In Defense of Community Defense
It's on us to defend our communities from fascists
This past weekend, fascists showed up to at least five drag events around the country. In every case, they were met by community members practicing community defense. And, in every case, the police spoke politely to the fascists. They chatted with open Nazis on New York’s Upper West Side, high-fived a Proud Boy in Columbus, and sat idly by while fascist surrounded a venue in Florida. So it was community organizing and community defense that kept drag shows safe, and outnumbered these fascists. And, crucially, the people who showed up to counter the Proud Boys, Patriot Front, and other fascists ranged from militant anti-fascists to queer community groups to moms organizing on Facebook. This range of participation, and the success of these counters, are both vital to note. They speak to a new era of community defense, which is exactly what we need in this moment where the right is mobilizing frequently, consistently, and violently against drag shows, queer clubs, and queer community spaces of all kinds.
It’s important to note that this was not always the case. Just two years ago, in November and December of 2020, the Proud Boys and others made clear their intention to gather in Washington D.C., protest the election results, and roam the streets looking for violence. And when anti-fascists declared that they would mobilize in response, they were often shouted down. Folks argued that the police would handle it, that everyone should let the police handle it. So when anti-fascists did take to the streets to counter the violent mobs of hateful men who came from out of town to attack people in their city, they were often outnumbered. And the D.C. metro police, who have been seen fist-bumping Proud Boys and are known to attack Black Lives Matter protesters, did little to stop the violence fascists brought to the city. Not long after, of course, January 6th showed both that fascists were dramatically emboldened and that the police were either unable or unwilling to stop their advance into the U.S. Capitol building.
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The intent here is not to blame those who meant well, but clung to the false hope that ceding the streets of D.C. would result in the police stepping in and taking care of business. We have seen and continue to see a widespread refusal to fully accept the inherently fascistic nature of our system of policing, and of the specific fascist preferences of many police officers in this country. But times are changing rapidly and we can’t afford to sit in denial any longer, or to sit back and rely of police to keep us safe. Many people never could rely on these assumptions, but the rapid escalation of fascist violence is revealing that all of us can’t afford to sit back and rely on the state to protect us. And so we must take action. We must engaged in community defense.
After the recent and incredibly tragic Club Q mass shooting in Colorado news broke that a man had tackled and disarmed the shooter, before a trans woman stomped him out. These two people very likely saved lives, as did those who rushed to render first aid. This is the last line of community defense. This is a community protecting itself. But subsequently, the police tackled and detained the man who had brought down the shooter, holding him in a car for over an hour. So, not only did they fail to stop the shooter, they punished one of the heroes who in fact protected folks. It is imperative that we see clearly, and quickly, how a community defending itself is more successful and effective than an outside force with no accountability, and often no ties at all to a community, being paid to defend capital and white supremacy while pretending to care about and protect a community.
We also need to see, when looking at the multiple successful community defense initiatives from this past weekend as compared to the police collaboration with, or at best kid-glove treatment of, fascist harassers, that organized and pro-active community defense is vital. Thankfully over the past few years we’ve seen an explosion of this activity. From more militant groups like the John Brown Gun Club, to parents organizing to show up to drag shows, to anti-fascist networks, to LGBT groups building power, people are working to defend their communities. And they’re doing so in increasingly organized ways where people can get plugged into long term commitments to these efforts.
The recent news about a coordinated attack on a power substation in North Carolina, where some local fascists have claimed responsibility, shows the need to build more capacity for community defense. Although their involvement is not yet confirmed, the fascists’ willingness to claim responsibility shows a desire to escalate their attacks on our neighbors and loved ones. Club Q was already horrifying, tragic, and should ring every alarm bell for anyone sitting out this fight against fascism. But a desire to cut power to tens of thousands of people in response to a drag show is an assault on a greater scale. And our response must scale up to meet and stop these attacks at every level.
It can be hard to know where to start when it comes to community defense. For one, you might not have thought about it prior to a year ago, a month ago, or a minute ago. And that’s fair. The crucial thing is to start where you’re at and go from there, and the place to start is knowing that we can’t do this alone. It’s community defense and you need to get tapped in to your community. That means joining a group, an organization, or just starting by talking to more politically active friend or neighbors who do community organizing. Start where you are. You might already be in some sort of local mutual aid group, tenant union, labor union, church group, community clean-up group, whatever the case may be. If you are in some sort of local organization the place to start could be bringing up these conversation with the group you’re already in. This resource, from the Stop LAPD Spying coalition, shows a whole bunch of places you can start that conversation. And it also shows that community defense looks like many things! What matters is building the power and skills and organization to defend your community, and that can take a whole bunch of different forms.
The last thing I’ll say is a lot of the work is done behind the scenes, isn’t sexy, and looks like care. You might have seen photos of armed queer folks outside drag shows, and in the current environment I think we need more of that type of community defense. But you probably haven’t seen the folks building movement therapy or chaplaincy networks like the Abolitionist Peer Care Haus and NYC Movement Chaplain Collective. And I know I’m not plugged in with the parents organizing events on Facebook to stand in the cold and hold signs and outnumber fascists outside of drag shows, but that work involves phone calls and emails and a lot of not-sexy but vital and methodical tasks. And it’s working. This past weekend the queer community did a whole lot of work to keep themselves safe, and a whole lot of people did a lot of amazing work to join them in outnumbering and drowning out fascists. And still we need to do more. Fascists are escalating, mobilizing, and unfortunately doing a lot of work themselves. The cops high-five them, chit-chat with them, or stand idly by. So we need to keep going. We need to out-organize the opposition. We need to know that it’s on us to defend our communities.
As the Rabbi Hillel, the Jewish scholar and sage, said long ago, "If not us, who? And if not now, when?" It has to be us, and it has to be now.
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