As a small show of solidarity with anarchist prisoners I put up posters in West Philly and South Philly. Along the way I also took down some annoying infowars and right libertarian stickers 😛
Fire to the Prisons
For a Dangerous June
As a small show of solidarity with anarchist prisoners I put up posters in West Philly and South Philly. Along the way I also took down some annoying infowars and right libertarian stickers 😛
Fire to the Prisons
For a Dangerous June
Sing Me Home is an album of folk and country cover songs against prisons and the police. All proceeds from the album go towards benefiting long-term anarchist prisoners in tandem with the June 11th international day of solidarity.
These are the voices that sing through us, sing with us, sing us home. These songs are about killing guards and getting free, about the concreteness of prison walls and also how dream and memory are able to travel through those walls, about the pain of missing the ones you love and about the strength of solidarity. We hope that these songs become part of our lives and that singing them becomes a source of power.
In this interview for the June 11th International Day of Solidarity with Marius Mason and All Long-Term Anarchist Prisoners, we talked to Grace from Jeremy Hammond support.
Jeremy Hammond is a long-time anarchist and hacker who is serving 10 years in prison for leaking information about Strategic Forecasting, Inc. (Stratfor), a private intelligence firm engaged in spying at the behest of corporations and governments. Jeremy was arrested in March 2012, and has remained vocal and defiant behind bars.
We talked about Jeremy’s case, repression Jeremy has faced for his defiant attitude, the potential for solidarity between the hacker and anti-prison worlds, long-term support for prisoners, the generalization of prisoner support amongst anarchists, Lauri Love, and the specific nature of supporting anarchist prisoners.
JUNE 11TH: Can you start by telling us about yourself and your experience with prison and prisoner support?
GRACE: Sure. My name is Grace North. I’ve been heading up the Jeremy Hammond committee since 2013. Before that I had really no formal experience in prison support. I had participated in it tangentially through other activist work that I did, but before that I had never really done any formal prison support. When Jeremy asked me to do it I said, “Sure!” not really realizing what I was getting myself into. All of my experience with prison support has really been learning as I go along. I joke with people that my strategy is to just bumble along and hope I don’t mess things up too badly. It seems to be going okay so far.
J11: Can you speak to the importance of prisoner solidarity as part of the anarchist project and other liberation struggles, in specific to the necessity of long term prisoner support?
G: Absolutely. I feel that prisoner support, especially for us anarchists, is inextricably tied with our values as anarchists. One of our core principles is the principle of solidarity, especially solidarity with the oppressed, and honestly prisoners are some of the most oppressed and the most marginalized people in this country, especially because most of the prison population is made up of black and brown people. If we as anarchists are not engaging in all areas of solidarity, we really have no business calling ourselves anarchists in the first place because anarchy is all about solidarity with the oppressed and marginalized. I think it’s hugely important for us to engage in this and so often it is a little bit overlooked.
We do a really good job in the beginning where there’s all this hype and energy, but sustaining that energy can be a hard in any activist project. For long term prisoners, we need to especially keep that going because prison is so brutally dehumanizing that the longer you’re there the more it wears on you, the more it does its best to grind you down. We need to be especially supporting long term prisoners.
J11: Can you tell us more about Jeremy, his case, and what he’s up to now?
G: Sure. Jeremy is a lifelong activist. He’s being doing activism pretty much his entire life. He was part of a hacking group. They were known as LulzSec, later known as AntiSec. AntiSec was sort of an offshoot of LulzSec. In the beginning, it was hacking just for a little bit of mayhem. Later, especially with Jeremy’s hacks, it became more political. Jeremy tied in his politics as an anarchist with his hacking. He hacked Stratfor. He hacked several police and law enforcement related groups and organizations. Unbeknownst to him, unfortunately, one of the other members of the group, Hector Monsegur, had been arrested several months prior on identity-theft-related charges and agreed to turn state’s witness. So, all this time he was being watched by the FBI. Hector Monsegur helped the FBI connect the dots and lead them to Jeremy. Jeremy was then arrested in March of 2012.
J11: Can you speak to how the strengths or failings of prisoner support have personally affected Jeremy?
G: I know absolutely 100% that the support that he received from the outside and from various groups, such as yourself and from other individuals have absolutely helped him maintain his spirit. He remains strong, vocal, and defiant. I know a large part to the support from the people outside is writing him, sending him books, really just keeping his spirits up and reminding him that he’s not alone and that no matter how much prison and the system tries to strip him of who he is, he’s still there and there’s still people that care about him and see him. I think that importance of being seen just really has kept his spirits up.
J11: Years into his sentence, Jeremy has remained vocal and defiant. I know he releases a lot of statements, there’s some sort of Twitter feed. Has he faced any repercussions for his outspoken attitude?
G: Absolutely. For those who may be listening who do not know, he was sent to the segregated housing unit, also know as solitary confinement. I believe it was last summer right after the shooting in Dallas where several police officers were killed, he released a tweet that basically said that everybody on the inside was excited to see the police get some get back and he ended it with “Support the Dallas shooter.” He didn’t say, “you yourself should go out and kill cops” or anything like that, he just said “Support the Dallas shooter.” For that statement, he was placed in SHU. At first, he didn’t know why. They wouldn’t tell him why he was placed in SHU. And unfortunately, the process in SHU is that they can put you in SHU for 90 days without charge. At the end of 90 days they either have to charge you or let you go. Unfortunately, if they charge you and you are found guilty of whatever infraction it is, the 90 days that you’ve already spent in SHU doesn’t count towards whatever sentence you’re handed out. So, you can spend 90 days in SHU and if it’s a severe shot you can get however much longer. SHU and solitary are torture. They are absolutely inhumane.
At fist when he was sent down to SHU they wouldn’t tell him why he was there. They wouldn’t tell him what was going on. And then the warden personally visited and basically said to Jeremy, “Look you’re not our problem anymore. We’re sending you to a CMU”, which again, for those who may be listening who don’t know what a CMU is, it stands for Communication Management Unit. There are only two in the entire country. It’s sort of like a prison within a prison where your communications are very highly restricted, there are no in-person visits, you get one 15 minute phone call per week that must be between certain hours of the day. It’s extremely restrictive. They’re hell. Several anarchist prisoners have spent time in them. Daniel McGowan. Walter Bond, also I believe may still be in a CMU or may have just got out. People that are in CMU are people that have been convicted of terrorism-related charges. I think something like 80% of people in CMUs are Muslim. They came down and they said, “Look you’re not our problem anymore.” Those were their exact words: that he was not their problem and they were sending him away. We all worried for weeks and weeks and weeks. We didn’t know what was happening. He didn’t know what was happening. He didn’t know if he was going to get transferred, so we were all sick. Everybody that knows him and supports him was sick for weeks wondering what was going to happen, where he was going to go, how they were going to punish him.
In the end, he had another talk with people at the prison that basically outlined exactly what he could say and what he couldn’t and they sent him back to general population. So, he was sent to solitary, threatened with being transferred to this other prison environment that is even more highly restrictive than the one he’s in, and then nothing. He was given a low level shot and then sent back. He’s had email and phone taken. He had email taken for writing a letter of support for Barrett Brown because he sent it to someone else to be given to Barrett Brown’s judge. He has over and over again been penalized for speech and been penalized for being just who he is.
J11: That reminds me – I recently saw a picture of Jeremy with one of the Cleveland 4. I think it was Connor or Brandon?
G: Connor Stevens, yeah. They hang out pretty regularly. Jeremy has tried to befriend Connor considering they’re both sort of the same kind of person on the inside. He has tried to be someone that he can talk to if he needs it. Of the Cleveland 4, he’s a little bit of the reclusive one. Connor’s been going through some stuff recently that I don’t know if I’m at liberty to talk about so I’ll just leave it at that. And Jeremy has tried to befriend him and guide him through what he’s going though.
J11: So, with Chelsea Manning recently released from prison and the government still seeking to capture Edward Snowden and Lauri Love, what do you think the future looks like for repression against hackers and information leakers?
G: Well, with this administration I honestly don’t have much hope. I feel like especially with Trump saying over and over again he’s the law and order candidate and Sessions taking such a hard line against things like prison reform, hackers, activists, and people with a political motive are going to be treated a little bit more harshly because they’re going up against such a fascist regime. It hurts me to say that, but I’m not hopeful and I feel like these next four years are going to involve a lot of really hard work to support a lot of really good people. I don’t want that fear to hold people back. I do want people to be very careful. I do want people to follow their conscience and do what they feel is right and what they feel is necessary, but honestly it really scares me. It really scares me, which is why I feel like prisoner support – we’re going to need more people, we’re going to need people who are committed, we’re going to need people who are in it for the long run because again, I’m not hopeful with the administration with the way it is.
J11: On that note, generally we see a pretty small number of people doing a lot of the support work for anarchist prisoners. Do you see any potential for expanding those roles and building on connections between other movements and communities and prisoner support efforts?
G: Absolutely. I’ve spoken about this before. The internet has become such an integral part of how we communicate with each other and how we spread information that I feel like the hacker community is really good at supporting its own. It’s pretty good at that. But unfortunately, the hacker community tends to be overwhelmingly white and male and they sort of forget about all these other really awesome people that also need support. The potential is there. It’s there. The hacker community just needs to open itself up a little bit. We also tend to be very insular. The hacker community just needs to open itself up a little bit more and recognize that they have such a huge potential to help so many people and to spread information and to get activists mobilized and to just do things. They need to recognize that it’s not just them that’s suffering. Many other communities are suffering. Many other people are suffering. We need to, as a community, offer our skills to not only lift up their voices, but to expand the scope of who we reach and how we reach them. I just think it’s so important for hacktivists and the hacker community to get in line with.
J11: It’s really good to hear that you’re hopeful about those connections being strengthened.
G: I really hope that they can be because there’s just so much potential there. I know I keep saying that, but there is. There’s so much potential. Look at how protests can be mobilized in a day just getting the word out, especially on social media, Twitter, Facebook. You don’t even have to be technically a hacker. I mean right now we’re looking at the prospect of the government going after WikiLeaks. What’s going to happen to people like Jeremy? I talked to some friends who are hackers and computer people and I said, “Look, I might need some help if this happens” and immediately I had 8-10 people go, “You know what? We got you if this happens. We can put websites back up. The down time will be a day at most. We got this.” I would really like to see that solidarity expanded further beyond supporting fellow hacktivists.
I did a talk in Berlin where I tied in other whistle blowers from other movements. People know who Chelsea Manning is. They know who Jeremy Hammond is, but do they know who Jeffrey Sterling is? He’s a black former CIA agent that blew the whistle on the CIA. People know who Eric Garner is. Do they know who Ramsey Orta is? Ramsey Orta filmed Eric Garner’s death and, to me, that’s being a whistle blower. That is taking action in the face of the overwhelming repression that Ramsey Orta has faced. I mean, he’s in jail on trumped up weapons charges. Do they know who people like Ramsey Orta are? Not just do they know who he is, but do they support him? Do they support the NODAPL protesters, who again in the face of overwhelming government repression brought light to the brutality of capitalism and the police state by being there, by putting their bodies on their line to protect sacred land and water? Do they support activists in countries that are facing overwhelming repression by the government just being out on the streets? It’s not just hackers who can be whistle blowers and that’s something that I really think the hacktivist community needs to get in their heads. You don’t have to hack to be a whistle blower. If you support whistle blowers, you need to support all whisper blowers, including people like Jeffrey Sterling, people like Ramsey Orta, people like those out there protesting DAPL. We need to support them all, not just the ones that fall within our narrow, overwhelming white and male community.
J11: That’s a really good point that you bring up. There are just so many people in prison who need and deserve our support. Can you speak to other challenges of prisoner solidarity and what you think we could collectively be doing better?
G: I think one of the major challenges to supporting prisoners is that after a while it’s not flashy anymore. When there’s the trial, we got all this great momentum. We got to support them, we got to make sure they got letters, we got to do this, this, this, and this. And when there’s a sentence and when the hype dies down a little bit, it doesn’t become so urgent. It becomes doing things like making sure he has books, making sure we collect money so he can have a little bit extra for commissary. It becomes these not flashy tasks and people tend to fall away because it’s not such an urgent need. It’s not right now. It’s just these little things you have to do every month, every week, just these little tasks that take time and energy, but they’re not the big or flashy things.
I think that we need to get to a place where we carry that momentum through the entire sentence, not just when there’s a big urgent need. When there’s a big urgent need people show up, even after the sentence is over. When Jeremy gets thrown in SHU, it’s outrage. It’s, “Should we write letters, should we make calls, should we do this or this or this?” That’s great. I really love seeing people support him in any way that they can, but then what about right now? When he’s doing okay? And when I say okay I mean as okay as you can possibly can be in such a horribly, brutally dehumanizing and repressive environment. When I ask him how he is and I try to feel out how he’s doing, he always tells me, “I’m fine” so when I say okay that’s sort of what I mean. What about now? When things are relatively quiet? When there’s not that big urgent need? Are people still writing? Are people still sending him books? It doesn’t even have to be a whole letter. He loves getting memes because he’s like, “I miss the internet.” So, if you see a meme and you’re like “Oh man, that’s funny” do you print it out? Do you send it to him? Or do you just click over to the next meme? Like I said, now there’s not a huge need to raise for a lawyer, but we still need money for his commissary so he can be as comfortable as possible. Do you send him $5 a month so he can buy stamps, so he can make phone calls? Are you writing to other prisoners that maybe aren’t as famous as him and making sure they have what they need? Building that initial momentum, but time and time again I’ve seen that momentum just die out. That’s frustrating as someone who’s in it for the long term, but especially for the prisoners. That is really frustrating for them because they’re like, “Well I’m really good at being recognized when there’s an urgent need, but what about right now when I just wish I had a letter to read?”
J11: Yeah. That’s something that we’re hearing from a number of people that we’ve been talking to.
G: That makes me really frustrated. It just hurts my heart because I know how important support is for people on the inside. That you’re hearing it from multiple people just really hurts my hurt.
J11: In what way can you see June 11th addressing some of these challenges? And what are your hopes for June 11th this year?
