We’re living in a very dangerous time.
Several things are coming together that pose a serious threat to the liberty of anyone who is right-of-center.
While there are many factors at work, I’ve been focused in recent days on three: (1) Antifa becoming a part of the anti-Trump Resistance; (2) politically-motivated denial of access to the internet at the gatekeeper level; and (3) attempts to weaken free speech protections in the name of social justice.
1. Antifa and The Resistance are getting ready to fight fight.
The neo-Nazi / White Supremacist march in Charlottesville and the killing of Heather Heyer have provided the excuse to expand a violent movement that existed long prior to Trump’s election victory.
Recall that anti-Trump riots erupted during the campaign, with Chicago being the most notorious. There have been many other physical attacks by “Black Bloc” anarchists and Marxists. Those Black Bloc street thugs have rebranded as Antifa, and they are moving from the extreme fringe to the street muscle for the anti-Trump Resistance.
A.P. Dillon at American Lens provides a good summary of the A No White-Wash Look at Black Bloc:
Modern Black Bloc ideology is based on a blending of Anarchism and Marxist-Leninist theories. Black Bloc, being rooted in a hybrid of anarchism and Marxist-Leninist , believe that all government is slavery. Freedom can only be achieved through anarchy.
The Marxist portion seems to draw from what was known as Autonomism or Autonomist Marxism. Autonomism include anti-capitalist, anti-authoritarian themes and class struggle is its core.
Autonomist Marxists believe that the working class can go around unions, political parties and state entities to effect change. This form of Marxism employs tactics like sabotage in the workplace, property damage and encouraging skipping work as methods to ‘fight capitalism’. This type of Marxism, like all other forms of Marxism, failed not long after it sprang up in Italy and France during the 1960’s.
According to a document called the Black Bloc Papers, written by anarchists David Van Deusen and Xavier Massot, Black Bloc believes its purpose is to be a tool through which any given protest is ‘escalated to the next level’.
By ‘next level’, Black Bloc believes that by employing violent tactics such as assault, arson and destroying property, it is the government or state that will end up being exposed as the real perpetrator of violence.
Dillon describes Black Bloc tactics:
Black Bloc is not a randomly occurring phenomenon. They are organized and trained in a military style fashion.
Every event where Black Bloc has shown up was coordinated and participants all belonged to a sort of squad they refer to as an “Affinity Group”. Each Affinity Group has a responsibility and position to cover during the protest and ensuing riot.
They employ a platoon-like hierarchy structure that includes what is referred to a “general tactical facilitation core” or g-tacs for short. The g-tacs are the Black Bloc members in charge on the ground of their particular Affinity Group.
The g-tacs set themselves up near the perimeter of the action with one or two members of their Affinity Group close by for support.Affinity groups are made up individuals with set directives and roles, such a communications, medical aid and of course, those concentrating on property damage, vandalism and engaging law enforcement.
In this way, the g-tacs is much like a general sitting on the edge of the battlefield directing attacks, conducting reconnaissance and relaying intel to their troops.
The various Affinity Groups are given assignments and positions to cover. Often several separate Affinity Groups will be positioned together in a “cluster.”
Black Bloc participants train on their own and in groups.
In February 2017, The L.A. Times profiled the connection between Black Bloc and the anti-Trump Resistance, Inside the black bloc militant protest movement as it rises up against Trump:
The movement first made its presence felt in California more than two decades ago, then built its forces amid the protests against the Iraq war.
Out of the sea of largely peaceful antiwar demonstrators marching in San Francisco’s Financial District in 2003, a more militant subgroup emerged. Its members wore black masks, black jackets, black hoods and helmets. They smashed windows and looted military recruitment offices.
Since then, the so-called black bloc protesters have become a force in the Bay Area and beyond. They have been blamed for violence during protests in Oakland over corporate power and police abuse, notably the case of Oscar Grant, an unarmed black man who was killed by BART police in 2009.
Scorned by critics on both the left and right and hunted by police, the black bloc is bringing its radical tactics to the massive protest movement sparked by the presidency of Donald Trump.
The masked militants went fist to fist with neo-Nazis at the state Capitol in June, where five of their allies were stabbed. Black bloc tactics also dogged Trump’s inaugural ceremonies in Washington, leaving broken windows, vandalized banks and a torched limo.
And early this month on the UC Berkeley campus, black bloc militants tore down police barricades, broke windows, started a fire and assaulted Trump supporters.
