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Buddhists and the Bloc: An Open Thread On Antifa

Light-skinned poc with dark hair in twin braids, wearing sunglasses and a plaid cap, holds a hand-painted cardboard sign with big black all-caps letters: "HATE HAS NO HOMELAND."

Light-skinned poc with dark hair in twin braids, wearing sunglasses and a plaid cap, holds a hand-painted cardboard sign with big black all-caps letters: "NAZI PUNKS FUCK OFF."

Hand-painted dual-side sign by Leslie Mah in Berkeley, August 27, 2017.

In the wake of this weekend’s abortive alt-right Bay Area gatherings (and the counter-demonstrations that dwarfed them), there has been a pronounced division of views among Buddhists and BPFers in attendance (and from afar). Specifically, people have some really strong opinions on the black bloc tactic, and the antifa movement more broadly.


  • A Zen practitioner lauds the festive mass turnout but decries “ugliness” from blocked-up antifascists “radiating hatred and violence.”


  • A disabled organizer and dharma head celebrates groundbreaking coalitions among black bloc, antifa, and mainstream progressives, with palpable love, gratitude, and excitement for solidarity and self defense.


Me, I have my own thoughts — which I’ll share below. I hope you’ll join me in comments! Even as Buddhist Peace Fellowship adopts formal stances and clear priorities (like using nonviolent direct action to counter systemic racism, ecocide, and state violence; and turning to Buddhist wisdom to better learn how to deal with our rage), I also want to make room for the totality of us, you, we — a multivocal community. Now is the time to speak up.

Are you feeling inspired? Bewildered? Exhausted? Emboldened?

Is there a book, article, film, or other resource that has touched you on this issue?

Did you learn something new or surprising from your own experience?

Please be willing to listen (as much as the cybermedium allows for listening). Please be willing to be patient. Please speak from your own experience — don’t get overly theoretical with it.  At the same time, let’s push ourselves. Find the way of pushing that feels right.

With gratitude,



  1. Before We Begin: Refuge in Dharma
  2. Race, Gender, Spiritual Materialism, and How You Look In Masks
  3. So What Does Antifa Actually Do?
  4. Hating Neither Nazis Nor Their Enemies

Before We Begin: Refuge in Dharma

If you’re more in need of nourishment than debate right now, I feel you. There are a lot of gems out there right now attending to spirit and inner alignment — the “Be” part of Block, Build, Be. Here are a few that might hold you.

Zenju Earthlyn Manuel — Prolonged Audaciousness

“While we are in this mythic battle against supremacy it is difficult to experience the freedom that is simultaneously rising up to the surface. … Can we settle the rumbles of our ancestors in our own bones?”

Buddhist Peace Fellowship — U Mad? Wisdom for Rageful Times

Over 600 spiritual-social-justice seekers have already embarked on this online course, featuring 7 esteemed Buddhist teachers. Back by popular demand in a special Fall redux, all 7 weeks will be released at once, so you can go at your own pace. Limited-time enrollment ends September 12th; Sign up here.

Mushim Ikeda — A Meditation for Working with Post-Charlottesville Stress

“We might visualize ourselves, if we like, as a kind of lighthouse, or the center of radiance, which is coming from our hearts or from our bodies, in every direction.”

angel Kyodo williams — Where Will You Stand?

“With the clarity of a steady mind and courage of a true heart, what has always been there begins to reveal itself, emerging from behind the fog of the ego-mind of whiteness.”

Thanissara — Don’t Worry, Be Angry

“[The portrayal of Vajrayogini in Buddhist iconography] signifies the gift of the protector feminine. If we are to undertake the blessed and grueling journey of the luminous, fierce, yet tender heart needed for our times, then anger is an asset.”

Kiese Laymon — Teaching White Students Showed Me The Difference Between Power and Privilege

(This isn’t Buddhist, but it’s wise, and full of love and hard honesty. Read it; you’ll thank me.)

Race, Gender, Spiritual Materialism, People’s Security, and How You Look In Masks


On Sunday in Berkeley, three aesthetic qualities blended me, superficially, with the black bloc contingent.

  1. I was wearing lots of black.
  2. For the first time in my life, I put on a mask at a protest.
  3. Like many of the black bloc and antifa folks I saw, I’m a femme-presenting person of color.

Let’s talk about the mask first. I’m hoping it will help us consider safety, mindfulness, image, and ego in a tense situation.

The mask was a breathing aid, designed for painting or construction — one of those bulky, awkward, robotic-mosquito-from-space-looking deals, made slightly less grim by twin fuchsia filters. The day before the Berkeley counter-demo, a comrade who’d worked in steel mills kindly showed me the right way to strap it on. In my innocence and inexperience (and maybe the enthusiasm of a kid with a new toy), I proceeded to pack the mask very-first out of all my demo gear… which of course landed it all the way at the bottom of my bag — hiding under extra clothing layers, a small amateur medic kit, and spare water bottles. Thus, I gently doomed myself to a fumbling ruffle at the moment of truth.

Well, near the moment of truth. The first and most frightening threat of chemical weapons, the impetus to rifle (no pun intended) through my backpack came from — you guessed it! — the police. You know, the group that typically brings the most weapons to a free speech event.

By the time I reached the public park (located on occupied and stolen Ohlone indigenous land, as one speaker used mindfulness-by-another-name to remind us), a line of cops in riot gear and full-face gas masks blocked the grass, trying to institute a checkpoint. Scanning the crowd, owl-eyed, I saw a sea of dilated pupils. Everybody on edge.

Eventually, the police were ordered to stand down. Their tear gas would come later, on a side street. By that time, my mask was ready.

My role on Sunday was to act as a point in a People’s Security team. Training for this team included hours of drills and group exercises led by experienced martial artists. The emphasis: unarmed de-escalation. Keeping people safe. Or safer. We practiced setting verbal boundaries; creating space from potential threats; and escaping aggression. (Think: how to get away if someone grabs your wrist.) These trainings are not perfect — they are premised on a lot of able-bodied assumptions. But they are practical for some of us who might find ourselves in the fray. Incidentally, they also include certain techniques akin to mindfulness: grounding in vigilance, steady awareness, and sharpening memory while constantly scanning the landscape for “pre-assault indicators.”

When these People’s Security experts advise me to take precautions, it comes from their experience of moving toward conflict, in order to defuse it. The purpose of wearing a construction mask is not to look scary or tough, but to breathe better. We prevent harm to ourselves, and increase our ability ability to help others. (And by the way, those surgical masks? Might actually do more harm than good in a chemical agent situation, I’m told.)

Three people on a busy Beijing street wear masks to aid breathing; two on either side wear fabric surgical masks and hard hats; person in the middle is strapping a large gray plastic breathing mask onto their face.

For me, the sheer relief of putting on the mask at the periphery of a big cloud of pepper spray was abrupt and profound — night-and-day, instantly calming my cough and dissipating my panic. In the space of one breath I re-attuned to the needs of my neighbors. It’s the most visceral experience I’ve ever had of the old airplane safety wisdom: secure your oxygen mask before helping others. Now I get it.

And yet, I can’t deny that when I put on the mask, the mood I project automatically changes. At a basic level, it’s hard to talk to anyone. My mouth is covered so it’s hard to see if I’m smiling. Maybe I look meaner. Maybe I already begin to look less “Buddhist.” (Let’s talk more about that in a minute.)

Similarly, when I’m properly playing a People’s Security role, scanning the crowd for pre-assault indicators, I’m surprised at how hard it is to act warm, friendly, and present — even when dear friends from the crowd come greet me. My heart might be pirouetting, but I’m not jovial. Instead, my eyes are constantly moving. I might seem disinterested or restless. I might appear like I’m not paying attention to you. But extended eye contact is just less possible (or responsible) in a chaotic and rapidly unfolding scene, where your stomach plummets every time you see a car down the street, a maybe-Charlottesville-copycat.

Black-and-white charcoal drawing by Tatyana Fazlalizadeh shows an unsmiling Black woman. The portrait uses a combination of realism and dynamic abstract strokes for the hair.

From art series by Tatyana Fazlalizadeh.

I want to think about this around race, gender, and ableism. Who is expected to exude “peacefulness” versus “hatred” or “militancy” when showing up to oppose white supremacists? Reminder: we are talking about people who specialize in constant rape threats and death threats; who revel in cyberstalking; and who dip bullets in bacon fat, bragging that it’s the best way to kill Muslims. We are talking about people who wear helicopter shirts celebrating Pinochet’s death squads. We are talking about a legacy of unabashedly fascist, misogynistic, transphobic, racist, and genocidal views.

Eight-panel image shows a light-skinned (white person's) hand dipping bullets into bacon grease and loading them into a gun.


As a femme-presenting, cis-passing-privileged, light-skinned person of color marshaling inner and outer resources to confront this bullshit, I’m often implicitly asked to show up soft. To help others feel at ease. My race, gender, and physical abilities in an ableist world (in which nimble = admirable and “independent” = competent) all add to the package of nonthreatening diversity that many progressives experience as reassuring. (think: Magical Negro.) I know this. But what if my focus — a serious, unsmiling, or masked-up, anonymous focus — actually helps me more in my People’s Security role? What if internal communication with my team becomes more important than socializing with friends, acquaintances, and strangers at the march? Is there a way I can release or rebalance the burdens of stereotypical softness while still doing my job of de-escalation? (My answer: yes.)

I also want to think about this on a “Buddhist” level. What do we expect Buddhists to look like at these demonstrations? Based on mainstream images, we might expect thin, glowy, non-disabled, ‘wise-seeming’ adherents, typically white, occasionally Black. (Thanks, racist erasure.) We might expect them to be sitting in meditation, legs crossed, face uncovered and untroubled. There is nothing wrong with any of these forms, but it’s a problem when our expectations calcify around them. This problem is not new. Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche identified it in his classic book, Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism. If we’re not careful, we can slide into stereotypes and assumptions about how awakening behaves. What it wears. How it sounds. And that’s where ego creeps in, just when we think we’re being all awakened and marvelous.

“The attitude of ‘heroism’ is based upon the assumption that we are bad, impure, that we are not worthy, are not ready for spiritual understanding. We must reform ourselves, be different from what we are. For instance, if we are middle class Americans, we must give up our jobs or drop out of college, move out of our suburban homes, let our hair grow, perhaps try drugs. If we are hippies, we must give up drugs, cut our hair short, throw away our torn jeans. We think that we are special, heroic, that we are turning away from temptation. We become vegetarians and we become this and that. There are so many things to become. We think our path is spiritual because it is literally against the flow of what we used to be, but it is merely the way of false heroism, and the only one who is heroic in this way is ego.” 

—Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, emphasis mine.

At a rally against hate, can we acknowledge that Buddhists or BPFers might appear in many forms? Although I realize that the moral and political disagreements go deeper than mere appearances (we’ll get into actions in a second, I promise), it seems important to first ground ourselves in this humble truth of not-knowing. Can I really tell who’s more enlightened in a situation? Is it heralded Buddhist teacher Jack Kornfield dressing up in Gandhi costume for the San Francisco counter-demo? Is it a young radical using black bloc tactics, wielding a shield, and masking up for their own protection and belonging?

Jack Kornfield dressed as Gandhi, holding a sign that says “Brothers and Sisters Let Us Remember the Spirit of Gandhi.” To be real, some folks have expressed concern about this as “brownface” and appropriation, while others (including people of color and South Asian folks) feel fine about it.

A black bloc contingent in Berkeley, holding shields painted pink and purple with “No Hate” animal stencils. Please note: in general, we recommend filming the cops, not the bloc — especially if people in the bloc ask you to turn your camera away. For transparency: this is a public image posted by a person of color on Facebook, and as of this writing I’ve seen no requests on the original post for its removal.

So What Does Antifa Actually Do?

Ok, now that we’ve covered appearances, let’s talk actions.

Don’t know about you, but whirling around my life have been a ton of interesting summaries (public and private) explaining what antifa is; the role it has played in protecting nonviolent protesters; and explaining its connection to the black bloc tactic. I’ll list a few below; feel free to add your faves in the comments.