G: I really love you guys because you are that momentous push, that little reminder that these prisoners are still here and they still need your support, even though we’re not in that time of crisis. I love days like June 11th because again it just reminds people that prisoners are still there and that even though they may not be hearing much from them or that they may be quiet or that they may have already taken a plea or are serving a sentence, that they’re still there and they still need support. I love you guys. I love other groups that do days like this, like the day for trans prisoners. I really love them just because again it reminds people that they’re still there. My hope this year is the same as every year: that people don’t forget, that they remember, that they use that remembering to not just remember but to also go out and educate others, get other people who may not be involved or might not know about these people to get involved.
J11: What are your broader hopes and visions both for June 11th, but also prisoner solidarity in general for the years to come?
G: My hope is that prisoner support, instead of being a side project of the anarchist movement, becomes central to the anarchist movement. Because from what I’m seeing a lot of prison support is a side project. It’s like a niche market. “Oh, these people do prison support.” No – everyone should do prison support. Everyone should be writing to prisoners. There are groups out there – Black & Pink, all Anarchist Black Crosses – that keep lists, not just of anarchist prisoners, black liberation prisoners, eco prisoners. There are so many people from such a wide swath of life experiences that even if you’re not an anarchist, you can write to people. You can write to people that have zero political views, if you want. Just please write to them, send them pictures, memes, if you can financially support them, please do. It’s not just anarchist prisoners that need support. It’s all prisoners. No matter what they’ve done. No matter what they’re in for. They need support.
J11: Are there any struggles or moments in the recent past that have been inspiring to you?
G: I am just so floored to see that the antifascist movement is getting more mainstream, getting more press, and getting way more visible. I’ve been antifascist and involved in antifascist work for over a decade at this point, so it really just thrills me that that’s getting more mainstream, that people are getting out there and getting in the streets. I’ve been absolutely inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, by the Indigenous Water Protectors that again, in the face of brutal police repression mixed with the brutality of capitalism have been out there putting their lives and bodies on the line to bring these injustices to light. It’s super inspiring. I feel like especially under Obama people got – well, some people, not all people – got a little complacent because we had this great liberal president. Meanwhile, deportation sky rocketed, use of drones skyrocketed. “It’s okay because he’s liberal. It’s a liberal dropping the bombs on wedding parties, not some evil Republican doing it.” Again, it worries me that we’re really good at starting movements, but we need to keep that momentum going and carry that through. I want to see that done and the fact that it is being done warms my heart.
J11: Are there any other projects you’re involved with or have interest in that you’d like to talk about?
G: Prisoner support is my main thing. Besides Jeremy, the case of Lauri Love is still going. People need to keep eyes on that. Even though Lauri’s not in jail and he’s currently free, the case and the ongoing worry about it has taken a huge toll on him physically and mentally. I would really like to see people support him because he’s such a great guy. He doesn’t deserve to be kidnapped to the United States to face our horrible, draconian legal system. Every legal system is horrible and draconian, but ours seems to be especially bad. I’d really like to see people support and not forget about him because he’s not in jail currently, but the case is still taking a huge toll.
J11: I’m actually not familiar with Lauri’s case. Could you talk about that a little bit?
G: Absolutely. I love talking about people. This is all alleged. Nothing has been proven in court. He was allegedly part of Op Last Resort, which was in response to the death of Aaron Swartz. Aaron Swartz, if people don’t know, was a hacktivist who was being tried for downloading academic papers and releasing them for free on the internet. Aaron was facing millions of dollars in fines, decades in prison, and instead of risking that, he instead chose to take his own life. Op Last Resort was in reaction to him taking his own life in the face of this brutal persecution. They did things like deface the US Sentencing Commissions homepage. Lauri is alleged to have hacked everything from the EPA to the Missile Defense System of the United States to the DoD. There’s a whole list of things he’s alleged to have hacked. Right now, what we’re fighting for is for him to be tried in the UK. They want to bring him here. He’s facing possibly over 90 years in prison, millions of dollars in fines. He has indictments in three separate jurisdictions: one is the southern district of New York, which is the district that Jeremy was tried in, one is the district of New Jersey (New Jersey’s all one district), and one is the eastern district of Virginia, which some other hacktivists have also been tried in. None of these districts are very friendly to hacktivists, so right now what we’re fighting for since he is a UK citizen and since the alleged crimes occurred while in he was on UK soil, we’re fighting for him to be tried in the UK. I’ve already highlighted the brutal repression of the American Justice System, but in addition to that there’s also huge sentencing disparities. For example, Jeremy’s co-defendants. The longest any one of them served is 20-30 months. I’m not sure the exact number, but Jeremy spent almost as much of that time just in pre-trial detention before he was sentenced. We’re talking huge sentencing disparities.
Lauri would have no family support, he would have no support system in the United States. Lauri has Aspergers. He suffers from depression. Bringing him here to try him would be a death sentence. Lauri has said very clearly numerous times that he will kill himself before he will allow himself to be taken here. He is autistic. He suffers from depression. He has physical medical problems as well. That’s all being exacerbated by the stress from the whole situation. From what I’ve seen from the American Justice System, I don’t blame him for saying that he’d rather kill himself than come here. One of the things that we’re trying to highlight in the case is the sentencing disparity from the UK and the US. In the US, Lauri’s facing decades and decades and decades in prison, millions of dollars in fines. In the UK, he’d be facing exponentially less than that. Lauri has no support system here. He has all of his family, his friends, all of this in the UK. Bringing him here, especially with the horrible way that mental health is dealt with in American prisons – in that, it’s not dealt with at all, it’s ignored, and people are left to suffer – that would be a death sentence.
J11: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
G: I think I want to speak specifically for a moment to the importance of supporting anarchists in prison. We touched on this earlier, but the one thing I want to get across to people about why prison support is so important is that prison is so brutal and so dehumanizing in a way that people who haven’t experienced it can’t understand. It does everything in its power to strip you of your autonomy, who you are, what you believe, just of everything. It grinds you down day after day to the point where you just lose who you are. For someone, especially like anarchists whose entire life has been decided to dismantling the state and the systems of oppression, to then be completely subject to the very system that you’ve been working your entire like to dismantle, is extra hard and brutal and dehumanizing. The support from the outside is what keeps people going. It’s what gives them hope that this is not forever, that one day they’re going to be free. I cannot stress how important that is for every prisoner, not just for anarchist prisoners, but I think especially for anarchist prisoners, that the letters and the books and the memes, it keeps them going and it reminds them that they’re loved and that they’re not forgotten. While it may just be 15 minutes on our end of writing a letter, sending a meme, donating, it’s the world to people that are in prison. I can’t overstate how important it is to the prisoners. If you don’t know what to say, if you don’t know how to go about it, ask. There are so many people out there that are willing to help, that are willing to guide you, that are willing to show you the ropes. I had someone DM the other day and say, “Hey, I want to start a letter writing night for prisoners in my town. How do I do that?” And I’m like “Great! Awesome! Here’s how you do this. It’s really simple.” It’s so simple. It’s such a simple thing that means so much to people. If you need help, if you don’t know what to do, if you don’t know how to do it, there are so many great organizations. The Anarchist Black Crosses – they’re always there to help people. The June 11th committee, you guys are there. People who run the Head Up defense campaign for prisoners. Ask them. Go to them. They’re always so willing to help. Please just do it. I can’t say it any more plainly. Just please do it because it means so much and is such a lifeline to so many people.
In this interview for the June 11th International Day of Solidarity with Marius Mason and All Long-Term Anarchist Prisoners, we talked to two individuals from Eric King’s support crew.
Eric King is a vegan anarchist arrested in 2014 and charged with an attempted firebombing of a Congressperson’s office in solidarity with the Ferguson rebellion. In March 2016, Eric accepted a non-cooperating plea agreement and was sentenced three months later to 10 years in prison.
We talk about Eric’s case, prisoner support as part of sustained revolutionary struggle, restrictions put on Eric’s communications, and the increasing repression against radical prisoners.
JUNE 11TH: Can you all start by telling us a little bit more about yourselves and about our experiences with prison or prisoner support?
X: Yeah, so I’m relatively new to the prisoner support community, I’ve just been doing it for a couple of years, and was really drawn to it as my radicalization progressed. I find it to be a really imperative way to support revolutionary movements that are either happening now or that have happened in the past, like the Black Liberation movement or Earth and Animal Liberation movements, and the like. I’ve been working with New York City Anarchist Black Cross, and do a bunch of support work for a variety of political prisoners, but my focus is mainly on the folks that are held in New York State, and of course Eric King.
Y: So I have been a part of this team of amazing folks who make up the Eric King support committee for a while as well personally supporting various other prisoners. As far as personally being effected by prison, Eric and I are partners, so all of this can be pretty intense and crippling at times. I have found that that personal experience has actually been really helpful in being able to relate and form bonds with other incarcerated folks.
J11: Can you speak to the importance of prisoner solidarity as part of the anarchist project and other liberatory struggles? And specifically, to the necessity of supporting long-term prisoners?
X: Definitely, so to just straight up quote David Gilbert, “prisons are an insult to the human spirit, and a shameful waste of human potential.” And fuck prisons, but I’m sure we can all agree there. I feel like supporting prisoners is an essential task and something that we should do for people, just because prison is inherently demeaning, dehumanizing, and a fucked up place. But that being said, there’s even more imperative for political prisoners to get support, and that isn’t to say of course that all incarceration isn’t somehow political. But I mean more in context of any kind of revolutionary movement or politically driven activity. I think that if we’re going to encourage anarchist praxis, encourage friends and comrades, and spend time in the streets or taking action fighting against the system and prevailing order, then we have to be realistic about how the state is going to respond to that. And they’re going to respond with repression, and that inevitably means prison time.
So it’s truly necessary and essential to support our friends and comrades when they go down for politically motivated action, whether that’s marching in a black bloc, or doing direct action, or just fighting state repression in whatever ways that are available to them. So doing prisoner support in this context emboldens movements in a variety of ways, first it takes the person who is going through the prison system, it makes them feel supported and not forgotten, which not only enriches their quality of life while they’re going through it, but also may make them feel more confident and comfortable standing up for themselves in the day-to-day. We’ve seen this with Eric and him fighting for various things, including vegan food and such.
But it also shows the state that our movement is strongest, that it goes beyond yelling at some pigs in the street, and can be put into action and be tangible support efforts that will directly combat their goals of breaking apart our movements. Also it will help people, embolden people, and make them more confident to take part in the movement, and perhaps even take riskier action. And if folks see that if they take a risk, or even if they just participate, you know we’re seeing so many people go down for just participating, that if there is some kind of support for them in the instance that they do face state repression or get hit with prison time. If they see that that support is already in place, and they will have a community who will back them up and be there with them as they go through the state repression, that deepens the trust you can build with each other, it makes our movements stronger. It ultimately has to be the basis for any kind of revolutionary movement moving forward. Mutual aid, taking care of our own: those are such tenets of anarchism, and that inevitably has to include supporting political prisoners.
J11: Can you tell us more about Eric and any other prisoners that you support?
Y: Eric is an anarchist political prisoner who is serving a ten year sentence after an attempted firebombing of a Congressperson’s office in Kansas City, as a show of solidarity with the Ferguson Uprising. His stance against the state has been no secret, all you have to do is just read his sentencing statement for that. And he’s under constant surveillance and threats because of it. The focus lately seems to be his poetry and stopping him from being able to use it to reach folks. Eric is currently teaching yoga and poetry, he is super into space, science, dystopian fiction, and always reading radical lit. He’s a recent Harry Potter fan, and loves magic, and is skilled at the art of rebellion through annoyance currently. As far as who I write, I also write Nicole Kissane, I write Krow, I recently started getting letters from Bill Dunne, which are pretty amazing, I’ve really enjoyed them. Recently I’ve found myself communicating more and more with different social prisoners that I support as well.
X: For me, in addition to doing support work for Eric, like I mentioned earlier, I focus mostly on New York state political prisoners like David Gilbert, Jalil Muntaqim, and Robert Seth Hayes. And then I’m also in touch with some other people like Nicole Kissane as well, and I’ve loved getting to know her so far.
J11: So you mentioned that Eric has faced retaliation for some of his writings and for his outspoken stances, including restrictions on his communication. Can you tell us a little more about this, and about Eric’s situation now that some of those communication restrictions have been lifted?
Y: Yeah, absolutely. From the get go, when Eric was placed in the federal system, Eric was placed under SIS restriction. SIS stands for “Special Intelligence Services,” it’s pretty much the BOP’s security team. Every piece of mail has to be personally approved by an SIS officer that goes out or that Eric receives. At one point they upped his restrictions so much that mail had to go through somebody in DC, who had to read everything before it went in to Eric, or out. He was constantly being pulled in and bullied for any reason they saw fit, even if he typed an exaggerated number into an e-mail, they had pulled him in to interrogate him so they could “discover” what the code was that he was writing. This has actually happened more than once. Every week they would threaten him, they would tell him, “we will take you from your family, and we will send you to CMU so fast your head would spin.”
And when Eric was brought up on disciplinary charges, they seemingly attempted to limit communications so that he was not able to gain support to help fight the allegations. He was prohibited from visits, from making phone calls, or even e-mailing anyone. And the mail going in and out took about a week to process. It limited communication in a very dramatic way. This tactic became apparent, even more so when we found a lawyer for him. They contacted the prison wanting to have a legal call with Eric, and the BOP immediately held a disciplinary hearing that was not on the books before that could happen, on the day that they don’t even hold disciplinary hearings. The BOP is not dumb, they know where the strength in communication is, and that becomes a super effective reason for them to limit communication. As of right now, Eric is still being monitored by SIS, but so far he hasn’t been constantly called in to the office at FCI Florence. He seems to also be getting all of his mail and e-mails, and he’s finally getting visits again.
J11: I think it was around the same time that Eric was dealing with those disciplinary charges that he was transferred to Florence. Can you speak to the implications of that move?
Y: Absolutely. In the Bureau of Prisons in the federal system there’s a point system, as many other prison systems have, in which it determines the security level of the prison that the prisoner’s going to be held at. When Eric was initially placed, he was in a low-security prison, FCI Englewood. He was one point away from being sent to a medium prison. When he was brought up on disciplinary charges, a write-up that he received was supposed to be for three points, however somehow they awarded him nine points for that. So after transferring into a medium, he’s now finding himself two points away from being placed in the USP, which is the next security level up. This weighs heavily on him every day as he watches the sunrise over the ADX in the morning, knowing that there’s a threat to send him there. The ADX is a Supermax, it is pretty much District 13 from the Hunger Games over there, and just every time he walks outside seeing it is pretty heavy.
J11: Could you talk about the International Day of Solidarity with Eric King, which is being called for the first time this year, for June 28th?
X: Yeah, we are celebrating the first ever International Day of Solidarity with Eric on June 28th, and it will be the one year anniversary, if you want to call it that, of his sentencing. So we decided it would be a good way to build a community of support around him and his case internationally. He’s been receiving a bunch of mail from international folks over the last year. Having this day to focus on we’re hoping will create a base of support that can be there for him throughout the course of his sentence, since he will be in for another six years. We’ve seen him go through things: fighting for the vegan food, or medical check-ups, or mail issues when he was at Leavenworth. And then going through the disciplinary hearing and that sudden transfer this January and February. And, you know, through those things we’ve reached out to the greater community to call and e-mail the prisons, advocate for him. So things definitely come up, and they definitely don’t want to make it easy for him in there, or really anyone on the inside.
So building that broader community of support and channeling it into the annual support day we think will be very effective in maintaining this base to call on when he needs more support. We’re encouraging folks to set up events in their cities or towns, whether it’s a fundraiser, a punk show, a poetry reading, or simply just handing out his support flyers. Anything to get the word out about his case, and just spread the word about him, and get people writing him and whatever else. And just to mention if folks do organize events, they can e-mail the information to us, and we can try and promote them. We’d also love to see whatever posters or fliers folks come up with, and however else people are choosing to bring attention to that day. And, can you remind me of the support e-mail?
Y: Yeah, it is erickingsupportcrew [at] riseup [dot] net.
J11: Can you speak to how the strengths or failings of prisoner solidarity have personally affected Eric? And also you all as people with close relationships with people in prison?
Y: Yeah, having direct support has made an amazing difference in Eric’s life. I’ve watched him going from living for the first six months in prison having to pick small amounts of the vegan offerings on the regular tray, and seeing him extremely malnourished, to now, seeing him walk in the chow hall and check them on every single item he’s being fed that isn’t vegan. And really advocating for himself in so many other ways. Having folks stand up and support him more than a few times with the prison has given him confidence. Letters, calls, all of that really brought him to this place where he can feel safe and confident, knowing that if he’s picked up and isolated and brought somewhere, that folks are going to figure out what’s happening, and fight for him even when his communication’s limited, so even when he can’t let us know. That is something at one point he did not initially feel, and the fear and terror that was involved was so immense. The way that I see it is: it’s constant little battles that we wage in effort to stop the state from stealing parts of folks that we love. And that support really destroys the state’s hold on prisoners. Having solid support can tear down the efforts made by the BOP to isolate and play out all their little psy-op tactics.
J11: What are some of the challenges that y’all have experienced in doing prisoner support work? And what do you think we could collectively be doing better?
Y: I think probably one of the biggest hurdles is prison tactics, the ever evolving and constantly growing pressure that’s being put on radicals in prison. It was stated in Eric’s last disciplinary hearing that the BOP is going after incarcerated radicals from every group. The most recent tactic we’re seeing play out is placing the prisoner in a vulnerable position right on the cusp of a security change, or a move to a higher security prison, and then attempting to isolate them from their support system. In Englewood, Eric was told that if they discovered anyone fighting for him on the outside, that they would remove that individual or group’s ability to communicate with him. In addition, the constant harassment by SIS, making that prisoner feel vulnerable makes them therefore less likely to continue to be strong and be political.
X: Yeah, I would add to that, and I definitely agree with everything you just said. For me personally, some of the hurdles in supporting prisoners is that it is very emotionally taxing and it is just so much administrative work. With someone like Eric it is a little brighter because he’s serving a ten year sentence, he will get out in 2023. It feels like fucking forever away right now, but he has an out date and will be out, compared to some other people like former Black Panthers who are going up for parole every two years, and just getting denied. But even still, to support someone inside who is serving six more years and to just know he’s going through all this every single day, or that he’s constantly getting brought up on charges, or he’s having to fight for food every single day. Being part of a support crew, or a friend, it’s just so emotionally intense to be a part of it.
And just that the work is a little monotonous. I mean… I love writing people and supporting people in that way, but to do the calling or emailing and dealing with talking to prison officials who don’t want to talk to you, and hate you and hate that anyone has any support at all on the outside, doing those kind of monotonous things. People just want these kind of bigger and sexier things for prisoner support, like getting people out or doing these bigger things, but really prisoner support is a lot of these monotonous day-in and day-out things. Being there for people, and doing the small things that need to be done to make sure that they are protected, and that they’re not getting totally messed with when they’re serving their time.
J11: Do y’all see any ways that June 11th could contribute to addressing some of these challenges? And what are your hopes for June 11th this year?
Y: We need to be ever-evolving. Something that I’ve been thinking about more and more is sharing our experiences with each other, what we’ve learned, things that were successful, things that were not so successful. These things are not just happening to one prisoner, as more and more political prisoners are arrested and sentenced from various uprisings around the country, they are scrambling to attempt to develop a system to deal with radicals in prison. As a community I don’t believe that we are communicating enough about this, things like the current attempt made in the North-Central region of the BOP where they are sneaking language in to every plea deal that limits the prisoners ability to ever file a freedom of information request about the investigation or prosecution of their cases, or even allowing a third-party to do so. This includes support folks, journalists, or anybody. This means that this info can stay hidden until the prisoner is no longer alive. This has not really been seen before and can really remove a major radical weapon from our arsenal.
We can learn so much from ourselves and others, and it’s super crucial that we get better at sharing that knowledge. As far as hopes for June 11th this year, especially in this political climate where it seems like there is somebody constantly getting sentenced with long sentences, watching it grow from last year is what I hope to see every year for June 11th.
J11: What are your broader hopes and visions for June 11th in the years to come, and also prisoner solidarity more generally?
X: I think as the years roll on and as Eric serves the rest of his sentence, we hope that June 11th will continue to grow and organize as it has been, and maintain this cross-movement community of support for the folks who are a part of it. And I know as a collective we’re super happy that Eric is one of the people recognized for June 11th and just in general how this day of solidarity has evolved to bring such direct material support for these folks and really shed a light on and act as a tangible source for support for these long term eco and anarcho-prisoners. And especially, as we see more people go down in this political climate, I hope that June 11th can continue to grow and gain more and more substance from the outside internationally, and just continue to be the space for the people who are a part of it.
J11: Are there any struggles or moments in the recent past that have been inspiring to you all?
X: Personally, I was really, really inspired by the NODAPL struggle. The tenacity of the Lakota people and their allies, the water protectors, protecting water and land in these omnipresent oil wars, against literally the scumbag slumlords of this earth. I found that to be unbelievably inspiring. The water protectors endured such intense repression and violence from the police, and of course the harsh weather as things got cold in North Dakota. Just maintaining their camps and their strength throughout, I was so impressed and inspired by that.
Y: I agree that watching that all play out was super inspiring. What isn’t really inspiring right now? [laughs] Watching Chelsea and Oscar come home was amazing. I woke up that morning and saw that Chelsea had already been released, and I started crying. And then that big celebration for Oscar, I could watch folks walk out of prison doorways all day long. It is personally a reminder as to why we do this work, and the end goal of tearing that shit down and dismantling this entire system.
J11: Are there any other projects that you’re involved with or have interest in that you’d like to talk about?
X: Yeah, I would like to mention briefly that former Black Panther and political prisoner Jalil Muntaqim is currently doing these bi-weekly – he calls them twitter-storms, but they’re also like days for calling and writing to Governor Cuomo. He’s trying to get him to grant him clemency. So every other Wednesday there’s this directed action towards the governor. So for info on calling, tweeting, you can go to freejalil.com. Also I just want to shed light on this project New York City Anarchist Black Cross is doing called Project FANG, which is basically a travel fund for Earth and Animal Liberation prisoners. It’s funded fully by a sponsor, so it’s not like it needs donations or anything, but definitely check it out, it’s really awesome. We’re brainstorming ways of how we can expand the project to potentially provide travel funds for folks from other movements. And you can find out more at nycabc.wordpress.com.
Y: I just have this fantasy that I keep thinking about, of setting up some sort of political prisoner book club. That’s been a really amazing part of communication, reading books together and talking about them. It’s been a really big escape for us, and I think it would be the most awesome thing in the world.
X: Yeah, that would be so amazing.
For the latest entry in our series of interviews for the June 11th International Day of Solidarity with Marius Mason & All Long-Term Anarchist Prisoners, we spoke to Josh Harper.
Josh is long-time animal liberation activist and former prisoner in the SHAC7 case. He has, for the past few years, been involved in archiving the history of animal and earth liberation struggles with the Talon Conspiracy.
We talked about his experiences in prison, what forms of solidarity meant the most to him, the challenge of post-release support for prisoners, the successes and failures of earth and animal liberation struggles, staying vegan in prison, Marius Mason, and learning to treat each other well as we fight for a free world.
JUNE 11TH: Can you start by telling us about yourself and your experience with prison and prisoner support?
JOSH HARPER: Absolutely. My name is Josh Harper, and I got active in probably about 1995 in Portland, Oregon with a group called Liberation Collective. Initially that organization was doing a bunch of voluntary arrest and civil disobedience type of stuff. My earliest encounters with prisoner support was actually something much simpler, which is jail support: people showing up to be there when you’re released, and making sure bail gets paid if that’s your wish, and so on. For the first many years of my activism that I was doing, environmental stuff and human rights stuff and animal liberation stuff, that was sort of the extent of my experience.
But a few years had gone by and I’d started to question the efficacy of voluntary arrest, especially I had actually done a little bit of jail time down in southern California. I was meeting people from outside of the small towns in Oregon where I had grown up, and I was talking to them about their struggles and their lives, and the idea that we would just voluntarily hand ourselves to the police to get the shit kicked out of us wasn’t very appealing to them. Seeing the end-logic of the voluntary arrest cycle – the actual jail time – I knew that it wasn’t something that I wanted to advocate for much longer. Unfortunately for me, that meant the tactics and strategies I took on became a little bit risky.
In the early 2000s, shortly after Bush Jr. declared his war on terror, I was a part of an organization called Stop Huntington Animal Cruelty, and we were indicted under terrorism statutes for a campaign we were running against a laboratory called Huntington Life Sciences. At that point I was sentenced to three years in federal prison, which I served at FCI Sheridan in Oregon. I want to say that I had tremendous prison support. I consider myself so lucky to be part of the communities that I had met through doing all sorts of different activism. There was actually one point early on in my sentence where I got called to the warden’s office, and I was told that I had to make the mail stop, that too much of it was coming in, and that because I was a terrorist, they had to actually stop and copy and read every piece. I basically told them, “tough shit!,”, that I was under no obligation to make the mail stop, and when I left his office, he handed me a hefty bag full of letters, and that was just one day’s worth of mail.
J11: Can you speak to the importance of prisoner support as part of the anarchist project or other liberation struggles? And specifically to the necessity of supporting prisoners with long sentences?
Josh: Absolutely. As anarchists, we are always going to be at odds with the state, and that puts us in a precarious position. It means that all of the state’s apparatuses are usable against us, and so if we want to keep our numbers, if we want to show our comrades that we love them, that we care about them, and that when they’re going through the worst of it, we will be there for them, we need to make good on those promises. And that means that, when one of us is in the arms of the state, we need to take care of people’s basic emotional needs, and try to get them through the American gulag as best we can.
That means putting money on people’s books, it means visiting them when possible, it means writing them letters, it means sending them magazine subscriptions and books and all of that. But it also needs to go past that. Prison is something that’s horribly traumatizing, I can’t imagine most people being incarcerated for very long at all without having some sort of long-term effect on their lives, and so one of the things that I would like to see going forward for anarchists and anti-authoritarians and liberationists of all stripes is that, when people walk through that gate, the support doesn’t end. Just because the prison sentence is over doesn’t mean that the trauma of prison has ended. And so I would really like to see us showing solidarity and supporting our comrades going forward by trying to work on things that do everything from help them to get housing and employment while they’re on probation, to projects that focus on long-term mental health care for former inmates. I think that is really the area that prison support needs to go next.
J11: Is there any sort of post-release support that you’ve seen that you thought worked really well? Or like a model or some sort of practices that would be good to suggest to other people?
Josh: Sure. Some of the organizations I often mention when I’m asked a question like this are organizations that support Irish prisoners after they’re released from prison. I don’t want to say that as an endorsement of the actions of the IRA, whose tactics and strategies I understand quite well but whose actions over the years I think at times have been pretty deplorable. But that said, the way that they treat prisoners in their communities is amazing. They help the families of prisoners, they make sure that everyone’s getting by financially, they pay for family members to take trips to prisons.
But then once somebody is released, they move into all this long-term area that I mentioned earlier. They make sure that people are able to get by, they make sure that all of their initial physical needs are met, that their medical needs are met, that if their probation officer is breathing down their necks, for them to have full-time employment or whatever, they make sure that all of that is taken care of. And the support never ends with them. Once somebody registers with one of those services, they continue to contact them, they continue to make sure they’re okay, and to ask what their needs are. Something like that is of course going to be quite difficult to put together, finding funding for former inmates in the United States. I mean you’re talking about a population that most of the citizenry never really thinks about or considers, and if they do consider them, it’s usually with disgust. So finding that funding and infrastructure is not going to be easy, but nothing worth having is. It’s definitely something we need to begin striving towards.
J11: Going back to your case or your history, and the fact that the case shows that doing aboveground work can face serious prison time – what implications does this have for public projects? And what can we do to mitigate this threat?
Josh: It’s really difficult when I talk about SHAC to give a complete picture of what the campaign entailed. On the one hand there was “Stop Huntington Animal Cruelty” and all of its various chapters and projects. Those organizations operated in an aboveground manner, they had public events and meetings that anyone could join. SHAC produced a newsletter and a website for which eventually six of us did prison time.
But SHAC was a bifarious campaign, much like the Black Panthers or many other organizations that proceeded it, people saw that there was a necessity for popular resistance and recruitment from the general public, there was a need to have a public face and an entry point. I definitely haven’t come to any hard and fast conclusions about what our case could mean for aboveground organizing. But I do know for myself, having watched so few of the people who actually participated in sabotage and the release of animals and so on, I’ve seen so few of them see any time, while the aboveground organizers in the group were sent to federal prison. It did sort of make me wish that I had reconsidered, and that perhaps I should have invested my efforts in those times into carrying out direct actions myself.
J11: The Green Scare and its subsequent string of snitching and harsh prison sentences severely damaged the Earth and Animal Liberation movements in the U.S. Are there lessons we can learn from this? And what do you think can contribute to a revitalization of these movements?
Josh: I definitely think that there are lessons that can be learned from what happened to us during the Green Scare. I also think that there are lessons that can be learned from the self-cannibalizing nature of the radical animal and environmental movements of the ‘80s, ‘90s, and early 2000s. As I watch this anti-fascist moment that we’re in and I watch a revitalization of interest and excitement around the idea of self-governing and anarchism, I’m very cautious because I think a lot of the young folks who are coming into it right now are missing a few facts.
One of those facts is that our opponents have the greatest possible incentive to shut us down. You’ll have to forgive me for making a Star Wars reference, but one thing I always tell people is that the empire will strike back. If you’re putting your finger in the face of the U.S. government, they’re not going to let it stay there for long before they try to rip it off. One of the things that has to be confronted immediately by a lot of these movements is how are they going to counter those efforts. What is going to happen when somebody is arrested, what funds are in place to make sure that people are supported once that occurs? What lawyers are sympathetic? Who can be called when there’s an emergency happening? These things need to be considered long before action ever takes place.
We should be participating in projects and movements that are more liberal and less radical than the ones that we would like, because we are going to need those connections later. I remember all during the SHAC campaign, we were of course very, very critical of the people who we saw as being unwilling to move forward with militancy. We talked about our disgust and disdain for welfarists and liberals and moderates all the time. But when the hammer came down, when all of a sudden the Department of Homeland Security was raiding our houses with Joint Terrorism Task Forces, when eventually we were all rounded up in a coordinated sweep with air marshals flying helicopters outside of our houses, the people we had spent several years alienating weren’t exactly eager to help us.
And so, I think part of the anarchist project needs to be infiltration in some manner of some groups that are friendly with organizations like the National Lawyers Guild and ACLU. People see these things as investing efforts and reformism, I see them as something quite different. I see them as investing in radicalism, to make sure that we build up the defense networks that we are certainly eventually going to need.
But beyond that, one of the things that we need to find a way to do is to be softer with each other. By the time that the Green Scare started to come about, and the Feds were looking for the people they wanted to flip, when they were trying to figure out who they were going to get to snitch on people, they had a lot to go by. Because movement infighting and ideological clashing were so dominant during that time period, by the time the arrests and grand juries came, there were already a lot of those folks who didn’t like each other, who weren’t on good terms, and who weren’t in contact with each other. For the folks that had been pushed out, or whose ideology had been ridiculed or whatever, I think a lot of them perhaps had an easier time turning on their comrades than they might have had people treated each other with a little more gentleness and a little more acknowledgement of the culture that we’re all raised in, and how that affects us, and how that keeps any of us from being politically pure. I would really like to see us preempt some of the tools that the FBI and others use to flip activists, by just treating each other a whole lot better.
J11: Can you talk about your experience being vegan while you were in prison?
Josh: Yeah, absolutely. When I was sentenced to prison, one of the things that was very, very important to me was that I didn’t want to let it change who I was to the degree that I was able. I definitely wanted to be in the sort of position where I wasn’t going to let the state force me to consume the products of the animals who I was trying to defend to begin with. I’d heard that when I was first sent down that all federal prisons offer a vegetarian option, so I was very excited by that, and thought maybe it’d be vegan, but very quickly I realized that that wasn’t the case. All of the vegetarian options at FCI Sheridan contained animal lactation or they had eggs, it wasn’t easy to stay vegan in there.
I received a little bit of criticism because my track record wasn’t perfect. One of the jobs I worked we were required to wear steel-toed shoes. After I showed up several times wearing canvas shoes that I had bought off of an inmate who had been transferred from a place where they could buy them, they said, “if you keep wearing these canvas shoes, we’re going to send you to the hole.” So I did eventually wear a pair of used leather boots. Going back to that ideological purity thing I was talking about earlier, I’d got out and I dealt with some criticism over that. It wasn’t something that I was happy to do, it was a choice that I had to make.
Looking at the history of animal rights and environmental prisoners in the United States, I think that’s something we need to be aware of as well. Once somebody is behind bars, they are often pushed to a point where they have to make decisions that they would never make in the outside world. Jeff Luers, I remember during the early days of his time at Oregon State Penitentiary for example, decided that pressing for vegetarian diet was taking up all of his energy, and not leaving him with enough time or energy to then focus on his appeal. And so he sent out a statement saying, “this is a decision that I’m making, I’m not happy about it, this is just sort of what the system pushed me to.” I was really disappointed to see so many people throw backlash to him for that. I don’t know, it goes back to that sense of being kind to each other, and taking care of each other, and not letting ideology overshadow our basic human kindness.
J11: You mentioned getting lots of mail and commissary money while you were inside, what forms of solidarity were the most important to you, and what forms could have been done better.
Josh: The form that was most important to me as far as getting through the hell of each week at that place was the visits. When people would come on weekends, I had a window into the outside world. I could talk to them about current events and the organizing that they were doing, I had somebody I could finally discuss politics with. Those visits saved my life, I hate to imagine what my life would had been like if they had not occurred. A lot of those visits were made possible by my support group raising money, and helping pay for my mother to come, for old friends to come out, and of course members of my support team themselves. They would come almost every weekend. It gave me life in a place where, you know, you sort of feel like you’re in stasis. The world’s going on without you on the outside, and you’re just trapped in a place where time doesn’t move.
So those visits were the most important thing, followed close by letters. I loved hearing from people from around the world, and getting a glimpse into their lives. I loved looking at the pictures they would send, and getting to see sights that I would never get to see behind bars. People would go on hikes or they’d go drift-boating, or they’d see some gorgeous vandalism in the city, and they would send images of it, and it really did keep me going.
But there were parts of support that were a little bit lacking, and especially once again upon my release. Part of that was because the movement wasn’t really trained, I think, to understand the initial needs of a prisoner post-release. When people would come to me and say, “How are you doing?” I would say, “I’m doing great!” Because in the first time in three years, I was able to be around friends and family and the outside world. I had freedom of movement, I could cook good food at my own place, and everything seemed exciting and wonderful. And so, in some small way, it was my own fault that people didn’t offer post-prison support because I seemed so happy.
But one of the things that we need to learn is that a lot of inmates, after incarceration, feel that initial rush of joy and the answers they would give to questions like how they’re feeling about their incarceration are going to be overwhelmingly positive, because they don’t want to think about it. They don’t want to reflect on those things, they don’t want to share the hell that they went through, so they’re going to say, “I’m alright, I’m okay.” I wish that we had a little more knowledge that that would be the case. I think the people supporting me really wanted to do their best, in fact I know that they did. But now with the little more knowledge that we’ve gained since, yeah, I can see that the deficiency happened when I left prison. Moving forward, I think that Anarchist Black Cross chapters and so many other prisoner support projects are going to need to acknowledge that, and work to fix it.
J11: Are there any ways that June 11th can address some of these deficiencies? And do you have any hope for June 11th this year?
Josh: Oh, I have hope for June 11th every year. And part of the reason I hold that hope in my heart is that one of the very first people that ever reached out to me when I was facing federal charges back in 1999 related to a grand jury that was investigating the Earth Liberation Front was Marius Mason. They sent me e-mails and they raised funds for me out in Indianapolis, and they sent pictures from a bake sale that they held to benefit my support fund at the time. And so when I think of Marius in there, and I think about June 11th, I want June 11th to be very successful because I want this wonderful person, who has given his all in order to save life on this Earth to make it a better experience for everyone here, to attack the industries that are attacking us, I want to make sure he gets the best possible support.
I want to make sure that there’s lots and lots of attention given to his case. That is my ultimate hope for June 11th organizing. And I do think that the folks who organize June 11th have an opportunity to begin to innovate new methods of prisoner support, to think beyond just the letters, the commissary funds, and such, and to begin asking broader questions. How can we support inmates’ mental health while they’re still in, how can we support it when they’re out? How can we expand on our ability to help our comrades?
And I think that can also be done with an eye towards movement-building, I think it can be done in such a manner that people see we’re a community that supports each other, that when the going gets tough and the chips are down, we step up, and we do our utmost, we don’t back away from the state, we don’t turn on each other, we don’t snitch. I think that all of that is something that can be done in a really high-profile way with June 11th. My understanding is that there are still people working on organizing June 11th events around the world, and hopefully all of them are trying to get that message of struggling alongside each other, and making sure that our efforts are as good as they can be for our friends behind bars.
J11: What are your broader hopes and visions both for June 11th and for prisoner solidarity in general?
Josh: [laughs] Oh gosh, I don’t know. It’s difficult to talk about my hopes during such a dark time period because they stand in such stark contrast to the world as it actually is. It sounds naïve, I suppose, to say at this point, that I’d love to eventually see an end to authority. I would love to see an end to the interpersonal oppressions that we cast at each other. I’d love to see an end to surveillance and the police state, I’d love to have some sort of ecological sanity, I’d love to see us treating the other creatures we share this planet with in a manner I think that’s more consistent with all of our personal ethics.
It’s difficult when you look at the current regime and you see fascists and Nazis openly declaring themselves and marching in the streets. It’s difficult to believe that anything better is possible when we’ve already come this far in the opposite direction. But I think history provides us a lot of examples of people who had enough, who were tired of being told that the power wasn’t theirs. They were tired of being told that they didn’t deserve food, or new shoes, or clothing, that they didn’t deserve clean water or clean air or clean soil, that all of those things only belonged the hands of the few. And eventually they said, “no, fuck no, fuck no, we’re going to take it back!” I want to see that, I want to see that rupture, that breaking point, where people realize that they’ve been lied to, that they do have the power, and that they can resist. And they can do so in a manner that they’re directly participating in, that they’re not waiting for some savior from the Democratic Party to arrive, or another person to throw the first stone. I want everyone to realize that revolution is participatory and that it’s crucial that we all take part. I know that was a little rambling, I hope it actually answered the question.
J11: On that note, are there any struggles or moments in the recent past that have inspired you?
Josh: Oh my goodness, yeah. One of the things I work on right now is a website called The Talon Conspiracy. It’s been on hiatus for just over a year, but we’re about to come off of it. One of the things we do is archive old animal rights publications and environmental publications. The next thing that we’re going to put up is a book called The Old Brown Dog, which is about the Brown Dog riots in the early 1900’s in England. One of the really exciting things about that time period is that you had a feminist movement that was beginning to happen, that was coming out of the movement for suffrage, but was more radical. It was women who were realizing that the vote alone wasn’t going to bring them to freedom. You had members of the Britain Union to Abolish Vivisection, which was an organization originally founded by Francis Power Cobbe, a queer woman whose politics were very socialist-leaning. Most of the rank-and-file of the organization I wouldn’t say were as radical as she was, but there were definitely radicals amongst them. And you had labor unions, all of these organizations formed a coalition that actually physically fought with vivisectors and police in public plazas in England after vivisectors had actually rioted and destroyed a statue of Brown Dog, who was a monument to victims of vivisection.
History has so many examples of people who were outraged, but of course it’s not just historical stuff. It’s the folks nowadays who are rescuing people from collapsing buildings in Syria, and fighting back with force of arms against Assad’s regime. It’s the people who just recently in Greece went to the leader of a fascist organization’s apartment and broke in, and trashed the place. Every single day there are people out there who are committing acts of resistance, and are showing that this does not have to be tolerated, that we can answer this challenge. Anyway, it’s definitely one of joys in my life, to read about the past examples of that, but I get so much more joy to see current examples.
Continuing our series of interviews for the June 11th International Day of Solidarity with Marius Mason & All Long-Term Anarchist Prisoners, we spoke to a supporter of the Cleveland 4, and Nicole Kissane and Joseph Buddenberg.
The Cleveland 4 are four Occupy Cleveland activists — Connor Stevens, Douglas Wright, Brandon Baxter, and Joshua “Skelly” Stafford — arrested in 2012 after being coerced into plotting a series of bombings by an FBI informant. Doug is serving 11.5 years, Brandon 9 years 9 months, and Connor 8 years 1 month. The judge applied a terrorist enhancement, resulting in longer sentences and harsher prison conditions. Skelly took his case to trial, refusing a plea deal. He was found guilty and sentenced to 10 years.
Nicole Kissane and Joseph Buddenberg are two animal liberation activists indicted in July 2015 under the federal Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act for acts of vandalism against fur stores and the liberation of thousands of mink and other fur-bearing animals. In early 2016, both signed non-cooperating plea agreements and pleaded guilty to conspiracy to violate the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act. In May, 2016, Joseph was sentenced to two years in federal prison. In January, 2017, Nicole was sentenced to 21 months in federal prison.
In the interview, we talked about the ongoing situation of the Cleveland 4, post-release support, the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, increasing the connections between the anti-prison and animal rights movements, the best ways to show solidarity with prisoners, and the importance of maintaining support after cases fall from the limelight.
JUNE 11TH: Can you start by telling us about yourself and your experiences with prisoner support?
X: Yeah, so I got involved in doing prisoner support because I had been doing work in the Animal Liberation movement for quite a while and I was good friends with Kevin and Tyler, who were indicted under the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act a few years ago. So I got thrown into doing prisoner support just being good friends with them and feeling like I had to do what I could to help my friends out as they were going through that experience. And that kinda opened me up to another world of prisoner support, and since then I’ve been working with them as well as doing support for Nicole and Joseph who were also indicted under the AETA. And I do work with supporting the Cleveland 4.
J11: Can you speak to the importance of prisoner support as part of the anarchist project and other liberatory struggles, and specifically the necessity of supporting long-term prisoners?
X: I feel like prisoner support is really important because we have to recognize that if we’re involved in these resistance movements that are challenging state power, if we are doing that in effective ways, there is going to be push back. And so we have to acknowledge that’s going to mean that our movements are going to have prisoners. So if we’re going to have prisoners, then we need to have prisoner support be part of the foundation of the work that we’re doing.
It needs to be constantly considered as part of our organizing, and we shouldn’t consider state repression as a surprising thing that happens. It should just be something that we take as something that is going to be there, and so we need to incorporate that in our organizing work that we do. For prisoner support just being a constant part of that. Making sure we do what we can to have the infrastructure to engage in supporting people long-term, because if people are going to be in prison for years, then we don’t want people to be forgotten about after a few years. That shows a failure on our part to not be with them, supporting them for every day that they’re in there, and making sure that people never feel forgotten.
Because if people do feel forgotten or support for them starts lacking because they’re been in there for longer, then that’s showing the state is then winning, because it just shows that if they give people long enough sentences then they lose the movement’s support. So we need to constantly be incorporating that in the work we do and making sure that, regardless of the length of someone’s sentences, they can know and trust that people will be there for them until they get out, and beyond that.
J11: Can you tell us more about the prisoners that you support?
X: So, I mentioned the Cleveland 4. I’ve been doing a lot of support for them, and they are a group of four people: Brandon Baxter, Connor Stevens, Doug Wright, and Josh Stafford. They were Occupy activist who the FBI entrapped into a plot to blow up a bridge. This plot was created by the FBI, the FBI supplied fake explosives, and had a paid FBI informant manipulate this group of young people for many months and coerce them into this plot, and then prosecuted them as terrorists. They received terrorist enhancements on their convictions when they were sentenced, and they are all serving about ten years in prison, give or take a year or two, and lifetime probation after that because of the terrorism enhancement.
So definitely ongoing support is needed for them and their case is definitely representative of what happened in the post-9/11 era, where we see the government creating these so-called terrorism plots, and then manipulating people into them. Then, the government can act like they’re capturing terrorists even though the government’s making up the plots, and then keep funding this so-called “war on terror.” We should definitely be breaking down their case. As well, the government has done this in many instances to young Muslim men. And we should just be very critical of what’s happening and pushing back on that because the government’s using it to keep creating this narrative that they need to engage in all these surveillance and COINTELPRO tactics in order to “fight terrorism,” even though the government is the one crafting these plots as well as the ones carrying out the terrorist acts.
I said I do support for Nicole and Joseph, who were indicted under the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act because they were accused of freeing animals from fur farms throughout the country, as well as causing other forms of economic damage to stores selling fur. Joseph is doing two years in prison, Nicole got twenty-one months. Then following that up, Joseph has two years of probation, she has three years. And again, with the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, we can see that as well as an example of how the government uses terrorism rhetoric to try to stir up fear around social justice movements, and make people afraid to get involved and to take action, because they’re afraid then that they’ll be prosecuted as terrorists.
But again, we need to look at the bigger picture and break down the government’s goal with the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act. It is, essentially, to make people afraid to advocate for animals. Very few people have actually been indicted under it, but it still has had a pretty terrible chilling effect on the movement. So by supporting people like Nicole and Joseph as well as showing that people continue to engage in work towards the liberation of animals, that’s an effective way to push back on the government’s intentions with that.
J11: Brandon Baxter of the Cleveland 4 was recently transferred to Illinois. What are the circumstances around that move, and do you know how Brandon is adjusting to his new location?
X: Yeah, so he was recently transferred to FCI Pekin, which is kind of in the middle of nowhere in Illinois. It’s near Peoria, which might be slightly better known. But he was recently transferred there from Terre Haute in Indiana, and so far the move has been good for him. It’s a much newer facility than Terre Haute, so there are better conditions in the prison, it’s bigger, and he gets to be outside more. He hasn’t been there very long yet, so he’s still in the adjustment phase, establishing new routines, getting settled in there. For anyone, the transfer process can be stressful just because of the actual process of being transferred, and then adjusting to a new environment. But overall he’s doing better being there, and just right now working through settling in.
J11: So I just saw that Josh Stafford, or Skelly, was recently released from the SHU. Can you tell us a little about that situation?
X: I don’t know details of what happened but I know that he was transferred. He was in Florida and now he was transferred to USP McCreary in Kentucky, and I don’t have any updates yet on how he’s doing with that. He just got there this week, so hopefully people are writing to him and everything because, again as I was just saying about Brandon, the transfer process can be very stressful as people are adjusting to being in the new environment. If people can, make sure to be writing letters right now so that he feels support as he is dealing with the same process as Brandon is with having to adjust to being in a new place and getting settled in.
J11: You were talking earlier about Joseph and Nicole, I think Joseph is about half-way through his prison sentence, and Nicole has been in for maybe six months. Can you tell us how they’re doing, and what kind of support they need right now?
X: Yeah, so Nicole, the last update I have about her is that she’s been doing really well. She’s been able to make friends with her bunkmates and she’s reading a lot, and has an exercise routine and has figured out a schedule for herself. She is just handling the circumstances really well, considering. Joseph unfortunately, his time has been a lot rougher. He’s been in the SHU for several months and will likely be in for a bit longer, so that brings a lot of feelings of isolation. The prison has been interfering with his mail a lot, so oftentimes letters that people are sending to him don’t get to him, or he realizes that letters he’s sending out don’t make it to people. So that’s been an additional stressor for him, to feel more disconnected from the community.
But I’d really encourage people to do what they can to keep writing. If you’re writing to him and don’t hear back, that’s likely not his fault. But he still really appreciates hearing from people. Something I’ve found is that sometimes just a card or a postcard will get to him even when letters don’t. So if you can just take a minute to write out a postcard or something to send to him, he really appreciates those shows of support. It means a lot to him when he’s feeling very isolated. He’s also appreciating right now getting a lot of zines and magazines and articles to read. He hasn’t felt as much lately like reading books, but he’s really been appreciating the smaller forms of reading materials. So he needs continued support, and those are unfortunately some more obstacles in showing support for Joseph. But he really appreciates all the mail that does it make through to him.
J11: So the other AETA case: Kevin and Tyler, I think they’re both off house arrest and out of the half-way house now. What are some things that you learned from their cases, and how does support continue even after our friends are released?
X: Tyler is done with all of his sentence now, he’s even off probation. His sentence ended up being three months of time served that he did when he was initially arrested, six months house arrest, and then six months half-way house. He’s now completed all of that and he had a year of probation that ran consecutive to it. Kevin is actually in his last two weeks now of half-way house, he will be out on June 1st. And so he is getting excited for that, he’s started looking for a place to live and everything. Kevin did about three years in prison.
Something that I think is a good lesson from their cases, not to be confused with Nicole and Joseph, is that the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act has the scary “terrorism” word in it, but especially looking at Tyler’s sentence (six months half-way house, six months house arrest, and then the three months of prison) the sentences aren’t that different than what we might see if they were charged not under a terrorism statute. So I think that’s an important thing to note, that sometimes we should look past what the rhetoric is around things and look more at what the sentences actually are. Not that every day in jail or prison someone has to spend isn’t terrible and shouldn’t be happening at all, but I think it is important to break down some of the fear of what “terrorism” convictions actually mean.
Kevin and Tyler are both doing really well right now, but as people are getting out of prison and half-way houses, we do have to continue to show people support because it’s a continued process of adjustment as they start to think about what their relationship with the movement is going to be, and how they want to be involved. We should be supportive and welcoming to them, but also remember that people are dealing with a lot of trauma as they are on the other side of this, and maybe trying to navigate how exactly it makes sense for them to get back involved. For me, with them as my friends it’s just been having those conversations and paying attention to what kind of support they need, and being responsive to that. And that’s something where whether we’re friends with people, or not friends but just watching updates on a website or something, being responsive to what people are asking for is important, and remembering that just because somebody is out of prison doesn’t mean that they don’t need that support.
J11: Do you often find that much of support for anarchist or other political and radical prisoners comes from a small number of people and limited circles? One aspect of this must be trying to generalize it and spread that work, and build connections with other movements and tendencies. Can you speak to the connection between animal rights circles and those of prisoner support, or other examples that you have?
X: Unfortunately a horrible trend in the more mainstream animal rights movement has been that it’s been a very isolated movement, very single-issue focused. And that ends up working out fine for animal rights prisoners because they do get a lot of support, and I’ve seen the difference in different support work that I’ve done. I’ve see how the mainstream animal rights movement overall has a lot of people with a lot of resources, maybe access to money in different forms. So there’s an outpouring of support and donations that really help the animal rights prisoners, to constantly have money on their commissary, to get a lot of letters, to have people offering support in different way.
It’s often frustrating, though, to see how limited a lot animal rights people will be in who they support. They’ll support animal rights prisoners, but then not understand that it’s the same system that’s criminalizing other people and putting people in cages, and not understand that support should be spread out to other people as well. So something I’ve personally tried to do a lot with having connections to the animal rights movements is trying to have more conversations with people. Whenever we’re talking about supporting people like Nicole and Joseph, also talking about supporting the Cleveland 4 or other prisoners. Also trying to use it to start a conversations about broadly why is prisoner support important, why we should be talking about prison abolition.
And I hope that’s something within the animal rights movement that can become more understood, that if we’re opposing putting animals in cages, we should be opposed to putting humans in cages, and we should look at all the issues with state power that come into play. But I’d say that it’s definitely something that needs more work, and luckily there are a lot of animal rights activists who do get it, and support a lot of different prisoners, and talk about prison issues more broadly. As people who already understand it, we should take it as a responsibility we have to talk to other people in the movements that we’re a part of about expanding the support that we do, and constantly challenging the idea that prisons should even exist. A lot of animal rights activists haven’t thought much into that realm yet.
J11: What are some obstacles that you’ve observed in doing prisoner solidarity work? And what do you think we could collectively be doing better?
X: Something that I’ve run into is, I mean as you said in the last question, there are often a limited number of people doing it, and it can burn people out. I know that a lot of the work that I’ve done, I’ve seen a lot of people really excited to be a core part of a support crew, and then within a year they kind of drop out of being involved. And so I think we need to have a lot more conversations what it means to do prisoner support, and that it’s not just something that you can do for the first year while a case is getting more attention, but that it is a long-term thing.
And also be more openly talking about the stresses involved in doing prisoner support, because it’s not easy. A lot of times we’re dealing with heavy issues with people, a lot of times people doing support work are friends or partners of the people in prison, and so there’s even greater emotional stress in doing it. We need to constantly be having those conversations of how can we show each other support, and how do we make sure we do have the emotional capacity to do the support long-term, to be doing it in ways that are as healthy as possible, and to be able to talk about the stress and how we can deal with it, and what we can do to find ways to release. Because it is going to be difficult and it’s going to bring up issues for people, and not everyone’s going to want to do it, but for the people that want to, we should make it something that is sustainable, and that we do talk about it.
J11: Can you speak to how the strengths or failings of prisoner support have personally affected your friends, either currently or previously in prison, or who are doing some of the core support work?
X: Hearing from people who are my friends in prison, it’s great to see their reaction when they do feel support, how excited they are when they get letters, and how much it means to them to be hearing from people, sometimes around the world, who are showing support for them. It can help them still feel connected to a community when they feel so isolated. It’s great to see those examples of people reaching out, that always makes me happy to see for those people, and it makes me glad to know as someone working to support them that people are being responsive to all the effort we’re doing to encourage people to write letters and all that.
But a lot of times the initial support doesn’t continue at the same level, and I’ve seen moments when it seems hard for people when they’re starting to get fewer letters, or people they’re writing to stop writing to them because people just don’t continue with that. So again, that goes back to having a conversation about how we do continued support for people. Whether that means people being a part of support crews and being more directly involved in all the layers of support work, or just being someone who takes time to write letters to prisoners, we should remember that it’s important to keep writing, to keep staying involved in doing whatever we’re doing because it’s not fair for us to start lacking in the support we’re doing while they’re still in prison.
J11: Do you see ways that June 11th can help address these challenges? And what are your hopes for June 11th this year?
X: I think that June 11th and other days where there are pushes for prisoner support are great reminders to people to keep doing what they’re doing, and to encourage thinking about the bigger issues that we’re dealing with. There are definitely layers to this, there’s the layer of: we’re doing this because we want to support our friends and comrades, and we want to make sure that they don’t feel alone, and that they know we have their back. And then there’s the bigger level of: it’s a fucked up system and we need to constantly be doing what we can to expose what the prison industrial complex is, and to be doing work to reduce the strength that it has, and to be challenging its legitimacy, and to have the bigger conversations, whether it’s in our movements or more publically than that, about what we should be doing and how to turn that into action.
It’s great to see campaigns against building new prisons or campaigns to reduce funding the police forces and things like that. And to keep also organizing against prisons in tangible ways that are beyond the support work that we’re doing for prisoners, but also challenging the ability of prisons to function as they do.
J11: What are your broader hopes and vision for June 11th in the years to come?
X: I hope it continues to be something that more and more people know about. In my experience it’s something that mostly the anarchist community knows about, so I’d like to see more of the resistance movements and other social justice movements become more aware of it, and it be something that can be a way to introduce more people to the importance of prisoner support and the other issues that come with that. Prisoner support stuff, I just always hope will be something that encourages people to look further into issues, to get involved in some way, or to write to someone, and that it could be an entry point for them to get more involved in the work.
And for people that are new to it, I encourage people to start writing letters to someone, because hearing someone’s personal experiences from being on the inside and getting to know them as a person rather than just someone who’s labeled a prisoner. That’s the best way to learn about what the system really is, and what it does to people, because I think people are often surprised that things aren’t what they seem, and that some of the worst things about prison sometimes wouldn’t be what people anticipate even before they start writing to someone. But once you start to get to know someone personally, you really see what this system does to people and how it can tear people apart and how important it is to be in touch with people and have those different forms of support, and to do what we can to try and stop it from doing this to people.
J11: Are there any struggles or moments in the recent past that have been inspiring to you?
X: It’s been quite the year of things, something that stands out to me is that I had the opportunity to do legal support at Standing Rock, and that was a place where a lot of new people were getting involved. And it was cool to see how, in an on the ground, in the moment situation, people were figuring out how to do jail support and prisoner support. And when I was doing jail visits with people there, I had some pretty inspiring and amazing conversations with people about why they were there and what that moment to them meant.
I had super intense, emotional conversations with young indigenous people who were in jail out at Standing Rock, and about the brutality that they were experiencing from the police there. But they had such conviction that this is what they needed to be doing, they needed to be out there, and just so inspiring to see how much they understood the violence of the system, yet they were still there pushing back on it. So looking at situations like that where we’re seeing the violence of Standing Rock playing out on social media, to see it closer up and to see just the devotion that people had to what they were doing was just pretty incredible.
J11: Are there any other projects you’re involved in or interested in that you’d like to talk about?
X: I guess the final thing I’d like to say is to encourage people to support the Cleveland 4, and Nicole and Joseph. There are support websites for both of them. Its cleveland4solidarity.org and supportnicoleandjoseph.com. As well as Facebook pages for both, and also there’s a Twitter page for Cleveland 4. Those are great places to watch for updates about what’s going on, and what kind of support they need. You can see addresses for writing to them, you can see book lists, and you can see how to make donations to support them. They need support, and hopefully lots of other prisoners are getting support as well, and I hope this is all continuing to be a part of these bigger conversations that we need to be having about supporting individual prisoners as well as what this means on a broader scale.
On September 6, 2016 the Italian state raided 30 houses and arrested 5 people in an investigation of Informal Anarchist Federation (FAI) attacks, in what’s been called “Operation Scripta Manent.” The FAI, being not a real organization but rather a tendency of attack, has been claimed in many actions around the world throughout the last decade including numerous incendiary attacks, arsons, and the kneecapping of an Italian nuclear firm CEO.
In a letter written from prison by Anna Beniamino, one of the arrestees from the raids, they argue that this is a trial not just against the defendants, but against anti-organizational Anarchism itself:
“The framework gives shape to a repressive-Manichean vision of a ‘social anarchy’, a good and harmless one, and an (anti-social and anti-classist) ‘individual anarchy’, violent and palatable to repression, whose method is the ‘anti-organization model’. By making the necessary distinctions, this framework aims to define a specific camp, to create a cage, so that from a generic ‘insurrectionism’, (a sub-product of the anti-organization model), always violent and liable to punishment to varying degrees, sub-species can be pulled out to form different strands of the investigation for Italian cops: ‘classic insurrectionism’, ‘social insurrectionism’, ‘eco insurrectionism’ and the ‘informal anarchist federation’.”
In light of this repression, anarchists in Italy have put out a call for international solidarity actions during the entire month of June. Rather than allowing timidity and fear to follow from state repression as our enemies wish for, comrades in Italy are calling for courage and attack. For this reason, we in the June 11 crew feel this call overlaps with our project, and we are glad to give it a signal boost here in the United States & Canada.
Note: This is a new translation of the call, click here for the original English translation posted to Act For Freedom Now.
For a Dangerous June
A summary of ideas expressed during the convergences on the theme ‘With our heads held high’
State repression is the most important part of the system of domination and one of its most disgraceful expressions; it doesn’t surprise us that those who are struck most are historically those who don’t let themselves be recuperated by the system of power, i.e. anarchist, revolutionary and rebel individualities.
The latter respond to the physical, psychological, moral, social and economic repression unleashed by all the components of democratic power and to the brutal indiscriminate violence of its armed hands and the judiciary. This they do with direct action aimed at those responsible for repression, with the creative and liberating destruction of the places of domination and the sabotage of its infrastructures, so as to put an end to, or at least hamper, the causes of exploitation and oppression by human beings against other human beings, the earth and animals.
From the perspective of total liberation, passively watching the reproduction of domination means being complicit with it, so there are those who continue to hold their heads high and rebel.
As a consequence, power activates all its strategies and the trials and proceedings still continue against comrades for actions, episodes of conflictuality, and writings. Next month there will be an appeals trial concerning the so-called Operation Shadow, in which a number of comrades are accused, among other things, of criminal instigation following the publication of the paper KNO3. 
These judicial proceedings are an expression of the war that the authorities are waging against the bond between thought and action, which is the foundation of anarchism’s dangerousness. Beyond individual and specific struggles, this police operation aims at striking the cardinal concepts of anti-authoritarian ideas and methods such as direct action, refusal of delegation and solidarity. Starting from these reflections during the meetings that developed after the arrests in Operation Scripta Manent, we felt it necessary to not reduce solidarity to the technical support of those who are in prison, not dwelling on the strategies of repression, but widening the spectrum of our analysis.
In this respect, we discussed how solidarity is a fundamental element of our anarchist action and relations of complicity aimed at the destruction of domination. This form of solidarity goes beyond repression’s attacks, and is capable of not letting itself be suffocated by the specificity of the trajectories of struggle when we recognize ourselves in a common tension of attack. In particular, active solidarity is an essential instrument to respond to state violence, refusing to take its blows passively but maintaining a stance of attack, so as not to develop attitudes of victimization which is what repression wants. The risk of isolation can be reduced and one of the enemy’s most important goals can be made ineffective by thinking in offensive terms, keeping in mind permanent and internationalist conflictuality beyond each one’s specific path.
To express solidarity with specific contexts and projects doesn’t mean one must conform to the discourses and practices of those who have been struck, nor does it mean to necessarily follow in the wake of a given struggle or practice: if we recognize ourselves in a common horizon we can act in solidarity according to our own individual tension. Creating of relations of solidarity on a local and international level is a strategic objective which we should give ourselves in order to face the strengthening of repression’s means and will against anarchist, revolutionary and rebel individualities.
We think it necessary to address our proposals, projectuality and objectives towards the destruction of the system, which organizes social relations of domination by flattening dissent through recuperation, and wherever this is not possible, by eliminating it through repression.
In this respect, we recognize the importance of multiform actions and practices within anarchism. Precisely because the more differences that exist in a context, the stronger the possibility of not getting stuck on pre-arranged dogmatic positions, provided that any specific struggle and attack is part of the wider view of tension towards subversion. To recognize the value of this diversity also means to lay the foundations for opposing all centralizing and dominating tendencies within anarchism.
This is only possible through an attitude of constant self-criticism and critique between the different approaches, an attitude that moves towards qualitative growth of both an analysis of what surrounds us and of the various possible ways to organize the destruction of what oppresses us.
By refusing to classify or make it possible for others to classify our different tensions into identity categories, we think that any attack on authority interacts with social mechanisms and relations and at the same time acts against society itself.
From a strategic point of view the existence of multiform practices is useful for nourishing the complexity of the forms of organization and attack, and enhances the discussion on means and ends within the different anarchist projectualities of action. It is absolutely necessary to understand how to give value to this diversity without diluting its contents in the view of a common project of total destruction of the system of domination.
It is important to consider different proposals and projectualities not as being antithetical and static but as being instruments, resources and possibilities at anarchists’ disposal, provided that they have certain characteristics that we believe are fundamental, such as permanent conflictuality, attack, independence from institutional hierarchically-organized political structures, and informality as a tool of organization.
By permanent conflictuality, we mean a tension towards the irrecuperability of our practices and discourses, the refusal to submit our action to opportunistic evaluation. This doesn’t exclude the possibility of developing a strategy referring to modalities and objectives, but this cannot be a justification for wait-and-see attitudes or the watering down of our own content for the sake of a quantitative broadening.
From this point of view we reiterate the refusal of any collaboration with power or that lends itself to recuperation. By the latter we intend power’s strategy of absorbing experiences and behavior that is potentially dangerous to itself and of directing them towards its goals. In democracies the mechanism of recuperation is complementary to the harshest face of repression and has the goal of perpetuating the system of exploitation and oppression: the attempt at inclusion and integration of some forms of dissent is meant to increase participation in the political game, thus creating divisions in order to more easily attack those who don’t want to participate in the spectacle of society. Anarchist action for the destruction of society and domination responds to the tension that refuses authority, and therefore doesn’t negotiate with the latter but wants to overthrow it with violence, and a wider strategy that starts off from the awareness that we will never live free by creating islands inside mass society.
It is therefore beyond question that the struggle, in order not to be reformist, has to contemplate direct attack as a practice. Following Operation Scripta Manent: Alfredo, Nicola, Danilo, Valentina, Anna, Marco and Sandrone are being held in high security units, subjected to restrictions and censorship of communication with the outside.
Some anarchists find themselves in prison in Italy and in the rest of the world, while others here and elsewhere are undergoing various restrictive measures, such as house arrest and compulsory residence orders.
We call for mobilization in the month of June in solidarity with anarchist, revolutionary and rebel individualities struck by repression, as an occasion for coordination between initiatives and practices.
Rome, 30th April 2017
 Operation Shadow is a procedure based on article 270bis, which Perugia prosecutors started in 2008. The crime of association was dropped in the first grade trial, and in the 2015’s appeal trial it resulted in a sentence of 3 years against two comrades, a third comrade being investigated for article 302 with the aggravating circumstance of terrorism following articles published in KNO3, and sentences against other comrades for attempted sabotage on a railway line and car theft.
As the first part of an ongoing series of interviews leading up to the June 11th International Day of Solidarity with Marius Mason & All Long-Term Anarchist Prisoners, we present an interview with Leslie James Pickering.
Leslie is the former spokesperson for the Earth Liberation Front Press Office and is currently involved with Burning Books in Buffalo, New York. He is the editor of The Earth Liberation Front 1997-2002 and author of The Evan Mecham Eco Terrorist International Conspiracy and Mad Bomber Melville, about guerrilla and Attica brother Sam Melville.
We talked about support for ageing prisoners, the changing nature of prisoner solidarity, fighting government secrecy via FOIA requests, continuing struggle despite state repression, the state of the Earth Liberation struggle, and supporting prisoners of the Black Liberation and anti-imperialist struggles of the ’70s and ’80s.
JUNE 11TH: Can you start by telling us about yourself and your experiences with prison or prisoner support?
LESLIE JAMES PICKERING: Yeah, so I’ve been doing prison support work probably since 2002. About fifteen years, when I moved back to Buffalo from Oregon, and connected with long-term prisoners here in New York state, specifically David Gilbert and Herman Bell, and then Jalil Muntaqim and Seth Hayes. David’s been in prison since the early ‘80s, the other three have been in prison since the early ‘70s. They all have long-terms: David has seventy-five to life and the others have twenty-five to life. They are not likely to be paroled. So these are people who have been serving 30-40+ years for activism and struggle around Black Liberation and Anti-Imperialist movements that really came out of the ‘60s and ‘70s. At that point I’d been involved in doing a lot of support work for the Earth Liberation struggle. At that point those of us in that struggle were just starting to realize that we were having our own set of political prisoners. And so connecting to long-standing political prisoners was a big priority of mine at that point to help contextualize our struggle within the broader struggles for liberation in this country. I guess that’s kinda where I come at it.
J11: Can you speak to the importance of prisoner support as part of liberation struggles, like specifically the necessity of supporting long-term prisoners.
L: Yeah, definitely. You’ve got to understand the function of state repression in order to really understand that question. State repression is meant not just to punish wrong things or illegal things, but specifically to stop movements from succeeding. In the case of the Earth Liberation struggle, we started getting political prisoners not so much because people were responsible for arson or sabotage, but much more because these movements were actually engaging in the kind of struggles that have massive impact, and the state has to respond from their point of view to show that we can’t be doing that, that that’s not acceptable, and to frighten people off and to reduce the support for the movement.
So you really need to understand that supporting political prisoners is a function of having a successful freedom struggle of any kind. If you let the state come in and say: “we are going to make an example of this person and scare off the movement,” well then it works and it does just that, and people don’t join and the movement gets small, isolated, and weak. But if you are able to shine a light on the repression that the state is putting on individuals and movements, you kind of turn the tables around a little bit at least and gain broader support for your movements from different angles.
Maybe not everybody fully understands, for example animal liberation politics, and they’re not all going to run around and being vegans and everything, but there are people who would support animal liberation prisoners from the basis of political prisoners and from an anti-repression standpoint. So you start getting these different avenues for support for your struggle and linking your struggle up with other struggles out there. So I think that’s really an important aspect of it.
Support for political prisoners is an important response to state repression –whatever the repression is that needs to be responded to – because otherwise it will totally destroy our movements. It’s important to support long-term prisoners because their cases are most likely more significant than the short-term prisoner cases. Not to imply that short-term prisoners don’t deserve support too, they absolutely do. All people who are subject to state repression should get as much support as we are able to give them. But, you’ve got to realize that these are moves by the state to destroy our movements. The bigger move, the longer prison sentence that these people have, and therefore the more significant response that we should really have to that. If someone is getting an astronomical amount of time for something that normally doesn’t get that amount of time, and is a disproportionate sentencing, that’s being done because it’s a way for the state to make an example out of them. And I think it’s really important to make a counter-example.
To give an example of that, from my history and experience, there’s the case of Jeff Luers and Craig Marshall, “Free” and “Critter” they were called. They had burned an SUV or two at a dealership in Eugene in the ‘90s to protest global warming. And that hadn’t been done at the time really. They were actually caught because they were being profiled by the local police department and followed around because they were anarchists. They were caught, and Jeff got twenty years in prison, which is astronomical for $19,000 worth of damages, it’s just totally disproportionate. The state was doing that because they were trying to, again, scare people away and make it seem as though if you were somebody who might want to go do something that might be illegal to help the struggle move forward, well now you have to sort of think about what the consequences are, and if you get caught it’s not just going to be a slap on the wrist, you’re going to be in your forties when you get out of prison.
