By the Editors
The election of Trump gives racists like the KKK and Nazis the green light to attack Muslims, African Americans, Latinos, Jews, immigrants and others who join in solidarity with them. This year, the KKK and Nazis rallied against immigrants and African Americans in several cities in California (pictured above). In Pelham, North Carolina, the Klan organized a rally, and the Nazis announced an armed march against Jews in Montana. And of course, we have the Klan in blue ready to shoot and kill the unarmed, almost always young people of color.
How do we respond to such terror? Some call for practicing non-violence and turning “the other cheek,” praying, ignoring it, or passing stricter gun control and hate crime legislation. They believe that violent self-defense is immoral and could alienate supporters or funders. Many 1960s civil rights organizations, such as the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), maintained pacifism while guarded by black men armed to the teeth to repel the Klan. Martin Luther King, Jr. preached non-violence also but traveled and lived with a small arsenal and armed protectors-he was no dummy. His public non-violent stance was designed primarily to attract middle-class white support in the north.
Last year, black, white and Latin workers attacked the Klan in Anaheim, after the KKK had stabbed several people, and stopped them from injuring more. Soon after, four hundred militants sent the Nazis running in Sacramento, scared for their lives. The International Committee Against Racism (InCAR) physically stopped so many Klan rallies during the 1980s that the Grand Wizard admitted Klan membership dropped, and they stopped marching in the Northeast.
There is a long history of armed resistance to lynching, slavery, and civil rights violations. Some resistance is self-defense and pre-emptive while some is pro-active. Most people don’t know much about this, believing that southern blacks were passive victims. The U.S. government, which fostered anti-black racism to justify slavery (Linebaugh and Rediker, Bennett), does nothing to protect anti-racists and uses charges of violence as a way to smear protestors. Most famously, in 1979, the cops in Greensboro, NC stood by while white supremacists murdered 5 and wounded 10 anti-racist demonstrators.
These are some of the significant examples of armed resistance against racism:
- Rebellions by captured African men and women began before the slave ships sailed and continued in the early days of enslavement through the end in northern and southern states. In many case, Native Americans fought back along with them. White servants also joined some of the revolts, causing the landowners to bribe, arrest or kill them if they continued their solidarity.
“It was common, for example, for servants and slaves to run away together, steal hogs together, get drunk together. It was not uncommon for them to make love together. In Bacon’s Rebellion [Virginia,1676], one of the last groups to surrender was a mixed band of eighty negroes and twenty English servants.” (Zinn).
- Haitian slaves revolted, threw out the French and British, and took over the entire country in 1804, sparking fear in southern slave owners and inspiring revolt among U.S. slaves. The French rulers spent so much money trying to quell the Haitian revolution that they sold the land known as the Louisiana Purchase to the U.S.
- In 1850, the government passed the Fugitive Slave Act that allowed anyone to capture escaped or free black people. This spawned widespread resistance that was often armed and violent. Many escapees would have been killed if they had no means to protect themselves. Some abolitionists and white liberals condemned the use of violence to save lives, but many encouraged armed self-defense and called on their members to support and join in. Frederick Douglass proclaimed:
“You are prisoners of war, in an enemy’s country, of a war, too, that is unrivaled for its injustice, cruelty, and meanness, and therefore by all the rules of war, you have the fullest liberty to plunder, burn, kill, and burn as you may have to do to promote your escape.” (Johnson)
- After the Civil War during the Reconstruction period (1865 to 1877), white politicians and Confederate veterans created Klan groups that rode around black neighborhoods with guns and whips, terrorizing black families and white supporters. Every house was stocked with guns with people willing to use them.
- White racists lynched black people and white antiracists to maintain a state of terror and control. Armed black men and women confronted many of them yet many were murdered brutally. In 1919 after World War I when black GIs returned to the U.S., white racists attacked and burned black neighborhoods, such as Tulsa, Oklahoma and St. Louis, Missouri.
- During the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s, police departments and terror groups beat black and white activists conducting voter registration drives, teaching freedom schools, and desegregating facilities. Middle aged black men created the Deacons for Defense and Justice in Bogalusa, Louisiana to guard the pacifist CORE volunteers. They loaded their guns and rode out to stop Klan groups from killing the activists and guarded civil rights leaders, such as Martin Luther King, Jr. (Hill)
- Today we see the incredibly brave Native tribes at Standing Rock protecting their land and water along with total strangers, the protestors in California and North Carolina, and the young militants in Ferguson, Baltimore, and Chicago.
We are now faced with a decision about how to confront racist violence, which will flourish under the new administration. Can we trust the government to protect us when we fight white supremacists? Do we simply support gun control laws applied disproportionately against black gun holders or call for more militarization of the murderous police? Is it enough to march against racism but leave the fascist organizers intact?
While most resistance will not involve guns, we need to decide how to stand up to the deportations of immigrant families, police murders, bullying and threats against Muslims and Jews, Klan and Nazi rallies, and racist graffiti. Do we do this in our racial/ethnic/religious silos or together? We will not have the numbers we need nor the courage to destroy perpetrators of overt racism unless we are together and ready for direct confrontation when needed.
History shows that fighting back liberates people from oppression. It is encouraging to see so many people engaged in mass efforts to confront state protected violence. Let’s expand our efforts and numbers. Whenever we have sufficient strength, we must use it to physically stop violent racists in their tracks. The point is not to martyr or injure ourselves but to build each fight back numerically and strategically so that we can win. Some may be arrested, even wounded, but as we are victorious we will inspire millions with our example.
Recommended Books and Web Resources
- Bennett, L. The road not taken. From The Shaping of Black America, 1975, https://msuweb.montclair.edu/~furrg/essays/bennettroad.html.
- Cobb, C. This Nonviolent Stuff Will Get You Killed, 2014.
- Hill, L. The Deacons for Defense and Justice, 2004.
- Johnson, N. Negroes and the Gun: the black tradition of arms, 2014.
- Linebaugh, P. and Rediker, M. Many-Headed Hydra : Sailors, Slaves, Commoners, and the Hidden History of the Revolutionary Atlantic, 2013.
- Pomerantz, K. and Isaacs, E. The Multiracial Unity Blog, multiracialunity.org
- Umoja, A.O. We Will Shoot Back: armed resistance in the Mississippi Freedom Movement,
- Zinn, H. 1619-1741 Slavery and Slave Rebellions in the US.