Attacking Medea Benjamin: A Short Primer on the “Anarchists” of Empire and Identity Politics

Photograph Source: David Rovics

Global Exchange and Code Pink founder Medea Benjamin is only one of many well-known leaders of the US left being attacked by self-described anarchists.  If you’re confused by this, you’re not alone.

There is a very disturbing trend among some of those who embrace the term “anarchist” that separates them from the vast majority of those who have ever identified as anarchists in the past.  It’s not a new phenomenon, but it’s one I have been observing and have been deeply impacted by in recent years.  Since the collapse of the global justice movement, and later the rise of Trump, the growing dominance of anti-social media, and then the pandemic-era protests against police brutality, this tendency has been growing in the US, and to a lesser extent among certain users of the English-language internet more broadly around the world.

In recent years in the US, I am one of many artists on the US left to be targeted for cancellation and vilification by these self-described anarchists, whose main network for dissemination of their ideas and exploits can be found on the website (and Twitter feed, podcast, etc.) of It’s Going Down, in the form of anonymously-written blog posts and other forms of media.  Other targets of the anonymous writers of It’s Going Down include most any remotely influential anti-imperialist, of any political persuasion, primarily from the left.  The accusations against people like me, Alison Weir (founder of If Americans Knew and well-known campaigner against Israeli apartheid), and Medea Benjamin revolve around nonexistent “red/brown alliances,” bizarre accusations of Jewish antisemitism, and accusations of us being supportive of authoritarian regimes, mainly on the basis of us not wanting the US to invade the countries in question.

Many of those under constant attack by this element of the anarchist scene which I tend to call the anarcho-puritans are even older than me, and may not be as connected with younger people in the left and anarchist scene as I am.  (To get some impression that this wild claim that I have some connection with the anarchist and left youth of the US and many other countries may indeed be accurate, one need only attend a few of my concerts, and look at the demographic information in terms of who listens to my music on Spotify.)  Most of the young folks coming to my concerts these days are familiar with the  discourse around me being antisemitic and sympathetic with fascists, and they have concluded that it is either misguided or completely idiotic.  Others are more confused by the arguments, and want to understand them more deeply.  This post is particularly for them.

I’ve written about related subjects pretty extensively, and much of that writing can be found at  For now, what I thought I’d do is give you a fairly thorough contextualization of the article published on May 29th, 2023 on the website of It’s Going Down, to translate what is basically a bunch of anarcho-puritan dogwhistling into more understandable language.

Their title:  “Report on counter-demo from so-called Minneapolis, MN against red/brown organizer Medea Benjamin.”

The flood of misleading content begins with the title.  What took place was not a counter-demo, it was a protest against an author who is doing a book tour.  Medea Benjamin’s excellent book, War In Ukraine, just came out recently.  It provides much-needed historical context to the terrible war taking place in Ukraine.

The notion that Medea is a “red/brown organizer” is a reference to the fact that she is happy to work with other people who are concerned about the imminent prospect of a global nuclear war, and want to pursue peace negotiations between the governments of Russia and Ukraine, even if those people might be Republicans who have lots of other political differences with Medea on most everything else.

The “so-called” reference is how this eloquent bunch refers to the name of any city in North America, which seems to me to be a lazy way of doing what they tend to do on the left in Australia, which is to refer to cities by the name they tend to be known by as well as by the name they had already been given prior to the European invasion and theft of most of the continent.

I think it’s important to dwell a bit more on the fact that this was, in fact, not a counter-demo, but a protest against an author on a book tour.  The tendency of the anarcho-puritans to spend much of their efforts on protesting leftwing authors on book tours and leftwing artists doing concerts is very revealing about their priorities and their analysis.  One might think they would be focused on those in positions of power, or corporate media shills for the rich and those defending things like police brutality and landlordism.  Instead, their focus seems to be primarily on leftwing authors and musicians doing events in small venues for a few dozen people, as was the case recently in Minneapolis.

The anonymous “report-back” article begins:

On an unseasonably cool May evening even by Minneapolis standards, a small and diverse group of antifascists stood outside of a building used by a number of Minneapolis non-profits, among them the local chapter of “Veterans for Peace” (VFP) and “Women Against Military Madness” (WAMM). The occasion was a book talk by Medea Benjamin to discuss her book about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

It might be notable that “a small and diverse group of antifascists” were protesting a Jewish author and life-long opponent of fascism, and some explanation might be expected, but you’ll find none of that.  It should be assumed by the reader that we understand that of course Medea is a red/brown organizer who should be opposed by antifascists, with no explanation beyond sharing a couple of links to articles that themselves are just a series of baseless claims (the links are a bit later in the post).

