It is easy to laugh at the young people who have built the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone (CHAZ) in Seattle. A group of anarchists and leftists collected in Capitol Hill, known for its hipster and LGBT scenes, they have barricaded themselves into a small area and established an anarchic intentional community, modeled, perhaps, on the work of Hakim Bey — known for his endorsement of ‘temporary autonomous zones’. Bey is also known because of unfortunate links to the pederast group the North American Man/Boy Love Association, but let’s leave that aside for now.
Seattle’s aspiring revolutionaries had only just announced the creation of CHAZ, as a place in which progressives can live free of corporate consumerism and police violence, when a local rapper-cum-warlord named Raz Simone began stalking the place with an armed militia. ‘Raz needs to go seriously,’ announces the opening post on a thread of the Capital Hill Autonomous Zone subreddit, instantly raising the difficult question of how communities which spurn the concept of policing can deal with troublesome members.
Conservatives are very agitated about the existence of CHAZ. Donald Trump has tweeted:
‘Radical Left Governor @JayInslee and the Mayor of Seattle are being taunted and played at a level that our great Country has never seen before. Take back your city NOW. If you don’t do it, I will. This is not a game. These ugly Anarchists must be stooped IMMEDIATELY. MOVE FAST!’
Tucker Carlson, whom I admire very much, has wondered how Seattle authorities have been ‘so weak’ as to let this happen.
That is a good question, but now that it has happened I believe that the state and federal authorities should leave them alone. If people are being raped and killed in CHAZ then the officials will have to get involved, of course, but otherwise they should be left to their own devices.
First, the US state has a bad record of dealing with the intentional communities. In Philadelphia, in 1985, the police took the unusual step of dropping bombs on the headquarters of the black liberation group MOVE. These were minor bombs, targeting the roof, but started fires which killed 11 people, including five children. The FBI and ATF attempted to shut down the Branch Davidian in Waco in 1993, and, after a standoff, tried to assault their compound. Dozens of people, including many children, died. These events suggest at least that the authorities, having been so useless as to let CHAZ be established, should watch their step.
Secondly, for radical leftists to establish their own territory is, frankly, refreshing. For years they have been insisting that the culture, communities, education, religious beliefs et cetera of their fellow citizens be transformed in accordance with their own idiosyncratic ideas. Everyone has had to conform with their progressive beliefs. The CHAZers? They aren’t trying to reshape America. They are trying to build a place of their own. How is that not preferable?
This might sound dismissive — and I suppose it is — but you have to admire the CHAZes just a little. There is nothing cowardly or underhanded about what they have done. It takes guts to take on the state and federal authorities in such a direct and ambitious manner, and for all I think that their beliefs are comically preposterous I would have to have no trace of romance in my soul not to find it somewhat endearing. These kids have heard for years that their generation is soft, weak and helpless, and they are determined to prove stereotypes wrong.
Of course, I think CHAZ will be an embarrassing failure. I suspect it will collapse in a heap of shortages, grievances and recriminations, with these poor kids slinking back into polite society. The very fact that when they should be establishing infrastructure they have been watching countercultural documentaries suggests that little planning has gone into how to feed, house, clean and order these poor CHAZes in the long-term. If it all collapses of its own accord, then a lot of radical progressives are going to have a tough, useful lesson in the value of civilized institutions.
But if the government lifts a finger to disrupt CHAZian life, a leftist martyr narrative will spring into existence. Every time you talk about some left-wing failure, you hear about how it would have been a magnificent success if it had not been for meddling capitalists. Revolutionary Catalonia would still exist today if it were not for et cetera. The moment a police officer slides his big toe into CHAZ, never mind the moment that armed units march into the area, we will begin to hear about the thriving, peaceful, prosperous community it could have been. It will go down as the Paris Commune of our time, if with extra art-making facilities.
Of course, while I think the authorities should leave CHAZ alone that does not mean it has to listen to their demands. The CHAZians are insisting on the ‘de-gentrification’ of Seattle (whatever that means), the abolition of the Seattle Police Department and, most comically, the ‘retrial of all People in Color currently serving a prison sentence for violent crime, by a jury of their peers in their community’. What peers? And why do only ‘People of Color’ deserve retrials?
I suppose it is beside the point to ask. The CHAZians do not have the right to have their ridiculous demands be respected merely by virtue of occupying territory which is not their own. But let them stay there for a while. At the very least we should get an interesting documentary out if it. You thought Fyre Festival was crazy? Baby, you haven’t seen anything yet.