Faerie Queens, Worker Revolts, and the FBI

What do men dressed as women giving eviction notices in the name of a faerie queen and the FBI have in common?

Historical and Revolutionary Analysis, from Rhyd Wildermuth


In the late 1700’s, strange eviction notices began appearing on the doors of wealthy landlords in County Limerick, Ireland. The letters demanded, on pain of torment and death, that the landlords vacate their land and turn it all over to the landless farmers who worked their land.  Under whose authority were these eviction notices signed?

An ancient Irish Goddess of the Fianna, Sadhbh Amhaltach.

Calling themselves the faerie children of Sadhbh (or “Ghostly Sally”), the men and women who posted these notices were later called Whiteboys (from their white smocks) or Levelers (from their demands to ‘level’ the land back to the poor), and it was not long until the British Parliament passed a series of “Whiteboy Acts” meant to destroy their movement.

These laws failed miserably. Rather than crush the rebellion of the landless, the movement transformed and spread across the Irish Sea. Soon, Welsh levelers were tearing down tariff-gates and fences in the name of a ghostly crone, and English men and women crept into factories to smash mechanical looms in the name of a ghostly king (who lived under a mound in Sherwood Forest, of all places!) named “King Ludd.”

The most famous of all these movements for Americans, however, is probably the Molly Maguires, Irish and Irish-American immigrants who sabotaged industry and organized miners against the rich on both shores. Invoking the name of an Irish folk hero who fought landlords in centuries past, they posted notices to the rich and managerial classes, just as had the faerie-children of Sadhbh Amhaltach a century before:

The Unclosed Eye

A little more than 100 years after the first eviction notices were posted by the children of Sadhbh Amhaltach, the tradition of mythic revolt seemed to come to an end on account of a private police force. The force, the “Pinkerton Detective Agency,” was formed after Allan Pinkerton (a Scottish immigrant-turned-police officer) met with the heads of several railroad companies and a Chicago attorney (and fellow Mason), creating a quasi-military force whose purpose was to protect business and industry from unions, anarchists, and criminals.

Pinkerton soon had some special friends in the US Government on account of his work both stopping railway robberies and helping railroads terrorize workers into submission. One particular friend? Abraham Lincoln, the lawyer for the Illinois Central Railroad, whom Pinkerton (and his agency) later personally protected during the Civil War.

Pinkerton (left) with Lincoln.

It was the Pinkerton Detective Agency which directly took on the Molly Maguires in the United States. In the 1870’s, the agency was hired by coal mining companies to break the power of striking workers. Those workers went on strike to stop pay cuts, child labor (children as young as 7 worked in the mines), and particularly the refusal of mine-owners to pay for second-exits from mines.

Pinkerton and his employees organized assassinations of union leaders, targeting specifically the Molly Maguires, until  show-trials were organized to convict dozens of them. Even the judge of one of these trials was appalled at the way the rich managed to use Pinkerton to turn the law into their own handmaiden:

“The Molly Maguire trials were a surrender of state sovereignty. A private corporation initiated the investigation through a private detective agency. A private police force arrested the alleged defenders, and private attorneys for the coal companies prosecuted them. The state provided only the courtroom and the gallows.”

Though the Molly Maguires were no longer an official threat, the Pinkerton Detective Agency had new targets. In Chicago, a massive Anarchist movement had begun, formed by Irish, Italian, and Eastern European immigrants–along with freed slaves and their descendents–operating in tandem with unionized rail and factory workers. (Irish-immigrant workers were again Pinkerton’s favorite target, repeatedly attacking them on behalf of factory owners.)

In 1886, a general strike began in the United States to demand an 8-hour workday. Chicago had became the epicenter of the anti-capitalist actions, and also the epicenter of the resistance (with Pinkerton agents, now numbering in the thousands, acting as private police for the factories). A day after the general strike, striking workers were shot by police, and a mass rally (on 4 May, 1886) held to resist further police assault became what we now know as the Haymarket Massacre and celebrate as May Day.

Some anarchists and workers believed Pinkerton had a hand in those events, especially because of their infiltration of the Molly Maguires. But the result of the Haymarket Massacre was not to end the anarchist and labor movements, but to embolden (and even internationalize) them, increasing the panic of the rich and the government.

