Design a site like this with
Get started

U.S. global prison model: white supremacy on display

U.S. global prison model: white supremacy on display(Emory Douglass)

The United States has institutionalized white supremacist violence at home and abroad through its use of police and prisons. This does not come as revelation, but as a call to action. Whether we examine photographs coming out of El Salvador’s prisons, or surveillance software used by U.S. police and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, we must be resolute in our international aims to tear down these active monuments to white supremacy.

Prisons have divided and dehumanized vast swaths of the population. Prisons disappear people after police round them up and put them there.

Police in the U.S. have been used to break up liberation movements at home and abroad for centuries. The Los Angeles Police Department and the New York Police Department in particular have sent their officers to train and be trained in places like Brazil,  the Dominican Republic, Israel, Thailand and Vietnam.

In the U.S., police began as slave patrols to capture escaped enslaved African people. A notorious policeman explained that “control, not correction, is the key. Our job is to apply emergency treatment to society’s surface wounds. We deal with effect, not causes.” (“Badges Without Borders” by Stuart Schrader) The capitalist state attempted but failed to permanently quash the revolutionary spirit of movements like the United Farm Workers and the Black Panther Party.

El Salvador: U.S exports repressive model

The U.S. model of physical social control, perfect for maintaining white supremacy and U.S. empire, was exported to other countries. This connection is on full display in shocking photographs of prisoners piled on top of one another in El Salvador during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The U.S. has had a hand in shaping El Salvador’s policing and subsequently its prison system since the early 2000s. The imperialist violence in the decades preceding this punitive export helped lay the groundwork for its prison project. Currently, El Salvador has the second highest incarceration rate in the world.  For every 100,000 people, 590 are locked up. The world’s top cop, warmonger and jailer — the U.S. — has 655 out of 100,000 incarcerated. (U.S. News & World Report, May 13, 2019)

“In 1989 School of the Americas (SOA) graduate-led massacre at the University of Central America in El Salvador shook the earth,” according to SOA Watch. “The SOA, renamed the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC) in 2001, is a U.S. military training school based in Fort Benning, Georgia. The school made headlines in 1996 when the Pentagon released training manuals used at the school that advocated torture, extortion and execution. Despite this admission and hundreds of documented human rights abuses connected to soldiers trained at the school, no independent investigation into the facility has ever taken place.” (2017)

In 2002, U.S. officials chose Costa Rica to host the next branch of the International Law Enforcement Academy. A broad coalition of Costa Rican labor and human rights groups pushed for transparency and accountability clauses to be included in the deal. Instead of agreeing to these clauses, the U.S. packed up and headed for El Salvador where the U.S. State Department quietly established an ILEA in San Salvador in 2005.

The academy is part of a network of ILEAs created in 1995 under President Bill Clinton, who envisioned a series of U.S. schools “throughout the world to combat international drug trafficking, criminality, and terrorism through strengthened international cooperation. There are ILEAs in Budapest, Hungary; Bangkok, Thailand; Gaborone, Botswana; and Roswell, N.M.” (NACLA, March 6, 2008)

These police academies have been used by the U.S. all over Central and South America to further imperialist foreign policy by backing governments that allowed them to plunder as they pleased. Regime changes were extremely violent and murderous.

The destabilizing of a region politically is one of the root causes for migration to the U.S. Another cause is acceleration of the climate crisis through destruction of the environment in pursuit of profit. After migrants and refugees make the long and perilous journey, they are met with militarized U.S. law enforcement agents who were trained alongside the same forces that pushed them from their home countries.

White supremacists and policing: a despicable history

Militarized law enforcement bodies in the U.S., like local police or ICE, use surveillance tactics and technologies from companies with direct ties to white supremacists. Damien Patton, CEO of the surveillance start-up Banjo, was involved with both the White Knights and The Dixie Knights of the Ku Klux Klan. Patton helped shoot up a synagogue. At his trial he testified, “We believe that the Blacks and the Jews are taking over America, and it’s our job to take America back for the White race.” (Banjo,, April 24) He has since denounced his past actions, but software he helped create and similar products are used by police and ICE for rounding up people to be caged.

White supremacist collaboration with police maintaining order is not new. According to Edwin Black in his book “IBM and the Holocaust: The Strategic Alliance between Nazi Germany and America’s Most Powerful Corporation”: “In the 1930s and 40s, IBM — through its German holding Dehomag — provided Hitler’s regime with electronic data processing machines and support. The Nazis used the machines to efficiently conduct censuses and identify ethnic populations.”

The Advanced Research Projects Agency Network “was a U.S. government-funded project that provided the origins of today’s internet. It was designed to provide a network for the U.S. Department of Defense’s computers, until it was decommissioned, in 1990, to allow for the creation of a global network.” (, Nov. 2, 2016)

Legal professor James Q. Whitman details in his book, “Hitler’s American Model,” how the Nazis in Germany were inspired by Jim Crow segregation and U.S. laws surrounding “race-based immigration, race-based second-class citizenship, and race-based anti-miscegenation laws.” Scholar Zoé Samudzi explains that “Nazism was a colonial production of racialized space from Jewish ghettos to Lebensraum’s always imperial intentions.” Lebensraum was the German concept similar to U.S Manifest Destiny. (@ztsamudzi on Twitter, March 5, 2019)

The U.S. empire has the most violent history of institutionalizing and codifying white supremacy. This is exemplified in this moment of global pandemic, where the rapidly accelerating and completely preventable deaths of people in prisons are an act of genocide.

Logical endpoints of white supremacist discourse are mass extermination. Prisons are concentration camps for the poor, oppressed nationalities and dissenters.

The global vacuum pump that is the maintenance of imposed colonial, capitalist order is sucking all the oxygen out of us and our planet, literally and figuratively. The first to suffer and pay the steepest price are the people most oppressed by white supremacist ideology — which is designed to divide and conquer.

Abolitionists: part of historic movement

Our collective existence depends on remaking ourselves and the world around us. Abolitionists are part of the historic movement of people fighting for a new world. As one of the many political prisoners of the U.S. empire, Mumia Abu-Jamal, says, “Abolitionists are, simply put, those beings who look out upon their time and say, ‘No.’ They want to abolish state policies that they cannot abide. Slavery. Mass incarceration. The death penalty. Juvenile life. Solitary confinement. Police terrorism.” (, June 17, 2015)

Abolitionists fight against the devastating and long-lasting effects of fatal state inventions of police and prisons. They raise up the long and colorful histories of prisoners’ resistance to brutal, ongoing conditions — that have mutated from the early days of domination and destruction of land and people. Abolitionists respond to repression with a myriad of tactics and levers for social change.

They fight to redirect stolen resources toward human needs like health care, housing, safe water and food, and transforming the root causes of suffering. The Earth — and all life on it — depend on our collective ability to rapidly shift away from current oppressive structures.

Abolitionists know there is a war at home and a war abroad. They see the way the empire cages and deploys militarized forces against people here, in the same way it militarizes fictional borders and funds police and prisons in other countries. It’s the same struggle, same fight against the further codification of white supremacy. As scholar Naomi Murakawa has said, “U.S. elites built the arsenal of oppression against subversives and revolutionaries by working across national boundaries. Liberation will require the same.” (Quoted in “Badges Without Borders”)

It is incumbent upon us all, beyond our borders and within, to tear down the walls!




[Book Excerpt: “The Roots of Racism in American Policing”
The real truth, as it relates to Black Americans, is that: the police represent a domestic terrorist organization that is sanctioned by America’s White political structure to control Black people. This has always been so.
Photo: Facebook

Sean Bell, above, one of the many Black victims of racist American policing.

The following is an excerpt from the upcoming book “The Roots of Racism in American Policing: From Slave Patrols to Stop-and-Frisk.” Over the next few weeks, the Black Star News will be publishing selected portions from the book. This excerpt is from the book’s preface.

Over the last several years, especially since the killings of Eric Garner on July 17, 2014, in Staten Island, New York; and that of Michael Brown on August 9, 2014, in Ferguson, Missouri; the everyday brutality Black America receives at the hands of police has been nakedly exposed for all to see.

In the weeks and months after the deaths of Garner and Brown, we witnessed an ongoing orgy of unjustified killings and murders of Black men, and women, perpetrated by police. The ubiquity of video and cellphone technology revealed outrage after outrage.

That trend continues—with police killings like that of 26-year-old St. Lucian native Botham Jean, on September 6, 2018, in Dallas, Texas; and the more recent killing of 28-year-old Atatiana Jefferson. Both Jean and Jefferson were killed inside their homes.

Racist American policing brutalizes all types of Black people—not just those who are characterized as “criminals” and “thugs.” We’ve seen well-to-do and rich Black Americans being harassed as like everyone else. We should remember when Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates was manhandled and arrested by police on July 16, 2009, at his Cambridge, Massachusetts home after someone thought Dr. Gates must be a burglar and couldn’t really live in such an affluent neighborhood.

Comedian Chris Rock has also complained about being profiled several times as he was driving while Black. And, on August 26, 2017, Seattle Seahawks football star Michael Bennett (who everyone agrees is the kind of role model for kids to emulate) had a gun pulled on him, by an Arizona policeman, while he was face down on the ground. According to Bennett, the officer told him if he moved, he would “blow my fucking head off.

From Black men and women, to Black boys and girls, old and young, none are immune from the viciousness of White America’s institution of racial policing. The “bad apples” argument police apologists parrot, to excuse police barbarisms, that are primarily perpetrated on Black folk, have been debunked by the sheer regular frequency of these atrocities.

The real truth, as it relates to Black Americans, is that: the police represent a domestic terrorist organization that is sanctioned by America’s White political structure to control Black people. This has always been so.

Black Americans must realize that anything good done by police to Blacks, in Black communities, is merely incidental or accidental. Good deeds by police towards us are anomalies that happen primarily because of the conscience and humanity of some cops—and not because of America’s institution of policing. Police are not there to “protect and serve” Blacks. There are there to oppress us.

