Moore & Tracy on Millenials are Killing Capitalism Podcast

Thanks to MAKC for having us over to talk about JBAKC!

Mar 18, 2020

This week we are speaking to Hilary Moore and James Tracy about their new book No Fascist USA: The John Brown Anti-Klan Committee and Lessons For Today’s Movements. 

Hilary Moore is an anti-racist political education trainer and teaches with generative somatics. She works on the Leadership Team of Showing Up For Racial Justice, and is the co-author of Organizing Cools the Planet: Tools and Reflections to Navigate the Climate Crisis. 

James Tracy is an Instructor of Labor and Community Studies at City College of San Francisco. He is the co-author of Hillbilly Nationalists, Urban Race Rebels and Black Power: Community Organizing in Radical Times.

Songs: 

The Dicks – Anti-Klan (Part Two)

M.D.C. – John Wayne Was A Nazi 

Dead Kennedys – Nazi Punks Fuck Off

M.D.C. – Born To Die

Woody Guthrie – Tear The Fascists Down

From Ms. Magazine: This Process is Freedom

This Process is Freedom: The Ms. Q&A with Lesbian Separatist and Anti-Klan Organizer Trella Laughlin

Impending war, accelerating white supremacists movements, and a racist right wing President. I’m not describing 2020—unfortunately, these conditions are nothing new in United States history, and the 1980s set a foundation for what is happening today. We can learn from those who took action against racism and imperialism under the Reagan administration and built, to varying degrees of success, lasting movements for a more safe, dignified, and just world.

Interviews with Trella Laughlin also populate the pages of No Fascist USA!, out now.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trella Laughlin, a member of the racial justice organization John Brown Anti-Klan Committee, is one of the leaders from the 1980s that we should learn from. Laughlin is an 82-year-old white anti-imperialist living in NorthWest, Arkansas. She grew up in a segregated Jackson, Mississippi in the 1940s, eventually leaving to find home in 1970s lesbian separatist movements.

In 1974, Laughlin started a collective land project called Yellowhammer Farm in rural Madison County, Arkansas, growing food and experimenting in forms of governance. By the early 1980s, the New Right had unleashed its full political power culminating in the Reagan Administration which also emboldened a growing white supremacist movement. Like many others, Laughlin was drawn back into the mainstream—she moved to Austin, Texas, where anti-racist campaigns against gentrification and white supremacist recruitment were underway. She joined the John Brown Anti-Klan Committee, an anti-racist organization dedicated to countering the rise of the KKK and other far-right white nationalist groups and building support for movements fighting for self-determination.

Laughlin talked with Ms. about her transitions through different movements and the lessons she has gleaned from six decades of activism.

The interview has been edited for clarity and length.

 Trella and her partner, Marie, at home.

What compelled you to start a lesbian separatist community? How did that go?

As a lifelong lesbian, born in 1937, in Jackson, Mississippi, I never could find a niche. I wasn’t butch, I wasn’t femme. I was shy. I never did find the kind of lesbian I was until I went to Berkeley, where there was just strong women. We were separatists because we had worked in progressive or liberal movements where the men still took over. We couldn’t seem to find a way to share leadership or be equal. We had had enough. So, we thought by leaving we could finally have our own space. And for awhile, we did.

We didn’t have country living skills or communal living skills and we didn’t have good ways to solve conflicts. We just wanted to go to the woods and take our shirts off! We learned a lot from books along the way. We had a little garden, but we mostly worked at a co-op that had just started called Ozark Natural Foods. We all lived in tents and we built one communal structure. It was two stories with a sleeping loft.

We had about 20 people who regularly lived on the land and of course we had people drop in for periods of time. People found us through Lesbian Connections, a national publication from Ann Arbor, which is still running. Ms. Magazine also published an article about this and another project in a piece called the “Women’s Experimental Project.” People in the region heard of us because we went on a speaking tour on horseback to talk about the effects of Agent Orange being sprayed on crops, the same chemicals used against the Vietnamese people in the Vietnam war.

Yellowhammer taught me to shut up and listen until you know something worth saying, and this goes double when someone has walked a path you have never been on. I learned the hard truth of not living into our politics. We wanted to have a women’s living space that wasn’t based on money. This was a great idea because us middle class and upper class women put our money in, but we still didn’t know how to struggle with class. I mean, arguments are one thing and real struggle with love and understanding and boundaries is another. I also learned that separatism was a very defensive position. It didn’t change the power of women or the power of the people. It never felt quite comfortable with excluding good people that weren’t women. It didn’t make any spiritual sense to me.

