The guest, Philip, has compiled this list of further resources and encourages people to check out look into them because there are a lot of good lessons about how counterinsurgency has operated historically that can help us resist today.
Know Your Rights trainings are available from the CLDC and ACLU [including the Live Like the World is Dying episode on the subject]
For the history of police and state repression
- “Our Enemies in Blue”: “Secret Police, Red Squads, and the Strategy of Permanent Repression”
- “Life During Wartime” – Kristian Williams, Lara Messersmith-Glavin, William Munger
- “Witness to Betrayal / Profiles of Provocateurs” – Kristian Williams
- “Basic Politics of Movement Security” – J Sakai
- “Policing Indigenous Movements” – Andrew Crosby & Jeffery Monaghan good for Canadian context
- Intercept article on TigerSwan surveillance of Standing Rock:
- “New State Repression” Ken Lawrence
- “War at Home: Covert Action Against US Activists and What We Can Do About It”- Brian Glick
Government resources on counterintelligence
- Church Committee Report (federal committee on FBI COINTELPRO ops)
- “Low Intensity Operations: Subversion, Insurgency, Peace-Keeping” Frank Kitson
Hello, and welcome to Live Like the World is Dying, your podcast for what feels like the end times. I’m your host, Margaret Killjoy, and I use she or they pronouns. This week I’m talking with Philip who, among many other things, teaches security culture trainings. And I first was introduced to Philip’s work on it when we had a conversation about the complexities of security culture. Security culture—we’ll go over in this episode—is basically the idea of creating a culture of security, a culture of a way—creating a culture by which people don’t get caught as much for the types of things that they may choose to want to do in order to advance, you know, their desires. It’s for activists and revolutionaries and shit to not get fucking caught. It has lot of good tools around how to do that kind of culturally. This podcast is a proud member of the Channel Zero Network of anarchist podcasts. And—but for this week, and next week, I’m going to do it a little bit differently, and instead of running a jingle for another show on the network, I’m just gonna tell you about another show on the network because I don’t think they have a jingle yet. And basically say that the Maroon Cast is now a member of the Channel Zero Network of anarchist podcasts and I’m very excited about that. And you all should go check it out. Also, the Institute for Anarchist Studies is an organization that gives grants to people who—well, I’m just about to play a fucking jingle for it. So I’ll just fuckin play the jingle for it—da daaaa!
Hey, radicals, anarchists, and all of you liberatory leftists: Are you a podcaster, video maker, multimedia artist, or writer? The Institute for Anarchist Studies wants to let you know we have grants available for projects focusing on Black and indigenous anarchisms, police abolition and alternatives, and mutual aid. For details and how to apply visit anarchiststudies.org and click on the grants application post on our main page. That’s anarchiststudies.org. Anarchist-studies-dot-O-R-G. Applications close January 31, 2021. Spread the word and tell your friends.
Okay, so if you could introduce yourself with whatever name you want to go by, your pronouns, and I guess kind of a little bit about what brought you to this work of teaching and security culture trainings?
Yeah, my name is Philip, I use they/them pronouns. I’m living in Suquamish Territory and the Salish Sea. I’ve been involved in a lot of solidarity work with Indigenous liberation movements and Black liberation movements that have exposed me to a lot of frontline experiences and experiences with state repression, both immediately and down the line. And in response to those encounters with law enforcement with legal repression, and with the effect that that has on our movements, me and a lot of friends and comrades have dived into learning about security culture, learning about the tools and the techniques that we can all use to keep each other safe. And also learning about the ways that the state works to isolate our movements, to discredit our movements—basically, to disempower us—so that we’re able to be more informed about how to take care of each other. So I’m definitely deeply indebted to a lot of Black and Indigenous liberation movements for developing these skills and passing them on. And I’m here to just try to contribute now what I’ve been taught and foster a conversation about how we can be moving into this, like, pretty unprecedented territory in the world of new state surveillance, expanding state surveillance, more encounters with police, but also with right-wing vigilantes, paramilitary groups, white supremacists, and some of the tools we can use.
That makes sense. Yeah, one of the reasons that I wanted to have you on in particular is a conversation that we had about the nuances of security culture, and I’m really excited to get into that stuff. But for people who have no idea what we’re talking about, could you introduce the concept of security culture?
Yeah, that’s a great question. I feel like there’s a lot of intersections between security culture and a lot of other topics that you’ve had on this show or that you might have on in the future. Ultimately, I think of security culture as this big framework. And it’s a framework that helps us reduce risk for ourselves when we’re engaging in social movement work, basically by protecting sensitive information. So one definition might be: It’s like a mix of interpersonal and organizational and technical practices that help us be more resilient to state repression. It’s a shared set of customs, that helps us minimize risk by explicitly naming some norms, over our boundaries and over our communication and that helps us lessen our paranoia, reducing ambiguity, and feeling more secure as we’re engaging with the inherently risky work of challenging unjust power systems.
So what are some of the examples of that when you talk about, like, changing social norms in order to accommodate security culture? Like, you know, what comes to mind with that?
Yeah, well, I think that the first thing to say is, intentionally or unintentionally, we all have a set of security practices that we do as human beings. We all have boundaries with each other, intentional or unintentional. And the point of security culture is really to be explicit about those boundaries. I, you know, I really want to do a shout out that a lot of people already practice security, culture, and situational awareness in their daily lives, you know, especially trauma survivors, people who are targeted by police and state surveillance. But some of those specific boundaries and norms that we might use would be having, you know, a clear idea of what information is sensitive, and then not sharing that information with people who don’t need to know it, to protect yourself and to protect them.
Like so concretely like—
Yeah, so that would, you know, a big, obvious one is like, don’t talk about illegal activities that you have done, or that you’re thinking about doing or asking someone else if they’ve done it. A big thing might be like, “Oh, yeah, I thought I saw you at this protest the other week doing this illegal action. Was that you? How does that feel to you?” That’s a big thing that we wouldn’t do. That’s a pretty clear violation of norms and boundaries over not wanting people to expose themselves in that way.
But what if you want to change your profile picture to, like, you throw in a brick on, like, Facebook?
And that’s another one, you know, it’s not only the explicit things that we share with each other, but also what is available to the outside world, to law enforcement, or to right wing groups through our social media presences, through, you know, just things that are immediately perceptible like bumper stickers or, like, the Antifa uniform that we’re wearing. Being aware of the information that we’re communicating, even if it’s non-verbal.
One of the—
Though I do wanna say— One of the main things is we should be aware of the sensitivity of the information and limit the information that’s sensitive. And then the flip side of that is not stressing about information that is not sensitive. So it’s not only, you know, being discreet and confidential about things that could expose us to legal targeting, but also then shedding the worry and anxiety of, “Oh, do I need to be lying to everyone in my life because they asked me what kind of coffee I like, and they’re trying to build a case against me?”
