KW: Unpopular Anarchist Thoughts: Some reflections on the actions to oppose Faith Goldy at WLU

Submitted anonymously to Northshore

On Tuesday March 20th the Laurier Student for Open Inquiry, headed by recent alt-right darling Lindsay Shephard (who you may remember from Laurier’s previous row about ‘free speech’), attempted to host a talk by white supremacist Faith Goldy. There have been reports of local alt-right students and activists in attendance, a showing of the Proud Boys (who recently attempted to hold a rally in Brantford), George Hutchinson who was pushing the ‘white students union’ drivel, and perhaps even some members of Operation Werewolf, who are explicit in their refusal of political correctness and equality, and whose slogan “Iron and Blood,” imagery and history scream neo-fascism.

There was a loud and festive counter rally as well as attempts to shut down the event itself, which ultimately culminated in a fire alarm being pulled and Faith Goldy prevented from speaking. While Shephard attempted to lead supporters to nearby park Veteran’s Green (somewhat ironic since many veterans fought explicitly as anti-fascists), Goldy didn’t carry on with her speech and instead opted to mock land acknowledgements and commit to return to WLU. Many others who had sought to attend the event poured out in to the area where the counter rally was occurring making things feel tense and unpredictable. This event shows some of the possibilities, as well as difficulties, in how responses might look going forward. I offer this piece as a set of considerations for building stronger movements to resist white supremacy on campus and beyond. By no means is this a comprehensive report back, or a detailed or finished discussion, but will hopefully present some useful points of consideration.

First off, I think it is important to consider that Shephard very much intended this event to become both a tense situation and a site of confrontation. Her way of operating since the start has been to carve out space for alternative right discourses on ‘free speech’ and to incite backlash against what is often referred to as the “Cultural Marxism” of university campuses. While early on Shephard attempted to the play the victim after she was called out for showing a clip of fellow Jordan Peterson on the use of gender neutral pronouns, and sought to generate a general support for free speech at university campuses, it has been very clear by looking at her twitter and her specific targeting of students and student activists that she isn’t some individual attacked by the system of university administration and bureaucracy. Rather, she has had an agenda from the outset – one that the media, as well as the university admin, have played directly into and given her a platform to spread of her alt-right, anti-left, white supremacist rhetoric.

Inviting Faith Goldy, who has railed against non-white immigration, bemoans the death of ‘white culture’, has appeared on a neo-nazi podcast that resulted in her being fired from alt-right mouthpiece Rebel Media, and who recently appeared on another white supremacist youtube channel reciting the neo-nazi ‘14 words’, was a clear escalation of Shephard’s outright rhetoric and her carving out a space for the alt-right on campus. It’s safe to say that a concerted and ongoing response was required and will be in the future.

It is also clear that the university administration is fine to allow all forms of speech, regardless of their spread of hatred and white supremacy. University president Deb MacLatchy refused any pretense of backbone when she stated “I want to state very clearly that I personally and absolutely reject the ideas and values attributed to this speaker and that they are in no way aligned with or reflective of the core values of our university.” But continued saying that “the university does not censor or limit the lawful and free expression of ideas, including ideas that are unpopular or offensive.” It’s safe to say that the university admin cannot be expect to shut down white supremacist views or protect students on their campuses. Unsurprising, but a worthy reminder.

As a result a coalition of campus groups and individuals organized a Counter Demonstration and Performance Rally highlighting queer, Indigenous and POC voices against white supremacy. A number of counter demonstrators also sought to enter the Faith Goldy talk to disrupt it from the inside. This was a specific and ongoing point of tension between those organizing a more positive rally with those who wanted to respond to the Faith Goldy event, and requires some careful consideration.

In general a politics of refusing platforms to alt-right and white supremacist views needs to be a core of organizing. When people like this are permitted to speak they begin to gain a foothold. This is precisely what the admin has allowed to happen at WLU. Given this, it is crucial to consider how these events can be stopped in the future. Counter rallies are important in and of themselves, especially for racialized and consistently attacked students on campus, and there is a collective energy and solidarity that can be cultivated. They also need to be connected to efforts to shut these sorts of events down directly, which can come in a variety of ways – from shutting things down on the administrative side, to flooding them out with counter protest, to militant forms of disruption and direct action. Counter rallies, positive performances and safe® spaces will mean little if white supremacists are able to spread their messages and outreach actively. But this also goes both ways – efforts to shut shit down also need to work with more typical rallies and marches that demonstrate symbolic opposition.

