The Police Aren’t Here For You

“The police are an increasingly militarized arm of an increasingly fascist state, hired thugs for capitalist oligarchs, the modern-day version of slave catchers, a terrorist organization. When I came to see this, then abolishing the police didn’t seem so crazy anymore.”

From John Halstead

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Don’t you feel safe now?

“In England, a century of strong government has developed what O. Henry called the stern and rugged fear of the police to a point where any public protest seems an indecency. But in France everyone can remember a certain amount of civil disturbance, and even the workmen in the bistros talk of la revolution—meaning the next revolution, not the last one. The highly socialised modern mind, which makes a kind of composite god out of the rich, the government, the police and the larger newspapers, has not been developed—at least not yet.”

— George Orwell (1932)

On a cool Saturday morning in September, about 75 people gathered in the parking lot of the Hoosier Prairie Nature Preserve, situated in a mostly White, mixed-income neighborhood in Northwest Indiana. There were people of all ages. Parents with children, some in strollers. Retirees and students. Self-described activists and people who had never been to a protest before. There were some people of color, but we were a mostly White group. Several people were drawing on the blacktop with sidewalk chalk, messages about climate change and pollution.

A police officer on an ATV passed by on the road. Overhead, the sheriff’s helicopter circled.

“Are they here for us?” someone asked, looking up at the helicopter.

“They’re not here for you,” my friend responded. “They’re here for you.”

We laughed nervously, as the double entendre sank in.

The reason for the gathering was a pipeline walk organized by a local chapter of 350.org. It was not a protest, per se, but an educational walk. Ten kilometers, starting at the terminal of Enbridge Line 6A in Griffith, Indiana, and walking north toward the BP refinery in Whiting, Indiana, the largest tar sands refinery in the country.

The Enbridge terminal sat adjacent to the nature preserve that we were standing on, about a quarter mile away. The massive petroleum storage tanks were visible through the trees in the distance. The pipeline carrying tar sands oil ran directly under our feet, directly under the nature preserve.

When we left the preserve, we followed the path of the pipeline, marked by high-pressure pipeline markers, by people’s yards, two elementary schools (including the one my son attended), a high school, a municipal playground. We walked over several waterways. Throughout the walk, the police were as ubiquitous as the pipeline markers.

The goal of the walk was to draw attention to the existence of the pipelines in such close proximity to our everyday lives, and to activate people who might not come to a more confrontational event. No one carried any signs, and no one shouted protest chants. We stayed on the sidewalks. I think we were as non-threating as any group that size can be.

And yet, all the while, the helicopter circled above. Everywhere the police presence was visible: on foot, in police cars, on ATVs, in ominous black vans. At least four different police agencies were present. It was hard to estimate the numbers, but there must have been one police officer for every two walkers. All of that for fewer than a hundred people walking on the sidewalks in a suburban neighborhood. The size of the police presence was all the more remarkable for the fact that the organizers of the walk had met with the police prior to the event, explained it was a non-confrontational, educational event, and even provided a map of the route.

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Hey kids! Did you know that Officer Dugan is a corporate tool?

Throughout the walk, the police were courteous and obliging. They helped us negotiate the more dangerous road crossings. And some of the walkers expressed gratitude and even relief at the presence of the police. But for many of us, their presence was oppressive.

We couldn’t help but feel that they were not really there for our safety. Did we really believe they were there to help us cross the street? No, they were there because we were assembled in close proximity to a piece of major fossil fuel infrastructure. They were there to protect Enbridge and BP.

I also couldn’t escape the suspicion that they were also there to intimidate us, to remind us of their power. None of the officers acted aggressively toward us. (The press was present.)  But the sheer number of armed state actors in our vicinity had a psychological impact. And I don’t think it was unintended.

Growing up White, I had always believed that the police were there for me, to protect me. With the exception of some minor adolescent law breaking, the most I ever had to worry about from the police was getting a speeding ticket. And I never really had to worry about getting shot by the police when I was pulled over.

