The city of San Francisco has voted to legalize the use of killbots in specific emergency situations like active shooters and suicide bombers, with high-ranking officers making the call as to whether their use is warranted.
The city of San Francisco has voted to legalize the use of killbots in specific emergency situations like active shooters and suicide bombers, with high-ranking officers making the call as to whether their use is warranted.
Police crime tape surrounds the scene of the mass shooting outside of Club Q on November 21, 2022 in Colorado Springs, Co.
Photo: Helen H. Richardson/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images
Over the weekend, the paper of record’s editorial board described a “chilling preview of what the future might look like if violence from the right begets violence from the left.”
The event that precipitated those fears at the New York Times offices in Manhattan? A would-be showdown that never was at a Roanoke, Texas, restaurant’s family-friendly drag brunch. An armed far-right group, including Proud Boys and self-identifying “Christian fascists,” turned up to harass brunch-goers — a sadly commonplace form of fascistic intimidation that’s hardly news.
Instead, what concerned the Times about this event was that the armed fascists were met and obstructed by armed anti-fascists, who had been asked by members of the local community to provide security for the brunch.
In the end, no one was hurt in this alleged portent of political violence and the restaurant owner’s son, a performer at the drag brunch, thanked the anti-fascists of the Elm Fork John Brown Gun Club for “keeping us safe.”
Just a week had passed since the Club Q massacre, which left five attendees of an LGBTQ club dead, when the Times decided to draw an equivalence between the fascists who threaten LGBTQ-friendly spaces with guns and the anti-fascists with guns who volunteer to defend those spaces — a new low in bothsidesism.
For as long as marginalized and minority communities have been threatened and imperiled by armed white supremacists and fascists — a violence foundational to this country — they have been condemned for taking up arms in self-defense.
It is a profound mischaracterization of the history and principles of armed community defense to suggest that armed anti-fascists and anti-racists are engaged in escalatory political violence that is worthy of the same condemnation as the fascists they confront.
Oppressed groups and their allies have time and again seen guns as necessary defensive tools. This has been true at key points in the history of Black struggle in the U.S. — formerly enslaved marronage communities, Black civilians in the late 19th century who blocked jails to stop lynchings, and the Black Panthers, who were originally named the Black Panther Party for Self Defense — but also among the queer militants of Bash Back! in the late 2000s. Yet the decision to take up arms in community defense has consistently been decried as escalatory and extremist.
Mourners visit a makeshift memorial outside of Club Q on November 23, 2022 in Colorado Springs, Co.
Photo: Chet Strange/Getty Images
Debates about violent and nonviolent protest, and what constitutes violence at all, are well worn. It’s important to note, though, that the presumption that armed community defense serves to escalate violence is simply not borne out in U.S. history.
The late political scientist Cedric Robinson highlighted in his epic “Black Marxism” that even in slave rebellions and marronage communities, there was no doubt a reliance on armed physical violence to ensure escape and sustain freedom, but there was a remarkably small number of retributive killings of white enslavers.
In the past century, too, white supremacist, far-right deadly violence in this country has so dwarfed the number deaths caused by Black, Indigenous, and queer armed struggle that talk of mutual escalation is obscene. In the last 30 years alone, over 85 percent of extremist killings are attributable to far-right actors. A separate New York Times report last weekend found that at 700 armed demonstrations since January 2020, 77 percent of those openly carrying guns were right-wing.
These numbers aren’t incidental but reflect something inherent about how white supremacist, anti-LGBTQ ideology operates: The goals are eliminationist. This is what makes the “bothsidesing” so horrifically off base: The far right has made clear their commitment to eradicate trans people, either through violent law or extralegal violence.
The far right has made clear their commitment to eradicate trans people, either through violent law or extralegal violence.
It is amid this larger picture that the Times wondered about a “chilling future.” With queer communities quite aware that police are more likely to harass them than help them, would it truly be less chilling to imagine a future in which armed right-wingers are met with no serious opposition?
Groups like Elm Fork John Brown Gun Club — which is one chapter among many anti-fascist John Brown Gun Clubs in the Redneck Revolt network nationwide — will not end the anti-trans, white supremacist violence of the far right. By showing up, though, they can at least give pause to the would-be assailants of these embattled communities.
To say that armed community defense is necessary and justified is not to say that there are not difficult questions around the issue.
It’s an understandable impulse to fear that the more guns on a scene, the more likely one is to be used, resulting in deadly violence. It’s a tragedy at the heart of all too many domestic violence murders, that women who keep guns in the house to defend themselves against abusive partners are killed with those very weapons.
Then there is the notion that teachers should be armed to defend against school shootings, which is belied by the facts: The more guns brought into schools, by teachers or cops, the more dangerous gun-related accidents there have been.
The proliferation of guns in the U.S. is intolerable, exceptional in its deadly consequences, and has always been organized around white supremacy — from various historical moves to bar Indigenous or Black people from owning guns, to the first federal “gun control” law in 1968, which was part of a massive crime bill that endowed police forces with military-grade weapons.
There’s every reason to be wary of the misuse of “self-defense” as a pretext for violent action — it has, after all, been the legally accepted justification for centuries of racist killings. Yet it is not the armed anti-fascists who are initiating the potential for gun violence in these instances; they go where the armed fascists go. And the fascists with guns, political support, and consistent police allegiance are turning up at restaurants, libraries, night clubs, school board meetings, and polling stations because they want to expunge whole marginalized communities from public life — by threatening them with a gun’s barrel, if not killing them with a spray of bullets.
So-called moderates can rely on tired tropes about violence begetting more violence. But such a stance, usually held from a comfortable distance, refuses to see that the fascist violence targeted at LGBTQ existence — and the lives of Black people — seeks to be annihilating and total. Thankfully, there are braver anti-fascist forces willing to stand in the way.
The post Why Queer Communities Are Welcoming Armed Anti-Fascist Protection appeared first on The Intercept.
A private security guard patrols the Mount Moriah suburb of Durban North, South Africa, as armed community members and vigilante groups step in to tackle crime and unrest. (GUILLEM SARTORIO / AFP via Getty Images)
South Africa’s state and society have been stripped by vulture capitalism and predatory governance.
Rampant corruption within the energy sector, involving both South African politicians and international companies like Bain and McKinsey, has led to regular power and water outages across the country. Organized criminal syndicates have implanted themselves in almost every part of the economy, contributing to the virtual collapse of public health care, transportation, and the commercial freight sectors. Internal strife in the ruling African National Congress (ANC) has paralyzed government’s daily functioning, and ferocious struggles over access to outsourcing contracts and public funds have led to the sabotage of infrastructure and political assassinations.
In August, Cape Town gang members posted videos waving AK-47’s and demanding protection fees from government workers attempting to fix rail infrastructure. Meanwhile, the buses that working-class passengers have been forced to use as an alternative transport are themselves targets for robbery, with criminals brazenly holding up morning commuters. Attacks on long-distance passenger buses have become so endemic that a court ruling ordered Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula to intervene after failing to act on several years of escalating violence.
The daily reality of instability, danger, and rising murder rates, in a society where the police is widely regarded as both corrupt and incompetent, has led to cynicism about the government’s capacity to ensure even a modicum of stability and order.
This cynicism is aggravated by how political elites implicated in mass corruption, such as former president Jacob Zuma, have avoided accountability from the criminal justice system. In July 2021, Zuma’s supporters, including members of the intelligence agencies and police, organized looting and attacks on infrastructure in retaliation for his incarceration on charges of contempt of court. This was not a spontaneous riot but an insurrectionary effort to destabilize the state.
Despite high-profile Zuma supporters openly encouraging violence on social media, which led to hundreds of deaths, President Cyril Ramaphosa’s government gave Zuma an early release while failing to prosecute the organizers of the most destructive political violence since South Africa’s transition to democracy in the early 1990s. At a recent court appearance, Zuma publicly thanked rioters for “standing beside me when times were tough.”
In contrast, the police are notorious for not standing by the citizenry when times get tough. South African Police Service (SAPS) officers regularly fail to respond to emergency calls and refuse to report criminal cases. In the lead-up to the 2021 violence, the police failed to act on intelligence about planned attacks; during the most severe rioting, state security forces were conspicuously AWOL.
According to Max Weber’s classic definition of the state according to its “monopoly on violence,” the modern state’s political legitimacy and power stem from its ability to control the use of force in a defined territory.
Contemporary South Africa is not in a state of formal war or facing territorial disputes from other powers. But rapacious self-enrichment and the collapse of basic services has led to a hollowing out of the state, where the government primarily functions to extract taxes and rent while offering its subjects nothing in exchange.
Conservative understandings of crime treat it as an intractable human evil.
Against this backdrop of social disintegration, nonstate actors have emerged to offer extreme solutions to the crisis of public order.
In the midst of the July 2021 riots, groups armed with machine guns and machetes, and with links to both local private security companies and gangs, were implicated in a series of racialized killings in Phoenix, outside Durban.
In Soweto, Gauteng, a self-proclaimed activist named Nhlanhla “Lux” Dlamini, dressed in military fatigues, organized a blockade to protect the Maponya shopping mall from being destroyed. He was praised by Ramaphosa and wildly feted in the media — then used his platform to become one of the most prominent xenophobic demagogues in the country.
Over the following year, he would become a news fixture as leader of Operation Dudula (“force out”), a xenophobic social movement with a paramilitary element which has been regularly implicated in violence and harassment against foreigners. By August 2022, the organization was blockading public hospitals and denying access to people they accused of being migrants.
In September, vigilante groups in Limpopo burned three Zimbabweans to death for allegedly stealing cables, and chased other migrants out of their homes.
Rather than condemning such horrific violence, many of South Africa’s political parties give xenophobia legitimacy by painting migrants as the central cause of crime and using them as a scapegoat for their own failure to create social and economic stability.
South Africa has a long history of street justice. During apartheid, the police were almost exclusively focused on political repression, and they allowed violent crime to run rampant in grimly impoverished black townships and informal settlements.
This saw the rise of street committees and other popular vigilante organizations that delivered harsh and rapid sentences to people accused of robbery and assault. Some of these, such as the Western Cape Witdoeke (“white scarves”) became proxy forces for state-sponsored political repression.
Postapartheid, such formations have persisted. In many cases, they have been implicated in mob justice and public violence, such as xenophobic pogroms in 2008 and 2015.
Vigilante groups have also been formalized into the country’s massive private security sector. Mapogo A Mathamaga initially gained a reputation in the 1990s for hard-line tactics such as throwing suspects into crocodile-infested waters, but is now better known for its commercial services guarding homes and businesses.
The frequency and severity of daily crime means that vigilantes often operate with varying degrees of popular legitimacy and are seen as protectors who are prepared to go outside the law to protect communities from harm.
After members of an extortion racket called Boko Haram were killed in a drive-by shooting in Mamelodi in 2021, the media began to circulate the story that this was the work of a local “John Wick,” cleaning the streets like the fictional assassin played by Keanu Reeves. Despite little evidence to prove this figure’s actual existence, with the killing most likely being done by a rival operation, it resonated with the belief that South Africa needs ruthless defenders to stem crime and disorder.
Crime, whether it comes in the form of interpersonal violence or property theft, is a profoundly disempowering experience. The idea of fighting back, of striking out at criminals in whatever form, offers the catharsis of taking back a sense of control.
The destabilization that underpins vigilante fantasies of individuals seeking harsh retribution is further fueled by both the government’s commitment to austerity, even in the midst of mass unemployment, and security policies that support militarized but ineffective policing in place of more effective and transformative public safety measures.
While the South African situation is especially extreme, it reflects a wider global context where neoliberalism has eroded the state’s ability to ensure social stability while also facilitating violence and predatory criminality.
Community members wielding machetes stand watch at a road block in Phoenix Township, North Durban, July 2021. (GUILLEM SARTORIO / AFP via Getty Images)
Latin America — a continent that was at the forefront of early experiments in economic shock therapy and deregulation — has experienced the rise of highly organized vigilante forces. Urban militias — often involving former police in Brazil, self-defense forces in Mexico, and paramilitary groups in Colombia — all emerged in the context of the violence associated with the narcotics trade and popular frustration with the authorities.
But these self-proclaimed defenders all revealed a much more ambiguous reality. In Colombia, paramilitaries functioned as death squads, which targeted street children and sex workers. Groups with names like “Death to Car Thieves” attacked alleged local criminals, only to then demand extortion fees from residents and businesses.
In Mexico, so-called defense groups emerged during intensified narco-violence. But while presenting themselves as enemies of the drug cartels, many of these groups were themselves heavily implicated in trafficking and working as gunmen for criminal organizations. In the state of Michoacán, the Los Viagras group started as a paramilitary wing of the Knights Templar Cartel, then switched sides to fight them as vigilantes, before evolving into a feared trafficking syndicate in their own right.
Vigilantism and the harsh worldviews that underpin it resonates with far-right ideology. Both Brazil’s Jair Bolsanaro and the Philippines’ Rodrigo Duerte have presented themselves as the political equivalent of extrajudicial militias: hard men prepared to do whatever necessary to protect decent people.
In the United States, the rise of Donald Trump energized existing far-right movements and inspired a new generation of “border vigilantes” and anti-government militias. Members of groups like the Three Percenters and the Oath Keepers were instrumental in planning the 2021 Capitol attack.
During the riot, the skull–shaped logo of the Marvel comics character the Punisher was noted on the clothes of participants. The Punisher was originally created to exploit the post-Death Wish vigilante film boom of the 1970s. In the comic and live-action versions, Frank Castle is a basically psychotic military veteran on a murderous lone war against crime.
However, the logo has evolved from its popular culture origins, becoming a menacing symbol used by a variety of different forces claiming a stake in hard-line anti-crime politics. In addition to militias, police officers themselves have adopted it as a logo for the “Blues Lives Matter” backlash, and it also appears as the insignia of private security companies in the suburban badlands of Johannesburg.
It may seem ironic that the self-proclaimed side of strict law and order embraces a vigilante fantasy of lawless retribution. But this is reconciled in the conservative worldview by the ideology that the law is too liberal and soft on various criminals and imagined social degenerates. It therefore becomes necessary to break the law in pursuit of a higher moral order.
In an atomized world, where the concept of a wider public good has been subsumed into privatized stress and precarity, the fictional vigilante, represented in the ongoing popular cultural fixation with characters like Batman, offers a vicarious fantasy of individuals generating social order through the force of personal will.
In contrast to the lone wolves of popular culture, real-world vigilantes are disturbingly sociable. They offer a sense of collectivity and meaning for their members and supporters. The online rhetoric of Operation Dudula, for example, presents it as a force of popular democracy, where ordinary citizens are taking back control from both criminals and an absent, disinterested state.
But this is an ideal of community that is fundamentally based on exclusion. Crime is seen as a foreign intrusion from the outside rather than a problem created by the structures of society itself.
This is a vision of democracy that ends at the border. The response to crime and violence becomes increased radicalization, such as when armed-robber-turned-xenophobic-politician Gayton McKenzie proudly announced that he would “unplug the oxygen” of foreign nationals in state hospitals.
The constant urge to purge society becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. The profusion of armed anti-crime groups itself leads to more instability and conflict. In South Africa, xenophobic vigilantism has seen reprisals, such as when Somalians clashed with taxi operators in the streets of Gqeberha in 2021.
South Africa has become a grim exemplar of a future where the breakdown of societal and governmental institutions inspires a retreat into violently enforced ethnic and religious silos.
Rampant inequality, climate breakdown, and the widespread proliferation of weapons technology all point to a twenty-first century where existing state power will be challenged by increasingly destructive criminal and extremist groupings.
Intensifying conflict becomes a legitimation for vigilantes to tool up with more weapons and even more extreme tactics. But rather than wanting to end street crime, vigilantes thrive off worsening conditions because they creates new opportunities for power and profit.
Offering a progressive challenge to this phenomenon requires understanding not only its political and socioeconomic causes but the psychology of what the fear of crime does to both individuals and collectives.
The stress caused by a daily reality of risk and social collapse is interpreted by the body politic’s nervous system as anger, feeding the visceral desire to lash out at anything, or anyone, to restore a sense of coherence to the world. When channeled through authoritarian and domineering social values, such as the belief that crime is a phenomenon which can be forcibly removed in one fell swoop, collective violence becomes inevitable.
A leftist counter to vigilantism certainly requires acknowledging the anger and despair created by crime. As Benjamin Fogel observes, it is naive to view the fear of crime as just a right-wing shibboleth. Instead, the daily lawlessness of capitalism and the protection rackets and militias that emerge in response need to be understood as a form of oppression in itself.
One response is to use a materialist analysis to pour cold water on the overheated revenge fantasies offered by right-wing vigilantes. This entails framing the social misery that violent nonstate actors thrive off not as the result of supernaturally depraved outsiders but the direct consequences of exploitative power structures.
Whereas conservative understandings of crime treat it as an intractable human evil, a socialist counter needs to articulate how many current threats and harms can be reduced through greater social interventions and redistribution. A progressive approach to crime certainly would entail increasing general social stability through creating decent jobs, ensuring better housing and public spaces, and reducing the material deprivation that fuels disorder.
But it also means challenging patriarchal and authoritarian mindsets that normalize violence and abuse. And it means redefining popular understandings of crime to illuminate how so much risk and harm spring from the murky nexus between business and political power, and how white-collar criminals can cause as much social harm with a pen as bandits do with a gun.
Vigilantism thrives when people believe that the world around them has descended into a Hobbesian race to the bottom. Defusing its sinister allure requires offering people tangible proof of a better tomorrow.
On November 2nd, Pinko and Haymarket Books hosted an online discussion about the topic of political violence, fascist mobilization and queer/trans community self-defense. The discussion convened local organizers from various different US cities representing different strategies and periods of struggle. Below is an edited transcript of the conversation:
M.E. O’Brien, moderator:
I’ll add a little bit about my own thinking in doing this to help get us started. Often, the really valuable skills, experience, and organization around militant self defense are pretty isolated to a relatively small group of revolutionaries in specific segments of working class life. I grew up in the ’90s in Oregon when the neo-Nazi movement was very large, and there was a vibrant, sharp skinhead scene that engaged in violent confrontations with Nazis. There was also a political dynamic with whether they were completely isolated from the segments of the anti fascist movement that would not engage in self defense in any meaningful way. And so at different historical moments, broader self defense was taken up by a broader segment of the working class, as part of integrated mass movements, and we know some of the history of the Black Panthers and other periods in history when this has happened.
In our planning for this event, in talking about it, Melissa Gira Grant, one of our panelists, told a story describing a shift on the ground of liberal activists, pro-gay activists or people who previously might really distance themselves from militants or revolutionaries or self defense or riots or whatnot suddenly finding themselves relying on anti-fascists’ experience, anti-fascist activists, to be able to attend an event or walk to their car when events were being targeted by fascists around attacking queerness and trans life.
And so that dynamic of this moment of self-defense being looked at, being considered, being taken seriously more broadly is one of the reasons that I was really excited about doing this event, and trying to think about if we’re in a moment right now that self-defense could become salient for a much broader range of people, and if the skills of people on this panel and people that we’re in touch with might be useful in trying to think about that.
Now, I’ll read the bios. Melissa Gira Grant is a staff writer at The New Republic, the author of Playing the Whore: The Work of Sex Work, published by Verso, and an excellent book, I’ll add. The co director of They Won’t Call it Murder, executive produced by Field of Vision. She has reported on violence against massage workers in Flushing, attacks on trans rights across Texas, resistance to police killings in Columbus, and the global movement for sex worker rights. She’s currently at work on a new book, A Woman is Against the Law: Sex, Race, and the Limits of Justice of America, to be published by Little, Brown and Company.
LV is a communist living in Los Angeles. She organized the Bash Back Denver and the 2010 Bash Back Convergence, as well as a number of militant queer groups in Los Angeles, such as Trans Liberation LA, Trans Undocumented Rapid Response North America or TURRN and the 2013 Queerpocalypse. She is a practicing conflict mediator and developing an eco defense video game. Sheila T. Is a huge nerd and trans film minimum person and anarchist living in Philadelphia. She’s been participating in anarchist and queer struggles since around 2010. Max, they/them, is a community organizer in Sacramento, California. Their work usually revolves around the abolition of prisons and private property, but they have been an active organizer against platforms of far right extremism and Christofascism for many years. We’re very excited to have these panelists here. Thank you all for being here tonight.
I wanted to open with a broad overview by asking Melissa, could you give us a picture nationally of the fascist upsurge and the attacks on anti queer and anti trans people?
MELISSA: Sure. Thank you so much, also to Pinko and to Haymarket for doing this. These are the questions that have been on my mind all summer, all year, so this couldn’t be better timed. I feel like I’ve spent the last year doing nothing but following these attacks, and there’s way more than I could possibly summarize in the time that we have here, so I thought what I would do is sort of talk about the pattern and then talk about a couple of specific attacks that I think illustrate this pattern.
So, the pattern, as I’ve seen it sort of honed over the last two years, we have individuals mobilizing across the U.S., often unaffiliated with any well known far right group influenced by propaganda shared by social media accounts. This isn’t happening on the fringes of the internet. That propaganda demonizes LGBTQ people as dangerous to children. They terrorize hospitals, libraries, other community spaces that are welcoming to query and trans people and document the ensuing pushback and conflict as evidence that they, themselves, are victims under attack by some powerful lobby, which is a very classic fascist move, to position yourself as the victim in the violence that you’ve instigated, and to overexaggerate the power of the people that you’re actually doing violence against.
So, I’m going to focus on how we’re seeing these forms of mutually reinforcing violence, where we see these fascist formations that are mostly in particular cities or sometimes networked across the country, and how that’s connected with elected officials who are working at the local, state, and federal level, and how these different groups are reinforcing these messages and driving this violence in tandem.
Here’s two examples of what look like they could be disparate attacks. They happened over the course of three months, but I think they show how all these attacks are linked, who coordinates them, and who the boots on the ground are, as it were. So, I’m going to start in Dallas this June. There is a group there called Protect Texas Kids. It’s a pretty new group and headed by a self described Christian fascist whose name is Kelly Neidert. She organized a protest of a family-friendly drag show along with other individuals in white nationalist groups who showed up as well. What they did is they surrounded the club holding the event, Mr. & Mr., which is in a gay neighborhood in the suburb of Dallas. They chanted “groomer” at the families and kids lining up on the sidewalk to get into the event. They got up into their faces. One of them was waving a Christian nationalist flag. The children were plugging their ears with their fingers as the fascists were yelling at them about child rape. One guy captured on the video said, “the fist of Christ will come down on you very soon,” again, screaming at this scene of the kids and their parents.
For hours this went on. Some of them were reciting sidewalk prayers, reminiscent of anti-abortion groups outside clinics. Some of them directly threatened people, followed them to their cars, and then recorded themselves in these confrontations that they instigated. And then a little more than 48 hours later, Tucker Carlson was airing heavily edited versions of these videos in a segment that he introduced with “just another weekend in Weimar.”
And Texas republican lawmakers shortly after introduced legislation to ban drag shows in the presence of minors with Marjorie Taylor green and Lauren Boebert, the federal representative,s voicing their support. Protect Texas Kids announced this rally by sharing a post about the event from the Libs of TikTok Twitter account. It has 1.4 million followers. They often share, you know, fliers for drag events. They share videos from TikTok and other places of queer and trans folks. They really honing in on librarians, educators, anyone who they think is a bad influence on children, essentially. And they’re a really powerful sort of mobilizer, because they have this huge audience.
So, they shared this flier, had the date, location, and it was part of this mega drag thread. There is lots of these events that Libs of TikTok is regularly pushing out to their audience. One of the other things Libs of TikTok has been doing is targeting hospitals that provide gender affirming care to young people. After this campaign, multiple bomb threats were made to the Boston Children’s Hospital at the end of the summer. Libs of TikTok also amplified threats that were made in September by The Daily Wire blogger and podcaster Matt Walsh. He claimed he was investigating a pediatric gender-affirming care clinic at Vanderbilt hospital in Tennessee. Walsh singled out the doctors by name.
And almost immediately Tennessee Republican governor Bill Lee joined Walsh’s call for an investigation into the hospital, followed closely by Tennessee Republican Senator Marsha Blackburn. Tucker Carlson had Walsh on. This pattern getting from social media to the protest to the Tucker. He again ran the names and this time also the photos of the members of the hospital board and said, let’s hope they act immediately to stop this crime. And the hospital after being harassed and threatened after this, removed the clinic’s page from their website.
So, a couple days after this, Protect Texas Kids is back. They found another drag event at a church in Texas, which is a queer affirming church. They had this drag closet for kids and, you know, it was a place where they could get clothes that suited them, particularly if their families weren’t supporting them. The church was a supportive place for them. They were doing a drag bingo fundraiser for this trans kids program. This little church in Katy, Texas. Steve Bannon talks about it on his program. He promotes this protest, he has a guest on who calls it a spiritual battle and that the goal of it was to stop parents from supporting their trans kids.
This one, we saw a Neo Nazi group called the Aryan Freedom Network and also Proud Boys were present, and protesters cared swastika flags along with homophobic signs. Just a couple of weeks after Walsh starting his campaign, we see numerous calls of violence at hospitals across the country. That Children’s Hospital he targeted announced it was going to stop providing gender affirming surgeries to those under 18. He wasn’t done. He capped this off with sort of a victory lap. He held a rally to end child mutilation in Nashville a couple of weeks ago, along with Blackburn and also Tulsi Gabbard, and Proud Boys who showed up once the rally was under way. Looked like this planned militaristic presence, like a show of force with the State Troopers standing between them and all the people who showed up to support trans kids. Mostly drowned out the speakers. It got pitched as two sides in a fight when what was going on was sort of an attempt to defend the community from all of these people. After the rally, none of the elected officials there present said anything to condemn the Proud Boys’ presence.
That’s kind of a snapshot of what this cycle is, of how things are moving from these confrontations in particular places, documented, they get on to Fox News, that generates more social media content, which generates more protests, and it’s just been spinning like this for months. And, of course, it goes back further, but I will wait until we get into that later.
MICHELLE: Thank you so much, Melissa. I want to give an opportunity for the other panelists to sort of briefly respond and add on to your question. In the frame of what is new in this conjuncture, right? So, attacks on queer and trans people, been happening for a long time. There have been fascists in America a long time. Is there something about this moment that you feel like has some novelty or some change?
MAX: I’ll pop in there. I was jotting down some notes on what’s new in this moment, and that’s everything from the technology that we use to share the information, and the ways in which they create silos for themselves — that’s what the right and folks have been getting good at for the last several decades, how to create these silos of information where they can all gather and brain wash each other and not allow in any qualitative new information to allow for their growth and learning. But what I really think is actually the most profound part about what’s happening in our current political climate is the desperation of the elite. You see the devastation that we see around us is due to capitalism ending, and they absolutely need a section of the working class to usher in the new but kind of old form of what we’re calling neo-feudalism as our next economic system. The rises of fascism began with attacks on queer people, trans people, women, POC. It’s what Hitler and the Nazis did in Berlin. It’s what the industrial south did before that, and so on.
And where we’re starting to see these big changes is in the fact that, like, there is so much devastation happening around us, and all of us are trying to make sense of that devastation and whether — no matter what side of this thing we are on. And that right there is like what’s causing us to now be willing to no longer engage in discourse in the streets about it. This is a moment of survival for many people and they’re using this disaster as a way to mobilize their base, this fascist base for their fascist thinking, to be able to usher in this new economic system.
MICHELLE: Sheila T., is there anything that you would like to add before I ask LV a question?
SHEILA: I was also going to point out the technological changes and how those have facilitated and helped further decentralize and made a lot of people kind of mutually brainwash each other and feel empowered to kind of act across much bigger geographical areas, but I feel like most of that was touched on.
MICHELLE: LV, you’re welcome to add to this, but I wanted to ask the next question, going back in history a little bit, sort of thinking about immediate antecedents. Can you share about Bash Back for the audience who know nothing about the organization, its network and its history?
LV: Sure, Bash Back made a big splash but was very short lived from 2008 to 2011. It got its start in conflicts and street clashes with Nazis, in particular in Milwaukee, and in other cities in the Midwest, and one of the things that I’ve been thinking about a lot in the last year in particular is, what made Bash Back kind of happen in that moment and not in this moment? The network of Bash Back, because felt like there were thousands of militant queers that were supporting each other, and publicizing their actions and hyping each other up to fight back against homophobia, transphobia, racism, sexual violence, a number of difference things.
And I think one of the aspects that made Bash Back somewhat different was just the coming together of people. I think that in 2008, when the broadcasting and the social dimension of these actions made this experience around queer self defense and queer violence more powerful, I would say, in 2008 when there was this clash in Milwaukee they circulated a picture of themselves, wearing these pink masks and holding bats and wrote a little communique and posted it on anarchistnews.org, which just seemed to be a big deal at that time. I felt in the late 2000s, the revolutionary left was kind of dominated by anarchist discourse. And that created a container for that discussion, and people were able to kind of discuss in these comment forums in a sort of Reddit-like vibe and organize themselves to form chapters in other cities and in different capacities and o from that experience, people called for a convergence in Minneapolis.
Then there was another convergence, which was very large, in Chicago, and then the final one was in Denver. I think that the convergence model is another aspect of Bash Back that I kind of have mixed feelings about it. On the one hand it enabled the conditions to bring people together in this very visible way, and then on the other hand, I think most people in this panel and maybe the listeners will probably agree that when you bring together a lot of radicals or just anybody, conflict is gonna arise. Bash Back is ironically formed around facing conflict head on, but the interpersonal conflict is what seems to tank these projects, consistently, and I feel like that was the case with Bash Back.
In Denver, we made a lot of, like, efforts to do conflict mediation within the different people that were coming to the convergence. However, some of these splits just became unmanageable. I think there was also an ideological split there, too, where there’s a community-building aspect of self-defense, saying, okay, we’re going to mostly focus on legible targets and neo-Nazis and very visible moments, and then there is more what I would consider an insurrectionist approach, which is more like we’re going to attack in the multiplicity of ways that this violence and this oppression is being enacted on us. So it’s more like, how do we confront bigots on the street? It’s very difficult to organize a group of people around that. Whereas anarcho-insurrectionists are like, we’re fighting all the time. This fight never ends. And we’re embracing this pure negation. Bash Back was kind of the synthesis of these two different approaches, and I think that for a brief moment, it was a really beautiful synthesis and could have been a very powerful one, but I think ultimately there wasn’t — they’re somewhat incompatible but, I don’t think that we were able to kind of hold those two together and move forward with them. Which is probably what it would have taken for that to last.
So, I absolutely feel like there needs to be something like Bash Back. Right now, I think, especially for supporting youth that are engaging in defense right now. In Los Angeles a couple of years ago we had a number of street clashes with Nazis around the Wi Spa incident. So people are doing self-defense actions, but it’s the more social aspect of it that seems to be missing from that component. The isolated actions are happening, but the communication and the almost celebration and hyping up of each other around those actions is not really — I think we need to strategize how to create a new container that makes sense for this moment.
MICHELLE: One aspect that you spoke about but I was hoping you could elaborate a little bit more is the way Bash Back networked people across the country and also had some international connections. And sort of a little bit about the scope and the kind of networked quality of it.
LV: A lot of that was the fact that Aragorn had created this platform with anarchistnews.org and kind of contained that dialogue. So it’s essentially somebody that was sympathetic to the Bash Back cause was creating a space for this conversation to happen, whereas the dialogues that are happening around self defense right now, whether it’s on Twitter or whether it’s on TikTok or a number of different platforms are just these sites of corporate alienation. No actual in-person organizing can come out of those kind of experiences, so, I personally think that the social aspect, being in proximity to each other is really important.
So these convergences were important. And I think at that point in the late 2000s, the DNC and the RNC convergences were these mass mobilizations that brought together a lot of the revolutionary left to be together and learn the skills required of bringing that number of people together. Bash Back was a part of that context, and I think that we’ve lost some of those skills over the years. Like just being able to handle a group of 500,000 people that are coming into a city, with housing, food, conflict management and all those different things that are aspects of it.
MICHELLE: Thank you so much. It’s just really fascinating history. So, next, I wanted to ask first Sheila T. And then Max if you could share a little tactics and strategy around care, self defense that you’re seeing on the ground or encountered or been a part of or seen, and what you think works, what you think is helpful to people. So, Sheila T.?
SHEILA: I feel like what I’ve been seeing for the last, I don’t know, five to seven-ish years in Philly has been in terms of mutual aid. A lot of information sharing and distribution of pepper spray and stuff like that in terms of queers who are tied up in sex work stuff, or bad date lists. Information about how to get work done in ways that are safer. And on the other hand, I feel like people have been more informally networking with each other to have protection, for work or not for work. Just in life, and having people that they can call, and developing that both as a social network or set of social networks and also as a set of skills to de-escalate or escalate.
And I think a lot of that is not completely separate from two things, partially tying back to some of the Bash Back stuff. I feel like one is that at least here, after a certain point, it just felt like in anti-fascist organizing, queers were overly represented in that world. And so even though maybe from the outside or from reading what people wrote, it wasn’t always super clear that queer and trans people involved in organizing against fascists and far right people, but if that was a thing, I feel like that also brought certain skills and ways of thinking to those networks that spilled beyond people who were just organizing against fascist stuff.
One example I can think of from before COVID that has kept going is that a lot of anti-fascists started practicing different boxing and combat sports, and then that kind of spilled out and became larger than just an anti-fascist, anarchist thing. Then that spilled out and became a larger than just antifascist thing that was open to queers and anarchists and anti-fascists and their friends and networks as well.
And then on the other side, less tied up with strictly anti-fascism and more with this idea of insurrection and anarchy as it was playing out with the Bash Back stuff, I feel like there were a good amount of different attacks and sabotages that took place. Almost all of them were anonymous, but some of them that had responsibility claims or written communication were either clearly influenced by queer theory and queer ideas or were claimed by people who, while maintaining anonymity, were gay or trans or queer or dykes or whatever.
And I imagine that network of people or groups of people had to figure out the ways to seek out and develop the means to do violence in the same way that the anti fascists had to, and I think also that brought a lot of collective and individual empowerment to those people in the networks that were around them as well.
MICHELLE: Thank you. Max?
MAX: Yeah, thanks for that question. And besides like engaging in mutual learning and information sharing, I’d say working in public facing events. This allows folks to find ways to plug in and new folks to support their affinity/community building with. Oftentimes these folks are from their families and are not as deep in the weeds and their friends — I oftentimes speak with youth who are like, everybody around me isn’t talking about this stuff, so we have to create spaces for them to come and meet other youth or other people who are talking about this stuff.
And for us, 2020 really opened up the door for the anti-fascism but also anti-fascist self-defense tactics. Antifa got airwaves like never before. “What is Antifa” trended on Google searches for days during those times. Creating things like anarchist book fairs in the areas that don’t normally have them. In Sacramento, we compete with the Bay all the time. But here, we have everything from queer self-defense groups that are community forward-facing, that allow for community members to hit us up and be like, where y’all training this weekend so I can join you? They train every Sunday. We have a forward-facing queer defense formation that walks our queer district in Sacramento. We have events where queers can come and paint bricks. In Sac, we have Pride Was a Riot, who is dope, and in a pink bandana masked up and tabling at the farmers market on Saturdays. Even further, they did a campaign to get every vendor at that market to have signs that say “we support trans kids.”
It’s those forward-facing, public-facing efforts that are normalizing not just anti-fascism, but different tactics of self-defense, and all of its tactics, whether that’s physically self -defending and using things like pepper spray or physical self-defense tactics or creating a culture and a community that provides that safety just by people walking in, knowing that they’re welcome.
Things like that have proved the most helpful and have proved to support folks in their entering or in their introduction to anti-fascism and the anti-fascist orgs in town. It’s allowed for us to meet folks where they’re at with it, too, you know? And we always talk about the different things that go into supporting this work. We all see those fliers where there are ten support roles to a protest and things like that. Whether that’s you safely doing it from your home to all different abled body types. We’re being very inclusive in our ability to get involved, but we’re meeting our community where they’re at.
Then during 2020 we held events — we called them “we keep us safe” events, and they talked about everything from tear gas and tourniquets to abolition through an Indigenous framework, and gender 101 that went on once a week during this time. The ability to create public facing — We can’t be afraid to be like, we’re anti-fascists. They got it every Saturday at the farmers market. The big circles, big A’s everywhere. You know, normalizing it. Creating the ways for us to get publicly involved and to be meeting our community where they’re at.
Not only are we normalizing these things, but we’re also letting them recognize that we’re actually their community. We are the community that they want to be a part of when they say they want housing as a human right, when they say they want healthcare for all, when they say they want food access for everybody that this is actually an anarcho-communist thought and theory, and they don’t even realize that they are objectively this way. We need them to recognize it in their subjective lives as well. So that’s about it for us, that forward-facing, being willing to engage in dialogue, discussion, information sharing, and mutual learning.
MICHELLE: That’s beautiful. So, we’re going to open it up between each other. I have a question for everybody, but it’s also an opportunity to respond to each and to begin to sort of draw out themes, sort of things that are evocative for you, and then at some point, I’ll start throwing in some questions from the audience on YouTube. So, the question for everybody to open our discussion is, what do you see as the value of self-defense in the current moment? And Max spoke to that in quite a number of ways just now.
SHEILA: I would say that self-defense is as important as ever, and maybe something to pay particular attention to, just because of the ways that queer and trans people have been more pointedly targeted, in the sense that self defense is just literally essential for surviving. For me, it feels like it could never not be an important thing, and specifically as queer and trans people, we’re often alienated and disempowered from access to violence and defense, and now is as good of a time as any to develop the means and skills and networks to be able to take care of ourselves and each other.
MAX: It’s so important right now, because I spoke to it earlier about the devastation that we’re seeing around us. And that on all fronts are we being attacked. And that’s from everything from, like, state violence to far-right extremist Christofascism, extremism, religious extremism, because that is happening globally in different forms of religion, and even ecological devastation. We are literally fighting for our lives and our survival, and so defending our joy but organizing our rage around how to defend ourselves from the very things that are trying to convince us and gaslight us about the very real devastation that’s happening in our communities is absolutely the way forward. This is also the peace in me, because as we’re all actually moving from the form of self-defense, inevitability what we get to is somebody one day is not throwing the first punch, you know? And so to speak on it in such terms, in such beauty, to talk about self-defense as not a struggle for our lives, but the right for our lives is very important right now, because like I said, our very existence is at stake.
