In November, 1988 three white supremacist skinheads brutally murdered a 28 year-old Ethiopian immigrant named Mulugeta Seraw in Portland, Oregon, my hometown at the time. The murderers, members of a political gang called Eastside White Pride, included an 18 year-old former high school homecoming king, and a local musician who’d become a minor cultural celebrity in Portland’s alternative music scene. These men defied the prevailing stereotype of racist white vigilantes as under-educated, downwardly mobile, and socially marginal, and exposed it as a lie. Turns out that politically organized white supremacists, even the overtly violent variety, come from all classes and always have since the 1865 founding of the Ku Klux Klan. In fact, the cross-class nature of the violent wing of the far-right is critical to their enduring power and influence.
Following the murder, local hate crimes statistics rose and kept rising until the violence grew so thick that Time Magazine labeled Oregon the “Mississippi of the North.” But even as hate crime reports climbed up, local law enforcement claimed there were no organized hate groups in Portland, and that the majority of hate crime victims were white.
They were dead wrong on the first claim, and manipulating the public with the second. Yes, whites were the largest group of victims, but a significant number of those whites were victimized because they were perceived to be LGBTQ and/or Jewish. Moreover, Portland was about 90% white at the time, making the smaller number of reports from people of color nonetheless statistically significant. For instance, if you were Black in Portland in that time, you were ten times more likely to be victimized than if you were white.
This mix of violence and misinformation made me and many others acutely aware that what we were facing was much more than a problem of hate. For the far-right, hate was just a means, a call to action and a tool of intimidation, not the end goal. The end goal was racial cleansing, and local government, especially local law enforcement seemed, for the most part, to be looking the other way as the right promoted its genocidal agenda. They were either willfully seeing no evil in order to minimize the problem of racist nationalism in Oregon, or they failed to act because they were sympathetic to white supremacy.
Our national ideology is a push and pull struggle between civic nationalism, or governance according to the rule of law, and racial nationalism, or blood rule. The commitment to civic nationalism in the U.S. has always been in question but has nonetheless been the basis of the progress toward fuller inclusion that’s been made by movements for social and economic justice and equal rights. But civic nationalism in the U.S. is grafted onto root stock made of slavery, genocide, and male supremacy. Reverting to the root stock is a constant danger.
With a less seasoned and tested version of that analysis in mind, I become a key volunteer of a group called the Coalition for Human Dignity that was building opposition to vigilante white supremacy and white nationalism, and the Christian Right. By 1990, I was the Coalition’s first paid staff person.
The years I worked with that group became a launching pad for a life dedicated to anti-authoritarian activism. That vocation has taken me around the world to work with people studying right wing ideologies and movements and building pro democracy resistance. This journal is a platform for the dialogue I’ve been having with myself and others over those years of work. It’s also a forum for discussion and peer education. I call it the Anti-Authoritarian Playbook, and invite you to join me as I learn more about the struggle ahead.
In this space, I’ll do most of the talking, but I’m also listening and learning. Occasionally I’ll load videos and even extend an exclusive invitation to political briefings.
If you’re new to this, welcome to the fight. If you’re an old hand, thanks for all you do.
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