Protesting fascists wherever they go

August 21, 2018

The far right tried to take the streets again last weekend to protest mythical “far-left violence,” but they were met almost everywhere they mobilized by determined counterprotests. Shireen Akram-Boshar, Amelia Adams, Sam Bernstein, Maddie Fenn and Danny Katch contribute local reports from Boston, Seattle and Austin, Texas.

ONE WEEK after the far right was humiliatingly outnumbered at its “White Civil Rights Rally” in Washington, D.C., by thousands of anti-racist protesters, fascists tried to regroup with a national day of action against “far left violence.”

And once again, they were confronted by far larger numbers of counterprotesters, sending a clear message that we won’t let them get away with their project of making fascism respectable again.

In Boston, Austin and a handful of other locations, activists from the International Socialist Organization (ISO), Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) and many other organizations built on last week’s victory in D.C. by crushing right-wing protesters — not with “violence,” but with the demoralizing reality that they are tiny and widely despised.

As has been the case before, the fascists were able to count on their allies in law enforcement to give them a heavily armed escort while harassing anti-racist protesters.

Marching against a far-right mobilization in Boston
Marching against a far-right mobilization in Boston

The other sobering element of the day was in Seattle, where far-right forces numbered over 100, another sign after marches in Portland on August 4 and June 30 that fascists are growing in the Pacific Northwest.

Even in Seattle, the far right was significantly outnumbered. But the lesson there and across the country is that we need to continue to convince more people to see the need to stop the far right today and not let this tumor grow into something more menacing.


Boston

On the anniversary of the 25,000-person march and rally that drove the fascists out of Boston one year ago, the far right returned to Boston with the aim of regrouping their forces. Instead, counterprotesters — who outnumbered the Nazis by a ratio of 10 to 1 — marched on the fascists, preventing them from holding a speak-out and forcing them to retreat under heavy police presence.

This was the fifth time the far right organized a so-called “free speech” rally in Boston since the election of Donald Trump. But since last August, counterdemonstrators have outnumbered the far right at each successive rally, and we have watched their numbers fall each time.

The far right, organized under the banner of “Resist Marxism,” managed to cohere only 20 fascists for their cynically named “Rally Against Far-Left Violence.” Unable to pull together the numbers they had hoped for, the group was forced to alter their plans throughout the day of the event.

Initially, they had planned to rally at the Boston State House and march through the city, but when they heard that the counterprotesters would be 10 times their numbers, they changed the location of their rally to Boston City Hall plaza. Police set up barricades for them there, carving out a “stage” for their anticipated noon speak-out.

At 10 a.m. at the State House, 250 counterdemonstrators gathered for a rally and speak-out in remembrance of those killed by fascists.

The rally was called by Stand Against Hate-Boston, a coalition of activist and leftist groups mobilizing against the far right. Earlier in the week, the coalition held a public forum in the city that brought together 70 people to discuss strategy and put forth the argument of the need for mass mobilization to confront the growth of the far right.

During the rally, speakers from Black Lives Matter Boston, Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), International Socialist Organization (ISO) and others highlighted the legitimate threat posed by the growth of the far right, and the path forward to defeat them permanently.

Nilaya M. of the ISO reminded the crowd of the power of last year’s 25,000-strong mobilization, when fear was replaced by a sense of solidarity and power as thousands of people filled the streets against far-right hate. She also spoke of our need for both confidence and caution:

It is important to feel confident in our ability as a united front each and every time we defeat them. But we must not take our wins for granted, or assume we have won the long fight. We must oppose them if they’re a group of six or 60, each and every time they take to the streets.

Counterprotesters then marched to City Hall, chanting “Nazis are violent, remember Heather Heyer/Richard Collins/Nia Wilson!” and “Racist, sexist, anti-gay, Right-wing bigots, go away!”

As the fascists saw the march approaching, they fled the stage that police had sectioned off for them, reconvening at a different part of the plaza. Counterprotesters marched to their new location to confront them. For 45 minutes, counterprotesters surrounded them, chanting them down and preventing them from holding their speeches.

A massive police presence of at least three times their numbers protected the Nazis, forcing counterprotesters to put down their bullhorns while allowing one of the fascists to keep his gun. After less than an hour, the police escorted the fascists out of the plaza.

The counterdemonstration turned victorious, with protesters chanting “We are unstoppable; another world is possible,” “Black Lives Matter,” and “Whose streets? Our Streets!”

The Nazis were forced to retreat under heavy police presence, but we couldn’t prevent them from marching entirely. They headed to Charlestown and took up their rally on the Freedom Trail.

Though their numbers have continued to plummet at their rallies in Boston, our side must continue to mobilizae for mass participation. Outnumbering them 250 to 20 is a measured success, but not enough to drive them off the streets or force them to cancel tens of rallies across the country — as we were able to do with 25,000 protesters last August.


Austin, Texas

Around 50 right-wingers marched through downtown Austin, organizing under the ridiculous banner of standing up against “left violence.” In attendance were members of Open Carry Texas, Texas Nomads and Texans United for Freedom, among others.

The marchers were met at the state Capitol by around 400 counterprotesters, including ISO contingents from Austin and Denton, DSA contingents from Houston, Austin and North Texas, and many other unaffiliated individuals.

The counterprotest was planned as a noise demonstration, and participants came equipped with musical instruments and noisemakers, as well as signs and banners with messages that included “No Human Being is Illegal” and “Queer Antiracist Solidarity Beats White Supremacy.”

While the Facebook organizers went to great pains to avoid any openly white supremacist imagery, there were arguments on their Facebook page between organizers and attendees, some of whom wished to explicitly display Nazi symbols and other emblems of white supremacy.

During the two hours they attempted to speak from the steps, right-wingers were seen giving the white power salute and wearing t-shirts with slogans such as “Pinochet did nothing wrong.”

Right-wingers also exposed the hypocrisy of their “anti-violence” message. One of the them came into the anti-racist side with a large knife before he was detained and disarmed by police.

One of the primary organizers of the rally went online to applaud the chokehold that one of his pals put on a counterprotester in “self defense.” The entire interaction was filmed, and the counterprotester didn’t engage with the seven to 10 fascists before they approached him.

Before the reactionaries arrived at the Capitol grounds, about 100 riot police joined Department of Public Safety officers, using their shields to cordon off the counterprotesters on either side of the grounds, parting the crowd to protect the right-wing marchers as they entered. They were met with loud chants of “Cops and Klan go hand in hand!” and no “No Cops, No KKK, No Fascist USA!”

When the speakers — including Republican state legislator Dan Flynn, who helped sponsor the far-right rally — took the mic on the Capitol steps, the crowd erupted into a chorus of chants, drumming, pot lid banging and whistles, in an attempt to drown out, or at least distract, the dozen or so speakers.

After two hours of battling the noise of the crowds in the more-than-100 degree heat, the right-wingers were escorted off the Capitol grounds by the state police, which the counterprotesters declared a victory.


Seattle

AROUND 300 anti-fascists outnumbered the right by 2 to 1 in downtown Seattle, sending a message that the fascists’ politics of hate, fear and division aren’t welcome here.

The far-right rally was organized by Patriot Prayer and Proud Boys, with support from the Washington 3 Percenters, a right-wing militia associated with the Oath Keepers.

The eclectic mix of issues they put out publicly — from defending right-wing “free speech” to opposing supposed “left-wing violence” to campaigning against a gun control initiative on the Washington state ballot — served to mask their true aims: to grow and build the confidence of their white supremacist, Western chauvinist, reactionary movement, seeking to leverage their support from President Trump to gain strength in the streets, provoke violent confrontations and physically attack the oppressed and the left.

Patriot Prayer founder and leader Joey Gibson recently lost his bid for U.S. Senate in Washington, but managed to receive a startling 25,000 votes. With 150 reactionaries turning out on Saturday at Seattle City Hall, it was one of their largest mobilizations ever in Seattle.