By the 1890’s, Pinkerton had grown so large that the federal government began to be afraid of them. At its height, it had 32,000 agents (2000 of which were full-time, the other reserves), making them larger than the active military in the US. But the last major event of the Pinkerton’s was the Homestead Massacre (1892), where 300 agents were hired by the rich to stop a worker strike. Despite murdering several workers, the Pinkerton agents eventually surrendered after workers and the families of the workers rose up to stop them. Pinkerton did not end the strike, state militia did, eventually ruling the town under martial law until the steel mills could operate again.

Pinkerton’s size and failure led to the United States Congress passing a law forbidding government agencies from hiring them any longer, the “Anti-Pinkerton Act:”

That hereafter no employee of the Pinkerton Detective Agency, or similar agency, shall be employed in any Government service or by any officer of the District of Columbia.

A New Agency Arises

A “service” Pinkerton long provided for the US government and business leaders was their registry of ‘criminals’ (including anarchists and labor organizers). Once they could no longer be hired, the US created their own registry (much of it with Pinkerton’s help).

It may seem odd, but another thing the US government could not do on their own was investigate anarchist, anti-capitalists, and criminals. Not until the formation in 1908 of a new agency (with no need for approval from congress) did the government get that ability.

That agency, of course, was the FBI.

The FBI soon overtook the Pinkerton Detective Agency in power and ability (as well as gaining many of their former employees), but continued much of the same work that Pinkerton had done. Investigating (usually infiltrating) unions and anarchist meetings quickly commenced, and when J. Edgar Hoover became the head of the agency, the FBI became what we know of it now–a secret police force targeting political dissidents, minorities, and anyone else who threatens the same class of people Pinkerton was formed to protect.

Since its formation, the FBI has given particular attention to leftist, anti-capitalist, anarchist, and civil rights movements. After the passing of the Espionage and Sedition acts during the first World War, the FBI investigated and imprisoned anarchists (especially Wobblies–IWW members) and any others who spoke openly against American military involvement in Europe. Before the start of the second World War, the FBI compiled lists of people to be detained (in concentration camps), especially Japanese immigrants whom they immediately started rounding up after the attacks on Pearl Harbor.

Perhaps the FBI’s most infamous assault on anti-capitalism and political dissent was COINTELPRO. Started in 1956, its original target was the Communist Party, but it quickly expanded to target civil rights leaders (including Martin Luther King Jr), the Black Panther Party, the American Indian Movement, leftist academics, hispanic liberation movements like The Young Lords, and anti-Vietnam war protest groups.

Letter Sent by the FBI to Martin Luther King Jr, suggesting he kill himself.

The FBI’s strategy with COINTELPRO involved many of the same tactics that Pinkerton used to fight the Molly Maguires and other worker-organizations and anarchist groups. Infiltration was primary, as was careful use of disinformation (creating false documents purporting to be from leftist groups) and in the case of Black Panther Party members (as well as possibly others), assassination.

All this we know from information gathered by the US Senate in 1975 (the “Church Committee,”) but we could be forgiven for suspecting even more targets and tactics existed. Since the revelations, it has become even harder to gain information about the activities of the FBI, but we do know they have been very active in infiltrating anti-capitalist groups during the anti-globalistion protests, doing door-knocks on the homes of activists before protests to intimidate them (including many of my friends). With the advent of the ‘war on terror,’ the FBI has been able to redefine environmentalist and anti-capitalist groups as ‘domestic terrorists,’ giving them even more power to act with impunity against those whom the government and the rich fear.

Fortunately, groups like Anonymous and Wikileaks have made it so we do not need to wait for another Senate Committee to get information of the FBI’s activities, but if over one hundred years of FBI harassment and killing of political dissidents (plus another 50 years of their predecessor, the Pinkerton Detective Agency) is any indication, it’s not good.

F(or) B(eautiful) I(nsurrection)

This brings us to the present. Many liberals and even some conservatives have been shocked to learn that Trump recently fired the head of the FBI, James Comey. For many, this seems like an appalling turn of events, one bringing us closer to fascism.

In a way, they are right, though it has been interesting to see liberals who previously were certain the FBI was partially responsible for Hillary Clinton’s defeat suddenly rush to paint him as a heroic victim of Trump’s voracious hunger for power. (Comey, we must remember, triggered a crisis during the presidential election campaigns by an oddly-timed announcement regarding emails on a private server Clinton had possessed).