This is why police who brazenly kill, and murder Blacks, are protected by this racist system. This is why there is a “Blue Wall of Silence,” which facilitates the cover-up culture of cop corruption and allows for its continuance. Why don’t more “good” cops speak out and expose the bigots, brutes, and killers amongst them?

When some cops try to do the right thing by speaking out, they are called “rats” and “snitches” and are ostracized, like former NYPD Officer Adrian Schoolcraft and NYPD Officer Adhyl Polanco. Some, like former NYPD Detective Frank Serpico, nearly lost his life (on February 3, 1971—in Brooklyn) after he was left without backup as he tried to arrest an armed suspect, who shot him in the face. This was done because Serpico dared to speak out against the corruption he saw in the NYPD.

Even worse, with a wink-and-nod, bigoted police behavior is blessed by corrupt, often grandstanding, American politicians and those in the American court system. Indeed, they assist the abuses of their police partners in crime and are complicit in their atrocities against African-Americans.

Why does the White American political system permit police to treat Black people this way?

Well, some will say, or insinuate, that Black Americans commit an inordinate amount of the “crime” in America. Indeed, former Secretary of Education William Bennett, who served under President Ronald Reagan, once opined on his radio show, that “If you wanted to reduce crime, you could—if that were the sole purpose—you could abort every Black baby in this country and the crime rate would go down.” No doubt, many White Americans, and even some Black Americans, have been indoctrinated into this warped racist view of “crime” as it relates to Blacks, and believe it.

But, we must remember this: White America has always demonized and criminalize those they have wronged and exploited. Native-Americans were called “savages” and portrayed despicably in Hollywood Western movies (with racist frauds like John Wayne often playing the role of the valiant White savior) to justify the genocidal actions—and the land-theft of White-Europeans. Similar methods, like the American minstrel tradition, where White actors wore “blackface,” we’re used to denigrate African-Americans.

D.W Griffiths’ 1915 silent film “Birth of a Nation” did much to criminalize African-Americans in the minds of Whites. One of the film’s main charge is portraying Black men as the serial rapists of White women. The historical records show us that White men are, in fact, the main serial rapists in American society—who got plenty of practice raping Black women over the centuries.

President Woodrow Wilson, one of America’s most racist presidents, gave a viewing of this contemptible piece of propaganda in the White House. Reportedly, (some contest this) he said, of this character assassination movie, “It is like writing history with lightning. And my only regret is that it is all so terribly true.”

In terms of the contemporary criminalization of Blacks by White America, we must understand this: the statistics these folks use to justify the bogus claim, that Blacks commit more crime, is largely manufactured and manipulated to create the desired results. Dr. Amos Wilson, in his book “Black-on-Black Violence: The Psychodynamics of Black Self-Annihilation in Service of White Domination,” pointed out that these “crime statistics are used to create the false and scandalous impression that African-Americans have some sort of monopoly on crime and are ‘inherently’ more criminal than are White Americans.” Over the years, we’ve heard much talk about Black-on-Black crime. This malicious characterization seeks to give the deceitful impression that Blacks commit crimes against Blacks at higher rates than other racial groups do against their own. Of course, this is false stereotyping—and is an example of the racist mindset of those who have always criminalized Blacks, by finding devious ways to promote prejudice.

Relevant statistics show us that crime, in America, happens, largely, within all racial groups. The segregated nature of American society has much to do with this reality. Some also like to insinuate that Black-Americans are prone to attacking White-Americans at high rates, a claim white supremacist killer Dylann Roof (who murdered 9 Black parishioners on June 17, 2015, in South Carolina) made. However, the reverse is true: Blacks are more likely to be the target of vicious racist attacks by Whites.

From the days of Slavery, to the days when KKK nightriders went around lynching Blacks, thru the Jim Crow Era, to the present where police murder us with impunity in 21st Century America, Whites have always had an obsessive penchant for shedding Black blood. Indeed, murdering Black people was a rites-of-passage for White men and boys.

Today, we now have other traditionally non- “White” people deciding they too can arbitrarily kill Black people. Such was the case when wannabe cop, George Zimmerman, killed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin on February 26, 2012, in Sanford, Florida.


‘A World Turned Upside Down’: How Slavery Morphed into Today’s Carceral State

The origins of modern mass incarceration, and its targeting of black offenders, are often traced back to the 1980s and the emergence of the war on drugs, but the roots go far deeper, according to a new book on American slavery.

In Williams’ Gang: A Notorious Slave Trader And His Cargo Of Black ConvictsJeff Forret, a historian and a Distinguished Faculty Research Fellow at Lamar University, traces the ordeals of 27 enslaved black criminals at the hands of a Washington, D.C. slave trader whose questionable actions led to them serving a dozen years each in the Louisiana State Penitentiary. The book follows his earlier work, Slave against Slave: Plantation Violence in the Old South (LSU Press, 2015), which won the 18th annual Frederick Douglass Book Prize.

In a conversation with TCR, Forret recounts how the economic needs of depressed regions in the old Confederacy fueled the transformation of freed slaves into cheap indentured labor, how for-profit prisons in the 20th century earned billions by continuing the practice, and how modern American policing has been distorted by the “slave patrols” that once restricted the movements of African Americans.

This is an edited and slightly condensed version of the conversation.

The Crime Report: What motivated you to write this book?

Jeff Forret: I didn’t start out with any kind of agenda. I just wanted to tell a story. I was doing research on a previous book, Slave Against Slave: Plantation Violence In The Old South, that looked at conflict within the slave community and in slave quarters. I went to Baton Rouge because I wanted to see if there were any lists of enslaved people (incarcerated) in the Louisiana State Penitentiary for committing crimes against other enslaved people. Louisiana was almost unique in terms of southern states during the slavery era in incarcerating enslaved people for crimes. I found a list of ten names [under the heading] “Williams’ Negroes.” I did similar research in Virginia, and at the tail end of one of these rolls of microfilm, there was a list of names of enslaved people sold out of the Virginia State Penitentiary in 1840. They were the same names I had seen listed as the Williams’ slaves in the Louisiana records.

coverThe book began as just me trying to figure out what was going on here. After the Civil War, there was a pretty big turnaround in terms of incarceration. For example, in Louisiana, in 1860, two-thirds of all the Louisiana State Penitentiary prisoners were white. Eight years later, two-thirds of their inmates were black. that flip only took eight years and it was replicated in other states.

We know about the rise of mass incarceration, which really took off in the 1980s with the war on drugs, as well as the emergence of for-profit prisons. But my research shows that the history of black incarceration goes further back in time still. I found enslaved people variously locked up in city or local jails, in private slave pens, in state penitentiaries; and those are only the ones that entered the formal legal system. Most didn’t. There were also private plantation prisons, the dungeons under the plantation house, and the “hot boxes” they used.

TCR: How did American slavery transition to the prison industrial complex of today?

JF: Basically, with the Civil War over and slavery abolished, people realized that the criminal justice system could be used for racial and social control. They could fill up these jails with allegedly troublesome black people. It didn’t take long, however, before the number of black prisoners outgrew the number of incarceration facilities. At that point, you start to see the rise of various convict leasing systems, where prisoners are rented out to private companies or individuals. Again, you’re still making a profit for people who are criminalizing black behavior. Those convict lease systems eventually are reformed or fall by the wayside as we enter the first few decades of the 20th century, but the same kinds of things continue. The next really big innovation comes with the war on drugs in the 1980s. This is also when we see the emergence of private for-profit prison systems. Today, there are basically two major for-profit prison companies that are each worth pretty close to $2 billion apiece. All in all, it’s a $5 billion industry. These are people making a lot of money through a process that is much the same as the one a slave trader or a slave owner used before the Civil War.

TCR: How has the history of black enslavement contributed to our society’s understanding of African-Americans’ struggle with our criminal justice system?

 JF: When slavery was abolished, the world of southern whites was completely turned upside down. The criminalization of black behavior was a way to make sure that subjugation in various ways continued. It became a self-fulfilling cycle, where people are going to assume that black people are criminals and then that is going to further lead to continued incarceration. And the cycle is just going to repeat itself over time. I think that the residue of slavery was never really shaken off. It’s manifested in the criminal justice system in some pretty horrific ways that are still very much present.

TCR: How is the legacy of profiting from enslavement in the past utilized by private for-profit prisons today?

JF: These facilities are typically erected in rural places that are often economically depressed. They build facilities that have “x” number of beds in them and, for that facility to reach maximum profitability, those beds all need to be full. There is a whole process where prisoners are shipped around from one facility to the next. If there are too many prisoners in one area, they are sent to another area. They’re trafficking in inmates to fulfill the needs these facilities have. And they have various kinds of work programs for inmates, where they pay them pennies to produce something they can turn around and sell. That’s how they make billions in profits. You have a confined and restricted population, which is disproportionately black and other people of color, that is moved around to where their labor is in demand to make money for someone else. These are all features of the slave trade.

TCR: Are the slave catchers of the past connected to today’s police forces? 

JF: I open with slave patrols in the first chapter. These slave patrols were among the earliest police forces in the old south. Their task was to monitor black behavior. Enslaved people were not supposed to be wandering off the plantation at night, going out and having fun, visiting friends and neighbors on neighboring plantations. The owners wanted them back in the slave cabins getting rest so they’d be ready to go the next day. And the owners would rather not do the work of a slave patrol themselves, so they hire some less well-off white people to do it for them. Slave patrolling is one of the origins of policing in the old south.

TCR: How do the slave trade and the history of enslavement connect to the often combative and prosecutorial relationship between police and African Americans today?

JF: Under slavery, black people did not enjoy freedom of movement. Masters and overseers kept them at work, under at the very least the threat of the whip, and barring the occasional errand off the plantation, slave-hire situation, or cross-plantation marriage, enslaved people did not have much opportunity to leave a highly circumscribed area. Slave patrols kept watch over the roads at night to make sure the enslaved were not wandering off to places where owners did not want them. This reality established certain expected patterns in white minds concerning what behavior was appropriate for black people and what geographic spaces were available to them.

