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Why don’t we know who the anarchists really are?

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I sent this memo to the San Francisco Chronicle’s investigative news reporter, Phil Matier, after our mayor here in Oakland, Libby Schaaf, referred to the “agitators” who once again looted and rioted in downtown Oakland on Saturday night:

Mr. Matier,

As an avid and informed consumer of the news (and a 30-years-plus subscriber to the Chron’s print edition), I find it astounding that I know almost nothing about the “agitators” who have been tearing my home town, Oakland, apart for years.

Why do we not know the following:

1. Are these people ever arrested, indicted and brought to justice?
2. How many have actually been charged with crimes?
3. Do they ever get sentenced to prison, as they should be? Or is there a revolving door?
4. If they’re getting off scott free (which seems to be the case), who’s letting them off? DA’s? Judges? The Mayor?
5. Who are the agitators? What are their motives? How do they receive orders, and from whom? Are they even interrogated by the police?

This latter question is particularly timely. We read all sorts of things: that they’re “anarchists” from the Left – from the Right – that they have no known political affiliations – that they belong to Antifa – that there’s no such thing as Antifa – that they’re secretly working to elect Trump – that they’re encouraged by the Russians — and on and on. Conspiracy theories abound. And yet, we know NOTHING about them — and for this, I blame the media, who have failed to do the investigative journalism that’s called for. 

Mr. Matier, what are you waiting for? We, the people, deserve to know these things, which are having such an impact on our history. And yet, nobody is telling us!

To tell you the truth, I don’t expect an answer from Phil Matier. But isn’t my point correct? These anarchists, or agitators, or whatever you want to call them, are one of the biggest domestic news stories in recent memory. They’re tearing apart multiple U.S. cities, and trump is using them to promote his re-election. But do you know any more about them than I do?

We really need answers.

My cousin, Maxine, told me, “You’re a journalist. Why don’t you do the reporting?”

Well, before I was a famous wine critic (smile), I put in my time at the East Bay Express and the Oakland Tribune, back when it was a real newspaper, not the facsimile it is today. I did investigative reporting. The problem is, it’s really hard for someone like me—just an average citizen—to get information these days. Agencies like the police department and the District Attorney’s office are basically shut down, not only because of the pandemic but because of defunding. There’s nobody there who wants to deal with pesky citizens asking pesky questions. I have no contacts, no one who will take a phone call from me and give me information, even anonymously, as Phil Matier does.

This is part of the problem. Newspapers are only a ghost of what they used to be. We used to depend on newspapers to keep our local politicians and businessmen honest. But with media consolidation, many communities no longer even have a local newspaper. Here in the Bay Area, with its millions of people, we have only two: the Bay Area News Group, puts “separate” newspapers out in cities such as Oakland and San Jose, but which is really just one big conglomerate, from whom no one expects serious reporting. Then, we have the San Francisco Chronicle. It occasionally tries to be a real paper; sadly, they’re owned by the Hearst Corporation, with all that implies. So there’s no one left to investigate, to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable,” in the sage words of Mother Jones.

Like cockroaches, wrongdoers do their work in the dark. Jane Mayer’s magnificent 2016 book, Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right, does a superb job reporting on how secretive these rightwing forces that support donald trump are, and how they strive to escape public scrutiny by taking advantage of the absence of investigative reporting in America. They don’t want you or me to know anything about them, because if we did, we might become so indignant we’d vote their tools (Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, McConnell, DeSantis, McCarthy) out of office. This makes me wonder if there are interests who do not want us to know who the “agitators” really are. I’m not a very diligent conspiracy theorist, but it really does blow my mind that, after all this time, there’s zero reporting on them (that I know of).

If I dig up anything on the agitators, I’ll publish it here.

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