A crew from Philadelphia made the long drive north on Friday night to support the efforts of Boston anti-fascists to disrupt the “Free Speech Rally” held by a coalition of fascists including Gavin McInnes’ Proud Boys on Saturday, May 13. The disruptive counter-protest held a solid defensive bloc on the ridge above the fascists, maintained strong unified energy among all participants, protected against attempts by fash to infiltrate and instigate, and ultimately won the day by being stronger, louder and better-organized. In order to bolster the strategic and tactical efforts of anti-fascists everywhere to fight against the growing tide of ethno-nationalism, Philly offers this analysis of what went right in Boston and how groups around the country can learn from what went down.
When we arrived, settled in and got to planning, it became clear that the bloc would be outnumbered by a factor of at least four or five to one. Fascists were expected to draw about 100 people from paramilitary Oath Keepers groups, Proud Boys, and whatever white nationalist filth answered the call. A Daily Stormer post confirmed their intention to have “a popular front to drive the communists out of the public space…for actual free political discourse to take place,” indicating attempts at aggression. Hopeful estimates of 30 and realistic estimates of 20 total were expected to show up in bloc against this incursion.
Self-crit is important if we want to do better, and if more people aren’t showing up to bloc when a 100-strong fascist group shows up to rally in public, then we need to ask ourselves as Left organizers on how we might be able to improve. Things like flyering beforehand could have improved our numbers. Also, developing realistic win conditions by planning to use appropriate tactics based on our numbers and capacity is vital if we want to keep the morale of our troops high going into a fight.
“This is the lesson we learned from Berkeley: We must be organized and maintain tight, tactical blocs if we’re outnumbered either by cops or fash, and we must control the terms of engagement so we don’t have to needlessly sacrifice ourselves in order to win.”
Would-be bloc participants need organizers to let them know how they’re going to win the day rather than resigning themselves to a loss. If one tactic will lose in its sphere of impact, choose different tactics to win within different spheres of impact. If we don’t find ways to control the narrative and win on our own terms, the fash will become emboldened to hold “free speech rallies” elsewhere in the country to spew their far-Right, white nationalist hate-mongering. This is the lesson we learned from Berkeley: We must be organized and maintain tight, tactical blocs if we’re outnumbered either by cops or fash, and we must control the terms of engagement so we don’t have to needlessly sacrifice ourselves in order to win.
Philly had come well-prepared to throw down against a large group of fascists. We had 16 shields and multiple other items – flags, poles and flares – ready to be deployed as force multipliers in a defensive line and provide impressive optics to steal their thunder. Several suggestions to turn our reduced numbers into a win for the broader antifascist narrative were offered, including deployment of shields and poles and other suggestions of potentially dubious legality. However, we understood that we were guests on Boston’s turf and that they should guide the overall look and feel of the action. So, after deliberation about potential strategic collaboration and gathering information on Boston’s plans, Philly decided to hold off on joining their bloc based on our own situational analysis, instead promising to contribute in our own way.
Our affinity group showed up unbloced at Boston Common at about 9:30am and did recon posing as normies to get a sense for terrain, numbers, and political affinities and relationships. We saw about eight people in bloc stationed at the bottom of the Soldiers and Sailors Monument hill, while 20 or so Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) and Socialist Alternative (SAlt) were at the top of the hill and growing. We interviewed a member of Socialist Alternative and asked about the bloc, getting the sense that it was not welcome by the folks at the top of the hill. Meanwhile, about 30 or 40 fash were at the Bandstand about 300 feet to the east, also growing. Those in bloc began yelling at the fash, calling them racists etc. This drew them into a battle line, mostly comprised of “Based stickmen,” American and Kekistan flags, and shield bearers – and they started shouting back.
At this point, we became concerned for our comrades’ safety. The most pressing tactical consideration we determined at that moment was that the bloc needed to use the cover of the liberal socialists to protect themselves and bolster their numbers, but they weren’t standing in solidarity together. Being a militant vanguard against the fascist tide means simultaneously moderating two fronts – the enemy front, against which we must stand strong and push hard – and the allied front, to which we must stay close enough to encourage support for our militancy.
We monitored the shouting match for signs of escalation and soon determined that the fash were a low-energy group with multiple internal fractures despite their numbers. Police presence was minimal and non-threatening, so we decided to bloc up and join our comrades despite being outnumbered.
