On Riots & Anarchists: the Media’s Reactionary Propaganda

Good afternoon Vancouver, how’s your head?

The hand-wringing and spinning has commenced in full force now in the wake of the riot which gripped the downtown core after the Canucks Game 7 loss. The narrative which emerged, both in the media and thanks to public statements by the Vancouver Police, is that—are you ready for it?—anarchists are to blame.

Students of history ought not to be the slightest bit surprised—demonization of anarchists is rather old hat. In the popular lexicon anarchism is simply synonymous with “chaos”, a perspective entirely ignorant of the depth or substance of said political philosophy. Another part of me, however, is still surprised by the utterly moronic grounds on which the claim of an anarchist presence has been made.

I won’t bother with the whole “anarchism = violence” argument, as far more lucid folks than I have long ago deconstructed this canard. Instead, I’d like to focus on the only other piece of, uh, “evidence” that’s been offered. Here it is: there were people who covered their faces during the riots and some even wore black. BOOM! Black Bloc! Call CSIS and strip my civil liberties, the anarchists are here!

Apparently, according to our respected media establishment, a hundred thousand people, many of them drunk, young and clearly stupid, collectively sharing disappointment and frustration has never in the history of time resulted in any sort of problems—hey, Montreal, how’s things? Clearly, the only way such a situation could degenerate into a riot is through the presence of someone who had recently been reading Emma Goldman or Lucy Parsons.

Emma Goldman urging Vancouver fans to burn the library. (Source: CTV Canada)

Never mind the fact that night after night after night, Canada’s highest profile chauvinist (apologies to the Prime Minister) has a soap box to celebrate the merits of “old time hockey” which in practice translates to nothing more than publicly-sanctioned brawls on ice skates. Don’t get me wrong, I quite genuinely consider myself a hockey fan, and I recognize that it’s an aggressive sport. But people like Don Cherry ensure and promote that it is a violent sport, unnecessarily so.

What is the argument here? It’s okay to steamroll a guy, bite him, elbow him, punch him, drive his face into the ice, slash him, crosscheck him during a hockey game, but when the public begins imitating this idiocy—WHERE DID THEY LEARN THIS?! The anarchists! Left wing loons! Oh, hey, should we consult some of the books that anarchists and other “left wing loons” have written criticizing violence, corporatization, sexism, racism and homophobia in sports? Nah, stick with the talking points.

But Jasmin, you say, this is all so…un-Canadian. Oh God, I know! I mean, as Canadians, the only violence we endorse is the sort which has multi-million dollar corporate sponsorship or is directed at Afghan civilians—or both. Basically, as long as the bullies are wearing some sort of uniform we’re fine with it.

What we absolutely cannot stand, as Canadians, is that our anger be politically motivated. I mean, if you were one of the people who were outraged at the multi-billion dollar, eco-terrorist, police state, corporate circus that was the Olympics you were a monster. How dare you not “believe”? Or for that matter, how dare you oppose the G20 summit in Toronto? If global elites want to meet in the heart of Canada’s biggest city to hammer out the details of economic and political policies directed at the exploitation and dispossession of the majority of the world’s population, they damn well should be allowed to do as much in peace and security without the sweaty rabble interfering! That’s the Canada we know and love.

This is nothing for people to mimic. Unless they are wearing skates. Then it really helps your team get motivated!

I mean, look, the fact that in Greece, Spain, Egypt, Tunisia (hell, even Wisconsin!) and elsewhere, people have organized and directed their rage at government and corporate elites, have staged revolutions and insurrections, have attempted to restructure the fundamental shape of their societies—that’s not the sort of thing we as Canadians support. We are a static people, a people who are viciously predisposed to not critically engaging with the world around us, it seems.

So much so, in fact, that the one time something mildly explosive takes place, we immediately blame—not the drunken, reactionary mass which actually instigated the riot—but the minority of our population who are actually engaged in struggles for social, economic and ecological justice. The fact that these people were likely at home, reading, is no reason not to blame them.

So, let’s just all agree with TSN’s Bob McKenzie who tweeted: “After watching news reports/interviews, seems obvious initial trouble (burning vehicles) was orchestrated by left wing loons/anarchists.”  This is the sort of stunningly ignorant garbage that will allow us never to have to actually think about our country in a way that isn’t expressed in the form of a “Go Canada Go!” chant.

After all, we should never lose an opportunity to scapegoat the voices of dissent in our society. It’s what’s made us great.

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Jasmin Mujanović

Jasmin is a PhD candidate in Political Science from York University in Toronto. Originally from Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina, he regularly blogs about the Balkans, international affairs and social movements in Canada and abroad. His commentary has appeared in the New York Times, Al Jazeera, openDemocracy, Balkanist Magazine, Balkan Insight and TransConflict among other platforms. You can contact him through Twitter or through his personal website.

19 thoughts on “On Riots & Anarchists: the Media’s Reactionary Propaganda”

  1. Well said, Jasmin.
    I’d like to add that I heard the ill-informed D.Cherry on the CBC this morning going on about “left-wing pinkos” being responsible.
    Why does anyone let him near a microphone?
    Oh, yeah….

    1. Thanks Peter. The free reign Cherry is given is as disappointing as it is expected at this juncture.

  2. Great piece. Thanks for pointing out the Cherry/ hockey culture points. As a fan of the actual game (with sticks and pucks and stuff) I’ve been particularly struck by the contradictions between ridiculing players for their lack of ‘manly'(read:violent enough) play, and, yesterday, blaming the ‘mothers’ for raising a bunch of loutish ‘fans’. Which is it? Surely we can’t be blamed for everything bad, but then, to quote Peter:
    ‘oh yeah….’

    1. There’s much to discuss on this front: the politics of aggression and heteronormativity. But for once, I was trying to keep the piece short. :p

  3. I tend to agree with this article, but I still think there was something strange about that riot. I was actually happy to see it, because I like to see the cushy consensus get all upset. And just think if it was instigated by anarchists – that’d be a fairly brilliant plot if you ask me.

    1. I do have friends who joked after the Montreal riot, and after the events in Toronto, that hockey hooligans tend to get off much easier. They suggested wearing jerseys during the next Summit.

  4. The plot thickens…what got me thinking, even before the police chief made the accusations, was footage of a jersey-clad kid – very calmly – sticking a rag in a cop car’s fuel tank and lighting it on fire.

    1. Most anarchists don’t tend to spend their money on sports jerseys, however. Besides, I chalk most of last up to the drunken “bravery”.

  5. Right, well that’s part of what would make it a clever plot. And who knows – maybe the jerseys were stolen? In any case, it’s not very persuasive to simply say that it couldn’t have been anarchists because anarchists don’t buy jerseys. I mean, really!

    1. Well, as I explained the article, if it’s all “clever” plot then it’s turned out to be so damn clever that the only evidence that’s emerged is that some people were wearing black. Gasp! It also requires that we ignore the overwhelming evidence of drunken idiots.

      We’ll see once the actual arrests start rolling in, how many of the accused actually end up having any sort of political history. I’m guessing none.

      1. I don’t fully understand why anarchists are so quick to deny involvement. I have an anarchist friend in town who is pretty much singing the same tune as you. For the record, I consider myself an anarchist, but I’m not an activist in the sense that I’ve ever gone out into the streets. And you guys keep saying, “They have no evidence!” Well, that remains to be seen. But why shouldn’t we speculate? Nobody I’ve heard from seems to know what happened, exactly. Maybe it was just a bunch of drunk, apolitical hockey fans? It didn’t look like that to me, but of course I have no hard “evidence” – it’s just my own interpretation of the footage.

    1. While there is a certain entertainment value to the whole thing, and I do so love to watch the liberal classes wring their hands about a bit of smashing and grabbing I think there is a fairly simple reason for why the vast majority of anarchists are washing their hands of this.

      We are involved in serious political work and organizing, often with highly marginalized communities. We have bad enough of a reputation as it is, we don’t need to be associated with this particular sort of violent orgy. I don’t think any anarchist, myself included, has come out an said “Oh, how dare they smash those windows!” I think the response in general has been, I wish they were smashing them for a better reason!

      And as said, while I personally find a certain entertainment value in the “spectacle” of it all (as per Debord and George Carlin alike), I am not keen on the idea of the image of “anarchism” in public mind being people drunkenly setting port-a-potties a light.

  6. Hi Jasmin,
    Please email me at your earliest convenience, we’d like to have you join the Bill Good Show this morning (Friday).
    Thanks!

    1. I’m half expecting CTV to report breathlessly on this tomorrow. “Breaking: Alcohol fuels poor decision making skills!” Nice article though, thanks Peter.

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