January Days

Far right activists photographed inside the capitol building, 2021.

Those of us not State-side need to have a sit-down chat about what has gone on in Washington.

The current tone of Australian media reporting on the events in Washington is a combination of misleading and carrying a clear ulterior motive. There have been many omissions which are incredibly important details not only to understand what happened on the 6th (the 7th for Australians), but also what happened throughout 2020 with the BLM and Antifa protests.

First, let’s talk about the Black Lives Matter and Anti-fascist Action protests. These protests began as non-violent rallying — despite the fact that the catalysing event was a brazen display of state violence (and via bodycam footage released much later, was found to be an outright murder). From day one, we saw the state response commit to escalation, unleashing yet more violence on crowds via gassing, “less lethal” projectiles, battering demonstrators with nightsticks and mass arrests. At every stage of the protests, which spread rapidly across the States, state violence escalated. Eventually the situation reached the point of mandatory curfews and the deployment of the national guard to clear the streets in an attempt to squash the “defund/abolish” movement’s momentum.

LaToya Ratlieff shot in the head during BLM/Antifa protests by “less lethal” rounds, 2020.

For a time, acts of violence among/by civilians became commonplace. Among the BLM/Antifa protesters, this was a direct response to police assaults. The violence was mostly benign, composed of damaging abandoned police vehicles, forcing police out of neighbours and establishing “autonomous zones” — these zones served as rest-stops for protesters, providing masks, food and water. The homeless were also welcomed into these zones and fed and given shelter. I call this benign violence because it is primarily defensive, and does not target the welfare of the individual.

Woven into these demonstrations were far right aggressors, whose purpose for being present was to trigger their version of a civil war, fought on racist lines. They carried out acts of major violence. This violence included wholesale destruction of buildings and setting fires in residential neighbourhoods. The most notable of these incidents was the burning down of a police precinct. These were “false flag” actions, and we know this now because investigation by police and the FBI linked these far right groups to those events.

Despite the largely non-violent protesting, where violence was committed and escalated by the state, and major acts of violence were dubious, national and international media assigned the action to the protesters. They twisted these events in such a way as to diminish police violence and their penchant for killing.

In addition to false-flagging, far right aggressors took to the streets intent on violence, targeting protesters. These aggressors set themselves up on rooftops with rifles, took over parking lots with heavily armed cadres, isolated and beat people (including young people) wearing BLM shirts or holding signs — one such victim was an eleven year old girl. This activity eventually culminated in a seventeen year old man killing two black men and injuring another. This seventeen year old, despite brutal repression of protesters, was allowed to walk toward and up to police, armed, and be ignored before going home that evening. All while protesters were yelling, “He shot someone! He killed someone! Get this guy!” What were the police doing? Forcing protesters back down the street.

Police in the United States have a long and sordid history (my context will remain fixed on the United States). Their modus operandi has changed very little since the days of slavery and segregation. Institutionalised racism, sexism, queerphobia, et al. put it mildly. There are whole towns where police forces are occupied by members of the Klu Klux Klan. Recently, studies revealed that just over 40% of police officers had records of domestic and family violence, and in some places tens of thousands of rape kits were left unprocessed. In 2019, 999 persons were killed by police. In 2020 that number escalated to 1,004. This incident mortality rate disparately affected people of colour, usually young men, many of whom were living below the poverty line. Even the FBI has warned of white supremacist “infiltration” in police across the States (as late as 2015) at levels that can only be described as both systematic and endemic. It should go without saying, but must be said anyway: the police are racist, state-funded thugs.

Police officers during the LA Riots, 1992.

In addition to the right-wing conservative and far right reaction, throughout 2020 protesters were hounded by media, liberals, moderates, Democrat Party leaders, mayors and governors, to stop and go home, or to mitigate their expectation. Much of the “progress” offered by those persons in positions of power, or as part of the social intelligentsia, were manifestly little more than tokenism. As we have seen, those token concessions have largely gone unfulfilled.

