The Radical Turn?
For a book that advertises itself as a “shift in strategy and tactics,” Deep Green Resistance (DGR) has an overwhelmingly dispiriting tone, and is riddled with contradictions. While DGR provocatively addresses many pressing social and ecological issues, its opportunistic, loose-cannon theoretical approach and highly controversial tactics leaves it emulating right-wing militia rhetoric, with the accompanying hierarchical vanguardism, personality cultism, and reactionary moralism. By providing a negative example, DGR does us the service of compounding issues into one book. Take it as a warning. As we grasp for solutions to multiple and compounding social and ecological crises, quick fixes, dogmatism, and power grabbing may grow as temptations. By reviewing DGR, we are also defending necessary minimal criteria for movements today: inclusivity, democracy, honesty, and (dare we suggest) even humility in the face of the complex problems we collectively face. None of these criteria can be found in DGR, and its own shortcomings are a telling lesson for us all.
It is instructive that the group based on DGR has become geared almost exclusively to outreach, not unlike a book club. At certain times, they claim to forbid their members from participating in illegal activity after having attempted a short-lived attempt to generate a grassroots, direct action network. At other times, DGR members claim to be involved in nonviolent civil disobedience. The ambiguity of their attempt at organization stems from the muddled ideas of two of the book’s authors, Derrick Jensen and Lierre Keith, who forced out the main organizer, Premadasi Amada, as well as their other co-author, Aric McBay, over the question of inclusive gender policies.
DGR’s organizational body (distinct from the book, but modeled after it) leads us to agree that they have been rightly accused by former members of acting like a cult rather than as part of a larger movement. They seem much more interested in lionizing their leadership than in taking direct action.
DGR’s approach is purely ideological; they intend not to form their own groups or cells to carry out direct action, but to teach the need for direct action to the supposedly ignorant masses. Such an attitude of approaching from above, rather than joining in solidarity, is degrading to peoples’ ability to self-organize. We must equally lead and be led by engaging in struggle, not standing outside of it. Our ultimate conclusion is that DGR’s goal of “civilization’s” destruction through “underground” attacks against infrastructure manifests both an ideological and strategic misdirection, foreclosing the potential for participatory democracy and direct action as it veers into intellectual dishonesty and irreconcilable political contradictions.
The Would-Be Ecological Militia Movement
To carry out the Decisive Ecological Warfare strategy, Keith states that a “true people’s militia” is necessary. Declaring a need to return to value-based politics, Keith declares, “the right places the blame for the destruction of both family and community at the feet of liberalism… [A]s long as the left refuses to fight for our values as values—and to enact those values in our lives and our movements—the right will be partially correct.” Keith writes that “the social upheavals of the ’60s split along fault lines of responsibility and hedonism, of justice and selfishness, of sacrifice and entitlement.” According to Keith, these “fault lines” are also responsible for the failure of the Black Panthers and Weather Underground, among others. A successful resistance movement militia would be based on justice, responsibility, and sacrifice, not the kind of hedonism, selfishness, and entitlement that Keith identifies with the Left. As for the right wing, Keith continues, “many right-wing and reactionary elements have formed sects and founded communities. In these groups, the sin in urban or modern life is hedonism, not hierarchy.” So the fight against hedonism is a shared value between Keith’s militia and the right-wing sects and communities that she’s talking about. Although she does not specify precisely which right-wing communities she draws from here, the most famous ones with ties to militias and anti-hedonistic points of view are places like Elohim City and the Covenant—survivalist compounds built around violent white supremacism.
It is also clear that Keith links hedonism with youthful anti-authoritarian extravagances; implicit in this formulation is the need for a hierarchical structure to mediate these dynamics. As for hierarchy, Keith declares, “the rejection of authority is another hallmark of adolescence,” and “underground groups engaged in coordinated or paramilitary activities require hierarchy. DGR’s platitudes about the unity of hierarchy and civilization conveniently disappear once their prospective underground militia formation comes into focus. Apparently they have the right anti-civilization kind of hierarchy in mind, and we should all just relax, and let them run the show.
For Keith and Jensen, rejection of youthful hedonism merges with a strict anti-pornography/anti-transgender stance driving a haughty sense of righteousness compatible with right-wing moralism. Ignoring the complex and nuanced landscape of feminist pornography criticism, Keith claims the left has embraced porn “as freedom,” that transgender people simply don’t exist, and that the youth have impeded brains that cannot function without elder hierarchies. Clearly, Keith connects hedonism with “the entire culture of queer, including s/m and porn, that gave rise to the phenomenon of ‘trans.’” These views fit closer with the far right-wing than with the Left, as was made painfully obvious when one of the top donors to DGR’s WePay sites, Cathy Brennan, threw her support behind the ex-gay movement hate group, Pacific Justice League, in attempts to out the identity of a trans woman high school student.
