Apr 12, 2021
By early April, Federal prosecutors had charged 405 of the rioters who invaded the Capitol building with crimes. Most were charged with simple misdemeanors and freed on bail or even on their own recognizance.
Yes, some very small number face more serious charges and might even be sentenced to long stretches in federal prison if they are convicted—and even that isn’t certain. But most of them, when they come up in front of the judge, will be given a small fine, if that, and perhaps face a lecture from the judge.
What is all this but political theater—an attempt by federal police and military agencies to cover their asses after the embarrassment of being caught out January 6.
For people targeted or threatened by the extreme right organizations that led the charge into the Capitol, it would be a deadly mistake to put their hopes in this same state apparatus that had no answer on January 6.
Testifying to Congress, officials from federal police agencies and the military granted they might have made some mistakes on January 6. Some even acknowledged that they had a “blind spot” when it came to recognizing the danger posed by extreme-right groupings.
Blind spot? No, the feds simply closed their eyes. Those groups had already written a violent history.
Last year, “Patriot Prayer,” a white supremacist Christian group from Washington state, joined by “Proud Boys” from California and Colorado, and armed militias from out-state Oregon, invaded Portland every weekend for months. They set themselves up as adjuncts of the police, facing off against anti-racist protestors who had been demonstrating in Portland after the murder of George Floyd. Sometimes in truck caravans, sometimes marching in squads, the white supremacists carried weapons, flaunting them to intimidate anyone whose path they crossed. Their violent behavior continued for months, but apparently no one in authority noticed.
Again last year, so-called “militias” from different Midwestern states invaded Kenosha, Wisconsin after Black Lives Matter protests had broken out to denounce the police shooting of another unarmed black man. Jacob Blake was shot in the back, while his kids were in the car. Of course, people protested.
The militias came decked out with weapons, announcing their intention to “reinforce” the police—who welcomed them. A young Illinois man, a self-declared white supremacist who aspired to join the police, joined the crowd in Wisconsin, bringing from home his handy AR-15. He shot three people, killing two—yet his lawyer dared to claim self defense! What did he come armed for, if not to shoot someone?
Over the past ten years or so, there have been hundreds of people killed by violent extreme-right individuals like this. A self-declared white supremacist shot up a black church. A self-declared Nazi bombed a Jewish synagogue; another anti-Semite, another synagogue. A white man, declaring that the white race is in danger of being “replaced,” firebombed a black church. A religious fundamentalist assassinated medical personnel working in women’s health clinics. A man, who declared his hatred for women, shot up a women’s yoga retreat. A man, who declared his aim was to drive all Mexican people back to Mexico, shot up a Walmart filled with Mexican-American shoppers. Nativists, who proclaimed themselves “patriots,” set up large animal traps to disable human beings crossing the border from Mexico. A man who spouted “Incel” nonsense killed several women who spurned his advances. Several whites killed a black man they knew by dragging him for more than a mile, chained to the back of their car.
And a young religious fundamentalist just demonstrated that the U.S. is still producing such individuals. Seeking to put “sexual temptation” behind him, he killed eight people with a gun he had just purchased, six of them Asian women working at massage facilities.
Each time, we heard the same refrain: the violent act was just the work of “one individual,” a “deranged” individual. Such individuals are certainly “deranged”—deranged by racist and/or Christian nationalist and/or misogynist and/or nativist views openly spouted by segments of American society.
Their monstrous work cannot be explained away as “just the work of an individual.” All of them imbibed some or even all of the ideology propagated by the extreme right. Their violence was the practical consequence of ideas floating in this still dispersed, loosely organized, but nonetheless organized, extreme right.
After their murderous rampages, financial support and lawyers flooded in for many of these assassins. Within a few weeks of the killing in Kenosha, nearly two million dollars had been raised to defend the killer, much of it coming in large donations. In other words, not only do a “few individual” marginalized white supremacists exist, ready to kill in the service of their cause. Those “few individuals” are supported by people with lots of money, people ensconced in the top levels of capitalist society.
The criminal justice system dares to pretend that it has only now discovered that the extreme right exists, and that it is filled with dangerous people. Really? Please!
If officials at the Justice Department didn’t know what was going on in their own backyard, they could have contacted the Southern Poverty Law Center or the Anti-Defamation League, two long-established organizations that have been documenting in painstaking detail the violence perpetrated by right-wing extremists for decades. The Anti-Defamation League has been around doing this work since 1913. The Southern Poverty Law Center was established in 1971 to expose similar violence and pursue the legal defense of civil rights activists attacked by right-wing extremists.
Information on this violent extreme right has been available for years. If the state apparatus—its police, military and prosecution agencies—overlooked it, this was more than just a “blind spot.” It was a conscious choice to give the violent extreme right a pass.
Federal police and military authorities also claimed they didn’t prepare for right-wing violence on January 6 because they were worried about the “optics”—of how it would look to have police and National Guard forces near a political demonstration. They didn’t want to put “boots on the ground” in ways that might inhibit “freedom of speech” or the “right to assemble.” So they claimed—afterwards!