Most of these details were omitted by Australian news media as well, or were heavily edited or obfuscated, leaving Australia’s largely apolitical or moderate population generally unphased, if not totally rejecting what they viewed as “reprehensible” protests, and reinforcing the hubris that is the Australian consciousness: people in the States are stupid or out of their minds.

Now let’s move onto the 6th, but first with some context. Many of us, especially those not quite on the pulse, received the storming of the Capitol Building as a shock that came out of nowhere. Yet there is nothing particularly shocking about it. For the past 4–6 years we have tracked the growth of the far right, the conservative right who were indifferent to them, and the moderate liberals who refused to rock the boat by taking them seriously. They appeared in full force in 2015, ushering in a new stage in the reaction with the raising of a billionaire capitalist to the office of President. Throughout the last four years, this swathe has grown near exponentially, or rather, has become dramatically emboldened and more willing to go public.

Throughout the previous decade, the common call was to heal the divide in the United States, and frequent calls were made to abandon polarising politics. Throughout the Obama-era, liberal moderates were extremely hostile. This was an era of tokenism and imperialism supported wholesale. By the end of this period, rapid growth of anti-capitalist politics had begun, inspired by the likes of Bernie Sanders and other left-leaning politicians. The Democratic Socialists of America saw their numbers boom from the thousands to tens of thousands. A growing malcontent was festering in the American consciousness. Stagnated wages and rising costs of living — quickly reaching and surpassing Depression levels — created ripe conditions. A demand for a real alternative. As the reaction zeroed in, the left moved forward, but the left was neither prepared, nor strong enough, to offer its real alternative. At the parliamentary level, the project of socialism and working class interests within the state apparatus failed by betrayal from within. Capital presented its “alternative” in the form of the Wall Street poster child: Hillary Clinton. The Democratic Party handed over the election long before a vote was cast, and corporate America was happy with either result.

Hillary Clinton on her campaign trail, 2016.

The 2016 defeat was the tipping point. The reactionaries were going to win, that was assured. Both parties offered up opposition to workers and the poor. But in this case, it was the reaction that directly assaulted the liberal democracy (it ought to be noted, in no way exaggerating, that this is the hallmark of fascist movements).. All that was left now was to assert themselves on the whole of American society. In addition to the groundswell of conservative reactionary domination in politics, white supremacy garnered traction. Numerous rallies were held across the country. Pundits like Jordan Peterson and Richard “Dickhead” Spencer were lauded and paraded about for their “telling it like it is” tact that rebuffed any and all left-wing people (including, and especially, feminists). At every rally, violence inevitably came. Here we find the reappearance of the sleeping lion that is anti-fascist action, where counter-protesters met these supremacists with force. However, at every turn, media and politicians alike decried this action, reinforcing the supremacy of the bigot and the right to be treated as dignitaries, despite espousing the values that, for a time, the consciousness of the U.S. regarded as antithetical.

Come 2020, after a year-long battle between a catalysed left, nationwide community of marginalised people (especially people of colour), where the American consciousness had finally woken up to its situation, the Pope of the far right was brought off his pedestal. The liberal democrats, who had longed for a return to “normalcy,” rang the bells of victory and began a campaign to urge and, ultimately, put down the momentum of resistance — as is natural to them. Despite having the material condition laid out before us, despite the overt signs, despite the many parallels between fascists and the status quo of American politics, the American left remained ignorant by degrees. Ignorant because they did not take the threat seriously enough. They did not connect these victories, nor estimate the growth and organisation of these thugs appropriately. I’m sad to say that I, from across the pond, was in the same boat. When the bell tolled, the boil had reduced to a simmer.

