No Platform for Fascists: Limits of Free Speech

While hate groups hold nowhere near the strength they once possessed in the US South, recruitment into right-wing extremist groups, psudeo-fascist “European heritage” groups, and openly fascist groups like the KKK and National Socialist Movement has been on the rise for several years. Coupled with recent gains by neo-fascists in Europe, this reflects a troubling and dangerous trend.

With that in mind, we should all be concerned with what the rapid growth of fascist groups means for our society as a whole, and especially for minority groups who are most often the targets of these groups. Whose rights are more important and how do we decide? Is it the right of fascist groups to spread their message of hate and intolerance? Do oppressed minorities have a right to feel safe in a hostile society still dominated by white supremacy? And, ultimately, who grants and defends these rights?

Who Has the Right to “Free” Speech?

I won’t venture into a long theoretical analysis of how we come to have certain rights or who grants them. Suffice it to say, most of the rights we now enjoy were earned through generations of struggle against the ruling classes. We weren’t born with them. The powers-that-be didn’t benevolently bestow them upon us. They aren’t guaranteed by a centuries old piece of paper. Millions of people who came before us shed blood and sacrificed their lives fighting to achieve them.

Even today the state regularly infringes on certain rights at its whim. The right to organize unions in our workplaces was only recently granted, and can be taken away, or severely restricted, at any time by the state or the police. Those of us on the radical left are well aware that our right to assemble and our right to free speech are routinely trampled by the state. The right to freely criticize the ruling class’ constant hunger for war and disregard for workers was only achieved in any meaningful way well into the 20th century.

A sad looking group of KKK and NSM members on their way to the Georgia state capitol on 2013

A sad looking group of KKK and NSM members on their way to the Georgia state capitol on 2013

In April 2013, a group of KKK and National Socialist Movement members held a rally on the steps of the Georgia state capitol. They were visibly protected the entire time by a wall of police from several local departments. We outnumbered the racists by at least 5-to-1, and it was clear who the police were there to protect. The entire afternoon, the cops antagonized members of our group, even assaulting and arresting one of our comrades for holding a sign that read “Fuck Off Nazi Scum.” The irony of such an incident occurring while police ferociously defended the KKK and NSM’s right to “free speech” wasn’t lost on us. It’s clear that the state capriciously defends the right to free speech and assembly, with a clear bias against those on the radical Left.

As a white American male who grew up poor, but still socially privileged, I came to believe that freedom of speech and freedom of expression were sacramentally enshrined into the fabric of our nation, granted to us by our wise and all-knowing founding fathers. Even after I was politically radicalized and realized it was mostly wealthy slave owners and Indian killers who were guaranteed those rights, I held onto the sentiment that free speech was a special right. More than most, I should have known better. I grew up in a mixed-race household and had a front row seat to racism and white supremacy.

Eventually I grew beyond the naive belief that everyone has a right to say whatever they want, regardless of the consequences, but only after I endured my own share of hardships, homelessness, mental illness, and drug addiction. I came to realize, through my exposure to people who were fighting for survival, that one of the worst things I could imagine someone doing to me was trample on my right to free speech was a reflection of my own comfort and social privilege. Who was time to worry about free speech battles (like the ACLU defending the KKK’s right to adopt a road in Georgia) when you’re living on the street, when you can’t pay your rent, when you’re worried the cops will murder you because of the color of your skin, when every day is a battle to find work, stay out of prison, or just survive? Sure, free speech means something, but lets not fool ourselves into believing words and images can’t injure. Racist propaganda and hate speech can cause lasting psychological distress and emotional trauma. Sticks and stones may break bones, but words can sometimes hurt even more.

Many European countries have laws against hate speech. I’m not going to extol government restrictions on free speech because such laws ultimately fail to address the white supremacy and structural racism that make people comfortable expressing hateful ideas. It is ultimately our responsibility — not the state’s — to put an end to hate speech, white supremacy, and the institutional oppression of our neighbors. That being said, it’s not my place to determine how victims of hate speech should be protected from its effects. If such laws can save or materially improve the lives of people of color and other oppressed groups or advance our cause of liberating the working class, we would be foolish to oppose them. Nonetheless, based on hundreds of years of history, it’s even more foolish to imagine that the state will protect the lives and voices of oppressed groups.