1982 Anti-Klan Rally Austin, Texas Photo by Trella Laughlin

How did you find the John Brown Anti-Klan Committee?

I sold the land after most people had left. I distributed the money to the main people in the project and local feminist causes. My father had died and left me a little money. Then I went back to Austin to start over again. Linda Evans and Better Ann Duke were asking me to join an anti-racist movement where white people took a stand against the Klan. They started the John Brown chapter working with the fine people in the Black Citizens Task Force and the Brown Berets. These three groups had come together. The momentum of all this made it impossible not to join. Unity was compelling to me.

There were a lot of lesbians in John Brown. At the same time, we didn’t talk about that much. Some lesbian groups hated us, saying that we were under the thumb of Black men. I think we were drawn to John Brown because white lesbian culture was so selfish and racist at the time that we couldn’t stay there. As much as I love my sisters, our issues tend to be self-centered. I had been trying to fight for lesbian rights by living in the country with a bunch of dykes. That was limited. Fighting the Klan who hurt so many people. There was a heart to the work. Racism was more than theoretically wrong. I saw it in my life.

Looking back now, I still think John Brown was serious business. We had study groups. We took self-defense classes. We publicized connections between the cops and the Klan. We went to schools to talk to young people about racism. We organized events where white people could support the work of the Black Citizens Task Force. In 1982, the Klan marched through Austin, but our three groups brought 2,500 people out to shut them down. That was a good moment.

Of course, there were harder times. Sometimes in the streets, we would get some backlash from white people. Sometimes they would spit on us. We were militant and somewhat off-putting to church-going Black people. These were the contradictions at the time because it touched on somewhat stable integration. But for poor and working class Black people, and people who faced police harassment, I think they were glad we were putting pressure on white supremacy, the Klan and the politicians.

We had close relationships with people in Black Citizens Task Force, and that lasted even through the end of John Brown in Austin. When Linda and Betty went underground and it became “do the best you can.” We lost our coherence after this, we were mostly rushing around responding to different aspects of Klan activity.

1982 Anti-Klan Rally Austin, Texas Photo by Trella Laughlin

What do you want younger activists and organizers to know?

First, I think for any group challenging state power and actual white supremacists, know that suspicion within your organization can be like an epidemic. You have to watch it because it gets confusing. At worst, people start pointing fingers. This makes organizations fall apart quickly. We’re doing the FBI’s work for them. You have to find ways to weed out your own issues and stay in healthy relationships, even if infiltrators are close to the work. We had a few in John Brown, they mostly started arguments and tried to pick fights. That’s what I learned: There are ways to leave an organization that are principled and ways that are hurtful.

Yellowhammer and John Brown taught me that we all need to be leaders in our own way. Sometimes the leaders in John Brown wouldn’t provide leadership because they didn’t want to be authoritarian. Or they would over-do it when we didn’t need it. I think it’s common to swing from one side to the other. This gets at accountability. As a group this means developing a political kindness. We did this sometimes and fucked up sometimes. We would venture more into the “more correct than thou” approach. We didn’t know how to do it different. That’s my hope, that young people now have more skills on how to do that better. I want people to know that there is absolutely nothing wrong with receiving criticism—be thankful for it. Its best when we have humility and openness, and a desire to make changes and move forward together. I think Americans don’t know how to do this—we’re very defensive and ego-oriented, even in the movement.

At one point in John Brown, the organization had an internal mission that asked everyone to “develop their character.” At first, we didn’t know what that meant. We got nervous: Would we have to stop drinking beer?! Maybe and maybe not, it depends. But you have to develop yourself into a really trustworthy person.

Ask yourself: What does it take to become a really trustworthy person? The honest answer to that will change you. And this cannot be done at the exclusion of getting into the streets. We fooled ourselves into thinking it was one or the other. We must become a revolutionary person. This process is freedom.

The Roots of Anti-Racist, Anti-Fascist Resistance in the US

Note: This is the foreword to No Fascist USA republished in Literary Hub.

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by Robin D.G. Kelley

“No Trump, No KKK, No Fascist USA!” has been a popular protest chant since the New York real-estate mogul and former reality TV star became the 45th president of the United States. This was no mere rhetorical flourish. We saw a surge in the ranks of white nationalists and the “alt-right,” an escalation of domestic terrorist attacks on Black and Brown people, immigrants, Muslims, Jews, and the LGBTQ community. The road to a “Fascist USA” took a deadly turn after Trump indirectly condoned the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in which an assembly of Klansmen, “alt Knights,” neo-Nazis, and white nationalist militias inspired one of their number to mow down anti-racist protesters with his car.

