Protest by public humiliation.
The nightmare of the rich and powerful: you come outside your home to see and hear ordinary people decrying you for being a total scum bag. Worse yet, they are passing out flyers to your neighbors, explaining the virtues of your douchebaggery. ¶ The idea of targeting the elites is nothing new: animal rights activists did it in protest against lab experiments, and anti-fascists singled out neo-Nazis. But this past summer, the streets of the Bay Area in California were ablaze with new energy against the gentrification and the displacement caused by the tech industry. Counterforce, a group that targeted Google and tech-company executives for public humiliation in the form of protests, sat down with us in an exclusive interview to talk about their ideas, aims, and the possible end of the group.
In the late 1990s, the Bay Area experienced a dot-com boom which lead to a wave of gentrification in San Francisco and beyond. Why is what is happening with the growth of the tech industry different from before, or worse?
During the first boom, digital technology had not yet achieved its current levels of mass saturation. Those were the days of anarchists smashing computer monitors on the streets of San Francisco, Eugene, and London, believing they could take down the techno-industrial complex with high-profile arsons, riots, poetry, and tree-sits. It is unfortunate that this revolution against capitalism did not spread, as it should have. The radical environmental movement reached its zenith just as the first tech boom reached its own. In November of 1999, environmentalists, unionists, anarchists, and other groups converged on Seattle to protest against the WTO conference. After the police attacked non-violent demonstrators, anarchists dressed in black began smashing the windows of banks, corporate offices, and chain stores, while others spray-painted slogans and smashed ATMS. But there was one tech company that did not get its windows smashed or its facade defaced. Amazon.com, a friendly book company that employed punks and bohemians in its warehouse, was spared the wrath of the anarchists.
Now everything is completely different. Amazon has become a totalitarian corporation bent on off-world colonization, total control of commodities, and absolute automation. It exists alongside Google, Tesla, Facebook, and other corporations that are explicit about their intentions to take over the world.
In the first boom, the new companies were often counter-cultural and espoused radical ideas. Let us not forget the anarchist who helped start Twitter, believing no harm could come from it. Today, there are far less illusions about the benevolence of these corporations, and an anarchist would only work at Facebook in order to sabotage it. These companies have grown far beyond the confines of their start-up intentions, saturating the earth with hundreds of millions of their digital commodities. Android phones battle against iPhones, Microsoft phones battle against Samsung phones, and all the while workers at these smart-phone factories die from leukemia. Everything has changed dramatically since 1999 and the tech companies are now making a final push to make their control total. They want a completely ordered and regulated world controlled by algorithms, where robots have replaced human workers and the population is completely dependent on technology for survival. This ain't no party, this ain't no disco, this ain't no 1999. This is a war and it is very real.
How did Counterforce pick it's targets? Why were certain people targeted and not others?
Different groups picked their targets for different reasons. Anthony Levandowski was chosen because of his role at Google X and the laser technology he is developing for the self-driving car. While the self-driving car is just another curio, the laser technology that enables the car to see impediments will be integrated into the war-robots Google recently purchased from Boston Dynamics. But Levandowski's misdeeds did not stop at the Google office. He was also developing a Berkeley property into unaffordable luxury housing, voting Republican via his Google Glass, and being the worst driver any of us have ever seen. All of this was enough to warrant some intervention.
Kevin Rose, on the other hand, was pointed out to us by two Google employees. Kevin Rose is a partner at Google Ventures with a disgusting past. We were told to have a home demo at his house on a specific day that would be timed to preempt and overshadow a joint Uber/Google promotional event. In their PR stunt, the two companies were to pick up entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley and give their pitch to a partner at Google Ventures. We were told to give Kevin Rose our pitch a few days before the event, so we went to his house and then demanded three billion dollars. This home demo was directly facilitated by Google employees, one of whom is no longer working there.
Counterforce basically went outside of people's homes and held signs and passed out flyers. Why do you think this blew up in such a significant way?
Because we found the pressure points, the weak spots in their narratives, the gaping holes in their logic. By standing in front of their houses and handing out fliers, we were informing the neighborhood and the world that these people are real, that this nightmare world of surveillance and automation has architects and engineers who work diligently, day after day. The media reaction to our simple actions indicates to us that we tapped into something that people want to happen, a rebellion that is only just starting.
Most of the coverage that Counterforce got was in tech blogs, who were bemoaning “the coming insurrection” against tech and the rich. Do you think it was helpful to get your message across through these mediums?
Yes. In war, an army will often drop fliers from airplanes, hoping to scare the civilians under the rule of the opposing army. This coverage could be viewed as that, leaflets scattered into the enemy camp, although we believe our words to be very earnest and sincere, unlike military propaganda.
While Counterforce actions got a lot of media (especially online), other really basic things, like resistance to evictions, did not. Why do you think that is?
Simply because no one was doing these things publicly at the time of our actions. Even during the height of the Occupy movement, the eviction defenses that did happen were never sustained on a massive level. The media grows bored with subjects extremely quickly, and a situation has to escalate continuously in order to maintain media interest. But the media will black out any subject as soon as they are ordered to, and we know this from decades of experience. Counterforce was an attempt to use the media as much as possible, and in all respects constituted nothing more than a shock tactic. We spread a revolutionary message as widely as possible when we had the ability to do so, and it is clear that our analysis is now shared by many others.
More and more, militants (or activists) tend to rely on social media to get their message out. How has this impacted the movement for better or worse?
It has literally cut the legs out from under it. Without social interaction in real life, there will never be a revolution. Many often say that the Arab Spring was a Facebook revolution. But if people used Facebook, it was only to find each other in the streets and fight the police. What is important is not how we get together, it is that we get together face to face and start figuring things out. Facebook allows people to feel connected when they literally are not. As long as militants view social media as a field to inhabit rather than a realm to pillage, they will go nowhere in their efforts.
If Counterforce is over, what do you hope that those that come after you do in the current situation?
It is unclear what the Counterforce is, or if it will return. But we say keep fighting and don't ever stop. If you feel like smashing a Facebook office or slashing the tires of a Google bus, stay free and be quick. If you can contribute in any way to the grander counter-narrative please do so, be that through art, media, squatting, or a land occupation. Do not suffer any indignities from this techno-capitalist society without a fight. There is no reason to walk into a gas chamber, and resistance is possible every day. Get as many people involved as possible and build a world you want to live in, but don't forget to kick out the legs of the old world while you do.
If a large-scale movement against capitalism does not develop in the Bay Area, what do you think the social terrain will look like in 10 years?
We do not have 10 years worth of social terrain if we do not destroy capitalism. We have no doubt that a counterforce will overtake the capitalist economy, and that the tech companies will go down under the weight of their own stupidity, but we also know that we will have to create this counterforce ourselves. Thousands of people are already doing this, but we must organize into a coherent force that articulates a plan of escape for those enmeshed within capitalism. There is no more time to waste, for the earth of for ourselves. If it is not obvious, the global situation is disintegrating on a daily basis. The time is now, so don't wait for it. We have nothing to lose but our chains.