May 18, 2020
In recent weeks, small gangs, armed with assault rifles, stood guard near a few shops that decided to open up, despite the spread of coronavirus. In Texas, it was a tattoo parlor and a beauty salon. In Michigan, it was a barbershop. In several more states, hundreds of people massed in state capitols, waving American flags, many carrying Trump election campaign signs, again some armed with assault rifles. Calling themselves names like the Sons of Liberty or the Home Guard, the armed men claimed to be defending individual rights, individual freedom, liberty and the Constitution.
It’s true that small shopowners have paid a big price during this shutdown—in part because the grants and loans set up by the federal government supposedly to help small business were completely insufficient and, on top of that, went to some of the biggest businesses in the country. But above all, they are paying a price—as are workers laid off and workers continuing to work under unsafe conditions—because government shirked all responsibility for funding public health coming into this epidemic.
These demonstrations and “defense guards” were not organized to defend small businesses or workers who lost their jobs. And certainly not to defend workers who have been forced to work every day under conditions that guarantee the spread of the virus to them and their families.
No, these demonstrations were organized by what today is called the “right-wing fringe” to make a name for themselves.
When six men armed to the teeth with military ordnance parade around a tattoo parlor, it’s little more than street theater. But didn’t the whole country hear of them?
Nonetheless, behind this street theater—grown men parading around like kids with toy guns on Christmas day—is a more sinister reality. And that was evident in some of the bigger demonstrations.
Those demonstrations certainly pulled in some small shopowners who lost their business and workers who lost their jobs. But hiding behind the guns are those opposed to vaccination; white supremacist organizations; anti-immigrant organizations; neo-Nazis; even a few wearing the white hood of the KKK.
Today, these “fringe organizations” may not seem like much of a danger. In fact, even that isn’t true. The steady increase in racist attacks on black people and immigrants shows the violence these cowards are ready to inflict.
But tomorrow they can become a much bigger danger, first against black people, who have always been in their gunsights. Today’s “fringe groups” can become the basis for much more serious armed gangs to be used against all working people who attempt to organize—in much the same way that the KKK was used by the former slave-owners to control both ex-slaves AND poor whites in the post-Civil-War South for almost a century.
These groups may seem like “fringe groups” today. After all, who can take seriously people who oppose vaccination in the midst of an epidemic like this one? But the issue is not their stupid ideas, nor their play-acting with guns today.
The fact is, these groups have long been funded by some of the richest capitalists in the country: multi-billionaires like the Mercer family or the DeVos family, among others. Many billions of capitalist wealth have gone into setting up extreme right-wing groups, providing them with media outlets and legal help, establishing networks of right-wing social media chat rooms.
The Mercers and DeVoses preach an individualism directly opposed to the collective interests of the working class. They fund demagogues who openly spout racist ideas. They push forward politicians who encourage one part of the working class to set itself apart from and against the other parts. The wealthy class has funded anti-union activity for many decades, anti-public school campaigns for many years.
Much of this is behind the scenes today. Who among us has heard of the Mercers? But what they do today is preparation for tomorrow.
Working people need to take note of these preparations. Because we have to prepare also. We have to know that when we organize to defend our own class interests, we will also have to organize to defend ourselves physically against right-wing gangs, and we will have to act accordingly.
Above all, we have to struggle for this hard-won insight: the working class has strength only when it acts as a whole. Only by fighting together for our collective interests can we build true liberty, which can only be freedom from capitalist rule.