Openings for Extremism and Protecting White Supremacy

Allowing racists and fascists to spread their hate, and going to the extreme of fighting to protect it, fosters a toxic atmosphere that creates uncomfortable and unsafe conditions for minority groups. In a society that already devalues their lives and their voices, this is particularly dangerous. One person’s right to feel safe, and not see images of people who look like them hanging from trees or having people who belong to privileged classes call for their removal or extermination, should absolutely trump anyone else’s right to produce and distribute such garbage. Unfortunately, people who identify themselves as leftist crusaders for civil liberties (who often belong to privileged classes themselves) are usually the first to defend hate speech rights.

While it’s clear that hate speech creates a toxic environment and places certain people in our society at grave risk, there are also secondary effects. The most obvious is the atmosphere of comfort and protection it provides to fascists to continue recruiting into their hate groups. Likewise, it makes casual racists, who might not otherwise be committed to the cause and might not even realize they’re racist, feel more at ease sharing racist jokes and propogating racial stereotypes or feeding into the attitude that they’re somehow being discriminated against (“reverse racism”) on the rare occasion that an oppressed minority is protected from their actions. Hate speech feeds and nourishes the seeds of white supremacy that live within all of us.

One of the most dangerous secondary effects of hate speech is the sway it holds over the mainstream political climate. By staking out a position on the extreme endpoint of the right-wing, hate groups create an opening that less extreme right-wing politicians can exploit. When hate groups call for the extermination of certain races or the removal of all non-white people from the country, calls by mainstream politicians to build a fence along the border and deport undocumented immigrants and their children don’t seem quite as severe. This creates a ripple effect, pulling other politicians, even progressives and liberals, further to the right. (It should be noted that socialists, communists, and anarchists on the left have a similar effect on progressive politicians, whether we intend it or not. In fact, this reaction very frequently results in the political sabotage of our democratic, grassroots efforts toward socialist solutions free from state interference).

In our time it’s clear that our society place little value on the lives of our black, Hispanic, Native American neighbors. It’s not uncommon to see an unarmed black person murdered by the police followed by a flurry of white voices defending the officer in question or, lacking that, the police as an institution. The very fact that the first instinct is not to question what caused that situation to occur in the first place or attempt to understand the very real fear of police that many people have, speaks volumes about our society and our priorities. Even when these people are called out for ignorant and racist comments, their right to spread them and create an even more toxic atmosphere is always protected and defended.

Opposing Fascism by Any Means Necessary

The danger of allowing racists and fascists to promote their cause, even when they’re small in number, is not negligible. White power bands draw hundreds of people to their concerts and gatherings of pseudo-fascist “European heritage groups” take place regularly across the country. How we combat their efforts in not always so clear cut. Calls to ignore them so as not to draw attention to their cause have proven remarkably ineffective. If we ignore them they won’t go away. In fact, they’ll very likely grow stronger with a lack of pressure. The media has shown a consistent determination to cover even the smallest actions carried out by these groups.

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One of many militant anti-fascist groups in the United States

We can’t rely on the state to remove them. The state is more likely to go after those on the left than fascists. The state is designed to protect white supremacy at all costs and perpetuate the class system that systematically disadvantages certain groups and positions working people of different social group against each other. Militant action has proven effective at disrupting fascist organizing efforts, removing their presence from certain areas and discouraging working people from joining their ranks (or at least hiding where their sentiments lie out of fear).

We’ve seen the speed with which fascist movements can spread. Fascists took complete control of Spain, Portugal, Italy, and Germany in a matter of years and dominated most of Europe during World War II. In recent years, neo-fascist groups have gained positions in many European parliaments, even in relatively progressive countries like France and Sweden. The United States has a long and colorful history of racism, patriarchy, xenophobia, and homophobia, and intolerance. Despite dismissals from establishment leftists and moderates, its not far-fetched to imagine fascist movements taking root in the United States. In fact, pseudo-fascist language and ideas run rampant on the Internet and in right-wing groups like the Tea Party, certain elements of the Libertarian Party, and ultra-conservative factions of the Republican Party (although we do sometimes find allies on what is considered the libertarian “right”). Such spaces are ripe for infiltration by an organized group of determined neo-fascists. And while they might not seem well-organized or many in number right now, the infrastructure for rapid growth already exists. Past experience in protests and social movements teaches us that the police are far more likely to resort to violence and state suppression of communists and anarchists than against right-wing extremists. We might very well find ourselves washed under a wave of fascism with very little resistance from the privileged classes.

