This is a response to an anonymously-written attack piece about me that ran recently in the anarchist website and Twitter account, It’s Going Down.
Whether or not you’ve heard about it, there is an ongoing campaign to cancel me, led by anonymous people who don’t believe that cancel culture exists. Their accusations that I am sympathetic to fascism, holocaust-denialism of any kind, or antisemitism, are as ludicrous as they seem. Their accusations should make anyone who knows me even a very little bit feel either outraged, alarmed, or concerned. Most people I know who have seen these screeds react in one of these ways.
Some on the anarchist fringes in certain corners of mostly-online US discourse react differently. They smell the blood of someone who is an obvious comrade, they pile on, and call it activism of some kind. It’s a sort of performative attack squad mentality that is tearing apart whatever basis for trust exists among those of us who agree on the need bring down the capitalist juggernaut. It seems far bigger than it is because of the atmosphere of paranoia that has been fostered by anti-social media algorithms and corporate media brainwashing. The neo-anarchists adhering to the cancel culture model of activism are unwittingly playing the game of the ruling class.
What I am saying is not new, and it has been obvious to me for a long time. The role I have chosen to play, however, for the most part, has not been to call out this kind of “anarchism.” As a libertarian socialist (or anarchist, as some prefer) of the traditional, class war variety, my chosen role in global social movements has been to use my music and my prose to try to popularize other methods of organizing that are actually effective. I know that the performative attack squad types are motivated mostly by good intentions, so I have intentionally tried to appeal to those good intentions, for decades now, promoting ideas like the power of collective action intended to gain real power, in its myriad forms.
I have appeared on broadcasts run by the neo-anarchist cancel culture types. When they’re not attacking each other, they often do great work. Until they started attacking me, they may not have known how I felt about these tactics. I didn’t think it was helpful to regularly broadcast my opinions on shutting down authors, musicians, and college professors you don’t like, and making them lose their jobs as a tactic. I thought I’d just promote other tactics, and not show up at those events. I believe in proactively doing things and hoping people follow my example, rather than attacking other people who are following other pursuits they think useful, even if I don’t like it.
It’s very common on anti-social media, and the internet generally, for accounts or websites to present themselves as a collective of some kind, or even a federation, when in actuality they are singular — one person, with a lot of hope. These individuals, or collectives, also are often totally anonymous, with no indication of the actual names of the people involved. There are, of course, security concerns many people have, which they use to justify this anonymity. Whether their online anonymity is actually really helping protect them from anything is often unknown. Whether their anonymity is extremely destructive to any potential for legitimate discourse is not in question at all. It’s outrageous, under most circumstances, to be denounced by an anonymous individual, and even more so by an anonymous collective.
I’m not going to try to catch you up on all the many reasons some people seem to spend most of their free time attacking me online. There’s too much history. If you want to get reasonably caught up on the background, here are some relevant pieces I’ve written since the attacks seriously escalated and began to threaten my physical well-being in very obvious ways, along with that of my family and neighborhood: An Open Letter to Patriot Prayer and the Proud Boys (cc: Antifa), Platforming Fascists, Heeding German Warnings, I Heard A Rumor, Cancel Culture Conundrums, The Campaign Against Me, and most recently before this one, Confessions of an Ecumenical Leftist.
One of the most popular internet sensations of the neo-anarchist US identitarian crowd in the Trump/Biden era has been a website, podcast, Twitter account, etc., that operates under the rubric, It’s Going Down. Included within the content they put out are lots of motivational stories about ongoing struggles in the US and around the world, obviously intended to boost the spirits of the participants and, as with so much of the media of any political orientation, to inflate the significance of whatever actions they’re covering as much as possible. Much of the reportage, however, comes off as anarchist sectarianism, with an obvious disposition in favor of flaming dumpsters.
It’s obvious to anyone who pays any attention to IGD News that a very disproportionate number of IGD’s followers are really into fighting Nazis, or whoever they think might be one. It seems to be the case with no small number of IGD’s most active adherents that they think any kind of dumpster fire is potentially insurrectional material, and something to be celebrated, along with any time a fascist anywhere in the world gets a bullet in the head. GIFs depicting just such scenes are rife in this scene.
I’m not speaking out of ignorance here, because many of the people who come to my concerts in many different countries come out of the “burn the dumpster now and ask questions later” camp. Many of my fans, especially some of the more black-clad teenage ones from certain parts of the world, really like to yell at cops, and they think they’re doing something useful when they yell at cops. I’ve never told them I think otherwise, because I’d rather just sing for them. And I’m sure I will continue singing for them after I publish this piece. Why? Because after I wrote “I’m A Better Anarchist Than You,” at least 95% of the actual anarchists I know thought it was very funny. They can throw rocks at the cops, like that song, and read this critical piece about some of their tactics, and still not hate me.
How do they do that? They see the world in three dimensions, and they’d rather have allies than unnecessary enemies. They can see how much we have in common — like the desire to overthrow capitalism and reorganize society so humanity and the planet can thrive, with food, health care, and land for all. They know we are all against imperial wars, and they can immediately forgive me for not wanting to yell at cops or shut down speakers at the local university for writing the wrong book, even if they still like yelling at cops and throwing milk shakes at people.
I learned about the anonymously-written screed on the website of It’s Going Down from someone on Facebook who had clearly started up a new account just to share it with me. They shared the link to the piece, told me my music sucked, and after I blocked them, they sent more messages (via a “message request,” you know) threatening my physical safety if I tried to show up at a protest in Portland.
It should come as no surprise to anyone that it took only 2 hours from the time the piece was published to my first online physical threat resulting from it. Although the anonymous author said they were not calling for me to be punished, I’d suggest that this is disingenuous. They also say they don’t believe cancel culture exists. They apparently don’t acknowledge that when you attack someone as a fascist sympathizer to your 60,000 Twitter followers, there will be threats against the physical safety of the person you are writing about.
For whoever wants to bear along with me now, I’ll go through the allegations made in the IGD piece, and respond to it.
The first lie, strangely, is in the title. “No, it is the children that are wrong.” In whatever context that quote came from, I’m sure it was nothing I ever said. Why the quotation marks then? Who are we quoting here?
The next lie comes in the second paragraph. It’s a really big one. They talk of my “promotion of individuals associated with white nationalism, holocaust denial, and anti-Semitism.”
I will keep going through the piece, but it’s important to focus on this one because it’s the crux of the whole thing. What my anonymous critic is saying is that by recommending a book on Jewish history and identity which I found very interesting, by interviewing the book’s author and refusing to denounce the author as an antisemite, I am therefore endorsing antisemitism and holocaust-denialism. And by interviewing a man who represents himself as a former white nationalist — by talking to someone who is closely associated with the kinds of groups that laid siege to the Capitol, and trying to figure out what motivates these people, and how we might try to reach them — I am therefore a white nationalist.
If the accusation seems as outrageous as it appears, it is. But it gets better. The phenomenon that I am apparently engaging in by having public dialog with a rightwinger (whether former or not), is what they call “platforming.” The idea here is that the ideology of fascism or racism or antisemitism or whatever else is so very dangerous that just by talking with people who believe in this nonsense, we are doing something very bad, and we are helping these people advance their cause.
The only way this could be true is if we believe that fascist ideology is actually more attractive to the average working person than libertarian socialism, or social democracy, or other forms of socialism are. In reality, this is nonsense, and denouncing everyone who is attracted to rightwing or fascist ideas as a hopeless and unredeemable piece of human garbage does exactly the opposite of what these self-appointed Experts on Antifascism would have us believe.
We need look no further than to the communities surrounding musicians such as myself and lots of other people. If you have any contact with the punk community anywhere, you have met lots of punks who were raised by conservative parents and believed in all kinds of rightwing nonsense, until they discovered the music of the Clash, Rage Against the Machine, Phil Ochs, me, or whoever it was that did it. At the last concert I did, two nights ago, there were two former rightwingers there who are now solidly on the internationalist left.
Another common theme from my experience and from the experience of my many friends and acquaintances who used to be rightwingers, is that talking to a compassionate, intelligent person from the radical left was instrumental in their awakening. I have been that person for some people, and my music has played that role for many more.
According to polls, if the 2016 presidential race had been between Trump and Sanders, Sanders would have won handily. In France, there are cities that used to vote for the Communist Party, who now vote for the rightwing Le Pen party. Many of the supporters of National Socialism in Germany and around Europe, the Americas, and elsewhere, were, like many of Trump’s and Le Pen’s supporters today, of the mind that this was the movement that was going to fix the country’s problems, such as affordable housing, employment, crumbling infrastructure, etc. Why they believe this is another question. That they believe this is not.
So, what I am doing by talking to people like Matthew Heimbach is I am trying to reach not only him, but the many people who are attracted to his version of reality. There is abundant evidence to suggest that this kind of engagement can be very effective, and that attacking people with baseball bats and bear mace tends to cause people to become more entrenched in their views.
In the next paragraph I am again quoted as referring to “emotional outbursts,” another mysterious quote (aka lie). Next sentence in that paragraph includes this: “Rovics [has been] doubling down in defense of these individuals and his attacks on anarchists and antifascists in response, echoes far-Right talking points.”
“Doubling down,” “digging in,” etc., are terms my anonymous critics (and many others who agree with them) use to describe my effort at responding to their critique. Any response that isn’t full agreement is to be called “doubling down” or “digging in.”
I am also accused of doubling down on my “defense of these individuals.” To be clear, I am not defending anyone, I am talking with them. The closest thing I have come to “defense” is to recommend Gilad Atzmon’s book, and to fail to see why it is that Matthew Heimbach is still considered to be a white nationalist now, when he isn’t, as far as I can tell, from my many resources. Unapproved resources, I will add — not coming from the self-appointed Experts of Antifascism.
The self-appointed Experts of Antifascism, such as my anonymous critic, love to quote any tabloid press article or liberal think tank that agrees with their position. If a former white nationalist doesn’t want to grovel at the feet of liberal democracy, alleged anarchists will forever denounce them as white nationalists, even as their former comrades want them dead. Recruiting white nationalists to a different, internationalist, antiracist position is somehow skipping the important step of the former white nationalist groveling at the feet of the liberals, and turning in all his former comrades. That’ll be a great way to help them reform, eh? I don’t think so. I disagree with the Experts of Antifascism — cancel me for it.
Next we have this marvelous combination of doublethink:
“We want to be clear we are not calling for harm to David Rovics; nor are we pushing for people to flyer his neighborhood like some have done in the past. Instead, we hope to push Rovics towards accountability, collaboration, and growth. His own statements need to be addressed, as part of the creep of anti-Semitism, far-Right ideas, and conspiracism into activist spaces. We hope that Rovics will take up the challenge, listen to these criticisms, and make changes. This is necessary for people to feel safe with Rovics continuing to be part of our spaces.”
I barely know where to start unpacking this paragraph. Accountability to whom? An anonymous writer on a neo-anarchist website? A handful of Twitter trolls and a few gullible people who think they’re speaking truth to power by calling me names?
Collaboration? What does that mean? Most US neo-anarchists in recent days hardly ever have live music at their demos, they don’t seem to believe in that kind of thing as far as I can tell, it’s too frivolous. It’s been years since I’ve done a tour of the United States, partially because what we used to call The Movement has been either anemic or obsessed with self-destruction and the Oppression Olympics of identitarianism.
The neo-anarchist fringe in the US stopped collaborating with me a long time ago — I’m way too old, white, and CIS male for this fringe to handle. If you think I’m joking, dear reader, you have not been to Portland in recent years. I have been to demo after demo where 90% of the crowd is white along with the student organizers, and 100% of the speakers are people of color, who sometimes look really uncomfortable when they realize the setup, which some often appear not to have been informed of in advance. This started way before 2020. It’s a self-destructive, identitarian phenomenon, this kind of extreme, and it kills movements really well. I’ve been watching it happen for years now in real time.
Conspiracism? Aside from being a newly-invented word (that’s fine), it’s nonsense. The United States is run by a conspiracy of plutocrats. This is obvious to anyone who has studied the workings of the corrupt US capitalist system. There are many other real conspiracies that have shaped our lives. While there are also lots of fake conspiracies, invented for all kinds of different reasons, the idea of opposing “conspiracism” as a phenomenon is just not relevant to reality.
Next, to emphasize the point:
“In short, as long as Rovics continues to platform and defend white nationalists, holocaust deniers, and anti-Semities – while also attacking contemporary anarchists and antifascists – then at the very least, people will continue to voice their concerns and disagreements to the wider movement.”
This is a remarkable sentence. First of all the continued false accusation of “defending” people by talking to them, and of course also in the process, clearly intimating that I have actually talked to people who are currently any of these terrible things. And then I’m “attacking contemporary anarchists and antifascists” — including myself and many of my friends, apparently, who keep coming to my shows and sending me supportive messages. No, I’m responding to attacks from a neo-anarchist, identitarian fringe that likes to think it’s much bigger than it is, because some people are intimidated by it, because it has violent tendencies, and people don’t want to be either physically assaulted or become victims of a campaign like this one.
Next paragraph: “All of this came to a head last month, when Rovics was scheduled to play a benefit for the Metropolitan Anarchist Coordinating Council (MACC) in New York City, which was canceled after community members raised multiple issues.”
The allegedly antifascist trolls on Twitter who attack anyone who associates with me on that platform, and occasionally others, got the gig in New York canceled, by sending people in MACC incendiary and false accusations about me. This is why gigs get canceled. I’ve been dealing with this stuff for 21 years, since I first starting writing songs about Palestine. It’s a cancel campaign. It doesn’t just happen. The author presumably isn’t such an idiot that they don’t know this. More gaslighting.
Next sentence: “These include his collaboration with, and defense of, anti-Semites and Holocaust Deniers and his platforming of a white nationalist.” Let’s see, do you think the author has made their point yet?
In the next several paragraphs the author lays out why they think Heimbach is still a fascist, and what he did over the years as a fascist. None of this is relevant, given that I think talking to members of the far right, under the right circumstances, is something that needs to happen constantly, daily, all the time, and in public, whenever possible to have reasonable discourse, as I had with Heimbach.
“And like most things, its the reaction to people raising concerns that seemed to bring out the most tensions, as Rovics was quick to blame his audience for not being open minded enough to engage with the content – totally missing the point that Heimbach was using him to not only to rehabilitate himself but also to attack the very work that many of Rovics fans were engaged in.”
I am quick to blame “my audience”? My audience is not attacking me. It is growing by the month, as it has been doing for decades. These neo-anarchist identitarians are attacking me.
As the author points out earlier in the paragraph, I did “eventually” take the interview down, which is apparently taken to mean that I did so as a result of criticisms from anonymous people on Twitter. This was not the case. I took it down because I have been the host of a weekly interview show called Fifth Estate Live since the pandemic hit. It is produced in association with the Fifth Estate editorial collective. The Fifth Estate is the oldest ongoing anarchist publication in the United States. The editorial collective, all of whom are real people with names, thought it best if I took down the interview. I am accountable, and I am a team player, and I also had reservations about the lack of context I provided in the course of the interview, and so I took it down.
I also did not do the interview live, intentionally, wanting to see how it went first. Minor point, perhaps, but it was not a livestreamed interview.
I am not “missing the point” that Heimbach is using me. I do not agree with it. I have a different perspective. This, evidently, is fascist sympathizing and therefore unacceptable to my anonymous detractor with a fairly big platform (far bigger, for example, than mine).
The author then continues, saying I went on to “lick my wounds” on Kevin Barrett’s YouTube show. The author then goes on to completely mischaracterize things I said, though at least this time they are not misquoting me, just completely mischaracterizing and misrepresenting and otherwise basically lying about what I actually said.
I didn’t say it. The author is lying. If you want to listen to the interview, feel free.
I think Kevin Barrett has some very questionable positions on things. I am a professional, world-traveling musician. I have done lots of interviews for media outlets owned by energy companies, media outlets that receive grants from the CIA, TV stations run by guerrilla organizations such as Hezbollah, I have done many interviews in the Iranian press, the Russian press, etc., etc. If I were to choose who I do interviews with based on the political views of the person or media outlet interviewing me, I don’t know who I’d ever talk to.
But more than that, I’m particularly interested in talking to rightwingers who are willing to have a reasonable discussion, by which I mean a discussion where I’m given plenty of time to talk to their audience. That’s what I was doing by appearing on Mr. Barrett’s YouTube show, and that’s what I’m doing when I talk to folks on RT, Press TV, Pacifica Radio, Al-Mayadeen, Sputnik, the Tehran Times, An Phoblacht, Melodie und Rhythmus, Sing Out magazine, the BBC, or whoever else.
There is one important difference between my interview on Barrett’s show and my interviews on all of the aforementioned outlets. With all those other interviews, I enthusiastically shared them with my audience on anti-social media and such, because I thought they were good. With the interview on Barrett’s show, and some others as well, I did not share it with any of my people, because I didn’t like some of his talking points, and didn’t think they needed an audience beyond the one he already has. If I were to do anything different with regards to appearing on Barrett’s show, I would not.
My anonymous critic suggests that because I did not “push back” on all of the stupid things Barrett said, I am therefore agreeing with it all. I suppose when I did an interview on Fox News Radio during the second invasion of Iraq, to try to speak out against the war in that forum, I must be agreeing with everything the idiot who interviewed me for that stupid show on Fox thought? That’s some extremely dangerous thinking.
