Alinsky on the Kennebec

(For those coming in late, Something Rotten in Maine and Hallowell Shakedown will provide a bit of context).

In 1971 a grouchy old radical named Saul Alinsky published Rules for Radicals.  Thirty-seven years later a gay Kenyan Muslim Communist took Alinsky’s advice all the way to the White House.  Or so the story goes.  Alinsky has become one of the Rabid Right’s most hated bugbears and Rules for Radicals a diabolical guide to world domination.

You’ve probably seen a few versions of Alinsky’s “Rules for Radicals.”  The most accurate is an abridged list compiled from some guidelines he gave within the book.


Many are familiar with this list.  Fewer have actually read Alinsky’s book: of those, even fewer have understood it.   A quick look at recent events in Hallowell will provide an excellent look at how Alinsky’s tactics are applied — and misapplied.

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According to Linneken and Swift, Slates is guilty of “protecting the identities of … known  or connected to known white nationalists.”  Yet an article at the Kennebec Journal paints a different picture.  As Sam Shepherd says:

[Slates owner Wendy] Larson said she did not turn over the messages to Swift because they were “non-threatening” and she thought her employee would publicize the names in the emails like in her initial post.

“I don’t want to be a part of any of that,” she said. “I don’t want either side hurting anybody.”

Larson said she told Swift she would help her if she was confronted at Slates, but she still had to come to work.

“Her push was that I say publicly that white supremacists are not welcome at Slates,” Larson added. “I said to her I am a business owner, and I do welcome all people. There’s no way I can ask somebody coming through the door, ‘What are your affiliations?’ And as long as everyone is respectful to each other, I feel like this is a public place. I am not a supporter of white supremacy, but that is me personally.”

Swift said she reported this to the Hallowell Police Department, but Police Chief Eric Nason said he has not received documentation showing any threats. He said he has reviewed all 13 pages of documentation Slates provided him. Nason said there are “no threats to Slates or any of its employees” in the documents.

“It was just a lot of drama is what it is,” he said. “People are expressing opinions back and forth, and people feel strongly about a particular subject, and that’s when Facebook kind of blows up.”

Nason said the controversy has taken his time for the past several days, but he has not filled out a report on the situation because no crime has been committed.

It appears that Larson turned over all their messages to law enforcement, and that Hallowell police determined they contained nothing which was threatening or criminal.  Disappointed by police, Swift and Linneken then demanded that Slates provide them with this information so they could engage in a personal campaign of doxxing and harassment against people whose only crime was complaining to her workplace.  And when Slates refused to cooperate Wendy Larson soon learned that when they cross radicals, liberals get the bullet too.  As News Center Maine‘s  Beth Brogan tells us:

The longtime owner of a popular Hallowell restaurant found herself at the center of a social media firestorm this week after an employee took on a white supremacist group based in Waterville.

By Tuesday morning, Slates Restaurant was flooded with hundreds of messages calling for owner Wendy Larson to take action to or face a boycott or the business she’s owned for 40 years.

Most of the criticism, however, came not from the Facebook group, but from supporters of Mackenzie Swift, a server and bartender at Slates, who said Larson did not adequately defend the young woman after she was attacked on social media for posting a screenshot of the white supremacist group.

Brogan noted Larson’s 40-year history as an LGBTQ ally and “a pillar of the extremely liberal Hallowell community.”  She also quoted Larson’s daughter Ingrid, who complained “They’re attacking us worse than the white supremacists did…  [Swift] has caused so much terrible, terrible hurt to our family and our business.”

Wendy Larson, owner of Slates

Following Rule 12, Linneken and Swift picked their target, froze it and personalized it.  Their attention shifted from Maine to Mainers and toward Slates. Instead of a target “White Supremacists” became a bludgeon to attack Wendy Larson.  They also used Rule 4, forcing Larson to play by her own rules.  Surely every real liberal hates Nazis and White Supremacists.  If Larson doesn’t meet our demands,  she must be a Nazi sympathizing enabler of White Supremacism.

What ensued was a classic example of Rule 1, both in its abbreviated form and in Alinsky’s more extended explanation.  From p. 125 of his book:

For an elementary illustration of tactics, take parts of your face as the point of reference; your eyes, your ears, and your nose. First the eyes; if you have organized a vast, mass-based people’s organization, you can parade it visibly before the enemy and openly show your power. Second the ears; if your organization is small in numbers, then do what Gideon did: conceal the members in the dark but raise a din and clamor that will make the listener believe that your organization numbers many more than it does. Third, the nose; if your organization is too tiny even for noise, stink up the place.

In Mackenzie Swift’s opening post Maine for Everyone was established as:

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This soon attracted hundreds of members.  Many noticed this post, which was made two hours after the original opening message.

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As the controversy over Maine for Mainers continued to draw horrified liberals, the conversation shifted from the utter evilness of Tom Kawczynski (which was already a given) and toward Wendy Larson.  Those who defended Slates were banned or dismissed as Kumbaya Liberals and told to own their White privilege.  Within a few days the objectives were “clarified.”

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The size of MFE’s subscriber list — and the complaints throughout the Internet — gave their campaign a scary look, a loud bark, and a pungent smell.  They stayed within the experience of the radical organizers (#2), while forcing Larson into the decidedly unfamiliar position of explaining why she is not a White Supremacist (#3).  And they certainly lived up to #8 by keeping the pressure on.  After Linneken’s efforts to interest the ADL in Larson’s latent anti-Semitism failed, she decided to bring out the big guns by coopting the suffering of Black Trans Women.

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While it is difficult to judge the long-term impact Linneken and Swift will have on Larson or on Slates,  recent Facebook reviews suggest they have done little to impress the local community of Wendy Larson’s perfidy.

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It appears that while they followed the letter of Alinsky’s rules (something Alinsky warned against repeatedly in his book), Sass Linneken and Mackenzie Swift forgot this very important passage from its prologue.

Remember we are talking about revolution, not revelation; you can miss the target by shooting too high as well as too low. First, there are no rules for revolution any more than there are rules for love or rules for happiness, but there are rules for radicals who want to change their world; there are  certain central concepts of action in human politics that operate regardless of the scene or the time. To know these is basic to a pragmatic attack on the system. These rules make the difference between being a realistic radical and being a rhetorical one who uses the tired old words and slogans, calls the police “pig” or “white fascist racist” or “motherfucker” and has so stereotyped himself that others react by saying, “Oh, he’s one of those,” and then promptly turn off.

This failure of many of our younger activists to understand the art of communication has been disastrous. Even the most elementary grasp of the fundamental idea that one communicates within the experience of his audience — and gives full respect to the other’s values — would have ruled out attacks on the American flag. The responsible organizer would have known that it is the establishment that has betrayed the flag while the flag, itself, remains the glorious symbol of America’s hopes and aspirations, and he would have conveyed this message to his audience.

Of course Alinsky also noted that a good organizer can turn a loss into a win.  Swift has gained credibility in the radical community as someone who has suffered for the cause.  Linneken has gained a new audience of liberals who may, with sufficient haranguing, be brought over to direct action or at least tapped for donations.  She has also shown her teeth, and given them a taste of the attacks they have been launching against “fascists” for decades.  Maine liberals now know the costs of crossing the radical left.  If they are smart, they will also consider the costs of engaging with it.

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