The front-runner candidate for Alabama Senate, Republican Roy Moore, called The Washington Post “fake news” after the newspaper published a thorough investigation reporting on sexual encounters between Moore and multiple teenage girls, one as young as 14. Moore’s attacks on this highly-reputable newspaper are part of a recent broader pattern of prominent public figures using the label of “fake news” to denounce quality investigative journalism that reveals corruption and abuse of power. Such attacks pose an urgent and systemic danger to our democracy, as they encourage corruption and abuse of power by undermining credible media reporting on such behavior.
As a high-quality, well-respected venue, The Washington Post would not publish such a controversial story without a thorough investigation. The article was based on multiple interviews with over 30 people who knew Moore at the time the sexual encounters happened, between 1977 and 1982. The journalists were careful to paint a balanced story, including some negative facts about the women who accused Moore, such as divorces and bankruptcies.
Perhaps most telling of the high quality of reporting and credibility of the newspaper is the fact that a number of prominent Republican leaders are calling on Moore to withdraw from the race. Immediately after The Post publishes its story, Republican Senator John McCaincalled for Moore to step aside immediately, and Montana Senator Steve Daines withdrew his endorsement, as did Utah Senator Mike Lee. After a fifth woman stepped forward to accuse Moore independently of The Post’s story, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell statedthat Moore “should step aside,” and so did Speaker of the House Paul Ryan.
On the other hand, Republicans well-known for making false accusations of mainstream media outlets being “fake news” defended Moore and supported his attack on The Post. For example, former Donald Trump adviser and head of Breitbart Stephen Bannon accused the The Post of being “purely part of the apparatus of the Democratic Party” for conducting its thorough investigation. Prominent Virginia Republican Corey Stewart also refused to criticize Moore and instead attacked the newspaper. A number of Fox News commentators,such as Gregg Jarrett, also attacked The Post.
Unfortunately, these attacks on quality investigative reporting represent part of a broader trend of conservative politicians across the country adopting the tactic of condemning media as “fake news” whenever there are stories unfavorable to them. As an example, Republican Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin tweeted that the reporter Tom Loftus of the largest newspaper in Kentucky, The Courier-Journal, is “a truly sick man” for “sneaking around” Bevin’s manor. Loftus at the time was working on a story about how Bevin faced an ethics complaint over an accusation of bribery for purchasing this manor for about a million dollars below market price from a local investor, Neil Ramsey. Apparently, shortly before getting a million-dollar discount on this manor, Bevin appointed Ramsey to the Kentucky Retirement Board, which oversees $16 billion in investments.
Republican Governor of New Jersey Chris Christie used a similar approach when caught abusing his power. He ordered a number of state-run beaches in New Jersey closed on June 30, yet he used a closed state beach in Island Beach State Park for himself and his family on July 2. Reporters for New Jersey’s largest newspaper, The Star-Ledger, secretly photographed him and his family using the beach. When asked about whether he was on the beach that day, Christie denied it. When confronted with photographic proof, Christie did not acknowledge and apologizing for his lies and his abuse of power in using a closed public beach for the benefit of himself and his family. He instead attacked The Star-Ledger for its reporting.
Without the attacks on the media, the investigations of Christie and Bevin would have simply revealed the sordid affairs of corruption and abuse of power. Our democracy would have worked correctly with voters appropriately getting the important information from credible sources, the largest newspapers in Kentucky and New Jersey. With these accusations, Bevin and Christie distract attention from the corruption and abuse of power, and instead present themselves as fighters against supposed media bias.
In doing so, Moore, Bevin, Christie and many others are tapping the anti-media bias of the Republican base inflamed by Trump’s attacks on the media. He has expressed pride over his branding of high-quality venues like “CBS, and NBC, and ABC, and CNN” as “fake news.” We are now reaping the whirlwind of politicians caught engaged in immoral, abusive, and corrupt behavior using Trump’s anti-media rhetoric to protect themselves and continue engaging in such activities.
Now, it doesn’t mean that Democrats will not try similar tactics. For example, the prominent film director Harvey Weinstein, a well-known and high-profile fundraiser for and influencerin the Democratic Party, accused The New York Times of publishing fake news when they revealed his sexual harassment. However, neither the Democratic base nor prominent Democrats bought this accusation, and Weinstein was quickly ousted from his leading roles.
By contrast, Bevin’s popularity in the polls was climbing in Kentucky, a conservative state, at the same time that he was making his accusations. Moore has continued to be staunchly supported by the Alabama Republican Party and base, despite the accusations and the withdrawal of support from many mainstream Republicans. Only in New Jersey, a liberal-leaning state, did voters express discontent over Christie’s behavior.
However, all of us – regardless of our party affiliation – will be greatly harmed if politicians are able to get away with corruption, immorality, and abuse of power through labeling of credible media sources as fake news. This tactic is posing an existential and systemic threat to our democracy, and we must do everything possible toprotect quality journalism and overall promote truthful behavior.
P.S. Want to promote truth and fight lies? Take the Pro-Truth Pledge at ProTruthPledge.org, get your friends to take it, and call on your elected representatives to do so.
With today being Samhain (Halloween), we thought we would share this now classic essay/zine on the radical history of this holiday and tradition. We have reposted the version found at Mask Magazine, including their photo selection, and have also included a link to the zine version below.
By Bradly Stroot
Origins of the Halloween Spirit
Though widely recognized across North America, the origins of Halloween are poorly understood by many of its celebrants, likely due to their dark, unsavory, and disorderly nature. Its calendar date and etymology are undeniably Christian (from “All Hallows’ Evening,” the night before All Saints Day on November 1st), but the spirit that animates this “Halloween machine” is widely thought to originate from the pagan New Year celebrations of the Keltoi people (or Celts) of Ireland.
The Keltoi, whose name is likely derived from kel-, the Indo-European prefix for the “hidden,” were a diverse constellation of Celtic-speaking tribes that spread across much of Europe and the British Isles between the Iron Age and Early Middle Ages, even occupying Rome for a period of time around 400 BCE. Because of these hidden people’s refusal to commit their oral history and scholarship to written records, much of the most spectacular accounts of these “primitive” pagans and their “bloodthirsty” human sacrifice have been written by their imperial enemies like Julius Caesar and thus should be considered suspect at best.
What is known almost for certain, however, is that many Keltoi of the British Isles believed in an afterlife called Tir na tSamhraidh, or the “Land of Summer.” The doors to this Other world were only opened once a year on Samhain (pronounced SOW-in), the period between the two nights of October 31 and November 1. According to Nicholas Rogers, the author of Halloween: From Pagan Ritual to Party Night,
“Samhain beckoned to winter and the dark nights ahead. It was quintessentially ‘an old pastoral and agricultural festival […] It was also a period of supernatural intensity, when the forces of darkness and decay were said to be abroad, spilling out from the sidh, the ancient mounds or barrows of the countryside. To ward off these spirits, the Irish built huge, symbolically regenerative bonfires and invoked the help of the gods through animal and perhaps even human sacrifice. […] In Celtic lore, it marked the boundary between summer and winter, light and darkness. […] It represented a time out of time, a brief interval ‘when the normal order of the universe in suspended’ and ‘charged with a peculiar preternatural energy.’”
These liminal interludes, as Barry Cunliffe calls them in The Celts, were particularly dangerous because “they were times when anything could happen and it was only by careful adherence to ritual and propitiation that a precarious order could be maintained.” Lisa Morton, another Halloween scholar and the author of Trick or Treat: A History of Halloween, crucially adds that this was the only time of the year with a relative abundance of food and alcohol which contributed to Samhain’s festive and mischievous atmosphere. She also adds that, in addition to Beltane on May 1st, it was one of the two most important days in the Keltoi’s often frightening heroic folk tales, like that of,
“the Formorians, a race of demonic giants who have conquered Ireland after a great battle, demand a yearly tax of two-thirds of the subdued survivors’ corn, milk, and children, to be paid each year on Samhain. The Tuatha de Danann, a race of godlike, benevolent ancestors chronicled in Celtic mythology, battle against the Fomorians for years, but it takes the Morrigan, a mother god, and the hero Angus Og to finally drive the monsters from Ireland – on Samhain, of course.”
In these multiple accounts of Samhain, we can find themes that will come to define Halloween and follow it through its long history – particularly those of liminality, excess, celebration, mischief, darkness, fire, demons, and, perhaps most important to this essay, rebellion. When I obsessively began researching Detroit’s Devil’s Night a month ago, it was not immediately clear what its connection with this larger tradition would be, but as a began to work backward I began to uncover a genealogy that I couldn’t ignore. From the anti-Christian heresy of the medieval British Isles to the widespread arson of 1980s Detroit, we will see as this spirit of Halloween will continue to intersect with several notable subversive moments throughout its long life, constantly re-inventing itself to evade the forces of law and order.
