State Terrorism: ICE and the Left’s Response

All Hell Breaks Loose

In early April, 97 people working in a Tennessee meat processing plant were detained by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement in the largest operation since the Presidency of George W. Bush. This comes after over 100 7-11 stores were raided in immigration stings throughout the country last January. Donald Trump, campaigning on code-word ridden promises to bring ‘law and order’ to the United States, has targeted America’s 11 million undocumented immigrants for deportations using terror to send a message to others who might consider migrating to the United States.

Many of the cases of deportations under Trump’s ICE are particularly heart-wrenching.

  • After living in the US for more than 20 years, Buba Janni, father of two (Nalia, 5, and Aisha, 1) with another one on the way, was deported to Gambia. Janni was originally considered “undeportable” because his home country would not provide him with travel documents. He was thus ordered to report to an immigration offer every year and obtain work authorization, which had done for over 10 years, however, when he reported for his annual immigration appointment on February 15th, Janni, who has never been convicted of a crime, was taken to a detention center in Sierra Blanca, Texas to be deported.
  • Salina Sakander, who had lived in the United States for more than 20 years, was deported on the night of her daughter’s prom. She cried with her 17-year-old daughter during her last hours in the country.
  • Ricardo Rodriguez, who was wrongly convicted and imprisoned for the murder of a homeless man, was freed after 20 years in prison. As part of his sentencing, Rodriguez had lost the permanent residence permit that he had legally obtained. Once the case was thrown out, however, and Rodriguez was released, he was immediately arrested by ICE as an  “undocumented immigrant” and currently faces deportation.
  • On February 8th, ICE agents illegally arrested an asylum applicant named Omer Abdelmaed after appearing for an interview at a US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) office in San Francisco. Abdelmaed’s asylum application was based on his fear for returning to his native Sudan where he had been arrested and tortured. His attorney, Caleb Arring, explained in a Facebook post that as they were leaving, “someone who I assume is a supervisor at the asylum office came in with 3-4 ICE Officers. The ICE Officers put handcuffs on my client and said they were taking him into custody. I asked why. At first they wouldn’t even answer me.”
  • Syed Ahmed Jamal, a chemistry professor of Bangladeshi origin, was arrested in front of his house while taking his daughter to school. The father of three (aged 7, 12, and 14), who has lived in the country for 30 years, is now being held 160 miles away in a Missouri prison. The oldest child wrote on Facebook that, “My little brother cries every night, my sister can’t focus in school, and I cannot sleep at night.”
  • Denis Riveria, a student at Stephen Austin High School, was detained by police and turned over to ICE who detained the teenager in prison for weeks. The student was accepted at two Texas universities for computer science but now he is facing deportation.
  • 30-year-old Jesus Berrones, who has lived in the US since he was one year old, had his request to stay in the country rejected by immigration. The request was made to care for his young child who is sick with leukemia and is currently undergoing chemotherapy.
  • A twenty-three-year-old asylum seeker attempted suicide after exposing cases of rampant sexual abuse by guards in a for-profit detention center owned by CoreCivic. Despite having spoken out about these crimes, she was subsequently required to eat in the same cafeteria of a guard who molested her several times.

“I feel very desperate because I tried to report the abuse from ICE and facility officials, but they continue to psychologically abuse me through intimidation.”

While the Presidency of Barack Obama is particularly known for its high number of deportations, ICE under the “deporter-in-chief’ mainly targeted migrants attempting to cross over the border. With these numbers, Obama clearly ended up deporting more immigrants than both his predecessor and his successor. However, if we are to look at deportations from the interior (those who have lived in the United States), Trump’s numbers outstrip Obama’s by an extra 15,000 in 2017. The Pew Research Center estimates that as of 2014, 66% of undocumented immigrants had resided in the United States for a period of 10 years or more, while only 14% had lived in the United States for less than 5. More than 8/10 of all undocumented immigrants are believed to be active in the workplace.

 

A Terrorist Organization

Trump’s immigration policy is more than an effort to deport undocumented immigrants from the United States, it is a fully orchestrated plan to instill terror in the immigrant community in order to send a message to foreign immigrants to dissuade them from entering. Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly practically stated as much in an interview with CNN when he laid out the administration’s policy on deterring immigration, which involved separating children from their parents while the parents remained in detention centers around the country.

“I would do almost anything to deter the people from Central America getting on this very, very dangerous network that brings them up from Mexico.”

One such case occurred to asylum applicant Ms. L, who fled with her 7-year-old daughter from the Democratic Republic of Congo. Several days upon arriving and being cleared as a “credible-fear” candidate for asylum, she was detained by ICE officials who separated her from her daughter for a period of four months until they were reunited last March after public outcry. The ACLU complaint claims that “Ms. L could hear her daughter in the next room frantically screaming that she wanted to remain with her mother.”

The Homeland Security Investigations manual states that it is ICE policy not to make arrests in “sensitive locations”, but despite this, ICE agents have staked out courthouses, school bus stops, and hospitals. Countless immigrants, following the legal track put down by past administrations, have been detained at their scheduled meetings with immigration officers. ICE agents have been entering the residencies of alleged undocumented immigrants without search warrants. They have even posed as Amazon workers to try and sneak into university residences. No qualifications prevent one from being removed from the country; not a lack of a criminal record or that one has children (or is a child for that matter), or is a veteran, or has resided in the country their entire life. The idea is to send a message to the others.

Take the example of Perla Morales-Luna who got a visit two plain clothes and one uniformed ICE agent who detained her and forcefully put her into a patrol vehicle in front of her three screaming children. Morales-Luna does not have a criminal record but was “suspected” of being a part of a transnational human smuggling network and was arrested without any charges being presented against them.

In fact, the justice system is so clogged with deportation cases that detainees in many cases have to wait for months on end before they are even brought before a judge. In Oregon, immigrants are being placed in county jails while they await deportation instead of the proper facilities located in Tacoma, Washington. The Trump administration is also preparing to send detained migrant children who have been separated from their parents to military bases across the country.

is-this-a-picture-of-ices-special-prison-bus-for-babies

ICE Contractor Geo Group Inc.’s New “Transport Buses” for Minors

Once in ICE possession, the children, now separated from their parents have become the victims of brutal degradation. A Senate subcommittee found in April that, beginning under the Obama administration, federal officials have “lost track” of nearly 1,500 of those placed in the custody of adult sponsors, some of which were handed to human traffickers. The ACLU has concluded after uncovering 4,500 pages of Homeland Security documents from 2009-2014 that ICE has been physically, sexually and psychologically abusing minors held in ICE facilities.

“Children describe excessive force: being stomped on, punched, kicked, run over with vehicles, tased, and forced to maintain stress positions by CBP officials. Minors also report verbal abuse: being called a “dog,” “piece of crap, son of a bitch,” and “prostitute,” and being told they “contaminate this country.” In complaints, children describe being deprived of edible food and potable water and held in freezing and unsanitary cells with inadequate bedding and no access to personal hygiene items. Children report being threatened with rape and death, being told to remove their clothing before they are subjected to questioning, and being touched inappropriately by CBP officials.”

The ACLU further reports that ICE has requested that the National Archives and Record Administration (NARA) accept a new timetable for retaining and destroying records related to their detention programs in a veiled attempt to destroy the paper trail of evidence leading to mass human rights abuses and constitutional infringements.

The state of California has become the focus of the federal government’s attempt to tear undocumented families from their homes. California’s sanctuary laws make it illegal for companies to provide employees’ work information to federal agents without a warrant and only allow state agencies to share information with ICE if the suspect is convicted of a felony. Last March, Trump announced that he would be adding a question to the national census asking respondents whether they are a citizen or not which would put immigrants in these states at risk of being located.

In Late February, ICE officials detained over 150 undocumented workers all over Northern California, and have continued their efforts, knocking on doors and arresting those unable to produce proper immigration documents, in many cases imitating police officers. They claim that if the Mayor of Oakland had not issued a last-minute warning, another 800 could have been arrested. Thomas Homan, the Acting Director of ICE, told reporters that 846 “criminal aliens” still remained in the city because of the mayor’s “irresponsible decision.” Democratic House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi later criticized Homan, saying that Trump has decided to “abuse the legal system to push his mass deportation agenda.” Homan shot back that if she did not approve of the job being done, she could “certainly change the law” while reminding her that she had voted in favor of the 1996 Immigration Control and Financial Responsibility Act that grants ICE these powers.

Trump’s use of terror to make life untenable for immigrants, forcing them to leave or remain abroad is not a new policy by any means. More “moderate” neoconservative Republicans like Mitt Romney laid the grounds for this policy enabling many of Trump’s major platform priorities. In a recent interview, he flatly stated as much:

“I’m also more of a hawk on immigration than even the president. My view was these DACA kids shouldn’t all be allowed to stay in the country legally.”

While attempting to run to the Right of the other Republican candidates in 2012, Romney advocated for a policy of “Self-Deportation”. While media attention focused on the ironic contradictory word choice, the idea consisted of harassing and making life so unbearable for immigrants that they would voluntarily leave the country. This has become the policy of the Trump administration, who have decided to deport anyone regardless of circumstances, dangerous criminals or not. They have arrested parents, grandparents, family members of children with terminal illnesses, people who have lived their entire lives in the country using random, warrantless arrests outside of public places around the country. ICE is arresting more immigrants than the judicial system can currently process, so these individuals instead are sitting in detention centers while they await trial. The only major change in policy from the Obama to the Trump administration has been the application of terrorism to force immigrants to leave.

The immigration fight has never been a progressive one within the Democratic Party. While Democrats failed the dreamers, they were willing to trade their status for Trump’s draconian immigration reforms, increased militarization of the border and the crackdown on immigrants in the US. While Trump’s Republican Party terminated the DACA program put in place by his predecessor, the Democrats have done nothing but enable them. Despite the opportunism of the few token “progressives, the Democratic Party, the great “defender” of minority voices, has left DACA recipients to the wolves. Demands for immediate protection of Dreamers was abandoned in late-January during the 60-hour budget standoff. Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer and 33 Senate Democrats voted for the continuing resolution.

“I don’t believe [McConnell] made any commitment whatsoever, and I think it would be foolhardy to believe he made a commitment,” said Senator Kamala Harris, opportunist leader in the party’s “progressive” wing.

Democrats, especially those up for reelection in states Trump won, have attempted to distance themselves from a potential government shutdown. This abandonment puts 800,000 Dreamers, individuals who arrived in the US as minors, at risk of deportation to their “home” countries. Having won his concession, Trump stated on April 1st that there would be “no more DACA deal.” Meanwhile, an overwhelming majority (76%) of the American people favor giving DACA recipients a pathway to citizenship, including 63% of Republicans. In a CBS News poll, 87% believe that the Dreamers should be allowed to remain in the country.

For his part, Bernie Sanders made no public statement concerning a raid in his home state of Vermont which led to the arrest of 14 construction workers despite being asked for help by immigrants’ rights group Migrant Justice.

Possible Arenas of Resistance

In accordance with many other Western nations, American capitalism has shed all of its ‘multiculturalist’ garbs to unveil its chauvinist core. What should be the response of Leftist groups to this crisis?

While both parties have dressed themselves up in populist rhetoric, there is still no progressive option in the Democratic Party. The liberals have focused instead on Russiagate, Trump tweets, and the Stormy Daniels affair while with the exception of the token progressives on the sidelines, have remained rather apathetic about the immigration battles going on throughout the country. The Democratic Party should not be viewed as our friend. Case and point, when Democrats failed to support the Dreamers.

Indeed, campaigning to elect certain progressive liberals to the Congress has its benefits, but only pushes us into playing the game of capital; even if the entire Democratic Party were to become essentially one large populist party, there is no way to ensure, as we witnessed in the neoliberal era starting after the 60s movement, that these reforms could last or that like the 2008 election, a swing to the far-right does not see deportations rise again. But more importantly, undocumented immigrants cannot wait for the next election. They need immediate help in the here and now.

