Credit: Paul Becker/Becker1999

Keeping Our Movements Safe and Our Organizers Focused

Paramilitary Threats to Racial Justice

The summer of 2020 ushered in a new era of racial justice uprising; a mobilization of millions of people across the country demanding an end to anti-Black state violence. The Movement for Black Lives and racial justice organizers, who had been on the ground long before 2020, responded to this unique historic moment—the highly visible and agonizingly slow murder of George Floyd and a global pandemic keeping people at loose ends at home—to build and lead this mass movement, the likes of which had never been seen in this country.

In putting together on-the-ground strategies for building coalitions and mobilizing millions of newly politicized Americans, organizers were at capacity and in high demand. At this same moment, mostly White men wearing militaristic insignia, often heavily armed, began appearing at racial justice protests. Sometimes they arrived as counter-protestors aligned with the White supremacist state, other times they seemed to be sympathetic to protestors’ demands—seemingly passive participants in the movement.

Rumors abounded of significant mobilizations on the Far Right, from biker gangs to busloads of klansmen, and these rumors were bolstered by the threatening individuals and small groups arriving at protests across the country.

Beginning with the early skirmishes with summer protestors, continuing with the murder of two protestors in Kenosha, Wisconsin in August, and culminating with the January 6 insurrection, 2020 (and early 2021) has also seen the largest far-right mobilizations since the 1990s. These mobilizations have largely been a reaction to the largest racial justice protest movement in U.S. history, pandemic-induced recession and uncertainty, and Donald Trump’s last days in office. They have proved deadly and, in concert with repressive policing, represent the greatest immediate threat to on-the-ground racial justice movements.

Who were these men?

What threat did they pose to protestors?

Were they sympathetic to and working in conjunction with law enforcement?

Were they anti-state militia aligning themselves to the Defund Movement

Or were these unaffiliated individuals with their own unknown agendas?

To answer these questions for the safety of their movements and protesters, national leadership from the Movement for Black Lives (M4BL) and the Rising Majority reached out to PRA.

PRA Research in Action

Building on existing movement partners, PRA joined the M4BL security table to calibrate strategies for organizing and responding to potential threats on the ground.

PRA researchers and fellows spent endless hours combing far-right channels of communication to track down the source of rumors and evaluate them for credibility. Spending time in venomous far-right corners of the internet, laden with violent anti-Black, anti-LGBTQ, and antisemitic rhetoric and imagery, the PRA team identified the photographs, rallying cries and responses, and the idle chatter to parse the origins of and confirm, deny, or right-size these rumors of mobilizations.

In addition to communicating directly with on-the-ground organizers, PRA produced a series of resources for broader circulation, including an activist field guide and interactive map of incidents of far-right and paramilitary interference with racial justice protests. These resources served as vital points of reference for organizers and protestors alike and provided the national media with rigorously verified context for covering far-right mobilizations without glorifying the threat and raising the profile of these groups.

Impact

By identifying factions of the Far Right in attendance; verifying, dismissing, or right-sizing rumored far-right mobilizations; and helping organizers prepare appropriate responses to avoid harm and disruption, PRA provided the expertise, support, and skill to help organizers marshal their energies towards capitalizing on the incredible momentum of the largest mobilization for racial justice that this country has ever seen.

While the initial purpose of PRA’s security work was to provide timely analysis and direction, PRA was also able to develop both external and internal capacity to address future threats to social justice organizing. M4BL and Rising Majority received training in monitoring, right-sizing, and addressing future far-right mobilizations and rumors. Internally, PRA developed a comprehensive infrastructure, born of necessity, to provide this essential service in future contexts. With these systems to minimize the threat of the Far Right in place, we will continue to work with our movement partners to build lasting momentum in the protest movement for racial justice.