Out in the Open

'Our message to fascists is not about trying to win popular support': the role of violence in protest

Activist and author scott crow says there is a place for violence in protest movements.
scott crow (Ann Harkness)
Listen15:02

"In anti-fascist work, a lot of times we'd end up in scuffles and conflicts with neo-nazis as they were coming in or leaving the protest.

"...[W]e'd use bats or sticks, different devices to stop them. They also had these," says author and activist scott crow.

For over three decades, scott's been an activist working on various causes, including environmental, animal rights, and anti-fascist issues.

He's damaged property and committed acts of violence against neo-nazis. scott was under investigation by FBI counterterrorism agents. He's never been charged.

He says he no longer engages in violent activism, nor does he think it's the only or most important tool, but scott does believe there are times when violence is "appropriate and necessary." 

"Even though that kind of conflict is such a small part of anti-fascist organizing, that is where it became clear that violence is necessary," says scott. 

"You have to understand, it's not just that I have a different opinion from them. They are calling for genocide of whole populations. If the words that they are saying will allow people to be killed, will create spaces for people to be killed, then we will stop them immediately."

In terms of property destruction, scott doesn't believe that should be considered a form of violence.

"You can't equate property with life...Like in the United States people kill people for private property and I think that is inherently wrong." 

At first, scott says he rejected violence in all forms, but one of the incidents that got him thinking about the role of violence in social change involved an abusive relationship in his neighborhood in the mid-90s. 

He says he'd see this woman being beaten by her boyfriend, the cops would be called, but nothing would change.

"One day, I finally took action to stop him from doing it and he left.

"I saw it as very personal and very political at the same time...I began to see it as community protection because he was terrorizing the whole neighbourhood by doing these actions in the front yard."

In reference to the video of white nationalist Richard Spencer being punched in the face, scott says he found it funny and telling that it became viral.

"I'm not saying that everyone has to punch a nazi...but that fact that it became a meme at all is a watershed change. Because you have to understand, the left in the U.S. abhors violence…Seeing that was very watershed because it was so accepted by people."

There's a lot of debate now around the use of violence in protest or in social change, especially after Charlottesville, Virginia. Part of the debate includes the question of whether violence makes it easy to dismiss an entire movement and the issues being fought for.

Scott says he doesn't care. He doesn't care what "corporate media" thinks.

"Our message to fascists is not about trying to win popular support. Our message to fascists is that...if you are going to cause people to be killed by your actions and your words, you're going to have a high cost.

"...For them to have a protest, it raises the cost for it. For them to show up in public to speak about genocide and hate, it raises the cost...That's all it's about. It's a direct communication to them and direct action against them."