The “Caucasoid“ reconstruction made by Dr. Chatters and it’s obvious inspiration.
The “Dig Rep” 1998.
June, 1989. “The New Skinhead Assault” by Christopher Phelps published in the Portland Alliance . See also his article in Against The Current, https://againstthecurrent.org/atc032/white-supremacy-on-trial/. Pretty good socialist analysis of the far-right.
July, 1989–I write “Fascist Skinheads: An Update and Analysis” for CHD. This was an early effort to get a handle on both the number of hate crimes and types of groups active in the Portland Metro area. Statistics on bias violence and intimidation were a hit-or-miss proposition; where there was even a law to collect such data there was insufficient awareness on the part of cops to collect it. As usual, community groups had to do it for ourselves. A similar project was carried out by the Lesbian Community Project, called the Homophobic Documentation Line, which took reports of homophobic violence from the community.
July 1989–the Matrix at 333 see 3rd Street becomes a base for anti-racists. The first Hon 8 x 1/2 by 14 filing cabinets are used to store info on racists and the repressive state apparatus.
August 1989–I write “Fascist Violence: Establishment Program and Response” for The Portland Free Press, a critique of weak efforts by authorities to understand, document and confront the far-right. Examples include no subpoena power for the Metropolitan Human Rights Commission and very limited funding.
August 24, 1989–Letter to my Mom after I drop out of college.
September 11, 1989–Tarso Ramos writes “Hate Crime in Portland” for the Reed College Quest wherein he manages to work in a reference to the Dukes of Hazard in an anti-racist manner. Quite the peculiar feat!
September 22-23, 1989. CHD organizes a Rock Against Racism benefit held at Pine Street Theater. “Fight Racism” posters are going up in neighborhoods. We cribbed from the great anti-fascist artist John Heartfield — Excavating the past so as to reveal the future.
This poster and t-shirt created by comrades in the Coalition for Human Dignity in Summer 1989 in Portland, Oregon is being produced and distributed there again, for obvious reasons. The original design was cribbed from the great anti-fascist artist John Heartfield. The translation from German: “Whether black or white – united in battle. We only know one race. We all know only one enemy – the exploiting class.” Please forgive us for compressing those outstretched arms and fists! All solidarity to comrades in Little Beirut!
October 2, 1989–Black student Robbie Robinson becomes first in the nation victim of a school board injunction against his enrollment at Eugene High School for gang affiliations in Portland. …
Principal Don Jackson suspended Robinson. A week later, in the first such action in the nation, the school board sought an injunction in Lane County Circuit Court to bar the student permanently from the city’s schools, not on the basis of any specific actions, but because “his mere presence at the school in clothing associated with gang membership constitutes a danger to the health and safety of students” (Jeff Wright 1989). On November 8, the injunction was granted.
Some citizens expressed concern about the constitutionality of the ruling, but members of the local chapter of the NAACP and of the Community Coalition for the Prevention of Gangs applauded the action.
All this while racist skinhead groups are flourishing.
CHD Flyer, “Past and Current Activities”
October 16, 1989–Little Beirut I
“The first Little Beirut protest took place when Vice President Quayle came to Portland to defend the Bush administration’s inaction during a failed Panamanian coup and to make it harder for victims of statutory rape to access federal funding for rape victims. Unsurprisingly, he was greeted by 150 protesters.
“Out of respect for the office of vice president, there should have been at least 500,” Quayle reportedly joked.
Where other protests had a singular goal, these protests were over a grab bag of issues ranging from the U.S. government’s despicable policy in Latin America to abortion to the government’s despicable handling of the AIDS crisis. The crowds were a healthy mix of political protesters and good, old-fashioned anarchists.
It was the largest protest Quayle had encountered during his first nine months in office, and the only one to disrupt his schedule as protesters blocked his way to the Hilton downtown. Over 20 protesters were arrested and a police van transporting several protesters crashed into a pickup truck on its way to the precinct—this appears to have been an honest error and not a rough ride.” —Willamette Week “Big Trouble in Little Beirut” May 4, 2016.
October 1989–PFP publishes “Behind the Scenes”. I interview the Portland FBI SAC, Danny Coulson. I focus on FBI surveillance and disruption of solidarity movements. I can’t write for shit. I won’t even include the article here.
CHD address is 333 SE 3rd, “The Matrix.”
October 25, 1989–M Treloar’s “Rock Against Racism” article in the Guardian. “The coalition, which was originally sponsored by the city of Portland, has developed into a community-based alternative to the ineffectual Metropolitan Human Relations Commission and the Coors/Honeywell-funded Northwest Coalition Against Malicious Harrassment.”
Above: CDR Monitor October 1989 announces joining forces with international anti-racist groups, especially Searchlight.
