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Up Against the Wall Motherfucker

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Up Against the Wall Motherfucker
PredecessorBlack Mask
FormationJanuary 1967

Up Against the Wall Motherfucker, often shortened as The Motherfuckers or UAW/MF, was a Dadaist and Situationist anarchist affinity group based in New York City. This "street gang with analysis" was famous for its Lower East Side direct action.


The Motherfuckers grew out of a Dada-influenced art group called Black Mask with some additional people involved with the anti-Vietnam War Angry Arts week, held in January 1967.[1] Formed in 1966 by Ben Morea, a painter of Catalan origins,[2] and the poet Dan Georgakas, Black Mask produced a broadside of the same name and declared that revolutionary art should be "an integral part of life, as in primitive society, and not an appendage to wealth".[3] In May 1968, Black Mask changed its name and went underground. Their new name, Up Against the Wall Motherfuckers, came from a poem by Amiri Baraka. Abbie Hoffman characterized them as "the middle-class nightmare... an anti-media phenomenon simply because their name could not be printed".[4]

  • 1967 – Forced their way into The Pentagon during an anti-war protest.[5]
  • 1967 – Flung blood, eggs and stones at U.S. Secretary of State Dean Rusk who was attending a Foreign Policy Association event in New York.[6]
  • January, 1968 – "Assassinated" poet Kenneth Koch (using blanks).[7]
  • February, 1968 - Dumped uncollected refuse from the Lower East Side into the fountain at Lincoln Center on the opening night of a gala "bourgeois cultural event" during a NYC garbage strike (an event documented in the Newsreel film Garbage).[8][9]
  • 1968 – Organized and produced free concert nights in the Fillmore East after successfully demanding that owner Bill Graham give the community the venue for a series of weekly free concerts. These "Free Nights" were short-lived as the combined forces of NY City Hall, the police, and Graham terminated the arrangement.[10]
  • December 12, 1968 - Created a ruckus at the Boston Tea Party: after the MC5 opened for the Velvet Underground one of the Motherfuckers got on stage and started haranguing the audience, directing them to "...burn this place down and take to the streets...". This got "The Five" banned from the venue.[11]
  • December 18, 1968 - Rioted at an MC5 show at the Fillmore East. Some "beat (Graham) with a chain and broke his nose". This got the Detroit band banned from all venues controlled by Graham and his friends.[12]
  • Cut the fences at Woodstock, allowing thousands to enter for free.[5]


Valerie Solanas, a radical feminist and would-be assassin of Andy Warhol, was friends with Morea and associated with the Motherfuckers.[3] In the film I Shot Andy Warhol, the gun used in her attack is alleged to have been taken from Morea.

When Morea was asked in a 2005 interview by John McMillian of The New York Press how he had been able to rationalize supporting Solanas, Morea replied, "Rationalize? I didn't rationalize anything. I loved Valerie and I loathed Andy Warhol, so that's all there was to it." He then added "I mean, I didn't want to shoot him." He then added: "Andy Warhol ruined art."[5]

Prior to becoming the Motherfuckers, the Situationist International accepted Morea's group as its New York chapter.[13]

Influence as a slogan[edit]

The phrase was taken from the poem, "Black People!" by Amiri Baraka (LeRoi Jones): "The magic words are: Up against the wall, mother fucker, this is a stick up!" This, in turn, was a reference to a phrase "supposedly barked by Newark cops to Negroes under custody."[14] The poem had appeared in The New York Times in 1968 and Mark Rudd, an organizer for Columbia University's Students for a Democratic Society, provocatively quoted the line in an open letter to the university president.[15]

Most of the lyrics for the 1969 song "We Can Be Together", by the acid rock band Jefferson Airplane, were taken virtually word-for-word from a leaflet written by Motherfucker John Sundstrom, and published as "The Outlaw Page" in the East Village Other.[16] The lyrics read in part, "We are all outlaws in the eyes of America. In order to survive we steal, cheat, lie, forge, fuck, hide, and deal... Everything you say we are, we are... Up Against the Wall, Motherfucker!" The song marked the first use of the word "fuck" on U.S. television, when the group played it uncensored on The Dick Cavett Show on August 19, 1969.[17] This song also helped popularize the phrase as a counterculture rallying cry, over and beyond the immediate impact of the anarchist group.

