Black Bloc, White Riot

Black Helmet 06.12.2012 14:29 Themen: Antifa Globalisierung Repression Soziale Kämpfe Weltweit
Interview with AK Thompson about his new book:
Black Bloc, White Riot: Anti-Globalization and the Genealogy of Dissent

AK Thompson (Author), Bernardine Dohrn (Foreword by)

Interview by Jason Kirkpatrick,
Film Director, Black Helmet Productions,
Berlin AK Thompson events:

Do./Thursday, 06.12.2012, 19:30 @ New Yorck 59, Kreuzberg, Bethanien:

Black Bloc, White Riot: Book presentation, films and discussion:
Drawing on movement case studies and material from his book Black
Bloc, White Riot: Anti-Globalization and the Genealogy of Dissent, AK
Thompson explores the pitfalls that have kept activists in Canada and
the US from coming to terms with violence’s political omnipresence and
inescapability. Thompson also plans for discussion by participants and
hopes for a shared learning event. Talk in English with translation
corner in German.
Di./Tuesday, 11.12.2012 18:00 @ FU Berlin, John F. Kennedy – Institut
Lansstrasse 7 – 9, Zi. 201, 14195 Berlin

"Between Violence and Representation:
the Search for Politics in a Post-political era"



Jason: What inspired you to write a book called Black Bloc, White Riot?

AK Thompson: Like many radicals, I was actively involved in the mass struggles against corporate globalization that marked the beginning of this century. Although these events are now a decade old, they’ve remained significant to me because of the challenging internal debates they provoked. Among these debates, I became most interested in those that took issue with the movement’s overwhelmingly white composition and with its orientation to political violence.

Although both discussions began in earnest immediately after Seattle, the movement ended before they could be resolved. Since then, anti-globalization-era debates have returned to haunt subsequent mobilizations—including the recent Occupy movement. My book is an attempt to show why these questions have been so contentious, and so enduring.

Jason: Your book was published by AK Press, a small anarchist press based in the US. Is there much of an anarchist movement in the United States?

AK Thompson: Movements are never as large or as coherent as they need to be. Nevertheless, anarchists have had an important influence on broader mobilizations, including the recent Occupy movement, and the State has certainly used the perceived threat of anarchist criminality to justify draconian security measures. So, while the number of organized anarchists in America remains small, the pervasiveness of anarchist ideas in popular movements and the State’s perpetual invocation of the “anarchist threat” each make anarchism more influential than the numbers would suggest.

Jason: In Europe, people have heard about the repression of US activists, such as during the 2006 “Green Scare” when many environmentalists were imprisoned. Is militant activism and the black bloc a large phenomenon there?

AK Thompson: As I suggested before, I think the idea of the black bloc is probably bigger than the black bloc itself. During the demonstrations against the G20 in Toronto during the summer of 2010, participants in the black bloc only made up a tiny fraction of the overall mobilization, and the bloc itself was only active for an hour or so. Nevertheless, it defined the situation, and became the primary topic of debate. In one way, this reveals how politically impoverished North America remains. At the same time, however, it also highlights how the black bloc—just by being what it is, and regardless of its tactical efficacy—continues to raise fundamental questions about what it means to be political today. I think people are desperate to figure that out, and the black bloc becomes an important reference point whether people identify with it or not.

Jason: What does the black bloc really want, and have they achieved any of their goals?

AK Thompson: In North America, I think the black bloc’s biggest accomplishment has been to call bullshit on representational politics and the politics of demand. In so doing, it has helped to popularize the notion that the basic premise underlying all politics is actually sovereign contestation—and its basic mode, civil war. To be clear, these ideas are now only slightly more popular than they used to be; in other words, they are still very marginal. Nevertheless, the Occupy movement’s serious misgivings toward making demands on elected officials suggests that at least some people are beginning to hold these truths to be self-evident. For the time being, however, the results remain ambiguous: Occupy—a movement that refused to make demands on the state for fear of legitimating sovereign power—did not hesitate to insist upon its state-granted right to assembly when threatened with eviction from its encampments.

Jason: Are there connections between the black blocs of Europe and those in the USA?

AK Thompson: Scenes overlap, and the American radicals who helped to popularize the black bloc on this continent were directly influenced by their experiences in Europe. Politically, however, things are pretty different. In Europe, it’s been possible at various points for black blocs to help hold and defend territory, to set up zones of autonomy and directly challenge the scope of sovereign power—even if only on a minor scale. For whatever reason, we’ve never seen more than glimpses of this in America. As a result, I’d say that the role of the American black bloc has thus far been primarily pedagogical. This is important, because it helps to point out what politics could be, but it also highlights how far we have to go.

Jason: Recently, the FBI has used undercover police agents to encourage both Islamic extremists and radical activists to commit crimes in order to imprison them. Is this not seen as the work of illegal “agent provocateurs” in the USA?

AK Thompson: People view it as entrapment, to be sure—and it’s important to note that security forces in Canada and the US had begun experimenting with conflating “protestors” and “terrorists” before the so-called war on terror had even begun. In April of 2001, just prior to the Summit of the Americas in Quebec City, a small affinity group named Germinal was arrested for a bomb plot that had basically been organized by a police infiltrator.

In cases like that, defense lawyers have often argued that their clients would never have considered such actions if they hadn’t been set up. Legally and strategically speaking, this can make sense; however, I think there are dangers in insisting too strongly upon our innocence, since doing so runs the risk of allowing us to imagine that our political commitments—which are enormous—could or should fit wholly within the legal framework established by constituted power. They cannot. This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t exploit the law’s contradictory nature in order to help escape the ramifications of our “guilt,” just that—if we believe too sincerely in our innocence—we’ve already ceded too much.

Jason: Your book has a Foreword penned by Bernardine Dohrn, the well-known Law Professor and former leader of the Weather Underground. How did your cooperation on this book come about?

AK Thompson: I made the connection really late in the process, actually. In the spring of 2010, I was talking with my editor at AK Press, and she suggested that—since I was still an unknown author—it might be worthwhile to find a well-known figure to draft a Foreword. I agreed in principle, and thought hard about who a suitable candidate might be. I’d never met Bernardine before, but I contacted her because—based on her past experience—I felt she’d have a lot to say about white people and political violence. It turned out that she liked my manuscript and was happy to draft something on a tight schedule. Whatever else might be said of the Weather Underground, I think the political questions they raised remain absolutely prescient.

Jason: What will be the focus of your presentations in Europe?

AK Thompson: I will be presenting material from Black Bloc, White Riot, as well as some material from my new project on activist wish images. In truth, however, I hope to learn as much as I teach, and am grateful for the opportunity to meet new comrades.

Interview by Jason Kirkpatrick, Film Director,
Black Helmet Productions,, Berlin.
December, 2012
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