Truth, Lies, and Will Van Spronsen

I have lost track of the number of times in the past few days that I have been told by openly fascist YouTube viewers that I deserve a bullet in my head for writing my most recent song.

It’s been a pretty busy week. It’s always a busy week when you have a small child, much more so if you have two of them. And then along with my wife and teenage daughter I’ve been attempting to keep a small cafe going, with all the multitude of little tasks this entails for all of us, it becomes much busier. So this four-day visit to Sweden on my own that I’m currently in the midst of, although it involves two five-hour drives and two concerts, actually feels like a vacation.

My two days in between gigs here at an all-ages communist summer camp north of Gothenburg have allowed me a little time not only to spend an evening puttering around the fjord in a boat with my friend Bo, a retired dockworker and dedicated red from Gothenburg, and to hang out with a great bunch of Swedish bluegrass musicians, one of whom writes for the communist newspaper, Proletarian (interview with me coming up in the next edition), but to catch up on the death threats on YouTube.

Nobody here talks about it, at least no one has brought it up with me, but the massacre in Norway occurred at a left wing summer camp very much like this one, only a few hundred kilometers away, only eight years ago. I was in Oslo only a couple weeks after that, and I wrote a song about it. Probably because I named the song after the killer, the video got seen by a lot of the killer’s fans who had been searching online for other like-minded people, and they were horrified by the content of the song, once they discovered it was not in support of mass murder, and there were many comments from people who made it clear they thought I and all others like me should meet the same fate as all those people on the island of Utoya.

So something about being at another left wing summer camp in Scandinavia and receiving multiple death threats on YouTube is unnerving. But, of course, they’re not really death threats. Or are they? That I deserve a bullet in my head is the popular refrain among a certain crowd. This is the preferred imagery of the week, as opposed to a gas chamber or a firing squad, because of what happened last weekend, and the song I wrote about it.

In the scheme of things, the song is pretty irrelevant to the overall debate, having been heard by not more than a few thousand people. But it’s enough of a sample to glean a few things from, anyway.

It began when I saw an Associated Press report about a man being killed outside of an ICE detention center in Tacoma, Washington. Hours after I saw this report, I started getting messages from friends, acquaintances and comrades of the deceased from Washington State, mostly saying they didn’t know exactly what happened, but that the police report was probably inaccurate, as they often are. Several people wrote to tell me I needed to write a song about what happened, and others just tagged me on Twitter, saying that they expected I’d be writing one soon.

I had already been working on the song after reading the AP report, or at least working on the initial stages in the process, which in this case is the same basic process as for journalists, gathering more information. I found and read Will Van Spronsen’s moving statement that he sent to friends before he did what he did, and I listened to much of his music, as he was, I learned, a songwriter. His last album was recorded at the studio of a mutual friend in Olympia.

I’m sure I was in the same place at the same time as Will on multiple occasions over the course of decades, but I don’t recall whether we ever had a conversation. We had many of the same friends, acquaintances, and colleagues. What Will did was what so many anti-fascists over the generations have talked about doing, and that many have also, in fact, done, in so many different scenarios, such as in and around Germany during the Third Reich. He may have had multiple reasons for doing what he did aside from the obvious one, but that doesn’t matter. What he did was he sacrificed his life in order to at least symbolically throw his body into the gears of the machine, to maybe stop it from running for at least a few minutes. His intent seems clearly to have been to destroy as many buses as possible before he would be killed. The buses were those used to deport unwanted refugees. Many of these refugees, as we all should know, will be deported to their deaths, as have so many others, since they were actually fleeing in many cases because they found themselves on a hit list of one sort or another, in their native countries.

These sorts of deportations are happening all the time, of course, but what was a bit different about last weekend was Trump’s announcement of the raids. We all knew they were coming, and Will acted one day before they were to commence (if ICE had followed through with their plans as announced).

I am personally not about to go do something like what Will did last weekend, for a whole lot of different reasons. But it’s obvious that the action he took falls into the category of an attempt to sabotage the machinery of deportation, at least temporarily. The consequences of this kind of sabotage are often death. Such as when Dutch munitions workers left the gunpowder out of the bullets that were going to the front lines of the Nazi war effort in Russia. They were all deported to death camps once their righteous act of sabotage was discovered. I’m sure these Dutch workers were also called terrorists – it was a popular term back then, too, because the western media had coined the phrase “the Nazi Terror” at the time, to describe the atmosphere of fear that Nazi rule had instilled in anyone who wasn’t a rabid supporter of fascism.

Of course, there were many rabid supporters of fascism back then, too. Many people who thought those munition workers were, in fact, terrorists who should be sent to death camps for their crimes. If munitions workers in the US sabotaged things at Honeywell like that and US soldiers ended up dying in Afghanistan as a result, you can be sure there would be many people saying the same sorts of things, and the workers might even meet a similar fate – if not death camps, probably death row. But, of course, the US isn’t Nazi Germany. Or is it?

“Send her back,” chant the crowds. Pretty much exactly the same chant from the fascist throngs across America that Nazis like Charles Lindbergh and Henry Ford spoke to, saying exactly the same things, at a time when my own European relatives were being prevented from coming to the US by xenophobic laws aimed specifically at eastern and southern Europeans – the undesirable Europeans. Xenophobic laws passed and enforced over decades mainly by Democrats, incidentally.

We are rapidly moving towards an overtly fascist state. If Trump is elected again, perhaps it’s time to get the family out while there’s still the chance. But I think it’s so important to recognize that the reason we are in this situation is because of generations of mis-rule by both parties, generations of corruption, generations of the basic needs of the people being ignored or used for political games, without ever being addressed. And now a whole generation that is poorer and dying younger than their parents, a skyrocketing housing crisis to add to so many other very real crises.

Part of the mis-rule has been in the form of mis-education, or what the Marxists call false consciousness. That the Trump supporters believe Will Van Spronsen was a terrorist and that I should also be killed for being an anti-fascist, along with all other anti-fascists, doesn’t come from nowhere. It comes from people who have been told, for generations, by not just the right wing media but by the mainstream media and by their teachers in school and in so many other ways, that America is a welcoming land for immigrants, the land of opportunity, if people play by the rules they can achieve anything, and those who don’t play by the rules deserve to be punished and they’re up to no good. We are never told about refugees or about the consequences of our country’s foreign policy. In fact, we are consistently lied to from most quarters, told our country helps other countries around the world with its foreign aid and its foreign wars, and we’re generally not appreciated for it. Why they chant “death to America” all over the world every day is never explained. The sources of the resentment are never made clear, but a smokescreen of nonsense about people resenting our supposed prosperity, freedom and democracy is on constant display, coming from both parties’ incessantly flag-waving leaderships, and most corners of the media and educational systems, public and private.

A friend once said in his opinion, ten minutes of truth can counteract 24 hours of lies. I believe that that ratio is accurate. But ten minutes of truth cannot counteract 48 hours of lies. The ratio needs to be there, it’s not magic, truth isn’t infinitely more powerful than lies. It’s much, much more powerful, but not infinitely. Reading one book by Howard Zinn can cure an entire year of mis-education in high school, but to cure you of another year of it, you still have to read yet more books, to continually seek out knowledge, or you will fall victim to the constant disinformation campaigns we are all being assaulted by on a daily basis, from so many corners that it can be very overwhelming and confusing for a whole lot of people.

I remain convinced that most of these people who say I should have a bullet in my head are not bad people, but are victims of generations of misinformation, bad education, and propaganda. They seem to think I’m a Democrat, for Pete’s sake. They don’t know the difference between Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and Fidel Castro, and most of them, in addition to being profoundly ignorant, are also deeply homophobic. I believe if these people listened to my podcast every week, I could change most of them. But they’re not going to be doing that, it doesn’t work that way.

Many of the minority of viewers who posted these sorts of comments had handles that made their adherence to Adolf Hitler clear to anyone who knows what kinds of names fascists like to use online. When it comes to fascists, as you may or may not already know, “88” does not refer to the number of keys on a piano, for example. Of course, I don’t know which of them are real people, the same people, intelligence operatives for one country or another, or most likely all of the above.

However, for those of you YouTube commenters of any political persuasion who are real people and want to have an actual conversation about politics, history or Will Van Spronsen’s motivations, where we listen to each other and refrain from using adjectives or making references to each other’s imminent and violent demise, my phone number is in the book. And I won’t call you a Nazi if you don’t call me a liberal.

My fellow Americans and all you other people, too, this is David Rovics, signing out for this week. In the podcast version of this missive, the song I wrote about Will, the Time to Act, should start playing momentarily.

This machine burns buses.

David Rovics is a singer-songwriter who tours regularly throughout North America, Europe, and occasionally elsewhere. Read other articles by David, or visit David's website.