The A word: Anarchists, hysteria and vandalism in Asheville

The A word: Anarchists, hysteria and vandalism in Asheville-attachment0

Last Saturday, May Day, a vandalism spree in downtown Asheville left several buildings damaged, including a number of local businesses. The ensuing reaction from just about every faction of the community was anger and confusion. That’s justified; the hysteria some are spreading is not.

In connection with the crime, the police have arrested 11 people, most from out of town. Two of those arrested have connections to anarchist groups, and anarchist Web sites have rallied to find bail money for “The Asheville 11,” a predictable dubbing if ever there was one. Interestingly, the comment threads filled up with locals — including anarchists — condemning the vandalism, which hit mostly independent, locally-owned businesses (as well as an RBC Centura ATM and the Asheville Citizen-Times).

Then there’s A few questions for the Anarchists in Asheville by Citizen-Times writer John Boyle, which begins “I’m trying to think of a stupider, more illogical movement than anarchy, but I’ve come up dry.”

The title of Boyle’s piece is particularly ironic, as the majority of the accused rioters aren’t from Asheville. He proceeds to up the vitriol to 11:

“To protest capitalism and government, every year on May 1 a bunch of these self-important fools get together. Sometimes they throw a party or stage legitimate protests, but this time they opted to randomly destroy stuff, the end result being a bunch of business owners and the city now having to waste money to fix it back up.”

There were indeed a number of May 1 gatherings in Asheville — it’s a traditional day for leftist political protest — some involving issues such as immigration reform. One, in Aston Park, was a party with an anti-capitalist bent (“Cause capitalism dies a little bit every time we have fun without it,” according to its Facebook page). While police are looking into the event, to the best of anyone’s knowledge, there’s absolutely no indication that a singular “they” went from there to rioting. By all indications, the vast majority of the people in Aston Park threw a party of the non-glass-shattering variety.

Now, anarchism isn’t remotely my creed, and it probably isn’t yours either, but there’s a massive difference between someone whose beliefs drive them to such nefarious actions as running a community garden or free book exchange and the beliefs of the thug busting up a local business. Such distinctions are, apparently, lost to Boyle. Here there’s just “they.”

Funny, when sports fans rampage, I never see media mavens calling for a crackdown on athletics, or issuing angry condemnations about how dangerous hockey or basketball devotees are. The rioters are just idiots, and viewed as a violent exception among the larger number of people who enjoyed the game peacefully. Nor do people confuse snake handlers, for example, as representing all Christians. An anarchist breaks a window, and suddenly they’re all vandals in our midst. Right.

Boyle also forgets something journalists must maintain, no matter how much we are angered by a crime: the presumption of innocence. The police have arrested 11 people and charged them for the destruction of that night. At the coming trial, the state will have to present its evidence and prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the 11 were not simply anarchists or in the wrong place at the wrong time, but rioters. That’s how it should work.

And that’s what we should all push for. The greatest possible rebuke this vandalism spree can receive is an open, fair trial. If some or all of the 11 are proven guilty, in court, with the full chance to defend themselves, they should be justly and harshly punished. But they should be punished because of their actions, not their beliefs. Angered by a lawless rampage? Show the law at its best.

Media storms have a way of spiraling out of control. Some vandals run amok, columns come out that paint them as representative of all people of a certain type (anarchists, in this case), the inevitable distortion occurs as people talk amongst themselves. Soon enough, the cops get called every time people spot someone that fits their particular view of the latest bogeyman. Everyone’s time gets wasted and a bunch of innocent people get hassled for no good reason.

There is absolutely nothing illegal about being an anarchist and what everyone, from the authorities to those of us in the media, must remember is that law, to have any justice to it, must punish crimes, not identities.

That’s why broad-brushstroke rage like that in Boyle’s column is so foolish. One of Asheville’s strengths, perhaps its greatest, is the fact that people of a wide variety of creeds — conservative Christians, the LGBT community, hippies, retirees and yes, anarchists — all rub shoulders in relative peace, despite their multitude of disagreements. I hope that’s strong enough to survive a few vandals.

After all, glass can be fixed, damage can be repaired. The loss of that strength to hysteria and suspicion would be far worse.

