Last week, Trump supporters — in part at the president’s urging — stormed the US capitol building, forcing Mike Pence and congress to evacuate. Others placed multiple IEDs (specifically pipe bombs) in the building. The storming and violent standoff ended in police using tear gas and flash bangs to disperse the crowd, and apparently shooting and killing one person in the process — there were five total deaths. One person was trampled to death by her own compatriots — something, I want to note, you would never see in a Black Lives Matter protest (even when folks were being drowned in tear gas against a fence).
This is remarkable for a lot of reasons, but I want to look a bit more at how it happened in the first place. How were they successful in storming the capitol? Previous protests this year had trouble getting anywhere close to it.
First of all, there were a lot of people there. It seems there are reports of groups covering people’s hotels and bus rides — and some of those logos may look familiar. But there were a lot of people there on Trump’s election day too. They got in this time because the police declined to use the repressive methods they had employed against regular americans all summer, and which were used on protestors at Trump’s inauguration as well. Namely, no tear gas, stun grenades, rubber bullets, or batons were used until after these people had already overtaken the capitol. Contrast that with the aggressive and proactive use of all of the above against americans in numerous cities all summer. Why was this the case?
Well, you see, the Trump people are largely white. As Hakeem Jefferson put it at FiveThirtyEight:
As we have these discussions, however, we must take care to appreciate that this is not just about folks being angry about the outcome of one election. Nor should we believe for one second that this is a simple manifestation of the president’s lies about the integrity of his defeat. This is, like so much of American politics, about race, racism and white Americans’ stubborn commitment to white dominance, no matter the cost or the consequence.
It is not by chance that most of the individuals who descended on the nation’s capital were white, nor is it an accident that they align with the Republican Party and this president. Moreover, it is not a coincidence that symbols of white racism, including the Confederate flag, were present and prominently displayed. Rather, years of research make clear that what we witnessed in Washington, D.C., is the violent outgrowth of a belief system that argues that white Americans and leaders who assuage whiteness should have an unlimited hold on the levers of power in this country.
What we’re seeing now is how white supremacy and its concurrent movements make fools of those who ignore the danger therein. Those who seek politeness over rebuke, and who think Trumpist nationalism was just “one more opinion among many” to be debated in the “marketplace of ideas.” Those who went further and caped for the Trumpists as potential allies in anti-war or anti-authoritarian struggles. They’re seeing the outcome of this negligence now.
White supremacy is not an ideology you make deals with. White supremacy is a cult. Fascism, similarly, exhibits the characteristics of a cult. Cults are dangerous and Trumpists have found an identity around which to center a very similar cult. Borrowing from both of these broader far right traditions, the Trump cult has some differences — and is sometimes at odds with old school nazis, white nationalists, and fascists — but apparently they’re just as willing to turn on their own when the leader demands, and to engage in abortive stunts with much more passion than planning in the offing. They’re not Republicans anymore, they’re Trumpists.
So what we’re seeing here is the other shoe drop — right on the ruling elites themselves — as a result of their covering for, refusing to acknowledge, and refusing to deal with the white supremacist/far-right/Trump cultist influence growing in this country.
They bought into the bullshit. Despite many, many americans of all classes and creeds finally waking up to the problem of white supremacy and far-right ideology in american political culture and realizing the ways in which this influences policing, regulation, economics, criminal justice, and more, the ruling elite has largely failed to confront the problem head on — in part because the Trump administration built its existence on these very same white supremacist and xenophobic tendencies.
And the GOP, which hitched its wagon to the Trump train, therefore had to depend on these sectors as well. So they ignored it. And they kept telling themselves that it was these horrible leftists that were causing the violence, and not the good, white people on the other side. They ate their own lies and so, last week, the police and the Defense Department, and all the Washington bureaucrats chose not to hurt these nice, white americans, allowing them to literally storm the capitol and send congress ducking for cover. This is why you don’t get high on your own supply — applying to propaganda just as well as drugs.
Because when you start to believe your own lies — that these people can’t be dangerous, that’s when you let a coup attempt happen. And honestly, from the sidelines here it’s hard to feel bad for either side. Proud Boys and police fighting each other is of no particular concern to me, besides in the sense of a general concern for all human life and wellbeing — I’d love it if they all just gave up and went home, but I’m also not about to get personally involved in this one.
But beyond my own feelings on it, there is some additional relevance for anarchist political analysis. It shows that the Trumpkins will actually fight.
In a recent podcast roundtable (referenced here in a full episode on how this coup attempt happened), I predicted that a violent assault on the capitol was unlikely, given the divisions between Trump’s loyalist Proud Boys and other far-right factions, which was exacerbated by Trump’s recent weak position, as well as the Trump crowd’s lack of follow-though in earlier cases. But I was dead wrong. These folks are apparently willing to fight police and storm the capitol, and they were either Trump supporters who had graduated from childish bully tactics to actual violence, or there were more broadly-aligned white supremacists willing to go this far in alongside the Trump people.