LV: I think for me, self-defense is such an interesting way to frame violence, because I think that we can all agree that it’s a euphemism for violence, and a lot of times when, let’s say there’s a classic instance of a bigot that’s confronting you or whatever, the escalation of that situation to violence is a whole process, and it’s a complicated process. And so for me, it’s less about the act of violence and more about how are we socially organizing ourselves around supporting ourselves in a revolutionary way and having our eyes on the prize for the fact that, like everyone is saying, our system is killing us.
And especially trans folks, queer, trans, especially trans women of color that are sex workers are the front lines of this. I don’t even hear people counting how many trans women are being murdered every year anymore. I feel like they did that around 2014 and the “trans tipping point,” and it’s not even happening anymore, but I’m sure that it’s astronomical.
And so for me, that social aspect is really important, and that’s where militancy comes in. I think we have a tendency to see militancy as “let’s train ourselves in these different armed combat scenarios, and let’s get trained up for using guns and let’s get trained up in martial arts” which are of course important, but I think there is another aspect to military training that a lot of times I think we miss. It’s a broader social kind of experience. When people on the left say, “oh, we’re outgunned, we’re outgunned in all of these different ways” — which is true, we are literally outgunned, but campaigns are not only done through arms. They’re done through a social organization of an army.
So not only the logistics but also the training strategies and how you bring people together to train them. How you feed them while they’re going through this process. How you navigate interpersonal conflict through all of those things. And so, in thinking about Bash Back in particular, that’s where I feel like these convergences were just the tip of the iceberg for what could have been. I really feel like Bash Back was an aborted movement. Like it was something that could have happened and it just fell apart through a whole variety of things.
But I think those convergences are that kind of component. The left is very skilled in these social dynamics. Far more skilled than the right, and and look at how much it takes for the police and the army to maintain their social cohesion. All of the money that goes into maintaining that, whereas we have no money and we’re still more socially powerful, and so I think it’s something that we need to remember about violence and self-defense and our revolutionary potential.
MELISSA: I just want to add to what everyone has said about the public facing side of self defense and community defense, which I think Max articulated in a way I hadn’t really thought of before, which is that these are ways to bring people in, and they’re also ways for the journalists who are following what’s going on in these anti-fascist accounts that are documenting who these various extremist individuals are, they are doing the legwork so that we can do our job and help get that information out to even more people.
I had people asking me this summer for the first time, “do you think it’s safe to go to Pride this year?” Because they were hearing about all these threats, including here in New York. We had people come and harass a drag queen story hour a couple of weeks ago. Where do I send them to find out if it’s safe? I think you should go to the anti-fascist Twitter accounts in New York. Go see what people feel safe sharing what they’ve seen on Telegram. It’s another kind of normalization. This is a community resource that’s here to be shared. Even if you might not be on the front line, this is doing an incredible amount of community defense, even just on the level of information sharing.
And I think for groups who are dealing with these attacks for the first time they’re doing events that have never been targeted in this way, just knowing that other people are doing it, going through it and have strategies, that they’re not alone in that, is very important right now. Because I think for some people, it never would have occurred to them that they would be attacked in this way, in a community setting.
I think there is a level of constant violence that we’re still experiencing as queer and trans communities, but people who are like, “we were doing a story event the a library for children. Why are the Proud Boys showing up and trying to destroy that?” So, just giving people the sense that they are part of the community even if they haven’t experienced that yet is really important right now.
MICHELLE: Beautiful, beautiful responses. I’ll ask a few questions that have come in from the audience. So, here’s a practical legal one. Jessica asks: As a formerly incarcerated trans woman in Washington state, my CCO tells me I’m not even allowed to possess pepper spray. After a record number of trans murders last year, I feel vulnerable. Is this even legal?
I said that perhaps none of us would know. There are no lawyers in our group, in terms of speaking to what’s legal, but I thought with people distributing pepper spray, it might have come up at some point, sort of to what extent that’s restricted for people on parole, probation or…
MAX: I’m in California, so I can’t speak on Washington state, but I can speak to… well, first, I want to validate your very real, very real feelings, and even if it is illegal, that’s the whole point, right? Fuck the State. They are trying to make sure we’re out here being killed. But what I can tell you — there wasn’t enough in there for me to deduce this down for you. Depending on if it’s probation or parole, you can actually find that information. If you look at the terms of parole in your state. Or terms of probation in your state. Most of the time, that’s actually not bear mace and things like that are big things in the areas, but, like, little pepper spray. No, it’s usually not. But I would definitely look into the probation codes and the parole codes, just depending on what you fall within for Washington.
MICHELLE: Lane asks, can you all speak to the effectiveness of having Bash Back or large affinity groups at organized actions, and some of the pros and cons of that model.
LV: Well, I feel like we’re at the point where — I don’t know. I kind of thought that we were going to move beyond black bloc at this point in the anti-fascist development. I hate to say it. I find it to be a very reductive tactic. I kind of felt like we would get to a point where we’re doing more fluid anonymity. Or what some folks called gray block. But in 2020 I was just like, oh, wow, it’s really back and it’s really back in full force.
And I think there’s pros and cons to it. A lot of the actions, the Bash Back actions, definitely people got the attention of law enforcement and the FBI was tracking people and all of that kind of stuff that’s happening with Antifa right now. And, you know, post 2020, I feel like a lot of people blocked up for actions and law enforcement can track the people’s bloc fairly regularly, so it’s very difficult to wear black bloc and stay safe in the street in terms of staying anonymous.
So, I don’t know. I just think that we just need a more robust discussion on how we’re maintaining that anonymity and how we’re blocking up and how we’re appearing and disappearing for these kinds of actions, you know? And I think there’s some things that we could move forward in that regard. So, as far as Bash Back actions go, I don’t really feel like there was a lot of development in terms of black bloc or street anonymity or things like that. But hopefully we can move the discussion now. But always be safe on the street. I’m not saying, don’t go unblocked ever, and there’s all these, you know, safety tactics. So, just my 2 cents.
SHEILA: I do feel like we could definitely have, as people who are excited to see things in the street get weirder, there’s a lot we can do better at in terms of developing anonymity. But then I kind of want to go back to the question of is it useful to have a Bash Back bloc, not necessarily as a bloc of people who all dress the same, but maybe a bloc of people with similar intentions or a way to make an intention have a specific geographic place. I think that that still feels very useful and that oftentimes people come to demonstrations and feel very alone, but have a specific kind of intention or a kind of person that they would rather be around. Whether that person is dressed alike or not with them maybe feels less relevant than that there are other ways to call for a bloc. “We want a queer anti capitalist bloc at this May 1st demonstration.” “This anti fascist demonstration is calling for a militant trans feminine bloc.” That can be something as simple as, this bloc of people, maybe four people, are going to dedicate to bringing a banner that says “Queers Bash Back” or pink and black flags. They can find other people who would maybe be interested walking with them, whether it’s to get into a fight or be around other queers, whatever. Calling for a bloc in the sense of people walking in a bloc or being together in a bloc still feels very useful, although, definitely we should always be stepping our game up in terms of security.
MAX: I think I’ll build off of that, too. Already just by having them exist in the first place, whether they get called or not, what it is is creating safe queer spaces for organizing anti-fascist tactics and building affinity and community. But having them in places and present, it does flag for folks that it exists in our area, and when folks go out together how they can possibly find or know that it just exists. I think, like, showing up presently in those ways. Make sure that queer and trans militancy is a part of the discussion and a part of the actions towards liberation, but to segue into this idea of gray bloc and these ideas of more subtle anonymity, we just actually used that tactic here in California. Every year we have a “straight pride” held in Modesto, and over the last four years have tried to build up a community response to successfully shut that platform down. This year was one of the best years that we’ve ever done it.
And we did that by calling for a 9:00 a.m. gray bloc that was well coordinated, well organized and many affinity groups up and down were talking to be able to pull out those numbers and coordinate showing up on time together. But the next thing you know, there’s over 100 gray bloc radical trans queer anti fascists hanging out ready to, like, shut down a straight pride event. And then we have even an 11:00 a.m. community call, too, where just regular community members got a flier to come and show up at 11:00 a.m. to this event and really hold it down with us.
And so the gray bloc that Pride Was a Riot in Sacramento do when they go out and they’re doing their queer self defense formation definitely allows for folks to be able to point them out, tell that they’re them and be able to check in and count on them. It just really depends I think on what the bloc is for and, like, and what exactly the organized action is, right? Is it patrolling your queer district? Is it shutting down straight pride? Is it showing up in the name of black lives? Like what is it? And that can kind of help. But I always think I love to see it. I love it, every time.
MICHELLE: There are a couple of questions about disability inclusion. Morgan asked about the intense isolation of many queer disabled people around the world since the pandemic, and Tovia asked about how queer and trans self defense can be more accessible to disabled and poor people. So I think from everyone, what you see as strategies around disability inclusion and what that looks like and what that can mean.
LV: As far as disability and kind of accessibility issues go, I go back to the concept of a military formation in the social aspect of it, and the understanding that there are so many different roles within actions that everybody can take part in and creatively engage in and also in terms of determining targets and in terms of the kind of social media constellations that these actions happen in.
You know, all of these things are part of a campaign, like a military campaign or something like that. And so I just think that our imagination keeps hitting a brick wall in terms of confronting these instances on the street when we see them and not the broader ways that we can be training and preparing ourselves. In terms of thinking like what do we want to create? How do trainings work? How do all of these different things — they don’t involve just two people fighting. Or like a group of people fighting. They involve so many different kinds of people and components to it.
I was feeling in 2020 like so many different actions would happen, and the affinity groups that I saw forming would tend to focus around being the most vulgar form of front liners. So holding a line of shields against cops or fascists or whatever. But a lot of times, like, those actions would forget all of the different components of making a successful march or action happening. Such as scouts, such as evacuating people, such as medics, even social media communication, all of these different components of it tend to fall by the wayside, because we prioritize just this one very visible clash. And I think we need to change our imagination.
MAX: Morgan, I really thank you for your question, and I think I’m gonna speak on a conversation I actually just had with somebody. I’m a part of an abolitionist organization, very public, forward facing in the area, and somebody reached out and had said that they were worried about showing up to our events because of COVID, wondering about our pandemic safety precautions, and through this conversation, they got to kind of really inform me about how isolated they felt and how neglected they felt by folks act like the pandemic was over.
And so what we were able to do through that was promise that our events, indoor/outdoor, all of that were going to, of course, continue to make sure that we were following COVID safety precautions, but I think as a movement, it is actually on us to realize that we are creating a space that is not safe for for other able bodied types and other folks in our community who don’t feel safe, who don’t even feel like they could walk up to us and tell us this because we’re walking around with our masks off. I know many leftists in my area, many community events right now in my community that are actively not encouraging masks, and, therefore, not creating a culture where we’re doing that.
And so it is kind of like the work that we’re doing here. At the time, I remember having the conversation and I was like, I don’t know really what to do about everybody else, but the truth is, being an organizer, I’ve been doing it for so many years, I know a lot of folks. So, actually, it is on me to call my friends and say, hey, can you make sure there are masks at your events? Can we make sure we’re creating a space that includes all of our brothers, sisters, and nonbinary folks? Like are we making sure that we’re doing this? Because I don’t even think that we know, right? It’s like this privilege that we get.
And had that person not come into my inbox and been like, hey, I want to come to your events. You’re one of the only abolitionist orgs in town and I don’t know if I can because I don’t know what your policies are on wearing masks at the events. Without that conversation, I wouldn’t have been able to see that they had been so isolated from this community for years.
You know, the world is acting like it’s going back to normal, and we have to tell the world that it’s not. We are living in an endemic, and so because of it, we have to create spaces that are still acting like COVID is a very real thing. Thank you for your question. And I’m hoping the organizers across this country and the people that are watching are going to tell their friends, hey, the next event we throw, masks, yo. And I do encourage you, Morgan, to reach out to some organizations with that question. Asking how can you participate in your area. Because that was how I was, how we were able to do it, you know? And I know that puts a lot of the work on you, and that’s not fair, but we start somewhere, and because that one person talked to us, we’re able to have, like, the ripple effects are going beyond.
SHEILA: For me, I think and, more zoomed in on a smaller scale, a lot of the inclusion and ability stuff came down to small group conversations about what kinds of risks people felt okay with, because the thing is there are a million different roles. Coming from a smaller affinity group place, having a less macho attitude and having less failure of imagination and more space for creativity in terms of how to move forward, for me, has always felt like an easier way to break out of a certain kind of really rigid, frozen idea of what a militant is.
Having dialogue around that in a small group, being able to take into consideration as many needs as possible and how that feels dignified or not for everyone and how that feels worthwhile in terms of getting this or that kind of thing done has been one way that I’ve seen that addressed around me.
MICHELLE: There’s another question that came in about socialist rifle clubs and John Brown gun clubs. So, those have been getting a lot of news, and what you see is sort of the relationship between the kind of different left gun club worlds and how they intersect or diverge in movements.
MAX: Absolutely. At least here, they’re helping arm and train our queer and trans folks, as well as just members of this community. I think Sacramento is kind of a small town with a big city vibe, and so that’s how we’re able to work kind of closely together, but I think that intentional outreach and working with those folks is important, because not only is it providing that community building and affinity building, but like I said, because of it, we were able to hook up our socialist rifle association with our local queer and trans community to help them get their CCW’s [carry concealed weapons permit]. To help train them on how to use their weapons. To also take them up and they go up shooting once a month. And to train them how to do that. So, it’s been pretty effective.
MICHELLE: Any thoughts about the presence of firearms by leftists at protests over the last year? What’s your assessment of its effectiveness, its impact, the pros and cons of it?
SHEILA: Sure. In Philly, there hasn’t been any sort of big, visible presence of firearms at demonstrations, and I don’t think that that means that there aren’t any there. I think it means that oftentimes if, anarchists, anti fascists or leftists are carrying firearms they’re not making any kind of noise about it and they’re not trying to show them or use them as a deterrent in terms of their visibility. And the same has been the case during a lot of the 2020 rioting. I think a lot of people were carrying, maybe more than showed up and they just never the firearm never came out. I think that maybe also has to do with how clashes get policed here. And, that there maybe aren’t a lot of guns in Philadelphia in general.
But I think it’s hard to weigh in on whether that’s effective or not. I think maybe in terms of the individuals carrying and people around them that know that, if there’s something empowering or useful or relevant, but in terms of materially how it’s played out between different teams clashing, it’s super invisible and I don’t even know if people are assuming it one way or the other for how much that plays out in terms of people’s assumptions about clashes as they take place.
LV: Yeah. I feel like that’s a similar story in Los Angeles, too. I would just say the escalation should be on par with what’s happening, and I don’t think that we’re at a point with gun battles or anything like that. I think that it’s good to train for whatever and everything, but I personally look back at the Weather Underground and feel like it was sort of biting off more than they could chew and an over-escalation, given the context. I don’t really feel like people are doing that. I feel like people are generally within the realm of what’s happening and the messaging and kind of, like, what’s going on.
So I kind of feel like, how long does it take to train somebody on how to use a firearm? I mean, a military boot camp is, what six weeks or eight weeks or something? Just kind of like a rudimentary one. So if push comes to shove, I feel like people could get trained up really fast. That’s just my personal opinion, but I’m glad that people are learning.
MAX: I too am glad that people are learning, because I think specifically where we saw most of the guns were on the far right. Like that was where most of the guns lived during 2020. In our area, we had far-right extremists who were able to walk around with their their concealed weapons permits, and have their guns in their holster. Being able to walk right by law enforcement while giving each other hugs and high fives, you know?
And the truth is that this is where we’re at, right? Like they’re bringing guns, so then, therefore, we feel like these are all antagonisms and all dialectical, but eventually it does get to that gun battle. We’ve already lost lives in 2020 due to far-right guns. And then when they used self-defense tactics, they were taken out by the state. We saw what happened to the individual in Washington [Michael Reinoehl].
And so do we see a role with guns? And where are they at? I mean, they’re out there. We have to decide how we want to engage in that, and we have to decide and that’s really where it is. We talk about defending our joy and organize our rage. Us as communities have to have those conversations with ourselves. Being like, we know that this is coming. We know that this exists. How do we want to do this? How do we want to engage in this? And best prepare in the way that we can. But the truth is that we’re training folks up because that’s what we’re up against. We are up against death, whether that’s state violence, far-right extremist violence, or climate catastrophe which, you know, it all leads to our death, and we absolutely have to be willing to defend ourselves.
But it gets there. We have to name that. We have to be willing to name that as a movement. We have to say that out loud. It’s going to get to gun battles, and do we want to get to gun battles? I don’t think we do. That’s not really what our goal is when we say, “housing is a human right. Food for all. Education for everybody.” We’re not trying to do that at gunpoint, you know? And so, yeah, all I have to say is, just, we have to name it. We have to name that it’s a matter of time. It’s not even, like, decades off. It’s like years off. And we’re here now. So…
MELISSA: I just want to add something quick on Texas, speaking of where the guns are, and also a state where you barely need anything to carry a gun I think at this point with constitutional carry. And certainly all the sort of events over the summer and into the fall that I’ve been following, it seems like the John Brown Club is super present at these counterprotests or demos to visibly block the far-right groups from messing with people in the community, whether that’s escorting people to their car or standing in front of a venue to, you know, kind of be a physical block.
Whether or not they’re even carrying, they’re very much there as a group. So I’m wondering, LV, if that sort of is connected to the things that you were talking about group cohesion. Is there a role to play for these groups? And having those cohesive groups who are ready to roll? In the case of Texas, there are definitely guns present on the side of the far right, openly, so it might be a different dynamic. Certainly it hasn’t come to the point yet where people are actually engaged in gun battles, but I think it’s sort of — it’s not expected. I’ve seen some very strange responses from the far right to the Elm Fork John Brown Club in particular, weird macho posturing about guns. “Antifa, they can’t be macho enough to carry guns.” It seems like on a certain level it messes with them, but on another level, people in community are seeing that there is somebody here who is armed who will walk them to their car or prevent somebody from entering a venue who might harm them.
LV: I just still think that numbers are our biggest strength, and when I think about conflict mediation — and I’m not talking about de-escalating or street conflicts or anything like that, I’m just talking about conflict mediation among our comrades — I feel like the more that I work on that, the more that I realize how much effort and skills and training goes into just getting along with our comrades. And so you’ll have a conflict between two different comrades, but it really is a conflict between their friends and other friends and it’s a whole constellation of that.
So even just checking in with everybody about what’s going on with that conflict is hours and hours of emotional labor. Not to mention thinking through responses to someone’s trauma, responses to how to help somebody through all of the different therapeutic or logistical forces that put somebody in a place where they can’t resolve a conflict with their comrade.
And I’m not even talking about interpersonal violence, like sexual assault and things like that, which is even more complicated. It takes even more resources. And so when I spend time in the communities I spend time in, radical communities, we don’t have any resources around that. It’s very taxing. These things are taxing. So when I think about training around guns or something, I feel like, it’s totally great and we should all do that. However, we have a gaping wound in our communities that we have not resolved.
We have not organized the resources around solving those kinds of things. And I feel like to me, every project that we start it gets destroyed by interpersonal conflict. And it’s just time and time again. And it’s like, when are we gonna learn the lesson? For example, we’ve gotten really good in the revolutionary left around feeding mass groups of people, 500 people or whatever. We know all of the logistics that it takes to get the food, cook the food, like have the recipes, serve the food, all of these different aspects. And yet, when it comes to interpersonal conflict, we don’t approach it with that kind of rigor. And that’s where I kind of feel like our real effort, the kind of socializing of a military response. That’s the kind of social dimension that I think is really important to take seriously when we’re talking about queer violence, queer self-defense, I think all of those things.
MICHELLE: I want to focus us in on what we see as the potential for new formations and strategies. People have spoken to this in various ways. LV, you talked about Bash Back being an aborted attempt and project and some of the conflict mediation stuff you were thinking about. Max, you referred a little bit, gestured to a future horizon and the kinds of formations that might be appropriate. I know you have a little bit to say about this, Melissa. So, let’s close out in doing a go round in us all speaking to this.
MELISSA: I can start. I feel like everyone’s covered a lot of what it takes to build these formations, and that was exactly what I wanted to hear. The sense that, before you’re taking up arms, what are you doing to actually strengthen the group? What are you doing to sort of build those resources that people have? It doesn’t make any sense to go to that level of escalation if the group isn’t connected and caring for each other in a way and doesn’t have those resources.
I’ve been going back and forth. With what I’m seeing, part of me feels like we’re in a moment where it’s all hands on deck. Lots of strategies are in play. Lots of people are tangling with this question right now. How do you respond when the far right shows up? There is so much institutional knowledge among anti-fascists on how to do that. What I’ve been seeing over the last couple of months, for example, in Idaho, this was where the Patriot Front showed up in the U-Haul and were arrested before the Pride event. But it ended up almost for the people there, they had a whole other plan that was actually what they were focused on that day, in terms of creating a safe space for folks, having big banners for people trying to record people and things like that.
But it was an interesting moment to watch the 501(c)3 universe of queer and trans life negotiate how do you work with anti-fascist activists and what are we comfortable with? Groups who are mostly just gonna call the cops to report things, realizing that that is not a safe strategy. And I think particularly after 2020 has attuned people to looking for safety outside of policing.
So, it’s hard to say I’m optimistic about anything but I’m seeing this as very productive tensions of people working out what tools do we have to respond that aren’t law enforcement? What capacities do we have for people who maybe aren’t politically aligned with us but are the ones who are showing up and getting it done? Like you were saying in the beginning, the liberals who have never considered anything like direct action or self-defense. Seeing what the need is in their community and seeing who is showing up.
And, you know, if that’s folks at the farmers market, which I love, as an entry point. Or people all of a sudden following a zillion anti-fascist researchers on Twitter, which other folks are doing. I think there is a potentially community-building moment on that side.
SHEILA: I think for me what feels most exciting about new formations isn’t any specific model or style of organizing. I think that people are getting excited to try to get things done at all is more exciting to me. I don’t care if someone starts a gang or an affinity group or a syndicate or whatever. Like any of these specific formation styles are so contextual, and I don’t think there is a right one for any one context necessarily, but people thinking through they want to do a specific thing. They want to get together with other people to get it done and how they can do that feels like the most exciting to me or the one that I feel like is gonna be as flexible as it needs to be anyway, and, like, that I look forward to the most.
LV: I sort of outlined some of the things that I feel would be great to see in the next year or few years. I think also in addition to this social understanding of the component of violence, I also just think that loudly proclaiming that violence is a part of our revolutionary imagination, and, yes, self-defense, but also violence does happen. It is part of consequences to navigating conflict, and I think that not shying away from that is important. And I also think that especially for folks that are seeking out a conversation along this are probably folks that are more drawn to building that kind social capacity. So I would just encourage all of us to seek out those folks that have already committed these acts of self-defense, queer violence, other things like that, and are getting caught up in different kind of charges or being doxed by fascists or other things like that. And really think about how we can very, very materially support them in different capacities.
Because I also think that was one of the things that Bash Back was really important for, was when people take those actions, we were there to have their back, unconditionally almost. And so, there were a number of targets that I remember having conversations with people about in the late 2000s where people were like, “that wasn’t the target I would have chosen. I don’t think that we should support X, Y, or Z.” But like really, we need to be there for each other. People get caught up and the fascists are going to find the most vulnerable among us and take them down and use them as examples for the rest of us. And we need to push back against that at every opportunity.
MAX: The truth is I’m most excited, because that’s what we are, y’all. We are in this programmatic, pragmatic stage of, like, what do we do. As a people, not even just, like, as a movement, but, like, as a people. As, again, we try to talk about understanding the devastation around us and we are trying to come up with figuring that out. And I think like, LV, you tapped it right on the head. The most important thing that we need to begin to do is address the gaping wound.
I mean, what we’ve seen over and over again and I think what, didn’t the FBI do a whole report on the Twitter war and the shit talking that people were doing in Seattle? Like they were just watching our Twitter beefs online, and stuff like that. What do we do in the inevitability of conflict, you know what I mean? It is not something that we can ever avoid. Like literally, that’s where evolution comes from. You need conflict, even down to a cellular level, in order for change to occur.
And how we actually embrace that stuff, instead of it being something that devastates is something that we absolutely have to get better at. When we talk about another world is possible, when we talk about what a vision looks like and what the world can be, it looks like us being able to affirmatively speak my boundaries and people actively listening to them and back and forth. But until we can begin to mediate the harm that we’re causing as we’re unlearning all this toxic shit, and we’re enacting all these toxic things on each other as we’re trying to build towards liberation, then all we’re going to do is have to start over again every single time, and it’s going to weaken our movement every single time.
And I just want to pop into these questions that I saw real quick, and somebody spoke about, like, what else we do around the existing culture and structures because of concerns of anonymity. Somebody was like, hey, sometimes it prevents folks from getting involved. Something that I would love for us to do in the future is to make ourselves more accessible. To our community. Make our thought processes more accessible to our community. And then for us to name out loud that it takes time to trust-build. It takes time to relationship-build. It takes time to community-build. And so your automatic want to hop into an organization where they’re like, “we don’t know you” has to be taken kindly, but also this organization needs to be like how are we making this successful? How are we making a space to trust-build with this person, with this community, and vice versa.
Which then will lead us to having conversations about how do we address the gaping wound that is we don’t know how to navigate conflict in our movement, you know? And so those are really the two things that I really absolutely feel are the biggest and are in the directions we’re going. Even the fact that every single panelist on this call today talked about it means that y’all who are watching this today are probably thinking about it, and, therefore, there are many, many, many people in this movement having this conversation amongst themselves. You can give thanks for that then. I give thanks for that, that we are trying to figure it out, but that’s where I think our focus should be, gaping holes and addressing how we allow for community members who are brand new to this to come in and learn and not allow for our fear of being, like, sacrificed to the cops, you know, keep us from teaching people what the fuck security culture is.
