Glenn Beck and the Coming Insurrection: Anarchism and Anonymous

Since the January 25th protest movement erupted in Egypt over two weeks ago, Glenn Beck has been under attack from the left, right and center for his global conspiracy theory of "the coming insurrection."  Most recently, none other than neoconservative icon Bill Kristol has denounced the way in which Beck "rants about the caliphate taking over the Middle East from Morocco to the Philippines, and lists (invents?) the connections between caliphate-promoters and the American left."  But Beck has been talking about "the coming insurrection" for some time.  As you might recall, I devoted a series of posts last spring to "the coming intersection of the tea party and anarchist movements" (see here, here and here).

The Coming Insurrection is an insurrectionary anarchist, or anarcho-communist manifesto first published in France in 2007.  When Beck began talking about the work in 2009 he helped turn it into a best-seller upon its publication in English, specifically urging his audience to "read this book" which he considered one of the "most evil things" he'd ever read.  At the time, an anarchist press collective responded to Beck with an open letter declaring: "we're like you, except we support real freedom, and that's why you're afraid of us."

It is an open question whether or not Beck's global conspiracy theory would appear more or less  outlandish if one understands that when he mentions "the coming insurrection" he is specifically referring to this book.  Few media commentators seem familiar with the work, or with the fact that Beck is specifically alluding to it, and those who are appear not to have read it.  David Neiwert writes at Crooks and Liars:
Glenn Beck was frothing at the mouth this week -- just before he went on an obviously much-needed vacation -- about an obscure French book that is hard to obtain and which no one appears to be reading, aside from a handful of anarchist aesthetes . . .
Ironically, Neiwert presumes it is absurd to speak about the potential political effectivity of such a book, but then goes on to argue that this very tactic has proven effective for the white supremacist movement, stating, "they're largely relegated to the fringes. But that doesn't mean people don't act on them."  Media Matters commented on Beck's recent programs underscoring the "obscurity" of the book:
All of this was offered up in service of his theory that the protests in Egypt are the manifestation of The Coming Insurrection, an obscure book that French police believe was written by a member of a small group of anarchists. Beck has repeatedly described the anonymous author (or authors) of the book as "communists." He's tied George Soros and President Obama to The Coming Insurrection, as well.

So, a diverse group of the Egyptian people are in the streets protesting an autocratic leader, and Glenn Beck has decided that this is directly connected to an anonymously written anarchist tract from France that he's been obsessing about for the past two years?
To believe that the uprising in Egypt cannot be connected to or accounted for by the theory of action proposed in The Coming Insurrection demonstrates a complete ignorance of the work's argument and message.  On the other hand, Beck's belief that he can construct a coherent theory of a coordinated, global, geostrategic conspiracy on the basis of it reveals a misunderstanding, a misinterpretation or a misappropriation of the book.  However, the claim that "the result of the coming insurrection will be that the world starts to implode," as Beck has stated, is perfectly in line with the book's primary argument and its stated goal.  Let's take a closer look at the work and attempt to remove it from its alleged obscurity.  

In The Coming Insurrection, crisis is framed as the everyday mode of contemporary society and civilization, and this state of affairs is perceived as an opportunity.  In the work's introduction, we read:
From whatever angle you approach it, the present offers no way out. This is not the least of its virtues. From those who seek hope above all, it tears away every firm ground. Those who claim to have solutions are contradicted almost immediately. Everyone agrees that things can only get worse. . . . It’s the privileged feature of radical circumstances that a rigorous application of logic leads to revolution. It’s enough just to say what is before our eyes and not to shrink from the conclusions.
Whereas Karl Marx stated in his Eighteenth Brumaire that "the tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living," in The Coming Insurrection the past and present weigh on the living like a corpse that no one can seem to shake off:
So we have a corpse on our backs, but we won’t be able to rid ourselves of it just like that. Nothing is to be expected from the end of civilization, from its clinical death. In and of itself, it can only be of interest to historians. It’s a fact, and it must be translated into a decision. Facts can be conjured away, but decision is political. To decide on the death of civilization, then to work out how it will happen: only decision will rid us of the corpse. GET GOING!
The book calls for decentralized, anarchist activity and reinvents the notion of the commune on the model of the anarchist affinity group, effectively creating an insurrectionary manual intended to aid those who seek to shake the corpse of contemporary civilization off their backs.  It calls on like-minded individuals to find each other, form communes, get organized, plunder, cultivate and fabricate, create territories, remove obstacles, turn anonymity into an offensive position, organize self-defense, make the most of every crisis, sabotage every representative authority, block the economy, liberate space from police occupation, take up arms while doing everything possible to make their use unnecessary, and depose authorities at a local level.

The Coming Insurrection connects the 2005 civil unrest in France with the 2006 protests in Oaxaca Mexico, the actions of American longshoreman in 2002, the Algerian uprising of 2001, the anti-globalization movement of the 1990's, the autonomous squatters movement in Hamburg Germany in the 1980's, the global unrest of the 1960's and so on.  Is it such a stretch of the imagination to connect these with the ongoing uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, or last year's riots in Greece, France and England, or even the recent anti-police protests in Denver?  As one anarchist website recently put it: "Egypt Today, Tomorrow the World!"

