ARA responds to "Fighting words", Arsenal issue #2

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ARA responds to "Fighting words", Arsenal issue #2

A - I N F O S N E W S S E R V I C E

I was glad to see an article in Arsenal that attemptedto address the challenges facing Anti-Racist Action (ARA) since the assassination of anti-fascistskinheads Dan Shersty and Lin "spit" Newborn byneo-nazis in 1998.

The article raised some good questions aboutresistance to Fascism and ARA's response to the factthat Dan and Spit paid for that resistance with theirlives. I'm always interested in hearing critiques ofARA from fellow anti-fascists and anarchists.

However, there are some omissions and errors aboutARA's response to the murders that I wanted to clearup first.

The newspaper ad that ran in spring 2000 was one of anumber of responses that ARA organized in the wake ofthe murders. In August 1998, only a month after themurders, ARA Las Vegas organized an anti-fascist marchthat drew several hundred people from all over thewestern United States as well as ARAers from as far asToronto. The march, which was held in a neighborhoodwhere known Las Vegas nazis lived and considered astronghold, showed the fascists in Las Vegas that ARAwasn't going to be intimidated and terrorized by Nazithugs.

In 1999, ARA Las Vegas staged another demonstration onthe Las Vegas Strip to draw attention to the fact thatin spite of eyewitnesses putting another 3 knownfascists at the murder scene with John Butler andevidence that as many as 40 people were involved inthe murders, the police have arrested only one man.This response as well as the newspaper ad wereintended not to beg for the cops and courts to solveLas Vegas' fascist problem. We recognize thatdefeating fascism is a political struggle and not alaw enforcement issue. ARA Las Vegas, after aninitial and understandable period of regrouping, hascontinued to organize anti-fascist youth in Las Vegas.

However, When we have two of our activists killed inan execution style double murder we will hold the copsand courts accountable and insist they do theirfucking jobs for a change. Especially when the city ofLas Vegas, whose economy relies heavily on tourism,would rather sweep the murders under the rug thanadmit that Las Vegas has a big problem with organizedand violent fascists. This still has not happend with at least 3 knownfascists invovled in the murders remaining uncharged.

That stated, let's move on to the rest of thearticle's premise.

1. Fascists fight back.

Few understand better than ARA that there's a veryreal physical risk in doing effective, street level,anti-fascist work. While the murders of Dan and Spitwere certainly the most extreme example of Fascistviolence against ARA it was far from the first andwill definitely not be the last.

Many ARAers have been threatened, assaulted (usuallywith weapons when outnumbered), had their homes brokeninto and even firebombed by fascists.

ARAers are encouraged to take a number of steps toprotect themselves from this threat, from regularself-defense training to sharing information on how tostay safer at anti-fascist actions and avoid beingtracked by the Fascists as much as possible. We alwaystake our safety and security seriously and it's safeto say that ARA has one of the strongest "securitycultures" of any above-ground activist group.

It is an tremendous credit to anti-fascists involvedwith ARA that when push has come to shove and wesuffer injuries or deaths that we don't back down anddisband chapters but rather step up to the challengeand continue to organize and fight back.

2. Cumulative risks

As the article stated, to date ARA has managed toavoid long sentences being given to it's activists forthe militant direct actions that ARA is known for.

Largely this is because when an ARAer gets arrestedthey have tremendous support from their community andthe ARA network.

ARA has mounted some of most successful high profilelegal defense campaigns for militant direct action inNorth America. Notable examples are:

The 1993 defense campaign in Toronto for fouranti-fascists charged with trashing Heritage Frontspokesman's Gary Shippers house (which housed theHeritage Front's hateline).

The 1994 anti-fascist defense campaign in Minneapolis that successfullydefended an ARAer accused of assault after thumping an attacking neo-naziwith aflashlight.

The 1998 Ann Arbor defense campaign where over 30anti-fascists were targeted by the state and chargedwith multiple felonies for the successful attack on apolice-protected KKK rally.

As well as the arrests ARA Chicago successfullydefended themselves from last year when they outedWCOTC organizer Justin Forge in Glenview IL andsuccessfully attacked a WCOTC rally in Decatur IL.

On a network level, ARA administers an ongoing ARAgeneral defense fund. The ARA defense fund hasfinancially assisted ARAers up on charges in ChicagoIL, Toronto ON, Montreal PQ, Louisville KY and Kent,OH. The ARA defense fund has also contributed money tothe defense funds of anti-fascists in Poland and theCzech Republic.

I agree that ARA and the anti-fascist / anarchist /anti-authoritarian movements in general should be moreprepared to deal with state repression. We need toimprove the effectiveness of our legal defense workand funds as well as prepare for the eventuality thatone day ARA is likely going to have to support ARAerswho are imprisoned for participation in theanti-fascist and anti-capitalist struggles in whichwe're on the font lines.

3. The militarazation risk

While I understand and largely agree with the author'sanalysis of underground resistance to fascism I don'tsee ARA heading down that path. ARA has always beenabout open, militant resistance to fascism at thestreet level. That doesn't mean that covertanti-fascist resistance (Like the 1995 firebombing ofnazi-propagandist and holocaust denier Ernst Zundel'shome/office here in Toronto, or the recent shooting ofa NPD leader in Germany) is less legitimate than ourwork but it's not ARA's role to participate in it.

I also disagree with the idea that Red Action is apurely physical group and "avoids dealing withpolitical questions". Even a cursory look through their website( will turn upnumerous political analysis' of Fascism in the UK byRed Action. However, I will leave responding to yourcriticism of Red Action to Red Action themselves.

On a more personal note, I take issue with theassertion that the fact that anti-fascist groups likeRed Action and ARA have ex-nazis involved with them"indicates a political weakness".

As a former neo-nazi turned anti-fascist I work withARA because it's one of the few organizations that hasa realistic approach to combating fascism on thestreet level. That is, ARA has the guts to stand andphysically fight if that's what it takes. However, to"...question whether people are attracted on the basisof physical fighting ability rather than politicalagreement." is downright insulting to ex-nazis such asmyself who've since joined the ranks of the militantanti-fascist and anarchist movement.

The fact that I was a working-class recruit into theradical right only shows the failure of liberalism andmost "revolutionary" leftist groups who, unlike thefascists, fail to speak to working class youth aboutissues effecting them like unemployment, falling wages, skyrocketing rentand the generally bleak future for working class youth in today's society.

If anything I would argue that the "admitted flow" ofex-nazis into militant anti-fascist groups is a signthat those groups' politics, strategy and tactics areseen as effective by people who've been on the otherside.

I personally have more faith in people sticking aroundanti-fascism for the long haul if they come from abackground where they can understand why some workingclass youth see the radical right as a viablealternative to the status quo rather than middle classpeople who are "anti-fascist" for altruistic reasonsor because nazis are "bad".

Anti-Fascism must not be just about physicallystopping the fascists from marching, rallying andorganizing, it must also fight for real issues thataffect working class youth and present an alternativeto the status quo, discredited leftist groups andFascist organizations. Locally ARA has close working relationships withthe Ontario Coalition Against Poverty, the Black Action Defense Committeeand other organizations that are taking on the poverty, racism and policebrutality in Toronto.

For myself and many others in ARA that alternative isanarchism. While ARA is a non-sectarian group with avariety of political tendencies you really don't haveto look to hard to find people in ARA involved withexplicitly anarchist projects, usually those on thecutting edge of militancy. An excellent example wouldbe the Revolutionary Anti-Capitalist Bloc inWashington DC last April. Much of the 1000 strong blocof anarchists consisted of affinity groups from ARAchapters. The decentralized and autonomous structureof the ARA network is another example of stronganarchist participation in ARA.

Finally, while I think the article is a good startingpoint for discussion on anti-fascist strategy I wouldlike to hear what strategy the author proposes inorder to fight the far-right or what ARA could havedone that would have been a more effective response tothe murder of Dan and Spit.

In anti-fascist and anarchist solidarity,
Mike Donovan, ARA Toronto.

P.O. Box 291, Station B, Toronto, ON, M5T 2T2, Canada
Phone: (416) 631-8835 Email:


1. The 'Fighting Words' article can be found at:

Anti-Fascist Action's response can be found at:

A letter from Las Vegas ARA and the text for the newspaper ad can be foundat:

For more detailed information on the murder of Dan and Spit see:

2. For more information or to donate to the ARA defensefund see: contact ARA Montreal at aramontreal@hotmail.comor mail AAR/ ARA Montreal, #8, 414 Mount Royal Est,Montreal, PQ, Canada, H2J 1W1Checks or money orders should be made out to"Anti-Racist Action"

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