MICHELLE: Beautifully said. Well, this was just a magnificent discussion tonight. You all are such brilliant people, and I hope I get to call you all as comrades in the years ahead. So well done. Thank you, everybody. And let’s close it out. So, thank you, everyone, for coming tonight. It was just great. A lovely discussion, and I think quite a positive one, both in the kind of opening up the kind of question of violence as something that we can talk about, and speaking at great lengths to sort of all the necessary pieces that have to be there to make it make any sense at all.
The Mohawk Warrior Society: Book Launch and Screenings on Indigenous Sovereignty and Survival Join us for the launch of an unprecedented book, a public roundtable with members of the Kanien’kehá:ka Kahnistensera, an activist group of Mohawk women from Kahnawake, and film screenings in celebration of Indigenous culture and resilience. The Mohawk Warrior Society: A Handbook on Sovereignty and Survival, is the centrepiece of our events. Containing new oral history by key figures of the Rotisken’rhakéhte revival in the 1970s, this compilation tells the story of the Warriors’ famous flag and other art, their armed occupation of Ganienkeh in 1974, and the role of their constitution, the Great Peace. This book launch is part of a two-day series of events and film screenings that foreground Kanien’kehá:ka activism, culture, and current issues within the broader rubric of Indigenous sovereignty. Watch the second day of this series here: https://youtu.be/BC_neUgR1fU Follow this link to purchase a copy of The Mohawk Warrior Society: A Handbook on Sovereignty and Survival: https://pmpress.org/index.php?l=produ…0:07 — Introduction 16:03 — Round Table Discussion 1:59:02 — Video Messages 2:46:57 — Q&A
The first collection of its kind, this anthology by members of the Mohawk Warrior Society uncovers a hidden history and paints a bold portrait of the spectacular experience of Kanien’kehá:ka survival and self-defense.
Providing extensive documentation, context, and analysis, the book features foundational writings by prolific visual artist and polemicist Louis Karoniaktajeh Hall (1918–1993) — such as his landmark 1979 pamphlet, The Warrior’s Handbook, as well as selections of his pioneering artwork. This book contains new oral history by key figures of the Rotisken’rhakéhte’s revival in the 1970s, and tells the story of the Warriors’ famous flag, their armed occupation of Ganienkeh in 1974, and the role of their constitution, the Great Peace, in guiding their commitment to freedom and independence. We hear directly the story of how the Kanien’kehá:ka Longhouse became one the most militant resistance groups in North America, gaining international attention with the Oka Crisis of 1990. This auto-history of the Rotisken’rhakéhte is complemented by a Mohawk history timeline from colonization to the present, a glossary of Mohawk political philosophy, and a new map of Iroquoia in Mohawk language. At last, the Mohawk Warriors can tell their own story with their own voices, and to serve as an example and inspiration for future generations struggling against the environmental, cultural, and social devastation cast upon the modern world. (From Between the Lines)
Louis Karoniaktajeh Hall was a prolific Kanien’kehá:a painter and writer from Kahnawake, whose work continues to inspire generations of Indigenous people today.
The post The Mohawk Warrior Society: Round Table and Book Launch appeared first on PM Press.
Welcome fellow antifascists!
It’s been a long time since this column has come out, but that’s not because of a lack of activity. In recent months, a new wave of antifascist action and community self-defense has kicked off, largely in the face of attacks by the GOP, Proud Boys, and white nationalists against the LGBTQ+ community during Pride. As the midterm elections draw near, the GOP continues to lurch to the far-Right, pushing baseless conspiracy theories in an effort to feed their base a never ending stream of outrage, fear, and click-bait.
We have put together a list of best practices for exposing fascists based on dozens of conversations with anti-fascists & crews across the country.
— Colorado Springs Anti-Bad Candy Aktion 🚫🍬 (@COSAntiFascists) October 9, 2022
Slinking out of their holes and following the Proud Boys lead, white supremacist and neo-Nazi groups are increasing their level of activity, both in the form of supporting MAGA and Proud Boy led rallies against Pride and LGBTQ+ events, and also by carrying out unannounced flash protests, banner drops, and sticker campaigns.
Cities coordinated banner drops + outreach against far-Right activity. “As forces of reaction grow + liberals place hope in the voting booth, now’s the time to increase visibility of community self-defense, mutual aid + solidarity against white supremacy.” https://t.co/EmQKBWF2wy
— It’s Going Down (@IGD_News) October 16, 2022
As the GOP continues to push for draconian laws against LGBTQ+ people and attack reproductive freedom, we should be working to not only oppose the far-Right on the streets, but also stand in solidarity with students organizing walkouts and protests, and communities coming together to protect themselves from ongoing attacks on all sides. There is much work to be done.
Passed to us from multiple sources: Patriot Front stenciled their logo in the Krog Street tunnel, but local antifascists almost immediately covered it with a “FUCK NAZIS” message. Thanks for helping keep Nazi trash out of our city! pic.twitter.com/v2BVhafRuk
— Atlanta Antifascists (@afainatl) October 18, 2022
There’s also a lot to cover, lots of upcoming actions (see a roundup at the end of this column), so let’s dive right in!
Thanks to the Elm Fork John Brown Gun Club and anti-fascists for defending Drag Brunch in Roanoke Texas from armed fascists who have NO RIGHT to intimidate these entertainers and got a little of their own in return. No tolerance. pic.twitter.com/nWE1lVP4kV
— Reba King (@GrimReeber) August 28, 2022
Over the past month, while the Proud Boys have been rocked by state repression, fights among leadership, and internal divisions between chapters, this hasn’t stopped them in continuing to turn out to oppose LGBTQ+ events and Pride celebrations across the US. Following their lead, a smattering of white supremacist, Groyper, and neo-Nazi groups have rushed to join in, along with the usual collection of MAGA adjacent activists looking to cash in on the next wave. While these demonstrations have remained relatively small, they’re also taking place against a backdrop of a wider “trans-panic,” activated by a flood of online misinformation and bigoted conspiracy theories, which give cover to Republican officials pushing anti-LGBTQ legislation, attacks on gender affirming health care, and targeting transgender and non-binary students.
As Bloomberg wrote:
Republican candidates across the US are engaging in a legislative and messaging barrage against transgender people that they hope will win over voters in November’s midterm elections.
The strategy comes as the GOP finds itself on unfavorable political ground when it comes to certain social issues. On abortion rights, which have emerged as a top voter concern since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, a majority of US adults align more closely with Democrats.
Meanwhile, same-sex marriage can no longer can be counted on to energize the GOP base as it has gained widespread acceptance among voters, even Republicans. A bill protecting these marriages passed in the House earlier this year with the support of 47 Republicans, and will likely get a vote in the Senate after the elections.
“You can be a Republican who supports marriage equality and equality issues, but not buy into the radical gender theory debates that are going on right now,” said Charles Moran, president of the Log Cabin Republicans, the country’s largest group of LGBT conservatives. The organization has supported bills targeting trans athletes.
At the time of this writing, a right-wing Christian group is working on legislation to ban all drag in public places across Idaho, while a national federal bill, styled after Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” legislation, is being crafted that “would strip federal funds from institutions that promote ‘any topic’ that involves LGBT+ people and issues,” and is “backed by 33 House Republicans.” The potential impacts of this legislation are chilling, and represent an attempt by the Republicans to push LGBTQ+ people out of public life. As The Independent wrote:
A bill backed by more than 30 House Republicans could be used to strip federal funds from public schools, libraries or hospitals that recognize Pride month, host popular drag queen story hours or make any mention of LGBT+ people.
In this context, a growing ecosystem of Daily Wire grifters like Matt Walsh and social media accounts like LibsofTikTok, have helped form an online cadre ready to go to war with trans youth and gender affirming care, drumming up death threats against hospitals and Pride events and providing targets for groups like the Proud Boys to mobilize against and attack, as Republican officials rush to keep up and add their support. Conspiracy theories pushed by far-Right trolls, even if totally fictional, help build support for GOP legislation and talking points, and create justification for far-Right violence. Over the summer, we’ve seen this reality play out as both far-Right groups and Republican politicians called for protests against Pride celebrations, and waves of misinformation led to literal bomb threats against hospitals.
Hundreds mobilized outside of #BostonChildrensHospital to shout down less 10 anti-LGBTQ bigots led by Canadian Chris “Billboard” Elston, on a “tour of stochastic terror,” attacking gender-affirming care. Rally comes after bomb + terror threats targeted same facility. Thread. pic.twitter.com/HaJ4ReQN9W
— It’s Going Down (@IGD_News) September 19, 2022
The good news is that resistance to this manufactured “trans-panic” has set the stage for a new round of antifascist activity. Successful mobilizations in Roanoke, Texas, Boston, Massachusetts, Boise, Idaho, and Modesto, California, helped develop positive relationships with antifascist groups and broader communities while also highlighting the need for community self-defense. With increased awareness of the threat posed by the far-Right, antifascists should continue to make connections and build relationships, promoting education and fostering networks which can respond to far-Right activity and threats.
Over 250 people shut down the white nationalist “Straight Pride” rally today in #Modesto in front of Planned Parenthood. Police attacked the crowd with projectile weapons, injuring several, after it successfully repelled an attack by a small group of Proud Boys. pic.twitter.com/1snmjIcq5i
— OFF THE 99 (@Off_The_99) August 28, 2022
In a recent interview with It’s Going Down, Shane Burley stated, “Communities need to think about what it actually takes to protect queer communities and large Pride events,” as “safety depends on mass participation.” Burley went on to argue that such organizing “is going to require a lot of people,” and antifascists must work to reach outside of established political scenes, building broad networks and coalitions with those that want to defend their communities and spaces.
Daily Wire troll Matt Walsh, who has described himself as a “theocratic fascist,” has built up a name for himself as a far-Right content creator, attacking everything from climate change, to the existence of mass graves at Residential Schools, to crying about how a Black actress portraying the Little Mermaid isn’t “scientific.”
In recent months however, Walsh has been pushed into the spotlight at Fox News, as the culture war around LGBTQ+ people and in particular transgender youth has hit a fever pitch. In recent months, Walsh has been at the center of a far-Right campaign against gender-affirming health-care; working to amplify conspiracy theories about the treatment of trans people at various hospitals, which has led to a wave of death and bombing threats. According to Media Matters:
Walsh, and others targeted Boston Children’s Hospital in August, wielding misinformation about gender-affirming care to falsely claim the hospital was “mutilating children,” the facility was inundated with phone calls harassing clinicians and staff, including threats of violence. Users on far-right online forums threatened to “start executing these ‘doctors.’” Twitter users replying to [LibsofTikTok]’s own posts called for people to “take justice into your own hands.” The threats culminated in a bomb threat against the hospital on August 30.
Some of those responsible for driving harassment against Boston Children’s Hospital promptly attempted to discredit the threat and claim it was a hoax. The morning after the threat was first reported, and then deemed a false alarm, Walsh claimed that there was “plenty of reason to wonder whether false alarm really means a leftist hoax” and that “there was never any threat.”
Despite these claims, the person arrested in connection to the threats, Catherine Leavy, was actually a hardcore Trump supporter and donor to the Republican party and Walsh, while clearly helping to escalate the potential for violence by spreading false information, simply continued his campaign. As NBC News reported:
Conservative podcaster Matt Walsh went after Vanderbilt University Medical Center last month, claiming doctors “mutilate,” “castrate” and “butcher” children. The next day, Walsh appeared as a guest on Tucker Carlson’s show as Carlson projected photos of Vanderbilt University Medical Center’s board of directors, along with their names. The chyrons for Carlson’s segment read, “Vanderbilt ghouls castrate kids for big profit” and “We will show you who is responsible for this.”
Tennessee’s House majority leader, William Lamberth, tweeted in support of Walsh’s report, decrying “child mutilation,” and Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee called for an investigation into Vanderbilt’s pediatric transgender health clinic. Vanderbilt Medical Center responded with a statement saying that Walsh’s claims “misrepresent facts” and that the clinic requires parental consent to treat patients.
While some conservative politicians have echoed Carlson, others have more explicitly nodded toward calls for real-world violence. A day after Carlson’s show, Texas state Rep. Briscoe Cain tweeted, “Prison is too nice of a punishment for those who perform gender surgeries on children.”
Posts from large online accounts and right-wing media coverage often precede threats of violence downstream. Groups and individuals — online and off — have bombarded hospitals and providers with harassment and threats in recent months.
This combination of pushing wild conspiracies about ‘trans’ obsessed doctors mutilating young people and far-Right supporters then flooding hospitals and doctors with real death threats, has led to real world victories for the anti-LGBTQ+ Right:
Vanderbilt University Medical Center has agreed to pause gender-affirming surgery on transgender youth following backlash from conservative commentators and politicians, according to state leaders.
“VUMC has agreed to pause gender transition surgeries on minors, as well as honor religious objectors,” State Representative Jason Zachary tweeted Friday afternoon.
