Sep 14, 2008

U.S. Left-Wing Militant Anti-Fascist History Vol. 1 (The late 1980's)

U.S. Left-Wing Militant Anti-Fascist History Vol. 1 (The late 1980's)

The John Brown Anti-Klan Committee: A brief biography
By Dan Sabater

The John Brown Anti- Klan Committee was the most prominent U.S. Left militant anti-fascist organization of the mid to late 80's. The majority of their key organizers came from the anti-imperialist movement of the late 60's. They mixed anti-fascist work with support for the Black liberation movement as well as Third-world national liberation struggles. There was also a strong focus on the relationship between fascism and police brutality.

They published a quarterly nationally distributed paper, first called DEATH TO THE KLAN then changed to NO KKK, NO FASCIST USA. They also released a great overview video on fascism and anti-fascism in the USA called BEHIND THE BURNING CROSS: RACISM USA (1991). Their most prominent chapters were in New York City, San Francisco and Chicago. The New York group published an excellent local newsletter called UP SOUTH.

To me the JBAKC are worthy of special respect because they were the first Left group to give coverage to anti-racist skinheads like SHARP, SPAR and the initial ARA. The English-speaking Left's inability to come to terms with the fact that there are anti-racist skinheads worthy of political support drove skinheads either to the patriotic center or racist Right in England, the US and Canada. The efforts of the JBAKC made the job of anti-racist skinheads a little bit easier (it's nice to have friends in the wilderness).

The JBAKC stood against Tom Metzger and the growth of the W.A.R. skins. They crossed out racist graffiti and picketed racist cable shows.

Another great Left paper from that era to publicize anti-racist skinhead efforts was TURNING THE TIDE out of the Los Angeles area. TURNING THE TIDE has been the most consistent anti-racist paper in the US ever since.

A group from the activist Left was the CENTER FOR DEMOCRATIC RENEWAL. They published a newsletter called THE MONITOR. They can trace their history to the National Anti-Klan Network formed in the wake of the murder of 5 Communist organizers gunned down by the KKK in Greensboro, NC in 1979. They stayed in touch with events going on on the ground and published an excellent organizing manual called WHEN HATE GROUPS COME TO TOWN.

Morris Dees' KLANWATCH (affiliated with the Southern Poverty Law Center) was the most high-profile mainstream liberal anti-fascist group of the late 80's. I didn't agree with all their positions but their intelligence information was spot on because they worked with the cops and Feds. They published KLANWATCH INTELLIGENCE REPORT.

Conservative anti-fascism was represented by the Anti- Defamation League of B'nai Brith, an organization rooted in the Jewish community. Definitely had some hostility to all skinheads. Published an extensive intelligence report on boneheads call SHAVED FOR BATTLE.

Today's militant anti-fascists should learn from the struggles of the JBAKC and other militant anti-fascist groups of the recent past. Fascists must forever be monitored and kept tabs on. When fascists attack they must be counter-attacked and beaten back. And when fascists are contained and kept in check we must remain vigilant and put energy into building social justice in the larger society. Only then can we build a movement so big and devastating that fascist ideas are one day retired to some unpopular museum next to the bones of the dinosaurs.
This article will appear in HERE TO STAY HERE TO FIGHT #4, zine of RASH-NYC

Response by ARA-LA/PART

Hey, thanks for the kind words about Turning the Tide! People interested in a free sample of the paper, now in its 19th year of publication, can drop an email to, or if you actually want to subscribe, send $16 ($26 US for overseas) to Michael Novick c/o ARA-LA/PART (People Against Racist Terror), PO Box 1055, Culver City CA 90232. We now put the paper out 6 times a year (8 page tabloid).

Just a couple of additional points about the history of John Brown Anti-Klan Committee. JBAKC was first initiated by members of the May 19 Communist Organization (east coast split of Prairie Fire Organizing Committee) in response to a call from prisoners they were working with at Naponoch prison in NY, where the prisoners had exposed an active Klan klavern among the prison guards. The head of instruction for the NYS prison system was an active Klan member at the time. That first incarnation of JBAKC, local to NY, was also active in a campaign called "PBA (Patrolmen's Benevolent Association -- cop "union") is the KKK"-- not at all far fetched, as the PBA and the American Nazi Party had carried out a joint campaign not too many years before to overturn a civilian review board.

Simultaneously, Prairie Fire Organizing Committee had established "Take a Stand Against the Klan Committee." It was active in SF and LA. Both May 19 and PFOC had folks in Chicago, and under strong impetus from Black liberation forces, were pushed to create a single, joint national anti Klan and pro-Black liberation (specifically, solidarity with New Afrikan independence) organization. A new John Brown Anti-Klan Committee, incorporating the two prior organizations and other activists, was founded at a national conference in Chicago in about '82 or 83.

