Category Archives: activism

Stop Cop City + Intl Day of Solidarity with Antifascist Prisoners

Stop Cop City + David Campbell on Antifascist Prisoners

This week’s episode features two interviews.

Stop Cop City / Defend the Atlanta Forest

"Support Antifa Prisoners | #J25Antifa | Defend The Atlanta Forest | TFSR 22-07-03"
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First up, the struggle to Defend the Atlanta Forest and Stop Cop City has been gaining momentum over the last year, in opposition to the building of what would be the largest police urban training center in the so-called USA in the wake of the 2020 George Floyd Uprising, alongside the construction of what would be the country’s largest film sound stage for Blackhall Studios. Coming up, you’ll hear Tony Lane of Defend Atlanta Forest talk about some of the issues involved, the ongoing organizing to stop the destruction of dozens of acres in this forest in the city in the forest, the ongoing info-tours around the country and upcoming week of action from July 23-30th, 2022.

David Campbell on Supporting Antifascist Prisoners

Then, you’ll hear an interview with formerly incarcerated antifascist prisoner, David Campbell, about his experience of incarceration for participation a street melee against fascists in January 2018 in New York City and about the importance of prisoner support and the upcoming annual International Day of Solidarity with Antifascist Prisoners on July 25th.

David’s former celly who could use some love:

Bruce Williams #21R0721
Orleans Correctional Facility
3531 Gaines Basin Rd
Albion, NY 14411

David’s links:

Antifascist Political Prisoner Support Sites:

Specific Antifa Prisoners Mentioned:

David also mentions the Resistance Committee in Ukraine and Operation Solidarity which include participation of anarchists and antifascists resisting the Russian invasion.

Announcements

Jason Walker Transferred, Needs Support

Incarcerated journalist, author and activist, Jason Renard Walker has been transferred to Connolly Unit in Texas’s TDCOJ prison system where he has a reasonable expectation of danger after credible threats of violence of which authorities are aware. There is an article explaining Jason’s situation and how to help at MongooseDistro.Com.

Comrade Z Transferred

Comrade Z, anarchist and IWOC organizer in Texas has been transferred and could use a few letters to make him feel at home in the new digs. You can write him at:

Julio A Zuniga 1961551
Wayne Scott Unit
4 Jester Road
Richmond, Texas 77406

Hunger Strike at Granville Correctional in NC

"Support Antifa Prisoners | #J25Antifa | Defend The Atlanta Forest | TFSR 22-07-03"Prisoners at Granville are urgently asking for a mass phone zap to pressure NC DPS and the administration into granting their demands. There is a new phone zap on Tuesday, July 5th as the conditions remain terrible. You can find a great writeup from the end of June on earlier stages of the protest and hunger strike at Granville (formerly Polk CI) here: https://itsgoingdown.org/nc-prisoners-organize-juneteenth-protests/

Contact:

  • Warden Roach, 919-575-3070, or michael.roach@ncdps.gov
  • Loris Sutton, prisons’ central region director, 919-582 6125, or loris.sutton@ncdps.gov
  • Todd Ishee, commissioner of prisons, 919-838-4000, ask to speak to Todd Ishee, or todd.ishee @ncdps.gov

Demands include:

  • remove Sgt. Couper, stop the police brutality and harassment
  • Ask what is the condition of Anthony Harris (#0957565) and the hunger strikers?
  • Why are hunger strikers and people on self injury watch being isolated with no bunks? does the commissioner know?
  • Why is Sgt. Couper assaulting prisoners every week or in altercations every day?
  • Why are you housing people with cancer?

A few tips for calls:

  • you don’t need to give your name or other info
  • record calls if possible
  • leave long messages on voicemail
  • call using *67 to block your number
  • call multiple times and disrupt their operations
  • remember that denial and obstruction are standard procedures for those that work there
  • report any and all info received and forward any questions to: atlantaiwoc@protonmail.com

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Featured Tracks:

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Stop Cop City Transcription

TFSR: Could you please introduce yourself with whatever name, pronoun, or other identifying info you’d like to share?

Tony Lane: Sure. My name is Tony Lane. I live in Atlanta. I’ve lived here for about 15 years and yeah, I love it.

TFSR: So we’re here to talk about the effort to defend the Atlanta forest. Listeners may know Atlanta to be one of the largest urban centers in the southeast of Turtle Island in the so called US state of Georgia. Thoughts of a cityscape with honking horns and traffic, large buildings of commerce, busy pedestrian streets, may not fit into the idea of verdant and lush scenes of natural beauty. Can you talk a bit about the city, about the forest, and how they interact? And how does this shape the life of those who are living in Atlanta?

Tony: Sure, well, it’s immediately noticeable if you’re flying or driving into Atlanta that there’s trees everywhere. I mean, Atlanta has the largest tree canopy compared to any other major city in America. I think about 48% of the city has tree coverage, which is pretty incredible. So in a certain way, it’s a city like any other, but there’s 1000’s of acres of forest that you can explore here as well.

TFSR: I wonder if you could talk a little bit about the history of the forest? Maybe the size of it, but also its former uses. I understand there was a jail there at one point. And also sort of what having such a canopy in a big city means for things like ambient temperature, water absorption, versus runoff and erosion, the air quality, and the general health of urban populations.

Tony: The parcel of land that is under threat is in the South River Forest, which is about 3500 acres of forest and that is beneficial ecologically to the city in a variety of ways. It mitigates flooding, it contributes to the quality of the air. Atlanta is shielded from the urban heat island effect much more than other cities, at least, because of this large tree canopy.

To speak on the history just a bit. It was Muskogee land, stewarded by the Muskogee until the early 1800’s When they were forcibly displaced. I don’t know how much history you want me to go into here, but it was sold in a lottery auction and run as farmland up until the early 1900s, when it was purchased by the city. It was run briefly as a municipal dairy farm and then turned into a prison. It was run as a prison up until the 1990’s. I think 1990 Actually. The conditions in the prison are totally horrid. There’s a lot of good research on this done by a local amateur research collective called the Atlanta Community Press. I highly recommend looking into that.

TFSR: You can ramble if there’s other pieces of history or other experiences, if you feel like sort of painting a picture of some of your favorite parts of the forest, having lived in Atlanta for a bit and being intimate with it.

Tony: It’s funny because there’s obviously a huge focus on the ecological aspect of the forest. It does help to filter the air and mitigate flooding, and so on and so forth. But it has a lot of use in the city outside of that too. The forest itself is like a huge place of importance for the ‘Bike Life’ community in the city. I would say probably up until the movement began at least, it was very common to see people riding dirt bikes and four wheelers through there, to see people riding mountain bikes are there. It’s also just a place that teenagers get away to to smoke weed and make out or do whatever teenagers do, walk their dogs, so on and so forth.

TFSR: Can you talk about what the proposed plan is and why people are up in arms about it?

Tony: Of course. So, the project is kind of two pronged. The city, and specifically the Atlanta Police Foundation is planning to build a police training facility on a large swath of the forest. Specifically, they want to build a mock city to train in urban conflict. The other side of the project is movie studios called Black Hall. Actually, they just recently renamed themselves to Shadowbox. They make movies like Venom, Jumanji, Godzilla, stuff like that. They want to expand their operation to build one of the biggest soundstages in America.

TFSR: Can you talk a little bit more about the Police Foundation. Is that a collaboration between some of the counties around there and the city police? Or is that just the Atlanta Police as this huge entity that that would be holding this facility? Would it just be local police that are training in that facility? Or are there like bigger implications to that?

Tony: The Atlanta Police Foundation is a slush fund. It’s run by private companies. Basically, it’s a way for private companies in the city and state to have kind of influence and say over city operations. So, the project is actually being built by the Atlanta Police Foundation, which is actually companies like Bank of America, Home Depot, Waffle House, even. The project is estimated to be about $90 million, and $60 million of that project is coming from private donors.

TFSR: What makes it a profitable venture? If these companies are pouring in this amount of money, it’s probably not just out of the fact that they love the cops. Where’s the money making for that part of it?

Tony: Of course. Atlanta, is really structured around these kinds of backdoor clientelist deals between private companies and the city. I think it’s a pretty straightforward way that these companies can buy influence and buy protection in the city. Ultimately, I think the city really has no other plans to mitigate some of the problems that it faces other than investing in police activity. I can say more about that, too.

TFSR: Would you? What kind of problems you’re talking about or alluding to?

Tony: Well, a big justification for this project is explicitly tied to the movement and 2020. So there’s plans for this project as early as 2017. But throughout the movement here in 2020, if listeners don’t know, the movement here was particularly strong.

TFSR: This is just to clarify, this is the uprising that came up after repeated police murders at the beginning of COVID. Like the COVID pandemic, right?

Tony: That’s correct. In Atlanta, an unarmed black man named Rayshard Brooks was killed by the police later on into the movement after the kind of initial phase of rioting and looting all over the country. That led to more clashes in the city, and nightly demonstrations at the third precinct here in Atlanta. Throughout the movement, there was internal strife between the police, mass sick outs, roughly 200 Police quit their jobs during this time. So the ‘Cop City’ project is among other things, is meant to explicitly address this kind of loss in morale amongst the police here.

TFSR: That makes sense as a recent need for the city to feel like it needs to do some sort of like urban combat. Can you talk about how the police interact with the city, like the population of the city? Sort of like a brief history of recent events. Do the police do a lot of raiding of homeless encampments? Are they going in and doing ‘no knocks’ in neighborhoods? What does it look like, the policing of Atlanta?

Tony: I’m not exactly sure how to address this, but maybe it makes sense to talk about the recent development in Atlanta. Especially since 2008, the city’s been pretty rapidly gentrifying. So that’s led to an unprecedented amount of evictions. Basically, the police, play the same role here that they do everywhere else, which is to protect the interests of the wealthy, to protect the interests of the business owners here.

Atlanta kind of has a unique relationship to the police and to the business class here. There was an intense amount of activity concentrated in Atlanta during the Civil Rights and Black power movements of the 60’s. Out of this struggle grew a particular model of social management that’s colloquially referred to as ‘The Atlanta Way,’ which entails cooperation between white corporate power structures and the Black Business Class. After the 60’s, the majority of the police department became Black, city council is majority Black, so on and so forth.

Since 2008, Atlanta has seen unprecedented gentrification and development due to investment from the tech sector, from the film industry, specifically, and that’s resulted in unprecedented amounts of evictions and repression of kind of low level criminal activity to make space for luxury condos.

TFSR: Yeah, that’s a really good answer. I’m glad that you could go into some of the history. That’s super interesting. Can you talk about where the development of the or destruction of that space is at?

Tony: I might back up a little bit if that’s okay. Before the movement around ‘Cop City’ began in the spring of 2021, there was a few different efforts to combat what was already happening there. There was ‘Stop the Swap,’ and that was in reaction to the Black Hall Studios swap of private land for public land. There’s the work of the South River Watershed Alliance. They specifically work around the river and how the city engages with it. Then there was ‘Save the Old Prison Farm.’

So like I said, there used to be a prison in the South River Forest that was closed in 1990. Since it’s been empty, there hasn’t been a clear trajectory for it in the city. At different times, the city has proposed turning it into a park. But otherwise, it functions the way that it does now, which is as a place where people walk their dogs, ride bikes, so on and so forth, and also dump trash.

So after it came out that APF was planning to build this massive police training facility, two times the size of the police training facility in New York City, for reference, local activists came together and kind of tried to create an umbrella platform so that all these kind of different initiatives that were already in the works, could link up with each other, as well as to produce new energy around this specific project.

TFSR: So you’re placing this in the context of existing struggles to defend and protect these common wild spaces in the city that people are benefiting from in all sorts of different ways, and past efforts at the announcement of the APF that this this destruction in this construction was going to be going on?

Can you talk a bit about when the actual attempted clearing of the forests started? And what the movement in the Atlanta area looked like? What were people doing to blockade it? I’m sure that there were a bunch of different things, whether it be like protests in front of corporate headquarters, or I’ve heard about forest blockades. Can you talk a little bit about what that looked like and how the how the police have reacted?

Tony: Sure. There’s been no mass clear cutting of the forest to this day. Luckily, activists have been able to take initiative every step of the way during this movement. So when the project was announced by us, it was never really publicly announced by the city or by APF, almost no work had been done. So the land that Black Hall wants to swap with the city has been clear cut. They’re in the process of turning it into a park. Michelle Obama Park is what they intend to call it. But so, activists, people who are interested in defending the forest have benefited greatly from taking the initiative here. Before really any big machinery was in the forest, people have been able to circulate through it and to learn the lay of the land.

Starting in the spring of 2021, people started doing barbecues, info shares, and all types of different events in the forest. This was before the city had actually approved the land lease to APF. So a lot of the early moments in the struggle, were oriented around putting pressure on city council to not approve this land lease. But anyways, all throughout this time people are circulating throughout the forest. Actually, a lot of DIY shows and parties had started to happen in the forest. Partially due to the pandemic, partially due to gentrification, a lot of DIY venues in the city have shut down recently. So that milieu has kind of found a new home in the forest where they are able to do shows for free without any type of intervention from landlords or the police.

TFSR: That’s pretty awesome. When you’re referring to DIY, some listeners, depending on their context might think that that’s specifically like punk. But just out of curiosity, what sort of shows or what sort of dance parties happened?

Tony: Yeah, all types of music really. The dance scene in particular has found a home here. There’s an array of different crews in the city who have hosted parties in the forest. The DIY scene here isn’t so structured around a particular style of music. There’s a lot of different stuff that’s happened there. The major way that we’ve been able to find out about the companies working on this project is through being present in the forest. People have been able to identify the companies actually involved in the destruction of the forest and in the construction of ‘Cop City’. That includes Brasfield and Gorrie, who we believe to be the general contractor, Long Engineering, which is one of their subcontractors, Specialty Finishes Incorporated, Quality Glass, and formally Reeves Young.

Reeves Young was one of the big companies involved that was targeted early on in the movement. They were subjected to call-in campaigns, people did demonstrations at the homes of people involved in the company, there was a demonstration at their office in Atlanta. Then a specific campaign arose against them called SRY, or stop Reeves Young. Within two weeks of that project starting it came out there Reeves Young had dropped out of the project.

TFSR: That’s awesome to be able to point to a success like that and be able to say ‘we did that.’ Are these companies that you’re referring to, are they all local to Atlanta or do they have subsidiaries or are they subsidiaries of other corporations that are in other places? Like I remember when we’ve done interviews in the past about the ‘Zone to Defend,’ the ZAD in France. Vinci was the big company that was pushing a lot of the construction and they had subsidiaries in different places. In fact, there were direct actions against I think a street car company or street street car manufacturing company, something like that, and also a highway extension that were being done by Vinci related company around Atlanta in solidarity with ZAD.

But yeah, can you talk a little bit about where these companies are based and how people have been drawing attention to them?

Tony: These companies, for the most part, are not local to Atlanta. They’re regionally based companies. Some of these companies have offices and projects all over the US. Atlas Technical Consultants has projects all over the US.

TFSR: I guess bringing it back to the defense of the forest, there’s a speaking tour right now going on on the West Coast, as well as various one offs around the country around the so called us that I found on the website ‘Scenes from Atlanta Forest,’ which is scenes.no blogs.org. I’ll link that in the show notes if if anyone wants to get in on one of these discussions locally. I think that’s an interesting approach to the idea of diffusing out the struggle against this one specific locality by informing people of what’s going on. This has been a longtime strategy in mass mobilizations or an eco defense struggles, has been to go to places and say, “Hey, here’s what’s going on. Here’s why you need to know about it. Come get engaged if you want to in various ways,” but also because of the diffusion of these companies that are profiting off of this and actually doing the on the ground work, because you’re not focusing just on the city of Atlanta or the APF or what have you. It’s sort of like, lends to an opportunity for people to bring home to different places where those companies are present or other projects that they’re working on to do solidarity in the communities that they’re in. And also, because these companies are engaged in this sort of destructive practice in Atlanta, if it doesn’t happen in Atlanta, if the project does not succeed to build Cop City, they’re just going to try to put it somewhere else. Those corporations that you mentioned, Waffle House, Bank of America, etc. They’re not local, just to the Atlanta area.

So yeah. Can you talk about what sort of solidarity actions have been taken or other locations that you’re aware of?

Tony: Well, I just want to reiterate that there is a speaking tour happening right now up the West Coast and up the East Coast. There’s a few dates in between those places. Definitely get plugged into those if there’s one happening near you. We want people to come to the forest. Like you said, we do not believe this is a local struggle. Police will be trained here from all over the country. It’ll be the biggest police training facility in the US. If you can’t come to the forest, then like you said, these companies have offices all over the place. So it should be easy to participate in whatever context you’re in.

There are so many actions that have happened outside of Atlanta. It’s hard to recount them. There’s been actions at the Brasfield and Gorrie headquarters in Alabama, there’s been solidarity actions in California, in New York, and Columbia. All over the country really, and outside the US as well.

As an aside, I think one of the novel things about this movement is that there’s an equal emphasis on the defense of the forest itself here in Atlanta, as well as an offense against the companies involved, and against the Atlanta Police Foundation. So we would like people to come to the forest and we think defending the forest physically is a big part of the struggle. But equally important, is to put pressure on the contractors and the subcontractors involved. Does that make sense?

TFSR: Yeah!

You mentioned there’s been blockades, occupations, and tree sits in the forest. Are they ongoing? I guess you may not want to give the cops a tip off by answering that question. I don’t know. But are these standoff occupations or are these the sort of thing where contractors are expected to show up to start doing work or cutting and then suddenly those trees have signs that maybe they’re spiked? Or that there’s someone up in the tree very clearly or suspended between two. What has that looked like so far?

Tony: So, the forest is continuously occupied. The activity of the police and the contractors changes almost on a daily basis. Months ago there would be maybe a week of work, or week of attempted work, and then nothing for several weeks. More recently, there’s been a lot of police activity every other day, maybe, the police do sweeps through the forest. Mostly just trying to find and destroy encampments out there. There’s been very minimal work recently. We think that’s due to the presence of people in the forest basically continuously.

TFSR: Are the cops employing a lot of the same infrastructure they’d be using to evict homeless encampments? I mean, around here, forested areas are often, if they’re near enough to the city, places where people camp because there’s shade, and there’s some protection from the elements and a little bit of like, privacy.

Tony: Yeah, exactly. And as a matter of fact, there are houseless people who live in the forest. Generally, there’s people in the city who circulate through the forest. So the police will come in and rip up tents, slash sleeping bags, dump out water, so on and so forth. Sometimes this is houseless people just living in the forest. Also it would it be right to imagine bikers using the paths in the forest while this is happening, I think generally that’s worked to our favor, and kind of lends itself to the novelty of the struggle unlike other land struggles is that there’s kind of an ambiguity of use in the forest. The police will find someone in the forest and there’s a good chance they’ll just tell them to get out of there, because they don’t know if they’re a part of the movement or if they’re just some kids or what.

TFSR: Yes, so that’s an interesting opportunity to make the job of clearing the forest by the cops as an action of urban cleansing, or gentrification. It’s sort of complicating the job of the cops doing that sort of thing in multiple ways, including by actively being in solidarity with folks that are trying to reside in that space.

Tony: Definitely. Another big tool that the movement has utilized that we haven’t talked about is the Week of Actions. So since the start of the movement, there’s been three weeks of action, not including the most recent one. Basically that’s just a kind of invitation to come host events in the forest, come be in the forest, and that draws out a lot of local people into the forest. So not necessarily people who are sleeping there every day, or who are coming out to police raids, but people who want to do fungi walks or people who want to do shows. Things like that.

TFSR: That’s interesting, because it’s also actively creating… I was listening to some podcasts that was like the socialist about city engineering and about reshaping cities in a non capitalist manner. I can drop a link in the show notes if I keep this. It was kind of interesting. I just listened to the first episode of it. But one of the things, one of the points that they made was how American culture didn’t develop around, I guess in some places in the northeast, it did, but like “American Anglo hegemonic culture” didn’t develop around having squares in the middle of cities where people would come and share space and share food and whatever else. A lot of it was based off of people living on the streets together and being neighbors. So you know, you’ve got your Sesame Street model where everyone comes down and shares space and what have you. So by redirecting folks into this space that maybe they didn’t even explore before, like you said, people are learning the terrain, learning the residents of the forest, making relationships, but also integrating it to some degree into their social life and into this cultural resistance that they’ve got going on. I think that’s pretty cool. That’s kind of novel.

Tony: Totally, I jokingly refer to the week of actions to our friends as our Woodstock. I think if you come, if you’re there, it makes sense. You know?

TFSR: There’s a week of action solidarity between July 23 and the 30th announced. What do you think’s gonna happen? Sort of more the same of what you’ve been expressing is going to be happening? How would people join up and participate in this?

Tony: We strive the whole time to create as open a model as possible for participation. The Week of Actions are kind of our attempt to do that in a certain way. If people want to host an event, they’re totally more than welcome to. If people just want to come and experience the forest, that’s fine, too. Generally is is a time where people stay in the forest. I think at the last Week of Action there was maybe 200 people staying in the forest throughout the week.

TFSR: Often when ecological, anti fascist, anti capitalist, and other struggles engage in a location, there’s a narrative that’s drawn that participants are outside agitators getting funding from some shadowy group and are often white middle class folks who have the time and the resources to engage. I wonder like, has this dynamic come up? Can you talk a bit about the wider who’s participating in the local struggle there?

Tony: There’s widespread local participation in the movement. There’s so many facets of it, that it’s impossible to be connected to all of them. There’s this narrative that, like you said, that it’s outside agitators or something of the like. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. I mean, if you drive around South Atlanta, there’s ‘Defend the Forest’ signs in people’s yards, there’s ‘Defend the Forest’ signs in businesses windows. I don’t know how else to put it: widespread local participation in the movement. Like I said, from the various kind of DIY cultures, to the kind of broader left. There’s new participation also frequently in the forest. It’s not uncommon to see people you hadn’t seen before or at various events to see groups or people who haven’t participated before. I don’t know what more I can say about that.

Just to speak more about local participation in the movement. The narrative from the police about the movement being made up of outside agitators, comes after the forest was violently raided by the police and a number of the people who are arrested had IDs from outside of the state. That day, I would say within two hours of the raid, a press conference was called by people in the neighborhood, maybe 50 people showed up. As soon as the press showed up, the police left and there was speech after speech from people in Atlanta, from people in the neighborhood, about support for the movement, denouncing the violent activity of the police, and so on and so forth.

It’s also worth mentioning that there’s been a meaningful engagement from the Muskogee in the struggle. There’s been two Muskogee summits in the forest, which is historically referred to as the Weelaunee forest. I believe both summits brought out hundreds of people, Muskogee returning to their ancestral lands.

TFSR: For folks that are considering this or considering seeing if there’s a local event that they can attend to learn more about it, or they want to just do their own research about it. Do you have any resources that you would direct people to on the topic?

Tony: Yeah! You can follow us on social media on Instagram or Twitter @DefendtheAtlantaForest. If you’re interested in the campaign about the contractors, you can visit, StopReevesYoung.com. And if you’re interested in donating, you can visit Opencollective.com/ForestJusticeDefenseFund.

TFSR: Again, that list of upcoming events is at least partially compiled on Scenes From the Atlanta Force, which is scenes.noblogs.org

Tony: Yeah, thanks for saying that.

TFSR: Well cool. Was there anything that I didn’t ask you about that you want to mention during this conversation? I was stoked to get to check out the folks that are putting on a presentation of it upcoming, I think in early July, in at the Lamplighter in Richmond were going to be showing this documentary Riotsville. It looks like it just came out last year or whatever. That’s super fascinating. Considering the tumultuous history of civil rights and Black liberation movements that you’ve mentioned, and the importance of locality of Atlanta in that struggle. It’s cool to look back 50 years and see this this bit of history that definitely leads into today. Especially the US training facilities, that there’s so much footage of there were military. Well, maybe you could talk about the documentary. Have you seen it?

Tony: I have seen it. Yeah, it’s a great documentary. Definitely would recommend checking it out. It shows firsthand, dated 50 years ago, what the type of training will look like that will be occurring here in Atlanta, which is basically just simulated riots. It’s fascinating.

TFSR: Yeah. Like the contextualized decision by the federal government to take the approach, even after these multiple Commission reports that would say, “Here’s why there’s urban unrest, here’s why there’s unrest in Black communities sparked often by the killing of someone by police or by the assassination of a civil rights leader. Here’s what happens. Here’s why it happens. Here’s how they could, if they had the interest, make sure this didn’t happen,” including some of the reports talking about how basically, people need food, shelter, housing, educational opportunities, job opportunities, just all these different social program type stuff, and administration after administration, just saying, “mmmmm or we could just train more National Guard to go out and bayonet them in the streets.”

Tony: I mean, from our perspective Black Hall Studios, action movie production, and police activity is kind of the state’s idea of the future. It’s like, people should sit at home and watch Netflix. And if they don’t, then we have a massive militarized police force to make sure that they do.

TFSR: Batons and circuses. Well, awesome. Thanks a lot, Tony, for having this conversation and for the work y’all are doing and it’s been great to chat with you.

Tony: Yeah, thanks so much.

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David Campbell Transcription

David Campbell: So my name is David Campbell, a former Anti Fascist political prisoner and my pronouns are he/him. In January 2018, I was arrested at an Anti Fascist protest and black bloc against an alt-right sort of swanky evening party to celebrate the one year anniversary of Trump’s inauguration. That was in New York, in Manhattan. I’ll just go ahead and give you the whole thing, right?

TFSR: Yeah, totally.

DC: So I got arrested at this Anti Fascist protests that was was pretty mild, but one little pocket of it turned into a brawl late at night, like 1030 at night. There were maybe six people on each side. I participated. Some fascists started swinging on me and I got involved. At some points during this brawl a cop came around the corner, there were no cops around when it started, but this cop came around the corner and without a word he just kind of did a double take and surged toward the first person in black that he saw. That was me. He grabbed me from behind without a word, and threw me to the ground, and broke my leg in two places. He was a much, much bigger guy than me.

There was right wing media there, they were covering it. This cop has to justify the fact that he chose only me and the fact that he’s so much force, he has to cover the fact that he didn’t say, “Stop! Police!” like you’re supposed to. Also, in the course of the brawl, the cop didn’t know this at the time of the arrest, but I did lose my temper and I saw a fash he got on the ground and I went over and kicked him twice. Which is right, but also like it’s not a huge deal to kick someone. It’s like whatever. That guy went to the ER [emergency room]. He was knocked out and went to the ER, but he walked out. He was drunk and belligerent with the cops and wanted to leave the ER before he’s allowed to.

I went to the ER and spent like four days there cuffed to a bed. I got a titanium rod put in my leg. It’s still there. Then I got arraigned on all these crazy charges. I mean, really insane. The cop concocted this narrative that was completely fabricated. After a couple of months we get security camera footage and his narrative was completely thrown out. I was amazed that this did not matter that the cop had just made up a narrative. They were able to just backpedal and say something else was the case. Apparently that did not matter at all. He was clearly lying.

So I fought my case for about two years. It slowly became clearer and clearer that the Manhattan DA was really gunning for me. I was the only person they arrested, even though it was kind of a brawl. Everyone kind of was standing around rubbernecking after I hit the ground, because now there are two people on the ground and there’s a cop there. Not that I want more people to have been arrested, but that’s you would expect that right?

So for a number of reasons, a lot of factors converged. And the DA really wanted to make an example of me. This was the first time this had happened in New York. This was pretty early in the Trump years and a lot of black bloc on alt-right violence or vice versa was happening around the country. It’s Law and Order democratic politics, right? We’re gonna lock people up and you kids will stop this nonsense on our streets. So ultimately, after almost two years, I took a non cooperating plea on two violent felonies for kicking the guy twice while wearing a shoe. That was an important component of my plea, that I was wearing a shoe. Judge asked me that. He was like, “you were wearing a shoe when you kicked this man?” I was like, “Yeah.”

TFSR: You should have taken your crocs off first before kicking.

DC: Yeah, it was like a lightweight like mesh top like running sneaker. I was like, “Really?” I found that incredible. Why would I be wandering around Hell’s Kitchen at 10:30 at night without shoes on. But anyway, I took a non cooperating plea on two violent felonies to serve 18 months on Rikers Island, I served 12. I got a ton of incredible support, which is really I think the takeaway and what we’re mostly here to talk about today, right?

TFSR: Mmmhmm. Was that the event that happened where **Gavin McInnes had the samurai sword and stuff like that?

DC: No, actually. My event is often overlooked and I don’t really talk about the headliners because it’s like the mass shooter thing. I don’t want to give them a publicity boost. So I don’t normally mention the name of the events or whatever, because fuck those guys.

So the event I was arrested at was nine months before the event where Gavin McGinnis came out with a samurai sword and that was a whole thing. That was at the Metropolitan Republican Club on the Upper East Side, also in Manhattan. After that event, on the Upper East Side, there was a brawl between antifascists and Proud Boys, most in uniform. The Proud Boys vastly outnumber the Anti Fascist, I think it was like a dozen Proud Boys on four antifa folks. and The antifa folks ended up getting knocked to the ground and kicked and stomped on the ground.

Now police showed up while this was going on and just dispersed people. After some outcry on social media, police finally started making arrests of Proud Boys. They never found the Anti Fascist folks, never identified or brought them in. Which is great. So these two cases were kind of going on at the same time. Mine, where ultimately what I went down for was kicking a guy on the ground. It was just impossible to get around that. And the other case is the Proud Boy’s case, where he had problems who kicked and stomped people on the ground. There were like 10 Proud Boy defendants.

Amazingly the same DA’s office, the Manhattan DA ‘s office, gave most of them like five days community service, including one guy who had a prior felony conviction. Which you would expect them to go harder on (that’s all I mean by by saying that). The”most vicious” the ones, that they were really gunning for in that Proud Boy group were offered less time than I was ever offered in about half the time. So in like, eight months, they were offered a deal to do eight months on Rikers Island. It took me two years to get to do 12 months on Rikers Island. Those two, John insman and Maxwell Hare, two Proud Boys, turned down that offer, and went to trial, blew trial, and I think should be wrapping up their four year sentences upstate right now.

So those are not the same cases, but those two cases, my case and that Proud Boys Upper Eastside case, we were studying their case very closely, my Defense Committee and myself. My lawyer was skeptical of that as a comparison at first, but eventually she got on board and she even went to the trial of those two Proud Boys, and was like, “yeah, they’re doing this on both sides to make an example of left and right extremists. That’s what’s happening here and you’re the only person on the left. There’s no way around that.”

TFSR: You said that it was a democratic approach towards justice or whatever democratic…

DC: ‘Law and order Democratic politics.’

TFSR: For anyone who may not be… because we’re talking about this happening during the Trump regime, Trump was the federal government, the Democrat that you’re talking about is the Democrats like De Blasio, at that point?

DC: Cyrus Vance was the was the DA for a long time. He’s no longer the DA of Manhattan. Cyrus Vance was celebrated for subpoenaing Trump’s tax returns and securing the Harvey Weinstein conviction after years of pressure and ignoring that pressure and finally caving once it got to a certain fever pitch. But Cyrus Vance and his office, it’s all old school cop loving Law and Order Democrats. That’s what you do, right? You lock people up and be ‘Pro-choice.’

TFSR: People may have been thinking again, that Trump was in office as a Republican regime, the prosecution’s were being pursued by a Republican regime. That’s not the case in this instance. But it doesn’t really make a difference. When you look at the NYPD, and you look at the actual power structure in New York, the party difference doesn’t seem to make a huge amount. It’s all about keeping the machine running and maybe you’ve got a difference in some of the power players and instances, but everyone who’s got some money is getting a cut one way or the other.

DC: Yeah, yeah. I mean, hey man, a lot of people have kept me locked up and drew a paycheck to keep me in a cage. Black and brown working class people, vote Democrat all the way down the line, some of them have much more radical politics than that. That’s been the case in New York City DOC for a long time. Assata Shakur talked about that. A lot of people were pretty down with what she was doing. But guess what, they’re still getting the paycheck at the end of the month to keep her in a box, you know?

TFSR: This might be a good instance to bring up the prosecution of Proud Boys at a federal level happening in the United States. Again, this is under a Democratic regime. So some people on the Right are gonna say, “Oh, look, they’re just prosecuting people on the far Right, but nobody’s going after BLM, antifa, whatever, whatever, from 2020- 2021, or before that. Which is obviously not true, because if anyone listens to our show, they heard an episode a couple of weeks ago where we talked to folks who are supporting prisoners from the 2020 Rebellion.

There’s a concept that a lot of anti fascists adhere to specifically the anti-authoritarian anarchist wing of that movement, which is the ‘three way fight’ model, where you understand that the State and the Fascists are, sometimes they are directly aligned, sometimes they are in opposition to each other to some various degree, the State often wanting to be the mediator of violence, and wanting to get rid of extremes on one end or another. Whatever might destabilize their authoritarian rule. You can see that with Putin, for instance, in Russia where he has prosecuted and broken up far Right street movements only to accept the ones that are incorporated into the State, and definitely attacked antifascist and anarchists and other leftists, in the meantime. I wonder if you have views about this prosecution of the Proud Boys that’s happening here.

DC: I had a friend that supported me during my whole case while I was in. She’s a great person, her hearts in the right place, her politics are more mainstream liberal progressive than my own. She texted me one day with the news headline about Enrique Tarrio being charged with seditious conspiracy, saying it was a great victory or whatever. I didn’t get into it with her. On the one hand, it’s better than if the State was turning a blind eye to that, I think it would be much more dangerous if they were just acting like it didn’t exist at all. On the other hand, there’s a lot of collateral that comes with that. There’s a lot of things, once you start making it easier to lead repression campaigns against extremist movements on the far Right, come back around Boomerang-style on the far Left. What are you going to do? If it’s in the law and you can’t specify far Right. You craft the legislation or the administrative policy without specifying people’s exact political beliefs, right? That’s going to be on the books. It’s going to apply just as well if they want, and they will want at some point, to use it against the far left.

So we’ve seen this historically, things like the mask laws, mask laws that had been used to charge a lot of like black bloc folks and other folks wearing masks at protests for largely originally written to clamp down on the KKK organizing in public spaces while wearing a mask. You see a lot of that kind of stuff. There was a case in France in Lyon where the government forced an antifa group that was pretty active and doing some really badly needed work, Lyon has a huge fash problem, but forced the group to disband. They use an almost 100 year old law that was originally written to clamp down on far right extremist groups. It’s not just paranoia.

At the end of the day, it’s like… Man, I don’t know. I’m not going to shed any tears if Proud Boys go to prison for a long time. Although, don’t send people to prison, that’s stupid. Yeah, I don’t know. I don’t know. I’m very divided on it. I think it’s not a clear cut victory at all. There are a lot of risks with it. I think the important thing is that we have grassroots movements capable of pushing back on the far right. At least as well as the government. That involves everything from writing letters, making phone calls, to street fights, making art, infiltrating the groups, doxxing, building a broad cultural base of support. All that stuff. We have to get really good at that and make that really, really common in order to avoid the State needing to do that in the first place.

TFSR: And then that way we’re sapping power potential from both the State and from the far right. If we’re engaging more actively in these various different ways with our racist Uncle as the trope goes or our neighbors or whatever. We’re definitely stronger that way than simply relying on the cops to resolve our issues.

DC: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely.

TFSR: You got prosecuted, you went to prison… Can you talk a little bit about your prison time and how you were treated? And how other prisoners viewed you?

DC: Yeah. So I went to jail. I didn’t go to prison. This is like the most confusing thing because they’re not technically different than most of the rest of the English speaking world. Most people use them interchangeably in English. I went to Rikers which is a jail. But I was serving sentenced time, which is pretty rare. Right? So 10% of the people on Rikers are serving sentences. The rest of detained pretrial. Most people serving sentences in the US are in prison. So, the sort of time I did and the terminology that comes with it is a little particular.

I did 12 months on Rikers, it sucked. Don’t go to jail. Don’t go to Rikers… if you can avoid it. Also, don’t let the fash take over. There’s a cost benefit thing we have to do. Unfortunately, it’s built into the risk of antifascist work. You might get arrested, you might go to jail. My numbers came up and that’s where I went. But it was okay. I mean, I wouldn’t do it again, if I had the choice. Meaning, go to jail, I would still choose to go back to the protest that night and confront the fash.

It wasn’t a fun time, but I didn’t have any trouble from other prisons there in terms of my politics, or what I was in for. That was one of the things that when we were negotiating with the DEA, my lawyers and I, we brought up was that I can be in real danger, upstate upstate prison system. A lot of the guards are pretty fashy. They’re pretty small and don’t have a lot of power ,but there are branches of Aryan Brotherhood, you know, white nationalist groups and stuff like that among the prisoners. That could put me in danger. My case had a lot of really sensational coverage from right wing media. There was stuff on Twitter about how I should get the death penalty, or whatever. So I didn’t have any trouble like that Rikers, which is great.

I talked to a lot of guys in Rikers, who had done time upstate because people behind bars, they do a little time here, a little time there. It doesn’t work, people keep going back. So people who have been upstate, most of them said, “Yeah, you probably would have had some sort of trouble upstate, because of your case and it was so public. The guards are all very rural working class white folks who tend to tend to be pretty Trumpy.” So, I didn’t have that trouble at all at Rikers. The overwhelming majority of the guards and the overwhelming majority of the prisoners are working class Black and brown folks and immigrants living in the New York area, or from the New York area. Most of them were pretty down with what I was in for, even if they were pretty apolitical. Because, again, fascism sucks. Fascism has white nationalism as an essential component, right? Because not really any way around it.

So when I spoke with him about what I was in for, which is something that people asked me very often because I kind of stood out in Rikers. I mean, I’m a nerdy white looking guy. There’s a sort of suspicion about guys like me in jail, because guys like me don’t get jail time. The system is a white supremacist system that doesn’t really lock up college educated white folks from a middle class suburban background. That doesn’t happen very often unless you do something pretty dumb. So guys would be like, “what are you in for?” “Well, I beat up a Trump supporter at a protest.” After a while, word starts to spread. After I’d been in for six months, I started to have people coming up to me and be like, “Yo, I heard about you, that’s pretty rad.” Not all the time, but people I didn’t even know throughout my sentence would come up to me be like, “Yo, good job.” [laughs]

TFSR: Yeah. Better than the alternative.

DC: It’s much better than the alternative. The thing about serving time in jail, is that jail is much less comfortable than prison. I never been in prison, and don’t plan to go, but apparently there are more creature comforts. A lot of that, to my understanding, came out of prisoners rights movements and stuff, Attica ’71… It’s basically a way of buying off prisoners so they don’t organize and riot. Which I’m fine with. I’d rather have guys have more comfortable beds and be able to play guitars and stuff in prison, right? There’s not any of that stuff in jail. Guys who have been upstate and served prison time will tell you, “This time goes incredibly slowly and it’s just psychologically torturous compared to doing time upstate. You do time upstate and it flies.” You have so many activities and programs and things you can do, and little tiny creature comforts that you just do not have in jail. It’s crowded, there’s less this this sort of convict culture of respect, where you’re a professional criminal, like it is in prison. There’s some of that, but a lot of people are just like addicted to something and they stole a box of and Amazon trolley and now they’re doing eight months. It’s just the dumbest stuff that people are in for. It’s just a very rowdy chaotic environment.

It’s hard to focus. It took a lot of getting used to, but overall, I made it out okay. I had no fights, and I had no tickets, no infractions. I was inspired by Daniel McGowan, who had no fights, and no tickets and seven and a half years and CMU and the feds, and by David Gilbert, who had no fights no tickets in 40 years in New York State system.

TFSR: Who’s out!

DC: Who is out, free as a bird. Also Daniel, but that’s like old news. He’s out, which is awesome. But I was like, “Well, if those guys can do it, I can make it through on Rikers without a fight without looking like a pushover. There were times when I thought I was gonna have to fight. You know, there were times when I really thought I was gonna get a ticket. You just don’t know. They call it getting caught up. You get caught up in something, you’re doing six months, you have to fight for some reason to save face, because it’ll make your daily life insufferable if you don’t, something goes wrong and now you’re facing 10 years. That can happen, that sort of thing does happen. It didn’t happen to me. I’m very glad to be out.

I got a lot of support while I was in there. That’s the main takeaway for me, is that it’s just incredible. Obviously, the whole experience sucked, but the amount of mail, the amount of books that people were sending me, people that I wasn’t particularly close to beforehand, that would just take my phone calls at all hours. No matter what they were doing, they would just drop whatever they’re doing and talk to me on the phone. People that would come to visit me, including people I don’t even know, would come and visit me at Rikers. I got letters from all around the country all around the world. I got books sent to me by people from all around the country. There’s a fundraiser that all these strangers, people I’d had a class with in college years ago donating money to keep me going and to give me a little padding for when I got out. My defense committee is awesome, did an incredible job. Mad books, baby!

Books, that’s social capital in jail. You got books, you get letters out the wazoo, like, that’s huge. We will will talk about that in a minute. But even before I went away, my defense committee was able to reach out to a number of former political prisoners, and put me in touch with them, and have me talk to them about what it was like to do time as a political prisoner, because that’s a little different from doing time as a “normal prisoner.” It’s a little different in terms of experience. Yeah, but in general, you do get a respect boost. It might be cold comfort to anyone who’s facing charges for something that came out of a protest or something. But look, if you got to do some time, man, and you don’t cooperate with prosecution, you stick to your guns, you go in and you’re very clear about what you’re in for, you’ll get a little bit of a respect boost from people. Not everyone’s gonna care. You might still have some beef with people, but a lot of people are gonna be like, “Listen, I’m gonna pick somebody else to mess with, this person’s in for something they believe in.” That resonates with people, that resonates with people.

So that’s really the thing that sticks with me more than how much the experience sucks, which it did suck. But the solidarity that I got from the get go. Even when I was in the hospital, people were trying to send me stuff. I found out later that they wouldn’t let it through for security reasons, but it’s just incredible. Even after I got out the solidarity just keeps coming. A couple of months after I got out, some guy who had done time for ELF stuff like 15 years ago just gave me a bike. He was like, “Yeah, I’m just gonna give you a bike.” It was a great bike and I make good use of it. Stuff like that. I mean, you can’t make that up and there’s hardly even words to describe that sense of solidarity. So yeah, that’s kind of the the time that I did in a nutshell.

TFSR: I wonder has the movement done an okay job in terms of follow up with post release counseling or putting you in contact with people that have that experience to be able to co-counsel with each other?

DC: Yes, like the post release care. Yeah. So my support did not stop when I crossed that bridge, when I came home. My support has been incredible. A big part of that was a radical therapist that I met. Well, I didn’t just like, run into her in the subway. I was put in touch with her by my defense committee before I went in, before I even knew what kind of deal I would be taking. I was still fighting my case, and it was still very much up in the air if I’d be doing like 30 days community service or seven years hard time Upstate, or if it was like anything in between.

My therapist was incredible, stayed with me the whole time I was locked up. Took my calls. Came to visit. When they shutdown visits because of the first wave, (I was locked up during the first wave) my therapist came to visit me on video visits once they instituted those. After I got out, I went to travel a little bit as much as possible, because it was still pretty crazy COVID times then. I went in October 2019 and I came home in October 2020. So even though I was traveling and stuff a little bit, just around the country, when I got out my therapist was always down to do a session remotely. When I was actually in New York, she was always down to meet up. That’s that’s been really incredible.

Other friends and comrades checking in seeing how I’m doing, again fundraiser money to keep me going without having to just get a day job real quick as soon as you get out, like so many people do, has been huge. I’m very, very grateful for all the support that I’ve gotten. I’m very aware that this experience that I had is far from the norm. I mean, I was rubbing elbows and walking among people who live the real incarceration life. I was locked up and it sucks, but like, I’ve used the term “jail tourist” before, I’m kind of a “jail tourist.” Other guys, they’re there, there again. They know the ins and outs of it. There’s no safety net. There’s a landing pad for them when they come home. Guys are talking about getting out and going straight to the construction site where they know they still have a job. I mean, that’s insane.

TFSR: There’s no shame in the support that you got, obviously, but it could be looked at that sort of thing as like an ideal that we should expand. If there’s these structures that are causing harm to people who don’t have the safety nets, whether it be class or racial privilege, or recidivism.

DC: Yeah. Everybody deserves that. I’m not saying that I’m aware that my case is unique to have it be some white guilt thing. But I think this is the standard that we should be holding ourselves to for everyone. And listen, that’s not always easy. Some people in jail do fucked up stuff, but they still deserve support, and the care that makes people maybe not want to do those things in the future. Besides a lot of other big factors, societal factors that are harder to change. But yeah, I think the kind of support that I got, if everyone had that there would be much less difficulty for people doing time or coming home from it. That’s for sure.

TFSR: We’re talking about this in the context of the July 25 International Day of Solidarity with Antifascist Prisoners. That’s a fucking mouthful right there. But J25. I wonder if you could talk a little bit about that and about some of the components, and if you experienced that directly, that’s great. If not, things like letter writing, I’m sure was the thing that impacted you, and breakdown how that impacted you.

DC: Yeah, so July 25, International Day of Solidarity with Anti Fascist Prisoners started in 2014 I don’t know if you’re gonna get into all this, the history of it and elsewhere.

TFSR: Please do.

DC: It’s 2014, I’m pretty sure, started as a day of solidarity with Jock Palfreeman, an Australian man who was serving 20 year sentence in Bulgaria for defending two young Roma men against far right hooligan mob. He’s out now. Jock is out and did 11 years total. That’s the genesis of the International Day Solidarity with Antifascist Prisoners and it’s grown to be much larger and to include pretty much anyone in for a conviction that they took in the course of something that expressly antifascist.

I did get a lot of support for J25 when I was in. But I actually forgot about it. I think I confused it with June 11, which is the Day of Solidarity with Long Term Anarchist Prisoners. I wasn’t really long term because I was doing a year. There’s no day solidarity for medium term anarchist prisoners. I was between 30 days and 10 years for sure. So, I got a bunch of mail for June 11. And was like, “Oh, that was cool.” It kind of surprised me. And then, I don’t know, I just like I, I just completely forgot about July 25. I started getting all this mail again, around the week of July 25 I was like, “Oh, yeah, there’s another day of solidarity. This summer really rocks!” I got a huge uptick in the volume of mail, including a lot of stuff that was people writing me for the first time. A lot of it was just stuff that said, “Keep your head up. I heard about you, I put $10 on your books, you’ll be home in a few months, you are doing great.” Stuff like that. And that’s awesome. Some 65 year old grandma and Bedstuy just wrote me a letter with like an inspirational quote. I don’t know where she found this thing, it was just printed. It’s like, that’s great. That melts my little heart. It’s incredible. That sort of stuff, there was definitely an increase in that around July 25.

I think there was a funding drive from the International Antifascist Defense Fund around the time. I think they put some money on my books around the time. It makes a big difference. I mean, besides obviously having a line of contact with the outside world, or having money to buy the things you need to commissary, or to buy the things you need or want once you get out, that sense that someone’s taken care of you because they know what you’re in for, and then not know what you’re going through, but like they get it. That’s huge. That’s huge. And your psychological well being, there’s no substitute for that. There’s no faking that.

That extends more broadly to receiving a letter in jail. When you do get a letter in jail, it’s this line of contact to the outside world. Obviously, it’s cool to get updates from people and find out what they’re doing their lives, have someone to talk to that’s not part of all the jailhouse politics and whatever, about what’s going on in there. But also, it’s like, people have not forgotten about me. Like, I’m worth writing to. The institution really tries to beat you down, and just make you a cog in the machine, just a number. Then it’s like, “No, people remember that I’m a full fledged human being and like there are interests that we share. They want to update me on things that have happened with people we both know and care about, or are total strangers.

My defense committee, again, best defense committee ever. We put up a website that went live the day I went in, and on it there was a list of things you could write to me about, my interests and stuff. It was just great idea. I cannot give a big enough shout out to my defense committee. They rock. One of the things was like, “tell me about the last good meal you ate. So I had strangers from London writing me about the lasagna they made it or something. That’s awesome. That’s really incredible. People took the time to do that, and consistently. Sometimes it’s a one off and that’s fine.

So there’s a sensory aspect to it too. Jail is a very bland, drab environment and when you send in something with a holographic stamp on it.. It’s like, “Ooh!” It’s the smallest thing, but it really makes a difference. It’s just kind of like if you see someone walking down the street in the outside world, in regular life, who just has a really loud, wild, fun style. You are like, “Wow, I’m glad that person just walked by me. That rocks.” It’s kind of like that. Those things do matter. There’s also the texture of the paper. Rikers has a pretty loose policy on mail, thankfully. So I was able to get a lot of different types, weights, colors, textures of paper.

There’s a social aspect to receiving mail. If you are getting piles of letters, and piles of books, and some of its international, people look over your shoulder, they can see it’s written in another language or something, people know. People talk in jail, people observe, and people talk. So people are gonna know one way or the other, they’re gonna find out one way or the other. You’re getting all this mail, all these books, some of it’s coming from faraway places, people notice that. So even if it’s subconscious, on some level, they’re like, “Well, a lot of people care about this guy. He’s not nobody. A lot of people think he’s worth communicating with.” It doesn’t mean you won’t have a problem with anyone again, but it increases your worth in those people’s eyes.

That extends to the guards, too. They know that you have people you can contact. They know that they can’t get away with everything with you and sweep it under the rug. Also it serves as proof of the political nature of your case, especially if you’re in jail like me, short term facility, a lot of people lie. A lot of people lie about their charges. A lot of people inflate their charges, where they change the circumstances every time they tell the story. This one guy… it went from he was arrested in a hotel room with a dime bag of crack to like he was driving across the bridge with three helicopters in pursuit…

TFSR: His Grand Theft Auto fantasy?

DC: Yeah just over a few days!

TFSR: It’s a very big bridge.

DC: Yeah… Yeah, there’s, there’s a lot of that. Look, people are skeptical and sometimes rightfully so about what you say you’re in for. Well, you get all these radical books and letters and zines and stuff, it’s like, “All right, this dude is clearly into antifascism.” People sending you zines on anti racist action, they like get it. It’s like, “Alright, cool.” So there’s a lot that goes into getting mail in jail besides just emotional support, which is also huge. That’s a huge component. But there’s a lot more to it than that.

TFSR: I know it’s different in different facilities, like you’re talking about the stamps getting through, that’s great. North Carolina, PA, a bunch of states, and this is prisons as opposed to jails, it’s different from facility to facility with jails, county by county. But what can get in obviously, again, will differ. But with books, I’ve heard about people getting just a plethora of books, and then they’re able to loan them out to other folks. So while there’s like a social capital element, you’re also building sociality with other people. You’re maybe giving them a break from some of the monotony, the forced puritanical monotony of jail or prison, and also like making friends, or opening people’s eyes a little bit, or whatever. It seems kind of cool.

DC: Absolutely. Yeah. The books thing. I always had people coming up to me, asking me for books. “Yo, can I take a look at your books.” Some guy I didn’t even know, he’d been in the dorm for like two days. I hadn’t even spoken a word to this guy. He comes up to me one day he goes, “Hey, bro, I see you have a lot of books. Do you have any cool books about aliens?” “I can ask for some. if you want I can ask my friends to send me a book about aliens.” A couple of times, I did that too. Some guy, I forget what he was working on, he was non native English speaker, a Haitian guy, he was trying to practice his English and he wanted a dictionary. I was like, “Listen, man. You should have told me.” I asked my Defense Committee. They bought a used dictionary for two bucks and sent it into me, I gave it to the guy. I mean, you gotta be careful with that, because you can’t give everything to everyone all the time. Right? Then people see that as an opportunity to hit you up for anything they need. But yeah, sharing the books you get is incredible. Zines and stuff, too. I shared a lot of the radical literature I got with people.

And beyond stuff that you loan out to people to build social capital, to make life easier for them, to spread the radical ideas that you care about, there’s the social element of what you read and what people see you reading. Because, again, people see everything in jail. Everything’s in common, right? You are forced to live together. So, I’m a nerdy white guy and I’m reading Assata Shakur’s autobiography, people are like, “Okay, well, it’s probably not a total asshole.” It’s not just for show. I have been meaning to read that book forever. It’s a great book. I’m glad I read it. But people see that and people notice that stuff.

Sometimes Books Through Bars would send me a box full of books. Some of the stuff wasn’t really interesting to me. I think I got like a 900 page global history of soccer. I was like, “I’m not gonna read this.” I’m not. Nothing against soccer, I played it when I was a kid, but I’m not gonna. I have a bunch of books I need to read anyway. So, I gave it to the guy in the bed next to me and he was like, “Awesome!”

TFSR: That’s dope. Do you want to talk about the process of letter writing and keep in mind that as an old person myself, I have noted at letter writing events that sometimes people need a little instruction on how to write a letter, because it’s just not a thing that they grew up having to do?

DC: Yeah, totally. That’s one of the things that struck me when I first got mail in jail. It was so moving that I actually started to cry in the hallway. Thankfully, there was no one around because you’re not really supposed to cry in jail. It surprised me, because I’ve gotten letters before. I’m 35. I know what letters. It means a whole lot when you get a letter when you’re locked up.

So, if you don’t know what to write, first of all, I would advise you to just brainstorm like you would if you’re gonna send an important email. You don’t have to draft it out, but just put some bullet points down on a piece of paper. You want a beginning, middle and end. It’s the first time. Here’s who I am. Here’s what I do. Talk about how you heard about the case or not. Obviously, you don’t want to include anything sensitive, right? It’s probably not going to be read by anybody in the institution, but you don’t know. It also depends on who you’re writing to. I know some of the political prisoners that I write with now, the envelope is always cut open and stapled shut again. So, some bureaucrat has been been looking through that. My stuff was pretty lax at Rikers. There’s a whole lot that I got that I wasn’t supposed to have, in terms of letters, nothing serious. You just want to be conscious of what you’re saying, plot out what you’re gonna say beforehand, if it’s your first time introduce yourself.

In terms of the format, it varies a lot between institutions and jurisdictions. So, whether it’s a jail or prison, what security level it is, what state it is, what locality it is, whether it’s federal, whatever, but it’s hard to go wrong with a plain white sheet of paper and black ballpoint ink. That will almost certainly get through anywhere. Then, once you’ve established contact with the person you’re writing to, you can ask them in a letter written on a plain white sheet of paper in plain black ballpoint ink, “Can you get postcards? Can I send you pictures?” Things like that.

I think a lot of people are hesitant to tell the person about their lives because they feel guilty, saying like, “I went to the waterpark with my kids yesterday, it was awesome.” But like you don’t understand, it’s the opposite when you’re locked up. At least for me and most people that I know that have done time, which now I know a fair amount because I did time. People want to hear that. People live vicariously through you. That’s why I asked people to tell me about the last good meal that they ate and I have no regrets. I imagined a lot of delicious meals while I was locked up. That was actually helpful. So don’t be afraid to tell people what’s going on in your life and what you’ve done that’s good lately. I think a lot of people were maybe hesitant to do that. But that’s actually what people want to hear.

You can also ask the person, “What do they want?” If they don’t need books sent in, are there particular things they’d like to hear about? I just asked people to send me dad jokes or whatever, cat memes, printouts of cats. I love that shit. I’ll take it! So you can ask the person and see what they what they want. I write to Daniel Baker, I’ll talk about him in a minute. He likes lefty song lyrics, the more obscure the better. You print out some lefty song lyrics, and send them over to him, he’s really gonna appreciate that.

It can be a little daunting because people don’t want to take on this commitment that could last for a long time. You write to someone who’s doing 10 years or something people are like, “Wow, do I have to write this guy every two weeks for the next 10 years?” No, I had people who wrote to me and were like, “Hey, I need to take some time for myself. But you know, you come home in a couple months, it’s been real, keep your head up.” That’s just fine. I also had people who weren’t even able to give me that heads up. They told me, “I’m gonna try and write to you every week,” and then I never heard from them again. I have no ill will to those people at all. I’m just glad to have heard from them. That’s not a problem. I don’t know anyone else who’s done time either who’s like mad about somebody who didn’t write enough or only wrote for a couple months?

TFSR: It just seems like good practice to not try not to over-promise. You know?

DC: Yeah. I think that’s important. Trying to over-promise. Disappointment can be really crushing, when you’re locked up, especially. You don’t have that much to look forward to. So try not to over promise. That’s important. But I guess the thing that I mean to say here is if the idea of maintaining correspondence with someone for so long seems daunting, that shouldn’t keep you from writing a letter in the first place. You can just say, “I don’t know how long I’ll be able to keep this up. My life is very busy. This is kind of daunting to me.” Honesty is always great, right? Don’t let that keep you from writing that that first letter, if that is a factor.

TFSR: Well, do you want to talk a bit more about July 25th? And some of the prisoners that folks could be doing support for or communicating with or come into contact with?

DC: There’s a great article on It’s Going Down right now about stuff you can do for July 25th. A lot of it is like visibility stuff, you can do a banner drop, posters, stickers, wheat pasting campaigns are all great. You can do a propaganda pic like a rad pic. Get your your hoodies and your ski masks and what are those things called? Flares? That’s before my time. People weren’t standing around with flares when I got locked up. I don’t think so. That’s all publicity stuff. That’s all visibility stuff and that really matters. So if you have an explicit J25 support with antifa prisoners message, that stuff really matters. The It’s Going Down article also suggests dedicating a direct action to incarcerated antifa comrades. It’s a great idea. Don’t tell me about it. I’ll hear about it later. That’s fine.

TFSR: And that whole do a direct action, but don’t tell Dave, in solidarity with people that are behind bars. That’s a commonality of things that I like that’s come out.. I think it came out of the June 11 stuff is… one way that we show solidarity and support to the people that are behind bars for doing a thing is by acting in solidarity and doing the same sort of stuff that they were involved with that got them put away. They don’t have to know specifics, but getting a news clipping… that makes me sound old again too… getting a printout from an online news source saying, like, “Hey! Somebody faced off with this group of knuckleheads in so and so Pennsylvania,” like, whatever.

DC: Yeah, that stuff matters. I was locked up for the Floyd rebellion too. It was just incredible to be getting print outs of that stuff. It was a slightly different struggle. It’s like Black Liberation, but a lot of overlap. It was incredible to be getting that news.

What news you’re allowed to have is pretty heavily restricted in jail. I wanted this article about prisoners in Italy who were sticking it up, who were rioting over COVID conditions, would get rejected by security. So I asked my friend to send it to me in French. So she found a French version article and send it to me. All right, fine. There are no pictures or anything. So like, how are they going to know? I also get so much mail, they’re not going to read through everything.

That’s another thing, if you send a lot of volume, they’re probably going to get sloppy at some point. So another reason to send people lots of letters, is just to keep the haystack big. If you think the regular post office is not great. Imagine the jail post office. Things get lost, things bounce back for no reason, things get censored. That’s something that you do have to temper your expectations to meet. There’s going to be some some bumps in the road when it comes to writing people that are locked up, because the institution is not there to make it easy for you to be in touch with them.

Oh! A benefit punk show! Another thing you can do is throw a benefit punk show.

TFSR: Yeah, and if you don’t have the wherewithal to put together a punk show you can table, like asking the venue or the bands that are playing and putting up a table with some some info about Anti Fascist prisoners or radical prisoners, generally anti racist prisoners, and starting a conversation with folks, or holding a picnic, holding an outdoor food event is the thing that we’ve done in the past for June 11 around here in past years. A nice social gathering that also shares food that checks off a bunch of the boxes.

DC: Exactly. That stuff is pretty easy to put together. You can do it in a fairly short period of time. It’s enjoyable for people who come through whether or not they’re super political. I heard that there were quite a wide variety of people there. It’s just a very good scene. It was a really, really fun time. It’s doesn’t have to be punk either, you can put together a benefit experimental jazz concert, whatever you want. Where’s the intersection of experimental jazz and militant antifascism?

TFSR: There was Fred Ho, for instance. Do you know that name? Co authored a book, I’m forgetting the name of it, but also was a part of the Afro Asian Music Ensemble as well as the monkey orchestra. Both of these were communist. He was a Marxist socialist. There’s an article on Wikipedia about him. Got your answer right there!

DC: Thank you, it’s been bothering me for years. I scratched that itch.

If you don’t have the time or the inclination to write a letter, a lot of political prisoners have book lists. You can find a lot of people’s book lists on sites like Anarchist Black Cross Federation – ABCF.Net. There’s also New York City Anarchist Black Cross. It’s one of the larger and more active Anarchist Black Cross organizations. Anarchist Black Cross, if you don’t know, does a lot of radical prisoner, political prisoners support work, and did a lot of great work for me. Which I really appreciate.

TFSR: New York is a part of the Federation. The Federation has the war chest for supporting prisoners over the long term, which is amazing.

DC: Yeah, so another thing you can do, if you don’t want to write, send books, or do any of the visibility stuff that we talked about, you can just donate. People do need money for this stuff, and these organizations are good for it. They will forward that money to the place that needs to be. You have the international Anti Fascist Defense Fund. That is spelled with a ‘C’ because they’re British, which we won’t hold against them, but should come up if you google it spelled the American way.

TFSR: I’ll link it in the show notes too.

DC: There’s Certain Days, a great collective that produces a radical freedom for political prisoners calendar. Some of the members of the collective were incarcerated. I think they’re all out now. Most of them are out

TFSR: Xinachtli is still in at least.

DC: Xinachtli, Yes. Okay. Certain Days is great though. They have a lot of great info on supporting radical political prisoners.

As for antifa prisoners in the US, we have Daniel Baker. He’s serving four years and he’s got a year and a half left, I think, in the Feds for Facebook posts. He could definitely use books. His wish list is on the ABC website, letters, he loves to get letters. I write to him. Funds, so he has stuff to get by while he’s in and stuff live off when he gets out. Like I said, he loves lefty song lyrics. Any radical song lyrics he wants to end up we would love to have.

There’s Eric King. Eric King has got about a year and a half left as well. He is currently in USP Lee in Virginia, a maximum security federal prison, where there have been explicit threats on his life. So you can call them the North Central Regional Office of the BOP at 913-621-3939. You can spread that word, it’s on Eric Kings website. I think. He’s a great guy who loves to get letters. He’s often on mail ban, like I can never keep track of when he’s allowed to receive letters and what he’s not. So I’ll just write him a letter and see if it bounces back or not. But it’s a really nice guy.

There’s Gage Halupowski, who’s serving six years in Oregon State Prison, participated in one of these large scale street brawls between fash and antifa in Portland. Gage, I used to write to him, but I guess we kind of fell out of contact, but he seems like a really nice guy. He’s got, I think half his sentence under his belt by this point. So like I said, I haven’t talked to him in a while. But I think he’s doing all right, send him letters, send him support, raise awareness, if you can.

Internationally, you have the International antifascist Defense Fund. Amazing organization, does a lot of great work. Did a lot of great work for me. I really can’t speak highly enough of them.

I think a lot of people’s eyes are on Ukraine right now, understandably, so. There are a lot of Anti Fascist and anarchists involved in the struggle against the invasion of Ukraine. And they’re mostly lumped under the umbrella of the Resistance Committee. That’s the anarchist and antifascist coalition for direct resistance to the invasion. They’re funded by something called Operation solidarity. Anarchist Black Cross Dresden in Germany has a lot of good information. I think they’ve really like answered the call to be kind of a relay points for the struggles going on in Eastern Europe. They have a lot of great resources on the website. For support for Belarusian anarchists. There’s branches of ABC in Moscow and Belarus as well. But if you’re looking at to help out comrades who are really in the thick of it right now in Ukraine, I think Anarchist Black Cross Dresden’s website is a good place to get started.

There’s a case in Germany, someone in Lina E, it’s a woman who’s facing some pretty serious charges for allegedly being involved in a number of hammer attacks against Neo Nazis around Germany. I from what I understand stuff in Germany is pretty hot right now. I have very little information about this and what I can find online is all in German. My German is airport level at best. So if you speak German and find out what’s going on there, let me know. I think she was on trial recently, but I really don’t know.

TFSR: I’ll try to put some notes in the show notes about it.

DC: I would love it if you could dig up something on that. I tried to do a little digging, but even in French. I speak French, but there’s not that much. France, I think is okay right now. There was one comrade who just got sprung.

TFSR: Is that the instance of the veteran from Rojava who was facing terrorism charges along with a few other people, the cases got dropped except for against this one individual?

DC: Oh, Libre Flot. That’s the guy who got sprung. He’s out. He went on hunger strike and now he’s out. I think it’s conditional release. I don’t know if the charges have been dropped. But at least he’s not locked up. There were some people facing some serious charges. But thanks in part to funding from the International Antifascist Defense Fund, they all got off, which is great.

Then in Lyon, we had seven anti fascists that were allegedly members of the antifascist group that was ordered to disband by the government. They were facing really, really inflated charges for a street fight that came out at a protest with some far right French folks. They were facing a couple of years for the street fight and they got some funding from international Antifascist Defense Fund that enabled them to hire good lawyers, and they all got off. So you know, there are successes, too.

You know, sometimes, doing time is also in some ways a success. I mean, again, it sucked, but in some ways, I’m proud of my time. I didn’t have to give the State anything. I went in for something I believe in and ultimately, it was way too long for kicking a guy while wearing a shoe, but it’s way less than the State wanted to give me. We talked them way down. They wanted to give me years. So in some ways that’s a victory, you know? I try to see it that way, anyway.

I just want to give a shout out to my man Big Bruce. Big Bruce is a friend of mine from Rikers. He’s not a political prisoner, but he’s a really good guy, and he’s doing a two year bit in the New York State system right now. His name is Bruce Williams, he’s in New York State system. He’d love to hear from you.

Bruce Williams #21R0721

Orleans Correctional Facility

3531 Gaines Basin Rd

Albion, NY 14411

TFSR: I can put his contact info in the with that, or if you send it to me, I’ll definitely put it in the show notes and people can decide to write him a letter or put some money on his books or whatever.

DC: Oh, cool. Yeah, he’s a little hard nosed about getting money. He’s like, “I don’t want your money.” But he will appreciate it. Yeah, letters, books, whatever. I got Books Through Bars to send him a lot of stuff. He’s a really good guy. I was sleeping next to him, in the bed next to him, when when the first wave COVID hit. So he’s really good guy.

TFSR: Dave, was there anything else that you wanted to touch on?

DC: I don’t think so. I think that’s it. It’s been a real pleasure.

TFSR: Mutual.

DC: Sending solidarity to all the Anti Fascist prisoners locked up on the upcoming J25. Yeah, everybody else out there in the struggle, keep your heads up. I guess I’ll give you my my plugs, because that makes sense. One, I am on Twitter, but I don’t really tweet anything, but I’m there. Sometimes I get articles published about jail and stuff and when I do I usually make a little announcement on Twitter. It’s @AB_DAC. And you can find me there. There’s an email there too, that you can hit me up at. If you’re facing political charges, think you might do some time or you know someone who is and you just don’t know where to turn. You can hit me up. I’m happy to talk to you about it. A lot of people did this for me when I was facing time. So I’m more than happy to pay that forward.

I’m also trying to write a memoir about my time as an Anti Fascist political prisoner, because it was pretty wild. So I started a Patreon. It’s just Patreon DavidCampbellDAC. If you can help me get that written. I’m also in grad school right now. So I need some some funding to make this work. I’m making good progress. But that’s what I got to plug.

TFSR: That’s awesome. Thanks a lot for making the time on such short notice to have this conversation and thanks for bringing so much to the table. I really appreciate it. Oh, yeah.

DC: It’s been a real pleasure. It’s been a real pleasure.

Rojava Again Under Threat of Turkish Invasion

Rojava Again Under Threat of Turkish Invasion

[00:10:35 – 01:45:30]

Mostly women carrying "Stand Up For Rojava" banner with a small girl and a sign picturing world leaders leaning in on a small Kurdish child
Download This Episode

Emre, Rimac, Xero and Anya, members of the Emergency Committee for Rojava join us on the show this week to talk about the escalation of violence and threats of invasion by Turkey into northeast Syria, updates from the region and their thoughts on how people in the West can help folks living under the Autonomous Administration of North East Syria. You can learn more about their work at DefendRojava.Org and find related interviews covering some of the subject matter discussed and past events on our website by searching for Rojava.

You can keep find Xero’s upcoming podcast, a member of the Channel Zero Network, at ManyWorldsPod.Github.io and you can find the latest of Anya’s co-authored pieces at The Nation (though it’s paywalled).

Greg Curry Hunger Strike

[00:01:07 – 00:10:35]

Justice for Greg Curry Update on Greg: He has currently been moved to a hospital due to the weight loss he has sustained during the hunger strike. It also seems Greg's mail is being withheld or stalled coming in and going out. Greg has asked folks to contact Chief Legal Counsel Stephen Gray by email (stephen.gray@odrc.state.oh.us) or by phone (614-752-1765) or Annette Chambers-Smith via email at annette.chambers-smith@odrc.state.oh.us Suggested script: "Hello, I am contacting you as a concerned friend of Greg Curry A213159. During Greg's RIB hearing, Officer Sgt O'Brien, who witnessed and investigated Greg was also on the RIB committee which is against your policy RIB/5120-9-08. We are asking you to act on Greg's appeal which has been formally submitted to the Chief Legal Counsel and return Greg to population so he can come off this hunger strike."First up, we’ll be sharing a message recorded a week ago by PAPS Texas of incarcerated activist and survivor of the Lucasville Uprising in 1993, Greg Curry, about his hunger strike for the ODRC’s retaliation to his organizing behind bars at Toledo Correctional. Greg’s support is asking folks to contact ODRC officials as he’s entered over a month on hunger strike, had his communication meddled with and has been hospitalized.

Greg has asked folks to contact Chief Legal Counsel Stephen Gray by email (stephen.gray@odrc.state.oh.us) or by phone (614-752-1765) or Annette Chambers-Smith via email at annette.chambers-smith@odrc.state.oh.us
Suggested script:
“Hello, I am contacting you as a concerned friend of Greg Curry A213159. During Greg’s RIB hearing, Officer Sgt O’Brien, who witnessed and investigated Greg was also on the RIB committee which is against your policy RIB/5120-9-08. We are asking you to act on Greg’s appeal which has been formally submitted to the Chief Legal Counsel and return Greg to population so he can come off this hunger strike.”

You can find a recent interview with a member of Prison Abolition Prisoner Support on Greg’s case at 1 hour 2 minutes into the episode (mislabeled as September 3rd 2020) at NewDream.US. You can hear our 2016 interview with Greg Curry.

. … . ..

Featured Tracks

    • Beritan from Jîyan Beats (dedicated to fallen PKK fighter, Gülnaz Karataş aka Beritan, who threw herself from a cliff after a fierce battle in Xakurke rather than surrender to Turkey on October 25, 1992)
    • Instant Hit (instrumental) by The Slits from Cut

. … . ..

Transcription

TFSR: So I’m speaking with folks from the emergency committee for Rojava. Would you all care to introduce yourselves with whatever names gender pronouns, where you’re based, and any other info? And any other info about yourself, and it’d be cool to hear about how you became a member of ECR and an advocate for the Rojava revolution.

Anya: I could go first. Hi, everyone, thank you so much for hosting us. My name is Anya, and I’m originally from Ukraine but I have been living in the United States for the last 11 years. And I discovered Rojava and the Kurdish movement around 2017. And I found their project of direct democracy, you know, social ecology, women’s liberation, quite appealing in that they managed to, you know, theoretically, but also in practice to put together all these different struggles on different fronts. So once I discovered it, I started looking for ways to get involved and support the revolution from the United States and have been a member of the Emergency Committee for Rojava almost from its very founding, which was in 2018. And so, you know, the struggle in the United States goes on. Thank you so much again.

Emre: I’ll go next. Hello, everyone. I’m Emre Şahin, I’m a Kurdish scholar from Bakur, Northern Kurdistan. Was based in the US, I’m a PhD student of sociology at Binghamton University. And I’m working on Rojava revolution, particularly woman’s autonomous organizing in Rojava. I did some fieldwork there three years ago, for two months, and I’m excited to be here.

Xero: So I’m Xero I use I use he/they pronouns. I’m based in the US, I’m based in Northwest Pennsylvania, kind of on the southern edge of unseated Erie territory, just south of Lake Erie. I guess what brought me to this revolution was I, you know, kind of have always been, I guess more of a libertarian leftist without really knowing what that meant, or even having a coherent idea of what it involved. I’ve never had much of a patience for reading theory or anything like that. And so when I first learned about the Rojava revolution, it was, god it was in 2020. It was right after the Coronavirus pandemic, and right before the George Floyd uprisings. It was in that kind of a really weird moment where anything kind of felt possible, and this really made a lot of things come into sharp focus for me. It was this example of something that could work at scale. And that was really compelling to me. And so I just didn’t really have much of a choice after that, I kind of went full hog into studying this revolution and kind of similar revolutions around the world. Including the Zapatistas in southeast Mexico, in the state of Chiapas.

And so that, as you’re probably aware Bursts, we’re working on another show that is in conversation with those revolutions, and also talking about land back and other other Indigenous issues here on Turtle Island in a North American context. That show is called Where Many Worlds Fit. And we’re getting very close to being able to start publishing there.

Rimac: Hi, my name is Rimac, I use they/she pronouns. I’m from the Netherlands, I live in a town between Amsterdam and The Hague. And I started supporting the revolution when I started hearing about it in 2015-2016, I was going through a really rough time, personally. I was struggling a lot with my mental health and with taking care of myself, like being able to keep a job and keep an incom because I was struggling with traumas from my youth. I was sexually abused, or sexually attacked, by a close family member as a child and that really kept me in an isolated place where nobody could really stand with me and take care of me. So, I was left really alone. And that’s also when I found out about the women’s revolution, and about the defense against Daesh.

And I also got introduced a little bit to the politics of Mr. Abdullah Öcalan And the revolution gave me so much spirit to persevere through my traumas, and to not give up and to understand that what I experienced was not a single event happening to one person, but a lot of people experience things like this, and that it’s partly because of the patriarchy. So for me, it was really a medicine to learn about a revolution. And then I started looking for people in the Netherlands, for the Kurdish movement, but after the pandemic came and lockdown came it was really hard to maintain contacts. So that’s when ECR came on my path. First, I joined as a member of the study group, which I really enjoyed, because I feel at home at ECR and I feel comfortable sharing my thoughts and learning from others. And then I was also invited to start organizing with them. And I have done this for a year now.

TFSR: Thank you all so much for sharing and it’s really nice to meet you. And as kind of a side note, Emre, I was lucky enough to get to hear an interview that you did with Xero for Where Many Worlds Fit and I’m very excited for the content to start flowing.

E: Oh, great to hear that. I’m excited as well.

TFSR: So, in the January chat with a member of Tekoşîna Anarşîst that we conducted, our guests talked about ongoing rocket and drone attacks across the border into Syria since the Serê Kaniyê invasion of 2019. Could you all, are one of you, please speak about the threat of Turkish invasion looming over the autonomous administration of Northeast Syria, aka Rojava and what’s being expected right now?

E: As an introduction, my comrades and I collectively decided that I would initially begin responding first, and we would follow each other. So I’ll start with some of the questions and others will, hope I won’t be taking too much space.

But in response to the attack, the Turkish threats of invasions have intensified in 2019 but they have actually, we can date them back to the collapse of the peace negotiations between the PKK and the Turkish state near the end of 2015. Between 2009-2010 and 2015, the Turkish state and the PKK had began negotiations to work on the current issue. But that came to an end in 2015 when Tayyip Erdoğan power holding party, AKP, lost the elections in June 2015. And to continue its power it decided to team out with the Nationalist Party in Turkey and ended the peace process. After this Turkey’s relationship with the Autonomous Administration in Rojava became extremely hostile.

There were voice recordings from secret top level Turkish state meetings where the Chief of Intelligence was recorded saying, “Oh, don’t worry, we can start a war with Rojava anytime, we’ll just have a few of our agents throw some rockets over the border to the Turkish side and use that as a excuse.” And from there on the Turkish state began to increase its hostility. Before that Turkey had hosted Saleh Muslim, the former co-president of the Autonomous Administration twice in Ankara for diplomatic talks. This was back when the peace negotiations were still on the table. But after that threat of lost power, and, you know, regional political re-alliances, when the peace process ended the Turkish state initially increased its hostility and then proceeded to invade Afrîn‎. And soon after Afrîn‎, invaded Serê Kaniyê in 2019 and it continues its hostile approach to this day.

A: I can add a little bit to that, in particular, what’s happening right now. So Turkish President Erdoğan just announced that Turkey is preparing to launch, and now the invasion, which will be the third invasion, as Emre mentioned the first two. And to basically complete the so called “Safe Zone” that Turkey was negotiating to create with the United States in 2018, before it invaded and occupied more parts of northern Syria. And now, Erdoğan stated that Turkey wants to complete that project and occupy more territory along its southern border with Syria. And at this point, I think we’re quite anxious and, you know, there have been a lot of threats coming from Erdoğan because he and his party AKP, they are using the threats of invasion and actual invasions of different parts of Kurdistan and attacks against Kurdish population within Turkey, but also in Syria and Iraq, as a way to prop up their authoritarian regime and rally support of a broader chunk of Turkish population.

But right now there is this conjuncture of international and domestic factors that makes it quite possible that Turkey, you know, that Erdoğan will actually realize his threats and invade once again. So internationally what’s happening is, of course, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and Turkey’s role as a NATO member in stalling the process of NATO accession of Sweden and Finland who just applied to join NATO. Turkey stalls their entry through its demands of lifting a ban on an embargo on arms sales to Turkey and demanding extradition and the crackdown on Kurdish movement and Sweden, and Finland, and termination of any diplomatic relationship that Sweden in particular has with the autonomous administration of Syria. So, you know, Turkey is demanding what’s in its own a geopolitical interest, and it’s quite likely that it will get, at least partially, its demands met.

We have already seen some concessions coming from the United States, the Biden administration has recently requested Congress to approve the sale of F-16, jets and modernization kits for warplanes of Turkey, as well as missile upgrades, you know, various military equipment, despite the existing US sanctions against Turkey, and despite the opposition to it within the Congress. So we are seeing that the United States is granting certain concessions to Turkey and, you know, green lighting another invasion, as the United States did in 2018, you know, could be a likely scenario.

X: I can add a little bit more to that, too, at the risk of making this a little bit more complicated than maybe you were wanting [laughs], because it’s a very messy situation, and there’s a lot of very muddled history here, even in the last 10 years, because the Syrian Civil War is, you know, devastatingly complex. But there’s also two other factors to consider which, one is that there’s the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria, the AANES — which is kind of the recognized term for Rojava, this is the administration that kind of runs things. It’s like the decentralized thing that’s based on democratic and federalism. And we’ll get into this later when we talk about the carceral situation as it exists in the region — but one of the things that they have is a set of ISIS prison camps where a lot of former ISIS fighters have been kept. And there’s a there’s a number of danger points there, including recently there have been a lot of mass escapes from these camps. And that’s going to also be a factor when it comes to stability in the region that I’m sure Erdoğan is going to want to exploit somehow.

And then over on the Iraqi side of the border, there’s also a number of things that have been escalating in violence, which is even involving Turkish forces in some sense. Which is that the political situation in Iraq, especially in north Northwestern Iraq, Iraqi Kurdistan, remains a little bit unstable — or not a little bit, that’s putting it mildly — but it remains pretty unstable. And there’s the local ruling Barzani family, which is a Kurdish family that’s much more sort of hyper-capitalistic, and you know, they just have very different political goals.

And there’s been a second route of genocide, genocidal action taken against the Yazidis, and the Yazidis are a local — I personally am not knowledgeable enough to get into whether the Yazidis are Kurds, I’ve heard very firm yeses on that question — but however you classify them, the Yazidis are one of the oldest religious groups in the world and they’re definitely part of this broader Kurdish diaspora. And so they’ve been targeted for genocide by ISIS over the last, you know, 5-10 years. And they’re coming under the threat of genocidal actions, again, by Turkey, and, you know, by these coalition forces in the region. And it’s really devastating to be thinking about things like this, because it’s a very dark situation. But there is some light, you know, kind of buried beneath that, which is that the Yazidis are also taking on Democratic Confederalism, and they’re, they’re realizing their own revolution, which is pretty inspiring.

TFSR: So that was a very complex answer [laughs] it covered a lot of things that I’d like to unpack it in further questions, but very, very informative, and I really appreciate it.

Yeah, and for listeners who maybe don’t recognize the name Yazidi, they may recognize the harrowing situation a number of years ago where ISIS had trapped a number of people in Mount Sinjar, and we’re approaching and genocided them and this is one of the instances where SDF forces were able to come in and help get those folks to safety as as I understand and correct me if I’m wrong, but those were Yazidi minority being attacked by Daesh, specifically.

So, Turkey is the second largest military in NATO, thus a United States ally. And as was pointed to by Anya, there’s ongoing arm sales that are being proposed and engaged right now between the US and Turkey. I wonder if you all could talk about what you understand to be the motivations of the Turkish state under Erdoğan’s AKP and now aligned with the Nationalist Party? What is Neo-Ottoman ism? And can you say some words on transformations of life in Turkey over the last 20 years of AKP rule, and how this relates to the war on Kurdish people within and outside of Turkish borders? Yeah, if you can make mention also of, during this time support for groups like the so called Free Syrian Army, and as well as ISIS or Daesh.

E: Absolutely. Turkey, since the foundation of the Turkish Republic, has had a different sort of political dynamic and diplomatic presence in the globe throughout the 20th century, with the, you know, Republican Party in power for most of the 20th century, with the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. It didn’t have this Neo-Ottoman strategy and the Turkish state, for the most part, spent the 20th century trying to modernize the population, modernize the country, so-called “separation of church and state”. And turning its face towards the west, you know, aspiring to be modeling itself after European countries. And this was quite unique in Muslim majority countries, because in Turkey too, majority of the population being conservative, Turkey had had that sort of identity crisis with Western-facing, but Eastern-being [chuckles] population and geography.

However, Erdoğan’s AKP, when it came to power in 2002, adopted a different approach. It’s a populist Islamist party, neoliberal Islamist party, which said, “I’m not going to just face towards the West I’m gonna face towards the East too, I’m gonna reconnect with the East, with the Middle East” you know. But this is only a part of Neo-Ottoman policy. Another part is trying to resurrect the Ottoman Empire’s sort of legacy. Turkey had this trauma of shrinkage, you know, after centuries of ruling over the eastern Europe, Middle East, Northern Africa, after shrinkage to the Turkish Republic. Now with Erdoğan’s AKP in power and cementing stuff further and further into the turkey state, it tried to increase its influence in the Middle East. And many of Turkey’s diplomatic maneuvers over the past 20 years can be read from this lens, you know, from Turkey’s presence in Rojava, in Syria, to actions in Libya and Qatar, there’s this diplomatic shift.

But of course, Erdoğan’s coming into power had political implications and impacts inside the country too. Life has become more and more conservative, public life has been shaped more and mor. The Turkish state has been investing in religious schools, the Directorate of Religious Affairs, which, by the way, even though it’s not a ministry, it’s annual income is higher than the sum of 7-8 different ministries in Turkey. That’s why I said the so called “separation of church and state” even though Turkey is a secular country, the state has tight control over religious affairs. So life has become more and more conservative in Turkey. And these developments at home and abroad, Islamification, went hand in hand of course, as we saw from Turkish involvement in Syria, Turkey has been cozying up to lots of Islamist groups. Like you mentioned, the Free Syrian Army and many factions, which are basically run from offices in Istanbul or have ties in different Turkish cities. Free Syrian Army, you know, their political wing’s representatives residing in Turkey.

However, this is only acknowledged, openly available information. Turkey also had deep connections with extremist Islamist organizations in the past 10-20 years. From al-Qaeda in Syria and Iraq, to ISIS which it later transformed into, Turkey has had close ties. There have been many cases where Turkish journalists have uncovered hundreds of hundreds of trucks of ammunition and guns sent to al-Qaeda affiliates in Syria, by the Turkish state, from Turkey, sent off to Syria. And Turkey still has significant presence in Italy, which is part of a Northwestern Syria, which is not under the control of TFSA, Free Syrian Army actually, it’s under the control of al-Qaeda in Syria, and Turkey works closely with al-Qaeda in Syria.

Also ISIS, there are many reports from the past 5-10 years where ISIS leaders freely reside in Turkey, recruite Turkey, when they’re caught, they’re only caught for show and immediately released. There were reports that even Putin back in 2015 hinted that, when they were not so close with Erdoğan, of oil trade between ISIS and Turkey. And Turkey has maintained close relations with all these Islamist groups from the most, you know, lightweight version such as Free Syrian Army to the most extremist versions such as al-Qaeda and ISIS. And, you know, Turkey’s tried to instrumentalize these Islamic groups in its project to expand, you know restore, Ottoman glory. You know, establish more and more direct influence over the Middle East and North Africa.

Turkey used mercenaries that it recruited from these Islamist factions and sent them to Libya, in its presence and fight in Libya. The same goes for Nagorno Karabakh, as you remember, a year ago, there was a two month war between Armenia and Azerbaijan, and Turkey was actively participating in the war on the side of Azerbaijan and hundreds of Islamist recruits were transported from Syria to Azerbaijan via and by Turkey. So Erdoğan has been Islamitising both life at home and, you know, Turkish diplomatic approach to the Middle East, and instrumentalizing these Islamist factions and groups.

Anya: I actually don’t think there’s much to add to Emre’s comprehensive response, I would just want to reiterate that Syria, as Emre mentioned, is a blatant example of Erdoğan’s pursuit of Neo-Ottoman Imperial agenda. Because what they’re doing in Northeastern Syria, you know, Turkey, is not just trying to prevent any existence of an autonomous Kurdish polity, but basically preparing a basis for annexation of those territories that are currently occupied by Turkey and its proxies, described by Emre. Usually referred to as Syrian National Army, because there is a process of ethnic cleansing and demographic engineering going on, there is a process of establishing direct Turkey’s administrative and political control of those territories. And I’m referring to the territories that were occupied in three steps in 2016, in 2018, and 2019, with the last two occupations, those were of the territory that used to be under control of the Autonomous Administration. So, you know, they are basically creating a reality that this part of Syria will become Turkified and Turkey will have, you know, an excuse, a pretext to, perhaps not officially, but basically annex, in practice annex that territory.

TFSR: I was wondering, as a follow up, Anya had mentioned the Turkification, if that’s a word, of the so called “Buffer Zone” area, and the area that is Rojava and that part of the world is Kurdistan, is not just made up of Kurds. It’s made up of lots of different languages, ethnicities, religions, that have lived there for centuries and centuries and centuries alongside with each other under various regimes. But, it’s a very complex and diverse area and my understanding is that the Turkish state is moving out Kurds from that so called “Buffer Zone” between Bakur and that part of Syria in Rojava, so as to create discontiguity between different Kurdish majority populated areas that fallt within the borders of these different nation states. I’m wondering if that’s sort of what you’re pointing to, and also if anyone has any knowledge of how the Syrian state is dealing with the destabilization of its borders by Turkey.

E: Turkey has been forcing Kurds to move out through torture, through, you know, pressure from these parts of Rojava that have been under its occupation over the past 10 years. And this is actually an old policy that the Turkish Republic had used in the 1920s and 30s after the transition from Ottoman Empire to Turkish Republic, in parts of Bakur, that are at the sort of borderlands between Kurdish majority and Turkish majority regions. The Turkish state would force Kurdish populations and bring in Turks from Anatolia, western Turkey. And Bashar al-Assad, current Syrian president’s father in the 60s took from the Turkish playbook and created this Arab Belt policy. Over a decade, Hafez al-Assad, Bashar al-Assad’s father, would force Kurdish communities in today’s Serê Kaniyê, Girê Spî‎ and others parts of Rojava. Kurds were forced to move out, their citizenships stripped, unable to, you know, have their lands, are unable to hold any property, unable to even have official documentation, and forced to move to the Syrian urban centers such as Damascus and Aleppo. Hence, we have Kurdish ghettos in Damascus and Aleppo. And Assad moved Arab families from majority parts of Syria under this Arab Belt project, which was inspired by Turkish Republic policies of the 20s and 30s. So Erdoğan is playing from that playbook, and continuing this demographic engineering. And there’s numerous evidences from Efrîn all the way to Serê Kaniyê of this happening, unfortunately. Which is a direct contrast with the pluralist and harmonious, direct democratic model that’s implemented by the Autonomous Administration in Rojava.

A: I think you also asked about the Syrian government’s attitude, visa vie, Turkeys occupation, and the process of demographic engineering. And I would say that the Syrian government is not an independent, autonomous actor. It has survived all these years of civil war, just because of Russia’s support. So whatever its interests are, it has to balance them off, and ultimately follow Russia’s lead what whatever is in Russia’s geopolitical interest. Whatever Russia is gonna see is profitable for itself in terms of Syrian future. So while in it’s discourse, right, the Syrian government opposed the Turkish invasions and ongoing occupation and its ongoing presence on the Syrian territory, what happened in 2019 was that after Turkey invaded there was a deal made, actually two deals. First, a ceasefire between Turkey and the United States, and then a deal between Russia and Turkey. And according to that deal, Turkey was allowed, by Russia, to basically keep control of whatever territory it had occupied by the time, and that’s the territory that’s currently occupied between Serê Kaniyê and Tell Abyad.

So basically, at that moment, for Russia, it was convenient to make the deal with Turkey and let it, you know, keep its presence and continue establishing all the political, administrative, economic structures and bringing in families of the Syrian National Army fighters to change the demographic, all the processes. And at the moment, it looks like that Russia may greenlight another invasion by Turkey, again, because of the situation in Ukraine. So, Turkey all this time, has managed to sort of play off both the West, you know the United States, NATO bloc, and the Russian bloc, right? Like Emre mentioned that it’s sort of in between the West and the East in its policies. And same when Russia’s invasion of Ukraine happened Turkey didn’t really support any of these two blocs.

So, it’s sort of managed to carve out a position in between, not breaking off completely from Russia but at the same time it’s, I think people know, supporting Ukraine militarily, you know, by providing drones, right? They have been key in Ukraine’s ability to defend itself. And, you know, at this point, some of the latest statements made by Russia’s high officials sort of indicate another potential deal in which Russia could greenlight another invasion, in return of Turkey’s of certain concessions, visa vie the situation in Ukraine.

E: Thank you for that reminder, Anya, and I’d like to quickly add to the question about the Syrian states responses to Turkish threats and practices of invasion, both during the invasion of Afrîn by Turkey, and during the invasion of Serê Kaniyê, all the official statements coming from the Syrian government were along the lines of, you know, “this is a breech of our national sovereignty, and we will fight for each square meter of our land, etc.” But in Afrîn there was no Syrian Army resistance to the Turkish invasion, because in practice, you know, torn with the civil war, Syrian state did not have any sort of capacity to wage some sort of resistance to Turkish invasion. With the invasion of Serê Kaniyê things began to change because the Autonomous Administration — still unrecognized and fighting for its survival — unable to resist Turkish invasion by itself and unable to garner American support, enough American support. Because Trump basically sold out Rojava in 2019, over the phone conversation with Erdoğan and he ordered his troops to leave and allow the Turkish states to send in his army.

So, Rojava caught in between this situation, unable to garner enough US support, agreed to open up the border areas of Rojava where the northern area was, you know, along the border with Turkey, the majority of those border areas for all the way from Minbic / Serê Kaniyê in the West, to Dirik in the most eastern part of Rojava. Syrian Army troops came back in a smaller presence but still, there wasn’t any resistance or any fight against Turkish invasion, Al-Assad’s strategy is basically this. Al-Assad views Rojava, Autonomous Administration, as traitors who are working with the main enemy, the US, you know, using US support to carve out some sort of autonomy, and unable to finish off Rojava attack and finish off Rojava by itself, unable to do that. Al-Assad has been using this strategy of showing that so that Kurds, or peoples of Rojava, accept some sort of slightly worse result.

So Al-Assad is basically saying, “I will only come and work with you against the Turkish State, if you give up on this project of autonomy, and come back into the control of the Syrian State. So Assad’s strategy has been pretty much this, and this hasn’t been really working, because, you know, the Autonomous Administration and the peoples of Rojava do not want to give up their autonomy and the model of direct democracy and Democratic Confederalism that they’ve been establishing there.

TFSR: So we’ve mentioned both conflicts in northern Syria in terms of actors like the United States, Turkey, Russia, Syrian government, and the Autonomous Administration, and also the conflict in Ukraine has been mentioned. And the US shares membership in NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, with Turkey, so therefore armed allies to each other. Which I mean, for anyone listening right now, unless you’ve already heard some of this before your heads probably going to be spinning about all the different proxy situations that are going on right here…

But so in terms of the amplification of the war between Russia and Ukraine since March of this year — the war that’s been going on since 2014 — there’s been a lot of coverage and we’ve we’ve talked to folks both from Russia, and folks in Ukraine about the experience of the war there and the US has been providing weapons to the Ukrainian government to fend off the invasion from Russia.

So as an anarchist personally, I have to say I condemn the existence of NATO, as I do with all states, but I also support the right of communities to to defend themselves from violence, including from invasions, particularly when they’re attempting to grow a feminist, anti-capitalist, anti-authoritarian and ecological revolution is one season Rojava. I wonder if y’all could talk about these two situations and correlation between them? The use by Ukraine of Turkish drones, for instance in this circumstance, is, you know, just kind of mind boggling, but you know, you do what you can to fend off invasion. But do you feel like the invasion of Ukraine by Russia has kind of overshadowed conflict points in other parts of the world? And how do we do a better job of spreading out and expanding our solidarity into places like Tigray in Ethiopia or other conflict zones that are ongoing?

A: I’ll start off since I’m actually from Ukraine, as I mentioned, so this is a topic close to my heart, even though I haven’t been living there for last 11 years, I still have family in the East in the Donbas region, so I’ve been quite emotional and personally affected by this situation.

But more generally, I just want to point out, and I think it has been quite obvious, that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has once more revealed the hypocrisy and double standards on part of the United States and other international actors, you know, the so called “West”, because we have seen huge outpouring of support, of military support, of discursive support, you know, incredible coverage in the mainstream media for the resistance of Ukrainians, right? I mean, we’ve seen pictures of grandmas with molotov cocktails and all this cheering for that resistance.

However, many people have pointed out that you know, that unconditional support is not usually granted to other instances of armed resistance going on in other parts of the world. I mean, you name it, can we can Palestine or Tigray that you just mentioned, or even the PKK, right, which is sort of an armed insurgency against oppression by the Turkish State kind of justified, right? But the PKK has been on the US terrorist list for more than two decades now, as well as on the terrorist list of other countries. And even though the United States have been supporting the Autonomous Administration of Northeast Syria, it has not, you know, as far as we can see, it’s not planning to take off the PKK off that list, right? While at the same time supporting unconditionally, the resistance of Ukrainians. So you know, this situation is just another example that, you know, when it comes to resistance, it’s only supported when someone’s geopolitical interests are on the line, right? That’s what matters and not resistance itself.

And, you know, another parallel that we can draw is between the invasion of Ukraine as a sovereign state, and then Turkey’s several invasions of Syria, which is a sovereign state. And Turkey’s committing egregious war crimes and human rights violations, which are right now covered in the mainstream media, that are committed by Russia in Ukraine. I don’t think we have seen that much coverage when Turkey invaded Syria, Northeast Syria, repeatedly, right. Again, in terms of kind of material response to the invasion by Turkey, in particular, the last one in 2019, as I already mentioned Turkey was basically allowed to occupy the territory that it invaded. And yes, there was discursive opposition by some parts of the United States government, there were some sanctions implemented in response to that invasion in 2019, but those sanctions were removed almost immediately once the ceasefire was signed and Turkey basically remains in the occupied territories. Again, I mean, I think we see a drastic difference, kind of whose invasions are permitted to take place and who’s opposed?

And just one last thing, I think, you know, the invasion has definitely overshadowed other conflicts, at least during the mainstream media. And I think Turkey has been taking advantage of that. I think later on that we were going to discuss more in detail the military operation that Turkey launched into northern Iraq, which is the Kurdish region of Iraq earlier this year, in April, which recently mentioned, and right now, Turkey is trying to capitalize on the invasion and launch its own invasion, another invasion into northeast Syria. And I’m sure that the Turkish government has taken into consideration the fact that right now kind of the media coverage and sort of the government actions are focused on the situation in Ukraine and may get away with another invasion with less coverage.

X: Anya, that answer was beautiful and I really, really appreciate it. I think that there’s some things that I feel like I can add to that answer. Which is, I think that a lot of what I’m going to have to say, like this entire conversation has been, is going to be really complicated and people’s eyes are probably already glazing over. And so I do apologize for that.

And so I feel a responsibility to start with this, which is that: if you’re somebody in the US, and you’re feeling kind of powerless, the really important thing to remember is that our fates are tied. There is no freedom for us without freedom for them. There’s a number of different ways to express this idea and there’s a number of different ways that it manifests — like we in the Imperial Core and people on the periphery or in the Global South, or whatever euphemism you want to use to describe it — I definitely do mean that we’re in the same struggle together. But I also mean something a little bit more specific than that.

So a lot of hay has been made in the media, and in a lot of so called Western sources about the wheat harvest in Ukraine. Because it is definitely true that Ukraine is the world’s breadbasket, basically, even more so than the American Midwest, which is where I live and we have, you know, wheat crops everywhere. And these global supply chain issues that we’ve already been dealing with during the Coronavirus pandemic, again, are extremely complicated, and there’s a lot of fuckery that’s going on everywhere. But a really, I think, underreported aspect of this, is that Turkey as a polity, as a political entity, the Erdoğan regime in particular, has been fucking with the water supply going down into Rojava. And so before this year even, Rojava was already well under what it needed to be for its wheat supply. A lot of its supplemental wheat supply does come from Ukraine, and there’s a lot of different issues that go along with that, too. You mentioned Ethiopia and the Tigray people, they also are pretty affected by the war in Ukraine and the the kind of serious shortage in the in the wheat harvest. But in Rojava, the way that this, you know, is kind of looking on the ground right now is that they don’t have as much water as they need, they definitely cannot produce all of the crops that they need to produce in order to feed all of the mounds that are there. But things are so bad in the region I think that talking about the Coronavirus pandemic, and the way that that looks on the ground in Rojava, kind of is an afterthought almost, as fucked up as that is.

But one of the things that happens there is because the the AANES, the Autonomous Administration, because they don’t have international recognition, that means that the doses of the vaccine that are meant to go to the people who live there, don’t. They go to the Al-Assad regime, right. And so if you’re looking for something that you can do, and you’re in the US, or you live somewhere in the Imperial Core, one of the things that you can do, as frustrating as it is, is lobby your representatives. As fucking frustrating as that is, believe me I understand, but that is something concrete that you can do is, is contact your representatives, and try to lobby for recognition of the Autonomous Administration as a separate polity. I think that it might be a long shot but it’s definitely something that would help the people there more than any other direct action that you can take from the Imperial Core.

If you want to take a personal step — maybe this is oversharing and maybe you can cut it — but there’s ways to make friends online with people who are in pretty desperate situations. And there’s ways that you can, I don’t want to say leverage, but there’s ways that you can take those personal friendships and make those into a kind of mutual aid. So an example of what this might look, is right now on Onlyfans, there’s a ton of sex workers who are based out of Ukraine or from Ukraine or are fleeing, you know, persecution or, you know, fleeing violent conflict. And the only way that they have to really make money very quickly is to turn to sex work. And so this is an example of an area where there’s a ton of things that overlap with a lot of the struggles that people are familiar with in the US, and it’s even on a platform that’s pretty common and popular in the US. And so if you’re looking for direct ways to directly support people, and you’re not, you know, there’s definitely mutual aid funds and all kinds of other stuff that you can get involved with, but if you’re looking to make friends and kind of have a personal bond of solidarity with somebody, you could do a lot worse than something like that. I think I’m talking a little bit too much. But that’s that’s basically what I wanted to add.

TFSR: So in an interview last year that Duran Kalkan of the Kurdistan Democratic Communities Union, which was conducted by the group Peace in Kurdistan, Mr. Kalkan spoke about his view that while Western governments like the US may strategically partner with the Syrian Democratic Forces under Rojavan control, in the fight against Daesh, or ISIS, they’re not committed to the project of democratic confederalism, but only destabilizing Turkey and opposing Russia and Iranian influence in the region. So as someone who’s based in the US, such as myself, I find this to be a really poignant point of interaction with what’s going on in AANES and within Kurdistan more widely and with the Rojava project. Could you all speak a little bit about the the US relationship with Rojava, the ilegalization of the Kurdish Workers Party or the PKK, as well as the KCK, which I just mentioned, the Kurdistan Democratic Communities Union, and what impact that has on the ground in areas controlled by the Autonomous Administration?

E: The US has had quite contradictory approach towards the PKK and Rojava revolution. Since 1998 the PKK has been on the terrorist list of the US, and the US has actively been supporting Turkey in its war on the PKK. However, when the time came around 2014, around the time of Kobanî resistance, where ISIS had encircle the city, the US’s relationship with the Kurds began to change slightly. And this was mainly due to the fact that the US has plans to fund the Islamist factions and Free Syrian Army, actively supported by Turkey and Saudi Arabia, had backfired. The Free Syrian Army was losing ground to ISIS, the US didn’t see it as an effective partner, but it wanted to continue its presence in Syria, you know, due to several reasons, serious geopolitical position, the proximity to Israel, the US’s closest ally in the Middle East… The US wanted to stay on the ground, but it was finding itself less and less able to do so only through the use of Free Syrian Army. It needed another partner on the ground, and the only option that was available was the Autonomous Administration. And with lots of international outrage, with solidarity from comrades all over the world, public opinion was shifting, you know, people were becoming more and more aware about ISIS atrocities. And, you know, combination of this urgency and the ineffectiveness of the FSA resulted in Obama sending military equipment initially to the Autonomous Administration, and then the US establishing ties with the Autonomous Administration.

I would agree with the analysis and the statement to Duran Kalkan; we have many examples from recent past that support is hypothesis that the US is not committed to the project of democratic confederalism. And it’s only approaching AANES, the Autonomous Administration, as somewhat of a proxy without really supporting it, without acknowledging it fully, without, you know, limiting its support only to military so that it keeps holding that area and ISIS doesn’t come back. We know that Democratic Confederalism is a sort of antithesis of American hegemonic policies and practices. It’s completely reverse of the US states approach, you know, from neoliberalism to questions about women’s rights, and you know, gender equality, to ethnopluralist understandings of life and politics, to decentralized community control over everyday life and decision making in different areas. These are, of course, very threatening for the US, the US has always been hostile to left wing movements. But this has been highlighted during the Cold War era, and even up to this day, its political approach to left wing, any left wing resistance across the world, is destabilizing and destructive.

This has had a tremendous and terrible effect for the peoples of Rojava because of this lack of recognition, this lack of understanding of Rojava’s political, economical, social organization, and only focusing on the military and geopolitics of what’s going on in the region. The support has been shakey and as we saw in 2019, I mean, this invasion of Afrîn‎ was made possible with the green light given by Russia because Russia and the US have this unspoken deal where they have shared areas of influence in Syria. In areas that fall to the west of the Euphrates River, Russia has military control, Russian warplanes roam the skies in the areas to the east of the Euphrates and Syria, most of which, all of which are under the control of Rojava and the Autonomous Administration, the skies are controlled by the US. And because of the dynamic the occupation of Afrîn‎ was made possible with the green light of Russia.

However, the occupation of silicon in 2019 was made possible with the green light of Trump and the US government. And with that invasion alone, 400,000 people were displaced in the region. And that’s close to 10% of the entire Rojava population, Serê Kaniyê and Girê Spî‎ were instrumental in the storage and processing of agricultural products. So there’s been a major hit in that sense to people’s education was disrupted, schools were closed. So this sort of contradictory, shaky approach of the US towards the political project in Rojava manifests in hundreds of lives killed, hundreds of thousands of people being displaced, three or four towns being semi destroyed, and people access to water and food being extremely limited. And it’s been devastating to the region, which is why we need not just military support from all around the world, but also political support and a deeper understanding about the political project that’s going on in the ground.

TFSR: As was mentioned already, I think Xero mentioned it in January, there was massive breakout attempts by members of ISIS, or Daesh, fighters and families from the prison and refugee camps at Hassakeh and al-Hawl, where the SDF had been holding them and international condemnation was broadcast about the conditions there all over the media. I think there was a lot that was lacking from the discussion about the fact that a huge number of those Daesh prisoners, captured after the destruction of the attempted creation of a theocratic state, or caliphate by ISIS, are foreigners whose home countries won’t relocate them. Can you all talk a bit about what happened to Syrians that were held as Daesh, and sort of break open this topic a little bit more about the difficulties of not being recognized as an official state formation and yet being in some ways held to the same humanitarian requirements as state structures that don’t have an interface with you? Like how has international scrutiny caused differences in treatment between people internally displaced by the conflicts in Syria (sometimes you can shorten IDP – internally displaced people) versus those internationals who traveled to Syria to join Daesh?

E: This has been a sore spot. In July of 2019 while I was doing my fieldwork, I attended a three day conference which was held by the Autonomous Administration on this particular issue, on how to deal with ISIS prisoners. Guests from all over the world were present there, along with a couple of people from the US too. And there is this discrepancy. So currently, there is a little over 2,000 former ISIS members imprisoned in the Hassakeh and the whole camps that you mentioned, and a little over 10,000 relatives, you know, family and children of these people, held in these camps. A little over a third of these prisoners are foreigners. Interestingly, Central Asian countries have a much, much more constructive approach and have been repatriating their citizens who went and joined ISIS and were captured by Rojavan forces. For example, Uzbekistan has has taken back more than 300 former ISIS members that are Uzbek nationals. However, many of the Western countries refrain from doing so. And part of part of the reason is that they are working closely with Turkey, but another part of the reason is this instrumentalisation of Rojava’s lack of recognition in the international arena.

However, close to two thirds of the ISIS prisoners and their family members are either Syrian or Iraqi, a majority of the people held in Rojavan ISIS camps are either Syrian and Iraqi. And the Autonomous Administration has different policies when it comes to the nationalities. If the former ISIS member is from a country anything other than Syria and Iraq, they are able to repatriate only if the country is willing to do so and very few Western countries do this. And if the former ISIS member, is Iraqi, the Iraqi government has direct communication channels with the Autonomous Administration of Rojava and takes back, you know, takes back the Iraqi citizens and places them in the camps that they have inside Iraq for former ISIS members.

For the Syrians, the situation is complicated. The majority of the former ISIS people in Rojava camps are of Syrian nationality. And on the one hand, ISIS prisoners are treated differently in the semi carceral system that they have their. You know, all other prisoners are held in general prisons, where if you’re trying to relate it to something that is tied to ISIS, you go to ISIS related courts and prisons that are reserved for ISIS members only. And former ISIS prisoners lose their properties, you know, the only type of people that get their stuff confiscated by the Autonomous Administration are former ISIS members. So there is this sort of harsh approach towards former ISIS members that are from the parts of Syria that have control by the Rojavan Administration.

However, there’s also this attempt to not have this solely carceral approach to crime and punishment. And there is some sort of community arrangement. Over the past 10 years, a few hundred former ISIS linked people have actually been set free but through these processes of alternative justice models — that I know my comrade will go into more detail in a minute. If let’s say you’re from Raqqa, and you were involved with ISIS, somehow, if you and your community can prove that you weren’t a gun wielding member that participated in the killing — you know, many people, when ISIS took over and ruled over a large swath of land for a few years, many people worked with ISIS, but not zealously, you know, driving stuff, because they’re told to or doing nonviolent acts. So, if you can prove that you weren’t violent in ISIS, and if your community, your neighborhood from Raqqa, your relatives and community vouch for you, and [would] go through this alternative justice process, then there is when you would get released. Or, like I said, this depends on, this is a complex matter that depends on sort of the communal vouching and the ability for the Administration to arrange with the community so that this person’s released won’t risk life in the region but will ease the burden on the camps and the maintenance of these camps, because that has been a difficult issue. ISIS, former ISIS members, and their relatives still are trying to resurrect the caliphate inside these camps. One of the main reasons for these breakouts that happened periodically, and they can kill one another when if someone held in these camps is willing to talk to administrative officials, or is willing to somewhat cooperate or show regret, you know, these imprisoned other ISIS people come and kill them. So, it’s very complicated. And my comrades go into more detail.

X: Yeah, thank you, Emre, that was a really good answer. That was pretty comprehensive answer. And I think the only thing that I can add to it is to kind of reframe it a little bit for a US audience who might be used to the way that prisons and the carceral state work here, and just kind of compare and contrast a little bit in order to make it a little bit easier to understand. Because that’s, that’s generally the way I think of it. And so, I think that that might be a good communication strategy. And so the thing I think that is the first thing to say about that, is that the the, the Autonomous Administration isn’t really a state in the conventional sense. And I think that fact alone is low key one of the biggest barriers in in terms of getting international recognition. Because obviously, we have NATO countries and stuff, these are all nation states. And so if you admit somebody who’s not a nation state, it’s kind of a threat to your control over the worldview of the planet. And so this I think is one thing that people, perhaps rightfully, see as kind of threatening.

And so that’s the first thing, is that is that the Autonomous Administration isn’t really run like a state. And so the way that things are enshrined here, where there’s endless bureaucracy, and there’s kind of this cultural attitude that we have laws, and you have to do exactly what it says, by the letter of the law, and you can’t stray a single millimeter outside of that, or else you’ll be put in jail and that’s the right thing to do. The kind of cultural attitudes that you would find in Kurdistan are very different from that. And this isn’t just Kurdish culture, but Kurdish culture is what I know the most about so that’s what I’m going to go into.

There’s a different attitude that comes out of centuries of Kurdish tradition, and Kurdish attitudes about law, which is that if you’re resorting to a law you’re kind of already lost, it’s kind of already too late. And so before they do that, what they prefer to do instead, kind of as a culture, is to look around and just kind of see what are the problems that we’re facing and what can we do about those problems? And so it’s kind of, it’s not prescriptive in that way. It’s much more for example: in Rojava there’s a lot of issues with retribution killings. It’s similar to the mafia, the way that the mafia works but it’s definitely not the same. Where it’s like “someone from my family killed your family and so someone from your family has to do a retribution and kill someone from my family”, and the cycle of violence just will continue. And so the way that they would approach that is to say, “Okay, well, instead of that, how about we just have this neighborhood council of people who live on the same street, or people who live in the same area” and often it’s the grandmas, it’s the neighborhood grandmothers, who would be the first responders to some kind of event, to some kind of, what we would think of as a crime.

If there’s one of these revenge killings, the first person who comes in response to that is a grandma from the neighborhood. And then what happens after that is they wouldn’t consider the crime to be solved when the perpetrator is found and then tried and executed or whatever; they consider the crime to be solved when there’s a truth and reconciliation consensus. Like there’s a truth and reconciliation process, and then that process will reach some kind of conclusion, and the surviving parties will usually agree to some kind of public show of okayness with this. Like there’ll be some kind of neighborhood feast, or there’ll be something. And it doesn’t necessarily make things, okay, between those families but it does make it so that the people who you live around, you’re held accountable to them. If somebody breaks the kind of conditions of this truce, everyone in the neighborhood is going to know who did it and how, and so there’ll be consequences in that way. So it’s much more about social reinforcement than it is about any kind of rigid agent of the state coming after you the hand of God or whatever.

That being said, there are definitely prisons in Rojava. And like Emre was talking about, those prisons are usually reserved for people who are a real, direct safety threat to the people who live in a community. And the name of the game is not really to punish those people, it’s to remove them as a safety threat. So you take them to prison, not to punish them, but because they’re their presence creates some kind of unsafe condition. The goal of taking somebody to prison is much more focused on rehabilitation than it is retribution.

I think there’s a global cap of 10 years that somebody can be in one of these prisons and often it’s much less than that. And so the incarceration rate among the general population is much lower. And in fact, during, I think it was early on in the pandemic — this might have been at the end of 2020, I might need to fact check this — but there was definitely, I’m blanking on the word, but there were people who were released from prison, and they were just forgiven and said, “Okay, you can go home, because we can’t keep you here because there’s an active fucking of plague and that that creates an unsafe condition for you.” “Amnesty” is the word that I was looking for.

Carceration is not the only piece of this, there’s also, for example, there’s the whole women’s revolution and one of the aspects of the women’s revolution in Rojava is that there are women’s communities where anyone, any woman can come with her children or with her immediate relatives or whatever, her friends, what have you, and they can come and they can escape from a battered household situation. And just come and stay and live for however long they need to live there, and learn a skill learn something that can then be used to economically sustain yourself. And that’s also a really important piece of this. And so that’s civil society. That’s kind of how things work in normal circumstances, where you just have a neighborhood and there’s a, for lack of a better word, a crime rate in that neighborhood.

That is very different from the ISIS problem. And so, the reason that very different, and the reason that they don’t resort to laws in order to solve this problem, is because it’s a systemic problem. And it’s the Syrian civil war, and so there’s everything is really complicated and everything is really dark and bleak and depressing. But one of the things that made ISIS possible is that civil wars create these really unstable conditions where you’re not really sure where your security is going to come from. And so if this armed group shows up, and they say “you have to abide by whatever we’re doing, or else” that doesn’t excuse what you then do as a result of that, but it does change the way that you treat the problem. Because many of the people who were, what you might call “Syrian civilians” who came under the control of ISIS, or who was part of ISIS or whatever. A lot of those people weren’t really true believers, they didn’t join ISIS because they wanted to, they joined ISIS because they were forced to under nightmarish circumstances. And again, that doesn’t make it okay. But it does change the way that you treat the problem.

And so there’s a population of people who do stuff that. And then there’s a separate population of people who are generally true believers who come by choice from abroad, and Emre was saying, that accounts for about a third of the of the population in these in these ISIS prison camps in al-Hawl, particularly. And so what you do with these people, the third of the people who are who are coming from abroad, that’s a really thorny problem, because the Autonomous Administration isn’t recognized, and nobody wants to take these people back. And so again, I’m not making excuses for the conditions or anything that, I’m just saying that there’s there’s a context here, and that context is really important.

TFSR: Cool, I found that very helpful. Between the two of you.

As was mentioned earlier, the Barzani governing Kurdish Democratic Party in Iraq has a contentious relationship with the Autonomous Administration and the democratic movement. Turkey has also been leading attacks into Iraq since last year, at least, including allegedly using chemical weapons in the northern regions against what they are calling “PKK militants”. But that hasn’t really been making the news from within the US. Does anyone want to address these activities?

R: I want to share a little bit about my own experience. I don’t know the details about the allegations of the chemical weapons but I was at a demonstration in The Hague in mid-May, where a British delegation, and among them Steve Sweeney, a journalist who has been in the region himself for one year to investigate. He has collected samples of soil, hair and clothes that contain evidence that banned chemical weapons have been used by Turkey. And on May 17, he and others would join the local Kurdish movement to go to the OPCW, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, to hand over this samples, and to urge for a fact finding team to go to the region to start their own investigations. But very unfortunately, the flight got canceled, so they could not make it to the Netherlands in time, which was very disappointing and frustrating. And then some other people from the demonstration, they took their place. Of course, they didn’t have the samples but they did have the letters and the files, so they went to the building. The police was escorting them and it was so painful to see that they weren’t even let inside the gates. They could not even enter the building into the reception [area] to hand over these documents, but they were just left outside the gate. And I think they handed it over to somebody who would take it inside. And that was so painful to see that it’s not taken seriously, that even with such a big demonstration and action and a call out for supports, that they are just not responding at all.

E: To add on to Rimac’s point, Turkey has been using chemical weapons such as phosphorus bonds and cluster bombs, not only in northern Iraq, not only in partial southern Kurdistan against PKK militants in the Qandil Mountains area, but also in Rojava during its invasion of Serê Kaniyê. Many families were affected by phosphorus bombs that were used by Turkish warplanes. And there was this iconic image of a 6-7 year old boy with all sorts of chemical burns on his body, and samples collected in Rojava, too. And the so-called “international community” that result has been silence in the face of these attacks. And I think this is primarily due to the hostile approach that many countries have towards the Kurdish movement, you know, both in Rojava and in other parts of Kurdistan. Like we said several times today, the recognition of PKK as a terrorist organization, and the criminalization of ALL Kurdish people basically, not just the PKK through this logic, and the PKK is the biggest, is the strongest Kurdish party with the biggest base in Kurdish society. We’re talking about 30-35 million Kurds in Kurdistan, and more than half of Kurds in Kurdistan make up the base of the PKK.

So the West’s contradictory political approach towards the PKK and the Kurdish movement, I believe, is one of the main reasons for this turning a blind eye towards the use of active use of chemical weapons by a NATO member country. And this only serves to illustrate the hypocrisy is about all the Western officials preaching about human rights and sort of democratic measures to be employed in warfare, including the banning of chemical weapons. I guess, as long as you’re a NATO member or a NATO ally and you’re dropping chemical bombs on marginalized, criminalized communities such as the Kurdish movement and the Kurdish people, you get a free pass in chemical warfare.

TFSR: Over the last 10 years of the Rojava revolution, radicals, anarchists and feminists in the US and abroad have attempted to raise awareness about the project in order to grow solidarity, but the only times, at least in the US that I’m aware of, that the topic seems to come up are in the context of emergencies, invasions and war. How have we in the US, in particular, failed at engaging lessons taking inspiration from and building solidarity with the revolution in Rojava? And what has that lost us and our comrades over there and abroad?

R: I would like to answer this question by really zooming in on my own journey, how I became involved, not because my journey is special, but I think that it explains a lot about how difficult it can be to navigate. As I said, in my introduction, that I experienced sexual violence as a child from a family member and I was actually invited by another family member to join them for a vacation in Turkey, in 2015. And I wasn’t aware of the strike of the Kurdish struggle yet, then. And I remember that, at the time, there were some alerts about Turkey that you should not travel too close to the border with Syria, because there was unrest.

And at that time, I only read about Syria in the headlines. I only saw headlines and I didn’t know personally what exactly was going on. But because I was traveling there, I wanted to read up and research what’s going on, what’s happening in this part of the world that I’m very ignorant about. So of course, one of the first things I learned was about the Civil War. And then I learned about the PKK, and about the women’s revolution, about SDF and the YPG fighting against ISIS and also being successful and pushing back against them. But I was I was researching this alone, I was not connected with with organizers or anarchists at that moment yet. So it was very confusing for me to find out who is who and who is fighting for what, in the beginning, I could not even distinguish between like the PKK and the YPG and the Free Syrian Army. I was not aware of it. So I had to research that even further.

And then, as soon as I started leaning more towards understanding that the PKK and the YPG that they were struggling for values that I hold dear as well, I started wondering, but if they are fighting this good fights, for human rights and for liberation and against oppression, and if they are actually like the heroes of this moment in the sense that there are so many parts of the world where the governments and the people are so terrified of ISIS, that they are paralyzed by fear and not doing anything and people on the streets being afraid of each other. And then I thought “if they are so successful in fighting against ISIS, then why are they not celebrated? Why is this not shared?” Especially in the country where I’m from in the Netherlands there’s a really big ISIS scare. And I didn’t understand why there there wouldn’t be more attention to this.

So I came in the struggle of like, “it’s everybody’s word against everybody’s word.” And I stuck with it because I really wanted to find out what was going on. And then I also went at some point to a Kurdish culture event in my area and that’s when I really started to embrace the Kurds and the revolution in Rojava. So, by that time, it was more clear to me who is playing what role, and also that Turkey’s role was not dubious, but just evil. That Turkey is really betraying all the values and out to commit genocide, that they’d have no excuse for their attacks.

But then when I started joining the Kurdish community here in the Netherlands, that was also a bit of a culture shock. Because even though I was aware that we were living in a capitalist society and patriarchal society, and that this was causing a lot of injustice, and unheard voices, even though I was aware of it, and already, like fighting the status quo as much as I could, in my way, it was a culture shock to become accepted by the Kurdish community. Because then I felt that I became a part of the struggle and after revolution. And it’s also because the message of the revolution is what I hold really dear, I think that’s a really important message. And that’s why I am also really glad to participate today in the podcast, because the message is that it’s not only a revolution in Rojava, and in Kurdistan region, it’s not their revolution, it’s from all of us.

Because the way how the PKK decided, at some point, that they are not after their own State anymore but they are instead going after a Stateless world. When I really find out about it, and I started sitting with this, that’s when I felt that this is really also my revolution, and that I have a job to play here in the Netherlands. But it was a big step to start getting to know the Kurdish movement here and understanding what role I can play here. Because I even though I fight against it, I do have a European and a Dutch background, I’m not a Kurdish person. So I have a lot of work to do to change my mindset.

And that is also where, because of the pandemic, we could not organize anymore. And I lost contact with my Kurdish friends. So that’s where I started looking on the internet, to find a community and to find resources and to keep on developing myself, and to really become a student of the revolution to understand what can I do here in the Netherlands. That is how I found out about ECR, I joined a reading session of them. And this is also my message to listeners who feel like they want to do something, but they are looking for ways to get involved and to make an impact: the ECR we have reading sessions, one of the topics we discussed was — and that was over like five or six sessions — we discussed similarities and differences between the Zapatista revolution and the Rojava revolution. And for the 8th of March, the International Women’s Day, we had a session, of course, about women struggle and achievements. And before that, we had really interesting sessions about political economy and the cooperative economy in Rojava.

And these are sessions where we exchange equally, where we get to know each other. And then we also have once a month, the organizing meetings where we try to practice what we are learning, try to inspire each other, we have updates from the region. And for me, it helped a lot to be connected with people who are very aware of what’s going on, because that helps seeing the forest through the trees again. Because if you’re insecure about what is going on, that also makes you insecure to act and to speak out and to take action. So ECR has really helped me to stand stronger, and form my own opinion, and choose a strategy for myself to be a part of the revolution. And so I would like to invite listeners to join us for organizing meetings. You’re welcome to join. However, whatever your background is, or how much you know or don’t know about it, you’re always welcome to join us. You can get an update from the region. We also share news about what’s going on in the United States, revolving Rojava and Kurdistan. We share actions that we are taking to build a broader solidarity, because this is, as I said, it’s not only a Kurdish revolution, it’s not only Rojava, it is a struggle and a resistance at this worldwide. That we are connected in our struggle against capitalism and patriarchy. And then at the end of the meetings, we also have the phone banking, where friends of ours from ECR they always do a really great job of putting together a message of concern. And they have all the phones numbers from relevant people of the government in the United States, and we make the calls and as Xero said it might be a bit boring or even like, doesn’t feel good for people, but it is a really important part, especially as European or American people to really raise the noise in our own countries, and to bring our message because they need to hear our story. And you can find us at DefendRojava.Org. There, you can also sign up to get notifications about events and news.

E: I’ll follow Rimac’s example and begin with explaining how I started to become involved with ECR. Soon after its establishment in 2019, I was already in touch with one of co-founders such as Anya and a couple other comrades. And I’m working on women’s autonomous organizing in Rojava in my dissertation, and particularly in the economic arena, you know, cooperatives, collectives, communes. And, you know, in addition to all the wonderful things we do at ECR, we’ve been doing over the past three years that Rimac mentioned just now, I’ve been involved with Anya and a couple comrades with trying to establish connections and increase solidarity with different cooperatives across the US. We’ve been meeting with representatives from cooperatives in and around New York City, but also from different parts of the US. We’ve been in communication with Equal Exchange, Fair World Project, Colab Cooperative, and USFWC Peer Tech Network, among other cooperatives. We’ve been trying to build connections with cooperatives and collectives in Rojava. As an anarchist, myself, I value this growth of international solidarity among different cooperatives in different parts of the world.

However, you don’t have to be an anarchist, you know, whatever excites you in life, whatever you’ve been working on more, there are options to build solidarity with your comrades in Rojava. I know, for example, if you’re an active feminist, in the US, or in Europe, an organized active feminist and you want to build solidarity that’s also much valued and possible, both through the ECR, which, you know, tries to contribute to this growth of solidarity, but also Kurdish Women’s Movement, which is very well established, internationally, particularly in Europe. And I know, there have been meetings with, you know, different women’s organizing from North and South America. So whatever you’re working on, whatever moves you in life, there is possibility of growing solidarity and connections with corresponding similar organizations and people in Rojava. And the Rojava Revolution’s Democratic Confederalism is an anti-nation-state, internationalist vision that does not only limit itself to the Kurdistan or the Middle East, but for the entire world. So any collaboration, in that sense will be much valued and appreciated.

X: Yeah, I would echo what I heard both of Rimac and Emre say, which I thought they were really beautiful responses. So one of the things that I personally have learned — this is gonna sound really contradictory — one of the things that I personally have learned over the course of my organizing as I get closer and closer to Indigenous movements here on Turtle Island, is the importance of not centering yourself, but also, the utility of centering yourself and when it’s appropriate to and when it’s not appropriate to. Things have to be balanced and I think that’s something that’s really important that I take away from all of this. So I had the good fortune to sit down with a Kurdish journalist Khabat Abbas — who you’ll hear the interview that I did with her, we’ll be dropping an episode after we start dropping episodes — but that was a really wide ranging conversation. And one of the things that I really took away from that was this notion of trying to sit with all of the many, many contradictions in life and not just contradictions of ideas or whatever, but contradictions of feeling and thought.

You know, the way that really intense genocides tend to all also happened at the same time as incredible social movements towards progressive ideas of feminism and liberation and stuff. And the way that you can’t really separate the two. That was a really powerful idea. I think that some cultures might call that, if I’m, again, forgetting the name, non-dualism, I think that Buddhists would have a lot to say about this idea of the yin and the yang, and how good and evil aren’t really opposites. They’re two sides of the same coin and stuff like that. I’ve come around to the idea that these are all things that are too important to carry just one name and we have versions of them in our own culture. And so trying to see these things as a gift, and the gift comes in the form of a seed, and you can choose to plant that seed and you can even tend it like a garden. Because the way that culture works, a lot of the time, is a lot soil. You have to look at the nutrients that are in the soil and you can maintain the soil, and you can change what the nutrients are over time, but it’s not going to happen overnight. It’s going to happen with a lot of work and a lot of really hard, dedicated effort over the course of generations even.

And that’s what the Kurds and other people who live in the region have achieved. Because the Rojava project as a polity didn’t come about because somebody woke up one day and said, “Hey, let’s let’s fundamentally revolutionize everything that we’re doing in civil society”. It came about because these cultures, or these traditions, have been practiced for centuries. And there was a lot of dedicated organizing that happened in the years before the Syrian civil war. The PKK is definitely a factor, the early stage of the YPG, and YPJ, which are the People’s Defense Units, and the Women’s Defense Units, these self defense militias in the region. Those also didn’t come out of nowhere, they were trained with the help of the PKK. And in many instances, they have, you know, overlapping membership.

