Why I Helped Disrupt Kristian Williams at Law and Disorder
by Ian Awesome
Since returning from Portland I’ve had a lot of people, inside and outside Seattle, asking me about the disruption of Kristian Williams’ speaking engagement at the Law and Disorder conference in Portland. I have questions coming from people who don’t know who he is, from people who don’t know what horrid things he’s done, or people who don’t completely understand why his most recent article, The Politics of Denunciation, is fucked up and misleading.
Kristian Williams is a highly respected author in anarchist circles, with a widely-read and quoted book, Our Enemies in Blue. It can be confusing why someone who is so against the cops and so against capitalism might be vilified or targeted by members of the anarchist community; keep in mind none of us who speak out against him had previously had any beef with his anti-state politics. This is instead about his politics around rape and patriarchy, which came into sharp relief when one of his friends was criticized for interfering in an abuse accountability process in a way which favored the abuser over the survivor.
Pete Little, formerly of Bring the Ruckus, was the one who interfered, and resulting from that he was called out in the Q&A session of the event that took place about a year ago at the Red and Black: Patriarchy in the Movement. Then a supporter of Pete Little stood up and read a pre-prepared statement (edited by Kristian) defending Pete and essentially saying that when engaging in accountability, we should be doubtful of survivor accounts and basically subject survivors to investigative scrutiny (similar, sadly, to the amount of scrutiny survivors are subjected to by the state).
If you have ever been a survivor of sexual assault/abuse who has had your own experience subjected to this sort of politicized scrutiny, you understand what I am saying when I say this is horrible and, far from promoting the healing survivors need, actually causes additional trauma that compounds an already traumatizing experience. If you are not a survivor; please know this is not radical. This instead perpetuates the structures that already exist within rape culture and instead enables abusers to cast doubt on survivor accounts of abuse.
This created a political shitstorm in Portland and up and down the West Coast. On one hand, feminists and survivors attempted to correct this really shitty replication of patriarchy by insisting that survivor needs came first. On the other, Kristian and his supporters continually politicized rape experiences in order to undermine feminist positions on sexual assault; they theorized about and minimized the importance and inviolable necessity of the safety of survivors’ bodies; they argued for the continued inclusion of abusers in radical circles, even going so far as to attempt to exclude survivors from radical politics in order to preserve the place of abusers within organizational power structures.
For example, the survivor in the Pete Little fracas was intensely and actively campaigned against by Kristian. He personally contacted people all over the US, calling this person a political libability, essentially making them out to be a scandalous individual who wasn’t to be trusted.
This is beyond problematic. Survivors are not political liabilities, their abusers are, and Kristian’s active complicity in painting them as such is despicable.
While all this is going on, people in Portland rallied against Kristian’s position, with groups taking sides. One side places survivors paramount to the discussion of rape; one urges continued dialogue with Kristian to see if middle ground could be found.
Between abusers. And survivors of that abuse. I am not alone in thinking middle ground cannot be found here.
Regardless, dialogue was attempted. Dialogue failed. Kristian has an incredible amount of social capital and used it. He attempted to marginalize and isolate anti-rape voices, trading on the immense respect he has in the radical community. He explicitly used this power to silence people. Dialogue became impossible.
Finally, a couple months ago, he published a piece called “the Politics of Denunciation.” A disingenuous piece, it thoroughly mischaracterized the entire conflict, omitted his underhanded attempts to undermine survivors of sexual abuse, and neglected to mention that this conflict occurred because a friend of his fell on the side of an abuser. It was disgusting. He suggests that we must doubt survivors, that understanding what triggers are is foolish, that placing survivors’ needs paramount to the process of accountability amounts to totalitarianism, and most disgustingly suggests that survivor bodies and experiences are to be politicized, theorized, speculated upon. These are our BODIES. They are not some intellectual’s grad thesis.
I, and many others, do not agree with these underhanded attempts to undermine anti-rape praxis. We recognize that his ability to tear apart radical communities (which has happened, more than one political organization has chewed itself to bits over this controversy) comes because he is accorded privilege; we decided to no longer accord him that privilege. Dialogue has failed; very well, since he cannot in good faith agree to stop silencing survivors and their supporters, we decided to take radical space back. We disrupted his event, and most likely will continue to attempt to take away his power to harm. This was not merely a conflict where we disagree with his politic and therefore act out like spoiled children; we intend to take back space and power that he uses to actively harm. He is hurting people, we choose to foil his ability to do so.
You may not agree with our tactic but frankly, we do not care. These are our bodies, our lives, our souls we are defending from patriarchy. Kristian and his supporters no longer get to dictate how we defend ourselves. We will not be tone-policed, we will not be harassed into silence. I say like I said during that disruption: “We are speaking for ourselves as survivors of sexual abuse. FUCK Kristian Williams and FUCK your attempts to silence us.”