Archive for the ‘Civil Liberties’ Category


Alt-country player Al Perry’s song and video, “Jukebox Jihad,” has evidently fallen victim to the PC police — outraged by, what else?, “islamophobia” — and has been taken down by Youtube. (We put “censored” in quotes in the headline, because it’s within Youtube’s rights to only host what they want; but the political intent, the desire to restrict political speech, is obvious.)

Here’s the takedown notice:

If you haven’t heard the song, “Jukebox Jihad” is a rockabilly tune, light, funny mockery (admittedly in questionable taste) of the murderous religious fanatics who have slaughtered and enslaved tens, probably hundreds, of thousands of people, most of whom were/are their fellow Muslims.

We loathe attacks on free speech. We loathe anything smacking of censorship. And we loathe those who think they know what others should be allowed to see and hear.

So, we’ve just put up the “Jukebox Jihad” video on the See Sharp Press web site. I spoke with Al earlier this evening, and he encourages others to download “Jukebox Jihad” and put it up on their own sites.

Without further ado, here’s the link to “Jukebox Jihad.”

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Over the last week, we’ve seen several violent clashes between Nazis and counterprotesters. (Nazis might call themselves “alt-right,” “white separatists,” etc. Rather than give any credence to such rebranding, we’re calling them what they are: Nazis.)

It’s necessary to resist these losers, these tools of the powers that be. Violent defense of self and others is perfectly justified to repel physical attack.

But physically attacking people who are merely exercising free speech, no matter how loathsome, is never justified.

Last night, I saw a video of antifa protesters physically attacking Nazi organizer Richard Spencer, who was standing before microphones answering reporters’ questions. I was horrified on several counts counts:

  • Either you believe in free speech or you don’t. The principle of free speech applies to even the most loathsome speech — especially to the most loathsome speech. Once you start making exceptions for speech you really hate, it’s a very slippery slope to banning speech that anyone really hates, in which case freedom of speech vanishes. (“Anyone” here applies to any individual, group, or organization with the physical power to intimidate or beat others into silence.)

Another antifa protestor provided exactly the justification you’d expect for the assault on free speech, labeling it “violent speech,” saying that it was too “dangerous” to be allowed. (Speech is speech. Violence — physical attack on people or animals — is violence. These two wildly different things are not the same, and mere conflation of the two is not a convincing argument that they are.)

This is a broken record, the same rationale cited by every thug and bully since time immemorial who wants to deny others the right to free speech.

To bolster their position, one half expects antifas to begin citing the ancient half-witticism by authoritarian jurist Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. concerning “yelling fire in a crowded theater.” (Again, political speech is political speech; yelling fire isn’t — short of transubstantiation, it’s impossible to make the two identical.)

  • The antifa protestors physically attacking Spencer do not understand the most basic anarchist principle: The ends do not justify the means; rather, means determine ends. If you employ violent, authoritarian means, you’ll achieve violent authoritarian ends. In this case, the attacking antifas abrogated to themselves the right to determine what others can say. This is straight up authoritarianism.

Beyond that, there’s the simple matter of optics.

  • The video of the attack was shocking and repulsive. How in hell did those guilty of the assault expect people who witnessed the assault to react to it? “Good for you! A group of you beat up an unarmed man to prevent him from speaking! What a display of principles!”

As others have pointed out, such assaults give the moral high ground to the Nazis — the only moral high ground they can claim. Those who attacked Spencer achieved the near impossible: making a Nazi appear sympathetic.

In a related matter, I saw an interview with an antifa protestor blithely talking about deliberate property destruction during demonstrations. Yes, yes, yes, property is just property, vandalism and sabotage are not violence because they’re directed against things, not people or animals. Agreed.

But again, don’t they understand the optics?

When people see protesters smashing in the windows of, for instance, a Starbucks, it’s a fair bet that a good majority of them won’t say to themselves, “Another inspiring blow against global capitalism!” It seems more likely that they’ll say, “Why the tantrum? Why don’t they just grow up?”

An important matter here that no one seems to be talking about is that such property destruction is not a sign of strength; not a sign of good planning; not a sign of the organization necessary to the free, egalitarian reorganization of society.

Rather, wanton property destruction is a sign of weakness.

Real revolutionary change involves taking over existing structures (including physical structures) and transforming them, not wantonly trashing them — which is a sign that you’re letting off steam because you have no idea of how to get from here to there, no idea of how to get from this authoritarian, racist, sexist, exploitative society to the the society that you say you want.

Again — and it shouldn’t be necessary to say this — defending yourself and others from violent assault from fascists is completely justified.

But don’t confuse that with suppressing free speech.

Please realize that the ends do not justify the means. Means determine ends.


(We ran an earlier, considerably shorter version of this post in September 2013. As you might have noticed, things have changed a bit since then.)

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REFERENCES TO FASCISM abound in American political discourse. Unfortunately, most of those using the term wouldn’t recognize fascism if it bit ’em on the butt, and use it as a catch-all pejorative for anything or anyone they dislike. But the term does have a specific meaning.

Very briefly, as exemplified in Nazi Germany and Mussolini’s Italy, fascism is an extreme right political-economic system (which Mussolini dubbed “the corporate state”), the key features of which are strident nationalism, militarism and military worship, a one-party state, a dictatorial leader with a personality cult, a capitalist economic system integrated with state institutions (to the mutual benefit of capitalists and fascist politicians), suppression of independent unions, suppression of civil liberties and all forms of political opposition, and an aggressive, expansionist foreign policy.