But these things don’t just happen in a vacuum, they come about because there’s a need for them, even when there’s not a civil war going on. And so I look around at the situation in the context where I live and I see that there’s a dire need for that. And I’m not the first person to notice that, this is not an original observation in any way. But things in the US right now are getting to a dire point where I really worry a lot about, you know, the possibility of genocidal violence in the near future. And the violence that is going to be perpetrated against queer people and trans people over the summer, and how that’s actually about racism, when you boil it down, and how nothing is new under the sun. Everything that happened before will happen again, you know, whatever you want to bring out to say that.

But all of that is to say: that you have these dark things that are happening at the same time as you have incredibly positive things. And the incredibly positive things that I take from Rojava, the things that really stood out to me and the things that I really connected with immediately, were the Women’s Revolution, and the structure of civil society, those are the things that made me realize that I’m an anarchist, I just didn’t put the word to it for a long time. And realizing those things, it was a very non-linear process where I just kind of made all these realizations in my own life and started realizing that I fit into that context, too, and I can be part of those organizing efforts. And that’s a new commitment that I have in my life that I feel more myself than I have in a very long time. Because I’ve was introduced to these ideas.

And so I think there’s a lot there that’s on the personal level, on the societal level, the structural level. And a lot of it goes off in very different directions. But that’s kind of the beauty of it, is that all of that is part of it, all of that has to be part of the whole. That the opposition has to be part of the system. Yeah, and so when I think about what can be done, and how the US has failed, I think those are important questions to grapple with. And there’s a lot of very serious critiques to be made. I think that what it distills down to, for me, is a reaction of an interaction that I had with somebody on Twitter recently, somebody that’s based in the UK, but that does a lot of anarchist organizing and stuff. And they kept complaining about “what the fuck is in the water over there in the US? What the fuck are you people talking about all the time?” And that got me to thinking very seriously about, you know, the context that I grew up in. Which was small towns in the Rust Belt, and just kind of what it is like emotionally to grow up that way, in that area, in that context, and how that plays differently from people who grew up in different contexts, in different geographies and stuff. Yeah, I’m rambling now, but I just, it’s all of this. It’s really complex, and it’s really nuanced, and I just love every minute of it. That’s basically my answer.

TFSR: That’s awesome. All those answers were really, really enlightening. I really appreciate them. And so Rimac already mentioned the website and how to get in touch, and invited listeners into the project. I wonder if any of you individually have projects. I mean, Xero mentioned the podcast, but if any of you have places where listeners can reach out to you personally over social media, or if you have collections of writings that you’ve done, anything like that you want to share? It’s okay, if you don’t.

X: I guess I can start. So the podcast that I mentioned is called Where Many Worlds Fit. You can find, I guess, me on Twitter and on Instagram, the handle is Many_Worlds_Pod spelled just it sounds. I think the there’s also an email, which is Many.Worlds.Pod@protonmail.com. And so if anybody wants to get in touch or if you want to, you know, follow along there. There’s a couple of articles that have been posted on the website, which is ManyWorldsPod.github.io. It’s hosted on GitHub, because I don’t paying for software, and I’m a software developer by trade, and so I just did all of that myself. Yeah, that’s where to find me.

TFSR: Well, thank you. Thank you all for having this conversation and for taking all this time out of out of your busy lives to not only do this work, but to share with the audience and with myself. Yeah. And thanks again.

R: Can I share one thing?

TFSR: Yeah yeah yeah!

R: Well, the examples I gave earlier, that people can do on an individual level and get involved, speak for themselves. But what I also love about being involved with ECR is that they are really taken the steps necessary, and really big steps in the United States, to bring the message of the Rojava Revolution forward. And to also approach Congress, because they’ve now drafted a resolution with legislation that they want to see changed so that people in the area can be protected, because they would, they have to have political recognition. But also because Turkey has built dams, causing whole areas to be without water, so daily life is obstructed in a pandemic, that was really a catastrophe on catastrophe. Not to mention the effects on food supplies. So even though ECR is a relatively small organization, they are really owing up to the revolution and to making the change and impact they can do. So that’s why I also love to organize with them, because you can learn so much from them. And I want to thank you for taking the time because we’ve spoken over two hours. I don’t know how long your podcast usually is. But thanks for taking the time and listen to us and not feeling any rush.

X: Yeah, thanks a lot for having us, Bursts, it’s been a great conversation.

TFSR: Yeah, I’ve appreciate you getting to getting to chat with all of y’all. And I’m glad there’s some promotion here for your podcast, which I’m pretty excited about [laughs].

X: Yeah, me too [laughs]. I think we just need to knuckle down and do it [laughs].

TFSR: Take care, Hevals!

R: Serkeftin!

Support Jessica Reznicek and Navigating Conflict in Movement

Support Jessica Reznicek and Navigating Conflict in Movement

This week on the show, we’re airing two portions.

Support Jessica Reznicek

[00:02:06 – 00:36:33]

Photo by Cristina Yurena Zerr of Jessica Reznicek sitting among green plants and purple flowers next to a banner reading “We Are Here To Protect | Water Is Life”, other text reading “Support Jessica Reznicek & Navigating Conflict In Movement | TFSR 22-06-11”
Download This Episode

First up, Charlotte speaks about their friend, political prisoner and water defender Jessica Reznicek who just had an appeal denied of an 8 year sentence and terrorism enhancement for sabotaging the Dakota Access Pipeline with another Catholic Worker prior to DAPL. carrying oil. It’s estimated that the two cost $6 million in lost profits to Energy Transfer Partners and stopped the flow of 30 million barrels of oil. For the hour we talk about #NoDAPL, the movements that Jessica was involved in, including Occupy and the Catholic Workers, the increased criminalization of dissent as the climate heats up and how to support Jessica and spread the good work. You can learn more about Jess and her case at SupportJessicaReznicek.com and you can purchase benefit t-shirts here: https://www.eaglescreenprint.com/shop/p/free-jessica-reznicek-tee

Navigating Conflict In Movement

[00:37:52 – end]

Then, we do something a little experimental. We present a conversation with a member of an anti-authoritarian movement in Europe. We don’t say what movement. We talk about conflict internal to their movement, but we don’t name the parties involved. The conversation was conducted from an anti-authoritarian perspective, in the interest of creating heterogeneous communities of struggle. The purpose of this recording is to promote a mental exercise on the part of the listener to plug in their own experiences in movements with many different trajectories inside of it. The anonymous nature of the conversation was in part to not contribute to internal conflict to the movement, conflict is better addressed between parties involved than with an outside party (our radio show) who’s interest may not be the same as the movement. I hope that this conversation is helpful, for all of it’s purposeful vagueness. This originally aired in 2017.

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Jess Reznicek Transcription

TFSR: Could you please introduce yourself with any name, preferred pronouns, affiliations, or anything that you want to share?

Charlotte: Sure, I’m Charlotte, I use she/they pronouns and I am a member of the Free Jess team.

TFSR: We’re gonna be talking about Jessica Reznicek Catholic Worker, and land and water defender facing eight years in prison for sabotaging the Dakota Access Pipeline without causing a drop of spillage and succeeding in losing Energy Transfer Partners a good amount of money, which is pretty awesome. In the first step, I wanted to ask if you’d mind sharing how you became a supporter of Jessica, if you come from the prisoner support world or eco-defense support, how you came to this?

C: I met Jess in Iowa, I had spent time at Standing Rock, and then things were getting so militarized and crazy, and I heard that they needed extra hands, there’s a small scrappy group in Iowa, so I went down there. That’s where I met her. We were part of the same direct-action caravan called Mississippi Stand. Jess had really started the resistance movement to the Dakota Access Pipeline DAPL. In Iowa, most people think of DAPL with Standing Rock, but the pipeline also went through North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, and then there is the end in Illinois. She really galvanized the Iowa base to care about this pipeline and its pollution into the waters there. Personally, I’ve been doing climate justice work pretty much since Standing Rock. That was a big moment for me personally, I do direct action, do prison support of different kinds. I’m an abolitionist. So for me with Jess, there’s a lot of things that intersect and at the end of the day, just being her friend and not wanting her to be locked up and wanting to support her and share the pieces of this fight and legal situation that we’re all really terrified about.

TFSR: Can you tell us a bit about Jessica’s story, who she is, and how she approaches political engagement? Just a quick aside. Before we talked, one of the things that I just very basically did was to look at the Wikipedia about Jessica, and there’s just so much stuff in there. She has been so active, I’m sure she keeps it up even from behind bars. Could you tell us a bit about your friend?

C: Jess grew up in Iowa, and has a really deep connection to the waters there. And I think her actions were definitely motivated from that place of just holding those waters really sacred to her. The very formative political moment for her was being involved in Occupy about 10 years ago, she was really involved with that, she’s really involved with the anti-nuclear movement and doing a lot of actions against the proliferation of nuclear missiles. She is an active member of the Catholic Workers Movement, which is a really big part of who she is. And within that, the Plowshares Movement, and that flavor of direct action. She is also really place-based. I was really struck by her connection of place to Iowa and connection to the rivers and really forming these relationships with everyday farmers and residents and people on the street. This was very much not an echo-chamber vibe. I think different political movements like Occupy, a lot of people there were already radicalized, or we’re talking within circles, but what I saw was always her reaching across and finding ways to bring people in and educate them on these really oppressive systems.

TFSR: So we featured the voice of folks involved in Catholic Worker struggles in the past on the show a few times, actually had Martha Hennessy of the Kings Bay Plowshares 7, comrade [4:36] had passed us audio of an interview with Martha before Martha went inside. But I must admit the movement is marginal, a lot of people have not heard of them. I grew up Roman Catholic and had Catholic parents, but I only learned about the Catholic Worker Movement because of things the SF Bay Area Book Fair having its pre-Book Fair Cafe funded either at a Catholic Worker space in San Francisco in the late 90s, or early 2000s, or from stories from Utah Phillips, the musician, the storyteller of his teacher, Ammon Hennacy. Now I know the Plowshares Movement has had a long direct action history connected to the Catholic Workers. Would it be possible for you to give a little intro to the milieu that Jessica came out of and would you say some words about the Catholic Worker Movement?

C: Sure. The Catholic Worker Movement was created in the 1930s. Dorothy Day and Peter Martin are the two – I don’t know if officially – founders but those are really big figures in the early days. And a lot of their tactics and approaches to injustice are focused on non-violence service, and redistributing wealth and resources. This was started with people feeling really disenfranchised from the industrialization of Europe, and especially a lot of young workers seeing those inequalities rise really drastically during that time and serving those on the margins of society. They’re also very anti-war. A lot of their actions are focused around service, I don’t know if they use the words mutual aid, but it’s very mutual aid in orientation, about just supplying basic needs to people and making sure those resources get to folks. So in a lot of the different regional houses, they have kitchens, which was definitely a part of Jesse’s life for years in Iowa, in Des Moines in the Catholic Workers house there, they feed a lot of houseless folks and whoever just wants some free food. A lot of distribution of wealth, a lot of service, sacrifice, and worship are also pretty big parts of that.

I guess that sort of strain connects to the Plowshare Movement, and that’s a little bit more specific. That’s part of the Christian pacifist movement. They’re very anti-nukes, and they really came about in the 80s. There was, as you mentioned, the Plowshare 7, there’s the Berrigan Brothers and some other folks that they got their name, they beat swords into plowshares, and trespass, allegedly, into this place where missiles were made, and they poured blood on the documents and offered prayers for peace – those kinds of actions of sacrificing themselves to highlight this injustice in this issue is very much what they’re known for. A lot of times, it’s also oriented around prayer. That is also something that Jessica really related to, and she joined the Dakota Access Pipeline struggle and Standing Rock, I think, the overlap was prayer. She was really standing in solidarity with a lot of indigenous communities where their resistance was rooted in prayer and this deep connection to the earth and integrity and a sense of what’s right and being on the right side of history. So I think, for Jess, the indigenous sovereignty and Catholic Worker Movement had that overlap. And then obviously, the direct action piece is a really big part of the Plowshare and Catholic Workers Movement as well.

TFSR: As a reminder for folks, especially younger folks, the struggle against the Dakota Access Pipeline was huge. It was a moment of bringing together indigenous sovereignty, climate justice, direct action, and land and water defense, as well as an anti-capitalist activity against a lot of the banks investing in this mega project. And it was eventually completed. And oil is flowing through it. But I’m wondering if you, as someone who was involved in that struggle, could give listeners a sense of what was going on at that time and your experience of it a bit.

C: That Dakota Access Pipeline is about a 1200 mile-pipeline from North Dakota that ends in Illinois. It has the name Standing Rock because it was next to the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation but it also went through a lot of other lands. It just became an enormous movement and big flashpoint, as you mentioned, for climate justice, anti-fossil fuel work, indigenous rights, sovereignty, decolonization, the land back movement – a lot of seeds were really planted for that there. It’s hard to predict when these moments will happen. But a lot of people really resonated with the injustices that were happening. And one of the main things was that the pipeline was originally supposed to go through a more populous white town, and it was rerouted in the permitting process because they realized it was so dangerous to go through the reservation, and then it ended up going through very sacred burial grounds. And that very clear environmental racism really struck a chord with a lot of people. And then a few people showed up, and it grew to about 15,000 people. Lots of direct action, there was a ton of skill-sharing, there were a lot of different camps there and, of course, politics and different vibes with different camps, but there’s definitely a strain of self-sufficiency and autonomy and skill-sharing in a lot of ways that I don’t think a lot of people had experienced before, that was really empowering. It was this incredible moment for movement building and relationship building. And really having a firm indigenous-led decolonize really rare resistance movement. Then you add the climate change piece on top of that. And it really became this lightning-in-a-bottle moment for land defense and people banding together and doing these really enormous direct actions of hundreds of people occupying sites, where different construction equipment was doing at different stages of constructing a pipeline, welding equipment together, boring under rivers, stringing pipe along, digging underground – people were interrupting that process.

There was a range of how that was happening and sometimes people were occupying it and planting native seeds, and there was song and prayer. Other times, people were locking down to equipment to physically stop the construction from happening. From that, it led to enormous costs for Energy Transfer Partners, the pipeline company that owns the Dakota Access Pipeline. They had to increase their private security costs. We saw this huge increase in surveillance of resistance. I would encourage folks to read the Intercept’s articles on Tiger Swan, their whole oil and water series covers this super in-depth. So it was this brilliant moment of coming together and movement building. And then it also led to this whole private security surveillance apparatus being exposed. And the increase in the expenses for Energy Transfer Partners led to a lot of banks divesting. So it also sparked the divestment movement. And investors realized that these are actually really risky financial operations or investments at this point. We also saw, in terms of suppression of protests, these critical infrastructure bills that came out of Standing Rock, so the oil and gas industry was really scared. And that’s evidenced by the fact that they lobbied and put together a whole series of critical infrastructure bills after this that is now active in 15 states. That was a direct response to Standing Rock. It really elevates a lot of the charges associated with tampering with fossil fuel infrastructure. And so simple trespassing, which would otherwise be a misdemeanor, is now a felony in a lot of states and really upped the ante on those charges. A lot of things came out of that movement – a lot of power and a lot of suppression as well. And I think what we’re seeing with Jessica is a result of that fear from the oil and gas industry and this real desire to deter people from trying to stop them.

TFSR: I think another set of laws that came out of the state’s reaction to Standing Rock, were these ones that decriminalized driving into crowds of people because there were such large marches or blockades of streets, that they basically wanted to make sure that pipeline workers weren’t going to get any charges for just forcing their way violently through a crowd of people in this huge metal object. Really scary.

C: Yeah, totally. You think of the Charlottesville attack of Heather Heyer, and it’s not out of the question to think of someone plowing through a crowd with a car and killing someone. It happens, and exactly what you’re saying, bills like that that decriminalize that activity are directly connected to this apparatus to deter people from any resistance and fighting these systems of power.

TFSR: Could you say a bit about what Jessica pled to, how she ended up getting caught, what she was convicted of, and just nuts and bolts of the case that the US government brought against her, and how she came to be labeled as a terrorist?

C: Jessica acted in 2016 with another woman to disable pipeline equipment. Nobody was harmed. In 2017, they publicly admitted to this. Three months later, Jess’s home was raided by the FBI. There was this waiting period of two years before she was indicted by a federal grand jury on multiple charges and placed on house arrest. So there’s this spooky two-year period, that was really stressful, of course. This led to her sentencing hearing in June of 2021. And that’s when she received the domestic terrorism enhancement. She pled guilty to one count of conspiracy to damage an energy facility. That was the only charge without a mandatory minimum. She also has to pay 3.2 million to Energy Transfer Partners in restitution. She will also be on supervised probation for three years.

TFSR: You talked about the increased penalties for things that would be considered necessary infrastructure or attacks on that, which, when I hear that at first, that makes me think of foreign powers or a terrorist organization that might try to take down the electrical grid that could harm a lot of people. But how did terrorism charges come into this? I guess it wouldn’t be a byproduct of those enhancements that you were talking about after the last question because that was a state decision to talk about the infrastructure. But it seems to be directly in the lineage of stuff that happened during the Green Scare from the mid-90s up through the early 2000s, where terrorism enhancements for Marius Mason were applied to nonviolent sabotage actions, for instance, the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act put in an enhancement at a federal level, if anyone were to interfere or call for a boycott even of animal-related industries, this feels it’s in that vein, is that a fair way to look at it? Can you go into a little detail about that?

C: Yeah, definitely. We know exactly where the label of domestic terrorists for something like this started in 2017, 80 Republicans and four Democratic members of Congress pressed the Justice Department, then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions to treat all people who tampered with fossil fuel infrastructure to label them as domestic terrorists. And they wrote this letter. That’s exactly where this started. This is a direct answer to that call. And that was in 2017. That was in response to the Dakota Access Pipeline and the fear that the fossil fuel industry was failing. And those Congress members together received a total combined 36 million in campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry. So this is being led by the oil and gas industry as a way to protect their assets. That’s one of the reasons why we’re really scared about this we’re seeing this collapse of the government and an oil and gas company. And then specifically the domestic terrorist label is really a sentencing guideline and so it has to do with harming an individual, harming human life, like people like Timothy McVeigh, who killed 168 people. He’s charged as a domestic terrorist. And then the specific clause that Jesse’s label rests on is whether or not she influenced the government. And it was the prosecutor back in her sentencing hearing that suggested that she was labeled as a terrorist. Her guideline for the charge that she admitted to, originally the sentencing guidelines range from 37 to 46 months, and then when Judge Rebecca Goodgame Ebinger responded to the prosecutor and applied this domestic terrorism label to Jess, that automatically increased her sentencing guidelines from the range of 37 to 46 months to 210 to 240 months. That five-fold increase obviously has led to Jess being in jail now for eight years. Judge Ebinger claimed that the lengthy sentence that she gave to Jessica was necessary to deter others. That is all on the record.

TFSR: Well, that leads me to this question. So Jessica just lost a recent challenge in the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals to the terrorism enhancement. Can you talk about this and what the next legal steps are for her?

C: We were arguing in the appeal that the terrorism enhancement should be dropped. That would lead to a re-sentencing of her. That definition of being a domestic terrorist, that legal language hinges on whether the actions must be “calculated to influence or affect the conduct of a government by intimidation, or coercion, or to retaliate against government conduct.” So we were arguing that her actions targeted a private company, not the government, and therefore this label was misapplied. In the appeal decision that came out a few days ago on Monday, they basically didn’t go into the merits of whether the domestic terrorism label was accurate or not. They said it’s irrelevant and any error was harmless. This harmless error is something that’s used in courts a lot. They’re basically saying that being labeled a domestic terrorist is irrelevant, she would have received the same sentencing either way, which isn’t true, her sentencing guidelines went from 37 to 46 months to 210 to 240, when she received that label. We’re really worried about this for a lot of reasons. Number one is that those who critique the government in a regulatory process can be labeled domestic terrorists for critiquing the regulatory process. That is the prosecutor’s justification, that Jess read her statement in front of the Iowa Utilities Board. And in critiquing the regulatory process – which later was found by a federal judge to be illegal – it’s an illegally operated pipeline at this point. So Jess was right. Number one, the fact that people who critique the regulatory process can be found as domestic terrorists is terrifying.

Number two is that judges can label a land defender a domestic terrorist and then go back and say it was a harmless error, that it was irrelevant to apply that label. So it’s a pretty terrifying precedent that’s being set. We’re being supported and talking a lot to different civil liberties groups who are really worried that this is not random. This is part of a much broader, politically orchestrated set of decisions and bills – the critical infrastructure bills, the letter to Jeff Sessions, the funding of these Congress members, and then even the judges or Trump appointees. They have a lot of ties to different big industries, pharmaceuticals, and Big Ag. We’re just really worried about this precedent this sets for a lot of activists, and this is part of a much broader movement to suppress protests, not just in the US, but internationally as well.

TFSR: To the question of what the next legal steps are, you said that Jess’s support has been talking to various civil liberties groups. But is there a next legal step? Maybe I missed that in the answer?

C: No, you didn’t. The next legal step would be asking for a rehearing by the entire Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, appealing to the US Supreme Court, and/or seeking presidential clemency. So we’re figuring out what is next.

TFSR: How can listeners help Jessica out at this point? And do you have any suggestions on how they can support the movements and activities that she put herself on the line for in moving forward? How can people continue to support indigenous sovereignty land back, stopping the destruction of the earth, and water defense?

C: Great question. In the big picture, I would urge people to examine their privilege, and how high the stakes are. In part, why just did such a bold action like this was her connection to the waters, but it was also trying to highlight how high do the stakes have to be where we act outside of the sanctioned forms of protests or resistance to the state, to capitalism, to the fossil fuel industry. The appeal came out the same day that NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, announced that carbon dioxide levels are now 50% higher than during the pre-industrial era, and carbon dioxide has not been this high in 4 million years, and it’s not dropping fast enough to avert catastrophe. We all see wildfires, sea-level rise, and all kinds of stuff from climate change. We know, at this point, it’s real. This state wants us to submit our comments to an environmental impact statement and then go back to our lives. And that’s our only avenue, or maybe stand with the sign outside. Now we can’t even trespass, according to their rules. I would encourage people to act outside of what the state allows us to do. And the stakes are really high right now. The climate is burning. I would encourage people to take bold action, whatever that means for you, to get engaged, to examine your privilege, to get to know where you are and what native land you’re on, and get involved in different solidarity with Native communities where you are. Also, learn skills and don’t be afraid to ask questions, if you want to do something more than holding a protest sign. Connect with groups, there’s lots of direct action trainings all the time, and people can find ways to plug in and skillshare. There’s no stupid question, show up as a student.

More specifically, to plug into the campaign, people can follow us on social media. Our website is SupportJessicaReznicek.Com. It’s a pretty simple website run by a few volunteers but it has all the details there. There’s all the legal details, there’s tabs to get involved, and there is also information to contact Jess and write her a letter. You can also sign the petition. There’s over 100 organizations that have signed on the organization petition and there’s also individuals, over 15,000 people have signed on. Especially now after the appeal was denied, we’re definitely in a new stage of the campaign, we’re going to be leveling up. So we definitely need the support of folks. You can sign up for our email lists. You can also follow us on the socials, we’re on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook @FreeJessRez. We definitely don’t want anyone to do an action outside of the facility that she’s in, but I’d really encourage people to take whatever actions they feel inspired to, if that’s a banner drop, or a kitchen or getting together to write letters to her, that is great. We’re going to be doing an international day of action at some point coming up. We also had a webinar about a month ago, and we had some really bad-ass speakers – Cherri Foytlin, and Cindy Spoon from the L’eau Est La Vie resistance camp from the Bayou Bridge pipeline. We had folks from the Water Protectors Legal Collective, who were awesome folks from the Climate Defense Project. That was a really comprehensive look at Jesse’s case with some friends who are on the support team just speaking more personally about Jess’s personality. There’s a lot of material with Jess’s words that we have on this site. So I would encourage people to watch them and become more familiar with the case because what happens to Jess could happen to all of us. Protecting the water should never be terrorism.

TFSR: I was just looking at the really neat T-shirts by Kat Eng that are on the website for sale, which is pretty cool.

C: Yeah! Buy a T-shirt. Kat has been awesome. They’re really cool T-shirts, it’s Eagle and the Condor myth. Buy a t-shirt and support Jess, the money will go to her and her education in prison.

TFSR: Are people invited to send books or write letters to Jessica? If so, what are some things that Jess likes receiving or talking about?

C: I love that question. On our website, you can click on the Contact tab, which has the details to write to Jessica. Prisons are horrible. You can’t have any stickers, there’s just a lot of details about what is allowed and what’s not. So those details are there. Definitely make sure to follow those details. Talk about whatever you want. But I think her feeling solidarity, not feeling this was for nothing, hearing about dogs, she’s taking care of a puppy in there. Any puppy training techniques or tips. Just hearing about people’s connection to place and maybe how they inspired her, or she inspired them. I think all of that would be super welcome. Just telling her she’s not alone and people are really thinking about her and keeping her in their hearts.

TFSR: Cool. That’s super helpful. Charlotte, was there anything that I didn’t ask about that you wanted to touch on?

C: I think I would just encourage people to get involved in some way. There’s so many ways to get involved. If direct action feels too much for you, show up to a support camp and help in the kitchen doing dishes, provide research or legal support to folks, or organize a letter-writing party. I’m a firm believer in a diversity of tactics. We need it all, we need everyone, I think the worst thing people can do is just sit back as the world burns. So I would just encourage folks to push their comfort zone and find a new group, find a new friend if they’re not in the circles already. And just find some ways to plug in in a way that feels exciting and nourishing for you, too, because we need to sustain ourselves, sustain others, and stand together in this fight against the fossil fuel industry and the state.

TFSR: That’s really awesomely put, thank you for that. Thanks a lot for having this chat and for supporting Jess. Share our love with Jess.

C: Thanks for having me, I am really glad that you all are interested in her case.

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Conflict In Movement Transcript

TFSR: And now an uncomplicated conversation about conflict in movement.

So I was hoping that you could speak a bit about experiences that you have inside the movement that you’re involved in, or in a political space, difficulties coming up or stoppages in communication between yourself and others or in processes, whether it be individuals or groups that you think make working together difficult.

Anonymous: One thing that pops in my mind is the question of time. Here, I see a big difference between people in terms of efficiency and the time we take to make a decision or make a project. Often people use the excuse of emergency to go quick, to take a decision only by a few people. And then other people that were not involved in the decision-making process are asked to be part of the project, but after everything has been decided. And I feel people always reproduce the same thing because of an emergency.

TFSR: So is that like making a decision before people get together sometimes, and just go into the meeting with a conclusion, rather than a proposal?

Anon: They see the big assembly not as a place where you discuss, but a place where some groups arrive with a decision or project they discuss only among them. And you as an individual don’t have the time to think about it, about other ideas. So at the end of the meeting, they ask if there is any idea at this moment to make something different, but you didn’t have the time to think about it or to feel confident enough to expose your own idea. So in the end it’s the project of the people that talked about it before in their groups that gets implemented.

TFSR: Is that the dynamic that could be changed if someone wanted to come up with a general agenda beforehand, give space and time, a few days before and say, “Hey, we’re going to formulate things to talk about proposals, the meeting, we’re gonna give 15 minutes to talk about this, bring your proposals, 15 minutes to talk about this problem or this project, bring your proposals.” Does that sort of thing happen in the assembly? Or is it less organized than that?

Anon: It’s less organized than this. You know that there’s gonna be an assembly every two weeks or every month, but the subject of the assembly is sometimes set in advance, sometimes not. If you know the subject in advance, maybe you can organize to think about what you want to do. But it’s not that easy to put people together and find what you want to do.

TFSR: Do you think that when you experience that that’s because people are trying to push something through the process, or because they literally just thought about it beforehand, so it’s a weakness in their communication strategy? Maybe a mix?

Anon: Sure, it’s a mix. But I often see people who want to push something. They have an idea or a common view of what should be the trigger here and what is strategic or not, what is good or not for this trigger. On a bigger scale, it often responds to the way of imagining what is strategic and what is good.

TFSR: Do you imagine that the people that push through things don’t trust the thinking of the other people in the assembly or just view themselves as having a different political perspective and so in competition, and that’s why they push it through, or is it simply may be for, in terms of efficiency, we have a really good idea, no one’s going to disagree with this, so we just need to make a quick decision?

Anon:I feel it’s a bit paternalistic. Here, it’s really difficult to have a common decision because of so many different ways of thinking. So at some point, if we want to do things here, we assume that some people need to take the power, it’s too complicated here to do with everyone involved. We agree on the same strategy as a group and we push for our decisions. If you want to do the same, you can do it. Actually, it’s not really the case. If you want to do it as they do and if you are anti-authoritarian, you can’t compete, because you don’t want to make a closed group that nobody knows about, a closed group with many people with lots of privileges, like class privilege, people that went to a prestigious school, people that have no problem was money, no problem was alcohol. So actually, if you want to do the same in a more horizontal, anti-authoritarian way, it’s not possible.

TFSR: Can you talk about other dynamics that make it easier for people to take advantage of a stage or a platform during discussion/debate? Like education and access to money or things. Coming from a different society, but also a patriarchal society, I understand, that gender often has to do- Being male-assigned, being cis-gendered, you identifying as you were assigned at birth. Is that something that you experience like a level of comfort with taking space because of that?

Anon: Yeah, in the group I’m thinking of, the majority of people are male-assigned people, able-bodied people, people with the capacity to go to many meetings, write texts. Sometimes it’s one person writing text and then saying this is collective, while it’s not. It is not the same when this person is quite confident, and we are used to listening to them, because of their gender and their role in the community. Their voice is much more heard or taken into account than someone who is not in this category. If you want to be here the same way, as a woman, you have to speak loudly, and people think you’re aggressive or stuff like this. It’s much more difficult to give your voice the same importance.

TFSR: Does ethnicity or nation of origin have any play in the dynamics too? Or language access? Ease of speaking a language?

Anon: For sure. The question of ethnicity plays a role here. The majority of people are white European people. And I think it’s not that easy for people seen as not white. But in the groups that are having much power in their hands, no, I don’t know. It’s complicated. And the question of language is really important. The words you can use. Sometimes texts are written by this group of people. The vocabulary is a really high-level language. And if you don’t understand, you don’t feel that this text is for you, it makes a barrier between people who are concerned by this text or proposal and who are not part of this.

TFSR: Have these criticisms been brought up to the group of people you’re talking about? Have they been willing to hear feminist critiques, for instance, or class critiques of how they take space, or how they engage with the rest?

Anon: About feminism, there has been criticism and an important moment where this group of people wrote a text about women saying that women just have to take the power as well. And they just have to be as strong as men. There was a big event and after this, people realized how authoritarian this group can be. I think they’re able to hear the criticism and change before it’s too big. But often, if you criticize this organization, they would say that you are against everything, this is only in your imagination. And you want to just be critical for the sake of it. As radicals and anarchists in the real world, we have to fight and be strong, and we don’t have the choice. Sometimes we have to be strategic and go quick. So at the moment, there has been a lot of criticism. Some people try to make visible this organization and the power they have in their hands. There is more and more discussion about it. And maybe there will be a change. But until now, they would deny, the people are taking power and domination, people try not to see it or don’t see it really.

TFSR: Do you think that group is being strategic? Is approaching these critiques methodically, looking at them and saying, “Okay, somebody has proposed this critique, how do I step around it?” I know that, for instance, for me to hear feminist critiques has taken time because society teaches me to think in a certain way. And so I need to have conversations to be like, “Oh, I see. I didn’t realize I was doing that.” That takes a lot of patience from people. But do you think that this is a part of a strategy?

Anon: In this group, I see that people are quite different. It’s not a heterogeneous group. Some people really think they want to do things here and this is the way, but they don’t see how this means that many people are out of the way, it’s not so easy for other people to join this group. If they are not able-bodied, if they’re not middle class, if they don’t have to do something in this in this group, if they slow the process, things like this. And other people – not the majority – really think in terms of strategy, of party style of politics, and sometimes I see that they come and just listen to our critiques. If you talk with some people for one or two hours, they will not change their way of thinking at all. But they will listen to have all the information they need to see what the opposition to their way of doing is.

TFSR: Do you see any options moving forward to address this dynamic and change it or block them from doing this sort of thing?

Anon: I think to make it visible, visible that this group exists, what it means in terms of poor concentration, and to talk with people that are close to this group or inside this group, person to person, as you said before about feminists, talk about anti-authoritarianism and think together. This is possible, too. I don’t want to talk with some people, I don’t feel confident enough. I don’t know what else to do. But I think if more and more people are aware, we can change something in the structure of the community so that few people may not have so much power in their hands about communication, relation with media, and money. So it’s something we need to discuss with many people, but the first step is to make it visible and talk with people about this.

TFSR: Are there other points that I didn’t ask about that you’d to get out or that have been on your mind?

Anon: Something special here is that we all live in the same place, maybe 200-300 people, and there is a big focus on the relationship between people. This is what makes us really strong. Because we do many things together, even if I don’t agree with you during the meeting, the day after, we will make some agriculture together. But the other thing is that the conflict is something we are afraid of, we are afraid that we’re not gonna get along if we talk about conflict. And it’s like social peace when you need to keep a good relationship. We are afraid to go too far into the conflict and prefer to look aside and go on like this. I don’t know if it’s special here, but I see it as a barrier to talking about conflict.

TFSR: Someone else that I talked to had brought up that same point, that it’s difficult. It’s difficult conflicting with people who you share space and struggle with. Because you don’t want it to become war, because then it’s easy to escalate. And then not only because of the toll that it has on the individuals involved, but also because if factions go to war with each other within a movement, the movement collapses. And then people are damaged for the rest of their life. Do you see that there’s a non-lethal way of engaging, just the one-on-one conversations about “When you do this, it makes me feel this way. And here’s what I think about how you’re doing this”? Would that be the solution?

Anon: People here are really egocentric, not thinking collectively and not being self-conscious about their privilege and what place they take in the violence they cause for other people. We need a lot of capacity to listen to people and take as much time as they need. The conflict can be something really interesting, and we see it as something terrible. This is imagination around conflict, that it is terrible and this is war. Well, people don’t agree, and this is political and interesting.

TFSR: That seems really important, too. If things are going to move forward because the project, the struggle that you’re in right now isn’t in a state of war immediately, like it has been in the past. It’s not that the idea of peace at all costs internally is a good idea. People are going to disagree, like you said, because it’s heterogeneous and people need space for that, for conversations, and for disagreement. But if the state comes in and tries to evict again or if something big happens since elections are coming up, for instance, and people that are conflicted internally, it seems it’s easier for everyone to be broken.

Anon: Yeah.

TFSR: Thank you very much.

Dunstan Bruce on The Untold Story of Chumbawamba

The Untold Story of Chumbawamba with Dunstan Bruce

Dunstan sitting by a wall with someone wearing the baby face from the Tubthumper album cover and cartoon hands from "Never Mind The Ballots" album cover
Download This Episode

Dunstan Bruce is perhaps most famous for his lead vocals and listing of libations in the Chumbawamba pop hit, Tubthumping. But there is so much more to him and that band than that one song. For the hour we touch on some of the band’s 30 year history, their relation as a collective, anarchist band to social justice movements around the world and how they used their fame and money to give back, Dunstan’s recently finished documentary “I Get Knocked Down: The Untold Story of Chumbawamba” and his accompanying one man show “Am I Invisible Yet?”, aging and the battle for relevance, staying involved in politics and more. “I Get Knocked Down” is still seeking distribution so not streamable, but keep an eye on the fakebook page for updates on that, and you can find his prior documentary on Chumbawamba published about 20 years ago on youtube, entitled “Well Done, Now Sod Off!

You can find a rather embarrassing mixtape from us years ago on archive.org, expect a replacement playlist for it soon.

Chumbawamaba-related:

Some hijinks from the era:

Other music related projects mentioned:

Dunstan’s Other Docs

Announcements

Greg Curry Hunger Strike

Greg Curry, a prisoner in Ohio serving a life sentence in relation to the Lucasville Uprising of 1993 for which he claims innocence, has just begun a hunger strike for being stuck in extended solitary confinement known as TPU at Toledo Correctional Institution. To voice concern, you can call 419 726 7977 and select choice 8 to speak to the warden during business hours, or you can select 0 to speak to the operator at other times. You can also mail Harold.May@odrc.state.oh.us requesting that his communications be re-instated and that he be able to re-enter general population.

You can find our 2016 interview with Greg at our website.

Social Media Documentary from SubMedia

Stay tuned to Sub.Media for a documentary film on the troubles with social media in early June

TFSR Fediverse Podcast

We’ve launched a temporary instance of Castopod podcasting app on the Fediverse at @TheFinalStrawRadio@Social.Ungovernavl.Org. Definitely a work in progress, but check it out if you care to.

Bad News, May 2022

The latest episode of the monthly english-language podcast from the A-Radio Network is available now at their website: A-Radio-Network.Org or here: https://www.a-radio-network.org/episode-56-05-2022/

. … . ..

Featured Tracks (get ready):

  • Tubthumping by Chumbawamba from Tubthumper
  • Top of the World (Olé, Olé, Olé) by Chumbawamba (single)
  • Do They Owe Us A Living? by Crass from The Feeding of the 5,000
  • The Cutty Wren by Chumbawamba from English Rebel Songs 1381–1984
  • Timebomb by Chumbawamba from Anarchy
  • I Never Gave Up by Chumbawamba from Never Do What You’re Told (Live)
  • Heartbreak Hotel by Chumbawamba from Fuck EMI (compilation)
  • Shhh-it by Oi Polloi from Bare Faced Hypocrisy Sells Records / The Anti-Chumbawamba EP (compilation)
  • Her Majesty by Chumbawamba (single)
  • Knit Your Own Balaklava by Chumbawamba from The Liberator – Artists For Animals (compilation)
  • Song Of The Mother In Dept / Song Of The Hardworking Community Registration Officer / Song Of The Government Minister Who Enjoys His Work / Song Of The (Now Determined) Mother by Chumbawamba from A Pox Upon The Poll Tax (compilation)
  • Smash Clause 29! by Chumbawamba from Uneasy Listening
  • Homophobia by Chumbawamba from Anarchy
  • One By One by Chumbawamba from Rock The Dock (compilation)
  • Pass It Along by Chumbawamba from WYSIWYG
  • Bella Ciao by Chumbawamba from A Singsong And A Scrap
  • Here Now by Interrobang‽ from Interrobang‽
  • The Day The Nazi Died by Chumbawamba from Class War
  • So Long, So Long by Chumbawamba from In Memoriam: Margaret Thatcher

. … . ..

Transcription

TFSR: So would you please introduce yourself for the audience with your name, preferred gender pronouns, location, and any other things that you’d like to mention?

Dunstan Bruce: Yeah, my name is Dunstan Bruce. I’m a 61 year old man, and I’m living in Brighton. Is that sufficient? Is that enough? Actually, that’s fine. I did a one man show and that’s how the… and a film actually, both start with me going “my name is Dustin Bruce. I’m a 61 year old man, and I’m struggling. I’m struggling with the fact that we all seem to be going to hell in a handcart, etc, etc, etc.”

TFSR: So we just got a preview of the introduction of the one man show then. That’s great. I’d reached out to you first, because I and my co hosts are, and have been for a long time huge fans of Chumbawamba, and secondly, because he recently released a documentary entitled “I Get Knocked Down: The Untold Story of Chumbawamba.” So congratulations on the film release at South by Southwest. And yeah, I look forward to seeing it.

DB: I was just gonna say, it hasn’t actually been released yet. We’ve been showing it at film festivals, but you can’t see it anywhere just yet. We’re in the process of making that happen. So hopefully, that will all happen this year. But don’t go looking for it just yet because you won’t find it anywhere. We’re still doing various film festivals and stuff like that trying to sell the film. It’s a long arduous process, or it is still being a long arduous process.

TFSR: So when you say, “sell the film,” you mean getting a production company to do distribution and everything? Is that kind of what that looks like?

DB: Yeah, no, we’ve got a sales agent who’s trying to sell the film to distributors, and broadcasters, and platforms around the world now. That’s just time consuming. So we’re at that stage. We’ve shown the film in quite a few film festivals, and it’s done really well on the festival circuit. What’s happened with the film a lot is the people have, we get a lot of feedback about people really loving the film. But it doesn’t fit into any category or genre quite easily. It’s a music documentary, but it’s not a traditional music documentary. And it’s not a music documentary about the Rolling Stones or Bob Dylan or anybody else who sells millions and millions and millions of records, who have already made audiences for a documentary.

So we found it difficult to get broadcasters interested in the documentary because that world is so conservative and safe. People don’t like taking risks with stuff. And so I think we’ve made a documentary that’s quite challenging and innovative and fun. A lot of the feedback we get is that, “we really loved it,” but they won’t to take a risk with the documentary because it’s not a straightforward history of a band, really, it’s a bit more convoluted than that.

TFSR: I can imagine it’s kind of subjective. What is the format? Like how does it differ from, if any of the listeners have have have seen, “Well Done, Now Sod Off,” for instance, which was made 10, 12, 20 years ago?

DB: 20 years ago. So, “Well Done, Now Sod Off,” that was more of a potted history of the band. That told the story… a lot more of the band’s formation and goes through the history of the band up until 2000 when that documentary was finished. We didn’t want to remake that film. That wasn’t the point, going back to try and tell the story of Chumbawamba. This film is a bit more exploratory in what it’s trying to do and is less about the potted history of Chumbawamba and is more about my own story. Which means that the film has a contemporary element as well.

So we’ve taken the song, we’re using the song, Tub Thumping, you know, “I get knocked down, but I get up again” as a sort of a Trojan horse in a way. As a means of telling a larger story. So my time Chumbawamba is just part of the film, a very important part of the film, and a large part of the film. The fact of the matter is that we’re trying to explore more ideas about what can you achieve when you enter the mainstream, and what happens when that fame is over, and what do you do to carry on being relevant and being visible and being part of some sort of continuum of dissent or some sort of movement to try and still change the world? So it explores more those ideas about getting older and what do you do?

TFSR: Yeah, that’s really awesome. And I’m very glad to hear that that’s what it’s about, because that’s kind of the line of questions that I was hoping to go into. I think that one thing, like you mentioned, as a Trojan horse, it’s kind of perfect for that. There’s two big, in my estimation, there’s two big pop songs that I came across with Chumbawamba that standout aside from me delving into you alls discography ‘Tub Thumping,’ and then ‘Top of the World.’ Those really, if you say Chumbawamba to a lot of people, those are going to be the point of contact that they have. “Oh, that band that did that one song that was great in the pub, or whatever.” And that’s kind of what your earlier documentary points to, at the opening when it’s got all these newscasters saying, “Chumbawamba Chumbawamba Chumbawamba.” Yeah. Or the talk show circuit, that’s always the point of introduction.

It really allowed for the opportunity to, as other members of the band talked about, talk about politics on daytime talk shows in the US, at least in in the UK to a degree. Or be able to be featured as the opening performers at major musical events and also insert your critiques of how, for instance, new labor dealt with the dockworkers strikes or directly confront politicians or corporate individuals about their slimy-ness. I think that that seems to be one of the major positives to come out of the crack into pop music that you all made.

DB: Yeah, I mean, yes. That’s exactly right. Yes. You’ve answered the question with the question, really. I’ve got nothing to add on that. That’s like a perfect summation of it.

TFSR: I’m not a very good interviewer.

DB: [laughs] But a good critiquer.

TFSR: So, since I mentioned those two hits, and I know there were others. Like ‘Enough is Enough,’ hit the charts at some point, for instance. But can you talk a bit about the history of the band? I mean, it spanned decades. There were numerous musical styles that came up outside of what you hear in those two hits. Maybe talk about the band’s expectations of itself and how that changed with exposure and the scope, with the idea of fame.

DB: Yeah, so Chumbawamba started in 1982. We were, in those early years, those first few early years we were very heavily influenced by Crass, an anarcho punk band from the UK, who were huge, absolutely huge. They sold hundreds and hundreds of thousands of records, yet were never included in any charts or anything. They were absolutely massive.

We were really heavily influenced by what they were doing their daily lives in a commune down south in the south of England. We found their way of trying to express their politics at first really, really inspiring. They were talking about anarchism in a way that made it seem sexy and rock and roll and exciting, rather than having to attend endless boring political meetings. We just found that that was a much more interesting and exciting way of expressing our politics, and being involved in politics.

So the first few years, we were sort of influenced by what they were doing. But then we tried to make a conscious decision to step out of that movements that felt as a was increasingly becoming a ghetto of its own making. We always had this idea that we wanted to talk to the rest of the world that we weren’t particularly interested in staying in our little safe little bubble.

So our first attempt to doing that was by changing our style of music. We wanted to make a style of music that was a bit more accessible to people. The music that we were listening to was stuff that included three or four part harmonies and was pop music or it was music that used humor in a way of trying to get the point across rather than just shouting and screaming in people’s faces. We didn’t necessarily think that was the most effective way of trying to convince people that there was a better way of doing things.

So we started to change our music. We would always bring in any sort of influences that we had from the outside world. So, in the 80s we got into Irish rebel music and English folk music became a part of what we were doing. Then in the late 80s, dance music started to become a huge movement in the UK, in particular. We sort of embraced all of that. We started to make music that reflected the times a bit more. And at the same time, we sort of started changing the message of what we were saying within our music. We spend a lot of the early years complaining about everything, basically. I think we reached a point where we thought, “Look, that’s great, complaining about everything, but why don’t we celebrate some things as well?” There was an album in particular, an album called ‘Slap’ that came out at the end of the 80s that started to celebrate little acts of resistance or small victories. We changed the emphasis in the songs. We started to have a lot more fun on stage.

[Cat sounds in the background] So many cats trying to get into me bedroom, making a lot of noise and destruction. Sorry about that!

So anyway, we changed what we were doing, musically and lyrically, and started having fun being on stage and with our records. That carried on throughout the 90s. We were working together, we were a collective, and we were on independent record labels, various labels. We moved from one to another. That seemed to work as a business model, if you want to call it that. We found we were very self sufficient, very DIY, and we managed to exist as a band by touring constantly. We got to travel the world because of that.

When Tubthumping came along, that was not something that we planned. We didn’t reach a point where we felt, ‘right, we’re going to have a hit record.’ We were sort of like trundling along quite nicely. Things had gone a little bit off the boil just before we made that album. We had a couple of big meetings. We decided we were gonna give it one last shot, basically. We got to put everything into doing this album and out of that came ‘Tubthumping.’ So at the time, we didn’t realize what we’ve done, or what that song was, or what that song was going to mean to so many people. We just thought, “Right. We got ourselves back on track. We made an album that we really like. Right, let’s start trying to put this record out.”

The label we were on at the time was One Little Indian, which was actually run by some old friends of ours who used to be in a band called ‘Flux of the Pink Indians.’ They didn’t like the album. They basically told us to go away and rerecord the album or they’d get some producers in to produce it for us. So we were furious about that. We were like, “No, you’re not gonna do that. We think this album is great.” So we left the label. We just thought, “Right, we’re gonna go and put this record out somewhere else.” So we had to find a way of putting it out. So we had some old friends who used to manage the likes of Hawkwind and Motörhead back in the 70s. They took the album and basically touted it around various people and it garnered a lot of interest. So we ended up having all these all these offers from major labels from around the world to sign record deal with them.

What happened at that point was that we had no idea what we created and we made the decision, “Why don’t we take a leap in the dark in a way and sign to a major label and just see what happens?” Just see if anything amazing happens. If it goes wrong, we were about to get a huge advance, so at least we would have that money and we could do something with that and keep the band going for a couple of years just on that money. All those things happened. We signed a deal with EMI Germany, much to the chagrin of a lot of former hardcore Chumbawamba fans who obviously felt like we’d sold out because back in the 80s, or the early 90s, we appeared on this albums compilation album called fuck EMI. So it seemed like the most hypocritical thing we could have done was sign to EMI.

But that’s what we did. We had always believed that we should do what we felt was best for us and not what our audience expected of us. We always wanted to challenge everybody’s preconceptions about the band. We always wanted to do something that was interesting, and exciting, and different for us to keep us engaged in the whole process. So we signed to EMI Germany, and we signed to Universal in the States. Then obviously, the song was an enormous, enormous hit. And we had no idea that was going to happen, we had absolutely no idea. It was as big a shock to us, as it was to Chumbawamba fans. Suddenly, we had this song that was absolutely huge.

So once that happened, we had to think, “right, what we’re going to do now? What do we do with this success? How do you negotiate that?” The worlds that we were thrown into. We just made the decision that we had to make the best of it because we realized that that day would not last forever. It’s going to be a couple of years of sort of intense activity. We got to do something with our platform. Because as we thought, how often does anybody get that sort of global audience and that opportunity to speak to so many people outside of the fan base. You don’t get them opportunities, it was a once in a lifetime opportunity for us. So we decided to try and use it to be as subversive as possible and to help as many people that we could and to use the position to amplify other people’s struggles and get involved in advocating and agitating around as many issues as we could and bring those things to the fore in that in that small window of opportunity that we had. And that’s what we did.

TFSR: So a few years ago, and correct me if I’m wrong remembering this, but I recall… I want to say a few years ago, COVID has done some amazing things to our chronological memory. Maybe this was up to 10 years ago? But some members of Crass had decided to challenge legally, some of their albums being distributed for free online, because these are people that had been making music 40 or 50 years ago and they weren’t making any money off of it. Suddenly, they were saying, “Well, our stuff is out there everywhere. It’d be nice to have a little bit of money for retirement because austerity has kicked in and nobody’s making money.” So a lot of people reacted to that like, “Well, these people are charlatans, these people are sellouts. They made this music this long ago. They were handing out albums for free. Why can’t we distribute it for free?” I’m a big advocate of distributing music and art for free and also choosing to support artists when you can afford to. But also there’s a commons of knowledge and a commons of creation and no one’s building in a bubble. But I guess I’m bringing this up to ask about the question of when people were saying that you all were sellouts. Like it’s obvious that you had critiqued EMI. But what was the studio system like at the time? And how was that shifting? And where was that value of DIY and small labels coming from? Was it that you were going to change your values in terms of what you were talking about or be less accessible?

DB: We didn’t change, if anything we amplified what we were talking about because we felt as though we had a bigger responsibility to use the platform and not abuse it. So when that album came out, that was just pre iTunes and pre Napster. So we were on the cusp of all that. That big shift, that huge shift. We were just before it basically. So we were still dealing in physical copies of records, in CDs and cassettes and vinyl and stuff like that. That was still our world around that time. I think we felt like we’d made a living up to that point, largely from touring and selling merchandise and selling records on tour.

So we already had a model that we were using to keep the band going. That model never was anything to do with selling records, weirdly, because we never sold enough records for that to be a way of us making a living. We always knew we could go on tour around Europe for six weeks and sell out every night 1000 capacity venues. We were huge on this underground scene. So we were making a living from doing that. It was a small living. It was dependent on quite a few of us having partners who also had jobs, which is quite a common story of a lot of creative people. Quite often they have other people in their family unit who helped support them in that. A lot of us in the band had that and we probably couldn’t have done it without that. So we had that model that we were making a living. When Tubthumping happened, we just thought, “well, it’s not going to change anything that we say.” And really, that’s why it ended in a way because we were so determined to carry on saying and doing the things that we’d always said and done.

So, what it meant was that, when you have a hit record, you get invited to join a club. You get invited to stuff. You’re expected to behave in a certain way. You’re expected to want to be at all these parties and all these events and stuff like that. We weren’t in it to do any of those things. And so what happened with the Deputy Prime Minister, the Brits, with Prescott, that more than anything put us in a category where people became very wary of us. We stopped getting invited to stuff and we stopped getting people wanting to give us free stuff and all that sort of stuff. Because we’d broken the rules of being a member of the club. We didn’t want to be a member of that club. That’s not why we were doing it. It was not to be to become famous for that reason.

When I was making the ‘I Get Knocked Down’ documentary. There’s a scene in the film, which us all discussing what happened to the Brits. When Danbert, Alice, and Paul chucked water on John Prescott. What was really refreshing, that discussion was just a couple of years ago, everybody still thought it was really funny, really proud of it, and nobody regretted it. I thought that was brilliant that, that we still stood by what we had done all those years ago and still felt as if we were in that situation, we would have done exactly the same thing. Because we weren’t careerists. It wasn’t our club. Why would I want to be a member of that club? I just didn’t want anything to do with it. We will never about just wanting to be hobnobbed with celebrities. That’s why we took a couple of dockworkers with us to the Brits. So, if we’d won the award that we were up to, they would have gotten up to pick up that award and have the opportunity to talk about their strike. As it was we didn’t win the award. But, because of what happened, there was a lot of publicity around that.

That felt really good. In fact, in the film, not to give you any spoilers, but I go and talk to Penny Rimbaud from Crass and he just actually said that that’s the moment at which he thought that we absolved ourselves, by doing that thing to Prescott. He said, “Nobody else would have done it, and nobody else could have done it.” He was like, “Yeah, I thought that was brilliant, and that made everything as you did feel worthwhile.” And it did to us as well, it really did.

You know, we were doing a lot of stuff as well that nobody knew. We were giving money away all the time to a lot of different people. We were raising money for different people and talking about different struggles all the time. So our politics didn’t change in the slightest. It just meant that we were in a situation where we could talk to a lot more people about us the music. To go back to the stuff about the the music for free and all that sort of stuff that never really became a thing in our world. We did put out a free CD or something that was critical of drummer Lars Ulrich trying to take somebody to court or something because they’d downloaded some Metallica music illegally.

TFSR: I think they were on Sony or something.

DB: I just thought that was ridiculous that they would do something like that to a fan. It was a fan and they tried to sue a fan. It was just the most hideous thing you could do. We were appalled by that. I think we’ve always been sort of early adopters of technology and acknowledged that once something like that starts, once the lids took off, you can’t put the lid back on. That’s it. It’s “Boom. That’s it.” I think it was like that with Napster and then what came after that. You can’t have any control about that. It took a couple of years for everything to settle down again. I think now people have a much more responsible attitude towards what you pay for and what you don’t pay for. Stuff like that. I think it’s a lot more. It’s just how it is.

I suppose I have a similar approach to you, there are some times where I will just ask a friend to find a film because I can’t find it anywhere and it’s been gone at the cinema and I just want to see it. I think, “Okay, I’m making a decision now to watch that film and not pay for it.” But then on the other hand, I buy stuff that I’m not even gonna listen to because I really believe in it. A friend will put out a record and it’d be a benefit record and or whatever. I just think, “I’m gonna buy that. I’m not bothered about listening to it.” I’ll listen to once, maybe. It’s not like something that I’m listening to over and over again. But I just think you make those sort of decisions, what you do, who you help, and who you support, and all that sort of thing. A lot of what I do now is live, either live music or live theater. So it’s stuff that you have to come to anyway to experience.

I think what I found when I got a new band together, Interrobang‽, one of the things I loved about Interrobang‽ was as much as I loved performing, and loved the music we were doing, I really believed in it, but what I really loved was getting back into that that scenario where you go to a gig and you’re part of a community again. I think now more than ever, because of what’s happened in the last couple of years, that just feels like really, really important that we come together and share ideas or just have fun together and have this sort of communal experience that we’ve been robbed of for quite a few years now. So the live experiences, I still think that’s one of the most… I don’t think listening to a record, for me, I don’t think listening to a record ever compares to a live experience.

So, and weirdly, I used to think that about Chumbawamba as well. I was never I was never that involved or passionate about the making of a records, or a Chumbawamba album. I knew that there was people in the bands who were brilliant at producing records, and I knew there were musicians in the band who were brilliant at putting all the music together. I was one of the vocalists. I really, really enjoyed that. But for me, nothing was better than Chumbawamba playing live. That, to me was where all the magic happened. It was in a live situation. I think we all used to really, really love playing live because of that, because the gigs were like, they were like huge celebratory events. And when I go and see bands now and you feel that it’s an amazing experience.

I’ve been going to see Patti Smith for over 40 years now. I still absolutely adore her. When I go and see her it feels more than just a gig to me. It’s like a place where you replenish your soul in a way. And for me, recorded music doesn’t do that for me in the same way, I suppose. So I sort of sidestep that big issue about Spotify or iTunes or Amazon, whatever, however people listen to music now, because to me, where I get my energy from is from performing live or seeing other people perform live. I think that, to me, is where the magic happens.

TFSR: It seems like, if the question is, “do you support an artist in their ability to create art and to share that and record it?” You can make that decision to buy a t shirt or send them some money or do whatever without actually going through the record company that makes a huge amount of cuts. And there are individuals that do the recording that work for the studios that get paid by the record labels and such, but it seems like through your experience, the studio system, or the way that musics distributed has shifted like two or three times and sort of changed the social rules.

I was kind of hoping to get back to that question of how you all related to movement and where money went from some of the success that you had. I mean, even before that you you all did at least one performance that’s in that documentary, the ‘Well Done, Now Sod Off,” showing you all performing at the miner strikes in ’84. So you clearly had been a part of movement, besides the content of your music, talking very frequently about issues around gay rights around anti racism, anti fascism, and definitely focusing on capitalism a lot. Could you talk a little bit about how Chumbawamba used its resources and its reach to support things like the 18th June Carnival Against Capitalism, or Indymedia? Could you talk a little bit about that?

DB: Yeah, I suppose. To catalogue Chumbawamba’s timeline, we started off in the 80s and we were doing lots of animal rights benefit gigs, anti nuclear war gigs, we were involved in a lot of small campaigns at that time where we would be doing stuff for anarchist groups. When the Miner’s Strike came along in ’84, that was sort of a massive shift in people’s politics. Because up until that point, I think we’d regarded ourselves as anarcho-pacifists in a way. So a lot of the causes that we were involved in were to do with animal rights and stuff like that. When the Miner’s strike came along, that was this idea that that was a class issue, and it was a class struggle. And we shifted. Our politics shifted, but also the sort of benefit gigs that we did started to shift and we widened our horizons.

So we found that that meant that we stopped being so isolated in our anarchist politics and started to get involved with working with other left wing groups and organizations and with people whose politics weren’t exactly the same as our own, but that we had enough in common with that we realized that there was some sort of common ground and that was sufficient for us to work together or to raise money for quite different organizations. Britain in the in the late 80s, there was all this stuff around the Poll Tax, which was this unfair tax that the Tory government were trying to bring in. We did a lot of gigs around raising money for protesting against that, and demonstrating against that.

Then, if you look at Chumbawamba’s back catalogue, in the early days there would be a single there was about fighting an abortion bill or a bill – clause 28, clause 29, which was basically anti LGBTQ. It’s sort of rearing its head again, nowadays. Both of those things are. We’d be touring a lot and things would come along and we got involved in the early 90s a lot in LGBTQ issues because that’s what people in the band were just like, it was part of their everyday existence. And so it just became a natural progression that we were then putting out singles. We did a single called ‘Homophobia’ in the 90s with the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. They were this gay nun organization. There was stuff like that. So, when Tubthumping happened we’d done a massive benefit for the dockworkers. So it only felt natural that we carry that on into a bigger platform. But, you know, we’d gotten involved in the Mumia Abu Jamal campaign and so that’s why when we went on Letterman, we changed the chorus to that. Stuff came along.

I don’t know whether you were alluding to this but it’s an interesting story anyways, this was after Tubthumping. We used to get offered stupid amounts of money for people to use the song in an advert. That was a new world to us. We’d never experienced that before really. General Motors wanted to use the song in an advert for a Pontiac car and we turned down loads of stuff. We turned down money from Nike, we turn down money from General Electric. We were making those sort of decisions all the time. But then this one came along. We just thought, “Look, why don’t we take the money for the advert and then just give the money away?” So what we did is we found Indymedia and CorpWatch.

CorpWatch was this organization who monitored the bad working practices of companies like General Motors. So it seemed really appropriate that we give the money to them to criticize the behavior of General Motors. That was quite an interesting process because we got in touch with both Indymedia and CorpWatch before we did before we agreed to give a song for an advert. It took a little bit of persuading for those two organizations to accept the money, to agree to accept the money once we got it. They were both a bit like… CorpWatch more than Indymedia actually, we’re a bit like, “I’m not sure. Is that ethical? You’re getting money for this, and then you’re giving it to us.” But in the end they both agreed to accept a share of this money.

So what happened on the back of that was we then turned that into a newsworthy article. It garnered press from the fact that we’d even done that. It was some clever Situationist prank that we’d turned that idea on it’s head that we’d got money for an advert and then given the money away to criticize the thing that we were advertising. So we liked that. We liked that idea. We got money for, I can’t remember what it was. It might have been a martini or something. It was some drink or something. Anyway, we gave the money from that to an Anarchist Italian radio station or something like that. We were always finding opportunities to use our position to further causes that we believed in. I think we felt in a lot of cases that we were giving voice to the voiceless in a way and were being able to use our position to further the causes and stuff that we believed in. People who would never get the chance to be on national television to talk about their particular cause.

On top of that, we used to give away a percentage of the money that we made to various organizations. We’d have these meetings where we’d have a list of all these people who had asked us for money and we decide. Then we’d split up a certain amount of money every three months and give a lot of money away. Just because we thought that’s paying back all these organizations and people who have supported us over the years as well. We were suddenly in a position where we can do that, and it felt worthy, it felt really worthy. But at the same time, it was just like, “this is brilliant. We were helping.” I still occasionally hear from people in Bristol. We helped these people in Bristol buy this building to set up a social center. And I still get messages from them saying, “Yeah, remember when you did that?” It’s funny, because at the time, it was probably just another thing that we helped. But to those people, it meant the world. It was amazing opportunity to do that sort of stuff.

So I think what was interesting about going back into that environment with a new band was that there was a lot of goodwill. There was a lot of goodwill for what I was doing. I was doing something DIY again and trying to be involved in a movement on a grassroots level again. And that was the level that when we had all that fame and fortune, it was the very people we were trying to help way back then. So it was a nice circular thing that came around, it felt really heartwarming.

TFSR: Do you mean with Interrobang‽

DB: Yeah. Because Interrobang‽ was always just a small passionate project that we had. For a few years shone quite brightly in an independent DIY music scene in the UK. That felt really great. There were so many people I met from years gone by, from during the Interrobang‽ It felt like such a positive experience being part of that community again. I’d drifted away from all that. This is the thing about making the film. When I started making the film, I was in quite a low place. I was wondering, “What I was doing with my self, how do I fit in to the world?” And what happened was that it then became quite a meta sort of thing. The making of the film itself became the thing that got me out of my quagmire, in a way. It was the thing that helped me. So it was in talking about the things that I was trying to resolve, that I resolved those things, if you see what I mean? It helped me just doing that. And that led on to me doing the ‘One Man Show,’ which is a very similar thing, you know. So the act of creating the film helped me move on. So that was a really positive thing for me.

TFSR: Yeah. And so you’re still doing performances of ‘Am I invisible yet?’ Could you talk about that experience and sort of like another way of reinvigorating this relationship with the audience by doing live shows and how it sits alongside of the documentary?

DB: Yeah. The One Man Show came out of the film in a way. The previous two years, when we were locked down or whatever, it was quite a creative time for me in a way because me and Sophie, who I made the film with, we managed to finish the film, editing remotely with various editors. We got the film finished. Once we finished the film, we did have a discussion about what we were going to do next. We had a brilliant time making the film together. She’s from a completely different background. She’s an amazing filmmaker. She brought a lot of her talents and skills to the making of the film. I brought a lot of my…just my history, and just having stupid ideas that she would then make work. That was a really brilliant process.

When we finished the film and I saw it. I said to her, “Do you think we’ll make another film together?” And she said, “No, I don’t think we will.” And at first I thought I was like completely shocked and offended. I was like, “why would you? Why would you not want to make another film with me?” And she said, “Well, because I think what we’ve learned is that you need to be on the stage or you need to be performing somewhere. You’re much better at that than you are being behind the camera.” And she’s right, she’s totally right.

At first I was offended that she didn’t want to make another film with me. But then what happened is that she said, “Look,” I said, “Right, well, what should I do? Well, I’ve started writing this, a one man show.” And she was like, “Look, I’ll direct the one man show.” She used to work in a theater years ago. She said, “I’ll direct it. You write it, you perform it, I’ll direct it.” And that’s what we did.

What the one man show enabled me to do was take a lot of the things that are in the film, about reaching a certain age about starting to feel as though you might be invisible and wondering what your place is in the world, and how relevant you are, and how do you keep on trying to be part of a movement where you try to change the world, and you keep on doing that. So we took a lot of those things from the film. I brought them into the one man show as well as combining a lot of the Interrobang‽ stuff. Because what had happened within Interrobang‽ was that that had sort of ground to a halt. And, for one reason or another, we had stopped. We couldn’t really do any more shows. Harry had stopped doing it. He was a member of Chumbawamba and was also the drummer in Interrobang‽. He had to stop performing because he had to care for his partner who was not well. Griffin just couldn’t find the time. Griff has a young family and he couldn’t find the time to commit to the to the band.

So I had to find a way of expressing myself still. So what I did was I took all those elements of Interrobang‽ in the film and turned it into this one man show performance, which is like music, poetry, prose, film. It’s a combination of all these different things and it’s me performing this thing that goes on for about an hour. It’s worked out really well. It has become a really positive thing. That is also something I’ve never done before, performing that way. I’d always been in a band. So the idea that I was stepping out of my comfort zone and doing something that I thought was terrifying, meant that I was keeping that creativity alive. This felt really important to me.

When you get to a certain age it’s harder and harder to be part of a creative world. Just because there’s a lot of other things going on the take up your time. And there’s less and less of a place for you in the world that seems more towards youth and for the people who are well known anywhere, who have the have the funds to do whatever they want in a way. I didn’t solve up that, but I found a way of doing this that I’m really excited about and that really stimulates me. So the idea that we’re going out and doing this show, where I’m basically saying, “Look, am I invisible yet?” We’ve all had that feeling, everybody, that’s not just me, that’s all of us, everybody has had that feeling that they’re becoming less relevant and what do you do about it? So the whole idea of the show is to not feel alone, in a way, which I think is really important.

To feel as though you are still part of a movement or a community. I keep on banging on about movements and communities because I do think that in a world where it’s really hard to affect any sort of huge change in the world, I think we have to always find those small victories and those little things that really keep us going. The fact that we embrace different adventures and that we don’t give up and we step outside of our comfort zone, I think it’s telling us stuff like that. Part of the show is about this idea that we just have this one go at life. That’s it. This is our one go. I just feel as though you can’t waste a minute of it, you’ve got to do something with your time here. But you’ve got to enjoy it as well.

I think I got sort of depressed about the fact that there was a time when it felt that you were obliged to go on demonstrations, you were obliged to be part of various political actions, and you were obliged to be angry on Facebook or Twitter all the time. I think I took a step back from that, because I realized that it wasn’t a particularly healthy way of going about things. So I made all these decisions about approaching all of those sort of things in a different way. Which was really good for me, and it’s turned out really positive for me, I suppose.

You know, in making the film, what’s really encouraging about that is that there’s a lot of love for Chumbawamba in the world. Even though we felt at the time that everybody hated Chumbawamba. that there was only a small amount of people who actually liked us. I’ve sort of realized over the years that that’s not the case. There’s a lot of love out there for the band. And that’s a gorgeous thing for me. That helps me feel as though, “okay, I’m trying to do something now, but that still resonates for a lot of people.” That song was 25 years ago now, and that is still resonates for people.

Like, last week before we did the ‘One Man Show.’ Sophie and I went leafleting in Brighton to try and get people to come on to the show. It’s a thankless task, leafleting, there’s no fun in it at all. Sophie started doing this thing, where she’d give people leaflets for the show, and I’d stood behind her, and she just go, “Do you know who he is?” And then then they’d go, “No?” And then she’d go, “He’s the guy from the song. He’s the guy from the ‘I get knocked down’ guy.” And honestly just middle aged people just be like, “No way!” And they’d be absolutely delighted and they’d have a story about how that song was still resonating now.

There was one couple who Sophie did this to. One of them, in his phone, he showed us his phone, and he calls his son ‘Tubthumper’ on his phone, because 25 years ago, they were really laughing about when he was a little kid he just used to fall over and get back up again. So they called him ‘Tubthumper,’ and they still called him that. So it meant something to him, it was just really funny. Then we met these other two guys, and they were the same. They had this whole story about 25 years ago, what that song meant to them and stuff like that. It’s just that. To me, that’s really touching. I really liked that and it made that whole experience of doing something as excruciating as leafleting, I felt that day I’d sort of achieved something just by finding some common ground with these people. All they wanted was a selfie with me. That’s all they wanted was to take a photo to send to their mates and say, “look, look who I’m with! This guy.” I don’t mind.

I don’t mind about that in the same way that I’m not in the slightest bit embarrassed or ashamed about the song. I’m really proud of the song. I’m really, really proud of it. I know it ends up in lists of the 10 most irritating songs ever written. I don’t give a **** about that. I don’t care about that. Because I know that there’s people out there that that song just means something to. That is the power of music. I love that. I love the fact that music can be such a powerful force for good. You can bring people together in that sort of way. I think that’s a brilliant thing. So I’m really proud of that. I’m really proud of this song. I don’t think it’s Chumbawamba’s vest song. I don’t think in any way it is. But I love it for what it has enabled me to do on the back of it and the way it’s touched people’s lives in completely different ways. We get we still get letters from people saying, it seems really inappropriate, but people play at funerals. It seems like such a strange choice.

TFSR: Praying for the resurrection, I guess?

DB: Yeah, yeah. Yeah, it was. But it gets played at all these weddings, birthday parties, all sorts of stuff where people are like, “oh, yeah, that was my song. I remember that song. blah, blah, blah.” I think that’s great. To enter popular culture in such a way, I think it’s something that Chumbawamba always hoped we would achieve. That we would be that we would be able to leave a footprint. If that means that people go off and find other stuff, other interesting stuff, or get involved in other things, I think that’s a really good thing. At its lowest common denominator point, people really enjoy the song and I have a really good time dancing to it and stuff like that. It brings back really good memories for people. In that sense, I’m really proud of it.

TFSR: I’d like to know a little bit around how you feel about, how mostly anarchists as a movement as a gaggle of freaks, we tend to sort of shun the idea of people taking space and being public. Fame is a weird thing definitely among anarchists, among punks, and these variant and related groupings. Some times we will revere an individual or group and their contributions, and at the same time, I think we have a pretty healthy aversion to putting people too much on a pedestal, or making too much out of them.

I wonder, for you, obviously you mentioned the contribution that it’s giving you a connection to people nowadays who you would not have met if you just stayed playing an anarcho-punk stuff that’s fun for me to listen to, but a lot of people like my parents would just kind of cringe a little bit at, then 20 years later, having a one man show called ‘Am I Invisible Yet?’ I guess I’m wondering what sort of insights you have about intergenerationality and social and political movements and how you keep involved and how you try to engage with younger folks and bridge that gap? I think social movements have to be, if they’re going to be contiguous, if we are actually going to change the world in the way that you described, It’s going to take not just one flash in the pan, one really good pop song. So how do you stay involved, or what sort of difficulties have you found of keeping engaged besides being busy with work and with family and stuff like that, with new people coming into movement?

DB: Yeah, I think what happened to me was that I sort of dropped out of all that. That was because I had kids, little kids. They became my focus, and trying to decide what I was going to do after Chumbawamba. That was quite a difficult time for me. I think what happened was that I started working with a band in Brighton called The Levellers. The Levellers were huge in their own way. They’ve never been particularly mainstream, but they’ve got a huge following. I made a documentary about them. I was sort of friends with them years ago and I met back up with them and then I made a film. I worked for him for a while and then I made a film for them. That sort of showed me that there was a lot of people out there who were growing old, disgracefully or gracefully, but still being involved in political movements and still doing stuff.

But what was interesting was that their children were coming to Levellers gigs as well. There was this whole new generation where these parents were bringing their kids to gigs. I found that really interesting, that they are influencing their kids and the kids are getting into their own their own stuff and finding something in this not in a nostalgic way. The parents are doing in a nostalgic way, but to this new generation, it was something new. So I found that quite interesting. But then, I met various people on the back of that, and then that led to me meeting other people and other bands that were still doing stuff that were my generation.

But then this movement sort of blossomed in London. Well, it felt like it started in London because a friend of mine, Cassie Fox, set up this thing called ‘Loud Women,’ and it was a response to the fact that festivals were like 90% Male performers and there was such a small space for women to get up and perform. So she basically set up her own festival with a few friends called Loud Women Festival. I didn’t become involved in the organization of the festival but I became involved in that whole thing that was going on and became friends with a lot of the bands that were getting involved in that.

I just found them really inspiring because it was this younger generation of women who were finding their voices and finding an outlet to express themselves in such a way that just felt really powerful. This was at a time, this was sort of post Pussy Riot getting a lot of publicity for what they did in the church, the Orthodox Church thing. And so I just thought, “This is this is amazing. These women are finally finding a push to kick open the doors, in fact, and have found a way in and are taking back control.” It just felt really ****ing inspiring. At that time, this idea of being an ally became a big thing and I just thought, “yeah, the timing of all this is brilliant.” I felt at that time that my role was to be an ally with everything, to help in whatever way I could and get involved in a way where I wasn’t trying to take the limelight. I completely felt inspired by these people.

Then, of course, there was stuff like Greta Thunberg, and Tamika Mallory, and Ella Gonzalez. There was all these young women who were becoming really vocal and visible. I just thought there’s something happening here that I felt hadn’t happened before. It felt like a moment where things shifted massively, where I was now an older white man who was now getting his inspiration from a lot of other other younger differently gendered people. I just thought, “this is brilliant, this is really great.” It really energized me. It really made me think, “yes. There’s a movement here, and there’s a lot of people!” It felt voluntarily underground and it didn’t necessarily want to be mainstream. I thought that was a really good starting point for people finding their voice and finding a movement to be involved in.

That ‘Loud Women’ thing is still going strong. A lot of brilliant stuff has come out of that. That’s brilliant. That was something that I bring up in the film and I also bring up in the One Man Show, that that’s happening. For once, what’s happening is we’re not looking to an older generation for the answers. We’re looking to the younger generation for the answers. This whole thing, a friend of mine coined this phrase ‘generation left’ which is this idea that the younger people are more likely to have left wing politics and express left wing ideas. It’s my generation that become more right wing and more middle of the road. All that made me think was, “Don’t ever let yourself fall into that trap of being middle of the road.” Just always be aware of what’s going on around you.

Lots of stuff that’s going on with that younger generation, I admit I can’t keep up with it all a lot of the time. My daughter is 19. She’s absolutely all over it. She understands the subtleties of it, of everything to do with that generation inheriting a world that’s an absolute **** show. The way she talks about stuff and the passion she has for what she believes in, I find that really inspiring. I like the idea that you never stop learning. The fact that you’re learning from a younger generation. I remember being her age and even a little bit older and just been been so idealistic. And so determined I was going to change the world. I find it inspiring that that the Zoomer generations who feel like that. All that climate change movement that came about a few years ago, I thought that was a brilliant starting point. It’s one of the biggest things that is is going to kill the planet. I just thought that was brilliant that that was such a huge rallying point. And seeing young people get involved in the Black Lives Matter movement, to me, it was just incredible.

When I was that age, we had anti Nazi League and Rock Against Racism. Those were things that politicized me back in the 70s. That’s where I found my politics, through the bands I was into and what their politics were. So it was stuff like The Clash doing Rock Against Racism gigs and me working out what that was all about. I thought, “All right. Yeah! Yeah, I agree with that. If Joe Strummer thinks that then there must be something there.” Then you go off and you form your own ideas and stuff like that. But the jumping off point was like bands who are saying stuff. Now I think there’s a new generation of bands who are doing that again. Sorry, I waffle on.

TFSR: It wasn’t waffling. But yeah. And I think for me, and I’m in my 40s, I’m no spring chicken, I think it’s super inspiring personally, to see for instance, the Black Lives Matter movement, or the Movement for Black Lives, the Anti Fascist organizing that’s been happening in my country visibly in this last wave for the last seven years or so. That stuff is built on what was there before. Before people were calling themselves Anti Fascist here, there was Anti Racist Action, there were other groupings, and you can just look back for inspiration. Though the struggle might look different at a specific moment, there’s so much still to learn from how there were people doing Earth First and ELF and ALF actions that you were talking about in the 80s and 90s in the UK. People doing XR, you can bring a lot of criticisms to it, but a lot of action to try to bring attention and stop the Ecocide that’s going on now. Just like you had National Front at a certain point, and then, National Action, people were fighting both of those movements.

There’s a lot that I think every generation can get from being able to tap someone on the shoulder from a prior generation and say, “you saw something like this, how did you fight? What mistakes did you make?” And sort of learning off of that. That that’s kind of what I feel when you’re talking about your daughter’s interactions and the current feminist uprising. It’s super inspiring to be able to look back and forth and see that we’re not just alone.

DB: Yeah, in all the stuff that’s happening. That feminist surprising that you talked about, to me, it’s really inspiring because I think there was pushback against that massively. An almost anti feminist sort of moment. I think there is people that have been vindicated in continuing that struggle. There’s so much stuff that’s happened. Even all the ‘Me Too’ stuff and what that has exposed. It’s incredible. My laptop is gonna die in a minute and it’s half past four now. I might have to go. Is that okay?

TFSR: Absolutely. Yeah, and thanks so much for taking the time I’ve really enjoyed it. I of course had more questions, but I could have gone on all day. I have work in a half an hour. So by saying, “I could go through all day.” I’m not going to ask you to. But Dunstan, it’s been a real pleasure speaking with you and I look forward to getting to see the film once it has distribution. Where can people find out how to how to get a hold of it? Do you have a website or social media presence that you want to point people to where you will be announcing when it hits the screens where people are at?

DB: Yeah, I’m useless at all that sort of thing. I think there’s an Instagram? There’s a Facebook page or something like that. I’m really bad at social media. I’m even really bad at it.

TFSR: It’s terrible. It’s bad to us. I’ll find the links and then I’ll put them in. Well, hey, it’s been a pleasure. And I hope you enjoy the show tonight. And again, thanks a lot for chatting.

DB: Yeah, check out Bob Villain. He’s doing really well over here. But he’s quite interesting. I’m interested in seeing him tonight. I’m excited. Alright, Ok. Cheers.

TFSR: Cheers. Okay, thanks a lot. Ciao. Bye.

Mutual Aid Under Attack: a conversation with the AVL Park Defendants

Mutual Aid Under Attack: a conversation with the AVL Park Defendants

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This week on TFSR, we are presenting a conversation with three defendants who are in an ongoing legal battle with the city of Asheville. This group is collectively known as the Asheville Park defendants and is made up of 15 people, three of whom are speaking today. They are all facing felony littering charges in connection with a demonstration in December of 2021 against a targeted camp sweep in a local park adjacent to the downtown district. For this interview, we will talk about their case, the issue of the mistreatment of houseless people generally, camp sweeps and what they mean specifically, how the charge of felony littering is often deployed by the courts, the nationwide crackdown on mutual aid, their own activisms, and how to keep in touch with this situation and support the 15 defendants. You can read all about their case and keep up with this ongoing situation at avlsolidarity.noblogs.org.

Mutual Aid Under Attack: a conversation with the AVL Park Defendants

Follow this link for an FCC compliant version of this show!

To donate to these folks you can venmo @AVLdefendantfund. The defendants would also like to plug the venmos of another AVL based mutual aid group Asheville Survival Program (link shows an interview with participants of ASP with The Final Straw radio show in October 2021), which is @AVLsurvival, the local Anarchist Black Cross chapter Blue Ridge ABC and their venmo is @BlueRidgeABC, and Asheville for Justice (@ashevilleforjustice on Venmo) which is a mutual aid organization dedicated to combating systemic oppression by offering direct community support.

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Music for this episode is an edited version of:

  • Eyeliner by American Hairlines off of the Free Music

Archive on archive.org, editing by Amar.

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Transcription

Elsa: My name is Elsa, and I have been involved in mutual aid in the area for, gosh, about a year and a half now, I guess? I’m also pretty heavily involved in the anti-war movement in the area.

Nic: I’m Nic, my pronouns are they/them. I’m pretty like new to the movement. Honestly, I don’t, I don’t know what political affiliations I would call myself…just…fuck all the fucked shit, just as it is. That’s it.

Ant: Wow, Nic, I want that on a t-shirt.

My name is Ant, my pronouns are they/them. Yeah, just political affiliation wise have been involved in mutual aid here in Asheville, and just generally, anti-state, anti-capitalist abolitionist.

TFSR: Hell yeah, thank you all so much.

So we’re here to talk about an ongoing kind of legal situation that y’all are very unfortunately being made to be caught up in. To begin with, will you talk a little bit about the activism you were doing prior to your arrests, and what precipitated those arrests?

A: So first, I just want to say that the voices here, there’s three of us, but there are 15 people implicated in all of this. So everything that we say here is, for the most part, representative of the group, but also reflects our own personal opinions. So, take that for what it is. But the group, the larger group of 15 of us, really range from a lot of activism experience, all of us are fairly new to the scene in particular here in Asheville. But there are some of us that have been doing this for a while and have put in a lot of work.

But most of us, well, all of us for sure, are involved in mutual aid in Asheville. We are part of Asheville Survival Program, which is a mutual aid organization here that’s been around for three years now, at this point, since the start of the pandemic, organizing to do food distribution in the local parks. We have a free store that is in a nearby neighborhood that provides groceries and grocery deliveries to folks [for free]. But all of us are united around just solidarity with the houseless folks that are in our community, which is kind of like what brought us into the situation that we’re in is the work that we’ve been doing mostly for that.

TFSR: Could you talk a little bit more about the direct support you have been doing with the houseless folks in Asheville?

N: I can say a little bit about that, because I wanted to add on to what Ant was saying. They talked a bit about the Free Store, there’s also a part of the collective of streetside, which has been going on for – I don’t have the whole history, but as long as the Free Store has been open, since the beginning of the pandemic. So it’s like two and a half, almost three years, I think? And that includes folks doing gear distribution – so tents, blankets, sleeping bags – at Aston Park, every weekend. We provide coffee and food every weekend. And I think streetside has been a very big deal of literally having it be like, the start of creating a community and connection with people who are living in the streets. Because how are you going to actually make connections with people if you don’t show up and get to know people and talk with them? And also provide resources?

E: We also do sometimes respond to immediate asks. Like, you know, if somebody runs into somebody whose tent that got destroyed or something, then we can do emergency asks of like, “Hey, I just ran into this person who’s in crisis, can we get together some resources?” That type of stuff.

TFSR: That’s awesome. That all sounds like really, really important work. And also it sounds like a lot of work. And, you know, I just wanted to like name that.

The next question that I had was… I would really love to talk a little bit about homelessness in Asheville because like many, many places here, I guess in this so-called country it’s an escalating concern and an escalating situation that like a lot of people are faced with. From either your direct experience or from knowledge you’ve gleaned from elsewhere, would you speak on this and the elements which have made homelessness a more present reality for lots and lots of people?

A: Well, what a question. Yeah, Asheville itself has been really facing gentrification a lot lately, the housing market here is incredibly challenging. A lot of rental homes and things that were short term rentals, rental homes have mostly been at this point converted into vacation rentals and Airbnb’s. Because Asheville itself has kind of made a name for itself as a tourist town, and tourism has just really forced its way into the way of life in Asheville. And the local city government and local businesses are really focused a lot on tourism, at this point, at the detriment of people that are living here. What’s ended up happening is that like a combination of not having any housing and a lack of support systems for folks that are facing housing issues, or just in general, the lack of support systems that are like provided by the state has just made homelessness a really, really intense issue here.

On top of that — in combination with there not really being any available housing, because of that tourism based focus — the city has kind of made it a point to, what feels like, erase the existence of homeless people here in the city. Basically cover it up and make the city look good for the people coming in from out of town. What that has meant is that they’re increasing camp sweeps. They did I think 26 in this past year. The Asheville Police Department has really focused a lot on being present at these camps. A couple of recent presentations from members of the police department have really linked homeless encampments to the violent crime that we’re seeing in the area. Which is a narrative that, honestly is super not true and has basically taken advantage of a manipulation of a data set in a way that creates this narrative that the violence and the crime that is present is a result of the homeless population, which is just not true. So yeah, it’s fucking tough being here.

TFSR: And that sounds like it’s such a rough and manipulative line that I see being drawn here on the part of the government and the part of the business owners for the most part. So yeah, thank you for giving voice to that. You said that there had been 26 camp sweeps this year. Is that 2022 alone?

A: Sorry, that is within 2021.

TFSR: Oh okay.

A: Yeah, I forgot that it was 2022. Yeah, I believe it’s been 26 since January of 2021, up until the end of this month [May 2022].

TFSR: And has the frequency of the camp sweeps, has that gone up in recent years?

E: Absolutely. Yeah, it used to be that campers would get a notice of seven days to leave their site. They now have 24 hours and sometimes not even that long. There used to not be anti-camping legislation on the books for town government, for city government. Now there’s like actual anti-camping legislation. I think it came about in like 2010ish, like after the Occupy Movement, if I remember correctly.

N: Also to add to the number of sweeps, what Elsa and Ant had said earlier, it was for seven days, and then after all this bullshit, they were like, “Oop! We’re gonna like just change the policy.” Which by the way, like, fuck cops and they had this policy of it being seven days and they were able to like change this policy down to like 24-48 hours, whatever, without telling people about it because it didn’t require any type of budgeting changes. So they were able just to be like, “Oh, we’re just gonna make this policy change,” even though they don’t fucking abide by that. And even now, like Elsa said, they don’t even do the 24 hours, or the seven days, they never did any of that. I think it was like a week or two ago that they had swept another encampment of like 20 folks or so. And the 26 encampment sweeps that have been recorded and talked about specifically by, that I’ve seen, from Asheville Free Press, those are the ones that we hear about, or that there’s video or something. But that also doesn’t include the ones that we don’t hear about, or that we hear about weeks after, because then folks are finally able to be reconnected. I’m sure it’s more than 26 and it fucking sucks.

TFSR: Indeed, I don’t want to harp on this too much because, like, I think that lots of folks know what the mechanics of a camp sweep are. But for anybody who isn’t familiar with this term, or isn’t familiar with, like, how the cops usually roll in situations like that, could you describe what typically happens in a camp sweep?

A: Yeah, totally. It definitely depends on the location of the camp. Something that has come about a couple of times, particularly here in Asheville, is a dual jurisdiction, or like a question of jurisdiction of where these camps are actually located, whether it’s on city property, or whether it’s on DOT, Department of Transportation property. Depending on where that is it can look a little different, but it can range from the cops showing up and be like, “you gotta go, get all your shit”, or something that we’ve seen at other larger sweeps is them bringing in heavy machinery, like bulldozers, and just showing up with this equipment and telling people that they need to leave. For the folks that aren’t there and able to get their things, they are taking these bulldozers and literally leveling the camps, like people’s personal belongings and everything, with a bulldozer. Which is just absurd. Because if the people aren’t there to collect their things, they’re just taking it and destroying it. Honestly it’s violent. And it’s heartbreaking.

E: They also will sometimes try to use nonprofits that are supposedly there to support those communities to like, help push people out, which is really messed up and weird.

TFSR: Could you say a little bit more about that? I mean, I absolutely don’t doubt that this happens, like this sounds exactly like something they would do, I just would love to hear a little bit more about that.

E: It’s like, they’ll try to say “Oh, we’re gonna help you figure out somewhere to go”, or “we’re gonna do this or that” and there’s not really a lot of follow through. They might put people up in a hotel for a little while, and then suddenly that hotel room is just gone and there’s no support. Like there’s no acknowledgement that this is a long term thing that people struggle with, not just something that you can magically fix by putting somebody in a hotel room for a few days. They will try to have these social service organizations come in under the guise of caring, and sort of back the cops up in sort of a gaslighty, weird way that just messes with people. I think it makes it hard for people to feel like they get any support, because it’s hard for them to trust the organizations that are supposed to be there, as you know, support organizations.

TFSR: Thank you so much for going into that. I think that’s a really important kind of thing to keep in mind when interfacing with this issue, it’s not only the cops, like the cops do a lot, but it’s also like the NGOs and the nonprofits who are complicit in this. So thank you for like teasing that out a little bit.

So, I feel like we could talk about the issue of homelessness and houselessness for a really long time, so I don’t want to like get us too in the weeds here. But I’d love to like talk a little bit about y’alls arrest and what was happening at the at the moment or at the time. Would you talk about the circumstances surrounding y’alls arrest, you three and the other, did you say 12 people?

N: Yeah, 15 people. I don’t know if you had anything more to say, but I can start there.

TFSR: Oh, no, no, yeah. Like, I’d love to hear- I mean, I wouldn’t love to – but you know, would you talk about that a little bit?

N: Yeah. When I think about how this started, I really remember the total fear that waved over the community, when people we know started receiving door knocks at like, oh my gosh I don’t remember when they started, like maybe January people started receiving door knocks? And some folks have started getting picked up at work. Because we were trying to figure out what the hell was going on? And we heard…not stories, because it’s true, but of folks who were getting arrested or found at work, and it’s like, “oh, we don’t know these people.” Some folks were even getting picked up from their cars, like getting pulled over. And then, for me, personally, I had found out that there is a warrant out for my arrest. And I was just freaked out, like, “oh, when when is it going to be my moment that a cop is going to come knock on my door and scare my family and me?” Or, like, “when am I going to get picked up at work and have myself be completely villainized and made of a scene?”

So I just remembered that, whenever we talk about the beginning I’m like, “oh, that whole fear” because it was weeks of just being terrified no matter where I went, wherever people went. Yeah, if someone else wants to jump on, I’m getting teary.

TFSR: I’m so sorry. That is fucking terrible. I’m so fucking sorry that y’all had to go through that.

A: Yeah, the arrest period was pretty crazy. I just want to say — well, first of all, side note, I love you Nic —

N: [giggles with appreciation]

A: — I’m glad we’re not dealing with that anymore. Yeah, all of this…did you kind of want us to talk about, like, the events that are surrounding these charges? Is that kind of what you’re asking about?

TFSR: Yeah, yeah. As much as you can say.

A: Cool. Yeah. So just like narrative narrative wise, at the end of December there was an event held in the city that was made to bring attention to kind of the issues that we’ve been discussing up into this point. Basically, overall, the way that the city has been handling homelessness in Asheville. And it was really just drawing to attention to something that we have really been focusing on a lot, which is the issue of safe sanctuary camping. Basically asking the city to provide a space for people who want to camp, to camp and do it safely and do it in a way that has infrastructure for hygiene, like port-a-potties, infrastructure for trash collection and disposal and just overall just a place for people to be able to be outside, living outside in a camp community. Which is something that has really been coming up more and more with these sweeps.

And also this issue really got brought up a lot in the December months and things because of a lack of just overall shelter options for people who are living on the streets who are wanting a place to be inside during colder weather. And as of this point the city has not really provided a lot of infrastructure for shelters in “cold purple”, which is basically nights when the temperature drops below freezing, there’s supposed to be places for people to be able to go inside so that they don’t experience severe injuries as a result of the cold. And yeah, a lot of that kind of got brought up in the wintertime. A lot of people in the community started opening up their own shelters, like Trinity Church has done a lot of that work on their own. And really just to make up for the fact that the city has not been like doing anything to provide resources to people.

So, there was an event in December that was targeted on drawing attention to the lack of “code purple” shelters, the lack of a sanctuary camping infrastructure. And also it was just kind of like an event for people in the community to come together and share space with one another and bond with one another. Like Nic was talking about before, just like being in a park with friends. So that was something that happened in December. And as a result of those events that stemmed to these charges, where the charges at this point are associated with a code for “felony littering” or “aiding and abetting felony littering”. And I’m pretty sure I can, yeah, this is all stuff that’s on arrest warrants. Nic and Elsa, also, if something sounds not right, please chime in. But the arrest warrants all have a citation that an amount of trash was left in a city park exceeding 500 pounds, which is the amount at which it becomes a felony offense. So each of us have been served with arrest warrants that are either directly for the felony littering or aiding and abetting that felony.

E: Also the arrests happened in bunches. There was an initial group that received arrest warrants. And then there was a pause, and then there were more. And for me personally, I thought that it was all done, I thought all of the warrants had happened, because people were starting to get court dates. And then the day after my birthday I received a letter stating that I was banned from city parks for a felony littering charge. I hadn’t even been made aware of the fact that I had a warrant, nothing had been communicated to me, this just showed up at my house. And I made the decision to self-surrender, as well as the other two people that received letters around the time I did. And so it was very, it was very weird, and it was very jarring. Because it was like, two months after the initial activity had started. It was very weird.

TFSR: Yeah, that all sounds like super disorienting and really frightening. And also “felony littering” just sounds like something that was cooked up by a neo-liberal nightmare mind, you know? [scoffs] Do you all know anything about how that charge is usually weaponized against folks?

N: From what one of our lawyers has said, and from what I’ve heard…well first off the felony littering is really ridiculous. Asheville Free Press had done some research and saw that they have not used this type of charge in over a decade. So I’m like, “Yeah, y’all totally just brought it out of your ass”. But from what it was explained, and from what I heard from lawyers, is that it can be used for either businesses and commercial dumping, if they’re just throwing shit where they just shouldn’t be. That’s one example.

And then from what I was reading a little bit earlier today, it could also be used for people who are throwing their trash from home into a ravine or into a ditch or, I don’t know, any other nature part. And I guess doing so consistently? Because I think about like 500 pounds, how much home trash you got? But you know. And then it also clicks a little bit more in my head of, like, commercial businesses just polluting and throwing their shit in ravines and ditches.

TFSR: Yeah, thank you for speaking to that. I could see it being like one of those, you know, coded charges that they employ for their own reasons or whatever. So, thanks for speaking on that.

E: Yeah. From what I understand. It also is something that local municipalities like to leverage against activists specifically.

TFSR: I see. I see, I suspected as much! [laughs at the absu rdity of it all] Oh god.

A: Yeah, and like, to that specifically, a narrative that we definitely want to share is that employing a felony littering charge in this way when it’s not something like a corporation dumping all their garbage in a river, is an attack on mutual aid in the city. It’s an attack on the work that’s being done. It’s literally an act of state repression, because it is just them choosing a charge that technically maybe makes sense in their mind and employing it in a way that is completely unorthodox, for the most part.

TFSR: Indeed. And I’d actually really love to talk about the criminalization of mutual aid, because that seems like it is 100% a factor here. Can you talk a little bit more about what kinds of threats does this legal situation pose to mutual aid, not just in Asheville, but, you know, all over the place?

A: Yeah, I think, you know, this is something that is not a new issue, that there have been organizations like across the US, across other countries as well, that have been engaging in mutual aid and have come across state repression in some way in the form of charges that make no sense or, just in general trying to make the work hard. Because the goal of mutual aid is really to challenge existing society, and it is based on a model of community care, it is based on people looking out for one another, and people meeting each other’s needs. And that is a system that exists without the state. And so as a result, the state feels threatened by that and so they find opportunities like this one to repress that, because their existence is being threatened by it.

In this instance, in particular, Asheville, with not just this, but other things have come out that have really just felt like direct targets on mutual aid efforts. Something that came up a couple of months ago was the city was entertaining the idea of an ordinance that would ban food sharing in public parks — basically they were trying to criminalize being able to come to the park and share food with people. Which, honestly, when you say it out loud just seems ridiculous. But that, coupled with these charges, just really kind of paints a narrative of the city targeting these efforts of care because they’re feeling threatened. [That] is my conjecture at least.

And then on top of that, the park ban that Nic mentioned before, by issuing bans to the folks that have received these charges — despite the fact that they have not been convicted, this is like, an active criminal thing, nothing has been cited — there is still this ban, which basically takes 15 folks and prevents them from being in public parks. Which is a place that they know that this food sharing is happening, that they know that mutual aid is occurring. The more that you kind of tie it all together, the more it seems like, yeah, just a really fucked up narrative, I guess.

TFSR: It also makes me think of, just a complete sort of municipal, or whatever, government unwillingness in any way, approach the phenomenon of homelessness in a way that’s compassionate, or creative, or pro-human, or anything like that. I think that the more I look at cities’ responses to people who are homeless, the more I’m just like, “you have no other wish then for folks to just simply disappear,” you know? Which is just like, I mean, I’m not like expecting compassionate government

N: [giggles in agreeance]

TFSR: Because I am not wired that way. Maybe that’s too cynical I have no idea, but [inhales deeply] it’s just like come on, you know? That to me is also a huge, huge issue.

E: Yeah. You know, to tie the tourist industry to the attack on mutual aid, literally the cops are encouraged by city council and the mayor to make the folks that are living on the streets disappear. And they don’t care how they make them disappear. They just don’t want them downtown where the tourists are, or in certain other parts of the city. They don’t want them visible. Because Asheville is touted as this “progressive” town, this “quirky, fun, progressive town” that people can come visit and so they care very much for the way that they look. If people see other humans living on the streets, struggling, that makes the city look, in their eyes, that makes them look crappy. And they are very concerned about that image. And it’s 100% all about that they do not care what happens to these people. Honestly, if they were all to die tomorrow, I think they would be fine with that. Because they just want them gone. They don’t care how it happens, they just want them gone.

TFSR: Absolutely.

N: I also just wanted to add a little something about the attack on mutual aid. It made me think about how the attempt to ban food sharing, as well as the parks ban, I just think about, the progression of how that’s been going, and the folks that I know who have been — specifically, the way I was able to show up is through streetside and attempting to be consistent and making connection with folks. It’s through food sharing! That’s literally how I was able to be introduced to that, and fucking start my connection with people.

And now I know folks who, because of the state and because of APD and the city — Ashville Police Department and the city — it’s now constant threats and fears of people wanting to share food and make connection. Which is fucking rad! It’s just, just that in itself is dangerous and amazing and awesome and caring. Just thinking how people that I know that love and do that so much and put so much heart into that, can’t now because of these threats and because of APD and because of the city consistently stabbing people with all this stuff.

E: Yeah, I personally am not able to go to streetside anymore. That was one of the first ways that I was introduced to mutual aid was streetside, and I love streetside and I miss it. And I am the main person that earns money in my household. So, one of the conditions of my release is that I can’t go back to Aston Park, which is the park where we do a lot of food sharing. If I were to be incarcerated for any period of time, there’s a good likelihood that I would lose my job and potentially lose my license as a veterinary technician. I can’t run that risk because I could lose my home. So I haven’t been able to do something that I really like because of all this.

TFSR: Yeah, thank you so much for giving voice to how this entire situation is impacting your lives both personally and politically. It’s extremely disruptive. It sounds tedious and frightening, which is a really shitty combination. Is there anything more to say about this topic? Like how you have seen these charges, like impact the work around town?

N: Yeah, the last things I’m thinking of is, though these charges are fucked and it is so stressful and it’s taking such a toll, it has, as we’ve seen, definitely taken an impact on folks who are able to show up and do this work. You know, because it’s caring. It’s definitely made an impact because there are folks, like Elsa said, who can no longer show up because it literally runs the risk of their livelihood. And also from what I’ve seen from these charges, from the impacts and effects in the community, are a lot of people making efforts to connect more in the broader sense of folks who are doing other work in Asheville.

So I think a lot about how, since the attempt at banning food sharing, folks have also been meeting up with faith leaders who also do like shit ton of work in the community. That’s another connection that people have been making or have had, and just really have been pouring into that. We’ve also garnered a lot of support, and being new to this movement, I’ve been like, “wow, there’s actually a shit ton of people who are really, really down for this” as they should be. And, though, it sucks that I am witnessing this through this way. Because facing this repression, I am very excited about how much more I can, myself and others, can deep dive into the work of being stronger together.

E: Yeah, I would agree, absolutely. And say that there have been people that have reached out to the defendants and said, like, “what can we do? This is so messed up, how can we get involved?” So it’s kind of amazing how, in some ways, this has helped us grow our community. And there has been more awareness brought to this issue, which is the exact opposite of I think what the state had hoped for.

TFSR: That is really, really great to hear. I love that there has been a lot of support from the faith community. What kinds of support that y’all are seeking from listeners, like, how can folk help support you? Are you asking for anything specifically?

A: Yeah, I think one thing that I just really want to name in all of this is that this has been really heavy, and it’s prevented folks from showing up in the ways that they have been showing up, but it doesn’t mean that we’re going to stop showing up. And mutual aid and like, the work that we’re doing is something that is going to shift and change and keep going because all of us are here, because we believe in a different world. And we’re all trying to build something. So we’re not going to go away, we’re just going to change the way that we’re doing things.

And I think like the number one ask that we’ve been having in all of this is for folks to show up, and be part of this, be part of this building work that we’re trying to do, and come out and meet your neighbors and share space with your neighbors and share food with your neighbors, get to know one another. Start to continue to deepen these networks of people supporting one another, and just knowing people. And yeah, just keep fucking showing up. That’s all we can really do. That’s why we’re here.

E: We also have a website and we are trying to raise funds. And some folks aren’t completely satisfied with their [legal] representation. And like, you know, most of us don’t really have the means to retain representation on our own so we’re definitely looking for folks to be willing to maybe help us out a little bit in that way. And we’ve been working on trying to really spread the word about what’s going on, to help further the issues of what is happening to unhoused communities, and try to pressure our local government, and the people in power in general, trying to pressure and elevate these issues. So that’s really important, too, is people elevating these issues in their own spheres and having these conversations about what needs to happen, how they can be there in supportive ways for their own communities.

TFSR: I love that. What is your website and how can people read your solidarity statement? And how can people keep up with what’s going on for y’all?

N: Yeah, so our website is avlsolidarity.NoBlogs.org. and our Venmo is @AVLDefendantFund. Also for ongoing mutual aid work, folks are totally encouraged to donate to Asheville Survival Program, that’s @AVLsurvival for Venmo. And then to resist future Movement repression is Blue Ridge Anarchist Black Cross, you know, as well there’s Asheville for Justice, who does direct fund distribution. And to what you had asked earlier about what support asks, also for people to keep talking about this, they can see our updates on Ashevillesolidarity.NoBlogs.org, as well as Asheville Survival Program’s Instagram. So keep talking about it, please keep talking about it. Please keep updated with us, you can send us comments and little cute notes on our website! [laughs] Or if you have something to offer or support in any kind of way, or whatever that looks like, please, creativity is everything! Please reach out.

And also, back to what Ant was saying, please show up, please keep showing up. I mean, this is what’s going to happen, this fucking sucks, and mutual aid is going to be attacked. But we’re getting through this together. And that’s how we will get through it. And so I’m only scared because of the state, like the state has brought this fear. But I’m gonna keep going. Like this is the only way, is to keep persevering and showing up. Also, if you got gear, please give us gear! Give Asheville Survival Program gear: tents, sleeping bags…I mean, that’s distributed every single week directly to people living on the streets. Give money.

TFSR: I love that so much. I think it’s no small feat to approach moments of state repression with “yes, this sucks, but like we’re still going to keep showing up”. And I think that that takes a lot, you know, and I just want to appreciate that so much, and name that as well. And we’ll link all of those sites that you mentioned with the Venmo’s and the websites and everything in our show notes. So those are all of the questions that I had scripted up. Thank you all so much for taking the time to have this chat. It’s been a real pleasure to get to sit down with you all and listen to what you had to say. Is there anything that we missed in this interview that you want to speak about in closing, or anything like that?

E: Thank you so much for just helping us elevate these issues and having this conversation. It was really, really awesome.

A: Yeah, I want to echo that. Thank you for taking the time to let us talk. Appreciate it a lot. I just want to say I would encourage anyone who is curious about any of this to research the sanctuary camp-related things that have been going on around the country. There have been cities that have been making it happen, and making it work and building this infrastructure, which is super cool. And I would encourage folks to do the research on that. And just, yeah, continuously encourage folks to hang in there and, you know, be in solidarity with one another and remember that there’s something better out there for all of us.

N: And thank you for having this interview with us. Also this has been going for like, oh my god, I don’t even know how many fucking months it’s been, four plus months, more! And how ridiculous this all is, and how much fucking money is being wasted on us right now [cracking up] to show up to court every single month to have these like… I don’t think we talked about it, but we had a parks ban appeal meeting, which was ridiculous. Also just a shit ton of money being wasted every single time they talk about us, show us and interact with us. While those, literally a fraction of that could be used for hygiene infrastructure in parks, public restrooms, hand washing stations. Did they open up any of those public restrooms again? I don’t know, not sure.

Also, that district attorney Todd Williams can drop our charges. Drop our charges Todd Williams, you can do it! Any day now!

TFSR: Yeah, we’re waiting on you, Todd. Come on. Step up.

Prisoner Solidarity, COVID, and Carcerality with IWOC

Prisoner Solidarity, COVID, and Carcerality with IWOC

Download Episode Here

This week we are pleased to present an interview that Bursts did with two members of IWOC (the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee), Caroline works with Millions for Prisoners New Mexico (@iwocnm and @millionsforprisonersnm on the Fedbook), Incarceratedworkers.org and Xeno is with IWOC Sacramento (@sacramento_iwoc on Instagram).

For the little-over-an-hour they speak on what it’s like to be working with incarcerated folks during the coronavirus pandemic, how prisons and the carceral mentality impacts everyone to varying degrees, the varying conditions in the prisons they are most tangential to, ways to connect with and support IWOC and many other topics!

Announcements

Eric King Call-In Continues

Anarchist, antifascist and vegan prisoner Eric King who you heard from in our April 3rd, 2022 episode has been sitting at the federal prison in Atlanta since his transfer from Grady County Jail. Our comrade shouldn’t be behind bars, especially after all he’s faced at the hands of federal prison staff, but he’s stable for the time being but the fear remains that the Bureau of Prisons is trying to wait out Eric’s supporters so we’ll drop vigilance and he can be quietly shipped off to the high security facility, USP Lee where he could be isolated in a Secure Housing Unit and be in danger of further attacks. Eric’s support team suggests that folks check out the latest post at SupportEricKing.Org to find contacts for people and continue to press officials to not move Eric to a facility above his medium security classification.

Transcripts & Zines

This is just a quick reminder that you can find a printable zine of that chat and many, many more at tfsr.wtf/zines, alongside transcripts and unimposed pdfs for easy printing of all of our interviews dating back to at least January 2021. If you write a prisoner or run a zine distro or literature to prisoners project, check out the collection for new material. And if you can read and write in another language and want to translate any of the texts, you are welcome to with no permission needed, but please send us a copy and we’ll promote it as well. If you care to support our transcription process you can make a one-time or recurring donation or merchandise purchase, more information at tfsr.wtf/support

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Featured Track:

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Transcription

TFSR: So could you please introduce yourself to the audience with any names, preferred gender pronouns, or affiliations that you’d like to share?

Courtney: Yeah, my name is Courtney. I use she/her pronouns, and I am with Millions For Prisoners New Mexico, as well as the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee.

Xeno: Hey, I am Xeno, I use he/him pronouns and I am similarly with the Incarcerated Organizing Committee here in Sacramento.

TFSR: Well, Courtney, could you talk a little bit about Millions For Prisoners? Could you talk about that organizations, like what that group does?

C: Yeah, for sure. So, Millions For Prisoners in New Mexico/New Mexico Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee is… we’re all impacted by incarceration in some way, shape, or form from folks who are family members of people who were formerly incarcerated or are currently incarcerated. We have jailhouse lawyers on our crew. Of course, myself who has formerly incarcerated family members, as well as I worked in a State Penitentiary at the penitentiary of New Mexico in Santa Fe as the head librarian back in about 2014 to 2015. I have some experience in terms of seeing the way the prison was run, and a lot of the human rights abuses that took place there. And yeah, we’re an abolitionist formation of folks who have been dealing with the impacts of state violence in one way or another through our entire lives, whether it be by police coming into our communities and terrorizing our community members, to folks dealing with incarceration, to folks experiencing different states of poverty including being un-sheltered. So, yeah, our people are all impacted by the system in some way. So it helps to drive us to continue to do what we do and stand grounded in our values. That’s who we are.

TFSR: Cool, and Xeno? Did you want to say anything about the work that you all do?

X: Yeah, I’ll say that, like, we’re Sacramento IWOC on social media. But we actually have members across California that are not just on the inside, but also on the outside. We help facilitate the existence of the Union for prisoners in every state prison in California. At some point we’d like to expand beyond that to additional facilities in California and help people do that across the country and the world, as well. I will say that we are a very wide ranging group of more than 20 people just dedicated to IWOC, not including more worker organizing focused stuff. The way in which we are least diverse is age in that were almost all under 30, but not entirely. I can also add that I have experienced a form of like mental health incarceration in my life, that was brief but truly terrifying.

TFSR: Yeah, who would one of y’all want to speak a little bit about what IWOC is and it’s relationship with the IWW? I know that it sprang out of the Industrial Workers of the World, which historically it’s a syndicalist labor union. Well, you can tell more about it than I could for sure, being affiliated with it.

But yeah, if you could speak a little bit about the history of IWOC and its relationship to the IWW. I seem to recall that during the Trump administration era there was tension between national leadership and other formations such as GDC, or General Defense Committee and IWOC.

C: Yeah, what I wanted to say about the matter is that we are definitely part of the IWW. We do have an active relationship with the IWW. They not only fund our work through a built-in dues model which is aligned with anti capitalist values, but we also continue to make gains with people who aren’t necessarily impacted by systems of oppression and violence, the way marginalized folks who have constant ordeals with the prison system or with police are. The working class solidarity in being in solidarity with folks who are behind the walls, who often may not have the choice to not work, which is often the case throughout the United States from coast to coast, that is leading to people in the IWW very much being in community with us and wanting to contribute labor administratively to what we need to have done for people on the inside since they can’t really do the same kinds of things that we can in terms of administrative work with computers.

TFSR: Courtney, how did you end up becoming employed as the head librarian at a prison? Did you just get your MLS and that was one of the options that was open to you? Or did they even require that? Can you talk a little bit about that experience of working in that facility?

C: Of course. Yeah. So, I actually got a bachelor’s in biology and worked in libraries. I worked in one in the community college for a number of years, I worked at one at the university out here for a number of years. And I was just putting my application out to everywhere, kind of broadcasting all over the place to get a job. I came across the State office and applied, I saw librarian positions and I kind of applied for those. But I didn’t really realize that I had applied for a prison until I got a phone call from who became my boss who was in the Department of Recidivism Reduction Division. I went in, because I was just interested because I was told you’re going to be giving books to people who are in solitary confinement.

What I had expected was about maybe 2, 3, 4 prison cells would be solitary confinement and it would be a punishment, or whatever the case may be. Although I did have very close family members who were locked up, I didn’t really know a whole lot about the experiences that they had, truly, until I actually went into the facility. But to my surprise, the facility was the supermax prison with about 600 people in various stages of solitary confinement. Of course, 300 being in the supermax facility. It’s all one great big compound is what it is.

The people in the supermax were at the time on 23 hour lockdown with one hour that they’d get in a cage with a two man escort that would take them out to the cage to have their exercise for an hour a day. Then at the level 5, which was on the other side of the facility complex, I’ll call it, it was a little less restrictive but still kind of the same content context. They have got to have what was called ‘tier time,’ where they would be in a certain pod and get to kind of be among each other, but were classified in different states and placed in different pods depending on whatever the case may be. If they were Seurity Threat Group classified or whatever. Then of course, there was a level two unit which was in the front. People could move and have access to the library and so forth.

When I went in to interview for the position. I wanted to see what the facility looked like because I had actually watched a documentary and a subsequent really disgusting thing that they did, which was a haunted house that they had at the Old Main. The facility I worked with was the site of what is called “the worst prison riot in US history” at the Penitentiary of New Mexico Old Main Building, where there were conditions of overcrowding, and physical and psychological abuse and terror that were employed on people that were incarcerated there. It basically blew up into a prison riot in 1980, where 33 people were killed and the National Guard was called in. As a result New Mexico had made that facility into a supermax where they put everyone there in solitary confinement with the exception of the level 2 that’s in the front that I was mentioning.

But I went in I found this little library that was in a chapel at the level six and it was this completely sterile environment. No wildlife, no trees, you’d see a bird on the barbed wire once in a while. It was almost like a religious experience seeing life in something positive and beautiful in such the horrible conditions. The human rights abuses, the torture, seeing people hurting themselves. Every moment being on your feet, it changed my life completely. It breaks my heart that I’m not there anymore, because through books and this is the thing about literature in prisons, books were the only escape that people had.

It was heartbreaking because a lot of that was taken away. Especially in the wake of the pandemic, people were allowed to have three books. We had to carry them out in an ATV to the different parts of the facilities, handing people their three books a week. People would get punished and their books will get thrown away. I would just buy more books to supplement. Right when I walked in, I just felt like I needed to be there. The connections that I made with prisoners…

Of course, the administration pummeled me into probably what could have been the worst experience of my life. As a woman, just the sexual objectification of me by corrections officers, and just the afterwards terror that I had resulted in me literally being afraid for my life, questioning whether I should move out of the state and change my name, and everything. I mean, it was the worst thing that I’ve ever really experienced in a workplace. I didn’t know who to tell who to talk to. But I had just randomly and with a lot of fear in my heart gone to, I was forced into resignation by the way, but I had gone to a Million’s For Prisoners park event that was commemorating Black August. I went to this big event and I heard a person who had just released from prison, but had a large sentence, I believe, an 18 year sentence on his head, named Justin Allen, who does a lot of incredible legislative advocacy work across the board with Right To Vote and stuff like that among so many other things. He was speaking about his experience in prison at this event. The courage that he had and that other people had, who were speaking that day in the park, helped me to go to another event and another event.

Then eventually I was approached, and I told my story to who became more than comrades, my family, with Millions For Prisoners New Mexico/IWOC and helped me to ground myself and have courage to even speak at all about anything. I just didn’t feel like there would be anyone that would believe anything beyond that a person who is in prison deserves what they get. That concept of vengeance on every level. People don’t really know what that looks like until they step into that situation and see the way humans are treated. You see people pacing back and forth, you see people harming themselves, you see blood, you see fights, the things that people confide in you. It’s heartbreaking whenever I think about it because I do want to be there to support people. I felt like when I was there I was providing a good heart in this ultimate darkness. People that rely on violence, when violence is how you operate as your baseline, it changes a person. Everyone that is involved in oppressing people as a career, police and prison CEOs, or whatever the case may be, they adopt that. That becomes the every day and they become addicted to that.

So just to answer your question, it was a fluke. I ended up just wanting to see what it was about, because I had heard about all that stuff that happened during the riot. They actually, the prison itself had a haunted house at the time where they were having people come on tours. They were paying like 30 bucks or more to go on tour so that you can experience someone talking about everything that happened during the prison riot. I don’t think they’ve resumed that as of now. I thought it was really disgusting that they were doing that when I first heard about it. A friend of the family son had died during the riot as well. So I was just curious and it led me into a rabbit hole and here I am today. Someone I never would have thought I would have become. I’m very introverted. I have really blossomed with the help of people who are behind the walls and people who are organizing who have experienced State violence. They’ve helped me to blossom into somebody that I feel like maybe I was meant to become as weird and kooky as that sounds.

TFSR: Courtney, can you talk about how access to literature has changed since COVID?

C: Yeah, for sure. Since COVID, one thing that’s happened is the distribution of literature. It used to be mandated by the ACA, or American Corrections Association, that people will be delivered books at least once a week and the limit was three books per person that they could have in their cell. Regular deliveries of three books per week if people request them. That of course, due to the pandemic, due to the excuse of staffing shortages, but really was, “we don’t want to do this labor because it’s hard labor to physically take books and physically sort books and get them out to people.” But under the guise of, “it’s the pandemic,” people haven’t been getting access to books.

Another thing that we’ve seen that is just outrageous in New Mexico is that the mailing system had changed. Of course, we were sending literature into our folks in New Mexico and really all over the Southwest, This is kind of a hub for the Southwest here in New Mexico. Just as of recently, New Mexico is sending mail to a third party that scans it and then sends it back depending on if it’s considered to be appropriate. That not only impacts the ability to send newsletters or literature from orgs or friends or family, but it also impacts folks who want to get drawings from their children, cards from their children, things from their family. It takes the personalization of a handwritten letter from one human being to another and it’s just another form of dehumanization and oppression.

They want to find any way that they can stamp the human being into ultimate hopelessness. The reality is that we’re going to continue to keep fighting against these forms of oppression by the state and these forms of hate. It’s just that they have so much hate pent up at every level. You can’t meet someone that works within these systems that’s going to be wanting to help people. That’s not what it’s about. It’s sick. There’s there’s nothing about it that is helpful in any way.

TFSR: Xeno, you mentioned that a lot of the work that Sacramento IWOC does is helping to distribute literature and getting it on the inside. But I wonder if you could talk about that and talk a little bit more about the Wobblies and about the idea of organizing. It has not the first time it’s happened in the US, we played a recording of Lorenzo Komb’oa Ervin talking about in the 1970s organizing union of prisoners in North Carolina when he was being incarcerated there, but I wonder if you could speak a bit about the idea of addressing incarcerated folks as workers? I think that Courtney mentioned that people oftentimes don’t have a choice to not work and that varies state by state.

X: Yeah. So it definitely varies a lot in California. For starters, only a select few people get to work in California. Even if your work is firefighting for like pennies an hour, that’s considered a very enviable position to be in as a prisoner. As an incarcerated human being people want to be out of their cells doing something. And if that thing is almost completely uncompensated and life threatening, at least it’s an adrenaline rush. It’s better than just like sitting around doing nothing and talking to the same group of people day after day after day for decades.

I think that as far as revolutionary unionism, I don’t generally prefer the vernacular of syndicalism, snd officially the IWW doesn’t either. We are revolutionary unionist. Do I think that a labor strike in prison is going to cripple the state of California? Fuck no dude, they have so much money and one of their main taxes is just on capital gains. So that means that whenever the stock market’s going up, they’re flush. And whenever it’s not going up, they’re not, basically. We know that that’s not what we’re expecting to happen in California. Like, “oh, yeah. Let’s just talk to the union rep of the yard.” That’s not what we’re doing. We’re not trying to be like SEIU for prisoners. We are revolutionary unionists.

I think some people might enter union spaces not really understanding the key differences between a revolutionary union versus not. And that’s something that the IWW consistently struggles with. But aside from that, basically we don’t hire staff, we don’t hire lawyers. This is something that sometimes people inside are not happy to hear either. That we’re not here to do like their criminal case or their civil case for them. But we’re here to organize, which is about collective power. Whereas the legal system is about atomization and addressing individual problems, or “addressing them.”

So we seek to facilitate collective power in lots of different ways around the nexus of incarceration and that means doing lots of different things. We have a formal structure. I think this is what makes us different from an “informal group” or whatever. We recognize that the power dynamics inherent in our existing society are going to splash up on the shores of our group whether we like it or not and that the best way to actually ensure non hierarchical dynamics prevail is to have structure. I encourage folks to think differently from that, that having less structure and also means less hierarchy. I have deeply considered that point of view and come away thinking otherwise. I would just refer folks to the 1970 essay by Jo Freeman, The Tyranny of Structurelessness. Jo Freeman, awesome person, clearly knew what she was talking about. She’s still around. Shout out to Jo Freeman if she’s listening… I liked your essay.

We have structure, we have people who are in charge of specific things. What we do to combat the horrendous system that I’ve been describing is that we keep people sane and by talking to them, writing them, building relationships inside and out. We do that however, in a systemic way where we also already know people on essentially, almost every yard in the California State Prison system. Yards are kind of separate facilities, really. So people don’t tend to necessarily see people on other yards in the same facility. but like I said, we have people on almost every yard. And we try coordinate putting those people in touch with each other. And then also coordinate whatever people on the inside are interested in that we’re about and that is not budget busting, we work with them to do.

So, we’re working to do a program where instead of hiring lawyers, which we can’t do, we help jailhouse lawyers build a structure to oversee and advise other jailhouse lawyer to help people build institutional knowledge and less time learning to do prison legal work, and make sure that we’re not duplicating efforts across different facilities, and so forth. Then also, when there’s a struggle that breaks out that’s collective, we would help amplify whatever kind of public message that the people involved with that want to put forth. As we’re building relationships with folks on the inside, we try and like help them get in touch with one another and decide what kind of group activities they want to do. Which sometimes revolves around either political education or more legal work, or it might be something different from that. But those are the kinds of things that we got going on. We’re looking to do like more on different things all the time.

But fundamentally, we’re happy to be a part of the IWW and we see this very much as a part of the historical tradition and historical mission of IWW, including the literature aspect. Back in the day with the IWW there were always people who were writing about what they were doing whether it’s Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, writing the first half of her autobiography, and then writing about going to prison, she wrote a whole book about going to prison. And then other people doing these struggles and also writing about them. Writing is a key essential part of real serious working class struggle, because everyone’s constantly reinventing the wheel. In the modern circumstance, people are also getting fucked up and fucked over by these business unions. If we’re not learning what we’re doing as a revolutionary union, and we don’t have an intergenerational knowledge base. We’re no match for SEIU. I’m picking on SEIU a lot but it all applies to all the major unions essentially.

Also I’m not speaking as the IWW when I talk shit on other unions. But if they were that real they’d be unionizing prisoners, not us. Not meaning to start any fights with other unions, but I think that what they do is pretty real on the ground, but maybe their president’s salaries shouldn’t be exactly what they are and maybe they shouldn’t be so subservient to the Democratic Party, frankly. I think that’s kind of known to be the IWW position. So I won’t go off a whole lot beyond that. But we know that just a strike isn’t going to stop the machine of incarceration, at least in California. It maybe a different story and someplace like Louisiana or Alabama, I don’t know, I’m not from there. I could be wrong. But we seek to facilitate making prisoners collectively powerful in all the ways that we can, and literature is completely 100% central to that. It’s not just like a pastime. Although a lot of people have different tastes. People like to read stuff to feel a sense of escape, or live vicariously in a cell, but there’s also political books and political zines and stuff like that, including the one of your guys’s interviews that we like to send all the time and also including stuff from other past movements, whether it’s Emma Goldman’s essay about prison, or whether it like stuff written by the Black Panthers, or Lorenzo Ervin’s writings or other stuff like that.

All of that stuff is really essential to the movement that we’re building. This isn’t all that we do. One of the things that we do, is we help guys in prison. I mean, we help everyone with this, but we kind of have a focus on radical feminism and radical feminism has like a specific meaning for some people. I don’t mean that specific meaning.

TFSR: Not the TERFy stuff.

X: Yeah, no, definitely not that. I just mean men being in touch with their emotions. Bell Hooks and stuff like that. You know, the reality is that people put in prison are there for all kinds of different reasons and some of them are like, “whatever, I didn’t do anything wrong.” The whole society is telling you you did something wrong, most of them end up feeling that they did do something wrong, even if maybe some of it really wasn’t. And a lot of it frankly, is stuff that is regrettable, and it’s stuff that people genuinely really regret and would even if they weren’t in prison. Moments of their lives that they really, truly wish they could take back. But a lot of times, it’s because people acted in anger. I think teaching guys on the inside and outside to be more in touch with their emotions and less quick to anger is really, really essential and revolutionary work, even if it’s not as fetishized by the very macho impulses that it seeks to undermine.

TFSR: Yeah, that’s really well said. I’m super stoked personally that if you listen to our episodes, every episode I’m just like, “hey, hey, hey, we do zines. Send them into prisons. Please, please, please!” I’m really glad to hear that y’all have found good use of those.

X: Yes, we most certainly have. Keep it up.

TFSR: Hell yeah, I will do my best.

Initially, I thought Courtney and I were just going to be talking. So I’m really glad that you’re here, Xeno. Maybe the two of you can compare and contrast in this next question. I feel like there are a lot of through lines between prison systems from state to state in the US. The political, historical, and economic flavor of a specific state is often reflected in the Department of Corrections in that state, and how the prisons look. For instance, states in the former US South have lots of chain gangs, guards tend to be on unionized often on horseback with shotguns and have low pay, creating more wild and baldly corrupt places where the majority Black prisoner population have been able to organize and use some of that corruption to an advantage of accessing forbidden tech like cell phones for the organizing process. That’s clear with things like the Free Mississippi Movement, the Free Alabama Movement with prison organizing in Georgia, with folks affiliated with Jails House Lawyers Speak, and voices coming out of South Carolina at times, like it’s all super amazing.

In California, as I understand, having spoken with some folks inside there, which is one of the largest economies in the world, prison guards have a very strong union, the facilities seem to be more updated and more locked down. The struggle against long term solidarity and arbitrary gang designations of shaped a lot of notable struggles inside of the prison over the last couple of decades. I was wondering Courtney and Xeno, but in particular, because I don’t know very much of prisons in New Mexico, that was really enlightening to hear about the prison riot in 1980. But can you talk about the prison systems that you most interact with and some of the characteristics?

C: Yeah, yeah, for sure. So New Mexico employs a system of human warehousing. So prisons are scattered about the landscape in remote areas that are often really difficult to access for folk’s loved ones. In fact, one of my comrades and mentors, Solinda Guerrero, before I had ever joined Millions For Prisoners used to have a transport van to have families access to these facilities by driving them out to go see their loved ones, because a lot of them are out in places that are hard to get to. That’s kind of what we’re looking at as a system of human warehousing, a lot like what I was mentioning with the penitentiary of New Mexico being a warehouse for human beings who are in confinement conditions.

Now, in terms of refusing labor, on that front I did find a handbook from corrections industries, which is also called Southern New Mexico Correctional Facility, but it’s run by a private corporation. They can actually issue disciplinary action for folks failing to report for their assigned work. We also see in interstate run prisons that people are punished by being removed from Gen Pop [general population] and then moved into restrictive housing units, aka ‘solitary confinement.’ We also see that from coast to coast prisoners reporting being punished if they refuse to work.

Now, also from a person that I was speaking to about this issue before coming on, my friend Justin, who also spent 17 years incarcerated and also did some firefighting work, etc. He was mentioning that you can get written up, lose good time, go to seg if you refuse to work. Now in the facility that I was at jobs, well, they were kind of considered as a ‘privilege’ by the administration. So they were often taken away. Like if someone had a work duty, let’s say, one of the porters in library, for example, at the level 2, they could get punished by having their work assignment taken away. They kind of do it a little bit differently in places that have group labor, like farms and so forth. I guess they also had something where people were raising cattle, but yeah, for that kind of thing you will get punished if you don’t report to it. But then they can also turn around and take the job away if it’s something that’s considered to be a privilege.

But yeah, we we had a porter at the level 6 facility, the supermax facility, whose job it was to clean blood that had spilled from people fighting or getting stabbed or hurting themselves, or whatever the case may be. In New Mexico workers make about anywhere from 10 cents to $1 an hour. So it kind of varies from place to place. But people that are in prison are also not considered as employees of the penitentiary for purpose of filing Occupational Health and Safety complaints with the Environmental Improvement Division. I took that from a corrections industries handbook. So we also see that in other states where people aren’t considered as employees who are working for the prison. It’s a very mucky situation, when your workplace is also serving as the place that you live and the place that you get your food from, and the place that you get your punishment from. When it’s all kind of merged into this soup of punishment, people don’t have the same inherent rights that workers do. Not to say that workers across the US are having that great of a time, of course, which is why that solidarity between the working class and people who are literally under the exception clause of 13th Amendment considered to be slaves [is important].

X: Yeah. So this is just like, what I think from having done this for a few years now. So when I’m talking to prisoners, the most effective thing that they remember happening against the prison system was the 2011 and 2013 hunger strike. Which are kind of known as hunger strikes, but also included labor strikes. That also is heavily intertwined with the power of shot callers of various groups on various yards. And the state uses certain terms that I think people can probably guess for these groups, but I just want to say they’re all different. They ranged from literal Nazis to people I’m proud to call comrade. But I would say that the dominant formations that are like that in California prison are…

First of all women’s prisons completely different and separate, nothing I say right now applies to that. For the men’s prison, which is 98% of the prisoners, right? Something like that. There are these groups where there are shock collars. If anyone makes trouble, their life could be in danger. Making trouble could be something as simple as filing a grievance when the shot caller has said, “Hey, you’re filing these grievances frivolously don’t do that.” So basically, the way things work is shit rolls downhill. So the administration will have a DL but everyone knows what’s happening kind of relationship with the shot callers on the yard. And they’ll be like, “if anything happens on this yard that we really don’t like, it’s your fucking fault and we’re gonna punish you like it’s your fault.” So then that person enforces the State’s discipline through extra-state means.

People who “investigate gangs” for the State of California inside prison, which is basically the state’s little FBI, but just for its prison system, or you can say they’re kind of like Stasi almost, if we’re gonna think of prison as like a police state society within Republic. These people are like the Stasi of that little micro society. There they have a lucid understanding that they are not actually out to suppress these groups outright. They are here to facilitate their usefulness to the state. They don’t say that out loud, obviously, but they do actually say it perhaps in setting with prisoners, they will let onto that. I’ve talked to people who are aware of all of this and have served long sentences for our survey.

So we have a pretty lucid understanding that the people at the top of most of these larger para-State criminal organizations. They are not the friend of the State and they’re not really the lapdogs of the state. But they nonetheless operate a little bit like the leaders of a business union might operate. They want things to improve for themselves, and for their folks inside, but they do not want revolution. Even if they sometimes strategically embrace revolutionary rhetoric, to further their end, those ends are to exploit people to make money, except that when a corporation does that, they’re supposed to abide by certain rules, which of course, sometimes they break anyway. But these people have absolutely no rule. For these organizations that are more or less explicitly about patriarchy first of all, and second of all, making money, there’s very little that they won’t do to you if they decide that you’re in the way of their goals.

They’re not a unified whatever. They’re not obviously as centralized as like the State is. But we’ve had people who are doing stuff as simple as trying to get people clean needles who are using on the yard and that has been deemed a sufficiently non business friendly activity to get that person rolled up on and stabbed by multiple people on the yard and nearly killed. That was a real thing that happened. Because someone was doing something that the shot callers didn’t want.

Then you also have this other system of yards in California called the ‘SNY.’

TFSR: Is it SNY?

X: yeah, it stands for Special Needs Yard, like GP is ‘general population.’ Sorry if that was unclear.

TFSR: Oh, no, no, that’s good clarification, though.

X: In SNY there are people who are not able to get along with the rest of the prisoners, but that has become larger and larger and larger over time and is now essentially 50% of the system at least. If you ask a person in general pop, “what is SNY?” They will say to you, “Oh, yes. The snitches and child molesters yard.” That category ‘snitch’ can include a lot of shit. If you roll up onto a yard but say you’re a white antifascist. Well, guess what? The white group that you’re going to inherently be scrunched into in a men’s prison in California is the Aryan fucking Brotherhood. If you’re Anti-Fascist you can do that, but you better do it really quietly and not in a way that’s actually practicing those values on the yard or they will kill you. If you’re lucky, what they’ll do is they’ll kind of just like push you towards the guard at yard time and say “this guy’s no good.” Then that means you go to SYN.

It’s different for different groups. Like I said, that’s just the dominant group for white men on GP yards. But the other groups are varying degrees of more cool than that. I’ll also add that unlike the other group, the Aryan Brotherhood is officially suppressed by the State of California and they do very much at least make a convincing show of trying to outright suppress that organization, and yet are unable to do so. But they don’t really do that with other groups. Except for Black Guerrilla Fam, which is like not a real group. That’s just something they accuse random Black radical people as being affiliated with. So that’s kind of an exceptional thing.

TFSR: What do you mean that it’s not a real group? Just that it’s a thing that gets hung on people, but most of them aren’t affiliated.

X: It’s something that George Jackson called for in his writing, but as far as I could… and I don’t know. I don’t have a complete unbroken history of what’s always happened on every yard of every prison in California. But I do not know of any yard where Black Guerrilla Fam, I’ve never heard of that. But there are there are radical Black groups, but they don’t call themselves that.

TFSR: This is a little bit off topic, but kind of not. But there’s a book that I read last year that I really want to get ahold of the author of. I should just reach out. It’s called ‘Chronicles of a Prison Dirty War: California Prison Politics.’ It was published last year, but it was a lot of experiences from like the 70’s 80’s and 90’s about the creation of some of the racial dynamics and organizations in the California system.

X: Yeah, I really, really want to read that, by the way. I’m gonna get around to it.

TFSR: So IWOC New Mexico is is a group that I became aware of from some of the writings of Julio A. Zuniga AKA, ‘Comrade Z,’ who’s being held by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice at the Memorial Unit, formerly known as ‘Dirty Darrington.’ We featured an interview a few years ago with Z. But I was wondering if you could tell us a little bit about the circumstances currently at the Memorial Unit. There’s a cool interview that Z conducted with another person behind bars, that’s up on Mongoose Distro’s website, and talk about the work that incarcerated workers there such as Z are doing to organize

C: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. And I wanted to start, since you did mention Mongoose Distro that please check out MongooseDistro.com There is so much awesome material from Comrade Z, other comrades behind the walls, as well as zines that you can print out. Definitely a good resource for information and really awesome folks there.

So, right now it looks like the conditions in Darrington have continued to get worse, with folks not having access to air conditioning, which is a big issue in Texas, there’s water quality issues, workers have been getting sick with H. pylori infections and being forced to work regardless of being sick. Folks are suffering from retaliation with bogus write ups being written up on them. Also, there was a death of a member under suspicious circumstances which were labeled as a suicide. Currently working on trying to talk to folks to try to get more information about that specifically.

Now, currently IWOC members in Texas have filed a civil lawsuit with the United States District Court Galveston division and it has close to 20 IWOC members on it. I was also going to share some words that Comrade Z had provided to us. It’s on Mongoose Distro and he also sent me a letter. So yeah, folks dealing with retaliation, bogus write ups, mail room items being tampered with issues with getting folks on to the prison phone list to talk to folks.

So yeah, I was going to share a few words from Comrade Z in a letter that is posted as I mentioned on MongooseDistro.com he states:

“I have to suggest as a militant anarchist, for the brothers and sisters listening to us, the real problem is the policy makers. All comrades and jailhouse lawyers need to file U.S. §1983 on every single TBCJ member, as I have already begun to do. Bobby Lumpkin, Bryan Collier, Guistina Persich, Tammy Shelby are on my lawsuit, including the chairman of TBCJ Patrick O’Daniel. I am filing a motion for leave to supplement defendants and add the remaining eight members of the TBCJ into our class action suit. If you are with IWOC-Texas, file your lawsuit in the same fashion. We have been distracted by their psychological games far too long, and the culprits have been sitting pretty playing God for far too long. The Wizard of Oz has been discovered in Texas. Corruption is being exposed by me, X386969, and it is going to take the solidarity of all of your resources in the free world to help us bring the changes we all need, by any means necessary.

The more lawsuits filed on the policy makers will not only bring us into the political arena as activists for an overdue overhaul of the Texas government and it’s institutions. I do not believe in authority, nor do I believe in prisons. However, this cannot be said about everyone I come in contact with, therefore I am rolling with what I have, because progress is made by stepping forward, not back.”

So yeah, just you know, an example of using different strategies to fight against the oppressor and Comrade Z and the continuously growing group of members in the Texas branch are filing a civil lawsuit, class action lawsuit right now. Just due to the conditions that they’ve been undergoing.

Comrade Z has been reaching out to me and I’ve been in communication with Z for at least the past year to year and a half. Definitely I know that, as we were mentioning earlier, in the discussion about getting transcripts of y’all’s radio program, I know that Comrade Z was mentioning not on our last phone call about appreciating getting transcripts from y’all’s radio interviews, and hopefully he will also hear this one or be able to read this one rather.

TFSR: Yeah, that’s awesome.

I was wondering also Courtney, in terms of you had mentioned that New Mexico IWOC and Millions For Prisoners kind of acts as a hub for a lot in the Southwest. There have been ABC chapters, I know in various parts of Texas, at least, and I also know it is an absolutely huge place. But I guess in the Southwest, I want to ask about specifically how it looks like in Albuquerque and in New Mexico, the inside outside part of it. But is there much of an inside outside organizing framework in other parts of the Southwest? Or is it kind of just a few spots where people have coalesced?

C: Yeah, that’s kind of a good question. It is kind of a few spots where folks have coalesced. I’ve noticed a lot of activity. Specifically with Arizona, we have still a budding relationship with folks in Arizona. It started with some comrades who were building relationships with the people behind the walls with the Anarchist Black Cross. During the pandemic, a lot of dynamics have changed. But yeah, right now as it stands, we are a hub for folks in the Southwest, in Texas, I have some folks in Nevada. In Nevada, I don’t really know of a lot of outside orgs who are supporting, but I do know that in Texas, we collaborate a lot with folks in Fight Toxic Prisons, as well as people with Anarchist Black Cross. There is actually an IWW chapter in Texas that is working on kind of building relationships with Comrade Z and other comrades. And we have other folks that are popping up along the way.

It’s kind of interesting, too, because the pandemic led to a lot of people working remotely in terms of organizing. So that’s kind of what happened when there were just a lot of correspondence from people in the southwest. There weren’t IWOC chapters per se that were as active or maybe not active at all that New Mexico started adopting on more regional requests from people that are experiencing issues and trying to figure out how similar are the systems that people are facing. We also organize with folks in Louisiana and have a partnership with folks that are in the Save the Kids From Incarceration and the 10 to 2 Unanimous Jury Campaign. I haven’t heard from those folks in a little bit. But definitely have some relationships with folks in the South who are experiencing the conditions that they’re experiencing.

So yeah, we get reached out to from people from other places too. I just kind of get letters in the mail and folks have heard about us. A lot of stuff is spread through word of mouth. So as you notice with Comrade Z, he passed along my information through word of mouth, and that’s kind of how things operate. I think it’s a successful way to kind of work the administration by doing it that way.

TFSR: Yeah, that’s awesome. On the topic of ‘Inside Outside,’ I’ve noticed that on the Facebook account for New Mexico Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee, there’s mentions of being involved in not only supporting people on the inside, but also in relation to supporting people on the outside resisting police brutality. I wonder if you could talk a little bit about how that link is right there. People hate the pigs, and a lot of people on the outside when they make that connection that it’s the same repressive institution on the inside the outside. It may look different and the level of boot on the throat is different between living in an overly-policed neighborhood or what have you. But yeah, I’m wondering if you can talk about how you’ve seen those two things tied together?

C: Oh, yeah, yeah. And we absolutely amplify and are always anti-police in every fiber of our being in all the work we do because it it all goes together. In the neighborhood that I grew up in, for example, a lot of people were swept up by the police and put into prisons. Structurally, it all has to do with structural racism, and oppression, pulling entire segments of our society and of our culture and of our people out of our communities and putting them into prisons. Also, we were a part of some federal sting operations, including Operation Legend that was enacted by Bill Barr back in the Trump administration, where so much funding and so many federal police officers were put into the streets of New Mexico. Basically, we had police on horseback in our International District where our communities are struggling. In the place where I live, in the South Valley, we were doing block by block events where we were going to different neighborhoods as part of our strategy and just building was community who have been impacted by police.

When you go into any community that’s heavily impacted by a heavy police presence, with tanks in the streets, doing stop and frisks, harassing community members, harassing our youth, detaining people, you’re going to see that solidarity and you’re going to see a lot of people that have experienced the system, who have family members who are in prison. It’s all connected. We go out into our communities and we all understand the violence that we face every day, whether it be out on our streets or in the prison system.

In the prison system. It’s very much this extreme concentration of violence. But yeah, on the streets, it’s it’s very much the same. We have so many police killings that are happening here in New Mexico. It’s part of who we are. We’re always going to be fighting against the police and the prisons, because it’s all one and the same system. It’s all based on patriarchy, systemic racism, violence, and it’s rooted in slavery. These are all issues that we have to face when we’re living in our communities every day. Some of us more than others, of course. Yeah, we’re just gonna keep up the fight.

TFSR: Xeno, do you have anything to add?

X: Yeah. So the way that these kinds of shot caller led groups, which again, I’m not trying to make any universal statements here. Not every person who might call shots is that bad necessarily. It’s hard to kind of speak in universal terms about this kind of stuff, because it’s, it’s always moving around and always changing. There’s very few formal rules. But basically, the way that some of these structures tend to operate in times of struggle in a similar way to a business union. It’s that it’s very common during a really militant strike. I heard someone talk about this. About the Teachers Association in Arizona, where after a week of teachers being on strike in Arizona, some staff from this, not even a union, actually… it’s an organization that associations are allowed to have that’s not a union. They went to the press, and were like, “yeah, the strike is going to be over on Monday, everyone’s going back to work.” They did not consult the teachers in that at all. There was no vote or anything because they’re not a union. So they can’t do that.

I just want to say that first of all, not every non IWW union is definitively a business union. IWW itself isn’t immune to that temptation of like business unionism, either. But that being said, a lot of these like hierarchical organizations in prisons will make strong attempts to shut down struggle, at the point that it gets too hot to handle, even if they also play a role in initiating it on the front end. That in the makes them very reminiscent of a businessman, which will channel workers righteous outrage and then cut it off at the knees when it gets too radical or revolutionary, or threatening for the system. Unions are a lot more bureaucratic about the way that they do that. But these other structures do a very similar thing, in my view.

About the SNY, if you are a person that the State determines is male enough to go to a male prison in California, I’m sorry that that happened to you. Second of all, they will put you on GP normally by default, unless you say otherwise, I suppose. If you get to GP, and you’re just not cool with some stuff that you see going on. Or you see, “Oh, this group is clearly deeply invested in making profit off people’s heroin addiction, and I’m not cool with that. And I’m not cool with them. And I don’t want to be part of this group that I ‘have to be a part of’ because of my race.” And you don’t want to peacefully coexist with people involved with that. You need to go to SNY. You can make that explicit and tap a guard on the shoulder and say, “I want to go to SNY.”

I’m not saying that SNY is that great. It’s legit where they put sex offenders. So you’re going to hang out with them. SNY is where people would have to go if they’re not going to get along with the group that they’re shunted into when they get onto a men GP yard in California prison. Any interaction that you have with a guard without another prisoner present could be considered snitching, full stop. So whether that’s seeing a counselor that’s part of the staff that could be considered snitching. And so if you are ‘not good’ before, you’re definitely ‘no good’ now.

So with that category, those two shunted together categories, snitches and child molesters. Those two things are not the same at all. It’s very easy to be considered a snitch. The state is very much involved in like pitting SNY and GP against each other. If you read the agreements and hostilities, it’s explicitly like solidarity between GP prisoners only, and it talks all this shit about SNY prisoners. Because the state will send people from SNY undercover into GP, and try and spy on people they want to spy on and do all kinds of shenanigans like that. There’s a lot of distrust between GP and SNY.

Now the state’s trying to reformulate those designations, and create a new structure within the prison system that involves mixing people from GP and people from SNY who’s agreed to get along. But that doesn’t always work. Then sometimes you end up with groups of people defending each other who are just kind of like SNY solidarity in response to GP solidarity aggression. So it’s all very messy, and very different from other places. I was talking to some folks who are saying that in the Chicago-land area, any person of any race can be a member of any group on the street or in prison. That’s certainly not the case in California prisons.

TFSR: I know that in the strikes in 2011 and 2013, one of the main demands was an end to requiring debriefing for people who were stuck in solitary. I don’t know if that sort of is a continued issue with this issue that you’re bringing up with it. I don’t know if that relates to what you’re talking about, exactly. Or if it’s like another iteration of it or if it’s a different issue.

X: It is a related issue. Briefing… If you know anything, if you were legitimately part of one of these groups in a participatory sense, and you are now going to SNY they will absolutely try and get you to debrief. Ie, spill your guts about everything you know about that group. Like I said, a lot of people don’t think that the State is really out to dismantle a lot of these groups. They’re out to make sure that these groups are malleable to the State’s intentions, and goals. They’re very successful in that, in my opinion.

Briefing, is the thing that they probably try and have people do all all sorts of times. The State, when it decides it’s going to do something, never really gives up on it. So unless there’s like some kind of world historical disruption to cause that to happen. I’m sure they’re still trying to brief people coming out of solitary. I know for a fact that they brief people as they move from GP to SNY particularly people who they know would know stuff.

I didn’t talk a lot about what it’s like on SNY. So I will say that it’s absolutely hellish there, too. Like I said, you’re hanging out with all the people that people are afraid that they’re going to have to hang out with and they go to prison. And on top of that, some of those yards, if they determine that you have ‘mental health problems,’ or whatever that means. In our society, I think everyone has mental health problems, pretty much. It’s kind of interesting to just go on a side note, the people who created the DSM-5… I think one of them was very vocally regretting that and said, “oh, everyone’s in the DSM-5 and I’ve created a monster.” I don’t know a lot about it, I’ve heard of it.

So basically, if the State determines you have mental health problems, which assuredly if they say you do, they will make sure to find evidence that you do. They will place you on one of those types of yards. This is largely in the SNY. They might also just involuntarily give you drugs. One of our members describes how they can give you drugs involuntarily, that will ‘separate your soul from your body.’ He doesn’t mean killing you. It means just completely spacing you out so much that you’re not yourself. You’re basically like a person with dementia, but at any age. That’s like a level of control. I don’t know a lot about health in general, to be honest, but that’s how it was described to me.

That’s just a level of control that’s unimaginable anywhere but prison or like a dystopian future TV show or novel. It’s really terrifying that the State submits people to that, and then also has the gall to be like, “we’re helping them and this is all for their own good.” Everything is always framed in terms of progressivism in California politics in general. That also applies to the prison system. I also would say that beyond that, a lot of people in prison who are in touch with us also very much want us to be involved in the political process and stuff like that, and pushing for various different reforms.

I think that just within that atmosphere there’s reforms that would really help a lot of people. Then there’s the ‘reforms’ that the state and the bourgeoisie want. The reforms would probably help with that kind of people in California, for example, would be retro actively abolishing Three Strikes. I know someone who is a Black woman who picked up a $20 bill off the ground and was convicted of robbery, and it was her third strike. She’s a grandmother. So those are the kinds of things that are bureaucratic so called democracy facilitated, and makes it almost impossible to fix. There are some interesting attempts that radical reform coming from the legislature but the CDCR is just a monster that the legislature doesn’t truly control. So when they pass well intentioned laws, the entire bureaucracy goes into overtime trying to twist the intentions, and keep milking the system for themselves.

Part of what’s going on with that also has to do with SEIU, which represents non-militarized prison staff, and how they don’t want prisons closed, basically. Those people who are a large constituency for SEIU elected this dude Richard Lewis Brown is basically the Donald Trump of SEIU 1000, which is the State Workers Union. He had a huge series of scandals, and was in court to determine if he got righteously kicked off of being President of SEIU 1000 or not. Basically, his huge base of support is the civilian workers from CDCR facilities. That’s the California version of the DOC. The R stands for ‘rehabilitation.’ A lot of times you might see people just call it CDC and disregard the R.

TFSR: But that’s the Center for Disease Control.

X: Yeah, yeah. Well, California Department of Corrections would also be the thing that people might call CDCR or CDC. The difference is that it implicates the fact that they’re not really rehabilitating people. Then they might also say CDC and capital letters and then a lowercase ‘r’ to indicate that same thing.

TFSR: Could you all, tell us a bit about where we can find out more about the work that you’re doing and the organizing that you’re involved in?

C: You could check us out on IncarceratedWorkers.org or check out our Instagram @incarceratedworkers for more about Millions For Prisoners New Mexico, you can visit @IWOCNM and @millionsforprisonersNM on Facebook. Also, please check out Mongoose Distro at MongooseDistro.com

X: For Sacramento IWOC, which again is not really just Sacramento, but it was when we started the page, you can check out our Instagram @Sacramento_IWOC. For the website, we’re part of the national organization. So the national website is also ours.

TFSR: Awesome. It was really a pleasure to meet you both Courtney and Xeno, and thanks a lot for taking the time to have this chat. I really appreciate it.

C: Thank you so much.

X: Yeah, thanks for doing this

Strategies For Ecological Revolution From Below with Peter Gelderloos

Strategies For Ecological Revolution From Below with Peter Gelderloos

"The Solutions are Already Here Strategies of Ecological Revolution from Below" book cover featuring a green shovel
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This week on The Final Straw, we’re featuring a recent conversation with anarchist author and activist, Peter Gelderloos about his latest book, “The Solutions Are Already Here: Strategies For Ecological Revolution From Below”, published by Pluto Press in 2022. For the hour we speak about critiques of science and Western Civilization that Peter levels, as well as the centrality of struggling on the ground we stand on, creating autonomous infrastructure, resisting colonial extractivism and the need for imagination and care as we tear down this ecocidal system.

Peter has prior authored such books as “Anarchy Works”, “How Non-Violence Protects The State”, and “Worshiping Power”, and you can find a number of his essays up on TheAnarchistLibrary.Org. You can also hear your interviews with Peter here: https://thefinalstrawradio.noblogs.org/post/category/peter-gelderloos/

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Announcements

Call In For Eric King continues

Anarchist and antifascist political prisoner, Eric King, has been transferred from Grady County Jail (where we spoke to him from for our April 3rd episode) to USP Lee in southwestern Virginia where he and his loved ones are afraid he will be put into solitary and attacked where there will be no witnesses. This comes directly after he won a trial against the federal Bureau of Prisons showing that he had been set up and punished for false reasons, subjected to obvious acts of petty and not so petty vengeance by the corrections officers, and in spite of the fact that his security level should have him at a medium security facility rather than a high security like Lee. There is a continued call-in campaign that his supporters are asking y’all to participate in. You can find more information in the show notes or at SupperEricKing.org as well as on the twitter, facebook and instagram pages for the under the name @SupportEricKing.

May Day

May Day is coming up real quick, y’all. The first of May has been known as a festival of spring bounty from pagan times in Europe, and has been celebrated by anarchists, socialists, communists and labor activists to commemorate the 1886 struggle for the power of workers against the capitalists and state and the remember the Haymarket Martyrs. We have a couple of episodes featuring content about May Day that we’ll link here, but this is just a quick note to find other comrades and fellow travelers this May Day, there may be something going on in your area. And if there isn’t, maybe you can organize an event with you friends!

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Featured Track

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Transcription

TFSR: So I’m very happy to be speaking with anarchist author Peter Gelderloos. Peter’s latest book, The Solutions are Already Here: Strategies for Ecological Revolution from Below is just out from Pluto Press, I just got my copy in the mail. Super stoked to get it. But welcome back to the show, Peter.

Peter Gelderloos: Thanks for inviting me, again.

TFSR: Facing the challenges of increasing climate chaos and its impact on life on Earth, feels really, really fucking daunting. Without thinking through the idea of like some centralized grand and technocratic response – which is kind of how I feel like I’ve been trained to think about big problems as big solutions – and not that that seems likely when countries at the industrial core aren’t even able to hold themselves to, you know, self imposed limits of cutting back on producing greenhouse gases, or even coordinating and distributing free vaccines to stop a pandemic.

So I’m sure I’m not the only one that’s head is kind of spinning when I try to think about the looming and existent climate disaster. How does this book kind of help to challenge that framework and mindset of expecting big centralized solutions to the problems that we face?

PG: Well, when you look at the history of how states have been dealing with ecological crisis, first of all, they’re very reductionist. They reduce a complex, multifaceted ecological crisis, which ties into so many problems – social and environmental – they tend to reduce it to emissions, greenhouse gas emissions, only to climate change. And they do that in large part not only because they don’t want to recognize many of these other problems, but also because technocrats need to simplify problems in order to reduce it to data that can be plugged into their machine, right?

So even though they’re they’re reducing it just to climate and they’ve been aware of the danger of climate change – like the US government recognized it as a national security problem already back in the 1960’s – their responses have been militarizing borders and increasing the deployment of militaries for, you know, so called disasters, natural disasters, and things of that nature. And then also making big agreements that have done exactly nothing to slow down greenhouse gas emissions.

So even within their reductionism, they don’t do a good job of dealing with the one part of the problem. And the other part of the problem that they recognize is actually bad for us: increasing militaries, militarizing borders and all that. So they are viewing the problem with interests that are diametrically opposed to the interests of living beings like ourselves. The larger part of it they have to ignore, and then of the part that they look at, half of it they don’t get right, and the other half they deal with in a way that that actively harms us.

We’ve also seen in a lot of these so called “natural disasters”, that the most effective responses for saving lives are responses that happen on the ground. It’s not the militaries, its neighbors, its regular people organizing themselves spontaneously with the logic of mutual aid. That’s what saves the most lives, we’ve seen that time and time and time again.

And absolutely, we are totally conditioned to rely on on the government to solve things for us, or, you know, major corporations, techno wizards like Elon Musk, or whatever. And that’s in large part because we’re forced into a situation of dependency and passivity and immobilization. Which is a very depressing position to be in normally, and it’s an even more depressing position to be in when we see the world dying around us. And so it’s completely coherent and consistent with that forced dependency and forced immobility to just either look the other way, or cross your fingers and hope and pray that, you know, some big godlike figure will come along and solve it for us. But it’s this big godlike figure that caused the problem and that is continuing to aggravate the problem.

So, actually, you get more intelligent solutions to problems from people who have on the ground knowledge, from people who are familiar with their territory, know that the resources they have. And it’s equally global, it’s just coming from the territory, it’s coming from below, rather than coming from either you know, boardrooms or situation rooms, where they’re not looking at the territory, they’re looking at maps. And they’re above all looking at their own interests of maintaining control. Because their ability to do anything in response to the problem is, in fact, predicated on our immobility, on our dependence, and our enforced passivity.

TFSR: So there’s almost like a sort of Stockholm syndrome that a lot of us – through the socialization from the state – have where we identify the the methods and the impulses of government in scary situations as being somehow salvatory, as opposed to sort of counterinsurgency constantly being operated for the continued extraction of resources.

PG: Absolutely. And I’m glad that you brought up counterinsurgency because that is one of the most important theoretical lenses to use to understand both ecological crisis and government, corporate and NGO responses to that crisis.

TFSR: A thing that kind of refreshing about this book is the radical critique of Western civilization as the vehicle for many of the woes that we experienced today. I appreciate that you attempted to undercut the misconception, right off the bat, that human nature is the cause for the destruction that we’re experiencing around us, or that there are too many of us or too many of certain kinds of us on the planet. Can you talk about the ideas of the Anthropocene or arguments around overpopulation, and why they present kind of a misdirection when seeking causes of anthropogenic climate change and resolutions of finding balance with the world?

PG: Yeah. Human beings have been around for a really long time, depending on you know, when exactly you identify the beginning of anatomically-modern human beings, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of years. Hominids with similar capabilities for longer. And the problems of destroying the ecological basis for life on this planet, for a great many species is a recent problem. And even the problem of causing ecological collapse in just one bio region is, in the broader timeline, a recent problem with maybe like four thousand years old, some of the earliest examples. And, again, some people – because we’re taught to view human history in this way that ends up being very white supremacist but focusing on the history of States – some people take that to mean “Oh, well, for the last four thousand years human beings have been destroying the environment. So you know, that’s what’s relevant.” No, for the last four thousand years humans have not been destroying the environment. A very small number of human beings have been doing that in a very small part of our overall territory until much more recently. And all across the world people fought against getting forcibly included in this new western model of being human. We do have examples of non-western cultures also destroying their soil or destroying their forests, destroying their ecosystem, but they weren’t nearly as good at it as Western civilization is, and that’s the dominant model, that’s the most relevant one to talk about.

So you know, that other question is relevant for the theoretical exercise of like, “okay, what exactly are the more destructive, or the healthier, forms of social organization?” but in the current media environment most people will bring up this kind of somewhat trivial fact at this point that maybe two thousand years ago, or one thousand years ago on another continent, a completely non-western society also caused major erosion. And that’s just an instance of deflection away from the fact that the problem that’s currently killing us is Western civilization.

So, you know, there are works that, for example: Fredy Perlman’s Against Leviathan that try to define what the problem is more broadly, but in the situation where we’re in right now, where species are going extinct at an accelerating rate, where millions of of humans are already dying every year because of the effects of this ecological crisis, and so many people are losing their homes, losing their land, losing their access to healthy food. The problem is the civilization, the modern state, the capitalist system that arose – centered in Europe – but also simultaneous to this process of mass enslavement in Africa and mass invasion, colonization and genocide in the Americas, in Africa and in Asia and Australia. That’s the problem.

If you take any criteria beyond just greenhouse gas emissions, it becomes very clear what’s the social model that is putting us all at danger. And even if you reduce it just to greenhouse gas emissions, you kind of avoid looking at the historical roots of the social machine that’s causing so much death and destruction. But it’s still very clear that Western civilization and the economic model that it forcibly imposed on the rest of the globe is the problem.

TFSR: So, one thing in the book you also say is that it’s necessary for us to critique science because it’s so shaped by those institutions who wield it, fund it and command it. Can you talk about this and how it differs from an anti-rational rejections of science for the sake of faith structures, or antimodernist frames of some anti-civ perspectives? And maybe speak about how you’ve observed our movements, or movements that you find inspiring in this framework, how they’ve been making and imagining their own science?

PG: Yeah, I mean, first off, maybe this is more semantical but like, I do think a critique of rationalism as a worldview is important. But then again, different people would mean very different things with that.

So just to focus on your question: in practice, in the real world, the scientific method cannot be divorced from the scientific institutions that currently control or manage the vast majority of knowledge production via the scientific method in this world that we inhabit. You know, I love science fiction, we can imagine other worlds but that’s the case in the one that we inhabit.

One thing that I think is important to recognize is that the scientific method is a very valid method for knowledge production, for falsifiable objective data. I think it’s also important to recognize that that’s not the only kind of knowledge. That there are many other kinds of knowledge that cannot be produced by the scientific method and that we run into… First of all there’s been no social system in the history of the world that I’m aware of that has ever relied only on that kind of knowledge. And our current “rationalist” society – speaking about rationalism as a sort of mythical worldview – uses a great deal of like non-falsifiable and subjective information, but they pretend that they don’t as part of this mythology. Which is very, very important to certain people, academics and whatnot.

So it’s important recognize, I think, that that’s not the only form of knowledge. And like, so a brief example of this: we can even see this when we get beyond the importance of, for example, emotional knowledge. How to deal with people, with other people in groups, how to take care of people, you know, this is something that’s actually incredibly important. And it’s amazing how easily it can be dropped by the wayside because it’s not reduced to numbers.

But for example we can look at health care. So there are forms of healthcare that are much easier to evaluate using the scientific method. And there are forms of healthcare that are much harder to evaluate using the scientific method. Finding out what happens when you dump some drug in a human body is much easier to evaluate, because the person who’s administering the drug doesn’t need to know anything about it. And they don’t need to know anything, or barely anything, about the person that they’re administering it’s to. And that’s sort of like the point of that whole methodology of treatment. Whereas other forms of treatment require much more subjective approach, a much more modeled approach, to the specifics of the person who’s being treated and they require a much more developed skill set to be able to deliver the therapy in an effective way.

So that’s not the fault of the therapy, that it can’t be evaluated as well by the scientific method. That’s a limitation or fault in scientific method. But we live in a society that’s so mechanized and that loves to be able to have – it’s in fact built up on – knowledge forums that can be plugged into the machine, and spit out the numbers. So it’s a society very much based on mechanical reproduction. That kind of society is going to favor the treatments that can be evaluated by the scientific method, and it’s going to disfavor or discourage or hide the treatments that can’t. And a year does not go by without us finding out about how damaging some form of medication was, or how damaging this blindness towards certain forms of therapy and care were.

And that doesn’t that doesn’t invalidate scientific knowledge production, but it does certainly speak to the question of social machinery. That it goes beyond just the question of, like, “Can we test this? Is it valid or not?” It’s that in fact, in practice, we can’t separate it from the question of social machinery.

What does that have to do with the ecological crisis? I already mentioned the reductionism of a multifaceted, very broad, very complex ecological crisis to climate change. That’s symptomatic of what I’m talking about. Climate change is something that’s more easy to quantify. We can measure it in temperature, we can measure it in parts per million carbon dioxide, we can measure it in emissions. Whereas things like what I know about the place where I live, what I know about the health of the soil in the place where I’ve lived for the past seven or eight years, is not something that I can quantify. But I know it, I think much better than someone who might come by and take a sample from a laboratory and test it but then not have any further relationship with the land. Someone who’s not out there taking care of these olive trees or planting a garden, year after year, and wondering when the rain is going to come and feeling it in their bones how this territory is desiccating. And how we actually need to start doing things now and fast as this climate becomes more of a desert. Because there are dead deserts, and they’re living deserts. And this land right here, where I live is going to become one or the other depending on what we do.

And the people in the laboratories are way behind the game and they have a lot less to offer. They do have things to offer, like there are certainly moments in which my gardening and other people’s gardening can be complemented by having access to that chemical test from the laboratory. And you know, that would be great to have that kind of complementarity, to have even solidarity at that level. But usually you don’t have that because our systems of knowledge are gaslit, we’re excluded from the resources that we would need to be able to access that and the people in laboratories generally have no idea what they’re talking about and think that they have access to some absolute, an all encompassing truth. And that’s problematic.

So yeah, there’s absolutely a possibility – I mean there should be a great deal of dialogue between different kinds of knowledge, including knowledge that’s produced through the scientific method – but we don’t have a lot of that now. And when you we look at how history has actually unfolding, the data produced by powerful scientific institutions regarding climate change has not been wrong, per se – the broad strokes of it have been correct, like for a while now they’ve been predicting what’s going to be happening, and it’s been happening – but it’s been quite conservative. Time and time again they’ve been way too optimistic in their predictions, and the kind of red lines or warning marks or benchmarks or whatever that they set are getting exceeded, they’re getting past years and decades in advance of their particular predictions.

So in terms of the precision of their predictions, they have high precision predictions. Like, me looking at the soil and the rain clouds or you know, someone who’s actually lived there their whole life and has access a lot more ancestral knowledge that I don’t have access to, they’re not going to be able to come up with like a high precise prediction of like “Okay in 20 years this is going to happen” but I think they will get a much more accurate prediction. Whereas the scientific institutions have had high precision and low accuracy. So they’ve actually been wrong in a dangerous way again and again and again. And I don’t think it’s a coincidence, given their proximity to and affinity with the institutions that are most directly responsible for the destruction of the current global ecosystem.

TFSR: So yeah, I guess that’s a good clarification is like systems of knowledge rather than sciences. And as you say that seems like the need from the Western civilization, or the organizations that are working within it, to have crunch-able numbers and quantities that they can put into their figures. Seems like it would also not only would it limit the output information but it probably blinds the people that are making the measurements, even if they’re trying to make the right measurements to see the actual outcomes.

The approach of looking systemically and trying to say that, in fact, all of these systems and how they correlate to each other can fall under one umbrella that we call “Civilization” and its colonial impulse, or “Western Civilization” and its colonial impulse, when people see a critique that is that large, oftentimes people will say, “Ah, but there are things that we have gotten from this system”, they will say that. They will say that capitalism has driven innovation and the creation of certain kinds of knowledge or certain kinds of technology that have benefited human life in a lot of ways. For instance one thing that they can point to is around medical science. And as you said, there are some treatments that have proven to be not so much treatments as poisons. It’s not a like an assured thing that medical science will resolve issues, but there are a lot of technologies that have been developed and applied over the centuries that are positive. And I could see someone saying, “well do I choose between the current structure and like small reforms within it, or supporting a sort of revolutionary alteration in the productive models, the distribution of resources and capacity to produce these technologies that are saving my life, or making it so that I can be mobile, or extending life” for folks that have very serious medical issues for instance?

There has been critique, for instance, of criticisms of modern civilization that came out of Earth First at its beginnings, or other pro-ecological movements that look at not human beings as the problem necessarily, but technological development as being – and the sciences and the knowledges that come out of that, not to say that they’re just produced from that, but that are applied there. Saying “if the government fails, for instance, or if the economy scales back, I’m not going to be able to get my medication and I may die”. Can you talk a little bit about the sort of reticence that someone would have of trying to approach a degrowth of the economy and the government, because they’re afraid that what safety nets exist for them currently would no longer be there, and they wouldn’t survive it?

PG: Yeah, that’s definitely a very legitimate way to address questions of social change. And I think it’s actually super important when we inhabit our own bodies, our own experiences and needs when we’re talking about proposals of widespread social transformation, and struggle, generally.

I think it helps to primarily consider two different things. One is that if we break out of an individual’s framework – which, like I said, that concern that you’re posing is very important, there’s also an iteration of that concern which is very dangerous. Because if we make a critique of Western Civilization on the basis of how many people it’s killing, how many millions of people are starving to death because of this model, all of the forests and ecosystems that are getting destroyed, it can be dangerous. You definitely don’t want to go into a framework of “it’s us or them, someone has to die in this situation”.

So first off, I think we need to break out of any kind of individualist or competitive conception of this problem. And if we look more systemically, or if we look at health as a collective good, the healthiest possibilities for human society are ones in which people have a healthy reciprocal relationship with their environment. They have access to the commons, they have access to a very diverse and healthy diet that is locally adapted. And that is, in fact, based on brilliant technologies that were thousands of years in the making, that existed in every territory before colonialism, which is a technology without whirring gadgets and lights and bells and whistles but it’s the technology of how we build up our survival mutually with the other organisms around us, with the other living beings around us. Many of those technologies still exist. And so without colonialism, with access to that commons, with access to that kind of rooted, territorial, popular and ecological technology, that is the best hope that a human community has for health. For the healthiest lives possible for all their members. So that’s one thing that I think is really necessary to acknowledge. That we live in a system that produces a disease, that produces death and that’s a huge problem that we can’t sweep under the carpet.

The other good thing is that when we destroy governments and capitalism, everything that they own, everything that they think is theirs, everything that they blackmail us with – because they control access to it and we have to spend our lives working to try to get a small piece of it – it’ll be ours. And so once all the rich people are gone, and once all the cops and all the politicians are gone, all of that will be ours. And we can decide to get rid of it, we can decide to keep it, we can decide to make it ourselves in under much better circumstances. So things like medicine we’ll obviously keep making and we’ll find ways to make it that are healthier, we’ll find productive processes that are less damaging for the environment. And we’ll also be changing our living conditions so as few people as possible need access to those technologies, but those who do need that access will get it.

And then we’re also forced to deal with other other technologies, like nuclear reactors and nuclear bombs that the state has saddled us sadly with the necessity to mediate those in the best way possible, because they’re not going away for, you know, forever. Some of those radioactive substances will be around for billions of years, so “thank you, government!” But we will do a better job of handling that than they do. Because we care about us. And because we’re actually good at organization when we get the chance. In the US every single nuclear waste storage facility has leaked at one time or another. So they’re crap at it and they’re also to blame for it. On my worst days, I definitely fantasize about, you know, locking them all in the nuclear storage facility, there’d be certain poetic justice to that.

But thinking about it more realistically, and in the question of our needs, all of it will belong to us for better and for worse, and we’ll figure out how to take care of us. And we’ll do a much better. Even though lately in our movements, it’s pretty depressing, because we’re I think learning a bit too much from the system we live in, and we’re doing, frankly, often a pretty terrible job of taking care of us. But we can do much better than the state or capitalism ever could.

TFSR: Yeah, and they’ve had the opportunity to prove that already. And there’s tons of people that, you know, in as far as distribution of treatment methods for things, or COVID vaccines, or whatever, like, they have proven that it is not in their interest, it is actually in their interest to deny large swaths of the population any number of these things so that they can mark up the price and make more money off of less.

PG: Yes.

TFSR: So some of the most inspiring parts of the book, for me, were the examples of resistance to mega projects, to the expansion of colonial extractivism as well as to some of the alternative movement experiments and infrastructures that you highlight and that you get voices from, which is great. Were there any that you wanted to include but you just didn’t have time to fit that you might share with the audience?

PG: Um, there are definitely some. There are some cases where I was looking for interviews and I wasn’t able to get in touch with the comrades who would be able to speak from personal experience about those struggles, or I was able to get in touch but they were in the end too busy to do interviews, because things are pretty difficult. And so I can name some of those, maybe for people to look at the more, but I won’t go into them precisely because I wasn’t able to learn enough about them.

So, for example, in the movement in Kurdistan, an ecological focus is a large part of the analysis. And it’s a territory that’s been very damaged by war, by desertification, by forced impoverishment coming from the various countries, the various states, that control Kurdistan. And so I know, in fact yeah some friends helped put out a book about some of the experiences in trying to helped make that desert bloom. But yeah, the comrades, it’s been, of course, a rough time over there so the comrades weren’t able to give an interview about that. So that didn’t make it into the book.

Let’s see… There are many, many very interesting struggles in India. I mentioned some of them on the basis of already published research, but I wasn’t able to arrange any interviews with comrades there. India’s interesting because there are very, very different experiences of reforestation, that demonstrates, again, just how we can’t really trust the media, how we can’t trust governments when they talk about this. Because reforestation means completely different things depending on on who’s saying it, and a lot of forms of reforestation are very, very bad for the environment. They’re basically things that, say, like a government like Chile will do to be able to get counted as like a negative carbon emission country, so then they can make money with carbon trading. When, like, in Chile the reforestation is very much an industrial activity which is which is bad for the environment, very bad for the soil, bad for the water table. And it’s very much a colonial activity, because it’s taking place on the lands of Indigenous peoples who are in the process of trying to recover their lands. And a huge part of that process is trying to win back their food autonomy.

So forests are important. And forests can also be edible forests. These pine plantations, these mono-crop pine and eucalyptus plantations that are being planted by the official institutions, are definitely not food forests. No one can feed themselves off of them. But also agricultural fields are important for a lot of people’s to feed them selves. And the official reforestation happening in Chile is often used as a weapon against Indigenous struggle, against the struggle, for example, of the Mapuche for food autonomy, for getting their land back and being able to feed themselves off of their land using traditional technologies and whatever modern or Western technologies that they feel like adapting. That’s up to them. And to the extent that they can do that, to the extent that they have food autonomy, they have a vastly increased ability to fight back against the colonizing state because they’re no longer dependent on global capitalism. And they’re no longer dependent on the state that they colonizes them.

And so in India there’s some really great examples that really contrast how ineffective and also how damaging state-led efforts for mass reforestation are, how they just respond to this technocratic impulse to produce numbers on paper – when on the ground it’s a completely different story – versus communities, many of them Indigenous communities, that have been undergoing very, very effective, large scale forms of reforestation that improve soil health, that increase the possibilities for food autonomy, the increased quality of living, and that, you know, helped create more robust ecosystems with habitat for other species and in addition to just humans. So I would love to one day meet comrades who are participating in that because there’s some really powerful struggles happening there.

TFSR: Well, you do put the invite in the book for a longer extended, like, sequel if folks had more stuff inspired along those lines. So if any listeners are out there and want to write that book, I would love to read it.

Over the years, we conducted a couple of interviews with Anne Peterman from a group called “No GE Trees”, who was talking about that struggle in Wallmapu and – because they were similarly trying to build solidarity with resistance to that sort of mono crop forestation that damages the soil, that depletes the water tables, that denudes the landscape of the vitality and the variation that’s required for native species to exist in it throughout actually the US South – so people were protesting in the Asheville area in solidarity with not only resisting GE Tree plantations in the southeast, but also in Chile.

And a lot of those trees, they’re not good for a lot of things, they’re not good for making lumber out of, especially eucalyptus. Growing up on the West Coast…they’re not good for windbreaks, they got planted for windbreaks, they’re not good for railroad ties, that’s what they got planted for at one point, but they get chopped up after a couple of years of growing, so not even creating a mature forest, and processed down into wood pellets, and then sent to Europe so that European governments can claim that they’re using a renewable source of energy production. It’s just this game of shells with carbon and basically pollution and degradation. It’s a continuation of the extractivism of neocolonialism.

PG: Absolutely.

TFSR: We’ve already seen a measurable connection between climate change, the disruption of food production, exacerbating conflicts, and being used as a weapon against Indigenous communities as you’ve noted, and resulting in increased refugee movements and displacement. As a result, right wing tendencies have welcomed an escalation of conflict and inequality, the building and buttressing of physical and metaphorical walls, and the acceleration of fossil fuel extraction to suck out every drop of profit that can be withdrawn before it’s too late. And to be fair, I say, “right wing”, this also goes for centrist neoliberal regimes as well but the rhetoric looks more actively genocidal oftentimes, and facilitates extraparliamentary violence when it comes from the far right, usually.

Would you talk a bit about the importance of the increasingly, in some ways, difficult project of fostering internationalism and inner communalism against this, nationalist tendency as the climate heats up?

PG: Yeah, obviously the far right, and neoliberal centrist more so, have a lot of advantages because they have access to resources, they get a lot more attention. They’re taken seriously. So even a lot of centrist media that pay attention to the far right in a disapproving way still help them out more than the way that they treat like truly radical transformative revolutionary movements by just ignoring them. Because we’re kept in this in this permanent place of either not existing or being infantilized and we have, as you pointed out, we have a lot of work to do on this front.

And we can also talk about forms of internationalism that are very damaging. This is a kind of internationalism, which is completely under the thumb of, you know, colonial or neocolonial institutions. It’s this worldwide recruitment that takes place, largely through universities of – sometimes in a limited fashion it’s been analyzed as a Brain Drain, but I think it goes beyond that. Basically training and recruiting people from all over the world to participate in this system – whether it’s under the auspices of the United Nations, or under the auspices of some prestigious university in the Global North – to create an internationalism which is a completely monistic, technocratic, simplified worldview that builds consensus about what the world looks like, what the problems look like, and what the solutions are, within elite institutions that are completely cut off from all of the various territories of the world, even as those institutions increase their recruitment to a global scale. So that they have representatives or spokespeople from all the different continents from all over the world but they’re brought together in a sort of epistemological, technocratic space, which is completely a reproduction of colonialism, and makes it flexible but furthers the dominance of Western civilization, of white supremacist civilization.

And so that’s the kind of internationalism, which is very, very present, and it has access to a great deal of resources. And on the other hand, in the Global North, we’re not doing a nearly good enough job to create a very, very different and subversive kind of internationalism. And the comrades who are doing the best job of that tends to be migrant comrades, comrades who have who have migrated, who have crossed borders. I think a lot of folks who grow up with the privilege of citizenship in the Global North, if they do travel, if they do try to get like a more global perspective, it’s often still done in this individualist way that has a lot more to do with tourist vacations than with the needs of revolutionary struggle. And so we don’t have – I mean we don’t really have communities in the Global North, because the triumph of capitalism is so complete – but we don’t have radical groups that are attempting to be communities that pool resources in order to intentionally create global relationships of solidarity with communities and with struggles in the Global South that they could actually be supporting, and that they could actually be creating dialogue with to develop the rich, detailed, global perspectives that we actually need, as well as the possibility for global solidarity.

So, yeah, in the book, towards the end, I do this exercise of imagining what if we’re actually able to do what I’m talking about. Or what I’m trying to argue in the book is like a real model for a revolutionary transformative response to the ecological crisis. And so since I’m talking about the need to root ourselves in our territory, I imagine “Okay, here we are in Catalunya, what does this look like over the next few decades?” And one of the first things is in Barcelona and Tarragona we have these big ports with these big old ships that are currently moving merchandise all around the world. And that’s something that on the one hand it needs to stop because of how much that’s based on fossil fuels and on unnecessary consumption and all the rest. And the later timeline, in that chapter of the book is, you know, maybe much more beautiful and romantic, imagining there’s no more borders and people can traverse the world in sailboats, which are sailboats that have been expropriated from from the wealthy, who of course no longer exist. And and I think that’s a beautiful thing to imagine.

It’s really nice to think about a world that we’re actually allowed to live in, and that people all over the world can travel and go where they want. But right now we have the ugliness to deal with. And so in those ports, there are fuel reserves that have already been dredged up from the earth and there are these big ocean-going cargo ships. So there’s a part that talks about expropriating those cargo ships, getting in touch with revolutionary comrades in the Global South that we already have a relationship with and finding out what they need.

There’s the example of early on in the pandemic, both in Catalunya and another territories, workers taking the initiative to re-purpose their factories to make parts for respirators in a way that was faster and more agile than the capitalist were able to do. So kind of taking a cue from that I imagine this process of, okay, instead of sending merchandise, which is just furthering a relationship of dependency – I was speaking with this one comrade from Venezuela, other comrades from from Brazil, like a major thing is their economies and their material environments have been intentionally structured in a way so they don’t have a lot of very basic things that they need, that in Europe or North America would be easier to find. So for example, like basic machine parts for the machines that would be needed to process food. Not even talking about some hyper industrial and unnecessary endeavor, but basic things like harvesting, threshing, and milling grains, for example. So instead of, you know, a relationship of dependence, where this really fertile territory, like Venezuela, gets grain imports of European grains that Indigenous and Afro Indigenous populations have not been traditionally consuming and that are certainly less healthy – so, basically supermarket food. Instead of importing supermarket food, this short term process of exporting those cargo ships, re-purposing factories from the automotive industry to make some of these simple machine parts, and then using the existing fuel reserves to send off these cargo expropriated cargo ships, so that in these other territories that are colonized, neocolonized territories, that we have a relationship and solidarity with, they can create their own material autonomy and break that dependence once and for all. And then we’re also not just navel gazing and thinking “how are we going to survive the climate apocalypse and making sure that our bunkers are well stocked?” But we’re actually thinking about collective survival in a way that is solidaristic, in a way that is realistic, in a way that is global, and in a way that recognizes our responsibilities, given the past and present of colonialism and white supremacy.

TFSR: Yeah and I would say that the one group that I’m familiar with that really has continued doing a good job on the subject of building or continuing solidarity across the borders is Zapatista structures. In the US there is still, despite the fact that the Zapatista revolution happened 30 years ago, and there are still active, six declaration Otra Compaña groups or whatever that are around all sorts of parts of Anglo dominated North America, Turtle Island. Like, it’s just astounding, and I wish – but people did it really well during that period of time. And I think that that’s something that’s been lost is these clear lines of communication, and the building of inspiration, the sharing of knowledge, of experience across that border to the south of the nation state that I live within the borders of. There’s so many overlaps, and labor struggles that happen. There’s so much cross border transit of goods and I have so much more in common with people across that border than I do who fucking run those corporations here.

PG: Yup.

TFSR: Another point that I really liked in the book – and you approach this in a number of different ways, or I read this in a number of different places – talking about the importance of territorialization. And maybe that’s the wrong term, but being rooted in the land base that you’re in, listening to it, trying to understand what it teaches and how to live with it. Recognize how other people have done that, and like rooting your struggle in a sense of place. And this is one of the reasons that some of these anticolonial and anticapitalist resistance movements in different places around the world look so different is because they’re rooted in different legacies and practices, religions, languages, and experiences of colonization. And I really appreciate the fact that you point this out and you say, “Look, don’t expect everyone around the world to circle their A’s, or to use the term ‘autonomy’ necessarily for what they’re doing. But just recognize similar traits among people that you can have solidarity with in the struggle against global capitalism and colonization”. Can you talk a little bit about some of these similar traits, how you kind of identify these like versatile strategies?

PG: Yeah. So yeah, I think I do use the word “territorialization” or “territorialized” and that’s largely coming from Catalan and Spanish. In English “territorial” tends to be an ugly word because it’s associated with possessiveness, with drawing borders. I find it a very useful concept that’s used here so I just started using it in English. I would just encourage people to look at the roots of that word, “terra” or “tierra”, like the earth. A relationship with the earth not as like this big, abstract blue planet floating in the void but the earth under our feet.

So it’s interesting because you’re asking about similarities – oh god this is gonna sound like some cliched bumper sticker or something like that – but my first response is to say that the similarity is in the difference. Because in an act of war against this world of supermarkets and Amazon and smartphone screens which impose this secretly white supremacist homogeneity, when you territorialize you are becoming part of a long historical tradition that is so so so specific to the exact place where you live and nowhere else. So that means eating different food, cooking it in a different way, pruning different trees, it means speaking a different dialect of a different language. It means things that at first glance are maybe more defined or marked by their difference, but when you when you see like gatherings of peasants from different countries around the world, or gatherings of gardeners, gatherings of revolutionaries who very much believe in being territorial in this sense that I’m trying to talk about it, who believe in having their roots in the ground beneath their feet, and fighting from that relationship and understanding themselves within that relationship…

One thing that strikes me is how much pleasure there is in sharing “This is how you do it? This is how we do it. Oh, this is what you eat? This is what we eat.” And so even on the face of it, the color of that, the texture of that seems to be bringing out differences but I think that really what’s the conversation that happens there – and it feels this way to me like insofar as I’m this alienated exsuburbanite who is engaging in relatively later in my life, to a limited extent has felt this way – that like, beneath the words, there’s the sort of language of love which is completely an exercise in sameness. Not the sameness of homogeneity, but the sameness of “We’re living beings in this earth and we love the Earth, it gives us our lives, we love the other living beings around us.” And so really people all across the world who are living in autonomy and calling it different things and using very, very different technologies and eating very different foods, and all the rest, are on a deeper level doing the same thing, and I think can often recognize ourselves in one another.

TFSR: I guess jumping back to a reference that you made a little bit ago, I was very moved by your chapter, A Very Different Future, where you were describing – this isn’t the primary part of it, the first part of it at least you were describing – an alternative view of where we might be if we go down this path and sort of a best case scenario of how reframing and healing the world could look. I feel like though there is a lot, lot of doing needed to change the course that we as a species are on – or that we who live under the civilization, are forced to live another civilization live in… One of the primary challenges that we face is one of imagination. Because imagination feeds the soul, it’s a playful creativity, it’s a necessary part of, I think, what it is to be alive. Can you speak about this, and sort of point to any projects or movements or people that you think listeners might appreciate in terms of having a radical imagination, and being brave enough to share that out with other people?

PG: Huh. Yeah, I’d start off underscoring how important I think imagination is, like you said. I think it’s, I don’t know, maybe I think it’s more important than hope. Sometimes it’s just really not possible to access hope. But it’s nice, even in those moments, to be able to look out your window or look at the street and see a completely different world filling up that space, even if you don’t think you’ll ever live to see it. So that I think is extremely important. And I don’t think that we can, I mean, obviously the world that we create is going to surprise us. It’ll be born and dialogue with us and it will also insist on certain things and impose itself in certain ways. But at the same time, I don’t think we can create a society that we’re unable to imagine. Even though the caveat that I was trying to trying to communicate is that it will still be different from how we imagine in, but the imagining it is a hugely important part of creating it.

And I think it’s extremely, extremely important to make a very, very clear analytical and strategic distinction between imaginings and blueprints. Creating blueprints is just a furtherance of the war against the planet. It is an extremely colonial act to impose a blueprint on the world. And actually, this reticence towards imagination is probably the biggest criticism I’ve ever had of insurrectionary anarchism. Like this general refusal to imagine. Which isn’t even really well supported by the theoretical bases of insurrectionary anarchism. I think it’s just more often manifests as a fear, like an insistence of focusing on the present, which has some important strategic elements to that insistence. Like we’re gonna focus on the present. But then there’s also I think this fear of actually going beyond that.

Who is doing a good job of sharing these imaginings, these imaginations? So okay, there’s this one group that I interviewed in the US for the book. I keep their location anonymous, but basically they get funds and divert theirs, or they take advantage of some financing that’s intended for other purposes. Basically it’s intended to help large scale industrial farmers buy trees for windbreaks and whatnot. And this is a radical anticapitalist group that buys massive amounts of trees, like tens of thousands of trees in order to help neighborhoods move towards food autonomy. And I haven’t seen them do anything that’s explicitly propagandistic works of imagination. Like “we can imagine this area that we live in being an abundant orchard, where you can grow our own healthly food and not rely on wage labor to get low quality food”. But I think on the material level, there’s a great deal of imagination in what they do.

And I think also a lot of it refers back to peasant and Indigenous imagination from Latin America, because a lot of the neighborhoods where what they do is most effective are neighborhoods with with a large number of Central American migrants who have a lot of experience with growing their own food and with combining residential and agricultural spaces in a way that is generally not done in the Global North. And so if not on the level of like written propaganda, at the very least on the material level, there is a thriving imaginary in that project of neighborhoods, poor neighborhoods, working class neighborhoods that increase their quality of life by growing healthy food. And this is one small group that’s doing this, if this were done across the US, then you’d be creating like an atmospherically significant amount of carbon reduction, of carbon being brought down from the air by reforestation. It’s done in a complex healthy way and not in like a mono cropping, genetically engineered way, and it also gives working class neighborhoods access to healthy food.

Also, most of the trees that they’re planning are autochthonous, how do you say that in English? They’re native, they’re native species, most of which have been neglected by industrial agriculture because industrial agriculture imposes a lot of needs, that are divorced from the needs of human and environmental health. Like transportability: apples are great because they can be they can be hard, they can be harvested early, and then they can be shipped around the world. Pawpaws, for example, are a very, very important native tree food from North America they’re kind of too mushy, they don’t work so well being transported so they don’t work so well as a supermarket food. And so it’s a very healthy food, which is a part of Indigenous cultures, Indigenous histories, Indigenous technology, which is just removed from the equation by how it’s done. And so it’s it’s really awesome to see a group that’s bringing back a lot of those native species and increasing biodiversity and increasing human health in working class neighborhoods.

Aside from more material projects, there’s something very, very important that anarchists have actually been doing for a long time, and that is experiencing a very, very exciting rebirth, which is anarchists speculative fiction. Whether science fiction or fantasy, there is increasing attention being being paid to some of the greats from the recent past, like Octavia Butler who’s a radical, not an anarchist but someone I’ve learned a lot from, someone that, it doesn’t matter that she’s not an anarchist, she’s a really great writer and really great thinker. So yeah, Octavia Butler, Ursula K Le Guin, over here [in Spain and Catalunya], for example, they’ve even been republishing and reprinting some of the anarchists who are engaging in some speculative fiction from out of the workers movement in the late 19th century. And then you also have a lot of current writers who are putting out anarchist speculative fiction, and that’s something that we really need to support and we need to try to spread beyond just the movement. Get it into our libraries, get it into our local bookstores, because that’s generally more effective in spreading anarchist ideas and anarchist imaginaries then, you know, then a lot of our nonfiction writing.

TFSR: Yeah, plus, it’s fun.

PG: Oh, yeah.

TFSR: [giggles] I’ve seen warnings on social media and in some recently published books such as Climate Leviathan – which honestly, I have not finished yet, just haven’t had time – but of ideas of eco-Leninism, or eco-Maoism, an ostensibly leftist authoritarian state response to climate destabilization, then I’ve got a feeling that it’s not just about Derek Jensen anymore. Can you talk a little bit about this tendency, and if you see this as an actual threat with actual adherence, like an actual threat to liberty?

PG: Yeah. Probably most significantly Andreas Malm took it into a new territory, well beyond, for example, like Derek Jensen, with that group. And so this is something that is getting us lot of attention in anticapitalist academic circles. I’ve never seen anywhere where it has any implantation on the ground, like directly in real struggles or in social movements. So from that perspective, it would seem just like a very out of touch, elite, making kind of wild arguments that are fairly ridiculous and irrelevant. Except I think we’ve seen dynamics before, where when the official centrist practices and ideologies flounder, and are unable to produce solutions that the system needs in order to correct and survive – and that’s definitely, we are entering that that period of history right now- where authoritarian elements in social movements that seem to be very, very tiny and not very relevant, all of a sudden go really big, really fast.

That happened in a huge way in the Spanish Civil War, where the authoritarian Communists were completely irrelevant and tiny, and the anarchists had so much influence in the revolutionary movement. And then in less than a year, because of outside funding and because of elite power structures making alliances of convenience, all of a sudden authoritarian revolution – supposedly revolutionary methodology because in fact the Stalinist were quite explicit in saying that they weren’t trying to fight the revolution in Spain – where those authoritarian currents gain ground really, really, really rapidly. And so we need to learn from history, we need to prepare ourselves for that eventuality or inevitability, and we need to be making the arguments now about how these authoritarian ways of looking at the problem are completely detached from people’s needs and the needs of actual ecosystems, and how they are completely unrealistic given the nature of the problem.

That also means being more vociferous about talking about our methodologies, our solutions, and the victories or partial victories that we have. In the case of Andreas Malm, he made it a little bit easier to beginning with some pretty obviously racist, anti-Indigenous statements that he made. I mean he’s very much… he has trouble seeing past the needs of the reproduction of Global North white supremacist society. But I think later iterations of that kind of authoritarian, Eco-Leninist thinking are going to be more sophisticated and they’re going to do a better job at hiding their colonial and white supremacist dynamics. And so I think we need to, yeah, we need to be conscious of that danger while it’s still small.

TFSR: Does it seems strange to you that AK Press just published a book by him last year? How to Blow up a Pipeline.

PG: Um I mean, yeah. There are anarchists publishers that take the approach of only publishing books that they feel affinity with, and I think some really, really important literature that is not commercially viable has gotten circulated that way and that’s really important. And then there are other other radical publishers, like AK that take the approach of being a very broad platform. And there’s some things that AK publishes that I wouldn’t have found out about or gotten access to that both have a broader appeal or like a less radical appeal, and that are also exactly the things that anarchist, especially in North America, need to be thinking about that address things that we historically ignore and do a terrible job of. And then there are things that AK or similar publishers have published that I wouldn’t touch with a 10 foot pole, or that I would touch to burn maybe?

TFSR: [chuckles] Yeah, and I’m not meaning to put AK Press on the spot specifically, but like, that book, and then like, Nick Estes-

PG: The same thing applies, like PM, like all these larger platform publishers. I think I as a person would tend more – just because of I don’t know, my personality, or whatever – would tend more to the sort of small affinity kind of oriented model. But I’m also able to recognize that the way a broader publisher does things has advantages, and it puts us in contact with texts and ideas that we really need to be in dialogue with, and that if we’re just focusing on affinity we’ll never get out of our little echo chamber.

So, yeah, and then some of the Marxists who I respect who are closer to anarchism, say that Andreas Malm’s earlier, big seminal book was important and useful. Like about climate capitalism, about looking at the intersections between climate change and capitalisms earlier development. So, you know, evidently he’s put out things that are theoretically useful, but I think he’s kind of a clown when it comes to direct action. Like he’s coming from this highly privileged, Scandinavian social democratic vantage point where he can talk about his flirtation with direct action from a few years ago without the risk of going into prison, which is [laughing] another planet for the rest of us. And then he, with How to Blow Up a Pipeline, it just seems so like vapid and fatuous. Like this highly privileged academic talking really tough about “yeah, we’re gonna take this thing down” when he really has no idea what he’s talking about and he tends to talk about it in very irresponsible and unrealistic ways.

TFSR: Available at a bookstore near you…

PG: [laughs]

TFSR: [laughing] So, one of my favorite answers to the question of “How can listeners offer solidarity from where they’re at?” that I’ve asked guests in the past, one of the best answers that I’ve gotten consistently from people that are doing anti-megaproject work, or blocking pipelines – megaproject I guess – anticolonial struggles, is to do that work where we’re at, against the oppressive dynamics here to destabilize the capitalist core, so that autonomy can flourish here, as well as at the peripheries. And I feel like that was really echoed in the conclusion of your book. What would you tell people a good next step is after reading the book? [laughs] Leading question?

PG: I mean, in tandem with developing a global perspective, that’s real, that’s based in actual relationships of solidarity with the people and with struggles in other parts of the world, I would say that taking steps, at least baby steps towards food autonomy, is something that can be done anywhere, needs to be done anywhere. And that it’s also an interesting exercise or an interesting line of attack, because it can kind of give us new perspectives on what are the structures that get in the way of our survival? You know, what are the structures that really need to be identified as enemies? And sharing food is is a really powerful activity on every level. And so moving beyond more superficial practices of affinity, towards practices of solidarity with people who are, you know, don’t think the same way as us, as a step towards actually creating like a community worthy of the name, food is extremely important. Being able to share food, being able to decrease dependence on capitalism, that aspect. If I had to give a shorter answer I would highlight that for special attention.

TFSR: So start a garden. You heard it here first.

[both crack up together]

PG: Housing! Housing is really important.

TFSR: Totally.

PG: Taking over housing, anyways, yeah. To answer properly you’d have to talk about so many different things.

TFSR: I guess intervene where you can and have some imagination. I really liked the fact that a couple times in the book that you challenged the the readership to “no, really, stop reading. Please take a moment, close your eyes or look out the window and just do some thinking”. Yeah, that’s good.

Peter, are you working on anything else right now or just kind of like, taking care of business between between books?

PG: Uhhhhh, right now just trying to stay alive and yeah. I think we’re doing a very bad job generally in our movements of taking care of ourselves and taking care of each other. And so I’m trying to look at that more. Yeah, trying to get off my ass to actually plant my garden once it’s spring. And yeah, we’re still working on the infrastructures gatherings, anarchists infrastructures gatherings here in Catalunya. Whenever I find the motivation to start working on the next book, the next one will probably be a critique of democracy, both representative and direct. And then I’d also love to get to this research project about the invention of whiteness in the Spanish colonial experience, since it’s been mostly studied in the English experience of the invention of whiteness through through colonialism.

TFSR: Cool. Well, thanks for this lovely book. I really enjoyed the read and thank you for taking the time to talk.

PG: Thank you. Thank you for taking the time to talk and thanks for, thanks for reading, thanks for the conversation and, yeah. Thanks for being in touch.

TFSR: Of course.

The Interregnum: Roundtable with Vicky Osterweil

The Interregnum: Roundtable with Vicky Osterweil

Download Episode Here

This week we are pleased to present something a little bit new for TFS listeners. This is a kind of informal round table discussion that co host Scott and I had alongside Vicky Osterweil, who has been on the show before to speak on her book In Defense of Looting; A Riotous History of Uncivil Action. We all sat down to talk about a short and thought provoking article which was published in January of 2022 called “The Interregnum: The George Floyd Uprising, the coronavirus pandemic, and the emerging social revolution” which was published on the Haters Cafe and we will link to it in the show notes for anyone interested in reading it.

An interregnum is defined as being a period of discontinuity in a government, organization, or social order, and it typically points to time frames at which there isn’t a clear monarch or reigning body in a given place. This article points to the many ways the George Floyd uprising, the covid 19 pandemic, the rise of anti-work, and what the article calls the Great Refusal (a pivot from the ‘Great Resignation’ nomenclature of some mass media) have all created the conditions for a possible broadscale social revolution. Also stay tuned to the end of this episode where we chat briefly about what books we’re reading right now. We hope you enjoy this chat!

((note to listeners, I’m now using the name I use in real life for this radio project, which is Amar. It’s become more and more important to me to be as fully acknowledging of my culture and ethnicity as possible, and this is one way I’m choosing to do that))

A note on the audio, I messed up recording on my side – my bad – but Scott saved the audio by doing their own back up recording!

In Defense of Looting interview with TFSR!

Announcements:

Disrupt Stone Mountain

In the south eastern US state of Georgia, there is a call-out for anti-racists and anti-fascists to show up and counter and stop the yearly demonstration organized by the buffoonish Sons of Confederate Veterans at Stone Mountain Park for April 30th, 2022. Stone Mountain was intended by “lost cause” supporters as a confederate Mount Rushmore, including a large bas-relief carving and was maybe the site of the birth of the second KKK in 1915. More info on the twitter for Atlanta Justice Alliance and some background can be found in a prior TFSR interview

Eric King

A call-in campaign continues until we hear otherwise for Eric King, the anarchist prisoner who recently won a court case against his jailers at the federal Bureau of Prisons. After that case, they decided to transfer him to a higher security facility across the country. The BOP has a history of setting Eric up to get jumped by white supremacist prisoners at other facilities and the worry is that not only is this move an obvious act of vengeance by the BOP but that he’ll be isolated and targeted at USP Lee or whatever facility they stick him in. You can find notes about the call in at SupportEricKing.org, in our chat with Eric on our April 3rd, 2022 episode and in the recent IGD This Is America interview on the subject.

Libre Flot

Libre Flot, a French anarchist and former volunteer alongside the YPG in Rojava, has ended his hunger strike after a judge released him for medical reasons but he’ll be electronically monitored by the state pending a future court case, as reported by Abolition Media. Likely future updates and ways to support Libre Flot can be found at SolidarityToDecember8.WordPress.Com.

Mountain Valley Pipeline Resistor Needs Support

Max is facing a bunch of legal fees for locking down to block the delivery of pipeline to the MVP construction project and is looking for support in covering costs. More info can be found at https://tinyurl.com/MadMaxFines

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Featured Track

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Transcription

Amar: Three of us are sitting down, me and Scott and Vicky Osterweil, who has been on the show before and who has written a bunch of really amazing stuff. In Defense of Looting; A Riotous History of Uncivil Action, primarily, we had her on the show to talk about that book. We are all here to talk about this article on Haters Cafe, which is a blog run by primarily black and brown proletarian folks. This article is called the The Interregnum: The George Floyd Uprising, the Coronavirus Pandemic, and The Emerging Social Revolution.

And we’re just all here to talk about it a little bit. It’s not an interview, it’s sort of a departure from the you know, format The Final Straw has gone in so far and I’m excited to talk with y’all about this really thought provoking piece.

Scott: Yeah, this is Scott and I thought I’d start by giving a quick little summary overview of the piece. The pieces written in points, but I’m going to kind of bring them all together. I thought this piece was really helpful and interesting because it ties together a bunch of different important phenomena, especially like recent ones. Not just the pandemic, the George Floyd uprisings and the great resignation, which this piece says we should rename the great refusal, but also the longer arc of rebellion over the last 10 years. Basically, there’s this claim in the piece that the insurrection that we saw from George Floyd uprisings has been translated into daily life. So the struggle has left the realm of the political and now is possibly moving towards a social revolution. I think that’s good to kind of set us up for a conversation.

Vicky: Yeah, totally. First of all, thank you so much. It’s so nice to be back here with y’all, on one of my favorite shows. It’s such a pleasure just to chat, especially under these circumstances. When we scheduled this… things have changed globally. So it’s exciting to sit and think, reground ourselves in thinking through our local contexts and what that looks like. It’s really valuable. So I appreciate you and appreciate the audience, too.

I think one of the things about this piece that I found really sort of activating I guess is the way in which it talks about the great resignation, which has been this wave of quitting. Mass wave of quitting jobs that has gone on now, basically, since the beginning of the pandemic, but it accelerated really dramatically in 2021. I haven’t seen January numbers, but I know that even through December, it continued to accelerate, people are quitting their jobs more and more. Some of that is almost certainly due to the pandemic and the conditions of work that that produces. Some people have, when I’ve talked to comrades about this piece some of them have sort of said, “oh, well, you know, I think the quitting is just about the conditions getting worse or people having to care for each other.” That might be true, but that’s also still a recognition that it’s not possible to do work under those circumstances.

I think it’s really interesting because I think we have gotten into this habit over the last 10 years that this piece talks about, sort of these movement waves where this big movement blows up in the streets. In 2009 there’s Oscar Grant and you have the student strikes, but it was really occupy in 2011 that really sort of starts the cycle. Those sort of would be defined by tactical innovation: the squares, or the riot in the case of Ferguson in Baltimore, holding a space with with rioting. Once that tactic was outflanked or defeated by a combination of the left/liberals and the police then we would sort of go back into a moment of waiting.

I think what’s been really interesting about the last year and a half that this piece sort of points out, really sharpened for me, is that in fact 2020 was so big and so consequential, the George Floyd rebellion, that we have this explosion of basically autonomous but not fully disorganized job-leaving. We’ve seen memes about it, people sharing those signs of a Burger King, “we’re all closed, sorry, everyone quit” but also the explosion of the Reddit r/antiwork which became such a thing that they ended up on Fox News and Reddit shut them down. They splintered into all these more reformist subreddits. But it was the fastest growing subreddit in years. There were 1000s of people posting about how much they hated work.

I spent a lot of time watching it as well. It had a very anti-recuperative tendency that was really strong. People tried to bring it into democratic politics or party politics and they would get shot down. It was really like, “No, no, no, the focus is on how our jobs suck and how our labor conditions suck and we have to destroy work.” That was really interesting that that space sort of developed spontaneously in this way that’s very similar to what the movement looks like, which is just people quitting their jobs and then millions. This piece brings that as like an attack, as opposed to a sort of tactical defense, which all those other sort of moments where, as opposed to like a political moment.

These are all interesting questions. This distinction between the political and the social and the attack versus the reactive or defensive movement I think is the stuff that’s really interesting for me.

Scott: Those are the two really important overarching points that I think I would love to dive into. “What does it mean to enter a social revolution or to move our sights beyond the political?” And then that question that always comes up because often a lot of anarchist organizing or anarchist action comes in spontaneous waves in reaction to things and then we’re always left scratching our heads, “how do we move ahead of the things that get thrown at us?” But yeah, Amar, I’ll pass to you.

Amar: Oh, Amar is fine. The whole Reddit /antiwork phenomenon is really interesting. I heard a little bit about it, because like I’m not a redditor. I know of it sort of nominally. But I gather that it was started by two anarchists. I gather that those two anarchists are also trans people. I don’t know if either of those folks are still involved in it. But for me and as an older millennial, the role of the internet and all of this is just fascinating. It’s just fascinating to see how this sort of not truly global because it’s still not yet accessible in all corners of the world, but this more global platform than I’ve actually seen in my lifetime has really furthered the anti-work sentiment, the great refusal sentiments, and it’s just super fascinating to see that.

Vicky: Yeah, exactly. And the other thing that happened last year, I mean, obviously most of the news attention went to the far right or right wing anti-Vax protests and obviously the more recent up in so-called Canada, the caravan. They were doing occupy again, like 10 years later. We couldn’t do occupy if we wanted. We would need 10,000 people rioting to hold a square. We needed that in 2020 to hold the square for a few days, but they needed like 100 people in trucks and they go to do occupy again. Whatever. It’s still scary, obviously, but the State is giving them a lot of tactical latitude. Anyway, that’s been where all the attention has been. That has been the “politics of resistance” during this period after the rebellion.

But there were also those moments of spontaneous looting, and the student walkouts. I think one of the things that the piece tries to pull towards is that a lot of these things that have been happening have been less visible. I write about this in my book about how during the Great Depression, there was this mass wave of looting that store owners wouldn’t even report it to the police for fear of it entering the news and people getting ideas. So we have no idea historically how much it was, except that it was widespread enough that we know that many people didn’t want to talk about it. That’s all we know about it and that’s from contemporaneous reports.

The collapse of like school grading… I know a bunch of teachers, both at the university and primary and high school level. School discipline has completely collapsed. Work discipline has largely collapsed. One of the things about all these people quitting their jobs is that the bad jobs… nominal wages, and again wages are very hard to determine, there’s debate about this, but nominal wages have gone up year over year in 2021. Faster than they had anytime since the 70’s. It led to this immediate wage increase. I think that that stuff is really interesting in this period when there’s a lot of demand from the left that we focus on organizing the workplace. Like, “Oh, you gotta organize the workplace.” Actually, we’re seeing all this workers struggle, but it’s not really being seen as that because it’s not taking this visible political form.

Amar: Do you think that… because I’ve seen that too. I used to drive to work every day and there was a McDonald’s on my drive and one week it was “now hiring $15 and up” and then it just went up and up every single week. Like 16, 17, 18 and now it’s a $21 an hour, which is just incredible. I wonder too, with the public perception of the refusal or anti-work generally, is that you see a lot of it coalescing in lower wage or fast food or jobs that are seen as unskilled or disposable. Do y’all think that that’s affecting how folks are thinking about it a little bit? Because I’ve definitely seen that. It’s not really seen as a general strike. It’s not really seen as workers organizing each other and I wonder if there’s some endemic classism in there?

Scott: Oh, yeah. Well, I mean when the pandemic first hit the hierarchy of jobs, I feel, became so apparent based on who was able to work from home and then who was an essential worker, which was unless you are a nurse or doctor, a devalued worker, right? Typically in the service industry or in the supermarket or something like that. So I think that stuff became kind of pretty clear right away. And listening to what you were just saying, I was thinking about how the people forced to work in service industry during the pandemic were also being forced to risk their health in ways that other people were removed from if they had these other options. That continues even now with the people in service industry being put into these positions that they can’t really say no to.

I think that one of the things that’s interesting about thinking about the wages going up is that this happened without workers making demands, and this piece really talks about how there’s a nostalgia on the Left for the traditional workers movement, for like labor organizing. Which is this kind of organized way to go in this particular workplace typically, not in a general way, and make specific demands within that instance. This is spreading in a very different way, not through the typical ways of organizing. I think that is another interesting phenomenon of social media and internet.

I think it’s interesting how this piece ties that together, also with the way that the discourse around police abolition and prison abolition sort of spread all of a sudden through the George Floyd uprisings. It shows us something like that we can’t go and lecture people to believe these things and hope that they’ll just take them on. There’s something else that is causing this spread. It’s not the Vanguard party going and doing political lessons for people.

Vicky: Totally. I think one of the things that’s really valuable for me, to sort of historicize this moment and think about it, is that there are these other incredibly successful general strikes in American history that are never seen that way. Increasingly, as people read Dubois’ Black Reconstruction, they’re starting to see the general strike of the enslaved as a real thing, as a thing that happened as he as he describes it. But every year, even before the Civil War, 50,000 enslaved people, obviously, most of them illiterate, in many ways, facing incredibly difficult modes of communication between separate plantations, even within plantations, although, as more and more scholars are demonstrating, they were very good at communicating and there was a very dense communication network that famously Harriet Tubman used to spy on Confederate soldiers.

In any case there was also in response to Jim Crow in the fascist regime in the South, the post-slavery fascist regime in the South or post reconstruction, you have the great migrations. Which I think don’t get talked about as labor action in the same way. Even though people like Ida B. Wells at the time understood them as such. The nostalgia for the classical workers movement isn’t just a Marxist, although it is often sort of worshipping of a particular industrial proletariat, which again lots of Marxist don’t do, but a lot of them do as well. It’s not just that. It’s also a refusal to recognize Black and indigenous forms of resistance historically in the country.

So I think it’s not surprising that in the wake of a Black uprising that spreads so widely to all of society that then we would be seeing these tactics that have a more historical echo with practices of maroonage, migration, mass networked action that aren’t necessarily organized into the “solidarity fist” of the union in exactly the same way. I don’t want to get all talking about Deleuze or whatever the hell… But I think there’s a real opportunity here. And the reason that I want to have this conversation, and I think we all did is because we are actually in a moment when things really feel like they’re at stake. Obviously, the war, and the murder, and all the events of the last few weeks have have increased that feeling that there’s high stakes. I also think what the piece says and I agree with is the proletariat, the class is on the attack. It’s on the offensive right now. I hate we have to formulation shit like that.

But it is a valuable opportunity to rethink how we think about struggle, because I think it was so vital over the last 10 years that we have all of these political struggles. It was so important and the piece sort of argues that without those struggles there was no way that the George Floyd rebellion could have emerged. But now, there’s this temptation to see things and patterns or as repetitions, to fail to recognize when things have changed especially under the conditions that we understand them of what politics looks like. Which is like unions, demands, parties, or even anarchists. Even uprisings, insurrections, I think we really need to move past that as well.

We, those of us who think of ourselves as insurrectionary types, or whatever. I think that all of these questions are really up in the air right now and if they were to merge with a street movement, it would provide a really serious opportunity for total, significant transformation. I think that’s the first time in my life I feel really comfortable saying that on the radio and feeling like that’s real. You know what I mean?

Amar: Absolutely. This is the first time in my life that I’ve seen a lot of these things happen. It’s incredible, not to parrot myself a little bit, but it’s incredible to see the things that are happening right now. And thank you also for bringing a historical context to the point of the general strike and all of that stuff. Because I think that that’s history that people are speaking of, but is a parallel that, I think is very well drawn, and needs to be drawn now.

Scott: I think, and there’s something in the piece and then the history that you just brought up, Vicky, too, there’s something about what gets seen and understood and what doesn’t get seen or comprehended in various ways. There’s a particular racialized and colonial history to that, that we know when we talk about US history in particular, there’s a uniform narrative that’s given that tries to fit things into progress, or sort of like a immiseration of particular groups of people as part of our collective history that leaves out all of these multifarious ways that people have resisted. If we don’t tell those stories we can’t learn that that happened. First of all, which is inspiring for today, but also learn that there’s flexible ways to do it.

So the most visible things that are also whitened, right? Or like the the labor strikes. I think for us as anarchists recently, it’s a certain kind of uprising. Those things are interesting because I think maybe one of the reasons that they get so much play and are so compelling is because they do play, like the piece says, into the spectacle, the image of politics. They also tend to have an end. I think sometimes in my anarchist thinking, I really get into this idea of the eruption of moments of liberation that we formed that are temporary and then they dissolve. But there’s something else in this piece that’s gesturing towards, “how do we not just wait for those untimely moments to come and echo across the years or whatever,” but like, “how do we sustain things in the meantime.” There’s these threads of sustained resistance throughout history that fly under the radar.

One of the things that the piece talks about, which I would love to hear what you all think, to what extent do we want things to be like clandestine and not talked about so that they can keep happening in a way that allows for spaces of freedom? And not either recuperation or violence from the State? And to what extent is that just a failure from the analyst or whatever to see that there’s really strong resistance going on?

Vicky: So for that final question, I think one of the things I’ve heard, a close comrade, a friend of mine when I was tweeting about this piece who has slightly different politics from me was sort of saying, “Oh, well, I think this movement of quitting will lead to mass repression.” I think that’s sort of the question you’re saying, when we make a struggle like this legible do we risk damaging it? First of all, yes, of course. I think that’s really important and that’s true. Also, though, particularly the great resignation is and anti-work is a trend that the right and the capitalists have noticed. They brought it to many of our attention, because this is happening at a scale that none of us can necessarily really see beyond sort of a meme of an image or whatever. But when millions of people are quitting the capitalists are scared, and that’s how we know it’s happening because they’re talking about it in Business Insider and the Economist or whatever.

So like on that level, the question I think is right. I think it’s right to think about, “do we try to wrench these things into politics?” When we do so we do so at great grave danger to their potential. But also, we do want to be able to speak to each other, and to have a context in which we can sort of organize and start to answer some of these questions. To speak to the first half of your point, though, if that’s okay. Unless you have something you want to sort of jump on on that?

Amar: No, no, go ahead.

Vicky: This is to veer away from the piece of it and get a little personal, but I’ve now been organizing in various capacities and writing and fighting for like 12, 13 years now. Maybe since 2009. What time is it? 2008? So yeah, for ages now, right? It’s been a long time. One of the things that has happened is that I have grown really dissatisfied with the waiting for the change to come and happen spontaneously. At the same time that I recognize that over the last decade none of us have really been able to predict how this stuff was going to break down and it hasn’t really been driven by political radicals either. I don’t think that’s going to suddenly start happening either. But we have these one lives. These one precious, increasingly threatened life.

I’ve always loved the anarchists tendency to say we have to try and build that world in the present in our own worlds to the extent that we can. I think we can apply that to bigger scales without it being dangerous to our goals. Do you know what I mean by that? There’s this really hard line to thread and we haven’t come up with the answers. I certainly and anyone who tells you they have is full of shit. Myself, even, I don’t have the answer I’m also full of shit.

But I think there is this tension right now with this real desire to have enough power, for lack of a better word, to act in a really in a way that increases those possibilities and opportunities, while recognizing what’s going on right now. Which is that on a sort of spontaneous, which isn’t a great concept, but on a class wide scale some of these attacks are happening now. They’re happening and can we intervene? Because I think there’s also a desire and the piece does talk to this. Sorry, I’m just rambling now. I guess that’s the point, right? We’re having a conversation.

But the piece speaks to the leftist desire to get out and be the leaders to be the vanguard. We saw that in the uprising where revolutionary organizations, I heard about this in every city with there were big things, would get to the front of a march and lead it in a circle, or lead it directly into trap. Or all these terrible things, all the swooping and stuff. So I think without wanting to be a vanguard and being satisfied to be participants in events, and nothing more than participants in events, how can we be the most effective participants in events possible? In a way that both makes our lives better and increases the chances for other people to reach for those things. That’s such a hard question because it’s about power and organization, but our terms for those are so limited.

Amar: Yeah, yeah, I think about this, too. And we saw, I think anybody who had two eyes and was paying attention saw the orgs get out in front of stuff in the George Floyd uprisings. I think that it was just such a typical tactic on the part of the orgs as a part of power accumulation and optics and all of these things. How do we not do that? And how do we participate as anarchists in a way that is anti-authoritarian, or anti-vanguardist, or anti-optics or whatever, if we can say that. I think that’s such an important question. I think that to answer that would maybe be to do something of a disservice to the scope of the question itself. Because it’s so important and it’s less of a question and more of a provocation for me. Just challenging folks to be like, “this is a moment, this is happening.” I remember back in the day people were really invested in this idea of a revolution and I’m just like, “Y’all, it’s here and what do we do with it?”

Scott: That’s like the thing that I really loved about this piece, because I’ve been reading other interesting pieces that are pessimistic or nihilistic. This one is saying we’re in the midst of at least a proto-revolution, if not a revolution. In thinking about this question about how we can be participants within it without trying to get out in front, which is so important. Thinking about the last decade and the anarchists involvement in all these uprisings, not to credit it to anarchists, and I don’t even mean a particular person who says they’re an anarchist, but tactics learned from anarchist uprisings or uprisings that have elements of anarchism within it. They’ve been accumulating over over this time. I think the anarchism, more than in my lifetime, you can talk about it and people are like, “oh, yeah, I have some ideas about this.” It’s less unheard of. It gets mentioned even in mainstream aspects.

I feel like, again, some of this spreading of knowledge or information, some of the ways that anarchists have shown up in the streets or organized mutual aid is becoming more baseline knowledge for people about how to defend yourself in this situation. I think that that might be a way to think about it. Again, this is to say that anarchists aren’t leading things, anarchists are showing up and doing things and those things are getting innovated over and over again throughout all these events.

Vicky: Yeah, I think that’s that’s exactly right. I mean, as someone who has been doing police in prison abolition stuff for almost a decade now, I remember having a conversation with a friend and we were talking about how for years it just felt like bashing your head against a brick wall. Then suddenly in 2020 you were just nodding and everyone was nodding along with you like, “yeah, abolish the police, abolish prisons!” I think there’s probably a tendency among people who identify as anarchists, especially who sort of form online to want sectarian identification as anarchist to be really present and stuff. There’s this counter tendency that I think, Scott, you just really well summed up, which is that, in fact, the tactics and the ideas are spreading.

I think that that’s also valuable in terms of attempting to the best of our ability to decolonize and abolish the whiteness of the ways and the Europeanness of the ways that we think about this stuff. Maybe the movement has gotten anarchist enough that we no longer need anarchists. I don’t know. I’m in a weird place now. But I guess what the piece has me asking myself and questioning and what the last 10 years have as well is this great refusal moment, in some ways, the George Floyd rebellion was a summation, and intensifying, and generalizing of all of the struggles that had come before. We saw all those tactics repeated. It was incredible and beautiful, and really, really important. And now something has shifted and we have to move away from our dogmas in a real way that is scary.

Part of the reason I feel is partially scared, and I mean not just the state of the world, but because I don’t see my comrades, all of whom I love dearly in my local area, I don’t see any of us moving in a way that makes me feel like it’s the answer. Even during the uprising my comrades, who I really love and who I was in the street with and who I would do a lot in the street for, I didn’t see us moving in a way that I was like, “Okay, wow.” Myself included. I was among this we, right? We were participating, and that’s cool. But I want to think about, because it matters so much, I want to think about what we can do and how we can we distinguish sectarian tactical, ideological things that we rely on from things that are really important actually and it’s really good that they become core.

I think there can be a tendency that I think is actually kind of creepy and proto-right wing to be like, “we must reject all of our previous knowledge.” Absolutely not. We have learned so much. We have to stay queer liberationists, trans liberationists, anti racist, these are all so crucial. But yeah, I don’t know. It’s a question. We’re in a moment where we can really start cutting back some of the stuff that isn’t serving us. As the piece says, in the spirit of the great refusal, you should think about how to leave those formations, whether they’re tactical or ideological, or just groups or whatever, that aren’t serving us right now in this moment.

Amar: I love that part of the article so much. The whole, “let’s think about how to translate a, not anti-work as sort of a hardline definition, but a refusal on to our anarchist politics and praxis.” I thought that that was such a cool provocation. And Scott, I wonder if you have anything to say about that. I was just super sparked by it. I don’t really have a lot to say about it. I mean, seeing folk and seeing how folk were moving in the streets, or like moving in the midst of the uprising, I didn’t see a whole hell of a lot of it, but I definitely was just like, “Hmm, we did that,” or like, “that happened.” There’s a question there, too.

Scott: Yeah, I’m thinking in current anarchists discourse that I’m finding most interesting right now is the stuff that Amar: C, Anderson’s Nation on no Map, where he’s been elaborating a Black anarchism that isn’t about self identification as an anarchist. He looks at the history of Black people in the US and sees anarchist, or anarchistic, or whatever, aspects of community self defense and mutual aid and says that there’s conditions that create this. and that there’s histories and knowledge of these ways of being and doing that sort of exceed the limited definition of anarchism that can be tied back to a particular European historical context.

That kind of stuff, alongside a lot of care work, accountability transformative justice, and disability justice work that I read that’s in an abolitionist vein tends to me to do this kind of loosening up of anarchism into something that’s not like who you are, but it’s the things that you do and the way that you do them. It can be in all these moments. I think when we take this into struggle, we get so caught up in being a thing and showing up to do thing as a kind of person all the time. I think protest is often, because it’s captured by the political, this is where I want to get right? Back to the idea of moving out of the political into the social. When it remains in the realm of the politics and we’re just announcing we’re anarchists and we’re here to fuck shit up or whatever.

One of the things reading this, it made me think. I had been translating Guy Hocquenghem and his writings on gay liberation after ’68 people. And the May ‘68 people were saying a similar thing about the social, they were calling a cultural revolution, because they were still a little bit enthralled by Mao. But they were like, “the revolution has to touch every part of life.” It’s not just the realm of politics. It’s not the labor movement. This is where you get the beginnings of gay liberation in France too. I think that’s really an interesting thing. In that moment, in the 60’s, late 60’s and early 70’s, that dovetailed with the hippies and a counterculture that wasn’t really politicized. I think the material conditions for a lot of the people who were involved in that were such that they could do a kind of subversive thing and still kind of be part of the system. So it didn’t translate into this social revolution that they were calling for.

But I think we’re in a totally different scenario. We don’t have the opportunities and all the kinds of props that were holding up the state and the market at that time have been thrown away at this point. The pandemic has just made it even starker. So to me, that explains a little bit why a political thing can translate more generally and pervasively through all the strands of life the way that this piece is arguing that it is or is starting to or can continue to do.

Just one more thought… So when the pandemic hit, this was my thinking, and this is almost accelerationist or something, I guess, but I was like, “oh my god, everyone is gonna just suddenly become a revolutionary because we’re just faced with the contradictions of you can’t work but you need to pay for rent and you need to pay for food, but you can’t get any of these things.” I was trying to do organizing just being like, “look like we have to do something! We can’t… this is ridiculous.” I got caught up in my organizing with people who are really stuck on old models for me. A lot of going back to, “we need to be clandestine, and we can’t say anything to anyone because then we will be known.” But I was like, at some point we just need to act right and do something. But in the immediate lockdown, those conditions did not create the kind of uprising that I had hoped for, at least, and didn’t really expect.

This piece says something really interesting that I would like to parse out about this. It says “the novel Coronavirus pandemic was a necessary but insufficient condition for the George Floyd rebellion and the great refusal.” So I was like this is going to do it. This piece is saying that this set some things up but then something else happened. Then the next line is “Anti-Blackness, ableism, and xenophobia were also necessary, but they are not novel, though the pandemic’s deepening of these societal codes.” In that kind of weird Interplay that something new happen that we weren’t expecting. I think that’s really interesting. Because again, it scrambles our ability and even our desire to predict things which is I think, where we fall into traps, often.

Vicky: Yeah. God, there’s so much there. There’s so many different things. I’m all over the place.

Scott: Sorry I rambled.

Vicky: No, no, it’s literally my favorite feeling. Too much to respond to is the best. But yeah, I think there’s this question of the Coronavirus and the pandemic. One of the things that actually I think is so scary, not to shift too much about the Ukraine situation is that, the Democrats seem malicious and out of touch enough to me to want to go to war to distract from the virus, right? The handling of the virus has been so bad internationally that I do think a lot of state leaders see, and it’s working as far as I can tell, in a public opinion way. There’s not a sort of 2001 Old Glory flags everywhere fascism coming back, exactly, but people have stopped talking about the pandemic, largely. This is the thing that is on people’s minds. I think the failure of the Biden administration’s response to the pandemic, should be understood in terms of the Great Refusal and the Great Resignation.

One thing that happened was that Trump gave us a bunch of money, and clearly the $600 for unemployment a week was like the Arrested Development meme: “It’s one banana, Michael, how much could it cost? $10?” Clearly a bunch of rich people were like, “how much do poor people make a week? $600?” And everyone got this crazy raise. We didn’t have to work, got on this huge raise, and an eviction moratorium. So there’s all this cash on hand and what people did with that extra space as well as the extra anger, alienation, the mass death, it’s not a silver lining. There’s no silver lining to the pandemic. These are just the conditions, and we can’t describe it that way. This is a this is an absolute utter catastrophe of a global scale that will never be forgotten, at least not for generations. It’s an utter disaster. But it produced both negative and positive conditions that gave people space to rise up, right? And people were like, “Okay, I don’t have to go to work. I can’t go party, I don’t have to pay my rent, I’ve got nothing to do. Fuck it, let’s get rid of these pigs!” That was this spontaneous feeling and tactic and desire that emerged.

I think part of what the Democrats have been doing is like, “Oh God, we can’t reproduce those conditions.” We can’t reproduce the conditions where people aren’t struggling enough that they can fight us. They also, I think, to some extent think that the uprising was all about Trump. What they classically failed to do is to recognize that the uprising happened. So many of us participated and we all remember. We all remember what it felt like and we were all changed by it. You can’t put that back into a bag with punishment, although they are trying.

I don’t know if that’s happening in y’all’s cities, but here in Philly rents have gone up way faster than housing costs. They’ve started instituting credit checks to even get a rental, which I’ve never seen anywhere. Not even in New York when I lived there. It’s wild. And that seems to me an at least slightly coordinated punishment of the working class. Not just for the uprising, but also for the Great Resignation. There’s all this repression happening and now the war is a piece of that as well.

But to be a sort of classic, “whatever,” as I am, all of this repression is in response to real movement that’s happening on the ground now and real fight that we’re giving. We’re on the offensive. I don’t know, I keep just circling back to that. Because Scott, as you pointed out, in the 60’s, even in the 30’s, the insurrectionary movement got kind of bought off by the New Deal. Then the depression got funneled into war production. It’s not clear how anyone can do that. In fact, the financial collapse still hasn’t quite happened. We’ve never recovered from 2009, the stock market has fully divested itself from our daily lives. It doesn’t feel like they have carrot to give us and it doesn’t feel like they can wield the stick well enough. So it feels like we’re chomping at the bit to overextend the metaphor. We have some capacity right now to move.

Scott: There’s another part of this piece to build off of that, that I find interesting. Thinking about how the Democrats have failed to play their historical role of siphoning off the energy of movements and recuperating them in electoral politics. You’re kind of talking about that. But it seems like such a an opportunity for the Democratic Party to take stuff. They keep having things thrown at them that they can totally wrapped up into their shtick and use it. But they’re not doing it. I mean, maybe it’s like you’re saying that they’re scared of the threat that they’ve seen and therefore grasping at straws. But I wonder if either of you had thoughts about why are they so doggedly going in this other direction than what they’ve typically done, which is to try to water down our movements with tokenism and naming policies that don’t do anything?

Amar: And recuperation.

Vicky: Do you want to join take a swing at it?

Amar: I’m uniquely ill-equipped to talk about party politics.

Scott: That’s a good trait.

Vicky: Alas, alas, I have some ideas. Bernie Sanders was was a slam dunk for them. Medicare For All. I mean, if they weren’t good historians they would know that in 1945 in the UK when the Labour Party, the NHS, ran the government for 30 years. The Dems could do it. They’ve got a bunch of slam dunks that are pretty easy. The ball is in the air. Why am I choosing all these bad metaphors? They have these opportunities. I think part of it is that they just are genuinely an imperial court. DC is truly divided from reality on the ground. The pandemic has somehow made that worse. They don’t even get in cabs anymore to talk to cabbies or whatever they do in their op eds.

So I think it’s that and also they are increasingly happy to be the left wing to the extent that they are the left to the Republicans, not as the recuperators of social movement. So I think that now that the Republicans are like, “you know what? We should be fascist because otherwise we’ll never win an election again.” The Democrats can just be like, “yeah, we’re just like utterly greedy, right wing capitalists, like, that’s all we are.” So I don’t know. I think it’s some combination of those things and fear of the uprising. I think in their heart of hearts, Democrats, liberals in general, not just Democrats, if you ask them “which is scarier a fascist uprising or an anarchistic/communist one?”, they think it’s scarier from the left. Because the fascists, maybe they kill them or their friends but probably they get to keep all their property and their nation. Whereas the anarchists, they lose their whole worldview. Like, that’s a lot scarier.

Amar: Yeah, indeed. I really likes this part in the article, and it’s skipping to the end a little bit. The article is written somewhat chronologically, but there’s a lot to sort of unpack in it. And it talks about sort of the right and the coup. This is bullet point 24:

“The lesson they seem to have learned from the coup is that increased calls for secession and the independence notwithstanding, their best chance for power is the 2024 election of Donald Trump. There is therefore something of a three way race between the proletarian movement, the 2024 election cycle, and Donald Trump’s physical death. The death or incapacitation of Donald Trump would represent a blow to the American fascist movement as currently constituted that would require at least another election cycle for them to recover from.”

I really liked this bullet point. I think that it relates somewhat to perceptions and fear and the anxieties of the Democrat institution. I wonder if you’ll have thoughts on this point.

Scott: So, I’m actively frightened by the far right and everything they’re doing. And maybe we can talk a little bit about all the kinds of State policies that are being proposed and passed that are incredibly frightening. But while there is a street movement and January 6 was a thing. It was a debacle. It’s kind of confusing and hard to really, totally understand. This point is saying that in the end, the far right is still attached to an election of a particular person. So, in a way that that gives me a little bit of a feeling of optimism that it’s so narrowly focused on this one thing that just seemed to limit it in a way or help contain it from me. Because in my mind all the time I’m surrounded constantly by Nazis, basically. Like walking down the street in my neighborhood, you know? And so thinking about how they’re still grasping at the old orders of power, and obviously that power still kills and hurts and degrades us all. But something about that was interesting to me.

Amar: Yeah. I mean, there’s been just an immense amount of things that have at least hit the newsstands. I had a text from a person that I hadn’t heard from in a while, and the text was just like, “I’m thinking of you. I hope you’re okay.” And I like genuinely didn’t know what they were referring to because there’s been so many things that have happened. It turns out that they were referencing the anti-trans stuff that was happening in the news with parents of trans kids now being liable for child abuse or some horrifying shit in Texas.

But yeah, there was a point on our notes that we were talking about fear and talking about anxiety and being like, “Am I coming out of left field being fearful right now?” I don’t think that anybody is. I think that there are a lot of oppression fantasies that are spinning themselves out. I’m thinking specifically of like QAnon, and COVID-denialism, and stuff that’s on the far right, that I like obviously have no sympathy for. I do name it as like an oppression or colonization fantasy, basically, that people are like, “Oh, I’m being genocided. I’m being colonized.” It’s just like, guys, I don’t know. It bears no spinning out here. There’s no reason we need to debunk that shit.

But I do think that we’re seeing sort of a creep into various things. I mean, we saw it in fucking September 11, back back back in the day. Maybe some listeners were not alive in 2001. But we saw that precipitated the formations of two extremely fascist institutions and those were the Department of Homeland Security and ICE. Ever since then, in my consciousness, it’s been an ever encroaching upon fascist creep or whatever. We’re seeing that really explicitly, and I think to react to that with fear and anxiety is really normal. And to react to it in a way that’s just like, “oh, I need to not have fear about this,” is to react in a way that’s maybe a bit rooted in survival. That is something we should honor, or one could honor. But I think its really healthy to acknowledge that kind of thing.

Vicky: Yeah, I really appreciate that point from both of y’all. I think two years into this pandemic when all of our forms of comfortable social reproduction and making ourselves feel better and hanging out… all of them have been disrupted for years now and we have watched as world governments have utterly refused to try and fix that. The thing they claim to be good for is something like a pandemic or whatever, right? And they just have literally no interest in helping us at all. Some countries are more brazen in that than others and that has to do with their internal political and domestic stuff.

But in any case, I think even without that 2015 to 2020 the rise of street fascism was traumatic. I don’t know if y’all had this experience, but there was a lot of movement, but also everyone was hyper-vigilant all the time. Everyone was in a fight or flight constantly. That was utterly unsustainable and we didn’t get to rest from that because the pandemic dovetailed with that perfectly. I think we have not had an opportunity to grieve. One of the things that I think about a lot with regard to what you were saying a while ago, Scott, about this classical Workers Movement is that I actually think that there has been a real repression of grief among revolutionaries for the 20th century in general, the experience of that in general.

I hate “Don’t Mourn, Organize!”, which was a thing Joe Hill said about his own death, it was not a slogan. When someone asked him what they should do to honor him. He said, “Don’t mourn, organize.” That is an individual’s request and the fact that’s been turned into a slogan, I think, is disgusting. Don’t organize, mourn, y’all know those really weird squishy stress toys? They have the bulgy eyes if you squeeze them. They all squeeze out or whatever. The way I, and I’ve had to experience a lot of it unfortunately, grief and rage… If we just tried to repress it, like those toys, it just pops out from in between your fingers. It comes out in other ways and if we just like try to organize through it, or fight through it, the grief is going to shape and the pain is going to shape the stuff that we do, or the fear is going to shape the stuff that we do. It’s such a crucial gift from the queer movement and the feminist movement to be like, “no, stop, take care of yourself, take it seriously.” Everyone rolls their eyes at the idea of self-care. Okay, fine, whatever. That term is probably useless now, but like we need to take care of each other.

I do think that like the mutual aid in its less formal ways that it has appeared, which I think has been cool, but have looked a lot like charity or social services to me. The spreading of the concept of mutual aid among everyone as an organizing principle for people’s lives has seemed really powerful to me. We’re all at such low capacity. We tend to think everyone’s going through it, “Well, that’s just life, buddy.” If you have a very specific tragedy, “oh, that’s really sad” but if everyone’s going through it, “Buck up!” No! When everyone’s going through it, it’s so much harder because no one has capacity to help each other. That stuff’s all really, really important and serious. As we talked about tactics and what can we do to move forward we also do need to be able to hold each other in this horrible, horrible time. It’s been seven years of this. There have been these glimpses of hope that have been beautiful, but for the most part it’s just been awful.

Scott: I love that you brought that up, in terms of feeling the feelings. In the last two years during the pandemic, it’s been really hard to know, because of so much isolation, you don’t have the same kind of benchmarks to know how off you’re feeling in relation to any kind of normalcy. So it’s just like, “oh, there’s something wrong with me, but I don’t quite understand it.” Just like losing your kind of orientation has been hard. I’m also thinking, and maybe this is like my psychoanalytic… or just the fact that I’ve read Hamlet so many times, but thinking about how mourning is also a refusal, right? If you let yourself mourn, you’re refusing to do the things of a productive life, right? You’re like, “I’m not going to play the role. I’m like so immersed in my grief that I refuse to work.” I think it would be interesting to kind of think about some of those emotions and affects and feelings that we have, and how they could relate to this social revolution of how they withdraw us, or allow us to refuse the wages that we are bribed with.

Amar: Which are just paltry. Not even scraping the bottom edge of inadequate for maintaining any kind of life.

For me, in relation to the government and in relation to sort of political power systems at large, what the COVID pandemic really showed me was how little those structures think of the populace. They hold us in such deep, abiding disdain and that to me, is one of the reasons why people are like, “No, fuck this, anti-work, I’m gonna walk out of my job.” It’s amazing to me, too, that a lot of folks who are entrenched, to call back to the Arrested Development meme and those fuckers who think that a banana cost $10, they still think that people are quitting their jobs because of the pandemic money. Which is incredible. Because that was not all that much money really, right? I mean, prices have gone up. Every single time I go to the grocery store, I’m like, Oh, this should be $25 and comes out to like, $55 or $70. That’s maybe a whole other conversation but perhaps related. I don’t know, I kind of lost my thread.

Vicky: But I think you didn’t lose the thread. I think the thread is right there. This is in the piece too. The pandemic demonstrated this total disregard for us, even at a basic “we are necessary for the economy to function” it’s better if we’re healthy. Even at that level, even just using us as workers, they’re not even willing to do. They’re like, “well, maybe we could force you back to work and some of you will die, whatever.” There’s just the total disdain and hatred. And the way that that reflects on the future of ecological catastrophe, obviously, and war…

I don’t know about you two, but I have found it absolutely horrifying to see the world governments, and media, and politicians, and leadership, and Economy act as one so decisively against Russia. Not because I want to defend Russia, but because they had this power all along. They could have been doing this to the pandemic, they had operated so fast and so thoroughly against Russia, and whatever, Russia is literally engaging in an imperialist war of aggression, fuck them. But they could have done this two years ago against Coronavirus and they’ve shown us all that. And they’ve shown us that what they’ve done for us instead is told us to get COVID and die. And that is horrible, but it also is really ‘mask off’ no pun intended. I think things are really clear right now and the clarity is gained at to great expense, and it’s not worth it, but I think we might be able to make use of that clarity.

Scott: You know, it’s interesting, because I teach young people, mostly late teens and early 20’s, and this maybe connects back also to the grief but I have found over the last two years of teaching that students are just in crisis after crisis after crisis of their own health, they’re caring for a family member, they’re losing their housing or losing their job, they’re working too much. All the time, I’m just making space for them to just have the crisis and not worry about repercussions from me. But I’m just thinking about how that generalized panic and scramble and care work and grief that is happening, how that’s going to affect a mass population moving forward.

To me that is what I was expecting to happen when the pandemic hit, which is the contradictions become clear and everyone refuses. But we’re being put through it in this horrible, torturous way. I think that’s going to change people’s outlooks. Obviously, when I come and talk to these students I’m saying a lot of these kinds of things. This is happening to you and you don’t deserve it. But just thinking about that, I don’t know what we’re coming out of this or what that would even look like at this point. But people are carrying along with them this experience of unprecedented struggle in their “personal lives” is going to have a strange ripple effect, I think. Hopefully one that allows more people that keep unplugging from this system.

Vicky: Yeah. And I think, not to be too pessimistic, but one of the things that gave me a little bit of strength and historical analysis under the Trump regime was thinking about how the historical fascist regimes and indeed the regime in India right now and in Turkey to a large extent, they drew on a huge body of traumatized war veterans for whom life had become cheap and meaningless right, in the trenches. There was no commensurate experience in the United States until the pandemic. So we have this now, this population that I think is going to be capable of accepting very radical answers, and I don’t necessarily think that those are going to be good. Because trauma, as anyone who knows, doesn’t make you a better person. It’s about how you respond to it. Which is part of why it’s so vital right now that we respond to that trauma seriously, and that grief seriously. It’s so funny that we’ve ended up here from starting in this conversation about like the social revolution. It feels telling also, you know?

Amar: I think that’s such an important point, Vicky. Traumatized populaces are more readily accepting of increasingly radical or fringey or whatever solutions to stuff. I think that that’s something I’m gonna be sitting with for a while.

Scott: I’m thinking about more news recently about how much worse than expected climate catastrophe is going to be, and how much quicker. We get something like that every year, I guess, or more frequently. That’s the stuff that we’re facing in the next decade. We get inundated with the narratives of ‘lone wolf’ survivalist competition over resources stuff to steal us for this horrible catastrophe that we’re facing and you put that with the kind of trauma… It almost stacks the deck for just a horrific response. I’m hoping that somewhere in there, the caring for each other that people are doing will create some other possibilities.

The caring, not just like intimately or in kinship and family and whatever… I do agree that mutual aid stuff has been not necessarily as radical or politicized or however you want to call it as it could be, but the knowledge of that that’s something that you do that you’re that you have resources and spread them rather than hoard them and save up for the future that’s not going to happen, or whatever. I hope that that is something that will hopefully stave off a really violent trauma response.

Vicky: Yeah. And one thing that’s been weirdly giving me a lot of hope lately, I’ve been reading David Graeber, rest in peace, and David Wengrow, The Dawn of Everything. Which is a book about prehistory. It’s a book about an anthropological overview of prehistory. Just the extent to which so few societies have ever been organized on these bases of exclusion and then private property and hierarchy, like exclusively on those things. Those things have all existed, but they’ve rarely been coalesced in authority like in the way that this current social system has, is sort of what that book is about. So I think that, well, I obviously brought up the specter of mass fascist movement. It’s already happening, it’s already here. Obviously, it’s not at the specter anymore. Alas.

I also do think that the reason I bring it up is because that’s a possible future. But I do also think that that’s precisely why it’s so important to think about how to care for each other now, and how to start moving in these other directions, because we can see this other thing that is perhaps further in our history for many of us, for all of us, in fact, who have been forced to live under this white supremacist, settler, colonialist, European regime for as long as we have.

There are deep, deep roots to the extent in our history, and I want to call it our history, not our nature, or whatever, in our history that are very different. I think as things start to break down, or continue to break down, rather, as this stuff all breaks down, we can make gestures and movements together to take care of one another, that push against that, and that can radiate out, in much the same way that the sort of political tactics of struggle were imitated and radiated out over our movements over the last 10 years.

Amar: One great thing about the mutual aid sphere that’s been being fostered through institutions at this point, like Food Not Bombs, and Prison Books and related stuff, I think it has provided a really, not gentle, but easily accessible entry point for people who are just getting radicalized. There are just a lot of people who are getting radicalized in all sorts of different directions right now. I’ve seen the mutual aid be really… anarchism historically not the greatest or most accessible thing to come to.

I can remember being a baby anarchist and being like, “can I hang out with you guys?” People were just like, “actually, no. Keep coming to prison books for about a year and then maybe we’ll invite you to the potluck as well.” In a way that was really nice to hear, because I love rules, I love parameters. So there’s a parameter here, “okay, I’ll come to the prison books for a year.” But it’s been nice to see that people can go do the mutual aid and then have society through that and have like anarchist community through that and it’s just wonderful. That’s giving me a lot of hope right now.

Scott: One thing that’s been in the back of my mind during this conversation, so a lot of people will say, “why did the anarchists or the left or whatever allow the fascist and right wing people to come out in front in this anti state demonstration against mandates, when we could have like articulated a different version of that that wasn’t about business and people dying?” I’m talking about anti-vaccine and anti-mask stuff. For a while I was hitting my head against that this was an opportunity and what is the anarchists response. Maybe that’s the wrong question and picking apart this piece is kind of helping me think that a very visible left/anarchists movement around State control and surveillance through the pandemic, I don’t think would have been the right direction anyway.

What we see with the right wing demonstrations and the fascist demonstrations around this, we see them making their own beds in a way and we don’t need to participate in and then the anarchist stuff that’s happening is more clandestine, right? It’s like these relationships that are being formed through mutual aid, it’s the relationships that are being formed in the streets that I think do a lot more. If you really need to be convinced that wearing a mask is not a big deal and that it helps people, that just doesn’t seem to be the place that we should be putting our effort and time into.

This was just helping me think about that, because it’s something I’ve been wondering about for a while. Why did that space go to the right when it’s typically an anti-state stance?

Amar: This is reminding me of… did y’all read that piece Against the Liberal Creep?

Scott: I did.

Vicky: I flipped through it. I didn’t read the whole thing.

Amar: I couldn’t really tell like how much of it was a shitpost. Like, really couldn’t tell, but I feel like, Scott, it was really going in that direction of being like, “the right got this anti-state mandate thing and we should have jumped on that and pivoted the narrative.” Among many other things I’m not doing really doing this piece justice. I’m like honestly not sure if I would recommend it. But it’s interesting as a thought exercise. I guess.

Scott: I actually read this piece and and the Interregnum piece around the same time, and I really didn’t like Against the Liberal Creep and what it was trying to say and then and then I think I went to Interregnum and I was like, “oh, okay, here’s a more helpful analysis” for me at least, than the Against the Liberal Creep one.

Vicky: Yeah. One of the things that happens, and that really infuriates me, as someone who tends to think historically is how much people are happy to forget our very, very immediate recent history. In 2016, 2017, 2018, a lot of people said, “we got to try and pull out from the right, we got to try and organize, we got to get in front of their talking points, or whatever.” Most of those people have gone to the right. Most of those people are now on the right. They didn’t pull anyone to the left, they’re on the right now. I think people will have their own particular example of who I’m talking about because there were a lot of them. They were mostly grifters.

I think there’s this idea that we have to convince people, [that] it’s our job as revolutionaries who are enlightened to convince people and obviously I’m here on a radio show. I think education and discussion and ideas are really important. I write not quite for a living, but I get paid to write sometimes. I do not make a living doing it. So I think that stuff is important. But also, it’s the wrong idea of the relationship to it. The thing that Marxists have often gotten right historically is the conditions of people’s exploitation and lives is sufficient to educate them about what’s wrong. Anarchists are good at that too, often. People know, and yes, there will be edge cases where someone gets radicalized the wrong way. Maybe you encounter them in your life and it’s worth arguing with them and trying to flip them. Definitely.

But as an organizing principle, I think what this moment is really showing us is that since 2020, since the George Floyd uprising is that a lot more people spontaneously are on our side, just numbers wise. There’s just a lot more people under these conditions. And that really matters, because liberals will do everything they can, as we’ve seen both in the rises with both Mussolini, and Hitler, and Trump frankly. Liberals will do everything they can to hand power to the fascists to keep it out of the hands of the left or the revolutionaries or whatever you want to call it. But we don’t have to convert those liberals because they are enemies. People get confused between people who are just spontaneously humanitarian liberal because they haven’t really thought about it, versus people who are Atlantic subscribers or whatever. They’re 15 or however many there are left.

Scott: Yeah, I think there’s a difference between them. People want answers often and there’s a liberal position that seems to offer answers through electoralism and slight reforms on the status quo. It’s the same thing, though, with authoritarian communists. They seem to have the answer. I think they draw in certain kinds of people who aren’t okay with the unknown, with embracing the unknown. I think also, we want to know the right way to act and I think that’s commendable, really. So I don’t know about convincing people of other things, but maybe just like opening the door for more complexities and unknowns.

Actually, this is something I’ve been thinking about a lot is how much people are motivated by being afraid of showing that they don’t know something, and how much damage that causes in every kind of situation that you could think of. Just leaving more room for that. That is another thing about this piece that I think it is calling on people who want to contribute to a revolution to do, is to not know it, not get in front of it, be part of it, open up for it, be honest about what’s happening. Not try to frame it or theorize it or whatever. Just be like this is happening, this is really happening right now.

Vicky: Yeah, it’s really happening and it doesn’t fit any of our theories very deeply. That doesn’t mean that we therefore have to jettison every previous theory, but it means we have to think and act differently in some ways. That means being unknowing. I always get into trouble with that literally with my friends and relationships. I’m always getting into trouble pretending to know shit. Then people are like, “you’re bullshitting.” You are right. It’s a real problem. It’s such a problem for everyone. It’s really hard to embrace unknowing. It’s really, really hard. But as your expert guest here on this podcast I would like to give my expertise to say, “I don’t know shit, and you don’t either and that’s kind of a beautiful place to start.”

Amar: Yeah, I love that. And I think the popular narrative is very slowly skewing toward that. So that’s also really nice to see.

Scott: I feel like this could be a place to wrap it up. I keep thinking about going into the horrible policy stuff that’s going on. But I’m like, “No, let’s not bring that back in.”

Vicky: Yeah, I mean, I’m really loving talking to you both. So it’s tempting to just keep going. But I think probably. Yeah.

Amar: This is so lovely. It’s really lovely to get to talk to y’all two.

Scott: I love doing this. It’s really helpful to me as a person who who likes to think in dialogue in real time. Dialogue is really nice.

Vicky: That’s a really nice thing in the Graber book, actually, they talk about that as a critique of Descartes.

Scott: I have it. I haven’t cracked yet.

Vicky: Sorry. I’m literally reading it to my partner because they just never think spontaneously to read books by men. So whenever there’s one that I think is going to be interesting, I’m like, “Okay, I’m gonna read this one to you.” Otherwise, it’s never gonna happen.

Scott: I love that. It seems appropriate.

Amar: Having distance for books by man is really reasonable.

Vicky: It’s not even conscious. I don’t think they’re even aware of it.

Amar: That’s even better.

Vicky: It’s incredibly charming. I’m obsessed. Honestly.

Scott: I’m actually reading a book by man and I’m regretting it, so.

Vicky: Often the case.

Amar: I’m now I’m reading a book by a man, but it’s about it’s about the Amazon strikes, and it’s mostly interviews. At least I think this person’s a man. I’m actually not sure. We’ll see how it goes. It’s good so far. What are you reading Scott?

Scott: I just started reading the most recent Jeff VanderMeer science fiction novel for reading at night and I don’t like it. I might not finish it, I don’t know. I was just reading a bunch of really awesome queer and trans stuff. Then Jeff VanderMeer. Like why did I do that?

Vicky: I had that experiences in 2021. I think it’s literally the first year in my entire life since I’ve been able to read. I didn’t finish a single book. It was so intense, like, I could not read. N.K. Jemisin cured that for me this year. I just read her trilogy in the weekend. But it’s been wild. I found the pandemic so antithetical to that kind of sustained, quiet, focused dialogue with with a voice that’s not my own. But that’s also alone.

Amar: I can relate to that Vicky. I also was having trouble finishing anything. Finishing movies or TV shows or just not having this sort of sustained focus. That’s so interesting. I don’t think I’ve ever heard folk talk about that much.

Vicky: That’s so funny because I bring it up and then I hear very similar. I hear something like, “oh, yeah, actually I couldn’t do that either and I haven’t really thought about that.” I think it was a collective condition.

Scott: Yeah. I’m in this queer book club and people have said that in the book club. That last year they didn’t read books at all. It’s that was exceptional for them.

Vicky: What a time we’ve been living through.

Scott: Yeah, it’s fucked.

Vicky: Jeez! I mean, personally, I think 2016 year six is the worst one yet. The worst 2016 yet.

Scott: Yeah, I feel that. I’m sorry that you’ve been bearing all that in. But thank you for also talking with us now.

Vicky: Oh, my God. Literally I have to keep marking that for myself. But it’s been such a pleasure. I wasn’t sure. I had this long day. But this has been so delightful and given me so much life and I feel so held and among friends and comrades and it’s beautiful. Thank you both so much for organizing this and having it happen.

Scott: Yeah, thanks for being willing.

Amar: Thanks for being willing. This was definitely medicinal for me as well. It just feels like it’s getting to talk to y’all. Sometimes I think that anarchists fall into this trap where we don’t really talk about politics, as weird as that might sound, delving down into sort of nitty gritty and I really love that that happened here.

Vicky: You just made me realize when saying that how often my interlocutors on that call themselves communists. Like when I want to talk about politics with someone it’s mostly with people who call themselves communists. I mean like anti-State, Left-Communists or whatever, but it’s interesting how few anarchists comrades I have who I get into that broad strategic political questions because that has so often been associated with such bad left politics, obviously. So it was a real delight.

Scott: Sometimes I feel like I want so bad to be around people that I just assume we know and share something. So with anarchists, there’s a version of that. Same with queer/trans people or punks or whatever. Yeah, we know something. We don’t have to say it. But then, I want my anarchist friends to like, I want to hear what they have to say and think about something because they have really good ways of thinking about stuff. I need to parse it out with them. That piece was a nugget in my head and so talking it through is really helpful and bringing things together and I appreciate it.

Merced Prisoner Hunger Strikes | Eric King Trial Ends

Merced Prisoner Hunger Strikes | Eric King Trial Ends

This week’s episode has two audio segments…

Download Episode Here!

Merced County Prisoner Hunger Strikes

This week, you’ll hear a chat with California-based activist Victoria from Merced Under Construction, who talks to us about the prisoner hunger strikes at Merced County Jail and John Latorraca Center. Over 40 prisoners engaged in hunger strike for 17 days, fighting for issues like protesting black mold, little food, lack of visitation and other issues. The hunger strike ended Saturday, March 28th, despite the disrespect of the jail administration. You can learn more about how to support and keep up on https://linktr.ee/mercedunderconstruction or MIRA’s facebook page

You can find coverage of the 2016 Merced Jail protests, check out ItsGoingDown.Org

Eric King Trial Ends

Then, you’ll hear from Josh from the Certain Days Calendar and Mookie from the Civil Liberties Defense Center do an update on a roundup of the recent trial of Eric King. Eric was found innocent on charges of assaulting a Federal Bureau of Prisons Lieutenant, a charge that would have added another 20 years to his time in prison, thankfully. More on his case at SupportEricKing.Org, more on Certain Days at CertainDays.Org and the CLDC at CLDC.org

Eric King links:

CLDC links:

Certain Days interviews:

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Featured Tracks:

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Transcription (Merced County Hunger Strike)

Victoria Espinoza: Alright, great. My name is Victoria Espinoza, and identify as a Child of God. I’m born and raised in Merced, California, and I’m the founder of Merced Under Construction.

TFSR: And could you tell us a bit about where Merced County is? What listeners should know about the county? The economy, who lives there, what it looks like, that sort of stuff?

VS: Well, Merced, man, not a lot of people know where Merced is. When they hear Central Valley. They’re like, “what is that?” They think of like Bay Area, LA, when you think of California. But we are literally the central of the state of California, like the Central Valley area in between Fresno and Modesto, or Stanislaus and Fresno County. Our city slogan is “we are the gateway to Yosemite.” And, you know, we boast about it, or the city does at least. But nearly 25% of our population is living in poverty. So it’s predominantly white, Latino, like Hispanic, Mexican, indigenous folks living here with some other races mixed in. We have like, less than 4% Black folks, we do have a very strong Hmong community here and a lot of other different nationalities, race that are here.

TFSR: And for like, as far as, you mentioned, 25% of the population living in poverty, what are the sort of industries that people are involved in? Is it agriculture? Since we’re gonna be talking about prisons, I’m sure that prisons, and police and military are like big employers for parts of the population.

VS: Yeah, so we are a very large agriculture community. So we do have a lot of farm workers. We have a lot in many of our cities and our outskirts as well and unincorporated areas. So that is one thing that we do have strong here in Merced is the ag. We have some industry, industrial stuff, but mainly we’re known for agriculture, honestly. We do have UC Merced, last university that’s been built in. They’re building on that. UC Merced is growing, obviously. So we are seeing some of that, some things that are happening in our community, with rent controls not happening, people are getting pushed out and it’s not the Merced that it used to be 10 years ago, definitely.

TFSR: I guess I do want to ask some questions about Merced Under Construction later and imagine that that’s, like, gentrification and issues like that are being engaged with that group. Is that right?

VS: Yes.

TFSR: Jumping off into the main topic, though. So we’re speaking because there’s been hunger strikes among incarcerated folks at the jails in the county. Can you talk a bit about the conditions at Merced County Jail, and also at the John Latorraca excuse me…

VS: John Latorraca, you said it right. It has a nickname called Sandy Mush? I don’t even know that nickname comes from, but it’s its nickname.

TFSR: Yeah, what’s been up with the hunger strike? Can you talk a little bit about what sparked it? And how many folks are participating and sort of like the basic stuff on that?

VS: Yeah, so the last count that we had, it was about 44, initially, but since then, we’ve had people probably come out and people probably go in. So I haven’t got an accurate count as to how many that could be from the initial start of the strike. Yesterday marked day 17. I haven’t heard from anybody since noontime yesterday, so I’m hoping privileges were not taken. But they were dealing with a ton. A ton of stuff going on, black mold in the housing units and that’s impacting health, not being given hot meals, even hot water, just simple basic human asks, just necessities to live on.

The grievances for these things that there were issues in administration, they were being ignored, or they’re getting vague responses, that whole system had failed. Losing mail, incoming and outgoing was already a problem before the pandemic. And since the pandemic had started it became even worse. Since they had their visitations taken for over two years with the excuse of the pandemic, and weren’t offered any other means, the mail and the phones became a vital lifeline. Those were basically stolen from them.

That has impacted them in negative ways. I mean, their mental health, inability to make appropriate decisions. So many people that were in the facility the past two plus years were taking deals just to get out of the jails here so they could go to a prison that offers visitation, and that is crazy. That’s like people at there last, at their wit’s end, like “I’m gonna take a deal just so I could get out of here because this is like living hell.” That was a serious thing.

Being discriminated against based on their housing status, the jail uniforms that impacts them when they’re before a judge or the district attorney. A lot of these same asks were things that we saw from the 2016 prison strikes that Merced county jails were also a part of, and it’s nearly six years later, and not much has changed. It’s just kind of kind of crazy. They were on day 17 as of yesterday, and they were in negotiation. So the agreement was actually yesterday for them to end their strike. They were supposed to end it with the hot breakfast, have their hot water.

But then the morning came, and we ran into issues with the staff. They began to be hostile towards them. And when meals came around, they didn’t bring them anything, they didn’t even bring them cold food, they didn’t bring them anything that did not bring them hot water. They were just being cold. When I think about it, it was just evil towards them. So they basically went through all these negotiations for what purpose? They were with the Sheriff’s corrections, they had agreed to this on day 17, that it would break in the morning on these conditions. Those two basic conditions weren’t even met.

So they weren’t accepting any meals from the admin. They weren’t doing any movements at all. So that means their yard time and they’re getting maybe two or three hours a week, if that. Anyway, they weren’t accepting court movements. They weren’t even seeing their attorneys for meetings. They basically weren’t doing anything, any medical, anything like that, they were basically saying, “I’m not moving, I’m not eating until you guys change some stuff.” And the negotiations after noon time yesterday, they said that they had pulled some folks out. We were doing some phones zaps for them on their behalf yesterday to all the jail facilities and the Board of Supervisors. They did pull some of them out to have more talks. But after that, it’s been radio silence. So I’m hoping everything’s going okay.

TFSR: That sounds like a terrible flex, kind of authoritarian flex, that places like jails and the kind of people that staff them would make. When you’re mentioning people taking deals just so they can go to prison, are a lot of the people that are there and who are participating in this in pretrial conditions right now just sort of awaiting their day in court? And also people who’ve gotten county charges who are being held there, too?

VS: Yeah, we do have some people that serve sentences here locally. I think if it’s under two years, one year. It’s at the discretion of our county facility if they want to house somebody for their time, or if they’re going to send them to state prison. They have that ability. But most of the folks that are here are pretrial detainees, so they haven’t yet been convicted of a crime. Some of these are not sight-and-release offenses with the whole bail reform law. Some of these people are sitting in there on bale-able offenses, but yet they don’t have the funds to make that happen.

TFSR: It’s so so inhumane that you expect someone to be able to put their life on hold and also not be able to necessarily access the means to build a defense for themselves because they’re worrying about how their family is doing on the outside. They’re just kind of waiting until the courts have enough time to see them.

You’d mentioned the uniforms too. And I know that in the demands, there was a statement about how the uniforms that were being assigned to people weren’t necessarily respective to like security threat group status that people were in. I know that even the STG [Security Threat Group] type thing, saying that someone’s in a gang or whatever isn’t always applied according to someone’s actual participation in a criminal organization. But can you say a little bit about people’s experience of the of the issue of the uniforms and what that means for access to programs or to things like ability to research in the library? Not that there probably is a library, but you know what I mean?

VS: Yeah, I think a lot of it… the people that are more impacted by this whole uniform thing, are predominantly brown, Latino, hispanic, Mexican, indigenous individuals, because they separate them by the two gang classifications, Norteños and Sureños. Pretty much everybody else gets housed as general population when it comes to the maximum security facility of the Merced County Jail. But mainly these folks are the southern, northern, or the red and the blue, however the classification deems it. They separate them, and since Merced County unfortunately operates on LA County’s informal gang injunction model, a lot of people come into our jails are impacted and being labeled gang members based on familial association, based on where they live. They might live next to somebody that’s a documented or validated gang member. So they get housed, and they say it’s for their safety to house them this way, but then we have people that are not from any of these origins, being classified like this.

So when they go to court, and you see the northern, Norteño, classifications, they’re in green and white stripes, the southern are in a blue and white stripe. And so that takes a big toll on them, when they’re going through the whole process, how the district attorney is looking at them, how the judges are looking at them, and the bias that comes with that. This has been going on for a long time with this facility. We know that other jails, like in Stanislaus County, have a different system. Basically, people are housed as general population, just like they do in prisons, everybody’s pretty much housed together, and they know how to separate folks.

So that’s what the sheriff’s corrections here in Merced, were talking about introducing a bracelet system. But they’ve talked about this before back in 2016 and no changes have been made. So that’s a problem for a lot of people, especially when they’re going through this whole unfortunate situation, with being incarcerated, being labeled as a “gang member” even if they’ve never even been a part of that lifestyle. It’s pretty disgusting that that’s been going on for so many decades. This has been happening for a long time in this community.

TFSR: Do you have a sense of if they are just gonna keep going as long as they can go with it?

VS: So right now, so what they were doing, they were refusing all admin meals, and basically attempting to survive minimally off what they could get on commissary. Commissary is trash. It’s a lot of things that are not even acceptable for the human body. And these are things that people are forced to buy because they’re not getting proper nutrition from the food that they’re getting from the facility itself. The food, they were protesting, part of the strike was protesting the inadequate conditions of the food and improper nutrition. I mean, people’s health being impacted. They’ve been in there for a few months and we got folks losing teeth. I mean, that that’s how bad it is.

So that was pretty much what they were doing, refusing all admin meals. Because they weren’t even getting hot meals like they should have been. At least two hot meals a day. It’s the minimum. They weren’t getting that for so long. And that’s pretty much what they were refusing. It was affecting a lot of them. I mean, yesterday was day 17. They were in the negotiations ready to say, “All right, we will accept if we get a hot meal. Like it’s been a long time since we’ve had a hot meal.” I can’t imagine going 17 days without a hot meal or even hot water. That’s just like the basic things that you need. Right? That was the other thing, is the hot water, being able to have hot water.

TFSR: So there’s the cruelty of not offering these things. You mentioned that administration had made the agreement that after 17 days, they would offer them a warm meal and hot water and they refused that. How have they been expressing themselves and their reasoning for continuing to treat people in this manner in the media? Because I’m sure that they’ve been making statements, the media has been reproducing right?

VS: Yeah, well, initially, the Merced Sun Star had wrote an article, again, without interviewing any detainees or inmates, and without reaching out and speaking to any of the loved ones, or anybody that was involved in the organizing around the strike out here. They interviewed the Sheriff’s Department. Basically, they were just talking about how they’re supposedly meeting and in negotiations with these asks of the detainees and the inmates. Which was not true at that point. So we had sent out a media advisory, challenging, to show us to tell us exactly what’s being done, because the public has a right to know. Public state funds or whatever is being used to fund that facility and all the things that are happening in there.

So I mean, they’re going to paint their own narrative. That’s basically what they’re going to do and they’re going to do that time and time again, I don’t think that’s going to change. But when they were in negotiations and they had clearly stated, “Okay, we will break our strike on day 17 when we get our hot breakfast and our hot water.” At about five, six o’clock, when they’re usually taking out the trays, they came around, nothing came. Not even cold food. Then when they were trying to communicate with the correctional staff, they were being treated hostilely. They were basically taunting, saying, “Yeah, your hot water is out here. But we’re not going to bring it to you.” Well how are they going to go and get it? How are they going to go and get that water? It’s out there. But we’re not bringing it to you. I mean, that type of behavior, it’s just unnecessary.

So yeah, you’re right, it was just kind of like that flex, “we can pretty much continue to do what we want,” kind of thing. They were reaching out to us. So we started, we had put out posts and numbers for phone zaps to try to get something. Then after a couple of hours, they pulled some folks out, to have more communications with them. But that was around noon time yesterday. And again, like I said, we haven’t heard anything from inside as of now.

TFSR: So yeah, as far as the public needing to know about this and you mentioned the taxpayer money and such. But also all the people that are in there, almost everyone is going to have people on the outside who care about them. I’m sure a lot of the people, not just people who have an idea that this is a wrong circumstance, but they have a personal care for loved ones that are stuck behind these bars. How is the outside engagement, then, as far as you could tell, in terms of organizing, communicating, offering support to loved ones, participating in the phone zaps, or showing up in person?

VS: Oh, yeah, I mean, for instance the rally that we had on the 21st, the turnout was low. We had less than 12, like 12 people total. A lot of that right now has to do with the inmates and the loved ones, they’re concerned with the possibility of retaliation, and also the risk of even advocating for somebody, out here, that’s in there, people that are labeled as “gang members,” you run the risk of being labeled a gang member yourself. I mean, and that’s a consequence, that many folks that are impacted face. I might even be labeled as a gang member, because according to a loved one that I had, that was inside the facility, just recently, the end of last year, they were taken out by classifications and asked questions about myself about “we know she’s a gang member, who does she run with?” and these type of things.

I know that this facility has blocked my phone number so that folks in there can no longer reach out to me. That’s unfortunate, because I didn’t know about the hunger strike, actually, until day 10. Somebody from the family members in there had to find me, and search for me, in order to make the connection because I didn’t know my number had been blocked from the facility itself. So I mean, that’s another thing. Folks trying to organize in there trying to reach out for help and they’re literally blocking their means of a lifeline from within the Merced County Jails, for whatever reason. I don’t know why.

That’s pretty much what we’re seeing. There are people in there that don’t have anyone. So we have people in there reaching out, because they need funds, they don’t have any funds for personal care, or to get anything from the commissary line. And it becomes a community within the facility when you have people like that that are indigent, and they should be able to utilize the welfare funds. And when they utilize the welfare funds, when they do get commissary on their book, then all of a sudden, the staff comes and takes that for anytime they went to the doctor, anytime they got a mail package for the one month, what are those four or five dollars if they’ve been in there for a year. Then somebody puts $50, $100 on their books, and all of a sudden administration comes and says, “Oh, you owe us this money,” and then they snatch it. So that’s kind of a problem as well, for those people that are impacted in that way. They don’t have loved ones out here at all.

TFSR: So, if the administration takes the tack of separating people, according to ostensible gang certifications, or whatever, putting them in these different uniforms, have people been able to, despite that, organize across these lines with each other for the hunger strike and the common understanding that we’re all suffering under this?

VS: Yeah, I have seen that this time around as well, that people were joining in solidarity within the facility itself. But yet, it’s just very hard to try to make those connections inside the facility. The Merced County Jail is the maximum security facility. So it’s heavily segregated. But people were still in solidarity with that, trying to say, “hey, we’re having the same issues, let’s join together, let’s band together.” So that was one thing that they were doing in there to try to show them “hey, we don’t have to be segregated, we don’t have to be labeled like this, and we don’t have to work different uniforms. We could be housed together, we can even organize together inside of the facility for change.”

TFSR: Is anyone on the outside raising the alarm, obviously, black mold is a health issue that that is on the books that black mold can cause mental issues, it can cause lung issues, quite obviously. And, not getting your caloric value or your intake of calories every day can also cause mental anguish, as well as starvation basically. Have there been anyone successfully being able to raise concerns about the demands of the folks inside of these two jail from a legal standpoint saying, “this doesn’t follow the California requirements for how a county jail operates?” Has that been a direction that’s been helpful at all?

VS: We haven’t had any support in that area. And I’ve reached out and it just seems like they’re not. I’ve reached out to ACLU, I’ve reached out to other firms for prisoners rights, and a lot of these places, they’re not based near our area and so they just say, “we don’t have anybody that can cover” or, “we’re at our capacity.” So we haven’t seen any relief in that way. But I’m gonna hopefully be getting together with some folks in the next week to draft something up, because we want to have an external review and investigation because I don’t think our Merced County Grand Jury is doing a good enough job, because they’ve seen these conditions for a number of years and they haven’t enforced any type of action to make them correct it on a permanent status. So we’re gonna have to look to like OGI or OIG, whatever the that external government entity that’s over our prisons and our jails is going to have to come and put eyes on this.

TFSR: I See. So could you talk a little bit about MIRA and about Merced Under Construction, who’s getting involved, and what the groups are about, and talk about the difficulties or any difficulties or wins that you’ve seen with those groups?

VS: Oh, awesome. So MIRA, was actually Merced Inmates Rights Association and it is the page that’s ran by the loved ones of the current detainees and inmates of the Merced county jails and the John Latorraca Jail. It’s pretty awesome, and they’re new to all of this stuff. But they’re so passionate and driven to bring awareness. And that’s kind of where I fit in. I’ve been a directly impacted person, right? It’s kind of how Mercer Under Construction all came together.

Right now, we’re just looking for support. Merced Under Construction isn’t officially an org or anything like that. I’m actually, we’re opposed to the whole nonprofit industrial complex. So we’re really looking to folks, to keep it really grassroots and centered around real people, and being able to find funding for the work and whatnot. Hopefully, we can start doing that here pretty soon. But that’s basically what we’re doing. We’re just centered around incarceration, and the impacts of that on people in their families, a lot of work around police accountability, and creating opportunities for formerly incarcerated folks and their families. One of the pillars is to definitely to reach out to the children that are impacted by it as well.

TFSR: Can you talk a little bit about the name Merced Under Construction? Does it concern that the community is not completed? It’s not done? We’re still building it as we go? Or is it more of a like, “there’s money coming in for development projects, we need to make sure that those developments are actually supporting the people that already live here as opposed to larger entities?”

VS: It’s a little bit of both and the fact that we’re just never done. There’s so much work to be done. When we have developers, and we have businesses looking at Merced to build, and we have more and more funding going into suppression and first-responding in our community. Yet, we still have youth that are being impacted, joblessness, homelessness, houslessness, and people that are struggling trying to stretch a food stamp, people that are just falling through the cracks. I just feel like it’s always gonna be undone until we can finally bring that awareness and bring folks together, have this accountability, and figure out where the money is going. Because some of these funds that they’re they’re getting, like the COVID-19 funding, and all the extra grants and stuff that they get for every arrest that they can deem a gang related arrest, or an incarceration they can deem gang related, they’re getting federal and state fund grants on top of that. So is that a reason? Merced is just always under construction.

TFSR: Kind of like a side note, I did Cop Watch when I was living in Sonoma County. This is like the mid 2000s, and we were seeing that the local Gang Task Force, which was made up to some degree, it did have California Highway Patrol participation, but also it’s mostly the county that was coordinating with local police departments. They would all kind of joined together under the auspices of gang issues, would set up checkpoints. They would also get Driving Under the Influence, like federal anti DUI funding, to set up checkpoints in immigrant neighborhoods where people maybe didn’t have the papers for the car that they were driving because they were sharing it among multiple families, or maybe they didn’t have a license because they weren’t legally allowed to because they were undocumented. Just getting the money to go and set up there under the auspices of gangs, or DUIs nowhere near a bar, and taking people’s vehicles who were absolutely being marginalized by capitalism and white supremacy, and selling those and funding their own department out of that. That sounds kind of like it’s par for the course for California’s policing systems.

VS: Yeah. There’s so many. There’s the minor decoy program grants that they get. There’s just so many little things and it’s all fruit of the poisonous tree, in my opinion. It doesn’t really impact anything like what you’re talking about, the DUIs, and the minor decoy. These little grants get a ton of money. but yet, in my community, violent crime is up, murder is up, rapes are up, child murder… We just had a little girl that was killed in our community, her body was found. Nine years old, Sophia Mason, a beautiful black child. These types of crimes are happening. But they’re putting money into checkpoints. They’re putting money into seeing if anybody’s gonna buy a minor alcohol or cigarettes. But we have some dark, unnecessary crime rising here. My mind is blown. Home invasions are up, it’s just crazy. We’re a very small community compared on the scale of the state of California, Merced County is tiny. We’re very small. So again, it just doesn’t make any sense to me at all whatsoever.

TFSR: Well, how can listeners find out more about the strike and support it from where they’re at? Maybe not locally? Or if or locally? If you have some suggestions?

VS: Oh, definitely awesome. So we will continue posting on the MIRA page, the Merced Inmate Rights Association page, and the Merced Under Construction Instagram and Facebook page. But like I said, we’re unofficial org, so we’re asking folks to support. Right now we have a link tree link up. If folks have it in their heart or their conscience to support us, we’ll be accepting donations through ‘buy me a coffee,’ through that outlet. But we’re putting funds together for detainees and inmates directly. So we want to be able to put, fund several people’s, at least a month commissary account, whether that’s $25, whether that’s $50, we want to be able to put money for them to use themselves, for the phone, for food, for personal care, etc. We’re also going to be having some letter writing days, where we’ll be sending them out handwritten letters, cards, and communication with folks that are inside of the facilities themselves. So we have a direct line. There’s a lot of people like I had said before, they don’t have anybody out on the outside, they don’t come from much. We want to be able to support them, and let them know that they are loved. That they’re cared about and that there are people out here that say that they matter.

A lot of other work we’re doing that we need support with, it’s police accountability part of our work. And man, sometimes we have bits of a drive, we have to drive got to take reports, do our own investigations. We also have to request records from whatever government agency that the officer involved works with. So we have to pay for flex or dash cam or other records. And again, we don’t want to be a part of the nonprofit industrial complex, so we’re trying to just keep it grassroots and just real people funding real work that’s really happening in Merced. We’ve never done this before. It’s only always been on our own time on our own dime. And now we’re like really needing assistance because it’s growing. So that’s basically it. Just check us out on Facebook, Instagram, and hopefully we can get our website up here in like the next month or so.

TFSR: Victoria, thank you so much for having this conversation for the work that you’re doing. Yeah, I guess keep in touch. And we’ll keep trying to cover this when we can.

VS: I appreciate you Bursts. Thank you so much.

[ Editors note: The hunger strike ended Saturday, March 28th, despite the disrespect of the jail administration. ]

Transcription (Eric King Trial)

Josh: My name is Josh, I’m based out of Baltimore. And I do a lot of political prisoner support work and abolition work. I’m a member of the Certain Days Calendar Collective, and the children’s art project with political prisoner Oso Blanco. I’m currently also editing a book with Eric King, where we interview political prisoners about their lives inside. I work in communications with the Zinn education project. And I guess I first started writing Eric in 2017 or so and we’ve been corresponding ever since.

Mookie:My name is Mookie Moss, and my pronouns are he and him. I’ve been on the CLDC board of directors for gosh, maybe six or seven years, my day job has been a farmer for the last 25 or 26 years. But I’ve worked in and around a lot of radical organizations, both in the United States and in South America. A lot of the work that I’ve done has been around indigenous farmers down south, and anti-capitalist movements in South America, and here in the United States, environmental activist, that kind of stuff. So that’s who I am.

TFSR: So for listeners who don’t know, Eric, can you say some words about who he is and what he was convicted of?

Mookie: To be totally frank and honest, I have come to Eric Kings’ case pretty late in the game. But I did jump in with both feet based on this opportunity to work with the organization that I work with, which is the Civil Liberties Defense Center. My learning of Eric’s life and his story was kind of a crash course. But just based on my past experience being there for his trial, he came across to me as an incredibly emotionally sensitive guy, and also a really intelligent guy. He spoke really, really well. Obviously, because he’s a political prisoner, my view is that he really looks at his experience, both in jail and the world around him through a very, very strong political lens. So I would just add that.

TFSR: Oh, yeah. And with, with the usage of the term political prisoner in there, that says a lot, not only for what he was convicted for. Right? For that politically motivated property destruction, but also for the way that he’s conducted himself, and also how he’s been treated by administration’s since he’s been inside.

Can you all talk a bit about as sort of background for this case, what has Eric’s treatment been like in prison? How is he related to other prisoners as an antifascist, and as an anti-authoritarian, and also how the staff has related to him for these reasons?

Josh: Sure. So Eric, currently has been in solitary confinement for over 1,000 days, for over three years. He’s been in federal prisons all over the country, in private prisons as well. And he’s been brutalized and attacked wherever he’s been sent, either by guards or by Nazi-type prisoners. He’s defended himself every step of the way. He’s tried to help other prisoners, whenever he’s been given the chance, to to help voice their concerns.

I think it’s also important to point out that it’s not just Eric being targeted, that this happens to political prisoners and prisoners in general, throughout history. It’s currently happening not only with Eric King, but as you know with Sean Swain having his finger chopped recently by guards, there’s several indigenous prisoners being abused now, for the religious reasons, having their sweat lodge destroyed in a federal prison in California. I mean, it goes back all the way, the Attica brothers, Herman Bell being abused years ago before he got out. You know, it goes back throughout American history of guard abuse. It’s it’s pretty endless.

Mookie: I would also add, just to what Josh eloquently put, is that witnessing what Eric actually just went through as an extenuation of that type of torture, and bullshit, and experience that he has dealt with all along the way. Watching how the Bureau of Prisons handled him even just during this court case, where there was obviously a spotlight put upon him and put upon his conditions and experience was mind boggling to watch and to bear witness to. I have been interested in political prisoners and the struggle for a very, very long time. It’s not like I came into this with a blind eye like people are being treated well in prison, but the amount of punitive and destructive behavior from the Bureau of Prisons towards Eric, just during this case, there was something coming up. I can talk about that. Josh and I can talk about that. But it was just it was a microcosm of a much larger experience of let’s turn the screws against the people that are standing up for themselves and for their their belief system. It was really something else.

TFSR: He was speaking of “screws”, would y’all mind talking a little bit about what this trial was about? And what what sort of outcomes Eric was facing during it, and how long it’s lasted? Because it seems like it’s lasted a very long time to get to the phase of actually going before a judge and jury.

Mookie: Yeah, that’s right. So if I’m getting my dates right, the original incident which caused this recent trial, took place August 17, 2018. It was a situation where an assault had happened in the institution that Eric was spending time in and Eric wrote a[n] email to his wife to sort of blow off some steam and describe the situation that had happened in the institution he was spending time in. Basically, he said… I don’t have the email in front of me. So I’m not going to read it word for word, but basically, he was describing and feeling some excitement over the fact that a prisoner had struck a correctional officer. And beyond that, he went on to describe the feeling of wishing that he could be there to witness it, wishing he could have seen it, he said something along the lines of even watching it in virtual reality.

He was pulled out of his pulled out of his cell, because that email, obviously was read by the correctional authorities and the guards. So he got pulled out of his cell under the guise that they were going to do an investigation. He walked himself from his cell down to a place called the lieutenant’s office. And the lieutenant’s office, which really was a long hallway that had four rooms that came off of that hallway. A couple of them were lieutenants offices, one was a property room, I believe it was described as, and then the last room in that hallway was a broom closet. A broom closet full of mop buckets, rakes, tools, all these different things.

What happened next changes a lot depending on which correctional authority you heard the story from but Eric’s story never really changed a bit. What Eric’s story was as he was led into this broom closet. There were two correctional guards, two lieutenants, Lieutenant Wilcox and a Lieutenant Kammrad. Lieutenant Wilcox got in his face, Eric said, “I don’t want to fight.There’s two of you,” essentially, Wilcox kicked out his subordinate, Kammrad. Wilcox started a fight with Eric and he called him a ‘bitch’ he called him a ‘punk’ in this broom closet and he attacked Eric. Eric, decided that he didn’t think that being attacked a broom closet was going to be good for his life or good for his situation and so he fought back and he struck Lieutenant Wilcox in the face three times very in very quick succession. Lieutenant Wilcox was a really big guy, and Eric is not a big guy.

So it was pretty clear that Eric was more skilled in that expression, and he broke Wilcox’s nose. And after he broke Wilcox’s nose the other guards the other lieutenants ran in and you know, Eric had assumed a neutral position after he put wilt Wilcox down on the ground, and then from there, a whole series of things unfolded. Essentially the case was a “he said, he said” case, you know, where Wilcox said one thing and Eric said the truth. Fortunately for this court case, the guards that all had a story to share, the story was so convoluted and and frankly bullshit that that really came out in the trial.

So this turned out to be a self defense case. And it’s pretty remarkable, the legal team for the CLDC Lauren Regan, Sarah Alvarez, and Sandra Freeman, they did an incredible job of not only showing the inconsistencies and discrepancies in the Bureau of Prisons story, but also did a really good job giving Eric an opportunity to speak his truth up on the stand. And we’re lucky enough to be in one of those very rare situations where justice prevailed.

TFSR: Okay, there’s a few things that are heard throughout the course of the last, I guess, three and a half years, including that Wilcox had said, “Oh, you’re in Antifa, huh?” Something about his daughter running into anti-fascists and having a problem with that. He just sort of threw out a bunch of weird, disconnected shit, it sounded like. But it seemed like it must have been some sort of prefigured situation for them to take him into a room that the only room that didn’t have any cameras, which was a bit suspect, and then afterwards to hold him down in restraint for a number of hours, like 14 hours or something like that. Can you talk a little bit about some of that?

Josh: Sure. Yeah. He was held in four point restraint for hours after the incident occurred, after he was beaten. Yeah, there’s parts of it on video. There’s parts of it that were missing on video. I think it’s also worth mentioning, I listen to the trial from afar, but at one point I think they tried to make the case that a black eye that Eric suffered, was actually his Antifa tattoo on his face, which is just another way of showing that it’s his politics that they’re attacking, which I think does go to show what you were saying that it’s intentional and it is planned out. Anything to add, Mookie?

Mookie: You know, Josh is correct. They did at one point try to pin that black eye on the fact that he had a tattoo there. At another point, they were sort of edging towards this reasoning and this was very skillfully shut down by Eric’s defense team, but potentially that Eric either got the black eye when he was brought down on his face by the rest of the guards who rushed into save their buddy Wilcox. It was sort of hinted at one time that maybe potentially he could have given himself that black eye, which is of course ridiculous. Because after this incident, there wasn’t a moment that Eric was off camera.

Luckily, there was a nurse at the facility that Eric was sent to after this attack took place. This was the only Bureau of Prisons nurse that actually checked Eric out in any sort of realistic way and made notes that he had showed up with a pretty significant shiner. If you look at the video of the medical assessment that they did after this whole incident took place. This should shock absolutely no one who has any sort of understanding about how the Bureau of Prisons works, but the nurse who did the initial medical assessment spent about three minutes. Eric complained of a high level of pain in this temple, he had pain in some other places, but really was like, “hey, yeah, I’m hurt, and I’m hurting right now.” And there was never a second look given to him.

It was really something else. She inquired about a potential new tattoo, which he was like, “No, this tattoos not new.” But you could tell that there was a very purposeful, obfuscation of the truth that started immediately following the incident, because my perception was, is that they knew that they were going to have a difficult storyline to defend. And so at every turn where modicum, a little chunk of truth could come out, instead of asking questions and risking documented truth on Eric’s behalf coming out, they just slid right past it.

So the medical assessment, even though Eric, the State, or the government in this case, showed a picture repeatedly of Eric immediately following the incident, but we’re talking minutes after the incident. They’re like, “look, he’s got no black eye. This isn’t true. This didn’t happen.” Because their whole case hinged on the fact that Wilcox never took a swing at Eric, never assaulted him. That Eric sucker punched Wilcox, which is just blatantly not true. But so yeah, so they showed this picture of Eric right after the incident. And he didn’t have a shiner, because as anybody knows, it takes a good chunk of time after you get hit the eyeball to to get a big black eye. So it was really, really, really something.

TFSR: Eric has had a history of negative interactions with authorities and with guards in the past. And if I recall, a lot of those instances were in relation to private communication with his partner, or poetry that he’s written, or drawings that he’s made, and them being eschewed as threats by administration. So for that he’s gotten time in solitary, he’s had his rights to mail taken away, he’s had his ability to receive books taken away, or magazines. Just sort of exacerbating, and just amplifying the academic isolation as well as personal isolation of prison that he’s had to go through over these years.

Usually, he would just face ,as most prisoners… This this kind of crap is not abnormal in the US Prison System, whether it be in a State system, in a county, where someone’s in jail, or in the BOP, retaliation for petty things by petty guards, and all being adjudicated before some sort of internal rules board or some sort of internal court. Luckily, Eric did not have to defend himself before a kangaroo court inside without press and without legal defense from other parties. How is it that this case, why is it that this case, that could have tacked another 20 years onto his sentence, why did this become a public case? And how did the CLDC get involved, as far as you all know?

Mookie: My understanding, Bursts, is this case was brought to Lauren Regan initially by Daniel McGowan. Correct?

Josh: Yeah, believe so.

Mookie: So Daniel, you know, has a long standing relationship with the CLDC, because they did defense for him back in the day when when he was going through his trial, that he had been in contact with Eric for some time and reached out to Lauren Regan, who’s Eric’s lead defense attorney, and was the founder of the CDC, and said, “Hey, there’s this guy who’s serving time, he’s got a really compelling story. He was assaulted. He’s a really good guy and I really believe in him and believe in trying to seek some sort of justice in this case.” Lauren has a very close friendship with Daniel, and they’ve got really good history together.

So I think that really, Bursts, the reason why this happened is because there was a lot of trust. There’s a lot of historic trusts. And I think that’s a really important piece of this case is that. Lauren, and I were talking about this after the trial wrapped up just that. It’s really incredible when you see real true solidarity pay dividends like it does. Daniel felt solidarity with Eric, and because he had solidarity with Lauren, they came together and Lauren was like, “Daniel, if you believe in this person, I believe in you so much that, let’s go.” And that’s how it went forward. The CLDC, this is one of the things that they specialize in is shining lights in the dark corners of the key parts of our judicial system. So, I think that that’s that’s originally how Lauren got the case.

TFSR: What are the next steps in legal process for Eric? Is the outcome of the not guilty finding by that jury, does that does that mean he’s going to get any sort of reduction in his sentence? Or are there grounds for, because they were able to prove in a public court that the claims from the administration were false and that he had been subjected to harm, are there grounds for other lawsuits to sort of go back and point to the other portions of time when he’s been stuck in solitary? Been put in courtyards with giant Nazis? Gotten diesel therapy? Not had the ability anymore to get visits from his spouse in his family, is there anything brewing in terms of that? Or is he just scheduled for release in December 2023 and we’re just hoping to get him out.

Josh: Yeah, I think a lot of that is still to be determined. Like you said, he’s scheduled to be released in a year and a half, in December 2023. But I think it’s also important to keep in mind that he’s still locked up in there. As of right now, the end of March, he’s still on a mail ban, he can still only receive mail from his family. Last I heard he’s still in solitary confinement, even though he won the case. I think that there’s a likelihood that he’ll probably be transferred, who knows where that might be. Probably a lot of diesel therapy, a lot more diesel therapy.

But I think it’s also again, important to keep in mind that in the face of all this violence, in the face of all this state repression that he’s met it face on with a sense of humor, and he’s been able to build strong relationships, not only with people, those of us on the outside, but with those imprisoned right alongside of him, even when he’s in the worst possible conditions. He’s organizing them. He’s educating and is sharing as much as he can with those around him.

Mookie: I would also just add, Bursts, to echo what Josh said. I mean, Josh is right on there. And also I do know that the CLDC has a civil case filed on Eric’s behalf. I think that ideally, when somebody is wronged to such a grievous level, as Eric was wronged in prison, that there would be some sort of… I don’t even know if I should say like financial or time served retribution, but my understanding is that based on the law, it would be almost impossible for Eric to benefit in any monetary way from this civil case. I believe that there’s a Prison Act that says that you can’t benefit, even if you’re wronged from something that occurs if you [are in] prison if you’re there. I wish I knew and could speak a little bit more articulately.

But I think what’s really important about this, the civil case is that what I really think that the CLDC, and what Eric’s defense team, and what I would imagine Eric is hoping for is that by bringing the civil case, it’s going to effectively shine a spotlight on his treatment and will be a cautionary tale to any of the psychopaths in the bureau of prisons that decide to make his remaining time the hardest time in the world. That’s not to say that it’s not going to happen. I am just always shocked at the level of depravity that the Bureau of Prisons will go to make people are uncomfortable on the inside.

But having said that, every single night of this case, as it went on through the week, Eric was subjected to some new bizarre turn by the Bureau of Prisons, whether all of a sudden he was getting yanked out of his the cell that he’d been in and got transferred to a whole new facility next door. That happened one night. Another day, his cell flooded and coffee was spilled on his documents, another day, his documents and all of his personal property were removed. That made it almost impossible for him to prep for trial. I mean, it was so bizarre that that even the Bureau of Prisons… I’m sorry, there is nothing funny about this. It’s just unreal.

The Bureau of Prisons story when a cup of coffee was spilled on his documents and made them impossible to read, the BOP story was that a bird flew into his cell and knocked this cup of coffee over on his documents. The courtroom, when this was said, was just like… jaws dropped. And the judge who presided over this case, Judge Martinez, he even at that point leaned back in his chair and shook his head and said, I’m not going to be able to quote him verbatim, but basically the gist of what he said was, “I cannot believe that what’s happening to Mr. King is happening to Mr. King and the Bureau of Prisons better watch itself, because they’re setting themselves up for a civil suit.” I don’t know if he knew that was already in action, but all of those actions are going to be added to the suit. So hopefully, that gives them just the tiniest bit of cover from more torture and abuse. But it’s hard to say.

TFSR: Yeah, I remember seeing tweets about the stupidity of that moment. Unicorn Riot had a nice image for their posting of their coverage.

Were there any other highlights that stood out from the case? Either testimony from Eric or… because he was actually able to speak on his own behalf and had to answer like cross examination, I would imagine, but can you talk about any other elements of how the the case itself went?

Mookie: Sure. Let’s see highlights or lowlights. I guess in a case like this, they are kind of one and the same. It was very interesting to see Lieutenant Wilcox walk into the courtroom for his testimony. I think that was on day one. You know, all the photographs that I’d seen of Lieutenant Wilcox. He’s a fairly large, imposing, hulking figure and that was not the guy who walked into the courtroom. The guy who walked into the courtroom had a cane was bent over. Evidently in his off time, he has now since retired from the Bureau of Prisons, probably related to this incident… But he’s got a ranch and I’m not sure exactly if he was supposedly or actually injured on his ranch. I’m really not sure. But he walked into the courtroom and sort of shuffled down the center like an old man. I was like, “wow, the theatrics just don’t stop” and I’m not I’m not saying that he wasn’t actually injured, but whatever was happening, they did their very best to make sure that he didn’t come in as an imposing hulking prison guard type.

He got up on the stand and I would say what was most interesting to me, and I guess this was written and you could have seen it coming from a mile away, but the government’s case was so incredibly weak that anytime he was asked a question by the CLDC, or by Eric’s defense team, in any way that could impeach a previous story, or a previous statement he had made, it was just one, “I can’t remember, I can’t remember, I can’t remember” after another. Then when the government would come and ask him a similar questions, it was remarkable how quickly his memory sharpened up. So that was really, really interesting.

The other Lieutenant that that got on the stand, Lieutenant Kammrad, his his testimony was really weak. And I think the take home, the important take home of that piece was that the government was really trying to flip it 180 degrees, they are trying to say, “Look how authentic our guys are. It’s been three years since this incident and you can tell that our guys are telling the truth, because there’s variation in the story.” Well, the fact of the matter is, is that the variation of the story was was wildly varied. And it was backed up with video evidence that the defense team had brought that just punched so many different holes in the way that this moment in the broom closet unfolded that it just was absolutely unbelievable. Then the inverse of that is when Eric went up on the stand, he told such an incredibly lucid and cohesive story that matched up to every single one of his previous statements. So that was, I thought that was pretty interesting. How about you, Josh, what am I forgetting? Give me a second to think about those highlights.

Josh: No, no, I think you captured them all. My partner and I were kind of glued to the phone all week, working and listening to this in the background. I think you’ve captured all the major highlights. Eric did a great job while he was on the stand, of course.

Mookie: Yeah. Eric did a great job. I guess I would also just say, Bursts, that I had heard lots of things about Judge Martinez going into this case and I definitely had some concern. I’ve got concern anytime in the same realm as a federal judge, of course, but I have to say that… And of course, my experience as somebody in the gallery watching or Josh’s experience listening and I know a lot of people have listened, we don’t have the same experience that the attorneys do, because we’re not privy to all the sidebars. And I will say that there were more sidebars in this case than I’ve definitely ever heard of. I think even judge Martinez said, “there are more sidebars and objections in this case than he’s ever seen in his career.”

So, it was very clear to everybody in the courtroom that this was not only a very contentious case, like any political case can be, but it was really important to find a passage through this story in a way that didn’t bias the jury either way, and because this case was political in nature, and because Eric chose to do a politically motivated act of property destruction, it was very tenuous in in how they would go after Eric. You could tell that the government, the US Attorney’s, were doing everything that they could open up lines of questioning that we’re going to shock and dismay jurors who might not have the same or even a political analysis as Eric’s. I think that Eric’s defense team did a really skillful job guiding the jury through the story in a way where it didn’t open those doors necessarily.

There’s just lots of different feelings on what the term “violence” means and whether a politically motivated act of property destruction is violent. I have very strong feelings that it’s not, but I think that there was some concern that the jury could grab on to certain terminology that would then bias them and they would lose their ability to see this case for what it really was: One side is speaking the truth and one side is making up stories as they go along.

So I have to say that not having access to what has happened in those sidebars, I feel like there was 100 sidebars, I’m sure I’m exaggerating, but there was so many that I felt like judge Martinez did a pretty darn good job running a clean courtroom. I didn’t see bias in him, what I saw was a judge that actually just really wanted to follow the letter of the law. Luckily, you know, in this case, the letter of the law is on Eric side, he was defending himself and that’s a right that every single person has to do in this country, even if you’re locked up. So I thought the judge did a pretty good job walking that middle path. I have to say that I think that he was impressed with Eric’s defense team. I think that because of the nature of this trial would have been very possible to have lawyers that weren’t necessarily prepared to handle something at this high level. I think they hit it out of the park.

TFSR: I can see how like bringing up the fact that there are political views that are held by Eric, and the nature of his conviction, and pointing to that as being potentially counter to the political views of the guards, and thus, motivating them to act in juvenile and petty manners… Differentiating that from like, “he burned down a politician’s office, and someone could have been hurt!” That seems like a very thin line to walk and it sounds like folks did that very, very well. Do you all have any updates on how Eric’s health is these days? And how are his spirits?

Josh: Due to the mail ban, not many people have heard from him. I’ve heard through the grapevine that he is extremely happy about the outcome of the trial, happy to be getting the few visits that he does, that he is able to get. He’s looking forward to getting everyone’s letters and everyone’s love. Everyone keeps sending solidarity from around the world. He’s looking forward to reading everyone’s letters, responding to everyone’s letters. You can follow him on social media. His support site is SupportEricKing.org. You can send a books now, which is great. If you follow him on social media, or check out his website, you’ll find out when the mail ban is lifted, and you can write to him. But in the meantime, just know that he does appreciate all the support. I think he’s vocalized that as much as possible to those he has been able to speak to.

TFSR: So it’s been mentioned that Eric’s a pretty prolific poet, you can find a bunch of his poems up on his support website. I don’t know if y’all want to share any poetry by Eric that you feel especially moved by? If not, that’s totally okay. But I just wanted to put that out there.

Josh: Well, yeah, I’ll share one, actually, if you haven’t picked up the 2022 Certain Days Calendar, Eric wrote a poem for the month of May. So you’re still in time to get one you can go to BurningBooks.com. They are only five bucks at this point and all the proceeds benefit political prisoners. But in May, Eric wrote a poem, he actually wrote it to me one time before this calendar came out when we were just thinking of the theme. It’s called “Mutual Aid is Friendship.” Yeah, it’s a great piece. It’s very short. And it’s one of the last ones he was able to send out before one of the many mail bans he’s faced.

TFSR: Well, that’s about it for the questions that I had. Are there any other topics that you want to talk about? Otherwise if you could remind folks about how they can support the CLDC, the defense work that they do, and the research and we’ve had guests from CLDC on the show a few times to talk about digital security. We’ve had Lauren Reagan on before to talk about political repression more generally. I’d love to hear more about where to find more about that. Also, Josh has prior been on the show to talk about Certain Days, it’d be good to hear about that, too. But were there any other topics other than shouting out projects that I didn’t ask about that y’all want to touch on?

Mookie: I guess I would just like to throw this in the ring a little bit that I know that supporting political prisoners in this country and around the world is something that I think a very narrow band of people who are politically active do. I just would like to say publicly to anybody who’s listening to this podcast, that it’s very easy to find resources to support political prisoners in this country. You can go online and literally Google that. There’s going to be a ton of different places that sends you to, and I just want to encourage people to take 15 or 20 minutes out of their week and find a different prisoner to write to. I think it can’t be overstated how potent this act is. Not only does it have the potential to change somebody’s time on the inside, but I also think that it creates bonds that can last a lifetime, but it’s also an incredible way to build our movement. So I just want to give a “Rah! Rah!” for that. I think that’s something that’s really worth people’s time.

And just since I have the I have the air right now, if people are interested in supporting the CLDC, which I think is a really great to do. The CLDC, one of the things that I love about working with this organization is the breadth of their work in movement building, and resistance, and support for activists. It’s staggering, really the CLDC goes to where the work is, whether it be in pipeline work, or prisoner support, or environmental, or animal rights work. It’s just a really remarkable organization and anybody can find how to support that at CLDC.org.

Josh: Absolutely. Yeah. I’ll just mirror pretty much everything Mookie said. CLDC is great. Actually, in two days now I guess it’ll be in the past when people are listening to this, but the CLDC is hosting a political prisoner talk with Daniel McGowan, with Linda Evans, Ray Luc Levasseur, Rattler, a few other people. I’m sure it’ll be amazing like most of the other projects are. But also yes, just write political prisoners every chance you get. Just try to learn about them. Eric has really been amazing with that. Every time he’s sent to a new prison, he finds friends that he advocates other people writing to and building relationships. I think it really can be life changing not only for those inside, but for those of us on the outside, too.

I guess besides getting a Certain Days Calendar if you can, we’re coming up with a theme now for 2023. But if you’re heading over to burning books to get a calendar, you could get some Oso Blanco greeting cards. It’s a project called ‘Children’s Art Project’ that he and I and a few other people helped start where greeting cards are made with artwork from indigenous political prisoners and the funds benefit the Zapatistas in Chiapas. It’s a really cool project. Oso Blanco is a fascinating person to get to know. And a shout out to Sean Swain. I hope he’s doing all right, even though he’s one digit down.

TFSR: One digit down, but he’s still two fists in the air.

Josh: Absolutely.

TFSR: Yeah, that’s awesome. We didn’t end up interviewing folks about Certain Days this year, but there was one that some of y’all participated in on, “Millennials are Killing Capitalism,” I saw.

Josh: Yeah, yeah. That was Daniel and I a few weeks ago. That was a good one.

TFSR: That’s awesome. I’ll link that in the show notes, too. Mookie and Josh, thank you so much for being a part of this conversation and for the work that you do. I really appreciate it

Josh: Thank you Bursts, it was a pleasure.

Mookie: Hey, Bursts, yeah, it was. Thank you so much. And, Josh, thank you so much for your support for me in this case, you were really instrumental in bringing me along and I’m so grateful for the whole team that came to came together to stand with Eric. It was really a group of outstanding people and thanks again Bursts.

Josh: Yes, thank you.

Transcription (Eric King Transfer)

TFSR: Eric, where are you at right now?

Eric King: Right now I’m at a federal transfer facility called Grady County. It’s one of the marshal’s contracts out in Oklahoma City.

TFSR: It seems like a pretty frequently used facility. This is the one that I talked to Jeremy Hammond at a couple of years ago in 2020. What’s the facility like?

EK: It’s usually fucking sweet but right now we’re having a goddamn Ad-Seg thing where we only get out one-two hours a day tops. It went from being super sweet where you get commissary and video visits to goddamn annoying.

TFSR: Did they give you some reason as to why directly after the trial where BOP was found to have abused you that they transferred you across the country from Colorado.

EK: This makes me sick, for real, because everyone at Inglewood [Prison] during the pre-trial shit was telling me, “If you get found innocent, you’re good, you’re gonna go to a medium or the communication unit, things are gonna be better for you. You could just feel the venom in their kindness. So they’re telling me all these lies, and then I go to pack up for transfer and they are “Oh, we’re sending you back to this miserable, horrible dup of a penitentiary out in Virginia.” “Well, that’s not what you motherfuckers just told me.” “Well, it is what it is.” There’s no way for this not to be retaliation, I’m the one that has low security points. I should be coasting with my feet up wearing shower shoes all day, not having to work, wearing boots for the shower.

TFSR: You’re going to USP Lee, as far as I was aware. Is that a max facility? Or what level is that? Have you been there before?

EK: It’s a penitentiary, so it holds high-security people, max-security people. There are big gang leaders there, but then there are also just violent assholes that can’t function in lower securities. Then there’s me and one of the World Trade Center bombers.

TFSR: What are you thinking in terms of what recourse you and your support folks have right now? I know that getting your voice out right now is an important part of it, that people know what’s going on.

EK: The issue is that most likely, they’re going to dump me in the SHU. In the SHU, you have no radio, books, magazines, newspapers, no pictures, no commissary, no food, you don’t even have pens and pencils, they give you rubber pencils. I’m going to be isolated, I’m going to be cut off. People need to know: get a hold of these Virginia centers, get a hold of the Northeastern Atlantic region. I want people contacting those in charge to get a hold of the designation center in Grand Prairie, Texas, the SEC. Call these people, do mass calling. Call 1,000 times and ask them why is a medium or low-security guy being held at this prison again? Why is he back here? Why are you going to take someone’s mail, take someone’s phone calls, say all this communication shit about them, and then put them somewhere where you can’t be in touch with his family and his life in danger. Now, I can’t let anyone know something’s happening to me. We got to have a spotlight on this. We got this big-ass trial victory, people are watching, people are happy. This is the next stage in that fight. I still need support. I still need people. The trial didn’t end the problems. It ended with one big problem. But now we have this other big problem. I still need people to fight for me and let them know that we’re keeping EK safe.

TFSR: This trial ending is pretty enormous. But you do have a year and just under nine months left inside, and since your whole time inside has been a history of provocations, harassment, diesel therapy, violence by the administration…

EK: I said this to my wife. “Not every win is a win.” If we had two months last maybe, but 19 months is more than enough time to get somebody really fucked up. I don’t want any more goddamn problems in the in here. It’s been such a long arduous hassle with these people.

TFSR: You’ve been two years without mail, with mail bans and books bans and stuff like that, right? You just started getting books recently.

EK: Yeah, and they gave me another mail ban. They just put another one on in February. I’m going to land in this new play. I am just getting things back again for one month in January. Then they immediately say “well, we’re taking it again, because you’re circumventing the mail ban.” So I’m going to land at [USP] Lee with five months left on this new mail ban. God damn it.

TFSR: All the way across the country from your family as you said.

EK: Yeah, they took away my phone. I don’t get any phone calls ever. Because of this phoney-public-safety-factor bullshit they made up. I’m just stuck.

TFSR: What do you want to talk about, we have eight more minutes or something. You got to the point already of how fucked up it is and where you’re heading.

EK: Yeah, things aren’t going to be good. That’s really where my mind is, I want people to know my family needs support too. Send them kindness, be kind to my family, my wife is the one that I give all my information to. If I’m scared, if I’m sad, if I’m depressed, I ask her, “Let people know this.” People hear that shit from her. Please, take it seriously. She’s often literally the only one talking to me. Because if I can pay some dude to use his phone, that’s who I’m going to call. If she puts out the word that I’m in trouble, or I’m sad, or I need something, please show me love and listen to that. We did really well at the trial. It wasn’t a flawless victory, we butted heads and there were things I wasn’t happy about, things that they weren’t happy about. But my legal team did fight for me tough. They spent a lot of money and time and they showed up and had me prepared. But it’s not over. I want them to be able to celebrate because they spent a lot of resources to get this win. It is a win, but for me,…

TFSR: …it’s not a win till you’re out. Right?

EK: Right. I don’t get to celebrate yet because they can still put me in there with someone who is getting drugs from SIS to stab me or some shit like that. That stuff is still in the back of my mind because it’s happened so many times that it doesn’t feel– I can’t celebrate, I got to celebrate for a few days after it happened. But right now it’s back to “Alright, we need to focus on the Bureau and focus on keeping me safe.” It’s just such a horrible way to exist. You can’t be super happy and celebrate with your family because you don’t know what the Bureau’s up to.

TFSR: Yeah, that’s real.

EK: It’s on my mouth on this fucking this $8 coffee that we have here. They sell this little bullshit bag. It’s called Maxima. It’s got maybe 20 scoops in it and it is $8.44. That’s other shit my wife’s having to deal with. God!

TFSR: Spaces like Grady really rely on people being in a panic mode and putting too much money in the commissary and too much money on phones, if people have money available because they don’t know how long they’re going to be there. Do you have any sense of how long you’ll be at this middle facility? Or could it just be they’ll swape you out today?

EK: It’s important to acknowledge that this place is a hella exploitative. They know we’re all panicking, all trying to talk to our family as much as we can. The best way to tell this is these phone calls are expensive. That computer that we use over there is expensive as shit. Commissary, I just told you $8 for a bag of coffee and all of us are having coffee withdrawals, needing some coffee. They’re vicious. I have no idea how long I’ll be here. In my mind, I’ll probably leave on Friday, on Friday morning, they’ll probably come and grab us. But if we make it to the weekend, that’s just two more days of spending shit-tons of money. They give you the lowest quality stuff, just bad.

TFSR: Two fewer days of being at Lee at least…

EK: My dream is that enough people contact them for the right, let’s just get this fucking dope bag out of here. Get him moving. That’s what I’m hoping, that they do it in a way that was different than at McCreary. Let’s get this fucking dirtbag out of here. The way to do it is we’re going to set them up to get jumped. Hopefully, at least they do it a different way. They’re just like, “He’s a problem, let’s move him.”

They don’t have goddamn toilet paper, the toilet paper rolls. They don’t give you those, they give you a little folded bundle, and it’s eight squares in a bundle. You get two bundles a week. Think about that. Think about what that means. You learn to make do your 16 squares a week.

TFSR: That’s so fucking cruel and inhumane. Well, if you did have like 20 sheets, maybe you could make a weapon out of it somehow, an explosive or-

EK: [laughs] Those extra sheets could come in handy for violence, for sure. I don’t know if people understand how horrible the SHU’s get. As I mentioned earlier, we don’t have pens or pencils there. They give you a rubber pencil. You have to sharpen it by scraping it on the concrete. Then you can’t file grievances with that. You can’t write legal mail with that. When I try to write to one person I can write, my wife or my cousin Deb, who was at trial, God bless her. They can’t read what I’m writing. It’s just a complete way to cut you off from the– They can do whatever they want. No visibility has no accountability or whatever. That’s what they do. They bury motherfuckers there and once you leave, you can cry about it, but you’re going to say nothing while you’re there. They might take away your 16 sheets.

Automated voice: This call will be terminated in two minutes.

EK: Do they have to word it that way?

TFSR: Terminated. “I’m the Terminator, enjoy this call.”

EK: Please, stress my gratitude, but also my urgency. This isn’t a sit like, “Let’s plan, and let’s see what feels best.” This is I need action. If we make a mistake, we make a mistake. I need people mobilized quickly. I’m okay with a mistake. I need them to know the eyes are on me.

TFSR: Yeah, for real. How is it you said that you haven’t shared space with other people in years and you just got moved to an open dorm, general population? Could you describe how that feels?

EK: I’ve been in it, literally a 6×8 box for two and a half years, and before that different SHUs for another year. Going from such a confined space by myself and now I am literally surrounded by people. It feels like a fucking wave of people. There’s also a microwave next to me. When’s the last time I use a microwave? There’s a TV above me. I haven’t seen anything from the Ukraine-Russia war. I just now saw the Will Smith hitting Chris Rock thing. It’s super, super positive. But also, the SHU really damages you. I didn’t realize it until I got out, like right now for this brief period. It feels like someone’s stepping on my chest this entire time. It’s exhausting.

TFSR: Are you able to like find the corner and breathe by yourself? You don’t have to say anything about this. But you know someone who’s in there, right?

EK: I got a bro in here. There are a few other people from the system that we know the same people. Because it’s a small-ass system. There are people here that have been in the same prisons I have, or we know the same people. It’s all respect, there’s no conflict or tension or anything. It’s all just internal.

TFSR: You’ve been someone who’s done a lot of practice and meditation and yoga and instructed other people on these practices. Are you finding that those are helping you right now? Or are you just having to move through it?

EK: Not right now. The meditation, yes, because I can just focus on breathing and focus on my being. There’s obviously no room to sit in the middle of this goddamn open dorm and start doing yoga. I would look like a complete jackass. Justifiably so. But just being in my own space, being centered definitely helps because in the past, when I did long SHU days– Because I always do these goddamn long SHU bids, I don’t know what’s the deal it, it is just a vindication on resistance, I guess. But in the past, when I got the SHU, it would be so suffocating that I thought I could die. Things have improved drastically.

TFSR: Do you have any more updates, any news about when you think you’re getting transferred out? Have you been able to hear from any lawyers or anything like that while you’re at Grady?

EK: I had my legal call, Lauren did get ahold of me. I told her what I needed. She asked, and I told her, and so I trust that it will help. I’ve heard that they are organizing the calling campaign and doing that which I asked for and have been desperate for. I hope people stick with that and continue to put pressure because these people aren’t going to tell me anything. The people at Grady County are not going to tell me shit because they don’t know anything, they are just the county workers. It is just what I’m hoping on and I’ve read some things and heard some things from different comrades. Everything seems like it’s going in the direction that I need. So often we will need something and maybe the people don’t understand how serious it is, or some people don’t. You just need a few to listen to you and believe you and hear you and they can get this ball rolling. It feels like that’s what’s happening right now. I’m really grateful, that makes me feel safe and seen. What this whole thing is about is just making sure that the Bureau knows that people are watching. They’re not going to get away with any sly shit. People are watching, senators will be checking in or whatever we’re able to do with a little bit of pressure. That makes me feel good. Really good.

TFSR: This is a little bit off-topic. But when Josh was on the show the other day, Josh from Certain Days. He was talking about the book that you all are working on. Can you say a few words about that if it’s interesting?

EK: Josh is the perfect person to talk to, he is just such a clever, beautiful person. I started having this idea after reading some IRA books that talked about not just the bombing and killing, but the trauma of suffering and doing suffering to others and what’s left afterwards? What’s left when the ashes and the smoke clears? It’s not glory. It’s internal. Then I had that time with Jaan in his cell and just hearing him talk, and all these stories that I knew, these aren’t documented, no one will ever hear these stories. These stories could change someone’s life, they changed my life. I, Josh, and all of us really honor our mothers and fathers that were in this struggle before us. What they’ve gone through in prison shouldn’t be negated down to a couple of typed-up quotes for some magazine, or their ideas on the struggle. Their lives inside are equally as valuable in the mundane as they are in the extreme. So I didn’t want just to have their stories about how bad they suffered, I wouldn’t want my story to just be about all the SHU time I did. I’d wanted it to be about my life because I still exist. I want that for those that have been through this.

I had that idea and brought it up to Josh, and Josh is just an astoundingly productive person who just wants to help and work, brought it to life. We typed up a questionnaire and he just got to work. I think he’s interviewed some 7000 people so far. It’s actually just 30 or 40 , but it is still a lot. That’s a lot of work. You got a full-time job. This is just comrade work, which – I don’t want to disrespect movement, but I don’t see that all the time. I haven’t seen that in my entire life. I see it a lot, you do it, a few other people do it, but it’s not the most common thing. No questions asked no, “oh, I don’t know, this might be a bad idea.” It was “Let’s bring this shit to life.” And we have, and some of the things I’ve read have been so touching. Something I didn’t know about people. I didn’t know what Kojo [Bomani Sababu] had been through. I didn’t know that Oso [Blanco] was so aggressive. I didn’t know so much about Ray [Luc Levasseur]. So, to me, it’s a project of honoring our existences, not just our suffering, if that makes sense.

TFSR: Absolutely. Recognizing that people aren’t just these two-dimensional struggle machines that are there for putting on a flyer or sticker whatever. That could be a band name.

EK: Yes. It could be title the cover of the book.

TFSR: We have a minute and a half left, these are 15-minute calls. Is that right?

EK: They’ll tell us the two-minute mark.

TFSR: Are there any other things that are coming to mind right now that you want to express?

Automated voice: The call will be terminated in two minutes.

EK: For me, the most important thing is just asking people to please be there for my family. Mutual aid and community support, she is in prison too. I got two little girls, they’re in prison too. Lend us your voices, keep these eyes on me. I’m not trying to be an attention grabber here, like I’m Mr. Big Deal. But this can get very serious very quickly, it could get very dark. That’s all I can think about right now. Help me fight, help me keep an eye on these people so they can’t bury one of us. Don’t let them put the dirt over me right now after we just got this big-ass plan. Don’t let this win turn into a loss. That’s where my heart and that’s where my head’s at right now. And be nice to my wife.

TFSR: For sure. That’s true.

Automated voice: The call will be terminated in one minute.

EK: Bursts, thank you so much. Please give my regards to both Swains, to Lauren and Sean.

TFSR: I will.

EK: Please give yourself a big hug for me.

TFSR: Thanks, Eric. I appreciate it. Take care of yourself, okay? Make some friends.

EK: How are you doing? It’s been a very selfish call. We only got 20 seconds.

TFSR: I’m good. Just got off of work, and got some pizza and a beer waiting for me. Some local IPAs Chicago area.

EK: Oh, IPA is gross.

TFSR: Right. I’m from the West Coast. It’s what I do.

EK: Oh my gosh, don’t…

Tom Nomad on Conspiracism

Tom Nomad on Conspiracism

Conspiracy cork board in a dark room with title "Conspiarcism with Tom Nomad"
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Tom Nomad is an organizer based in the Rust Belt and the author of The Master’s Tools: Warfare and Insurgent Possibility and Toward an Army of Ghosts. You can find more of Tom’s writings on The Anarchist Library. Tom is @tom_nomad@kolektiva.social on Mastadon, and on their blog

We speak about conspiracy theories and real conspiracies, strategies of tension, the use of extremist actors to set conditions of concentrating power un-democratically and challenging conspiratorial thought patterns. You can find a past interview we did with Tom on “Insurgencies Journal” and “The Master’s Tools”.

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Transcription

TFSR: We’re joined by anarchist author and activist Tom Nomad. Tom Nomad is an organizer based in the Rust Belt and the author of The Master’s Tools: Warfare and Insurgent Possibility, as well as Toward An Army Of Ghosts. You can find Tom’s writings on the Anarchist Library as well. We’re going to speak a little bit about conspiracy theories and real conspiracies, strategies of tension, and the use of extremist actors to set contradictions of concentrating power undemocratically. Thank you again for agreeing to have this conversation, I am really stoked to have it.

Tom Nomad: Yeah, thanks for having me.

TFSR: Weird world, huh? *laughs*

Tom: *laughs*

TFSR: As a bit of context, I was listening to an episode of The Empire Never Ended podcast, and they mentioned this BBC documentary from 1992 — that’s in three parts, that’s available on YouTube — about Operation Gladio, which is a stay-behind army in Europe put in by NATO and the US meant to disrupt and undermine any communist anarchist organizing or Soviet invasion. This is a subject that I’ve had some awareness of for a while now, but haven’t really dug into, partially because so much of the cloak-and-dagger stuff can be really hard to pull back and to figure out what really happened. It’s like looking into COINTELPRO in the US besides where actual documentation is thorough if redacted. There’s a lot of disinformation around the edges of it. I reached out to you here because there are some important parts of strategy attention, that I know that you’ve written about and thought about, and some theorists that you’ve been studying that deal with this. And I think you’re a smart dude.

Tom: *laughs* Thank you, I’m flattered.

TFSR: I wonder if we could first talk about them— I don’t know if you want to go into — or I could touch on — a few points of the history, at least in the context of Operation Gladio and the stay-behinds after World War II, what that looked like and where the funding was, and what activities people engaged in?

Tom: Yeah, sure. Project Gladio often gets associated with what happened in Italy. And that’s definitely the area of highest concentration for operations. But it was prior to NATO, Western Union, which was the organization that led to NATO, built this program up after World War II. And the idea was that they were going to take non-communist elements of partisan forces. I think we often think of partisans during World War II as communists and anarchists, and most of them were. But in France, for example, the Christian Democratic Union had a militia. The same thing in Italy. So they took these right-wing forces and fused them together into these— they refer to them as paramilitary groups. They were essentially — as you refer to them — stay-behind forces. The stay-behind forces mean a number of different things. And in this case, there’s a wide variety of different things that happened. Most of the time, what it meant was that they were at one point training and funding and organizing a clandestine group of people whose job was to prevent communist infiltration into Western Europe and to be there in case of a Soviet invasion.

Largely, they were trained in things like sabotage operations, intelligence gathering, in the things you would do if you were a resistance fighter behind enemy lines. But a lot of those people were also really well-connected with whatever right-wing political parties existed after World War II, and many of those people rose to positions of power. Very similarly to the way that things operated with the US in Central and South America over the 20th century, where we would sponsor right-wing forces, and oftentimes, those forces would have their own agendas on top of whatever we were pushing them to do. And they would rise to power. And then we would have these allies in power. And this would lead to puppet-state governments. Similar things happened in Gladio, but not in as directive a way. There were definitely alliances that existed between, later, NATO and the offices within NATO that dealt with clandestine warfare. Some of these parties were Christian Democratic parties that existed all the way up through the late 1980s-early 1990s.

TFSR: My understanding is that the Operation Gladio name gets put on often because that was the name of the project specific to Italy, and that a bunch of these different projects in various countries had their own project names and had to some degree — although, it’s hard to document it — funding from the CIA at the time. It seems pretty normal — you’ve got these formerly militarized forces all around, in a lot of cases, forces that maybe were clandestine far-right groups in countries that were either invaded by the Soviet Union or had a socialistic government or were invaded by the Allies or aligned with the Allies that were ostensibly firming themselves up and readying themselves for a communist infiltration or communist invasion. That was their greatest fear. And so for them to just be activated to do this stuff— Or they were fascists, and they were inherently anti-communist, so they were just doing the same. There are stories about Operation Werewolf in Germany. And that meme and that idea are still being pulled up by the far Right— I wonder if you would talk about what activities that we know of, that you’re aware of that those groups ended up getting engaged in. They have affiliation with the policing structures, to some degree, they have a nod. This is the point that you make in some of your writing, in some of your speakings is that anarchists, and the people in general, often think of the state as a unitary structure, that the right hand knows what the left hand is doing in all cases. And I think that Gladio and stuff this is an example where that’s not the case…

Tom: Yeah, Gladio is actually, according to the CIA documents, a disaster for similar reasons that every other attempt to foster right-wing paramilitary forces by the CIA was a failure. William Colby, who ended up becoming the director of the CIA, during the tail-end of the Vietnam War — he was involved in a lot of the setting up of these very specifically clandestine paramilitary forces. And there’s a common pattern here, whether we’re talking central South America, or Southeast Asia or Europe — there’s this pattern. And the pattern is the following. The CIA has very specific goals, and in the case of Gladio, NATO had very specific goals. Those goals are often relatively straightforward, and they’re relatively easy to identify.

For example, in the case of Gladio, or in the case of fostering right-wing forces in Vietnam, or Korea, or trying to do the same with the Contras in Central and South America, the goal was to prevent the expansion of a Soviet sphere of influence. Now, they talked about it as preventing the Domino Effect or preventing the spread of Communism, but really it was grounded in preventing the expansion of the Soviet sphere of influence, and later, the Chinese sphere of influence, which is where a lot of that tension exists now. In all of these cases, the CIA parachutes in — or in the case of Europe was leftover from the OSS — and they start organizing these groups together, fund them, and give them a relatively straightforward mission. They say, “Okay, we need you to use your newspaper (in the case of Italy) to promote this right-wing political party, and we’re going to give you a bunch of money to continue to run your newspaper.” Or “We’re going to give the Christian Democratic Party in Italy,” for example, “all this money, and the CIA was the source of— Depending on the estimate, somewhere between 20 and 80% of all of the funding that they used in the 60s and 70s— We’re going to do this because the communists are getting popular, we need you to win the parliamentary elections.” In a place like France, a lot of that was about maintaining the power structure around de Gaulle and people like that.

Now, in all of these cases, though, these entities that were selected have their own goals. The Contras, for example, in Central and South America, were running drugs, they were aspiring to power, they had connections to all these big corporations and plantations in these countries. So they had these goals, which were economic and political. In Europe, specifically, in Italy, a lot of the people that were worked with were fascists, and they had this series of goals. The fascists in Italy were allied with the church and the business class. They had this series of goals that they could push partially through the Christian Democratic Party, but also they engaged in street actions.

Now, the question always becomes — and this is where it gets really murky — what was done at the behest of the CIA and what was not. We have a number of documents that we can rely on, and they’re not all from the CIA. Some of them are, and there are plenty of records from the CIA, that just point to the more banal, more innocuous parts of these operations. There are documents from the CIA that point to less innocuous parts as well, but most of them are centered around legal political interventions and the boosting of certain political forces. But we also have documents from Italy, we have documents from France, as socialist governments took over in those places, periodically, they would release documents about what happened with the stay-behind forces. What we really get is we get this picture of a failed CIA operation. I mean, it was successful in the sense that right-wing forces were able to keep communist parties out of power. But it was unsuccessful in the sense that the CIA was not able to keep control of the forces that they themselves were promoting. And in a place like Italy, that turned into a lot of political violence. A lot of what happened during the Years of Lead — what in the US we often talk about the Strategy of Tension— Those same forces were the forces that were carrying out attacks at the behest of the State Police. There’s no record, though, that those were being called for by the CIA. And this is where these operations get really murky. And this is where research skills become really important, and this is where understanding how conspiracy theories work becomes really critical. Because we need to be able to speak about these things realistically, and not through inference or hyperbole as they often are.

TFSR: I definitely want to get into ways of thinking about these kinds of activities that avoid those conspiratorial thinking. We should make the point that there’s a difference between a conspiracy and a conspiracy theory because people conspire all the time, this is a phrase that Robert Anton Wilson used to say that I really appreciate, that anytime you’ve got a backroom full of bankers, or you’ve got a bunch of government ministers getting together making a decision to do something, anytime you got a bake sale being planned, people are conspiring to do a thing. It doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s nefarious, it’s people agreeing to do a thing, which is why gang charges or conspiracy charges that are used against political dissidents oftentimes are like you agreed to be in a place at a time around other people, and ipso facto, you are a part of this criminal conspiracy that we can charge you with. Just blowing up— because you’ve been bringing up Latin America and Southeast Asian examples, as well – the idea that the US goes in and funds certain movements, certain groups… Again, to touch back on what I said that governments aren’t unitary — there are also other ways that intervention happens, and sometimes with the CIA’s affiliation and sometimes not.

Right now, anytime there’s some unrest in a country that has a political position that is somehow in opposition or economic position in opposition to the US government, there’s a lot of people on the far-right, as well, as I would say, tankies, oftentimes, that get drawn into this idea that this is a CIA op, that this is a thing that totally plays into— Cui bono, who does it benefit? This is the approach that people often take is to look at the event and say, “Aha, what part of the international spectrum of power would want this to occur in this way, or to undermine this group?”, and they oftentimes point to the CIA, which takes away the agency of the people that are actually involved in the complex situation. But I’ve seen that pointed to, for instance, with the Otpor movement at the end of Milosevic in former Yugoslavia, this popular movement that got Western “democratic” think-tank money to help them think through their process, and also gave them books on nonviolent theory, movement theory, and also to push them in a certain direction. You got this through a bunch of the color revolutions that happened around Europe and in parts of Asia, and Peter Gelderloos writes about this a bit. You get this today also, where, for instance, there are mass disagreements in the streets, with regimes like Nicaragua under Ortega, or in Cuba, where people are unhappy with what the government’s doing at the time and there’s a mass show of disagreement, and certain sectors of the media and I guess the tankie left say, “Aha, it’s against these administrations, these administrations can’t be doing anything wrong. Therefore, it is a CIA op.”

Tom: This kind of idea, I think, is structured around a number of things, which are important to tease out. Firstly, there’s very obviously confirmation-bias going out here. That’s the simplistic reading. There’s confirmation bias happening. We see this with tankies all the time. You see this with groups the PSL which are entirely comfortable excusing not just people’s motivation, but genocide. To be really clear about this, the PSL excuses genocide, excuses states coming in and say, “Rounding up Uyghurs in China and throwing them into reeducation camps, or they support the North Koreans murdering political dissidents em masse.” Now, of course, they can’t come forward and say “We’re genocide sympathizers,” that’s an unpopular position. So they have to come forward and say, “Oh, none of the genocides are happening. All these videos are doctored by the CIA, blah, blah, blah.”

We see similar things with the right-wing as well. We see things this with QAnon, for example. And the thing that’s fascinating about conspiracy theories now — this is a topic for a different conversation but something I think bears bringing up — is that conspiracy theories now no longer function on this level of there being a body of phenomena and then some narrative that’s constructed retroactively about this phenomenon. What’s happening now is that the narrative gets constructed as things are occurring, which is really different. And what it means is that conspiracy theories have become far more reactionary, even than they were before. That now, it is purely about choose a position, construct a conspiracy that can justify a position in the face of counter-evidence. We see this pretty consistently.

Now, the second part of this that I think is really important, is to recognize that part of the reason that conspiracies can exist in relation to, say, a political uprising in Cuba, or even Venezuela. There were many right-wing forces involved in Venezuela, but it wasn’t everybody. A lot of this falls down into simplistic narratives that are meant to describe things that are by their own nature secretive. Things which we don’t know about. In a situation where we don’t know something, there’s a tendency to want to create an explanation. If we can’t explain, for example, within our own thinking— So, say, we were a member of the PSL and we were watching… for example, there were massive riots in Shenzhen, China this past week, where people were throwing bricks at cops, a lot of them are microworkers. They were protesting COVID restrictions and things like this. Now, of course, to the PSL, that’s impossible. Just like the uprising in Hong Kong was impossible. It wasn’t that there were people that were angry because it’s a socialist utopia, that couldn’t possibly be.

We see similar things in the United States. We saw this during the uprising when Democratic mayors and police chiefs in Democratic cities were saying, “It couldn’t possibly be because of the failure of reformism. Really, this is about professional anarchists and out-of-town agitators.” It’s a very similar narrative. What happens here is that we have this zone of indiscernibility, say, CIA motives, classified information, or something like this. And then we have this phenomenon, which in reality is very complex. We look at, say, the uprising in Kazakhstan, or even the uprisings in Italy in the 70s, which even a lot of anarchists, I think, see in really unitary ways, but they’re really complex things. And so instead of diving into the complexity, instead of sitting there and saying, “Well, the CIA might have this motivation, but people on the ground might have this motivation. And some people might have this motivation. But other people have this motivation.” Instead of really diving into the nuances and complexities, we come to simple conclusions. We say things like “Okay, well, my tankie left-wing party, for whatever reason, supports the Assad regime. Therefore, every single person fighting the Assad regime has to be working for the CIA.”

TFSR: Like the White Helmets.

Tom: Yeah, I’ve even heard tankie say this about the YPG, which fly red-and-black flags and stuff. It’s pretty obvious where their politics are. Then there’s this third element here.

And the third element really has to do a lot with the fact that actually, in a lot of places, the CIA does have precedence, There’s this reality in which, say, we take Otpor, it is an interesting example because I’ve actually been to Serbia and talked to those people. This was more than 15 years ago, at this point. And some of them, interestingly enough, were in government at the time, they were members of the Social Democratic Party. And the thing that they said is, “Yeah, the Democracy Institute came here. And they trained us in things like nonviolent protest organizing and things like that. But we already had to have the motivation to get that going. And we were the ones that had to carry that through.” And so, even if funding was sometimes coming from overseas which it wasn’t always and they said that over time, that was less and less the case, the fact that millions of Serbs are willing to show up in the streets and overthrow the government is the important part. And not all of those people were “CIA stooges”. Most of these people were people who were living through a financial crisis that was spawned by a genocidal war being waged by their government, and they didn’t like living in financial desperation. And they didn’t necessarily agree with the war. We have to remember that in the former Yugoslavia, there was an incredibly cosmopolitan space prior to this rise of nationalism, which played off dynamics that had been present. But many people in the former Yugoslavia weren’t necessarily identifying with the X, Y, or Z ethnic group in the early 90s.

And so their political conditions have led those things to happen. We have these three difficulties. We have these political biases, we have the inherent lack of clarity of things that are secretive, and we have the dynamic in which there is intervention on some level. But I think what’s really important to tease out here, and to understand is where does that intervention stop as being a motivating factor? Where does it begin?

Let’s take, just as an example of something which I think most of us would rightfully reject, that is the narrative of the outside agitator. We know that that narrative was a very powerful narrative in the 1950s and 60s that was used against the Civil Rights Movement. And right-wing politicians and pro-segregationist politicians would say, “Oh, those are outside agitators. That’s communists coming in here and riling everybody up, which of course, asserts that Black activists in the South during the Civil Rights Movement were passive agents that were pushed forward by white communists outside of their own intention, and that these white communists were able to manipulate these people that didn’t really have the intelligence to understand what was happening. It’s a completely racist and absurd narrative. And yet, people on the “left” replicate that narrative all the time, literally all the time, to justify all kinds of things, and to explain away all kinds of things. There’s also the reality that these uprisings when we see them are spectacularly complex. And we often can’t see the complexity. We take something Egypt, the Tahrir Square uprising, there were many political factions on the ground there. I know people that were on the ground there. I know anarchists that were on the ground there. And there were capitalists, there were conservatives. The Muslim Brotherhood was there, anarchists were out in the streets, there are lots of communists, there was no unified political vision, except getting rid of the regime. And that was a common objective. And that’s all that was needed to push forward that uprising.

We can hear the words of the people that participated in these things. We don’t have to explain those words away, we can hear those words. And oftentimes, what those words are, are that regardless of how this thing started, regardless of what motivated its beginning, the second that people hit the streets… And in Egypt, my friends that were over there say, the veil of fear fell away. That’s when things change. And that has nothing to do with outside money, that has everything to do with people’s motivation and intent. When we’re looking at these things, we have to keep these complexities in mind and recognize that the Democracy Institute did trade activists in Egypt prior to the uprising. That’s true, they did it at American University in Cairo, we know this. April 6th Youth Movement talked about this openly.

Often, what happens in these situations is that people are looking for something really secret and hidden, when in reality, almost everything is out in the open if you’re willing to look for it. If you’re willing to dig around social media, if you’re willing to embrace complexity, if you’re willing to suspend your own preconceived conclusions, you can gather the information that you need. We live in this amazing age where I remember, I was writing my doctoral thesis in 2010, the Egyptian uprising was happening, was just getting moving, things were going down in Syria and Libya. And we could follow what was happening minute by minute on Al Jazeera, and it was the first time we could do that, that changed everything. We don’t need to rely on partial reports anymore. We don’t need to rely on what documents we get. We don’t need to rely on biased sources, we can get information straight from the streets.

When we can do that, we can start to see these complexities that exist in ways that I think were really difficult in, say, the 1970s, where a lot of these narratives about the CIA being the secret hand behind everything really built up in the American, specifically authoritarian, left but those built up at a time when there wasn’t necessarily that information. And very specifically, those built up at a time when, as we know now, Soviet disinformation campaigns were a thing. And they were laundering this information through the American left-wing media. And we know this. Actually, a wonderful example of that, if you want to get back to Gladio really quick, is what’s referred to as the Westmoreland Field Manual. The Westmoreland Field Manual is the basis that a lot of people use to connect Project Gladio to the Strategy of Tension. And the term “Strategy of Tension” appears in this document. This document was supposedly a counterinsurgency manual that was signed by General Westmoreland, supposedly, and explained how you carry out false flag attacks and blamed left-wing groups for it. That was published in a Turkish newspaper in 1975. That’s the first time anybody saw it. After the fall of the Soviet Union, we have come to find out that that was a forgery, as were many things that were passed around at that period of time, including documents from the CIA talking about AIDS in Africa. That conspiracy theory started with Soviet disinformation, too. And so when we’re getting into this world in which we’re starting to talk about intelligence agencies, information is key. And hyperbole can be the death of whatever understanding you’re trying to build because you’re starting to move outside of the realm of demonstrability. And losing the patience necessary to dig into that from an information-first perspective.

TFSR: Thank you very much for that and for pointing out the Westmorland document too. There is the confirmation bias thing where when you get information that the CIA was conducting bombings and then blaming it on left-wing groups or claiming to have been left-wing groups or infiltrating left-wing groups, then you see the document, you’re “Aha, see, well, this must be true, because this is embarrassing to the CIA.”

I want to talk a little bit more about some of the other examples of intervention and the complexity that it brings. But also, — maybe this cart before the horse moment — as you said, the information’s there, you can dig into the information, one of the things that I feel is that there is so much information out there. It used to be, I guess, at a certain point, — unless you are a “researcher,” and that doesn’t mean professionally, but what you put your passion and your time into at least — that you would dig into stuff and then interface with other people to “bake out the crumbs” into some picture that makes sense of the world. And that’s the glut of information and the glut of disinformation, that people are pulling from is, that little reference to QAnon. This is what people are trying to do, ostensibly, but they’re missing the mark. And maybe there’s a degree of knowledge for a lot of people that are doing that because it feels like a game because it feels fun because they’re upping the ante with each other. But how do people who are not engaged in that game extricate themselves or recognize when they’re starting to do that and starting to over-complexify issues that maybe Occam’s razor would nix?

Tom: A lot of it comes down to understanding how conspiracy theories are structured. And they’re all structured with a very similar epistemic architecture, if you want to put it that way. Conspiracy theories often start around something that is inexplicable or confusing or difficult to make sense of. Right now, we’re seeing this proliferation of conspiracy theories often because the categories that we used to use to make sense of the world, say, in the 90s, or the early 2000s, don’t really work anymore. Concepts like nation-states, notions like capitalism. Things like this are all getting challenged in ways that make a lot of people really uncomfortable is a very dramatic understatement. They make it really difficult for people to locate themselves in the world. And one of the responses to that is the rise of right-wing nationalism. And one of the responses that arise to conspiracy theories and that’s part of the reason why they’re deeply, deeply tied together.

The question becomes, “Okay, how do we then start to locate ourselves?” One of the things that have happened in the world is that it’s become really obvious that our understandings of the world in the past were tragically simplistic, not just on the level of categorical understanding, but on the level of how we understand how things function, how we understand communities work, how we understand that social dynamics function, or institution success. All of these things have changed as a result of the post-structuralist turn that happened in the 1970s. There’s this open field right now, in which this change of normativity, this collapse of former norms, and the process in which we’re reestablishing notions of sense tend to lead to what is often not a bad thing, but it tends to lead to this notion of self-empowerment. People are now tasked with coming up with their own understanding of the world. And they do this. Now the question becomes how and what is the epistemic structure of what that looks like.

Let’s just jump back quickly to QAnon. If you really pay attention to QAnon people, they don’t consider themselves uninformed. In fact, they consider themselves profoundly well-informed. They do what they call research, which means that they go around on a bunch of blogs that get linked to from Facebook, and they find a bunch of articles that confirm things they already think. And then they cite them. And we look at that, and we go, “That’s ridiculous and absurd and silly.” But then you can read academic papers and academics do a very similar thing a lot of the time. They find sources that agree with what they already want to conclude, and they cite them.

In conspiracy theories, this leads to something really interesting, which is what I refer to as a logical leap of conspiracy theory. Which means that you start off in a realm of observability. We can even take, say, the 2020 election conspiracy theory, just as an example. The observable fact here is Trump lost the election. That’s the observable fact, if you looked at the numbers on the television, Donald Trump lost. Then a lot of those people are combining that with a second observable fact that they’ve talked about this openly on the internet, which is that they didn’t know anybody that didn’t vote for Donald Trump. How could he have lost? Which I’m sure is the way a lot of people in cities felt about 2016. Everyone knew that voted for Clinton, or didn’t vote at all, and I literally don’t know a single Trump supporter, where I live, not a single one. And so, this is that idea that Donald Trump is deeply unpopular, and people feel that the things that he’s doing are potentially going to lead to the downfall of everything that they know and potentially their death, feels really out there for people that live in areas surrounded by Trump supporters.

Now, this observable reality leads to a huge question. And this is always the second step. We can see this with UFO conspiracy theories. People see something they can’t explain that leads to this big question of “what is that?” And then you start to try and answer the question. But when we try to answer the question, we run into what I would argue is a very simple epistemic problem. And this is an epistemic problem that goes back to the very concept that we can know something that we call “truth.” To do that, to engage in that enterprise, where we try and find something that’s true in all possible moments, not only do we have to assume a perspective, which can encompass all of these possible variables, for total information in all possible ways, in all possible moments, but we already have to assume that the universe is logical and explainable and unitary, and that therefore, there already is something true before we know what it is. Now we run into the problem of, once we’ve made that assumption, we don’t know how to find the thing that’s true. Because if we already knew how to find it, we already know what it is. We have this cloudy space. This space of thought, where there is this profoundly important question that you want to answer for yourself, and absolutely no way to begin to do so. And it deepens the sense of being lost.

Now what happens here, and you can see this with people like Alex Jones all the time, they then make the logical leap. In lieu of information, they start to fill in details between a point A and something they posit as a point B. In the election conspiracy theory, point A would be “every single person that this person knows voted for Donald Trump,” and point B is “Donald Trump lost.” What happened in the middle there?

This is where it gets really interesting. And this is where misinformation can insert itself into this discussion. This is where a lot of people’s Boomer parents on Facebook have decided that coronavirus was caused by Italian space satellites or something that. This is the realm in which people like Alex Jones and before him Bill Cooper used to operate in, and it’s this space in which you can concoct relatively elaborate narratives to explain things that then start to build on each other and start to fuse together.

Let’s take global financial cabal theories, for example, the observable fact is that you don’t have any money. And you’re really desperate, and so is everyone around you. And the conclusion is those people have a lot of money and seem to have a lot of power as a result. How do we get there? And in lieu of trying to understand what the International Monetary Fund does or trying to understand what the World Bank does, or trying to understand even what an organization like the Bilderberg Group, which is a real thing, does. People start to make these assumptions: “This is where all the rich people go, rich people have a lot of power. Therefore, they’re making these decisions that are directly controlling, not impacting, but controlling my life.” There’s no discussion about the nuances of this.

And so we see this emerge all the time. We see this with things like Gladio, we see this with even something like the JFK assassination. Back in the 1950’s and 60’s, the period of time that we’re really talking about, and with Gladio into the 70’s and 80’s, we’re really talking about a period of time in which many records that existed are lost, in which many things aren’t digitized, in which stuff that’s not even classified isn’t able to really be found, because it’s shoved in some file box in some government warehouse somewhere. And it creates this lack of information and this big open space for fiction, for stories, to fill in. Now the stories can start to connect to each other. And this is really where it gets dangerous.

This is really where the all-powerful hand of the CIA conspiracy theory really emerges. We see all these things happening in the world. And depending on your politics, you read those in different ways. In my case, I’m reading these all as various acts of the expansion of the US zone of influence, largely for economic gain, sometimes military intervention as a part of the stabilization of financial circumstances, etc. For tankies, they see this as a CIA plot to suppress the truth of Marxism-Leninism or something that. And so from there, if you don’t have information, you can start to really fill these things in and you can say, “Oh, well, there’s this uprising in Hong Kong. And there’s also this thing that’s going on in Russia, and there’s this uprising in Kazakhstan, and there’s this thing happening in Syria, and they all must be connected because the CIA controls everything.” When we hit that point, we’ve left the realm of the actual narrative. We’ve started to jump and apart from a point of assertion and hyperbole. And this is really the operative point of inflection that I want people who pay attention to conspiracy theories to start to identify for themselves. Where’s that point of inflection? Where’s the point in which we leave something that’s observable and start to enter something which is hyperbolic?

Generally, whenever someone says, “There’s a secret government program, but I know about it” and it does this, you already know, you’ve entered the realm of hyperbole for a very basic philosophical reason. If it’s a secret program, how does some random person know about it? And so when we can start to break things down epistemically like this and ask very basic questions, we can start to see where these logical leaps start to get made. And that’s the point in which we all need to step back and we need to leave Chomsky books and start to actually gather as much information from as many places as we can. Because it’s there. If you don’t have the time to do that, well, there are plenty of people that do and those people often write. It does mean at times overcoming something which I think people on the “left” suffer from just as much as the right-wing does at this point, which is an almost allergic reaction to sources that come from good information. Those sources are often what is referred to as mainstream media sources, or academic institutions.

Now, the arguments — and this falls into the realm of conspiracy theory — the reality is, obviously, every journalist has a perspective, they’re humans, they’ve lived experiences, they understand certain things from the mean words, there’s no such thing as neutral journalism as a result. And so everybody is putting forward a perspective. There’s also a reality that the vast majority of those perspectives are relatively what I would consider to be perspectives that fall within the realm of capitalist liberal democracy, not conservative or liberal, but they all reinforce a capitalist line. This is the world that we live in, this is the world we are going to continue to reform and therefore assume the legitimacy of that world. That’s all easily observable. Where it becomes a conspiracy theory is when people say “All the journalists work together, and they’re not covering XYZ story, or they’re covering XYZ story in this very specific way because they’re trying to achieve XYZ thing.” Now with some media outlets like The Post Millennial, which I would barely call media, that is true, The Gateway Pundit, which is just a conspiracy theory rag at this point, that is also very true. But for something like The New York Times, that’s not necessarily the case.

We need to really start to do a couple of things. The first is, we have to actually find information from people that have access to information. Now, sometimes that’s us, and increasingly, what’s happening is that normal users of the internet are far better at putting information out there than traditional media or academic institutions. And so you can rely on sources on the ground, but generally, resisting the attempt to always have an answer or an explanation is really critical here. Things are confusing. The world is a complicated, confusing place, we’re not always going to know what’s happening. And that is okay to say. I think we have this obsession in American political discourse of always being able to know the answer. But that isn’t necessarily, in most cases, the case. And we always have these very partial understandings. Really, it’s this question of patience and time and trust and being able to trust information. Now, sometimes when you can’t trust information from certain sources, the response is to get it from a variety of sources. These are research skills that I think many of us know, but at times are willing to suspend, especially when it starts to lead to a conclusion that we don’t like. And that’s something we have to be incredibly cautious about.

TFSR: I totally agree, I think that we need to be able to say, “I don’t know, I need to think about this or look more into it.” There’s some crossover there with toxic masculinity, which is culture-wide of just “I need to have an answer, I need to control the situation.”

A little bit of a sidebar here. When I was going to college, I was a part of Project Censored at Sonoma State University. I was never in the class, but I participated in some of the judging ceremonies. I got some funding for them to travel. I was at the beginning stages of the radio project, which got shelved for a while, but they sent us to the DNC in LA to cover it. Yeah, it’s fun, that was my first podcast.

One thing that was interesting and that broke me from Project Censored as a project was that— For listeners that aren’t aware they published a book in 1972, we would get a class in the sociology department of Sonoma State University together and they would have the students read through a bunch of different stories and just constantly be reading newspapers and magazines, print media, “legacy media,” as they call it, to pick out stories that that they’re not finding in the mainstream sources, but they were finding in the smaller sources, do some research on them, find out about the authors of them, find out about what moneyed interests are involved in that specific thing that might be critically covered, and then look at connections to mainstream publishing outlets, and those moneyed interests because— As working off of Chomsky’s idea of Manufacturing Consent, and that there’s a concentration of media ownership, and also David Barsamian and other media theorists talking about how, as media is concentrating, as there’s less voices out there, and the voices are also being influenced by the investors that own the newspapers, or whatever publishing house magazine. So, if you are getting funding from General Electric, you’re going to put pressure on your editorial boards maybe to not report stuff about arm sales, or Westinghouse, or any of these companies, since they’re so intertwined. Mapping the corporate networks and saying, “If one of our subsidiary newspapers reports on this thing, that is a giant arms sale to Turkey, or whatever, and Turkey is getting these weapons from Boeing, and Boeing is owned by this company, which also owns our newspaper, maybe have the editors suppress that story, or have it written in a way that’s not going to piss off their funding source.” I think that was an approach towards the idea that journalists may have a bias or there may be bias in the way that a journalist published, which I think makes some sense.

However, as a sidebar to the sidebar, also, the editor when I was working with a Project Censored did his doctoral thesis on Bohemian Grove, which is based in Sonoma County. Then after 9/11 happened, when I was in college and working with the project, they started going Left-Truther. And I was like “Well, maybe I don’t know.” I started reading responses by other people who were a little better-grounded in conspiracy thinking and thinking, “Actually, what you all are doing is a lot of promoting disinformation, you need to stop doing it.” That’s when I started moving away from Project Censored. I don’t know where they’re at right now. But that’s when looking at the biases in the publishing patterns, not necessarily the editorial patterns, not necessarily in the journalist patterns, jumps the shark. But I think that there is some worth in looking at what is the nature of the institution that’s publishing a thing and what biases— As you said, when I read something in The New York Times, I’m not expecting to hear — and I am sometimes surprised — an article about an anti-capitalist alternative to the poverty or a banking crisis that’s occurred in this one place that people are promoting. But it happens,

Tom: Yeah, rather than on a Chomskian level, we have to think about it more of a Foucaultian level. Manufacturing Consent is one of those books — and I feel this way about a lot of Chomsky’s work — that gets so close to heading in the right direction, and then veers into this world that’s very informed by late 60’s, early 70’s radicalism. In reality, we’re looking at structuring of what counts as knowledge, rather than the nuanced management of the individual things that are said.

Again, let’s think about this. And I want to bring forward a mathematical formula, I forget exactly what it is. But someone in the 70’s concocted this, I think, but essentially, what they said is that every single time you multiply the number of people involved in a conspiracy, you exponentially increase the chance that it gets revealed. The example I always use when talking about this is this example that a lot of former FBI people that have been interviewed for 9/11 documentaries I have talked about, but apparently it was 2002, the US government got their hands on the satellite phone number for Osama Bin Laden, meaning they could track his movements, which for the US military is probably a relatively important thing in 2002. And that information was held by an incredibly small group of people. Under a hundred people knew that information. It might be the single most important piece of intelligence data they had at the time. It took less than a day for the media to find out a report on it, less than a day for potentially the single most important intelligence secret that the US had at that point. If we were talking really about a world, which I think a lot of people on the left imagine, where there’s some evil guy in a suit stroking a cat on a black leather chair, calling up journalist going, “You should report this way. Go report this way. Don’t report this.” It’s not just people on the left, people on the right-wing feel this way about the media, too. Not only is that spectacularly work-intensive to the point of being impractical, especially with online media. But it also is one of these structures, which, with almost absolute certainty, people would be talking about on some level or another, especially now on the internet, just mathematically, that would be true.

So what we’re looking at is something a bit more insidious in this case. It’s not even that individual messages are being controlled, or stories are being censored or something that. It is more about the social construction of what counts is important and what counts is valid. Oftentimes — and this has changed in the last 3-4 years, I would say, and around where I’m at, it’s been a little bit longer than that — but in the past, journalists used to say things like “Well, if you don’t give me your name, then I can’t consider this a legitimate source.” Well, why? And I’ve asked journalists why and they’re like “Well, if you’re not willing to put your name to it, then I’m just going to assume that you’re lying,” which is a really silly understanding. But it is really tied to this notion of individuality in a capitalist liberal democratic sense and the exchange of information. And that normativity got carried over into that journalistic norm. We see this with any number of things as far as what’s considered to be “realistic”. How many times have journalists said, “A profound change in society is probably really important, but it’s not realistic. So let’s focus on reform.” That’s not because some editors sitting there going “Well, we’re gonna focus on reformism”. It is that the editor hired reformists because reformists are considered legitimate. These kinds of things, we can read through these that what’s happening here is we’re getting a portrayal of information in a specific way.

And we are able to reinterpret information, we do it all the time. In fact, I would say everyone does it constantly. But as radicals, very obviously we have chosen to do this as something that we do. We have chosen to reinterpret the things we were taught as children, we have chosen to look at the world really critically. And with that, comes a healthy dose of skepticism. And there should always be a healthy dose of skepticism. But there’s a difference between that and what I would argue is the Chomskian Claim and this Chomskian Claim carries through into other forms of inherent mistrust, in which, for example, on January 6, this happened consistently. Now, I’m sitting there watching what’s going on on January 6, and I’m saying, “Okay, well, very obviously, they underestimated how serious people were. Because it’s not they didn’t see the threats online, they were all over the place.” Anyone that was paying attention to literally any anti-fascist Twitter account at any point leading up to January 6, was seeing screenshots from Parlor of people saying things like “They are gonna storm the Capitol.” I’d been talking to people about it for weeks before that, it was really obvious it was happening. There was very clearly a sense in which that risk, that threat was underestimated, that definitely impact coverage patterns in the Capitol complex that day. But then, when it became really clear, that the police were about to get overwhelmed, they fell back and retreated back into what, as someone who’s who studied DC police tactics a lot, is a really normal pattern, which was fall back and cover points of interest, evacuate important people, and then amasse force and move decisively, which is what they did. And they did that at about 5:45 pm. 15 minutes for the curfew went to place. All of that is explainable. You can sit there and you can say, “Okay, we can see data that explains this thing, see data that explains this thing.” And you can follow the data points all the way through that explanation.

Now, what is the narrative that we got from a lot of people? “The police intentionally let people into the Capitol, because someone saw a couple of pictures of some cop shaking people’s hands. So of course, every single cop just gave up and let all these people into the Capitol. That this was part of a conspiracy by the DC police. That it was intentional, that it happened that way. And that the justification for that is that they dealt with protests really differently in the summertime.” Ok, so we can look at all the data that we have from January 6. And we can see individually when decisions were made, how they were made, what the factors were. All of that’s been documented, all that’s been released. People have talked about that. All of the different explanations corroborate each other. There’s one single outlier, which is the Pentagon report from that day. All the other sources corroborate each other. None of those sources talk about how the DC police intentionally tried to help a coup attempt. All of those sources talk about exactly the narrative that I’m talking about from that day. We can see similar things from the J20 protests. During the J20 protests during Trump’s inauguration, I kept hearing from my parents, friends who were reading on Facebook that every single person that got arrested during Trump’s inauguration was a secret white supremacist or an FBI agent trying to make the #Resistance look bad.

TFSR: Fact.

Tom: Fact, absolute fact. Alex Jones was running around the G20 in Pittsburgh yelling about how we were all feds as we were getting tear-gassed by the National Guard. Basically observable things.

We can follow narratives point by point from different data points and concoct an understanding. Where we start to fall off the realm of believability is often when we start to try and impart motives to other people. And this is a really common failure in human discourse, where we sit there and we go, “Okay, this happened. Therefore, the secret motivation of this person that I don’t know, is this other thing.” That is almost always where we run into trouble. That is where we leave observability. We can see these things play out in things like Gladio, we can see these things on the right-wing: January 6 is an FBI op, or it was done by us, or something. For some reason, we all dressed up Trumps supporters or something. Not really quite sure how that theory tracks. But all of this, all of these conspiracy theories start to add up to one thing.

And this is really the important part. They all wrap back around to the conclusion that we started with, and this is the ultimate point to really guard yourselves from, for everyone to be aware of. As the narrative progresses, we’ll see the logical leap occur. And if you’re really attentive, you’ll start to see where that happens. You take UFO conspiracy theories and the difference between early UFO conspiracy theorists and Bill Cooper. For people that don’t know, Bill Cooper wrote a book called Behold a Pale Horse. It’s probably the Penn ultimate contemporary conspiracy book. It’s the reason we have Alex Jones. Bill Cooper is the precursor to that. And he was the first person to start to say, it wasn’t just about the government hiding the fact that UFOs exist. It’s not just that they took the UFO from Roswell and they’re hiding it at area 51. It is that in reality, there’s a secret global cabal that is working with the aliens, and they’re taking this technology, and in exchange for that, they’re giving them human children to experiment with. And he concocts this whole narrative about it. Now, of course, as time goes on, “leakers” start to show up, which corroborate parts of that, retroactively. When they don’t corroborate parts of it, he changes his narrative. And so one of the things that are really unique about conspiracy theories, as opposed to other types of narratives, is the way that they will shift and change sometimes in contradictory ways to maintain their narrative arc.

I was trained in philosophy formally. And one of the things that you learn in that process is that if you have to engage in mental gymnastics, to maintain your conclusion, it’s probably because your conclusion is wrong. If you have to start to concoct alternate explanations, you have to start to leave the realm of observability or believability, if you have to start to posit things as articles of faith, you’ve already drifted away from anything that could be considered to be properly an argument for a conclusion, you’ve started to drift into fantasy.

TFSR: It makes sense at this point to just throw in the term ‘syncretism’. Just see what reaction that gets. That’s what the use of holding multiple contradictory ideas within your head at one time, within your belief structure and being able to still move forward and make a story that unites these things is considered one of the prime elements of fascism, according to certain definitions. This is not to say that everything that’s bad is fascism or that fascism is everything that’s bad or whatever.

Tom: Yeah, I think the thing that becomes really important about conspiracy theories, though, is why? I touched on this a bit, but the “why” is actually really critical for us as radicals to start to understand. Because the “why” indicates something really critical for us. Conspiracy theories arise from situations of uncertainty, necessarily. We saw huge explosions of conspiracy theories around the advent of the printing press, for example. A lot of the wars between Protestants and Catholics happened during that period of tim were being driven by conspiracy theories, were being driven by this idea that “XYZ faction was going to come steal your children and forcibly convert them and blah, blah, blah.” The stories that were told, that carried down in written text in that period of time, sound eerily very similar. They start with these vast changes and these kinds of uncertainties, and then they piggyback off of a sense of threat or disempowerment. It’s not that we have conspiracy theories right now, because everyone in America feels super politically empowered and stuff that. No, it’s that conspiracy theories arise in situations in which people can no longer explain why they feel like their lives are out of control.

We can take a really common example of a really absurd contradiction that arises in the situation. If we talk about white nationalists or white supremacists in general. White supremacy is based on this notion that there is a singular thing called the White Race, which is for some reason superior to everybody. Yet, at the same time, they’re horribly oppressed by everybody else, even though they’re the strongest, most powerful people. It makes no sense. It is an entirely illogical narrative. Yet, it carries forward. We have this notion of confusion, we have this notion of dispossession, which exists. I’m not saying that dispossession is always justified, that feeling of dispossession, but that is part of this, it is a feeling of dispossession. And the lack of information. When we combine those three things together, we get conditions that are absolutely perfect, for lack of a better term for charlatanism. For people who can “fill the gaps in”.

I know a lot of anarchists, most of us don’t do religion for a lot of reasons. And for a lot of us, it has to do with the authoritarianism of the entire concept of religion and the certain notion of this interface of the divine and how that distorts concepts of knowledge. But what is happening here, except that as well? If we take tankies, for example, it no longer is a question of what information they’re getting and repeating. It is purely a question of the source of the information at that point. If the source of the information is Sputnik, then it’s good. If the source of the information is some anarchist blog that disagrees with them, then it’s bad. For Trump supporters, if the source is CNN, then it’s bad. If the source is Fox, it might be okay. If the source is OAN, then you know it is right. What that does, though, is at the tail end of the conspiracy narrative, we go from confusion to threat. The threat really constructs this notion that there is an easy-to-identify singular adversary that’s trying to destroy you, as part of this bigger group. And that then leads to this attachment. Sometimes that attachment is a to the concept of the nation. Sometimes that attachment is to a concept of race. Sometimes it’s to a group of people, like in cults, for example. Or the religious right in the United States, for example. It’s held together entirely by the idea that every single person that is not an evangelical Christian, is some horrible heathen satanist who’s trying to destroy the world. It’s not just that those people disagree with you. It’s that they are conspiring to destroy you.

And this is where conspiracy theories stop being just epistemically damaging and start becoming genocidal. It is when we start to enter this phase in which the threats and the solidarity that threat produces ends up constructing this conflict, in which the only possibility is eliminationism. That’s what we’re seeing with the American right-wing right now. We’re seeing that narrative rising. That’s what we saw in a place like Rwanda, or in a place like Bosnia, it was a similar narrative arising. In Nazi Germany, you had a narrative this arise, in Italy, it was slightly different. But there were still a number of conspiracies that were constructed in order to justify this uniting of a mythological Italian nation, that was the core epicenter of Mussolini’s politics, the building of Italy as a unitary object. And so we run into these situations in which we take something like Gladio. Conspiracy theories about something like Gladio really distort our ability to analyze intelligence operations for what they are. To use a really practical example of that damage, we can take the Snowden leaks. The Snowden leaks were complicated for people that aren’t technical. They were very complicated for people that were technical. I can tell you that for a fact, as a technical person that does computer stuff — the Snowden leaks are complicated. The things that were happening, the things that were talked about, were complicated, but the documents were right there. What we get from those documents is a picture of the National Security Agency, which is trying to build “total information awareness” — being the term that they use, to use the term that General Michael Hayden used to use — and that they were being completely overwhelmed by the amount of data that they were picking up. That there was no way for them to analyze the amount of data that they have. In reality, what they were doing is they were writing all these filtering algorithms to filter the information based on known variables, making it impossible for them to identify unknown variables or to look at patterns that might indicate an anomaly. Because they could only filter based on known things. That’s what we really get from the Snowden leaks. We actually get a picture of the NSA as an institution that aspires to be powerful, but it’s actually really overwhelmed. But that’s not the story we got from Snowden.

TFSR: Literally biting off more than it could chew.

Tom: Right! The story we get though is the NSA is inside your phone, stealing all your contacts and your bank details. And none of us should use technology. The amount of people I know that just cut themselves off from politics as a result of the Snowden leaks is almost immeasurable. People got really freaked out. And a lot of that getting freaked out was the result of not really understanding fully what was happening, being really scared of it, justifiably, and then going online and finding sources that confirmed that fear. As opposed to gathering information, listening to cryptographers that were writing articles at the time, listening to information security people that were writing articles at the time, that were talking about how this wasn’t the sky-is-falling situation, and really, this information is good. Instead of being able to use all of that to build better operational security, what happened for a lot of people is that it became a source of paranoia, as opposed to a source of justifiable and productive fear.

We see this a lot in the 1970’s in left-wing politics, where political positions that people took became really reductionist and simplistic and able to be boiled down into slogans. And as a result of that simplicity, we’re watching the fallout from that today. If we look at organizations that started in the 70’s, that were meant to be these radical groups and have instead become reactionary nonprofits. Or where I live, there’s a neighborhood where all the SDS people move, and they moved there to start the new world in the early 70’s and instead, it’s the most gentrified neighborhood in the city. All of that was a result of the fact that they didn’t develop an analysis, which was complex. Instead, they were willing to fall into and fall back on really simplistic understandings, such as “everything the US government does in foreign policy is the CIA plot,” or “every single thing that the Soviet Union or China or Cuba, depending on what faction you were a part of, did was inherently justifiable and all bad information about that was a CIA plot.” Those narratives still absolutely infest a lot of what we do and have led to a period of time in the last 10 or 15 years where we have really had to build an understanding of what is happening in the world.

Then, when we just leave that realm of imprecision, of course, the other side effect becomes this sense of always engaging with things in a position of extreme vulnerability. Those conspiracy theories are all grouped around an idea that in reality, we’re very powerless in our lives, that when we’re engaging in something when we’re engaging in politics, we’re almost doing that from a point of futility. That this all-powerful group of people, depending on the conspiracy theory, really are the people that are running the show. And they’re able to really control the minds and actions of millions. And so really, any resistance you put forward is this futile effort that you’re only doing to bring forward the truth.

You hear this from Alex Jones people all the time. But you also hear this on left all the time. The anti-war movement was full of people like that who were coming to marches going, “Yeah, I don’t know if anything’s gonna change, but I’m going to sacrifice myself for the Truth.” And they’d have these T-shirts about how whatever thing they thought was right was some absurd thing from some weird right-wing blog that they picked up that was pretending to be anti-war. These understandings can be combated, though. And that is actually a really important task for us, not just when we’re talking about the right-wing. We have to combat that thinking in our own circles as well. And it’s really important to check people on stuff like this because it can do a lot of damage.

TFSR: There’s a fundamental difficulty with the mindset that says if I speak truth to power, I will change power. That misunderstands power and our relationship to it. As someone who participated in the anti-war movement in the 2000’s, I remember hitting that wall of “Okay, cool, there are millions of us in the streets. Oh, it’s happening around the world. Oh, this is great. They can’t possibly— Oh my gosh, they’re bombing. Okay.” They didn’t care. I wonder why.

Tom: Literally four days after the biggest marches ever happened?

TFSR: Yeah. Because literally, when we were in the streets on the day when the bombing was scheduled to start, it just continued. I think that there’s one thing that people— And this is a way that the education that we’ve gotten — not just by the institution that has incorporated and swallowed up movements of resistance into itself and made it a part of its own narrative, but also the way that the remnants of those movements have explained how they succeed and how they want and how they “stopped the war in Vietnam” and whatever else — there is a concession from power based on the righteousness of the cause, as opposed to “No, it’s because they are actually afraid that you are going to hurt them or take them out of power.” The reason that you march and are a crew of people that show up in a place is not because you have righteousness’s numbers, it’s because you can do more damage in those numbers.

I want to touch on a couple of things really quickly. I brought up Gladio and we’ve talked about US intervention internationally to support the far-right, usually and almost always in these instances to stabilize the economy for the extraction or to support some other proxy force that’ll be a bulwark against the spread of Bolshevism, whatever around the world. As you said, there is truth to that thing, but it’s more complex than that. And oftentimes saying that it’s all is CIA takes away the agency of the people that were involved in the complicated reasons for their involvement. But also, I mentioned COINTELPRO earlier, and the US does have a series of examples of domestic intervention by law enforcement and federal intelligence into social movements, in some cases to infiltrate & undermine leftist and social justice organizing, anti-racist organizing, labor organizing, and also in a lot of cases, there has been a lot of infiltration of the far-right that’s occurred in the US, there have been strings of Nazis or militia that have been taken down oftentimes because they were plotting something and it could be provable. Maybe sometimes it was an instance where the government threw the idea out to them and to Cleveland 4 or the NATO 3 case instance, where, in those two instances, anarchists were talked into and propelled. Or the Eric McDavid case where folks were propelled into this position where they say a thing and then it gets used against them. That was used against tons of Muslims in the US, during the whole war-on-terror era. But it’s also been notably used against the far-right in some instances.

And the far-right has also been instrumentalized, such as the second and third KKK might argue the first KKK because it was attached to the southern power structure, which eventually, the federal government ceded back to the white power structure in the South after the Reconstruction failed. But the second and third Clans had FBI involvement and also infiltration and were allowed, in certain instances, to do the things that were wanted to be done. More recently, just on a police level, police in Kenosha dealing friendly with the militia that had come there to counter Black Lives Matter protests, or the Greensboro Massacre, there were cops that knew what was happening and allowed for that motorcade to go and kill all those communist organizers. Or more recently, the Proud Boys leadership, Enrique Tarrio being known to be an FBI informant and somehow getting himself arrested right before J6. On the right, there’s been this claim that Patriot Friont, for instance, is a government op, which I think-

Tom: I really want to encourage people on the right-wing to think that. Please do.

TFSR: I think it is important to note that they are often the dupes of power. Also, for some people, that’s interesting who do— Not seeing that necessarily, they’ll say “Okay, well, how are these people with Blue Lives Matter flags stabbing their flag poles at cops on January 6, or how does Siege or James Mason talk about the system and attacking police and government agents when there’s this shamanistic up-swell for law enforcement, for military, for this masculinist position of force of white supremacy that is the US?” Can you talk just briefly about how those two things can exist simultaneously? And are they existing simultaneously in the same person? Or is it more nuanced?

Tom: Yeah, I think there’s really a number of factors and a number of different factions end up resulting from this that makes sense to break down.

First, there is a distinction to be drawn between a group like the Proud Boys and a group like the Atomwaffen Division. They come from the same roots, if we draw it back to the history of American colonialism, but in a more contemporary sense, they derived from slightly different roots. A group like the Atomwaffen Division does view itself as a revolutionary organization. They’re not necessarily pro-America, they view the American state as degenerate. The precursors to groups that are people James Mason, but also groups the Order, the Aryan Nation falls into this category, the National Alliance. People like Tom Metzker, White Aryan Resistance, those kinds of groups, a lot of the skinhead movement in the 80s and 90s was in this realm, and they didn’t view themselves as good Americans, they viewed themselves as fighters for the White Race. These are the people that showed up at Ruby Ridge, these are white separatists. White separatism is a distinct tendency within the broader White Power movement, where their goal is to start a separate nation, it is not necessarily to exalt or affirm America, it is to leave America. And in the case of William Pearce, to destroy America. The Oklahoma City bombing is a wonderful example of that mentality, where Timothy McVeigh goes and blows up a federal building in the service of the White Race or whatever he was considered himself doing.

Then you have groups the Proud Boys. The Proud Boys come from slightly different roots. And those roots are very similar to the Minutemen who were an anti-communist pro-America militia in the 1960s, their roots come from things like the mass resistance campaigns organized by Southern governors against desegregation, their roots come from groups like the KKK, as opposed to where a lot of their actual cultural norms come from — from the skinhead movement. But their political norms come from this hyperpatriotic tendency within American politics, which views the American states and America as different things. You see some manifestation of that in really extreme versions of Sovereign Citizen Movements, where they have this whole narrative about how in the 1870s, America became a corporation, and no longer was a republic, and there’s only been 12 presidents or something. And they have to return back to the Republic because the Republic was the real America.

There are all of these narratives that exist about a real America. They derive from a common root, which actually is American Founding Documents, and the philosophical foundation for American political thought, which was Aristotelian, largely it’s Greek and Roman, classicalist, neo-classicalist thought. They were proclaiming in the Declaration of Independence, that they have identified these inherent parts of human existence, they call them inalienable rights, and that these are the things which literally typify the totality of what it means to be human and exist in the world, and that America is this utopian manifestation of those ideas. I think that sounds ridiculous to think about today. Especially probably most of the people listening to this show, most of the people that probably have read anything I’ve ever written, probably don’t see America as a shining and glowing utopia city on the hill, and see it as a collapsing wasteland. But that’s not how the people who wrote the Founding Documents thought about things. They thought about this as a very utopian project and there was a certain thread of utopianism that ran through the American Revolution.

It constructs this political ideal, which is not considered— In the Soviet Union, there was this political ideal, but it was something in the future, that in Leninism, they were going to reconstruct humanity, they called it the new man, and use state repression to do that as a way to prepare people for this coming End of History. Or with the Jacobins. There was this idea that they understood virtue. And what they have to do is slowly but surely destroy the unvirtuous in order to enter a virtuous world. Those are projects that had progression. Those are projects that were unfulfilled.The American political project is a project that is thought of as a fulfilled political project. There is no more development to happen. We saw this narrative arise after the Cold War. This is the end of history. We see this narrative pop up in presidential States of the Union, where they talk about America as a “shining city on the hill.” All of those are callbacks to these utopian ideas.

When we see a group of people beating cops with Blue Lives Matter flags in front of the Capitol while chanting “USA” and wearing Trump stuff, what’s happening there is actually a very uniquely American thing. And this is really the power of Trumpism. For Trump supporters, that distinction between the American States and the real America closed completely when Donald Trump was president. I know that that sounds ridiculous. It sounds completely absurd. But that is how Trump supporters talk about it — that for the first time in their eyes, the real America was able to manifest it. Once we start to see that, a lot of other things about what happened in 2020 and early 2021 can fall into place. For example, the Justice Department was calling militias out into the streets. Literally. They were giving this tacit approval for vigilantes to intervene in the uprising. And we’re willing to provide rhetorical cover for that, to the point where Trump was openly advocating for it from the White House. We would think that that would be ridiculous. And on a strategic level, on a level of military strategy, it is ridiculous, it created a lot of problems when these people started showing up. It created a lot more problems than it contained. And in a lot of places in the US, there were cops shaking hands with these guys, a lot of them were also being “Yo, get out of the way.” Because they were creating disruption. But that wasn’t what was at issue. What was at issue was that all of these vigilantes had built up this idea that they were going to go out and defend the real America in the streets from the communists, and then the state called them forward to do so. That moment in which that’s happening becomes really fascinating on the level of statecraft.

To get back to the Carl Schmitt definition of the state, the state is nothing but an entity that can impose sovereignty, or the way he puts it, can make decisions. When he says make decisions, that doesn’t mean a bunch of people sitting in a room going, “Oh, I decided on something”, that means a bunch of people sitting in a room saying they decided on something, but then having the force of arms to force that decision as a condition of possibility of everyday life for others. It inherently constructs this political unity through militaristic police occupation. And that is fundamentally the state. You would say, “Well, if that’s the case, then telling vigilantes to go out into the streets is ridiculous.” Liberals would say, calling the police to go out into the streets is authoritarian. But once we start to understand the state is nothing but logistics to impose sovereignty, those things stop mattering. On the one hand, we have this liberal argument that this is anti-democratic. Well, yeah, it is. And that’s always inherently true. Then when we see these vigilantes coming out into the streets, they see themselves as defending the Real America, and that Real America is this structure of sovereignty.

We have this weird idea in the US, in which political autonomy and law are the same thing. It’s a really strange concept. It’s entirely unique to American political thought, really weird. But people really do attach this notion of the American state, in some form or another, to their idea of freedom. And so they don’t see themselves as vigilantes necessarily, they see themselves as auxiliary police more or less. Their job is to defend the real America from the communists. And sometimes that means attacking the government because the government is acting against the Real America. You saw this narrative under Bill Clinton, you saw it under Obama, you definitely saw it around Joe Biden. Joe Biden’s not an aging, crusty old man, Joe Biden is a secret representative of Chinese communism, in their minds. They’re going out to defend this Real America.

From the perspective of the states, generally, normally, in most circumstances, the state would say, “Hey, you probably shouldn’t do that.” And in most circumstances, has really on some level or another at least created buffer zones between Oath Keeper groups and people trying to show up to oppose Nazis or something that. This happened in Pikeville and a number of other places where they were cops were keeping the Oath Keepers contained. But when the ability of the state to contain crisis breaks down, as we saw in 2020, all of a sudden, all of the political norms that typify that state fall away. And this is a really important part. This is why liberals misunderstand what the state is. Liberals assume that all of these political norms we have in the United States, in which the state limits its own power, somehow function. They never function. But there’s this idea that they somehow do. The Trump administration was a wonderful exercise in watching people come to terms with the fact that just because people had always done something some way doesn’t mean that people have to continue doing things that way. And whenever Trump didn’t have some political norm, he just wouldn’t do it. And it made a lot of them fall apart. But during the uprising, the rest of them also fell apart. And it revealed the State really, for what it was — that they were willing to call vigilantes out to the degree that those vigilantes saw themselves, as in that moment defending the state. Because, again, they saw the State and the Real America as a singular entity at that point. They were defending the State. This was a mentality that really built up after September 11, when people were called forward to “if you see something, say something,” and literally, the government deputized everybody as an intelligence agent, which really constructed this military culture of the civilian defender, the civilian soldier. That’s the idea that we really saw entering into the streets.

If you notice, on January 6, there were not a lot of say, Atomwaffen Division people arrested, you didn’t see a lot of people from The Base get arrested. But you did see a lot of Proud Boys, you did see a lot of Oath Keepers get arrested. And that’s where we can really see where some of those distinctions exist. I don’t say that there weren’t any Atomwaffen people or any people from the Base there, any people from any of the accelerationist groups. They absolutely were, but they definitely were not as numerous as other organizations compared to their size. And you definitely did not see a lot of old, Aryan Nation, Hammerskin types, National Alliance types of January 6, either. Because what was happening on January 6, for a whole faction of the people that were there, was that they were going in to defend America from its enemies that are internal, and that they were getting called forward from a State which had suspended political norms in order to preserve its sovereignty, as all states will do. When the state provides a limitation to itself, it is merely just a facade, it’s a veneer, it can go away at a point in which the further existence of the state is at risk. Those norms can go away. And they did in the United States.

We lived in a post-democratic moment for the entire fall of 2020 into the beginning of 2021. That was not a normal situation in America. And so when vigilantes are getting called out, they’re getting called out as civilian soldiers. When they were attacking the police on January 6, we can hear it in the audio. If you actually watch the bodycam footage that’s been released, you can hear in the audio, people telling cops, “Obey your oath, let us in, drop your batons, join us.” They were very convinced that what the police were doing was against their constitutional duties, and that what they were doing by storming into the Capitol was in support of this Real America, which was embodied in Donald Trump. That really seeds the ground for conspiracy theories to become really damaging. And we’re seeing this now, on the right-wing, they’re starting to talk about secessionism. There’s definitely more of a push into this discussion of military dictatorship, which was something that really started in QAnon, but has generalized outside of that. There are many conservatives in the United States that are perfectly comfortable with authoritarianism at this point. And all of that is the result of this grand conspiracy. And the grand conspiracy is something that was not constructed by Trump, but it was actually constructed by Newt Gingrich, of all people, during the Clinton administration.

We watched a number of things. First, a very clear definition of the real America according to conservatives. We saw this in the form of Ronald Reagan first, but also the religious right, and there was this idea that they were ordained by God to have America function as a Christian nation, we’ve all heard this language, and that everybody else was agents of Satan trying to destroy them. Now we move up through September 11th, when it was all about the secret internal enemy, which at the time was defined through an Islamophobic lens, but it was a secret internal enemy that could be anywhere. Not only was there this enemy that was trying to existentially destroy you, but now they were hidden and secret and everywhere, and it was people’s job to identify who that enemy was, and to tell the government who that enemy was. As time went on, we enter into the anti-war movement, that idea of the internal enemy expanded. Now it wasn’t just Muslims, but there are also anti-war activists who are trying to stop America from fighting terrorism. You move forward into the Obama administration, and that takes on this very specifically racialized component. You start to move up through the Tea Party, you start to move into the beginning of the Trump administration. And you can start to see how this idea of who the enemy is to these vigilante forces changes. It now encompasses every single person that is outside of their very specific social sphere, which is something that is fertile ground for conspiracy theories.

And so now we’re in a situation in which these people who now view themselves as defending the Real America, view everybody else as a deep existential threat. And the only solution to that is to use the power of the state or to use the power of the militia to eliminate those people. During the National Conservatism Conference past year, there was open talk. Josh Hawley specifically gave a speech. Josh Hawley is a senator from Missouri, for people that aren’t aware of who he is. He gave a speech at the National Conservatism Conference where he was saying, “All of these people outside of conservativism are trying to destroy America. And so we need to take power.” And then as he put it, “not be hesitant to use the power of the state to destroy our opponents.” That is open fascism. All of that is built off of this idea of this conspiracy against the real America. And it was that same notion that led many of the people into the Capitol on January 6, including people from QAnon, because QAnon is also entirely grounded in this idea that there’s a real America, and then a satanic cabal of pedophiles that run the world that’s destroying the real America. And that Michael Flynn taking power in a military dictatorship is supposed to fix that or something. That’s really the whole mythology here. We can start to see how a lot of these ideas of existential threat, these notions of social and political reductionism, and these logical leaps can really create these situations, which, like January 6, feel like they’re the result of political distortions, but in reality, are the product of a completely parallel political reality that is built up within this world, in this stew of conspiracy theory that’s been slowly building on the right-wing ever since the end of the Second World War.

TFSR: Well, on that very depressing note… *laughs*

Tom: Always end on a high note! *laughs*

TFSR: I think this is very succinctly put in and then if you throw in the narrative, I didn’t hear the Minutemen and the anti-immigrant push nationwide, thoroughly in 2005-2006. But that brings us to where we are today and the Great Replacement that’s going on.

Tom, thank you so much for breaking down these ideas and having this discussion. Were there any last things you want to touch on?

Tom: Yeah, I think the other thing that conspiracy mindsets breed is internal mistrust and paranoia. As you brought up, and I’ve lived through this plenty of times, but it’s not there haven’t been infiltrators, there absolutely have been, there’s been many of them. Most of them aren’t very good, but they’re there. And so it really leads to this problem that we face internally a lot. Which is, I would say twofold.

The first is, obviously there’s this tendency to be really suspicious of people and convinced that people are Feds often for reasons of social or political disagreement. That very obviously, if they don’t take your position, they must definitely be a Fed. I’ve seen this happen a bunch of times, that’s one side of it.

But the second side of it, it prevents us from actually identifying the behavior we have to care about. It reduces this whole idea of our accountability to each other down to whether or not someone is actually an agent of the state. We have seen a number of times in the last five years — I’m not going to call specific crews out for this — crews of newer people acting in ways which are really reckless: posting pictures of guns on Facebook, talking about other trips down to the recent anti-fascist protests, live-streaming themselves, just really silly, basic OPSEC failures. And stuff that really creates this sense of risk and danger that isn’t really necessary and exposes things that don’t need to be exposed. In situations that, I have often been in conversations with people who are like, “Yeah, but I don’t think they’re Feds” and I always answer that the same way, which is “It doesn’t matter.” The reality is that when people do things that compromise our safety and our ability to trust each other, and our ability to act and put us in danger, those are behaviors that have to be dealt with. It doesn’t matter whether that person’s a fed or not. And so what happens in this discourse where we become obsessed with federal infiltration, is we stop focusing on the stuff we should care about.

Every fed that I’ve ever been in proximity to that’s been infiltrating something acts recklessly, all of them do. It’s the way that they wrap people up in the things that can attract them for. They act recklessly, they often go, “Oh, I’m willing to do this, and everyone that’s not willing to do this is just not as militant as me, and blah, blah, blah.” But guess what? People that aren’t feds do that, too. And it’s just as much of a problem when people that aren’t feds do that, too. And so really, the thing that we have to care about is the behavior. Whether or not that person’s a fed is a secondary question. But we need to be focused on behavior, on acting with people that we trust, and actually being able to know what trust means, which is not “I’ve met this person on Facebook.” Trust means “I know this person, I know things about this person, I would do things with this person, I have done things with this person.” That’s what trust is. We need to really get back down to basics, when it comes to things like this. We need to focus on trust, on behavior, we need to get away from the paranoia.

When we’re researching things that are going on around the world, we need to be focused on information, gathering information, being comfortable in saying that we just don’t know, we’re not always going to know. But what we can’t do is engage in this incredibly anxious type of discourse, where we’re rushing to answers or suspicion all the time. And we’re trying to have these really serious definitive answers to everything constantly. It’s not the way that information works. It’s not the way that our perspective on thinking can work. And it’s not productive for us either in intervening in what’s going on in the world, or being able to build the communities that allow us to do that.

Conspiracy theories are incredibly damaging, even if conspiracies do happen. And this is where the distinction that I always put between fear and paranoia exists. Fear is a good thing. We should be afraid. I do information security, trust me, people should be afraid, there are a lot of things to be worried about. Now, all of those things can be located, they can be identified, there can be discussions about how to mitigate those risks, those things can be undertaken in relatively simple, usually, really straightforward, pretty logical ways. And that is a really productive thing to do. We should be afraid of infiltration, we should be aware that that’s possible, we should be really looking for people acting recklessly. But what we can’t do is we can’t assume that every single thing is either good or bad, right or wrong, trustworthy or not just based on its source. We can’t sit there and say “I read this blog, and I like this blog, therefore the thing they say is right.” We can’t sit there and allow confirmation bias to overcome our analysis. And we can’t sit there and allow paranoia to overcome our sense of care. I’ve been doing this for a long time. I’ve watched suspicion and conspiracies destroy whole communities. And we can’t let that happen. So patience and care and detail and focus are really critical, especially right now when the world is complicated and confusing and full of misinformation.

TFSR: Yeah, I think it’s really well put. And just to tack on to— If there is someone that you have a relationship with that is acting recklessly, it’s good to recognize that activity and to say, “Hey, I don’t think that’s a good idea. Hey, y’all, maybe don’t do with that person saying.” Also, chances are this person is not fed. And that’s a good opportunity to have a conversation, especially if you’re older and you’ve been doing things for a while and you’ve seen people, some of the mistakes that people have made or the mistakes that you’ve made, take this as an opportunity to take someone aside, doesn’t have to be a call out, but, “Here’s why I think that what you’re saying is a bad idea. Here’s why I think that the approach of bullying people and saying ‘if you are not willing to do it this way, then you are there for a sellout or something that or not revolutionary enough or whatever.’” I think that it’s a good opportunity for those conversations to happen. And it also models good behavior in our communities where if we trust someone and if we’re invested in someone enough, they can be talked to and challenged on their ideas. That’s a road towards building trust. And it challenges us to step up and be able to communicate our ideas and back them up, too.

Tom: Yeah, this is hard stuff. If this was easy stuff, you would solve all these problems already. And nobody knows the answers right now. And so we have to treat what we’re doing not as a religion with an answer, which, unfortunately, I think, too many anarchists approach what we’re doing in that way. But instead, we need to approach what we’re doing as a journey, as something that we’re trying to discover, as a world that exists, but that we’re trying to really understand and manifest the possibilities of. If we knew the answers to all these things, if there were answers to all these things, those possibilities, that world of autonomy wouldn’t exist, everything would just be dictated by those simplistic truths.

And so not only is that not a narrative that’s productive, but it’s not a narrative we should even hope for. We should really be focused on this idea that what we are doing is fighting and creating space for new things to emerge and really explore what those new things are, while we’re exploring the world that we find ourselves in. Because to be perfectly honest— This is a Neil deGrasse Tyson thing of all people, I forget the way he puts it, but I think he says it along the lines that “the only thing that we know is that we don’t know anything.” And we don’t know anything, we have no actual knowledge of anything. Everything that we’re thinking is just our best speculation. And so the speculations have to be collaborative, we have to learn from each other. We have to get past this idea that we can know everything. And so that level of care and patience is really critical. And I really just want to encourage people out there to read, to not jump to conclusions, to really have good reasons as to why they think about things, and to not obsess about having to have a position on everything.

For example, it doesn’t particularly matter what a number of people here feel about US military intervention in Myanmar. We can be completely against it, but that doesn’t mean they won’t do it anyways. And so if we don’t really understand what’s happening in a place, it is okay to not have a well-formed opinion about it, because we couldn’t possibly at this point.

We need to really reduce the scale of what we assume we’re capable of as people. We can do really amazing things, but only within what we can touch and see. We’re not transcendent beings who can see everything and so we should stop trying to pretend we are.

TFSR: I think that Neil deGrasse Tyson maybe got that from Operation Ivy. “All I know is that I don’t know nothing…”

Tom: Absolutely.

TFSR: Tom, is there a place that people can find any work that you’re working on right now any writings, anything that, or just the links that I am going to provide in the show notes based on what I said earlier, your prior books and such?

Tom: Just links in the show notes? I mean, I’m on kolektiva.social on Mastodon, if people want to find me, I maintain a blog every once in a great while called Into the Abyss, which you can find a link to on my Mastodon page. I just write and post places. So, if you come across stuff and you think it’s interesting, then, by all means, have at it.

TFSR: Cool. Well, thanks a lot for the conversation and all the work that you do. I appreciate you.

Tom: Yeah, appreciate you, too. Thanks for having me!