The Witch Hammer, c. 700-1590 CE
Though Samhain provided Halloween with these raw, disorderly materials, it actually gave the holiday very little in terms of concrete practices or symbolism, excepting bonfires. These traditions, including the name of Halloween, came later in the Medieval period with the violent imposition of Christianity and its holy days, All Souls’ and All Saints’ Day.Originally celebrated on May 13 as a remembrance of Christian martyrs who had died at the hands of pagans, Lemuria (as it was previously known) was moved to November 1st by the Pope and rebranded as a more palatable, positive celebration of “all the saints.” Later, the early Church added All Souls’ Day on November 2, conveniently bookending the celebration with an opportunity to pray for the souls of the deceased that were trapped in Purgatory. According to Morton, however, “it seems more likely that the gloomy, ghostly new celebration was added to cement the transformation of Samhain from pagan to Christian holiday.”
Three centuries later, this gloomy and ghostly nature of All Souls’ Day transformed from an exceptional, temporary celebration to the daily reality of most Europeans as the Black Death began to spread throughout the western hemisphere. Beginning in 1346 and peaking around 1350, the plague killed as much as 60 percent of Europe’s population and left the surviving population with an unavoidable preoccupation with death. This, coupled with the simultaneous spread of the printing press, led to the mass circulation of Danse Macabre imagery and a generalized perception of Death as a personified subject, which one can still see in modern celebrations of Halloween. Though the figure of Death was originally portrayed as an animated skeleton, the opportunity was quickly seized by the Church and early capitalists to re-purpose this body of enmity in order to target a rebellious subject whom they had both long considered a threat but were now finally strong enough to destroy: the witch.
According to Arthur Evans’ recently republished 1978 book, Witchcraft and the Gay Counterculture,
“Despite its contempt for magic, the early church did not organize a full-scale attack against magicians and witches because it was not yet strong enough. The Christianity of the early middle ages was largely an affair of the King and the upper class of warlords. The rest of society remained pagan. In addition, early medieval Christians were hampered by a general breakdown of centralized authority in both church and state. Anarchy favored paganism.”
However, as Evans continues,
“By the early thirteenth century, […] the church was much better organized and ready to act. Its immediate target was heresy: the numerous and widespread attempts to combine traditional Christianity with elements of the old religion. To deal with this, the church launched crusades and started the Holy Inquisition. […] Now it began to look at the historical sources of heresy – the surviving old religion that modern historians view as ‘folklore,’ ‘peasant fantasy,’ and ‘strange fertility rites.’ Feeling its privilege, power, and world view threatened by these sources, the fifteenth-century ruling class fantasized that Satan was conspiring to overthrow the power of Christ’s church on earth.
With this consolidation of sovereign power and the figurative marriage of Satan and witches began what came to be known as The Great Witch-Hunt. In Caliban and the Witch, Silvia Federici traces the lineage of this mass genocide beyond just the Christian elite’s fear of paganism but to a whole world of generalized peasant revolts and the powerful, undomesticated women who likely organized them. Though this population was likely quite heterogeneous and their activities today may be likened to those of midwives, abortionists, sex workers, and popular healers among others, their enemies were able to collapse their commonalities into the identity of the witch, which could then be surgically targeted for removal.
According to Evans, the early Church “turned homosexuality into heresy” and began to collapse the two identities so that to call someone a heretic was to call them a homosexual, and vice versa. And “because of the methods of the Inquisition, […] great numbers of Lesbians and Gay men must have lost their lives.” We can also assume that the many individuals who today might have self-identified as transgender were likely also targeted for extermination. Besides the story of Joan of Arc: Transvestite and Heretic, there is unfortunately very little other research into this history and, therefore, my only reference point for this period will be Federici’s figure of the witch-as-woman.
The authorities obsessed over that these witches largely lived alone, relied on public assistance, were sexually “promiscuous,” and encouraged non-procreative sex (by means of contraception and abortions). Because these activities interfered with male supremacy, heteronormativity, population growth, compulsory labor, domestication, and order – in a word, civilization – the witch started being painted as a threat to life itself. According to Federici, “Witches were accused of conspiring to destroy the generative power of humans and animals, of procuring abortions, and of belonging to an infanticidal sect devoted to killing children and offering them to the devil.”
But, according to Federici, these accusations did not spontaneously generate from the witches’ own neighbors overnight. Instead, a highly-organized campaign of indoctrination was introduced from above and spread from to village to village traveling public officials. All this was only possible with the mass generation of propaganda using the most advanced technology of the day – the printing press. Of particular importance to re-imagining these rebellious women as demon-worshipping baby killers were the widely circulated copies of the Malleus Maleficarum and the evocative images created from the engravings of Hans Baldung Grien. In his most famous work, Witches’ Sabbath, one can see precursors to images of witches we still can find on Hallmark cards today – deformed bodies gathering around a bubbling caldron with their animal familiars (later portrayed as black cats), and flying through the air to their subversive meetings with the devil.
Of special significance to the history of Halloween is this last component – the mass gathering of witches at the Sabbath, or Sabbat. Though widely exaggerated by its enemies, some historians have speculated that the Sabbat was an actual nocturnal gathering of thousands where peasants plotted popular revolts against ruling social enclosures.
Given the potentially subversive nature of these massive gatherings, it should be of no surprise then that the “witches” who attended became a target of extermination to the forces of order. Curiously, according to Morton, this is about the same period when a term closely resembling “Halloween” first begins to appear in the English language.
“The choice of All Hallows’ as a major holiday for witches and devils was no doubt coerced from the accused with a political agenda in mind. […] A spectacular witch trial took place during the reign of the Protestant king James I: in 1590, dozens of Scots were accused of having attempted to prevent James from reaching his queen-to-be, Anne of Denmark, by gathering on Halloween night and then riding the sea in sieves while creating storms by tossing live cats tied to human body parts in the water. After the infamous North Berwick Witch Trials, as they were called, Halloween was forever to be firmly associated with witches, cats, cauldrons, brooms, and the Devil.”
Mischievous Nights c. 1600-1900 CE
After this brutal erasure of an entire population and the undomesticated form of life that they represented, one can see a marked change in the culture surrounding the celebration of Halloween, particularly in its embrace of romance, parlor games, and tempered mischief in place of unbridled revolt. According to Rogers, one popular tradition of this era was a public choral performance that encouraged marriage and procreation with refrains celebrating “the wise virgins awaiting the coming of the bridegroom.” These public affirmations of marriage also announced the beginning of the seasons of Christmas and misrule, a temporary period of permitted mischief wherein urban leaders were ritually usurped from power in mock coups by impersonated sheriffs and mayors.
Simultaneously in the countryside, according to a sixteenth century account written by Philip Stubbs, large groups of drunken revelers would parade the churchyards with their horses, singing and dancing “with such a confused noise that no man can heare his own voice,” and demand contributions from their neighbors in order to continue their “Heathenrie, Devilrie, and Drunkennesse.” According to David J. Skal, the author of Death Makes a Holiday: A Cultural History of Halloween, it is also within this era that the tradition of the jack-o’-lantern develops, complete with a Christian folk etymology of harmless mischief:
“Jack was a perennial trickster of folktales, who offended not only God but also the devil with his many pranks and transgressions. Upon his death, he was denied entrance into both heaven and hell, though the devil grudgingly tossed him a fiery coal, which Jack caught in a hollowed turnip and which would light his night-walk on earth until Judgement Day. Jack’s perpetual prank is decoying of hapless travelers into the murky mire.”
In this new era of “civilized” Christianity, previous bloody wars between pagans and early Christians were replaced by relatively minor inter-religious skirmishes between Protestants and Catholics – that is, until November 5, 1605. Successfully recognized by its simple injunction to “Remember, remember the fifth of November!”, this was the day that Guy Fawkes, a Catholic malcontent, was caught placing thirty-six barrels of gunpowder in a vault beneath the protestant House of Lords, later known as the Gunpowder Plot.
Fawkes was soon publicly hanged as a Catholic traitor and the date of his failed attack was chosen by the Parliament as “a holiday forever in thankfulness to our God for deliverance and detestation for the Papists.” Halloween and Guy Fawkes Day/Bonfire Night (as it came to be dually known) co-existed peacefully for about 40 years until, in 1647, Parliament banned the celebration of all festivals excepting the anti-Catholic celebration. It was then, due to their relative proximity of one another, that November 5 began to take on many of the sinister and mischievous elements of Halloween. Young people would spend weeks preparing for the night by going house-to-house dressed in rags and demanding firewood or money for the massive bonfire roasts of Pope effigies that would come to define the night, a tradition that some historians consider as the origin of trick-or-treat, which will be discussed later. According to Rogers, if no firewood or money was given, it was “considered quite lawful to appropriate any old wood” from these households.
It also around this same time, according to Rogers, that the oldest recorded use of “Mischief Night” is noted by a headmaster to describe his school’s theatre performance that ended in “an Ode to Fun which praises children’s tricks on Mischief Night in most approving terms.” Though originally celebrated on May 1, it eventually found it’s home on in Great Britain on November 4, the night before Bonfire Night, and later in the US on October 30. According to Rogers, it was during this transitional time that Halloween itself began to reappear in the British Isles as a festival distinct from Bonfire Night while still retaining some its most disorderly practices such the targeted destruction of private property, particularly by young, working class men in Scotland and Ireland.
“Mimicking the malignant spirits who were widely believed to be abroad on Halloween, gangs of youths blocked up chimneys, rampaged cabbage patches, battered doors, unhinged gates, and unstabled horses. In nineteenth-century Cromarty, revelers even sought out lone women whom they could haze as a witch. […] ‘If an individual happened to be disliked in the place,’ observed one Scot in 1911, ‘he was sure to suffer dreadfully on these occasions. He doors would be broken, and frequently not a cabbage left standing in the garden.’ Such was Halloween reputation as a night of festive retribution that in some parts of Scotland the imperatives of community justice prevailed over private property, to a point that the Kirk-session found it impossible to enforce law and order.”
These accounts of masculine mob attacks to deliver “community justice” to “unpopular” neighbors and “lone women” are not included as an endorsement for their obviously proto-fascist and misogynistic nature; instead, these moments illustrate how, by means of the witch-hunts and other violent forms of domestication, women had been excluded from the sphere of rebellion and continued to be a target of attack. It is also important not to overlook these moments’ qualities of retribution and ungovernability that will better situate the widespread vandalism of Irish-American immigrant youth and Detroit’s prolific teenage arsonists.
Black Halloween, 1845-1945 CE
Much like the Black Plague of the fourteenth century, the potato blight of 1845 dramatically impacted the course of Halloween’s evolution as it spread across Ireland, killing both the country’s staple food crop and over one million Irish peasants from the resulting starvation. Over the course of the next seven years, one million more Irish would leave their homes, many sailing to North America where they soon outnumbered all other immigrant groups combined. It is not surprising then that this is also the context in which that Halloween celebrations and revelry, long disdained by earlier Puritan settlers, begin to appear in the United States. As Lesley Pratt Bannatyne writes in her book Halloween: An American Holiday, An American History, “Wherever the Irish went, […] Halloween followed along.”
In their new homes across North America, Irish immigrant youth continued to experiment, innovate, and spread new forms of devilry during the Halloween season, often creatively adapting to the idiosyncrasies of each environment. In some Midwestern towns, this took the form of removing farmers’ gates to free their animals, while on the East Coast, this took the form of weaponizing the relatively abundant supply of cabbages. Lamenting that “gangs of hoodlums throng[ing] the streets” had replaced the “kindly old customs” with “the spirit of rowdyism,” William Shepard Walsh, a nineteenth-century historian details that:
“Mischievous boys push the pith from the stalk, fill the cavity with tow which they set on fire, and then through the keyholes of houses of folk who have given them offence blow darts of flame a yard in length. […] If on Halloween a farmer’s or crofter’s kail-yard still contains ungathered cabbages, the boy and girls of the neighborhood descend upon it en masse, and the entire crop is harvested in five minutes’ time and thumped against the owner’s doors, which rattle as though pounded by a thunderous tempest.”
In keeping with Halloween’s long tradition of liminality, Tad Tuleja posits in his essay Trick or Treat: Pretexts and Contexts that these attacks on rural households:
“may be seen as an attack on domestic borders. The majority of popular pranks were ‘threshhold tricks’ that assaulted, if only temporarily, ordered space. […] Buggies, which provided cohesion to far-flung rural communities were ‘dysfunctionalized’ by being placed on barn roofs. Even the popular custom of tipping over outhouses served metonymically as an attack on the house-as-home.”
Though many of these mischievous deeds against rural neighbors were treated with a wide berth of tolerance by the authorities of the day, the tactics of urban immigrant youth soon sharpened and escalated to the alarm (and beyond the control) of fledgling police forces, taking on a character resembling something closer to asymmetric urban warfare. After the collapse of the American stock market on October 24th, 1929 (or Black Tuesday, as it came to be known), the next few years saw Halloween mobs specifically targeting symbols of luxury and the infrastructure of the metropolis, with a notable peak in 1933 (uncoincidentally at the height of America’s Great Depression) that came to be known as Black Halloween.
According to multiple accounts by Lisa Morton, Nicholas Rogers, and David Skal, this period was marked by youth gangs ripping down street signs, sawing down telephone poles, opening fire hydrants, disabling streetlights, barricading streets with stolen gates and refuse, dragging tree stumps onto railroad tracks, removing manhole covers, tearing up the boards of wooden sidewalks, smashing storefront windows, holding shopkeepers hostage, unhooking poles from the tops of streetcars, spreading grease on trolley car tracks, putting empty barrels over church steeples, attacking the police, and burning “almost anything they could set afire.” Rogers adds that as the celebration of Halloween started to spread westward, so did these flames. In 1908, anonymous vandals in Belton, Texas burned several freight cars, houses, and 1000 bales of cotton which in total cost the city upwards of $6 million in today’s money, when adjusted for inflation.
Many of these attacks were focused around immobilizing the movement of commerce through the metropolis but specifically, as Rogers observes, “the new symbol of prosperity, the automobile, became the object of destruction. Revelers soaped windows, deflated tires, and at busy intersections unceremoniously ‘bounced’ cars, or rocked them from the back to the discomfort of the passengers.” Skal also notes the class antagonism to be found within these accounts, adding that,
“one report took special notice that a car overturned by a ‘mass attack’ of hoodlums was a ‘sedan of expensive make.’ The stucco of America’s social contract was likewise severely chipped by the time Franklin Roosevelt took office in 1933, and in a small way, the customs of Halloween pranking reflected more generalized anxieties about civil unrest.”
Skal goes on to write, in a notable account of multiracial rebellion, that
“on Halloween 1934, the pranks of masked children parading through the streets of Harlem rapidly escalated from harmless flour and ask pelting to rock throwing to automobile vandalism. The police estimated that four hundred youngsters, both black and white, were involved in the various melees, which culminated with a car being heisted and rolled down a fifty-foot embankment in Riverside Park, where its tires were slashed.”
Though it would be pleasant to imagine that these sorts of multiracial conspiracies were common in this period, it should not be surprising that not only was this rare, but actually antithetical to many of Roger’s accounts of non-white participation in these mobs. In fact, three years earlier on Halloween night of 1931, a violent street battle developed between 400 black and white adults on the same streets of Harlem. As urban youth began to materially sabotage the fragile economy, white mob attacks began to develop into larger race riots, and widespread looting overtook the Halloween celebration of the 1934 World’s Fair in Chicago, it was not to be long before the forces of order would have to once again intervene to restore order to the holiday.
The Taming of Halloween, c. 1945–1960
After three decades of annual insurgency by tireless immigrant youth, it became obvious to authorities that the rebellious spirit of Halloween had to be severed from the holiday once as for all. As Skal writes, “although Halloween never even registered in the national debate, the many local controversies surrounding the holiday echoed much larger political themes about anarchy, order, and wealth distribution.” He continues, citing the accidental death of a young girl (after her dress caught fire from a Jack-o’-Lantern) as another source of public unease regarding Halloween, which,
“to many observers, seemed nothing but an invitation and excuse for social disaster. Fear of a seething underclass was a strong subtext of other reform movements of the early 1930’s; film censorship campaigns, for example, got especially worked up about the Halloweenish content of horror and crime movies, each genre anarchic in it own way. Such entertainments were widely viewed as demoralizing threats to public order, October 31 all year long.”
This particular passage is striking because it likens to the desperate counter-revolutionary concessions of the Roosevelt’s New Deal with the concerted efforts to “civilize” Halloween by police, schools, politicians, churches, and civil groups. While this certainly took on forms of updated strategies from previous centuries – erasure in the form of film censorship, romance as costume balls, parlor games as church lock-ins, and so on – it also presented a newly available option in the post-Depression era: consumption. Rogers explains that “by making Halloween consumer-oriented and infantile, civic and industrial promoters hoped to eliminate its anarchic features. By making it neighborly and familial, they strove to re-appropriate public space from the unorthodox and ruffian and restore social order to the night of 31 October.”
Though there is evidence that Halloween rebels were being bought off with candy as early as 1920, it is not until after the Halloween unrest of the mid-1930’s and post-WW2 production boom that we begin to see trick-or-treat being explicitly promoted as a tangible solution to restore order to the reviled holiday.
The precise origins of the tradition itself are disputed by some historians, but many agree that it partially arose from Depression-era “house-to-house parties” that some neighbors would co-operatively host on Halloween to save money. Morton notes that one of the first national mentions of the term “trick-or-treat” can be found in a 1939 article entitled A Victim of the Window Soaping Brigage?, which specifically names the practice as “a method of subverting rowdy pranking.”
“Whatever its specific sources, inspirations, or influences,” writes Skal, trick-of-treating “became widely known and adopted as a distinct property protection strategy during the late Depression.” However, he continues,
“it is the postwar years that are generally regarded as the glorious heyday of trick-or-treating. Like the consumer economy, Halloween itself grew by leaps and bounds. Major candy companies like Curtiss and Brach, no longer constrained by sugar rationing, launched national advertising campaigns specifically aimed at Halloween. […] The begging ritual was modeled for millions of youngsters in the early fifties by Donald Duck’s nephews Huey, Dewey, and Louie in Disney’s animated cartoon ‘Trick or Treat,’ accompanied by a catchy, reinforcing song of the same title.”
In addition to promoting trick-or-treat as a subtle alternative, Rogers also cites this specific Donald Duck cartoon as a propaganda piece critical for “the taming of Halloween,” explaining that “rather than experience real-life shenanigans, children could find them in a Walt Disney cartoon.” By the late 1950’s the enmity that had come to define October 31st had been almost completely supplanted with a fabricated ethic of consumption, whether in the form of candy or experiences. This “generation by models of a real without origin or reality,” as Jean Baudrillard conceived of a hyperreality, was apparently so effective that one police sergeant in Los Angeles publicly expressed his confusion about the disappearance of teenage rebels after an oddly peaceful Halloween in 1959.
Of course, these measures were not applied uniformly across the entire continent, and in some places the destruction previously associated with Halloween were simply displaced to the day before, on October 30th. As Rogers recorded of an older man’s prouds remarks of his boyhood in Hoboken, New Jersey, “there was only mischief. The adult world could not buy us off with candy or shiny pennies. They didn’t even try.” In these small pockets of lingering mischief, particularly in the newly developed suburbs of the period, the vandalism took on a decidedly less class-conscious tone, reverting to a previous form of pranks that targeted “unpopular” or stingy neighbors by smashing their pumpkins or stealing their gate. And because of their relative isolation to one another, many of the areas developed hyper-localized terms for their own sports, like Vermont’s Cabbage Night, Montreal’s Mat Night, upstate New York’s Gate Night, New Jersey’s Mischief Night, and Detroit’s infamous Devil’s Night.
This map from Joshua Katz, NC State University, visualizes where people call the night before Halloween “mischief night.”
The Demonization of Halloween, c. 1967-Present
On July 23rd, 1967, after the police raided a party for two returning Vietnam GIs at an illegal speakeasy on the Near West Side of Detroit, crowds made up mostly of black residents soon gathered outside and began throwing bottles and stones in retaliation. The police were forced to retreat and the remaining crowd quickly seized the opportunity to pillage a nearby clothing store. The incident quickly widened into full-scale looting throughout the entire neighborhood. Sidney Fine, in his book Violence in the Model City, recorded accounts from witnesses that described this moment as possessing a “carnival atmosphere” of multiracial looting, in which the police were totally outnumbered and were forced to watch this “gleefulness in throwing stuff and getting stuff out of buildings” from a careful distance. By the next afternoon, the first fire had been set at a nearly grocery store and a small mob blocked a firetruck from putting out the flames. According to historian Herb Colling, the local media initially refused to report on the unrest for fear of it spreading to other parts of the city, but the unavoidable smoke of a burning Detroit soon began to fill the city’s skyline.
Over the next 24 hours, the fires and looting spread across the entire city targeting both black and white-owned businesses, notably resulting in 38 handguns and 2,498 rifles being appropriated by the rebels. In response, President Johnson was forced to invoke the Insurrection Act of 1807 that could authorize the use federal troops to put down an insurrection against the U.S. Government. Beginning at 1:30am on July 25th, over 8000 Michigan Army National Guardsman and 4700 U.S. Army paratroopers descended upon the city to violently put down the uprising. In the following three days, countless horrors of brutality, sexual assault, and assassination were visited upon those who continued to fight against the forces of order.
By July 28th, after the last fire has been set, the troops began to slowly withdraw from the city and authorities began to survey the damage. All told, the five-day period between July 23-28 resulted in 2509 stores being looted or burned, 7231 arrests, 1189 injuries, and 43 deaths, 33 of whom were black residents. Unlike the 1943 Detroit race riot, however, observers noted a high participation of white residents in looting stores, setting fires, and sniping cops which raised questions about whether the uprising could be simply categorized as a ‘race riot.’ The Great Rebellion, as it came to be known instead, set off a wave of unrest that would continue to spread to over two dozen cities and return to Detroit the following year after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.
It is following this period of social upheaval and counterinsurgency that one finds the development of a diffuse anxiety within the white population over “inner city issues,” and their subsequent mass exodus to the suburban peripheries, later known as white flight. In these shiny new refugee camps for the white middle class, an alienating fear of the Other lingered and would soon prove to be a death knell for trick-or-treat, one of their children’s last remaining sources of autonomy and comradery outside the family unit. Much in the way that authorities were forced to suppress the mischief they initially promoted in place of unbridled revolt, they now found themselves losing control over the unrestrained throngs of begging children that they created to replace the uncontrollable vandals before them. As Morton argues:
“Given trick or treat’s almost universal suburban popularity, its emphasis on representation of outsiders, and the way it empowered its participants, it was perhaps inevitable that trick or treat was about to experience a backlash. Adults, it seemed, were unwilling to grant their children that power after all. In 1964, a New York housewife named Helen Pfeil was upset at the number of trick or treaters whom she thought were too old to be demanding candy and handed them packages of dog biscuits, poisonous ant buttons, and steel wool. Within three years, the urban legend of children being given apples with hidden razor blades surfaced, and parents began to worry about Halloween.”
Though only two deaths (both of which were later attributed to family members) and a small number of injuries were reported over two decades of “Halloween sadism,” the media was quick to portray the holiday as rife with poison, satanic cults, and stranger danger. As one 1975 Newsweek article leading up to Halloween claimed,
“If this year’s Halloween follows form, a few children will return home with something more than just an upset tummy: in recent years, several children have died and hundreds have narrowly escaped injury from razor blades, sewing needles and shards of glass purposefully put into their goodies by adults.”
Civic groups and churches again rushed to this opportunity for a decisive social enclosure, that is, of removing youth from the street once and for all. Across the continent, thousands of “alternatives to trick-or-treating” were suddenly being hosted at shopping malls, museums, zoos, schools, spook houses, and community centers while some hospitals continued to reinforce the paranoia of Halloween sadism by offering to x-ray the die-hard trick-or-treaters’ candy for dangerous metal objects.
These “tales of Halloween sadism,” Rogers eloquently argues,
“were measured against the vision of a stable, congenital decade of trick-or-treating in the 1950’s. This was a decade of Cold War politics and Red scares. Yet beyond the zone of leftist agitation, it was also a decade of relative social peace, of continuing baby boom, of consumer affluence and suburban development. The 1960’s and 1970’s, however, posed new challenges to the social and political fabric of the United States. This was the era of civil rights agitation, of urban ghetto riots, of student and antiwar protest, of youth countercultures, of feminism and gay liberation, of Watergate. In the South, African-Americans defeated Jim Crow, but in the North they faced de facto resegregation as whites fled to the suburbs in the wake of rioting in Watts, Newark, and Detroit.”
Within five years of The Great Rebellion, the composition of Detroit’s population had completely changed, producing a majority black inner city ringed by a hostile periphery of white suburbs. “In the aftermath of the riot,” As Ze’ev Chafets explains in his once controversial 1990 book Devil’s Night: And Other True Tales of Detroit, “Detroit became the national capital of disingenuous surprise. People suddenly discovered what should have been obvious – that beyond the glittering downtown, the leafy neighborhoods, the whirring computers, there was another city: poor, black, and angry” that “seethes with the resentments of postcolonial Africa.” This comparison was clearly not lost on those who would soon be tasked with recycling counterinsurgency measures developed against anti-colonial uprisings to be used against a new form of annual black insurgency – that of Devil’s Night.
Although 1983 is widely recognized as the official beginning of Devil’s Night because of its dramatic increase in dumpster fires, there is evidence to suggest that there was an already low-level insurgency associated with Halloween dating back to at least 1979 and, conceivably, to 1967 itself. It was only in 1984, probably due to a combination of the widespread media hype of the 1983 arsons and the World Series victory by the Detroit Tigers on October 31st, that there was a marked increase in building fires. With over 297 fires on October 30th alone, 1984’s Halloween season set the high water mark for destruction with “the worst fire scenes I’ve seen since the riots of 1967,” according to a former Detroit Fire Department chief.
