“Representing Radicals” Lawyers’ Guide from Tilted Scales
Resisting state repression and surveillance is one of the cornerstones of The Final Straw and has been since the beginning of this project. Over the years we’ve featured interviews with support committees, political prisoners, defendants in ongoing cases, incarcerated organizers, radical legal workers and lawyers and others to talk about how power strikes at those who it fears constitute a threat. For those of us caught up in cases, navigating self-defense through the courts, penal system and mainstream media can be treacherous, as we attempt to balance our political and personal goals with our lawyer’s desire to have us do as little time and pay as little money as possible to the courts. Winning in these circumstances can sometimes seem to pit a well-meaning lawyer or legal worker against their own client. Enter the Tilted Scales’ new book, “Representing Radicals.”
This week, you’ll hear Jay from the Tilted Scales Collective talk about this book out from AK Press and the Institute for Anarchist Studies, about anti-repression work, and about this book’s attempt to shift the culture of legal representation by intervening with arguments by radical lawyers, more intimately inviting clients and their supporters into the fray and new frameworks for approaching cases.
The Wrong Side Of The Law by Mick Jones from Mick Jones
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TFSR: Would you please introduce yourself with any names, pronouns, affiliations, or references that would help the listeners orient themselves?
Jay: Sure, my name is Jay, I use they/them pronouns. I’m a part of the Tilted Scales Collection since 2017, and have been involved in anti-repression organizingmore broadly over the last decade or so.
TFSR: Would you talk a bit about Tilted Scales? Who constitutes its membership and what activities it gets up to?
J: Sure, we are a pretty small collective of anarchist legal support workers who have been supporting and fighting for political prisoners, prisoners of war, and politicized prisoners mostly in the so-called United States. Tilted Scales Collective was formed out of the North American Anarchist Black Cross Conference in 2011 and out of the need to build anti-repression infrastructure more broadly, but what folks were noticing was re-inventing of the wheel every time folks in the United States got hit with serious charges. There was a need to pull together or draw in resources and experience to rebuild some infrastructure for providing legal support. So our collective has written two books, the first book is called A Tilted Guide to Being a Defendant, which is published in 2017. And we recently published a follow-up book called Representing Radicals. And that’s what I’m going to be talking about a little bit more today. We also have given training and workshops about anti-repression organizing, as well as participated in numerous committees and legal support efforts over the years.
TFSR: Cool. And for folks who are unfamiliar with anti-repression work, a lot of our listeners have heard various conversations on the show about it, and those who have been with us for a long time may even remember a chat with folks from your collective about the Defendant’s Guide when it came out. But could you talk a little bit about the framework of anti-repression work or any of the cases that your collective has participated in, offered support for?
J: I guess the idea behind anti-repression work and organizing is that repression from the State is an inevitable part of making change, or building the new world or destroying this one, etc. Repression of some kind is going to be inevitable, people are gonna get hit with criminal charges. So anti-repression organizing seeks to, at baseline, do some harm reduction around the negative outcome of criminal charges. But also use the fact that folks, maybe one person or group of individuals, are facing charges as kind of a vehicle for movement organizing or building bonds of solidarity and coming out on the other side stronger. Some examples that I’ve been a part of… I was involved with the organizing around the J20 case back in 2017. I know other folks in the collective have participated as individuals, not necessarily as part of Tilted Scales, but I’ve participated in different legal support efforts for different mass mobilizations throughout the years, the Eric King Support Committee, etc.
TFSR: It makes sense to be coming out of the ABC conference, because, as you say, most of the work that Anarchist Black Cross does and has done historically is to give post-conviction support to people that have already been given a sentence, are already behind bars in a lot of cases. And so it makes sense to do the forward-thinking of how we A) decrease the number of people that are ending up behind bars, B) decrease the amount of time that people are going to be serving if they are going to do any time behind bars? And, like you say, with the mobilization and popular education element… What is better to stop people from interacting with Grand Juries than to have regular discussions where Grand Juries are a part of people’s vernacular? And what people are talking about, and you may not be able to totally demystify them, but at least making people aware makes them readier to be able to… Just like how talking about CopWatch, know-your-rights type education stuff is going to hopefully get ingrained in people’s brains that they can refuse to speak to law enforcement, or they can make those interactions as safe as possible or whatever. I think that’s super helpful.
J: Yeah, and I think that the Defendant’s Guide definitely hits on a lot of that. I know much of the guide talks about the different aspects that are involved in various stages of the criminal legal process, like what happens pretrial, what happens if you take your case to trial, what happens if you plead out, what happens if you are convicted, what are your options for sentencing and how to think about that? That’s one aspect of anti-repression work – that demystifying piece, the other aspect of it is helping the folks who are facing charges and their comrades move through that process while still advancing or moving forward with their political goals at the same time. And sometimes that looks like bringing those politics into the courtroom or into the way that legal support happens around a case. And sometimes it looks like resolving the case as quickly as possible so that folks can get back to the other organizing that they’re doing.
TFSR: The approach that was in the Defendant’s Guide, and which also shows up in Representing Radicals, it’s like a bookmark, a “This is the thing that you should pay attention to”. Obviously, it’s a lot more filled out in the Defendant’s Guide, but a Venn diagram of personal goals, political goals, and legal goals, and setting that out and working through the process of what that looks like for you as a defendant, what do you want to get out of this? What damage can you legally inflict, hopefully, on the process of repression to make it not profitable for them to ever try that again, or at least decrease the amount of damage it’s going to do in the meantime? That’s a really cool model that you present. I like the visuality of it.
J: Yeah, I like that model as well. I’m glad to hear that it reads well in the Defendant’s Guide. I think it’s been really useful in conversation with folks who are facing charges. One thing that our collective does is occasionally have calls with groups of friends or support crews who are coming together, sometimes after a big action (this happened a lot last summer) to help them think through the next steps in terms of navigating the criminal legal process. Thinking about options kind of as containing discrete but overlapping goal areas, or overlapping but discrete areas of impact is, at least for me. and seemingly other people, a useful way of being able to visualize what options exist within the context of the system that is fully designed to make you feel like you have no options or the only option is to be out immediately.
TFSR: That’s really well put.
So as you mentioned in 2017, you published a very timely Tilted Guide to Being a Defendant, just as over 200 people were arrested during the January 20, or J20 inauguration of Donald Trump had started building their legal defenses. The defendants from that case were over 200 people. This is not in a vacuum, obviously, following months of resistance at Standing Rock against the Dakota AccessPipeline in which I believe thousands of people participated. And a lot of people caught charges, although it’s notable that the federal felony charges all fell on indigenous people. You and the AK Press bumped up the publication date in early 2017 and got a lot of copies into J20 and I’m imagining NoDAPL defendants’ hands. I guess it’s always a good time for books defending radicals to come out, which is a depressing thing also. But would you speak about the general goals of this new book Representing Radicals? Who your audience is? Is this primarily aimed at radicals approaching legal work such as yourselves or legal workers who are shifting towards radical approaches at defense? Law professors? Should we be sneaking copies into public defenders’ briefcases?
J: I was not involved with the Tilted Scale Collective back in 2011 when the idea for the Defendant’s Guide was first dreamt up. But as far as I understand it, the idea to write this companion book has always been there. As you said, the Defendant’s Guide is written to anarchists radicals who are facing criminal charges and to their comrades and supporters and close people who might be wondering how to help them through that process. And, by contrast, Representing Radicals is mostly written to the attorneys who are representing them. So we tried to balance throughout the book the fact that some attorneys are going to be already quite sympathetic, maybe share a lot of politics with their radical defendants. For example, people at the People’s Law Office in Chicago or the CLDC or movement lawyers who’ve been devoting decades, their whole career to defending activists, anarchists, radicals, etc, Balancing the fact that there might be some people’s lawyers, but other people’s lawyers may not understand at all where their anarchist, radical clients are coming from, are less familiar with anarchists and radicals and concepts like movement perspective, non-cooperating pleas, etc.
The other audience that we’re hoping might have interest in this book would be law students who are still figuring out who they might represent, or how to bring in some of their ideals about the world into their legal practice. We really wrote this book coming from the idea that it could be something that defendants or a support committee could give to attorneys and say, “Here’s what you need to read to understand how to provide the best representation for me.” Or similarly, for supporters of defendants who are locked up pretrial, just to have a tangible resource that you can send to an attorney and say, “Here’s what you need to read to understand how to provide the best representation for my friend, partner, comrade, etc.”
One thing that in my own experience being a part of different anti-repression groups over the years that I run to is that oftentimes, defendants, as well as their supporters, run up against a variety of tensions, even in trying to communicate with and work alongside the most sympathetic attorneys, just because the role of an attorney is quite different than the role of a defense committee or a group of supporters. So, like our first book, Representing Radicals isn’t intended to necessarily be a protocol, a “how-to guide” telling lawyers how to do their jobs, but rather a guide to help people think through what they might want to achieve when facing charges, and how their attorneys can focus on those legal goals specifically, while still helping their client balance other goal areas. Personal and political, and whatever other goals a defendant and their comrades might have.
TFSR: It makes a lot of sense, something that I’ve seen in terms of conflicts come up between lawyers and radical defendants / their defense committees, or support committees is this ingrained – I think you’ve touched on this – this ingrained training in the US legal system: A) the concept of innocence and guilt is a strange one, B) also the idea that individual culpability, for a process when there’s way more dynamics in that and it leaves out the social context in so many cases, and people are often stymied from actually presenting social context to flesh out what was going on. I think that that process of thinking through… Like no incident is going to be exactly the same as the next… But like teasing the lawyer who’s reading it into, instead of just advocating or speaking on behalf of their defendant, to get them the best deal, which might include some sort of plea deal where they’re asked to name other people or whatever to get their charge down. If the lawyer’s thought is “My goal is to get my person as little time as possible and to end this in a timely manner”, especially if I’m a public defender and have like a stack of people to handle. And the challenges that the book poses and the quotes, also, which I want to get to in a bit, but trying to open up this whole world of conversations to lawyers who may be very good at doing their job in the way that they’ve been trained to do it. This might get them to think about the myriad of other ways of looking at the outcomes of a trial besides just what charges, what fees, whatever this individual defendant has to pay. I think that’s really important.
J: Totally. You really hit the nail on the head. Throughout the book, we talk a lot about what “the best possible representation” could mean to radicals, and oftentimes, the training that lawyers get in law school, really hammers home this idea that they have an ethical obligation and a professional obligation to provide their clients with the best possible representation that they can, which in criminal cases often equates to ensuring that they come out the other side relatively quickly and with minimal legal consequences, usually plea deals that are going to minimize prison time, minimize probation, etc. One of the shifts that we try to make in the book, a bit of a paradigm shift, is to help lawyers understand that, as anarchists and radicals who are thinking about facing criminal charges from a movement perspective, we’re gonna want outcomes from a legal case that are aligned with our political goals and principles, even if it comes up at personal expense, or even if that means unsuccessful legal outcomes or negative legal outcome. Also helping lawyers see that those outcomes in cases are in line with lawyers’ ethical obligation to their clients, so as long as their clients fully consent to the terms and have an active role in shaping what their legal defense looks like.
One thing that the book does hopefully pretty well is it includes not just our own perspectives, as of folks who’ve got quite a bit of experience doing legal support work over the years, but also includes the voices of a lot of movement attorneys, who’ve been doing movement lawyering for decades, who really restate that point over and over again… That actually it’s your clients and your client’s supporters and the projects and movements that they’re a part of that really should be driving the bus, and that the lawyer’s job is to listen to their clients and help them meet their legal goals, while still balancing their other priorities.
TFSR: The whole experience of going to court is a terrible thing. It’s meant to be alienating and terrifying and make you bow before the majesty of the representation of legal power and the sovereignty of the State to ruin your life. All that like standing and sitting and all the weird churchy stuff, leftover from the time of kings and queens. It feels really important to find this space to intercede and say, “Hey, you’re supposed to be this person’s… you got their back. So let’s talk about how do you understand what they’re saying?”
Also, I really appreciate the glossary that you provide, and some of the key concepts that you’re trying to introduce or shore up in the legal work. Could you talk a little bit about the glossary and what you put in there and what you’re hoping to achieve?
J: We decided to make the glossary pretty early on in outlining the book. And our decision to do so was partly to include terminology that, unfortunately, may not be familiar to every person who might be reading our books, like different identity terms are included in the glossary. And also, we wanted to break down what we meant by anarchist and other radical tendencies. We wanted to be clear about that. But we also use the glossary to explain a little bit these broader concepts: movement lawyering, collective perspective, politicized prisoners, prisoners of war. In the anarchist subculture, it might be unnecessary to define a glossary, but when communicating with a lawyer who doesn’t have experience working with anarchists, radicals, that particular population, it might be a new territory, very unfamiliar.
TFSR: There are also the quotes that you mentioned, which are interspersed throughout. You mentioned already a few, the People’s Law Office in Chicago and the CLDC. Can you speak to what the hope was by including direct quotes from people who do legal work as professionals and who work in movement and the idea of movement lawyering?
J: I know that we wanted to include the voices of movement lawyers primarily because we have experience doing certain kinds of anti-repression and legal support work, but none of us are lawyers, and so we felt as though there are some things that lawyers would just be more knowledgeable about and to speak to with more experience. We also thought that by including the voices of many attorneys who are movement attorneys and represent radicals every day in their professional lives, we could shift the conversation a bit. So that an attorney who is reading the book, who maybe is not in that world, would feel as though it’s more of a peer-to-peer conversation, as well as the added bonus of hearing from folks with a ton of experience doing legal support. By movement lawyering I really mean… I mentioned PLO and the CLDC. But movement-centered lawyering really happens when a defendant and their legal team take into consideration the defendant’s legal, personal and political goals in relation to the political movement of which the defendant is a part. One definition I read recently says that “movement lawyering increased the power and capacity of people involved in social struggle, rather than the power and capacity of the state and legal system.” I like that. So, movement lawyering, in my mind, is an approach that means not only meeting the ethical obligations of an attorney but understanding a radical client’s legal, personal and political goals fully when creating legal strategies and an overall defense strategy. And it means having some mental context for the case itself and understanding how that case situates in a broader movement and then using that understanding to build a legal representation that is going to align with the client’s goals and principles and interests, and possibly, hopefully, the goals and principles and interests of their supporters and comrades.
The other thing I wanted to say was that movement lawyering, even in cases where there aren’t multiple defendants and even when we’re not talking about collective defense necessarily, movement lawyering really does take into consideration other people who might be affected by the outcome of a particular case. That collective perspective considers the short and long-term political consequences of criminal charges and takes into consideration co-defendants’ affiliated groups and broader movement when making decisions about legal strategy.
TFSR: One of these quotes really stood out and I’m gonna read it at length…. The ethical obligation to the greater good by Dennis Cunningham, Esquire. It’s on page 91. “As lawyers, we have it drilled into us that we owe a duty of representation to each client, the rest of the world be damned. If something would make us hesitate before attacking someone else’s interests, our loyalties are said to be divided, and we’re supposed to avoid taking the case or withdraw. But wait, our political clients want and deserve to be represented on a political basis. If a client to whom we owe such unflinching duty demands it, we owe a broader duty to the client’s community or activist group to receive input from and account to their community, show solicitude for the welfare of others in it, act in ways that promote the esprit and effectiveness of the community, and take care not to undermine its values or the goals of the client’s activism. Call it intersectional lawyering, no adversary has ever tried to pierce the attorney-client privilege, because I met in solidarity with fellow plaintiffs, defendants, or legal supporters. My amazing activist clients have always been my teachers and my comrades and helping me hone this practice. And for it, we have all been the wiser, happier, and freer.” I like that quote.
J: I like that one, too. I think I’ve said it already, but one thing that that sidebar that you read from Dennis Cunningham really hones in on and one thing that we try to repeat throughout the book is, again, this paradigm shift from an individual defendant’s best legal outcome to more of a collective perspective that reimagines what it means to provide someone with “the best possible representation.” And within that thinking beyond the best plea deal, the best legal outcome. Yeah, and Dennis really says it well in that quote, thinking through actually, from our perspective, that is what a lawyer should do. And that is the job that they’re ethically obligated to do for their clients. Many movement attorneys do share at least some or many of the principles and goals of their clients. But even when they don’t, I really do feel as though it is the job of any attorney to be able to meet their clients on that place, and be able to provide your clients representation that takes into account co-defendants, takes into account broader social struggles. And that is their job, and that is doing it well.
TFSR: Could you talk a little bit about the introduction of concepts and realities of support committees into this? Because it feels normal for me and for a lot of us, I’m sure, to be like, “Yeah, of course, all your buddies are going to show up to court with you.” What sort of conversation are you hoping will come out of this? What sort of understandings are you trying to bring to lawyers around defense committees? I think it’s really useful that you talk about some of the complications that can come up.
J: In the Defendant’s Guide, we do talk a little bit about defense committees, aka support committees. By that, we mean the folks who show up to provide the political, personal and legal support for defendants as they move through the process. And that can look a lot of ways. And there’s a lot of different names for efforts like this, but all are rooted in community care and support in the face of systemic oppression or state repression. Some examples that come to my mind would be the RNC8, the organizing that was done post J20s, Water Protector Legal Collective, and all the other various support efforts that arose around Standing Rock, various efforts for a wide range of anti-occupation, anti-imperialist freedom fighters over the last several decades. We could refer to a lot of different formations or groups as different support committees, and most referred to them as something along those same lines. Sometimes it’s a formal organization that takes the reins with providing support, but often times, it’s like our buddies or friends, and it’s an informal group of friends, comrades, loved ones, tend to cover a lot of the bases when folks are facing charges.
So in the Defendant’s Guide, we talk about what is a defense committee how to form one, what might it do, what are some areas of tension that might come up? But in Representing Radicals, we really wanted attorneys to view the defense committee, or supporters more broadly, as potential assets for them to do their job well. From the mindset that attorneys and supporters can work together, they have separate goal areas or separate lanes that they’re driving on (to use this sad analogy) but to separate track. But really work collaboratively to provide defendants with a solid way of meeting their political and personal legal goals. Because too often, in my experience of doing anti-repression work, lawyers can view, groups especially, groups of supporters as threatening or feel concerned about attorney-client privilege, feel as though political organizing around a case might detract from the legal representation that they’re wanting to provide, might harm a client case, might do more harm for them, politically and legally, than good. And there are certainly legitimate concerns there sometimes, but we really do think that if we could demystify some of what a defense committee does for attorneys, many of them might hopefully be more inclined to work collaboratively or at least communicate about their boundaries and accept that a support committee might take other actions and that’s okay, so long as it’s okay with the folks who are facing charges. Because ultimately, those are the people who are going to be most impacted by how the lawyer participates and helps the support committee.
TFSR: Similarly, the book talks about the strengths and pitfalls of different kinds of media and breaks down different conceptions. I’m really proud that we could be mentioned among movement media in the book, that just delighted me so much. Can you talk about the things that you touch on and some of the suggested frameworks of approaching media that you makein the book towards lawyers?
J: I want to say that the Defendant’s Guide also talks about media and talks about it more from a perspective of if you and your comrades are wanting to produce media around a case, here’s some ideas for doing and some tensions that have occurred in the past in our experience, here are some awesome folks who are doing media already to reach out to, etc. I think about media as one area where often times, an attorney might bristle at the idea that a defendant, even indirectly through a support committee, might put anything out there about a case before a legal outcome is reached on it. And in Chapter 5 of Representing Radicals, we talk about how media engagement might help or hinder legal goals and some tensions that we’ve encountered in our experience, and also some considerations for attorneys who are advising their clients and their support committees on a media strategy. But the point that we’ve really tried to make is that, ultimately, it’s going to be up to a defendant (and potentially to their supporters) about what gets said to the media or what sort of media is produced. And that’s fine, so long as it’s aligned with a defendant’s legal goal and strategy and that a defendant is aware of and consenting to the impact that certain media might have on the legal case.
In fact, in my own experience, for example, I was involved with the support committee for CeCe McDonald, who is a transwoman in Minneapolis, who survived an attack by a white supremacist man at a bar and was charged with murder after he died. In that particular case, we thought media would be tremendously helpful in shifting the public narrative about CeCe, and also, in my opinion, had a tremendous impact on the legal outcome of that case, she was offered a plea that she felt she could live with, ultimately, and one that was, in terms of legal outcomes, substantially better than, in my opinion, what would have happened, had we not taken a media strategy in that approach, in that particular case.
For attorneys who are advising their clients about media, and many attorneys are going to say, “Don’t say anything at all”. And that is a fine way of approaching media if the client’s goal is to resolve the legal aspect of the case as quickly as possible, with very little fanfare. Engaging with unsympathetic media might not be necessary or effective or desirable, depending on the facts or the circumstances surrounding the case. But, however, like I just said, if the client’s goal is to shift public opinion about the political circumstances surrounding their case or, even more broadly, to shift a public opinion around the political circumstances of the case, so that it may have an impact on the legal outcome of the case, engaging with mainstream media or putting out your own media might be strategically necessary, even if it complicates the legal strategy or make the lawyer add stress to the defense preparation. And so we really want attorneys to understand that there are separate spheres that the support committees and attorneys are operating in. Attorneys don’t have to talk to the media, but other people might and that’s okay, so long as defendants consent to it.
TFSR: It’s cool to hear the experience around CeCe McDonald’s case because she was fighting such an uphill battle with that.
J: For real. And the early media that came out around her case was horrible. And she was facing at first one and then two murder charges in Hennepin County. So I do strongly feel that the political campaign and specifically the media strategy part of it really did directly influence the legal outcome of that case. And then more broadly, influence the community, public narrative around self-defense, around the intersections of anti-Black racism and transmisogyny, and the criminal legal system. I really do feel that media work was very successful in terms of meeting its goals. We were lucky in that case to have a very sympathetic attorney who was not involved in the creation of the media but consented to let the CeCe McDonald Support Committee do what we did.
TFSR: In 2013, one of my co-hosts, William, got to interview Katie Burgess from the Trans Youth Support Network about CeCe’s case. That felt really important for us to be able to participate in that. When you were talking about, before you named CeCe, I was thinking about Luke O’Donovan’s situation in Atlanta where he defended himself against young men who were attempting to queer-bash him. Being around for the court hearing, the actual trial, part of the trial, at least… but just seeing the impact.
Folks in his support committee did a really good job of framing some public narrative around the circumstances. Because I can totally understand a lawyer or legal crew deciding, “We just don’t want to engage, we do want to just keep our heads down, get through this and not become a target for either reactionaries or for the prosecutors. For the prosecutors often times try to frame these narratives around prosecutions anyway, because their literal job is to prosecute, not to resolve a situation towards justice. So if they’re gonna frame a narrative anyway, you might as well try to steer it in a different direction.
J: Totally. And I do think where it gets a little sticky, often it is difficult to talk about the context of a case and the politics of it and the ways that power operates within it, without getting into the facts of the case. And so it makes sense that lawyers would bristle about talking to the media before they’re able to do their job, which is to bring up the facts in court or negotiating a good plea deal based on the facts of the case. But I do think it’s possible. And I also think if someone, especially when we’re talking about situations where the charges might be not very serious, maybe it was a pre-planned mass arrest where folks willingly participated in it and are now facing not-very-serious-consequences, it totally makes sense to talk about the fact. It can, it doesn’t always have to, it could totally make sense to talk about the case publicly before a legal outcome is reached. As long as that fits within the defendants’ broader political and legal goals and strategy.
TFSR:To pop back to the quotes that you interspersed throughout the book, I could see it being pretty useful if a lawyer reads this, and they’re just they’re radical-curious, or if they’re going through law school and they’re trying to find a way to become a movement lawyer. It’s cool to think they suddenly have a list of names, a list of organizations that they can either intern with or contact and reach out and say, “Hey, I read this thing. I’m having these thoughts. Can I bounce some ideas off of you?” There are already organizations, for better or worse, that do varying qualities of jobs from ACLU to the National Lawyers Guild and other groups, other networks. There‘re already networks that include movement lawyers, but it seems like a good tool for networking movement lawyers.
J: Right, we hope so.
TFSR: Are there any topics that I didn’t ask about that you want to share on?
J: Well, I already hit on how this book includes not just our voices, but lots of input from movement lawyers, comrades, and also we wouldn’t have been able to write this book without conversations with other legal support workers who’ve been in it with us over the years. And just like our first book, this book is intended to be an experiment. It’s the wisdom collected from people and their networks for decades and in many of them for far longer than any of us entered the field have been doing this work. We hope that the experiment will help people fight back more effectively and better survive the brutality of the legal system. But we don’t intend it to be a definitive, only way to think about these things, but we do hope that it is useful, and we would love it to be a resource that gets used and built upon all the time.
TFSR: Just out of curiosity, though, the idea for this feels very novel, but obviously there have been periods when the struggle has been heightened, and at least in the US, I can think of certain decades or certain periods of time and movement eras when there has been more activity and more agitation and more arrests, whether it be the late 1800s, during massive labor strikes around the country, or the suffrage movement, or movements to end Jim Crow or the civil rights era, the 1920s communist and anarchist and socialist agitation, the “long 60’s”, obviously, or theClamshell Movement. Are there any other private experiments in this vein that you’ve heard of where radicals with anti-repression experience were trying to formally reach out to change the culture of lawyering, to bring more lawyer comrades into the fold?
J:This is a big on-me, but I can’t remember them. To my knowledge, there have been other publications that are similar to the Defendant’s Guide, but I’m not aware of anything like Representing Radicals that speaks to the way of representing radicals directly. But it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist.
TFSR: I didn’t know there was an inspiration where you’re like “Well, this is sixty years old at this point, so not really that applicable, but it is a cool idea”.
J: I would defer to other members of Tilted Scales Collective who are more involved in lawyering.
TFSR: So you are pleading the Fifth?
J: Yeah, I don’t know.
TFSR: How can folks get a hold of the book and keep up on the work of Tilted Scales?
J: The book is available through AK Press, it offers a discount on books sent to prisoners and bulk orders if you contact them about it. We really appreciate that folks from the AK Press and The Institute for Anarchist Studies are putting effort into this book to be more accessible. About the Tilted Scales Collective, you can learn by checking our website, Instagram, and Twitter with the caveat that we are not super active on any electronic platform, mostly because none of us really likes them, but we do try to make it easy to find out resources and we hope it will help people in their struggles. Our website, for example, does have a link to chapter 2 of the Defendant’s Guide, and direct links to other media we produced in the past, as well as templates that may be useful in you getting to work with a lawyer and specifically around navigating collective defense.
TFSR: Thank you so much for having this conversation and thanks for all the hard work and amazing stuff that you do.
J: Thank you, it’s really nice to talk with you and we are excited to see how this book impacts our movements more broadly.
Federation of Anarchism Era on Iran and Afghanistan
The collective we spoke to for this episode began as a series of remotely-hosted blogs and communication methods among Iranian anarchists at home and abroad. By 2015 anarchists from Afghanistan had started to join and in 2018 the comrades from within Iran and Afghanistan and those living internationally founded Anarchist Union of Afghanistan and Iran. Since, more individuals and groups have joined up from around North Africa, the middle east and other places in the world and they in 2020 re-organized themselves the Federation of Anarchism Era. Last January, after the assassination by the US Trump administration of the murderous Quds leader Soleymani we spoke with members of the then-named AUAI about the network, living under 19 years of US war and 40 years of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
This week, Aryanam, a member of the Federation of Anarchism Era, shares collective answers to some of our questions and a few personal insights to ongoing events in Iran and Afghanistan. He talks about the recent election of Ebrahim Raisi to the Iranian presidency, a man who helped to oversee the death committees that executed thousands of political prisoners, as well what the election of Biden in the US and the two governments agreements on nuclear development and the sanctions the international community is imposing on Iran. You’ll hear about the course of covid in Iran, the release of prisoners last year, the outcomes of the 2019 uprisings against the government and those in 2020 after the Iranian government downed a Ukrainian jetliner, as well as viewpoints of members of the FAE in Afghanistan on the Taliban expansion as the US withdraws troops and words of solidarity for many places around the world in revolt against authority.
You can read reports by the FAE on their website, asranarshism.com, and keep up by following the project on twitter, fedbook, instagram, youtube and telegram (all listed from their website in the upper left hand corner). Keep an eye out for a fundraiser soon to support survival and defense needs of anarchists in Afghanistan as the Taliban takes back more territory and other initiatives. You can hear our 2020 interview with a member of the Anarchist Union of Afghanistan and Iran on our website, where it is also transcribed. A transcription of this interview will be available in the near future.
Week of Solidarity with Abtin Parsa, July 12-19, 2021
As a related announcements, this week the Federation has announced a week of solidarity with queer Iranian anarchist Abtin Parsa from July 12-19th, 2021. Abtin was persecuted by the Iranian government in 2014 for outspoken atheism (a state crime in a theocracy) and anti-state speech, imprisoned for a year and a half at 14 years old. In 2016 he escaped to Greece and was harassed and threatened while abroad by organizations affiliated with the Iranian state. Though given a limited political asylum in Greece, he was arrested multiple times for organizing and protesting, tortured and imprisoned for periods. Abtin was forced to leave Greece and he applied for asylum in Netherlands. In April of this year, Abin Parsa was charged by Dutch police with organizing among immigrants and now faces extradition back to Greece and possible extradition from there (after a prison sentence) to Iran. More on his case and his own words can be found linked in our show notes and on asranarshism.com and the Federation of Anarchism Era’s various social media.
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Opening Theme by The RZA from Ghost Dog: The Way Of The Samurai (Music from the Motion Picture)
TFSR: So would you please introduce yourself in whatever way you see fit any name, pseudonym, pronouns or affiliations?
Federation of Anarchism Era: Hello! My name is Aryanam. I yours hear him pronounce a member of the Federation of Anarchism Era and I am most responsible for English translation and communication. Thank you for having me.
TFSR: It’s my pleasure. Thanks for coming on.
So I spoke with folks from the Anarchist Union of Afghanistan and Iran last January. Since then, y’all’ve changed your name to the Federation of of Anarchism Era. Can you explain the significance of this and if there’s been any changes in say how the organization structures or or it’s purpose?
FAE: Yes. If you don’t mind, I’ll start with a little bit of history. We formed our primary nucleus at the end of 2009.Before that, a few people had their individual blogs and and a few anarchists were basically abroad. And at first they performed their collective blog and after 2009they started on facebook, they started their core outside the country. And that was important because anarchists in Iran, like any other group that is opposition to the Iranian government, they get prosecuted really fast. It is really hard for them to find each other. So it would be important to have a core outside the country that is not feeling the same repression and censorshipas the people in Iran. Also, the people from Iran can gather, find each other in one location and start communicating and collaborating.
So, after the reorganization at the end of 2013 by creating their Anarchism Era website, before the only had blogs and facebook groups. But by 2013 when we created our own website, naming itAnarchism Era and by that, little by little people from Iran started joining us. After that there by 2015, we had anarchists from Afghanistan join us and by 2018, we had three independent cores: one from anarchists of Afghanistan and Iranabroad; a group of anarchists in Iran; and a group of anarchists in Afghanistan. By having this three cores, we managed to form the Anarchist Union of Afghanistan and Iran in 2018 after that, a more individual anarchists from Iran and Afghanistan joined us. Before 2018, we also had collaboration with people from Morocco, from Iraq from the other, individual anarchists and anarchist groups from around the region. So by 2020, it became apparent that we are receiving more collaboration, more people from outside Afghanistan and Iran are joining us. So we thought we should reorganize ourselves, one more time and make it a federation. We accept membership from across the world who like to communicate and collaborate with us, they are welcome to do so.
One of the reasons that we are expanding that way is because in Iran and Afghanistan there are multiple ethnicities. For example, in Iran we have have Arab, Kurdishh, Turk,Azeri, Armenian, Baluchi, Turkmen and in Afghanistan we have Uzbek, Pashtun, Hazara, Pashai, Tajik…
So we published multiple articles in different languages, that is, ethnicities speak and the pay attention to basically all these ethnicities in two geographical regions. Even though we formed our federation in 2020, our main focus at the moment and activities are invested in Afghanistan and Iraq andour group abroad, but is mostly in Europe. So, the significance of this action is we are growing naturally, and more people are paying attention to us and that’s the reason that the change our name and reassert ourselves to a federation.
TFSR: Is there an ideological basis to membership in the federation? Is there a shared politic as strict, for instance, as what’s called Platformism, or… Let’s see other word for it
in Uruguay they have a version of platform is… Especifismo? Or is it more like the International of Anarchist Federations, which is Synthesis and are there a lot of chapters in Latin America and in Europe? And the third part of this isdo you have relationships with those other federations?
FAE: Our federation is basically an informal, voluntary organization. We cannot have a ledger and we don’t have air membership fee, because we cannot have a formal organization in Iran because it makes it easier for us to be identified. You have to be doing everything underground.And some of our members are really poor or very young which can not they’re spending their money on the membership fee. So we don’t have any membership fee and I we the form our communication and our groups by informally communicating with each other. There is no consulta. We frequently meet, we basically speak with each other about what is to be done, how do we need to do it and then we go from there.
There are many different anarchist tendencies within our organization . There are anarcho-egoists, anarcho-syndicalists, there is anarcho-communist, there is a small group of anarcho punks. There are many different groups.But the common thing that holds us together is basically living in insurrection. It’s action. We believe that we can not find peaceful way to get rid of this government. We need to be actively, without any peaceful way, we need to destroy this regime. This regime and all of the regimes. We need to be active in the revolutionary way.That’s because there is no peaceful way to interact with this government. The government should showed us that in the uprising in November of 2019 that it does not allow even a peaceful protest to happen in the region. Any action from their people would be met with violence of the State. So the violence needs to be met with violence are the people. And for us to dismantle the regime,and the State.
TFSR:And in particular, when you’re talking about 2019 uprising of the people. This is against the Iranian regime, based on the like, I think, the end of some like fuel subsidies and other subsidies and a lack of employment and social welfare net that the majority of the population was suffering under. Is that right?
FAE: That’s right. The NovemberUprising, it just started with the oil subsidies being cut on. Around 50% of the Iranian population is already below the poverty line, so people were feeling the economic pressure already. And after cutting the subsidies, the people came out that protest, which immediately because of the regime’s violent actions turned into hot uprising. People started chanting anti–regime slogans, they started destroying banks and other properties. They destroyed the statues of the supreme leaders from Khomeini to Khamenei.That was like a turning point for the Iranian people. After that, the regime and Iranian people entered another phase. The majority of the Iranian people understood that there is no peaceful way, there is no soft way to fix this regime. The only path forward is either changing the regime or, we as anarchists say, dismantling the whole state.
TFSR: So can you say, in November2019… When I had a chance to speak to folks from the federation last in January, it was just after the U.S. assassination of Soleimani, who was the head of the Quds? He was, I think, visiting Iraq at the time and killed by the trump regime. And we kind of talked about, among other things, public responses to the assassination and sort of who Soleimani was and also Iranian responses to American intervention and embargo and such. But I am wondering if you could iterate… I don’t think we talked about the Ukrainian air flight. Can you talk a little bit about the repression that followed the uprisings and the deal with the Ukrainian air flight and the public response to that?
FAE: Sure. So, during their November uprising in 2019, the government response was extremely violent. At the time when you were talking through to one of our members, they still did not know the numbers. We knew it was the almost 1,000, we suspected it was more than that, but we didn’t have… That was just an inkling, wedidn’t have any extra information in that regard. Since then, just as recently as two months ago there was a new stat coming out that shows the death rate of the entire Iranian population. It was,unassuming as stats, but there was a interesting point on it. It shows there’s a little jump on the November of 2019, which is about 4,000 people more than on the previous month and 4,000 more more about the following month and more than the same month in the previous year. There was this difference of about 4,000 people. So we are suspecting this 4,000 people there all because of the Uprising and they died because of the Uprising. The regime does not produce any specific amount, butthis is the most direct a piece of information, piece of data that we have about how many people probably died from there and November Uprising. So, 4,000 people died in three days from all across Iran.
FAE: Yeah, so that happened. So that tampeddown the flames of Uprising just a little bit until the Trump regime assassinated Qasim Soleimani, which was a commander of the Quds force of their Islamic Revolutionary Guard. As you said he was visiting Iraq as he did and he was assassinated on the way back, I believe. So, that jump started the another set of protests.
TFSR: There were government-sponsored parades and mourning in remembrances of this head of the Revolutionary Guard who had been… He’d been pretty prominent in repressing populations at home in Iran, right? So I’m sure there was a lot of mixed feelings among the population about the execution, the assassination.
FAE: Yes, there were a couple of interesting things about that. One is that Qasim Soleimani and the Quds force was responsible for killing at least 100 people in the province of Khuzestan,specifically in the city of Mashar. They basically came with the tanks and put down the Uprising their, which we estimated more than 100 people died just in that city in just a few days. Just like that in that one location.
So, the people of Iran… The majority of people of Iran did not like Soleimani, the opposite of what the Western media was trying to portray of the Iranians. And while the Iranian government would like to have portrayed Soleimani as a hero of the Iranian people, the majority of the Iranian people that knew him disliked him.And those that did know him would not go to his funeral unless they were paid by the State to go onto the street, a tactic that every authoritarian state uses. It’s nothing new.
Something that I would like to note is the response of the Western media, specifically there was an article in the New York Times that was saying that the pollution that gathered for the mourning of Qasim Soloeimani in the city of Ahvaz was stretched about twenty miles. Which is ridiculous, because this city of is not that long. Now we can look at the map of the city, and see there how long the the gathering roads stretched and we can measure that it was about 1.5 miles. No more than a 1,000 people. And all of thosewere either people of the State or were paid to be there. After the Uprising of2019, the government clamped down, the flames of the Uprising died down a little bit, the Iranian government shot down Ukrainian airplane, some people say by mistake by there is some evidence of they knew, that they shot at that airplane twice. And the excuse they gave us was that they wanted to bring it down “we shot the second time because we didn’t want it to burn up in the air.” Which is such a ridiculous statement, it makes me, angry. Just mentioning it makes me angry. They shut the plane twice, at first they lied about it. At first they claimed, “Oh we didn’t shoot down anything, it wasn’t us!” Then they claim “tt was us, but it wasn’t on purpose.” Then when the second (missile) came they said “Oh, yes, the second was on purpose,” that they wanted to bring it down. It was such horrible excuses, it just boggles the mind who came up with these excuses in the first place. So that started another set of protests and uprisings. The people were already, especially the student movements in Iran, chanting anti-regime slogans. People were protesting all across country. People were, of course, arrested during these protests.People were killed, executed after they got out also.
But those funerals and gatherings overcrowded between people were during the beginning of the covid-19 pandemic and the Iranian government already knew that this pandemic is happening and is spreading in Iran. They decided on showing force and showing thatthe Iranian people are very supportive Qasim Soleimani and were stricken of his death.They staged their funerals in multiple cities by crowding huge a number of people in small spaces. And at one of the incidents that happened because of this was there at a stampede of the feet during the funeral of the QassimSoleimani in Kermon, the home city of Soliemani. On January 7th, 2020, during this funeral a stampede occurred that killed 56 people. The other effect of this crowding of people in a small spaces to look good under international news (that all the authoritarian regimes use to show their strength and all the people’s support, even though it doesn’t exist) is that a during these funerals the covid-19 pandemic was already present in Iran. An we suspect that a vast majority of people got sick during these funeral proceedings. Because people were crowding in small spacesand they were not practicing any social distancing or anything like that, and they were not wearing any masks.And we suspect, actually, we know that the Iranian regime knew that the covid-19 was present, that maybe it was problematic and it was causing deaths of 1000’s of people already in different countries… But for them to show restraint, they decided to have these(public funeral gathering) proceeding happens without any precautions for the covid-19 pandemic.
TFSR: So, could you speak a little more about how covid-19 was experienced by folks in Iran after it started spreading and people became more aware of it? And also if you have word about Afghanistan… Currently are there vaccines available and have you seen any increase in infections from this new on Delta variant as they call it of covid-19 that’s come out of India? Have you were their experiences of lock downs and what have they been like? And I’ll ask the prison question afterwards, if that’s okay, unless you’re me to throw that in there
So, I guess of note- and I know this is a very long question at this point- I remember hearing early on that the Iranian regime decided to release 54,000 prisoners temporarily as a health measure, apparently driven by a fear that there would be a mass spread inside of the prisons. Which seems to show notable concern for public health that, for instance, the U.S. regime and state regimes here, had no interest in expressing interest preferred for people to die in prison.
FAE: So, let me answer your second question first… As you said there were a few 1,000’sof prisoners released, but all of this prisoner ever non-political. They they didn’t have any political activities. The political prisoners they were kept inside the prisons. Many of them got covid as well. I know some of them died because of that. The regime used covidas basically an executioner.
For the second question about how covid was experience in Iran and in Afghanistan… Well, some of our members’ families and relatives got covid. Fortunately, our members that gotcovid did not have any severe consequences, there were no severe affects. They managed to come out of it okay. As far as in Afghanistan, the situation is kind of worsethan in Iran. So in Afghanistan the corona virus spread there rapidly recently. Some of the problem is there is massive unemployment in Afghanistan and people wanna go back to work, and the workplaces don’t practice safe precautions against covid-19. Also in Afghanistan, there is less clean water and sanitation. And since the recentwar with Taliban, covid-19 is not a priority anymore. The war withthe Taliban is a priority and that caused an increase in the rate of spread of the covid-19 in Afghanistan.
And relating to the vaccination right now, they’re only like 2.5-3% of the Iranian population are vaccinated. The Iranian government decided that they do aren’t going to accept the vaccines find out U.S. or other western countries, they’re going to make their own vaccines with the cooperation with Russia and China. The Iranian people don’t trust the government, so even if they’re the vaccine comes into the market then becomes available, this was big majority of people would not get vaccinated. Which is kind of understandable, because if we do not know if the vaccine is gonna be as effective, that the side effects are as minimalas the other vaccines… Since their government can not be transparent or trusted on any other subject, we cannot trust it on this subject as well. That causes the situation of the vaccination in Iran very dire now.Nobody’s gonna get vaccinated and that’s probably gonna cause the covid-19to become endemic in the Iranian population. Which is not they’re good place to be.
TFSR: I guess, in response, besides the releases of prisoners in the United States, a lot of what was experienced, it was just the the forced shutdown of public spaces and the threat that police would enforce social distancing. There were testing sites available eventually and like as with the U.S. (normally) will do the, majority of people getting punished for breaking curfew segment… Most of the curfews came into account because of the massive protests against police killing of Black and brown folks, but also the majority of people that were suffering from repression from the government for for breaking curfew, ah, were like houseless folks or people that the police would attack anyway, like Black and brown and poor people. In a lot of other countries like in Italy, in Greece and Spain, in the UK, that lockdowns were more effectively an imposed by the government. They were doing patrols in China with drones… Was like a forced lockdown, the response that the Iranian government had to the pandemic? Or was it something else, and what was that like?
FAE: The Iranian government did not really enforce a lock-down like that. In the beginning of the pandemic, a lot of people wereleaving the cities to go to northern Iran to rush to rush to go to provinces of the north.Usually the boojie people do this. They go to the northern city to live in their villas, to basically weather the effect. But they, themselves, they brought their covid-19 and majority of people in the northern region of Iran got sick, they got covid, it spread more rapidly over there. And the residents of those provinces, they were wanting a government shutdown. They wanted for people to stop going and coming up to live in their villas and spread more virus.. But the government did not listen, theystill allowed people to travel all of the places. And after that they did something that is SO counter intuitive… even thinking about it is the very confusing for me right now… People the run to their villas, the boojie people, then wanted to come back. They were like “okay, they don’t want us here. So, okay, we go back to where we came from.” The government then enforced a quarantine then. They say “okay, you gonna stay over there.” They refuse to let other people to travel at least temporarily.
As you mentioned with other governments, in Iran, they used the covid-19 as a means of repression. The breaking of the protesters, an execution method for the political prisoners. They don’t enforce any social distancing if it was for the protesters against the regime, if it was for a state-sponsored gathering they were completely okay with that theydon’t enforce any social distancing.
TFSR: You also mentioned before we started recording how, in terms of travel restrictions being applied or distancing or whatever lock–down or these health concerns being applied to people differently according to class. And this kind of reminds me of the way that, ah, I understand sanctions, for instance, are applied by destroying the social safety nets for the majority of the population, while the rich continue to be able to live relatively luxuriously, traveling to villas in the north or what have you. You also mentioned that the Iranian government was allowing Chinese businessmen and business–people to still travel even after covid pandemic had become apparent to the world, which seems like a sacrifice of the health of the population in order to increase the business opportunities of the bourgeoisie end of the governing class. Is that a fair summary?
FAE: Yeah, so, when the covid-19 pandemic became apparent to be a huge and destructive thing when other countries started closing down the airports to the Chinese government, stopping the travel to andfromChina, the Iranian government did not. So, the Iranian government kept the airports open. And it allowed the Chinese businessman to travel to Iran and from Iran and to travel to Europe. So, basically the bourgeoisie of China used the bourgeoisie of Iran and the Iranian government as a loophole in those travel restrictions until people actually are closed travel routesthrough Iran as well.So, we suspect that on a good deal of the Iranian population getting sick from covid and its spreading in Iran was because of these travels as well.
The thing about Iranian bourgeoisie is highly related to the government. This might be a side note, but I I think it’s worth mentioning that prior to the Iranian revolution in 1979, the shah’s regime wanted to consolidate power into the Shah’s hands. So, he created that one party rule fully consolidated all the political power in his hand and went after religious and the market, theCapital and he wanted to gain control of both of them. Well, this backfired on him because the religious institutions and the Mullahs united with the Capitalists of the market, of the Bazaar and that led to the revolution 1979. TheIslamic Iranian regime managed to consummated all three powers. There is no effective political power that can oppose the Iranian regime, it’sa dictatorship. The religious institutions are in the hands of the Islamic authoritarian regime. The majority of their financial institutions are either run by the higher-ups in the regime by their friends and relatives. So, when we mention Iranian bourgeoisie now, you’re basically mentioning the sons and relatives of the higher echelons of the Iranian regime. That’s how it works in Iran. All the power is consolidated in the Islamic regime. The Iranian bourgeoisie, for the businesses they allowed the airports to be open and they traveled abroad as well, themselves. They got covid, they traveled abroad, those sons of the higher-ups and the regimes, they take vacations in their different countries.
There was another thing that happened during first wave of the covid-19there was a loophole for the Chinese bourgeoisie, Chinese businessman to travel to Iran and used Iran as a hub to travel to the different countries that were closed off to China themselves. And the other other thing was that the Iranian bourgeoisie are directly related to the power structure after Iranian State, they themselves traveled to other countries abroad for the vacations, to get out of Iran and perhaps weather the worst effects of covid-19, but they were already sick when they were traveling abroad. They spread their disease further.
TFSR: And just a quick reminder to listeners that the variants that have been spreading so fast… the the variance from an like… South Africa have started getting infections, likely because they were getting plane flights from people in New York City flying there, where the infections were already spreading likely they got infections. I know it likely was brought in at Milan, where there was a a large outbreak before a of these diseases are spreading because rich business people don’t care about the possible implications of their interaction. So they burn up a bunch of fossil fuels in a jet plane, so they can go vacation or make a business meeting somewhere.
So, one hopeful thing that we’ve heard from a lot of places around the world were stories ofr people creating and growing thriving mutual aid in response to that dual catastrophes of governmental and economic failure in the pandemic. How was this seen in Iran and Afghanistan? How did the authorities respond, if there were instances where people created their own civil society responses, was that deemed as a threat and have those mutual aid efforts continued?
FAE: So,one of the examples of the mutual aid aim at Iran after the spread of corona virus was in the city like Isvahan, where people basically decided to not allow increasesof the rents and may even decrease over a significant amount. But other mutual aid activities were, like you said, is seen as a threat to the Iranian regime. They do not like people to self-organize and to try to take care of themselves, because that’s seen as an action against the regime. Even if some people were trying to help other, minority ethnicities in Iran, they started making up charges against them that they were acting against the regime, they are separatists, that they are working with a foreign entity to dismantle the regime. They make claims of their mutual aid organizations that people are trying to make and basically put a stop to all of that. If anything’s happening in Iran, it is unfortunately, on the smaller scale and it’s gonna be underground, they do not allow public self–organization from the people.
TFSR: Pivoting a little bit in topics, the former U.S.President Trump had promised (as an “Antiwar president”) to pull U.S. troops out of Afghanistan by May of this year and that date was switched to September 11thfor the twentieth anniversary of the 9-11 attacks on the U.S. and that was changed by Biden, the current U.S. president. In March, President Ghani in Afghanistan said he’d, be working on a peace process and democratic elections with the Taliban or pursuing that at least. Also, it’s clear that, while the US and NATO powers may be trying to “draw down their forces in the country,” they will not leave the country fully. They’ll leave behind security, analysts, special forces, private contractors and a lot of the infrastructure attached to that. I was wondering how your comments from Afghanistan think that the next year might look. What are their concerns, fears and hopes. Do they expect the Taliban to overtake the existing central government in Kabul? TheU.S. doesn’t think it’s gonna, last more than six months, and what could that look like?
FAE: So, let’s start with the analysis of the comrades in Afghanistan? That is that the government in Afghanistan is probably gonna keep Kabul. Even though it might lose everything else, they’re gonna focus their forces in Kabul and at least save that place. But, then you were mentioning god and the peace negotiations with Taliban…From the one of the reports have got from our comrades in Afghanistan that before the negotiations, they (the Kabul government) released5,000 Taliban members and during the negotiations they released another, here and there, they release another 7,000 the Taliban members. This boosted the Taliban’s the morale and their forces. So at this moment it seems that the peace negotiations have failed. Of course it did, because they got about 11,000 of their members back. Why would they negotiate with the government?Another thing that I would like to mention is we lost communication week are comrades in Mazār-i-Sharīf, in Balkh province for about a week. Just few hours ago we established communication again andthe reason that we lost communication was that the Taliban cut their fiber optic communication. They manage to push them back from Mazār-i-Sharīf, apparently they manage to fix the fiber optic. so we managed to reestablish communication. Yeah, they there were saying that the fighting was intense near Mazār-i-Sharīf, so one of the tactics the Taliban user would be to destroy the power lines, they destroyed the communication lines so that the population cannot ask for help. Without the power lines as many of their infrastructure will not work which would be in benefit of the Taliban. So, in regards to U.S.drawing out is that U.S. forces in Afghanistan they’re, even though they supposedly were a counter-force to Taliban and by them being there and their actions in Afghanistan, they stopped the popular independent movement in Afghanistan. There is little-to-no independent movement to the Taliban. Everything that exists at the moment, is either from the government, or is from the religious or another political party that has their own goal and they want to score our own and political goals regional goals.They’re not something that we can trust and corporate with because our goals and values are not the same.
TFSR: Speaking from a us perspective, as someone who remembers when the U.S. invaded Afghanistan, and hearing the U.S. dialogue and and the power players talk about it, the “humanitarian, liberal response” in the U.S. has frequently come from a position of “We need to be in there to provide stability.” So, at first it was RAWA, the Revolutionary Afghani Women’s Association that was used as an argument for U.S. military intervention, to say that in order for like a feminist society or for a society where… By the way the U.S. is not a feminist society but saying that “In order for women in Afghanistan to not be forced into a theocratic patriarchal and heavily repressive system, we need to do our part to hold the space to build something so that the people of Afghanistan can take back over there space,” or whatever. That was the argument that was made for a lot of well meaning people in the U.S. I think they’re still concerned that, “Yes,the occupation has been terrible, but when we withdraw, there will be a collapse and move on… There’s no other option. It’s either the U.S. occupation or people living under Taliban rule!” And I think, with what you said about the has been the stamping out of any independent movements in Afghanistan that could provide a sort of alternative or provide something that is homegrown and that would fill the needs and desires of people in Afghanistan who don’t want to live under the Taliban rule and also don’t trust the warlord government. You know it hasn’t been able to flourish. It’s almost as if the U.S…. Not saying that the Taliban is a cancer, but it’s as if the U.S. and U.S. population and government and military was approaching the problem, as Afghanistan is an organ in a body or is a body and that the Taliban is a cancer and the us military is chemotherapy and that we must irradiate the country as opposed to helping support civil society as an immune system that would help to regulate itself.
I’m giving a lot of agency to the U.S. and NATO and the West in this of that feels weird. But I just kind of want to point to like the short-sightedness of the mindset that people in the West, through our “humanitarian approach” have been thinking about sending and bombs and drones, as for the last 20 years.
FAE: Yes, so for that line of thinking… As I mentioned, there are comrades in Mazār-i-Sharīfwho mention that the Taliban cut the fiber optics, and that’swhy they didn’t have communication, internet communication to communicate with us. My first response was like how incompetent is the Afghanistan government and U.S. government that they made their fiber optic cables, that this is essential for the communication so easily accessible that Taliban could destroy it.
So, I don’t think the U.S. regime was thinking of being a cure. They were thinking of their own goals, which was that they wanted to establish the region, to take it out of the influence of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. And they didn’t want it to be influenced by Iran as much as possible because the Iranian regime has forces in Afghanistan as well. They would like to have a militia in Afghanistan. They very much would like to export their revolution to their neighboring countries like they do in Palestine, Lebanon, Iraq, Syria, and the same is true in Afghanistan. The U.S. government had specific goals which were, I believe, they would have liked to get rid of Taliban. But they found after the first couple of years after the invasion they realized that objective wasn’t possible. I believe their objective changed to just hold the position, so they can exert power and influence the neighboring region, basically putting pressure on their neighboring country, which has is Iran. And having a base so as to be able to act within the region much more smoothly. The independent of people’s movement is viewed as an insurrectionist movement which is combated by their anti-insurrectionist protocols.
TFSR: Is your impression that people in the Federation within Afghanistan believe that, yes, when the U.S. pulls out, the Afghan administration will be able to hold Kabul and maybe some surrounding area, which is basically fortresses as I understand? And will it be, that the rest of the country sort of ends up living under theocratic rule from the Taliban? Or have they actually already been living under the rule of Taliban and will there be space for organic, organizing and resistance for autonomy? Will that be able to occur?
FAE: So, before the Taliban started this new conquest over the last few weeks, we were trying to start a project, a couple of projectsin Afghanistan. We were already talking about it. We were basically finalizing some of the projectsin Afghanistan.One of them was a starting an anarchist magazine, they publish monthly or biweekly and we publish it online. This would basically increase our anarchist presence inthe region and we doubt that we have more leverage to do more. But this Taliban’s movement basically cut us off guard, we have to scrap those projects that we had. Our forces are so small that they can’t do it alone, and like I said there are no other movement that we can collaborate with.We were trying multiple organizations that were nominally closer to us, but the problem is even if we are like “okay, let’s work together, even though we don’t like each other,” they do not like anarchists at all. They are completely anti-anarchist and we cannot establish a collaboration or alliance in any way.Right now, it seems that the Taliban may have already hold of 70-80% of the Afghanistan region. Yeah, so the Taliban is already there. They may in facthold maybe Mazār-i-Sharīf , maybe Kabul, some other cities in the region like a fortress, as you mention. But our priority is to save and secure our comrades living in Afghanistan. All other projects that we had in the region right now are on hold until further developments. We’ll see what we can do. We are talking with our Kurdish friends and are the are trying to see if there have any experiences from Rojava that they can share with us since they were able to successfully fight ISIS am in northern Syria, they might have some experiences that they can share with us . But this is really hard, because the anarchist presence in Afghanistan is a smallerand more spreadthan is possible to create any strong and independent movement without anybody’s help.
So, right now we are just trying to help our comrades in Afghanistan. At the moment, we are working on setting up a fund for our comrade to send financial aid to our comrades so they can have food security. We want to get them air power generator, just in case the Taliban decided that they’re gonna bomb another power line, they gonna cut down on a power line. And we’re trying to see if he can get them guns, AK-47’s. The last time that we talked to our Afghanistan comrades about it was $500 for an AK-47. We are trying to get some for them. Raiding and procuring them in other ways was suggestedbut after analyzing the situation, we couldn’t safely to do that without risking our comrades.So we decided to first procure food and then get power secured. Then we get them guns and after the there was a suggestion for us to get the satellite internet or satellite phone for all easier and more durable communication. So if we get any money and if you’re figuring any funding we’ll be spending solely for those projects, for now.
Some of our comrades are thinking of migrating but their not positive about the current trends, current situation in Afghanistan. As we mentioned before the U.S. has been there for 20 years. People there born and became adults all while the US occupation. But one of the [U.S.] objective was not allow for the people to develop independent collectives and communities to defend themselves because that would undermine their importance and their presence in the in the region. So, that’s that.
TFSR: So jumping back across borders, because anarchists don’t believe in or respect borders, Iran and the U.S. both had elections in the last eight months or so. We got Biden here and Iranians got Ebrahim Raisi, who I have heard described as a conservative hardliner. What do Iranian comrades expect to get out of their new executive? How do you see the election of Biden in the so called U.S. affecting the people of Iran. Not to continue, as we do, to center the U.S. so much but recognizing that it does have an impact.
FAE: First, I wanna make a note of their their successful boycott of the Iranian election by their Iranian people. Before the election, and there were many, many propaganda and actionsencouraging us to boycott the election. On the day of election, the majority of the voting booths across were deserted. And outside of Iran there were some voting locations for people went there and protested and harassed and identified the voters there, because majority of them are related to the regime. We found that they sons and grandsons the higher echelons of the government and they’re just coming out on vacation and they wanted to go and vote as well. So, we found that out of while we were protesting in different countries, finding the people who‘re voting for the Islamic Republic of Iran. So the majority of the voting booths were deserted. The regime claims that the about 40% of people voted which is obviously a lie. Not many people voted. People, before the election ,knew that Ebrahim Raisiwas going to be come the president, because they were manufacturing consent. So, to say, toward that direction, they were lining up everything for Ebrahim Raisi was to be announced as the president. The regime has a specific goal by making Ebrahim Raisi the president. Ebrahim Raisi, during the 1979 election had many positions in Iran and one of them was. He was part of the DeathCommittee. The majority of the time he was in the judicial position of the government and he was totally involved in the death of thousands of political prisoners in summer of 1988.
We suspect he was chosen as a direct response to the Uprising of November of 2019 and the protests of early 2020.And right now there is a huge workers strike in Iran from the petroleum, the is the sugar cane syndicalist organization in Iran who have released a list of the participating workers and are there is about57 organizations from 57 different companies from different industrial sectors, all participating in a strike. And that means thousands and thousands of people striking right now.
Ebrahim Raisi, we suspect, was chosen to become presidentof Iran as a response to all these strikes The government has not any base among people anymore, like I said after the protests of 2019 and 2020, the people do not trust this government anymore, and they’re not even optimistic about the reform of this government. The majority of theeffort sand thoughts are going concerned with replacing the regime or, as anarchists, for dismantling the state completely. So, Ebrahim Raisi was chosen to basically stamp and destroy the whole resistance in Iran. He is more ruthless and he has experience in the judicial department as it was mentioned, so his function is clear in that department.
As for Biden, in relation to the Islamic Republic of Iran, restarting the conversation with the Iranian regime, regarding the nuclear deals, it allows some breathing room for the Iranian government. If the Iranian government can produce some more money, loosen the sanctions just a little bit would spend it in suppressing the people. We know about this because there was, I believe, a 25 year negotiation deal with China and Iran, in which China received some points. it allows control of some resources in Iran, which is significant, especially in the Persian Gulf, down south. And in return. Iran would get some breathing room and also receiveanti-insurgency tools brought in from being collisions are one of the items is all did receive their anti insurgency toolslike increasing intelligence, it will include anti-riot gas otherriot suppression tools.So, Biden’s negotiation with Iran would probably help the Iranian government procure more funding, which would use a significant amount to repress the people. But it needs to be said that Trump government, with their sanction, was not helpful for the Iranian people. For example, for us to help give funding to any of of our members in Iran. We have to jump through many hoops, because I’m in the United States, I cannot directly send the funding from the U.S. to Iran because of the sanctions. I have to go through many more steps, which is much more expensive to assist our are members in Iran, to fund their projects in Iran. So, the sanctions were not really helpful for us, but less sanctions would probably give the State more breathing room, which allows them to repress people more effectively.
TFSR: I know at one point a year ago there was discussion about having a podcast, I guess in Persian. For internationals outside of Iran and Afghanistan, whether or not they can speak or read Persian languages, do you have suggestions for ways that they can show solidarity with anarchist struggles in Iran and Afghanistan and other people involved in the Federation or where they can keep up on pertinent news. You did mention that there’s going to be the the fundraising soon to support folks surviving in Afghanistan. I’ll happily share the the contact information for that when it comes up I’ll.
FAE: First of all, I wanna thank you for talking with us, having an interview with us. And I wanna thank all of our comrades that shared our perspective and our stories to the rest of the world. When we released the reports of our anarchist comrades in Afghanistan, it was translated in multiple languages and was shared widely. We really appreciate that repaired we thank every single one of you guys. Other than that, as we said, we are working on sending funding to help our comrades in Afghanistan to help in their survival. For different projects, we don’t have anything at the moment, but we would announce them as theyget finalized. You mentioned something about last year we mentioned about the podcast. We might have a podcast now, but in might not be in Persian, but instead in Kurdish. But it is still in the process of developing. We’re still trying to find gay, basically, a satellite, trying to broadcast to Iran viasatellite, because the majority of Iranian people and households have a satellite dish. It is one thing that has not been suppressed by the Iranian regime too much at the moment, so if he had a chance to broadcast to the Iranian people weekly, biweekly, monthly. That would be the best optional for us, but we are working on that Kurdish one at the moment.
Also, we would like to extend our solidarity to to the people inCanada against their horrible genocidal regime of Canada. Also, our son in solidarity with the peoples movement all across the world, from Colombia to Myanmar. We are watching all these uprisings. All this a struggle against the State and Capitalism and we are in solidarity with your guys, comrades.
In regards to what the international anarchist community can do for us to show their solidarity… It might come as a personal opinion, but I believe the rest of the Federation would agree, is you would start the revolution at home. Start the insurrectionist action at home. Basically the same in the U.S. what we witnessed at the George Floyd uprising was inspiring, very powerful, and we we hope you will see that this year. Just do some actions that you guys did last year. Some insurrectionist action. Burn some cars. Burn some police cars, burn some banks. or something like that. I hope you guys have a “hot girl summer”, I wanna be a part of that. Honestly that helps us out tremendously. Let’s keep this summer just like last yaer. The reason that it’s the best form of solidarity, in our opinion, is because the Western imperialism, the Western governments support certain groups. In the Iranian case, they support Iranian monarchists and the Mujahadeen, in which one of the goals is to take over the Iranian state. Basically, they are using their monarchists to set up a puppet state. Naturally, we anarchists are not in favor of that, we were like to dismantle the State. We do not want to have a puppet state in favor of capitalism and Western imperialism. So, by de-legitimizingthe U.S. government or Western governments like the U.S., Canada, Britain, Germany, all the western states… It doesn’t matter. By de-legitimizing, by uprising and rioting, you are helping us to do our struggles better. Our struggles are interconnected. Any weakness from your government is helping us and any chink in the armor of our government would help you. Let me put it another way: the Iranian government supports different militia groups in Palestine, Lebanon, Syria, Afghanistan, all across the region. And Yemen, I’m sorry. If the Iranian regime gets weakened,Peoples movement in those regions, liberatory Peoples moments in those regions can be a strengthened further. They are less repressed because the Militia are not receiving support anymore, so they can grow an and win their fights better. Or if the people in Palestine managed to liberate themselves and not fall into the hands of Hamas, that would weaken the Iranian government, which allows us to further complete its destruction. There was a video from a Lebanese activist from 2019 major Uprising. I think us 21 uprisings, all across the world in 2019.2019 was a year of revolutions. The Lebanese activist was saying “Revolution in Iranian! Revolution in Lebanon! Revolution in Palestine!” Let’s have a revolution in every country! Thank you very much.
TFSR: I love that, comrade. Thank you so much for taking the time and the effort to to have this conversation, and also please say thank you and appreciation and love to the comrades in the Federation. I really appreciate it.
FAE: Thank you very much, comrade. for your time and checking back with us. We really appreciate it.
This segment was first aired on TFSR in 2013 and then again in 2015. We thought it was time to share some of the story of Chicanx, anarchist-communist political prisoner Xinachtli, in his own words. Throughout the segments original audio, I used his state name of Alvaro Luna-Hernandez as he had not yet adopted the moniker Xinachtli, which means “seed” in Nahuatl. Xinachtli is a collective member at and editor of the Certain Days political prisoner calendar.
Xinachtli is serving a 50 year sentence since 1996 in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice for aggravated assault on a Sheriff in Alpine, Texas. The Sheriff was serving a warrant for Xinachtli’s re-arreast at Xinachtli’s home. When questioned on the nature of the warrant, the Sheriff pulled a gun and Xinachtli was able to disarm him and make an escape without harming the Sheriff significantly.
After a few days of man-hunt, his mothers house was surrounded by numerous local, state and federal law enforcement agencies and the house was beseiged. It was only a 9-1-1 call from Xinacthli made stating that he was not being allowed to surrender that caused the troops to stand down and he allowed himself to be taken into state custody.
The grounds for the arrest warrant have since been overturned, but based on the post-facto word of the Sheriff that Xinachtli had pointed the gun at him, Xinachtli was sentenced to 50 years. He’s been determined to be a political prisoner based on his participation in multiple cases against abuse by prison officials and police, his jailhouse lawyering, advocacy for Latinx and other marginalized people in Texas and his political stance that the US and state governments occupying the Southwest of Turtle Island is a racist and illegitimate regime.
Here is featured an interview with Xinachtli that we received from comrades in the Anarchist Black Cross who were doing support work for him. The original interview was incomplete, missing the voice of the interviewer, so we did our best to edit and reconstruct the audio to better fit a conversational format and present his conflicts with the Prison Industrial Complex, his views on his political prisoner status at the time of this interview and his views on his case. More info on his case, plus his writings and ways to get involved in his support campaign can be found at FreeAlvaro.Net.
You can write to Xinachtli by addressing your envelope to:
Alvaro Luna Hernandez #255735
W.G. McConnell Unit,
3001 Emily Drive,
Beeville, Texas 78102
Be sure to use Xinachtli only in written content meant for him, prison staff likely won’t deliver envelopes with Xinachtli written on them.
TFSR: Could you tell listeners about your persecution by law enforcement in Alpine and other parts of Texas and your participation in the Chicano rights movement?
Xinachtli: The history of my involvement in the community organizing, not the original movement, but after back in the 70s and 80s, which led to my my re-arrest – aggravated assault case. That started everything back in Alpine in Brewster County, Texas. Well, you know, my incarceration now, is unjust. I’ve been persecuted by the police in Alpine because of what I was doing and my long history of involvement in exposing police brutality in Alpine. For example, I was a witness to the murder of Ervay Ramos, a 16 year old friend of mine who was shot and killed by Alpine police – Bud Powers, in June, the 12th 1968. And I witnessed the murder of Ramos because I was with him that night. In fact, his case was published by the US Commission on civil rights.
You know, just like everything else, Powers was given the probated sentence. I don’t think he even served a day in jail. I think he passed away a couple of years ago, but he never served a day in jail. And of course, you know, this is just a continuation of a legacy of police brutality against Mexican Americans by the police in a multitude of social injustices that happen in Chicano Mexican American communities and so forth. Like education, racist education, segregation.
TFSR: What was it like to grew up there for you?
Xinachtli: When I was raised in Alpine? I attended the Centennial School, which was a segregated school. I mean, back in even in the 60’s… 68, 67… all the schools were still segregated. That was part of the legacy of hatred that the police always had for me, because I was… in a sense, I was a rebellious youth, you know? I mean, I was supposing police abuse of Chicano youth in the barrio and from that point forward pushed into the criminal justice system at a very young age. I even spend time here close to a facility here when it used to be the Texas Youth Commission. It used to be the facilities for juvenile offenders. And it used to be in Hilltop. I did a year. I think I was 14 years old. I did I did a year then. And, I mean it’s just been confrontation with the police, with the criminal justice system, and so forth. You know? Until until back in 72, 73 I was sent to prison at a very young age again for destroying some police cars. Right there in Alpine. And from that point forward, I mean, it was just have a lot of problems with the police and so forth. Then which led up to this wrongful capital murder conviction, which to this day, I have always proclaimed my innocence, you know, I had nothing to do with it.
TFSR: Can you tell us about that capital murder conviction?
Xinachtli: The robbery and murder of the night clerk at the Ramada Inn in Alpine in September of 1975. It was Capital murder. The state was seeking the death penalty. My court appointed attorney was Melvin Gray, out of the San Angelo. I was charged. My uncle, Juan Herandez was charged. Palmina Hernandez was charged. And allegedly she was the one that turned state’s evidence and put the blame on me, see? But it was her and my uncle who had robbed the clerk and killed him. I had nothing to do with it. I was nowhere around there. But since all the evidence showed that I was never around there. I mean, like the footprints, all the tests that was done on the evidence that was collected by the police never matched. But they never said anything about it. They wanted me. They didn’t want them. She was granted immunity for prosecution. She died in a car accident a few years back. Juan Hernandez, he was convicted in a jury trial in Crane County, but his conviction was overturned on insufficient evidence. He’s also deceased.
Okay, so see? The state was seeking the death penalty. The jury couldn’t agree on the death penalty. So the state waived the death penalty during the punishment phase and they said “well just give him a life sentence. That’s cool.” So the jury gave me a life sentence, but the state was seeking the death penalty. And they had just opened the jail in Fort Stockton. The brand new jail, but they had me housed in Pecos, Texas. Close to my trial, they they move me to the new jail in Fort Stockton. Pecos County that’s Pecos County Jail.
TFSR: Here Xinachtli tells us a bit about his most recent conviction, garnering him the 50 year sentence and what led up to it.
Xinachtli: So when the jury found me guilty, I was awaiting sentencing. Me and three other inmates overpowered the jailer and took his gun, locked him in the cell, open all the cell doors for all the prisoners and told them they could leave they wanted to. And we took the jailers car and we drove all the way through Marathon to the Big Bend National Park and into Mexico. You know, of course, there was no bridge there at the Big Bend National Park. So we left the car and we swim across the river into Mexico. When they saw the car two or three days later through the air, because there was a big manhunt for us. They saw the car. They started trailing us and…. Texas Rangers, FBI, the Mexican police. So when they accosted us on the other side of the river…. we had to shoot out because we had…. I took all the Sherrif’s arsenal. I had all the weapons from the Sheriff Arsenal. I took them. Machine gun, and shot guns, and weapons, pistols and all that. So when they came up on us, we started shooting. Nobody was hurt, nobody was shot, nobody was killed. We ran out of bullets. And that’s when they apprehended us brought us back across the river. I think we were what? Two, three miles into into Mexico? Right there in Santa Elena, Mexico. And they brought this back and that’s when they had me handcuffed and in leg shackles and all that. And that’s when they beat me up.
TFSR: And at that point, some of the officers saw the severity of the beating you were getting and reported to higher authorities to save your life. Right?
Xinachtli: Yes, some of the officers saw the beating, and they went and called the Justice Department. They told them to go check on me because they they thought I was dead. So that’s when the Justice Department Criminal Civil Rights Division got involved in the case. And they indicted indicted Hill and May. And prosecuted him in Federal Court. John Pinkney. He’s in private practice now in San Antonio. John Pickney, he was the assistant US Attorney handling the case. Although I never did testify against him because being said that it was a trial strategy. He never called me to testify against them, but they weren’t convicted. The other inmates did testify against them. Because because they were first offenders and they had no criminal record. I already had… at that age, I was 22 years old. But during all this time I became I became politically aware inside prison. You know, I was involved in the Ruiz trial and the Ruiz case. You know, we went to two federal court to testify on behalf of all all Texas prisoners and so forth.
I was on parole on this conviction. March 11 of 1991. I was paroled after serving 16 years in DDC. And I went to Houston. I was very involved in community organization. You know? I was a delegate for the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. I organized a lot of civil rights groups and so forth. Married Elizabeth Perillo. And then after a few years, we had a divorce and I went back to Alpine. And when I returned to Alpine that’s when the police started harassing me.
TFSR: Xinachtli talks about the aggravated robbery charged that the Sheriff use to legitimize the warrant for Hernandez’s arrest.
Xinachtli: If it hadn’t been for the aggravated robbery case, there would have never been the assault case. Some drunk guy in a bar said that I had snatched some money from his from his hand. And the bartender was right there witnessing everything. And he said that the drunk man was lying. Because he witnessed everything. He said, he followed me and him outside. And he had a wad of money in his hand and the wind blew the money up from his hand, because it was real windy on the outside of the bar. And because I brought all these witnesses in at a pre-trial hearing, I was acting as my own attorney. They had no choice but to have it dismissed. They dismissed that case. But the assault had had already happened. I mean, it was it was as bogus as they come.
TFSR: So this 50 year sentence that you’ve been serving since 1996. Tell us about it.
Xinachtli: This new sentence stems from my act of self defense against Sheriff Jack McDaniel. He’s also deceased. He was the sheriff of Alpine. And I was on parole up when I was charged with aggravated robbery case and made bond. He goes to my house to arrest me and he gets mad because I asked him for the copy of the warrant of arrest. I was never notified of the withdrawal or anything. So when I questioned him, he went for his gun. And you know, when he went for his gun, I took the gun away from him. I disarmed him. You know, to be honest with you, I was scared. I thought he was gonna shoot me. Because I have seen all this brutality from all of them. You know what I’m saying? I mean, I had seen when when Ron was was killed, I had seen a lot of brutality from the police. You know what I’m saying? Well, I took the gun and I ran. And then about a few blocks down the road. My wife picked me up, and she took me to Marathon, 30 miles away to the Marathon Post. On our way back she was arrested. See, she was pregnant, then she was expecting a child. Alvaro Jr. On our way back she was arrested and charged with hindering apprehension. I was indicted for the aggravated assault on the Sheriff. So after, you know, after that I had a jury trial. They had a change of venue to Odessa, Texas, and I had a jury trial and I was convicted on one count of aggravated assault on Sheriff McDaniel and not guilty on another account of allegedly shooting a police in the hand, Sergeant Curtis Hines. And I was given a 50 year sentence.
But the the old…. the ’75, ’76 conviction was used as part of the justification for increased punishment. The aggravated element comes in when the sheriff said that I pointed the weapon at him. The way it happened, really, by me disarming him and fleeing from the scene… It’s not aggravated. See, the aggravated even though it was a weapon, I never used the weapon. See what I’m saying? But he’s saying that I took the weapon away from him, and pointed the weapon at him, and threatened him. See? That’s what makes it aggravated. KOSA TV channel 7 in Odessa did a live interview because when I fled the scene, they had a manhunt for me, and it was broadcasting all throughout West Texas. They were they were hunting for me. There was a manhunt for me. So when KOSA TV goes to interview the Sheriff initially… he tells them exactly what happened! That I disarmed him, took his gun and fled, which is true. You know? I disarmed him. But I never threatened him with it. I never pointed the weapon at him.
My hired trial attorney, Tony Chavez out of Odessa, subpoenaed the video. And I remember as if it was yesterday where the news anchor Daphne Downey out of Odessa KOSA TV came into the courtroom. She had a copy of the VCR video and they was gonna play that before the jury. But it was never played before the jury. Mysteriously, this video has come up missing. Nobody can locate it. Daphne Downey from KOSA TV said that since they moved location to another building, that all of their videos, all their archives were donated to the University of Texas at the Permian Basin, the journalistic department. Twitch and a lot of other people have tried to help me locate that video, but nobody seems to know where it’s at.
TFSR: Xinachtli, is there anything that reporter could do if the actual videotape of the Sheriff’s testimony is missing?
Xinachtli: If the reporter can recreate? You know, what the share of relayed to him then. See, because there’s partial testimony. In fact, even some of the some of the offense reports that the sheriff wrote that initially, he told the truth: that I never threatened him with a weapon. I just disarmed him.
TFSR: And when did the Sheriff’s story change?
Xinachtli: After he talked to the District Attorney. Because probably what happened is that the District Attorney told him “Well, I mean, it’s more serious if you say that he used the weapon against you, and threatened you with it. That makes it aggravated, that makes it a first degree felony, which carries a more aggravated sentence, a harsher sentence.” And that’s exactly what happened. See? Because at that time he started… the sheriff started filing all kinds of charges on me. For example: He charged me with disarming him. He charged me with assault. And then he charged me with resisting arrest. I mean, he just kept finding all kinds of charges on me. And then he finally charged me with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. Which was the more serious of all the charges. But in a lot of his police reports, even his pretrial deposition that he gave in the case.
Another thing about my lawyer, he was a paid lawyer. Tony Chauvez was a hired lawyer. I think it was about about two months after I get convicted. The federal government hits him with a Rico Indictment for drug distribution, drug conspiracy, involvement with a with a Ojinaga Cartel, Midland Odessa Cartel. They issue 20 some count indictments against him and he immediately enters into a plea bargain with the federal government and pleads guilty. He agrees to surrender his law license, and he gets 30 months in federal prison and he was disbarred from the practice of law. See, at that time… at the time of my trial, the federal government had been investigating him for over five years. And in fact, his home and his law offices were being wire tapped.
I have never been able to obtain copies of those wiretaps. Because my theory of the cases is that if the state and the federal government law enforcement agencies were working together in this big criminal conspiracy out of West Texas, involving the use about 30 or 40 defendants. If they were working together then the prosecutor that prosecuted me knew that Tony Chavez was under investigation by the federal government, because the case started as a state case. All these legal grounds that I had, like the suppression of evidence, the wire taps, the lawyer being under investigation being convicted.
Some of those issues have never been really fully developed, because some of the evidence…. I don’t even know. Because I’ve never had a chance to get a hold of all this evidence, like the wiretaps on his office. What was the nature of investigation? You know? There are some people that have filed some Freedom of Information Act Requests. And, the state and federal governments, they have released some documents, but they haven’t released all of the documents, and they’re claiming exemptions on the other documents. Refusing to release them. They have deleted some of this information, because, you know, I’ve always said that there was a conspiracy between between the police. The police didn’t want me back in Alpine. They knew that I was back in Alpine. And as soon as I got back from Alpine from Houston, they started harassing me. They had me under surveillance. They even sent this heroin addict, by the name of Mary Valencia, to try to entrap me. She later told me this. You know? But the lawyer never called her as a witness during the trial.
TFSR: Who was Mary Valencia?
Xinachtli: Well, see. She was a worker at the motel in Alpine. I was staying at this motel in Alpine. Bienvenido Motel. And she was a custodial worker there. She used to go in and clean rooms in the motel. She was a local heroin addict. I mean she had a bunch of theft charges. And, she later told me that the police had approached her to try to set me up. The police had approached her to find out what I was doing. Because at that time, I was doing some freelance paralegal work for an attorney out of Fort Worth by the name of Alex Tandy. You know, and I used to spend a lot of time in the law library at the (unclear) State University or at the county Law Library. In fact, one day, when I was at the Law Library in the county courthouse I saw Sheriff McDaniel as he was walking by, and he looked at me and he said… These were his exact words. He said ” Well, I see your back.” I told him, “Yes, I’m back.” And he said, “Well, just keep your nose clean.” I told him “Well, the people who need to keep their nose clean are the police, and you! Because all you do is steal from the county. That’s what you do. Steal from the county and beat Mexicans down.” And you should have seen him, he got really agitated.
From that point forward, I mean, they continuously stopped me on the streets. I mean, they even had the Border Patrol drug dog run through my car. You know, they they were all under the impression that I was using drugs that I was selling drugs, because I had started dating this girl who was known for drug use. Maria Imelda. Imelda, was her name. She was an old friend. And, that’s why they always said that I was using drugs. That I was a drug addict, and all this. Which was, you know, I was just trying to, I was dating her, and I was just trying to take her off the streets. In fact, she was the one that got pregnant and had my child.
You know, she was the one that was there at the at the house when Sheriff McDaniel came up that morning to try to arrest me. She was nine months pregnant. Two weeks later, she had the baby when I was in jail. See? And she testified on my behalf, even though they told her that if she testified…. they tried to intimidate her by by threatening her that if she testified on my behalf, that they were going to charge her too. She said “I don’t care. I’m going to tell the truth.” So, you know, she testified. And she testified to the truth. That I never pointed the gun at the sheriff.
TFSR: What is the likelihood of your parole?
Xinachtli: Well, see? I’m under the new law, which is the Half Law. That’s the new aggravated law. You got to serve 25 calendar years out of 50 to be eligible for parole. That’s just to be eligible for parole. You know, that’s why they The Half Law. You get 100 years, you got to do 50 calendar. If you get 50, you got to do half. 25. So that’s the aggravated element of a felony first degree case where there’s a weapon involved. Where you use or exhibit a deadly weapon. You know? And there is a factual finding an affirmative finding. What they call an affirmative find in the use of a deadly weapon that automatically makes the case aggravated. Under the Half Law, you got to do, you got to do half before you even are eligible for parole.
And my case is… see? I’m considered a political prisoner. I’m recognized internationally as a political prisoner because of my community involvement in the streets, as an organizer, as somebody who would protest, police brutality, protest injustices and so forth. You know? I mean, I was a delegate before the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, because of that involvement with my community. When I was in Houston, my case has been mentioned in law journals and books and so forth, including my Jailhouse Lawyering back here in prison, Mumia Abu-Jamal and his book *Jailhouse Lawyers*. He mentioned me. There’s that book by Matt Meyer, *Let Freedom Ring*. They also Chronicle my my case from going all the way back to to the Alpine case.
TFSR: So, Xinachtli, where do you stand with your appeals process?
Xinachtli: And of course, I’ve exhausted one full round of appeals. You know? When I was convicted, I appealed my case to the Court of Criminal Appeals. They denied it. I filed in Federal Court. I went to the Fifth Circuit US Court of Appeals. I went to the Supreme Court. I’ve never had licensed assistance from an attorney on post conviction. I did all the work myself. You know, I never was able to collect all the evidence that was withheld. Although I did ask for it. They never they never released it. You know, like the wire taps, all the other evidence, because I know, there’s a lot of evidence that that could be developed on the prior convictions. If I could reopen that case… that would certainly knock out this other case. But I have to take it against one step at a time, you know. I mean, right now I’m in a Control Unit back here. I’ve been back here for 10 years on basically what they call administrative segregation. I’ve been in solitary confinement for the last 10 years back here on this unit on this new sentence.
In the cell by myself, when I go into recreation, I go by myself. Every time I exit the door, the cell door, they have to handcuff me with my hands behind my back. We get searched every day. I get back three times, two times, a week outside recreation in a yard. Which is… you know a cage. That’s all that is, cement, high walls, all you can see is the sky. The day room is in front of the cell. You know, I mean, you can see the next inmate who comes out to recreation, but that’s about it. There’s no contact. There’s no… I mean, you go to and recreation for an hour a daily. Like this morning I was out there this morning. After you finish rec, you go to shower, and then they put you back in a cell. You know, this is just it, I mean, you go out once.
TFSR: Can you talk to the other inmate as you pass? Can you carry on a conversation?
Xinachtli: Well, I mean, you could holler at him. But I mean, that’s all you hear: hollering. Back in this facility in fact, they just had one that hanged himself last week. There’s a lot of people who have hanged themselves. Who have committed suicide. And I have always complained about that. You know, I’ve always complained. But no. The repression. The the sensory deprivation, the isolation. I mean, we don’t have access to TV. We got access to a typewriter. We got access to a radio, small little radio, but you got to buy those on your own. You know, we have no access to television. Yes, we get Law Library, about three times a week. We order a Case sites from the law library. And that’s how I do my legal work. Well, there’s no limitation on correspondence, but there’s a ten person limitation on your visitation. And you can have visits every week, as long as you maintain a clear disciplinary record. Because if you violate serious disciplinary rules, then they’ll send you to another part. And you have to serve 90 days segregation, minus all of the other privileges. They totally strip you of your property and everything.
TFSR: Xinachtli before this interview in late 2012. When was your last visitation?
Xinachtli: I hadn’t had a visit in a while. uhh… years! Yeah, I think… Let me see the last visit I had. I’ve had a few friends that would drop by. Twitch has come by. A friend from Canada, Sara used to drop by every now and then. I had some family members sometimes come, but I hadn’t had a visit… you know, in a while. Very little. The expression that you find is through pen and paper. It’s through my typewriter. And I mean, you could sense through, I guess, through my writings… the passion, the anger, you know, the despair. Still, there’s…. I cling to hope. You know, because I’ve seen a lot of injustices. What the system has done to a lot of people who speak out against it. They try to crush you. They tried to break your spirit. I mean, They try to just isolate you and just crush you. You know what I’m saying? That’s the power of the state. And I realized that. But no prison or no solitary cell will be able to break my spirit.
I know that I’m right. I know that my cause is just. And I know that. I know that the police assaulted me. But I have no power. You know? They have the political power. They own the court systems. How many Mexicans are killed down across the border every day? And who gets charged all the time? Ya know? we do. You know? we do. So that’s the power. That’s the power of the state and the political process. I know. That’s the only hope that I have like reaching out to people who who have a sense of justice. You know, people that I can appeal to for a sense of justice. Because I know that there’s a lot of people out there, powerful people, that don’t want to see me free. Because they know what I can do. They know the power of my spirit. They know what I could do as far as organizing people making people stand up to fight injustice.
And that’s what I do, that’s what I used to do. If you don’t conform to the system, to the political system. If you step outside the political system and you seek independence from from the political process from the social economic process, then you’re a troublemaker and the only place they want to put you in jail or put you in a grave.
Updates from Greece
1431 AM, Thessaloniki
Greetings from Thessaloniki, Greece. From Free Social Radio 1431AM. On 23rd of April anarchist Vangelis Stathopoulos was sentenced in 19 years in prison. Solely because he tried to help an injured comrade, Chatzivasileiadis. Late he was self injured during the theft attempt. There is no solid of evidence that *Stathopoulos participated in the theft. But even in that case, he could only be sentenced for a misdemeanor. But after phony evidence and anonymous calls, a counter terrorist service, he was tagged as a member of a terrorist group called a Revolutionary Struggle. Basically, Stathopoulos is in prison for his anarchist identity, which he clearly defended in front of the judges and for his attempts to get injured adversary and to have access to a doctor. Since then, many actions of solidarity have taken place throughout Greece, until the every cage is burned until everyone is free.
On May 12 a new law was passed by the greek government about child custody. The law states that child custody automatically and compulsorily goes to both parents equally in case of divorce or even when both parents recognize legally a child born outside of marriage. Up until now usually the custody was given to the mother with some rights of visitation from the father, and in the cases that the custody was given to both parents it was because they both peacefully and collectively agreed so, not because a judge decided so. This new law and its authoritarian power over a child’s life does not include parameters of the child’s benefit or opinion, and even more for cases of domestic abuse, as it recognizes that a parent loses the right for shared child custody only after if they are found irrevocably guilty of physical violence, which is rare in cases of domestic violence. Under this law, all decision for the child must be taken from both parents, and if they don’t agree on something then it’s up to the court to decide. A parent can appeal on this decision but it can take years of court hearings and meanwhile the child is shared like an object with its abuser.
The Hatzidaki’s bill is the continuation of a long series of laws of the Greek state, where under the pretext of increasing the competitiveness of companies that will thus contribute to the economy, started the overall deregulation of the labor market with the main characteristics of changing the schedule from fixed to flexible working hours, reducing labor costs and labor rights. The modern working day that has been shaped thanks to the previous legislations that have been implemented, is full of insecurity and pressure due to the fear of dismissal, low wages, “split” working hours, increased rates of work. Many bosses in Greece don’t pay the workers their gifts, put employees who are suspended to work, insure the employees for 4 hours and make them work 8 and 10 hours, sexually harass, commit violence, bully.
All this with the support of the state that consciously allows such practices to be perpetuated and even proceeds to consolidate and worsen them, probably submitting on June 17 the aforementioned bill, in which you provide: Elimination of the eight-hour period and imposition of 50 working hours per week, with the imposition of individual employment contracts.
Bosses will be able to employ employees up to a maximum of 10 hours per day, without additional pay, provided that within the same 6 months they pay the hours with a corresponding reduction in hours or breaks or days off.
Increasing the hours of legal overtime to 150 hours, with the increase of the limits the legal overtime work will become cheaper. The possibility of a legal claim for re-employment is abolished (even in the case where the dismissal is deemed abusive) with the payment of compensation, thus giving the bosses full immunity for the dismissals.
Abolition of the SEPE (Body of Labor Inspectors) and its transformation into an “Independent Authority” (in fact it will be fully controlled by the state)
Criminalization of the strike guard that will lead to the termination of the strike with a court decision under the pretext of the possible physical or psychological violence that can be exercised by the strikers. At least 33.3% of the services are required, in addition to the security staff, which means that a large part of the workers will have to work during a strike.
Remote voting, electronically, in particular for a strike decision. The measure undermines both the exchange of views and the General Assemblies themselves
Mandatory file of all members of a union and its activities, so that employees can exercise their union rights, in the already legislated Register of Trade Unions maintained in the information system “Ergani” of the Ministry of Labor Flexibility in remote working in the form of either full-time or part-time employment.
R.O.S.E. 93.8FM, Athens
Open Assembly Against Green Growth
On June 6, the open assembly against Green Growth and Wind in Agrafa called together with other collectives in Tymbanos, where work has begun on the installation of wind turbines, and the construction of the substation. Taking advantage of the pandemic and destruction of the area from the Mediterranean Cyclone Ianos. Despite the attack by the repression unit, the protesters resisted and regrouped, continuing the mobilization, shouting slogans, making it clear that they will not back down until the work is stopped. In it’s call, the open assembly calls on the inhabitants of the agrarian villages in the cities of the plain to be vigilant for a cessation and blocking of the works for a relentless struggle for land and freedom.
Sexual Harassment on Athens Social Transport
On the occasion of ever increasing complaints about incidents of sexual harassment in the neighborhoods of southern suburbs, a mobilization was organized on Friday, the fourth of June 2021 at 9pm with a call the metro Argyropouli station. The mobilization is inspired by the Reclaim the Night Movement that emerged in the 70’s in Britain from feminist groups to reoccupy the city for women in the night. The central slogan was “On the street, on the metro, at night, to be free, not brave.” The Gathering in the metro station of Argyropouli in a very positive atmosphere remained in the area for about an hour to highlight the collective presence and protection of women against the incidents that took place in the metro Argyropouli in previous weeks. Then a block of up to 150 people was formed that crossed nearby streets and alleys within the next two hours and finally passed through the shops and ended up in a nearby Square. The march had strong chants with slogans against gender based violence, patriarchy heteronormativity, police violence and sexual harassment in the restaurant. Many people reacted positively, went out on the balconies, applauded and even went on their way. The initiative was organized by the newly formed Witches of the South Team. These mobilization, the first of its kind in our region, leaves behind an optimistic mindset in terms of struggle.
Government Witnessing Changes
Since first of June, according to an instruction of the Ministry of Immigration and Asylum. Public servants are prohibited from attending as witnesses in trials where the public is accused of illegal acts as it is said to safeguard the interests of the Greek state. The directive informs the Civil Servants that the testimony in favor of the opponents and against the Greek state constitutes a disciplinary misconduct and a criminal offense. As mentioned below, the affidavit of ministry officials is allowed only to support the allegations of the Greek state. As always in the ministry against which a series of serious cases are pending even at European level. The state is getting shielded in every way.
Making Links: June 11th, Long-term Prisoners, Anti-Repression Work
June 11th is the international day of solidarity with Marius Mason and all long-term anarchist prisoners. This year we want to explore the connections between long-term prisoner support and anti-repression efforts around recent uprisings, a sharp reminder to us that the difference between a status of imprisoned or not is often tenuous and temporary. With thousands of arrests for protesting, rioting, and property destruction from last summer’s George Floyd uprising, we must be preparing for the possibility that more of our friends and other rebels may end up in prison. We’re also seeking to find ways to facilitate interactions between our long-term prisoners and uprisings in the streets. We were happy to share the production of this episode with the lovely folks at June11.Org. To this end, we speak with:
Cameron and Veera, who are part of a group that have been supporting prisoners from the Ferguson uprising for the last 7 years;
They share with us their experiences with state repression, what motivates them, and some thoughts on what we can be doing to make us, our communities, and our liberatory movements more resilient. The speakers responded to questions in the same order throughout the conversation but didn’t identify themselves much, so remember that the order and the projects they’re involved in can be found in our show notes.
You can learn more about Marius Mason and how to support him at SupportMariusMason.org. You can see past podcasts by June 11th, prisoner statements, artwork, info about the prisoners supported by the effort, a mix-tape they curated last year and events listed for various cities you can join at June11.org. We’re releasing this audio before June 11th to entice folks to consider a potluck, an action, a letter writing event, a banner drop, a postering rampage or something to share the day with folks behind walls. Hear our past June 11 episodes here.
You can also hear the June 11th statement for this year alongside other info on prisoner support from comrades at A-Radio Vienna in the May 2021 BadNews podcast!
BRABC Letter Writing Today
If you’re in Asheville, join Blue Ridge Anarchist Black Cross today, June 6th for a letter writing from 5-7pm at West Asheville Park on Vermont Ave. BRABC meets every first Sunday at that time, provides info on prisoners with upcoming birthdays or facing repression, stationary, postage and company. Never written a letter? Don’t know how to start? Swing by and share some space!
Comrade David Easley, A306400 at the Toledo Correctional Institution, who has in previous months been viciously assaulted by prison staff at the direction of the ToCI Warden Harold May, as well as number of other inmates also who have been isolated for torture and other oppressive, covert, and overt retaliatory actions at that facility, denied adequate medical care for speaking out against the cruel, inhumane treatment at that Ohio facility. More and more comrades are reporting occurring throughout the ODRC, and across this country for any who dare stand up and speak up for themselves, and the voiceless within the steel and concrete walls.
This is a CALL TO ACTION to zap the phone at the U.S. District Court in Toledo, Ohio and demand that Comrade David Easley be granted a phone conference with Judge James R. Knepp II, and the Attorney General because Comrade Easley’s lawyer of record has decided to go rogue by not filing a Memorandum Contra Motion as his client requested and now the State has presented a Motion to Dismiss his case to that court.
Plaintiff: David Easley, A306400
Case No: 3:18-CV-02050
Presiding Judge: James R. Knepp II
Courtroom Clerk: Jennifer Smith
Phone No: (419) 213-5571
Also, reach out to Comrade Easley using the contact info he like many of our would appreciate the concerns, and love from us on the outside to stay the course, and not get discouraged in his Daily Struggle.
David Easley #A306400
PO Box 80033
Toledo, OH 43608
Anarchist Bank Robber and Prisoner, Giannis Dimitrakis Healing from Attack
the following was received from comrades at 1431 AM in Thessaloniki, Greece, a fellow member of the A-Radio Network. We had hoped to feature an interview they would facilitate with Giannis Dimitrakis for June 11th, however you’ll see why this hasn’t been possible. We hope he heals up quickly and would love to air that interview for the Week of Solidarity with Anarchist Prisoners in August:
On 24/5, our comrade, a political prisoner, the anarchist Giannis Dimitrakis was transported to the hospital of Lamia, seriously injured after the murderous attack he suffered in Domokou prison. G. Dimitrakis barely survived the the attack, and the blows he received caused multiple hematomas in the head, affecting basic functions of his brain. A necessary condition for the full recovery of the partner is the complete and continuous monitoring of him in a specialized rehabilitation center by specialist doctors and therapists.
In this crucial condition, the murderous bastards of the New Democracy government, M. Chrysochoidis, Sofia Nikolaou and their subordinates decide on Thursday June 3rd to transfer Giannis back to Domokos prison and even to a solitary confinement cell, supposedly for his health. Transferring our comrade there, with his brain functions in immediate danger, is for us a second attempt to kill him. Domokos prison does not meet in the slightest the conditions for the treatment and recovery of a prisoner in such a serious condition.
Αs a solidarity movement in general, we are again determined not to leave our comrade’s armor in their blood-stained hands. Nothing should be left unanswered, none of the people in charge of the ever-intensifying death policy that they unleash should be left out of our sights.
Immediate transfer of our partner to a specialized rehabilitation center
Hands down from political prisoners
Solidarity and strength to the anarchist fighter G. Dimitrakis
This is an invitation to engage June 11 in solidarity with Giannis Dimitrakis. On June 9th there will be a solidarity demo in Exarchia, Athens at 7pm!
Host 1: Would you please introduce yourselves and maybe who you are, what projects you’re working on and what experience you have with anti repression prisoner support work.
Cameron: My name is Cameron. I live in St. Louis. I’ve been doing prisoner support stuff for to varying degrees for the last 10 or so years. Having letter writing nights, fundraising for commissary stuff, sending in newsletters to jails and prisons.
Veera: I’m Veera. This is the biggest anti-repression prisoner support project that I’m a part of, or the longest running one. But similar to Cameron, I’ve been doing some support work for prisoners for probably the last 9 or 10 years, and have just maintained pen pals with several different prisoners across the states. And currently in southern Ontario, there are prisons, like across the region, that are on hunger strike, for different reasons, especially in regards to the pandemic and how they’ve been treated. And so I’ve been plugging into some of the hunger strike support work here. But yeah, also still getting acquainted with how projects are done here in this new place that I live.
Earthworm: Okay, my name is Earthworm from Atlanta, and I work with the Atlanta Solidarity Fund and the protester jail support team, and Cop Watch of East Atlanta. And we’ve got a lot of protester support experience because our friends have been getting arrested for years at different protests. So we turned it into something that has scaled way, way up, of course, particularly in the last year with the George Floyd uprisings.
