What the Fuck just Happened in America? A Primer

America teeters on the precipice. As its cities burn and its police forces brutalize protesters across the nation, the President has been forced into hiding by demonstrations which saw people set fire to historic churches and a guard house on his own front lawn.

You live in Canada. You’re sitting at home on your couch, because that’s where you are, because there’s a quarantine, because it’s still chilly in late May. You turn on the TV. Minneapolis is on fire. You close your eyes.

Maybe you are old enough to vividly remember the ‘LA race riots’ which followed the televised  broadcast of Rodney King, a black man from LA, being beaten by police. When the officers involved were acquitted for their role, the city rose up. The anger was righteous and the message was clear: brutality against black communities had to end. Protesters and police were killed, businesses were destroyed, LA burned. American police were put on notice.

The death of George Floyd in the custody of Police from the Minneapolis 3rd Precinct was a touchstone in a wave of indignation. There’s no need to go into detail here and name more victims of police violence, or explain the grievances organic to each city that rose up. These are very long lists. You need to understand this yourself.

It is an unequivocal fact that blacks in America (and Canada, for that matter) die at a statistically higher rate when they come into contact with the police, something which itself happens with increased frequency due to underlying systemic issues. Racism and white supremacism are inherent aspects of the institution of policing since its inception in the runaway slave patrols of the American south.

It is perhaps, easy to empathize in the midst of a global pandemic, that it is right and just to fear and abhor something that kills you or people you love with a greater statistical prevalence than other groups in the population. The “Stay Home, save lives” movement just weeks ago called on people everwhere to make great sacrifices in order to save the most vulnerable people in the population. Killing over 7,666 people between 2013 and 2019, the police are undeniably a virus in America’s Black communities.

Immediately following the death of Floyd, a wave of outrage rocked Minneapolis. There was one unified demand: Arrest and prosecute the four officers responsible for his death. The city, state and federal government all balked and hedged. The city exploded.

Black residents of the 3rd Precinct were joined by Americans of all creeds, genders and sexualities who fought a multi-day street battle with the police in their own neighbourhood. One group set out into the streets initiating fires and attracting police attention to draw resources away from the area. Emergency services in the twin cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul were paralyzed keeping up with the property damage, fires and looting.

Another other group of protesters in Minneapolis, gathered materials for barricades. For two days they sallied across an open street into tear-gas, pepper spray, rubber bullets and concussion grenade fire from police on the roof of the 3rd precinct. Angry crowds smashed the doors and windows of nearby buildings, looted a liquor store and a bodega. As later footage from inside the precinct clearly shows, the police used this time to strip the building of any valuable equipment, weapons and police intelligence. Late in the evening of May 29th, after two days of raging street battles, a Black-led coalition of activists pushed the 3rd Precinct police out of their own building under a sustained barrage of projectiles, including live fire. Then, they “burned that motherfucker to the ground”.

Pandemonium ensued. Professing to be inspired by the revolutionary success of this novel response to police brutality, tens of thousands rose up across the United States. Many of these people were armed. Making common cause against the institution of policing, they took to the streets to do battle with law enforcement. Protesters have been shot by the police. Police officers and protesters have both succumbed to bullet wounds and there have been running gun battles in several American cities. Hundreds of police vehicles have been destroyed, looted and stolen. The National Guard has been deployed in multiple states and the 82nd Airborne is reported to be mobilizing in the Washington DC Area to put an end to the uprising. Dozens are dead, hundreds are injured, and thousands arrested in the mass-detention of malcontents. Prominent democrats and justice-oriented celebrities have stepped forward, lawyers have offered to work pro-bono. Americans, who are fed up with the excesses of the state are offering to pay the legal bills of tens of thousands who have been arrested and charged in connection with the rebellion.

It is undeniable that there is widespread dissatisfaction and uncertainty in America. Many Americans of all races lack for security nets to support them through the pandemic. As one black livestreamer said while filming from the Portland rebellion, “it’s just a fact, the way everything is, not everybody has jobs right now.” Many millions of Americans had nothing before the crisis and have received nothing since, as society failed them. Tens of millions have been forced into involuntary lockdowns during COVID-19. There has been a shared experience of loss as many watched everything they ever had disappear during an economic collapse. It’s a collective loss of identity. People across America have risen up in desperation, as their lives fall apart.

The ‘Blue Lives Matter’ flag was raised by police over a Cincinnati Courthouse during the crisis. Introducing the “stars and bar”. Source: Facebook

The flag of an illegitimate government, black and white with a blue stripe, has been raised over American government buildings. Undoubtedly, the ‘Blue Lives Matter’ flag, itself a desecrated American flag, has taken on a new symbolism as the emblem of a new nation. It is the neo-confederate flag for a new republic alliance made up of police departments, state officials and generals in command of the world’s deadliest, most well equipped and most experienced military units.

America teeters on the precipice. As its cities burn and its police forces brutalize protesters across the nation, the President has been forced into hiding by demonstrations which saw people set fire to historic churches and a guard house on his own front lawn. The republic has apparently fallen and civil strife, high-intensity conflict and widespread lawlessness are the new normal in America, compounded by spreading diseases and an economic collapse unprecedented since the Great Depression of the 1920s.

Congratulations America, you’re a failed state. You are acting out the cognitive dissonance of your worst angels. You are doing to yourselves that, which for so long, you have done to others. America, you have no-one to blame but yourselves.

Of course, United States President Donald Trump doesn’t think the widespread uprising is organic, or authentic. Mayors and Governors have repeated falsified statements claiming that out-of-town or out-of-city ‘anarchists’ were responsible for the violence. This is largely untrue. There is a global pandemic. In many areas, people are social-distancing and not traveling. Many, many businesses are closed.

Aside from a movement of rural dwellers to city centers for the protests, there has been no discernable large-scale movement of people. Nowhere on social media are there photos or videos of protesters loading up on buses or piling into cars for any purpose but to drive into town to make a stand against a system they say is unjust. There are plenty of videos and embarrassing social media of police and soldiers coming from every corner of the country looking for a riot, though.

None of those facts have stopped the President, not that facts ever did. Trump tweeted condemnation and blame for the group ‘Antifa’. He has promised to declare ‘Antifa’ to be a terrorist organization, as though such were actually possible. Antifa, for those new to the culture war, are a loosely affiliated array of leftist organizations opposed to fascism and white supremacism. Antifa, is not actually a formal group with membership, but rather it is the name for a combined set of aesthetics and tactics. At protests they wear black clothing “the black bloc”, cover their faces and use a combination of property damage and “non-violent, confrontational” escalation tactics to directly combat police brutality and challenge fascism. Antifa are the primary political opponent of Trump’s most militant supporters and have frequently clashed with various far-right extremist factions. After four years of low-intensity conflict, Antifascists are some of the most experienced and organized insurrectionary activists inside the continental United States.

Far from themselves being a militant wing of the Democratic National Committee (DNC), Antifa is a disparate collection of left and far-left affinity groups who keep to themselves, observe effective security culture and share information about threats to their communities. It’s a secret society, but open to anyone, of any background and built on a solid foundation of anti-discrimination work and community building. On the frontline of the culture war in the United States, Antifa have been frequently in the fore, standing in opposition to social bigotries like systemic anti-blackness. Antifa are also opposed to policing. Many of the participants in ongoing protests have called openly for alternative community safety models and abolition of both policing and prisons as institutions. People believe these things. They have answers to your questions.

Centrists, DNC voters and  public figures have taken to social media to condemn white activists for ‘causing’ the violence and looting and ‘co-opting’ black protests. Joe Biden, the painfully obtuse DNC candidate for the 2020 election, suggested that protesters and criminals should be “shot in the knees and not the heart.” There is a prevailing effort by establishment figures to blunt the rebellion, by dividing its participants on racial lines. Liberals are promoting paranoia about ‘white nationalist’ interlopers, and many monied voices from both whites and people of colour have sought to establish and enforce a central vision for the disparate insurrections.

“As we are focused on what happened last night, as we’re focused on the acts of violence that usurped and tried to discredit legitimate protest, we need to pay as much attention to the violence that is causing people like George Floyd to die. We need to pay attention to the violence of systemic racism.”

-Mike Bonin, LA City Councilor

While far right extremists took to the statehouses with guns in their hands, to protest against the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns, Antifa members organized community grocery deliveries, baked for the homeless and sewed masks. Many Antifa members are black and queer. The vast majority are working class, despite frequent smears of being ‘trust fund kids’. There are as many teachers, office workers, nurses and bicycle couriers in Antifa as there are cops in the Klu Klux Klan (That is to say, a lot.)

It has been widely reported that a St. Paul police officer started the property damage in Minneapolis though this story has been denied by St. Paul police and the claim has not actually been verified by any news outlet. Source: Twitter

At the Minneapolis uprising, there are real concerns about who started what. Rumors circulated that a police officer from neighboring St. Paul started the property damage. No news agency has, to date, been able to verify this story. Livestreams from Unicorn Riot, Andrew Machado and others show black community members engaging in much of the early property damage alongside white allies and activists. White and black criminal gangs verifiably and undeniably behaved in an opportunistic manner in the streets. Some white activists stood armed, alongside black community members to defend businesses from loss and damage.

