“I cringe to hear people talk of 9/11 in tones that suggest it was a simpler, kinder, more peaceful time. It wasn’t really.”
If you’ve cared enough to pay attention to details, then you already know that I’m a Discordian. What many don’t know is that many Discordians are former United States Marines.
I served in the marines from June of 1997 to June of 2001. It was a period in which I can honestly say everyone thought that the world had settled out; the Cold War was over, everyone seemed to be falling into line about making money of the poor, everyone was convinced the world was pacified, finally. Which is why in a sense 9/11 was a punch line. Even the people running the military thought this. I used to get briefings which in a sense seemed to have the purpose of informing me, “That the marine corpse definitely still had a reason to exist and that reason is blah blah blah”. Like any of that hokey shit matters now.
These are my memories of that period, a period in which people felt, wrongly, like they were at the end of history. I’ll try to keep this short. But it is an American tradition that you have to listen to a veteran recount his boring stupid tired stories, so now it’s your turn. This is going to be a mix of stories about my interactions with the U.S. government, and also what I saw as I traveled the world pretending to be useful. I have no idea how to do one of these things. Should I tell it linearly or write an alinear history? I’m going to start at the beginning, but don’t be fooled, this is definitely an alinear story. Also, you should know that 60% of all human memories are filler your brain makes up. But believe me when I say that I believe it was real.
I suck at being an infantryman. I knew it from the first week in the School of Infantry. Yeah, that’s literally what they call it. They’re infantryman, not MCU writers. So anyway, yeah, you’d have to figure that most people suck at it when they start. The problem is I didn’t seem to stop sucking. I imagine I’m better at it than some random person rotting in an office somewhere, so I have that going for me. But generally was not good at it. When I went through the School of Infantry, I was experimented on! It was an experimental fast track program, see usually the thing lasts, um, well I don’t know, I didn’t go through how it usually happens. I went through a month long program, complete with starvation training. Ever been so hungry you’d eat food out of a dumpster? Me too! Of course it is possible they lied, and that everyone that goes through the School of Infantry goes through all that.
Like I said, I only went once. It was around September, that this all happened, in California. That last part was the nice part, I had been living in Texas for all of high school. I was just happy to be home. Anyway, I mention the month basically to say that it was fall. This one guy, who will remain a nameless little wishnik troll person, complained that California was so brown, just desert, he thought, and that he missed home in Michigan where it was green forest. A spring later and he was amazed at how green it was. I could only say one thing, “Well, yeah, it’s spring.” So the take away from this part of the story is that I may have been experimentally starved and wishniks from Michigan don’t understand how seasons work.
It was the year 2000, December, when I walked off the plane onto Egyptian soil. I was ushered into a large tent made of carpets to a little bizarre, where I waited with the rest of the idiots to go to the base that had been built by the U.S. for Bright Star, 2000. A joint military training operation for the Mediterranean, hosted on the sands of Egypt’s Western reaches. Right in Libya’s fucking face. That’s how pathetic the U.S. had gotten, we were bullying dictators that we set up. Like paying someone to let you rough them up and take their lunch money. It’s fucking ridiculous! But this is how shit was and is. Anyway, as we rolled through town, I could see the bombed out buildings full of families scraping by. Building, after building, after building, after building, after building. These buildings, or what was left of them, were about four or five stories tall, often did not have a roof or all four sides, sometimes missing both, and had shit tons of people living in them. Fortunately they were reinforced concrete, or at least I hope they were, and so weren’t going to collapse any time soon. So we did a whole bunch of driving around, me being a reconnaissance scout for an armored unit, means I sat around in a hot metal box for hours a day.
So, reconnaissance, lets get some stuff straight. There are guys who are reconnaissance, and that is their special thing, and they are good at what they do. Very good. There are not many who can do this work as well as they. There are a lot of reconnaissance jobs all over the military and also the marine corpse. My job, as a reconnaissance scout in a light armored unit, was quite frankly, a waste of their time and the money spent to train them. So I wound up doing it. It was pretty boring. I played a lot of Pokemon on a Gameboy. Anyway, after the training, which mostly consisted of driving around, so the vehicle crews could practice being vehicle crews, and making hornless unicorns out of C4, because activities enrich your infantryman’s daily life, we had all bitched enough that they let us take a trip to the Pyramids at Giza.
But I’m not going to talk about my experiences inside. Instead, my memories of the palpable disgust on the face of the tour guide/information attendant at the pyramid site. You could see it on her face, if you were perceptive enough. The corners of her mouth, and the corners of her eyes, and the resting placement of her jaw told the story the rest of her face couldn’t. She would rather we not be on the same planet. I couldn’t blame her, I didn’t want to be on the planet either. I mean, why would she be glad to see us. Egypt’s then leader was a guy we were working with. Or maybe it was old fashioned bigotry. I don’t know, I didn’t ask. About halfway through the tear jerking boredom of “training” (to be honest C4 isn’t that great, in my opinion, for sculpting), they asked for volunteers. Now, if you’re smart, you know that this is an excellent chance to gamble. You could be doing something interesting, or tedious; you get a good lunch, or get a shit lunch, or get no lunch. At that point in operation bright stain I was ready to roll those dice. So I spent a week at a tank range radio tower and range control guarding it. Forces, alleged to be Bedouin, had already attacked once, and were repelled.
We were handed live ammo and left with the radio crew. And… nothing happened. Whomever attacked got the message the first time. I spent the week playing poker, reading, running down my batteries for my Gameboy, and doing the occasional react drill for boredom abatement and because practicing increases the chances of not dying. The last week I was there was fairly interesting, a friend of mine who was an Irish guy from West Covina, who could ululate like no one’s business, spent a night spooking our staff sergeant, which was hilarious, because this was a staff sergeant who couldn’t pass a physical fitness test without the entire command staff lying for him, and yet had the gonads to bust down my friend from corporal to lance corporal because he got a second class score on his test. So, we did our best to make an ass of him whenever we could.
The French Foreign legion got attacked the last night I was there. Presumably by the same “Bedouins”. It kind of makes one wonder if the Bedouins are blamed for much lawlessness that they statistically couldn’t possibly be behind. But that’s what they get for living on such lucrative coastal lands. So I guess the takeaway here is that the probability of her look of disgust not coming from a bigoted place is roughly a function of the probability that she was Bedouin. We were tourists after all.
I have the thirst. Not JFK levels of it, my wife keeps me plenty happy. But as a single guy, I had no reason not to indulge myself. Or at least I thought. I think it was my second time in Okinawa that a friend of mine, that I had met elsewhere in the marines, was stationed at the same base as I was. As I was reconnecting with him, shooting the shit with him as it were, it happened to come up that we was getting scuba trained. “Isn’t that expensive as fuck for a lowly serviceman such as yourself?” I asked him. “Yeah, but I got a friend paying for it.” What a lucky asshole, he just has a friend getting him scuba training. “Paying for the gear too?” He nodded his head. Unreal. “Who would do that for you around here?” Thus began his recounting of being a gigolo for old Japanese women. He was the favorite of a particular woman, thus the scuba gear and training. See, what it is, is that serviceman can’t be paid in cash, that’s prostitution. But a woman can give her man nice shit. That’s just being nice.
Now, my predilections being what they are, the mention of sex for pay with mature women did prick my ears up. Unfortunately for story telling purposes, I didn’t start whoring myself out. Not because I didn’t want to, but mostly because the people in my unit are hella chismoso, always sticking their noses in other peoples business. So I thought the better of it, and to this day, don’t know if I made the right decision or not. But I doubt my then current daddy Uncle Sam was looking to share. I mean, Uncle Sam didn’t give me any gold chains, but he did fuck me regular and buy me dinner. I can’t imagine he would have been cool with it. And we were so well kept in those days. So the moral of the story is that servicemen are sometimes exploited for sex. Though if you’ve ever been even at the edge of “Sex exploitation”, re: prostitution, you know the reality is more complex than some limousine liberal’s junior year liberal arts thesis can account for.
My friend didn’t need to learn scuba to live. He wasn’t getting beat down by his john, and there was no pimp. My experience with this is about as lightweight as you can get but the more I hear of the law coming down on sex workers the more it seems like the age old exploitation line that law men and “progressives” use, along with the immorality line the priests use, sounds increasingly like hokey bullshit. Really want to help sex workers? Legalize it and get rid of pimps and other middle men. Middle persons. Whatever, you know what I mean.
Remember the riots in Indonesia? Yeah, that’s ok. Not many people do. I was off the coast for the most of it. Why you might ask? Well, the U.S. Navy patrols the worlds oceans and keeps them clear of pirates and generally tries to make things “safe”. Sometimes they’ll have marines with them. That’s why I was there. I was on a pretty boat called an LSD, which I assume means landing ship deployer or something. I never asked. It had these fancy high powered fan boats that it poops out the back. We load our vehicles on, it deposits us on the beach, and we drive around and be effective as long as we don’t leave the beach and go into the Thai jungle. American supremacy at its finest. So as we sat off the coast of Indonesia, the government of the CIA backed Suharto collapsed. We didn’t lift a finger to help him, or the people rioting overthrow him. It wasn’t until much later that it seemed many of the Indonesian special forces were inciting riots and ethnic violence, particularly rape, against the Mandarin Chinese minority communities.
Why they were fomenting unrest I have no clue. But the result is that a U.S. backed anti-communist dictator’s government collapsed. But you are probably still wondering, amid all of this, why was I even there? Well, you see, Nike and McDonald’s corporations had some executives in the country that could have possibly needed help getting the fuck out. They didn’t, ultimately, because having your own private jets helps one to very effectively get the fuck out. But that was the reason. Then our staff sergeant came through and yelled at us that we were not there because of Nike and McDonald’s like they had just accidentally announced on the ships audio-visual system. I don’t know what is more pathetic, that they let the cat out of the bag like that, or that they then tried to gas light us about it.
Ok, that’s it. You’re off the hook. It’s over. I learned how to do a lot of violence, I saw many different kinds of exploitation, often time so comprehensive it took me two more decades to understand, and put it all together, and generally helped the U.S. government to spread its vision around the world. A vision that shattered on 9/11. I cringe to hear people talk of 9/11 in tones that suggest it was a simpler, kinder, more peaceful time. It wasn’t really. The world was never simple, or kind, or peaceful. These unfortunate people don’t realize that the times weren’t simpler, kinder, and more peaceful, they were.
A Discordian for 20 years, Patacelsus finally got comfortable when the 21st century “started getting weird.” When not casting sigils, taking part in Tibetan Buddhist rituals, or studying the unfortunate but sometimes amusing stories of the dead, he’s been known to wander the hidden ways of the city, communing with all of the hidden spirits one can find in a city. As Patacelsus sees it, we’re all already free; after completing the arduous task of waking up to that we can then proceed, like a doctor treating a patient, to try to rouse others from the bitter and frightening nightmares of Archism. He laughs at Samsara’s shadow-play in lovely California, in the company of his wife, two cats, and two birds.
“I’ve owed Rhyd a post for well over a year. Not just one post. Lots of posts. I’m sorry this has taken so long. I hope that you’ll understand why it’s been so hard to get this first one written…”
From Lisha Sterling
It’s been a year and a half since I packed my van for a camping trip and headed east to the Standing Rock Sioux reservation. There were thousands of people camped there to stand up for indigenous treaty rights and to stop the construction of the Dakota Access Pipe Line (DAPL) through sacred grounds and across the Missouri River. In a matter of months, an empty field between the 1806 highway and the Missouri river had turned into a bustling village of tents, RVs and tipis. There was no mains electricity, no running water save for the cannonball river and the Missouri herself, no Internet fiber, and precious little cell phone reception. People from over 300 tribes across the Americas and beyond were gathered there in this perfect example of a “low resource situation” and I was headed there to see how the community of Geeks Without Bounds could help the community in the #NoDAPL camps with their infrastructure needs.
The funniest thing of all is that one year ago, just a month after returning to my apartment in Washington state after two seasons in the land of The Great Sioux Nation, I thought that the experience hadn’t really changed me much. It wasn’t until May when I met up with fellow Water Protectors at UC Santa Barbara’s “Standing Rock in Santa Barbara” event that I realized how much I’d been reshaped by the fires of Oceti Sakowin.
It’s hard to write about those changes now, hard to know where to start and how to organize all the pieces so that they will make sense to someone who wasn’t there. I don’t want it to seem like I’m telling “the story” of anything. I’m telling my story. I’m sharing the things that I learned. When we were exiled from the camps by the colonialist government authorities, the Native elders told us to go back to our communities and continue the work. They told us to remember to keep praying. They told us to tell the stories of what happened. They told us to keep fighting for our Mother Earth and for the Water and for All Our Relations.
From the outside, the world saw Standing Rock as a protest. From the inside it was a community and a family. While many people who spent time in that village would call themselves capitalists or might tell you that they believe in the rightness of capitalism, I will tell you that the very existence of the camps and the way they functioned was anti-capitalist, anti-extractivist, and anti-colonial. Money and goods were tranvested from the capitalist over-culture and absorbed into a space where human needs were met simply because they were needs and where work was done because we cared about each other and because we cared about the Earth we live on.
This would-be idyllic existence was marred by the fact that we were in the middle of a war. It was a surreal war, completely asymetric, where the capitalists tried to prove how right they were through the use of intimidation, misinformation, guns, pepper spray, water cannons, airplanes, helicopters, and an assortment of illegal activity. Meanwhile, the local newspapers and the conservative press called us “law breakers” and sometimes even “terrorists”. We had to pass through road blocks manned by the National Guard or drive more than an hour around them. Law enforcement mobile command centers sat by the side of the road near by, sometimes two or even three together.
Our side of this war was not fought with guns. It was fought with prayer and Facebook livefeeds. There was prayer every morning and every night. There was prayer before every meal. There were sweat lodges every day, and sacred fires that burned without stop. The outside world heard about us through social media and they flooded us with support. People showed up by the thousands and those who couldn’t come sent donations.
I keep talking about “us” and “we”, identifying myself as one of the Water Protectors, but it didn’t start out that way. I was certainly moved to help the NoDAPL movement, but when I arrived I did not see myself as part of the community. I was just there to assist with the tools and resources I had available. I thought I was just going for two weeks to set up an Internet connection in collaboration with a member of the Lenca Nation of Central America. By the time I had been there two weeks I discovered that I wasn’t there just for “them”. I was there for “us”.
I was at Standing Rock for all the people who drink water that has been poisoned by industry and for those whose water we hope to protect from such a fate. I was there for all the people who have had their land and livelihood taken away from them, whether through the enclosures in Europe, the settlers and Manifest Destiny in America, or by banks and governments today. I was there for people who have been told that clean water is not a right, that medical care is for those who can afford it, that housing is something you must pay a third or half of your income for monthly, that healthy food is the most expensive kind, and that your neighbors are dangerous criminals who will steal your things and abuse your children. I am one of those people, so like it or not, I was there for myself.
I didn’t come to that conclusion by myself, though. All of us who were there were invited. The elders knew that we are all bound together on this Earth. They knew that we all drink the same water. They knew that by standing together on sacred ground, joining the prayers of all our peoples together, we would effect a change inside ourselves and in the world around us. There were many times when I heard an elder say, “We even invite the infiltrators to be here with us. Let them come! Let them see what’s happening here! Even if they are against us now, they will be changed. This is their water, too.” And they were right. Some of the infiltrators from those days have become whistleblowers. The power of all that prayer moved things in everyone.
Oceti (say oh-CHEH-tee) means “camp fire” in the Lakhota language. Sakowin (say shock-oh-WEEN) means “seven”. Together, they are the Seven Council Fires of the Lakota people. The Lakota are one of the three parts of what is known as the Great Sioux Nation in English today. The other two parts are the Nakota and the Dakota. All three names mean “friend” or “ally” in their respective dialects.
When the first Water Protector camp started up at Standing Rock in April 2016, it was at Sacred Stone which is located on the Standing Rock (Hunkpapa) reservation, just south of the Cannonball River and west of the Missouri. By June of 2016 some people had moved out of Sacred Stone and onto a large open field to the north of Cannonball river. This was not in the modern boundaries of the Standing Rock reservation, but it was part of the original treaty territory that was to belong to The Great Sioux Nation. This new camp was on land where the Seven Council Fires had met 140 years before. They came together once again for the matter of their sovereignty and protecting the sacred land and water, and so the camp was named Oceti Sakowin in respect of that historic gathering.
After December 5th, some people started calling the camp “Oceti Oyate”, which was meant to mean “Council Fire of the People”. In modern usage, Oceti can also mean “stove” in some dialects, and so one elder declared that this name actually fit the camp pretty well since we were the “People of the woodstove” that winter.
Many of us who were at camp for a long time now simply call the camp “Oceti” unless we are speaking specifically of the section of the camp where the Seven Councils met (called The Horn), the sacred fire that was in that place, or the continuing work of that joint council.
There was another camp on the south side of the Cannon Ball river called Rosebud or Sičangu (say See-CHAN-goo). That camp was organized by the Sičangu band of the Lakota from South Dakota, and it had it’s own kitchen, sacred fire, sweat lodge, tent sites, security detail, and so on. In discussions of coordination and internal politics it was considered to be part of Oceti Sakowin or completely its own camp depending on context.
For many months at Oceti, there was a meeting every morning at 9am where people could learn about what was happening around camp, voice their concerns, and coordinate working teams throughout the camps. That meeting was facilitated by Johnny Aseron from the Cheyenne River reservation, but for one week in November when he was sick, I had the privilege of facilitating the 9am meetings at the Dome. By that time there were literally hundreds of new people showing up to the camp every single day. Some would stay for just a few days, but most would show up at the Dome on the morning after they arrived for the 9am meeting and orientation.
When Johnny led the meeting, he would take a few moments before sending the newbies off to orientation to say hello and give them a few words about where they were. On the days that I led the morning meeting, I had my own spiel for the newcomers:
“This camp is called Oceti Sakowin. Oceti means camp fire. Sakowin means seven. This refers to the Seven Council Fires of the Lakota people, and it is also the name for the Lakota/Dakota/Nakota Nation, what the US government calls ‘The Great Sioux Nation’, in their own language. You are on treaty territory. You are in the land of The Great Sioux Nation. If you’ve never been outside the United States before, congratulations! You, like me, are here on a special visa waiver program. We have all been invited by the Lakota people to be here with them at this historic moment, but do not forget that you are not in the United States any more. You are in a foreign country. Treat the people and the culture with the respect that you would do in any other country that you visited.”
