Last weekend The Griffin bar in L.A. was home to a “hate meetup” for the Proud Boys, a group of self-proclaimed “Western chauvinists” created by VICE co-founder Gavin McInnes. As reported by the L.A. Times, when word spread that the Proud Boys planned to congregate at The Griffin — first through texts and then across social media — a group of leftist protesters led by comedian Josh Androsky came to the bar.
Upon their arrival, Androsky and his peers intended to ask the staff to make the Proud Boys leave, according to the L.A. Times. But when a bartender denied their request, not much of a plan remained other than their desire to call out the Proud Boys and be allies for the people of color in the establishment. Eventually, chaos ensued — with Androsky’s girlfriend, Madison McCabe, being pushed to the ground by a Proud Boy when she tried to prevent him from approaching Androsky. “In retaliation,” Androsky took off the Proud Boy’s Make America Great Again hat and threw it outside. (Luckily, no one was injured.)
While there’s no doubt Androsky and friends were well-intentioned in intervening, it’s clear that most “well-meaning” white people are clueless about how to deal with these kinds of situations — something writer Molly Lambert, who was also in attendance at The Griffin that night, wrote about on Twitter the next day:
In a lot of ways, the solution seems more obvious in the big picture — there’s voting, volunteering and donating money. But as for taking action in the moment itself: What should white people who oppose the values of the Proud Boys and countless other alt-right organizations do when such groups infiltrate our neighborhoods/communities?
As a point of reference, The Griffin is located in the hipster enclave of Los Feliz/Atwater Village, where seemingly the bluest of blue state beliefs reign supreme. Or in the words of one Yelp commenter, “I was at The Griffin the other day and was surprised to come across a white supremacist meeting at this place. Given that this city is quite progressive, I was shocked that the owners thought things would end well for them.” (The Yelp reviews give a good sense of what happened that evening; the ownership offered the following statement on Instagram and threw a subsequent benefit last Wednesday, where all proceeds were given to the Southern Poverty Law Center — many of the Yelp commenters, however, weren’t buying ownerships apology/version of events.)
For answers on how to take appropriate action in such moments — and not make things worse or further endanger the safety of those these hate groups focus their ire upon — I consulted a few different chapters of the anti-racist organization Showing Up For Racial Justice (SURJ) and its affiliate groups, Coyote Rhode Island and the ACLU. Here’s what they suggest…
Focus your attention on the target of the hate, NOT the harassers.
The L.A. Times says Androsky began telling some Proud Boys to take off their hats when he noticed them circling around a few people of color celebrating a birthday. The scuffle with McCabe happened not long after. (Same for the follow-up skirmish over the MAGA hat.) That’s why most experts suggest focusing entirely on the target (i.e., the people celebrating the birthday) instead of the harassers (i.e., the Proud Boys).
More specifically, try to position yourself between the harassers and their targets. Can you sit at a table or stand in between the two parties? Or better yet, go over, introduce yourself and join them. This will visibly indicate your solidarity and could shield them physically. “Check in and let them know that you see what’s going on and that they have your support,” says Stephanie Ballard of SURJ. If you’re in a group, ask another white person to keep a lookout on the perimeter of the space to keep an eye on other developments or threats.
As suggested by the Louisville chapter of SURJ, “Do not touch anyone. Be aware of the stakes involved. Keep your body language calm.” And obviously, let the manager of the establishment know why you believe it’s unsafe and inappropriate to condone such a meeting.
Generally speaking, spend more time calling people in rather than out, the guiding principle being that your time is better spent attempting to capture the hearts and minds of moderates than it is arguing with extremists. Basically, amid a heated situation, your willingness to support targets is likely to make more of an impact than debating a harasser.
Whatever you do, try to make sure it doesn’t involve calling the cops.
Instead, SURJ recommends reporting incidents such as the one at The Griffin to organizations like the Southern Poverty Law Center and the ACLU. Because, as we’ve seen a lot in the news recently: “Way too often, white people call the cops on [people of color] over petty shit,” says Bella Robinson, a community organizer and the executive director of Coyote RI, a group that’s part of Alliance to Mobilize Our Resistance. “And we know that when the cops come to our neighborhoods, a civilian is likely to die.”
Similarly, as my colleague Miles Klee wrote back in May, “You’re bringing officers into situations where they aren’t needed just to feel that their powers are yours, too — that they will always be on your side, grateful for your support and eager to hear your grievances. You want to help them oppress and punish and be thanked in kind for your vigilance.”
And again, many times, simply introducing yourself is all it takes to clear up a misunderstanding. “If your neighbor is having a party and the noise is bothering you, go over and talk to them,” advises Coyote RI. (It’s among the many things it suggests you do instead of calling the police in such situations.) “Getting to know your neighbors with community events like monthly block parties is a good way to make asking them to quiet down a little less uncomfortable, or to find another neighbor who is willing to do so.”
If the cops do show up, have your iPhone at the ready.
Record any situations of police brutality and unethical policing and take specific notes of everything you see or hear. (Don’t, however, share these recordings or notes online without receiving the consent of the person being arrested, or their families.) Encourage others to do the same, amplifying the number of witnesses. The ACLU’s Mobile Justice app allows you to record situations and directly submit them to your local ACLU chapter. It also provides a “Know Your Rights” section in case you want to double-check what you’re legally allowed to do. For instance: It’s common for police officers to demand witnesses to stop recording, but you don’t have to follow this order.
“Taking photographs and video of things that are plainly visible in public spaces is a constitutional right — and that includes police and other government officials carrying out their duties,” the ACLU explains on its website. “The right of citizens to record the police is a critical check and balance. It creates an independent record of what took place in a particular incident, free from accusations of bias, lying or faulty memory. It is no accident that some of the most high-profile cases of police misconduct have involved video and audio records.”
Report the incident to your local civilian review board, an entity that oversees police behavior and begins reviewing cases by having non-officers do the initial fact-finding. These organizations function to serve citizens more so than the police force, meaning they give citizens somewhere to go to safely complain about the police. According to NPR, there are more than 200 civilian review boards in the U.S. If you live in a major city, you should be able to find your local civilian review board through a simple Google search. If not, call or email the National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement.
Get loud with ICE.
This wasn’t necessarily the case with The Griffin, but threats of calling ICE on Latino and Muslims are seemingly becoming as frequent as 9–1–1 calls on African Americans. Like, remember this asshole who was pissed that workers were speaking Spanish to him instead of English when he was ordering coffee: “Your staff is speaking Spanish to your customers when they should be speaking English,” he lectured. “I will be following up, and my guess is they’re not documented, so my next call is to ICE to have each one of them kicked out of my country…”
“The most important acts of resistance are the small ones,” suggests Robinson. “[ICE agents] are counting on citizens to turn a blind eye and allow them to deport undocumented citizens without challenge. Disabuse [them] of that notion. … If you see anyone being held up by immigration, loudly ask if they are being detained and if they are free to go. GET LOUD. YELL. YELL IN SPANISH IF YOU KNOW IT. LET PEOPLE KNOW THEY DON’T HAVE TO SAY SHIT. MAKE ICE UNCOMFORTABLE.”
“Let everyone know that they have the right to remain silent or only answer questions in the presence of an attorney, no matter their citizenship or immigration status,” she adds.
Most of all, call in more support. The Los Angeles Rapid Response Network, for example, is “a network of volunteer lawyers and community organizers who stand ready to respond to immigration raids and increased enforcement affecting Los Angeles County and beyond.”
Like Robinson says, these are all small things. But in the moment, they’re the biggest — and most effective — actions you can take.