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|Formation||January 14, 1989 (as Anti-Racist Action)|
December 14, 2013 (as Torch Network)
|Founder||Kieran Frazier Knutson|
|Founded at||Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA|
|Affiliations||One People's Project|
IWW General Defense Committee
Anarchist Black Cross
Support Prisoner Resistance
International Anti-Fascist Defence Fund
|Website||Anti-RacistAction.org (no longer updated)|
Anti-Racist Action (ARA), also known as the Anti-Racist Action Network, is a decentralised network of militant far-left political cells in the United States and Canada. Originating during the 1980s, the ARA Network stopped using the name in 2013. The main purpose of the network was to engage in direct action (including political violence) and doxxing against rival political organisations on the hard right to dissuade them from further involvement in political activities. Anti-Racist Action described these such groups as racist, fascist, or both. Most members associated with ARA have been adherents to anarchism, but also some Trotskyism and Maoism.
Originally, the network originated among the hardcore punk skinhead scene in Minnesota among a group known as the Minneapolis Baldies which had been founded in 1987. The network grew and spread throughout North America. The Midwestern United States, particularly Minneapolis, Chicago and Columbus, were the main hotspot for activity, but notable chapters existed in Portland, Los Angeles, Toronto and elsewhere. Since the early 1990s, the Anti-Racist Action Network began to organise an annual conference, attended by representatives of the various official chapters, along with prospective members. These events often feature guest speakers and hardcore punk bands. In the late 1990s, the network was affiliated to a short-lived international grouping which called itself the Militant Anti-Fascist Network and featured mostly Europe-based groups such as the UK-based Anti-Fascist Action and various German Antifa factions among others.
Politically, the founders of Anti-Racist Action in Minneapolis were associated with anarchism through first the Revolutionary Anarchist Bowling League, and later the Love and Rage Revolutionary Anarchist Federation. However, when it comes to far-left politics in general the network has always stated that anti-racism and anti-fascism are their main goals, adopting a non-sectarian approach to party affiliation for chapter members. Although anarchism predominates, there are various Marxist members and there is no pre-requisite to adhere to any particular party line outside of the five "Points of Unity."
Origins in Minneapolis hardcore punk scene
Anti-Racist Action originated from the hardcore punk subculture in the United States at Minneapolis, Minnesota, among suburban mostly White American teenagers during the late 1980s. The wider punk subculture itself had flirted with extreme political symbolism, as a form of "shock value" from its early days, including anarchist, communist and nazi symbols, though many did not take this seriously. Eventually some bands such as Crass in the United Kingdom began to more seriously integrate an anarcho-communist political ideology into their music and associated anarcho-punk subculture. This spread to the United States and had a strong influence on the Minneapolis hardcore scene. Some of the people involved in this scene created a skinhead street gang, inspired by Nick Knight's book Skinhead, known as the Minneapolis Baldies which was formed in 1986 and in the early years it included people such as Kieran Knutson, Brandon J. Sanford, Martin D. O'Connor, Larry Rivers, Jason "Gator" Nevilles (a Native American), Jon Gilbertsen, Mic Crenshaw (an African American), Nisse Ulven, Megan Cook, Maggie Mulloy, Chris Gunderson, Erik Sundquist, Andy Grahn, Rhonda Schaffer and others. The Baldies, who regarded themselves as on the left and anti-racist skinheads, were frequently engaged in political violence with rival far-right skinheads in Uptown. The Baldies were associated with bands such as Blind Approach, while their rivals from the East Side, the White Knights, were associated with Mass Corruption. According to Mic Crenshaw, the Baldies were allied to Black and Latino organized crime gangs in the area. According to Knutson, they were also strongly allied to the University of Minnesota Black Law Student Association, including Keith Ellison who later became the Democratic Party's Attorney General of Minnesota.
It was while following a band on tour to Chicago that the Baldies, along with Skinheads Of Chicago (SHOC), formally founded Anti-Racist Action in around 1987. Another early name for the network was "the Syndicate." Early members in Chicago included Corky Fields, Marty Williams and Mike Johnson and they engaged in violence with the neo-Nazi skinheads of Chicago Area SkinHeads (CASH). SHOC consisted mostly of black skinheads and adhered to left-wing and black power politics; some of them featured on The Oprah Winfrey Show in 1989, opposing CASH who were guests. ARA was inspired by a similar militant network in the United Kingdom, known as the Anti-Fascist Action.
