The rich ruin everything. Especially the rebellion. None of us need HBO’s “The Anarchists” to deliver this revelation; we live the truth of it. In that regard, Todd Schramke’s documentary series should seem timely.
For those seeking to understand the anarchist movement, which requires ignoring the definition adopted by Fox News, Schramke’s examination provides clarity without necessarily landing on a single crystallized answer. But if you’re looking for a weirder-than-fiction TV bump, beware. Jumping into this story is like sniffing a rail only to find out too late that your fun has been cut with scratch powder. And once that stuff settles into your membranes, damn it, it’s impossible to flush it out.
“The Anarchists” sounds like perfect and weird documentary obsession material, you agree. He may not be expressly a cult madman or a cheater extraordinaire, but you’ll recognize nuances of each in Jeff Berwick. Granted, Berwick lacks the dangerous strength of, say, a Ma Anand Sheela, and he doesn’t even come close to calling himself a crook on par with Fyre Festival CEO Billy McFarland.
RELATED: Libertarians’ Scary New Star: Meet Bryan Caplan, the Right-Wing’s Next ‘Great’ Philosopher
What Berwick was offering was real: a seeded gathering that quickly exploded into a destination for wealthy counterculture cryptocurrency tourists, including members of the Wu-Tang Clan and former member of the Ron Paul Congress.
Jumping into this story is like sniffing a rail only to find out too late that your fun has been cut with scratch powder.
The stylish Canadian brother of freedom describes himself on one of his websites as an anarcho-capitalist, libertarian and “freedom fighter against the two greatest enemies of mankind, the state and central banks” . He presents himself as a kind “ideas” guy, one of dozens appearing on our screens and on social media with promises of a lifetime to emulate.
Schramke follows a subset of self-proclaimed anarchists who answered Berwick’s call by inviting them to Acapulco, Mexico, and Anarchapulco, a “freedom conference” he founded in 2015. Conceptualized as a A retreat designed to bring together the anarchist community and explore the practice of philosophy in the real world, it quickly ended up becoming a buzzing cryptocurrency sales marathon with slogans like “freedom space.”
But the core values of anarchy found favor among a few like-minded souls who gravitated to Mexico in search of community. Others have known only disillusionment, violence and death, whether by falling into the destructive side of a way of life that fueled their lowest urges, or by falling prey to local cartels of dope. It doesn’t help that Anarchapulco welcomed a few personalities who interpreted anarchy to mean anarchy, giving them the green light to play their most dangerous impulses.
Berwick’s image does not benefit from this aggressive integration of madness; indeed, he’s such an ordinary snake oil salesman that his presence quickly escalates from pivotal to irritating. It’s clear from the first episode that he’ll be the last man standing once everything implodes; he has the generic look of a one percent hair product, the kind of guy who definitely shouldn’t star in a rap video. (Take this as a warning. And make sure you have a pillow nearby to contain your screams.)
In the documentary series, he portrays himself as your average millionaire entrepreneur who finds enlightenment through an anti-US Reserve conspiracy theory textbook. Digesting its teachings and other anti-central bank texts as he made his way around the world on a “100 country party”, he was drawn to Acapulco’s reputation for lawlessness.
He settled there, married an Acapulco native named Kena (who is seen, but not heard of), and revived himself as a champion of true freedom, founding a conference in 2015 called Anarchapulco.
Acapulco, Mexico – “The Anarchists” (Courtesy of HBO)
“The Anarchists” is ultimately organized around three major narratives related to Berwick and this event, but before the series comes together, we are introduced to a host of characters gathering around Berwick, a few of whom sincerely believe in anarchy and live its principles. One of the earliest testimonials from Erika Harris, a black woman fed up with the nine-to-five grind genuinely seeking a different way to live, makes a compelling case that living in some version of self-contained happiness is possible. .
Harris seems really at ease, like she’s got it all figured out, and maintains that aura of levity every time we see her.
But she’s treated more as a balancing device than someone with a larger story to tell. This may be because she is one of the few stable “average” people who are still part of the anarchist community that still exists in Berwick’s orbit. She seems like a good person to spend time with. That doesn’t necessarily make her the right type of character for a job like this.
Nathan Freeman and his wife Lisa fit this bill. The couple left the United States to live as anarchists in Mexico for the sake of their children, with Lily Forester and John Galton the aliases of a young anarchist couple to flee to Anarchapulco to escape drug charges related to possession of cannabis.
If you recognize John Galton’s name, it might be because you read the sacred conservative text from which it is derived, or one of the 2019 international headlines about the murder of an American fugitive in Mexico. All documentary series of this genre involve some type of crime surrounded by questions about guilt.
The fact that Schramke got to know the couple and filmed them before their shocking tragedy helps the survivors dispel some misconceptions about what happened. Some of them feel shameless victim blaming to protect the Anarchapulco brand, which it essentially became in its third and fourth years.
Unraveling and organizing these narratives requires some discipline even before considering the outsized role of cryptocurrency in this story.
The Anarchists”…reveals that the dividing line between utopia and hell [is] effectively the same one that opens up divided democracies around the world.
But Schramke’s ability to bring all of these narratives together in a cohesive form proves sporadic and limited at best. This may be due to the filmmaker’s proximity to this motley, densely populated community for six years; a few supposedly central actors appear in archival footage or are mentioned in stories without anyone explaining why mentioning them is necessary.
Perhaps his stylistic goal is to capture the chaos of the period he chronicled, but such choices contribute to softness obscuring key lessons in this uplifting story, beginning with the community’s inability to hear about a single definition of anarchy.
Near the beginning of the series, Schramke shares his definition as “the organization of society on the basis of voluntary cooperation, without political institutions or hierarchical government”.
Berwick declares that Anarchapulco has no leader while positioning himself as the lord overlord of the region. The Freemans play the role of administrative support to his vision, up to a point. Forester and Galton see it as an extension of agorism, which she summarizes as “avoiding paying taxes and living off one’s skills”. The common theme of “taxation is fraud” is about the only part of the concept that everyone agrees with. Everything else is fungible.
Forester and Galton become the soul of this community and this series, and their extensively explored stories are the best aspects of later episodes, in which the filmmaker inserts himself more frequently into the action. Thanks to Forester, in particular, we have a better understanding of how the system fails trauma survivors and why a way of being supposedly stateless would appeal to someone like her.
Meanwhile, the experience of his friend Jason Henza shows why such communities often turn out to be mirages.
Want a daily recap of all the news and commentary Salon has to offer? Subscribe to our morning newsletter, Crash Course.
When “The Anarchists” finds some semblance of rhythm, it reveals that the dividing line between utopia and hell was in fact the same one that opened up divided democracies across the world – that is, say that everything falls apart once the haves turn their backs on the haves. -not.
A few years ago, “The Anarchists” may have sounded more gripping than it does now, when the hokum spit on the Anarchapulco stage is widely broadcast on Fox News and other ecosystem players. far right. This doesn’t mean that our society is leaning more towards anarchy, but rather indicates how normalized conspiracy theories are.
But whatever draw he might muster comes down to something far more basic, explained in the words of Juan Galt (yup, unrelated): the dream of anarchy collides with the reality of human conflict , and drama and shit hit the fan. When that last part breaks down, you can count on the Berwicks of the world to follow their real truth. “As bad as the world is,” he concludes, “you can just ignore it, really, and work on yourself.”
“The Anarchists” airs Sunday, July 10 at 10 p.m. on HBO. Watch a trailer via YouTube.
More stories like this: