ON SNITCHING AND THE DAYS AHEAD

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Published  December 2016

I thought hard about the most important survival and resistance strategy to emphasize in the wake of the recent change in national figurehead. I asked people smarter than me who have more experience and perspectives more informed by history. Based on this, I believe the highest point at which the lines of “threats to our safety” and “things we have any control over” intersect is at the crucial juncture of snitching.

Snitching includes accidental snitching, snitching on oneself, and participation in the general online culture of snitching. Snitching includes how media interacts with anti-oppression movements and how we interact with media.

Snitching is a gamut—it’s everything from calling attention to illegal behavior at a protest to bragging drunkenly about your own illegal actions. It includes some very natural and human activities, from the status or gossip-driven desire for inside info on who-did-what to subtle social choices which empower and legitimize snitch behavior in those around you.

But rather than a mere neoliberal, a fascist (in the literal sense) will soon be in control of a vast, historically unprecedented state surveillance and police control apparatus, what Edward Snowden called “a turnkey tyranny.” Make no mistake: there are now only two sides. One side is those who oppose Trump’s administration and fascism itself by whatever means, and the other is those who further the government’s aims.

This means those on the anti-Trump side must take security seriously, and the biggest key to security is not about having the right apps on your phone. Security is about strategic silence, good, intentional communication habits, and gently counseling those around you who behave in a snitchy way.

TAG YOUR FRIENDS

I spoke at length with those who participated in the post-election protest/riots locally in the wake of Trump’s election, veterans of revolutionary street-fighting who’ve been arrested multiple times in anti-authoritarian struggle. One protester’s remarks were so on-point I reproduce them here verbatim:

The first night was great, but after it was over I was amazed to see people posting pictures of themselves to the [protest’s] Facebook Event, tagging themselves and their friends. It’s like—do you understand that Facebook is a massive facial-recognition database? You’re out here chanting against fascism, and then identifying yourself on Facebook? Does that seem smart?

By night two, we had liberals telling us that even our chants— our chants!—were too ‘violent,’ because we were chanting ‘No More Presidents’ rather than “Not My President.’

By night three the protest Facebook Event advertised ‘We are working with NOPD to ensure all participants are safe.’ I was flabbergasted. I mean, is this your plan to combat fascism? To literally collaborate with the police? The disconnect from reality is so severe.”

It’s past time we got real: fascism is not going to be undone by reforming the electoral college. It’s not going to be undone by pacifism. Overthrowing authoritarianism will require riots, among other things. It will be scary; it will be risky. But the alternative is either being crushed or using our privilege to insulate ourselves, turning squeamishly away from the necessary revolutionary work.

You can’t have it both ways. Staying “safe” will increasingly require you fuck over other people, generally those more vulnerable than yourself. It will begin with turning a blind eye, with excuses for inaction, but more and more active complicity will become necessary for you to remain “safe.” By the time you realize what a pawn you are it will likely be way, way, way too late for many of those you’ve failed to protect.

This is the banality of evil. Snitching habits cultivated or allowed to flourish in times of soft fascism smooth the slide towards active fascist collaboration.

ANTISOCIAL MEDIA

At the Take ‘Em Down NOLA protest in September, confronted with racist hecklers and the NOPD, a young white person who moved here a few weeks ago chose to use their energy to harass and photograph those protesters who concealed their faces. This snitch posted a picture to Instagram—thoroughly hashtagged for maximum visibility—that showed distinctive, recognizable characteristics of masked protesters. They furthermore threatened those who chose to mask up with exposure, crowing about having “a list of their names.” A reporter from NOLA.com, clearly a fan, reacted with applause emojis.

Where did this snitch get those list of names? Who provided this self-righteous imbecile with that information? All of this is part of the culture of snitching. Talking shit on Facebook, loudly calling masked-up people at protests by their government names—all of this is snitching, and there’s absolutely no room for it. It is doing the work of the police and materially advancing the interests of the police.

While this #NewtoNOLA dangerhair was trying to doxx protesters for covering their faces, overt white supremacists on Facebook were posting pictures of the (unmasked) Take ‘Em Down organizers and contact info for the organizers’ employers. These neo-confederates’ Facebook followers responded by promising to murder the organizers.

Hearteningly, both of these examples of snitching and protester targeting were met with widespread condemnation, but they were terrifying examples of a culture of civilian collusion with repression.

On the same day NYPD guarding Trump Tower appeared with their faces and badges covered, on the same month unidentified mercenary law enforcement working for the oil industry savaged peaceful Water Protectors in North Dakota, NOLA.com’s sibling site, Oregonlive.com, ran an unsigned editorial titled“Unmasking the faceless thugs who exploit public protests,” which included suggesting unmasked protestors take the masks off those who choose to wear them. The piece is so incredible I’ll quote an entire paragraph:

Protesters, when assembled in the hundreds and thousands, must now accept full responsibility for hosting anarchists who find cover within their ranks… That means stopping the event cold and retreating the minute violence erupts. That means defanging the parasites and possibly exposing them. That means clearly establishing the terms of demonstration to include the willingness to quickly disband if violence erupts.

This editorial came alongside an article that offered mugshots of all those arrested at the protests that night, including their names. People in the comments section immediately began digging up the arrestees’ social media and the names of their family members. This feeding-frenzy of crowdsourced journalism (some might call it doxxing) was precisely the exciting interactive synergy between media and audience that’s been such a priority for the digital overlords who murdered our city’s daily newspaper. Expect more of it.

The media, much as they might claim to hold themselves above the fray, are not exempt: they too must pick a side.

In a city where entire blocks of Canal Street are subject to demolition by neglect, it’s bizarre some people opt to be outraged by anti-Trump graffiti or the broken windows of a bank.

I’ll admit to being a sentimentalist about New Orleans, including our city’s ancient infrastructure. It bums me out when randos graffiti the homes of the poor. But what bums me out far, far worse is repression. It’s frustrating to still have to say this, but property damage is not “violence.” This is a lie fed to us by a society whose entire legal system exists to defend private property and reinforce the power of the wealthy. In a city where entire blocks of Canal Street are subject to demolition by neglect, it’s bizarre some people opt to be outraged by anti-Trump graffiti or the broken windows of a bank.

Just as those who write and speak of the French Revolution’s “Reign of Terror” invisibilize the far greater and more widespread suffering that led to that revolution, those who today decry “violence” against the oppressors normalize and legitimize the state’s persistent structural and direct violence, including the racist policies that enforce poverty. Violence itself is a preexisting reality of this historical moment.

“YOU CAN’T DO THAT!”

There are some cosseted silver-spoon cases who just can’t quite believe that police do bad things without provocation—they’ll wave a Black Lives Matter sign from the sidewalk, but when the police charge in and start bashing heads, these low-key police lovers are only concerned with figuring out what non-police element they can blame the bloodbath on. Because privilege has protected them, they deep down, maybe even unconsciously, believe police don’t get violent without justification. They think police are rational actors who can be reasoned with.

I saw this play out in Baton Rouge last July, in The Battle of Lisa’s Yard: peaceful protestors invited by a local woman to rally in her yard were charged at, beaten, and arrested by police. While riot pigs swarmed into this renter’s property and began crushing protesters, a few protesters neither ran nor attempted to unarrest the victims. Instead they yelled, disbelievingly, “This is private property! You can’t do this!”

While it’s perfectly reasonable to be paralyzed with fear in such a terrifying situation, and attempting
to unarrest people is (according to my interns) a risky undertaking, I couldn’t help but wonder if these people yelling “You can’t do this!” at an onrushing police attack didn’t think, at some level, that they were exempt, somehow safe from the police. They were so sure, fundamentally, that the sacred principle of private property would protect them that even directly confronted with evidence to the contrary—armed cops in the process of kicking the shit out of people a few feet in front of them—they could only shout in astonishment “This is private property!” The police grabbed them next.

THE POINTLESSNESS OF PEACEFUL PROTEST

Recall how aghast the media were at Trump, at the debates, saying he might or might not accept the results of the election? Note also the priority and emphasis Hillary’s concession statement put on civility and rule of law prevailing in the transition from a Black neoliberal to a white imperialist. Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s official statement on the local anti- Trump protest began, “One of the hallmarks of American democracy is the peaceful transition of power.”

That’s what those atop the structures of oppression most prize: civility, obedience, rule of law.

When the government, supreme architect of violence domestically and internationally— government, without which we would have no war or police—government, which enjoys a historic near-monopoly on violence—tells you how important “peace” is, you’re being manipulated.