But as I got involved in street activism, I found myself in a more confrontational relationship with the police. And I began to see that the police are not there to protect me, at least not principally. They are there to protect the social order. As long as I was playing my part in that order, I was protected by the police. But as soon as I stepped just a little bit outside of that order (by exercising Constitutionally-guaranteed rights to assemble and speak), it became apparent that they weren’t there for me; indeed, they never had been.

For most people of color, LGBT folk, and other underprivileged persons, I’m sure this isn’t any revelation.

About a year before the pipeline walk, I was marching with Black Lives Matter activists in Chicago. They were calling for the “abolition”–a word chosen deliberately–of the police (as well as prisons). As I walked in solidarity with BLM, I wrestled with my emotions. I have to admit that the idea of abolishing the police sent an instinctual tremor or terror through my being.

I understood rationally that, rather than making Black and Brown communities in Chicago safer, the Chicago Police Department actually make them less safe. And so abolishing the police makes perfect sense. The police may make most White people feel safer, but the fact is that they do so by carrying on a campaign of terror against Black and Brown people. I understood that rationally, but when marchers called for the abolishment of the police, my socialization as a White person kicked in, and I couldn’t help wonder, “Who would protect me?”

Several months later, I drove into the small airport in Gary, Indiana for a protest against ICE deportations being conducted at that airport. I had been to a previous protest at the airport and there had been just one police officer present. On that prior occasion, a group of frustrated protesters had broken off from the main group, opened an unlocked gate, and walked out onto the runaway. That single police officer had remained calm as organizers talked to their fellow protesters and convinced them to return to the main body of the protest. There were no threats of arrest and only a minimal expression of police authority.

So this time, when I arrived at the airport, I was surprised to find a large contingent of police in SWAT gear herding us into a fenced-in area. I had volunteered to be the police liaison for the event, so it was my job to find out what in the hell was going on. The officer in charge brusquely informed me that we were being put in a pen “for our own safety”. He claimed that they had received reports of the possibility of counter-protesters (who never showed up, of course). I was also informed that no one was allowed to enter the airport building (which was usually open to the public), even to use the restroom, and if we left our designated area, we would be arrested.

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In other words, let us “protect” you, or we will arrest you.

When the buses with the windows covered up, carrying undocumented immigrants who were shackled hand and foot, drove into the airport, there was no ambiguity in my mind about the reason for the presence of the police. They were not there to protect us from counter-protesters, real or imagined. They were there to protect the system, an unjust system which, at that moment, was deporting people who had committed no major crimes, and which included parents with children, tax-paying workers and business owners, and even veterans.

None of this will come as a surprise to those educated about the origin of the police as a means of quashing protest by urban workers. Or to those who have noted the connection between the role of the antebellum police in catching runaway slaves and their role today in systematically enslaving people of color in a for-profit prison system. None of this will come as a surprise who have noted the coincidence of peak oil and the militarization of the police. Or to those who have observed how the practice of ticketing people for minor violations is used to redistribute wealth from poor communities and communities of color to the state (and hence to the wealthy).

None of this should come as surprise to those who have been paying attention to the growing body of video documentation of police violently assaulting and murdering people of color. And, of course, none of those will come as a surprise to people of color or many poor people, who have always been on the business end of the police baton.

“The police are simply the hired enemies of this population. They are present to keep the Negro in his place and to protect white business interests, and they have no other function.”

James Baldwin (1966)

But it did come as a surprise to me. I’m White and economically privileged, and so its perhaps not too suprising that, all my life, I have thought that the police were protecting me. But my recent encounters with the police helped me see that that what they have really been protecting is the gilded cage I live in. I’m protected because I’ve stayed in the cage. But if I so much as rattled the bars of my cage, the police revealed themselves for what they are: an increasingly militarized arm of an increasingly fascist state, hired thugs for capitalist oligarchs, the modern-day version of slave catchers, a terrorist organization.

The more I realized this, the more the calls for abolishing the police made sense. I’m now convinced that imagining a world without police means is part and parcel of imagining a just society.