With that in mind, and knowing the state and the establishment have left a wide berth for fascism, we have a responsibility to militantly oppose white supremacy and fascism with whatever means are at our disposal. For some of us that might mean putting our bodies in danger and risk losing our freedom. We cannot allow them to run our streets, demonstrate in our neighborhoods, and terrorize our neighbors at will. More importantly, we must not allow them to take root in areas where they might find less resistance, or even acceptance, like suburban towns and rural areas. It is a matter of life and death, not only for oppressed minority groups, but for all of us who seek the liberation of the working class.

The police have shown not only a willingness to protect racists and fascists, but have proved they very often belong to those same groups. As an institution, the police have demonstrated that they will protect white supremacy at any cost. As such, they should not be permitted to escape the focus of our anti-fascist organizing. Oppressed groups are most often the victims of police violence and it is our duty to put an end to that. In the process we might place ourselves in harm’s way, but whatever harm we face pales in comparison to the structural violence and unrelenting danger faced by our oppressed friends and neighbors.

Destroying the sacred symbols of racists and fascists, like burning the confederate battle flag, or protesting against their cause with signs and demonstrations might make us feel good about ourselves and provide motivation for our allies, It might even cause some minor aggravation or embarrassment for fascists with a thin skin. It won’t do much to dampen their cause, though. It is our obligation, if not for our own good for the well-being and safety of our neighbors who are not protected or privileged, to defeat the racists and fascists and create an environment where they feel unsafe spreading their hate or attempting to recruit working people into their ranks. Accomplishing all that would be a wonderful beginning, but even once the fascists are eliminated, plenty of work remains.

Defeating White Supremacy

Defeating fascists and creating an environment where they must constantly watch over their shoulders in public is not enough to push forward the liberation of oppressed classes. It barely puts a dent in the armor of institutional racism. White supremacy is a cancer that infects us all, even to the point of being internalized by many of its victims (how many times have we seen black cops defend the killing of an unarmed black person?). It is our responsibility, as dedicated anti-fascists, to confront the institutional privilege that routinely places less importance on the lives, voices, and experiences of oppressed minority groups than those of white people, and especially straight white males.

Students burning a confederate battle flag in Florida

Students burning a confederate battle flag in Florida

Opposing white supremacy as an institution is still not enough. For white anti-fascists, we must look within ourselves and question our own attitudes and perceptions about race. Even committed white anti-fascists benefit from the social privilege of having white skin, whether we want it or not. We can’t help but be affected by that. Very often we don’t even realize we’ve developed or internalized these attitudes and often neglect to study how we ourselves are socially conditioned by white supremacy.

We must face racists and fascists head on, but our work will never be done until everyone is liberated. As anti-racists and anti-fascists, it’s wonderful that we’re willing to bravely battle hate groups in the streets. The people who belong to those groups, however, often find their way into them because of frustration with the same instruments of class oppression as us. They are very often poor white people who end up placing anger about their own hardships and social conditions on other exploited and oppressed groups, like black people and immigrants. It’s a con-game the ruling class has played on working people for centuries. They’re masters at directing elements of the working class against each other, rather than toward the state and capitalism.

With that in mind, and knowing that dedicated racists and fascists often turn to our side later on, we should be mindful to not isolate those who otherwise might be receptive to our cause when framed in the proper perspective. We should work to bring rural and suburban whites to our cause while militantly opposing those who select the side of fascism. We should always be careful to not isolate potential allies or make the mistake of presuming that all people in the rural South harbor openly racist attitudes. Fascists are just as likely to live in and recruit in major cities as rural areas.

Attacking Fascism and White Supremacy on Multiple Fronts

Whether we choose a militant or a peaceful approach toward anti-fascism, our best path forward is to present a united front against racists, fascists, and white supremacy and not judge others for tactics that actually challenge them. Victory will likely come only through a convergence of different channels and it could mean we have to ally with those we might not like or work with otherwise.

Placing social pressure on hate groups, limiting their recruitment efforts, and targeting major corporations, like Amazon, who profit from the sale of racist propaganda are absolutely necessary to our cause. We must never provide a platform for fascists. But those actions alone won’t eliminate hate groups and they don’t even begin to touch on the process of dismantling white supremacy in our society.

To do that, we must look to each other and within ourselves, to unlearn everything our society has taught us about race and privilege and challenge the institutions that support them at every turn. The rights we enjoy today weren’t simply given to us, nor will be the rights of those who follow us.

More on anti-fascism in the US South:
http://www.fightbacknews.org/2015/4/11/100-florida-students-march-against-kkk
http://jeremykgalloway.com/2014/08/26/nazis-and-kkk-protest-in-atlanta-free-speech-protected-by-local-police/
https://nycantifa.wordpress.com/2013/04/23/atlanta-ga-reportback-on-antifascist-actions-0419-0420/

World Bipolar Day: Mentally Ill Deserve Justice, Not Jails and Death

Click here for an update on the Matthew Ajibade case.


Today, March 30th, is World Bipolar day. While the causes of and treatment for bipolar disorder still aren’t well understood, one thing is abundantly clear: bipolar disorder and mental illness  carry a tremendous amount of stigma and social baggage. Nowhere is this more evident than in dealings of mentally ill persons with the police. As someone who suffers from bipolar disorder and who has had several encounters with law enforcement, the legal system, and jails and prisons, I can attest to the inhumane treatment the mentally ill regularly face in dealing with the state and its various institutions. Having been diagnosed recently, after over a decade of substance abuse issues and mental breakdowns, I can also say that treatment options for those with mental health disorders are abysmal. Only now, after receiving psychiatric treatment and medication, am I beginning to feel like what I would consider a functional adult. While I’ve had numerous confrontations with police and prison guards, none of them turned deadly and I don’t recall ever fearing for my life. Perhaps that was due to my skin color or appearance, or maybe it was simply good fortune. Many aren’t so fortunate, however. It’s estimated that more than half of those killed by police violence each year suffer from some sort of mental health disorder. Many of these, of course, are people of color.

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Matthew Ajibade, died in police custody at Chatham County Jail

At least two black men diagnosed with bipolar disorder have been killed in Georgia at the hands of the police already this year. Matthew Ajibade, a 22 year-old Savannah College of Art & Design student from Lagos, Nigeria, died in police custody at the Chatham County jail in January. Ajibade’s girlfriend had called 911 seeking help in dealing with a manic episode. During a manic episode, people with bipolar disorder can become agitated, violent, or delusional. Medical professional are trained to deal with these sorts of incidents. In Ajibade’s case, police, rather than an EMTs, responded to the call. Police sometimes receive conflict resolution training, but are rarely equipped to deal with mentally illness without resorting to violence. Ajibade died in police custody after being restrained by at least three officers. An investigation is still pending, but given the lack of justice for people of color killed by police, it’s not difficult to imagine the outcome. Earlier this month, Anthony Hill, a 27 year-old Air Force combat veteran, was killed by a Dekalb County police officer. Neighbors had called to report a “deranged” man knocking on people’s doors. Hill was completely naked and unarmed when we was shot. While the state is conducting an investigation into the incident, Hill’s family has started their own. His mother, Carolyn Baylor-Guimmo questioned the treatment of her son and the officer involved, asking, “If he didn’t have that badge, what would happen to the person who killed my son? A lot of black men are