All of this information is easily verifiable. There are not clear-cut factions party to this unrest. What we are witnessing is a civil conflict between the people and the state. ‘Rioting’ doesn’t quite encompass its totality. It is a revolution. It was always said the “south would rise again”, but the rebellion this time, appears to be in the north and it has focused its rage on policing as an institution and the symbols of an America to which it is indelibly linked. Angry mobs smashed confederate statues. Rebels even set fire to the headquarters of the Daughters of the Confederacy in Richmond, Virginia and burned Stonewall Jackson’s battle flag. In the North it was counting coup. In the South, it was an iconoclasm broadcast on the evening news.

As shootings are reported across the country, some involving police, others not— there are suspicions and reports that white nationalists, police or both, may have infiltrated the protests to sow chaos. Undoubtedly protests have been attacked, with swords, bows, vehicles and guns. Voices, many inauthentic warn constantly and incessantly of “proud boys” and “nazis” in livestream comments. There are some verifiable reports of far-right group members arrested in connection with specific incidents of property damage. Infiltration of demonstrations by accelerationist groups has occurred. The racial justice movement has been forced to defend itself after being attacked constantly and incessantly by a combined force of police and national guard military, or was that police and state patrol with military police or was that just militarized police? I lost track of the military gear shopping somewhere in aisle 1033.

Los Angeles, California. “No civilian vehicles were hurt in the making of this photo.” Source: Facebook.

The truth remains, many American people from every creed and background HAVE authentically risen up. Of course, this is being presented through a lens controlled by the algorithms and the implicit political bias which is inherent to the way media is produced and presented. Feeds are curated, news stories vary wildly, information is falsified. Fact checking is apparently nonexistent. At the beginning of the crisis, Trump made a claim about an electoral issue and Twitter fact-checked his tweet which prompted him to announce an executive order regulating the platform.  After Trump tweeted that ‘looting’ in Minneapolis would lead to ‘shooting’, Twitter flagged his tweet for glorifying violence.

Facebook explained a week prior to the unrest that its algorithm is designed to exploit or even foster division in society. The platform declined to implement similar fact checking itself. Facebook has since returned with a muted apology, a pledge to “keep people safe and ensure our systems don’t amplify bias.” and a $10 million donation to racial justice, which was announced in a statement by its CEO Mark Zuckerberg. Despite the platitudes, fake news is presently coming from all political quarters, on all platforms and has blossomed in a full-blown information war raging on social media.

There’s a simple fact that can’t be refuted and must be celebrated: Millions of centre-leaning democrats and republicans have openly embraced insurrection against the state. Those are the same democrats Joe Biden was talking to a few months ago when he said,  “Americans aren’t looking for a revolution.” referencing the Bernie Sanders campaign. Many voices are saying now that Americans, particularly Black Americans tried to obtain political change peacefully, and that it was withheld from them by a system which is corrupt. Martin Luther King Jr. famously said “a riot is the cry of the unheard.” What we’re seeing right now across America is one hell of a yell.

In the coming days a student of revolutionary politics might surmise that there will be great efforts to guide this enormous flock of stray insurrectionary sheep back to the center. These efforts will be spearheaded by a legion of inauthentic posters (bots) and political operatives hounding social media with condemnation and scorn for illegalist behaviour, while calling for ‘unity’ and ‘peace’. The broader mainstream Black community in the US is undeniably being encouraged to turn against anti-fascists and white anti-racist activists.

Many voices have equivocated the Antifascists with Nazis. There are calls from high places to brand pro-Racial justice rebels who helped overrun police stations and rose up in dozens of cities, as white interlopers who destroyed black communities, invited police repression on black protests and ushered political violence into the black community. This is not a majority opinion among black protesters, but it is a significant threat to the continuity of a revolutionary movement and to public opinion which is crucial to protecting its membership.

Progressive organizers and political operatives from white and black communities are saying that the “Antifa” revolution “co-opted” their “peace march”. As illustrated above, this message is also being pushed by BOTH the Trump administration and the Democratic establishment. The truth is that rhetoric at demonstrations varies widely, with many black activists, figures and groups openly calling for more radical tactics, the abolition of policing as an institution, and insurrection against the state.

“First, I must confess that over the last few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Council-er or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can’t agree with your methods of direct action;” who paternalistically feels he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by the myth of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a “more convenient season.”

Shallow understanding from people of goodwill is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”

-Martin Luther King Jr.

Liberals and monied folks of all political persuasions understandably prefer a ‘reform and defund’ approach to policing as approved by a Black Lives Matter central committee, though which committee and where, and how its members were selected are all facts that are presently lacking. What many people are saying on social media is that a central committee somewhere is apparently very annoyed that some on the left and “far left”, had the audacity to stray from the approved “peaceful” message to engage in open insurrection following the incineration of a police station during a global pandemic and unprecedented economic collapse. George Floyd was the spark, but the uprising belongs to all of its participants.

