woman. Her name was Kate. This is a story perfect for pushing emotional buttons and leveraging authoritarian politics. We’ve got the young, white female victim and the frightening foreign criminal.

Individuals who are patriarchal, xenophobic and authoritarian will find all of their views confirmed in this incident.

Many people seem to understand at this point that drug laws are bad. Regardless of the nature of drugs and drug use, drug laws are dysfunctional and counterproductive. It doesn’t matter what the goal is: prohibition, legalization, ending drug usage, regulation or harm reduction. The way the American legal system deals with these substances empirically fails to work. The consequence of drug laws is a bloated prison population. Many people are also coming to view this as a serious problem, too. Drug laws and prisons are linked. This realization has become increasingly mainstream, to the point that even people who are a part of the “patriarchal, xenophobic and authoritarian” set have begun to admit it.

But we’re easily distracted. We have short memories and short attention spans. When we see a headline about a man with seven felonies we immediately assume he’s a degenerate lowlife who should have been in prison long ago. We shift focus from the nature of drug laws and prisons. The media does very little to correct this perception; the headlines we are fed focus on immigration and criminal convictions, without context.

Thus, we have to read through multiple articles – if we even get that far and we are not merely consuming television news passively – to find out that this man had no violent felony history. Every one of his felony convictions was for a nonviolent crime. Most were for drug-related crimes. The remaining were immigration and probation related.

This has not stopped some in the media from claiming that Sanchez had “a serious criminal history.” No. In fact, most of his so-called “crimes” should not be illegal in the first place.

What if we listened to the people who said “lock him up, throw away the key?” Well, our prison population would increase by some multiple. We’d secure our status as Number 1 for the world’s highest incarceration rates, for generations to come. Even more drug offenders would fill our prisons, costing the public millions and benefiting only the elite of the prison-industrial complex.

You see, there was no way to know that Sanchez would shoot someone. He did not have a criminal history in any way related to this kind of violence. In fact, the Sanchez shooting was not even intentional. It was an accident, a fact the media is also glossing over. Sanchez had no relationship with the victim. He said that he was trying to shoot a goddamn sea lion. Negligent and reckless, yes – cruel to the sea lion – but in no way reflecting the media narrative: the illegal immigrant, the violent criminal, who gunned down a young lady in a “random” shooting.

Donald Trump was quick to try and exploit Kate’s death for his own political gain. Trump said the United States should build a wall at the border with Mexico. Sanchez was deported five times. We’re being manipulated to support increasingly authoritarian, increasingly expensive, immigration policies in the United States. All based on a gun accident involving an immigrant who had nonviolent drug convictions.

It’s the classic fear tactic. We’ve seen this over the last fifteen years with “terrorism.” We’ve got an emotionally charged, but relatively insignificant, event. From that event we’re asked to restrict the liberties of millions, to support the expansion of state power. Now, I say this event is insignificant not because the loss of this woman’s life is insignificant, but because there are around twelve million “illegal immigrants” in the United States. An accidental shooting involving one is not significant. (Another fact, essential to the context of the event, the media is largely ignoring.) We can not let the state and the media use isolated, emotionally charged events to seize more power and impose increasingly restrictive laws upon us.

Wait a minute, this doesn’t effect my liberty,” you may say, “just the liberty of the scary illegal.” Borders are two-way. I’ve heard people advocate walls, armed forces, and shoot-on-sight policies at the US border. A Republican nominee, Tom Mullins, suggested land mines. It’s all presented as “keeping the immigrants out.” Are these individuals unaware that any border effective at keeping individuals out is equally effective at keeping individuals in. Anyone who advocates impermeable borders is advocating for a prison state no one can leave except with the express consent of the ruling regime.

Indeed, we’re quick to realize that an armed border in the North/South Korean DMZ is a sign of political dysfunction. It’s a reflection of our fish-like attention spans, as well a fear that has become typically American, that we support the same domestic strategy.

When colonists began to immigrate to the so-called “New World,” immigration was open. Unless you were a slave or a person with brown skin, your life was mostly unrestricted. At least in the sense that you could walk away. After all, if you can’t even walk away how free are you really? This idea was essential, because it was a part of the new American myth: a free country, based on theories of natural law and the inherent equality of human beings. Many immigrants were even convicted criminals. (These ruffians, not afraid to participate in crime and rebellion against authority, would play an important role in the American Revolution). The colonies – the Americas – were a second chance.

