HTown Holds It Down: Security, Defense, Movement

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“The police told several people during this time that they knew in advance that the fascists were planning to come disrupt the bookfair, which is why they said they were staged nearby all morning.”

In Spain in the 1930s, during the revolution against General Franco’s fascist takeover, a propaganda poster read: “Los libros anarquistas son armas contra el fascismo,” or “Anarchist books are weapons against fascism.” This slogan was proven true again on Sunday, August 24th when around two dozen fascists tried (unsuccessfully) to shut down the 2017 Houston Anarchist Bookfair.

For people who had never heard of the 2017 Houston Anarchist Bookfair until the fascists showed up, we’d like to offer some context about our city and what happened. We live in the south. Fascists, inspired by the legacy of the KKK, feel entitled to march around Texas to build their movement. Texans remember the KKK, remember church burnings, lynchings, and bullshit trials. So much of the white supremacist legacy still remains, especially in the systems of policing and imprisoning. But we won’t go back.

The bookfair was the result of six months of planning and organizing. Despite speculation and rumors after Hurricane Harvey that the event would be canceled, the event actually gained some momentum as people were energized by grassroots and autonomous relief efforts. A lot of eyes were on Houston, and a lot of talk was focused on the failures of capitalism and the State and the benefits of revolutionary solidarity, mutual aid, and cooperative, horizontal organizing.

The bookfair drew an incredibly diverse and inter-generational crowd of around 300 people throughout the day, and collectives from across Texas, the South, and other parts of Turtle Island filled the tables in the main hall. All in all, we collectively pulled off a successful bookfair that will undoubtedly strengthen our communities and struggles as we continue to rebel and organize.

Unfortunately, most of the attention and discussion since the bookfair ended has focused exclusively on the 10-15 minute period during which about two dozen white supremacists and fascists attempted to disrupt the event, so we want to address some of the rumors. The fascists arrived around 11:40 AM, in the middle of the second set of workshops. Based on the timing and the statements the fascists made during their attack, it’s pretty evident that they were specifically targeting the workshop on antifascism being conducted at that time by the Oh Shit! What Now? Collective from Austin.

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They rolled up in a crew of about two dozen, most in matching white polo shirts and masks over their faces, with a banner stating “For Race and Nation” and “Blood and Soil.” They rushed the doors and attempted to force their way into the bookfair while carrying at least three smoke bombs. Many of the fascists were wearing “tactical” gloves with hardened plastic knuckles, often preferred for punching people while minimizing risk of injury to the puncher’s hands. Others carried sticks.

Our security team saw them approaching and quickly helped bookfair attendees inside and secured the doors so the fascists could not enter. They shook and kicked the doors to try to get in. They then retreated down the stairs to get their livestreaming footage and social media photos while chanting fascist slogans. They also went around at least part of the building and tried to enter side doors, but we had of course already secured these.

Unable to enter the building to attack the people inside and fill the building with smoke, they staged a brief photo op outside, chanting “blood and soil” and “anti-white.” After about 10 minutes on site, the fascists left the area and did not visibly return.

The fascists did steal the banner that we hastily made from a bed sheet and neon blue paint. (The fascists sure are attracted to sheets. We can’t for the life of us figure out why.) We will admit to being bummed about losing our banner, but the joke is on them because the bed sheet came from the bed where we have all our queer, interracial orgies – and we’re pretty sure the gay is contagious!

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Inside the building, the workshops took a break to see what all the commotion was about. Security volunteers and other participants and attendees acted quickly to ensure the building was secure and that folks were prepared to defend each other in the event that the fascists were able to get inside. Inside the main book hall, many people carried on with conversations and perusing the vendor tables, while other people checked on each other to ensure everyone was ok. Within 20 minutes of the initial arrival of the fascists, all the workshops had resumed. The bookfair continued uninterrupted and on schedule the rest of the day (yes, actually on schedule!).

