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Rediscovering The Dark Order's Purpose Through Mutual Aid

The Dark Order contributes to a thriving AEW ecosystem. Likewise, groups like it following a mutual aid model are critical to thriving communities. Both should not be forgotten, even as we “return to normal.” 

Photo Credit: Lee Smith/AEW

The Dark Order has perhaps experienced the most pain and disappointment of any faction in AEW as of late. It has lost the majority of its members, most recently Stu Grayson, became primarily a Ring of Honor attraction after a good streak of being featured on Dynamite, and has wound up at war with its greatest success story, “Hangman” Adam Page, who was restored from anxiety and addiction to become AEW World Champion with the group’s help. However, this is a group whose current form is built from tragedy itself, the death of their leader Brodie Lee, and its structure is uniquely suited to promote resilience. That is why I remain hopeful for The Dark Order, if they can recognize and embrace their unique purpose, to help downtrodden and lost wrestlers by supporting each other as equals and through solidarity, which I believe to be unlike anything in wrestling today or in the past. They can serve as a wrestling form of the powerful concept of mutual aid, which has been popularized and embraced during the COVID pandemic to provide practical relief for needs like food and shelter, helping vulnerable populations like the elderly and immunocompromised, and build solidarity, helping support movements like Black Lives Matter, when institutions have failed. And this is not the first time it has been used; there have been prior efforts for disasters like Hurricane Sandy

According to the University of Georgia’s School of Social Work, “mutual aid is when everyday people get together to meet each other’s needs, with the shared understanding that the systems we live in are not meeting our needs and that we can meet them together, right now, without having to pressure power structures to do the right thing.” It is often described as “solidarity, not charity.” Mutual aid groups are member-led, non-bureaucratic, and non-hierarchical with power shared among members, which reflects Dark Order’s more recent structure with no formal leader, save for the largely ceremonial title granted to Brodie Lee Jr. aka Negative One, the ten year old son of its founder. These groups can be more flexible, responsive, and open than conventional civil society institutions. 

This is the opposite of how Dark Order started, however. The “Exalted One” Mr. Brodie Lee lead with an iron fist and a controlling attitude toward its members that caused it to be labeled as a cult. The mission of the group was to save those who needed to "stop losing and start winning” by following “simple” rules ostensibly determined by Lee. It was constantly seeking to recruit new members among the downtrodden of the AEW roster, just as you’d expect from a cult. There was a clear dynamic of who was in power and receiving “help” (members) and who was giving the help (Lee), which is similar to conventional religious institutions or charities. 

The group continued that mission, also rising in popularity through the pandemic on Being The Elite from its temporary clubhouse base at Daily’s Place, without an authority figure and in a somewhat different manner. Today it shows a successful break from authoritarianism and acts as the closest corollary in professional wrestling  to a mutual aid group, ready to indiscriminately make outreach (which it still uses the cult-like “recruitment” term for) and provide support to those who need it. It stood against the major enemies within AEW, was there to help its rising heroes when they had no friends, and revealed the strength of those who were hopeless. The Dark Order is the one faction in AEW that made itself clear that when everyone else abandons you, they are where you can run to for help. They are the faction that doesn’t extend an open challenge for you to prove yourself or wait for you to meet all kinds of torturous qualifications, like having to “bleed” with them, they extend an open door to anyone who may need to rebuild themselves.

