July 11, 2018
Steve Bannon is confronted in a Virginia bookstore
by Ryan Harrington
Confronting fascists publicly is a key move in the antifascist playbook. In the last few weeks we’ve seen exciting actions like a restaurant refusing service to a propagator of lies, or a mom telling another propagator of lies that he’s endangering her child’s future.
Last weekend, a Richmond, Virginia rare books store, Black Swan Books, became the sight of one such confrontation.
As former White House advisor Steve Bannon perused Black Swan—presumably sniffing out another copy of The Art of War to foist on some hapless mentee—another customer approached him to indicate just what she thought of him.
She thought he was a “piece of trash,” and made a handful of other unflattering comparisons.
There is absolutely no reason to be anything other than unflattering to one of the key architects of the Trump administration’s most xenophobic policies, and a public figure who has published articles such as “Birth Control Makes Women Unattractive and Crazy.” And yet, it was the trash-caller, not the trash, who was asked to leave the store, with the threat of police intervention.
Black Swan owner Nick Cooke explained his reasoning to Tim Dodson at the Richmond Times-Dispatch: “We are a bookshop. Bookshops are all about ideas and tolerating different opinions and not about verbally assaulting somebody, which is what was happening.”
I follow that logic to a certain point. Indeed, bookstores are sacred places for developing and changing ideas. But the point at which that logic breaks down is this very situation we’re discussing.
The idea of politics, as far as I understand, is to organize society and distribute resources among the people that make up said society. If you hold views that hinge on excluding people from that society, or cutting them off from its resources, then those views can’t really be called politics. That is, anti-social ideas like those held by Bannon are not just one voice in the polyphony of American statecraft; they represent an overweaning cacophony, harmful to tons and tons of people, which simply isn’t the goal of government.
So no, someone like Bannon (armed with ideas about how to exclude members of society and the power to make them law), should not expect much peace from those whose lives he has negatively effected.
However one feels about calling the cops, to do it in defense of a white supremacist is not a good look — in fact, it’s a terrifying one. For a far better approach, check out this story, recently shared online by Paris’s Berkeley Books.
Ryan Harrington is a senior editor at Melville House.