This last statement should also not be overlooked, because within it is a glimpse of authorities’ conceptual framework for viewing Devil’s Night – that is, not as an isolated incident, but as an aftershock of The Great Rebellion that rivaled its destruction and, therefore, should be eligible for the same levels of counterinsurgency. But to do would require more than just a single comparison; it would require resorting to racist and supernatural tropes to target an opaque and population that had long been mystified the white population. Much in the same way that the witch was manufactured to target a heterogeneous population with the figure of a supernatural, life-stealing Other, the figure of the Devil had also been revived to literally demonize the insurgent black youth of Detroit. According to Carole Nagengast’s Violence, Terror, and the Crisis of the State, “the goal of state violence is not to inflict pain; it is the social project of creating punishable categories of people.”
Though many residents and politicians speculated about the circumstances that produced the widespread arson of 1984, David Skal notes that the influential Detroit Free Press newspaper noticeably avoided any sociological analysis in the months after, instead favoring a “law-and-order approach to Halloween Eve arson and crime, including gun control, aggressive prosecution, and more jail cells.” According to the authors of an enlightening research paper entitled Preventing Halloween Arson in an Urban Setting, it was the following that Mayor Coleman Young then created a “Devil’s Night Task Force,” tasked with goals of “reduced arson, raised community awareness, and increased involvement in the fight against arson” over the next decade. Each spring, appointees from the mayor’s office, Detroit Neighborhood City Halls, city departments (including public health, fire, police, youth, public lighting, law, recreation, information technology, planning, among others), community organizations, churches, public schools, and the private sector would convene to begin creating strategies based on insights gleaned from previous years.
With these in hand, fire and police officials from each neighborhood would collaborate with neighborhood snitches and influential clergy to create “decentralized action plans” to enact a larger eight point, city-wide strategy: Deployment of Public Safety Personnel, by means of mobilizing all available police, firefighters, and helicopters; The Elimination of Arson Targets by means of towing abandoned cars, removing tires from dumping sites, and demolishing thousands of vacant homes and buildings; Volunteer Training by means of offered orientations to Adopt-A-House volunteers who wanted to guard abandoned buildings or Neighborhood Patrols who wanted to seek out arsonists on foot; Media and Communications by means of an aggressive PR campaign to convey “the dangers of arson”; Activities for Children and Teenagers by means of church and city-sponsored movie marathons, dances, carnivals, etc.; Youth Curfew in the form of a 6pm curfew for those under 18, whose violators would face expedited processing at temporary nighttime courtrooms; and Prohibition on the Sale of Fuel by means of criminalizing the sale of dispensing of gasoline into portable containers.
In each of these eight headlines, we can find almost perfectly mirrored strategies depicted in Kristian Williams’ essay The Other Side of COIN, many of which he directly cited from U.S. Army Field Manual on Counterinsurgency and British brigadier Frank Kitson’s strategies against anti-colonial movements in Kenya, Cypress, and Northern Ireland. Of particular significance to many of these strategies is the goal of “monopolizing the use of force” and establish legitimacy in doing so, which the Army field manual asserts as “the main objective.” One can particularly see this in the conflicting strategy of guarding and demolishing abandoned homes, a clearly desperately attempt to re-establish control over a territory that had subverted its monopoly on destruction by self-immolating. As part of maintaining its fragile legitimacy, however, the city couldn’t simply call in the National Guard again; instead it had to source its army from the remaining loyal segments of the city’s population to do its bidding. This “Halloween anti-arson intervention,” when viewed through Williams’ simple equation reveals its obvious and undeniable nature: Community Policing + Militarization = Counterinsurgency.
Between 1985-1996, largely by means of these counterinsurgency strategies and anti-gang initiatives, the city of Detroit was able to considerably reduce Halloween-time arson within the city. Though it is tempting to conclude that this may have been the moment when the rebellious spirit of Halloween was finally killed, to do so would deny the almost constant low-intensity insurgency that remained and would later spread to other cities like Camden and Cincinnati. In 1994, after the new mayor of Detroit publicly declared the death of Devil’s Night and mobilized a significantly smaller number of citizen patrols, the numbers of arsons dramatically rose, forcing him to mobilize an army of 30,000 “Angel’s Night” volunteers the following October. Given this constant obligation to douse its flames, perhaps we should not speak of the death of Halloween, but instead, its temporary imprisonment.
But if the history presented here is any indication, moments of disorder are not only unpredictable but evasive by their very nature of disrupting of linear time and ordered space. As the rare moments of social peace between upheavals become ever shorter and the fires of Detroit blends into Camden and Ferguson’s into Baltimore, it’s possible to conceive of the spirit of Halloween returning not as a discrete moment in October, but, in the words of one old revolutionary, “a holiday without beginning or end.”
President Donald Trump signed a directive on August 25 following up on his earlier tweets that he “will not accept or allow transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military.” Whatever you think about the decree, the spin from the Trump administration about it amounts to the gaslighting of the transgender community.
Consider the terms of this order. It prevents any new openly transgender recruits from joining the armed forces. It also orders the military to evaluate the status of currently-serving transgender soldiers and potentially get rid of them as well in line with Trump’s original tweet: Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis is putting together a group of experts to study the matter. Transgender troops decried the order, saying it will create “complete inequality,” in the words of one. The director of the LGBTQ advocacy group Palm Center said that Trump is “pull[ing] the rug out from under a group of service members who have been defending our country.”
Any reasonable person can see that the decree blatantly discriminates against transgender individuals, meaning treating them differently and worse than others. Yet the Trump administration explicitly denies this reality. According to the official briefing the press on the directive, it did not represent in any way discrimination against transgender individuals. The official stated that Trump will “continue to ensure that the rights of the LGBTQ community” are protected, and is not going back on his campaign promise in 2016 to “fight for” that community.
Why make statements that are so clearly false? There is no doubt that the directive discriminates against transgender people, so what explains the blatant lies?
This type of deception falls into the category of gaslighting, a psychological manipulation that aims to create doubt about the nature of reality. Often occurring in abusive relationships, gaslighting is so harmful that victims often report that the impact of this manipulation is worse than the original offense. It can make you doubt your reality, grow confused, vulnerable, and uncertain, unable to fend off the manipulations of the perpetrator and even fall into accepting their reality, known as the gaslight effect.
Trump’s administration has used gaslighting extensively as a psychological weapon. Denying reality creates confusion and uncertainty, a highly useful outcome since the victims of the gaslighting are unsure about what to do next. Should they expend their resources demonstrating the obvious truth of reality, or should they focus on addressing the problem at hand?
In this case, the transgender community is the target of Trump’s gaslighting. The issue they face is whether to address the blatant lies coming from the White House about the decree, or emphasize fighting Trump’s discriminatory actions.
The solution is to make the gaslighting tactic itself unacceptable. Political and social science research shows that trust is vital for healthy democracies. Citizens in a democracy have a basic expectation of their public officials being trustworthy, in their words and actions. In return, citizens comply with laws, pay taxes, and cooperate with other government initiatives. In comparison to a democracy, an autocratic state bears a much higher resource burden of policing to make its citizens comply with its laws. When political leaders act in ways that destroy trust – as the Trump administration is doing through misleading statements and outright lies – people will increasingly stop complying with laws and paying taxes.
While Trump is making short-term gains for conservatives, he is undermining the stability of our political system as a whole. No one – liberals nor conservatives – want the chaos and disorder that would result from the destruction of trust. All can recognize the terrible dangers posed by such denial of reality to our democracy.
Even worse, other politicians, such as New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, are adopting Trump’s tactics. For instance, Christie ordered a number of state-run beaches in New Jersey closed on Friday, June 30, 2017, yet he used a closed state beach in Island Beach State Park for himself and his family on July 2, 2017. At a press conference later that same day, he was asked about being on the beach during the time of the beach shut-down order. In a classic example of gaslighting, Christie said “”I didn’t get any sun today.” When Christie’s spokesperson was shown the pictures, the spokesperson responded “He did not get any sun. He had a baseball hat on.”
Christie’s use of gaslighting to justify corruption and abuse of power points to the normalization of gaslighting within our political system. Only by coming together in a nonpartisan manner to call out such lies and commit to truth can we hope to make gaslighting unacceptable and preserve our democracy.
In the wake of the violent attacks and subsequent murder at the Unite the Right rally this past weekend in Charlottesville, the world is turning on the Alt Right even more than it already has. The people who attended the rally, carrying torches and violently brutalizing Black Lives Matter and antifascist protesters, have been outed in mass doxxings. This has forced a way of mass firings of white nationalists, caused families to disown their racist relatives, and gotten many to repent entirely.