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34 thoughts on “The A word: Anarchists, hysteria and vandalism in Asheville

  1. I’ve calmed down a bit about this. However, what the kids on the anarchist websites don’t understand is that deductibles have to be met to fix those windows. That’s just a lack of understanding on how things work in the real world.

  2. Jake

    Criminey! Talk about overreacting. I am sorry to see the hyperbole and mischaracterizations in this piece.

  3. JOHN-C

    Don’t forget the private citizens who got their cars damaged in this…

  4. arecibo

    I like this intro to anarchism, which includes the following point:

    “Nihilism: In contrast to the “anti-everything” credo of nihilism, anarchists do not promote random violence, destruction, and “every man for himself” lawlessness (although there are always a few with this philosophy who call themselves “anarchists”). The common perception that anarchy is equivalent to chaos is an unfortunate misconception arising from the widespread belief, instilled by those in power, that authority is necessary to maintain order. Anarchists believe that an efficient, organized, and just society can be achieved on a non-hierarchical, decentralized, and participatory basis. ”

    http://www.black-rose.com/articles-liz/intro-@.html

  5. RD

    Apparently, incidents of queer-bashing — including physical violence — took place following the vandalism, in a kind of backlash. This is far worse than property damage, and indicative of our ideological slavery to business and consumer culture (not to mention identity-based hatred).

  6. Jonathan Barnard

    Re deductibles:

    This vandalism may give insurance companies good cause to raise rates for all downtown Asheville businesses, so that all businesses there–and ultimately their customers as well–end up paying for it.

  7. What an eloquent defense of a legitimate ideological movement that can at times be generally tainted by the misconduct of a few and the willful misrepresentations of the many.

    The next time someone criticized the Tea Party Movement, I will refer them to this column and your logic.

    Thanks.
    ……………………….

  8. Betty Cloer Wallace

    Sorry, David Forbes, but your commentary is as skewed as John Boyle’s, just in a different direction.

    Funny, when sports fans rampage, I never see media mavens calling for a crackdown on athletics, or issuing angry condemnations about how dangerous hockey or basketball devotees are. Nor do people confuse snake handlers, for example, as representing all Christians. An anarchist breaks a window, and suddenly they’re all vandals in our midst.

    Specious analogies, David. Sports fans and snake handlers do not target or threaten the general populace. They do not hide behind masks and plan ahead to carry rocks and hammers to attack private property that has nothing to do with sports or religion.

    But, as for your statement that “an anarchist breaks a window and suddenly they’re all vandals in our midst”—well, you are correct in regard to those 20 or 30 self-described “anarchist” vandals in the midst of AVL who gave real anarchism a bad name.

    Show the law at its best? Presumption of innocence? How it should work? What we should all push for?

    Has anyone suggested otherwise? Do your readers really need a condescending lecture on this elementary aspect of law? If these 11 people arrested are not the vandals, what about rounding up those other two or three dozen who are? Let’s push for that. That’s how it should work. Somebody did it, 20-30 people according to eyewitnesses and videotapes.

    The cops get called every time people spot someone that fits their particular view of the latest bogeyman. Everyone’s time gets wasted and a bunch of innocent people get hassled for no good reason.

    For no good reason? Really? Black-masked persons are smashing automobiles and plate-glass storefronts, and the result is, according to you, “a bunch of innocent people get hassled for no good reason”?

    A waste of everyone’s time? A waste of time for Asheville police? Should citizens no longer call the cops when glass is shattering in downtown AVL? Do our AVL cops really hassle bunches of innocent people for no good reason?

    Do not your pronouncements exemplify the very same hysteria you are decrying in John Boyle’s commentary?

    Actually, the public response has simply been one of justified outrage, not hysteria. Asheville residents are quite forgiving.

    I wonder what the public response would have been if the vandals had targeted Hendersonville, or Marshall, or Cherokee, or Raleigh—or if they choose to target Asheville again next May Day.

  9. Betty Cloer Wallace

    Gee……. what happened to all my paragraph spaces?

  10. Property damage & “wilding” is no way to justify any legitimate “cause”. Public outrage and retribution will be swift…you can count on that. The incident on May 1st., was a very stupid way to attempt to make a point…if in fact that was the idea.