Together with her call for a return to “social norms” against “queer culture,” Keith wants a total elimination of all categories of gender. Gender, for Keith, is a construct of societally embedded patriarchy. By annihilating gender, people will be able to free themselves from expectations of masculinity and femininity, she claims. All people who take on gender identities are “genderists” according to Keith and her ilk of self-described “Radical Feminists” (RadFems).
The worst kind of “genderist” for Keith is a “transgenderist,” a person who identifies as being of the opposite gender. Instead of taking the social constructivist view that subversion of rigid gender and sexual identity categories exposes sex/gender as a construction, Keith grows oppressively rigid about appropriate and inappropriate performances of and identifications with gender identity. For Keith, a trans woman is still a privileged male and thus a dangerous oppressor of women, in spite of the disproportionate level of assaults, threats, harassment, and murder of trans people in the US.
There is a certain de facto biologism underlying these views on gender. Instead of subversion of gender identities and positions, she presumes a pre-cultural body existing outside gender. The problem is, simply enough, not everyone embraces the binary construct of either accepting the gender category assigned to their “natural” body or rejecting gender entirely. Shouldn’t people have the right to express themselves freely in this regard, or is that just a form of hedonistic false consciousness? Sadly, this is where DGR’s punishingly hostile tone becomes especially reactionary, shifting into sardonic mockery of anyone they deem as deviant from their morality that is distinctively driven by ideologically confusing and reactionary gender politics.
Last year in Portland, Oregon, a friend who is an Earth First!er, trans activist, and professional doula was “outed” on a transphobic website linked to DGR, forcing her to flee town due to fear of both personal and professional reprisals. This is in keeping with the tactics proposed by Keith since at least the late-1990s, when she published an article in the RadFem newspaper, Rain and Thunder, calling for taking “direct action” against trans women attempting to use the ladies’ restroom. We take violence seriously enough to call DGR’s bluff on their oscillating ethical apparatus of concerns regarding violence.
We can also see the same empty moralisms, theoretical contradictions, and hostilities in Derrick Jensen’s contributions to the book, as he bluffs his way through, offering fluffy sections of unimaginative prose without providing a single original idea. (His passages come from Q&A sessions after his lectures.) His incredible ability to attack other movements and actors via Facebook threads or blog comments stems from a decisive paranoia that has been witnessed in any number of bizarre rants in which he associates trans people with “the Taliban in a skirt,” calls their allies rape apologizing misogynists, and moves towards other well known epithets and canards to smear transgender people. According to former DGR members in Austin, “our recruitment efforts were constantly hampered by Lierre Keith’s well known stance on transgender people… It is clear to us that the DGR staff is more interested in placating key members of DGR and maintaining ideological purity than it is in creating an effective organization and movement.”
In attempts to claim a place in the larger movement, DGR’s members have attached themselves to grassroots organizations like Rising Tide, Tar Sands Resistance, and Peaceful Uprising, all of which have openly condemned the group’s “trans exclusionary hate that breeds an environment of hostility and violence.” This kind of attempted co-optation of groups opposed to DGR’s exclusionary gender policies evinces a disingenuous attempt to emerge from ideological alienation.
DGR’s “people’s militia” would still be feminist, but in the same way that the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) and the US Army are feminist, Keith avers. To back this position up, Keith quotes Jean Bethke Elshtain, who claims that rape is scrupulously avoided by the IDF, as well as the US and British armies. At the time that DGR was being written, there were two astonishing instances related to sexual assault and the IDF. In the first, CNN published a report showing that 21 out of 134 affidavits reviewed included allegations of abuse, including sexual assault against Palestinian children. In the second, a Palestinian man was thrown in prison for having consensual sex with an Israeli woman. The US Army is also notorious for its rape culture, and in 2014 some 20,000 service members reported “unwanted sexual contact” out of a sample of 170,000 troops—half of these reports for women constituted rape, and 35 percent for men. Keith’s denial of the sexual politics involved in the IDF’s apartheid-state and the US military’s rape culture is worrying when she seeks to design the feminism of her “true people’s militia” after them. It is absurd ideas like these about the IDF and US Army’s anti-rape practices that place DGR in close proximity with other right-wing militia groups and leaders that give lip service to ecology but are in fact deeply intertwined with white supremacist and imperialist ideologies and practices.
“Those of us who try to propose a thoughtful and strategic militant resistance—for instance, the targeting of industrial infrastructure—are always arguing against the legacy of the Weather Underground and the Black Panthers,” Keith insists.What does DGR prefer as a model? McBay surprisingly turns to “the Allied bombing of German infrastructure during WWII” as a workable strategy, but as he elucidates this assessment, the reader finds that “infrastructure” has become a chilling euphemism for civilian targets.
