Bernie Bros and “Cleansing Violence”

Four years ago I wrote a blog post called “LARPing the Revolution: 100 Years On,” about Occupy and Anonymous embracing the idea that they could, and should, make a revolution happen by showing people that the state is weak and vulnerable, an old anarchist idea that killed a lot of people over the past century, as revealed by scholar @jaspergregory’s research, the kind from real books, which he tweeted at the time.

Yesterday Rolling Stone published interviews with some of the young men who made threatening texts to an American exercising her right to serve as an official in a political party. One young man expressed no remorse and instead was proud that he had shown his facebook friends it’s possible to “do something” like form an angry mob to bombard a fellow citizen with harassing and threatening texts.

That’s when I decided to reblog my old post, because apparently the Bernie Bros are getting the cleansing violence LARP crew back together. Here it is:

LARPing the Revolution: 100 Years On

I’ve commented many times that both militant Occupy and Anonymous seem to be LARPing (Live-Action Role-Playing) revolution, acting out a storyline with themselves as heroes fighting an epic battle against evil itself, as personified by all governments, militaries, and corporations worldwide. Posts on the #Anonymous hashtag on Twitter, and the manifestos they leave on hacked sites, reveal their image of themselves as heroes, whose hundreds of thousands of hacking victims all either had it coming or were collateral damage in a revolution against universal corruption.

Militant Occupy, with its roots in Anonymous’ Operation Empire State Rebellion, uses similar language, claiming they are not just saving the world, but creating a new one, a utopia without greed, prejudice, or war, and anyone whose rights they violate through street blockage, property seizure, or destructive vandalism is selfish to complain about “inconvenience” in the face of such an awe-inspiring millennial event.

Both Occupy and Anonymous seem disconnected from reality, absorbed in their mythical war and unwilling to even listen to those who raise objections. It’s a simple fact that Occupy’s numbers, both of donations and participants, have fallen sharply since the initial buzz of popularity, as it became apparent that the movement wasn’t interested in pursuing change by electing officials or advocating policies, or even stating any particular goal beyond “another world is possible.” Yet militant Occupiers deny that numbers have decreased, and assert that the movement is growing larger, and accomplishing more than any movement ever has before. It is irrelevant that no actual policies have changed, they say, it’s enough that people are talking about Occupy, even if the coverage is negative. Meanwhile, amid this fantasy of a creating a loving new world, a violent undercurrent is growing stronger.

A bomb plot by militant Occupy members was exposed in Cleveland, with voice recordings revealing that a spokesperson for Occupy Cleveland was committed to the idea of detonating explosives to further the revolution he saw himself as participating in, yet this plan, and a plot to throw Molotovs during the NATO summit in Chicago, are written off by Occupy as “trumped up” by the “treasonous and tyrannical” government, which either faked all the evidence, or entrapped innocent peace-loving activists into planning violence they never would have thought of on their own. The April 30 “Ruckus Street Party” that resulted in smashed cars and windows in San Francisco’s Mission District is explained away as the work of “provocateurs” or an autonomous action unconnected to Occupy, even though Occupy promoted it beforehand.

Anonymous is just as wrapped up in fantasy, as members are regularly arrested and face decades in prison, yet the remaining members continue to hack and DDoS with seemingly no fear of being caught, and claim that for every arrest more and more people join them, despite the dwindling numbers participating in their forums. Both Anonymous and Occupy are convinced that global revolution is imminent, and that the Arab Spring was just the beginning of revolution everywhere, despite their failure to attract the massive numbers of participants that would indicate widespread revolutionary fervor.

Why is this happening? Why has a seemingly cult-like fanaticism taken hold of so many people, causing them to perceive a shared dystopian vision, where all nations are police states on the verge of a worldwide revolution, which Occupy and Anonymous will triumphantly lead? I had speculated that this phenomenon was caused by modern technology, people becoming immersed in video games, virtual worlds, or internet subcultures to such an extent that they lost track of reality, like people who die from exhaustion or starvation during gaming marathons, but scholar Jasper Gregory, a close observer of Occupy Oakland, digs deeper.

Tracing back the thread of ideology from the militant Black Bloc faction of Occupy to earlier movements and philosophies, Jasper discovered that the source of this epic myth of messianic elites waging an apocalyptic revolution is over 100 years old, and it has had deadly consequences, in events largely forgotten by most people today.

To get the full story, follow Jasper on Twitter, where he posts research sources and summarizes his findings. I’ll highlight a few key tweets below.

Okay, so now we see that having no demands except the complete transformation of civilization is actually a very old concept, not a new innovation spawned by social media, but what’s the big deal? Aside from disappointing the Democratic Party by not transforming into a voting bloc, what’s the harm in a sect of people believing their marches and drum circles are creating a better world? Surely the bomb plotters are just a tiny fringe, less than a dozen people out of the thousands in Occupy, and the majority of Occupiers will use the General Assemblies to prevent anything really bad from happening, right?

Even if most Occupiers wanted to reign in violent members, the anarchist nature of horizontal consensus makes that impossible, as we’ve seen in General Assemblies that were unable to pass resolutions condemning violence, instead embracing the euphemistically named “diversity of tactics.” Some have wondered if it was incompetence or interpersonal drama that led to the failures to denounce violence, but Jasper’s research shows that followers of the Sorelian philosophy don’t see violence as a problem, they actively embrace it as essential to their heroic quest for utopia.

As disturbing as this philosophy of cleansing violence is, isn’t it all just theoretical? After all, anarchists have only broken a few windows, set a few small fires, not killed anyone, right?

In recent history that’s true, but looking back further, we discover that Sorel’s apocalyptic mythology was written to justify a wave of deadly anarchist violence that included the assassination of President McKinley and dozens of explosions in American cities and around the world.

In addition to the deaths directly caused by anarchist bombs, Sorel’s philosophical justifications for that violence fueled the rise of some of history’s most brutal political forces. Mussolini, Lenin, and Regis Debray, creator of the “foco” system used by the Weather Underground, were all inspired by Sorel. Reaction to Sorelian movements led to the “Red Scare” of the 1920s, repressing everyone on the political left.

Today, as anarchists fight in the streets of Athens, and members of the fascist Golden Dawn party are elected to Greek parliament, Sorel’s ideas are still thriving worldwide. With two explosives plots and multiple incidents of destructive vandalism already happening in a movement less than a year old, it seems that, once again, militants are embracing the concept of “cleansing violence” and apocalyptic revolution in America, using the wider Occupy movement’s rhetoric of love and peace as cover.

Once again, there’s a new invention giving ordinary people a destructive “equalizing power” against governments and corporations: hacking. By exposing whatever information they can, and exploiting any cyber-infrastructure they find vulnerable, Anonymous sees itself as the “Air Force of Occupy,” assisting the meatspace militants in their apocalyptic goal. So far they’ve only shut down sites, stolen data, and exposed personal information to set people up for harassment, but cyber attacks have the potential to affect the power grid, water purification plants, traffic signals, trains, subways, and aircraft, including armed drones, with deadly real-life consequences.

History repeats, and the more things change, the more they stay the same, but today we have the power to pull together vast amounts of research very quickly and to share it widely. Will these tools be enough to stop the spread of violent ideas this time around, before blood is spilled again, causing another backlash of heightened security that restricts everyone’s freedom? It’s worth a try.

Originally published at and on Thursday, May 24, 2012