Go ahead. Mm hmm. Yeah, that makes sense. I—you know, it’s like, when people first started talking about security culture around me, I ran into a lot of—we kind of all ran into a lot of issues of it with it, where it would cause, like, a lot of paranoia and then also a lot of like bravado and, like, it definitely, when practiced poorly, can be kind of not a very pleasant culture to be in. Like, it can become a culture of paranoia. But one of the things that I always really liked doing, you know, okay, so it’s like—Alright, if you engage in a culture where you just don’t talk about crime, like, you kind of have the sense that everyone around you is doing crime and that’s cool (assuming they’re doing cool crime, because lots of good things and bad things are crime). You can kind of just like—like, one of the things that I try and tell people is just, like, assume that everyone is a secret badass. Like, the shitty kid has been like sleeping on your couch for two weeks and like, doesn’t do her dishes enough or whatever. Like, maybe she’s getting up to, like, really wild shit. Or maybe she’s on the run, you know, and kind of just assuming that everyone is up to something cool. And therefore you just don’t need to know it. I don’t know. That’s something that’s always worked for me. Yeah. Yeah, and I think there’s absolutely something to be said there about—it takes a lot of intentional work to sort of decouple these practices from some of the, just the other cultural norms that we all have. And that being a big thing of social clout.
Of, you know, wanting—especially in a movement space—to be able to, like, celebrate the badass shit that we’re doing. And one of the awkward things about security culture, or that makes it a little counterintuitive to people who are just learning it is that a lot of times the things that maybe have the biggest impact on our lives, or that we’re spending lots of time or energy working on, or that were these really activating, or traumatizing, or fun and exciting experiences we had, we can’t really talk about with other people, both for our safety and their safety. And so it’s really nice, then, to think, not only, you know, is that something that we shouldn’t do, but then also allowing us to think about, well, what are some of the positive ways that we can still be fostering community connection, and, you know, healthy, strong relationships and trust with people where we’re not having to communicate about risky things that could implicate us in, like, all sorts of legal entanglements, but instead we can be still be building vulnerability and trust with each other. And that’s a really big, important part of security culture that I think gets missed by a lot of people is that this is a great opportunity, actually, for us to think about what are our community norms around communication and interpersonal dynamics? And what are some of the ways that we can shape those intentionally to, like, really build trust and group cohesion and the ability to make us all feel like we’re able to do the things that we need to do to survive in this world while staying safe?
Yeah. Okay, so what are some of those things?
So I think a big one is that building trust with each other is an active process that we all need to be doing, especially in movement work. One of the big things that I think is really important is being able to, you know, talk about harmful and difficult dynamics that come up about conflict that comes up, about addressing accountability, and how much of state repression is able to impact movements by fracturing us along pre-existing tensions that we aren’t able to work through. So there’s a lot of examples in that historically, of state targeting movements, basically, where there was already distrust that was unable to be resolved, and fracturing movements by encouraging people to distrust each other because they weren’t able to work through conflict.
So you’re basically talks about how the way that the state will essentially, like, bad-jacket or fed-jacket people, like, in order to sow distrust. Like basically, like, pick apart, like, so-and-so is unpopular, or maybe so-and-so actually caused harm, right? Like, so-and-so abuse someone or assaulted someone or is, you know, in accountability around it, or evading accountability around it, basically like sowing distrust about therefore, like, that person doing state work? Or what do you what do you mean by that?
Yeah, I think that is one popular example. We can definitely talk about that—about both how the state uses false accusations, you know, maybe to break trust—but also how real continued harm, real accusations, are then downplayed when we’re existing in this like defensive, reactive space of being, “Oh, well, if, you know, we’re going to be talking about these things then it’s obviously a bad-jacketing.” And so our movements are put in between a rock and a hard place because of just the widespread norm that exists of not being able to address the conflict when it comes up. But another way that that also happens is just how not only direct state intervention can fracture movements, but even the perception of state intervention, the fear and paranoia that gets spread through knowing that we’re surveilled, through knowing that there’s all these historical examples of actual state harm and us imagining then that we are being actively targeted at that time and us fracturing under that stress, even when there’s not active state repression happening to our specific movements. And so it ends up that we almost start policing and repressing ourselves. And we’re doing the state’s work for it.
I guess, like, one of the things that I think about this is I try to use history and awareness of that connection to actually—hm, how to I want to say this? It’s like, I assume everyone’s a cop and that makes me not paranoid. And I feel like there’s a right way and a wrong way to do this. But for me, and the security culture that I practice—and this might be wildly unpopular—I just I assume that a decent portion of the people that I’m friends with and am close with, so possibly people I’ve been known and working with for decades, might be state agents. Or I’ve certainly had a lot of friends, a lot of people very close to me, become state agents, become informants in different cases. And because I’m able to do that, it kind of doesn’t break my trust. Because I know that I’m, like, firewalling, all the information that I’m putting out there, right? I’m thinking about what I say to whom and because of that, you know, when someone turns out to be a state agent, I’m like, “Well, okay, like, I didn’t trust them anyway so I was careful about what I said to them.” And, you know, and obviously, this can be done in a very bad way. But, I don’t know, I find it really useful to study basically, like—like, we can look at the history of COINTELPRO and it can, like, you know, drive us into a lot of fear and a lot of, like, just looking over our shoulders constantly, right? Or we can look at it and be like, “Okay, this is the situation that we may or may not be in, and what are the right steps to take if that’s the situation we’re in.” And I think, for me, I mostly watch this be much harder on people for whom it’s a shock, for people who come in and are like, “Wow, we’re all doing this wild shit together and this is so great.” And then it turns out that you’re all being surveilled, or, you know, two of you are cops or something like that. And it’s kind of heartbreaking and causes more fear as compared to if you just enter it knowing that that’s going to be the case.
Absolutely, and I think you highlight two things there that feel really important to me in a security culture practice. So one is just having those proactive boundaries and that discretion, and just making that part of your everyday life—part of your way of relating with people and not this whole other mindset that you’re adopting just in moments of direct action. Basically assuming, like, I just don’t want to publicly share anything that I don’t want read back to me at a grand jury hearing.
I think another thing that is really important with what you just said is how important learning from history and looking at the concrete and well-documented examples of state repression that we can learn from prepares us to be able to be more resilient. And that that is an actually really important part of being able to evaluate risk and being able to care for ourselves and being able to know what’s coming down the line. And that that should be something that we’re constantly doing. And it’s a lot of work but I think that’s one of the things that I’ve been really excited by, it’s just thinking about all these different resources and tracking the terrain of state repression and being able to then sort of stay ahead of the ball as best we can with thinking about what sort of terrain we have to be working in, and the actual tools and maneuverability that the state has, or that right-wing groups have to be interfacing with us. You know, it feels—not to minimize the very real risks that many people are experiencing by confronting white supremacy and capitalism and state violence.—but thinking about this on a little bit more exploded of a level, it feels like we’re, you know, kind of playing this like big elaborate board game. And that state repression isn’t functioning in the way of just pure unbridled force being exacted on any sort of social movement. There are absolutely moments of that. You know, we have seen assassinations, we have seen brutalization, there are many historical examples, you know, bombs were dropped on the MOVE collective in Philadelphia, police assassinated Fred Hampton of the Black Panthers while he slept in his bed. There are big examples of that. But by and large, at least as far as, you know, the material that is publicly available to reflect from, the way that state repression happens is more by controlling dissent through these sort of like light touches, by erecting the container that social movements and public opinion exist in, and trying to have that subtle touch, you know, that sort of negotiated management or that controlled management, similar to a lot of ways of how street protests are handled by police. Now, instead of it just being an outright brutality, it’s more of negotiating with movement leaders, shutting the terrain, and if we’re able to track that and we’re able to keep a good tab on where public opinion is at, keep a good tab on what sort of restraints the state has for interacting with us for not trying to move public opinion towards supporting popular movements, you know, we’re able to then track the sort of tools that we have available to be able to challenge these systems and have a little more strategy, a little more creativity, you know, thinking outside of the box and really engaging with this in a very adaptive and flexible and, like, spontaneous way. And I think that’s one of the greatest strengths of decentralized movements is being able to be really flexible and responsive in a way that the state and other authoritarian or hierarchically-organized systems aren’t able to keep up with.
To keep asking you kind of the same question over and over again, but can you give examples of that? Like, what is it about decentralization that gives us that kind of advantage, like, or what are some examples of people using that advantage?
So I mean, one great example is just looking at the trove of documents that gets produced through surveillance of movements, and realizing how little these different analysts and intelligence agencies actually understand about social movements and about organizing. And so one example of that is specifically, there was a great series published by The Intercept after Standing Rock about this intelligence agency, Tiger Swan, and all the surveillance that they did on the Standing Rock movement. And this is an enormous cache of documents. You know, the state spent millions of dollars surveilling and compiling networks and trying to understand how these movements were working on the ground to be able to contain them and neutralize them. And yet, at the same time, the state just didn’t seem to fundamentally understand how it was possible that such a large movement wasn’t operating along, like, traditional military structuring. They were naming people who were, you know, a media spokesperson, or someone who had a popular Instagram feed who was documenting a lot of it, as the leader of the movement or as supplying arms, when that was so clearly not the case to anyone who was able to participate on the ground. And so that smokescreen of the state not understanding the organic flows of movements or how it’s possible for things to exist in a [inaudible] fashion, it creates this haze that allows us to kind of keep, you know, the specifics of how we’re relating with each other protected from that surveillance and allows us to remain safe.
Yeah, I had a—Go ahead.
I mean, the counterpoint to that is just when states—when militaries are engaging with traditionally organized enemies, you know, whatever might be a centrally-commanded military unit, it’s really easy to, you know, be able to identify the central command and eliminate it. Versus, you know, states, armies, militaries engaging with irregular guerrilla warfare is a very difficult situation to be able to differentiate between combatants and non-combatants. And, you know, I really love to point at the example of the United States military losing to the Vietcong, you know, the greatest military empire power on the planet losing to some communist guerrillas in the jungle who, you know, were able to operate in a way that this empire was just not able to respond.
Yeah, so that’s like, one of the things I like about security culture is it helps create that smokescreen because—and I like the way that phrasing it as a smokescreen—where they have a hard time seeing what a decentralized movement is doing. And a lot of times we don’t understand what a decentralized movement is doing. It’s like, I feel like whenever I’m engaged in a very chaotic and organic situation, I spend about half my time just trying to figure out what’s going on, right? And—in order to understand what’s happening so I can figure out how to best engage with it. But on the other hand, I like how a security culture—it’s like, I don’t know which of my friends are up to things besides what they talk about. And I don’t need to know and it also it helps—it helps to minimize—I mean, like, you brought up earlier about the like social clout and, like, I think one of the things that destroys movements is social capitalism, is the idea of, like, everyone’s trying to gain clout, everyone’s trying to, you know, I mean, to say it cynically, you know, like, have the coolest podcast and get everyone to support your Patreon or whatever the fuck, right? But—and even if you’re trying to do that for the best of reasons, even if you’re trying to do that in order to like, you know, get out good ideas or whatever, social capital ends up playing a lot into it and social capital games are really dangerous. and way more than like being a cool podcaster or whatever, being a cool militant is like—to the people who know—that’s like extra cool. And you get way too much say and what’s going on if everyone like is, like, “Oh, yeah, like, she’s doing all this like crazy shit,” right? And it’s kind of this thing, it’s like a little bit hard, but you kind of like learn to just accept like, “Oh, alright, well, like I’m a secret badass and no one knows.” Well like, not me, but like, you know, maybe when I was younger, I don’t know. But like, I don’t know—you talk about the smokescreen thing, it’s just like, I literally don’t know who’s up to no good, you know, and that’s great. It feels really good. I’m like, I literally can’t snitch because I have no fucking clue. One of the things that you were talking about earlier, or that we were talking about earlier, that I feel like is worth breaking down for people who are, you know—I mean, obviously, this podcast is about preparedness, right? And I believe that revolt is an important part of preparedness. But people might not necessarily know what we’re talking about when we talk about, like, snitch-jacketing, fed-jacketing, bad-jacketing, you know, which are like, slang terms or terms that we’ve come up with because this just happens over and over and over again and we want ways to be able to identify it quickly. But what the fuck did those mean? Are you able to break that down?
Sure. Yeah. Um, let me first—first, like, explicitly name some of the tools of state repression. I think that might be a helpful thing.
Yeah. Explicit stuff.
So in my like conceptualization, ultimately, we have to recognize that challenging and unjust power system, that power system has a vested interest in maintaining the status quo. So as we’re challenging white supremacy, capitalism, militarism, you know, we are putting ourselves in a position where those systems are going to want to then minimize our ability to change them. And we get our power through working together collectively. And so I kind of see that fundamental tool of state repression has been isolation. A quote that I always go to of how clear that is from J. Edgar Hoover, who was the director of the FBI during the counterintelligence program against the Black Panthers, where his main objective—he, you know, writes that it’s to expose, to disrupt, misdirect, discredit, and otherwise neutralize the activities of these black nationalist organizations. So there’s a really intentional, conscious push from these state actors to isolate us and to neutralize us. And the ways that they do that historically has been through surveillance, both to gather information, but also as a sort of intimidation, you know, show of power through arrest, whether that’s legitimate or illegitimate, through grand juries and legal intimidation, through smear campaigns in the media and discrediting movements, or, you know, saying these protesters are bad because they engage in these types of tactics, through disinformation and spreading paranoia within movements, promoting infighting, blackmail, infiltration, entrapment, threats, and you know, again, all the way up to police brutality and outright assassinations. But so a big way has been by planting informants, by planting undercover agents and those undercover agents either provoking people into committing acts of the state is then enabled us as justification for repression—so we’ve seen that with the RNC, the Republican National Convention, where an undercover agent encouraged two people to try to use Molotov cocktails and then that resulted in them getting arrested and facing lengthy prison sentences through federal court. But undercovers and informants also can be there to just spread misinformation to break trust, to disrupt group dynamics. And that’s just been a really clear way that popular movements have been repressed historically. And so I think that’s a reason that it’s really easy for us now, as we’re worried about security, to say, “Oh, there must be an informant,” or like, “Oh, I know that this has happened in the past and so I’m extra aware of this possibility.” And one of the outcomes of that is that people who are suspected of being involved in movements with bad intentions can be labeled as an informant, or as a snitch. And so that’s basically snitch-jacketing is when you say, “I think this person is working for the police or is providing information,” without having clear evidence. And this is something that’s really personal to me because I, you know, I’ve learned a lot of my security practices through trial and error, and there’s been error and I’ve messed up and I’ve hurt friends and I’ve hurt movements that have been a part of through dynamics just like this. And I think that’s, you know, something I want to hold a lot of humility and hold a lot of accountability for is that I’m saying all these things, but these aren’t easy things to implement.
You know, the response to snitch-jacketing, or the response to thinking that someone might be a snitch, isn’t to snitch-jacket, but to confront them directly with your concerns and be able to establish, you know, some way of trying to work through that conflict. Being able to address other people with your concerns, with your direct concerns, not things that you’re assuming or projecting, and, you know, being able to name things directly, as they are. So saying, “Oh, I am skeptical of this person, because they are sketching me out by taking photos in times that I think are really inappropriate,” or “Because they’re always asking questions that kind of seem to be digging at trying to expose illegal activities,” or “I’m not really sure if they are who they say they are because they’re never telling me any information about where they’re from or what they do.”
And so, therefore, this person clearly must be working for the FBI and is here as a plant to disrupt our movement. Therefore, this person is a snitch, and I mean, yes, sure, that has happened historically. But in my appraisal, labeling someone is a snitch does probably just as much if not more damage than just name—than that person actually being a snitch. Because it’s all of a sudden creating a huge atmosphere of distrust.
It’s creating paranoia. It’s exposing huge divisions within the movement. And so even if that person isn’t a snitch, by labeling them as a snitch, you’ve essentially just done the state’s work for them of spreading distrust and isolation within movement,
Which is cool because then you can say, “Oh, that person’s snitch-jacketing people, they must be a fed.” You know, because if you’re doing the state’s work… Obviously don’t do that. And that’s called “fed-jacketing.” The idea of saying instead of—it’s the same fucking concept. It’s like, you know, someone’s probably a fed instead of—
Yeah, one of the ways that I’ve always heard people talk about it that I’ve always appreciated is just: judge people by their behavior, not whether or not, like, they’re a cop. Like, so rather than assuming, “I think that person’s a cop,” just be like, “This person is doing something that is making us all less safe.” So address that, you know. Address the fact that this person is taking pictures at inappropriate times. Address your distrust of someone, right” But not by saying, like, “I think they’re a cop,” unless you have hard fucking evidence that they’re a cop, you know?
Yeah, I really go back time and time again, in thinking about security culture, and seeing really clear intersections between security culture and harm reduction, and transformative justice and conflict resolution. You know, I think, in our society, we aren’t given a lot of tools for working through conflict and that is especially aggravated by being in this very intense atmosphere that a lot of activists are existing under. But if we were able to—proactively, before engaging in movement work together, as much as possible—generate, what those norms are and what our shared agreements for how we’re sharing space with each other are, then we’re able to set the container. And then when someone steps over those boundaries, we’re able to hold them accountable more directly. And that’s ultimately what security culture is, you know, it’s culture as a set of shared practices that are embodied, that we’re using all the time. And I think it’s really important, again, to just make that explicit. And I know that’s not always possible, because sometimes we’re working with people that we just met. But as much as we’re able to, I really like to think about what it would look like if we were able to generate explicit norms and boundaries with each other, and then be able to hold each other to that and say, “Hey, you’re making me uncomfortable right now because I told you earlier that I wasn’t interested in talking about my historical involvement in that movement, and you’re asking me a lot of questions about it. And so I’m just going to ask that you stop asking me those questions.”
Instead of saying, “Oh, well, this person is now a snitch.”
But that level of direct communication is challenging, and it’s really challenging especially when we’re all working in adrenalized frontline environments, or when we haven’t gotten a lot of sleep and we’re just existing up coffee and cigarettes. And it really speaks to me of just how much there needs to be this intentional push of like building in, like, a feminist ethic of care and of group cohesion and saying, like, we are going to work through this together.
One of the things when you talk about holding people accountable to these new social norms that we create, this sort of brings up kind of the dark side of security culture, which is cliquishness. And, well, it’s tto things: when I think of the downsides of security culture—I’m clearly a proponent of security culture, I’m trying to do an episode on it. But when I think of the things that we need to be aware of as we attempt to implement it, the two biggest downsides that I think about is creating cliquish, closed off social circles and basically making, you know, obviously, we would never want to be called a Vanguard, but you know, a revolutionary clique. And also, basically making ourselves ineffective. Those are the two biggest concerns that I have. And one of the things that I would say about it is that, like, if we hold people—and it’s, actually what you’re talking about is great for this, because you talk about, like, trying to set these social norms explicitly, instead of just having them be implicit, right? Because when we hold people accountable to social norms that they don’t know about, like, that’s not a good way to build a movement, you know? If people that come in and they act in ways that are totally normal for them and, like, you know, their culture, which isn’t, like, cool kid anarchy or whatever the fuck, it’s really quick—it’s really easy if we take these—if we—if these social norms and if these boundaries are so important to us, and, you know, many of them should be very important to us. But if we see them as, like, something that of course people should just know and respect, then we just kick everyone out and get fucking nowhere.
Yeah, that is a really important thing to bring up. And, I think especially talking about security as this adaptive changing field, the practices we have in the way that we approach this work needs to change as the moment that we’re organizing in changes. And I personally learned a lot of my security culture norms and practices through the lens of an anarchist punk subculture, specifically through the lens of frontline forest defense and other land defense campaigns. And the sort of tools and cultural norms that came out of that are ones that evolved really to protect people who were working in small groups or by themselves, engaging in very risky actions—you know, generally like under the cover of night, so to speak—and so it did lead to a set of practices that had a inherent cliquiness to them. I think we’re in a really different historical moment right now. I think we’re in a moment where mass unrest has spread all across the country in a way that I think is pretty historically unprecedented within the United States. And our security culture norms should change to reflect this mass moment we’re in. So it’s no longer the same situation as it was in the late 90s or early 2000s during the Green Scare. And one of the most important things that our movement can and needs to be doing during this time is being accessible to people who are newly becoming politically active, who don’t have those sub cultural norms, and are coming into movement spaces for maybe the first time and are excited to be part of this huge uprising.
And so something I’ve experienced a lot of the time is, just as much as there’s that social clout of, you know, being the badass militant, I think there’s also social clout of being the super secure militant.
Oh, yeah, totally.
Who doesn’t answer any questions and it’s super dodgy and you don’t know anything about them. And that’s, I think, a really alienating experience for people who are just coming to movements for the first time without having that sort of background, and it’s almost as much of a risk as the state repression itself for isolating our movements. You know, we’re not existing solely in a static confrontation with state repression. But the terrain is changing a lot. And so we need to be evaluating what the different risks of our actions are. And if the risk of state repression because our security culture is too weak is lower than the risk of isolation because our security culture is too strong, then we need to be changing our security culture.
Yeah. Yeah, I um, you know, the less directly involved I am in the streets, the more I read history-which is sort of a classic getting older move, which I’m not super proud of, but whatever-and one of the things that I’m like learning more and more as I read through different revolutionary history is that, like, sometimes the only way to be safest is fucking win. Like, and there’s the quote, shit. German person… I don’t even remember what revolution it was from, it was like before the 1848 stuff, but it was—this revolutionist has a quote, ‘Those who make half a revolution dig their own grave.” And, you know, and that person watched their friends die in jail, right? And, like, because if we—if we go half way we’re just gonna fucking lose and—or die or, you know, whatever. Like if, I don’t know, I think about it a lot like this—in the current moment, like to just be like really concrete and to not—I am not giving advice at all. Like, I just I literally don’t know what the best thing to do is, but I think we need to have a conversation about it—is that like, okay, so on one level, taking pictures of burning cop cars is a really good way to get someone sent to prison, right? Especially if you take pictures of people who are setting cop cars on fire, which I think you just shouldn’t fucking do. But if it weren’t—
Absolutely. For all listeners, don’t take photos of people doing illegal activity.
