What draws people to anarchy? Left-wing extremism and smashing stuff but mostly smashing stuff

The Washington Post published a piece today titled “What draws Americans to anarchy? It’s more than just smashing windows.” The story itself isn’t as dumb as the headline suggests, but it never does demonstrate that what draws people to anarchism is anything beyond a kind of left-wing outlaw chic.

Legba Carrefour was one of the organizers behind Disrupt J20, the group of black bloc anarchists who created hassles at inauguration checkpoints and riots through parts of Washington, D.C. Carrefour tells the Post he became an anarchist after watching the G20 protests in Seattle on television. He knows smashing things turns people off but tells the Post, “The notion of convincing people is a liberal idea.” He adds, “I also think it’s important to attack the symbols of capitalism. It’s just property at the end of the day.”

One of those symbols of capitalism which got destroyed during the inauguration riots Carrefour helped plan was a 2015 stretch limo belonging to Muhammad Ashraf.

Ashraf, 52, owner of Virginia-based Nationwide Chauffeured Services, watched on television as his limo was engulfed in flames. The vehicle was a total loss. After insurance payments, it cost him $60,000 out of pocket to replace, he said.

“When that car becomes a source of your livelihood, it becomes a part of your life. I don’t know if the protesters understand that when they destroy something — the way I felt when I saw my car burning, it really hurt me deeply even though it’s just a car,” he said. “Six months later, I still want to know, did that accomplish anything?”

There’s no answer to that question in the piece. It’s not clear if the author ever asked Carrefour to justify the destruction of the limo, though it seems like the most obvious question to ask. Another anarchist featured in the piece is Sammi LeMaster, a 22-year-old American University graduate who considered herself a “far-left Democrat” before getting involved with anarchists in Washington, D.C.:

On Inauguration Day, she joined a group of LGBT activists and blocked Trump supporters from entering the Mall through a security checkpoint. Later, she said, she saw the brawl between D.C. police and the black-masked protesters and watched as police doused people around her with pepper spray.

The next day, she and dozens of other activists — mostly anarchists — rallied at D.C. Superior Court, offering rides, food and cigarettes to protesters who were arrested and held overnight. LeMaster stood with the group, chanting “anti, anti-capitalista” as each person walked out. It was then she realized this community of anarchists was her own.

And that’s it. LeMaster did some rioting and anti-capitalist chanting and felt at home. Again, there’s no justification for the “diversity of tactics” approach to protesting (smashing and burning things). LeMaster seems concerned about the “baggage” anarchism has but she’s not asked to justify her decision to align herself with that baggage. Again, this seems like the obvious question to ask but it doesn’t get asked for some reason.

There’s more in the piece, including one anarchist who took it up after attending a punk rock show, but the article never does offer much of a justification for the violence which is the main distinctive of anarchist protests. As a reader, you’re left with the impression that participants feel there’s a certain outlaw romance to the whole thing, i.e. dressing in black, wearing a mask, breaking windows and breaking the law, running from police, etc. That kind of excitement tinged with the risk of being arrested must create a real adrenaline rush and some group solidarity among those who do it. You can imagine them sitting around later talking about all the chaos and replaying their role in it for friends.

Does any of that justify destroying Muhammad Ashraf’s limo or doing $100,000 worth of damage to buildings in the form of broken glass? I don’t think so but clearly, the anarchists must. So why not ask them to explain it. It’s the only question really worth asking these people: What appeals to you about breaking things? But the Post sidesteps the question by suggesting there are other reasons for being an anarchist and then doesn’t deliver much in the way of other reasons.

This is one of those stories where the desire to write a Vox-style “but actually” piece just gets in the way of telling it. Here’s a reminder of what these people actually did back in January:

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