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We’re Not Ready: Protecting Events From Fascists & Media Trolls

Posted in Austin, Creative Commons, and Journalism

One thing that keeps me up at night is the thought of how unprepared the Left is to defend itself. I worry we’re simply not ready for what’s coming.

What I want to focus on in this short article is the idea that groups, from smaller collectives to larger nonprofits, need to be prepared for disruptive, even violent attacks from right-wing operatives. The actors can vary … white supremacists like Patriot Front or street brawling brownshirts like the Proud Boys, even media trolls like Infowars reporters.

At a recent rally for the rights of trans kids in downtown Austin, I watched as right wing trolls (yelling horrid things about pedophilia, groomers and imaginary surgery involving childrens’ genitals) attempted to storm the makeshift stage area where a series of speakers were holding space. The crowd were mostly queer-friendly Austin residents including many families. The organizers looked stunned. State Troopers eventually intervened, but only after regular, everyday people put their bodies in between the fascist trolls and the speakers. And it could have gone much worse. We’re just not ready.

Fixing the problems of Left unity, preparedness and solidarity could fill several books (and has). Still, here’s three quick tips for making your events better prepared for what’s coming and what’s already here:

1. Make a plan

Don’t assume your book club is too small to be noticed. Don’t assume your Pride event is so mainstream that it’s safe. Just because you held it without interruptions before COVID doesn’t mean you can come back and expect the same.

Make a plan, in advance. Make several plans in fact: for media, both friendly and hostile. For medics prepared for gunshots or staying hydrated. For car attacks and violent street thugs. Plan out the worst case scenarios, and then many of the lesser, more likely annoyances too. If you don’t need the planning and training now, I promise it’s going to help in the future.

2. Don’t rely (or even, work with) the cops

Whether or not (not) you should work with the cops (don’t) is a divisive issue in the activist community at times (though it shouldn’t be).

Even so, that’s beyond the scope of this article to some degree. My point here is your plan will fail if you rely on the police to protect you, and even to serve as medics. If you listen to the people that have been protesting over the last few years, you’ll hear countless stories of cops allowing fascists and dangerous trolls to infiltrate and even assault Leftist and liberal groups. They certainly won’t keep away media trolls that will dox vulnerable participants and threaten them with online humiliation and death threats.

3. Involve your community

Too often organizations, especially hierarchical ones, only involve their leadership in planning public events. They designate a couple of parade marshals, organize a permit, and call it a day.

This ignores the vital expertise of the community to which you belong: the trained street medics, the antifascists that have already built dossiers of local fascists, the BLM activists who are trained in conflict deescalation. And so many more.

Of course, this illustrates a conflict with involving the police in your safety plan: what happens when the cops ignore the fascists, and instead arrest a community member who tried to stop an attack? Or when police interfere with street medics trying to treat a gunshot wound victim? These are all real scenarios that have played out.

We’re not ready for 2022

This is meant to be a short article that sparks thinking, not gives all the answers. To survive the next few years, we’re going to need to work together better, to cast wider nets of solidarity. And we’ll need to depend less on the crumbling institutions we looked to for safety before, right or wrong.

I worry we’re not ready for Pride this year, when fascists are already openly attacking our events. What was once mainstream — acceptance, however grudging, of the LGBTQIA community — is transforming almost overnight into unmasked hatred and open calls for violence. This is Pride in a time when Tucker Carlson can call for fathers to assault teachers, simply for teaching queer acceptance, and not face repercussions.

We’re not ready for so many things, from the next election to the rising influence of ecofascism during climate catastrophes. The optimist in me hopes we can get ready, if we work together and form networks of mutual aid and solidarity. But it’s the pessimistic side that keeps me up at night.

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