This is how mutual aid operates as well: where welfare programs fail to serve those most in need on a timely manner and crises arise where leadership just isn't there, mutual aid groups are ready to help, sans all the red tape. They especially help populations completely left out from government aid, like undocumented persons. But after COVID, mutual aid groups have shrunk in size. Less funding and attention has gone to them, just as funding has dried up for a lot of pandemic-era social services. The decline of both mutual aid and cuts to government financial support after pandemic funding has been rolled back make things doubly difficult as families have to face rising costs, large-scale losses of Medicaid health coverage, and student loan repayments resuming, to name a few.  The pendulum shifted away from helping people and towards the "economy" and business as usual. Less people are talking about mutual aid; the onslaught of press about groups running free fridges is gone. The new crisis is about inflation, how “no one wants to work any more,” and corporations trying to keep their profits up (which they ironically do by creating the former). As AEW has left its pandemic era and gone back to its “normal,” Dark Order has also lost attention and lost multiple members. One source of institutional legitimacy, Colt Cabana, an experienced and recognized wrestler left under circumstances that are related to the next crisis within the AEW movement, the infamous Gripebomb. Notably, the Gripebomb and subsequent alleged brawl occurred at All Out, where Hangman and Dark Order failed to secure the first Trios Championship against The Elite.

“And they’ll challenge those who have it all, and they’ll keep riding, until they find their peace.” - Hangman Adam Page’s entrance with Dark Order

Challenges and Differences with Institutions 

The Democratic Elite and mutual aid groups during the pandemic got along…sort of…with some local governments even referring people to mutual aid networks, now their leaders don’t play with each other well, if at all. From arrests and violations handed out to groups feeding the homeless, to ignoring requests to make logical changes to programs, to the radical vision many mutual aid participants come from that can conflict with neoliberal policy priorities, there is some tension between these groups that do good and the establishment. Mutual aid has a long history of challenging those in power, with its roots often tied back to the Black Panther Party’s “survival programs.” In fact, even when there is no immediate push for regime change, in general, institutions have long struggled to interface with leaderless groups that have natively created means of supporting each other outside the system, misunderstanding or ignoring them. 

Their efficacy and their challenges both come from the fact that they act in a way that an institutional program cannot, hence why they don’t necessarily play well. When a public policy expert or an NGO sees a crisis of depression and loneliness among young men, they would turn to mental health interventions that look more like the Anger Management segments with Daniel Bryan (Bryan Danielson) and Scorpio Sky that leave participants incredulous and screaming questions like “are you a real doctor?” as Bryan did than a group of jacked, funny meme-makers that openly make sexually suggestive “dick jokes.” Dark Order’s role in this instance can be analogized to peer support and peer respite, a model of individuals facing mental health struggles supporting each other through crises operating outside the conventional mental health system, but also working with it at times. It can also be an inoculation against hateful groups that rope young men in by holding themselves out willing to meet them where they are at and falsely claim to help them become who they want to be, a subject I have discussed at length throughout the Hangman storyline. Destructive cults and intolerant ideologies fill the vacuum that a lack of community-led support that is culturally relevant and accessible creates. But imagine how much better things would be if an incel found John Silver’s jokes rather than Pepe the Frog memes and Andrew Tate. 

A diversity of tactics is needed to restore everyone in society to being their best. Another model is that of the Blackpool Combat Club, which rapidly potentiates conflict to resolve it and puts wrestlers to the test to create strength. They push you to fight brutally regardless of what you may feel or how beaten down you are, which can demonstrably create stronger fighters. On the other hand, Dark Order creates healing through community and humor. Dark Order today brings its members out of the darkness and puts Order in their life, as John Silver says, not by knocking them upside the head until they see their own strength but by giving them the companionship, the space, and the resources in the form of manpower and negotiating skill, like how Evil Uno helped broker Hangman as a challenger to Kenny Omega in 2021, to recover and then rediscover themselves to then challenge for victory. They gave Hangman the space to heal from how The Elite crushed him and thrusted him into a downward spiral, looking out for his safety and helping him regain his footing before giving him the confidence to fight again. These are two distinct modalities of creating change that have their own unique value, the roles of which were both ideally exemplified in Hangman Adam Page’s story. 

Healing and Restoring The Spirit

It is the radical vision of the Dark Order and its efficacy demonstrated by Hangman's championship win that showed The Elite they could do well by doing good and abandon their modus operandi of treating others in their orbit badly. Not just Hangman was treated poorly by The Elite but also Brandon Cutler as well, given the demeaning job title of “Associate Stooge,” being told to put up or shut up and work, and was taunted and manipulated by Kenny Omega about his family and financial situation so he would cheat to attain a "job for life." The Elite scoffed at tasks like taking pictures and employed stand-ins to handle them. When they started to get nicer to Brandon, they simply outsourced his fast food fetching duties to stand-ins. 

