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“No, It Is the Children Who Are Wrong”: A Response to David Rovics

A response to David Rovics. See Rovics’s original statement, published here.

We want to start by stating that we are fans of the music that David Rovics has made over the years and his contributions to various anti-capitalist movements. From writing songs about political prisoners, in support of clandestine groups like the Earth Liberation Front, to remembering people killed by neo-Nazis at antifascist protests, David Rovics has truly been a troubadour for contemporary anti-capitalist movements over the past 20 years.

But it’s this love of Rovics and his body of work, which has led many people to write off the very real issues that have been brought up about him over the past few months, due to his promotion of individuals associated with white nationalism, holocaust denial, and anti-Semitism, that have caused many, including Rovics himself, to brush such issues aside as the rumblings of over-sensitive millennials or the result of woke “cancel culture.”

We instead feel that far from being “emotional outbursts,” people have brought up serious questions about a select group of individuals which Rovics has promoted and interviewed. Moreover, Rovics doubling down in defense of these individuals and his attacks on anarchists and antifascists in response, echoes far-Right talking points that deserves a response in writing.

We want to be clear we are not calling for harm to David Rovics; nor are we pushing for people to flyer his neighborhood like some have done in the past. Instead, we hope to push Rovics towards accountability, collaboration, and growth. His own statements need to be addressed, as part of the creep of anti-Semitism, far-Right ideas, and conspiracism into activist spaces. We hope that Rovics will take up the challenge, listen to these criticisms, and make changes. This is necessary for people to feel safe with Rovics continuing to be part of our spaces.

In short, as long as Rovics continues to platform and defend white nationalists, holocaust deniers, and anti-Semities – while also attacking contemporary anarchists and antifascists – then at the very least, people will continue to voice their concerns and disagreements to the wider movement.

All of this came to a head last month, when Rovics was scheduled to play a benefit for the Metropolitan Anarchist Coordinating Council (MACC) in New York City, which was canceled after community members raised multiple issues. These include his collaboration with, and defense of, anti-Semites and Holocaust Deniers and his platforming of a white nationalist. To be clear: we all make mistakes. Anyone that’s worked on a podcast or a media project has run into the reality of interviewing someone who might have a soiled past or someone others take issue with. However when one steps back and looks at the bigger pictures, including Rovics statements against contemporary anarchists and antifascists, a pattern begins to emerge.

In 2021, Matthew Heimbach was a featured guest on Rovic’s podcast and livestreaming show. Heimbach, a Rovics fan and who—despite claiming he has left the racialist movement—based on his own statements and actions, is still heavily involved in white supremacist politics, although now self-describing as a “National Bolshevik” or a “pro-white” socialist who continues to openly use anti-LGBQT slurs and hold anti-Semitic positions. As this statement was coming together, Heimbach even made headlines after claiming that he was reforming the Traditionalist Worker Party, one of the groups which marched in Charlottesville at the Unite the Right rally. To antifascists monitoring Heimbach’s social media this came as no surprise – as he had already stated his goal to ‘get the band back to together.’

According to the same podcast Heimbach worked on throughout 2020, he expressed a desire to bring together third positionists, Strasserites (left-wing neo-Nazis), and National Bolsheviks. On social media, Heimbach has also continued to praise the works of fascist and Holocaust denier David Irving and hold up ultra-nationalist, fascist, and anti-Semite Corneliu Zelea Codreanu as an ideological hero. Almost none of the active “formers” (ie who have left the White Supremacist movements) believed Heimbach was sincere and he has continued to express openly antisemitic and racist views.

Since being kicked out of the TWP following his attack against his own partner in front of their children in 2018, Heimbach has attempted to worm his way into the National Socialist Movement (a neo-Nazi group) and then a local chapter of the DSA. He then tried to paint himself as a “former” white nationalist, hooking up with Light Upon Light, an anti-extremist website that often attacks anarchists, Black Lives Matter, and antifascists while platforming such fascist grifters as Andy Ngo. While Heimbach has now officially left Light Upon Light, he is also still currently refusing to participate in handing over evidence in the ongoing trial stemming from the Unite the Right rally.

During their softball interview, Rovics gave Heimbach over an hour to express his views unchallenged while he falsely claimed to have left the white supremacist movement. Heimbach painted himself as the victim of anti-white racism, saying he would have been a leftist if only the Left would of had a place for him — claiming one left-wing group told him that “there’s no place” for a white man. He also attacked anarchists and antifascists, claiming their activism helped white supremacists. He never addressed the violence committed by himself and other party members, which includes: multiple antifascists being stabbed in 2016 in Sacramento by members of his organization; the murder of Heather Heyer at Charlottesville (the killer supported a member of an umbrella organization that Heimbach led); his association with neo-Nazi groups like Atomwaffen Division who advocated terrorism and have been linked to five murders; and his knowledge about Highlander Civil Rights Center arson—not to mention his own open embrace of exterminationist politics, including calling for the murder of all Jews. This is to say nothing about his own history of domestic abuse which became so toxic that even other neo-Nazis wanted nothing to do with him.

While Rovics claims he wanted a window into the mind of the far-Right in a post-J6 world, what he got instead was an anti-anarchist and anti-antifa rant blaming the Left for creating of one of white supremacy’s loudest voices in the past decade. Rovics gave Heimbach a large platform to launch his comeback campaign as a left-wing ethno-nationalist as he prepared to re-form the very group that made him infamous. All this seems lost on Rovics, who ironically had even written a song for Heather Heyer after her murder, of which Heimbach bares partial responsibility for and is currently fighting a lawsuit to avoid that responsibility.

As the interview went live, people predictably began to push back on Rovics for carrying out the interview, failing to do research, and called for him to take down the interview – or at least put up a statement about Heimbach and his continued racialist views. Instead, Rovics doubled down and pushed back against his own audience, and while he eventually did take the interview down and released a statement, he has since gone on to state multiple times that he does not view Heimbach to still be a racist or a fascist and has published articles claiming to be victim of cancel culture.

And like most things, its the reaction to people raising concerns that seemed to bring out the most tensions, as Rovics was quick to blame his audience for not being open minded enough to engage with the content – totally missing the point that Heimbach was using him to not only to rehabilitate himself but also to attack the very work that many of Rovics fans were engaged in.

After taking down the interview with Heimbach, Rovics then went on to lick his wounds on Kevin Barrett’s False Flag show; Barrett has been identified by antifascists for anti-Semitic views (including Holocaust denial), harassing antifascists, and laundering fascist talking points. In the interview Rovics again claims he is a victim of “cancel culture,” as Barrett articulated his own Holocaust denialism (among other anti-Semitic and racist comments) in the same interview. Rovics immediately defended this, saying that people should be able to ask questions about the Holocaust. Rovics then went on to attack anarchists and antifascists, claiming that while groups like Anti-Racist Action did good work against neo-Nazis, the current crop of ‘antifa’ are just “testosterone” fueled meat-heads who want to fight, are highly likely to be “Russian” agents, and generally are just stupid children who aren’t political.

With glee Barrett responded by claiming that antifascists were the ‘real fascists,’ and went directly into describing American universities as under attack from left-wing mobs looking to silence anyone they disagreed with. At no point did Rovics push back on any of this, nor did he bring up the very real coalitions being formed by the far-Right and the GOP or the actual attack on free-speech being pushed against Black Lives Matter protesters, antifascists, anarchists, and Water Protectors as state governments across the US pass a multitude of anti-protest laws in the wake of the George Floyd rebellion. For a man who built a career off of songs championing everything from the ELF to the IRA, Rovics seems to solidly agree with the far-Right on where the threat of fascism comes from: not from above or from the far-Right, but from below and to the Left.

But Heimbach and Barrett are not the first people on the far-Right which Rovics has associated with. In 2020 he interviewed Gilad Atzmon, a well-known anti-Semite and neo-Nazi collaborator. Rovics relationship with Atzmon goes back almost a decade, when he read Atzmon’s book The Wandering Who—which Rovics regularly recommends. While it appears on the leftist Zer0 Books, it is a Nazi-style attack on the concept of Jewishness itself. Atzmon thinks that the problem with Zionism is that it is Jewish, which he sees as a near-demonic identity. He also sees anti-Zionist Jews as a main problem with Palestine solidarity activism. The Wandering Who claims that Jews dominate finance capitalism, Hollywood, neo-conservatism, and other well-worn anti-Semitic canards. It uses antisemitic racial slurs, relies on antisemitic sources, and even creeps in on Holocaust Denial, charges of deicide, blood libel, and the idea that it was actually Hitler who had been oppressed by Jews.

