By Michael R. Becker, Fresno, CA 02/13/2017
On Friday January 20th two Fresno area activists and I participated in Disrupt J20, an effort by a coalition of groups–especially in the DC/Baltimore–area to create disorder in Washington DC and thereby remind the world that January 20th was no ordinary day. January 20th marked the ascension of a fascist to the office of the President of the United States. By using a variety of tactics ranging from non-violent marches to civil disobedience to street militancy the groups and individuals involved in J20 wanted to demonstrate that the Trump regime would face a determined resistance, thereby continuing a wave of dissent against the new administration never before seen in American history.
It is important to note that this account is based on my experiences and those of my comrades. We do not speak for Disrupt J20 or any of the scores of organizations who participated in this national demonstration. In that light, we want to formally recognize all those involved in the incredible organizing and preparation that went into making Disrupt J20 a success. No major, national demonstration occurs without organizing efforts that begin months in advance.
St. Stephen & The Incarnation Episcopal Church in Washington DC provided a space for meetings, spokes councils, and for activists to sleep and store their belongings. The church has a progressive history to say the least, being described in the Washington Post in the late ‘60s as “one of the few viable political institutions in this politically emasculated Federal city—a militant, hit-the-street-and-demonstrate church.” Seeds of Peace and various Food Not Bombs chapters served meals in multiple locations over several days, including at the DC Courthouse for those being released from custody. The National Lawyers Guild continues to provide excellent legal support, for the 230 demonstrators arrested and charged with felony riot during the days of protest. A text message system was set up to provide instantaneous information and communication regarding ongoing resistance efforts. Black Bloc street medics provided immediate medical attention to those tear gassed, pepper sprayed, struck with batons or otherwise physically harmed by the paramilitary police forces who had gathered in DC from many area jurisdictions.
Anyone considering joining a major demonstration in the future should be aware that there are many crucial roles to play aside from actually being in the streets and that everyone’s efforts are respected and appreciated. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we want to recognize that DisruptJ20 is part of a fundamental re-orientation of protest in America that is organized from the bottom up and does not accept the internal policing of protest activity. To quote from the Disrupt J20 website: “#DisruptJ20 rejects all forms of domination and oppression, particularly those based on racism, poverty, gender & sexuality, organizes by consensus, and embraces a diversity of tactics.”
DisruptJ20 was primarily oriented around anti-fascism. One of the most frequently heard chants during the protests was “No Trump, no KKK, no fascist USA.” But is Trump’s movement fascistic? We believe it bears all of the classical aspects of fascism: first, there is a fanatical nationalism–Trump’s “America First” slogan is taken from the pro-Nazi, anti-Semitic, and racist Charles Lindbergh. In his inaugural speech Trump stated “At the bedrock of our politics will be a total allegiance to the United States of America” and that true Americans share “one glorious destiny.” A second core aspect of fascism is the idea of a messianic leader. Trump has consistently described the condition of the US in apocalyptic terms summed up in the inaugural phrase, “American carnage.” On the campaign trail and in his nomination acceptance speech Trump proclaimed that “only he could fix this.” And in the inaugural sermon, fanatical, anti-gay, anti-Catholic, anti-Mormon anti-Hindu and Anti-Muslim so-called Reverend Robert Jeffress intoned “President-elect Trump, you have been called by God to do a great work.” Certainly Trump’s childish rage at any criticism, from the media to the courts, reflects his megalomania–the perfect madness for a fascist leader. It is no wonder that Trump favorably compares himself with strongmen and derides any internationalist ideals or organizations.
