On Leaving

[edit: The (now former) director of C4ARR, who was leading the charge to protect the transphobic cop, has been forced to step down after even more problematic behavior emerged. A group of fellows has instituted a series of demands and the organization appears to be undergoing changes.]

CW: discussions of violence, detail omitted wherever possible

I apologize in advance because I am writing this fast, instead of with the diligence it deserves, but only because I worry that writing slowly could bring up more feelings than I want to handle just yet. When dealing with topics like this, it is hard for me not to connect it to some of the scariest moments and periods of my life. The traumatic hyper-connectivity my brain does is not entirely inaccurate though. Complex and pointed trauma are the hallmarks of fascism and the structural violence that creates it. Indeed, being marginalized is itself traumatic and those traumas matter in the context of discussions around political violence and the rise of the far-right and more syncretic fascisms. But simply recounting trauma, or being stuck in its loops isn’t always helpful or appropriate so I will try to share some reflections without going into more of the detail than I feel is necessary to make the points. It’s also easy for the topic to spiral, simply because the last 7 years or so of fascism has seemed to take an ever speeding tempo and there’s simply too much important material to cover it all. So I wrote fast, lest I not write at all.

Today I am resigning, quite sadly, from my doctoral fellowship at the Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right. I say quite sadly because I know how incredibly competent and dedicated much of the staff is on a shoestring. It’s a quite ramshackle concoction of dedicated volunteers including many of which who have written seminal works in the field. I’m deeply grateful that they took the risks of publishing my series on the red-brown connection between Syria and COVID disinformation, as every other outlet I pitched to wouldn’t touch it (despite endless mainstream journos in my DMs about it). And yet that three-part series, to my memory, became their 1st, 2nd, and 4th most popular pieces of 2020 (my, my how time passes) as well the first article is included in a book that may or may not already be in print. I also co-published a peer-reviewed study on eco-fascism, past and present, which gave deep context for the oft abused, but very real implications of the term while arguing for complexity in the face of uncertainty. They are absolutely a hub of critical research and nothing that comes to pass now changes that history. 

Yet, as many have noted, they recently chose to publish a xenophobic and transphobic ex-cop’s reactionary outsider opinion on that spectre haunting recent years of ‘antifascism’ (BOO!). I, along with many other fellows, threatened my resignation. I will include my knee-jerk twitter hot-takes on the day of for posterity and because i think i’m funny sometimes:

(note, this is NOT a Baathist appreciation post)
Andy Ngo giddily RTing the article

They refused to take the piece down, and doubled down on their defense of it. The part that i found most laughable is their distancing from the term “antifascism” itself:

In short, you are either antifascist or at best incoherent, at worst a fascist. Miss me with hand-wringing. Definitions of antifascism which relegate it strictly to a subsection of street based defense are just holding water for a long-term fascist psy-op. I would hope an org that has hosted probably millions of words on the topic would at least nail this point down. But such is Discourse. 

Today, a day later, they published a response by Alexander Reid-Ross. The response is quite good. It’s measured, detailed, specific, nuanced, and grounded. But i’m also inclined to good faith towards Reid-Ross, or as I know him, Sasha, as we’ve been friends for many years. We have different lines and opinions at times but agree on more than we disagree. Controversial as that may be to some, I know that his commitment to obstructing genocide revisionism, and the concomitant genocide, is all consuming and sincere. It was his tireless work on exposing red-brown networks that built the foundation for mine. And in reverse, I know that my exposure to radical Syrian anti-Assadists and Kurds helped form his recognition of the state backed assault on truth happening by certain alt-imperialist opportunist scumbags, which contributed to his research on red-brown. 

I was embarrassed on C4ARR’s behalf that they asked Sasha to not mention McCann’s transphobia for fear of claims of ad-hominem (though cheeky to have found a way to mention it anyways). Logical fallacies are not universal. Ad-hominem is only ad-hominem if the information is irrelevant to the issue at hand. To argue otherwise is to believe in some mythical objective journalism I have yet to encounter (this is uniquely USian culture in some ways by the way. French journalism for example tends to just acknowledge author political views explicitly). That the man is transantagonistic (among other edgy provocations) is literally relevant to his opinions on groups that militantly oppose identity based oppression. As a doctoral fellow who also happens to be trans and queer it behooves me to really drive this point home. Don’t publish terfs and their counterparts. Maybe just stop publishing white brits altogether until we can get a better hold on this thing. (just kidding, sort of)