We’ve forgotten that, too; we’ve sidelined it with fears of that which is individual and free.

While we still repeat colonist rhetoric of America’s “greatness,” we’ve ended a lot of the really unique things that made America different, more free. America can’t be “great,” it can’t be free or a bastion of liberty, if Americans live in fear. It can’t be free if “freedom” is conditional on the exclusion of millions, or the imprisonment of millions more.

Support For Slavery Still Exists In America: Yes, That Slavery

When you begin to study abolitionism, you may find that certain things were not taught to you in school. You’ve probably heard that Abraham Lincoln “freed the slaves.” That’s about as far as mainstream education on the history of American slavery goes. It’s certainly superficial and shallow, despite the essential role that slavery had in forming the United States. I mean, the United States quite literally would not exist if millions of men and women were not enslaved and forced to build it. This topic is American history, in full, but it’s taught as a mere footnote.

If you ask people about “wage slavery” in the United States, then, many will treat the idea as if it is a modern invention. As if Josef Stalin imported the idea during middle of the Cold War. You’d probably never learn that wage slavery was a common topic alongside chattel slavery in the 18th century. Individuals on both sides of the slavery debate, abolitionists and slaveholders both, used the existence of wage slavery and the concept of wage slavery to bolster their positions. Abolitionists, as you might expect, said wage slavery was merely an alternate form of enslavement. Slaveholders, meanwhile, said wage slavery was so bad that being owned as chattel was better.

Being forced to sell yourself for wages was not viewed highly by anyone. It was also at this point in time that we began to see the transition from the artisan, the individual laborer, craftsman or apprentice with some autonomy, to the wage employee. In a world of poverty and work a major quality of life issue was who controlled that work. Indeed, we’re still in a world of poverty and work. And the ability to control your own work versus being forced to sell your labor is still a major element of our quality of life – this is why self-employed adults are significantly more satisfied with their jobs than other workers, despite increased financial stress and similar incomes. We’re still forced to sell our labor, but the element of control, the difference between the 18th century artisan and the wage slave, significantly impacts our happiness. Nothing has changed.

For many, nothing has changed when it comes to chattel slavery either. Margaret Biser of Vox used to give plantation tours. She wrote a bit about her experiences and the outrageous things people used to say. It should be eye opening for those who think racism – the kind of blatant, malignant racism that manifests as an actual support for chattel slavery – does not exist any more.

Well, it does.

Biser wrote that she would “often meet visitors who had earnest but deep misunderstandings about the nature of American slavery” and that “You could tell from the questions — and, not less importantly, from the body language — that the people asking were genuinely ignorant of this part of the country’s history.” I believe most Americans have deep misunderstandings about the nature of American slavery, but what Biser related is the extreme example. We’re talking about people who were unsure if slaves volunteered to be slaves. For these people, it isn’t just a misunderstanding. It’s an almost complete absence of knowledge. These are people who never learned about slavery in the first place. From that point, it becomes almost impossible to discuss relationships between chattel slavery and wage slavery.

Then there are the people who still believe, as did slaveholders in the 18th century, that slavery was a benevolent institution. Biser wrote about people who asked if slaves “appreciated” the “care” they received from their mistresses. The myth of the “fortunate” house slave was prevalent, according to Biser. People didn’t understand why slaves who were not beaten wanted to escape. Even the abuse of slaves is brought into dispute; “at other times the asker was using it to suggest that stories of abuse, suffering, and exploitation under slavery were just outliers or exaggerations.”

What’s the deal with people who, in 2015, still support and apologize for chattel slavery? Biser said it might have to do with their own perceptions of themselves:

Why these misconceptions are so prevalent is a fair question. Sometimes guests were just repeating ideas they’d heard in school or from family. They were only somewhat invested in those ideas personally, and they were open to hearing new perspectives (especially when backed up by historical data).

In many other cases, however, justifications of slavery seemed primarily like an attempt by white Americans to avoid feelings of guilt for the past. After all, for many people, beliefs about one’s ancestors reflect one’s beliefs about oneself. We don’t want our ancestors to have done bad things because we don’t want to think of ourselves as being bad people. These slavery apologists were less invested in defending slavery per se than in defending slaveowners, and they weren’t defending slaveowners so much as themselves.

We’re looking at cognitive dissonance, then. There is a belief or set of beliefs these persons hold, beliefs related to themselves and which they associate with themselves, that they are forced to reconcile with their self-image of a “good” person. Biser relates this to a link with their ancestors, some of whom may have been slaveholders. However, I suspect it has more to do with their own beliefs in the existing, modern context. It isn’t just a desire to absolve their slaveholding ancestors, but a desire to absolve themselves. They’re attempting to absolve themselves from the violence inherent in their own modern racist beliefs.

You see, the individuals who apologize for slavery are not merely reflecting back and excusing an institution that has ceased to exist. They tend to share the same beliefs, prejudices and opinions as supporters of slavery did. This includes modern reinventions of old pro-slavery tropes: slaves are lazy/black people seek welfare, slaves are brutes/black people are criminals, slaves are unintelligent/black people have low IQs. And while bare-faced chattel slavery may have ended, alternate forms of slavery have been expanded and instituted in its place. This is why you will find that those who defend prisons and harsh punishments most vigorously overlap with people who apologize for slavery.

In the recent controversy over the Confederate Battle Flag, we’ve seen people vigorously defend a symbol of no value whatsoever, a symbol associated most strongly in the public mind with chattel slavery. This has been an easy symbol to oppose, because it has held very little mainstream value in American culture. The public could also oppose the American flag on the exact same basis – it is just as strongly associated with hatred as the Battle Flag – but it is too entrenched in US culture. Thus, we find people condemning the Battle Flag as a hateful symbol using the same apologetic arguments for the US flag.

In Boston, “vandals” spray-painted “Black Lives Matter” on a statute of Christopher Columbus. WCVB, local Boston news, described the statue as “an iconic statue of Christopher Columbus.” According to WCVB, this left behind “a lot of questions and frustration,” as well as “surprise and sadness.” This is typical in our media. It presents itself as an unbiased reporting of the facts, but takes a clear position against the act: it is condemned as “vandalism” and “defacement,” the statue is good, it is “iconic,” and the only people interviewed are those who are supposedly “sad.” We don’t hear from anyone who would support the act (for example, you, me, or millions of Americans). In fact, the act itself is presented as some kind of inexplicable mystery: “It’s not clear who is behind the vandalism, or why it surfaced in Boston, but Brady doubts it’s part of some organized effort.” They selected an interviewee to claim it was “kids trying to fool around.”

In fact, it is clear who is behind it. It was someone who opposes racism and slavery. It’s also a part of an organized effort, though it may not be a centralized or hierarchical effort. We can say with some confidence that it is a part of the Black Lives Matter movement, because that is what was painted on the statue. Indeed, Christopher Columbus was someone for whom black lives did not matter. Columbus was single-handedly responsible for a great deal of genocide and slavery in the Americas. Opposing the glorification of Christopher Columbus is just as important and consistent as opposing the Battle Flag, or any Confederate monuments.

Many, perhaps most, who read Biser’s accounts of plantation tours will experience disbelief, amusement or outrage. The kinds of people who apologize for chattel slavery are deviant. As popular as those opinions remain, they are not opinions that are socially acceptable. But look at the Columbus statue “vandalism” – here we have the exact same effect.

Just as people who identify with the Battle Flag excuse it, or people who identify with chattel slavery apologize for it, people who associate themselves with the genocidal slave-trader Christopher Columbus defend his memory. An attack on Columbus is taken personally – it creates cognitive dissonance and is perceived as an attack on modern Americans. Except unlike the Battle Flag or chattel slavery, we’re now in the realm of the American mainstream. Holidays like Columbus Day still exist: this is the institutional, state-sponsored glorification of a man who was considered to be perpetuating an incredible evil even by his own contemporaries and shipmates. We’re talking about someone who was offensive even to Queen Isabella I.

How can we ever address the forms of slavery that still exist in the United States, when we’re surrounded by an almost absolute, institutional denial of historical chattel slavery? Well, there is good news – we are making progress. The “vandalism” is an example of this; individuals are learning that they have a legitimate right to attack racism. This includes mainstream racism, be it the glorification of the Battle Flag or Christopher Columbus. The state drags its feet, as does the media; the police arrested Bree Newsome for removing a Battle Flag, the media nips at the heels of people who strike at racist symbols.