For two hours before the incident and for about 20 minutes after the neo-Nazis had left, two police SUVs had been sitting at the end of the block by the bookfair. When the cops finally moved, it was to attempt to enter the property as part of an “investigation.” When our security team told them they were not welcome on the property and asked what they were investigating, they said “the protest.” They didn’t have an answer to the question, “Is protesting a crime?” The police never came more than a few feet onto the property (to collect the cardboard canisters left over from the fascists’ smoke bombs, at the invitation of one of the building staff) and no one present for or volunteering with the bookfair assisted them in any way. We are also not aware of anyone inside the bookfair calling the police. [Editor’s Note: In video clips released by the neo-Nazis, someone across the street can be seen calling the police.]

The police remained in front of the building for about an hour, speaking with neighbors and staff from the venue, and ostensibly waiting on word from their superiors that they could leave. The police told several people during this time that they knew in advance through their monitoring of social media, that the fascists were planning to come disrupt the bookfair, which is why they said they were staged nearby all morning. This whole time, the bookfair continued unaffected and people came and went freely, despite the police presence.

On Being Prepared

“Our purpose was to organize an above ground anarchist bookfair in today’s volatile and unprecedented political climate that would be accessible to a wide variety of Texans, including those who had never met an anarchist before.”

We knew our bookfair was on the fascist’s radar. Some right-wingers had shared the Facebook event, others had liked our Facebook page. Our purpose was to organize an above ground anarchist bookfair in today’s volatile and unprecedented political climate that would be accessible to a wide variety of Texans, including those who had never met an anarchist before. We did that. And, of course, there was the workshop entitled, “Punching Nazis: An Intro to Antifascism,” which was clearly marked on our schedule online. Sure, this is admittedly a provocative workshop title, but what happened to the fascists and liberals whining about free speech? Do they really think free speech only applies when the fascists want to advocate genocide, but not when we advocate defending ourselves? One big reason people started having mainstream discussions about anti-fascism is because of the video of Richard Spencer getting punched. There are many approaches to social change.

With all that in mind, the fascists showing up and trying to disrupt the bookfair was just as expected as it was unsuccessful. Based on what we knew about local fascists and about recent fascist attacks on other anarchist and antifascist events across the country, we developed a robust security plan with a solid and diverse team of comrades. This plan included securing the building at the beginning of the bookfair, having security team members clearly identified with ribbons, and posting security team members at the main entrance, in the tabling area, and in each workshop. We also had a plan for communicating with each other and rapidly responding to any threat, whether fascists or cops.

“the fascists showing up and trying to disrupt the bookfair was just as expected as it was unsuccessful.”

Our goals for security were threefold: 1. protect against any attacks or attempted disruptions; 2. identify any potential fascist or police infiltrators; 3. keep the bookfair going and everyone there as safe as possible.

Our planning, in combination with quick thinking and collaboration from the security team when the fascists arrived, allowed us to get everyone inside the building and lock it down before they could get inside. Their sophomoric smoke bombs, ineffective rattling of the metal doors we slammed in their faces, and chants of “Blood and Soil!” created a heightened atmosphere inside the building, but all in all, security and participants maintained their cool and worked together to keep the building secure and everyone inside safe.

Our security plan also included someone able to serve as police liaison. We anticipated uniformed police trying to enter the building at some point, and obviously we would be having none of that. When the police moved from their surveillance position to outside the front gate of the building, the police liaison stood at the property line to tell them they were not allowed on the property and that no one at the bookfair would be cooperating with them in any way.

Lessons Learned

Overall, our security plan was sound and it was executed successfully. Some parts of it felt “just in the nick of time,” however. Seeing comrades work together organically in a stressful situation to keep everyone safe and keep the bookfair going was a beautiful thing. Yet if the fascists had come with more violent intentions or if the police had raided the bookfair, we may not have been as successful at protecting everyone and keeping the bookfair going.