What strategies have been the most effective? Protest groups throughout the country have been particularly successful in targeting specific institutions for the deportation of immigrants. The Muslim Ban protests, in which thousands of protesters created a wall of people outside major airports in the country, demanding immigrant detainees set free, are only the most well-known examples. In most cases, where protests were large enough, the detainees were released from the airports. In March 2017, activists in the United Kingdom were successful in canceling a scheduled mass deportation flight to Ghana and Nigeria by blocking runways at Stansted Airport. These actions were effective and were reported by the ACLU to have been concerning to Customs and Border Control. Reports were sent from major airports concerning crowd estimates, what chants were shouted, and law enforcement’s responses.

In fact, there are other vulnerabilities in this wretched institution which could be exploited. For example, if it is true that the judicial system is backed up with deportees, then targeting the courts and detention centers for protests and other forms of civil disobedience could not only pressure officials to release detainees but also disrupt and slow down the entire line of expected removal proceedings.

Certain groups have had success in bringing the fight to ICE themselves. After more than 150 undocumented immigrants were arrested in San Francisco, hundreds of locals descended on the city’s field office in protest. In Santa Ana, local activists were successful in pressuring the city council not to renew ICE’s building contract, which expires in 2020 to refuse any more immigrant detainees to be placed in their jail. In addition, if activists were able to obtain documents as to the criminal nature of ICE operations like New Leftists succeeded in doing with the FBI in 1971, this could have the significant effect of turning public opinion against them.

The Left needs to organize community networks in order to share information regarding ICE detentions and collaborate with those already existing. Resistance groups have already done work on informing immigrants of their rights when confronted by ICE agents. One of which, called the Sanctuary in the Streets (SIS) initiative, based in Massachusetts, began during the Obama administration and aims to organize a rapid response network to disrupt law enforcement. Members of the network respond to ICE sightings by bearing witness to arrests, filming, and challenging ICE protocol in order to ensure that one’s constitutional rights are upheld and promote the story on social media. Then, the network of participants is mobilized to protest the detainment.

RRN-infographic

Figure 1.1 San Francisco Rapid Response Network Structure

But realizing a plan as ambitious as this one forces us to confront an inconvenient truth that is rather unpopular with today’s generation; the implementation of such networks on a nationwide scale require a party  willing to ally itself with other like-minded groups, Marxist or not, with the intention of stopping mass deportations in a popular front-style organization. Large, organized, and enduring coalitions of protesters do not come out of nowhere. They are built up from the grassroots level and consolidated with alliances of solidarity. Considering the repressions are similar for both undocumented immigrants from down south and Muslims from Trump’s seven banned countries, cooperation between these two collections of people might be sustainable. As Karina Moreno pointed out, the two groups have different levels of socioeconomic status in society, yet both are burdened by the same liberal superstructure. These workers are not motivated by economic concessions like the rest of the proletariat are; they simply desire to live peacefully in the country without the risk of losing everything.

Finally, leftist discourse needs to do a better job of focusing on the anti-capitalist critique of migration and not simply the authoritarianism of the Trump administration. While indeed, he has the following on par with many of history’s strong-man figures, and many Alt-Right followers are either crypto or blatant fascists, we are pushing a losing strategy if the only response to Right-Wing populism is “No Fascist USA”. Fascism will not be stopped by playing “wack-a-mole”, but by explaining the market coercions and military agendas that entice people to leave their home countries and by presenting to the masses a democratic alternative to mass deportation. Otherwise, anti-fascists will continue to be seen as “violators of free speech” and the populist right will more and more be portrayed as defenders of the “American way of life”.

It is not for us to speak for those feeling the heat of US policy and dictate from a position of relative safety what measures are ‘necessary’ for success against the American state. Some tactics may be of need while others might not be correct in certain arenas of resistance. What is important, however, is that the left does whatever is necessary to serve the people. If the Left can show that they are able to defend the rights of immigrants living in this country, the people will support our movements, but if we cannot, then socialist politics will continue to be unimportant actors on a playing field tilting towards far-right hegemony.

Sources

Bacon, David. “Equality and Rights for Immigrants – the Key to Organizing Unions.” Monthly Review. 1 October, 2010. Accessed from: https://monthlyreview.org/2010/10/01/equality-and-rights-for-immigrants-the-key-to-organizing-unions/

Hing, Julianne. “For Trump, Cruelty is the Point.” The Nation. 15 March, 2018. Viewed from: https://www.thenation.com/article/for-trump-cruelty-is-the-point/

Notes on Trump (Bromma Dec. 2016 – Revised Jan. 2017). Kersplebedeb. 17 December, 2017. Viewed from: http://kersplebedeb.com/posts/notes-on-trump/

“Sanctuary in the Streets”, Pioneer Valley Workers Center. Viewed from: https://pvworkerscenter.org/sanctuary-in-the-streets/

“SF Rapid Response Network”. SFILEN. Viewed from: http://sfilen.org/resources/sf-rapid-response-network/

Moreno, Karina. “A Politics of Solidarity.” Jacobin. 11 May, 2017. Viewed from: https://www.jacobinmag.com/2017/05/immigration-donald-trump-muslims-latinos-no-ban-no-wall-no-raids

London, Eric. “The Nightmare Reality for Immigrants Across US in 2018.” World Socialist Web Site. 12 February, 2018. Viewed from: https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2018/02/12/immi-f12.html

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Trump Is Not A “White Working Class” President

On November 7, 2016, Americans went to the voting booth to choose between the two most hated Presidential candidates in US history. Throughout the night, most were expecting a Clinton victory, but what we woke up to instead was an upset of “Brexit” proportions. People were shocked, and right off the bat, the accusations were flying: Who was to blame for this ass winning? According to the mainstream media the explanation for Trump’s victory goes as follows:

Donald J. Trump won the presidency by riding an enormous wave of support among white working-class voters.

– Cohn, Nate. “Why Trump Won: Working Class Whites”. The New York Times

Ah yes! The great voting block of “backwards” white workers turned out to grant a victory for the most racist candidate we’ve seen in decades. If ever there was someone the mainstream media simply needed to scapegoat, it would be the stereotypical racist white man we know from all of our prejudiced popular cultural references. In this essay, we will address the myth of Donald Trump’s ‘white working class’ constituency.

Blame the Plebs?