A consensus took hold that Trump’s election, along with the campaign to remove Confederate monuments following the 2015 massacre of nine Black worshippers in a Charleston, South Carolina, church, had emboldened militant white supremacists. Books, articles, and blog posts linked Trump’s ascendance directly to white nationalism, even reminding readers of his daddy’s ties to the Klan.

A fair share of liberal intellectuals and pundits set about explaining the roots of contemporary white supremacy by tracing the events in Charlottesville to the history of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s. This is understandable. The “second Klan” enjoyed a high degree of legitimacy, and its xenophobic slogans—“America First” and “100% Americanism”—were echoed by the Trump administration. Besides, most of the recent scholarship on the Klan focuses on the 1920s, precisely because, in spite of its virulence, its values and ideology were not far from the American mainstream.

But why go back to the 1920s when the militant white supremacists of current generation are either products of, or influenced by, the “third Klan” of the 1970s and 1980s? Between 1974 and 1981, Klan membership grew from about 1,500 to more than 10,000. In the course of a decade, a resurgent Klan formed paramilitary units, burned crosses, organized rallies in cities such as Chicago, Washington, D.C., and Meriden, Connecticut, and prepared to patrol the U.S.-Mexico border as an auxiliary to the Immigration and Naturalization Service. Their leaders also attained enough legitimacy to enter mainstream politics and run for public office. In 1980, Tom Metzger, the “Grand Dragon” of the Ku Klux Klan, garnered enough votes to win the Democratic primary in Southern California’s 43rd Congressional district. Similarly, in 1989 David Duke, former Klansman and founder of the National Association for the Advancement of White People, was elected to the Louisiana House of Representatives.

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The spectacular rise of the Klan, the American Nazi Party, skinheads, and various white Christian nationalist militias opened the floodgates for a reign of terror by adherents and lone wolves targeting African Americans, Jews, and Mexican and Vietnamese immigrants. Homes, churches, synagogues, and schools across the country were firebombed. Between 1979 and 1980, two dozen Black people and two white women in interracial relationships were murdered in seven different cities. In Buffalo, New York, two Black taxi drivers were found dead with their hearts cut out, and two weeks later in that same city a white sniper took the lives of four African Americans. Meanwhile, between 1979 and 1981, twenty-eight children, adolescents, and adults were mysteriously murdered in Atlanta. Other murders were not so mysterious. In Mobile, Alabama, in 1981, members of the United Klans of America kidnapped, tortured, and hanged a Black teenager named Michael Donald.

Why, in an effort to understand the Trump era, have the pundits, the press, even some of our finest historians ignored this crucial period of white racist violence? Why do most Americans believe that such virulent expressions of white supremacy died with Jim Crow, leaving in its wake more indirect or benign forms of racism—employment and housing discrimination, a biased criminal justice system, the dismantling of affirmative action, and the like?

One recent exception that has garnered significant attention is Spike Lee’s Oscar-nominated BlacKKKlansman, based on the true story of how a Black undercover cop, Ron Stallworth, infiltrated the Klan in Colorado Springs in 1978. But Lee’s film elides the fact that Stallworth also infiltrated the Klan’s chief opposition, the International Committee Against Racism, a mass organization formed by the Progressive Labor Party. By transforming an undercover cop into a Black freedom fighter and presenting the police as the first line of defense against white nationalists, BlacKKKlansman fundamentally distorts the history of the Klan, the police, and the period.

Neither the soft power of historical revision and erasure nor the hard power of lynch law could keep Black people down.

Fortunately for us, Hilary Moore and James Tracy have written a magnificent book that not only corrects the record but helps explain the mercurial rise of white supremacist organizations in the 1970s, how the Klan was (temporarily) defeated, and why this period has been largely ignored. No Fascist USA! is not a history of the Klan, per se, but rather a history of anti-racist, anti-fascist resistance in the United States, from the post-1968 insurgencies through the Reagan-era counterrevolution. We learn that opposition to the Klan was militant, uncompromising, and effective, mobilizing more white people to confront violent white supremacist organizations than at any other time in history. And, contrary to popular stereotypes, the Klan was no joke. Its members were not poor, frustrated, ignorant outcasts out of step with modernity but often men and women of standing who held positions of power and authority in state institutions—police forces, prisons, jails, and local government.