I was particularly interested in Sasha’s section about cycles of violence. Cycles of violence are real and we would be wrong to ignore that. Things like Anni di piombo (the Years of Lead in Italy) are case studies in this. But even then, there is just no comparison to the sheer ruthless brutality of fascists and the far-right. I wrote an article years ago (not tagging because my views have matured a lot) about how, while street defense is critical (in conjunction with the rest of the iceberg of antifascism) it is important to have a longview of what transformative antifascism could look like and avoid the pitfalls of essentially gang (and civil) wars. But i think he did a good job of teasing apart the assymetries of escalation in political violence.

I think the point in Sasha’s piece that he points at, but acknowledges that he isn’t in a position to discuss, has to do with the fine line of self-defense while holding targeted marginalized identities which I’ve conveniently written about before in a response article from a mutual exchange discussing fascism and political violence. Without going into detail, as a visibly queer transwoman I have faced a lot of violence and agression both on and offline to the point where I prepared myself in many ways to defend against violence. 

The thing about offline threats though, is they happen so quick, it’s hard to make an assessment. It takes about a second to draw and fire a handgun. When you’re marginalized, especially if you’ve faced dangerous situations, you develop this ptsd hypervigilant threat monitoring. You learn to detect subtle signs and postures. You read people constantly. Depending on your disposition, ready to fight, freeze, or flee at a moment’s notice. It’s completely exhausting. 

The liberal view of clear self-defense is completely detached from the messy real world of hate based violence which is confusing and often sudden, but also critically, constant and structural. But Sasha acknowledges that when fascists come to a city like Portland, it is a safe and well-founded conclusion that they are keen to commit aggressive violence. If I find out someone near me is a nazi, regardless of the law, it is ethically justified for me to feel at risk because I literally am. In states like Arizona, where I used to live, threat of bodily harm is the pre-requisite to Stand Your Ground laws, but I doubt that my trans ass would’ve won a court case. 

(As a relevant aside Talia is a badass and yet again a meme machine.)

This gets into one of my deeper issues. I don’t care that much for academic antifascism even though at times I am one. It just veers too easily into the detached and clinical where it’s easy to make sweeping statements and not feel at great risk. Theory is obviously super important but the politics of clout are undermining. This is one of the reasons I respect the anons in antifa groups, generally speaking (and with major exceptions) they do it for the morals, not the clout. Their career isn’t riding on it. They aren’t getting paid (though i wish they were). They just don’t want people to get killed by nazis. And as a result of their detatchment from these systems of power, they do the best research. Ironically, I even claimed that antifascist groups do the best research in a scholarly article (that i wrote with Reid-Ross and led to us being on the receiving end of a large-scale disinformation and harassment attack, but that’s another story). 

Maybe somewhat uniquely, my relationship with antifascism was inspired by things I learned in friendships with Syrians. When I moved back to the US from the Syrian border and began researching places like 8chan (prior to Trump’s election) I knew they were going to become new and dangerous types of power hubs. Many knew that it was me who wrote this piece anonymously predicting their stigmergic violence almost a year to the date before 8chan was implicated in a white supremacist mass shooting (my data science standards are much higher now). 

To address some other open secrets, do i support antifa? Broadly, yes. But it’s not a blanket defense of everyone who claims that mantle. And the term is more than a little vague. I’m full of critiques and hot takes galore. But I’ve passed on countless information and resources to trusted and diligent antifascist groups over the years and I think others should also. They’re really good at diffusing information to community members that need to know (including ngos and businesses and the like). And they aren’t caught up in the old-guard white supremacy of the US police system which never really shook off being slave catchers and having unions run by klansmen.  

Over the years I’ve known many antifascists, some of which I knew were involved in this or that antifa crew (though the smart ones never brag or even told me directly and i never ask). I joke that antifa is actually mostly transwomen and punk-dads which isn’t entirely false. In my experience people in antifa groups are generally working class (often working tirelessly on a decade old laptop) and often, but not always, hold at least one marginalized identity. The right is correct in their meme that antifa is quite queer in my experience. One time this antifascist skinhead (and punk dad) drove out and comforted my mom and helped her grocery shop after she got caught in a scary borderlands standoff between DEA/Border Patrol and assumedly cartel members. A few weeks earlier his partner had made us vegan muffins for a family friendly movie night at our house with a bunch of kids in our broader queer family. Another sort of friend of mine risked his life repeatedly to infiltrate and expose a certain infamous neonazi group. He didn’t do it for clout. He’s just brave.

Frankly, me and my friends in Tucson formed an informal collective that researched the multiple local nazi paramilitary groups (not even counting the simply right wing and racist militias like OK and iii%) and terrorists and also helped organize in person counter-demos. Does this make me a scary antifa terrorist? Shrug. I don’t really care. I was just scared of the guy i knew was making pipe bombs showing up armed and sieg-heiling at a highschool BLM march led by a Black teen and I knew for a fact the police and FBI were not doing anything useful about it.

But over the years I’ve also been humbled by nazi violence beyond the extreme certainty and sectarianism of my younger self (don’t put me on a pedestal). There are a lot of ways that people engage with the nazi scourge. We can and should continue to talk about the tradeoffs in tactics but, within reason, I don’t slight a lot of people (that certain anarchist antifascists would reasonably condemn) for doing what they think is right, given the current reality, to obstruct genocide by the state or otherwise. I hear tell of a group of disaffected C4ARR fellows who are agitating for changes (including the dismissal of McCann) from within the org. I don’t criticize this work as it would be cool for C4ARR to rebuild its trustworthiness without becoming some boring bastion for status-quo liberal false equivalency. I’m just too tired to participate. I saw that Spencer Sunshine and Shane Burley both asked for right of reply, and I hope they get it (note, I have an essay about complexity theory, inter-network conflict, and antifascism in an upcoming volume edited by Shane for AK Press yeeeeeee). I also know that many other fellows followed through and resigned today though don’t have all those links handy.

But so it went that I became extremely burnt out and traumatized from my work. Over the years my paranoia merged and blurred with the real and ultraviolet threats I was receiving and the groups that were circling in on various of my locations and affiliations. I had guns wielded at me by both state and non-state fascists. I was terrified both for myself and my family though I rarely showed it online and struggled even to discuss it with friends and antifascist accountabilibuddies. I held secrets even from my loved ones. I hid USB drives with passwords and created sharded systems for my loved ones to access everything I controlled in the event of my disappearance for one or another reason. I wrote a will (the second I’d written, the first some time after coming out as trans). My body ached from the tension. My brain circled over and over again with visions of my loved ones being shot and stabbed. Or going to prison for defending myself and my child growing up without a parent. I was haunted by the possibility of larger scale civil conflict as every punk house I knew on both coasts became an armory (out of fear, not aggression). I, myself, learned a lot about firearms and fighting and taught others what I had learned. Similarly i dove head-first into upskilling my OSINT chops. I was morphing myself into a weapon and it was consuming me. My partner/s, friends, and mom were all really worried about me. And for good reason. My health was rapidly declining following the fall of my emotional well being. Things like IBS, constant sickness, daily horrifying nightmares (insomnia), and physical exhaustion plagued me. Obviously suffering is always relative, but the US in general is a hard place and getting harder all the time (though not quite in the way that outsiders believe it to be but I struggle to explain the differences). And being marginalized in the US (even with the privileges I hold) was a lot to handle even without the constant attention I consciously faced from fascists.

So when the opportunity presented itself to leave, I jumped on it. I write now from the relative calm of my new home in Aotearoa (though we have our share of entrenched white supremacy here as well obviously). I’ve thought and felt a lot about healing and what it would take to be an elder of value someday. I believe that it is hard or impossible to heal when the violence you face is ongoing. I recognize the privilege I have to leave a country, to shrug off a prestigious fellowship, and even to say goodbye to a beloved community and know that I will be embraced on the other side (as I have been). 

So I have been stepping back from a lot of antifascist minutiae while continuing my work on SMAT (subscribe for a spicy blog post coming up) and in communities through Tohatoha. To all the countless lectures, podcasts, articles, videos, interviews, reports, and the like I have declined or ghosted. Sorry/not sorry. Too busy taking my kid to play in creeks and look at little flowers. 

It’s been raining hard all day and night in Pōneke, and will likely continue all week. This morning my kid and I were fascinated to watch a snail sliding along our glass door. Though they’re mostly pre-verbal yet, I was explaining how the snail carried its home on its back. And i feel a lot like that snail. My home travels with me and I’m hardened on the outside but real squishy on the inside. 

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