Democracy Now — A Look at the Antifascist Movement Confronting White Supremacists in the Streets

Radical Discipleship — My “Nonviolent” Stance Was Met With Heavily Armed Men

In These Times — Drawing Equivalencies Between Fascists and Anti-Fascists Is Not Just Wrong; It’s Dangerous

The Atlantic — The Rise of the Violent Left (let’s throw in an alternate take, lest anyone accuse me of censorship. ;)

One of my personal favorites actually came in the form of an email from a friend.

Black Bloc:
  • A tactic, not an organization


  • The whole tactic is: wear all black and cover your face so you can completely blend into a crowd of people. What happens after that is up to the individuals who happen to be in the costumes.


  • Has caused a TON of tension and division on the Left and in the Bay Area specifically for decades. Due to it being highly associated with property damage committed out of a sense of petty bourgeoisie rage by young white people.*


  • The upside of Black Bloc as a tactic is that it protects people from state repression and vigilante retaliation, doxxing, etc.


  • The downside of Black Bloc as a tactic is it’s anti-accountability.

*Editor’s Note: like all phenomena subject to impermanence, the demographic of black bloc may be changing; and it might be one way in some places and other ways elsewhere. Personally I saw a lot of darker-skinned community members wearing all-black and/or masked up on Sunday. There has also been a sizable trans femme / trans dyke presence (with awesome shields) at some of the recent confrontations with the alt-right.

  • A political orientation, not an organization


  • The political orientation is: Fascism is a really bad, really dangerous, inherently extremist ideology/religion, and when it pops up, we have to nip it in the bud – oppose it by any means necessary, before millions of people get killed, quickly.


  • Antifa is the label the media has given to what I would call the “anti-Nazi” movement, but the media is also conflating all of us with the Black Bloc, and conflating Sunday’s Black Bloc with violence and property destruction.


  • There is SIGNIFICANT crossover between those who identify as Antifa and those who engage in Black Bloc as a tactic, and then a third circle in the Venn diagram is those who engage in property destruction/”light” violence (what is the right way to say, “not the walking into a bible study to kill Black people kind of violence”??)


The challenges of accountability in the Black Bloc’s anonymous tactic (or anti-accountability, as my friend put it in strong terms), underscore the significance of Sunday’s coordinated defensive role. The Bloc showed up in large numbers, agreeing to play a defensive position and avoid destroying property — in order to keep the focus off of broken glass and dumpster fires, and on the reclaiming of public space by a wide range of people. Lots of us may disagree about whether the force used by the Bloc was purely defensive, but the absence of property destruction — Black Bloc sticking to their word — helpfully streamlines the conversation, while testifying to the possibility of accountability and coordination.

Hating Neither Nazis Nor Their Enemies

I am human: nothing human is alien to me.

“The black tradition of arms has been submerged because it seems hard to reconcile with the dominant narrative of nonviolence in the modern civil-rights movement. But that superficial tension is resolved by the long-standing distinction that was vividly evoked by movement stalwart Fannie Lou Hamer. Hamer’s approach to segregationists who dominated Mississippi politics was, ‘Baby you just got to love ’em. Hating just makes you sick and weak.’ But, asked how she survived the threats from midnight terrorists, Hamer responded, ‘I’ll tell you why. I keep a shotgun in every corner of my bedroom and the first cracker even look like he wants to throw some dynamite on my porch won’t write his mama again.'”

—Nicholas Johnson, author of Negroes and the Gun

As I’ve said elsewhere, suffering is universal, but oppression is patterned and specific. Born into the realm of samsara, fascists, Nazis, and antifa alike are subject to suffering. But they have very different relationships to oppression. So while my compassion for all beings might ideally extend even to modern-day versions of Angulimala (serial-killer-turned-saint in the Buddha’s time), my commitments to transforming oppression lead me to seek relationship and solidarity with those actively opposing white supremacy.

That means I’m going to encounter plenty of people I disagree with. I’m not going to sit here and pretend that some people in Antifa, and some who use black bloc tactics, aren’t animated by rage and a desire for destruction. Even vengeance. But this scares me less, even on a moral level, than those who would pretend that the world’s seemingly endless stream of searing injustice doesn’t warrant our rage.

I am unarmed. I will remain unarmed. Buddhist Peace Fellowship will never promote attacking an enemy. But in my mind, this is a profoundly privileged position, almost an accident of luck, and a calling for which I am grateful — not a trophy of righteousness with which to bludgeon others who choose to engage in self defense.

I am far less interested in movements that require nonviolence, and far more interested in movements that aspire to nonviolence. Pure nonviolence is asymptotic; an ever-receding horizon whose unreachability in no way diminishes the value of the journey toward it. This is where we are needed. This is where it’s up to us.

Taking heed from spiritual-political revolutionary and writer adrienne maree brown, let’s be honest about whose bodies are at stake, and act accordingly. Violence surrounds us every day, all the time, inescapable. How do we bring about radical transformation (which necessitates destroying many current systems of greed, hatred, and delusion), while remaining as true as possible to a life of awakening and compassion? His Holiness the Dalai Lama himself says:

“Anger that is motivated by compassion or a desire to correct social injustice, and does not seek to harm the other person, is a good anger that is worth having.”

Are we angry?

Are we ready?

Tell me what you think. I’m listening.

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Comments (43)

  • Kendall

    Katie, I appreciate the depth of your research and the self-reflexive humor in considering How You Look in Masks. Buddhist Peace Fellowship, Portland has been dealing with these very issues. We had June 4, and we’re about to have September 10, so these are hot issues for us right now. Max Zahn asked me some searching questions, to which I would like to add just this: my gratitude to Jayna Warm Nest Gieber, who led the meditation on June 4 and will lead the next one on September 10, and whose friendship and wisdom supports BPF, Portland; also gratitude to teachers Godwin Samararatne, who gave me ‘OK Meditation’; to Thanissara Mary Weinberg, whose sangha in South Africa gave me strength during the four years I lived there; and my gratitude to Rev. angel Kyodo williams, whose wisdom inspires me daily. This is what Max elicited from me:…/i-dont-love-them-meet-a-buddhist…

  • Doshin

    Katie Loncke–interesting post. Since you tagged me, some parallel, incomplete thoughts on my part, inspired by what you wrote. I can’t speak to your experience directly, but can offer my opinions. Also, they are unfortunately longer and unedited, so two sections. Sorry to be greedy.

    A. I understand the ‘black bloc’ to be a tactic and ‘Antifa’ to be a political positioning. Both, as they are articulated in our current field of relations, and grounded in Anarchist political orientations, and hence vis a vis both diagnosis and praxis in a particular orientation to social movement building, organization, and sense of social change more broadly. This orientation is explicitly revolutionary, either in terms of long term goals, or in terms of what we now might call the politics of prefiguration.

    B. Much of what we think of as Buddhist political theology–including I dare say the emerging ‘religious left’ and much of what passes for radical–is actually quite conventionally grounded in progressive Liberalism, and hence at the level of political process concerned primarily with education, and the Liberal concern with rights, equality, etc. All of which assumes the political medium of the Liberal state form, and in terms of the real politik of activism, heavily indebted to the ‘nonprofit industrial’ complex.

    C. So already we are at a basic impasse and fault line in what constitutes the left-coalition in the Trump era, which is best viewed, in my opinion as a particular entrenchment of neoliberalism. And where that term refers to capitalist process at three levels–at the level of the state, the market, and in terms of the organization of labor (its flexibilization, in the gig and sharing economy, as well as the generalized ascendency of entrepreneurialism as way to organize individual and collective labor), and hence inclusive of the labor of household, and emotional labor, a transformation of ‘political subjectivity’. Neoliberalism is at once an active destabilization of the state form, as well as, simultaneously the use of the state form to expand markets, and develop markets, as well as increase inequality or risk, in order to create the conditions for innovation, as well as dependency on the part of labor . It entails a certain arrangement of class forces–at the level of the capitalist class, the ascendency of the financial class for example–as well as a transformation of class relations more broadly (as I said a growing body of precarious labor) etc. To a large extent we all know this, but it’s not always examined vis a vis conditions of political possibility or positioning. Certainly not at the level of progressive liberalism, and often only in an implicit way in the current state of anarchist analysis.

    D. Further, in our common political vernacular, the left and the right have equally adopted two tendencies: a. A generalized moralism in the political sphere (witness Antifa identified writers and Hedges going at each other over claims to political superiority–and you see two poles of our current political positions, the anarchist left and the progressive liberal left); b. A reification of historical processes in favor of moral abstractions such as ‘White Supremacy’ or ‘Patriarchy’–not that we don’t see these patterns of domination oppression and inequality. But the language of our current political moment limits agency to the question of being for or against. In this we find a limited possibility for both political education as well as the work of coalition building, save across highly charged moral fault lines.

    E. We also find a generalized confinement–on both left and the right–of political vision to the politics of protest. Partially, in my understanding, because the new resurgence of far right coalitions have adopted the tactics of ‘non-violent’ identity based protest as a direct response to the strategy the left took in the Eighties, and 90’s (growing out of the new left) and as an organizing tool in the Obama era. This new claim to legitimacy has thrown everyone off, much more so the progressive Liberal establishment which is still practicing a politics of largesse and ‘reconciliation’ through investment and education.

    F. I mention all of this because the current debate on Antifa is at once a debate on possibility in the field of political relations, as well as an argument about the limits of morality as a vehicle for collective political action. Two issues here: a. The argument about the legitimate use of violence as an indirect argument about what activists have been debating for years as ‘diversity of tactics’ and b. The with us or against us language of ‘antifa’ inspired argumentation–that is to say you are Antifa if you are against facists. Certainly this is true, but in so far as one assumes Antifa to be identified with the use of force, it tilts the conversation into the question about tactics, when, alternatively we might additionally be having a broader conversation about the diversity of ways to organize against the spread of right identified revanchist politics. So, for example, taking history as our guide, we might consider Clopsey et al. “Varieties of Anti-racism: Britain in the Interwar period” as a contrast for thinking about organizing that was not tied as discretely to the question of the use of violence. Christian anti-fascist organizing was aligned with but looked radically different than labor per se. And that, as an example, would be a useful premise for thinking what Buddhist based organizing might look like if the question of ‘Antifa’ is not tied directly to the question of the legitimate or revolutionary use of violence towards political ends. As I see it, based on what I outline above, that’s almost always going to break down given the current political fault lines. This has been a serious strategic error on the part of those who have adopted black block strategy, as well as those who now seek to defend the Antifa positionality, which liberals reject as destabilizing (and rightly so given that is its purpose).

    G. Buddhists find themselves in an awkward position on the legitimate use of violence, particularly when they substitute the language of moral polarization for that of political analysis. Left-leaning Buddhists, liberals, and so called radicals, equally find, for example,in the current climate, pressure to both denounce state ethnic-nationalism in Myanmar, and the broad based revanchist resurgence of rightist and ethnonational politics in the U.S., without condoning the use of violence abroad, but recognizing its validity ‘defensively’ in the U.S. Strategically it might make sense but it constitutes a moral contradiction that the political theology of Buddhists in the U.S. Find deeply troubling when articulated from within the vision of Buddhism as an alternative to social corruption, decay, and materialism more broadly (aka Capitalism, as refracted simultaneously and progressively as a slave state, a settler colonialist state, and corporate state). My question here is what if we join the rest of the Buddhist world to understand that Buddhism has never provided an engineered solution to suffering. This puts on an entirely different footing–strategically–because it asks how can we articulate a human politics in relationship to other groups. And here, of course, we face a dilemma–are we facing the question about political tactics, framed perhaps by the issue of political will, or are we facing an issue regarding the generalized spread of militarism, and the pervasiveness of violence as a preferred means to address the destabilizing and oppressive creation of inequality. My preference is probably concerned with the latter. But, in terms of that preference, I feel this moment is incredibly dangerous because of the generalized appeal to militarism, in a heightened reactionary climate. The question about diversity of tactics would make sense to my mind if we were actually in a left-directed revolutionary moment, but we are not.

    H. As Buddhists I feel, personally, that we do accept limitations on our conduct, and one of those concerns our relationship to violence more generally. I do think we have options for how we organize to address this issue without necessarily adopting the strategy or vernacular of the present moment, but as I say, strategically that option has diminished because the question of the use of violence has been so tightly tied with the position of Antifa. That is to say the black bloc and Antifa have been reified in the popular imagination and attributed a common identity. It is true that it is possible to adopt the positionality of Antifa without condoning the violence of the black block (regardless of whether that is a defensive or offensive tactic) but that reasoning has almost completely been eclipsed now by the momentum of events. How might we reframe this, for our communities, such that we decenter the question of tactics, and frame it as to whom may we share resources in order to effectively counter the threat of destabilization, precariousness destruction of wholesomeness, corrosive authoritarianism and the violence which threatens everyone? That’s what I’m principally concerned with for all of the communities that I inhabit.