People in the hardcore punk scene became more widely aware of ARA across America due to a nationwide magazine called Maximum Rock and Roll (MRR), edited by the counter-culture infuencer Tim Yohannan who worked at University of California, Berkeley, which started to promote them from 1987 onwards. They developed a network with other anti-racist skinheads and at a meeting in Minneapolis on January 14, 1989, where 150 members attended founded "the Syndicate", also known as Anti-Racist Action. Other chapters in attendance included the Brew City Skins from Milwaukee, the North Side Crew also in Chicago, as well as groups in Cincinnati (people associated with SHARP), Indianapolis, Lawrence and elsewhere.
1990s spread: ARA and Love & Rage
From the late 1980s into the 1990s, the network began to grow. One of their main rallying points was in relation to the trials of Tom Metzger, a neo-Nazi activist associated then with a group calling itself the White Aryan Resistance (WAR). Metzger, though originally a "suit-and-tie" far-right talkshow show host, had begun to play a significant role in the creation of a neo-Nazi skinhead subculture in the United States, inspired in part by Ian Stuart Donaldson of Skrewdriver (many of the British skinheads has joined groups such as the British Movement). This growing network of neo-Nazi skinheads in the United States were in conflict with the far-left leaning skinheads associated with Anti-Racist Action for control of the "scence. Some of Metzger's skinhead followers in Portland belonging to East Side White Pride killed an Ethiopian student, Mulugeta Seraw, in 1988 and were subsequently charged, while Metzger himself was sued and ordered to pay extensive financial damages to Seraw's family. Mic Crenshaw and some other Minneapolis ARA members relocated to Portland and founded the Portland ARA chapter there in response. Public attention given to this case caused a growth in networks affiliated with ARA, other new sections sprung up around the issue, including in Los Angeles (where it was also known as "People Against Racist Terror," led by Michael Novick) as well as branches in San Diego, Vancouver (moving into Canada) and elsewhere.
Marty Williams of Chicago ARA stated that by 1992, the network had expanded beyond its original subcultural base in the skinhead scene to include also students, workers, anarchist punks and older left-wing activists. Anti-Racist Action built up connections to black power groups in places like Chicago, and integrated aspects of third-wave feminism and, as part of this, mobilized against Christian groups opposed to abortion. According to Bray, ARA was "predominantly anarchist and antiauthoritarian, as reflected in the influential role of the Love and Rage Revolutionary Anarchist Federation" an unorthodox anarchist group with Trotskyist and New Left aspects, with whom they worked closely. From the early Baldies days onwards, what would become Anti-Racist Action in Minneapolis had been affiliated with an anarchist group calling itself the Revolutionary Anarchist Bowling League (RABL). In 1989, members of the Revolutionary Anarchist Bowling League joined with others including former members of the Trotskyist Revolutionary Socialist League to form the Love and Rage Network.
Anti-Racist Action chapters in the Midwest began to organize an annual conference under the banner of the Midwest Anti-Fascist Network, starting on October 15, 1994; the first took place in Columbus, Ohio. These annual conferences had guest speakers at each event. The first featured Signe Waller, the widow of Michael Waller, a Communist Workers' Party member killed during the Greensboro massacre in 1979. The following year Chip Berlet was the guest speaker, along with Rita "Bo" Brown of the George Jackson Brigade and Signe Waller again.[nb 1]
The network expanded into Canada, particularly Toronto. In 1992, the Heritage Front, at the time the largest neo-Nazi group in Canada, marched on Toronto's courthouse; organising against this catalysed the formation of a local ARA chapter. The Heritage Front supported the German-born Holocaust denier and apologist for the Third Reich, Ernst Zündel, who was the subject of a significant political controversy with the Canadian Human Rights Commission and the organised Canadian Jewish community. According to a 1997 article in The Ottawa Times, Anti-Racist Action's Toronto branch built up a close working relationship with B'nai B'rith Canada, a major Jewish advocacy group. In 1996, B'nai B'rith Canada attempted to secure state funding for Anti-Racist Action, through Sam Title who stated at the time that B'nai B'rith had "worked with them before." Karen Mock, the National Director of B'nai B'rith was pictured at an ARA conference in 1997. After Mock attended the meeting the relationship was subject to the feature in The Ottawa News in 1997, which courted controversy for B'nai B'rith due to ARA's links to violence and "extremism". One of the more notable events involving ARA in Toronto was the trashing of the home of a Heritage Front member on 11 June 1993: ARA activists implicated in this and subsequently arrested, according to the Toronto Sun included Ajith Aluthwatta, Katrin Clouse, Ainsworth Weir, Elena Lonero and Peter Ricards. According to The Ottawa Times, "as reported by the Canadian Intelligence Service, the ARA has also been linked by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) with the 1995 arson attack on Ernst Zündel's home" (Zündel, of German-birth, was in any case deported from Toronto, Canada that year).
