The following is an account and analysis of a recent confrontation between Neo-Nazis and militant antifascists in Trenton, New Jersey.
Off the Nazis! ...but how?
Potential and Limitations of Militant Anti-Fascism
We begin with the observation of a rising tide of radical right-wing populism and its concomitant militant white nationalism in the United States. Are the existing, traditional forms of resistance growing and evolving to contend with this new threat? Are our plans and machinations matching, outpacing, or falling behind the enemy's forces?
In Trenton, New Jersey, we had a showdown.
Between April 15th and 16th, the National Socialist Movement (NSM) organized a public demonstration on the New Jersey State Capitol building steps in Trenton, New Jersey. The NSM is one of the largest neo-Nazi hate groups in the nation - a group that has been picking up members in recent years. You might remember seeing them playing a major role in anti-immigrant work in Arizona.
While many attended the permitted counter-demonstration on the 16th, not everyone was content to allow the Nazis (or the cops) that kind of peace. Anti-Racist Action (ARA) responded aggressively both days. As participants in these events, and as fellow comrades operating in the spirit of always learning from our mistakes and successes, we'd like to offer our account and analysis of events.
Timeline of Events
On April 15th 2011 at about 7 p.m. sixty neo-Nazis from the NSM held a conference at the 449 Club at 6 Pemberton Ave in Pemberton, NJ. The conference was interrupted by a nearby mob of thirty people from ARA dressed mostly in black and in masks who proceeded to fight the Nazis with pipes, baseball bats and stones. After the police arrived at the scene of the violent rumble the anti-fascists quickly left the area while the Nazis were left with bashed skulls and damaged property. According to infiltrators, four of the fascists were hospitalized while others checked into different hotels out of fear of more attacks. Only one person from ARA was injured while two others were arrested, charged with third-degree inciting a riot and held at $50,000 bail each.1 The ranks of those involved in the melee against the Nazis were made up of “people of color, working class, immigrants, women, queer, transgendered, and/or people on parole” who had mobilized from all over the country.2
At the public demonstration on Saturday the 16th the Nazis were well protected by hundreds of riot cops armed with rifles, shotguns and armored cars. The fascists were bused in by police to the Statehouse, which was surrounded by a tightly sealed security perimeter that was only accessible through metal detectors, police pat downs and searches. The mostly black and Latino community of Trenton showed up to protest the Nazi rally in considerable numbers alongside such groups as the New Black Panthers Party and the Progressive Labor Party, not to mention up to a dozen undercover federal agents. After 90 minutes of their rally being greatly outnumbered the NSM then left the city in the state prison buses, but not without having to change routes as a result of ARA trying to intercept them with rocks and bricks. Shortly after the Nazis escaped Trenton the militants then proceeded to smash the windows of banks in the downtown area, including Bank of America and Citizens Bank.
The combative actions of Friday and Saturday were successful in many respects. The attacks not only confronted the fascists and challenged the police state that protects them but also cast a looming shadow of doubt on the ability of liberal democracy to effectively oppose the rising tide of militant white nationalism in the United States. In comparison to the usual counter-protests that collaborate with the police and amount to little more than sign waving and shouting matches, the actions of ARA disrupted the actual logistical operations of the fascists.
Analysis of Planning and Strategy
The ARA planning sessions that took place before the actions revealed themselves to be practically irrelevant, in part due to unexpected arrests. Despite this, local crews continued with their own impromptu plans and kept a line of communication with each other. While we were victorious in many regards on Friday and Saturday, it goes without saying that serious limitations existed which must be honestly approached. We can never realize our potential without admitting failures in our overall strategy and methodology.
We are not interested in a polemic. We want to constructively push these actions in a more radical direction.
As it currently stands, those of us who identify as radical Anti-Fascists, or “Antifa,” constitute an insular scene, not a social front. This is reflected in the fact that there was no strategy involving the community. The organizing and planning for the actions was entirely exclusive to ARA members, making it difficult for anyone outside of the circuit to usefully contribute or feel welcome at all. This was a major failure on our part. The planning meetings themselves entailed a contradictory balance between the fruitless planning of clandestine activities and organizing militant public protests. As a result, invited and vouched in newcomers as well as people with different levels of commitment felt very alienated and out of the loop.
While we understand the tensions inherent in organizing militant campaigns of this nature, we nonetheless take the advice of Sam Greenlee, Maxwell Stanford, Jr. and Russell Maroon Shoats in arguing for increased specialization between the aboveground and underground realms. We recognize (and support the fact) that ARA is flexible enough to contain both elements, but it must also be capable of clearly distinguishing between the two forms of work. Doing the aboveground organizing in the same space and time as the underground organizing is strategically paralyzing and decreases the effectiveness of both the more and the less militant elements from pursuing their separate goals.
It is no coincidence that black and brown community residents from Trenton on many occasions on Saturday did not distinguish between the Nazis and the white majority of anti-fascists from ARA et al. Of course, this was not monolithic; the leadership of black and Chicano activists from ARA was crucial, and several black folks even came off the sidewalk to join the so-called “black bloc.” The wind, however, was not blowing in that direction. When our forces are seen by the communities we are allied with, they should be well-aware that we are their friends. We should have spent more time flyering, door-knocking, and having open meetings in Trenton in the months, weeks, and days leading up to the events. Not to say that no valuable work was done, but there is much evidence to suggest that it was not enough.
Without generating our own image consciously, the only image we will be leaving so far is of a gang of mostly white people wearing black having some kind of turf war with some other white people wearing black. The community did not see us as allies, and that is the worst possible remark on any social battleground for us. When we have the platform to manipulate the ideological space of our social environment, we must use it responsibly and utilize all of the best available tactics for maximum effectiveness. We should not be content to rehash old formulas because they are conveniently a part of the tradition of our work.
We want to win not just the battle, but the whole war.
Yours and theirs,
Comrades from the Brigade
1 “Neo-Nazis, Opponents Brawl,” accessed via http://www.phillyburbs.com/news/local/burlington_county_times_news/neo-n...
2 “The Rejection of the Identity of Victimization Through Cracking a Nazi’s Skull,” accessed via http://antiracistaction.org/april-15-2011-melee-NJ