The university context, however, is an important one. The reality is that there are many students who will have to contend with whatever fallout occurs from these types of events as well as their counters. Those who are coming from outside to protest or shut them down don’t have that same set of considerations. It must be a principled stand that there are no nazi’s or white supremacists welcome at WLU and in the larger community, but these things affect people in different ways. There are students organizing on campus form a variety of standpoints, many of which might appear as ‘liberal’ social justice types and were derided as being unwilling to actually confront Goldy, Shepard and their ilk.

While critique of the limits of liberal forms of social justice and anti-oppression as a narrow framework are important, it often does little to build stronger coalitions against white supremacy, and can write off the organizing of those on campus who bear the brunt of these ongoing attacks. In this sense, there needs to be some common commitments to a diversity of tactics to fight back against white supremacists and the alt-right in our communities.

The more radical folks, who are willing to use more direct forms of action to shut things down, need to at least be honestly engaged with those on campus, not because we should water down our politics but because there is something deeply paternalistic about a bunch of outside radicals popping in to someone else’s community and organizing space and telling them how things should go, and if they don’t like it too bad. We need to find ways to push forward the discussion of useful tactics and strategy rather than assuming some sort of superiority of politics and tactics.

This happened, to some degree, given that a more militant crew who was masked up showed up at the rally. Many people, including those at the rally, seemed confused as to their purpose and intent. This is something anarchists commonly run up against, and we know very well that most of the time folks don’t actually want to understand where we are coming from, and in some cases we might not at all be interested in having that discussion to begin with. But in this case it just seemed a bit misplaced, and a sort of militant posturing that didn’t seem to serve much of a purpose. Showing up with flags, masks and your group banner might be a signal of support and where you are coming from, but it also needs to be placed into context. Is it useful for small crews to be the only folks masked up at a demo, and actually potentially invite, rather than limit, confrontation?

Some will say that masking up is simply folks being more conscious of the realities of doxing and alt-right backlash, and this is certainly important to consider. We all need to protect ourselves from these sorts of repression that are continually spreading against radicals of all stripes. But what does it mean to show up a demo without having a discussion about what is going to be strategic? How useful is it to have a handful of people masked up in a crowd of 100? And how useful is it to show up telling demo organizers that your intentions are one thing, when you clearly intend to do another? In this case I think there was a degree of recklessness on the part of some of the more militant folks showing up, ready to throw done (presumably), without actually figuring out how that fits into the broader action and what the potential implications might be. Militant confrontation, when employed for militant confrontation sake, is not itself strategic or very often useful. Opposing white supremacy is more than just projecting a militant image all the time.

There is also a failure of on campus folks in not taking more militant approaches seriously as a potential set of tools to complement more typical rallies. It isn’t useful to admonish those who do think a more direct shut down would be useful. Clarifying the tone of an action and the goals is one thing, refusing to engage with other forms of action or other desires is another. No doubt this can be tricky, especially in the eyes of administrators who are keen to reprimand student organizers (no one said we need to all hold hands and work together in public all the time). Such efforts can be useful though when white supremacists, or alt-right trolls or bro’s keen on disruption, pop up. But there needs to be a willingness to see how militant confrontation can be, and has been, an essential piece of anti-fascist action. Richard Spencer recently cancelling his campus tour schedule, on account of anti-fascist and militant refusals of a platform for his ideas, is a testament to how effective these kinds of tactics can be. But they need to be both strategic and in concert with other forms. No one form of action is going to in and of itself be effective.

