Weekly Insurgency 1/04/2021
Antifa AARs, Adapting and Evolving Tactics, Eviction Occupations Spreading
Welcome to the Contextual Insurgent Project by writer, analyst, and activist Erin Smith.
This is your Contextual Insurgent weekly roundup, where I link you to a selection of the previous week’s previous notable events/articles/tweets and contextualize them with a short analysis drawn from a synthesis of hands-on experience and theoretical knowledge.
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Happy New Years!
Hello friends, and a Happy New Year to you! 2020 was something else, but if you’re reading this you made it across the finish line. It was a rough one for many of us and granted the date change is completely arbitrary, but it at least gives us an excuse to reset and reflect. Personally I’m going to remember those I lost, work on forgiving a few others, and really focus on making progress with the projects I started last year. I also wish you the best of luck with yours, and definitely reach out if you’d like my help with something. :)
This newsletter is going to be in the conventional format, but I’ll send out another one later today that will be a Year in Review/Predictions post. As you can imagine I have a lot to say!
Jonathan Smucker (Hegemony How-To Author) Insights
For decades, there was this chasm on the left between electoral work and movement work. I’ve always been on the movement side of it. I thought elections were important, but my line was that our work is to build the movement and wield that power to pressure whoever is in office. That chasm between electoral work and issue work or movement work evaporated overnight with Trump’s election.
This is a really insightful interview with Jonathan Smucker, a long-time lefty organizer. The entire thing is worth a read, but there’s two points in particular I’d like the draw your attention to:
Winning an election is just step 1, and won’t be much help if you don’t have people and infrastructure in place to pressure them into holding to their promises once in office. This is helpful even for the candidates that always intended to follow through, because a loud public pressure campaign provides them with cover for doing what they intended to do in the first place. Or as FDR notably said to a group of union organizers advocating for what would become the New Deal: “Gentlemen you’ve convinced me, now go out and make me do it.”
Political Realignment and incipient 7th party system will be the most notable elements of the 20s. 2020 was the year of Institutional Collapse and Legitimacy Crisis, things are only going to accelerate from here. Establishment elites may think they’ll resurrected status quo ante by (presumably) installing Biden, but I’ve linked before Martin Gurri’s interview about how there’s no going back to old ways and habits. Fukuyama warned that those desiring struggle and glory would always threaten to restart history, and it seems ever more likely that the world of 2030 will bear little resemblance to today.
Antifa AARs, Evolving Strategies and Tactics
OK, let’s link and discuss various antifa accounts from recent actions. Despite all their faults, hard lefties actually do a decent job talking about what went wrong with a plan and trying to learn from it.
This helps us because we can indirectly learn what we did right, but it also gives us hints as to what sort of adaptations to expect from them in the future. Their accounts do tend to be a little wordy and propagandistic, but there’s almost always good lessons to be found and I picked out some I think you should at least skim.
The first one is an AAR from an action in Omaha:
we argue that we must develop a tactical relation to the city if future mobilizations are to overcome the police’s repressive strategies…Those who assembled to protest the murder of Kenneth Jones unfortunately did not use the city’s terrain to subvert OPD’s control. Instead, OPD kettled the demonstrators and used shock tactics to demoralize the crowd…When protestors returned to the precinct, they abandoned the strategic advantages they had while marching in the streets, because the police used the ten-minute interval to reposition themselves to cut off the streets leading away from the building
It’s a bit turgid even for lefties, but it’s noteworthy how the author emphasizes maneuverability and flexibility:
First, the very space in which the protesters assembled created limitations based on a relationship of political space and physical disadvantage. The demonstration, by fixing itself to the police precinct, allowed OPD to predict and obstruct the crowd’s actions.
The author also linked a rather influential RAND piece on networked warfare, I actually run across this paper being referenced/linked in lefty spaces rather often:
Swarm warfare suggests that the most effective strategy is to create an effect of asymmetry by converging only on gaps in police presence, refusing to fix the point of conflict to a single space. The point of conflict, therefore, should be entirely mobile. As Tom Nomad reminds us, conflict must be understood as “a complex dynamic, one operating through action and contingency, and one both existing within space and structuring space”
This piece is predominantly about facing off with law enforcement, so it’s going to have a heavy emphasis on “flowing like water” and skirmisher tactics. Essentially the protesters chronicled here allowed themselves to get fixed to one point and surrounded by LE, the author wants them to acknowledge mobility is their friend, reject the idea of a bounded “public square” for political expression, and avail themselves of the entirety of the city if necessary:
The police should not dictate the terms of the demonstration. The police tape line is a visible limit to what is deemed acceptable public/political space by the state. Avoid meeting the police according to this limit, because it places the demonstration under the immediate control of the police. To ensure success, it is imperative that the conditions of conflict be set by those who wish to resist, rather than those whose task it is to perpetuate capitalism and white supremacy.
