On the anniversary of the coup de grâce delivered to Richard Spencer and his neo-fascist shock troops by midwest anarchists and anti-fascists in 2018, which helped send the alt-right into a downward spiral from which they still have still not recovered, we’re re-sharing some tactical lessons from a few folks who were there.
What follows are some tactical reflections from the mass antifascist mobilization in East Lansing against Richard Spencer in March, 2018.
The first weekend in March, antifascists converged in Lansing, Michigan to confront the white nationalists who were planning on attending Richard Spencer’s talk at Michigan State University.
The successes of this weekend have been well documented: Richard Spencer cancelled the rest of his college tour, prominent white nationalist lawyer Kyle Bristow announced he would be stepping back from his organizing, existing divisions within the far-Right deepened, and Matthew Heimbach, leader of the Traditionalist Worker Party, got slugged repeatedly in the face.
Yet we cannot rest on our laurels. The bravery and collective intelligence seen in Lansing will be needed again in the coming years. In hopes that others can learn from our affinity group’s experiences in Lansing and be better prepared for future clashes, we here share a set of tactical lessons, insights and lessons from the weekend.
• If chasing fascists, consider getting rental cars. In any case, make sure vehicles are road-ready and minimally identifiable.
• Encourage the separation of time and space for actions (where it’s being pushed for); if peace police have their own event far away, you won’t have to deal with them. This does not mean alienating or excluding unknown folks who aren’t peace police (hella random and ‘unprepared’ folks threw down super hard in Lansing).
• Make sure forms of ‘in situ’ communication within/between affinity groups are understood by all. Make sure affinity groups talk beforehand about staying together during the action.
• Leave an action in the same car you came in. Last minute changes increase the chances that someone gets left behind.
• Make sure people know which ‘situation names’ each of your people will be using for the action ahead of time.
• Prepare for the challenges of making decisions quickly and efficiently in high stress situations. For example, practice making quick decisions in a group beforehand. Start with an imagined scenario; impose two irreconcilable options, each having its own merits; then practice resolving the tension quickly, with everyone committing to the chosen option with total focus (don’t dwell on the path not taken).
• Cultivate your “creative awareness” together. For example, get together and explicitly vocalize three or four scenarios that are plausible within the situation right at the beginning (upon arrival, or beforehand if possible). Don’t let these discussions wander or become speculative, and don’t rely on hearsay or ‘Cops in X town act like Y normally’ clichés. Stay focused entirely on what you can see, what the situation presents you with.
• Don’t allow yourself to be spooked into leaving necessary supplies behind out of fear. You got them for a reason; find a way to bring them. It’s almost always possible. Use your imagination.
• Pack your stuff up the morning of the action so you are ready to leave quickly or even leave town immediately after an action. At the same time, also make a fallback plan for people to stay up to 48 hours to deal with jail support. This may mean staying somewhere ‘low profile’ after the action.
• Wake up and prepare quickly; no dawdling the morning of the action.
• Stay joyful, but try to exercise a measure of seriousness and discipline too: go to sleep on time, eat full meals, hydrate, keep your things tidy and together.
• Don’t bring illegal drugs to an action, or carry them in cars you’re using. Never bring sketchy shit in a car without telling the driver beforehand.
• Fear is the mind killer. Paranoia can prevent you from acting or being properly prepared. Exercise precaution, of course, but it is important to follow through with plans and not allow paranoia and fear to stop you from doing what you came to do.
• Make sure you have clear lines of communication open with other crews. Establish in advance whether other crews will be able to come to your aid or change their plans at the last minute.
• If you are organizing in public, be aware of who you can vouch for, and make sure those who you can’t vouch for are explicitly (and gracefully) informed that you will need to disappear sometimes, so it’s not weird in the moment.
• Think through who you are going to the action with: are they someone you trust in high stress environments? If not, find a way for them to engage that is appropriately low stress. There’s all kinds of low stress activities of support (media, sound system, transportation, listening to police scanners, food prep, spreading counter-information, etc.).
• Choose specific and unique affinity group names/calls. Having a name will help you stay together in a crowd, but if it is too vague or general (“my group”), strangers might respond to the same name.
• Compliment and encourage strangers when you see them doing brave or inspiring things.
• Don’t dismiss the tactical use of soft blockades. NVDA tactics may not work against fascists but might be effective when dealing with police.
• Don’t worry about FOMO or get fixated on particular events; sometimes cool and important shit pops off in other places.
• Not having cell phones (or only bringing burners) in a large group makes communication difficult but can be a very beneficial group experience — allowing people to relate to each other in different ways.
• Proper black bloc attire should include multiple layers. This is easily accomplished by the layering of windbreakers and rain/jogging pants, all of which should be 2x oversized to obscure body-shape. Ideally, you want one or two distinctive ‘bloc’ layers (black or dark grey/blue), and one or two de-bloc layers: one that allows you to remain in the situation while masked, yet not associated with the ‘bloc’ you were in a moment ago, and another to blend into a citizen crowd entirely when leaving (i.e. normie clothes, including a change of shoes + sunglasses). Pack an empty lightweight tote that you don’t use in the situation, to carry your stuff out with you after you de-bloc. Bring multiple masks to hand out to others and switch between. REI carries the tube-like ones, which offer the best face coverage, come in many colors, and allow you to cover your hair too (not enough people do this!). Trading jackets and backpacks on the ground with your friends is a fun and effective technique to preserve anonymity. Be cognizant of when police commanders are pointing at certain individuals in the crowd, and make sure you notify them that it’s time to change their clothes.
• Don’t necessarily give credence to rumors. Don’t perpetuate rumors or feed into paranoia. If someone says “a reporter told us the Fed’s or DHS are here,” it’s fine to listen to this information, but don’t weight it more heavily than your own assessment on the ground. Take it with a grain of salt.
• If there are horses, there will be horseshit. Bring multiple pairs of disposable latex gloves. Try to dispose of these without leaving them for the cops (DNA databases are a thing).
• Practice group activities in advance, e.g. de-arresting games, group brawling or de-blocking.
• Play catch together. Throwing accurately is not a skill most people possess innately.
• Don’t love violence: it is a means that is sometimes necessary, but not who we are or how we ultimately want to relate to the world.
• Don’t fixate on the police. They can distract us from other objectives. They are an obstacle, not an ‘absolute enemy’.
• Have a political read of the situation. Understand in advance the constraints on the actions of the police and which actors will be present the day of. Ask yourself: what would a victory look like? How could we win not only today, but going forward? Could this or that day of action also find ways to contribute to a lasting increase of power for local crews on the ground?
• Make a graceful exit. If possible, try to march everyone out of harm’s way all together, ensuring a safe exit. People may argue against this in the moment, but it’s better to leave with “winner’s remorse” (‘we could’ve done more’) than in handcuffs.
– Some anarchists