On Borrowed Language and Historical Continuity on the Far Right

One moment from August 12, 2017 that was discussed repeatedly during the course of the Sines trial was the march by members of League of the South (LOS), the Traditionalist Workers Party (TWP), and the National Socialist Movement (NSM) – groups that formed a coalition known as the Nationalist Front (NF) – from a parking garage on Market Street in Charlottesville to what was then called Emancipation Park about two blocks away (the park was previously named Lee Park and has since been renamed once again as Market Street Park). The conflict that occurred when that particular bloc of far right demonstrators clashed with counter-protesters was one of the most dramatic and widely documented events in an already tense and tragic day.

A photo submitted as evidence in the Sines v. Kessler civil trial showing members of the Traditionalist Workers Party, League of the South, and National Socialist Movement facing counter-protesters on the east side of what was then called Emancipation park, August 12, 2017

The NF bloc clearly came prepared to fight: many members of LOS and TWP wore helmets and carried uniform police riot shields. A number of them also had flagpoles that quickly became weapons (a practice that was frequently discussed on message boards beforehand). That day in Charlottesville, there were also antifascists who brought helmets, shields, and sometimes flagpoles, but as the NF members approached the park, they were confronted by a line of people who were simply locking arms with little to nothing to protect them. This fact makes the footage of that moment all the more gut-wrenching to watch. Ultimately, the NF groups all made their way into the park.

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The Sanctifying Language of the Alt-Right

In November 2016, Richard Spencer’s public profile took on a new degree of notoriety when The Atlantic released video of a speech he gave at the annual conference of the National Policy Institute, a white nationalist think tank then under Spencer’s leadership. The comment that yielded the most headlines came at the end when he cried out “Hail Trump! Hail our people! Hail victory!” as he raised a cocktail glass with a straight arm at a high angle to a cheering audience and at least a few Nazi salutes.

The phrase hail victory is, of course, historically linked to that gesture insofar as it is a translation of the German Sieg heil. That pairing of signs – one verbal and one corporeal – was also commonplace among alt-right participants. In a previously recorded deposition that was presented during the Sines trial, former Identity Evropa member Samantha Froelich was asked if she had heard “either Sieg heil or hail victory discussed within the alt-right.” She answered, “yes, at every social event I went to, that was said” and explained that it was associated with “the Roman or Nazi salute.” She even described a joke that was passed around among Identity Evropa members “where you would ask if you’ve seen my friend Kyle. ‘Did you see Kyle?’ Sieg heil? I hope you understand the wordplay here. And then you would do the Sieg heil and say, ‘Oh, he’s right over there’ and point your finger. ‘He’s about this tall’ [indicating a Nazi salute] and that was – that was the joke, is that you’re Sieg heil-ing in plain day.” Continue reading “The Sanctifying Language of the Alt-Right”

Sines v. Kessler: Using the Courtroom as a Public Platform

[The following is part of an ongoing series about Sines v. Kessler, the civil suit against many of the main organizers of the August 2017 Unite the Right (UTR) rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. For an overview of the suit’s objectives and its many defendants, please see the first post in the series here.]

Courtrooms have long been sites for grand ideological statements. Before he was sentenced to hang for the 1886 Haymarket bombing (despite a distinct lack of evidence against him and his co-defendants), August Spies renounced none of his beliefs and instructed the jury that “socialism, in short, seeks to establish a universal system of co-operation.” Before receiving a ten year prison sentence in 1918, Eugene V. Debs declared that “I ask no mercy. I plead for no immunity. I realize that finally the right must prevail. I never so clearly comprehended as now the great struggle between the powers of greed on the one hand and upon the other the rising hosts of freedom.”

As a venue, however, courtrooms are also available to actors with far less noble sentiments. For one example, a week and a half into the Sines v. Kessler trial, it is clear that defendant Christopher Cantwell intends to continuously take advantage of his status as a pro se defendant to bully witnesses in cross-examination, expound on his beliefs, and rehabilitate his tarnished image among his overtly fascist constituency.

The US Marshals Service has put up yellow tape around the federal courthouse in Charlottesville. Whether or not it’s a coincidence, co-defendant Chris Cantwell has been getting legal advice from fellow inmates who are in federal prison for planning to commit violence against a judge and a jury foreman. (Photo by the author)

By the time he went to prison last year for threats and extortion directed at neo-Nazi rivals, Cantwell had gone from being a popular movement podcaster in the days leading up to Unite the Right to virtual pariah status. The reason for his fall was not so much his aggression toward a fellow fascist or even the infamous teary rant that earned him the “Crying Nazi” nickname, but rather the fact that he had admitted publicly to being an informant for federal agents. Working for domestic intelligence services isn’t exactly uncharted territory among far right actors, but it nonetheless confers a treasonous stench that cannot easily be washed away (as Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio has been learning in recent months). Still, as a movement invested in gestures of hypermasculine dominance and obsessed with martyrdom, fascists often reward audacious displays, even when they are strategically ill-advised.

Jury Selection in the Unite the Right Civil Trial and the Limits of Legal Action

[The following is part of an ongoing series about Sines v. Kessler, the civil suit against many of the main organizers of the August 2017 Unite the Right (UTR) rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. For an overview of the suit’s objectives and its many defendants, please see the first post in the series here.]

After two and a half long days of questioning potential jurors, the jury in the federal civil suit Sines v. Kessler has finally been impaneled. The following are some notes about how the jury selection process played out in this case and some of the pitfalls of using the courts to pursue far right actors.

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Only here for so long: understanding what antifascist architecture could mean

By Alhelí Harvey

It’s a rainy morning in Austin, Texas. The kind of morning where the mugginess outside seems to creep in under the door, around the window frame, smothering the walls; it feels like a climatological manifestation of this state’s malice towards people. Anyone with a womb and without a wallet is a target, and anyone can be their bounty hunter. 1 Haitian migrants are literally stranded under a bridge, only to be brutalized by the Customs and Border Patrol; 2 this assemblage of goons on horses is the direct descendants of the Texas Rangers, one of the most openly racist police forces this “Empire of Maladies” has ever devised. 3  I tap a video on Instagram: “There was a fire last night…” and see that a stage in the center of a community that looks like a cross between a set from The Smurfs and a 1970s summer camp is a pile of ash. As the video presents the facts of the fire, we see that the community is a series of cabins (referred to as “cobbins”) under an overpass (US Interstate 880). This place is Cob on Wood– referring both to the earthen community space’s literal material and its location on Wood Street. It is as much makeshift as it is tactical: in the face of multiple failures by Oakland, California, and the country, unhoused residents and their collaborators created what has been described as an “eco-oasis” in under a year. 4

Cob on Wood has a health clinic, a hot shower, and a community kitchen. Residents make shelters on their own from a material that is both cheap and effective: cob, a weather-resistant mixture of soil, clay, sand, and straw. Similar to adobe, cob has been used all over the world and is highly durable. In many ways, the community is an example of architecture without architects. In one sense, Cob on Wood is a manifestation of a collective response to an urgent need for both housing and resources. The methods for its building came about through a collaborative process rarely seen in capital A- architecture. These details, while laudable and certainly inspiring models for different building approaches, just as easily point toward the inadequacy of architectural practices, understandings, and relationships as they are widely practiced by the trade and discipline itself.  Continue reading “Only here for so long: understanding what antifascist architecture could mean”

Notes on the Upcoming “Unite the Right” Civil Trial: A Guide to Who’s Involved and Why It Still Matters

It’s been over four years since the Unite the Right (UTR) rally in Charlottesville, Virginia on August 11-12, 2017. Since January 6 of this year, those events astonishingly seem destined to be remembered as only the second-most infamous outbreak of mass violence during the Trump era. But if the storming of the US Capitol building is primarily remembered as an attack on institutions, norms, and ideas, UTR stands as a symbol of the visceral and often very personal fear and animosity that drives a great deal of far right activism.

Starting on October 25, the Western District of Virginia will commence the Sines v. Kessler civil trial against a number of the groups and individuals who, the plaintiffs contend, “conspired to plan, promote, and carry out the violent events in Charlottesville.” I plan to attend all or most of the trial and will be posting regular updates here. I was also on-site when UTR happened, so some commentary may be from personal recollection and not exclusively quoted from other sources.

UTR participants near the southwest corner of Emancipation Park on Aug. 12, 2017. James Fields is visible third from left holding a Vanguard America shield. (Photo by the author)

The four years of pretrial motions, arguments, briefs, and hearings leading up to this point have been extraordinarily chaotic and I plan to address some of those details at a later date. In the meantime, as a way of bringing readers up to speed, I’m going to use this introductory post to describe who the players are and just what the purpose of the trial is.