  • Katie Loncke

    Kendall thank you so much for sharing your interview! This part touched me.

    “The violence and racism of the alt-right is so disturbing that I’m not sure that peaceful resistance will do the job. I respect Buddhists who oppose violence and wouldn’t countenance punching a Nazi. At the same time, I respect anti-fascists who say if we don’t stand up to Nazis, they’ll take over. I don’t know if that’s true but I see what the anti-fascists are saying.

    I cannot help loving these young [anti-fascist] people. Their wish to make a better world moves me, and whether I agree with their strategies or not is irrelevant to my feelings of love for them. It gives me hope to see there are young people who want a more just and equitable world.”

    Yes. This is super healing to hear. As well as so many other moments in your interview. I wonder how others in Portland have received it? Has it caused any falling-outs?

    Much gratitude!

  • Katie Loncke

    Nathan, a wealth of thoughts. Thank you. I’ll be back for more tomorrow. :)

  • Kendall

    The falling-outs came before the interview and will probably continue. We are still working with the issues, which is why I don’t speak for BPF but for myself, and why I am so grateful for your exhaustive coverage of the issues. In Portland on Sept. 10, Jayna Gieber will be ringing the temple bell made from shell casings collected in Viet Nam. We are standing for justice and for the safety of all beings. I believe we will see a common purpose among Black Lives Matter, DontShootPortland, pink pussy hat wearers, black mask wearers, undocumented immigrants, anarchists, nonbinary GenderQueer and Trans folk, Dykes, cis heterosexuals, liberals, radicals, progressives, socialists, and all the many names Buddhists can call themselves while practicing conscientious compassion. We face people who carry guns and buddy up with riot police. BPF Portland will be meditating before the rallies, as we did on June 4, holding a space for silent protest. Whether the Alt Right cancels at the last minute or not, we will be there, sitting, standing, and walking, reciting Metta, eyes open, in don’t-know-mind.

  • Bunnabelle

    Thanks Katie! I appreciate being tagged in on this sort of conversation.
    For context for those who don’t know me, I am a community organizer and activist. I help with security for actions/events, teach self defense, run logistics for mass mobilizations, and generally support others’ actions by attending as a street medic or legal observer. I don’t list all of these roles to brag so much as to help people understand that I wear many hats and only one of them is a balaclava.

    I think the general understanding of antifascism is as narrow as the general understanding of who antifascists are– black clad or not– militant or not.

    IOne of the things in our anarchist/militant leftist organizing groups that we’ve been trying to clarify for folks that antifa = antifascism and that just as there are diverse tactics in resistance, antifascism is something we all can contribute in our own ways to. Beyond the beautiful coalitions we are building here, what I hope is that people will really develop antifascism as a unifying spirit in our interconnected struggles.
    I believe very strongly that Buddhism is an inherently antifascist belief system, just as anarchism is inimical to fascism. Everything we do in the service of self-determination opposes fascist agendas. My hope ultimately is that people start taking stewardship of antifascism as an ethic, start self-identifying as antifascists (/antifa)– but also think about how their work already fits that label, and how the work they plan to do aligns along the points of solidarity of other antifascists working in their own affinity groups.

    It is especially important for non-militants who are thinking intentionally about this right now to consider publicly declaring as antifascists so that antifascism is more understood and more accessible to people with a wide array of beliefs and practices– and also so that it is harder for the state to single out any one group to come down on like a hammer.

  • Shaun Bartone

    Good job, Katie. These folks dressed up in drag for an anti-fa march and were also effective against the Nazis.

  • Nathan Thompson

    First off, I love the depth and caring, inquiring spirit of Katie’s post. I have made lots of comments on different posts and threads since attending the rally in Berkeley myself on Sunday. Here’s what I came up with today, which feels like a decent summary of what I have said elsewhere.

    I think it’s important to understand that a lot of “left” social activism and justice organizing today – specifically among those under 40 years old, but not limited to – is focused much less on charismatic leaders and top/down structures, and much more on egalitarian power, networks of smaller groups, and quasi-leaderlessness (which is to say that there usually are leaders, but they don’t hold the kind institutional power/authority that we are used to seeing. Now, some of you might disagree with this approach, but if you want to truly understand the dynamics at play, and perhaps influence them, it’s vital to really dig into the ways in which younger folks are engaging right now. And have been since Occupy, if not earlier to some extent. There is a lot of experimenting going on because many of us recognize that reproducing the same power over structures and dynamics in our organizing efforts is likely to lead to more of the same in society.

    Consider that Occupy, Black Lives Matter, Idle No More, and Standing Rock all developed during the Obama era, and continue in various forms today, without set leaders, and without many of the structures that people are familiar with when they think of activism and political work. This speaks to two things in my view – first that the reformism of elections and voting in Democrats never has been enough, and now is either entirely uninspiring or only seen as a bare level defensive stop gap for many people. Second, it speaks to a desire to become more of what we/they want to see in the world from the beginning – i.e. to develop movements that more fully embody a power with internal culture, as opposed to a power over internal culture which mirrors the dominant paradigm. In other words, while a lot of people are focusing on the manifestation of physical violence from some members under the Antifa umbrella, many younger activists have been putting a lot of focus on the violence of the power over social/political paradigm itself. How easy it is for groups with good ideals to become bastions of coercion and submission where a handful of people end up controlling everything and/or where certain groups (often those already privileged like white folks) gain most of the benefit.

    Now, I honestly don’t know for sure where all this experimenting with “power with” structures, and new forms of organizing/acting in the political landscape is going, but I find it inspiring and quite hopeful actually. Yes, it’s also confusing, and probably vulnerable to co-opting by people or groups who want to do harm or maintain the status quo. I imagine there are people lingering under the Antifa umbrella that fall under the latter, just as there were those who mucked up things during Occupy and the other movements I have mentioned. But I’m inclined to take the long view on all this. The unsettledness of the times is a huge opportunity to transform the oppressive landscape we have lived in for three+ centuries. And it’s been unsettled for a good five or six years now – this isn’t just about Trump or Obama, Democrats or Republicans.

    Finally, I will note that Thich Nhat Hanh has spoken of the next Buddha not as a single leader, but as a sangha. That fits right in with the shift in organizing, and the examinations of power I spoke of above.

  • Cecilia

    Thanks so much for this, Katie — for the thoughtful reflection, the wealth of resources/information, and the invitation to dialogue. Here are some thoughts I recently wrote up on this topic, to add to the dialogue (brevity is not my strong-suit, sorry):

    Some thoughts on all these Antifa debates:

    1) To those who are criticizing the use of force but are not themselves involved, on an ongoing year-round basis, in fighting the racism and white supremacy that permeates our culture and institutions:

    I think it is essential to remember that passivity is violence; silence is violence; inaction is violence. So please be VERY careful about casting stones (pun intended) at those who are trying to fight fascism and white supremacy by condemning them as “violent” when you are not doing whatever you can to fight those things yourself. If less people were passive about these issues year-round, we wouldn’t have a need for Antifa. These Neo-Nazis are only one of the more extreme symptoms of a larger problem, just like Trump is also only a more extreme symptom of a larger problem. When we are too passive and don’t deal with that larger problem, we create the context in which these extremists (who may not actually be stoppable without any use self-defense force) thrive. It is the violence of too little action for too long that has created this problem, and that continues to recreate it every day.

    2) To those who ARE involved in an ongoing way in fighting white supremacy, but believe the only legitimate/ethical way to do so is through non-violent means:

    a) I think it is important to remember that none of us are actually non-violent. We are all deeply enmeshed in an incredibly violent society. When we pay our taxes, we pay for the bombs that destroy people around the world. So much of our consumption contributes to slave labor and to climate crises that wreak havoc on the most vulnerable people around the world. There are countless examples, but the point is that all of us contribute, every day, to enormous amounts of violence, whether consciously or unconsciously, and whether or not we want to be doing so. So we don’t get to claim moral purity. That said, obviously we want to strive towards doing the least amount of harm possible, which brings me to:

    b) Sometimes physical force is what results in the least amount of harm possible being done. I HIGHLY recommend reading this piece written from a Buddhist perspective on “how to lovingly punch a Nazi.” The author begins with the story of a captain deciding to kill a pirate in order to save many people who the pirate is intent on killing. It is an excellent piece that can also help us get beyond overly simplistic narratives of they are the bad guys and we are the good guys, which I’ll return to below. But regarding the point of causing the least amount of harm, the author emphasizes that deciding to kill someone — if you don’t dehumanize them in the process — is never an easy choice, but that taking on the karma of taking one life is an important sacrifice to make when the alternative is taking on the karma of the many murders that could have been prevented:

    3) To those who believe so strongly in not using physical force (because of ethical and/or strategic reasons) while ALSO being so committed to fighting fascism and white supremacy, that they are willing to put their bodies on the front line, making themselves the buffer between the Nazis and others, being willing to receive a beating or even death in order to make crystal-clear who the aggressors are:

    You are badass. I have deep admiration for you. Maybe one day I will try be like you, though right now I’m not sure I even aspire to be. I want to say that I do, but I also know that I don’t romanticize martyrdom and that I have resistance to submitting to my own or other people’s lives being destroyed with that principled of a stance. It might truly be the best and most effective way forward. I don’t know. I’m very persuaded by the points in the article on lovingly punching a Nazi. But I also want to learn from you. I’m not sure I actually know any of you, though, so let me know if you are out there and reading this.

    4) Some more general thoughts:

    a) It is interesting to me that there seems to be a much greater willingness to accept the role of physical force in self-defense when the situation is further away from us in space and/or time. I don’t hear much criticism, for example, of the Zapatistas, which is a largely non-violent movement but that has also involved the use of force in moments. Nor do I hear much criticism of the Warsaw uprisings or of Harriet Tubman or other people fighting slavery. I’m assuming that’s because, with distance, it’s easier to cheer on the side that we see as righteous, because we don’t have to question our own level of involvement, our own level of commitment. [Side note: I’m not saying that the willingness to use physical force makes one more or less committed, I’m just saying I think these debates and criticisms don’t happen so much when we aren’t faced with the question of our own skin in the game or not in the game, and I think there is something telling about our willingness to accept physical force as a sadly potentially necessary component in these other kinds of cases.]

    b) I grew up in Germany. Because Germany lost the war, they were forced, in mainstream education/media/etc. to have to contend with their history, unlike the U.S. And so in our history classes, we studied the rise of Nazism pretty carefully. I remember being taught about the “salami-tactic” — people would often ask, “how could this have happened?” and the response is that it’s not like the gas chambers suddenly appeared overnight, it was a long steady process. Every day, another thin slice of the salami would get cut off, until suddenly the salami was completely gone. (Kind of like the frog in boiling water metaphor I’ve heard people use.) Anyway, even without getting into the longer history since the arrival of colonizers on this land, even if we are just looking at the Trump regime, we can see the salami-tactic at work. Every day, a little more, every day, what we are willing to put up with is being tested and pushed further and further. The increased sense of empowerment that these extremists groups are feeling right now makes complete sense. And so when we put this into context, and when we have every reason to believe that the folks spewing this genocidal hate speech intend to act on their promises, then do we really want to wait until things have gotten to the level of gas chambers to fight back? Again, people might have different opinions on the most strategic ways to fight back, but those folks who were run out of the park on Sunday were folks who were threatening violence. We don’t have to go far back in history for examples of these folks following through on their rhetoric and actually stabbing, shooting, beating people. As a friend recently shared about one of the instances that happened on Sunday:

    “The people who got chased out of Berkeley on Sunday have been SENDING MY FRIENDS THOUSANDS OF DEATH AND RAPE THREATS FOR MONTHS. Please read this article about the person who was attacked/chased by Antifa:
    The media has actually been reporting that this “innocent” man was just getting groceries and was “mistaken” for a Trump supporter. He’s an Alt-Right White Nationalist/Neo-Nazi and he has a long, well-documented history of racist, xenophobic, misogynistic, homophobic, just UGLY harassment, intimidation, provocation, and violence. He posted a selfie of himself picking up tikki torches “for some patriot shit” the night before the Berkeley rally. It got 42 RTs; it’s like if Elliot Rodger had a fan base. It’s a shame that journalists don’t do their jobs, but y’all really need to be more critical and more curious before jumping to conclusions and attacking people who stood up and protected the community from a violent White Nationalist.”

    c) It is not unreasonable to assume that Antifa’s actions might have actually DE-ESCALATED the situation on Sunday and might have led to LESS VIOLENCE. We can’t know this for sure, but it is not an unreasonable assumption. By chasing off those whose stated intent is harm, by not acting as though this is simply a “free speech” issue, by taking the threats seriously, they may have actually prevented people being stabbed or killed.

    d) None of us knows exactly how change happens. We all have our opinions on that, and can draw on various historical examples to back them up. But there are so many layers to every historical example — activism is an ecosystem, and it is impossible to say exactly what tactics and actions will lead to what exact outcomes. So we have to stay humble.

    e) I don’t think anything or anyone should be beyond critique. But I believe we have to be really careful about how we engage in those critiques. There are those out there that want to see us implode, that want to exploit any divisions we have to use them against us. We need to have more face-to-face conversations where we are holding each other’s humanity as we’re continuing these struggles and working through our differences. That is precisely one of the things that was so incredibly beautiful about the Berkeley action — people from many different organizations, with many different opinions/commitments regarding non-violence, diversity of tactics, etc. all came together and hashed that stuff out and developed some agreements. And people followed through and respected those agreements. I’m so so so impressed by that and so grateful for all the organizers who put in tons of time in those meetings and made real coalition work happen.

    f) Maybe not every moment was as absolutely perfect as it could have been. I don’t know. I do know that we are all flawed humans, and that all of us who were out there protesting fascism on Sunday are trying to create a world with less violence. We may make some mistakes along the way — but those mistakes can happen in many directions, including the mistake of not being active enough (see point #1 above). We really need to not throw each other under the bus — because THAT would be contributing to the work of the fascists who would love to see us implode.

    g) I suppose there might be some people who decide to use force to fight fascism who get off on the adrenaline of that kind of action. But I don’t assume that is the case for most folks who make that decision. In fact, I think it is a really difficult choice to make and that we need to really examine to what extent we are willing to outsource that choice to others, to let them do that hard work, while we stay at a safe distance and critique. As we’ve heard from those who have been close to the front lines, who were not prepared to use force themselves but were faced with violence from the Nazis, they were very relieved and grateful to have Antifa folks step in and protect them. In fact, we might see the willingness to play this role as quite a profound sacrifice on the part of Antifa, because of a willingness to carry the karmic debt of that particular form of violence on behalf of many who benefit from that sacrifice.

    h) Returning again to this great article on how to lovingly punch a Nazi, I do believe that we have to be careful to not completely demonize and dehumanize others, even when their actions are horrific. I think we have to recognize that, under other circumstances, WE could be the people doing horrific things. No one is just born that way. And so that is why the author argues that punching/killing the Nazi can be a loving act, not just because it protects someone else from the Nazi, but because it also protects the Nazi from himself — in preventing the Nazi from doing more harm, it is preventing the Nazi from accumulating even more karmic debt. But that requires a stance of actually figuring out how to have compassion for someone who is so overcome with hatred and delusion. So that the punching/killing doesn’t devolve into self-righteousness and some imagined triumph of good over evil, as right as that might feel. To me, this is the big challenge. When people say, “oh, by fighting hate with hate, we’re becoming just like them,” I think that a) there is a real problem of false equivalency and over-simplification in that statement but that b) there also is a bit of danger/truth in that, if we are actually functioning from a place of hate. But I think what this article reminds us is that NOT ALL ACTS OF VIOLENCE ARE ACTS OF HATE. But also, to be real, getting to that level of compassion takes hella enlightenment that I’m not sure most of us are actually capable of on a regular basis and c) I’m frankly less worried about the sense of vengeance or self-righteousness that someone fighting white supremacy and other forms of domination might have than I am about not fighting those things, even if we are doing the fighting imperfectly (in our methods, in our attitudes, etc).

  • Sean Feit Oakes

    Thank you, Katie, and bows for your work, and all those who came out in response to the threats and ugliness from the White-supremacist Right and neo-Nazis trying to rally and incite violence in SF and Berkeley. Politically and analytically I can’t add anything to the depth of response and clarity in Nathan/Doshin’s comment above. Thank you, Nathan, for your eloquence and precision in this. To Kendall and Bunnabelle likewise. I’ll offer another few thoughts I haven’t seen here yet, looking at traditional Buddhist perspectives.

    The early Buddhist tradition as preserved in the Theravāda Pāli Canon offers little help in the dilemma that seems to appear between nonviolence as an ethic and defensive or offensive action as a tactic against oppressive violence like that of current American White-supremacism and other historical fascisms. The ethic of renunciation-powered nonviolence in famous texts like the Simile of the Saw (, in which even if evil people are cutting you up with a two-handled saw you should remain in a mind state of Friendliness (mettā), “void of hatred,” is pretty uncompromising. It was also a teaching for monastics, we must remember, and so embedded within the monastic discipline.

    Western Buddhists who appeal to less renunciate aspects of responsivity and power, like Thanissara calling on the image of Vajrayoginī, often have to do it from the less renunciate traditions, and it is the Mahāyāna and Vajrayāna that contain these archetypes. Not unsurprisingly, these traditions also often have a more layered ethic of responsivity to violence. Donald Rothberg, in a 1992 article “Buddhist Responses to Violence and War” (, but firewalled) discusses four Mahāyāna texts that appear to justify violence in response to violence, and all of them hinge their interpretation on the intention of the person engaging in such defensive (or in one case preemptive) violence. One of the most challenging, from the Upāyakauśalya Sūtra, has a bodhisattva [Being Devoted to Awakening and Compassion] killing a sea pirate in order to protect the pirate himself from the bad karma he would accrue by killing 500 other bodhisattvas. Rothberg notes that this text has been used to justify assassination, but when asked about texts like this, the Dalai Lama said that he didn’t consider his own level of spiritual development to be high enough to allow the abrogation of the principle of nonviolence. (Rothberg 1992) Basically, compassionate violence is only justified if one can be absolutely sure that one’s motives are pure. An impossible standard, I’d say.

    So from a contemporary practitioner standpoint, unless the people engaging in violence are Buddhists who practice within a tradition that takes the ethical precepts as implying literal nonviolence, and thus could be engaged in a conversation about their precise intention, then I don’t think it’s Buddhists responsibility to respond to criticism of their actions from a Buddhist perspective. I can hold a religious stance against violence, and do, but still understand and appreciate the tactic of defensive violence against fascism, which I do. Conscientious Objectors to war might take a job as a medic without it being seen as supporting the ideology of war. Likewise, I don’t think it’s anyone’s responsibility to defend all the actions of others, even those in their affinity group or cohort. The media always gets this one wrong (and here’s a hopefully not false equivalency…) on both sides. There are peaceful right-wingers and violent lefties, of course. It’s a tactic of oppression to make one black person have to defend the actions of all black people, and it’s oppression to make someone with a certain politics have to defend all the actions of others who share their politics or even have a tangentially related politic.

    As Rebecca Solnit wrote yesterday, “Why let the right and status quo make antifa something we all have to debate/condemn /justify? …If you let them set the priorities, you’ve already lost. I’m opposed to violence generally, for ideological, tactical, and strategic reasons, but why are we constantly told that left-wing violence justifies right-wing violence and not vice-versa? Why accept the framework that the left has to be 100% nonviolent to earn a cookie from people not doing much to denounce the KKK, Nazis, the NRA gun cult, misogynistic violence, homophobic violence, transphobic violence, environmental violence, economic violence, etc.?” (

    I believe that a principled Buddhist response to violence can come from within many of the doctrinal positions, and that individual Buddhists and organizations can make complex choices that distinguish tactics from ethics, but reject the idea that the actions of some on the left pose an intrinsic challenge for Buddhists who also align themselves with generally left ideals and tactics.

    Love to you all, and gratitude for your work.

  • Shodo Spring

    Katie, thank you for the long and thoughtful writing – as well as the collection of articles. I also appreciate the others who’ve written above, also thoughtfully. Quite a contrast with the shouting I’ve seen in some other places.

    I have been perplexed. Really I only know that I don’t know, and that’s not the ideal Buddhist not-knowing but a practical lack. And the biggest thing I don’t know is appropriate response to the miscellaneous violence, and the language of violence, that I hear from some people who think they have the only solution. As a person with plenty of class and race privilege, I don’t tell other people what to do. I very seriously believe that an organized anarchism is the best way to go, and have been in both long-term and short-term groups organized that way.

    I also listen and have sympathy for the critics. Based on my facebook conversations, it seems to me that there are quite a few people who prefer violence, who intentionally disrupt nonviolent actions, and who think there is no possibility of effective nonviolent action. The fact that King was a softer alternative to Malcolm X, and Gandhi was an easier alternative to the militant independent movements, is often cited.

    I only hope, at this time, that we can treat each other with respect, and continue the conversation which could possibly lead to an outcome including both justice and peace.

  • Kazu

    Hey Katie. I appreciate this post, for you tagging and linking to what I wrote, and the general tone with which you wrote it. I appreciate you writing this as an invitation to a dialogue, something I think is seriously lacking. I feel like too many advocates and supporters view people who are critical of those tactics as privileged liberals who are sitting at home doing nothing, while those of us critical of antifa tactics view people wearing masks as inexperienced kids just wanting to create a ruckus. If we can’t model what it means to be in conflict within our own movements, I’m not sure what that means for our chances at creating beloved community on a larger scale.

    I would still love for you to come to one of our workshops one day. Our next one will be at EBMC too.

    Let me offer a few thoughts. I apologize in advance cause I’m long winded. Despite my love of Taoism, these things tend to be really complex so….

    1 – I give a lot of credit to folks in antifa for the courage they have to put their bodies on the line to fight white supremacy. To be honest, I’m even a bit jealous that there is such a large community building around it. I’ve been open that part of what has given rise to the need for antifa has been the failure of those of us who advocate for nonviolence for not building a movement that matches the escalation of violence from the Right. My criticism/concern is strictly about the effectiveness of the tactic, not of the commitment or intention of those participating in it.

    I also want to own part of my positionally in this whole thing. While I’ve committed 20 years of my life full time to social justice work, the last five years I’ve really been focused on the work inside prisons and county jails. This means that I have not been on the streets and in the meetings as much as I have in the past. Recently, my MO has been to show up to the rallies and the actions, and not do a lot of support organizing them. So I realize that I need to do a better job of showing up if I’m going to continue to offer my thoughts.

    AND, I think the argument that folks who aren’t showing up shouldn’t be saying anything is also a dangerous argument to make. People don’t or can’t show up for a multitude of legitimate reasons. My only reason is that I have been prioritizing other work, so I am trying to move things around in my life so that I can show up more moving forward.

    2 – I think imaging matters more or less depending on what your theory of change is. My concern is that folks in antifa believe that we can win the battle against white supremacy as a radical fringe movement. I think fringe movements can shut down events. I don’t think we can defeat white supremacy without the will of the popular majority. There has never been movements that have won MAJOR successes when it was only a fringe movement. And if we are trying to build a popular social movement to defeat white supremacy, imaging is everything. This includes masks as well as violence, as limited as it may have been.

    I think we spend too much time evaluating the effectiveness of our actions based on the perspective of the radical left. We criticize the mainstream media for their unfair portrayals of the actions. And they are totally biased and unfair. But we know that right? I mean, at this point why are we even surprised? To me it doesn’t matter what the radical left thinks of how unfair the media is. What matters is the reality that the vast majority of the country still watches, reads and listens to mainstream media. My fear is that – right or wrong – when the media puts this narrative out, it makes the majority of the country feel like this is a battle between the Alt-Right and antifa. That the battle against white supremacy isn’t their battle. And to me, that has to be taken into account when we think about effective strategy.

    Yes, these tactics have been VERY effective in shutting down rallies. But long term, is it building the movement against white supremacy or turning people in the center away? To me the mainstream media is partially a gauge of where the center is. And I’m afraid we are losing that battle.

