The transcendental experience of watching Roger Federer play tennis, David Foster Wallace wrote, was one of “kinetic beauty.” Federer’s balletic precision and mastering of time, on the very edge of what seems possible for a body to achieve, was a form of bodily genius. What Foster Wallace saw in a Federer Moment, I see in a video of neo-Nazi Richard Spencer getting punched in the face.
You may have seen it, it’s a meme now, set to backing tracks of Bruce Springsteen, New Order, even a song from Hamilton. The punch, landed by a masked protester on Inauguration Day, lends itself perfectly to a beat. Spencer, who states that America belongs to white men, was in the midst of telling an Australian TV crew in DC that he was not a neo-Nazi, while pointing to his neo-Nazi Pepe the Frog lapel pin. A black-clad figure then jumps into frame, deus ex machina, with a perfectly placed right hook to Spencer’s face. The alt-right poster boy stumbles away, and his anonymous attacker bounds out of sight in an instant. I don’t know who threw the punch, but I know by his unofficial uniform that this was a member of our black bloc that day. And anyone enjoying the Nazi-bashing clip (and many are) should know that they’re watching anti-fascist bloc tactics par excellence—pure kinetic beauty. If you want to thank Spencer’s puncher, thank the black bloc.
The black bloc is not a group but an anarchist tactic—marching as a confrontational united force, uniformed in black and anonymized for security. Once deployed, the tactic has an alchemic quality, turning into a temporary object—the black bloc. On Friday, the bloc I joined in DC numbered well over 500, the largest of its kind since the antiwar protests over a decade prior. As I wrote in advance of the inauguration, if we recognize fascism in Trump’s ascendance, our response must be anti-fascist in nature. The history of anti-fascist action is not one of polite protest, nor failed appeals to reasoned debate with racists, but direct, aggressive confrontation. While perhaps best associated in the United States with the anti-globalization movement’s major summit protests nearly two decades ago, the black bloc is part of the longstanding visual language of international anti-fascism, or antifa. For example, bloc tactics have been used by European anti-fascists marching against neo-Nazis since the 1990s in Germany. The symbolic value of a large black-bloc presence at Trump’s inauguration resided in drawing a connection between anti-Trumpism and anti-fascism.
The “anti-capitalist, anti-fascist bloc,” Friday’s black-bloc march, was just one among a number of direct actions called by organizers of the Disrupt J20 Inauguration Day protests. Unlike Saturday’s vast Women’s March, Disrupt J20 aimed to directly impede, delay, and confront the inaugural proceedings. This message was delivered with human blockades, smashed corporate windows, trash-can fires, a burning limousine, “Make America Great Again” caps reduced to ashes, and a blow for Richard Spencer. The police responded with fountains of pepper spray, flash-bang grenades, and the mass arrest of over 200 people, most of whom now face felony riot charges. Along with the Women’s March’s joyful scenes of togetherness, the disruptions of J20 should be celebrated as an opening salvo of resistance in the era of Trump.