November 6, 1989–CHD applies to MRG for a grant.
Above: Journalist Patrick Mazza teases out principles first articulated by Anti-Racist Action and Baldies members I met in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Mazza was a keen observer of the Portland scene and his writing was unique. He’s also writing for Portland’s only Black newspaper at the time. I’m trying to apply what I learned from comrades in Minnesota and elsewhere to the situation in Portland.
November 8, 1989–Letter to my mom.
November 9, 1989–Fall of the Berlin Wall. The Cold War anti-communist consensus will increasingly include neo-fascists within it.
January 4, 1990–Partial Mass Direct Action discussion document circulated in Portland, Oregon.
March 3, 1990–the ATF raid homes of activists (including mine) searching for “evidence to commit arson and arson.” Agent John Comey heads up the investigation. No charges filed. I received an anonymous warning of the raid by phone. Portland Free Press article.
From Portland Free Press event listings:
April 23, 1990–Bell Hooks at Lewis and Clark College.
April 28, 1990–Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz at L&C.
April 23-28, 1990–Ben Linder Memorial Week in Portland ; construction brigade meetings.
May 9, 1990–arson attempt at Lovejoy Surgicenter.
May 16, 1990–Alan Rausch’s “Police distorted incident at park; media added to it” a must read example of activist journalism from that era. Pulitzer Prize in letters to the editor should have been awarded here. Sly dig at journalists who “when in doubt call the sheriff ” and dead possums, from when Portland cops dropped them at a Black business, are devastating. We would get back at the cops only days later at Little Beirut II.
Portland Free Press article, “Newberg police Inform Convicted Felon Drew Davis of Free Press Inquiry About secret Service Papers.” Davis was a former Republican Oregon House rep. and then President of the Sun Myung Moon-connected Oregon chapter of the American Freedom Coalition. Davis was convicted of forging drug prescriptions.
May 18, 1990–CHD, the Lesbian Community Project and SHARP represented by Donna Redwing, Scott Nakagawa, and Dave Lamb, respectively, hold a press conference denouncing police harrassment of anti-racists. CHD releases “Report on the Community Defence Project on Organized neo-fascists in Portland, Oregon.” In the early days CHD would sometimes use the term “fascism” as a general descriptor. The report was a collective effort and fourteen contributors are listed. It’s an important documentation of the rancid role of the PPB in protecting boneheads and a great snapshot of CHD beginning to do action-oriented research.
May 21, 1990—Little Beirut II
“The following May, President George H.W. Bush himself came to town to help raise funds for then-Republican gubernatorial candidate Dave Frohnmayer. Three hundred protesters greeted the well-heeled Republicans with eggs, fruit, spit and purportedly some explosive devices, along with burning American flags. The protest ended in a brawl as 75 police officers in riot gear descended on the crowd. Twenty-five were arrested.” I may be mistaken, but I think this was the protest that featured anti-racist skins, punks and other radicals, some of whom adopted Teenage mutant Ninja Turtle costumes to greet the pigs–those on the streets and those at the trough.
Mohammad Hassan (above) at PSU protesting less than five percent faculty of color at Portland State University. Check out those Apple prices!
May 24, 1990–Judi Bari and Darryl Cherney are victims of a car bomb in Oakland, California just prior to the start of Redwood Summer. Leonard Zeskind and I would later travel to Willits to meet with the two activists. We were invited to research any far-right/state involvement in the assassination attempt. We could never establish who did it, and neither could anyone else. Cointelpro? “Lord’s Avenger?” Still unanswered. RIP Judi.
June 1990–The irreverent “Class War” is being published.
July 16, 1990. Elinor Langer’s “American Neo-Nazi Movement Today” article in The Nation appears.
September, 1990–CHD releases “Organized White Supremacists in Oregon”
September 1990, Little Beirut III
“Quayle returned in September of 1990 to help raise funds for Oregon Republican candidates and to support an education bill. (This was two years before the American public found out the incumbent vice president couldn’t spell “potato.”) As if hearing his taunt from the year before, there were twice as many protesters outside the Hilton this time. A group of 24 Reed students, including Igor Vamos of the Yes Men fame, dubbed themselves the Guerrilla Theater of the Absurd. They put on their finest suits and ties, swallowed food coloring and ipecac to vomit up red, white and blue—their plan was thwarted because their stomach acid turned the blue food coloring green. This agitprop art display was dubbed the Reverse Peristalsis Painters.
Fifty-one were arrested at this protest, including art gallery and coffee shop owner Anne Hughes, who wound up winning a $25,000 settlement from the city due to her treatment at the hands of the Portland Police Bureau. This event led to Mayor Bud Clark writing a strongly worded letter to the police department.”–WW
I attended the first three Little Beiruts, but not the fourth in 1991 as I had just moved to The Shop and was otherwise occupied.
1990–Lenny Zeskind from the Center for Democratic Renewal and Gerry Gable from Searchlight Magazine in England are hosted at an event at Portland State University.
October, 1990–CHD publishes address of Bob Heick in Portland.
October 7, 1990–2500 people come out for the “March and Rally for Dignity and Diversity” on the day before the SPLC vs. Metzger civil suit begins. Jury came back October 22, 1988. John Trudell and Stew Albert speak, among others.
The following timeline is pieced together from primary and secondary sources I’ve recently dug up. Many of these entries come directly from my personal journals. As such they tend to be rather focused on me. Don’t be misled by that focus, help me supplement it! This is one lens through which to understand the time period immediately preceding the murder of Mulugeta Seraw. I welcome other contributions to the timeline. These contributions can be used as a supplement to the fantastic KBOO podcast It Did Happen Here. itdidhappenherepodcast.com
February 4, 1988–racist and anti-racist skinheads make their initial appearances on the Oprah Windfrey Show.
March 10, 1988–Portland, Oregon Racist skinheads attack “…Hock-Seng “Sam” Chin, a 27-year-old Singapore native who now lives in Portland. On March 10, after leaving the Siamese Princess Restaurant at 1231 SW Washington St., Chin and his family were confronted by three male skinheads who taunted them with remarks such as “Go back to Hong Kong” and “Get out of the country.” When Chin stood his ground, he was struck repeatedly by the skinheads, who knocked him to the ground and kicked him with their combat-style boots.” Willamette Week 10/31/18.
May 1, 1988–American Front stages May 1 “White Workers Day” March down Haight Street in San Francisco. 65 attend. They also attack the anarchist bookstore Bound Together Books.
May 12, 1988–Willamette Week publishes Jim Redden’s “Young Nazis: Portland’s new breed of Racists.” This would establish Redden as an authority on the far-right in Portland, although anti-fascists constantly battled with him in print. Redden practiced a hip, transgressiveform of fascism denial and constantly attacked anti-fascists through many, many equivocation formulas. These were the days when irony was king. For a contemporary version of his garbage think Quillette written by someone in your neighborhood about shit in your neighborhood. He would later found the insipid PDXS. A 2018 Willamette Week article reprinted excerpts from Redden’s orginal article which does not appear to be accessible anywhere. https://www.wweek.com/news/2018/10/31/wws-reporting-on-how-hate-spread-across-portland-in-1988/.
June 1988–I obtain a copy of William Pierce’s neo-Nazi novel, The Turner Diaries from Amok Books in Los Angeles, a creepy outlet that also sells — I shit you not — original clown paintings by John Wayne Gacy. I’m also reading Project Censored stories, the UTNE reader, Edward F. Herman’s The Real Terror Network, and Guy Dubord’s Society of the Spectacle.
June 23, 1988–The Christic Institute’s sprawling $24 million civil suit is thrown out of court. Many of us thought the amount of resources being consumed by the case was also a crime. Likewise there was a conspiratorial framework used by Daniel Sheehan, their counsel, most spectacularly represented by the institute’s motto and logo, “Stop the Shadow Government.” https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Defend_our_constitution_christic_poster.jpg
I’m working with the Portland Central American Solidarity Committee (PCASC) and Ace Hayes, a local leftist conspiracy theorist. Ace has a substantial collection of files and a specialized library at his home in Southeast Portland. There are half a dozen younger leftists who have been working with Ace. Ace’s “origin story” bonafides include supplying weapons to the Sandinistas prior to their July, 1979 successful overthrow of the dictator Somoza, and a period working with the Black Panthers in Oakland, California. Within a year, however, most of us would distance ourselves from Ace and his “Secret Government Seminar” at least in part because it began to attract “patriots.” Ace’s “constitutionalism” and “secret government” framework was always problematic.
February, 1988–Gus Van Sant premiers his short film Ken Death Gets Out of Jail which features Ken Mieske only a few months before he would murder Mulugeta Seraw. I watch it at a Portland premier together with his feature, “Mala Noche.”
The film is noteworthy for three reasons. First, because Ken Death would murder Muligeta Seraw a few months later. Second, because Van Sant, Chris Monlux and Jack Yost (PSU peace studies–I took a class with him, hopelessly naive liberal) all knew Mieske quite well as he was a fixture in the local alternative music scene. Many people knew him, Steve Strasser and Kyle Brewster. Chris Monlux’s Monqui Presents, which ran venues in the alternative music scene, long ignored fascists organizing there, although they weren’t the only ones to do so. Third, by the time CHD hosted two “Rock Against Racism” shows in September, 1989, the struggle to drive out Portland boneheads would prove to be a protracted one. Getting them out of the music scene sometimes required working with promoters who had allowed them to be there in the first place. We worked the bands–Wehrmacht to change their name and disavow boneheads; Poison Idea to denounce boneheads at their shows, etc. The Deprived were largely anarchist as I recall and comrades, while Hitting Birth (who played the shopping cart as an instrument?), and others played a part, too.
