In recent weeks there has been an escalation in deadly street violence led by antifa and leaders of Black Lives Matter, as well as by some rightist vigilantes – from Portland, Oregon, to Kenosha, Wisconsin. The looting, intimidation, arson, street fighting, and shootings pose a deadly threat to the working class.
All summer, groups of antifa have carried out provocative nightly actions in Portland, including attacking police, setting fires and breaking windows. These actions are dangerous for working people looking for ways to resist bosses’ efforts to push the capitalist crisis onto our shoulders. They deal blows to fights by unionists, against cop brutality and for Black rights.
The evening of Aug. 29, hundreds caravanned through downtown Portland waving pro-Trump and pro-cop flags. They were bombarded with rocks, eggs and other projectiles by the groups who have been attacking federal buildings. Some right-wing forces responded by firing paintballs and pepper spray.
Amid these clashes, Aaron “Jay” Danielson, a supporter of the right-wing group Patriot Prayer, was shot dead, authorities say, by antifa supporter Michael Reinoehl. On Sept. 4, Reinoehl was surrounded and killed by U.S. marshals and local cops.
Reinoehl’s social media posts show how antifa supporters glorify violence. “I am 100% ANTIFA all the way,” he wrote on Instagram in June. “I am willing to fight for my brothers and sisters! Even if some of them are too ignorant to realize what antifa truly stands for…. It will be a war and like all wars there will be casualties.”
On Aug. 29, I attended a rally in Kenosha protesting the cop shooting of Jacob Blake Jr. on Aug. 23. It had been called by Blake’s family to oppose police brutality and to urge a halt to arson and violence carried out by anarcho-radical forces earlier in the week. At an Aug. 25 protest, 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse had shot three Black Lives Matter supporters, killing two.
Although the Aug. 29 rally was called a “Peace March,” one of the speakers, who was not identified by name, declared, “If you kill one of us, it’s time for us to kill one of yours.” He went on to bait Caucasians at the action and closed his speech with the slogan, “Race first.” Several black-clad individuals, some openly carrying weapons, participated as a group in the rally.
Liberals in the boardrooms of the New York Times and like-minded media lend a hand, insisting there isn’t a problem. Times columnist Paul Krugman wrote Sept. 3 that reports of “invisible anarchists” are simply “lurid fantasies.” He hasn’t been at any protests recently.
As protests against cop brutality exploded earlier this year, Black Lives Matter became a widespread sentiment that millions of working people identified with this fight. But increasingly actions organized by Black Lives Matter leaders have targeted working people. This includes actions marked by silencing, shaming and intimidating passersby — one sure sign they have nothing in common with anyone building a the broadest possible working-class movement.
An Aug. 24 march in Washington, D.C., called to protest the police shooting of Blake degenerated as some participants surrounded diners at restaurants, accusing them of enjoying “white privilege.” A video shows dozens chanting, “White silence is violence” as they crowded around one diner, Lauren Victor, showering her with abuse when she declined to raise her fist as they demanded. In fact, Victor had previously joined protests against cop brutality.
During the same action, marchers chanted, “Fire, fire, gentrifier — Black people used to live here,” as they have done in New York and elsewhere. Such calls have nothing to do with solving the chronic housing crisis and everything to do with fueling violent and poisonous resentment.
From St. Louis to Chicago, Portland and Washington, D.C., the homes of mayors and other public officials have become the targets of the violence these forces carry out. In the Chicago suburb of Oak Park, more than 100 people gathered outside the home of Mayor Anan Abu-Taleb during an online village board meeting Aug. 25. They pounded on the windows, tore up the mayor’s yard and vandalized his house.
As they glorify violence, the embittered middle-class forces of antifa rail against “the elite,” elevate small group action above political struggle and remain deeply alienated from the working class. They have much in common with fascist groups they claim to oppose. Others have traveled this road previously, like Italian Socialist Party leader Benito Mussolini who went on to lead fascist forces to power in 1922.
Today many liberals praise those leading these destructive actions. National Public Radio published a sympathetic interview with Vicky Osterweil, author of the book In Defense of Looting. Osterweil asserts that looting is “joyous and liberatory” because it means people don’t have “to rely on jobs or a wage.”
Leaders and backers of Black Lives Matter have the same line. At a small action organized by BLM in Chicago, participants held a banner saying, “Our futures have been looted … loot back.”
The furthest thing from the minds of people like this is mobilizing working people to fight together for what we most need — jobs, unemployment relief, better wages and improved working conditions. Their aim is not to end capitalism, but to get more of its perks and posts for those they consider deserving — themselves and like-minded “woke” meritocrats of all skin colors.
The capitalist class and their servants in government, whether Republicans or Democrats, will decide at a certain point to use force to brutally halt the mayhem these groups foment. Federal forces are already deployed in Portland. The National Guard is now in Kenosha. The bosses’ “law and order” forces are not there to protect working people but to defend those that rule, above all against the struggles of working people.
The violence and thuggery practiced by antifa and Black Lives Matter is the opposite of the broad, inclusive mobilizations that were organized in late May, largely by young people in thousands of towns large and small across the country in response to police brutality.
Other fights are unfolding today. Families who have lost loved ones to cop violence haven’t given up pressing to get the cops prosecuted. Unionists are standing up to bosses’ incessant attacks on wages and jobs, like striking retail workers at Dominion stores in Newfoundland. Such struggles merit solidarity and point a way forward for building the fighting labor movement we need.
It is in the course of these fights and broader struggles in the years ahead working people will learn how to defend ourselves in disciplined ways from assaults by the bosses and cops who protect their rule. And we will see more clearly the middle-class character and dangerous anti-working-class course of antifa and the Black Lives Matter leadership.
As we do so we’ll gain confidence in our own forces and have the opportunity to build a movement capable of bringing an end to capitalist rule and replacing it with our own government.