Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Anarchism and AlterNet

Help me out here.

On the one hand, AlterNet often posts radical critiques of the state, such as this interesting interview I came across earlier today with historian Howard Zinn on anarchism and his rejection of the legitimacy of both democracy and the modern nation-state. It also regularly publishes this anarchist crackpot.

On the other hand, as the Zinn article indirectly reminded me, AlterNet has provided an outlet for Sara Robinson, "One of the few trained social futurists in North America," to charge that there are people among us -- dangerous, "seditious" people -- who are bent on "systemically delegitimizing the very idea of US government."

So, my question: Does AlterNet know that a writer for AlterNet essentially accused it of providing a platform for sedition, which said writer took pains to note is a prosecutable offense? Maybe, albeit belatedly: Robinson hasn't been heard from since the eve of the 2010 elections, when she was last seen warning that the people she previously accused of rejecting the legitimacy of government were seeking, instead, to create a fascist state.


  1. Now, hold on there. I was briefly infatuated with Robinson's Fascism series last year, and while I eventually disagreed that fascism was around the corner, she wrote some thoughts that needed to be thunk about. What I don't get is what you're talking about when you say she "essentially accused [Alternet] of providing a platform for sedition".

    Here's the list of groups mentioned in the sedition post: Hutaree, Sovereign Citizens, Minutemen, and spiritual warrior mappers. (Did I miss any?) All but the last had actually committed violence in support of their beliefs.

    The nice old professor is not even talking about throwing pipe bombs, just smoking pipe dreams. Robinson states: "It's only when those people start actively planning and implementing a government rebellion that it turns into criminal sedition."

    Am I missing something?

  2. Mark

    While Robinson ultimately limits her definition of "criminal sedition" to those actively planning or carrying out a rebellion -- at the very end of her piece -- the bulk of her article is spent, not on the few crazies out there that might actually try out an armed uprising, but on those who would never do any such thing, but which she accuses of engaging in "criminally dangerous" enabling of those who might.

    Because there frankly aren't a whole lot of folks, even right-wing crazies, willing to take part in armed sedition, Robinson talks about how the conservative movement as a whole is guilty of spending "the past 40 years systemically delegitimzing the very idea of US government." That is the focus of her article: tarring the entire right-wing with the "seditious" label. Indeed, she writes that, "Advocating, encouraging, and sanctioning sedition is the new norm on the conservative side." It's my contention that, were the charge true (it's not: conservatives love the military and when the government locks up poor people and props up corporations), that the same could be said of folks like Howard Zinn, who has explicitly argued on AlterNet's own site that the US government is not legitimate and should in fact be undermined.

    No, the late professor did not advocate taking up arms against the state, but neither has the bulk of the conservative movement, say what else you will about them -- the same movement Robinson, again, nonetheless accuses of engaging in "criminally dangerous" sedition. If giving a platform to and encouraging those who think the US government is illegitimate is sedition, as she writes when speaking of the right, I don't see how she could the exempt the anarchist-publishing AlterNet from the same charge.

  3. Anonymous6:11 PM

    I think anyone who investigates Sara Robinson closely will realize that she's not an ally of anything except what we are getting from the Democrats, including Barry O, right now.

    I'd encourage Mark Erickson to look more closely into Sara Robinson's work and if still not convinced, get in touch with Jay Taber. Here's Jay's blog:


  4. Anonymous6:34 PM

    Hello Mr. Davis,

    I think you have mentioned it here before (please correct me if I am wrong) but AlterNet often features a lot of “red meat” articles for Democratic partisans and movement progressives. My guess would be that this is part of a marketing strategy to keep money flowing into the website.

    Movement progressives are essentially reduced to spending their time defending the remains of the welfare state and making fun of Republicans/conservatives, thus you get a lot of articles about how the Tea Partiers are dangerous and stupid and also about how this or that tweak to the welfare state will fix America.

    I am not an anarchist, but I respect anarchists for “taking the offensive” against the System instead of just smugly making fun of people while hoping that Obama and the Democrats will save them from the evil Republicans.

  5. Anonymous6:51 AM

    As I'm sure you know, MLK described the U.S. Government as the greatest purveyor of violence in the world. American society, he said, was likely doomed by its gross iniquities.

    He also frequently marched under the American Flag and framed his arguments in constitutional and even patriotic terms. I suppose that was all "red meat" for stupid liberals and deluded Black people.

    It's usually good when the radical left points out these inconsistencies, but sometimes it's said with a sort of sectarian quality that reminds me of a clever schoolboy with a boner for Trotsky.

    Robinson's readers are surely confused in certain important respects. But if we don't consider those people to be our potential allies, we'll be left all alone with our CrimethInc posters and our pre-sell-out Against Me! mp3 files we nabbed eight years ago on Kazaa.


  6. @ Charles

    No, Robinson didn't define criminal sedition at the end of the piece. The part I quoted above is right in the middle, under the "What is Sedition?" header. She's quite clear about this. Just before the quote about planning an implementing, she says "Here's the defining line we need to hold on to. People who promote subversive ideas, no matter how dangerous those ideas might seem, are completely protected under the First Amendment. Even calling for the overthrow of the government is protected ..."

    Here's the full quote on "criminally dangerous", which is near the end of the piece (does that really matter?):

    "If this is just political grandstanding to energize the base, they're playing with fire, and they need to bring this incendiary campaign to a screeching halt. Right now. This Mickey Mouse pussyfooting around, play-acting at sedition is criminally dangerous chickenshit politics that puts the short-term needs of the Republican party ahead of the long-term viability of the American democracy they've sworn to uphold. In case the party leaders haven't noticed, their base has taken them as seriously as a heart attack -- and they're genuinely making ready for armed revolt."

    No point against you, just laying it out for those who haven't read the piece.

    I think you are reading in the focus of the article. She makes very clear throughout the article that the entire right-wing isn't seditious, but its rhetoric is becoming more eliminationist, and that has consequences. What I read as her focus, is to call out eliminationist rhetoric as wrong. To stop this reaction:

    "For years now, we've dismissed all of this as crazy talk, the rantings of a loony fringe that will never get enough traction to become a material threat to our democracy. But we're well past the point where it's no longer quaint and funny, or an embarrassing breach of democratic etiquette that polite people should just ignore."

    It should be noted that she wrote this when Glenn Beck was at the height of his popularity and before Byron Williams, whose "intention was to start a revolution by traveling to San Francisco and killing people of importance at the Tides Foundation and the ACLU." It's great that Williams didn't succeed, Beck is fading fast, and people aren't showing up to GOP rallies with automatic weapons anymore. But those things weren't true when Robinson wrote the piece.

    I'll submit this and pick up the rest soon.

  7. Part the second.

    I agree with Robinson that the conservative movement is guilty of spending "the past 40 years systemically delegitimzing the very idea of US government" with your objection as a caveat: the military, prisons, and corporate subsidies are not government. (don't agree, it's crazy, but it's how they think).

    I have to go back to my earlier confusion as to how Howard Zinn is related to all this. Robinson would support Zinn's right to say the US government is not legitimate. You'll have to provide the citation of where Zinn calls for undermining the government for me to evaluate it. The interview doesn't touch on undermining at all.

    Looks like I put the "criminally dangerous" quote in the wrong order.

    "If giving a platform to and encouraging those who think the US government is illegitimate is sedition, ..." She doesn't call this sedition.

    Where I completely disagree with Robinson is in the first paragraph under "Sedition on The Right", specifically the conclusion of the first paragraph: "thus a deliberate incitement to revolt against his administration." That's wrong. But she never calls out someone or something for giving a platform to speakers. She mentions the speakers, not the media brand.

    So that is how she avoids being guilty of your charge of selectively exempting AlterNet.