On the 6th, the organised reactionaries stormed the Capitol Building, and were met by little to no resistance. They held what can only be described as the bigot’s version of Mardis Gras. They were colourful, loud, singing their songs of pride and “we’re here, get over it!” The same police thugs who had smashed the protesters of 2020, who had waged ideological and barbaric, physical, war against those demanding justice for their families and communities, put down their weapons and broke their ranks to welcome the emboldened goons. Police took selfies, men entered and left with tokens of their victory (including a podium!), others took photos of themselves at the desks of officials. Most of these men and women would leave unscathed. Throughout the day, minor skirmishes broke out between more aggressive protesters as they attempted to assault police. On the 6th of January, the United States proved — quite spectacularly and brazenly — that it is, in fact, a nation built on racism. That its (police) forces, to quote Rage Against the Machine, are the same that burn crosses.

Here in Australia the media has reported on these events as a death of democracy. They have reported on “political violence” in such a way as to make it comparable to the 2020 protests against police brutality and fascist state violence. They have conveniently omitted the disparity between police activity then and now. Through a mask of empathy and concern, they have done as intelligentsia always does: reinforce the status quo, demand a return to “normalcy,” rather the veneer of normalcy.

Many have said that they did not expect these events. I was one of those people. But as a friend living in the abundance of racism that affects her community, family, and loved ones pointed out, people of colour are not surprised. This has always been an outcome on the horizon. And that is a very, very sobering point. Blackness in the United States is a condition of constant hostility where whiteness is concerned. White society loathes to think of black independence, strength, or justice. It carries with it the memories of the Tulsa Massacre — fondly — while presenting Martin Luther King Jr. as a black messiah. “You’ve had your Jesus, shush now.” They hide that their institutions assassinated men like MLK, Malcolm X. They hide that they bombed entire neighbourhoods of black families. They hide that they enacted the War on Drugs to specifically target black people, and to break the Black Panthers’ ranks. They hide that they threw black leaders into kangaroo courts. They hide the riots and the killings. Or rather, they hid those things for a time. American society attempted to break the spirits of the brow-beaten with an incessant pressure that they had nothing to fight for or about. Black America have been waiting for this. White America has either been frothing at the mouth for it, or willed itself to avoid considering the possibility. And the left? The left, as part of and as a voice of the poor, the marginalised, and the exploited, should have known better.

News clipping regarding court prosecution of Black Panther Party members and their acquittal, 1971.

A white guy in Australia can’t presume to speak for people of colour in the United States, but I can imagine that this week has reignited the collective trauma of communities who have had no respite from these assaults, going all the way back to chattel slavery. I can only imagine the bitter disappointment, the bitter rage. I can only imagine the deep sadness, and the constant uncertainty that comes from decades of gaslighting.

If we’re to discuss political violence, we need to strike a line through the Australian media’s narrative. The political violence started long before the 6th of January, 2021. It began with lynching, police brutality and ghettos. It began with violent repression of protests. And if we’re going to discuss political violence, we need to come correct: no one ever survived abuse by smiling at their abuser. That we would compare 2020 with 2021 as similar events is a disgrace. And if we were to see political violence by people of colour and anti-fascist activists in response, there would still be no comparison. Our media, like all other status quo media, carries its ulterior motive on its sleeve: justify our status quo, emphasise “normalcy,” even if normalcy is little more than sweeping the dirt under the rug.

I can’t think of a positive note to end this on. Coming from the left perspective on this, I see a landscape fraught with insecurity and ineptitude. I see a profound failure to seize momentum that was gobsmacking in its abundance. I see radical activists too busy navel gazing and making excuses about the political climate to act, and I see communities and people who don’t have the time to wait around for something to change. I see collective defeatism in the United States, defeatism that spreads faster, and is far more deadly, than novel corona. And then I turn my sights on Australia, and not only do I see plague-like defeatism, I see territorial pissing.

“No justice, no peace.” is not just a catchy slogan to yell on the streets every few months. Dancing around the injustices should have stopped yesterday. Nothing less than an unconditional commitment is required.

Baltimore protester holding sign reading “Don’t Shoot. No Justice, no peace!!” in 2020.

--

--

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Joshua Michael

Joshua Michael

1 Follower

Political and social commentator, Marxist and left-wing advocate.