“To a population domesticated from the moment it fell out of the womb such a question seem ludicrous. All our lives we’ve been told cops, judges, and prisons are the pinnacles of civilization, needed to keep our innate savagery in check. …

“We do not need cops and we do not need prisons. We cling to these institutions not because they are necessary but because we can’t imagine a world without them.”

Dr. Bones

“But who would protect me?” the old voice still comes. But now, there is another voice as well, with new questions: “Do the police really protect you now? From whom? Why do you think you need to be protected? Where does that belief come from? Who taught it to you? What unspoken assumptions is it based on?”

Recently, my Unitarian church invited the local police department to give an active shooter training to the congregation. The officers began the training by playing a 911 recording made from inside Columbine High School during the 1999 massacre. There was no pedagogical function. They didn’t refer to the calls once throughout the presentaton. As far as I could see, the only purpose of playing the recording was to make us afraid … and thus, more dependent on the police themselves. The police could not justify their existence, or the violence they perpetrate on us, without our continued fear of a world without them.

But the fact is the police don’t make us safer. For most White people, they only provide the illusion of safety. And for most people of color, not even that. About 90% of police time spent penalizing infractions of administrative regulations. As David Graeber has observed, the police are essentially bureaucrats with guns. Of the remaining 10% of their time, during which they are responding to violent crime, they are largely ineffectual, or worse.

I guess this is for our own good?

Crime is a natural and predictable result of inequality and injustice. If we really want to reduce crime, we should invest in full employment, universal healthcare (including mental health), free university education, and comprehensive sex education (including education about consent), and we should decriminalize drug use. These things would be far more effective in reducing violent crime than the police. But when we call for these things, the response we get is more police.

I’m not suggesting that abolishing the police is a simple answer. Imagining a world without police requires unlearning a lot of conscious and conscious beliefs. For one thing, it means White people like me unlearning the fear of Black people. The mystique of the police is sustained, in part, by racist stereotypes of the Black male “thug” or “super predator”, stereotypes which have historical antecedents dating back to the times of slavery.

Imagining a world without police also means unlearning capitalist ways of relating to other people.  As William Anderson has written,

“To end capitalism, we have to end capitalism both within and around us. When we liberate our relationships from patterns of thought that replicate the inequalities built into our social systems, a great love can exist that gives us a new feeling of freedom.”

This means learning how to relate to each other on the basis of cooperation, rather than competition. It means building community, spending time with people, and getting to know them. It means and taking responsibility for our communities, rather than abdicating that responsibility to the state. And, of course, it means finding ways to reintegrate those who violate community norms, rather than just warehouse or punish them.

As Chicago activist, Mariame Kaba, has said,

“Abolition is not about changing one thing. It’s about changing everything, together.”


John Halstead

halsteadJohn Halstead is a native of the southern Laurentian bioregion and lives in Northwest Indiana, near Chicago. He is one of the founders of 350 Indiana-Calumet, which works to organize resistance to the fossil fuel industry in the Region. John was the principal facilitator of “A Pagan Community Statement on the Environment”. He strives to live up to the challenge posed by the statement through his writing and activism. John has written for numerous online platforms, including Patheos, Huffington Post, PrayWithYourFeet.org, and here at Gods & Radicals. He is Editor-at-Large of HumanisticPaganism.com. John also edited the anthology, Godless Paganism: Voices of Non-Theistic Pagans. He is also a Shaper of the Earthseed community which can be found at GodisChange.org.


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Witches In A Crumbling Empire

Below is a video recording of Rhyd Wildermuth’s presentation, “Witches In A Crumbling Empire.”

This is the first part. The second and third parts will be posted in the following months, or you can watch all three parts now on his Patreon (requires subscription).


Rhyd Wildermuth

rhyd-wildermuthRhyd’s the co-founder and managing editor of Gods&Radicals. He also writes at Paganarch, Fur/Sweat/Flesh, and posts a near-daily “Friendly Anarchist Thought of the Day” on Facebook.

His entire life is 100% crowdfunded by readers like you. Find out how to help him here.