Matt Walsh, a columnist with the Daily Wire, tweeted last month the clinic “chemically castrates minors,” as well as other claims hospital administrators said are false.
Walsh’s latest documentary, What Is A Woman?, directly attacks trans people, and has only helped to further endear him to a mass right-wing audience. Recently, Walsh has hit the college circuit in an effort to promote the film, as the LGBTQ+ community, antifascists, and others have mobilized in opposition.
Millionaire gang leader Gavin McInnes crying about students protesting his talk at #PennState on Oct 24. Students angry they’re forced to foot bill for washed up Alt-Right troll whose career amounts to interviewing + posing with neo-Nazis + then pretending he doesn’t know them. https://t.co/3Kgyoki2Xc pic.twitter.com/eIJ83eDqul
— It’s Going Down (@IGD_News) October 11, 2022
British-Canadian millionaire and washed-up racist streamer Gavin McInness is planning to speak at Penn State under the banner, “Stand Back and Stand By,” a reference to Trump’s comments about the Proud Boys. Ironically, after McInnes helped found the gang, in 2018 he later abandoned his followers, after members of the group were sentenced to prison time for violent beatings in New York. In recent years, McInnes has again taken on a more public leadership role within the group.
As Hatewatch reported:
McInnes is scheduled to speak at Penn State’s Thomas Building on Oct. 24 at 8 p.m., along with far-right social media performer and provocateur Alex Stein. Stein, who is little-known outside the far-right’s online subculture, achieved fleeting moments of broader prominence through trollish publicity stunts, such as an incident where he filmed himself hurling racist and sexist abuse at Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
The October speaking event is hosted by UA’s Penn State branch, one of three listed on the organization’s website along with branches at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville (UT), and the University of Wisconsin-Madison. At UT, meanwhile, the group is advertising an event scheduled for Nov. 14 at the university’s Strong Hall in which “John Doyle will be debating Hunter Avallone on Gender Roles and gender politics.”
According to Uncensored America’s website, Sean John Semanko founded the group in 2020. Semanko reportedly served in 2018 and 2019 as the secretary for Penn State’s Bull Moose Party, which members described as an “alt-right club.” Also in 2019, Semanko was reportedly president of Penn State’s branch of the right-wing student group Turning Point USA (TPUSA).
McInnes is also currently attempting to speak at various venues outside of Chicago, but so far, call-in campaigns have alerted local establishments to the nature of the events and they’ve quickly cancelled. There is also a call to protest Gavin’s speech at Penn State on October 24th.
🤯 CANCELED: The Vixen in McHenry has issued a statement regarding the Gavin McInnes event:
“The ownership, through valiant efforts of the community, has become aware of the deplorable views of the “artists” scheduled to perform this evening and chose to cancel the event.” pic.twitter.com/B3f24G7Ktf
— 🍁 chicago 🎃 fright 👻 media 💀 (@chifreemedia) October 20, 2022
More evidence is shining a light onto the degree in which the security state was aware of the threat of violence from the far-Right, in the lead up to the attempted coup on January 6th. Moreover, newly released emails show that the vast majority of FBI agents were by and large sympathetic to the MAGA rioters.
In the recent past, the FBI has complained about not having enough resources to track online threats, but internal records show that the FBI devoted massive amounts of resources to tracking the George Floyd rebellion online and seemingly ignored reported threats of violence in the lead up to J6. More documents also show that Capitol Police were more concerned with counter-protesters on January 6th than they were with far-Right demonstrators, who only weeks before had attacked and stabbed locals and burned a Black Lives Matter banner belonging to a historic Black DC church, during s “Stop the Steal” rally.
FBI internal records:
-“sizeable percentage” of bureau employees were “sympathetic” to J6 rioters
-Agents & analysts equated J6 to 2020 BLM protests -Black agents wouldn’t volunteer for SWAT for fear of other agents not backing them in lethal situations https://t.co/4j3Dr3609e pic.twitter.com/gbbZ72HbKu
— Ali Winston (@awinston) October 13, 2022
According to HuffPost:
“There’s no good way to say it, so I’ll just be direct: from my first-hand and second-hand information from conversations since Jan. 6, there is, at best, a sizable percentage of the employee population that felt sympathetic to the group that stormed the Capitol,” the email reads.
In the message, the sender referred to an unnamed retired senior FBI analyst who had packed his Facebook page with “Stop the Steal” propaganda, referring to former President Donald Trump’s baseless claims that the election he lost was rigged.
The email noted that several agents insisted the violence at the Capitol was little different than Black Lives Matter protests. Still, Capitol rioters were being singled out because of “political correctness.”
The divide on law and order enforcement — often impacted by racism — is so pronounced in the bureau that the email author claimed Black agents were afraid to join SWAT teams for fear their co-workers would not protect them.
Despite Trump’s ongoing attacks on the FBI, the emails paint a picture of a very conservative, far-Right culture at the agency, with many agents holding far-Right views sympathetic to the J6 rioters and consuming far-Right media
Friday, October 21st: Nashville, TN. War Memorial Plaza at Tennessee State Capitol, 2pm. Counter-protest against gender fascist Matt Walsh, who is leading a protest against gender-affirming healthcare. More info here.
Sunday, October 23rd: Eugene, OR. Old Nick’s Pub, 211 Washington AVE, 10 AM. “Fascist bullies will attempt to intimidate Drag Queen Story Hour. We will remind them Eugene is no place for them.” More info here.
Monday, October 24th: Penn State, Thomas Building, 6pm. Protest against fascist, millionaire founder of the Proud Boys, Gavin McInnes.
Tuesday, October 25th: Davis, CA. UC Davis, Vanderhoef Quad, 6pm. “Turning Point USA is bringing Stephen Davis (aka “Maga Hulk”) to UCD on Oct. 25th for an event denying systemic racism. Show up and make it clear that these fascists aren’t welcome on our campus.” More info here.
Thursday, October 27th: South Bend, Indiana. Rally begins @ Morris Performing Arts Center, 5pm. “Join local community groups protesting anti-abortion extremist group Right To Life Michiana’s yearly fundraiser where they are paying Ben Shapiro to speak.” More info here.
The sun was just coming up on May 25 when Julie Burkhart’s phone rang.
Burkhart had arrived in Casper, Wyoming, a day earlier to check on renovations to a new abortion clinic she was opening on East Second Street. The final cleaning in preparation for opening day was scheduled for the end of the week. That evening she’d done a walk-through; all looked good. But when she heard the voice of one of her contractors on the other end of the line, she knew something was wrong. “I was thinking there’s a plumbing issue,” she recalled. “‘There was a water break, right?’”
Burkhart has been involved with abortion care for decades. In 1991, she worked at a clinic in downtown Wichita, Kansas, which gave her a front-row seat to the infamous “Summer of Mercy,” when anti-abortion zealots swarmed the city determined to shut down abortion access. She later became a protégé of renowned Wichita doctor George Tiller — the main target of the 1991 protests — and worked with him up until his assassination in 2009 at the hands of a militant anti-abortion acolyte. After Tiller’s murder, Burkhart took over providing abortion care at the clinic he’d run and went on to open clinics in other states.
All of which is to say: Burkhart knows that providing abortion care can be a fraught proposition involving serious threats of violence. So when her contractor called that morning, Burkhart knew it wasn’t going to be good news, but she didn’t expect it to be as bad as it was. “‘Julie,’ he goes, ‘the building’s on fire.’ And I was like, ‘God, what the hell?’”
The clinic was slated to open in mid-June when a woman carrying a gas can broke in and set it on fire.
Burkhart had long eyed Wyoming as a prime candidate for expanding abortion access. At present, the state has one abortion provider, in Jackson, which only provides medication abortion, available up to about 10 weeks into pregnancy. Burkhart’s clinic, Wellspring Health Access, would provide medication and procedural abortion on top of a host of other health services. It would also expand abortion access in the broader region, where population centers are spread out amid a rural landscape — a swath of the country known as an “abortion desert.” In the fall of 2021, she secured the property just blocks from Casper’s bustling downtown drag and began renovations.
Although Wyoming has developed a reputation as a MAGA hotbed in recent years, its politics have always been more complicated, burnished with a live-and-let-live vibe that transcends political party. Wyoming is among a number of Western and Great Plains states that have progressive notions baked into their constitutions, including where equal rights and individual freedoms are concerned. Wyoming was the first territory in the country to grant women suffrage and led the way with a number of other firsts for women’s participation in civic and political life, earning it the nickname the Equality State.
For decades, abortion was legal in Wyoming with scant limitations up to the point of viability. Lawmakers rejected attempts to impose medically dubious restrictions that were proliferating across the country, and in the mid-1990s, voters roundly rejected a statewide ballot measure that would have banned abortion and defined life as beginning at conception.
Given that legal landscape, opening a clinic in Wyoming made sense to Burkhart. But not long after plans got underway, the future of abortion rights in the United States took a draconian turn. By the time the U.S. Supreme Court finished hearing oral arguments in the case known as Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization in December, it was clear that the justices were poised to topple nearly 50 years of constitutional protection for abortion. In the wake of those arguments, several states intensified efforts to pass laws banning abortion that would be triggered by the imminent court ruling. Among them was Wyoming, where lawmakers rushed through a near-total ban in early 2022.
Wellspring Health Access was slated to open in mid-June when an unidentified woman carrying a gas can broke into the clinic and set it on fire. The arson remains unsolved. Just a few weeks later, the Supreme Court ruled in the Dobbs case, paving the way for Wyoming’s new abortion ban to take effect. “This is a decisive win for those who have fought for the rights of the unborn for the past 50 years,” Republican Gov. Mark Gordon said.
Despite the setbacks, Burkhart and her allies are moving ahead. The Casper clinic is being rebuilt, and a mobile clinic is in the works. If it all sounds a tad optimistic given the bleak outlook for abortion access, that’s because while federal protections for abortion have been decimated, state protections, and specifically those found in state constitutions, have not. Abortion rights advocates in Wyoming are confident that their state’s founding document speaks clearly that abortion is a right, and they’re fighting in state court to prove it.
Abortion rights demonstrators protest the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization on June 24, 2022, in Jackson Hole, Wyo.
Photo: Natalie Behring/Getty Images
On a hot evening in late August, Jane Ifland welcomed a group of women to the secluded patio of her home just north of downtown Casper. Longtime Wyoming residents from both sides of the political aisle, the women had formed a community advisory committee in the spring of 2021 to support efforts to open the Casper clinic. It was committee member Christine Lichtenfels, founder of the state’s sole abortion fund, who first reached out to Burkhart about coming to Wyoming.
The intent of the committee was to help Burkhart navigate the social and political dynamics of a state where even the biggest cities — Casper, the second largest, has roughly 59,000 residents — often feel like places where everybody knows your name. For the committee, this is a good thing; they know who to go to when things need to get done. “That’s how it works,” said committee member Deb Cheatham.
They had a full agenda. There was discussion of fundraising and getting Casper’s young adults more involved. There was talk about a secure place to store the new mobile clinic (handled) and a place to park it while in operation (good leads). And in the wake of the arson, there were issues of security to discuss — and speculation about who might have torched the clinic.
“Whoever knows is not talking.”
Around 3:30 a.m. that morning in late May, a woman wearing a dark hoodie and a surgical mask gained entry to the building. In surveillance video captured by a camera in the reception area, the woman can be seen carrying a gas can toward a hallway, where she squats, pulls down her mask, and struggles to open the can. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives has posted a $5,000 reward for information relating to the crime.
After her contractor called to tell her the clinic was in flames, Burkhart threw on clothes and rushed to the scene. She spent the day camped out in the parking lot of a meat market across the street. Leslie Kee, a member of the advisory committee, kept her company. “I pulled my truck in there and we put the tailgate down and sat and drank coffee,” Kee recalled. “And she had to make a gazillion phone calls.”
It wasn’t until the following afternoon that Burkhart was allowed into the building. The destruction took her breath away. Furniture and equipment were charred; windows had been smashed; plastic-covered light fixtures had melted and warped; smoke lines snaked their way across the walls.
The arsonist had started the fire in an exam room, she was told. How she gained entry is, as Burkhart figures, “the $10 million question.” Investigators said it appeared that the woman had broken a front window and climbed into an entryway. Burkhart is skeptical. Flipping through her phone, she found a photo of the window in question, the edges punctuated by spikes of glass. She doesn’t see how the woman could have climbed through without cutting herself. Which makes her wonder: Could the arsonist have gotten the code to enter the building from someone on the inside?
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives posted video footage of the arsonist at the Wellspring Health Access clinic.
Burkhart has other theories. She thinks the arsonist had an accomplice; in a 27-second video clip that police released, Burkhart believes the woman is talking on the phone, perhaps to someone waiting outside in a car. (During questioning, investigators asked Burkhart a lot about various cars.) Burkhart wonders if it might have been someone from out of state, maybe from neighboring South Dakota or Colorado. She acknowledges this would be a long way to travel to torch her clinic, but it would explain why no one in Casper has come forward with any intel.