The Daily Stormer did what many Alt Right outlets refused to do, they doubled down after the car murder took place, saying that the real tragedy was the car being destroyed and they were happy “the fat slut” was dead. He was referring to Heather Heyer, the young woman run down as she protested blocks away from the Nazis. Her family was subsequently unable to have her memorial service afterward after Nazis threatened further attacks on her family. Associate of the Daily Stormer, going by Azzmador, was quoted as saying that the Unite the Right rally could not go on because of “Jew” politician running the city along with “criminal n*****s.”
Subsequently, Anonymous hacked the Daily Stormer and took control of it, before Andrew Anglin wrestled control back. Then the hosting company promised to take down the website, and businesses were refusing to deal with the Daily Stormer. While it is good this is happening now, the real question is why this did not happen before. Anglin then moved his website to the “Darkweb,” where he is only available through the Tor service. This may give him anonymity, but it shrinks his reach to almost nothing.
The Daily Stormer officially went offline, and was followed shortly by Red Ice Media. Red Ice had almost ten thousand subscribers, largely building off of its history as a conspiracy and alt spirituality website, so their money likely bought them a lot of leeway. That is quickly dissolving as their capitulation with murderous white supremacy is taking place. The video on their homepage describes how they have been hacked, making it impossible to keep going right now. The longer they are offline, the better.
To keep this up we need to continue to identify the web hosts for Alt Right websites and to pressure those companies to pull the contracts. There is often anti-racist language in the Terms of Services that can be exploited for this, but the main point is to use our pressure as a united community to show that there will be consequences if companies continue to deal with white nationalists.
In 1941, two years into World War II, socialist playwright Bertolt Brecht released a play The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui (in German: Der aufhaltsame Aufstieg des Arturo Ui) which chronicles the rise of Arturo Ui, a fictional 1930s Chicago mobster, and his efforts ruthless efforts to dominate the cauliflower racket. Subtitled A Parable Play, Arturo Ui is a satirical allegory of the rise of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party in Germany before the start of World War II. Brecht’s depiction of the Nazis as gangsters references a reality of Nazi governance, the Nazis operated as gangsters, a point made by social historians. It further speaks to the Nazi emplacement of its own gang members into key positions within the existing government structures, especially the bureaucracy, and takeover of those structures once in power. This is a trend that can be observed in interesting ways in the developing goon presidency of Donald Trump. The most notable recent example is the naming of Anthony Scaramucci to the position of Communications Director.
In Trump we are seeing a re-cartelization of the economic sphere. Trump is a goon and he admires goons. As fascists did he is putting his own people into the administrative and bureaucratic state, And they are gangsters and goons. He is getting rid of the bureaucracy that forms policy.
The State as a Racket
In War Making and State Making as Organized Crime, the sociologist Charles Tilly, in writing about the state has famously said:
“To the extent that threats against which a given government protects its citizens are imaginary or are consequences of its own activities, the government has organized a protection racket. Since governments themselves commonly stimulate, or even fabricate threats of external war, and since the repressive and extractive activities of governments often constitute the largest current threats to the livelihoods of their own citizens, many governments operate in essentially the same ways as racketeers.”
Neoliberalism has already decimated any notion of popular sovereignty or social welfare. The crisis of capitalism results in the crisis of the traditional parties and the liberal democratic order. The ruling class can no longer rule in its familiar ways. As this crisis deepens they become more ruthless in their attacks on the working class and its historic gains (social welfare, etc.). Health care, education, social welfare, etc. Become “luxuries” (which the truly luxurious strata become envious of). Attacks on these bare, but essential services, ratchet up already churning resentment and anger.
With the stripping of the state of its “luxuries” or inessential (for capital) features it is returned to its status as what Friedrich Engels called “armed bodies of men,” of gangsters—it is restored to the status of a racket.
So the army, police, prisons, are underwritten and grown. So too the Brownshirt industries associated with them. But the dictatorship of capital is no longer disguised. This is the resort to fascism.
In a period of sharp crisis the disguise slips. And it can slip. Obscuring ideology is not needed. How else to understand Trump’s open appeal to police across the country to not be too nice to suspects being arrested (in a context of racialized MS-13 panic), in front of a group of cheering and applauding cops.
As an aside we might suggest that the strange attack on MS-13 is a one-sided gang war-waged from the White House. And it occurs while his regime is raiding families of Latin American background in California, New Mexico, Arizona, etc.
Capitalism in crisis has always in periods given rise to the bare gangster form. Marx identified it as Bonapartism. The deep crisis of capitalism produces armed thug gangs who can oppose working class resistance.
In fascism, the state loses its monopoly over non—state violence. That is partly the threat of the Brownshirts. They are a parallel force of violence that shows up the loss of the state monopoly. With fascism, the bourgeoisie gives over power to the gangsters, the thugs, the goons.
The Trump Gang
If the protection racket us a scheme in which a group provides protection (to business, clubs, etc.) through violence enacted outside of the sanction of law, then the Trump regime, like all fascist regimes, has taken form as a base protection racket, a gang. This type of authoritarian formation maintains existing property relations while taking a piece of the pie for their own benefit. The Trump inner circle is made up of gangsters.
This is highlighted in liberal terms with the undermining or circumventing of the judiciary. It cannot provide legal protection. Trump poses it as incompetent. One can see this most forcefully in his attacks upon the courts over his Muslim ban. The Muslim ban is itself a racialist, fascistic offering of protection (for nativist whites, Christians, etc.) against a “foreign” other posed solely as a threat—and terroristic one at that.
As in an extortion racket there is also an implied threat that the protected may also be turned on themselves if they do not come through—so Trump’s call to let Obamacare implode—with costs assumed by poor whit Trump supporters (and Republican insiders alike).
The distinction between capitalist and gangster is simply one of state definition so it is not surprising that a capitalist would be surrounded by gangsters. One need not go into detail on the Kushner clan. Insider Jared’s father Charles Kushner was sentenced to two years after pleading guilty to 18 counts of making illegal campaign contributions, tax evasion, and witness tampering (involving a nasty case in which he set up his’ wife’s husband in a videotaped fling with a sex worker). Trump is of and for such people. This is his milieu. This is he.
Trump becomes the autonomous figure—the decider who can stand above the fray of divided politics. Trump is a magical gangster. He has a calling—it is the market. His is a counter-revolution based around the market, in the face of impending catastrophe.
At the same time he always has an alibi. His is an alibi of being. It does not allow the acknowledgement of the other. Except, that is, to destroy the other. He admits freely and jokingly to sexual assaults, in public, but denies the very realities of his accusers.
Postscript: Farewell Mooch, We Hardly Knew Ye
At the time of his appointment, commentators noted that Scaramucci was nothing more than “a thug for hire.” Unlike Steve Bannon, Scaramucci had no agenda beyond self-debasing loyalty and no ambition beyond time with the boss. In the end he got neither.
Like the gangster Nazis in power, Scaramucci immediately took out two figureheads of the Republican orthodoxy, Press Secretary Sean Spice and Chief of Staff Reince Priebus. In their place are committed Trumpites Sarah Huckabee Sanders and, notably a military guy, General John Kelly. The Scaramucci hire is symptomatic of the gangster mode of organizing. It follows and reproduces the Nazi gangster inclination for management of underlings through envy, fear, aspiration, in which all are expected to give complete loyalty (typically unrequited) to the leader who need show none. This latter point was made hilariously clear when Scaramucci was himself tanked only 10 days into his role, surely a record of sorts.
Of course history tells us that the generals felt uncomfortable with the gangsters in the SA (largely because they viewed them as a potential competitor breaking the monopoly on violence). We do not want to read too much into John Kelly’s urging of Trump to dismiss the Mooch but on the night of July 30, 2017, it would seem that at least one long knife was out. Still the unexpected hit on the loudmouth who talked too much is not entirely outside of Trump’s gangster management of the White House.
We might finally remember that for Brecht, the name Ui was meant to sound like a pig screaming.
Brecht, Bertolt. 1941. The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui: A Parable Play.
Below is an anonymous communique sent to us about actions done in Chicago. We do not know who they are, are not affiliated with them, but celebrate their spirit of resistance fully.
Queers and Trans Women especially Trans Women Of Color are always on the front lines of Antifascism regardless of our choice to be there because bigots and fascists will attack us and our community without hesitation or provocation. It is essential to our survival that we are fight for our community and ourselves.
While we will continue to struggle to exist we call on anyone who claims to stand with the LGBTQI community to accomplice us in our militant fight for our right to live and love whoever the fuck we want and whoever we want to fuck. Solidarity with all the GLBTQI folx out there standing tall and battling genocide and heteropatriarchy! Solidarity with our LGBTQI Family who are in Chechnyan death camps whom we call on militants to liberate by bringing death to the Chechnyan State!
Solidarty with TQILA who have formed an Anarchist LGBTQI Militia with the IRPGF to destroy Daesh, the state, and Capitalism! Total Liberation for all! Fuck Rainbow Capitalism and Assimilation to any oppressive behavior or system!
