Ascolta lepisodio — 123 min
An audio strike against a monotone world;
A podcast of anarchist ideas and action;
For everyone who dreams of a life off the clock.
The Rebel Grrl: Welcome back, everyone. Today is June 11th, an international day of solidarity for Marius Mason and long-term anarchist prisoners everywhere. This is the sixteenth consecutive year that anarchists have recognized June 11th as a day of commemoration and action. But 2020 is different from any previous time the day has taken place in critical ways. Never before in this century have we had a global pandemic reshaping what long-term prisoners inside are facing and how we as outside supporters can come together to show support. And we’re also in the midst of one of the fiercest waves of protest and rebellion we’ve seen in our lifetimes.
This is a moment of ferocious tension in the US prison empire. COVID–19 has spread like wildfire inside many prisons, jails, and detention centers, and until the Floyd uprising a considerable amount of what limited public demonstrations were happening centered on amplifying prisoner voices and fighting for releases. Now that rebellion is sweeping the country, on the one hand we have maybe the most intense focus on policing and so-called criminal justice that we’ve ever had. We’ve also got over 10,000 people arrested in the uprising so far, and the need for legal and prisoner solidarity in the months ahead will be fierce. On the other hand, so much political energy has focused in on policing outside prison walls and on targeted communities in the streets, there’s a very real risk of the urgent struggles of people behind the walls going less noticed. So even as we pull out all the stops and give the Floyd uprising everything we’ve got, let’s also keep in mind the critical importance of not forgetting folks in prisons, jails, and detention centers, and connecting their battles to the ones we’re fighting today.
So in this episode, we’ll focus on prisoner struggles, including June 11th and support for long-term anarchist prisoners in particular, while doing so in the context of the pandemic and the uprising. We’ll share info and updates on Marius Mason and other long-term anarchist prisoners while discussing how COVID–19 and the Justice for George Floyd movement are impacting them and our solidarity efforts, and also highlight other projects by anarchists and radicals to support incarcerated folks.
We’ll start off with part of a 2017 article on the history of June 11th as a day of solidarity for long-term anarchist prisoners. Then we’ll share the call issued earlier this year by June 11th organizers, which lays out some context and updates about how the unique situation we’re in in 2020 impacts our solidarity efforts. And we’ll wrap up our coverage with a brief interview with a June 11th organizer and Marius Mason supporter who gives some more background and discusses how COVID–19 and the Justice for George Floyd uprisings have impacted the situation for long-term prisoners and supporters.
We continue our coverage of prisoner struggles during times of pandemic and rebellion with a discussion of the case of incarcerated antifascist David Campbell. In January 2018, David was arrested for his role in a conflict between antifascists and attendees of an alt-right party, and due to right-wing pressure and Democratic law-and-order politics, was forced to take a noncooperating plea deal to serve a year in Rikers Island jail in New York City. Of course, no one could have predicted when he began serving his sentence in late fall 2019 that that very facility would see one of the most appalling COVID–19 outbreaks in the US, nor that President Trump would attempt to distract the public from the root causes of a massive popular rebellion against police by blaming it on “antifa.” In this context, we share an interview with David recorded last fall just before he went to jail, and a short follow up with a member of his support crew about how the pandemic and the demonization of antifa are impacting his experience inside.
We’ll also share an interview with a participant in south Florida collective operating a COVID–19 Hotline for Incarcerated People, who discusses their wide-ranging solidarity efforts with prisoners struggling for health and dignity amidst the pandemic. And we’ll wrap up with some specific prisoner updates and upcoming birthdays.
As usual, you can find a full transcript of this episode, plus links and background info on the things we discuss as well as mailing address for prisoners all on our website, crimethinc.com/podcast. You can send us an email to podcast at crimethinc dot com with any feedback, suggestions, or reports and updates from where you are; you can also reach us through CrimethInc.’s social media.
For more coverage of June 11th, head over to The Final Straw Radio, which has got more in-depth discussion of Marius Mason’s case, an interview with Jeremy Hammond, and more to celebrate June 11th.
After this episode, we’ll return to our coverage of the uprising in the streets of Minneapolis since George Floyd was killed, as well as the protests and solidarity efforts that have spread all over the world in the weeks since.
But for now, let’s turn our focus to the anarchists who’ve spent years, even decades behind bars for the actions they’ve taken in pursuit of a freer world—and the ways that we can show them support and appreciation for their determination.
JUNE 11TH: THE HISTORY OF A DAY OF SOLIDARITY
While anarchists in some parts of the world can draw on rich, long-standing intergenerational traditions that provide continuity within their struggles, in the so-called United States this isn’t a prominent feature of our activity. Anarchism over the past twenty or thirty years here has often been perceived as a youth movement, and we’ve struggled to maintain infrastructure and to effectively transmit lessons from previous radical generations to newly radicalized and active folks.
This makes it even more critical that we honor and amplify some of the longer-standing projects and traditions that we do have. While sixteen years may not seem like a long time in the scope of US history of even social movement lifespans, it’s been an impressively consistent feature within the anarchist landscape of the US. It also helps us bring an international scope to our activities, recognizing that as anarchists we form part of a fabric of revolt that spans borders and that successful fights against repression mean both extending and soliciting support to and from comrades we may never meet face to face spread across the globe.
So we think it’s appropriate to start off by discussing the history of June 11th and how anarchists came to recognize it. To that end, what follows comes from an article published by CrimethInc. in 2017 that describes how June 11th came about, the context of direct action and state repression that prompted it, and how folks have organized and reorganized over the years to make sure we maintain steady support for long-term anarchist prisoners.
You’ll find a link to the full article on our website, crimethinc.com/podcast, which, in addition to what you’re about to hear, includes a chronology of events commemorating June 11th from 2004 to 2017, so check that out if you want the full story. We’ll also include links to previous Ex-Worker episodes and other articles that flesh out the story of the Green Scare, the wave of state repression against earth and animal liberation movements so critical to many of these prisoners’ cases and how our prisoner support approaches developed, if you’d like to learn more of that backstory. Today, as we’ve seen to date over 10,000 arrests in connection with the Justice for George Floyd protests these past two weeks, it is very probable that we’ll be confronting a new wave of repression, legal cases, and prison terms for social rebels across the country. In this context, it’s critical to learn from the experience of radicals who’ve gone through this before, and to reflect critically on how to keep movements strong and dedicated even in the face of repression and prison.
June 11: The History of a Day of Anarchist Prisoner Solidarity
Since 2004, anarchists and environmentalists have observed June 11 as a day of action to mobilize around our imprisoned comrades. Over that time, the pace of revolt has quickened, with so many uprisings, clashes, and anarchist attacks that it is difficult to count all of them—not to mention all the indictments, raids, mass arrests, grand juries, and deaths. In this constantly shifting terrain, it’s easy to lose track of the origins of our traditions. Our goal here is to trace a short history of June 11 as a small contribution to the global rhythm of revolt
June 11 has been observed as a day of solidarity since 2004, when 27 cities hosted events to support Jeff “Free” Luers, an eco-anarchist in his fourth year of imprisonment for the burning of three SUVs in Eugene, Oregon. While a rich history of solidarity practices already existed in North America, those were focused on the Black Liberation and anti-imperialist movements and the hundreds of prisoners still held captive for decades. The capture of Luers and his co-defendant Craig “Critter” Marshall forced the radical environmental and anarchist movements to confront the question of repression in new ways after Luers was sentenced to 22 years and 8 months for an action that didn’t hurt anyone. Despite FBI harassment of public educational events, the Break the Chains collective and Luers’s support crew organized the solidarity day to mark the third anniversary of his arrest, inviting Ramona Africa to speak in Eugene as a step toward bridging the gap between different generations fighting repression. Ramona is a member of the MOVE family, a group of predominantly Black revolutionaries, some of whom have been imprisoned for over 40 years.
