This analysis was first posted on the anarchist counter-information website, North Shore Counter Info.
On Tuesday March 20th the Laurier Student for Open Inquiry, headed by recent alt-right darling Lindsay Shephard (who you may remember from Laurier’s previous row about ‘free speech’), attempted to host a talk by white supremacist Faith Goldy. There have been reports of local alt-right students and activists in attendance, a showing of the Proud Boys (who recently attempted to hold a rally in Brantford), George Hutchinson who was pushing the ‘white students union’ drivel, and perhaps even some members of Operation Werewolf, who are explicit in their refusal of political correctness and equality, and whose slogan “Iron and Blood,” imagery and history scream neo-fascism.
There was a loud and festive counter rally as well as attempts to shut down the event itself, which ultimately culminated in a fire alarm being pulled and Faith Goldy prevented from speaking. While Shephard attempted to lead supporters to nearby park Veteran’s Green (somewhat ironic since many veterans fought explicitly as anti-fascists), Goldy didn’t carry on with her speech and instead opted to mock land acknowledgements and commit to return to WLU. Many others who had sought to attend the event poured out in to the area where the counter rally was occurring making things feel tense and unpredictable. This event shows some of the possibilities, as well as difficulties, in how responses might look going forward. I offer this piece as a set of considerations for building stronger movements to resist white supremacy on campus and beyond. By no means is this a comprehensive report back, or a detailed or finished discussion, but will hopefully present some useful points of consideration.
First off, I think it is important to consider that Shephard very much intended this event to become both a tense situation and a site of confrontation. Her way of operating since the start has been to carve out space for alternative right discourses on ‘free speech’ and to incite backlash against what is often referred to as the “Cultural Marxism” of university campuses. While early on Shephard attempted to the play the victim after she was called out for showing a clip of fellow Jordan Peterson on the use of gender neutral pronouns, and sought to generate a general support for free speech at university campuses, it has been very clear by looking at her twitter and her specific targeting of students and student activists that she isn’t some individual attacked by the system of university administration and bureaucracy. Rather, she has had an agenda from the outset – one that the media, as well as the university admin, have played directly into and given her a platform to spread of her alt-right, anti-left, white supremacist rhetoric.
Inviting Faith Goldy, who has railed against non-white immigration, bemoans the death of ‘white culture,’ has appeared on a neo-Nazi podcast that resulted in her being fired from alt-right mouthpiece Rebel Media, and who recently appeared on another white supremacist YouTube channel reciting the neo-Nazi ‘14 words,’ was a clear escalation of Shephard’s outright rhetoric and her carving out a space for the alt-right on campus. It’s safe to say that a concerted and ongoing response was required and will be in the future.
It is also clear that the university administration is fine to allow all forms of speech, regardless of their spread of hatred and white supremacy. University president Deb MacLatchy refused any pretense of backbone when she stated, “I want to state very clearly that I personally and absolutely reject the ideas and values attributed to this speaker and that they are in no way aligned with or reflective of the core values of our university.” But continued saying that “the university does not censor or limit the lawful and free expression of ideas, including ideas that are unpopular or offensive.” It’s safe to say that the university admin cannot be expect to shut down white supremacist views or protect students on their campuses. Unsurprising, but a worthy reminder.
As a result a coalition of campus groups and individuals organized a Counter Demonstration and Performance Rally highlighting queer, Indigenous and POC voices against white supremacy. A number of counter demonstrators also sought to enter the Faith Goldy talk to disrupt it from the inside. This was a specific and ongoing point of tension between those organizing a more positive rally with those who wanted to respond to the Faith Goldy event, and requires some careful consideration.
In general a politics of refusing platforms to alt-right and white supremacist views needs to be a core of organizing. When people like this are permitted to speak they begin to gain a foothold. This is precisely what the admin has allowed to happen at WLU. Given this, it is crucial to consider how these events can be stopped in the future. Counter rallies are important in and of themselves, especially for racialized and consistently attacked students on campus, and there is a collective energy and solidarity that can be cultivated. They also need to be connected to efforts to shut these sorts of events down directly, which can come in a variety of ways – from shutting things down on the administrative side, to flooding them out with counter protest, to militant forms of disruption and direct action. Counter rallies, positive performances and safe® spaces will mean little if white supremacists are able to spread their messages and outreach actively. But this also goes both ways – efforts to shut shit down also need to work with more typical rallies and marches that demonstrate symbolic opposition.
The university context, however, is an important one. The reality is that there are many students who will have to contend with whatever fallout occurs from these types of events as well as their counters. Those who are coming from outside to protest or shut them down don’t have that same set of considerations. It must be a principled stand that there are no nazi’s or white supremacists welcome at WLU and in the larger community, but these things affect people in different ways. There are students organizing on campus form a variety of standpoints, many of which might appear as ‘liberal’ social justice types and were derided as being unwilling to actually confront Goldy, Shepard and their ilk.
