Inoculating movement against violent flanks

Inoculating your movement against violent flanks: A checklist

By Tom Hastings

From tossing a brick through the plate glass window to throwing bottles at cops, violent flanks have been harming movements for a long time. The results are predictable; they are disastrous for campaigns. As with all movement decisions, your first filter inquiry toward a decision is How will this affect recruitment? After all, numbers of participants remain the greatest predictor of success or failure of any social movement.

Your movement can inoculate itself against these damages. Here is a punchlist for your consideration:

1.   Decide firmly on a nonviolent code of conduct and publicize it relentlessly. That code is optimal if it says: Each event should be nonviolent and nonviolent conduct is expected of all participants, including no physical violence even in self-defense, no weapons, no screaming, no throwing, no disrespectful gestures, no masks, no expressions of hate, no property damage (unless sanctioned by the organizers).

2.   Develop a nonviolent security force to help your own people maintain nonviolent discipline.

3.   Hold frequent trainings for the nonviolent security team, for anyone contemplating civil resistance, and for general participants in street actions.

4.   Establish relationships with the security apparatus of the state—police, soldiers, or any armed agents who may be present at your events. Make it clear to them that you are not their agents in any way and that you are trained to handle most situations so they should stay back.

5.   Outreach to violent flanks with respect and an expectation of their reciprocal respect for you. Explain to them that you are putting in a great deal of work and organizing effort to pull off the event you want, and they are welcome if they can comport themselves in line with your coalitional code of conduct. Let them know you will never denounce them unless they violate your code of conduct while involved in your event, and that if they do, they will be publicly denounced, but you will also respect their organizing and never interfere with their independent events. Acknowledge that if the oppressor visits, that time and place belong to everyone and your people will maintain nonviolent discipline under all circumstances. Be aware that the violent flank will be where most or all of the agents provocateurs are, whether they are actual police or a part of the “rat system” (convicted or charged with crimes and can earn reduced consequences for their infiltration work to push a group toward violence).

6.   Outreach and continually engage with media to create and defend the image of your movement as nonviolent, even in the face of repressive brutality. Follow up with any reportage that smears violent flank activity onto your nonviolent movement. Remind them to factcheck and refer to the media packets you send them that clearly states the nonviolent nature of your coalition, your campaign, your movement.

7.   Stress openness and transparency. At every turn, avoid the creation of a security culture that casts suspicion on your fellow movement members. Having clandestine actions should only be reserved for the most extreme circumstances (hiding Jews in the attic in Nazi Germany, helping slaves escape on the Underground Railroad, dismantling your own country’s WMD up to the point of getting it done). Seeming stealthy is corrosive and invites repression; it also can besmirch the reputation of your movement.