The Jakarta Method and the political efficacy of mass violence

We have grown accustomed to attacks against people of color and civil rights protestors in the United States, either carried out by white supremacist agitators or the police themselves.

“We are the United States of Amnesia. We learn nothing because we remember nothing.”

–Gore Vidal

Many of these agitators carry out their attacks in plain view of US law enforcement, sometimes even receiving assistance from the police. The police then either ignore the assailants or only begrudgingly do their duty and arrest them. Recently, US Marshals murdered Michael Reinoehl in cold blood because he had shot a white supremacist. This was a clear revenge killing by law enforcement intended to terrorize civil rights protestors.

Violence against civil rights protestors in the United States comes from both the police and far-right counter protestors. Whether or not police and far-right protesters actually work together, they often find themselves on the same side, with similar objectives. Often the police take sides in street battles by enforcing their will on the civil rights protestors, while ignoring violent actions carried out by far-right protestors.

Enter the likes of Kyle Rittenhuis and James Alex Fields — two men who killed civil rights protestors for political purposes. Both are avowed white supremacists and revered by contemporary white supremacist groups such as the Proud Boys or Patriot Prayer. Neither exists in a vacuum, and both developed their beliefs through interacting with a significant white supremacist movement in the USA. The Ku Klux Klan used to serve this purpose, but American racism needed to move on from its historically hick, rural and southern base. Enter new forms and names to reinvigorate American white supremacy.

Now we have new, deceptively amorphous, groups of called things like, Oath Keepers, Proud Boys and Patriot Prayer.

Their leaders and membership often overlap. Like the anti-fascist protestors they often violently engage with, their structures are fluid and change regularly. White supremacists have also taken up more space in public discourse — it would appear that they no longer need to wear masks in America. Most of us know the names of Gavin McInnes, Milo Yiannopoulos, Joey Gibson, who have gained popularity in the last decade.

Yet just as we understand that racism is not a new phenomena in America, we would be mistaken to believe that terrorism abided by the state is also a new phenomenon. The United States, either directly or through its proxies, sponsored paramilitary death squads throughout the Global South for much of the latter half of the 20th century. Often done under the auspices of fighting communism, the main commonality between these death squads was that they killed leftists and those associated with them.

Discriminating between actual communists, social democrats and labour rights activists was often not a concern, and many non-communists were swept up in their killings. Many of these events had been documented through books and other media detailing the violent actions of the United States in specific countries or regions. However, this author was not aware of a single book that delved into the development of the methodology behind these killings, nor explored them as interconnected pieces of a larger global strategy.

The Jakarta Method, by Vincent Bevins does just that.

Photo: Graphic from The Jakarta Method.

The Jakarta Method traces the development of how the United States, often with assistance from its ally Great Britain, suppressed leftist movements throughout the Global South through the liberal application of violence. It begins in Jakarta Indonesia, the country with the third largest Communist Party after the USSR and China. From there, Bevins shows how the United States ingratiates members of the Indonesian military, ultimately convincing many of them to overthrow Indonesian president Sukarno. Military leaders who were unwilling to assist in the killing and subsequent coup d’état are themselves killed. Then, with the help of organized crime and other anti-Communist forces in Indonesia, and with intelligence from the CIA, they killed between one and three million people in 1965 and 1966.

Many of the victims had little or nothing to do with the Indonesian Communist Party. Indonesians of Chinese descent were particularly targeted due to the racist notion that this made them more likely to be Communist. Concentration camps were also established to house those accused of being Communist, and use the accused for forced labour. The actual death toll will never be known, nor will we ever know the true political affiliation of many of those killed.

In the end it worked. The violence was successful, and to this day the Communist Party is outlawed in Indonesia.

It was much more successful than the attempt at achieving the same thing in nearby Vietnam, with the added benefit of no Americans dying and no pesky television cameras to document it. Today, descendants of those killed have trouble being accepted into Indonesian society or attaining employment for the Indonesian government. Some of the  far-right paramilitary organizations that assisted in the killing still exist. Many of those who participated in the killing are known and still celebrated and feared by many in Indonesian society.

