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Who is Brian Jordan Bartels?

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I’ve been saying for years that the looters, arsonists and rioters who hide themselves inside legitimate protests are not leftist “antifa” people, but white supremacist, neo-fascist revolutionaries who just want to create chaos and, if they can, provoke a civil war.

Anybody who reads my blog knows that’s been my position ever since Occupy days. To label these people “left wing agitators,” as Republicans are doing, is wrong. Of course, individual looters have individual motives. Some are just looking for free shit. Some may well have convinced themselves they’re superheroes battling the forces of fascism and repression. But—and this is the kernel of my argument and has been since 2011, when I first encountered these losers—many, maybe even a majority, are exactly what I described: white supremacist, neo-fascist punks.

That’s who Brian Jordan Bartels is. He’s the 20-year old white Pittsburgh guy who was arrested the other day for “institutional vandalism, criminal mischief, rioting and five counts of reckless endangerment” when video of him surfaced destroying a police car, in the middle of a peaceful Black Lives Matter/George Floyd demonstration. It’s awful watching him—you want to jump on him and scream STOP! Which is exactly what one of the marchers, a young Black guy, did. Watch and listen to the video: It’s inspiring. “No!” The Black guy screams at Bartels. Then, at the crowd-at-large: “What did I tell you? What did I tell you? It is not Black people [committing the violence]. What are you doing?” Here, Bartels—clad from head to foot in black, including a hoodie—gives the fuck finger to the Black guy, even as another voice, clearly that of a Black woman, yells at Bartels, “You’re not helping us!”

Well, fortunately, Bartels’ parents turned him in to police. According to a Pittsburgh news station, a search of Bartels’ home turned up “2 firearms, books, gloves, cans of spray paint, indica (marijuana), and a sweatshirt with white writing on the front.” As I write these words, it’s not clear where the case is right now in the Pennsylvania courts, but we can only hope they throw the book at him.

I’m so glad Bartels was busted because it’s important to know who these violent idiots are. As the director of the FBI—yes, Trump’s FBI–has said, “homegrown violent extremists [are] the greatest threat to the United States.” And these violent extremists are, as was reported yesterday by NBC, often “white nationalist groups” like “Identity Evropa,” which ran fake Twitter posts such as this incendiary one: “Tonight’s the night, Comrades,” it says, with a brown raised fist, “tonight we say ‘Fuck The City’ and we move into the residential areas… the white hoods…. and we take what’s ours …”. This is not Black people talking. It is not “Communists” despite the stupid “comrades” use; it is white nationalists trying to sound Black, trying to rouse a peaceful protest into mass violence so that Americans will denounce the demonstrators, fear Black people, and thus help Trump.

It’s really important to lend the lie to the Trump allegation that “Antifa” is responsible for the violence. Antifa doesn’t exist: there’s no such thing. It’s a made-up term, a neologism that’s the short form of “anti-fascist” whose usage goes back to the 1930s, when German Communists used it to describe themselves and their struggle against Hitler and Nazism. Nowadays, it means absolutely nothing. I have never once seen the word “antifa” spray painted on a wall, and I live in Oakland, where tagging your affiliation and your cause is a way of life. Ever since the Occupy days of 2011, every time there’s a protest you see all kinds of tags: Black Lives Matter, ACAB, and so on, but “Antifa”? Never. I doubt if there’s a single protester anywhere who calls himself “Antifa.” The only reason this word is bandied about is because it’s useful for Trump to rile up his white supremacist base and to lump all protest under a single umbrella term his followers can hate.

So who is Brian Jordan Bartels? Nobody. A human nothingness, a piece of flotsam on the eddies on history, a felon who deserves to rot in jail. The more important question is, who is he not? And the answer is: he is not a leftist, not a liberal, not some crusading freedom fighter battling fascists. He has no political ideals, no moral compass; he is simply a spoiled suburban white brat who, unhappy with his own life, tried to make himself important. Keep that in mind the next time you hear a Republican blame the violence on leftists.

I wrote the other day that the violence was diluting the impact of the peaceful protests, and that the peaceful marchers needed to confront the thugs in their midst. I came under fire here in Oakland for saying that. People said it was unrealistic and/or counter-productive. But I was right. The peaceful marchers are now doing just that, which is why the protests are growing in importance; as the violence declines, there’s a corresponding rise in middle-of-the-road white support. This is a significant and welcome development.

I wish I could shake the hand of the Black guy in that video, the one who confronted Bartels. I hope you remember, for the rest of your life, the anguish in his voice, a voice that should define history. “No! What did I tell you? What did I tell you? It is not Black people! What are you doing?”


Say hello to the clerical-fascist state

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With Trump’s threat yesterday to send the U.S. military into American cities, we’re one step closer to the dreaded scenario some of us have been worrying about for several years: the establishment of a military dictatorship.

Of course, it wouldn’t be just a military dictatorship. It would be a military-clerical-fascist dictatorship. This term stems from Mussolini’s Italy, where his authoritarian regime was built with the help of the most conservative of the Vatican’s Catholics (the clerical part). The fascist part refers to the corporations that funded Mussolini, who crafted laws they wanted. And, of course, it was all backed up by the power of his National Republican Army.

I always said that Trump’s role model in history—to the extent he’s aware of history—was Benito Mussolini. Many of Trump’s gestures and body language—the outthrust chin and clenched jaw is the best example—resemble Mussolini’s, although to be fair, Trump also learned a thing of two from Hitler. What Trump likes about them both is, of course, that they were dictators. They didn’t have to deal with meddlesome Governors, Senators or Congressmen. It was their way or the highway, just as it is with Trump today: he can’t stand to be contradicted or challenged. Stand in his way, and he’ll reduce you to an insulting nickname.

Well, Trump says a lot of dumb stuff that never happens, so maybe this threat to deploy the Army in L.A., Oakland, New York, Milwaukee and other U.S. cities is just a bunch of hokum. But maybe it isn’t. The riddle of Trump, for those of us trying to understand if he has an end game beyond getting re-elected, is whether he really will try to seize permanent power, like his friend Putin, who is seeking to have laws passed extending his power until 2036.

Trump would love something similar here. His children already are lining up to follow him in the line of succession. A significant number of Republicans are said to favor either Ivanka or the chinless Junior for president in 2024, and senior Republicans have predicted that either Junior, Ivanka or the dreadfully evil Jared Kushner will be president sooner or later. Maybe all three. These are banana republic fantasies, of course. But if Trump successfully manages to take over the American states by imposing “his” military on them, we’re well on the path to becoming a banana republic, with all the nepotism that implies.

Meanwhile Trump’s Christians are salivating. That’s the meaning of his absurd holding up of a Bible yesterday when he commanded “his” troops to clear the streets so he could pose for a photo op in front of a church.

Trump has about as much understanding of the Bible as he does of the Constitution, but he does understand that the simple-minded evangelicals who think Jesus sent him will applaud his move. With that wink-wink to his religious base, Trump assures them they’ll have a seat at the table if—and it’s a big if—they stand back and let him do all sorts of unconstitutional things that are direct attacks on our democracy. And, of course, they will. Evangelicals never cared about democracy. They want a clerical state with themselves in charge, and Trump is going to let them have one, if he’s in a position to do so.

As for the corporations, look no further than Mark Zuckerberg to see the kind of fascist corporate CEO that Mussolini loved. For reasons of his own that aren’t yet quite clear, Zuckerberg has come out of the conservative closet in the past year, underscoring his devotion to Trump, prepared to use his own immense power to further Republican-Facebook interests (which are the financial interests of most large corporations), and to intimidate his own employees lest they get too outspoken on behalf of Democratic causes.

Now, I’ve listed the clerical, corporate and military assets Trump has, but he possesses one further wild card, or two (depending on how you define these things): the gun owners of America in the form of the N.R.A., and the nation’s police and sheriff’s forces, on the city and county level. Trump claims that they’re all on his side; in the event of a national breakdown or civil war, he believes that local constabularies will crush their own people in order to protect him. We have no way of testing such a proposition, which may well not be true. Probably, if push comes to shove, the internal police forces of America will themselves be divided, with no clear majority on either side.