Comparing the Weather Underground and the Earth Liberation Front to British Bombers in the early years of WWII, whose policies were “rigorously discriminating,” McBay claims that the targeting of specific, military targets “simply didn’t work.” The model that DGR militants might follow if they can muster the guts for some “real resistance” took the form of area bombing: “Bomber Command began to deliberately target enemy civilians and civilian morale—particularly that of industrial workers—especially by destroying homes around target factories in order to ‘de-house’ workers.” This policy of “area bombing,” or as Churchill liked to call it, “extermination,” boasted some 900,000 killed by 1942—mostly the civilian working class. In fact it did not work up to that point, and was redoubled by horrific firebombings of Hamburg during Operation Gomorrah in 1943, which impressed FDR with the ashes of 6,000 incinerated children. Assistant Secretary of War, Robert Lovett approved as well, remarking, “If we are going to have a total war we might as well make it as horrible as possible.” The same justification has been made for the atomic bomb—more people would have been killed if it hadn’t been done—but at heart, it wasn’t about ending the war, it was about brutal revenge.
The ethical calculus underlying massive area bombings and fire bombings meant to “de-house” working families, McBay suggests, is reconciled by “the resistance,” in a hypothetical scenario, which “abhorred the notion of actions affecting civilians,” but finally understood that “in an industrial nation the ‘civilians’ and the state are so deeply enmeshed that any impact on one will have some impact on the other.” Infrastructure and “civilians” (in scare quotes) become “enmeshed” into a singularity that must be attacked. One could imagine a bombing target that would unleash maximum damage against DGR’s targets being an oil train cruising through a major metropolis—why not? It would have a minimal effect compared to the firebombing of Dresden that McBay seems to lionize, but it would not be so “discriminating” as the early years of British bombing.
The word “infrastructure” when meshed with “citizens” can just as easily be used for a movie theater that uses large amounts of electricity and broadcasts propaganda made by oligarchs throughout the world as it can for dams or power grids. For these militants, engaged in “all-out attacks on infrastructure,” “impacts on civilized humans would be secondary.” Secondary to what? Given Jensen’s already-problematic concession to “large-scale human suffering,” we have to imagine that, to instigate the collapse of industrial civilization, these militants would be capable of carrying out mass-killings, facilitating famines, allowing or instigating genocide. McBay explains, “rapid collapse is ultimately good for humans—even if there is a partial die-off—because at least some people survive.” We’re not pacifists, and we recognize that climate change is already claiming thousands of lives per year. Killing more innocent people is not going to make it any better. In contrast, contemporary resistance to current social and ecological conditions should prioritize human survival, not instigate more “large-scale human suffering” than we have already witnessed and will continue to witness. But in DGR’s formulation, it is impossible to imagine a scenario where climate change is ended along with human suffering and death.
McBay continues his ethically detached narrative by citing military strategists like John M. Collins, stating, “Destroying the enemy’s resolution to resist is far more important than crippling his material capabilities… studies of cause and effect tend to confirm that violence short of total devastation may amplify rather than erode a people’s determination”—in other words, destroying populations in the most brutal way possible is the best ticket to effective resistance. We think this is a misled conception of human behavior—and, incidentally, it is considered obsolete among the US military establishment, regardless of McBay’s attempts to co-opt US army manuals.
Astonishingly, DGR leadership has managed to theoretically protect its own safety by declaring that they won’t participate in the Decisive Ecological Warfare aspect of the program they push. DGR steering committee member Kourtney Mitchell explained in a recent interview:
“So our strategy is Decisive Ecological Warfare, in which we advocate for the formation of a hypothetical underground militant movement that can attack industrial infrastructure and thus lead to the collapse of industrial civilization. We are not a part of, and do not ever wish to be a part of any kind of underground that may form to this effect. But we loudly and vocally speak in favor of such actions, because we believe it’s the only hope our planet has for survival.”
Particularly susceptible to the human “die-offs” (genocide) welcomed by DGR during the “collapse of industrial civilization” brought about through Decisive Ecological Warfare’s attacks on civilian infrastructure would be people of color living in neighborhoods more likely to be assailed by police and paramilitary presence in the event of a blackout. All DGR offers by way of acknowledgement of this extremely anti-democratic strategy whereby some groups decide the fate of other groups, is that “in this scenario the militant actions that impact daily life provoke a backlash, sometimes from parts of the public, but especially from authoritarians on every level.”
Jensen calls on people of color to form self-defense groups in order to defend themselves from what he foresees as a post-collapse race war:
“as civilization collapses, we will see an increase in male-pattern violence. We will see an increase in violence against those who resist. We will see an increase in violence against people of color… My answer for people of color is, learn to defend yourself and form self-defense organizations. And the job of white allies is to make our allegiance to the victims of white oppression absolute.”
As with most of the points in DGR, the strategy becomes even more problematized by the disingenuousness of the authors. Huey P. Newton and the founders of the Black Panthers are maligned in several pages of DGR for patriarchal attitudes, and the book insists that it is always “arguing against” their legacy. This position is a clear insult to the women who took part in the movement and transformed it, and also exposes the claim to “absolute” allegiance as lip service.