Herein lies my main point: a diversity of tactics is necessary to oppose white supremacy, and it provides us with a greater set of strengths, tactics and strategies. But only if it’s something that is actually coordinated in a useful way. There is and should be a place for militancy in these sorts of confrontations. Often folks who are masked up can provide a useful role of keeping reactionaries and police at bay, and deal with those who might want to attack/disrupt demonstrations directly. But this needs to be thought through. Standing on the fringes with the flags and banners, advertising your presence, doesn’t often do this, and speaks more to a need for radicals to feel self-important and project a political image than actually engage in strategic activity. There are also more forms of confrontation or direct action that might not need be as militant in their image. A large group or rally can potentially pretty easily swarm and shut down a white supremacist event. The reality is that not everyone wants to be on the frontline of confrontation or mask up, even if they fucking hate nazi’s. Folks who bring their kids, or are racialized, or are visible and known to campus police and admin have a different set of risks. There are also folks who just plain aren’t radicals, but will support actions against white supremacists. There are always going to be a range of perspectives and we do need to find ways to use that to our advantage, rather than defaulting to infighting, dismissals and holier than thou rhetoric.

What this means for WLU, and probably many other contexts, is we need to plan and scheme together to figure out how we can make a range of spaces of opposition that come together to shut down white supremacy and confront it directly. I’m not saying anarchists should hang up their red and black flags and their balaclavas but let’s actually use them strategically, think about the context we are in, and not default to a particular form or tone of action just because that is the image we want to cultivate. More liberal perspectives also need to see the potentials for more militant forms of confrontation and disruption as tools to shut down white supremacists, not just oppose them or provide spaces that are alternative to their views. Having rallies that further act as social justice echo chambers don’t in and of themselves disrupt white supremacists who are speaking and organizing publicly. So let’s come from our various standpoints, but moreover let’s figure out how to actually shut them down.

6 thoughts on “KW: Unpopular Anarchist Thoughts: Some reflections on the actions to oppose Faith Goldy at WLU”

  1. I also attended the counter-rally, and I didn’t mask up or push anything, but am forced to ask: what in the hell are you talking about? You bemoan these “outside radicals popping in to someone else’s community and organizing space and telling them how things should go” as “deeply paternalistic”. But one, how do you know these individuals don’t go to Laurier? They were part of what appears to be a local fucking IWW chapter of all things: (which, if you don’t know, is not exactly a hardcore, Make Total Destroy anarchist group), and were presumably masked up specifically to not be identified. Two, the counter-rally organizers and speakers were overwhelmingly NOT Laurier students (by my count, two of the speakers were currently enrolled students at Laurier, though I may have missed one or two. Several speakers made comments to not having stepped foot on the campus in years, and I’m guessing at least a few never have). What makes the larpers subject to this critique and not the liberals on the stage, who outright told a random guy to leave and wasn’t welcome, for saying the talk should be shut down? who got pissed when the fire alarm was pulled and called it juvenile? Three, those masked individuals didn’t even do anything (again, not exactly surprising). You are ultimately whining about an aesthetic choice, and one you even point out was likely for their own peace of mind. They weren’t the ones who pulled the fire alarm, they were outside with everyone else when that happened. How “deeply paternalistic” does one have to be to tell other people how to dress when they’re going out? And four: you talk about all this under the guise of “tactics” and “strategy” and building “stronger movements”. I personally think all these things are buzzwords and outright undesirable, but whatever, let’s look at it from your perspective. Whoever pulled the fire alarm **shut the talk down**. They did this against the wishes of the organizers on the stage (who again, told the people responsible to go back to middle school), but to cheers in the crowd. Whose movement is it that you’re trying to cater to here? What exactly are these “tactics” and “strategies” you thought would have been more effective? Because as far as I can tell, the people on the stage held a decent drum circle, the larpers you chastise as menacing or something just stood around idly holding a damn sign, and meanwhile, someone else got shit done.

    But there’s a more fundamental point that I’d like to address here. You, who are at least presumably an anarchist if you’re posting on this site, call out people who aren’t enrolled in a university as not being valid members of the community. As though the events that transpire on the Laurier campus are confined to the ivory tower and there alone. You think the refugees who live in the area heard there was someone coming who has advocated murdering people like them and thought to themselves, “Oh, well it’s not in Waterloo, it’s just on the Laurier campus”? Please take your university elitism and fuck right off with it. Then to go so far as to blame the larpers for any sort of hypothetical action the authorities might take on student organizers who were in no way tied to them, and not, oh idk, the authorities? With friends like these, eh?

    1. Great comment, you said everything I was thinking as I was reading this text.

      1) Universities are usually integral part of the cities that contain them and students are part of the broader community. Campus politics are important to everyone, not just students.

      2) Sure, masking up at demos makes people uncomfortable. But having people who are prepared for a more escalated conflict and who are disciplined enough not to initiate it unnecessarily makes a demo safer. Also, spreading and normalizing the practice of masking up as protection against doxxing is super important. The problem is how we communicate about these practices, not the practices themselves.

      3) Lumping the identity-oriented “highlighting artists of colour” event in with the actions that actually shut Faith Goldy down is a bit dishonest. It’s important to have many different initiatives and having racialized people gather to talk about the way the rise of the far-right impacts them specifically is crucial. However, the dominant strain of identity politics right now uses a discourse of safety and privilege to discourage initiative and combativity, co-opting the histories of resistance that gave rise to the understandings of oppression they draw on. Conflating the two actions conceals a meaningful difference within our movements.

  2. First of all, thanks for the comments. I‘m the one who wrote the original post so I figured I would respond to the couple of things. As there was some overlap I’ll touch on some things all in one go.

    As for the first question ‘what the hell am I talking about’ – well I want to have a conversation about strategy and tactics and some things to think about when inevitably there needs to be a response to this kind of alt-right fuckery again. It seems it at least partly worked since here we are. Part of the reason these things are buzzwords is because a) they get thrown around by folks who want to stop actual conversations about what’s effective and what works and b) because we don’t actually talk about what went down and try and learn/doing things differently.

    I certainly had some things to say about the more militant aspects, but also plenty to say about the main rally as well. One of my points is that these folks should actively work together or at least coordinate, to use different types of strategies and tactics in concert. And how they can be mutually supportive. Not everyone, as I said, is expected to join hands in peace and love and all be on the same page, but they could actually talk about how to use both elements: the rally as a place to gather people with varying politics who hate nazi’s, to bring people into the movement against them and organizing against them; more confrontation desires to keep peoples identities hidden from fallout, to have a group ready to defend when things get dicey, and to further illustrate how these things are both useful and important.

    I don’t see it as necessarily useful to show up masked and ready to defend folks against the alt-right and fascists (which is absolutely important) if most people or other organizers don’t even understand that that is what you are intending to do. Otherwise you end up off to the side as an advertisement for anarchism (or whatever) that most people don’t get, or don’t even know that you are in support of the rally, against fascists etc. It also doesn’t communicate the usefulness of masking up – which as you say is something that would be really useful. In future this is precisely a useful tactic that those on campus who are conscious of administrative reprisals could and likely should use. Maybe some did already.

    I think I agree that I made some perhaps unfounded assumptions about the on/off campus distinction – I don’t know who all is the in the IWW for ex, and there isn’t much use in speculating. That would, to some degree, negate masking up and trying to keep folks identities concealed, maybe assuming the opposite is just as flawed. As per the organizers of the rally most of those who did the leg work are from campus and live/study/work there. They also absolutely drew in some of their allies/supporters etc. from outside as well. I don’t make this distinction as some attempt at elitism, which the university has plenty of already, but because it is a specific context.

    There are many different ‘communities’ and the university is one of them. Waterloo is another, as is KW or Waterloo Region as a whole. Absolutely we should all have a stake in shutting down white supremacists and alt-right goofs no matter where we might variously be located. We are probably located in a few places anyway, both geographically and politically. But, for those who are on campus, and this is a significant part of the rally it seems, there are different considerations given the systems of control etc. in the campus environment (expulsion, reprimand, loss of employment), even if campus police are a problem for all of us. And that does make some potential constraints on action real for some folks. This is also precisely why it makes sense to work with folks who might have a slightly different context and likely some more flexibility in how they respond as well. If actually talking about that context (and actually probably some other contexts of how or why participate in resistance) prompts a ‘with friends like these’ sentiment, where I’m an apologist for the admin clamping down because of anarchists…well shit…sorry I wanted us to think things through and be more effective without just ploughing ahead?

    Part of my point is that there is something useful, or if you’d rather, strategic, in working together. It can bring more people out to these things, and can serve as a place to show that these sorts of militant tactics can actually work. Especially since it’s not that hard to get liberals fired up about hating fascists, neo-nazi’s etc. That can be used as a strength.

