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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Guns and Dope: The Anti-Oppressant

“This is the reality of the War on Drugs; it is thinly veiled, and sometimes not, racism.”

From Patacelsus

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From Killer Mike’s music video “Reagan”

The Guns and Dope party: like most Discordian ideas and projects, it went nowhere fast. Also like most Discordian ideas and projects, it won’t go away. A good joke wants to be told, even if it can only make you cringe with how cheesy it is. That’s the punchline of the Guns and Dope party. It is a party that seemingly champions the interests of most Americans, and yet few have heard of it, and no one was interested it when it started. Since Wilson came up with the idea and then died (in what I’m sure are a series of acausal events, separated by like, at least a year or two, I’m sure…), new shit has come to light, man. It has no bearing on the Guns and Dope party I’m sure, since the party seems to be disinterested in asking a person to do anything so humiliating and debasing to human dignity as running for office. It might change your mind about the priority and centrality of some issues.

Maybe you’ll say to yourself, “Now who can argue with that? I think we’re all in debt to Patacelsus for stating what needed to be said. I am particularly glad that these lovely children are here today to read this article. Not only was it authentic frontier gibberish, it expressed a courage little seen in this day and age.” But what do I know? You’d think you could share your love of a comedy without everyone you try to share that passion with taking it to a racist place somehow? But oh no. Every time I tell someone I like Blazing Saddles, suddenly I get put on blast with all the racist jokes. Like race was the only punchline to every joke in that movie. Gives me a fucking headache. I mean, I’m not saying that it didn’t have jokes that relied on the crushing racism of both the “Wild West” and 1974 America for its humor, just that it didn’t exclusively do that. Eh, never mind. I can be particular at times. Let’s get to it then; excuse me while I whip this out!

Not too long ago a writer for Gods & Radicals who calls himself Dr. Bones threw in a pretty penny on the matter of gun control, titled: The Liberal Desire for Gun Control is Going to Get Us Killed. I got all reflective-like, as if I’d had a memory in my brain knocked loose. That memory was The Mulford Act of 1967. A full year and some change before the Gun Control Act of 1968, the Mulford act was signed into law by Ronald Reagan (the actor?), who claimed that the Mulford Act “would work no hardship on the honest citizen.” You know, because having the police raid your home and murder you and your family for the crime of being black is naturally no hardship for a true patriot.

Now, most Federal gun laws legislate the manufacturing, transportation, and sales of firearms. This is not out of the ordinary because the power to regulate interstate commerce and all that crap is “constitutional”, if you go in for caring about that kind of thing. The Mulford Act stands out, as you may know if you read Dr. Bones’ articles and the links he attaches, was meant specifically to disarm the Black Panthers. Now, let’s be clear, these are the guys wearing black leather jackets and berets, not the Wakandan King. You can tell they’re serious too, because who else wears a beret with black sunglasses and a rifle but a serious mother fucker. I mean, without the beret, they would have just been weirdos with guns.

Why should one racist California law matter? Could you please stop referencing movies and get to the point? Where are you going with all of this? The answer is nowhere special. Well, the answer is stop and frisk laws; but also the answer is, no, I will not stop with the movie references, I get a big kick out of it and you’re just going to have to put up with it until I get bored and move on to cryptography puzzles.

So the next year after the Mulford Act was passed, the 90th U.S. Congress passed the Gun Control Act of 1968, which was actually a response to the assassination of Kennedy, but it is the U.S. Congress, so a 5 year lag shouldn’t surprise anyone. How the fuck does racism fit into the Federal effort though? I could do the lazy thing and point out a Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership opinion piece that claims the GCA of 1968 is copied wholesale from Nazi laws banning Jews from owning firearms, sans the Jew part and all the provisions for licensing firearms and not outright banning them. But such laziness would be wrong. Instead I’ll just outright say that Politicians were afraid of an armed uprising in 1968 (the year Martin Luther King Jr. got killed, along with Bobby Ken), and that was the real thing that kept that 5 year lag from becoming an infinite lag. I wonder were the Congress got the idea to use gun laws to suppress minorities?

I mean, it was probably a bunch of Republicans in a Republican controlled Congress, right? Baeh! Wrong! In both House and Senate, Democrats had the seats. Not only that, but almost as many Republicans voted yea as Democrats in the House and Senate. Also, fewer Republicans said no than Democrats. Think about that a sec. Confused? Permit me to explain with much abbreviation and little detail. The Dems use to be the party of the Klan, and the Triangle fire flipped the bitch on the U.S. political spectrum. Want more detail? Read a fucking book!

Hey! Check this out!:

“( h ) I t shall be unlawful for any person—

“(1) who is under indictment for, or who has been convicted in
 any court of, a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term
 exceeding one year;

“(2) who is a fugitive from justice;

“(3) who is an unlawful user of or addicted to marihuana or
 any depressant or stimulant drug (as defined in section 201 (v) of
 the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act) or narcotic drug as defined in section 4731 (a) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1954); (sic)

Now, if you didn’t want to read this legalese gibberish, I can tell you that it is the bill that will convert a state hospital for the insane into the William J. Le Petomane memorial gambling casino for the insane. Ha! No, it is a portion of the 1968 GCA. That part in bold seems kinda weird right? Well, to most it wouldn’t, if that most was America in 1968 (haha, like people in America read it, right?). It comes after the provision which states, “it is not the purpose of this title to place any undue or unnecessary Federal restrictions or burdens on law-abiding citizens with respect to the acquisition, possession, or use of firearms appropriate to the purpose of liunting, trapshooting, target shooting, personal protection, or any other lawful activity, and that this title is not intended to discourage or eliminate the private ownership or use of firearms by law-abiding citizens for” blah blah blah, you get the idea. The direct mention of Marihuana(sic) seems fishy to me though. So after looking up “liunting” (the best I could find was ‘linting’, which is ‘to walk around smoking a pipe’), I looked to see if any of the authors of the Mulford act moved up from state assemblyman or senator to U.S. Congressperson. Ha! No such luck. Just a whole bunch of dudes in the U.S. Congress and the California political class who all knew or were in the same circles as Nixon. Nothing to see here, move on.

So, no, I have no grand conspiracy theory for you about how this was all designed from the start. Just a bunch of rich white dudes that thought it best to specifically mention marijuana in a Federal gun control act. To be honest, it doesn’t matter if this was orchestrated conspiracy, the inertia of racist habit, or complete accident. The result is racism; and similar acts, enacted in the same era, were definitely meant to be racist. So it’s time for a hard subject cut; remember when Richard Dix came in here and tried to take over this town?

The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. That is not a claim I’m making, and it probably isn’t news to anyone reading this. It is a quote from a Harper’s magazine interview of John Ehrlichman from 1994. Ehrlichman was Nixon’s domestic policy chief, so he’d know what he was talking about. Want to know the source of the War on Drugs? Nixon! Yes, all bad things eventually lead back to Nixon; in fact, I bet you could make a pretty good game of a variation of Six Degrees of Bacon, call it Six Degrees of Nixon, and see if you can connect a fucked U.S. law to Nixon in six associations.

Anyway, he goes on to say

“You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin. And then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities,” Ehrlichman said. “We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”

Oh wow, the 1968 Nixon campaign ran on a promise of fighting drug fueled mad-men and might have had an influence on an Congressional Act being passed that year, and was signed into law by a Democrat in October? Do tell, I’m so surprised. I’ve never even considered that a Democratic congress might pass a law to counteract the political rhetoric of Richard Dix, I mean Nixon (allegedly…).

This is the reality of the War on Drugs; it is thinly veiled, and sometimes not, racism. As well, it is about quashing political dissent; but mostly it has been about racism. I’ve seen the Left shoot down people that tried to drum up support for drug decriminalization pretty savagely. Because I guess, the “hard core” Left is against the government telling people what to do, except when it is about drugs, then the oppression is less important somehow (hopefully, if you still have some gonads and human blood in you, you’re saying to yourself that you don’t need anyone’s permission to get high, good!). But for many on the “Left”, Uncle Sam swiping your recreation options from you doesn’t count as important. And some of you fuckers probably wonder why the Left have a reputation of being such a joyless and humorous lot too, I’ll bet. Well, if you can’t get off your asses, to tell Uncle Same to fuck off, for the sake of getting high: can you be bothered to give a damn for the civil rights of black people? Yeah, that’s what I thought.

So here we are, Stop and Frisk laws. Terry Laws are actually older than all this crap, by several decades. They have their origin in the efforts of the LAPD in the 1930’s to combat “crime”. Essentially they would flood an area where a crime had occurred and search anyone and everything. Of course this became the norm for black neighborhoods in the 50’s. New York made the words “Stop and Frisk” the unofficial name by passing a law of that name in 1964. Yup, Stop and Frisk, which definitely has targeted minorities in large proportion, was in place before the contraband laws were. It shouldn’t be a surprise that the supposed guardians of law and order have been holding on to Stop and Frisk tightly as they can, and use their tongues prettier than a twenty dollar whore to defend it.
So, not everything is coming up roses in California. We innovate a lot out here.

Unfortunately, that means this state comes up with a lot of grade A racism and the racists to legislate it. From Stop and Frisk, to Ronald Reagan, we have a problem with racism in California that most people pretend isn’t here. Even the Right pretends we’re a centrist liberal fuckhead bastion, all the while their Moses and Jesus, Nixon and Reagan respectively, both hail from California. These are the real problems in California, the ones no one really talks about on the grand public stage of approved public discourse, a.k.a. “news”. But never mind that shit, here comes Mongo!

Or as most know him, Donald Jiggle Jowl Trump. Nah, I’m just kidding, I just wanted to see the words Jiggle Jowl published. Actually, Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III, who is so super into coming down on Marijuana (black people) that it gives his little weasel rigor mortis, is who I want to mention. I could say a mouthful about him, I guess, but instead I’ll use this time to say, “Instead of a weasel, why not an Ostrich?”

Yes friends, the Guns and Dope party only nominates the finest Ostriches to Congressional office, specifically because their, “mysterious and awesome dignity will elevate the suidaen barbarity long established there.” Yeah, I’m supposing Rhyd would like me to finish this with some insight on race, or law, or something. So here you go Rhyd, here’s your insight. The attempts to suppress minorities through laws has instead led to the majority of Americans having their lives ruined, lives ended, their property stolen by the government. It has resulted in wasted money, and in inane bullshit being spread far and wide. Everyone has had a shittier life because some rich fucks wanted to oppress a minority their feeble psychology associated with the scary stuff. The oppression of a few only results in the oppression of all. We either take care of everyone, or we can take care of no one. This is not a philosophical proposition being offered you, it is truth based on fact. I doubt this article stated the case for this truth from fact clearly, eloquently, or convincingly. But that’s ok, maybe someone better at this will read this and hopefully do better than me.

Of course, you’ll have the good taste not to mention that I spoke to you.


Patacelsus

mal1A Discordian for 20 years, Patacelsus finally got comfortable when the 21st century “started getting weird.” When not casting sigils, taking part in Tibetan Buddhist rituals, or studying the unfortunate but sometimes amusing stories of the dead, he’s been known to wander the hidden ways of the city, communing with all of the hidden spirits one can find in a city. As Patacelsus sees it, we’re all already free; after completing the arduous task of waking up to that we can then proceed, like a doctor treating a patient, to try to rouse others from the bitter and frightening nightmares of Archism. He laughs at Samsara’s shadow-play in lovely California, in the company of his wife, two cats, and two birds.


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A Tribute to Winnie Mandela

Winnie Mandela passed away April 2nd, 2018. Here is a note, and tribute, by the Pan-Africanist school in Brazil that was named after her.

English Translation Here

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NOTA DA REAJA

À GRANDE RAINHA AFRICANA WINNIE MANDELA, NOSSO FAROL.

 “Para alimentar a luta, tinha de me expor à violência e à brutalidade do apartheid.”
Winnie Mandela

Winnie Madikizela-Mandela representou e representará para nós da Reaja, um farol, uma importante referência a qual nos mostra caminhos para uma prática de defesa dos interesses do nossos povo em meio a um tempo de miragens tecnológicas e traições políticas do propósito da luta negra no Brasil.

Winnie Mandela, o imponente nome que daos ao nosso quilombo de libertação forjado por pretos e pretas conscientes de sua história político racial se materializa pela nossa coragem de erigir um território livre de qualquer violência a qual o povo preto sempre esteve imerso. Seguimos com nossas próprias condições, construindo teoria a partir de nossas vidas e mortes, desgraça, servidão, drogas e ignorância, mas sobretudo a partir de práticas de resistência e libertação negra.

A nossa luta política é baseada em serviços comunitários e efetivo enfrentamento ao poder que tenta a todo custo nos eliminar da face da terra e diminuir nossa humanidade, nos utilizando como capachos e serviçais de pautas e propósitos que não nos pertencem, de lutas que não garantirão nossa libertação coletiva. Winnie Mandela acende em nós todos os dias o compromisso de construirmos um projeto de libertação de nosso povo. Winnie Madikizela Mandela é nossa mais pura inspiração.