  8. However the debate on Robinson comes out, AlterNet has been extremely schizo the last year or so. It's lost a lot of the readers I was familiar with because of taking basically a Democratic party - good if not perfect/Republicans veryvery bad. Josh lost me a few weeks ago with an article asking why was the left cutting each other up over whether Obama was a success or failure when it was just helping the Republicans. I was like 'et tu, Johsua'? I listed the 4o or 45 reasons I considered Obama to be a bigger disappointment than Clint Hartung, said I could go to Red State if I wanted to be told I was an idiot and I could begin listening to Obama again if I wanted to hear how all the teribble stuff he's responsible for was the professional lefties fault.
    The Obama fanclub has come sotrming in and I frequently got veryshotile replies saying I'd be sorry if Michele Bachman is president. No, I really wouldn't. She's not going to be running, but even if she did and even if she somehow won, she could be as bad as Obama, she could not be worse than Obama. Plus she'd be a nonstop laugh riot in the bargain.

    When I say that I am personally sick of seeing children blown to bits from drones, photos of which which can easily be brought up by googling for it and should be made required viewing by the entire country. We might have an anti-war movement again. And that I will not vote for this warmongering man, they're very puzzled. To them the wars exist solely as vehicles --and Alternet writers have the same mindset --to create war crime trials for Bush, Cheney, Rummy, Condi,Wolfowitz etc.
    If you mention better keep a couple of chairs open for Obama, Mullen, Gates, Petraeus, should have both Clintons there, the place goes up for grabs. It's definitely become part of Obama Nation. Note that I did not use the play on the word abomination. This man has so many negatives that if you need to stoop to that kind of thing, you're pretty hopeless at seeing what's gong on.
    Actually I hadn't read the Robinson stories and know nothing about them, her or her opinions. But even without her, it's a very valid question that I do not know the answer to. I believe that article by Joshua indicated the direction they will be going from now until the election and I don't need the aggro.
    I've found a very good trio for daily reading: Greenwald, Chris Floyd and Davis. And there are others to read on a less frequent schedule.

  9. zilcho10:51 PM

    Seriosa?! Democrat partisans and lily livered liberals actually say that it's anti-republican, anti-cheney of obama to continue the wars because so long as the wars stay alive they are like a living evidence that will help convict their initiators?
    Like, if i walk into hostage situation in a bank, my best way to trap and convict the robber would be, to demand more hostages. I'm not joining him...just racking up more crimes on his behalf, for which he'll be later convicted. What a scrumptiously perverted mindset the people you talk to have.

  10. zilcho10:53 PM

    That was in response to mecormany, btw.

  11. Adrian,

    I don't mean to be sectarian. If people are good on issues of war and peace, I don't mind so much if we disagree on the minimum wage or health care reform, etc. I don't, however, consider people like Robinson potential allies, as she appears more concerned with the threat of hypothetical violence from right-wing crazies than the actual, ongoing and massive violence being carried out by card-carrying members of the liberal establishment, who she seems to give a pass.

    I'm no fan of militias, but I'm also cognizant of the fact that their memberships and influence are small, their capacity for violence nowhere near the level of the US military, for instance. So I see a lot ofR Robinson and her ilk's fear mongering as a red herring, an attempt to distract from the violence being perpetrated by the politicians they helped elect.


    Robinson uses a few militia-type crazies to claim, again, "that conservatives have spent the past 40 years systematically delegitimizing the very idea of US government." That's a pretty broad statement. It's also not true, as I mentioned already: conservatives love government -- see: the military, police, upholding of property rights, etc. -- they just, like liberals, don't like certain aspects of it (usually when the other team is in power).

    Robinson has to know that the term "sedition" is incredibly loaded a term, pretty much synonymous with treason. While she walks back the idea that those promoting it are all guilty of criminal offenses, she also plays loose with her language -- the "criminally dangerous" line, for example -- and the entire premise of her article is that "delegitimizing the very idea" of government is a bad thing; a grave moral offense, if not necessarily a criminal one, the promoters of which ought to be ashamed of themselves. No, she doesn't specifically name any outlets she believes are providing such views a platform -- probably because the lack or obscurity of them would undermine her fear mongering -- she is explicitly calling out those on the right who would dare promote such views, even if the views expressed aren't actually calling for a violent overthrow of the government but rather just "delegitimizing" it.

    My point is that delegitimizing the very idea of government is what Howard Zinn and others have done right from the pages of AlterNet. Robinson might support Zinn's legal right to delegitimize the state, but he -- and those who published his views -- would be just as guilty of sedition using the definition she provides.

  12. Zilcho -
    Sorry for my vague wording. I didn't mean to give the impression that they want the wars to continue because they are living evidence that could convict the Bush administration of war crimes. They don't even mention the wars, it's like they don't exist, but if one does bring it up, the only thing they mean to them is the vehicles that Bush and Cheney and Rummy and all committed war crimes in. It's like they still aren't going on, and the added 'theaters' of war don't really count because we don't have boots on the ground etc. They don't want him to continue them but they're convinced he's winding them down because he says he is, it's one of their 100 things Obama has done that he promised to do. They just don't pay careful attention to what he said he'd do and what he did and what he said he'd do and we have a pale imitation of. The point I was making was those wars are, to them , in the past, they're Bush's and Cheney's, and in them BushCheney and gang committed war crimes. What am I up to by asking about war expansion etc. He's ending the wars. They're dumb but not totally mindless.
    Or at least most them aren't. Then again, if --
    forget it.
    Just wanted to clear that up. Some may 'think' that but I've never seen that put forward as an argument.
    Sorry for the misunderstanding.

  13. Speaking as a leftist/borderline anarchist who's also been accused of sedition by the Right more times than he's had hot dinners, it's worth pointing out that the definition of sedition at the top of the article assumes that the government being subverted is lawful.

    Anyone who hasn't been living in a goddamn' cave for the past thirty years should know by now that the government of this country hasn't been lawful since forever.

  14. Charles, No. She is very clear in her definition of sedition. It requires action - and action of the sort that Howard Zinn has never taken: violent action. Did you read these statements:

    "Before we start throwing around inflammatory terms like "sedition," it's essential that we understand the strict definition of the word -- and use it carefully and precisely, lest it lose all meaning."

    "It's only when those people start actively planning and implementing a government rebellion that it turns into criminal sedition. In this case: the weird rantings on the Hutaree website -- not seditious. The group's allegedly operational plans to assassinate a police officer, ambush the resulting funeral, and thus bring on a national militia uprising -- absolutely seditious, if the charges stick."

  15. Whoops, above is from the same Mark Erickson as above. NS is my blog, and I had the nickname long ago, before the seditious (to Norway) Breivik killed many future members of the current ruling party.

  16. Mark/Norwegian,

    I understand that. And I understand that Robinson nevertheless spends the majority of her piece not on those actively planning or carrying out acts of violence against the state -- there aren't very many of them -- but on those she accuses of enabling and encouraging those acts of violence through nothing more than their speeches and writings supposedly undermining of the US government's presumed legitimacy. And while she may qualify her legal definition of sedition, she still throws around the loaded term with what I'd call criminal recklessness.

    I know we're at something of an impasse, but my point is that Howard Zinn, as an anarchist, does not believe in the legitimacy of the US government and that AlterNet provided him a platform to say as much. According to Robinson's piece, doing so, merely undermining the legitimacy of the state with words, is itself "criminally dangerous" and grounds for condemnation as it, supposedly, enables and encourages the violent types. I think Robinson's premise is not only bogus -- like liberals, conservatives love the government when their own are in charge and hate it when they aren't; under Bush, remember, Sean Hannity had a segment where he every week he labeled a different liberal an "Enemy of the State" -- but it's inconsistently applied; plenty of leftists question the state's legitimacy, and with good reason, yet instead of examining the inconsistency and opportunism of the right's attacks on the state, she throws around the term "sedition" for any who dare question that presumed legitimacy and accepts conservative rhetoric at face value. I don't see much value in that, outside of partisan point scoring, and I think the presumption that questioning the US government's legitimacy is by definition bad and seditious is not helpful, to say the least.

    By the way, I appreciate the comments. Just next time make sure you agree with me.

  17. Gracias a usted y hasta luego.

  18. Sara Robinson has always been rather odd, consider, for example, her thinly disguised bigotry towards Muslim men: