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You can thank the black bloc for punching that alt-right jerk


Natasha Lennard writes about the “kinetic beauty” (David Foster Wallace’s words) of seeing alt-right leader Richard Spencer being punched by an anonymous man clad in black. Lennard gives us a little history on the black bloc, which she writes is a tactic, rather than a group like antifa. Read Lennard in partial below, in full via The Nation.

The transcendental experience of watching Roger Federer play tennis, David Foster Wallace wrote, was one of “kinetic beauty.” Federer’s balletic precision and mastering of time, on the very edge of what seems possible for a body to achieve, was a form of bodily genius. What Foster Wallace saw in a Federer Moment, I see in a video of neo-Nazi Richard Spencer getting punched in the face.

You may have seen it, it’s a meme now, set to backing tracks of Bruce Springsteen, New Order, even a song from Hamilton. The punch, landed by a masked protester on Inauguration Day, lends itself perfectly to a beat. Spencer, who states that America belongs to white men, was in the midst of telling an Australian TV crew in DC that he was not a neo-Nazi, while pointing to his neo-Nazi Pepe the Frog lapel pin. A black-clad figure then jumps into frame, deus ex machina, with a perfectly placed right hook to Spencer’s face. The alt-right poster boy stumbles away, and his anonymous attacker bounds out of sight in an instant. I don’t know who threw the punch, but I know by his unofficial uniform that this was a member of our black bloc that day. And anyone enjoying the Nazi-bashing clip (and many are) should know that they’re watching anti-fascist bloc tactics par excellence—pure kinetic beauty. If you want to thank Spencer’s puncher, thank the black bloc.

The black bloc is not a group but an anarchist tactic—marching as a confrontational united force, uniformed in black and anonymized for security. Once deployed, the tactic has an alchemic quality, turning into a temporary object—the black bloc. On Friday, the bloc I joined in DC numbered well over 500, the largest of its kind since the antiwar protests over a decade prior. As I wrote in advance of the inauguration, if we recognize fascism in Trump’s ascendance, our response must be anti-fascist in nature. The history of anti-fascist action is not one of polite protest, nor failed appeals to reasoned debate with racists, but direct, aggressive confrontation. While perhaps best associated in the United States with the anti-globalization movement’s major summit protests nearly two decades ago, the black bloc is part of the longstanding visual language of international anti-fascism, or antifa. For example, bloc tactics have been used by European anti-fascists marching against neo-Nazis since the 1990s in Germany. The symbolic value of a large black-bloc presence at Trump’s inauguration resided in drawing a connection between anti-Trumpism and anti-fascism.

*Screenshot of Richard Spencer being punched via Mediaite


I reply to this Lennard article in a forthcoming conversation piece here, “The Neoliberal Radicals.” But I want to highlight one footnote of that piece. I work as an observer when I am not directly protesting, and the network of which I am a part is concerned that black bloc tactics will serve as a hinge to flip friendly protest cities to unfriendly ones. D.C. is unfriendly. Its police throw the book at people. Cleveland, at least this past summer, was fairly friendly. During one radical socialist protest that was unplanned and went into the streets, Chief Williams kept things cool with the out of state troopers and made sure that the bicycle police cleared a path in the road until the destination point at the park by City Hall.

The bloc, by being violent and destroying things others own, will make friendly cities bring down the police apparatus much more strongly. In this way, they will actually aid the agenda of Trump and co.

See also this on NPR today: .

We should oppose these bills, of course --especially the one allowing protesters to be run over “unintentionally!” But we should also be aware of the dynamic in which those opposed to protest use infractions to tighten the screws on us.