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Alienation and affinity: Jacob Graham is not an “isolated” case

Alienation and affinity: Jacob Graham is not an “isolated” case

On February 22nd, Jacob Graham of Liverpool was convicted of 3 terror-related offences: preparation of terrorist acts (S5(1)(b) Terrorism Act 2006), dissemination of terrorist publications (S2 Terrorism Act 2006), and possession of material likely to be useful to a terrorist (S58 Terrorism Act 2000).

Something of a self-described anarchist, it appears he had been inspired by the Unabomber (Ted Kaczynski, who died last year), with the jury hearing that he pledged to “finish what he started”.

Jacob had written an online encyclopaedia called the “Freedom Encyclopaedia” dedicated to “misfits, social nobodies, anarchists, and terrorists”, detailing how to make homemade explosives and other weapons. He shared this online with contacts via group chats and videos he had made. He had purchased the requisite materials himself, leading the Counter Terrorism Policing unit to launch an investigation and subsequently arrest him.

He is due for sentencing on March 18th.

The facts of the case seem quite clear, and he has been convicted on those 3 counts. But there is a lot to examine and discuss as anarchists about what to make of this situation.

Jacob’s motivations appear to be many. The police and jury were given various offerings:

“I don’t like the idea of a central control, and I don’t really like the monarchy.”

He didn’t like the way that “corporations act and how they damage the Earth.”

“I think it is fair to say I was quite anti-government.”

“I didn’t agree with the idea of it – the way certain things were handled, the pandemic, the cost of living.”

“I didn’t agree with a group of small people being able to make decisions that affect a mass.”

“If terrorism is standing up for what you think is right, standing up for the working class people of this country, most of us can’t afford to heat our homes or afford food, there needs to be someone to fix this problem. It is my responsibility to do this.”

“I will be a homegrown terrorist because I was born on British soil. If they want to call me a justice warrior or a hero, call me that. If they want to call me scum, call me that because I won’t be here to listen to all of it.”

There is nothing remotely esoteric in these statements. They might come from a young man sitting behind his computer, teddy bear in one hand, machete in the other, but they are not the ravings of a person totally disconnected from reality. They are, in fact, the same things that we see and hear on a large scale in daily life across the globe. Wanton destruction of the planet in the name of profit and the cost of living crises that seem to be compounding every day for the working class are on everyone’s lips, and yet it would appear that nothing is to be done about it. And those that do take action are villainised (see Just Stop Oil for a recent popular movement or any anarchist that has ever taken action ever).

Jacob, 20-something from Liverpool, sits at home on his computer all day, manages to research blueprints for explosives, purchase the materials, practices with them, and makes 138 videos, sharing them with online anarchist and activist groups. Something is wrong with this picture, but it’s not the explosives.

The first thing that perhaps springs to many minds might be the “lone-wolf” imagery that the case before us presents. Yet another disillusioned young man sick of the world around him decides it’s him against the world, and the only way to act is to strike out. Now, it wouldn’t be proper to offer thoughts on whether his ultimate aim of murdering politicians to uphold the struggle of the working class should be condoned, but there is a certain distinction between these goals and those of the many lone-wolf attacks by those who might fall on the right-wing. “Punching up, not punching down” perhaps might help describe the difference. However, what is similar in these cases is how it comes to be that these people reach a point where they believe this is their only option.

The Counter Terrorism Policing Unit’s ACT website suggests that two common signs of radicalisation are “Spending an increasing amount of time online and sharing extreme views on social media.” and “Need for identity, meaning and belonging”. Capitalism breeds such an individualist society that when people are searching for something to belong to, they can’t necessarily find it. And too often, we hear of these lone wolves belonging to extreme online communities that somehow simultaneously give them a sense of belonging whilst reinforcing their very real and physical solitude.

We can quite easily criticise the fact that someone who would call themselves an anarchist would have such a lack of security culture, trusting people that he met online with such a plethora of illegal materials and using non-secure platforms like Discord to do so. He could not have known who he was engaging with, and it is more than likely that agents of the state were involved with such groups as “Earth Militia”, “Total Earth Liberation”, and “Neo-Luddite Action”. There is a whole argument for not using any of these technologies, no matter how secure you think you might be, but perhaps that is a bigger discussion to be held in person with people around you, and to some degree, that ship might have sailed. Perhaps more concerning is why these online communities were the only place this young man felt he could turn.

