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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The Revolutionary Dead: Karl Marx (part one)

This is the beginning of a series exploring the legacies, lives, and ideas of revolutionary ancestral figures.

Probably no theorist in the Western, Capitalist world has been more vilified than Karl Marx.

Like Emmanuel Goldstein in George Orwell’s 1984, “Marx” has become a container for hatred, for fear, the imaginal embodiment for the terrors of European wars, the discontented saboteur, the exhausted worker, the violent uprising.  But bleak totalitarianism, artless society, relentless drudgery–these are the legacies gifted us through the filters of time, fear, and the over-confidence of state propaganda, all constructions which evoke such emotional reaction that most people–even those who might otherwise agree with his ideas–do not know who he was.

That the ideas of one human inspired massive uprisings throughout the world, bloody revolutions (and a few bloodless ones) should be enough to pique our curiousity.  That the authorities of entire nation-states evoked his ideas as justifications for their actions (be it the USSR’s state murder in the name of Communism or the USA’s violent wars against Communism) is even more curious.  But that a Pagan anarchist druid who worships Welsh gods and hates Authority of all kinds carries around the dirt from Karl Marx’s grave?

That’s no curious matter at all.

Let me tell you ’bout Karl Marx, and why you should care about his ideas and maybe, like I do, name him among the Ancestors.

A World in Upheaval

Karl Marx lived from 1818 to 1883, square in the middle of the 19th century during some the greatest upheavals of the industrial period and the height of capitalist expansion. This was a time of extreme government censorship and state violence, Authority struggling to keep people from revolting during the great economic and social violence capitalism wrought in society.

The Enclosing of commonly-held land, which started in force in England during the 1700’s, had just become the norm also on the continent of Europe.  Enclosure forced commoners and the poor off the land their families had lived on for hundreds of years, severing their ancestral ties and exiling them from places they’d found sacred.

These exiles fled into the towns and cities, looking for a way to survie.  In those urban centers, merchants and factory owners took advantage of the disorientation, desperation, and starvation of the newly-displaced by employing them (including children) for low wages, exploiting this new social order towards their own benefit.  This industrialised production sped up the breakdown in the social order, as it became increasingly impossible for the poor to produce anything of value in the Markets because industrialists did it for much cheaper.

Of course, there was backlash.

Just before Karl Marx was born, the followers of the ghostly (and quasi-mythical) King Ludd broke into factories in England to destroy the machines the rich used to destroy the livelihood of others. Framebreakers, Chartists, Levelers, Whitboys, Rebeccas, and many other forms of worker-revolts arose against this entirely new system, many of them similarly invoking divine or mystic champions.

On the continent arose other forms of sabotage; literally, throwing one’s sabots (wooden shoes) into the gears of machines in order to break them.  Large uprisings by other workers were put down by government troops, most notably the weaver’s revolts in Lyon, France (the ‘Canut Revolts‘).

528px-Black_sabot.svg
A Sabot, the shoe workers would throw into machines to ‘Sabot’age them…

Everywhere, there was social upheaval, and everywhere, there was increasing government repression of the poor on behalf of a new class gaining power: the Bourgeoisie.

Lots of people knew something was wrong with this new economic and social order.  Besides the aforementioned revolts, many writers and theorists tried to find ways to unravel the nightmare of industrialism.  The Romantics (whom some credit as either the founders or poetic ancestors of Modern Paganism) attempted to resurrect the idea of Nature as a sacred, endless thing, positioning it against the social turmoil of the urban centers.  Utopian Socialists, on the other hand, accepted many of the premises of industrialisation but thought societies could be ordered more fairly through common ownership and more protections for the poor.

But what both groups of critics lacked was a clear understanding of precisely how the whole system worked.  Capitalism was new; there was no precedent, and it seemed to be a machine as inscrutable as the factory might have been to the rural peasant.   Fortunately, a man devoted his entire life to understanding it.