 

Neither Broken Nor Crushed

The “mask of the warrior” I wrote about in Strong Toward the Powerful is no longer hypothetical. All over the United States, people determined to resist the Trump regime and its fascist allies are masking up and taking to the streets.

The black mask of antifascism scares some people, but that doesn’t make it wrong. When you’re faced with a threat as serious as this one, there is no ethical option except to fight back. “Fighting” can mean many different things, and in any conflict throughout history most participants are not in frontline roles. This struggle needs everyone, not only those who are prepared to personally put a mask on and punch a Nazi leader in the face.

There are some highly effective and disruptive nonviolent tactics available for those who are simply unwilling to throw a punch no matter what. The heroic water protectors at Standing Rock have repeatedly put their own bodies on the line without harming their opponents. However, there is also a type of “pacifism” that is far less admirable, because it mostly consists of lecturing other protesters about nonviolence while refusing to take any risks or carry out any effective action at all.

In its most extreme form, pure pacifism is a false value system, a self-serving attempt to maintain one’s own moral purity even if it means allowing torture, murder and every other atrocity to go unchallenged. It is also extremely rare, because hardly anyone who claims to be a pacifist is truly a pacifist. Most of the liberals who condemn anti-fascist and Black Bloc activity and claim to support only non-violent methods are simply being hypocrites.

If you have supported any military intervention anywhere for any reason, you cannot call yourself a pacifist. (Not even if the president who sent the troops into battle was a Democrat!) Bombs, missiles and bullets do the same thing to human bodies no matter who pulls the trigger, pushes the button or gives the order.

If there are any circumstances under which you would call the police, you cannot call yourself a pacifist. The police carry batons, stun guns, pepper spray and firearms and they will use any or all of those on anyone who resists them. When you make the decision to call the police on a person, you are using violence or the threat of violence to achieve your objectives in the situation — even if those objectives are perfectly noble. Violence does not magically become less violent when you contract it out.

When people condemn “violent protests” but support the police and the military, they are not taking a pacifist position at all but an authoritarian one. Right now, as you read this, there are Antifa volunteers fighting with the YPG against Daesh in Syria. The YPG has American support, so they are widely seen as heroes of the “War on Terror.” When Antifa shuts down a Nazi rally here in the United States, our enemies on the Right denounce us as terrorists and some liberals go along with them. Antifa fights against fascists all over the world, the only difference between one situation and the other is that they have our government’s blessing in one case and not in the other. That is not a coherent moral stance. Simply put, the people complaining about Antifa have bought into the State’s claim to hold a monopoly on the use of violence. That’s all the State really is, after all — an armed organization that has successfully claimed a monopoly on violence within a certain territory.

The State has a vested interest in obscuring this fact, so it defines “terrorism” not as an attempt to terrorize but as any political violence carried out without government permission. When Al Qaeda blows up a wedding party with a suicide bomb, it’s committing terrorism. When the CIA does the exact same thing with a drone strike, it’s fighting terrorism.

Not surprisingly, anarchists do not consider this distinction to be legitimate. If violence is always unjustifiable it remains unjustifiable when committed by the agents of the State. If violence is sometimes necessary, it remains so regardless of whether the fighters are wearing the right uniform or not.

If pacifism is often an incoherent and hypocritical position, what about its opposite? Some people romanticize armed struggle without asking themselves how well it really works in practice or under what specific circumstances it would be justifiable or necessary. Anyone who has studied the history of armed struggle knows that it rarely achieves the intended results. Just because a tactic is more destructive does not mean it is more effective. It would be far better to never get involved in radical politics at all than to simply ruin lives and destroy things while leaving society as unjust and oppressive as you found it. My personal opinion is that people should only take up arms when they have no other choice. How do you know when you have no other choice? I can’t answer that riddle for anyone; it depends entirely on your real circumstances. Study the history of armed uprisings and you will not find yourself eager to try it if you don’t have to.