No Fascist USA! radically shifts our perspective, challenging the prevailing wisdom that racist terrorism rises in response to economic downturns, because of white downward mobility, or in a vacuum created by a lack of progressive alternatives. On the contrary, the Klan’s resurrection was a reaction to the radical insurgencies of the era: Black and Brown rebellions, struggles for gender equality and sexual freedom, the defeat of U.S. imperialism from Vietnam to Tehran—real movements for democracy and social transformation. The same can be said for the original Klan, formed in 1866 as a reaction to Emancipation and the struggle of formerly enslaved people to establish a real democracy in the South.

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With the military defeat of the first Klan in 1871, the Southern Bourbon Democrats reverted to the reign of terror, though it took them another three decades to crush abolition democracy and install the Jim Crow regime. And even then, Black resistance to white supremacy persisted. Indeed, the resurrection of the Klan in 1915 and its growth in the 1920s ought to be seen as a reaction to a new wave of democratic insurgencies—notably Black, immigrant, pro-labor, and feminist.

Its initial inspiration derived from a national campaign to erase the history of Reconstruction. “Colonel” William Joseph Simmons revived the Ku Klux Klan after seeing D.W. Griffith’s 1915 masterwork of racist propaganda, The Birth of a Nation. The film was historical alchemy, turning terrorists into saviors, rapists into chivalrous protectors of white female virtue and racial purity, and courageous and visionary Black men and women into idle, irresponsible ignoramuses, rapists, jezebels, and sexually depraved mulattoes. By circulating old racial fabulations and new fictions in the service of New South capitalism and modern white supremacy, The Birth of a Nation attempted to obliterate all vestiges of the Black struggle for social democracy during Reconstruction. Respectable white supremacist groups such as the Ladies’ Memorial Associations and the United Daughters of the Confederacy waged their own soft power campaign of building Confederate monuments throughout the region and around the nation’s capital. One of the most elaborate statues, erected at Arlington cemetery in 1914, depicted an enslaved Black man marching into battle alongside his master, and a faithful “mammy” caring for her charge as the child’s uniformed father heads off to fight the dreaded Yankees.

In a particularly ironic twist, the myth of “mammy” was weaponized by the federal government to buttress the hard power of Jim Crow. In 1922, the U.S. Senate approved a monument dedicated to “Mammy” in Washington, D.C., just weeks before allowing a Southern filibuster to defeat an anti-lynching bill. Not surprisingly, Black leaders not only excoriated the Senate’s failure to pass the bill but thoroughly rejected commemorating a stereotype. The Chicago Defender, a Black newspaper, proposed an alternative monument to the “White Daddy” showing an adult Black woman (“mammy”) looking on helplessly as the white master assaults a small child—presumably his child with “mammy,” born of rape.

The truth is, neither the soft power of historical revision and erasure nor the hard power of lynch law could keep Black people down. Despite the Klan’s best efforts, Black people fled the old plantations for the industrial plantations of the urban North. They founded new organizations, exercised the franchise, continued the fight for democracy, and called themselves “New Negroes.” These New Negroes refused Griffith’s racial and national fabulations; fought back with pickets and boycotts, speeches and editorials, scholarship and art, and outright rebellion; called on their country to get out of Haiti, the Dominican Republic, the Philippines, and Mexico; and exposed the United States for what it was—the tyranny of white supremacy masquerading as enlightened democracy.

The new Klan hoped to make America great again by purging it of un-American (read: radical) influences—Negroes, immigrants (except for those of Anglo and Scandinavian stock), Catholics, and Jews. The Klan’s pursuit of severe immigration restriction was driven not only by xenophobia but by anti-communism. Immigrant workers from Europe, the Caribbean, Latin America, and Asia populated the burgeoning socialist, anarchist, and communist organizations and were often outspoken opponents of the First World War. The Second Klan emerged against a backdrop of state and federal anti-sedition laws, the Mexican Revolution, the Bolshevik Revolution, and a wave of deportations of immigrants accused of subversive activities. In January 1920 alone, some four thousand people were rounded up all over the country, held in seclusion for long periods of time, tried in secret hearings, and deported.

So we should not be surprised that the Third Klan arose at the height of insurgent movements in the United States, when the FBI’s Counter-Intelligence Program (COINTELPRO) and local police red squads surveilled and jailed key leaders just as prison organizing reached its apex. According to Moore and Tracy, the catalyst for the John Brown Anti-Klan Committee (JBAKC) came from Black activists within the prisons, who warned that the Klan was not only growing but occupied important positions within prison administration. The call to resist the Klan galvanized white radicals on the outside who engaged in prison solidarity work. In other words, the Committee was formed not by naïve do-good liberals but by folks associated with the organized Left. Many of their principal leaders came out of cadre organizations committed to the larger project of socialist revolution and self-determination for oppressed nationalities. They saw themselves as comrades, not allies, in a life-and-death struggle to stop fascism in its tracks.

The perils of fighting the Klan were made abundantly clear on November 3, 1979, when the members of the Communist Workers Party (CWP) held an anti-Klan march at a predominantly African American housing project in Greensboro, North Carolina. As the demonstration was about the begin, a nine-car caravan pulled up carrying thirty-five armed members of the United Racist Front, an umbrella organization consisting of Klansmen and Nazis. In the space of eighty-eight seconds, they emptied more than twenty rounds of ammunition into the multiracial crowd, wounding a dozen people and killing five of the march leaders: Dr. James Waller, William Sampson, Sandra Smith, Cesar Cauce, and Dr. Michael Nathan. Three of the victims were white men, Cauce was originally a Cuban immigrant, Sandi Smith was an African American woman. All were veterans of the student anti-war and Black liberation movements, and all but Nathan were members of the Communist Workers Party. Despite the fact that a local news station captured the entire ambush on camera, two all-white juries acquitted the Klan-Nazi defendants of criminal charges in the Greensboro murders. In a civil trial in 1985, a third jury held two Greensboro police officers, the Klan–police informant, and four Klan-Nazi gunmen liable for wrongful death. The trials exposed not only the complicity of the local police but the fact that a federal agent of the Bureau Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, Bernard Butkovich, who was working undercover in the American Nazi Party, encouraged members to come to the demonstration armed and never informed the police or FBI of their plans. As a consequence of the civil suit, the city of Greensboro paid a paltry $351,000 to Dr. Martha Nathan, widow of Dr. Michael Nathan.

The John Brown Anti-Klan Committee showed unfathomable courage.

How could this be? Why, as we prepare to commemorate the fortieth anniversary of the Greensboro massacre, is this incident not part of our collective memory, our national trauma? For the same reasons that so little is known about the John Brown Anti-Klan Committee. In the political culture of the Cold War, Communists spouting “Death to the Klan” were  the principal threat, not armed white supremacists. Indeed, Klan-Nazi defense in the second trial rested on the argument that they were fighting communists, and therefore their actions had no racist intent! Members of the Communist Workers Party, like their counterparts in the John Brown organization, would not play the victim or turn the other cheek. They believed in armed self-defense and famously refused to testify in the first trial out of principled opposition to a criminal justice system that targeted them.

The John Brown Anti-Klan Committee showed unfathomable courage. Their numbers were always small; unlike Antifa and other anti-fascist protesters today, they rarely outnumbered the racists. The Klan and local police could identify them by name, knew where they lived, knew what kind of cars they drove. Committee members endured potentially deadly attacks—cut brake lines, slashed tires, burglaries, rocks thrown, and even gunfire were not uncommon. Moreover, in exposing the depths of the Klan’s paramilitary operations and the level of violence that members of the John Brown Anti-Klan Committee were up against, No Fascist USA! overturns one of the most common narratives of the era: that the Black freedom movement’s presumed shift from nonviolence to violence led to its downfall. Instead, the 1970s and early 1980s were marked by the unabated escalation of violence perpetrated by white supremacists, often with tacit support or indifference from federal, state, and local law enforcement authorities. As No Fascist USA! demonstrates, the police and feds appeared to devote more energy and resources   to surveilling and prosecuting anti-Klan activists than to corralling the Klan itself.

Members of the John Brown organization understood this all too well and, like their namesake, recognized that the resurgence of white terrorism was not a regional problem but a national one. Lest we forget, John Brown originally planned to initiate a war against slavery by dispatching guerrilla armies to raid plantations in Virginia and retreat to the hills, freeing slaves and causing havoc until the system was no longer profitable. He assumed that once an armed attack began, enslaved people would join the revolt. But by 1857–58, the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on Dred Scott convinced Brown to strike the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry instead. Why? Because the Dred Scott decision proved to Brown that while slaveholders were morally accountable for holding human beings in bondage, it was the federal government that sanctioned and sustained the institution of slavery. Slavery was a national crime, and the federal government was slavery’s prime source of authority and protection. We tend to remember one line from Chief Justice Roger Taney’s majority opinion: that Black people “had no rights which the white man was bound to respect.” But John Brown and his crew understood that what was at stake extended beyond Black citizenship. The ruling effectively rendered the Missouri Compromise unconstitutional, opening the door to make slavery legal everywhere in the United States. The majority ruled that Congress could not prohibit slavery in the territories because it never had the power to govern territories, and that denying the right to own slaves violated the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which declared that no person can be deprived of “life, liberty, or property without due process of law.” John Brown now understood the task ahead as a struggle to remake the country. So in 1858, in preparation for the raid on Harpers Ferry, he drafted “A Declaration of Liberty by the Representatives of the Slave Population of the United States of America” and what he called a “Provisional Constitution and Ordinance for the People of the United States.” Its preamble called slavery “a most barbarous, unprovoked, and unjustifiable war of one portion of its citizens upon another portion, the only conditions of which are perpetual imprisonment and hopeless servitude or absolute extermination,”  and it declared the newly created body a provisional government committed to the destruction of slavery.

While the prevailing consensus has deemed John Brown’s raid a failure, the attempt, more than any other event, provoked Southern secession and launched the Civil War, which ultimately ended chattel slavery.

No Fascist USA in Counterpunch

 

Back in 1979, the American Nazi Party and the KKK gunned down five members of the Communist Workers Party in Greensboro, NC. Present with the fascists were a turncoat Klansman/ COINTELPRO node named Ed Dawson and an FBI mole, Bernard Butkovich. Though these men knew that the Klan were armed and desirous of a gunfight, nobody outside law enforcement and state security was informed. Five lay dead and dying that afternoon, plus one wounded Nazi. Predictably, all the fascists were later acquitted in both state and federal courts (though the city settled in a separate civic trial, with $351,000 going to the plaintiffs). The message was transparent: We’re watching you and We watch out for our own.

Eight days later, the anti-fascists were rightfully armed at the funerals of their Greensboro comrades. For white antifa, the ideal should be John Brown. As Malcolm X had said in 1965:

For one, when a white man comes to me and tells me how liberal he is, the first thing I want to know, is he a nonviolent liberal, or the other kind. I don’t go for any nonviolent white liberals. If you are for me and my problems – when I say me, I mean us, our people – then you have to be willing to do as old John Brown did. And if you’re not of the John Brown school of liberals, we’ll get you later – later.

It does seem a fair question for someone who cannot disappear, to ask how far the other is going to go. It is less a question of opinion or ‘position’ and more an inquiry into what you have to lose.

The John Brown Anti-Klan Committee chanted No War, No KKK, No Fascist USA!. You hear this chant again today and it provides a title for Hilary Moore and James Tracy’s very fine history of the movement, No Fascist USA!, now available from the venerable City Lights. For some on the Left, it may be in part a cautionary tale; for others, perhaps nostalgia and the recognition of a certain contemporary drift. But for those who think, as new-age crooner Nick Cave does, that Antifa and the fascists are comparable – they won’t be reading.

The John Brown Anti-Klan Committee was born from prison, when Frank Abney, of the Black Liberation Army, discovered that the Klan were heavily recruiting among staff at the New York State Prison (his letter and an original press packet can be found here). Like Illinois Black Panther Chairman Fred Hampton, Abney thought that it was up to whites to organize in their own communities, and especially to counter acts such as the Klan’s prison guard drive. Members of Left organizations such as Prairie Fire – and to some degree, the Weather Underground – created the Committee to do just this. Hopefully, and somewhat unrealistically, with the least amount of infighting between ‘tendencies’ as possible. The JBAKC would also support other independence movements at home, in South Africa, Palestine, the Americas, as well as socialist countries such as Cuba. Mississippi was the Congo, as Malcolm X had it.

