My Anarchist Life

from Gods & Radicals Press

“I began to see a connection between my anarchist mentality – which, for most of my life, was more of an instinct than a philosophy – and my pagan religion. Specifically, I began to understand a pagan and animist worldview as the spiritual core of a future free society capable of living on this planet without destroying all life here.”

Poison

I’ve been an anarchist almost as long as I’ve been a pagan – or even longer, depending on how you look at it – but I didn’t really know what the word meant for most of that time. I’ve been calling myself an anarchist since I was sixteen years old or so, but the truth is it started earlier than that.

When? I don’t know exactly. Maybe when the other kids surrounded me and walked in a circle around me chanting that I was “poison” because I wasn’t like them, because I dressed in thrift store clothes that were out of fashion and didn’t fit right. Maybe when they backed me up against a brick wall and hit me in the face until the top half of a front tooth split off. Maybe when they ordered me to sit down on a bench, then ordered me to stand up again, then ordered me to sit down again… or maybe when I came up punching, because I had suddenly decided that no one would ever tell me what to do again.

My politics is personal. I hate fascists because I hate bullies of all kinds, have hated them since I heard myself described as poison by all my peers. I’m against the state because I’m against bullies who hand out orders, thinking they have the right to tell other people what to do. Every political stance I take is based on those two core facts.  

D.O.E., Go Away…

I started protesting as a little boy living outside of Boston. My older brother and I staged a picket against our school’s willingness to tolerate bullies. As far as I could tell, bullying only happened because the school allowed it to, or even approved of it as a way to punish kids who didn’t act the way the community wanted its kids to act. The newspaper showed up, and the protest became a huge local controversy. A lot of people seemed to think our mother should have stopped us from staging the protest, or at least punished us, but instead she backed us up.

A few years later we’d moved up to Maine and were living in a homestead in the forest with no electricity or running water. We were poorer than ever – at one point the family income for the entire year was just a few thousand dollars – but it was enough to keep seven people alive, although often on corn meal mush or bread in milk.

The Department of Energy was looking for a place to store nuclear waste, and Maine looked like a good option to them because not many people live there. My parents joined the protest movement against the proposed nuclear dump and recorded a song with a local country singer named Jimmy Floyd:

“DOE, go away, stop your dumping today, all our lakes and our fields cry let us be…”

Going to those protests with them was probably my first exposure to environmentalism.

A Young Illegalist

I first started reading political philosophy in high school, beginning with Jean Jacques Rousseau. Living in the woods without electricity, I was sympathetic to his argument that civilization is the root of all our problems. There were a lot of things about him I didn’t realize at the time, though – for instance, that his philosophy was basically totalitarian. It was around that time that I started calling myself an anarchist, although I had not yet read any work by an anarchist thinker.

My worldview at the time was a crude form of anarcho-primitivism… with a healthy dose of illegalism. To put it simply, I felt that the existing laws had been written by one set of criminals to keep any other set of criminals from competing, and I had no intention of being taken in by that.

Moving to the city as a young man, I spent several years involved in petty street crime. Determined to never be victimized or bullied again, I often fought other young men for little or no reason, usually due to perceived disrespect. I wasn’t yet political, but I did think of my involvement in crime as an inherently political activity, a declaration of war if you will.

That’s when I discovered punk rock.

Pit

I formed a hardcore punk band with my first wife in 1994. The band was called Pit, and our first show got us banned for life from the Porthole Restaurant in Portland, Maine, after I hit an enraged member of the audience with a blunt sword as he attempted to strangle me, while an ex-girlfriend of mine burned him from behind with a lit cigarette.

As the singer for Pit, I dressed in a red bathrobe, a pom-pom hat, a neon-tartan shirt, and pink trousers. This outfit was intended to anger any homophobes in the audience so that I could have the opportunity to fistfight them. Fistfights were a regular feature of Pit shows.

The songs we performed often had loosely political themes, as in the song “Up Against the Wall,” with the lyrics, “I ain’t some rebel without a clue, I got no social theory for you, all I know is what’s in front of my eyes… rich man lives, poor man dies!”

Due to songs like Up Against the Wall, Molotov Cocktail, Damn the Lying Bastards, and similar displays of angry-young-manhood, the police showed up to break up our shows from Florida to Massachusetts. The cops were far from the only source of trouble, though. In one show, I got shocked with an electric cattle prod and then had yellow mustard squirted directly in my eyes when I collapsed to the floor in pain.

On a visit home to Maine, I was approached by an ex-girlfriend who was being stalked by a local Nazi because she was Jewish. He had actually told her and her friend that he was in the SS and was going to put them in the gas chamber. I found the man in front of a local movie cinema and beat him up on the street in front of quite a few witnesses. I was arrested for this lone act of antifascist retaliation and charged with a felony that could have sent me to prison for five years. The charges I was facing resulted in the end of my first marriage, and the end of my punk band.

Movement Marines

After pleading down to a misdemeanor, I got married again and stayed focused on my religious practices. I stayed away from crime, and I stayed out of street fights. Eventually I adopted a policy that I would only fight in self-defense or the defense of another person, and that policy has kept me out of a lot of fights since that time. I started studying martial arts in 1998 and learned how to channel my warlike instincts into disciplined training rather than random confrontation.