This would have been enough for a good book, and one can read many books detailing the mass slaughter of leftists by Americans during the Cold War. However,  Bevins takes it a step further by then showing how the US foreign policy establishment learns from this experience in order to implement it in other countries. Bevins takes us to Brazil and Chile to show how similar methods were employed to violently suppress leftist dissent. Even showing us how the transfer of US State Department personnel led to the implementation of the Jakarta Method in both South American countries.

The implementers of the method did not shy away from its origins, with the Brazilians referring to their program of Communist eradication as Operação Jacarta (Operation Jakarta), and anti-Communist forces in Chile marking graffiti that read “Jakarta se acerca” (Jakarta is Coming).

The Jakarta Method was a learned method of empire, and as such it was deployed across the Global South by those wishing to suppress sovereign civil rights movements by any means necessary.

Key to this method was the coordination between elements of the military or police sympathetic towards violent suppression, criminal gangs, and paramilitary groups. In the case of Indonesia there was coordination between anti-Communist elements in the military, criminal gangs, and far right paramilitary organizations. In the case of Chile the head of the armed forces was killed by far-right actors after he declared he will not intervene with Democratic process. After his killing, the democratically elected Salvador Allende was killed and replaced by Augusto Pinochet in a violent coup d’état. Just last week, the people of Chile voted in a referendum to rewrite their constitution which dated from the Pinochet regime.

It is never just the police, or just the military, or just one group carrying out the massacres, and this historical lesson is a key takeaway for those of us trying to understand the increasing political violence in the United States and elsewhere. When we see Kyle Rittenhouse walking through police lines immediately after shooting protestors, or when we see the Proud Boys organising to commit violent acts against anarchists or anti-fascists we would do well to remember the interplay necessary for large scale political violence to fulminate.

Paramilitaries get away with violence because they typically target the enemies of those who are charged with prosecuting them.

These are not isolated events, there is a Method, and just like the collusion that existed between the KKK and southern law enforcement throughout the early 20th century the goal is terror and suppression. Kristallnacht, the infamous event in 1938 that saw Jewish businesses and synagogues destroyed throughout Germany, is another clear example of this. During Kristallnacht police and others stood by while far-right Nazi paramilitaries and other sympathetic to them destroyed Jewish businesses and attacked Jews.

Recently the Greek far-right political party Golden Dawn was convicted of being a criminal organization by the Greek courts. Yet when people began celebrating the court’s decision, riot police attacked the revelers. Clearly the police were not happy with the court’s decision, and decided to take out their frustrations on those celebrating it.

“Social democracy at home requires anti-imperialism abroad.”

— Aziz Rana

The 1955 Afro-Asian conference in Bandung, Indonesia brought together progressive leaders from across the Global South as many of them were emerging from European colonialism. It connected people with shared values and shared dreams for a better future, and had representatives from roughly half of the countries from the United Nations. It ultimately led to the creation of the non-aligned movement of countries that sought to be independent from both the United States and the Soviet Union.

The Jakarta Method is just one of the tactics used to suppress sovereign civil rights movements. We are facing a Nationalist International that is illustrated through the politics of Brexit, Trump, Bolsonaro, Orbán, and more. In order to fight against this rising threat to democracies around the world, the Progressive International is forming a common front of progressives.

The Progressive International (PI) was founded by DiEM25 and the Sanders institute in December 2018 to unite, organise, and mobilise progressive forces behind a shared vision of a world transformed.

Today, on election day in the United States, the PI encourages its members to share how the elections affect their communities and lives. If you want to participate, record a short video (30 seconds) explaining how the US elections will impact your life or the lives of your loved ones. Then post your video on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter with the hashtags: #YourElectionOurLife and #ProgressiveInternational. The PI will be sharing these posts as election night in the US unfolds, and we hope to feature your voice, too.

Learn more about the Progressive International and join us!

Photo Source 1: Wikimedia Commons

Photo Source 2: Vincent Bevins on Twitter

The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect DiEM25’s official policies or positions.

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