8 min read

Our Usurped Democracy

A line of police in riot gear standing in front of "Stop the steal" protesters.
Photo by Colin Lloyd on Unsplash

I know it's been a minute since I've sent something along, and that has unfortunately coincided with migrating over to a new newsletter service. There have been a couple personal tragedies to deal with, during which I wasn't able to focus on writing. I hope you'll bear with me a little longer while I get back on my feet.

Joe Biden has been president for 100 days, and yet I don’t feel any more secure in our nation’s ability to fend off fascism, whether that come from outside the state, or within. In fact, I would probably say, on any given day, I feel worse about where we are than I did when Biden was elected. It’s true that we’ve seen very little in the way of obviously fascistic terror, and mostly the sorts of people that marched on the Capitol and broke in have been quiet, but things feels worse.

There are three distinct modes of worsening I can point to to back up my very scientific feeling:

  1. Continued state violence and overreach.
  2. GOP attempts at undermining democracy.
  3. The continued ascendance of fascist speech.

So while we’re hopefully climbing toward the brighter days of herd immunity (let’s put aside the plateauing of the rate of vaccination), there are still plenty of reasons to be on the lookout.

The Violence of Police, Militarization of Our Streets, and the Notion of Gun Control

Weeks ago, police once again took the life of a Black man in Minnesota. Daunte Wright was killed in Brooklyn Center by a 26-year veteran of the police, who claimed not to realize she had pulled her pistol instead of her taser. In response, the community, already alight from the trial of Derek Chauvin, took to the streets. They were met with, as the Minnesota Governor put it, “the largest police presence in Minnesota history...” The National Guard was called out from their current deployment for the Chauvin trial, and police in riot gear behaved just as you would imagine. Outside the Brooklyn Center precinct, a “thin blue line“ flag was raised, and police engaged protesters with tear gas and other munitions without authorization. These police, mind you, were held up as emblematic of reform.


It’s been nearly a year since the George Floyd protests took to the streets across the nation, and though protests have been essentially continuous since, tensions had by and large eased. Despite this, the state has responded as though the protests were already fever-pitched. There has been a spate of police violence recently, and the protests—not nearly as massive as last year’s—were instantly met with asymmetrical force. We all know how protests work; it’s this kind of force that is escalates the tactics protesters use, which are inevitably met with further violence. With the Guard already called, and police already utilizing the depths of their munitions, there’s not a lot of room for growing tensions without casualties. While that hasn't been borne out yet, thankfully, this new threshold of emergent tactics seems to be he new normal—see North Carolina's response to soon-to-be-released footage of yet another police shooting.

The other side of this coin is the state response to a wave of mass shootings across the country. Calls for gun control have been fervent and pervasive, and it’s a perfectly understandable reaction for folks to jump to in the wake of a tragedy. (I know some of you are about to bail on me—hold tight.) Gun control, like all laws, hurts the most vulnerable among us first. Take, for instance, the Tenacious Unicorn Ranch, a trans haven in Colorado that has the far-right breathing down their necks. If it weren’t for an outpouring of support from leftists, and an impressive amount of security, the people on the ranch may have already been attacked by area militias or other hate groups. Their primary defense? Armed residents and volunteers. If gun control legislation were to suddenly restrict access to certain weapons, confiscate guns, or otherwise require police presence for enforcement, it’s a safe bet that their first stop is the Ranch, not Sarge’s man cave.

These two sides of the coin don’t quite meet—not yet. But what’s happening is dangerous; the state has located a suitable rock and is in a committee meeting regarding the construction of a hard place. If on the one hand you have a police and military presence that is ever-more ready to act against the public:


And on the other hand you have a public denied the ability to acquire or carry weapons for protection, you get a public that is unable to act against the state when that state commits atrocities against its people. It’s not a question of whether you think the state should be overthrown; it’s a question of whether or not the people ought to have the ability to do so, should they need to. And they should. It’s of further concern (even if it may be a little conspiratorial) that the moves to disarm the public by the Dems will be welcomed by a fascist on the right. While an inchoate fascist like Trump encouraged armed militias and violence, a true fascist is going to want a cowed public that must cling to the state or perish.

Legislating Your Way to Authoritarianism

Politicians all over the country are introducing two types of chilling legislation: election security measures; and anti-protest bills.

Georgia’s Election Integrity Act passed, most infamously, about a month ago. Among other things, the passage of this bill prohibits citizens from providing food or water to those standing in line to vote—a totally normal, not at all inhumane thing for a government to do. Most worrisome is described in the tweet below:

400 other such restrictive bills are being proposed nationwide. This is a no-brainer: if politicians get to choose their electorate, and not the other way around, we don't live in a democracy. A law that says the contrary is true, doesn't make it so. It's more im-personable aspects, like the food thing, brings me to Florida.

