Opinion: Protest Paparazzi Have No Place Among the People

Editor’s Note: This opinion piece is a follow-up to the “The False Objectivity of Hiram Garcia

By David Martinez

Protesters particularly don’t like kindness towards police officers.”

This is how Hiram Garcia, an independent livestreamer based in Austin, Texas, explained to his audience why he was getting such a chilly reception at a protest for Black lives on Sunday, September 20.

Throughout the day, Hiram had been challenged and blocked from gaining access to the main crowd, and at this point was retreating to those who always welcome his supposedly ‘unbiased’ reporting with open arms—the police and reactionaries who seek to threaten and shut down the protests that Hiram treats as his personal content farm. The protesters who stonewalled him recognize that Hiram is not a journalist in service of the people—he is nothing more than part of the ‘Protest Paparazzi,’ and he has preyed on the uprisings to build his own personal brand.

Protesters block Hiram’s camera with their hands and signs.

Three days later, at Austin’s protest in response to the Breonna Taylor case, militant protesters ejected Hiram by force after he refused multiple demands for him to stop filming. Protesters chanted, “Act like a cop, get treated like a cop,” as he was run out. Afterwards he went on his livestream to snitch to his mostly right-wing audience and the cops who watch his feed, claiming that a Tribune of the People Support Committee member “assaulted” him.

Tribune rejects this accusation; his disgusting statements only confirm the position of protesters that he is nothing more than a liar, a coward, and a snitch for the state. Hiram wants to attack the revolutionary press because Tribune has documented clearly how he aids the state and seeks friendly relations with the police and reactionaries.

The protesters’ actions against Hiram’s presence have been building over weeks as stronger unity grows among various groups in Austin and a clearer recognition emerges of who are the common dangers to the protest movement. As always, the racist, murderous police are to be combated, but sinister spectators like Hiram, who cozy up to the police and who refuse to side with the people, are not just in the way—they are an asset to state agents and align with the repression of the movement.

Hiram’s statement that “Protesters particularly don’t like kindness towards police officers,” shows his view of protesters clearly. He condescendingly thinks that those who do not support “kindness” towards the officers just have a misguided, personal opinion, when in fact they hold the only reasonable and correct political position—that they should not show kindness toward the very people who are there to repress them and kill Black people across the US.

After Hiram was pushed out, a police officer approached him to ask a leading question, “Do you feel like maybe your First Amendment right is being inhibited right now?” to which Hiram answered “yes.” The officer eggs Hiram on, asking “Do you want to file any charges or anything?” Hiram declines, but before he leaves, the officer emphasizes, “If you need anything just give us a call.” Hiram responds, “I will, thank you.”

The First Amendment does not exist to regulate civilian interactions with the press—unsurprisingly neither Hiram nor his police body guard are experts in constitutional law, but regardless—what’s clear is that Hiram will be protected by the police while the state is eager to criminalize the free speech of protesters to challenge him and deny him access.

Not only this, but the police officer was eager to charge the Black organizer who confronted Hiram with infringing on Hiram’s ‘rights,’ showing that they find Hiram useful to their racist agenda. There is no such thing as universal free speech in a class society. The free speech to oppose Hiram, with words and the use of signs, is something the police want to arrest people over—especially Black leaders, who must be cherished for their commitment to their people and the people generally.

A reactionary uses Hiram’s livestream to single out a Black organizer.

One reactionary shared a screenshot of Hiram’s feed in a ‘Patriot Party’ Facebook group in an attempt to identify the Black organizer as the ‘leader of BLM’ in Austin, with the clear goal of inciting persecution and potential violence against him. This is the fruit of Hiram’s ‘journalism,’ keeping reactionaries, whether the police or ‘patriots,’ informed and able to profile the movement in order to bring further repression on it.

Hiram and his audience see protesting as a form of tabloid entertainment, a spectator sport, and as their opportunity to insult, criminalize, and persecute protesters. The protests for Black lives are neither a sport nor a reality show, and protesters are right to disallow vultures like Hiram who endanger them and refuse to serve the people. Many patient and considerate attempts have been made to get Hiram to support the security of protesters, but he categorically denied all reasonable requests. In essence, he prizes his personal project at the expense of the movement’s needs.

At this point, Hiram’s friendliness with police and stubborn refusal to side with protesters can’t be seen as simple naiveté or a sincere ignorance—it is willful political reaction. His growing defensiveness pushes him closer to the right-wing trolls who populate his comments section. He is finding that his only supporters are the police and other reactionaries that attend events or watch his feed to harass and insult protesters. Every other comment on his feed claims that the protesters must be doing something illegal if they don’t want Hiram there. They encourage Hiram to stick his camera into people’s faces regardless of the organizers’ requests.

It speaks volumes that Hiram is expelled by Black Lives Matter protesters but received with open arms, literally, by the reactionary biker groups who harass protests and the police, whom he runs to when protesters box him out. When he was expelled from Sunday’s protest, he ran to the Wind Therapy Freedom Riders (WTF), who greeted him and gave him a warm hug. Hiram’s false ‘objectivity’ appeals to and serves this reactionary social base. His ‘objectivity’ is not liberatory—it is the tabloid journalism of the Protest Paparazzi which can only be harmful to protesters, which is why those defending him are all reactionaries.

Hiram hugs a member of Wind Therapy Freedom Riders (WTF), a group of reactionary bikers who harass Black Lives Matter Protests in Austin

At one point in his feed, Hiram defends himself by saying that the cops already know about protests, therefore—he isn’t providing information they don’t already have. Just because the police know where a march is at and place undercover officers in them, does not mean that protesters should not restrict their eyes. Hiram serves as the police’s eyes in the crowd when they are unable to get in close. In addition, he gives cover to placed agents so that they will not necessarily have to come forward with testimony, especially when he has already done the profiling work for them.

Hiram, at least in the past, has been granted access to the inside of marches, which the police observing from outside have not been. This is another vital reason that the police watch his stream and endorse his activity. Halo cameras, body cameras, and other such gadgets are simply incapable of providing the quality of surveillance that Hiram has provided, intentionally or not.

Hiram complains that the mainstream media have been allowed to remain at most protests, but unlike Hiram, they keep their distance and do not primarily infringe upon the protest or seek unlimited access. They will expose people if given the chance, but are often prevented from doing so by their understood distance from the movement. When they do cross boundaries, they are also often confronted and expelled.

However, Hiram’s entitlement and arrogance makes him claim to be unbiased, when he is no less biased than the mainstream journalists. His only difference is that he wishes to be right in the middle of protests and be granted unlimited access as if he were one of the people protesting.

As Hiram walked away after being blocked from the protest on Sunday, he told the organizers who confronted him that, “I wasn’t so interested in capturing the event, as much as your reaction to me as media,” admitting that it as all about him and he isn’t actually interested in providing substantive coverage. Yet he will incessantly insist that he isn’t the story. His line is never consistent because everything comes down to what serves him and his camera, not the wider movement and the people in struggle.

Hiram is based in Austin, which has a strong trend of reactionary media who try to mingle among crowds and dupe people into interviews, mainly to ridicule them. Hiram shares the same role as Infowars reporters Owen Shroyer and Savanah Hernandez, but instead of outright right-wing politics, he promotes reactionary liberal politics with his farcical concept of ‘unbiased’ reporting. Hernandez was also exposed at the recent Breonna Taylor march, and was physically confronted by women militants who knocked her and her camera to the ground.

Infowars reporter Savanah Hernandez is surrounded and physically ejected from a protest.

Similar to the fascist media, Hiram is not above using identity politics when necessary, and has resorted to opportunistically telling any white person who confronts him that they are trying to censor a ‘person of color.’ But it has been Black organizers who have led the recent charge against Hiram, and it is the white people confronting him who are standing on the side of the movement for Black lives, as well as the protesters who see Hiram for the snitch that he is. He cannot hide behind his false ‘objectivity’ any longer.

The objective truth is that Black people are oppressed. Standing by that truth means there is a correct and incorrect stand—you stand with the oppressor or with the oppressed. Taking the position that racist oppression exists and is okay, or denying the fact that Black people are oppressed, is not objective. It is also not objective to claim that those who think like reactionaries are as legitimate as those who uphold the truth that Black people are oppressed. The truth is partisan, not a nebulous gray area open to subjective interpretation or negation.

So what is ‘objective reporting?’ It is faithfully documenting the undeniable reality that this system is irredeemable and must be overthrown, and standing by those who face suffering and make sacrifices in the fight to accomplish revolution.

‘Objective reporting’ does not mean giving equal airtime and legitimacy to those who act on what is true and those who act on what is false, as if they were both ‘right.’ This is a bourgeois concept, and no matter what it claims to be, this is not ‘objective’ but serves the ruling class, those already with power. Hiram serves the powered class and only by accident occasionally does something useful for those without power. Yet his involvement consistently is found useful to the state and police.

Protesters are calling for responsible livestreaming, or no livestreaming at all if necessary. Tribune hears this call—and seeks to ensure that those fighting for Black lives and revolutionary journalists are on the same page when possible. The powered elites already own all the major means of communication, so the protest movement must develop its own means, its own voices. The demands of the people are simple—respect the struggle and support it, or do not enter its ranks. We are left with only two possibilities when it comes to the fight for Black lives: support for Black people in their struggles, or oppose them through negligence or malice. No good can come to the latter, and there is no neutrality left in regard to racism. Racism is not a topic about which any person can claim to ‘professionally’ sit on the fence.

Hiram is only one example of the Protest Paparazzi being dealt with by the people themselves, but he will not be the only one (as Hernandez found out as well). In the age of digital surveillance, protesters are correct to take whatever means necessary to minimize their risk of exposure, arrest, being beaten, or murdered by the forces of reaction. All protests are schools of war, and even bourgeois battlefield reporters and war correspondents know well that they are not permitted to run around between both sides making entertainment. Hiram is learning the hard way that if you don’t side with the people, you’ll be treated like the enemy you are.

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