“We very well may have risen to whatever occasion had presented itself, but having more detailed contingency plans probably would have facilitated our reactions in the moment.”

We very well may have risen to whatever occasion had presented itself, but having more detailed contingency plans probably would have facilitated our reactions in the moment. We also should have ensured that everyone attending the bookfair was aware of our security planning so they had more insight into what was being done to protect everyone when the fascists and police were present. This communication to attendees would necessarily have to be tempered with not providing any fascist or police infiltrators with intel they could use to thwart our plans or put us in danger, of course.

One thing we’ve learned from successfully defending our bookfair is exactly how crucial sound security planning is in this current political moment. It’s no longer sufficient to organize anarchist events without robust, well-trained, and well-coordinated security teams. We can never predict what fascists will try to do when they attack our events, but we should fully expect them to try to attack our events. Whether they simply want the ego boost of social media “likes” or the notoriety of being a white supremacist “warrior” who murdered an antifascist, their violent, genocidal ideology and marginalized, largely despised social position makes them loose cannons, to say the least.

“It’s no longer sufficient to organize anarchist events without robust, well-trained, and well-coordinated security teams.”

We benefited from having frank discussions of the risks we could anticipate, the comfort level each of the security team members had with those anticipated risks, the skills and experiences we were bringing to the security team, and the roles we were willing to play. Developing these understandings of each other and agreeing on our goals for our security plan helped us work cohesively in the heat of the moment.

We now understand the importance of having conversations that work to balance and join accessibility and security efforts during planning, rather than keeping them separate. This is a crucial part of making an event accessible, and we hope future organizers of similar events adopt this practice.

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Our Praxis Will Win

Another lesson we learned (one that we already knew) is that our non-hierarchical, anti-oppressive, and collectively minded organizing is effective at keeping us safe. The macho fascists who tried to attack us have spread through their social media channels that we hid in the building instead of punching Nazis when they were right there in front of us.

In reality, they were basically playing an overinflated game of Capture the Flag by stealing our banner, whereas we were creating and defending a revolutionary space that values and operates based on care, support, solidarity, mutual aid, and community self-defense. We’re not interested in battling them on the internet or having a trolling flame war. We’re not interested in taking the bait they try to set for us in front of their livestream camera. We’re interested in protecting our communities, combating and destroying oppression in all its forms, and fighting for total liberation in our lifetimes.

“As we’ve already expressed, the security strategy at the bookfair wasn’t about being aggressive or getting in hits. It was about caring for each other and protecting this space we created and were sharing with others.”

The last month in Houston has especially exemplified the centrality and necessity of care in our struggles. We have seen this manifest in acts ranging from mutual aid and autonomous relief efforts after Harvey to the proliferation of check-ins and offers of support and help–between friends and strangers alike-that filled the bookfair the rest of the day. The safety, love, and protection felt by those who knew the security team and others who got involved when shit went down were contagious, and allowed those people to work on calming and caring for the rest of the attendees. Everyone was experiencing different levels of fear and panic as the interruption affected them, but these feelings were minimized and addressed as a priority because of our emphasis on care.

Macho bullshit and martyrdom don’t make us safe-knowing that people genuinely care for us does. Random dudes itching for a fight are dangerous to our safety in this situation, and all other situations as a matter of fact. As we’ve already expressed, the security strategy at the bookfair wasn’t about being aggressive or getting in hits. It was about caring for each other and protecting this space we created and were sharing with others.

The fact that these particular fascists set out to win a symbolic victory over an anarchist bookfair shows exactly how much of a threat our liberatory movement is to their authoritarian, white supremacist ideology. And we believe that our organizing approaches will continue to equip us to successfully fight the rise of overt white supremacist and fascist organizing in these so-called united states.

On Organizing Our Own Events Successfully

There’s an aspect of this whole ordeal and the way we responded to it that we haven’t given its due yet: the goals for the bookfair itself. The bookfair was intended to be an occasion for anarchists and other radicals from around the region to come together to strengthen our networks, organizing, and resistance in an accessible space. We deliberately centered organizing and resistance in the south, southwest, and la frontera/the border in our efforts, recognizing that the places we live are rarely considered “radical” but are still the battleground for confronting and destroying all forms of oppression, including fascism.

This bookfair ended up being well timed due to the devastation wrought by the flooding from Hurricane Harvey and the increased attention Houston has received as a result (stop looking at us! you’re gonna make us blush!). And the upswing in prominent, visible anarchist organizing in Houston and other parts of Texas has been happening since well before hurricane season.

The bookfair website explicitly stated: “We are committed to making this a safe, welcoming space for all people who are genuinely interested in the Anarchist Bookfair, including gender diverse folks, people with disabilities, parents, children, femmes, women, and people of color.” The first question in the FAQ was about whether people who do not identify as anarchists were welcome, and the answer was: “Whether you are a communist or other type of radical looking to network with like-minded people, or simply curious to learn more about anarchism and radical projects going on in Houston and the region, we want to welcome everyone who is genuine in their interest in the bookfair. On the other hand, fascists, cops, trolls, and others who only wish to subvert the purpose of the bookfair are most decidedly not welcome.”

Our security planning had these goals, principles, and priorities in mind. Creating a security plan for an open, public event that is meant to be a strengthening occasion for experienced organizers as well as an entry point for new anarchists is no easy task. We were conscious of not relying on stereotypes about people’s body types, facial features that align with Western beauty standards, fashion choices (including clothing, patches, etc. with anarchist slogans and subcultural references), dialects and other class markers, skin colors, and so on to shape our assessments of security risks. We were conscious of addressing oppressive behaviors, actions, and statements within the bookfair itself, whether from known comrades or attendees simply stopping by. We were conscious of welcoming people into the space and helping orient them to the many things happening that day while monitoring people who struck us as being out of place and potentially dangerous. And we were conscious of not straddling these risk assessments in ways that fueled paranoia, cliqueish-ness, or oppressive social dynamics.

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We likely made many people feel welcome, supported, and accepted in this space that we created. And some of these people were likely far-Right or police infiltrators. We also likely made some people feel unwelcome, scrutinized, and judged. And some of these people were likely earnest attendees who were curious about anarchism and alternatives to the suicidal path that dominant society is hurtling down at record speed. We do not claim to have created this space perfectly, but we hope we succeeded in hosting an effective bookfair that both kept attendees safe in the moment and will protect them in the future as well.

On People Distorting What Happened Fucking Off  

In the aftermath of the fascist attack, much of the Left started offering their analyses or opining about what should’ve or could’ve been done in this situation. Much of it came from people who weren’t at the bookfair, and as of the time of this writing, only one person who we are not personal friends with has reached out to us for our input on what happened, whether there had been a plan, or how the situation was handled.

If one were to put stock in social media buzz, lots of people believe that we should have marched outside for a street fight or just shot all the fascists from the front steps. Maybe that would feel good or score some points for our team in the simplistic world where antifascism is little more than punching Nazis, but it also would have increased the likelihood of significant and adverse police involvement (because regardless of who is right, we are always going to be the first ones arrested and the ones facing the more serious charges; remember the “cops and klan go hand in hand” chant?) as well as the likelihood that the event would get shut down by the owners of the space.

Continuing the bookfair was important to building a stronger, deeper, and better networked radical, antifascist movement. Purely reactive approaches to antifascism, where we escalate every provocation and always engage the fascists on their terms, is macho, nonstrategic, and counterproductive. That vision of a “victory” is five Nazis in the hospital, 10 antifascists in jail, and a significant event for recruiting, networking, and building our movements being canceled almost as soon as it gets underway.