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The Snail of the End and the Beginning

(Neoliberalism and Architecture or The Ethics of Searching vs. the Ethics of Destruction)

translated by Madeleine Collier

This essay, originally written by Subcomandante Marcos (Delegado Cero) in 1996, can be accessed in the original Spanish at the EZLN archives.

In the Lacandona jungle, in the southeastern Mexican state of Chiapas, there is a deserted settlement surrounded by heavily armed military posts. The name of this abandoned town was Guadalupe Tepeyac. Its inhabitants, the indigenous Tojolabals, were forcefully expelled by the Mexican government in February 1995, when federal troops sought to assassinate the leadership of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation [EZLN]. 

However, it is not the painful exile of these indigenous peoples, who pay for their rebellion by living in the mountains, of which I will tell you. I want to tell you about an architectural work that was born at the edge of the then-vibrant Guadalupe Tepeyac, in July and August of 1994. Largely illiterate–the most educated among them have a third grade education–, the Tojolabal architects undertook, in 28 days, to build a structure capable of housing 10,000 seats for the event the Zapatistas called the National Democratic Convention. In honor of Mexican history, the Zapatistas named the meeting place Aguascalientes. 1 The gigantic gathering space had an auditorium for 10,000 seated attendees and an 100-member presidium, a library, a computer room, kitchens, sleeping quarters, and parking. It even, it is said, included an “area for staging attacks.”

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Antifascist Architectures Call for Submissions

Ramparts: A Barricade Forum is currently seeking contributions for our next themed series, “Architectures of Antifascism.” From the physical structures of antifascist struggle (the barricade, the autonomous zone, the agricultural collective), to digital configurations (the VPN, the net commons, CV dazzle) and spatial language which describes organizational relationships (distribution, horizontality, the cell, the web) how do antifascist entities use and maneuver within space? We welcome text and media submissions which engage the spatial aspect of resistance from the micro-level of design to large-scale configurations of transnational solidarity. 

Send your submissions and pitches to submissions@barricadejournal.org.

Four Exercises in Experimental Translation

by Ami Xherro

While language is instrumentalized in all facets of life, the hegemonic knots formed by a major language like English offer rich possibilities in deforming and deconstructing it. One way of doing so is through translation. When I begin to think of translation as a refractive prism of language, it becomes a listening form. Translational praxis becomes a practice of listening where no conversation is privileged to a subject. Louis Wolfson, the French schizo-linguist introduced to greater audiences by Gilles Deleuze, had such a revulsion to his mother tongue (and mother) that upon hearing or reading any word in English, he instantly and homophonically translated the words that crossed him into French, German, Hebrew and Russian. For Wolfson, listening carried with it a danger so grave that he had to divest himself from his inheritance altogether.

The act of listening hems the outer limit of the body with that which is beyond it, but which can still be indistinctly heard, and which still affects the body, unconsciously.

The following are four exercises in experimental translation grounded in listening. They are attempts at withdrawing from the imperative of meaning in communication and insisting rather that meaning is always swimming somewhere across the legible surface of words. More importantly, they are practices of delaying the sensible territories of the body to explore the insensibilities that surround it.

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Solidarity with Palestine

Pro-Palestinian demonstration in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, Saturday May 15, 2021. Photo by Elizabeth Benninger.

May 15, Nakba Day, marked the anniversary of the dispossession and forced displacement of the Palestinian people. Dhikra al-nakba, literally “memory of the catastrophe,” commemorates not only the destruction of a society and loss of home, but also the continuous struggle that Palestinians have since waged for the recognition of their rights.

The current bombardment of Gaza by the Israeli military, which has targeted residential buildings and left scores of Palestinians dead and many more without homes, and the thinly veiled project of ethnic cleansing and land grabbing in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem, are not exceptional but rather exemplary of the Israeli settler colonialist state and its apartheid policies. This intensification of the ongoing violence in occupied Palestine underscores the need for vocal and visible international solidarity with the Palestinian people.

Many protests and other acts of solidarity are being planned worldwide in the coming days; you can find partial lists here and here; checking social media of local Palestinian advocacy organizations should provide the most up-to-date information. Tuesday, May 18 has been named a day of action in solidarity with the Palestinian uprising and general strike.

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