“The cops and the Klan go hand in hand.”
Anyone who’s taken part in one of the many counterprotests against the far right, white supremacists and assorted neo-Nazis in the past several years has probably heard this chant.
Often, it’s born of frustration – when anti-racist protesters, usually far outnumbering the bigots, find themselves herded into protest pens, with guns and other weapons of the riot police pointed at them, while the Nazis spout off about their dreams of race wars and fantasies of assaulting those who oppose them.
In Washington, D.C., on August 12, the police accommodations for the three dozen or so Nazis who dared to show up included hundreds of Maryland police, U.S. Park Police and Secret Service agents – all to make sure that “American racists [got] bundled into the capital on a segregated train car and escorted through a racists-only entrance into a park across from the White House,” as the Huffington Post put it.
Is it any wonder that so many anti-racist protesters felt anger and disgust as the hateful bigots got the red-carpet treatment?
“It’s crazy how the police can come up here and protect these motherfucker racist bastards,” one Black Lives Matter activist told the Huffington Post. “They’re here to protect these sheet-wearing racist-ass bastards.”
Often police protection of the racists and bigots goes even further. It turns into a direct assault on left-wing counterprotesters.
In Portland, the recent August 4 rally by the far-right Patriot Prayer group included a vicious police assault on nonviolent protesters. Video shows an unprovoked attack by a huge group of armed riot police.
The assault included firing flash-bang grenades that hit one protester in the head, resulting in a serious wound, and one in the arm, resulting in a chemical burn.
That spasm of police violence led to Tusitala “Tiny” Toese – a well-known member of Patriot Prayer and the Proud Boys who boasts about beating up leftists – declaring to the Huffington Post that the day was “awesome” for the far right, and that police “did their job.”
At the demonstration, Toese – who reportedly has been involved in multiple violent altercations in Portland, including an alleged assault on an African American teen – wore a shirt that read “Pinochet Did Nothing Wrong” on the front, and made reference to killing anti-fascists on the back.
“Police launched a violent attack on the left that was unprovoked in an attempt to allow Patriot Prayer and Proud Boys to go on their march,” Effie Baum, a spokesperson for Portland’s Popular Mobilization coalition, which organized the August 4 march, told the Huffington Post.
“When people say there was no violence today between the right and left, there absolutely was violence – and it was perpetrated by the police on the left,” Baum added.
Portland Police Chief Danielle Outlaw’s response? Yes, her cops gave anti-fascists a beating – and they should stop complaining about it.
In an interview with a conservative talk radio show host, Outlaw claimed that the counterprotesters came to the demonstration looking for a fight and got what was coming to them. “And then you get mad because I kicked your butt,” Outlaw sneered. “And then you go back and you wail off and whine and complain.”
In Berkeley, California, at the counterprotest against the right the next day, police didn’t physically assault anti-racists on the same scale. But they did arrest some 20 activists on various charges, almost all of which were nonviolent in nature.
Police claim, as always, that they were there to “protect” the public, but they then put arrested activists directly in harm’s way – by publishing the names, photos and residential neighborhoods of the arrested anti-fascist and anti-racist protesters on Twitter the day after the protest, despite the fact that none had been convicted.
This essentially paints a target on anti-fascist protesters for the right to harass, stalk or worse.
This isn’t the first time police in California and elsewhere have been accused of aiding and abetting the alt-right’s ability to target anti-racist activists.
Earlier this year, the Guardian uncovered court documents which detailed how police in Sacramento, California, “worked with white supremacists in an effort to identify counterprotesters and sought the prosecution of activists with ‘anti-racist’ beliefs.’” This came in relation to a 2016 protest of a rally organized by the neo-Nazi Traditionalist Worker Party (TWP), in which a number of mainly anti-fascist activists were stabbed.
In one phone call between California Highway Patrol investigator Donovan Ayres and a member of the TWP, who had been armed with a knife at the rally, Ayres went out of his way to assure the neo-Nazi that he would try to keep his name redacted and out of public records requests.
