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Like everyone else we’ve been in lockdown, spending a lot of time at home with our stockpile of beans in our Antifa™ bunker. But we’ve also stayed active playing our part in local organising initiatives in Brighton and further afield – food banks, food deliveries, mutual aid groups, projects manufacturing PPE etc. And we’ve also made time to chat to some comrades from Oregon about what’s going down in the USA, where they have also had to contend with a social situation that is in some ways more extreme and also with right-wing street movements protesting the lockdown. The following is an interview with Alexander and Thomas, two anarchists who are active in anti-fascist and left organizing in Portland, Oregon.
Can you tell us how the anti-authoritarian left and antifascist movement is responding to the current crisis ? Are there any mutual aid networks forming? We have seen for example images of Portland antifascists involved in production of hand sanitiser that was then distributed for free for those in need. Can you tell us more about those kind of initiatives?
There are a variety of mutual aid projects in Portland, surrounding housing, food, and pandemic preparedness goods like PPE and sanitation products. The two of us are actually essential workers, and are still working in our respective industries to keep parts of the city moving, such as it is. But from our networks and friends we can report some mutual aid projects of note: barter networks, trading, and free distribution of goods that are in high demand, including food; making and distributing PPE to people who cannot obtain them; resource lists, to inform people where scarce goods are available (like which stores have toilet tissue or sanitizer in stock); and organized community camps for the houseless who are at-risk or marginalized.
As our personal organizing work typically is anti-fascism, we should also note that there is still a great need for that in this current crisis as well. Like in many crises, the far-right is attempting to take advantage of the political moment in order to gain strength. We’ve seen groups like the Proud Boys and Patriot Front attending protests against the stay-at-home protocols. Racist and nationalistic conspiracy theories about the origins of the disease and cures are spreading. There have been attacks and other displays of bigotry against people of Asian ethnicity. White supremacists online are talking about spreading the disease deliberately, and fantasizing about this crisis creating a state of open war in society. While we all have to do our part to fight the pandemic, we cannot let up our guard against fascism and the far-right. So it is good that those netwo rks are continuing their work as well, even as we all are having to deal with the pandemic.
How much impact do you think grassroots mutual aid groups have in their communities?
They have a huge impact. Many people who are failing to receive care and support from other sources are finding it there. Projects that can’t be organized by the government such as food sharing, mask making and distribution, and other resource pooling are happening by that means. There’s always a frustration with this sort of organizing, that it can never really have the dedicated infrastructure or scope to become a true dual power framework. However, this is a crisis with an incredibly wide range of effect, doing a lot of damage. Mutual aid networks aren’t going to be able to replace the state apparatus for epidemiological tracking and testing. However, even providing small amounts of help to those who are suffering because of the economic and health effects of the crisis, can make the difference between someone dying and living. In that way, mutual aid groups are “first responders” in a different sort of order. They can help fix gaps in the structure, and save people who are ignored or otherwise fall through the structure. They make small, but nevertheless crucial movements, and can be the finger in the dike that prevents a wider disaster for individual communities and neighborhoods.
How are mutual aid groups accommodating for already marginalised groups- queer folk, people of colour, women, those with no fixed abode etc. ?
We’ve seen mutual aid groups that are already oriented for those marginalized groups adding pandemic preparedness to their repertoire. Also, here in Portland there have been a number of new projects getting off the ground quickly with those groups in mind… for example as we mentioned above, some folks with experience in providing services for the houseless have set up an organized community camp specifically for minority and queer youth. The were able to set this up and obtain the necessary permissions from the city in a record amount of time, because they already had the knowhow and experience with this population and type of mutual aid and services, and also because they knew what the need would be, and moved to provide that service to stem the crisis.
It seems like in the US the idea of a rent strike is very popular and we have been reading articles about many people refusing to pay rent. How widespread is it? Is there any level of organisation behind it or is it more of a spontaneous thing?
The US is such a big place, with so many different regions, it is always difficult to get a sense of how big a movement is, until it is already on the streets, as it were. Occupy was like that… it seemed like it might be just a small anti-capitalist protest in one city, until suddenly it took off in hundreds of cities all at once. With the rent strike, we are currently in that first phase, but even more distributed. There are definitely people who right now have not paid rent for at least one month, will not pay rent for a second month, and perhaps more. These people are all over the country, and no one knows how many of them there are. Some of them are organized, either online with wide, potentially national scope, or in their community, or their building. And larger actions are starting to emerge. It seems New York City has several thousand organized tenants that are striking for May Day, and there was a large solidarity action in Texas as well.
Some people are not paying simply because they do not have the money to do so, some are doing it out of a sense of political rejection of the rental industry and class dynamics. Some are doing it for both reasons. The most resilient instances of rent strike that we’ve heard of are those organized very thoroughly on the ground level. Neighbors talking to neighbors, organizing an entire building in order to have the solidarity and strength necessary to see it through. Right now, in many states emergency laws have been passed to prevent evictions or provide for legal grace periods on rent payments. This has been a great help to the rent strike, but it also makes it unclear exactly how resilient it will be. When those laws expire, those tenants not paying who are not part of a local solidarity network may be forced to continue paying rent, repay back rent, or be evicted if they cannot. In the US, even among the working class, personal finances are often considered a private matter and people often do not discuss their financial hardships with their neighbors. So many of these individuals may suffer or be forced to end their strike without any of their neighbors or community being aware of what is happening.
We’ll have to see if the rent strike grows in size, in visibility, and in organization enough so that neighbors have the solidarity they need to resist attempts by landlords and the state to break the strike. The fact remains, all economic signs indicate that a de-facto rent strike is already happening based on the numbers: 30 million people are newly unemployed and the social service programs such as unemployment insurance and food assistance (what we call “food stamps”) is completely overrun with applications so people aren’t receiving government aid and simply cannot pay rent.
How are people surviving with the general lack of a social safety net if they are made unemployed or have to self isolate?
Well, without a social safety net, we’ve got mutual aid, religious and NGO charities, and that’s pretty much it.
On the left people speak very emphatically about mutual aid and have a clear idea of its political implications. But most people in the US, especially in rural areas, are unfamiliar with the term. And yet, they know the spirit of mutual aid very implicitly, and adopt it wholeheartedly and without reservation. We’ve seen this in the past during hurricanes and other widespread weather disasters. People come together to help each other, and organize themselves without needing any model or pattern from a national organization. And they are doing that now, in communities all across the country.
However, people are still struggling! Despite the media’s insistence that the economy was “great” before March, many people were living precarious existences, on both sides of the houseless line, whether barely making it paycheck to paycheck, or failing to make it. Many who were just barely surviving have now been pushed over the edge. Whatever small savings people might have had, they are now burning through. As part of a congressional recovery program, every American is supposed to receive a $1200 stimulus check that some people were lucky enough to get, which is equivalent to one month of the median rent in our city. Many people in Portland worked in the food, restaurant, and service industry, which was a hard, low-paid industry to begin with that is now almost nonexistent because of this crisis, and will probably take years to recover. The unemployment insurance system in the US is managed through the state governments, and in Oregon like in most states it has been totally overwhelmed. We can’t fool ourselves: mutual aid networks are a fantastic, spontaneous organization of the community that does lots of good, but they are nowhere near enough. They are helping people cling to some sense of stability, but that grasp is tenuous. Like with the rent strike, there are some pockets of strong organization going on, but they are not linked together in a way that makes them a replacement for the state at this time.
Which puts us in a terrible position. With the long-term erosion of the social safety net in this country going on for 40 years now, and the current federal government still trying to purge people from the rolls of food stamps and unemployment insurance even as this crisis is happening, we can cling to mutual aid, and seek help with our friends and families. Often this can be the stick of wood that keeps the roof from falling in, so to speak. But it is continuously precarious.
In the recent Democratic primary elections which petered out at the same time as the pandemic was building, there seemed like there might be a growing movement that was for rebuilding a strong social safety net, for well-funded public health care, for institutions like unions that can help guarantee services are well-funded and long-lasting. But, that tide found its own high water mark and is receding. The best offer now from the political institutions is a return to the moderate policies of 2016 under a potential Joe Biden presidency.
It is difficult to not feel very pessimistic about this state of affairs. There is no framework for a real alternative to our current reality for us to rally behind. Taking part in basic mutual aid groups in our community is necessary, but exhausting in the face of witnessing all the places where that aid falls short. Defending our community against incursions by violent far-right groups can feel like a never-ending struggle. The idea of trying to organize a movement to fix this state of affairs in the long term seems overwhelming in the face of a crisis.
How is the US healthcare system coping and what about people without health insurance if they need hospitalisation due to covid 19?
Honestly, the system isn’t coping. People are dying. More and more research is determining that minorities are dying at a rate far higher than the average for our population. This is because they live in areas with higher rates of pollution, often have underlying conditions that make their experience of Covid worse, and are further from hospital and medical services, which are themselves even more overwhelmed than those in predominately white and wealthy areas. And people of minority ethnicities often do not seek medical treatment early because they don’t have health insurance or have a legal status that makes that process difficult or dangerous. Then of course there is the obvious class element. In the US the majority of people with healthcare coverage have it as a benefit given by an employer, so if you are one of the millions recently unemployed, not only are you out of work, but you’re now uninsured. And those who still have coverage, still pay heavy out of pocket costs for treatment to a complex array of different for-profit care providers. This whole catastrophe is the perfect defense for something like the British NHS model. As far as the uninsured go, part of the congressional aid package is meant to fund universal treatment for those with Covid-19, but that is the tip of the iceberg when looking into the US healthcare system and all the adverse health affects that this will cause beyond one singular diagnosis. Right now if you’re uninsured and on your way to the emergency room, a Covid-19 diagnosis is the only thing that’ll save you from years of medical debts.
We don’t really know what else to say about that. It’s terrible, it’s laying bare what we’ve all known for years about the travesty of our healthcare system, it was immensely predictable, and ordinary people have no tools to stop it besides maybe a total boycott of debt repayment.
That being said, some on the Left, mainly democratic socialists and progressives, are predicting that this could be the death of neoliberal capitalism and that similar to the Great Depression or the Post-Second World War eras, a new economic arrangement based around Keynesianism or Social Democracy might alleviate some of the extreme inequities in the United States. For now, we are not only dealing with the health crisis but also a reactionary push-back from the Right which is terrified of exactly those kinds of social changes.
Are there moves towards ending the lockdown and reopening business there ? Do people want to resist that?
In the US, all of that is managed by state government, so it differs depending on location. In Oregon there has been no announcement about the end of the lockdown yet, or what it might look like. Thus far we have largely been following the lead of California (to our south) and Washington (to our north), which have both had far more intense outbreaks than we have. It’s hard to say whether or not the end to the lockdown will be appropriate, until we know what it will look like. We have seen elsewhere in the country that people are both for and against ending lockdowns, depending on what the regional situation is. Some places seem to be doing far better than they had been, while other places are doing worse.
An interesting political development has been the formation of the “Western States Pact” which is comprised of Washington, Oregon, California, and now Nevada and Colorado. Similar pacts have formed in the Midwest and Northeast. Governors and political leaders have formed these new political unions as a pushback against the lack of material support from the federal government and specifically Trump. States spent the early days of the crisis appealing to Trump to provide financial and medical aid to their respective states, but Trump being the egomaniac that he is, sabotaged efforts to send shipments of PPE (protective gear) or much needed ventilators to the states if they did not ‘treat him well’, meaning praise him and his leadership. Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner was appointed to the federal response team and when asked about sending federal aid stockpiles to states like New York he said, “The notion of the federal stockpile is that it’s supposed to be our stockpile. It’s not supposed to be states’ stockpiles that they then use.” After massive pushback, federal aid did begin to trickle in to states, eventually, but disproportionately went to conservative and political “battle ground” states, sometimes to states that were not even seeking that aid. So while this political fight between governors and the white house played out, many local and state officials realized that they had no choice but to purchase medical equipment on their own. This lead to states and cities getting into bidding wars on the open market (buying from private companies and other countries) for medical supplies and other much needed goods; Where one state would offer a million dollars for masks, their neighbor would offer a million more, and Trump reveled in this divide-and-conquer powerplay.
