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Anyone Can Adopt Any Activist Tactics: A Spencer Sunshine Interview

Posted in Creative Commons, and Journalism

Activists sometimes forget that anyone can use tactics like banner drops, including the fascist far right.

Late in 2020 and in the first days of 2021, I spoke twice to Spencer Sunshine, a researcher of the far right and ways to oppose them. I included “40 Ways To Fight Fascists,” the zine he co-wrote with PopMob, in my Virtual Gonzo Zine Library.

We spoke about several topics, so I’m breaking this interview into chunks,

Since Trump’s election, I’ve noticed more American fascists using tactics traditionally associated with leftist activism, like banner drops or wheatpasting. Patriot Front is one of several groups that frequently drops banners, with messages in support of white supremacy, from buildings and overpasses.

I asked Sunshine for his thoughts on this and he reminded me that “tactics are not implicit to any ideology.”

Activist tactics don’t have ideologies

“This was a big problem with the anti-globalization movement,” he added. The movement saw some of its biggest success around the large scale protests against the WTO in Seattle 1999 and in subsequent years. Proponents often liked to claim their decentralized organizing tactics inherently belonged to the anarchist left.

Sunshine called this idea “absolutely ridiculous.”

“Tactics can be used by any group,” he said.

Spencer helped me put this into historical perspective. Before American fascists adopted these tactics, he’d seen them in use in Europe and elsewhere. In the 2000s, Sunshine noted, far-right Israeli settlers used lockdowns and blockades while resisting eviction by the military.

And Generation Identity spearheaded many tactics used by American fascists, during the early 2010s. American groups like Patriot Front and the Rise Above Movement (RAM) openly modeled themselves off that hate group.

Updating the playbook with some old moves

“Anybody can adopt any tactics,” Sunshine reiterated. “Tactics are ideologically neutral.”

Over time, different tactics become more acceptable across the political spectrum. While the “alt right” may have fizzled as its proponents moved on to march under different fascist and far right banners, it was successful in updating the conservative playbook to include new tactics, sometimes borrowed from activists on the left.

Sunshine cited Casapound as another example of this transition, and of the influence of European fascists on those in the U.S. This hate group deliberately tried to distance itself from traditional fascists and instead positioned itself as part of the Italian counterculture.

Black bloc tactics and aesthetics are even sometimes adopted by the far right. As an example, Sunshine mentioned European groups that use terms like ‘Autonomous Nationalism,’ as a way of attracting ostensibly left-leaning members. This goes all the way back to the beginning of fascism. Both Italian fascists and German Nazis positioned themselves as “socialists.”

Some of this is “entryism,” attempting to force their way into and subvert the left. Some is genuine ideological overlap. For example, many fascists also have critiques of capitalism, though their critique is in service to genocidal ends.

I appreciated this reminder that anyone can adopt almost any tactic. Radicals of all kinds need to remain fluid in our actions, and in our response to fascism.

Released under a Creative Commons license

Creative Commons LicenseAnyone Can Adopt Any Activist Tactics: A Spencer Sunshine Interview by Kit O’Connell is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
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