Jeremy Hammond: Well, you know me, my name is Jeremy Hammond. I was recently released from federal prison several months ago. And I’ve been involved for most of my adult life. And since my release, I’ve just kind of been slowly getting my feet wet and seeing what my involvement would be most appropriate. And I’m also here with my brother-
Jason Hammond: Jason Hammond, that’s my voice right here. I’m his brother. And yeah, I’m a longtime supporter of Jeremy. But I’m also of course involved in on the ground protests related movements. One group that I’m a volunteer for is the Chicago Community Bond Fund. It’s a bond fund that has been involved in prison abolition struggles, most notably the George Floyd, Black Lives Matter uprising last year. We did a lot of work for political prisoners during these uprisings too.
Host 2: Can you tell us more about the role of your projects in uprising anti-repression, and some of the prisoners you’re supporting, or talk about examples of political coordination and action with other prisoners that might give the audience a sense of the agency of folks behind bars?
C: Well, I mean, in 2014, a group of us started supporting folks who got locked up during the Ferguson uprising, and it kind of came out of desire to not ignore, but actually just like, actively promote the reality that the folks that were participating were engaged in risky and creative and destructive actions, like looting, or shooting guns and arson. And we kept seeing a lot of people fall through the cracks in 2014, like in terms of getting support from like the, “movement”. So we just really wanted to make sure that folks got some kind of support. And so a lot of the people that were participating weren’t really like a part of a movement per se, like they weren’t like in an activist organization, or they weren’t organizers, they were kind of articulating themselves outside of that. And so we just felt like that was really important to see and acknowledge because, yeah, there were people that have gone away for, are now in prison for like five plus years, some people because of what they did.
And like there’s all sorts of narratives by nonprofits and activists, that the people who are like doing the heavier stuff were hurting the movement or kind of a part of a conspiracy of outsiders or criminals. And it felt like that kind of narrative was just reproducing the same that caused this moment, this uprising. This sort of demonization of people, this sort of keeping people in their place, ignoring the fact that people have agency and ability to like refuse to be victimized by systems that want to kill them or hurt them. And I’ve personally just felt like I was very frustrated to not see that narrative promoted or like accepted. That was kind of the big reason why I got involved in supporting folks.
To go back to like nonprofit stuff, like a lot of those folks weren’t really seeing what was happening right in front of them. This was an uprising that was extremely combative against not just the police, but also private property and with the authority of a lot of people who want to keep things the way they are. And people from all walks of life just coming to this situation, and like getting wrapped up in it, and like getting arrested, and like doing things that were dangerous, and not really talked about, and like a legible, easily palatable story. That was just a very hard thing to watch. Having gone through my own legal issues, through going through courts for years, and being arrested a bunch of times, and just like knowing how shitty that is to experience and how like grueling it is to go from one continuance to another. And I knew I had people who had my back, and people who would come to my court dates, and I just wanted to return that as well to other people.
V: Yeah, I can maybe just talk a little bit more about the specifics of the project that Cameron and I are a part of, as far as like the prisoners that we are supporting. They are just from a compilation of a list that we compiled from just mailing letters to people who got arrested during the Ferguson uprising. People from all walks of life and in that neighborhood, and not necessarily people that we could say that we were like politically aligned with, because it might even be safe to say that all of the people that we are supporting when we started supporting them wouldn’t necessarily have aligned themselves with any sort of politics.
Yeah, we sent letters and just said, basically, if they were willing to, we would put them on this public list — which is the list on AntistateSTL — put their images out there and their mailing addresses, and thereby making it easier for people across the country to support them. And so that list we’ve maintained, or someone has maintained, over the years. We had, I think 11 people at one point, and now it’s down to, oh gosh, like 5 or 6 maybe? Because people have gotten out just specifically from that list of folks, there’s two people that I spend a lot of time in communication with them and their families and have visited and everything. And one of them actually, Cameron was alluding to this, but you know, people would get arrested in Ferguson for doing a lot of what a lot of people were doing, which was looting and destruction of property and everything, and one of the guys that I support was arrested for those things and then because of priors, whenever he was sentenced, he actually got a sentence of 60 years. So he’s gonna be in for the rest of his life. So that’s like a very long term. In some ways that to me is like very mind blowing and it’s a very good example of the people that were acting in the streets weren’t always people that we were familiar with their lifestyle, or familiar with the risks that they were taking.
E: So we ran jail support for anybody that was arrested and were doing prisoner support for anybody who is stuck in jail, because they were denied bail or because they’re unfortunately, sent to prison. So we’ve provided all sorts of support for arrested folks.
Jeremy: All right, well, certainly my experience in prison, you have a wide variety of individuals who are locked up, many of which have become politicized in prison. And so they see someone who is locked up on a case such as mine with support from political movements on the outside people know that I’m an anarchist, and a prison abolition is right? And a lot of people are very curious about this. Right? Because of all the experiences in their own lives having been repressed by the criminal justice system.
As far as examples of coordination there’s unfortunately, like, prison they want to bury you, right? They want to prevent you from communicating to the outside world, to receive information of what’s going on in the outside world. And so the work that’s being done on the outside, such as everything from books to prisoners, to the support at people’s court dates and stuff, to having noise demonstrations outside the jail, really gets people who are curious about what’s going on. And so for an example, like I would regularly receive zines and newsletters from ABC and other organizations, right, which are very useful in discussing things that we would otherwise only have access to, like – say for example, something on the news, we would only receive information about what’s going on with the George Floyd uprising, the Michael Brown uprising, based on what was in the news, right? But now we have additional materials to share and discuss as a focus of discussions. For example newsletters from actual movement stuff itself.
And so when people see like the jail demonstrations outside the jail, when people see that there’s people attending each one of your court rooms, that they know that there’s kind of a camaraderie, a sense of loyalty and commitment to something. It kind of brings like prisoners together that we’re not just alone, that we’re, there’s a continuum of resistance, and each of our stories plays a part in that.
Jason: So this is Jason speaking right now, I can talk about my experiences with the Chicago Community bond fund. Just a little back history: this is a bond fund that was organized in response to the uprisings in Chicago against the Chicago police scandal, the murder of Laquan McDonald. There were a large movement, which included a number of arrests to protest the cover up of the murder. And so people had raised a good amount of money to bond out the resistors, the protesters, and in the wake of that it basically coalesced into a movement of an organization that tried to address you know, the problems of the prison system, the Cook County Jail, the mass incarceration project. It was an abolitionist project so we started just working with the community, bonding out people’s family, loved ones, friends, and all that, basically as much as we could try to empty the jail out. This was, I think, around like 2016.
Fast forward to the George Floyd uprising, the organization had been long a supporter of the BLM movement, and when this had happened the organization had definitely stepped up to do everything they possibly could within the organization, to not just bond out the protesters, and the activists but of course the larger community that was involved in, let’s say, property distribution, looting, breaking property, destruction. They stated clearly on that stance, which, in fact, BLM Chicago as well had made a stance to support people involved in the looting.
So we, every day, we’d be out bonding people from Cook County Jail. Sometimes, I personally would go up with a list of like 10 people in the jail, just bonding as many people as we possibly could, as well as trying to amplify and elevate the struggles of other organizations working to change the system. Yeah, this is one thing that’s Chicago Bond Fund had been doing in 2020. And we’re still doing it, you know. We also had a campaign to change the, basically end money bail type law in Illinois. It’s said it’s an “end money bail” but of course felonies and a little bit less palatable type charges, like violent charges or domestic charges, are not bailable, but these are details in the bond bill. But it’s still a pretty good bill the Pretrial Fairness Act, passed in Illinois because of our grassroots shit.
However, there’s still plenty of other challenges beyond the fact, about money for example, the campaign was “end money bail”, right? However, there’s all kinds of other, like compounding details that would allow a person to get what they call a “no bond”. For example, if they have two charges, they can be bond out for the first one, but for the second one in light of the fact that they were already on bond, they could have just be given what they call a “no bond” so that they’re still in there, no matter how expensive their bond is or depending on what kind of charges. So for that reason, there’s still tons of people currently in Cook County Jail and you know, we are expecting the numbers to go down as the the law rolls out, expecting to kind of be fully implemented in two years, but we are we are going to still see a number of people still in the Cook County jail system, even though they are pre trial, just because of all kinds of other laws that would prevent someone from leaving, you know. A large part of this country do not want to see the changes that we were fighting for be implemented. And you know, I mean, all you have to do is just kind of look at the rhetoric and what their actions are, they’re pushing back in the legal sense as well.
Yeah, there’s a major political battle basically between the far right, the John Catanzara FOP CPD camp, as well as the state’s attorney Kim Fox, Lori Lightfoot. Kim Fox has been actually a pretty vocal support of the end money bail project. So like there’s there’s a political battle, of course, as well.
TFRS: Have you seen your support work change over time? For instance the progression from supporting someone through their initial arrest and bonding out, to serving a prison sentence or doing other follow up work with them if that’s not the case. Or if you were in prison, how did your needs change over time from the initial court support and folks showing up and fundraising for lawyers during the initial phase to like, maybe follow up?
C: Well, I mean, initially, we found all these people’s names from like media articles, like there’s a website in Missouri where you can just like find all the court records of cases and so we just kind of like comb through all those and sent letters to them and stuff. And as folks started getting sentenced, some were incarcerated in prisons, other people were given time served because they’d been in jail the whole time and weren’t bailed out. So then the focus shifted from doing like court support, to like, just letter writing and some amount of fundraising when we could. So like just trying to fundraise for putting money on their books, or like maybe some of us have steady work or whatever, so we give $10-$20 a month to one person each at this point, if that’s where it’s at for the folks, at least for me, for the folks that are still locked up. And a few folks have been released in the last couple years. We kind of always tried to check in with them when they’re about to get released, like if they need anything, like, “here’s what we can offer”. It’s a pretty small group, we don’t, we’re not like an actual, like, organization, we just kind of run on our own capacity, but we try to help people when they get released a little bit. And I’ve maintained communication with at least one person pretty steadily who’s been released and we’re actually friends.
But yeah, basically, it’s been so long, I mean, 2014 is so long ago, and people who, a lot of these people like maybe they were in prison, and they got out…there was never an effort to convert somebody to like some political sway, or like political ideology. It was always just sort of like, you were a participant, and we would want the same if we were locked up. So because of that, like, a lot of times, there’s still a connection, but also people have their own lives. And they can move on or they like, have their struggles. I guess I bring that up, because yeah, just to sort of talk about the capacity that we have, as individuals, trying to do this and how we’re not a charity, we’re not a nonprofit or social workers. So we’re kind of trying to meet people where they’re at and have a more down to earth relationship. And if it leads to more of a friendship, then great, if it doesn’t, that’s not the point of it, or whatever.
V: I would, I would echo a lot of that. Honestly, like that progression, I guess, of what our support work looked like at times, I would even say was a bit awkward and clunky. Without this baseline of “we are anarchists” or “we are radicals and therefore we act it during this uprising”, I think it was a bit unclear for both the folks that were locked up and their support networks as to who we were, you know. We’re not social workers, we’re not like an activist organization with a bunch of money coming in, you know. We have a little website on noblogs.org. And we’re kind of you know, as far as this group is made up of now, I think there’s like two people left in St. Louis, who are still there and still active in it and the rest of us are, are all over.
So it’s rather like a disjointed and kind of a funny, awkward conversation to have at times where I’m talking to one of the guys that I support, his name is Alex and I had to have like several conversations with Alex’s mom to kind of like, get her to understand who I was, and that I wasn’t like someone who was going to help place her son in a job once he got out. I was just someone who was going to make sure that her son was looked after and not forgotten about and if something needed to happen where he needed his caseworker to be bothered about some piece of mail, or if he wasn’t getting shoes or something, then I was the person that was going to call and do that. And those sorts of things. I think that we had to be willing to kind of have those awkward conversations with people. And I think that for the most part, that’s been fine. You know, at worst, it’s awkward but we have been able to raise money and get people, when they get released, we’ve been able to give them phones and clothing and help them feel cared for in small ways. And I think that that’s a really important piece of what we do.
Host2: Earthworm, can you tell us about Atlanta?
E: I guess when we started doing jail support work, it was more on the fly in response to arrests happening. It was just kind of catch as catch can, you know. Somebody would be in jail and they’d need $4,000 to go to a bail bondsman to cover their $40,000 bail and we would need to come up with just by calling all our friends. Scrambling to put somebodys rent money up and hope that somebody could pay him back by the time rents due. And we realized in doing that, we needed a more organized, and we needed a bail fund. So in 2016, we started collecting money for that. And sometimes when people get arrested, it makes a lot of news and a bunch of donations roll in. And sometimes you’re able to even set some aside and have that for the next set of arrests. And of course, sometimes more expensive than the amount you bring in.
So we sort of struggled along through a whole series of different protests. And then in the George Floyd uprising, we were fortunate enough that we already were established. And we had that we had a website, and we had this long history of being able to bail out protesters, so we were sort of already a trusted group. And we were able to be really central in that effort and got way more donations than we were used to. But of course, also way more arrests than we’re used to. But with the donations, we were able to cover a lot more of the protesters’ needs. So whereas before, the money had just been very strictly for bail and hiring lawyers we’ve been able to do things like pay everybody’s fines and fees, and pay for medical costs and pay for other incidental things like a babysitter, if you need to go to court. Other things we would never have been able to afford before.
And the other thing that is very blessed that changed is we no longer have a cap to the amount of bail that we’re able to post, because before we had money, we didn’t want to blow it on one protesters. So if you were in there, on $40,000 bail or bond, we could only cover a portion of that, and then we would have to scramble to fundraise the rest of it.
So in the early stages, even before arrests happened when we hear about a protest getting set up. So that arrest might happen, we get the jail support team together and start scheduling who’s going to be available for the 36 hours after the protests if arrests go down. So we’ve got our phones people who have a physical cell phone, because that’s all you can call from jail, and they take turns carrying that and one phone person will bring it to the next person when their turn is over. We scheduled people to do arrestee tracking, which is finding out who’s been arrested, finding them in the jail system and keeping track of them to figure out when they are able to be bailed out, and then getting them bailed out and getting people to meet them they’re at the jail when they’re out. And then once they’re out, that is when court support takes over. And that’s everything from keeping track of when their court dates are and sending them reminders to finding lawyers and helping getting people there to their court dates, and whatever sort of support they need while their court cases going on. And then once their court case is over, there’s follow up hopefully they don’t go to prison or anything but there may be support to do as far as helping them if there’s going to be a civil lawsuit, helping them find lawyers for that, or helping them with whatever kind of evidence gathering or whatever support they need with that. Of course, they may have fines and fees to pay or like ankle monitor fees and that’s all stuff that fortunately now we’re able to afford.
Or unfortunately sometimes people go to prison. And then it’s time for prisoner support, which we do also to the people who are denied bail and they’re sitting in jail waiting for their trial to happen, of which we’ve got about eight in Atlanta. So that means writing the letters. And they also have the phone number so the same phone people who are doing the intake calls the night that people get arrested are also hearing from the long term prisoners, and just figuring out what support they need. Ideally, everybody who’s sitting in jail has their whole support crew of friends and family and whatever supporters, and those support crews can coordinate with each other and with the solidarity funds to make sure everybody’s getting what they need. Failing that, the jail support team just needs to act as a support crew for each prisoner. Meaning that the only number they’re calling is the jail support phone and the jail support phone people are communicating with the prisoner support people at large, who aren’t like the prisoner support for a particular individual and just saying you know, “so and so wants this kind of books can anybody volunteer to send them that” or “so and so is not receiving medical attention, and we need to get everybody we know to call the jail and pressure them to let him see a doctor”, and, and so on like that.
Host 2: Oh my gosh, it sounds like y’all really got that figured out *laughs sweetly*
E: *laughing* Well, I think it’s a process of figuring it out on an ongoing basis. I appreciate you saying that. But I definitely don’t think anybody feels like we haven’t figured.
Jeremy: This is Jeremy. So certainly the arrest and pretrial support work is very crucial. It’s very different than say post conviction, post sentencing. First, I think we just need to listen to the particular circumstances and needs of each person and their charge. But also recognize that since we’re talking about groups and waves of repression, all the circumstances are also linked. In particular, somebody who’s facing charges often can’t openly talk in detail about like, what they’re particularly being charged with. So I think it kind of does rely on support communities to kind of — it’s a political battle, because they want to, like build support for the individual, but also like, build support for the particular so called “crimes” that they’ve been accused of, if it’s like a direct action that they’re currently in prison for. So the way the public narrative goes the way of, in support of what the prosecution’s characterization of the crimes are, right. Like if say, some of the actions over the past couple years, and the uprisings involve various arsons, and property destruction. Well, I think it’s important these groups are doing support work, not just support the individual and whatever the particular legal strategy is, like, say they’re innocent, or whatever, but also support the actual crimes themselves. We had to legitimize the act itself to the public.
And then of course, post-conviction hopefully. I think it makes a difference the amount of time in the in the whole negotiation process, the charges, like the prosecutors are willing to offer up does make a difference if they believe that the person being prosecuted is in isolation, versus if they’re part of a movement, and the prosecutor strategy is also different, and then be more willing to make like better deals or make concessions, that would be a better outcome for the individual.
And then, of course, post-conviction & post-sentencing, you want to give a voice to someone who’s now freely able to speak. The other thing is, as the person’s time draws to a conclusion, and they’re about to be released, the needs also change. That you want to make sure that somebody has every opportunity to make it upon the release, especially long term prisoners, like their ease of adapting. And fortunately I can say that, like they’ve taken care of me throughout my entire bid. I have nothing but respect and admiration for the various groups that came out and supported me. And because of that, I had a pretty easy transition when I was released people came and picked me up from the jail, people were bringing me stuff at the halfway house. You know, my brother and friends made sure that I had a place to stay, you know.
So these types of things help ease the transition I mean, because otherwise, the state will just kick you out and basically hope that you fail again. And so it’s up to us to make sure that doesn’t happen.
Host 1: Yeah, and that, but on that point, it especially when a person’s been inside for decades — like a decade is a long fucking time — but if someone’s been in for 30 years, like the amount of change that’s occurred during that period of time, the amount of loss of loved ones…
Jeremy: Yeah, yeah, it’s truly shocking. Especially the cultural changes, the changes in the city. You know, people might not…everything is technology, people definitely have difficulty adapting to how people apply for jobs and people secure housing and stuff like that is all different now.
J11: So there have been 1000’s of people arrested during the George Floyd uprising last year, over 300 federal cases and innumerable state felony cases. So given your experience, what can we be doing now to prevent and prepare for those uprising defendants, some of them serving time in prison, Cameron and Veera?
C: To me? It feels kind of inevitable. Part of it feels hard to prevent people from acting – or not…that’s not the question, but like, prevent, repression feels hard because uprisings are often just sort of like, they’re super spontaneous and people like who don’t necessarily consider surveillance or security culture like maybe some of us do. Or anarchists or radicals do are going to get get caught up in like the repression and I guess ideally it would be a matter of trying to like, really push for people to like, be aware of, if like a surveillance camera can see you or be aware of like, the risk that you’re taking, but also like, in some ways, having that kind of, sort of awareness can actually kind of placate you. So it’s sort of a hard balance to figure out how to kind of prevent avoidable repression. Because yeah, people are going to do what they’re gonna do. And like, I think, at least having that baseline of that’s what’s gonna happen is like, where I start from.
V: I think it’s very hard to know how to talk about what prevention looks like. We have our experience, and especially having gone through Ferguson, and especially like the repression support work, post Ferguson, we can look at that and say, “okay, we know how bad this can get, so let’s keep this from happening”. But then how do you do that? Like, how do you like, make those connections in the moment.
I can remember a moment last summer, during one of the demos, the George Floyd demos that happened, and I was… So I was hyper aware of everyone that wouldn’t have their faces covered. And so I’m running around and I’m a white woman, who’s in my 30s, running around telling people to cover their faces, and they feel invincible in the moment they feel like, “nothing’s gonna stop me, nothing, no one’s stopping me right now. Like, what do I care?” And here I am running around, telling them all to cover their faces, and they’re looking at me, like, “no, get away from me, this isn’t your moment!” You know? And, and then like, some ways, it’s like yeah, that’s true. And, like, what am I gonna do? Am I gonna stop you and say, “Look, I know how this goes I know how this ends and start telling them…” the answer is no, I’m not gonna do that. But I think that is part of what we can do show up to these things with just bandanas to hand out, you know.
And as far as preparation, I don’t know, I thought about that. But I think that the model of what this support group is doing, find a small group of people — and we are, we’re a small group of people that are just willing to say, “Okay, these 11 people, we’re gonna make sure they’re taken care of.” And I think if you can form groups like that, and just kind of trust each other to do the bottom line for some of these people that are getting locked up, I think that that can be a really good start.
E: Number one thing, I think we need to be educating everybody that we can about not talking to police, and doing other security culture measures to keep ourselves from going to jail in the first place. You know, as far as educating people about wearing masks and security cameras, and just taking precautions, about things that could get somebody in trouble, not talking about illegal things that somebody could get in trouble for, not posting sketchy stuff on social media. Not talking to the cops, or anybody who might talk to the cops.
And when I say “not talking to the cops”, like not saying anything to the cops, other than “I’m going to remain silent, I want to see a lawyer, or am I being detained? Am I free to go?”, or “I don’t consent to a search”. And that is it, as far as what anybody should say to police. So I think holding trainings and holding them for as many people as we can, particularly because we’re getting lots of brand new people who aren’t used to being protesters is going to save a ton of money, countless hours, and misery in terms of people going to jail, and potentially prison later on. Because it’s so heartbreaking when you hear about somebody didn’t know that they shouldn’t talk to the cops, or they didn’t know that they had the right to not talk to cops, and they’ve just threw away what power they had to protect themselves.
Or I guess you could say, conversely, when we hear about people who did get that training, and did know to keep their mouth shut, and were able to tell their friends to keep their mouth shut, that prevents them from going to jail. And that is a huge relief. You know, when we hear from people, and they’re like, “Oh, no, I didn’t say anything to the cops! You think I’m crazy?”. That’s just like a choir of angels singing.
Jeremy: So first off, as with everything, it’s important that you think through your actions before you carry them out. And I think it’s also important to look at the history of cases and to see how people got caught and the mistakes people have made. So the way we don’t repeat the same mistakes so that way, we don’t keep this ongoing cycle of arrests and incarceration. We obviously want to reduce the numbers of people captured by the state.
Jason: This is Jason now. Yeah so obviously, “don’t get caught” is the ongoing lesson that we’re trying to learn. Secondly, we can’t forget, we have to keep the momentum up for people who are facing charges, we have to demand their charges be dropped in whatever form we can we can be writing letters, we could do petitions, we could be doing protests, we could be doing rallies, we could be doing letter writing parties, we could organize our own letter writing chapters, we could organize our own prisoner support chapters. So there’s all kinds of things that we could be doing and are doing to kind of keep the momentum up.
This is a pretty unique moment where you’re still in the wake of where the largest uprisings of many people’s lives, and there is a lot of energy ready to be harvested to kind of push the abolition our work forward, as well as change the system. So the people who are arrested trying to fight the power, to change the system, they really need to be supported if we agree with their goals. So let’s, let’s do everything we can to keep the momentum going on. And you know, people are exploring new ways of doing this.
Host 1: So one of the big things with long term prisoner support that June 11th is trying to address is not letting these people be forgotten. As interest in detention from last summer is already greatly decreased. what can we do to ensure energy and support lasts as long as the effects of the repression will.
C: For me it’s important to be like unapologetic about what people do, or for people to be like, “yes, people engaged in collective and individual actions that were incredibly threatening to the State and Capital and then they get caught”. So it’s like, it is being unapologetic about it is sort of giving people a sense of agency in their actions, as opposed to kind of seeing folks as they became, I mean, obviously, people became victims of state repression, but like, they were resisting, being repressed in day to day life, or oppressed in day to day life. And I guess just like putting it that way can help me kind of see the reality of it, and for lack of a better word, like humanize people.
For instance I think last summer, people were actually coming out in support of looting. Like, that wasn’t happening in 2014. That was a very hard position to hold. And I think it still is in a lot of circles today, but it was very exciting to me because it helps people see the people that are doing that, and create this sort of contagious effect of “Oh, people who are doing that are doing that for a variety of reasons and they deserve to be supported if they get arrested”, that deserves to be spread, and not just throw it under the rug. Because I think if you do that, then you lose the essence throwing the fact that there’s looting, throwing the fact that there’s lots of burning going on, the fact that there’s a fair amount of combative gunfire in the air, just all sorts of creative stuff going on sort of gives a lot of dimension to these uprisings. And I think people can see themselves better in that than they can see themselves in like a more civil disobedience sort of narrative that often just completely erases that. Just talking about it in that way and just like, again, just being unapologetic.
We want to build a different world or live in a different world and the way we get to that is dangerous, but also can be very empowering and exciting and incredibly worthwhile. And the more people who are unapologetic about it, who are like “I support all these combative actions”, the more to me it’s on people’s minds, and the less likely it can be swept under the rug.
V: Yeah, I think that’s the move that we see, or like this boundary pushing of an acceptable narrative. I think that we can participate in that as anarchists and as actors in these rebellious moments. I don’t always know how to push those narratives of the boundary shifting. You know, social media has never been my strong suit, but I think that there are ways to take it to social media and push those things. You know, as the nonviolent protesters and the police were the big bad and “we weren’t doing anything wrong” sort of thing, that’s when we saw some of the people that we supported sort of get forgotten, you know? And I think that that’s changed. That was different last summer, and that the repression support is going to look different because of that.
I think that’s great. I think that there’s still more work to do. And I think that we can be a part of that work. Again, I don’t always know how, I think having those conversations. Just from my personal example, I know that every one of my family was very confused about my participation and Ferguson stuff. Last summer, half of my family was in the streets after dark. And I think in part because of the conversations that we were having, and the ways that things started to be more acceptable, and more people were willing to confront this discomfort.
E: Wow, that is a tough one. I think that’s something that long term prisoners experienced widely, you know? You get a lot of support in the first couple years and then once you’re in there for a few years, the world keeps going and kind of starts to pass you by, and it’s just heartbreaking to think about people in there, wondering if anybody still cares about them. And you know, getting those letters that are just such a precious lifeline when you’re in there, and getting them less and less often. That’s got to be a desperate feeling. I think anybody who hasn’t experienced that, we probably don’t understand just how much of a lifeline that support from the outside is.
So I think trying to communicate that to people, and talk about prisoner support as a core antirepression effort. I think it often gets overlooked as sort of one of the unsexy grunt work things. And it’s kind of hard to write letters, there’s some social anxiety there, people don’t know what to say. But just getting that to be more of a core part of all of our efforts. It’s a mutual aid effort, because you and I, one day, are very likely to end up doing some time. You know, if we’re effective at what we’re trying to do and I hope we are, it’s extremely likely that they’re going to come after us. So setting up these efforts and promoting them as “this is an important part of the antirepression work that we do”, supporting prisoners could directly benefit us one day, and will definitely benefit our community.
So, and I think that there are a lot more opportunities to do prisoner support but it’s kind of overlooked as an activity. Because I frequently run into people who say “I don’t have a lot of consistent time but I’m able to do something here and there, what kind of work do you recommend?”, and I’m like “write a prisoner. You can do that on your own, you can do it kind of at work, or whenever you get a few minutes, it’s totally independent”. And it is such a lifeline for that person. And it’s a way to directly help, you know? Cuz there’s so much that we do that is kind of planting seeds for the future, or just hoping that one day it’ll bring about revolutionary change — which this, I think, again, is a big important piece of doing the prisoner support — but it also directly means so much to a specific individual, that you can see the difference that it makes.
So, talking to people who need guidance about how they can contribute, and who maybe want to work independently, maybe can’t leave the house, don’t have good transportation aren’t able to come to meetings, this is something that you can do from home, that you can do entirely by yourself. If you’re not able to risk arrest, or if you’re not able to physically keep up with a march, you can keep in touch with a prisoner, you can write them. If you hate writing letters you can get a JPay account and send emails, that’s a lot easier. You can put money on your phone account and let them call you. Or you can, some jails and prisons have the like video visits thing, you can do any of that. Once again, I don’t think we can even really understand how important it is for them to know that there’s somebody out there that they can count on, that they can reach out to if they’re in a desperate situation.
I think another big barrier to people’s willingness to begin writing a prisoner is uncertainty about how much time they can commit to it and not wanting to start off strong and then kind of leave the prisoner hanging, which is an important concern. But I would say you know, if you can only do one letter every six months, be upfront about that. But if you can only do one letter as a one time thing, just be truthful about that, and set the expectations realistic. And whatever you can do is incredibly meaningful.
Host 2: And for you, Jeremy?
Jeremy: Well, certainly the work that people have done with June 11th have brought attention to like anarchist and Earth Liberation prisoners who have experienced long amounts of time behind bars and they have not been forgotten and their stories aren’t over either. As far as the cycle of oppression and arrests and incarceration and how do we avoid burnout, and how do we ensure energy and stuff like that: I think one of the big things is we need to realize that we have the capability of winning. That this isn’t just an ongoing cycle that’s going to repeat forever. We believe that we will win, we believe that there is going to be a moment that we could overturn the system. Abolition is mainstream discourse now so we just need to keep the pressure up and keep it going and keep chipping away at the armor of the system.
Of course avoid arrests I mean as much as possible, and bring attention to the people who have unfortunately fell into the dragnet. But I think one of the other things I liked about the work that people have done around June 11th is that it kept people who are behind bars involved, to the extent possible. And really as someone who’s been behind bars and who has been following the June 11th stuff…we want to see people continue the work that we’ve been doing. Even though we might not have all the details, we don’t need to know all the details.
Jason: Yeah. So, I mean, there were 1000’s of arrests last year. It’s summertime now, they say that somewhat the interest has waned in protesting, people wanting to go back to normal, whatever, but I don’t see it that way. I see plenty of people still willing to take the fight. And so let’s get creative, let’s see what new kinds of things we could do. Let’s keep the struggle up, keep amplifying. Like my brother said we do believe we could win, and we do believe that we have made a lot of changes just within the last year. Let’s see how far we can take it.
Host 2: What could it look like to have more connection between long term political or politicized prisoners, and activity and resistance in the streets and elsewhere?
C: Part of my impetus for being involved in the Ferguson prisoner support group, or whatever, is just kind of trying to encourage a culture of solidarity. Especially in a way that tries to cross all sorts of cultural and subcultural divides, whether that be like racial or gender, or class, whatever. Just trying to see how we can fortunately, and unfortunately, have this moment where — especially during an uprising — we’re not following an easy script. Because day to day life is extremely segregated, it’s extremely…it can feel pretty isolating going through day to day life, going to work, going to school, raising your family, whatever. And being just in that baseline, and then whenever that kind of gets shook up a little bit, it’s an opportunity if you have a certain perspective to try to bridge, or break out of, that sort of stalemate.
I think with the prisoner support stuff, it’s always felt important to me to try to meet people where they’re at to have a variety of folks from all sorts of disparate or common situations and just have more perspective. And I love trying to foster situations or moments or being in moments where that is a little more uninhibited, or more relaxed. So like, how do you do that outside of these ideal — and they’re not even really ideal, there’s all sorts of terrible things that happen in uprisings as well, I don’t want to romanticize that if I can — but it is a thing where, yeah, it feels a little looser and easier. So like, how do you do that when it’s over? How do you foster a culture of solidarity of mutual aid that continues to break down like separations? I think we’re always between a rock and a hard place with this, but I think, especially in this case, writing folks, after the uprising ends, ideally, it can help create a sense that “Oh, if this happens to a friend, maybe I would do the same thing”.
Maybe they would have always done the same thing. Because obviously people have their own support networks. But like, maybe us doing that kind of helps spark an idea that like, “oh, if somebody is in trouble, or if somebody is having a hard time because of state repression or because of work, or all sorts of struggles, I can do something too. Or I can call these people who helped me in the past, and we can do something about it”.
So that’s the ideal that I have of doing this project, and even on a practical level, having more support inside and outside of prison walls and jails is helpful. Like if one of us happens to go to prison or jail, we might know somebody in there, somebody you connected with who’s like out, who is released who might be like, “Oh, yeah, I got a buddy in this jail or this prison that you’re going to and it might help you out”. Kind of not the most empowering thing, but it’s like, again, it’s like you’re between a rock and a hard place and these situations…or ultimately I want to like break out of having to think about that, but I think it’s a great place to start.
V: Yeah, it’s I feel similar to Cameron. There’s parts of this that just feel tough to answer, especially regarding the prisoner support work that we’re doing with people who I don’t know that they would identify as political prisoners. But maybe something that I have learned from this and from them is I was kind of talking about the awkwardness of making the connection at first, and then sort of allowing that to just be what it was. Like, “I’m here, and I know you because of this thing, because we were acting at the same time in the same place for a lot of the same reasons” and then sort of seeing where that takes us. And because these guys are not political prisoners, or “political prisoners“, it’s taken me and our relationship in all sorts of places. And I think that that’s been a beautiful way to connect. It’s opened up like my eyes to a lot of the different day to day oppression that some of these people have been living through, and that they’re sort of like allowing me to see into their life me as someone who they wouldn’t have allowed that, before all of this.
And I think that that’s been a really beautiful piece that’s come out of this, because we sort of open it up for connection to happen in all sorts of ways that don’t really hinge on “let’s read this radical text together and have a book club about it”, but it looks different. And then suddenly George Floyd uprising happened, and I’m getting emails and phone calls from them, where they’re just talking to me about how this is inspiring them from the inside and how they’re talking to people, their other inmates inside about why they acted in the way that they did and suddenly you see this fire again, and then you get to be inspired by that with them. And I think that a lot of that is because we allowed for a more open connection, and then we’re allowed to go down this path with them. I think our connection with these guys is a bit different but it’s still one that I continue to feel inspired by.
J11: How about you, Earthworm?
E: Again, I think staying in touch with people is the very ground level of that. Writing to those folks and for their advice and their input. Atlanta ABC runs a newsletter that we send out to probably about 250 prisoners, mostly in Georgia, but throughout the Southeast, that’s mostly written by them: they’ll receive the newsletter and we put a ask for contributions in it, and then they’ll mail us and we type it up and get it in the next newsletter. And staying in touch that way at least they’re connected in with what’s going on, they’re getting news about whatever the revolutionary struggles are, and they’re able to give their input. They’re able to lend support to people who are facing charges, who might go to prison, because they obviously have the clearest idea of how to handle that, and how to keep that in perspective, you know? If you’re facing a little bit of time, being in touch with someone who’s doing a lot of time can be very helpful.
We also publish prisoners writings on the Anarchist Black Cross website. And when they are engaging with something that’s going on in the moment, we’ll publish that more widely kind of spread that to other news sources to keep them engaged that way. I think the other part of that is to hear from them about what struggles are going on inside the prisons, and connect the people who are working on the outside to lend support to those things. So, if people are being brutalized in there, or there’s some horrible racist guard who’s harassing particular inmates, or behaving badly in general, we on the outside are able to bring pressure on that as a result of maintaining this connection with the long term prisoner. There are eyes and ears on the outside.
Jeremy: Certainly like the world we’re building is a world without prisons and we want everybody to be freed unconditionally, regardless of their particular circumstance. We support political prisoners and prisoners of war, but we also support politicized prisoners, we also support prisoners of everything, you know? So, often though, like the state will target political cases as like a canary in the coal mine type situations, where they use new legal techniques to go after political prisoners that, if successful, they’ll generalize. But the same works both ways too. They’ll also use tactics to target segments of the population that they think nobody will rush to defend either for that matter. And so it’s important that we’re fighting for all different types of cases and not letting the state get away with anything.
As far as encountering each other we need to keep up sending physical newsletters into the prisons, sending books to people in prison, doing radio shows on radio networks that have reach within prison, the jail demos and stuff like that. You would be very surprised at the long term reach that some of these actions happen. Like, for example, like when I was being transferred around a couple years ago with the grand jury Virginia thing, right? I ran into somebody at the Oklahoma Transfer Center, right? And I thought he looked familiar, right? Then he came over, said something like “I remember you and Jerry were at New York, they were always having demonstrations outside the jail for you all”. And I was like, “Wow, that was like eight years ago”. But you never know, like, something like that can stick in people’s minds. And I think that has an effect on the mentality of people that “you are not alone, you’re not fighting this alone”, and that June 11th specifically, like, if you are questioning whether you want to be involved in something – first off you should always think your actions through — but know that if you do get in trouble the movement will have your back, will see you through this whole thing, that you’re not alone.
Host 1: Are there any last things that y’all want to add, any ways that people can follow your work or get into contact with the folks that you support?
C: People can go to antistatestl.noblogs.org there’s a tab on the website that says “Ferguson Related Prisoners” and that list is up to date as to who’s still locked up and who still wants some kind of support. There’s also a PayPal link for commissary donations, or release fund donations. People are also welcome just to directly send it to the folks inside themselves if they prefer that.
E: So the Atlanta jail support efforts is not just Atlanta people, lots of work is remote. So if you want to help out with our jail support efforts, we’ve got a mountain of work that needs to be done and we’d be delighted to plug you in and get you trained up to do that. Of course, there’s probably a similar effort in your area that you can get involved in with probably a little bit of googling. If you want to write to any of our long term prisoners, atljailsupport.org has an email that you can reach out to us on and we will plug you in and get you connected to one of them. Also atlblackcross.org is for not specifically protest related prisoners, but all prisoners who are now protesting the conditions of their confinement or protesting the system in general. And if you visit that site there are ways to write to them as well.
Jeremy: Alright, first, I want to pay my respects to the comrades behind bars who are still enduring this repression, the folks who are facing charges now who might have a journey in front of them still. I want to say: we got your back, we support what you’re doing, stay strong.
As far as the work me and my brother are doing, you all know that we do a podcast called Twin Trouble, you could check us out at twintrouble.net. As you all might know, I have several conditions of supervised release, which involves stuff about association with civil disobedience and a few of the things that make my involvement and stuff post a release is going to be difficult to navigate these conditions. Nevertheless, the spirit of resistance is there. I’m currently finding ways to become involved in a way that’s meaningful and safe for both myself and others. But so yeah, check us out on the podcast twintrouble.net we got a few other projects in the works, but I just want to show my appreciation to everybody who has had both me and my brothers back up until this point and the future is unwritten. So who knows what might come next.
Palestine and Challenging Settler Colonial Imaginaries
This week on the show, we’re airing a portion of our 2018 interview with filmmaker and activist Yousef Natsha about his film about his hometown, Hebron, and the Israeli occupation of Palestine. We invite you to check out our full interview with him from March 25, 2018, linked in our show notes and we’re choosing to air this right now because of the flare up in violent evictions, home destruction and the assassination of around 100 Palestinian residents of Gaza by the “Israeli Defense Forces”. [00:10:24]
Then, we’ll be sharing a panel from the 2021 UNC Queer Studies Conference called “No Blank Slates: A Discussion of Utopia, Queer Identity, and Settler Colonialism” featuring occasional Final Straw host, Scott Bransen alongside E. Ornelas and Kai Rajala. This audio first aired on Queercorps, on CKUT radio in Montreal. If you’d like to engage in this project, reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org [00:24:05]
No Blank Slates: A Discussion of Utopia, Queer Identity, and Settler Colonialism
Scott Branson, E Ornelas, Kai Rajala
Under the neoliberal regime of multiculturalism, the settler colonial project has relied on the assimilation of certain subaltern communities into its project for the effective dispossession and control of indigenous lands. This discussion will present ideas from a book project we are collaborating on in order to invite conversation around the intersection and tension around ideas of liberation and forms of appropriation and oppression. Our main challenge for radical queers is to rethink the kinds of futures we try to include ourselves in, and how our liberatory work can subtly replay exclusion and erasure. How do neoliberal utopian gay politics perpetuate settler colonial erasure and genocide? How do politics that seek inclusion and representation–in other words assimilation–disavow the work by indigenous self-determination movements, which are also poised on the frontlines of planetary self-defense? The workshop will be divided up into short presentations by each writer, followed by a structured discussion facilitated by the presenters.
The utopian project that underwrote the Canadian/American settler colonial states that still exist today was eventually transmuted into a neoliberal utopian sense of identity. The entire concept of space and self that we inherit is imbued with utopian longing for a time and place that we can fully be ourselves. This kind of rhetoric is largely at play in mainstream identity-based movements, like gay rights. But this longing often works in favor of the regime of violence and dominance perpetrated by the modern nation state. We can see how the attempt at inclusive representation of queer cultures leads to assimilation and appropriation. What gets included in regimes of representation ends up mimicking the norms of straight/cisgender heteronormativity, in terms of class aspirations, behaviors, and family structures. This therefore contributes to systematic erasure of Black and Brown queer folks, who are still the most targeted “identities” for state violence and its civilian deputies. With images of diversity that appeal to bourgeois urban gays, businesses and governments can pinkwash their violence.
A radical queer politics that relies on unquestioned utopian and dystopian visions risks aligning itself with a settler colonial imaginary of terra nullius or “blank slate” space. On the one hand, dystopian and apocalyptic visions perpetuate the unquestioned assumption that a societal collapse is impending, as if the continual degradation of human and more-than-human communities has not already arrived. Particularly dangerous in this assumption is the kind of crisis rhetoric that fosters opportunities for settler colonial sentiments of insecurity and, in the face of this insecurity, assertions of belonging and sovereignty in land and lifeways. Furthermore, visions of radical utopias as-yet-to-be-realized (or, as-yet-to-be-colonized) discount the ongoing presence of Indigenous alternatives to the current settler colonial dystopian reality, and instead preserves a view of geographic and social space as blank and ready to be “improved” with a “new” model.
Here we have a problem of erasure of the oppressions and resistances that have been ongoing in different iterations, in favor of the blank space of the utopian frontier. We argue against these linear progression narratives of societal and environmental collapse which promise to bring about a future idealized world of rainbow-diverse identities. Instead, we propose ways for radical politics, particularly those espoused by non-Indigenous people, to disavow such settler colonial mindsets. There are a few ways to offer a glimpse into the lived realities—what we might still call utopian moments—that make up the non-alienated, revolutionary life: queer and indigenous histories of resistance, rituals and moment of community care and mutual aid, and science fiction revisions of the world. We argue that this other world does in fact exist—has existed and has not stopped existing—if only in the interstices or true moments of communing and inhabiting the land alongside friends and family.
This is not an argument in favor of utopia, but one that seeks to bypass the utopian/dystopian divide. The world we inhabit is clearly dystopian for most, and utopian for some, and in many estimations, constantly on the verge of ending. The disaster scenarios, repeating the puritanical eschatology that helped settle the colonies in America, perpetuates the history of erasure of ways of life that aren’t in fact gunning for that disaster. We still argue that the purpose of dreaming, of envisioning alternatives, is to make action possible today, through recognition of the power we do already hold. Our discussion will interrogate the settler-utopian impulses that get hidden within apparently liberatory movements, such as radical queers and strands of environmentalism, as well as the way these identities and politics are represented in narratives of liberation that rely on the same logic they claim to oppose.
E Ornelas (no pronouns or they/them) is a Feminist Studies PhD candidate in the Department of Gender, Women, & Sexuality Studies. As the descendant of a survivor of the Sherman Institute, a Native boarding school in Riverside, California—and therefore robbed of cultural, linguistic, and tribal identity—E’s research interests focus on the continued survivance and futurity of BIPOC communities, particularly through the use of literature. E’s dissertation illuminates community-based, abolitionist-informed, alternative models of redress for gendered, racialized, and colonial violence by analyzing Black and Indigenous speculative fiction. When not on campus, E can be found reading feminist sci-fi, making music, baking vegan sweets, and walking their dog. [00:45:06]
Kai Rajala (pronounced RYE-ah-la) is a queer, nonbinary, white-settler of Finnish and mixed European descent. They are a writer, and an anarchist anti-academic working and living on the unceded territories of the Kanien’kehá:ka peoples on the island colonially referred to as Montréal, and known otherwise as Tiohtià:ke. They are currently pursuing studies as an independent researcher and are interested in sites outside of the university where knowledge production occurs. You can find Kai on twitter at @anarcho_thembo or on instagram at @they4pay. [00:57:28]
Scott Branson is queer trans Jewish anarchist who teaches, writes, translates, and does other things in Western so-called North Carolina. Their translation of Jacques Lesage De la Haye’s The Abolition of Prison is coming out with AK Press this summer. Their translation of Guy Hocquenghem’s second book, Gay Liberation After May 68, is due out next year with Duke University Press. They edited a volume of abolitionist queer writings based on two iterations of the UNC Asheville queer studies conference, due out with PM Press next year. They are currently working on a book on daily anarchism for Pluto Press and researching a book on the institutionalization of queerness in the academy. They also make books of poems and artwork. You can find Scott on Instagram @scottbransonblurredwords or check out sjbranson.com for more of their work or on twitter at @sjbranson1. [00:30:41]
Yousef Natsha: My name is Yousef Natsha, I am from Palestine from a city called Hebron. And Hebron is part of West Bank that’s under that Israeli military occupation. I did start my professional work mainly with human rights organizations on the field and start documenting what my community is facing from the Israeli government. Since that till now I’m doing this awareness for the other communities to know what’s going on in my community. I have been working on it for no less than two years, it is a long process of footaging these terrifying moments.
The documentary mainly focused on human rights violation that’s the Palestinian community is facing from the Israeli military, they are occupying West Bank and Gaza Strip for sure. And when I started the process of making the documentary, I start saying, “should I go to the, you know, the the history part of what has happened and how this is ended up being existed till this moment”, the issue that I ended up going back to the time to like 1917, when like things actually did start, and how the colonization system did begin on Palestine and ended up bleeding into what we’re having right now. So I ended up actually, after a lot of thinking, I ended up just doing it about human rights abuses. And I saw that my community, my family, my friends are not treated as humans. And from there, I ended up just taking my community voice into this documentary to explain the suffering. It took me a while to understand what is actually going on, “Is this normal to face? Should I just live my normal life in terms of just going to the college and finish that and then find, you know, a job to be occupied with all the time, having a family building a house”, and so on.
So it has been a long process for me after the age of 18, specifically, of what I actually have to do, which path I should take. And after a year or so spending it on studying accounting in one of the colleges and Hebron, I just said, “This is not my place, I can’t see myself eight hours sitting behind the desk.” That’s the moment that I ended up pushing that college door with my foot and saying, “I am going down on the ground.” I started filming with my phone. And I didn’t know that these footages would not go anywhere, but at least I felt that I’m doing something for my community. Afterwards, I ended up having a media scholarship. And after that I became more familiar with filming and photography and so on, and I worked with different local radio stations, and international filmmakers, and at the same time journalists. And on the age of 20, I ended up knowing this human rights organization based in Chicago called the Christians Peacemaker team that I did start working with them on the field. And I can say that gives me in some extent, the ability of moving around under the protection of an international organization in some extent, a lot of people had the question of how I was able to take these footages, how I was able to move around soldiers. Some people do have an idea how much it is difficult to be around Israeli military, specifically on the field and documenting these abuses.
I can say that one of the things that did help me first is English. I used English to talk with the soldiers when they come to try to turn me back to not allow me to film I use English because if the Israeli military somehow if I spoke to them in Arabic, which I can say that they can tell from my face, obviously, but at the same time using English that in some extent, let them think of, you know, it seems like he is not Palestinian at least. Does not mean that I have not been facing harassment from the Israeli military. I have been pushed away, being arrested, being interrogated within the work that I have been doing on the ground.
So I can say that the process has been super difficult but at the same time, I did succeed in making my community comfortable and me being around in terms of, you know, if they are facing harassment from the Israeli military, they will say “okay, well let’s call Yousef”. So with the years I ended up having my phone number with my community members and they will give me a call when the Israeli military is making a, you know, house search or a body search for one of the community members in the old city of Hebron, specifically.
So I can say that the footages has been taking during the process of two years or two yearsish but it does not mean that the footage is that I have to it is not repeating itself and happening now. That’s one of the things that people have to take in consideration that “Oh, with this kind of an old footage, why we need to see it?” Well, actually, it is not, it is happening daily. It shows that struggle that the Palestinians are facing in other places. As a Palestinian and a person that grew up in an environment that does not believe in government — for sure, I don’t — seeing the impact of power on my community, for sure, I don’t believe in that. And I am seeing it first as a way of using the suffering for collecting money. And that’s why I feel like I for sure will not believe in any kind of government power that’s mainly using the struggle of my community for funding, for resources and saying that “we’re going to use it for building houses”, and that’s for sure it’s not happening. And a lot of money that has been directed for the Palestinian authority that Palestinians don’t see it. The only thing that we do see is armed Palestinian police, that they don’t have authority on anything, the Israeli government controlling even the Palestinian authority.