Before I even got to camp, the Oceti Synchronicities had begun. My friend Roberto Monge had some friends from his town who had just been at camp and were heading back home at the same time I was heading towards Standing Rock. He introduced us via email and text message and suggested we should meet up somewhere on the road. They contacted me and suggested we meet up for dinner in Billings, Montana. My day got off to a bumpy start, though, and I didn’t even get on the road until about 3 in the afternoon. It turned out that they also didn’t get into Billings when they expected, so at 11pm we all agreed to meet up for breakfast in the morning.
As I rolled into Billings at 3 in the morning, I wondered where they had gotten off the highway for the night. There are three highway exits, and I had no way of knowing which one they were closest to. I picked one at random and began to look for a safe place to park my van, make my bed and go to sleep. As I turned a corner I saw an outdoor sports chain store that is known to let people in campers and RVs sleep in their parking lots. I pulled into the parking lot, climbed into the back of my van, set up my bed, set my phone alarm for 6am, and caught 3 hour’s of sleep. When my alarm went off, I sent a text message to the people I was trying to meet up with. A moment later they texted me back with their hotel address. It was a directly across the street from where I was parked.
I pulled into the hotel parking lot, went in to the breakfast room, and sat with my new friends. They drew me a map of the camps and told me how to get there. They showed me where they had been camping, tucked back into a grove of trees which protected it from the harsh winds. They gave me names of people that they had met, and suggested other people that I should contact when I arrived. Their 30 minute orientation between bites of waffle gave me everything I needed to know before Roberto showed up with the equipment to set up the Internet a few days after me.
That evening I got to Bismark, North Dakota about an hour before dusk. There was a conference call with Roberto and some other friends of his to discuss their arrivals, things they would bring, and what we each needed to do. I knew that there was no cell coverage in the camps, so I pulled over into a parking lot for the call before heading south on 1806.
About 10 minutes south of Bismark I arrived at the police check point. I say police, but it was really manned by several national guardsmen in army uniforms and carrying their rifles. I say checkpoint, but it was more of a road block, or like an Israeli military checkpoint in the West Bank. There were concrete dividers that went all the way out to the property fences on each side of the road and that came together in such a way that only one car could go through at a time. This was the first time that the reality of the war zone hit me. This was part of a classic military low intensity conflict strategy.
At the check point a guardsman asked me, “Have you been down this road recently?”
I said, “No.”
“Well, we’re just here to let you know that there are some people camping down the road a little ways here. They may be out walking on the side of the road, so it’s important for you to slow down and watch out for pedestrians, ok?” The soldier was cheerful and friendly.
My complexion is fairly pale, my hair sort of auburn where it isn’t dyed purple, blue or pink. I knew already from reports online that I would not have been allowed to go down this road at all if my skin and hair had been darker.
About 25 minutes later I had arrived at Oceti Sakowin, but it was dark and the driveway entrances were a bit confusing. I was trying to get to the Sičangu camp on the south side of the Cannon Ball river, but I missed the turn off in the dark, drove into the town of Cannonball, following some signs for what seemed like an eternity, and then finally ended up at the Sacred Stone camp way to the east of where I’d meant to be. But it was getting late at that point, and I hadn’t had much sleep. I pulled up to the security gate, told the guards that I had meant to go to Sičangu, but it’s dark and could I sleep there for the night? They said “Welcome!” and pointed the way to a good place to park for the night.
Despite being very tired, I was not quite ready to sleep. I needed to greet the land and the spirits there. I pulled some tobacco out of a large pouch in the back of my van, and put it carefully into a smaller pouch that would fit into my pocket. Then I walked down the hill toward the Cannonball river. There is a path that leads from Sacred Stone over to Sičangu along the river, but it was very dark and the path is shrouded in trees that make it even darker.
I think that night it must have been somewhat overcast, because I don’t remember the stars that night at all. I just remember the river and the muddy path and the trees. I remember walking about halfway between the two camps to a lonesome place where I couldn’t see another human. I felt a bit afraid, like I was going to get lost or trip and fall into the river or like I was going to walk into some place I wasn’t supposed to be. So I stopped right there.
The tobacco in my pocket was for praying. I put my hand in the baggy in my pocket and pulled some out. I stood there with the tobacco in my hand and began to pray. I said thanks for the sun, the moon, land, the sky, the water, the trees, the other plants, the animals, the humans gathered there, for bringing me safely to that place, for making things work out just right that morning in Billings. And then, I took a few breaths and I began to greet the Land and the spirits on that land. I told them who I was and why I was there.
Normally, at this point, I should feel some response from spirit. There should be some sense that I have not been talking to myself, that the spirits I am talking to have heard me. But there was just silence. And darkness. And cold.
I assured the spirits that I would follow the requests and requirements of the people whose land I was on, and that I would also listen to the voices of the the spirits themselves.
I felt cold and fear. I felt distrust aimed at me.
I knew that the spirits didn’t believe what I’d said.
I gave the tobacco to the ground and to the plants. I prayed again, this time telling the spirits that if they were willing to teach and to guide me in the way that I should behave in their land that I was willing to learn. And if they were not willing, I promised to do my bumbling best to be a good guest and a good friend. I said a few words in Lakota, which I had been studying for a few weeks before my trip. I waited in the silence. The spirits were not terribly impressed.
At last, I thanked the spirits and walked back to my van.
As I prepared for bed, I turned my phone to airplane mode and unplugged it from the charger. The battery was at 100%. It should last me for two or three days like that. I set my alarm for 7am and went to sleep.
This Is (Cyber) War
The next morning I woke up. I didn’t know what time it was, but the sun was bright in the sky. I pulled up my phone to check the time and see what happened with my alarm. The screen was black. The phone would not turn on. The battery was completely dead.
If the checkpoint had been my first realization that we were in a war zone, this was the moment that I realized that the government was using cyber warfare on us alongside the more traditional fare. This was the moment that it hit me that someone could be using a Stingray device against the Water Protectors.
At first, I wasn’t sure what had caused my battery to drain. The idea that it might be a fake cell tower – also known as an IMSI Catcher, a cell-site emulator, or by the brand name Stingray – was in the back of my head, but one dead phone is not enough to say that was the culprit. These devices are used by law enforcement all over the United States under shady circumstances with questionable legality. At that point I was thinking that maybe my phone had been compromised before I had even arrived at the camps. If I’d gotten some malware onto my phone in the days leading up to my trip, that app could have been trying to ping home over the network even though the network was turned off.
I walked around Sacred Stone that morning, found someone who could tell me what time it was, and mentioned what had happened to my phone. They said that was a common problem. They figured it was because of the lack of cell towers in the area, and I had to agree that for most people, that probably was the cause of their phone going dead. But then someone else overheard the conversation and jumped in. They had also turned their phone to airplane mode and had it die on them.
After breakfast, I headed over to the legal tent on Media Hill (aka Facebook Hill) at Oceti. When I introduced myself, they knew who I was and had been expecting me. I waited for a bit while they handled more urgent matters, and then a few lawyers, a paralegal or two and I sat down to have a chat. Before we even got into the topic of the Internet set up, I mentioned what had happened to my phone and asked if they’d heard of anything like that. They had. That and much more.
Not only had people been complaining about phones going dead overnight, but they said that phones often went dead suddenly as one of the planes flew by overhead. But that wasn’t all. One person at the table had an almost unbelievable story about a car battery dying at night when a plane flew over. And then there were the reports of malware on people’s phones. The most prominent one was Myron Dewey of Digital Smoke Signals. His iPhone would start the voice recording function at seemingly random moments. It wasn’t even secretive. The phone would announce that it was recording, and then the record app would be on the screen.
I listened to these stories and then I asked, “Has anyone called the EFF?”
They hadn’t called the Electronic Frontier Foundation yet, but that day they did. The EFF is a nonprofit organization that defends civil liberties in the digital world. They are like the ACLU for the Internet. The EFF sent a researcher and a lawyer up to the camps a few weeks later, and we worked together to try to determine what exactly was going on. The fact of the matter is that none of us knew exactly.
By the time the EFF researcher arrived, I was convinced that one of the weapons being used against us was an IMSI catcher. I had installed an application called AIMSICD onto my phone to track what cell sites my phone could see and connect to. There were patterns in the database that I believe suggest that there was an IMSI catcher on at least one of the aircraft that flew over the camps day in and day out as well as several other IMSI catchers at specific locations in the vicinity of the camps.
I am nearly certain that a short cell phone tower that was erected just to the south of the camp known as “1861 Camp”, “Treaty Camp”, or “North Camp” was there for the specific purpose of surveilling the people at that location because that camp was directly in the path of the pipeline construction, and immediately across the highway from a section of land that had already been dug up. That tower was only reachable if you were in the vicinity of the Treaty Camp, where only about 10 people were living but where many demonstrations were staged. The tower was completely invisible to the more populous camps a mile further south. Furthermore, that tower identified itself to some phones, including mine, as an AT&T tower, but other phones showed the tower belonged to Verizon. When I asked my contacts at the Standing Rock Telecom, a tribe-owned mobile phone company, they told me that tower was a legitimate Verizon tower. As time went on, there was more evidence that tower was there for surveillance purposes, but the clincher is that the tower was removed entirely by the time everything was over and the authorities had cleared out the camps.
Research into the capabilities of different models of IMSI catchers showed us that it was possible that, in addition to tracking our numbers and movements with the devices, they could also have captured voice, text and data transmissions and they could even install malware on phones through more than one method. It is also well known that IMSI catchers can drain a phone battery quickly by sending messages to the phone to disconnect from a tower over and over again. Each time the phone tries to reconnect to a tower, the battery usage spikes. But that doesn’t explain the incidents with the car batteries.
We still don’t know what happened with the cars. When I first started talking publicly about the various cyber warfare incidents that happened at Standing Rock, the car batteries dying is the one incident that induced the most rolling of eyes and declarations of my professional incompetence. Obviously, the critics said, the car batteries died because of the cold. Everyone knows that the temperatures at the camps got below -20F (-29C) in December and January, but these car battery incidents happened starting in September! One incident in late October involved 5 cars in one parking area all having drained batteries at the same time. Another incident in November involved several cars and a couple of pick up trucks.
In April or May of 2017, after asking everyone I could think of what might have done that to the cars, an Iraq vet suggested that I go look up the word “Warlock”. He said that he thought that might be responsible for what we saw. What I found seems like an unlikely culprit since the Warlock series are just radio jammers of different sorts. However, there are other weapons that were created and tested in Iraq, such as the Blow Torch which is a high powered microwave emitter intended to fry the circuitry in an IED (Improvised Explosive Device). That’s probably not what they used, but the sheer number of devices that have been created and tested in battlefields by the US military in recent years is suggestive.
More than suggestive, actually. Over and over again Native Americans from different tribes across the US told me the same thing, “They’re testing things on us before they use them on the rest of the population.” A common historical understanding among the Native community is that the US government tests different methods of population control on the reservations before using the most effective ones on other Americans. As the tech team struggled to understand exactly what tools were being used against us online, on our phones, and in physical space, we couldn’t help but come to the same conclusion. Despite a collective knowledge that covered many areas of cyber security and digital offense, there were still many things we found that were completely new to us.
This Is (Low Intensity) War
“Low intensity conflict is a political-military confrontation between contending states or groups below conventional war and above the routine, peaceful competition among states. It frequently involves protracted struggles of competing principles and ideologies. Low-intensity conflict ranges from subversion to the use of the armed forces. It is waged by a combination of means, employing political, economic, informational, and military instruments. Low-intensity conflicts are often localized, generally in the Third World, but contain regional and global security implications”
The U.S. military doctrine of low intensity conflict has its roots in the counterinsurgency tactics developed during the Vietnam War. During the Reagan administration, in the 1980s, low intensity operations were used in a number of conflict areas throughout what was then called the Third World. The first International Conference on Low Intensity Conflict was held in 1986 at Fort McNair in Washington, DC where the methods of suppressing and subverting guerrilla fighters were discussed and codified.
In the context of guerrilla warfare, the dominant nation state actors will use various tactics to 1) turn the public against the insurgency, 2) break down morale within the guerrilla movement, 3) set individuals or groups within the movement against each other, and 4) sabotage the material support systems for both the insurgent groups and anyone who provides them assistance. Much of this effort comes in the form of psychological warfare which may include propaganda, infiltrators who plant rumors and conflicts, and consistent harassment of guerrillas and their supporters. Harassment includes but is not limited to checkpoints on roads, police stop and search actions against people who fit a certain visual description, aircraft constantly flying over the areas controlled by the guerrillas, the use of constant noise such as loud music or machines, and bright flood lights at night.
Once you know that the peaceful Water Protectors were considered terrorists by the government and Energy Transfer Partners, the company responsible for the Dakota Access Pipeline, it is not surprising to learn that all of these tactics were used against the movement.
Planes and helicopters flew overhead nearly 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, as long as weather permitted. At night, aircraft would often fly without lights so that you could hear them but not see them easily, despite the fact that this is illegal. Sometimes a helicopter would follow the car of a high profile Water Protector when they left the camps.
Multiple mobile police command centers were parked near the camps at any given time. There were often one or two of the giant trucks to the north of the main camp and as many as three to the south. On many occasions there would be a mobile command vehicle parked ten miles south of the camps at the Prairie Knights Hotel and Casino, where Water Protectors would go to take showers, spend a night indoors, charge phones, use the Internet, and meet with journalists.
When Water Protectors needed to purchase supplies, we traveled north to Bismarck, where we were recognized by the layered clothing we needed to survive in the camps and by our distinct campfire scent. Some stores, restaurants and hotels refused service to anyone they suspected was a Water Protector. Police would see a vehicle with out of state license plates and trail them for miles, often pulling the vehicle over on false pretenses. People of Native American descent, or anyone whose complexion was more brown then peach colored, was at greater risk of citation or arrest during a trip to the city.
For days before the raid of Treaty Camp on October 27, 2016 there were rumors about what was about to happen. We knew that National Guard troops were gathering at a site north of us, off of highway 1806 between Standing Rock and Bismarck. Rumors were that they might raid Oceti Sakowin, and we created safety plans for everyone that included running across the Cannonball River to the Sičangu and Sacred Stone camps. A few days before the raid, many people moved tents and tipis north to the Treaty Camp in hopes of holding the line away from the most populated camp. The tension was incredible, and elders warned us that we needed to stay calm if we wanted to have energy and our wits when the soldiers and police finally came. Those with experience made sure that as many people as possible understood that this tension and uncertainty was part of the psychological war.
The day of the Treaty Camp raid finally came, but one of the longer term attacks against us came after the mercenaries, law enforcement and National Guard pulled people out of a sweat lodge during a prayer ceremony, destroyed tipis, threw sacred items into giant piles, stole personal items, and arrested 142 people. The night after they took Treaty Camp away from us, they took away the stars. From that night onward, the ridge just north of Oceti Sakowin was lined with massive lights pointed towards the camp. They said it was for security, but they knew full well that it also obliterated the view of the night sky.
Inside the camps we had to be constantly aware of the risk of infiltrators. Some infiltrators encouraged people to use violent methods at actions so that the peaceful unity of the movement could be broken and images of “dangerous terrorists” could be displayed on TV, newspapers, and social media. There were people who came into camp just to spread rumors. The more confusion that could be spread, the harder it was for the community to stay united. And then there were people who intentionally created fights between different sub-camps or workgroups.
One infiltrator managed to break down the very good relationship that Tech Warrior Camp had with the camp of the Medic and Healer Council. After members of our team had set up a mini electric grid for the camp with the yurts and tipis where medical doctors and traditional healers from around the world cared for the Water Protector community, one infiltrator managed to create a fight between our two groups over the control and ownership of certain equipment. He told them that we had stolen some of their windmills (we had not), and told us that they were sending some of our equipment which had been stored in a utility yurt at their camp off to other Water Protector camps in Florida when we clearly still needed that equipment in North Dakota. I had to present receipts for every piece of equipment we had to representatives of the Medic And Healer Council, and still there was mistrust between our teams throughout January and February because of that incident.
Other infiltrators did physical damage to our camps. On one occasion, the Internet in the Dome was sabotaged when an infiltrator cut the wires from the network router to the deep cycle battery it ran off, and walked away with the battery. On another occasion, the entire solar system outside the Dome was was sabotaged before an infiltrator dressed as a utility worker cut the Ethernet cord leading to a small communications dish which he removed from the pole and took with him.
Only after the camps were closed did we have proof positive of some of the counterinsurgency tactics used against us. The Intercept published a series of articles along with leaked documents from TigerSwan, the private military contractor that provided “security” for the Dakota Access Pipeline, which showed that the mercenaries were working in close partnership with Morton County Sheriffs and the FBI. Those documents also showed that some of us where specifically targeted for surveillance both at camp and away from it, and that the mercenaries put special emphasis on creating divisions along racial lines at the camps to separate the Native community and their non-Native allies.
Some of the facts about what happened at Standing Rock won’t be known for decades. Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests for information on some of the police and military tactics have been denied for various reasons. The FOIA requests sent out to Morton County Sheriffs, North Dakota State Police, and the North Dakota National Guard asking for information about possible IMSI Catcher use, for instance, were not just denied but “rejected on grounds of national security”. Such a rejection will not be overcome until the classification of that information is changed at some future date. In the meantime, we have to take what lessons we can from Standing Rock so that we can resist capitalist destruction of the planet and colonialist theft of human and community rights everywhere.
We haven’t even begun to talk about the community at the Water Protector camps at Standing Rock. I haven’t begun to share the spiritual impact the place had on me and so many other people there. In my next installment of my Standing Rock Story, I’ll tell you about what it was like to be a temporary immigrant on Lakota land for six months. See you in two weeks!
Lisha Sterling is a crazy nomad woman who works on humanitarian technology, spending lots of time in low resource areas and disaster zones. She talks to plants, animals, gods and spirits. Some of them talk back.
“As I made my way back across the dark parking lot, this thought had solidified in my mind: we need to stop focusing on what to do with the massive mountains of reeking filth that other people dump on us. We need to focus instead on curtailing the creation of that garbage in the first place.”
A report from Joe DiCicco
A fire hall at the end of a long drive down dark country road sets the scene. It’s not even 6:30 but already it’s dark. Such is late autumn in Upstate New York. Romulus, New York, to be exact, in the heart of the Finger Lakes. A tiny little hamlet with a school, a couple churches, plenty of open farmland. I don’t think there’s even a convenience store anymore. Unfortunately, the setting is all too familiar. It is this rural location that sticks out like a sore thumb, a bull’s eye, a target, to predatory corporate interests.
Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more.
As I pull into the parking lot of the Romulus Fire Department, I see it’s nearly full with colossal diesel pick up trucks; another tell-tale sign. As I park my car and make my way inside, I pass by a tall man, perhaps in his fifties, smoking a cigarette and glaring daggers at me. I’m not surprised. I’m known in these parts by some as a sort of speaker of truth who hits all the points. By others as a commie/liberal/un-American writer. A meddlesome writer, with, according to some, some sort of hidden agenda. Whatever that means. This particular gentleman wore a blaze orange hoody, the words printed on which I couldn’t quite make out in the darkness. It would become apparent which of the two opposites this gentleman likely saw me the moment I walked into the bright florescent lights of the fire hall.
A sea of blaze orange. Forty or more men, and a few women, taking up the first three or four rows of metal folding chairs placed in the hall. It wasn’t quite 6:30, and the meeting did not begin until 7. They must have been the first ones to there.
IBEW their sweatshirts read. Made in America.
A local electrician’s union. I nodded. It made sense.
They had, in all likelihood, been instructed by their supervisor to show up in force, to show their support for the project (of which I’ll get to in just a moment), to display how the region needs jobs, and of their willingness to take them. The proposed facility would need electrical run, and these electricians were just the ones to do it.
This is, of course, taken from the corporate playbook. Infiltrating A Community 100: All the Basics. Go to a rural community with a high unemployment rate (in this case, the Finger Lakes region of upstate NY, which is quickly becoming known as trash country) and dangle jobs over people’s heads. Construction jobs. Electrician jobs. Get these hopefuls to show up to these meetings, it all helps the end goal of the outside interest.
You want to put food in your baby’s belly? Well, these local yokels want to take that food right out of your baby’s mouth. You’re going to have to protect your family.
The thought turned my stomach that evening, and it turns my stomach now. The way these moneyed interests manipulate populations is simply perverse.
Seven o’ clock came around and over 200 people had packed into the fire hall (as always, there should have been three times that number). It was about what I had expected. It was meant to be a regular meeting of the Romulus Town Board, but this proposed facility was given the spotlight. A lawyer representing the company, Circular EnerG LLC, began with what was to be expected; a slide show presentation and a picture painted of a facility and industrial jobs package that sounded too good to be true. Plenty of buzzwords. Plenty of promises of “I’ve worked with numerous facilities like these before, folks, and let me tell you, they really are something special!”
The proposal, of course, is to build a garbage incineration facility that would accept refuse from all over the northeastern United States, by truck and by rail, to be burnt on-site and converted to energy. The proposed location for the facility is on a former army storage depot smack dab between the two largest of the Finger Lakes; Seneca and Cayuga. The facility would accept some 2,600 tons of other people’s garbage every single day.
After the lawyer spoke, a couple different environmental engineers, hired by Circular EnerG, took the mic and spoke briefly about the inner-workings of such a facility. I found it just a bit strange that a representative of the company itself was not in attendance; just its lawyer and sub-contracted engineers. Very little is known about the company itself. It’s a young company, having been in existence for only around two years, and apparently has an office in Rochester, about an hour away. I had difficulty finding any information at all about this company. I found sites for a Circular Energy with a ‘Y’, but the presentations, and indeed all the information about this company thus far spell it with only a capitalized ‘G’. In fact, the only information I have been able to locate on this company comes from the local news articles describing the proposed project.
Another neon-red flag.
This proposal is, unfortunately, just the latest in a long line of attacks on the Finger Lakes region of New York, some four hours northwest of the city. A region that for many years worked hard to brand itself as wine country, a land of beautiful rolling hills and numerous freshwater lakes. It would seem, however, that other interests are set on making the region the trash capital of New York State, and possibly even the northeast. The Seneca Meadows privately-owned, for-profit mega-landfill exists a mere fifteen minutes up the road from where this proposed incineration facility would stand. Seneca Meadows is by far the largest landfill in the state, and one of the largest in the northeast. It already accepts 6,000 tons of rotting filth a day, from numerous other northeastern states and even Canada, and stockpiles it just north of the villages of Waterloo and Seneca Falls. Now, if this proposed incineration facility was aiming to shut down the landfill, maybe even begin moving some of the mountains of trash from it to be incinerated, I may be more inclined to consider.
But it’s not.
It is a separate entity from Seneca Meadows, entirely. And it is simply another artery to bring in other people’s filth into the Finger Lakes. And the people here are up to their necks in it already.
I looked up from my notes, sitting roughly in the center of the crowded fire hall. The engineer currently speaking was telling how the facility would use some 450,000 gallons of water from Seneca Lake every single day. This water would be used to cool incinerator machinery before being returned to the lake much warmer than it had previously been. Seneca Lake, the largest and deepest of the ancient glacial lakes that make up the Finger Lakes, is already under far too much stress. Numerous wineries, farms, and at least one power plant all discharge into her waters. Harmful Algae Blooms, or HABs, have become a serious threat in recent years. These are growths of blue-green algae known to be quite harmful to humans and wildlife. They occur due to nutrient loading into the lake, as well as warmer and warmer water being discharged back into the lake, thus promoting the growth.
Simply put, our lake cannot take anymore. She’s at the breaking point.
“Any true environmentalist should support this facility.” The lawyer finished up the presentation with. I scowled. The guy likely didn’t know the first thing about being a true environmentalist.
Indeed, proponents for the facility point out how many Europeans nations and Japan are already incinerating their garbage, as opposed to wholesale dumping it in populated areas. This is true, and in their case, it is a far more efficient and sustainable practice. That’s because they don’t create waste like we, as Americans, do. They practice recycling, composting, and reuse to a far more stringent level. Many companies operating in these nations are required, by law, to buy back the packaging they use in their products, discouraging excess use. Incineration is then the final step to deal with the very minimal bare ones, if you will, of what remains. They do not allow their citizens to simply create as much waste as their hearts desire, and then propose to incinerate it. They are not handling anywhere near the volume we would be at this proposed facility in Romulus, New York.
We filed out of the fire hall at eight o’ clock, about an hour after the presentation began. They do like to keep these things short and sweet. And my mind had been made up. I believed exiting this presentation even more strongly than I did entering it, that garbage is not the answer. As I made my way back across the dark parking lot, this thought had solidified in my mind: we need to stop focusing on what to do with the massive mountains of reeking filth that other people dump on us. We need to focus instead on curtailing the creation of that garbage in the first place. Once we have put into place stringent recycling, reuse and composting initiatives, and in the communities where the waste is coming from, only then can we consider the incineration of the minimal amount remaining. And I know many others in attendance at that fire hall agree. As I reached my car, I overheard an elderly woman exiting the hall behind me speak clearly into the cold early-December air:
“The Finger Lakes wants out of the trash business!”
Joe DiCicco is an author of horror fiction as well as environmental issues. He holds a degree in Environmental Conservation and will choose people and Mother Earth over corporate profits, every time.
IT WAS ONE DAY after the worst snowstorm the Finger Lakes had seen all winter. Four feet of the white stuff, already beginning to melt on the sidewalks and roadsides as I made my way into the lobby of a local high school. Honestly, I did not know what to expect from the climate summit, especially one being held in such a rural area. But as soon as I made my way into the lobby, I knew I had made the right choice in coming.
Several booths had been set up, one from the Cornell Cooperative Extension, another from the New York Department of Environmental Conservation, these offering troves of information on climatological science and how climate change in impacting the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York. This particular summit had been sponsored by the Mynderse Academy (the high school it was being held at) Science Department, and included speakers from Cornell University, and the Museum of Earth, out of Ithaca, New York.
I signed in at a student-run booth (the young lady appearing just a bit surprised that I was a concerned community member and not associated with any university or organization) and made my way into the auditorium. I took a moment to get seated and marvel at how nice the school was, having a sizeable and dedicated auditorium. After all, the high school I went to didn’t have doors on the stalls in the restrooms, let alone an actual auditorium. High school was a while ago for me, but I seem to remember any sort of student assembly being held in the gym. Maybe I’m getting crotchety in my old age, but I couldn’t help but muse at how spoiled these kids today must be, with their high schools with actual auditoriums. What’s next? Doors on the stalls in the restrooms?
The auditorium filled up quick, with guests from all over the region. I noticed other members of the community in attendance, as well as local town and city politicians (not nearly enough of these). It being a school day, the students of the high school were required to attend the summit, and I could not help but wonder if they realized just how fortunate they were to be receiving this information at such a young age.
Things started off with Dr. Duggan-Haas, from the Paleontological Research Institution at the Museum of Earth, in Ithaca. Dr. Duggan-Haas immediately informed the crowd that climate change is indeed real, and it is indeed caused by us, humans. I would be lying if I did not say that the information was damning.
The take-away from Dr. Duggan-Hass’ speech came down to the fact that humanity is simply consuming too much energy, and that, if we are to have any sort of sustainable future on our planet Earth, we need desperately to curtail our hunger for it. Less usage is key.
One crucial point that was made was the fact that, for example, hydraulic-fracturing (the process of injecting chemical-laden water at extremely high pressure into the ground to breakup shale deposits and thus release the natural gas) is indeed highly destructive to our planet, but so are all methods of mass energy consumption. It became apparent there is a conundrum here, far more complex than simply trying to live green, or find some quick-fix we can all do to set things right. Fossil fuels are the energy source we strive to move away from, while at the same time allowing more sustainable sources to exist.
Basically, green energy requires fossil fuel in some form to be practical, whether that be the creations of materials in solar panels or wind turbines, or the power needed for them to begin collecting sunlight or wind in the first place.
Now that doesn’t mean I’m anti-renewable energy. Quite the contrary. I believe we, as a human race, need desperately to invest in these sustainable alternatives to coal and oil and gas. But that’s only half the battle. The other half is simply reducing our overall consumption of energy, which leads me to my next point.
We can, all of us, make small changes in our daily lives to use less. Take shorter showers, turn off lights when not in use, recycle as much as we possibly can. Problem is, these minor changes in the day-to-day lives of the average human being are small potatoes in comparison to the megalithic hyper-consumption by corporate entities. So long as these private companies are allowed to, quite plainly, rape our Mother Earth for profit, little will change. This system of abject capitalism for the sheer sack of it is blowing through our planet’s natural resources at an utterly unsustainable rate.
International policy is needed to change this. Strict guidelines set forth to ensure Mother Earth’s precious resources exist for generations to come. But therein lies yet another conundrum; seeing to it that various world governments obey said guidelines. Good faith is not enough. It is imperative that any such climate guidelines put forth are followed to the letter. But then we run into the question of just who is tasked with enforcement of such a global climate treaty. The United States? Have we not acted as world police for long enough? And that’s assuming we would bother to try enforcement of such rules in the first place. The corporate culture and wanton capitalism that is inherently American would beg to disagree.
After several speakers, all with poignant information to share, the students were allowed to go home for the day, as it was after 2 o’clock by this point, or stay to learn more if they wished. I was not surprised to see nearly all of them decided to leave, and I don’t blame them. I’m sure I would have done the same when I was fifteen or sixteen. The remaining audience was then allowed to explore several different workshops located in various classrooms throughout the school. Composting, recycling, vermiculture, as well as the social cost of energy mass-consumption were all topics covered.
One very important issue that was touched upon was the difference between climate and weather, and it is a distinction I’m afraid most people are unaware of. Weather is what’s happening in your neck of the woods over a brief period; hours, days, weeks. Climate is what that weather tends to do over a more extended period; at least thirty years. This is a distinction people need to realize.
What is important is the global temperature average, not the wind chill in Pisswater, Okiedokie. Just because it’s cold outside where you are, does not mean the global temperature is not rising. 2016 was the warmest year on record, beating out 2015, which in turn beat out 2014. The Earth’s average temperature has been rising steadily since the early twentieth century, and exponentially since around 1980. And that is information from the Earth Observatory at NASA, which can be found here.
Like I said, the information is there, and it’s damning.
Walking out into the parking lot after the summit had ended, I could not help but be impressed. The information is desperately needed the world over, but especially in small towns and counties, where people may be more resistant to the facts. The professional data presented was university-level, not to mention free and open to the public. Far more people should have attended than did, but it’s a start. Like I said, it was refreshing to see such information presented in this small community. Hopefully we will see many more such summits and forums in cities and towns across the country, and the world. One can only hope
Yet how do we, as people who truly want to make a change, manage to get an actual dialogue with fellow community members, some of whom may be unwilling to listen?
This was yet another issue brought up at the summit, and I believe it is one of the most crucial of all:
We need to make it personal.
We need to connect the information to observable facts people can relate to. The trees blossoming earlier each year. The summers getting hotter and more humid. Certain crops not fairing as well as they used to. These are all things people can see, things they can understand. When you begin spewing numbers and trite data, most people are going to shut down. If they can’t understand it, or believe it has importance in their life, chances are they won’t listen. There is a decent possibility they may even become angry, feeling intimidated. But if we can give them something they can relate to, they may begin to see. Maybe all at once, maybe piece by piece. But they will begin to see.
It’s a small start, but it is a start. Talk to people around you, give them examples. Doing our part to use less is great, and it is crucial. But education is just as important. If we can spread the information, each of us doing our part, then that person will eventually spread the information on to someone else.
We have already passed a tipping-point, where what’s done is done. We are now living on an Earth with a certain amount of damage that cannot be reversed, not for many, many years. But what we can do is stop the damage from spreading further.
Joe DiCicco is a writer from New York. He writes mostly fiction, but has recently begun delving into issues of environmental and social importance. He holds a degree in Natural Resources Conservation.
Joe DiCicco has a piece in the second issue of A Beautiful Resistance. All issues, along with Pagan Anarchism and A Pagan Anti-Capitalist Primer, are now available together as a digital download for $20 US. Or order them in print here.
The New Right is a particularly worrisome influence on many Pagan, Polytheist, and Magical communities. We are particularly pleased to host this long-form essay by Shane Burley on the ideas of the New Right and their relationship to Fascism as seen through the platform of Augustus Sol Invictus.
We’ve also included a special page on the New Right, their intersections with Paganism, and how a Pagan Anti-Capitalism can better address these same issues.
At about 9:00pm on Tuesday, March 1st, Rose City Antifa (RCA) sent out an alert that a neo-fascist politician from Florida was having an open “meet and greet” in Northeast Portland. Augustus Sol Invictus had begun his “Northwest tour,” and was publicly congregating at the Radio Room in the trendy Alberta neighborhood. RCA, it seems, had been monitoring his Facebook, which he leaves public so as to create a constant stream of contact with supporters and vague ideologues.[i]
After anti-fascists protesters began calling in, Augustus and friends were kicked out and went down the road to the Bye & Bye, which refused both to remove the growing crowd of Invictus supporters or to defend them against the roaring collection of protesters that were amassing just outside its doors. Augustus was not shy about what came next, posting on his Facebook at length.
First of all, fuck you to the piece of shit bartender at Bye & Bye who refused to call the cops, saying. “Not my problem, man.” When there is a woman in the bar about to be jumped, it “is” your fucking problem. The day you and a woman you’re with are about to get jumped by twenty people, I hope the bartender tells you the same thing. Second, fuck you to the antifa who hit one of my supporters with a 2×4 and smashed the windows out of the car of another supporter. One day you’re going to pull that shit on someone who is armed, and you will get what you deserve. Come to Florida with that, and see what happens to you. Third, fuck you to the manager at Radio Room who kicked us out because you were so offended at the fact of my mere presence in your bar. I can get a cheeseburger at a thousand different bars in my short stay in Portland: you will always be an idiot, no matter what bar you manage. Fourth, thank you to the score of antifa who came by to take me out. I didn’t take the death threats seriously until tonight. You could have just left me alone and let me make my speeches in peace, but you decided to make a movement to assassinate me. I have been waiting for a worthy enemy all my life, and you have given me the best gift a man could ask for. Fifth, thank you to the supporters who refuse to be intimidated by threats of blackmail and violence. Remember that this is what the Fasces means: As individuals we can be broken, but together we are invincible. [ii]
In RCA’s report backthey noted that Augustus’ phone had died, which actually may have decreased the number of supporters that came to clamor at his internet stardom. While Augustus was angry with certain Bye & Bye staff members, RCA also wrote that “the Bye and Bye bouncers went so far as to act as bodyguards for Augustus.”[iv]
Earlier that day I had walked into a Panera Bread on Holgate to find that Augustus was as early as I was.
A couple of months ago I wrote an article, “Imperium and the Sun,”looking at the neo-fascist politics of Augustus Invictus, his campaign and his associations. He wrote me back a letter outlining some problems he had with the article, but generally commending it for being a fair and biting critique of him. I followed it up with “Fascist Performance Art,” where I went deeper into his politics and aesthetics, as well as the ways that I think Augustus tries to insulate himself from criticism. In his letter, he referenced coming to Portland as a part of his Northwest tour, and mentioned he wanted to grab a cup of coffee if I was up to it. After a bit of mental pacing, I decided to do this, as I had more questions forming that I wanted direct answers to. At the end of “Fascist Performance Art,” I listed 14 questions for Augustus, all of which were designed to be straight forward and provide the kind of answers about his political ideas that had remained clouded behind a wispy ambiguity.
When I arrived, Augustus was reading Jack Donovan’s The Way of Men, a sort of manifesto of “male tribalism.” Jack, also living in Portland, has had his own infamy grow over recent years. His first book, Androphilia, was a call to other queer men to drop what he saw as the “gay identity,” and to instead reclaim their masculinity. He has gone on to write heavily about masculinity and male tribalism, now speaking at White Nationalist allied organizations like the National Policy Institute and American Renaissance. Most recently he has made news for joining the controversial group the Wolves of Vinland, a “folkish” heathen collective that combines many of the tribalist ideas of motorcycle gangs with Germanic neo-paganism.[v]
Augustus was on his way to get a tattoo from Donovan after our meeting, which was his campaign’s logo on his back. This is an eagle, wings outstretched, clutching a “fasces.” This, as I mentioned in the other articles, is a bundle of sticks bound together, the image for Mussolini’s Fascist Party. It is also the image above the Roman senate of antiquity, a move towards the plausible deniability of the Invictus campaign. In his comment on Facebook, he mentions this “fasces,” a motif he is happy to resurrect.vi
Past polite pleasantries, we jumped headfirst into the meat of it as I delved into pointed questions about his positions on race, gender, nationalism, and other topics that have made his “Fireside Chats” so controversial. For his part, Augustus not only answered honestly, but seemed to fight to do so. I have interviewed dozens, perhaps hundreds, of people in my life, but almost none tried quite so hard to give an honest answer as he did across the table from me. Here he took time to analyze his own thoughts and to be as clear and as fair as possible, all of which is done to keep himself in line with some of the values that make up his own image of heroism.
I led with a question about race and IQ, asking if he believed that there were genetically defined racial difference in intelligence. This has been one of the most common edge arguments of White Nationalists over the last decade, creating a “field” known as “Human Biological Diversity.” This was formerly known as “race realism,” but HBD sounds even more innocuous and less likely to raise flags immediately to uninitiated onlookers. Augustus’ family is bi-racial, as he has bi-racial children with a woman from Puerto Rico.
He answered clearly that he thought that there was not enough evidence to make a determination one way or the other, and that IQ studies tended to be “political” and overly prejudiced. When I asked whether it gave him pause when thinking about his own children, he said no.
“No, I know my kids are smart,” he said, referencing that they were in the gifted program.
“I would say that I have never seen the work of Charles Murray [The Bell Curve] or J. Philippe Rushton [One of the best known proponents of racial differences in intelligence] disproved. I have seen many people offended by their work—but I have never seen anyone disprove it….I am largely agnostic in this area. I try to keep an open mind to all studies, because I am inclined to believe that anyone working to prove something about race—whether proving equality or inequality—likely has some sort of agenda.” [vii]
Equality, however, is not something that Augustus approves of nor believes in, and when asked if he thought people were generally equal despite their own particular differences he replied, “absolutely not.”
In Augustus’ response to my first article, he took issue with my use of a source that said he had a “dim view of women.” His response included saying that he “worshiped the feminine,” which he meant to include Goddess worship as a part of his religious practice.
In my second article I wrote that this argument was essentially the “religious version of saying I have a female friend.” He told me that when he first saw this second article he was using LSD as a part of a religious ceremony and it made him incredibly angry. He later went on a White Nationalist podcast, Radio ThreeFourteen, and mentioned it, saying that my first article was fair and the second one was despicable trash.viii He re-read the article later on and, while taking great issue with that particular statement, found it reasonably fair.ix
I brought this issue back up. I said, both to him and in the article, that worshipping the “feminine” and believing that you respect women is not the same thing as being allied with feminism. “So, then, do you believe that men and women have different prescribed roles?”
He answered that they did, that they were fundamentally different, which I responded was certainly not a feminist or progressive reading of gender or women. He agreed:
“Men and women are biological compliments. To treat them as identical is to allow ideology to override common sense and thousands of years of historical evidence (“groundbreaking” studies of far-flung indigenous tribes aside).”
The “groundbreaking” work he is talking about, whether anthropological or socio-biological, is generally mainstream at this point, whereas the notion that there is a gendered “essence” specific to someone’s assigned birth gender has been largely discredited. This discourse is one of the last holds that the far-right has in modern culture, as the battles over gender identity form the hallmark of the fascist crossover into Evangelical ecstasticism or GOP punditry.
Much of the previous discussion brought in some of what seemed like a series of paradoxes about Augustus’ politics, which is not unusual when looking at the syncretic ideas in fascist movements. I assumed that the primary focus of his own right-wing ideas, and the reason he supported groups like the American Front even though he is in bi-racial relationships, is that he supports a general Will to Power and the use of categorical hierarchies to stratify society.
He confirmed this, saying that he believes that hierarchies are both natural and normal. We discussed this at length, where he used well traveled analogies, citing the differences in ability in certain skills and professions as examples of these hierarchies. He added that he and his family would do well in a “warrior” society that was heavily stratified, and that this fact is what is important to him rather than what the average person would experience. He made it clear that he would prefer his own vision of a warrior civilization, based on the will of strong men, which is why he allies with them despite the monoracial ideas of his colleagues.
This does not mean, however, that he believes in a multi-racial, multicultural society. He stood firmly as a nationalist, though he disagreed with “rigid” racial nationalists. To Augustus Invictus, racial nationalism was never a feature of past society, nor is it likely to be achieved. In his broader nationalism, Latino people may be allowed over the border.
“My view of nationalism is broader than racial or ethnic nationalism. But I do ally myself politically with racial and ethnic nationalists—whether white, black, Hispanic, or Chinese—because, as I see it, we all have the same goal of the self-determination of peoples.”
He often brought things back to how he sees his own family, where certain types of diversity may be allowed to be present—for example, someone dating his daughter. His nationalism was more cultural, and reminded me of the America First politics of far-right political parties in the ’60s and ’70s, or perhaps the positions of Pat Buchanan in 1992 or Donald Trump today. When asked if he would allow a Jew or African American person to date his daughter, he said he would be less likely, since they would be further from his own “culture.”
These racist politics are not cleanly defined as they would be in the American Front, and seem to require mental backflips at times. However, Augustus still has clearly put a lot of thought into them. He mentioned his affection for Malcolm X, stating that his Black Nationalism was not out of a “hatred of white people” but instead a “love of his own people.”
This is not an uncommon talking point, but one that seems to lack even a basic understanding of the differences between Black Nationalism and White Nationalism. The Black Nationalist movement was not simply an attempt to reclaim identity as some sort of essentialist tribal marker. Members of the Black Nationalist movement hoped to find a sense of personhood that had been robbed by white colonial enslavement, and to create a community so as to resist oppression. White Nationalism is, as best we can see, the last gasp of reactionary whites attempting to hold on to some sense of privilege, or the identity that was formed through the subjugation of other peoples.
He took a great deal of time to explain how he not only was not homophobic, but could not even understand how a person could be. He said several times that he “advocated bisexuality,” which could mean either that he condoned it or that he thought it was the preferred way of being. This is part of why he said he only dates bi-sexual woman and that it would be fine if his son dated a bi-sexual woman, but he was less likely to accept his daughter dating a bi-sexual man.
When asked about transgender people, he said that he did not like what seemed like the “blaming of heterosexual people” by transgender people, but he thought that he should not have any political control over them. He did, however, say that they made him personally uncomfortable, and that they would likely not be allowed in his own “tribe.”
He made this tribal distinction often, lacking political “universalism.” There were no answers about what was “right,” but what would be allowed in his own perfect social sphere—a culture where the weak are dominated by the strong (whatever that means). Certain types of queer relationships may be allowed, and certain ones not. Some types of racial communion would be acceptable, while others would undermine the national identity that he prefers. He sees his own nationalism as “concentric circles” similar to Jean-Marie Le Pen—first the family, then the neighbors, then the community, and so on. He feels that this is compatible with people like the American Front.
The only conversational point where he seemed a bit cagey was about the Jews. His law firm, Imperium, is named after the anti-Semitic fascist tome Imperium by Francis Parker Yockey, and he often goes on anti-Semitic programs to promote his campaign. He does not say much about Jews publicly, except a visceral opposition to AIPAC and all things Israel. He has been accused of Holocaust Denial in the past, so I asked him if he doubted the official numbers in the historical record of the Holocaust. He confirmed that he did, saying that while most Jews likely had no negative intentions towards “Western civilizations,” some certainly did. He later tried to clarify that he did not think blanketing Jews with a broad category made sense.
“I was trying to say is that grouping all Jews as “THE JEWS!” is fallacious, just as it is asinine to call all Scotsmen, Frenchmen, White Americans, and White Australians as “WHITE PEOPLE!” and ascribe to all “WHITE PEOPLE!” all the unjust treatment of all non-white people in the world. As I’m sure you are aware, there are many different Jewish groups, and none of them can agree on anything… Point being, trying to bait me on “THE JEWS!” is probably not productive.”
This does not undo what has been a deep relationship with anti-Semites, his public declaration of Holocaust Denial, and his sideline remarks about the Jews and their role in “Cultural Marxism.”
While he certainly answered in person that he did not believe the official reportage of the Holocaust, or found that the “numbers had changed,” he would not put that answer in print when answering the questions. Instead he focused on the person who had originally made this claim about him,which happened when they were traveling through The Netherlands.[x]
“So with all due respect, Mr. Burley, I won’t be put on the defensive for the dirty tricks of [He has been naming this woman in the press, but she would prefer to remain anonymous].”
“Health Over Sickness, Strength Over Weakness”
A lot has been said about his stated support for eugenics, which comes from an article he wrote in law school after working on philosophical papers as an undergrad. He later dropped his support for eugenics as a state policy, but only because he said that if the kinds of people that are in power today took control over it then it would become a “dysgenics program.” My written questions included asking what type of eugenics program he would want to see implemented in the U.S., if, for some reason, he had total control over it.
“I value health over sickness, strength over weakness, intelligence over stupidity. I would not, however, be so ambitious with any eugenics program that I would seek to promote these things, though my opponents would love to hear me say that. The only thing I ever promoted was the lessening of human suffering. For instance, if it is a certainty that a child will be born with AIDS or Huntington’s Disease or mental retardation or severe physical handicap if two people came together to create a life, that is an evil that should be prevented. I still believe that, but I doubt whether a state-sponsored eugenics program is the right mechanism for it. I also doubt that many people actually read the article I wrote in law school, but the aim was always to prevent unnecessary suffering, not to create the Nietzschean Superman; which, incidentally, I believe must be created outside of all human civilization. Still, I would reiterate that any eugenics program, no matter how modest in its ends or means, would likely be used for evil by the bureaucrats put in charge of it, and this is too likely a danger to justify that risk. This is why I have stated repeatedly and publicly and without qualification that I do not advocate state-sponsored eugenics programs.”
What he describes here is less of a eugenics program and more of a state-run form of sterilization and abortion based on the idea that allowing disabled people to be born would be a form of civilizational cruelty. The eugenics notion would be that this intervention would eventually rid the gene pool of certain “weaknesses,” such as genetically prescribed disabilities. It could then be taken to its next logical step by trying to isolate and breed in “positive qualities.” While he has suggested intelligence would be one of these, in past periods of “racial hygiene” this often included things we would today consider subjective and situational, such as attractiveness, racial purity, and criminality.
We do not oppose eugenics simply because it is racist (which it is), but because it is scientifically incorrect. There is little evidence (beyond “groundbreaking” studies on Human BioDiversity blogs) that you can control disability in this way, nor that controlling disability actually leads to human benefit. I can agree with Augustus about one thing in this however: if the state ran a eugenics program it certainly would be a tool of unprecedented human brutality.
Eugenics may be the most taboo part of the Human Biological Diversity movement, as this tends to be paired almost universally with their ideas about Asian superior intelligence and Kenyan superhuman running capabilities. Race scientists like Richard Lynn have continued to argue in this direction, while non-scientific, culturally-focused White Nationalists at places like the Radix Journal regularly make claims like homosexuality could be abolished through eugenic selective breeding programs.[xi]
The new focus on eugenics may seem like the revival of earlier periods of now discredited science, and it is, but the process of doing this is an essential and profound one for them. To do this, you make a few clear statements:
First, the qualities that eugenics programs favored are essentially valuable. This means, for example, intelligence, as it is very narrowly defined in this instance, is innately a sign of superiority, and must be preserved as such.
Second, the move away from these now-discredited racial and socio-biological sciences, which discussed the innate inferiority of the “lower classes” and the biologically defined roles of women, but also claim that we need to move backwards to old “truths.”
Third, eugenics means that we can now use ideology to drive evolution, and can craft a world that has been ideologically predicted by people like Friedrich Nietzsche and Ernst Junger. Invictus certainly mentions that he does not mean to use eugenics to build a “superman.” Instead, that happens outside of a state. This does not mean that he would oppose driving biological evolution in the direction of what he sees as superior qualities.
Much of the conversation traced through his experiences running his campaign, how he negotiated his libertarian politics, and what his intentions were after the fact. His relationship with the Libertarian Party of Florida is a complicated one, as are most libertarian political outposts. Rather than a location for coherent economic politics, they are often the stop-over spot for those on the radical right attempting to crossover into some part of mainstream discourse. The anti-tax movement on the 1990s was an entry point for KKK members, skinheads, and various neo-Nazis, as was paleoconservatism and paleolibertarianism a vessel for a coherent far-right politic boring into the GOP in the 80s.
The libertarian movement is often broken up today by those who align with socially liberal values, and were brought on to the Ron Paul campaign on 2007-8, often associated with the Caito Institute and Reason Magazine, and those on the further fringes who decry the slow creeping liberalism into their hardened anarcho-capitalism. Free market capitalism seems like the ideological foundation of the Libertarian Party, its entire reason for existence, but for Augustus, this is not all that important. Though he often says buzz lines about destroying the “social safety net,” he is also incredibly clear in calling for its maintenance to shelter those lower on the economic ladder. This seems to be in line with his own nationalism, where a “nation” should be served by its government. It is those that are outside of the nation, whether ethnically or by whatever vague dividing line Augustus claims for himself, that would be stricken from governmental aid.
This is not a libertarian distinction, nor are many of his policies beyond ending the drug war and destroying the Department of Education. Instead, the Libertarian Party seems like a place where he can enter into a semi-mainstream public discourse without being immediately flagged as outside a reasonable frame of debate. He told me he that he originally intended to run a few years into the future as a Democrat.
Paganism, Fascism, and Obscurantism
We went into his religious practice quite a bit, where he outlined his own interpretations of Thelema more deeply. This includes seeing most European pagan gods as being culturally interpreted versions of each other, which is to say that Heathen gods are somewhat the same as Roman gods, yet with different names and cultural stories. He did not say whether or not this included non-European traditions, though I’m sure he would have granted it some degree of universality, while saying that he would only respect the European ones. He was consistent in his support for traditional paganism, and promised to sanction human sacrifice if given full reigns of world affairs. According to Augustus, collective sacrifice our enemies to the gods would bring a great deal of national unity, since the gods gain their power from blood.
The difficulty to find coherence in Augustus’ politics by many trying to defend him against claims of fascism comes not from his own incoherence (though there is some of that), but from the lack of discourse about the evolution of fascist politics in America and Europe. Not only is fascism not a label that Augustus finds too offensive, he generally revels in the label as a medal in a war for offensive individuality.
He is a fascist in all the ways in which that political title is true, even if he does not share the raving white supremacist racism and homophobia that many have come to expect from the cartoonish buffoons that occasionally hide behind police protection in public. Instead, he believes in the innate inequality of people, the need for tribal nationalism based on in- and out-groups, the different prescribed roles for men and women, a conspiratorial view of certain ethnic groups, and that we need to restructure society along a heroic warrior model.
What is difficult when we look at Augustus is that many people, who no one would describe as having National Socialist leanings, have found him attractive. Inside of individualist pagan circles, especially those allied with the Left Hand Path, critiques of Augustus as being on the radical right have gained little traction. Part of this comes from the penchant that many in those circles have for offensive and iconoclastic rhetoric, as well as a philosophical ethos to move outside of conventional moral strictures.
Augustus’s own rhetoric, of destroying the system and abolishing conventional politics (both right and left) has also been taken up by the less discerning elements of the left that find any kind of revolutionary character a plus. When people went through the lists of supporters in Portland there were a lot of personalities you would expect, as well as many you wouldn’t.
Known left-wing activists have been traveled on his page, as well as progressive pagans who know far less about his problematic politics than that he is the most public pagan politician in America currently. Without a keen lens as to the history of Third Positionist and esoteric fascist politics, and with a definition of fascism that only reveals a shaved head and a Klan robe, how would people even know without taking up a research project?
When talking with Augustus a quote from Steven Weinberg, a 1979 Nobel Prize in Physics winner, came echoing through my mind. This particular quote is often used by problematic New Atheists and is meant to deride the religious, but I think it could be used for political orientations of this type as well.
Religion is an insult to human dignity. With or without it you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.xii
Augustus was courteous and friendly throughout our entire conversation. He was both sincere and open to criticism, genuine in his demeanor. It sounds as if he is likely kind to his family and friends and generous in the circles he runs in. In a different world, he could likely be a friend. In this world, however, he was holed up in the Bye & Bye. In this world, he organizes a political movement that continues to found itself in xenophobic racism, sexism, nationalism, oppression, and violence. His politics, to him, are good natured and logical, but they also have consequences, ones that are very real for those who have been the target of these fascist movements, both in outbursts of violence and in the few cases when they are able to take political power.
Intersections with Libertarians & Confrontations with Antifa
What brought Augustus out here were some American Front events, starting across the Columbia River in Vancouver, Washington. Augustus first raised eyebrows by defending American Front members against criminal charges in Florida, and eventually helping them formally disband the organization. He has said many times that he is friends with AF members, and lives with one currently. However, he would not be allowed to be a member, because of his bi-racial relationships.
After his private speech to the American Front, it was posted online as one of his “Fireside Chats.” Here he used the talking points one might expect, such as the fact that the AF deserves fair representation, yet in reality they could not get an attorney besides himself. Groups like the ACLU regularly represent neo-Nazis, and while many oppose this, nobody assumes that they share in their politics. That is likely because they do not publicly call themselves nationalists or fascists, nor do they speak at their events.