As of now, the states have managed to form some alliances and support each other, but there is a clear lack of executive leadership around the looming question of how and when to “reopen” or re-integrate people back into normal, every day capitalist life. The Western States Pact (along with other regional pacts) are negotiating a coordinated policy of how to restructure economic life during the ongoing pandemic. Right now, it seems the general framework will be a multi-stage model where safer services will be offered first, like non essential medical treatment. Gradually other sectors will return to work, with things like music festivals and sports stadiums being the last to reopen.
Can you tell us about the Trump supporters who are protesting the lockdown? What are they actually objecting to? To us it looks like they are pretty much exclusively white, conservative/right wing crowd. We also heard some reports that those protests are astroturfed. Any truth in that?
Though the virus has no particular political ideology, the response to it, including trust in science and things as simple as believing your doctor, has been completely politicized. This is a reflection of the ongoing American political crisis brought on by Trumpism.
Where to begin…
So the current mainstream political divide in the US can basically be drawn between supporters of Trump and those who oppose him – and oppose him for a whole variety of reasons from political opportunists like the Democratic Party politicians posing as “the resistance”, to people experiencing firsthand the consequences of his racist, nationalistic, and capitalist policies. Trump supporters have exhibited a cult like following towards him, and recently Salon published a piece by a Yale university psychiatrist comparing Trump supporters to victims of abuse or child soldiers. Their allegiance to Trump is unwavering, and over the course of the last five years of political developments, we can cite dozens of examples of liberals, clutching their pearls and screaming, “THIS is definitely the end of Trump!” From the infamous “Grab ’em by the p****” tape, all the way to the “try injecting disinfectants” press briefings. If there is one thing we can be sure of by now, it is that Trump supporters will follow him to their grave.
But let’s step back a bit and look at the political landscape here. The Right has gone through three phases over the last two months, pivoting its core ideological position on Covid-19 from 1. denial, to 2. acceptance, finally 3. back to minimizing the severity. If an anthropologist wanted to study the political consensus of the Trump base, they would have to look no further than Trump’s favorite propaganda outlet, Fox News. In the early days of the coronavirus coverage Fox took a ‘discredit and deny’ approach to covering the virus. Several prominent talking heads flat-out called the virus a “democratic hoax” and presented the creeping health crisis as a conspiracy to attack Trump. One host in particular, Sean Hannity, who is close friends with Trump, was one of the strongest deniers of Covid-19. With the one exception of Tucker Carlson, Fox News did everything in their power to mock the severity of the virus until mid to late March, even as Italy was in full crisis management mode and Seattle streets were emptied of people. The University of Chicago released findings last week that revealed the correlation between viewers of the Sean Hannity show and spikes in infection rate; there is no doubt that the people consuming Fox News propaganda are far less likely to take health precautions and will inevitably catch and spread the virus.
At some point around the time that cities and states began enacting ‘stay at home’ guidelines, a switch happened on Fox News where they decided that this wasn’t going away. They couldn’t deny the reality of tens of thousands of infections affecting even rural parts of America (that make up the Trump base), so they began to pivot the narrative to blaming their political opponents and even Obama, for not preparing for the crisis. Of course, this also coincides with Trump’s complete turn around in his crisis management approach. For this brief period both Trump and Fox News seemed to take the virus seriously, and from personal experience we witnessed that shift in Right-wing consensus from our conservative coworkers who went from outright denial to saying things like “two weeks ago I thought this wasn’t a big deal but now I don’t know,” or “I’m really worried about this because I have pre-existing conditions.” Hardly surprising. Trump supporters make up only about 25% of the population, but they are probably the most ideologically cohesive group when it comes to political unity (even if the politics are completely incoherent from a traditional ideology perspective and flip-flop regularly).
From abroad, you might assume that Fox News parrots Trump and spreads the position of the White House, but several media critics and journalists have documented that most of the time, Trump is not feeding his views to Fox News, but vice versa, they are feeding Trump his positions. Trump will tweet some non-sensical message about Sweden at 2pm, and you only have to go back and check the Fox News coverage of ‘Sweden’s refugee crisis’ to see where he is getting the majority of his political ideas. So actually Trump is not really making policy decisions, Fox News is doing it for him because he is too intellectually lazy to come up with his own ideas.
About a month ago, Fox News pivoted again and decided to embrace a total free market approach to the crisis. They aired a segment where host Steve Hilton said something to the effect of ‘the cure can’t be worse than the virus’ in reference to public closures and the economic downfall. Within hours Trump was repeating that exact phrase on social media and in interviews, encouraging Americans to return back to normal economic life. This coincided with some Republican politicians campaigning for an immediate reopening of the economy, like the lieutenant governor of Texas who went on Fox News and declared, “There are more important things than living,” in reference to prioritizing the economy over people’s lives. And just like that, the Trump base fell in line and began parroting the same talking points. In reference to the coworker mentioned above, who went from denial to fear, she once again shifted with the narrative and proclaimed “we can’t stay locked down like this anymore, America needs to open up.” This political rollercoaster all happened within the span of about six weeks.
Meanwhile, Right-wing political organizations began organizing a Wall Street funded campaign to re-open the economy, specifically targeting states like Minnesota and Michigan that have Democratic governors who have had to manage the crisis through lockdowns in the absence of federal leadership. The protests are being funded by wealthy free-market groups that a decade ago were instrumental in the pseudo-libertarian “Tea Party” protests, with money coming from billionaires like the Koch family. These rallies have been a mix of various political groupings within the Trump base, from conspiracy theorists, some of whom deny the existence of the virus, to business owners who want to send their employees back to work, and bourgeois suburbanites who see this as government overreach because they aren’t allowed to go to the hair salon. These protests, like most of Trump’s populist rhetoric, play on the fear and fake victimhood of a white middle class losing control of their country. They are incredibly small in number, and generally rejected by the majority of society. Trump has encouraged these protests by tweeting out messages like, “Liberate Michigan”, possibly to gain support with his base by fomenting protest against Democratic leadership in particular states. Meanwhile, he also claims to support “stay at home” guidelines of his own administration. This utter hypocrisy was on full display last week when the Republican governor of Georgia heeded the call to “reopen” businesses in his state, and then Trump, when questioned by reporters, claimed he didn’t support the governor’s decision. This is the exact same pattern that we have seen from Trump over the years, it mirrors his response to the Neo-Nazi “Unite the Right” rally where he condemned white supremacy on camera, and the next day turned around and said there were “very fine people” there. He is completely inept at showing leadership and this is incredibly dangerous on any normal day, but is especially troubling in the middle of a health crisis.