So that’s definitely an intentional aspect of repression in this case. And in response, the Earth Liberation Front, which was active at the time, went back to the exact same dealership and burnt the whole thing down. And in their communique for like $1,000,000 in damages, and something like 36 SUVs, they specifically were citing that this is in response to what the state is trying to do to us, like we’re not gonna let you scare us. And other sort of controversies around that action aside, that part of it I think was pretty significant and important, because at that moment the state was making a big move to try to frighten people away from engaging in direct action. It could have been a lot more successful, but because of the counter-move by the movement, by the struggle that we were engaged in, the sort of underground movement was able to stay strong and brave and keep fighting on for a while after that. And I think that’s what we need to do.
Whenever there’s a move by the state to make an example out of somebody through repression or to frighten the rest of us away through some sort of chilling effect, not only do we need to call the state out on it but we should do as much as we can to the opposite. We should continue to keep fighting because the reason they’re targeting us is because we’re being successful. If the movement is receiving repression, it’s because the movement is on the verge of success. They don’t just go out and throw people in prison for the hell of it, they pick the people out and the movements out that really pose a significant threat.
And so it’s important to remember that. It’s hard to remember that when you’re under the underneath sort of the thumb of the state at the moment. You’re thinking about, “oh I’m going to go to prison, what are the repercussions, I’ve got this big trial,” and all this kind of personal baggage that comes along with it. But I think it’s really important to take a step back and think, “you know what, they’re doing this because our movement is pretty powerful, like why else would the FBI be paying attention right now and be nailing all of us so hard right now. So we must be doing something right so therefore we should keep doing it, we should keep doing something that has that kind of impact.”
J11: You faced decades of government surveillance, and raids on your home, and many other forms of state repression simply for being at one time the public voice for the Earth Liberation Front. What can those doing legal, public projects do to mitigate the harm caused by state repression?
L: Well, repression happens in secrecy. That’s a big aspect of it. Particularly the FBI, but there’s plenty of other agencies too, but particularly the FBI, they like to operate in secret in the shadows. A lot of what they do, if it’s not illegal, it’s at least immoral and people recognize that. And much of what they do is actually illegal, not that they’re gonna ever be held accountable for it. But these are the kind of things they do in secrecy. They’re not proud of it, they’re not releasing communiques for the most part. They’re not taking interviews and questions for the most part. They only sort of thrive if we don’t know what they’re doing, and if we don’t pay attention.
So a lot of what I’ve been doing in recent years is totally public work using the Freedom of Information Act and lawsuits exposing what the FBI has done to me and to people I’ve worked with, and to our movements in general, helping other people use the Freedom of Information Act and other legal avenues to expose repression and targeting by the state of our movements. I think that helps for a number of reasons, and a lot of that is due to my personal experiences. It’s hard to be under repression year after year, and sort of just deal with that and just take it in stride. It can be very helpful to get as many facts as you can on that, and to show that I wasn’t just losing my mind about this one incident or these twenty incidents you know, in my sort of paranoid delusions, but there’s actually some tangible proof of government involvement in a lot of this stuff.
And so that helps on a personal level, and it helps on other sort of interpersonal levels, where people can see what’s going on with you and with your movements, and then how that relates to their movements in a realistic sort of way that involves evidence and proof. So it doesn’t just seem like we’re all just running around nuts, suspecting the government is behind every little thing. Being able to show that they actually are is a big difference between just saying, “Well they did this to Fred Hampton back in 1969 so therefore they’re probably doing this to us now.” It’s a lot different if you can actually say, “well here’s the paperwork, here’s the names of the informants that were involved, here’s the allegations, here’s the type of surveillance that I’ve been subjected to, here’s the photographs of the surveillance.” All that kind of stuff, which we’ve been able to do in cases.
And I think the second part, and perhaps the more important part, is that it shows people what we’re up against in a more tangible way. You’re not going on just some data from the 1960s and ‘70s from movements that are mostly at totally different stages now. But we’re actually looking at things that are happening now with current technology, with movements that are currently active and able to make adjustments to our strategies and practices based on some real information. I don’t have any illusion that we’re uncovering everything at all, I think there’s a lot that we can’t really uncover through these legal means. But if we can get some of it, it’s worth the effort, it’s been proven to be worth the effort.
It also does a lot in terms of getting media exposure, which builds sympathy for your movement, builds sympathy for your political prisoners and people facing repression. If they can see the government’s hands are dirty, to get sympathy there is very helpful. That’s a lot of what I’ve been doing in terms of public legal strategy. I’ve seen it have an effect on a number of people, and I know personally very well it’s hard to be a subject of repression. You feel very isolated and you’re getting all this pressure put on you. To take that to at least some sort of an offensive stance rather than just a defensive, where you’re afraid of what they’re gonna do next, but you’re actually strategizing what you’re gonna do next, and who’s on your team, and what you’re working on, and how you’re gaining support. That makes a big difference, because it’s hard to be proactive when you’re defensive and frightened all the time.
And I think we need to stay proactive in the situations that we’re in. The environment, social justice, and liberation struggles are not exactly at a good stage at this point. We’ve got a lot of work to do, so if we’re just taking a back-step and backseat and thinking about, “oh no, am I gonna end up in prison,” that’s not a very powerful place to be. So trying to get back on the offensive is a really big aspect of it as well.
J11: So the Green Scare and its subsequent string of snitching and harsh prison sentences severely damaged the Earth and Animal Liberation movements in the US. Are there lessons we can learn from this? And what do you think could contribute to the revitalization of these movements?
L: Yeah, there’s a lot of lessons that could be learned from it, and should have been learned before this happened, unfortunately. At the moment I’m at a bookstore here and I’m looking at Ward Churchill’s Agents of Repression and I even had this on my shelf in the ‘90s and had read it, and was pretty fascinated with it, but still hadn’t really fully applied those concepts to what we were doing at that point. Which is kind of a shame; certainly I was among the people who were more likely to understand repression at that point, and learn lessons from past movements. So the fact that the Earth Liberation movement from the ‘90s and early 2000’s was able to accelerate so much and gain so much ground, yet at the same time not really be very well prepared for the obvious – what seems to me at this point as obvious – repression that was around the corner and happening simultaneously, it’s kind of remarkable.
If you look at just the FBI for example: this is a well-paid, well-funded organization that only grows, it doesn’t ebb-and-flow. If somebody holds a position within the FBI and they go on and retire or get a different job, it’s not like that position just stops, somebody else fills their shoes, somebody else gets all the data and research and picks up the active investigations. There’s no stopping, there’s no pausing, there’s no stepping backwards in terms of the FBI and the repressive apparatus. They’re constantly evolving and improving, not that they’re perfect and not that they don’t do stupid stuff that we can laugh at. It’s true, they do a lot of stupid stuff. But when you compare their situation to the movement, the broader liberation in this country for example, you see these real big surges and these real big setbacks that happen over periods of many years.
So you get a period during the anti-Vietnam War movement and Black Liberation movement when people are very proactive and there’s a lot of offensive maneuvers being made, and then you have a period following that where it seems like there’s almost – of course it’s not true – but it seems like there’s no positive activity happening. And then you get another movement coming in the ‘90s or late ‘80s or whatever that’s a radical environmental movement, but the connections that should be there – learning lessons from COINTELPRO and repression of past struggles – really are very weak. There’s very little overlap between generations within our movement.
Occasionally you find someone who really goes out of their way to connect with new movements and bring lessons from the past, but it’s hugely lacking unfortunately. And so, every time somebody does something significant, a new organization starts up, or even an underground group or whatever starts up and they start taking action, there’s almost this feeling like they were the first people to ever do it. When really, just twenty to thirty years ago there’s probably something very close that you could compare yourself to and learn a lot of lessons from, but because you know very little about that, as we knew very little about previous movements during the early Earth Liberation movement. It’s just an unfortunate reality. We take big steps forward and we take big steps backward, and the FBI just keeps stepping forward, making it harder and harder for our movements to succeed.
So it’s a big effort that I’m trying to put out and many other people are trying to put out there right now to sort of connect these movements, and have been for years now, connect these movements across generations so that when a movement does sprout up again, it brings along with it the lessons of mistakes and successes that past struggles have fought and died and worked so hard to gain. So that’s a big aspect of it as well.
What can be done for the Earth Liberation movement to sort of step back up to the plate? Well I think a lot of that is slowly happening, but it’s not going to look like it did in the late ‘90s, it’s going to look like it would look now. You see a lot of inspiring anti-fascist efforts that are happening now. You know there are different issues going on now, and so these movements aren’t just going to be like, you can’t just like relive something that happened twenty years ago. There are going to be learned lessons hopefully from some things that happened twenty years ago, fifty years ago, a hundred years ago, overseas, and any other way that they can, and taking these lessons and applying them to your current situation.
We do have some pretty inspiring stuff that’s happening around several movements, and they are very similar to the Earth Liberation movement, they are very similar to the Black Liberation movement in different ways, but they’re contemporary and they’re different. And so I think emphasis shouldn’t be put on like, let’s revive something that happened twenty years ago, or let’s revive something that happened fifty years ago, but rather let’s make something happen now that’s relevant to something that’s going on right now, and let’s know what happened decades ago and how it was successful and how it failed, and apply those lessons to our ability to succeed now.
J11: What are some challenges you see with supporting prisoners and what could we collectively be doing better?
L: Political prisoner support work is very arduous and unrewarding [laughs], and painful actually. It’s actually very painful work. I’ve been doing support work for Robert Seth Hayes – who’s a Black Liberation Army, Black political prisoner, Black Panther Party person – since about 2004. I’ve been visiting him a lot, and you know, have a pretty close relationship with him, his family, as well as the other prisoners I mentioned earlier. To see these people go up for parole and be denied over and over, doing everything you can to win them parole and constantly be denied, and to know there’s very little hope in the situation is a hard reality to face, because not only do you wanna see the movement succeed by getting these prisoners released, but these people are like family to me almost now.
You know, you to see their loved ones that want them out, and every time Seth gets denied, it’s like a punch in the gut, it really is. And at the same time I really know there’s a very little likelihood Jalil Muntaqim would ever get parole. It’s all ex-law enforcement that are appointed to the parole board and you know, he’s in prison allegedly for assassinating police officers, so there’s really very little likelihood that someone in that position is ever gonna get paroled, so it’s hard. Of course, there’s other situations with other political prisoners where there are more doors to open and more avenues to work towards, but in general it’s the same situation. It’s hard work, people don’t want to even think about prison, let alone do all their organizing around them, in general. Most people just don’t even want to think that they exist. And those of us that have gotten ourselves in this position where it’s relevant and important work to do, we do it because it’s so important and because of the personal connections we have with these people, and this sort of strategic analysis we have around the importance and significance of political prisoner support work, not because it’s very likely to succeed on a massive scale.
When you think about it, the biggest success is that the person who was a good ally in our movement is back out on the streets. Probably under some massive restrictions, legal restrictions, but it’s just kinda getting back to where the person was before getting arrested. It’s hard to have a massive positive step forward on these movements. It’s a struggle. So that all being said, it does feel incredibly important to myself and I think to other people who have a lot of experience with repression of movements – again getting back to the concept that movements are repressed and people are made into political prisoners because the state targets them and us – because the state decided we were enough of a threat to the status quo and to the system that they would risk framing up somebody in some cases or risk illegal or highly controversial surveillance techniques in other cases, and put enormous amounts of resources into massive, long-term, ongoing investigations all intended to really stifle a movement, to shut us down. You realize that that’s what the intention of repression is, then it all becomes much more clear how important to fight repression, even though it is such a hard battle to wage.
J11: What are your broader hopes and visions for prisoner solidarity in the years to come?
L: As the years ahead of us unfold, I’ve taken a hard look at the realities of the political prisoner support movement and I guess I could make some comments on that. We’ve got a number of long-term political prisoners still locked up in the US from roughly a half-century ago, from thirty to fifty years ago basically. That number is dwindling as people do win some kind of release and also are passing away and so those are sort of all realities that we deal with as people who are doing support for really long-term political prisoners. You’re dealing with medical conditions and you’re dealing potentially with end-of-life arrangements and stuff like that. It’s not always very optimistic work, so what are we looking at in the future?
As the years roll forward, a lot of these long-term people, we’re not going to have to give support for them for one reason or another anymore. Or if we do, it’s a different kind of support, it might be post-release support and we really need to organize an apparatus around that. And some people are working on that, but having this long repressive period we’re hopefully coming out of at this point, we have different political prisoners that are in prison now, and those long-term people aren’t the biggest body anymore. We see a handful of other maybe Earth Liberation people who are somewhat long-term prisoners that we’re supporting and the support work will look different than it did for Black Liberation Army types.
And then more recently most of the people we’re seeing in prison right now that are political prisoners from recent or somewhat recent cases are in entrapment gigs. They’re really not the kind of people who were out doing proactive stuff on their own, they weren’t these heroes of the movement necessarily, if you could use a term like that. But they’re people that were targeted a lot of times because they were low-hanging fruit realistically by the state, because the state needed to make an example, and wanted to be more proactive in shutting these movements down. So as the years progress, we’re going to be looking at more support work for people who are actually more victims of the system, and less support work for people who were fighters for the movement. And so that’ll look very different.
Also there’ll be fewer political prisoners, which is a good and a bad thing. Fewer is a good thing because as few people in prison as possible, and that’s the better scenario of course. But if that’s because people haven’t been engaging in proactive actions, haven’t been engaging in clandestine activities or illegal activity in any way, that’s not necessarily a good scenario in my opinion. The future of political prisoner support work is gonna change quite a bit over the next five, twenty, twenty-five years. And a lot of that is going to be shaped by the movements that we’re engaged in right now.
So, in essence, the reality of our situation with political prisoners relies on the reality of the strength and fighting capacity of our movements. If we’re completely defensive and not engaging in a whole lot of proactive, offensive activity, then we’re not going to have a whole lot of fighters locked up in prisons. We might have some victims of the state locked up in prisons, and that’s a different type of political prisoner support apparatus. Those are just some things that have been bouncing around with people I work with over recent years.
How do we support aging, long-term prisoners with health issues, who are sometimes getting released shortly before they’re gonna die just because the state doesn’t want to pay their medical bills? How do we do that kind of support now? How do we do post-release support work for people who are coming out traumatized from their experiences in prison and haven’t been able to evolve with the rest of the movement outside very well; adjusting to contemporary realities of movement changes and post-release re-adjustment? Those are all issues that people are struggling with right now, which is a good thing. So I think we are thinking on the right levels and working towards finding some good solutions. There are definitely some groups out there and people out there working doing very positive, proactive work right now, which is a great, massive step forward from when I got involved in the very early 2000’s.
J11: You mentioned David Gilbert, Herman Bell, Jalil, and Seth Hayes a little bit, is there anything going on about those people, or about other prisoners that you know?
L: Some other people I work with, a little bit at least, include Jeremy Hammond, a political prisoner, from very important hacking activity associated with Antisec and Anonymous in certain ways, who hacked a private security firm called Stratfor that was doing all kinds of surveillance. And if we didn’t understand what the movement has come to understand from releasing some of that hacked information, we would be at much more of a disadvantage at this point in the movement, so I have a lot of respect for him and the work that he continues to do. He’s got a few years left in prison I think, in a federal facility.
Marius Mason is another prisoner I work with. Marius is someone who was involved in the Earth Liberation Front as well as many other movements, and is serving time for, predominately, a million-dollar arson against a Monstanto-funded research, genetic engineering research project that was happening at Michigan State University. The arson attack happened on New Year’s Eve of ‘99. So that case is super significant. Marius is serving like twenty-two years or something like that, probably about half-way through the bid at this point. He’s transitioning, gender-wise, within the facility right now. It’s kind of a ground-breaking work; it definitely adds an interesting contemporary important dynamic to political prisoner support.
To talk more about Herman and Seth and Jalil and David, Herman and Jalil had the same case, they were in on the same case. And they were actually in with Nuh Washington as well who passed away in prison. They were called the New York 3, first the New York 5, and then charges were dropped against two people and the case ended up being the New York 3 case. Convicted of some of the earliest Black Liberation Army activity, which were retaliatory attacks against the police. Now it’s just history of the Black Liberation struggle.
There were so many people that were targeted by the police, whether it’s just unarmed black, usually males in communities that were targeted during the ‘60s that caused groups like the Black Panther Party to form up in the first place, to specific targeting, which is really specific to the BLA. Especially the NYPD. They had a hit list essentially of people they thought were part of the Black Liberation Army and the Black Panther Party out there. And they were just hunting these people down, people like Twymon Meyers. I mean there was no reason for them to be killed, they were killed on the streets and then they manufactured evidence afterwards saying, “oh they tried to attack us,” and many other situations like this. There was clearly a hit-list that the authorities were going down and knocking people off of.
When you have a situation like that, it’s not like the normal decision-making scenario of like, “oh do I want to sign a petition and write a letter or do I want to go underground?” You know, that complicates the decision a lot when you’re already on a list because you’ve been involved in the Black Panther Party or you’re a suspected radical, or something like that. It’s going to change the way you decide to operate, so a lot of people were more-or-less forced underground, or their hands were coerced a little bit to engage in underground activity. And how you respond to that is something our movement really needs to work to understand, because we’re not at this level of struggle. So when the state is actively killing people, assassinating people because of their organizing and their work around the movement, then what kind of response is then adequate and necessary?
And at that point a lot of them decided that, a number at least, decided that responding in kind was the only appropriate response, and the Black Liberation Army formed up and adopted models of guerrilla struggle that were happening in Algiers and other places to their situation and were ambushing and assassinating police as well as robbing banks as well as doing things like ridding the community of drug dealers and things like that. So all clandestine activity really. So some of those early police ambushes are what Herman and Jalil are doing 25-years-to-life on right now. If you can imagine, that’s not a very favorable case to argue for release or to gain public support. But again, the more you are involved in these movements, the more understanding and sympathy you’re going to have for situations like that.
And here we are again at the time period when – guess what? – unarmed people of color are being killed in the streets by law enforcement. So clearly the situation hasn’t gotten a whole lot better unfortunately. In particular when it comes to parole. So Herman and Jalil have 25-years-to-life and what that means in New York State is that after 25 years you’re eligible to go to the parole board and they do a little interview and they make a decision, and if you’re denied they give you typically two more years and then you go back to the parole board again, and they can just kinda keep denying you over and over again. And with these cases, you know, the unwritten rule is that anyone who’s in for killing a police officer is never going to get paroled. So they go through this charade every two years where they act as though they’re paying attention to the qualifications for release, and then they just deny them based on what they call the serious nature of the crime, over and over and over again.
One of the things that was highly suspected for a long time was that police fraternity organizations like the PBA were lobbying and petitioning for the parole board to not release these people, behind closed doors. They were sending in private letters and having private conversations, etc with parole board officials saying, “you know what, when Jalil comes up for release, no matter how many positive letters he has, no matter how good his parole packet is, no matter how many jobs and places to live he’s got lined up, no matter how old he is, or how low of a threat he is at this point, deny him because you’re our friends, right? And we’re all cops, right? So let’s just keep him in prison.” So what we did with the state Freedom of Information law was get some of that paperwork: pieces of paper, letters, etc. from the parole board and prove, for example, that yeah there are hundreds if not more of police officers and people encouraged by police officers to write the parole board to say, “don’t release this person,” in addition to the hundreds of letters that we sent in saying, “please release Jalil,” there’s always letters saying, “don’t do it, and our organization of 75,000 ex-law enforcement officers all stand behind you keeping this person in prison.” So we were able to release some of these letters and show that that’s exactly what’s going on.
David Gilbert’s a little different. He was involved in the Weather Underground and then remained somewhat underground and got involved in supporting the Black Liberation struggle, and is serving 75-years-to-life, essentially for being a getaway driver for a Brinks robbery in 1981, just outside New York City. And that was conducted by people who were involved in the jailbreak of Assata Shakur from prison. So, David actually will never even have the opportunity for this sort of charade of a parole board hearing because he won’t live to be 125 years old, so support work for somebody like David is going to be different than for somebody like Eric King.
J11: Are there any struggles or moments in the recent past that have inspired you?
L: Well I’m inspired, frankly, by radical things. You know, by people’s movements that take power into their own hands and fight back against the state and struggle in a classic sense of the term, to really make significant blows against the oppressive apparatus. So, that’s part of the reason why I was the spokesperson for the Earth Liberation Front, because stuff like the Earth Liberation Front is known for being involved in is precisely the kind of stuff that inspires me. I can get excited about some public and legal stuff from time-to-time, but not to the level of my excitement about, for example, the liberation of Assata Shakur from prison. I mean, that’s the kind of stuff that just inspires me.
So if you’re asking me what’s going on now that’s inspiring, on a personal level I’m all about the black bloc activity that’s been happening in recent months. I’m all about the anti-fascist movement that’s been going on, and how those are changing the dynamics of both property destruction and physical confrontation in the streets. I remember specifically the ordeal that we went through at the WTO protest in Seattle in ’99 between the sort of mainstream, liberal movement and the more radical factions that were engaged in property destruction, and that whole thing was so long-winded and tiresome of an argument to have to go through with people. And I think the dynamic is somewhat changing because of people’s visceral rejection of what’s going on within the government at this point, they’re somewhat more likely to have some sympathy for people who are rioting in the streets, causing property destruction or maybe punching somebody out who’s a white supremacist.
So those things are really inspiring. All the stuff that was happening in the UK in Bristol in recent years with sabotage claimed by the FAI and sometimes the ELF and other groups like Angry Foxes, I find that very inspiring. You know, that’s the kind of thing that makes me happy. [laughs]
J11: Are there any other projects you’re involved with or have interest in that you’d like to talk about?
L: I guess I can talk for a minute about Burning Books, which is a massive project I’m involved in right now. Over the last five years we’ve been running a radical book store here in Buffalo called Burning Books. It’s sort of a home for organizing and radical activism in the area or even in the region, which is I guess a big deal. We help bring events and experience and knowledge, education to this community that would otherwise just pacify. You know, someone’s going on a tour talking about some kind of upcoming protest or this new book or film they’re releasing. Normally they’d go to Chicago, maybe Toronto, maybe New York City, and they would just skip right over some shithole like Buffalo, but now after the work we’ve been doing here at Burning Books, it seems like a lot more of that stuff is coming through town, and I think that makes a big difference locally.
We have a massive mailing list and a massive support base here locally, and I think people really picked up a lot of education from the experiences that they’ve had here at the bookstore for the last five plus years. And I think that makes a big difference, I think Buffalo’s kind of a place you can find some support and sympathy for people like political prisoners or other radical movements out there, and I think that’s a big deal if we can make a lot of our communities more like that. It’s like the sea that the fish has to swim in, in terms of our movements.
So I think that that’s a big deal, and on the other side of that coin, as being somebody who does go around and give lectures and writes books and stuff like that from time-to-time, you’ve got to have places to go. If you’re somebody that’s engaging in a radical project of any kind – a film or a puppet theater or anything like that – you’ve got to have a community that you can go and get support from. To have places like Burning Books out there that are welcoming, and not only welcoming people that come through town, but actually reaching out to people and saying, “hey you did this book and your work, what about coming to our town? Hey, we can get you a plane ticket and put you up and hang out with you for a couple days, and maybe get you other gigs in the region.” That’s proactive work that I think is important. I may not be quite as excited about it as I am about the Angry Foxes action that happened where they torched a police firearms training center over in the UK, but I do think it’s equally important work.
One major important factor is that we actively support radical struggles of all kinds. We’re not just saying, “well we’re just a bookstore, we’re just exercising free speech, blah blah blah blah blah.” You know, we’re bringing in people who just got released from prison for engaging in sabotage and guerilla activity. And we’re specifically reaching out to build popular support for radical struggles, it’s an important aspect of our work. I think it’s important and we enjoy doing it, it’s what we’re trying to do.
J11: If you wanted to comment directly on June 11 that would be great.
L: I could say that June 11th has evolved a lot in my years of engagement in the movement. It started off as really something build around Jeff Luers’ campaign for release, if I’m remembering correctly. And it sorta shifted to Earth Liberation and anarchist, and then like long-term prisoners, and I think that those evolutions are important. It’s good to have an annual day of events where people have something to organize around, instead of waiting for a massive attack from the state, and then scrambling to organize some kind of appropriate response. We can be more proactive and have days like this.
Specifically I work with a lot of people from older movements. During a period when they were working hard to actively connect with Earth Liberation and anarchist movements that were finding new people as political prisoners, they were specifically saying, “oh do you guys have a day of solidarity that you organize around that we can incorporate and get our support base behind?” And there was June 11 to sorta connect with. So I think these types of events are really significant.
Again, the only thing I can add is that whenever there’s something powerful happening, the better off we are. There are movements that are not only writing letters and having potlucks and signing petitions and holding signs and protesting in the streets, but also doing things that are less popular and more controversial. That’s a sign of strength. I remember days of solidarity that weren’t always so peaceful, and I think those sometimes are very empowering moments for people.
J11: Cool, is there anything else?
L: I guess I would say that it’s important to make allies with people from other movements and other time periods. I think it’s something I don’t want to be lost in history. I’ve worked a long time, and a lot of people have been working a long time to build alliances with people who, if you really get down to the nitty gritty they might not be on the exact page politically. They might not be affiliated with the same sort of political labels that we tend to affiliate ourselves with. But they’re really a product of their times as much as we’re a product of our times. And to respect people’s differences and to find common ground to work together. I mean, when I ran the press office for the ELF we felt so isolated, we had so little support. We had decent national support but we had very little local support, and it was stifling. It was a lot of bad relationships and bad blood in Portland, Oregon where we were running it. And it didn’t help at all.
I wanted to get away from that when I left Portland, Oregon and moved back home to Buffalo, I wanted to build relationships with people based on commonalities, general commonalities. I was building relationships with people who were involved in the media who were progressive in some way, and building relationships with attorneys, and other people, anybody in the community. And that became very helpful when we found out there was this big FBI investigation into our bookstore because all the sudden we had all these different people in different positions in society here locally who were willing to go to bat with us, with resources, with connections, with experiences and skills.
It was a lot different of a situation than what we dealt with in Oregon, where it felt like we were quite literally on our own. In this case here, in Buffalo when they had this two year investigation, if you could call it an investigation, really trying to shut down the bookstore and trying to frame us up as a front to form an eco-terrorist cell, it made a massive difference that we had the support of the local newspaper that we had a legal team and all kinds of other people in the community. Within a short period of time we were able to not only end the investigation, but expose all kinds of details of it and get national and international press around it.
I think it’s important when we’re doing political prisoner support work that we don’t isolate ourselves in silos too much. Say I’m like an anarcho-nihilist, and I’m only going to support prisoners who are anarcho-nihilists, it might be kind of nice to think that this person is just like me, but that’s not my orientation. I think it’s much more productive to say, “Okay, what would I be engaged in if I was active in 1972? What would I support knowing that the politics were different, that the contemporary realities were different?” Seeing that those people from that era that are still in prison, you know I’ve learned a lot and gained a lot and grown a lot from my connections with people in Anti-Imperialist and Black Liberation struggles, and I wouldn’t trade that for anything.
The only thing I really have to say is that something like June 11, and the sort of younger, newer efforts to build political prisoner support networks, I’m really glad to see how much reaching out we’re doing to other movements out there, and people who are still in prison after decades. And when you’re in prison for decades, what happens is that your support base ages out and dwindles away sadly. And there’ll be new people that come along and that’s perhaps some of us at this point, new people that come along and give support work to Anti-Imperialist and Black Liberation prisoners from generations past. And I’m hoping that when our people, knock on wood, may or may not still be in prison decades from now that there’ll be young people who can see past their sectarian political silos to lend us support as well, because we’re going to need it. This is a long struggle, it’s going to take generations and generations, and we’re always going to be struggling, that’s the nature of this struggle. Solidarity and alliances are key.
The June 11th International Day of Solidarity with Marius Mason & All Long-Term Anarchist Prisoners is just around the corner!
We’ve uploaded a bunch of new zines, posters, and flyers to our site to help anyone looking to host informational events or cover their town with the names and faces of our imprisoned fighters.
JUNE 11, 2017 CALLOUT
ANARCHIST PRISONER SUPPORT FLYERS