It might be notable that any anarchist sees fit to disrupt a talk by an author that herself is completely open to differing points of view being expressed in the discussion following any of her talks.  If there were any legitimate argument to be made that Medea’s events are exclusive and need to be disrupted in order to communicate alternative points of view, no effort at such an argument was attempted.

Medea herself is well-known for disrupting events held by the rich and powerful, in which alternative or grassroots voices, the voices of those opposed to neoliberalism and empire, would otherwise not be heard at all.  Her events aren’t at all like the conventions of the elite that she and her fellow members of Code Pink regularly disrupt.  The notion that this kind of tactic is remotely called for when we’re talking about a grassroots organizer like Medea is basically an intellectual act of turning everything upside-down.  Or it is an indication of a group that has no interest in actual communication.  This, it should be noted, is an inherently authoritarian orientation, very unlike Medea’s.

The names of the organizations hosting the event, Veterans for Peace and Women Against Military Madness, both longstanding antiwar groups going back many decades right up to the present, are put in quotes in the piece on IGD.  This is because the authors don’t think the groups are really in favor of peace or against militarism, because if they were, they would somehow or other find it in themselves to support all the US military funding of the Ukrainian war effort, and they would not be calling for peace talks.  Thus, these groups are considered to be pro-Russian invasion and pro-Putin by the black-and-white thinking of anarcho-puritanism.

It’s especially notable that the author clearly does not think VFP or WAMM are really against war or militarism, but are pro-Putin actors.  Notable in particular because this is the exact same line of reasoning that was always used by the apologists for and representatives of US capitalism and imperialism throughout the period of the existence of the Soviet Union.  Any group opposed to US aggression or NATO expansion or who was standing against US proxy wars around the world was, according to the US establishment, just a shill for the godless communists of Moscow.

Here’s the remainder of the first paragraph of the anonymous post:

Medea – who some older anarchists will recall is the person who was quoted in the New York Times during the 1999 Seattle protests against the World Trade Organization, stating: “Here we are protecting Nike, McDonald’s, the Gap and all the while I’m thinking, ‘Where are the police? These anarchists should have been arrested.’ Most recently, Medea has taken to shilling for authoritarian regimes like Iran, Russia, and China, under the guise of preventing Iraq style “preemptive” wars which she frequently claims are imminent.

The second link there sends us to an article that is full of obvious disinformation, if you happen to have read Medea’s book.  The idea in that sentence that people are wrong to be concerned about future wars along the lines of the illegal US invasion of Iraq is completely bizarre.  What country, at least since 1945 or so, has invaded more countries, spent more on the military, and killed more innocent civilians, from Hiroshima to Korea to Vietnam to Iraq and Afghanistan?  But for “anarchists” like these folks in Minneapolis, the concern is Medea’s efforts to prevent invasions of and militaristic escalations with Iran, Russia, and China.  Wanting to prevent World War 3 is described by these “anarchists” as “shilling for authoritarian regimes,” something which any cursory glance at Medea’s recent writings will demonstrate is a ridiculous, very disingenuous claim.

It is, notably, also exactly the same thing Medea’s critics in the imperialist/capitalist US establishment say about her.

The first link, to the 1999 New York Times article about the WTO protests in Seattle deserves unpacking a bit.  For those who don’t know the details, they are all extremely relevant to the present day.

The World Trade Organization met in Seattle, and an estimated 60,000 people came from all over North America and elsewhere to employ nonviolent civil disobedience tactics, completely surrounding the large area in Seattle where the meetings were taking place, and occupying intersections, thus seriously disrupting proceedings among the global corporate elite meeting there.  The police used up all of their stocks of tear gas and imported more of it from Idaho.  The WTO protests were organized primarily by people who would be comfortable being identified as some kinds of anarchists, led by a group called the Direct Action Network, people deeply inspired by the horizontal organizing techniques of the Zapatistas in Chiapas, Mexico.

While this was going on in Seattle Center, in nearby downtown Seattle, an estimated 200 members of the Black Bloc (also popularly known in the Hollywood version of events as “the anarchists”) engaged in a tactic popular in a certain corner of the left especially since the 1960’s, known then as “trashing.”  They went around smashing windows of corporate businesses.

