The Black Bloc Doth Protest Too Much
By Ari Paul / indypendent.org

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
What's Next
Related
Load Comments
Trending Today
DISOBEDIENCE: The Courage To Break Free (2016)
41 min · 8,282 views today · Disobedience is a new film about a new phase of the climate movement: courageous action that is being taken on the front lines of the climate crisis on every continent, led by...
Corporate Media Admits Bernie Sanders Is a Strong(Er) General Election Candidate
4 min · 4,808 views today · The blackout on Bernie is starting to end.
Deep Anger: We need to rediscover something we lost along the way
Darren Fleet and Stefanie Krasnow · 3,965 views today · In a better world, there’d be no reason to write this. In that world, plastic bags would be outlawed, rednecks would voluntarily stop driving those obnoxious Ford F-350s and...
Who Are You? This Breathtaking Video Might Change Your Life
2 min · 3,933 views today · "Normal is getting dressed in clothes that you buy for work, driving through traffic in a car that you are still paying for, in order to get to a job that you need so you can...
2016 Presidential Election Reality Check
2 min · 3,786 views today · "It IS class warfare and first class is winning."
Yes, It's Okay to Talk About Climate Change Right Now
Nicholas Ellan · 2,881 views today · With the largest evacuation in the history of the province of Alberta displacing nearly 100 000 people as large sections of Fort McMurray burn to the ground in the middle of a...
27 Honest Questions for Hillary Supporters
Kris Seto · 2,847 views today · To those who are supporting Hillary Clinton, I love you. And while I know that we’re technically on the same side fighting against a terrifying Republican reality, it seems...
Why the Economy Should Stop Growing-And Just Grow Up
David Korten · 1,489 views today · “How do we grow the economy?” is an obsolete question. Local initiatives across the world are looking for maturity instead as they rebuild caring, place-based communities and...
What Is Addiction? - Gabor Maté
3 min · 1,232 views today · Dr. Gabor Maté talks about the root causes of addiction and how to deal with them.
Why a United Front Against Trump Is Dangerous Territory for the Left
Danny Haiphong · 1,007 views today · The "lesser of two evils" has been centered on the false dichotomy of Trump versus everyone else.
John Lennon's "Imagine," Made Into A Comic Strip
John Lennon. Art by Pablo Stanley · 799 views today · This is easily the best comic strip ever made.  Pabl
Today I Rise: This Beautiful Short Film Is Like a Love Poem For Your Heart and Soul
4 min · 710 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...
Why Men Are So Obsessed with Sex
Steve Bearman · 658 views today · Have you ever encountered a baby whose gender is unknown to you?
The Mental Disease of Late-Stage Capitalism
Joe Brewer · 566 views today · I’ve been talking with a lot of my friends recently — in private where they felt comfortable letting their guard down — about the dirty little secret no one is supposed to talk...
Leaked TTIP Documents Confirm Corporate Power Grab at Heart of EU/US Trade Deal
Andrew Butler · 485 views today · Greenpeace have leaked 248 pages of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) negotiating texts, confirming worst fears of environmentalists and social justice...
A Hauntingly Beautiful Short Film About Life and Death
5 min · 444 views today · The Life of Death is a touching handdrawn animation about the day Death fell in love with Life.
The White Man in That Photo
Riccardo Gazzaniga · 444 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...
One Example of How the Left Has Internalized the Ideology of Their Oppressors
Tim Hjersted · 391 views today · "Ideological hegemony is the process by which the exploited come to view the world through a conceptual framework provided to them by their exploiters." - Kevin A. Carson
Caitlin Moran's Posthumous Advice for Her Daughter
Caitlin Moran · 381 views today · My daughter is about to turn 13 and I’ve been smoking a lot recently, and so – in the wee small hours, when my lungs feel like there’s a small mouse inside them, scratching to...
The 10 Revolutionary Keys to Saving Humanity and Healing the Planet
Barbara Marx Hubbard · 374 views today · The Awakening of Humanity Occasionally in the course of human events, a new worldview emerges that transforms society. It happened when Jesus’ disciples were inspired by his...
Load More
Like us on Facebook?