The Ottawa Convoy

That trucker convoy in Ottawa, huh? 

Anti-vaccine sentiment is the lingua franca of right-wing politics, and militant organizations are actively seeking to capitalize on it, and it’s inane but also true to state that none of this would have gone very far without a media conglomerate hammering home talking points and directing resources towards mass action.

COVID has been a gift to the right, in that it forced the development of policies that affect essentially everyone, everywhere. In the aftermath of the 2020 election and the conspiracy theories Trump circulated regarding his loss it would be weird if right-wing COVID activism wasn’t happening. 

In this context, what has occurred is essentially a gigantic right wing miscegenation in which the GOP, the populist MAGA base, and the far right can no longer be distinguished. Looking back on the “Unite the Right” protest of 2017, it is unclear why the alt-right folks bothered (except in terms of self-aggrandizement, which they failed at). Their positions were already mainstreamed as subtext and it was more effective to leave them beneath the surface, and it’s still the case that MAGA activists want those further to the right to shut the fuck up and let them drive. 

An anecdote in support of this position: An organizer of protests against curriculum at public schools states on a Telegram channel that I follow that the Proud Boys intend to start attending school board meetings. This organizer, emphatically, wants members of his organization to strongly discourage anyone in Proud Boys colors from attending, up to and including barring them from entry physically. 

So, they are image conscious. It’s always possible that they simply think that Fred Perrys are pretentious and that wearing anything other than 50/50 cotton weave Blue Lives Matter t-shirts is the act of an irredeemable sissy, but I don’t think that’s what this is about. I think it’s about knowing that their group is high-profile, that image is always delicate, and that they need to police themselves to remain palatable. Because who knows what lurks in the dark hearts of anti-vax soccer moms? They might be excited at the prospect of someone getting curb-stomped by a thirty year-old dad who’s only allowed to see his kid with a social worker present, or it might cause them to question just how living, laughing, and loving a five-on-one assault is. 

My observations of the right mostly come about from watching Telegram channels and Facebook pages that organizations in my area utilize. At first I was concerned that reading these would destroy me spiritually and make me feel paranoid but it’s been empowering to learn about how they think and how they operate, and there are occasional instances of ‘self-owning’ that are very funny. I’m somewhat disappointed at the lack of trolling that I see, because the earnest participants in these channels hate to disagree with anything that looks like something they would say, even if it’s eye-wateringly stupid and maybe a joke. There’s gold there, funny people. Why aren’t you mining it? 

I’m sure you can imagine the thrill that the Ottawa blockade prompted in these forums. They were ecstatic. They loved that it was ‘truckers’ doing this, those fierce owner-operators of the open road (I didn’t see much discussion of where the folks who drive the Amazon delivery vans were) and they couldn’t handle how awesome it was when a bunch of boomers on horses showed up. They called them ‘cowboys’, which I’m almost certain is not what they were. 

And it was upon observing this love-in that I realized that any future efforts to bring MAGA folks back into the fold of serious human endeavor should only be undertaken by people who Johnny Cash wrote songs about, or were a thing that a four year-old boy would have played with in a sandbox in 1985. So, the first line in this propaganda effort would be soldiers, cowboys and truckers, and the second line would be spacemen, guys who murder their wives, and pieces of cat shit. 

Observing the discussions of Ottawa forced me to reflect on where all of this was going organizationally. Because I’ve been part of protests that successfully shut down major cities, and while a movement’s protest tactics can be quite successful, its victories can contribute less than nothing to a broader strategy. To whit: Seattle in 1999 was a complete success as a protest action, and it did absolutely nothing to advance the politics that we espoused. 

One of the things that I have observed in regard to these protests is that they are severely constrained in terms of thought and action by the fact that they cannot utter the word ‘capitalism’ without being eaten by their own. So, when the Ambassador Bridge was blockaded, and a major artery of post-NAFTA auto production choked, they weren’t able to evaluate their own power. Though if they had, they might have arrived at interesting conclusions. The ‘Just-In-Time’ production of contemporary auto manufacturing developed as a response to the power of auto workers’ unions, and if there were sufficient institutional memory on the right they might have considered their own opposition to NAFTA, almost three decades later. The secret at the heart of their politics is a sad, twisted and abused class struggle. 

Reactionary organizers in the US saw Ottawa and committed an error that many grassroots organizers blunder into: They said “Oh shit,  that worked, we should do that again!” without stopping to figure out whether it mattered that it worked. 

And so many of them went on to decide that it would be a good idea to organize a convoy converging on LA during the Super Bowl, which fell apart rapidly, and the possibility that someone might have been pragmatic enough NOT to do that upsets me, because that is one truly and epically dumb idea. Traffic in LA already doesn’t move, and there are about a million truck routes over a sprawling megalopolis. Apparently they’re going to attempt to do a similar thing converging on DC in late February, but I’m skeptical. 

Watching the early discussions for a similar blockade in the US was interesting, as they were occurring while the Ottawa protest was still going on. I am well-accustomed to right-wing cheerleading of the cops while they beat up protesters. There is no group of people currently alive in the US who are more excited about impunity than the MAGA crowd. So it was interesting to watch them decide that it was time to kill cops the moment that the possibility of someone getting a ticket in Ottawa raised its head. I felt as though I had told a child that Santa Claus didn’t exist and then saw that he’d shot up a mall later in the day. 

And this is another point at which the inability to say ‘capitalism’ will hamstring these groups. They will constantly run up against a thing that they cannot name and a phenomenon that they cannot analyze. Neoliberal managerialism or populist laissez faire is way more syllables than they want to deal with, but failing to see that they are contending not with monolithic ideologies (the libs vs. the patriots) but with different approaches to managing the global economy promulgated by different groups of people who all go to the same tailor will (I hope) keep them covered in wool and waiting to be shorn. But maybe this won’t matter. Fascism doesn’t need anyone to understand anything.  

Those of us in opposition should understand the foundational ethic that holds the political right together: They see large swathes of the working class as parasites and are very open about wanting them dead. This is not an exaggeration. It gets expressed in oblique ways much of the time, but it still gets expressed. This thinking extends to any part of the working class that is engaged in any sort of struggle against the conditions of labor under capitalism in 2022.

Immigrants? Shoot them on the border. Leave them at sea to sink. It’s terrible if they’re working, and also terrible if they don’t work. Either way, if they die on the job they’re getting what they deserve. Those kids in detention centers dying of the flu? They should have stayed where they were. 

The workers picketing outside of Kellog’s? They should go find other work if they don’t like the pay, and if such a job doesn’t exist, well, they should have thought of that when they were gestating in their mother’s womb. A minimum wage of $15 an hour is an extravagant crime, and if they don’t want to work for less we should bus in prison labor to get it done. 

People saddled with debt? They should work it off in the worst imaginable conditions. There is no public benefit to the development of knowledge, scientific or otherwise, and art is useless. Ted Nugent plays the guitar well and he didn’t go to college. 

Those receiving public benefits? They should be homeless. Those who are homeless should die. Those who are dead should go unmourned. 

This is a partisanship of misery. 

This is not hyperbole. The guiding belief of right-wing politics is that people have it too good, and this is making them unwilling to work at the right thing for the right amount of money. If things were harder they would need to work harder and hard work for private capital is morally correct. There are people bilking the system and that is the cause of every social ill, for which the only cure is authority. 

And so to comment on a movement that conflates their enemies with the forces of Nazism, I think it’s appropriate to consider the words above the gates of Auschwitz: “Work sets you free.” 

Can these people be recuperated? I hope so. They are a significant swathe of the class and they are at once dangerous and tragic in their current position. And I don’t think political defeat will be enough in the short term. They will attribute any policy setback to a figure lurking in the shadows, and will double down on their belief in false saviors and demagogues. If there was a meaningful way of interrupting their single greatest organizational asset, Fox News, it would go a long way toward making an opening for such a project, but that is very unlikely to happen. 

Do we have the capacity to launch a useful propaganda effort against this? I don’t know. And it needs to be said that the most transparent and graceless pandering lands incredibly well with this demographic. I don’t want our choices to come down to either lying well or telling the truth poorly.

And so I’ll close with a burning questions that I have for this commonplace person: What kind of world do you want to live in? What does paradise look like? Who had to be killed to make it through the gates? If the best that you can imagine is a more cruel iteration of the present, then what exactly is the point of your presence on this planet, or of human life at all? 

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