The racism, racial scapegoating, and racial persecution that permeated German fascism are not part of fascism per se, unless one wants to classify extreme nationalism as racism. There’s a case to be made for that, but for now let’s consider them as separate maladies. As well, since the topic of this post is the comparison of Nazi Germany to the U.S.A., we will consider racism as well as fascism in the comparisons.

Getting to the headline topic, just how similar is the present-day U.S. to Nazi Germany? Let’s look at specifics:

Nationalism

  • Nazi Germany: Deutschland Uber Alles
  • US.: “American exceptionalism,” “God Bless America,” “Manifest Destiny,” etc.

Corporate Capitalist Domination

  • Nazi Germany: The German industrialists (notably the Krup armaments company) were key Hitler backers, and benefited handsomely from his rule.
  • U.S.: Trump has filled his cabinet with people from the fossil fuel industries (Rex Tillerson, et al.) and big banks, notably Goldman Sachs (Steven Mnuchin, et al.); Obama’s primary 2008 backers were Wall Street firms and the pharmaceutical companies; Bush/Cheney’s were the energy companies’ boys, etc.

Militarism

  • Nazi Germany: The Nazis  constructed the world’s most powerful military in six years (1933-1939).
  • U.S.: U.S. military spending currently accounts for approximately 43% of the world’s military spending; the U.S. has hundreds of military bases overseas; and Trump wants to increase military spending.

Military Worship

  • Nazi Germany: Do I really need to cite examples?
  • U.S.: “Support our troops!” “Our heroes!” “Thank you for your service!” Military worship is almost a state religion in the United States. Tune in to almost any baseball broadcast for abundant examples; this worship even extends to those on what passes for the left in the United States: Michael Moore, Stephen Colbert, Rachel Maddow.

Military Aggression

  • Nazi Germany: “Lebensraum”–you know the rest.
  • U.S.: To cite only examples from the last half century where there were significant numbers of “boots on the ground,” Vietnam (1959-1973), the Dominican Republic (1965), Cambodia (1970), Grenada (1983), Panama (1988-1990), Kuwait/Iraq (1991), Afghanistan (2001-present), Iraq (2003-2011). And this doesn’t even include bombing campaigns and drone warfare.

Incarceration Rates

  • Nazi Germany: The Nazis built concentration camps holding (and exterminating) millions, and employing slave labor.
  • U.S.: In comparison, the U.S. has by far the highest incarceration rate in the industrialized world, far outstripping China, with only Russia’s incarceration rate being anywhere near that of the U.S. Slave labor is routine in America’s prisons.

Justice System

  • Nazi Germany: The Nazis had a three-tiered “justice” system: one for the rich and powerful (who could get away with virtually anything); a second for the average citizen; a third for despised minorities and political foes.
  • U.S.: There’s also a three-tiered “justice” system here: one for the rich and powerful (who can get away with virtually anything); a second for middle-class white people; and a third for everyone else. It’s no accident that America’s prisons are filled with poor people, especially blacks and hispanics. At the same time cops routinely get away with murder of blacks, hispanics, and poor whites. Obama’s “Justice” Department never even investigated the largest financial fraud in world history that led to the 2008 crash, let alone charged those responsible; prosecutors routinely pile on charges against average citizens to blackmail them into plea bargaining and pleading guilty to charges of which they’re not guilty; and the Obama Administration (and now the Trump Administration) viciously goes after whistleblowers and reporters, who have exposed its wrongdoing–Chelsea Manning, Julian Assange, Edward Snowden, Thomas Drake, James Risen, et al.

Suppression of Unions

  • Nazi Germany: In Nazi Germany, the government tightly controlled the unions, and used them as arms of the state.
  • U.S.: In the U.S., the government merely suppresses strikes when “in the national interest” and allows corporations to crush union organizing drives through intimidation and by firing anyone who dares to attempt to organize. (Admittedly, the sell-out, visionless AFL-CIO unions bear considerable responsibility for this sad state of affairs.)

Free Speech

  • Nazi Germany: Total suppression of free speech; direct government control of the media.
  • U.S.: There’s near total corporate control of the media, and suppression of free speech when it shows the faintest sign of threatening, or even embarrassing, the government or the corporations that control the government. Obama’s war on whistleblowers and reporters — and now Trump’s — is only the latest example. Of late, Trump has upped the ante, routinely attacking journalists who report anything even slightly embarrassing to him, or who point out any of his almost innumerable lies.

Other Civil Liberties

  • Nazi Germany: Total suppression.
  • U.S.: Suppression when individuals exercising those liberties show the faintest sign of threatening the government or the corporations that control the government. The coordinated suppression (by the FBI, local governments, and corporate security agencies) of the Occupy Movement nationwide is the latest large-scale example.

Government Spying

  • Nazi Germany: The government had a massive eavesdropping operation. No citizen was safe from government scrutiny.
  • U.S.: The FBI, DHS, and NSA make the Nazis look like amateurs.

Free Elections

  • Nazi Germany: Total suppression
  • U.S.: U.S. citizens have the opportunity to vote for the millionaire representatives (over half of congress at last count) of the two wings of the property party: one wing being authoritarian, corporate-servant, crazy theofascists (yes, they meet the definition), the other wing being merely authoritarian corporate servants who routinely betray those who elect them. It’s also pertinent that the Republicans are doing their best to destroy what passes for American electoral democracy through egregious gerrymandering and voter suppression on an industrial scale.

Racism

  • Nazi Germany: Do I even need to cite details?
  • U.S.A.: (We’ll restrict ourselves here to the present.) The “justice” system imprisons blacks at a rate over five times that of whites, and hispanics at a rate about 30% higher than whites. Cops routinely get away with murdering poor people, a disproportionate number of them blacks and hispanics. Median household wealth for whites is 13 times that of blacks. And median household income for whites is 60% higher than that of blacks and hispanics. Donald Trump’s hateful rhetoric and racial scapegoating of Mexicans is merely the cherry atop this merde sundae.