A dozen 3 Percenter militia-men clad in camouflage fatigues, flak jackets and helmets — and openly carrying assault rifles — intermingled with Proud Boys in their yellow-trimmed black polo shirts, thugs geared up for street fights, and “civilians” in MAGA hats waving American and Israeli flags as they listened to speeches about how “white people are oppressed.”

Across the street, separated by rows of metal barricades and several hundred cops, anti-fascist activists held a noisy “Unite Against Fascism: Remember Those Lost to Far-Right Violence” counterdemonstration organized by a coalition of left groups including Seattle DSA, Radical Women, Party for Socialism and Liberation, Freedom Socialist Party, ISO, Refuse Fascism NW, Socialist Alternative and Seattle Transit Riders Union.

Social justice activists carried signs with messages such as “Hate Groups Not Welcome,” “Fight Bigotry with Solidarity, and “Never Again Is Now” while musicians played along with chants of “All day, all night, shut down the alt-right,” “No Trump, no KKK, no fascist USA” and “No fascists, no fear, immigrants are welcome here!”

Chanan Suarez, a DSA activist and Iraq War veteran from Bellingham, Washington, told Socialist Worker: “I’m here to show solidarity against white supremacy and to remember Heather Heyer. We need to build community among those involved in various struggles for social justice and against fascism.”

While tensions were high and demonstrators loudly chanted and yelled at the right-wingers and police, things stayed relatively calm. A few reactionaries attempted to infiltrate the anti-fascist side at various points throughout the day, but they were nonviolently ejected by activists — even after a fascist used pepper spray.

Ultimately, three people were arrested on minor charges — all left-wing demonstrators.

For the first time in Seattle, anti-fascist protesters were joined by a half dozen members of the left wing John Brown Gun Club, openly carrying assault rifles.

“We’re here to stand against fascism,” one said in an interview. “They claim to be for gun rights and against violence, but that’s a farce meant to diminish their own violent tendencies. We’re here to call them out and expose them for who they are. We’re also here to provide protection for anti-fascist protesters in coordination with the organizing coalition.”

Members of the armed group distributed flyers that said, “We stand against all forms of verbal and physical aggression, especially against marginalized communities. We are here to counter these attempts to twist the principles of community defense into right-wing, anti-left propaganda.”

Following their rally, the fascists stepped off to march under heavy protection from police, many clad in riot gear. Anti-fascist activists moved to block streets and prevent the march, successfully diverting it from the fascists planned route initially. But police ultimately guided the right-wingers on a short march around a few blocks and back to City Hall.

From there, the dwindling far-right crowd made a few final attempts to provoke confrontations with anti-fascist demonstrators before being escorted to their buses by the police.

While the left successfully outnumbered the far right and showed that they will not be allowed to rally in our city unopposed, our numbers came nowhere near representing the true breadth of opposition to fascism in the Seattle area.

With the far right growing bolder in the Pacific Northwest and with more mobilizations planned, anti-fascist organizers need to work to broaden our coalition and actions to include larger, more mainstream progressive groups such as unions, the NAACP, the faith community and others so we can display the large majority that we are.

“I came out today to see who else was coming out,” a social justice activist said. “I’ve been somewhat ambivalent on whether we should ignore the far right or come out in force to confront them... I think we need to focus on mobilizing broader forces, but the potential for violence keeps people away.”

“We need to confront the right wing in America,” said Suarez. “When they show up, we have to show up. We have to defeat their ideology. That’s going to take a united front of various progressive groups who recognize that an injury to one is an injury to all. Huge numbers are the best way to prevent violence while also demoralizing the right.”

There is an urgency to these questions about how to effectively challenge and defeat the far right. Patriot Prayer and Proud Boys are expected to mobilize for the next Seattle Clinic Defense at Planned Parenthood on September 8, and the Washington 3 Percenters have called a “Liberty or Death 2 — Rally Against Left-wing Media Bias” in Seattle on December 1.

The Seattle Unites Against Fascism coalition is meeting this week to discuss next steps, and Seattle Clinic Defense is holding an open organizing meeting on August 29 to plan the largest mobilization possible against the fascist thugs at the September clinic defense.

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