By Rural Organizing Project
Challenging those who use threats and intimidation as a tactic to silence opposition is a frightening proposition. However, we know that if these tactics successfully shut down political opposition, then paramilitaries and other Hard Right groups will keep using threats and intimidation any time they run into people who disagree with them. We don’t just need to be courageous; we need to be smart.
At the Rural Organizing Project, we have learned to think about security as an intrinsic part of organizing. Doing the work we do in small towns and rural communities, where anonymity simply is not an option, we need to be strategic about how we keep ourselves and our neighbors safe. We recommend creating a culture of safety and security within organizing and community spaces, making the conversation about how we are protecting ourselves and each other a priority.
One of the greatest safety measures can be to shine a light on bad behavior. During the occupation Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, the Patriot movement was locally discredited when the community got together and shared the threats and intimidating actions taken by out-of-town Patriots against law enforcement, faith leaders, federal employees, and folks who spoke out.
Many of the communities we work in have law enforcement that sympathizes with us, but simply may not have the resources to respond. It is often up to us to take inventory and use our own resources (like people and cellphone cameras) to create security and safety. In the movements that have made the biggest impact in history, such as like the Civil Rights movement, people have taken care of each other and sought to keep each other safe. We can do that too.
This section includes some basic tools and resources for creating a culture of safety and security in your local organizing, including:
- Event Security and Safety
- Personal and Community Safety
- Ground Rules and Tips for Challenging the Right by PRA
Event Security and Safety
When organizing an event, it is critical to analyze the environment in which you are organizing. Take the temperature of your community and plan accordingly. If Patriot movement supporters are angry, some may be looking for a place to act that out. Even in calmer moments, we should intentionally organize security to ensure that worst-case scenarios will be handled quickly. Remember: the most important thing is to make decisions to keep everyone safe.
Be clear on your flyers, press releases, and posters promoting your event that it is meant to be peaceful. This framing from the start helps send a community-wide message about what your event is about and who is participating. Let participants and the public know that the event is for neighbors and community members who care, and use a message and values that promote the vision you would like to see for your community. That doesn’t mean you won’t have people looking for a place to take out their anger, but it does help set the stage so that anyone trying to disrupt the event will look bad.
Event Security Planning
- Call local law enforcement and let them know about the action. If possible, communicate with any law enforcement that you have a previous or good relationship with. Ask for a direct number to call if there are any confrontations. Assign one person to be in charge of this phone number. They are to call the number if:
- Protesters are obstructing your event or movement to or within the event.
- Protesters surround or block anyone at the event.
- Protesters verbally or physically threaten anyone.
- Build your local security team. Ask folks to be security who are calm, good at de-escalation, and committed to keeping everyone calm and safe. People who want to engage with protesters (either for a conversation or to debate) are not the right choice. If you do not have people who have experience in security, that is okay; ask folks who have the above qualities and who can make decisions on the spot. These people should not be the event organizers or be playing any other role in the event.
- Set up a security meeting ahead of time. Come up with your plan, talk through roles and scenarios, and exchange cell phone numbers so you can reach each other before, during, and after the event. Here are some roles and considerations:
- Have at least two people who can focus on keeping eyes open at all times for any protesters or anyone lurking about. These people should visibly move between the protesters and your vigil, never turning away from protesters, even if it means their backs are to the event. Stay at least a yard away from any threatening people. Keep your hands up in a ready, but in a nonthreatening way. Do not argue or debate. Do have a few catch phrases pre-programmed, such as, “I think I understand how you feel, but this is not the place,” and “We are just going to keep things peaceful here.” Thinking up stock phrases beforehand relieves you from having to think and debate at the time, and allows you to stay focused on keeping the crowd safe.
- The ideal situation is to have a few people who are obviously providing security and a few security folks who blend in with the group. In Harney County, a crew of folks with large signs walked back and forth between the militia and the community members, creating a barrier, while others were dispersed throughout the crowd.
- We have had people followed when leaving events. If you are able, designate a public meet-up spot after your event, like a restaurant. Have a few security team members plan to be there for an hour afterward. Let people know this location and that they can go there if they feel they are being followed.
- Have one person assigned to photograph protesters and their vehicle’s license plates in an unobtrusive way.
- Call the local media and then make it known that news cameras will be there. People are less likely to act disrespectfully if they will be recorded. Make sure you have a couple of people ready to talk to reporters. If reporters want to do interviews near the protesters, invite them to move to another space.
During the Event
Have security people and/or the MC tell everyone to absolutely not engage with protesters or people looking for a confrontation. Do not talk to them. Do not shout at them. If they try to talk to you, just walk away or say, “I will not engage. Please stop talking to me.” Stay focused on your own event.
If your rally or vigil features speakers, coach them ahead of time not to stop if protesters are trying to disrupt or interrupt. Otherwise, the disrupters are rewarded and will continue. This is a situation where security’s role of keeping the protesters separated from the event is key.
After the Event
Debrief with your security team. What went well? What could be done better? If your event went without a hitch, congratulations! But do not think your security preparations were too elaborate. We have seen the presence of security deter the protesters all together.