But we have action. It’s the same action that ended chattel slavery – it will be the same action that stamps out the final remnants of racism and slavery. Action is going to upset people. It is going to make them angry. We should prepare ourselves for this, because the actions we need to take go quite a bit beyond merely spray-painting a monument.

Bad Statistics: High Crime Rates Don’t Justify Police Homicides

The Guardian recently published a study that found the police are on track to kill 1,100 people by the end of the year. If police homicides continue, a disproportionate number of victims will be black.

This has generated, to put it bluntly, excuses. A common rationalization I have seen is that because crime rates are higher among black Americans, we should expect police homicides to be higher as well.

This is untrue. It’s a fundamental misunderstanding of statistics and the nature of lethal force.

To begin, there is no rule that dictates we should see a relationship between a high crime rate and police homicides. This is basic; it is a causality claim. I understand that the high crime/police shooting relationship is the kind of thing that seems to make intuitive sense. We assume hey, they got shot by the cops, surely they were involved in something bad. I understand why, at a glance, many have gone there. But it is actually unfounded.

Let’s get a bit of a background: it’s important to know, first, when a police homicide is considered “justified.” This is because we need to know what variable we “should” associate with a police shooting. You can get a bit of an idea on this, but let’s clarify when a homicide is not considered justified:

  • A homicide is not justified merely because the person has a criminal conviction.
  • A homicide is not justified merely because a person is wanted for arrest by the police.

Past criminal acts – acts reported in general crime statistics – are not the variable we seek.

If you understand this, you may also begin to see why we can’t use high crime rates to explain police homicides. There is no causal relationship between the crimes we measure in crime statistics and the legal rationale for a justified use of lethal force.

(We will also see below that there is often no relationship between the kinds of violent crimes used to explain police shootings – things such as robberies and murders – and actual police shootings themselves.)

For example, if a man is wanted for murder this does not explain the use of lethal force. Unless the man poses an immediate threat, a threat that is distinct from the charge he is sought for, there is no justification for the use of lethal force. There is no consideration as to the criminal conviction history of the individual here. It does not matter how many robberies or homicides he has committed, how many drugs he has sold, or how long he has been a gang member. The only factor under consideration is the threat he poses in the moment.

The point to understand: threat – the legal rationale for the use of lethal force – is a distinct variable from “crime” as reported in crime statistics.

This means that the only variable we can consider as far as a “should” is concerned is the kind of immediate threat that qualifies as a legal justification for what cops crudely call a “good shoot.” We could say, for example, “black people are more likely to pose a physical threat to police officers justifying the use of lethal force.” But that is not what people are saying. They’re saying that a “high crime rate” explains police homicides.

In fact, we don’t really have any statistics on actual threat as justification. There is no basis to claim “black people are more likely to pose a physical threat to police officers.” We could say that “justified homicide” statistics measure threat, but they don’t do so in any meaningful way. This would be muddled by the fact that law enforcement itself determines what is justified, and that the use of lethal force is always at the discretion of individual police officers, unlike arrests, which are typically mandatory.

So what we end up doing, instead – or what some people end up doing – is to conflate a high crime rate for legal justifications for police homicides.

PoliceOne, pro-police media, reported in 2005 that 25 percent of all law enforcement shootings involve unarmed suspects. This was a forced admission; it was an attempt to debunk the same statistic found by the American Civil Liberties Union. Nonetheless, most of those homicides – homicides of unarmed people – were found to be justified.

These were not hardened criminals shooting it out with the police.

The Portland Press Herald and Maine Sunday Telegram – remember the state does not collect these statistics – found that approximately half of all people shot by the police are mentally ill. A similar number for 2015: a quarter of people shot by police were “in the throes of mental or emotional crisis.” Police involvement in almost all of these cases was not crime-related, but the result of a family member calling law enforcement for mental health reasons.

The narratives from the recent Guardian findings reflect this: we see repeated incidents of “justified” police homicides that do not involve people engaged in devious criminal behavior. For example, a disturbed man waving a knife or a firearm is almost certain to be shot. This is a common scenario for police homicides, but it is also completely unrelated in a causal way to the crime demographics of racial/ethnic background.

These were also not individuals engaged in the kinds of violent crime – murders or robberies – being used to explain away police shootings.