Among the anarchist philosophers, Godwin rejected revolutionary violence because coercion of any kind was against the principles he stood for. Bakunin embraced it, because he thought the oppressive power of the State could be broken only through a cataclysm. I don’t exactly take either position. When it comes to anarchism, I am content to spread my ideas by writing and talking about them, like Godwin. When it comes to resisting tyranny and fascism, I believe in fighting back. However, I don’t think that “fighting back” means nihilistic destruction. There’s a scene in the Tain where the hills and plains of Ulster literally turn gray from all the pulverized brains. I think we can all agree that this is not the outcome we’re going for! It’s not as simple as saying that you are either for violence or against it. When it comes to punching Nazis, I am for. When it comes to coating the landscape with random brains, I am definitely against.

Some fanatics on the Right — including Steve Bannon — have been fantasizing for years about an apocalyptic civil war to cleanse the nation of people like you and me. No individual person can have much effect on whether a civil war happens or not, but the fact that it’s even being talked about should terrify you. You could make a case that we should be getting ready for a worst-case scenario, but anyone who would try to make it happen is not your friend.

If you agree with my analysis, neither pure pacifism nor its opposite are justifiable positions. So where does that leave us? It leaves us with a nuanced position, in which we acknowledge that conflict is a reality while also respecting the sanctity of life.

That’s not an easy answer, because it doesn’t present a clear and unambiguous script for every situation. It leaves the moral complexity of conflict in place and forces you to make decisions contextually, based on what’s really happening in that moment. It requires you to do everything in your power to minimize harm—sometimes by not fighting, sometimes by fighting, and sometimes by choosing one tactic instead of another in the middle of a fight.

As it says in The Instructions of King Cormac:

If you are too hard, you will be broken
If you are too feeble, you will be crushed.

The bombers and bank robbers of the ‘70s were broken; Occupy was crushed. If we don’t want to be broken or crushed, we need to embrace the ambiguity of the situation and wage our struggle in a way that is neither too hard nor too feeble.


Christopher Scott Thompson

cst-authorChristopher Scott Thompson became a pagan at age 12, inspired by books of mythology and the experience of homesteading in rural Maine. A devotee of the Celtic goddesses Brighid and Macha, Thompson has been active in the pagan and polytheist communities as an author, activist and founding member of Clann Bhride (The Children of Brighid). Thompson was active in Occupy Minnesota and is currently a member of the Workers’ Solidarity Alliance, an anarcho-syndicalist organization. He is also the founder of the Cateran Society, an organization that studies the historical martial art of the Highland broadsword.


Christopher Scott Thompson is the author of Pagan Anarchism, available from Gods&Radicals.

EDITORIAL: You’ll Scare the Middle-Class!

THE RESISTANCE HAS begun, and it looks pretty damn scary. Large crowds dressed in black shouting at cops, torching cars, shutting down fascist rallies, blocking streets, breaking windows. As in the massive Black Lives Matters protests, the actions of protesters can seem jarring, aggressive, ‘violent,’ even terrifying.

Some people are arguing they’ve gotten out of control, the tactics of Antifa, Black Bloc, and many other groups who are a topic of discussion for Liberal commentators and social justice advocates. They’re concerned, worried that civil, non-violent protest has given way to anger and destruction. They worry that the resistance will look scary, aggressive, that it will inspire fear, terror, and the potential of violent reprisal from those in power.

They especially worry that the we might alienate the middle-class.

Do You Even Resist, Bro?

We in Western Capitalist “Democracies” have an idea that there’s a certain balance of power between the people and the government. It goes like this:

The government exists because we need it. Laws keep us safe, police prevent crimes, courts sort out the innocent from the guilty, and the entire system functions well because we have the power to vote for those who control it. If the police ever get out of control, laws can be used to stop them, and if at any point the system stops working, we can select new people to run the government.

This has never been the case, but you might not have noticed until recently. Black and First Nations people in the United States know this better than anyone. Even the election of the first Black president couldn’t stop police murders of unarmed people, and the government repression of the water protectors at Standing Rock occurred under Obama.