Luers’s dignified position throughout his imprisonment and the ongoing fight to release him were vital reference points over the following years as repression intensified into what became known as the Green Scare. The Green Scare extended far beyond the series of cases directed against Earth Liberation Front groups. When Operation Backfire struck in December 2005, leading to the capture of many of the participants in a prolific ELF cell in the Pacific Northwest, it was also intended to sever the connections between eco-saboteurs and mainstream environmental groups, with the FBI aiming to punish many of the latter for their tacit support of radical action. Meanwhile, other FBI agents set out to entrap young people like Eric McDavid, who served many years in prison before his sentence was overturned.
The Green Scare also included many of the classic petty gestures of repression: police harassment and surveillance, blacklists preventing employment, frivolous lawsuits and interventions in civil cases. For example, the harassment directed over many years against Marius Mason and his then-husband Frank Ambrose left the two of them nearly unemployable and surrounded by a trench of fear. Years later, some of Frank’s former friends suggested that this was the aspect of the Green Scare that wore him down—particularly as others in the Midwest chose to distance themselves from those under the most intense pressure rather than take a stand against it. Ambrose ultimately chose to cooperate with the authorities, informing against Marius and many others.
As more and more anarchists and eco-saboteurs entered prison, most of them to serve shorter sentences, Luers remained on the support lists. There was the danger that his case would slowly be forgotten amid new raids and disasters, some of which also struck members of his support crew. In response, supporters began to think about the particular needs of long-term prisoners.
Through years of struggle and legal filings, Luers won a shortening of his sentence, leading to his release in December 2009. By this time, however, Marius Mason had been imprisoned for 18 months, having received a nearly identical sentence of 22 years after pleading guilty to two major arsons (against a GMO research facility and logging equipment) and acknowledging responsibility for more than a dozen other clandestine actions. Eric McDavid had already spent nearly half a decade behind bars.
In 2008, the long period of defeats and shrinkage that had followed the Green Scare gave way to a new wave of revolt. Yet these new strikes, movements, and insurrections could have caused supporters to forget about Mason and McDavid as new indictments and prison sentences were doled out. There was no guarantee that the thousands of new radicals who emerged out of movements like Occupy Wall Street would be able to recognize Mason, McDavid, or other long-term prisoners as comrades deserving of solidarity.
There was also the problem of slowly diminishing support crews. Only a few years into their imprisonments, solidarity efforts for Mason and McDavid were stagnating by 2011. In response, members of Mason’s and McDavid’s support crews and social circles came together in early 2011 to discuss coordination, hoping to launch a shared solidarity project.
To summarize some of the goals expressed in this meeting:
1) Address the specific problems of long-term prisoners by discussing how to approach prisoner support in new and more sustainable ways.
This included considering the most exhausting elements of support, and the intention to develop fresh strategies for fundraising, spreading information about imprisoned anarchists, and other basic tasks. “To Libertarians,” an open letter written in the late 1970s to support autonomous prisoners in the Spanish state, was an important reference point:
“The first point is to make the problem widely known; then, to keep it from being forgotten, by demonstrating, always more powerfully, a growing impatience. The means will multiply as the movement takes its course. In support of the prisoners, a single small factory in Spain might go out on strike for a day, and this would be a model for the rest of the country. You will only have to make immediately known their exemplary attitude, and half the battle is already won. Right away, one shouldn’t be able to start a University course, a theatrical performance, or a scientific conference without someone directly intervening or letting loose a rain of tracts that pose the questions, What has become of our comrades? and, On what day will they finally be released? No one should be able to walk down any street in Spain without seeing the prisoners’ names written on the walls. And the songs that are sung about them must be heard by all.”
2) Take slow steps towards de-individualizing prisoner support in North America.
As more comrades entered prison, the model of “one support crew for one prisoner” seemed unrealistic, doomed to result in eventual isolation. This model also seemed to contribute to the depoliticization of cases, as it tended to emphasize particular aspects of individual situations rather than developing an analysis of shared context. Bringing together solidarity for Mason and McDavid was a small step out of this trap, allowing for more communication and coordination across collectives and distances. It was also a decision not simply to react to the state’s indictments, which acknowledged no relationship between the defendants’ cases, but to assert a new understanding of how we could struggle around both.
3) Take up the proposal of revolutionary solidarity more ambitiously, going beyond the particular solidarity action.
“Solidarity lies in action. Action that sinks its roots in one’s own project that is carried on coherently and proudly too, especially in times when it might be dangerous even to express one’s ideas publicly. A project that expresses solidarity with joy in the game of life that above all makes us free ourselves, destroys alienation, exploitation, mental poverty, opening up infinite spaces devoted to experimentation and the continual activity of one’s mind in a project aimed at realizing itself in insurrection. “A project which is not specifically linked to the repression that has struck our comrades but which continues to evolve and make social tension grow, to the point of making it explode so strongly that the prison walls fall down by themselves. “A project which is a point of reference and stimulus for the imprisoned comrades, who in turn are point of reference for it. Revolutionary solidarity is the secret that destroys all walls, expressing love and rage at the same time as one’s own insurrection in the struggle against Capital and the State.”
In other words, solidarity is not simply reactive, nor just a matter of directly supporting specific imprisoned comrades. It is a positive project to spread and deepen the revolutionary struggle outside the prisons in conjunction with those who are in prison, even when repression is strong enough to prevent communication.
Linking imprisoned comrades to a broader subversive project felt particularly apt in the case of long-term prisoners for two reasons. First, new connections seem vital to combating their drift into isolation over time: solidarity appears as “active remembering.” Second, for comrades facing decades in prison with few remaining legal appeals, fighting for revolution and the literal destruction of the prisons is perhaps the most pragmatic path towards their release. Rather than conceiving of action and repression as separate moments, revolutionary solidarity suggests it is possible to treat repression as an opportunity to spread and deepen the broader struggle against the whole system. In turn, when anarchists spend time inside prison, it doesn’t mean we are alone or that we have to wait for release to contribute to the struggle. Rather, even by simply maintaining a dignified, non-cooperative position relative to investigations, we demonstrate the possibility of defying the state.
4) Related to the above points, to develop an expansive approach to prisoner support, in which a constellation of groups, assemblies, and cells could contribute to solidarity with imprisoned anarchists using many different forms of struggle.
This meant finding ways to escape the model of isolated crews or committees of dedicated solidarity “specialists.” It meant developing an experimental approach to action.
On the basis of these aspirations, the meeting proposed a reinvigorated June 11 day of solidarity, deriving encouragement from Luers’s example and the innovations his support crew had developed over his nearly decade-long imprisonment. In recent years, Luers has distanced himself from the proposal for anarchist solidarity, but he remains an important point of reference. His public statement in 2011 was profoundly inspiring:
“This June 11th marks the first international day of Solidarity with Eric McDavid, Marie Mason, and all our long-term anarchist political prisoners. We are here to honor them, support them, remind them that they are not forgotten, and most importantly to demand their release. “June 11th is a reminder to us that though we spend our days outside of a prison many of our friends and allies spend theirs behind bars having sacrificed what little freedom they had to fight for something greater than themselves. We have a responsibility to them and to ourselves to struggle and fight until all are free.”