The protests have continued in several states, with attendance numbers in the hundreds and looking incredibly similar to a Trump campaign rally. As Trump fires up his base by criticizing the Democratic leadership of particular states (even when Republican led states have done the exact same actions), the quarantine measures become one more partisan football that Trump can kick around to generate media attention. But even as one might wish to simply ignore the media circus, Trump’s most heinous supporters have been turning out for these rallies, including Neo-Nazis, fascists, and nationalists such as the Proud Boys. In Michigan the protests organized a sizeable caravan of vehicles that decided for some god-awful reason to block the entrance to a hospital where ambulances were prevented from getting through. Proud Boys, as well as other far-right groups played a role in this. Such acts cannot really be explained through a political lens, they simply speak for themselves.
Several friends from abroad have asked specifically about these confrontations happening outside hospitals and we cannot speak to the rationale behind these horrible acts, only that Trumpism has created and/or reinforced a culture of narcissism that lacks basic human decency or respect for the lives of others, and fuels itself on populist mob action rather than any specific political goal. The Trump base has come out in full support of re-opening the economy, even at the expense of 3% of the population, or 10 million lives, simply because Trump has suggested that they should. We are not exaggerating here, people are actually saying these things right now.
We could see some Republican politicians voicing their support for those protests and of course Trump has been in favour of them as well. Police seem to be completely unwilling to do anything about them as well. How much support do they actually have?
The police and the State have had, as usual, a hands-off approach to these right-wing protests, despite the fact that they are breaking the law by gathering in large groups. This can be juxtaposed to numerous examples of police violence against left-wing demonstrations that posed an infinitely smaller risk to public safety.
These protests have very little support, but enough to make them obnoxious and dangerous. Somewhere between 70 to 85% of Americans support the “stay at home” defensive measures. But this is the same as the support of Trump’s political base… it is not a majority, but it is loud and dangerous.
The political pressure from a handful of protestors and their billionaire backers seems to be having a disproportionate effect on the discourse in the media. With millions of people stuck at home, anything novel that the mainstream media can point their cameras at is exciting news. So in normal circumstances these protests might not have gained the same attention, but right now the news is giving them exaggerated air time. This is horribly irresponsible since we know these gatherings are attracting fascists and racist conspiracy theorists, and if they are going to be the ones leading the conversation, we’re in for real trouble.
As mentioned earlier, Right-wing politicians like the governor of Georgia jumped on board these protests straight away, probably because the pressure he and all politicians are under from the so-called “business community.” These are the people that buy off politicians through our legalized bribery system of “campaign contributions”, and right now they are losing billions in profits due to the shutdowns. In the coming weeks we will see how well the Georgia experiment goes, but things in different parts of the US are developing very differently right now like here in Oregon we have very low numbers of cases compared to cities like New Orleans or NYC.
Finally, a huge factor that isn’t getting enough attention in American media is this: If states lift their stay-at-home orders, working class people will be made to return to work in very dangerous working conditions and lose any public benefits they might be receiving. The government has spent trillions of dollars over the past weeks to create a patchwork social safety system so people don’t starve, like extra funding for the unemployed. If and when states re-open, millions will be forced back into work and will no longer qualify for the government benefits. This is the real reason the Republicans want to re-open the economy, because they want to make sure the social programs are as short and minimal as possible and we can get back to working for shit wages while Amazon makes more record profits and Trump can point to his one “achievement” as President: rising stock prices.
Do you have any ideas how the situation is going to progress? Is the broad anti-authoritarian left in any way prepared for what’s coming?
We can’t predict the future, but it seems as if very few people are prepared for it, if anyone is at all. Grassroots mobilization may be our only shot at surviving as the state has revealed itself completely unable to cope with this crisis.
As mentioned earlier, some people see a silver lining in this, in that the whole American experiment of free-market capitalism may be reaching it’s breaking point and we might end up with some decent social democratic reforms that making working class life slightly less miserable but we have to push for more. But as we well know, the deadly secret within any accelerationist tendency is that the speedy collapse of the system comes with the deaths and suffering of countless numbers of the working class.
A positive aspect of this entire crisis is the rebirth of that spontaneous solidarity shown between workers across various industries. Thousands, if not millions of workers across the US have engaged in some form of unsanctioned labor action over the past two months, from walk outs, to strikes, to demands for hazard pay, as well as calls for the rent strike. Class conflict is creeping out from the shadows and this crisis is instilling a consciousness in American working people that will last for years to come. And as we mentioned above, many people are recalling their own natural capacities for mutual aid, although they may not have the current political understanding to call it what it is.
It will be our job as socialists and anarchists to help create that understanding, and build for a whole new economic and political reality based on solidarity, equality, and freedom.
This Saturday evening, several hundred Brightonians once again stood against racism and fascism, not allowing it to fester in our streets. Once again we showed Brighton as a city of sanctuary, diversity and always anti-fascist.
We began in good spirits with local anti-fascist history in the very streets where we stood. Our Italian friends then explained how dangerous La Lega, Salvini and them making links with British fascists really are. A chorus of Bella Ciao then broke, echoing through North Laine as we began to march. La Lega were due to meet in a pub by the train station, however we arrived to find that they had in fact cancelled their event due to our mobilisation and the realisation that hundreds of us would not allow this to take place in our city. Instead, all 6-7 of them hid in a local fascists’ house and named that as their meeting, too afraid, too scared to show their faces on the streets of Brighton. Upon this news we proceeded to have a victory march, occupying our streets with chants of Siamo Tutti Anti-Fascisti! And From the Downs to the Sea, Brighton will be Fascist Free! So it remains since 2014.
Thank you to everyone that came out. As a community we continue to fight politics of hate and division.