In our own time, too, how often do we hear in the media of black people—black men in particular—who are arrested simply for being somewhere that white people didn’t want them, or somewhere they made white people uncomfortable, even in public parks or stores or by walking down the street? Racial profiling by police officers falls into the same category. With all of the technology available to us today, it’s pretty plain how often routine traffic stops escalate quickly and tragically. This is not terribly different from southern slave patrols harassing the enslaved in the nighttime hours. Several scholars have pointed out the roots of modern-day police forces in the South during the era of slavery. We are talking about racialized forms of social control, under different guises. And what links them is capitalism. Slave owners wanted their human property toiling away for them, producing for the market. And today, too, black and brown people are disproportionately convicted for crimes, imprisoned, and put to work for the profit of others.

TCR: In dealing with the topic of black incarceration and slavery, your narrative references the fact that large numbers of African Americans were sold and transported throughout the south constantly. The constant description of the slave trade in the context of numbers leads to a certain amount of desensitization, resulting in the reader at times forgetting that you’re talking about people rather than an expendable product. 

JF: The term that historians of slavery use is commodification: enslaved people are transformed into commodities, into things that are bought and sold. I think the real parallel between the domestic slave trade and the present day is that you are looking at captive black people, who are denied their freedom, to make money for white people.

TCR: What role does the history of slavery in general play in gaining a better understanding of today’s criminal justice system?

JF: My book points out the long-standing criminalization of certain black behavior. The 27 enslaved people who were the members of “Williams’ gang” are subject to the punishment that they get on the basis of a lot of flimsy, circumstantial evidence and wrongful convictions. Every one of these 27 had been originally condemned to death (for theft), before the governor gave them a reprieve. That was how Virginia law worked at the time. Today [we see] black people getting harsher sentences than white people for the same kinds of crimes. The theme is quite consistent: systemic inequality has been built into the criminal justice system since the colonial period, and was certainly present in the time period of the 1830s-1850s that my book covers.

The 13th amendment still allowed for slavery as a punishment for a crime. That’s how they get away with some of the things they are doing today. But, again, just because it’s in the Constitution, it doesn’t mean that it’s fair, or right, or just. It is just [part of] a long tradition of black oppression at the hands of the American criminal justice system


Guns Don’t Kill People, Settlers Do: The Second Amendment and the Myth of Defense


“Our nation was built and civilized by men and women who used guns in self-defense and in pursuit of peace.” – Ronald Reagan
“If you are coming to the idea of resistance as a resolute no to the Empire, then armed self-defense is as much a yes to liberated life as the yes of community gardens.” – Ashanti Alson
Many of the households where I grew up in rural Missouri have at least one good hunting rifle in their collections of firearms. Every November, most families here-usually the father and son, but sometimes the father and daughter-will go deer hunting, not only for sport but also for the meat it provides households. They will often say hunting is the reason they own firearms.

Several years ago, I was invited to go target shooting at the property of a long-time acquaintance. He was proud of his expansive and comfortable set-up: he owned several dozen acres of land in the country with a nice three-bed, two-bath home and a stable income to support it all. His property, in other words, allowed him to be a gracious host for friends, neighbors, and acquaintances looking to shoot guns, improve their marksmanship, and build community and comradery.

When I arrived, there were 15-20 men armed to the teeth, strutting around with ARs slung tightly around their chests and handguns of various calibers holstered on their belts. Their wives were inside preparing food and tending the kids. As the men-some dressed in army surplus gear, others still wearing their work clothes-blasted away at various targets, the property owner began talking to me about why he loved his home(stead) so much. It was, in his words, “out in the sticks, good and far away from all of that inner-city mayhem.” After showing me a sample of his extensive gun collection, spread out before everyone on the tailgate of his truck, he continued his white-to-white conservation with me:

“Yeah, I have all this firepower because I gotta protect my property and family when, you know, shit hits the fan, and all them inner-city people dependent on government hand-outs are left high and dry and start coming out here where the pavement meets gravel looking to loot food and other things.”

It was clear he wanted me to understand that he had guns to defend against, in his eyes, Black people coming to loot his home in the event of a “societal collapse,” and that he’d be ready with an arsenal of firepower to repel them. That is, gun ownership for him was about using violence to defend his property-as-whiteness from racialized populations whom he recognized were deliberately excluded from the formal economy and corralled in inner-city ghettos. His guns were the lynchpin for maintaining this line between the “good guys” like himself-the productive worker, the property holder, the respectable law-abiding citizen-and a zombified surplus population marked for death. This metaphor is telling: of all the firearms he showed me that day, he was most proud of some recently purchased specialty ammunition with the tagline: “Supply yourself for the Zombie Apocalypse.” Guns and zombie rounds animated the fantasy of defending whiteness by mowing down a racialized surplus humanity on the gravel roads of rural Missouri.