Winnie Madikizela-Mandela que nos confiou seu nome e sua trajetória para imortalizarmos na história segue firme e intacta em nossas mentes, corpos pretos, braços e pernas que trabalham arduamente dia após dia, nas madrugadas ou no sol escaldante das tardes da cidade túmulo. Militantes envoltos em um sonho coletivo de resgate de nossa autonomia enquanto povo, de nossa independência política sem a tutela de brancos acadêmicos ditando o que devemos ser ou fazer, de nossa autodeterminação sem vagos momentos ociosos, de solidariedade entre nós pretos e pretas.

Nossa Escola de Formação Quilombista e Panafricanista é o núcleo mais avançado de nossa ação, junto com o Núcleo de Familiares de Vítimas do Estado, Núcleo de Familiares e Amigos de Presos e Presas, e nossas ações permanentes de solidariedade e autodefesa. Agora que a Mãe da nação africana volta a sua massa de origem, devemos honrar ainda mais sua história de vida totalmente dedicada a luta de libertação africana.

Em toda sua trajetória política Winnie Madikizela-Mandela jamais recuou de seu dever histórico de enfrentar as forças do apartheid em Soweto, onde nos anos 70 os jovens estudantes negros e negras protagonizaram o mais importante levante contra a opressão branca na África do Sul. A luta e a oposição desses estudantes baseava-se nas péssimas condições de educação, na educação de última categoria dedicada aos africanos e na violência cotidiana. Os jovens foram as ruas e enfrentaram balas com pedras, gritos e cantos tradicionais. Impulsionando e criando toda esta força, estava Winnie Mandela.

Ela é a senhora maior da 4° Internacional Garveista, da qual somos filiadas. Ela é a grande Mãe da rebelião preta em todo mundo. Seu pensamento e sua prática política tem nos animado desde becos e vielas e cadeias e favelas onde combatemos a continuidade perversa da escravização.

Aprendemos com sua luta interminável de libertação que devemos proceder honrando nossos princípios de guerra contra a supremacia branca. Ela nos ensinou que a luta é contínua e regada a muita dor e sangue de ambos os lados, de inimigos e de lutadores radicais dispostos a dar a vida pela conquista de um pedaço de terra ou a libertação de um irmão encarcerado nas catacumbas do sistema prisional ou do acalanto de uma mãe que grita pela perda de seu filho. Somos combatentes dispostas a retomar toda a glória dos tempos áureos das terras negras africanas.

Estamos formando um exército preto de mulheres e homens capazes de reconhecer na sua comunidade o espelho necessário para erguer novas estruturas e instituições com nossos métodos de luta real, com bases em ação comunitária em todos os lugares onde o nosso povo se encontra.

Seguimos atentas e atentos as armadilhas de nossos inimigos. Estamos na disposição para devastar a linha auxiliar a qualquer custo. Não negociamos nossas dores como uma mercadoria barata do período colonial, não barganhamos migalhas usando nossas dores e nossos mortos e história como meros ratos lotados em cargos de governo a espera de cadeiras vagas. Somos a rua, a cadeia, os becos, a noite. Guiamos nossa esperança através do sangue bruto derramado no barro quente sob nossos pés. Suamos como operários escultores de nossa liberdade. Sonhamos com nosso lar repleto de gente preta livre, mas acima de tudo projetamos a edificação de um império sólido cravado na rocha profunda com as insígnias eternas de “Reaja ou Será Morta, Reaja ou Será Morto”.

Salvador, abril de 2018.


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ENGLISH TRANSLATION

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NOTE FROM THE POLITICAL ORGANIZATION REACT OR DIE

TO THE GREAT AFRICAN QUEEN WINNIE MANDELA, OUR BEACON.

“To fuel the struggle, I had to expose myself to the violence and brutality of apartheid.”
Winnie Mandela

Winnie Madikizela-Mandela represented and will represent to us at Reaja (React or Die), a beacon, an important reference which shows us ways to a practice of defending the interests of our people, in a time of technological mirages and political betrayals of the purpose of the black struggle in Brazil.

Winnie Mandela, the imposing name we give to our quilombo of liberation, forged by blacks conscious of their racial-political history, is materialized by our courage to build a territory free of any violence, which black people have always been immersed in. We continue with our own conditions, building theory from our lives and deaths, disgrace, servitude, drugs and ignorance, but especially from practices of resistance and black liberation.

Our political struggle is based on communitarian services and effective confrontation with the power that tries at all costs to eliminate us from the face of the earth, and to diminish our humanity, using us as mats and servants of interests and agendas that are not ours, of struggles that will not guarantee our collective liberation. Winnie Mandela shines a light every day at the commitment to build a project of liberation of our people. Winnie Madikizela Mandela is our purest inspiration.

Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, who entrusted us with her name and her journey, is immortalized in history and follows steadily and intact in our minds, black bodies, arms and legs that work hard day after day till dawn, at the scorching sun of the tomb town afternoons. Militants enveloped in a collective dream of rescuing our autonomy as people, of our political independence, without the tutelage of white academics dictating what we should be or do, of our self-determination without vague idle moments, of solidarity between us black people.

Our Quilombist and Panafricanist Training School is the most advanced nucleus of our action, together with the Nucleus of Relatives of Victims of the State, Nucleus of Family and Friends of Prisoners (ASFAP-Bahia), and our permanent actions of solidarity and self-defense. Now that the Mother of the African nation returns to her place of origin, we must honor even more her life story, which was so completely dedicated to the African liberation struggle.

Throughout her political career, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela never backed down from her historic duty to confront the forces of apartheid in Soweto, where in the 1970s young black students staged the most important uprising against white oppression in South Africa. The opposition of these students was based on the poor conditions of education, the last-category education dedicated to Africans, and daily violence. The youth went to the streets and faced bullets with rocks, shouts, and traditional songs. Boosting and creating all this force was Winnie Mandela.

She is the senior lady of the 4th Garveyst International, of which we are affiliated. She is the great Mother of black rebellion in the whole world. Her thinking and her political practice has animated us from alleys and favelas, prisons and chains, where we fight the perverse continuity of enslavement.

We learn from her endless struggle for liberation that we must proceed by honoring our principles of war against white supremacy. She taught us that the struggle is continuous and watered with much pain and blood on both sides, from enemies and radical fighters willing to give their lives for the conquest of a piece of land, or the release of an imprisoned brother in the catacombs of the prison system, or the lullaby of a mother screaming over the loss of her child. We are fighters ready to take back all the glory of the golden times of the black African lands.

We are forming a black army of women and men capable of recognizing in their community the mirror necessary to erect new structures and institutions with our methods of true fight, grounded in community action wherever our people find themselves.

We remain attentive to the traps of our enemies. We are willing to devastate aid-routes at any cost. We do not trade our pains as cheap merchandise from the colonial period, we do not bargain for crumbs using our pains, and our dead, and history, as mere rats crowded into government offices waiting for vacant seats. We are the street, the chain, the alleys, the night. We guide our hope through the raw blood spilled in the hot clay under our feet. We sweat like working sculptors of our freedom. We dream of our home full of free black people, but most of all, we project the building of a solid empire embedded in the deep rock with the eternal insignia of “React or Die”.

Salvador, Brazil – April 2018.


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Fascism Today (an excerpt)

The following is excerpted from Shane Burley’s new book: Fascism Today: What It Is And How To End It, published by AK Press. A review by Christopher Scott Thompson will appear 15 December here at Gods&Radicals.

The fascist project has always tried to root itself in a transcendent, spiritual impulse. Much of the racism that permeates the fascist right is rooted in theories that utilize spiritual explanations for racial differences, rather than the falsified “data” of “racial science.” The earliest construct for contemporary racism comes out of two key tracts from sixteenth century Spain and Portugal. The first, and dominant one, was that non-white people were “pre-Adamic,” meaning they were humanoid mammals that arrived before proper people did. To square things with the Bible they placed these “creatures” as animals created before the true “Adamic” race. The second tract says that they are a degenerate people, and their failure to reach true “Aryanness” comes from their failing moral lineage. Both pieces were foundational in the creation of racial science, but both are mythic in their explanation and are maintained in many racialized interpretations of Christianity, Hinduism, and Neo-paganism.

The early periods of Bavarian romanticism saw something essential about identity that went beyond the physical form; it was as true in spirit as it was in blood. As fascism advanced as a political response to the economic crisis after World War I, it did so out of the growing desire to find a strict identity founded in esoteric teaching, occult mysteries, and initiatory paths. While the NSDAP and Hitler moved in the direction of vulgar racial science, a feature of the Alt Right today, they had a parallel spiritual track that has had enduring influence. Identitarianism, various Third Position ideologies, and the various incarnations that we see popping up have deep roots in certain types of esotericism, which has provided special tools for fascism to build on and given it a unique appeal for people in transition, crisis, or on a quest for answers to life’s big questions.

As was true of many eras of fascist ideological development, from the mystical anti-rationality of the Germanic volkish movements to the European New Right, Christianity is often seen as responsible for the disastrous effects of “modernity.” As social ecologist Janet Biehl points out, Christianity seeks an end to alienation and toward a pure “essence,” which is mirrored in identitarianism, Traditionalism, and Third Positionism:

In the view of the “New” Right today, the destruction of the environment and the repression of nationalities have a common root in “Semitic” monotheism and universalism. In its later form, Christianity, and in its subsequent secularized forms, liberalism and Marxism, this dualistic, homogenizing universalism is alleged to have brought on both the ecological crisis and the suppression of national identity. Just as Judeo-Christian universalism was destructive of authentic cultures when Christian missionaries went out into the world, so too is modernity eliminating ethnic and national cultures. Moreover, through the unbridled technology to which it gave rise, this modern universalism is said to have -perpetrated not only the destruction of nature but an annihilation of the spirit; the destruction of nature, it is said, is life-threatening in the spiritual sense as well as the physical, since when people deny pristine nature, their access to their “authentic” self is blocked.Part of this opposition is then a result of the “anti–Americanism” that runs through much fascist thought, in that they oppose the globalized systems of capitalism, “McCulture,” and universalized spiritual identities. This is a reminder of the contradictions so present in the radical right milieu: that one sector can brand themselves -patriots, à la the KKK of the 1920s, while another trend, such as National Revolution, can label themselves traitors to Western capitalism and imperialism.

God of Thunder, God of War

For those encountering neo-fascism today, the most common form of esotericism is neo-paganism. Mystics rediscovered the pre–Christian European religions during the early periods of capitalism, industrialism, and mass cultural orientation as a way for Europeans to find an identity for themselves that was rooted in their own uniqueness. This was a way to separate themselves from the “universalism” of Christian salvation, as well as its Jewish nature. Since the seventeenth century paganism, first with neo-Druidic study and then various other traditions, has been a testament to the romanticism that developed out of early industrialization and urbanization, which took its toll on agrarian life and unsettled deeply rooted communities. While these more traditional folkways should not be seen through rose-colored glasses, they still had a connection with neighbors and the commitment to a “life of the soul” that many pined for. This, paired with nationalism in many cases, inspired much of the aesthetic and religious basis that we saw in fascist movements in the twentieth century.

Heathenry, the Germanic-Nordic pagan religion, is the most common type of neo-paganism to be found in an explicitly racialized form. Odinism, as it has often been called, was developed by Else Christensen in the first half of the twentieth century as an explicitly racial religion, one that was equal parts anti-capitalism and tribalism. Christensen’s background was rooted in anarcho-syndicalism, which she attempted to synthesize with the racial ideas that were coming out of Germany. She imagined tribal non-state communities founded on indigenous religions, which were racially exclusive and built on traditional craftsmanship and ecological sustainability. Odinism has gone on to be known as an explicitly racialized religion and sees Odin as the figurehead of the spiritual pantheon that is unique to those of Northern European people.

What drives much of this movement is the early work of Carl Jung, who, at one point, saw the development of psychological archetypes as racial. In his influential essay “Wotan,” Jung outlines the idea that Hitler and the Third Reich were the unrestrained spirit of Wotan (Odin) resurrected in the Germanic soul. In this perspective, the gods and goddesses of indigenous religions are unique to those with that ancestry. In the Jungian concept, the archetypes of the warrior, the pursuer of knowledge, and the conqueror are manifested in Odin, and other ethnicities and cultures have archetypes in their gods that are unique to their biological and spiritual character. This is the foundational idea that has driven much of the racialized heathenry, and it is what fuels European New Right scholars like de Benoist, who wrote in his seminal book On Being a Pagan that Europeans should identify with their pagan archetypes.

For many, the archetypes are not good enough, and they see them both as metaphors and, literally, as gods and goddesses, different spirits and impulses that are made religious and knowable through the images of gods and the stories of the lore. Heathenry is singled out because much of the theological work was done by and for this racialist purpose, as a way of providing a counter-cultural identity to whites. Building on the image of the Vikings, it countered modern narratives and argued that the true nature of Northern Europeans was that of a tribal warrior who prioritizes his “in-group” over his “out-group.”

In the U.S., a slightly less racialized version of heathenry named Asatru became dominant. It was more focused on magic and the unique interpretation of Icelandic lore. While Asatru did not champion the open Nazism of many Odinist groups, it maintained a “folkish” distinction in many kindreds, and asserted itself as the religion of the Northern European peoples through genetic priv-ilege. The Asatru Folk Assembly and its founder, Stephen McNallen, maintain this idea, and the principles of Asatru are centered on its European identity and “answering a call” that comes deep from their ancestors. A focus on “reconstruction” and historical accuracy has reigned, and they attempt to bring Germanics back to the most “untainted” version of their tribal religion. Anti-racist heathens, who are the vast majority, share much of the archetypal vision and view on tradition and customs but the folkish community has been increasingly vocal.