So, is this it? I’ve wondered that many, many times in the last three years. It never is “it,” in the sense of “it” being some spectacular collapse of the existing order and the absolute consolidation of the power of Donald J. Trump. But “it” always looms out there, like a sword of Damocles threatening to chop off our necks at any moment. This current crisis, or series of crises (the pandemic, the economic meltdown, the riots), is as close to “it” as I’ve seen in my lifetime, during which I’ve seen a lot of shit go down. Remarkably, the stock markets have remained intact, for which I have no explanation except to speculate that investors see more hope ahead than I do. But maybe the hope of the markets is for the very clerical-fascist dictatorship I fear. Mussolini, too, was good for business.


Occupy committed suicide. Now, the George Floyd movement is doing the same

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I probably react more emotionally to the protests and looting than some people, because for the better part of ten years, my Oakland neighborhood has experienced more of that than possibly any other in America.

Since the Fall of 2011, I’ve witnessed on at least six occasions the widespread smashing of shop windows and automobile windows, the arson burning of stores, the ugly racist graffiti on every wall, the wanton destruction of public and private property; and it’s reached a point where I hate the people responsible for it. I dread the announcement that a “peaceful protest” is being launched, because I know—we all know in Oakland—that there’s no such thing as a peaceful protest. They may start out non-violently, but as soon as nightfall comes, the agents provocateurs crawl out from their hiding places and begin their criminal rampage.

What these thugs have been doing has nothing—repeat, nothing to do with civil rights. What has been happening in Oakland and elsewhere since Friday night has nothing to do with George Floyd. The legitimate protesters know that, although they’re intimidated from admitting it. The thugs couldn’t care less about George Floyd, or anything else. They care about rage for its own sake, for the cheap thrill of wanton destruction, for stealing sneakers and CD players and anything else they can get their hands on.

What difference does it make if they’re “leftist” or “rightist” or anything-“ist”? Mostly they’re opportunists, looking to get high, rampage, scream their little heads off, encourage each other with fist bumps and high fives, and rip off stores where hard-working Oaklanders work their tails off for little money. The vandals and looters have no political philosophy beyond “Smash everything,” which makes them ideal useful idiots for the likes of nihilists such as Steve Bannon, who desire nothing more than to smash the system so that their guys—the rightwing cabal that put Trump into office—can overturn our Constitution and run America like a mafia-religious-corporate kleptocracy.

The debate raging here in Oakland is to what extent what I’m calling “legitimate protesters” are responsible for the violence. The protesters say, “Don’t blame us. We didn’t do it.” And they add, without evidence, “Besides, the looters and arsonists are mainly undercover cops, trying to poison our movement.” To which I respond: What complete and utter bullshit. Sorry, protesters, the looters and arsonists are young, angry, spoiled, entitled brats—black and white. And there’s no way for the average American to any longer tell the difference between a “legitimate” protester, on the one hand, and the criminal looters, on the other. In the public mind, you are all one, cut from the same cloth. Whether you like it or not, your movement has been hijacked by these thugs—with your complicit permission.

The protesters hate hearing this inconvenient truth. “You must be a racist,” they scream, “if you don’t support us 100%.” No, I’m not a racist. I love and support my city, my home, and whatever threatens it, threatens me. When these demonstrations turn violent, the violence is directed against me, against my friends, against my home, against my neighbors. Why would I not defend those things?

Back in 2011, I was a fervent believer in Occupy Oakland, which was the precursor of all of this. I visited with the occupiers at City Hall, struck up conversations to understand them, believed in the cause: it was shocking that one percent of all Americans owned 99% of the wealth. The income gap, the wealth inequality, the systematic injustice had to end. I marched with Occupy and was proud that so many of my neighbors marched with me. But that pride, that glow of moral superiority ended for me on the night of Oct. 25, 2011, when Occupy protesters who had been peaceful suddenly reached for their crowbars and hammers and began rampaging throughout the city, breaking and burning and smashing and destroying. I was shocked out of my wits—could not understand what was happening, was utterly unprepared for this turn of events. Turning to a young man, clad in a black mask, next to me, who was smashing everything he could, I—already an old man—asked him why he was destroying our town.

It was a naïve, simple question; I really wanted to hear what he had to say. Instead, he punched me, called me something vulgar, and made his way into the night. Over the following days, I tried to reconcile my emotional belief in Occupy with the evidence of my own eyes that this was no longer a trustworthy group I could associate with. I went to an Occupy town hall meeting a few days later and argued that Occupy must “self-police itself” to rid the movement of these looters and criminals. I was out-voted: Occupy, which claimed to have no leaders, unilaterally decided on a “by any means necessary” policy, which meant they allowed and even encouraged violence. When the Occupy movement in America died, in 2012, I wrote that “Its death was not by natural causes. Occupy committed suicide.”

And now we have this current movement, in the name of George Floyd, slowly, pitifully dying, and for exactly the same reason: its adherents refuse to condemn and confront the criminality committed by their cohorts. They could, if they wanted to: every time a black-masked thug starts to smash and burn, a team of a dozen peaceful protesters could surround the perp, reason with him and, if reason were non-availing, resort to more conclusive action to eject him from their midst. But the peaceful protesters refuse to do that. “It’s not our job,” they whine.

Well, yes, it is. Study history. Study the rise and fall of Occupy, and realize that the same thing will happen to your movement, unless you reform it now.


I’m a “racist” because I don’t want protesters to burn down my city

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At some point last night I stopped reading my emails. There was so much hate coming in and I just didn’t want to deal with it anymore. I was a “racist” because I was not in favor of burning down cities. I should take my “white entitlement” and shut up because I am against setting fire to buildings.

What was the cause of such opprobrium? We all knew there was going to be a violent demonstration in downtown Oakland last night. San Jose had already exploded earlier in the day, and that was, of course, the followup to three consecutive nights of violence in Minneapolis. Before dark came to Northern California, the news outlets reported that downtown stores in Oakland—my gym, banks, restaurants, my local CVS drugstore, Peet’s Coffee and Starbucks—were boarding their front windows up with plywood. The protests were to start at, roughly, 8 p.m. but by late afternoon, the streets down around City Hall already were thronged with demonstrators as well as Oakland police and dozens of Alameda County Sheriff’s deputies. Oakland, sadly, has a history of violent demonstrations dating back to “Occupy” days, and, after the events surrounding the death of George Floyd, everybody was aware that it was going to happen again. As one person tweeted, “If the demonstrations in San Jose were so bad, imagine how they’ll go down tonight in Oakland.”

Well, this morning, as the outcome in Oakland becomes clearer, the news is bad—but it could have been worse. The damage appears to have been less than in some past protests. There were store burnings, including a Starbucks, a Chase bank, and a Mercedes dealership, but nothing nearly as widespread as we saw in Minneapolis. In the night’s most shocking and cowardly development, assailants in a speeding car shot and killed a security guard protecting the Federal Building downtown.

My “crime” was, as I said, praying for peace. Please demonstrate, I tweeted; it is your right, and we all share the same horror at what those officers did in Minneapolis. But please, I exhorted readers, don’t burn, loot, pillage, vandalize or wantonly smash windows. What’s the point? The collective response to me was along the lines of “No justice, no peace,” or, “Sometimes we need to smash things to be heard.” Several people accused me of valuing “property” over “black lives.” Another roundly cursed me when I challenged her characterization of the evening as “an insurrection.” When I replied it seemed more like “a riot” to me, the anti-white expletives came flying. That’s when I shut down my computer and instead read a good book. I don’t need that mental stress.

At one point I was going to point out that Blacks aren’t the only oppressed minority. As a Jew and a gay man, both those groupings have suffered their share of discrimination and violence. I don’t care to play the game of “who suffered more?”, only to put these things into context. Nor do I feel “entitled” as a white man. Yes, I’m Caucasian, but my life has been a continual struggle against financial insecurity; no one ever gave me anything for free; what little I have, I worked hard for.

But then I thought back over history and realized that Jews and gays both resorted to physical violence when events demanded that reaction. Ancient Jews, led by the Maccabees, fought back against the Romans; more contemporary Jews famously fought the Nazis in Warsaw; and today, of course, Israel’s Jews fight Arabs who attack them. Gay people rose up against the New York City cops at Stonewall, and, after Harvey Milk’s assassin, Dan White, was basically let off in his trial, San Francisco’s gay community burned police cars and wrecked City Hall, in the famous White Night riots.

So I can’t take refuge in my Jewishness or gayness in urging peace. All I can say is that I did not participate in those White Night riots. I have never participated in violent demonstrations, including during the Vietnam War, when I marched plenty in anti-war protests but never raised my hand against anyone or anything.

Do I prefer “property” over “black lives”? No. It’s not a binary choice anyway, and it’s misleading and intellectually dishonest to portray things that way. I might have asked my twitter interlocutors, “What has violence ever gained the Black community in America? Name me one time when violence increased your freedom, or gave you more justice or opportunity?” None come to my mind. The Black community, or certain elements within it, have been demanding violent revolution since I was a teenager. I met Stokely Carmichael because my nextdoor neighbor, a white Jewish girl, was dating him, and I thought he was great. Well do I remember the militancy of the Black Panthers, whose ideological goals I, and most other Jews, embraced. But tell me a single thing that the Black militancy of the 1960s and 1970s accomplished.

I suppose you could call my politics “Obama-style Democratic.” Obama is a gradualist, not a revolutionary. He understands that violence only begets more violence. When someone on the Left commits violence, it gives people on the Right the excuse they need to retaliate. We see this in Donald Trump’s entire political career: “when the looting starts the shooting starts.” The Right, I am convinced, is sicker and more pathological than the Left, but anyone who thinks that violence is the answer is a lunatic.

So if some people on twitter want to insult me as a “racist” because I urge peace, fine. I couldn’t care less. What I do care about is my city—poor, beleaguered Oakland. Sometimes, it’s hard for me to remain a Democrat, when I look at these extremes on the edges of my party, with whom I have such profound differences. I had the choice, in 2016, of becoming one of those “Obama Republicans” who voted for Trump. But I will never do that. I believe in the values of the Democratic Party, even if it’s not moving as swiftly as some want it to; and I understand that everything in life is a tradeoff. The Democratic Party never was as strong on LGBT issues as I wished it to be. But I didn’t abandon it, nor did I destroy property in my frustration.

It’s hard, these days, to maintain one’s sense of proportion, to keep oneself from being sucked into the ideological maelstrom of extremism and anger-fueled acting out. But I know that violence is stupid and unproductive or counter-productive. It also helps Trump, and that’s perhaps the hardest thing for me to understand about the violent protesters. Do they not know that they’re working, in essence, for his re-election? Do they perhaps think, in some twisted form of logic, that a Trump re-election will increase the odds of a successful Leftward revolution in America? I know it won’t. I think they know it won’t, in their heart of hearts. My sympathies are with them, the protesters, but at the same time I want the police to arrest the violent perpetrators and throw the book at them.


Trump’s Reichstag Fire

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The burning of Minneapolis gives Trump a powerful new weapon to use in his bid for re-election. He can argue—indeed, he already has, on his Twitter feed—that he is the only person who can stand between the forces of disorder and lawlessness, on the one hand, and order and stability, on the other—and he can offer a case that the Democratic Party has become the home of chaos, criminality and the breakdown of civic stability.

That’s a good argument. It will obviously appeal to his law-and-order base, but it might attract some waverers in the middle who, alarmed at what went down in Minneapolis, and fearful the violence might presage some kind of national breakdown, could put aside all their pre-existing concerns about Trump and vote for him anyway.

History witnessed something akin to this situation nearly 90 years ago, when the German Parliament (Reichstag) Building burned down on the night of Feb. 27, 1933. Adolf Hitler had been in power only little more than one month, but the arson-ignited blaze gave him the pretext to blame “Communists,” after which he began solidifying the national-security state that led to his dictatorship and, of course, to World War II. Historians now believe (and many already did at the time) that it was not Communists that started the fire, but Hitler’s own men, under the direction of his Interior Minister, Hermann Goring. The fire and its aftermath are now known collectively as The Reichstag Fire, and serve as a metaphor for a deliberate act of espionage, deception and destruction that gives a would-be dictator an excuse to crack down on his opposition and scare the living hell out of his country’s citizens.