According to the most basic indicators, their conclusions seem pretty straightforward:

  • White — 57% T; 37% C
  • Black — 89% C; 8% T
  • Men — 52% T; 41% C
  • White non-college graduates — 66% T; 29% C
  • Most serious issue: immigration — 66% T; 33% C
  • Small city and rural — 34% C; 61% T
  • Family financial situation worse today — 77% T; 19% C

If we just simply consider these uninformative statistics, we can’t truly learn much about the Trump voting block, but when we look at the vote tally by income, we see a different phenomenon.

Figure 1.1 Percentage of Vote by Income, The Washington Post

The ‘Under $30,000’ went to Clinton 53% to Trump’s 40% as well as the the ‘$30,000 — $49,999’ vote (52% C— 41% T). If elections were decided by the popular vote, we would be saying that it was the working class’ support for Clinton that won her the election (and indeed it would have if our ‘founders’ had not created a system where the President is not popularly elected). While we know that African-Americans are more represented in the working class as a percentage of the total population, white Americans still make up the majority of the working class at around 60%. From this, we can assume that a large amount of ‘working class whites’ also cast their vote for Clinton.

Also, another problem with the mainstream narrative: If his campaign was so divisive, why did we still see at least 28% of Hispanics voting for him, or 41% of women?

Let’s assume for a moment that Trump did win the ‘under $50,000’ vote. This still would not guarantee a win because the turnout for this voter base was only 36% of total votes cast. Instead, what decided the election in his favor was his winning the ‘$50,000 — $99,999’ vote, with their 30% turnout, and then the ‘$100k-$199,999k’ vote with it’s turnout of 24% (A total of 54% of all votes cast). The median voter income was $72,000 while the national median income is only around $56,000. This is not a new phenomenon. The disenfranchised poor have always had much lower rates of voting in elections despite them making up a large amount of the workforce as we can see in the graph below…

Figure 1.2 Voter Turnout, By Household Income, 2008 – 2012, Demos

While it’s possible, maybe even probable, that Trump did pull in more ‘whites’ from the working class, this was not at all a significant part of his base, but a smaller section in a larger coalition. There is a different dynamic at play here.

Another problem with claiming that the ‘white working class’ decided the election for Trump is the very definition that bourgeois analysists give for ‘working class’. If we are to understand class through the lens of income, then what are we to make of the ‘$50,000’ range of incomes which could encompass both wage earners and small business owners? If we are to use ‘educated vs. uneducated’, then clearly Bill Gates would be a member of the working class! Again, the ‘uneducated’ mainly voted for Trump, yet, Trump’s coalition is mainly representative of higher income earners. The problem is that without understanding the diverging interests based on ownership of means of production (or lack thereof), we can’t properly assess why exactly it is that people act the way they do. While issues around the country may range drastically based on a variety of different variables, an analysis of social class can help us comprehend each class based on their interests and understand why it is they choose specific certain individuals to represent them on the state level.

So what was the major voting block that helped Trump to win if it wasn’t ‘working whites’? The most fitting narrative is that posed by Professor Michael McCarthy who argues that small business owners, or in Marxist terms, the ‘petite-bourgeoisie’, overwhelmingly supported Trump throughout the election cycle. Let’s break down this argument to see if all of the puzzle pieces fit.

The Missing Piece to the Puzzle

Figure 1.3 Average Business Size and Sectoral Employment Declines, Federal Reserve Bank of New York

In order to understand this voting block in its entirety, we have to look back to the recession of 2008–2009. As we are all aware, large businesses have an advantage in times of recession. Because of their large size, they are much better suited to surviving a recession, and can even use it as an opportunity to gobble up smaller competition that fails and centralize their position in the market. Small businesses took a much harder hit than larger businesses during the recession. Construction and Manufacturing in particular took huge hits which seems to give light to why he has such large support from these industries. It’s important to keep in mind that small businesses that need to lay off a decent amount of their employees are more adversely affected.

Figure 1.4 Non-Linear Effect of Falling Profitability on Business Failures, (Kliman 2012)

In addition, the average rate of profit has been falling since the late 1970s. This resulted, and continues to result in increased debt, speculation and lower business viability. Andrew Kliman argues in his book “The Failure of Capitalist Production: Underlying Causes of the Great Recession” that because lawmakers, having decided that allowing the economy to collapse would be political suicide and would radicalize people as it did during the late-1920s, decided to borrow more money (to the tune of $3.9 trillion, a 40% increase of indebtedness and equal to 13.5% of the total GDP of 2008–2009) which artificially propped up the economy. This did not allow for the “destruction of capital” that would have allowed for the rate of profit to rise again, which is why we are not seeing a boom similar to that after the second world war, and why businesses are still having trouble staying afloat today.

Figure 1.5 Inflation Adjusted Before-Tax Profit Rates, (Kliman 2012)

Enter the primary season. Trump’s support from small business was high, even during the primaries. In May of 2016, while the primaries were still going on, 60% of small business owners polled in a Manta poll supported him as the Republican candidate. In late September, another Mantra poll put him ahead with small business owners [59.6% T— 40.4% C] despite Clinton’s 3 point lead in the polls. Aside from his own self-funding, small businesses made up a large percentage of donations to the Trump campaign in the early days of the race.

Figure 1.6 Small Business Owners’ Top Choice For President If The Election Were Held Today, Guidant Financial

According to a survey conducted by Guidant Financial, entrepreneurs and small business owners were expected to be very active in the election, with 94% saying they would be voting. This matches up relatively with the much higher voter turnout that we saw in the ‘50,000+’ categories. Their top choice for president was clearly Donald Trump whereas Clinton was seen as the worst choice.

Black business owners preferred Clinton over Trump (60%) but keep in mind the difference between this rate and the final tally following the election. 89% of African-Americans voted for Clinton, which suggests that small business interests pushed more African-Americans to vote for Trump than the entire national average. Again, we see this phenomenon with Hispanics, who were split between the two candidates which could explain why Trump pulled off getting 28% of the ‘Hispanic vote’…

…and again with women…

Again, this is why simple demographics such as the ‘women’, or ‘black’, vote are not as descriptive as they need to be. It’s clear that Trump is one of the more divisive politicians in the past century, but despite every misogynist and racist remark he has ever made, many minorities still supported him. The key to understanding this is looking at class relations, society’s economic hierarchy, to fully understand the actions of different parts of society.

