On Aug. 12, 2017, an angry white nationalist participating in a Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Va., deliberately sped his car up and drove into unsuspecting counterdemonstrators, striking and killing Heather Heyer and injuring dozens more. Donald Trump’s initial response was to condemn the “display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides.”Fast forward to Aug. 25, 2020. Trump’s 17-year-old supporter Kyle Rittenhouse crossed the Illinois state line, carrying an AR-15-style rifle, to Kenosha, Wis., where he shot and killed two people and wounded another at a rally for Jacob Blake.
Kenosha police let Rittenhouse walk away from the shootings. Following his peaceful arrest, an Illinois judge postponed a decision to extradite Rittenhouse to Wisconsin until Sept. 25. On Aug. 31, Trump suggested that Rittenhouse “did nothing wrong” and “exercised his god-given, constitutional, common law and statutory law right to self-defense.”
Meanwhile on Aug. 29, heavily armed Trump supporters in hundreds of trucks staged a violent rally in Portland, Ore., driving their vehicles into counterdemonstrators and attacking them with pepper spray, bats and sticks. Activist Michael Forest Reinoehl went to the aid of a friend who was surrounded by pro-Trump protesters.
Feeling he was acting in self-defense, Reinoehl confronted and shot Trump rally participant Aaron J. Danielson. A nightly presence at Black Lives Matter protests in Portland, Reinoehl had been shot in the arm earlier in August trying to wrestle a gun from a right-wing protester. He explained his decision in an interview shortly before he was killed, execution style, by federal forces Sept. 3. (tinyurl.com/y2rwh6ry)
No formal charges had been issued against Reinoehl, yet federal agents, under the leadership of the Pacific Northwest Violent Offender Task Force, assassinated him at his home in Olympia, Wash. This state overkill unit included the U.S. Marshals Service fugitive task force, local police, county sheriffs and Washington State Department of Corrections guards — all without body cameras.
U.S. Attorney General William Barr called this government hit by a military force “a significant accomplishment in the ongoing effort to restore law and order in Portland and other cities.”
The coordinated state assassination prevented Reinoehl from ever having his case heard in court. It is a far cry from how the state dealt with Rittenhouse.
Trump has frequently praised the violence of right-wing militias, while portraying antifa specifically and the left in general as the “terrorist threat.” It is absolutely clear that Trump will not hesitate to unleash state-sanctioned policing forces and, when convenient, paramilitary forces whose visibility is growing rapidly.
Trump is not alone. Police across the U.S. have a long, notorious history of support for and from extralegal white supremacist terrorist groups. A popular chant for decades, now heard at some BLM rallies, is “Cops and the Klan work hand-in-hand!”
How to answer the fascist danger
How does the progressive, anti-racist, pro-BLM movement respond to the upsurge in paramilitary, right-wing, pro-Trump violence? Just waiting to vote for Joe Biden is not enough. Biden has his own pro-police history.
It is critical to understand the historic role played by right-wing terrorists during capitalist crises.
In “The Klan & Government: Foes or Allies?” (1983), Workers World Party’s late founder and Chairperson Sam Marcy reminds us that “The growth of fascism everywhere has been securely tied to big business; that is its lifeline. . . . Even in the so-called best of times the capitalist government not only tolerates terrorist organizations like the Klan, but once the class struggle of the workers and oppressed people takes on the character of a genuine mass upsurge, the capitalist government is more likely than ever to encourage and promote the likes of the Klan and other mediums of repression.
“It is impossible to conduct a consistent anti-fascist policy unless one takes into account the key and decisive factor in overwhelming and destroying the fascist menace; it is the working class, the oppressed people and their allies.” (Read “The Klan & Government: Foes or Allies?” at workers.org/books )
Shortly after Heather Heyer’s murder, activists in Durham, N.C., responded by toppling a hated Confederate statue, elevating the movement to a higher level.
Activists in Portland, Ore., are calling for a Labor for Black Lives and Against Fascism action against a planned right-wing protest there Sept. 26.
On Sept. 4, several unions representing millions of workers called for work stoppages for racial justice. “The status quo — of police killing Black people, of armed white nationalists killing demonstrators, of millions sick and increasingly desperate — is clearly unjust, and it cannot continue,” the joint statement read. (tinyurl.com/y2erez23)
Union leaders are following the lead of professional athletes who staged walkouts in late August over the shooting of Jacob Blake, which forced the postponement of several major league games: “They remind us that when we strike to withhold our labor, we have the power to bring an unjust status quo to a grinding halt.”
Now is not the time to go underground or run to the border. The threat from the right calls for bold, anti-racist, unifying and class-conscious actions. The struggle must still be in the streets.