Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The Media's Spin On Anarchists

There has recently been a growing and disturbing trend whereby right-wing idealogues, organizations, and terrorists have been presented in the media as being “anti-government” or even anarchists. This effectively serves to confuse the public about the philosophy of anarchism and what anarchists actually stand for. And this practice will, undoubtedly, have negative consequences for actual anarchist communities.

This inaccurate media portrayal of right wing extremists really caught my attention after the Sikh temple shooting in Wisconsin – when Amy Goodman subsequently interviewed a former DHS analyst on the subject of “right-wing extremists.” In that interview her guest dismissed the idea that Timothy McVeigh was a racist and no mention of his Christian fundamentalism was put forward. He was described primarily as being involved with “anti-government” militias. This despite the fact that McVeigh constantly praised the Turner Diaries (a novel that romanticizes a race war), which he sold below cost at gun shows, and despite the fact that he was associated with the fundamentalist Christian Identity movement. And, actually, McVeigh was not really anti-government. Rather, he was merely opposed to certain aspects of the government currently in charge. So, while I am a frequent member of DemocracyNow's audience, I think Ms.Goodman dropped the ball in this particular interview and should have been a little more challenging with her questions.

More to the point along these lines... a prominent headline in the news recently has been about a supposed “anarchist” cell within the U.S. military which was allegedly planning to carry out political assassinations, blow up dams, and poison Washington state's apple orchards. However, despite numerous headline's referring to them as “anarchists,” when one looked a little deeper it was discovered that these "anarchists" were actually just “true patriots” who were essentially looking to take the country back. Later it was revealed that the alleged ringleader of the group was an usher at the RNC in 2008. Like McVeigh, this group seems to be comprised of fairly typical right-wing militants – who are not really "anti-government" and certainly not anarchists.

The problem is that much of the general public doesn't really know much about anarchism or anarchist history and, so, they are likely to believe that  the aforementioned people are actually anti-government anarchists. However, as an anarchist, I can tell you that I find this to be seriously troubling and inaccurate.

And the effect of this mislabeling and the demonization of anarchists will not stop the right-wing hate groups from continuing to perpetrate massacres like those in Oklahoma City or at the Sikh temple. Nor will it work to stop the murder of doctors who perform abortions. Nor does it work against anti-gay or racially motivated hate crimes.

This mislabeling and demonization will work against actual anarchists who often directly oppose the perpetrators of such attacks. The anti-fascist movement around the world, groups who physically confront Nazis and other fascists when they march, are predominately made up of anti-racist anarchists. You can find countless articles and videos about anarchists actively resisting fascistic racists. However, according to popular media portrayals, anarchists and fascistic right-wing racists are one and the same.

So... what is the real reason for this mislabeling and demonization of anarchists? It's actually pretty simple. Not only do anarchists actively oppose neo-Nazis and Klansmen, they also oppose the official racist and fascistic policies of the U.S. government. They oppose the racist police state of the United States which imprisons more people (per-capita AND in total numbers) than any other nation on Earth. Anarchists oppose the corporate fascism which concentrates power into the hands of a few while it abuses and enslaves people around the world. Anarchists oppose the racist militarism which kills innocent civilians around the world. Anarchists oppose the system of domination which leads to a billion people going hungry each year and which also destroys the environmental foundation required for human life on this planet.  And they're not looking to replace one corrupt government with a less evil version, they're looking to create a completely non-hierarchical system wherein all people are free and have their needs are met.

Nevertheless, when right-wing racist extremists are mislabeled as anti-government anarchists... the effect is to crush actual anarchist communities and movements. For example, at the recent RNC protest in Tampa, a spectre was raised about the diabolical anarchists who were planning all sorts of dastardly crimes during the convention. However, as the protest began, the riot police on the ground (not including other agencies involved with “Homeland Security” who were present) outnumbered the protesters 4 to 1. No great atrocity occurred but the local police got an infusion of high-tech weaponry (which they will conveniently retain after the convention and protest is long over). Surveillance and infiltration of anarchist groups was undoubtedly escalated and the effects of such will undoubtedly linger.

The real anti-government and anti-corporate groups are suppressed, thanks in part to the mislabeling and demonization by the media, while the right wing hate groups keep doing the awful things they always do. And the general public suffers as a result of this because the general public is probably more inclined to be anti-fascist, anti-corporate, anti-racist, and anti-government as well – if only the real and legitimate arguments for anarchism were presented honestly in the mainstream media. But, as it is, general repression and surveillance of the broader population is continuously increased under the auspices of protecting society from the anti-government “anarchist” bogeyman.

Don't misunderstand, anarchists are not all peacenik pacifists looking to sing Kumbaya while a phalanx of armed riot police charge at them. Ideologically, many anarchists are at least willing to defend themselves – if not actually inclined to go on the offensive. But the pertinent issue at hand is the scale of the threat presented by anarchists in the United States and who (or what) is actually being threatened by them. Beyond the false media portrayals of right-wing patriots as anarchists... it's hard to recall any massacres perpetrated by anarchists in the United States.  And any violence they do occasionally engage in is certainly not for the purposes of maintaining or establishing a more racist or oppressive government. Some anarchists are inclined to scrap a little bit with the police at protests (a highly punishable offense regardless of harm done), but the biggest threat most anarchists present in this country is, primarily, toward the property of destructive corporations. And this is largely why they are so demonized by the government and the mainstream corporate media.

A random ATM (belonging to some bank that stole a billion dollars) gets jammed full of honey or superglue, a sweatshop storefront gets it window smashed at some infrequent protest, or maybe once in a blue moon the elusive ELF strikes with no casualties. Then... the state and the media calls for the complete crackdown on all the unruly and dangerous anarchists. The anarchists who were NOT responsible for the Oklahoma city bombing, who were not responsible for D.C. sniper spree, and who were not responsible for the Sikh Temple massacre – these were all actions undertaken by former members of the U.S. military. The anarchists aren't religious fundamentalists involved with the 9/11 attacks or the murder of abortion providers. The anarchists are not gunning down poor people each day in the official line of duty. And yet, it is the anarchists who are often presented as public enemy number one.

Obviously, it is their underlying ideology and their latent populist appeal which is feared by the state and its media. And, maybe, someday, anarchists will actually pose a serious threat to the oppressive authoritarian systems in place. But, until then, especially for the moment, lets at least be honest about who anarchists really are and what threats they actually present. Most anarchists in the U.S., for better or worse, are primarily concerned with starting sustainable farms, feeding the hungry, and speaking out against war. They are interested in going to book fairs, protecting the environment, and working on their blogs.  And these are the same anarchists who will probably be the first to go when the purges start.

No comments: