Fascism is Intentional

Author’s note: this essay is an updated and expanded upon version of one published in May of this year.

There was a part of Margaret Atwood’s 1985 novel, The Handmaid’s Tale, that is perhaps the most unsettling to me. The protagonist, Offred, is walking past the notorious Wall in the Republic of Gilead. This Wall, once part of a prestigious university in Cambridge Massachusetts, is now being used as a place of public execution, where corpses are left hanging for days to send a message of compliance and terror to the citizens of this authoritarian, theocratic state. Defy “God’s law” and you will suffer the punishment for doing so.

When Atwood penned her famous book in 1985, she could not have imagined just how prescient it would be seen decades later. Then the Hulu series was produced. It differed in many significant ways from the book. The character of Offred, for instance, did not have the same agency or defiance as the one in the television series. She was a witness to the brutality of the Republic of Gilead, but she didn’t actively participate in resisting it as Elizabeth Moss’ portrayal did. Although the series was powerful, well written and well acted, the book presents us with a more universal experience of a person living under authoritarian cruelty.

But it came in the time of Trump. A time of unmasked misogyny. Resistance, or even the facsimile of it, became a popular rallying call. Now, we watch stupefied at the continuing resurgence of fascism, dressed up in the guise of Christianity, in the same nation that would eventually become Atwood’s fictional Gilead. The decision by the US Supreme Court to overturn Roe v Wade may be one of those prophecies foretold.

With the admission of some of the most far-right, religiously conservative justices, the writing was on the wall for the SCOTUS to eventually overturn the historic Roe v Wade case. When it did this, the national right to abortion for women ended and several states automatically made abortion illegal. Many others will follow. It isn’t too much of a stretch to imagine an eventual national ban on all abortions coming down the pike relatively soon, and the reversal of other landmark cases, including marriage equality.

To reduce this all to only one or two issues would be missing the broader picture. To be sure, the war on women’s rights, primarily the right of a woman to control her own body, is a fundamental feature of fascism. Misogyny is a central tenet. But this Supreme Court has wasted no time in bolstering other elements of fascist terror. Now gun owners and the police state, thanks to the neutering of Miranda rights, have more rights than women.

These decisions aren’t mismatched. They are intentionally placed obstructions to democracy. When a public is terrorized by armed gunmen in ordinary settings like a grocery store, a school or a parade, they often become paralyzed by fear. And this plays into the hands of any authoritarian government.

American fascism isn’t following the same course as in pre-World War 2 Germany. It is more akin to Franco’s Spain or Pinochet’s Chile, where far-right mobs were emboldened with the task of terrorizing the general public, while the church and the state worked hand in hand to design a framework of oppression; culturally, legislatively and judicially. From both above and below, Americans are being subjected to an unprecedented attack on their basic freedoms, liberties and civil rights.

Without a doubt, fascism has always been a current running just under the surface in American culture, religion and politics. As anywhere it surfaces, fascism has characteristics unique to the society it rises in. And American fascism has always cloaked itself in white supremacy and Calvinistic theology. It is an ideology grounded in racism, exclusion, rigid gender roles and fear.

When Offred saw the bodies on the notorious execution Wall she remembered something her brutal overseer Aunt Lydia once said: “Ordinary, is what you are used to. This may not seem ordinary to you now, but after a time it will. It will become ordinary.” This speaks to the things we come to accept as just part of ones day in the society in which we live. The normalization of things we might once have thought inconceivable, or even horrifying.

The US isn’t at this point yet. But it is worth taking into account Offred’s thoughts on how life was before this reign of terror began, and the feelings of complacency many of us share with her, even as the world around us rapidly morphs into something unimaginable:

“Is that how we lived, then? But we lived as usual. Everyone does, most of the time. Whatever is going on is as usual. Even this is as usual, now. We lived, as usual, by ignoring. Ignoring isn’t the same as ignorance, you have to work at it. Nothing changes instantly: in a gradually heating bathtub you’d be boiled to death before you knew it.”

Offred reflects on her complacency often. She thinks about not attending rallies or marches. And of her mother who did. But, like so many of us, she simply wanted to get her and her family through life hoping it would all work itself out. Our place in history, however, doesn’t function like that. We are participants in it whether we like it or not. And the biggest danger we face is our apathy in the face of authoritarian brutality and violent repression.

Fascism is intentional. It is intentional in its obsession with a fictional and romanticized past. A sentimental vision of a history that never happened. An addiction to the glorification of nationalistic militarism. It is intentional in its drive to silence voices that criticize its narrow understanding of history or the place and treatment of women or of minorities. It is intentional in its misogyny, its racism, its homophobia, its xenophobia, its violence. And given the right circumstances, like economic disparity, ecological crises or institutional rot, it can sweep through any society like a flood. And it can create a new normal in the blink of an eye, leaving us grieving for the life we once thought was simply ordinary.

Kenn Orphan, July 2022

The American Nightmare

A father hid his young son in a dumpster as he searched for the rest of his family amid rapid gun fire…

A war zone? No. Just another day in the US. Independence Day, in a nation whose Supreme Court is intent on demolishing independence for half the population, while granting even more rights to those who want to terrorize it.

Even from abroad, I know many of my American friends are feeling anxious. Many are grieving. With each civil liberty being chipped away, they feel helpless as they watch their country slipping steadily down a steep hill toward a Christo-fascist nightmare. Holidays like the 4th of July only make this grief more acute. The absurdity of flags and anthems extolling “freedom” and “liberty” all while those very terms are denuded of any value they may have once had. And now, yet another mass shooting to add to an ever growing list.

In truth, there have always been times in the States where Americans sought to escape their republic. But I’ve definitely noticed an uptick over the past five years. And I’ve had many reach out to me inquiring on how to flee successfully. Yet, I still see so many Americans doing everything they can to prop up the cadaver of American democracy while slapping makeup and perfume on it so as to mask its putrescence. A kind of kabuki theatre of democracy with all the appropriate props for the charade. Regardless of the effort, the writing seems to be on the wall. The US is a failed state where democracy is essentially dead in all but appearance.

If we are to be honest, it was inevitable that the misery the American Empire brought to millions in the Global South would eventually come home. How many democratically elected leaders have been overthrown by the US? How many coups and plots fomented by the CIA? Lumumba? Mosaddegh? Allende? How many Americans have even heard of these people? How many killing fields have been drenched in the blood of innocents thanks to American wars of conquest? Korea? Vietnam? Cambodia? Laos? Panama? Guatemala? Iraq? Libya?

And in reality, the Global South also includes millions of Americans who have been relegated to capitalism’s sacrifice zones. Those who reside on the margins of empire. Forgotten and ridiculed for being poor. Shot by militarized police in the streets or in their homes or incarcerated for being Black. Brutalized, erased and disenfranchised for being Indigenous. Caged and whipped by jackbooted thugs for being undocumented. Maligned and criminalized for being houseless.

None of this is new. After all, the US was built on the soil of a mass grave. Its powdered wig, ethnic cleansing, slave-owning, founders designed the farce that would become the “American Experiment.” White supremacy permeated its roots since its “revolution” was only intended to maintain an economy of slavery and genocide. In fact, its governing houses were constructed by forced labour. A bloody war had to be fought to end slavery, and even after the war was over, it codified racism in segregation while terrorizing Black people with the threat of lynching for decades. Starting with the decimation of the bison, its ecological diversity has been relentlessly raped for material gain. Capitalist exploitation is the sacrosanct religion of the land. In fact, the only thing that has made America “exceptional” has been its ability to convince so many of its subjects that its cruelty is virtuous and ordained by the benevolent hand of the Divine.

Yet even with this rancid past, ordinary people rose up against such tyrannical oppression. Workers protested their exploitation, often falling to the slaughter of federal and state troops. Slaves revolted, often suffering horrifically for doing so. Women, Black and Brown people, Indigenous, Queer and other marginalized segments of society united in solidarity to demand their human rights. People from all walks of life banded together to demand environmental protections. And many times, they succeeded in forcing the hand of power.

But over the last few years these hard won battles have come under brutal attack by a far right that has felt simultaneously threatened as it feels emboldened. As civil rights and liberties are rendered inert, guns proliferate. Mass shootings have become normalized. Membership in white militias is growing. Housing and healthcare are being increasingly allocated toward the rich as a luxury. The demographics of the state are shifting, all while the levers of power in that state are being sequestered by an ever shrinking minority in the ruling class. And this is the essence of fascism: the human, the living and the earth are nothing, the weapon, wealth and power are everything. With the only opposition seeming to lie in the inept, corporate-owned, and thoroughly ineffectual Democratic Party, it is no wonder there are so many feeling disempowered in the face of such blatant, unabashed authoritarianism.

Many liberal, white Americans are feeling anxious today because they are finally experiencing a taste of the brutality their ruling class, with the capitulation of the bourgeoisie, have delivered to millions of people for decades. They are grieving and that can be a positive catalyst. It has the power of uniting people in solidarity against injustice. But it can also be paralyzing. By all accounts, the rise of an even bolder fascism in the US is inevitable. One can only hope that the rise of its nemesis is equally so.

Kenn Orphan, July 2022

*Photo is of Patriot Front at Boston 4th of July celebration. AP.

A Post Roe World: Fascism has never needed a majority to create a hell-scape in the nations where it rises

The overturning of the landmark Roe v Wade case providing federal protection for a woman’s right to choose is both appalling and enraging. Now, several conservative states have already begun outlawing abortion rights. It is undeniable that women’s rights have taken an enormous blow, and the effect will have repercussions around the world.

But if anyone thinks it will stop there, they are deluding themselves. In just 24 hours, the SCOTUS has also weakened the rights of citizens who are arrested by police, in a country that houses the biggest prison population in the world and suffers from enormous police brutality, especially against communities of colour. And right now, they are targeting privacy rights and the rights of the LGBTQ+ community.

As I and many others on the left have been warning for years, this appears to be the beginning of a massive shift toward a bolder and more abusive fascist trend. And the corporate, “centrist” Democrats have only enabled its rise. For instance, just recently pro-Life Texas Democratic Rep Henry Cuellar won in elections, and he garnered the lavish support of non-other than the Speaker of the House herself, Nancy Pelosi.

It should be remembered that fascism has never needed a majority to create a hell-scape in the nations where it rises. A majority of Americans support the right of a woman to choose, but it mattered little because those who control the levers of power have the last say. It seems that Margaret Atwood’s fictional Gilead has been a sort of template for them. We can only hope for a mass movement that will upend this repressive arrangement of power before it is too late.

Kenn Orphan, June 2022

*Photo is of members of the SCOTUS who openly lied to the public about their intentions.

Under His Eye in the Republic of Texas

If you’ve never traveled around the state of Texas, you won’t really get an accurate picture of this odd land of extremes. The cities, especially Austin and Houston, are islands of relative sanity surrounded by a sea of crazy. All this considered, the unveiling of the Texas GOP’s platform should come as no surprise. They have merely tapped into the paranoid, hyper-nationalist, fascist zeitgeist so prevalent among a large swath of its white, Christian population.

In addition to the over the top, antigay/anti-trans rhetoric, the platform also attacks women’s reproductive rights, unions, climate change initiatives, the poor, the Endangered Species Act, gun control legislation (in a state that just witnessed the slaughter of elementary school children), immigrants and refugees (this is where Haitian refugees were recently whipped by officers on horseback), and public health measures to stem the spread of a pandemic. It also ramps up anti-China sentiments, advocates a withdrawal from the United Nations, and dehumanizes the Palestinians and their struggle for human rights (referring to the Bible as a reference for this discrimination and alignment with an apartheid regime). In addition to all of this, the platform employed QAnon conspiracies in questioning the legitimacy of the presidency of Joe Biden. And it reaffirmed the state’s right of secession from the union.

But one thread ran through everything: Christo-fascism. In fact, a narrow interpretation of the Christian Bible is referred to more than once as a justification for bigotry and discrimination. The pathology of theocratic obsession is embedded within Texas culture. And it is worth mentioning a recent town meeting in Arlington, Texas, where an evangelical Christian pastor took to the floor to call for the execution of gay people as “mandated” by the Holy Scripture. His unhinged lust for blood was echoed by many others there who uttered “amen” after every vile point he made.

I traveled across Texas several times years ago. I witnessed extremes in so many bizarre manifestations. Once, while driving down the interstate, I passed by an exit that had a billboard of a Bible verse with the image of a fetus. Obviously, a pro-life proclamation, one of many across the south. Under it was a sign that pointed across the way to a gun shop that boasted little to no background checks for customers. And next to the gun shop was an adult bookstore. This was Texas in a nutshell. At odds with itself and incapable of grasping the pathological contradictions.

Texas, and much of the south for that matter, has never reconciled with its violent, racist and theocratically authoritarian past. And while the north of the country has a rancid history of racism and other forms of social hatreds, violence and discrimination, it is undeniable that the south is consistently choked by some of the most reactionary and fascist cultural miasma in the Western world. The spirit of supremacist hatred is woven tightly into the very fabric of its present. Texas is a state that may come to resemble Margaret Atwood’s Gilead more than any other state in the US, and be proud in doing so.

Now, this essay might appear harsh to some. And I apologize for offending those Texans, some of whom I love, who continue to live there and love their state. To be sure, there positive aspects to the culture and there are welcome changes that have come. For instance, the state’s demographics have been changing, much to the chagrin of many white, heterosexual, Christian Republicans. But the hold this group has on power in the state cannot be denied. It is an entrenched grip on the very levers of control and it is not going to give any of that up easily. Now that the GOP has openly embraced unhinged conspiracy theories and unbridled social hatred, its trajectory toward a more blatant fascism appears all but guaranteed.

Kenn Orphan, June 2022

Photo: A man wears a face covering that reads “secede” outside the Texas state capitol on January 16, 2021 in Austin, Texas. (Sergio Flores/Getty Images). I remember seeing similar protests when I was in Austin several years ago.

Stonewall was a Call for Revolution, Not a Celebration of Conformity

As we observe Pride Month, we should remind ourselves that the original Pride Parade was a riot, not a celebration of conformity to society. There were no permits issued to the people who marched down those streets in New York City. There were no corporate, bank or military floats participating. And it was mocked by mainstream press like the New York Times.

It was an answer to violent state repression, persecution, witch hunts, discrimination and theocratic authoritarianism. And it was part of a wave of revolutionary thought which included women’s rights, immigrant and worker solidarity, as well as ecological and antiwar activism.

It also inspired other uprisings. In France, a couple years after Stonewall, the leftist political organization “Front Homosexuel d’action Révolutionnaire” was formed in response to homophobia in the labour movement. And just over ten years later, a raid of gay saunas in Toronto called “Operation Soap” was credited for being “Canada’s Stonewall.”

In the US, the catalyst for radical action took place in New York City at a small, but popular gay bar called the Stonewall Inn. After decades of persecution, queer people had had enough. One night in 1969, the NYPD conducted one of their usual raids. Scores were harassed and brutally arrested for the “crime” of being gay. A riot ensued thanks to the pent-up rage of oppression. Marsha P. Johnson, a Black drag queen, and Sylvia Rivera, a transgender woman, were at the forefront of those protests.

A few years later they were banned from the official parade because more conservative members felt ashamed of their identity, an echo we can see today with some wanting to “sanitize” Pride events of people they deem too radical. But the two defiantly marched ahead of the parade and their courage became a defining feature of the movement to this day.

Over the years, the original revolutionary vision was slowly coopted and commodified as gay people, particularly gay, white men, began to gain more acceptance within American bourgeois society. Unfortunately, many of the early principles were abandoned for more “acceptable” corporate ones. Companies, banks, politicians, police and the military sector moved in, and the bulk of queer people were pushed to the side.

But since the election of proto fascist to the White House a few years ago, the LGBTQ+ community has found itself under increasing attack, along with women, people of colour, immigrants, Muslims and other marginalized or minority groups. Now it has become normal for politicians to employ slanderous terms like “groomer” that attempt to link child abuse with queerness. Books and films are being banned. Antigay and anti-trans laws are being adopted in dozens of states. Pastors are openly calling for violence against queers which, in turn, incites others to act. In fact, we just saw one case of an attempted attack on a Pride event by a mob of white supremacists in Idaho.

Social hatred, be it homophobia, misogyny, racism, antisemitism, xenophobia, Islamophobia, transphobia, etc. is the poison of fascism. It is its currency. And it entices those elements of society who feel alienated or who believe that their way of life or status in society is threatened. Political opportunists will always seize on this to increase their popularity, power and influence. And one look at history warns us that we cannot expect corporations, banks or a militarized state to be our ally when fascism takes hold. When the chips are down, they will align with power. But none of this should deter us.

The first Pride Parade was a riot. The people who participated in it stood proudly against centuries of entrenched bigotry and they understood the potential costs of taking that stand. But they also understood that our liberation is inextricably linked with that of women, people of colour, Indigenous, immigrants, the working class, those living under apartheid, religious minorities, refugees, the houseless and anyone else who has been marginalized, brutalized or rendered invisible by our society. It was a call for revolution. And in this time of rising fascism, we need that spirit more than ever before.

Kenn Orphan, June 2022

*Title photo is courtesy of Leonard Fink/The LGBT Community Center National History Archive.

Maybe it’s Time to Show the Crime Scenes

I’ve heard that some of the parents in Uvalde are planning to have open caskets at the funerals for their little ones. I cannot imagine the kind of agony these families are going through. And also for the families and loved ones of the teachers who were killed, and one husband dying of a heart attack from grief only days later, leaving four children.

The decision to have an open casket reminded me of Emmett Till, the 14 year old Black boy who was tortured and lynched by a white mob in Mississippi in 1955. The funeral director was shocked that his mother, Mamie Till Bradley, wanted an open casket due to the extensive mutilation of Emmett’s body. But we should all be grateful to her for doing so. In this act of immense courage and agonizing grief, she showed the world the barbarity of racism and its inherent violence.

We don’t know how graphic images would be of Uvalde’s fallen children. We don’t know if the parents would want them to be made public either. And the choice should ultimately lie with them. But images have power. Photographs of mass lynching across the US bore witness to the horrendous racist slaughter taking place. Photos of the war against Vietnam helped to galvanize the global antiwar movement. Photographs of rivers on fire helped people see what industry was doing to the environment.

So perhaps it is time we stop worrying more about people being triggered by upsetting images than the circumstances that made those images possible in the first place. Perhaps a desensitized, atomized, demoralized and increasingly detached public is shown crime scenes, so that real outrage can make legislators and profiteers shake in their boots, instead listening to more of their empty platitudes.

Of course, any step like this must be done with the utmost respect and care. It isn’t for ghoulish pleasure, although there will always be monsters out there who will relish in them. It is for public record and public reckoning. Facing societal demons isn’t easy, but it is necessary if you want any meaningful change to happen.

Kenn Orphan, June 2022

Title photo is grief in Uvalde by Billy Calzada/The San Antonio Express-News via AP

Ten Years and Counting…

Ten years ago today I launched this blog/website. It started out quite simple. Only my artwork was showcased. But after a few months I began publishing essays and articles that I had worked on previously with other publications and websites, along with new ones.

I will admit, I was nervous those first few months. I had written and published before, but never on my own blog. Eventually, my confidence grew over time and this was largely due to the tremendous support and assistance I received from my partner Patrick, my friend Elena who helps with proofreading and editing. and of course my readers and patrons. Today, I am deeply grateful that my readership has grown steadily.

And soon, I hope to launch another site which will focus more on storytelling from the perspective of the first person. Most will be my stories. Some will be fictional. And there will be some guest writers too. I am also leading this into an eventual book. So I hope to see you all there too.

Ten years is a long time. Ten years is a short time. It is all of that. And I wanted to take this moment to thank you all for your support, curiosity, inquisitiveness and kindness.

With love and solidarity, Kenn Orphan.

As an independent writer and artist Kenn Orphan depends on donations and commissions. If you would like to support his work and this blog you can do so via PayPal. Simply click here:  DONATE

And thank you for your support and appreciation!

The World Should be Forever Grateful to Shireen Abu Aqleh

I will be honest about something. Since the cold-blooded execution of Palestinian, veteran journalist Shireen Abu Aqleh by an Israeli sniper I have felt rather nonplussed. A rarity for me. But it does happen.

It happens when I feel overwhelmed with joy. It happens when I feel like I am overcome with despair. And when that despair is mixed with rage, I sometimes feel like I can’t even breath.

The shock and anger over the killing of Shireen, a beloved reporter for Al Jazeera whose face was well known throughout Palestine and the Middle East, would be almost overshadowed by the horrendous actions of the Israeli police at her funeral procession in occupied East Jerusalem.

Descending on the mourners carrying Shireen’s coffin like attack dogs, Israeli police clubbed unarmed Palestinians in a scene reminiscent of apartheid South Africa. White police frequently targeted the funerals of murdered activists and independent journalists who reported on the brutality of the apartheid regime. It is worth reminding that Israel has recently been designated an apartheid state by the UN, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem.

Israel quickly defended its actions stating that “stones were being thrown at police.” Not one major media outlet thought to ask them why the Israeli police were at her funeral in the first place. Perhaps it is because if they did, it would reveal the nature of the arrangement of power. This was occupied East Jerusalem. The same state responsible for Shireen’s death was now disgracing her funeral. As is par for the course in commenting on anything related to the defense of Palestinian human rights, when one does it they can expect an avalanche of hate mail and vile accusations of antisemitism. And it should be said that Jews who stand in solidarity with their Palestinian sisters and brothers are not spared this treatment either. On the contrary, they are often the first to be smeared or silenced.

Antisemitism is a vile social hatred and is responsible for the untold suffering of millions of people over the course of centuries. It should always be condemned whenever it surfaces. But the accusation has also been used as a suffocating blanket against any person who dares defend Palestinian human rights or criticizes Israel or the political ideology of Zionism. It has been an effective bludgeon to silence dissent, debate, or even reasoned discussion.

But times have changed and the old methods are wearing thin. Perhaps it is thanks to social media. Perhaps it is due to decades of Israeli occupation, or a powerful military that carpet bombs entire neighbourhood blocks, or evicts families and villages as bulldozers demolish their homes. Perhaps it is due to scores of discriminatory laws against Palestinian citizens of Israel, or the fact that Palestinians in the occupied territories or in Gaza have absolutely no real agency over their lives, or the hundreds of thousands of illegal settlers in the occupied West Bank, many of them violent, moving into Palestinian homes. Perhaps it is due to the complicity of powerful state actors like the US, EU, UK and Canada who obfuscate and run interference for every single questionable or criminal act committed by the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) while chiding the Palestinians for nearly every action they take, including nonviolent movements like Boycott, Divest, Sanction (BDS) called for by Palestinian civil society. Perhaps it is a new generation of young people, many of them Jews outside of Israel, for whom universal human rights are not merely a campaign slogan and for whom the threats, smears and lies no longer work.

Whatever combination of the change in international public opinion, it is doubtful that Shireen will get any justice for her murder. Israel still has too much political and economic power, as well as the backing and funding of the most powerful empire on earth, to ever have to really answer for it. But with each injustice its veneer of being a democracy becomes worn and ludicrous.

Like the oppressive, hyper-capitalist, theocratic Emirates and Saudi Arabia which have warmed to it in recent years thanks to the political chicanery of US president Trump, Israel can no longer count itself as a democracy without people questioning the validity of such a claim or thinking critically about what they have witnessed with their own eyes. Like the beating and hosing down of Black civil rights workers in the Jim Crow South or the brutal massacres of Black and Brown people in apartheid South Africa, these visual testimonies and crime scenes cannot be unseen. No spin team, no matter how moneyed or well oiled, can undo it.

Like all states with brutal or abysmal human rights records, the taint remains until something substantial is done to address the wound. But for that to occur, it would have to reconcile with who it is. And nation states never do this on their own.

Till her dying breath, Shireen lived up to something she said in an interview with her employer Al Jazeera a few years ago: “I chose journalism to be close to the people. It might not be easy to change the reality, but at least I was able to bring their voice to the world.” And for that, the world should be forever grateful.

Kenn Orphan, May 2022

Remembering Shireen Abu Akleh

Palestinian-American veteran journalist, Shireen Abu Akleh, was murdered this week by an IDF sniper in a refugee camp in the Occupied West Bank. She was wearing a PRESS vest and was reporting on Israeli military violence against refugees at the time. Today, she was laid to rest.

Shireen was beloved for her grace, professional integrity and honesty by Palestinians, journalists around the world, and those of us who stand in solidarity.

May she rest in power. She will not be forgotten. And may Palestine be free.

Kenn Orphan, May 2022

Concerning those on the Left who Still Defend Putin

This is bound to be an unpopular opinion among a certain set of the online (particularly older, American) left, but I keep seeing the same problematic things being repeated. That a photo of Ukrainians fleeing, wounded or dead are either “fake news” or they are “crisis actors.” The most odious ones say that these are all Azov Nazis. I guess that would include the Jewish community. I guess it would also include people who simply did not want to leave their homes. Or the disabled, the sick, children, the elderly, and all of those who stayed to protect them and their homes. Others are wringing their hands about Putin’s conundrum of having “NATO in its backyard.” How anyone can become that jaded is beyond me. But I’ve seen it before.

I won’t address the claim of wounded or mass graves being made up of “crisis actors” or “fake news” as this comes from a kind of degeneracy of Trumpism which should be soundly rejected by anyone with even a modicum of decency. But we should address the claim that Russia is fighting Nazis. Putin has used this label to further his military aims. He understands that the use of that word in Russia is powerful propaganda. It stirs up powerful emotions and memories, especially among older Russians who suffered greatly from Germany’s attacks and invasions of the USSR in WW2. And it is a common slur against any opposition because it works at demonizing and shutting down the conversation.

Without a doubt, there is a problem with the far right in Ukraine as there is in many countries, including the US and Russia. And there are some neo-Nazis’ elements in its military and militia forces. But it is worth mentioning that Russia actually trained some of these neo-Nazi groups, as revealed in a report from Deutsche Welle in 2020. It is also important to understand these elements are deeply unpopular. They garnered less than a pitiful 3% of support in elections. Now that Ukraine is being attacked and invaded by a foreign power, many of them are fighting along side other Ukrainians.

Before anyone can shake a finger at that, I dare them to say they would not fight or flee alongside people they loathe in their own societies if their nation was being invaded by an outside aggressor. One might even see Proud Boys fighting alongside BLM activists if the US were suddenly invaded. War is about the urgency of the moment. The urgency of protecting one’s life and the lives of those they care for. It is about protecting one’s home and community. In such circumstances, you don’t get to choose who your allies are at that moment. You do what makes the most sense to survive. Anyone who does not understand this does not understand war.

As for NATO, let me be clear, I am no fan and I want it to be dismantled. Its hands are covered in blood, from Libya and beyond. And its posturing does nothing but increase conflict, edging us closer to an unthinkable nuclear nightmare. But this kind of apologism for Putin, as if he had no other choice, is honestly sickening. It is the same argument used by the US when it “pre-emptively” attacked Iraq because of a perceived threat. Weapons of mass destruction that did not exist.

Israel uses this excuse when it has carpet bombed the captive population of Gaza. “What is Israel supposed to do? Not respond to rockets being fired on its citizens?” The argument is, of course, hollow when one considers that Gaza is the largest open-air prison on the planet, where half of the population are children, and where Israel controls everything that gets into and out of the strip. It falls under scrutiny of Israel’s wanton destruction of water and sewage treatment facilities and bombing of hospitals, schools, apartment buildings, press offices and shelters.

The argument that Ukraine is Russia’s backyard is drenched in colonial arrogance. It is a defense of “multipolar” tyranny. And it is the same argument used by the US when it attacked Cuba. The Cuban people were not even considered. After decades of crushing sanctions, they still aren’t. On the contrary, they are given no agency to choose their own fate.

We know this is how powerful state entities think. What I cannot get around is how people who aren’t on their payroll so easily parrot those talking points with such ease and dismissal. No country is in anyone’s “backyard.” And to repeat such a ludicrous claim isn’t “realistic,” it only serves the powerful. If you are an average citizen of this world, your call is to stand in solidarity with people, not the powerful, not governments, and certainly not their stooges.

I know this entire line of reasoning will be lost on a certain segment who, while appropriately despising NATO and Pentagon talking points, seem to have no problem echoing the Kremlin in practically every breath. Those same ones who demonized anyone resisting the brutal dictatorship of Assad as “head chopping Jihadis.” It isn’t written for them. It is written for anyone who sees beyond such cynical manipulation.

Solidarity should never be with a leader or a state entity. It should not be with NATO, the Pentagon, or the Kremlin. It should always be with people like ourselves. Ordinary people who are always the ones to be bombed or tortured or forced to flee for their lives. Start by exiting the echo chamber of the powerful and listening to the people on the ground who are closest to the misery and chaos that has been created by those powerful. Start listening to their solutions.

And I suggest seeing the grifters among you for what they are. They are the ones who think solidarity is naïve or unrealistic. Who drone on endlessly that we must accept a “multipolar world” as a solution to US imperialism. A 21st century, global fiefdom where agency is suppressed. Those whose sole schtick is to suck the air out of human empathy and employ snark derisively, not toward the powerful, but toward the powerless. Their grift depends upon your jadedness. Those who mock the oppressed, the brutalized, the economically disenfranchised, and people in war zones; and who seem to have warmer feelings for authoritarian despots and stale ideologies than they do for flesh and blood human beings. Be warned: they peddle a poison that will first lull you into complacency, and then rob you of whatever humanity you may have left.

Kenn Orphan, May 2022

*Title Photo: Debris is seen next to a partially collapsed building is seen, after a school building was hit as a result of shelling, in the village of Bilohorivka, Luhansk, Ukraine [Reuters]