The Black Bloc Doth Protest Too Much
By Ari Paul / indypendent.org
Sep 15, 2012

It finally happened. After months of anarchists howling over journalist Chris Hedges’s controversial article “The Cancer Within Occupy,” the author debated the subject of non-violence and the diversity of tactics in the Occupy Wall Street movement with Brian Traven, representing CrimethInc, an anarchist group sympathetic to the Black Bloc tactics Hedges denounced in the article.

Both sides made good points in the exchange, which took place Sept. 12 in before a packed audience in Manhattan. Hedges reflected upon his years covering wars and revolutions for the New York Times, saying that violence can hinder progress, while Traven brought up relevant questions about how we as a society define what is violent or criminal. But the real star of the show was the Black Bloc supporters themselves, whose main goal, it seemed, was to discredit any and all scrutiny of themselves and smear their detractors with ad hominem attacks. Traven at one point suggested that the police were taking cues from Hedges, who laughed at the idea of security forces being inspired by his railings against corporate capitalism.  

For people who raise their middle finger to the man and brag about their fights with the cops, these rabble-rousers are perhaps the most thin-skinned activists I have ever encountered, as they have still yet to recover from the fact that a writer turned a critical lens on them in one article seven months ago. They simply cannot tolerate any dissent against their tactics, and they fight back the only way they know how: by being whiny little brats.

Both presenters had their faults. Traven’s main tactic for ducking criticism was to employ a post-modernist obfuscation of any inconvenient questions. When asked if the Black Bloc had ever succeeded, he questioned what success meant. When asked if the Black Bloc was marred by hyper-masculinity, he dismissed Hedges’s definition of gender. But for the most part, Hedges responded to these things respectfully.

Hedges has a tendency to put people off with his ministerial style. Some people find him condescending with his repeated reminders that he covered the wars in El Salvador and the former Yugoslavia. Regardless, during the debate he was constantly met with childish hisses, laughter and cries of “liar,” not to mention one suggestion that his career as a war correspondent was a cover for his employment with the Central Intelligence Agency.

This whole act was not just disrespectful to the participants and the event’s organizers, but the hordes of people who wanted to listen, who maybe could have been swayed into seeing things Traven’s way (he didn’t seemed bothered by the disturbances). And so I decided to photograph the troublemakers, despite being told that I could only take photos of the panelists and not the audience. As far as I was concerned, this was a public space (City University of New York property, to be exact), and once these people decided to be disruptive they have made themselves a news event.

And so I was escorted outside by an event organizer and a uniformed security guard and urged to delete my photos, as they had received text messages that I had pointed my camera in the direction of the shouters. Despite the delicious irony of anarchists deferring to rules and security, I am always perturbed by anyone who feels they should be shielded from the press if they are, in fact, doing something newsworthy. Out of respect for the organizers I complied and erased the frames, which didn’t matter because they were too blurry to be used anyway.

But this kind of entitlement to be at once disruptive and immune from accountability is emblematic of the kind of dish-it-out-but-can’t-take-it attitude they have displayed in reaction to Hedges’s original article. If they’re still having a tantrum about Hedges’s article, how can we expect them to hold up against the 1 percent shock troops?

This is why I think it is ultimately wrong to classify this particular group as anarchists—that would sully the names of various movements past and present that have used and currently use non-hierarchical structures in anti-capitalist organizing. This particular clique is explicitly and actively against the left, and there’s a reason the CrimethInc book Days of War, Nights of Lovereads like the ideological bastard child of Karl Marx and Ayn Rand. It rails against corporate control, but replaces class struggle with libertarian individualism. Capitalism and the state are oppressing you, and their flavor of anarchism is your struggle to liberate yourself from the mediocrity of the bourgeois state. You have to do whatever you can to do to save yourself.

This is why Hedges and Traven couldn’t come to a consensus. Hedges wanted to know what kind of society Black Bloc anarchists wanted to create, but never got a real answer, and that’s because they’re currently living in it. They’ll roam the city streets, living in squats, riding on freight trains, mocking all the losers in suits and blue uniforms for squandering their days for paychecks and health insurance. They live off the waste of capitalist society (if they don’t already have trust funds), cocooned in their punk rock Neverland. Their utopia isn’t a liberation of oppressed society but their personal secession from it.

This is the kind of anti-social narcissism that Hedges wrote about in the article that kicked off this whole mess. The rage against the police, press and fellow anti-capitalists has everything to do with their inflated sense of self and precious little to do with solidarity.

I’ve encountered it recently. In Chicago, during the NATO protests in May, Black Bloc participants gathered with other activists in Grant Park, wearing masks, waving banners and angrily confronting anyone who took their photo. My response was that if you don’t want your photo taken don’t go to a public protest where you know there are going to be hundreds of journalists. Further, picking a fight with the police only endangers journalists and other activists. While covering the Eurozone crisis in Athens this summer, I was confronted by so-called anarchists for photographing them, and in fact, they routinely assault journalists in demonstrations while later celebrating television news footage of their street fighting. They want to have their dumpster-dived vegan cake and eat it, too.

I don’t fully side with Hedges on his take on the Black Bloc. During the debate, for example, I bristled when Hedges suggested that there was some common ground for both OWS and the police because they are working class (see my articles in the Indypendent and The Guardian on the subject). But it is certainly a win for Hedges when his critics live up to his description of them.