The NY Times reports, ‘Antifa’ Grows as Left-Wing Faction Set to, Literally, Fight the Far Right (emphasis added):
The term, a contraction of the word “anti-fascist,” describes the loose affiliation of radical activists who have surfaced in recent months at events around the country and have openly scuffled with white supremacists, right-wing extremists and, in some cases, ordinary supporters of President Trump. Energized in part by Mr. Trump’s election, they have sparred with their conservative opponents at political rallies and college campus speaking engagements, arguing that one crucial way to combat the far right is to confront its supporters on the streets.
Unlike most of the counterdemonstrators in Charlottesville and elsewhere, members of antifa have shown no qualms about using their fists, sticks or canisters of pepper spray to meet an array of right-wing antagonists whom they call a fascist threat to American democracy. As explained this week by a dozen adherents of the movement, the ascendant new right in the country requires a physical response.
“People are starting to understand that neo-Nazis don’t care if you’re quiet, you’re peaceful,” said Emily Rose Nauert, a 20-year-old antifa member who became a symbol of the movement in April when a white nationalist leader punched her in the face during a melee near the University of California, Berkeley.
“You need violence in order to protect nonviolence,” Ms. Nauert added. “That’s what’s very obviously necessary right now. It’s full-on war, basically.”
As the times further reports, Antifa is becoming the muscle for other movements:
Driven by a range of political passions — including anticapitalism, environmentalism, and gay and indigenous rights — the diverse collection of anarchists, communists and socialists has found common cause in opposing right-wing extremists and white supremacists. In the fight against the far right, antifa has allied itself at times with local clergy, members of the Black Lives Matter movement and grass-roots social-justice activists. It has also supported niche groups like Black Bloc fighters, who scrapped with right-wing forces in Berkeley this year, and By Any Means Necessary, a coalition formed more than two decades ago to protest California’s ban on affirmative action for universities.
This is consistent with what I wrote about yesterday, how anti-Israel pro-BDS professors are building a nationwide campus network, Anti-Israel pro-BDS profs organizing Antifa campus network
We have seen what Antifa is capable of in Berkeley, Seattle, Portland and elsewhere.
The teaming of the BDS and Antifa movements is the single most dangerous development I have witnessed in the many years I have been covering campus BDS. Antifa will give BDS even more muscle to intimidate and threaten those who oppose the BDS agenda.
That Antifa will spread its violence is shown by what happened in Seattle the same weekend as Charlottesville. Michael Kochin writes:
…if you want to know what really happened in Charlottesville on Saturday, you need to look at what happened in Seattle on Sunday.
In Seattle, a mainstream pro-Trump group called Patriot Prayer held a small rally downtown. Their organizer, Joey Gibson, addressed his crowd in these words, as reported by David Kroman and Lily Fowler:
“We have to find a way to come together, stop the fighting, stop the yelling,” Gibson said, denouncing the violence in Charlottesville. “There’s good and bad people on the right. There’s good and bad people on the left. We need to get the good people together.” Mr. Gibson the offered his mike to whoever wanted to speak: some echoed his message, other opposed it.
In Seattle, as in Charlottesville, the Left was no mood for Sunday school. The counterdemonstrators repeatedly clashed with police, trying to force their way through the police line in order to attack the pro-Trump demonstrators.
From extreme fringe to mainstream Resistance heros, Black Bloc now rebranded as Antifa, will be a presence on the political left in cities and on campuses.
And they are preparing to fight fight, not just politically fight.
2. Internet Freedom At Risk at Gatekeeper Level
Attempts to induce corporations to silence conservatives are nothing new. We have seen years of pressure tactics from groups such as Media Matter to shut down voices such as Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity by pressuring and harassing advertisers. Campaigns are currently underway to force advertisers away from websites such as Breitbart and Gateway Pundit.
As discussed in many posts, this tactic can be effective when highly organized because major corporations are scared to death of bad publicity in general, but particularly bad publicity that could find it accused of supporting racism or other -isms. So the easy decision is to drop the advertising, rather than face protesters outside headquarters and in social media.
That tactic now has gone to a completely different level with attempts to intimidate internet hosting companies and companies that provide internet infrastructure to cut off access to the internet. So far, the effort has been focused on the neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer. People might not care that The Daily Stormer is taken down, but the history of leftist tactics show that the target universe will expand dramatically and it will not be long before efforts are directed, as they are now for advertisers, at mainstream conservative and right-of-center websites.
