Daryle Lamont Jenkins of Antifa Doc 'Alt-Right: Age of Rage' Isn't Waiting for Approval
Jenkins, founder of One Peoples Project, tells PopMatters that contrary to the fear many Americans feel, it's actually life-affirming to talk about fascism and racism.
Alt-Right: Age of Rage
Adam Bhala Lough
9 Mar 2018 (US)
"As you noticed from the documentary, I used to be in the industry and I am always talking about how I thought I would probably be at this festival with a guitar flung around my back 20 years ago," says Antifa activist and founder of the One Peoples Project (OPP) Daryle Lamont Jenkins. "Things are different and that's all good, but I'm glad I'm here now, that's all [laughs]."
In Austin, Texas for the SXSW World Premiere of writer-director Adam Bhala Lough's exposé Alt-Right: Age of Rage (2018), Jenkins is one of the central players of an ideological battle the documentary centres on. Following Trump's unforeseen victory, America has witnessed the rise of a fringe movement from the Right, rebranded by one of its figureheads Richard Spencer as the "alternative-right". Culminating in the tragic events of Charlottesville, Lough explores the two sides of this ideological divide, with particular focus on the work of the shadow collective Antifa and civil rights organizations such as the SPLC and NAACP, who take the fight to the courts, the media, and the streets.
In conversation with PopMatters, Jenkins discusses the broader battle lines drawn by the Right in the UK under the auspices of former UKIP leader Nigel Farage. He also reflects on the digital transformation of filmmaking and its benefits to the discussion of subjects both expected and unexpected, as well as the precarious fear to discuss the subject of racism in contemporary America.
How did you become involved in this project?
Well one of the things that brought me to be a part of all this was the fact we were not going to be dealing with a situation where it was all about the Neo-Nazis, or the fascists; those are just part of the B-roll. When you look at documentaries over the past couple of decades, then that's what it seems to have been. They will spot the Klan or the Nazis and what it is they're doing, and whenever they go to somebody on the other side, it's a person basically saying: "Yeah, they're doing that."
This one is more about us, Antifa and how we operate, and try to take this on. To further that, I would say it also shows how everyone else can fight these people, and most importantly that you can because a lot of people are frustrated now, and within this political climate hate the fact we are at this point in our lives. They are trying to figure how to get out again and along comes this documentary that says that it's okay, we will be getting out. It depends on us, but we will be.
In the film you assert that you don't perceive America to be more divided than it ever has been before. The feeling of a society fractured resonates here in the UK following the Brexit Referendum, compounded by the stirring of the Right in Europe. Your point is an interesting one, in that the drawing of battle lines does not necessarily have to equate to a society being severely divided.
I'm glad you said that it's about how the battle lines are being drawn. The far right have been trying to build their soldiers up for a good 20 years or so, and basically with what Nigel Farage was doing with UKIP and Britain First, and formerly the BNP, and then over here across the pond, you have seen an effort on their part to amass soldiers and to draw those battle lines.
What's going to beat them is us, because we're coming at it very organically. We're coming at it because we believe they are a threat to who we are, what this society is, and we're pushing back. We built this, they didn't! They are mad because they think we're taking something away that they never really had -- not this generation. You're talking about 20-year-olds going out there and trying to fight for something that ultimately they cannot even defend, and that's what I mean by we are not divided. It's simply the battle lines are being drawn, but we are not the ones drawing them. We're just reacting to their nonsense and we're going to beat it back.
Still from Alt-Right: Age of Rage
Cinema has the strength of presence to counter the perspective of the world that's cultivated by the mainstream news media. Is the ability of documentary to counteract this rhetoric the source of cinemas importance in creating a more expansive and considered discussion?
Back when we started getting into digital filmmaking, a lot of people thought we would be doing these major motion pictures with sets, actors and scripts. They thought we were going to see a lot more of that and we have, but the art has been used more so for documentaries. All of a sudden we are starting to see films on subjects that either I would never have thought of, or would never have had a documentary dedicated to them.
With the history of skinhead culture, for example, there are a couple of documentaries about that, and that's a good thing for me because I'm from the skinhead scene here in the US. We always try to make the point that it didn't start off as being a racist and Neo-Nazi thing, and we still would not consider it to be such. So you have a lot of people out there who come up with documentaries and detail the history of skinhead culture, but that's just one example.
There have been a lot of different things I've seen over the past six or seven years that have opened my eyes to issues I hadn't even thought of. Unfortunately, you also have a lot of people writing these conspiracy theories of documentaries that you have to be careful to look at. But for the most part, a lot of them have been positive. I'm glad to be living in this day and age when people are actually tackling subjects the way that they always wanted to.
I started doing Public Access back in the '90s, or that's what I was trying to do, and now that world has been blown open. Everyone has a chance to do something and they're taking advantage.
Alt-Right: Age of Right is part of what needs to be a wider discussion and with that in mind, how important is it for the media to work together to host this conversation across all mediums?
Of course, discussion is always key and that's why a lot of people try to stifle us from time to time. There was a regular talk show host out here called Laura Ingraham, who attacked basketball player LeBron James only because he spoke his mind about Donald Trump – she didn't have any other reason to be upset. He just said something negative and her response was: "Shut up and dribble." She attacked him for what she thought was his lack of education, which she got wrong. But one of the other take away lines from her commentary was: "Must they run their mouths like that?"
They don't want us to talk and they don't want us to have this discussion. And when you are dealing with the issue of racism, they really don't want to have these discussions, and I'm not just talking about focusing on the Right. There are liberals out there that try to keep you from having this discussion because there's a boat that is rocked whenever you start talking about the subject, but things change because it's very real, and so are the solutions. Regardless of how afraid that they are probably going to be losing their station in life, which is really not true, we have to resist and keep on having these discussions.
I'll tell you something, we're not waiting for the approval, we're going to discuss. We're going to address these issues and if you don't like it, sucks to be you.
I agree, and there are always those with the sentiment to "wait and see". Discussion and foresight go hand-in-hand, and I always recall Nelson Mandela's criticism of British Prime Minister Tony Blair and US President George W. Bush for lacking foresight in their eagerness for military action in the Middle East.
Those who are saying we have to wait and see, you have to wonder what exactly it is they want us to wait and look at. And you have to wonder just how much they want to see change happen. Those who say wait and see or those that are resistant to effect change, Martin Luther King already addressed all of that in a Letter from a Birmingham Jail. They were telling him to do that, and if he had listened to them, then he probably wouldn't have even had this discussion.
The Richard Spence's of the world would have still been the foundation of today's culture and I would have been somewhere... I don't even want to think where I would be because a lot of what happened in the '60s gave us what we have today. So never trust those who say: "Wait and see." We have waited long enough and we have already seen what comes of it.
The film is a terrifying portrait of contemporary America, at least on one level. Is this the reaction you want people to take away from the film, or is there an alternative message that you hope will resonate with the audience?
What I want people to learn from this documentary is that you are not weak, you are not broken, you are not helpless… you've got this! Once people recognise how much strength they have, a lot of things we see in this day and age are going to change. We are going to right the ship and we'll be fine. It's just a matter of when we come to terms with that and when we are ready to fight back.
People in Charlottesville started to fight back against all of this and we're going to win this because in the end, all of this belongs to us, and we have to. So don't be dismayed, just be active, and that's it!