It’s for that reason that I believe the only way out of this trap is uncivilly disobeying the rule of law. Bluntly, crime.

It’s clear (again, again, again) that electoral politics as a system doesn’t produce good results. I almost said it doesn’t work, but of course it does! It works just as it’s meant to, distracting us with terrible choices between terrible candidates and telling us no other way is possible. Still, even the most shrill advocates for voting the lesser evil can no longer deny electoral democracy’s methods and approach are a catastrophic failure.

Similarly, legal protest is a pointless and draining dead-end. See for instance the run-up to the Iraq war when record-breaking numbers of people WORLDWIDE filled the streets with a single aim: preventing a war that even our current president knew was a terrible idea. What did these protests accomplish? Which of our nation’s war criminals, the butchers of Fallujah, have gone to trial?

Taking to the streets “peacefully,” which is to say in a way that doesn’t at the very least interrupt traffic, accomplishes nothing beyond tiring and demoralizing the participants. You go out, you march, nothing changes. Only by introducing some element unpalatable to those in power—be it property damage, highway occupation, or something even more creative—can “protest” be more meaningful than clicking an online petition.

There are many aspects—the insidious superstition that anyone who steps it up is an “agent provocateur”—but what it comes down to is this: you are on the side of the law-breakers or else you’re on the side of the law, the police, and the rubber-faced populist tyrant who now holds their reins. If you think waving a sign at a peaceful protest monitored approvingly by police is effective, your privilege is showing. The only conceivable useful purpose such activity serves is to provide cover for conflictual action.

In the words of a wise woman, “We have to go from LARPing revolutionaries to actually behaving like revolutionaries.” No more mere performance or posturing of revolutionary activity; we must buckle down and face these terrible realities. To build a counterpower capable of opposing the state, we must get messy.

To be clear, until we reach a point of generalized popular uprising, the goal of this urging to escalate is for participants to come out of a protest feeling emboldened, more hopeful, and stronger than they went in. This can mean broad collective gains, overcoming fears, crossing some threshold, or just doing something interesting.

FEAR IS FINE

If you’re kidding yourself that we need anything less than revolution, it’s probably because you’re comfortable with the way things are. But it might be because you’re scared, which is normal and healthy. Revolution is terrifying. I’m scared. Jail sucks. Fighting the police is scary.

If you are scared, I have a concrete suggestion: mask up. Like marking your location as Standing Rock on Facebook, or using Signal for texting so that it’s no longer a practice limited to more flagrant lawbreakers, masking up in the streets both normalizes the practice and recognizes the seriousness of our position: that we must conceal ourselves to whatever degree possible from the agents of repression, both official and informal.

We live in a city where masking is still legal and traditional; take advantage of that.

The crisis is really for real, not just an abstract conflict, if it ever was that for you. What’s at stake isn’t just rude angry comments but, as Trump says, “a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding.” We are facing a new paradigm of policing. Even if you don’t believe it will ever touch you, I’d suggest you prepare mindfully for the sake of those in your life your choices might affect.

Resisting fascism is dangerous, but so is complying with it. Serious resistance is scary—but if you want to fight, you won’t be alone. We may be outgunned, but we aren’t outnumbered. You may be under-resourced and mentally ill and otherwise unhappy, but as long as you have the will to fight, the hands of revolutionaries everywhere are linked to yours, empowering you, helping you lift the brick. The situation is dire, but when you fight, you are part of a tradition of direct action that spans time, cultures, and continents, a historical mass movement of the numberless oppressed against the oppressor. And that’s not such a bad place to be.

1 comment about ON SNITCHING AND THE DAYS AHEAD

  • Without saying anything about the main content of this article (which is awesome, right on), Signal is a good start, but having your phone on in anything but
    airplane mode is playing yourself. The police don’t need a subpoena to
    get your phone records, they don’t even need a Stingray to snoop the
    identifying info that your phone sends in the clear to log in to cell
    towers. One protest might not be terrible, but appearing at more than
    one protest in different locations will be enough to prove to whatever
    fucked-up new court process we’ll see next that you’re a protester and
    deserving of warrants for further surveillance. I know one specific hacker who is recording IMEI numbers of cell phones at protests and is about to publish them. He’s an idiot, and I think mostly doing it for attention, but if he can do it, other people can too.

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