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Defending Your Neighborhood From Nazis and White Supremacists Without Calling the Cops

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Editor’s note: Due to safety concerns involving antifascist work, The River has elected to grant anonymity to the author of this essay, at their request. We believe publishing this essay anonymously is the only way to deliver an important perspective to our readers.

In early June, members of Beacon’s LGBTQ community found themselves targeted by a coordinated intimidation campaign. In a deeply alarming incident, anti-abortion flyers with the word “death” next to the words “Planned Parenthood” were discovered at the doorstep of several community members.

Whoever the perpetrator, the message was clear: I know where you live. You are not safe here.

Acts of hate such as this are all too common these days. With a fellow traveler in the White House who amplifies their hateful message, bigots are feeling particularly emboldened, threatening and attacking people on the basis of gender, sexuality, race, ethnic background, and other identities.

But Donald Trump is a symptom, not the disease; his rise to power was only made possible by a global resurgence of populist and fascist politics. This disturbing trend didn’t just come out of nowhere—on the contrary, hate is the backbone of the capitalist order we live under.

Those who enjoy wealth and power at the expense of everyone else need to keep us, the vast majority, divided so that we don’t all get together and fight back. When institutions such as the police, courts, prisons, governments, and corporations systematically single out people of color and other groups for unequal treatment, they create conditions in which individual prejudice readily thrives. On top of this, by offering better treatment to whites and other dominant cultural groups, the capitalist system gives these groups an incentive to support the status quo. In this way, hate and prejudice are weaponized to keep our communities divided and keep us all under the thumb of predatory elites.

In order to grab up as much as they can as quickly as they can, the wealthy few slash wages, jobs, and public services. But this also undermines their ability to grant socioeconomic privileges to the dominant cultural majority. As more people struggle to make ends meet, they come to have less stake in the system and more reason to oppose the powers that be. Fascist strongmen prevent this problem by playing on the prejudices already present in society to scapegoat marginalized communities as the cause of society’s ills. Luring the dominant cultural majority with promises of a return to an idealized past where their chosen scapegoats knew their place, they proceed to unleash the full violence of the state on oppressed groups, up to and including physical removal and genocide. In doing so, these politicians not only win the support from large parts of the public, but prevent them from seeing who their real enemy is.

Bigots are useful to the capitalist ruling class, and an ever-present threat to our communities. In response, our organization, the Hudson Valley Antifascist Network (HVAN), works to keep community members safe from the violence of white supremacists, fascists, and other hatemongers. Using an organizing model called community self-defense, HVAN brings communities together to defend against threats and attacks on any of their members. This allows us to gather the numbers needed to keep everyone safe, as well as to build solidarity across the divides that keep us apart.

HVAN reaches out to the broader community because we are not a cadre organization that does antifascist work for people. Instead, we do antifascist work with people, teaching others the skills needed to take collective direct action to defend themselves and one another from white supremacists in the neighborhood.

We begin our work by identifying and gathering intelligence on local white supremacists. As soon as names, addresses, background information—and ideally, a photo—are available, we set out to warn the neighborhood through flyers and social media posts disseminating this information.

Over the past year, HVAN has been working to expose three open neo-Nazis in Dutchess County alone:

  • Jesse “Sven” Dunstan of Fishkill is the founder of the white supremacist website “The Right Stuff” and a cohost of its associated podcast in which he regularly expresses hatred for Jews, Black people, Muslims, and the LGBTQ community. Dunstan has connections to prominent neo-Nazi Richard Spencer, one of the lead organizers of the deadly 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in which antiracist counter-demonstrator Heather Heyer was murdered by a white supremacist.
  • Kieran P. Morris of the Town of Poughkeepsie is a self-proclaimed fascist and so-called network director for Patriot Front, a frequently violent hate group which was also involved in Heyer’s murder. Morris and Patriot Front are known to have connections to Jesse Dunstan and “The Right Stuff.” Morris has been known to travel across the Hudson Valley and New York City to anonymously post fascist propaganda, and has traveled to multiple European countries where he has linked up with fascist organizations with extensive and well-documented histories of violence. Morris has also repeatedly attempted to join the Atomwaffen Division, a Nazi terrorist organization of US origin.
  • Keith Hayes, also of the Town of Poughkeepsie, was publicly exposed earlier this year for flying a Nazi flag in his apartment window, which he has refused to remove despite substantial public pressure.

Some may object to our methods as an infringement on white supremacists’ right to express themselves. We counter that this concern misses the point. Freedom of speech does not mean freedom from criticism or freedom from consequences of that speech. In fact, we antifascists are using our freedom of speech to criticize and push back against fascist speech.

More importantly, our issue with white supremacists is not simply that we disagree with their opinions. We are not fooled by their claim that all they want to do is express a contrary point of view. White supremacists engage in hate speech in order to normalize their ideology, gain new recruits, and build a movement capable of carrying out organized violence against our friends, neighbors, and coworkers. We are not in a “debate” with white supremacists—we are defending our communities against them.

Given the stakes, we cannot afford to wait until hate speech has turned into physical violence before taking action. It is easier to stop white supremacists when they are talking about a mass movement in the streets than when they have actually formed one. They are well on their way once we have conceded them a platform to present their hate as a mere difference of opinion. Therefore, we must use all means available to us to deny them opportunities to publicly express their hate and cut the momentum of their organizing.

Antifascists refer to this as deplatforming—in other words, making it as difficult and costly as possible for white supremacists to advocate and implement their ideas. Publicly identifying white supremacists is necessary not only for warning the community, but for disrupting their organizing efforts.

We believe that taking matters into our own hands is safer and more effective than counting on the police. For one, since hate speech is not against the law, the police will not take any action until white supremacists have escalated their attacks on our communities. Even when white supremacists do commit acts of violence, police are still of little use. While officers may step in to arrest white supremacists, police intervention only occurs after the fact, once people have already been hurt or killed. In fact, police have no legal obligation to protect civilians from a crime in progress. One notable case-in-point is the 2017 “Unite the Right” rally, where police stood by and watched as white supremacists assaulted counter-demonstrators.

Neither is there any guarantee an arrest or charges will result after white supremacists have committed a crime. Police make arrests at their own personal discretion when they believe a crime was committed, regardless of whether or not a crime was actually committed. In addition, we incur considerable risk calling the police, considering how many of their interactions with the public, particularly with people of color, end in violence, death, or incarceration.

HVAN practices community self-defense because we only have one another to count on. Instead of calling the cops, a few possibilities for countering and deplatforming white supremacists include:

  • removing their propaganda and graffiti, and/or covering it up with flyers alerting the community about the presence of white supremacists in the area;
  • researching local white supremacists and sharing information on them and their activities;
  • contacting employers and getting white supremacists fired;
  • contacting landlords and getting white supremacists evicted;
  • picketing outside the homes of white supremacists;
  • gathering superior numbers to impede and/or drown out white supremacist meetings and events;
  • getting white supremacist events canceled;
  • distributing LGBTQ flags for people to fly at home to make it harder for LGBTQ community members to be singled out.

If you would like to learn how to practice community self-defense safely and effectively in your neighborhood, get involved in our ongoing campaigns, or just submit tips about local white supremacists, contact us via email, Facebook, or Twitter. We have members who live and work in Beacon, Newburgh, Poughkeepsie, Kingston, and other local communities who can help you stamp out hate in the Hudson Valley.

The Hudson Valley Antifascist Network is a collective that brings community members together to defend each other from the violence of fascists, white supremacists, and other bigots in the neighborhood. HVAN takes direct action now to stamp out hate before it’s too late, without counting on police, politicians, or anyone else.

The River is a nonpartisan news organization, and the opinions of columnists and editorial writers do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the newsroom.