Jack Donovan’s Wolves of Vinland, a closed heathen group known for mixing tribal spirituality and the structure of a biker gang into a type of National Anarchism, and their recruitment tool, Operation Werewolf, is one of these, attempting to redefine the boundaries of heathenry by focusing on the violence and male virility of a tribally defined spirituality. Operation Werewolf reflects Wolves of Vinland founder Paul Waggener, who mixes his own brand of nihilist philosophy, exercise regimens, and black metal aesthetics. While the Wolves are a close-knit group that is hard to join, Operation Werewolf has worked as a tent that former skinheads, bikers, MMA fighters, powerlifters, and others moving to the fringes can unite under. Its decentralization and focus on what we could call “lifestyle fascism” presents a concerted -meta-political threat as it is creating a close-knit subculture of rightist men who were unable to find shelter in insurrectionary organizations on the wane.

Paganism is dominant among non-Christian white nationalists and has a deep influence on even secular nationalist philosophy, arts, and aesthetics. Fascist neofolk music is centered in a similar romanticism of Europe’s past, and everyone from NPI to the Daily Stormer venerate the Nordic gods of Odin, Thor, and Freyja despite not believing in them in a literal sense. The most violent interpretation, known as Wotanism, was developed by The Order terrorist, and former Aryan Nations member, David Lane and still proliferates among skinheads and white supremacist prison gangs. Other than just seeing racialism as a component of their spirituality, Wotanism sees racial identity and warfare as the driving focus of it and uses apocalyptic warrior language to justify mass violence in the name of racial preservation and expansion.

Though not nearly as prevalent, there have been racialized interpretations of Celtic and Welsh paganism, traditions more closely associated with leftist interpretations and Wicca. Reconstructionism itself has come under fire as a concept as it is so closely allied with nationalists looking for identity. Rodnovery’s connection to Russian nationalism, Hellenism with Greek nationalism, orthodox Shinto reconstructionism in Japan, and Hindu nationalism all draw connections between the “native faith” and the national identity, which centers ethnic identity in sectarian conflict. The spiritual foundation here is not found in a particular tradition’s lore and customs but in the uniquely modern idea that spirituality is particular to the metaphysical psychology of a particular ethnic group. This has increasingly driven political movements in many countries, where a strong meta-politic has to be developed in order for the citizenry to accept nationalism.

Book of Shadows

Outside of heathenry and ethnic paganism, Left Hand Path (LHP) traditions differ in their rejection of conventional morality. Posing in opposition to the “universal morality” and the redemption offered by what they call Right Hand Path religions, LHP traditions make up various different strands of thought including Satanism, Thelema, the Temple of Set, and various Middle Eastern and Hindu sects. While the term “Left Hand Path” is not a great dividing line for actually studying religion, those who use it often make up different esoteric paths that venerate the self. Though the vast majority of contemporary LHP people denounce racism, there are groups that have notoriously mixed the religion and racism.

The Order of Nine Angels advocated a type of “Satanic Nazism” that proposed eugenics in the form of human sacrifice. The Joy of Satan, similarly, shared members with known Nazi groups and advocated a Gnostic reading of Biblical scripture that reframed Yahweh as the evil “Jewish” God that people had to overcome to discover their true destiny.

The National Socialist Liberation Front (NSLF), originally founded by hippie-dropout-turned-fascist revolutionary Joseph Charles Tomassi in 1974, was modeled on Yockey’s own European Liberation Front as a “propaganda of the deed” project. It was taken up by the occult-minded James Mason, who used Satanism and an obsession with Charles Manson to advocate for a new type of terror war against the globalizing commercial influences of the “Zionist Occupation Governments” in NSLF’s newsletter Siege.

Thelema, the esoteric religion developed by infamous occultist Aleister Crowley in the early twentieth century, focuses heavily on the discovery of “True Will” in participants and the use of formal ritual magic and the worship of archetypal gods, often of Mesopotamian and Egyptian origin. A marginal attorney and Libertarian Party of Florida Senate candidate made waves in 2015 as his mix of Thelema and nationalism brought the support of skinhead groups like the American Front. Augustus Sol Invictus, the name given to him in a religious ceremony, had many high-profile incidents that drew media attention, like going on a desert spirit quest and sacrificing a goat on camera. Invictus’s own politic is one that aligns with many LHP adherents, which is a “Will to Power” desire for themselves. Invictus believes that human sacrifice to the gods unites a nation, and he worships “pan-European” gods, believing that all European gods were just different names for the same transcendent forces. Invictus became active in supporting various fascist organizations, including speaking at the National Socialist Movement conference and the reformation event for the American Front, whom he also defended in court against terrorism charges.

While Hinduism is not an essential part of the American fascist movement, the white savior of Nazi Vedas remains important for the meta-political underpinnings. Savitri Devi was a French-born Greek who turned to the Hindu myths in a search for a more authentic and non-Semitic spirituality. Following the Indo-Aryan mythology about the Caucasian origin of the Vedas, Devi believed Hinduism was an ancient Aryan religion, even if contemporary Indians had been ruined through race mixing. Following the Vedic cycle of ages and search for avatars, Devi saw Hitler as the reincarnation of the Hindu god Vishnu, who many in Hindu nationalism venerated and saw as a model for how to treat the Muslim population in India. Both during and after the war, Devi became a focal point for international fascist projects, living the life of a nationalist aesthetic committed fervently to her own brand of heretical mystic Hinduism.

While race is only one component of these religions, their beliefs are centered on human inequality and the necessity of domination. If you strip fascism of its racial components, which some ideological currents do, the belief in the cruelty of formalized hierarchy and violence is still implicit. If these occultist paths reject equality and a basic respect for universal human dignity, which is part and parcel for the rejection of historic “religious” morality inside of the LHP movement, then it intersects so clearly with fascism that it is difficult to come to its defense even though it denies bigotry.

Spiritual Warfare

Fascism is not the logical conclusion of any spiritual path, no matter how historically reactionary or steeped in the institutional oppression of marginalized people. Instead, the open nature of most spiritual paths and its flirtation with spaces of power allow it to channel ideas that people intend to inlay with significance. The same Catholic Church fueled the social climate that built interwar fascism as well as Liberation Theology and the Catholic Workers Movement. What religion provides is a unique identity, tactical set, and meta-politics that can be useful for inspiring followers to go much further than would be coaxed by materialist political gains, and that can shift both right and left.

Religious groups have traditionally been one of the most central antifascist projects, both because churches are center to people’s social lives as well as their starting point for engaging with social issues. Those inside of spiritual paths are a massive constituency who can meaningfully confront fascism on their own terms and where it affects them personally.

One of the most prescient of these intercommunity confrontations is inside of paganism, with heathenry becoming well known as a battleground between the folkish and antiracist camps. Because racists have done so much of the theological work, it requires rethinking the foundations from a non-ethnic viewpoint. Over the past several years, heathenry has begun to see a reckoning take place with antiracist heathens taking a stand.

The group Circle Ansuz made a huge impact on this discourse in its short life by presenting an anarchist-specific interpretation of Germanic heathenry. They created a synthesis they called Heathen anarchism—a choice to see the faith in its historical reality as both inspired and flawed:

There are two main pillars that serve as the foundations of Heathen anarchism. The first is the justification based on historical data, the social practices of the ancient Germanics, and modern archeology. The second justification is rooted in the most commonly accepted creation epic, the Voluspol, and in the spiritual truths inherent in cyclical cosmology.They saw the egalitarian practices in the Viking spiritual culture as inspirational but incomplete, and they rejected a romantic rewriting of history. Instead, the cyclical nature of the spirituality, the individualism and anti-hierarchical relationship to the gods, and the anti-imperial traditions of heathenry against the expansive colonization of European Christianity provide inspiration. They took the “warrior spirituality” implicit in some of heathenry as inspiration in a battle against fascism and made confrontation with fascist influences in countercultural spaces a key component of their platform. Before going dormant, they had “kindreds” (religious formations) in San Francisco and Portland and also allowed for general “at large” membership, in an effort to mimic the structure of general heathen organizations, providing a real alternative for religious heathens who wanted the spiritual community.

Over the past several years, heathen organizations around the country have begun to go from passive acceptance to explicit rejection of folkish heathenry. When McNallen passed on the leadership role of the Asatru Folk Assembly to a new generation, they began taking to social media proclaiming their allegiance to traditional gender roles and “white men and women.” McNallen himself has become an increasingly controversial figure, seeing blowback for his relationship with the Alt Right and anti-immigrant stances. In response to the Asatru Folk Assembly’s behavior, heathen organizations around the country have issued statements denouncing the folkish interpretations, drawing a line in the sand. The Troth, the largest heathen organization in the U.S., has always had a “universalist” stance on inclusions but in 2016 finally issued a statement unequivocally saying that heathenry was not an ethnic religion and was instead open to all believers.

Many joined together for the Declaration 127 campaign, which cited the 127th declaration in the Havamal, a book of Viking quotes used as a holy book in many heathen kindreds. The declaration reads, “When you see misdeeds, speak out against them, and give enemies no fri.” Blogs and organizations around the U.S. signed on, saying that it was a heathen imperative to speak out against racists in their religion. They have committed to not work with organizations that have discriminatory policies, like the Asatru Folk Assembly, especially since many of the racialist heathen organizations sell many of the religious items and books that pagans use in spiritual communion.Organizations like Heathens United Against Racism (HUAR) have been taking this work a step further, organizing publicly against racialist paganism as heathens. In an attempt to unite -antiracist heathens, they are further marginalizing the folkish voices that have dominated public perception of the faith. On May Day 2016, Beltane on the Germanic pagan calendar, they held the Light the Beacons event, a chance for antiracist heathens to light fires, including candles and bonfires, and to share it publicly as an act of antiracist defiance. This was inspired by the bonfires held in Germany on May 8, 2015, celebrating the seventieth anniversary of the defeat of Nazism. HUAR relies heavily on a social media convergence to create a strong anti-racist heathen counter narrative. Their “Stephen McNallen Doesn’t Speak for Me” campaign had heathens from around the world posting photos of themselves holding handmade signs, explaining their background and why McNallen and his folkish clique do not share their heathen voice.

Beyond just attacking this tendency internal to heathens, the relationship that many pagans have had to this racialist sector has created a culture of resistance inside many pagan communities as well. The website Gods & Radicals has asserted an anti-capitalist understanding of paganism, attempting to connect those walking a spiritual path to a uniquely Marxist and anarchist perspective. This has meant taking explicit stances against fascism, which feeds on paganism due to their shared devotion to gods. After one of the editors, Rhyd Wildermuth, published a short profile on the New Right and the figures that often use paganism as a spiritual justification for fascist politics, he was accused by large swathes of the folkish community of a villainous “witch hunt.” This reflected his experience as an organizer of the Many Gods West polytheist conference in Olympia, Washington, where panels on fascism in paganism were denounced as divisive.

***

The far-right requires some type of spirituality because it needs to define itself as being “beyond politics.” Even if this is just taken metaphorically, it has always helped fascist ideologies define themselves, which puts religious people in both a troubling and advantageous position. The ability to confront this violence from inside a spiritual community provides leverage and could reach across religious and racial divides to develop the type of community that creates a barrier to reactionary movements.


You can order Shane Burley’s book, “Fascism Today: What It Is And How To End it” at this link.


Shane Burley

12375190_1270053539678590_6582607531732468985_oShane Burley is a writer and filmmaker based in Portland, Oregon.  He is the author of Fascism Today: What It Is and How We Stop It (Forthcoming 2017, AK Press). His work has been featured in places like In These Times, ThinkProgress, Roar Magazine, Labor Notes, Make/Shift, Upping the Ante, and Waging Nonviolence. He can be found at ShaneBurley.net, and on Twitter @Shane_Burley1


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Why People Are Racist & How Witchcraft Can Help

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From Sable Aradia.

black-swan-laurentiu-cosmoiu

Beyond Mere Witchcraft

“Oh, I used to study Wicca,” says the 22-year-old woman with a patronizing smile, “but I’ve gone beyond that now.”

“Have you?” I ask, arching my eyebrow while I sit at the fair table where I’m selling the witchcraft books I wrote.

Realizing she has made an error, she backtracks.  “Oh, well, you know, I think it’s perfectly fine for some.”  She is unaware of her derision, her dismissal.  “But I find I get so much more in the path I’m following now.  And I don’t need all those tools.”  Her tone is smug.  Her implication is clearly that I must be less enlightened than she is, because she thinks I do.

Of course she does.  She’s left witchcraft for the New Age community.  She’s 22 years old and offering classes on the sacred feminine, communicated with special miracle health food, yoni crystals, and retreats at her home temple space.  All for a monthly subscription price.  Naturally the stuff costs extra.  I don’t know who, if anyone, is paying for it.

I offered a free class on the sacred feminine two years ago, built from material that was handed down to me from a woman who was my teacher.  No one came.

The Law of Attraction and Social Class

I get it.  Sure I do.

We must look archaic to a lot of people.  Perhaps we even look a little bit ridiculous.  Look at how much farther they’ve gotten than we have!  We always seem to be grappling with some major moral issue.  We’re always railing at the injustice of the world.  Meanwhile, they just think happy thoughts all the time, and never indulge in negativity, and the Universe provides all they need through the Law of Attraction.

No one mentions that most of the women I know who are involved in the New Age movement have married rich husbands because they came from upper middle class backgrounds.  And I find it interesting that the ones who didn’t — like the lovely 22 year old I have mentioned — have all the same struggles I do.  They have bad relationships and personal struggles and, above all, financial problems.

What’s wrong, then?  Perhaps their ability to think happy thoughts and believe in the Law of Attraction to protect them isn’t good enough?

I think they tell themselves that.  I think they convince themselves every day that if they just believe a little harder, things will get better.

So they follow the latest “conscious living” fad (and believe me, they come in fads — in the time I owned my metaphysical store I saw the rise and fall of orgone generators, the healing power of water, Stones of the New Consciousness, the Flower of Life, colloidal silver, and zen wands, to name but a few).  In many cases, they spend thousands of dollars, when I know for a fact that what it cost to make the item could be expressed in hundreds of pennies.

But every time they embrace the new trend, everyone around them reinforces their choice.  They tell them how wonderful and enlightened they are, that they can open their consciousness to these new methods, which science is too self-absorbed to understand.  They compliment one another’s cleverness in that they are able to see through the bullshit of the rest of humanity.  They talk about how the coming New Age of consciousness (which will happen any day now! Like Y2K/the great planetary alignment/the end of the Mayan calendar/etc.) will change the world so that only the peaceful, conscious-living people will survive while everybody else goes to hell in a handbasket.  And rather than ever acknowledging that the fad they spent so much money on didn’t seem to be as effective as they’d hoped, they just move on to the next one, maintaining their positivity.

In this world, there’s no place for discernment, or doubt, or even calling out abuse.  It’s all about plastic smiles and appearances over reality.

You’re Special, Just Like Everyone Else

It’s only natural for people to want to feel special.  People want to hear that if their lives are good, it’s because they deserve it.  Our ego loves to hear how wonderful it is.

We need our egos to survive.  These are the constructs that give us our sense of self, and without them, we become hiveminds and doormats.  Many psychological disorders — I would say possibly even PTSD, as someone who suffers from it — is all about crippling damage to our egos.

So the ego is the most greedy, self-centered creature on earth.  It doesn’t ever want to hear anything that takes away from its central position in the Universe, and it never, ever wants to be questioned.

In the New Age movement, and indeed, in some poisoned halls of Paganism, it never has to be.  People are told that they’re weird because they’re indigo children, or they are crazy because the gods are speaking specifically to them as Their Chosen Ones.  There’s no room for discernment because there’s no place for judgment.  After all, to have judgment is to be judgmental, and everyone has their own special truth to share with the world.

And I believe that, I do!  But sometimes, people are weird because they’re suffering from undiagnosed PTSD or bipolar disorder or autism, and sometimes people are crazy because they’re having a psychotic break due to mood disorders, malnutrition, heavy metal poisoning or schizophrenia, and they need treatment and maybe medication.

A dear friend in the New Age community, one who does not fall for the fads, one who believes in authenticity and is generally authentic in her own life, believed that her newly acquired inability to digest meat was a result of a newly raised vibration; when it turned out to be, in fact, a parasite acquired from tainted water that did lasting damage to her digestive tract, since she ignored it for quite some time.

Questioning and discernment are important.

Witchcraft: A Path for the Underclass

It is said that on the gates of Eleusis was the inscription Know Thyself.  Witchcraft, if you follow it long enough, and seek to find its deeper mysteries rather than attend Sabbats once in a while and do a spell whenever you want a new job, is all about that.  It’s about Shadow Work.  It’s about confronting your ego face to face, kicking it in the crotch a few times, breaking it down, and rebuilding it — with, hopefully, healthier boundaries.

We recognize this.  We know it so well, that we even recognize the symptoms of an ego fighting to save itself. in the wake of this aggression.  We call it High Priestess’ Disease, and far too many places in our community are run by the people doing this Work.  Eventually many of them have breakdowns.  Others, I think, make it through the treacherous forest, at least in part, and then disappear.

I’m not saying we’re immune to the constructs of ego.  We most certainly are not!  But the willingness to question ego, to challenge its authority, can be a good path to take.  We’re by no means the only ones who do this.  We didn’t even invent it; we can probably credit the ancient mystery cults for that, or maybe even certain Vedic traditions which are older, or perhaps even the ancient mysteries of the hunter-gatherer civilizations of our prehistory.

But it’s hard.  It’s so damn hard!  We’re constantly facing this exhausting challenge if we continue on this path.  Our self-esteem is often in ruins.  And it’s not like it brings us money, or prestige, or even any personal spiritual satisfaction aside from a plague of doubt and questioning and a deep belief that we will never, ever complete this exhausting Work.

What it does give us is greater anger directed at the hallowed halls of power, and greater empathy for the suffering of others.

No wonder most of us give up.  No wonder people would rather believe they can achieve enlightenment simply by thinking positively enough.  And isn’t it convenient that wealth, health and happiness are also brought to them through that path? Or at least, so they believe.

Which may be why witches are notoriously cheap.  Maybe it’s because rich witches join the New Age movement, where everyone will tell them that they’re wealthy, healthy and happy because they deserve it.

Never mind that Dr. Wayne Dyer, who once bragged that the Law of Attraction was the reason why he hadn’t had a cold in twenty years, died of cancer.

It’s no wonder no one ever wants to hear about anything negative in the New Age (and part of the Pagan) community!  Everyone wants to believe they’re special.  Everyone wants to be believe they’re immortal, and their happiness and healthiness will last forever because they’re nicer than everyone else, or because they’re better at manifesting, or that they’re a better Christian or the gods have otherwise chosen them.

No one wants to talk about how affluent, and how white, these people are.  Or how better nutrition and less stress leads to better health.

Why People Are Racist

And this applies as much to the overculture as it does to the subculture of the New Age and Pagan movements.

People don’t want to face the fact that their happy, privileged life is the result of good luck or selling out.  They don’t want to face the fact that they might someday go bankrupt or get cancer.  They are terrified that the only thing that keeps them from starving in the street is the presence of an entirely arbitrary number that represents their portion of an entirely fictional system of wealth, founded on nothing but belief.

They don’t want to admit that the only reason they have the things they do is because others do not have those things, and the criteria of what determines that is unfairly weighed in favour of one gender and one race.

So they make up stories.  They tell themselves that Native Peoples and Hispanics are lazy.  They tell themselves that black people are labouring under a “victim mentality,” and that if they just tried to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, surely they would succeed!  They tell themselves that women just aren’t as good at business as men are.

They tell themselves that God has chosen them to succeed because they’re better people, or better Christians, or smarter, or sexier.  They tell themselves that Haiti is beaten by hurricanes because they practice devil-worship, and they ignore or deny that tropical climates just have more hurricanes and that their white ancestors were the ones that brought the ancestors of the Haitians there.

And if they aren’t doing as well as they think they should be, they convince themselves that all they need to do is try harder.  Work harder, save more, budget better, come up with a cleverer idea.  And they ignore the fact that they’ve been doing the same things for twenty or forty years and falling behind, not getting ahead.

Because otherwise, they would have to confront their egos.  They would have to admit that oppression of others and good luck for them are all that save them from the difficulties that so many others struggle with.  And the ego doesn’t want to hear it.

Well, witches, maybe it’s time to help others to confront their egos too, don’t you think?


Sable Aradia

I’m a Pagan and speculative fiction author, a professional blogger, and a musician. I’m proudly Canadian and proudly LGBTQ. My politics are decidedly left and if you ask for my opinion, expect an honest answer. I own a dog and am owned by a cat. I used to work part time at a bookstore and I love to read, especially about faith, philosophy, science, and sci-fi and fantasy.


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Rage Against the Modern World

This is the second part of Wolves In the Interregnum, a series on Jack Donovan, Paul Waggener, and the Wolves of Vinland.

Author’s note: In my previous essay, I focused extensively on the aesthetic on Jack Donovan and the Wolves of Vinland, while heavily critiquing the moralistic reactions against that aesthetic. For some, this may no doubt seem unfair, if not outright antagonistic to the very tendencies which attempt to resist fascist movements. Why criticize American social justice and bourgeois/liberal feminism in an essay about a rising fascist threat?

The reason for such an apparent inversion will be made quite clear as we look at how the Wolves and others have rather brilliantly occupied the anti-modern and anti-globalisation politics abandoned by ‘The Left.’

Another World Was Possible…

In the last part of the 1990’s and the first few years of the 21st century, massive manifestations filled the streets of major cities of the world. These protests were part of what was called the anti-globalisation or alter-mondialiste movement, and had the astounding ability to unite people across wide spectrums of political orientation into a common struggle. Environmentalists, immigrants, labor unions, indigenous-rights groups, and even many people traditionally seen as right-wing arrived in major cities throughout the world to fight against governments, multi-national corporations, and global finance organisations.

While it is impossible to distill the myriad of political goals of the protesters, we can more easily summarize the changes in international governance, political distribution, and the regulations of global capital against which they protested.

Brokered by nations and corporate leaders, international trade agreements such as NAFTA and the GATT reduced the power of local governments, communities, and unions over the economic, environmental, and cultural activities of the people which composed or were supported by them. Meanwhile, large international monetary orgaisations like the IMF (International Monetary Fund) and the World Bank used economic crises to force austerity and privatization policies upon nations in the global south, effectively nullifying the popular will of the people through the use of weaponized debt.

All of this was happening at once, all over the world, and the consequences have been myriad. Environmental degradation in South America and Africa, mass suicides of farmers in India, famines, explosive immigration from poorer countries to richer ones, collapses of entire nations, the reduction of diversity in agriculture and the extinction of species, the weakening of trade and labor unions throughout the world, and the destruction of countless communities as local industries were destroyed and factories shut down….all of this is just a part of what the anti-globalisation movement fought against.

Partially due to the all-too conveniently-timed ‘war on terror’ and systematic counter-revolutionary actions, the mass mobilizations of the anti-globalisation movement are long-gone, and few of the critiques remain in the political platforms of any leftist or liberal movement in the United States or the United Kingdom.

However, the damage done did not simply disappear when there was no movement to fight it, and much of the current political turmoil in which we find ourselves now is a consequence both of globalisation and the left’s abandonment of that fight. The rise of fascist, Islamist and nationalist movements, acceleration of climate change, increasing poverty, mass displacement, and countless other crises can be linked to the spread of global capital. The closure of factories, the shift of investment from manufacturing to finance and internet technology, and the obliteration of local economies happened just as the protesters feared, but as with much else, rage against this destruction resurfaced as part of the platform of the fascist right, as well as featuring heavily in the political campaign of Donald Trump and the exit of the UK from the European Union (Brexit).

Just as with other elements of leftist abandonment, the political platforms of the anti-globalisation movement didn’t go away: they are now being wielded towards new goals by fascist, nationalist, and authoritarian movements against which antifascists now find themselves in a losing battle.

One of those groups? The Wolves of Vinland.

Crumbling Empires

As with their aesthetic, The Wolves present an anti-modern ideology, one that rejects Empire (or in Donovan’s words, “The Empire of Nothing”) in favor of societies formed around tribal affinities and self-selection. Crucial to such a transition is the rejection of the hegemonic rule of Liberal Democracy not just over individual and group actions, but also over self-perception and our own modes of thought. As the manifesto of Operation Werewolf puts it:

“It is not a political statement, but a bloody fist shaken in the face of all institutions of control- a furious bite to the hands that seek to leash or enslave. It is not right or left, but free of these shackles of modern dualistic thinking- it operates under the assumption that the Kings of this world have become so through the forked tongue of finance and fear, and it rejects their offerings. The warriors who make up Operation Werewolf know that the true heroes are those who are self made, physically and mentally strong, free thinkers and free doers who are both untamed and unrepentant.”

While Waggener gives very little time to political analysis, Jack Donovan does much more (it was he, after all, who was invited to a European New Right think tank). Operation Werewolf functions primarily as the self-improvement wing of The Wolves, while Donovan’s writing focuses much more on political theory. Consider Donovan’s response during a Reddit ‘ask me anything’ to a question regarding why tribalism has “a bad rap”:

“The anti-tribalist/anti-racist hysteria promoted by the progressive media is too convenient for wealthy elites.  They are, for the most part, protected from the negative consequences of the “melting pot.” The wealthy can afford security, and they can afford to live wherever they like, and they can afford to send their children to whatever schools they prefer. The representatives from other groups that they and their families interact with most are often going to be very well socialized or very successful. It’s the lower and lower middle class proles who are forced, whether they like it or not, to interact with groups of people who have radically different values or cultures.

Tribalism is inconvenient for wealthy globalists. To begin with, it creates instability that can threaten their investments. They can also make more money when they are free to outsource labor, move a factory, or import goods made in places with a lower standard of living.

If people are convinced that they are “world citizens” and shouldn’t expect any kind of local or national loyalty, globalist elites won’t have to be confronted with any sort of crisis of conscience when they sell out their neighbors and countrymen.”