We have absolutely reason to fear this turn of events, but not because the FBI has ever been a ‘good’ organisation. From the very beginning, it has served only the interests of the very rich and the government they purchase with their money. It is not ‘neutral’ at heart: its very roots still drink the blood of murdered leftists and immigrants. That Trump will soon replace the former director with one of his own choosing is terrifying, certainly, but no more terrifying than the Federal Bureau of Investigations and the immense power it wields.

What might we do to resist such power?

I suspect the solution may be at the beginning of this essay, in the very movements which Pinkerton and later the FBI arose to fight.

The Whiteboys and Molly Maguires, the Rebeccas and the Luddites, each arose as movements to attack the rich. Each was subversive and each claimed a mythic (or deific) leader whom gave them power. For the Whiteboys it was an ancient Irish goddess, the Molly Maguires a mythic heroine. The Rebeccas claimed an old crone gave them the women’s clothes they wore to confuse the hired soldiers of the rich, and a night watchman fleeing from an attack by Luddites claimed later to have seen their ghostly king striding tall amongst them, wielding a pike. The later movements which arose also rallied around mythic figures, many of them comrades recently murdered by Pinkerton agents or later the FBI.

That mythic center not only gave each group coherence, it also allowed them to continue when specific leaders were targeted and killed. Further, agents of the state cannot kill a goddess or a dead heroine, anymore than they can ever fully crush a resistance.

Perhaps more important, though, is to keep in the forefront of our minds why Pinkerton and later the FBI arose, and who they worked for: the rich. It has always been the wealthy who need protection from the poor. They need us to work in their factories and shops, to obey laws about stealing from them, to fear poverty more than we fear our enslavement to their demands.

“Investigative” agencies like Pinkerton and the FBI exist because the rich do not know how to stop us. They need to pay people to learn about our actions, infiltrate our meetings, sabotage our plans, and assassinate us when we get to powerful. As terrifying as the tactics and power of such forces are, the rich have more reason to be terrified than we ever do.


Rhyd Wildermuth

Rhyd is the managing editor and a co-founder of Gods&Radicals. He is a poet, a writer, a theorist, and a pretty decent chef. He can be supported on Patreon, and his other work can be found at Paganarch, and shirtless selfies occasionally seen on his FB. and also his Instagram


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Editorial: Murder in My Name

Eight years ago, I heard what sounded like a car backfiring. About a minute later, there was a knock on my door. I was half-asleep, got out of bed without throwing on anything but boxers and ran downstairs to see who was there.  As I turned the door knob, I heard his voice:

“Help me! Fuck, please help me.

A man stood before me,  holding his stomach in pain.  I was a bit slow, had just woken up, was maybe a little drunk, and anyway, I’d never seen so much blood. It was gushing from him, pouring through his hands, staining his shirt and jeans.  His fingers were slick with it, there was some on his face, his white athletic shoes were splotched crimson.

“Fuck, man–hold on” I said.  “I’ll call 911.”

“No” he shouted, really insistent, suddenly terrified.  “They’ll send the cops.  You gotta help me.”

I’ve no medical training. There’s realistically nothing I can do for someone who’s been shot.  I told him all that, shouting a bit in panic.  He was gonna die without medical attention, but would rather risk death than confront the police.  What the fuck could I do?

I told him I’d be right back, that I was going to call the medics. I didn’t have a cell phone, so I had to run upstairs to make the call.  When I returned downstairs, he was gone.

I didn’t hear sirens for another half-hour.

When the police finally arrived, they came without paramedics.  I’d told the dispatcher it was a medical emergency, but they’d sent police instead, officers who seemed much less interested in helping the victim than they were trying to find out more about him. When I told them he’d left, they shrugged, asked me a few more questions, and then bid me goodnight.

I  didn’t hear the sirens of an ambulance for another half-hour after that. A full hour had passed between the moment I’d called and the moment paramedics arrived to help him.

I learned the next morning that the man had died in some bushes less than a block away from my house.

Calling the “Authorities”

For months and years later, I couldn’t get the situation out of my head. A Black man came to the door of a white anarchist punk, bleeding from a gunshot wound, and all the anarchist knew to do was to call a phone number. Even though I knew the police didn’t care about people like him, I passed his life into their hands, to Authority. What else could I have done?