    Of course, this has a lot to do with theory of change. I believe that we need the masses, I believe we can’t do this as a fringe movement, I believe the center matters. If that is not the theory of change being put forth by antifa, I would love to hear it but I have not heard a long term strategy that explains how these tactics moves us towards defeating white supremacy, only towards stopping white supremacist rallies.

    3 – Again, I can’t help but feel that antifa is exactly what the Alt-Right wants. I’ve never heard of Richard Spencer before he got punched, never heard of Milo Yiannopoulos before his events were cancelled, I’ve never heard of Joey Gibson before he got attacked. Now they’re all national figures. I feel like the left gave them a platform they couldn’t have dreamt of only months ago. I keep saying this, but Milo’s book became the number one best seller on Amazon the night of the UC Berkeley protest. It’s now self published, and made its way back to #1 on Amazon.

    As part of my practice, I have been listening to a lot of conservative podcasts, reading fox news and breitbart, etc. It’s been an interesting practice. I have a much better understanding of their messaging and their perspective, and again, I feel like they LOVE what’s happening. There’s a reason they keep coming to the Bay as opposed to holding these rallies in Texas where they would have a lot more local support.

    4 – Finally there’s this. And it’s a question, not a criticism. I’m willing to get punched by a nazi. I’m willing to take multiple blows, get maced, perhaps even more than that. And I feel like I’m at a point in my life that I could take that and not respond in kind. And I know others who are at this place. I feel like that kind of action could potentially be a trigger event that makes our movement multiply and exposes the violence of their movement. But if I take blows, then antifa beats the person that punched me, then I feel like any sacrifices I make would be for naught.

    So my question is, do you think that antifa would give space for that? “Diversity of tactics,” right? Let’s say there was a crew of people wearing bright yellow hats. And if anyone saw one of us getting attacked by the Alt-Right, could we make an agreement that antifa stays away and allow us to take it?

    It’s a complicated question, partially because if there is still violence on the other side of the park at the same rally, the impact of such an action might be lessoned. But I’m curious if an agreement like this could be made.

    Because at the end of the day, I get that antifa is not going away. I know that folks are down and committed and they will continue to do what they feel like they need to do to fight white supremacy. As advocates of nonviolence, I feel like we need to a) step up, and b) figure out a way to all work together, as messy and as complicated as that may get.

    Sorry for the long post. My workshop got cancelled tomorrow due to a lockdown in Soledad prison, so instead of leaving at 5AM I get to sleep in so I’m up late lol.

    Thank you again for this post and for the invitation to dialogue. Hoping for much more of it.

    Kazu Haga Jerry I don’t disagree that the media sensationalizes minor incidents of violence to sell papers (or clicks in today’s world). But after dealing with the same tactics used by mass media for decades, that should not be a surprise to us. At this point it shouldn’t even disappoint us, because we know that’s what they do. I’m concerned that those of us on the radical left don’t take that into account when we build strategy. We get mad because we know they are sensationalizing things, but we forget that right or wrong, the mass media is what the vast majority of the country reads and believes. When we discount the importance of the narrative as told to the vast majority of the country, we are essentially saying that “we don’t care what the vast majority of the country thinks about our movement.” We on the radical left celebrate what happened in Berkeley, meanwhile the Right’s base is growing, and the center is feeling isolated from the movement. We make them think that this is a battle between the Alt-Right and antifa, that this is not fa movement that requires their participation. We can’t defeat white supremacy if the majority of the country isn’t on board, and feels like this is a battle between the fringes. The media has ALWAYS been a problem, and always will be. That’s a given. So the fact that antia doesn’t take that into account in their evaluation is a problem also.

  • Kazu

    Sorry I cut and pasted a comment I made elsewhere to pull from then forgot to delete it at the end lol! It’s getting late.

  • Katie Loncke

    Overwhelmed with gratitude at the richness of the discussion — here and elsewhere. Thank you Kazu, Shodo, Sean, Cecilia, Nathan, Shaun, and Bunnabelle! (And Kendall and Nathan, too :)

    Headed to a meeting but will continue to marinate on everyone’s comments — so many important dimensions raised. Right here, right now, we have black bloc tactical sympathizers (raises hand) and those skeptical of the tactic (also legit) having active, respectful conversation, and that in itself feels like a small miracle of peace worth celebrating. I blame the dharma for helping us all to listen. :)

    much love,

  • Kendall

    Thank you for this. Thank you for your clarity, your heart, your courage, your committment. I spent 35 years volunteering in prisons myself, and I know the importance of that work. Your thoughtfulness moves me deeply and gives me plenty to think about.

  • Kendall

    My thanks were meant for Kazu. But thanks to everyone who contributes.

  • Bunnabelle

    Hi Kazu,

    I really appreciate how much you are considering all these angles. I can’t speak to all of your concerns, but I wanted to bring up a couple because I have been involved in much of the organizing for the bloc, and have been a medic in the bloc, and have taught self-defense to much of the community in and outside of militant circles.
    The truth is that in our meetings, there isn’t anything close to a consensus on whether we can combat fascism with a popular movement or not. I do think that there is a general agreement that in addition to diverse tactics being used to similar goals in any direct action, that the pace with which things can and need to be done from group to group and goal to goal in a larger sense must also vary. Sometimes a fast response is required and it is a truly exceptional moment when popular mass mobilizations can happen rapid-response style. In my experience, those rely heavily on MSM publicity more than good organizing, and are impossible to reproduce reliably.
    I believe that we are all antifa if we are against fascism and that it’s just language, that militants do not and should not have a monopoly on antifascism. I also think that antifascism must also be pro-black and pro-queer and proactively in support of groups most targeted by fascist agendas. Because of this, my antifascism and that of many of my comrades builds up the movement along the material and ideological support for self-determination of oppressed people.
    But beyond doing the long-term struggle work as members of the community who espouse antifascism, there is intentional coalition building on the part of militant leftists as militant antifascists. Before the action on Sunday, militant leftists who agree with black bloc tactics met for over a month and sent liaisons two the coalition that put on United Against Hate, the Bespokes Council, and BARAH coalition. There were some younger people such as students, but the majority of the 25-30 people who met regularly have been deeply entrenched in the liberatory work that holds the community together from 5-20+ years. I am 30 and I was on the younger end, tagged in by someone in their 50s who played critical roles in the United Against Hate forum, and has been a connector between lefty groups in the Bay for longer than I have been alive.
    So the value for larger coalition and movement building is a deep, deep part of the ethic of the vast majority of militant leftists that I work with, it’s just that we also have an ethic of not taking credit for the vast majority of our work, whether it’s the stuff we do masked up or not. The problem with that is that if people have a critique we can never truly set it straight because no one takes you at your word and using more proof will undermine the privacy and safety created by blocking up in the first place.¯\_(ツ)_/¯

  • Kyle

    Thank you Katie and BPF for this great dialogue! Seems the more I dig around for my view on violence through a “Buddhist lens,” the messier it all gets. My bright lines just keep moving. At the broadest, I strive to meet each challenge as it truly is, acknowledging both a concrete guideline based in the precepts and a flexibility demanded a non-binary world. Accordingly, I find “violence” an ambiguous concept and most commonly a personally subjective one. It helps me to think in terms of harm.

    The first precept as I took it is “Do not harm, but cherish all life.” As most here would agree, doing no harm also means “do good” – it calls for action. Hearing that call is where it gets complicated. I agree with Cecilia above that inaction and silence is violence. It is difficult to face the fact that living our daily lives as Westerners in a capitalist society is to commit or condone a thousand violent acts each day. Acknowledging this can be so overwhelming, no wonder we are prone to look away or hide in our jobs, in our busyness, but as a Buddhist, as a person, I am compelled to act even in the face of violence or defeat. If living today involves a balancing of harms at nearly every step, how do I choose a path?

    Uncontroversially, I am against violence for the sake of violence. However, I am not against defensive or strategic violence (for me strategic violence is of the sort that attacks the institutional dukkha perpetuated by global capitalism, racism, patriarchy, etc. and is directed at inanimate infrastructure as opposed to living beings, not to be confused with torture, e.g., which fall on the other side for the line for me) and I believe that a denial of diversity of tactics draws an artificial line that doesn’t allow for the variety of scenarios that reality presents. From what I gather, I share this view with the vast majority of the black bloc and many self-identifying antifa, though I agree that there is a much wider range of views in the antifa camp than the media portrays.

    I feel every act is influenced by two simultaneous judgments: a utilitarian calculation and our innate compassion. These can be in tension, but often they are in concert. Sometimes they can lead to complex scenarios – I may punch a nazi, then later help bandage an injured nazi – how am I to know the next Angulimala? It may mean stopping a pipeline that would help lower fuel costs for heating low income homes (I am unconvinced that it would, but indulge the hypothetical?), but help avoid planetary destruction. In this way I try to apply the wisdom of the dharma to the facts as they present themselves to actively fight for a better world – not just harm avoidance.

    Clearly I am still trying to wrap my head around everything. In the meantime, I try not to be shy about holding contradictory views; Buddhism recognizes the contradictory nature of life, e.g. the concept of the two truths. Like the example of Fannie Lou Hamer, I will work for peace and be ready to defend myself and others from attack.

    Bowing in gratitude,

    Jin Haeng Kyle Wiswall, Forest Park Zen, Springfield, MA

  • Cecilia

    Thanks for this, Kazu.

    I really want to learn more from you. When is the training at EBMC happening?

    Also, I think the question about respecting a diversity of tactics, including the desire to not have other use force on our behalf, is a really important one that I hope can be taken up in continued organizing meetings.

    I’m really sitting with this part of what you wrote: “My fear is that – right or wrong – when the media puts this narrative out, it makes the majority of the country feel like this is a battle between the Alt-Right and antifa. That the battle against white supremacy isn’t their battle. And to me, that has to be taken into account when we think about effective strategy.”

    That fear is part of the reason why I’ve been nervous about folks on the “left” being so publicly vocal in critiques of black bloc tactics. I worry that, in the effort to publicly declare distance/separation from black bloc tactics/antifa, that we set up a dynamic of “good protesters vs bad protesters” that can easily be even further exploited by mainstream media narratives. I found Rebecca Solnit’s comment helpful here, regarding reframing the attempts to keep making everything about alt-right vs. antifa:

    “Why let the right and status quo make antifa something we all have to debate/condemn /justify? People keep speaking as though they are some huge liability we must wipe away, but they only are if we take the bait. Why not just blithely say, oh yeah, who isn’t anti-fascist besides fascists, and those people in the confrontations, some doing good stuff, some maybe other stuff, not really the big issue of our time, and also did you notice a woman killed with a car and a man beaten half to death for being black and thousands upon thousand of other black people killed for being black over the last little while and also, could we talk about gender violence for, i don’t know, 500 years, because that would start to cover how awful it is except that we also need to talk about climate change as violence and a stolen election? If you let them set the priorities, you’ve already lost. I’m opposed to violence generally, for ideological, tactical, and strategic reasons, but why are we constantly told that left-wing violence justifies right-wing violence and not vice-versa? Why accept the framework that the left has to be 100% nonviolent to earn a cookie from people not doing much to denounce the KKK, Nazis, the NRA gun cult, misogynistic violence, homophobic violence, transphobic violence, environmental violence, economic violence, etc.? When all that violence gets condemned, the right has a leg to stand on, but it won’t be the right any more.”

    And, that said, the vast majority of folks are not reading Rebecca Solnit or engaging in conversations with many of us who are having these debates, but are forming opinions based on mainstream media, that we don’t necessarily have a chance to try to reframe. So, I do feel like that is something we have to grapple with. And that’s an issue I feel a whole lot of not-knowing about.

  • Kazu

    Really appreciating all this dialogue. Thanks Kendall for your words. Bunnabelle, I really appreciate a lot of what you wrote, and to be honest I pretty much agree with everything. And Cecilia too. Our next EBMC workshop is here –

    As most people are in this moment, I’m clear on some things (commitment to nonviolence and building beloved community) but not clear on others (how the hell do we get there? what’s the best way to communicate my concerns about antifa?). I think we’re all trying to figure it out, but Cecilia you bring up a really good/interesting point about the impact of having these debates criticizing antifa in public. That’s making me think.

    It’s hard in the age of social media, blogs, etc. not to get into it in public. I’ve been trying to be more mindful about HOW I engage in them. Giving antifa credit where I believe its due, criticizing advocates of nonviolence where I believe thats due. I do feel like most critics of antifa are along the lines of the “white moderates who are more devoted to order than to justice,” and that Dr. King said was a bigger threat to the movement than the actual KKK. And that really gives nonviolence a bad name, and makes people feel like nonviolence is a “privileged” position, which I disagree with (at least my understanding of nonviolence).

    As I wrote in my article, the question about violence and nonviolence is very complicated, but the question of action vs inaction is not. If you’re not acting against hate, you’re supporting it.

    I guess I have such grave concerns that some of the tactics that we use may backfire, that I wonder about the best platform to have the conversation. Is it in the mainstream media? Social media? Places like BPF and Waging Nonviolence, where I wrote my article? Not in the public at all and only in face-to-face? I really don’t know.

    Anyways, gotta go but thank you to ALL of you.

  • Jessica

    Two caveats: (1) I have not thoroughly read all the comments above and (2) I am not very active in the protest scene these days. I have a sincere question. It seems like Black Bloc participants would describe themselves like this “We are a group of individuals dressed in a uniform to protect ourselves as well as to identify as a unit and act collectively. We have training in resistance and de-escalation tactics. Although we don’t initiate violence, when others speak or act aggressively our use of aggression and violence in necessary to subdue them”. To me it sounds exactly like the way police would describe themselves. We resent police because we disagree with their use of force and find it unnecessary. Many resent Black Bloc for the same reason. Why is violence justified when you are the perpetrator, but not justified when police are the perpetrators?

  • Rain

    Cecilia – thank you for saying so many things that sound the bell of truth in my heart! Especially:

    To those who believe so strongly in not using physical force (because of ethical and/or strategic reasons) while ALSO being so committed to fighting fascism and white supremacy, that they are willing to put their bodies on the front line, making themselves the buffer between the Nazis and others, being willing to receive a beating or even death in order to make crystal-clear who the aggressors are:

    I don’t claim to be a bad-ass, but this is how I want to show up as a cis-gendered white woman of privilege. I am, perhaps naively, dismayed at how few of us there are. Really appreciate this thread. Thank you to all.

  • Jesse Maceo Vega-Frey

    Hi friends,

    Like everyone, I really appreciate Katie’s piece and the vibrant discussion it has channeled here. I need to read many of these thoughts in more detail but I have only a short time between phases of busyness and thought I should engage even considering those limitations. I hope it is of some benefit.

    I basically think of violence like I think of a hurricane: dependent upon certain conditions for its arising, for its continued existence, and when those conditions change or end, for its passing. When certain conditions are present, in society or the atmosphere, it is basically inevitable. When they are not, it is unlikely or impossible. When it arises, I try to stay out of it if I can. If I’m caught in it, I seek shelter and protection rooted in care for myself and others around me. Working on the underlying conditions is most important but when the storm hits, all we can expect from ourselves or others is that we try our best. And while it is good to have and push for high standards, it is also good to have low expectations. It’s the only way I’ve found to be sane.

    Anger is almost always rooted in care for something that has been harmed or threatened or betrayed. So violence is nearly always understandable. That doesn’t make it ethical, but any of us who have trained in the meditative arts ought to be humble enough to know how hard it is to ride out a storm of rage, to bear the pain of it fully, without trying to unleash it on others simply because our hearts are not developed in that capacity as deeply as they aspire to be. It is very hard. And it happens.

    This acceptance isn’t the same as justification. People who are angry and seek to act out of that anger have a tendency to deny the karma of violence. Not only is the social outcome so unpredictable, and very often detrimental, the burden on the heart of having harmed another being is heavy — very heavy. I have seen my cat eat baby birds out of a nest and watched the powerful cloud of delusion glaze over their eyes as a self-protection from moral shame, a heart quality the Buddha taught as essential to the path. The same thing happens with humans. The more we harm, the easier it is to harm. The less we harm, the harder it is. I am not prepared to say that violence never works. Of course it does — in an often limited scope. And there are historical examples where it is hard to conceive of another option to stop or overthrow forces of oppression. But we must remember that outside of that scope violence always has unforeseen negative consequences, which more often than not require more violence to ameliorate. And then it goes on. And on.

    And so any time we engage in violence — against people, a cockroach infestation, or the animals we eat — I feel we must be willing to face the reality of cruelty and pain that we have caused, and accept and feel the burden of it. This doesn’t make it OK, does not condone it, does not make up for it. But our revulsion with it will at least help us address the consequences of it internally and externally with humility, wisdom, and care. In these conversations it is so often the denial of an ethical complexity that is most distasteful and dangerous.

    That we are in a human era in which we can even conceive of massive non-violent demonstration as a verifiable form of social power is incredible, and we should remember that in the scope of things, it is very new. It is going to take time for it to take hold, become dominant, if it ever does. And we should be willing to see its historical shortcomings as well – like in the profound limitations of the transformational power of the Arab Spring.

    Obviously, it is the underlying conditions that lead to the inevitability of violence are the most important to address. While lively debate is healthy and necessary, it is also a challenge to see the threat of self-destruction on the left that disagrees about tactics too intensely. I think there is a danger in getting into too much conflict about the spectrum of our tactics, and that our concern with tactical and moral perfection can prohibit growth and vitality. It is a fine line, but the threat of self-consumption, when the real enemy is out there functioning brilliantly without a hint of this neurosis, should always be remembered. Engaging dialog is so important but being humble and taking responsibility for our own efforts and trying our best in those fields always seems more productive than over-policing the actions of our comrades. We are so good at critique and less good at building. (I know I am just as guilty of this as anyone, but I still think it’s basically true. adrienne maree brown’s new book Emergent Strategy has some more developed thoughts on this…) thanks all!

  • Hozan Alan Sdenauke

    Dear Friends,

    Please forgive the rambling nature of these comments. I welcome further questions and discussion. Meanwhile, I begin by simply saying “I don’t know.” I don’t know what overall strategies are called for in response to white supremacist and Nazi organizing. I do not personally know people who openly identify as Antifa, though I would like to be in dialogue with anyone who identifies that way. I don’t presume to know the best route toward transformation of our fractured society into what Martin Luther King Jr. call “the beloved society.” That is my dream, however formless.

    Within “not knowing,” I remain curious. By history and understanding I am convinced that collective and fundamentally nonviolent approaches are called for, approaches that recognize the humanity of every being, however reprehensible their views and actions might be. I support approaches that reject hatred without rejecting people. I recognize that this is a difficult perspective, one that—at times—may be neither realistic or possible.

    At the outset, for those of you who prefer to read no further, I understand the need for a diversity of tactics. In circumstances like Charlottesville, it seems clear that Antifa actively protected the bodily wellbeing of clergy and others who were standing against rabid and violent white supremacists. I am much more dubious about confrontations in Berkeley last weekend. I am not, on principle, absolutely committed to nonviolence. Nonviolence is a highly-evolved strategy, not an abstract idea. I may not be capable of nonviolence in all circumstances. 13th century Zen Master Dogen wrote: “You see and understand only what your eye of practice can reach.” This means to me that training is essential. I will return to this below. But I do believe, as the Buddha said in the Dhammapada:

    3. “He abused me, he struck me, he overpowered me, he robbed me.” Those who harbor such thoughts do not still their hatred.

    5. Hatred is never appeased by hatred in this world. By non-hatred alone is hatred appeased. This is a law eternal.


    It seems relevant to spell out some of my personal history. I grew up in the civil rights movement in the Northeast. I encountered virulent and sometimes violent racism in and around New York City, Long Island, and other areas of the Northeast and Midwest in the mid to late 1960s. As an antiwar activist, I took part and was arrested in the occupation of Columbia University in the spring of 1968. In those nonviolent actions 700 students were arrested, with nearly 150 hospitalized from police beatings. Subsequently I was active in an anti-imperialist organization that advocated armed struggle. I separated from such views in the late 1970s, seeing them as a dead end, that literally led to the killing of innocent people and the death and imprisonment of somew I knew. In the 1990s and early 2000s I served as executive director of Buddhist Peace Fellowship. BPF was formed as a religious fellowship under the wing of Fellowship of Reconciliation, which for a hundred years has adhered to a philosophy of active and radical nonviolence in the U.S. and around the world.


    I learned long ago to take the press with a measure of skepticism. Fifty years ago, when I was at Columbia, I read reports in the New York Times that had little to do with what I was seeing unfold—interpretively and factually. Last weekend, my son Alex came back from a day in the Berkeley streets. He was appalled by what we were seeing on the nightly news, reporting that in no way accorded with his experience. But, with a tip of the Hatlo hat (for those of you who can remember that), “They’ll do it every time.” The mainstream press will be drawn to violence like ants to sugar. Black-clad warriors—whatever their side and motivation—will get the camera’s attention.

    I am reluctant to say that the press systematically lies. But I would say that reporters and news organizations often see things through the lens of their own self-interest, which is rarely the interest of the most oppressed. Their interest is in sensation and spectacle. It Is often a kind of “value-neutral” theater for the press, whose goal is to sell newspapers and draw attention to themselves.

    A concern I have about masked figures in black is that the mask itself is dehumanizing. In a sense it dehumanizes both sides of an encounter and turns conflict into theater. I understand that dress has a practical and symbolic function, but from my perspective we must struggle, sometimes at great cost, to preserve our humanity and—I hardly dare to say it—the possibility of love. I have not seen how that comes with retaliation and masks.


    The valuable exchanges on “Buddhists and the Bloc” seem to me to underscore the need for intensive training—both the opening of our “eye of practice” and the deep practice of active nonviolence. Certainly we live in a different time, fifty and sixty years after the Civil Rights movement. But there are lessons from that era and from other successful nonviolent movements that are powerful examples for us.

    “In Nashville, throughout the autumn of 1959, (Rev. James) Lawson led weekly Monday-evening meetings in which he and interested students analyzed the theories and techniques that he had encountered in India. His workshops scrutinized the Bible, and writings of Gandhi, King and Thoreau. They practiced test-cases, including small sit-ins. Lawson’s workshops lasted for several months before news broke on February 1, 1960, of the Greensboro sit-ins. Hearing of the Greensboro actions, seventy-five Nashville students followed suit, creating the largest, most disciplined and influential of the 1960 sit-in campaigns. In working with Lawson—who was always calm and self-effacing—the Nashville students were not only being trained by one of King’s own instructors, but they were benefitting from direct acquaintance with Gandhi’s experiments.”

    Here is a grittier description of Lawson’s process.

    “…they began practicing a variety of nonviolent tactics and how to respond when confronted with violence. They could be intense, C.T. Vivian recalled, involving “how to in fact take the blows—cigarettes being put out on you, the fact that you were being spit on—and still respond with some sense of dignity and with a loving concept of what you were about, to be hit and knocked down, and to understand that in terms of struggle…”

    In younger days and from time to time over the years I have participated in such training and been tested once or twice in such actual confrontations. That level of love and non-retaliation is still my aspiration. I know that BPF has sponsored nonviolence trainings for particular events. It may be that now we need a more intense and intensive process as the racism and violence that has always been with us expresses its poisonous self even more readily.


    As a last point, I return to “not knowing.” A question I’ve been wondering about is built into the compounded word “nonviolence.” Does nonviolence in essence bear with it a shadow side—violence? Practically, my question is whether there exists a threat or fear of violence behind every act of nonviolence. If nonviolence is ineffective, is the specter of violence implicit as an alternative or next step. Does this question make sense?

    Maybe it all depends on the power and presence of love. That is a very high bar to reach. Even if I can set aside hate, am I capable of unconditional love in the darkest confrontation. Honestly, I don’t know. That is the principled foundation of Tolstoian/Gandhian/Kingian nonviolence. How many of us can reach that journey’s end? Can I? And even if at this moment I fall short, can I begin again? In Zen practice, that is our way: endlessly beginning, again and again.

  • lza


    I appreciate, and am surprised, by the open-mindedness of the discussion. I hope that our discussions here maybe reflects the willingness of the wider Buddhist community to talk over these issues and ideas.

    I believe we often reserve our harshest criticisms for those closest to us. I have considered myself an anarchist for 25 years. I say that in the same sense that I consider myself a Buddhist. I may stray from the path, but I believe that the principles of anarchism form the basis of a truly compassionate society, one that seeks to nourish the greatest potential of every individual. Doshin mentioned Chris Hedges as being a particularly vocal opponent of black bloc and Antifa. While Hedges has said that he is hesitant of labels, he feels the strongest kinship with the Christian anarchism of people like Dorothy Day (and I suppose of Christian anarchist pacifist Ammon Hennacy, whose life was most vividly described by folksinger, anarchist, and IWW member, Utah Phillips). So rather than representing the progessive/liberal left, I would say that he speaks from a very specific history of tension and fracture within the anarchist movement itself, one that involves a greater question of vision, positioning and strategy. You can also read criticism of Antifa by Noam Chomsky, a lifelong anarchist who has never considered himself a pacifist, and speaks of his admiration of the Spanish anarcho-syndicalists who fought Franco and the fascists.

    As I said, I practice as a Buddhist. Do I believe, ultimately, in the superiority of non-violence? Absolutely. Do I believe that compassion and love are ultimately the only true and lasting counters to hate and violence? Absolutely. Do I consider myself a pacifist? No, I’m too much of a coward! But do I hold a range of conflicting feelings, beliefs, and ideas? Yes, again absolutely. As Cornel West likes to say, we are all cracked vessels.

    When I show up at these protests, would I engage in self defense? At this point in my life, yes. Would I try my best to physically protect or defend people from white supremacists? Absolutely yes.

    But let me now speak as an anarchist. I am opposed to the black bloc. I think it represents a tendency towards insurrectionism and individualism over the grind of workplace and community organizing, and ultimately of hopelessness and desperation. In the 90s, anarchist Murray Bookchin put out a controversial essay entitled, “Social Anarchism or Lifestyle Anarchism: An Unbridgeable Chasm,” in which he scorned the currents within anarchism that brought forth the black bloc in the late 90s and early 2000’s.

    Chris Hedges wrote in his most recent essay:

    “The two opposing groups, largely made up of people who have been cast aside by the cruelty of corporate capitalism, have embraced holy war. Their lives, battered by economic misery and social marginalization, have suddenly been filled with meaning. They hold themselves up as the vanguard of the oppressed. They arrogate to themselves the right to use force to silence those they define as the enemy. They sanctify anger. They are infected with the dark, adrenaline-driven urge for confrontation that arises among the disenfranchised when a democracy ceases to function. ”

    Hedges was the son of a minister, and trained as a minister, and his tone is often dark and fierce. But I think he touches on the truth of the matter. Opposition to power is a lonely place, and in this time of ecological catastrophes, a dark place. I think that the right wing recognizes that in a society of deep alienation and, as Hedges says, disenfranchisement, picking up a gun provides a form of immediate power. Likewise, I believe acts of property damage and violence against white supremacists provides similar sense of power in a world where opposition seems so difficult and futile. But I think that if our *aspiration* is not anti-militarism and nonviolence, attended by compassion and love for even our supposed enemies (though we may often stray and stumble), we will fail to build a better world and a better future.

    One of the most important tenets in anarchism has been the alignment of means and ends. Anarchists, in their sparring with Marx and those aligned with him, used that idea to argue that you could not bring about a stateless communist society (the ultimate goal of Marx) through seizure and application of state power.
    They said that it did not matter who held power, capitalists or workers, but that power over others existed. It is institutions of power and of oppression, not individuals, that are the enemy of humanity. Yet some anarchists continue to see enemies in individuals, unable or unwilling to distinguish between deed and doer. Further, can an anti-militaristic society based on democracy, cooperation, solidarity, and equitable outcomes be born out of violent struggle? The German anarchist and pacifist Gustav Landauer argued against this, and for the realization of socialism in the current world, through the creation and development of communal organizations (his life ended in 1919 with his torture and cruel execution at the hands of a coalition of “right-wing” socialists and fascists).

    I hope my ramblings offers some insight into the breadth and range of anarchist ideas that those on the outside do not see.

    Lastly, let me offer one last comment. I fear that Antifa, and now those on the left like Redneck Revolt and John Brown Gun Club who are considering armed self-defense, may fool themselves into believing that the road they follow will not be tragic and terrible. In speaking truth to power, the road will always be tragic and terrible.

  • Bunnabelle

    I have concerns about the concept of an “unbridgeable” binary that Bookchin described over 20 years ago (when I was 8 years old actually). As a queer gender abolitionist I am in general wary of binaries and I think that this is uncontroversial in the lefty Bay. In this instance, Bookchin played hard into a factionalism that younger anarchists inherited and have been struggling against since prominent anarchist movements swung from green to red during the Great Recession. People-centric anarchism dealing with poverty and race is highly informed by collectivism, prioritizes community work, and follows a fierce notion re broken windows of people over profit and property.
    As a community organizer who does engage in the bloc generally as a medic in the bloc, I feel personally endangered by being told that this chasm is unbridgeable because people attempting to do so are often dropped down the chasm by comrades uncomfortable with someone else’s liminality.
    For context, I was raised by a Dorothy Day Catholic and educated by latina nuns participating in NV direct action against SOA. My beginnings were steeped in radical nonviolence. Queerness brought me to Righteous Babe records, to Utah and Ammon. I also think it’s relevant to point out the context that Utah and Ammon talked about pacifism which was really explicit: that it was most important for white men who had come into the world steeped in violence and armed to the teeth with the weapons of privilege to disarm themselves of that sort of violence and notions that put people in danger without ever raising a fist.
    To me, dismantling the weapons of privilege is a huge part of nonviolence, as much as advocating for peace and choosing not physically injur people. I see some people highlighting here that the more comfortable people in society maintain those ideological weapons by pushing nonviolence in a way disempowers those who are making a stand in any way they can.
    I came to blocking up reluctantly because I felt like if I had the privilege an responsibility to show that people who look like me are in the streets. But when I got into legal antirepression work and saw the targeting, I began to advocate for everyone to cover their faces as a means of solidarity with those that had sensitive legal status, ongoing court cases, and CPS investigations (for going to protests while being parents) etc. People who couldn’t afford to be spotted also had a right and often a necessity more than people suffering less repression, to be in the street, and to rely on their comrades to help them not be singled out. And it was Ferguson that settled the property destruction issue for me. I had to ask myself if I really really felt like it was my place to replicate society’s admonishment of black people’s response to unspeakable violence. I cannot subscribe to the notion of black bloc vanguardism and my prior comments kinda describe a big tent antifascism. I do not think that people need to bloc up to defend themselves or use violence to be antifascist. Vanguardism is wrong for many reasons but mostly because it leaves people behind. But an ethic of solidarity and self determination pretty well handles that.
    When I think about how Palestine solidarity and feminism brought me to my concepts of self-defense and self-determination I see a clear path of mental decolonization over the years. Even as I do train myself and others in various techniques of self-defense to survive this violence, I also see a relinquishing of some of the other weapons (especially rigid ideological purity) that privilege gave me.

  • Willy Richardson

    Here’s the key – “The emphasis: unarmed de-escalation. Keeping people safe. Or safer. ”

    Showing up as a protector and to help de-escalate a situation is exactly in alignment with Buddhist principles. Standing up for rights and freedoms is in alignment with Buddhist principles, and is the bodhisattva path if it comes from a place of surplus (rather than fear). Protecting one’s family and loved ones is in alignment with Buddhist teachings, and sometimes that can be on an abstract level (pen is mightier than the sword).

    Lama Shang became enlightened on the battlefield. His Mahamudra text is a favorite of Lama Ole’s, that will probably be read in Denver over Thanksgiving.

    Warrior way and Buddhist way do not conflict – requires skillful means and enough understanding of the teachings, and confidence in one’s teacher.

    We are on a battlefield called life. Are you prepared to help others? One day the tanks will come over that hill and kill you. Are you prepared to die? That is the Buddhist way.

  • Rain

    Dear friends,

    I am learning so much from this exchange, and am deeply grateful for everyone’s contributions to this forum. The Antifa/nonviolence issue has been triggering a lot of emotions for me ranging from frustration to rage, righteousness to ambivalence, loneliness, isolation, and even despair. This forum is the only place I’ve found real solace, or hope, although I do have people in my sangha who I am starting to engage with in a deeper way around these questions.

    I’m just going to out myself on several fronts to start off with – I’m a privileged, white cis-woman, queer femme, gen X, long time student of thich naht hanh and dedicated practitioner in that community. I also identify as – and this is the part that feels risky- a liberal democrat. And yes, I do think capitalism is terrible, inhumane and causing ecocide. The question of what will replace it is just very unsettled for me, and and there are many aspects of liberal democracy that I support and want to safeguard. This is all to say that I do not identify as a political revolutionary, which sometimes feels like an “unbridgeable divide” when I engage with friends who do identify this way.

    The question of means vs. ends begs the question of ends. This also seems risky to bring up in this era when the threats to our humanity are so clear – why not just defeat fascism now, bridge our political divides later? But issues of trust are also there, and affect our ability to build true solidarity among anti-racist and social justice activists. As a liberal democrat I know I am seen as fundamentally untrustworthy and an obstacle/risk to the movement by some folks on the left (not assuming about folks on this forum, just to be clear). I get the reasons for this (I think) and I also get why liberals fear that direct action tactics (such as black block) will sabotage our cause.

    As a white, middle aged liberal democrat who supports principled nonviolence, I also have a lot of rage around white passivity. I do feel that it’s time for white folks of privilege to put our bodies on the line, to risk our lives, especially if we espouse nonviolence. I’m more ready to do this than I ever have been, but I think this kind of action needs lots of bodies involved in order to work. One person getting beat down doesn’t make the news, but 50 does. I can’t tell you how angry I have been hearing privileged white people talk about not attending rallies because they’re afraid of violence. don’t even get me started.

    So thinking about interbeing, if I disapprove of black bloc tactics or revolutionary political rhetoric, I really need to look back at myself, and people like me. Of course this not a new insight, but I understand that Antifa and I inter-are. Because of my actions, because of my inaction, because of white passivity, liberal complacency, etc., antifa is necessary. The same could be said of the nazis. We are all co-responsible for creating the causes and conditions that gave rise to this political moment. For some of us, the karma is very heavy, for others less so.

    Anyway, I guess I mean to say that being a liberal democrat supporter of principled NV can be a cop-out, but it doesn’t have to be. If white folks could only accept the karma we have accrued, rather than hiding from it, and take action. I’m trying to build this momentum in my sangha at last. Is there any hope or do you all think this is naive?

    With respect,


  • Rain

    Please Forgive autocorrect typos. Also, I meant to say “at least”, not “at last.”

  • Joshua Goldberg

    Thank you so much Katie for this article and your very thoughtful reflections and analysis. And thanks to everyone who has contributed to the discussion (including linking to other folks’ writing). I’m very grateful that this discussion is happening, both as a Buddhist and as a Jew.

    I live on the ‘Canada’ side of the artificial colonial border, so what is happening where I live is not exactly the same context as what’s happening under Trump in the ‘USA’. But here as well there have recently been increases in white supremacist, anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant, and anti-Jewish mass organizing (rallies, poster/flyer campaigns, etc.). There also seem to have been increases in instances of individual acts of harassment, graffiti, etc. that is not directly tied to mass organizing but obviously emboldened by it — although hard to tell if it’s increased frequency or increased media reporting.

    Like many other people who have commented on this thread, I feel a strong sense of being unsure about what to do in response. Shodo Spring’s description of this as “not the ideal Buddhist not-knowing but a practical lack” resonates strongly for me. It doesn’t feel like a spacious, flexible, attentive openness to possibility, more like a deep confusion about what are skillful means in this particular political and historical moment.

    In the early 1990s, in the city I live there was a rise in neo-Nazi organizing, in the form of increased neo-Nazi skinhead street gang recruitment, “free speech” events focusing on Holocaust denial, and anti-Jewish graffiti and postering. At that time our collective responses were (1) street patrols and accompaniment to protect against street violence (including physical defence if attacked), (2) increased physical presence outside the synagogue to protect it from damage, (3) social and political marginalization of the neo-Nazis (primarily through shutting down their events, as well as trying to shut down their avenues for communication), (4) personal support and assistance to individuals who wanted to leave neo-Nazi skinhead gangs, (5) using the legal system to try to undercut material resourcing of the organizing, and (6) holding educational events about neo-Nazism. The wave of neo-Nazi organizing was broken within a year and I considered it an example of successful organizing.