One of the first signs of The Elite’s transformation was that prior to to the Trios Tournament, The Elite apologized to Hangman for the way they treated him. At this time, Hangman was effectively given permission and acceptance from John Silver in particular to return to The Elite and fulfill his mission. It was clear The Heart, Spirit, and Soul of Hangman Page were restored and lifted by Dark Order, creating a leader who could confidently return to The Elite and bring them back to their values. Further, the well-known crisis AEW endured following Brawl Out, which resulted in Matt Jackson even considering retirement as he stated in AEW All Access,  also helped The Elite recognize and return to their core values, as crisis tends to do. However, having the exemplar for those values is the catalyst for crisis to become a positive. 

Radical viewpoints and groups with alternative ways of viewing the world can push the bounds of debate, both in a negative way as we have seen with far-right ideology, but also in a positive way. Democratic socialist groups like the Democratic Socialists of America influenced politicians like Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, whose ideas like student loan forgiveness, universal healthcare, and widespread green energy investments once deemed preposterous and considered to be communism have been at least somewhat adopted by the Democratic Party Elite and are part of the common political narrative. (Although sadly Dark Brandon’s attempt to get student loan forgiveness fell as hard at the Supreme Court as Brandon Cutler and Michael Nakazawa did to Jon Moxley and Claudio Castagnoli). Once unworkable ideas like universal basic income were effectively spurred into action through crisis with the COVID pandemic aid programs with unprecedented bipartisan support. Taking on these new ideas helped citizens to restore faith in their government through a crisis where government officials were under constant attack.

Now with its new attitude, the lowest among The Elite, now promoted to Chief Stooge, is too singing the praises of the restored group. Brandon Cutler raps in The Elite Anthem, “you see today they paved the way, and paved that road in gold so all the boys young and old can get paid along the way.” Economic opportunity through Killing The Business, a new community of wrestlers enabling each other to create freely, and a positive “Live. Love. Superkick.” agenda are back on the table. And The Elite carried on triumphantly and with legitimacy regained, which is what institutions will see when they start treating citizens better as well. But in the parade of bright colors, they, and their newest rejoined may have forgotten some old friends who brought them to this place.

Un-Serious, Under-Resourced, and Ignored

Mutual aid groups, for all their success, do tend to lack in infrastructure, systems, and resources. Leaders are prone to severe burnout and many got pushed to their ends and drained through the pandemic. Since they are never fully accepted by the establishment, they often fail to gain their footing, maintain funding, and can struggle to transition to becoming community institutions that members can be proud of associating with. The lack of clear rules and management can also present serious conflicts and major issues with financial management that can make it difficult for them to remain a going concern. Though there are certainly stalwart members and excellent efforts that have staying power, you can often go through a mutual aid directory and find just as many groups that were “hot” for a time but just seemingly faded away into the sunset. 

Likewise, many fans have pointed out The Dark Order has been passed up for just about every opportunity they have been given and lost a lot of its TV coverage after Hangman’s championship reign. As of late, it is worth noting the group has also been greatly worn down by battles with notoriously incendiary opponents in the Blackpool Combat Club, stretching their capacities even thinner and leaving yet less manpower available for recruitment. Recruitment has long been a struggle for the group, with Hangman never officially joining because of the group’s past as a cult and the group failing to even answer online applications (including mine). However, now that they do not have any relationship with Hangman, the Dark Order has refused to involve itself in any conflict with BCC, and in fact interfered with Page’s attempt to strike Claudio Castagnoli with a chair at the end of this week’s Dynamite episode. The recent weeks have been the first time that we have seen explicit and serious tension between Dark Order and The Elite. The Dark Order, like those groups that faded away from media coverage, just went away without debate, explicit repudiation, or explanation. 

There is a possibility that some, especially those with experience of success, feel they have “outgrown” a “rag-tag” mutual aid group and want to do something more “serious” to reach their potential or to help others more effectively. Part of this is the internalization of what is considered valuable under capitalism but it can also be because participating in a group that is always facing a run-in by authorities or is unable to execute, no matter how well-intentioned that group may be, feels like an exercise in futility and a waste of time. Those who are in, or have recently risen to, the professional and managerial class may feel out of place in a decentralized mutual support community of any kind. They will likely just walk away and not give a true farewell, just never coming back and leaving it in the past, which does not give the group the honor it merits. There will always be challenges in seeking change and especially in fighting for the most vulnerable, but there must always be both hope and a strategy for getting there. The vision for change must be aspirational, help a person to feel their strength along with knowing the strength in numbers that comes from collaborating equally with others, and not become about being defensive or mere languishing. Page, a former high school journalism teacher, prior to taking time off for the birth of his son (which he referred to at the time as “riding solo”), wisely created a commercial for Dark Order that lays out their value proposition quite well. 

Stu Grayson, who departed for The Righteous in Ring of Honor, and Preston Vance, who harshly betrayed Dark Order when he defected to La Facción Ingobernable were casualties of Dark Order's lack of long-term purpose and support. Vance was perhaps the harshest critic of Dark Order’s perceived lack of purpose, strategy, and strength. In departing to LFI, he brutalized his former partners, viewed the group as a joke, and even insulted Lee Jr. Vance excoriated the symbolic role “Negative One” held as the “leader” of Dark Order and defended hurting his feelings by saying that his boss was Tony Khan, owner of AEW, and not a “child,” which also serves as an attack on the leaderless model of the group. Both appeared to have found something more aspirational, and a group of people to challenge them and bring them to the next level as fighters in those respective groups more than they felt they could within Dark Order. This is, despite the fact that their in-ring work shows the Dark Order too has top-notch athletes in John Silver, who is a two-time strongman competition winner and trained in jiu-jitsu, Alex Reynolds, who has appeared in WWE and earned championships in various independents, and Evil Uno, who has the unique combination of expertise as founder of a wrestling school and an accomplished video gamer. 

Mutual aid groups should not be afraid to show strength, professionalism and expertise, and use their members to the top of their abilities. However, the authenticity of the community of a mutual aid group is paramount and we should not seek to convert such into the apparatus of capitalism, into the depths of hustle culture, overwork, or burnout, or into the hierarchy of conventional charity. Mutual Aid Disaster Relief describes situations where mutual aid groups devolve into a “toxic and unsustainable organizing culture” by acting much like the capitalists and patriarchs they set out to oppose. Excessively conceding the distinctives of such groups nullifies their power, or as I like to say, “when they lose their edge, they lose their efficacy.” Or as Hangman would say “we let the world get into us.” This is a common mistake of social movements that gain institutional and cultural legitimacy. As such, there may be a point where some members necessarily become more involved with other causes or communities and place less emphasis in their own life on the group, but it is important to know that these former members can still remain powerful allies of the group and a testament to the value of their unique model, an exemplar that these are not “bad people.” They have valuable ideas, they are able to help and contribute, and should have a seat at the table. This was my hope for the transition of Hangman to The Elite, especially as Page was given permission by Dark Order and the group appeared to show understanding of why he would return to The Elite during the Trios Tournament. 

However, Page who has been known throughout for having difficulties maintaining friendships and this is no exception. There was substantial awkwardness between the two groups and Page did not directly address Dark Order in any way after rejoining The Elite, ignoring their calls and text messages. This is clearly not the best way to handle the situation but the tension between living in the world of the “successful” versus being with friends who helped you through your worst time is a tension many who have come out of bad situations can relate to, and it can cause alienation and bitterness like we are seeing here. Hangman likely feels conflicted on how to do right for those friends who helped him and those who he he will be moving on with, those he considers “more than friends,” his “family” in The Elite (though Page more specifically used similar words about Kenny Omega). (I recommend listening to the insights the podcast Emotional Support Wrestling offered into Page’s unique relationship with Omega.) 

Standing Strong and Coexisting

We need The Elite of our government, business, and civic society to support self-organizing communities solving their own problems. They should not ignore the value of these groups as we return to “normal,” nor blindly move on to the next shining object. Maintaining this connection to the community that built them up is crucial for leaders so that they do not repeat the very past that led them to distress and adversity, or inflict that regime on others. Every community should have its own Dark Order clubhouse where people can come together to support each other through hard times, create friendships, and have fun in the process. A group of people who are ready and willing to intervene when all the institutions have walked away or been pushed past their capacity. Mutual aid groups should not solely be seen as places to go and seek refuge when times are hard, but as living, breathing communities that can celebrate success and thrive. The Dark Order’s unique brand of humor could be an exemplar for this as it learns its lessons through this process. 

I still sense that The Elite are still Dark Order’s biggest fans. So maybe like BCC has done so marvelously for its part in Hangman's story, a bond can now be formed in blood and through tests of the strength of this remaining core group. My hope is that Hangman and The Elite will seek to at some point re-engage Dark Order towards a resolution or at least an understanding of some sort. Page has a great ability to exhort and reach the soul, and having the discussion explicitly, even if it must be accompanied by battle, will prove mutually beneficial. The Elite treating Dark Order, at a minimum, in a sportsmanlike manner will add yet another point showing they are, in fact, the heart, soul, and spirit of AEW. The very term “dual power” implies that these groups should remain powerful and strong enough as they coexist with existing institutions. Dark Order, I hope, will grow to instead of needing to engage in desperate recruitment, naturally spring into its role of service and become notorious enough that when one’s story reaches that hard time, when they need reprieve from the tribulation and angling for power that pervades both wrestling and society, they know who to call. The group seems to have recently not been engaged in any activities relating to its mission of helping others, or any significant “recruitments,” and instead become caught up in the difficulties of its relationships with former members. Getting caught up in personal disputes can overshadow the purpose of any organizing project and without making a change Dark Order will remain lacking something to be “known for” in the faction-laden world of AEW. It is yet to be seen if Negative One will follow the trend of other young inheriting leaders of becoming more progressive than their ancestors, which has included some transferring their family businesses to employee ownership. On a more economic level, Dark Order has already shown its unique value to AEW as an organization as well through its humor generating organic virality. Highlighting its success, its distinctives, living its purpose, and staying centered on its original mission to help people become winners again will elevate Dark Order to become aspirational again and a beacon of hope for those wrestlers lost amidst the shuffle of the wild AEW Galaxy and Ring of Honor, just as the success of mutual aid through global crisis and hopefully beyond it can continue to bring hope to the forgotten in our society. We could all use some friends like Dark Order and all we need to do is reciprocate and show respect to make the aid mutual. 

Greyson Peltier is the host of The Fixerpunk Podcast, a podcast seeking to Bridge The Divide Between Personal and Social Change, a communications consultant specializing in social impact and political advocacy, and founder of consulting firm Off Speed Solutions. His columns here focus on the fight to Change The World, through the lens of kayfabe. Peltier holds a BA in Political Science from the University of Southern California, Associate’s degrees in Economics, Business Administration, and Social and Behavioral Sciences from Coastline College, and has been featured in media outlets like Vice, ESPN Radio KLAA, USA Radio Network, Sportskeeda, and Street Fight Radio. H

This content is for entertainment and general informational purposes only. We do not warrant or guarantee the accuracy of the information herein. This is not medical, legal, business, or financial advice. The viewer should not rely solely upon this article and consult a competent professional before deciding to follow any course of action.  If you have any mental health or medical concerns, we urge you to promptly contact your physician or other qualified healthcare provider


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