As the June 11 statement in 2015 asserted, the struggle “assumes new forms” over time. Eric won his release in early 2015 through the legal research and efforts of his close supporters as well his own determination, against the backdrop of the solidarity and tension developed each June 11. At the same time, the solidarity extended by hundreds of actions and benefits around the world worked to organically transform June 11 into an international project that encompasses support for imprisoned comrades around the world. As a simple step towards maintaining this expansive approach, the assembly that has come together around the day produces a new call each year, aiming to suggest new connections or directions, with reference to ongoing revolts and transformations in anarchist struggle. Some prisoners choose to add to these calls with their own words, detailing experiences and ideas that add to the debate, as did Marius Mason himself in 2015.
Autonomous initiatives also shape the development of the June 11 project. For example, the Fight Toxic Prisons convergence draws connections between environmental organizing against pollution and ongoing struggles by prisoners and others against confinement.
The contributions of countless comrades around the world, imprisoned or not, have taken many forms—including written analyses and messages, benefit events, info-nights, demonstrations, actions, attacks, and bake sales. These do not simply accumulate quantitatively, but are also contributions to the evolution of anarchist revolt in the broadest sense, towards both sustaining our comrades and overturning the world that imprisons them. It’s easy to make a contribution on a variety of levels, whether via a benefit show or an action, but it’s also always possible to approach the challenge of solidarity in a new way. This creativity is essential to building new paths towards the liberation of anarchist prisoners—and everyone else.
In the words of Christos Tsakalos, an anarchist prisoner in Greece:
June 11th is a day of war. It’s a day of rebellion because law and order may rule but they do not reign. The existence of anarchist prisoners reminds us of the existence of the anarchist war. A war that sometimes burns slowly and sometimes blinds the heavens with its fires.”
JUNE 11th, 2020: ORGANIZERS CALL
Next, we want to share the call that June 11th organizers issued in anticipation of this day of solidarity in 2020. As you’ll hear, it engages with COVID–19 and how the pandemic reshapes both the risks of incarceration and the context for resistance and solidarity. However, it was written before the explosion of anti-police outrage, across the US and beyond, that has raged over the past two weeks. Now that we’re in the midst of what feels like a completely different era of resistance, let’s consider both the new risks and new possibilities for our comrades inside and all of us working to support them as we fight alongside the rising movement against the police and the world they protect.
June 11th: International Day of Solidarity with Marius Mason and All Long-Term Anarchist Prisoners.
In the 16 years this tradition has been observed, June 11th has facilitated support and action inspired by imprisoned anarchists — from noise demonstrations outside of jails to letter-writing nights, from fundraisers to arson. Setting aside this day is one way of remembering anarchists who are serving long prison sentences, generating support for them, and inspiring solidarity actions.
Because social struggles phase in and out, this day is a way to make sure that our imprisoned comrades are not forgotten. June 11th is a way of combating amnesia, of trying to sustain a long-term memory in the anarchist space. June 11th is a day against oblivion.
The context of June 11th this year is one in which our lives have been wrenched out of normality. A scary time, but also a time for innovation. And an especially important time to remember and support our imprisoned loved ones. While calls to release people from jails, prisons, and ICE detention facilities during the pandemic are growing louder and having some success, it’s likely that many of our comrades’ names will not be on the list for early release. Whether it’s due to marginalized identities, terrorism enhancements, a history of standing up to guards and prison administration, or just being an outspoken anarchist, this means that their long sentences and already abhorrent health care and mistreatment could carry even worse consequences.
Our new daily lives and our responses to the pandemic can carry with them the memory and support for imprisoned anarchists. Where we are working fewer hours, we can write more letters. Where our kids are now learning from home, we can include prisoners’ names in lessons about courage and about state repression. Where we give ourselves over to mutual aid projects, we can take inspiration from our comrades and invoke their contributions and memories.
In the last year, Connor Stevens of the Cleveland 4, all remaining members of the Conspiracy Cells of Fire urban guerrilla group in Greece, and Tamara Sol in Chile have been released from prison.
Eric King is still in segregation and now faces a 20-year charge related to self-defense actions he took in 2018. His support team has started a legal defense fund. He is scheduled to go to trial in the summer of 2020.
Anna Beniamino co-initiated a hunger strike against especially-repressive prison conditions in May 2019. Alfredo Cospito and other imprisoned anarchists in Italy later joined this hunger strike. Alfredo reported experiencing health problems related to the strike.
Michael Kimble was put in solitary after defending a prisoner from being beaten by guards. In February he and his support team launched a fundraising campaign for a lawyer to overturn his conviction. Jeremy Hammond was called in October to testify in the same grand jury that re-imprisoned Chelsea Manning. Both refused to testify. In March, Jeremy was released from contempt as the grand jury concluded and was returned to the federal prison system, though he is currently being held in the Grady County Jail in Oklahoma.
Marius Mason continues to serve his 22-year sentence, currently at Danbury CT. He is petitioning for compassionate release for health reasons during Covid–19.
Lisa of the Aachen bank robbery case was recently restricted by a prison magistrate from being able to leave prison on weekends and during the day.
As members of the struggles of the ’60s and ’70s complete their sentences, and younger partisans of recent struggles emerge from shorter stints in prison, we can connect with them in mutually-enriching relationships. The challenges of being released from prison can be mitigated by a strong community of support; communities of support can deepen their own understanding of prison by direct interaction with former prisoners. These relationships can strengthen each of their participants, and expand beyond in the form of new projects and initiatives to free those still held captive.
One important and often neglected aspect of prisoner support is aid to the families of the imprisoned. Family members – often constituting a prisoner’s primary or only base of support – bear the emotional, financial, and mental hardships of their loved ones behind bars. The exorbitant costs of commissary, phone calls, and visits put undue strain on those who, in most cases, are already struggling to make ends meet. Social atomization, which leaves most of us feeling lost, can be hell for those whose close companions have been stolen by the state, and who lack communities of support. These struggles continue after prisoners are released, with friends and family trying to find them employment, places to live, help with parole or other forms of diffuse detention, etc. Project FANG provides travel funds to the families and friends of animal and earth liberation prisoners, allowing them to visit their imprisoned loved ones. The Rosenberg Fund for Children provides aid to the children of activists targeting by the state. Aside from supporting these projects, we encourage anarchists to form relationships with the families of anarchist prisoners: some may not share our ideas (though many do!), but they do share our desire to see loved ones in prison survive and thrive.
As the world descends further into crisis, we are less and less able to evade questions about how we live, what sorts of relationships we create together, and what worlds we wish to inhabit. On the one hand, there is ever-increasing state power, the slavery of the individual to the technological system, and the anomic loneliness of modern life. On the other, there are complex and difficult possibilities of decentralized lifeways in which individual freedom and shared joys mix in an alchemy which affirms both. Our bonds, tempered over years of living and fighting together, can prove the starting point for these new forms of existence. Those behind bars – who we have kept present with us in our garden plots and forest wanderings, in the melodies of our songs and in the adrenaline rush of our night work – are a part of the new world we hope for. Let’s not forget them for one moment.
