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NY Times, Feb. 3 2017
Anarchists Respond to Trump’s Inauguration, by Any Means Necessary
By FARAH STOCKMAN
The videotaped sucker punch that staggered the white nationalist Richard
Spencer on Inauguration Day quickly inspired mockery on social media.
But it echoed loudly in an escalating confrontation between extreme ends
of the political spectrum.
With far-right groups edging into the mainstream with the rise of
President Trump, self-described anti-fascists and anarchists are vowing
to confront them at every turn, and by any means necessary — including
In Berkeley, Calif., on Wednesday night, masked protesters set fires,
smashed windows and stormed buildings on the campus of the University of
California to shut down a speech by Milo Yiannopoulos, an inflammatory
Breitbart News editor and a right-wing provocateur already barred from
Twitter. Five people were injured, administrators canceled the event,
and the university police locked down the campus for hours.
That followed a bloody melee in Seattle on Inauguration Day, Jan. 20,
when black-clad demonstrators — their faces concealed to minimize the
risk of arrest — tried to prevent a speech by Mr. Yiannopoulos at the
University of Washington, and a 34-year-old anti-fascist was shot and
seriously wounded by a supporter of Mr. Yiannopoulos.
The outbreaks of destruction and violence since Mr. Trump’s inauguration
have earned contempt from Republicans — including Trump supporters who
say it is exactly why they voted for his promises of law and order — and
condemnation from Democrats like Berkeley’s mayor, Jesse Arreguín. He
called Wednesday’s display “contrary to progressive values” and said it
“provided the ultranationalist far right exactly the images they want”
to try to discredit peaceful protesters of Mr. Trump’s policies.
But anarchists and anti-fascists, who often make up a small but
disproportionately attention-getting portion of protesters, defend the
mayhem they create as a necessary response to an emergency.
“Yes, what the black bloc did last night was destructive to property,”
Eric Laursen, a writer in Massachusetts who has helped publicize
anarchist protests, said, using another name for the black-clad
demonstrators. “But do you just let someone like Milo go wherever he
wants and spread his hate? That kind of argument can devolve into ‘just
sit on your hands and wait for it to pass.’ And it doesn’t.”
Anarchists also say their recent efforts have been wildly successful,
both by focusing attention on their most urgent argument — that Mr.
Trump poses a fascist threat — and by enticing others to join their
“The number of people who have been showing up to meetings, the number
of meetings, and the number of already-evolving plans for future actions
is through the roof,” Legba Carrefour, who helped organize the so-called
Disrupt J20 protests on Inauguration Day in Washington, said in an
“Gained 1,000 followers in the last week,” trumpeted @NYCAntifa, an
anti-fascist Twitter account in New York, on Jan. 24. “Pretty crazy for
us as we’ve been active for many years with minimal attention. SMASH
The movement even claims to be finding adherents far afield of major
population centers. A participant in CrimethInc, a decades-old anarchist
network, pointed to rising attendance at its meetings and activity
cropping up in new places like Omaha.
“The Left ignores us. The Right demonizes us,” the anarchist website
It’s Going Down boasted on Twitter. “Everyday we grow stronger.”
Little known to practitioners of mainstream American politics, militant
anti-fascists make up a secretive culture closely associated with
anarchists. Both reject social hierarchies as undemocratic and eschew
the political parties as hopelessly corrupt, according to interviews
with a dozen anarchists around the country. While some anarchists
espouse nonviolence, others view property damage and even physical
attacks on the far right as important tactics.
While extreme right-wing groups have been enthusiastic supporters of Mr.
Trump, anti-fascists express deep disdain for the Democratic Party. And
it is mutual, by and large: They amount to the left’s unwanted
revolutionary stepchild, disowned for their tactics and ideology by all
but the most radical politicians.