Atzmon says that Jews caused their own expulsions from numerous countries, and centers Jewishness at the heart of almost every destructive global movement. His “cure” for this is for Jews to cease to be by eliminating their Jewishness— the central demand of most classical anti-Semites. Anytime push back is made, he accuses the challenging parties of being Jewish, such as calling antifa a “Jewish group.” He works with Counter-Currents, a fascist publishing house central to the Alt Right, while also railing against “identity politics,” queer identities, and the left. In his interview, Rovics agreed with much of what Atzmon said, particularly about the problem of Jews. When challenged about this, Rovics reverted to a mealy mouthed defense of his actions, saying he didn’t agree with everything. At the same time, Rovics recommends Atzmon’s work so regularly and repeats his ideas about “Jewish identity” that there does not seem to be any disagreement between their ideas.

Atzmon was formerly associated with the Palestinian solidarity movement, but was kicked out of every intersectional and liberatory area of the movement. There have been mass letters signed by many prominent figures in the movement, including hardliners like Lenni Brennar and even Max Blumenthal, and Atzmon’s events have been disrupted by antifascists. Atzmon is known for relying on the works of Holocaust Deniers, never finding an anti-Semite or neo-Nazi he did not seem to want to make friends with. He even blogs at the Unz Review, a white nationalist website known anti-Semitism as well and race and IQ nonsense. He supports Kevin MacDonald, a white supremacist who believes Judaism is a “group evolutionary strategy” that Jews use to destroy gentile society.

Rovics has answered these criticisms by again blaming “cancel culture” and suggesting that his critics are federal informants, law enforcement, or possibly members of the Israel Lobby. This is an example of what is often called the Livingstone Formulation: when someone accuses you of antisemitism, you say it’s because you’re a critic of Israel—even if the incident had nothing to do with Israel. When Rovics hosts these people and defends their right to have access to leftist spaces, it sanitizes their politics and puts marginalized people at risk. He is helping to normalize these ideas and this takes the stigma away from their dangerous dehumanization.

Rovics is well-embedded in leftist spaces, and many people have given his penchant for bigoted conspiracy theories a pass. But just because someone is a leftist celebrity doesn’t mean we should overlook their collaboration with the far-Right or anti-Semites. Rovics has rejected all criticisms while claiming every move toward accountability is illegitimate. Rejecting the idea that we should have these people on our platforms is not a kneejerk ’emotional’ action, it’s one based on strategy. We know that people like Heimbach are attempting to build up fascist groups with nominal “left-wing” economic ideas and that allowing them into our circles as part of the broader left is exactly what they want: a seat at the table to organize and build their numbers as just another left-wing tendency. His racism and anti-Semitism aside, Heimbach has already stated his aversion to anarchist and antifascists; if we give him space in our circles to argue these points, we’ve already seen where this leads. Rovics’ treatment is a stamp of approval.

Antifascist researchers have done an amazing job writing books, articles, and investigative research on the far-Right. We agree it is something that should be looked at and investigated. But we aren’t playing model UN or the debate society here. We are analyzing people who want to murder and destroy entire populations. Why is it that antifascists have a better understanding of Heimbach and others that Rovics does not? In the end, Rovics seems more interested in preserving his access to whoever wants to be interviewed by him than in understanding critically the people he is taking to.

We are challenging Rovics now to live up to his politics, work with his community to gain insight and accountability, and to join us in fighting racism, anti-Semitism, and fascism.

Notes:

Atzmon’s ideas: The Atzmon Critique: https://threewayfight.blogspot.com/p/atzmon-critique_09.html?m=1

PRA on Kevin Barret: https://www.politicalresearch.org/2017/10/23/kevin-barrett-repackaging-antisemitism

Barrett’s Holocaust Denial: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XIm-s6tFljI

Extremist to Re-Launch Hate Group: https://www.newsy.com/stories/extremist-heimbach-to-relaunch-hate-group-supports-violence-3/

photo: annie pm via Unsplash