An Idea So Threatening…

Starting his adulthood as an academic, Karl Marx became radicalised when he was 19 through his association with a group called the Young Hegelians, devoted to discussing the ideas of the German philosopher, Hegel.

Hegel’s ideas (and the leftist interpretation of them by students) were considered dangerous to governments for a very good reason.  Hegel argued that civil society (that is, culture, community, and all the things we think of as human civilization) exists independent of the government.  At a time when rulers were trying increasingly authoritarian means to quell the unrest that Capitalism was causing, suggesting that the State wasn’t the cause of social good opened the way towards questioning the usefulness of rulers altogether.

 At a time when rulers were trying increasingly authoritarian means to quell the unrest that Capitalism was causing, suggesting that the State wasn’t the cause of social good opened the way towards questioning the usefulness of rulers altogether.

While universities now largely function as training-centers for mentally-skilled workers and advance (rather than challenge) capitalism and government, Marx went to university at a time when this was not yet the case. External pressure on academics was more pronounced precisely because of their potential threat to the powerful, and Marx found himself having to switch universities for his PhD–his ideas were too radical to be accepted by the government officials influencing the university.  Rather than change his ideas, though, Marx instead became a journalist for radical newspapers and eventually started his own.

Government officials repeatedly closed down the newspapers he wrote for, and his involvement in journalism and publishing eventually led to his expulsion from first Germany and then from France.  When he settled in Belgium, he was under state orders not to publish anything to do with the political situation in Europe (rulers wrote each other demanding this censorship), and so Marx began writing for an American newspaper popular with workers in New York City.

Everywhere he went, Karl Marx was seen as a threat to the powerful.  Few humans have ever achieved such notoriety before or since, and we should remember, this was because of the danger of his ideas which still haunt the powerful today.  The Spectre of Marx is powerful, inhabiting a space otherwise reserved for religious figures (Jesus, Mohammed) or slaughtering tyrants (Hitler, Stalin), yet Marx founded no religion, nor did he ever hold political power.  Even other ‘dangerous thinkers’ like Charles Darwin don’t compare, for Darwin was never exiled and only challenged religious views about our origins, not the entire political and economic orders which ruled the daily lives of billions.

The New Power in The Cities

As mentioned previously, all the societies touched by Capitalism were in various states of unrest.  Enclosure, the destruction of common-lands, and the increasing power of rich industrialists created refugees in every land.  Many of the new poor moved into towns and cities, some traveled across oceans to North America, Australia, and other colonized lands in search of what is now called, ironically, ‘opportunity.’

Revolte_des_Canuts_-_Lyon_1831_-_1
Silk-weavers fighting government troops during the Canut Revolts (1831)

As more people came to rely on cities for their survival, the people with wealth waiting for them gained increasing power.  These people were called the Bourgeoisie, city-dwellers (from bourg, as in Strasbourg) who, with their increasing wealth, influenced the decisions of mayors, aristocrats, and kings who relied on their support and tax-revenue.

The Bourgeoisie were a new economic class, defined not just by their position in the towns and cities, but also their particular interests.  These interests ran counter to the poor workers they exploited, but parallel to the clergy and the rulers.  For them, order was of paramount importance; it’s really difficult to run a factory when the workers go on strike, sabotage the machinery, steal, or can provide for themselves.

Also, they were predominantly Protestant.  The Catholic Church was slow to embrace Capitalism, was still against usury, extracted tithes, stood philosophically against many of the interests of the Bourgeoisie.  Also, Catholicism still represented an old order where the sacred (including, to some degree, Nature) was more important than the secular, where the rhythm of life was the church bell and the feast day, not the factory bell and daily work.

In fact, one of the banes of Capitalist production for centuries was the plethora of saints days and other observances, during which even the least devout stayed home from work, choosing religion (or just revelry) over industriousness. This can be seen quite well in the diverging development of the United States (founded by Protestants, many of them Puritans) and France (Catholic for centuries): French workers take many more days from work for holy days (even if they’re atheists) than American workers who only have a handful of holidays.