The theory of action proposed in The Coming Insurrection might also be found at work in the activities of the online hacktivist group known as "Anonymous."  Indeed, Anonymous perfectly conforms to the notion of the commune proposed in the insurrectionary manual, where we read:
Communes come into being when people find each other, get on with each other, and decide on a common path. The commune is perhaps what gets decided at the very moment when we would normally part ways. It’s the joy of an encounter that survives its expected end. . . . [They are defined] not by their membership, but by the spirit that animates them. A commune forms every time a few people, freed of their individual straitjackets, decide to rely only on themselves and measure their strength against reality . . . The commune is the basic unit of partisan reality.
From Encyclopedia Dramatica on Anonymous:
Anonymous is everyone and noone. You are. I am. Everyone is. Anonymous is humanity when the gloves come off. Anonymous is legion and its deeds are legend. . . . Anonymous is not a person, nor is it a group, movement or cause: Anonymous is a collective of people with too much time on their hands, a commune of human thought and useless imagery. A gathering of sheep and fools, assholes and trolls, and normal everyday netizens. An anonymous collective . . .
In recent months, Anonymous has shut down the websites of PayPal, Mastercard and Visa among others in support of Wikileaks, as well as the websites of the Tunisian and Egyptian governments in solidarity with the uprisings there.  Just the other day they hacked a security firm that was investigating them.  From Raw Story:
The online group of hacktivists known as "Anonymous" infiltrated the network and websites of an Internet security company after learning the company planned to sell information about the group to the FBI.

The website of Washington DC-based HBGary Federal was hijacked Sunday along with the Twitter account of CEO Aaron Barr. The company's website was defaced with a message that read, "This domain seized by Anonymous under section #14 of the rules of the Internet." . . . .

In addition to hacking the company's website and Twitter account, "Anonymous" gained access to more than 44,000 company e-mails, which were released to the public in a 4.71 gigabyte Torrent file. The group also gained access to the report that was allegedly going to be sold to the FBI and posted it online (.pdf).
This is effectively "The Party of We" which I referred to here the other day.  The quote is from Tech Dirt:
centralized top-down legacy systems are coming into conflict with distributed, decentralized, bottom-up systems -- and not understanding them at all . . . They're not protesting by saying "this will not stand." They're protesting by saying "your laws don't matter, because we can simply route around them."


Samuel Wilson said...

Beck's understanding of this book seems consistent with his analysis of the "Cloward-Piven Strategy." He can't seem to envision collective action -- except, presumably, the Tea Party movement -- without attributing real agency to some diabolical author. Someone should shake him up by asking why what we're seeing isn't the Egyptian Tea Party.

d.eris said...

heh, definitely. Someone might also ask how the tea party movement isn't playing its own part in the coming insurrection. Just like anonymous and the modes of action proposed in the book, the tea party movement prides itself on being decentralized, leaderless, fearless opponents of government tyranny, self-reliant, armed, ready to defend themselves. It all fits. Individual tea party groups even conform to the definition of COMMUNE in The Coming Manifesto! Maybe that should be my next post: tea party communists!

And maybe it is these similarities that have driven beck to focus so intently on The Coming Manifesto. As the anarchists said to Beck, "you're just like us."

nacho borealis said...

@d.eris. You're kidding yourself if you believe the tea party see's itself as a commune. It's just an even more right-wing prop up group taken from Ron Paul pre-2008 by the KOCH brothers to shove their anti-progressive, pro-fascist corporation needs into the general populous of retarded tv watching drivel still following the 'Amurka is graet, gunz rule' mindset.

I consider it a huge insult to even try to throw tea-gaggers in with social anarchists.

d.eris said...

I guess you just didn't get the joke then, nacho. Nonetheless, the point is, whatever the tea party thinks of itself, or whatever tea party activists think of the tea party movement, the way they have come to define themselves is in many ways quite similar to the definition of 'commune' provided in The Coming Insurrection.

nacho borealis said...

Just ordered the book so I shall see soon enough !

Anonymous said...

Um, in your apparently extensive reporting on the intersection of the Tea Party and anarchists, I surprised you haven't referenced this pamphlet written by anarchists speaking directly to tea party members: "Of Tea Parties and Patriots: In Defense of True Liberty for All" available here:

The text shows where anarchists think their commonality lies with Tea Party people, and therefore perhaps the reason Beck (who works for corporate billionaires) tries to make his Tea Party audience so scared of anarchists: he doesn't want them defecting from the Koch brothers funded, corporate pultocracy supporting agenda (cloaked in anti-government rhetoric) of the Tea Party, and joining up with people who are ACTUALLY anti-government (as the nation-state is merely a refined and complex instrument for the expansion and domination of capitalism).

d.eris said...

Thanks for that tip Anon! I think I might've missed that one. Is that from 2009?