LA had a pretty strong chapter of the new group, focusing both on traditional Klan and Nazi groups and on Metzger's new WAR organization and the White Student Union (later WARskins). We held a series of demonstrations against a proposed KKK cross-burning in the San Fernando Valley in 1983, which ultimately was carried out -- they burned three crosses, resulting in the arrests of Metzger (and his then minor son John), Richard Butler and several others from the Idaho based Aryan Nations, and local leaders of the KKK and the Nazi Party. It later turned out that the ceremony had been related to the launch of the Bruder Schweigen (Silent Brotherhood -- the "Order" white supremacy underground). They issued their declaration of war the day after Butler was busted in LA for the cross-burning. Several of the LA cross burners became federal fugitives and were involved in killing a MO state trooper while trying to flee to a white-power compound in Arkansas.

The LA chapter of JBAKC dissolved when most of the Prairie Fire people left town. That was probably in about late 1985 or early 1986. I'd been in it (& had also been present at the national founding meeting in Chicago). I continued working in solidarity with the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement in LA, as well as the Movimiento de Liberacion Nacional Mexicano (MLN-M) there, and doing intel on the local white power groups and the growing nazi bonehead scene. In 1987 I founded People Against Racist Terror when I learned that convicted Birmingham church bomber JB Stoner was coming to LA to try to recruit boneheads to a new organization. We called a rally and upwards of 1000 people came out, pretty much shut down the Glendale Library and Holiday Inn.

Several boneheads left much the worse for wear. PART has been around ever since, affiliating with the Anti-Racist Action network and eventually changing its name to ARA-LA/PART (we still like the slogan, "Be PART of the solution!")

We worked with some early SHARP skin groups in southern CA, and were involved in the first national ARA conference, which took place in Portland OR during the civil trial of Metzger for the killing of Mulugetaw Seraw, and included ARA chapters and SHARP chapters from LA, Portland, and elsewhere around the country.

People (even in ARA) often forget this west coast history, focusing more on the Baldies, the Syndicate, etc in the midwest and on NY groups. But there were active groups in Colorado (Front Range ARA), all around southern Calif, including LA and San Diego, the Bay Area (BARA was active in challenging the American Front "skins" on the Haight-Ashbury in that same period) and up in Oregon in that "first wave."

Response 2 by KDog, Mpls ARA

Another 2 cents on JBAKC . . .

Chicago John Brown folks actually participated in the first founding meeting of the Syndicate (the Midwest anti-racist skinhead network, that was in some ways a predecessor to ARA Network) in Minneapolis in the late 80's.
They sent a delegation of four or five people, including one guy who was an old school Chicago skinhead-turned rockabilly dude (He's quoted in that old Rolling Stone article on Skinheads). People respected them cuz they were respectful to us, didn’t try and shove their views down our throats or crassly try and recruit us like so much of the left. They actually asked questions and dialogued and wrote up real nice reports on our activities in their newspaper.

I remember as our meeting got started . . . about 100 people in the room (and anyone whose ever been to a skinhead meeting knows what a contradiction in terms those can be) JBAKC proposed that the ADL rep be expelled from the meeting due to their anti-Arab racism. There was quite a debate, with many skins also being pissed that the ADL in their original report on skinheads only referenced antiracist skins as apolitical drug users. The proposal failed in a very narrow vote. (A proposal to boot the poor AP reporter narrowly passed, as I remember).

Anyways it was an educational debate for this crowd of newly politicized teenagers and young adults who'd never really had to think about the politics of Palestine. All the more so since, like the ADL guy, several of the JBAKCers were Jewish.

The John Brown folks while not being in real position to affect the course of this youth movement, did make good helpful suggestions and contributions. (I remember they were conscious of relating to, and encouraging women/girls in the scene, and addressing sexism and homophobia in general. They also tried to emphasize to me that we shouldn’t take too narrow a military view of defeating the nazis, that political/community organizing was crucial too. All the time still supporting street militancy).

Now, I would say that I have many disagreements with their big-picture ideology, particularly about the state, and class within the US. But ironically they related better and more naturally to this emerging working-class youth movement then almost all of the supposed class struggle socialists.

Also, yo Michael! The Midwest represented in Portland as well! (another story!) The Midwest dont get much, so we'll keep claiming the birthplace of the ARA generation of street antifascism. Hope that's OK.

and War,


Tom Metzger said...

You are so silly. Tom Metzger

Anonymous said...

Actually, Tom, this is what silly is...