Anthony Hill

Anthony Hill, killed by Dekalb County police

being shot by Caucasian officers. It’s a deep problem.” Family members believe Hill may have stopped taking some of the medication he was prescribed for his condition. The mood-stabilizers, anti-psychotics, and anti-depressants used to treat bipolar disorder frequently have serious and debilitating side effects and it’s not unusual for patients to stop taking them against medical advice. There has recently been a groundswell of protest and direct action against police killings of unarmed people of color. Unfortunately, only the most extreme cases, or those that yield the most fierce resistance, are remembered or receive media attention. When the victim suffers from a mental health disorder, the actions of the police are often excused by the state and the general public. Those diagnosed with mental health disorders, especially bipolar and schizophrenia, still face a tremendous stigma and a certain level of social paranoia. There are also racial disparities in how these conditions are diagnosed and treated. Many of us are automatically presumed to be violent when, in reality, we’re much more likely to pose a danger to ourselves than anyone around us. If we’re going to end the horrible cycle of police violence against our neighbors, we have to confront our attitudes about people from certain social classes and those with mental and physical impairments. To put an end to police violence against these groups and work toward meaningful social justice, we must demand that police be disarmed, that they be held accountable to the communities they patrol, that people suffering from mental illness receive medial assistance when their families seek help, and that we provide adequate healthcare resources for people who suffer from mental illness. Until that happens, people with mental illness and those in marginalized communities will continue to be oppressed, and killed, by institutions that routinely place less value on their lives and their voices. Body cameras and “independent” investigations by outside law enforcement officials are not enough. Politicians and state officials have consistently shown their willingness to protect officers involved in these sorts of cases. We must continue asserting our right to defend ourselves, to govern ourselves, and work toward building a revolutionary new world with social freedom and justice for more than just the privileged social classes. We have an obligation to protect and defend our friends, family, and neighbors against the violence of the state. More on police killings of people with mental illness: http://www.salon.com/2012/12/10/half_of_people_shot_by_police_are_mentally_ill_investigation_finds/ More on Anthony Hill and Matthew Ajibade: https://actionindahlonega.wordpress.com/2015/03/10/anthony-hill-unarmed-georgia-man-murdered-by-police/ http://heavy.com/news/2015/03/anthony-hill-police-shooting-shot-killed-mental-illness-bipolar-dekalb-atlanta-georgia-officer-unarmed/ http://savannahnow.com/news/2015-01-06/family-wants-answers-after-savannah-artist-dies-jail http://www.blackyouthproject.com/2015/01/how-did-matthew-ajibade-die-in-custody/ More information on bipolar disorder: http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/bipolar-disorder/index.shtml

Statement from Action in Dahlonega: Dahlonega Nugget Cover Story Reinforces Oppressive Attitudes

Here’s a statement from the local Action in Dahlonega collective about the ongoing controversy around the University of North Georgia’s continuing education catalog and its implicit racist and sexist attitudes:

The cover story of the March 25th edition of the Dahlonega Nugget features the now infamous University of North Georgia catalog cover (more details here) that has made national news for reflecting racist and sexist stereotypes and isolating women and minority students.

The article seems to reflect a clear bias in favor of the photograph, or at least goes out of its way to excuse it. The only people directly quoted in the article are school administrator Kate Maine and journalism student Hunter Leger. Maine condemns the photograph but insists it was a stock photo, implying at least part of the blame lies elsewhere. Leger, explains that other students took issue with the school’s use of the photograph, but dismisses those who found it problematic trying to “[pacify] the crowd that would seek to deem anything they’re uncomfortable with as racist.”

It should be noted that Leger, the only UNG student quoted in the article, and the article’s writer are both white men. The fact that this happened on an issue directly relating to people of color and women only reinforces our argument that white supremacy and patriarchy are deeply woven into the fabric of our culture. Academic institutions and the media consistently place more value on the voices of white men than those of marginalized groups. The writer failed to mention why certain people found the catalog cover racist and sexist, instead referring to urban media sources like the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and New York Magazine, or second-hand accounts from Maine and Leger.

The fact that the Nugget didn’t interview any black or non-male students for the article is not merely lazy, it reflects a troubling attitude that pervades our modern media. In an era when black men and women are murdered by police and news outlets scramble to dig up criminal records or inflammatory Facebook photographs of the victims, we can’t rely on the media to provide objective coverage or give voice to these victims.

