Disclaimer: this article represents the views of one fellow worker and member of the IWW in southern Maine, not necessarily the views of the IWW.
Yesterday morning an event came to my attention. It sounded innocent enough – even positive. A rally in Augusta on 30 September to “denounce political violence.” Seems ok on the face of it, right? Sounds good. We all detest political violence. The poster also said “Support Speech Press Assembly.” Awesome, right? Everybody appreciates free speech, freedom of the press, the freedom to assemble, and other civil liberties. These are not controversial topics.
This sounds like a rally we can all get behind, right? Wrong.
Let me explain to you how I figured out that this rally is actually organized by far right wing extremist trolls associated with the “alt right” movement, and intended to advance an agenda that is the exact opposite of its stated purpose.
Context – The Boston “free speech” rallies and the Charlottesville connection
The organizing was evident on the dais at Boston Common. During the afternoon, a 4channer who goes by the name “John Rasmussen” took to the dais to give rapid-fire talking points on gaining political power — identifying central causes, sending out letters for a campaign, building roots with influential members of the community, participating in local meetings, finding local allies and, eventually, getting into local government. Rasmussen, who says he has served on his local school board in Maine, wants his fellow reactionaries to get off the internet and into local office.“”You need to be ask to be appointed to the planning board, ask to be appointed to the board of appeals, all of these boards municipalities create to make bureaucratic work for us,” he said. “And once you’re in it, you can get rid of it. You really can. It’s remarkable.”
Rasmussen was an organizer with Occupy Maine before being becoming a self-professed millennial “/pol/ack” — or a devotee of 4chan’s politics message board. He spent time throughout the rally with the small group of teenage organizers he sees as the next big opportunity to put reactionaries into power.
“My generation’s been so cast aside by the political system by the elite who are trying to maintain their generation’s control over everything, they didn’t bring my generation in,” Rasmussen said. “My goal is to get the younger generation, born well after me, to get them back in.”
It’s not entirely clear the younger generations want in — or what they want into. While Rasmussen spoke, the younger crowd, bearing the flag of Kekistan, a fictionalized right-wing country born out of gamers’ imaginations, stood taunting the antifa on the front lines.
The Kekistanis, however, delighted in the speech delivered by Kyle Chapman, or “Based Stick Man,” an alt-right celebrity brawler famous for bloodying anti-fascists in the Battle of Berkeley. Chapman had flown into Boston thanks to a last-minute $1,500 flight; a girl who appeared to be no older than 12 wandered the common collecting donations to make up his cost.
From the dais, Chapman gave a growling sermon about demolishing what he called the George Soros-funded threat of antifa, the apparent foot soldiers of the communistic Democrats. “We need to put our foot down and make sure these sons of bitches don’t have a foothold here like they have in Europe,” Chapman shouted. “We need to crush them, destroy them. We need to demoralize them.”
Garrett Kirkland and Samson Racioppi
Garrett Kirkland is listed as a speaker at the 30 September “denounce political violence” rally with the biographical caption “Activist for Freedom, Organizer of The 2nd Boston Free Speech Rally”.
This Boston rally also originally featured overt white nationalist speakers and Proud Boys such as Kyle Chapman, Augustus Invictus and others, before speakers began withdrawing in the wake of Charlottesville and the event ultimately fell apart as a result of 45,000 people taking to the streets to reject their message of hate and white supremacy.
Samson Racioppi was one of the scheduled speakers at the Boston event. Afterwards, he said, “I really think it was supposed to be a good event by the organizers, but it kind of fell apart.”
Other speakers for this Augusta rally include Richard Light, Libertarian candidate for Governor of Maine, Jim Bouchard, Libertarian candidate for Congress, Chris Lyons, Libertarian candidate for US senate, Don McCann, Libertarian candidate for the Maine House of Representatives, and incongruously, former Portland school board member Holly Seeliger, and medical cannabis activist Hillary Lister.
I would not presume to say, without knowing more about them, whether this clique of libertarians can be fairly associated with the alt-right or white nationalists. All we know is that there is a clear overlap between the Libertarian Party and the alt-right, including many notable Proud Boys, John Rasmussen himself, and other figures like Chris Cantrell, the New Hampshire libertarian media personality who became infamous as an organizer of the Charlottesville incident, who has said, “My goal here is to normalize racism, I’m going to make a commercial enterprise out of saying things that people want to make illegal. I’m going to make a whole fucking bunch of money doing it. Anybody who gets in my way is going to find themselves in a very long list of people who regretted underestimating me.”
By contrast with the others, Seeliger and Lister seem like odd speakers. Both represent a much more progressive world view. What their reasons are for sharing a stage with such unsavory company, only they can say. I have great respect for the work of both of these individuals, and prefer to give them the benefit of the doubt that they have good personal reasons for participating.
Who is likely to attend this event?
The 30 September rally has circulated on Internet spaces frequented by the extreme racist fringe of right wing politics. We can only speculate who is going to turn up, and I am sure the crowd will include many people who have taken the organizers at their word that they wish to denounce political violence. It is unfortunate that such good working class Mainers will be deceived in this way, into serving the agenda of a small group of racist trolls.
We can assume that they will be standing shoulder to shoulder with the most vile white supremacists in our communities – who are likely to come out of the woodwork to advance the cause of the alt-right. There is every reason to think that Proud Boys, KKK members, anti-immigrant groups, and other bigots will be in attendance.
How is this likely to play out?
Again, we have no choice but to engage in speculation. This appears to be a transparent effort by the alt-right to flip-the-script, painting themselves and other white supremacists as being the voices of reason and champions of free speech and nonviolent, civilized discourse, and anti-racist activists as being violent enemies of free expression.
Once you know the players involved, it is easy to see through this – these are folks who have shared a stage with the violent neo-Nazi orchestrators of the Charlottesville incident. Blood is on their hands. However – if their intent is truly to reverse the course of violent extremism that they have encouraged and participated in, and embrace nonviolence as a new strategy, then I see that as a positive development.
It is my hope that this rally will not result in the kind of political violence which the organizers today purport to denounce, but which they have instigated all too often in the last year. It is likely that there will be a counter-protest from working Mainers who oppose the alt-right – let us show them that if they want to denounce violence, we can beat them at that game too. After all, we have been practicing nonviolence for a hundred years – for them it is a brand new, untested strategy. We’ll nonviolence the crap out of them.
The IWW stands against political violence, and against the alt-right too.
The IWW has always represented a movement towards greater working class solidarity against the oppression of the employing class – which all working class people suffer from, regardless of race, ethnicity, nationality, citizenship status, gender identity or any other qualifier. In the spirit of our motto, “an injury to one is an injury to all”, we have always stood opposed to white supremacists, white nationalists, and fascists here in Maine and all over the world. As these movements re-brand themselves into the “alt-right”, a racist mass movement for the 21st century, we stand opposed to them too.
From leading strikes for better working conditions among Franco-American textile mill workers in Lewiston and Skowhegan to confronting the KKK in Greenville in 1925, the IWW in Maine historically has had the backs of oppressed, marginalized, and immigrant workers. We carry on that tradition today. And for those white working class people who also suffer from the inherent inequality of our economic system – believe it or not we have your backs too, but we cannot sit idly by and let you blame your problems on your immigrant or minority fellow workers. In doing so, you become a pawn of the employing class, who love nothing better than to divide us over such arbitrary and meaningless things.
As a working Mainer and member of the IWW, I personally call upon everyone to call this event what it is – an attempt by alt-right trolls to twist public opinion and legitimize their hateful message. I implore you not to fall for it, to reject this event and its organizers, and to even to take direct action to to expose them for who they are and present an alternative message of true non violence and support for all working class people.
your fellow worker
Southern Maine IWW