Any reader who was politically-active during the WTO protests or any of the other manifestations comprising the anti-globalisation movement will recognize much of this rhetoric. For The Wolves, Empire is almost identical to what (anarchists) Hardt and Negri outlined in their books, as well as what most autonomous Marxists, post-colonialists, many Green Anarchists, and anti-civ theorists criticize: Liberal (Capitalist) Democratic hegemony. But also, something is obviously off, racialized, about their rhetoric.

Immigrants As Victims, Immigrants As Weapons

First, let us acknowledge the core problem which Donovan cites in his response: the mobility of global capitalism has made it impossible for local politicians and small communities to fight capitalist policies. No matter how strong the local resistance to the closing of a factory in the rust belt of the United States is, as long as the owner of that factory can re-invest their capital in another market, local protest—even violent protest–is useless. As long as cheaper labor can be found elsewhere, and provided no punitive tariffs on re-imporation are levied by governments, it will always be a good business decision for a corporation to move its production to a cheaper labor market. Because of the success of capitalist globalisation, no local political movement can effectively exert control over global capital.

Simultaneously, so-called ‘Free Trade’ agreements destroy the local economies outside the United States even more than within. The North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), signed into law in 1994, ravaged the economy of Mexico, leading to massive spikes in immigration (‘legal’ and otherwise) to the United States. For instance, in 1990, the amount of Mexican nationals living in the United states was 4.3 million; in 2000 on account of Liberal capitalist policies, that number more than doubled to 9.17 million.

It is impossible to understate the effect that adding so many more workers into the United States had both on wages and on unions, as well as the ‘cultural’ disruption 5 million more people (in a country of 280 million) would represent. Similar changes occurred in Europe as well.

Here, though, we must make a distinction between the far-right analysis of such events, the liberal one, and the (currently abandoned) leftist understanding. While the right often sees the immigrants themselves as the problem, a liberal sees only the anti-immigrant racism of the people (white, Black, or otherwise) in the communities into which they migrate as the problem. Both focus entirely on the matter of the immigrants themselves, rather than the forces which cause people to become immigrants in the first place.

PEGIDA, one of the many far-right nationalist groups who have risen to prominence in Europe.

From a Marxist view, immigrants are doubly-exploited people who function both as victim of oppression and political tool for the capitalist. Liberal economic policies (and foreign military actions) destroy the economies of other nations. Those people make the obviously difficult yet economically-inevitable decision to leave their countries to find work elsewhere. Yet when they arrive, they then function as a ‘reserve labor force’ to drive down wages in the country to which they moved, breaking the power of organized labor.

Racial tensions greatly help this process. When Black or white workers in the United States begin losing jobs or finding their wages stagnating, they accurately note a relationship between their deteriorating economic conditions and the sudden influx of immigrants. However, they miss the larger processes which entrap both the immigrants and themselves, and they can be somewhat forgiven for this failure: relentless media hype about illegal immigration, conservative politicians happy to employ racial fears for votes, and liberal politicians eager to dismiss white workers’ complaints as anti-progressive or downright stupid, all helped to insure neither the immigrants nor the workers united against the primary cause of their common suffering.

To understand how this process works, consider the plight of Russian Jewish immigrants fleeing violence to Israel, where they are then given land in occupied territories and used by the Israeli government as a buffer against Palestinian rage. Or, further back, Europeans fleeing Capitalist enclosure of land to America, then given “free” land in return for helping to kill Native Americans. In both cases, the initial displacement which victimized the people who became immigrants was later wielded to turn the immigrants themselves into weapons of Capital.

None of the current political movements accurately address quite what is happening. Unfortunately, the social justice framework is particularly shallow here: it sides with immigrants not on economic grounds, but on the field of identity and oppression (precisely as the far right does, but in inverse). While immigrants absolutely face racist oppression, the social justice political strategy ignores that this oppression is a continuation of their economic exploitation, rather than a mere moral issue. The economic exploitation of immigrants is bound-up in the same capitalist machinations which deteriorate the economic conditions of the working-class whites which Social Justice activists see as the alpha-oppressor. So while the Left stopped addressing the economic suffering of whites as the ‘working class’ (in favor of focusing on social oppression), their economic suffering continues regardless, making them a ripe field for harvesting by far-right ideologues like Donovan.

Here we can see that, as in so much else of his writing, Donovan is not really wrong in his analysis. The ‘wealthy elites’ to whom he refers do not encounter the refugees and immigrants displaced by their policies or for their profit. None of the politicians who voted for NAFTA, none of the executives of multi-national corporations, and none of the finance brokers of large investment banks experience the direct effects of their decisions, cultural or otherwise. Neither, though, will the investors who reap dividends from those moves, nor will many of the urban liberal bourgeoisie (be they tech workers or hipster business owners) even encounter the immigrants or the disgruntled working-class who directly experience these shocks except as the house-cleaners, construction workers, janitors, or the countless other manual servants who support their lifestyles.

Donovan is not really wrong, but he is also not really right, either. The ‘wealthy elites’ against which he warns benefit both from anti-racism and racism alike. “Elite” (Bourgeois) liberals and conservatives both manipulate the poor beneath them; the Capitalist class wields racist rhetoric to manipulate poor whites against Blacks and immigrants at the very same time that it wields identity politics against those whites. With both hands, the capitalists ensure those upon whom the entire system is built never unite against them.

Conservative-inspired white violence against immigrants ensures that those immigrants remain passive and compliant victims of global capital; Liberal social justice identity politics makes sure that the circumstances and primary cause of that violence is seen not as a result of capitalist policies, but as a result of the white (cis/able-bodied/hetero/male) it identifies as alpha-oppressor. It is a game in which capitalists have bet on both teams, and while the Left stands in the stadium slack-jawed, Donovan has been picking their pockets.

The Violence of the Gilded Age

It is here where we can begin to see that the threat the Wolves poses to antifascists is not what any of his critics think. It is not his virulent brand of misogyny, nor his intoxicating aesthetic, nor even his increasing influence and popularity. Rather, it’s that he’s beating the Left at their own politics, occupying ideological and intellectual territory they forgot they even once possessed, and building a racialized movement with the tools we left behind.

Nowhere is this best seen than in the speech he gave at Schollenrode to a New Right think-tank in February. The 20 minute presentation, called “Violence is Golden,” outlines his primary critique of Liberal Democracy and the modern world.

“We all live by the sword. Every law is a shaking sword, a glock at close range, a hungry pair of handcuffs. Every hate speech law, every anti-discrimination law, every tax that extorts the money you earned and gives it to someone you would never willingly help, who may even hate you, is backed by the threat of violence. IThe people who say they want safe spaces and peace and love will send men with guns to threaten to kill you if you do not do what you want.”

“The prevailing narrative of the Empire of Nothing—the phrase I use to describe the network of governments …is that ‘violence is evil, violence is something others do, violence something that outsiders do, something that criminals and outlaws and sick people do, violence is a disease some kind of affliction that can be cured…they believe it is a symptom of ‘toxic masculinity.’

…old rulers were proud of what they won.and defended using violence…those that give names in modern democratic states obscure that violence…

State violence is euphemized and obscured by terms like law enforcement when a criminal shoots someone its violence, when the police shoot someone its law enforcement.

Democratic violence must be presented as a reluctant, nurturing correction When acts of violence are morally sterilized in this way, good, modern civilized people can absolve themselves of the reality that the laws and regulations they depend on are obeyed only because wielding tasers tears gas batons and firearms. When you accept and internalize this narrative that violence is evil done only by outlwasd what the state does is something else, you wash the blood from your hands. It is easy to convince yourself that you live nonviolently, that you have evolved beyond violence.”

If many of these statements sound in any way familiar, they should. They are the same arguments once used by the Black Panthers, by indigenous resistance movements, by insurrectionist anarchists, by autonomous Marxists, and by every other leftist critic of Liberal Democratic hegemony in the 20th century. They are the core analysis of state violence inherent in anti-civilationist critics and the essential thrust of Ward Churchill’s deconstruction of liberal ‘nonviolence.’ You can find variations of the same statements in the work of European critical theorists like Zizek and Badiou, as well as in my own writing. In fact, last year I wrote critiques both of the way social justice relies on state violence to enforce hate crime legislation as well as how we help Liberal Democracy obscure the violence it commits on our behalf.

Whether or not Jack Donovan reached this analysis through exposure and study of leftist revolutionary theorists or came upon it through his own path, the fact remains that he wields it better than what passes for the Left in the United States. Mass movements such as Black Lives Matter, Occupy, and the mobilizations against Trump and white supremacy expend extraordinary effort to avoid direct criticism of Liberal Democracy, contorting themselves into almost absurd positions. A coalition of activists involved in Black Lives Matter, for instance, produced a platform that skirted completely the connection between the police and liberal democratic violence, offering police reform as their most radical position. Even the manifestations against white nationalists and alt-right groups by antifascist coalitions refuse to make the connection between the police who protect the fascists and the urban ‘progressive’ social order which prosecutes hate crimes on their behalf.

While anti-fascists heavily rely on ‘no-platforming, this complete leftist abandonment of revolutionary attacks against Liberal Democracy actually gives the far-right their platform. It is as if Leftists built a stage, set up a mic and speakers, and brought in a massive audience, but while they became distracted by Liberal Democratic crises (the war on terror, the 2016 presidential elections) and glittering distractions (gay marriage, identity politics), men like Donovan stumbled upon the script and the live mic and began improvising before an eager crowd.

Because while Jack Donovan and the other theorists of the New/Fascist Right are deeply intelligent, their ideas are completely derivative. They are experts at salvage and refurbishment, but aren’t actually able to create anything new. In this way, they are hardly much different from the Nazis who borrowed endlessly from whatever mythic past they could find, repurposing Leftist critiques and even Liberal Democracy itself, into a deadly configuration.

The Gods Are What Has Failed To Become of Us

Most important of the Wolves’ work—and least understood by their critics, is their reclamation of a mythic, anti-modern spirituality in the form of Heathenism. Antifascists, liberals, and conservatives alike tend dismiss these aspects as mere oddity or primitivist nonsense, missing that it is from there they derive their true power.

It is useful here to remember first that before Jack Donovan was a hyper-masculinist Heathen, he was Jack Malabranche, a Satanist who spent much of his time in endless troll-sessions with trans women on internet sites. Those who remember him from that time recount a completely different man, one so insecure with his masculinity and beliefs that he could become enraged at the slightest friendly jab about his figure or perceived intelligence.

In his Heathen incarnation, Donovan finally found a milieu in which he could operate, a mythic system more easily-accessed, and something that Left-Hand path work couldn’t offer: a framework of community. Unlike most Pagan, Witch, and Magician paths, Heathenry in the United States emphasizes familial and friendship bonds, a complete moral code of tribe-based solidarity, and a pre-existing masculinist aesthetic into which even the most awkward, socially-inept man can find a sense that he is something more than just a capitalist failure.

Like the rest of his ideas, Donovan’s Heathenry is largely derivative. The tattoos on his chest are standard: the Black Sun, Icelandic staves: nothing every Black Metal-loving suburban kid doesn’t get by the time he’s 19. His occasional quotations of the Eddas or recounting of Odinic tales to illustrate a point are almost awkward to read: they have a greeting-card quality to them, rather than of someone actually initiated into Odinic mysteries.

Paul Waggener and Operation Werewolf are the more dominant influence. Waggener’s esoteric work, however, is more aesthetics than serious magic—for instance, Vakandibok—a Taufr of Awakening, is frankly not much different in scope than the useless drivel that comes out of major pulp-occult publishers like Llewellyn. However, aesthetically it is significantly different: darker, more primitive, and with significantly less New Age ‘bullshit.’ It also offers a cultural aesthetic far less worshipful of hyper-capitalist modernity than most of what non-racialized Paganism offers.

Ultimately, however, the “ancient” spirituality of the Wolves is a political aesthetic. Here we must remember: it’s too easy to dismiss the aesthetic of romanticist primitivism used by groups like the Wolves of Vinland as “mere” aesthetic, as if aethestic had no power. Vikings, European tribalism, return to simpler and more embodied ways of relating to the world, unsubstantiated and patently false notions of racially-pure pasts cannot be dismissed merely because they are aesthetics divorced from historical fact. So, too, the pretensions of modern life, the religious assurances that technological progress, endless growth, and hyper-consumerism have brought peace and equality are likewise mere aesthetic with no reference to truth. Its falsehood is irrelevant to the truth it creates.

What the Wolves are creating through their spiritual aesthetic is of course not a return to ancient ways of being, but an aesthetic of ancient return against a wholly-alienating capitalist, modern present. Whether they believe themselves to be returning or not is not the point; only that, given enough power, the return will happen in their (false yet now-true) ancient way.

Baudrillard’s point that it is impossible to rob a bank in an ‘inauthentic’ way is important here. You cannot simulate a hold-up: regardless of whether you really mean the gun in your hand, you were honest in your written note to the teller, deeply and truly meant to kill hostages if the money were not delivered, or truthfully meant to return the money afterward, the bank is robbed regardless. Authenticity and faithfulness to the original do not matter: everything is always reproduction of an unapproachable and missing original.

