Fire Midtown

If the Anarchists Did Not Exist, We Would Invent Them (Oh, Wait, We Did!)

by Michael R. Allen

In the wake of this week’s fire at the Villas of St. Louis site, many pundits are once again raising the tired claim that local anarchists may be responsible for the fires. (Another equally dubious strand of thought blames labor unions.) No doubt that the fire is an arson, like the fires that plagues job sites in the city last year. However, the notion that local anarchists are responsible for the fire is baseless.

Local anarchists have no history of perpetrating violence, and have so many different opinions about what anarchy looks like that it’s hard to even categorize the self-professed ones together. They are far more likely to hand one a ‘zine on the joys of polyamory than teach the lessons of making a bomb. Certainly some anarchists that I know romanticize violence. After all, the idea of abandoning civil government in its entirety is an indirect endorsement of force and competition. A few local anarchists may have found the arsons last summer warranted because they proved the ham-fisted theory that all private urban development is gentrification. However, beyond one infamous ‘zine and a handful of semi-anonymous comments left on the local Indymedia site, the public anarchist endorsement of the arsons was almost non-existent. Unless one has inside information — and I doubt that the commenters on Urban St. Louis have been to the latest Colibri solstice party — the claim that “the anarchists” endorsed or committed the arsons is reckless.

The St. Louis police department has issued no evidence suggesting that anarchists or other political dissidents were involved in the fire. No anarchists have taken credit for the fires, which is what a shrewd political movement would do after perpetrating a major arson. There is absolutely no public evidence supporting the claims being volleyed online. The worst offense committed by the anarchists is perhaps a facile stance on urban development, but otherwise there is nothing on “them.”

Perhaps there is a bit of romanticizing coming from the accusers. The idea of semi-secret “terrorists in our own midst” who hold fundamentalist (political) beliefs is not a new phenomenon nowadays. Narratives of heroic developers rebuilding a city being plagued by a strange internal enemy would make for good cinema — and good rhetoric for anyone who wants to ascribe to development a moral dimension. As philosopher Slavoj Zizek said in a 1994 interview, “You formulate your identity on the fantasy that the Other is the one who automatically wants to steal from you.”