Vaffanculo Salvini e La Lega
The Italian far-right party La Lega, led by extreme-right nationalist Matteo Salvini, have scheduled a dinner for supporters in the Gloucester Street area of Brighton at 6pm on Saturday evening. We will be opposing this. Check our Facebook and Twitter for updates and details as the day gets closer.
Here is our full press release:
Anti-fascists to oppose Italian far-right meeting in Brighton Saturday
Anti-fascist and anti-racist activists are set to oppose a meeting of Italy’s far-right La Lega party scheduled due to be held in Brighton on Saturday.
La Lega, led by extreme-right nationalist Matteo Salvini, have scheduled a dinner for supporters in the Gloucester Street area at 6pm on Saturday evening.
Salvini, the former Deputy Prime Minister of Italy has become a leading figure globally among far-right populists.
- Salvini is currently awaiting trial for kidnapping for refusing to allow 131 migrants to disembark from a coastguard ship.
- As interior minister he refused to allow search and rescue teams helping migrants in the Mediterranean to dock in any Italian ports which prompted an investigation by the United Nations.
- He has called for “a mass cleansing” of Italy of foreigners and Roma people “street by street, piazza by piazza, neighbourhood by neighbourhood” – this has led to fascist mob violence against Roma people.
- He ordered a register of all Roma, Sinti and Gypsy people in Italy, in order to enable mass expulsions.
- Local Lega administrations in Italy have begun creating “immigrant-free” zones in the towns they run.
- Salvini is a leading figure in the global populist far-right. He has links with far right racist and fascist parties across Europe from Victor Orban’s anti-semitic regime in Hungary and Marine Le Pen’s National Rally in France, to Bolsonaro, Trump and Putin.
- The rise of La Lega has created an atmosphere that has led to a massive spike in racist violence, including mass shooting attacks against people of colour in Italy carried out by Salvini sympathisers.
- Violent openly fascist groups such as Casa Pound and Forza Nuova enthusiastically support him.
- He has been named in dozens of lawsuits for defamation and instigation of hatred.
After a similar date was announced for Liverpool, the regional mayor of Liverpool called Salvini ‘a fascist’ and said he would not be welcome in Liverpool.
Since November a huge mass antifascist movement calling itself ‘the Sardines’ has emerged in Italy in opposition to Salvini and La Lega. They have held demonstrations of up to 40,000 against the rise of the far-right.
Local campaign group Brighton Anti-Fascists have pledged to oppose the far-right meeting. Andrew Beckett from Brighton Anti-Fascists said:
“Our city has a proud tradition of standing up against racists and fascists, from Jewish ex-servicemen chasing Mosley out of town in the 1940s, to the more recent community mobilisations that saw off the ‘March for England’. We’re seeing a fascist creep all over the world, La Lega are part of that, and we’re not prepared to see it happen in Brighton.”
Notes to editors
- The La Lega event in Brighton: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/cena-lega-nel-mondo-uk-eire-brighton-salvini-premier-tickets-94194721949
- Anti-fascists and antiracists are due to oppose a similar Lega gathering in London this evening, see: https://www.facebook.com/events/514186989475422/
- Hope not Hate background info on Salvini: https://www.hopenothate.org.uk/2019/07/23/rights-body-condemns-salvinis-latest-move-on-italys-roma-as-a-flagrant-human-rights-violation/
- BBC on the Sardines movement: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-50631217
- Reuters on UN investigation: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-un-rights-italy/italy-bristles-after-un-rights-chief-criticizes-migrants-treatment-idUSKCN1LR0RG
- Quartz investigtion into Salvini and La Lega: https://qz.com/1664109/italys-matteo-salvini-shows-the-danger-of-trumps-racist-tweets/
- Guardian on Liverpool mayor calling Salvini a fascist: https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2020/feb/13/matteo-salvini-denies-liverpool-visit-after-mayor-calls-him-fascist
- Guardian on Salvini kidnap case: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/feb/12/matteo-salvini-trial-for-kidnapping-authorised-by-italian-senate
We here present an interview with the (in)famous Rose City Antifa from Portland, Oregon – one of the oldest and most renowned North American antifascist groups. They have been going 13 years now and have attracted a lot of attention for some highly publicised confrontations with the far-right in their home city. Of course, as we all know, ‘everyday antifascism’ involves a lot more than show-piece confrontations, so here we also delve into the background of their work, what keeps them going and how they deal with the many problems antifascist organising throws up.
Q: Ok let’s start with the basic questions: how and when did you get set up?
A: Rose City Antifa was founded in the Autumn of 2007 after an ad-hoc committee was formed to successfully oppose Hammerfest, a neo-Nazi skinhead music festival that was to be held in Portland. After successfully shutting that event down, several organizers decided that they needed to continue to do anti-fascist work in a more formal, organized way. The group was formed by local leftists who had experience doing anti-fascist work both locally and outside of the United States. We are the oldest antifascist organization in North America and are stronger than ever.
Q: Portland, like Brighton is renowned as a liberal left-wing city. But recent events in Portland have shown a shift to the right (which we will discuss later). But what was the fascist presence like when you were setting up the group?
A: Fascists at the time were much more subcultural, either coming from the bonehead scene or from white supremacist prison gangs. The Hammerskins are an example of the former, and Volksfront an example of the latter. Though Portland has a reputation as a progressive city, it and Oregon have a long racist history, including a large and active white supremacist skinhead movement in the 1980s, members of which were responsible for the murder of an Ethiopian immigrant, Mulugeta Seraw in 1988. Anti-racist activists organized to combat these groups in the late ‘80s and ‘90s, and successfully drove them out. We as a group trace our lineage back to the anti-racist movement of that era that continues the fight to this day.
Q: Brighton Antifascists are part of a British-wide network of autonomous groups (the AFN) – do you as an organization adhere to any structures of this kind?
A: We are members of the TORCH network. This network grew out of the old ARA (Anti-Racist Action) network. It includes groups from all over the continental United States. Our network activities are somewhat different than those of the AFN because of the difficulty of organizing mobilizations over the large distances in the United States. We do however work closely in our research, monitoring, and exposing of fascists. In the US, we organize much more regionally based on proximity to other cities so for example during events in other cities in Oregon and Washington we are able to lend support, as opposed to trying to organize mobilizations across a vast geographical landscape that exists here in the United States.