Milo Yiannopoulos is a bigoted fascist piece of shit who is a traitor to the GLBTQI community and deserves the same treatment as any other fascist scum. Exile and Death.” – A QT Antifascist
In fascism, the monsters of childhood come true. – Theodor Adorno
In the words of tragic cultural theorist, and victim of actual fascism, Walter Benjamin, “Behind the rise of every fascism is a failed revolution.” A contribution of the Frankfurt School is thinking through the connection of the failed revolutions and fascism. While Trumpism might differ from historic fascism in not following a failed revolution (unless one looks at the failings of a mass movement like Occupy which is a stretch) it does respond to the failings of hopeful liberalism.
This is expressed in terms of fear and a seeking for comfort among those who feel or perceive a loss of status. Understanding rebellion and resistance in the current period also must involve coming to grips with the Trumpist counter-revolution and currents running through it.
How might the Trump phenomenon, and seemingly rising proto-fascism, be understood? While it is still early in the development of Trumpism (it is also late in terms of stopping real social harms from being inflicted) some outlines can be drawn.
Deceiving The Crowd
Trump can readily be situated within historical trajectories of fascism and Right wing populism. One can look to the historical social and psychological conditions of the nineteenth century. Then too popular progressive movements from below, including anarchism, were (quite rightly) viewed as a challenge to conservative elites. The growth of the masses in democracy raised concerns for elites about how to preserve their rule. Elite concern over these movements was the subject of numerous public discussions. Examples of social scientific writing on this include Gustave LeBon’s The Crowd and The Psychology of Revolution and John Henry Mackay’s Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds.
In The Crowd LeBon recommends mass deception to ensure a favorable outcome for elites. In the approach outlined by LeBon, conservative elites cannot actually practice democracy but must deceive the masses to appear to be doing so. One might pursue this argument in thinking about the role of so-called fake news and alternative truths in the Trumpist mobilization and the centrality they find among his key organizers like Kellyanne Conway. LeBon focused on supposedly irrational crowds that could be used by demagogues. LeBon was cited favorably by Mussolini and Hitler.
Passive democracy is no match for the power of the myth to mobilize the masses. This perspective finds an echo in the work of Georges Sorel and his emphasis on social myth. Sorel identifies the supposedly irrational in politics. In his view political actors must understand feelings that move the masses to action. LeBon speaks of elite manipulation. Sorel focuses on popular mobilization. These tendencies are combined in the figure and action of Mussolini. This convergence is reproduced in the Trumpist movement.
Nazi theorist of political power Carl Schmitt suggests conservatives must play the democratic game in order to maintain power. According to Andrew Sullivan, Trump is a result of too much democracy. Trump is of the crowd, by the crowd, for the crowd.
Precursors to Trumpism can be found in the works of Gottfried von Herder and Joseph de Maistre. In Trumpism, the artist of Romanticism is transferred to the entrepreneur or magnate who is presented as an artist (the art of the deal). The supposed genius of the entrepreneur, the “art of the deal” is contrasted with the supposed mediocrity of the mass and the degeneracy of the political establishment (the corrupt hacks of the swamp of Washington). Fascism proposes an elite that can save the nation from the degenerate state. This makes clear the choices made by Trump in his cabinet. The cabal of millionaires and billionaires are the elite who will bring about national rebirth. The ones posed as “doers.” They will make America great again. (Notably, Kevin O’Leary a financial blowhard and reality TV star is running for leadership of the Conservative Party in Canada as one of the entrepreneurial “doers,” his word, who will make Canada great again also).
The Trauma of Neoliberalism
To understand the response to Trumpism one must also understand the trauma of neoliberalism, the context of popular dissatisfaction fear, and hope. The advent of neoliberalism initiates a crisis period (see Shantz 2016, Crisis States). This involves punitive accumulation and a redoubled accumulation of wealth for the wealthy. The neoliberal period can be understood as a traumatic period of four decades. Social trauma. Margaret Thatcher even referred to “a short, sharp, shock.”
Fundamentally, neoliberalism has changed and dismantled processes of socialization and mutual aid. Indebtedness and a sense of being alone in your own debt. It is your responsibility alone in a context of declined social support. Supporters are people dispossessed and feeling left out or feeling threatened economically. This is a sense of being dispossessed or not cared for by society. Neoliberal trauma is a loss of power as a collective capacity to act. Dislocation and isolation are conditions ripe for authoritarianism (both are central to Hannah Arendt’s account of authoritarianism).
Clinton, foolishly, took on the task of reducing expectations and denying people their frustrations. She played a role of lessening the experienced impacts of neoliberalism. Impacts that Trump acknowledged and affirmed. Sanders offered another story of the white working class, if in limited, constrained, terms. Clinton held a bond to the failed program of neoliberalism. This was a condition for Trump’s victory.
Properly understanding Trumpism perhaps requires a theory of trauma related to association with the aggressor. In an actual assault, one can get through with support and understanding. Hypocrisy gives victims a sense of abandonment. This leads to compliance. You perceive things as you are supposed to not according to your own feelings. One has to give up critical thinking since it raises possibilities of separation. You comply so you belong. Any feeling of abandonment can evoke this. This is associated with feelings of shame.
Compliance is a response when society does not accept or value someone for who they are. There is an intimate connection between neoliberalism and hyper-responsibility. Issues of inequality and injustice are viewed as being the individual’s fault. Society does not owe you anything (unless you are wealthy, in which case you are owed tax breaks, grants, subsidies because of your greater contributions to a trickle down economy that will benefit everyone).
A response is compliance and omnipotent fantasy. Excess can be directed toward scapegoats. This relates to a sense of exceptionalism and belonging for those who align with the authority. A reality of compliance is expressed through a rhetoric of standing up for oneself. People whose trauma has been invalidated need their trauma to be known. Trumpism expresses a move from individual trauma to social trauma. There is an individual sense of loneliness and sense of dispossession.
The crowd is typically understood by theorists like LeBon in relation to the agitator. Trump is an agitator rather than an insurrectionist. The agitator focuses on groups who can be targeted. The agitator does not want followers to think too much.
There is an attempt to individualize the mob in the form of the figure. The figure will tolerate reality for them. What they cannot tolerate, the figure can and will. He speaks to discreet self-identified groups who identify in terms of losers (in trade, globalization, internationalism, metropolitanism, etc.) but not as classes. Agitation uses emotional tools to reinforce the power structure. The agitator differs from revolutionaries and reformers.
Trump is an over-inflated narcissist. He appears, on surface, to have none of the insecurities his followers are trying to escape. He is the mirror they look into and wish to see themselves. He is appealing to people who otherwise feel powerless. Secondary narcissism stimulates feelings of belonging and loss. Trump, unlike his followers, exhibits no self-questioning, no self-doubt. This is a great relief to his supporters. He is shameless, he has no shame. Refusal to feel shame is a guide to people. Trump expresses a politics of shame and a politics of repugnance.
Fascism promises certainties. It promises a return to more easily understood or familiar conditions for sectors of the population who feel threatened with loss of standing or position (these are often middle strata groups that feel economically insecure or threatened with decline rather than the poor).
Regular folks who support Trump (even as he represents elite interests) can see Trumpism as making the country great again while they are largely able to continue on with their lives. It does not ask much of them but promises much (even if it never delivers on those specific promises). The imagined community or imaginary love of a powerful leader emerges as an outlet for repressed drives even if the program is not realized. Charismatic nationalism offers narcissistic gratification and an outlet for repressed drives against the externalized other.
On Fake News and Alternative Facts
It has been well remarked that Trump shows a contemptuous regard for truth or facts. He is appealing to the constrained who do not want to be hemmed in or constrained by facts either, as they are by so much else in their lives. This is related to the wish to win that Trump so effectively conjured during his campaign (with his repeated emphasis on America winning again, winning huge, etc.).
Primacy of the wish to win is related to the sense to which one feels dispossessed. Trump tells an emotional truth for his supporters even if he is widely seen to be lying. This truth is his anger and the affirmation of his followers’ anger. This is the truth that comes to matter, a point rational critics generally overlook or misread. Omnipotent fantasy cannot be told the factual truth. There is a turn to emotional truth. Trust is based not on his truth claims but on the sense that he will do what really needs to be done. His supporters trust his promised power.
There is a libidinal investment of the masses in the leader. They have fallen in love with him. The crowd enjoys vicariously through the leader. Trump, on their behalf will restore the lost narcissistic idea of the nation. He will “Make America Great Again.”
Critical thinking isolates you and isolation is part of the problem in neoliberal societies. There is a pleasure in feeling free from thinking. It is partly presented as a reaction against the constant thinking through of political correctness (doing what you are supposed to do and thinking through the implications of all utterances, let alone actions). So-called political correctness (simple decency perhaps) is constructed as an artificial strategy that maintains hypocrisy.