There was some telegram group or another, essentially calling out anyone who might be feeling like Jacob. In some ways, it was positive, calling for people to stop dreaming of being martyrs and instead involve themselves in their local anarchist groups. But it also felt like the blame was on the person, already in a mindset of individualist antagonism, for being in their “basement” and not already being involved.

This kind of language is concerning, as alienating those we are also imploring to be better, to be involved with the existing structures, is a contradiction in itself. In discussing this, I was offered insight into the case of Leon Czolgosz, the assassin of the US president William McKinley in 1901. Seen as an outsider, he was ostracised and excluded from anarchist societies for his social awkwardness and clumsy interest, to the point of accusations being published in anarchist journals of his being a spy. 5 days later, he shot dead the president of the USA in the name of working class struggle. He was executed less than 2 months later, with Emma Goldman seemingly his only ally, the rest of the anarchist scene having forsaken him for having damaged the anarchist movement. Reserving judgment on whether the assassination of the president of the US is a useful act or not, one wonders what might have been had the anarchist movement not excluded him for being weird in the first place.

Similarly, just days ago, Aaron Bushnell self-immolated in front of the Israeli embassy in protest of the war on Gaza. Interestingly, Aaron was a serving member of the US Air Force yet had an online presence as an anarchist. Crimethinc wrote on this, quite touchingly:

“We urge you to do everything in your power to find comrades and make plans collectively. Lay the foundations for a full life of resistance to colonialism and all forms of oppression. Prepare to take risks as your conscience demands, but don’t hurry towards self-destruction. We desperately need you alive, at our side, for all that is to come.”

But again, in some ways, it misses the pause for self-reflection on what can be done to engage so many who end up going it alone in this world.

It is understandable that the anarchist movement is a difficult one to find a place in, but we must continue to make these ideas as accessible as possible. This is where security culture trumps paranoia. As anarchists, we must be willing to take a chance on opening up and supporting the many people who find themselves frustrated at the world and feel they have nowhere to go. The online world can fill some voids, but nothing can be a substitute for real physical interaction with other people sharing motivations and affinity. We may not have created this world of disaffect and isolation, but if we can’t find ways to break through to people feeling like this, we will only see more cases of despair, desperation, and missed opportunities.

It’s not necessarily about drawing people into some mass militant movement but rather showing that it’s possible to find others who will support them. We don’t all have to be on the same page, but by demonstrating action and affinity and creating space for others to find theirs, we increase the likelihood of people finding camaraderie to act as they see fit and be more effective in doing so.

Another case that comes to mind is the case of Darth Jones, would-be assassin of the queen on Christmas Day two years ago. Managing to scale the wall on Windsor Castle, he failed in his mission to enact revenge on the royal family for never apologising for the 1919 Jallianwala Bagh massacre in India. Different for sure in that Jaswant Singh Chail had no connection to the anarchist scene but did have a fixation with destroying old empires. Who knows, had he had an affinity with others, he might have pulled off his mission.

I haven’t exactly presented many solutions to these issues other than to say perhaps it is better we encourage people into physical spaces to develop their affinity with others and not ostracise them for not fitting the mould of the ideal anarchist. I sincerely hope that others in the anarchist scene find it reasonable to support Jacob Graham as he faces a lengthy custodial sentence in the wake of his conviction, regardless of their opinion of his practice, personality, or the potential effect his actions may have had on the anarchist movement (if there is such a thing). He is still a prisoner, an anarchist and a political prisoner due our backing for his attempts to return fire against the state. Of course, ultimately, the only person responsible for their actions are themselves, and no one should feel obligated to offer support if they’re already struggling. But those of us who do have the energy have the chance to offer him something else, a way forward to engage with other people, real people who share the same motivations and have methods of putting them into action, whether community-building or society-destroying (but perhaps with better security politics this time).

~ DT

Image: From left: Jaswant Singh Chail (Darth Jones), Ted Kaczynski (Unabomber), Jacob Graham (Machete Jr.), Danny Trejo (Machete)

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