What began as Turkey’s #OccupyGezi has become something much more representative of a decade of political tension. I gathered the stories of several Turkish citizens on the ground in Istanbul and Ankara over the past twelve hours. They help shed light on what is rapidly becoming one of the most violent events in recent Turkish history, on what could well become a watershed moment for the country.
Since 2002 Tayyip Erdoğan’s Justice and Development (AKP) has governed Turkey. They have ruled over a country with deep divisions in almost every aspect of its society. Through a combination of international support, pandering to religious groups, and a programme that promised economic growth they have managed to maintain power though. However, this week a pretty unimportant plan to increase tourism and consumer spending in the capital has seen the mosaic of Turkish society unite against the AKP.
Gezi Park, a relatively small green space in Istanbul, was slated for development into a shopping mall to be housed in a newly built replica of the Ottoman era Taksim Military Barracks. Environmental protesters subsequently occupied the site and sent #occupygeziparki to the top trending spot on Twitter. Police responded severely; burning tents that were housing protesters, launching tear gas, rubber bullets, and using water cannons — non-lethal tactics that have since become lethal.
The public response to the government’s violence though far eclipsed what they thought they were dealing with. After all, Gezi was a relatively small and innocuous park. It began 24 hours later with the arrival of a bus of full of “Çarşı” the fanatics of the Beşiktaş football team who began defending the peaceful environmental protesters against against police to secure the square. Today not only Gezi Park, but also Taksim Square and İstiklal Avenue have been fully overrun by opponents of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan governing AKP party. Tens of thousands have marched across the Bosphorus from Asia to Europe to swell the number of occupants.
Taksim Square has a lineage of violence and demonstrations and including clashes between Turkey’s right and left in 1969 and 1977. Now though, for probably the first time in Turkey’s history, the right and left are side by side. As are the supporters of Turkey’s football clubs, otherwise famous for killing each other in Taksim. In Ankara also, our source from Guvenpark in the Kizilay neighbourhood reported shoulder-to-shoulder solidarity between activists from all alignments. Banner-waving members of the Islamist and right-wing National Movement Party (CKMP) and the socialist Workers’ Party are protesting side by side.
Back in Istanbul, Sırrı Süreyya Önder, a film director and politician for the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) with wide socialist and Kurdish support has joined the protesters. Originally elected as an independent, before joining BDP, he is well-liked by many in attendance. The same cannot be said of the larger opposition parties (CHP and MHP). In the eyes of the demonstrators, and the words of at least one “they just come to Taksim for votes, not change.”
The police has attempted to clear the square this afternoon, but were forced to relent eventually. Nonetheless, emergency rooms in the vicinity of Taksim were and still are at capacity and not everyone in need is currently receiving treatment. Local businesses have stepped in to help with the overflow however. One protester I spoke to had been at the Marmara Hotel on Taksim square, which had opened its doors and rooms to victims of tear gas and the injured. Another source reported that the Hilton, Continental, and Divan were equally accommodating.
The violence was worse still in Ankara. I talked to one man who had been sent into a vomiting and coughing fit when canisters of orange gas, were dropped onto the crowd by helicopter, fracturing the shoulder of his friend and fellow occupant. He also witnessed this attack of a man being run over by a TOMA (Toplumsal Olaylara Müdahale Aracı — an anti-riot tank). That man is reportedly in critical condition, although there are reports of others killed in the same manner. Just one of countless examples of the increasingly violent tactics of the Turkish police.
The military is an extremely important actor in Turkish politics. Traditionally, there has been a faustian pact between Turkish society and its armed forces to ensure the government could not endanger Turkey’s sacrosanct secularism. But over the past decade, the military has been unprecedentedly co-opted into supporting the AKP party. A series of high-profile sackings of generals set the stage for a neutered military leadership, despite the fact that many below top level may feel differently.
Over the course of the past day though, they have been quietly supporting the protesters. They have refused to cooperate with Police requests to use military zones for transportation. At a military hospital in Istanbul they refused to treat police officers, instead handing out gas masks to dissidents. As this exchange between a policeman and soldier attests, relations between the two armed groups are indeed frosty at present. Part of the dialogue translates as:
Policeman: “Next time we should also throw gas bombs here [a military zone].”
Soldier: “If you do it, we will find something to throw to you as well, rest assured.”
Another important factor to keep an eye on are the Turkish media. According to the International Press Institute, Turkey has more imprisoned journalists than Eritrea, China, or Iran. Amnesty International explains this was accomplished through the government’s wide-ranging definition of terrorism used in anti-terror legislation. As a side note, this is why many of those I spoke with wish to remain anonymous.
That’s probably why only one channel — Canli TV — has been reporting fully the events of the clashes. All other media, often accused of being government propagandists, have avoided completely showing images of the violence. Earlier today, when the police finally relented their pressure on the Taksim occupants, as soon as the violence stopped, cameras began rolling. At that point they began showing the crowd’s positive demeanor as if nothing was wrong. In reality they were celebrating, for they perceived themselves to have successfully withstood a police offensive.
With no mainstream media contradicting his claims, Prime Minister Erdogan has been able to distance himself from the police’s actions, claiming the use of tear gas was excessive. This is internationally expedient as well as Amnesty has called for the immediate end to its deployment in the conflict, condemning it as a violation of human rights against peaceful protestors. Nevertheless, Erdogan’s claims remain unchallenged domestically.
He has also remained rigid on the increasingly marginalised origins of the protests saying that “The Ottoman Barracks will be built and there will be a shopping mall here instead of those trees, which we’ll plant somewhere else.”
Tonight, many of the protesters are not sleeping. Instead, they are defending Taksim erecting barriers of bricks and crowd-control fencing in Beşiktaş, the scene of some of Istanbul’s heaviest fighting earlier in the night. Multiple sources in Istanbul speculated this had been seen as a favourable tactical location by police attempting to retake Taksim, although it now appears they have withdrawn from there as well for the moment. The chants in that video translate as “tayyip resign”.
Many are unsure of what will happen next. Turkey’s myriad of political, social, religious, ethnic and indeed athletic factions have never been so united in recent history, as evidenced by the hundreds of groups represented today. They are finding a deep sense of strength in the peace between what was formerly a series of divisions continually simmering below a thin veil of national unity. They are working together as well to ensure theirs is seen as a peaceful movement, preventing demonstrators from responding violently to police - for now.
Several solidarity events are planned across the globe in the coming days as well including one in New York’s Zuccotti Park — the site of the original #occupiers. They are hoping that the government will begin to feel the pressure from the events of the last and coming days. Whether that will result in wider calls for early elections or increased international pressure remains to be seen. As the sun is rising right now over Istanbul, the tension is palpable across the country, and the world is watching.
As one young citizen of the Turkish Republic put it: “The truth is, it’s not about the trees anymore.”
Editorial notes: An earlier version of this article claimed the orange gas was agent orange, which was not confirmed by a source but rather by this CNN iReport. As that report has been corrected as has this one.
It also said that the TOMA victim was dead. This has turned out not to be true in that case in Ankara, although another protester was killed by a TOMA in Istanbul.
Next Story — #YallQaeda is the internet at its best
Currently Reading - #YallQaeda is the internet at its best
Purveyor of words on people, things, and happenstances. LSE grad. Inhabitant of Earth. All around likeable person. distilledmagazine.com/author/greg/
Jan 32 min read
#YallQaeda is the internet at its best
But it will be sadly forgotten
The internet turns out a good deal of mediocre trending material. The Dress, was one of the most absurd things to unfortunately blemish lesser mass discourse last year. We’ve also had Pepe go big in 2015, which, again, just is not that great for some reason. In my own personal, meaningless view, for the most part, there is Doge, and there is the rest of the internet.
Until now. #YallQaeda, a response to the takeover of a wildlife centre in rural Oregon by armed rednecks is going to be difficult to beat for the rest of 2016. It has all the fixings: a good pun, it’s poignant, political, and a thick dose of internet surrealism.
Unfortunately, it probably won’t be that big. At the moment, #YallQaeda has around 9.5K uses on Twitter. This pales in comparison even to #OregonUnderAttack, the still tongue-in-cheeck, but not nearly as stinging, principal hashtag being used to describe the developing situation in Oregon.
In the realm of Twitter none of these numbers mean much of anything. Alex from Target for more new followers than #OregonUnderAttack has retweets after his brief stint with fame in 2014.
Still, there is something to be said about quality over quantity, even on Twitter (though I may have a hard time selling that in social marketing circles…). For the moment, #YallQaeda has the internet crown to lose.
Next Story — Cables from a Turkish Uprising pt. II
Currently Reading - Cables from a Turkish Uprising pt. II
The past four days in Turkey have seen enemies become brothers and a nation discovering they can make themselves heard. Eleven years of rule by Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan and his Development and Justice Party have seen the space reserved for civil society in Turkey shrink at a constant pace. After years of rising tension, a nighttime ban on alcohol two weeks ago set many on edge; a nominal event seen by some as a way to divert attention from previous abuses of police power. Thursday, environmentalists occupied Gezi Park in Istanbul to prevent its conversion into a shopping mall. This was the flashpoint. Riot police arrive. In turn, the country’s youth, and gradually other members of society joined in solidarity, either in the neighbouring Taksim square, elsewhere in the country, or in city centres around the world. Chaos ensued.
The struggles across Turkey have now yielded the preservation of the trees in Gezi Park, the recognition of the Taksim demonstration as legitimate, and a spate of retrospective misinformation by the government. More importantly though, Turks have found their voice. This has come at a steep price however. I discussed what life this past weekend was like with one man imprisoned by police and several other additional participants in the events.
We at Distilled have been doing our best to cover the past days’ events in Turkey. For more information on the beginnings of the events in Gezi Park and Ankara you can readCables Pt. I here. For analysis please see Distilled author and Editor-inChief Sarang Shah’s piece, Dispatches from Istanbul here. At the end of this article is included a short gallery of images submitted to me directly by proprietors.
Currently, Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan is away in North Africa. He left behind a country exhausted by four days of intense struggle. If nothing else, it appears now that many of Gezi Park’s trees may have been saved. Deputy Chairman of the ruling Development and Justice Party (AKP), Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu today claimed the government did not have plans to build a shopping mall next to Taksim and that the number of trees will in fact be increased. This is patently false, but in the dystopian world of a country where media is controlled by the government, many will be convinced. Furthermore, there are reports that a temporary peace has been reached at Taksim Square. Police have acknowledged the right of citizens to occupy the square, while protesters have stopped attempts to march on the Prime Minister’s office. Deputy PM Bulent Arinc has apologised but remains insistent on the role of terrorist elements. The protesters yesterday issued these demands:
1- Gezi Park will stay as a park. We will neither allow you to build Ottoman Barracks nor to plunder our green areas. 2- Those responsible, especially the Mayor of Istanbul and Chief of Police who have given the orders to oppress people with violence - wounding hundreds - should resign immediately. In addition to that, usage of gas bombs should be banned. 3- Our friends who have been taken under police custody should be immediately released, no further prosecution should be pursued. 4- The bans of protests or meetings in any public space of Turkey should be ended.
Many of the comments on that picture suggest there is one more: “Tayyip resign”.
The trees and settlement are only a small part of what Turkey’s citizens have won however. They have found that by pushing hard enough they can still be heard. Even if their own media, CNNTürk specifically, would prefer to show penguin documentaries than the country’s largest upheavals of this generation; at least rest of the world is willing to listen.
It has not been easy putting the AKP on its heels. Many are still and will be suffering from injuries sustained this weekend for months to come, or indeed the rest of their lives. Others will be mourning the loss of those close to them.
One man I spoke with was arrested Friday night in Ankara. His story is a fascinating look into the dynamics of the protest and of the attitudes of police. Friday afternoon, a Facebook invitation prompted him to join his friends in Kuğulu Park, Ankara. When police arrived with tear gas they began moving with the crowd towards kızılay - a 30 minute walk. Upon arriving and seeing more clashes he and his cohorts took to a fifth floor café to watch and wait out the worst of the clashes before going to stand in solidarity. That plan would never materialise.
Police approached the buildings, firing canisters. One other source was struck by one in a Starbucks, so it is no surprise that at this point café owners quickly closed up, leaving along with patrons. After descending the building he and his four friends were confronted directly by police. Along with one of them his hands were tied, and he was beaten. As journalists arrived taking pictures the beatings stopped and police instead threw him in the back of their car, bound for police holding cells.
Arriving at the station they were met by unlikely allies. Communist Party lawyers had taken up vigil in the jail’s processing center. They were there to provide food and moral support but more importantly to use the threat of future testimony to keep things civil. After being examined by a doctor, he was charged with terrorism, and lead to the cells. Access to the holding facilities was forbidden to the lawyers.
Outside the view of prying eyes, the treatment of prisoners was starkly different. He shared a cell - three to a 3 x 1.5m pen - with a hysteric claustrophobic and a wounded and pepper-sprayed man denied any medical treatment. They would spend the next 15 hours in an unclean pen with one concrete bed. Once inside, food was scant, and water and access to toilets provided only with two hours notice and accompanied by physical threats.
After a total of 24 hours in custody he was released. He credits the work of the Communist Party’s lawyers for not being held the full 96 hours allowed by law. As nearly 100 detainees were waiting to take his coveted spot, one could wonder though if the police simply did not have the capacity they wished for.
Meanwhile, early Saturday morning, another protester, also unwilling to have his name published, was still on the streets of Ankara.
He had been called out for a spontaneous march from ODTÜ (Middle East Technical University) to the Parliament at three in the morning. A few thousand people, escorted by cars would not achieve their destination, though, blocked by police armedwith water cannons and tear gas, the sunrise demonstration would disperse.
The potential energy of the night before would be carried over to Saturday night. At Kızılay Square, crowds estimated in the high tens of thousands and by some into the hundreds of thousands included vandals - stopped in their tracks by those wishing to keep the protests peaceful. They knew much of their international sympathy would depend on trying to maintain a non-violent image.
Sunday afternoon he was out again. This time with a garbage bag in hand, joining the cleaning brigades at Kızılay Square. After cleaning, the resistance began immediately with a sitting occupation at the police barriers. They did not remain long as pepper spray forced them back to the care of medical students armed with milk and vinegar. This young man was cared for by a complete stranger, instructing him to inhale the vinegar deeply - soothing the coughing pain in his lungs slightly.
Not far away his friends had been corralled into a school gym - converted by police into a makeshift holding cell. Indeed the jail that housed the first man the previous night had simply run out of room.
__ Around 9:15pm the crowd back on Izmir street began moving - quickly. Immediately after the screams began, clouds of tear gas wafted over the crowd. It cannot be described better than in this man’s own words:
2 tear gas cans fell right before my feet. I felt that I was being asphyxiated
my lungs were burning
I couldn’t see or breath
people were screaming
“help, help, Allah, I can’t breathe”
“I am dying”
do you have any idea how it feels?
to hear screams like that?
and not be able to help, because you are on the verge of death yourself?
and a women fell, screaming, right next to me.
I don’t know what happened to her.
I… I, god, I don’t know
my lungs were burning, my heart was spasming, the crowd was pushing me forward
and I felt like I was dying.
He was ushered only a few minutes later by another frantic protester into a nearby building. Hesitant, as there would be only one way out of the building, there was little other choice. Plainclothes police, or perhaps AKP supporters, with batons and other weapons had arrived on. After running to the 8th floor, the group of protesters shut all the lights in the building and hid in a bridge club. They hid for the next 20 minutes as the armed group searched other floors and rooms of the building. The demonstrators were not found.
They descended to a nearly deserted street and found a cab a few blocks away.
I talked to this young Turk about an hour after these events. Despite his own beaten and tired body, all he could say was:
And I am deeply sorry for that lady
I did not see her
I don’t know who she is
but I will remember her forever, I swear that.
the policemen who did that to her won’t remember her, but I will.
There are plenty of stories from Turkey over the past few days. Many have been exaggerated, although many have not. These are words submitted to you at face value. While not taken by anyone I spoke with, this video should be ample insight into the attitudes of the police in Turkey this weekend. Furthermore I have included below a few images submitted to me. They are not the same people mentioned above. The last photo is from BaşakÖzçelik, an Istanbul student of Dokuz Eylül University whose arm and leg were broken after being beaten by police. The rest are from an anonymous student in Ankara.
Before the images, which are at once inspiring and heartbreaking, I would like to end on a light note. This weekend I was given an introduction to Turkish humour. Firstly, as I explained in the first article, this vehicle is called TOMA, which is an acronym in Turkish and translates as Vehicle for the Suppression of Social Events. Carsi, the same Beşiktaş football supporters I also mentioned on Sunday morning have invented something they call a POMA - a Vehicle for the Suppression of Police Events.
…Also, CNNTürk was called multiple times on Sunday with requests for more penguins - oblivious or not, they diligently obliged.
I would like to extend a thank you to everybody who contributed information and pictures for this article as well as Pt. I. Stay safe and all the best.
Black Knowledge Queer Justice #RadicalFaggot #RadFag | profile and header images courtesy of @ForThePeopleChi
3 days ago5 min read
An Open Letter from a Black Man to His White Family in a Moment of Violence
To the white people I share home with,
I’ve gotten degrees. I’ve been published. I’ve spoken at academic gatherings. I’ve taught classes and workshops. I’ve built up a resume. I’ve gained employment in the acceptable fields of social justice. For years, you told me these were the things I needed to do in order to be listened to.