While critique of the limits of liberal forms of social justice and anti-oppression as a narrow framework are important, it often does little to build stronger coalitions against white supremacy, and can write off the organizing of those on campus who bear the brunt of these ongoing attacks. In this sense, there needs to be some common commitments to a diversity of tactics to fight back against white supremacists and the alt-right in our communities.
The more radical folks, who are willing to use more direct forms of action to shut things down, need to at least be honestly engaged with those on campus, not because we should water down our politics but because there is something deeply paternalistic about a bunch of outside radicals popping in to someone else’s community and organizing space and telling them how things should go, and if they don’t like it too bad. We need to find ways to push forward the discussion of useful tactics and strategy rather than assuming some sort of superiority of politics and tactics.
This happened, to some degree, given that a more militant crew who was masked up showed up at the rally. Many people, including those at the rally, seemed confused as to their purpose and intent. This is something anarchists commonly run up against, and we know very well that most of the time folks don’t actually want to understand where we are coming from, and in some cases we might not at all be interested in having that discussion to begin with. But in this case it just seemed a bit misplaced, and a sort of militant posturing that didn’t seem to serve much of a purpose. Showing up with flags, masks and your group banner might be a signal of support and where you are coming from, but it also needs to be placed into context. Is it useful for small crews to be the only folks masked up at a demo, and actually potentially invite, rather than limit, confrontation?
Some will say that masking up is simply folks being more conscious of the realities of doxing and alt-right backlash, and this is certainly important to consider. We all need to protect ourselves from these sorts of repression that are continually spreading against radicals of all stripes. But what does it mean to show up a demo without having a discussion about what is going to be strategic? How useful is it to have a handful of people masked up in a crowd of 100? And how useful is it to show up telling demo organizers that your intentions are one thing, when you clearly intend to do another? In this case I think there was a degree of recklessness on the part of some of the more militant folks showing up, ready to throw done (presumably), without actually figuring out how that fits into the broader action and what the potential implications might be. Militant confrontation, when employed for militant confrontation sake, is not itself strategic or very often useful. Opposing white supremacy is more than just projecting a militant image all the time.
Protestor's have begun to fill up the quad in response to Faith Goldy's talk. Protest is set to begin momentarily. pic.twitter.com/9GnSI2ft7X
— The Cord | News (@cordnews) March 20, 2018
There is also a failure of on campus folks in not taking more militant approaches seriously as a potential set of tools to complement more typical rallies. It isn’t useful to admonish those who do think a more direct shut down would be useful. Clarifying the tone of an action and the goals is one thing, refusing to engage with other forms of action or other desires is another. No doubt this can be tricky, especially in the eyes of administrators who are keen to reprimand student organizers (no one said we need to all hold hands and work together in public all the time). Such efforts can be useful though when white supremacists, or alt-right trolls or bro’s keen on disruption, pop up. But there needs to be a willingness to see how militant confrontation can be, and has been, an essential piece of anti-fascist action. Richard Spencer recently cancelling his campus tour schedule, on account of anti-fascist and militant refusals of a platform for his ideas, is a testament to how effective these kinds of tactics can be. But they need to be both strategic and in concert with other forms. No one form of action is going to in and of itself be effective.
Herein lies my main point: a diversity of tactics is necessary to oppose white supremacy, and it provides us with a greater set of strengths, tactics and strategies. But only if it’s something that is actually coordinated in a useful way. There is and should be a place for militancy in these sorts of confrontations. Often folks who are masked up can provide a useful role of keeping reactionaries and police at bay, and deal with those who might want to attack/disrupt demonstrations directly. But this needs to be thought through. Standing on the fringes with the flags and banners, advertising your presence, doesn’t often do this, and speaks more to a need for radicals to feel self-important and project a political image than actually engage in strategic activity. There are also more forms of confrontation or direct action that might not need be as militant in their image. A large group or rally can potentially pretty easily swarm and shut down a white supremacist event. The reality is that not everyone wants to be on the frontline of confrontation or mask up, even if they fucking hate nazi’s. Folks who bring their kids, or are racialized, or are visible and known to campus police and admin have a different set of risks. There are also folks who just plain aren’t radicals, but will support actions against white supremacists. There are always going to be a range of perspectives and we do need to find ways to use that to our advantage, rather than defaulting to infighting, dismissals and holier than thou rhetoric.
What this means for WLU, and probably many other contexts, is we need to plan and scheme together to figure out how we can make a range of spaces of opposition that come together to shut down white supremacy and confront it directly. I’m not saying anarchists should hang up their red and black flags and their balaclavas but let’s actually use them strategically, think about the context we are in, and not default to a particular form or tone of action just because that is the image we want to cultivate. More liberal perspectives also need to see the potentials for more militant forms of confrontation and disruption as tools to shut down white supremacists, not just oppose them or provide spaces that are alternative to their views. Having rallies that further act as social justice echo chambers don’t in and of themselves disrupt white supremacists who are speaking and organizing publicly. So let’s come from our various standpoints, but moreover let’s figure out how to actually shut them down.