In Nazi Germany, a sustained terror campaign waged by supporters of Adolf Hitler in the SturmAbteilung (SA) was blamed on the predecessors of Antifa, the SPD (Social Democratic Party) and the KPD (Communist Party). The terror campaign was also marked by assassinations and widespread disruption of public demonstrations. The crisis culminated with the burning of the German Parliament, the Reichstag. The act was blamed on a Dutch Communist, who was subsequently executed. It is accepted by historians that the Nazis orchestrated or at least facilitated the circumstances around the fire itself.

Following the fire, a member of the KPD published The Brown Book of the Reichstag Fire and Hitler Terror, a sort of Comintern after-action report. Among other things, this report labelled the SPD “Social Fascists” and accused the leadership of the SPD of secretly working with the Nazis. The Reichstag fire was condemned as a Nazi plot against their political opponents. The contributors noted that a group of elites was discernably controlling political outcomes. It is an almost tired trope for a fascist government to blame progressive radicals for chaos which was sown by unchecked state fascism, its paramilitary wing and the “hidden hand” that controlled them. Does this sound familiar?

What we’re seeing in America is a slow-moving Reichstag fire. There is a great national destruction and civil chaos. The burning of a police precinct  was sparked by the overreaches and repression of the state which has acted with impunity through privately controlled factions of police and other similar fascist groups. The military has been called in on the side of the institutions the people seek to abolish. But this is America, the people are armed, and the state will not prevail overnight. It might not prevail at all.

ACAB, a popular movement acronym, means ‘All Cops are Bastards’. This is a unifying rhetoric for the revolutionary sentiment. Nowhere in that statement, is echoed a call to ‘reform and defund’ policing as an institution. People want the prisons opened. People want the police replaced. Right now many Americans are facing the invocation of the Federal Insurrection Act, state-wide stay at home orders due to COVID-19 and curfews in their own city. Fascism reigns supreme. There have been over 100 attacks by police on Journalists in the last 4 days of unrest, across the country. The city of Cleveland banned reporters from the city. Police have shot at Americans on their doorsteps, in their places of work and have been permitted to use the surplus arms of exported conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan to bring terror and brutality to the nation’s streets.

The peasants are revolting and the elites are frankly, shaken.

It is abhorrent that a separate class is permitted to exist in society, which by its nature, terrorizes and compels others with absolute power over life and death. Thus, it follows that policing as an institution needs to be abolished, not reformed or defunded.

The revolutionary call in the United States clamours for alternatives to so many things but chief amongst those is the abolition of policing and prisons as institutions. After a week of unchecked and escalating violence and brutality, sparked in many cases by police who were eager to riot, many Americans have come to realize that they really hate the police. Policing is so contentious a question, I’d suggest that Americans are in the middle of a very rowdy national conversation about it, in much the same way they discussed abolition the last time around.

There is a horrifying new reality though. For millions of Americans who rose up and defended themselves, there is a forthcoming wave of state repression, far-right attacks and mass arrests. Many tens of thousands of black and white activists and normal civilians may imminently need to flee that country as humanitarian and political conditions deteriorate. As residents with conscience, in the country of Canada, which so conspicuously borders the United States, we must aid the American cause where we can.

Presently, the border is closed due to a pandemic. Asylum processes have ceased. These processes must be restarted and border crossings of some form must resume in order to let people flee a wave of politically motivated violence and persecution.

And this is deadly serious. If armed and organized Americans feel cornered by the state, police and far-right militias, all of whom are presently using force to subdue them, the result could easily be a bloodbath. Political figures are already calling for ‘Antifa’ to be hunted down. The answer is yet to be written in the ruin, but Canada should consider that the outcome of this conflict may set some tens of thousands on the move. This happened before, as conscientious objectors fled the Vietnam war draft.

As Canadians, and in particular, progressive Canadians we need to understand that America is about to change again, that it is failing as a country, and not because any one group, aesthetic or tactic was party to a civil conflict, despite what the President and his cronies tweet. In truth, state repression, police brutality, overt white supremacism and civil conflict was going to happen, one way or another, whether or not windows got broken and fires were set, and irrespective of who was responsible. Police were still killing black men with impunity, neo-nazis were still setting fire to Black-owned businesses and churches. Maybe it was slower repression, maybe it was a more hidden conflict, but is that progress? Well, we’re here now and the jack boot is kicking down the door.

It is an election year in America. Trump will try to place the singular blame for this crisis on his political opponents in the DNC as well as on anti-fascist movements and associations. If there’s one thing we’ve learned as he tweets from the bunker in 2020 America with legions of police and soldiers between himself and an angry mob—it’s that the president himself must be made to bear the lions share of blame. Millions are awake now, who yesterday slumbered. The events of the past five days have forced a national conversation, through crisis.  Oh America, where will you go?

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