So I was either wrong about the willingness of the Trump people to fight, or, I was wrong about the hard-core neo-nazis’ willingness to work with them. In particular, I thought that keeping Trump himself in power seemed of little import to general far-right motives, and that those deeper into white supremacist and fascist movements would fail to turn up for an election coup. So I was wrong on some account there, and that’s pretty terrifying.
But I never believed far-right terrorism was defeated forever, or that this violent cultural reckoning would never come to a head. Rather, I thought we’d have a brief respite in the early days of the Biden administration to rest and regroup for the next round. Anarchists have long known this sort of reckoning was coming, and that it was tied up with the rise of white supremacy and right wing extremism, along with the concurrent negligence of the political elite in stemming that tide. Antifascists have been warning about this kind of thing for years, and gotten louder about it recently.
In fact, the Trump camp evolving into something more like traditional right-wing extremist movements was one of the developments we’ve been worried about for a while. If they’ve found a way to activate these people to this level of violence, we’re in for a bad couple of years. And the political elite is going to pay dearly for ignoring the problem, and buying their own bullshit that white americans couldn’t be violent, and that the real danger was Black rioters, or Black separatists, or some other such bullshit like that.
As far as I can tell, these white-tinted glasses are the only explanation for the differing responses we’ve seen from police and other officials. That’s why they installed a Sting-Ray at my local light-rail station this summer, but haven’t been monitoring the white supremacist gangs in the city at all. It’s why they deployed the National Guard to Philadelphia for several months over the summer, and repeatedly called in neighboring police departments, DHS personnel, and who knows what else to fight us tooth and nail in the streets. But when these white Republicans march on the capitol we see just what we saw in Michigan, when armed militants threatened the state capitol there — no National Guard already waiting,* no rubber bullets, nothing until they were inside and threatening state agents in their deepest hollows.
The difference is striking.
It happened because a good number of the congress people are white supremacists too — after all, they have to believe the bullshit, because the whole damn system is built on this dangerous lie. If you admit the country has a white supremacist problem, you have to admit the ways in which that’s influenced our highest halls of power, and our most mundane of daily interactions. To truly address the problem, everything would have to change. So, for now, I guess they think it’s easier to deal with the occasional right-wing coup attempt, and keep ignoring this festering wound in the nation’s heart. And this is why we see so many Biden folks and others heaping on the denial and playing the “this isn’t my America” card. Yes, I’m sorry, but it is.
This difference in the treatment of a fascist mob versus Black Lives Matter protestors, and the underlying white-supremacist worldview, have implications for our response to this crisis as well. Anarchists should not be calling for the police to have acted as aggressively and forcefully as they do when fighting us. We should not be calling for a military intervention. We should know better that — rather than being tools at our disposal to deal with fascist uprisings such as this, the police and military have incentives and biases that make them ill-suited to effectively deal with right-wing terrorism.
In part, this is because they, just like the Biden camp, believe their own lies. Lies like the idea that white Republicans can’t be violent:
Of course, we already knew that wasn’t true, given the experience of the Brooks Brothers riots after the voting dispute in Florida in 2000 (you’ll note the police were unsure how to respond here too). But it goes beyond underestimating the problem.
Police, as many well know, are perhaps the most violent, unhinged, and unsupervised groups in the United States. And they’re largely on the same side as those behind this weak ass putsch.
There have been reports and suspicion that they even helped people get in. I mean, come on, these people were flying pro-police flags as they stormed the capitol. And the police have a big and longstanding fascism/white supremacy problem too. Read about the FBI report on the problem here. Or, consider that the Philadelphia PD sees the Proud Boys as their allies in their fight against Black people and leftists (I can independently verify this is true!). Hell, many departments across the country are now admitting many in the mob were off-duty cops.
But what about the cop who died? What about that one Black cop who seemed to be out of the loop? I think it’s important to note here that just like leftist movements and groups, none of these groupings is a monolith. There can simultaneously be many, many white supremacists and fascists in law enforcement, and some cops who aren’t those things. And the relationship between the police and far right movements is a complicated one.
This is all a lot more complicated that some on the left want to admit. Not everyone in that mob last Wednesday was a fascist thug. Indeed, there were probably many who were centrist Republicans, who may have just planned to protest, and who we should be hesitant to wish harm on. It’s important to acknowledge that those wishing for a harsher approach by police, or calling for military intervention, are wishing death not only on fascists, but on a great number of grandmas and grandpas who have been thoroughly brainwashed during an uncertain, lonely, and frustrating time. It’s absolutely tragic that the fascists and white supremacists empowered by Trump are using them as cover. And we should continue to fight these fascists as forcefully as we can. But we shouldn’t confuse one for the other, and this is one huge reason to avoid calling for state force as a solution to this violence. There are, of course, many many more.
