Abductions and theft of people have been the sordid and foundational reality for BIPOC within the United States and across the globe.
TW/CW: This article mentions and describes white supremacist abductions, cultural genocide, state violence, and chattel slavery.
As pictures and videos of protests in Portland, Oregon circulated, the fascist inclinations of the United States became further illuminated: unidentified officers, dressed in camouflage, started to abduct protesters into unmarked vehicles.
The abductions quickly moved cross country. The latest documented one transpired July 28 in New York City: a homeless trans woman, Nikki, was kidnapped by four plain clothed NYPD officers in broad daylight, nearly three weeks after she had been featured in a news story about Abolition Park’s Police Free Zone.
In “Fascism and What is Coming,” anti-fascist activist Michael Novick writes, “In general, fascism can best be understood as bringing the methods of imperial rule in the colonies into the metropole.”
Violence has been in perpetual movement from the colony to the metropole, however. Black and Indigenous people have been subjected to fascist violence, since the inception of the United States. The recent wave of abductions is but a nominal part of a vaster legacy of American settler colonialism.
Firstly, abduction and theft were inextricable to slavery. Even as the transatlantic slave trade became disallowed in 1808, the Reverse Underground Railroad worked as its replacement. Free African Americans from the North were kidnapped and trafficked to the South, forcibly committed or re-committed to a life of cruelty and coerced labor on cotton and sugar plantations in order to meet the production needs of newly arrived American settlers.
The cultural genocide of Native Americans, since the start of American settler colonialism, is also predicated on the same kind of abduction and theft.
In an 1892 speech held at the George Mason University, Captain Richard H. Pratt suggested, “A great general has said that the only good Indian is a dead one…In a sense, I agree with the sentiment, but only in this: that all the Indian there is in the race should be dead. Kill the Indian in him, and save the man.”
“Kill the Indian, and save the man” served as the primary motivation behind the proliferation of Native American boarding schools in the late nineteenth century, the first of which was founded by Pratt in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. Off-reservation, Native American boarding schools and the cultural genocide that they enabled would not have been possible without the American government’s abduction and subsequent separation of Indigenous children from their families — effectively severing a child’s connection to both family and land.
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As support for boarding schools dwindled, adoption quickly assumed its agenda. Native American children were “acquired” via the Indian Adoption Project from 1958 to 1964, siphoned (without consent) to the custody of child welfare services and placed in white household after household.
In more recent years, America’s desire to abduct and to steal has been actualized in the “zero tolerance” approach and the resultant “family separation policy” to undocumented immigration, conducted by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE).
A neutral name like “family separation” works to subdue the barbarity of government sanctioned abduction. A total of 5,500 children have been “forcibly separated” from their parents, as of October 2019 but beginning in July 2017. Forcible separation is not only abduction but also “a precursor to the development of genocidal ideologies and policies in the long-term”; many children have yet to be reunited with their families.
At the moment, the police have undertaken the role of abductors. But, this is a role that they not only historically assumed, but were designed and intended for. Police forces are a present day iteration of slave patrols, where escaped slaves were re-captured and returned to slavers. The police exact bloodshed and violence on communities of color everyday.
It is important to note that American imperialism has also exacted bloodshed and violence outside of its nation-state borders. What has transpired in the past month within the United States contains ghastly similarities to American empire-endorsed tactics of political repression abroad. For example, Operation Condor, which successfully destabilized half of South America, was spearheaded by the CIA. “Disappearings” were central to the terror instilled by the regimes of Videla in Argentina, Pinochet in Chile, and more.
The recent wave of abductions have been reported with a trace of exceptionalism. That “normal,” day to day life in the United States does not involve abductions, so what has materialized first in Portland and then in New York City are exceptions to the rule. But, Ferguson, MO and the number of Black activists that died (killed) in mysterious conditions afterward demonstrate that we do not need to look so far back to observe America’s proclivity for the abduction and theft of people as a means to disrupt collective organization.
Here, it is important to speak of Hannah Arendt and her remarks in On Violence. She elaborates a foremost anxiety of Great Britain, at the height of its empire: “…rule by violence in faraway lands would end by affecting the government of England, that the last ‘subject race’ would be the English themselves.” In relation to the United States, the exception, therefore, is not abduction but that the “‘subject race’” is finally the white American.
Novick also writes, “The fundamental basis of white privilege is that white working people are spared such fascist methods of rule so long as they remain loyal.” White people now compose the abducted, because some have started to demonstrate disloyalty to the American empire. But, abduction and theft have been the sordid reality for non-white people within the US and non-Americans. Their disloyalty to the American empire has often proved to be fatal.
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