The #FreeSpeechBus tour has ended, in total failure.
The tour, which was supposed to hit US cities on the east coast and organize a wide variety of rallies, press conferences, and protests, by and large never materialized, was kept completely off schedule, was physically run (or driven) out of various towns, and in some cities, was never even able to set foot on the ground.
The bus itself was backed by several large anti-queer and anti-trans nonprofits from Spain and the United States, headed by Brian Brown, a long time far-Right Dominionist organizer. The project itself was largely a repackaging of far-Right Christian talking points that came out of push back against gay marriage and represents a refocusing of these groups against trans people in an effort to secure a steady cash flow into their organizations in the wake of controversy surrounding trans people using bathrooms.
— It's Going Down (@IGD_News) March 24, 2017
the Right is trying to advance its positions by using terminology often associated with the Left. Instead of a bus against trans people, it’s a “Free Speech Bus,” and you wouldn’t be against free speech now would you?
But while CitizenGo, the National Organization for Marriage, and others were hoping to mainstream their talking points in the wider culture, instead what they did was create a roving target that led to continous, successful, and militant mobilizations and disruptions.
First, in New York, the bus was attacked and vandalized, which took it off the road for several days, knocking it off it’s schedule. By the time the bus was up and running again, it had become both a lightning rod and a laughing stock, generating a social media storm and a negative spotlight.
As the ‘tour’ attempted to continue, so did demonstrations and disruptions. In New Haven, people even rented a U-Haul, fitted it with pro-trans signs, and pushed the bus out of the city and stopped it’s rally from ever happening. In Philadelphia, a mass militant confrontation took place, forcing the bus once again to quickly depart. In Boston, protesters surrounded the bus, and in other cities it appears that the stops the bus planned to make – never happened.
— Brian Zahn (@brizahn) March 26, 2017
The #FreeSpeechBus and resistance to it, gives us several lessons.
First and foremost, the Right is trying to advance its positions by using terminology often associated with the Left. Instead of a bus against trans people, it’s a “Free Speech Bus,” and you wouldn’t be against free speech now would you? This kind of framing also helps them when their organizers literally seem to openly endorse violence and wholesale extermination of trans and queer people. We see this dynamic continue in their own report of the tour, noting how protesters “assaulted the African American bus driver” in New York, in short using in this context the race of the bus driver as a shield against their larger agenda of white supremacy and patriarchy.
This of course is not new, and has been the MO of people like Milo Yiannopoulos for years as well as much of the Alt-Right. It has also led to the growth of the far-Right bringing out a wide variety of queers, people of color, and women, who can in turn mainstream their talking points while using their position in society to deflect criticism.
— Esteban L. Hernandez (@EstebanHRZ) March 31, 2017
Secondly, the #FreeSpeechBus took another cue from the Alt-Right by attempting to link any resistance to it to a vast conspiracy that united the Democratic Party with anarchists. While they didn’t mention “Soros” or “paid protesters,” the idea is the same. That political elites control militant foot soldiers on the ground, who do the unwilling bidding of their oligarch masters. They write in their ‘tour report’:
Shockingly, we also discovered the deep coordination that exists between Democratic politicians, LGBT groups and extremists, including anarchists who are bent on destroying civil society.
One of the major developments uncovered by the tour was how closely prominent Democratic politicians are in coordinating with LGBT extremists and their active participation in promoting activities that result in violence and hate.
The fact that these claims are baseless and untrue and in their article are only backed up by statements made by various Mayors against the anti-trans bus, or the fact that in some cities, Mayors choose to raise the transgender flag in front of city hall, in a symbolic gesture while others were physically fighting the bus itself, is besides the point. The bus organizers furthered these conspiracies because baseless theories are what the far-Right thrives on. They also help take away attention from the fact that broad mobilizations in communities across the US successfully shut down their tour. As always, these talking points by the far-Right play to their base and allow them to write off popular mobilizations and struggles.
— Danielle Corcione (@decorcione) April 1, 2017
It’s also important to note that while the Right likes to connect conspiratorial dots between the State and resistance movements as a way to make compelling propaganda to their base, this phenomenon is actually happening in reality on the Right.
But while we cannot be surprised that the Christian Fascists with the #FreeSpeechBus get the facts wrong, we also should be clear that the mobilizations that happened on the East Coast were a smashing success.
This activity also shows once again that combative and disruptive tactics actually bring people into struggle while accomplishing all of the things that liberals claim such tactics scare away.
Firstly, the out of the gate militant resistance in New York helped set the tone, placed the bar high for future actions, and also drew attention to the tour and fight back against it. Secondly, the inspiring actions and the diversity of tactics used became an inspiration to other cities who were waiting for the bus to hit their town. This activity also shows once again that combative and disruptive tactics actually bring people into struggle while accomplishing all of the things that liberals claim such tactics scare away.
By this we mean it galvanized support, it changed the narrative around the bus itself, it created a crisis which forced people to take a side, and it also shifted the terrain of the debate back onto our court. None of these things would have been possible by just raising a flag at city hall and reading a statement against these bigots written by the Mayor.
Moreover, it showed again the necessity of no platform. Meaning, we don’t allow people to promote views which seek to build towards genocide and mass State violence and repression. This doesn’t mean we favor censorship, it means that we organize as a community against social movements which are organizing against us.
While the far-Christian Right is still attempting to flex its muscles under Trump and Pence, we can hopefully build on the success of resistance to the #FreeSpeechBus in the future.