You might also find yourself wondering a few things about this situation.  Some of those things may embarrass or frustrate you.  It’s okay–I went through all those questions too.  Questions like: was the man a killer? Had he done something so awful that it was better to die alone than face justice? What could anyone possibly have done for him? And why not call emergency services–that’s what they’re there for, right?

Those questions, those arguments, are all ways we try to find our way back to the reality we know, rather than the reality we’ve just confronted. They’re like our defense mechanism, keeping our mind from shattering when we confront something awful.  The closer we get to an awful truth, the more our mind tries to protect us, even to the point of suggesting that a dead Black man maybe deserved to die for his stupidity, or really should have just ‘manned-up’ and faced whatever impending justice he was due.

For me, past all those questions and arguments and defenses was a terrible truth that I didn’t want to see.  Despite being an anarchist since I was 19, despite having witnessed really awful things being done to people by police, and despite intellectually knowing that the institution of policing is inherently corrupt, it wasn’t until I faced my own helplessness when confronting a dying human and my automatic reaction–calling the police for help–that I understood how much of our lives we’ve ceded to the police, the State, and Authority.

Now, when an unarmed Black person, adult or child, is killed by police, I am no longer surprised or shocked.  Sad, of course, and angry, but to act surprised or appalled would be completely dishonest.  Besides, I’ve almost never witnessed police doing something helpful.

I’ve seen ’em do a lot of awful things, though:

  • I’ve watched friends beaten severely by police in protests.
  • A lover and I watched a teenage girl in fairy wings get punched and knocked to the ground by a police officer during an anti-war protest.
  • I saw a bi-racial friend of mine, the most harmless stoner you’ve ever met,  forced to the pavement by 8 officers with guns pointed to his head.
  • During that same incident, I watched my companion get his phone smashed, his head bashed into a wall, and called ‘fucking faggot’ by other officers for trying to film the incident (wrong suspect, it turned out…).

    johnwilliams021711
    Mural of John T. Williams
  • A former client of mine, a deaf native wood-carver named John T. Williams was shot 5 times (four in the back) just outside the shelter where he lived.
  • I’ve seen transfolk and dragqueens get the shit kicked out of them by angry cops while marching down the street in an ‘unpermitted’ queer march during Gay Pride (to the approval of the mostly white gay male business owners nearby).
  • I helped defend a queer socialist group from angry harassing protests whom the police actively favored, watching the cops repeatedly threaten us while giving extra allowance to right-wingers driving repurposed military vehicles on the sidewalk.
  • And I’ve had my own head pounded repeatedly into the hood of a cop car during an arrest because my lover kicked over an A-board sign advertising expensive condos (they didn’t charge me, just roughed me up damn well).

I could go on about all the harassment of homeless people I’ve witnessed, the violence against my social work clients, the batons and bikes used as bludgeons during peaceful protests–all shit I’ve seen in person.  As far as my almost 39 years of life have shown me, unprovoked brutality is what police do. 

Police, The State, and Capitalism

We call the police “the Authorities for a reason.  They function as part of the State, by which I also mean ‘government.’  In fact, the police are the human instruments of most State policies, though they are not the only ones.  Police enforce laws that the State has made, enact violence (arrest in the most pleasant situations, beatings and death in others), and otherwise provide a physical manifestation of the State in our everyday lives.

Pyramid-of-Capitalist-SystemOn the surface, police are supposed to protect life and property from thieves and murderers, providing for a sort of ‘general welfare.’ Stopping people who speed on roads (or drive drunk) protects pedestrians and other drivers; breaking up fights or riots protects uninvolved bystanders and nearby businesses.

But in my own experience, the Police don’t exist to protect me.  Supposedly, I ‘benefit’ by their existence–they ‘keep me safe’ from murderers and thieves and drunk drivers, though this is an indirect benefit.  Neither they nor I could point to a specific moment where someone who might want to kill me was prevented from doing so because the police exist.

In fact, like ‘terrorism,’ the idea that the police protect me from horrible people hell-bent on murdering me is a fantasy; I’m a rather nice guy and don’t go around doing things to make others want me dead.  Also, I don’t own much–anyone who’d try to rob me at gunpoint or break into my home would be sorely disappointed. In fact, I’d feel so sorry for their wasted effort I’d likely offer them a cup of tea.