It may be the case that we see higher crime rates in a population that is also more likely to be shot by the police (black Americans). This does not mean that people are more likely to be shot by the police because of higher crime rates. This is a classic example of correlation not implying causation. We could go into why black Americans are more likely to be shot, or why black Americans are more likely to be arrested and charged for crimes even when they are less likely to commit those crimes. But it is sufficient for now to show that high crime rates do not explain police killings.

We should also consider that American police officers are more likely to use violence across the board when compared with police around the world. This is true regardless of the context: American police are more likely to use lethal force against armed and unarmed suspects. They’re more likely to use lethal force against the mentally ill, against people with white skin, and against people with black skin. American police are more likely to use lethal force against men, women and children. This has been the case for decades. We can come up with a multitude of excuses and justifications, from a high crime rate to the prevalence of firearms, but these remain mere excuses and justifications. The fact remains that the burden of police violence remains squarely on the police themselves.

Illustrated Guide Version 10.4 Now Uploaded!

NYC Anarchist Black Cross

We’ve finished the latest version of the NYC ABCIllustrated Guide to Political Prisoners and Prisoners of War” and it’s available for viewing (and download) by clicking on the tab at the top of this page. This update includes updated mini-bios, photos, and address changes for several prisoners as well as removes the Transform Now Plowshares prisoners (reduced sentence!) and the last of the 2010 Toronto G20 protest prisoners, Kevin Chianella (time served!).

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Police Union Rep Dave Mutchler’s Idiotic Rant

A few days ago Dave Mutchler, President of the River City Fraternal Order Of Police, released an open letter to the “public we serve.” It was more of a rant. Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer and Police Chief Steve Conrad issued a joint statement saying that Mutchler had a “threatening tone,” that he “does not understand the impact of the tone of his remarks and original letter,” and that Mutchler’s “words do absolutely nothing to help build community-police relations.”

Best to read what Mutchler wrote in full:

Consider this an open letter to the public we serve, the criminal element in our city, and the self appointed spokespersons who choose to remain blind to reason, who use misinformation and who sensationalize tragedy at every opportunity to forward their political agendas.

Know this: The members of River City FOP Lodge 614, who serve and protect Louisville every day, will no longer stand on the sidelines while anyone continues to assault and demonize us.

To those of you that support us while we serve and protect you — Thank You. Although you are not chosen for media interviews, we know that you understand we are here for you and your families. We know that the vast majority of you see that ninety-nine percent of police officers serve with integrity and courage. Although we know in our hearts that you are the silent majority, sadly, that may not be enough. Soon, we may have to ask for you to rise with us against the small, but very vocal group of people in our city who resist everything we all strive to attain — freedom, safety and the ability to live our lives happily and without fear.

To the criminal element in our community-we do not fear you. We are not your punching bag and we will not simply stand by and accept your verbal or physical assaults. No matter what craziness occurs, we will always protect our citizens and ourselves. No matter how weak our criminal justice system, we will hunt you down again and again until they put you away or you go away. No matter how weak our policies we will find a way to make you understand that Louisville isn’t where you want to live. Most importantly, though, take note of the following: If you actively resist or assault us, we will use every option available to take you into custody. If you use deadly force against us or use or attempt to use a dangerous instrument or deadly weapon against us, we will use deadly force against you and we WILL stop the threat to us, our fellow officers or the citizens we serve.

To the sensationalists, liars and race-baiters —we are done with you. At first it was good enough just to sit back and watch your ridiculous spectacle. No more. Now your rhetoric, lies and hate puts all of us, police officers and citizens alike, in danger. From now on we will call you out each and every time you tell a lie, twist the truth or otherwise engage in vile behavior meant to push your selfish agendas. If your behavior or untruths causes harm to us or the public, we will make every attempt to have you investigated, charged and prosecuted at the local, state or federal level. Your idiocy and lies are what caused the destruction in Ferguson and other cities around our country and we won’t be tolerating that here. We watched in shock most recently as some of you flat out lied to the media after a critical incident here in Louisville. Many in the media are self serving too, and we watched as they stood on the sidelines and fanned the flames for financial gain.

It is obvious to nearly everyone that you are attacking and lashing out at the police instead of attacking the real problem — those who commit crimes in our city and those who enable the criminal element. Are you not paying attention to what is happening around the country? As police are disempowered the predominately minority areas of cities, including Louisville, are suffering at the hands of killers and violent felons. Yet you continue to attack law enforcement. Your attacks can’t stop the truth from shining through. The truth is that every day there are millions of encounters during which police officers interact peacefully with all kinds of people, even during very difficult circumstances.