The anonymous critic then goes on to explain why Gilad Atzmon is an antisemitic holocaust-denying rightwinger, and that by talking with him and liking his book, I am, too. A-Anon then goes on to completely misrepresent the thesis of the book, in ways that aren’t worth exploring. If you want to read the book, read the book. If you don’t, don’t. If you want to believe it’s interesting because I say so, feel free. If you want to believe it’s antisemitic crap like A-Anon says, feel free. I’d recommend actually ignoring the whole discussion.
The author then uses the term “mealy-mouthed” to describe my “defense” of my position — otherwise known as explanation. What “mealy-mouthed” even means, I have no idea.
The author tell us that a few dozen academics and others, including some Palestinians, signed statements denouncing Atzmon. The author probably is unaware that some of these folks have been friends of mine for decades, and still are. We have disagreements about this kind of denunciation tactic, they know I don’t approve of it, and we’re still friends and comrades. We have so much common ground, and we know it. Amazing, eh? Apparently an impossible concept to embrace for certain “activists” who can only imagine ostracizing and excluding anyone they don’t agree with.
I have of course read the statements these folks made against Atzmon, and I chose not to join them, because I don’t agree with them. I have a mind of my own, I have lived 54 years on this Earth, most of it among Jews, along with lots of other people. I’m also very familiar with the history of fascism, European history, and Jewish history. I am personally very familiar with the subject matter at hand here, and without writing a book myself or trying to explain the entire thesis of someone else’s book, I humbly submit that the people who signed these petitions and are involved with the campaign against Atzmon are not doing anything useful, at best. That’s my opinion. Cancel me for it. I realize they’re intelligent people. I am, too, and I disagree with them. They are also not a monolith at all, as depicted by A-Anon. They are a handful of academics. Gilad was just on Lebanese TV last week.
OK, the next paragraph is a fantastic example of the kind of thinking that characterizes the allegedly antifascist wingnut fringe:
“Rovics has answered these criticisms by again blaming ‘cancel culture’ and suggesting that his critics are federal informants, law enforcement, or possibly members of the Israel Lobby. This is an example of what is often called the Livingstone Formulation: when someone accuses you of antisemitism, you say it’s because you’re a critic of Israel—even if the incident had nothing to do with Israel. When Rovics hosts these people and defends their right to have access to leftist spaces, it sanitizes their politics and puts marginalized people at risk. He is helping to normalize these ideas and this takes the stigma away from their dangerous dehumanization.”
I don’t know how you blame cancel culture for criticisms. Cancel culture is a tactic, and an orientation, it is not a critique. Opposing cancel culture is a principled position. I blame cancel culture for a lot of things, but not for the criticisms themselves. It’s what you do with criticism, and how you use it, that makes it cancel culture.
However, the fact that some of my critics are federal informants, law enforcements, and Israeli agents is not a matter of conjecture. Anyone familiar with the basic operations of the FBI in the past couple decades, so say nothing of the 1960’s and 1970’s, or the 1920’s, for Pete’s sake, knows that all of our activist “spaces” are infiltrated with agents of all kinds. To think otherwise is to be either extremely naive, extremely ignorant, or just more gaslighting. Or they’re an agent and don’t want to talk about the other agents? Who knows. All I know, is I’m on a watch list in five different countries. I’ve written about it extensively in the past, it’s not a secret, and I’m not imagining anything.
That of course does not mean that all of my critics are government agents. I’m quite convinced that many or even most of them are real — real, misguided, confused people who have swallowed a whole lot of extremely circuitous logic, such that they are able to see one thing and identify it as the opposite.
“When Rovics hosts these people and defends their right to have access to leftist spaces” — this is a load of identitarian nonsense right here. I am not defending anyone’s right to have access to any space here, I am trying to reach the audience of people who have a lot of very scary followers, and I am succeeding in doing so. In a very limited way, perhaps, but that’s something. It sure beats the race towards the fascist apocalypse we seem to be on right now!
As to normalizing these ideas: Trump was just the president of the country for four years. These ideas are already normalized. I want to unpack them, and show people why they suck. This is what I do, with my music, and with my efforts at interviewing people. My anonymous critics don’t like it, obviously, and they think that gives them the right to be my judge and jury, and to get “accountability” from me.
Taking the next paragraph one sentence at a time:
“Rovics is well-embedded in leftist spaces, and many people have given his penchant for bigoted conspiracy theories a pass.”