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Explaining Northwest Chicago’s Web of Radicals

An anti-war group is overrun by anti-Americanism, race radicalism, and the revolutionary socialism of its Trump-resistance allies.

In early November of 2016, I covered a far-left rally in Chicago. It was unremarkable at the time, but one comment is interesting in retrospect.

“We came out here today and we’ve been coming out here all week to make one thing very clear—Donald Trump better not come to Chicago because he’s not welcome here,” Jon Beacham, an ANSWER organizer told the crowd to thunderous applause, saying later: “We have to resist Trump.” These days, joining the Trump resistance is fashionable—and, in many cases, a career move—but this was mere days after his election.

There were signs at this rally calling Trump a white supremacist, anti-immigrant, Islamophobe, fascist, and more. All the most inflammatory attacks which have become staples against the president were on display in a rally days after his election and before he was even inaugurated. These were the first days of the #resistance.

In fact, in the days after Trump’s election, there were protests in more than a dozen cities, with some turning violent. ANSWER was a critical organizer of those rallies. They rallied troops to the National Mall on Inauguration Day 2017; and they were one of the groups causing trouble in Chicago in March 2016 at a Trump rally that needed to be shut down after things got hairy.

Who is ANSWER? 

Anyone who has followed ANSWER would not be surprised by any of this, because one thing they know how to do well is put on a rally. Ever since their creation on September 14, 2001, they have been involved in numerous rallies which have drawn thousands and garnered media attention.

On September 29, 2001, they organized 25,000 people in San Francisco and Washington, D.C. against war. In 2003, the group claimed to have organized several rallies which drew at least 100,000. In January 2020, they organized coordinated rallies against (the non-existent) war with Iran which also drew thousands.

ANSWER, as the name implies, is anti-war, and they have generally stayed consistent. They were immediately against any war in the aftermath of 9/11; they were also leading rallies against war with Libya in 2011 under Obama, and they have warned against wars with Iran, North Korea, and Syria under Trump. They are also open-borders, pro-Palestine socialists who are critical of police and admiring of leftist governments like in Cuba and Venezuela.

The sources of their funding—which seems pretty sparse—are somewhat unclear. A November 2016 article by Peter Hasson of The Daily Caller, on ANSWER’s role in anti-Trump protests, noted that the Progressive Unity Fund was providing financial backing but only found a single $9,700 payment from 2015 for educational programs. ANSWER does not have 990s listed with GuideStar, as would be required for a registered non-profit.

The Kimball Stop

To really understand ANSWER, I travelled to the Northwest side of Chicago to the Brown Line stop at Kimball. The surrounding area is something of a hotspot for the city’s radical activity.

It is home to not only ANSWER’s headquarters, but those of another radical leftist group called Mexico Solidarity Network (MSN). MSN’s space was used by ANSWER to plan the Trump rally in November 2016.

Besides favoring pro-illegal alien policies, MSN also runs something called the Autonomous University of Social Movements (AUSM) which includes a study abroad program in Cuba. The pitch for the program doubles as a pitch for the regime:

You will encounter a reality in Cuba unlike anything you have experienced. The total absence of commercial advertisements, the existence of mass organizations structured by the State, a continually evolving socialist revolution that includes free health care and education (imagine no student loans!), lack of ready access to many consumer goods, strong communities and tight family structures – all these things and many more will quickly turn your world upside down. The social, political and historical realities in Cuba generate many questions and challenge preconceived notions. You will quickly move outside your comfort zone, providing the perfect conditions for a unique and rewarding educational experience.

MSN does have 990s listed with GuideStar and they show a moderately impressive $622,143 in revenue in 2018, the last year listed.

The area also houses the Party for Socialist Liberation (PSL), another frequent collaborator of ANSWER. In fact, all three organizations share the same physical address: 3460 West Lawrence Avenue.

The Partners

To understand its partners, one would go to a rally or research their rallies and see who they partnered up with.

At the rally in 2016, I saw copies of the Socialist Worker (a now defunct socialist newspaper), as well as material from the World’s Workers Party (another Marxist group), and REVCOM (a U.S.-based Revolutionary Communist party).

I caught some of the REVCOM crew chanting in 2016:

“We gotta resist it and we gotta get organized for an actual revolution to overthrow the capitalist system and replace it with a radically new system,” one of the rally-goers said.

REVCOM’s website directs to Refuse Fascism, which claims, “RefuseFascism.org is a movement of people coming from diverse perspectives, united in our recognition that the Trump/Pence Regime poses a catastrophic danger to humanity and the planet, and that it is our responsibility to drive them from power through non-violent protests that grow every day until our demand is met.” REVCOM’s own chairman, Bob Avakian gave an hourlong talk in 2017 entitled, “Must Go! In the Name of Humanity, We Refuse to Accept a Fascist America: A Better World is Possible.”

ANSWER teamed up with the Palestinian Right to Return Coalition (PRRC) for a 2016 pro-Palestine march. The PRRC also has 990s but they show a paltry $77,213 in contributions for 2018, the last year listed.

