A call to disrupt Tea Party protests scheduled for April 15 was recently posted on Infoshop.org, a popular anarchist news site and forum. Once right-wing Web sites found out about the anarchists’ plan to invade their rallies, the cyber-insults and threats quickly piled up like clogged assembly line. That is to say, there was a lot of cookie-cutter trash talk from both sides, but it didn’t lead to productive results*.
Most of the anarchists’ online comments were little more than slight variants of the over-generalized description from the initial Infoshop article, which described the Tea Party movement as “a coalition of conservatives, anti-Semites, fascists, libertarians, racists, constitutionalists, militia men, gun freaks, homophobes, Ron Paul supporters, Alex Jones conspiracy types and American flag wavers.”
Most of the Tea Partiers’ comments involved at least one of the following three themes:
- “I hope anarchists really do try to confront us so I can shoot them / attack them with my dog”
- “All anarchists are smelly idiots/confused college students/entitled bums/narcissists/undercover provocateurs/fascists/liberals/Democrats”
- “I’m confused. I thought anarchists were anti-government. Why do they want to fight us in order to protect government programs?” (This theme is in response to a line from the Infoshop article that says “If the tea party movement takes over this country they will really hurt poor people by getting rid of social programs like food stamps, unemployment benefits, disability benefits, student aid, free health care, etc.” Frankly, I wouldn’t expect Tea Partiers to up-to-date on the somewhat paradoxical nature of modern anarchist theory, so I can’t really blame them for being flabbergasted by what would seem to be a major philosophical contradiction. But I’m not going to get into that.)
OK, so that’s a quick and admittedly over-generalized overview of the situation so far. What will happen next? I’m no Miss Cleo but here’s my prediction:
On April 15, groups of anarchists confront larger groups of Tea Partiers. There will be screaming and name-calling along the lines of “You’re a fascist!” “No, you’re a fascist!”. There might be some minor skirmishes, but a lot of cops will be on hand to prevent anything too crazy. The cops will probably arrest a few anarchists. Both sides will go home confident that they “won” and spend the next few weeks re-hashing their triumphs. The animosity will continue to simmer.
Maybe next time, a few months from now, somebody will really get hurt. A Vietnam vet will re-assert his patriotism by pumping a bullet into some kid wearing black clothes and a black bandana over his face. Or maybe an anti-capitalist revolutionary will hurl a brick into a crowd and it will crack some old lady’s skull. Maybe the next level of violence will be instigated by an undercover government agent. That last option is just about the oldest trick in the book when the government wants to crack down on a movement – or two.
Either way, more government “attention” on both of these groups would be the inevitable next step in this utterly predictable sequence of events. History as well as current events informs us that the Feds are already keeping close tabs on organizations at both ends of the political spectrum. Moles and provocateurs are common.
This surveillance is understandable with situations involving violent factions like the Hutaree militia, who were arrested last week for plotting a mass murder, or animal liberation groups that send mail bombs to scientists. However, well-documented revelations of illegal spying and infiltration of totally peaceful anti-death penalty and anti-war groups like the Raging Grannies in recent years proves that if the government wants to spy on you, they will, whether you’re violent or not.
The point is that it could get much, much worse.
First they came for the Raging Grannies...
While I’m neither an anarchist nor a Tea Partier, I share some principles advocated by both sides. Resistance to unjust, unconstitutional invasions of privacy and anti-democratic policies is at the top of that list. In a nutshell, I don’t think the government should be allowed to violate people’s rights.
There are obviously irreconcilable differences between Tea Partiers and anarchists. I’m not naive enough to advocate for any kind of Tea Party/anarchist coalition (“the Black Tea Party”?). But as a confrontation that would seem to have no potential for a positive outcome draws near, I worry that these two movements will squander energy that could be focused on legitimate, mutual concerns involving serious threats to freedom that are rapidly emerging because they’ll be too busy arguing with each other.
Here’s one example: The government and corporations are teaming up for a massive crackdown on Internet freedoms.
Check out “Cyberwar Hype Intended to Destroy the Open Internet” for a great overview on a growing push by the military-industrial complex (including telecom and tech corporations) to “re-engineer the Internet.” According to a new Wired article, former national intelligence director and current Booz Allen Hamilton VP Michael McConnell is “talking about changing the internet to make everything anyone does on the net traceable and geo-located so the National Security Agency can pinpoint users and their computers in retaliation if the U.S. government does like what’s written in an e-mail, what search terms were used, what movies were downloaded.”
There’s already a Senate bill that would give the President “emergency powers” to take over the Internet and a bill in the UK that would outlaw open Internet connections, so some of these crackdowns could be right around the corner. While there are some cyber-activists organizing against this, a few groups like the nonpartisan Electronic Frontier Foundation are shouldering much of this burden (and there are lots of easy ways to plug into their campaigns to protect online freedoms).
Perhaps the most frustrating thing about the Tea Party movement for people on the left – and why it’s hard for anyone from mainstream Democrats to the crustiest anarchist to take their movement seriously – is that they waited until now to get angry. They certainly weren’t in the streets showing any concern when there was a white Republican in the White House violating the constitution, expanding executive power and driving up the national deficit to record levels. But now they’ve emerged as the biggest populist movement in recent history… and the only reaction from the left so far seems to be mockery and unfocused scorn (some of this is well-deserved), but it can’t be the only response.
Of course racist elements within the Tea Party are inexcusable and must be exposed. Regarding the Tea Party’s supposed platform of fiscal responsibility, their commitment to cut government spending would be a lot more believable if they focused on the most bloated and costly source of government expenditures, defense spending, instead of obsessing over welfare programs with budgets that are pocket change compared to military costs.
Along with “less spending,” the other vague pillar of Tea Party economics is “small government,” which has been the code language for irresponsible deregulation since the Reagan-era. In practice, “shrinking the government” is usually just a Trojan horse for exploiting people by, for example, lowering labor and environmental standards, and siphoning wealth into already deep pockets. However, the Tea Party has also made questioning the government and demanding accountability a top priority, and that streak of anti-authoritarianism is promising.
Even the wild-eyed hysteria and fact-challenged, paranoid hypocrisy spewed by demagogues like Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh occasionally contains kernels of truth. Regardless of your political persuasion, even if you’re the most mainstream, middle-of-the-road centrist, there are tons of legitimate reasons to be really angry at the government. This much we should all be able to agree on.
I just hope this anger isn’t wasted on anonymous online pissing matches and street corner posturing. There are more productive ways for groups that disagree with each other to “confront” each other – ways that aren’t as likely to end with poor results for both sides.
[*Since I started writing this post, I've started to see some more thoughtful analysis, like "Tea Parties & The White Working Class" by Andrew Epstein, so hopefully that signals a shift towards less knee-jerky rhetoric.]