It was this very connection that eventually put a dramatic, and public, hold on Augustus’s Northwest tour. The primary purpose for him coming out was to speak at an additional American Front event in Vancouver, British Columbia. Vancouver Against Racism then started a campaign calling for the venue, The Railway Club, to cancel the event, which they did. Vancouver Against Racism also pushed for a counter-demonstration that would dwarf the original political event. Counter-organizers in the area had discussed a “creeping fascism” in their subcultural space, a term that is often used for the way that fascist ideas can seep into left-associated spaces through shared counter-cultural roots. They mention bands like The Night Profound, with fascist and skinhead connections, using their fan base to promote Augustus’ event. The band had previously turned heads when they brought in controversial bands like Death in June. [xiii]
Augustus was determined not to be influenced by increasing numbers of fingers pointed at him, making jokes about the growing anti-fascist contingent that saw him as a public target. As he went to cross over into Canada from Washington, he was detained by the border authority, who asked him questions several hours before essentially denying him entry. He was technically allowed to reconsider his application for entry, but this was likely semantics at this point.
In a press release put out several days later, which seems likely written by Augustus in the third person, it notes that his interrogation was about his “affiliation with neo-Nazis, about the charges of Fascism, and about allegations of racism:”
“I was a politician traveling to give a speech and yet they treated me like a gang member trying to run guns across the border. They said that no good could come of my entry into the country because violence would certainly ensue…There is no question my expulsion from Canada was due to political reasons.” [xiv]
He tried to tell the border guard that it was not him issuing threats of violence, but the “communists” instead—but to no avail. The Canadian government stated that he had no legitimate purpose to enter Canada except “to cause trouble.” Augustus alleged that they went through his text messages and emails, asked personal questions about his girlfriend and ex-wife, and got much of their information from the Antifa organizers blocking the Vancouver event. [xv]
He almost immediately went on Facebook to say that Antifa had “won the battle,” and posted the “Allowed to Leave Canada” paperwork that he had to sign as he was forced back stateside. Grandeur seemed to be the reserved place for Augustus to lick his wounds after this set-back as he took to social media in long, angry tirades referring to himself as a “leader” and providing advice for those that have to deal with Antifa:
Advice for those who are not professional street brawlers:
– Do not travel to or from the event alone. Antifa are cowards without honor. They travel in numbers, and they attack only when the numbers are asymmetrical.
– Assume an ambush. Antifa are cowards without honor. They will hide in the shadows to jump unsuspecting passersby.
– Keep your head on a swivel. Antifa are cowards without honor. They are sucker punching bitches who wouldn’t know a fair fight if they saw it on pay-per-view.
– Film everything. Antifa are cowards without honor. They will hit you and run to the police when you hit them back. It would be a good idea to have proof that you acted only in self-defense.
ASSUME DEADLY FORCE WILL BE USED. The antifa have openly declared their intent to assassinate me and to begin a civil war at this event. Take them at their word. If you are attacked, do not hold back.” xvi
He continues to focus on the bi-racial ethnicity of his children, his relationships with non-straight people, and his worship of the goddess as a protection against many of the allegations of bigotry that were leveled against him.
The news of his removal from Canada exploded like a social media frag grenade, heading to places like Gawker, Vice, and Raw Story, where they did not go much further than mentioning that a fascist who “drinks goat’s blood” has been blocked from entry. His own press was as equally outraged as he was, with right-libertarian and “race realist” Christopher Cantwell coming to his defense with anger.
“Speaking of liberal idiocy, Senate Candidate Augustus Invictus was refused entry to Canada this week because he has ‘no legitimate reason to enter the country and will just cause trouble’. That is quite odd since Prime Minister Justin Trudeau seems to think open borders are such a fantastic idea, at least when it comes to Syrian “refugees.” Perhaps the leftist immigration agenda has nothing to do with freedom at all, and is rather about flooding countries with welfare dependent non-white voters who will perpetually favor the expansion of government.” [xvii]
This story revealed the uncomfortable relationship that libertarians, and, by strained association, Invictus, have to mainstream conservatism. As the anti-fascist contingents swelled in response to Augustus’s upcoming speech, libertarian internet press continued to push forward to support the event. Lauren Southern, a right-wing libertarian with Rebel Media and Press for Truth, came out to cover the event and bait protesters.
After yelling at the crowd that there were “only two genders” and mocking rape allegations, a protester came by and threw urine on her. Press for Truth then dug their heels in to focus on the story, calling the protesters feminists and “SJWs [Social Justice Warriors].” xviii
They never mention any details about who Augustus Sol Invictus is, or why the protesters are there. Organizers refer to Southern as their “local Ann Coulter,” saying that the protest was a “smaller crowd of wing-nut conspiracy theorists, and other right-wing weirdo[s].”xix
Drawing together the subcultural elements of Augustus’ campaign that allowed him to be invited to Vancouver in the first place, as well as the reaction by the right wing to Antifa’s policy of “no platform,” organizers used this as a temperature check.
By not engaging critically with ideas, and preferring subcultural markers to a personal and political affinity with one another, people are leaving an open door to anyone who’s critiques of capitalism, “communism”, “corporatism” and “international financiers” is just subliminal messaging meaning Jews. By refusing to look into or take seriously pre-and-non-christian(sic) religions and occultism, just because it is not clearly associated with what they see as conservative capitalist values, people are leaving the door open to right-wing interpretations of Odinism, Satanism, etc, that reinforce racial hierarchies and create fear and hatred of immigrants on the basis of being “other” and not being “western”.
Disallowing fascism doesn’t mean being exclusive. It means being invested in an idea, and open with more intention. Not only would this be a serious thorn in the side to any fascist movement attempting to grow in sub-cultures, it might create an even more vibrant, creative, and interesting culture in which to mingle.
Another interesting quality to the right-wing mobilization around Augustus is the extreme reaction to ‘callout’ and anti-oppression culture. We see this in Lauren Southern’s rhetoric, and it was quite apparent in many of the Facebook memes and comments of Augustus himself and his supporters…The caricature of the spoiled brat university kid demanding a safe space (which can at times be embarrassingly accurate) is now being evoked, even by fascists, to justify the most disgusting misogyny and white-supremacy.xx
This story was then uncritically picked up in Tea Party allied sources like Breitbart News, continuing to be echoed throughout the right-wing press as Southern being assaulted for her views on transgender people. What she was doing, coming out to favorably cover an event hosted by the American Front, seemed beyond the purview of BigGovernment.com. The rest of the coverage turned Augustus into the side-show that they have generally made of him, making sure to focus first on the internet famous goat-head and his stream-of-consciousness “LSD journals,” rather than the nationalist content of his speeches.[xxi]
Media Sensationalism = Media Complicity?
It was exactly this vapidity, the focus on the sensation of Augustus rather than the real story, that led to us casually talking over medium-roast in a Portland Panera. He reached out for me not because he had affection for my politics, but because there had been no one on the opposition that had been able to see his presentation as anything other than Live-Action Role Playing. It is exactly this paradox that kept him off the radar of anti-racists for months, largely because the dearth of coverage he garnered showed him as an insane creature clamoring for internet stardom rather than a dangerous fascist.
Instead, a real ideologue was proposing a growing base of far-right ideas that drew on subcultural fascist notions that had reshaped and been repackaged over the decades of anti-fascist organizing. For months, no one saw Augustus because the image of him climbing through the desert, preparing goat sacrifice for the camera was only enough to inspire trendy Twitter hashtags rather than an opposition. While this was happening, he was amassing supporters, not to get him elected, but to further a movement of Will to Power dissension that may continue to see its ranks swell as disaffection continues to flow through the country.
When asked if he opposes mass democracy as a concept, he said “absolutely.” This is unique for a candidate in a representative system, but that is because elections are simply a canvas on which he can paint with his own mix of spirit, water, and blood. He enjoys references to his movement as a “weird sect,” making fun in jokes about its cult status.
The support of the American Front is no fluke. Augustus has now accepted an invitation by the National Socialist Movement to speak at a Rome, Georgia, event on April 23rd. The event, which is co-sponsored by the Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, was actually taken down from his campaign’s Facebook after it was first put up. The post was then archived over at the American Third Party Report, where he posted a multi-page explanation. He resurrected the analysis that nationalists, including both himself and the NSM, were challenging “McCulture” and the oppressive state.
“And this is all one can ask for in an ally. The question is why this is so difficult for so many. As I have said in several of my speeches & interviews, I have never been attacked by a white nationalist or black nationalist—physically, verbally, or otherwise – for having an [sic] Hispanic family or for tolerating homosexuality or for drug use or for anything else; but I *have* been attacked—physically, verbally, and otherwise – by leftists for exactly those things, and for my refusal to denounce white nationalists as the Devil’s spawn. The willingness of the NSM to have someone like me speak at their event, combined with the willingness of the Antifa to stop me by any means necessary, should be a glaring demonstration of where the true intolerance lies.
So I will speak in Rome. And I will make it the best speech I have ever given. And I will speak to the Nation of Islam if they ever get around to asking. And I will speak to the Cuban nationalists in Miami and the Puerto Rican nationalists in San Juan. We are all in this together, no matter our race or ethnicity, against the special interests that would destroy our respective cultures for their own profit under the guise of humanitarianism. “xxii
This shift to the right, if not in rhetoric at least in relationship, is a telling point for the direction of Invictus, further pushing outside of acceptable discourse and away from anything the Libertarian Party would publicly associate with. His previous stop over at the more “respectable” neo-fascist milieu was short-lived, and now even those Alt Right depositories where he has done many interviews would likely find his most recent announcement politically toxic.
This turn may seem logical when looking at the most recent reactions to Augustus, which put him in a long history of antagonism between the shape-shifting far-right and the increasingly militant anti-fascist left. Before Rose City Antifa’s sharp confrontation and the organized response to his event in Vancouver, there was little conversation that discussed him exactly within the fascist context that he spoke. Now his connections and ideas have been placed front and center, putting all of his more moderate connections into question.
Part of this is done through the singling out of Augustus by the anti-fascist left, which has hardened his resolve to abandon most leftist appeasements and allies. This could useful to anti-fascist organizers who need to shed his false allegiances and clouded discourse in order to cleanly identify him as a dangerous right-wing revolutionary. If the Canadian libertarian press tried to redeem him through vilification of the “SJWs,” this was entirely undone as he announced an event with cartoonish neo-Nazis who cover their blackshirts with swastika patches.
In a certain sense, Augustus has cemented opposition to him while closing the door on any of the political crossover that he was hoping for with the Libertarian Party of Florida. Roger Stone, former Donald Trump lobbyist and right-wing ideologue, was rumored to be brought in to run against him simply to save the name of the party. Augustus did not see this happening since the Invictus campaign had “nothing to lose,” and Stone was in poor health. At this point, no one would be surprised if LFP Chairman Adrian Wylie would pull a “hail Mary” in a desperate attempt to save the party from the only person who could fundamentally destroy it. The destruction of the LFP would close that bridge between the far-right and the GOP, as well as the neoliberal economic cover that seeks to influence beltway conservatism.
“The Will To Power”
The toxic hand of Invictus now seems as though it will poison all who touch it, and that is not reserved simply for party politics. Augustus had been long listed as a speaker at the upcoming International Left Hand Path (LHP) Consortium in Atlanta, Georgia, taking place from April 8th to 10th. The event’s website is ornamented with the expected pictures of greasy ponytails, leather trench coats, and pastel drawings of naked women with dragons. It pledges to bring together Satanists, Thelemites, tribal religionists, and other people who “eschew conventional morality” and have a rough individualism in their occultism. Anti-racists have brought concerns to the organizers of the event, including Atlanta Antifa.The convention organizers posted a response in a snidely made “Critics Corner” on their website.
Their amateurish understanding of neo-fascism is one that seems to only see fascism as being synonymous with the political structures it used during WWII. Instead of being able to see that fascism’s nationalism and anti-egalitarianism has used a variety of political forms, they parrot back tired caricatures and clichés about the far-right that should have been dispelled with a simple Google search. They begin by going through references to the fasces on Augustus’ campaign images, which they find examples of just about everywhere. They then go on to defend Augustus’ eugenics paper, saying “Can you name one person who has not written or said something in their youth who later regretted it?” This is lukewarm as they then not only voice their support for eugenics in the same way Augustus had, but also to note that the LHP tradition would as well.
While we, at the LHP Consortium do not in any way, shape or form condone racism, neo-Nazism, or eugenics programs, we do strongly feel that the United States government has favored a decadent ideology that rejects the beauty of strength. And we also strongly believe that this country has enabled and even encouraged the exponential growth of weakness and ignorance by dumbing down the populace through disinformation campaigns, fear mongering, and defunding education programs in favor of feeding billions into the military industrial complex as well as funding corporate and foreign welfare. Our government habitually bails out corporations and banks while cutting funding for education and wounded veterans. The country has transformed the movie ‘Idiocracy” from a comedy into a documentary by encouraging and rewarding ubiquitous weakness and ignorance. [xxiii]
They continued to mock allegations that Augustus is “both a fascist and an anarchist,” without even a cursory understanding of the anti-state fascist trend. Fascism has not been synonomous with authoritarian political forms, which were in fashion during the interwar period far beyond their fascist implementations. Instead, fascism defines itself through its exclusionary ultranationalism, its enforced hierarchy, heroic mythos, elitism, anti-democracy, and anti-egalitarianism. They went on to define the LHP as a uniquely opposed to the “self-deception” and “false morality” of the conventional Right-Hand Path religions.
Left Hand Path philosophy often sees altruism as a form of self-deception that is created and promoted by Right Hand Path religions. This is because most altruistic actions reap some sort of benefit or reward for the person or organization who is accomplishing the deed. For instance, if you donate money to Planned Parenthood to make birth control available to indigent and homeless women, you help to reduce society’s financial burden of caring for unwanted, sick, and drug addicted children, which in turn, should keep your taxes from going up and help to maintain a stronger, healthier community in which the altruist lives. [xxiv]
These right wing sentiments are not modern addendums to the LHP tradition. The ideas of a egoist “self-worship” and a kind of Might is Right “overcoming” was central to LaVey’s notions of morality in the Satanic Bible, aligning itself with the kind of “strongman” politics that fails to be universalistic, egalitarian, or democratic. That being said, the LHP Consortium is also going to be filled by edge spiritual and occult practitioners who would be horrified by this discourse, and whose idea of ego-worship does not include the notion of the biological inferiority of entire groups of people. Their rough libertarian talking points attempt to insulate them from criticism for including someone whose behavior would be considered publicly abhorrent, but this superficial rage is only a veiled reference to the same “Will to Power” that Augustus has made his own life’s law. The work that many would want to do to undermine the right-wing contingencies inside of the LHP Consortium has already been done through their unwavering support of Augustus, which, after the NSM announcement, rippled through participants, shrinking their numbers and further breaking the LHP community from broader occult, New Age, and pagan contingents.
The irony of the Consortium’s response became apparent as they led two other pagan/occult organizations in dropping Augustus after the pressure mounted. Taylor Ellwood and Ken Henson, both presenters at the event, said that they would “not take part with Invictus.” It was actually Invictus’ own behavior that got him the final boot as the organizers were clearly going to side with him against Antifa. On a private forum, which was later deleted, Augustus went after the protesters with explicit language that insinuated violence.
You “protesters” are swine. I will not go out of my way to placate or sweet talk cowards, fools, & hypocrites. You claim to be practioners of the Left Hand Path. No member of the Left Hand Path that I have ever in my life met has been a soft, moralizing ninnie like the lot of you “protesters.” You call yourselves men and women. Some of you even dare to call yourself gods. All I see are keyboard warriors with SJW dicks so far up their asses they have their brains scrambled…You say I am a fascist. It is hilarious that your fear of Fascists far exceeds the fear Christians have of LHP practitioners. If only they knew how pathetic you really were. If only they could see the pitiful, pudgy face of Rufus Opus, claiming to be a representative of the occult community, worried to death that his delicate reputation is going to be smeared by association with a right-wing politician. You call yourselves fearsome, but I smell the fear on you from 2,000 miles away. You call yourselves individuals, but anyone else with eyes can see your sheepish conformity to society’s values. You call yourselves freethinkers, but look at what slaves you are to the reigning political dogma.xxv
The Consortium’s website has now taken down the Critic’s Corner page, and the original statement in defense of Invictus.
Augustus’ rage has become expected at this point as his response has just been a heart beat of increased anger, spewing out without restraint at any objection to him and his program. His response is quite telling for what this wing of those communities think about this type of leftist moral anger.
Modern attempts to whitewash the occult are a desecration of the sacred. In our line of inquiry, the more mainstream the discipline becomes, the more profane. To blacklist a speaker for voicing unpopular beliefs is not only outrageously hypocritical; it is self-defeating. And if this is the road we are going down, I thank you for counting me out. [xxvi]
The War for the Past & The War for the Future
The injection of his ideas into paganism is both modern and recent, which is true both for racialist heathens and for ultra-liberal Wiccans. The argument that these modern political ideas were absolutely present in ancient pagan religions is more than hyperbolic, both for the far right and the far left. To a large part, this requires contemporary pagans to acknowledge the actual modern role that their religions have, even if reconstructed from incomplete records of the past. These religions do not have continuity to their original implementations, and are instead just as subject to contemporary understandings of philosophy, politics, and theology.
The battle over values is happening inside of Goddess worship just as it is happening in mainstream Christian churches, and both sides of those agreements turn to practice and lore as justification. Augustus’ arguments in favor of animal sacrifice are also intended to make the argument that he is resurrecting the “real” pagan tradition of the past, which mainstream American paganism abhors, and is likely the direction he goes in when voicing support for human sacrifice.
Augustus himself seems only energized, at least publicly, by this increase in oppositional attention. There has to be something personally hurtful for him during this as he continues to state publicly that people are simply misreading his positions and that their accusations are baseless. Though much of his rhetoric has been a smokescreen to make his previously unconscionable ideas palatable to a larger audience, the veil is dropping and his fascism is becoming known. The movement that he had been cultivating, a sort of “para” campaign to his public political one, now faces a challenge of opposition that it lacked for many months. The real questions are how Augustus is going to change, how far to the right he is going to shift, and how those “border agents” who enjoy straddling the line between mainstream occultism or GOP politics and the radical right are going to negotiate someone whose political orientation is becoming more and more plain.
After our meeting I sent an email to Augustus thanking him for talking with me and answering my questions, which is something I noted that he really had no obligation to do. He offered me several compliments in his reply, something that I have to note he likely intends to see reflected in the way I talk about him. Many people would criticize even having this level of back and forth with him, but I think that being open to listen closely allows us to better understand exactly what creeping fascism looks like today. Beyond headlines about blood letting and dropping acid during ceremonies, a certain media vacancy has permeated the discussion around the Invictus campaign—a trend that seems to be ending as the laughter turns serious. Rose City Antifa transformed the ephemeral into something concrete: a movement that is unwilling to grant his politics any showing in the public sphere.
The real question is less of intention and more of pragmatic politics, and how a senatorial campaign can continue once its façade has all but burned away.
vii The cited conversations come directly from either the conversation between Augustus and I on March 2nd, 2016, and a private email that Augustus send to me with the answer to the questions listed in Fascist Performance Art on March 5, 2016.
Shane Burley is a writer, filmmaker, and organizer based in Portland, Oregon. His work as appeared in places such as In These Times, Truth-Out, Labor Notes, Waging Nonviolence, CounterPunch, and Perspectives on Anarchist Theory. He contributed a chapter on housing justice movements to the recent AK Press release The End of the World As We Know It?, and has work in upcoming volumes on social movements. His most recent documentary Expect Resistance chronicles the intersection of the housing justice and Occupy Wallstreet movement. His work can be found at ShaneBurley.net, or reach him on Twitter at @shane_burley1.
I was fortunate enough to attend COP21 as a researcher. As part of a team of researchers affiliated with Climate Histories – a seminar series dedicated to tackling questions around climate change – I helped document the civil society-focussed “Green Zone”; a large exhibition space open to the public. Spread over several acres beside the main Conference Centre, the Green Zone was filled with stalls, lecture rooms, restaurants and an auditorium, all hosting a variety of speakers and NGOs, voicing their own particular solutions to the crisis. These spaces were frequently contested. Activists would often seize space in the Green Zone, protesting the inclusion of major corporations in the Conference or drawing attention to the neglected plight of the marginalised.
When I first entered the Green Zone, having passed swiftly through heavy security, my ears were met by singing. A group of men and women wearing dog-collars processed about the site chanting in words I did not understand. One of them played the bongos, while another piped away on a wooden flute. This procession of Christian clergy was an indication of the increasingly important role that the Christian churches – and religions more generally – are playing in Climate Action. Whether it is the theologically vigorous paean to the Earth and our responsibilities to her of Laudato ‘si, or the spiritually-infused passion of indigenous peoples for protecting their homelands; holy words and sacred deeds enliven the movement for environmental justice. At COP21, I saw Christian priests, Buddhist monks, Muslim youth, and indigenous elders; all representing the ecological teachings of their respective traditions.
With the active participation of so many different religious groups, I wondered if there were any Pagan organisations present at COP21. I hadn’t come across any, so I went to Twitter to see if I could track them down. As you can see below, my post didn’t pick up any replies:
Christian churches have been very active in recent years in throwing their energies behind the climate movement. They have been assiduous in establishing a platform in a host of civil society spaces – such as COPs – from which they can influence the wider debate by sharing their own valuable theological, moral and cosmological perspectives. Other spiritual groups have done likewise: even when they lack centralised ecclesiastical institutions (such as Islam), or when they’re small communities that struggle to afford the cost of travelling to these events (as is the case for indigenous communities).
It should be no surprise that under such circumstances, our religions should be sidelined on what is – in essence – our moral cause celebre. It’d be like Christians being outclassed on charity, Jains being outstripped as ascetics, or Zen Buddhists being bested on inner peace. Pagan organisations are in a position to lead the world in environmental ethics – and yet, that position is rapidly being lost as other traditions shift emphasis, and prioritise ecological concerns. The ability to do this is not a matter of money, or size – many of the agencies present at COP21 I spoke to had minimal resources – but of application.
Of course, the obvious point to be made in response is that there’s no point in engaging with these formal spheres of discussion around the climate. Many activists, when I spoke to them, pointed out something my fellow researchers and I also saw: the Green Zone was less an experiment in the democratic inclusion of non-state narratives and actors, and more of a Sustainability Expo. It was devoted to showcasing bright ideas, over and above nurturing real political action – this function, it seems, was reserved for the Blue Zone, where the parties gathered. Though there was much to be inspired about being said and showcased, as the searing poetry and art of SustainUS’s young protesters decried, this was obfusticated by and into so much greenwash, while people of colour and the world’s poor are being slain and displaced by rising waters, soaring temperatures, rushing winds, and failing fields. Caleen Sisk, the Chief of the Winnemem Wintu people of California, who are currently battling against the raising of the Shasta Dam that will flood what’s left of their country, wryly observed to me – the whole place had the feel of a playpen; where the dependents could be amused, while the adults talked next door. Far better, then, that we Pagans try to green our own lives and take action at a grassroots level, than to involve ourselves with the messy business of international politics.
But it’s important to remember: even though they were critical of the entire process, these activists still took part in it. They recognised the importance of contesting the Green Zone, reclaiming the space and speaking truth to power, as far as possible. The reason being, if you don’t participate at all, you simply surrender to the corporations, lobbyists, and oil-producing governments who already command huge influence. The Green Zone, despite its significant shortcomings, is the place where the future is imagined, where expectations are raised, and the parties in the Blue Zone come to learn and witness a broader set of views. The more strongly the multitude can occupy this space, the harder it is for for those opposing change to have their way.
Before I took the train home, I joined a massive illegal march through the streets of Paris. A kaleidoscope of people from every corner of the world, bedecked in red cut a path through the city, flooding from the Arch de Triomph to the Eiffel Tower, across the Seine, one of Europe’s Mother Rivers. One of the last things I saw that day was a group of young Muslims, gathered together, posing for a photograph with a banner proclaiming the sacred duty – enshrined in the Qur’an – to steward the Earth on behalf of Allah. They stood upon the Champ de Mars, an open field named after Campus Martius in Rome, between the Eiffel Tower and the Ecole Militaire in the heart of Paris. Sacred to Mars, the God of War, the original Field of Mars was the gathering place of Roman soldiers, before they marched off to fight hostile tribes. Mars is the God of War, but also of wild, growing things – of field and forest. His wars are – unlike those his Greek brother Ares – not mindless aggression, but rather conflict that seeks, in the end, a stable peace. Mars does not fight for the love of it, but because necessity drives him to do so. What unites this broad set of quality is the core masculine virtue of the Roman people – namely, virilitas – a life-essence that gives us the strength to secure peace, and make the Earth fruitful.
The fact that the illegal action on Saturday culminated in a place dedicated to such a god was, to my mind, a powerful ritual act. The patriarchal notion that only men possess the essential vital quality needed to promote peace and restore life is wrong; but the idea that these two objectives share a common foundation is more relevant than ever. To refer back to Laudato ’si, the plight of the Earth and the plight of the poor are one common cause. People from all over the Earth; men, women and everyone else; standing together hand-in-hand, before heading out to fight for the safety and fertility of the world upon which we all rely. Though I had to leave before the ceremonies were over, I was careful to say a prayer to Mars before I did.
Even though Paganism had no formal representation at the Conference, the influence of the kinds of thinking of which we are custodians was present in subtle ways. In the Green Zone itself, one of the official art installations involved brightly-painted trees, upon which visitors could tie ribbons upon which they had written their wishes for a better future. To tie a clootie in the heart of the Green Zone; to sing, and teach and pray in public; to represent our traditions as part of a great multitude – all these acts are sacred, and carry great potency. We neglect these rites only at great cost.
I say we should stand up for the planet and its people; we should be recognisable and recognised.
I’ll meet you on the Fields of Mars.
Jonathan is a social anthropologist and human ecologist, based at the University of Cambridge. He is a specialist in the political economy of the British landscape, and in the relationship between spirituality, the environment, and climate change. A member of the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids, and an eco-animist, Jonathan maintains a blog about his academic fieldwork called BROAD PATHWAYS.
George Caffentzis on The Commons, Russian Workers, and Capitalists
Marx wrote of the non-coincidence of desires between Russian capitalists and workers:
“…even when [the capitalists] have money, the labor power is not available in sufficient quantity and at the right time. This is because the Russian agricultural worker, owing to the common ownership of the soil by the village community, is not yet fully separated from his means of production and is then still not a ‘free wage-laborer’ in the full sense of the term. But the presence of such ‘free wage-laborers’ throughout society is the indispensible condition without which M-C, the transformation of money into commodities, cannot take the form of the transformation of money capital into productive capital.” (Capital vol 2, p. 117 of the Penguin edition).
Something similar could be said of Greek workers. The capitalist task of the crisis is to end whatever remains of the commons in their lives and make workers fully “free wage laborers” coincident with capital’s “lust for labor.”
The First anti-Syriza Demonstrations
An Athenian anarchist friend suggested that we should go to a demonstration in Syntagma Square called to protest Syriza’s willingness to sign a new memorandum with the “troika,” although we have as yet no concrete knowledge as to the contents of the new Memorandum. Since the whole affair is being presented in the form of a soccer match, why shouldn’t another team enter the field? Perhaps they will score a surprise goal! But at the moment all eyes are on LeGuard, Draghi and the faceless IMF “technocrats” versus the heroic Tsipras, who delays by putting ever higher bids, and rolling the debt one time more until it is time itself that becomes the issue.
Well, in Syntagma Square the initial rally was small—with predictable statements. But soon it was joined by another demonstration that marched to Syntagma from another part of the city and so the whole rally numbered about a thousand (respectable by NYC standards, but very small by Greek). The groups sponsoring the march and rally included, anarchists, autonomists, and even some Trotskyites. Sure enough I saw an old friend who happened to be a well-known Greek Trotskyite. We would see each other often in the 1990s in NYC, but he stopped coming to the US after 9/11, while my political affiliations in Greece became more defined in the post 9/11 period as well. To the point that we hadn’t seen each other in a decade. During that time he had a bout with liver cancer involving many surgeries and chemo-therapy sessions. The cancer would have killed him if it hadn’t been for his decision to go to France and get medical help there. The decision was motivated by another decision of the Greek medical authorities who ordered an anti-cancer drug for him that was needed immediately but with a 3 month expected time of delivery! The French doctors declared him cancer-free a few years ago, but he must return to France every 4 months to check his status.
My Trotskyite friend prided himself on the books he wrote and the political campaigns he was involved in while in the midst of his treatment, as he should. And now he wants to live to be part of the international working class revolution! The march was beginning again, going down Panapistemiou St. My Trotskyite friend took his place at the end and was off!
Trying to Raise the Spectre of Syntagma Square 2011
At first there was a small circle on the square, but it grew over time. At first it was mostly an older crowd, but slowly younger people joined. The intention is to call for a new decision-making body based on popular assemblies to replace the Vouli (the Parliament) that was de-legitimated by the actions of both left and right parties. One speaker after another noted a discrepancy between the extreme situation being faced and the lack of any force from the bottom to intervene! However, only one woman spoke and she addressed a logistic question: how long should each speaker be allotted, 3 or 5 minutes?
There ought to be a movement of the Syntagma Square 2015, but it remained just that, an ought.
A Run on the Banks in Sparta After the Call for a Referendum
On Saturday morning I woke up in Sparta and looked out from the hotel balcony down Paleologou Street and saw that there were lines in front of the ATMs. I wondered what this was about. On going downstairs for breakfast I learned that the night before Tsipras and his advisors walked out of a meeting with the “troika” and called for a referendum on the question, should the final memorandum the troika offered be accepted or not? The immediate response by the Greek populace was this minor “run on the banks,” minor since there are limits as how much can be withdrawn from ATMs per day. We shall see what will happen on Monday when the banks will be open for business. Will this minor run become a massive charge on the banks’ reserves? There was definitely a feeling of panic spreading on the lines in front of the street. I also felt it. I was prompted to take out extra euro cash (in a classic bow to Keynesian “liquidity preference”) because, though I would simply be contributing to the banks’ reserve of dollars, I too would be impacted by the lack of euro currency that would inevitably be experienced by some of the weaker banks (if not the whole banking system, if a “holiday” is called by the government).
This “preference,” however, has a primal feel about it: contagious, violent, irrational. A condition typified by an audience fleeing a minor fire, crushing each other to death trying to get to an exit!
The Taxi Driver’s Lament
He is a large man, both in height and breadth, and a small business man as well. I wondered whether he would try to short change me by insisting on the meter (which stated 63 euros) instead of the 55 euros I understood from George’s agreement last night with him. The taxi driver stuck to the original deal. This is definitely a time of distrust mingled with solidarity! Here are some quotes from his conversation with me on the road to Gythion:
“In Greece there is a saying, ‘The rich man is one with nothing; those with much, lose it to the tax man.’ ” A Buddhist adage?
“Greece has the worst politicians and the worst drivers on the planet.” A Platonic truth?
“I have worked since I was 13 and now I’m on the verge of losing it all. Take this taxi. I spent 130,000 euros for it, 30,000 for the car and 100,000 euros for the taxi driver’s medallion. Now the medallion costs 20,000 euros and falling…soon it will be worth 2,000 euros, but still my brother and I need to work as taxi-drivers to make something. I have one kid and my brother has three. We need to leave them something.” A small businessman’s Abrahamic statement?
A Taxi Passenger’s Lament
Heard from a taxi passenger: When I flew in from Frankfurt to Athens I was very tired (it was night) so I decided to take a cab home. As I got into the cab I noticed a sign saying, “Flat Rate to Athens 35 euros.” So I settled back to enjoy the ride, but I was getting a little worried (as we were getting close to home) that he might short-change me. Sure enough, when we got to the door of my house I handed him 35 euros, he said, “It is 50 euros.” I began to protest and pointed to the sign. He said, “Thirty five euro is for the day, it is 50 euros for the night.” I said, “The sign said nothing about night or day.” The driver said, “Well, let’s go to the police station to straighten this out.” I didn’t want to go to the police station, but nor did he. So I said, to break the stalemate, “Let’s settle this with fists!” He laughed and said, “The 35 is o.k.,” and off he went.
Bank “Holiday” in Paradise
I am in Agios Dimitrios in the Mani with comrades from Switzerland, writing this on a terrace overlooking the Messenian Bay, it would seem I am in the midst of Paradise, without a care in the world! But I write this also on the first “bank Holiday” in Greece in many years, i.e., the government has ordered the banks to be closed and to distribute cash to depositors at a rate of 60 euros a day through ATMs.
What a strange name for this day…a holiday. What god is being honored, if not the God of Banks: the money form? This god presents itself as the universal mediator between non-coincident desires, but these days it is becoming an angry God that is denying all desires (coincident as well as non-coincident). So that capitalists are looking for cash to make more cash and the rest are looking for cash to keep body and soul together.
This is the first day that the debt crisis has hit the immediate lives of Greeks (and even visitors). The long queues in front of the ATMs tell the tale of anxiety and panic…but even worse is the lack of queues, indicating a machine that is out of cash!
I too am caught in this anxiety and panic, though to a lesser degree, because I can get as many euros I want from the ATMs, but I need to find one that is functioning and has cash. This is increasingly difficult since, most crucially, this availability depends on the euros lodged in the banks as cash!
A system of exchange of commodities is becoming a non-system of non-exchange of non-commodities, leaving in its wake gift exchanges and gratis offerings. What was considered a solid way to solve the problem of non-coincident desires has vanished into air, but it also has an escape hatch. Like the staircase from the inferno to purgatory, it takes time to get to and climb. The Syriza people seem to have the intention to do this without a Virgil. Such a trick is unlikely to succeed unless they are expert secret keepers or master game theoreticians! That we shall see, when this holiday in Paradise ends.
The OXI vote: Syriza’s Machiavellianism and the Anti-austerity Movement
“Vox populi, vox Dei,”[“The voice of the people, [is] the voice of God”] is a phrase from a letter written by Alcuin, an advisor of Chalemagne’s who was an early “founder” of the Holy Roman Emire and often taken as the founder of Europe. In the letter Alcuin warns the Emperor not to pay heed to those (like myself) who use the phrase affirmatively. But if the adage is true, what is God saying through the July 5th, 2015 referendum in Greece? That has much to do with what the question being voted on.
This question was not a general one like “Should pensions be further cut?” or “Should the right to strike be preserve in the new labor laws?” or “Should any new austerity policies be prohibited?” It was quite specific, i.e., “Should the memorandum proposed by the International Monetary Fund, the European Central Bank, European Commission [aka “the troika”] on Thursday, June 27, 2015 be accepted (“NAI”) or rejected (“OXI”).”
As some critics pointed out, the referendum question had no proper answer, since the “troika” had already taken the memorandum “off the table.” So the vote came down to what the voter wanted it to mean: e.g., “No more pension cuts” or “End austerity policies” or “Greece out of the Eurozone” or a thousand other critiques of the present or nothing precise at all or anything Tsipras and Syriza want it to mean. The referendum’s wording made God speak ambiguously that Sunday through the Greek people’s voice.
In trying to make sense of the peculiar wording of the referendum I saw not so much game-theory in action but a Machiavellian aspect of Syriza, a failed Machiavellianism, however, since Machiavellian reasoning in politics is defeated when it is identified as Machiavellianism! First, the call for a referendum appeared to be a spontaneous response to the troika’s stony refusal to accept some milder structural adjustment measures and a reduction of the debt payments schedule at least. But I learned that the call for the referendum was discussed for months before, within the inner circle of Syriza. So the wording of the referendum was not a hurried decision made in a fit of anger and frustration.