Personality Cult

  • Nazi Germany: Again, do I even need to cite details?
  • U.S.A.: Trump worship is rampant on the evangelical right, who see this steaming pile of hypocrisy and narcissism as the means to their vicious ends. And Trump encourages sycophancy. The cringe-inducing filmed cabinet meeting a couple of months ago in which the cabinet secretaries heaped fulsome (in both senses of the word) praise and thanks on the dear leader is but one example. Another example: Yesterday, presidential aide and Trump toady Steven Miller said on Fox “News” that Trump — who would likely flunk a fourth-grade English test — was the “best orator to hold that office [president] in generations.”

Yes, there are very significant differences between Nazi Germany and the U.S. But they seem to grow smaller with every passing day.


(With the 72nd anniversary of the Hiroshima atrocity fast approaching, and with U.S. military spending at an all time high — nearly half of world military spending — please consider what Keith McHenry has to say about how America treats its poorest and most helpless citizens, and about a fitting way to commemorate the Hiroshima civilian massacre.)

San Jose bans free meals in St. James Park. We’ll protest by providing a free vegan meal on Hiroshima Day, August 6

by Keith McHenry, co-founder of Food Not Bombs

Please consider helping us distribute free food without a permit — a possible misdemeanor — at St. James Park in San Jose at 2:00 PM on August 6, the 72nd anniversary of America’s nuclear bombing of Hiroshima.

Food Not Bombs has been sharing free vegan meals at the park for more than 15 years, and is just one of many groups that have been sharing meals there with the hungry.

“We believe that it’s a church’s right to be able to feed the poor,” said Pastor Scott Wagers of CHAM Ministries, which has been sharing meals with the hungry in St James Park for 20 years. “That’s an extension of our religious freedom, and the bottom line is we’ll fight for this.”

Matt Cano, assistant parks and recreation director, in an attempt to justify the ban, told the San Jose Mercury News that “Everybody is really focused on making sure that the daily experience of everybody using the park, whether it’s a resident who lives near there or someone doing business near there, is a great experience. We are trying to reactivate the park, with things like yoga, movies at night, running clubs. We all need great open spaces.”

Councilman Raul Peralez wrote a letter to homeless advocates — again attempting to justify the ban — saying, “Feeding our homeless must be done in a manner that is consistent and combined with the other wrap-around services that our homeless neighbors need to get back on their feet.”

Councilman Peralez is advancing the failed theory that “street feeding” enables the homeless to stay homeless[!] and that they would have access to recovery programs and jobs if they where unable to get meals on the streets and were forced to eat indoors at “established” programs.

Why are they doing this now? Participants in the social networking site Nextdoor generated e-mails to city officials urging them to stop the sharing of meals at St. James Park. This e-mail campaign might not have reflected the true feelings of many in the community and may have been inspired by the police and business interests. [Editors’ Note: Nextdoor is largely populated by the type of busybodies who infest neighborhood associations.]

Fortune magazine reported in July 2014 that “Nextdoor had formed more than 170 partnerships with police departments and agencies, add[ing] new cities at a much faster clip, potentially leading to a new phase of growth for the site.”

“I view Nextdoor as neighborhood watch for the 21st century,” says Lt. Chris Bolton of the Oakland Police Department, who helped pilot his department’s partnership with Nextdoor in April 2014.

So, that’s in part where the impetus for the new law came from.

Over 70 American cities have passed laws banning or limiting the sharing of free food outside in public spaces. So far in the first seven months of this year, authorities arrested Food Not Bombs volunteers in Tampa, told Miami Food Not Bombs volunteers they couldn’t share food, and have introduced a new ordinance against sharing meals outside in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida.

Police told Food Not Bombs they had to stop sharing meals in Buffalo, New York, Eureka, California, and sent health department officials to interfere with Food Not Bombs in Champaign Urbana, Illinois. The struggle for the right of Food Not Bombs to share meals outside in Houston, Texas is also heating up, and anti-homeless advocates in Santa Cruz, California continue their attempts to close the twice weekly Food Not Bombs meal.

Public outcry against these efforts to stop people from providing free food for with the hungry has inspired the creation of the myth mentioned above about the dangers of “street feeding,” claiming meals shared on the streets “enable the homeless” and discourage them from seeking recovery services. This theory is being adopted by cities all across the United States as justification for laws banning free meals.

Robert Marbut, a consultant hired by cities to address homelessness, is likely the most prominent advocate of this theory, and has been hired as a highly paid consultant by several cities.

NPR’s Rachel Martin interviewed Marbut in 2014 after the City of Ft. Lauderdale, Florida generated headlines about the arrest of 90-year-old Arnold Abbott and Food Not Bombs volunteers for sharing food outside the downtown library. Said Marbut, “[I]f you give food on the street, you end up in a very convoluted way, but still an important way, you end up preventing people from going into 24/7 programming.”

Marbut’s “The Seven Guiding Principles of Homeless Transformation — Moving from Enablement to Engagement” states, in principle 6, “Street feeding programs without comprehensive services actually increase and promote homelessness.”

[Editor’s Note: Yes, it’s not sky-high rents and lack of decent-paying jobs that drive people into homelessness, it’s the yummy free food.]

Marbut’s model program is the 37-acre Haven for Hope campus that opened in the summer of 2010 in his home town of San Antonio, Texas. Local media welcomed the opening: “Comprehensive services like those provided at Haven For Hope are typically only available in state prisons.” The campus has 550 closed-circuit television cameras and a staff of 40 security guards.