The Wall Street Journal reports, Tech Firms Break From Hands-Off Approach With Bans on White Supremacists l
Technology companies’ recent moves to crack down on white supremacists thrust them into unusual territory for corporations that often take a more hands-off approach to who uses their services and how.
In the wake of weekend violence at a white supremacists rally in Charlottesville, Va.,Alphabet Inc.’s Google and GoDaddy Inc. stopped providing hosting support for the Daily Stormer, a neo-Nazi site that the companies said violated their terms of service. Airbnb Inc. banned participants in the rally from staying in rentals booked through its site….
Following the violence in Virginia, domain registrars—which act as intermediaries by making sure that a website’s domain name is linked to the correct IP address—have also become arbiters of free speech. If a registrar pulls service from a site, the site will appear offline to the public until it finds another registration provider.
“The number of net intermediaries acting as gatekeepers has increased,” since GoDaddy booted Daily Stormer, said Daphne Keller, who studies platforms’ legal responsibilities at the Stanford Center for Internet and Society. “Suddenly the domain registrars are sitting in judgment on content and speech,” joining the usual players around free speech such as Google, Facebook and Twitter.
Domain registrar GoDaddy said that, while it doesn’t usually take actions on complaints that would “constitute censorship of content,” it decided that an article Daily Stormer posted ridiculing Ms. Heyer crossed the line “to promoting, encouraging, or otherwise engaging in violence against any person.” On Sunday, it gave Daily Stormer 24 hours to find a new registrar.
Daily Stormer then registered on Google. Hours later, Google canceled Daily Stormer’s website-hosting registration, saying the site violated Google’s policies against inciting violence.
Daily Stormer, whose site was inaccessible Tuesday, didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Bad facts make bad law, and bad facts also make dangerous internet policy. No one wants to defend The Daily Stormer substantively, but the notion that domain registrars would shut down the ability of a website to exist is new territory.
It’s significant that part of the effort against GoDaddy were led by the group Sleeping Giants, the same group targeting advertisers at Breitbart and other websites:
The Southern Poverty Law Center is using its highly politicized hate lists to encourage pressure on internet providers, Cloudflare Optimizing Content Delivery For At Least 48 Hate Sites Across Europe:
Cloudflare, the Internet security giant that specializes in content delivery and optimization has an ambitious goal: to help “power and protect the entire Internet.”
That goal includes optimizing the content of at least 48 hate websites dedicated to recruiting, organizing and spreading extremist ideologies.
Hate group websites happily utilize Cloudflare’s services. The company is best known for offering protection from DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) attacks, a frequent — and illegal — tactic used against racist websites by vigilantes seeking to staunch their noxious messaging.
It is no coincidence that Cloudfare decided to cut off The Daily Stormer in a move Cloudfare’s own CEO recognized posed a danger to internet freedom, as ArsTechnica reports:
Until recently, CloudFlare prided itself on its unwavering commitment to free speech. Even when he was criticized for providing service to alleged terrorist groups in 2013, CEO Matthew Prince stood firm, insisting that “a website is speech. It is not a bomb.”
So a lot of people were surprised on Wednesday when the company abruptly changed its tune and canceled the account of the neo-Nazi site Daily Stormer. The action seemed to fly in the face of everything CloudFlare claimed to believe as recently as May.
And in an internal company e-mail obtained by Gizmodo, Prince acknowledged that the decision was exactly as arbitrary as it seemed.
“My rationale for making this decision was simple: the people behind the Daily Stormer are assholes and I’d had enough,” Prince wrote. “Let me be clear: this was an arbitrary decision.”
Prince wrote that he “woke up this morning in a bad mood and decided to kick them off the Internet. It was a decision I could make because I’m the CEO of a major Internet infrastructure company.”
In the same e-mail, Prince argued that it is “dangerous” for that kind of power to be concentrated in any one person’s hands.
“It’s important that what we did today not set a precedent,” Prince added. “The right answer is for us to be consistently content neutral.”
But, as the SPLC list shows, it will set a precedent. Companies like Cloudfare and others who provide internet infrastrucure will come under increasing pressure, and it won’t be limited to the Storm Fronts of the world. We know from history that the “hate” label is broadly applied for political purposes, and will be used only against right-of-center websites.
Being cut off from domain registrars and other aspects of the internet backbone is something we expect from totalitarian governments. Now that power is in the control of almost-uniformly left-wing corporate managers.
3. Scaling Back Free Speech Protections In The Name of Social Justice
As part of the reaction to Charlottesville, the NY Times ran a chilling Op-Ed by K-Sue Park, a housing attorney and the Critical Race Studies fellow at the U.C.L.A. School of Law.
The Op-Ed is chilling because it represents a significant strain in the legal community and on campuses, that freedom of speech needs to be viewed in a social justice narrative, The A.C.L.U. Needs to Rethink Free Speech:
The American Civil Liberties Union has a long history of defending the First Amendment rights of groups on both the far left and the far right. This commitment led the organization to successfully sue the city of Charlottesville, Va., last week on behalf of a white supremacist rally organizer. The rally ended with a Nazi sympathizer plowing his car into a crowd, killing a counterprotester and injuring many.
After the A.C.L.U. was excoriated for its stance, it responded that “preventing the government from controlling speech is absolutely necessary to the promotion of equality.” Of course that’s true. The hope is that by successfully defending hate groups, its legal victories will fortify free-speech rights across the board: A rising tide lifts all boats, as it goes.
While admirable in theory, this approach implies that the country is on a level playing field, that at some point it overcame its history of racial discrimination to achieve a real democracy, the cornerstone of which is freedom of expression.
I volunteered with the A.C.L.U. as a law student in 2011, and I respect much of its work. But it should rethink how it understands free speech. By insisting on a narrow reading of the First Amendment, the organization provides free legal support to hate-based causes. More troubling, the legal gains on which the A.C.L.U. rests its colorblind logic have never secured real freedom or even safety for all.
For marginalized communities, the power of expression is impoverished for reasons that have little to do with the First Amendment. Numerous other factors in the public sphere chill their voices but amplify others….
The A.C.L.U. needs a more contextual, creative advocacy when it comes to how it defends the freedom of speech. The group should imagine a holistic picture of how speech rights are under attack right now, not focus on only First Amendment case law. It must research how new threats to speech are connected to one another and to right-wing power. Acknowledging how criminal laws, voting laws, immigration laws, education laws and laws governing corporations can also curb expression would help it develop better policy positions.
Sometimes standing on the wrong side of history in defense of a cause you think is right is still just standing on the wrong side of history.
Park’s view is standard critical race theory narrative, that’s what makes it so chilling. I’ve heard similar arguments many times on campuses.
This urge to curtail First Amendment free speech rights interacts with the Antifa violence against speakers. The threat of disruption from protesters is one of the reasons being given to curtail unpopular speech, as Buzzfeed reports:
Some advocates fear Charlottesville may be a tipping point, a moment at which the calculus over campus speech — and public support for it — shifts entirely, just before the start of a new school year.
This will be the most contentious and difficult year yet on college campuses, said Will Creeley of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, the country’s most prominent campus free-speech advocacy group.
“We’re deeply depressed and anxious over what the school year will hold,” Creeley said. “The country is deeply polarized, we have disgusting, reprehensible outbreaks of violence on our televisions, and now we have an actual loss of life. I’m girding for a long, long fight.”
There’s no bigger hotbed of the free-speech battle than campuses — especially public universities like UVA, which are, for the most part, legally bound to offer space to those who ask for it….
In quick succession, three public colleges — Michigan State, Texas A&M, and the University of Florida — this week blocked groups from holding events on their campuses featuring white nationalist leader Richard Spencer.
That could spell the start of a vicious cycle: The further that public colleges are pushed to turn away and block white supremacists, the more they will push white supremacists to the forefront of the free-speech debate….
As public colleges move rapidly to block or cancel white nationalist events, Creeley said he fears a slippery slope — one in which safety is used as a pretext for denying First Amendment rights.
“We’re put in a position where safety requires shutting down free speech,” Creeley said. “If you accept that rationale once, you’ve lost.”
The academic foundation for restricting free speech is in place, and the tactic of threatening violence provides an excuse.
Conclusion – It’s Different This Time
There certainly are other political issues that are contributing to this gathering storm, but that’s politics.
After 10 months of Resistance to Trump since Election Night, there has been an unyielding attempt to paralyze the administration. The Trump administration’s disorganization and Trump’s mercurial personality certainly have contributed to this situation. But that’s politics.
The factors I raise above are beyond politics. They are about our liberty — on the street exercising our free speech rights, accessing the internet to communicate our ideas, and preserving the protections of the First Amendment and free speech.
It’s a dangerous time.
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