Editor’s note: This piece was originally published at It’s Going Down.
Almost 200 people face upwards of 60 years in prison for taking part in a demonstration against Trump’s inauguration and collectively are all being charged with breaking the same 5 windows of banks and corporate stores. The mass of people arrested on January 20th were swept up in a police kettle which lasted for hours, and ended in the police sexually assaulting and raping arrestees as a sadistic form of group punishment.
Central to the State’s narrative, is that everyone that took part in the anti-capitalist and anti-fascist march that led to the breaking of only a handful of windows was in fact part of a criminal conspiracy. In lieu of evidence, the State argues that the wearing of masks, black clothing, and even chanting similar chants or smiling while witnessing property destruction all constitute evidence in this regard. If the State succeeds, most of the defendants face literally a life sentence, and the State will be given a dangerous new precedent for future repression.
Nothing To Do with Protecting the Public, Everything to Do With Smashing Social Movements
Across the US, we already are starting to see a similar J20 strategy be put into practice. In Colorado Springs, police justified the infiltration of a group of socialists because police claimed that some of them were seen at a “protest wearing black bloc clothing.” Meanwhile, other states have passed new anti-masks laws, while others are attempting to further criminalize the blockading of roads and oil infrastructure.
With the J20 trial, the government is seeking to create a legal precedent that would give them further tools to not only police dissent and protest, but attack social movements and struggles that have grown under the Trump administration. Furthermore, the State is also attempting to punish even journalists and live streamers that were out covering the protests, claiming that they were helping grow the demonstrations while informing would be participants.
With recent comments from the FBI that they are actively investigating “anarchists extremists” of an “antifa type ideology,” along with “Black Identity Extremists,” as some in Congress pressure the DOJ to label sabotage against oil pipelines an act of terrorism, one key component in the State’s strategy is becoming clear.
The government is attempting to use the language of terrorism to prosecute autonomous social movements that use tactics such as street marches, occupations, and blockades. In themselves, these tactics are based around taking over public space, stopping the flows of capital, and shutting down infrastructure. Clearly, these tactics are not aimed at injuring, harming, or killing members of the public. Even black bloc tactics, the shutting down of pipelines, and antifascist defense against violent neo-Nazi and Alt-Right groups, while often confrontational, are likewise not aimed at injuring, killing, or harming members of the public. If anything, these tactics are powerful in that they are available to everyone and encourage public participation while creating spaces that bring in everyday people and empower them.
Clearly, it is because of this reality that the security State is looking to crush autonomous social movements, especially at a time when legitimacy in the State is falling, as is support for both Trump and the Democratic Party. Across the US, from Flint, Michigan to Puerto Rico, Americans are seeing that the government cares more about maintaining control through police force and providing for rich elites than it does with helping everyday people.
Moreover, the degree in which the State has given a green light to the Alt-Right, which has actively murdered, attacked, harassed, and threatened a vast amount of the public, shows that the government is not concerned with policing forces which seek to uphold the power of the State and the colonial hierarchies upon which it was founded, but instead those that seek to abolish it.
Above all, it’s important to keep in mind that this attack isn’t ‘logical’ in the sense that it is designed to stop a tangible threat to the American public or because there is a real possibility of violence from grassroots social movements. Clearly, if the government wanted to stop violent threats, it would be concerned with the Alt-Right and the far-Right along with police violence, but it’s not. Instead, the State is concerned with crushing potentially revolutionary movements that are seeking to build a base of support within the working-class and poor communities; the same communities which are under threat from both the State and the far-Right.
In doing so, the State finds its interests aligning along with those of the auxiliary insurgent Right, as they both begin to parrot much of the same talking points and conspiracy theories.
This can also be seen in the various DHS and FBI reports that put forward false claims, specifically that “antifa,” anarchists, Water protectors, or “Black Lives Matter” are both a threat to the public, are carrying out violent acts against “Trump supporters,” or are actively organizing to kill law enforcement officers.
In this reality, it’s important to understand the cyclical relationship between both the far-Right wingnut fringe and the push by the State to ramp up repression. For the farther that the far-Right can beat the drum of open civil war with autonomous social movements, the more the State can justify cracking down on them.
The J20 trial shows this reality to be in full swing, as the prosecution has openly worked with the far-Right and the Alt-Right in several instances, while also pulling from it in order to build its case.
The Far-Right and the Alt-Right and the J20 Trial
Since the start of the J20 trial, local police and the prosecution, headed by Assistant US Attorney Jennifer Kerkhoff, have not only worked with members of the Alt-Right and the far-Right, but have built a case around their media as evidence for the J20 trial.
Chuck C. Johnson and Nazi Richard Spencer using Twitter to announce doxing their enemies. pic.twitter.com/g6cvmCq0Ur
— Charles Johnson (@Green_Footballs) February 4, 2017
On February 4th, the Alt-Right conspiracy laden website, GotNews.com, ran with the headline: BREAKING: Here’s The Full List Of The 231 People Arrested At The #Inauguration Riots In DC. This release took place only two weeks after the protests, and three days after antifascist and anarchist protesters along with thousands of others, successfully shut down a talk by Milo Yiannopoulos at UC Berkeley, leading to condemnation from President Trump.
The website GotNews, which has been repeatedly discredited, is run by Charles C. Johnson, an Alt-Right troll and friend with a variety of movers and shakers in both white nationalist and Trump circles, and someone that has appeared on neo-Nazi podcasts such as Fash the Nation, where he discussed his views on Jews and African-Americans.
Johnson also attended the 2016 GOP convention with Richard B Spencer, who would go on to gain fame only several months later, as he lead a group of Alt-Righters giving Nazi salutes as he screamed, “Hail Trump.” This August, Spencer was also a key organizer in the disastrous Unite the Right rally, which brought together a variety of Alt-Right, neo-Nazi, and KKK groups. Meanwhile, Johnson would go on to build Wesearchr, a fundraising platform for the Alt-Right, which managed to raise over $150,000 for the neo-Nazi Andrew Anglin in his lawsuit against the Southern Poverty Law Center, among other causes.
While today Charles Johnson’s star has fallen somewhat, both as a peddler of conspiracy theories and also within the Alt-Right amid various allegations, in February of 2017, both himself and friends like Richard Spencer were overjoyed when, according to The Real News, Rachel Schaerr from the DC Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) gave them access to the entire list of people arrested on January 20th in Washington DC.
The Real News Network has been able to confirm that Rachel Schaerr, a communications officer for the Metropolitan Police Department in Washington D.C. gave a spreadsheet with the names and home cities of 231 people who were arrested that day to the far-right conspiracy-laden site gotnews.com. The spreadsheet of the names released by the site still contains the metadata, which lists Schaerr as the author of the document and MPD as the company.
Lastly, this move should be seen as what it clearly was, a green light from the State to the auxiliary far-Right to attack enemies of the Trump regime. And at the same time, the Trump administration removed groups on the far-Right from the terrorism watch list, which drew praise from neo-Nazi and Alt-Right commenters. As Think Progress reported:
“Donald Trump wants to remove us from undue federal scrutiny by removing ‘white supremacists’ from the definition of ‘extremism,’’’ the founder and editor of the neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer (which takes its name from a Nazi propaganda publication) wrote in a post on the site. “Yes, this is real life. Our memes are all real life. Donald Trump is setting us free.”
But beyond attacking Trump protesters out of the gate and behind the scenes, moreover the prosecution has also built their case around the media generated by far-Right and Alt-Right groups and personalities. According to a spokesperson from Defend J20 who spoke with It’s Going Down who has been in court during the proceedings, video shot by the paramilitary militia group the Oath Keepers is currently on the exhibit list as potential evidence, for use by the prosecution.
As The Daily Beast wrote:
In September, the U.S. attorney moved to introduce a series of videos ripped from right-wing and conspiracy-theorist YouTube channels, including a video produced by the far-right militia the Oath Keepers.
The video names listed in the filing match those of dubious YouTube videos boasting of “INSANE Protests Riots Compilation,” or far-right internet videos claiming to show “Mayham” [sic] in the streets.
And one of those videos—an audio file overlaid with a slideshow of protest pictures—was uploaded as part of an “operation” by a right-wing militia.
But while the Oath Keeper videos have yet to be shown in court, one video that has been played numerous times, again according to a representative of Defend J20 that has been in court throughout the trial, is that of Alt-Lite vblogger, Lauren Southern. Southern is most known for helping to mainstream white nationalist talking points and taking part in a blockade of boats filled with refugees in the Mediterranean along with Brittany Pettibone, who writes for AltRight.com, and [both are] members of Generation Identity, a white nationalist group.
Ironically, Lauren Southern was among those who were swept up and arrested during the J20 protests, however, unlike other journalists, was quickly released without charges. According to Matthew Sheffield at Salon:
Among the video that Pemberton and his colleagues have been sifting through is footage from Alexei Wood, a photographer who had only attended the demonstration to live-stream it as a journalist. Instead, government attorneys appear to be trying to prosecute him because of his expressed opinions about the protest.
Wood, who lives in San Antonio, Texas, was not the only member of the media who was rounded up by police. Among the other people arrested was Lauren Southern, a white nationalist Canadian vlogger and Trump supporter who was also trying to cover the demonstration. Unlike Wood, she was released after her arrest. Some of her footage from that day has been used in court against defendants.
In other words, if the State doesn’t like your politics and you’re a journalist, you may find yourself facing 60 plus years behind bars. If you are a white supremacist, they may look to you for evidence against the other side!
Lastly, the prosecution has also relied on undercover footage from the far-Right and much discredited so-called Project Veritas, which has received funding from Trump’s foundation, and according to The Daily Beast, also worked with members of the Oath Keeper militia to film protester meetings.
Today in DC Superior Court Judge Lynn Leibovitz ruled that a journalist can be held liable for property destruction that was captured on his livestream, because of the 'enthusiasm' of his commentary. #J20 #J20trials pic.twitter.com/tcGkBsMR9V
— Unicorn Riot (@UR_Ninja) December 14, 2017
According to a member of Defend J20 that we talked to, while the prosecution has based much of their case on the Project Veritas video, it has come out in court that the police themselves once receiving the raw video, worked hard to remove the names and faces of those who shot the video and were involved in the undercover operation. This is ironic, being that DC Metro Police actively worked with members of the Alt-Right to doxx people that had been arrested on January 20th. Clearly, the police aren’t simply an impartial force looking for ‘justice,’ but actively siding with the far-Right in their drive to repress social movements.
But beyond openly working with the Alt-Right and building a case based off of far-Right, Alt-Lite, and militia group’s media, the police involved in the J20 case have also shown incredible bias as well as a tendency to side with far-Right forces in other scenarios.
As documented by Unicorn Riot, MPD Commander Keith Deville, who oversaw the J20 mass arrests, has a history of making racist, homophobic, and transphobic remarks. As Unicorn Riot noted:
Defense counsel then confronted Commander Deville with several incidents that would indicate his personal biases. Internal Affairs records show Deville, after being in a car of officers that passed the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC, joked about holocaust survivor Raoul Wallenberg as “the one who got away” and repeated the joke multiple times while on duty.
The prosecution has also relied heavily on the testimony of Detective Gregg Pemberton of the seventh District. Pemberton according to Unicorn Riot is “as well as being the DC police union treasurer, is the main detective in the prosecution of Trump inauguration protesters.” However a closer look at Pemberton reveals more of his own personal politics:
The detective’s Twitter account suggests he has a strong bias against the protesters whose prosecution he is intimately involved with. Pemberton once tweeted that complaints about police shootings of unarmed black youth are due to a “false narrative.” He has also retweeted several tweets disparaging NFL players who have spoken out against police shootings, and ‘liked’ a Fraternal Order of Police statement praising remarks made by President Trump earlier this year encouraging police brutality.
Additionally, Detective Pemberton follows a Twitter account associated with /pol/—a message board on the websites 4chan and 8chan, widely known as hubs for white supremacist harassment campaigns, as well as ‘doxing’ (spreading personal information) of people thought to be antifascists.
This is horrible and dangerous. And watch how zero journalists will be accused of aiding and abetting Heather Heyer’s murderer for their advertising Richard Spencer as the dapper and cool kind of nazi. https://t.co/Yv7glYmDti
— Berkeley Antifa (@berkeleyantifa) December 13, 2017
But Pemberton’s personal biases and following of Alt-Right social media accounts only speaks to a wider culture of racism and white supremacy within the department. As Unicorn Riot wrote:
Several officers from MPD’s seventh district…were disciplined earlier this year for wearing shirts with white supremacist imagery while on duty. The shirts, which read ‘Powershift,’ include a white supremacist circle-and-cross as well as a grim reaper, along with the words “let me see that waistband jo”—an apparent reference to racially targeted stop-and-frisk ‘jumpout‘ searches conducted by officers in the seventh district.
The Root wrote:
The T-shirt features a Grim Reaper wearing an MPD badge and holding a rifle. The D.C. flag is in the backdrop, and the words “Powershift” and “Seventh District” surround the Grim Reaper. In place of the “o” in the word “powershift” is a Celtic cross, a symbol used by white supremacist groups such as the Ku Klux Klan.
Moreover, one police officer from the sevenths District made a comment in court that likened moving protesters in DC to dealing with poor black residents in the Barry Farm neighborhood.
The defense also asked Officer Howden if he made a comment about “herding” protesters. Howden said he did not. The defense then played body camera videos where Howden told officers “I’m fairly accustomed to that sort of rioting” and bragged about his experience “herding people through Barry Farm when they’re rioting, when they’re out of control.” Local DC activists were quick to point out that Barry Farm is a lower-income black neighborhood historically targeted by racist crowd control policing by officers in MPD’s seventh district and Howden’s comment is a clear example of how racism comes into the day-to-day practices of DC Metropolitan Police Department (MPD).
Moreover, beyond the Project Veritas video, the big piece of evidence being used by the prosecution is a podcast produced by It’s Going Down. According to the State, the podcast shows evidence of planning and thus, conspiracy. What is ironic, is that the prosecution has referred to IGD as a “known anarchist website,” in an attempt to further solidify their position by linking the defendants to a set of ideas. But what happens when the roles are reversed, and we see that the State is paired with the neo-Nazis, Alt-Right trolls, far-Right hacks, and militia members that are helping to construct a baseline for the State’s argument? Clearly we see police and prosecutors working openly with Alt-Right and far-Right players, while also depending on them for evidence and talking points, amid a sea of support for not only Trump and the far-Right fear of black struggle as a violent threat.
In this context, we can see the J20 trial for what it is, not an attempt by the State to protect the public from violence, but a blunt tool of repression aimed against the public as a warning, that should anyone step out of line, the full force of the State will be used to smack them down.
2017 will in part be remembered as the year that the far-Right went into the streets to attack, murder, and injure a much larger body of people who oppose white supremacy and fascism. But it should also be remembered as a year in which white nationalist and fascist ideas were mainstreamed by everyone from the President to those in the mass media.
It is no surprise then that the State is openly working with segments of the Alt-Right and the far-Right to attack social movements and struggles organizing and building for liberation and grassroots power, as both have similar enemies: those very movements.
Going forward, we must couple support and outrage both at government repression and open collaboration with the Alt-Right with an understanding that when the US government attempts to pass off repression as “fighting terrorism,” it is simply a smokescreen to advance its own agenda that surely will include massive amounts of violence.