So, what attracted these people to Trump? For starters, his image of a business outsider in a time of contempt for Washington politicians helped, especially small business owners who considered him as one of their own. Already a majority of Americans believe that corporate bodies pay too little in taxes, while small businesses pay too much. 73% said it favored the wealthy including majorities in all income groups $100,000 and below. This makes his promise to bring the corporate income-tax rate from 35% to 15% an attractive incentive to keep small businesses on his side. Other factors have are changes in the minimum wage, healthcare, taxes that have put more pressure on the petite-bourgeoisie for the last decade.

Figure 1.7 Entrepreneurs Are Uneasy About Policy Changes That Could Affect Their Revenue, Guidant Financial

But how does this all fit in with his immigration policies? As Professor McCarthy argues, racism, xenophobia, and class interest aren’t mutually exclusive. In fact, they are usually very intertwined. The elite actively encourage immigration because they “do the jobs that Americans won’t” and would benefit from the influx of cheaper labor. Small business owners, on the other hand, see immigration in a much more negative light. The National Federation of Independent Business, the largest representative of small businesses in the US, found in 2006 that 90% percent of their members felt illegal immigration was a problem and 70% found it to be a serious one. 80% felt that immigrants who entered illegally should be deported. When The National Association of the Self-Employed polled their members, over 77% stated that immigration reform was an important issue (26.6% — extremely important, 26.4% — very important, 24.3% — slightly important). Of those polled, 81.8% said that they would not benefit from hiring immigrants and 58% stated that all employers should have to comply with an employment verification system. Ranking high on ‘addressing immigration reform’ were ‘removing all illegal immigrants from the U.S.’ (19.7%). ‘improving our legal system’ (21.7%), and ‘strengthening our border security’ (21.2%). This is nothing new in capitalist societies, as immigrants have been victims of scapegoating for centuries, as celebrity Marxist Professor Richard Wolff explains:

“British capitalists recognized a useful side effect of importing lower-wage workers. It differentiated employees by national origin, religion and sometimes also ethnicity. Some English workers resented downward pressures on wages and working conditions, overcrowded housing and neighborhoods, and overused and inadequate public services. They often overlooked capitalists’ profit-driven organization of immigration, and instead blamed immigrants themselves. British politicians reinforced such ways of thinking as they sought financing from those capitalists and votes from English workers. Likewise, profit-driven media companies, the journalists they hired, and compliant academics often promoted notions that immigrants represented net economic costs and difficult social adjustments imposed on the existing population. Such notions deflected workers’ resentments about their economic situations onto scapegoating immigration and immigrants. In short, immigration made a divide-and-rule strategy of capital against labor all the easier to pursue.”

As for protectionism, relatively few small businesses do earn much of their income from abroad, the bulk of their business comes from domestic trade. Small businesses see in Trump an opportunity to siphon off the advantage that many large businesses have from utilizing cheaper labor in other countries.

Are small business owners even a large enough force to influence who becomes President? If we remember that 1) 94% of small business owners planned to vote (a turnout confirmed by the large percentage of ‘$50,000 — $199,999’ voters) 2) There are around 30 million small businesses operating in the United States, employing more than half of the working population, and making up more than 99.7% of all US firms, 3) Trump won with a total of 62,984,825 votes, then it is very probable that the ‘petite-bourgeois’ vote was formidable enough to influence the election.

What conclusions, if any, can we draw from this analysis? 1. It’s clear that the mainstream analysts, politicians, journalists, are either unable to understand the Trump phenomenon, are trying to demonize him, or using the ‘deplorable’ working class as a convenient scapegoat. By blaming segments of the working class for our problems, capitalism keeps them ‘divided and conquered’. If working minorities feel the problem is ‘racist working class whites’ and whites understand the problem to be ‘bad hombres’ then working class people of all kinds are alienated from their common interest of ending the capitalist system. 2. Trump does not represent the working class and will not stick up for their interests. While the bulk of his working class support were probably enticed to vote for him because of his vow not to repeal the ACA, both small business and large capitalists are largely opposed to it. Only the petit-bourgeois interests that coincide with the capitalist elite, such as tax reform, deregulation, and the deportation of immigrants will be put into effect, but even still, small business owners will also be disappointed as their interests will be put on the back-burner. Trump is, after all, a very proud capitalist as he has mentioned many times. His cabinet is one of the wealthiest in modern history, valued at over $13 billion. If anyone thinks this centralization of capital will be looking out for their smaller competition, they are in for a big surprise.

 

Sources

The Alt-Right’s Friends in the Media

It has been said by many observers that the Alt-Right, a band of pro-white chauvinists, white supremacists, and neo-nazis “memed” their way into the White House. This narrative does have some truth to it, but seriously understates the role that the corporate media as a whole had in promoting Trump’s candidacy and legitimizing the Alt-Right as a social movement. In this essay, we argue that structural defects in media reporting indirectly, and in some cases, directly, handed the Alt-Right a platform with which to express their views.

The Usual Suspects

Consider, at the very basic level, the media firms that have not only covered the movement but hidden and apologized for aspects of their politics. In countless articles, journalists chose to downplay the extremism in their ideological thought by labeling them simply as a “conservative” movement. In a Fox News article entitled “‘Alt right’ conservative movement embraces the Trump campaign”, the article downplays the ideological centrality of white nationalism and white supremacism to the movement by asking Jared Taylor, a well known proponent of “race realism” whether he was a white supremacist, to which he responded, “Absolutely not. I don’t even know what the term means.” The Washington Post’s investigation of Steve Bannon’s relationship with the Mercer family and Breitbart news simply labels Bannon as a “conservative” and whose documentaries “spread a conservative message”. The article only once calls his media outlet Breitbart “controversial” whose news coverage is “bent on exposing the liberal bias in mainstream media”.

Then there has been the attack on left-leaning counter-protesters. In the aftermath of the attack, media watchdog FAIR looked into the number of commentary articles condemning the antifa and Alt-Right protesters from mainstream paper outlets and found that from August 18 to September 18, these outlets ran 28 op-eds condemning the antifa protesters and 27 condemning the Alt-Right. While some outlets, such as the Washington Post and New York Times had published less anti-antifa and more anti-altright articles, others, such as the USA Today were to the other extreme, printing seven anti-antifa pieces and only three condemnations of white supremacists. Following the lead of Donald Trump, counter-protesters have been dubbed “alt-left” by several media outlets in an effort equalize the politics of both sides. Fox News, Time, Vanity Fair, Washington Post, and Foxs Sean Hannity have all employed the term in a condemnatory way in order to demonize counter-protesters.