    Now all these years later I wonder if what we did was drive it underground and create conditions ripe for a resurgence.

    I am also reflecting that we made absolutely no dent in ending white supremacy, nor did we have any significant impact in increasing community understanding about structural anti-Jewish oppression. We made zero difference in the ongoing white nationalist project that is ‘Canada’.

    As I write this, I notice a tightening in my chest and a familiar anxiety of not being in control of a situation. As an activist I want to believe that what I’m doing is effective and will make a situation better, not worse. The reality is that I never actually know this, but trying to find some cognitive or emotional righteousness about what I’m doing helps me avoid the queasiness of uncertainty. I wonder if some of the debates about efficacy and morality of particular strategies and tactics also reflect a desire to dodge this uncertainty. I wonder, what would our tactics look like if we were able to be really deeply vulnerable and say in our organizing, “We don’t know if this is going to work. We don’t know if it’s going to make things worse or better. We don’t know if people are going to get seriously hurt. We are really fucking scared and we want to do something, so we’re doing the thing that we most believe has a chance of making a difference, but we really don’t know how it’s going to turn out.”

    I wonder also what our tactics would look like if we could be vulnerable and honest about our feelings. Be able to say in our organizing meetings whatever is going on, whether that’s “I don’t want to show up at the rally because I’m scared, I want to lie on the couch and eat Doritos and watch Netflix”, “I want to seriously kick some neo-Nazi ass and torch police cars”, or anything else that is in the swirling mix of our messy, beautiful human selves that is, at least in part, driving our choices about what we will and won’t do. There is so much hardened posturing that often seems to happen in the name of arguing about “what works”, whether we’re trying to be prove we’re bad-ass by being on the leading edge of a physical confrontation, or by insisting on a tactic that doesn’t involve physical altercations. I’m not sure if in the end it’s really about “truth” of what works, but more about what makes us feel good.

    Truthfully, I don’t know what it will take to end white supremacy or anti-Jewish hatred. I do a lot of different things, and I don’t know if any of them work. For some years I didn’t do any activism because I was pretty sure that what I was doing was making things worse, not better. Now I’m pretty convinced that doing nothing is the worst and that it’s better to do something and learn from it than do nothing; but I still grapple with the uncertainty of not knowing if what I’m doing is skillful. All I know how to do at this point is show up where and when I can, be accountable and responsible for my mistakes, and try to learn and do better next time. Beyond that…no idea.

    While having a theoretical appreciation for all kinds of diversity and non-binary thinking, and wanting to deepen my skillset so I have a maximally deep and broad bag of tactics to draw from, the reality is that as an activist I tend to stick with what is familiar and within my comfort zone. I see this in other people too, this resistance to trying something that feels unfamiliar and hard – whether that’s canvassing, speaking publicly, being willing to face off against police, or doing a silent vigil that involves sitting still.

    For all of these reasons, I’m very grateful that BPF is creating the space for this discussion and the heartfelt openness to being honest about where we’re at and how we got here. Thank you to everyone who is trying to do something, the best way you know how.

  • Jesse Maceo Vega-Frey

    Hi All – I just stumbled upon this devastating essay by George Orwell about Gandhi which I think everyone involved in this broader conversation might benefit from. Kind of amazing. Of course, written in 1949 by Orwell, it has some of the flaws would assume of it. Nevertheless… for the aspiring pacifist “saint-activist,” it poses important challenges.

    “The autobiography leaves it uncertain whether Gandhi behaved in an inconsiderate way to his wife and children, but at any rate it makes clear that on three occasions he was willing to let his wife or a child die rather than administer the animal food prescribed by the doctor. It is true that the threatened death never actually occurred, and also that Gandhi — with, one gathers, a good deal of moral pressure in the opposite direction — always gave the patient the choice of staying alive at the price of committing a sin: still, if the decision had been solely his own, he would have forbidden the animal food, whatever the risks might be. There must, he says, be some limit to what we will do in order to remain alive, and the limit is well on this side of chicken broth. This attitude is perhaps a noble one, but, in the sense which — I think — most people would give to the word, it is inhuman. The essence of being human is that one does not seek perfection, that one is sometimes willing to commit sins for the sake of loyalty, that one does not push asceticism to the point where it makes friendly intercourse impossible, and that one is prepared in the end to be defeated and broken up by life, which is the inevitable price of fastening one’s love upon other human individuals. No doubt alcohol, tobacco, and so forth, are things that a saint must avoid, but sainthood is also a thing that human beings must avoid. There is an obvious retort to this, but one should be wary about making it. In this yogi-ridden age, it is too readily assumed that “non-attachment” is not only better than a full acceptance of earthly life, but that the ordinary man only rejects it because it is too difficult: in other words, that the average human being is a failed saint. It is doubtful whether this is true. Many people genuinely do not wish to be saints, and it is probable that some who achieve or aspire to sainthood have never felt much temptation to be human beings. If one could follow it to its psychological roots, one would, I believe, find that the main motive for “non-attachment” is a desire to escape from the pain of living, and above all from love, which, sexual or non-sexual, is hard work. But it is not necessary here to argue whether the other-worldly or the humanistic ideal is “higher”. The point is that they are incompatible. One must choose between God and Man, and all “radicals” and “progressives”, from the mildest Liberal to the most extreme Anarchist, have in effect chosen Man.”

  • Kasi

    Jack Kornfield as Gandhi tho…

  • Jesse Maceo Vega-Frey

    Katie, your take-home message at the end seemed to be: BPF won’t “promote attacking an enemy” but won’t oppose that either because it’s wrong to “require nonviolence” and better for a movement to “aspire to nonviolence” as an (unattainable) ideal to be served however, including by violence against people judged to be dangerous enemies or by “light” violence against property with the goal of “destroying systems of greed” that make “[v]iolence surround us all the time” and “inescapable”. Violence is everywhere so that nothing is objectionable on that ground, except inaction.

    But by this point, the difference between violence and nonviolence has been debased and means nothing. There’s only the need to act as is supposed to advance or protect the threatened community or religion or revolution — and never to speak out against this. The past century has seen the consequences of such ideologies, including in the Theravadin Buddhist countries Cambodia, Sri Lanka, and now Burma, where defending ‘race, nation and religion’ is used by Buddhists to justify state and communal violence approaching genocide. Cloaking violence in the language of Buddhist compassion seems especially effective in inoculating againsgt moral inhibitions to violence, as also is running together racial, ethnic, or communal stigma with class grievance or revolutionary ideology. Among us here and now, too.

    Violence harms and kills. One need not be an absolute pacifist to recognize that and to resist desensitization to this truth. I once ‘big-brothered’ one of the surviving children of the young scientist killed by the 1970 Madison antiwar bombing. I know that there are far worse things than inaction that those who wish to defend innocent victims of violence can do. And confrontational behavior that only shouts and name-calls, without persuading, mainly consolidates existing opposed identities and enmities and risks polarizing new people to the other side, as I saw earlier when opposing the Vietnam War. Political wisdom is difficult. And the course of action that best ‘proves’ one is anti-racist is not always best.

  • Leonard

    Katie, your take-home message at the end seemed to be: BPF won’t “promote attacking an enemy” but won’t oppose that either because it’s wrong to “require nonviolence” and better for a movement to “aspire to nonviolence” as an (unattainable) ideal to be served however, including by violence against people judged to be dangerous enemies or by “light” violence against property with the goal of “destroying systems of greed” that make “[v]iolence surround us all the time” and “inescapable”. Violence is everywhere so that nothing is objectionable on that ground, except inaction.

    But by this point, the difference between violence and nonviolence has been debased and means nothing. There’s only the need to act as is supposed to advance or protect the threatened community or religion or revolution — and never to speak out against this. The past century has seen the consequences of such ideologies, including in the Theravadin Buddhist countries Cambodia, Sri Lanka, and now Burma, where defending ‘race, nation and religion’ is used by Buddhists to justify state and communal violence approaching genocide. Cloaking violence in the language of Buddhist compassion seems especially effective in inoculating againsgt moral inhibitions to violence, as also is running together racial, ethnic, or communal stigma with class grievance or revolutionary ideology. Among us here and now, too.

    Violence harms and kills. One need not be an absolute pacifist to recognize that and to resist desensitization to this truth. I once ‘big-brothered’ one of the surviving children of the young scientist killed by the 1970 Madison antiwar bombing. I know that there are far worse things than inaction that those who wish to defend innocent victims of violence can do. And confrontational behavior that only shouts and name-calls, without persuading, mainly consolidates existing opposed identities and enmities and risks polarizing new people to the other side, as I saw earlier when opposing the Vietnam War. Political wisdom is difficult. And the course of action that best ‘proves’ one is anti-racist is not always best.

  • Jesse Maceo Vega-Frey

    This thread is saying that i posted these words above to Katie but i did not! it is someone else! Its the thread that begins this way:

    “Katie, your take-home message at the end seemed to be: BPF won’t “promote attacking an enemy” but won’t oppose that either because it’s wrong to “require nonviolence” and better for a movement to “aspire to nonviolence” as an (unattainable)”

    I’m not sure what is going on but I did not write that!

  • Leonard

    Jesse, that post was mine — I don’t know how this happened, but saw it, reposted correctly in my name, and sent email to the office promptly reporting the problem. Sorry, Jesse! And I have something to say about your comment on Gandhi:

    Historically Buddhism was originally a practice of ‘home-leavers’ who abandoned families and and ordinary ‘humanity’ in search of individual perfection and liberation. Not-harming as a principal precept and value was shared with other ancient Indian traditions. Jains developed its practice most strictly.

    Ganghi’s principled position, based on study of these traditions and much thought and practice on their contemporary political application, deserves respect.

  • Rain

    I have a question about the protection of clergy by antifa in Charlottesville.

    After Dr. West’s statements, there seems to be a consensus that Antifa provided much-needed, even life-saving protection to the clergy, who had arrived with the intention of practicing strict non-violence. I have seen this used as evidence (not on this forum) that strict nonviolence is ineffective at best or hypocritical/dangerous/counterproductive at worst.

    None of us can really know without having been there, so I’m not presenting this as concrete “evidence” in defense of non-violence, but I wonder how many people on this thread have read this account of the clergy’s experience:

    “Religious protesters who spoke to ThinkProgress were mostly spiritually devoted to nonviolence, and some expressed ambivalence about the tactics of other demonstrators, such as the black-clad Antifa, whose members often challenge racism with their fists.”

    It did strike me as odd, as soon as I read Dr. West’s statements, that there were not more voices joining the chorus of gratitude for antifa – especially if they had, in fact, saved so many lives. I waited to hear the voices of more of the clergy who had been present, but no more came forward.

    I have no doubt that Dr. West was sincere in his statements, but it’s problematic to assume that he speaks for the dozens of others who took part in the interfaith protest group. It seems especially problematic to then generalize these assumptions to all principled non-violent protesters, de-legitimizing their stance as dependent on DOT “protectors.”

    It appears, from this article, that the clergy returned to the protest the second day, fully aware that there would be no police protection, and that they were in fact risking their lives for real. They found inspiration in those who had gone before, and accepted this risk. They did not model themselves on “saints” or even on Gandhi, but on ordinary, courageous, flawed humans who had chosen to risk everything to take a principled, moral stand for justice.

    Have we lost sight of the possibility that we, ordinary, flawed humans who will never be saints or anything of that ilk, can take these kinds of risks to stand against what we know to be wrong, unjust, vile?

    I hope not. And please don’t mock and denigrate those who are trying to find others with whom to build the solidarity and courage necessary to do this work.

  • Valdeir Hipnoterapeuta

    I am also reflecting that we made absolutely no dent in ending white supremacy, nor did we have any significant impact in increasing community understanding about structural anti-Jewish oppression. We made zero difference in the ongoing white nationalist project that is ‘Canada’.

  • LovingKindness

    I am deeply worried after reading this article. How the Antifa movement can even remotely be considered a mindful way of standing up to fascism goes beyond my comprehension. The disguise, the use of violence, the frequent use of totalitarian symbolism which stomped out Tibet. I strongly suggest re-reading the buddha’s teachings of loving kindness before attemting to find parallels with Antifa. May you find a path of peace and truth, blessings to all.

© 2017 Buddhist Peace Fellowship

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