Unknowing is derided but critics fail to see the enjoyment it can provide. Ignorance can indeed be bliss. Trump represents a poverty of ideas. He expresses a cathartic change. Trump is a grotesque character type. In the enactment of aggression, Trump is both a fool and a wizard.
Trump speaks the analytic session: be spontaneous; speak the repressed; no emphasis on truth; free association. Trump brings the language and posture of the analytic session. What of the return of the repressed? What is repressed is fear and hatred of the other.
Living with fascism has been the underbelly of US politics for a very long time. It is not coming, it has been there. Frankfurt School theorists Max Horkheimer and Erich Fromm did not see the United States as immune to fascism. Their view is developed significantly in the largely forgotten “Studies in Prejudice.” See also The Authoritarian Personality and an earlier study on anti-Semitism in the US.
Fascist tendencies exist in all modern capitalist societies. This was true even after the defeat of fascism in World War Two. Resentment has been mobilized against the post-war social welfare state and union movements. It has focused on the progressive redistribution of wealth, particularly as it has benefited members of minority groups.
From the 1980s on there has been a reversal of these tendencies as state capitalist regimes have abandoned welfare state policies in favor of Crisis State arrangements (Shantz 2016). This shifted has been effected under the so-called neoliberal consensus for state managers. The turn to neoliberalism coincides with the rise of a new generation of Right wing parties. At the same time this period has seen the decline of communist and socialist parties and movements in the West. There is a rise to prominence of Right wing parties and fascist groups. This is happening everywhere. Russia and Putin. India. Much of the blame belongs with failed democratic, labor, and social democratic parties that still refuse to break with neoliberalism. Trump breaks with neoliberal consensus. This is expressed in his election opposition to trade deals.
What the Left wishes to secure through cultural means (recognition and inclusion) the fascists will actually secure through material and military means. The challenge of Trumpism is also a challenge to rethink positive resistance politics. There is certainly a need for the Left to re-evaluate its politics. On the Left, there has been a loss of the language of solidarity as a shared fate. And a politics unrestrained by economics or program.
LeBon, Gustave. 2002 . The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind. New York: Dover
We, the undersigned, represent a coalition of anti-fascists from across the State of New York. We have chosen to assemble in Syracuse on June 10 to take action in defense of people in this community who have been targeted for violence by attendees of the so-called “March Against Sharia”. (https://itsgoingdown.org/nationwide-day-action-muslims-june-10th-need-stop/) As in many cities throughout the United States, today a collection of right wing groups and provocateurs will once again use “free speech” as a smokescreen in an attempt to gain a foothold for groups that use broad anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim rhetoric to advance programs of racial exclusion and expulsion. Due to Syracuse’s central location within New York State, this provocation is being taken as aimed at the whole of Upstate itself, and along with our comrades in Syracuse, Upstate is responding.
We refuse to allow fascists a platform to organize and incite racial violence. In so doing, we are not suppressing “free speech.” In these current matters of “free speech,” we are not dealing with opinions that have withstood the scrutiny necessary to place them on par with those which provide meaning and purpose to a just and fair society. Instead, we have emotions dressed up in the language of a victim, paraded and bleated from soapboxes in such a manner as to play to the sympathies many would otherwise reserve for the oppressed and vulnerable. Right now, other groups aligned with these alleged crusaders for the first amendment are threatening speakers and harassing students on university lecture and book tours. (https://itsgoingdown.org/richard-spencer-gets-not-warm-welcome-auburn-university-alabama-april-18-2017/)
The overstated threat of “Sharia law” is a dogwhistle to the anti-Muslim sentiment that has crept through communities across the country, especially since 9/11. Religious law is not only unconstitutional, but Muslims comprise just 0.9 percent of the religious makeup of the United States. This overstated fear of the minority has, for years, translated into calls for mass deportations, the erosion of civil liberties, and flat out violence against Muslims. There is nothing original to the script of ACT for America in their crusade against depictions of Sharia law. This is the same script used by the Nazis in their genocide against Jewish people in the 1930s and 1940s.
We affirm the rights of the people of Syracuse to resist bigotry in whatever capacity they find appropriate. We embrace a diversity of tactics in the struggle against fascism, and we respect the right of other counterdemonstrators to assemble. As such, we do not plan to interrupt other counterdemonstrations. We urge all attendees to refrain from acts that would compromise the stated intent of this counterdemonstration, to respect the boundaries and safety of one another, and to be cognizant of public perception. The fringes of the right have grown increasingly violent, even when faced with nonviolence. As such, we would also like to address the tense situation in the city of Portland, Oregon after the brutal attack on three men coming to the aid of young women who were being verbally abused by a white nationalist who presumed them to be Muslims (https://itsgoingdown.org/antifascism-community-self-defense-fight-revolution/). We stand with Portland at this time as they cope with loss, increasing threats, and the task ahead of rooting out fascism from their community. We, the groups assembled, are prepared to undertake this burden in New York State if need be. We send our love and solidarity to Portland. You are not alone.
We also wish to clearly convey that our purpose for gathering in Syracuse is not to incite violence or destroy property. We will be there to represent organized resistance to fascism in our communities. While we do not plan to commit acts of offensive violence, we cannot say the same for the groups who have assembled to “march against sharia.” We cannot fully anticipate the reaction of the groups assembled with ACT for America, like the Syracuse Proud Boys, affiliated motorcycle clubs or patriot militias. Any escalation into violence will be at the hands of the previously mentioned groups and/or the Syracuse Police Department. We will not stand by idly if these groups incite or organize violence. We will defend our communities and ourselves by any means necessary.
NEW YORK ANTIFA ALLIANCE
Buffalo Red and Black/Roja y Negra, Capital Region Anti-Fascist Action, Central NY AntiFa, Great Lakes AntiFa, Hudson Valley Anti-Fascist Network, North Country Redneck Revolt, Syracuse Antifa, Utica IWW, Western New York AntiFa, Anti-Fascist News
The story of what happened in Portland, Oregon on Friday, May 26th has gone viral. An Alt Right person on a train began assaulting two young Muslim women for wearing Hijabs. Three men stood up to intervene and they were brutally attacked with a knife, two of them were killed and one of them left in serious condition in the hospital.
We are trying to post the fundraisers for everyone who were involved, and we just posted the fundraiser for the survivor of the attack who is currently in the hospital. We are now sharing the fundraiser for the two women who were targeted by the white supremacist and had to endure one of the most traumatizing experiences imaginable. The money is intended to support them in their recovery, from treatment to transportation, and the funds will be critical to allowing them the time and space needed.
We need to support each other not just with words, but with actions. Donating some money is a great start, but it cannot end there. We need to get involved in a material basis, organizing in our communities and confronting these fascist movements as they grow and confront. We stand with a “no platform” mentality, where we disallow people like this to actually recruit and organize. Jeremy Christian, the Alt Right murderer on public transportation that day, was a part of the Alt Right “free speech” rallies that were happening in Portland. On June 4th, Kyle Chapman, the “based stickman,” is holding another rally in Portland, one where Christian was likely to be. For those in the area, Rose City Antifa, the Pacific Northwest Anti-Fascist Workers Collective, the Torch Network, and a number of supporters, including the Black Rose Anarchist Federation, are organizing to stand up to the Alt Right. They will not let something like this happen again in their town.
After months of making inroads with white nationalist organizations like Identity Europa and posting racially charged posts on social media, the Asatru Folk Assembly has now been officially banned for offensive behavior on Facebook. The AFA is one of the best known “folkish Heathen” groups in the U.S., which takes a racialized interpretation of Nordic paganism. This is based on an earlier Jungian notion that the archetypes that make up the Nordic gods, such as Odin or Thor, were set into the psyches of Northern European people exclusively. The founder of the original AFA, Stephen McNallen, uses these pseudo-scientific arguments on race to argue that Asatru, the modern revival of a magickal Heathenry, is the native spirituality of Northern European people and one that white should return to.
While the AFA often tries to present itself as “apolitical,” it has consistently sided with white nationalists. McNallen was known for being a core part of the Alt Right since 2008, appearing on the AlternativeRight.com podcast, Vanguard Radio, several times to speak with Richard Spencer. He has also attended the white nationalist conference the National Policy Institute and pals around with various racialist projects.
Most recently, the AFA hit new leadership has taken it in an even more explicitly racist and patriarchal direction. Below is a screenshot of a recent post of theirs, and because of it they were denounced by almost every Heathen organization in the country.
As they have continued to increase their racialist profile, including participating in the Alt Right rally at Berkeley, they have seen resistance form. They have now been banned from Facebook and will continue to see their profile shrink as few are willing to accept their white supremacist version of paganism.
Note: The vast majority of Heathens are anti-racist, and those who take the “folkish” perspective are a loud and racist minority in the religion.