The second Machiavellian point was Tsipras’s claim that an “OXI” vote would give him more power to negotiate with the troika. In other words, the heat of the voter’s insurrection, their gigantic “OXI,” would be useful in frightening his negotiating partners. The attempt to use the anger of Greek workers–who have been degraded on many levels since 2010 and given an avenue for its expression by the referendum—was problematic, since once it is expressed, it cannot be withdrawn. Many said that they voted “OXI” simply because of their refusal to be terrorized by the fears unleashed by the propaganda of the media. This is not a sentiment that can be turned on and off for the benefit of IMF bureaucrats and hedge-fund capitalists.
The third Machiavellian point is Syriza’s refusal to make preparations for taking Greek monetary transactions out of the Eurozone. This was not a technical matter but would have involved the education of the proletariat, capitalists and state employees in the consequences of changing currencies. Even a simple thing like having a few trucks filled with the currency of a possible future money system would have done a lot to “concentrate the mind” of wageworkers (after all, most capitalist-to-capitalist money transactions, outside of the drug trade, are not done in cash). The decision confused both the troika and the Greek working class.
The denouement of this failed Machiavellianism could be seen in Syriza’s proposal sent to the troika five days after the referendum. In that period the voters’ “OXI” was supposed to have shaken up European capitalism, but that did not happen. Neither the exchange rate for the Euro nor the major stock markets of Europe crashed. This lack of response spoke volumes in a language that neoliberals understand. So Tsipras presented the Syriza government’s proposal to the troika on Thursday, July 9. It turns out that this proposal is similar to the memorandum Syriza asked Greeks to reject in the referendum. Liz Alderman, in a nice piece of journalism, compared Tsipras’s and the “troika’s” proposals and she found little difference, e.g., the two proposals with respect to taxation are identical as were the proposed changes in the pension system. Ironically, the major difference was in mililtary spending. The troika’s proposal asks for 400 million euro cut while the Syriza proposal asks for a 100 million euro cut this year.
Silvia Federici, on the broader context of what is happening in Greece
The situation in Greece manifests a double crisis: the crisis of capitalism in Europe, as reflected in the politics of the German Government, and the crisis of the European working-class and the European left.
The politics of Syriza should be de-personalized. They have mismanaged the negotiations but their options were limited given that neither they nor the Greek people ever seriously considered leaving the Eurozone and, for example, turning to Russia for loans. The European Union has become a fetish for the Left, the ideological campaign of ‘Europeism’ has been successful, generating among most a great fear at the idea of leaving the Eurozone.
The Marxist autonomist Left is guilty of the same disease. The formation of a Eurozone has been hailed (to this day, see the recent conference on the crisis in Athens) as a terrain of working class re-composition, but actually we have seen that this has not been the case. Greece has confronted the battle with the European central bank and Bruxelles by itself. No mobilization, no significant expression of solidarity has cone from other countries. This lack of solidarity is especially worrisome, since the working classes of Europe have faced a decade and a half of austerity and structural adjustment and should know the implications of the disciplining of Greece.
By 1998 the EU had imposed on all its members a “Stability Pact” that prevented them from having deficits larger than 3%, forcing them to practically stop all payments, so they could not pay the companies that had been working for them and who eventually went bankrupt. In Italy even victims of an earthquake in Emilia could not be helped explicitly because of the budgetary limits even though the municipalities where the earthquake occurred did have the money necessary. Yet, there were no large demonstrations in London, Paris, Madrid, Rome or Berlin supporting the insurrectional “OXI” vote as a harbinger of their own rejection of austerity.
Even in front of a massive media attack stressing among other things that other workers in Europe would have to pay for the Greek debt.
Syriza never conceived of leaving the Eurozone, never prepared for it, in this, however, reflecting the ambivalence of the Greek/ European population. Clearly people expected more “understanding.” Syriza kept talking of a “humanitarian crisis” rather than a class conflict. The problem however was that the situation the EU is facing does not allow any margin of compromise. The possibility for Greece to default but continue to stay in the Eurozone is ruled by the crisis in which European capital finds itself. The European Union project is in crisis, it has not produced the profitability for which it was created, on the contrary, it is an area of non-accumulation. In this context, Germany is attempting to create a different Europe, “liberated” from countries like Greece that are seen as unproductive, so that can better compete and negotiate with the US and China. In the meantime, Germany too is facing a crisis, because it will have to pay the Greek debt, which cannot be paid by Greece, and will have to abide by the decisions of the US with regard to its relation to Russia (being forced, for instance, to participate in the attack on Ukraine, thereby being prevented from forming any alliance with Russia.)
From a class perspective the crisis, however, is (a) the lack of coordination and solidarity among European working classes; (b) the inability of European working class to delink from capital and the political class, despite the obvious attack to which it is being subjected which will be generalized and intensified in years to come if the TTIP (Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership) is realized; (c) the inability of the European left to distinguish between the Europe of the bosses and the Europe of the proletariat and its commitment to a Europeanism that is suicidal, preventing a ‘rupture.’ If Greece had left the Eurozone, it could have triggered a real process of re-composition, instead of being used to discipline all the workers in the other countries, who every night have been reminded of what can happen to them if they step out of line, and reject the reforms imposed on them.
The only bright spot is the referendum, which was the first loud NO to globalization in Europe and, as some have noted, a Latin American moment in European class politics. The No! of Greece could have also begun a confrontation with EU politics that is now redirected against immigrants, as the case of Italy demonstrates. Unfortunately only the right wing in Europe now speaks against ‘Europe’.
The situation with immigrants. In the spring of 2015, 950 immigrants died – Now, everyday, boats with hundreds of people arrive. The government sends them to
different localities, forcing municipalities to accept a certain number, but now citizens are revolting, and the right-wing is fomenting the revolt. More immigrants continue to die. The rightwing calls for a naval blockade, to push them back and tells the government that to save them is wrong, because more will come. They say the government should give no assistance. In reality this is what is actually happening. France has closed the frontiers.
On Social Solidarity Health Clinics
Syriza’s refusal to prepare the working class in Greece of what an alternative to continuing with “humiliating” negotiations with the troika has been widely noted. This observation was even more problematic to those trying to understand Syriza’s strategy, since only if there was a credible threat to carry out a successful exodus from the Eurozone could have the Tsipras-Varoufakis team have won any substantial debt-relief in the first place. One way to explain this anomaly is by assuming that the Syriza leadership simply thought that taking any path out of the Eurozone would be too onerous for Greek workers and capitalists. Greece in this period was definitely inundated with terrifying images of a post-euro world without petrol, without doctors and medicines, without food, in short, a wasteland of repression, illness and violence…a Mad Max world, Greek-style.
But there was already a model of an escape from such a scenario in the more than 40 Social Solidarity Health Clinics (SSHC) that could be found in most of the cities of Greece. Most of these SSHCs were founded in the crisis, especially after the Syntagma Square occupation in 2011. They now involve thousands of doctors, nurses and pharmacists and they see tens of thousands of patients a year. They provide first level health care from doctors and nurses who are working for no pay. They began with the crisis to work with immigrants who were often turned away from public and private hospitals. Greek patients in the SSHCs were few because they (even if poor and uninsured) tended to avoid them since they assumed that anything that served the immigrants must be of low quality. But as the crisis deepened and more and more Greeks were laid-off, increasingly the patients in these clinics became more integrated at the bottom of the wage scale. Throughout Greece the SSHCs have become a remarkable pole of attraction in recent years, and they have played an important role in providing health care services to tens of thousands at a moment when the hospital system was deteriorating due to strictures on public investment on social reproduction.
I was invited to attend a discussion among volunteers at SSHCs from Athens, Thessaloniki, and Crete. The encounter was prefaced by the following self-description:
At the current situation of intensified deregulation of our lives, as in recent years, the Solidarity Clinics have been a Social Safety Net. The only one in such a broad scale. And this is a fact which cannot be appropriated by any government, party or official institutional body. The fact that we continue to operate has nothing to do with an expectation to get things done as it was before. We have nowhere to return to. And this is a conscious choice. In any situation of political and social instability we know that today we have the social relationships and the necessary experience to maintain an active role in social developments.
Here are some notes I took of the frank and open discussion:
We do “community medicine,” but it needs to be enlivened by new thinking and this new thinking must come from the patients. But it takes time to get new thoughts. Moreover, it is difficult to bring patients in for a general meeting. For example, we recently telephoned 400 patients to come to a meeting to discuss the project and only 30 came. But still, we are not a philanthropy!
We were originally driven to do our medicine out of need, but soon we started to deal with medicine in a political way.
We are formulating a third way of delivering health services (i.e., neither in the state mode nor as a private enterprise). We are thinking we are doing medicine as a common and we are using other terms—like “autonomy” and “real democracy”—as well to describe the kind of medicine we are trying to do.
We have a problem with the left-wing government of Syriza, even though many thought it would save the situation, But that has not happened. In actual fact, the uninsured are the majority in the country. No solution. And even when there is government support, it requires too much paperwork!
People become tired. At times we feel that some of our colleagues are doing the work out of duty. They don’t feel the same way we do.
We don’t want to deal with the state. We don’t want to comply with the state’s directives.
Athens after “OXI!”
The city seems to be on vacation after the “OXI!” The traffic is lighter, the tourists are fewer, the smog lighter, the shops (that are still surviving) often closed, except for the cafes, restaurants, and tavernas. I’m feeling the pulse of the city’s circulatory system slowing down, and even at odd moments stopping, as if the summer heat had turned to capital and just said, “Stamata!” (“Basta!”)
A CALL FOR AN INTERNATIONAL SOLIDARITY
MUTUAL AID NETWORK
SUPPORT SOCIAL STRUGGLE IN GREECE
The below statement is from the Social Solidarity Clinic in Iraklio who are collaborating with other clinics, social centers and movements to create a network from below to receive concrete forms of solidarity.
A surprise for some. Not a surprise for others. In either case, there is a lasting question. How is a response from below possible to counteract and negate the totalizing financialization of our lives?
There is not one political answer to this. However, a political point needs to be stressed. Support is not needed for an inter-class, ethnocentric peoples—the Greeks.
Support is needed for the struggle from below taking place in Greece. It is the State, first, that homogenizes the differentiated impact of austerity—due to class, age, gender, location, and way of life—under a national identity. To accept austerity, for each MoU, a respective national responsibility. And for five years—nationalization or austerity—the two remedies to choose from.
We choose differently. What is urgent, for us, is to collectivize (not homogenize) individual risk—due to personal debt, job precarity, lessened or no access to health services and good nutrition and the internalization of guilt and shame.
This is the 2nd call for the International Solidarity-Mutual Aid Network. To meet acute and longterm needs in Greece. From/to self-organized initiatives. The aim is to make visible, to demonstrate the efficacy of and put into practice an alternative form of Social Solidarity vis a vis the form of Institutional Solidarity—the EU-ECB-IMF institutions and the new austerity program by the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) of the Eurozone.
To clarify. The call is not a contingent choice. It follows our broader effort to develop a different approach to healthcare. On a social, rather than individual, level. Solidarity, reciprocity, equity, without any distinction as to race, color, origin, sexual orientation or religion. Essential elements. For multifactorial healthcare. Not medicalized assessment. For treating human as a bio-psycho-social whole. Not reduction of human to any individual symptom. For deinstitutionalisation. Not charity, medicine for profit, or neoliberal de-hospitalization via closures, privatization and criminalization. For social emancipation.
The plan is to start from, and have at the core of this network, autonomous solidarity health clinics—the sites experimenting on the basis of non-capitalist forms of labor, non-medicalized healthcare, non-institutional dependency. Each clinic will act as a hub, and will coordinate with other self-organized groups in its city/broader area. Each such coalition will determine and share with the network—the initiatives responding to the call—a list of needs (money, in kind, human), ways to be reached (online, mail, in person), long term communication framework/programming. There is no one-size-fits-all solution. Needs may range from medicine and electronics to doctors. Within the coming weeks each clinic/coalition will send out their first round of communication.
Silvia Federici is a feminist activist, writer, and a teacher. In 1972 she was one of the co-founders of the International Feminist Collective, the organization that launched the international campaign for Wages For Housework (WFH). In the 1990s, after a period of teaching and research in Nigeria, she was active in the anti-globalization movement and the U.S. anti-death penalty movement. She is one of the co-founders of the Committee for Academic Freedom in Africa, an organization dedicated to generating support for the struggles of students and teachers in Africa against the structural adjustment of African economies and educational systems. From 1987 to 2005 she taught international studies, women studies, and political philosophy courses at Hofstra University in Hempstead, NY. All through these years she has written books and essays on philosophy and feminist theory, women’s history, education and culture, and more recently the worldwide struggle against capitalist globalization and for a feminist reconstruction of the commons. Her books include: Caliban & The Witch & Revolution at Point Zero: Housework, Reproduction, and Feminist Struggle.
In the summer of 2015 I spent a month in Greece, from June 10 to July 10. I travelled from Thessaloniki to Volos to Athens to Sparta to the Mani to Crete then back to Athens. I stayed mostly with comrades, some new, some old and I was joined for ten days by Silvia Federici. What follows are some observations and comments on this tumultuous period that included the “OXI” (“NO!”) referendum, innumerable meetings of the “Troika” [ed note: the triumvirate representing the European Union in its foreign relations] with and without the officials of Syriza, the coalition of leftist parties that took over the government in January 2015 after being a tiny party for decades [ed. note: or, the Greek Coalition of the Radical Left, name taken from the Greek adverb “from the roots”]. Though the sections are undated, they are roughly placed in a chronological order. This is not meant to be a comprehensive account of the situation in Greece, so there are many facets of the class struggle there that are not noted. But I should point out that the immigrant workers are part of the Greek working class.
Greece 2015: Setting the Stage
The following is what I can make of collective understanding of the crisis put together with the help of comrades from Greece and the U.S. (in my own words, of course):
There are two levels to the crisis. First is the visible financial balance sheet level. Here is the world of debt payments due, say X, and the largely tax-based income of the state, say Y, and X-Y is what is due and it is huge amount. The drama of money, part tragedy, part comedy, is played out, with the protagonists in the front of the stage (incarnated by the financial wizards of the troika, the “young” P.M. Tsipras and the now ex-finance minister Varoufakis) while in the background is a shadowy chorus of bond-holders and out-front vulture hedge-fund managers who intervene periodically with sibylline utterances full of threat and fury.
The second level is the unstated but persistently followed plan to use the first crisis of state finances (the debt crisis) to put the European proletariat into crisis by making the elimination of labor legislation favorable to workers, the cuts in pensions, increased unemployment and a dramatic decrease in wages as structural adjustment conditionalities for any new “bailout” loans. The Greek working class is simply the supposed “weak link” useful for carrying out the plan aimed at Europe as a whole.
This is why the “fictive capital” theorists are so unconvincing. If the structural adjustment program elements of the plan were missing, then there would be a “financial solution to a financial problem.” But the clear purpose of the financial crisis is to deal with the fall of profitability in the entire European region. Capitalist strategists believe that the levels of wages, alternative forms of work refusal (pensions and welfare benefits) and of reproductive “services” (health and education) are so high that they make it impossible for European-based capital to compete (especially with Asian and North American capital). The crisis managers’ aim is to normalize the cuts in these levels and to make such a working class existence (precarious wages and even a return to testing physiological limits) a feature of the standard of living in Europe for the foreseeable future. If this is not done, European capital will suffer what at first may look like euthanasia, but then will later precipitate into a violent dissolution. This is the crisis of European capital! So not only are the European proletarians in trouble, but so are the capitalists. There are many crises in the field, there is no THE crisis.
All Quiet on the Extra-Parliamentary Front
There is something remarkable happening in Greece with the victory of Syriza in the elections of January 2015. A left-wing party gets into state power, but it seemed to have definitely kept the rest of the Left (parliamentary and extra-parliamentary) from using this time to put forward their own programs and demands in the streets. This seems to confirm Raul Zibechi’s insight, coming from Latin America, that the only force that could now defeat the anti-capitalist social movements is a left-wing government in power (or on its way to power).
I sensed a definite loss of direction, of energy, of confidence in the last few years within the extra-parliamentary left. Between December 2008 and April 2012 there was a period of intense confrontation with the forces of the state run by right-wing parties proposing austerity as a way out of the crisis. Along with this was the direct confrontation with Golden Dawn, the Greek version of the German Nazi Party [ed note: this is not the Hermetic Order Of The Golden Dawn, familiar to many pagans & occultists]. Both were very popular antagonists.
But the rise of Golden Dawn was halted by its members’ assassination of a popular leftist rap singer that brought out a tremendous response. The right-wing government at the time then recognized that the Golden Dawn was too dangerous to let it expand without some checks. Without the antagonistic presence of Golden Dawn, however, the raison d’etre of much alarm and sense of emergency was vanishing in the fall of 2014.
Syriza’s sudden rise to state power (with its pledge to end the austerity regime imposed by the “the troika” and its minions in Greece) was also disconcerting for the extra-parliamentary left, since Syriza’s success implied that there might be an electoral way out of the regime of poverty and tatters.
Together these two developments disarmed the critics of electoral solutions to the crisis. So now in the face of an unprecedented attack on living standards, we see very little response in the streets. Syriza is therefore receiving negative support from the extra-parliamentary left.
Moreover, on the extra-parliamentary front, there is much division and backbiting typical of a period of defeat. I cannot help but be skeptical of the appeal of the extra-parliamentary left’s political program when I compare the number of youths involved in the simple commodification and consumption of sociality, sexuality and general pleasure in the cafes and tavernas —as if they are thumbing their collective noses at the troika! What a display of the willfulness of enjoyment that inserts a new pole of attraction in the equation…a pure anarchism.
As I walk through downtown Thessaloniki in the soft evening air I wonder, am I on the deck of the Titanic or am I walking through Paradise?
A clear-headed Anarchist from Thessaloniki speaks:
The solidarity economy is not strong enough yet to take on the task of social reproduction.
The collapse of the Syriza government would lead to an extremely repressive right-wing replacement.
Doing cooperative labor is not easy. Multiplying our experience with a cooperative bookstore would definitely be a lesson.