When the poor attempt to resist the government, they are brutally punished. But so-called ‘middle class’ people don’t usually experience this direct violence when they resist. Why? The easiest answer to this is that the majority of the middle-class is white. This is true, and police are indisputably racist. This isn’t the full story though, since many poor people are also white.

People who make enough money to consider themselves ‘middle-class’ have more investment in the system of government than those who are poor, regardless of their race. A white suburban office manager and a Black suburban office manager both drive to work, pay mortgages on their homes, send their children to nice schools, and worry over things like retirement plans and their general security. While the Black woman in this example might also have to worry her male child might get shot by the police on his way home from a friend’s (a concern the white women need not fear for her own child), their economic lives are generally similar.

Even if both are liberal and hate Trump, neither will be willing to disrupt the entire system in order to show their displeasure. Instead, waving signs, calling senators, donating to election campaigns, and other ‘non-violent’ means of protest are the most they might be willing to risk. A night in jail because of a protest would be difficult to explain to their co-workers, a black eye from a police baton would raise eyebrows at the local Starbucks.

For the poor of any color, but especially for those who are not white, such considerations are generally irrelevant. There’s no mortgage to keep up, no 401k to worry about if the stock market collapses. The poor have no investment in the system, and thus have very little to lose.

The poor also know that the police aren’t there to protect them. Ask a homeless person what they think of the cops, and you’ll get a radically different answer from a home owner in a ‘nice’ neighborhood. Ask jobless Blacks on a street corner in a city if they think the cops are there to protect them, and they’ll give you a very different answer from the woman who doesn’t like them hanging out in front of her metaphysical store.

Non-Violence Is For The Middle-Classes

BECAUSE white and ‘middle-class’ people have more investment in the current system and different experiences with the police, many resistance movements adopted the tactic of non-violence in order to gain their alliance.

Non-violence as adopted by Ghandi and Martin Luther King Jr. did not mean non-confrontational protest. Rather, it involved confronting the police with the bodies of protesters and forcing them to make a choice: beat or kill unarmed, passively-resisting people, or allow them to break the law. It forced police to look like the aggressors they already were, stealing from them the defense that they were only responding to violence with violence.

This tactic works well if you are attempting to gain the alliance of middle-class people whose investment in the system prevents them from seeing the violence which sustains it. In India, this meant changing the opinions of UK citizens regarding the occupation; in the civil rights movement, this meant getting white liberals to side with the Black victims of police violence.

In both cases, the assumption was that the middle-classes did not realise the system they were a part of was racist and brutal. Watching elderly Black women beaten by cops or impoverished Indian grandmothers gunned down by British soldiers would shock them into coming to this truth. Seeing this, they would stop supporting the police and government policies, perhaps even joining in the protests. Once they did so, the powerful would be forced to comply, because the middle classes are the primary consumers of Democracy and Capitalism.

Non-violence is a strategy that coddles the concerns of the middle-classes, especially their fears. They fear disruption of their security, loss of their wealth, and the potential of personal harm. Non-violent marches now are designed specifically with their concerns in mind, assuring them that they have nothing to fear from resisting oppression.

Insisting that any resistance must bring the middle-class along with it makes little sense, anyway — they are not a revolutionary class. If anything, Trump is precisely what one gets when we coddle middle-class fears: fear of immigrants, Blacks, Muslims, economic insecurity, terrorism… anything that might disrupt their security and peace.

Reclaiming An Aesthetic of Fear

baltimore-police-riot-gear
Dressed to Impress

THE TACTIC OF NON-VIOLENCE also has the unfortunate effect of strengthening the core justification for state violence: that only the state is capable of legitimate use of violence. So, even in a fully-permitted, completely ‘peaceful’ protest, police brutality against a lone protester can still seem justified. The protester must have done something wrong to merit pepper spray or a violent arrest.

Police function under an aura of legitimacy because they are the enforcers of the laws by which we measure whether something is legal or illegal. This aura only exists insofar as we believe laws are unquestionably good — that is, as long as we think laws should be obeyed.