INTERVIEW WITH JUNE 11TH ORGANIZER
To bring this call up to date with the developments since it was written, we next want to share a brief interview with a June 11th organizer and Marius Mason support, who shares with us more about the background of Marius’s case and the context of the Green Scare, the impact of COVID–19 and the recent rebellions, and ways to show support. For a longer interview with a June 11th organizer that provides more background on Marius, we encourage you to check out The Final Straw Radio and their June 11th episode.
The Ex-Worker: This is Clara from the Ex-Worker, and we’re speaking with a June 11th organizer and a supporter of Marius Mason. Could you introduce yourself and say a word or two about your involvement in prisoner support activities?
June 11th Organizer: Yeah, my name’s Letha. I was a part and continue to be a part of Marius’s support committee. I have been essentially since his arrest back in Cincinnati, Ohio in 2009. And when the June 11th organizers came together to put more energy into the day, I was at that gathering, and I continue to be supportive and make sure that Marius is involved every year.
The Ex-Worker: Many of our listeners will be familiar with Marius’s case, but for those who aren’t, could you briefly tell us about who he is and why he’s in prison?
June 11th Organizer: Yes. On New Year’s Day in 1999, Marius and several comrades went to the Michigan State University Agricultural Lab and set fire to a laboratory that was doing GMO research on behalf of Monsanto. That lab burned down and was actually discontinued; they no longer did that research project at Michigan State University. And he for many years was doing above-ground work after that. There were a few other actions that he was convicted of, but that is the main one cited by the state. Unfortunately, one of his comrades on that day—actually his ex-husband, Frank Ambrose—he snitched on Marius, and Marius was given an extremely long sentence of twenty-one years and ten months.
Alanis: Could you tell us a bit more about the context of the Green Scare in which Marius’s arrest took place?
June 11th Organizer: So Marius was arrested in 2009. There were several actions by the FBI to target animal and earth liberation activists across the US and outside of the US. The Green Scare really started because after September 11th, there was a concentrated effort and money going into combatting domestic terrorism, but that terrorism didn’t really exist, and so that money was directed toward earth and animal liberation activists. Shortly before Marius’s arrest, Daniel McGowan was serving time, Eric McDavid, the SHAC 7, Jeffrey Luers—so many to mention that were doing, again, animal and earth liberation actions in the United States and then were targeted by the FBI.
Alanis: How has the COVID–19 pandemic impacted conditions inside for Marius and other long-term prisoners?
Yeah, of course. So, I think that a lot of times, people understand prison in the context of what we see on television or in movies. So, you know, single-cell or cells that have two prisoners in them but with a locked door. But for a lot of people who are incarcerated in the United States, there are actually open rooms, with no or low walls separating prisoners, and that is the case for Marius. So, Marius is in a unit that is in Danbury, Connecticut. FCI Danbury has three units on their campus, and one of them is where Marius is located, and it houses a hundred sixty to a hundred seventy prisoners. And they all share one room where they sleep. They also share one bathroom with, I believe it’s eight working toilets, sinks, and showers (not all of which are working all the time). They also share four phones and four computers, and they also share dining facilities. They’re in bunk beds that are sectioned off by the walls that don’t reach the ceiling, so for some prisoners, if you’re on a top bunk, that means that you are literally sleeping inches away from another person in another bunk right next to you.
The Ex-Worker: Have the protests over George Floyd’s murder impacted folks inside?
So, Marius is in a federal facility, and it was announced last week that all federal facilities were on lockdown because of the protests and uprising that were happening in the United States. And lockdown, again, can mean a lot of different things depending on what kind of facility that you’re in. So, for some, it may be the fact that you are locked inside of your cell and unable to leave. For Marius, that means that they are all confined to their living quarters; they can’t go physically outside, so they’re not able to touch grass, touch a tree, look at the sky without bars. And so, I think that’s important to keep in mind. And Marius is not allowed visitors right now.
It’s tough. Right now, I’m in Connecticut. I just happen to be here, and he’s forty-five minutes away, and I could’ve visited him this last weekend, but of course, they always have to make it harder. Because people on the outside are saying that we’re done with police brutality, for some reason that means that I can’t visit my friend who’s incarcerated. And I really worry for him, and I worry for the other people in his unit.
But I don’t say this in an attempt to say that we shouldn’t rebel on the outside because it may affect people on the inside. I think that especially looking at, Jeremy Hammond has posted videos of him on the inside where he’s given a platform to other people who are incarcerated with him, showing that people on the inside certainly support what’s going on outside and that it’s all interconnected and that people certainly see connection, have lived experience of the connection between policing and their incarceration. Whether they themselves experienced police brutality in their arrest or if that’s something that routinely occurs in their communities. Or routinely occurs while incarcerated—certainly correctional officers are still police in a sense.
Yeah, I think that for me, identifying that it’s really important right now to support bail funds. Certainly people are being arrested every day, and cash bail is a serious problem in the United States. And making sure that people who are incarcerated for really nothing else than they don’t have money for bail is an atrocity. But additionally thinking about that there are people who are incarcerated right now for minor drug offenses, who’ve been in for decades. And what does that mean for that? I don’t want to forget about people who’ve been incarcerated now for sometimes the majority of their lives; and what does it mean for them that they now experience decades without proper medical assistance, with experiencing extreme trauma by being incarcerated. They are in a really tough spot in more than one way, but one being that being incarcerated means that you are far more likely to contract COVID and not survive?
The Ex-Worker: Is there anything else you’d like to share about the importance of support for long-term anarchist prisoners today?
June 11th Organizer: For long-term anarchist prisoners, I want people to realize that their fight is not over just because they’re incarcerated and they’re given this extremely long sentence, doesn’t mean that Marius cares any less about the struggles that he’s in for. I know that he thinks about the actions that he took every day. And it’s really up to us to be out here to support him because the actions that he took, he took for us; he took for the earth; he took for animals; he took those actions because he cared about indigenous people and how they’re affected by GMO research.
And I think that it’s important to continue to reach out. Even if you haven’t ever written to somebody who’s incarcerated, or even if maybe you wrote Marius five years ago and you never wrote him back, I think every day is a good day to start and start writing again. Really, sending mail to prisoners is a lifeline. And if you send him articles, he shares that with people on his unit. If you share any kind of information that is liberating because he is subjected to major news outlets daily, and that’s really his only means of news from the outside. And so, in any way that you can be supportive in giving him information or insight into what’s going on out here, that’s incredibly important for him and for him to share with others. If I could inspire anybody else to write to him, or if you knew him prior to his arrest and you want to visit him, we would love to support you in doing that, and if you have any questions about his case or what he likes to hear about, I’m happy to answer those questions as well as his support committee.