I heard this fantasy many times growing up in such hyper-masculine spaces, in which it is taught that the man of the house has to be prepared to defend his home(stead) from perceived criminal (racial) threats and maintain order in his home . True men are providers and protectors; anything less, and you’re an emasculated loser. In this way, the property holder was simply being a good patriot and male leader by preparing for the moment when, in his eyes, he would use guns in self-defense against the racialized poor. From this perspective, all the patriots out there that day sharpening their firearm skills claimed to be doing so for reasons of self-defense. Each saw himself as a Josey Wales , John Wayne, or Dirty Harry, or (more recently)  American Sniper or Rick Grimes, neutralizing racialized criminal threats encountered on the Indian frontier or spilling out from the Black ghetto.

People will often say hunting is the reason they own firearms, but the underlying structural reason, whether acknowledged or not, has more to do with white settler fears of racial rebellion. Indeed, the NRA-the most politically influential gun organization-isn’t powerful because it has a lot money to spend, but rather because it markets gun ownership as a means of reinforcing white settler sovereignty. Gun ownership is about staving off the loss of the white settler’s power, honor, and privilege, which the global economy no longer respects and the state, it is believed, tramples in its accommodating of the marginalized. Despite the rhetoric, gun ownership has never been about hunting or defending democracy against authoritarianism, which white settlers are ready to embrace if it maintains their power.

In other words, the fear of the dispossessed challenging their subjugation drives gun ownership and gun culture among white settlers in the United States-not hunting, a tyrannical government, or, as I argue, reasons of self-defense. American gun ownership has its structural roots in the desire to uphold and reproduce colonial and racial hierarchies and to maintain the power and benefits received from such hierarchies, putting guns in the hands of white settlers with fantasies of nostalgic redemption through violence. Make America Great Again, indeed.

At its core, then, gun ownership for white settlers is about using tools of violence to defend the political category of white settler sovereignty, which is to say, using guns to harm, kill, or terrorize colonized and racialized people in order to keep them unfree-as their freedom means the dissolution of these categories of power and honor. Historian Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz’s recent book Loaded (2018) argues that the history of the Second Amendment and the right to bear arms was fundamentally the state-granted right of settlers to arm their households and form voluntary militias in order to seize Native land and/or police enslaved Black people. Gun ownership today maintains what Dunbar-Ortiz contends was the founding vision of the settler state to distribute its monopoly of violence to its settler-citizens in order to carry out campaigns of dispossession and secure white property against threats of rebellion:

“Settler-militias and armed households were institutionalized for the destruction and control of Native peoples, communities, and nations. With the expansion of plantation agriculture, by the late 1600s they were also used as ‘slave patrols,’ forming the basis of the U.S. police culture after enslaving people was illegalized.”

In fact, joining a militia was less of a right than a requirement of settlers; in some cases, particularly at the state level in the South preceding the Constitution, service in the militia or arming one’s household was required by law. Dunbar-Ortiz explains this history:

“European settlers were required by law to own and carry firearms, and all adult male settlers were required to serve in the militia. Militias were also used to prevent indentured European servants from fleeing before their contracts expired, in which case they were designated ‘debtors.’ [. . .]. In 1727, the Virginia colony enacted a law requiring militias to create slave patrols, imposing stiff fines on white people who refused to serve.”

These state laws fed into the Second Amendment to enshrine the imperative of gun ownership at the federal level. Requiring participation in counterrevolutionary violence was thus written into the law directly. Today this duty to defend settler dominance continues not through state laws requiring militia membership but through informal gun ownership. The Second Amendment deputized settlers to use violence to steal land and people-in short, to expand empire.

Building on Dunbar-Ortiz’s analysis of the Second Amendment, I want to suggest that we understand gun ownership as a material practice through which white settlers engage directly in the work of counterrevolutionary violence that consolidates and maintains U.S. liberal democracy. It is a way of strengthening settler democracy that promises empowerment and redemption. Firearms are the tools and symbols of a larger counterrevolutionary policing that binds settlers together despite contradictions of class in their mutual support of upholding colonial and racial hierarchies. Through gun ownership of today-what was, earlier, participation in militias-the white settler defends the state that in turn ensures his sovereignty and superiority.

In this way, the settler state depends on deputizing its settler-citizens to be the police of dispossessed populations, just as the settler relies on the state upholding his rights of property, or his “pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness.” This is why gun ownership is seen as fundamental to liberal freedoms. The Second Amendment is upstream from the other amendments precisely because counterrevolutionary policing maintains the public order of civil society in which liberal freedoms can flourish.

There are three conclusions, then, I would like to discuss that follow from the claim that Second Amendment-sponsored gun ownership in the United States is counterrevolutionary violence harmonizing intra-settler relations. The first is that self-defense belongs to the oppressed and never to the oppressor. From a structural prespective, there is no such thing as white settler self-defense. The second is that gun culture from the 1960s onward serves as an important site at which settlers organize politically across class and gender lines to protect whiteness in response to marginalized peoples’ demand for freedom and neoliberalism’s attack on labor. The third is that the practice of community self-defense among those targeted by colonial violence radically undermines the ideology of white victimization through which counterrevolutionary violence is legitimated.
Guns and White Victimization

Perhaps the best example of how counterrevolutionary violence is coded as white settler self-defense is the now iconic Gadsden Flag. From its inception during the American Revolutionary War to its revival and proliferation in right-wing gun culture in the years following 9/11, the Gadsden Flag, with its image of a rattlesnake and phrase “Don’t Tread on Me,” illustrates how the effort to maintain white settler power in the face of marginalized peoples’ demand for freedom is branded as self-defense. The coiled rattler signifies a defensive and victimized position, but one that is deadly if provoked. The Gadsden Flag serves as an important symbol for those identifying as patriots, law-abiding gun-owners, and defenders of the Constitution because it supports a larger ideology that holds that white America is under attack by minorities (and the federal government taken over by minorities in the post-Civil Rights era) whose commitments to equality have turned into the discrimination against, exclusion of, and attacks on whiteness.

Some of the earliest versions of the Gadsden flag, as many patriots will mention, is Benjamin Franklin’s drawing of the colonies as a snake divided into sections underwritten by the ultimatum of “join, or die.” Yet the tyranny the colonies were fighting against wasn’t simply taxation without representation, but more broadly the right to expand its own empire rather than remain merely another exploited colony-to form a state strong enough to defend the colonists’ pursuit of wealth from Native and Black rebellion. Indeed, Jefferson makes this clear in the Declaration of Independence when he argues that the Crown had prevented the colonies from clearing the lands west of the Appalachian Mountains of “merciless Indian savages” and encouraged slave insurrection in the colonies.

The rattlesnake represents a white settler body politic that feels continuously threatened and anxious about defending its power over conquered and subjugated populations. It claims to take up a position of self-defense when this position is actually one of stopping the efforts of marginalized people to free themselves from structures of violence. The fetish of Franklin’s coiled rattler as the iconography of settlers coming together through counterrevolution suggests there is unity and strength precisely through this position of shared white victimization. If disjointed by cleavages such as class or gender, they will be overrun by the dispossessed, but if unified in their mutual opposition to the dispossessed, white settlers will flourish despite such intra-settler contradictions.

This fear of insurgency-from-below justifying the use of counterrevolutionary violence helps explain the emergence and proliferation of right-wing gun culture in the years following the 1960s to the present. As theorist Sylvia Wynter has argued, the global anti-colonial rebellions of the mid-20th century that empowered and inspired national liberation struggles in the United States sent shocks throughout the white-settler body politic. These rebellions ended in the settler state granting concessions to colonized and racialized groups in the form of civil rights legislation, the dismantling of legal forms of racial apartheid, and the overall turn away from overt, codified forms of white supremacy to new forms of colorblind racism. Black, Brown, and Native militancy terrified settlers, compelling concessions as a means to pacify their militant struggle.

It was these attempts of federal government to conditionally include marginalized groups that led white America, using a zero-sum logic, to feel betrayed and abandoned. As a result, white middle- and working-class settlers gave up defending the welfare state as long as it was also going to include nonwhites. In this moment when the state seems to accommodate nonwhites-an act that failed to respect, in the eyes of white America, the colonial and racial divisions binding together settlers-gun ownership became much more meaningful for white settlers looking to hold the line of these divisions where the state had, it was believed, given up doing so.

During Obama’s presidency, this fear that the state had abandoned white settlers by catering to marginalized people had a resurgence. Gun purchases were at an all-time high and patriot community-building became widespread, which is to say, gun ownership and patriot communities were seen as necessary measures for saving the original and founding vision of a white settler republic from a federal government that was believed to have sided with the very people whose demands for equality would unravel the sovereignty and power of white settlers.

Militias such as the Oathkeepers and Three Percenters emerged during these years and embodied the view that it is the job of “true patriots” (white male settlers) to save white America from a state that has gone rogue in its perceived embrace of “open-borders” multiculturalism. The Constitution and the Second Amendment are sacred for such groups because they authorize freedom-loving citizens to form militias to restore the founding colonialist vision of the United States.

For all the wrong reasons of preserving their power, such groups actually have a perceptive understanding of the Second Amendment as a law authorizing counterrevolutionary violence. For them, guns are not about hunting or even self-defense, but about the right to ensure colonial and racial rebellion is controlled and that state power is recaptured in ways that it abandons neoliberal multiculturalism for more direct forms of settler-colonial white-nationalist capitalism. Indeed, it is not surprising that Oathkeepers and Three Percenters show up to police Black rebellions or put down antifascist counterdemonstrations. They see themselves as an extension of the police, the National Guard, and border patrol. Like the KKK of yore, these militias, filled with current and former police and military, believe they fulfill the original function of the state-under the Obama years seen as liberal and weak-in putting down racial rebellions. Gun culture, then, serves as a symbolic yet very material compensation for the state’s support of neoliberal multiculturalism and the dismantling of welfare capitalism. Just as credit is offered in place of decreased wages, gun culture supplies compensatory ammunition to bolster the value of whiteness in the face of deindustrialization, increased intra-settler inequality, and globalization’s attack on U.S. nationalism.
Arming the Police, Arming White Supremacy

It is important not to forget that support for counterrevolutionary violence extends far beyond patriots and right-wing gun culture. Liberals who call for gun regulation but fully support the police and militaryand their work of upholding mass incarceration at home and imperial violence abroad support the same structures of violence celebrated by the gun-nuts such liberals love to disparage and against whom they define their commitments to nonviolence. The difference is a choice between a monopoly of state violence in repressive state apparatuses or the distribution of state violence among individual settlers and citizen militias. In other words, patriots believe the violence should be democratized and liberals believe it should be concentrated in the hands of state institutions. While one wants to stand alongside the police and military, the other wants the bloody work to be accomplished without getting their hands dirty. Avowed and disavowed to varying degrees, both support counterrevolutionary violence to protect settler democracy. In this way, liberals, despite their pacifist posturing, are not any less supportive of colonial violence than their gun-nut counterparts because they call for a strengthening of the settler state and a disarming of the populace, which will only make marginalized people more vulnerable to killings and incarceration.

This is a view that has the audacity and class privilege of asking marginalized people targeted by state violence, and its extended forms of vigilante violence, to appeal to the same state for protection. While patriots take up actual weapons to target marginalized people, liberals weaponize gun control policy to the same ends of putting people of color in body bags or cages. The only gun control that would reduce gun violence would be disarming the police, the military, domestic abusers, and anyone with ties to white nationalist and misogynist political groups, along with demilitarizing schools and campuses. Whether they are appealing to the Second Amendment or asking people to trust the authority of the police and military, white settlers on the Left or Right demonstrate that the violence they commit, fantasize about committing, or have no problem with the police and military committing for their protection is necessary for their redemptive vision of liberal democracy. It matters not if this vision is a return to when liberal democracy more forcefully upheld colonial and racial hierarchies, or some future point at which this violence and policing ensures genuine equality of opportunity for people believed to be formerly colonized and enslaved.
Community Self-Defense

While it may be easy to oppose right-wing white victimization and liberal support for state violence, it’s still very hard for many to accept the premise that marginalized peoples, those targeted by such violence, have the right to use any means necessary to defend themselves and their communities. Yet we have to see, as Malcolm X made very clear, that the only people who have the moral authority to lay claim to the use of force as a means of self-defense are the people targeted by colonial violence in first place. The struggle to get free, gain control over one’s life, and have a say in the governing of one’s community is always a struggle of self-defense rather than aggression or provocation. The meanings of self-defense in settler society are purposely inverted to legitimate counterrevolutionary violence and to discredit the self-defense actions of communities struggling to get free.

Robert Williams emphasized this point over and over again while organizing armed community self-defense to protect the Black community against KKK violence in Monroe, South Carolina in the 1960s. In Negroes with Guns , Williams explains:

“The Afro-American militant is a ‘militant’ because he defends himself, his family, his home and his dignity. He does not introduce violence into a racist social system-the violence is already there and has always been there. It is precisely this unchallenged violence that allows a racist social system to perpetuate itself. When people say that they are opposed to Negroes ‘resorting to violence’ what they really mean is that they are opposed to Negroes defending themselves and challenging the exclusive monopoly of violence practiced by white racists.”

When a relationship between people is asymmetrical, meaning it is structurally impossible to rectify or reconcile, the violence that defends this power imbalance appears legitimate while anything that would take power away from the oppressor or build power for the oppressed registers as illegitimate and irrational violence.

With the same force, then, that we can acknowledge the illegitimacy of the notion of white settler self-defense, we should recognize the legitimacy of marginalized peoples’ right to self-defense. As theorist Chad Kautzer argues, “our understanding of self-defense must, therefore, account for the transformative power of self-defense for oppressed groups as well as the stabilizing effect of self-defense for oppressor groups.” What this looks like is, on the one hand, disempowering, delegitimizing, and disarming institutions of white settler violence such as the police, patriot, and other white-nationalist gun culture groups, and on the other, using a diversity of tactics to create and maintain community self-defense networks among marginalized communities. Community self-defense, as a theory and praxis, can help produce identities, relationships, and habits necessary not only to deter and prevent violence and build/protect power, but also to delegitimize the ideology of white victimization so crucial to white settlers’ use of violence to defend their power. This framework reveals who is fighting a war of counterrevolution and who is fighting a war of liberation, whose fight is legitimate and whose is illegitimate.

In this way, community self-defense helps clears the way for matters of seeing where allegiances lie in a war that has been ongoing for over 500 years. For those picking up a gun to defend property that sits on stolen land and that has value through an economy built by and through stolen people, it becomes clear they are arming themselves to kill and die for colonialism and anti-Blackness. For those calling for peace between the oppressor and oppressed, community self-defense forces their hand, exposing where their allegiances actually lie: in support of colonial and racial violence. For those told that their struggle to exist, to be free, to control their own lands and bodies is irrational and illegitimate, they prove through community self-defense that it is irrational, let alone careless, to think that the structures of violence holding them captive or targeting them for elimination will be destroyed through peaceful negotiation and compromise.
This was originally published at Pyriscence .