The San Antonio Express published an article in 2015 titled “Street feeding causing headaches” It read in part: “When Haven opened in 2010, the city made street feeding of the homeless illegal, unless it’s done by licensed kitchens.” The only high profile enforcement of this law was against a licensed kitchen. Chef Joan Cheever, owner of Chow Train, was cited and threatened with a $2,000 fine for sharing food with the hungry at Maverick Park in April of 2015.

But sending people to Haven For Hope, and the law against sharing food with the hungry on the streets, has failed to force the homeless out of sight. Sixteen years after outlawing “street feeding” in San Antonio, the Rivard Report reported on the Department of Public Works and Haven For Hope’s program of periodic cleanups of homeless camps: “Dozens of homeless camps are hiding in plain sight throughout downtown San Antonio.”

San Antonio is not the only city to witness the failure of programs based on Marbut’s theory. Fort Smith, Arkansas, Placer County and Fresno, California, Daytona Beach, Ft. Lauderdale, Key West, Sarasota, St. Petersburg and Pensacola, Florida are among the cities that tried Marbut’s program only to find hundreds of people still forced to live in the streets.

St Petersburg, Florida hired Marbut, and at his suggestion opened The Pinellas Safe Harbor facility in the old county jail. According to sheriff’s department data collected from 2011 through 2013, just 7% of those leaving the facility found permanent housing, while 3% went to another shelter or to a friend or relative. Most returned to the streets within a month.

The effort to make it more difficult for people to have access to food (“street feeding” — as if they were animals) comes at time when the federal government is drafting legislation that would cut food stamps, Meals on Wheels, and other aid to the poorest Americans, while redirecting those tax dollars to an increase in military spending and tax breaks for corporations and the 1%.

Trump’s 2018 budget asks for $192 billion in cuts to food stamps over the next decade. He intends to cut funding for after-school programs that help provide food to 1.6 million children, and he is asking for changes that would cut millions of dollars from Meals on Wheels.

Over 13% of the American population currently receive SNAP food stamp benefits, including low income families, the elderly, people with disabilities, and those who have recently lost their job. They receive an average of about $4.17 per day or $1.39 per meal. Nearly half of SNAP recipients are children. That’s 20 million kids or 1 in 4 Americans under the age of 18.

The US Congress just passed a huge increase in military spending exceeding Trump’s proposed “defense” budget request by $18.5 billion. The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) would spend $696 billion on the military in fiscal year 2018, beyond President Trump’s requested budget — a budget the White House boosted as a “historic increase in defense spending.” The NDAA received bipartisan support, with 117 House Democrats and all but eight Republicans voting in favor.

There has never been a more important time to support more food and fewer bombs. If you cannot join Food Not Bombs in San Jose on August 6th, please consider organizing a solidarity meal that weekend in your own community. Make a sign or banner supporting San Jose Food Not Bombs and share photos of your action with menu@foodnotbombs.net. Invite local media to report on your solidarity meal.

You can also write San Jose’s mayor Sam Liccardo at mayoremail@sanjoseca.gov and council member Raul Peralez at district3@sanjoseca.gov and tell them to support the right to share meals with the hungry at St James Park.

Food Not Bombs, and the hungry people we serve, would appreciate it.


(For the last few months we’ve been running the best posts from years past, posts that will be new to most of our subscribers. This one is from 2013. We’ll be posting more blasts from the past for the next several months, and will intersperse them with new material.)

* * *

Yesterday I was talking with a friend, one of my band mates, and mentioned that the (Tucson) cops had beaten my neighbor across the street, arrested him, and charged him with assaulting an officer and resisting arrest. (Why, yes, how did you guess? I don’t live in a gated community.)

My friend then mentioned that Tucson cops had beaten one of his coworkers so badly a few weeks ago that the guy ended up with traumatic brain injury and a speech impediment. (And, yes, now that you ask, the coworker is Mexican.)

He lived in an apartment on the south side, and heard his next door neighbor beating his girlfriend. He intervened and got in a fight with the neighbor. At that point, the cops arrived, and the beaten neighbor woman claimed my friend’s coworker had assaulted her and her boyfriend. This enraged my friend’s coworker, he went verbally ballistic, and out came the truncheons. Following the beating the cops gave him, they charged him with assaulting an officer (no cops were injured, of course) and resisting arrest.

Because of the brain injury he sustained, my pal’s beaten coworker is now suing the police and the city. This incident could cost the city (meaning the city’s taxpayers) hundreds of thousands and perhaps over a million bucks.

But this is nothing new. Back in the 1970s, eight Tucson cops beat a political-activist friend of mine and charged him with — ta-da — assaulting an officer, resisting arrest, and aggravated assault. (None of the cops were injured, of course, and the only evidence was the testimony of the cops.) The county attorney brought the case to trial, and all of the cops perjured themselves. Fortunately, the victim had a good attorney who picked apart the cops’ testimony revealing numerous irreconcilable inconsistencies, and he was acquitted. The victim never received any compensation, and none of the cops were ever charged with perjury or conspiracy.

While I lived in San Francisco in the 1980s, a friend of mine who was carrying her one-year-old baby encountered two SF cops beating a guy, who was down on the ground, with truncheons near the entrance to the 24th Street BART station. She yelled at them to stop, and they maced her and the baby. You can guess what they charged her with.

In the same city in 1992, another friend of mine–Keith McHenry, a well known activist, who was under surveillance by the cops–was beaten so badly at a demonstration that he needed reconstructive facial surgery. Again, it’s not hard to guess who got charged–my friend or the cop who smashed in his face–and with what.