INTERVIEW WITH ANTIFASCIST PRISONER DAVID CAMPBELL
Rebel Grrl: One of the lessons we’ve learned from the Green Scare and the Red Scare before that is that state repression of radicals and social movements goes in waves in response to shifting political circumstances. Politicians and law enforcement require different scapegoats at different times to secure their public legitimacy. While Hoover’s FBI cracked down on communists, sex perverts, and Black activists, its twenty-first century descendants, empowered by the fury over September 11th, turned to Muslims and earth and animal liberation activists. Entrapment and conspiracy cases intended to discredit protest movements targeted anarchists at summit and convention protests and in the Occupy movement, resulting in the NATO 3, Cleveland 4, and RNC 8 cases. During the Trump era, it has become convenient to invoke anarchists, the black bloc, and increasingly “antifa” as a bugaboo for right-wing fears of extreme left violence. We saw this in the J20 case and now in the absurd efforts to blame the militancy of the George Floyd and Black Lives Matter protests on outside agitators under the banner of antifa. Legislatures have proposed bills like the 2018 “Unmasking Antifa Act,” which would have made a terrifyingly vague list of actions undertaken while wearing a mask subject to fifteen year federal prison sentences. In the age of COVID–19, wearing a mask while protesting is no longer being targeted in the same way it has been in recent years across the US. But invoking “antifa” retains its rhetorical power. And prosecutors who want to show they’re tough on crime have gone after activists who’ve stood up to fascists and alt-right figures, raising the costs of militant resistance and providing material support to fascist organizing.
In the sea of fake news in which we’re swimming these days, especially where antifa is concerned, it’s important to hear directly from people who are being targeted for repression by this rhetoric. So we’ll continue our June 11th coverage by sharing an interview with antifascist prisoner David Campbell, who is currently serving a year-long sentence in New York City for antifascist activity. This interview, recorded in October 2019 just before David entered jail to serve time following a noncooperating plea deal, shows clearly the absurdity and political motivation behind the state’s efforts to crack down on antifascists and anarchists, and a moving portrait of the consequences that can result from simply standing up for what’s right in Trump’s America.
The Ex-Worker: Okay, so to get started, could you introduce yourself?
David Campbell: Yeah, sure. My name is David Campbell and I’m an antifascist, and I’m about to serve some time here in New York for charges stemming from my arrest in January 2018.
The Ex-Worker: Just to give us a little bit of background about yourself, could you tell us about how you first got interested in radical politics, and what struck you about antifascism in particular?
David Campbell: Yeah, so I think I actually discovered CrimethInc. my senior year of high school (thank you!) through a friend. That was a very important sort of anarchist gateway drug for me; it funneled me towards other strains of radical thought. I’ve done a lot of exploring of different ideologies over the years, and I’ve always had vaguely progressive sympathies. When I moved to New York and was befriending people who were from the neighborhood and stuff, seeing real poverty for the first time after college, that had an impact on my outlook on the scope of things, politically; that things would probably not be cured by neoliberal democracy. So I started kind of learning and going from anarchist organizations and events sporadically over the years that I’ve lived here in New York—I’ve been here almost 10 years now.
It was never really central to my life. I was just kind of a dude that would pop in sometimes. I would go out to May Day—I fucking love May Day; I wish we had a really strong tradition of that here, but we don’t. So we should bring May Day back. Great thing. So, you know, I would always go out for that. I used to joke that I was like one of those Christians that goes to church on Christmas and Easter. I would go out for May Day, and a couple of things a year. I would go to seminars at NYU about anarchist organizing methods and shit. But I didn’t do a whole lot.
Then after the  election I kicked it up a gear; I think a lot of people did, right? And one of the pressing concerns, among many, is antifascism. Because you have to shore up the defenses against this right-wing advance, in order to even have the possibility of creating these worlds we all dream of—which are, by the way, possible. Totally possible. But we have to allow them enough room to grow. And they will be snuffed out if we don’t put up a protective perimeter, right?
So for about a year I was pretty—I mean, not that involved. Listen, I was trying to chip in as I had free time. I think it’s incumbent on people to get up and do this. And maybe sometimes people feel alienated from the world of antifascism and don’t know how to do it. I had the benefit of being kind of marginally involved with the anarchist scene for a few years before Trump came to power, so I kind of knew where to look. So I just started going to more anarchist events and things, and in my experience as far as I can tell—obviously I’m a little biased, because I associate largely with anarchists, I identify mostly as an anarchist—but as far as I can tell, it’s mostly the anarchists who are doing the antifascist work now. So that’s how I came to be out there in January of last year.
The Ex-Worker: Yeah. So obviously since Trump’s election, like you said, a lot of people have kicked into gear, become more involved. In New York in particular, what were some of the circumstances around fascist organizing, extreme right organizing that lead to the event at which you were eventually arrested?
David Campbell: I mean, New York is like a super-progressive center. There’s not a lot of far-right stuff here, [though] there’s more than you might think. I think it’s definitely an easy trap to fall into, to say “There are no Nazis in New York.” Because there are in Greenpoint [Brooklyn], there was an article on them a couple years before 2016. Mike [Cernovich], that guy, [was] on the Upper East Side. Trump has a certain appeal to a lot of people, and some of those people live in New York.
Now, the way that the city is structured in terms of its laws, municipal policies, stuff like that, it’s pretty progressive—from like a neoliberal standpoint, a capitalist democracy standpoint. But we’re also seeing this thing around the country where far-right groups are organizing marches in progressive centers like Portland, just to kind of troll people in real life. So that happened a couple times. It happened a couple times over the year that I was involved on and off, here and there, with antifascist organizing. Far-right groups would come in. There was a march against sharia law, or something—I mean, like, fuck sharia law, but what are we really talking about here? Yeah, so stuff like that happened, and was what was happening when I was arrested. It was a big event with Mike Cernovich, Gavin McInnes, and Stefan Molyneux, who just wanted to throw a party on the same day as the Women’s March.
The Ex-Worker: What was the right-wing plan for that day, and how were antifascists planning on confronting it?
David Campbell: To the best of my knowledge, the right-wing plan was just to have a party and celebrate Trump’s one-year anniversary of being in office, and I think just kind of troll the general public of people who don’t affiliate with the far-right afterwards by saying, “Look, we had this party in New York, in the heart of Manhattan.” I think also, Mike Cernovich is—I’m not particularly concerned with him, [though] I think he’s super concerned with me; like he said he was going to “subpoena the money” or something? I mean, he could subpoena my Capital One [bank] account; it’s not very impressive. He’s super concerned with me. I’m not really concerned with him, but I think he is dangerous, because he’s a grifter and a con man and a conspiracy theorist who poses as being someone more respectable. And he is definitely, firmly in the alt-light sort of milieu, which is a dangerous place. So I think he was looking to get a tour out of it, and get some money out of it, and get some prestige and publicity like he is often looking to do.
And then through the far left, antifascist folks that I’ve associated with, it kind of came to me in dribs and drabs where people were saying, like, there’s going to be a venue. We’re going to call in to shut down the venue. There was a Twitter account and I think that blasted the location, it was a temporary Twitter account. And this event was not starting until like 7 PM. Like I said, it was the same day as the Women’s March. So I think a lot of people planned to go to the Women’s March in a show of solidarity. I mean, a lot of people don’t know what the fuck anarchism is. What are these dudes in black doing? Yeah, we’re for women’s rights, definitely firmly, right, okay?
So a lot of people planned, myself included, to go out to the Women’s March. And then there I heard that it was still going on, that this far-right event was still planned for the evening. There was a Black Lives Matter event in Grand Central, and then I went over to the Cernovich event with a friend.
Yeah, it was just a protest. It was one of the most boring protests I’ve ever been to. The cops were being super calm. Most people were in black bloc but there were also like, old people with funny signs, and—you know, the short answer to your question is that it was just a protest. That was the plan, was to keep the pressure up on these guys, right?