Against The Modern World

Thus, whether or not the Wolves are faithfully copying ancient Germanic religion and culture is a question only a liberal (themselves forgetting that Democracy is likewise inauthentic) might find relevant. For the rest of us, the primitive return to Odinic rites and sacred warrior brotherhoods that the Wolves propose must be seen as a wholly political aesthetic akin to the Marxist creation of the proletariat or the Nazi fabrication of the volk, as well as the social justice creation of the oppression identity. Nation, Race, Gender, and Religion are all likewise political aesthetics whose power is undeniable.

The question thus isn’t whether or not the primitive, Heathen aesthetic of the Wolves is true, but why it has power. Here is where we see yet again another deep failure of the Left, a great abandonment of territory occurring at precisely the same time as the Left largely abandoned anti-globalisation. The globalist (neo-liberal, or actually just Liberal) political transformations that have occurred in the last two decades have done for societies now what Marx noted was accomplished by the bourgeoisie in the 19th century:

“The bourgeoisie, wherever it has got the upper hand, has put an end to all feudal, patriarchal, idyllic relations. It has pitilessly torn asunder the motley feudal ties that bound man to his “natural superiors”, and has left remaining no other nexus between man and man than naked self-interest, than callous “cash payment”. It has drowned the most heavenly ecstasies of religious fervour, of chivalrous enthusiasm, of philistine sentimentalism, in the icy water of egotistical calculation. It has resolved personal worth into exchange value, and in place of the numberless indefeasible chartered freedoms, has set up that single, unconscionable freedom — Free Trade. In one word, for exploitation, veiled by religious and political illusions, it has substituted naked, shameless, direct, brutal exploitation.

The bourgeoisie has stripped of its halo every occupation hitherto honoured and looked up to with reverent awe. It has converted the physician, the lawyer, the priest, the poet, the man of science, into its paid wage labourers.

The bourgeoisie has torn away from the family its sentimental veil, and has reduced the family relation to a mere money relation.”

Alienation of the body, destruction of local cultures and communities, destruction of religious systems and moral frameworks around which people cohered: these are all the effects of capital’s globalized spread in the name of civilization:

“It compels all nations, on pain of extinction, to adopt the bourgeois mode of production; it compels them to introduce what it calls civilisation into their midst, i.e., to become bourgeois themselves. In one word, it creates a world after its own image.”

Whilst Marx and Engels argued that such transformations were inevitable and would lead to worldwide class revolt, the Messianic promise never manifested. The industrialisation of work under the religious banner of modernity nevertheless succeeded in disrupting every social relation, destroying every cultural form which stood in its way (indigenous, ancient, or otherwise).

The recent rise of new-old religious and cultural forms (such as the Wolves’ anti-modern Heathenry), then, is a political reaction to global capital, regardless of whether or not they identify it as such. There is nothing actually fascist about such reactions; the Left mistakes anti-modernism as fascist only because it has drank the bloody offerings at Capitalism’s altars of progress. Walter Benjamin noted this in his criticisms of the bourgeois-left political formulations in Europe against which the Surrealists fought, especially their dogmatic belief in the conquest of nature and the march of history:

“Marx said that revolutions are the locomotive of world history. But perhaps things are very different. It may be that revolutions are the act by which the human race travelling in the train applies the emergency brake.”

The world of global capital means more environmental, social, and cultural destruction in the name of progress, modernity, and civilization; thus an anti-modern political aesthetic such as what the Wolves utilize is essentially a reaction to capitalism. But it is not quite an anti-capitalist politics, or isn’t any longer now that these critiques are abandoned by the overly-credulous and hyper-modern Left.

These critiques originate in anarchist, socialist, post-colonialist, and anti-imperialist thought, and were once a primary feature of mass movements against global capital. Anti-imperialism, particularly in Africa, the Caribbean, and Central and South America has always made as one of their foundational critiques the overthrow of French, American, and Anglo attempts to ‘civilize’ the conquered natives. Marxist and Anarchist theories, stripped of their European exceptionalism, transformed alchemically into autonomous movements embracing traditional and indigenous ways of being, and where they became strong enough to influence or transform government (as in Bolivia), their aesthetics were ultimately anti-modern (as for instance Evo Morale’s enshrinement of Pachu Mama as an entity with legal rights).

As with the questions of gender, sexuality, and bodily autonomy mentioned in the previous essay, the Wolves and other fascist groups have merely squatted aesthetic political territory ceded by the Left.

Here, much more than elsewhere, American Leftists deserve the fiercest of criticisms. A peculiar sort of American urban exceptionalism has arisen which belittles those who do not partake in bourgeois hipsterism. Those who are not part of urban realities, who do not know (or care) about the latest social media frenzy, who experience the modern as relentless alienation and are slow to be educated into the latest pronoun-shifts or poly-bi-non-pan sexualities are ultimately written-off as reactionaries, just as the political cries of those whose material existence has been shattered by global capitalism’s destruction of factories and communities are dismissed as backward or inherently racist.

Stealing Back What’s Stolen

With no leftist alternative to the relentless death-march of globalisation, what the Wolves of Vinland propose is actually an attractive option. A new-old ancient aesthetic built around familial ties, moral codes, re-approach to the land, tribal community, and ethics of self-fulfillment and the reclamation of the body is precisely what Capitalism cannot promise but what resistance to Capital requires. With the exception of Green anarchist, primitivist, anti-colonial, and indigenous movements, the left dismisses such political aesthetic as fascist or least reactionary. But it is neither, except that it is a ceded territory now occupied by fascists.

The primary weapon of anti-fascist organising in the United States has been the use of protests and disruption to silence the voices of fascists and white supremacists. Such tactics, however, can only suffice if those doing the silencing have something equally compelling to say. Unfortunately, few if any of the political aesthetics antifascists offer speak any longer to the crises caused by these new expansions of global capitalism.

It is not enough to say that immigrants must not be discriminated against. Without a conceptual framework which acknowledges how the economic destruction which causes mass immigration in the first place is tied to global capitalism and the policies of the Democratic party in the United States, the left, by focusing their energies only on the racist aspects of anti-immigrant sentiment, is only treating a tertiary symptom of a systemic disorder. Both the horrible economic plight of the immigrant as well as their structural exploitation as weapons against community coherence must be addressed simultaneously, directing our politics back against the capitalists who initiate and maintain the cycle.

So, too, the left can no longer hope that condescension and belittling of anti-modern politics will suffice to stop those politics arising in the first place. Social alienation, the reduction of the human to worker and consumer, the flattening of urban and non-urban life into a great worldwide market in which the same products and same cultural forms annihilate local difference: all these cultural and societal destructions caused by global capitalism will not go away just because urban leftists have made peace with their Instagram accounts and daily lattes, their iPhones and hip clothing made possible by capitalism’s conquest of the entire world.

Particularly the refusal of American leftists to make connections between the police and military violence which gives them access to the resources of the world must be acknowledged and then fought. The hyper-modern urban existence, cluttered with the technological spoils produced by the very same Capitalist exploitation which destroys both indigenous cultures in the global south as well as those of the poor white worker in the United States, must be abandoned. No longer can we pretend inter-connected existence through Facebook and Twitter are adequate replacements for the resilience of local communities and distinct cultural experiences which they displace.

From there, a solidarity can arise with the colonized peoples who have been fighting to preserve their land, culture, and distinction against Empire’s commodification of the world. From such a solidarity, racist and nationalist rhetoric will be easier to fight; when a Mexican immigrant or a Syrian refugee is seen as an ally of the out-of-work American worker against global capitalism, we will no longer need to silence fascists: the poor white worker will no longer have a reason to listen to them.

Unfortunately, we have few examples of what a re-invigorated, anti-modernist, anti-globalist political aesthetic might look like in America except the Wolves of Vinland, and they are not a model we should emulate, but rather a warning of what is replacing us because we fail.


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.

He lives in Bretagne.


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A photo of Whitefish in Montana

The Alt Right’s War on Whitefish, and the Growth of an Opposition

The heart of Montana’s Flathead Valley has always been a cash-flushed vacation destination for those hitting the nearby mountains, perusing well-oiled ski resorts and the kitschy shops that live off of its financial success. Whitefish, a town with a population scarcely above 5,000, is one of the most traveled towns along the valley, with restaurants and antique shops littering its tourism district. It is along these streets that a procession of neo-Nazis promise to march against “Jewish power,” flooding in from out of state, automatic weapons in tow.

Andrew Anglin, the host of the neo-Nazi and Alt Right blog the Daily Stormer, has called for an armed march on Whitefish. The Daily Stormer mixes traditional genocidal Nazi ideas of racial superiority and anti-Semitism with the digital tirades so typical of the new Alt Right. In the world of contemporary white nationalism, the traditional “Stormfront” crowd of skinheads, Klansman, and other insurrectionary racialists has found their access to the more hip Alt Right through Anglin’s site.

Anglin had promised to ship in neo-Nazi skinheads from the San Francisco area, including a supposed Hamas member and vigilantes from the Soldiers of Odin, to descend on the town on January 16th, Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Anglin renamed it James Earl Ray Day after the man who assassinated King on his trip to visit striking sanitation workers. While Anglin came on strong with a promise of terrorism, it was exactly his exaggeration and the Alt Right’s pattern of creating smoke without fire that created the kernel of their failure. In a world where white nationalism has become commonplace, anti-fascism has grown by mammoth proportions. Anglin’s threat was a catalyzing event that allowed anti-fascist organizations, both community-based and more militant, to take the next step towards a united community that forced Anglin to finally concede defeat.

The Alt Right Mythology

While Alt Right people associated with the Daily Stormer and the surrounding constellations of podcasts, blogs, and busy Twitter accounts have always presented themselves as a movement that is new and intellectual rather than violent, this is a façade that has been cultivated to insulate them from the long history of opposition their movement has faced. While the branding, strategy, and talking points are new, this is traditional white nationalism repackaged for the smartphone generation.  Almost every single prominent Alt Right organization, from the National Policy Institute to American Renaissance, can trace its roots back to earlier white nationalist projects that have had long histories of terrorism. American Renaissance, which built its reputation by arguing people of color have lower IQs and are more aggressive than whites, has hosted guests like former KKK leaders Don Black and David Duke, various Holocaust Deniers, and Aryan Nations members. At the National Policy Institute conference you will see former neo-Nazi skinheads, which is not so surprising after the recent video of stiffed-arm Seig Heils to round out their 2016 conference.burley

Andrew Anglin lies on the edges of this pack of open fascists, often trying to take their snarky memes and racialist talking points, and use them to bring along traditional neo-Nazism. While the Alt Right has relegated itself to podcasts and online word diarrhea, neo-Nazis have had a long tradition of stepping out into the streets in an effort to strike terror into their neighbors. What Anglin hoped to do was to return the Alt Right to its long tradition of American white nationalist organizing: the main street march. The Alt Right, with a more educated demeanor and dreams of Washington power never wanted to resort to the embarrassing role-playing so characteristic of the “revolutionary” white nationalist groups often from the rural South.

White, Montana

Anglin’s call was neither new nor arbitrary, but came at the end of years of escalation that began when Richard Spencer, the Director of the National Policy Institute and founder of the term Alternative Right, moved to Whitefish. When Whitefish became his parent’s vacation home away from their busy lives in Dallas, Spencer moved there with his new Georgian-Russian wife Nina Kouprianova. He centered the NPI there, listing his mother’s property as their headquarters, and hoped to live a quiet life there half the year working on the various racialist book, podcasts, and websites he produces.

Starting in 2014, the relationship he had with Whitefish began to crumble, first during a fated ride on a chairlift at the posh Whitefish Mountain ski resort. Seated by chance next to neoconservative GOP strategist and lobbyist Randy Scheunemann, Spencer berated him for his foreign policy blunders. Spencer comes from an Old Right sensibility about foreign policy matters, one centered on an isolationist “America First” agenda. The confrontation quickly erupted into a controversy as Scheunemann spoke to the press about why a well-paid ski resort in Montana was allowing Spencer membership.

Spencer then headed to Hungary to hold a conference on white nationalism and “pan-European solidarity.” The conference was modeled after his NPI conferences, hosting an international audience and featuring speakers like American Renaissance’s Jared Taylor, Croatian New Rightist Tomislav Sunic, and Eurasianist nationalist mystic Alexandr Dugin. The Hungarian nationalist political party Jobbik eventually pulled out and Viktor Orban himself, under pressure from the socialist party, condemned the conference and declared Spencer persona non grata. Despite the advice of his fellow Alt Right consortium, Spencer continued his plans to host the conference and took a series of flights and train rides into Budapest to avoid arrest. Despite his Bond-like attempts at stealth, the Hungarian authorities descended on his pre-conference dinner and arrested Spencer, deporting him back to the U.S., banning him from entering the European Union.

burleyWhen he returned his infamy had only grown and Whitefish had had enough. A local group named Love Lives Here had formed in 2009 in response to the showing of a Nazi film in the area, and they became an affiliate of the larger Montana Human Rights Network who had been known for countering the growth of the militia movement. A campaign was started to pass an “anti-hate” ordinance through the Whitefish city council to prevent Spencer from holding NPI events in the town. Spencer became irate, declaring that the town was trying to “make Richard Spencer illegal.” Spencer was even refused service at a local coffee shop as he waited for his drink with his then pregnant wife, and other business owners asked that he not return. City Councillor Frank Sweeney had contacted the Southern Poverty Law Center to solicit advice for how to build this ordinance at the time, noting that Spencer was creating his racialist media from their town. They ended up passing a more tepid “commitment to diversity,” one that Spencer tried to “troll” by publicly “endorsing” the call for inclusivity.

This back and forth allowed both sides to claim victory, but as they continued on, Spencer’s appeal was to a constituency of loud racists whom he had little evidence would support him in material ways. At the same time, this catalyst allowed for the Montana Human Rights Network to continue to organize in its highlighted relevancy, with a white nationalist neighbor showing exactly what was at stake.

The Year of the Alt Right?

Since 2014, Spencer’s profile has moved from Whitefish embarrassment to the national stage as scarcely a day goes by without an emerging story or profile on the most famous white nationalist in the country. 2016 became the “coming out party” for the Alt Right, taking their radical traditionalism into mainstream media discourse. During the post-election NPI conference, cameras from The Atlantic caught conference attendees using Roman Salutes as Spencer yelled “Hail Trump! Hail Our People! Hail Victory!”

While Richard was riding a wave of attention, his parents Sherry and Dr. William Spencer continued their investment in Whitefish. Sherry owned a rental property at 22 Lupfer Avenue along Whitefish’s historic commercial district. A local activist named Tanya Gersh began raising the profile of Sherry’s property ownership in town; specifically that Spencer had been using much of it as a base for his operations. While the Spencers had made it their second home, the slow burn of the Alt Right and its growing opposition finally made the relationship between the Spencers and the town crumble. According to the Virginia state corporation commission, Sherry’s multi-million dollar Whitefish home is still listed as the headquarters for NPI. Sherry began to get pressure to sell the commercial building, a prospect she considered; yet after Gersh offered to list the property herself, Sherry became incensed and published a Medium.com post about it claiming Gersh was “extorting” her.

“Whatever you think about my son’s ideas — they are, after all, ideas — in what moral universe is it right for the “sins” of the son to be visited upon the mother?” said Sherry.

That is hard for many to believe given Sherry’s own right-wing connections to fringe political candidates and her close relationship to her radicalized son. Her Facebook even included photos of her and her husband attending the H.L. Menken Club conference, a white nationalist gathering that was a precursor to the NPI conference. Shortly thereafter, Richard began publishing videos and blog posts attacking Gersh and Love Lives Here, calling them a “local hate group.”

Troll Army

It was about this point that the Internet exploded, and Anglin jumped into the lead. He began organizing a doxxing campaign of Whitefish residents, posting pictures of Jewish neighbors with golden stars emblazoned atop and the word “Jude” inscribed. Several images were stacked in front of the Burkenwald concentration camp, where so many Jews were piled into mass graves after gassings. Calls, emails, death threats, Yelp reviews, and a stream of harassment fell on Whitefish, creating a culture of frozen fear. Special derision was given to Gersh, who had to go into hiding and had her 12-year-old child targeted.

burleyWhat set off Anglin was not only that the Spencers were facing push back, but that anyone of Jewish descent could be involved. The essentialist nature of race is central to white nationalism, but also that there is a key actor in the international opera of racial conflict. This comes down to the “Jewish Question,” the belief that Jews are a tribal group who use a superior “verbal IQ” and ethnocentrism to destroy nations. Anglin hopes to reframe the issue as one of “powerful Jews” attacking plucky Alt Right heroes, and that he needs to re-live Kristallnacht, the night with the German SA burned and looted Jewish businesses. While some of those they harassed were in fact Jewish, most were not, but none of that mattered since they labeled the behavior as Jewish, as they do with anything associated with left-wing politics, feminism, or cosmopolitanism. Many on the left have argued, erroneously, that anti-Semitism is on the wane, but the Alt Right has worked hard to make the reality of anti-Jewish hatred explicit, and Anglin’s effort further politicized those he targeted.

Love Lives Here continued organizing in the Flathead Valley, first creating a “menorah card” giveaway so that residents could put the image of the menorah in their windows during Hanukah. This act of solidarity would send a message of the shared experience of this harassment, because, in this case, Anglin and his army have labeled them all as Jewish. On January 7th, Love Lives Here organized a massive diversity rally with speakers and music, including letters of support from around the country. All of this was meant to soft-peddle the opposition by creating a show of community support, and it has helped the Whitefish community to become unified in opposition to the Alt Right. While Anglin wanted to build divisions in the community, the strategy has been to simply forge bonds and to strengthen the wall against these ideas. Anglin took the bigotry from something ephemeral to a tangible threat, and now there was an imperative to come together.

Anglin’s next move was to call for an armed march in Whitefish to threaten the Jewish residents and assert power. While Anglin has posted a filled-out permit for the march, it was actually only partially completed; revealing his bluff. Love Lives Here refused to engage directly with the neo-Nazis, so other groups stepped in to build on the united community base and to develop a counter-demonstration that can block Anglin. Montana Antifa began a public call for the demonstration, along with fundraising to meet the logistics, and the radical labor union the Industrial Workers of the World and its General Defense Committee also organized a large contingent, just as they have against white nationalist projects in places like the Twin Cities. Montana Antifa asked supporters to contact the hospitality base of the Flathead Valley to warn them about Nazis trying to rent accommodations. At the same time, Columbus Anti-Racist Action in Columbus, Ohio staged a protest action along with Showing Up for Racial Justice against Greg Anglin, Andrew’s father who has been accused of supporting his neo-Nazi son. All of this happened with the kind of support that they never would have received only months before, but as Anglin overstated his own ability to create a gun-toting parade, he provided the agitation that created a broad support for Antifa.

The threat presented by much of the Alt Right, Anglin includes, is one that hovers between real and fake, but has consequences for the sense of security that many that many built on the absence of open extremism. While the Alt Right was often reported as “diet fascism,” they were instead the real deal, except this time using “dank memes” instead of swastika banners. For Anglin’s war on Whitefish, he showed the Alt Right’s hand, which was to threaten people into inaction. This time, Whitefish chose something else.

burleyWhile the Alt Right claimed 2016 was their year, it was also the year of opposition. Anti-fascist groups have grown exponentially, and the result of the Whitefish harassment campaign was a unified state and the acceptance of radical anti-fascist organizations willing to defend against a racist contingent at all costs. While the Alt Right has been unable to move rhetoric into boots on the ground, the anti-fascist left has, and Anglin’s bluff could be the deathblow to a white nationalist movement fumbling its growing pains.
When the day actually arrived, the only people to show up were the dozens of anti-fascist supporters brought by Antifa organizations, the IWW, the Queer Insurrection Unit, the Alliance for Intersectional Power, and the surrounding community of Whitefish. Patrols were conducted on the surrounding streets to see if there was a contingent of nationalists who promised to arrive anyway, yet none came. Anglin pulled back entirely when he saw his few supporters would be dwarfed by a community united.

A State Unified in Resistance

Anglin’s “day of action” reversed the power by revealing that one side was ready for a fight. The region created a series of responses to the threat of an organized racist attack, from the civic alliance of Love Lives Here to the direct opposition of the IWW GDC. The two organizations together presented a spectrum of possibilities, from the strengthening of community to the direct opposition on the street corner. It is likely this final step, that antifascists were committing to “no platform” principles, is what forced the neo-Nazis to cancel their busses. This anti-fascist project was stronger by the end of the day than they were before anyone they heard of the Daily Stormer, and that anti-fascist opposition does not suddenly disappear after the Alt Right retreats. While there may have been tactical disagreements between some organizations, a few of which did not want to publicly antagonize the Nazi contingent, in the end they came together in a complex web of support, with the militant anti-fascist organizations building on the foundation laid by the Montana Human Rights Network.

The adaptation the community made to the racist threat presents lessons for the ongoing confrontation with the white nationalism. The base building had been done not for months, but years, and the slow process helped to further radicalize a town that could barely pass an anti-hate resolution a couple of years before. Likewise, with two different approaches to the issue, with the softer community organizing from Love Lives Here on the one side and the direct confrontation presented by Antifa on the other, can have a synthesis. Without the long-term community engagement presented by the Montana Human Rights Network, there wouldn’t be a broadly unified community to resist the invasion, and without organizations willing to confront the protest directly, it could have still taken place.

The Montana Human Rights Network has been clear that they have received more hate threats and incidents since the election of Donald Trump than they had in years. But with this kind of behavior becoming commonplace, they have now created a model for how to unify a community and create an organized anti-fascist response that engages more and more residents, many of whom have no background in organizing.

What happens in Whitefish may provide a model for other small towns around the country. While Anglin has shown that the trolls can try to use traditional racist and anti-Semitic narratives to attack residents without a political backing, this climate of fear has also driven those same residents to action and to form a strong sense of community. As is happening around the country, the election of Donald Trump and rise of hate crimes has inspired new organizations to form and older ones to grow. In Whitefish, this has awakened the community and the entire state is becoming a veritable “no go” zone for the Alt Right that will have ramifications for Patriot and white nationalist groups across the state. As Anglin tries to scramble up his supporters, the anti-fascist opposition has become a wave that will make any further attempts at racialist organization fail before it begins.


Shane Burley

12375190_1270053539678590_6582607531732468985_oShane Burley is a writer and filmmaker based in Portland, Oregon.  He is the author of Fascism Today: What It Is and How We Stop It (Forthcoming 2017, AK Press). His work has been featured in places like In These Times, ThinkProgress, Roar Magazine, Labor Notes, Make/Shift, Upping the Ante, and Waging Nonviolence. He can be found at ShaneBurley.net, and on Twitter @Shane_Burley1


Our publications can be found here.

Solidarity Beyond Bars: Pagans in Prison

The United States has 22% of the world’s prisoners but only 4.4% of the world’s population. Solidarity has always been a primary focus of radical and religious groups, but little is spoken of efforts to provide spiritual solidarity for Pagans and Heathens. So, I spoke with Donna Donovan, the founder of Appalachian Pagan Ministry to find out about her work and how others can help.


RHYD: Hi! Thanks for agreeing to talk with us. Could you tell me about yourself, and the work you do with the Appalachian Prison Ministry?

DONNA DONOVAN: Thank you for having us! My name is Donna Donovan, and I am the founder of Appalachian Pagan Ministry. We are a pan-Pagan ministry devoted to building an engaged, passionate, and spiritually fulfilled community of people from all backgrounds and faiths. We are devoted to engaging and impacting one another and others, believing it is our responsibility to set an example of service. This is where we come to “walk our talk” and educate by example.

Our main focus is our pan-Pagan prison ministry developed to serve the spiritual needs of our fellow Pagans currently incarcerated. Currently, we are the only Pagan ministry allowed in to West Virginia state prisons, serving monthly on-site at 5 facilities, along with monthly on-site services at 5 facilities in Ohio, including Death Row. We also serve, via correspondence, to several Kindreds and Covens in facilities across the United States.

RHYD: I’d like to ask you about the specific sorts of difficulties and needs of prisoners, but before that, can you talk about the barriers groups hoping to help prisoners face? What is certification like, what sorts of restrictions are you under, and how difficult is it to convince prison officials and state bodies to grant you access?

DONNA DONOVAN:  Since the passing of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, followed by the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) in 2000, inmates around the country of non-Abrahamic paths have been fighting to get their religious rights while incarcerated. The stigmas associated with the various “Pagan” groups in prison are really no different then the outside. Wiccans are considered evil, baby sacrificing, devil worshippers, and those of the Heathen paths are all a bunch of Nazi skinheads. As I tell the inmates I work with, many of these stigmas and attitudes did not just come out of thin air. There is a long history of violence perpetuated by various groups pushing their agendas through while trying to hide behind these religious paths. However, much like the outside, the fear is based on ignorance; a simple lack of understanding.

As with most States, in Ohio and West Virginia, volunteer programs such as ours, our what is considered “inmate driven” not “volunteer driven.” That means we have to be requested by the inmates. We can not solicit to go in. At that point, it is usually the prison Chaplain who contacts us. That’s when our battle begins.

So the first obstacle is approaching the administration and teaching them. Show them that we are not coming in there to start a race war, or to incite violence or anything else other than teaching folks about the faith of their choosing. Plain and simple. Wearing normal street clothes instead of prancing in there in festival garb and 10″ pentacles tends to help, too. [laughs] The point is that administration needs to understand that just because we do not worship the same does not mean we are not like them and everyone else walking.

Once you get past the door, then you have to fill out so much paperwork, you literally think you are buying a home. Background checks need to be done, recommendations sent, and so on. This process tends to take weeks, if not months. When you are finally approved, you then have to go through a volunteer training and orientation. All of this is for each and every facility. A few hours of videos and lectures, some questionnaires, tours, etc.. We then schedule a date to present to the inmates and go on to schedule our monthly meetings from there.

RHYD: Your prison work is in Appalachia, one of the poorest regions in the United States. And of course, poverty and incarceration are deeply linked in Capitalist societies: most crimes on the books are ‘property’ and economic crimes. From your vantage point, what are the struggles you see for the prisoners you work with? I’m wondering, also, about the matter of discrimination you encounter against prisoners by the rest of society.