In terms of the history about Palestine and what has been sent abroad for the international media about my community struggle. It became super tricky about how we’re going to name this struggle, how we can finish it, how we can focus on a something, you know, a anything, to try to solve this issue. And my community did resist this occupation, we have used different way of resistance to try to take this occupation down. And unfortunately, the international media did play a big role of sending the wrong image, to the extent that the Palestinians being called “terrorists” for whatever we are doing. Us naturally as human beings, we have to resist against a racist armed power to control us. That natural resistance became titled as violent, it became titled as a terrorist act. That’s one of the reasons why I actually focused about human rights and the documentary because unfortunately, that’s the only language that’s being accepted in the international community to talk about the Palestinian suffering and the Palestinian struggle.
And I can say, through the screenings that I had, so far, I have been seeing a lot of people being engaged with the conversation and saying that “yeah, it is completely terrible that Palestinians are not treated as humans”, which to be honest with you I didn’t see that reaction when I just spoke to the people about the struggle itself without showing them a documentary or the language that’s internationally being used. The history is repeating itself, some people will say they are from Saudi Arabia, or from Jordan or from Syria or whatever, I can say that they are Indigenous community.
Other thing that people don’t recognize, sometime when we say Palestinian, they will think that we are just only Muslims, and that’s wrong. The Indigenous Palestinian community are Palestinian Muslims, Palestinians Jews, PalestinianChristians. There is different ways to make a direct action to go marching down the streets, you know, for people to recognize that there is a community, an Indigenous community, that they are suffering from an armed military occupation, and their struggle needs to be ended before the time being too late, as the history have told us about other Indigenous community around the world. About how they have been suffered from their voices not being heared, their resources being taken, their history being being colonized, it is completely a colonization system, an apartheid system, and it needs to be stopped and my dream, really my dream is to see people marching all over the world about this struggle. One of the things that I do keep repeat all the time: first, our fight is not with a religion. Our fight is simply connected with an armed power coming to our houses, to our lands and saying that “it is not yours anymore”. Palestinians refugees, most of them still have keys for their houses. They are still having it. They are still hoping one day they will go back and having the right of being returned.
Scott Branson:I’m Scott Branson, they/them. I live in western North Carolina, and I’ve been part of organizing this conference for this session, this one and the last one, which is where I met my co–presenters, collaborators, E and Kai, and we started working on this project together. I’m a teacher, writer, translator, etc. Just as my background.
E Ornellas: My name is E Ornellas, I prefer E, so no pronouns is great, but they it’s also fine. Yeah, I also met Scott and Kai at the last Queer Studies conference that was in person, and so I’m happy to be back with y’all, but in a digital space. And yeah, I don’t really know what to say about myself. I’m a PhD candidate at the University of Minnesota and I currently reside on Ojibwe and Dakota land, although that’s kind of…there’s a really long, complicated history of that, those claims to land. And, you know, it’s now called Duluth, Minnesota. And I have a lot of feelings about land acknowledgments, but I feel like it’s important to at least name — as someone who is not Indigenous to this land, my ancestors were Indigenous to what is now central Mexico, as well as Canada, settlers from Southern Europe — I feel like it’s important, at least to say, you know, as a visitor to this space, whose land I’m on. Yeah, and I think I’ll pause for now and pass to Kai, just in the interest of time, and we can get into more stuff about land acknowledgments and who we are and all that hopefully soon. Pass.
Kai Rajala:All right, thank you E. I’m Kai, they pronouns. I am joining you from Kanienʼkehá꞉kaland, colloquially known as Montreal, also referred to by many as the island of Osheaga. I am originally from unceded Coast Salish territory, in what is commonly known as Vancouver, British Columbia. I met E and Scott at a conference in Asheville a few years ago and I’m happy to still be collaborating with them on this project. I’m a bit of the anti–academic, though I did do a BA in French language and studied with Glen Coulthard at the University of British Columbia in the Indigenous Studies Department. So a lot of my work is very referential to Glen’s work. Yeah, and we’ll talk more about the project.
E: I like that name drop, very jealous of that connection.
K: *laughs* I mean, it’s there, right? So name it.
SB: So we started working together, cuz we had overlapping interests in terms of working on like utopian vision within radical — particularly anarchist,social movement organizing — and the way that utopian ideas are entangled with colonial and settler colonial visions. So we had all done our own sort of work and were trying to figure out how we could collaborate on a larger potential book project, and this, so today is going to be one sort of installation of that ongoing project that we’re building. And we’ve each prepared like a little bit of where we’re coming from, to read. We also talked a little bit, before we open the session, we’re talking about land acknowledgments and I just wanted to also add that like, we’re in a university setting, and part of the stuff that we’re talking about is how the implications of settler colonialism get invisiblized and many of the institutions that we are working within are, you know, have profited off the theft of land grant institutions. We were talking about that a little bit, rightbefore, and land acknowledgments have been used even by these institutions as a way to kind of show some kind of like, performative solidarity that has nothing to do with, like, any material follow up, right? So like, it’s a thing that gets used but it’s also we thought worth acknowledging, you know, that we are not Indigenous to the land that we’re speaking from.
K: So I think what’s interesting to note is our project and actually start out as anything really queer related, we’re all queer, and for the purpose of this conference we decided to shape what we’re working on to fit kind of the lens of Queer Studies and, you know, queer experience. It actually started with a few things. I ran into E and Scott in Atlanta at an anarchist conference two years ago and then that’s kind of where this conversation really began, the ball started rolling. But one of the things that started with was a critique of sustainability politics and the kind of sustainability movement, which I think is like this liberal, kind of like nonviolent politic, which refuses to surrender settler agency or control over territories, and insteadit’s kind of focusing on preserving settlement and attempting to reduce the ecological imprint that the settler State has on the planet. And so you know, it’s kind of naively asking like, “how can we delicately tap the earth of its resources? How can we like politely remove indigenous people from their land? And you know, if the current practice of capitalist accumulation by colonial dispossession are destroying the waters? Like, how can we make the colony sustainable?” It started with that. And we’re also looking at ways in which as Scott was mentioning, in the beginning, more radical parts of our settler movements are actually reinforcing the settler state and the colony, and queerness.
EO: My starting point is usually from fiction. You know, I sort of blend maybe some of the more science and climate change stuff that Kai was just talking about, but with like, you know, a science fiction lens, and how like apocalypse, and climate change, and dystopia and utopia show up in speculative. And so that’s sort of my general subject area or interest. But yeah, I will explain shortly, I definitely made it queer for this. But I think generally, kind of radical politics, the whole, and how it takes up a lot of these narratives is what I’m concerned with.
So I’m definitely excited to work on this project. And I am excited to hear also people’s responses or questions as we’re sort of shaping this larger project we’re working on, we would like to make it some sort of tangible thing, a book or whatever out in the world. So feedback is very much encouraged throughout this, so that we can sort of be in conversation and not just like talking or writing at people. I really, very much want to welcome like, yeah, conversation.
SB: Yeah, even maybe inviting, like, collaborators too. Because like, another thing that we’re trying to do is envision projects that aren’t like single author ownership based. So but I guess let’s go into the reading of our prepared statements, and then go into the discussion so we have more time to unpack those things. So I’m going to start out with grounding in in the kind of like, questions about queer movements. I’m going to start reading.
Today’s radical queers are stuck in terms of figuring out how to inherit the legacy of gay liberation over against the more recent legacy of gay rights or assimilation. And I think that this dialectic between liberation and assimilation is a little bit misleading. And from like, retrospect, we can see the cooptation is like the goal. I mean, that’s a kind of pessimistic narrative, but it’s the thing that keeps happening. Often, this stuckness produces a nostaligia for the time of general militancy and rebellion across different groups experiencing domination, a time that ultimately splintered through hierarchy, liberal identitarianism, counterinsurgency, murder, incarceration and incorporation into the dying liberal bourgeois state.
And yet, today we see a proliferation what at least previously were deviant genders and sexualities, especially among younger people, while acknowledging an easier terrain for older people to come out and a culture that replays images of queer criminality, liberationist slogans, and apparent subscription to the radical claims of those movements. And when I said like a “dying bourgeois state”, I don’t mean that in like a good way, because something worse might be coming, right? Um, some kind of neofeudalism or whatever.
Theoretically, a major issue in inheriting this legacy of queer liberation or gay liberation has been how to deal with a liberationist ideology that sees queerness, or more precisely, homosexuality, or even more precisely sex between men, as somehow inherently revolutionary, spelling the eventual doom of cis-hetero patriarchy and racial capitalism. Like if men fuck each other than the world will fall apart. If only for the reason that that efflorescence of public queerness via the movements didn’t actually produce this liberation right — that didn’t happen — but instead various backlashes on public sex and cross class contact over against recognitions of certain rites, we might discard the idea that queerness is radical. Of course, we still would have to contend with the way that HIV AIDS forced gay movements to combat the state and scientific communities for the very lives of those who are dying. But I think we can also get to the understanding of the limits of gay liberation theoretically, simply in the idea of the homosexual.
One version of this is the transgressive or even criminal, that category tends to rely upon the normative for its power. So it can always be absorbed. And this has been talked about by like, lots of people like Bataille or Judith Butler. For us, this absorption has already taken place, because gay now means a specific consumer niche.
Another version of this like paradox inherent in gayness is articulated in the early days of so called queer theory by Eve Sedgwick in her reading of Billy Budd, as what she called “the crucial question of a potentially utopian politics”. And this is what she asks, “Is men’s desire for other men the great preservative of the masculinist hierarchies of Western culture, or is it among the most potent threats against them?” I’ve been, like, sitting with this question for a really long time. For Sedgwick, this ambivalence is tied up with a “definitional incoherence” — that’s what she calls it — that plagues modern attempts to classify homosexuality. Is it a minority group, an identifiable class of person, or is it a universalizing tendency that represents a possibility across classes and types and also, like, nations?
The modern gay rights movement has strategically employed the minoritarian response in a bid for recognition and incorporation, and therebyhas left behind some of the more destructive and dangerous impulses of gay liberation — like the movement — which often call for general homosexual realization of culture, or transgendering everyone, so that society, like a capitalist society, and all its norms of oppression would be destroyed.
Sedgwick certainly looked fondly on the liberationist tendencies, but overallshe operated within the typically academic Foucaultian framework that came to displace ideas of liberation, especially in Anglo queer theory. This framework sees the invention of homosexuality as a modern phenomenon occurring through the biopolitical intersection of criminal, medical and even literary discourse. The theoretical approach that is dominant, then, sticks to incoherence in homosexuality and this paradox without deciding to resolve it towards liberation, right, like it doesn’t take an ethical stance often.
Now I’ve been really, like, this new recently released book by Christopher Chitty, Sexual Hegemony — it was a posthumously edited volume by a friend Max Fox —has really been reframing some of the ways I think I’m thinking about this. Chitty supplies Foucault’s discursive production of homosexuality with a class analysis of various nodal points of capitalist development. Ultimately, Chitty shows another picture of the ambivalence of same sex practices and communities with the practice could signal both the potential of proletarian unrest, and also the punishment that enforce social norms across classes on top of the oppressive economic and material conditions, creating the condition for the possibility for these sexual cultures to blossom in the first place.
The biggest threat overall tended to be seen in public sex, which reinterpreted urban space outside of bourgeois hegemony, and created cross class connections which threaten the state. In this way, the policing of sodomy, according to Chitty, gets looped in with criminalizing vagrancy and sex work. So these categories all kind of go together. Chitty’s work reinscribes the political ambivalence of queerness for it’s no longer that homosexuality is simply a threat to hegemony but actually plays a role in statecraft and state consolidation, and historicall. Chitty offers a different definition of queer, and I’m quoting now, “as a social category queer would then describe the morbid cultural forms by which the normative logics of gender and sexuality become irreparably damaged, desperately reasserted and perversely renaturalized within a generalized social crisis, rather than marketing some utopian release from these logics in the pursuit of self transformative play”. So this kind of, again, is a way of getting rid of the utopian possibilities inherent and queerness. What remains of the liberationist drive was ultimately tied into a liberal bourgeois idea of identity subject to it in progress. The modern queer identity that we have today is just as much a product of bourgeois ideology, despite its intermittent threat to social order, or its intermittent use as a targeted police force, which then creates a community under siege and looking for reprieve.
Not only is it a product of capitalism, but also colonialism, as colonial outposts historically did and still do provide areas of sexual license for bourgeois European American men. And similarly, the experience of settlers in the US on the frontier were propitious for same sex encounters and love between men, but that was inextricably bound with a project of removal, replacement, genocide, and settler colonialism.
One of the things that Chitty brings up that I think is worth further developing, that doesn’t get developed in the book, is that we could boil down all the contradictions of homosexuality as well as heterosexuality to questions of consent and the deployment of power. Along with the extraction, displacement and erasure of different life ways and colonized lands, the European proletarian cultures of sex and even sexual identity were eventually displaced by a bourgeois homosexual identity that’s still overdetermines our understanding of sexuality today. And the theory and science that this gay identity produced also created an industry of history and knowledge that tried to trace the universal aspects of same sex love and gender deviation across times and cultures. These gay myths and origin stories could mine colonized and genocided cultures for proof of the biological minoritarian naturalness of gayness or transness, while not analyzing the power dynamics that produce this Eurocentric gaze on other ways of doing sex and gender outside of bourgeois sexual hegemony.
And so, like, you know, in the 19th century anthropological discourse there is this like fascination with the berdache as, like, a third gender and that idea that some people claim for a kind of naturalness of trans identity that we see in our modern, like, settler colonial state is, like, coopting, appropriating and also misunderstanding something, and it is all part of the process of the kind of binary gendering of colonization.
If we follow the association of homosexuality with nodes of capital development and crisis, then we can’t collapse these other cultural life forms into something that we know in the same way, except as appropriation, extraction, colonization, erasure. In the end, it turns out that the good part — I’m arguing — that the good parts of gay liberation, I mean, besides the pleasure of cruising, of public sex and creating possibilities of contact, were in fact versions of militant anticapitalism, antiracism, and decolonialism. The gay identity that ultimately won recognition and military inclusion and marriage rights reworks the utopian lines of liberatory thought into a utopia of identity, which is ultimately a white utopia purchasable by certain norms. And this function also largely minimizes and forgets the ongoing HIV AIDS crisis worldwide.
For example, we have queer conferences at universities and support for queer students and perhaps visibly queer professors, but that hasn’t changed the institution itself, which trades in an empty promise of upward mobility for life of debt peonage, not to mention its entanglement in the legacy of chattel slavery and the ongoing project of settler colonialism. The joke is that this respectability politics came at the same time with a deeper crisis in capitalism and so arguably queerness itself is an artifact that we might want to discard. For it’s perhaps nothing but a scrap of meat thrown to another marginalized group to get them to consent to being ruled. So one thing that, again, going back toChitty, he deflates the utopian impulses and gay liberation and rights using Benedict Anderson’s concept of an imagined community to describe this universalizing attempt at, like, global solidarity. Not to resist state violence but to gain recognition. But this queer imagined communities only imaginable through coordinates of a bourgeois him to hegemony of interiority, subjectivity and identity. If gayness is an identity is already colonized, and colonizing, whitewashed and recoupable.
Early gay liberation thinkers like Guy Hocquenghem, someone I work on, were committed to a decolonial, feminist, anti racist, anti capitalist division of liberation. And they said this even at the beginning of the gay liberation movement Hocquenghem pronounce the end of gay liberation within a year or two of the opening of the of the movement and his involvement in the Frente Homosexual de Acción Revolucionaire, not just because the gay liberation movement was splintering along lines of misogyny and moralism. Hocquenghem demanded that as soon as homosexuality was one it has to be given up or else you just serve the purpose of being a token fag or professional revolutionary. In this spirit, I want to point to a different way of thinking of the possibilities of radical queerness liberation and utopia that don’t work through erasure of settlement, terra nullius, or liberal forms of identity and sameness.
I’m influenced by theories developed from study of anarchism, abolition, Indigenous knowledge and Black radical tradition, and ideas like fugitivity flight, the undercommons and marronage. But as a settler, as a white person, my position has to be taken up critically, dispossessed settlers, as well as arrivants on the American continents have long sought ways to escape the dominant forms of colonial identity, the demands and allegiances that became codified as race, gender and sexuality. In fact, these notifications often happen from on high in order to root out cross class, cross race, same sex affiliations that could never fully be controlled by criminalization. And yet the legacies of these laws have become written on our bodies, and the discipline runs the gamut from parental pressure to police murder, or perpetual incarceration.
I’m gonna skip over this, but I was talking about like the ways that sort of racial codes came through controlling sex and reproduction. And also through these complex alliances between people who were keen to be defined as Black and white settlers against Indigenous populations. All these things are densely complex, and they have different relationships with eventual strategies of state formation, through parceling up of identities and accumulation, extraction and dispossession. But another side that we could think of through queer history of like escape, and maroons is thinking about how these histories are modeled counter hegemonic, counter institutional, counter powers and the fissures of capitalism’s ever constant crises. These histories that don’t often get told or those of communities who lived in uninhabitable places which, by which I mean like undeveloped, or undevelopable, often across racial lines. And these histories aren’t utopian, they can’t serve as a salvific function of escape for white queers. Instead, they point to the alternative and living organizations that still happen today outside of the nation state across identity markers that could be continued in explicitly decolonial struggle. To join that struggle white queers would have to put their own status on the line, no longer to help to clear the land but to give possession up, along with queerness too and identityas we understand it. The whole reason queer liberation has ceased to be a problem is that is no longer generally a threat to the bourgeois status to be gay.
Or on the flip side, the relative sexual freedom that has become hegemonic is coincident with a crisis in capitalism and the dissolution of the bourgeoisie as a moral enforcer, may be on the way to this new neofeudalism. And yet here we all are, every one of us imperiled in our attempts to survive in the system that exists. And that identity is packaged as race, gender, sexuality and class marks certain populations out for easy disposability.
So just to kind of sum up, settlers have to give up queerness along with whiteness to reenvision the relation to the land, we have to give up utopia both in our identities and in our methods, since it is a concept steeped in the processes of racialization, settler colonialism, the production of the human through genocide and enslavement. Our relation to the land can’t romanticize past life ways and must promote self determination and some sort of coexistence outside of the hegemony of European knowledge production. So my question to like, go into the discussion, and I’ll reiterate it when we do that is whether there’s a need for queer liberation movement right now? And if so, why would it be called that and not something else?
EO: Thanks so much, Scott. I’m going to pick up some of what Scott brings up at the end there and expand on it in my remarks. And yeah, I also have some questions and things I’d love to discuss. But again, I’d love to hear other folks thoughts. So I’m going to give some, like, definitions just to start us off in a place, so we’re all kind of on the same page, starting with settler colonialism. So Cherokee scholar Daniel Heath Justice defines settler colonialism as quote “distinguished from the more traditional ideas of colonialism, wherein invaders claim resourcesbut then return home. By emphasizing the settler population to creation of a new social order, that depends in part on the ongoing oppression and displacement of Indigenous peoples” end quote. So this is what Patrick Wolfe also calls the elimination of the native.
This oppression, displacement, and elimination is always ongoing. It’s not just a one time thing, it’s continually happening even now, and it’s always gendered and sexualized. So that is to say, settlers, demonize, punish and violate Indigenous peoples along the lines of gender and sexuality, and simultaneously, settlers seek to replace diverse native views, practices, identities, lifeways, with a homogenous, Western, cis-hetero patriarchal system that ensures the future of a white settler population. So my main challenge, our main challenge here, and this is for radical queers to rethink the kinds of futures we try to include ourselves in, and how our liberatory work can suddenly replay exclusion and erasure. So specifically, I’m going to grapple with the questions: how does utopianism show up in radical queer and feminist discourse? How does this perpetuate the settler colonial imperative of terra nullius, erasure, genocide, etc, through utopian ideals? And how do radical queer politics romanticize Indigenous knowledge and modes of living to motivate utopia? And then I’m going to end with a question sort of everybody, what other forms of futurity and speculation resist the settler colonial imperatives of a terra nullius utopia?
So one of the obvious examples of utopian thinking is the sort of assimilative drive within mainstream liberal LGBT movements and cultural productions, sort of this desire for acceptance, the promise of protection and homo normative procreative future that is the ability to keep living, but within the dictate of the US nation state. So borrowing from Jasbir Puar’s term “homonationalism”, which indicates that certain queer bodies — often read as white and white passing — are reconstituted as worthy of recognition and protection. Scott Lauria Morgenson says that “settler homonationalism is the product of the sexual colonization of Indigenous peoples insofar as queer subject hood and queer pride becomes tied to a sense of modernity, rather than a “primitive” quote unquote “Indigeneity” and indebtedness to a supposedly progressive nation. With this normative gay pride perhaps best visualized by “love is love” yard signs rainbow striped us flags, and Rue Pall singing “I am an American just like you too”, is easily dismissed by more radical queer activists. Or is it?
With the recent rise of media such as the Brown sisters podcast “How to Survive the End of the World” as well as Alexandra Brodsky and Rachel Kauder Nalebuff’s edited collection The Feminist Utopid Project: 57 Visions a Wildly Better Future, there’s been a noticeable uptake and interest on the left in the construction of a wildly better future, in spite of a supposedly impending end of the world. I’d like to challenge the radical queer feminist urges to create these utopian visions of a society based on the apocalyptic crumbling of the present. A radical queer politics that relies on unquestioned utopian and dystopian visions, risks aligning itself with a settler colonial imaginary of terra nullius, or blank slate space.
So on the one hand, dystopian and apocalyptic visions perpetuate the unquestioned assumption that a societal collapse is impending, right? As if the continual degradation of human and more than human communities has not already arrived. So in an article on science, and science fiction narratives of Indigeneity and climate change, Pottawatomie scholar Kyle White reminds us that quote, “the hardships many non-Indigenous people dread most of the climate crisis are ones that Indigenous peoples have already endured, due to different forms of colonialism. Such as ecosystem collapse, species loss, economic crash, drastic relocation and cultural disintegration” end quote. This critique could certainly be extended beyond the climate crisis to other hardships that Indigenous peoples of Turtle Island, also known as North America, have endured, such as the continued murder or disappearance, dispossession, removal, forced assimilation under resourcing, and what elsewhere I have called “phenomenological ignorance”.
So when I hear fellow radical queer activists and scholars lamenting the current social, political and meteorological conditions were weathering, who balk that this is anything new, let alone impending. To accept that it is, I think, would be to erase the experiences of my and many others Indigenous ancestors. Particularly dangerous in this assumption is the kind of crisis rhetoric that fosters opportunities for settler colonial sentiments of insecurity, and in the face of this insecurity, assertions of belonging and sovereignty in land and lifeways. So I think Emily Potter succinctly summarizes this, quote, “the non-Indigenous fear of dispossession or exile manifests in the need to defend their jurisdiction over land” end quote. So this implicitly creeps into radical queer discourse when settler queers faced with very real contemporary issues, such as anti-Black legal and extra legal violence, neofascism, militarized policing, etc, attempt to construct autonomous or occupied zones, buy up land, houses and property, some kind of, you know, maybe manifestation of radical prepping, or in other ways individualize and privatized their survival. So Additionally, painting disruptive phenomenon as “apocalypses” belies the human made, in fact, settler made, emergence of these crises.
April Ansan, shows how quote “settler apocalypticism” end quote, obscures colonialism, and its attendant, disaster capitalism, as the true culprit of quote “racial and environmental contraction.” end quote. Therefore, if settler queers insist on using the language of dystopia and apocalypse, they also work to veil their own complicity in these processes. So one apparent amelioration to this could be found in the call for radical queers to quote, “learn from Indigenous peoples”. But this could also easily fall into a trap of what Jean O’Brian calls lasting, or the idea that Indigenous peoples are the last of a nearly decimated group, whose wisdom belongs to bygone eras, yet can still help settlers avoid their own potential extinction. This assumes that to return to Kyle White, quote, “Indigenous peoples are communities who primarily reside in the Holocene, and over time have been gradually deteriorating to the point that the plight of the modern era threatened to kill them off permanently” end quote.
So instead, right, so I would ask radical queer, non-Indigenous accomplices to see Indigenous peoples as of this time, and not monolithic, right? And not to covet these knowledges. And then in thinking about our utopias, rather than dystopias, I do worry that that sort of notion of the future as this mysterious open space and having this sort of as yet to be realized, or as yet to be colonizedquality, creates then another terra nullius space.
To be forever looking towards this horizon, as the space of resistance as a space of resistance like finally realized, and safety finally secured for queer and trans people, I think, one: makes it seem like we can’t create this in the present and that many Indigenous and other queer, trans, two-spirit folks aren’t already creating this in the present. And two: I think this reinscribes yet another, “other”, quote unquote, space that is not yet “ours”, and also ours is in quotes. But it will be one day, right? We can colonize it, we can be there one day, we can claim that one day. Hence mirroring the settler colonial imperative of elimination replacement and what E. Tuck and K. Wayne Yang tell us is the intention of making a new home on the land, homemaking, insists on settler sovereignty over all things in their new domain. This would be the domain of the future utopia. So this discounts the ongoing presence of Indigenous alternatives to the current settler colonial dystopian reality, and instead preserves a view of geographic and social space as blank and ready to be improved with a new model. Again, here we have a problem of erasure, of the oppressions and resistances that have been ongoing in different durations in favor of the blank space of the utopian frontier.
In other words, radical queer politics romanticizes Indigenous epistemologies and ontologies to create a future utopia for themselves, and potentially “altruistically” quote, unquote, for others. I therefore argue against any linear progression of societal environmental collapse, which then promises to bring about this future idealized world of rainbow diverse identities. Instead, I propose — I think we propose together — ways for radical politics, particularly those espoused by non-Indigenous people, to disavow such settler colonial mindsets. And then again, to end, I’ll reiterate this later, I opened with the question to everyone “what other forms of futurity and speculation might be imagined that resists the settler colonial imperatives of terra nullius”?
KR:Thanks E, I guess it’s me. Okay, so I’m going to begin by positioning today’s discussion within the larger body of my work, thinking and research. I’m currently interested as a mixed European white settler predominantly of Finnish descent in the ways in which Finnish immigrants have contributed to the expansion of the Canadian project of settler colonial occupation. Finns traditionally settled in Thunder Bay, Ontario in Canada, elsewhere around the Great Lakes in the United States and the Midwest, including Minnesota and Michigan, and are revered amongst leftist historians as being important to the labor movement in Canada. This contribution was not only through the overt methods of settling and primitive accumulation, which included work as loggers clearing land for settlement, and as pioneer homesteaders, but also his workers involved in union organizing.
Written above the Finnish labor temple in Thunder Bay, Ontario is the Latin phrase “Labor Omnia Vincit”, which translates to “hard work conquers all”. This can be read many ways, namely, that if one works hard upon arriving in these lands, one will be promised the bounty of the Canadian dream, property ownership and middle class prosperity. But the word “conquer” is perhaps the most important part, and interpreted through a lens that challenges settler colonialism, really hones in on the role of the Finnish worker in the nation building, as being the soldier of conquest able to tame the wild Canadian frontier. Finns and also Russians would attempt to establish utopian colonies on the west coast of Canada, which included Finnish Slough in Richmond BC and Sointula Village on Malcolm Island.
So, right, there’s this anti-Indigenous idea of terra nullius, which the three of us are bringing up, that this land is somehow empty and it is not already utopic or to European standards, it is empty and needs to be transformed. This research — namely how ethno cultural utopian and socialist settler movements were important in the construction of the settler political imaginary and essential to the structure of the Canadian settler state — will represent the bulk of my contribution to our ongoing collaboration, which we hope to turn into a book project titled No Blank Slates.
In the realm of queerness, and settler colonialism much of my research and writing for the past few years has been on the history of the so called gay liberation movement in Canada. The ways in which it has differed from that of the United States and how gay and lesbian settlers and their pursuit of rights throughout the later half of the 20th century helped to strengthen both the image and the political power of Canada as a supposedly inclusive, multicultural and progressive nation state. In the 1960s, there was a pivot in both the direction of settler governance and the modes of control over Indigenous nations. Canada’s natural governing parties, the Liberals, under the leadership of Pierre Elliot Trudeau, who many of you will recognize as Justin Trudeau’s father, was promoting the idea of a just society, which sought to incorporate those once outside the Canadian body politic. And here I quote “the just society will be one in which the rights of minorities will be safe from the whims of intolerant majorities. The just society will be one in which our Indian and Innuit populations will be encouraged to assume the full rights of citizenship through policies, which will give them both greater responsibility for their own future, and more meaningful equality of opportunity.”
Aspects of this strategy were to be achieved through the criminal law Amendment Act Bill C 150, which drew inspiration from the criminal lawcode reforms going on at the same time in England, as well as the proposed 1969 white paper. During their transformative era of the 1960s Canadian government actors were retiring the overtly genocidal tactics of segregation, starvation and eradication that their predecessors had employed against Indigenous peoples, opting instead for more covert ways of dealing with sovereignty claims, by way of legislation, which would effectively attempt to trade title to land for Canadian citizenship. The white paper introduced by Pierre Trudeau government and then Minister of Indian Affairs John Chrétien sought to eliminate Aboriginal title and treaty to lands by abolishing the Indian act as it stood, and to assimilate Indigenous people into Canadian society, but was ultimately rejected through the organizing of Indigenous leaders and activists.
Settler colonialism is not only a social and psychological project, however, it operates primarily in a material way relying on access to land and resources in order to continue the process of capitalist accumulation by colonial dispossession. Indigenous nations stood in the way of Canada’s access to land. The growing Red Power movement was not one of identity, but instead centered on self determination, and was a result of Indigenous peoples refusal of the insulting tactics of Trudeau government and the Canadian state.
At the same time, the Canadian gay liberation movement emerged as a response to 1969s Criminal Law Amendment Act, which effectively decriminalized aspects of homosexual sex between consenting adults in private. Queers demanded increased rights and accommodation from the state, encouraged by the Stonewall riots in the United States, and by the olive branch Canada had extended with its progressive reforms. At this historical moment, there was certainly room for radical potential of settlers and Indigenous people uniting against the assimilatory actions that Pierre Trudeau’s government attempted to enact towards each group, but no coalition materialized.
For upwardly mobile gays and lesbian settlers, those that desired recognition from the state and representation amongst the high ranks of its governance structure, the Canadian state becomes a utopic vision. The incorporation of productive white homosexual men into the folds of nationhood — which began with reforms to the criminal law code — was a decision that ensured the Canadian state could expand the viability of its capitalist economy, and maintain its assumed authority and legitimacy in the minds of those it subjugates. It is also something that of course necessitates private property. As Jasbir Puar reminds us settler colonialism has a long history of articulating its violence through the protection of serviceable figures, such as women and children and now the homosexual. In this historical process, so called gay liberation, presumably from hetero patriarchal norms, transmutes into gay assimilation into the nation’s body politic. White homosexual men were, in fact, so eager to penetrate into Canada’s body politic, that they named the first Canadian gay periodical, The Body Politic after it.
What was lost in this moment of assimilation was the radical potential of a combined movement — between those organizing around gay liberation and gay rights — with the burgeoning Red Power movement at the time. While the gay movement in Canada throughout the later half of the 20th century shifted their focus to the pursuit of rights and recognition from the settler state, Indigenous people, for the most part, continue to refuse Canada’s attempts at assimilation, and instead to reaffirm their rights and titles to land which had not yet been seated. The 21st century saw a new marriage of sorts between queers and the Canadian colonial project. For queer settlers the promise of recognition in the eyes of the progressive state did not end with the passing of the Civil Marriage Act in 2005.
In the US that followed Justin Trudeau’s election assimilationist gays, lesbians and transgender settlers, who already desired upward mobility within the capitalist order were offered even more fruits from the state. In his role as Prime Minister, Trudeau marched with his family at the head of a slew of pride celebrations, from 2016 to 2019, emphasizing the importance of family values. In response to the violent repression that queers had endured at the hands of Canadian policing, Trudeau performed a very public and very emotional apology. In March of 2019, when President Donald Trump moved to ban transgender troops from the US military, the Canadian Armed Forces, the CAF, overhauled its existing policy to extend an arm and welcome Canadians of all sexual orientations and gender identities. Like the US military under Barack Obama’s presidency, the revised policy incentivize transgender Canadians to enlist in the army, offering support services for those who wish to medically transition as well as insisting that the CAF would create an environment where transgender members were free from harassment and discrimination. This served to only widen the Gulf that existed between those fighting for self determination in Canada and gay, lesbian and transgender settlers.
And again, though we can only speculate on the radical potential the combined forces of gay liberation and the Red Power movement as they emerge simultaneously in the 1960s and 70s Canada, a queer anticolonialism exists today amongst the queer, trans and two-spirit youth on the frontlines of resistance against the Canadian state. The current generation is leading the Shutdown Canada and Land Back movements, as well as the efforts to abolish the Canadian colonial police force the Royal Canadian Mountain Police, RCMP, and defund municipal police bodies in major Canadian cities. A radical political analysis rooted in a necessity for Indigenous sovereignty has been growing momentum as radical, queer and anarchist organizers continue to learn alongside and build relationships of solidarity with Indigenous peoples and nations. As Canada moves to secure land for resource extraction amidst a global pandemic, and pacify conversations around repatriation and abolishing the police, all settlers, but especially queers, must commit to pushing back against their own government structure, which will continue to erase voices of resistance and mount its own narrative of the benevolence.
In his book Red Skin White Mask, Glen Coultard applies the theoretical concept of the politics of recognition to post 1969 Canadian society. Expanding upon Franz Fanon ideas surrounding the shift from the overt violence of colonial control, over colonized subjects, towards recognition and accommodation as a form of state management. Coulthard concludes that because rights and permissions are distributed by the state, the cycle of colonization continues and the rights must be rejected. He extends the strategy of rejecting state management to “other subaltern groups, not just the colonized” and which is a quote, which would include the working class, people of color and gender and sexual minorities. Because the Canadian state privileges the treatment of respectable and middle class gay, lesbian and transgender settlers at the expense of Indigenous people, it makes sense for queers to turn this recognition and accommodation provided by Canada on its head.
Theoretically speaking, this extension of Coulthards call to reject recognition and the gifts of the settler stateby marginalized groups other than Indigenous people has not yet been taken up. The project of queer refusal of the settler colonial project is not an ideological attainment or position, but instead an ongoing commitment to the disruption of settlement and the economies which sustain it. Radical queer settlers who choose to align ourselves with Indigenous peoples and nations whose land we continue to occupy, and whose stolen wealth we continue to benefit from must start by refusing the recognition and the gifts that the nation state offers us, as well as actively disrupting the ways in which our identities are used to advance Canada’s myth of progress. Armed with the lessons of the past, we must help to enact decolonization in its fullest, most literal sense, moving beyond the perfunctory gestures of acknowledgement, and towards outcomes that are material.
This project is one that destabilizes queer utopian ideals and settler agency in imagining alternatives to capitalism and colonial governance, and instead centers the repatriation of lands and the reclamation of laws, Indigenous governance structures, and Indigenous economies that have been suppressed. It is a commitment to action and relationship building, to solidarity and learning.
A few weeks ago in a talk given at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, BC, Susan Stryker signaled that in a post–Trump era, Biden certainly embraced liberal inclusive model of recognizing trans rights. She continued and emphasized that — and I’m paraphrasing here — the laws are not going to save us, the institutional power is not going to save us. We have to become a new body politic moving beyond the state. With the return to liberal inclusion politics in the US, I want to signal a potential area for collaborative prefiguration between radicals living in both nation states to challenge the ways in which both of these settler states weaponize queerness and building off of the proposal of Coulthard and in response to the remarks put forward by Stryker. I would also like to suggest the imperative task of taking up the project of queer refusal in a serious manner, and then instead of a new body politic, a disembodied politic of sorts that rejects the narrative of queer progress, and challenges the very nature of queer identity formation be pursued instead. The greatest threat to the settler state, then, should not be seen as the radical queers lifestyle or rejection of heterosexist society, and social and sexual reproductive norms, but the rejection of state power and capitalist accumulation.
So to end, the question that I had for the discussion is, where do we go from here? How do queer movements engage with the state? How do they build relationships with Indigenous movements? And one thing that I wanted to add is that some of these sites of refusal have already begun. In anticipation of the 50th anniversary of the 1969 Criminal Law code Reforms, Canada announced it would issue a commemorative dollar coin, quite literally a token of gay capitalism. Beyond mere pinkwashing, Trudeau was in more ways than one continuing this project of assimilation, the fabled construction of the “justice society” that his father had begun in the late 60s. And amongst several disruptions, myself and other queer activists and academics, gathered in Ottawa in March of 2019, for the Anti 69 conference — and that’s anti 1969 as in the Criminal Law Code Reforms, not anti 69 is in the sexual act *laughs* — to trouble the mythology of the Omnibus criminal code reform bill and to shed light on the Canadian states ongoing crimes on Indigenous people within Canada and abroad.
Revolutionary, Indigenous political prisoner, Oso Blanco, is marketing the first in a series of full-color postcards based on his paintings to fund-raise for children’s schools in Zapatista territories and Turtle Island. More at BurningBooks.com
Certain Days Calendar Call-Up
The Certain Days: Freedom for Political Prisoners Calendar collective (CertainDays.org) will be releasing our 21st calendar this coming autumn. The 2022 theme is “Creating a New World in the Shell of the Old,”looking at collective approaches at creating a more inclusive and fulfilling world through mutual effort. Read the invitation up at their website!
Scott: We’re talking today about sort of the current state of radical anti-authoritarian, queer liberatory movements, and the legacy of gay liberation, you know, from the 60s and 70s, and like, gay history. Before we get into it, can you introduce yourself and the kind of work you’ve done? We’re talking about, specifically, Christopher Chitty’s book and sort of your placement within that, and if you want to say anything else about yourself, and your pronouns, whatever you feel.
Max Fox: Sure, my name is Max Fox, I use he/him. I am the editor of this book that was written by Christopher Chitty. It’s called Sexual Hegemony: Statecraft, Sodomy, and Capital in the Rise of the World System. I’m also an editor at gay communist magazine called Pinko and the translator of short book by a French theorist Guy Hocquenghem called Ampitheater of the Dead.
S: Which is sort of that’s how we met sharing an interest in Hocquenghem. Do you want to talk at all about how you got involved in editing Christopher Chitty’s book and the project, and how you, yeah, how your work relates to it?
MF: I knew Chris when I was in college at UC Santa Cruz, he was a graduate student in the history of consciousness department, which is this kind of fairly unique, critical theory, Marxist philosophy, etc, etc, style graduate program that I, as a young, enthusiastic leftist was like, “wow, simply the coolest thing you could possibly be studying”. And so I like tried to sit in on all these classes in that department, which is sort of one of the ways that I encountered him.
But we met really organizing on this anti-austerity, anti sort of tuition hike, movement, in, let’s say 2009-2010.Like right after the crash, that became the sort of Occupy California, Occupy DC system movement, which was sort of like a precursor to the Occupy Wall Street stuff. And so he was someone who I met in this moment of kind of like, intense, you know, personal transformation, I suppose.
And he was also working on this very incredible sounding theory, that promise to, in my view, kind of revolutionize the understanding of the history of sexuality, sexuality studies, queer theory, etc. And I was like, very eager to have something like that, because I felt kind of dissatisfied with a lot of the sort of sexual politics that were ready to hand at the time, it was, you know, “gay marriage” moment. And I felt kind of unconvinced by a lot of the positions on both sides even, and I wanted something more like, whatever Marxist or rigorous or something like that, you know. And Chris was working on precisely that. So I was very eager for him to finish his dissertation and sort of get that out in the world.
And so when he died in 2015, you know, I was personally very devastated. And I attached that feeling to this thought that, like, the work wouldn’t be finished. And that was something that I could actually sort of put some efforts towards. And so I, I didn’t really think it’s gonna be such a long project, but I sort of assumed the responsibility of collecting his, sort of, the draft material that his family and his friends had access to, and finding a publisher and, you know, getting it through the revision process and things like that, and now kind of like seeing it through the publicity end or whatever.
Yeah, so you know, it’s like this, you know, I had an intense, like, intellectual response to this. I wouldn’t have done it, I don’t think, if I didn’t think it was worth thinking about or thinking with, but obviously, there’s a pretty significant, like, emotional component as well for me.
S: Yeah, thanks for sharing that history that you have, like connected with Chris Chitty. And I mean, yeah, it is, I think you’re right, back then, to say that the work is going to make a giant contribution. I’ve felt reading this, that it has really affected my way of thinking and also responded to some of my own frustrations. But also I want to like yeah, acknowledge that kind of like personal grief work there, that must have been part of your editing, but you like, brought this thing out, which I think is super important. If you’re ready to kind of move into some of these ideas, then like tease them out a little bit.
So, in your foreword to the book, you summarize the project, as, I’m quoting you, “an attempt to think through the failure of sexual liberation, by what Chitty described as returning the history of sexuality to a history of property”. And like we could talk about that as kind of combining his readings of Marx and Foucault as you do, and that’s a whole debate within queer theory. But, uh, I was wondering if you could sort of explain this argument the way that you sum it up, how would you articulate the relationship that he explores in the book between same sex practices, particularly sodomy, sex between men, and the development of the bourgeois state? And how is the figure of the homosexual or homosexuality helped consolidate the state?
MF: Yeah, okay. So he, one of the tricky things about this book, I think, is that it’s making two slightly different claims that they’re obviously related, but the relation between them is maybe a little underspecified. He is saying that there’s a way of grasping power that falls into the name of sexual hegemony, which is basically how a ruling class comes to install it’s particular sexual practices and norms in the intimate self conception of numbers of classes that don’t occupy the same position in society. So that’s sexual hegemony. And then secondly, he’s saying that the figure of male homosexuality kind of illuminates the particular history of how in capitalist society, sexual hegemony is an integral part of bourgeois rule or rule of capital sexual relations.
And he’s telling a story about how, in the earliest sort of capitalist societies and the earliest spaces in the world that you could plausibly claim are governed by capitalist relation to production — which he, following this economic historian Giovanni Arrighi, locates in northern Italian city states in 1400 or so, Venice in particular — he says that, well, okay. So first of all, in the Mediterranean basin, there is, in this moment, there’s a basically widespread and unremarkable just fact of men having sex with men. It’s just simply, it’s not, it doesn’t have its own name, necessarily, or it’s not, that doesn’t give you a sort of unique social status, because it’s so ordinary, you know. Basically relations of production, you know, apprenticeships and seclusion of women in the household, and even you know, things like, the type of ships that they use, all of this basically contributes to a public sphere that is exclusively male, essentially, where men and women don’t have any access to each other, except for within their own family. So that’s kind of prohibited by the incest ban, sex between these people. And so the only kind of sexuality you’re gonna have, if your man, is with other men who you will encounter, you know, on the docks, or in the marketplaces, or in your workplace, or in the cruising areas and in the taverns and whatever. And that’s simply what you do. It doesn’t give you an identity or whatever.
And so he’s saying that around the same time that capitalist relation to production began to take hold. There’s also a new form of Republican governance, where the laws of the city have some shared source of legitimacy. It’s not just a kind of feudal lord or whatever, but there’s some attempt at reviving a kind of like civic base of power. And that then obviously kind of comes in conflict with the actual disparate levels of power that people have. There are more powerful rich people and less powerful working people. And so you need a way of managing this conflict that doesn’t end up expressing itself in overthrowing this new form of government and installing rule of the many who are poor, instead of the few who want to have the legitimacy of consent or whatever. Anyway, sorry, that’s, that’s a bit of an aside. The point is that these governments start adopting a new way of enforcing or regulating sodomy, which as I said before, wasn’t really a sort of serious problem. But there are problems obviously when you have disputes between lovers or disputes between clients and patrons, right. And so instead of, you know, punishing sodomites with capital punishment — which was maybe, you know, a scary threat in the past, but wasn’t ever actually applied very often — what these governments do is they start a special police force that is just there to investigate accusations and issue fines, basically.
And so what this does is it incentivizes people to inform on each other. If you’re mad that your ex is going out with your rival, then you can call the police about it and say, these two sodomites, I saw them in the loggia the other night, and you should go find them 24 Florins or whatever. Or you’re a sex worker, and your john doesn’t pay you and you threaten to turn him in, or whatever. So it establishes a new way that power operates in these relations that were more directly mediated by personal sort of encounters with each other. So that’s in the first instance, that’s like a way that the emerging bougious state — or capitalist relations of production that need a form of government to kind of take hold — changes and kind of takes a new form in these ways of regulating sodomy, are ways of taking sexuality into itself and turning it into a new instance where the state like is a is a presence of people’s lives where it wasn’t before. I don’t know if that was actually a direct enough answer at all. Do you think that was good for your question?
S: Yeah. I mean, that really breaks it down in a helpful way for me. I mean, the first sort of historical chapter starts there when you’re talking about and like, the way you explain it shows, it’s like the first sort of capture of whatever becomes homosexuality, because you talked about how it kind of routes the relationship through this state. So like, you can have recourse to this concentrated form of power in that police force that will fine people. And so people then like, give up whatever relationship they have between each other to go to this other place to deal with their problems. And I think that, yeah, the way you explained it was really helpful.
And then the other aspect of it that I think is important, in what you’re saying, is that it becomes a way of trying to mitigate potential threat, right, from like, the many, or the lower classes. Yeah, there’s this framework of like, consent to be ruled, by getting your recompense, or whatever it could be, like if you’re jealous, or something’s taken from you, or you’ve been forced into a situation you don’t want. But then that also diffuses the possibility of rebellion in some way. I mean I guess that’s the definition of sexual hegemony and how that helps, like, work for state power. And there’s like this way that he traces the increased politicization of homosexuality to that history of producing the proletariat. So you were talking about the emerging forms of capitalist production, that goes from cutting people out of subsistence ways of living, bringing them into wage work, creating these urban centers, where people are living different lives and working different ways. And he often calls that like a kind of surplus population, or superfluous.
The thing that’s really interesting is that there’s these cultures of public practices of homosexuality, where the men are working together. The thing that really strikes me is how Chitty’s argument replay some of the old coordinates of talking about homosexuality, that can either be a kind of pro gay way of thinking, or a really homophobic way of thinking. So like, it usually centers around the kind of that superfluousness or uselessness or the non-reproductive aspects of sex as a form of decadence and disruption of a moral form. And I was just wondering, are we so inundated with this framework that, can we think about sex between men outside of that moral framework? Is it always going to be ambivalent? Like there was a way that like communist parties would say homosexuality was a was bourgeois decadence, and like, it’s true to a certain extent, right, like Chitty’s showing us that it’s tied to that, but it’s not, yeah, I mean, I’m to articulate this, if you want to jump in.
MF: So I mean, there’s a lot there. So there’s another thing that he’s trying to do in this argument, which is to say that this repression that we have come to identify with the meaning of sexuality, of homosexuality or queer sexualities, whatever, “deviant sexualities” that’s not a necessary feature, either of sexuality as such — which is like, maybe that’s not exactly what its objective investigation is — or sexuality under capitalism. Because, you know, he’s a good reader of Foucault, power is productive as well as oppressive, right. So you don’t want to have a concept that can only say, “sexuality is what the state takes from you”, or something like that, or stops you from having.
And so he aligns this history of kind of like, Arighian hegemonic centers of the world system, as capitalism kind of expands over the globe. So it goes first from Florence and Venice in northern Italy, and that goes to Amsterdam, is the next center, then London and then New York. This is the sort of world systems theory, according to Arighi narrative of caplitalist expansion. And Chitty says, “Okay, let’s find out what happens in the moment of transition from one center to the next, when the declining center is experiencing crisis or loss of its previous capacity to exert hegemony”. So he’s saying in these moments of decline, you can find increased depression and that’s actually what the repression means. It’s not that capitalism has this kind of like, inherently sex negative aspect, it’s that as a sort of cyclical crisis ridden system, it’s going to have these moments of dissolution that will have, you know, semi predictable effects. And one of the predictable effects that he asserts is discoverable in the record is that there’s this increased attention to male sodomy, or men having sex with other men, in these moments of crisis and dissolution of the hegemonic center.
So on the one hand, that’s one explanation for this kind of like moral valence, right? So like, capitalism only notice is that sex between men is even happening in this moment when it itself is going through crisis. So of course it’s going to attach a kind of pejorative meaning to it, right? Because it’s looking for reasons for its decline. And I think that’s, you know, relatively convincing. I have to say I haven’t done this historical research myself, so perhaps another set of archival material would be able to make a counter argument that says, “no this is actually constant, or actually it has nothing to do with the temporality of financial crisis” or blah, blah, blah? I don’t really know, I mean, this seems compelling to me. But I don’t think it’s actually necessary for his argument to be true.
