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Every Way The Wind Blows: Taking a Side

In college, I had a friend of a friend who was an anarchist. He got arrested at an Iraq war protest after vandalizing downtown San Francisco. He now works for Halliburton. Another friend who got arrested with him now works for a big pharmaceutical company.

Which brings me to the story of Brandon Darby.

As a teenager Brandon Darby became an anarchist. In 2006, with a mixture of heroism and recklessness, Darby bought a boat and headed to post-Katrina New Orleans to save a fellow activist. Smart and controlling, but flighty, Darby began organizing effective relief efforts in the Ninth Ward, co-founding the organization Common Ground and bringing medicine and food to the locals. After initial success--and a lot of good publicity--Darby took a radical step: he went down to Venezuela to raise money for his cause from Hugo Chavez.

Back in New Orleans, things spiraled out of control. Vegans took over the kitchen, serving vegan food to people who wanted to eat meat, eggs and dairy. Anarchists refused to work in a church because “churches are patriarchal”. Most importantly, the radical activists ran into resistance from residents of the Ninth Ward. All of this conflict led to a mass protest against Darby, which led Darby to a revelation, "Politics is politics, you know. We were no more morally correct than the political system of the US government. That was a big realization for me, that I was on the wrong track.”

After a few months, Darby quit Common Ground and moved back to Austin.

Missing the action and adrenaline of activism, Darby tried to start a new organization that would escort medical personnel into war zones. He eventually met a radical Palestinian who wanted to bomb checkpoints in Israel. Shocked, Darby reported him to the FBI, and eventually became a full blown informant. (Listen to this This American Life episode to hear the full story.) Now Darby writes for the infamous right wing website Big Government, run by famous conservative Andrew Breitbart.

I’m not sure a bigger political transformation is possible, from anarchist revolutionary to right wing blogger. How does someone go from "talk[ing] openly about overthrowing the US government”, hating police and authority, to working as an informant for the FBI and writing for conservative blogs? For me, I kind of shrugged. At the fear of psychoanalyzing Brandon Darby, I think I know why he transformed so radically. I know why my friends went from activists to corporate shills.

They all wanted something to fight against.

Notice I wrote, “fight against” instead of “fight for”. The cause itself doesn’t matter; the fight does, whether as the protester against the system or as the cop protecting the system

It’s all about time and place. If you go to UC Santa Cruz, you fight the man. Grow up in rural Montana, you join the Army. If I could, I'd create an alternative reality time machine, and test what would happen if Malcolm X grew up wealthy and white in Mississippi. Or watch George Wallace grow up as a poor black man. How would their futures be different? I guarantee you this, they’d find something to fight against.

For some people, it isn’t about the cause; it’s about the battle.

eight comments

I’ll be the first to note the irony of anarchists organizing.


Anyways, good post. I´ve seen similar things happen myself, and we´ve all had experiences in our life that can and may fundamentally change our socio-political outlook on life. However I´ve also seen what you´ve displayed here, people who need to have something to fight against rather than taking on a cause out of a sincere conviction or attachment to said cause.

I would also not that that is fundamentally different than the role your life experiences have on your outlook on life. Your life experiences, as well as your education, and capacity for empathy help develop ones´ (hopefully not to dogmatic) socio-political outlook. That your experiences and have led you to one view or another does not mean you lack conviction.


@ Matty P: You would be surprised at how organized Anarchists can be. I know some German Anarchists, they may be Anarchists, but first and foremost they´re German. I think Anarchists here have constructed the most elaborate joke in German political history, and formed a party even capturing local city and county seats in some parts of Germany:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_e6oE3Z7j..

They´re not as unorganized as they appear in that video, get to know them a little better and you will ask yourself how many of them have been diagnonsed with OCD.


Something is wrong here, its a bit difficult to comment on this blog right now. It keeps “timing out” after I post something and deleting the comment.

Anyways I´m not spamming I swear, I´m just posting again to get another link in, and point out to Matty P that Anarchism does not necessarily mean Nihilism and that Anarchism as political philosophy does have a bit of history here in Germany:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Ge..


@ Chris C – You’re right on on the nature of anarchism. I mean, syndico-anarchism is all about union organizing.

Just another word that has lost its original meaning…


Also, the comments appear to be working for me.


Excellent post, you do make me think.


@ Shreck – Thanks