Q: Likewise, whilst most member groups of the AFN are anti-authoritarian in nature we also do not demand that our members adhere to any particular ideology (e.g. anarchist vs communist.) Is this the case for Rose City Antifa?
A: Absolutely. We are a non-sectarian leftist group. We only require that our members adhere to the TORCH points of unity. We have members from a number of schools of leftist thought, but we are first and foremost pragmatists, and organize with the specific goal of shutting down fascists. Interestingly, political disagreements are rarely if ever an issue internally because we have one goal in mind and that is shutting down fascists in our city.
Q: There is a UK-wide debate over the best means for antifascist organization. This debate usually boils down to mass community organization vs squaddist action. We as Brighton Antifascists adhere to both camps. For us one cannot exist without the other, as an antifascist project would not be complete without the mobilization of large numbers of people as well as direct physical resistance to fascist threat. Where does Rose City Antifa stand on this debate? From your experience does a similar question over tactics arise in the USA?
A: We take a similar stance and employ both tactics where they are most appropriate. Community outreach and coalition building has been a part of our strategy from our founding. Our goal has always been to build and organize resilient communities to resist the fascist threat. To that end we also employ squaddism, whether at demos or at opportune times to disrupt fascist organizing where ever it arises. We work closely with more mass-organizing based groups, for example locally a group of antifascists has recently arisen called “PopMob” that does outreach in more mainstream ways and is able to mobilize sections of the community that may not be as keen on engaging in militant antifascist action but nonetheless share the same goals. By working in tandem with such groups we are able to mobilize the community and also raise awareness of fascist activity here in our city. So far this strategy has led to the ability to bring the larger Portland community together to oppose the activities of the far right. We are strict adherents to the St. Paul Principles and these have served as an excellent guideline for various groups to coordinate locally around shared goals without leaving a backdoor open to divisive issues or disagreements.
Q: With the rise of Trump and the wide-spread mobilization of the far-right it seems that even previously left-wing cities such as Portland are turning to the right. Is this a correct representation of the situation?
A: The city itself remains a progressive, left-wing city and fascists from outside the area have set their sights on Portland because we are a symbol of “the left”. There’s been a long history of anarchist, anti-fascist and left-wing organizing in our city and there remains a militant left that is still growing, organizing, and effecting change in the city. That being said, more far-right groups have appeared and held demonstrations in the Trump-era than before. Groups like Patriot Prayer, Identity Europa, The Daily Stormer ‘Book Clubs,’ and the Proud Boys are a few examples of street-level far-right, white nationalist, and fascist movements that have appeared locally. Some of these groups have managed to radicalize more mainstream right-wingers. Some of this is due to fascist entryism, but some is also due to the growing cultural divide between the left and the right that has been exacerbated by Trump and Trumpism. It might be best to say that the far-right has been emboldened, especially in terms of street-level action, but not that there has been a right-wing turn in the city generally. The vast majority of the city is opposed to these fascist mobilizations, and a diverse and large community response continues to show up against them. We are winning.
Q: Please could you tell us a little bit about Patriot Prayer? E.g. What is its ideology, organizational structure and what kind of support do they receive amongst the community of Portland?
A: Patriot Prayer has little to no organizational structure; they are essentially a cult of personality around their founder Joey Gibson. Their ideological beliefs are incredibly shallow, and tend to draw more on cultural resentment towards broader social changes in the United States than any coherent ideological background. They are essentially a strain of far-right political Christianity. They are misogynist, anti-gay, anti-trans, and ‘anti-communist.’ They have a knee-jerk opposition to any leftist or progressive organizing or social change, and tend not to have any sustained organizing on any topic for longer than it has Joey Gibson’s attention. Their lack of ideological depth provides a space that more explicitly white nationalist and fascist organizers have tried to fill, in many cases successfully. The KKK, Identity Europa, and the Proud Boys have all used Patriot Prayer events as a springboard for their organizing efforts. Furthermore, their cultural resentment has created far-right killers like Jeremy Christian. Jeremy Christian is a fascist who just weeks after attending Patriot Prayer events in 2017 murdered two men and injured a third after they intervened to stop him from yelling racial abuse at two black teenage girls on a local commuter train. Joey Gibson continues to defend Jeremy Christian to this day. Joey Gibson and Patriot Prayer only get support from some elements of the mainstream right-wing. They are able to get this support because they are able to play on the same cultural divide that is being amplified by Trumpism. One of the difficult things about confronting a group like Patriot Prayer is that it employs such an open umbrella style of organizing that they have found sympathizers with everyone from the anti-vaccine movement to the average disenfranchised republican. Their lack of a clear ideological framework means that organizing against them has led to difficult media narratives that ‘antifascists are coming for republican housewives.’ Recently, the local media has had to come to terms with the fact that Patriot Prayer events are in fact a gathering place for far-right white nationalists and fascists, but that is in no small part due to antifascists exposing them for who they really are. We have made serious gains over the last years in shifting the media landscape to characterize their mobilizations as fascist events as opposed to simply “conservative rallies.”
Q: The 2019 May Day clashes in Portland between Patriot Prayer and Rose City Antifa are now world-famous. There was also some controversy over the ‘infamous’ hand shaking at the end of the fight. Please could you give us an account of the events of that day as well as some context?
A: Suffice it to say, that after humiliating that far-right fighter in combat, that individual was attempting to de-escalate the confrontation that had been taking place, and in that state of adrenaline shook a hand and told Patriot Prayer to leave. What gets overlooked in focusing on the handshake is the fact that a large number of individuals repulsed a far-right attack on a well-known leftist space. There is ongoing legal repression from the events of that day, and so we are unable to go into more detail on the events or the confrontations that took place.
Q: Whilst many international accounts of Portland’s May Day events focused primarily on the Patriot Prayer attack and the subsequent handshake, very little was actually said about the anti-ICE demonstration which was held in Portland on the same day. What is your stance on the importance of the intersectionality of struggles? E.g. how important is it for antifascists to mobilize against ICE and the like and why?
A: We feel it is important to note that Portland was one of the first cities to establish an occupation of an ICE facility, and the anti-ICE demonstration on Mayday 2019 was a continuation of that struggle. We see the struggle against borders as inherently linked to anti-fascism, since fascism is intensely nationalist and wants to increase the violence caused by borders. Throughout the occupation anti-fascists from our group and others responded to defend the camp from far-right threats and attacks. It is important for anti-fascists to mobilize in these struggles to build coalitions and support the work that other organizers are doing against oppressive structures like institutional racism, the border, and more. We are not single issue organizers because we recognize that the struggle against fascism is a broad one that also encompasses fighting the fascist tendencies already present in our society.
Q: The USA appears to be an increasingly divided country (e.g. in terms of race, class and gender as well as sexual orientation and identity.) How do these factors impact the organizational structure of Rose City Antifa? (e.g. how is it that you work to break down these barriers?)
A: As a group we have always drawn a majority of our members from the oppressed. We are majority queer and have always had a strong tradition of women as core organizers. We recognize that we must struggle internally against the oppressive structures present in the larger society, and have policies within our group that check the privileges and oppressive behaviors that all individuals raised in this society can exhibit. We’ve often taken difficult stances against abusers and abusive behavior within the left.
Q: As we all know, police brutality disproportionally targets people of color. How is this tackled by antifascists in a demonstration setting? E.g. will white antifascists place themselves inbetween police officers and their fellow comrades of colour?
Those are decisions that we make in conversation with the people of color who are at those demonstrations. We don’t presume that people of color do or don’t want to have us take those actions, and so we discuss with those organizers and defer to the judgement of the people impacted by racist police violence. Our white members don’t want to patronize or condescend to oppressed people by presuming to act in their interests so our white members take steps to organize in tandem with people of color when the police attack.
Q: Police brutality in the USA is rising whilst prison sentences are getting longer and longer. Please could you tell us a little about your current situation in relation to policing as well as to the prison system? (E.g. are any of your members serving active prison sentences and how does this affect your ability to organise?)
A: Anti-fascists have faced heavy police and legal repression in the United States. For legal reasons we can’t comment on whether or not any members are in prison, or have faced police repression. Policing in the United States as a whole entails frequent attacks on demonstrations, counter-intelligence operations by the FBI and local police, and co-ordination with the far-right and white nationalists. We believe the struggle against fascism is a three way fight involving ourselves, fascists, and the state which protects the fascists. Locally, we know that Patriot Prayer and the Portland Police Bureau have worked hand in hand in actions that targeted antifascists. A recent revelation is the very cozy relationship between a Police lieutenant and Joey Gibson exchanging plans via text message, advising fellow fascists how to avoid arrest (despite police warrants), and sharing information on antifascist activity in the city. Furthermore, a survey of police in Portland revealed that most police hold a favorable view to the fascist “patriot rally” demonstrations taking place, deeming them to be the ‘mainstream’ activists and treating antifascists as “volatile.” This is the landscape that we have to organize under and we have no doubts about what side the police will be taking in these ongoing conflicts.
Q: The mainstream American media (e.g. Fox news) seems hell-bent on representing the antifascist movement as negatively as possible. What kind of struggles do you encounter when attempting to organize with larger groups of people? And how do you combat (if at all) the stigma associated with ‘antifa’?
A: We find that locally we don’t have that problem because of years of diligent community organizing and a more favorable political climate. To combat negative media representations, we engage with the media through interviews (with the exception of explicitly right-wing outlets) to de-mystify anti-fascists and try to accurately portray our views. Having the history and name recognition that we do, we have the very awkward position of being interviewed by mainstream outlets such as the BBC, CNN, NBC and others. We have made a conscious decision to engage in such interviews because we feel it is important to portray antifascists as the ‘normal’ community members that we are, as opposed to the violent caricature of “antifa terrorists” portrayed in mainstream media outlets and especially in right wing media.
Q: It’s been a hell of a ride from Charlottesville to today. Where do you see the USA moving towards?
A: We’ve seen many fascist movements turn more sharply towards underground, lone-wolf style organizing in the wake of Charlottesville. It seems reasonable to assume that this clandestine and violent trend will continue and possibly increase if Trump is defeated in the upcoming election. At the same time, the last four years have seen major mobilizations by the left across the country, so it seems likely that social conflict will intensify as the left organizes and the right becomes more reactionary and violent. We cannot predict the future, but the militant far-right is the most emboldened it has been in a generation and no matter the political outcomes of the coming elections we expect these people to be heavily armed and ready for conflict.
Q: Likewise, what do you foresee the future of Portland to be?
A: We have seen many major demonstrations by the far-right, but it seems that legal repercussions have caught up to several key organizers, and fascists are again afraid to stage large demonstrations because of the strength of anti-fascist responses. We can expect far smaller flash demos and sporadic small-scale mobilizations, but our community is more organized than ever to oppose them. We also have seen several fascist organizations like Identity Europa and the Daily Stormer ‘Book Club’ disband or curtail their organizing based on anti-fascist actions. It is an ongoing war of attrition against various factions of the far-right but as the antifascist saying goes, “we intend to win.”
Q: Finally, how can international comrades support Rose City Antifa?
A: We would love to host talks by international comrades in order to share skills and experiences from those organizing in different contexts so please get in touch and let’s organize! We’ve hosted anti-fascists from Germany and the UK already, and have appreciated the perspectives, insights, and histories that those anti-fascists presented to us and the community. As well, supporting us financially through donations or buying our supporters gear is always welcome. Lastly, supporting anti-fascists in prison throughout the United States is important, so please write to anti-fascists like Gage Halupowski and others. Comrades in Antifa Sacramento maintain a list of all anti-fascist prisoners in the United States at https://antifasac.blackblogs.org/
Our website is https://rosecityantifa.org/ Please get in touch and we look forward to building more bonds across the globe!
Ok so first of all let us welcome our friends over there from 120dB! Congratulations on successfully crossing the border… I can proudly say that I am standing here alongside the true daughters of Europa.