ERT3 confronts Syriza
Silvia Federici and I were invited to a meeting of workers at the national radio and television (ERT3) station in Thessaloniki. It was shut down exactly two years ago by the troika-friendly Nea Democratia-PASOK government that was looking to do something dramatic to show the bondholders that it was serious in sticking to the structural adjustment agenda. The shut-down decision was made abruptly and disrespectfully, with accusations of laziness and corruption tossed around to justify it. But the workers refused to exit silently. They faced down the police with the help of a crowd that blocked the entrances to the station and they continued to work in their studios and offices with live news, opinion and entertainment programing. In the evening and early morning there were documentary programs and re-runs. So that the station provided a 24/7 presence via the internet with programing especially keyed to the interests of the Northern Greek and Balkan audience. They did all this without pay and with donations from their listeners.
When Syriza came to power in January 2015 its spokespeople promised to revive the public broadcasting system and rehire all the journalists, technicians and office personnel that were laid off in 2013. This was the day when everything would be regularized with the arrival of the newly appointed station manager from government headquarters in Athens. However, not all was well as far as the workers were concerned.
First, the ERT3 workers have been used to self-management after two years of making decisions on the basis of assemblies of workers. In fact, that is exactly what they did on the arrival of station manager. They invited him to their assembly to debate with him as to his instructions from Syriza headquarters in Athens.
Second, they had learned one of the first acts of the new station director would be to lay-off or not-hire anyone that had joined the effort to keep the station alive in the previous two years.
Third, they were not happy that the new station manager was a former official of PASOK. Why wasn’t someone more in line with the politics of Syriza sent to become station manager? Or, what is Syriza’s politics now in the first place?
At the workers’ assembly there was talk about going on strike to protest the threatened lay-offs. In response, at the very moment when the rest of the workers would be getting a pay-check for the first time in two years, there was much dramatic rhetoric on the theme of the importance of ERT3’s programming, in support of the argument that the station should not go on strike (since ERT3 is often the only news channel that covers the strikes of others)!
Talk in Volos
After a number of talks in Thessaloniki by George and/or Silvia, here are notes for a joint talk in the Architecture school in the University at Volos:
From Debt To Crisis To Enclosure of the Commons
What is happening in Greece is the implementation of a structural adjustment program (a technical term that became so hated around the planet that the World Bank and IMF stopped using the term to be replaced by the term “Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper”!) as it was applied to former colonized states that have taken their mandate from the anti-colonial movement seriously. They were posing a threat in claiming the New International Economic Order (NIEO). This was a serious challenge (of which the nationalization of the oil industry across the planet was an example). The NIEO was in effect claiming reparations for colonialism’s massive theft of land, mineral wealth and labor-power. This was getting too close to the old masters’ bone and had to stop! To do this a trap was prepared, a debt trap. The governments of the former colonial world were tempted to take out loans with variable interest rates which at the time were relatively low, to fulfill the very mandate of ending the poverty and degradation of the last century. The trap was sprung in 1979 (under the rubric of “stopping inflation.”). The interest on the loans rose to nearly 20% over night. The former colonized countries’ governments were trapped indeed facing a debt crisis!The IMF and WB acted quickly. They did not want to lose the opportunity the crisis provided by dealing with a financial problem by financial means (e.g., rolling over the debt for another year). On the contrary, they imposed structural adjustment conditionalities that were directly aimed at the elimination of the commons (since most of these SAPs had requirements involving the land ownership and the transformation of commons into private ownership and other goals that were meant to privatize what were considered common goods (from pensions to “royalties” on extracted wealth. So here we have a direct line from Debt to Crisis to the Enclosure of the Commons.
Like a Frenzied Dog on a Trapped Fox
A similar path can be traced in the application of this scenario to Europe, starting with Greece. This is a period of low interest rates and there is much lending, but it is also a period of low profits as well. Greece became part of the Eurozone under the assumption that the inevitable restriction in monetary policy required by the single currency would be compensated during a crisis (e.g., roll overs of the debt would be allowed). This was a mistaken assumption, since it was not assumed by the European Central Bank, the European Commission and the IMF. So a trap was closed on European countries like Greece and a package of structural adjustment policies was unleashed like a frenzied dog on a trapped fox. These policies were directed at commons and commons-like institutions (from pension funds to revenues from the extraction of mineral wealth) in preparation for the TTIP (the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership). These specifics are driving the clear investing in silver 2016 that we are expecting.
An Autonomy Crisis
The reactions from the working class of Europe was tumultuous, and a new version of “IMF riots” were chronicled throughout Europe from 2010 on. But there hasn’t been any break through. The working class of Europe is experiencing a crisis of its power to say “No!”…i.e., an autonomy crisis that the OXI vote of July 5 might signal an anti-capitalist resolution.
Family and Poverty Reduction
The most effective poverty reduction institution in Greece is still the family. Though the family capital is being depleted at a rapid rate, it has been the cushion for the hard landing many have individually experienced these last five years. I’ll always remember my cousin’s table for Sunday lunch, everyone, four generations, eating elbow to elbow, frustrated each in their own ways, but all with a full belly! In fact, there is a race between state capital with family capital to determine which will be depleted first. If families’ savings get exhausted first, there will be genuine food riots that hadn’t been seen since the 19th century. If state capital exhausts first, there would be an anarchist turn in the creation of social reproduction institutions (from health clinics to Community Supported Agriculture agreements).
Cash in the Mattress and the Increase in Burglaries
There is much suspicion of banks and other financial institutions in Greece. There haven’t been any serious runs on the banks YET, but there is a walk from them. This explains the dramatic increase in the hoarding of cash under the famous mattresses. This has led to an increase in the number of burglaries, since burglars read the financial news as well! There is even a burglar’s demand for machines that locate gold coins!
A Fashion Statement
There is a strong taste for the tattered jeans, shorts and t-shirts this summer in Greece. Is this a fashion commentary on the crisis? Is this a way of merging the inside with the out? While sitting in the central square of Sparta, I see a little two-year old dressed with torn jeans. This fashion statement is a reminder of a change in the frankness of expression, because when I was a child on the Sparta square, the parents and children were dressed to a “t,” even though the poverty of the 1950s was much deeper than today’s.
Plato’s Republic and Debt Refusal
In the midst of the debt crisis in Greece, Joulia Strauss, a German artist, decided that it was time to bring artists, scholars, political activists to Greece to show their solidarity with the Greek people in crisis. She thought a free school would be the best way to express this solidarity and the best venue for the school would be the site of Plato’s Academy (a few stones remain of it, rescued by archeologists). A. contacted me, recommended Joulia’s project and so I joined. I thought a presentation of Plato’s views on debt payment refusal would be a suitable topic. Then on the 23 of June a small band (reaching twenty at its peak) made its way to the site of the Academy and I made my presentation. The following is the text I based my remarks on:
June 23, 2015 at Plato’s Academy
Everyone would surely agree that if a sane man lends weapons to a friend and then asks them back when he is out of his mind, the friend shouldn’t return them, and wouldn’t be acting justly if he did.
Plato, Republic 331c.
In the fall of 2011, just after the termination of Occupy Wall Street, I began speaking in support of those who had pledged to refuse to repay their student loan debt once a million others have also pledged to do so (under the rubric of Occupy Student Debt Campaign). In the course of giving a number of presentations concerning this campaign I received many queries and criticisms. The queries were most often practical, e.g., “what about co-signers, what will happen to them if I refuse to pay when I become the millionth and first student loan debt refuser?” The criticisms were also practical, ranging from “why not organize people to refuse all debt?” to “if you refuse to pay student loans debt, wouldn’t the Federal Government stop supporting the student loan program at all and hence you would harm future students?” I was prepared to deal with these practical questions and criticisms on their own terms, with empirical evidence and political argument.
But there was a more problematic criticism that was not so easily answered, since those who voiced it were not just in disagreement with the premise of the campaign–it was justified to refuse to pay a student loan debt– but they were morally offended by it. Their retorts to my arguments for the Campaign took on an almost metaphysical aura of sanctity when they spoke about the importance of paying debts from loans that were freely entered into, whatever the consequences. Their criticism quickly left the plane of facts and even values and entered into a world of meta-values with the primary one being: one cannot be morally serious unless one pays back one’s debts.
The political problem posed by this moral attitude to debt repayment is that it touched a raw nerve in many student loan debtors who have been ashamed by their inability to pay off their loans. This shame has led many to try to cover up and not talk to others (even family members) about their plight. According to my research concerning previous student loan debt abolition efforts, one of the key reasons they have not been successful has been their inability to overcome debtors’ characteristic shamed silence that is profoundly anti-political because it turns the collective problem of debt repayment into an individual issue to be dealt with one person at a time. Consequently, this moral criticism had to be dealt with directly and decisively if the anti-student debt effort was not to meet a similar fate, since this criticism not only makes it difficult to move the critics, but it has a problematic effect on many debtors who are already vulnerable to the mental blackmail implicit in the “debt moralists’” assertions.
In thinking through the conundrum posed by these debt moralists, I realized that, as a philosopher, I was equipped to deal with the philosophical arguments for or against student loan debt repayment. The more I explored the literature the more I realized that the defense of debt refusal has a long philosophical history. It was important to get this literature into the contemporary discourse on debt in response to the rigidity of debt moralism.
If Plato’s Republic marks the beginning of political philosophy, then debt payment refusal appears at the beginning of the beginning of political philosophy. Plato, the aristocratic darling of conservative thinkers, actually defends debt payment refusal in the Republic. Plato’s concern with debt should not be surprising, since indebtedness leading to debt slavery was the source of civil wars and revolutions throughout ancient Greek history from 600BC on. Solon, the famous Athenian law-giver, aimed to stop the endless turmoil caused by the cycle of debt-enslavement-revolution-debt and the ever reigniting class war between the poor debtors and the creditor plutocrats that was leading Athens to catastrophe. He did so by legislating the end of debt slavery, a move that led to the democratization of the Athenian state, and increasingly the remuneration of citizens for their public work (especially for their participation in the administration of justice and legislation, which required attending general assemblies and being part of juries, like the jury of 800+ that decided Socrates’ trial).
Solon was a politician and even a sage, but he was not a philosopher. Plato was. What did he have to say about debt repayment refusal? Significantly, the discussion of debt at the very beginning of the Republic. The first person Socrates interrogates, posing the book’s germinating question “What is justice?” is Kephalos, a wealthy arms manufacturer — although an immigrant, a member of the Athenian 1% — and owner of the house where the dialogue staged in the Republic is supposed to take place. The name “Kephalos” itself is important, for in ancient Greek it meant “head,” and as such it is a cognate of the word for “capital.”
Kephalos’ answer to Socrates’ question, appropriately enough for a merchant, is: “Speak the truth and pay your debts!” But Socrates easily dismisses this definition, pointing out that if a person borrows some weapons from a friend, but in the interim the friend “goes berserk” and becomes (murderously and/or suicidally) insane, it would not be just for the debtor to return the weapons to the friend…in fact, repaying the debt in this circumstance would be positively unjust, since it would lead to either murder or suicide or both! Thus the conditions of just repayment of a debt do not necessitate an absolute commitment to repayment under any conditions. Universalizing the kernel of Socrates’ rejoiner to Kephalos’ definition, we come to the following maxim: one should refuse to repay a loan when the payment will lead to evil or unjust consequences that far outweigh what fairness would result from its payment.
Plato’s suspicion of Kephalos’ wisdom was the outcome of the Athenians’ long political experience with a class of merchants and landlords who, like Kephalos, insisted that their loans should be repaid even if this should result in debt-slavery and class-based civil war. This may explain why, in Socrates’ response, Plato referred to the loan of a weapon! For creditors in this case appear to be a maddened crowd, with debt repayment being a cause of murder and suicide, especially when ending with the enslavement of fellow citizens.
These issues did not die with the end of the ancient world. Indeed, today’s “debt moralists” offer a response to those who refuser student loan repayment similar to the one that Kephalos made to Socrates’ query. In turn, we too must respond to the categorical imperative of debt moralists in the same way that Socrates responded to Kephalos’ definition of justice, with an emphatic “it depends.”
First, it depends on whether student loans are unjust in and of themselves qua loans. On this count, the actual mechanisms of student loan debt speak decisively. For a start, student loan debts in the US cannot be discharged through bankruptcy, unlike almost all other loan debts can be. In addition a large percentage of these loans have been contracted under fraudulent conditions, as it was revealed in the course of frequent scandals, court cases and Congressional committees’ investigations. As Robert Meister pointed out in the case of the University of California, UC administrators pledge future student fees largely to be paid for by student loans and grants to support UC’s bond ratings, its capital projects and a variety of equity deals that turn public money to private gain. This territory has been thoroughly explored by previous student loan debt abolition movements and there is still a lot more to learn.
Second, it depends on whether the collective good is served by repayment. Here it is important to understand the function of student debt in the context of the changes that have taken place in university financing since the 1970s. The ever increasing student debt burden (now beyond one trillion dollars) has been the material condition that made the imposition of ever increasing tuition fees in both public and private non-profit universities possible and financed the expansion of for-profit universities. These developments have led to the corporatization and privatization of universities, on the one side, and plunged a whole generation into debt-bondage. There is no doubt, therefore, that restoring a tuition-free university system and avoiding a further polarization of society requires that we end the present student debt system.
Third, it depends on whether the education and knowledge student loans are intended to pay for ought be commodities in the first place. This is where Plato enters again. Plato held a life-long antipathy to “sophists.” This word had a sociological reference–those who sell their knowledge to students—as well an epistemological one—those who claim to be wise. The sophists believed that knowledge was a commodity that could be exchanged for money. This was their answer to the question that has been at the center of the debate concerning the development of “for-profit” universities and the intensification of corporate efforts to impose intellectual property legal regimes on academic labor. Plato would not approve. His was a notion of knowledge that was neither commodified nor commodifiable. In Plato’s Republic those who know are to live a perfectly communistic life, neither paying for their education nor getting paid for its use. For two thousand years this conception of an academic institution remained the dominant one, and even in these neoliberal times it still has value.
The very status of most universities (that are either public or private but non-profit) and the traditional temporal limitations placed on “intellectual property rights” (e.g., patents give monopoly rights for the sale of an invention for 20 year) indicate that, despite highly organized and well-financed efforts, the commodification of education and knowledge is still not perceived as legitimate. If most universities are not supposed to profit from the education they provide and the knowledge they disseminate, why should ancillary financial institutions profit from them instead?
Student debt refusal, then, is in principle as just as one’s refusal to return a borrowed loaded gun to a maddened friend who intends to murder and then commit suicide with it. It should not be deterred by objections like the following, “Wouldn’t canceling all student loan debt be unfair to all those people who struggled to pay back their student loans?” For as David Graeber retorted in his important book, Debt: The First 5000 Years, this argument is as foolish as saying that it is unfair to a mugging victim that his/her neighbors were not mugged as well! (p. 389) Plato would agree.
Look for Part 2 of Report From Greece by George Caffentzis — with Silvia Federici — here.
“I’m going to frack here! I’m going to frack there! I’m going to frack every-fracking-where!”– Mr Frackhead
It has been a fraught five days in Lancashire. On Tuesday 23rd of June decisions amongst fifteen members of Lancashire County Council’s Development Control Committee began on Cuadrilla’s applications to drill and hydraulically fracture (frack) four wells at Roseacre and Little Plumpton on Preston New Road. Beforehand Mr Perigo (the Senior Planning Officer for LCC) had suggested Roseacre be refused and Little Plumpton should go ahead.
On the Tuesday I was part of a crowd of protestors who gathered outside Preston’s County Hall. Preston New Road Action Group, Roseacre Awareness Group, Frack Free Lancashire and Friends of the Earth came together with numerous other anti-fracking and environmental groups and local individuals to stand against Cuadrilla’s application.
I had to leave on Tuesday afternoon because I had taken temporary admin work that demanded I stay away at an international conference in Liverpool. Throughout my time there, feeling torn and far from home, the fate of the sites and the efforts of the protestors were in my prayers.
Tuesday and Wednesday were allocated to the decision on Little Plumpton. On Wednesday legal advice was given to the councillors by Mr. Manley (a QC) suggesting they had no legal reasons for rejecting the proposal. The councillors voted 7-7. Councillor Green abstained. Councillor Dad (the Chair) made the casting vote in favour.
In response to this, Councillor Hayhurst said that as the public would be dismayed by the result he wanted the legal advice which had forced the vote and tied their hands made known. He also asked for extra time so that local residents could receive their own legal advice. The council agreed to reconvene on this decision on Monday.
On Thursday the councillors voted against fracking at Roseacre 15-0.
After returning on Friday evening, I caught up with this news (which I’d heard by text message) and read the document containing the legal advice. This said rejecting the proposal on grounds of ‘landscape / visual and amenity impact’ was ‘unreasonable’ but not ‘unlawful’. ‘It is highly likely the applicant will appeal’ and ‘there is a high risk that a costs penalty will be imposed upon the council.’ This gave me some insight into how the vote had been forced and the pressure the councillors were under.
I attended the rally yesterday, which was extremely tense. After speeches from Friends of the Earth, Lancaster Council, Trade Unions and other groups we waited around loud speakers as the proceedings were broadcast outside.
I heard Councillor Green explain why he abstained. He said that on Wednesday the legal advice given vocally was that it was ‘illegal’ to reject the proposal rather than ‘unreasonable’. He argued that although Cuadrilla had agreed to reduce the visual impact from high to moderate this was still sufficient ground to turn the proposal down. Green said after considering the evidence and additional legal advice he had decided to vote against it.
Other councillors (I didn’t catch their names) spoke for and against during the debate. One pro-fracking councillor warned that those who rejected the proposal would have to give evidence at a future appeal. Another countered by saying that after they had been threatened on Wednesday they would not be threatened again. He also questioned who would provide the pubic liability insurance after Cuadrilla had left and the site started leaking, suggesting the people of Lancashire would end up paying for the damage.
Following this a vote was made on Little Plumpton. 9 voted against fracking, 4 for, and 2 abstained. Following the horrendous and unfair pressure the councillors had been put under this was a huge victory for democracy. The majority of LCC refused to be bullied and stood by their land and their people.
That fracking has been stopped in Lancashire (for now) brings hope it can be stopped in other counties, throughout the UK and across the world.
Hail democracy! Hail dissent! Hail the nine courageous members of LCC!