When the Black Lives Matter movement began in the summer of 2013, shortly after a jury acquitted George Zimmerman of killing Trayvon Martin a year earlier, most of the protesters and leading figures where visibly black. The movement was also outside of the mainstream.
The second cycle of the movement, triggered by the murder of George Floyd on May 25, 2020, has experienced a visible increase in white participants. Indeed, over the past two months, Portland, Oregon, a very white city, has became the epicenter of the BLM movement, which many in mainstream media, following Trump's barking and tweeting, have conflated with antifa, an easily demonized contraction of anti-fascists.
One might wonder if they are down with "antifa," but who in their right black/white/Asian/Native American/Latino mind can say that are not anti-fascist, or anti-authoritarian, and, therefore, anti-extreme right-wing ideology, which in America cannot be separated from the logic of white supremacy?
But notice how many in the press insist that the white protesters in Portland, and also here in Seattle, subscribe to this really dark and dangerous antifa stuff, and not so much the police brutality and the rights of black people stuff.
To get my meaning across, let's read the opening paragraph of a piece by Vice Magazine on Michael Forest Reinoehl, the man "suspected of fatally shooting Aaron 'Jay' Danielson" during a pro-Trump rally that happened in Portland on August 29, and also the man shot dead by by US Marshals on September 3.
Ever since a member of the right-wing “Patriot Prayer” group was shot and killed during a violent rally in downtown Portland August 29, the police investigation has reportedly focused on 48-year-old Michael Forest Reinoehl, an Army veteran and father of two who has provided what he called “security” at Black Lives Matter protests.The writer put security in quotes to imply it was not really what Reinoehl was doing at the protest on August 29 and other protests he attended. Sure, he called it that, but we (the white reader) know it wasn't really that. It was something less noble and more sinister.
The New York Times did not beat about the bush in the headline for its Reinoehl story:
the ability to arrive at this language. incredible. https://t.co/fqIAbRDIxK
— Hanif Abdurraqib (@NifMuhammad) September 4, 2020
But let's look at how a reporter for Al Jazeera, a news company based in Doha, Qatar, described Reinoehl:
Reinoehl, who had provided security for Black Lives Matter protests in Portland, was allegedly involved in the shooting of Aaron Danielson on Saturday night, the US Marshals Service said.No quotation marks on security.
As for antifa? Al Jazeera's point of veiw:
In social media posts, Reinoehl described himself as a professional snowboarder, a US Army veteran and "100% ANTIFA all the way! ... We do not want violence but we will not run from it either!".That was the Vice video. But what do we find in the Vice story? "The killing of Danielson is the first linked to an antifacist protester in recent years." In recent years? There have been other antifa shootings in the not-recent past? Reader (black, white, swarthy, beige, brown), by now you get the idea. Trump has entangled the press in this utter emptiness.
Antifa is a largely unstructured, far-left movement whose followers broadly aim to confront those they view as authoritarian or racist.
"I am 100 percent anti-fascist," he said on the Vice video. "I am not a member of Antifa. I'm not a member of anything."
For Trump, white protesters can't honestly be about BLM because it is a black thing, and it is therefore incapable of making alliances outside of the black world. Blacks have been unhappy in the US, and they are likely to remain so, for no good reason. How can a white person sympathize with people who are stuck in history? In this Trumpian reading, BLM is seen as a cover. If you are black, BLM operates only as a cover for looting; if you are white, BLM operates only as a cover for more nefarious activities, for outright anarchy, for rage against the parents, for youth who need to grow up and for grownups who have failed to grow up.
This week I lost friend. He was an anarchist and anthropologist. His book, Debt: The First 5,000 Years, a masterpiece of 21st century political economy, was published. David Graeber is his name. He died in Venice at the age of 59. Two months before his passing, he emailed me for information about CHAZ, which was then making headlines around the world. He was intrigued: How big was it? What were its chances? Was it for real? Graeber was turning in his mind the idea of coming to Seattle to participate in the spatial experiment. I offered him a place to stay. He accepted the offer but thought visiting the US would very difficult at the time (he lived in London). His second-to-last letter to me that morning, June 12, provided something that, as time passed, came closer and closer to an answer for why so many white people are supporting Black Lives Matter in the second cycle.
I leave this post with his timely words:
I’ve been thinking it’s interesting to reflect what’s the motives of all those white kids waving signs saying “I don’t understand but I’m in solidarity” - well, obviously they don’t understand everything, but if they didn’t understand anything at all, they wouldn’t be there. What is it that speaks to them so profoundly? Why come out of lockdown in this way. I’m thinking in part it’s a generation who were told their lives would be spent mostly online, realised under lockdown this is just what they had in store for us anyway: their most meaningful relationships via social media as they sat in little rooms, alone or in pairs, for the next thirty years until the seas boil and they all die - so they’re thinking, fuck this, let’s go out and meet each other and reinvent society. “Society” is precisely the measure of what’s been taken away. Perhaps the social death of slavery, the bureaucratisation of state violence in the police, is felt as just the most extreme form of something everyone experiences to a lesser degree under the current order so it seems like the obvious thing to rise up against if you are trying to invent society all over again - except right this time.