A response to Patriot Front (fascists) targeting the Charleston in Bremerton
I have some scattered thoughts about white nationalist recruiting and reactionary politics as they intersect my life and I suppose I intend to work my ideas out here.
I have straddled the underground punk scene and the trade union movement directly parallel to one another for many years and often times I’ve found myself comprehending one of those world’s because of my participation in the other.
The Charleston is an all ages punk venue in Bremerton, WA. I've booked and played many shows there over the years.
They were recently targeted by Patriot Front, a white nationalist cell that’s actively recruiting in Western, WA. They were formerly known as Vanguard America and changed their name and image to distance themselves from fellow white nationalist James Fields who drove his car into a crowd and murdered Heather Heyer in Charlottesville, VA. Most of their activity in Western Washington has been limited to banner drops that say "blood and soil" and stickers and wheat pasting that have really savvy and appealing graphic design with rhetoric against immigrants, and pro-patriot, pro-white, pro-ICE (immigration customs enforcement) messaging. Even though the language is abhorrent on their flyers, they are choosing somewhat innocuous ways to say what they’re saying. They are couching it into the rhetoric that contemporary right libertarians and Alt-right mouthpieces are saying or parroting Donald Trumps words. In other words, they are recruiting people, using surface level palatable ideas as an entry point to move them deeper into white supremacist organizing.
I’ve seen several people posting about the Patriot Front stickers at the Charleston and in general around the Gig Harbor, Bremerton, Port Orchard area.
We should not simplify this as an attack on the Charleston. It should not be interpreted solely as a threat because the Charleston is a stronghold of Anti-fascist punk. It’s also a stronghold of young, pissed off, predominantly white youth and that to me is why the Charleston (+ white suburbs and college campuses) are being targeted by Patriot Front.
If you look at the members of Atomwaffen Division, a white nationalist terrorist cell that is here in Washington, it’s comprised of underground punks, former metalcore, skinheads, metalheads. They are recruiting underground youth from the music scene.
The union movement has taught me a few things that I think apply here. We can not assume that we know someone’s politics or where they are at. All we know about punk is that we congregate in a venue on the weekends, and then people head back out into the world. People’s political development is nurtured by punk, but you can’t just assume that someone’s participation in a show or a scene can be counted on. Factor in that most punks are social weirdos and outcasts and in the internet era, form a lot of their identity and social networks on the internet.
There are deeply reactionary forces at work in punk. Right-libertarianism seems to be a common place for 80s and 90s punks to end up. I say this because punk music as it currently exists does a piss poor job of keeping older punks engaged. (Or maybe punk just sucks to begin with)
"All lives matter", men’s rights & anti-feminist or anti-trans tropes are rampant in punk circles. Usually a small minority at shows and they don’t speak openly about this shit when femmes and queers are around, but thats what you’ll likely hear at a party or on a car ride to a show.
That shit right there, is how would-be “apolitical” punks get sucked into reactionary politics.
Hey kid... why is it a crime to be white? Your life matters.
Hey kid, why is it a crime to be a man? Why should you have to walk on egg shells around these feminists?
Hey kid, why is it a crime to be cis or straight?
Hey kid, when is someone going to take care of you instead of all these immigrants? You work hard don’t you?
Hey kid, why should you have to yield space for QTPOC at shows? Those people are fascist dictators.
Then factor in the typical lyrical content and sloganeering in hardcore and punk. Self reliance, self empowerment, self identity, strength, determination, do it yourself, blah blah blah. These themes can go several different directions. They can be liberating or they can be reactionary. There are entry points from extreme music to the national socialist black metal scene, misanthropic experimental noise, neofolk, RAC oi bands. A lot of national identity, racewar, fascist nonsense, but extreme underground music is a gateway.
Are we sure we want to take for granted where people in the punk scene are at? I’m just saying, we should be pumping zines out, putting our own anti-racist messaging, stickers and flyers out, holding discussions in the community about this kind of thing, not just so we are always prepared to deal with the real and violent threat of Nazis attacking our shows, but also to confront the reality that young punk kids are being recruited from our communities into actual paramilitary white nationalist cells.
We have to OUT-ORGANIZE reactionary forces. That requires strategy, discipline and doing the work.
I suppose I'm thinking like a union organizer here, where recently when confronted with national right to work legislation, my union went out to every job, every tugboat, ferry, dock and talked to members about the issues and the importance of the union and had members re-pledge to the union in anticipation of right wing anti-worker laws.
A Koch brothers front group called the Freedom Foundation has been trying to organize members away from their unions, So we had to develop and implement a strategy and because we did the work we out-organized them and retained our members.
Our unions are VOLUNTARY organizations of workers. We can never take that for granted and at all times must be revitalizing our movement through education, organizing and creating new ways for our fellow workers to participate meaningfully in the daily life of our union.
In the same way, our underground music scenes are held together by a sort of loose provisional code of respect. Some places like the Charleston have gone out of the way to enforce policies against rapists, racists, bigots etc etc. And that is sadly in most show spaces an exception and not the norm. So don’t take for granted that people in the music scene are on the level. I’m not saying there is a grand conspiracy. I’m saying actively reinforce the shared values of punk and always be engaging people and challenging them to think critically about the world around them.
Rhetoric about fighting nazis has limits. Get some actual punk education going about the issues. Get some punk action going against white nationalist organizing. Always be building community and bringing people in.
In unity and struggle,
Brian, A Tacoma Community Member
This article was originally posted on medium.com. Reposted here with permission from the author.