The Bourgeoisie needed orderly, secular societies with strong laws to punish theft, strikes, and sabotage.  They needed strong governments who could create ‘peaceful’ societies but would not interfere with their hunger for profit.  They embraced Liberalism in most places (remember, if you’re American: Liberalism isn’t leftist) and particularly Secularism, since public displays of religion (be it a Catholic feast-day or Pagan celebrations like Beltane, Halloween, or Carnival) distracted their workers and stopped the factories.

If you’re drawing parallels between the Bourgeoisie of the 18th and 19th centuries to what we call ‘middle-class’ or ‘yuppie’ society today, you’re on the right track.  The same interests prevail amongst the (predominantly white) gentrifiers in cities like San Francisco, Portland, and New York City: strong laws against theft and homelessness and petty-crimes, demands for strong property protections, and an ‘enlightened’ Secular/Liberalism which opposes public displays of ecstatic fervor are all essential Bourgeois traits.

The Bourgeoisie never went away.

Revealing the Human Cost of Capital

Marx correctly identified the Bourgeoisie as an epic force in modern history, and sought to eradicate their influences on Utopian Socialism and other liberatory ideas.  Even in the radicalism of Anarchists like Proudhon, Marx saw the taint of Bourgeois ethics, particularly a peculiar sort of self-deception.

Consider the ‘urban professional’ of today, working at a tech company.  Though their wealth and values directly affect the lower classes they displace, though their organic and free-range foods are produced by immigrants working in near-slave (and sometimes full-slave) conditions, they might consider themselves free, ‘progressive,’ enlightened, and even caring.  That is, they create an ideal about themselves, and live in a world of idealism, completely ignoring the physical (that is, material) conditions which bring about their world.

When people think of Materialism, they might think of consumerism or an obsession with the physical.  Likewise, Materialism is often presented as a complete disavowal of the spiritual, mental, emotional, or social elements of the world.

Marx’s Materialism, however, is not that at all.

Anti-capitalism_colorRather, it’s a revelation of the true physical conditions of Capitalist society, the poverty, the physical suffering, and a great light shone on the machinery which runs the entire system.  By creating idealistic notions of themselves, the Bourgeoisie are able to deny their physical exploitation of workers, just as slave-owners were able to convince themselves that they were really nice and enlightened people.

Materialism exposes the raw, violent, and very physical manifestations of Bourgeois society, and argues that, rather than selling the poor a dream of social progress, equality, and better lives, the poor should be shown the truth: that their lives are made physically miserable by working for other people’s wealth.

Like the Democrats in the United States and the Labor Party in Britain, Utopian Socialists had argued that a better world would come if there were just more education, more idealism, and more focus on rights and equality.  In that way, they were not much different from the Bourgeoisie (in fact, many were beneficiaries of Capitalism themselves, as is the case now).  Marx saw through these ideas immediately, and helped create a new political movement which demanded both a return to the logic of The Commons as well as a refusal to deny the material–that is, the embodied–existence of the poor.

Marx’s insistence that, beyond the ideological and cultural conceptions of existence our physical conditions must be acknowledged, echoes heavily in many Pagan and witch traditions today.  If the witch is her body as much as the body is the witch, then Marx’s Materialism lives on in traditions such as Reclaiming, Feri, and even to some degree Wicca.  That is, the insistence of the primacy of embodied experience (be that in nature, in sex, or in everyday life), regardless of whether a person believes in gods & spirits, is essentially Materialist.

I’ll write more about the influence of his ideas in part two of this series, as well as an introduction to Marxist understanding of Capitalism and other ways Marx influenced Modern Paganism, as well as how Paganism is essential to reforging Marx’s ideas into something that can create the world we know is possible.


Rhyd Wildermuth

https://godsandradicals.files.wordpress.com/2015/02/rhyd.jpg?w=80&h=80Rhyd 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 and co-founder of Gods&Radicals, author of Your Face Is a Forest and 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