Even if UNG and the Nugget learn from this experience, the changes will most likely be superficial. Many schools and newspapers know how to properly handle the language and imagery around race and gender, but the structural problems that form the foundation of white supremacy and patriarchy in our society remain. Even when the voices and experiences of marginalized groups are included, they’re lost or ignored in a culture that has been conditioned to give them less value.

The unfortunate truth is, the photograph an entirely accurate depiction of social relations in modern America. Even when we’ve learned how to not sound racist or sexist, racism and sexism still thrive. We must continue to fight not only oppressive words and images, but the structural conditions that oppress and exclude people of color and women and place more value on the opinions of white men than those of any other group.

Trail of Tears Remembrance Day: The Struggle Continues

Today marks the 176th anniversary of the arrival of the final group of Cherokee, who were forcibly removed from their homes, in the present-day state of Oklahoma. It’s also the 2nd annual “Trail of Tears Remembrance Day.”

A statement from the Action in Dahlonega collective on the Trail of Tears and resistance by the Cherokee people:

Trail of Tears Remembrance Day: The Struggle Continues.

Racist/Sexist UNG Catalog Cover ReflectsBroader Attitudes

This week the University of North Georgia apologized for publishing a continuing education catalog that features two white men in business suits beating a more casually-dressed black man and a woman in high heels in a race. The image was quickly called out for its racist and sexist overtones. The school has called the incident an “isolated case of poor judgment” and claimed that any offense was “unintentional.” They went on to express their commitment to diversity and made vague promises to do better in the future.

Now that the school has apologized, those who took offense are presumably expected to (as the media no doubt will) sweep these events under the rug, along with the countless other racist and sexist incidents that have dotted our academic and cultural landscapes. But the very fact that this image was produced and made it to the front page of a catalog and the web site of a major university speaks volumes to the ongoing pervasiveness of white supremacist and sexist attitudes in our community and at the University of North Georgia.

The state of Georgia has one of the highest percentages of people of color in the country, but the UNG student body and faculty are both over 80% white. This fact alone is troubling. The continuing marginalization of minorities and women at the school and in our community is unacceptable. The fact that there aren’t more claims of racism against minority students at UNG speaks more to the homogeneity of the community, and the attitude that minority students are expected to conform to white campus culture, than any lack of racism among the student body or faculty.

Nor is UNG the only school guilty of this sort of behavior. Colleges and universities across the country are constantly forced to make apologies like this. The racist chants of the University of Oklahoma’s Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity, which has a chapter at UNG, are still fresh in most of our minds and minority students at the University of Georgia rallied against racism and homophobia on their campus in 2013.

The racist and sexist attitudes that infect our academic institutions only reflect the ongoing white supremacy and patriarchy of our broader culture. They are symptoms of a larger institutional problem. We can, and certainly should, continue to call them out, but we must recognize that these problems are a core feature of American culture.

Apologies may serve to ease our collective guilt, but they do nothing to put an end to the damage wreaked by white supremacy and patriarchy in our society. In an age where college age men of color are more than 5 times more likely than their white counterparts to die from police violence and women, even when they earn college degrees, are expected to have careers and still fulfill their traditional role of unpaid domestic labor, we must demand more. Racism and sexism in our school and communities will end only when we stand up to put an end to it ourselves.

More on the UNG situation:
http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2015/03/joyful-white-guys-finish-ahead-of-struggling-woman-and-black-man-in-this-universitys-catalog/#.VQsScfvSjxo.facebook
http://www.collegefactual.com/colleges/north-georgia-college-and-state-university/student-life/diversity/

Further reading on sexism and racism in academia :
http://scienceline.org/2014/11/some-hard-science-on-sexism-in-academia/
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/khanh-ho/presumed-incompetent_b_2778384.html
http://onlineathens.com/uga/2013-11-08/march-uga-campus-friday-protests-racist-homophobic-taunts
http://amarillo.com/news/latest-news/2013-11-07/racist-facebook-post-sparks-controversy-uga

Police killings of young black men in the US:
http://www.cjcj.org/news/8113
http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2014/08/police-shootings-michael-brown-ferguson-black-men