Last November, Fox News broadcast an Alt-Right conspiracy theory originating from a youtube video that went viral, and later picked up by Infowar’s Paul Joseph Watson, entitled “Antifa apocalypse? Anarchist group’s plan to overthrow Trump ‘regime’ starts Saturday”. The November 4th show of Fox & Friends covered the event with a banner stating “Antifa Plans to Overthrow President” and a background image with the text “Antifa Apocalypse?”. Host Tucker Carlson introduced the story, claiming that:

“The group “Antifa Refuse Fascism” is planning twenty rallies across the country to try to drive President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence using violence”.

But then again, maybe accusing the media of promoting the Alt-Right because Fox panders to the Far Right is low-hanging fruit. Besides, the rest of the mass media is firmly placed within the limits of neoliberal orthodoxy. However, despite Trump’s complaints of “fake news” and outlets positioning themselves within “the resistance”, there are systemic features of the media that have contributed to the rise of the new reactionary group.

Speculation

It is well understood by observers of social movements that media coverage is an essential goal for any group desiring to affect public policy. Without an outlet to spread their message to the masses, actions by a group become non-events. Media is understood to be the main driver of membership increases even by simply mentioning the group or main leaders. Given this, journalists act not only as “watchdogs” and “gatekeepers”, but also as “players” in the public arena.

Despite Trump’s retweeting ‘white genocide’ messages and Clinton’s speech denouncing the Alt-Right and Trump’s “basket of deplorables”, very few people knew of the group. In fact, in a survey conducted from November 30th to December 5th, 28% of those surveyed stated that they had heard little about the group while 54% replied by saying that they had heard nothing at all. It was only once Clinton called out the group by name that the mainstream media immediately latched onto it. NPR, CNN, and NBC had all published stories to the effect of “who are the Alt-Right?” while the BBC’s was titled “Trump’s Shock Troops: Who are the ‘Alt-Right’?” While Trump, as has been widely reported, gained considerable media attention from scandals during the election cycle, propelling him forward in the race, the Alt-Right gained notoriety by being the scandal. Media sensationalism over the new movement took on new proportions when in November, following the election of Donald Trump, Richard Spencer was filmed addressing an audience of supporters with a fascist salute in a conference of white supremacists in Washington DC. The media pounced on the opportunity to document a group associated with the President-elect giving signs harking back to the days of Nazi Germany. Adam Johnson of FAIR claims that the ratio of reporters to attendees was close to 1–6.

From then on, Spencer and other Alt-Right leaders have been the subject of countless biopics and interviews with which to spread the views of the movement.

Many journalists sought to justify their interviewing of figures such as Spencer because of their importance in the 2016 Presidential election, such as NPR’s Kelly McEvers who stated on air:

“There are words and phrases and ideas in the next seven minutes that many people will find offensive, even hateful. But because this group has influence, we think you should hear what the alt-right is and what it wants from a Trump administration. So I ask Spencer that, and he said his end goal is a white ethno state sometime in the future.”

The balance in media reporting can be a fragile one between coverage and allowing someone a platform. A common journalistic tactic when interviewing controversial figures is to attempt to publicly discredit them with aggressive questioning during an interview or with emphasis of one’s negative aspects in a biopic. In most of the pieces written about Spencer, however, there lacked this sense of confrontation. Very few of the cited interviews held any serious criticism, if any, of the statements by the interviewees. In the interview with Kelly McEvers, for example, Spencer was asked if he was ok with swastikas, white supremacist graffiti, and the slogan “Make America White Again”, to which Spencer sidestepped the question, answering that he would not condemn any of those symbols as they are “people expressing themselves”. McEvers offered no challenge or follow-up questions to this response. CNN’s Kamau Bell conducted an interview with Spencer following a convention of white nationalists in which the two acted as if they were long-lost friends, laughing over each other’s jokes. Spencer’s more-than-controversial opinions on gender roles, white privilege, multiculturalism, mass deportation, and Spencer’s goal of an ‘ethno-state’ elicited no challenges from Bell. The Washington Times interview facetiously treated the subject of Spencer’s desire for ethnic cleansing in the following manner:

“His attitude toward women and minorities made his admiration for Tila Tequila, the Nazi-loving Vietnamese American, surprising. Would he allow her in the ethno-state? “There are always exceptions, I guess,” an amused Spencer would say later. “I’m a generous guy.””

Instead, in many instances the media made Spencer out to be a sort of rebellious hipster. In the CNN interview Bell compared Spencer to James Bond stating that he has “that Daniel Craig thing” about him. The Washington Post profile of Spencer twice mentioned the outfits that Spencer dresses in. First, in the initial description of Spencer:

“He dresses in three-piece Brooks Brothers suits, gold-coin cufflinks and $5,000 Swiss watches, and he sports a swept-over hipster haircut known as a “fashy” (as in fascist).”

Then, on the day of the convention where Spencer was recorded by a journalist from The Atlantic giving his followers a fascist salute:

“He wore a fitted gray suit and smelled of Cologne Russe, his preferred scent because it mimics a version once made for the Russian royal family.”

Throughout the piece, there is no attempt to repudiate or criticize any of the beliefs or actions performed by Spencer, instead focusing on his public image. This was a specific point of attraction to Spencer by the media that turned out to be a worthwhile strategy. By posing themselves as clean cut, well dressed, and articulate members of the movement who played by the rules, the media found it more attractive emphasize how fashionable they were in order to capitalize on the buzz being generated around the movement. One has to look no further than this ridiculous article from the New York Times normalizing an Ohio Neo-Nazi;

“In Ohio, amid the row crops and rolling hills, the Olive Gardens and Steak ’n Shakes, Mr. Hovater’s presence can make hardly a ripple. He is the Nazi sympathizer next door, polite and low-key at a time the old boundaries of accepted political activity can seem alarmingly in flux. Most Americans would be disgusted and baffled by his casually approving remarks about Hitler, disdain for democracy and belief that the races are better off separate. But his tattoos are innocuous pop-culture references: a slice of cherry pie adorns one arm, a homage to the TV show “Twin Peaks.” He says he prefers to spread the gospel of white nationalism with satire. He is a big “Seinfeld” fan.”

The provocative new movement with an obscure name and an enthralling public image proved to be an alluring opportunity for a media that depends on page views, trending events, and the amount of times an article is shared to increase ad revenue. For the largest outlets such as CNN that need stories to fill their 24/7 coverage, stories with less substance and more sensation can make the cut. For them, riding the wave of post-election discontent on both sides is a way to extend the high rates of viewership during the election into the post-election period. It is surely possible to cover the Alt-Right phenomenon without allowing leadership figures “standing”, or having a say in the interpretation of current events, however many journalists allowed this to occur.

Propagation of “Fake News”

In examining the creation of alternative narratives in 2016, datasets from Twitter reposts conspiratorial narratives demonstrated that the large majority of conspiracy theories and “fake news” in 2016 came from alternative sources, with therealstrategy.com, infowars.com, and newsbusters.org being the most influential (Starbird 2017). It has also been shown that many of these actors have been able to propagate their beliefs into the mainstream by “trolling” the media into covering an event, either by inciting outrage or having reporters fall for disinformation. Due to the advent of the Internet as an alternative to traditional media sources, competitiveness, for mainstream media outlets, is now more than ever based on stories that can gain the attention of the reader. Naturally, as advertising revenue comes from content that gathers more “page views”, “likes”, “reposts”, and “shares”, traditional media have moved to publish stories coming from nontraditional sources on the web in order to fulfill their promise of a 24/7 news cycle. At the same time, however, mainstream outlets have been cutting costs since the 1990s, diverting funds from local news channels to websites and online platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. Cuts have led to there being fewer reporters with more responsibilities to provide widely distributable content leading to a serious lack of investigating and fact-checking.

During the 2016 election cycle, there were several cases in which the mainstream media fell for stories that were intended to distribute disinformation on the part of the Alt-Right such as the “Antifa Apocalypse” mentioned earlier. Fox News is renowned not only for its large base of viewers but also its unapologetic right-wing take on current events. While it is possible that the news channel was fooled by the originators of the story because they failed to accurately investigate, it is also plausible that Fox ran the story regardless. Tucker Carlson, whose show Tucker Carlson Tonight is replacing the timeslot left after Bill O’Reilly’s departure, has been acknowledged by many on the Alt-Right as a champion of their values in the mainstream media. It is well known that the channel has had the attention of the President and a story that paints the opposition group in a negative light could be an attempt by the channel to attract the ever-growing number of conspiracy theory enthusiasts and Alt-Right supporters.

Consider then, for example, the case of the “White Student Unions”. In November of 2015, Andrew Anglin, the founder and editor of The Daily Stormer, a neo-nazi social media platform, instructed the users of his site to create fake “White Student Union” profiles for universities across the country.

“Here’s the plan: Make more of the White Student Union pages on Facebook for various universities. You don’t have to go there. Make one for Dartmouth, Princeton, etc. If they won’t let it on Facebook, put it on tumblr or wordpress or whatever. Get it up, then forward the links to local media.”

It is possible that Anglin, a known internet “troll”, knew that the Facebook pages would spark the sort of moral outrage that could cause the event to be covered by larger outlets, thus creating a controversy in the mainstream sphere where Anglin and the Alt-Right could then step in to respond. Without investigating to discover the origins of the pages, coverage from local media allowed the story to spread to national outlets such as the USA Today on November 11th. In the USA Today’s coverage, there isn’t the slightest suspicion of the accuracy of the facts. Before it was discovered that the pages were a hoax engineered by extremist groups, MSNBC and the Washington Post had already covered the pages as if there was already an existing group. Anglin subsequently denied creating the pages and even claimed that he was in contact with the students organizing the groups. On November 24th, Allum Bokhari at Breitbart news stepped forward to defend this side of the story, claiming that the unions were indeed forming on university campuses nationwide while leaving out Anglin’s role in the affair entirely. Apart from the case of the ‘White Student Unions’, there were several other instances in 2016 in which the Alt-Right managed to alter political discourse by manipulating the media in the case of Hillary Clinton’s health and the ‘Pizzagate’ co.nspiracy theory

Fox News has of late been implicated in a lawsuit over another story of theirs originating in the world of conspiracy theories. The death of Seth Rich, an employee for the Democratic National Committee, set off a new wave of conspiracy theories, the most prominent being that the Clintons has Rich killed in order to prevent him from testifying against Clinton for revealing information that would prove cases of corruption. The theory emerged from WhatDoesItMean.com a site known for creating outrageous stories in connection to current events which was subsequently picked up by Alt-Right figures such as Alex Jones of Infowars and Jack Posobiec of The Rebel Media. The author, Rod Wheeler, a private investigator and former homicide detective, has worked for Fox News for over a decade in which he has had to retract several other stories.

On May 16th, Fox News reporter Malia Zimmerman published a news article involving the murder of Seth Rich which claimed that Rich held access to thousands of DNC e-mails that were intended to be turned over to the whistle-blowing site Wikileaks which was later retracted by the Fox News channel. According to the lawsuit, Wheeler claims that Zimmerman and Ed Butowsky conspired with the Trump administration in order to blame Seth Rich for the leaks, thus raising the question of DNC involvement of his murder. Without the Wheeler lawsuit, we can assume that, like the case of the ‘white student unions’, Fox News was deceived by the same sort of disinformation that many other outlets fell for, however, if the accusations leveled by Wheeler do turn out to be true, this would again imply the possibility that the Fox News Channel actively used a known conspiracy theory from the realm of the Alt-Right in order to for political or sensational gains.

Analyzing The Media Effect

While it would appear on the surface that negative press would be a burden to the cause of the new reactionaries, it seems instead that both sides benefit from covering the movement. The media have adjusted their coverage to appeal to this division in the Trump era and now that Pandora’s box has been opened, it seems as if the major outlets are competing in an arms-race-like competition to cover the most shocking elements of the Alt-Right. With the 2016 election, news stations found that with more scandal comes higher ratings. As media coverage of the election focused less on the platform of the candidates and more on their personal scandals it is reasonable to believe that Trump’s relationship with the Alt-Right along with other scandals was a significant story worth covering. This led CBS CEO Leslie Moonves to conclude that the “political circus” during the election cycle “may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS”.

1.1 Combined Media Viewership (Fox, CNN, MSNBC) by Year

CBS wasn’t alone. Many other large media firms saw record-breaking ratings in the run-up to the election. Fox had its best ratings month in four years, averaging 3.3 million viewers in November. CNN averaged 1.5 million viewers, an increase of 128% from the previous year. MSNBC saw a 98% increase during the same period. Primetime viewership for CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC increased by around 50%. TV ratings company Nielsen estimates that some 71 million viewers were present for coverage of the election in November. Media analytics firm SNL Kagan reported that the media were expected to see a 15% increase in profits from the year 2015 with Fox earning near $1.67 billion and CNN reaping in $1 billion. President of CNN Jeff Zucker has called 2016 the “best year in the history of cable news … for everybody”. While most of the media’s gains are most probably attributable to the horserace between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, in continuing to cover members of the Alt-Right post-election, the media seem to be interested in continuing to continue the controversial political drama that earned them record-high ratings in 2016. John Martin, the CEO of Turner, CNN’s parent company, has stated that “with the Trump administration, there will be a general fascination that wouldn’t be the same as under a Clinton administration. … Trump will be a little bit better from a business standpoint.”

1.2 Views to Large ‘Alt-Right’ Youtube Accounts

1.3 Views to Smaller ‘Alt-Right’ Youtube Accounts

Likewise, the Alt-Right saw a noticeable increase in support since the election, however, what is interesting to note is that much of the newfound subscribers came after the election in November, for some as late as 2017. Interest and viewership to Breitbart.com, for example, shot upward following the election in November. Bannon claimed that the site had overtaken other large mainstream outlets in Facebook engagement on November 8th with an estimated 37 million unique visitors in October and currently ranks as the 50th most visited site in the United States. Spikes of interest in Richard Spencer have occurred every time the media covered his controversial appearances after the election. Subscriptions to pro-Alt-Right channels such as “Red Ice TV” and “American Renaissance” show large upturns in the middle of 2017. Milo Yiannoppoulos’ Youtube page shows considerable gains after January 2017, after Donald Trump’s inauguration.

1.4 Number of Media Stories Involving Alt-Right Key Words Per Month

1.5 Average of Media Stories Involving Alt-Right Key Words Per Month

This points to the fact that something other than Trump or Clinton allowed these groups to grow. If we are to look at a timeline of news coverage, lo and behold, we find that the large majority of stories involving the Alt-Right and other major figures come after the 2016 election. From this, we can see in hard empirical data that by giving the group much-needed publicity, the media breathed life into the emerging reactionary movement, allowing them to break free of the confines of the online world and enter the mainstream. As a result, pro-white politics, conspiracy theories, and white supremacism have re-emerged into the realm of mainstream public discourse.

1.6 Google Trends Data for ‘Alt-Right’ Keywords

Confronting Some Inconvenient Truths

What can be said about the connection between the bourgeois media and this new reactionary group? In the case of right-wing outlets such as FOX, it’s probable that defending these groups is an expression of ideological sympathy for them. There is a long history of capitalist support for right-wing groups as a means to crackdown on those negatively affected by market forces and state policies. The Gateway Effect that journalists such as Hannity, Tucker Carlson, Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and their army of political analysts perpetuate is well documented. But this is only half of the picture. The other part of the blame lies with the inherent structural realities that govern the corporate media. It would seem that coverage of the Alt-Right was more than a simple failure of journalism or a political inevitability, but instead result of the restructuring of the media business model and in some cases, a business opportunity to continue earning higher ratings during the election cycle. Following the introduction of the Alt-Right as a political player by both candidates, and especially since Donald Trump’s victory in November, the media have turned from ignoring the group to interviewing their leaders, debating their views, and spreading their conspiracy theories. It is most likely that news coverage concerning the Alt-Right was intended less to inform the public or to push back against an emerging extremist ideology and more to take advantage of a flashy new movement.

Individuals already teetering on the edge could find a home in the fascist ideology and Republicans, only 14% of whom view mainstream news coverage as “accurate”, could be particularly prone to disregarding any negativity journalists attribute to the Alt-Right. If a recent poll from Langer Research Associates is to be believed, then 10% of the American public support the Alt-Right while 9% find it acceptable to hold neo-nazi views. By reporting on the Alt-Right in a reckless manner, the corporate media leaves us all vulnerable to the unintended consequences leading to a world in which the Far-Right Weltanschauung becomes the norm.

At the same time, the widespread coverage of the Alt-Right in the 2016 election sheds light on the success that the movement had in baiting the media with scandal into covering them. This episode has uncovered exactly where the cracks in the media’s “shell” lie. If the Right is able grab the media’s attention, then so too can the Left. Writing on discussions of “means and ends”, activist Saul Alinsky once wrote that “any effective means is automatically judged by the opposition as being unethical.” In other words, we’re damned if we do and damned if we don’t, however, if we choose to “do”, at the very least our ideas will have the opportunity to be put forth to a much larger audience who may sympathize with our message. What is a necessity to Marxist organizations in the 21st century, in relation to the news media, is a strategy to tackle the problem of media coverage. We too need ingenious methods to grab attention while remaining true to our values and our dedication to working people.

Text Sources

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Starbird, Kate. “Examining the Alternative Media Ecosystem through the Production of Alternative Narratives of Mass Shooting Events on Twitter”. University of Washington. 2017

Gamson, William A. “Bystanders, Public Opinion, and the Media”. In The Blackwell Companion to Social Movements. Blackwell Publishing: Oxford. 2004

Alice Marwick and Rebecca Lewis. “Media Manipulation and Disinformation Online.” Data & Society. May 15, 2017. https://datasociety.net/output/media-manipulation-and-disinfo-online/ (accessed 3 November 2017)

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Alinsky, Saul. “Rules For Radicals: A Pragmatic Primer for Realistic Radicals.” Vintage Books: New York. 1989