And in his report on an African American anti-fascist protester who had been stabbed, the Guardian noted that Ayres:
recommended the man be charged with 11 offenses, including disturbing the peace, conspiracy, assault, unlawful assembly and wearing a mask to evade police. As evidence, Ayres provided Facebook photos of the man holding up his fist. The officer wrote that the man’s “Black Power salute” and his “support for anti-racist activism” demonstrated his “intent and motivation to violate the civil rights” of the neo-Nazi group.
In some cases, individual cops’ predisposition to sympathize with the racists is simply because they are looking out for their brothers in bedsheets.
Last year, reserve Officer Bart Alsbrook was forced to resign from his role as police chief in the town of Colbert, Oklahoma – because it came to light that his name was on record as the owner of two neo-Nazi websites that sold “Nazi and confederate memorabilia, and neo-Nazi music by bands including The Klansmen with album titles including Hitler was Right.”
Alsbrook later claimed he was being “set up” by neo-Nazis.
Or there’s Officer Raymond Mott, who was fired by the town of Lake Arthur, Louisiana, in 2015 after a photo surfaced of him at a KKK rally in 2014. In it, Mott was wearing neo-Nazi regalia and giving the Nazi salute.
Or Fruitland Park, Florida, Deputy Police Chief David Borst and Officer George Hunnewell, who were forced out of their jobs in 2014 when it was discovered that both were members of the KKK – the second time in five years that a member of the Klan was discovered to be on the city’s police force.
And it’s not just police. A recent investigation by Frontline and ProPublica found that among the white supremacists who turned out in Charlottesville, Virginia, last August, was at least one employee of defense contractor Northrop Grumman who had a government security clearance and one active-duty Marine.
The government itself has warned about the ties between white supremacists and law enforcement, with a 2015 FBI Counterterrorism Policy Guide noting that “domestic terrorism investigations focused on militia extremists, white supremacist extremists and sovereign citizen extremists often have identified active links to law enforcement officers.”
A 2006 FBI internal intelligence assessment described how white supremacists had a “historical” interest in “infiltrating law enforcement communities or recruiting law enforcement personnel.”
SEEING THE left as more of a threat than the violent alt-right and white supremacist movement isn’t an accident. It’s a function of the role of police.
Setting aside the issue of the many individual cops who have documented ties to white supremacist groups, there is a more fundamental problem that predisposes police to right-wing ideas, and to being violent as well.
The role of the police under capitalism is to act as an armed body in defense of the state and private property – a capitalist order that depends on oppression and division. This means that, by its very nature, the job of a cop requires being willing to use violence to repress and curtail the expressions of people fighting for their rights.
Police break strikes and target picket lines to keep companies running during labor disputes; they arrest and target antiwar and other activists who expose the crimes and priorities of the state; and they attack and incarcerate large numbers among communities of color, especially those who are marginalized and poor, as part of the racist “war on drugs.”
To be a cop means accepting and upholding a system that pits the state against the rights of those fighting for liberation. It means working to maintain a “justice” system that is inherently biased against the poor and marginalized. As a result – and despite the personal experiences of some individual Black, gay or female officers – on the whole, cops are more likely to hold backward, bigoted and violent views.
To put it bluntly, the cops and the Klan not only go “hand in hand.” Often, they are one and the same.
The pictures of police siccing dogs and turning water hoses on civil rights protesters in the 1950s and ‘60s, or attacking and dehumanizing members of the Black Panthers and other radical groups, or worse, is proof enough of that – like the 1964 murders of civil rights workers James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner by members of the KKK – including deputies of the Neshoba County Sheriff’s Office and the Philadelphia Police Department.
As Jackie Iyamah wrote in 2015 about the ties between police and white supremacists:
When members of a white supremacist group can so easily infiltrate a system that is meant to serve justice for all, it becomes crucial to think critically about whom the criminal justice system is actually protecting and serving…Policing in the U.S. was created for no other reason than to maintain social classes and enforce racial hierarchy. In truth, the criminal justice system is not broken; it is functioning exactly as it was intended to.
This is why in Charlottesville this year, for a demonstration on the anniversary of last year’s deadly violence, anti-racist activists hung a banner in front of a statue of Thomas Jefferson that captured the truth about the role of police in Charlottesville and beyond: “Last year they came with torches. This year they come with badges.”