I think that the point that he’s making…so capitalism is characterized by a kind of ceaseless drive to expand, and consume evermore arenas of human social life, right? Like that’s observably the case, that’s theoretically drivable, from, you know, Marxist analysis and from, it’s a classic tenet of most people left. And what that means is that historically, generally, what that means is people who are living in non-capitalist parts of the world, and basically subsistence forms of social production and reproduction, are severed from their capacity to live like this and brought into the circuits of capitalist production. And so a lot of the times that has meant then turning them into a kind of like industrial proletariat, putting them to work in factories, or on plantations, or, you know, sending people to die in armies or settle genocided territories or whatever. But something that that requires is that you have this kind of floating population that’s been severed from the means of reproducing their own life at the very beginning, so the premise of capitalist production is a surplus population, right? That is sort of not able to meet its own needs for survival without seeking employment on the market. Right, or in kind of non-waged areas, whatever in the household, internally, or in the gray market or whatever.
And so I think one of the useful things about Chris and his analysis is that he has a sophisticated enough reading of Marx and capitalism to sort of dispense with what a lot of the traditional Marxist — basically moral positions — on work are, and say, you know, “it’s not good, that people are productiv, in fact, that’s a source of domination”. These questions of like, “is homosexuality somehow intrinsically related to non productive modes of living?” I think he deals with it in a number of different ways. One of which is to say that the forms of direct production under capitalism produce homosexuality, you know? Like the classic form of capitalistic production is — this wasn’t always historically the case, but you know, in the fantasy — is the sex segregated factory, right? So, a bunch of men who all spend 8, 10, 12 hours a day with another 100, or 1000, whatever, some number of other men. You know, most of them often historically live in dormitories, or in workhouse style situations, they certainly don’t have enough money to start a family, you know. So oftentimes, historically, the only kind of pleasure they’re going to find is in each other. Or the other sort of like proto-typically capitalist form of productive activity is shipping, you know, where you have the same problem, right? And obviously, famously, these are like hotbeds of homoerotic intrigue.
And, you know, the same goes for the army. The same goes for, I mean, if you think about the fucking settler colonies, like on the frontier, all the men are either there alone in the wilderness, and out away from the social world that they were raised in. So it’s everywhere, once you start looking at this. You know, prisons, obviously, famously. Once you impose a kind of sex segregated route norm on the sort of productive social apparatus — which wasn’t consistently the case throughout the history of capitalism, certainly — but then you inevitably have the problem of proletarians are gonna have sex with each other. And so anyway, so that’s one of the sources also of this concern for regulating sexuality, regulating homosexuality is because it’s a labor discipline question sometimes, too.
S: Yeah. I mean, so like, this does a few things, right? Like in the earlier articulations of sexual liberation, and also gay liberation, like sexual liberation more generally, and gay liberation, there’s like that repressive idea that there are these forces that are making us not have sex we want and then gay liberation, like had the strategies of trying to find proof of like, the natural ness of homosexuality throughout history. And so in a way, what Chitty does is expanding on Foucault, like you were saying, who says, “Well, no, the homosexuals invented at a certain moment, and it’s not this eternal force of like, repression and sexual license” or whatever.
But in another way, I think what I like so much about what Chitty’s doing is like, he’s saying that we’re not asking necessarily the right questions when we are focusing on these things. So like, like you said, homosexuality as we know, it is created by the development of capitalism. But the other thing he keeps insisting on, Chitty, is like that it’s contingent, right? And that’s, I guess, the other kind of deviation from like, Marx, it’s like a contingent history. It’s not necessarily that it was this way. And so in a way, there’s, like, the ambivalence of homosexuality, which is also like, is a tool of rule and a tool of oppression. It’s a medium for us to like, find liberation and a way that we’re captured is like inherent to that process. And I don’t know, I mean, in a way, it’s like, I mean, I’ve seen this being articulated in various ways, but like, almost like an unresolvable paradox in a way. And so like, I guess what I’m interested in exploring with you a little bit is like, how it shifts the coordinates of what we think about when we try to aim for liberation.The way that Chitty, if I can quote from him, like the way he articulates that, and this is a line that you just mentioned to me before we start recording, he says that “queer would then imply a contradictory process in which norms of gender and sexuality are simultaneously denatured and renaturalized”. And that’s like the process of sexual hegemony, like using sexuality as a rule, a form of ruling. And like the threats are often public sex or cross class sex. So I was wondering if you want to help me unpack that, if you spent some time on that? Like, what does he mean by these norms, the sexual hegemony being “denatured and renaturalized”? And like, what does the double sided process look like?
MF: Yeah, so there’s another one that I find very helpful, that I think might also illustrate this a little bit, which is that…oh I can’t remember where it is so I’m going to try and just reproduce it from memory, but it’s probably gonna be slightly different: “sexuality could only become a problem for a society in which biological reproduction was decoupled from the reproduction of ownership”. So that, you know, that’s, maybe that’s a little complicated, but it’s an historical argument, which is about the dissolution of the kind of like, feudal world, where, let’s say, land title is passed down through the family, and, you know, on the peasant side or whatever, and, and sort of, conversely, political rule is hereditary inheritance as well in the aristocratic sense, or whatever. In that society sexuality appears as something that’s kind of natural, right? It doesn’t, it can’t really be an object of anxiety or control in the same way. And historically, it wasn’t.
You know, you had this kind of, I mean what Focault talks about, it’s like, the pastoral power versus that, whatever, the medical discourse or whatever. But, um, priests could tell you to confess, but like, there’s really not a lot of power to investigate whether or not people sex was taking place, according to the way that you wanted it to be, or to punish people for it. Because it’s very hard to, you know, provide evidence that a sexual act took place, in the absence of being there, compelling eyewitness testimony. Peasant marriage in feudal times was actually quite limited. So anyway, it just wasn’t a floating social problem that needed regulation the same way that it did, once, he’s saying, ownership — private property relations — become transferable, alienable. Which is the hallmark of capitalist relations of production.
So in that sense, sexual norms have become denatured, they once appear to be organic, natural expressions of the sort of unitary creative world., and now they appear to be an object of political contention and control. And so they’re renaturalized in this new way, by the reimposition of what appears to be necessity of socially objective meaning that’s enforced by, you know, state repressive apparatus, but as well as the kind of like private mechanisms of coercion and control in the workplace and family. So these new norms that say, in the past you may have been able to, like, whatever, fuck your friends in the field, but now there’s a different type of threat from the police. And so you become a different, a new kind of person. You become, your nature changes, right, and you’re suddenly apprehended by the state in a way. And so it’s this, it’s this kind of decomposition of a previously automatic organic expression of the social order, where sex is a kind of meaningless in that it doesn’t make a difference whether or not ownership gets transferred in the normal way, to something that might disrupt it. And it might disrupt it because there’s a new type of person in the world, and that is sort of, like, the subject of the hegemonic sexual norm, and the deviant person who fails to be protected by this norm. Does that help?
S: Yeah, totally. I mean, it’s interesting because, you know, where we are today, we get stuck on identity. And it’s like, the problem that you talked about, like sexuality becoming a problem for statecraft and like state rule, is like internalized for us as a problem, like, “who am I?” And like, “how do I figure that out?” But if we trace back those identity terms, they’re like police orders or whatever, like, that there were forms of controlling criminalization. And he also talks a lot about how, like, this is a history of policing, right? So the policing of homosexuals goes hand in hand with the policing of sex work and also the policing of vagrancy.
MF: Sure, yeah.
S: And so the other thing that I think this is parallel to, and maybe there’s something to articulate here, is like, within the Marxist theory there’s — this is another form of maybe primitive accumulation, in the way that Sylvia Federici talks about in Caliban and The Witch in terms of how the gendering of women forms a kind of enclosure around their bodies and sexuality — like this is another enclosure, which is like an identity type rather than whatever those organic forms are. That could have existed before. And if you’d think about those previous communities and like, maybe even pre feudal, right, like, it just wasn’t a problem. Or there were other norms in which it was like, acted out, but like, it’s not like, “yeah this guy sleeps with other men sometimes” wasn’t like a problem. There’s just like, “oh yeah, that’s a thing that someone does”.
MF: Yeah. Or it’s just like, yeah, that’s what men do they love to have sex with beautiful people, whatever, as long as they’re the active partner, or whatever. Like, it doesn’t have bearing necessarily on the social standing of the person doing it.
S: Well, that’s the other thing that I think is in the book that like, because it’s not to say that there were these previous sexual utopias where, like, men could have sex with other men freely, but they often happened along power lines of like, young and old or different classes, or like, how he talks about the kind of, like, workshops where a master and apprentice might have a sexualized relationship. But it wasn’t one, there was a discrepancy in power there between the master and the apprentice. So it’s not like these were old gay utopias.
MF: Yeah, I mean, that’s one of the interesting things that he does with this is, it’s like, there’s a liberal story, and it can basically take the same material that he’s looking at and say, like, “okay, there was this precapitalist utopia for gay people. Somehow, let’s say, the capitalists decided to chase them out of Eden and pursue them across these centers of financial power, up until the present, at which point they finally rebelled at Stonewall and now we’re free”. And that kind of posits, on the one hand, a kind of like, a single tradition and identity that was like, unbroken, again, that somehow cross all these social formations. And one that was unjustly persecuted, and one that would recognize itself in the present as kind of like, finally free, right?
And there’s a lot of things that don’t really hold up about that argument. One of them is that there were these sexual norms that we would now call violent, or abusive, or rape, you know, that was just simply how these practices happened. You don’t have to be like, “Well, you know, they really should have been persecuted by the state” or like, “actually was fine because they all really consented at some level”, or whatever. It’s just like, there’s a real heterogeneity to the social practices, that doesn’t really fit the kind of like, triumphant, oppressed past, liberated future, sort of arc.
And it also kind of flatters the present and says “and now we know better, and now violence doesn’t happen in sex. And all of our ways of conceiving of pleasure are totally fine for everybody involved, and we don’t have any contradictions that we still need to work out.” So he has this kind of like skeptical view of what was a very, very effective tool for people to win real, serious changes in their condition and the present. But like he’s not just saying, “well it wasn’t actually like and I’m here to speak the truth because I love academic freedom” or whatever. But because it’s actually a much more complicated question than we like to imagine.
S: Yeah, totally. Like, I guess,speaking personally in my relationship to this, like, so there’s a kind of double nostalgia that maybe falls into some of that liberal trap. Like when I first read Foucault, in The History of Sexuality talking about like, “before there was a homosexual people weren’t an identity, they did things” and I was like, “Oh, yeah, that makes so much sense.” That’s like liberating to be like, “I don’t have to be a thing I could just do whatever I want”. And l mean I don’t think that Foucault is necessarily saying that, but that was how I first received it, you know? And that kind of connects to the naive sort of sexual liberation, gay liberation discourse that gay sex, queer identity in different forms, like transness, whatever, are inherently disruptive and revolutionary, and will overthrow capitalism if we can just like, fuck whoever we want, wherever we want. And that was a line that people took strategically also, which is like, maybe on the other side of looking for recognition of rights and entry into the power structures of, you know, marriage and military, etc.
Okay, so there’s like an nostaligia, definitely, for me for like those moments of gay liberation, where like, the militancy was also paired with this kind of way of thinking, like, “Oh, are sex is revolutionary”. And I see that also, just like, generally today with radical queers kind of replaying a lot of those old moments. But and then, you know, with a lot of the academic stuff that tends to be pessimistic about the revolutionary structures, never were satisfactory to me, but like the way that he argues it, that Chitty argues it, does something that makes me, it helps me understand it a little bit more in a more complex way, than to simply be pessimistic about it. Although there is certainly a pessimistic line in it. Yeah, like one of the ways he phrases it is that “the ideas of liberation elevate a liberal bourgeois theory of the state into the constituent of principle of human desire and all other cultural formations”. First of all, how does he help us — in your reading and understanding — understand the failures of gay liberation? How does it like, help us articulate a new pathway for our liberatory movements, starting from the positions of like, gay, trans, queer, whatever you want to call, whatever, different ones that are sort of loosely linked? Like, how do we go from this critique to like articulating a movement that really wants to be, you know, revolutionary, that wants to tear apart these hierarchies and oppression?
MF: Yeah, no, that’s, I mean, that’s the trick, right? I mean I think that it’s so helpful and refreshing to have someone sort of, just say like, “here’s why this doesn’t quite work”, you know? Yeah, I too, find it unbearably romantic to imagine that the sex in the 70’s could have somehow fucked its way into a utopian universe or whatever, and the only reason it didn’t happen was because AIDS, maybe. I don’t want to dismiss the gravity of everything else that people were doing, it was in the context of like, pretty widespread, sustained, intense militancy. It wasn’t just just sex or whatever, right? I’m not being so Stalinist about it.
I’ve been reading this book that I’m pretty sure Chris was reading throughout early on or whatever, by this theorist, Moishe Postone, who taught at University of Chicago where he did his undergrad. And it’s this critique of what he’s calling “traditional Marxism”, “traditional theories of Marx”, that basically mistake what Marx was doing, for giving a critique of capitalism from the perspective of labor, so as to say like, “labor makes capitalism but then capitalists take it away, and if we just get rid of the capitalists and keep laboring in the same fashion, then we’ll have socialism and then everything’s going to be fine”. And Postone is like “no, that’s not really what Marx was saying. Marx was saying actually that because of these, the contradictory character of the sort of basic categories of capitalist society: abstract labor, commodity, etc, etc, abstract time”- I don’t wanna get into the details too much, but basically, like, “you can’t rely on a kind of like simple affirmation of your position that you find yourself in, within capital society to kind of like undo the problem. You need to find a way to self abolish, basically.” To kind of like, not so not simply just get rid of everything, but like, you know, transform the present such that you’re no longer reproducing your own domination.
And I think there’s a kind of a symmetry in the way that Chris was trying to treat these categories around sexuality. Sexuality appears as this potentially a standpoint of critique of sort of straight society or whatever. And you could imagine that all you need to do is get rid of the straight people who are preventing us from living out the free satisfaction of our desires and then we’ll be able to kind of like, you know, stop upholding the larger capitalist social order that we are convinced — and I kind of agree — that your sexuality is, like a really integral part of. And that’s basically, and it’s interesting, but that’s basically the kind of thesis of sexual liberation movement, right? It’s like, our desire is blocked or impeded from its full expression in the social, and what we need is to find a way of removing these barriers to its kind of full expression, and then the problem is going to be over. And to critique that position, and certainly not to say like, “no, it’s actually fine, everything’s fine. You’re complaining, you’re whining about nothing”. There’s serious vectors of misery and violence, obviously, you know it’s still going on much more intensely around gender and trans people right now. But there’s obvious enemies to be opposed by any kind of liberatory political formation.
The trick is to not let yourself be so mesmerized by them that you think that they are the only kind of danger, right? Like the whole of society needs to reproduce itself in your moment, somehow, through the mediation of these categories, and our movements have to have a delicate enough grasp of what presuppositions we might be affirming, when we are working out the kind of horizons that we’re going for, or the sort of strategies that we adopt or whatever.
S: Yeah, that makes me think of this line that really stuck out to me as like, it’s not something that is expanded upon in the book a lot, and it’s a place where I want to keep thinking, maybe you have some thoughts on it, where he writes, “the central contradiction connected with homosexuality, and by extension, with the category of heterosexuality and social power more generally, is that of consent. How various societies have understood consent as the basis of the exercise of power more generally”. Yeah, there’s, I just think there’s a lot contained in there. And also consent is a term that’s being used a lot within our movements to reframe our thinking around justice and accountability. But I was wondering if you have thoughts on unpacking that. Like how could a queer movement or gay liberation be articulate around this idea of like, consent on one hand, power on the other. Because there’s something here about being, it’s not just like, about consent, but like, being kind of pushed into consent to be ruled, too, I think
MF: Yeah, so that’s, yeah, I find it really suggestive and helpful. But I’m not positive exactly what he meant. I’ve only been thinking about this example for like, an hour or so today so I hope I’m not going to walk myself into a bad position. But there’s this interesting article today in the New York Times that was about touch hunger through the pandemic. And it was this person who was like, “I did sex work, I was like a dominatrix and I really liked it because I was able to kind of like, be much more explicit about the type of touch and interaction and shit that I was going to get in a sexual situation. Because, like lots of women, I had childhood socialization to, sort of, unwanted touch from all types of people. And this past year of like, touch hunger or whatever during the pandemic, has really made me reconsider how much I consented to touch that I didn’t want as a sex worker, and I like reached out to all these other sex workers. And I asked them about it too, and they’re all like, ‘yeah, I’ve consented to like”…basically the thrust of it was like, consent and desire are not the same. You know, you basically you can extract, like a sort of misogynist, you know, rape culture can extract consent quite easily from people whether or not that’s what they want or what’s good for their psychic well being, etc, etc, etc. Or has anything to do with kind of like, social equality, you know. Consent, in other words, is like actually a way of reproducing exploitative power relations, and it’s an integral part of a sort of misogynist in this world that operates on gender balance.
And I know I was reading that and I was like, “yeah, so then maybe consent isn’t really the question, is it?” Right?” If it can be the constant throughout all of these stories of like, not all of them are traumatic, but you know, shitty times that people had that stayed with them and affected how they continue to operate in the world and access pleasure and things like that, maybe it’s not the sufficient criterion that we are looking for to have a sexually free world. I think that kind of direction is what he’s going towards, and this question of the normative order, current sexual hegemony that we all kind of live in, carry out.
Yeah, so it’s a way of kind of like eliciting a kind of consent at a formal level, to this terrifyingly violent world. Like consent to be governed by social relations that run on gendered violence, you know, like, how could you possibly have a meaningful, discreet sexual encounter that’s separate from that larger context? And say “yes”, to that, but like, not to the rest or whatever, I think that’s kind of the direction he’s going in. And there’s a lot of feminist legal thinking around this, that I, unfortunately, I’m not as versed in as I’d like to be, but you know, it kind of extends this contractual idea that you can freely enter into some kind of relation with another person in an unequal society. And, sure, you can, in a practical sense, like, you know, in fact it’s necessary for the society to operate – you have to have this level of formal equality for its concepts of legitimation to operate. But if you don’t buy the presupposition, the sort of capitalist rule, like you’re an anarchist, or communist or anti authoritarian of some sort, then that’s just simply not sufficient to guide your interactions. Looking at the way these concepts are really deeply embedded in our capacity to think about relating to other people. It’s tricky, you know, I wouldn’t say, like, we need to get rid of this concept, you know, and just kind of figure it out later. But, you know, there’s some pretty serious contradictions that are worth following.
S: Yeah, you lay that out in a helpful way. So like, he talks about the norms of consent being part of the bourgeois development of sexuality, sort of like post World War Two I think in terms of like domestic heterosexual marriage. But you also connect that to like this sort of myth of like the liberal subject who consents to be governed, and that’s what we’re kind of taught ideologically. Of course that moment of consent is always pushed outside of our actual experience or history, it’s like this other time. Also going back to that kind of Edenic version of like, the gays being expelled. So that makes sense to me, and like sexual identity then consent can be used strategically, but if we get caught up in that as the thing itself, then we’re stuck in that discourse.
MF: I think that’s a good way of putting it.
S: And that’s why I think that’s interesting too, to think about in connection to, you know, there’s like, consent culture, but then also the kind of abolition movements and transformative justice discourse that goes around, like we often use the word consent to get at those things, but the thing that like, that transformative relations are getting at, isn’t about articulating consent, but articulating relations that don’t operate along those same power differentials, right.
Or it’s like, if we had to actually theorize consent in this way it would be infinitesimal, right? Like every moment would be having to consent to, and that’s like, an impossibility in a way. I don’t know. I’m also just like, kind of going off of this, the way that you kind of unpacked the example from that sex workers experience because it’s also been something that’s critiqued within like BDSM, where they’re like, Well, it seems this place where consent is made very explicit, and yet here, all these examples of like, where that explicit consent culture can be abused, by people who have various forms of power within that culture. So yeah, I don’t know if you had some thoughts on what I was saying there.
MF: It’s making me think of some things that I don’t think I’m capable of reproducing right now.
S: *laughs in understanding* Okay that’s fine.
MF: I know it’s a rich field of thought. And I’m just not going to pretend like I can contribute right now. *laughs*
S: Totally. No, I mean, yeah, I’m just getting excited about but like, yeah, that’s another conversation perhaps. So there’s like a couple more things that if you’re up for it that I want to touch on. You mentioned the kind of interruption that HIV/AIDS brought to queer movement. And that, you know, also coincided with further dismantling of radical movements like Black liberation and Indigenous movements. But you know, Chitty’s argument has some interesting things to say about how AIDS kind of like, replays histories of control of sexuality. So I wonder if you wanted to expand any bit anymore on like, the way the history of disease and epidemics is tied to our understanding of sexuality? Because like, it was preceded by syphilis and etc. Yeah, if you had some thoughts on that, or just expanding on AIDS in relation to gay movement.
MF: I put the finishing like the final edits on the manuscript, last like April? Like in the first month of lockdown. And I’d been working on the texts — that make sense, he died — since 2015, and I mean, not, you know, consistently, but I’ve been sort of going through it at various different levels. And that whole time, I didn’t quite catch how central disease was to his narrative. Until this last April, you know, what he’s pretty explicit, that, you know, the sort of like preconditions for a modern bourgeois concept of sexuality, a sexually free body, you know, a has to do with the kind of enclosures in the European countryside to bring all these new, uprooted, ex-peasants to the city, etc, etc, etc, social capital, social relations, production, blah, blah, blah. But also you need to have plumbing, and you need to have a sort of health infrastructure that can keep people’s bodies relatively clean. And this is the result of successive pandemics.
So it doesn’t go into a lot of detail about this. But like the vagrancy laws that are first used to criminalize sodomites in northern Italy, are passed in the aftermath of the Black Death, to kind of manage this kind of collapse in feudal social order, right? So like the feudal countryside is transformed in the wake of this plague, right? And so all of a sudden, these peasants can kind of travel in a different fashion. And they need to suddenly compel them to stay in place in a new way. So they pass all these vagrancy laws: you can’t be more than 100 yards from your local town or whatever. And these are the same vagrancy laws that they start using to threaten the sodomites with. And secondly, syphilis, the way that it’s transported from the New World kind of demonstrates the kind of the new global trade networks and relations of extraction, domination and violence, that are kind of putting Europe into a new kind of like orientation towards the rest of the rest of the world. In particular, exposing its proletarian populations to all kinds of new bodily conditions, basically. Syphilis, that kind of transforms the needs of the emerging state to kind of manage and have kind of like sanitary body around cities, so it’s not spreading pestilence.
Cholera obviously is a similar story, you know, when you have these kind of enormous swarms, where you’ve kind of just dumped the factory working population. But because they’re living on top of each other, they’re super liable to spread disease if it shows up. And so all of a sudden you need to invent plumbing and heating, you know, epidemiology and whatever. All these modern conveniences also go into a kind of reconceptualization of public sphere so that men are no longer free to piss on the street, he says, the story is bourgeois women start showing up in public once again after centuries of being secluded in the household and they’re scandalized by all these penises that are everywhere. And so Europe starts putting up these urinals which kind of hide the penises, but obviously also in this dialectical fashion that kind of concentrate, and eroticize…what does he call them? “Temples of urethral eroticism”. And so anyway, the point is there’s this whole thread of existence of disease as a kind of motor of this sort of social transformation of what sexuality means, in the story that he’s also telling that I didn’t quite grasp for the first number of years I was working with the text, only past year that it really hit me.
And then he has this whole other story where like, okay, so you have the sexual, gay liberationists in the 60’s and 70’s, who are like “we have a glorious past that we need to kind of liberate, ourselves and it, through us.” And then with the arrival of HIV AIDS, all of a sudden, the histories that these activists are telling are quite different. They are about the kind of like bodily practices that actually constitute material social reality of what homosexuality is, because that is where the virus lives. You know, that’s what’s salient for them, politically and essentially. it changes the sort of the way that they’re theorizing about themselves and about history.
And so he’s like, you know, both of these things are quite valuable contributions to the understanding of sexuality, homosexuality, particular. Now, maybe in 2013, or whatever, the kind of like, apocalyptic urgency of the HIV AIDS crisis is in the past somewhat. And so we can kind of be a little bit more critical or assess these histories with a bit more distance. And we’re no longer kind of under this injunction to tell politically helpful stories that will save our lives. And now we can kind of like look at why maybe these presuppositions of the political movements that made these demands which are quite productive. Also, on other moments kind of inhibited a total liberation.
S: What’s interesting to think about, Hocquenghem was an early sort of utopian liberationist — although I think he’s more complex than that, because he also includes an idea of like, overcoming homosexuality — but he was so concerned, and he didn’t want to disclose his status or whatever, with HIV, because he was worried that it would imperil the liberationist forms of sex that he had, that were so important to his vision of revolution. Which was like, you know, cruising and everything, but then that’s something that he’s been criticized for, for his unwillingness to avow his like, yeah. Or that paradox of like this sort of sexual liberation and in his situation. But then on the other side, I’m thinking like, he kept it separate in a way that is problematic for, it puts a limit on it’s like sort of contribution at that point.
That’s not really a question *laughs* but the other side I’m thinking of, like, this book, Sexual Hegemony, in a way, like it’s maybe a weird connection, but maybe this will say something to you. I don’t know if you’ve read it, but to me it reads like totally as a companion to Samuel Delaney is Time Square Red, Time Square Blue-,
MF: Oh, yeah.
S: Where he’s writing in the height of the crisis in New York, of the HIV AIDS crisis in New York, and the way that’s used as a political tool to criminalize sexual public sexual activity under like public health measures.
S: While still maintaining this kind of utopian vision of sexuality in the midst of a health crisis. And yeah, there’s like a way that Chitty’s work kind of really resonates for me with the way that Delaney articulate sexuality, and he even gets these things about consent too, because he discusses masculine violence as a kind of effective a false scarcity that’s imposed on sexual availability — which like, really parallels the idea of capitalism enforcing sort of false scarcity or creating that. This is not also well thought out, I’m kind of like, going here in this moment.
MF: Yeah, that’s so funny that you say that. Yeah, I mean, he cites Delaney a couple times, I think. Definitely borrowing from it. But it’s so funny. Maybe this is just like, I mean, so this was an adaptation of his PhD thesis. So maybe this is just like how those things go. But um, I’ve read it so many times. And then I’m like, I’ll be reading another book that I know Chris also read, and I’m like, “Oh, my god he’s just…this is that argument”, or he’s just doing this, just kind of transposing that. So like, Hocquenghem in Homosexual Desire, in the first couple of chapters, I reread it, I’m like, ”Oh, my God, that’s exactly the form of argument he’s doing”. But then you’ll read Mario MIeli and you’re like, “Oh, that’s what he’s writing about”. And I mean, obviously, it’s like, he’s giving a direct response to Foucault History of Sexuality, Volume One. And then, you know, I’m reading Time Labor and Social Domination. And it’s like, oh yeah, that’s the form of argument he’s doing. And it’s like, whatever, maybe that’s just, like I’m saying, that’s just what a PhD is. You kind of process all this thinking and generate something that’s mostly digested, but still, it’s own new object.
Yeah, I mean, I think it’s very unique. Also, obviously, it would be very hard to kind of combine all of those positions and not have something totally new. But, um, yeah, the Delaney I think, because he’s like, he’s like a legit liberationist. For whatever reason, I was going back and reading this article by one the members of the GLF. And, you know, which is like, held up as, “Oh, in the past the gay liberationists were radical and now they’re assimilationist, or whatever, we shouldn’t be like the GLF, blah, blah”. And I was reading it, I was like, this is super misogynist, and transphobic and like pretty boring, actually. It’s like, you know, he wanted to go back to like, use like, some term from Byron, rather than the alphabet soup that current radicals have. And just like, “okay, man, like, sorry, that you got annoyed by some kids”. But, uh, Delaney is like, very much, I mean, I’m sure he has some weird cranky positions, too-
MF: But at least in terms of his sexual politics, like about the sex that he has, and sex he writes about and puts in circulation, I mean he’s just like, he’s just free. He’s like, I’m here to experience pleasure in all types of bodies and write all about it. And like, I understand the sort of social and political dynamics that are flowing through the bodies in this moment, and it has a lot to do with, you know, capitalist development. That is such a valuable tradition, and not one that is always found in the kind of like, more properly political legacy works or whatever. I guess I didn’t, yeah. I don’t think, I don’t remember what the precise question was.
S: I didn’t really articulate a question. I was just kind of trying to put some pieces together. But that actually helped me because I think why I reached for Delaney, after talking about the interruption that HIV AIDS brought in to the liberation movement is that he’s still able, he writes in the 80s, about the work that was being done around care and support and health. But he also is able, within that moment, to still envision liberation as politics and sex as connected. And perhaps part of it is his fiction, that he’s a fiction writer, but he, in a way he can go into places — the things that I like about Hocquenghem is that he ultimately doesn’t want to hold on to any of these categories. And that’s why he upsets people who want to find liberation through these categories. And then that’s also what Chitty says, ultimately, and maybe this is where we can bring this to the current moment. The argument ends up, there’s a pessimism that’s like, “okay, liberation isn’t gonna be just gay, because the gay identity is a product of capitalism.” And we’ve known that for a while, but he articulates that in a new way that allows us to get more at the complexity of it.
So I don’t know I guess to get to a sort of final question: if the problem of queerness is created by the development of the modern state, right, then we can reach liberation without also overthrowing the state. So then the question I keep coming back to and I don’t think this has to be pessimistic or nihilistic is like, what’s left for gay liberation or radical queer movement? Does it need to be called that? Or another way maybe of putting it is like, where do we find points of solidarity that can keep like delinking gay liberation from identity and interiority, but open places to like work together? Because like, the power effects that Chitty traces historically happened to other people that wouldn’t identify as gay too, right? So I mean my basic question is like, where do you think this leaves us, radical queers who are also fighting for liberation?
MF: Yeah, that’s a hard question. Yeah, I don’t know. I mean, I don’t have a great answer, like, practically, pragmatically. I think that we’re in a really weird moment. You know, I think that we’re living through some type of transition between, let’s say…I don’t know, historical period, I mean, you wouldn’t want to make a prediction about any epochal change from inside of it. But it certainly seems as if the kind of thing — you were talking about this a little bit earlier — the kind of social order that being gay or being queer was dissonant to, is kind of defunct. And you know, there’s a number of different ways you can characterize that it has, you know. Some people like to call it Fordism. Some people like to call it kind of, like the classical sort of, like, you know, post post-war capitalist period, where social reproduction is kind of like privatized in the hetero family. And that’s been in kind of a bit of crisis for the past forty years now, or more, right? You know, it was like 50 years since Stonewall a couple of years ago. And it’s obviously like, you know, a crisis that lasts that long…maybe you don’t call it a crisis after a certain point. You just call it a new sort of period? So there have been ways of stabilizing social reproduction even though that type of family organization is no longer hegemonic. But then that means because it’s not hegemonic, maybe it wasn’t necessarily a feature of this particular order of capitalism, like social reproduction still takes place, even if it’s like largely mediated by the market or debt financed, or even kind of effected through queer forms of chosen family or distributed sort of community care models, or whatever.
I think what is useful about the political position of queerness being the inheritor of a tradition of really serious attempts at grasping how these different orders of social reality connect and reproduce each other. Because, you know, it’s really easy to say like, “oh, sex has nothing to do with the economy, real material productive activity” or on the other hand it’s easy to say, like, “oh, it’s just like a kind of mechanical expression of class belonging”, and that gets you to kind of fucked up positions of proletarians aren’t queer, and then therefore it’s bougious give a shit about pleasure. That’s just never been historically the case.
So there’s a really powerful and valuable tradition of thinking that has been handed down to us, I suppose. At a great cost, against serious genocidal perril, for multiple generations. But we’re in this ambivalent position where the object of that tradition of critique has transformed in ways that it didn’t totally foresee. Which is, in some ways great, because then it’s like, okay, so some of the real horrible shit is taken care of, or like no longer as urgent. And in other ways, it means that we need to kind of rework those traditions and presuppositions and what we inherit in a way that’s kind of faithful to them, but still kind of gives us a way out of the present because we still need to get out. And I think, in particular, sorry that was a long way to say: one of the useful things that there is still on offer in the queer movement is this ability, is this repertoire that we’ve developed, of grasping how what appeared to be natural or extra-economic forms of social existence that have a kind of objective or necessary or compulsory character, right? You don’t choose whether or not you have a sexuality, you just choose whether or not to kind of live it out, or express it in a particular way. But it’s something that’s, you know, in the social world that we live in, it’s given to you. And there’s all types of ways of that that evolves, you know? But an interesting confirmation of this sort of objective nature, you know, whether or not you want it, it the kind of the larger, kind of political activity or asexuality, right? Like, this is a type of identity position that like, is clearly real and meaningful and valid in exactly the same ways as all the other kind of like, whatever, allosexual identities, but it doesn’t negate the existence of having a sexuality as a kind of imperative, as a social sort of unavoidable fact. And, in fact, it confirms it, in this kind of negative way.
So a queer movement would be one that is capable of grasping these imperatives as intimately related to questions of revolution, solving these imperatives politically, through some type of collective struggle means investigating why they take the form that they do in this particular society with this set of compulsory socially objective relations. And not just saying, like, “Oh, it’s natural”, or, “oh, you just want to do this because I feel like it” or, “it’s socially constructed”, or whatever, so that we just need to kind of tell enough people not to do this in this way that we can get out of it. Like, no, it’s actually probably going to take…and obviously, like, you know, some level of that tactic is successful, you know, it’s necessary to any kind of social movement, unfortunately. You have to kind of do the really thankless work of yelling at people or bothering them about stuff that they think is the reflex, but there’s also a different level that it exists on and we need to have a kind of way of grasping that. And that’s not at all a concrete answer. But I think that’s the kind of precious insight or tradition or whatever in the queer liberatory lineage that I think is really useful.
S: Since we’re forming our discussion around this book, if like, what this book does is “historicize the history of sexuality” — I think that’s something he says — like, I’m thinking about how Hocquenghem talks about, like, the leftists are always fighting the last revolution. And like, if we get caught up in the conditions that produce gay liberation — which was like, according to Chitty, the policing of sexuality, that led to confrontation, like fighting police in the streets, which led to Stonewall — if we’re fighting that, that war now, like, that’s the wrong war. Because, you know, homosexuality has been included it’s no longer a threat. And it’s not the node of control in the same way. It is in other places, I guess, like, particularly around transness right now is being articulated.
But the other thing is like, this book doesn’t give us a predictive thing, obviously, a predictive tool. But since he articulates all these moments around these times of financialization, like we’re in that moment, right? We’re in a time of like, sexual hegemony potentially changing. So that term can give us something to think about the way sexuality is politicized. Not as like a simple dynamic of like, “yes or no” or “repressed or liberated”, but like, it’s a subtle tool that we need to kind of, like, try to understand how to wield for ourselves and not for the state. But like, yeah, I guess we’re still inundated with all those slogans that are so intoxicating from that time when there was way more visible militancy, you know, and the social war was visible, right, like, a lot more going generally visible at that time. So.
MF: Yeah, people picking up arms in a different way.
S:Yeah. I like, get left in this pessimistic place of “gay liberation has been totally captured”. But that’s also an old story. And then still like a thing of how the new articulations of queerness are potential locations of solidarity. And seeing the work that pinko does too, in terms of the way that the journal kind of brings together different fronts, I think is helpful to think through those kinds of modes, you know? Like, yeah, there’s a lot and I think it’s expansive, right? Like in the two volumes, it brings together different movement work on different fronts, right? There’s stuff around sex work, there’s stuff like the Trans History Project, there is theories of sexuality, there’s a mix of old discourse, like reprinted texts from the old movement, there’s like new takes on things. I don’t know. I think I like that because it’s like seeing it as a coalitional politics.
MF: Oh, yeah. Interesting. Sure. Yeah. That’s nice. But it’s nice to think about it like that. Yeah. I mean, with Pinko, one of the fantasies that I had, when I started working on it was that we would have a kind of a venue for bringing together a bunch of different perspectives that don’t, hadn’t really been in conversation, but also kind of like, hopefully trying to consolidate what might be a new position that I don’t know that we have yet. I mean, I’m hopeful, and I’m sure that it reads differently from the other side, you know, it’s more maybe more coherent, or more like, all in sync or whatever.
But the other thing that I thought would be important, to have a magazine or some kind of a record going was of these struggles around sexuality as the current dominant, hegemonic mode begins to sort of transform. I thought it would be useful to have a kind of place that was attending to the different ways that people are trying to work out what it means to be militant with these problems, or these concepts or whatever.
You know I think one of my favorite pieces was sort of the first issue — and I don’t know, I don’t want to say this in like a too simple way — but it was the interview with these two trans people who went down to a coal ship, a coal train blockade in Kentucky, I think. And they set up a kind of classic like encampment-style protest occupation thing that has been a really dominant form for a lot of types of protests for the past decade or so. And we had this interesting conversation with them, while they were, you know, there at the camp. And they have this very hopeful, like, “we’re here to support the miners, but we’re also members of the community, we’re from Appalachia, and obviously there’s, maybe there’s some tension around our transness or whatever, but like, we’re able to talk with them in a kind of chill way and resolve this conflict”. And when it came to us, there’s like, this cool story about precisely that. This coalitional thing, or it’s like, wow, trans struggles and the classical worker militancy thing can come together in these wildcat places where they block circulation. It’s this perfect illustration of so many political trends, like, we love this fusion.
And then actually, what ended up happening was in between the interviews that we did and the publication of the magazine, some Trump dude showed up, basically, and took over the camp, or like, installed themselves in the camp, and the miners basically weren’t able to reestablish their own control. And so the trans people were like “thid is not a chill place for us to be and we can’t trust you dudes to kick out this fucking biker gang or whatever, so we’re leaving” which is a reasonable thing to do.
Anyway so we ended up having to run this kind of long intro paragraph about why they didn’t quite work. Like what they thought was the fissures in their previous assessment that they’ve been able to do this interesting coalitional thing. And like, I don’t know, yeah, I don’t want to tell the story like, “haha they were proved wrong” or whatever. But I thought having the space to kind of investigate, there’s quite a lot to be learned in figuring out the limits also, of these forms of political action and political sort of conduct and protest and thinking. And I was glad that we had this venue where we weren’t like, “Oh, we have to give this kind of posi story about, you know, the powerful moment of unity between the macho miner dude and the less macho trans people or whatever”. It wasn’t a kind of affirmative thing. Like, what was interesting was that like, we could actually take the time to take apart why this in particular, this one thing didn’t work. Because obviously that’s going to happen much more than winning, you know? And so like, there’s a lot in figuring out how to think about how things come apart? And what to do with that, and what to learn about that. What I find interesting about the potential for Pinko.
S: That makes sense. And that’s sort of like, with the kind of crisis theories, like, or we look at the sort of moments of crisis as potential openings for something, even though all the past moments haven’t been moments of winning, they’re like moments of loosening where other things can happen. And that’s, I don’t know, that’s where I’m at right now. Is that like, instead of thinking about that punctual moment, to like, look at the places where things are being done differently in the present, and work from there. I don’t know if it’s like, yeah, aggregate, or what, but like we can’t tell these deterministic histories, which are, like, kind of used both in like liberationist theories and repressive theories, you know?
S: Well, we’ve been talking for a while. So I don’t know if there’s like any final thing that you kind of want to touch on. Is there any way you want to like direct people to find your work, other than read Sexual Hegemony that’s put out by Duke University Press.
MF: Yeah read that. Exactly. Yeah, go find that on, I mean the Duke website as a good place to buy it from. I’ll put a plug: the Duke Press, the people who work there are unionizing. So you better support them if you have any kind of interaction with Duke. You know, maybe if you buy the book, you should add a note saying you recognize the union or whatever we find is effective about those things.
S: I signed today on their author’s support letter and I saw your name. *laughs*
MF: Yeah. Yeah, I mean, actually, that’s funny. You probably can’t buy, I think if you want to buy the Hocquenghem translation that I did, I think I will personally have to fulfill it because the publisher is sailing on a boat in the Arctic now and she dropped off all the remaining copies that are in my closet. So if you really want to order a copy, I guess I can put that in the mail. But I wouldn’t I wouldn’t count on that being like a prompt delivery. And then Pinko you can find it at pinko.online.
S: Cool. Well, thank you so much for taking all the time to talk.
MF: Yeah, thank you so much for asking such awesome questions. I hope it was coherent.
S: I think you did a really good job explaining the main ideas of the book, also in a way that like helped me think about it. Like, because I’ve read the book and probably a lot of people listening won’t have read it, but, so like, yeah you brought up new aspects of it for me. I think it was really clear.
Alive With Resistance: Diasporic Reflections on the Revolt in Myanmar
This is a conversation with Geoff Aung (@Rgnhardliner on twitter), a Burmese American Marxist anthropology Phd candidate at Columbia University living abroad, about the current uprising, repression and revolutionary potentials in Myanmar. We discuss the evolution of tactics on the ground as revolutionaries adapt to the brutal murders of protesters by the state. Geoff also talks about the ways in which this movement is different from similar current movements in Asia and some of the historical context of struggle in Myanmar.
The host, John, wishes they’d had more time to dig into further questions. There are some links below of news sources and articles on the struggle in Myanmar.
Show attention to Myanmar government offices in North American cities
US:DC, NYC and LA
Canada: Ottawa, Toronto, Vancouver
Donations to the movement in Myanmar https://www.isupportmyanmar.com but be aware that when the regime shuts down the internet it makes it impossible to get money and it has been difficult getting money there.
Support Zolo Azania
Organizer and former Black Liberation political prisoner Zolo Agona Azania has been fundraising for assistance in these hard times and could use some love. If you have some extra money you’d care to offer up, you can send it via cashapp to $ZoloAzania5. You can hear our interview with Zolo from some years back as well.
Michael Kimble Shirts
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John: Welcome back to the Final Straw, my name is John, I’m a guest interviewer and today I’m interviewing GeoffAung. Geoff, do you mind introducing yourself a little bit?
Geoff: : Sure, I’m a PhD candidate at Columbia in the Anthropology Department and my work focuses on large-scale infrastructure projects and political struggles that tend to coalesce around them. My main work is in Southern Burma, Southern Myanmar.
John: Oh yeah, and we’re going to be talking about the current conflicts and uprising in Myanmar, as well as a little bit of the history of uprisings and ethnic struggle there.
John: I wanted to first ask this very simple question, but a lot of my friends ask me if they should be saying Burma, they should be saying Myanmar or if it’s like one is woke and one is ten key? In my mind, they’re both both, but I don’t know if you could actually help me clarify that.
Geoff: Yeah, they’re shifting the political register of those two names. The thing is they both mean the same thing, right? They both signify the Bamar, lowland Burman majority and at different points in time, one or the other has been seen as the worst name by different people. I mean even in the 30s, actually, a bunch of the Thirty Comrades, a bunch of anti-colonial leaders, specifically chose to use Burma because they felt Myanmar too closely signified the Burman majority and arguably, that’s flipped over time, and now some people think that Burma, as a name, is too closely aligned with the Burman majority. Myanmar is supposedly more inclusive, but the name goes back to the same route.
John: In the language Burmese, “Myanmar” means “Burman”.
Geoff: Yeah, and for a while, you could tell people’s political leanings by which name they used. I think that’s less and less the case. I grew up using Burma, and in my family, Myanmar is still a word that is closely associated with the military and military rule, so I still find it a little bit difficult to use the word Myanmar. They mean the same thing.
John: That’s the same in my family, especially because I think the official name change happened in 1989 or something, right after the failure of the 1988 uprising, and so I think, there were very sensitive feelings around that, although now I’ve noticed it seems like even generationally, younger people just grew up saying that, so they say that…
Geoff: Yeah, I think that’s accurate.
John: But I heard Amy Goodman make a big statement about it being like “Burma or, as the military calls it, Myanmar”…
Geoff: Oh really? I wouldn’t go so [far]. I wouldn’t really put it in such stark terms these days.
John: Totally, I think it’s just a product of maybe her longer activism and age.
Geoff: Yeah, could be that for sure.
John: Another question I was wondering about and maybe I’ll phrase it in terms of my experience… Growing up with family from Burma, I was really exposed to the anti-Pepsi and Taco Bell campaign’s early on, and I think that that really influenced my butting into capitalism, especially by starting to understand the contradictions of growing up in this country, with all this excess and stuff. But then these companies are supporting this government that is killing civilians and enslaving people. All these obvious things. But I was curious if you also had a similar experience.
Geoff: Yes and no, I would say that the exiled political world and some of the advocacy groups that have existed in the States, they’ve had different kinds of things going on. So, on the one hand, as you point out they had these boycott campaigns – and I do think that for sure, for me as well, those were formative. What they taught me, I would say, is that something like business, economics, investments: these things are not politically neutral. You have to understand them in a political context and in Burma, for a long time, they were helping to prop up the military regime. So that was a basic thing that I picked up on. On the other hand, in some of the advocacy work and the exiled government world, you also had what became, I would argue, a neo-conservative flavor of activity where you had people all too willing, in my opinion, to reach out to people like Mitch McConnell on the relatively far right end of even the American political spectrum, which is already pretty far right, to begin with, especially after 9/11, and especially with the Bush Doctrine foreign policy of democratization. So there I think I wouldn’t necessarily have picked up on a kind of anti-capitalism. But with some of the boycott stuff, I think that’s fair to say…
John: Totally. I remember hearing Bush mention Burma in speeches and being like “Ah, it feels very complicated”, but also democracy is a meaningless word that we love over here. I wanted to also ask if you still have family in Burma.
Geoff: I do. We have family in Yangon. We have a distant family in Pakkoku, up by Mandalay and in Mohnyin as well, but the family we’re in touch with are in Yangon.
John: Are they relatively safe with all that stuff?
Geoff: Yeah, they’re doing okay, my dad is our contact with them and there’s a particular uncle that he’s in touch with and they spoke again recently, they’ve been in touch and they are doing okay. Uncle’s sons are staying home. One of them actually has been sending me selfies from protests, but he has been laying a little bit low more recently.
John: That makes total sense. I was perusing Burmese Instagram and it is interesting – I don’t know what your cousin is like, but there does seem to be this whole, I don’t know what you call it, a kind of revolutionary shift in people where you could look through their old selfies where it is just a dude working out all the time, working in an office, and then the next picture is like full militarized black bloc with a shield, and I find it interesting that the Burmese state is incredibly authoritarian, but also people are like “Yeah, I take pictures of myself in riot gear and post it”, but I guess it’s more dangerous to be shot on the street than the long-distance repression that we are more familiar with here.
Geoff: Sure. I was thinking about the discussion over the summer in the States, the George Floyd rebellion stuff and a lot of discussion about like “Make sure you don’t take pictures of protesters who aren’t masked and maintain anonymity, be very careful”, all of which is totally good and then in Burma, it’s hilarious how people are posting pictures of themselves, all over the place, in the protests and everything. It’s a different kind of threat.
John: It’d be clearly an understatement to say that the situation on the ground is changing rapidly, maybe every half-day that I check on the internet. There’s updates about different bombings or massacres or the most incredible acts of resistance I’ve maybe ever seen, but I was curious if you be willing to and could talk a little bit about the most recent changes.
Geoff: Sure, as you say, that it’s hard to encapsulate everything that is going on and I think that’s basically impossible, but at least a few things that I’ve noticed. I would say, for one thing, certainly we’ve seen a shift away from some of the mass demonstrations that happened early on in February, where he had these occupations of major intersections, these have fallen away. Security forces have reclaimed a lot of central areas in urban centers and the recurring demonstrations that have continued, have gone a little bit smaller and have tended to take place in tighter residential neighborhoods, where, among other things, it’s easier to build stronger barricades. It’s easier to maintain disciplined formations with shield bearers at the barricades, a second group in the back dealing with tear gas and then maybe a third group, more general protesters behind them. So you’ve seen maybe the spatial shift into more residential areas, and in some of those areas, it’s been possible to fight the cops and soldiers to a standstill. So there’s been recurring holding patterns in different places. It’s hard to make a ton of headway one way or the other by either side basically. And you’ve also seen a shift towards more peripheral industrial areas of eastern Yangon were Hlaing Tharyar of course. Repression has followed this shift. So it’s not like the cops and soldiers retook downtown Yangon and decided to chill. They followed people elsewhere obviously and so Hlaing Tharyar, for example, there was massive bloodshed. It’s the largest concentration of factories in the country. Chinese factories were set ablaze. You had this crazy, really intense stories of workers who are armed with shields rushing police lines as live rounds are being used, that kind of tactical implications of which are a little bit difficult to work out, but very striking, very militant and in North Okkalapa, where there is quite a bit of bloodshed, another industrial area.
I would argue as well that actually, as some of the urban centers have been maybe reclaimed at least to a degree by the security forces, rural areas have become maybe more and more important, at least in the south, where I work around Dawei.Dawei town, which was the site of very militant demonstrations for weeks and weeks, has quieted down. I mean, there’s still recurring marches and demonstrations, they’re smaller. I wouldn’t rule out the possibility of more militant activities again, but the villages around Dawei have seen an upsurge in marches, demonstrations, strikes. On Facebook, you see all of the rural areas are underway. It’s kind of amazing, they’re alive with resistance and in a way that I wouldn’t necessarily have expected and that’s been really cool to see.
The other big rural issue is that the Tatmadaw, the Burmese military, has been bombing ethnic areas. The Karen National Union, KNU territory in the east, there’s been airstrikes, something like 12,000 people have been displaced, according to the KNU. The Thai government shamefully has been fencing out refugees and the KNU has also been sheltering protesters who fled urban areas, it’s the total replay of 1988. And there’s talk of protesters training on firearms, hand grenades, tactical strikes on military facilities, a lot of talk of broadening armed struggle. That’s where things have gone. I think, as we were chatting before and some of the notes you put together you also mentioned – and I think this is also really important – is these local administrations have really consolidated or tried to set themselves up apart from the military regime. There’s been almost an autonomist streak lately, where you have some ward in neighborhoods that are claiming their own small-scale governments. Oftentimes aligned with the CRPH, which is the formally elected government, I guess we can call them the elected government. So that there is that connection. But there’s been this kind of autonomist, maybe anarcho move with some local governments as well, which has been really cool to see. I guess, I’m tempted to think of it in terms of dual power in some sense, but it’s maybe a bit early to go too far in that direction
John: Yeah, it was envisioning in some ways. I guess in a way that I’ve been trying to not convince but some of my friends and the comrades I have are like… There’s a suspect approach towards stuff there, but I think it’s because of liberal demands. But also because of just feel like spring revolutions in the past, like the failures of Egypt and all these things. I guess in my mind, this is, despite the horrifying violence that is taking place from the military, almost one of the most ideal revolutionary circumstances that we might see right now. I was going to ask you about this, but there’s a general strike and then there’s militant resistance. There seems to be almost, not uniform support but pretty close, and then there’s guerrillas taking up space on the outside. So, in some ways, it just seems like if the revolution there can’t succeed without US intervention or something, there’s actually may be very little hope for revolutions to succeed if the military doesn’t break apart and doesn’t want to give up power anywhere in the world. Maybe that’s a little too convoluted…
Geoff: I hear you and I agree. I do think it’s pretty fair to say it’s a genuinely revolutionary situation where you have a fairly small institution – I mean, it’s a big institution but relative to the entire country, it’s not huge – trying to cling onto power right now with absolutely zero or next to zero hegemonic purchase, let’s say. Nobody likes the military. And there’s been this militant resistance that’s really electrified the country, literally from Putao, just like the Himalayan foothills and far north Kachindown to the Kawthaung, which is the farthest point south, right north of Phuket in southern Thailand.
It’s been really interesting and in some ways surprising, because I think, for a long time, a lot of us who were working in Burma or paying attention would look to Thailand for the last ten years and see the kinds of popular struggles that have eruptedat different points. The Red Shirt struggle, the occupation of downtown Bangkok, even the Yellow Shirt occupation of the airport which has had awful political principles, but was an impressive popular struggle. And we’d look at them and say, “That’s amazing, but it’s hard to imagine in Burma just because of the openly violent nature of the military. They would just start shooting right away and blood would run and it’d be impossible to maintain anything,” and we have obviously seen violent repression and there have been 550 people killed. This is intolerable, but people are coming back and there seems to be this resilience, this unwillingness to bend. It’s really amazing. It’s hard to find the words, it feels silly to say it’s amazing, but I don’t know what else to say.
John: I don’t have Twitter, but I looked at your Twitter and it appears that you are like me or you just spend most of your non-working or whatever time, looking up news from Burma and following other accounts, but I might spend about an hour a day off and I’m crying in either sadness or that kind of being moved crying. Especially, I think, for me at least, and maybe we can talk about this more, but it’s across every ethnicity in the country, it seems like people are resisting and people are dying. And you see these funerals with Muslim coffins, you see funerals of Buddhists and Christians and I assume, animists. But there’s something about that unity that maybe you can speak more, but it seems not like something I could have imagined coming from Myanmar Burma five years ago with situations like Rohingyaand the Kachins and just different situations that just… It’s very moving, I guess.
Geoff: Sure, what’s happened is surprising and it is not surprising. I’m as surprised as you are. I think, if it’s not surprising, it’s only because, this is very vague and abstract, I guess, but as we’ve seen with revolutionary struggles at different points in history, solidarity is formed in struggle and it’s not always something that you can assume beforehand. And I think that’s kind of what we have seen here. There’s a lot of talk of unity. Unity is a term that occurs and recurs across political discourse in Burma a lot. I’m who is… One of my minor acts of… it’s not reallyresistance. But friends in the south, in Dawei, around this big project, when we’ve had unity in our materials. I always like to try and go and cross it out and put solidarity instead.
John: Yeah, I guess, solidarity is a better word. You are right though.
Geoff: It’s been really powerful to see that. It’s difficult to gauge, at least from where I am, which is quite far away, I should say. It’s difficult to gauge how much, how deep is this kind of reconsideration has gone. So when we’ve seen on social media people like these sort of effusive claims about Rohingyastaff, like “oh, we got it wrong. I can’t believe we’ve swallowed the military’s propaganda about this. We need to do better than this”, this sort of thing. There have been a lot of these statements. I don’t know how to quantify that. Having seen what’s happened in the last ten years and obviously not only the last ten years, not only Rohingya stuff, it does seem to me that some of these divides run pretty deep, and I hope that what we’re seeing is the beginning of the transcendence. But it’s difficult to say for sure.
John: That’s also my fear, I guess, is that people will forget again that in 2007, the military killing people in the Saffron Revolution, but seven years later them supporting the military killing other people that are an ethnic minority. I hinted at this, but I just wanted to ask the question that I think is maybe hard to answer or ask, but do you think that there is a chance that this revolution can win?
Geoff: Absolutely! I do think so. Is there a chance? There’s definitely a chance! I find prediction to be quite difficult. Here’s some things I don’t think.
John: That makes more sense.
Geoff: I don’t think outside intervention of one kind or another is something that anyone can count on. I don’t think that the United Nations, I don’t think that responsibility to protect, I don’t think the US of all countries, I don’t think these are realistic things to pin one’s hopes on. If there’s something that I would hold on to, it is this recurring willingness to return to the streets, return to urban centers, to keep the marches going, keep the strikes going.
The question is: how can that be maintained and to whatever extent even scaled up and generalized even more – where possible? I think for me, that’s the decisive factor. It seems to me, everything depends on that. There’s been a lot of discussions understandably, and I’m not super involved in it, so I can’t really speak to it in a ton of detail, but a lot of strategic discussion about the CRPH, about Dr Sasa, about their relationship to the general strike committee or the general strike committee of nationalities and their attempts to woo different people in New York and Washington DC, and how to spin up an alternative government and how do you legitimate it, and how do you take over some of the economic channels that the military has? I think those are important things to consider. Oh, and security council action as well. I’m not against working on all that stuff, but I do think that if you can manage to get something done at the security council, it’s not gonna matter if people aren’t out in the streets, if the strikes and demonstrations and marches aren’t happening. If it’s not possible to show mass defiance of the military, then I don’t think that elite civil society or alternative government strategies are gonna have very much traction.
John: Yeah, totally. I was wondering if you thought there would be any potential for breaking apart the unity of the military? Because it seems like that’s also an important part of the revolution, and we didn’t really see that in 1988. There was some defection of maybe airforce folks and police, we’ve seen the police more willing to break away. It seems like recently there was an attack on a police station, by a former police officer in Kalay, which has been a really big site of resistance. But the former cop in regaining his humanity by attacking the police was killed in the process, which is sad, but also a true hero. He lead an attack on the police, so it seems like the police are more likely to break, but I guess I haven’t seen in history the Burmese military break apart. And it does seem like that tends to be how revolutions succeed, right?
Geoff: That’s the historical precedent, it’s true. I can’t really speak to that historical precedent so much, but my sense is that is the case. In terms of the military and the police, what we see is that these are two institutions that are not the same. The police as an institution has a different kind of presents, it’s not as closed. The military is often referred to as a state within the state, and the history of the institution going back to, let’s say, the 1950s really consolidated itself in the post-colonial period. It really understood itself as the sole guarantor of national unity. There’s that word again. I think some people think that that was a claim that they try to make. That was not like something that they could really protect, but this was really their genuine self-understanding in some sense, and I think in many ways that remains the case today. From what I understand, the military really is this quite closed off institution in terms of schooling, in terms of residential arrangements. I think that helps to explain why we’ve seen defections from the police and not so much the military. But hopefully, at least, you can imagine that in a hierarchical institution like this, you could see people who are not at the top of that hierarchy understanding that what might seem obvious to us, which is that this institution does not have their interests at heart and that perhaps there is a line or fracture that one could identify and that might take shape. I’m not a keen analyst of the military. I can’t really say too much more than that. I’ve been interested to track some of their economic activities, but in terms of their internal community, it seems to be pretty solid, unfortunately.
John: With the recent uptick of ethnic armed organizations, either actively throwing their support behind the protests or tacitly making statements about it, and then also with some protesters going up to the mountains or down to the mountains and maybe getting training, people have been talking a lot about civil war, and there already is a civil war going on in Burma. There has been war since forever literally, it seems since World War II, right before independence even. But I guess they mean a full nationwide civil war and a lot of western media is fretting that it would be a new Syria, which I could see, but I was wondering if you thought this was accurate. Obviously, who knows, but if you felt if there are key differences here?
Geoff: Yeah, I’ve seen that comparison a lot as well. I guess I can understand why people raise that. I don’t think it’s particularly likely. For one thing, as we’ve seen with 1988 in the past, and we’ve seen urban protesters go to the jungle and try to build a more generalized armed uprising beyond, as you said, the civil war that has been simmering for a long time regardless. And that has never really taken off, and I think part of the reason why we haven’t seen a kind of Syria-like conflagration and it is just because their regional interests are entirely different in terms of neighboring countries, in terms of people who might want to be running weapons into the country or training insurgents. There’s this destabilizing influence of the US, but not only the US, in Syria has been maybe the main factor in some ways. And as I said before, I just don’t see the US having any interest in doing anything like that in Burma. There have been reports of Chinese troops massing at the border, and even there, I doubt very much that it would come to that. The Chinese government has had different kinds of positions over the years. They’ve supported some of the armed groups in the border areas much to the military’s chagrin, but they’ve also not been happy at all to have any refugee flows coming into China. It would be quite hard to imagine a Chinese military intervention and I don’t think the US, certainly not Thailand or India. That’s the big difference to me with Syria. You had a great power struggle that took place in Syria and I don’t think that struggle gonna be happening in Burma.
John: That makes sense. I didn’t even think about that. I was thinking about how there is this shadow government that, in theory, does have a bunch of functionaries already set up waiting to take over, although obviously, they don’t have the economic ties that the military does, but it does seem a little bit more united, but it does seem like there is more centralization, maybe for the revolutionary side.
Not that I want to give credit to theNLD,or that I like them, but they have been serving as state functionaries since 2011 or 2014, but I don’t know if you saw this but right before we talked, I was looking online and one of the Burmese news sites was reporting that a Chinese ambassador actually started talking with the shadow government and has actually made phone calls. It’s just an interesting development, it appears that China is probably just waiting and seeing how this goes, and so I imagine they are hedging their bets.
Geoff: There’s been a lot of speculation about China’s position relative to evidence that happened in the past couple of months. And then there’s is a popular misconception, I think it’s fair to say, that China has somehow been backing the military to the hilt, has been supporting this coup. As far as I’m aware, there’s no evidence for that. The Chinese ambassador even made a very rare move of giving an interview in which he said that the coup is not something they want to see and, as you say, they’ve made overtures to the CRPH as well. There’s a lot of Chinese investment in Burma, and the Belt and Road Initiative runs through the China-Myanmar economic corridor in the western part of the country, they look to work with whoever ends up consolidating power. I think that’s fair to say.
John: I hope, no one reads us as us being like “Tankies” or “defend the honor China”, but I think China’s just does whatever is good for their economics.
Okay, I had a question about the demographics of the protests. I’ve read a couple of articles discussing the central role of women in protests, and especially I was reading about in ethnic regions and that also I’ve seen some photos and a couple of articles about queer participation in the demonstrations, and I was curious if obviously, you’re outside of Burma right now, but if it seems like there is a redefining gender roles coming about through struggle.
Geoff: I think there’s been some of that. I think a little bit like with the earlier question that we’ll see how it goes because there’s a long way to go. But it’s been powerful, encouraging to see what we’ve seen. As you say, I think it is fair to say that there is quite a strong institutional infrastructure for women’s organizations in a lot of different ethnic areas. So organizations like the Karen Women Organization, similar organizations inMon State, Shan State, Shan Women’s Action Network, in Kachin state as well. I wouldn’t put it entirely down to these organizations, but there is a history and a precedent for very strong women leadership in a lot of ethnic areas, and we see that reflected in the current resistance for sure.
I would also say that in Yangon, the industrial workforce is something like 80 or 90 percent women. And the industrial workforce has been absolutely crucial in driving the largest demonstrations early on and then in trying to keep things going right now, and so in that sense as well, you see really strong roles for women, definitely. And a bunch of those unions have really strong woman leaders. people like Ma Moe Sandar Myint for example, really impressive. I think it’s also important to recognize that the military, as well as the NLD are both highly patriarchal institutions. So there might be an extra element of opposition that comes from that. TheNLDtoo, of course, has Aun Saung Suu Kyi at its head, but is otherwise a gerontocracy of old men without a lot of strong youth or women and its leadership ranks. So when we see that’s the redefining of gender roles in the resistance, I think this is how we have to understand it, maybe in the context of two kinds of patriarchal institutions, civilian, political leadership as well as the military. These are what is being contested through struggle, and I hope we see this continued overturning of those patriarchal power struggles.
In terms of queer participation, it’s a little bit more difficult to say. I have seen definitely reporting that emphasizes queer participation, which is also been totally awesome and not something that I’ve seen at least in 2007 or 1988 as well, but queer politics has been it’s a pretty active space in some sense in the last ten years, with a lot of really interesting… Some of them are more liberal civil society oriented organizations and networks, and then some more left-leaning activist work as well, and so this is also what we see reflected in this current resistance and long may it continue.
John: I have three more questions. Speaking on another group of people that are… I’ve seen in media, especially in the media I consume, but it seems like there’s a small handful of anarchist punks in Yangon, it’s been on the radar of punks and anarchists in other parts of the world, but I think since around the genocide against Rohingya, because I remember seeing punk songs “Fuck racists monks” and stuff like that. They were very present in the early days of the protests and actually still have been, as far as releasing music in solidarity. I’ve also seen a representation of anarchy signs and black flags at some things, and I was curious if you thought there was… Cause it seems, at least from my perspective, they do mutual aid and it seems they do mutual aid at these demos, but also they are an educational project in some ways. I was wondering if you thought they had any influence on the moment now or if they’re just a part of a giant patchwork of things, which makes sense.
Geoff: I’d say, they are a part of the patchwork, but I wouldn’t want to discount their importance or anything like that. There is this kind of subculture, it’s pretty awesome, and they are really active in a lot of leftist scenes in Yangon in particular, and they were, much to their credit on Rohingya stuff, they were really outspoken. They really pissed off some of the monks and ended up apologizing in a ceremonial manner at one point, which I think lost them like a bit of cred, but as someone who’s mostly far away, I don’t wanna judge them too hard for that, cause what I’ve seen in terms of their social presence, it’s pretty awesome, and as you say, you could see it in educational terms. At a certain point, after 2011 it did become a little bit of a cliche for foreign journalists to come in and do photo shoots with some of the punks and then they would turn up in magazines in western countries. There’s a little bit of a head scratch in that sense, because some of the discussion around this was a bit superficial, not that I have super ended up insights on them, but they’re part of a larger story. Technically, they are a great influence to have, and the mutual aid work, like Food Not Bombs at their hands, is totally excellent.
John: It’s interesting, they are a small constellation there, but it seems like there’s this whole southeast Asia / southeast Asian Pacific islands punk anarchist world that blossoms in Indonesia. There’s thousands of them. As a kid that grew up as an anarchist punk and just a regular anarchist now, it’s funny because I think my commitment to revolution or whatever and being ableto interact with normal people pushed away from the punk, but it seems like there… And it’s the same as in Mexico. Punk and anarchism are very tied together still. Anyhow…
On the note of southeast Asia, Asian things, I wanted to ask you about clear inspiration from Hong Kong and Thailand, that’s been in these demonstrations, especially the early ones, but also the differences, because clearly there are much higher stakes, even though obviously people are fighting for freedom in different ways, but I think one person was shot in Hong Kong and that was the biggest deal in the world. And from friends that were around there, it felt like our American riot were – except for maybe the summer – but where you could step a couple of blocks away and just be shopping, you’re going to coffee, just the ways in which the tactics are similar. There are similarities, but also the ways that they’re different.
Geoff: No, I think the differences are really worth paying attention to and it has been increasing Milktea Alliance discussion, but actually, I guess it’s always been there from the beginning since February. It’s sort of an old question with internationalism or cosmopolitanism maybe in some sense. With some of the Milktea stuff, what you get sometimes is collapsing some important distinctions, like the antagonist in Hong Kong, Thailand and Burma are just wildly different, and so the stakes I think it’s fair to say are quite a bit higher in Burma, which is nothing against everyone in Hong Kong and Thailand, not at all, but I think that the stakes are higher. The forms that struggle has taken have gone in many ways more militant directions, they had to, and so I wonder sometimes how useful those comparisons are. However, I would say that those connections do seem to resonate with a fair amount of ordinary protesters, demonstrators, front liners. In particular, the kinds of tactical knowledge sharing that we’ve seen, especially between Hong Kong and Burma or Myanmar, has been really important. In late February, as it became clear that there’ll be an escalation in violence, like everyone else, I was sharing these crowd-sourced images in Burmese that came from people in Hong Kong about things like how to build barricades, how to deal with tear gas, want to do with smoke bombs, how to treat gunshot wounds, when the shooting starts, what do you do? Do you run, do get low? And how long do you wait? What kind of formations make sense in street battles? That stuff is fantastic, it’s priceless almost. For that information sharing and collective knowledge production is totally important. I just wouldn’t want to lose sight of some of the different stakes in different places.
For me, at its best, these linkages are internationalist insofar as they maintain a distinction between the oppressor and oppressed people in nations, which is something that I think is lost in a lot of cosmopolitanism discourse where it’s like “Oh, these are all young people, Gen Z, millennial, hashtag activists who are just like young people elsewhere, and they are rising up against faceless authoritarians in Asia”. And this framing is a bit of a straw man, to be fair, but I think there is an element of this in terms of how Milktea stuff gets discussed. That I don’t think is particularly useful.
John: If I can spare you from your family for one more question. For the rebel groups that are currently attacking the state in solidarity / just because they were already doing that, but specifically, the KNU being the Karen National Union and the KIA, the Kachin Independence Army, and also maybe the frontliners. Is there a political ideology that any of these groups seem to have other than just nationalism or defending people in a democracy?
Geoff: That’s a tough question. To be entirely honest, it’s difficult for me to say too much on that, just because the history and politics of the different armed groups is such a huge area. It’s not really my area of expertise, but I mean it is fair to say that there’s quite a lot of variation, which might sound like a cop-out, but it’s true. Some of the armed groups historically have been more likely to embrace broadly left-leaning political visions and others have not. Others have been very sort of right-leaning, ethno-nationalist, anti-communist in many cases, and some linked very closely with the communist insurgency, for example. And the Thai-Burman border is also has had different shifting political winds over time with different armed groups, also shifting their alliances and their vision. It’s really difficult to say. One question would be if there is so much variation among them, is it possible to imagine a broad-based ethnic struggle in solidarity against the military? And that’s what people are hoping for. You would have an alliance formed between urban front liners, people from lowland towns, cities, villages, and armed groups in the borderlands who are very well-trained in guerrilla warfare. Well-trained enough to maintain these guerrilla struggles for generations upon generations, which is no minor task at all. Is it possible to imagine a sort of shared political project? It depends on who you ask. For me, and it might depend on people temperamental in style and meanings. I guess I worry that, in the past, even just in the past twenty years, which is not very long, there have been so many times when there have been attempted alliances formed between armed groups and it’s always been so difficult to form and maintain any sustainable ethnic alliance, and there are also good reasons for that because there is such variation among the armed groups that for some who might be, in some sense, more principled, how much sense does it really make to line up alongside others that are perhaps less principled? There’s been a lot of hope for that solidarity over decades, and it’s been unfortunate. It’s fallen away time and time again. I hope, like everyone else, that maybe that will change this time. We’ll just have to see, I guess.
John: For sure. For frontliners / workers… The unions seem like they at least come obviously out of a leftist tradition, based on their flags and slogans and Burma just happening in the past to be completely leftist, but is there some sign of leftist politics or right-wing politics, or is it exclusively to spread democracy, which I don’t understand?
Geoff: It depends, to be honest, even the largest union federations have been quite active within the democracy movement and also had of significant exiled presence as well, which is great, I think, also places them in a broad liberal political tradition and so even some of the smaller labor organizations, not the trade unions per se, but some of labor NGOs, activist groups that are working in industrial areas. Even these will be hosting human rights trainings, these kinds of activities. I don’t see a lot of explicit articulate in the direct sense of sort of leftist political thought.
But that’s the question: to what extent do we need to speak or articulate our leftist vision or to be leftist? When you see the general strike, maybe people aren’t passing out copies of, I don’t know, the Communist Manifesto or something, but this is a militant movement based on overthrowing, in part, certain economic relations in the country. And so there’s a lot of explicit political discourses is liberal, obviously, but there are economic demands that are in play as well. And in some ways, that doesn’t necessarily bother me, just because I think the question of leftist revolutionary movements in the past. I’m not nostalgic necessarily, I do think they’re good and important independent leftist political genealogies in Burma that are not simply a question of the authoritarian socialism that congealed in the state. Before Ne Win’sdictatorship, but even during in some ways, you had worker and peasant writers activists who were articulating a leftist project that had nothing to do with authoritarian power. In fact, quite the opposite. Maybe we could think, okay, are people appealing back to that right now? Not really, and maybe that’s unfortunate, in some sense, but if we acknowledge that political thinking depends on material circumstances in some way, the material conditions have changed.
There’s no reason to believe necessarily that in the current moment the explicit political discourse we hear would match what we heard decades ago. I don’t think it’s a problem really that there’s no overt leftist discourse or not that much anyway, there is some. I think that as material conditions shift, we see shifts in political visions, political strategies, and I think some of what we’ve seen with the massive general strike has been the most encouraging phenomenon that we’ve seen along those lines for quite some time. In terms of the formal demands we’ve seen, I do wish some of them might be a little bit more targeted in an anti-capitalist direction. People were discussing what would that mean to demand the nationalization, the breaking apart of some of the military conglomerates, which just have a massive choke-hold on not just the economy, but everyday life of a lot of ordinary people, just stealing from ordinary people in many ways. What would it mean to try to break those apart or what about something like land reform, something like at least repealing a couple of awful land laws passed in the so-called reform period around 2012. Maybe there could be demands to repeal those in a way that might do a bit to speak to real material circumstances. There hasn’t been a ton of that discussion yet, but I think would be a mistake to see that this resistance as not being a material political movement. It’s founded in a general strike, and that’s important to remember.
John: For sure. Thank you very much for speaking with us. I really appreciate it, and maybe I can trick you in the future and talk again about the history of Burma.
Geoff: Very cool, thanks for having me, I should say I am pretty far away, these are just things I’ve picked up on from here. But if for your listeners or anyone, obviously, I’m just always trying to pay attention to what people do at the barricades and otherwise in the country and we can also see what they’re up to and pay attention to what they’re saying. Thanks for giving me the chance to chat at least. I really enjoyed it.
Steve Martinez Still Resists Grand Jury Related To Dakota Access Pipeline Struggle
It’s been nearly half a decade since thousands of indigenous water and land defenders and their accomplices and allies weathered a difficult winter and attacks by law enforcement and private security attempting to push through the Dakota Access Pipeline through so-called North Dakota. The DAPL was eventually built and has already, unsurprisingly damaged the lands, waters and sacred sites of the Standing Rock Sioux and other people native to the area. Resistance has also continued to this and other extractions and pipeline projects across Turtle Island and the defense against DAPL surely inspired and fed many other points of opposition in defense of the earth and native sovereignty.
On one night in November, 2016, as government goons leveled fire hoses and “less-lethal” armaments at water defenders in freezing temperatures, Sophia Wilansky suffered an injury from an explosion that nearly took her arm. An Indigenous and Chicano former employee of another pipeline project named Steve Martinez volunteered to drive Sophia to the hospital in Bismark. For this, he was subpoenaed to a Federal Grand Jury, which he refused to participate in. Now, almost 4 and a half years later, Steve is being imprisoned for resisting another FGJ in Bismark. For the hour, we hear from Chava Shapiro with the Tucson Anti-Repression Committee and James Clark, a lawyer who works with the National Lawyers Guild, talk about Steve’s case, the dangers of Grand Juries, and why it’s imperative for movements to support their incarcerated comrades.
The Final Straw Radio: Would you please introduce yourselves to the audience with any names, preferred pronouns, affiliations or other information that pertain to this chat?
Chava: My name is Chava I work with Tuscon Anti-Repression Committee in Tohono O’odham territories, also known as Tucson. And I have done anti-repression and movement defense work for around 13 years, and grand jury support work for the last four or five years. And I use they/them pronouns.
James: My name is James, I use he/him pronouns. I’m a lawyer with the National Lawyers Guild based out of Austin, Texas. And I’ve also been doing anti-repression and activists legal support for about 13 years now, including a number of grand jury support situations.
TFSR: So would you please tell us who’s Steve Martinez and how did he come to be called before a federal grand jury after a brutal night in November of 2016. And what happened with that grand jury back then?
C: Steve started out coming to Standing Rock, really thinking that he was just going to drop off water. And he actually had been working in the oil fields, the Bakken oil fields in western North Dakota prior to that, heard about what was happening at Standing Rock, and was really inspired by what he had seen and heard about happening, even though he was also working for the oil fields and the oil company.
He’s Indigenous from Pueblo community in northern New Mexico and also Chicano and grew up in southern Colorado, and just inspired by the Indigenous land resistance and movement happening. And so he loaded up his vehicle with water to come and take it to the camps, and then he never left. And he became really involved in what was going on there. From the point of the summer, all the way up to that night that you mentioned in November. Which a lot of people remember that there were fire hoses used – and, you know, sub freezing temperatures – by law enforcement on water protectors that night in a conflict that lasted, you know, 12 to 14 hours on the bridge in those cold temperatures. And a young woman named Sophia Wilansky was really gravely injured that night, presumably due to law enforcement’s use of so called “less lethal munitions”. She nearly lost her arm.
When she was injured, getting emergency services was almost impossible for emergency vehicles and services to get to that point on this highway that had been blockaded by law enforcement at that point for around a month or more. And in order for her to get to emergency services, she would have to be driven by someone who was on the other side of that blockade. And that person who volunteered to do that was Steve, who was acting as a Good Samaritan doing the right thing in that moment. And then just really, a handful of days later was subpoenaed before a grand jury. And his presence was requested to provide information – they said they were asking for information – related to Sofia Wilansky’s injuries. So any testimony he could provide, or any images he might have taken on a cell phone or anything like that.
Steve didn’t know what that subpoena was when he received it. And so he reached out to a relative that stayed in the same camp that I did at the time – I had gone up there to do legal support for people – and his relative then came to me and said “Hey, can you speak with my uncle? He’s received some kind of subpoena we don’t really know what it is.” And at that time, just pulled his uncle into a tent and that uncle turned out to be Steve, and immediately from that moment that he received that paperwork, he asked for support, and then happened to have one of the best, most knowledgeable movement attorneys on grand juries in camp that day, which is Lauren Regan from the Civil Liberties Defense Center.
You know, maybe it’s just pure luck. Maybe it’s, you know, serendipitous, or that Lauren happened to be there that day. But we were able to immediately get Steve talking with an attorney who could explain to him the process. And then also from that exact day, moving forward, it also began a massive outreach with the thousands of people who were staying in camp at that point, about grand jury occurring subpoenas going out, at least one known subpoena at that point. And then also initiated the nationwide education campaign, because many tens of thousands of people had come and gone from the camps. And so that is where Steve was four years ago. But almost exactly four years later, he was subpoenaed to this new grand jury. And he, again, has refused to comply, because he’s acting in immense solidarity with a movement that he believes in, which is a movement for Indigenous sovereignty over lands and waters, and to protect those things, and a deep love and care for his comrades. And so that’s where we are now. And how we got there.
TFSR: Do people feel like they have an understanding of what this grand jury is specifically about? And does that matter?
J: We’re quite confident that it’s about the situation regarding Sofia Wilansky. One sort of important development between Steve’s grand jury subpoena in 2016, and when he got subpoenaed again in 2020, was that Miss Wilansky has sued Morton County over their use of, you know, these “less lethal munitions” that caused her injury. And in, I can’t remember if it was October or November of 2020, the judge in that Civil Lawsuit made a ruling that she could seek to compel the government to disclose evidence, specifically the fragments that were taken from her arm during surgery. And it was just a matter of days after that court’s ruling in the civil lawsuit that Steve was, again, subpoena to this grand jury. So it’s kind of you know, the timing is is convenient, as they say.
C: Yeah, I think you spoke well, to that, James, the timing is is suspect. And I think it’s also interesting to note that throughout the whole course of legal battles related to Standing Rock – both criminal and civil legal battles – there has been some signs of real collusion between civil court and criminal court. There’s been a number of attempts at SLAPP suits and civil suits by ETP (Energy Transfer Partners) that continue even now. And this timing of, you know, this win in Sofia’s case with that judge to compel the government to turn over this evidence – which I’ll just note there were FBI agents lurking outside of her surgery room outside of the OR, waiting to confiscate those items, while her family is like crying in a hallway. I just think it’s important to remember the cruelty of the state in the course of this entire situation. Because I don’t think that’s most people’s experience when they’re in a really scary, dangerous situation that involves possibly losing a limb or use of that limb.
And so the way that it looks like, the government has been able to make sure Sophie’s attorneys cannot get that evidence back from the federal government is by saying it’s part of an ongoing investigation. And so if there’s a new grand jury looking into these facts from, who knows, what, four years ago? Then they can’t turn that evidence over to the civil court, because there’s this ongoing criminal investigation. So it seems pretty well timed and convenient on their part, and really just a continued leverage of cruelty against Sofia, and against other water protectors who were injured and harmed at the hands of law enforcement. And also unbelievable amount of cruelty leveraged against Steve, who, all he did on that night was the right thing. And now, four years later, he’s dragged back before a grand jury in what seems like just using him as if he’s upon, but he’s a real person with a family and a life. And now he’s separated from them while he’s incarcerated.
J: I think the other key portion of this story, and the cruelty the Chava is talking about, is how Morton County has tried to basically twist the narrative, while all the evidence that we know about points to Morton County law enforcement being responsible for Sofia’s injuries and for the use of these “less lethal munitions”, they’ve always tried to either directly say or insinuate that this was actually caused by other water protectors, or potentially even by Sofia herself. And so the sort of victim blaming narrative that they’ve tried to use to tar the movement, kind of like what, you know, what the government did with environmentalist Judi Bari, you know, when her car got bombed, and they tried to blame her for that. And so it’s kind of a continuation of that, bad actors will inflict horrible violence on activists and then try and twist the narrative to blame the activist for that violence that they’re inflicted.
TFSR: So this is a beginning of a long conversation, but can you tell us a little bit about grand juries? They’re a pretty complicated legal tool that is shrouded in mystery. And yeah, just kind of remind us about what they are, how they operate, and sort of their range and uses, from the mundane to political repression?
J: Yeah, absolutely. Most of the uses of grand jury are pretty mundane, you know, speaking here, specifically about federal grand juries, because it can vary a lot from state to state, whether there are grand juries or how they work. But in the federal system, pretty much every felony case goes before a grand jury. And the purpose of the grand jury is to decide whether or not the government has enough evidence to even bring charges against somebody. It’s supposed to be a sort of screening or gate-keeping kind of function, to make sure that people aren’t brought to trial on serious charges without, you know, at least some amount of evidence. That’s sort of the ideological idea behind fair use.
In practicality, it tends to be much more of a rubber stamp. But there’s a famous quote from a judge in New York that “a grand jury would indict a ham sandwich if that’s what a prosecutor wanted”, because the prosecutor controls the entire process. And so, in most grand jury proceedings, what happens is that a federal law enforcement, federal agent of some type, will go to the grand jury, maybe summarize a police report, give some facts, some details, and the grand jurors will decide if that’s enough evidence to constitute probable cause to bring charges against somebody. And it, you know, typically, pretty quick proceeding, you know, the cop says, “Oh, we did this raid, and we found these drugs, and these people were there and we know that this was their apartment.” And so in that way, a lot of the grand jury uses are kind of unexceptional, even if it is a still problematic in regards to how much power and control it gives to the prosecutors in this system.
In a more political context, what we see though, is actually using the grand jury as an investigative tool. As a way to compel witnesses to appear and give testimony, or compel people to turn over evidence of some type. And this is where we see, you know, analogies to grand juries is like a fishing expedition or a witch hunt, or something. Where people are sort of dragged before these legal proceedings and forced to, you know, name names or give evidence, or something of that sort.
And so, the way the grand jury works is that there’s typically, I believe, 24 jurors – so it’s twice as big as what you think of as a typical jury in a trial. There’s 24 jurors, and the only people in the grand jury room at the time are the grand jurors themselves, the United States Attorney, the prosecutor, the court reporter, maybe some clerical staff and the witness who’s giving evidence. There’s no defense attorneys, there’s no judges, there’s no audience. It all happens very much in secrecy.
And the other aspect is that, you know, sometimes we think about how in a jury trial you have the lone holdout juror that prevents somebody from getting convicted. In a grand jury proceeding they only have to decide by a simple majority. So you can’t have a single lone holdout grand juror, because as long as 13 people still vote to charge somebody or to indict somebody, the other 11 people, their votes don’t really matter.
Grand jurors, again, in opposition to what we normally think of in terms of a jury, grand jurors are not screened for bias. There were situations during grand juries that were investigating alleged acts of Animal Liberation, Earth Liberation groups, where people that basically worked in the industries that were being targeted by these Animal Liberation groups, other people in those industries, were actually sitting on the grand juries that were reviewing the cases that were, you know, allegedly targeting those industries. So there’s no screening for bias. It’s, you know, supposed to be a cross section of the community, but it’s kind of random. And there is a long history of discrimination in who gets selected to sit on a grand jury, who gets selected as the foreperson of the grand jury.
And so, you know, what turns into is this, you know, secret of proceeding with almost no oversight or accountability, where the prosecutor has total control over what evidence they present, they don’t have to present contradictory evidence, they don’t have to present exculpatory evidence, they don’t have to present anything that would be unfavorable to the outcome that they seek. They can present the evidence in whatever light they want. And they can also present evidence that, you know, is illegally gathered, or that wouldn’t be admissible in a normal trial. So things like hearsay, rumor, gossip, evidence that was collected as from illegal search or seizure, statements that were maybe coerced or compelled in a way that wasn’t constitutional, all this all this evidence can be presented to the grand jury, in furtherance of what the prosecutor wants to see happen.
Considering the scope of this, another thing that we see in some of these political cases, is, you know, people getting called to grand juries, to testify about things that are sort of far afield of what they directly experienced. There’s one case where somebody was being asked to testify about something that he allegedly overheard two other people saying, at a bar or coffee shop. Not something that he was directly involved in or directly participating in, but sort of this third or fourth hand rumor that he had overhear.
TFSR: As you mentioned, James, the witness that’s being called before the grand jury, is seated before grand jurors, the prosecutors, stenographers, the, you know, court officials, doesn’t have a lawyer present, right? And a lawyer could hypothetically, if they had a role there, challenge some of those things that might be inadmissible normal court setting. But they also can’t really warn someone about safe approaches towards answering the questions or not answering the questions. Are there safe approaches?
J: So, I mean, this is getting into, you know, sort of the difference between political advice and legal advice. I’m obviously not here to give anybody legal advice, and if anybody’s ever called before grand jury, they really need to have a good lawyer that shares their values and their goals to represent them and inform them of all the nuances and implications here. Politically, I would argue that there is no safe way to answer questions at a grand jury. And this is for a variety of reasons. I think one reason is that you don’t know what they’re looking for. People have an idea that like, “I didn’t do anything wrong”, or “I don’t have anything to hide” and I think that’s generally mistaken. I think part of it is the broad expanse of federal law that things that you wouldn’t even imagine are illegal and felonious under federal law, so you don’t know what’s going to incriminate you or incriminate somebody else. You also don’t know what somebody else might be exposed to. Maybe you have a reasonably good idea of what actions you’ve taken and what things might put you at risk, but you don’t know what your best friend or your family member, your comrade, or your neighbor, your fellow organizer, what they might be subject to. Things that might seem supposedly innocuous or harmless can easily cause significant problems for people.
The other thing that we see is, you know, we have this idea of like, back in the Red Scare McCarthyism, people getting dragged before hearings and being forced to name names, and then everybody that they name then also gets dragged before the hearing in kind of this dragnet approach to investigations. And that’s entirely possible with grand juries too, that the mere fact of you identifying somebody else, even if it’s not in a way that criminally incriminates them, could be grounds for them to get dragged in front of this grand jury also. And then they’re faced with this sort of impossible situation where they have to either decide to testify or face imprisonment for contempt.
And I think, you know, again, speaking politically, I think the idea of solidarity and building trust and cohesion and our movements is really fractured when somebody that’s involved in those movements goes before a secret grand jury and gives testimony that there’s no accountability or transparency for. It’s often hard for people to trust one another in that situation. So that’s how grand juries can serve to sort of, sow this distrust and paranoia and discord within movements and really fracture the solidarity that’s necessary for effective organizing.
C: Bursts, you said in the beginning of your question “Is there any safe way to answer questions before the grand jury?” And, James, you spoke really well about all of the reasons they’re not. That question you asked Bursts is sort of a gateway into strategy that we’ve seen be effective in recent years for resisting a grand jury.
There’s essentially four ways somebody can resist a grand jury: you can avoid being subpoenaed, which means you need to know that there’s a grand jury happening, and that’s actually a lot harder to avoid a subpoena than it sounds. But a subpoena for a grand jury does have to be served to you in person by a federal agent, by a federal law enforcement agent. Doesn’t have to be an FBI agent, it could be an ATF agent, or a CIA officer or whatever. But you’d have to avoid that person. And know that they were coming for you.
You could also receive a subpoena and you could just disappear. Some people have used that strategy to varied success, but it’s very difficult. Because it means you have to basically go on the run, you’re avoiding complying with that subpoena. And it means that you would have to leave the place where you normally live, stop talking to people you normally speak to. And that’s a really difficult way for somebody to exist.
The other thing is that you could receive a subpoena and you can publicly refuse to enter the courtroom. And some people have done that very successfully. Because even entering the courtroom, like James said, we don’t know for sure what’s happened in there, right? So all of your comrades, and the larger movement on the outside of this secretive process, we don’t know what’s going on in there. So you run a risk when you enter the courtroom that potentially could leave some room for mistrust amongst the movement.
But we have also seen this last option where you receive the subpoena, you publicly refused to cooperate, but you enter the courtroom and then you invoke your constitutional rights that apply in the situation and your refusal to testify. Which is the tactic that Steve has used and other recent grand jury resistors have used successfully, is that it sets up a great legal precedent for getting you out of the legal consequence that occurs when you refuse to comply with the grand jury. Which is if you refuse to comply, you could be held in civil contempt for up to the length of the grand jury, and that could be 18 months. And that’s a long time, but we’ve seen the use of this legal maneuver, called a “grumbles motion”, which basically appeals to the judge who’s holding you in a civil contempt of court for your refusal to testify and says, “this person has stated publicly that they’re never going to comply, they’re never going to testify, they have continued to not comply or testify. And you holding them in jail or prison, during this grand jury for their refusal to testify, has gone from this civil form of contempt, to something that’s now illegal, because you’re actually holding them in jail knowing that that’s not going to be the coercive tool that you hope it will be, to get them to comply, and to testify before the grand jury.” And it’s not legal to hold someone in prison in that way, because they’ve never committed a crime, and then the state, the government, has crossed the line, right? They’ve crossed their own legal line.
That’s a strategy that’s worked well, but it does require that somebody sets up the infrastructure along with their comrades in the larger movement to support them. And that means being very, very public from the beginning of your situation, which is what happened with Steve the first time that he was subpoenaed to grand jury and what has happened with him the second time that he’s been subpoenaed.
TFSR: So just to belabor the point, because nobody actually said thisI don’t think. You both have mentioned going into the grand jury, and then refusing to speak and getting held in contempt. What happens if somebody invokes their fifth amendment? And why does that make this sort of proceeding so scary?
C: So when somebody goes in, and they’re asked a question by the prosecutor, the prosecutor is going to say something like, “Hey, what’s your name, state it for the record?” So I would say “My name is Chava so-and-so.” And then the prosecutor would ask me, “okay, tell me about what James had for lunch yesterday” and I would say, “you know, what, I’m gonna actually invoke my first, my fourth, my fifth, and any other applicable Amendment rights that I might have?” A prosecutor is gonna be like, “Oh, great. Okay, well, what did James have for lunch day before yesterday?”, I’d say “I’m going to invoke my first, my fourth, my fifth, and any other applicable Amendment rights”, and then eventually, the prosecutor is going to be very clear that that’s my entire plan, while I’m present in their grand jury room, and then they’re going to take me before judge, because they’re going to ask for me to be held in contempt. And then they’re likely to request from a judge that I be given immunity. And that immunity means that anything I say can’t necessarily be used against me. And that’s what the Fifth Amendment provides to us, is like protection from testifying things that would incriminate ourselves.
But what we don’t know is how our words then can be used against someone else, or how someone else’s words could be used against us. So it doesn’t protect us entirely, it just protects us in this very narrow way. And the court and the government call it being “granted” immunity, like there’s some fucking fairy godmother that’s coming and waving a wand and giving us this great gift. But it’s not a great gift. They’re actually imposing and forcing something on us, that strips us of our rights in that courtroom – are very limited rights – and takes them away from us. Because that’s the like beauty of the rights that the state has given us, right? They can give them they can take, and that’s all at their discretion.
So they impose immunity on you and you no longer – when you were taken in before the grand jury – can refuse to answer questions based off of your fifth amendment rights, right? And so then at that point, when you continue to refuse, you’d be taken back before a judge, who then would likely decide, “okay, well, we’re going to put you into coercive incarceration. So we’re going to try and compel this testimony out of you by incarcerating you”, and then things move from there. And that’s where we are right now with Steve, is at that point: immunity has been imposed upon him, he’s being held in contempt, and his contempt will be reviewed on a monthly basis by the judge in North Dakota.
TFSR: So you’ll have mentioned that Steve went before the grand jury in 2016. Steve was again called this year, I believe, before a grand jury and then released, is that correct? Like, where does Steve stand at the moment?
J: Right, so when Steve was subpoenaed in 2016 – his appearance date was actually in early 2017 – and he went and refused to testify. And the prosecutor never pursued contempt proceedings against him, they ended up withdrawing the subpoena, before he had to be found in contempt or be incarcerated or anything. When he appeared, when he first appeared in February, just about a month and a half ago, he again refused to cooperate and very quickly was taken before a federal magistrate judge, found in contempt and ordered into coercive custody for contempt. His legal team filed some motions and objections on the grounds that the magistrate judge actually did not have legal authority to find him in contempt or order him into custody. There’s some, you know, complicated and nuanced laws around that. Basically, he was ordered into jail by a judge that didn’t have authority to order him into jail.
And so his legal team filed some motions and objections and they were granted, and he was released from jail after 19 days of being unlawfully incarcerated. But before they released him from jail, they subpoenaed him again, to the same grand jury to appear on March 3. And when he appeared on March 3, and again refuse to cooperate, this time they brought in front of a federal district judge who did have authority to conduct contempt proceedings. And so at that point, he was again, found in contempt and ordered back into custody.
So I think this is a pretty salient example of just how ripe for abuse Grand Jury proceedings can be. That they can illegally incarcerate you for, you know, almost three weeks, and then the remedy for that is that you get released, but then you just get re-subpoenaed and taken back, and the whole thing starts again. And so, you know, the prosecution really gets…in some ways they get unlimited bites at the apple. I think we mentioned earlier that he can be incarcerated up to the length that this grand jury is impaneled, which is, you know, typically 18 months, but can be longer in some circumstances. But if that grand jury expires, there’s nothing that prevents the prosecutor from subpoena him to a subsequent grand jury. In this way, you know, we’ve seen, throughout history, that grand juries, there’s not a whole lot of check on this. And so they can really be used to harass and incapacitate activists and, you know, entire movement communities.
TFSR: So, how about earlier you had brought up the idea of SLAPP suits. Could you define that for the audience? And also, maybe, I don’t want to take this too far off a focus on Steve, but I’d like to recontextualize this, again, to be within not only supporting someone who has proven himself to be brave and an amazing supporter of other people involved in movement, but besides Morton County law enforcement trying to avoid or state officials trying to avoid possible lawsuits for the damages that they’ve caused to people. How does it relate to the timing right now the operation of DAPL
J: Well to speak to SLAPP suits and what they are, “SLAPP” is an acronym for “strategic lawsuit against public participation”. And it basically refers to lawsuits that…typically it’s large entities like corporations, sometimes governments, you know, powerful people filing against activists or journalists or sort of the little guy, for the purpose of basically retaliating against or silencing their damaging statement. So a lot of times this takes the form of defamation lawsuits, libel or slander. And so maybe a corporation sues this small activist group, and says these statements about us clubbing baby seals are defamatory, and they have to stop saying it and pay us damages. And, you know, a lot of the purpose of these lawsuits isn’t necessarily to win the lawsuit. Because of the power disparity, it’s often intended just to tie up the organization of the people in litigation. That if you’re a big corporation with, you know, billions and revenue and expenditures every year, it’s no big deal for you to spend a million dollars on, you know, a lawsuit. But if you’re a small, scrappy activist group, or citizen journalist or a whistleblower or something, you know, defending this humongous lawsuit can be can be totally debilitating.
And so there are statutes and a number of states that allow procedures to quickly dismiss these types of lawsuits. And that’s, I mean, kind of a whole other conversation. But I would, you know, if people are interested in this topic, the Civil Liberties Defense Center website has a number of resources about SLAPP suits, and defending against SLAPP suits, and things of that nature.
I can’t speak to the situation with DAPL, specifically, maybe Chava can, but I will say that we’re kind of in this moment where a lot of pipeline resistance efforts have seen some success. Recently, there was the pipeline that was supposed to run through Appalachia, they got cancelled. Resistance against line 3, in Minnesota has really been taking off. And so I think there is this sort of moment where, you know, people that are invested in these pipeline projects are seeing the success that resistance movements are having, and are looking for new ways to subvert those movements, undermine those movements and push back against those movements. And so I think, you know, it’s impossible to say like, if there’s a direct correlation between that and what’s going on with Steve’s case, but I do think it is sort of a reminder of what tools the state has against some of these movements, and how those movements should sort of think about making anti-repression and legal support and movement defense an integral part of their organizing throughout their campaigns.
C: I think one of the strategies that Energy Transfer Partners – which is like the larger company that was pursuing the Dakota Access Pipeline, along with many other pipeline related projects across North America – but Energy Transfer Partners goal with SLAPP suits, is not even necessarily to win. It’s a way of industry leveraging the law – in particular laws around RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act), which a lot of people are have heard at least that term related to, like, “organized crime” type cases – but leveraging those laws as a way for industry to have a chilling effect on movements that are successful against them. And so Energy Transfer Partners kind of famously filed this outrageous SLAPP suit, including Greenpeace as one of the named parties that they were suing, and asking for, like, almost a billion dollars, I think in damages. Which, they knew they were never going to win that award of money in civil court. That wasn’t the point. The point was to make movements and NGOs, or nonprofit organizations that were supporting social movements against ETPs various pipeline projects, to make them have to scramble and exhaust their resources, both financially and as far as people power, real like human labor, to exhaust them to a point where you’re so focused on fighting the SLAPP suit, that you can’t be focused anymore on fighting the people who are suing you.
And that was dismissed in court because it was outrageous, right? But it doesn’t mean that it didn’t have some of its intended impact, which was to distract people’s energies towards this other thing. And ETP continues to do this. But we also know that pipelines are failing as financial projects. And it was known that the Dakota Access Pipeline was only ever going to be financially beneficial in the short term. It’s basically like a big scam to make a bunch of money at the at the beginning, and that it was going to be a financial failure in the long run. But their goal isn’t to make better energy for anybody if they were they would be pursuing other things. Their goal is to make money and at any cost possible, including the costs of human lives and the earth.
TFSR: So bringing it back to support for Steve, how can listeners support him? What are some good places that they can find out more information about his case? Does he need people to write to him? Are there any campaigns on going besides informing people about the resistance to the grand jury that people could join in on?
J: Absolutely. There’s a website supportstevemartinez.com, there’s an Instagram account @SupportSteveMartinez, and there’s a Twitter account SupportSteveNow. All of these are excellent ways to stay informed about what’s going on with Steve’s case, find out more information about grand juries about you know, anti-repression strategies, and to, you know, connect with what’s going on. Another really vital way to support Steve is to write to him. He really appreciates getting letters. And we know that regardless of what the government says about the nature of incarceration, we know that incarceration is always punitive. It’s always extremely damaging, and difficult, and writing letters and staying in contact with people in prison is an incredibly important and incredibly effective way of keeping them connected to their community, connected to their movement, keeping their time and their spirits occupied and lifted while they’re incarcerated. And so yeah, we definitely encourage people to write to Steve. You can find information – the address and sort of guidelines about what what kind of materials you can send – at his website, or on any of the social media accounts.
And also donations. Donations are being used to put in his commissary so that he can get snacks and food and, you know, hygiene items and things like that while he’s in jail. Also to be used for phone calls, so he can stay in contact with his partner, and other family. We know that calls from jail can be extraordinarily expensive. And then also supporting his partner and his family while he’s incarcerated. You know, they’ve lost Steve’s income since he’s now incarcerated. Bills don’t stop, expenses don’t stop, things like that. And so money to support the people around Steve while he’s standing up for his principles, and standing up for the movement, is incredibly important. Because, you know, grand jury resistance is a community effort, and it takes all of us to support the resistor and the resistor’s supporting all of us. And, yeah, it really takes a community in that way.
C: Yeah, I can’t really stress enough how vital people’s community support is. I think there are a lot of people who listen to this podcast that came and went from the camps at Standing Rock and the occupation there. And tens of thousands of people from all over the world did. And Steve is in prison to protect all of those people, at the end of the day. That’s the reality of the choice that he’s making. And so he’s showing some real solidarity to all of us who were present there and who fought against that pipeline, and for Indigenous sovereignty over the land and the water. But it’s our role to support him so that he can support us. And you know, James did mention that his partner is bearing a lot of the brunt. And that’s the reality of what’s happening, you know, anytime anyone is incarcerated: they are separated from their family and removed from their communities and are unable to fulfill the many obligations that they have to people that they love and they care about. There’s a GoFundMe page that’s gofundme.com/SupportSteveMartinez and that GoFundMe is going directly to support Steve, like James was saying, but also really to support his partner. They have a grandson, who is pretty little and I know that it’s really hard on Steve to be separated from his grandson. And that is something that brings a lot of joy to him, to even be able to talk to him on the phone and on a video chat. And so by people donating to that, it also enables Steve to video chat with his grandson and with his wife. And that’s a real lifeline for him right now.
The other thing that I would just say that people can do to support is be really public about your support. Even your banner drop that says, like, you know, “FREE STEVE MARTINEZ”, and “FUCK A GRAND JURY”, or like whatever you want to put on a banner, that’s actually proof, it’s evidence that can go into a motion to compel the court to release Steve. That there is a wide network of humans across the world, of comrades who support him and are enabling him to continue to stand against this grand jury. So if we show that he has that support, that’s also something that can be utilized in like a legal maneuver to get him released from court to compel the judge to do that. So even if you think your banner jobs are silly and they don’t matter, they do matter! And it shows the federal government that that we have Steve’s back, and he is going to be able to continue to maintain his silence.
TFSR: I’d like to ask you all, if you have anything else that I didn’t ask about, that you want to mention while we’re on the phone?
J: I’ll just add that, you know, we’ve sort of tried to emphasize this again and again, but movement support means all of us. It takes all of us to take action, but it also takes all of us to support each other, and care for each other when things get difficult. And so, again, putting that at the forefront of our minds: when we’re organizing it’s not just about the day of action and the days leading up to it. It’s about the days and weeks and years after that, that we have to continue to support each other, continue to help people navigate these legal processes that drag on and on. And the more that we can anticipate that and prepare for that and account for that in our organizing, the more resilient we are when these things occur. And I know Chava and I are both extremely indebted to all of our elders and all the people who have come before us that have helped teach us these lessons and teach us this information and allowed us to share it with other people. And so everybody that’s that’s sort of tread this path before us we’re extremely grateful for.
C: Yeah, I think if people want to learn more about grand jury resistance there’s a lot of great resources online, but I would really encourage people to check out the Freedom Archives, and anything in there related to Puerto Rican independentista resistance to grand juries. Those movement elders really built the model that we see used today successfully against grand juries. And we really just wouldn’t be where we are now, in our ability to resist this particularly nefarious and fucked up tool of the state, if it hadn’t been for many movement elders from a lot of different communities, particularly in the 1970’s and into the early 80’s and their resistance in national liberation struggles.
And I think the last thing I want to say is just that people went up to Standing Rock to, well people went up there for a lot of different reasons, right? But at the heart of it was to protect land and water and to engage in either, like, your own Indigenous resistance or to support those who are Indigenous and their resistance. But ultimately it was about a movement for liberation, which is what social movements are about. And at the heart of those movements for liberation is a lot of like deep care and love for each other. And having lived in those camps for months and lived in a field in the middle of the winter in so-called North Dakota, I can tell you the only thing that keeps you up at night really is like the deep blue loving care of your comrades. And Steve is really continuing to exemplify that deep love and care for his comrades, and for the reasons that he he stayed at camp after he thought he was just dropping something off.
TFSR: James and Chava thank you so much for this conversation and for all the work that you do. We really appreciate it.
The Security State, Far Right and Media Post-January 6th
This week on the show, you’ll hear two segments: chat with Spencer Sunshine on the far right and the government’s reaction following the riot on January 6th in DC and some perspectives on political content removal and social media from anarchist media platforms ItsGoingDown and crimethInc.
First up, anti-fascist researcher Spencer Sunshine talks about the aftermath of the January 6th putsch attempt in DC, mainstream media and Democrat narratives of concerning domestic terrorism, reporting of participation of law enforcement and military in the riot, anti-fascist research, what the stepping down of Trump has meant for his radicalized base and Spencer’s thoughts on claims of rehabilitation by former White Nationalists like Matthew Heimbach. There was a good article published by IGD on the state’s response to January 6th and what it can mean to anti-repression activists here. Also, a great place to keep up on what’s going on in the far right in the so-called US, check out IGD’s “This Week In Fascism” column, soon to be a podcast.
Then, you’ll hear the main host from the ItsGoingDown Podcast and a comrade from CrimethInc (both affiliates of the Channel Zero Network) talking about implications for anarchists and antifascists of the silencing of far right platforms and accounts and how similar moves have silenced the anti-authoritarian left. We talk about perspectives the media may have missed around “deplatforming” by tech giants like Patreon, Facebook and Twitter and how easily the normalization of ejecting non-mainstream narratives follows the trail of profit and power, and the importance of building our own platforms and infrastructure.
A little housekeeping note. For those listeners able to support us on Patreon with recurring donations, we are still fundraising to pay comrades to transcribe and format our episodes into zines moving forward. We’ve started with January 2021, putting out a weekly transcript for translations, search-ability, access to non-aural learners and those with hearing difficulties as well as making it easier send these interviews into prisons where broadcasts and podcasts may not reach. We are still $120 behind our base goal for this. So, if you have some extra dough you can send our way, it’d be much appreciated. We won’t paywall our content ever, but for those who donate at our patreon above the $10 level, you’ll get a monthly zine in the mail sent to you or a prisoners of your choosing in the US as curated by us, plus some one-time gifts.
Other ways to support the project include sending us show ideas, giving us feedback, sharing us with your friends and enemies, or talking your local radio station into playing us on the airwaves! Get in touch with more questions…
From the Fidencio Aldama Support Fund:
We’re raising funds for Fidencio Aldama, an indigenous Yaqui prisoner framed for murder and locked up in Ciudad Obregón, Sonora, Mexico, for his participation in a struggle against a gas pipeline. Fidencio has been in prison since October 2016, was railroaded through the courts, and is currently appealing his conviction. Support will be ongoing, but right now we need funds to get a copy of the case file, help pay for communication, and potentially cover some legal fees.
Xinachtli, aka Alvaro Luna Hernandez, is an anarchist communist Chicano political prisoner in so-called Texas. His supporters have put together a new website for him that can be found at FreeAlvaro.Net. He’s got a bid for parole coming up this year and could use letters of support! Please check for updates on other prisoners and how to support them in the monthly Prison Break column on ItsGoingDown.
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“Let Me Be The One You Need” (instrumental) by Bill Withers from Managerie – Remastered
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Transcription of Spencer Sunshine interview
The Final Straw Radio: Would you please introduce yourself with your name preferred pronouns and any affiliation that are relevant to this conversation?
Spencer Sunshine: My name is Spencer Sunshine, he/him and I have researched, written about, and counter-organized against the far right for about 15 years.
TFSR: So we’re speaking in the days after January 20 2021 and I’m hoping that Spencer, who’s made a name for reporting on far right ideas and organizing from an antifascist perspective, could help break down some, a bit, of what appears to be going on the last two weeks in the US. The mainstream media has been filled with the squishy sound of liberal hand wringing over the broken windows at the US Capitol. As larger portions of the political and economic establishment have chosen to distance themselves from Trump’s claims at the election was stolen, the media has reported on the far right street movements that have been violently engaging not only portions of the population they consider enemies, such as the Movement for Black Lives, or solidarity with immigrants movements, or antifascist and leftist more widely, but increasingly, they’ve also been engaging physically with law enforcement. Can you talk a bit about the framing that the mainstream media and the Democrat Party have been using as a rush to apply terms, like insurrectionaries or terrorists, to what took place on January sixth?
SS: It’s a sort of good and bad thing. They’ve used a lot of language that perhaps doesn’t reflect what I think went on on the sixth, you know, as you said, they’ve used “terrorists”, it’s a “coup”, “attempted coup”, “insurrection”, you know, talking about the “domestic terrorism”, talked about the need to have new laws about domestic terrorism. You know, along with some good things, like a recognition that it’s a violent, antidemocratic movement based on lies, right, or conspiracy theories and propaganda. So there’s good and bad things about how they’ve talked about them. Unfortunately, the worst thing is the way they’re talking about them can easily be applied to the left to and that’s the real, that’s one of the real dangers at the moment.
TFSR: One element that surprised some of the folks and is the swath of groups with competing ideologies that shared space and took action, which, some of which appear to be coordinating. Like, I’ve heard reports in the media that Proud Boys are being accused of having used radios to coordinate certain specific stochastic activities at the Capitol. Kathleen Beleuw, who’s the author of Bring the War Home, has talked about what happened on the sixth, less as an unsuccessful coup attempt, but more as an inspirational flexing by the autonomous fire right, of their Overton window, a la the Early Acts in The Turner Diaries. Is this a helpful landmark, and can you talk about some of the tendencies and groups that are known to have engaged in a coordinated manner around the capital push?
SS: Well, with all due respect, I disagree with Kathleen Belew, as I do on many points with her, I believe this is more a crime of opportunity. And in a sense, the left would have done the same thing if there was a big angry demonstration of 5,000 people and they thought it might be able to storm the Capitol, you know, I could see that happening. Of course, I could be wrong and maybe she’s right, but I think this is a high point for them. It’s true that it was a bunch of disparate groups, but these disparate groups have been acting together under the same banner for quite a while, like really, for the last four years. And at some point, the white nationalists are in or out of it. And there were some white nationalists there, you know, the Groyper’s in particular, but not that many. There were organized groups, I mean, we will find out more, and there’s a lot of wild talk and speculation, and I’m hesitant about a lot of this stuff. So you know, we’ll find out more, how many people were acting in a coordinated fashion, and what they were. Some Oath Keepers were just charged with this. I had no doubt that the Proud Boys were, they have a long, long time street experience and know how to act together as a group. It’s unclear how the actual storming, how many of these people were important in it, and the groups of people driving deep into the Capitol, you know, most people have seen that scene where they’re like, trying to slam the door on a cop and the police are really not sure if they can hold the line against them, like how many organized actors were involved in that?
I think we have to admit that most of the people who went in were not prepared to do this, and were not in organized groups, I think that that’s pretty clear. I don’t think it’s unusual that they’re acting under the same banner, I think the important thing is largely this has been a more moderate group of people, the street actions, the militant street actions have tended towards the more ideological extreme groups, you know, Charlottesville was fascists, and then it’s been largely Proud Boys and to some extent, Patriot Prayer, and now this action, which is you know, an attack on liberal democracy, whatever we think of that, that’s what it is, was done by more moderate political forces. And that’s a really terrible sign. But again, I think it was really a high point for them, they were able to do it because of not their militancy, but a security failure on the part of the Capitol police. Which again, we will find out how much, or to what extent that was intentional, by higher up’s who decided not to put more than the regular police defending the Capitol. It obviously wasn’t true of most of the people on the ground, I mean, one cop was murdered, and the others were clearly engaged in pretty fierce fighting, even though a handful may have, you know, helped facilitate this. So my reading of what happened: I think it’s wrong to call it a coup or an insurrection. If it was an attempted coup, Trump had his chance, they succeeded, right. He could have declared the dictatorship then and should have, and he certainly did not. So I mean, I consider it a takeover or an attack, but mostly a crime of opportunity.
TFSR: I’m wondering if you could talk a little bit about, like the off duty law enforcement military that participated alongside of civilian Trumpers, and with uniformed police, in some instances, allowing protesters to pass through blockades. Does this, I mean, this has been a long time policy as long back as the Klan’s existed they’ve had affiliations with the police. And I know that back in the 60’s and 70’s, and 80’s, there’s been a push to get more active white supremacists in law enforcement agencies. Does this give a glimpse into a shift in the success of the far right organizing in those institutions? Or is it just kind of more of the same and something that was actually advertised beforehand from the you know, from the Oval Office?
SS: It’s a little hard to say. So first off, the security forces being involved in far right movements is something that happens globally, it’s not special to the US. There’s a huge problem of this in Germany right now. It’s true, there’s been a lot of attempts at recruiting by far right groups, current and former police and military. I think for real, full on white nationalists, they’ve drawn some. I think a lot more have been drawn to the Trumpist movement, and because this was more politically moderate, I would expect more cops and soldiers. Some of these people who are being reported as being arrested are retired, though, I think about half…maybe I shouldn’t say [that], but a number of them that are being reported aren’t current. And if you’re retired, you are in a different position to take part in, you know, further right political activity. And this is pretty common as people leave security forces to move further to the right, or publicly expressed for the right political views maybe that they had before.
It’s always a problem of the alignment between far right forces, and especially lower level police. That’s not new. I don’t know how many really are in these groups. I think the numbers are wildly exaggerated by the groups themselves. Like, the Oath Keepers say that, you know, are specifically oriented towards recruiting current and former police, military and first-responders, but I kind of doubt that they have very many active people from these backgrounds, you know, who are currently serving, who are members of the organization. You can join that organization if you’re just an everyday person, it’s largely a paper tiger. So I’m a little dubious about the claims of how many people are involved or what percentage of police and military are in these groups? I think the opposite is true. There’s a larger percentage of police and military in various far right groups. Clearly, it’s of some substantial-ness because they said a quarter of people arrested are military. This may be a bit of a side effect of who’s been arrested, though, and not the whole demonstration.
I think it’s pretty clear that police and military, it is a speculation, but that they’re more willing to engage in aggressive actions, they’re more trained to do that, and they’re inculcated, military particularly, are inculcated within ideology that it’s appropriate to use violence in the form of political aims, no matter what those aims are, right? I mean, that’s what they’re doing in the military. They’re using violence to forward the US political aims, but they carried that idea over into private life, too.
TFSR: So since the sixth of January, you know, I’ll quit harping on that day, pretty soon, there’s been a lot of chatter about the far right getting doxxed by antifa, as the state was building its cases against participants in that push. Do you know if there have been any antifascist researchers that have been actively feeding information to authorities, or if it’s just the government doing its own work and Hoovering up whatever OSINT from the public happens to be out? Like, DDOSecrets, for instance, has been hosting that trove of Parler content on Amazon servers and putting it out for free, so that’s up for state or non state actors to engage with. I wonder if you have anything to say if there are, quote-unquote, “antifascist researchers” that are actively feeding information to the state, if you think that’s a good idea or bad idea, or what.
SS: I don’t know of and haven’t heard of people who self identify as part of the current antifascist movement who’ve done that. Now, of course, if people out there local far right activists as being there, they show evidence, it is logical that the authorities would use that intelligence to arrest people. And that puts people in something of a bind, like, do you not, you know, out this information, in order to make sure they don’t get arrested. So I think people have largely decided that they’re going to put that information out there, and people can do with it as they will, which has always been the case with doxxing. Um, I don’t know how good the authorities are at at finding stuff on their own. It seems like people who are are outed first and then arrested. I think what’s interesting is a lot of liberals have decided to suddenly do this work, and they’re doing the bulk, I would guess they’re doing the bulk of the doxxing or outing, and they have no qualms about this and they’re definitely feeding information to the FBI. I would guess what you describe is coming mostly from from them.
TFSR: So as the centrist consolidate power in the national government, and the FBI have been knocking on doors and arresting members of the far right, and also some anti fascist and Black liberation activists across the country. For instance, one of the bigwigs in the New African Black Panther Party was visited by FBI in New Jersey recently, and a former YPG volunteer who does community defense work in Tallahassee, Florida was arrested after posting on social media that people should go and oppose any far right armed presence on the 20th. But Biden’s denunciation of anarchists throughout the uprising rings in my ears, does this signal Democrats engaging more actively in a three way fight? And what do you think that that will mean for those of us anti-authoritarian left’s? Could this be like, a way to Trojan-horse in a domestic terrorism claim against antifascists that Trump wasn’t able to get through, alongside of the building up, or ramping up of like, quote-unquote, “Black identity extremist” pushes that his administration was making?
SS: I don’t think the way that Trump addressed the antifa movement is going to be carried on by the Biden administration. I mean, a lot of things Trump said just didn’t make any sense, like the domestic terrorism designation, because there isn’t one. It’s true right now that they’re trying to introduce new laws about domestic terrorism, which is ridiculous, even from a liberal perspective, because there’s plenty of laws on the books to do that, as we’ve seen over and over again, used against the left. It’s clear that any crackdown on quote-unquote, “domestic terrorism” is going to at least peripherally affect the left. There’s many reasons for this: Biden really wants to reach across the aisle to the Republicans, and he’s going to want to throw them at least a little bit of raw meat, so they’ll make some arrests, even if the pales in comparison to the far right. Also, once FBI agents, this is a real problem they get when they make busts and convictions, it’s good for their career, and as they run out of far right activists, they’ll want to find more terrorists, and if they can’t do that, produce more terrorists. And that will ultimately turn their attention to the left and Black liberation movements and such.
I don’t know I kind of expect Biden to talk left and walk right about these issues, I think he’ll give lip service to Black Lives Matter. I think they’ll continue to be arrests, especially as you know, if conflicts continue to go on, if there continued to be, you know, military demonstrations in cities after the cops kill more Black folks, as they will. I don’t expect a big crackdown on the antifa movement, especially now, as the antifa movement has sort of gone in a seesaw motion about whether it’s popular with liberal liberals or not, like four or five times, and it’s “in” right now. And unless something really dramatic happens, I think it’s going to kind of stay that way, that after the capital takeover, liberals and centrists sort of have understood in some way that something should have been done about the street forces. And the antifa movement is the only thing to inherit the mantle of having done something about them. So I don’t expect it, I hope not, it is possible. I think there definitely will be some people thrown under the bus just to make an appearance of the both sides-ism by the federal government, though.
TFSR: I guess to correct the question that I asked, because I totally failed to recognize the fact that it was Muslims and people from Muslim majority countries that were the main target following 911, of a lot of anti-terrorism legislation, and a lot of the enforcement was focused on entrapping people in immigrant communities and of the Muslim faith into quote-unquote “terrorism charges”, even if there was, you know, a manufacturing of the situation.
SS: Yeah, sure how much of that is gonna continue? I’m not sure how much of that has happened in the last few years even. But I believe that these techniques of entrapment will continue on for whoever. And it is possible if the whole terrorism thing, you know, domestic terrorism thing amps up that they’ll turn their attention back to the Muslim community. There’s enough of an industry built around that, that they can use that base, and they can always come up with some more people to entrap.
TFSR: So we were promised on January 20, that we would see a day of massive right wing protests at state capitals around the country as well as in DC. Obviously, DC was totally locked down and militarized pretty tightly. What do you think contributed to the relative quiet of the days since the sixth? Was it the drumbeat of the media, the chilling effects of federal arrests, the shutting down of Parler and silencing of other social media, the far right or Trump making his way out of office or conceding as much as he did? And what do you think it says about the future of the movement that he really helped to galvanize and whip into fervor?
SS: Well, I think Trump conceding really deflated them, right? They were inflated by this idea that he was gonna fight to the bitter end or on, and Q-Anon even had this, their last ditch theory was all those military, the National Guard was in DC, because Trump was finally going to arrest the satanist, pedophiles, and that was what the military was actually there for. But I think in general, his concession deflated them, I think the massive turning of public opinion against them, including by non-Trumpist republicans really chastise them. And they realized that was a bad move, that was really bad PR to do that. And to repeat that on a state level, you know, in state capitals was only going to further de-legitimize them. I think, you know, as I said before, their success was a failure of the security forces, and I think statewide, once the government decides it’s not going to allow militant political action, they can control that situation. And that was definitely what was going to happen, you know, in various state capitals.
I don’t know how much the move towards other platforms really motivated that you can always get the word out. So that I don’t think was an important factor. I think people are biding their time, biding, ha ha, their time about what the next move is, but I think their movement’s going to shatter. It’s going to, well, not necessarily shatter, but it’s going to have a bunch of schisms, there’s going to be a fight for the soul of the Republican Party, and the non-Trumpists are going to try to take it back. And they’re going to be on good ground to say “Trump lost and so you don’t have the popular ideology”. And then, of course, some people are going to, you know, move out of the movement towards a more radical position and a more anti-current, some people say an “anti-state”, I think this is the wrong thing, anti-current US government position and anti-police position, and we will see more brawls with police, and more turning against even the moderate Republicans then is already there. So there’ll be a splinter amongst the Trumpist street forces that way, between the Back the Blue people and those becoming more and more radical. And the way that Neo-Nazis, long ago, decided to, sort of, move back towards the center about this, but you know, in the 80’s, decided that they were going to take a revolutionary position, and the police and the federal government were their enemies.
TFSR: Kind of on that line, I was wondering, so in the last couple years we’ve seen the dissolution of, the disappearance to some degree, of visibility, at least around groups like RAM or The Base, or Atomwaffen Division. And I’m sure that like, there definitely were some arrests, but I’m sure not everyone just gave up on the ideology. Where do you think that those folks are putting their energy now, do you have any speculation on that?
SS: That’s a good question. You know, by 2018, the fascist groups involved in the alt right, pretty much collapsed. You know, as Richard Spencer’s speaking tour got shut down and Traditionalist Worker Party fell apart in the Night of the Wrong Wives, that was really kind of the end of that being such a big and growing movement. And then the feds decided to smash Atomwaffen and The Base after the El Paso massacre, they finally were like, alright, well, this is a problem. And when they want to disrupt a network, they can really do it. So they have arrested most of those people and that’s put the more radical, well “militant” is the wrong word, the pro-terrorism, part of the Neo-Nazi and related milieu, has scattered it, has shattered it, really.
The biggest group now, this was something that a lot of people overlooked, but American Identity Movement dissolved the day before the election, who were one of the two big remaining white nationalists, you know, fascist groups. And they seem to have entered the Groyper movement, which is the real living part that’s come out of the white nationalists — well almost white nationalists because I believe they do allow in people of color, but run by white nationalists, part of the remaining part of the alt right — and they have done an entryist move to try to move the Trumpist base to the right. And they were, of course, present on the sixth, they had flags, they were present as a bloc. So that’s the main thrust of things. I think people maybe who were involved in 2016, 2018, I think a lot of them have probably given up being politically active. New people, especially tend to cycle through activists who are really active, you know, often cycle through an 18 months, a year. James Mason actually calls it the 18 Months Syndrome, which I like. And there’s a similar thing on the left, where a lot of people get involved in these mass movements, and then burn out pretty quickly, although some of them will remain. But I don’t know, it is actually a good question of where a lot of these people went. I mean, the people who run groups that help ex-white nationalists leave have said there’s more and more people coming to them, and coming through them. So it’s clear a chunk of people have been leaving the movement for the last couple years.
TFSR: Well that’s good news. I wonder if you could talk a little bit more about the Groyper movement? I know Nick Fuentes is the name that comes up frequently with that, but so they identify ideologically as fascist and are entryists into the Republican Party. Is that a fair description?
SS: I don’t know whether they identify as fascist or not. I mean, they’re definitely trying to downplay that. I mean, I think they are, and they originally were trying to enter the Republican Party very openly, and take positions and local GOPs. I think more they’re trying to influence the base more at this point. But it’s not a movement I’ve watched real closely either, to be honest. So I mean, they haven’t been at the forefront of anything, but they’re sort of simmering in the background, but I think they’re in one of the better positions moving forward. They haven’t disbanded. They’re not organizing independently as white nationalists. There’s a question of: do you organize independently as an independent political movement or as an adjunct, and somehow part of a bigger movement, and they’ve picked that strategy. And it seems like a successful strategy as all the other groups have collapsed, except Patriot Front, who are digging down into their sectarianism and their events are decreasing in size.
So I don’t know they’re, I think they’re in a good position, they’re in the best position of the white nationalist style groups. And I think going forward the militias are also going to be in a good position, they can easily pivot towards being anti-federal government, which are their traditional talking points. I was actually kind of surprised they were able to keep up their movement as much as they did under Trump.
TFSR: Yeah, I guess the idea of centralizing your authority, like, it seems like there’s a lot of strains, and I’m gonna forget the names of these specific divisions within a lot of the militia movements, but that sort of align with the idea of a strong Sheriff or like some sort of like constitutional sovereign, Dominionist, I guess, is a term that falls in there. And it seems like having a strong central authority that, to some degree is viewed as imposing, even as much as he didn’t, imposing like Christian values could sort of, like a lot of people were internalizing this idea of Trump as their strong leader, as a representative of America and of masculinity and all these things, so even if he was in the central government, he wasn’t viewed as being of the federal government. SS: Yeah I mean, I think that’s how they viewed him. He was a sort of singular figure and because he was fighting, quote-unquote “the swamp” they could say that was the federal government that they were opposed to. I agree that their basic themes were all reflected in Trump. The there’s an interesting history to this, that backs that perspective up, is a lot of the original militia movement comes out of a white supremacist group called Posse Comitatus, that was founded in 1971. And there was a split amongst white nationalist after the collapse of the segregationist movement by the civil rights movement, and the new laws by the federal government supporting civil rights.
Basically, one wing — and this actually happened specifically in a Christian identity church, a white supremacist church, run by a pastor named Swift — moved towards Neo-Nazism. And the thing with the Nazis is that they want a big government, you know, with total power and an economy that they alter in some ways, they want some control over the economy. And so Richard Butler took over Swift’s church and moved to Hayden Lake and established his compound and move towards Neo-Nazism. Another person in this church, William Gale founded Posse Comitatus, which, you know, became the basis of the militia movement. Instead of wanting more centralization after the failure of the segregationist movement, and wanting to take the government over — or take a government over, establish a new government — he moved in the other direction. And he said, Well, states rights failed, but what we need then is essentially kind of county rights, we need more decentralization, because then we can resist the federal government this way. It’s the same themes as you pointed out, it’s the same themes that are being pursued in two different tactical directions. The militias, I thought they did a very clever thing: all their talking points should have led them to oppose Trump, and they did a very clever move to somehow convince their base that they should actually support all the talking points that they, you know, all the things that they’ve opposed all these years. But I mean, it just shows us that what’s driving them is not a true desire for decentralization, but it’s merely a tactical way to achieve these reactionary goals.
TFSR: Localized, patriarchal, like authoritarianism, sort of.
SS: Yeah, pretty much pretty much.
TFSR: In a recent story in The Guardian, people monitoring the far right Q-Anon conspiracy movement speculated that the vanishing of Q Drops and a loss of faith in the community may lead to a large repelling of former followers. Would you talk a little bit about, because we haven’t really talked about Q-Anon on the show, and I’m sure that listeners have heard tons about it and maybe been doing their own research, there’s lots of podcasts about it. But would you talk about the antisemitic roots of conspiracy theories like Q-Anon, and efforts by white nationalist movements to draw them in?
SS: Yeah, I think they’re being black pilled. They’re already red pilled, right, because that’s like Trumpists. So now there is a real fear a lot of them will move further into sort of fascist circles. And and some of them will, I mean, I’m hesitant to say the majority of them will, but even if a few do that can be a significant gain for fascists in the United States. Most conspiracy theories have a relationship to antisemitism, either they’re sort of washed out de-anti-Semitized versions of conspiracy theories, where they emerge from them, keep the same structure, so often keep the same targets but sort of remove being explicit that they’re being targeted because they’re Jewish. Soros is a great example of this, right? Where as it’s become more popular, it’s not, it’s become unspecific that he’s Jewish. And people will even say, Well, that doesn’t matter. But the whole conspiracy theory was a traditional antisemitic conspiracy theory, and it was specified that he was Jewish and that’s why he was being targeted.
And once you get into these conspiracy circles, they move around. I always see it as a shell game, so you have three shells, and one of them is antisemitism, one is a sort of washed out antisemitism, and one of them is just something else. And the you know, the coin or whatever, the shells are constantly moving around, you have to guess which one it’s underneath. And so as people get in these discussion circles, there’s all kinds of cross pollination, and part of that cross pollination will be antisemitism, because that has created so many of the conspiracies, so many conspiracy theories originated as antisemitic conspiracy theories.
This idea of the global one where a government became the New World Order was antisemitic, all the stuff about the Federal Reserve, that was formed as an antisemitic conspiracy theory, Cultural Marxism, Soros, the list goes on and on. And once you get into conspiracy theories, it’s a narrative. It’s actually a pretty standardized narrative that’s been around a couple hundred years. And once you believe in that narrative, which is a fact free narrative, nothing stops you from moving into bigoted territory, right? You’ve already become dis-attached from facts and reality, you’re already playing around in a fantasy world and often switching around who’s the agent of a conspiracy.
So at some point, you know, the Jews, or specific Jews will become the target of the conspiracy theory. And you’re not epistemologically grounded, you’re not grounded in your sense of what you accept, to resist this anymore. Not for most people. Occasionally for Jews, people will draw a line, and a few other people, at the Jews being named, but, you know, sometimes you may get Jewish people who embrace these conspiracy theories, so.
TFSR: I guess I’m a separate, separate and final note, Matthew Heimbach has been repackaging himself as a former white nationalist. I didn’t know if you had any thoughts about his instance, in particular, but I’d be curious on your thoughts of how we as an antifascist movement can assess supposed turns from white nationalism and people who are drawn to the limelight, and what time maybe should pass, and what reparations would look like to prove that someone has actually moved away in more than just words from the activities. Do you have perspectives on when it makes sense to judge that someone has left the far right and can be listened to for useful perspectives?
SS: Yeah, I do. I’ve spent a long time talking to formers and I sort of helped someone who had already left the movement, he had just left, navigate this process over a year or two. I think it takes people a couple of years. A lot of this problem has been introduced by a group called Light Upon Light that’s run by a quote-unquote, “former Islamist” who attracted a bunch of quote-unquote, “former Nazis”. The problem is the group has allowed people to keep what are more moderate, far right views: Islamophobic views, anti-antifa views. And normally, formers or groups of formers, make people go through a process, make them make amends, and expect them to embrace some sort of equality for all, right? At the very least. Not to become left wingers, but embrace civil rights and equality for all as part of the repudiation. And Light Upon Light did not do that.
Jeff Shoep, who came out of the National Socialist Movement, almost overnight, became a former who was speaking out, and while I do believe he in particular, has honestly left white nationalism, I don’t think he’s gone through this process. And then his friend Heimbach, you know, again, suddenly, in a matter of months, declared himself a former white nationalist, and he, I don’t believe at all by his statements has left it in his heart. And now he’s left Light Upon Light and move back further to the right. And I just, I just don’t believe that he has, I think people should take a couple years and go through a process. They need to confront why they were attracted to this movement, they need to publicly talk about the damage they did, and they need to make amends. And, you know, I think this is not an instant process, and anyone who does this in six months or even a year, I wouldn’t necessarily trust.
Now, that doesn’t mean I don’t trust that they’ve left the movement and a sense of detaching themselves from those networks and stuff. I just don’t believe they’ve gone through this process. If you’re talking about when should we take their opinions seriously, I think they need to sit down with it. And all the former’s will say this, everyone I’ve talked to, or maybe the Light Upon Light people don’t, but like, they need to sit down and have a real internal dialogue about what it was that attracted them to this movement, and how it is that they’ve moved past these ideas, and if they have. It needs to be a real reckoning with themselves. So people who come out and immediately try to posit themselves, especially as very public formers, you know, I don’t buy it,
TFSR: I think also like, and again, as you say, it’s like not, it’s not to be expected that someone’s gonna move from, you know, from a far right, white nationalist, Neo-Nazi perspective, into an anti fascist or leftist perspective, or whatever. And maybe that’s not to be expected, and that’s fine. But like, Heimbach in particular is an individual who has been trying to hold and build a space that would like draw this third position. And so he’s already had a long time working through ideas of how do I appeal to the people on the left? How do I use language that will appeal to people who are left of center? How do I draw on narratives of identity politics and equality? You’re like a quote-unquote “right wing multiculturalism”, you could almost say, so, you know, that’s not to say that he couldn’t change. But he seems like someone who especially particularly has a prevalence towards being able to being comfortable using language in a way to manipulate people towards an argument that they wouldn’t think necessarily of adopting in the first place. I guess anyone that’s an organizer is going to try to do this sort of thing. But for me, in particular, I look at him and I look at his closest to like National Bolshevism or other projects like that, and it makes me think, like, I want to see for sure that he is doing this other work before I necessarily believe that comes out of his mouth.
SS: Yeah, no, I think the Third Positionists are in a better position to do that, because they tend publicly not to denigrate people of color. That was always his shtick in Traditionalist Worker Party, and tend to say that they want to stand up for the interests of the working class, and they’re interested in environmentalism, and it’s pretty easy to move that and claim it’s just not a racist perspective anymore. And you know, he doesn’t seem to have changed his tune very much. You know, it sounds like stuff he said in TWP. And he certainly hasn’t said what was wrong with TWP, and he hasn’t made any amends, people have to make amends. I believe they do. And he just hasn’t gone through any process. So there’s no reason to believe him.
This is gonna continue to be a problem where people like him say they’re leaving, but don’t seem to be leaving at all. I mean, they may leave the networks, and that does mean something, you know, that does mean something. But that doesn’t mean, I’d rather that they not, I don’t want these people really to join the left, not for a few years. We’re not going to gain that many of them. I think after a few years, and after going through this process, they can, but we’re probably going to have more and more people do that, like leave the networks, but still, you know, still talk far right still have more moderate far right views?
TFSR: Well, I was hoping that you could maybe tell us a bit about where people can find your writing, the publications that you’ve put out. For instance, 40 Ways to Fight Fascists: Street-Legal Tactics for Community Activists? Where can people find your stuff? And how can they support you on Patreon?
SS: So 40 Ways to Fight Fascists: Street-Legal Tactics for Community Activists is a guide I did with PopMob, the Popular Mobilization group in Portland, Oregon, that’s helped, bring people to the demonstrations out there. It does what it says on the tin, it offers 40 things that are legal, actions you can take to combat a fascist in the violent far right, a lot of options in there for people who can’t get out on the streets for whatever reason, if they’re, you know, physically disabled, or they have to take care of their families, or they’re elderly or whichever they are, that’s available for free on my website, it’s spencersunshine.com/fortyways, there’s printable PDFs there. I encourage people to print them out themselves and distribute them in their area.
My other writings are all available on my website spencersunshine.com, almost all of them are free. If you want to follow me on Twitter, it’s where I’m most active transform6789, on Facebook and Instagram, if you like funny, anti-far-right memes, follow my Instagram. And of course, I am an independent researcher and writer, I used to work for Think Tank, and I have left them and I don’t have any organizational support. So if you like to throw me a few clams on Patreon, you know, just Spencer Sunshine.
TFSR: That’s awesome. Is there anything else that I didn’t ask about that you want to mention?
SS: Yeah, sure. I think it’s a big Pandora’s Box about what’s going to happen for the next year, I think people need to be very aware and stay active for the next year. And I think the anti fascist movement, and monitors, you know, who don’t identify with that term, it goes up and down in reflection of the growth of the far right. And I think what happened last time, because I caught the big boom of the 80’s and 90’s, and then it went down and then it came back up in 2016-17, during that time almost all the structures collapsed. People need to make a plan and people need to make a commitment for having a longer term structure that stays in place in the way, for example they have in Germany and such, because it takes a while to get moving. And that’s a bad thing, because that means the fascist and other movements will move first, and will have to play catch up. And we want to try to prevent that situation from happening again.
TFSR: And I think that like one thing, when people think about anti-fascism in the US is we don’t necessarily have a positive vision towards it. Like, we maybe think or talk about people confronting in the street or doing the ongoing research, which is very helpful for communities to keep themselves safe, maybe training, but I think that there’s other groups, like for instance, PopMob that you wrote that piece with, that are doing above ground discussions and work around other things, and include anti fascism. So maybe this is also a good time for people to find their own, like positive antifascist projects to engage with.
SS: Yeah I think there needs to be like PopMob does, a lot of open grassroots and legal organizing, also, that can sustain for a longer period of time, that isn’t connected to the militant antifascist stuff. That turns too many people off. And it’s not always the best way to deal with some of these problems. If we want to reach a broader group of people, there needs to be a different kind of organizing, it can’t have the label of everyday antifascist, which is what PopMob uses. Or it could have another label, like I take the position of “it doesn’t matter”, you’re doing you know, it’s almost sometimes called The Work, you’re doing work against the far right or you’re not. So we want to make the work accessible to people.
And that can include really positive things, I think people should do — and I’ve covered some of this and 40 ways — a lot of educational work. This is done in Germany and other places where the antifascist movement is much broader. Like one of the things I like is memorial events where people that have been killed by the far right, or there’s been historic massacres, to sort of keep this on people’s minds in the community about what the stakes of this are. And just that this is a political movement that comes and goes in America. And you know, you can have reading groups or other other things, and understand that this is a movement that’s really part of American life. There’s been fascists, there’s been Nazis in the United States since the 1920’s. We’re, you know, coming up, I think 1922 was the first Nazi, so we’re coming up on 100 years of Nazism in America. And these other far right groups go back, you know, anti-Masonic theories were popular in the 1790’s.
Andrew Jackson’s presidency is often looked at as the first, kind of anti-liberal, far right movement that starts this consistent thing, the Klan starts in the 60’s. So we have to be aware, this is a permanent fixture of American life, and it may have a more moderate form, you know, sort of like Trumpist stuff that’s attached to the right wing of the Republican Party, or may have a more vicious form of Neo-Nazis and rather violence, street movements, and this isn’t going to go away.
People need to learn how to pay attention to this. I think the left lost vision, lost a sense that this was here, from 2000 to 2016, or 17, neo-liberalism became the single enemy on the right. And there became a loss of vision that you know, there could be this other populist far right, that was very vicious too.
TFSR: Thank you so much, Spencer.
SS: Thanks for having me on the show.
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Transcription of Interview with IGD & CrimethInc
TFSR: Would you please introduce yourselves as you see fit and whatever projects you affiliate with for the purpose of this chat?
CrimethInc: For the purpose of this conversation, I’m just a participant in CrimethInc Ex workers collective associated project.
ItsGoingDown: I work on ItsGoingDown.org which is a news media platform and podcasts and radio show, along with CrimethInc, The Final Straw, the Channel Zero Anarchist Podcast Network.
TFSR: Since the right wing riot in DC on January 6, many of the larger social media platforms have begun purging accounts affiliated with far right groups and tendencies present at the Capitol and big data has been de-platforming apps like Parler. Can y’all maybe talk about what you’ve seen with this and how you think it bodes for anti-authoritarian projects on the left that challenge the state?
IGD: I‘ll start off. I think one thing to point out is that there’s a narrative that this is, like, de-platforming censorship. I mean, obviously, we can point out that this is coming from private companies, not the state. I mean, the First Amendment is supposed to stop the state from censoring speech, and people’s ideas. It doesn’t have anything to do with private companies. I think which is interesting, because I would argue that there’s probably more evidence to support the fact that the government has put more pressure on private companies to de-platform anarchist, antifascist and people on the left. But I would say the tendency to remove far right groups and figures from platforms though has not come from like, you know, people picketing outside Twitter or sort of this push from below. Which is sort of how the right portrays it. It’s instead come after large scale incidents, things like at the Capitol, or Charlottesville, where these companies basically have freaked out.
If you read the book Antisocial, which is sort of like a history of the alt right online, I mean, literally, as Charlottesville was happening, the people at Reddit, like the people that run the company, were scrambling because they were terrified they were somehow going to be found legally responsible for what was going on. And they were literally purging all these big accounts. So it really has nothing to do with a personal political stance, or like getting pressure. I mean, from what I’ve heard from journalists and other people that have talked to people at Twitter, or have relationships, they’re very aware that certain people on the far right are literally, for years, have violated the terms of service. But yet they’ve made a decision not to ban them because either they have big accounts or they feel if they got rid of them that that would just cause too much of a riff, or a problem.
I think Trump is a really good example: they finally got to the point where they’re like, okay, we know that he’s gonna be on his way out, we can finally make a decision at this point where, you know, we can get rid of him, and we’re not gonna be in this weird political situation. Like we can successfully do that. And it’ll look fine because he’s just messed up so bad. I think like Alex Jones is another good example. They chose to get rid of Alex Jones at a time when he was facing all these lawsuits for the Sandy Hook stuff. So I mean, they made a good decision to take him off, because if they would have allowed him to continue, they might have been held legally responsible.
So I think that we have to remember that these corporations usually are taking these moves to remove stuff because they don’t want to be held legally responsible. I think the other side of the coin is like the stuff that they’re doing around things like Q-Anon or COVID-19 Truther-ism or stuff like that, there is a lot of pressure for them from different forces to get rid of that stuff. So it’s a little bit different. I think, like in that instance, recently, like when ItsGoingDown and CrimethInc was kicked off Facebook, I think that was very much an instance of people that were tied to the Trumpian state putting pressure on Facebook to remove certain pages. And in fact I think it’s very telling, in that instance, the names that Facebook gave the press when they were talking about the stuff that they removed, even though it was much larger than just several accounts. But it was you know, ItsGoingDown, CrimethInc, and the Youth Liberation Front in the Pacific Northwest. It was like they got a like an Andy Ngô dream list of accounts, especially for what was happening at the time, which is, you know, Portland was like the big story. So it made total sense to get rid of that stuff is very strategic move, and it had nothing to do with stopping violence or things in the street or anything like that. I think that there’s very different dynamics at play, in short, going on in terms of like how people on different sides are getting thrown off, just to start off the conversation.
C: Who they ban is an indication of the balance of power in our society, basically, to build off what what you’re saying. They ban people if they think that they could, that their speech on these platforms could contribute to a legal risk, but the legal risks are also determined by the balance of power, what’s viewed as legitimate, and how court cases would be likely to go. You know, they certainly would not have banned Trump from Twitter if Trump had won another term by a majority of votes and controlled everything. They would have been trying to figure out how to make peace with him because he would be the one calling the shots. They were able to ban him on his way out, and Jack Dorsey maintains that he was compelled to ban Trump by employees at Twitter who were pressing him to do so, that may be true, that may be the equivalent of labor organizing, but it certainly would not have happened if Trump had less power.
So that’s one of the things we’re gonna have to talk about, repeatedly in this conversation, is how the line between who is banned and who is not relates to the balance of power and how groups that are already targeted, and that are already marginal, can engage with that. The other thing that I want to speak to regarding the recent bands of Parler, and Donald Trump from social media platforms, is that this is taking place in a context in which the state apparatus, the FBI, the police, and so on, are dramatically refurbishing their image for the Biden years. And this whole sort of liberal centrist discourse that has been sympathetic to criticism of the police or the federal government over the last four years under Trump is shifting to cheer-leading for these things.
This is part of the shift to the right that is taking place across society even as the extreme right is excised from legitimacy. You know, and it’s taking place in the same context that now we see self-professed liberals calling for people from the Trump administration to go to Guantanamo Bay. Just accepting the premise that there should be a Guantanamo Bay when not that long ago, liberals were calling for Guantanamo Bay to be abolished.
So we’re really seeing state censorship, corporate censorship, and all of these things that previously would have only been endorsed by right wing groups become extended now to to become liberal discourses or even left discourses. And the risk is that whatever corporations, or for that matter governments, do to the far right, they will always use that as a cover to do the same thing to what they perceive to be the opposite numbers of those groups on the far left. So, as my friend said it, it’s not a coincidence that in summer when Facebook announced that they were banning Q-Anon militia groups, that they also banned CrimethInc, ItsGoingDown and dozens of other anarchist and antifascist journalists and publishing groups, that they will always take those steps. And so really, what we’re seeing is a re-consolidating of power and legitimacy in a political center that will absolutely go after the very same people who have been struggling against fascists all this time.
IGD: Just to kind of drive that point home real quick: two months ago, the New York Times did a little video on like New York Times opinion (if you go on to YouTube and type in “New York Times opinion Q-Anon” it’ll pop up) but it’s a short 10 minute video about Q-Anon. But like, two thirds of the way through, what they do is they say, like, conspiracy theories aren’t logical and then they use like several examples: they talk about conspiracy theories around the JFK assassination, they bring up something else, and then they say “look at anarchism”.
And it’s funny, because they have this picture of Noam Chomsky that pops up — which, of course, Chomsky has submitted stuff and had stuff run in the New York Times for years, which is I find ironic — but they say “anarchism has always never worked and always imploded whenever it’s been put into practice”. Which anybody that knows the history of anarchism knows that actually not true, that it’s actually a history of states and outside forces and fascists and Stalinists and capitalists destroying anarchist societies and projects. I think that that example in itself is telling because what they were trying to do is they were trying to create a narrative of that, you know, we’re the center, we make sense, you know, we’re based on facts and reason. And then there are these crazy people outside, whether it’s Q-Anon on on the right, or anarchist on the left, you know, and those are the real wackos, and stuff like that.
I think it’s also telling too that we could do a whole thing about Q-Anon and like, you know, the various forces that support it, and have pushed it, whether it’s people, state actors, or even people with deep pockets, and, you know, moneyed interests and stuff like that, as opposed to anarchism, which is this grassroots movement from below that’s existed for, you know, over 100 years. Wherever poor and working and oppressed people have struggled, there’s been anarchist. I mean, obviously, the two are very different, but they’re trying to really draw that line between them. I think that example, just kind of like really solidifies for me, at least, you know, the coming terrain of how the center sees things,
C: Right, you know, in a phrase, “narrow the Overton window”, they’re not saying “get rid of the far right, because they kill people”. They’re, you know, they’re saying, “narrow the Overton window, consolidate the legitimacy of the center and emphasize the legitimacy of the other groups”.
IDG: Yeah, and I think that’s why, going forward, it’s going to be important to push back, in terms of what we’re talking about here, but also in terms of any attempt by the state to enact new “domestic terrorism laws” that really are going to come back on us much more hard than anything on the far right. I mean, the state has more than enough tools to arrest everybody that’s already going online saying “yes, we will commit the crimes today, and here’s my address, and here’s what I plan to do, and here’s my five buddies I’m talking on discord about it with”. I mean, they’re very apt to go after those people if they choose to do so. What they chose to do over the past five years or so, as we’ve seen an ascendancy of social movements, is instead double down and focus on Black Lives Matter, who they’ve labeled “Black Identity Extremists”.
We know that there’s a “Iron Fist program” that the FBI has developed, this has been documented by outlets like the Intercept, which like COINTELPRO, they’ve only described in documents as a program to disrupt the Black liberation movement. We know through Fusion Center documents, like police and FBI and homeland security agents are looking at things like InfoWars as like legitimate sources.
If you look at things like the BlueLeaks, some of the stuff that’s coming out of that is just incredible, like FBI agents believing that antifascists are being paid by Bitcoin through ads on Craigslist to go to protests. I mean, it’s just batshit. But obviously the state has made a decision over the past couple of years to, surprise, surprise, go after autonomous anti-capitalist, anti-colonial, anti-racist movements from below as opposed to looking at the burgeoning far right threat. And now it’s outside their door. Now, it’s actually at the point where it’s starting to disrupt state power. And cause, you know, Democratic senators and house representatives to go into hiding at the Capitol. Now they want to paint it as this big issue where, you know, they’ve been killing us for years and stacking up corpses, but now they want to paint it as an issue that, you know, has to be dealt with.
TFSR: Well, the whole thing was run by a “Mad Dog” Chomsky, as they say, you know, the whole riot at the at the Capitol on the sixth. Well, I mean, kind of pulling back, you’ve both made the point that the experiences that you’ve had around getting pushed off of social media platforms, or fundraising platforms as years before, with subMedia and IGD off of Patreon, has been an effort by private corporations measuring the balance of power, and maybe the proclivities of the people that run those specific platforms in some instances, but oftentimes, worrying about how it’s going to look to their stockholders, and kicking off anti-authoritarian, leftist and anarchist projects from those sites in those platforms. Can you talk about a little bit about what the impact has been on your projects during that and sort of how you dealt with that?
C: Well, we were fortunate in that people responded immediately to the news that we’d been kicked off Facebook, when we were kicked off over the summer. There was actually a groundswell of support, I don’t think that was about our specific projects, CrimethInc, ItsGoingDown, and the other projects that were kicked off, so much as it was a spreading awareness that, rather than banning groups according to what risks they pose, groups are being banned for political reasons. This is a concern that is going to affect more and more people, I think it’s probable that the eventual endpoint of this trajectory is that it will be very difficult to talk about anything except centrist politics on these platforms at all.
So when we were kicked off Facebook, you know, there’s this open letter that 1000’s of people signed supporting us and directing attention to the situation, it didn’t really impact us that much. Even the groups that we know that we’re not kicked off Facebook were negatively impacted by the Facebook algorithms after this, so I think if we had not been kicked off, it would not have been very much different results in the long run. We’re still seeing the same amounts of traffic to our website, maybe we’d be seeing more if we hadn’t been kicked off?
I think it’s really an issue of what is legitimized, if they make it seem socially acceptable to ban people on the basis of their anarchist beliefs, from being able to communicate on these platforms, that is a step towards being able to legitimize other measures targeting people. And certainly when it happened, we were concerned because we’re like, well, you know, if you’re going to raid a village, first you cut off the electricity to that village, and diminishing our ability to communicate about what’s happening to anarchists and other activists against white supremacy and government state oppression is one of the steps that you’d have to take to be able to increase the ways that people are targeted. And when we talk about the push now to invest more resources in the state, those resources are being put directly in the hands of the same sort of people who did the capital building occupations, so we can be sure that there’s going to be more repression in the future.
But we’ve been fortunate in the dying days of the Trump administration, there was not the political will to carry that out. It’s possible that there still will not be, but we will have to do a lot of organizing, that doesn’t depend on platforms like Facebook and Instagram, to be able to maintain the ties with people necessary to weather the kind of repression that we can expect to see under the Biden administration.
IDG: Yeah, a couple of things. I mean, the thing with Patreon was so funny, because originally far right, I believe it was Greg Johnson, and that whole kind of crew — which is, interestingly enough, tied to Matt Gates in Florida — but I mean, they have launched a campaign to try to get IGD kicked off of Patreon. And originally, somebody from Patreon responded like, you know, well, actually, we think it’s really important that antifascists have their work supported and stuff like that. To which they were like, Oh, my God, how could they do that? But when Lauren Southern was then kicked off after she was engaged with a group of white nationalists trying to block and putting the lives of migrants in the Mediterranean Sea in danger because they wanted to create clickbait media for you know, Youtube and stuff like that, they were basically forced to do this kind of pound of flesh thing where they had to kick something off. And people like Tim Poole lobbied them to have ItsGoingDown removed.
I think it’s important also to point out that like in the example of Facebook, before they even kicked off, ItsGoingDown and CrimethInc, they really drastically changed the algorithms and the way that pages work. They also made it harder to get certain news sources. I mean, this affected the entire news media industry and anybody creating alternative media was severely impacted. This impacts everybody from Newsweek, down to Democracy Now to us and stuff like that. And that was designed to basically streamline Facebook as a way to generate money, they wanted people to pay to get clicks, basically. Which of course, you know, results in an output, which is that if you have money, you can then pay for more exposure. The end result is something like with the 2016 Trump administration run, where it’s like, they have lots of money, and they can actually pay and flood the internet with lies, and, you know, total fabrications.
You can look at everything that Cambridge Analytica did over the past couple years, in terms of the Trump election campaign. There’s a great documentary on Netflix called the Social Dilemma that’s about social media and the way the algorithms work. But the point is they’ve been slowly kind of pushing off independent, anti-capitalist left wing voices from the platform, since like, 2017, since Trump came into office. I think if you look at the breakdown of the most trafficked sites that basically are on Facebook, like the websites that are news based, that get the most clicks, it’s like The Daily Caller, The Daily Wire, Breitbart. It’s like, generally right wing or very far, right Trump-aligned websites.
That’s what basically Facebook has become, it’s become an echo chamber of boomers, talking about Syrian refugees coming to kill them and kick their puppies and stuff like that. And it’s no surprise then that when the pandemic hit, you saw literally like, hundreds and hundreds percent increase in Q-Anon and COVID conspiracies and stuff like that. I think it’s telling again, with the ban of the certain antifascist and anarchist accounts, they literally had to go back and create new rules to kick them off. They were like, well it doesn’t have to necessarily support violence in the speech, but it can kind of allude to it, or the people that are reading it can support it in the comments or something. It’s so vague that literally anything they could potentially kick off.
But of course, it’s just like when police passed a new law against dumpster diving, or like, people smoking outside, or, you know, the homeless people on a bench or something like that. I mean, it’s not necessarily that they’re gonna enforce it all the time, but that gives the police that tool to selectively enforce it, you know, whenever they want to. So it’s a, you know, an invasive instrument, which they can use to attack people whenever they want to. It’s been building I mean, the commons of the internet, if you will, has been becoming more and more policed, and obviously, ideas that attack the status quo, especially that are critical of the state, critical of white supremacy critical of capital they’ve been going after.
TFSR: So it makes me wonder, like, why do, I mean and our project does to some degree engage with social media, and tries to spread our message through it. I fucking hate it personally. But considering all of the downsides to working with social media, considering that there are all these algorithms that you have to constantly try to figure out how to work around, considering getting de-platformed all the time, considering the fact that so many of these social media platforms frequently hand over information or allow backdoors into law enforcement to surveil “extremists”, quote-unquote, in whatever shade you find them, whether it be the far right, or anarchists or autonomists or what have you. How do you all fall on the line of: are we promoting continued use of these platforms by engaging in them? How much are we giving clickbait to law enforcement, who follows who clicks on what? And how much are we actually reaching new audiences? Or are we drawing audiences away from these platforms while still engaging with it?
C: So as we’re talking with people from subMedia about this — because they were proposing that we should organize a campaign to have anarchists withdraw from Facebook, for example — coming out of those conversations, I spoke with some comrades overseas. You know, in some parts of the world, anarchist projects still rely chiefly on Facebook. The occupied social center, Rog, that was just evicted today in Ljubljana, Slovenia, the statement about the eviction is on Facebook, that’s where you have to go if you want to see it. And I said, if we were to make a concerted push to have anarchists withdraw from at least the most compromised social media platforms that involve the most surveillance, how do we do that in a way that doesn’t mean that we lose contact with groups like yours that depended on Facebook chiefly. And they made the reasonable argument the anarchists in their community already are in touch with each other, already communicate with each other through platforms like Signal. But the thing is that they have to be in touch with people outside of their community in order to have the reach that they need to be able to put into effect their ambitious projects to actually change society. And that’s why people maintain presences for radical projects on social media platforms, including Facebook and Instagram, despite all the compromises.
For us, as anarchists, I think the challenge is always to be in this world, but not of it, to take action in a social context when the terrain itself is against us. As anarchists we’re always fighting not only our adversaries, but against the terrain itself, we’re trying to transform it into something that fosters horizontality, even as it surveils us, even as it rewards those who have the money to buy the kind of media exposure that they need, even as it structures the distribution of information according to existing power disparities. So I think you should never use a tool for the purposes it was designed for in a capitalist society, but at the same time, I don’t think that that always means that the best thing is for us to just refuse unilaterally to use these tools, because for good or for ill, human discourse has largely been fitted to these structures now and the question is more how to subvert them than how to refuse them entirely. I think that we should evaluate the effectiveness of our interventions on corporate social media platforms, according to how efficiently they move people from those platforms to more secure and more reliable formats for engagement. Does your tweet just result in 1000 likes? Or does it actually compel people to form affinity groups and reading groups and to do in person organizing? These are the sort of questions we need to be asking.
The process of determining who will be banned from social media is also the process of establishing what the social consensus will be. I mentioned earlier that it’s determined by the existing balance of power. But it’s not just the result of pre-existing conditions, it also gives rise to conditions. And when it comes to this process of establishing social consensus, what isn’t and is not acceptable, we have to be in that conversation. You know, and actually, we made a lot of progress over the last couple years in helping to shape widespread notions of what is legitimate and what is illegitimate, you know, many people now are critical of police, are open to the idea that the entire justice system or the state apparatus, the capitalist system needs to be deconstructed, that our society needs to be reorganized. And we have to establish access to all of these people to be able to have the conversations that need to unfold. We just should never trust that the platforms that we’re using, the ones that we didn’t build, we should never trust that they will do the work for us or that they exist to fulfill our goals.
IGD: Yeah, I mean, I think the question that you’re asking is a big one. And I think we should be definitely talking about it. I think that, you know, there are alternatives being built. You know, right now, there are servers that are on Mastodon that are creating basically an alternative to Twitter. Right now ItsGoingDown has like, I think, coming up on almost 5,000 followers, which is pretty good, considering you know, that project hasn’t really been promoted that much and it’s been slowly building. But there’s a growing community of people. They’re not only building kind of alternative social media infrastructure, but joining and following being part of the discussion.
What have we gained from like being on social media? I mean, the fact that, for instance, the Washington Post is quoting various Youth Liberation Front collectives across the country about certain things happening, or quoting various tweets from ItsGoingDown. I think what’s happened is that as anarchists have become part of the story, our voices then have been harder to basically remove from the conversation. And the fact that it’s out there and people are looking at it, that means that they can’t just brush it aside and say we don’t exist, we don’t have something to say. On the other hand, that means that as soon as those voices are gone, or they’re taken off, or they’re taken away, or even if a corporation can come in and say, “Oh, these people were naughty, and they said bad things, and they’re promoting violence” I mean, we can turn around and quote that and run with that. So I mean, if those voices are taken off, that means that we’re taking away from the conversation, and it’s just as likely that we’ll be quickly forgotten, or people won’t reach out to talk to us.
I think that going to the Biden administration, I mean I would guess that the platform that anarchists have gotten over the past four years is going to get a lot smaller in terms of doing the mass media is going to be willing to talk to anarchists. I think that there’s gonna be some people like journalists, that are anarchists that have developed the following that will continue to write and, you know, continue to get their stuff out there, but I think that it’s probably a good guess that they’re gonna less, and less be willing to reach out and talk to anarchists about what they think about anti-fascism or community organizing or different struggles happening. I mean, then again, we’ll see I mean, who knows what’s going to happen in the coming terrain?
You know, I just think, also, too, we’ve built up a large following in a lot of these projects and hopefully that’s not going to go away. Like ItsGoingDown, I would say that probably right now, we have just as many people, probably more, that listen to our podcasts than maybe go on the website and read the articles. You know, the podcast community, the people that listen to the show is very massive, and like we have a radio presence and stuff like that. But again, like, as the other person brought up, how do we translate that into like real world engagement?
The last big point I’ll make is that I don’t think that just because social media is such a defining element of our daily lives that we just basically have to give up and just say, Okay, this is the terrain in which we talk to people on like, this is it, this is the only way. We should actually really work at going back and remember that we can actually interact with people face to face, like we can actually have a public presence. I think like getting back to being really good at that, and doing that well. And, you know, having posters up, having flyers, tabling regularly outside, producing publications, running physical spaces, I mean, we do all that stuff and we do it pretty well. The fact that we have this network of infrastructure, like imagine if the alt right had the same amount of physical stuff that the anarchist and autonomous movements have, it’d be terrifying! You know, like, in some cities there’s multiple spaces.
The one great thing about social media is that I mean, if you put something out and it goes very far, or if you’re speaking to something that’s happening, you have the opportunity to reach other people in the public that are already involved in the anarchist conversation or projects, stuff like that. So I mean, the exposure to anarchist ideas, over the past four or five years has grown exponentially. And obviously, we want that to continue. But I think we’ve got to plan into that, that we very well may be kicked off a lot of these big platforms. And the way to make sure that that’s not going to stop what we’re doing is to, you know, have the ability to organize our own communities like in the real world.
TFSR: Yeah, I totally agree. And the work that we’re doing online needs to be a first step, or a part of a conversation, that draws more people into those real life engagements, because we’re not gonna find liberation, we may find comrades on the way, but we’re not gonna find liberation through these platforms. And I know both of the projects that the two of you work with are in and of themselves alternative platforms with so many different facets to how they communicate and the range of voices that they contain within them, which I think is really awesome. I’d like to finish up by asking sort of, are there any like interesting discussions that you think or platforms or directions that people could be taking, where they think about how we diversify the way that we get our voice out, as we’ve faced, either silencing through platforms shutting down or shutting us out? Or, for instance, the other day when signal was down for a good long period of time, I think people started exploring other encrypted applications. I know that CrimethInc, for instance, is also recently engaged with an app called Signal Boost, which I think is interesting to use a new tool to create encrypted phone trees. I don’t know if you had any closing thoughts and examples that you want to bring up.
IGD: Yeah, I think Mastodon is great. The downside of course, is that there’s not a huge amount of people that are on it that are outside of you know, the anarchist space. But you know, I’d remind people that like, for instance, on Twitter, we’re probably the largest anarchist presences, I think it’s like 1% of the US population is on Twitter, and it skews more towards celebrities and journalists, politicians and stuff. It’s definitely not an accurate representation of, you know, the proletariat, the United States or something like that. So, again, even these social media platforms are somewhat limiting, and that I think the real work remains to be done on the streets. And if we can build a visible presence there, I mean, it doesn’t matter if they’re going to kick us off of some social media. I mean, obviously, it’ll matter, but we’re still going to have those connections to people where we live, and I think that’s ultimately what’s what’s really important.
But yeah, I would encourage people to check out Mastodon, if you go to itsgoingdown.org, there is a link right on the site where you can go and check out our Mastodon. There’s basically, the way the Mastodon works is, there’s all these different groups that have servers and they all federate together, it’s pretty cool. It’s definitely anarchy in action on the internet.
I would also encourage people to check out the Channel Zero Anarchist Podcast Network, which is growing. We just included the Indigenous Action podcast, and Sima Lee’s Maroon podcast, it’s growing all the time, there’s great shows, there’s just an amazing network of content that’s been produced. It’s just you know, anarchist politics across the board, from a variety of different groups and perspectives, and also just topics that people are talking about, whether it’s people talking about tenant organizing, or stuff that’s going on in the prisons, or anti-fascism or news or theory, there’s a whole breadth of stuff that’s going on, that people are covering.
C: Just to conclude, from our perspective, as an anarchist collective, that’s now more than a quarter of a century old, we proceeded the social media era. You know, when we got started, we’re mailing each other packages of raw materials to make zines, basically, via cut and paste, we were talking to each other from payphones, you know, and the different kinds of media platforms that we’ve had to use to communicate have shifted dramatically since the mid 1990’s. We’ve won battles and lost battles on each of those fronts, but the terrain keeps changing and the struggle continues, you know.
The good news is that the same forces, the same dynamics and tendencies that are driving us off of some of these corporate media platforms are going to erode the relevance of the platforms themselves. Facebook is not going to be the most important communications platform for the generation that is coming of age right now. And we won’t have to reach them on Facebook, we may have to figure out how to make Tiktok videos in which we lip sync to songs in order to get our ideas across. Which is terrifying for people like us, we’re basically boomers, you know, but the struggle continues; we just have to adjust to a new context and knowing that that won’t be the final phase either.
Throughout all of this, as my comrade said, the engagement in the real world, IRL, on the streets ,is going to be one of the most important things. Even if they ban us from every platform, if there are stickers, if there are posters up in public, if there are dramatic actions that speak for themselves, other people are going to report on those and the word will get out there. My hope is that in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, when people start to feel at ease coming back together again, that there will be a renaissance of embodied in person social life, and that people will want to be around each other at gatherings. And that we will see people forming reading groups, hopefully establishing new info shops, and that over the past year, we’ve gotten to experience the limitations of having our entire social lives take place through zoom, you know, for those who even have computer access. And there will be an eagerness to return to more embodied in person projects and relationships. For me that that is the foundation of the most effective politics, because the ties that you can create there and the things that you can do together are more intimate, more deep rooted and more powerful.
TFSR: It was such a pity that the together space that happened earlier this year and through a lot of the summer couldn’t very easily be followed up with a continuation of that, and like a deepening of relationships with all the people that I met in the streets.
TFSR: It was definitely like deadened residence afterwards. I want to echo what you said, like, let’s hope for this year. Let’s make it happen.
C: Yeah, exactly. Let’s make it happen. And this is a good time right now for anarchists and other ambitious creative people who have everyone’s best interests at heart to be brainstorming what kind of projects we could kick off this summer that will draw people together, that will involve being in physical space together. Maybe this is a time when people could get their hands on spaces that could host some of these mutual aid projects that have gotten off the ground, and then we could be watching films or reading zines and discussing them together or whatever the 2021 version of that would be.
TFSR: Well, thank you so much for taking the time to have this conversation. I’ve really enjoyed it. And yeah, I’m so glad to engage in similar projects to you and get to share space and call you a comrade.
ShineWhite on Turning Razor Wire Plantations Into Schools of Liberation
The following is a conversation with ShineWhite. ShineWhite is the former spokesperson for the National White Panther Organization, a part of the United Panther Movement. There was quite recently a split in the UPM and ShineWhite is now affiliated with the Revolutionary Intercommunal Black Panther Party.
In this conversation, ShineWhite talks about the White Panther Organization that he was representing at the time of this chat, how he became politicized in North Carolina Prisons, the terrible conditions amidst the covid pandemic and beyond, anti-racist and anti-capitalist organizing in the NCDPS system, the use of the Security Threat Group status in NC prisons and reprisals he’s faced for his call out in 2018 for NC prisoners to participate in a Prison Strike which dovetailed well with the Nationwide Prison Strike of that year as well as other organizing.
You can write ShineWhite at the time of this publication at the following address, using ShineWhite only on the inside of the letter:
Joseph Stewart #0802041
633 Old Landfill Rd,
Taylorsville, NC 28681
You can hear the Sean Swain segment, read with the help of Nichole of Pynk Spots podcast (member of the Channel Zero Network) starting at [00:45:43]. More info on the subject can be found at KilledByPolice.Net
Social Media & Transcription
Just a brief announcement. TFSR is continuing it’s Patreon push to pay for transcription work of our episodes to allow our guests voices to get further. If you want to help in the process and have some extra moneys, for every recurring donation of over $10 we get we are closer to paying for another week a month of transcription. You can learn more at our Patreon. For people that donate at that level and above, we’ll be sending a zine a month, plus other thank-yous.
We are also going to experiment with a couple of new social media platforms. While we don’t suggest people join the Telegram Platform for organizing on, if you’re already on there you can find our telegram channel to find our episodes, found at T.Me/TFSRadio. Soon, we will be starting to post to Kolektiva video platform, similar to our youtube account.
TFSR: For the listening audience, would you please introduce yourself with your name, location and how you came to be there?
ShineWhite: Foremost, All Power To The People! My name is Joseph Stewart, but I am known by my komrades and others as Komrade ShineWhite. I am the national spokesperson for the White Panther Organization.
I am currently being held at Alexander Correctional, one of North Carolina’s worst prisons due to the racist and prejudiced beliefs that are espoused by the Administration all the way down to the slave patrol guards who patrol the concrete fields of this razor-wire plantation. Alexander Correctional is located in a rural area of North Carolina, the radio of whites to people of color who are employed here is 8 to 1. The environment is very hostile.
I was emergency transferred here a couple of months ago during this pandemic despite the courts ordering prison officials to halt all transfers to prevent the spread of the corona virus. I was transferred from Central Prison due to my political organizing there. Within the past four years I have been transferred from facility to facility, which is a tactic used by prison officials to stifle my advocacy efforts, to impede me from organizing prisoners, which is vital if we intend to redress and ameliorate the living conditions within these prisons
TFSR: How did you come to be politicized and what is the nature of your current endeavor?
ShineWhite: I am a firm believer that poverty and repression compels one to become politicized. But there was an incident that occurred while I was in the county jail awaiting trial for the charges I am currently incarcerated for that was the catalyst of my politicization.
It was in 2012. I had assaulted a guard that was employed at the county jail that had been antagonizing me for several months. It wasn’t an average assault, I had taken it to the extreme. For this I wasn’t placed in a Regulatory Solitary Confinement cell, I was placed behind the wall which is a cell that’s secluded from everything and everyone.
Placed in the cell with nothing but the jail uniform I had on there was nothing to do but reflect on life and what the future would look like if I continued living the way I was, engaged in lumpen activities failing to realize that imposing the oppression I was subjected to on others made me a proxy of those I claimed I hated…
As the days passed, boredom began to set in. I decided to get down and do some push ups. As I was on the ground I happened to look under the bed and noticed a book in the far corner. Crawling under the bed, retrieving the book I noticed the words “Blood In My Eye.” Assuming that it was an urban fiction book that was based on the Street Formation I was representing I quickly got back on the bed and attempted to read the book.
I say attempted because at the time I was unable to read or write past the 6th grade level. I spent most of my adolescent years in and out of state-institutions. An education wasn’t the primary focus of those who ran these reform schools, group homes, etc…
Unable to read or comprehend the book, I became frustrated and threw it to the side. By this time I had been told by the guards who would bring me my three meals a day that I wasn’t leaving that cell unless I made bond or was sent to prison.
My days were spent trying to read George’s book. Weeks had passed and I was still unable to read the majority of the book. I began to write all the words I could not pronounce or understand on the walls of the cell. This went on for two months before anyone noticed. One morning a Sergeant of the jail who I have known my entire life brought me my breakfast tray, noticed the walls covered in writing, questioned what I had going on. I explained that the words on the wall were out of a book I was trying to read, I wrote the words on the walls to memorize them so once I had access to a dictionary I would look them up. He asked me what I was reading, I showed him the book that had been thrown across my cell many times, bent up and been cursed by me out of frustration stemming from my inability to read it.
Weeks had passed before this same Sergeant came back to visit with me. Bringing me my breakfast he had two books in his hand and a note pad. He said if I agree to stop writing on the walls and clean off what I had written, he would give me the books and the notepad. Quickly agreeing, I was handed over a Websters dictionary, “Soledad Brother” and a notepad.
Neglecting to eat my tray there was a word that I was dying to look up the meaning of.
“Revolutionary: one engaged in a Revolution”
Quickly moving on to search for the word Revolution.
“Revolution: a sudden, radical or complete change”
I asked myself “Am I a Revolutionary? What am I changing?” Not fully comprehending what revolution was at the time, I moved on to other words, but the question “Am I a Revolutionary?” continued to enter my mind. I wanted to make a change, I wanted to be a Revolutionary because George had been a Revolutionary and he spoke highly of other Revolutionaries. A Revolutionary is smart, I wanted to be smart. Revolutionaries fought, I wanted to fight. I had to become a Revolutionary. I didn’t fully understand what a Revolutionary was, but yet I knew to become one I had to become smart. The dictionary became my best friend, reading George’s books were painstaking in the beginning. I had to stop every other word to look up its meaning.
Komrade George changed me, he Revolutionized me in a small cell secluded from everyone for 9 months. I had become politicized! Sentenced close to twenty years, I’ve been feeding my consciousness ever since. I don’t tell a lot of people but I have a learning disability that becomes discouraging at times. It’s difficult for me to grasp what I’m reading the frist time, I have to read it over and over before I am fully able to comprehend it. I am self-educated, the past four years of my life was spent in solitary confinement. I have recently been released to general population thanks to the support of my outside network coordinating a national campaign to have me released.
Solitary confinement compels me to either grow or die mentally. I used my time to further my education in areas that would benefit the movement. Being that I am incarcerated and will remain incarcerated for at least the next seven years, my primary focus is to build up the White Panther Organization within prisons nationwide. For a Revolutionary or liberator of the people who is incarcerated, our primary focus should be to transform these razor-wire plantations into schools of liberation. Thus, upon their release, prisoners can return to their communities armed with an education that would enable them to transform their communities into base areas of cultural, social and political Revolution. This is the necessary first stage of the Revolutionary war.
TFSR: Would you tell us in some detail about the White Panther Organization, it’s philosophy and it’s activities as you can?
ShineWhite: The WPO serves as an arm to the peoples vanguard, the New Afrikan Black Panther Party (NABPP) whose primary purpose is to lead the fight against national oppression and link this to the international proletarian revolution. Our ideological and political line is Pantherism. The politics of Pantherism is Revolutionary nationalism and internationalism illuminated by Marxism-Leninism-Maoism. Our strategy for Revolution is a national and international United Front Against Imperialism.
Our job as White Panthers is to put in work among the white masses and poor white communities, winning them over to support the Panther 10-point program. The 10-point programs of both the NABPP and the WPO. Both can be read at ShineWhite.Home.Blog or email email@example.com and request a copy of each.
As White Panthers, we are more than a white support group of the NABPP. History has shown that white support groups advance the Revolution. We as White Panthers recognize that we must be all-the-way Revolutionaries that work diligently to organize and build anti-racist, anti-fascist, anti-capitalist and other progressive consensus among poor whites who are also subjected to class oppression.
As I already mentioned, it is our primary focus to transform these razor-wire plantations into “schools of liberation” and the oppressed communities into base areas of cultural, social and political Revolution. To do so, it’s imperative that we re-educate our white brothers and sisters as well as our non-binary komrades who have been deluded by racist, White Supremacist propaganda and ideology into opposing their own class interests.
With the help of my Anarchist Komrades and my partner, Nadia, we have started a WPO newsletter. A dope newsletter, I must say, that serves as an educational tool used to teach and popularize the history of our ancestors who recognized the need for Resistance against slavery and recognized the need of Class Struggle such as John Brown, Bill Blizzard, Marilyn Buck, Mother Jones and many more.
Prisons are seedbeds. This is where the Revolutionary is grown. Our newsletter prunes and nurtures the reader, enabling them to blossom into all-the-way Revolutionary thinkers.
We have a Toy Drive for the children of prisoners. We understand the importance of family and the need of a father in the lives of these children. At this time we are limited to what we’re able to do to ensure relationships between prisoners and their children remain strong and continue to grow. We did this toy drive to show prisoners as well as their families that the Panthers have their back. The first 30 prisoners who wrote to us with their child’s name, age and address got toys sent to them with a message from their father . You know we are just trying to serve the people. We have plans once this covid-19 mess clears up to provide transportation for the families of prisoners who are unable to visit their incarcerated loved ones due to lack of transportation. Strong family ties create strong community ties, both are vital to advancement of our struggle.
We have a couple different endeavors in the works such as an STG / SRG campaign to address the draconian policies that those of us who have been validated as an STG / SRG are subjected to. This is something I will expand on later in this interview.
But I hope I am able to provide the resources needed to have Ruchell Magee released from prison. I intend to exhaust every avenue to have this done. Several of the elders have been released, most recently Jalil Muntaqim.
Ruchell is one of the longest held political prisoners, he has been incarcerated since the 1960’s, people, it’s time that all put forth effort to have Ruchell Magee released. We, despite what political ideology you espouse, must work diligently to expose the use of the criminal [in]justice system as an instrument of political repression and demand amnesty for our imprisoned elders. Those of you who desire Revolution, it’s essential that you defend the imprisoned Revolutionaries. This is an essential part of building for Revolution.
TFSR: You have received push-back from the NCDPS for your political organizing, including your call in 2018 for NC participation in the Nationwide Prison Strike. Can you talk about the repression you’ve faced?
ShineWhite: As our Minister of Defense Kevin Rashid pointed out, “Nothing is more dangerous to a system that depends on misinformation than a voice that obeys it’s own dictates and has the courage to speak out.” Since gaining the support of my komrades on the outside who amplified my voice, I’ve been working diligently to report and pursue public exposure and redress of the brutality, torture and abuses taking place within these razor-wire plantations. As I mentioned earlier, the past four years of my incarceration were spent in solitary confinement. After calling for for NC prisoners to participate in the 2018 national prison strike I was sent to NC’s only supermax unit at Polk Correctional. On this unit, the cells are secluded from everything and everyone. You don’t leave your cell for nothing, a cell that’s smaller than the average parking space at your local Walmart.
While being held there I witnessed prison guards wantonly murder prisoner Freddie “Barn” Pickett. I exposed those involved as well as their claim that he had committed suicide. This got national attention and some of those involved were fired. This is when the reprisals really intensified. On January 14, 2019 (my birthday), shards of glass were found in my food. A call to action was put out demanding that I be transferred. During my transfer, all of my personal belongings were lost, this has taken place several times.
After organizing a hunger strike and my outside support network coordinating a phone zap to address the living conditions at Scotland Correctional, prison guards entered my cell and physically attacked me, fracturing my ribs as well as my right hand.
I’ve been subjected to many forms of reprisals at the hands of my overseers and continue to this day to be subjected to harsh mail censorship. Correctional officers spread propaganda that I am a snitch. I’ve seen it all and at times I almost allowed it to deter me. But the words of Komrade George would always enter my mind when I was weak, “If we accept Revolution, we must accept all that it implies: repression, counter-terrorism, days filled with work, nervous strain, prison, funerals.” You can always tell how much of a threat you are by the intensity of the repression or the actions taken to suppress your advocacy efforts. Wait until we kick off this SRG campaign.
TFSR: There are all sorts of organizations inside prison walls and the WPO and affiliated New Afrikan Black Panther Party organizers have received persecution by authorities with the claim that these groups are SRG’s, or Security Risk Groups. What is an SRG, how do you answer the charge of the accusation of being essentially a gang inside NC prisons, and how does it’s membership relate to other groups determined as SRGs?
ShineWhite: Prison officials claim that a Security Risk Group (SRG) is a group os prisoners that set themselves apart from others, pose a threat to the security or safety of staff or other prisoners, or are disruptive to programs or the orderly management of the facility.
Our Minister of Defense, Komrade Kevin Rashid, recently wrote a piece on this, titled “How the pigs abuse gang levels,” explaining how a majority of the SRG investigations and their staff are white and have been trained into a hostile doctrinaire view of the so-called ‘gang culture.’
I can’t speak about other states and how a prisoner becomes validated as a member of an SRG, but here in NC the slightest thing can get you validated such as having tattoos of stars or associating with prisoners who are already validated.
The North Carolina Department of Public Safety (NCDPS) does not have an SRG policy in place to outline reasonable due process rights to dispute being validated or to present evidence that would prove that the claims being made against you are false. I know several prisoners who have been validated that are not affiliated with any group. They are subjected to repressive sanctions and discriminatory treatment which have no reasonable purpose or justification. Some of these sanctions are, but aren’t limited to:
longer solitary confinement terms than non-validated prisoners for rule violations that are not ‘gang’ related;
restricted to two 15 minute phone calls a month, please tell me how a father can maintain a healthy relationship with his child with only two phone calls a month…;
harsher and often unreasonable censorship of mail, both incoming and outgoing. SRG staff use the claim that my mail is being denied due to it being SRG related. I deal with this at least 4 times a week. They use this to impede and disrupt my correspondences. Everything coming in from my partner Nadia is denied. She knows how harsh the censoring of my mail is, she has been dealing with it for over a year and a half now. She isn’t going to write anything out the way. But, yet Hitler’s helpers find an excuse to deny her mail often. My mail is being held for weeks at a time before it is sent out, if it even IS sent out. The incoming mail is held for weeks before it is given to me. SRG feels as if they can do as they please and until their arrogance and pompousness is checked they will continue to do as they please. This is why it is imperative that we coordinate a campaign that we not only expose these SRG sanctions but also compel public officials to redress the violation of our Constitutional rights. This isn’t just happening here in NC, this is taking place across the nation, people. And as advocates inside and outside of prison, a campaign addressing the draconian policies that prisoners nationwide are subjected to, we must put our resources together and organize against this;
Prisoners who are validated are only permitted visits with immediate family members when there is no evidence to prove that visiting with someone beyond an immediate family member would be a threat to the safety of the facility;
prisoners who are validated are being denied access to any type of educational or rehabilitative programming;
on February 5th of 2019, Prison officials incorporated a policy that prohibited prisoners from receiving financial support from anyone that wasn’t on the prisoners approved visitation list. As I have mentioned, Prisoners who have been validated can only receive visits from immediate famliiy members. The majority of the prisoners who ARE in gangs come from broken families or have been raised by aunts and uncles. This restriction targets poor, Black and Brown prisoners. If one has been adopted, or if their mother, father, sister or brother has been convicted of a felony, they are unable to apply for visitation. This restriction has created an environment within these prisons that makes it hard on the average prisoner due to all of the strong-arming and extortion taking place from prisoners unable to receive financial support due to their SRG validation. But by creating such an environment, it solidifies the request for more funding to solve the so-called ‘gang problems’, it solidifies the 23 hour a day lock-downs.
As far as the WPO or NAABP being recognized as an SRG in NC, that danger doesn’t currently exist due to my relentless advocacy efforts to have both removed from the list as an SRG. This was done with the help of Senator Jayce Waddell who sits on the Senate Select committee for Prison Safety, as well as with the information provide by Komrade Malik Washington.
You see, the US Supreme Court has long held that “minority”/ dissident groups such as the WPO and NABPP have the same First Amendment right to engage in political expression and association as do the two major political parties.
The NABPP and the WPO are above ground Communist, Non-violent, Anti-Racist, predominantly New Afrikan and white organizations/ political parties. In no way do we promote anything illegal, or gang related. The courts outlawed censorship and discrimination against Communist groups by goernment officials long ago. By pointing this out to prison administrators and showing ase laws such as Brandenburg v. Ohio, I was able to have both the NABPP and WPO removed from the list of recognized security Risk Groups. But this still hasn’t decreased the political intolerance shown by prison officials.
I am validated as a level 3 Blood, the only white person in NC validated as such. This stems from when I first entered the prison system back in the early 2000’s. With this label on me, SRG staff use it to suppress my advocacy efforts claiming that I am organizing gang members.
To be completely honest, it’s vital that we gain the support of the street formations. Their support is essential to redressing not only these SRG restrictions but society as well. Both the government as well as these prison officials are aware of this, this is hwy they’re diligently working to create situations and environments to keep the members of these street formations at each others’ necks.
For example, the J-Pay Restriction policy I mentioned earlier that was incorporated on February 5th, 2019. By prohibiting prisoners who have been validated as an SRG from receiving financial support from anyone beyond immediate family, the policy has drastically increased the violence between the street formations within NC prisons. Poverty breeds violence. Not only has this policy increased the gang on gang violence, but also has fostered a very dangerous environment for those who are not affiliated with any of the street formations. Prisoners I’ve known for years are now joining these street formations just so they can enjoy the Canteen they’re able to purchase. The miscreants who incorporated this policy claimed it was done to prevent the strong-arming and other criminal activities that take place within NC prisons. This policy has done the opposite.
These are not tactics only being used in NC prisons, it’s taken place nationwide. We as Panthers are working to build a Clenched Fist Alliance, that would united all the street formations toward a common Revolutionary alliance that would address the oppressive living conditions within all prisons. I‘m aware this is a colossal task, but it can be done and should be done.
The members of these street formations relate to us and the Panthers relate to them, not relating to their lumpen tendencies but along the lines they are brothers and sisters who are from our communities, who are subjected to as many forms of oppression as the next person. Before I came to be a Panther myself, I was of the lumpen strata. Just as each and every member of both the NABPP and the WPO were.
The lumpen are not a class in the fullest sense but part of the lower strata of the proletariat. Lumpen means broken. The lumpen proletariat are those who exist by illegal means or hustle. The street formations are made up of the lumpen proletariat. They’ve been conditioned to believe that they only way to survive is by illegal hustles and in some of their situations this is true.
Some of them cannot be reached, but there are many who can. By showing them patience and that we are dedicated to redressing issues that affect them we’re able to Pantherize them, gaining their trust as well as their support. I’m in the trenches with these guys daily and many are my close komrades, their struggle is my struggle.
There’s other self-acclaimed prison activists within NC prisons who consistently write about gang violence and how they are being affected by it and how the street formations are retaliating against them because of their advocacy efforts. I’m sure some of the listeners have read about this recently. I want to clarify something quickly before we move on to the next question. I’ve been on the frontlines of this prison movement here in NC for the past six years and have organized many demonstrations which had the support of the street formations, not once have any members of the street formations attempted to retaliate against me. So for the prisoner who has been writing to those of y’all on the outside who publish and support our advocacy efforts here in NC, telling the people that he was attacked by gang members because he had exposed the prison officials where he was being held at, it is falsehood. I myself personally investigated his claims and found them to be untruthful. By lying, it only help s those we’re supposed to be fighting against. I know this doesn’t relate to the question you asked, komrade, but I wanted to put that out there because this movement is very important to me. I have sacrificed so much and I’m willing to sacrifice it all to assure the movement continues to thrive here in NC.
But, as far as the relationship between myself and those of the street formations, I stand in solidarity with them and will continue to work diligently toward building a Clenched Fist Alliance amongst them.
TFSR: Race in the US is a major schism among the working classes that is used to pit us against each other, as is pretty standard in settler-states founded by Great Britain. And prison hierarchies and organization reproduce and often improve upon those divisions. Can you talk about the importance of white folks, and white prisoners in particular organizing in anti-racist formations like the WPO? And do you feel there is a danger to organizing along the lines of racialization rather than class lines?
ShineWhite: As Komrade Kwame Nkrumah pointed out to us, “racist social structure is inseparable from capitalist economic development. For race is inextricably linked with class exploitation, in a racist-capitalist power structure, capitalist exploitation and race oppression are complementary. The removal of one ensures the removal of the other.” We White Panthers, and any other whites who are anti-racist, anti-capitalist, etc… have a special opportunity and responsibility to counter the influence of racist ideology and organizing within the working class and poor white communities by re-educating. Those who have been deluded by racist, white supremacist propaganda and ideology into opposing their own class interest, enabling them to uphold proletarian internationalism and the unity of a multi-national, multi-ethnic working class against national and capitalistic exploitation and oppression.
The WPO recognizes this class struggle but before we’re able to organize as a multi-national, multi-ethnic working class, it’s our duty to make whites see themselves “as they really are, instead of who they think they are” to quote Karl Marx.
The WPO refutes the concept of White Power as well as the ideology of white supremacy. As Komrade Spidey, the original spokesperson for the WPO recognized, “White Power not only fails to empower poor white people, it is a psychological trap that masses of people fall into that renders us politically impotent. We become unwitting tools of our own oppression. It blocks our only avenue of advancement which is through class consciousness and unity. It makes us the unwitting tools of oppression of not only non-white people but ourselves as well.”
When trying to educate white prisoners on the truth about race and why racism keeps us oppressed, the majority of them reply “Why don’t you never write or talk about Blacks being racist?” And, yes, I agree that there is such a thing as reverse racism. But as a white person, it’s my duty to re-educate the whites and it’s the duty of any New Afrikan komrades to educate the New Afrikans.
How much success would I have if I attempted to talk to New Afrikans about why they shouldn’t e racist, that’s not my place, my place is to re-educate the whites. The United Panther Movement recognizes that there’s only one race, the human race. But if we’re going to successfully combat racist oppression, we must recognize that discrimination comes down different on different groups of people and that it is important to organize within each group of people in accordance with the way they are perceived in society. That’s why there’s a Black Panther, a White Panther and a Brown Panther to carry out the task.
TFSR: There has been an outbreak of covid recently at Alexander CI, where you are imprisoned. I hope you have been able to avoid it. How has the NCDPS and your facility in particular handled the pandemic, how have prisoners reacted to the pandemic and what, if anything, have you seen from outside supporters and the wider public ala covid-19 and prisons?
ShineWhite: Thank you for asking, Komrade, in my opinion supporters on the outside here in NC fail to realize how grave the current living conditions are right now for prisoners during these unprecedented times.
Those of us who are currently imprisoned are utterly at the mercy of the miscreants who patrol these concrete fields. With there already being issues with overcrowding in NC prisons and prisoners being corralled in small housing areas, we’re unable to maintain social distancing, to control our exposure to vectors for disease transmission, to choose the quality of type of mask we wear, unable to seek independent medical treatment, overall unable to protect ourselves from the corona virus.
This is in spite of several health experts having suggested that prisoners with upcoming release dates and at high risk of medical harm be released from the custody of DPS. They explained to prison officials that by doing so it would address the crowded living conditions that have led to numerous constitutional violations and has been a cause of several covid outbreaks within NC prisons. Prison officials claim that if they were to release these prisoners, it wouldn’t really make a difference. I’m inclined to disagree with this, to date several prisoners who reside in the same block as I do have release dates within the next two months, but yet are being held and impeded from earning any extra gain days that would enable them to be released as early as tomorrow.
This isn’t unknown to prison officials, to keep it plain and simple they just don’t give a damn. The death of Ms Faye Brown proves it. She was a female prisoner who was held at the women’s prison in Raleigh, NC. At the age of 65 she died of covid earlier this year. What is sad about this particular case is that prison officials had trusted Ms Brown enough to permit her to ride the city bus five days a week to Sherrill’s School of Cosmetology where she was employed as a teacher, unsupervised. It was evident that she wasn’t a threat to society but being that she had been convicted in 1975 for participating in a bank robbery in which her co-defendant killed a state trooper, Commissioner of Prisons Todd Ishee denied her an early release which led to her death.
I contracted the virus myself. It could have been avoided but prison officials failed to take the proper steps that would have prevented this and would have saved the life of Jenny Combs. There was a prisoner housed in the same block as me who was showing all of the symptoms of covid, often complaining to the guards. He was able to get one of them to escort him to the nurse’s station, he registered a temperature of 102 degrees. Instead of having him placed in a block that had been set up for quarantine, he was allowed to return to the block to move around, spreading the virus for three days before his test results had come back positive.
By this time, several prisoners out of the 48 who lived in B-Block were showing symptoms of covid. On Novemeber 2nd, prison administrators had the block locked down and all 48 prisoners were tested for covid. It was 21 prisoners who had tested positive. Mr Jerry Combs as well as myself were not of those 21 prisoners, but being that prison officials compelled us to remain in the block with those who had tested positive, those who hadn’t tested positive eventually did. Mr Jerry Combs contracted it, complained to medical staff and prison officials that he needed medical attention beyond some non-asprins, prison officials allowed his please to fall on deaf ears. Two days later he was found dead in his cell.
Prison officials quickly claimed that he had committed suicide by overdosing on his medications. I know thi sto be untrue, they are only trying to cover their tail as they always do. Despite three prisoners dying of covid here at Alexander, the precautionary steps that should be taken to prevent this are not being taken. They continue to move prisoners around, the guards fail to wear their masks and we are not being given the needed disinfectants to disinfect any living spaces.
This will continue until supporters intensify the struggle on the outside. I will be honest, this is my opinion. NC movements on the outside need to step it up on all levels. I know what I’m about to say will ruffle some feathers but I’m speaking the truth. The inhumane living conditions prisoners in NC are forced to endure could be ameliorated if outside supporters would take the advice of certain prisoners who have proven to be able to organize those within the walls. This struggle is one that requires much work and dedication, this isn’t a weekend thing.
We all have to be on the same page, if we are going to compel prison officials to make changes that would enable prisoners to successfully rehabilitate themselves. NC prisons are among the five states across the nation that don’t have tablets. We are forced to remain locked in our cells, no access to educational programming or rehabilitation programming. The primary objective is to rehabilitate the prisoner, correct? Well, that isn’t the case here.
Article 2 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, set forth by the United Nations, says “Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.” One of the “rights and freedoms set forth in this declaration “ is the right to education, as stated in Article 2t6. Yet prisoners here in NC are denied higher education because our states of incarceration. This is blatant discrimination. Y’all on the outside are being told that we are being offered educational opportunities. This is a lie.
What does this have to do with covid? Well, I just wanted to point out that it shouldn’t take a pandemic for those on the outside to organize to redress these living conditions. It should be taken serious at all times. As I already mentioned, I am working on an SRG campaign that would address the draconian policies prisoners are subjected to. If you would like to know more about it and how you can help, write to me:
Joseph Stewart #0802041
633 Old Landfill Rd
Taylorsville, NC 28681
Or email my support network at firstname.lastname@example.org and someone will contact you. 2021 is upon us. Let’s make this the year of intensifying the struggle on all levels. Bridges have to be built, meaningful working relationships have to be built. It takes both the prisoners and those on the outside.
Prisoners have to see the fruit first before they are willing to put the work in that’s needed to ameliorate the situation. It’s sad but it’s true. You must keep in mind that many of us have been abandoned by family members and other loved ones. So, they find it hard to believe that there are people on the outside that care about their well being when their own family doesn’t. By showing prisoners that you are willin gto struggle with them, you gain their trust and support, which is necessary if we aim to mobilize and organize.
TFSR: How do you see the struggle against racialized capitalism in the so-called US developing moving forward into a Biden presidency and what suggestions do you have to organizers on either side of the razor wire?
ShineWhite: As Mark Twain pointed out to us ,”If voting could change anything, they wouldn’t let us do it.” It doesn’t matter who is the president, because they all share the same objective: expanding the dominance of capitalism.
As long as the masses maintain constituent allegiance to the parties such as the Democratic and Republican parties, racial capitalism will continue to thrive and expand. A vote for any representative of either party is a vote of confidence in the reform-ability of capitalism and a vote against the need for socialist revolution. If we’re going to advance the struggle against racial capitalism, we must stand in implacable opposition to the dual parties of capitalism.
If the overall objective is to create a mass-oriented socialist system of mutual cooperation, fair and equal distribution that would benefit us all, certain methods will have to be adopted in order to be compatible with the newer systems which we the people are trying to establish. The primary method should be eradicating racism and taking an empathic stand against the false ideology of white supremacy. Both allowed capitalism to be sustained. Dividing the working class along racial lines is key to maintaining capitalist rule in the US conscious of the social power that the proletariat would attain through unified struggle. The ruling class utilizes divide-and-conquer strategies that have proven effective for over 400 years now.
The most important factor in the advancement of our struggle is action. We must begin to put our thoughts and strategies into action. Komrades, without action there is no mobility. Moving forward we must intensify the struggle at all levels. This includes lines of communication between prisoners and those of you on the outside.
We musn’t continue to operate from old strategies that are not effective, it is a waste of time and energy. Those on the outside must do more to support the prison movement here in NC and across the nation. Changes don’t happen without reason. People must become the reason.
TFSR: Well, we thank you for your time and I really appreciate this interview. Before we wrap up, do you have anything else you would like to share with the listening audience?
ShineWhite: Yes, it’s imperative that I thank my support network. Without their support and love I would be one of the many prisoners here in NC whose screams for help fall on deaf ears.
Dria, my komrade out on the West Coast. I love you deeply, friend. You have stuck by me throughout it all. I have so much to thank you for I don’t know where to start nor where to end. Just know I am grateful and I cherish our friendship.
Professor Victor Wallis: Thank you for all the educational material and for taking the time out of your busy life to educate and mentor me from many miles away and through this razor-wire and concrete. You deserve to be acknowledged even though I know you don’t desire it. Thank you, friend, I am grateful.
Penelope: even though all the work you do is unknown and behind the scenes, it’s imperative that you know that without you and the desire you have to support the struggle any way that you can, our newsletter may not have made it off the ground. When you are absent, you are missed. Thank you for all you do.
Leah: In a short matter of time I have so much to thank you for. You go to the extreme to make sure I know you care about meas well as my well being. Even though our political praxes are somewhat different, you are dedicated to ameliorating the living conditions prisoners are forced to endure. Thank you for all you do for me on a personal level and the love you give. You are loved.
Nadia: I know the listening audience can’t see the smile I have on my face, but thinking of you causes the biggest smiles. I want to thank you for your willingness to compromise. I know you are a serious anarchist and you’re against organizations and uplifting the names of them. I just want everyone listening to know that you helped me revamp the WPO, it was dead within these razor-wire plantations. With you at my side I was able to bring it back to life. You dedicate so much time to both our Newsletter as well as the New NABPP Newspaper. I know you would disagree with this but you are a Panther, may it be an Anarchist Panther, you are still a Panther. I love you endlessly and you are my best friend.
Also big salutes to Komrade Rashid, Keith Malik Washington, Jason Renard Walker and Kwame Shakur. I see your vision, Komrade. I’m with you, let’s make it happen. And I would like to thank Final Straw Radio for giving us a platform and for amplifying our voice. Thank you. All Power To The People.