But it’s also the pictures of cop cars on fire that are causing the revolt to spread, right? And a movement that says, “No journalists,” or you know, certainly, like no, no—and I am not trying to fucking weigh in on this. I am way too armchair on this particular uprising because I live somewhere where it’s not particularly conflictual. But it’s not as simple as like, just like, no one ever take pictures of any of this, ever. No one talks about what’s happening, ever. Because if people don’t know that this shit is happening, no one’s going to get inspired. And for me, that is always, that has always worked out to mean, take a picture of, like, the broken window rather than the person breaking the window, you know? There’s like,
Which is aa security culture tool right there of, your recognizing the different risks inherent in each activity, the risk of someone getting legally implicated through a photo, or the risk of your movement getting drowned out in the media cycle because there isn’t popular media representing what we’re doing.
And then specifically, you’re talking about our intentional ability to choose how to navigate those risks, and doing something that gives us the benefit of having our own popular media, of being able to build the movement while doing our best to protect people from the like actual legal evidence of, “Oh, here is this photo of you doing such and such action.”
And again, it’s hard to know specifically what kind of photos might lead to incriminating evidence, hypothetically, but we can make educated guesses. And really, it is all about risk management and knowing the risks and it’s not a one-sided risk. It’s not, there’s just the risk of state repression. You’re absolutely right, that the risk of isolation and of getting swept under the rug is going to be a huge thing. And I, you know, again, it feels difficult to try to talk about this in an hour-long podcast because it feels like so many very large, important intersections between security culture and all these other fields that you could, you know, have an entire ‘nother interview about. But I think one important one is movement strategy. And, you know, so being another armchair philosopher with you here. Looking at the historical moment of Biden about to enter the White House, you know, for the last four years, there’s been this coalition of middle class liberals aligning themselves more actively with antifascist and radical left movements because there’s been this clear enemy in the eyes of a Trump presidency. And I think historically we can see that once there’s a return to quote/unquote “normalcy,” you know, to attempt to reestablish the neoliberal order, there’s going to be a move by the Democratic Party, by the centrists and the liberals, to separate themselves from the radical anarchists, the radical left, the militant component that has been supporting their return to power in some ways by being positioned against Trump. And I think it’s really important to think about what that means for us practicing security at this time, of trying to weigh the pros and the risks of maintaining that relationship. And trying to use this as a time to continue to build power and not sort of go back to the edges of the social sphere because there’s a Democrat process. Again, I’m not providing any concrete recommendations, but I think we should think about the implications of our actions. And, you know, one big place of this is thinking about how, in different contexts, militant actions can be really inspiring, or they can be really alienating for the rest of the population. And there are times that militant action can totally fractionalize and destroy a movement. And, potentially, this could be one of those times. You know, again, I’m not trying to say that people should or shouldn’t do anything, but I think we should think about the coalition that has been being built for the last four years and how we can try to use this time to strengthen it and try to build more collective power with people who are shifting further and further to the left from the centrist position, instead of holing up in our militancy, in our purity of our anarchist movement, because that is going to leave us high and dry to fascists and then to state repression. And so it’s going to be a good cop/bad cop of the liberals and the fascists against us.
When you talk about, like, there are times when militant action will inspire people and their time where it’ll divide people, I think about, like, people often make one claim or the other, you know? They’ll say like, “Oh, violence alienates people,” or, “Fighting the police alienates people.” And it’s like, first of all, it’s like, yeah, probably alienates certain people but there’s other people who certainly are like, “Oh, these people are, like, actually fucking about it and they’re willing to, like, defend themselves and each other.” And that’s really inspiring, right? It’s gonna be different with different people. But I think about it when I, like—just talk about survival bullshit that I think about way too often—when I’m building a fire in a precarious situation and you, know, building a campfire in a precarious situation, there are times when if you blow on the fire, it goes out. And, but also, if you never blow on the fire, you’ll never have a fire and it’ll go out. And, you know, that’s the main metaphor that I think of when I think of that shit. When—you just have to know the right moments. You have to know the right moments, both like sort of on a tactical level of like reading the crowd around you, and also on a strategic level. I personally think that the main way to not go back to the margins is to, like, not be fucking shy about what we believe in, and that it’s a reasonable thing to believe.
And to like—
—avoid cliquishness. And it even gets into some of the security culture stuff you’re talking about arlier. I was thinking about it where it was like—like, I have these like fucking Nazis. Hey Nazis listening to this show. Hello. And I’m just so impressed with the fact that people might hate listen to a podcast. And you know, and like one of the things that like Nazis always try and do when they doxx people or whatever is their like, they’re gonna, like, tell people, right? They’re gonna be like—and like, you can’t fucking call my family and be like, “Did you know your daughter’s an anarchist?” You know? You can’t even call the local cops and be like, “Did you know Margaret Killjoy is an anarchist?” Right? And I’m in a different position than most people, right, because I intentionally do a lot of public facing work. But still on like an interpersonal level, just fucking be about what you’re about and don’t be ashamed of being about what you’re about without shaming other people for being about what they’re about. And that’s how you find common ground. And that’s how you, like, one of my goals is I want people to be like—like, I know, people who don’t shit on the anarchists when all this stuff started because they, like, know some good anarchists who are nice to them.
And so a lot of people want to hide the fact that they’re anarchists or whatever other given, like, radical leftist position. And sometimes that’s necessary from a security point of view. But you brought it up earlier when you were talking about how there’s certain things you do have to keep hush hush, right? Like, like, no one should specifically know, like—actually, it’s funny. I just like basically don’t commit crime. But no one should specifically know I, like, you know, graffiti-ed to building in 2002—which I actually didn’t do. But, like, they don’t need to know that. Right? But I’m gonna be like, “Yeah, I was involved in anti war movement in 2002,” or whatever the fuck to date myself, you know. And like, it’s useful, and I don’t know. It’s just stuff I think about way too much. And the other part of it that you were talking about that I want to bring up is that when I first got into anarchism my friend was, like, “Oh, anarchists, you’re the berserkers of the peace movement.” And I was like, “What?” And he was like, “Yeah, when they need people to go run at the front and die, that’s you.” And he was talking shit. But more and more I see that like radicals have a high risk tolerance, right? And anti-authoritarians in particular have often been willing to build coalitions with people and willing to put ourselves at risk for broader movement goals with people who turn around and, like, turn their backs on us and let us go to jail or whatever. And I don’t think that means that we shouldn’t be risk tolerant. I don’t think that it means, like, in some ways this is our advantage. But we do have to learn how to not be useful idiots. I don’t know.
Yeah, and especially right now as there’s a nationwide conversation about defunding and abolishing the police, it feels like such an important time to be putting these anarchist perspectives forward in a way that’s actually contributing to people within the broader community being able to see us publicly and proudly, showing that we can live our values in this way. And it also, I think, is worth noting that different people have different stakes, whether that’s based on social location, or the activities were involved in, the types of projects we’re doing. But, personally speaking, as a white person, you know, I’ve got different social privileges and resources that I’m able to use. And so being able to mobilize a lot of the social capital I have and then add that with a layer of saying, “Oh, and actually I do fully believe that we should abolish the police and abolish prisons and implement transformative justice frameworks.” Doing that doesn’t really pose much of a risk to me. And it makes this entire project a lot more legible. And I do feel like there’s been a big concern I’ve seen in a lot of anarchist communities about being authentic with our politics. You know, there’s sort of been an emphasis that I’ve experienced of people, maybe downplaying their politics and trying to more just live their politics directly through the actions they do. And that’s important. Of course that’s important. But I do think that we’re in a very different moment right now. And you’re right that I think it’s a bit of a sink or swim time.
Yeah. Yeah, I think that we even see this—like, to take anarchism out of it for a second—like Antifa Or, you know, antifascism. Like, they really tried to Red Scare that shit really fucking hard in the past couple years. And it clearly worked for a large minority of the population, right? Antifa is like, code for terrorists to a huge chunk of the population, but only a minority of the population. And I think it’s the reason is only a minority population is that so many people of all walks of life were just like, “What? Yeah, that’s normal. It’s totally normal to be against fascism.” And like, watching Richard Spencer get punched and then having the whole world just be like, “Ya know, that tracks. I dunno. Punch white supremacists. That make sense to me,” And so when we refuse to—when we when we’re about what we’re about, like, I think it fucking helps. Yeah.
Yeah, absolutely. And, I mean, again, I want to just go back to security culture having risk management as one of its core goals and aims. And I come from a background of doing a lot of, like, large management-type projects, where I interact with all these sort of tools that get developed in like the business world or the nonprofit world for making decisions. It’s actually a really helpful, like, resource bin to go and get stuff from. And one of those tools is a risk matrix. So it’s basically a graph where you have likelihood of something happening on one side, and then severity if this thing did happen or, you know, negative impact if this thing did happen. And then you can kind of plot different scenarios on their, on how likely they are to happen versus the negative impact. So the likelihood of the problem versus the severity of the problem helps us make decisions about how to approach all those problems. So like one thing would be driving is something that we do every day, it happens very frequently, and the possibility of you getting into a car crash would have really high, you know, potentially lethal consequences. And so as a result, car companies put all of this energy into safety mechanisms and airbags and all that. So thinking about this in security context situation, by actually quantifying, by explicitly naming the different potential outcomes of the work we’re doing and the risks associated with them, I think it helps us visualize it more. And so the risk of us being authentic about our politics, and of then experiencing state repression, seems like a very high impact risk. And so we are risk adverse to that, or I historically have been risk adverse to being authentic about my politics. But the much higher likelihood—although lower risk—much higher likelihood outcome, is that being isolated, and not being able to build our movements has resulted in anarchism being socially isolated historically and, you know, of neoliberalism or centrist regimes being able to just marginalize them invisiblize these groups. And I know that these are things that we’ve already been talking about, but I think that that same sort of risk matrix can help us similarly with maybe smaller decisions. If we’re making a decision about what types of actions we feel comfortable personally engaging in during a campaign, you know, we can think about, okay, these are the different frameworks that we have for what capacity the local police have, the amount of surveillance that we feel we’re being under, the likelihood of this action succeeding, and actually being able to graph all these things can help us make informed decisions in a way that just thinking about or just talking about it, sometimes you can get lost.
Another tool that I really appreciate using a little bit is kind of on that same note, it’s the spectrum of risk. I think it came from CrimethInc, but it talks about different vulnerabilities of actions to state repression. Or like different levels of, like, illicit-ness of actions. So, you know, from the most mainstream and acceptable of a permitted march to, you know, the most nefarious, evil, militant anarchist thing you can imagine, and a whole spectrum in between them. And then for those different actions or activities, there’s a different accompanying level of security discretion that we can use where with the mainstream march, you want to be as public as possible about it, because your objective is to get the message out, to get people out to make a big strong showing. Whereas with the evil, nefarious nighttime plot, you don’t want any public attention on it whatsoever until it’s completed.
Theoretically, you know, whatever the objectives are. And again, a whole spectrum in the middle. And so, especially at this time, is showing us the strength of popular movements getting hundreds of 1000s of people out in the street, I do think that we’re leaning maybe more towards the wanting to be public side of things. And if we’re using security tools, if we’re using discretion that limits the reach, then we’re actually inflicting harm upon ourselves by being overly cautious. And so we are then engaging in, again, the isolation that counterintelligence is trying to inflict on us the whole time.
Yeah, and then—sorry, it’s like every—I’m thinking about all this shit wile are you talking about this stuff. I was gonna make a joke earlier while you were talking about how, like, what, no, we shouldn’t just make decisions about what crimes to commit based on peer pressure. And then I kind of, like, get lost in this rabbit hole, where I’m thinking about how like so much of our movement historically bases its decisions on what crimes to commit, basically, by peer pressure, which you could also call social capital, or whatever, you know. And I was thinking about in the context of, like, you know, you and I addressing the fact that like, “Hey, anyone listening to this, like, don’t fucking take our word for it.” Like, I really like that the way that you’re describing security culture is a set of tools that people can use to make their own decisions about what risks they want to do—they want to tolerate personally. And I actually think that a security culture tool might be basically, like, if you feel like you’re being peer pressured into committing a crime, that’s a huge red flag, right? Like, so many of the different infiltrations that have happened, you know—the FBI fucking loves infiltrating radical movements of different types, especially at the moment Islam, you know, like, what it considers, like, Islamic movements or whatever—and manufacturing criminals to then, you know, persecute, right? You know, there’s been so many instances of a lot of the actions that people go down for were always the FBI idea in the first place. And one of the main tools, I think, that that happens through is social pressure. And basically, like, I’m now turning this into the ad of like, where like, the kid walks up and is like, “Come on, man, don’t you wanna be cool and, like, do drugs or whatever?” Like, no do drugs only if you want to do drugs, and if you want to do drugs, that’s fucking cool. If you want to commit crimes, like, you know, whatever, think about the ethics of your actions. Make your decisions based on ethics and risk, not based on crime. Crime just affects the risk part of it. And I don’t know, yeah, just like fuckin—like way too often when I meet, like, younger radicals, I just kind of want to be like, “Look, like, I’m not saying be careful but, like, be a little bit careful. And like, don’t jump off a bridge because your best friends that you met two months ago are doing it.” You know?
Yeah. And I think a healthy way of doing that is really cultivating a good self-awareness of what your skills and your experience and your acceptable level of involvement is with different kinds of activities and of what you are willing to participate in, you know, ahead of time as much as possible. And being really secure in that and not feeling peer pressure. And again, I think it’s easiest and healthiest if we’re able to do this in our movement of making that norm established from the get-go in a really clearly articulated way of we’re respecting each other’s boundaries over what they do or do not want to participate in. And we aren’t going to encourage people to do things that they’re not comfortable in. But also being able to know what feels right or what feels wrong, having that situational awareness of, “Oh, this feels off to me.” And being able to trust our gut instinct, or at least—or at least listen to our gut instinct—at least, you know, give it the time to think about the impact. Because, you know, because—and I do want to again say that, um, you know, I’ve made poor decisions, solely listening to my gut instinct and not thinking about the other power dynamics that were at play. And that’s a real thing, too. But situational awareness and tracking how a situation feels is a big way that our bodies intuitively know to manage risk. I mean, we’re living creatures who have existed in a risky world. And we do have ways that we know how to move through that world and keep ourselves safe. And obviously, we’re in a totally different context. But trying to tap in to our intuitions is a really helpful way. And I think, you know, again, that goes a lot back to people already practicing security culture on a regular basis, especially people who have experienced trauma or who are targeted by violence and brutality, having a heightened awareness of their surroundings and of the risks that they’re being exposed to, and making decisions in a much more intentional and active way than someone who is not at all needing to think about those things because they come from a social location and a privileged background that has insulated them.
Could you—like basically saying that, like, if you’re a rich kid, you’re a lot more—you’re a lot safer from—a rich kid, or white or, you know, have different sets of privileges, you’re less at risk with the decisions that you’re making is that…?
Um, well, a little bit. I mean, I am saying, if you’re a rich white kid, you should go commit crime.
I am saying that people who have experienced marginalization and brutality, you know, oftentimes will have more situational awareness and will have just like a more natural set of security practices that they’re doing to keep themselves safe than someone who hasn’t experienced those things. And so being able to cultivate that awareness of what we’re interacting with, with who we’re interacting with, with our read on the situation, if something feels out of place, if there’s a car parked behind the march with unmarked license plates, that looks brand new, and it’s got tinted windows, and “Oh, that seems out of place. I wonder if I should keep an eye on that because it’s either an undercover cop or a right wing vigilante who’s about to drive into the crowd.”
You know, that is security culture and cultivating that awareness of who we’re interacting with and how we’re interacting with and the different risks is an important tool to just integrate into our everyday practice.
No, I like tha. I like this idea that being, like, conscious—like as like a personal security culture technique or whatever—being conscious about what’s happening and being conscious about your own choice in the decision or whatever… [Sighs] What am I trying to say? It’s like, the people who do shit because they’re swept up in it—it’s okay to be swept up in what’s happening sometimes, right? And I’m not trying to say like, never, like, go with the crowd. Because sometimes also, like going with the crowd’a literally the safest thing. Like, even if like—like, sometimes when all your friends are jumping off a bridge you should probably fucking jump off a bridge. Like, because if you chose your friends carefully—like sometimes I pick—I think about how I like pick my friends very carefully. And so therefore, sometimes I trust their judgment more than my own. And sometimes solidarity, like, requires that. But if you’re doing shit just because you’re swept up in it, especially a crowd of strangers, especially something you’re new to. It’s not as good of a scene. And also like the people who do that are like literally more likely to roll. Like, you know, some of the people that I’ve seen turn state’s evidence after, you know, felony arrests or whatever are the people who were just, like, kind of in it for the social capital, they were in it as a social scene. They were, like, you know, like, “Oh, I guess all my friends are an anarchist so I’m an anarchist too,” or whatever the fuck, you know? Which is a great way to start getting involved in radical politics is, like, pick cool friends. And, you know, they do cool shit, break the law, breaking the laws, cool. I think I’m allowed to?—I don’t know, whatever. And, but the people who don’t mean it, I don’t trust them as much. And I worry about, like, expressing who I do and don’t trust on this show because, like, I just don’t trust anyone. But that works for me, but apparently it doesn’t work for most people. So, but okay, to run with this paranoia thing for a minute: Like, one of the reasons I think that way is that, like, you know, when I first got involved in political activism or whatever, you know, I was involved in forest defense community in the Pacific Northwest. And I went to some of the last meetings of this particular forest defense crew. And they were just like, tree sitters and shit, right? It was like, it was illegalism but it’s, like, above ground illegalism. Like people who sit in a tree are, like, “Hey, I fuckin sit in trees.” You know? Like, that’s like, one thing I’ll like admit to, right? I’ve like sat in trees. And so it’s not—they’re not, like, the super sketchy arsonists or whatever running around at night. They’re not the ELF. But they certainly were infiltrated as though they were. And I went to some of the last meetings of this organization because I joined it near the end of its time. And then during a FOIA request—a Freedom of Information Act request where you send off to the government and say, “Please give us information about this.” Or maybe it was during court discovery, I can’t remember which—it came out that, like, I think about 3 out of 8 or 9 people in that meeting were informants or cops of one style or another. And so it’s just like, okay. 30% of the people in this movement are informants, you know? And that is, like, the wrong sample to pick from, right? Very few movements—there certainly have been movements that have been as heavily infiltrated as this—but most social movements are not as heavily infiltrated as the environmental movement was during the early 00s. But… I don’t know. I don’t know why I’m talking about that. I’m not specifically—
No, that’s, um, that’s an important point of—I mean, tracking, that not only is it the immediate moment, that you’re doing whatever action you’re trying to protect through security culture, that discretion is important, but that it’s something that you’re then carrying with you forever.
And, you know, whatever we want to say about statute of limitations or not, the point is that once you do something that you don’t want to talk about, you should be fully prepared to not talk about that forever.
Forever. And I think that’s part of the process that maybe gets overlooked. Again, when we’re checking in with ourselves about what our boundaries are, what we’re comfortable doing and what we’re able to do sustainably, think about, am I able to do this and am I able to then hold that with me and not be able to express, you know, “Oh, this specific thing that I did at this specific time gave me this lasting feeling that I really want to process through.” And I think that’s a really important and so so so frequently overlooked part is that we need to be prepared to be continuing our security culture practices indefinitely onwards.
And so building in some rituals or some practices or some ways of being able to process through the intensity of what happened or to process through grief or honor that experience is I think, a really cool possibility to see emerge out of security culture becoming more sustainable.
Yeah. Yeah, because it can—otherwise it can kind of sit in you and just make you, like… Yeah, I think that people don’t recognize that when you make certain decisions you make are—especially younger people, she said, sometimes don’t realize that, like, actions are permanent, you know? Or, like, decisions you make have permanent impacts, which actually, we forget about in the other direction, too. I think sometimes we forget that, like, the fires we light today are beacons for the future, you know, whatever. Don’t start fires do whatever—I’m not trying to tell people what to fucking do. But like, it can—you know, it’s like interesting to realize that you’re also, like, part of fucking making history too, you know. And so the decisions we make have permanent impacts in positive and negative and more complicated than that ways.
Absolutely. And I think that’s something that I lean in frequently of using security culture in the most dry, analytical way possible, of just thinking about this as a tool to mitigate risk. And that’s such a cool thing to also be thinking about the activities we’re involved in in the totally idealistic and romantic and visionary ways that they also are. And so security culture, by being so methodical and being able to give me that basis of security to act from, then allows me to be able to like fantasize about the world that I want to be a part of, and not be enmeshed in anxiety or paranoia over how the state is going to respond to me enacting that.
Yeah, that makes sense. Yeah, I think that having good security cultural practices is a good way to—well it’s like prepping in general, right? Like, I have my to go bag or whatever. And it’s not so that I can sit around and, like, freak out about what to do if the forest, I mean, catches fire, which is the most likely scenario by which I would need my go bag, right? But I now mostly put the thought of the fear of that out of my head, because I’ve done roughly the best I can. I have roughly what I would need, if that were the case. And in terms of, like, you know, having the pretense of being a revolutionist or whatever, just inherently by calling myself an anarchist, I—there’s a, there is a certain amount of risk, like, you know, I remember trying to explain it to someone that I was like, yeah, if Antifa is designated a domestic terrorist organization or whatever, like, even though I don’t do shit, that could really directly impact me personally, because I’m very public about, you know, my beliefs, right? And—but I can’t worry about that. And so what I can do instead is come up with my best practices, put them into place, and then be like, you know, not wash my hands of it, but like, basically be like, “Alright, I’m doing the best I can on that front,” and, like, yeah, if Biden lives up to his campaign promise of, like, prosecuting anarchists, like, that might impact me, you know. I don’t know, we’ll see. Like—but that’s not within my control. And like, I—what’s within my control is to just, like, you know, know who knows about when I graffiti-ed something in 2002, which I didn’t do. I literally didn’t. It’s just a—I’m just trying to come up with a bullshit thing I can say on the show.
Yeah, but to just drive it home all the time. I mean that’s, and that’s great. And what you’re doing is you’re alleviating that possible concern or anxiety over not being prepared for the forest fire by just always being prepared for the forest fire.
You know, you’re just mitigating that risk ahead of time. And that’s opening you up to being able to do what you really want to be doing safely and not being concerned about all the time because it’s just your standard operating procedure.
Yeah. Yeah. And then the other thing too with like security culture is just like we also have to make sure it doesn’t give us a false sense of safety. And I think you brought this up earlier, but if there’s like a point I want to like drive home as we’re probably, you know, winding down or whatever is just, like, this isn’t safe, right? But honestly, like, choosing to believe in revolution feels like the better when I look at the, like, the cost/benefit analysis. Like, it’s safer to—like, we’re more likely to survive to be old if we fucking overthrow capitalism and like halt climate change, you know? Even if it, like, brings with it short term risk.
Yeah. It’s up to us to live.
I guess I want to just end on some very specific, concrete things to do for security. This has been really great to talk with you about the overall picture, which I think oftentimes is missing. But it would feel a little remiss to not say some specifics like—
One, don’t cooperate with the police. Don’t talk with law enforcement. You know, you have a right to remain silent, you have a right to a lawyer, don’t answer questions, don’t answer questions about your friends. Just be silent.
And a great way to get more comfortable with that is to practice, you know, practice not answering a direct question from police. It’s socially awkward, it takes energy. Also, you know, researching know your rights trainings, which are readily available online. And being more informed about some of the safeties that you do have, or some of the ways that you can interact with that is really important. That just feels like the foundational thing: don’t talk to cops. Another simple thing would just be, you know, with so much going on digitally because of the pandemic, there’s just been a lot going on through Zoom and Facebook and Google. And you should just always assume anything going on over social media or over a large email server is publicly available to right wing vigilantes and to the police. So, as best as you can, try to normalize using encrypted messaging like Signal, or encrypted email like Riseup or Proton Mail just for everything, not just for your activism. And even then don’t share things online or over Signal that you wouldn’t want read back to you in a courtroom in a criminal hearing.
And, you know, ultimately I think that just staying abreast as much as possible and reading about counterinsurgency and about state repression and learning about how movements historically have responded is probably the best way to set yourself up. And so I compiled a bunch of resources that I found very helpful historically. Maybe you could list them in the show notes for people. But there’s some great—there’s some great manuals, both constructed by the state about how to implement counterinsurgency and how to manage popular movements, and then also lots of great books just looking at how social movements have resisted that and continue to win.
Okay, is there any other—any other thing that we didn’t talk about that we should have?
You know, there’s a lot of talk of operational security in the prepper world, which is kind of the closest thing I found to right-winger security, culture, and timing and time again I’m just so surprised how, at the end of the day, their solution to security risks comes through stockpiling ammunition and being prepared to shoot your way out of any situation. And the thing that I love about being part of this community is how much of a focus we have on relationships and on community. And ultimately, I do think we get our security from each other. You know, we’re only as strong as we’re able to be with each other. And being able to work through conflict and being able to work with each other safely to create the kind of world is so much more transformative than stockpiling ammunition and dehydrated food in your basement.
And, you know, at the same time, there’s a lot of great stuff to be found through right-wing and prepper communities on operational security. That’s especially a huge topic in military intelligence realms and is well worth researching. Also, again, looking at situational awareness tools and techniques, which is another big hub used by various prepper and right wing groups. Looking up different risk management tools, which is, you know, a huge field developed by like business leaders and techies and nonprofits. There’s a lot of tools out there and we can apply them to do the good work that we need to be doing.
That makes sense. Yeah, one of the—you know, just like reading about, um, just to continue with the like, the only way out is through kind of concept sometimes is I read about—when you’re talking about how, like, the main way to stay safe is relationships, right? Like solidarity has always been our strongest weapon. And in a very, like, practical, direct way, even down to like when revolutionists all go to jail for trying to have a revolution, the main thing that gets them out of jail again is that when other people keep trying to have a revolution, and whether that revolution wins and frees the prisoners, or whether, basically, the existing system is like, “Oh fuck oh fuck oh fuck. Maybe if we let some of these people out they’ll like, you know.” With the Frederick Douglass quote, “Power concedes nothing without a demand,” you know?
And yeah, just not abandoning people when they’re inside or not abandoning people, just period, is our best bet even as individuals to stay safe.
Okay, so final thoughts?
I’m just happy to be able to be on here and share some of the tools that I’ve learned. But I really want to say I’m not an expert. And if you’re in a different situation than me, you’ve got different tools to use, you’ve got different lessons to learn. You know, this is what we make of it. And I’m really excited to see the ways that people are going to continue to adapt these tools for their own circumstances.
Yeah, totally. All right. Well, thanks so much for being on the show. Thank you so much for listening. If you enjoyed this podcast you should tell people about it, because it’s not a security culture that—I was supposed to try and make a joke about how it’s, like, security culture as relates to telling people about things about the podcast, but I don’t know how to land it. So I won’t tell that joke. But you can tell people about the podcast and that would mean a lot. And people have been doing that and that means a lot to me. If you want to support the podcast more directly, you can do so by following me on Patreon. My Patreon is patreon.com/margaretkilljoy. And if you support me at any level, you get a bunch of access to zines and music and me writing, “I’m sorry I’m late on the following things” notes to you all that are painfully earnest and heartfelt. And if you support me at $10, I’ll mail you a zine. If you support me at $20, I’ll shout out your name in a minute like I’m about to shout out people’s names in a minute. But also, if you live off of less money than I make on Patreon, please don’t give your money to me. Give your money to yourself, because you need it more than I do. And if you want access to the content that I make that’s behind that pay wall, just contact me and you can have access to that. You can contact me in general. You can contact me on Instagram, which is Instagram @margaretkilljoy, or I’m @magpiekilljoy on Twitter. Don’t follow me on Facebook. I have—I hate Facebook. I use it. But it’s weird. I don’t know. I mean, they’re all weird. You’re not really waiting for me to talk about social media, you’re waiting for me to end the episode. So in particular I would like to thank Eleanor and Mike and Satara and Kat J, The Compound, Shane, Christopher, Sam, Natalie, Willow, Kirk, Hoss the dog, Nora, and Chris. Yeah, you all make this possible in a way that warms my heart and the aforementioned embarrassingly heartfelt and earnest ways. Anyway, thank you all so much for listening and I hope you’re doing as well as you can with everything that’s going on. And we keep us safe.