It's plain that the main agitators in Ferguson are the police. But over the last few days, a great deal of the social media chatter on the crisis has identified another group increasing the tension: the Revolutionary Communist Party. RCP members, as the rumor goes, have parachuted into Ferguson and are trying to incite a riot.
The person who has been most vigorously documenting the RCP's involvement is St. Louis Alderman Antonio French. Last night, for example, he posted this Vine of a local leader arguing with two men in telltale RCP black t-shirts.
You can also see one of these men in this youtube video, posted last Wednesday, making a speech to a crowd:
And you can also see him getting screamed at by what appears to be a Ferguson resident yelling, "We have to live here," in this video posted yesterday:
A video also surfaced today of French shoving someone in what looks to be the same kind of t-shirt.
In any event, this morning, apparently fed up, French finally tweeted an accusation that these men were trying to start a "riot":
According to a website called the Missouri Torch, the man French is referring to is one Greg "Joey" Johnson, of Chicago. They have a variety of other images and videos of Johnson and assorted "commie" — their word — friends being shown around Ferguson. It's pretty plain they've identified him correctly.
Johnson has been kicking around the paranoid end of American politics for some time. (To be utterly clear to any conservatives getting excited just reading this, that paranoid end is a 360 degree circle, really, comprising members of all stripes of political thought.) But he hasn't been wholly ineffective, as an activist. For one example: those of you who went to law school, might recognize him as the same Gregory Johnson who was the defendant in Texas v. Johnson, the case which held that flag-burning is a protected activity under the First Amendment.
The group with which Johnson is affiliated, the Revolutionary Communist Party, is nowadays largely regarded as crank-ish even by many self-identified Communists. It is routinely referred to as a "cult of personality" for its leader Bob Avakian. Avakian, who lives in self-imposed exile... somewhere, still believes that Communist revolution is possible and writes long tracts to that end, identifying the end of racial oppression as key to the eventual overthrow of capitalism. He is also the sort of fellow who writes like this:
One important aspect of boldly spreading revolution and communism everywhere is the work of building what we have characterized as a culture of appreciation, promotion, and popularization around the leadership, the body of work and the method and approach of Bob Avakian. Now, I recognize that some people (especially among the middle strata, frankly) may find it "immodest" (and perhaps, to some, strangely disturbing) for me to speak about this (and, for god's sake, to refer to myself in the third person!). But, first of all and fundamentally, "modesty" (or "immodesty") is not the essential issue, not the heart of the matter.
We've reached out for comment from the RCP on their involvement in Ferguson but so far they have not responded.
They do have a habit of showing up at moments of racial unrest; the Missouri Torch, for example, points out that Johnson was also spotted at protests over the Trayvon Martin killing.
Anyone who's spent any time in radical circles knows that the presence of interfering, troublemaking interlopers is an expected side-effect of a large-scale protest. But if the rumors are right and these guys trying to drum up even more tension than is already present in Ferguson, they're despicable.
[Photo via Getty.]