Personal and Community Safety
We have seen ordinary people harassed because they were perceived as a political opponent to the Patriot movement. The aim of threats, acts of intimidation, and harassment is to isolate the person who is speaking out. We cannot allow that to happen. A community of people who care can keep each other safe and supported. That is key. If you or one of your group members is facing backlash for showing up for your community, these tips can help you and your neighbors respond.
The most important lesson we can convey is to build community. Build a network of people to rally around each other and take care of each other. If you are not the one facing backlash, your time and support is invaluable. Be proactive and offer up these ideas. Decide what you can take a lead on and offer to do it.
- Document, document, document. Everyone should document anything strange, creepy, or threatening. Documentation allows you to go back and look for patterns, and potentially provide law enforcement with a more complete picture. It is okay to wonder if you are being overly paranoid, but it is better to document too much instead of too little.
- Keep a notebook, pen, and phone with you throughout the day.
- Keep a threat log that includes date, time, context of the threat, and any details you can remember.
- Keep emails, use your cell phone to take photos of license plates and people, write down descriptions of everyone you think is involved, and use the voice recorder on your cell phone to record any verbal interactions.
- Talk to the neighbors. Neighbors know to keep an eye out on vehicles going up and down the driveway. Create a list of most trusted neighbors and start there, asking them to keep an eye out and report any strange activity. You and your neighbors might not be at all aligned politically, but they will probably not want someone to do something threatening near their home.
- Create a phone tree. Ask neighbors and friends to join so you can reach people quickly in case of any emergencies or moments when you’d need them to rally. Create a plan for how it is activated and what happens when it is activated. You want a procedure in place so when they receive a call for help, they can jump into action immediately. You can also use a group text or a phone app like Celly or Cell411.
- Prepare for rapid response. Anyone who is expected to respond quickly should plan ahead. If you might need to jump in the car in the middle of the night, you should have your boots and jacket by the door, ready to go. Put together a kit that stays in your car in those situations. Consider packing: bright flashlights, a camera, something that makes a loud noise such as an air horn or a whistle, a charger for your cell phone, and a change of clothes in case you stay over.
- Schedule home visits that would appear random to anyone watching. This sends the message that this person is valued and connected to a larger community.
- Schedule coffee dates. Sitting down daily to talk about what’s going on can significantly reduce the isolation one feels when being targeted. Folks who are invited over for coffee and tea should be the kind of people who can take a hint when it’s time to go.
- Overnight guests can give peace of mind. If things escalate, or if the person targeted is having trouble sleeping, offer to take overnight shifts at their house so they can rest soundly knowing someone is up and paying attention.
- Reach out to friendly law enforcement now, if you/they are comfortable with it. Even if it is a conversation with a retired law enforcement officer who you are friends with, get it on their radar. State Troopers may be the most effective agency to talk to because they interface most directly with federal agencies who have recently reprioritized White nationalists as a domestic terror threat.
- Expose threats and intimidation. The folks of Harney County were mercilessly harassed (followed, threatened) for months until these actions were exposed publicly. Intimidation is clearly a tactic in the Patriot movement playbook, and exposure is a tactic in ours. The moment things get to the point of threats or other acts of intimidation, go public. Silence enables and seems to encourage them—it makes them think what they’re doing is working. Don’t give them the satisfaction.
- Start monitoring the local Patriot movement activity. Do you have friends who can go to the meetings in town and report back? Can someone track the conversations happening on social media?
- Set up a work party to secure homes and property of group members. We have learned that simple but visible actions can deter harassment, such as putting up “No Trespassing” signs and setting up motion-activated lights around all doors and where cars are parked. Make sure you have good door and window locks. If you have a rural property, set up a gate and routinely lock it at night. Make it inconvenient to go around the gate, using barbed wire or other natural obstructions.
- Take a self-defense class as a group. Many self-defense courses are fun as well as empowering. Get together with your group, talk through the scenarios you’d like to practice responding to, and work through those scenarios with the self-defense instructor.
- Finally, and critically: ask the person experiencing backlash what they need. Do they need groceries and can’t get to the store? Do they take pride in their home, but haven’t found time to tidy up? Has it been a few days since they ate a hot, home-cooked meal? This is a really important way folks can support each other and keep morale up.
Ground Rules and Tips for Challenging the Right By Political Research Associates
Do Your Homework
Recognize that the Right is a complex movement.
No one organization “controls” the Right. No single funder is “behind” the Right. Some large organizations are important, but many others appear to be more influential than they really are. Recognize that there are multiple networks of organizations and funders with differing and sometimes competing agendas. Find out as much as you can about the groups you see. Incorporate this information in your educational work. It is helpful in organizing to know a great deal about your opponents. Be alert to evidence of the Right’s “new racism.” The Right has replaced simple racist rhetoric with a more complex, “colorblind” political agenda which actually attacks the rights of people of color. See the Resources sections of this kit for some assistance in your research.
Decode the Right’s agenda on your issue.
The Right often attempts to pass laws that take rights away from groups or individuals. Under the guise of addressing some compelling societal need, they often frame the issue by appealing to prejudice, myth, irrational belief, inaccurate information, pseudoscience, or sometimes even by using outright lies. Further, right-wing organizers often appropriate the rhetoric of the Civil Rights and civil liberties movements to portray themselves as victims of discrimination. Actually, they most often are seeking to undermine the existing protection of individual rights, increase their freedom to accumulate profit, and undermine the wall of separation between church and state.
Be careful to respect people’s right to hold opinions and religious beliefs that you may find offensive.
Everyone has an absolute right to seek redress of their grievances. This is equally true when those grievances are based on religious beliefs. In an open and democratic society, it is important to listen to the grievances of all members of society and take them seriously, even when we might be vehemently opposed to them. They do not, however, have a right to impose those beliefs on others.
Distinguish between leaders and followers in right-wing organizations.
Leaders are often “professional” right-wingers. They’ve made a career of promoting a rightist agenda and attacking progressives and progressive issues. Followers, on the other hand, may not be well-informed. They are often mobilized by fears about family and future based on information that, if true, would indeed be frightening. This so-called “education” is often skillful, deceitful, and convincing. These followers may take positions that are more extreme than those of the leaders, but on the other hand, they may not know exactly what they are supporting by attending a certain organization’s rally or conference. To critique and expose the leaders of right-wing organizations is the work of a good progressive organizers, writers, and activists. In the case of the followers, however, it is important to reserve judgment and listen to their grievances. Do not assume that they are all sophisticated political agents or have access to a variety of information sources.
Rebut, Rebuke, Reaffirm.
It’s important to remember that while the tactics of the Right may be obvious to you, they are not necessarily obvious to others, even though they might be part of the political process. The ways in which the Right distorts and misleads the public must be carefully explained. Use a three-step process. 1) Rebut false and inaccurate claims. 2) Rebuke those who use scapegoating or demagoguery. 3) Reaffirm what a progressive goal or agenda would accomplish for the betterment of society.
Stay Cool in Public
Use the opportunity of public forums to present your position.
Approach any public event as a chance to state your case. Come fully prepared to explain why you are right. Although your audience may be unfriendly, remember that you are often an invited guest at such events. Audience members are expecting you to represent your group, even though they may not expect to agree with you. Your task is to convince these listeners, not the representatives of the Right who may be your debating opponents or fellow panelists. Do so using short, clear sentences, not long, abstract paragraphs. Many audience members are your potential supporters, available to join your ranks. Provide them with reasons and ways to do so.
Common tactics of the Right include distorting the truth and manipulating facts and figures in order to deceive the public. You can often expose false charges and baseless claims by demanding that their sources be cited. The leadership of an organization can and must be held fully responsible for every spoken or written word that comes from him or her or the organization they represent. If you are thoroughly prepared, you will know the weaknesses of these sources and be able to refute them publicly. At the same time be prepared to document your sources in order to maintain your credibility.
Address the issues, not just the actors.
Try to avoid personalizing the debate or focusing entirely on the presentation by the Right’s representative. Take time to clarify what the real issues are, what tactics are being used, why these issues are important to the Right and what the implications of the debate might be.
Criticize the outcomes, not the intent, of the Right’s agenda.
If you focus only on exposing the purpose of a particular campaign, you may find yourself locked in a circular argument about who knows better what the Right seeks to accomplish. It may be more productive to look at the implications of the issues at hand and to explain that the logical outcome of adopting your opponent’s position will be a serious threat to the goals of your group.
Avoid slogans, name calling, and demonizing members of the Right.
Slogans and sound bites have their place, but they are not sufficient as an organizing strategy. Simple anti-Right slogans do not help people understand why the Right sounds convincing but is wrong. And responding in kind to being called names weakens your position with some of the listeners you are trying to convince. Phrases like “religious political extremists” are labels, not arguments, and often will backfire on the neighborhood and community level.
Expose who benefits from right-wing campaigns.
One of the most common ways the Right advances its policies is to argue that they will benefit the “average” person, though that most often is not the case. It helps in exposing this deception to point out who actually stands to benefit and who stands to lose from the policy being proposed. Exploring whose self-interest is served can help organizers as they seek a clearer picture of the forces behind a particular campaign. Sometimes, the greatest beneficiaries of a right-wing campaign are the organizations conducting it. Campaigns are recruitment tools. So if potential new members can be reached by a certain position, that is sometimes in and of itself the reason the campaign is mounted.
Keep your supporters informed.
Signing up supporters is a good start, but your job includes keeping your supporters well informed. Often the Right will switch tactics or redirect its energy. If you are in the middle of an attack, these changes may be puzzling. Keep in mind that the deep agenda of the Right remains unchanged despite these apparent shifts. Persist in explaining this to your colleagues.
Involve clergy and other respected community members in your organizing.
Since so much of the Right’s rhetoric has been influenced by the Religious Right, progressive, faith-based organizations and their representatives have great potential for increasing your chances for successful organizing. Sympathetic religious leaders can present an alternative interpretation of scripture and often have access to large congregations who may be interested in your work.
Change takes time. Your organizing today is laying the groundwork for tomorrow’s successes. Patience, optimism, and a sense of humor are key ingredients in opposing the Right.