“The Black Bloc movement bears the rigidity and dogmatism of all absolutism sects,” Hedges wrote. “Its adherents alone possess the truth. They alone understand. They alone arrogate the right, because they are enlightened and we are not, to dismiss and ignore competing points of view as infantile and irrelevant. They hear only their own voices. They heed only their own thoughts. They believe only their own clichés. And this makes them not only deeply intolerant but stupid.” 

0.0 ·
0
Trending Today
Why It's Crucial for Women to Heal the Mother Wound
Bethany Webster · 14,021 views today · The issue at the core of women’s empowerment is the mother wound
Before He Was Assassinated, MLK Jr. Was Advocating For An End To Income Inequality
10 min · 10,279 views today · We can honor MLK Jr. by pursuing the causes he was advocating for before he was killed.  ​​ Part 2: The Basic Income, A New Human Right (3 minutes) MLK's idea of a basic...
John Lennon's "Imagine," Made Into a Comic Strip
John Lennon. Art by Pablo Stanley · 8,690 views today · This is easily the best comic strip ever made.  Pabl
Watch How Europeans Carved Up African Land They Never Owned
56 min · 7,119 views today · Watch how Europeans gave away African land they never owned, then expressed anger when Africans resisted. The film is called Africa: A Voyage of Discovery, Episode 6: The...
The Corporation (2003)
145 min · 5,424 views today · The Corporation is today's dominant institution, creating great wealth but also great harm. This 26 award-winning documentary examines the nature, evolution, impacts and future...
One "Piece of the Oppressor" That I Have Discovered Within Myself
Tim Hjersted · 2,310 views today · One "piece of the oppressor" that I have found in myself during my inner activist journeys is my use of shame as a method of engaging with the world's problems. Having learned...
#ReclaimMLK Seeks to Combat the Sanitizing of Martin Luther King Jr.'s Legacy
Danielle C. Belton · 1,852 views today · Martin Luther King Jr. had more than “a dream,” but you might not notice that on Monday during observances for his birthday. Somewhere between his assassination and today...
Coping With Narcissistic Personality Disorder in the White House
N Ziehl · 1,691 views today · I want to talk a little about narcissistic personality disorder. I’ve unfortunately had a great deal of experience with it, and I’m feeling badly for those of you who are...
What Martin Luther King Jr. Can Teach Us about Nonviolence
John Dear · 1,498 views today · I've been reflecting on the principles of nonviolence that Martin Luther King Jr. learned during the historic yearlong bus boycott in Montgomery, Ala. After Rosa Parks refused...
Dinosaur explains Trump policies better than Trump!
8 min · 1,252 views today · Donald Trump is actually the corporate triceratops, Mr. Richfield, from the 90's TV show sitcom, "Dinosaurs". 
Today I Rise: This Beautiful Short Film Is Like a Love Poem For Your Heart and Soul
4 min · 891 views today · "The world is missing what I am ready to give: My Wisdom, My Sweetness, My Love and My hunger for Peace." "Where are you? Where are you, little girl with broken wings but full...
The Comprehensive Activist Guide to Dismantling Neoliberalism
Drew Serres · 512 views today · “The creation of today’s market society was not the result of a sequence of spontaneous events but rather of state interference and violence.” – Naomi Klein in The Shock...
90 Inspiring and Visionary Films That Will Change How You See the World in Profound Ways
Tim Hjersted · 479 views today · The world today is in crisis. Everybody knows that. But what is driving this crisis? It's a story, a story that is destroying the world. It's a story about our relationship to...
22 Documentaries That Tell the Truth About How Government Really Works
Tim Hjersted · 478 views today · And 6 that show how people are responding.
Positive Thinking in a Dark Age: A Guide to Gracefully Losing Faith in a Collapsing Dominant Culture
Jim Tull · 360 views today · I recall a Buddhist parable involving a stick that appears from a distance to be a snake, causing fear to rise in the perceiver. As the perception shifts upon closer...
The Invention of Capitalism: How a Self-Sufficient Peasantry was Whipped Into Industrial Wage Slaves
Yasha Levine · 354 views today · “…everyone but an idiot knows that the lower classes must be kept poor, or they will never be industrious.” —Arthur Young; 1771 Our popular economic wisdom says that...
This Woman Gets No Applause...Why? They Are Too Creeped Out...
7 min · 325 views today · Think you aren't being fooled by advertising tricks? Take a look at this so-called expert revealing food marketing's secret weapon. No amount of marketing makes factory farming...
The White Man in That Photo
Riccardo Gazzaniga · 305 views today · Sometimes photographs deceive. Take this one, for example. It represents John Carlos and Tommie Smith’s rebellious gesture the day they won medals for the 200 meters at the...
The Top 100 Documentaries We Can Use to Change the World
Films For Action · 275 views today · A more beautiful, just and sustainable world is possible. Take this library and use it to inspire global change!
Live Before You Die
6 min · 272 views today · Travelling the length of the country and back again with a pair of horses and gypsy caravan, Live Before You Die is the ultimate horse-drawn road movie, following a band of...
Load More
What's Next
Like us on Facebook?
The Black Bloc Doth Protest Too Much