Many people stood up. Yet when people stand up, other things rise with them. Among such things was the worst aspect of white anti-racism: a classist attitude and the rejection of any dialectical understanding of Race in the States, no matter how Marxist or New Afrikan-influenced the Left might think it is. Like a lecturing neighbor, post-Wobbly leftists always had a strain of hyper-moral outrage much closer to Cotton Mather than John Brown. So it was that one Clark Martel, a jailed fascist calling in to Oprah’s TV show, saying he ‘grew up white and a second-class citizen’, was huffed at by the millionaire host – thus managing to get a point across that should not have been dismissed or ignored (least of all because it was the truth, and very dangerously so). Questions: Why was not this man a socialist? Why did he – a vicious little bastard certainly – go to the American Nazi Party instead? If his own pathetic ruin was in the price paid, the greatest part of this price would be the murder of a person like Mulugeta Seraw, an Ethiopian student in Portland who didn’t foreclose on anyone’s farm and wanted merely to be a student… Secret killers with just enough brains to see that something is wrong in the republic and enough nihilism for incremental terror, until their shocks consume them.

Despite all this, I do not think Leftism was just a fashion for the Anti-Klan movement. Almost all the members of the Committee have remained political today and still do vital work in prison reform, homeless rights and healthcare. For them, life had become truly what it was; it should also be remembered that several did prison time for Committee actions, so things weren’t easy (I am not familiar with anyone turning states’ evidence or admitting to FBI employ). It is worth comparing their fates as well to other, far flashier New Left figures such as Tom Hayden and Bill Ayers. Though many of the JBAKC were also middle class, none that I know came in from the cold to large law firms or golden ashrams for centrist Presidents.

Time can be pressurized, made to feel taut. To the anti-fascists of the late 1970s, Italy’s Years of Lead must have looked ripe for a US sequel. In waves of bombings, assassinations, kidnappings, false-flag operations, and extortion, Rightist forces concentrated on attacking the Italian Left, while picking up paychecks from conservative political liaisons and American espionage czar William Colby. The cops, Carabinieri, CIA assets, the Masonic lodge called P2, and ‘black’ fascist mercenaries hid in plain sight behind the bombs in the Plaza Fontana and Bologna station. Operating between the paras and the masses was the intelligence strata, who kept low-intensity warfare as status quo, monitoring useful elements in Mafias and fascist circles while managing the strains of finance and violence. All of them used each other to get what they wanted alone. In America, state authorities used similar measures, if only to keep their jobs or test failed theories of counterinsurgency created in Vietnam. But this being the Empire of Scams, it is hard to tell where strategies of tension like COINTELPRO, purged voter registration rolls, and good old Yankee graft begin and end.

So where have all the Klansmen gone? Much has been made of Trump’s courting of racists, but his venom is only an embarrassment for the liberal Consensus establishment. An essentially sentimental ache characterizing the managerial American Right, whether called Southern Strategy, realpolitik, public safety or the War on Drugs, which gives them cover to bomb MOVE or pass 3-time loser laws. Reagan’s Inauguration was a cesspool of the most outrageous Nazis, ranging from gruesome opportunists like Licio Gello to those ancient Eastern vampires, who, unlike Reagan himself, definitely participated in the Second World War. Reading the thumbnail sketches of the old 1970s fascists – Louis Beam, Thom Metzger, David Duke, The Order and Kommander Von Rockwell’s weedy lieutenants – a murky Polaroid image of SS costumes and cartoon bloodlust rises up again from some reactionary Limbo. None of them survived, not in any real sense of the word, to graduate to today’s Bannon-Gorka-Miller strain of immoderate power, which is probably far deadlier and easily more accessible. The Alten Right have outlived what little use-value they once had, showing up now only in bitter chatrooms or boozing themselves to death. But fascism is malleable and can marshal liquid contradictions into a useful siphon or form a robust front line from dated materials. It can create imaginative diversions in temples, and still claim the life of an Amadou Diallo by overreacting.

There is no such thing as a single fascist murder or a solitary racist attack. Up in the real White House, men like Obama and Trump have consolidated their concentration camps and protected their mass deportations with the courts. Being an amateur is unforgivable in any milieu, particularly so in official terror, which must abandon the isolated operative while valorizing his entrepreneurial impulse.

On a personal note, I can vouch for the accuracy of the Chicago portion of James and Moore’s book. And also for the punk youth who stepped up to halt the nazis recruiting at shows, some 35 years ago when that city was mauled by first-wave austerity, klannish campaigns against a Black mayor (“Of course it’s about race!” as Alderman and Democratic Party head Eddie Vrdolyak proudly cried), and more than a little funereal gloss on the old Loop grindhouses. Chicago is still the most segregated of cities, as Laquan McDonald’s murder and Burge’s pension showed, not to mention redlining and TIFF welfare for white power real estate. If 1983 was no 1963 or 1919, it was still full of powerful actors who could say, as one cop did after a particularly bloody clash between John Browners and would-be brownshirts, that “it isn’t the Nazis who are the problem – it’s these people”. That the John Brown Anti Klan Committee was not afraid to be a problem for such men says that something was done right.

Written without sparing the fissures and blind misunderstandings, No Fascist USA! is a must-read for people who know little about this fugitive period and also for those who lived it. As for its lessons for the future – it is hard to tell. The repetition of the past is repeated differently, in unforeseen ways. Several years before these events, working class organizations such as the Young Patriots first followed John Brown. In reaction, the FBI and the Democratic Machine handed down death sentences by blue and white. Black Lives Matter has paid for a wholly predictable liberal backstab with a spate of mysterious – which are not so mysterious – assassinations of its leadership. The model must always be John Brown.

One thing was different back then: No one in the JBAKC would have hesitated to defend William Von Spronsen. We see defenses of Colin Powell, Comey and Mueller, John McCain – even George Bush – from liberals, from those who call themselves ‘left’, yet barely a word for this man who lead a lone attack on a bloody apartheid facility. If it wasn’t Harper’s Ferry, Spronsen also accepted the Ferryman’s rate as the price of becoming a human being. He made his choice and then went through Tacoma’s iron gate.

In memoriam, William Von Spronsen.

In memoriam, once upon a time in Chicago: Phil L; Paul C; Chris L; Ferd E; and anyone else who is now gone.

Music to Mobilize…

In No Fascist USA! The John Brown Anti-Klan Committee and Lessons For Today, we explore how music is a critical piece of the fights against racism and fascism. Inspired by the Rock Against Racism/Two Tone movements in the United Kingdom, activists in the States also organized musical interventions to creeping fascism in the music scenes.

While writing this book, we kept inspired by a steady stream of rebel music from many different eras. Here are some our favorites that kept us going through the many manuscript revisions.

Gary Clark “This Land”

Gary Clark “This Land” will probably go down as the anthem of the fight against racism in the era of 45. “This Land,” recalls the work of the Republic of New Africa and others who fought for Black self-determination during the 1970s and 80s.

Elaine Brown “Until We’re Free”

Black Panther Elaine Brown was also an accomplished vocalist. “Until We’re Free” poignantly encapsulate much of the Panther politics that would influence many revolutionaries decades later. The founding of the John Brown Anti-Klan Committee was shaped in large part by the incarceration of Panthers and other revolutionaries thanks to COINTELPRO.

Sonic Youth “Youth Against Fascism”

Not known for writing political polemics, Sonic Youth turned up the volume against reactionaries in this 1992 classic. By 1992, most of the John Brown Anti-Klan Committee’s network had gone on to other political work. However, the spectre of nazi-skinheads still haunted many corners of the punk and counter-cultural scenes.

Special AKA “Racist Friend”

No musical movement has ever embraced the potential of cross-cultural solidarity more than Two-Tone and the Rock Against Racism projects in the United Kingdom. With the recent electoral victory of the Torries, songs like “Racist Friend” by The Special AKA might become the soundtrack of yet another fightback.

Poison Girls “Bully Boys”

Survival of the fittest

The enemy is fear

The bully boys are coming

Can it really happen here?

Common “Song For Assata”

The John Brown Anti-Klan Committee mobilized support for Assata Shakur after she escaped prison in 1979. Shakur’s life and legacy have inspired dozens (if not hundreds) of tribute songs over the years.

“Bella Ciao” 

Questa mattina mi sono svegliato…………………This morning I awakened
Bella Ciao Bella Ciao Bella Ciao Ciao Ciao……………….Good-bye beautiful
Questa mattina mi sono svegliato…………………This morning I awakened
Ed ho trovato l’invasor…………………………………..And I found the invader

O partigiano porta mi via……………………………Oh partisan carry me away
Bella Ciao Bella Ciao Bella Ciao Ciao Ciao……………….Good-bye beautiful
O partigiano porta mi via……………………………Oh partisan carry me away
Che me sento di morir’…………………………When I feel death approaching

E se io muoio da partigiano…………………………..And if I die as a partisan
Bella Ciao Bella Ciao Bella Ciao Ciao Ciao……………….Good-bye beautiful
E se io muoio da partigiano…………………………..And if I die as a partisan
Tu me devi seppellir’……………………………………..Then you must bury me

Heaven 17 “We Don’t Need No Fascist Groove Thing”

Anti-fascism you can dance to! Why should the punks and the hip-hop kids have all the fun anyhow?