How do cops get away with such brutal crap? There are several reasons. The first is that they have all the resources of the state behind them, while their victims are usually poor. The second is that the cops are normally buddy-buddy with prosecutors. The third is that witnesses are often afraid of the cops and reluctant to come forward. (Here in Tucson, some witnesses and victims are undocumented immigrants, who for good reason rarely come forward.) The fourth reason is related to the third–that the only witnesses to beating incidents who testify are very often only the cops themselves. A fifth reason is that police routinely perjure themselves. (Nobody has less respect for the law than cops. Even “good cops” routinely perjure themselves to protect their brutal colleagues, because of peer pressure.) And a sixth reason is that juries tend to skew toward older white people — in other words, people who are likely to believe cops and are not likely to be sympathetic to black, brown, or poor white beating victims — and the state’s attorneys always do their best to get such juries. As a defense attorney once told a friend, prosecutors always try to get “Mormons and morons” seated on juries in police beating cases–people gullible enough to believe the testimony of cops.

Because of all this, it’s very difficult for victims to win police brutality cases. A few years ago an attorney who sometimes handles such cases showed me a large blow-up photo he had used in court. It showed the swollen, battered face of one of his clients. The police had beaten him with a long (D-cell) metal flashlight so badly that they caved in one of the victim’s eye sockets and then charged him with (Do I even need to mention this?) assaulting an officer and resisting arrest. The victim lost the brutality case.

I’ve seen proposals recently that cops wear helmet cameras to record everything they do. This is being sold as a crime-fighting move. It’s a good idea, but I doubt that it will have any effect on crime other than  reducing crime committed by the cops themselves. And then only if there’s no way for the cops to turn the cameras off. But even if supposedly constant-recording helmet cams become standard, how much do you want to bet that they won’t many, many times “malfunction” in assaulting-an-officer / resisting-arrest cases?


(For the last couple of months we’ve been running the best posts from years past, posts that will be new to most of our subscribers. We’re just starting to run blasts from the past from 2014 — this is the first — and will be posting them for the next few months; we’ll intersperse them with new material.)

Anarchism: What It Is and What It Isn’t

Anarchist Cookbook front cover(from the new [2015] Anarchist Cookbook, by Keith McHenry with Chaz Bufe, Introduction by Chris Hedges)

by Chaz Bufe

There are many popular misconceptions about anarchism, and because of them a great many people dismiss anarchists and anarchism out of hand.

Misconceptions abound in the mass media, where the term “anarchy” is commonly used as a synonym for “chaos,” and where terrorists, no matter what their political beliefs or affiliations, are often referred to as “anarchists.” As well, when anarchism is mentioned, it’s invariably presented as merely a particularly mindless form of youthful rebellion. These misconceptions are, of course, also widespread in the general public, which by and large allows the mass media to do what passes for its thinking.

Worse, some who call themselves “anarchists” don’t even know the meaning of the term. These people fall, in general, into two classes. The first, as the great Italian anarchist Luigi Fabbri pointed out nearly a century ago in Influencias burguesas sobre el anarquismo, consists of those who are attracted to the lies in the mass media. By and large, these people are simply looking for a glamorous label for selfish, antisocial behavior. The good news is that most of them eventually mature and abandon what they consider “anarchism.” The bad news is that while they’re around they tend to give anarchism a very bad name. As Fabbri put it:

[These are] persons who are not repelled by the absurd, but who, on the contrary, engage in it. They are attracted to projects and ideas precisely because they are absurd; and so anarchism comes to be known precisely for the illogical character and ridiculousness which ignorance and bourgeois calumny have attributed to anarchist doctrines.1

The second class consists of those who equate anarchism with some pet ideology having essentially nothing to do with anarchism. In modern times, the most prominent of these mislabeled beliefs have been primitivism and amoral egoism. Again, the identification of such beliefs with anarchism tends to give anarchism a bad name, because of, on the one hand, the absurdity of primitivism and, on the other, the obvious antisocial nature of amoral egotism. To put this another way, the identification of anarchism with chaos, mindless rebellion, absurdities (such as primitivism), and antisocial attitudes and behaviors (such as amoral egoism) has three primary undesirable effects: 1) it allows people to easily dismiss anarchism and anarchists; 2) it makes it much more difficult to explain anarchism to them, because they already think that they know what it is and have rejected it; and 3) it attracts a fair number of what Fabbri calls “empty headed and frivolous types,” and occasionally outright sociopaths, whose words and actions tend to further discredit anarchism.

So, if we’re ever to get anywhere, we need to make plain what anarchism is and what it isn’t. First, let’s deal with the misconceptions.

What Anarchism Isn’t

Anarchism is not terrorism. An overwhelming majority of anarchists have always rejected terrorism, because they’ve been intelligent enough to realize that means determine ends, that terrorism is inherently vanguardist, and that even when “successful” it almost always leads to bad results. The anonymous authors of You Can’t Blow Up a Social Relationship: The Anarchist Case Against Terrorism put it like this:

You can’t blow up a social relationship. The total collapse of this society would provide no guarantee about what replaced it. Unless a majority of people had the ideas and organization sufficient for the creation of an alternative society, we would see the old world reassert itself because it is what people would be used to, what they believed in, what existed unchallenged in their own personalities.

Proponents of terrorism and guerrillaism are to be opposed because their actions are vanguardist and authoritarian, because their ideas, to the extent that they are substantial, are wrong or unrelated to the results of their actions (especially when they call themselves libertarians or anarchists), because their killing cannot be justified, and finally because their actions produce either repression with nothing in return, or an authoritarian regime.2

Decades of government and corporate slander cannot alter this reality: the overwhelming majority of anarchists reject terrorism for both practical and ethical reasons. In the late 1990s, Time magazine called Ted Kaczynski “the king of the anarchists”; but that doesn’t make it so. Time‘s words are just another typical, perhaps deliberately dishonest, attempt to tar all anarchists with the terrorist brush.