At various times, the line became popular among several groups that came out of the sixties, from Black Panthers to feminists and even "rednecks." In 1968, David Peel and the Lower East Side included the song "Up against the Wall, Motherfucker" on their album entitled Have a Marijuana. In the 1970s, Texas country singer-songwriter Ray Wylie Hubbard adapted the famous phrase for a song he wrote entitled "Up Against the Wall, Redneck Mother". The phrase was also used as a song title on the album Penance Soiree by the Icarus Line.

The line was famously shouted by Patty Hearst during the robbery of Hibernia Bank in San Francisco.[18]

Simulation game[edit]

In 1969, Columbia University history major Jim Dunnigan, who would later found Simulation Publications, Inc., published a simulation game in the March 11, 1969 edition of the Columbia Spectator[19] named Up Against the Wall, Motherfucker![20] The game was based on recent disturbances at Columbia University and allowed the players to play either as protestors or administration with victory determined by winning over various stakeholder groups.


  1. ^ Neumann, Osha (2008). Up Against the Wall Motherf**kers: A Memoir of the '60s, With Notes for Next Time. Seven Stories. p. 43. ISBN 978-1-58322-849-4.
  2. ^ Morea Name Meaning: Spanish and Catalan: habitational name from any of the places named Morea in Navarre, Lleida, or Badajoz provinces
  3. ^ a b Hinderer, Eve (June 7, 2004). "Ben Morea: art and anarchism". Archived from the original on April 25, 2009. Retrieved December 26, 2019.
  4. ^ Jezer, Marty (1993). Abbie Hoffman: American Rebel. Rutgers University Press. pp. 131–132. ISBN 0-8135-2017-7.
  5. ^ a b c McMillian, Jon (June 5, 2005). "Garbage Guerrilla". Archived from the original on October 12, 2007. Retrieved December 26, 2019.
  6. ^ Greenberg, David (July 5, 2018). "Here's What Happened the Last Time the Left Got Nasty". Politico. Archived from the original on 2020-08-24. Retrieved December 26, 2019. In 1967, when Secretary of State Dean Rusk tried to attend a banquet of the Foreign Policy Association in New York, a radical group called Up Against the Wall Motherfuckers (often called "the Motherfuckers" for short) threw eggs, rocks and bags of cows' blood
  7. ^ Neumann, Osha (2008). Up Against the Wall Motherf**kers: A Memoir of the '60s, With Notes for Next Time. Seven Stories. p. 5. ISBN 978-1-58322-849-4.
  8. ^ "Garbage". Roz's Newsreel Archives. Retrieved December 26, 2019.
  9. ^ "Garbage NY Newsreel / Motherfuckers, 1968 – YouTube". YouTube.
  10. ^ Hahne, Ron; Morea, Ben (2011). Black Mask & Up Against the Wall Motherfucker: The Incomplete Works of Ron Hahne, Ben Morea, and the Black Mask Group. PM Press. pp. 133–140. ISBN 978-1604860214.
  11. ^ Unterberger, Richie (2009). White Light/White Heat: The Velvet Underground Day by Day. Jawbone Press. p. 217. ISBN 978-1906002220.
  12. ^ "Remembering Bill Graham & the Fillmore East".
  13. ^ Haden-Guest, Anthony (1998). True Colors: The Real Life of the Art World. Atlantic Monthly Press. p. 30. ISBN 978-0-87113-725-8.
  14. ^ Perlstein, Rick (2008). Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America. p. 238. ISBN 9781451606263.
  15. ^ Bradley, Stefan M. (2010). Harlem vs. Columbia University: Black Student Power in the Late 1960s. University of Illinois Press. p. 63. ISBN 978-0-252-09058-5.
  16. ^ Tusman, Lee (ed.). Really Free Culture: Anarchist Communities, Radical Movements and Public Practices. p. 166.
  17. ^ "We Can Be Together by Jefferson Airplane". Retrieved December 26, 2019.
  18. ^ "American Experience—More about the film Guerrilla: The Taking of Patty Hearst—Transcript". PBS. Archived from the original on October 3, 2005. Retrieved December 26, 2019.
  19. ^ Dunnigan, Jim (March 11, 1969). "A few theoretical remarks". Columbia Daily Spectator. Vol. 1, no. 10. Columbia University. Retrieved December 26, 2019.
  20. ^ "Up Against the Wall, Motherfucker!". modcult. December 16, 2014. Archived from the original on October 30, 2015. Retrieved December 26, 2019.

Further reading[edit]