Your flawed logic and lack of reason regarding events that occur in our society makes you appear stunningly inept. Let me help you. All citizens in Louisville, regardless of race, creed, color, gender or national origin have the SAME rights and responsibilities. No one gets a separate set of rules. Politicians may fear you and your tactics-we do not. You and those you enable must abide by the law and comply with law enforcement like everyone else. If you refuse to comply or even worse, attack a law enforcement officer, expect to be met with force.

Your ridiculous demands and anti-law enforcement attitude has reached a level that is unacceptable. You want our attention? Well you have it. Consider yourselves on notice. We challenge you to have the same integrity and dedication to serving the community that you say you seek in the police. We already have it. You need to get it.

On behalf of the members of RCFOP Lodge 614,

Dave Mutchler

Mutchler is in trouble for this letter. Not because it doesn’t represent policing. It does, quite well. This wasn’t Mutchler expressing his own deviant personal opinion. This is how most police feel. The problem was that it is too candid for public consumption. It shows us the way that police officers feel about themselves, about criminal suspects, about a free press, and about the public at large.

The narrative of “protecting” and “serving” is perpetuated; not only to the public, but among police themselves. This is important, because few people are able to cope with the cognitive dissonance of doing something wrong and knowing that it is wrong. It’s more important for police officers themselves to believe they are doing something right than it is for the public at large to believe it.

Mutchler refers to the “silent majority” and “vast majority” of people who support the police. Those who do not are a “small, but very vocal group” who “choose to remain blind to reason.”

Reality check. According to a recent Reuters poll, a full third of Americans believe the police “routinely lie to serve their own interests,” only two-thirds “approve of the job being done by their local police department,” and only half of Americans “trust the police to be fair and just.”

It drops to 30% of African Americans and 43% of young people for “trusting the police to be fair and just.” That’s right, Mutchler. The “silent majority” are in fact a minority in the black communities most abused by police. The individuals who are in fact a majority want you to get the fuck out of their communities.

According to Mutchler, the supporters of the police “are not chosen for media interviews.” In fact, the media is an element of the status quo and law enforcement is a part of that status quo. The media overwhelmingly works in the interests of law enforcement. We see this every time a crime is reported on, or every time suspects have their faces plastered on the television. The purpose of intensive crime coverage and reporting is to prop up the law enforcement apparatus.

Mutchler wrote that “we will not simply stand by and accept your verbal or physical assaults,” the “rhetoric” of “sensationalists, liars and race-baiter” supposedly “puts all of us, police officers and citizens alike, in danger.”

None of this rhetoric puts me in danger, Dave. Stop trying to put citizens in your own leaky boat. If police officers are in danger it is because the public is abandoning its support for law enforcement. This is democracy in action. It means that people are going to stop consenting, they are going to stop participating, in your criminal justice system. No longer will the people report crimes to you. Instead, the people build alternative solutions and systems. No longer will the people render aide to you. When the police are in trouble, they will be on their own.

In fact, this is the way policing has been for a long time. The police are already on their own. The only way the police are able to survive at all is by applying extreme and overwhelming violence.

Mutchler says “we will find a way to make you understand that Louisville isn’t where you want to live.” Don’t forget – Louisville, as with all cities, belongs to the people. It does not belong to the police. Don’t be surprised when the police are abolished and it ends up being you who is run out of town, Dave. The people are not going anywhere. Your safety depends on the consent of the people.

And consent evaporated in these communities long ago.

“Politicians may fear you and your tactics-we do not. You and those you enable must abide by the law and comply with law enforcement like everyone else,” Mutchler wrote. He is wrong. The “law,” whatever form it takes, is only valid insofar as those it applies to grant consent. If you intend to apply laws, rules or policies to a population that no longer views them as legitimate then you are an aggressor. You are an occupier.

The police are an occupying force. This is how law enforcement are viewed in these communities. This is why, in response Mutchler’s letter, protesters shut down the Louisville Metro Police building. In fact, they could have done more.

Mutchler’s biography says he has other experience participating with an occupying force: in 2003 he was sent to Iraq. He should know as well as anyone, then, how insurgents respond to occupation.

I don’t know why he thinks it is going to turn out any different for law enforcement in the end.