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Mar 16, 21

Police Didn’t ‘Ignore’ the Proud Boys – They Used Them to Attack Popular Movements from Below

A recent article by the New York Times argues that the Proud Boys, especially their leadership, was largely “ignored” by both local police departments and members of the intelligence community. Such a narrative follows that the security state then only needs more policing powers and better intelligence. But the failure of the State to foresee the attempted far-Right coup on January 6th was made possible not because it lacked the proper knowledge of the far-Right threat, but instead because for years local police and the security state, especially under Trump, has focused squarely on social movements from below and to the Left. Under Trump, the State and police forces also worked to build coalitions with the far-Right, marshaling the insurgent Right as a vehicle to attack the explosion of proletarian struggles that broke out during the last five years.

Now, this far-Right insurgent force has mutated beyond attacking just the Black liberation and antifascist struggle. J6, and the escalation of far-Right violence aimed at the American state in the run up to it: plots to kidnap and murder Democratic officials, threats against state electors conducting vote counts, far-Right clashes with police outside of state capitols; not to mention the explosion of support for conspiracies like Qanon and Stop the Steal, are examples of these movements getting out of control of political and media institutions which helped breathe life into them to begin with.

The State Did Not Ignore the Proud Boys

It’s an insult to our intelligence to believe that the Proud Boys, as well as other groups like the Oath Keepers and the Three Percenters were “ignored” by police and the security state. Members of the Proud Boys have been outed as active duty police officers and fired. The Proud Boy’s leader, Enrique Tarrio, currently sits on the board of Latinos for Trump; an organization which actively was involved in campaigning for Trump’s various election bids. Both Tarrio and Joe Biggs have been visited repeatedly by the FBI for their continuous threats of violence and murder against antifascists made on social media. This is not to mention that the Proud Boys have also been linked to various murders, violent assaults, an attempted assassination plot, and participated in violent events such as the so-called Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville. Likewise, groups like the Oath Keepers have conducted large scale armed operations in Ferguson and the Three Percenters have been tied to numerous attempted bombings – all of which is hardly outside of the FBI’s radar.

In short, it is not that groups like the Proud Boys, the Groypers, or the Three Percenters lacked the proper “attention” from the security state, it’s that compared to anti-capitalist and anti-colonial movements from below, the Proud Boys have not been on the same receiving end of State repression, nor was there a campaign by the Trumpian state to label them terrorists. Far from it, while militia, white nationalist, and neo-Nazi groups have been growing in size since the Obama administration, the State centered its sights on Water Protectors, Black Liberation activists, antifascists and the anarchist movement because they represent a challenge to capitalist and colonial power.

In fact, the State and its police forces have found within the far-Right a willing accomplice in attacking these growing movements. The State knows that while Republicans rush to pass laws criminalizing everyone from Native pipeline protesters to antifascists, far-Right street gangs will be on hand to brutalize and attack those on the streets, political prisoners in prison, and harass journalists and researchers online. The Trumpian movement has united seemingly disparate actors from Fox News to 4chan, Andy Ngo to Atomwaffen; an entire apparatus from anonymous trolls to paramilitary neo-Nazi groups and multi-national media conglomerates all weaponized around a common goal: attacking the grassroots Left.

But with the coming to power of the Biden administration and the newly consolidated political Center, the State is coming to see the existing far-Right coalitions as a liability to its stability – especially as far-Right actors move from targeting the Left to the State itself.

One of These Things Is Not Like the Other

During the Civil Rights movement, the State surveilled and sought to disrupt Black liberation groups, while largely ignoring the Ku-Klux-Klan and the white citizen councils. In 1979, neo-Nazi and KKK groups, along with FBI informants, took part in a deadly attack in Greensboro against a left-wing anti-Klan rally – an act which helped solidify and bring together a new wave of white supremacist guerrillas that would grow to include groups like the Order; which carried out a string of bombings, robberies, and murders.

In the current period, not much as changed. In the summer of 2016 in Sacramento, members of the Golden State Skinheads stabbed multiple antifascists before being pushed back to their cars by hundreds of counter-demonstrators. Police would go on to work with the neo-Nazi skinheads, claiming that they viewed them “as the victim” in an attempt to ID anti-racist and anti-fascist counter-protesters in order to set them up on trumped up charges.

In Portland, where police have worked with far-Right groups to make arrests and suppress antifascist demonstrations, they’ve even stated that they view the far-Right as the “more mainstream” of the two groups, despite the long history of deadly far-Right violence in the region that continues up until this day.

At the same time, police and the FBI have continuously labeled ‘ANTIFA’ and “BLM” as dangerous hate groups and has viewed them as the bigger threat; from fusion centers instructing police to be on guard against antifascists in Charlottesville more so than the neo-Nazis, to the creation of the “Black Identity Extremist” label. The Trump administration even pushed for the DHS to downplay the threat of far-Right violence and groups and play up the made up threat of the anarchist movement, Black Lives Matter, and antifascists.

This reality has been coupled with a growing integration of groups like the Proud Boys into the Trumpian apparatus, as well as police adopting and supporting far-Right views and even being outed as members of far-Right organizations. Such a relationship has worked out well for both the GOP and the Proud Boys, as evidenced by Republicans like Ted Cruz backing petitions written by the Proud Boy’s leader Enrique Tarrio, calling for antifascists to be labeled as “domestic terrorists,” while the Proud Boys have largely escaped prosecution for numerous acts of serious violence against their political opponents.

And during the George Floyd rebellion – it’s this violence that Trump called his supporters to engage in. As both white nationalists and Trump blowhards pushed the narrative the Black Lives Matter and antifascists were going to come into the suburbs and “white neighborhoods” to loot and murder, Trump supporters responded by carrying out a string of vigilante killings during the rebellion and mobilizing in many areas to oppose street mobilizations. This coordinated, State sanctioned violence and repression even became stated policy, as the DHS directed officials to hold up Proud Boy associate Kyle Rittenhouse as a national hero while it coordinated the literal assassination of Michael Reinhoel.

State Repression is Never Neutral

As a settler-colonial society, the American State was built upon the State calling upon vigilante militias to support it’s interests. From the formation of the slave patrols which gave rise to the modern police force, the State literally putting a bounty on the heads of Indigenous people as a means of “clearing” the frontier for settlement and gold mining, to groups like the KKK attacking anti-capitalist organizations such as the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), throughout history, vigilante violence has either been codified in law or allowed through state sanction.

The attempted fascist coup on January 6th, didn’t come out of the blue – it was the end result of centuries of settler-colonial violence and current far-Right organizations building off of years of active street action against the Left and re-focusing against sections of the State itself. And all for the stated purpose of installing Trump as a dictator who would pull the US into an openly post-democratic society.

Trumpism utilized a coalition of far-Right groups to carry out its agenda and attack movements from below and on the streets. All the while, it advanced an agenda based around eugenics and white nationalist political ideas such as banning immigration from non-white, non-Christian countries.

While the neoliberal Biden administration does not have a need to build a coalition with the far-Right to carry out its agenda, it is instead willing to appeal to growing anger at the far-Right as part of a smokescreen for a broader crackdown that ultimately, just like under Obama and Trump, will come down harder against social movements challenging the status quo.

photo: Screenshot from Oregon Live

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