July 9, 1988–I am transcribing the “Aryan Nations” segment on “Radio Free America” (later “For the Record” and “Anti-fascist Archives”) radio show. Emory is an “American talk radio host and conspiracy theorist, born in New York City, based in the San Francisco Bay Area. He is known for his radio show which purports to uncover neo-fascism and neo-Nazism; among his more notable claims is that the Bush family was connected to the Third Reich.” Wikipedia “Dave Emory” retrieved 2.14.21. A leftish conspiracy theorist exposing far-right conspiracy theorists.
July 13, 1988–William S. Burroughs introduced by Walt Curtis at the Northwest Service Center. If you hung around cafes in Portland during the late 1980s Curtis was a fixture. I remember him holding court on NW 21st street — filthy, drunk, loud and totally mesmerizing. He stole the show with his indelible poem about lying naked under a tree in a field on a hot, summer day and the ensuing pleasure he received from a black lab. Again, I shit you not. Uproariously funny.
Ace Hayes at Laughing Horse Books. This is about the time Ward Churchill began making appearances, too.
Summer 1988–Town Hall Portland on skinheads. This was an important appearance on a local television show by racist skinheads before the murder of Mulugeta Seraw. The group POWAR (Preservation of the White American Race) were present and faced off against anti-racists. I recorded the show and may have attended. The video is in the ever illusive CHD files.
From my journal: Ace Hayes on affirmative action. We are beginning to have arguments here. Ace considers programs like affirmative action to be elite projects designed to split the working class. Most of us disagree. Cringe.
September 25, 1988–Correspondence with Ken Lawrence and Chip Berlet on LaRouche, skinheads, and NAP.
September 25, 1988–I cold call Stew Albert, co-founder of the Yippies and ally to the Black Panther Party, to complain about his maligning of Black revolutionaries in his Oregonian article about his book, The Sixties Papers. Sometime later invites me to his home and I realize my stupidity. Stew became an important mentor to anti-fascists, and sat on the board of the Coalition for Human Dignity for more than a decade. Sometime later I am present for a packet of FOIA responses Stew received about fed spying on him and John Lennon.
September 29, 1988. My appendix ruptures, my sister gets me to the hospital just in time. I spend 9 days at Good Samaritan Hospital in recovery.
Maximum Rock n Roll has a “Behind the News Round up” where scene reports on skinheads are listed.
I co-write an article for the Portland Alliance about the New Alliance Party — it is deliberately weak to allow further access to their party leaders and because I can’t quite get a handle on it. I also write about fascism.
Red Rose School forum on electoral politics (election year). DSA, Rainbow Coalition, Solidarity, Earth First!
October 9, 1988–I receive Russ Bellant’s Old Nazis, the New Right and the Reagan Administration an important example of anti-fascist journalism from that era. Third request for documentation on “Clouds Blur the Rainbow” from Chip Berlet…
October 11, 1988–phone call with Ken Lawrence about NAP. I have tapes of some of these calls (with permission).
I’m working with KBOO about War On Drugs stuff. Linda Shirley mocks me for listening to “cock rock”, she was another important KBOO figure from that era.
October 12, 1988–1hour interview by phone with Fred Newman of NAP.
September 1988–1000 union workers protest George H.W. Bush when he visits the Northwest Marine Iron Works on Swan Island. It was an angry crowd and the most militant opposition he faced on his campaign tour that year. Little Beirut is coming…
October 13, 1988–First “Secret Government Seminar” by Ace Hayes convened. Gender gap: 20 men, 3 women.
October 1988–Farrakhan links to NAP, then to Metzger and Klan, as shown by a Searchlight network chart are upsetting. I’m trying to figure out the context. Ken Lawrence later explains the shared anti-Semitism.
October 20, 1988–Second “Secret Government Seminar” with improved gender ratio: 13 men, 5 women.
October 1988–correspondence with M. Treloar on skinheads, NAP. He’s moving to Portland in December. Also Fred Goff at the Data Center, Russ Bellant of Political Research Associates, and Searchlight Magazine issues. I’m working part-time at KBOO.
