[This is an attempt to clearly lay out the timeline of events at this year’s London Anarchist Bookfair in order to facilitate a conversation about how and why these things happened and how to prevent and confront them in future. In order to accurately reflect the accounts that were emailed to us, and to make the severity of the abuse documented clear, this document contains detailed descriptions of transphobic, misogynistic and racist abuse that are likely to be triggering.
Everything that follows is based on personal accounts emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org (some of which may also have been published elsewhere). Events have been summarised from these accounts, and summaries are accompanied by direct quotes. New information is still welcome and the post should not be considered a full and complete list of everything that occurred, but an unfinished synthesis of what we have received so far.
As there seem to be a series of incidents connected with the same group of people, these have been summarised first. Other incidents that do not appear to be directly related to this group are summarised separately at the end.]
Approximately 3pm, in the courtyard outside the main entrance:
Ciaron O’Reilly is standing on a bench with a pro-Assange sign propped up on a rucksack in front of him. The sign has a picture of Assange on an a slogan that reads ‘Assange is Innocent’ or ‘Free Assange’ (people have reported both). At this time, he is all that can be heard for about 2 minutes coming into the Bookfair from the main entrance. He has a small crowd of supporters.
Two bookfair regulars notice this and go inside to get some people to help confront him. When they get back at about 3:10, there is already a small group doing that (partly composed of people they’d alerted on their way in).
Approximately 10-20 people in the crowd are directly confronting O’Reilly, 20 more are softly supporting them (but hanging at the back) and there are 5-10 in support or arguing that he shouldn’t be confronted on free speech grounds.
Members of the crowd heckle O’Reilly by shouting ‘Rape Apologist!’ over his speech. He becomes abusive, singles out members of the crowd, and makes increasingly racist and misogynistic comments to those calling him out. He claims the crowd is a ‘lynch mob’ and dismisses criticism of him as ‘identity politics’.
“After awkwardly listening to him for a minute one of our small group started yelling “rape apologist!” over and over again to break the ice, and a few others joined in. This was, to my knowledge, the beginning of any confrontation on the day. He became instantly abusive to these women, telling them ‘the creche is over there’ as well as picking on individuals within the group and making aggressive and intimidating comments (‘this one can’t even look me in the eye! look me in the eye!’ etc).”
“While we were there he called the women shouting at him hysterical, shouted “what rape, what rape?” a lot of times, told us we weren’t real anarchists if we didn’t support Assange, told us we were oppressing him and “your culture has been oppressing my culture for 800 years” etc.”
“he was spouting the usual Assange rape apologist bullshit about how there is “no rape without a charge” and that it simply didn’t happen.”
“shortly after i got there, he said, ‘See, now they’re being hysterical. There’s no way to conduct a rational debate with these people,’ gesturing to the large group of (primarily) women who were heckling him.”
A woman of colour in the crowd objects to being blamed for 800 years of British Imperialism against Ireland. He initially attacks her for having an English accent, and then for the actions of the Pakistani state. He repeatedly shouts ‘Pure land! Pure land!’ – a literal translation of the word Pakistan used to mock her heritage.
“When he said we were oppressing him [redacted] told him she was Pakistani and he said something about Pakistan being clean and noble.”
“he also accused a pakistani woman of being a british imperialist, and when she said she was pakistani, he responded with, ‘that’s nothing to be proud of. separatist country.’”
People are filming the crowd, despite repeatedly being asked to stop. In particular one man with a camera becomes aggressive after being asked if he is a cop.
“There was also a lot of antagonism as several people were filming, including a man with a hand held video camera who, though he may have been originally filming the speech, started filming the hecklers exclusively, getting in the faces of individual women despite being repeatedly told to fuck off.”
“One man, with his fuzzy mullet and flat cap brought his camcorder right into my face, his lips shaking, trying to intimidate me into silence.”
“Another man was standing there filming the people shouting at the man on the bench and when someone asked him why he was filming and if he was a cop he said “yes I’m a cop” (I think sarcastically) and came very close to the person who challenged him and seemed to me to be using quite aggressive body language.”
“he was making no attempt to hide his camera, and despite that, he was facing no resistance from the other people at the fair. a short while later – possible around 3.25ish, not 100% sure on that – someone in [redacted]’s group pointed at him and accused him of being a cop (not unreasonably IMO). he got incredibly offended at that, and ran at them yelling (and still filming), pushing into their group and demanding (i guess) an apology or something? after it became clear that one was not forthcoming (and he could go fuck himself also) he backed off and continued filming from a distance.”
A group standing off to the right of O’Reilly are actively supporting him. One woman from this group moves through the crowd, invading personal space with ‘free hugs’ and targeting transphobic abuse at specific women in the crowd.