DONNA DONOVAN: You are correct, this is one of the most poverty stricken areas, as well as being one of the hardest hit by the opiate epidemic. Huntington, WV, where APM is based, is the overdose capital per capita in the entire country.

donna-pullHowever, mass incarceration is a national problem, not just regional. Our “war on drugs” has obviously failed. The only success has been the profit margins of those in the privatized prisons business. Our nation’s prisons went from being rehabilitative to punitive in the late 80s/early 90s when private companies like CCA took over.

Which leads to the answer to your second question. When an inmate undergoes incarceration and spends that time doing absolutely nothing productive, nothing rehabilitative…of course they come out of prison with no skills, no socialization and they end up going right back to the lifestyle that led them there in the first place. 95% of those currently incarcerated WILL BE released. Within 3 years, 60-75% of those will re-offend. But that’s what these private prisons want; they want the recidivism rates to stay high so their profits stay up. Quite sad when you think about that. What people do not think about is where those profits come from. They come from you. They come from me. Your taxes pay so CCAs, CEOs, and managers can live their luxurious lifestyles. You’re also paying for all those families whose loved ones are incarcerated, as the majority end up being single parent households on welfare.

When I asked the inmates what could be done for them to help them before they were released, they overwhelmingly answered “programs that help us adapt into society, education, life skills, the ability to grow in body, mind and spirit.” Therapy through art is one program that has shown success, mentoring programs, and programs such as ours that help them to grow in the faith of their choosing.

What sort of discrimination do I encounter in regards to inmates? “They’re criminals, they’re degenerates, they don’t deserve help.” From the Heathen community I hear a great deal about dishonor. Really? These inmates, male and female alike, know the mistakes they have made in their lives. They are paying for those mistakes. Yet instead of wallowing in self-pity or continuing to blame outside sources for their current situation, they are holding themselves accountable and doing what they can to grow in body, mind and spirit to ensure they do not make those same mistakes again. Truly, how many of us really do that? These folks have made oaths to themselves, to their Gods, and to their ancestors to live honorably. They realize, and freely admit, they did not do so before…which is why they are in prison. How can we not help them be able to do that?

RHYD: It’s difficult to find current statistics on prison population, but the most recent I could find (2013) showed the US has 22% of the world’s inmates despite having only 4.4% of the world’s population. So there’s definitely something going on besides ‘dishonor’ and ‘degeneracy,’ and profit looks like a huge factor.

Moving away from the larger societal issues towards your work with prisoners themselves: what exactly does your work look like? Can you describe your on-site and correspondence work?

519px-thors_hammer_skaneDONNA DONOVAN: When we go into a facility for the first time, we hold a general presentation for all inmates of non-Abrahamic paths. Wiccans, Odinists, Druid, eclectic, and even Satanist/Luciferians. Whoever chooses to come. This has been quite historic, actually, as these groups in prison almost never mingle. At least not without violence. We have not had one incident occur. After the general presentation, which is basically an introduction to who we are, what we do, and what we hope to do, followed by a Q&A with the inmates, we then set schedules for the upcoming visits.

From then on when we go in, we normally separate in two groups. I take the Heathens and we basically hold a moot: small Blot, rune drawing and readings, study a lesson, read from the Lore, and discuss the Havamal a few stanzas at a time. The course I am working with them is the Elder Troth Lore Program. Teresa, my on-the-ground volunteer, takes the Wiccans and eclectics and works with them her own sort of Wicca 101 program. In WV, I am also working a program with the Satanists.

Our correspondence courses are handled by several volunteers. The courses we offer, on top of the ones we handle in the prisons (which are also done via correspondence) are Pagan Astrology, Chaos Magick, Developing Divine Relationships (a devotional polytheist course), and Perennial Lessons in Living–a Druidic course by Emma Restall-Orr reinterpreted by me (with her permission) to be a bit more generalized.

At this time there is about 20 Kindreds nationally doing courses with us.

RHYD: With the programs and courses that you present or develop, do you run into many problems with censorship? How helpful or difficult are the relationships with prison chaplains and supervisors?

Honestly I have not. Prior to going into facilities in either state, West Virginia and Ohio, I met with State Prison officials and submitted outlines of the courses we were offering. All were approved. Surprisingly we have had tremendous support from both chaplains and administrative staffing.

When I first formed APM, I sent an email to the Commissioner of the WV Dept of Corrections introducing us and explaining what we wanted to do. I honestly did not expect an answer. I received an email the very next day requesting to meet with us in Charleston. Two months later we were in our first facility.

I truly believe the tide is changing. People are starting to see that the status quo is not working, and seeking alternatives. Either that or I am just exceptionally charming, and I doubt that is it.

RHYD: Or perhaps both? [laughs]

I’m also curious about white nationalism within prisons. I wrote to queer prisoners 8 years ago, and started a correspondence with a gay Asatruar. Our conversations about race and Paganism seemed to be going well, but I stopped my correspondence with him after he sent me a shirtless photo of himself in front of a swastika. Basically, I freaked. I’m still uncertain that was the right decision, especially once I realised he had no other non-racist Pagan contacts.

So, I can see how your work is deeply important, especially since so many are quick to abandon Pagan and Heathen prisoners. How much influence have you seen on the Heathens you work with from more organised white nationalist groups?

DONNA DONOVAN: Oh my, that is a loaded question. [laughs.] There is a huge influence. Primarily because, up till now, those were, for the most part, the only folks willing to work with Heathens in prison. Just like the Christians who “find Jesus in jail,” it is no different with Pagans. Many come to their chosen faith after incarceration. And as there is such limited access and information, they learn from those already inside, who learned from those already inside, who learned from those (with agendas) willing to come inside. I’ve seen so-called leaders of Kindreds inside who can’t even name the Nine Worlds.

donna-pullThis is exactly what I say when I meet these inmates: “I personally do not care if you are the biggest racist homophobe walking the planet. Truly I don’t. Those are your personal beliefs; you have a right to them; own that shit. Hate everyone that is not a straight white male…fine by me. But do NOT come to me and say that hammer hanging around your neck is the reason why. Your personal biases have NOTHING to do with the religion you claim to follow, NOTHING to do with the Ancestors. And for the next however many months, I’m going to use your own myths, lores and history to show you that. “

There’s been a few death threats…not from inside the walls.

That’s why you’ve seen me all over Facebook saying, “If you’re so worried about the ‘alt-right’ and all the hate crimes, why don’t you all come out from behind your computers and help me in the trenches where this starts?” Stop talking and start doing.

RHYD: It strikes me that something significant changed in the last few decades around prison work. There was a long radical (anarchist, particularly) tradition of correspondence with inmates, but it has not been as strong as before. I have also seen some work to support queer and trans inmates. But it occurs to me that this is one place Christianity beats out all other religious or social groups: solidarity with prisoners is actually written into the Bible.

That brings me to probably the most important question of all: What is needed? Both for your particular work and the Appalachian Pagan Ministry, and also to build stronger networks of support for Pagan and Heathen prisoners from outside the prisons?

Bodies and money. Blunt enough? [laughs.] Truly, in all honesty, this is growing so fast, is such a need, and I have a hard time saying no. We are in ten facilities in two states, about to add four more facilities. There is only two of us going inside. We have another volunteer who, bless his heart, is our driver. We need people to help.

I understand this isn’t for everyone. I get that. I spent my own time behind those walls, so I know what to expect. But we truly do need folks to step up. This is not a volunteer job to take lightly. You have to be committed and consistent and able to follow through. And thick skinned along with compassionate. You have to leave your judgements at the gate.

Financially we need all the help we can get. This all comes strictly out of our pockets: the car rentals, fuel, printing costs, postage, etc.. It has been asked why I do not push for State funding to help with this ministry. The answer is a simple one: I did not apply for a position with the State. We are there to serve and minister to the inmates, not to receive a paycheck from the administration. We are there out of service, not for a job. I also feel that it would affect the trust between the inmates and our volunteers if they felt we were just another correctional employee.

We also feel the same as it comes to funding from organizations. We feel that the best way to keep from being linked to anyone’s ideologies is to not take funds from them. It is the same reason we do not sell advertising on our website. We serve the inmates we work with, not a state or federal entity, not any one group or organization.

I have a real problem with overextending because I can’t say no. When an inmate looks at me with tears in his eyes, literally sobbing, and thanking us for being there, saying, “We have fought for this for 20 years! Thank you so much for being here…” how can I not do this?

RHYD: How can people volunteer or financially support your work?

If they want to volunteer inside one or more of the facilities we go to, they can either contact me through the website at or on our Facebook page

Folks can also donate thru PayPal, purchase items from our online store or go to our “How You Can Help” for other ways to help.

Cuts Both Ways

The Labrys is, to me, a symbol of great potency. Not just because of the aesthetic beauty, the Minoan Mother Goddess, etc; but also, because it exemplifies a perfect metaphor.

It cuts both ways.

In my world there isn’t any unqualified ‘right’ and ‘wrong’. Actions, beliefs, morals, et al have good effects when correctly used and bad effects when applied thoughtlessly. Well, not quite “isn’t any,” because the world runs on perceivable rules/tracks/algorithms:

  1. Every being has free will (until they give it away)
  2. Don’t be a douche (it’s double-bladed)

The rules apply both ways; if I want to be addressed only with the pronouns ‘ze’ and ‘hir’, then when my hypothetically douchey neighbour (HDN) decides to be addressed as ‘sir’ (or possibly, ‘master’) I can’t argue with him. If I call him ‘you’, I feel that I should accept him calling me ‘you’ as well. Or I can argue with him, hoping to change his opinion. Or I can refuse to address him at all; but then I allow those tools to be used on me.

HDN goes on (as always happens, neh?) to broaden his demands. He wants sir-ness to mean ‘white males’ and for all of his white male buddies to be addressed as sir.

“Good luck with that,” I respond, “You and all your douchey buddies can huddle together calling each other ‘sir'”.

But, of course, that’s not the rule they want to apply. They (hypothetically) want all the others to call them ‘sir’ while they slap each other on the back with the douchey flock call (“Har Har Har”) and address each other as buddy.

But I live in a nation. I choose to abrogate my free will and follow societal rules (by and large; I don’t urinate in public but I do sometimes jaywalk) because I want there to be roads and public transportation, universal health care, safeguards against poverty, water and gas delivery and poop removal–and I don’t want to administer those things my own self. I pay taxes for those things as well as a (tiny) say in the administration and decisions of my nation, but my more urgent choice was to pick a nation that gives all citizens equal personhood under the agreed-upon rules and gives all humans hypothetical personhood, even if not citizens.

So, when HDN says that he only likes white people, both I and my nation get involved. He and his buddies can discuss how much they like white people inside his own house; I won’t visit. But when he and his douchey buddies post signs in his yard about his love of white people not only can I and my friends put up signs in my yard:

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But my nation will protect me when he and his buddies come over to my yard to fight it out.

Same with his café; not only can I boycott it and stand about outside with informational stuff about his decisions, but my nation will prohibit him both from putting up a ‘white people only’ sign and also from excluding perceptually-to-him-not-white people. Of course, he and his buddies can come and eat in my café and, indeed, talk about how much they love white people. But not how they hate other people and what they’re going to do about it.

Also, of course, no nation is perfectly (or even adequately) administered. The other price I pay for not having to dig out and later fill in my very own back-house poophole is vigilance.

Some people are being targeted? I must try to know when this happens, broadly transmit the examples pointed out to me, communicate with the elected officials who should be monitoring this, publicly demonstrate for redress—whatever I am able to do.

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Because it is Right Action, but also because I want my own personhood acknowledged and protected in turn. When I march up to my government buildings I expect them to be handicap-accessible and I would expect my fellow-beings to help me complain if they’re not. As a matter of fact, my province (in the name of universal health care, for which I pay taxes) just gave me 75% discount on a brand new roll-y because my old one wore out (see the shiny newness of it?)

Cuts both ways.

I’m limited as to marching, so I rely on other people to do that. But I have a little extra money, so I share it. I drive a car, so I give rides and grocery trips to people who don’t (in exchange I get someone to push my grocery cart for me). I have free time so I organize for my group. I have an ability to hear outside my species so I converse with Land Spirits and Deities and pass on information. I am blessed with several-person’s-worth of opinions so I spew them out.

But I, like everyone, have limited resources. I only confront my Hypothetical Douchey Neighbour when I feel it’s really necessary; HDNs will take up all your time if you let them and nothing will change. I prefer to act in solidarity with the people being acted on, being denied free will. Not only do they understand the problem better than you but they also probably already have a plan that addresses the problem more directly and effectively. So there are addenda to the First Laws:

Look for the victim*

(*being as sure as you can about that; sometimes when I’m in the grocery store and realize I’ve forgotten something we’ve already passed and my friend nicely goes back for it so I’m sitting all alone on my roll-y in an aisle thinking about dinner menus or the woes of the world and someone bursts into my personal space all “are you all right! do you need help! can I DO something for you?!?”)

Listen, and then share.


Judith O’Grady

judithis an elderly Druid (Elders are trees, neh?) living on a tiny urban farm in Ottawa, Canada. She speaks respectfully to the Spirits, shares her home and environs with insects and animals, and fervently preaches un-grassing yards and repurposing trash (aka ‘found-object art’).


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