The federal agencies, while split on support for Trump, illustrate the dangers well. With ICE and CBP officials seeming to realize their rabid, off-leash approach to immigration enforcement (and protest busting) relies on Trump or someone like him being in the highest office, they have a vested interest in this fight. I do think there’s some risk of them joining the fascists and showing up in the next round. In fact, my own worst-case scenario — which I don’t think is completely impossible — would be some of these agencies as well as various police departments going rogue. If they really think they’re in an existential battle with non-white people for the future of “the race” — and remember, that is what white supremacists think — it doesn’t seem a far jump to me for them to support false leaders in service of that cause. So putting these fascists in their care as prisoners seems more risky than helpful to me, without even getting into the moral quandaries of using violence, detention, and punishment to solve a problem.
A military response would also be bad from an anarchist perspective. For one, it would undoubtedly lead to a ratcheting up of militarism with the possibility for even more police militarization, and the hedging of the rights of all americans. Once installed, militaries are unlikely to give up power, and I very much doubt that a military junta is going to be better for the development of a new world than what we’re dealing with now. Different, sure, but not better from any perspective.
So no, I don’t think we should throw in our lot with the state just because fascists are legitimately scary. And remember, we’ve been defending ourselves from these folks for a while and building up our ability to do so too. If you’ve ever seen fascists and antifascists clash with police present, you’ve seen how useless the police are when violence flows from the fascist side. That’s why more leftists and Black americans are now armed than ever before. As scary as it is, “we keep us safe” is more than a slogan. The police do not and will never have your back. Not against fascists, violent mobs, or anyone.
In the end, though, we saw the same violent repression that comprises the state’s only tactic for any situation it can’t control or understand. And while there is a potentially amusing irony in the fact that this violent, repressive state apparatus — in particular the police and National Guard — are the very forces these people gleefully watched Trump deploy against Black Lives Matter protesters all summer long, the long-term (and even some short term) implications of this violence in the capitol are not funny in the slightest. Both sides are pathologically violent, and so we can’t choose one to try and get rid of the other. The violent logic of both is too dangerous to try and use.
And this is the problem with such a violent ideology. Whether you want to focus in on the influence of general authoritarianism, fascism, or white supremacy. The violence inherent in these hateful perspectives seeps out in ways that even proponents of this worldview can’t contain. And they end up hurting bystanders, targets, and even each other in some truly tragic ways.
Normalizing and centering violence (and even fascism straight up) — and celebrating its expression through state agents like the police — is toxic in a way that sometimes hurts the believer just as much as the targets. For an example of this toxicity at work, we can look at how fascist shittiness has leaked into the treatment of fascist and far-right women.
I wanted to first talk about the differences in treatment between these protestors — domestic terrorists? — and those involved in the uprisings over the summer, because I think the comparison reveals something important about how white supremacist assumptions function in american political life. But the similarities are also revealing. Including the eventual use of deadly force by the police. And it does reveal — as much as we may want to shy away from the comparison — that these people are still active, still angry, and ready to fight. Just like many of us. This means, unfortunately, we need to keep being ready to fight. As the Biden camp (and establishment Republicans) try to play up the chaos, fringiness, and “anarchistic” nature of these would-be terrorists, and get ready to impose “business as usual,” we have a challenge on multiple fronts. And the establishment is nowhere near ready to actually deal with the deep rifts in american political culture.
The key takeaway is that if these people really are ready to get violent, then the decades of built up political tension in this country may give way to violence repeatedly, continually, and unexpectedly. Right wing terrorists favor lone wolf attacks — which are hard to predict and can be devastating. States, you might note, are especially bad at dealing with this kind of attack. And the terror of the state in response will just add fuel to the fire, and blood to the well, while failing to solve the root problem of incipient fascism on the american far right.
When you can’t stand to look at the racist history of this country and the offshoots of far right fuckery that have come out of that tradition, you can’t effectively see the real threats. We have a national political blindspot, and it’s literally killing us. It seems this pattern will likely continue as the Biden Dems have no intention of looking at it — Biden, you may remember was instrumental in the passage of key 1990s mandatory minimum laws, among other racist policies. And the Republican leadership has proved toothless and worthless, over and over again. Plus, any attempt to “address the violence” by centrist Dems is certain to come down on anarchists and other radical leftists as well. We know they love a false equivalence!
So, while this one failed and Biden will likely take the reigns on January, 20th, we should acknowledge that the fascists in this country are still quite emboldened, have a large (enough) following, and do seem ready to actually fight. 2020 may be over, but there’s a lot yet to come.
* The National Guard was deployed later in the day, and the New York Times has confirmed the timeline that they were only deployed after the group had overtaken the capitol and police were clearing them. In fact, the National Guard was not deployed by Trump as would happen under normal circumstances for the capital, but by Mike Pence after Trump refused to deploy them multiple times.