The Harmful “Outside Infiltrator” Rhetoric, Mutual Aid, and non-Black Allyship
Trigger warning: This post does include discussion of violence against Black people both current and historic with references to organized hate groups. It does not include any graphic imagery.
Much of this post is discussing the current dialogue about the protests spurred from the murder of George Floyd, as well as its historical precedent, and some explanation of leftist theory and praxis.
Instead of reading the bulk of this post you can click the following link to only see the resources about protest safety, personal phone security, and references to other sources discussing how to participate and donate to help the current movement.
I’d first like to acknowledge that I am in a constant process of learning and then un-learning the lies and misrepresentations of history taught to me by virtue of being from an imperialist nation. I will make mistakes and I will grow and adapt my worldview. I am by no means trying to prop myself up as some infallible-all-knowing-sage. I am a regular person with internet access, time, and a desire to learn.
One of the recent mistakes I’ve made is not always making sure to capitalize the “B” when referring to Black people. I just genuinely did not think about it as being an improper way of written description. It was a mistake. I’ve since educated myself on the matter and will move forward with that education in mind. You can read about the importance of capitalizing the “B” here.. I’m certain I will make more mistakes in the future. But it is as simple as acknowledging them and moving forward while adjusting my behavior.
There has been a growing number of people separating the demonstrations across the United States as being one against “good protestors” and one of people “co-opting” the movement. I’ve seen people use the phrase “white anarchists” and describe infiltration by individuals who want to either abuse the chaos for their own personal enjoyment of destruction or to infiltrate the protests so as to divert them from their intended goal.
This is a common tactic used throughout history to thwart radical action and cloud the mind of well-intentioned fence sitters to not be able to understand the implications of radical action against systematic oppression. One cannot simply vote your way out of systemic racism, though we are taught that our voices through a representative democracy are enough. They are not enough. We’ve lived through decades upon decades of casting ballots without substantial change to the structures of racism and oppression; we have lived through the continued murder of Black Americans without any true repercussions towards the racists that murder and those alongside them that do nothing as it happens. It is clear that this democracy does not represent the best interests of its constituents.
To those that shudder at the demonstrations across America and say that we should simply vote, are people who pay no mind to the fact that these protests are against police brutality in cities with Democrats as mayors and governors; with chief of police being appointed under the watchful eye of those same Democrats. Liberalism has failed to enact systemic change against racism. A liberal politician is not your friend and voting for the “lesser of two evils” has done nothing but to extend the suffering of Black Americans, other people of color, and people within the working class through performative “change”.
It is important to recognize that the destruction one sees in these protests across the United States are in response to violence done unto them first. Both directly from police storming crowds of protestors or more generalized violence through systemic racism and divisions of class. This rage doesn’t come out of nowhere. The actual situation is peaceful protestors who have to defend themselves once police start violence against them and the need for property destruction for the masses to witness the unrest of the rebellion against oppressive systems. We’ve seen the videos of it time and time again both in the current movement and in the past. Then the manipulation of the situation by the media to form the division between “real” and “bad” protestors, the latter of which are then described as “infiltrators”.
There is a historic precedent to the “outside infiltrator” propaganda, which I will describe shortly. But first in regards to the current situation, it is clear there are far less instances of “infiltrators” working to give protestors a bad name than what is being described by mainstream sources of media. Do I believe there are some people out there using the chaos for a good time? Sure. But that is not emblematic of the movement as a whole, or its use of property destruction and violence in the name of self defense. The individuals using a people’s movement with no centralized organization is also not an argument to support the idea of “a few bad apples” as I’ve seen some people trying to do. Policing is an enforced system — it is not comparable to those who say “not all cops are bad” while those “not bad cops” stand silent as more Black Americans are murdered — a mass people’s movement without any structural organization is not, and thus cannot be used as a “gotcha” to support the “some bad apples” pro-police narrative.
It is also important to recognize the difference between a movement without a centralized organizational system versus one that is not organized. Individuals working under the ethos of Black Lives Matter have been advocating, teaching, and organizing within their communities for years. There need not be a singular representative of a people’s movement. But BLM activists have organized Black Americans and allies, all leading to this very moment. So it is especially incorrect to label the destruction of property or “looting” as being done by “white anarchists” as it 1) it doesn’t actually describe what anarchism truly is — which I will explain shortly — and 2) it erases the long standing history of Black people’s role within anarchist history as well as revolutionary history as a whole.
The “outside agitator” rhetoric has been used so as to undermine collaborative efforts by Black Americans and leftist allies to delegitimize the struggle.
We saw it in the 60s when George Wallace, a segregationist Governor from Alabama spoke to the press using this same language to describe a Civil Rights Protest. This is an attempt to further weaponize the tension between the racial disparity of America against a true people’s rebellion of the oppressive status quo.
The “outside agitator” trope is also used as a condescending retort against the very idea that Black Americans can rally for themselves and instead require a push from outsiders — those of which must be insurgent communists! This is described in “Outside Agitator” and Other Terms of the Times.”
These are just a few historic examples of the usage of this rhetoric to divide activists and confuse individuals into delegitimizing the struggle, and there are many more. But we have also seen similar language being used not so long ago during the Ferguson Rebellion.
There are many people discussing the modern implications of this rhetoric both about “outside agitation” and the dichotomy behind “looters” and “peaceful protestors”.
It is now important to consider that movements are nuanced. That one can believe in extending their right to demonstrate into destruction of physical formations of oppression and also believe in voting. One can believe that going out to protest is an invalid way to spark change while not wanting to participate in the electoral system. To say there is a singular “correct” way to handle mass oppression is to devoid yourself of a true understanding of a complex situation. This is a people’s movement without centralized planning or leaders. A true raw and real display of what happens when systems of oppression reach incredible heights. There is no one solution, and even during the Civil Rights era — a time where non-violence comes to mind as is the predominant narrative taught to us in school— we see different displays of protest and discussions on the best tactics.
This discussion quoted above in part, between writer Malcom Harris and activist Charles E. Cobb makes the clear case for the historic usage of various forms of action. A unified vision in wanting to dismantle oppression is key, while division between moral and amoral rebellion is not. But even the choice of non-violence by Martin Luther King Jr. during the Civil Right Era was a tactical one. It was to demonstrate that even the “land of the free” would put brutality on display against non-violent-actors in cities where he knew his and his follower’s presence would be greeted with violence. It was a way to draw attention to the issue at hand. But we have the media reporting on the continuous brutality of Black Americans without any true change in the structure that facilitates that violence. This is a key difference in the shift towards self protection. The Black Panther Party used self protection along with educational programs and distributing food. Again, there are many forms of activism, all of which can co-exist and work towards an end goal.
Now obviously the “outside agitator” trope is being used to delegitimize movements. But it is important to consider this statement from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in regards to working together. Outside agitation labels used to disqualify a moment from being valid is wrong, but a traveling movement of solidarity is not.
Here is Mumia Abu-Jamal discussing the idea of “outside agitators.”, quoted in part below, with a similar sentiment to Dr. King.
The crucial component of a mass movement is based around solidarity. Solidarity in this instance means to support and protect, and not to instigate. It is for non-Black allies to listen and act in conjunction with our Black counter parts. It is to admit that we have a role to play through our ability to benefit from systemic racism. It is to acknowledge that the movement is not based around careerist “left-wing” Democrats, or people paid to work for NGOs organizing a planned march through Washington. This is not a movement based around a singular event, though the direct catalyst for it was. It is a movement that has been built through the struggle for an improvement of the material conditions of Black Americans within a society that reeks of anti-Blackness; a movement that not only extends to the right to their own life, but the right to a life by which they are not brutalized through violence, and that extends to other systems of oppression like labor alienation and class division.
There is a deep connection between racism and capitalism, which intertwines the current movement, as is discussed by William C. Anderson.
Boots Riley has also described the connection on recent Twitter thread.
Of course there is still the specific language of calling out “white anarchists” that must be reckoned with. Firstly, anarchism is not simply a white philosophy, nor is it simply about chaotic destruction. Anarchism is a political philosophy that advocates for the erasure of unjust hierarchies. Anarchists are anti-capitalist and anti-state. Anarchists participate in many different types of praxis and direct action which includes Mutual Aid. Mutual Aid is working alongside one another to meet each other’s needs. These needs could be food, shelter, medical attention etc. and is distinct from charity. The distinction lies in Mutual Aid being egalitarian and based around personable action rather than legislated organizations based around donated money from the wealthy or corporations. Mutual Aid is by everyone and for everyone and works to make social adjustment to the causes of human need rather than put a band-aid over them.
Some recent examples of Mutual Aid is the redistribution of food and resources often taken directly from the “looting”. More here:
Anarchist also tend to use anti-fascist tactics like Black Bloc during protests; however, ANTIFA is not a singular organization, but a philosophy adopted by many different people who may or may not label themselves as a certain leftist tendency or belong to a leftist organization. As many people will attest to, anarchists tend to be the most willing to participate with Black Bloc strategies to help defend people once there is violence put upon protestors, as well as working as field medics. But besides a brief description of what anarchists are, it is pertinent to acknowledge its existence as not just a white ideology — and rather, to clarify that any form of leftist tendency based around communism isn’t simply a white ideology. I’ll provide some links to various Black anarchist, marxist, etc. theory below.
A Google Drive with more readings. [this drive has since been made unavailable by the author]
There is the real issue that police have no constitutional or legal obligation to actually “protect and serve”, and it is fully in their right to watch you be attacked without need for intervention that I could mention here.
And so on.
So yes, the point is that the current protest have a historical precedent that is supported by intentional racist systems and laws created throughout the formation of the United States of America and extending to the present day.
I’m now going to shift the focus onto specific ways to keep yourself protected if you are participating in the protests before linking to some external resources accumulated by myself and other people’s master lists of ways to support the protest, abolition of the police, self-education for non-Black allies, and Black writers/documentarians.
This section will be in regards to phones, specifically iPhones as that’s what I use and know, but learning to protect your computer/internet search is important depending on the depth of your activism. But for the people who are new to protesting, here are simple ways to protect yourself and others.
It is much better to not take your phone to a protest at all. If you must bring a phone or your phone, doing the following will help you stay secure, though I don’t claim any infallibility in this advice. Consider using a burner phone that you discard before going home in a location that isn’t obviously linked to you and purchasing said phone without your credit card or bank details. The key is to not be able to have your being at a protest traced back to you to face legal repercussions after the protest.
Current iPhones come with full disc encryption, which is good.
Use a strong password and no facial recognition or fingerprint unlocking. A cop could forcibly have you unlock your phone otherwise.
Turn off all notifications/readable messages on the lock screen to not give out valuable information.
If you are bringing your phone — which again, I advise against — have your phone on Airplane mode and don’t turn the setting off until you are home. You will not be able to message anyone, so if you are with friends, plan a designated meeting spot and time beforehand. Having your phone on you in this case is for documentation purposes.
If you are using a phone to take a picture, don’t unlock it. Swipe to the left to open the camera so as to give no opportunity to have free access to your phone.
Do not post photos of people without first blocking out their faces, clothing, identifiable tattoos, and even unique shoes* — blurring is okay, but is easier to reverse — as well as removing the EXIF data, which can have the date/time/GPS information baked in. You should either screenshot the original image to remove EXIF data and then delete the original photo. Or you can use this which is free to use and open source.
Don’t drive to the protest as Automated License Plate Reader Systems track your car and can place you in the area of the protest. Private companies sell this information to the police.
If you need to communicate, you can use Signal, for end to end encryption. The only metadata they have is the date and time someone signed up and the last time you were active. Signal has received financial support from the U.S. government, and I do recommend using non-American communication methods. Services in the United States are under the National Security Letters which is a tool used mainly by the FBI to obtain information from companies. It essentially allows the government to force companies to give them data about their customers. If you are to use a U.S. based service, do your research to make sure the metadata stored in their servers is incredibly basic, like when you first signed up and when you were last active on the service, and not who you were speaking to or what the contents of the message are. Essentially, good encryption and lack of metadata storage is key regardless of where the service is based.
You can set a PIN to lock access to your SIM card. I learned this the hard way when I moved to Australia and realized the SIM I had was locked.
If your phone is taken from you, you can log out of a lot of accounts online so they cannot be accessed through the phone.
Before the protest, and just generally, delete important information off of your phone and don’t use iCloud.
*People who are actively speaking to media outlets are fine to post, but be weary of those in the background. Other images/video are crucial for showing police violence and other oppressive acts, so there are cases wherein posting is up to your discretion as their relevance is important to the movement. Please do so with consent of the individual and tagged appropriately so as not to contribute to the cycle of trauma that witnessing violent acts can instill within black individuals.
Twitter user hakan_geijer has compiled information about on the field medic practice.
Please let me know if any of these aren’t working and I will assist you on getting this resource.
This book by Luis A. Fernandez called Policing Dissent: Social Control and the Anti-Globalization Movement is another fantastic resource.
This is a zine related to the tactics police use and ways to organize and defend yourself called Warrior Crowd Control & Riot Manual.
There is also very simple precautions such as wearing a helmet, using face coverings, both to hide your identity and to protect against tear gas, wearing loose clothing — but not so loose as to not be able to comfortably flee — comfortable shoes, and bringing food and water for yourself and to share.
Remember to not run when leaving an area. Running causes chaos and stampedes and people can get hurt. Only run if you absolutely have to.
I would like to make it clear for my own legal protection that I am not advocating violence. I am simply providing information for self protection as we’ve seen these protests continue to be met with severe violence and one has the right to protect themselves.
The following is a master list of both my own research and personal recommendations, as well as links to other people’s lists — in conjunction with the readings and sources already used above. I will do my best to continuously update this list. It will contain links to resources to directly aid with bail funds, legal assistance, and community assistance during the ongoing protests; information regarding police/prison abolition, as well as educational resources intended for non-Black people to learn both about the Black struggle, but also Black politics, writing, and art.
I understand a master list containing large reading lists is daunting.
That’s why I’m going to first recommend these texts
And of course to remind you to donate/participate:
Black Visions Collective: “BLVC is a Black-led, Queer and Trans centering organization whose mission is to organize powerful, connected Black communities and dismantle systems of violence. We do this through building strategic campaigns, investing in Black leadership, and engaging in cultural and narrative organizing”
MPD 150: “a community-based initiative challenging the narrative that police exist to protect and serve. Our work has primarily been narrative-focused: research, reporting, creating materials and art about abolition, etc”