Many people noted at the time that the police were nowhere to be seen downtown.  They were busy gassing all the folks sitting in intersections around Seattle Center, but they did not see fit to send any cops downtown to protect the corporate outlets.  Why?  Because they and their political leadership knew well that this was what was the main thing that was going to make the news, and the actions of the Black Bloc were playing well into the hands of the powers-that-be.

In protests in other parts of the country a few months later, after negotiations between DAN-oriented anarchists and Black Bloc-oriented anarchists, a deal was worked out that the Black Bloc wouldn’t trash corporate outlets, but would engage in other militant sorts of activities that everyone involved could agree was good, like backing up those blocking intersections who were being attacked by the police, for example.  The Black Bloc a few months after the WTO protests, in Washington, DC on April 16th, 2000 and at other protests around that time played a very constructive role, rather than the role the police wanted them to play.  This didn’t last long, though.  The masked, anonymous Black Bloc is just too easily infiltrated by more-militant-than-thou undercover cops, as history has abundantly illustrated in the US and other countries.

The author is implying here that the trashing of downtown Seattle by a couple hundred people was the important thing that happened in Seattle, not the 60,000 people who shut down the WTO talks, which the Black Bloc had nothing to do with, they weren’t even in the area where that was happening.  Why would anyone think this fun little binge of window-smashing was relevant or helpful in building a movement or shutting down the WTO?  Well, no one would, if they’re being at all reasonable about their analysis of those days.  But if they were shills for the US establishment, representing the interests of the capitalists, then they would want to praise my friends who participated in this this little Black Bloc event in 1999.

The Black Bloc embrace of “diversity of tactics” has effectively meant the abandonment of the concept of having any tactics.  The Black Bloc embrace of anonymity makes sense from a security standpoint, perhaps, but from the standpoint of infiltration it’s been a sad joke.  There is probably no left group more thoroughly infiltrated with undercover police provocateurs, and there have been a lot of incidences over the past couple decades, including very recently, that illustrate this phenomenon.

I won’t quote the entire piece, as it gets a bit repetitive, but the next couple sentences are worth dwelling on a bit:

Her event was held at a building owned by Dave Bicking, a former Green party candidate for City Council and prominent member of Communities United Against Police Brutality, among other groups. Conveniently for us, the road immediately outside the building was closed due to construction in the adjacent intersection and people were only able to access the building from one direction.

The author makes clear that the building is owned by someone from the left, involved with organizing against police brutality, an issue near and dear to the hearts of the same people going to disrupt Medea’s book event.  The implication is also clear, and repeated later more explicitly, that doing good activism sometimes has to mean publicly protesting people who are otherwise your comrades, for the greater good.  Why?  Presumably because purity of thought, and preventing supposedly undesirable ideas from being discussed, is far more important than actually accomplishing any of the broader goals of creating the kind of society that might be free of authoritarianism or militarism.

The second sentence there is one of many references in the piece that indicate that despite the author’s claims not to have grabbed Medea’s phone from her hand or hit an elderly veteran who was trying to retrieve it (events which were observed by local members of WAMM), there’s little question that the intent here was to disrupt an event, not to simply make a scene outside of it.  Otherwise it wouldn’t matter whether folks inside had an alternative way of leaving the building.  This is shortly further clarified with this gem:

Given the age of the people attending the event (Medea’s tour in Minneapolis includes a senior care facility for a reason) there was no need to escalate.

No need to escalate?  “Escalation” means violence, in case that’s not abundantly obvious.  If young people considered to be more of fighting age had been present, “escalation” was more of an option, for these “antifascists” planning their disruption of a peace activist’s event being held in a building owned by an activist against police brutality.

The author goes on to describe the next event they were involved with disrupting, at May Day books, a longstanding independent book store and center of left activity in Minneapolis described by the author as “authoritarian” with no explanation.  In the wrap-up section of the piece there is this paragraph:

To many people, the authors of this reportback included, this might have seemed like an altogether silly action to participate in, let alone help organize. The crowd was much more ideologically heterogeneous than many/most actions we typically participate in, ranging from self-described “progressive liberals” to multiple types of anarchists like ourselves. But the person we were their to oppose has allied herself with literal neo-Nazis and our multitude of views simply strengthened our unity in seeking to stop a fascist collaborator.

The author includes within this paragraph a couple of links to articles that are full of inaccuracies, which try to paint Medea as a fascist collaborator for sharing the stage with Republicans who support peace negotiations instead of Armageddon or some kind of impossible and never-defined “victory.”

Beginning the paragraph is an expression of the discomfort that inevitably is involved with behaving the way these “anarchists” behaved in the course of disrupting Medea’s events.  Yes, it’s uncomfortable to disrupt events that attract a wide array of left and anarchist people from your local community, many of whom you know personally.  It’s not “silly,” though, it’s completely moronic.  It feels awkward because it is idiotic, and somewhere inside, people engaged in such actions know this, even if they’ve managed to convince themselves that up is down and down is up.

In a brief effort to ideologically justify attacking Medea as a “fascist collaborator” beyond inserting links to completely inaccurate articles published on patently unreliable platforms, there is this:

[War in Ukraine is] a book which argues that in order to bring about an end to a war, the victims of this war must unilaterally capitulate to Russia’s invasion. Medea claims that the 2013-2014 popular protests that brought down a Russian-backed dictator were actually a far-right CIA supported coup. To anyone who has followed events in Ukraine over the past decade as we have, even the most generous interpretation of these claims will ring hollow at best.

The first sentence is false — peace negotiations are not the same thing as unilateral capitulation, this claim is erroneous.  As for the protests against Yanukovich, there was unquestionably massive western and specifically US support for the movement, as with many other social movements in other countries historically and currently.  The evidence for this support is overwhelming and a matter of the public record, not invented by anyone, and contrary to what is claimed above, if you have followed events not only in Ukraine but involving successive US administrations since the fall of the Soviet Union to the present and their relations with Ukraine, Russia, and NATO, among other things, then you’ll know that the history Medea is covering in her primer on the war in Ukraine is all stuff those of us who have been paying attention already were familiar with.

However, the implication that the popular protests in Ukraine of 2013-2014 “were actually a far-right CIA-supported coup” is not a claim made by Medea Benjamin.  Of the fact that there were tens of thousands of armed far right participants involved with the protests there’s no question, this is again a matter of the public record, available from any number of sources internationally, including of course from proud participants and witnesses.  And of course the CIA was involved.  (What does the author think the CIA does with its resources, play cards?)  And the presence of armed rightwing militia in the Ukrainian parliament likely did influence the parliament’s vote to oust Yanukovich, thus the term “coup” being accurate.

But to say there was CIA involvement and tens of thousands of organized members of rightwing parties involved with the popular protests is not the same thing as saying “the popular protests were actually a far-right CIA-supported coup.”  These are different statements.

Is the author trying to burn a straw man because they are unable to make an actual argument?  Is the author just really sloppy with their writing?  Is the author intentionally trying to confuse people in order to do the work of the FBI for them?  Does the author in fact work for the FBI?  Who knows, but once again, the reasoning of this author and the analysis of the capitalist-imperialist US establishment is completely identical.

The author concludes with several paragraphs talking about how they understand how some anarchists might not only find the tactic of disrupting events at local leftwing bookstores “silly,” but they might find it “distasteful” that in order to stand up for the Ukrainian people’s right to sovereignty, they have to make temporary alliances with entities they don’t like, by which is presumably meant the US government, the US military, NATO, the arms industry, the Right Sector in Ukraine and others not ideologically aligned with anarchism.

This section is particularly interesting, because when Medea is willing to work with Republicans on promoting peace negotiations she’s a fascist collaborator, but when “anarchists” in Minneapolis are willing to work with NATO and the Right Sector, it’s just a temporary, distasteful alliance, so it’s OK.

Although I disagree with the author’s assessment of Medea becoming a fascist collaborator because of her alliances, the part about uncomfortable bedfellows being part of building alliances in the Ukrainian struggle is a good point, indicating that at least when it comes to this, the author is capable of a more pragmatic analysis than that which is applied to Medea, which is just a nonsensical stream of black-and-white thinking, at best.

There is a widespread notion within anarchist circles in many countries that because anarchists in Ukraine are fighting alongside the Ukrainian armed forces, and the resistance to the Russian invasion is a popular one, this necessarily means that anarchists and others opposed to countries invading other countries should all rally around the Ukrainian government and whatever it calls for in terms of the future of the war with Russia, whether it means fighting to the last Ukrainian soldier or negotiating for peace, it’s up to the Ukrainian state, as it is currently composed.

