Bad Actors, Opportunists, And Apologists

Estelle Ellison
4 min readJun 9, 2023

The fight against mass abuse apologism is harrowing. Throughout the course of this ongoing pandemic, instances of abuse and domestic violence have multiplied. These individual acts of violence are all mirrored by the state and its many ideologues, both fascist and reformist. The presence of these oppressive dynamics means that various tools, behaviors, and tactics are being applied to propagate this violence at both large and small scales.

Previously we discussed how liberalism is a major foundation of today’s historical iteration of fascism. Here will briefly summarize how reactionary strategies have adapted in recent years. Bad actors, opportunists, and apologists are adapting their strategies in response to sharpening discernment from those of us who are unapologetically anti-abuse and stand in opposition to the forces of fascism.

While mass abuse apologism has most notably reached the national political stage in the form of opposition to “cancel culture,” we’ve also seen this reactionary ideology burrow its way deep into academia, the funding and managerial classes, and self-proclaimed leftist organizations both hierarchical and horizontal. Still, these grounds are not enough to sate those who gain power from targeting marginalized folks.

The collective means by which we attempt to keep each other safe from abuse, homelessness, incarceration, and the impacts of this ongoing pandemic are increasingly becoming targeted because they demonstrate a form of power that exists outside of their control. We remember the segment of abolitionists who were all but too comfortable brandishing the apologist rhetoric of the managerial class and cadre to protect abusers in movement spaces and mutual aid networks. That same segment has now become more cautious and willing to make opportunistic empty gestures that might coax us into dropping our guard long enough for them to extract something from what we have built to survive the violences of abuse and fascism.

Bad actors can be broadly defined as people with bad intentions who move through spaces by manipulating anyone who gives them the benefit of the doubt or assumes they are engaging in good faith. Operating in this way allows them to thrive wherever there is a lack of discernment about reactionary attitudes and behaviors. We often find this lack of discernment in networks that assume affinity purely based on shared identity, although this is not always the case. It is important to examine where this does apply because they are also instances where our collective agency can correct the issue once it comes to our attention.

Examples of this include disability justice circles that lack an analysis of anti-Blackness, abolitionist circles that fail to identify and stop patterns of abuse, or cultural milieus that succumb to the charisma of one or a few individuals who then manage to create a cult. None of these examples demonstrate something innately wrong with these different lenses for combatting oppressive dynamics. They simply show that oppression has a way of finding our vulnerabilities to different violences, and bad actors are adept at detecting where we are least equipped to stop them in their tracks.

While bad actors are a type of opportunist, the majority of opportunists are distinct because they are limited to exploiting the things a group or milieu is best at, for better or for worse. Where an opportunist tends to side with the “winning team” in exchange for power and recognition, bad actors typically take advantage of what a group or network of folks are worst at addressing. Where this is not the case, they typically seek to undo what has been gained from people’s concerted efforts to address oppressive dynamics.

By contrast, apologists tend to act only once the people around them have begun to recognize fascistic tendencies or abusive patterns. In this way, they are the last line of defense before a confrontation begins outright. Apologists, whether intentionally or not, normalize oppressive dynamics in order to preserve them and whatever structures and formations depend on those forms of oppression going unchallenged.

As everyday life descends further into fascism, exercising vigilant discernment around these different reactionary behaviors will become a more vital part of our survival. We can’t allow ourselves to believe that we are inherently exempt from participating in various arms of fascism just because of the language we use or the affinity we sometimes form around our shared identities. It’s more imperative than ever that we remain cautious around those who are most invested in us dropping our guard.

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Estelle Ellison

Time dissuades us from getting free... Black Trans Disabled Writer (She/They)