Earlier this month the LA Times reported dozens of luxury cars were torched in Berlin by a group calling itself the Social Democratic People’s Bicycle Commando. Clearly this sort of over-the-top name was meant to be cheeky, but their tactics were quite serious.
The Bike Commandos claimed they “wanted to remove the windows from the luxury cars and scrap them the warm way,” according to a statement RT News linked to IndyMedia. The vandalism was in response to rapid gentrification in the city, and to recent police raids targeting squatters and other homeless people.
The Times claimed all 50 “masked left-wing extremists” were in fact on bicycles, but didn’t cite an eye-witness to confirm this. But let’s assume they were, and that a brigade of cyclists torching bourgeois automobiles has an implied environmental connotation beyond mere housing politics.
I shared the article in several online bike forums, and as you’d expect responses varied from “Hell yeah, fuck cars!” to “That’s terrible, it makes bikers look bad, violence is always wrong!”
— Taras Grescoe (@grescoe) February 9, 2016
Of course, damaging an inanimate piece of property isn’t violence at all, as almost every civil rights philosopher will attest. For sake of argument though, let’s use the term as an adjective rather than a verb and say these Bike Commandos violently fucked those Beamers up.
So, is it right to damage property in defense of housing, or the environment? Most would say: ‘no, it isn’t’. But then again, these were vehicles of wealth – fully insured, with deductibles their owners can obviously afford.
You might argue burning cars for any political reason is dumb, because chemicals, fumes, and risk of fire spreading to adjacent building or killing people are no bueno. Fair points, but in the realm of sabotage for sake of animals and Earth, not a single human has ever been killed.
Break this argument down to its core and it becomes more of an ideological debate; when is it okay to employ the destruction of property as a tactic of political rebellion or ecological defense?
One of my favorite long-form quotes on the matter illuminates why so many view eco-sabotage in a negative light:
“Imagine going into Mecca, walk up to the black stone and spit on it. See how far you get. You’re not going to get very far. You’re going to be torn to pieces. Walk into Jerusalem, walk up to that wailing wall with a pick axe, start whacking away. See how far you’re going to get, somebody is going to put a bullet in your back. And everybody will say you deserved it. Walk into the Vatican with a hammer, start smashing a few statues. See how far you’re going to get. Not very far.
But each and every day people go into the most beautiful, most profoundly sacred cathedrals of this planet, the rainforests of the Amazonia, the redwood forests of California, the rainforests of Indonesia, and totally desecrate & destroy these cathedrals with bulldozers, chainsaws and how do we respond to that?
Oh, we write a few letters and protest; we dress up in animal costumes with picket signs and jump up and down; but if the rainforests of Amazonia and redwoods of California had as much value to us as a chunk of old meteorite in Mecca, a decrepit old wall in Jerusalem or a piece of old marble in the Vatican we would literally rip those loggers limb from limb for the act of blasphemy that they were committing, but we won’t do that because nature is an abstraction, wilderness is an abstraction. It has no value in our anthropocentric world where the only thing we value is that which is created by humans.”
~ Paul Watson
Quite the statement. It’s not that people don’t care entirely, it’s that they’ve been taught their entire lives to value the material while degrading and disregarding the terrestrial.
Curiously though, we delight when rebellious destruction of property takes place in fiction, be it in novels like The Monkey Wrench Gang or in cartoons like Captain Planet. The highest grossing film made to date features a band of rebels killing people and blowing up property in the name of liberation. Why then is it so hard for us to champion in real life the very tactics we stand in line to cheer in Star Wars?
I’m hardly suggesting you toss a molotov cocktail at the next Mercedes you see while out on your next bike ride. But maybe consider the logic of those pedaling such a path toward direct action, and ask yourself: What would George Hayduke do?
More images from Berlin.