In Minneapolis the destruction of a large part of the city is the equivalent of the burning of the Parliament Building. In Donald J. Trump we see the equivalent of Hitler, a conservative, angry and mendacious man, eager to amass all power at whatever cost, and surrounded by a violent clan of rightwing fascists eager to do his bidding. But who are the “Communists” that Trump is blaming for the destruction?

Just look at his tweets today. Leftists, obviously. Thugs. The radical left. Democrats. In other words, the usual scapegoats Trump uses to rile up his base. But let us look deeper. Who really committed the violence in Minneapolis?

All the reporting suggests that the overwhelming majority of the thousands of demonstrators who showed up to protest the murder of George Floyd were peaceful. They gathered (as is their Constitutional right). They marched, and held signs, and chanted slogans, just as Americans have done since founding of the Republic. They watched the buildings erupt into flames, but they did not start the fires. Then who did?

I need to segue for a moment back to 2011, when the Occupy Movement—which came of age here in Oakland—held a massive rally to protest economic inequality and racism. On the Tuesday night of Oct. 25, a huge crowd surrounding City Hall was broken up by police, who, after repeated warnings urging them to disperse, fired projectiles at them. One man, a former Marine named Scott Olsen, was hit in the head, and suffered a serious skull fracture.

Immediately following the outbreak of violence, the crowd of thousands scattered in all directions. I know; I was among them, having marched with Occupy out of sympathy with their ideals. I soon found myself in a sub-group of perhaps several hundred people, chaotically running away from the fighting and violence surrounding City Hall. There was a young man, running next to me, dressed all in black, with a black bandana covering his face. I was noticing him when he reached into his pants leg and pulled out a crowbar, with which he systematically began smashing car windows at random, store windows at random, and anything else he could find.

Shocked, I approached him and asked him what was doing. “Why are you breaking stuff?” I said. “This is our city. You don’t even know whose cars they are.” In response, the young man pushed me, hard. I decided not to experiment with my karate skills, but instead let him disappear back into the throng and the night.

We learned soon enough that a small band of agents provocateurs had infiltrated the thousands of peaceful demonstrators. They were determined to cause violence, vandalism and mayhem. They were called The Black Bloc.

They were entirely anonymous, and they kept their secrets well. Nobody seemed to understand their motives. Were they Communists? Libertarians? Anarchists? Anti-fascists? These conjectures all assume they dwelled on the Left side of the political spectrum, but many, including me, soon began to suspect they were actually from the far Right. Just as Goring’s thugs had started the Reichstag Fire to solidify Nazi control of Germany, so it seemed possible that rightwing fascists were stoking public fears, to cast doubt on liberal democracy and to make the people long for an authoritarian figure who would restore safety to America.

We don’t know to this day whom the Black Bloc really was (although there are people in my neighborhood who, I am convinced, were part of it, and they do tend to dress all in black, like Goths). But yesterday’s events in Minneapolis also seemed to have been caused by latter-day descendants of the Black Bloc. And what of the thousands of other demonstrators, in whose midst these Black Bloc thugs did their dirty work? They were—in the term Lenin is said to have used“useful idiots,” people who propagandize for a cause without fully comprehending the cause’s goals, and who are cynically used by the cause’s leaders. In this case, the majority of demonstrators did come from the Left; but the people who cynically “used” them were the Black Bloc, the same rightwing agents provocateurs I saw destroying Oakland in 2011.

I hope that the media and law enforcement do a much better job of singling out and identifying these Black Bloc criminals, and explaining their political connections to rightwing militia and survivalist groups, including those so prevalent in the Trump administration. There was a true failure of investigation back in 2011; we have got to do a better job understanding who these people are, their real nature, who is supporting them financially and spiritually, and what their precise goals are. I firmly believe there are ties between the Minneapolis arsonists and the Trump administration. William Barr’s Justice Department will do everything in its considerable power to hide those connections; but they exist and can and must be ferreted out.


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