If, after the first months of quarantine, someone had ventured outside to join the protests against the police and their state, that person might have heard stray chirping about bad actors, provocateurs, ops. Who else, the chatter might have gone, would mix molotov cocktails but the cops themselves, attempting to escalate and thus discredit the protests? And that lone anarchist—you saw him on the livestream—ducking through alleyways, head to toe in black, wielding an umbrella? Of course he was a cop too. An infiltrator. Perhaps he and the cocktail shakers even belong to the same special unit. Not that woman, though. She was no cop, but she torched that Wendy’s because of her white privilege, which is the same thing. And the fireworks—I’ve never heard them in this neighborhood before. They’re constant, aren’t they? The fireworks are the police too. A shock and awe campaign. Me? I just moved here last month.
Someone then joining the protests would hear the chatter grow loudest just when the uprising, fireworks and all, also grew loudest. Isn’t it always that way? Petty rumors follow when someone finally takes irreversible action, after the fuse has already been lit, whether the fuse of a Roman candle or—something else. That hissing, crackling fuse signals when something will really pop off, and it’s always accompanied by chirping rumors about who lit it. Jean Genet knew as much in Paris, 1968. Listening then to the chatter of the Left’s old guard, Genet remembered that during the heyday of the Russian Revolution, the reactionary press breathlessly whispered about Lenin’s alleged bourgeois mistresses in order to discredit him. History repeated itself, according to Genet, when rumors swirled about the student protests in ‘68: CIA plants, dividing the Left, paid off by the big newspapers, in bed with the banker’s daughter, reckless young people. Genet, of course, would live to see state-run dissension in the form of COINTELPRO undo his cherished and admired Black Panther comrades.
The mere existence of last summer’s rumors, and whom those rumors accuse, tells us everything we need to know. You see, the real bad actors, ops, provocateurs—the as yet undeclared enemy because hardly recognized for what they are—never take action, only prevent it. Instead they accuse the ones who do act: the rumors thus reveal what’s truly dangerous to the present order. Truths have an elegant simplicity. Why bloc up except to stay safe from the state and its watchful busybodies, including the livestreamers and “journalists”? And why carry an umbrella except in defense against the police’s chemical weapons and those ubiquitous cameras? Why would this white woman torch a fast food franchise except because she loved Rayshard Brooks, murdered there by the cops, and she alone knows how to mourn? Why the sudden explosion of fireworks except that these tools are cheap and ready at hand? All of these actions endanger the status quo because they strike out at it, not safely but seriously. The rumors follow then.
Remember that the state’s provocateurs provoke so as to prevent—that is, so as to catch someone in the act. Today they do not actually take action themselves, even to discredit movements. Indeed, why would they need to? Social change is not a debate team, in which the most persuasive speaker wins the day. As the antiwar movement of the 2000s revealed, against millions of people around the world safely protesting in the streets, the state can simply—refuse. Popular support and mere discontent did nothing to stop the imperial wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. So why should the empire go to the trouble of secret provocateurs and risky arson plots in order to discredit last summer’s protests when instead they can just dig in their heels, or brutalize protestors, or hold another election? Besides, nothing is more persuasive than action. Who knows but that in staging a fake plot the state might escalate the struggle against itself?
For all the rumors about supposed provocateurs, less has been said about those real bad actors: the stylized Instagram militants, armed to the teeth yet who never pull the trigger, settling instead for a collaborative photo-op with a white-shirted lieutenant; the petty activist functionaries barking orders through megaphones, conveniently dividing the crowd into smaller and smaller marches, perfectly sized for kettling; the peace police enforcing order on a rally by handing over rowdy radicals to the real police. Curious that all the rumors about collaborators ignore these types who, regardless of their intentions, helped disrupt last summer’s rebellion. With friends like these, right? Perhaps the rumor-mongers have confused up with down and right with left.
What must not be lost in all of this—in the chirping and the parsing of the chirping—is the rebellion itself and its premise. Last summer witnessed an uprising in George Floyd’s name, which is to say, in the name of Black liberation. A fight for Black liberation means, at the very least, fighting against the carceral state and the capitalists, those two drivers of mass Black death and exploitation. And who knows but that the rebellion is not over, perhaps only waiting to escalate further? This struggle for Black liberation concerns all of us, is about the freedom of all—but it concerns Black people most. The struggle, then, requires the utmost seriousness and care and personal risk of the whites. It requires, that is, that we speak seriously. To chatter on with rumors and unfounded suspicions and even accusations—based on what else but some blurry images found online—is simply careless not just of the people accused but of the Black struggle itself. Don’t discourse: act and shut the fuck up, if you’re a comrade.
Last summer, as the world burned up and the capitalists sacrificed millions of us to the plague, the oppressed and their comrades rebelled. They attacked. With fists and umbrellas, cocktails and fireworks—and yes, at times even with other tools—they fought in hopes of defeating the police and the violent order they protect and serve. “Welcome back to the world,” declared the streets. Whatever their intentions, all the chirping and chattering rumors worked against the uprising, at times even landing our rebels in cages. “Lenin’s mistresses” are indeed alive now, resurrected zombie-like as rumors about—can you believe it?—fireworks. But the lesson from last summer is that no government has to start these rumors or even spread them. Nor do they have to come from the mouths of dedicated counter-revolutionaries either. Careless with our comrades and unserious about Black life and death, some of us chirp and chatter on as if only playing at revolution. That’s counter-revolution enough.
 A woman has been charged with first-degree arson for allegedly burning down an Atlanta Wendy’s in June 2020. The accused woman was reported to have been in a relationship with Rayshard Brooks, a Black man murdered in that restaurant’s parking lot by Atlanta police the night before the building burned down.
 In this year, a wave of social revolution swept Paris, often pitting the establishment Left against the insurgent youth movement. By then, Genet had become France’s most (in)famous literary rebel, challenging the sexual, racial, and national norms of his hated country of birth. In ‘68, Genet sided with the young Paris revolutionaries. It marked a turning point for him toward more overtly political rebellion. He devoted the remainder of his life to speaking and writing in support of the Black Panthers, the Red Army Faction, and the Palestinian fedayeen, sometimes at real risk to his own safety. His political texts have been posthumously compiled as The Declared Enemy (1991/2004).
 In Party in the Street: The Antiwar Movement and the Democratic Party after 9/11 (2015), Michael T. Heaney and Fabio Rojas note that the movement achieved “unprecedented scale—including the largest internationally coordinated protest in all of human history” (7).