REVIEW: “We See It All” is a good overview of local police capabilities in the 21st century

We See It All is one of the most chilling, dystopian novels I’ve ever read. Except, it’s not a novel. It’s a short work of nonfiction about several elements of technology and practices in modern policing in the United States, and how those combine into the potential for a Panopticon beyond anything imaginable in 18th Century thought experiments or George Orwell’s worst fears.

Most people will be familiar with at least some of the elements that Economist journalist Jon Fasman covers regarding local law enforcement capabilities. But where it really shines is the impression it makes and attendant growing horror the reader experiences realizing that these capabilities are not an “either-or” choice for each department to make but a “yes-and” overlapping of powers.

Fasman covers Automatic License Plate Readers (ALPRs), body cameras, surveillance drones, electronic monitoring such as ankle bracelets, Amazon Ring footage and other privately owned data as well as how cops get access to it, and the ShotSpotter audiosystems that detect what they think to be gunshots and deploy cops to it quickly. The 13-year-old shot by Chicago police recently, Adam Toledo, was killed by an officer responding to exactly that system.

As much as any individual piece of surveillance and control can be justified by the expediencies of the moment or in the name of “crime prevention”, “deterrent”, “rapid response”, etc., the overall impression when considering them together is somewhat shocking, especially as Fasman discusses newer technologies just rolling out such as facial recognition. Again, these are all just at the level of local policing, not what the military, NSA, or Homeland Security have access to.

While critical of some aspects of law enforcement and fully aware of its history as a method of dominating and terrorizing Black and brown people across the United States, Fasman is not an abolitionist. He states his prior assumptions upfront and acknowledges that as a middle-aged white man, even his negative experiences with cops at traffic stops and the like have been in a completely different world from young Black men in particular.

This is appreciated and helpful for knowing how you as a reader ought to judge his reporting on all of these topics as you make your way through the book. It allows you to see where his skepticism is coming from as well as what its limits are.

Subtitled, “Liberty and Justice in the Age of Perpetual Surveillance”, the book is brisk, informative, and efficient reading in how it discusses all of these various technologies and practices. Long before the end, you can see quite easily why Fasman is so concerned at the ways law has not kept pace with the capability of the state to monitor, discipline, and punish those it considers worthy of that treatment.

In terms of style, a minor criticism is that the author mentions the book was expanded from a series of articles he was writing; not having read those articles, that is definitely the impression you get from each chapter. But again, a major utility is that all this is in one place and organized in a way that can be fully self-referential.

There are two major issues I took with the book and have grown larger the more distance I’ve had since finishing it.

The first of these is that the ultimate danger the author sets up in the beginning and returns to repeatedly is the idea that United States of America is heading toward a surveillance and state control system akin to the People’s Republic of China.

For an author who admits to knowing all about the FBI’s COINTELPRO targeting of left-wing groups like the Black Panthers, anti-Vietnam War activists, and American Indian Movement, and for an author who understands that still today, federal, state, and local law enforcement work to surveil and brutalize poor, non-white communities with regularity, there didn’t seem to be a need for a foreign boogeyman of Oriental despotism.

The Atlanta spa shootings in March took this from a nagging concern to one I couldn’t stop thinking about because for all of the “#StopAsianHate” hashtag-style activism and statements of solidarity going around, the truth is that it’s extremely bipartisan to set up China and Chinese people as an existential threat, as an alien Other threatening American hegemony of the 21st century, and this extends to Asian Americans in general due to the history of white supremacy in this country toward them and its historical lack of discernment in meting out violence.

The outrage and shock by Americans at the treatment of residents of Hong Kong by police there was warranted; but it would be pretty rich to try to warn people that, if we Americans didn’t watch out, our own police might start brutally repressing people like that someday. This was true even before the summer of 2020 and the copious video evidence of local cops and federal agents beating, tear-gassing, and arresting everyday people or whole neighborhoods at their pleasure. But such a farce has moved beyond humor now.

This Sinophobia is, narratively, a major part of the book’s message, and this aspect is completely unnecessary. When we say, “#StopAsianHate”, that ought to include bringing up China for, quite frankly, no good reason except to avoid taking stock of our history and shortcomings of state surveillance and domination.

The second major issue is where I’ll lose most of the Cascadia Advocate audience because, in a break with the Northwest Progressive Institute’s position, I think “Defund the Police” is a perfectly good slogan and was embraced by activists for good reason. Police are directly descended from slave patrols; they have always been instruments of upholding white supremacy through incredible violence, and they will always protect private property rather than people, which is why they have sided with strikebreakers to beat unions and consider broken windows an executable offense, depending on the property and person.

To say, “Defund the police” is to set a very direct and immediate policy goal: stop giving money to something bad that hurts people and decreases public safety. With that should come some reinvestment in services that protect people, but on its own, it is a positive good to stop giving public funding to a violent occupation force.

I have, in my life, been stolen from, assaulted, lived in homes that were burgled, and had numerous friends who were sexually assaulted, including violently sexually assaulted. The police were not any help in these cases, and this is not counting the circumstances where the police were the perpetrators of these harms.

In some situations, such as when a landlord tried to withhold thousands of dollars illegally, it wasn’t even something that was in their purview; if we’d called police when a former employer stole thousands of dollars in overtime wages from my entire office of coworkers, at best cops would have referred us to lodge a complaint elsewhere. Yet, they respond differently when a landlord wants to evict someone for missed rent or you’re accused of stealing a work computer.

These are all the sorts of things Fasman is already well aware of, so what is frustrating is not his lack of knowledge but a conceptual framework common to many liberals who are hung up on the idea of “police reform” or worse, “reimagining the police.” That is, police are fundamentally good and necessary and can be fixed to be something more bad than good. (“What if we could photograph them in the act?” people have been saying since 1884.)

But this is something like saying that the invasion and occupation of Iraq could have been reformed or “done right” if we’d just had the right people in charge, the right training for the military, and the right accountability structures for private mercenaries. It’s true: Abu Ghraib and the Nisour Square massacre weren’t inevitable. But what the U.S. military did to Fallujah was it doing its job. You cannot destroy cities, displace families, and kill people without destroying cities, displacing families, and killing people. There is no kindly version of an occupying military force; it turns out not to matter so much what percentage of the troops of the occupying power are of a local ethnic group, proved in Baltimore or Afghanistan today just as surely as the British Raj a century and a half ago.

Reviewers have the exceptionally easy job of saying, “Why didn’t you write the book I wanted to read?”, and there’s some of that in my complaints above. But Fasman himself invites this criticism specifically with his detailing in Chapter 6 of the drone surveillance company “Persistent Surveillance Systems” and its services. He gives the personal history of Ross McNutt and his time in the Air Force, including using military drones to monitor the entire city of Fallujah in Iraq to try to catch insurgents there.

Now, Fasman is highly skeptical of the whole endeavor in a civilian capacity; he discusses the worries people have about their civil liberties, and the lack of transparency or oversight police departments like Baltimore have between them wanted and getting such a new capability.

But he says that the system “performed well in Iraq” — for whom, exactly? Would the people of Fallujah agree that it performed well? Or do we just mean it performed well for the U.S. military to achieve its immediate objectives of bombing and shooting the people it wanted to?

In a similar vein, Fasman discusses a time when Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, across  the border of El Paso, Texas, was one of the most dangerous places on earth in terms of homicides due to the struggle between the Sinola and Juarez cartels for control of that, particularly lucrative narcotics corridor. He relates how the city government hired Persistent Surveillance Systems to put McNutt’s drones in the sky for as long as the city could afford and were able to solve some murders that otherwise wouldn’t have been.

The question is: are Mexican people safer when Mexican police have this technology?

For Americans who aren’t emotionally attached to defending Mexican police and consider them distinct from U.S. police, this dilemna should be easier to recognize. If you’re worried that a visit to Mexico might involve the local cops shaking you down for a bribe to avoid jail, how comfortable are you with them being able to track your every movement once they enter your jurisdiction? If you think this tradeoff is worth it to combat the source of cartel violence, what defense do you think there is from cartels bribing local authorities to use the technology to track rivals or simply informants? The entity that ultimately grew into the cartel Los Zetas even started as a group of Mexican army commandos defecting. Imagine if they’d been able to take surveillance technology with them.

As of 2016, about 80 percent of Seattle cops lived outside of the city. Rank-and-file officers in their guild overwhelmingly believe a reactionary criminal in Mike Solan best represents their image and interests; they enthusiastically assault and otherwise abuse protesters regardless of the protesters’ tactics. And of course, they lie from things as mundane as where they should be registered to vote to things as significant as how many officers were injured. They’ve been under a federal consent decree for a decade for their abuses and continue to act with impunity.

But the only public housing we’re willing to invest in locally is the sort with bars on the windows and locks on the far side of the doors.

The King County budget can without exaggeration be said to primarily be a criminal legal system with some other assorted functions:

The 2021-2022 Proposed Budget requests $1.92 billion in proposed appropriations. … The criminal legal system consist of the Sheriff’s Office (KCSO), the Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention (DAJD), Jail Health Services, the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office (PAO), the Department of Public Defense (DPD), Superior Court, District Court, and the Department of Judicial Administration (the clerk’s function to support Superior Court). Together, they comprise 71.6 percent of the General Fund.

Without nearly so neat a breakdown for my home county in West Texas, the city of Odessa is similarly a Fire Department and Police Department with a few other services added on, and Ector County is a way to get people into jail, keep them alive while there, and send them back into the world or to a prison. This is not a broken system but a well-oiled machine humming along.

Local governments don’t have a lot of money, but what they do have, they lavish on cops, jails, and criminal courts. Given more resources and more technology, they will continue to use it just as they always have because this is their purpose.

Many people remarked that Minneapolis in the days of the Derek Chauvin murder trial resembled more the Green Zone of Baghdad than what they expected of an American city. And yes, it is the imperial boomerang at work, the tools honed on frontiers brought back to the metropole to do bloody, efficient work. But parts of the United States have always been colonies embedded in the polity. This violence, surveillance, and disregard for liberty and public safety has always been present.

There are worse tools you can give colonial troops to dominate the populations they occupy, but they can never be good.

This is America, and it’s always been what America is to some of its people. The threat of vastly greater surveillance technology is not that we will become more like China; it’s that we will continue to be America.

BOOK REVIEW: When “A Libertarian Walks Into a Bear”, nobody wins except the reader

black and white etching of Elisha calling she-bears to maul boys mocking Elisha

In his book, A Libertarian Walks into a Bear, the journalist Matthew Hongoltz-Hetling details the turbulent, in some ways tragic history of the ambitious political project to turn a small, New Hampshire town into a free market, capitalist paradise. In the process, he relates how those pursuing the project ran into the complications caused by nature, the people already living there, and each other.

And I don’t have enough good things to say about it.

From the entry point of interviewing a disabled veteran about her troubles getting the Department of Veterans Affairs to cover the expenses of making her rural home actually accessible to her, Hongoltz-Hetling felt the need to delve into U.S. history, political extremism, environmentalism, philosophy, government, class, parasitism, religion, and fire safety. Across 253 pages that often read as much like a novel as a work of nonfiction with its intrigue and frequent credible threats of gun violence, he paints a series of surprisingly sympathetic portraits of figures who it’s also clear most would not willingly share a community with given their strong political opinions on what obligations, but mostly lack thereof, members of a community actually owe one another.

Starting in 2004, several hundred people from around the United States—largely white, largely male but exceedingly diverse in their eccentricities—moved to the about 1,100-person city of Grafton, N.H., as part of the “Free Town Project.” A small core had picked it specifically thinking the people there were already predisposed to “liberty” and anti-government sentiment and would welcome the changes brought by this unannounced influx. Largely, this was not existing residents’ feelings toward the new arrivals.

If you’re a reader of the Cascadia Advocate, there won’t be a surprise in Hongoltz-Hetling’s descriptions chapter by chapter, person by person, of the corrosive, compounding effect had on society through a concerted effort to “keep taxes low” by avoiding investment in any public resources or services. Even the roads worsened, but the town also refused to take ownership of any new public spaces, such as an old church offered by the previous congregation for free. They frequently voted down funding for such needs as the volunteer fire department, and therefore regularly had need of the resources of the surrounding communities which did fund their own departments sufficiently.

One of the major points of division between local Libertarians was over fires: one of the existing residents—and, by most standards, fringe political figures—John Babiarz had helped kick off everything by inviting outside Libertarians to come take over the town, but he also was the Grafton Volunteer Fire Chief and took fire safety quite seriously. This makes sense to the rest of us as fires are not a threat that can be privatized; actions on one’s own sovereign property affects everyone around them as well. But this is also dangerous logic if naturally extended to, well, any other subject, so Babiarz found himself on the outs when he came to put out dangerous campfires during dry seasons, thereby representing the repressive government jackboot he claimed to oppose, or at least this is what he represented to even more extreme members of the community.

The book, subtitled, “The Utopian Plot To Liberate An American Town (And Some Bears)” does keep coming back to that problem of overly familiar to the point of aggressive bears showing no real fear of people and even willing to invade isolated people’s homes. Like with fires—like with many things— the fundamental assumption of those in the community that “what I do with my property is my business” does not hold up against the reality that some people living in unzoned camps and no garbage collection service will provide a lot of food for bears; some people covering their trash in cayenne pepper to try to keep bears away; some stringing up electric fences; some shooting at them; and at least one woman going out of her way to buy doughnuts because she thought they looked awfully thin, is very confusing for the bears! The conditions a person creates on one “sovereign” property does not stop magically at the boundary line of sovereignty.

All sorts of utopian projects run into challenges, and perhaps it’s not fair to blame these Libertarians for not having foreseen the troublesome effects of inconsistent bear policies when they chose a location. But if the last year of pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that this sort of political and philosophical orientation isn’t something that’s just a weird quirk or harmless bit of polite, abstract disagreement.

The philosophy boils down to, “If I have the power to do something, I have the right to do it, and not only the right to do it, it is good for me to do so and an increase in liberty, regardless of what impact there is on anyone else.” It is a real danger. We see it has a real cost, socially, publicly, universally. The tyranny of this sort of liberty has meant many of us with what would be called “underlying conditions” on our death certificates have had to stay isolated in our homes for coming up on a year.

“You can’t tell me I have to wear a mask”, or close my business, or not travel, or get vaccinated. Or tell me not to bring my gun where I want to defend myself with it, even when I’m instigating confrontations and taking umbrage at perceived slights.

Multiple times, the author relates how he is implicitly and explicitly threatened by the people he’s interviewing, usually for just being a journalist, asking questions. Yeah, strict Constitutionalists respect the First Amendment, but what does it say in the Second about the right to bear arms…

In a pivotal chapter, just before he tells the story of how, in 2012 after many threatening could-have-beens, a bear actually came to attack a middle-aged, single woman inside her own rural home, nearly killing her among that would-be Libertarian utopia, Hongoltz-Hetling includes this short passage from the Bible:

While Elisha was going up on the way, some small boys came out of the city and jeered at him, saying, “Go up, you baldhead! Go up, you baldhead!” And he turned around, and when he saw them, he cursed them in the name of the LORD. And two she-bears came out of the woods and tore forty-two of the boys. 2 Kings 2:23-24

This story is one of the most infamous passages in the entirety of the Hebrew and Christian scriptures, and deservedly so.

Traditionally, Jewish commenters have characterized the prophet Elisha’s behavior in negative terms, drunk with his newfound power, left alone after his master Elijah went up to heaven in a chariot but newly blessed with a double portion of Elijah’s spirit. For early rabbis, the debate was not over whether it was OK to use miraculous powers to murder dozens of young lads (it was not); the debate was over how many miracles were included as described; was it just the bears or the appearance of a forest, too? The related phrase “neither bears nor forest” (lo dubim ve lo ya’ar) even became idiomatic for something that never happened.

For some Christians, particularly white evangelicals, the takeaway from the story is quite different. They tend to tie themselves into knots to explain how actually, the 42 dead lads might have been young men as old and as 30. And actually,“baldhead” was a terrible sort of insult, and meaning they were insulting Elijah and God, not Elisha. And anyway, they shouldn’t have jeered a man as powerful as a prophet of God, so actually,​ they had it coming.

Right-wing Libertarians are disproportionately Protestant, but even when atheist or otherwise religiously unaffiliated, cultural Protestantism predominates—Calvinism without any gods but Mammon superseding.

Following the attack, a gang of the Libertarians in Grafton eventually expressed their understanding of freedom by ambushing multiple hibernating bears and blowing them away in a hail of gunfire as they slept in their dens. This was good, in their minds, because it wasn’t the government, and they and their guns had the power to do so. In the long run, it ended up not solving the problem but just hurting a lot of people and animals under the maximal pursuit of narrow selfishness, but whatever.

That’s the price of freedom.

The RNC’s fourth night was a boring, terrifying crime

The fourth and final night of the Republican National Convention was, as expected, intensely patriotic but only in the way pro-wrestling is patriotic.

It was patriotism not based in any virtues of the person you’re rooting for but as a chant to mock and attack those you hate and regard as foreign.

“U-S-A, U-S-A.”

Except that in this case, the whole production was also a long, excruciatingly boring federal crime.

This year’s RNC realized the conservative dream of stealing public resources for private enrichment because rather than being a betrayal of Republican values, Trump is everything conservatives have been working toward for half a century, only more so.

At the long-awaited close of the night, as the Grand Ol’ Party used not only the White House but the Washington monument as their partisan backdrop for “Trump 2020” fireworks they set off, London-based economist Umair Haque reflected:

By the way, authoritarian societies are like this. Listening to mullahs and party elders drone on and being so bored. When you’re not terrified [about] what fresh hell is going to happen next. Those are the two dominant emotions, boredom and terror, in a weary and grim cycle.

Boredom and terror alternate just like this at least for sane people in authoritarian societies. For the 30% or so of committed fanatics, the authoritarian base, the dominant emotions are the ecstatic release of fascism and the joy of the kill

Stretching almost to midnight local time, RNC put on a show that was excessive in many ways, not the least of which was the banality of its evil.

As always, there will be much more discussion about how effective the rhetoric was than what the rhetoric was. There will be some dutiful fact-checking, but much easier will be the repetition of the lies followed by “but experts say.” And it’s easier to prognosticate about how rhetoric will play to white blue-collar voters in swing states than analyze GOP policy proposals because there aren’t any to analyze. The GOP copied over what they had from 2016 because no one cared then either; the “Party of Ideas” is accurate insofar as the ideas are visceral terror, disgust, and assured triumph.

The enemies are the Democrats, of course, but as former New York City Mayor Rudy Guiliani said, “Biden is a trojan horse” for all the people the audience is supposed to hate: liberal elites, the media, socialists, radicals, anarchists, and China.

Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton said Biden was “weak” and in his nearly five-decade career had allowed China to rise to a dominant position before it “unleashed this plague on the world.”

It doesn’t do any good to analyze the substance of what they’re saying. You could point out that no major media organization has an anarchist or Marxist commenter as prominent as all have numerous “Never Trump” Republicans. You could point out that the “plague” Cotton reviled was contemporaneously being openly flouted by hundreds of maskless attendees pointedly not social distancing, and how doing just that in Tulsa in June that killed Trump supporters like Herman Cain.

But if your analysis proceeds beyond, “Trust that we hate these people, just like you do,” you’ve outpaced how far the intended audience is supposed to go.

Having criminal justice reformer Alice Johnson speak isn’t intended to be thought about any further than “Joe Biden is the real racist,” just like having New York City tenants complain “Democrats put illegal immigrants before Black Americans” in regards to public housing isn’t supposed to extend beyond animus toward aspiring Americans. Traditional media will revert to “both sides accuse”, but the audience that cheers harsher punishments of protesters and despises public housing in general wants someone to tell them that they aren’t racist, at least not any more than anyone else. They aren’t bad people for hating the people they hate because good Black and brown people agree with them, too.

The Republican National Convention paints Democrats by numbers intended for villains of 1980s cartoons: simultaneously irredeemably evil and threatening the world, but also so incompetent and pathetic that “good” will always easily triumph unscathed.

The lurid glee the convention took in nodding to QAnon conspiracies of child trafficking or ISIS’s abduction and months of abuse toward a particular woman are best understood in that context, as well. The audience must be terrified of the stakes but confident of victory as they trust a strong leader.

You wish that people considering voting Green Party would watch every second of the Republican convention and hear speakers calling the choice in 2020 important and never starker.

And yet, tonight’s message is for the base, and what’s effective is that it tells them it’s OK to set aside any misgivings they have about Trump as a person, about his administration’s handling of the pandemic, about the gross inequality that has widened as the GOP continues to favor the desires of oligarchs over the needs of common people. Because if they don’t continue supporting Trump, chaos will come to their streets and they’ll be the ones seeing outside their window what they see now only on their TV.

The script is boring, but the point of power is that you have to listen to it. Even if the message doesn’t terrify you because you know how false it is, the awareness most of the audience doesn’t know that, too, and uncertainty of how they’ll respond is what’s really scary as hell.​

How “Might Is Right” explains the American right

…Racism may wear a new dress, buy a new pair of boots, but neither it nor its succubus twin Fascism is new or can make anything new.

—Toni Morrison, novelist and scholar (1995)

You start out in 1954 by saying, “N—–, n—–, n—–.” By 1968 you can’t say “n—–” – that hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff like, uh, forced busing, states’ rights, and all that stuff, and you’re getting so abstract. Now, you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites.… “We want to cut this,” is much more abstract than even the busing thing, uh, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “N—–, n—–.”

—Lee Atwater, GOP campaign operative (1981)

In 2018, the video essayist Harry Brewis put forward the idea that certain works of media are usefully illuminating because they are bad art. That is, because their creators are so artless, the works insufficiently seduce and distract from what message the authors are really saying.

Thus a film like The Room, written, directed by, and starring the incompetent Tommy Wiseau, is far more useful to understanding how abusive men make movies about their failed relationships than, say, a gifted screenwriter like Charlie Kaufman who can hide it much better.

Similarly, in 2015, the Baltimore-based video essayist Natalie Wynn had an insight in the wake of protests about the death of Freddie Gray in police custody: the sort of violent, virulently racist statements people were making anonymously online in response to the coverage wasn’t separate from the rest of their lives.

“I thought that if people are leaving these comments, they’re thinking these thoughts all the time,” she told Vice. She realized they would go on to vote and march and kill according to those same thoughts. Washington Post columnist George Will is less important to understanding what motivates conservatives than is SSJ4Teen88_Pepe.

The memes, the “jokes”, the irony and exaggerations are, in fact, heightened expressions of their ideology and need to be reckoned with, not laughed off. People are more than capable of being deadly serious about what others would assume to be absurd, and the amateurs may be more awkward than the professionals, but they’re all playing the same game.

It’s with that utility in mind that I recommend the turn of the 20th Century proto-Fascist work Might Is Right by the pseudonymous Ragnar Redbeard.

It is as boorish as it is pretentious; it is as boring as its structure is difficult to follow. The author hates all art that isn’t Shakespeare, but to call the poetry he writes “doggerel” is to heap undue praise on it. It’s also grotesquely and unapologetically bigoted in virtually every way at every turn.

This book’s value comes from its terribleness in craft as well as substance.

Despite being written 125 years ago, Might Is Right makes plain how old and pervasive the roots of fascism are in our own country. In the process, it shows – without meaning to – why ideas like white supremacy, patriarchy, conservativism, and capitalism have such intrinsic harmony even today.

That’s the thing about dog-whistles: just because you can’t hear the frequency doesn’t mean they aren’t still just as loud.

Might is Right was published in 1896 in Chicago under the original title “Survival of the Fittest: Philosophy of Power”. Its author was Arthur Desmond, an Australian/New Zealander white supremacist who’d been a journalist and failed also-ran local politician before being forced to flee both countries. But “Ragnar Redbeard” fit the writing itself better than “Arthur.”

Perhaps not surprisingly for a person clearly obsessed with wealth, success, and force, Desmond was poor, had little success himself, and accomplished nothing by force. He’s such a minor figure in history, many aspects of his biography including his death aren’t pinned down. We’re not sure of his birth name because he is of so little consequence as a historical figure outside of this one book.

Yet, Desmond was convinced his book was something laudably special. With supreme confidence he sent a copy to Russian writer Leo Tolstoy, who apparently did read it, including Desmond’s shots at him.

Tolstoy mentioned it in his own book “What Is Art?“, but Tolstoy says nothing complimentary. He uses Desmond’s book as an easy example of what’s fundamentally wrong with the artists of his own time.

Tolstoy summarizes the book’s message thus:

Right is not the offspring of doctrine but of power. All laws, commandments, or doctrines as to not doing to another what you do not wish done to you, have no inherent authority whatever, but receive it only from the club, the gallows, and the sword. A man truly free is under no obligation to obey any injunction, human or divine. Obedience is the sign of the degenerate.

“The author has evidently by himself, independently of Nietzsche, come to the same conclusions which are professed by the new artists,” Tolstoy goes on to conclude, perhaps uncharitably toward the other artists.

Otherwise, Might Is Right mostly languished after its initial publication, riding on the coattails of Nietzsche as others described it as the same philosophy as Nietzsche but with an “American expression.” That may just be a euphemistic way to say it enthusiastically hated Jews and non-whites. Its Social Darwinism was popular but not exceptional and certainly not revolutionary.

The book likely would have been forgotten completely if the ethnically Jewish Howard Levey hadn’t picked it up, seen the need to launder it of its most odious antisemitism and slurs, then re-packaged sections of it as his own under the name “Anton Szandor LaVey” to become the first section of The Satanic Bible.

We’ll return to this, but LaVey rescued from the dustbin of history a 19th century book that had essentially said “take what you want by whatever force necessary because you’re an individual and you’re free” — but he excised the explicit basis on which you base that freedom to merely imply it.

The ideas remained the same, but LaVey had moved them from literally using the n-word into “forced busing” territory.

After his appropriation of Might Is Right was recognized in 1987, LaVey continued to praise the book publicly.

What I saw should not have been in print. It was more than inflammatory. It was sheer blasphemy. As I turned the pages, more blasphemy met my eyes. Crazy as it was, I found myself charged at the words. People just didn’t write that way.

Forward to “Might Is Right”, Anton Szandor LaVey (October 1996)

Between the underlying ideas and that sort of endorsement, it’s no surprise that flocks of rugged individualists would want to read for themselves the same pure work that had inspired their hero. Since it had been long enough to fall out of copyright, multiple small publishers were able to reprint the book and it’s disseminated widely on the Internet now.

In commenting on it, Might Is Right‘s boosters will often describe the book and its prose as “outrageous”, “radical”, or “electrifying”, but it really is the laziest form of reactionary politics in every way, down to “there are too many divorces these days.” It is a defense of the structures and hierarchies of the status quo, defending inequalities as they are because, by existing, they prove they’re the natural ones that should exist.

It worships violence as not just a legitimate source of authority but the only source of authority.

Human rights and wrongs are not determined by Justice, but by Might. Disguise it as you may, the naked sword is still king-maker and king-breaker, as of yore. All other theories are lies and – lures.

The science fiction author Robert Heinlein wrote something similar in his 1959 novel Starship Troopers; he put it in the mouth of an author-surrogate high school teacher and intended it to be taken as serious wisdom. When adapted for a movie, Dutch-born director Paul Verhoeven, whose formative years were under the Nazi occupation, decided to utilize the same speech but within the context of a satire of fascist propaganda. Heinlein’s political writing needed no modification to work as self-parody.

This is interesting because, at the time, reviewers had to wonder whether a name so over-the-top as “Ragnar Redbeard” with content so obviously absurd wasn’t intended as reductio ad absurdum. “We have been a little puzzled, it must be confessed, to know whether Dr. Redbeard’s work is to be taken quite seriously,” The Humane Review wondered in 1900, an example of Poe’s Law nearly a century before the Internet. But Desmond was deadly serious, and more importantly, multiple generations of angry young men have taken him deadly seriously as they take their inspiration from it.

If you’re a liberal who understands that the best way to fight bad ideas is to provide greater exposure to them, this should be good news, especially given how poorly written and obviously grotesque the work is. Sunlight is the best disinfectant, robust debate in the marketplace of ideas, and so on.

A year ago this month, a 19-year-old mass shooter attacked the Gilroy Garlic Festival in California, killing three as well as himself, and injuring 17 more while streaming it.

As he did, he told his audience to read Might Is Right.

Fascist myths of history

Our popular history education, from public school curriculum to entertainment, is not going to be fully accurate on any subject, but fascism is a particularly difficult myth for us to handle in the United States.

History classes are linear and often don’t get much past the Second World War before it’s time for all the funding-determining testing to take place. Students get left with an understanding of “America good, Nazis (and Soviets) bad.”

Our common knowledge reduces fascism to be entirely equivalent to Nazi Germany, embodied wholly and personally in Adolf Hitler. We’ve come to let him represent transcendent, inhuman evil as completely as European Christianity let Jesus Christ do the same for the concept of goodness.

Though intending criticism, serious people today still unintentionally elevate the propaganda of Leni Riefenstahl’s images and Joseph Goebbels’ rhetoric with the result that we view the Third Reich as more technologically advanced than all other governments of their day, uber-efficient in industry, and supremely capable in war rather than the corrupt, incoherent, and self-sabotaging kleptocracy it was. There is a tendency, for some reason, for many to believe that morals and empathy are artificial constraints holding humans back from their full, awful potential, and they are drawn to that concept as like a forbidden spell.

Hitler and the Nazis thus become an almost supernatural aberration, outside of and a break from all human history before and since. They are meant to be scary but to have nothing to do with us beyond being frightening antagonists.

For that reason, to take events contemporary to us or take actions of our own ancestors and compare them with Hitler, the Nazis, and fascism risks the immediate response that you’ve engaged in an insulting hyperbole. The phrase “concentration camp” has already been swept into one, tiny corner of all history and equated with “extermination camp” at the expense of all similar versions, before and after.