A 2013 rally organized by ANSWER in Chicago also brought representatives of SEIU and AFSCME. With SEIU and AFSCME, now you have influential unions coming into the fold. SEIU (Service Employees International Union) listed $287,219,208 in revenues for 2018, the last year listed. AFSCME (American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees) listed $160,258,628 in revenue for 2018.

While no money-flows are apparent between the unions and the radical groups, they are at least allies. The Socialist Worker published numerous stories involving SEIU, mostly pertaining to strikes on which the two collaborated.

The Network Today

While COVID has stalled ANSWER’s chief endeavor of holding rallies, Brian Becker, the Executive Director of ANSWER, recently participated in a webinar entitled “Standing Against Racism & War – the Only Road to Peace.”

Becker has previously appeared on foreign propaganda sites like Russia Today, CGTN from China, and Press TV in Iran. Though perhaps not officially, this particular webinar seemed dangerously close to Chinese propaganda.

To sum up, the U.S. is supposedly moving toward war with China and every action—trade war, support for Hong Kong, support for Taiwan, Trump’s use of “China virus”, Trump’s crackdown on Chinese foreign nationals in postgraduate programs, etc.—is viewed by this webinar as an act of aggression.

Becker seemed to relish being able to rail against the U.S.:

China is blamed for COVID-19. China is blamed for not telling the world about COVID-19. China is blamed by the Trump administration—or by the President himself—of perhaps having created creating the virus. China is blamed for the 50 to 60 million who had to filed unemployment insurance claims since March.

China is blamed for the 200,000-plus Americans who died as a result of COVID, as a result of the utter incompetence and neglect, criminal failures of this government to protect its own citizens. China is a convenient scapegoat, and at the same time the military-industrial complex—which one of the other speakers mentioned takes sixty percent of the discretionary budget of the  national Treasury each year and the war spending is really about a trillion dollars.

That kind of spending can only be justified too if the United States has a big enough enemy.

Becker then said, “Thus, China provides what the military-industrial complex needs—a global enemy to take the place of the Soviet Union.”

ANSWER, BLM, and Defunding Police

ANSWER held rallies and conducted other campaigns against police brutality in Boston, Denver, and in 2016 in San Francisco. The defund police mantra is especially prevalent at ANSWER Indiana.

On October 18, 2020, ANSWER Indiana released a statement bemoaning a $7 million increase in the budget of the Indianapolis Police:

There’s an old saying, “if you want to know a nation’s priorities, look at their budget.” Indianapolis’ Democrat majority City-County Council made their priorities clear last week when they approved a $7 million increase to the Indianapolis Metro Police Department for a total budget of $261 million—despite fervent calls from the people to defund the department. This increase in police funding represents about one-third of the city’s entire 2021 budget, the most money allocated for any department in the city.

Continued increases in police funding have benefited literally no one but the police themselves, and the politicians who cynically use Black lives as cannon fodder so they can say they have been tough on crime. This allows politicians to prioritize allocating larger sums to police budgets to the detriment of social programs that are essential to achieving a more equal society.

ANSWER Indiana’s anti-police activism has been especially lively in the wake of two police shootings, which happened hours apart in the early morning hours of May 7, 2020. But what, if any, culpability the officers bear in these incidents is far from clear.

In the shooting of McHale Rose, IMPD officers were responding to a robbery in progress when they exchanged gunfire with Rose. Here is more from the Indianapolis Star:

According to IMPD, police were called to investigate a burglary in progress at an apartment complex on Woodglen Drive at about 1:30 a.m. May 7. Four responding officers approached the apartment, IMPD said, and were shot at by a man armed with a rifle standing outside. No officers were struck. According to IMPD, police returned fire and struck the suspect, later identified as Rose, 19. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

The second black man shot by Indianapolis police, Dreasjon Reed, actually streamed his own shooting on Facebook LiveAfter leading police on a high speed he parks the car and takes off on foot. He can be heard saying, “fuck you dawg,” to the officer before the taser is applied. The taser works for a couple seconds before failing. Shots are then fired. The popular YouTube channel Donut Operator broke down the video, concluding Reed had a gun and fired at the officers who fired at him. 

These facts have done little, though, to temper ANSWER’s agitation. On October 9, 2020, two members of ANSWER Coalition’s Indiana branch participated in another webinar entitled, “The Fight to Defund and Disarm IMPD: Organizing in Indianapolis.” The webinar also included two organizers from Indy 10: Black Lives Matter, who favored the defunding of police in Indianapolis.

The webinar was part of the Compton Series, a set of lectures on “The history, present, and future of the Black Liberation struggle in the U.S.” put on by DePauw University.

Timi Aderinwale, an organizer with ANSWER’s Indiana branch, was a speaker in the webinar. He summed up a recurring theme, “We see and understand the connections between capitalism, imperialism, and the violence that is inflicted on Black, Brown, and all working-class folks in the United States.” This is ANSWER’s philosophy: America is racist, and that racism is rooted in imperialism and capitalism.

Aderinwale continued: “We recognize that all of these struggles are interconnected, and it’s simply impossible to get rid of one without getting rid of all of them, and getting rid of the systems that enable them.”