This is not to say that armed resistance is never appropriate. Clearly there are situations in which one has little choice, as when facing a dictatorship that suppresses civil liberties and prevents one from acting openly, which has happened repeatedly in many countries. Even then, armed resistance should be undertaken reluctantly and as a last resort, because violence is inherently undesirable due to the suffering it causes; because it provides repressive regimes excuses for further repression; because it provides them with the opportunity to commit atrocities against civilians and to blame those atrocities on their “terrorist” opponents; and because, as history has shown, the chances of success are very low.

Even though armed resistance may sometimes be called for in repressive situations, it’s a far different matter to succumb to the romance of the gun and to engage in urban guerrilla warfare in relatively open societies in which civil liberties are largely intact and in which one does not have mass popular support at the start of one’s violent campaign. Violence in such situations does little but drive the public into the “protective” arms of the government; narrow political dialogue (tending to polarize the populace into pro- and anti-guerrilla factions); turn politics into a spectator sport for the vast majority of people3; provide the government with the excuse to suppress civil liberties; and induce the onset of repressive regimes “better” able to handle the “terrorist” problem than their more tolerant predecessors. It’s also worth mentioning that the chances of success of such violent, vanguardist campaigns are microscopic. They are simply arrogant, ill-thought-out roads to disaster.4

Anarchism is not primitivism. In recent decades, groups of quasi-religious mystics have begun equating the primitivism they advocate (rejection of science, rationality, and technology—often lumped together under the blanket term, “technology”) with anarchism.5 In reality, the two have nothing to do with each other, as we’ll see when we consider what anarchism actually is—a set of philosophical/ethical precepts and organizational principles designed to maximize human freedom. For now, suffice it to say that the elimination of technology advocated by primitivist groups would inevitably entail the deaths of literally billions of human beings in a world utterly dependent upon interlocking technologies for everything from food production/delivery to communications to medical treatment. This fervently desired outcome, the elimination of technology, could only come about through means which are the absolute antithesis of anarchism: the use of coercion and violence on a mass scale, as it’s inconceivable that a majority of human beings would voluntarily give up such things as running water, sewer systems, modern medicine, electric lights, and warm houses in the winter.6

Anarchism is not chaos; Anarchism is not rejection of organization. This is another popular misconception, repeated ad nauseam by the mass media and by anarchism’s political foes. Even a brief look at the works of anarchism’s leading theoreticians and writers confirms that this belief is in error. Over and over in the writings of Proudhon, Bakunin, Kropotkin, Rocker, Ward, Bookchin, et al., one finds not a rejection of organization, but rather a preoccupation with it—a preoccupation with how society should be organized in accord with the anarchist principles of individual freedom and social justice. For a century and a half now, anarchists have been arguing that coercive, hierarchical organization (as embodied in government and corporations) is not equivalent to organization per se (which they regard as necessary), and that coercive organization should be replaced by decentralized, nonhierarchical organization based on voluntary cooperation and mutual aid. This is hardly a rejection of organization.

Anarchism is not amoral egoism. As does any avant garde social movement, anarchism attracts more than its share of flakes, parasites, and outright sociopaths, persons simply looking for a glamorous label to cover their often-pathological selfishness, their disregard for the rights and dignity of others, and their pathetic desire to be the center of attention. These individuals tend to give anarchism a bad name, because even though they have very little in common with actual anarchists—that is, persons concerned with ethical behavior, social justice, and the rights of both themselves and others—they’re often quite exhibitionistic, and their disreputable actions sometimes come into the public eye. To make matters worse, these exhibitionists sometimes publish their self-glorifying views and deliberately misidentify those views as “anarchist.” To cite an example, the publisher of a pretentiously (sub)titled American “anarchist” journal recently published a book by a fellow egoist consisting primarily of ad hominem attacks on actual anarchists, knowing full well that the “anarchist” author of the book is a notorious police narcotics informant who has on a number of occasions ratted out those he’s had disputes with to government agencies. This police informer’s actions—which, revealingly, he’s attempted to hide—are completely in line with his ideology of amoral egoism (“post-left anarchism”), but they have nothing to do with actual anarchism. Such amoral egoists may (mis)use the label, but they’re no more anarchists than the now-defunct German Democratic Republic (East Germany) was democratic or a republic.

The full absurdity of identifying amoral egoism—essentially “I’ll do what I damn well please and fuck everybody else”—with anarchism will become apparent in short order when we’ll consider what anarchism actually is.

Anarchism is not “Libertarianism.” Until relatively recently, the very useful term “libertarian” was used worldwide as a synonym for “anarchist.” Indeed, it was used exclusively in this sense until the 1970s when, in the United States, it was appropriated by the grossly misnamed Libertarian Party.

This party has almost nothing to do with anarchist concepts of liberty, especially the concepts of equal freedom and positive freedom—that is, access to the resources necessary to the freedom to act. (Equal freedom and positive freedom are discussed in the following section of this essay.) Instead, this “Libertarian” party concerns itself exclusively with the negative freedoms, pretending that liberty exists only in the negative sense, while it simultaneously revels in the denial of equal positive freedom to the vast majority of the world’s people.

These “Libertarians” not only glorify capitalism, the mechanism that denies both equal freedom and positive freedom to the vast majority, but they also wish to retain the coercive apparatus of the state while eliminating its social welfare functions—hence widening the rift between rich and poor, and increasing the freedom of the rich by diminishing that of the poor (while keeping the boot of the state firmly on their necks). Thus, in the United States, the once exceedingly useful term “libertarian” has been hijacked by egotists who are in fact enemies of liberty in the full sense of the word, and who have very little in common with anarchists.

This is what anarchism isn’t.

What Anarchism Is

In its narrowest sense, anarchism is simply the rejection of the state, the rejection of coercive government. Under this extremely narrow definition, even such apparent absurdities as “anarcho-capitalism” and religious anarchism are possible.7

But most anarchists use the term “anarchism” in a much broader sense, defining it as the rejection of coercion and domination in all forms. So, most anarchists reject not only coercive government, but also religion and capitalism, which they see as other forms of the twin evils, domination and coercion. They reject religion because they see it as the ultimate form of domination, in which a supposedly all-powerful god hands down “thou shalts” and “thou shalt nots” to its “flock.” They likewise reject capitalism because it’s designed to produce rich and poor and because it’s designed to produce a system of domination in which some give orders and others have little choice but to take them. For similar reasons, on a personal level almost all anarchists reject sexism, racism, and homophobia—all of which produce artificial inequality, and thus domination.

To put this another way, anarchists believe in freedom in both its negative and positive senses. In this country, freedom is routinely presented only in its negative sense, that of being free from restraint. Hence most people equate freedom only with such things as freedom of speech, freedom of association, and freedom of (or from) religion. But there’s also a positive aspect of freedom, an aspect which anarchists almost alone insist on.8

That positive aspect is what Emma Goldman called “the freedom to.” And that freedom, the freedom of action, the freedom to enjoy or use, is highly dependent upon access to the world’s resources. Because of this the rich are in a very real sense free to a much greater degree than the rest of us. To cite an example in the area of free speech, Bill Gates could easily buy dozens of daily newspapers or television stations to propagate his views and influence public opinion. How many working people could do the same? How many working people could afford to buy a single daily newspaper or a single television station? The answer is obvious. Working people cannot do such things; instead, we’re reduced to producing ‘zines with a readership of a few hundred persons or putting up pages on the Internet in our relatively few hours of free time.

Examples of the greater freedom of the rich abound in daily life. To put this in general terms, because they do not have to work, the rich not only have far more money (that is, access to resources) but also far more time to pursue their interests, pleasures, and desires than do the rest of us. To cite a concrete example, the rich are free to send their children to the best colleges employing the best instructors, which the rest of us simply can’t afford to do; if we can afford college at all, we make do with community and state colleges employing slave-labor “adjunct faculty” and overworked, underpaid graduate students. Once in college, the children of the rich are entirely free to pursue their studies, while most other students must work at least part time to support themselves, which deprives them of many hours which could be devoted to study. If you think about it, you can easily find additional examples of the greater freedom of the rich in the areas of medical care, housing, nutrition, travel, etc., etc.—in fact, in virtually every area of life.

This greater freedom of action for the rich comes at the expense of everyone else, through the diminishment of everyone else’s freedom of action. There is no way around this, given that freedom of action is to a great extent determined by access to finite resources. Anatole France well illustrated the differences between the restrictions placed upon the rich and the poor when he wrote, “The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread.”

Because the primary goal of anarchism is the greatest possible amount of freedom for all, anarchists insist on equal freedom in both its negative and positive aspects—that, in the negative sense, individuals be free to do whatever they wish as long as they do not harm or directly intrude upon others; and, in the positive sense, that all individuals have equal freedom to act, that they have equal access to the world’s resources.

Anarchists recognize that absolute freedom is an impossibility, that amoral egoism ignoring the rights of others would quickly devolve into a war of all against all. What we argue for is that everyone have equal freedom from restraint (limited only by respect for the rights of others) and that everyone have as nearly as possible equal access to resources, thus ensuring equal (or near-equal) freedom to act.

This is anarchism in its theoretical sense.

In Spain, Cuba, and a few other countries there have been serious attempts to make this theory reality through the movement known as anarcho-syndicalism. The primary purpose of anarcho-syndicalism is the replacement of coercive government by voluntary cooperation in the form of worker-controlled unions coordinating the entire economy. This would not only eliminate the primary restraint on the negative freedoms (government), but would also be a huge step toward achieving positive freedom. The nearest this vision came to fruition was in the Spanish Revolution, 1936–1939, when huge areas of Spain, including its most heavily industrialized region, came under the control of the anarcho-syndicalist Confederación Nacional del Trabajo. George Orwell describes this achievement in Homage to Catalonia:

The anarchists were still in virtual control of Catalonia and the revolution was in full swing. . . . the aspect of Barcelona was something startling and overwhelming. It was the first time that I had ever been in a town where the working class was in the saddle. Practically every building of any size had been seized by the workers and was draped with red flags or with the red and black flag of the anarchists; . . . Every shop and café had an inscription saying it had been collectivized; even the bootblacks had been collectivized and their boxes painted red and black. Waiters and shop-workers looked you in the face and treated you as an equal. Servile and even ceremonial forms of speech had temporarily disappeared. . . . The revolutionary posters were everywhere, flaming from the walls in clean reds and blues that made the few remaining advertisements look like daubs of mud. . . . All this was queer and moving. There was much in it that I did not understand, in some ways I did not even like it, but I recognized it immediately as a state of affairs worth fighting for.

This is anarchism. And Orwell was right—it is worth fighting for.9
1. Bourgeois Influences on Anarchism, by Luigi Fabbri. Tucson, AZ: See Sharp Press, 2001, p. 16.

2. You Can’t Blow Up a Social Relationship. Tucson, AZ: See Sharp Press, 1998, p. 20.

3. It may be that now due to apathy, but in violent/repressive situations other options are cut off for almost everyone not directly involved in armed resistance.

4. For further discussion of this matter, see You Can’t Blow Up a Social Relationship: The Anarchist Case Against Terrorism and Bourgeois Influences on Anarchism.

5. Ted Kaczynski is in some ways quite typical of this breed of romantic. He differs from most of them in that he acted on his beliefs (albeit in a cowardly, violent manner) and that he actually lived a relatively primitive existence in the backwoods of Montana—unlike most of his co-religionists, who live comfortably in urban areas and employ the technologies they profess to loathe.

6. For further discussion of this topic, see Anarchism vs. Primitivism, by Brian Oliver Sheppard. Tucson, AZ: See Sharp Press, 2003. See also the “Primitive Thought” appendix to Listen Anarchist!, by Chaz Bufe. Tucson, AZ: See Sharp Press, 1998.

7. Indeed, there have been a fairly large number of admirable religious anarchists, individuals such as Leo Tolstoy and Dorothy Day (and the members of her Catholic Worker groups, such as Ammon Hennacy), though to most anarchists the advocacy of freedom on Earth while bowing to a heavenly tyrant (no matter how imaginary) seems an insupportable contradiction.

To the best of my knowledge there have been no such shining examples of anarcho-capitalists other than Karl Hess.

8. To be fair, marxists also tend to emphasize positive freedom, but for the most part they’re also curiously insensitive, and often downright hostile, to “negative” freedom—the freedom from restraint (especially when they have the guns and goons to do the restraining).

9. Of course, this discussion of anarchism is necessarily schematic, given that this pamphlet is intended as an introductory 10-minute read. For elaboration upon these themes, see Anarchism and Anarcho-syndicalism, by Rudolf Rocker; What Is Communist Anarchism?, by Alexander Berkman (republished by AK Press as What Is Anarchism?); Fields, Factories and Workshops Tomorrow, by Peter Kropotkin; and Anarchy in Action, by Colin Ward.


Anyone who reads this blog should be well aware that I have no great love for Islam — nor for any other religion — and I consider Islam a graver threat to human freedom than the other major religions combined.

Islam itself is bad enough, but the current administration is poking an Islamic hornets’ nest with a stick.

Its approach to Islamic peoples in the Middle East is extremely dangerous, as Donald Trump seems to be doing everything he can, via foreign policy, to encourage violence by radical Islamists, and seems to be doing everything he can to drive the young, impressionable, and desperate into the arms of violent extremists.

Trump is siding with the worst, most repressive regimes in the Middle East, most importantly Islamic extremist Saudi Arabia, but also the brutal military regime in Egypt, and the extreme right in Israel, which is turning Israel/Palestine into an apartheid state.

None of this plays well with the oppressed in those lands, nor with those in other countries who care about the oppression of their brothers and sisters.

Trump’s (and Obama’s, and Bush the Lesser’s, and Clinton’s, and their predecessors’) interventionist policies in the Middle East have created a situation that’s a festering sore, and that will remain one until the U.S. stops supporting oppression.

Just getting the hell out of the Middle East entirely would be a huge improvement on past and current U.S. policy. Even better, the U.S. could begin supporting democratic, secular elements in the region — shockingly enough, this is now happening in one very limited instance, with the Kurds fighting ISIS — and spending money on development aid.

But this is pure fantasy. I’d be more than happy with simple U.S. military withdrawal from the Middle East and the end of U.S. military and financial support for repressive regimes there. That alone would do more than all the bombs ever dropped to end Islamic radicalism.

To make matters worse, Trump also seems to be doing everything he can, via domestic policy, to promote radical Islam and violence by radical Islamists. While he supports repressive Islamist regimes abroad (our Saudi “allies” et al.), he’s targeting powerless, desperate refugees at home, and his hateful rhetoric inspires violence against them.

Again, this drives impressionable, angry Muslim teenagers and young adults into the arms of ISIS and other Islamic death cults.

It also isolates the Muslim community, producing an us-versus-them mentality. This is what Trump, his goose-stepping alt-right supporters, ISIS, and Al Qaeda want, but it is not what the rest of us should want.

Tolerance and communication will reduce Islamic extremism, isolation won’t.

If you want to fight Islamic extremism, don’t harass Muslims. It might make you feel better to harass them, but it’s cowardly and it’ll ultimately backfire. Leave them alone. If you want to drive them into the arms of the fundamentalists and the terrorists, you won’t find a better way to do it than to harass them on the street.

Think about it. How would you react to being harassed (or worse, physically attacked) simply because of your appearance? Your perceived religious beliefs? Would you be more sympathetic to your attackers or to those who present themselves as fighting your attackers?

How would you feel if someone attacked your family because of their appearance or perceived beliefs?

Harassment and physical attacks increase the isolation and fear level of Muslims in the U.S. — precisely the conditions under which extremism flourishes.

If we believe in religious freedom, let’s act like it. Treat people with respect no matter who they are or what their perceived beliefs.

And let’s exercise our freedom of speech. Islam (and Christianity and religious Judaism and Hinduism for that matter) cannot stand up to scrutiny and ridicule.

Give that to them in spades, subject those religions — but not their individual adherents — to scrutiny and ridicule at every opportunity. The best antidote to Islamic and Christian authoritarianism is freedom of speech and freedom of belief.

Our ideas are better than theirs. Let’s start acting like we believe it. Let them express their noxious beliefs: they won’t stand up to scrutiny.

Let’s start acting like we have respect for human rights and individual human beings.

And let’s start acting like we’re serious about defeating Islamic fundamentalism, and stop harassing Muslims.