That aura of legitimacy has been fading rapidly in the last decade. Unless you live under a rock, you can’t have escaped all the reports of brutal killings of unarmed Blacks, Natives, and others at the hands of cops. If there were only a few stories, we could dismiss these as isolated incidents, ‘bad cops’ acting outside their legitimate mandate. But the stories keep increasing, the courts continue to absolve the cops of their crimes (or even refuse to prosecute them in the first place), and it’s now impossible to ignore what minority, poor, and radical victims of police violence have always known:

The police exist to maintain the current order, and their brutality is actually part of their mandate. The more the order starts to collapse, the more violent the police will need to act in order to keep ‘the peace.’

To do so, they’ve needed to cultivate an aesthetic of fear. If you’ve been to a protest in any Western Capitalist nation lately, you’ve seen the results of this: armored and heavily-armed police resembling Roman Centurions or Robocops, standing in military formation, ready to stop any potential violence to bank windows or luxury cars.

Traipsing around like stormtroopers, murdering people in the name of the law, driving around in military-grade vehicles, wielding microwaves that can fry your skin and sound-cannons that can deafen you for life definitely makes the police something to be afraid of. But there aren’t actually enough police to control us all if we ever engage in active resistance against them.

Fortunately, they have our middle-class commitment to non-violence to protect them. We have worried so long over the questions of ‘legitimate violence’ that we’ve failed to notice that the police no longer rely on it. Instead, they rely on our non-violence and our fear of their violence to keep us in line.

Alan Moore wrote in V for Vendetta, “People should not be afraid of their government; government should be afraid of their people.” The truth is, they already are, otherwise they wouldn’t be militarizing the police. Perhaps, then, it’s time to reclaim our own aesthetic of fear.

This is what Antifa and Black Bloc groups have already been doing. By engaging in active, aggressive resistance against police, they are breaking the spell of police invulnerability. Likewise, in each action they win, they are proving to the rest of us that more resistance is possible.

Such actions might never convince the liberal middle classes to join any resistance against the government. Thing is, though, there are many more of us than there are of them.

The government we are fighting knows it cannot win by violence alone. It also knows that they lost the aura of legitimacy long ago. They will not be able to govern us by fear as long as we show we can fight back. They cannot convince us we are powerless when we seize our power back from them.  So all that is left to them will be the support of the insecure middle-classes.

It makes no sense for us to try to win them over. What good are allies too worried about what their neighbors might think if they risked arrest to change the world?


Rhyd Wildermuth

img_0967Rhyd’s the co-founder and managing editor of Gods&Radicals. He also writes at Paganarch, Fur/Sweat/Flesh, and posts a near-daily “Friendly Anarchist Thought of the Day” on Facebook.

His entire life is 100% crowdfunded by readers like you. Find out how to help him here.


Cracks in the Pavement (weekly update)

An Urgent Call…

We received the following communiqué and are pleased to repost it:

This is a call. Not to be heard, but felt. A call to be moved. A call to action.

Many of you now know of the struggle of the Standing Rock Sioux and innumerable other indigenous nations against the Black Snake called Dakota Access Pipeline. The prayer and action camp at Standing Rock has been sustaining a vibrant community in resistance to the pipeline since the spring, slowing down construction and withstanding militarized police harassment on a near daily basis. The 20 mile injunction placed on construction by the federal government has been lifted, and construction is now within just 6 miles of the Mni Sose River and the encampment. The battle has entered its most decisive moment.

Our indigenous relatives from across Turtle Island have come here to continue a struggle that has been kept alive for over half a millennium. They have come here as the original and sovereign land tenders, earth defenders, and water protectors of this place.  As the original walkers of the path of right relationship. They have come here to take back power and to show leadership in the fight against exploitation and commodification, against the culture of colonization and inquisition, and for a healthy and bountiful world.

We are humbled and inspired by their initiatives, and unconditionally support them. Now is the time for us as allies in this anti-colonial struggle, to call upon our fellow comrades to join us on the battlefield.

To all who pray to our Earth and the water that cleanses her and brings forth life. To all who cast a circle and call in the elements, spirits, gods and goddesses, and deities; who ask for guidance from the spirit world.  To those who listen to the ancestors as our descendants lay and wait. To those who align themselves with the cycles of the moon, the seasons, and the tides. For whom the cycle of life and death does not instill fear and aggression, but strength and comfort. To all who know how to listen.

It is time now witches, to deepen our work not only of casting spells and hexes, but of breaking them. We call forth the de-spelling of individualism, empire, spectacle, domestication, and whiteness.

It is time now witches to join us. Join us in spirit and join us in humility on this land. Bring your magick. Bring your prayers. Bring your bodies to the frontlines to protect all of creation. Come ready to take decisive action to kill this Black Snake. Come ready to follow in the path of indigenous warriors. We call you to join a frontline battle in a spiritual war that has been raging for centuries. A war against a dead civilization for all life on earth.

If you cannot come in body, take action from afar; the form of life of our enemies pervades all around us. If you cannot come, pray, cast, gather the coven, go to the wild, hold ritual, plan attacks. Ground yourself and continue to do the work. Continue to be moved.

We toss you a bundle of thread sweet witches, from the beautiful homelands of the Oceti Sakowin in each direction. It is the thread of centuries of resistance. Weave with it.

The Persistence of Ink

Though we’re not anti-technology ’round here (see: this site you’re reading), over-reliance on centralized networks powered by coal and accessed by machines built by children and others in near-slave labor makes the internet not quite the future any of us hope. In light of the massive Denial-of-Service attacks that shut down many sites this weekend, we’d like to point out that Gods&Radicals is also a print-publisher.

Our latest book, Pagan Anarchism by Christopher Scott Thompson is still available for pre-sale.

The next A Beautiful Resistance will be out February 1st, 2017. The deadline for submissions has been extended to 15 November!

La plus ça change….

You’re no doubt aware that the resistance to the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAP) continues unabated as private security firms increase their presence.

Government arrests of journalists continue, as well, using the same laws originally written to arrest and imprison anarchists and communists in the early 1900’s.

There’s a connection between the use of private security and those laws, by the way. The Pinkerton Detective Agency was formed in the United States as a for-hire private security firm (read: mercenaries) to arrest IWW members as well striking miners and railroad workers. Later, the Federal Bureau of Investigations was formed as a way of giving the government the same capability that Pinkerton had. The FBI is heavily involved in breaking the power of leftist groups, be they unionists, anarchists, the Black Panthers, environmentalists, or indigenous resistance movements.

History is full of repeating forms, and in this case it’s clear that private security (hired by corporations) and the government are working in tandem just like the early 1900’s. Laws once used against anarchists and communists never went away, and the same apparatuses used to put down earlier revolts continue to be used.

We Are All Mercenaries

In the US state of California, soldiers are being forced to pay back sign-up bonuses to the US Military. In Paris, police are protesting against the government:

Soldiers and police officers are people–mostly men–hired by the State to maintain the ‘state monopoly on violence.’ Soldiers are hired to fight and kill people their government has declared enemies; police are hired for the similar purposes within the State.

As governments need to implement more and more violence in the world to maintain capitalism, they’ll need to continue paying and arming footsoldiers to do their will. The key, though, is pay.

Under capitalism, we are all mercenaries. We all sell our time and labor for a price. Police and soldiers are mercenaries like us, except their job is to keep the rest of us in line. Eventually, any resistance movement to capitalism and the state will need workers to refuse to sell their labor, to desert their jobs, and we’ll need soldiers and cops to do the same.

How do we get there, though? By widening the cracks in the system. When police start to sicken over their work and protest against the government’s use of their bodies to destroy the bodies of others, the state weakens. When the illusions that soldiers are doing ‘honorable’ work and ‘defending freedom’ starts to fall away, the state weakens.

Any anti-capitalist movement must use these moments to get police and soldiers to desert, to refuse to work, refuse to beat protestors and other workers, refuse to kill Black people, refuse to be mercenaries for the rich.

But we must also start to desert, too, and make the same refusals.

 

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