Holly Waatti-Thompson, who founded the advisory committee, thinks it was someone from Casper, and that the city’s anti-abortion forces, centered in area churches, have circled the wagons to protect the perpetrator. “Unfortunately, their religious beliefs are interfering with their ability to reason and their ability to think,” she said. Other members of the committee agree. “Whoever knows is not talking,” Kee said. But she’s certain that “some people” around town know exactly who was responsible.
About a month before the fire, anti-abortion protesters began gathering outside the clinic on Thursday afternoons. At first it was just a quiet affair, Waatti-Thompson said, but it has since grown into something akin to “street theater.”
The protests are coordinated by Bob Brechtel, a former state representative who has boasted that the anti-abortion demonstrators come from 37 different churches and that he intends to keep protesting as long as necessary. “Rule of law is important,” he told Kaiser Health News, “but what’s more important is that we do have people who are accepting and understanding of our purpose to defend human life at all stages.”
Ironically, it is work Brechtel did while in the Wyoming Legislature that has buoyed the hopes of folks like Burkhart that abortion will remain legal in the state and plans for a brick-and-mortar clinic will be realized.
“Each competent adult shall have the right to make his or her own health care decisions.”
Back in 2011, Brechtel was a House sponsor of the state Senate’s “Health Care Freedom” resolution, which aimed to enshrine health care access into the state’s constitution. The resolution led with the broad promise that “each competent adult shall have the right to make his or her own health care decisions.” Additional provisions included a right to pay for health care out of pocket and a commitment that the state would “act to preserve these rights from undue governmental infringement.”
The resolution was filed in reaction to Congress passing the Affordable Care Act. State lawmakers were dismayed by the notion that Wyomingites might be forced into purchasing health insurance and wanted to push back. Floor debates on the resolution were limited, and while some lawmakers pointed directly to the ACA as the reason for their support, others talked about health care — and government overreach — more broadly. “We don’t agree with government from the highest possible level enforcing something so intimate as the health care decisions that we make for ourselves and for our children,” then-state Rep. Amy Edmonds told her colleagues.
The resolution easily passed, and in November 2012, 73 percent of voters cast a ballot in favor of adding a new section to the state constitution. The right of health care access laid out in Article 1, Section 38 is now at the center of efforts to protect abortion rights in the state.
Two men walk in front of the Wyoming Republican Party headquarters in Cheyenne, Wyo., on July 19, 2022.
Photo: Thomas Peipert/AP
In 1920, the town of Jackson, in Teton County, became the first in Wyoming to be governed entirely by elected women. The press dubbed the administration the “petticoat government.” In 1922, Mayor Grace Miller summed up their approach to governing: “We simply tried to work together,” she said. “What is good government but a breathing space for good citizenship?”
On July 25, Burkhart and five other female plaintiffs picked up that mantle and filed suit in Teton County seeking to block the state’s abortion ban, which was slated to take effect two days later. Burkhart’s clinic and Lichtenfels’s abortion fund joined two doctors, a pregnant emergency room nurse, and a third-year law student to argue that the ban, which contains only narrow exceptions, violated multiple provisions of the Wyoming Constitution, including the explicit guarantee of Article 1, Section 38.
If the law went into effect, they argued, “Wyomingites, and especially women, lose their right to decide whether and when to become parents; their right to determine the composition of their families; their entitlement to be free from discriminatory state laws that perpetuate stereotypes about women and their proper societal role; their right to bodily integrity and to be free from involuntary servitude; their freedom of conscience; their right to access appropriate health care and make private health care decisions; and their right to bodily autonomy and liberty.”
In response, the state has tossed a mishmash of arguments at District Judge Melissa Owens to explain why the Wyoming Constitution doesn’t protect abortion. Special Assistant Attorney General Jay argues that interpretation of the state constitution is somehow tethered to Supreme Court interpretations of the federal Constitution — in other words, that because the Supreme Court says there’s no federal protection for abortion, one can’t be found anywhere in the Wyoming Constitution.
“There’s nothing vague about this statement: ‘No abortion shall be performed.’”
As for concerns that the state’s ban is vague — and would leave doctors and patients unsure of the conditions under which abortion is legal, as has happened across the country — there is a simple fix, Jerde says: Just remove the ban’s exceptions for the health of the pregnant person and cases of rape and incest. “There’s nothing vague about this statement: ‘No abortion shall be performed,’” he told Owens during an August court hearing.
Then there are the state’s claims about why the protections afforded by Article 1, Section 38 simply don’t apply. For starters, the amendment only protects an individual’s right to choose among “health care services” that Wyoming politicians have decided are legal, according to Jerde; if the Legislature has decided abortion isn’t legal, then there’s no right to it.
And he argues that the point of the amendment was solely to protect Wyoming residents from having to pay for insurance under the ACA — that is, the promise to defend health care freedom from “undue government infringement” only applies to federal overreach, not state infringements.
To properly understand the amendment’s guarantees, Jerde argues, the court must determine what lawmakers intended in passing the resolution and what voters thought when they cast their ballots. And since the amendment doesn’t contain the word abortion, “no voter … could reasonably believe that, in voting to ratify section 38, she was amending the Wyoming Constitution to implicitly confer the right to abortion.”
Wyoming Special Assistant Attorney General Jay Jerde listens to oral arguments from plaintiffs’ attorneys in Ninth District Court on Aug. 9, 2022.
Photo: Bradly J. Boner/Jackson Hole News via AP
To Sharon Breitweiser, executive director of Pro-Choice Wyoming, Jerde’s assertions are nonsense.
Breitweiser has lobbied in the halls of the state Capitol for decades, working with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to keep abortion legal in the state. Her organization led the fight against the 1994 constitutional amendment that would have banned abortion and defined life at conception; in a landslide vote, the amendment was rejected. During debate over the health care resolution in 2011, she said it was “absolutely” obvious that the proposed amendment would include abortion. People came up to her and said, “Do they realize that they just protected abortion?” she recalled. In 2012, Breitweiser began adding information about the amendment’s protections to abortion fact sheets the organization provides to lawmakers. “Every single legislative session,” she said.
Legal experts say that the state’s interpretation, not only of the amendment but also the constitution more broadly, is just wrong. Wyoming’s constitution has robust protections for “personal autonomy and individual freedoms,” said Kenneth Chestek, a law professor at the University of Wyoming. “That is not a partisan thing, I don’t think. It’s something that everybody really can get behind who lives out here.”
Chestek says he thinks a lot of residents would be shocked by the notion that the Wyoming Constitution is somehow cramped by whatever the U.S. Supreme Court says about the federal Constitution. “Are you kidding me? The biggest sin that a politician can have in the state of Wyoming is to be beholden to people in Washington, D.C.,” he said. “We have our own power, our own rights, and we are not beholden to anybody, especially not the federal government.”
“We don’t care why it was adopted. It was adopted, it is clear, it is enforced.”
Where Article 1, Section 38 is concerned, he says the arguments about whether lawmakers or voters intended their rights to be limited to battling ACA mandates is inconsequential. Rules of statutory interpretation require that the law be enforced as written. “Whatever it says, you enforce it. And if it’s clear, you’re done.” He sees the amendment as unambiguously granting individuals the right to their own health care decisions. “Abortion is a health care choice for the woman. Absolutely. I can’t think of any argument to say that it is not a health care choice,” he said. The amendment is “directly applicable. There is nothing to interpret. We don’t care why it was adopted. It was adopted, it is clear, it is enforced.”
Robert Keiter, a former Wyoming law professor who literally wrote the book on the Wyoming Constitution, agrees. Although Jerde cited Keiter’s work for the proposition that the health care amendment should be cabined to the ACA, Keiter says it’s clear that its protections are much broader. “The language goes way beyond any immediate reaction to Obamacare,” he said. “I don’t know how you get beyond the language.”
Keiter also notes that the state constitution is explicit in granting equal rights for women. In 1869, when Wyoming was still a territory, it granted women voting rights, and women quickly gained positions of power and influence in broader civic life. When Wyoming codified its state constitution, it included “an explicit equal protection provision referring to gender,” he said, “which is highly unusual.”
“Since equality in the enjoyment of natural and civil rights is only made sure through political equality,” that section reads, state laws “shall be without distinction of race, color, sex, or any circumstance or condition whatsoever other than individual incompetency.”
Taken together, Keiter says, the constitution’s health care and equality amendments “recognize a fundamental right to reproductive choice on the part of a woman.”
In August, Owens, the district judge, concluded that the state’s abortion ban should be blocked during the pendency of the litigation. She noted that because the ban singles out those who can become pregnant and impermissibly “restricts” their health care rights, the plaintiffs would likely be successful on several of their constitutional claims. “Discrimination on the basis of sex is explicitly prohibited under the Wyoming Constitution,” she wrote.
Julie Burkhart, founder of Wellspring Health Access in Casper, Wyo., stands outside the clinic following an arson attack in May 2022.
Photo: Mead Gruver/AP
When state Rep. Pat Sweeney joined the Wyoming House in 2017 as a Republican representing Natrona County, where Casper is located, he didn’t consider himself pro-choice. He’d spent years in the hospitality business, owning a hotel, bar, and steak joint in town. He worked around employees from all walks of life and saw abortion as health care, but he hadn’t really thought much more about it.
But after nearly 30 years of rejecting abortion restrictions, state lawmakers appeared on track to pass several that year. Sweeney sat on the Labor, Health, and Social Services Committee. He remembers listening to hours of testimony and thinking to himself, “What gives a bunch of older white men in the Legislature … the right to take these fundamental rights away from women?” After he voted no on one measure, he recalls being confronted by Brechtel, the former state representative behind the anti-abortion protests, and Frank Eathorne, now the controversial chair of the state GOP. “‘You claim to be a Republican?’” he says Eathorne asked. “Very insulting and very demeaning, he and Bob Brechtel … so that has stuck with me.”
“Just open your mind a little bit, would you? But she didn’t.”
That kind of nastiness has washed over the state Republican Party, said Sweeney — who voted for Donald Trump twice (his policies were good for the state’s extraction industries, he said) and recently lost his reelection bid — and was on full display during debates over the trigger bill in February. Sweeney recalled watching as a female colleague made an impassioned speech against the measure while the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Rachel Rodriguez-Williams, stared her down, “just won’t take her eyes off her, with a shit-eating grin. And I’m thinking, ‘Wow, do you have no respect for anybody except your point of view, and only your point of view?’” he said. “Just open your mind a little bit, would you? But she didn’t.”
Rodriguez-Williams, the executive director of a crisis pregnancy center in Cody, has now joined with Right to Life of Wyoming in an attempt to intervene in the lawsuit over the ban. In a brief filed in Owens’s court, lawyers with the Alliance Defending Freedom, a far-right Christian legal organization that the Southern Poverty Law Center has designated a hate group, argued that the state wasn’t putting on the kind of evidence needed to demonstrate the legality of the ban — including an assertion that abortion isn’t actually health care. Owens hasn’t yet ruled on their request.
In the meantime, Burkhart’s mobile abortion clinic is on track to open in November. A new round of renovations to Wellspring Health Access is well underway. The clinic still sees weekly anti-abortion protests, and the investigation into the arson is ongoing. With all the setbacks and legal wrangling, Burkhart says that people have asked her why she’s pressing forward. She’s motivated by the patients who need care and the memory of her mentor, George Tiller. “Tiller always said, ‘solutions, not problems.’”
Sweeney joined Burkhart for an abortion rights rally in Casper this spring, where he urged people to vote and run for office. He hopes that Wyomingites can return to talking respectfully to one another and to their live-and-let-live roots. Members of the advisory committee were at the rally too: Kee, Waatti-Thompson, and Ifland spoke. So did Riata Little Walker.
Back on Ifland’s patio in Casper, Little Walker, a native Wyomingite and “traditional Republican,” said that if you’d asked her a few years ago, she would’ve said she was pro-life, with exceptions for incest and rape. “That’s all that had ever been presented to me as an issue,” she said. “My perspective … was very narrow.” Then she got married and pregnant. “And everything was wonderful,” she said. Until it wasn’t. At 21 weeks, they found out the fetus was very sick. Little Walker had to travel to Denver for help, where she had a choice of termination or induced labor and delivery. She chose the latter. The couple held their daughter “and she died in our arms.”
The experience was transformative. Little Walker realized that the notion that all terminations were of pregnancies that would have developed into healthy babies was nonsense. She thought that discussing termination for medical reasons would be a “good bridge for the people who are uncomfortable with the whole abortion thing and thinking that you’re killing a perfectly healthy, innocent baby just because somebody doesn’t want it,” she said. “And we all know how absurd that argument is.”
She reached out to Breitweiser of Pro-Choice Wyoming and began testifying at the legislature. Her message: “It’s not black and white.” Her goal is to get people to think more deeply about the issue, and to understand that legislation like Wyoming’s ban takes choice and health care away from everyone in every situation, including the most dire. If you can “get them to start thinking about it,” she said, then “you can slowly get there.”
The post After Clinic Arson, Abortion Rights Advocates in Wyoming Step Up Their Fight appeared first on The Intercept.