Others, of course, have a lot more to lose, and that’s where we start to understand who the police actually exist to protect. While I never have any more than $500 to my name, and nothing I own could be resold for more than $20 (no smartphone, a dying laptop, no automobile), there are plenty of people who have a lot more than that. If you’re poor and want to go the ‘criminal’ route of getting a little less poor, it makes more sense to steal from a business or someone who actually has money to take.  They’re the sorts who need to be protected, because they actually have something someone else would want.

Police exist to protect wealth and those who have it.

The police don’t regularly go around bashing the heads of middle-class housewives in the suburbs against walls, nor do they regularly shoot their husbands or children because they were acting ‘suspicious.’ Why?  It’s certainly not because they’re better people than anyone else.

Part of this is that such people tend to be white. But this isn’t the only factor–I’m also white, as were many of the people I’ve witnessed being brutalized by police. While there’s no doubt that the police in the United States are soaked in racism, the primary reason they don’t do these awful things to middle-class and upper-class white people is because the police exist to protect the orderly functioning of Capitalism.  White people are wealthier than people of color because Capitalism is inherently racist (as Malcolm X said, “You can’t have Capitalism without Racism”), but racism is not the only reason Black people and indigenous people and immigrants are slaughtered in the US.

Most crimes, particularly after the birth of Capitalism, are so-called ‘property crimes,’ [see Foucault’s Discipline & Punish] because most laws after the birth of Capitalism were made to create, sustain, and protect the new social order capitalists required in order to become wealthy.   And the modern police were created in order to enforce those laws.  Other policing institutions, such as the FBI, were created in response to the government’s need to investigate and subvert radical miners strikes and anarchists in the early 1900’s, [and we’re still on their shit-list…for community gardens] and later turned the bulk of their efforts against Communists–that is, groups who threatened the Capitalist order.

If you have not personally witnessed violence at the hands of the police, it’s probably because you resemble (or are) the class of people the police are supposed to protect–usually white, never poor, never homeless, and never anti-capitalist.  Most of all, you at least ‘appear’ to be no threat to the functioning of Capital or the State.

‘The Will of the People”

Police are not the only group of people charged with wielding the power of the State to ensure its proper functioning.  The Military also exists for precisely this same purpose, except it performs these functions in foreign lands, amongst people outside the reach of State police.

Police exist to enforce the laws of a State–in a Democracy, supposedly the ‘will of the people.’ The Military likewise exists to manifest the ‘will of the people,’ except upon foreign people. Certainly, they’re also supposed to also ‘protect’ the people in the State, just like police are charged to protect law-abiding citizens.

And while the police have quite the record of killing unarmed People of Color, their slaughter is nothing compared to that of unarmed People of Color in other lands.  For instance, in the first two years of the invasion and occupation of Iraq, the United States military killed 9,720 civilians, 10% of whom were children. [Source]

You might be tempted to shake your head here and say, “But that’s war, right?” But one could just as easily dismiss the death of Tamir Rice or Michael Brown by saying, “but that’s just policing…”

But we should instead ask ourselves: Is there actually a difference between what the military does to other people and what police do here in our countries?

Can we really excuse the deaths of unarmed people in the Middle East at the hands of U.S. and European soldiers (that is, Capitalist Democracies) but not the deaths of unarmed people at the hands of police?

And is there maybe no real the difference between the Baltimore Uprising and resistance to military invasion elsewhere?

I, for one, see no difference. I’ll not favor the lives of people in other lands less or more than the lives of people here, nor will I ever allow the ‘Authority to claim it murders on my behalf.

Consider: what, precisely, has the U.S. Military done to manifest my ‘will?’  I don’t drive, so all the oil they’ve secured doesn’t do much good for me.  I’m not anti-Muslim or anti-Communist, so none of the wars in the last 38 years personally benefit me.  And I don’t have any wealth to steal.

In fact, everything the State has ordered soldiers to do ‘in my name’ has actually been something I’m utterly appalled by. Overthrowing governments, killing kids, making life miserable for millions–why on earth would I want them to do any of those things?