Anarchists came to the fore in 1999, when they mounted a huge
demonstration in Seattle against the World Trade Organization, which
they denounce — along with Nafta and other free-trade pacts — as a
plutocratic back-room group that exploits the poor. Enthusiasm for the
movement dipped after the election of President Barack Obama. But it
revived as they played a role in some of the most consequential protests
during his two terms, starting Occupy Wall Street and serving as foot
soldiers in demonstrations against the Dakota Access Pipeline at
Standing Rock in North Dakota and in Black Lives Matter protests in
Ferguson, Mo., and elsewhere.
“We’ve had an enormous cultural and political impact,” said David
Graeber, a professor at the London School of Economics who helped
organize the Occupy protests and has been credited with coining its “we
are the 99 percent” slogan. He said the movement had elevated income
inequality to the top of the Democratic political agenda, despite not
electing anyone or enacting any legislation.
But he said Mr. Trump’s victory had proved that anarchists’ diagnosis of
society’s ills was correct.
“We tried to warn you, with Occupy,” Dr. Graeber said. “We understood
that people were sick of the political system, which is fundamentally
corrupt. People want something radically different.”
Mr. Trump’s tirades against trade deals, globalization and a Washington
elite he views as corrupt mirror arguments that anarchists have been
making for decades. But his claim that he alone can fix America’s
problems flies in the face of anarchists’ conviction that only direct
action by ordinary people can produce a fair system.
“Fascism fetishizes having a strong leader who is decisive and tells
everyone what to do,” Mr. Laursen, the writer, said. “That’s what we are
seeing with Trump.”
Fueled in part by Mr. Trump’s political success, violent clashes between
the far right and far left erupted several times during the presidential
campaign. In Anaheim, Calif., last February, three people were stabbed
in a brawl after anti-fascists disrupted a Ku Klux Klan rally. And in
Sacramento in June, at least five people were stabbed and eight wounded
when hundreds of counterprotesters, including anti-fascists, clashed
with skinheads at a rally.
But the confrontations seemed to shift into a new gear on the eve of Mr.
Trump’s inauguration. On Jan. 19, anti-fascists tried to block the
entrance to the “DeploraBall,” a party for Trump supporters. The next
day, 230 people were arrested after anarchists dressed in black broke
the windows of a bank with baseball bats and set a limousine on fire.
(Mr. Spencer, the white nationalist, whose assailant was not arrested,
was not the only person struck: A videographer was struck in the chest
with a flagpole — he was unharmed — as he tried to interview marching
anarchists about what the word “community” meant to them.)
One of those arrested, a self-described anarchist who insisted on
anonymity to avoid aiding in his own prosecution, said the goal of the
protests — to get television stations to cut away from the inauguration,
even for a moment — had been met.
“Certainly, it has brought more attention to people who were against
Trump and what he stands for,” the man said by telephone.
The question now is whether anarchists’ efforts against Mr. Trump —
whether merely colorful and spirited, or lawless and potentially lethal
— will earn their fringe movement a bigger presence in the battle of
ideas in years to come.
“It’s true that a lot of people who consider themselves liberals or
progressives still cling to the idea that you can effect social and
economic change in the context of the state, through electoral
politics,” Mr. Laursen said. “But more and more, it is going to become
necessary for people on the left to think like anarchists if they are
going to get anywhere.”
If the Berkeley disturbances have invited widespread denunciations, the
on-camera punch of Mr. Spencer inflamed emotions on both the left and
the right wing. Mr. Spencer has offered a reward for anyone who can
identify his attacker, who wore the telltale clothing and face-covering
of the anarchist “black bloc.” But anarchists in Philadelphia have
already begun raising funds for the man’s legal defense should he ever
Under the hashtag #PunchRichardSpencerAgain, anti-fascists and
anarchists across the country are vowing to continue the fight. “May all
your punches hit Nazis,” read a headline on It’s Going Down on Sunday.
A few days earlier, the website gleefully announced on Twitter that Mr.
Spencer was planning a tour of college campuses, adding, “Everyone will
get their chance!”
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