Furthermore, despite calling for a militia that would attack civilian/infrastructure targets, Keith insists, “The DGR strategy isnot one of militant action to magically usher in generalized social chaos and revolt… The DGR strategy is instead a recognition of the scope of what is at stake (the planet); and honest assessment of the potential for a mass movement (none); and the recognition that industrial civilization has an infrastructure that is, in fact, quite vulnerable.” After claiming that there is no chance for mass-movement building, DGR calls on grassroots, aboveground activists to “organize people for civil disobedience, mass confrontation, and other forms of direct action where appropriate.” On the one hand, DGR advocates the Decisive Ecological Warfare strategy—an incredibly militant strategy utilizing militias that attack civilian populations to create general chaos, such that industrial civilization will collapse—and on the other hand they call for “mass confrontation,” from aboveground, grassroots groups. Then they deny calling for either. The ambiguity is both confusing and destructive.
We would argue quite clearly that, in the event of disaster, catastrophe, or collapse, joining self-defense movements to stave off white supremacist patrols and violence would be necessary; however, it is not the task of radicals to bring about such a catastrophic situation prematurely. That approach, which conflates civilian and infrastructural targets in a destructive plan based on extermination bombing, will have disastrous consequences for the same underprivileged people who we are trying to stand in solidarity with. If our actions bring about harm to poor people and communities of color, we cannot come to them after the fact with a Band-Aid to pretend like we’re the good guys, expecting those communities to appreciate our white-savior efforts. Instead, our plan would backfire, further polarizing the population and increasing despair and hardship through the race war apparently welcomed by Jensen. Rather than fighting for a just transition through mass popular struggle, this sort of incredibly idealistic collapse scenario fails in every imaginable scenario, and would lead to the downfall of any possibility of community response, creating instead a scenario not unlike Libya today, where environmental exploitation continues apace along with constant assassinations, killings, and bombings that continue to destabilize any potential for solidarity and direct democracy.
If their attachment to right-wing values and the militia movement seems to suggest where their recruitment interests lie, Keith also claims that if the left wing does not fight to preserve family values, the right will “have recruitment potential that we’re squandering: people know that civic life and basic social norms have degenerated.” In other words, if we don’t amend our ideology to oppose liberal degenerates who advance porno, queer culture, youth movements, and gender expressions, we won’t be able to form a militia in time to defeat industrial civilization and bring about an inevitable helter-skelter race war. This position is flawed for a number of reasons; primarily, it assumes that generating a reactionary ideology based on a hierarchical militia group opposed to queer culture and attached to traditional “social norms” will produce a genuine struggle against civilization rather than reproducing systemic oppression.
When considering DGR’s stated contradictory positions, it appears we have a case of self-described radicals replicating right-wing ideology while masquerading as leftists in order to claim legitimacy in ecological struggle. Calling for strict ideological conformity to either “Left” or “Right” doctrine(s) is ridiculous, but perhaps even more surreal is creating an entirely new constellation of ideological points, and demanding strict conformity to that novel doctrine. We believe that radicals should attempt to reach out to all people through social groups, neighborhood associations, and community organizations, but we don’t believe that radicals should adopt opportunistic anti-queer positions bolstering social norms in order to gain new recruits from the far right. We are also in favor of armed struggle where and when it appears as a liberatory option, as in Rojava, but in the DGR scenario, the “people’s militia” would be reproducing the same heteropatriarchal norms that it identifies within civilization.
All of DGR’s political confusions are reinforced in their alternative economic vision. In terms of an economic analysis, Keith provides a market-based utopia predicated on a pre-capitalist ideal found somewhere in history (we don’t know where). Keith imagines that “original market economies in the West, and, indeed, around the world, were nestled inside a moral economy informed by community networks of care, concern, and responsibilities. Property owners and moneylenders were restricted by community norms and the influence of extralegal leaders like elders, healers, and religious officers.” Surely these “religious officers” were of the kindly sort, and not “spirit warriors” with “mystical” illusions like their anticolonial counterparts in Turtle Island.
We are not given a footnote to detail what time period or particular examples Keith is talking about, but since capitalism emerged roughly around the 16th Century, according to historians like Fernand Braudel, we might think of pre-capitalist markets in terms of a return to feudal power dynamics. Led by “religious officers” aligned with the Catholic Church, however, the feudal system wielded terrible power over commoners living under harsh and unpredictable autocrats. Its moral authority was exercised through witch trials, heretic burnings, and crusades.
Perhaps stretching back further, we could find such markets in the classical era. But no, Keith insists that “the Sahara Desert once fed the Roman Empire, which should tell you everything you need to know about civilization’s hunger and its supporting ecosystem’s ultimate fate.” At this point, we have moved from the feudal era to the classical era, but even then we find empire and authoritarian markets. One would have to go even further back to dig up the truth, however. Contradicting Keith’s claim, Science states that the Sahara’s desertification was caused not by civilization, but by alterations in the climate. It occurred thousands of years before the dawn of the Roman Empire. Far from being collapsed by empire, the collapse of the Sahara actually “gave rise to the Pharaohs,” according to National Geographic. This detail exposes a poetic irony—as we will show, the collapse that the authors of DGR envision and even seek to bring about, would only produce stronger conditions of oppression. This problem is concealed by all sorts of simplifications, distortions, and errors throughout DGR—testimonies to its tendentious ideological motivation and sectarianism, rather than true mass movement building and anti-oppression work.
While more egalitarian communities have existed throughout history, none have been free from flaws, and the existence of “markets” connotes not an “original” position relative to the experience of colonialism on which capitalism is based, but a part of it. There have always been alternatives emerging from popular engagement, which David Graeber associates not with “markets” but with a “base-line communism.” Calling the narrative of markets “the founding myth of our system,” Graeber states that money and markets emerged as “side effects” of a system of government by which control over money supply provides the ability to indirectly take money from the populous and fund a military to perpetuate authority. It is worth quoting Graeber at length:
“[T]he creation of markets… was not just convenient for feeding soldiers, but useful in all sorts of ways, since it meant officials no longer had to requisition everything they needed directly from the populace, or figure out a way to produce it on royal estates or royal workshops. In other words, despite the dogged liberal assumption—again, coming from [Adam] Smith’s legacy—that the existence of states and markets are somehow opposed, the historical record implies that exactly the opposite is the case. Stateless societies tend also to be without markets.”
So pre-capitalist markets should not be romanticized. In fact, the historical narrative that prioritizes markets feeds into the narrative of Ron Paul’s Libertarian Party, which attempted to co-opt the Occupy Wall Street movement, for example, by appealing to anti-Wall Street, anti-“bankster” sentiment and proposing traditional, community-based, morally guided markets instead. When it was revealed that Ron Paul had met with the American Third Position group, a neo-Nazi organization based around anti-imperialist ideas, the Libertarian involvement in Occupy was thrown into question, along with the problematic assumptions of their “radicalism.”
Here is where Keith’s focus on opposing her “radical” ideology to “liberalism” becomes so problematic. Keith’s analysis is simplistically organized as a matrix, placing liberal and radical tendencies at opposite ends of a political dichotomy, and producing a list of binary qualities that mark one or the other. Idealism, we are told, lies within the realm of liberalism, while materialism stands in the threshold of radicalism. Unfortunately, neither term seems defined by a consistently applied method, and there are very few footnotes to back up her claims. Keith’s production of unreliable definitions for radical and liberal seems to create new groupings of people out of thin air, rather than reflect genuine social conditions. It also ignores the category of reaction, which is the true dialectical opposite of radical. If we can define reactionary as an ideological attitude based on a sense of fear, anxiety, or hatred, favoring authority, and a return to tradition, we can locate precisely where radicalism’s desire of “returning to the root” can be appropriated by a reactionary tendency and taken in a terrible direction.
The reactionary tendency tends to warp the actual facts to construct misaligned social groups under singular leaders. For example, Keith opines, “Liberals believe that a society is made up of individuals. Individualism is so sacrosanct that, in this view, being identified as a member of a group or class is an insult. But for radicals, society is made up of classes (economic ones in Marx’s original version) or any groups or castes.” Liberalism is individualism, whereas we radicals are collectivists. It was the Dutch psychologist and critic of fascism, AM Meerloo, who critiqued this point in his book, The Rape of the Mind: The Psychology of Thought Control, through a glance at a hypothetical place called “Totalitaria:”
“In Totalitaria, the citizen no longer knows the real core of his mind. He no longer feels himself an ‘I’, an ego, a person. He is only the object of official barrage and mental coercion. Having no personality of his own, he has no individual conscience, no personal morality, no capacity to think clearly and honestly. He learns by rote, he learns thousands of indoctrinated facts and inhales dogma and slogans with every breath he draws. He becomes an obedient pedant, and pedantry makes people into something resembling pots filled with information instead of individuals with free, growing personalities.”
What Keith seems to miss in her pose between supposed polar oppositions is a stance of moderation, which suggests that liberalism can be radical, whereas anti-liberalism can be absolutely reactionary. For instance, Rousseau’s radical response to reactionary Catholic society was to emphasize individuality of thought and liberation from the strictures of the classist patriarchy of conventional family life. At the onset of the Industrial Revolution, romantic poet Lord Byron defended the Luddites in the House of Lords.
Keith also derisively associates liberalism with naturalism. Naturalism, Keith insists, believes that “body exists independently of society/mind” and posits “gender/race as physical body.” This definition is false. It suffices to quote Marx:
“[C]ommunism, as fully developed naturalism, equals humanism, and as fully developed humanism equals naturalism; it is the genuine resolution of the conflict between man and nature, and between man and man, the true resolution of the conflict between existence and being, between objectification and self-affirmation, between freedom and necessity, between individual and species. It is the solution of the riddle of history and knows itself to be the solution.”
Anarchist geographer, Elisée Reclus, whose forays into naturalist anthropology are well known, presented a similar perspective, influencing Kropotkin’s idea of “ethical naturalism” that posited “mutual aid as a factor in evolution.” Bakunin, Emma Goldman, with her periodical Mother Earth, and Ricardo Flores Magón were also greatly influenced by this idea.
“Nature” is one of the great preoccupations of twentieth century critical thought, whether thinkers are explicit ecological philosophers or recognized the concept as a centrally important one for social thought and political life. For thinkers as diverse as Simone de Beauvoir, Murray Bookchin, Michel Foucault, Judith Butler, Teresa Brennan, Herbert Marcuse, Theodor Adorno, Aldo Leopold, Huey P. Newton, Edward Abbey, and Khalil Gibran, naturalism constantly escapes the grasp of liberal ideology, and often stands utterly opposed to the notion that the body exists independently of society/mind. (This sentiment is well summarized in de Beauvoir’s famous dictum “One is not born, but rather becomes a woman.”)
By failing to examine the dialectics of radicalism and reaction, Keith seeks to unify reactionary and radical tendencies against liberalism—and even the left—rather than uniting people against reactionary oppression. DGR’s “radical analysis” seeks to maintain and promote “basic social norms” while annihilating the “phenomena of trans” and “queer culture” and producing a rebirth of “original markets”—all points that find intersections with the reactionary far right. If this is the stuff of radicalism, we might keep in mind the admonition of Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke, “Let there be no illusions: fascism was always a radical political movement.”
Fascism, according to Julius Evola and other vanguard, fascist thinkers who carved out the niche of the Third Positionist tendency, disdains modernity and seeks to bring about the collapse of civilization (Ernstfall) in order to produce a cultural “rebirth” based on traditionalism, pessimism towards the masses, and racial separatism.
Evola’s notion of gender is interesting here, as well: the idea of woman does not exist, as such, but is constructed in the eyes of men. In the words of Otto Weininger, a critical influence on Evola, “nothing is so despicable as a man becoming female, and such a person will be regarded as the supreme criminal even by himself.” Compare this notion with Keith’s position that “men insisting that they are women is insulting and absurd” and that gender correction surgery is “a human rights violation.” Weininger believes that a “man becoming female” is criminal, because women do not exist; Keith believes that “men insisting that they are women” is criminal for basically the same reason, only spun from a feminist perspective that eliminates the existence of men as well.
We are not arguing that DGR is a fascist group, but their ideology consists of extremely dangerous bedfellows, thrown together without rhyme or reason, and lacking in a substantive framework embedded in prior scholarship. To be more precise, Keith’s attempt to place humanity into what Emile Durkheim calls “clear-cut categories, capable of being formulated once and for all time,” is characteristic of small groups commonly identified as cults. The fact that DGR makes several claims that correspond to right wing and even fascist positions makes them a group to be extremely leery of.
Adding to the pressing question of far-right appeals, the only organizations created by people of color examined in any depth by DGR, the Black Panthers, are consistently reduced to base condemnations. Keith is full of praise for The Second Vermont Republic (SVR) and even quotes figures who are closely connected to the SVR through its main organ, Vermont Commons(VC). But there is no mention that VC was founded by a Holocaust-denier with strong ties to racist neo-Confederate groups, or that SVR retains ties to “Pan-Separatist” white nationalists. Why attack the Black Panthers, and then give the far right a pass?
Out of the eleven principle movements analyzed by McBay under a rubric of success and failure, only three are non-European, and the grouping of European movements, from the Irish Republican Army to the French Resistance, Holocaust resisters to British poll tax protestors, does not produce a coherent ideology or system of strategies and tactics. While each movement is different, they are supposedly united by a certain likeness to DGR—a seeming impossibility, given the disparity of strategy and tactics deployed.
We are treated by Keith to page after page of plaudits for the Sons of Liberty and the working-class resistance to the Stamp Act without the same weight given to the contextualization of racism or the colonists’ witch trials, slavery, or colonialism. Keith seems quite pragmatic when it comes to colonial movements and right-wing populism, but she reduces resistance movements against colonialism to “mysticism” led by phony “spirit warriors.” “Despite all the suffering of genocide and depression over centuries,” she claims, “no spirit warriors have ever appeared to save the day. That’s N-E-V-E-R.” The fact that Indigenous people were unable to defend themselves from the colonists she reveres for their revolutionary violence does not seem to be a viable metric, judging by the fact that DGR sings high praise for resistance movements against the Holocaust, which, while successful in some places for some reasons, did not stop the genocide of six million people. Keith’s disregard for Indigenous “spirit warriors” ignores effective Indigenous leaders like Tecumseh. At one point, she declares, “humans are hard-wired for spiritual ecstasy,” but DGR develops a faux-materialist double-standard by which white and non-white spiritual movements are measured, which finds spiritual work only important in Christian form: “the black churches have been called the cradle of the civil rights movement; Liberation Theology has been central to prodemocracy struggles in Latin America; and Christian missionaries helped end slavery and the caste system in Karala, India.” After claiming that Indigenous forms of spiritual resistance are “mystical,” Keith dedicates pages to the Oka Crisis, while resolutely avoiding any spiritual claims made by the participants.
While she presents platitudes that the US is on “stolen land,” Keith also asserts that “DGR has a very different goal from anticolonial struggles,” and then cites the IRA’s Green Book out of context to make it appear as though the goal of all decolonization movements is to make countries “ungovernable except by colonial rule.” It is shocking how Keith can construct a straw man out of Third World struggles for liberation, as though they, themselves, were instruments of colonial rule.
As was clear when Keith subverted her own group’s organizers by attacking the Lakota as “patriarchal,” she attempts to embrace Indigenous solidarity on one hand, while taking a patronizing approach to Indigenous practices and traditions on the other. Critical solidarity is fine, but the misrepresentation of decolonizing movements puts Keith and DGR in a relationship of power over these movements.
Keith also offers incoherent parallels that defy political logic. Regarding the relations between aboveground organizations to the underground, Keith insists, “We need the permaculture wing to be Sinn Fein.” She goes on to prop up this claim by conflating several radical activists, groups, and actions without apparent linking, “[T]he IRA had Sinn Fein. The abolition movement had the Underground Railroad, Nat Turner, and John Brown, and Bloody Kansas… A radical movement grows from a culture of resistance, like a seed from soil.” It seems as though Keith is saying that DGR wants to rely on permaculture practitioners to be the public face of an underground militia group, but the models she gives do not correspond. Sinn Fein was the political wing of an armed movement, not a “culture of resistance,” and today, it is a conventional political party that has supported neoliberal austerity. No comparison can aptly be drawn between the IRA and Sinn Fein, on the one hand, and the abolition movement and Bloody Kansas, on the other, let alone permaculture. Permaculture can be a part of a great movement to reclaim food systems and build radical infrastructure, but Keith denies this point, associating the practice with lifestyle activism and liberalism.
The authors of DGR are attempting to build a hierarchical militia-style group that would attack civilian targets euphemistically referred to as “infrastructure” with only “secondary” regard for human populations. Although DGR claims allegiances with anti-hierarchical values, it also knows its own program relies on rigid leadership roles; this leads to contradictory and distorted perspectives on hierarchy and authority that perpetuate heavy handed and moralistic age-based hierarchies of old over young. In DGR’s view, naïve youth should be led by those with more seasoned “adult values.”
In a new binary chart, Keith maintains that the key distinction between oppositional culture and alternative culture occurs through “[a]dult values of discernment, responsibility,” where “[l]egitimate authority is accepted and cultivated,” and the “[g]oals are adult concerns: guide the community, socialize the young, enforce norms, participate in larger project of righting the world.” For Keith, opposition is “Idealism tempered by experience”—a strange insistence, given her reproachful attitude towards Idealism. Here, naturally, we are to ignore the history of “adult” genocide, hatred, and war—the prison industry complex, the military, schools, and the general unrelenting attack on the liberty and openness of today’s youth by the institutions developed to control them.
What is “Idealism tempered with experience” if it subverts “youth concerns” by placing the “legitimate authority” in the hands of adult leaders? DGR professes the need to contain youthful desire, itself, based on the notion that the adolescent brain is inferior to that of an adult. Hence, Keith throws in some pop science to back up her claim that young people can’t think long-term, and must yield power and authority to older people.
But youth isn’t the only group Keith is trying to control. Vegans, rewilders, and lesbian separatists are all categorized as liberals within the ambit of alternative cultures by Keith. And she has a problem with anarchists, too. In fact, DGR contains three contradictory positions on hierarchy: (1) hierarchy and civilization are united in oppression, (2) underground militias to destroy civilization must be hierarchical, and (3) anarchists are part of the problem.
Given that DGR is so confused about its stance toward hierarchy, it’s no wonder Jensen behaves so abusively toward anarchists, who have a principled anti-hierarchical stance: “The anarchists are liars. It’s what anarchists do,” Jensen wrote in one derisive email. Regarding an activist inquiring about gender, Jensen stated, “[he’s] an anarchist, so he’ll be a prick no matter what happens.” Former DGR members from Austin recalled a scenario when Jenson left the organization, participated heavily in an anti-anarchist article by Chris Hedges called “The Cancer of Occupy,” and then refused to allow DGR to distance itself from either him or the piece. “Though Derrick Jensen was not an actual member of DGR at the time (for reasons pertaining to his own personal safety), he refused to allow DGR to issue a statement distancing itself from his comments, thereby opening an unnecessary opportunity for critiques of DGR, and hindering the recruitment of our organizers.” This kind of manipulation from inside, outside, and above in order to attack anarchists in Occupy Wall Street while maintaining order over DGR exposed a serious, demagogic tendency.
Aside from Jensen’s public and private tirades and actions to subvert anarchists, as well as Keith’s insistence that anarchists are not part of oppositional culture, DGR extolls the Spanish Anarchists of 1936 as “a great example of a broad and deep effort to transform an entire society.” Keith also calls the Spanish Anarchists “secular millennialists”—a notion that DGRroundly denounces as a “poor substitute for a real resistance movement”—just after declaring that the Spanish Anarchists “valued ethical personal behavior.” Later on in the book, Jensen appropriates the platform of Spanish Anarchist “secular millennialism,” claiming, “we can start setting up neighborhood councils to make decisions, settle conflicts, and provide mutual aid.” Their attempt at an analysis of the Spanish Revolution seems to build off the base created by anarchists, and call for “real resistance,” over which they hold the authority. This is part of a pattern throughout the book of co-opting radical movements and imposing distortions in order to feign authority.
In place of DGR, there are viable alternatives to fight the world’s death and devastation with persistent organizing that summons the natural mutual aid tenets that exist to feed, cultivate, and grow a culture of resistance. These would be the philosophical ideas that support Deep Ecology, Social Ecology, and the bioregional movement, and they are quite literallynowhere to be found within DGR. To repeat, there is not a single mention, not one word, about radical ecology or bioregionalism to be found in DGR. Instead, DGR seeks a materialist analysis, settles for traces of anti-civilizational romanticism and voluntarism, and mixes it all with leader-oriented Idealism. We are sympathetic to the method of creatively drawing from many theoretical sources and movements, but we feel that DGR’s own project is hampered by a disingenuous narcissism that belies an honest engagement with ideas and people. The fact that DGR completely ignores Deep Ecology and Social Ecology (as well as the generations-deep traditions of ecological struggle provided through Earth First! and the Back to the Land Movement) is enough of an admission that it is more concerned with its own influence than it is about building lasting and effective ecological resistance movements
It will not suffice to declare that we, today, are doomed to this next great apocalypse—the terrible prospects held by climate change. We must persist and prevail together as autonomous and liberated people if we are to save the world from total destruction. We must take lessons from DGR’s courting of anti-hierarchical movements, like anarchism, using the ideas, and then capitalizing on them by slyly calling for the building of leadership-oriented hierarchies. As Jensen’s and Keith’s recently authored “Open Letter: Reclaiming Environmentalism” reveals, the authors of DGR will continue to try and influence the direction of the environmental movement. They write, against the conservation industrial complex, that: “It is long past time for those of us whose loyalties lie with wild plants and animals and places to take back our movement from those who use its rhetoric to foster accelerating ecocide.” These are some strong words coming from people who defend fetishized and dehumanizing vanguardist militarism, mixed ideological baggage, implicit and explicit hierarchies, and cult of personality behaviors. Demagoguery may serve as an attractive antidote to despair for some, but we are hoping more people will begin to see through it. As for many of us whose loyalties also lie with humanity, the struggles for autonomy, self-determination, sustainable communities and democratic movements continue onward.
We look to the Spanish Anarchists, but we also look to what’s happening with Democratic Autonomy right now in Rojava. As the Kurds fight Daesh (also known as ISIS), anarchism deals a blow to imperialism by setting up revolutionary financial systems and models of feminist participation in ecological politics. Far from Aric McBay’s cruel ethical calculations, Derrick Jensen’s fluffy rhetoric and narcissistic behavior, and Lierre Keith’s convenient and consistent contradictions lies the practice of everyday revolution. We also look to the real mass movements against extractive industry and pollution brewing worldwide—from Algeria to China to the fight against fossil fuels infrastructure in the US and Canada. Only these movements stand a chance of creating alternative, living systems and dismantling patriarchy, white supremacy and capitalism. It is the people who matter, not the ideology.
Michelle Renée Matisons, Ph.D. was an Institute for Anarchist Studies board member when it was first founded. In 2000, she received her Women’s Studies doctorate, which focused on Marxist theory’s legacies in the US academic feminist/intersectional context. She then taught at CSU-Sacramento for five years while obsessively organizing against higher education privatization in her faculty union. She now resides in Northwest Florida, where she conducts labor market research stints by doing “odd jobs” — like diaper changing and selling donuts. She writes on policing and education privatization issues for publications such as Counterpunch, Z Magazine, AlterNet, the New Jersey Decarcerator, and her absolute favorite: Black Agenda Report. Links to her writing can be found here:https://michellereneematisons.wordpress.com/.
Alexander Reid Ross, MA, is a co-founding moderator of the Earth First! Newswire. His masters thesis, Politics and the People, and his new book, Against the Fascist Creep, are both forthcoming. He edited the anthology, Grabbing Back: Essays Against the Global Land Grab (AK Press, 2014), and his work has been featured in the Cambridge University Strategic Initiative in Global Food Security, Climate and Capitalism, CounterPunch, Defending Dissent, The Ecologist, Green Social Thought, Third World Resurgence, Toward Freedom, and Upping the Anti. Links to his writing are at alexanderreidross.com.
The authors would like to thank Paul Messersmith-Glavin and Kristian Williams for important editorial feedback on this article.
This essay appears in the current issue of Perspectives on Anarchist Theory, available here
 Aric McBay, Derrick Jensen, Lierre Keith, Deep Green Resistance, (New York City: Seven Stories Press, 2011), 12.
 McBay declared, “I left the organization at the beginning of 2012 after a trans inclusive policy was cancelled by Derrick Jensen and Lierre Keith. Many good people