First, we gathered about 15 flags in a trash bag – simple blackout cloth stapled to 2-foot 2” by 2”s – and approached the monument in our normie clothes to drop them off. However, we were told by liberal organizers that we had to leave. We explained that we weren’t interested in messing with them or endangering their people and were only interested in doing our own thing. We stressed that we were committed to using our flags to support a defensive formation and making sure things didn’t get out of hand. This was apparently the first that these organizers had heard of the bloc plans, and basic outreach proactively addressing their safety concerns had a positive impact on their attitude and willingness to go along with us.
“This fosters trust that while we may be militant ourselves as a bloc, we will not put comrades unwilling to throw down at needless risk.”
In Philly, blocs work closely in a sphere of mutual respect with local Left organizations to make sure that everyone is on the same page when actions combine the interests of multiple groups. This fosters trust that while we may be militant ourselves as a bloc, we will not put comrades unwilling to throw down at needless risk. Philly anti-fascist groups have moderated our own political urgencies to smash fascists and the state for the sake of building these relationships due to the advantages that strategic alliances with sympathetic noncombatants can provide. We encourage this attitude among antifa-affiliated mass orgs around the country. Also, within even the most liberal Left-leaning groups, there are always folks willing to be in bloc. Maybe they joined SAlt or whatever else because they wanted to make a real difference, and didn’t know how to get in touch with other people doing more direct actions. Unless we maintain good relationships with other organizations, these comrades will never find their way to join us and will never have the chance to develop their own politics of Left militancy, and our ranks will never grow.
At this point, socialists on top of the hill had swelled to 50 or so, and more radical Leftists seemed to be showing up to join them. The bloc was about 10 strong at the bottom of the hill, stationed at the footpath splitting the Bandstand and the Monument. Philly showed up in full bloc, and we brought the party and the noise.
We stationed ourselves at the middle of the hill to gain the higher ground as well as try to close the gap between the liberals and the bloc. We joined in with chants led by the socialists, getting hype, dancing and going hoarse, emphasizing with our raised voices and body language that in this instance, we were in full solidarity. This visceral show of support across common ideological barriers reduced tensions and made it clear that even though antifa often acts like we’re cool as shit (and let’s be honest, we are), we are not too cool to party with SAlt or DSA when the situation warrants it. Because our victory conditions did not require militantly approaching and confronting the fash, nothing we were prepared to do would rub these liberal socialist groups the wrong way, and our defensive stance was appreciated. This drew the rest of the bloc toward us, and things progressed from there.
At about 10:30am, Boston bloc leaders made the strong and ideologically effective decision to elevate non-men voices by going into the socialists’ ranks to find some who wanted to stand with the bloc. It can’t be emphasized enough: this was some good-ass praxis, and every organizer should learn from it. This tactic helped folks build a space where everyone felt comfortable to take defensive militant action. It doubled our numbers and formed a link between the bloc and the socialists. We then had enough people to hand out fliers to interested passersby and explain what we were doing, while still maintaining an impressive presence. Philly then got our bag of flags and distributed them to the newcomers. Popularizing revolt can be as simple as bringing someone to the front and handing them a flag (aka whacking stick) and a mask.
This is why we show up: drown out hate speech with an organized, mobilized working class. pic.twitter.com/qo2FEs4UWO
— StandAgainstHate-BOS (@NoHateinBoston) May 13, 2017
The Proud Boys began sending instigators into our ranks to try to provoke fights, but we were ready for them. Police presence began to ramp up with about 4 bike cops on either side, mounted cops patrolling with the fash, and motorcycle cops with zip ties at the far end of the Common. Philly took the lead and organized block participants into a defensive line further up the hill to prevent any attempts at kettling. We worked with Boston to station lookouts on either side for fash/cops trying to flank our position. Meanwhile, the bloc had reached a critical mass point whereby it continued to slowly swell. While taking advantage of the relentless chanting tactics that the DSA/SAlt employed to keep our morale boosted, we charged in small swarms to repel the instigators as they approached, making it clear that we would stomp their fucking faces if they tried anything – or allowing our numbers, organization and body language to nonverbally convey that message.
“The character of the so-called free speech ralliers thus showed itself for any onlookers to be hypocritical trash. They’re bullies who cry about free speech until the conversation doesn’t go their way, then they seek out the most vulnerable dissenters to physically intimidate and assault.”
By and large, instigators were 4chan/Reddit keyboard warriors – cowards unsuited for actual confrontation. They soon retreated, and folks in bloc returned to holding the line. Oath Keepers and overt white nationalists seemed bored by the keyboard warriors’ antics and remained deployed around the bandstand, not offering them any assistance. Police presence was such that we didn’t have the numbers to approach them and test those waters. It was clear from their body language that the cops were protecting the fascists, and chants to that effect – “Cops Protect Nazis!” – started up. At one point, after one Proud Boy took his aggression out on a random 13-year-old child and was subsequently detained, a larger group of fash seemed like they were going to charge the hill. Our bloc made an impressive line, holding flagpoles horizontally to repel as a unit, and they decided to back off. Another Proud Boy later punched a teen-aged femme within the bloc, and when our bloc member tried to defend themselves, both were arrested. The character of the so-called free speech ralliers thus showed itself for any onlookers to be hypocritical trash. They’re bullies who cry about free speech until the conversation doesn’t go their way, then they seek out the most vulnerable dissenters to physically intimidate and assault.
The flags flying at the free speech rally in Boston today. pic.twitter.com/PE7YBNRnAJ
— Jack Smith IV (@JackSmithIV) May 13, 2017
As the action wound down, comrades thanked the Philly contingent and expressed interest in our organization as well as working with us again. Militancy means energy, and as long as they feel protected rather than threatened by our presence, people will feed off our militancy rather than tell us to go away. The difference between a feeling of protection and a feeling of threat is communication – fostering the sense that we are on the same page. While ideological disagreements are important to hash out at times, we must also be a unified Left Front when it comes to fighting against large numbers of fash taking to the commons. Coalition-building beats out adventurism every time, especially in cases of uneven numbers.
“Militancy means energy, and as long as they feel protected rather than threatened by our presence, people will feed off our militancy rather than tell us to go away.”
We won the day this weekend – but it won’t always be this easy. We ended on a high note and then dispersed. The fash milled about the hill and the rest of the Common after, unsure of what to do beyond taking selfies and posting on social media. They were aiming for another Berkeley – an opportunity and excuse to catch us out, beat us up, instigate a brawl, and lead to our mass arrest, unmasking and doxing – and we denied them that opportunity. They looked like a bunch of strange, sad folks all day. Philly’s organization on the fly as well as Boston’s follow-through, combined with disarray among the Right, gave them the loss instead. We got videos of them attacking children, and we disrupted their event. The Alt-Right bemoaned on /pol/ being “humiliated”.
We drink deeply of fascist tears.
But our enemies are getting more organized all the time. The fact that they were able to have this event at all should be considered a partial failure among Left organizers. While Boston didn’t give them much of a platform, they were able to take the streets at the end of their disrupted rally, which must be prevented in the future. We must aim to be able to shut this shit down before it starts. But we didn’t have the numbers to actively confront a mass of trained right-wing militia at this time, so we had to frame our victory to be achievable and based on conditions on the ground. And we did. We accomplished what we sought out to achieve.
Our ultimate goal is building blocs strong enough to smash the State, and achieve liberation for a unified, multi-racial, multi-gendered, militant working-class. But first, we have to grow and build unity. As hip-hop artist Ab Soul said in the song, Terrorist Threats, “If all the gangs in the world unified, we’d stand a chance against the military tonight.”
“ours will be a five, ten year struggle at least, and we must think long-term, stay strong, be smart, build coalitions and alternative economic models to support our work, expand political education and class consciousness…”
That work is ongoing and must be pursued on multiple fronts. Ethno-nationalist fascists will only get more organized as the Right consolidates its power in government and rolls out an increasingly draconian police state that preys upon the most vulnerable populations – disabled, immigrants, women, people of color, trans folks and other LGBT people, etc.
All indications are that it will get worse before it gets better. Realistically, ours will be a five, ten year struggle at least, and we must think long-term, stay strong, be smart, build coalitions and alternative economic models to support our work, expand political education and class consciousness, keep training, grow our forces, and continue thinking up new tactics to take the fight to the Right. We can’t tunnel vision on “being in bloc” – there are so many other historically effective anti-fascist tactics that can and should be used. The Black Panthers gave out free breakfasts and became local heroes, for instance. But they were militant as fuck.
We don’t have the luxury of allowing our egos to be stroked by LARPer adventurist tendencies or suicidal, disorganized impulses. But we must remain prepared for the worst. We must make use of all available options to challenge the corporate state. We must take care of ourselves and our comrades while we fight the fash on all fronts. We must be able to sustain our revolt by thinking strategically toward a narrative win every time, finding situational allies wherever we can, because we’re in this for the long haul, and we are all needed. As freedom fighter Assata Shakur famously said, it is our duty to fight for our freedom, and it is our duty to win. The Rev is a life-long and long-life commitment.