It’s the same with the police. Pushing homeless people around, killing unarmed Black kids and women and men, beating up protesters and queers–I can’t think of a single instance where I’d ever be okay with that stuff.

But then again, I’m not the sort of person the police or military are out to protect, anyway.  I have no wealth, own very little, and really don’t like Capitalism or Authority. They certainly must know by now I’d never consent to them murdering in my name.

Besides, I know who both groups are really working for: the State, and the Capitalists for whom the State exists.  It’s for them these people are being murdered, them and those who support them.

But not for me….and hopefully not for you, either.


 

Rhyd Wildermuth

10610799_821214641327922_8253401329808426544_n(1)Rhyd often lives in a city by the Salish Sea in occupied Duwamish territory. He’s a bard, theorist, anarchist, and writer, the editor of A Beautiful Resistance–Everything We Already Are, and co-founder and Managing Editor of Gods&Radicals, author of Your Face Is a Forest and A Kindness of Ravens, and is a columnist for The Wild Hunt.He growls when he’s thinking, laughs when he’s happy, cries when he’s sad, and does all those things when he’s in love. He worships Welsh gods, drinks a lot of tea, and dreams of forests, revolution, and men. His words can be found at Paganarch.com and can be supported on Patreon.com/Paganarch

Capitalists Wage War, Capitalists Wage Work

Homestead_riot_harpers_3c26046v
Pinkerton Detective Agents during the “Homestead Riot.” The Pinkerton Detective Agency was a private militia hired by Capitalists and the U.S. government to put down strikes, infiltrate unions, and harass and murder workers and the Molly Maguires. Now owned by Securitas (the 2nd largest security firm in the world), Pinkerton is the direct ancestor of the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI), which was founded after Congress passed laws preventing the government from using their services any longer.

 This week:

Essays from Naomi Jacobs, , Heathen Chinese, Sean Donahue, Al Cummins & Linda Boeckhout, and a review by George Caffentzis

Links

We highly recommend the 30 Day Real Black History Challenge.

Prepare now for the Flood….

Have you seen Mad Max, Fury Road yet?  Damn good–but Jacobin’s got a great point about Christian Apocalypse fantasies and fears about the end of Capitalism.

Poverty’s effects on the mind are just as significant as on the body.

 

Glossary

Primitive Accumulation

Pre-Capitalist methods of gathering large amounts of wealth, often involving direct violence by political actors. [Note–“Primitive” means ‘primary’ or ‘initial,’ not ‘uncivilized’]

Feudalism (where Aristocrats forcibly took 1/3 of a peasant’s production), Colonialism (where Empires stole wealth from foreign peoples), and Slavery (where the powerful enslaved people to derive wealth from their labor) were all forms of Primitive Accumulation.  The wealth derived from the violent expropriation of other people’s wealth or labor is the source of most modern Capital.  The conquest of the Americas, the enslavement of Africans, the Crusades, and the theft of indigenous land were all acts of Primitive Accumulation and produced the Capital which now rules our lives.

Primitive Accumulation still occurs–wars in the Middle East by Western countries, the direct selling-off of indigenous lands by states to private owners, and the exploitation is easier to see in these instances than in the Capitalist exploitation of labor.

To understand both Capitalism and Primitive Accumulation, consider that the gathering of wealth from others is an exploitative act.  Both forms involve people taking from other people in order to become wealthy.  By taking wealth and land-rights away from peasants and indigenous peoples, a new class was created who could only survive by selling their labor/time–the “Proletariat,” or working-class.  Without that original theft, Capitalism could not exist.

Quotes

“…a modern boss is tolerant, he behaves like a colleague of ours, sharing dirty jokes, inviting us for a drink, openly displaying his weaknesses, admitting that he is “merely human like us”. He is deeply offended if we remind him that he is our boss – however, it is this very rejection of explicit authority that guarantees his de facto power.

This is why the first gesture of liberation is to force the master to act as one: our only defence is to reject his “warm human” approach and to insist that he should treat us with cold distance. We live in weird times in which we are compelled to behave as if we are free, so that the unsayable is not our freedom but the very fact of our servitude.”

–Slavoj Žižek

“…the worst slave-owners were those who were kind to their slaves, and so prevented the horror of the system being realised by those who suffered from it, and understood by those who contemplated it…”

–Oscar Wilde