The response of many liberals has been disappointing but perhaps less surprising. Some have made comments condemning the fascists but then saying things like “but trash attracts trash,” furthering the false moral equivalence between neo-Nazis with dreams of genocide and oppression on one hand and anarchists and radical antifascists who seek a world based on liberation, solidarity, and human dignity for all people on the other. Such infantile victim blaming furthers the fascist narrative about the “violent radical left” and justifies state repression against some of the only people willing to openly confront and oppose the rising fascist movements.

Moreover, anarchists didn’t conjure fascists into broad daylight because we dared to host a gathering for radical theory and action. Fascists have been trying to build power for a long time. It is now at the point where they feel like they can gather in broad daylight during a radical gathering and attempt to attack us. But the repression against us is another event in a traceable upswing of fascist intimidation that started long before Trump’s rise to power, as the far-Right amped up their rhetoric and moved ever further away from the truth.

They were at our anarchist bookfair this week, but they have already been and will continue to target us at our mosques, synagogues, Black churches, community centers, reproductive health clinics, gay bars, LGBTQ centers, protests, and community gatherings. Fascists don’t only object to our ideology, they object to who we are as humans, and they advocate for our murder, along with each and every liberal and Leftist, person of color, Muslim, Jew, Black person, Latinx, and trans and queers person.

Others have sought to water down the politics of the anarchist bookfair, sometimes calling it an “LGBT bookfair” or similar things. We are certainly pro-queer and pro-trans and many queer and trans people were deeply involved in planning, executing, and participating in the bookfair, but erasing the unabashedly radical politics of the event misses the important point of how threatening these ideas are to the fascists. Liberalism has defended the political legitimacy of fascism, seeking to stop their violence and drive for power only through impotent dialogue and appeals to a discredited and oppressive status quo that cultivated this fascist wave in the first place. Anarchism and other anti-authoritarian/anti-capitalist movements have instead posed a radically alternative vision of liberation that confronts both the symptoms and the root causes of fascist politics: white supremacy, nationalism, hetero-patriarchy, settler-colonialism, prisons and policing, the State, and capitalism.

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Our Organizing Will Only Grow Stronger 

Militant resistance has been the only thing holding back fascist power grabs. Militant resistance is significantly rooted in anarchist and anti-capitalist theory and understandings of this world. It is vitally important that we-as radicals, militants, and anarchists-keep learning, experimenting, synthesizing, and growing. They wanted to shut us down, and they wanted to make us afraid. They didn’t even make us run off schedule. They didn’t hurt or isolate any of us. We did what we came to do-create a space for Houstonians, Texans, and southerners to learn together, and dream of lives free of hierarchy, white supremacy, prisons, patriarchy, ableism, and capitalism, lives built on strong, caring communities of mutual aid and solidarity.

“They wanted to shut us down, and they wanted to make us afraid. They didn’t even make us run off schedule.”

We hope that this event serves as a wakeup call for people who think that living in a big city will keep the fascists out. We want to work with our neighbors to create plans to protect our homes and families from the fascist threat. We want to take the south away from the fascists so resolutely that the ghost of the KKK is exorcised from our home. We remember what it felt like when the Nazis and the KKK had unlimited political power. We won’t go back. We are stronger than them, there are more of us, and we will fight to keep them from seizing power to commit genocide again. We won’t go back.

Ultimately, the bookfair was a phenomenal event that reflected our city, built new connections, and spoke to the political moment we’re in concretely. We’re proud of our security pre-planning and security team, as well as the spontaneous help from the attendees and participants. We did what we came to do, which was organize an above-ground, well-publicized, open, family friendly anarchist bookfair in the south in 2017 after Hurricane Harvey. We deeply appreciate everyone who helped make it such a success-the tablers; workshop presenters; food, set up/clean up, and security volunteers; attendees; and everyone who helped spread the word or donated. Let’s keep building together in this time of incredible upheaval.

With love and rage and solidarity forever,

2017 Houston Anarchist Bookfair Organizers


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