Third, in keeping with his nationalism, Trump embraces a white supremacist and fundamentalist Protestant Christian ideal of national purity. Whether clearly or subtly he regularly conveys his support for a KKK version of white male America. Conversely he demonizes as alien, threatening, and “other,” groups who do not fit the noble white image of the Christian conservative. He is nativist, xenophobic, anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, racist, and homophobic. His disgusting displays of misogyny fit the fascists’ tendency to subordinate women within traditional gender roles. Fourth, fascism attempts to merge corporations and the state under the doctrine of corporatism. Except for military figures his cabinet is filled with billionaires. Corporate leaders from every sector have met in photo-ops with Trump, knowing that he will favor those who support him. Economist Edmund Phillips, no left winger by any stretch of the imagination, stated in a recent Project Syndicate article “Trump thinks that bullying corporations, such as Ford and Carrier, and aiding others, such as Google, will boost output and employment. This is an expansion of corporatist policy the likes of which have not been seen since the fascist German and Italian economies of the 1930s.” Trumpism certainly draws closely to fascism in regards to a fifth element, propaganda. Nazi Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels famously stated that “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. … It becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.” You could not do much better than this to describe Trump’s pathological tendency to lie and his attacks on anyone–the media, political opponents, learned authorities, the courts, members of Congress–who contests his fantastical claims. What is against Trump is fake news and what is for Trump is truth no matter the content. He has repeatedly threatened the press. And protesters who use constitutionally protected means of expression like flag burning “should face deportation” according to Trump though flag burning is protected speech and the Court banned the use of deportation as a criminal penalty deeming it an unconstitutional infringement on the 14th amendment right of citizenship. Fascists routinely flout civil liberties.
Finally, Trump not only supports but encourages violence by his supporters. During rallies he exhorted supporters to punch, throw out, kick and otherwise physically abuse protesters, promising to pay any legal bills they might incur. Recall too the incident in Boston last August in which two white men severely beat a Latino homeless man. “Donald Trump was right,” the two men said, according to police, as they beat the man with a metal pipe and then urinated on him. “All these illegals need to be deported.” When Trump was first told of the incident he responded “the people that are following me are very passionate. They love this country; they want this country to be great again.” Police departments around the country, academics who study the issue and the Southern Poverty Law center (among others) have noted the surge in hate crimes since the election of Trump.
So it was mainly in light of the unique threat that Trump poses that DisruptJ20 sought to contest the peaceful transfer of power. Organizing took place through a series of spokes councils–basically, delegates of different groups meeting to develop a strategy and set of tactics for disrupting the inauguration. These discussions, held over months, led to a series of planned actions the first of which was a militant confrontation of the “Deploraball” at the National Press Building in DC on the night of January 19th. The Deploraball was a gathering of alt-right Trump supporters who held an inaugural ball to celebrate Trump’s victory. Attendees were met by protesters who chanted against them, displayed giant digital messages against them on the wall of the National Press Building, burned Make America Great Again hats and set fires in the streets, fought with aggressive Trump supporters, and scuffled with Deploraballers escorted out of the event by police. On inauguration Day blockades of security checkpoints, including the use of lock downs, were established in an attempt to disrupt the flow of Trump supporters seeking to attend the inaugural ceremonies. The blockades were organized by various groups from LGBTQ folks to Standing Rock water keepers. Perhaps the most successful blockade was staged by Black Lives Matters and supporters who completely shut down one checkpoint for several hours. At all of the checkpoints Trump supporters were met with masses of people who resolutely opposed every aspect of Trump’s noxious policies and principles.
Throughout the day various marches snaked through the streets contesting Trump and his supporters. Portable stereos, marching bands, street theater troupes, folks with megaphones, a floating Republican elephant emblazoned with the word racism, countless signs and symbols all served to undermine the festive mood that Trump supporters failed to create. Thousands of anti-Trump signs were displayed, walls were graphited; and nearly every post, pole, telephone box and bus stop in the area of the inaugural had anti-Trump stickers slapped on them. More militant protesters snatched banners, hats, posters, and other Trump symbols especially those waved by more aggressive Trump supporters. The few bikers for Trump (said to number in the millions!) stood idly by.
An anti-fascist/anti-capitalist march set off from Logan Circle and the black bloc engaged in targeted property destruction, smashing the windows of corporate businesses from Starbucks to McDonalds to banks financing the Dakota Access Pipeline. Many were arrested and the black boc was again confronted at 17th and K streets (K street is infamous as a headquarters for major corporate lobbying firms). This time black bloc broke through police lines and a standoff ensued with police firing pepper spray and throwing flash bang/concussion grenades and protesters responding with eggs, bottles, rocks, and bricks. Shortly after a limousine was completely smashed, graffitied and then set on fire. Some of Trump’s proudly displayed photos of the “biggest inaugural crowd in history” show black smoke from the torched limo billowing up in the background. Six cops were hurt and over 230 were arrested during the day’s events.
We contend that Disrupt J20 was a smashing success, pun intended. The presence of a determined, large, and uncompromising opposition to Trumpism was evident all around DC throughout the day. It is inconceivable that a single Trump supporter would not have been directly confronted at some point by anti-Trump protesters. More importantly, the media covered the demonstrations extensively with exposure carrying over to the following days. Some media outlets cut away form the live coverage of inaugural proceedings and the inaugural march to report on the events unfolding in the streets. In disrupting the inauguration notice was served that masses of Americans reject Trump’s fascism and are willing to use a wide variety of means to stop his administration. Of course we were not alone in DC. Major counter-inaugural demos also occurred in New York, Seattle, Dallas, Chicago and Portland with similar peaceful and militant tactics employed in each location.
In our view, especially in tandem with the absolutely massive women’s marches around the country and the world on January 21st, a wide front of anti-Trumpism has been clearly established. There are those who say that militant tactics have no place, that they invite a police crackdown, allow a space for provocateurs, and are morally reprehensible. We argue that this view might be more acceptable under normal circumstances. These are not normal circumstances. No one disdains non-violence as weak, ineffective, politically correct and irrelevant more than fascists. A Gandhian’s moral courage is seen by fascists as pathetic. Stokely Carmichael noted that nonviolence only works with an opponent who has a moral conscience. Fascists don’t. Moreover, a sort of scripted, state-sanctioned protest protocol has emerged in which police assist non-violent protesters in getting out their message which the corporate media does not cover and the state gladly dismisses. And even if they do cover it, power, as the self-liberated slave and abolitionist Fredric Douglass wrote, “concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.’ Non-violence alone never creates a demand that the power elite take any notice of.
Under a fascistic government the citizens must become ungovernable and nothing empowers ungovernable more than direct action. By the latter we mean what Emma Goldman meant. She wrote “Anarchism stands for direct action, the open defiance of, and resistance to, all laws and restrictions, economic, social, and moral. But defiance and resistance are illegal. Therein lies the salvation of man. Everything illegal necessitates integrity, self-reliance, and courage. In short, it calls for free, independent spirits.”
If you say militancy invites police crackdowns when have the police ever not cracked down? The police exist to protect property and all the modes of hierarchy inherent in property: class, race, gender, sexual orientation and so on. The police are paid to crack down and thereby preserve the status quo. If Trumpism leads to the imposition of martial law it will not be due to the black bloc; it will be due to fascism. If that scenario, let alone militancy, evokes fear on your part we would say fear is natural. Confronting the police directly induces fear. But it also induces an unremitting anger. What fascists want is for your fear to immobilize you. Direct action turns the fear into action aiming at real liberty and equality. And, if you are a white, privileged, citizen of the United States, especially if you are male, can you really talk about fear in America today? Tell it to a Muslim or an undocumented immigrant or an African American or a woman or a queer. Better that you begin to see your solidarity with every person who is targeted by Trump and get some nerve.
As for morality, an abstract pacifism may be the more morally sound position. But politics is not an abstraction. If you pay taxes you support the most violent state ever invented. When it acts in your name and threatens the values you hold dear, you have every right to act politically using tactics of non-violence. You also have a right to try to police protesters who choose different tactics. But note that in doing so, or, worse, in helping the police to arrest an anti-fascist militant, you have taken an active role in aiding the fascists. A god may forgive you; we surely will not. The time has come for taking sides and choosing how far your abstract pacifism will extend in real political practice. We absolutely support non-violent tactics, just as we support anyone who is engaged in anti-fascist resistance. It is a massive resistance to Trumpism, one that recognizes unity among pacifists and militants alike and one that will consistently organize and resist at all levels, that has the best chance of stopping Trumpism.