One aspect of this line of reasoning that should make one at least a bit concerned is that it is completely identical to the line put forward by the Biden administration and the leadership of NATO.  Biden supported the disastrous invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, the invasion of Libya, selling arms to Saudi Arabia to prosecute its genocidal war in Yemen, and arming Al Qaeda and other groups in Syria and elsewhere.  Even if we are now to believe that the people who brought us the millions of dead between Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen, etc., are now our allies in the righteous struggle for Ukrainian sovereignty, and have the interests of the Ukrainian people at heart as they flood the country with armored vehicles and depleted uranium munitions, there is a big problem with the idea that because so many Ukrainian anarchists have thrown their lot in with the Ukrainian military, that the rest of us should follow suit.

The author writes:

Our anti-imperialism cannot be one sided: true anti-imperialism must oppose every imperialism, not just that of the United States.

If I were a Ukrainian, anarchist or not, I would be outraged by the Russian bombs falling on my city, and so many other terrible things taking place in the course of this war.  I’m outraged even without being a Ukrainian.  If I were Ukrainian, it’s easy to imagine that I’d be calling for arms and ammunition from anyone willing to send it in, along with whatever other forms of aid and solidarity might be available.

The dictates of identity politics in particular say that if someone somewhere is a victim, we must not just stand in solidarity with them, but we can’t really have a valid opinion on anything that has happened or is happening to them.  Rather, we must just believe them when they tell us how they have been victimized, and we must follow them blindly into whatever response to their victimization they think is just.

If we follow this reasoning with the Ukrainian victims of Russian aggression, and specifically the government in Kyiv leading them in this fight, this could mean fighting until Crimea is taken, and Russia’s one warm-water port in the Black Sea where they have had their navy based for centuries is under Ukrainian control, along with the east of the country, at which point Ukraine becomes a member of NATO.  It will almost certainly mean fighting until an entire generation of Ukrainian men and huge numbers of their Russian counterparts have met an early death.  It will certainly mean risking nuclear holocaust.

And it will mean allying with the countries that have been pushing the very policies which have led us to this war in the first place.  Opposing all forms of imperialism is a fine plan, but when one decidedly smaller empire’s actions are clearly predicated on the actions of a far larger collection of empires known as NATO, which has a proven record of invading countries on several continents, far beyond the North Atlantic, the notion that further expansion of NATO and further encirclement of Russia with US military bases will possibly bring a peaceful end to this war makes no sense at all.

Unless, of course, you don’t believe the US is an empire, you do believe NATO is a defensive organization, you don’t believe the war in Ukraine is in any way a proxy war between bigger powers, and you don’t believe nuclear Armageddon is imminent with all this going on.  Believing the victim and following the victim’s lead into World War 3 may make some kind of sense with regards to justice and morality, but as a practical move, it’s an absolutely intolerable option.  It’s also hoping that the policies that created the problem will now solve it, and once again it is a line of reasoning that matches up perfectly with that of the Biden administration and the NATO leadership.

I am not suggesting that I have the solution to the world’s problems, or to Ukraine’s.  But it is becoming increasingly obvious to many that sometimes there is no good solution to a problem, just courses of action that are less horrible than other options.  Sometimes if you’ve spent a century creating a problem, you can’t just solve it when your efforts at destabilization are successful.  This applies to the US empire, as well as to its “anarchist” apologists.

It is a terrifying time we live in, where the confluence of identitarianism, anti-social media, and the twisted remnants of what was once called “security culture” can morph itself into a political grouping which entirely recreates the foreign policy analysis of the US empire, combined with the anonymity and blind faith inherent in the “always believe the victim” mentality that permeates certain elements of the contemporary left in the US and elsewhere, and the black-and-white thinking that it involves.

I would just hope that more people attracted to direct action-oriented groups like this one in Minneapolis might find they’re moving in the wrong direction when the conclusions they come to about things align so closely with the analysis and policies of those of the biggest and most capitalist military empire that has ever existed (the US).  If the answer is sending billions of dollars of arms and ammunition to another country, blowing up pipelines, completely derailing any global response to the imminent threat of unstoppable climate chaos, watching a generation of men slaughter each other, and coming closer than ever before to a possible nuclear exchange, then we are asking the wrong question.

David Rovics is a frequently-touring singer/songwriter and political pundit based out of Portland, Oregon.  His website is