On April 19th, Ron DeSantis, a hermit crab that's crawled into the eye-socket of a man, signed a truly draconian anti-riot bill into law. (He also just signed Florida's own restrictive voting rights bill.) Among other things, this bill makes it impossible for a civil suit to be pursued if someone runs you over during a protest. It also greatly increases the criminality of protest, adding a felony crime for "aggravated rioting," and protects Confederate monuments. Bills like this are, as above, in the works all over the country.

By limiting the right to protest (if you think that it being an "anti-riot" bill means it won't affect protestors, you misspelled InfoWars when you typed in the address to this website), and hindering our ability to cast a worthwhile vote, we're truly being caged from both sides. What method of redress has been left to us? There is none, no lawful one.

Tucker Carlson’s Racist & Fascist Power Hour

Last, and certainly least insofar as we're talking about Tucker Carlson, is the open discussion of fascism in the mainstream. It's only one incident, on one show, but Carlson's reach cannot, unfortunately, be overstated. Fox News is your uncle's favorite channel on cable, and he's not the only one. Millions of people tune in to Carlson's show, and he regularly preaches the white supremacist rhetoric of the replacement theory.

To break it down: Carlson and a guest were discussing Hunter Biden, of course, and this naturally led pretty quickly to the two agreeing that if America doesn't get its act together, the right is going to have to elect a fascist in order to straighten the country out. That is terrifying. This kind of talk normalizes the idea to an audience that was already warming up to authoritarianism thanks to Trump--and to be clear, their discussion means they think they didn't already elect a fascist. In their world, Trump is the floor, not the ceiling.

What Do You Do When the State Says You Can’t Protest? You Protest

The last few years have been thick with protests all over the globe, and police (and military) escalation is not particular to the United States. Luckily, these worldwide protests became a proving ground for new tactics to counter police violence. The 2019-2020 Hong Kong protests in particular showed civilians subverting the brute force and espionage of the police with common items and a little ingenuity. It's from these protests that a lot of our own contemporary strategies are derived. I'll go over a few such strategies here. Things may be relatively quiet on the protest front in the States, but don't count on that to last too long.

Umbrellas: Umbrellas have about half a dozen uses on the streets. They can deflect the sun, cameras, and pepper spray. When a whole line of people have them, they can act as a wall of anonymity and light shielding to allow a group to advance, or for those behind the wall to scatter.

Black Bloc: Whether you choose to go in full bloc or not, most protests request that protesters dress in like color--usually black--out of solidarity. Black bloc means that you dress from head to toe in as indistinguishable an outfit as possible from the rest of your protest group, hiding all personal identifiers such as tattoos and hair color. This makes it difficult for police to identify and single out protestors or aggressors.

Lasers: Meant to temporarily disable drones and cameras, lasers can also temporarily blind humans, if you're into that sort of thing. Just don't go for high-powered options, as these can cause permanent damage. Remember that a laser leaves a clear trajectory of origin, so be discreet.

Be Water: A philosophy more than anything, "Be water" was the mantra of the Hong Kong protests. The origin of this idea is Bruce Lee, whose school-less school of fighting, Jeet Kune Do (the Way of the Intercepting Fist), was built around accommodating your opponent's attack and striking before they are able. Being water means, on the street, to be highly mobile, and to deny the police their opportunities to strike. When the police begin to form up, you disperse and return elsewhere. This requires a few things of protestors:

-Cohesion: Allow for an agreement across the movement, and do not quibble or allow disagreements--however valid--to divide you.

-Communication: Either before the protest or well-communicated during, your protest's actions must be known to all involved. Communicate a secondary protest location, for instance, ahead of time, to fall back to when the police arrive.

Don't Get Arrested: Getting arrested has long been a tactic of western protestors, meant to tie up police, make a statement, and grab headlines. In Hong Kong, and increasingly in the US, getting arrested means long jail sentences and wasted resources. Deny the police the opportunity to arrest you, to funnel mutual aid into your bail, and to waste your own time. Do not sit down on the curb and wait for the cops to handcuff you. Run. Make the cops sweat. Show up ten minutes later at another protest site. Then do it all again.

As the State begins to close in around us, our old protesting styles will become inadequate and dangerous. Marching up and down the street in predictable patterns with predictable destinations, asking for permission, moving slowly and standing ground when the better option is to scatter, will increasingly get our people imprisoned, hurt, or killed. The time has come to de-centralize our protests, to have simultaneous actions, to be well-organized enough that we don't just grit our teeth when police charge, but to be able to flow around them, to crash at their backs and secure our goals before they can strike.