My second marriage ended in 2001, right in the middle of the worldwide anti-globalization movement. That’s when I first heard about the Black Bloc, or the “Movement Marines” as some people called them back then – a term that has since been dropped, no doubt due to the obvious toxic masculinity of it. The Black Bloc had played a major role in shutting down the World Trade Organization at the Battle of Seattle in 1999, and now that I was no longer married, I wanted to be involved.

I took a Greyhound bus to a major anti-globalization protest, which resulted in my first experience facing off with the riot police – although not as a part of the Black Bloc. During a lull in the action, a riot cop kept trying to talk to me across the front lines, asking me what the hell all this was about. Unfortunately, the Black Bloc guys standing next to me weren’t impressed with the fact that a cop was trying to talk to me, so they wouldn’t have anything to do with me for the rest of the day! 

Occupy Minnesota

When the Occupy movement exploded in 2011, I’d been calling myself an anarchist for some 23 years, but I still hadn’t read any works by any of the anarchist philosophers. I was broadly anti-authoritarian, anti-capitalist, and anti-fascist, but I didn’t have any clear picture of what a society without the state would look like. My anarchism was mostly an instinctive response to growing up as an outsider and identifying with anyone else who also seemed like an outsider. I didn’t support either of the two big political parties, but I had developed the habit of keeping my mouth shut about it because many of my friends were Democrats.

When Occupy Wall Street started in New York City, I was living in Minneapolis with my third wife. We both knew we wanted to be involved in this new movement. I remember seeing the march across the bridge on the TV news and muttering to myself about how something like that should happen everywhere. My father-in-law turned to me and said, “Wait a few days. It will.”

The man was right. Occupy soon spread to Minnesota. A few days before the birth of my second child, I was holding the line with a few dozen other Occupiers, defending a small hillock we wanted to use as a camp while the Sheriff’s Department hovered nearby and threatened to arrest everyone. My wife was over at the Med Tent telling the horrified volunteers there that they’d have to bring her to the hospital if she went into labor, as her husband was about to be arrested!

That was the start of a few years of intense political activity with different branches of Occupy, years that revived my dormant radicalism. I attended events in St. Louis, Chicago and elsewhere, serving as a non-violent bodyguard for citizen journalists who requested protection from police violence.

In St Louis, the riot police broke one Occupier’s head open so badly that it had to be stapled back together. In Chicago, someone behind me yelled “They’re right behind you!” and I turned just in time to see the riot cops charging. I turned and ran, and somehow got away – one reason I was a fighter as a young man is that I can’t run to save my life, but somehow that day I found a way to do it. Once I’d put some distance between myself and the riot police, I saw a young man with blood running down the front of his face, just staring into nothing like he couldn’t even see the world around him anymore.

That was only one of many close calls. I’m not going to go into details, because there’s nothing unusual about my experiences. I will say this, though. Any time you hear that the riot police used tear gas, or rubber bullets, or that they “clashed” with the crowd, I guarantee you it was the police themselves who decided that was going to happen. In my experience, violence never happens at a protest unless the riot police want it to.

You Know What You Are?

I’d been practicing the martial arts for 15 years by this point, and I often taught at seminar weekends. These were events where instructors would gather from all over the country – sometimes from outside the country – and teach whatever skills they had. Stickfighting, knife-fighting, wrestling, swordsmanship – any kind of martial arts skill. You’d train all day and then you’d drink and talk all night, usually debates about obscure history or anecdotes about training with different instructors.

One of these debates veered off into politics, and another instructor asked me my opinion about something. Knowing that I was a lot more radical politically than most of my fellow martial artists, I answered him reluctantly. “I don’t agree with either of the parties,” I said. “I don’t support any politician from any party.”

“You know what you are?” he said, somewhat mockingly. “You’re an anarchist!”

He was right, and for whatever reason hearing him say it made me really commit to it on a level I never had before. When I got home, I bought a history of anarchism called Demanding the Impossible by Peter Marshall. I bought the Farquhar McHarg books by Stuart Christie, then read every book available in English on the anarchists of the Spanish Civil War, along with all the anarchist philosophers I’d neglected for so many years – William Godwin, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, Mikhail Bakunin, Peter Kropotkin, Emma Goldman, Voltairine de Cleyre, Murray Bookchin, Lorenzo Kom'boa Ervin, and many, many others.

I began to see a connection between my anarchist mentality – which, for most of my life, was more of an instinct than a philosophy – and my pagan religion. Specifically, I began to understand a pagan and animist worldview as the spiritual core of a future free society capable of living on this planet without destroying all life here.

A decentralized society of directly-democratic and egalitarian communities – that’s the type of world I want to fight for, even if it’s a thousand years away from becoming our reality. Traditionally, most anarchists have been atheists – but I don’t believe that spirituality is going to disappear from the human mind, and if it’s with us to stay then we ought to do good things with it.

As anyone reading this post can see, I’m not exactly a pacifist. My paganism has more to do with the warrior societies of the ancient world than any kind of peaceful New Age utopia. I will always stand against bullies as I have done since I was a child, and that includes racists, misogynists, homophobes, transphobes, and fascists of all kinds. The world I want to live in is not a world with no conflict, but one where people can live in relationship with spirit and in equality with each other – a world with “many gods, no masters.”

Add new comment