October 20, 1988–I get Portland Alliance press credentials to cover a Cult Awareness Network conference. I get in some trouble with security, but record the keynote speaker, Bill Wassmuth, who I describe as “a very good, sincere, progressive Catholic.” I am disturbed by the “cult lens” being employed to understand the far-right. It’s limited, and goofy.
October 31, 1988. “October Surprise” action at Multnomah County Republican Party HQ.
Work started at Besaws Cafe in NW Portland as a graveyard fry cook.
Listening to Chumbawamba.
October 24, 1988–Together with a few comrades we begin moving Ace Hayes’ machine shop and library to his newly acquired “Box in the Woods” in Sheridan, Oregon. Not a few odd anecdotes could be added here, especially his often tense relations with the local building department. And planning department. And cops.
November 8, 1988–Oregon Citizens Alliance passes Measure 8: 52.7% — 47.3% legally enshrining anti-LGBTQ discrimination in the executive branch. While it will eventually be ruled unconstitutional, this is the beginning of the “no special rights” bullshit. This is also only five days before the Seraw murder.
November 13, 1988–Murder of Mulugeta Seraw by racist boneheads with ESWP.
November 15, 1988. AFAP meets at Ace Hayes home, where we discuss the Seraw murder and a public letter Ace wrote to city commissioner Mike Lindberg about the threat of racist skinheads and the far-right sometime previous the murder. Where is that letter? Ace’s letter was at least in part based on research we were doing on boneheads. I write an article in the Portland Alliance about U.S. support for Nazi emigres following WWII, probably from Bellant’s report.
November, 1988. Coalition for Human Dignity forms from a city sponsored community meeting. Early meetings move from City Hall to the Metroplitan Community Church (MCC), King Community Center and the cafe Cup and Saucer. I am assembling and distributing “skinhead” packets.
There is a protest against bigotry at City Hall.
November 27, 1988. I am viewing Metzger’s “Race and Reason” television show, taking names and increasing subscriptions to area far-right publications.
December 8, 1988–I travel to Whidbey Island Washington to cover the neo-Nazi Bob Mathews commemorative. Mathews was the titular head of the neo-Nazi terrorist group, The Order. He died in a shoot out with cops on Whidbey Island. Metzger and Butler are there. I hate on the RCP, cuz, well, they’re the RCP.
Comrades and I are looking for warehouse space for our “Anti-Fascist Archives Project.”
I have part-time work at UPS and Besaws.
I read Andy Oakley’s book “88”. I review it. Thought it valuable. “These questions cannot be addressed with a view of fascism in America that equates the Metzgers with the Bushes, the Moonies with the Rockefellers.”–me.
December 21, 1988–Reading Ward Churchill’s “Pacifism as Pathology.”
January 1989–I file FOIA requests with FBI, CIA, etc. on myself and am later disappointed that no one considers me a threat. Sigh.
Coast Starlight train to Oakland. I interview skins and punks at Gilman Street Theater in Berkeley. One female punker from Portland references the ASA (Anti-Skin Alliance) there and Eric Lamon (Was this China from IDHH?).
“Two wrongs don’t make a right. But three do.” –Unofficial motto of U.S. forces in Vietnam.
January 14, 1989–I obtain The Muckrakers Manual!
Frequent trips to Powell’s Books.
January 27, 1989–Ben E. Factory was an anarchist IWW organizer then involved in tenants rights and building occupations. I recall long debates between us around the Spanish Civil War and contemporary socialism vs. anarchism. I get arrested on this date at a building occupation in Seattle. My job, as it so often was, involved cutting a chain link fence with bolt cutters (always in my trunk) in advance of the march. I did so, but got arrested by a nearby undercover vice cop. The NLG represented me and the charges dropped. The cop shoved a gun in my chest and was rough.
February 18, 1989–David Duke wins Louisiana legislative seat.
March 11, 1989–Aryan Woodstock Napa, CA.
April 25, 1989–Walk for Racial Equality in Hayden Lake, Idaho protesting the annual Aryan Nations Congress attracts 1000 marchers. ADL and NWCAMH refuse to back it; effectively disavow it. I attend a press conference convened by Richard Butler on the Aryan Nations compound using press credentials from KBOO. I also write and distribute “Understanding and Confronting…” an essay at the protest event. Highlights: group listed as phone contact is “Parapolitical Research Center”, not CHD which was only beginning to get off the ground. More than 100 people from Portland travel. The NWCAMH is getting flack for receiving $ from Coors while also not including sexual orientation in their definition of hate crimes. There is still only scattered data collection on hate crimes in PNW.
Kinda the liberal version of “Treason to whiteness is loyalty to humanity.” 😂
May 10, 1989–With Ben E. Factory I interview members of Anti-Racist Action (ARA), The Baldies and the Revolutionary Anarchist Bowling League (RABL) in Minneapolis, MN. I took detailed notes and brought them back for comrades in Portland. While in no way did I start ARA in Portland, I was around and trying to communicate what the folks in Minnesota had been up to; what worked for them and what didn’t. We later visit the Chicago IWW office and meet with an old Weather Underground member.