I’ve participated in direct action. I’ve been arrested. I’ve survived nearly three decades in a country that hates me. I’ve predicted the formation of movements, the swell of riots, months and even years before their occurrences. I don’t know what else I need to do to be legitimized, be validated, to be worthy of being heard and taken seriously.
I am exhausted from trying to get you on board with a movement–one that mirrors those from previous eras you claim to revere, and that has reignited calls for social transformation once heralded by the writers, speakers, musicians and artists you claim to hold dearest. I wonder if you understand what any of the struggles which have occurred during your lifetime were ever actually about.
I am not naive nor arrogant enough to believe my imploring can achieve in this moment what centuries of Black imploring has not been able to. I am not foolish enough to believe this letter will be the letter that changes your minds. I write because I need to speak, because I am in pain. I write because I cannot bear any more condescension, more indifference. I write to tell you I am not going to.
The cry of this moment is Black Lives Matter. If you are not involved, I assume this is a statement you take issue with.
When we say Black Lives Matter, we mean Black people are the experts in their own lives, their own history, their own struggles. We mean your opinions are not necessary, and that debating you is a waste of our valuable energy, mental health and time. We mean you do not get to speak on issues with which you have no experience, which you have not studied nor researched, but on which you feel entitled enough to award yourself authority. We mean you must be quiet and listen to Black people.
You can no longer hide behind your idealism. The very existence of this moment proves your ideals to be misled and hollow.
If legislation alone could save us, the 13th Amendment, Special Field Order №15, and Brown vs. Board would have saved us. If electoral politics alone could save us, then the innumerable Black justices and representatives elected in the last half century would have saved us. If white saviors could save us, we would have been saved a million times over. But we are here and we are dying, and you are watching from the sidelines.
You call me an anarchist. You say you fear chaos. If you knew what it means to be Black, what is happening in your towns and cities daily, you’d know that chaos and bloodshed are already here. They are visited on women, on people of color, on poor people, workers, on immigrants, on trans people, on queer people, and they are done so constantly. Chaos is our bed, our sheets, our water, our front steps, our sidewalks. The systems you insist we trust to address it, the leaders you elected, are its source. Your fear of movement, and your denial of this reality, is what allows it to continue.
This is the last time I will say this to you:
Black people are dying. Every day, Black trans women are dying. Black children are dying. Black mothers and sisters are dying. Maybe I have to die for you to understand what this means.
If the demands of our movement are unclear to you, that is your fault. We have stated them concretely and concisely, over and over again–not just at this moment, but at every time in history Black people have fought for their lives. Don’t pretend that because the sources you read don’t report it, the information is unavailable. Don’t act as though your selective hearing is the result of our lack of organizing. Don’t tell the leaders who have penned the most passionate pleas for justice in US history they need to be more articulate.
And when the police come for me, don’t cry. When I am murdered by a supremacist in the street, don’t mourn me. If I am put in a cage for speaking out, don’t call it a travesty. Because it is happening, has been happening unceasingly for the last five centuries, and you have done nothing to stop it.
Do not feign shock at the inevitable. It disrespects me, and the memory of every Black person your system has purposefully killed.
When I tell you my needs, talk of my pain, my anger, all my stories, it is a privilege and blessing you haven’t earned. It is a profound form of vulnerability I engage not because you deserve it, but because I as a Black person choose to share it with you. I do so for the sole reason that I do not wish to lose you from my life, do not want the most core parts of my existence to be hidden from you. But when you refuse to look, they remain invisible. When you resist seeing, you deprive yourself of authentic entrance into who I truly am, and what I truly need from you.
And your denial cannot protect you, just as my silence cannot protect me.
This movement is happening without you, despite you. But real transformation is not possible unless you listen deeply, sincerely, even when it is painful, and take brave action at your own risk to fight for the things the Black community is demanding of you.
When Black people speak, and you do not listen, you are creating the conditions of a riot. And when you tell us we are exaggerating, playing the martyr, making it all up, then you cannot be surprised when we elect militancy to make you comprehend what you refused to understand when we were peaceful.
A son, brother, nephew and grandson of Black, queer liberation
The current debate about fascism in America has, thus far, centered on the definition. Many publications have been musing in the same direction: “Is Donald Trump a fascist?” (Slate, The New York Times), “Is Donald Trump an Actual Fascist?” (Vanity Fair), “Donald Trump and Fascism: Is He or Isn’t He?” (National Review), etc. People want to know what to call things and that’s understandable, but I’m not sure how useful this exercise is. Fascist is as fascist does, and by the time we can agree on the exact definition it may already be too late.
When I planned to write about ¡No Pasarán!, a new collection about the Spanish Civil War edited by Pete Ayrton, I thought there might be some good lessons in there about fascism. With the Trump campaign improbably continuing and the alt-right Nazi brand on the rise, many of us agree that a solid operational understanding of fascism is increasingly necessary. Whether or not the label applies to our present situation, I’m pretty sure it’s valid when talking about Generalissimo Francisco Franco of the Spanish Falange.
I figured I would outline the historical timeline, cite a couple historical curiosities, draw some ominous connections to the election, get a check, and move on. Instead, I got stuck on a couple anecdotes in one of the pieces, an excerpt of the Basque writer Bernardo Atxaga’s book De Gernika a Guernica. The first is from the village of Fuenteguinaldo, and it happened in 1936 but wasn’t revealed publicly for 70 years:
“Apparently, the Falangists asked the priest to draw up a list of all the reds and atheists in the village … They went from house to house looking for them. At nine o’clock at night, they were taken to the prison in Ciudad Rodrigo, and at four o’clock in the morning, were told they were being released, but, at the door of the prison, a truck was waiting and, instead of taking them home, it brought them here to be killed.”
The second comes from the failed coup attempt in 1981:
“I was living in a village in Castille with fewer than two hundred inhabitants. I became friendly with a young socialist who was a local councillor. When I met him one day, he was looking positively distraught. He had just found out that in February of that year, on the night Colonel Tejero burst into Parliament and the tanks came out onto the streets, the local priest had gone straight to the nearest military barracks intending to hand in a list of local men who should be arrested; my friend’s name was at the top of the list.”
Someone puts your name on a list and you disappear. And maybe all the people who care enough to look for you disappear too. And no one hears what happened until everyone you ever knew is dead. That is, if you’ll excuse my language, the fucking bogeyman. It scares the hell out of me.
There’s a danger to thinking about fascism as something other than human, not just because it is people, but because it presents a temptation to dehistoricize. Fascism becomes something existential, a tyrannical tendency somewhere deep in the character of all people or all societies that needs to be restrained but occasionally breaks free to wreak havoc. Once we start down that path it’s not too long before we get to “We’re all a little bit fascist,” and “Was Alexander the Great a fascist?” That is lazy, useless thinking, the kind of “human nature” nonsense that is the first resort of the uninformed and uninterested.
Monsters and ghouls have always been a part of human community as far as I know, but they each emerge under particular circumstances. Think FernGully: The evil spirit Hexxus is freed from a tree (where it’s been imprisoned) when a timber crew chops it down. Ancient Hexxus seeps out with the character — even the name — of modern pollution. The creature is the externalities of industrial production embodied. It moves like oil and smoke. That pollution makes monsters is not a special insight; everyone knows about Godzilla. But moral pollution, of course, yields demons as well. Monsters show up when some scale is stubbornly uneven, when karma is repressed. Toxic waste dumped in the swamp, but graves disturbed too. That we’ve always had evil isn’t a way to avoid understanding the specifics of its incarnations. Thinking about fascism as a bogeyman in this way could be more useful. What kind of monster is it?
Allow me some speculation. Fascism is a nation-shaped monster. It arises alongside the modern state, and though they share sympathies (and weapons) across borders, fascists are nationalists. One of the conflicts that feeds fascism is between 19th-century ideas about the racial character of states and 20th-century pluralist ones. Our global system is supposedly based on something like collective self-determination, but it’s grafted onto a map drawn by colonial violence and pseudo-scientific ideas about Gauls and Teutons. Fascism is a particular combination of Romantic/Victorian ambitions and modern tools that sparks to life as the two eras grind against each other. Frankenstein with the arms of capitalist industry and the heart of a monarchist. Patriotic young Hitler inhaling mustard gas in the trenches, like a panel from the first issue of a comic book.
One of those modern tools is the list. We’ve always indexed information, but our ability to do so grows in qualitative jumps. To round up all your enemies at a national level is an analytics problem, and it’s one we solved under particular circumstances. The quantitative management of populations doesn’t just happen to emerge around slavery, it emerges out of slavery. And the Civil War didn’t break the line: At the Eugenics Records Office (ERO) in Cold Springs Harbor, New York, so-called scientists of the early 20th century kept lists of the genetically (and racially) undesirable. They embarked on sterilization campaigns and lent their expertise to help halt the flow of immigrants. The Nazis infamously used IBM to manage the Holocaust; the Americans (less infamously) also used IBM to manage the Japanese internment camps. When NYU’s Asian/Pacific/American Institute recreated an ERO office in 2014, they called the exhibit “Haunted Files.” Perhaps our filing systems are haunted too.
Modern liberal states have never truly reconciled their racial character with their democratic pretensions. I’m not clear on how such a thing could be possible; where would a truly pluralist state draw its borders and why? Flipping through a history book it’s hard to argue that the nation-state system doesn’texist for the arbitrarily divided glory of western Europeans. The official line is that we’re supposed to ignore that part, or be sad. But some people don’t want to ignore it and they aren’t sad. Instead they wonder why we have the nice borders that their conquering “ancestors” drew but all these people on the wrong sides. If taking Mexico’s land for white people was illegitimate, then why haven’t we given it back? And if it was legitimate, then what’s wrong with a wall to protect our side from a reversal? The liberal patriots, they say, are lying to themselves; there is no nationalism that is not ethno-nationalism.
The persistence of the fascist bogeyman suggests that they have a point. The beast can skulk in the basement for decades, feeding off the contradictions at the foundation of the pluralist state and its own waste. This is 2016 and we can’t claim that fascism is a birth pang of the global democratic order, an enemy defeated. (Ghosts, zombies, the terminator: monsters so rarely go away when they’re supposed to.) Fascism seems inextricably tied to what we have, like Dorian Gray’s portrait locked in a closet, consolidating ugliness.
Whether or not they could finish off fascism once and for all, liberals usually aren’t tempted to try. I don’t know if that’s because they sense something irradicable there, but liberals have historically found deals to make with their shadow. Spain is one of the more striking examples. When Franco’s insurgents escalated, the rest of the world agreed to stay neutral so as to stall the already foreseen World War II. But the war had already begun: Hitler and Mussolini flouted the agreement, intervening most dramatically with bombing raids. The Soviet Union breached as well, sending weapons to badly armed Madrid. The western democracies, however, stayed neutral. In return, Franco maintained Spain as a non-belligerent when world-wide hostilities broke out. It’s an agreement that lasted into the 80s.
Part of what makes the Spanish Civil War so important for leftists is the sense that it could have gone the other way. There’s an urban legend that infighting among leftists — communists, anarchists, and Trotskyists — caused the Republic’s defeat. ¡No Pasarán! has accounts of this friendly-ish fire, but no one thinks it decisive compared to German and Italian air power or the western arms embargo. Spanish republicans and their study abroad comrades fought bravely, but the bogeyman has an advantage at the insurgency stage. Violence is its thing.
The bogeyman makes a real offer: Delegate to me your capacity for limitless violence and together we will dominate. That they’re able to do it justifies the undertaking, and they are, under some circumstances, able to do it. A willingness to strike first, to drag your enemies from their beds in the middle of the night, to steal their babies, that’s a force multiplier, especially when combined with the right information technology. There is strength in white nationalist unity. Horrifying, despicable, anti-human strength, but strength still. The fascist image is a bundle of sticks or arrows — the fasces, harder to break. And they are.
I think of the 2015 movie Green Room, about a band of punks who get trapped inside a Nazi club and have to try and fight their way out. Joe Cole plays the drummer Reece, and he’s the only one who shows any sort of confidence, preparation, or leadership when it comes to fighting fascists. With his MMA skills he incapacitates a giant skinhead bouncer and directs the gang to make a break for it. He’s not out a club window one moment before two faceless, nameless Nazi henchmen have stabbed him to death. For me this moment illuminates a basic truth about fascist strategy: It does not matter how smart or brave or capable or strong you are. There are two of us, we have knives, and we’re waiting outside the window.
Liberal democracies are constitutionally vulnerable to the bogeyman. We civilians have already delegated our capacity for violence to the military abroad and the police at home. If there’s a threat to law and order, then the forces of law and order will take care of it. We don’t have to worry about protecting our democracy, there are professionals for that. All we have to do is vote for the right people to manage them. But that plan has risks.
America’s founders thought they could write the standing army out by fiat, and they have been proven very wrong. Liberal democracies maintain giant war machines. Within each of these war machines — as in the religious and business communities — there are cults that worship the bogeyman. Members wear tattoos, patches, insignias to identify each other. They recruit. Some of them go to meetings, most probably don’t. I imagine that many of them get fulfillment from their work. Why wouldn’t fascists feel at home in the police, the border patrol, the army? Asking these organizations to maintain anti-fascist vigilance on behalf of the whole population is a fox and henhouse situation.
If Donald Trump is a fascist — as even the liberal media is beginning to agree — and has a non-negligible chance to winning the presidency, what is the contingency plan? If a Trump administration were to flout what’s left of our democratic norms, how would our system protect itself? I don’t know how Trump polls among active-duty military, but the Fraternal Order of Police has already endorsed him. Part of me thinks “Troops loyal to Hillary Clinton,” is a phrase we could get used to fast, but I’m not sure how many of those there are. Are the Vox dot com technocrats expecting a Seal Team 6 bullet to solve the Trump problem if things get too hairy? It seems remarkable that the two 20th-century American politicians we talk about getting closest to fascist takeovers — Huey Long and George Wallace — were both stymied not by the democratic process but by lone gunmen. That’s a bad defense strategy. Thankfully, it’s not the only one available.
Wherever there have been fascists there have also been anti-fascists: Traditionally communists, anarchists, socialists, and some folks who just hate fascists. When left-wing parties have on occasion decided to stand by while fascists targeted liberal governments, anti-fascist elements have still distinguished themselves. Anti-fascism is based on the idea that fascists will use content-neutral liberal norms like freedom of speech and association as a Trojan Horse. By the time the threat seems serious, the knives are already out. Antifa seek to nip the threat in the bud, attacking fascists wherever they’re weak enough to attack. If that means busting up their meetings with baseball bats, then that’s what it means.
In America, we remember the Spanish Civil War mostly through anti-fascist anglophone writers — George Orwell and Ernest Hemingway being the most famous — who decamped for Spain. Unlike fascists and liberals, anti-fascists are internationalists, and no citizenship takes precedence over the struggle. When the call went out for sympathizers to come and defend the Spanish Republic, one young British volunteer, Laurie Lee, called it “the chance to make one grand, uncomplicated gesture of personal sacrifice and faith which may never occur again. Certainly, it was the last time this century that a generation had such an opportunity before the fog of nationalism and mass-slaughter closed in.” Comrades of all sorts of nationalities and particular left-wing political views signed up for the motley “International Brigades.” There was and is a purity to this gesture; to go and risk your life alongside your attacked comrades is among the highest imaginable acts of solidarity. “¡No pasarán!” (They will not pass) is an anti-fascist slogan of such power that it’s still in use today, many decades after it turned out to be a lie.
Because pass they did. The righteous rag-tag army was no match for the German and Italian bombers. Spain stands for anti-fascism across borders, but also the catastrophe of its failure. If there’s one lesson we can learn from the War it’s that fascists don’t always lose. The arc of history is not a missile defense system and sometimes righteous solidarity makes for full prison camps.
For years American anti-fascists have been very effective. Up until the Trump campaign, they had largely prevented white nationalists from meeting in public in cities. It usually works something like this: Antifa finds out where the Nazis are planning to meet and they call the hotel or conference center they’re going to use and explain who exactly “American Renaissance” is, and what will happen if the meeting happens (chaos). Most reputable establishments exercise their right to decline Nazi business. This kind of tactic offends the liberal sensibility, but it’s the only choice. The least violent way to oppose fascism is to disrupt them before they feel strong enough to act in an organized way. I fear that window is closing.
I don’t think Donald Trump is going to be elected president, but the fascists who have found a vessel in his campaign have been licking their lips for months straight. Things are going better than they could have hoped and they won this round a long time ago. I have no doubt they’re thinking about how to organize their engorged base in November’s wake. Fascists aren’t democrats and they don’t need a majority.
The bogeyman is in the closet and he’s making so much noise it’s hard to pretend we can’t hear it. We have a choice to make, if not as a country, then as members of this society. We can get out of bed, open the door, and confront the social infection that is fascism. Or we can pull the sheets up over our heads, pretend history ended 25 years ago, and try to get back to sleep. Maybe the noise will stop on its own — it is possible, even likely. But maybe we’ll wake up with our throats slit. There won’t be a different kind of warning.
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