But the Holocaust was an end, not the beginning, and the Nazis do not stand as the only fascists in history, or even the first.

Benito Mussolini took a common sort of Italian organization and turned it into something else, giving us the lasting name for a common kind of political movement: Fascism. Many similar movements existed throughout Europe before and after the Second World War. When the Nazis rolled their tanks into Austria, they pushed out the Catholic nationalist “Fatherland Front” to replace Austro-Fascism with their own pan-German Fascism. Romania had the National Christian Party as well as the Iron Guard. Hungary and Yugoslavia had their Fascist political fronts, but so also did France, Great Britain, and yes, the United States.

Umberto Eco’s 1995 essay “Ur-Fascism” famously tries to make a coherent bundle of all these disparate groups, starting from his own experience as a boy in Italy during the war and knowing nothing but fascism. Eco comes up with fourteen features that function as something of a cluster for genre, like selective populism and cult of tradition.

Eco determines:

“Fascism became an all-purpose term because one can eliminate from a fascist regime one or more features, and it will still be recognizable as fascist.”

It turns out, one can even eliminate regimes and a popular following to find examples of it.

Basic principles stated clearly

In Might Is Right, the author asserts that those who have things deserve them; those without deserve nothing. Earlier, I said that Anton LaVey only hinted at the justification for egoism and mistreatment of others in his adaption for The Satanic Bible; in the original, the explicit reason others deserve nothing is that they are subhuman.

In fact, whole classes of people are found fundamentally wanting; the book is quite transparent about this. Some are this way from birth such as all women, all Black, East Asian, South Asian, and Jewish people. People can be degraded further, such as women getting divorced, but the taint can claim even Anglo-Saxon white men if they believe in encouraging equality or empathy in politics or religion; or they become overly learned; or they seek solutions on a basis other than naked force.

With the possible exception of white teenage boys and their equivalents of emotional intelligence, a modern person will immediately notice the absolute disdain the author has for anyone who is not a rich, white, non-Jewish man.

Are all men really brethren? — Negro and Indian, Blackfellow, Kalmuck, and Coolie?” asks the author of Might Is Right. This is ultimately more honest than what we got out of the Declaration of Independence or out of the philosophy that is foundational to the Enlightenment but elided now.

In writing, “He who is without wealth amidst unlimited quantities of it, is either a coward, a born slave or a lunatic,” the author provides direct justification for settler colonialism as well as contemporary capitalism. “If you have seized it and no one can seize it back, it is yours.” The rich certainly believe it’s their virtue that justifies their hoard, and they finance an unbelievable amount of media to convince us to ignore our lying eyes, rotting teeth, and depression.

A woman is two-thirds womb. The other third is a network of nerves and sentimentality,” the author declares elsewhere. Contemporary “gender essentialism” and opposition to the Equal Rights Amendment are fully summarized with concision in those two sentences.

In Might Is Right, our author has a clear audience; his “you” only applies to white male readers, just as his use of “man” and male pronouns are not artifacts of an older grammar but mean exactly what they say. The book probably is not written for people who actually are wealthy but certainly for people who imagine they one day might be and whose class interests align according to their future fantasies rather than their present circumstances.

Now, because Liberals and Leftists share a deep desire to be correct, because we have a deep need to be intellectually coherent often at the expense of more useful material results, we therefore can be distracted into thinking this is an effective line of attack against conservatives, Republicans, and the Right.

It is not.

In part this is because they’re valuing natural instinct and common sense; that is, “gut players” in the George W. Bush mold. Or “Let established sophisms be dethroned, rooted out, burnt and destroyed, for they are a standing menace to all true nobility of thought and action,” as the author of Might Is Right says. “A cult of action for action’s sake,” as Umberto Eco would diagnose.

But mainly it’s because people with conservative politics aren’t really practicing any hypocrisy; you can take them at their word once you decode their meaning by getting away from the euphemisms back to the roots.

Their worldview is wholly coherent so long as you realize only some of us count as people; the rest are subhuman.

At first glance, this can sound overly harsh as if this is an explanation unfairly demonizing a group of people you sincerely disagree with on some fundamental issues but have other areas of agreement, too. “My conservative friend just has a different view on foreign policy than I do”; “my libertarian coworker has a different idea on fiscal responsibility”; “my evangelical neighbor has a good heart, we just can’t see eye-to-eye on religious issues.” And to be clear, not every person on the right is a fascist.

But when you talk to such people and probe for the contradictions in their rhetoric, often stemming from their use of euphemism, what you’ll find is that at some point, they set aside whole groups of people as not counting fully as people.

You will be confused about why armed, maskless white men and women screaming at cops over haircuts was OK, but that people choked to death on the street, or shot in the head with maiming rounds protesting people being choked to death on the street, had it coming. You will find it curious Ruby Ridge and Waco are bywords for government overreach among so-called patriots but not the assassination of Fred Hampton by Chicago police and MOVE bombing in Philadelphia.

It is not hypocrisy; they are just counting people and injuries done to them differently from those they don’t consider people.

This is why Patrick Henry, a slaver who trafficked children in chains, felt no shame in saying, “Is life so dear or peace so sweet as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery?”

Those children did not count as people. Henry was aware of them, supposedly agonized over them in private moments, but they did not count in the equation of liberty.

They were, however, a reminder of what the Founding slavers feared the most.

The eternal hierarchy

Though not from the United States, the author of Might Is Right is obsessed with slavery; he blends the poetic hyperbole into the literal antebellum experience so often it’s not clear if that distinction actually holds any meaning for him. He is obsessed with hierarchy. The world exists to him only in terms of people who can abuse others without consequences and those who are helpless to stop abuse, so in a very sincere way, if you ain’t first, you’re last.

In the video essay, “There’s Always A Bigger Fish” from Ian Danskin’s “Alt-Right Playbook” series, Danskin lands on the core distinguishing issue of the Right that makes otherwise centrist conservatives so willing to hold their nose and work with fascists over even anodyne Social Democrats.

When you view society as a pyramid, improvements for those at the bottom is terrifying because you can only see it happening by another group—yours—replacing them there. As the title of Danskin’s essay alludes, their fundamental belief is that no improvement in inequality is possible, just a replacement of who is the bigger fish and benefits more.

“Whatever the Marxists, the Socialists, the Black Lives Matter activists, or Democrats say when they talk about greater equality, they mean they will be masters and you the slave.” This is how people on the right hear such messages. It’s the same reason why the United States was able to work with Franco’s Spain and South Korea’s Japanese collaborators after the Second World War, or push Pinochet to remove Salvador Allende from elected office in a coup.

And this why seeing a Black president deeply frightened so many white Americans, and why most could support Trump in 2016.

The author of Might Is Right says:

Socialism, Christianism, Democratism, Equalityism, are really the whining yelpings of base-bred mongrel-multitudes. They howl aloud for State intervention – “protection for suffering humanity”

Anything that mixes up the, as they see it, inherent, natural hierarchy of people is anathema. For a fascist, force is paramount but simultaneously ideas have the potential to upset the natural order and must be stamped out.

Note that word “mongrel”: the most dangerous challenge is around breeding, purity of stock, sanctity of blood. White fragility isn’t just about individuals responding to problems, it’s also the concept of whiteness, which in Louisiana at the time Might Is Right was published, all the way until 1983, defined a person as Black if their ancestry was 1/32nd so. Homer Plessy of the famous 1896 Supreme Court segregation case had only one non-white great-grandparent. Yet this was enough.

The author reduces womanhood to breeding potential, and the danger of letting a person who can become pregnant choose their own partner is that they might choose wrong and give birth to offspring with bad, non-white genes.

The Nazis picked up their eugenics program from extant ones in the United States, particularly California. We forcibly sterilized those who were institutionalized and otherwise “undesirable”, which in the United States meant targeting nonwhite people who could become pregnant.

Today, white supremacists have a 14-word slogan based entirely around this obsession with breeding and purity, and for that, those they view as women have a central role. Usually, it’s dressed up in kinder language of distinct but equal spheres of influence and the like.

Might Is Right does not even attempt such pleasantries at any moment.

It has such simple views on gender that suggest the author had few conversations with women that involved him listening to them. But his writing demonstrates how patriarchy is inextricably wound around white supremacy, even as subordinate white women are integral to supporting white supremacy.

For the welfare of the breed, and the security of descent, [women] must be held in thorough subjection. … Woe unto him, woe unto them, and woe unto our Race, if ever these lovable creatures should break loose from mastership, and become the rulers or equals of Man. (But that is impossible.)

The best fighters are the best race-producers. This is the verdict of Biology and the instinctive belief of the whole Feminine world in general.

The author specifically references French women in 1871 throwing themselves at what he describes as the clearly physically superior, less culturally-effete specimens of conquering Germans. This is indistinguishable from similar rants today by Canadian Neo-Nazi Felix Lace claiming that French women in the Second World War threw themselves at conquering Germans.

So the ideology will simultaneously argue that women are drawn toward the naturally superior traits of strong white men but also the purity of blood is in constantly in danger from too much race-mixing. Ideologies of “free love” and reproductive autonomy for women endanger the future security of the white race.

This mixing up of hierarchy is as much an anxiety in Might Is Right as with Lace. However, more respectable white supremacists like Stefan Molyneux or more distant fascist-launderers like Jordan Peterson will make the same arguments about “enforced monogamy” so that liberal institutions like The New York Times will hear them out.

The basis of the incel (“involuntarily celibate”) reactionary culture and its resulting terroristic violence is not that these men are upset they cannot have sex. It’s not even that they’re upset they’re unable to have sex with the women who meet their standard of attractiveness.

They will in fact go out of their way to sabotage sex workers who could provide that for them. They do this because they are not frustrated by their own lack of sexual gratification; they’re frustrated by the self-mastery of women.

More than a century before, Might Is Right expressed the exact same impulse but more pretentiously:

Prostitution (for hire) is also the direct outcome of unnatural conditions… If our modern Sodoms were all razed to the ground, how Nature in all her perennial purity would rejoice exultantly?

Incels are upset that women are not forced to have sex with them because, for them, that is what the natural hierarchy is supposed to be. The contradiction between what their ideology tells them they should expect and what the world actually is can only be resolved by violence and destruction, not introspection.

The eternal danger

Might Is Right is willing to come right out and say that it doesn’t think all people count as people, which resolves the seeming contradictions of ideologies that are more mealy-mouthed about it but ultimately feel the same way.

But an important contradiction for incels and their cousin fascists does remain, even for those as open-eyed as Might Is Right‘s author. Should a believer start to think about it too much, the central paradox of the fascist would then become inescapable:

1) everything thought unfair by people unlike the fascist is a result of the immutable natural hierarchy of the world, which is good;


2) the fascist is motivated by a deep intuition that the world is unfair to the fascist and must be fixed.

In Might Is Right, there is supposedly no morality beyond taking whatever you’re able to take, and still the author can’t help but complain some people have gone about their theft the wrong way, by convincing people instead of forcing them.

The proximate enemy, then and now, can be many things: liberal Christianity, communism, anarchism, feminism, anti-racism—even the bankers in capitalism supposedly ruining it.

But if you listen to fascists long enough, they’ll reveal that the ultimate enemy is the Jews. It is always the Jews.

It’s not obvious why antisemitism should have this relationship to fascism. Italian Fascism was not built on it, though as associations with the German strain became stronger, Mussolini’s Fascism came to target Jews more explicitly as well.

In R.G. Price’s essay, Understanding Fascism and Antisemitism, Price writes:

The charges are that Jews promote liberalism, equality, communism, socialism, secularism, are anti-patriotic, greedy, liars, and thieves, who control banking and finance and have corrupted capitalism.

Price observes that these are all the things fascists oppose, so it might seem to be a natural development. But antisemitism goes back at least to the Greeks of Alexander, and even before, according to the Hebrew Bible’s own stories. In the story of Esther, it’s enough that Mordecai doesn’t bow to Haman and that Mordecai is of a people set apart who can be targeted.

By virtue of being different in some way, the idea of “the Jew” can be picked out and loaded up with every negative attribute as needed.

That seems to be why the United States’ most notable antisemite Henry Ford was obsessed with Jewish people. In the 1920s, Ford popularized the Protocols of the Elders of Zion as a conspiracy and published his 18-month series “The International Jew: The World’s Problem”, which ultimately would also influence the Nazis. Ford decided to blame Jewish people for the First World War and for the degeneracy of his own country. They were the Bolsheviks as well as bankers.

As Umberto Eco observes, the utility of Jews is that the fascist can portray them as a threat both inside and outside of society. That means any domestic or international issue can be connected as part of a grand plot, a conspiracy that must be rooted out at home and fought aggressively abroad. Communism, in particular, fulfills this same role by being international and is directly counter to fascism by describing history as a struggle of classes rather than immutable biological groups. New terms like “Social Justice Warriors” (SJWs) or “Postmodern Neo-Marxism” will work, too, of course, and if you listen long enough, you’ll hear it’s someone like George Soros funding all those college protesters.

Jews are the enemy not just because they exist but because the ideologies supposedly emanating from them have the power of turning strength against itself, infecting our good white children. To the fascist, everything is the way it is supposed to be and could be no other way, but it is in constant danger of all falling apart, and the reason for that is ultimately the Jews.

For Might Is Right, this extends even to Christianity.

An American religion

I said earlier that Might Is Right does not ever end up saying anything brave, says nothing really surprising, and goes along siding with the powerful at every turn.

There is one exception to this, or at least it would seem so at first. That apparent exception is the author’s hatred of religion, which for the author is indistinguishable from a hatred of Christianity. For the author, Christianity, too, is indistinguishable from his hatred of Jews and their conquest of Roman strength with Jewish ideas.

Why it is as childplay to the hysteric Idolatry of to-day — the deification of a Jew. The ‘Divine Democrat’ was executed upon a government gibbet, because the Rulers of Imperial Rome were more powerful men than he was. His strength, and that of his followers, was not equal to theirs.

He died an abysmal failure — a Redeemer who did not redeem — a Saviour who did not save — a Messiah whipped like a calf — a slave-agitator deservedly destroyed for preaching a Falsehood — the monstrous gospel of Love, Brotherhood, Equality.

Elsewhere, the author says:

Both ancient and modern Christianism and all that has its root therein, is the negation of everything grand, noble, generous, heroic, and the glorification of everything feeble, atrocious, dishonorable, dastardly. The cross is now, and ever has been, an escutcheon of shame. It represents a gallows, and a Semite slave swinging thereon.

You don’t really hear this sort of mockery of Christianity in American society, but note the sort of Christianity being mocked. The author of Might Is Right is only bothered by the version of Christianity he views as weak, democratic, overly concerned with charity and equity.

He’s not talking about the Christianity of Martin Luther who encouraged German princes to strike down rebellious peasants or Christians to burn, loot, and murder all Jews. This isn’t the Christianity of John Calvin that ruled Geneva by brutal force and justified success as being a sign of God that person was of the elect. Certainly today, the “Prosperity Gospel” that celebrates the rich for the existence of their wealth, the white evangelicals who worship power to justify their support of venal men, and the dominionists such as Washington State’s own Matt Shea would not be mistaken for those who turn the other cheek or fail to ground their claims of authority in temporal power as well.

The directly violent white supremacist Christianity Identity movement, strongest in rural Idaho, and the respectable political governance of Washingon, D.C.’s The Family on C-Street, share a similar fetishization power and hierarchy despite pursuing different means to achieve it. The latter organization, behind the National Prayer Breakfast, actually started with businessmen in Seattle horrified by the West Coast General Strike of 1934. What they saw they needed was “totalitarianism for Christ.”

More generally, Pacific Northwest journalist David Neiwert identified in 2003 the relationship between fundamentalism and pseudo-fascism as one of George W. Bush’s core constituencies, and in a revision of the same material in 2005, Neiwert concluded:

The conservative movement’s straightforward appeal to a dualist and apocalyptic mindset is, in fact, the cornerstone of its drive to create a one-party state – because nurturing such a mindset among the masses is absolutely essential to establishing that kind of totalitarian political control.

That flavor of Christianity has never been the only one extant in America, but perhaps if Might Is Right‘s author had been from the United States, he may have recognized that his own love of slavery paired well with a belief that claimed morality came from God while still allowing the powerful to intuit who God cared most about.

Satanism’s “rebellion”

It’s not clear if this other, unnamed and more muscular strain of Christianity was ever noticed by Anton LaVey when he cribbed so heavily from Might Is Right to make it the partial basis of The Satanic Bible. The mockery of Christianity by name seems to have been attractive enough to him to call it blasphemy.

With some mysticism and his own flavor of pretension, sometimes jokingly summarized as “Ayn Rand with candles“, LaVey created the Church of Satan, which can be said to be the wellspring of all modern Satanism. Overt references to Jewish conspiracies and Negro savages are gone, but he liked the parts about smashing your enemies instead of loving them and he talks about “religion” with a confident universalism despite it not being especially recognizable to a Reconstructionist Jew or Quaker, let alone a Buddhist or Shinto follower.

LaVey, for his part, does not seem to have been a person for whom anti-racism was ever important. He cultivated relationships with Neo-Nazi occultists like James Madole whose work grew into strains of contemporary terrorism like the Order of the Nine Angels (O9A), and LaVey raised Boyd Rice to a position of leadership within the Church of Satan despite, or maybe because of, Boyd Rice’s fondness for Mein Kampf and American Nazis.

Again, LaVey was born “Levey”, but he grew up in San Francisco. His idea of rebellion and blasphemy had a blind spot for what sort of forces were still most powerful in the United States, religious and otherwise.

Writing in the late 1960s, LaVey mused:

A black mass, today, would consist of the blaspheming of such “sacred” topics as Eastern mysticism, psychiatry, the psychedelic movement, ultra-liberalism, etc. Patriotism would be championed, drugs and their gurus would be defiled, acultural militants would be deified, and the decadence of ecclesiastical theologies might even be given a Satanic boost.

In other words, LaVey’s conception of rebellion was to make the same appeals that Richard Nixon’s campaign would successfully use to gain the presidency two times. This orientation of pseudo-rebellion has continued into the present day.

The Church of Satan’s present leader, Peter H. Gilmore, provided a forward to the 2019 “Authoritative Edition” of Might Is Right, and elsewhere explained the political position of the Church of Satan was open to all, meaning fascists, too.

It is up to each member to apply Satanism and determine what political means will reach his/her ends, and they are each solely responsible for this decision.

While this is supposedly apolitical, LaVey had and his church still has a strict “no drug use” policy, so it’s not as if they had no limits. But when you say, “We’re OK with fascists,” the result is that lots of fascists will start to show up in droves anywhere they’re tolerated, making their targets uncomfortable enough to leave until only fascists are left. The persistent lack of Satanists who are Black in the past half-century may not be so surprising, then.

This idea that “Satanism is rebellion and rebellion is being willing to embrace even fascism” ties back in to progressive Satanist strains as well. Although it didn’t end up using The Satanic Bible or Might Is Right as a foundational text, The Satanic Temple founded in 2013 and made famous by the 2019 documentary Hail Satan?  ties back more directly to Might Is Right by two of its formative figures: Shane Bugbee and Doug Misicko.

The filmmaker Bugbee did his own reprint of the book with original illustrations by Misicko, then going by the pseudonym Doug Mesner. Misicko is most famous now as The Satanic Temple spokesperson Lucien Greaves, and has made the public orientation of the organization opposing white supremacy, as in the August 2017 op-ed for the Washington Post, “I’m a founder of The Satanic Temple. Don’t blame Satan for white supremacy.” But as part of their collaboration on the 2003 re-printing, the two men and Bugbee’s wife Amy Stocky engaged in a 24-hour live-stream talking about their appreciation for Might Is Right‘s message, as well as more recent politics like where they differed on the merits of white supremacist Timothy McVeigh’s Oklahoma City Bombing and whether killing children hurt McVeigh’s cause or they were just “cop kids.”

About three hours and twenty-eight minutes in, Bugbee lists off how his previous edition included contributions by white supremacist terrorist David Lane of The Order, George Eric Hawthorne of the band “Racial Holy War (RaHoWa)”, and LaVey, and how that led to opposition from some Satanists against Nazis.

This transitions into a discussion between a caller and Bugbee about how Social Darwinism was ruined by its association to Nazis, which the caller extends to eugenics also, prompting Misicko to chime in.

“Threw the baby out with the bathwater, so to speak,” Misicko says. “It’s just like, ‘antisemitic’ to me isn’t a bad word. It just depends. Like, I think it’s OK to hate Jews if you hate them because they’re Jewish and they wear a stupid fucking frisbee on their head and walk around thinking they’re God’s chosen people.”

Misicko clarifies that it’s not OK to hate non-practicing Jews, however, leading to Bugbee and Stocky to disagree while making increasingly aggressive claims about not liking anyone with a drop of Jewish blood as well as arguing about who actually died in the Holocaust. When asked if he’s Jewish himself, Misicko’s retort is, “I’m an Aryan king!”

As late as 2015, Misicko was using freedom of speech to justify publicly stepping away from a speaking panel in solidarity with the neo-Nazi August Sol Invictus, and in January 2017, Misicko overrode a local chapter in California to tell the hate-site Breitbart that The Satanic Temple opposed counter-protesting Milo Yiannopoulus, at least prior to Yiannopoulus’s pro-child rape comments coming out a month later.

This is not to say that Misicko is himself a fascist or The Satanic Temple is a crypto-fascist organization, any more than The Church of Satan was. Bugbee left The Satanic Temple early on and the other founder and co-owner is Cevin Soling, or “Malcolm Jarry”, a self-described “secular Jew.”

And yet, hearing someone is opposed to religious tyranny sounds a bit different when they’ve admitted they included people who wear yarmulkes as being worthy of their ire, just as “free speech” ends up being little more than a euphemism when it’s used to defend white supremacists rather than fight non-disclosure agreements or protect union organizing.

When, prior to founding The Satanic Temple, Soling went on Russia Today to bemoan how public schools are more authoritarian now and function more like detention centers than education facilities, a lot of left-leaning people would agree with that. But when Soling’s explanation is that schools now have to enforce order on a heterogeneous population rather than a homogenous group of students, your ears ought to perk up a little.

Often we don’t hear anything because white liberals are by some measures more likely to justify their support policies resulting in school segregation than conservatives when it involves their own children.

It is easy to see the racism in black and white photographs of those “gap-toothed racists” Mississippi, but it’s much harder to recognize it in ourselves when we’re paying for private schools, tutors, or moving to school districts with neighborhoods that were historically unattainable for minorities while we vote to keep them that way in the name of protecting tree coverage or “neighborhood character.”

Whether someone uses a grotesquely racist slur to justify not wanting to send their child to school with Black kids or dresses it up in the nice pair of shoes of “giving my child the best opportunity”, it doesn’t much matter when the result is the same.

Already here, already inside

It would be nice if there were some unifying shorthand for fascism and its succubus twin racism, but there isn’t. We must pay close attention.

The book’s ideas are not immediately identifiable by any single aesthetic because as much as Satanism is central to Might Is Right’s history persisting as a specific work, Satanism has no real power in the world. The preacher who tells his congregation to support their “Wolf-King” in the White House is exhibiting the same ideas championed by Might Is Right despite the preacher appealing often to God and labeling all his enemies the tools of Satan.

Again, the best thing that can be said of Might Is Right is that is badly written. There is no dressing up of anything, just sheer bigotry shouted in the most odious, pretentious, and artless way possible.

Once a person has seen the ur-fascism of a mediocre late-19th-century white supremacist, misogynist, antisemite and ardent capitalist saying literal and figurative “n—— n—–“s for several hundred pages, it becomes much easier to recognize when the same arguments are being made with more abstractness or apparent kindness. Might Is Right would argue Ariel Castro—who kidnapped,  sexually assaulted, and impregnated three women for a decade in Cleveland before one of his victims escaped in 2013—did nothing wrong except be found out, just as the author argued that slavers were right to take their kidnapped women as they would. Reading Might Is Right, you should find it much harder to perform apologism for the United States’ own prominent slavers and slave-catchers seeing where that same logic springs from and how far it goes.

If you ever attempt to read Might Is Right, its highest virtue is that it is so unappealing it makes obvious what sort of society it’s advocating for: the rule of rich white men to do exactly as they please and the forcible subjugation of all other people in service to them.

It would be nice if that meant it had no appeal to anyone, but history has shown time and again that it does, particularly to young white men.

In that sense, it is dangerous. However, the book is largely dangerous because it’s not received in a vacuum; it’s received in the context of a world already shaped by its ideas in their subtler, quieter, politer forms. This is fertile ground each time the ideas of hierarchy and control renew themselves in their true forms within private conversations, neglected subcultures, and anonymous Internet forums.

A year ago at the Gilroy Garlic Festival, 80 miles south of San Francisco, a 19-year-old man engaged in a mass shooting, wounding seventeen people, killing three, and resulting in his own death. One of the last messages he posted encouraged people to read this awful book while decrying the “hordes of mestizos” and “Silicon Valley white twats” that were moving to the area.

We have to understand the message is just as serious when it doesn’t include rude words, when it’s Tucker Carlson decrying “diversity” and “wokeness” to his millions of viewers while wearing a tie.

We have to pay close attention, and the gift of Might Is Right is that it says what it does so badly we have no reason to be confused by anyone else saying it even if they manage to do it more politely, artfully, or abstractly.​

Correction: A previous version of this article mistakenly referred to Amy Stocky and Shane Bugbee’s relationship at the time of the Might Is Right podcast.

Just how bad is COVID-19 in Ector County, Texas, right now?

Short version:
As many people have died of it between July 1 and today as die all year from influenza/pneumonia in the seasonal flu’s worst years

Please stay in, wash your hands often, and wear a mask when out

Long version:
As of today, there were 27 deaths in Ector County from COVID-19.

Ector County COVID Data Dashboard, July 17, 2020

Twenty-seven deaths doesn’t seem like a whole lot for a county of more than 160K, but we also don’t have a great standard of comparison for what “a little” or “a lot” is

To try to get an idea, traffic fatalities are usually something the news covers as significant. People die in wrecks in West Texas at rates about 5x higher than the state as a whole, probably due to the distances involved, the oil field, and being on Interstate 20 where a bunch of mixed traffic goes.

2015: 54
2016: 34
2017: 48
2018: 54
2019: 53

Source: Texas Department of Transportation

Probably there are fewer than normal in 2020 due the bust and COVID-19 restrictions changing people’s behavior to keep them around the house more. We’ll find out eventually how much traffic deaths are tied directly to the economy.

It makes us sad to see someone cut down unnecessarily, but it’s priced into life and the economy, and we move on. Fifty people a year, more or less, will die for the economy to be able to go on and people to have freedom of movement.

From that frame, 27 deaths a little more than halfway through the year doesn’t seem so bad. Why in the world are we shutting everything down for a bad case of the flu that a lot of us probably already got and didn’t realize it? You want us to give up driving next?

The CDC actually allows us to get an idea what people die of in Ector County, including influenza/pneumonia using their Wonder.CDC.GOV tool.

  • 20 deaths from influenza and pneumonia in 2019, a rate of 12.0 deaths per 100K people (#11)
  • rate of 12.3 deaths per 100K people (#11 leading cause)
  • 15 deaths from influenza and pneumonia in 2017, a rate of 9.55 deaths per 100K people (#14)
  • 16 deaths from influenza and pneumonia in 2016, a rate of 10.2 deaths per 100K people (#14)
  • 22 deaths from influenza and pneumonia in 2014, a rate of 4.3 deaths per 100K people (#12)

Now, 2018 was actually a really bad flu season, but the world didn’t end when we had 20 people die. A natural question might be, “Why are we making people go through all of this economic suffering when just seven more people have died of COVID-19 than died in 2018 from flu/pneumonia?”

The first answer is that, if that framing were true, we actually ought to be treating the regular flu more seriously: staying home when we’re sick, wearing masks, taking extra precautions on top of washing our hands. It’s one of the leading killers almost every year, more than homicide.

But the real answer is that as of July 1, there were only eight deaths total from COVID-19.

So in 16 days since, there have been 19 deaths, more than usually die of the flu all year. Worse, it’s still accelerating: there were 13 deaths in the previous 7 days.

But assuming that rate just plateaued because everyone kept doing exactly what they are now, we still have something that kills 1-2 people per day. If that keeps up, that would be the most deadly single cause of death in the county by a wide margin, stretched out over a whole year.

All diseases of the heart had 324 deaths in 2015, or a rate of about 203 deaths per 100,000 people, and the deadliest thing to kill people going back to 2014. You have to die of something, and the heart will do it eventually.

As of July 17, the US has a COVID-19 death rate of 42.9/100K, well below heart trouble.

If Ector County hit that, we’d be looking at something like 65-70 people dead from COVID-19 total for the year, a bit more than Alzheimer disease in 2018

Yet that’s not how it works. Texas is at 13.5/100K right now while New York State is 167.2/100K. Even this understates just how bad things got for NYC and the state when for a period, more people were dying of COVID-19 than typically die of everything combined before they got it under control with stricter guidelines.

I would love for someone to double-check the CDC website and see that I’m wrong and the situation isn’t so bad. And I’d love for the county to release some aggregate data about what preliminary causes of death look for the year in case Ector County actually already have a hidden wave of coronavirus and pneumonia deaths.

But again: in two and a half weeks, the county has experienced the equivalent of all deaths from a really bad flu year. And there is no indication that things are getting better or will be able to go back to normal for months yet.

Mathew Duncan Ector: A Mostly Unremarkable Life of White Supremacy

Original work began November 2017

As memorials to Confederate figures and slavers continue to be removed from public and otherwise challenged, a common refrain is that by doing this, we’re forgetting our history or erasing it.

This is, of course,  disingenuous, but it reminded me how little I know about the namesake of Ector County: Mathew Duncan Ector. So I went looking.

I found that my home county is named after a Confederate general and Texas judge most notable for re-affirming anti-interracial marriage laws post-Reconstruction.

As part of the Southern effort to kill hundreds of thousands of fellow Americans in order continue keeping millions of fellow Americans in chattel slavery, Mathew Ector rose to the rank of brigadier general in the Confederate army until he was wounded at the Battle of Chickamauga, resulting in the amputation of part of his left leg. [link] [link]

Perhaps unsurprisingly, most memorials and plaques to him are centered on his military actions, for example, the 1963 historical marker [link] placed in county seat Odessa, Texas:

Enlisted 1861. Lieutenant 3rd Texas Cavalry. Fought Arkansas, Missouri and Indian territory. As colonel led 14th Texas Cavalry Kentucky invasion. Made brigadier general 1862 to command famed Ector’s brigade in Tennessee and Mississippi battles. Wounded four times without leaving Chickamauga field. Under constant fire 70 days in Georgia. Lost leg in Atlanta 1864. Assigned to defense of Mobile, Alabama. A memorial to Texans who served the Confederacy erected by the state of Texas 1963,

A second marker [link], placed in 1964, refers to the creation of the county itself but includes the curious phrase “Outstanding Jurist”, which took some digging into.

Created February 26, 1887 from Tom Green County organized January 15, 1891, named in honor of Matthew Duncan Ector 1822-1879. Member of the Texas legislature a confederate officer and outstanding jurist Odessa, The County Seat.

(He spelled his name with only one “t”, after his mother’s father [link], but it shows up even on plaques with the more common spelling.)

The Texas State Historical Association has articles about Mathew Ector and about Ector’s Brigade [link][link], and those are about the most complete biographical information written about him, albeit highly simplified and often slipping into Confederate apologism.

Just after the Civil War, Ector won an election for district judge, but in 1867 the United States military government removed him from that position due to being a “Southern obstructionist”.

Ector had won his district judge election in 1866 before federal Republicans and an occupying military had successfully extended the franchise to Black men, so his first judgeship and removal occurred in the context of white resentment and violence toward formerly enslaved people [link]. Other than the 1866 election being illegitimate for that reason and, perhaps, lying about whether men sworn-in to serve on a jury actually had been Unionists during the war, I haven’t found a source to detail what he did during that year.

The specific phrase “Southern obstructionist” seems to come directly from a short chapter of flowery prose [link] from The Bench and Bar of Texas [link], written in 1885 by James Daniel Lynch [link], a Confederate private and later anti-Reconstruction writer [link].

Ector claimed not to be an obstructionist, of course. He wrote more than once to President Ulysses S. Grant, first to the then-general in 1866 for endorsement of a pardon regarding his part in the war, then Oct. 10, 1867, because the Union military generals in charge had removed him as an elected district judge on the basis of “Known Hostility to the General Government” [link].

But Ector claims:

I positively assert that since I have been upon the bench I have taken no part in politics and have had as little to say about such matters as possible.

Grant favored the pardon but had no opinion on restoring him as a district judge. Ector went back to private practice till 1874 when the state legislature removed his replacement, District Judge John B. Williamson. A known “impediment to reconstruction” Governor Richard Coke appointed Ector to fill it, so he was obviously considered by his peers to be a good, safe Southern legislator. As Southern revanchists reasserted their power in Texas, their new constitution in 1876 created the Texas Court of Appeals in an effort to get around the existing Texas Supreme Court and its anti-Confederate justices [link]. That structure remains to this day.

A challenge to pre-Civil War anti-miscegenation laws came to the Texas Court of Appeals in 1877, circumventing the Texas Supreme Court’s rulings that such laws violated the 14th and 15th amendments [link] [link].

In the decision of Charles Frasher v. the State of Texas, Presiding Judge Matthew Ector writes [link]:
Marriage is not a contract protected by the constitution of the United States or any of its amendments. It is a civil status under the control of the states, and the existence of the relation and the rights, obligations, and duties arising out of it are to be determined exclusively by state laws.
The provision of the Texas code making marriage of a white person to a negro an indictable offense is not repugnant to or avoided by the fourteenth and fifteenth amendments to the constitution of the United States, or the legislation of Congress under them.
The fact that by the code the penalty is imposed on the white person only, does not make it obnoxious to the Civil Rights Bill. 

The opinion later quotes that exact Texas law, article 2016 of the Criminal Code passed in 1858 [link], stating that a white person couldn’t marry someone with a great-grandparent identified as Black, except on fear on imprisonment:

“If any white person shall, within this state, knowingly marry a negro, or a person of mixed blood, descended from negro ancestry to the third generation inclusive, though one ancestor of each shall have been a white person, or having so married, in or out of the state, shall continue to within this state to cohabit with such negro, or such descendant of a negro, he or she shall be punished by confinement in the penitentary not less than two nor more than five years.”

In 1879, the Texas legislature explicitly extended the punishment to Black spouses as well now that the law had to regard them as people.

In her 2008 paper [link], University of Texas Professor Martha Menchaca [link] considered the Frasher opinion nationally notable and part of a general revanchist streak to undo Reconstruction:

This new legal conservatism coincided with political changes at the end of Reconstruction. In 1873, Texas Governor Coke, who opposed extending equal rights to Blacks, began replacing liberal state supreme court justices with conservatives (Richardson and Wallace, 1970: 224). Furthermore, conservatives took control of the legislature and in 1876 revised the state constitution to condone the segregation of Blacks. In 1877, the Texas Supreme Court heard Frasher v. The State and upheld the legislature’s right to preserve the division of the races. The decision was felt nationwide as it set a legal precedent protecting the states’ right to pass antimiscegenation laws immune from the jurisdiction of the 14th Amendment. The Court opined that the 14th Amendment did not apply to marriage because US Congress conferred on state legislatures the right to regulate marriage contracts in order to follow majority views. According to the court, if Christians in Texas by tradition have opposed the intermixture of the White and Black races, the legislature had the obligation to uphold this belief. Judge P. J. Ector offered the opinion of the Court:

In this state marriage is treated as a civil contract; but it is more than a civil contract. It is a public institution established by God himself, is recognized in all Christian and civilized nations, and is essential to the peace of happiness, and well-being of society . . . Civilized society has the power of self-preservation, and, marriage being the foundation of such society, most of the states in which the negro forms an element of any note have enacted laws inhibiting intermarriage between the white and black races. And the courts, as a general rule, have sustained the constitutionality of such statutes . . . It has always been the policy of this state to maintain separate marital relations between whites and the blacks. . . . If the people of other states desire to have an intermixture of the white and black races, they have the right to adopt such a policy. When the Legislature of this state shall declare such a policy by positive enactment, we will enforce it; until this is done, we will not give such a policy sanction.

Following the ruling, Frasher became the national precedent upholding the states’ right to regulate marriage and determine which races could intermarry (American Digest, 1902, 1949). State rights were to be upheld at all cost even if policies prevented people from marrying within their own ethnic group, or if the policies resulted in absurd practices such as prohibiting people from marrying anyone.

Otherwise, as presiding judge, I couldn’t find any especially laudable or even notable rulings up to his death in 1879 [link]. Then, there’s nothing until the county is named after him.

I’m not a scholar, so I’m limited to what work others have done or has been digitized. Ector’s first name is just as often given as “Matthew” instead of “Mathew”, plus almost all references that appear are for his part in the Civil War in a military capacity.

To a layperson like myself, other than, I suppose, some personal bravery for volunteering, fighting in multiple battles, and eventually losing a leg, he doesn’t seem especially notable in his military career considering there were literally hundreds of other Confederate brigadier generals and dozens of Texans [link].

Tom Green, Benjamin McCulloch, and H.B. Granberry had counties or cities named after them, too, but not Prince de Polignac, Sul Ross, or Richard Waterhouse.

Without access to the debate on HB 113 from Texas’ 20th Regular session [link], I can’t know what their stated criteria was. Someone could still do that in the future.

Looking at places where Ector pops up otherwise, there’s a reference to how he treated some enslaved people while administrator of his father’s estate prior to the Civil War [link].

Matthew D. Ector, as an administrator of the estate of Hugh W. Ector in Rusk County, placed three of his eight slaves ‘with the best carpenters the county could afford and this materially enhanced their value as skilled workmen.’

Ector’s father Hugh [link] seems to have died in 1835 [link], so Ector would have been 13 at the time. Rusk County is also in Texas, and if Ector was living there then, he had to get back to living in Georgia for passing the bar and his early adult career. It’s also possible the estate was in someone else’s hands till he came of age [link].

That the adminis on the estate of HUGH W ECTOR dec’d be premitted & authorized to keep the estate of said dec’d togather without division in joint common stock for the benefit of the family & heirs until the legal age or marriage of either or otherwise legally required—— and to continue to work the plantation, saw mill, balcksmith sop and carpenter at their discretion as they may think necessary.

By 1845, he’d been elected to the Georgia General Assembly as a House representative for Meriwether County [link], and other sources indicate he only served one biennial term through 1847. Although I was able to find several references to his father, I couldn’t find anything for Ector himself during this time as a Georgia House member [link].

After his first wife died in 1848, he moved to California then to Texas where he was a lawyer again but also a newspaper editor for the Henderson Democrat. He shows up in this period before the Civil War in regards to an 1860 a slave insurrection panic [link] that a fire had been intentionally set, perhaps as part of an abolitionist conspiracy [link].

Ector initially claimed he thought “negroes had but little to do with it”, but the “committee of vigilance” he was on ultimately recommended hanging at least three Black people and fretful Texans lynched at least one white person in direct relation to the panic [link].

Henderson, Aug. 7, 1860.
Judge Frazer:
You have before this learned the fate of our town. All from McDonough’s Hotel to Smither’s office, taking that entire block, and from Redwine’s store to Likens’s corner, running back to the Presbyterian Church, (which was saved,) is a scene of ruin and devastation; 10 stores, 2 drug stores, 8 or 10 law offices, 2 family groceries, &c., were consumed. There was a stiff South wind blowing at the time, and in two hours at most, every house which had caught burned down. The sparks reached out fully a half mile. Judge, it is a sad picture to visit the scene, where all but yesterday was life and energy, fine buildings and every evidence of thrift and prosperity, now burnt and crumbling walls, lonely chimneys, chared [sic] shade trees, and the rubbish, as is generally to be seen after such a calamity. Owing to the failure of crops, such a misfortune never could have found us so illy prepared to meet it in a pecuniary point of view. And when we consider it has not been the result of accident, but that it was fired beyond any sort of question by some fiend in human shape, who had only acted the part allotted him in all probability, in a common purpose, to set on fire our towns and perhaps to murder or poison our citizens, it has driven us to a state of desperation which can scarcely be conceived by one who has not witnessed it. All is alarm and excitement with our women and children. Our men are in arms. The most vigilant investigation is being had. The plot was so well conceived, the time of the night, a little excitement between two gentlemen had just occurred which attracted the crowd just as our citizens were assembling at Church, and before the guard started out, the fire was put in some shape into an old shop where there had been none for months. It was burning in every part of the house at once, and in less than five minutes it was on fire all over. As yet we have not been able to find out who it was that did it, whether white or black. No traces have been discovered. My own opinion is, that the negroes had but little to do with it. I have given you these particulars in haste. I will write again soon. I see no chance for us to have a Court. We can scarcely provide for those of our people left. I would like to hear from you and advise with you. Be on your guard, for you cannot tell how soon you will share the same fate with us.

Your friend,
M. D. Ector.

With the tail-end of that panic coinciding with the 1860 election and slipping quickly into the American Civil War, we’re back up to his military service.

If I gloss over that, it’s only because, again, I don’t care much about the particulars what the moral equivalent of child rapists did in their war to defend systemic child rape.

Timeline in Confederate Gazette [link]

  • 1822: Born in Georgia
  • 1844: Passes Georgia Bar
  • 1846-47: Served one term in Georgia General Assembly as representative from Meriwether County
  • 1850: Settled in Texas by way of California after wife’s death in 1848 (married 1842)
  • 1851: Passes Texas bar
  • 1855: Elected to Texas House
  • 1859: Second wife dies
  • 1860: He is listed in the 1860 U.S. census as having $29,000 in property and enslaving 20 people; only 1860 Census I’ve found (for Rusk County) says 4,000 real value and 2,500 personal value [link]
  • 1861-1865: American Civil War
  • 1867: Wrote to President Grant, claimed to be apolitical and loyal to government [link]
  • 1874: Becomes district judge again. Rules in favor or railroad companies’ fraudulent election where they paid fees for special bond [link]
  • 1876: Elected to Texas Court of Appeals.
  • 1879: Dies
  • 1887: House bill 113 of 20th Regular Session Texas legislature passes, dividing western Tom Green county into six new counties. [link]


John T Reagan, with a nearby county [link] and elementary [link] in Ector County Independent School District named after him had this to say: [paper] [source] [full text]

‘Reagan described “the four million negroes in bondage in this country … better fed better clothed, better protected from violence and wrong. better informed. more intelligent. ” than their counterparts elsewhere in the world. To free the Negro would be to destroy that ideal state. Besides, Reagan added, he found Negroes so incapable of self-government and survival that if emancipated “they would fall into such habits of idleness and vice and licentiousness as would render it necessary, for the security of society, to exterminate the greater portion of the race. ” ‘


Continue reading “Mathew Duncan Ector: A Mostly Unremarkable Life of White Supremacy”

What “Defund the police” really means

Police officers in riot gear and national guard shrouded in tear gas and smoke backlit by floodlights outside of Seattle Police Department East Precinct

Our police department, as we have seen last night and the night before, and the night before that, is using weapons of war on our own residents.

I heard reports last night of people being three stories up and not being able to breathe because of the gas. Last week we heard the story of the 3-month-old baby who was foaming at the mouth. We heard other stories subsequently of a 6-month-old baby sitting in the hallway with its parents trying to get fresh air.

These are stories that we must respond to, and we also have to recognize that we have a budget that allows us to maintain controls over this effort.

Source: Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda per KUOW

“I did not make up with the demand of 50 percent defunding of the police, that came from the community. … Any politician, whether they are in Minneapolis or Seattle who is telling you that police can be dismantled under capitalism is bullshitting you.”

Source: Councilmember Kshama Sawant per Periscope

There are inherent limitations of political imagination once you’re in office, but given the councilmembers’ own experiences on the barricades, their words, and their reasoning, it’s difficult to see how half-funding such an organization as they describe should be looked at as a positive result.

There hasn’t been a budget cut to the department since 2000, so I’m not sure what prior year a 50 percent reduction would take Seattle back to, but it’s likely that law enforcement was being brutal and predatory toward its most vulnerable residents at the equivalent funding level in 1999 or 1990 as well. “Defund” is not sophistry; it’s a demand because the status quo is radical and harmful to the people America has always despised.

I was not at any protests while people were being actively assaulted by the police’s chemical weapons, explosives, or maiming projectiles, but I have close friends who were, and I was observing via the livestreams of ground witnesses and upper-story neighbors as police committed those assaults. I was trying to help get information to people there about where was safest to regroup amid the explosions or to find a medical station that hadn’t been overrun and destroyed and experiencing terror for them in real time.

When I hear that the goal is fund police a bit less, it sounds something like I imagine it would to a Cold War-era East German hearing that the Stasi budget was getting slashed.

If in our own communities, a budget cut means we have fewer secret police—that is, undercover cops and armored officers covering their badges—on the streets, that is an improvement, but it’s not a victory. Having half as much poison gas that’s been banned in warfare to use on unarmed people in the community still means there’s plenty of poison gas to use on unarmed people in the community. Plus, bullets are still relatively cheap and so are truncheons.

Source: Teresa Mosqueda via The Urbanist

The most lawless things I’ve seen in Seattle in my time here have not been people unable to afford permanent shelter who sleep outside but the behavior of a bunch of (mostly) men, incredibly well-equipped, hiding their identities as they attack regular people for continuing to stand with umbrellas because those people not disperse when the armed and armored men said so. Yet if there had not been dozens of cameras and thousands of eyes on them, they wouldn’t have been on what was apparently their best behavior. One or two officers alone with one unarmed protester, those cops would have likely genuinely feared for their lives and used that as justification to brutalize that person or even kill them. And that’s not a hyperbole.


My union, SEIU 925, is having members forced to take furloughs due to a drop in revenue by UW Medicine. This is after being called “heroes” but being continuously underfunded and provided insufficient resources of personal protection during a pandemic.

It makes me sick to see what material resources and salaries these cowards in the Seattle Police Department have been given to misuse when the tool they actually need is respect for other residents of this city as equals.

I don’t think they’re capable of that, which is why they must be defunded and that money given to other organizations that actually make people safe from the violence of eviction, of not being able to afford insulin any longer, or of sleeping on the side of a highway in the rain because the hotel you can see from there that lights up “BLM” on the side doesn’t want to turn its vacant units into shelter for free and the government won’t force them.

King County General Fund

I want to fund public safety, not exploding canisters. Which means, at the county level, I want to fund room, board, and medical care for people whenever they need it, not just when they’ve been arrested and sent to jail to be held against their will. Seattle police make for an easy villain because of their union, their fragility (they really tried to claim that reflecting their own floodlights back at officers with foil was a provocation), and their visibility in the city, but this is a much wider problem and Democrats everywhere are going to have to make choices about what rhetoric they’ve always meant on principle and what rhetoric was convenient to get them in office.

If someone told you two weeks ago Seattle police would abandon their Capitol Hill precinct entirely and leftists would be booing Councilmember Sawant for only promising to cut the police budget in half, you would have scoffed and called it ridiculous. So would I have. None of us should scoff now at literally defunding the police or first start looking for a way to compromise.

One more thing: A week and a half of people in the streets unwilling to compromise on the fundamental humanity of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color has done more to combat police militarization and their unaccountable violence than 30 years of Democratic governance, female, male, Black, white, gay, and lesbian.

Therefore, I support the protesters the way some people support the troops: I will not parse it between “good” and “bad” or “peaceful” and “looters”.

Demolitions are destructive, too. Dismantling the viaduct was destructive, too. If what we’re trying to construct is a better place where people are not executed for being deaf in one ear while woodcarving or executed for needing help during a mental breakdown while pregnant or abducted off the street for walking with a golf club as a cane, then we should count some broken windows and expropriated material from a department store as the controlled demolition necessary to get people’s attention where repetitive human suffering could not.

People literally risked their lives in the hope that a rubber bullet aimed in malice wouldn’t cave in their head or that panicking officers wouldn’t switch to live ammo to mow down a crowd holding rainbow umbrellas. In another week, people from those crowds and their loved ones will literally start to die from COVID-19, and they’ll die because they demanded their police not be equipped for war and allowed to kill them.

There is nothing unreasonable, immature, or impractical about being unwilling to accept half-measures for a cause so worthy that you risked so much for, and they’ll remember us for how we treat them and their concerns forever.

BOOK REVIEW: “Dawn of the Code War” looks at the digital battleground of the 21st Century

Two centuries ago, the Prussian general Carl von Clausewitz famously wrote, “War is a continuation of politics with other means.”

The nice thing about aphorisms is that they are so easy to re-interpret for fresh purposes and present circumstances. In that way, aphorisms are unlike new technology, which often change the world around it far less than is credited to it purely by virtue of being novel and therefore more visible.

Continue reading “BOOK REVIEW: “Dawn of the Code War” looks at the digital battleground of the 21st Century”

We’re all living through a pandemic, but it’s not the same pandemic for all of us

Can't Pay Won't Pay #RentStrike

“A lot of folks have it worse.”

This is not the most effective mantra for cheering someone up, whether they’re hearing it from outside their head or within.

When I had rotator cuff surgery last year, remembering how fortunate I was to have health insurance and a 401(k) to empty out didn’t provide anywhere near the relief that a hydrocodone every eight hours did. My state of mind was more dependent on changing my material conditions than my perspective on anything.

Now—nearly by definition of the word—we’re all living in a pandemic. But it’s not the same pandemic for all of us. A lot of folks have it worse.

Continue reading “We’re all living through a pandemic, but it’s not the same pandemic for all of us”