“one of the women began by walking through the dissenters ‘offering’ (and frankly forcefully taking) free hugs to people, invading their space, despite being a supporter of the man on the bench. she also loudly began pointing out various trans women in the dissenting group to anyone who would listen, saying things like ‘that one. that one’s got a fucking dick.’ and using the word ‘tranny’ several times within earshot.”
This woman briefly stands on the bench with O’Reilly and holds up a sign advertising an Anonymous action. She then gets down and offers more ‘free hugs’.
Someone from the crowd gets up onto the bench with O’Reilly and begins shouting at him. She kicks over his rucksack and possibly also his sign (there is some confusion between accounts, it may be that O’Reilly knocked the sign over himself). The crowd cheers.
O’Reilly continues speaking, and another man in the crowd begins shouting at and over women.
“After all this happened a tall white man came over and was standing very close to the group of people shouting at the man on the bench and was saying things about false rape accusations and shouting over women and at that point one of my friends was feeling really unsafe so we left.”
“A man in a red T-shirt tried to be “reasonable” and kept trying to spout more rape apologism to me and a friend. He grew arsey when nobody wanted to listen.”
Things eventually fizzle out and the crowd disperses, but O’Reilly and his supporters remain in the space.
Approximately 4:15pm, in the foyer:
A group of people on their way to a session are confronted by a man who was previously filming people outside. He repeatedly demands if they believe in free speech and singles out a woman who was vocal in heckling O’Reilly.
“His face started twitching again, he must have really been resisting the impulse to physically attack me, his whole demeanour was triggering of the men who have attacked me in the past. I felt eerily calm, pushing his finger down when he pointed it in my face and moving into his space to see how he liked it […] Comrades shouted “rape apologist cop!” at him but this didn’t change his stance. It was only when a male comrade physically put his body between us that this manz sloped off, the bulk of my male friend clearly too much of a challenge.”
Approximately 4:30pm, Anarcha-feminist conference meeting room:
Some of the group from the earlier incident in the courtyard disrupt an organising meeting for an anarcha-feminist conference.
“There was noise in the corridor, and it was some of the anons. I didn’t get a good look at them, but one of them was the free hugs woman. Some people left the panel to tell them to go away.”
“From outside the room we heard shrieking and through the small glass panel I saw some of dread man’s supporters heckling and pointing at us. When they were asked to leave, they said they didn’t follow rules cos anarchy. When advised they couldn’t drink outside a room where a safe space policy was in place, they jeered at us and said “are you gonna stop calling him a rape apologist?”
“another man from a meeting around the corner came to have a go but not at them, as though we were the troublemakers.”
Approximately 5pm: in the courtyard outside the main entrance
Ciaron O’Reilly is still in the area and making speeches. He is heckled, and responds with targeted transphobic abuse.
“He started transphobically abusing a friend of mine, and then proceeded on to misgender Chelsea Manning in his speech. He was accompanied by several anons, who kept putting their masks on. He made further rape apologist comments, but again I feel like we shouted over him.
After about 15 minutes of that, the atmosphere felt once again hostile and threatening, so I moved away with my friends.”
Approximately 5:30/6pm: in the courtyard outside the main entrance
A group of approximately 5 people (two in Guy Fawkes masks), film and photograph a small group of people in the courtyard without their consent, and continue despite being repeatedly asked to stop. They begin harassing a woman, using targeted transphobic abuse & aggressive questioning. There is a direct confrontation. One of the men involved in this has been described as previously telling women their their issue with O’Reilly is due to ‘penis envy’.
“All of a sudden I noticed a group of people, probably around 4-5 in Anonymous style Guy Fawkes masks (they seemed to be mostly women) had began taking pictures of (what I initially assumed was all of us) with cameras. I basically told them to stop it and a female comrade of mine went in a lot harder telling them to stop taking fucking photos and generally arguing with them.”
“One of the people, an older man with a can of beer, approached us and stood very close to the woman I was talking to. He misgendered her, and started asking her how she removed facial hair, as he wanted ‘tips’. She repeatedly told him she wasn’t interested in answering that question, and I and someone else stood in front of him and told him to go away and fuck off.”
“a short stocky guy (30s) in a leather jacket with a shaved head and a can of beer in his hand started aggressively asking questions to a trans-woman in our immediate vicinity (asking about her personal grooming habits – you can get the picture I am loathe to repeat it), abusing her.”
“The Scottish male was drunk and aggressive and got right in the face of one of the women who was being photographed, a trans woman, and was asking her highly personal questions about her face/make up (i’m not sure of the exact wording of what he said). She replied “leave me alone” but he wouldn’t leave.”