ARA Minneapolis and ARA Toronto attended a conference in London in October 1997 which brought together twenty-two delegates from the emerging international (mostly European) militant anti-fascist movements. There was a significant disagreement between two of the major groups: the Autonome Antifa (M), a German Antifa delegation based in Göttingen, and Anti-Fascist Action from Britain (who had partly inspired the creation of ARA in the first place). The British-delegation were mostly working-class and argued for a class basis for anti-fascist struggle as well as for physical force against those it defined as fascists, while AA (M), who were more based in the middle-class intelligentsia argued that the movement should be based primarily on a "feminist and anti-imperialist" analysis and downgrade "squadism". At the end of the conference, nine groups followed Anti-Fascist Action into the Militant Anti-Fascist Network, including the North American Anti-Racist Action branches, as well as the German groups Antifaschistische Aktion Hannover and Aktivisten-Gruppe ROTKÄPPCHEN, as well as a group from Zaragoza. The international itself collapsed in 1999 as Anti-Fascist Action in Britain became essentially defunct.
As part of their wider anti-police sentiment activity, including involvement with Cop Watch, members of ARA were involved in supporting Mumia Abu-Jamal (born Wesley Cook), who was convicted for the 1981 murder of PPD officer Daniel Faulkner. In September 1999 in Baltimore, ARA activists organised a seven-car caravan with a loudspeaker in each, voicing slogans in favour of Mumia Abu-Jamal and handing out leaflets to the general public.
Early 2000s: dawning of the internet era
Two members of ARA from Las Vegas, Daniel Shersty and Lin Newborn, were killed by fascists in 1998. A year prior the network combined had reached a high of 1,500 members; however, the deaths had shocked many and caused a significant drop off in the membership. During the 1990s, Anti-Racist Action was engaged in conflict with various third-wave Ku Klux Klan revival groups in places such as Ohio: a documentary film entitled Invisible Revolution: A Youth Subculture of Hate was produced in 2000 by Beverley Peterson and Changing World Productions, documenting these clashes.
With the rise of the internet, the new millennium saw a switch to a more information-based "warfare" between ARA and their enemies active within the far-right groups. The white nationalist far-right most circulated around Stormfront, while one of the more prominent website projects associated with ARA at the time was the One People's Project, which maintained contacts with the Southern Poverty Law Center, working together on projects such as Erasing Hate. Founded in 2000 by Daryle Lamont Jenkins and Joshua David Belser (under the pseudonym "Josh Hoyt"), the One People's Project was a pioneer in the "doxxing" of alleged far-right group activists; as part of their campaign against these individuals, on their website they posted personal information of them, including their full names, dates and place of birth, home address, their place of work, the names of their close family members/partners and any other contact information such as phone numbers. This was subsequently spread among other websites, forums and blogs associated with whichever ARA branch was local to the alleged far-rightist profiled.
Anti-Racist Action's Columbus, Ohio branch, including Jerry or Gerry Bello (also a prominent figure within ARA's Cop Watch), were among several groups (including the Black Bloc, a coalition of anarchist organizations, including the Boston-based Barricada Collective) were involved in a street fight with far-right activists which led to the arrest of 25 people in York County, Pennsylvania on January 12, 2002. The groups were protesting a speech by Matthew F. Hale's World Church of the Creator at a local library; several other white nationalist groups were also in the area, such as the National Alliance and the Aryan Nations.
According to The Washington Post, on May 11, 2002 around 250 members of the National Alliance, a leading neo-Nazi group, arranged a protest at the Embassy of Israel in Washington, D.C. under Billy Roper, distributing anti-Israel flyers with pictures of the 9/11 attacks and Osama bin Laden with the words "Let's Stop Being Human Shields for Israel" and demanding to cut off US aid to Israel. Their protest was attacked by around 150 opponents including ARA members, as well as some members of the Northeastern Federation of Anarcho-Communists and Labor/Community Committee in Solidarity with the People of Palestine. Later in the year, on August 24, 2002, the National Alliance returned to Washington D.C. for their "Rock Against Israel" protest; this time however, their opponents, under the banner of the East Coast Anti-Fascist Network (including ARA branches from Baltimore, Philadelphila, New Jersey, Toronto, Columbus and Auora) were better organised in attacking their opponents. However, 28 ARA members were arrested and then when they returned to Baltimore, were subsequently called up on charges of rioting, aggravated assault, possession of a deadly weapon and others. They became known as the "Baltimore Anti-Racist 28" and were eventually released without charge. With the decline of the Creativity movement (due to the arrest of Hale) and the National Alliance (since the death of William Luther Pierce), other groups on the white nationalist scene attempted to fill the vacuum that this had left, this included the National Socialist Movement (NSM), who organised a rally to "protest black crime" on October 15, 2005 in Toledo, Ohio. Here they were met by members of Anti-Racist Action and the International Socialist Organization, upon which the 2005 Toledo riot ensued.
The first group in the United States to use the term "Antifa" in its title was the Anti-Racist Action Portland branch, known as Rose City Antifa, which was refounded in 2007, according to Alexander Reid Ross, author of Against the Fascist Creep, from Portland State University. This was inspired by the German anarcho-communist autonomists, who engaged in black bloc tactics that year in a mass protest at the 33rd G8 summit (many of the autonomists are associated with Germany's Antifa). The Swiss weekly newspaper Die Weltwoche have named the founder of Rose City Antifa as Portland-local Caroline Victorin (né Gauld) and her Swedish-born husband Johan Victorin, following an infiltration of the chapter by right-wing group Project Veritas in 2020. Luke Querner, a member of Rose City Antifa and Red and Anarchist Skinheads, was shot in the stomach in 2010 leaving him paralyzed from the waist down (ARA blamed neo-Nazis for the shooting). Bernardine Dohrn and Bill Ayers, former Weather Underground members, spoke at the 17th Annual Anti-Racist Action Network Conference held at Chicago in 2011.[non-primary source needed]
While Barack Obama was President of the United States, groups on the hard right began to grow and consequently, groups emerged to engage in violence with them. Some of these were officially outside the Anti-Racist Action network, such as NYC Antifa (founded in 2010), but others, such as the Hoosier Anti-Racist Movement (HARM), also known as Indiana Antifa (2011), were officially chapters of ARA. HARM were involved in a significant criminal incident in Tinley Park, Cook County, Illinois on May 19, 2012, when a group of 18 ARA members with hoods and masks on, carrying hammers and baseball bats, broke into the Ashford House restaurant where members of the Illinois European Heritage Association, affiliated with White News Now and Stormfront (including individuals associated with the Council of Conservative Citizens) were having a meal, and began attacking them with weapons. An 80-year-old woman at a nearby table was pushed to the floor. Five of the ARA members involved were arrested and subsequently charged for their part in the attack with felony mob action, aggravated battery and criminal property damage charges and were sentenced from between 3 ½ to 6 years: Jason Sutherlin, Cody Sutherlin, Dylan Sutherlin, Alex Stuck and John Tucker.
2013 onwards: Torch Network-era
In a post on the ARA website in 2013, The Torch Network announced its formation, stating: "We are still on the prowl. We will still continue to expose, confront, and act. Fascist beware... we are TORCH." They stated that this was not a disbanding or a schism, but an attempt to deal with the new realities of the digital age and changing tactics. The Torch Network held the 1st Annual Torch Network Conference in 2014 at Chitown Futbol, Chicago. This was attended by South Side Chicago Anti-Racist Action (the hosts), Philly Antifa, Central Texas Anti-Racist Action, Milwaukee Antifa, Hoosier Anti-Racist Movement (HARM) and Los Angeles People Against Racist Terror. The event was sponsored by the Chicago May First Anarchist Alliance and Black Rose/Rosa Negra Anarchist Federation. There were two speakers at the event: Matthew Nemiroff Lyons and Michael Staudenmaier.
- Cop Watch
- Red and Anarchist Skinheads
- Skinheads Against Racial Prejudice
- Sojourner Truth Organization
- Jeffrey Kaplan, an academic at the University of Wisconsin–Oshkosh stated in his book, The Cultic Milieu: Oppositional Subcultures in an Age of Globalization (2002): "On 25 September 1995, the second annual "Midwest Anti-Fascist Network" held a three-day conference in Columbus, Ohio. Speakers included Chip Berlet along with the following: Rita Bo Brown, former member of the nominally terrorist George Jackson Brigade (GJB). Jackson was killed in August 1970 when his brother attempted to free him from Soledad Prison by bursting in to a Marin County, CA, courtroom handing guns to three convicts and taking five hostages. In the shootout that ensued five people were killed including the judge. Signe Waller, former member of Jerry Tung's Worker's Viewpoint Organization (WPO), which evolved into the Communist Workers Party (CWP), a small, violence-prone Marxist-Leninist section. In 1979, armed members of the CWP were killed in a shootout with Ku Klux Klansmen in Greensboro, NC. Her husband, Michael Waller, was one of five people killed. Also in attendance were representatives of Southern Poverty Law Center's Klanswatch project, Lenny Zeskind's Center for Democratic Renewal and RASH, an anti-racist skinhead organisation."
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- Bray 2017, p. 71
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- Official website (no longer updated)