May 20, 1989 colorblind and ARA/Syndicate flyer from Chicago for Rock Against Racism.
I probably cut an odd figure in my Carhartt Washed-Duck Tool Pants, black Thrasher hoodie and industrial neoprene gloves. Waist-deep in a dumpster I am making a fashion statement of sorts, wading through the quotidian refuse of an office park: coffee grinds, fast food containers, styrofoam peanuts, cardboard boxes, used printer cartridges and, much to my chagrin, the occasional dirty diaper. It’s 1990 and my comrades and I are ‘dumpster diving’ out in the suburban sprawl of Portland, Oregon. But it is neither food nor salable commodities we seek. We are churning through garbage in search of the political droppings of a far right organization housed there. The take from this ‘trash cover’ (to use a term of the trade) could help neutralize a far-right group, or at least make less effective their attacks on vulnerable communities. After a few night’s worth of applied garbology–Disco! Reams of perforated computer paper reveal detailed membership lists. We don’t have time to do anything other than scan it–the headings confirm it is from our target–so we bag the loot and skidaddle.
Your trash, my treasure–asshole.
From there the black garbage bags are transported to a warehouse where the really difficult slog begins. We spread out a large tarpaulin and separate the wheat from the chaff. What we call raw, primary data–everything from membership rosters to post-it notes, utility bills to grocery lists–is sorted and prepped so as to be of some use. Then we feed the raw data into already existing databases and files, cross referencing it to identify matches and points for further analysis. In other words, manual data entry is how we transformed data into information (no shortcuts from analog to digital back then). If we do our opposition research well, that information can reach its final form: actionable intelligence. For instance, the computer printouts provide detailed information on the targeted organization’s supporters–donation amounts, addresses, phone numbers, occupations, etc. Some of those donors may not want their identities released to the public. We do. Likewise, the discovery of internal memoranda can provide a window into a group’s organizational capabilities, relations with other political formations or even internal dynamics, such as factional fights, that we can exploit. Finally, a report can be generated and the findings ready for dissemination. Then it’s back into the dumpsters and the process repeats itself. From data collection to information analysis to actionable intelligence.
Our fashion statement is also therefore a political statement.
In all of this our team of researchers were practicing a form of ‘para politics’, i.e., political conduct apart from voting or demonstrating, polling or political speech. There are other, less charitable meanings associated with this term, but I am employing it here in a relatively value neutral manner. This is, of course, the province of the Antifa. For our purposes here, let’s call it Antifa spycraft.
If my late-night shenanigans of decades past often yielded material for critical print, radio and television stories on the far right, they also often helped communities better protect themselves from attack. In this case, our information helped ‘out’ more than a few ‘down low’ bigoted businesses and politicians. Oh, and it was legal. In many locales, the laws around trash collection are often ambiguous. In this case, because the material we absconded with was in a dumpster, it was no longer private property. Likewise, depending on your locale, once your garbage can is out on a sidewalk or street, it may be free for anti-fascists–or fascists, for that matter–to rummage through. This low tech tactic of opposition research–today’s equivalent of hacking someone’s digital footprint–was a time-honored weapon in the Antifa arsenal. But not the only weapon.
If back in the day we had a ‘trash cover’ on an enemy political group, there was a good chance we also had an infiltrator attending meetings and other activists taking down license plates and shooting video and photos of their events. Much like the shitheads at Project Veritas and Brietbart News do now, but long before those clowns were selling their hack jobs to their paymasters, we pushed the limits of acceptable political engagement. Today, effective anti-fascists, especially those grouped around Rose City Antifa and It’s Going Down, as well as activists featured in Mark Bray’s Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook understand this. It’s well past time to have a debate with those socialists and other radicals who don’t seem to get it.
That the political tradition and contemporary efforts of the Antifa are valuable, even essential, to the broader socialist struggle is not accepted by all comrades. In spite of an honorable and effective history, there are left radicals who not only dismiss this work, but denigrate those who practice it. Quite a few regard the most militant and therefore visible actions of the Antifa as anathema to our broader struggle. Many misguided socialists prefer to ignore this vital work or, when such intelligence is used by an Antifa fighting force, such as in Charlottesville, raise cries of ‘adventurism’, perhaps laced with a quote from Lenin on infantile disorders.
But if you ask this old ghost there is nothing more infantile than attacking the work of comrades you know next to nothing about; except, perhaps, doing so from a Marxist theoretical framework so sclerotic it can regurgitate that fatal stupidity all veteran anti-fascists are familiar with: “The enemy is not fascism as much as it is capitalism that exploits the working class according to democratic and civilized norms that would never be associated with the swastika or other fascist regalia.” (‘Antifa and the Perils of Adventurism” by Louis Proyect, August 15, 2017. My emphasis). Proyect, whose nom-de-chair is The Unrepentant Marxist, slanders antifa activists when he’s not busy digging himself out from under all the free dvds (he never tires of letting us know) tinseltown sends him for film reviews.
He goes lowest when addressing the street battles between anti-racists and neo-Nazis that took place in Charlotesville last year.
He writes, “Turning now to Charlottesville, it is obvious to me that if the protests had been disciplined and under the control of marshals such as was the norm during the Vietnam antiwar movement, there would have been much less of a chance that James Fields would have been able to drive his Dodge Challenger into a crowd, killing a young woman and injuring 19 others.”
Here Proyect is laying the death of Heather Heyer at the feet of the Antifa, instead of where it belongs, with the neo-Nazi who ran her over. Elsewhere he refers to Antifa activists as ‘boys’ engaging in ‘childish acting out’. And unruly boys need discipline, don’t they? Proyect apparently wants cops, in the form of movement ‘marshals’, to get them back in line, with a spanking, if necessary. This bit of scolding he digs up from his glory days in the abject failure that was the Vietnam antiwar movement. But the important lesson of Charlottesville is completely lost to Proyect, which is in the role the Antifa played in protecting religious pacifists from attack. Cornel West testified to this development, something that should be built upon. Leftists with integrity, who know when to shut the fuck up when they are out of their element of expertise, should support the Antifa, not hang them out to dry.
What Proyect does not understand is twofold: the nature of neo-fascism in the 21st Century and how a corresponding anti-fascism, to be effective, must be somewhat different from other forms of protest and organizing.
By definition Antifa organizing must contend with vigilante forms of attack–those that have their origins largely outside the state repressive aparatus. In other words, fighting racist assholes is not the same as going door-to-door collecting signatures for a ballot initiative or candidate, much less reviewing the latest art house cinema production.
The hinge that supports the door through which all revolutionary antifascists must pass–from a coherent definition of fascism to a retooling of anti-fascism–is intelligence, by which I mean spycraft. There is no substitute for knowing your enemy, preferably much better than they know themselves. No one else will do it. Cops reduce everything to their bailiwick: criminality. Reporters personalize the far right, always looking to sell a story. Academics do post-mortems with an eye towards predictability–usually unconnected with the flesh and blood Antifa struggle and therefore too little, too late. Liberals wring their hands about free speech and fumble about for that phantom limb within the democratic party that might deliver them from ‘hate’. Anti-fascists are the only political force intent on destroying both the conditions that continually regenerate fascism as well as the recurrence of the fascist plague itself.
This role can only be successfully carried out by anti-fascists who employ measures of antifa spycraft against our enemies. One cannot gain this critical advantage through anything other than counter-intelligence: no amount of long-form analyses of the falling rate of profit or the changing demographics of the working class will tell you this and it cannot be divined through oracles–whether in the form of tea leaves or data science. Anti-fascists must have the ability to infiltrate neo-fascists both to disrupt and neutralize their efforts and to protect communities they attack.
How to do this begins with a counterintuitive hidden in plain view. The state, law enforcement in particular, is governed by a set of regulations that are not the same as those that govern citizens and many others. People can engage in intelligence gathering in ways that are often (though not always) rendered problematic for a cop or official. Furthermore, the person of interest to an antifa spy is often not a public official but a private citizen, perhaps a public figure, in many ways more open to surveillance and their networks thereby to penetration. This also applies to the civic and political groups a far right activist works with. While it may be quite beyond the technical capability of an antifa activist to hack the confidential informant records of a local cop, it is certainly within their capability to wade through the trash of a local fascist.
Today, many Antifa groups continue in this same tradition with detailed, publicly available and actionable intelligence on far-right activists–mug shots, addresses, workplaces, quotations, etc. Furthermore, contrary to claims that it’s too expensive and/or complicated to practice spycraft (leave it to the professionals!?) amateur spies are essential to the Antifa. Another way to think about this is that the type of struggle the Antifa is engaged in will in large part determine its methods, much like clinic defense organizations have long utilized opposition researchers in their work defending clinics against the anti-abortion movement, especially when they cannot rely on the state to do so.
It should be obvious that fighting the far-right is not the same as fighing corporations or the state; and the Antifa is not synonymous with the Black Bloc, another elementary distinction that eludes Proyect, but will have to wait for another time.
To continue, a cop generally has to have ‘probable cause’ to search through someone’s garbage and will likely be required to leave a paper trail (digital footprint) of their activity. In other words, because of the oppositional nature of much of the far right–the fact that it occupies a contradictory relationship with the state, often outside of it and even opposed to it–forms of anti-fascist resistance can penetrate it by different means. Opportunities for disrupting the far right present themselves in ways that organizing a union drive at a multinational corporate factory do not, and, also, that creative intelligence work can provide the basis for work between communities that might not otherwise work together. This doesn’t, of course, mean that elements of the state don’t overlap with the far right (after all, Donald Trump is president) but that anti-fascists need to take the threat of their activism seriously.
In my experience the value of anti-fascist work was always best determined in close consultation with other radical groups and communities targeted by the far right. In “Death to the Klan” and Armed Antifascist Community Defense in the US (It’s Going Down, July 26, 2016) there is a useful review of such efforts in Portland, Oregon during the late 1980s and 1990s.
“…[groups] like the Red and Anarchist SkinHeads (RASH) and the SkinHeads Against Racial Prejudice (SHARPs) found themselves in frequent battles with neo-fascists converging on Portland. A group called Coalition for Human Dignity (CHD) activated not just to beat back the onslaught of skinheads, but to transform racial consciousness in Portland. They used the strategies developed by ARA [Anti Racist Action] to expose and shame skinheads wherever they showed their faces, getting them fired from their jobs and evicted from their apartments. However, when skinheads began to harass local members of the community, attacking their houses and cars, CHD devised a decentralized community self-defense strategy.”
In the same article an old Portland comrade of mine, M. Treloar, is interviewed by It’s Going Down activists and elaborates:
“There were several situations where our people who had concealed weapons were confronted by groups of boneheads and either pulled the weapon or made it clear that they were armed and the boneheads backed off…There is no doubt in my mind that in several instances they would have been attacked, since we had people who were taking down car license plate numbers, staking out houses or infiltrating gatherings.”
“The CHD mobilized to form a media defense position, which helped generate positive public opinion….What’s notable is again the people who attacked the boneheads after a certain point did very little time, and were generally hailed as heroes in the community…”
From very early on the work of the Coalition for Human Dignity in Portland, Oregon (I was a founding member) targeted the social base of neo-fascism: white nationalism and the Christian Right. This definition intentionally cut across class lines–rendering racist reaction as neither the exclusive rotted fruit of the ruling class (capitalism releasing fascist antibodies to protect itself) nor principally the unresolved grievances of a white working class left behind by captialist development (two fairly typical myopic explanations of the re-emergence of the far-right.)
Back then, much as today, the issues of choice for far-rightists were anti-black and anti-latino racism and homophobia. It should be noted that at this time (1980s-1990s) the two main political parties and all statist anti-hate groups (SPLC, ADL, etc.), scrupulously avoided homophobia as a political issue and did not include bigoted elements of the Christian right nor anti-immigrant groups within their definition of ‘hate groups’. It was radical LGBTQ and fight-the-right activists who pushed them to do so by being more effective than they ever could be. But, nonetheless, organizing in the early nineties had to contend with the routine dismissals of the Christian Right as backwoods hicks, neo-Nazis as cults and criminals and racist skinheads as yet another counter-cultural youth rebellion, all destined to pass–if they hadn’t already–into the dustbin of history. But they didn’t, and neither did we. So many premature obituaries of the Paleo-conservatives and the Christian Right have been issued and reissued since then that it is staggering to consider not only their continued relevance today but their central role in the Trump electoral victory, and how spectacularly wrong those analysts were about their political prospects.
Many months after Trump’s victory, in a series of articles for Catalyst, Jacobin and New Left Review one of the most astute Marxist analysts today, Mike Davis, finally got around to noting the confluence of white nationalism and the Christian Right in Trump’s victory. That it took so long for the socialist left to make this observation is disturbing and highlights the fact that if anti-fascists lack the theoretical sophistication of New Left Review contributors, they more than make up for it by actually fighting fascism and capitalism, rather than just writing about it, after the fact.
On the other hand, if antifa groups want to have a say in how to oppose fascism, theoretical clarity is certainly important. The reason the best anti-fascist fighters have always come from socialist, anarchist and communist traditions is because they understood the first principle of anti-fascism: fascism is our mortal enemy, and must be fought.
Saying as much need not always involve alliances with liberals and conservatives that necessarily mean capitulation to those forces. If one has a decisive advantage in intelligence, it can be used to establish the political parameters of such alliances or agreements. If, however, antifa groups do not have an ‘intelligence capacity’ they will cede the right to effectively fight fascism, and thereby protect communities under attack, to others. That right, by the way, is earned; sometimes in a dumpster.
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