These same agencies weren’t so concerned by “optics” when they sent military forces into cities around the country during protests that spread after the killing of George Floyd. In Washington, D.C., itself, there were National Guards in the District, and active troops stationed outside. Army helicopters flew overhead, buzzing Black Lives Matter demonstrators. Those agencies weren’t worried then about what it looked like; weren’t worried then about interfering with “freedom of speech” for demonstrators who protested another killing of another black man by police.
“Optics”? When has the state apparatus ever worried about what it looked like when cops or National Guard troops were sent against workers attempting to exercise their “right to assemble” in picket lines? Almost every important groundbreaking strike in this country was met by National Guard troops (and before the Guard, state militias). The threat of sending the Guard, even active duty troops, was used repeatedly against coal miners in the 1940s, ‘50s and ‘60s. The Guard moved the mail in the big 1970s postal workers strike; they’ve been sent to deliver freight during teamsters’ strikes, and unload ships when dockworkers were on strike. In 1980, air traffic controllers trained by the military were sent to break the PATCO strike. We can’t even begin to count the number of strikers who ended up in the hospital—or the morgue—beaten down by troops of some stripe or another. If the Guard hasn’t been thrown into action against strikes much lately, it’s only because there have been few combative strikes.
The state apparatus has always been a defender of the basic class interests of the wealthy class that rules over society: at the beginning, the Southern slave-owning class and the Northern merchants who based their first wealth on the slave trade; today the capitalist class. The state apparatus has never been neutral in the struggles that go on between the laboring population and the ruling class. A key weapon this state apparatus maintains in reserve is the possibility to use “extra-legal” forces to impose capitalist control in the event the state apparatus is stretched too thin.
Today, many extreme-right organizations put themselves forward, contending to be a force adjunct to the police, sometimes by serving as bodyguards to the extreme-right politicians who call for more action against the left; sometimes serving as an additional force in the street in the event of demonstrations; sometimes providing “guard” services to public buildings and/or shops.
The police often made it clear they value this support. In Portland and other places, when extreme-right hoodlums attacked Black Lives Matter demonstrators, the police arrested, not the hoodlums who attacked, but their victims who tried to defend themselves.
There certainly have been organized extreme-right or openly fascist groups that functioned in other countries as extra-legal “hit squads” to eliminate trade union organizers and socialist militants.
Don’t we know that this same role was played by the KKK through much of its history: acting as an extra-legal force used to keep the black population as a whole subjugated; to kill those who tried to organize; to impose acceptance of poverty on white sharecroppers who for a period had recognized their commonality with black sharecroppers. Union organizers in the North were attacked and sometimes killed by home-grown groupings similar to the Klan; sometimes by organized crime gangs directly hired by big industrialists; sometimes by gangs organized by the VFW.
Under the blows of this economic crisis that will not go away, as the desperation of the population reaches intolerable levels, as struggles break out, who will play the role of a modern KKK, a modern extra-legal gang? Maybe it will be the misogynist, ultra-nationalist Proud Boys or the militaristic Oathkeepers or other militias drawn from former military and police. The KKK itself may be reinvigorated. Maybe the Patriot Churches or some other White Christian Nationalist organization will step forward. Maybe it will be some other one we haven’t heard of, or maybe some amalgam of all of them.
We aren’t there yet. This multitude of groups that have made their appearance are not able today to play the role once played by the KKK in the American South. But they could become that, and much sooner than we think. These groups, many of which look like “deranged” offshoots of QAnon, all with their own self-appointed leaders today, can become a cohesive movement tomorrow.
The biggest danger from that standpoint is that they might attract parts of the laboring population, which allow themselves to be set against each other—for the great benefit of the capitalist class that steals value through the exploitation of labor, the same capitalist class that weighs on all the levels of modern society.
Such groups already attract layers of the middle class—first of all, shop keepers, owners of restaurants, beauty salons, barbershops, farmers losing their land—those social layers have been loudest today in protesting against the shutdowns imposed to control the virus. The extreme right has also attracted former soldiers thrown back in civilian society without any possibilities. But it has also attracted some workers, mostly white, but also Latino and even a small number of black workers.
It’s a mistake to believe that the state will defend working people from the violence of this extreme right. What happened both before, during and after January 6 demonstrates this.
In fact, the real defense against the dangers posed by this extreme right can come only through the organized activity of the working class to defend its own class interests. In the face of the economic crisis that is decimating large parts of American society, the working class, when it begins to fight, can pull with it some of those people who today see no prospect.
It’s important to recognize that the issue won’t be resolved simply because workers take up a struggle for their own immediate interests again. That struggle will have to be taken to its conclusion, to the overthrow of the capitalist class that exploits us all. That capitalist class, so long as it’s left to continue, will fight to the bitter end to preserve its privileged position.
It has to be replaced by the working class which can organize itself to run society for the benefit of all.