But jokes aside we are here because we want to provide another narrative from that of 120dB. To say that to criminalize migrants, distort rape statistics and create a moral panic is not going help women! It is not going to help white women, women of colour, disabled women, nor the queer community and it is definitely not going to help migrant women. But it will help fascists!
Let’s remember that being a woman is not a disqualifying factor for being a Nazi! 120dB try to neutralize their words. They claim to be speaking on behalf of all women, on behalf of all victims of sexual assault. But they are not. Skewing statistics on a propaganda push, demanding deportations, the integrity of the ethno-state and the criminalization of refuges and migrants are political positions. Utilising the violence that is committed against women for the purpose of perpetuating bigotry, racism and fear is a political choice. One that Annika, and the other women of 120dB have taken. So on a day of feminist resistance lets not take Annika and her fellow activists as the stereotype of the passive woman that we all know to be untrue. Let’s take them as what they are, which is far right militant activists. They use the violence which is carried out against women’s bodies and which women are brought up to fear from birth for the purpose of a far-right political project.
120dB claim that 68% of rapes occurring in Europe are carried out by migrants and refugees (the underlying connotation here is Muslims). This is statistically completely and utterly untrue. The statistics available tell us that in the UK 45% of rapes are carried out by partners or ex partners, 38% by someone known to the victim and 5% by a family member totaling to 88%, only 12% accounts for sexual assaults carried out by a person unknow to the victim. (1)
120dB play on the fear that we as women all know of walking around at night and being sexually assaulted on the way home. But what the statistics tell us is that a woman is 88% more likely to be sexually assaulted by a member of her own community, to be assaulted by her boyfriend, by her friend, by her boss or her carer. Annika in one of her famous interviews has claimed that these kinds of rapes do not contain violence. We ask her what does she think rape is? Statistics tell us that when migrant men rape, just like European men rape they will be more likely to rape a member of their own community. The victims of these assaults will predominantly be the same migrant women which 120dB seeks to marginalize.
The same women who due to their legal status are roughly 25% less likely to report sexual assault for fear of deportation or lack of faith in the police. The same women, 69.3%(1) of which are reported to have endured sexual violence in and on their journey to Europe. The same women who are predominantly fleeing warzones where rape is used as a weapon of war.
If 120dB is interested ending sexual assault, in a country where the rate of conviction for the perpetrator is at 5.7%(2) their time would be better spent lobbying the British government to adapt its legal system to effectively prosecute cases of sexual assault. If 120dB cared about ending sexual assault they wouldn’t propagate outdated and revolting narratives which are better left to the KKK of unknown black men raping white women dark alleys. Because this fear mongering doesn’t adequately prepare young women for the sexual assault they will receive in their lives. This doesn’t prepare women to expect to be raped by their boyfriends, their friends and their bosses. And this doesn’t prepare communities and legal systems to adequately deal with rape. Because when a woman is raped by her friend, her boyfriend, her carer, her boss what we are told is there isn’t enough evidence. What we are told is that if she consented before she could have consented again, that if she didn’t wan to have sex she shouldn’t have slept at her friend’s house while inebriated, that she wasn’t raped, that she was claiming the ladder by sleeping with the boss, that her carer couldn’t have possibly raped her.
So we ask you 120dB why don’t you lobby for this? Why don’t you valuably spend your time on something actually useful rather than creating moral panics and using the violence and torture which was executed against survivors for your own political purposes? The sexual assaults which 120dB site are the worst violations and we say to the victims we are here for you and we believe you.
And we believe Chelsey who in 2016 was raped by six men but unlike the right: first the BNP, then Britain First and then Tommy Robinson, we won’t use you as a propaganda machine, as a cash cow and we won’t drop you as soon as we discover that the legal system in Britain is skewed not to believe survivors. Sorry Tommy but in November you promised to continue on fighting for Chelsey you promised that this wouldn’t be the end of the campaign. That was in November. And you have maintained radio silence since. Because you didn’t really care about rape, what you cared about was the headlines, and the publicity, and as soon as you discovered what the reality of being a survivor in Britain was you dropped out. Because you didn’t want your xenophobic and bigoted fans to lose faith in you because Chelsey had served her purpose.
And Just as Tommy, and Jayda and Paul Golding used Chelsey, 120dB use survivors in Germany, Italy, France to build their movement and that of Generation Identity to raise money, notoriety to get bigger. They claim that they are reporting what the mainstream news isn’t, well fucking bullshit. Did the news not report the murder of Pamela? The 18 year old girl who was murdered and stuffed into a suitcase in Macerata Italy. Didn’t the Italian and international media not jump on the story (the same story that you link in your promotional videos) and didn’t the news instantly disclose the nationality of the three accused… and didn’t Luca Triani, a far right militant from casa pound with a copy of Mein Kampf in his house, and an Italian flag around his shoulder, not get in his car and go on a shooting spree of Senegalese migrants in a so called revenge killing? To later find that the charges against the two Nigerian men accused had been dropped because the prosecution discovered that the two men couldn’t have possibly been linked to Pamela and her murder, resulting in Pamela’s uncle and family lawyer denouncing the course of investigation as embarrassing due to its failure to identify a plausible motive or even evidence.
Annika, 120dB the media, European legal systems and public opinion are already skewed against migrants, refugees and people of colour, your work has already been done for you, it is unnecessary. The work that hasn’t been done is that of allowing women to be believed when they say that they have been raped or sexually assaulted. And the only way that a true feminist movement can take place is if it accounts for all women and not ONE LESS. That is anti-fascist, anti-racist, queer feminism. And if we are going to call a fucking movement something lets fucking call it baseball bats, because the sound of a rape alarm doesn’t reassure me. We as women stand together from Rojava to Europe and in the spirit of Anna Campbell we say Jin Jiyan Azadi, women, life, freedom.
The Football Lads Alliance (FLA) march in London last Saturday, saw large crowds (estimated between 5,000 to 20,000) gathered to protest Islamic extremism. The stated aim, at least from the organisers, was to demand the arrest, internment and or deportation of 23,000 ‘extremists’ without trial.
On the 4th October 1936 , tens of thousands of anti-fascists turned out to stop Moseley’s Blackshirts marching into the East End of London.