There’s two other leftist AARs(here and here) linked deal with December 12 DC actions against the Stop The Steal protest, and it’s illuminating to compare/contrast them with the previous piece. The previous piece was almost entirely focused on dealing with law enforcement and avoiding getting tied to one location, so the suggested tactics and critique reflect that. The actions in DC however involved defending fixed points (most notably BLM Plaza) while facing off with MAGA-affiliated groups as well as LE, so it really seems almost like a mirror image of the Omaha action.
One notable black bloc evolution this year has been a steady shift away from skirmisher-style, hit-and-run tactics to shield walls and an emphasis on mass (you can really see this when you compare the three AARs, or just review videos of antifa actions from the last couple years). The riots this summer really turbocharged their training, experience, confidence, and capabilities, and it’s led to more stuff like this:
Eviction Defense Tactics Updates
You may remember a previous roundup where I broke down Portland’s ‘Red House on Mississippi’ eviction defense/barricade situation, well we finally now have a first-hand account from a resident that was trapped inside the zone:
Police backed down the hill because they were outnumbered by the number of protesters. They pushed the police down into the street, down by the Mississippi Triangle, and they surrounded them. I thought they were going to beat the cops in the street, and it was one of the scariest things I've seen in real life.
This is what happens when you let hard lefties spend the summer burning police stations with impunity: the realization that the minimum level of bodies to bring to the fight to outmatch LE’s escalation dominance is much, much, lower than the public thought.
…They blocked the alleys and they blocked the side street of my house. They wouldn't allow us to move our cars because they had fully barricaded us in. They said they had basically claimed the area and we weren't able to leave.
This was an autonomous zone with hostages, there’s no real way to sugar coat that.
On Saturday last week, an individual went around and broke the Ring cameras off of people's front doors, on their doorbells, with a crowbar.
Smart tradecraft, considering Amazon’s partnership with LE regarding using ring camera footage for investigations.
They had sentries, essentially, that are posted up there. They had an individual with an assault rifle positioned right next to our driveway. They have people regularly back at their station, but they also patrol around the block with weapons and tactical gear and bulletproof vests.
I named this tactic “push-hold” in our book on antifa: essentially a ratcheting effect where unarmed elements clear an area of opposition and armed groups move in immediately afterwards, this raises the risk involved in escalating the level of force needed to retake the area.
Everyone thought the cops were going to come down, so they were prepping for that. The side streets were lined with tires and wood that they were soaking in gasoline and lighter fluid in anticipation that, when the police would come, they were going to light it on fire and create a big flaming barricade to prevent them from coming in.
Using fire as a weapon betrays a level of dedication and seriousness that shouldn’t be discounted.
If you had a problem, or you were scared for your safety or that you were going to be attacked, you had to negotiate with the individuals or the leaders themselves, because the police would not come out proactively because of concerns about security and the situation escalating. If you wanted them to stop, you had to go down and negotiate with them yourselves.
They essentially immanentized the world they want to live in via prefigurative direct action while the government stood by and did nothing, this is only going to encourage them to try again.
If you want the city to do things, you either have to get a bunch of guns and take over a neighborhood and threaten violence, or you go find Wheeler in real life or Commissioner Dan Ryan or whoever else and you surround their home and you scream at them and harass them until they give you what you want.
Wow. This is a description of institutional collapse and authority discrediting itself, and not something sustainable even in the medium term. This is a complete repudiation of the electoral mode of politics, and that can only end in tears. Definitely read the entire thing.
Tacoma Motel Occupied By Homeless
The wages of rewarding such a tactic is they want to use it more often, and given the economic devastation of 2020 they’ll likely have more chances to implement it. Story from Tacoma of 40 homeless people taking over a motel: (link)
Anarchists Studying COIN Manuals:
It’s not directly related to the eviction action, but the below tweet thread is an interesting read. It not only illustrates hard lefty research, but also betrays how they essentially admit they’re an insurgent force: