By Eric Fleischmann, Center for a Stateless Society
This year, in response to nationwide protests against police brutality, President Donald Trump has repeatedly attempted to associate Black Lives Matter with anarchists and anarchism. He has tweeted such threatening posts as just the phrase “Anarchists, we see you!” with a video of a man dressed in black at one protest, and he has referred to protesters in Portland, Oregon as “anarchists who hate our Country” and called for Governor Kate Brown to “clear out, and in some cases arrest, the Anarchists & Agitators in Portland.” It is certainly true that many anarchists—such as myself—have been involved in Black Lives Matter protests, but it is obvious that President Trump is not making an objective ideological observation but rather is attempting to use anarchist as a ‘dirty word’ intended to make protestors out to be terroristic criminals.
This is unsurprising coming from a right-wing, authoritarian, corporate capitalist (one might even succinctly say ‘fascist’) who obviously sees anarchism as the antithesis of his vision of the world, but this rhetoric is not confined to Trump and Trumpist Republicans. Recently, in a speech delivered in Wilmington, Delaware, Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden employed a similar tactic in the following statement: “I’ve said from the outset of the recent protests that there’s no place for violence or destruction of property. Peaceful protesters should be protected, and arsonists and anarchists should be prosecuted, and local law enforcement can do that.”
Foregoing discussions around the conflation of violence with property damage, the truly disturbing element of this statement is the association of arson with anarchism and consequently the latter with violent criminality. As MSNBC’s Chris Hayes tweets, “‘anarchist’ is not some free-floating category of criminal. It’s perfectly legal to be an anarchist, as protected by the first amendment and it’s a gross violation of the spirit of liberty to imply otherwise.” And even a 2010 piece on the FBI website about terroristic violence motivated by “anarchist extremism” prefaces its content with the statement that “[a]narchism is a belief that society should have no government, laws, police, or any other authority. Having that belief is perfectly legal, and the majority of anarchists in the U.S. advocate change through non-violent, non-criminal means.”