    And this isn’t just about anarchists bowing to the campus or something like that. I thought I was pretty pointed in more liberal perspectives needing to understand why militant confrontation actually works and has a track record of doing so. And not writing off how it can be a key part. The policing of the crowds desire to shut things down is also deeply paternalistic. Especially singling someone out for even suggesting so. And saying the fire alarm was juvenile is also just goofy. As you say it actually worked, maybe better than anything the rest of us did and is what shut the event down. I also think that was some first round luck – not because it was a dumb idea or it hasn’t worked before, but because I don’t know if it is likely to continue to work in the future. And I don’t want to place my bets on stopping these things on a fire alarm being pulled.

    Aesthetic wise I’m raising it because I think there are useful times and places to mask up (and I dunno if having a banner of a group that does other non-masked types of things with the name right on it is useful either… (Like you can’t tell who I am as a person but here’s the group I organize with!) And this was partly one where masking did make sense, and perhaps very much so for the folks who did so, but I want to be pretty careful about falling into specific types of action just because that’s what anarchists or radicals or anti-fascists are supposed to do. There’s plenty of falling back on a specific set of tactics to challenge the alt-right right now and it doesn’t always work. I’m happy to whine if we actually start talking about it.

    And you’re right I do circle my ‘A’s. I didn’t intend to refuse people inclusion in some broader community – maybe that’s a failure of the above, but I certainly didn’t discount participating in resisting things in, in this case, a university setting either. I didn’t tell the anarchists or radicals or whatever to fuck off because the university isn’t their space. I actually want us to engage more. I want to break down some of the borders by actually talking about some of this stuff. And in part so some people (hopefully no people) on campus or otherwise don’t get slammed by the authorities. That was my whole point. Anarchists don’t make the powers at be respond the way we do, but it doesn’t mean our actions don’t affect other people. Seems like something we should probably think about…Just because some consequences are hypothetical doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t think about them… And being in the same action space where certain known people organized a thing does sometimes lump everyone in together, whether we like it or not, and sometimes it may not matter. And again that’s not anarchists fault, but we don’t need to play into it either. Often this just screams anarchists not really giving a fuck. Laurier folks refusing to engage with the outside is a similar problem – and there’s plenty of this in campus politics to go around these days. And that’s often about deriding militancy, trying to out folks or distancing oneself wholesale from militant action. There’s also a pretty strong liberal not giving a fuck about how things might affect others with different politics as well.

    As the second comment said – there are some pretty fundamental differences in the ways people do politics and seeking safer spaces rather than actually shutting some bad shit down is itself a dangerous practice to fall into. And it can be an active retreat. The tactics aren’t the same and maybe I ought to have been clearer about that – and they both have their own strategic value. That’s my point. Different tactics have value and should be used, but it’s better to figure out more explicitly how they fit together.

    1. Thanks for the response, it really adds a lot to your original text and further develops some of the strategic directions going ahead.

      I like your emphasis on working together broadly to confront fascists, though personally I feel a bit skeptical of it. One of the reasons I’m not very excited about the whole antifascist thing is that it flattens out political difference to our opposition to the very worst guys. Not that I love insisting on political difference, but there are reasons why I’m not a liberal or an authoritarian communist and antifascism tends to put us in situations where we need to operate within limits or contexts imposed by those groups. I don’t have a good answer exactly, but I think your emphasis on diversity of approaches and active communication is probably on the right track.

  3. ❝In general a politics of refusing platforms to alt-right and white supremacist views needs to be a core of organizing.❞
    Sure, go ahead and refuse platforms to whomever you want, as long as it’s *your* platforms that you are refusing. Other people’s platforms, or public platforms, are not yours to refuse, though.

    1. Public space is always contested though. Your comment boils down to “let the powerful determine what is legitimate speech” since most platforms are controlled by corporations or rich people or are large public institutions. As an anarchist, I don’t want these immense power imbalances to exist, but while they do, I certainly don’t want fascists to make use of them, hiding behind liberal values like “free speech” (and I use the word ‘liberal’ deliberately), to organize and reach out. It is a different question than not letting someone speak in your social centre and I would say it should be a pretty high bar of vileness before trying to deplatform someone, if only because if we start doing it all the time, we end up attempting to comanage or gatekeep systems that we should be trying to destroy.

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