    We all must deal with “the man,” and the Corporate dehumanizing world. Many choose alternative lifestyles to avoid the de-humanization. That band of ruffians might try exploring the options instead of the wrong headed one chosen on May day.

  11. Piffy!

    [b]indicative of our ideological slavery to business and consumer culture[/b]

    Really? Can you elaborate upon that for those of us who don’t make the same leap in logic?

  12. Piffy!

    [b]Gee……. what happened to all my paragraph spaces?[/b]

    At Imposter’s request, some unsavory changes seem to have been made.

  13. Piffy!

    [b]Sports fans and snake handlers do not target or threaten the general populace. They do not hide behind masks and plan ahead to carry rocks and hammers to attack private property that has nothing to do with sports or religion. [/b]

    .

    Really? I can think of numerous riots after sporting events that have left cars ablaze, windows broken, etc. And i suspect more than one or two soccer hooligans have carried a weapon or to to the match in preparation.

  14. Piffy!

    [b]Do our AVL cops really hassle bunches of innocent people for no good reason?[/b]

    .

    Yes. Absolutely. ALL the time.

  15. Betty Cloer Wallace

    @ BCW: “Sports fans and snake handlers do not target or threaten the general populace. They do not hide behind masks and plan ahead to carry rocks and hammers to attack private property that has nothing to do with sports or religion.”
    .
    @ Piffy: “I can think of numerous riots after sporting events that have left cars ablaze, windows broken, etc. And i suspect more than one or two soccer hooligans have carried a weapon or to to the match in preparation.”

    Well, then, analogy-wise, what specific event precipitated the planning and preparation and provided the rationale for the AVL vandalism by the masked vandals?

    And, if “our AVL cops really do hassle bunches of innocent people for no good reason,” why was the vandalism not directed toward the cops or other oppressors?

    And so are the cops themselves practicing anarchy (not to be confused with anarchism) by harassing “bunches of people” “for no good reason” “all the time”?

    Between the cops and the vandals, then just how vulnerable do you consider Asheville residents, and what are our options for protecting ourselves and our families? Mass exodus?

    And, too, I’m still mystified by David’s snake handler analogy.

  16. shadmarsh

    Are we still talking about this? Can’t we all just go back to pretending what an awesome place this is to live?

  17. Betty Cloer Wallace

    @shadmarsh: “Are we still talking about this? Can’t we all just go back to pretending what an awesome place this is to live?

    I am just trying to find out more about certain aspects of our fair city to which I have been heretofore oblivious.

  18. Piffy!

    [b]Well, then, analogy-wise, what specific event precipitated the planning and preparation and provided the rationale for the AVL vandalism by the masked vandals?[/b]

    .

    Um, what? I just corrected your assertion about sports. Ii have no idea where the hell you are trying to take this, but it isn’t what I was arguing whatsoever.

    [b]And, if “our AVL cops really do hassle bunches of innocent people for no good reason,” why was the vandalism not directed toward the cops or other oppressors?[/b]

    .

    Again, this has nothing to do with the point i made. what the hell are you talking about?

    .

    [b]And so are the cops themselves practicing anarchy (not to be confused with anarchism) by harassing “bunches of people” “for no good reason” “all the time”?[/b]

    .

    Did you get into my cough syrup? what in go’ds name are you arguing here?

  19. Thanks for putting things in perspective with your article. And thank you to Arecebo for clarification on the original, political meaning of anarchism. Unfortunately it’s come to mean chaos to most people.

  20. Funny stuff

    @Pfff: for someone who uses an avatar pic of a crazy, gun-toting nut you deserve zero credibility within these discussions. Ease up on your cough syrup buddy!
    Simply put, justice will be served upon these “rioters” and this will all be forgotten soon. Hopefully, next May 1st, more cops will be on the alert. And no Piffy, cops in Asheville are some of the most polite, professional men & women around and contrary to your belief they do not “hassle” innocent people regularly.

  21. “Unfortunately it’s come to mean chaos to most people. “

    And you have that marauding band of vandals to thank. With friends like that, who needs enemies.

  22. shadmarsh

    I won’t be appeased until these hoodlums are stripped naked, put into stocks and put on display in Pack square!

  23. missemmalee

    I couldn’t disagree more, and this seems more like a swipe at John Boyle more than anything else.

  24. travelah

    There is absolutely nothing illegal about being an anarchist and what everyone, from the authorities to those of us in the media, must remember is that law, to have any justice to it, must punish crimes, not identities.

    Well, no there isn’t anything illegal regarding thinking about anarchy but there is certainly a great deal of illegality when it comes to acting out one’s anarchist inclinations. Whether the fools were from out of town or not is irrelevant. Most of the anarchists living in Asheville came from somewhere else.
    From the various responses it seems the significant objections from Asheville’s own anarchists (armchair anarchists) center on the displeasure that the out of town idiots were not their “kind” of anarchists i.e. the Asheville anarchists are the good kind and the out of town anarchists were bad because they broke the stuff the Asheville anarchists didn’t think needed breaking.
    Yeah, this was just a swipe against Boyle in defense of the same mindset that pissed all over downtown.

  25. David

    I understand that what an Anarchist is just as subjective as any other group. However, while Boyle’s article was pretty presumptuous there clearly is a growing violent anarchist movement. As you probably know Asheville was not the only target of vandalism done in name of Anarchism on May Day. While all of the “Asheville 11″ might not be guilty or even involved with the crime, it is a fact that 20 or so people vandalized downtown in the name of Anarchism. Instead of focusing on Boyle for his opinion, perhaps we should be examining Anarchy. If you think that its unfair for us “capitalist swine” to lump all all anarchists together than the onus is on you to separate the violent anarchist from the peaceful ones. To date I would say the tone I am hearing is one of condonation. As far as I am concerned there is nothing less than a full condemnation of the crime that is acceptable. One other thing: If you watched the police briefing then you know the police claimed that some of the suspects were detained with bars, baseball bats …and etcetera. So while some of the 11 might be innocent bystanders I think its safe to say some of them are guilty as charged.

  26. RD

    Yes, I’ll elaborate, pff:

    If physical violence and/or vigilantism is justified in the name of protecting property and business, that means that in he minds of those who think that is justified, property and business is more important than individuals and their rights.

    Perhaps I shouldn’t have said “our” or generalized, but certainly there are lots of examples (including attitudes on this thread) that little is more “sacred” as it were, than physical property.

    I think that that’s in ideological position and should be scene for what it is: a worship of things, not respect for persons. And before you raise the next objection, I am not my stuff.

  27. cwaster

    “Do our AVL cops really hassle bunches of innocent people for no good reason?”

    Oh yes, all the time.

    Justice is blind, you know?
    Innocent until proven guilty… as I mentioned before, it’s a basic tenet of American justice. We should remember that. I hope the people who DID commit the crime are punished once it’s been proven they did so.

  28. hmp49

    “Then there’s A few questions for the Anarchists in Asheville by Citizen-Times writer John Boyle, which begins “I’m trying to think of a stupider, more illogical movement than anarchy, but I’ve come up dry.”

    The title of Boyle’s piece is particularly ironic, as the majority of the accused rioters aren’t from Asheville.”

    Are you intentionally misreading what Boyle says? He didn’t say “Then there’s A few questions for the Anarchists FROM Asheville,” you did. He said “Then there’s A few questions for the Anarchists
    IN Asheville,” and indeed the Anarchists were IN Asheville when they rioted.

  29. Daniel Withrow

    I have tremendous sympathy toward anarchism as a semi-utopian philosophy (I don’t consider myself an anarchist only because I believe human nature abhors a political vacuum and therefore consider it untenable), and I appreciate this article. The line in Boyle’s piece that most irritated me was “Don’t you love it when anarchists organize?” Mr. Boyle: fruit that low-hanging is usually rotten. Your line here is smug ignorance, and even a cursory look in a dictionary would show you your error. It’s sloppy journalism even for a humorist. That said, however, I disagree that Boyle broke any ethicsal guideline about the presumption of innocence. It’s clearly an opinion piece, not an objective accounting of facts, and I’m unaware of any editorial ethical standard that prevents a writer from opining on the acts of an alleged criminal before the verdict is in. Or is this editorial (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/06/opinion/06thu1.html?scp=1&sq=Shahzad&st=Search) at fault for assuming Shahzad’s guilt?

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