“Things became more aggressive, and now three men were standing very close to us, repeatedly using transphobic slurs, misgendering, and aggressively demanding answers to their questions. They were repeatedly told to fuck off, and became very angry about that, insisting that they wanted to ‘learn’ and that they had a right to aggressively question anyone they wanted. I was repeatedly asked to give my name to these men, and refused.”
“He was flanked by two younger guys who were basically his yes men who were seemingly annoyed saying that we weren’t representing anarchism well or arguing our case by swearing – typical bullshit. Several people milling about were basically maintaining a whole host of terrible positions – ie that we should let them talk blah blah – whether they were part of the fair or the abuser’s crew is difficult to know, but the situation was confusing though I would have certainly liked more people to realise what was going on and kick off appropriately.”
“it was some of the worst transphobia I have ever heard, abusive and horrid. Completely unacceptable for anywhere, but even more for an allegedly radical space. I don’t want these stories to be lost, the Assange stuff was horrible of course, but this seems to have been forgotten by some in the subsequent discussion and I felt it needed recording.”
“The Scottish guy continues to hang around insulting us, says, “the whole feminist movement can suck my big Scottish cock”. He walks off, saying something I can’t remember. I say “fuck you”. He says, “gladly”. (IDK about you but I interpret this as intentionally sexual) I call him a fucking transphobic sexist prick.”
More people become involved in the confrontation, and there are some scuffles and some shoving.
At this time, Ciaron O’Reilly appears at the back of the crowd and begins shouting. The people in Guy Fawkes masks continue to film, though that group becomes quieter and less directly confrontational.
“He keeps misgendering Chelsea Manning, and goes on some incredible tangent about how the only Chelsea is Chelsea Clinton, daughter of Hillary Clinton who took America into a “feminist war” in Afghanistan.”
“We started chanting “her name is Chelsea Manning” and then he pointed at me, “America and that woman over there, she is the most dangerous woman in the world!””
“He carries on being transphobic, eg repeatedly calling one person who confronts him female after they are clear that’s not their gender.”
“[He] Says people confronting him are “imperialist” and only believe in Western sexual norms (Yes, he literally says notions of consent are racist)”
People begin heckling O’Reilly, and tell him to fuck off and chanting. He pushes at least one of the people confronting him, and there are a series of quick physical confrontations/scuffles. He is defended by people in the crowd who were previously photographing and harassing people.
“There were a lot of people behind us and it wasn’t clear if they were agreeing with him or not.”
There’s a “dead men don’t rape” chant and the young blond man says to a trans woman who’d been photographed earlier, “you ARE a man”. We all get extremely angry at this and tell the guy he needs to get off campus. A man disagrees with this and tries to block me, saying that this all started because people were shouting down Ciaran earlier or something. I tell him it’s completely fucking irrelevant because did you actually hear what he said and have you seen what they are doing? They’re photographing people and intimidating and abusing them and it’s not acceptable. He says we should tolerate “dissenting opinion”. I ask him if he’d let a Nazi into bookfair. He says “don’t you think that’s going a bit far”.
This goes on for some time, and it gets dark. There is still a large group of people surrounding Ciaron, and others are milling around.
Eventually, someone identified in emails as the ‘de facto main bookfair organiser’ comes out to speak with Ciaron and attempt to reason with him to leave. This seems to be unsuccessful.
[By this point everyone who has so far sent us an account via email had chosen to leave the Bookfair. It’s unclear how much longer O’Reilly and others remain in the space, or if there are any incidents that occur after this.]
– Two men fought quite violently in the main courtyard, punching each other and knocking over tables. One man smashed a bottle very near to the other’s head. It appeared to be a completely consensual fight, but made many people in the area feel nervous and unsafe.
– A woman in the anarcha-feminist conference planning meeting, identifying herself as a radical feminist, described sex work and abortion as ‘contentious issues’ within anarchist feminism.
– Multiple reports of people wolf whistling at women attending the Bookfair, particularly on the way into the main entrance.
– Instances of transphobia in one of the stalls rooms (first small room next to the main room) – in particular someone claiming that in the 1980s people would claim to be transagist to justify paedophilia (and comparing this to trans* people) and claims that “just because you say you’re a woman doesn’t mean you are one”.
– The meeting discussing workplace violence was disrupted by two men who walked in late and proceeded to talk over everyone else, sometimes to each other and sometimes addressing the room.They made misogynist comments about ‘erotic anarchy’ (a workshop that had been held much earlier in the day). There was also some palpable unease about their mental health and whether or not they were drunk which made people uneasy about rejecting them outright. After a while, three women (who didn’t appear to know each other) left, apparently made uncomfortable and angry by the men’s behaviour. Other people also left as it seemed the meeting was not possible with them there. These women were not adequately supported and were allowed to leave without any fuss by the rest of the group. Eventually the men got bored and left and a little after that one of the women returned for the rest of the discussion.