The latest from the “Jeezus, what now?” file: The Guardian reports that police in Northern California have been caping hard for members of neo-Nazi/white nationalist groups, in some instances while in custody, in attempts to identify and target anti fascists for arrest.
A bit of background
California (and the West Coast generally) has been a major site of recent neo-Nazi and White supremacist mobilization. Meanwhile bands of loosely-connected anti fascists have actively countermobilized, leaving the two forces literally fighting in the streets. Heather Heyer’s murder in Charlottesville may have focused attention on right-wing violence but fatalities and serious injuries have been piling up for years, especially in California. To be clear, the open or tacit sanction of violence against women, people of color/immigrants, so-called race traitors and cucks, and political opponents generally is less a coherent strategy than an endemic feature of neo-Nazi and white supremacist groups. As sociologist Kathleen Blee notes in a 2017 essay on far-right mobilization (p. 5):
Chaos is not only a description of white supremacist membership; it is central to how many racial extremist groups operate… In the chaotic swirl of life in racist groups, ideas are sidelined by action and discussions by simple slogans. People are valued and accorded leadership roles for their aggression and willingness to take risks for the cause more than for their understanding of the cause… [T]hey are attracted by… coercion, fear, the lure of profit, opportunities to engage in violence, access to drugs or alcohol, ties of friendship, familial and sexual relationships, and links to criminal networks.
To be fair, Antifa is not bashful about engaging in and even instigating street-level violence but the willingness to go lethal with swords, guns, bombs, and driving into crowds of protesters is a hallmark of right wing groups. Certainly the publicly available body count, not to mention years of social science research, corroborate this.
A morality tale about policing
This Guardian story corroborates activists’ long-standing claim that local police have a wink-and-nod relationship with neo-Nazis and white supremacists. We can scream “NOT ALL OFFICERS!” about this all day long but to do so is to lose the plot (quite possibly on purpose). The central dilemma in this story is the moral rot that characterizes local policing’s historical origin and defining features. That rot didn’t get here because X percentage of officers lack personal integrity. Rather, it got here because there is no legitimate oversight of their practices. Even in the rare instances where they are brought to account for abuse, restitution comes from government; not police departments. Although it may be glib to claim that consent decrees and court decisions are toothless, it is perfectly accurate and fair to say that they largely do not impact practices on the ground like those highlighted in the Guardian article.
So regardless of whether 1% or 99% of officers openly abet fascists or coyly turn a blind eye to their misdeeds, the practice itself does not violate any policy. And more importantly, even if it did there is no entity with the power, resources, and authority to enforce such a policy. (Many department heads lack even the authority to fire officers for getting drunk, doing drugs, or selling drugs while on duty.) Prosecutors may lose cases against Antifa activists built on fascist testimony but exoneration comes long after the targeting and arrest have already occurred. Meanwhile, it remains an open secret that white supremacists and other right-wing extremists have been infiltrating law enforcement for decades. Infiltrate might be too strong a term since many departments don’t even bother to scrutinize such affiliations in the hiring process. FBI reports from 2006 and 2015 make clear that this infiltration is national in scope, and not just a few fat Southern sheriffs reppin’ the ‘Stars and Bars.’ So when an officer in Northern California says to a neo-Nazi (in custody for beating up his wife), “We see YOU as the victim. Help us identify Antifa members,” the scandal is bigger than just his bias. We are way past that. The scandal is that no one in local law enforcement–not the officer or anyone else–can be held to account specifically for this practice. That level of moral rot cannot simply be cut out of local law enforcement. It is not an institution that can be saved or reformed. It has to be scrapped and re-imagined entirely.