The Times published this as an opinion piece (it’s written by a member of the editorial board) but most of the material in it reads like straight reporting. Author Farah Stockman starts by relating the story of an out-of-work photographer named Jeremy Lee Quinn who spent time recording looting in the wake of George Floyd’s death and noticed that the activity didn’t seem to be random but planned by groups of “black bloc” anarchists hovering at the edges of the crowd. Initially, Quinn believed these people might be far-right extremists looking to discredit Black Lives Matter, but after seeking them out he found that wasn’t the case.
Mr. Quinn began studying footage of looting from around the country and saw the same black outfits and, in some cases, the same masks. He decided to go to a protest dressed like that himself, to figure out what was really going on. He expected to find white supremacists who wanted to help re-elect President Trump by stoking fear of Black people. What he discovered instead were true believers in “insurrectionary anarchism.”
To better understand them, Mr. Quinn, a 40-something theater student who worked at Univision until the pandemic, has spent the past four months marching with “black bloc” anarchists in half a dozen cities across the country, chronicling the experience on his website, Public Report…
Mr. Quinn discovered a thorny truth about the mayhem that unfolded in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man in Minneapolis. It wasn’t mayhem at all.
While talking heads on television routinely described it as a spontaneous eruption of anger at racial injustice, it was strategically planned, facilitated and advertised on social media by anarchists who believed that their actions advanced the cause of racial justice. In some cities, they were a fringe element, quickly expelled by peaceful organizers. But in Washington, Portland and Seattle they have attracted a “cultlike energy,” Mr. Quinn told me.
In short, Quinn was seeing what local sheriffs and police around the country have seen, anarchists adopting Black Lives Matter talking points as a justification for their behavior. Stockman says it’s not necessary to take Quinn’s word for this because the goals of these anarchists are spelled out at sites like one called Crimethinc. The front page of that site is current devoted to a lengthy analysis of the “siege” of the police precinct in Minneapolis. Here’s a sample:
The crowd mostly originated from working-class and poor Black and Brown neighborhoods. This was especially true of those who threw things at the police and vandalized and looted stores. Those who do not identify as “owners” of the world that oppresses them are more likely to fight and steal from it when the opportunity arises. The crowd had no interest in justifying itself to onlookers and it was scarcely interested in “signifying” anything to anyone outside of itself. There were no signs or speeches, only chants that served the tactical purposes of “hyping up” (“Fuck 12!”) and interrupting police violence with strategically deployed “innocence” (“Hands up! Don’t shoot!”)…
Looting served three critical aims.
First, it liberated supplies to heal and nourish the crowd…
Second, looting boosted the crowd’s morale by creating solidarity and joy through a shared act of collective transgression. The act of gift giving and the spirit of generosity was made accessible to all, providing a positive counterpoint to the head-to-head conflicts with the police.
Third, and most importantly, looting contributed to keeping the situation ungovernable. As looting spread throughout the city, police forces everywhere were spread thin. Their attempts to secure key targets only gave looters free rein over other areas in the city. Like a fist squeezing water, the police found themselves frustrated by an opponent that expanded exponentially.
Stockman writes that while BLM initially saw a surge of public support, the anarchists tactics wore out the public over time. There’s a law of diminishing returns with this ideology, one that some BLM activists are now more aware of. Stockman concludes:
They are experts at unraveling an old order but considerably less skilled at building a new one. That’s why, even after more than 100 days of protest in Portland, activists do not agree on a set of common policy goals.
Stockman quotes an anarchist podcast speaker (anonymous of course) who said, “some insurrectionary anarchists believe that the meaning of being an anarchist lies in the struggle itself and what that struggle reveals.” In other words, there aren’t necessarily any constructive goals here. The chaos is an end in itself. To quote a line from a great film: Some men just want to watch the world burn. It would be great if a few more people on the left could take this organized, destructive threat seriously.