The Time of Monsters

Anarcho-Tyranny in Action: On the Persecution of Daniel Penny

I vividly recall reading about the fate of Michelle Go, who died after being pushed in front of an oncoming train in Times Square in 2022. Strong emotions make for strong memories, or so the adage goes, and the arbitrary nature of the attack certainly elicited immense feelings of agitation within me. The facts of the case are thus: on one Saturday morning last January, Michelle had been waiting for a Subway at 42nd Street station. Just as the train approached the platform, an arm shot out from behind her and shoved her. The screams of horrified onlookers echoed through the station, but there was no time to react, and Michelle was killed instantly. 

It’s difficult not to wonder what went through Michelle’s mind in those final moments before her body collided with the train. There was no moment of struggle, no split-second chance to slam the breaks. While the attack may have been premeditated in regard to its violent intent, the victim was not known to the perpetrator. Michelle was an upstanding citizen, working in a high-flying consulting job at Deloitte, beloved by her friends and family. Her neighbor described her as “just the person who did everything right.” What made the experience so traumatizing for her loved ones was the certainty that “she was just doing something totally normal.”

Martial Simon, the man who murdered Michelle, was described in the New York Times as an African-American homeless man with a history of ‘mental health’ issues. Simon had emigrated from Haiti as a young man, and had found work as a parking lot manager. He began displaying signs of schizophrenia in his 30s, which began a decades-long stalemate with police and medical authorities. He had been hospitalized at least 20 times and told a psychiatrist in 2017 about his compulsion to push a woman onto subway tracks. At the time of the attack, Simon was wanted by the police for violating his bail conditions granted after a violent robbery conviction.

I couldn’t help but think of the case of Michelle Go and Martial Simon when I learned of the death of Jordan Neely in NYC last week. Most were exposed to the incident via a video that went viral on social media, which showed one man restraining another on a Subway train. We knew that the man on the ground was black, the man holding him down was white, and that the former died soon after. Soon more information dripped out. The black man was called Jordan Neely, and he died seemingly after being put into a chokehold by Daniel Penny, a young ex-Marine not native to the city. Penny’s attempt to restrain Neely was aided by two other men, also passengers on the train. The action was not random: a witness stated that Neely had been aggressively threatening passengers and shouting that he was not afraid to go to jail. He had also been complaining of his hunger and thirst.

Neely had a tough upbringing – his father abandoned him as a child, leaving him in the care of his mother Christie. She subsequently moved in with a new boyfriend. The entanglement would prove ill-fated: according to later testimony, Christie and Shawn would “fight everyday.” Matters came to a head in 2007, when Shawn strangled Christie to death. Her corpse was stuffed into a suitcase and dumped on the shoulder of a Bronx highway when her son was just 14 years old. Despite hundreds of interactions with social workers and volunteer staff and involuntary admittances to hospitals, Neely proved impossible to manage. He was placed on a “Top 50” list of the most desperate homeless people in the city. Court documents, combined with decades of online witness testimony, attest to Neely’s violent and unpredictable nature, culminating in a 2021 arrest for punching a 67-year-old woman’s face in the street.

There are similarities between the cases of Jordan Neely and Martial Simon. Neely was an African American man with severe mental health issues, as was Simon. Both had extensive rap sheets (42 arrests for Neely and 44 for Simon), including multiple arrests for violent crime. Each were known to social workers, having interacted with them hundreds of times over the years. But the identity and lives of the deceased in these respective cases are wildly different, and the manner and subsequent reaction to each tell us a lot about modern America.

New York’s subway increasingly resembles a 31-mile-long insane asylum. The rate of felony assaults in the subways in 2021 through November is triple that of the same period in 2019, and there’s still no shortage of criminal dysfunction found underground. Take the case of Frank Abroka, who made headlines in March for smearing feces onto the face of a woman waiting for her ride home. Abroka had been arrested 44 times before. Another man went viral this time last year after he emptied a bag of mice onto a commuter’s head. That’s not to mention the hundreds of individuals smoking crack or marijuana inside carriages, or masturbating in front of other commuters, or ranting and raving at everybody and nobody all at once. Even Michelle Go’s case isn’t unique: 30 other people were shoved in front of Subway tracks in 2022, with many of the known perpetrators described as being mentally unwell. On November 30th of last year alone, at least 121 attacks were reported in the city’s subway.

If you’ve ever ridden the subway system in any major Western city, you’ve probably encountered men like Neely or Simon. You’ll know the little rituals that one must undertake to remain safe. Keeping your head bowed, your headphones in your ears, hands wrapped tightly around your phone, or your keys, or anything that might act as a rudimentary self-defense tool. Looking around for allies, or at least someone else to distract them. Waiting for the inevitable moment they lock on to you. The wild, bloodshot eyes… There’s nothing quite as disturbing as being trapped next to someone who has long since checked out of society – and nothing as humiliating as knowing you’ve been pushed into a role of a passive agent, incapable of defending yourself, let alone the people around you.

Perhaps this inescapable sense of degeneration contributed to the somewhat muted response to Neely’s death. Take this New York Times piece. It is incredibly even-handed – shockingly so, considering the usual caliber of coverage from mainstream outlets regarding any story which could be ascribed a racial angle. The top comments on the article might give us an insight into why this is the case, with readers recounting their own close calls either with Neely himself or other “unhoused” people on the subway. One comment with over a thousand recommendations reads “no jury will convict him [Penny] of anything.” It isn’t a condemnation of America’s supposedly irredeemably white supremacist judicial system, but a positive affirmation of it. A 66-year-old female witness thanked Penny after his restraint of Neely, claiming he only got engaged after the situation got out of hand.

Her sympathy towards Penny is understandable. As of today, the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office has confirmed that Daniel Penny will face a second-degree manslaughter charge. The court case will, like Kyle Rittenhouse’s, become a flashpoint highlighting the divides between those who can and cannot accept vigilante violence, even in circumstances that make it almost necessary for one’s own safety, and those who can. Each new piece of information released about Neely makes his depiction in the left-leaning press (he was a beloved Michael Jackson impersonator!), and the activist class’ insistence that Penny be punished, even more farcical. Penny knew nothing of Neely’s life – the tragedy or the violence – before he chose to put himself in harm’s way, alongside a few others, to assist the people around him. He disrupted the narrative that one must turn away from social decay, to accept it as ‘part and parcel of life in the big city’, and for that must be punished.

This can only be described as anarcho-tyranny in action. There’s very little that any one elected official can do about crime, because control has been given over to the judicial system, making action dependent on the will of the courts. As Samuel Francis identified, “the anarchy that anarcho-tyranny breeds thus serves as the rationale for the tyranny it builds.” The NYPD is funded to the tune of $5 billion, NGOs pour cash into charitable organizations, and mental health support is becoming increasingly sophisticated. More police, more social workers, more prison places… These prescriptions are necessary if only to maintain some level of order, but they are not and can never be a curative solution. And besides, all of these frameworks are useless if the state is unwilling to lock away the dangerously mentally unstable, against their will, for lengthy periods of time. Again, both Neely and Simon had interacted with rehabilitative workers hundreds of times. Unsurprisingly, it did not cure their schizophrenia.

We are taught that the underclass is beyond reproach, and shown that they can operate outside of the framework of universal moral standards. Simon’s lawyer urged the jury not to sacrifice him at the “altar of vengeful public opinion instead of seeking a deeper understanding of these complex issues.” Simultaneously, criminal disorder is treated as a rational response to a ‘broken society’, wherein violent criminals are transmogrified into class-conscious materialists (forget rioting – smoking crack on the L train is the new language of the unheard). Madmen are allowed to wander the streets, while those who resist are pathologized as paranoid bigots. There is virtue only in suffering: the more one suffers, the greater their commitment to the cause, whether they consent to it or not. And the cause will require ever greater sacrifices to be made in its name.

Michelle Go’s death was not a freak accident. It was not an “act of God”. It’s people like her who are victims of The System: one wherein the mad and the violent are free to terrorize their fellow man, where NGO cash and sporadic charity are seen as a meaningful alternative to a punitive state. Penny is a victim of this same system, which implores young men to accept the degeneration of public life, or, failing that, to simply look away. This system makes a mockery of empathy, humiliates the weak, and terrorizes the brave. Liberal optimism – that someone like Neeley could be rehabilitated, that everybody has a shot at turning their life around – is the system, and this is how it works. Now is the time of monsters.

Poppy Coburn is a freelance journalist.

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