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Donald Trump’s second year in office is beginning like every new Star Wars movie: The Resistance is in tatters, trying to rebuild.

Yes, there is plenty of Internet #Resistance, ranging from insane conspiracy theories to serious commentary and organizing—but this online profusion has resulted in confusion in real life.

The divide is mirrored in the Bernie/Hillary split—but it is also something deeper and something that moves further to the fringes. The divide, in many ways, mirrors the increasing divisions within the far right, where the alt-lite litigiously differentiates itself from the more openly racist alt-right.

Last year, there was the Disrupt J20 protest on Inauguration Day, which led to the prosecution of nearly 200 individuals, identified by the police and the prosecution as anarchists. The next day, hundreds of thousands of people filled the streets for the women’s march.

There is little sympathy or support between these groups, with many anarchists and hardcore organizers mocking feel-good liberals who #Resist while supporting the FBI, intelligence agencies and Robert Mueller. More mainstream liberals, on the other hand, attempt to distance themselves from anyone further to the left than they are for fear of being tainted by the anarchist stench of “hippies.” As a result, these liberals have been far more concerned about Putin’s abuse of reporters than they have about the prosecution of journalists who were covering the J20 protests. Though these J20 cases have been largely ignored by the mainstream press, they have had an immeasurable effect on the state of protest—creating fear, distrust, and division on the left.

Over the last couple of weeks, some of these tensions have bubbled up, largely in online debates about a real-life rally slated for Washington, D.C., on Jan. 27. The “People’s March on Washington,” also called the “The Impeachment March,” has gained a lot of online support—25,000 are “interested” on Facebook, and more than 2,000 say they are going. It has also gotten a lot of pushback.

The rally was organized by a group called People Demand Action, headed up by a 24-year-old man named Lawrence Nathaniel, who is a big-thinking, marketing-minded millennial leftist who says he worked on the Bernie Sanders campaign and then, after he got over his disappointment following the primary loss, for Hillary Clinton. When Trump won, he began to think about what he could do.

Nathaniel has a long list of sometimes improbable plans and goals, including opening a free, private school in Bamberg, S.C. However, the march calling for the impeachment of the president indeed gained traction. But as interest in the march grew—and organizers began trying to raise money—so did the questions surrounding it.

I first heard questions about the march when Dave Troy, a technologist and writer in Baltimore, wrote to me. Troy is deeply concerned about Russian trolls and “active measures.” When he saw confusion surrounding the event, he initially thought it might be the result of some Kremlin campaign. But after he started to look into it, he attributed the perceived failings of the organizers to inexperience rather than malfeasance.

Nathaniel has set up a number of organizations to promote the march and his various other endeavors. People have been calling them “shell organizations” or “false fronts,” but that seems a little too harsh. The one organization that has filed official papers is called the Presidential House, and it proposes some sort of weird shadow government in Charleston, S.C., with Nathaniel as president. Troy called it “unhinged, fantastical nonsense.”

I called Nathaniel and asked for an explanation.

“When I started the Presidential House I started volunteering for the Obama campaign,” Nathaniel said. He acknowledged that the original scheme was kind of goofy, but said it came from his enthusiasm for Obama. “I was 16 or 17 and was very excited, and so I started something called the Presidential House to get out in my community.”

For Nathaniel, inexperience is part of the point of protest.

“Many of us, especially young people in the political realm, don’t really get our voices heard, because it’s mostly a ‘who has more experience’ type thing versus a protest where we’re able to organize it, either locally or nationally, and our voices can be heard much easier there than working with politics,” Nathaniel said.

However, he said he is still interested in electoral politics and local issues. “My goal was to run for United States Congress this year, but I decided not to because Annabelle Robertson, who is way more qualified than I am, decided to run (against Republican South Carolina Rep. Joe “You Lie” Wilson). So I decided to put my action behind her and get out and protest.”

Critics point to the “Rally at the Border,” in San Ysidro, Calif., the only other rally Nathaniel has organized. It failed amid concerns of top-down organizing that didn’t take the needs of the community into consideration, and could have put a lot of people at risk.

Once news of the failed border rally became public, people began demanding to see the permit for the march on Washington. Nathaniel says he has a permit and has met with D.C. police, Park Police, the Secret Service and the FBI.

But for local organizers in San Ysidro and D.C., working with the authorities is precisely the problem: Washington, D.C.’s police department threw more than 70 grenades and emptied hundreds of canisters of pepper spray at the Disrupt J20 protest during the inauguration. At a right-wing rally recently, Park Police claimed to be working with right-wing militias.

“In D.C., we do not like interfacing with police,” Brendan Orsinger, an organizer in D.C., told me. “We don’t like the idea of the state giving permission for us to march. And we don’t need it. … It’s actually much safer not to have police involved in the planning of the march.”

Orsinger has been vociferous in his criticism of the march. But like Troy, he doesn’t see a conspiracy: “There are good intentions here. But one of the things that I learned over the last year is that good intentions are not good enough to make change happen in this country.”

This raises the larger question: What are protests for? The prosecution of the nearly 200 people charged with rioting charges after the inauguration may have had a chilling effect, but it has also shown the effectiveness of protest—if the U.S. Attorney’s office works that hard to shut them down, then they must have some power.

So, the question becomes: How can a larger movement bring together Russiagaters like Troy, local grassroots organizers like Orsinger, and enthusiastic young people like Nathaniel? If people really want to resist and not just #Resist, they need to answer this question while embracing a diversity of tactics and figuring out how to form coalitions.

Baynard Woods is a reporter for the Real News Network and the founder of Democracy in Crisis, a project of alternative newspapers across the country. Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Twitter: @baynardwoods.

Published in National/International

Dozens of defendants, each sitting with their own lawyer, fill a Washington, D.C., courtroom, looking like college students wearing their nicest clothes for a job interview.

However, the situation here is far more serious: They are all facing charges of felony rioting, conspiracy to riot and destruction of property on the morning of Donald Trump’s inauguration, when they were scooped up en masse by police with a controversial crowd-control technique which corrals protesters in a “kettle.”

This is only one of the four groups among the 215 defendants who have been indicted on nearly identical charges. Many had to travel back to the District of Columbia to be arraigned on this Friday, June 9.

One man who traveled here from Santa Fe, N.M., is sitting with his lawyer off to the side. He wears a black suit, has a black goatee and identifies himself as Tejano. He looks around the room like he is taking notes. Everyone else has already been arraigned before Judge Lynn Leibovitz. But this man, Aaron Cantú, wasn’t indicted until May 30, just a week before the hearing. He is a journalist, who has written about policing, propaganda, drugs and politics for The Intercept, Al Jazeera, The Baffler, and many other publications. Reporting from the Republican National Convention on the possibility of a Trump presidency, Cantú wrote, “dream darker.”

Like the others being charged, he’s now facing up to 70 years in prison.

As various protests spread through the city on the morning of the inauguration, one group used “black bloc” techniques—wearing all black and acting in concert to attack symbols of multinational capitalism in a semi-anonymous fashion—in an attempt to disrupt the spectacle of the event, breaking windows of businesses like Starbucks and Bank of America.

“Individuals participating in the Black Bloc broke the windows of a limousine parked on the north side of K Street NW, and assaulted the limousine driver as he stood near the vehicle,” the indictment reads, “as Aaron Cantu and others moved west on K Street NW.”

These black blocs have received widespread media attention in America since 1999, beginning with the Battle of Seattle at the World Trade Organization summit. A black bloc action is newsworthy—and yet, according to the indictment, Cantú is being charged for moving in proximity to the group he was covering.

The indictment alleges that Cantú wore black and discarded a backpack as evidence of his part in the conspiracy. Because members of a conspiracy to riot wore black, anyone wearing black, it seems, is a member of the conspiracy.

It is a crazy, complicated, sprawling case involving evidence from somewhere around 200 cell phones and various cameras. The discovery process will take months.

In Washington, D.C., criminal cases that elsewhere would be handled by the state are prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney’s office—so each prosecutor here ultimately answers to the president of the United States. Although most of the charges were first brought by an Obama appointee, this is a perfect example of what justice may look like in the Trump era. Like the travel ban, it is a grand draconian gesture followed by a lot of confusion.

During the arraignment, prosecutor Jennifer Kerkhoff expressed concerns about finding herself in a “Brady trick bag,” referring to the law that requires the prosecution to turn over all relevant evidence in discovery. How does she know what material on someone’s phone might be relevant to another’s case? And how does the prosecution protect the privacy of co-defendants with data that is not relevant?

“Can I just stop you?” Judge Leibovitz says to Kerkhoff as she talks about efficiency. “You brought charges against 215 people.”

The judge does not have to finish.

Leibovitz set most of the trial dates for October 2018, so that all evidence can be properly dealt with.

“It’s concerning and confusing,” says Christopher Gowen, an American University law professor and partner at his own firm who was appointed to the case. “The fact that we are already here and the amount of resources being spent to get to where we are now leads me to believe we are going to have to sit through all these trials. All this taxpayer money is going to be wasted.”

Gowen says that his client, Cabal Bhatt, was charged on the basis of wearing a bandana on his face to protect himself from police pepper spray.

As the names of each of the defendants are called—Cantú and his co-defendants all plead not guilty—I think about how I was almost arrested reporting on the same events that day. I watched as the black bloc came around the corner, flanked by police. Trash cans rolled through the street. Pepper spray came out. An officer ran at me with her stick. I held up the media credentials hanging around my neck and yelled, “Press!” She went around me. I was lucky.

At the advice of his lawyers, Cantú isn’t talking to the press. I ask Julie Ann Grimm, his editor at the Santa Fe Reporter, which hired him in April, if the charges make her more reluctant to assign him to certain stories.

“His arrest was scary. The threat of being imprisoned for the rest of your life for just doing your job and observing a protest is … I don’t even know how to finish that sentence,” she says over the phone. “I think Aaron is nervous about covering protests. I’m slightly nervous about sending him out to them. But we’re really not going to let this action by the federal government or by the prosecutors in Washington, D.C., slow him down or to put a muzzle on his voice as a journalist.”

Still, she says, he might do a couple things differently now. “He will probably try to stay very separate from the people who are a part of the news event, and he will probably wear something like a tie.”

But Grimm is quick to stress that Cantú is not the only one in this case whose rights are being violated.

“We’re all standing up for Aaron, and this affects our industry and our identity as journalists,” Grimm says. “But the larger sort of corralling, the kettling, the mass-arresting is also troubling.”

As Cantú wrote from the RNC: “Imagining the worst possible future your mind can conjure is an essential step to avoiding a world you do not want to live in. Things are bad, very bad, and we will fuck them up even worse if we can’t acknowledge how very bad they are.”

Democracy in Crisis is a joint project of alternative newspapers around the country, including the Coachella Valley Independent. Baynard Woods is editor at large at the Baltimore City Paper. His work has also appeared in The Guardian, The New York Times, the Washington Post, Vox, Salon, McSweeney’s, Virginia Quarterly Review and many other publications. Send tips to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Twitter @demoincrisis. Podcast every Thursday at www.democracyincrisis.com. Below: The black bloc in Washington, D.C., on Inauguration Day. Photo by Baynard Woods.

Published in National/International