I had talked about that in organizing meetings with people, saying, look, we have to keep the pressure up on them. Especially when they’re doing things that seem to be pretty innocuous, like having a dinner party. That’s really important. Because these guys are not Nazis; they don’t have swastika tattoos, right? Some of them are not even what you would consider white supremacists, right? But they’re close. And that’s dangerous, because they funnel people from center-right Republicanism towards Trumpism and then possibly even further. You see people, especially as they start to feel that maybe they’re not accomplishing their goals, or Trump is not accomplishing the goals that they hope he’d accomplish for them, they start to feel burned out and jaded and they get more nihilistic, and the next thing you know they’re shooting up a Walmart because they can’t get laid or something.
Anyway, what I mean is it is dangerous to present this sort of worldview as normal, as something someone on the center-right can easily slide into. Because it is. But it’s not a tenable position for a decent society to have this sort of shit running wild in the streets.
The Ex-Worker: So what happened?
David Campbell: We got over there at like 7 PM. I was pretty tired. I was actually getting ready to move; I was looking forward to turning over a new leaf at the time. I felt that I had been doing this sort of antifascist organizing for a year, and this was probably the last time that this was going to come to my city. I think there were 700 people, and 700 tickets sold to this event? And this was the last time that this was going to happen while I was here.
I do feel that it has some aspect of responsibility. I don’t mean to sound super cheesy. I’m an Eagle Scout and I know that’s super nerdy, but there’s a lot of values that are in the Boy Scouts that overlap with anarchism, and I’m kind of proud of that. So you know, being an active member of your society is important. And if that means that you put on a ski mask every once-in-a-while and stand across the street from 700 fascists and tell them to go home, then like, fine, that’s what I’ll do. I’d really rather be doing something else, right. As a good friend and comrade put it, early on in my short-lived antifascist career, “I’d rather be high on my couch watching cartoons.” Which like, yeah, totally. But, sometimes you gotta get out in the streets.
So I was out there and, like I said, it was extremely boring. People kept suggesting, “Let’s go get a drink, this sucks.” But it’s my last protest, I had to be at work the next morning, so around 10:15 my friend and I started walking from the 12th Ave. side of the barricade, back around the block, back to 11th Ave. side of the barricade to see if there was anyone that we knew over there and say goodbye to them, and then go back to the train.
My friend and I were walking over towards the entrance and other people were walking with us, but they’re not people that I know. Now of course, the prosecution didn’t want to hear that, because it’s like, “You’re all wearing black, you’re moving the same direction, [so] you’re a gang,” or whatever. So we’re moving around the corner at the same time as maybe five other people, also in black bloc, are moving around the corner. We pass a guy in a suit; he looks a little tipsy, he’s leaving the event. He looks kinda scowly; he really doesn’t look happy. He’s leaving the event. Nobody heckles him, nobody just sucker punches him. He walks past us. There are 6–8 of us. No one says anything. We go around the corner and there are like four or five guys in suits coming up the street, being drunk and belligerent, and clearly leaving the event. This was an event where they specified that you had to dress in suits, no MAGA hats; you have to look presentable. And they’re coming up the sidewalk.
I didn’t see how it started. I don’t know. I kind of wish I did, because I’d really like to know. It’s always a finger-pointing game. But something popped off. The first thing I saw was a dude in a suit smack a woman in the face, an open-handed smack, and say, “commie bitch.” It just kicked it all off. It just exploded. People started squaring off, circling around each other, shoving. People started swinging punches pretty quickly. The guy that we had just passed around the corner, came running around the corner and rushed back in and just took a swing at my face. I dodged his punch, he swung at me again, I punched him in the face, because—don’t try to punch me, right? Great.
I’d just like to say—look, this is complicated. Antifascist action, what it entails, when physical violence is appropriate… this is all complicated stuff. But, man, I’d just like to say: if you are in a position where a fascist tries to punch you and you punch him back, it is really funny to see how pissed off they look. The guy just looked like he couldn’t believe that he got socked in the face. And I was like, “Well, yeah—you tried to punch me, so I punched you, you idiot!”
So that happened, and then things kind of calmed down for a minute. And people kind of lined up, on different sides. There were some people kind of circulating around the center. Then as far as I can tell, this second bout of brawling popped off again, when the same guy who had come back around the corner and charged in swinging at me lunged at me with another wild swing. I think he was trying to have the last laugh. And that was when I realized, this guy is really drunk. Because it was a wild lunge and a swing. And so I punched him in the face again, in the same spot. And was just like, “Jesus, dude!”
That happened—though, you know what? Maybe I should have just blocked, and chilled out. But I reacted the way I did, and suddenly, whoosh. It’s just very tense. So it popped off, again. This guy, in the course of the second bout of violence, got knocked over, he probably was knocked unconscious when he hit the curb. I don’t know if he tripped or was pushed or whatever. Some people started kicking him and stomping him.
Then I was moving backwards up the street, when this other guy, a totally different person tried to punch me, I kicked him, he tried to punch somebody else, I kicked him again. And then somebody just grabbed me from behind, kind of around my shoulders and neck. I tried to wriggle away, and I realized that they were much bigger than me. And I started to kind of freak out, because I thought this was some fucking muscly Proud Boy dude who had just come out of the event and was going to fuck me up. So this guy, as I’m trying to wriggle away, picks me up off the ground, as I’m hurtling through the air towards the pavement, he says—“Stop resisting,” I think he said? He said, “Stop resisting,” or “Don’t struggle,” or something, I can’t remember. But he said “I’m a cop.” I was like, “Oh, thanks for telling me.” And he slams me on the ground.
He broke my leg in two places. He broke my left tibia, spiral fractures. So if you imagine a column start at one point, take a sharpie and slowly draw a line spiraling from top to bottom around it. That’s the kind of fracture I had. It’s kind of weird and hard to repair. I had that and then another fracture somewhere else. So he just slammed me to the ground, broke my leg, and the first thing I said when I hit the pavement is “okay, I’m calm, here are my hands” and the second thing I said is “I think my leg is broken.” I had never broken a bone before, but I could just feel like shit wasn’t right. It felt like my leg was bending at my ankle, but like a third of the way up my shin. Which is not cool, because, I know a little anatomy and that’s not how your shit works.
So he cuffs me, his partner runs on the scene, people are just gaggling around from both sides, in suits and in black bloc, at the one dude who’s knocked out, face down, and at me, who’s lying on the ground handcuffed. Soon we’re just swarmed with cops. The cops are saying, “I got the perp, how’s the vic[tim]?” This one cop comes over and says, “If he doesn’t wake up, you’re facing manslaughter, bro.” They just are looking at me with total disgust, I told them, “Look it’s not what it seems like. I hope that guy’s okay. I think my leg is broken.” He’s like, “Oh, isn’t that a shame,” and just walks away.
So I go to the hospital. They put the guy in an ambulance, they take him to the ER. I find out later that he was drunk, he tried to fight his way out of the ER, they had to strap him down and say, “No this is an ongoing investigation.” He was released, he walked out. [He] came back three days later, they told him he had some hairline fractures on one side of his face, he had some bruising. I saw some pictures, it looked pretty ugly. Okay, I didn’t have anything to do with that.
I get put in a cop car, and they take me to the precinct, they make me get out, hobble into the precinct and then tell them that I want medical attention. And then they make me go back out and get into an ambulance, and then drive me a few blocks to the hospital. I spent sixteen hours in the ER, and then I went uptown to another hospital and waited for another day in the hospital to go under surgery. Then I got a metal rod inserted into my shin bone with like three different screws to hold it in. Then I spent another day recovering. Then I learned to walk on crutches and they took me downtown and kept me in a holding cell for the afternoon. Then they arraigned me.
And when they arraigned me, I heard for the first time that the narrative was: apparently, that a group of people in black masks had attacked an old man who was backing away with his hands in the air. And I was foremost among them. That was what I heard. I was like, “What! That didn’t happen!” I was kind of strung out at this point, because I had just had this whole experience that was … right? There was a cop who was kind of nice and reasonable in the ER. And I explained that I needed to make a phone call to my work. I work, was working, mostly as a funeral director. The stakes are kind of high. If I just don’t show up for work, it can fuck up somebody’s funeral, which is not cool. So I was like, “Listen, I gotta make this phone call, I work for a small business, I’m the only person in the office on this day of the week.” Cuz the cops were telling me, when I was in the hospital, “You don’t get any phone calls until you’re arraigned.” I was like, “I’m not going to be arraigned until I get to surgery! It could be days from now.” So I was able to make a phone call to my work, and to my brother, who put out the call to MACC Legal. MACC is the Metropolitan Anarchist Coordinating Council, an anarchist organization here in New York that I was doing some work with from time to time. MACC Legal got me a lawyer who got me arraigned and actually has been really rad.
So that was the first I heard of it. Then when they finally let me out on bail. My friends had gathered bail for me, which was awesome, so I was able to go home, to crutch-walk my way out. There were like twenty people just standing there in the hallway of the courtroom, just waiting there to hug me. I don’t mean to sound cheesy, but it’s something I’ll never forget. It was like real solidarity. Those people waited around for hours just to see me. It turned out they had been trying to call me and send gifts, but because I was a suspect they wouldn’t allow any of that in. I still get chills thinking about it, in a good way. It’s just so humbling. All these people. They got me a Build-A-Bear. They took good care of me. They put me in a cab, sent me home.
But before I went home in a cab, some of my friends and comrades that were there told me, “Just be careful. Because now you’re kind of a public person.” I’m like, “What do you mean?” They’re like, “There was media coverage, and it was really bad.” I’m like, “How bad?” and they’re like, “Really bad.” So I take a few days and I look it up. And it just broke my heart when I saw this stuff, seriously.
I had been through all this, and now I’m facing charges that I’m pretty sure I can beat because they’re nonsense. But this stuff is out there in the public. It was in a couple places, just right-wing newspapers, including the New York Post, but the story was—with some pretty substantive variations, the through-line was that I had tried to choke this guy, that he was an old man, and that the cop had saved the day and I had tried to choke the cop. Which is ridiculous, because he’s twice as big as me and a cop. And I’m not like Bruce Willis or whatever.
So that was kind of the initial narrative. There were a lot of variations in the story—whether I had stalked the guy up the street, whether I had punched him once or punched him repeatedly. One of the reports said that I had choked him with my left hand while punching him with my left hand, which is physically impossible. There’s a lot of shit like that. It’s just like Swiss cheese.
My legal shit went on for a year and nine months. That’s a long time. Over the course of this whole affair, it became clear that the cop was covering for the fact that he charged in. He was just parking the cars or something; another cop let that slip to me. You can see in the surveillance footage that he just kind of bumbles in, onto the scene, and sees this brawl. And he just charges in to the first person wearing black. He sees a dude in black hoodie and bandana tangling with a dude in the suit. What do you think he thinks is the bad guy? So he charges at me, grabs me, breaks my leg, without announcing anything. So he had to come up with a story so he doesn’t get demerits or cuts to his pension or whatever. Personally, I can’t imagine throwing someone under the bus to the point of them doing years in prison so that I don’t lose ten grand a year or whatever when I retire. That’s really fucking shallow. But that was the initial narrative.
So the initial charges were assault, and strangulation and obstruction of oxygen (which are apparently two different charges in New York state) and resisting arrest. I was like, okay, I can beat those. Then they got the surveillance footage about six months later. It’s pretty grainy; everyone’s wearing black and covering their faces, so you can’t tell who’s who. It’s also hard to tell who’s who on the other side. The guys in suits are all wearing dark suits, it’s the back of their heads. But the surveillance camera footage shows nothing of the sort that the cop originally reported. There’s no stalking, there’s no me jumping on an old man and trying to strangle him, there’s no chokehold of the cop. All that’s nonsense.
But they changed the charge. They kept the assault charge and kept the resisting arrest charge. They dropped the strangulation and obstruction of oxygen, but they added gang assault—which my lawyer explained to me is bad. Very bad. Gang assault is really a sledgehammer of a law in New York. It was passed in the law of ‘96, right in the middle of the [Mayor Rudolph] Giuliani era, right when the city was being “cleaned up.” So it’s any time that there’s three or more people engaged in a fight, they are a gang. You don’t have to prove affiliation. You don’t have to prove that they know each other. They don’t have to have any of that. They can be three strangers fighting one, two or three other strangers, and they’re both gangs. They’re legally culpable for each other’s actions, and it carries a three-and-a-half year mandatory minimum. So it’s vague, it’s written very vaguely, and it’s been established through previous cases to heavily favor the prosecution. It’s been established that you don’t have to prove that the people know each other. You don’t have to prove criminal intent. They don’t have to be trying to do the same thing. They just have to be engaged in the brawl. And if that can be proven, they will do three and a half years in prison, and five years parole. That’s the amount of parole you get for doing that much time. So that’s what I ended up facing off against. It’s been a wild ride. That essentially is where we start working down to where I am now.
The Ex-Worker: So you found yourself in this position where you’ve had your leg broken, you’ve been arrested, you’re facing serious charges. And this media narrative has been concocted against you about “violent antifascism” and what not. What ultimately happened with your legal case?
David Campbell: We tried to wear them down but it became clear that this case wasn’t going to disappear. It was in the spotlight. I’m a firm believer that Officer Keegan—that’s the arresting officer, of the First Precinct—his lies kind of set the narrative, because that was what went to the media and it set the standard way up here, where I was this violent antifascist thug who tried to kill people or whatever. So I ended up having to take a non-cooperating plea, and they wouldn’t let me get away with anything less than doing time. Which sucks. My lawyers were like yeah, they’ll treat you okay. But in fact, they can’t have those types of people running wild in the streets in ski masks, right? They’ve gotta make an example of me; that’s what it boils down to. The Manhattan DA’s office is a Democratic institution run by an elected Democrat. But they’re Democratic elite, they are law-and-order Democrats. They want to show that they can put away the far-right, so they put away these Proud Boys who were involved in this Upper East Side altercation that was very similar in a lot of ways. Now they’re going to put me away, the only person on the far-left who is in the system, and then they’re going to subpoena Trump’s taxes and call it a day, and say, “We are a neutral arbiter of justice, we keep the streets quiet.”
So I took a non-cooperating plea to felony gang assault because I couldn’t get out from under it. And in order to get them to shave a little time off my sentence, I took a plea to assault with an instrument. I pleaded guilty to kicking the man when he was down. The instrument is my shoe, which was a super lightweight sneaker which weighs about a fourth of a pair of Chuck [Taylor] All-Stars weigh. But yeah, it’s on par with like a baseball bat or a gun, or whatever. So that’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to go in to serve hopefully twelve months. I’ll be out in twelve months on good behavior, serve a year straight through, at Rikers, starting October 23rd .
The Ex-Worker: Your case is coming to its conclusion at a time when in some ways, it seems like really confrontational fascism and anti-fascist self-defense has sort of peaked and is on a bit of a decline. But we’re heading into an election year, we know that fascism is surging around the world, that it’s being exemplified in Turkey, in Brazil, in a lot of other places. And we don’t know what’s going to happen in 2020, whether Trump is elected or not. So can you tell us a little bit about sort of, how you see the state of anti-fascism now, how your experience fits into that, and what you would say to other folks who are concerned about fascism and wanting to do anti-fascist organizing today?
David Campbell: Yeah, I’d say that something you hear all the time but you can’t repeat it enough: antifascism comes in many forms, and there are so many tools in the kit. It’s not always punching fascists. The fucking clown bloc thing is awesome, it’s super rad. These guys cannot stand to be humiliated, right? And that can be probably more powerful than punching fascists.
I do not think that it is always wrong to punch fascists. I think that sometimes it is very right to punch fascists, because that is a form of humiliation. But even if it’s moral—and I don’t want to get into that whole thing, because it’s a whole quagmire of “what if?” ethical questions. But let’s assume that it’s often moral to punch fascists. It’s not always convenient. It’s not always going to help your cause. In fact, if you do it wrong, it can backfire. Because it is about optics, it is a PR game in a lot of ways. It is what other people see. It is making an example of people, the same way that the state is making an example of me, right?
So we need to be very careful about how we do it, like how you take your fucking penicillin all the way even when your symptoms are gone, because if you don’t, it comes back worse. So be very careful. And don’t let the fucking group violence thing run amok. Keep a cool head. Don’t put a comrade in my position. I’ve got to do this time. I mean, the state wants to know who I was with. Fortunately for them I don’t know anyone who I was with. But they wouldn’t come off an offer of 3.5 years for the better part of a year, about nine months, unless I would tell them who I was with. I was like, “Ha, I don’t know anybody, sorry.” But that’s a lot to sit with. And now I’ve got to sit with the fact that I’m going to go do a year. This is not my time. But it’s something I knew was possible going into this.
So I think we have to acknowledge that it’s inherently messy work, and inherently dangerous work. But it’s still super necessary and it deserves to be done. So just do it right and do it carefully, and do it with people you trust. And then if you’re not comfortable getting into the streets in a situation that might be confrontational, just vocal support of antifa and antifascism goes along way. Antifa is not an organization, right? It’s a thing you do. You work within the situation you have. And if that’s all you can do, that’s OK. You can also donate to the International Antifascist Defense Fund. You do what y you can where you can.
If you want to get involved. You can find, probably an anarchist organization near you and take it easy. Meet people, get to know people. And when you go out, go out with one or two people that you know and trust. Or if you have friends and you don’t have any links to an anarchist organization, but you’re pretty sympathetic to antifascism, you can research the stuff online, form your own antifa group. It’s a decentralized thing. That’s how it should be done anyways.
The Ex-Worker: So you’ll be doing most likely twelve months in jail here in New York City. What kind of support are you looking for? What can we do to let you know that you’re not alone while you’re doing this time?
David Campbell: I have an awesome support crew. Some of the people on my support crew are veteran defense committee folks who have said that this is like, the most well-oiled machine that they’ve ever worked on. It’s actually super amazing. It’s my first time and I really hope my last. But it’s just been really overwhelming. I’ve had so much awesome support of various stripes. I’ve had people put together a fundraiser, a website. People helped me get medical insurance. I’ve had free mental health care. I’ve had free training in meditation and self-defense. I’ve interviewed twelve different people who’ve done time. I’ve gotten so much prep for this. It’s fucking incredible.
And for people who are not on my support committee, go to freedavidcampbell.com. That’s my website, set up by my support committee. There’s all the information you need on there to write me letters – please write me letters. To visit me – please visit me, I don’t care if I don’t know you, that’d be great. My defense committee will probably even facilitate your transportation up there if you’re in New York or you come to New York. That would be wonderful. You can send me books; I have a book list that should be enough to get me started. That will be up on somewhere, my defense committee is taking care of it. Yeah. But just keep me busy.
Connections with the outside world are really important; that’s what the research shows for recovering well from especially short periods of incarceration. And this is comparatively short. I mean, most people inside go through much worse—have no support, have no commissary, get no mail, get no visits; are not in there for something they believe in, and are not getting out soon. You know what I mean? So I’m trying to take it in stride. I mean, it sucks, but it’s like, yeah. So what people can do is like help me remember that I’m coming out soon and there’s a support network for me.
The Ex-Worker: Are there any last things that you would want to share based on your experience about your thoughts on antifascism today, or the struggle against Trump and the world that makes him possible, moving forward?
David Campbell: For my part, I just like, encourage people, again, to remember that antifascism is a hugely diverse set of tactics. And that it’s just something that decent people who know history should do. It’s not that complicated.
I think that we need to set a precedent now, moving into a world that’s probably going to increasingly destabilize. We have climate catastrophe looming, with that mass migration. We have the sort of rise of the far right, people trying to close borders firmly. I think Naomi Klein calls it “climate barbarism”; that’s a great term. So that is unfortunately probably only going to increase. So we need to decide now as a society, which direction we’re going to go, right? Are we going to welcome people in? Are we going to work with people? Are we going to try and take responsibility for the wrongs that we’ve done, and right them? Or are we just going to be Conan the Barbarian dicks?
With that sort of long view, it’s important not just for me personally, but for antifascists who come after me, now I have to retire. If I get caught doing things after this, I’ll do ten years, right? I can do plenty of other things, behind the scenes, but I can’t get out in the streets any more. I can’t. But it’s important with that long view for people to call bullshit on my case. Because it is bullshit. And repression doesn’t have to be as straight-up as J20, where [former Trump attorney general] Jeff Sessions is the head of that. Like, it can be the liberal Manhattan DA’s office thinking they’re doing the right thing. And it is still a repression case.
And if they do this to me… I’m halfway to normie, dude. I’m not like a committed anarchist. I’m just an interloper, I’m a fellow traveler. And that’s fine, I’m not embarrassed about that, that’s who I am. But if they do this to me, with next to no evidence, and the dude that’s just making an example of me, regardless of what quote unquote “crimes” I may or may not have committed: what do you think they’re going to do to you ten years from now? I mean, you see legislation all over the place about sending antifascists to prison for long chunks of time. It’s often defined as just wearing a mask at a protest.
So call bullshit on it now. Snuff it out now. Because it’s going to get worse. If you let the liberal Manhattan DA’s office get away with it now, then next the Republicans are going to send you away for a long time if you just throw on a handkerchief because there’s tear gas in the air. I mean, it will get bad quick. So just stand strong, stand together. Do what you can.
The Ex-Worker: Just know that we’re going to be here, and we’ll be sending you love, sending you letters, keeping you in our thoughts. And we’ll be here for you when you get out.
David Campbell: Cool. I can’t wait to get out. I really fucking can’t wait to get out of jail. Haven’t even gone yet. No, it’s cool, man. I got a year. I’ll take some time to read, write, reflect, meditate, exercise. You know, I’ll meet some interesting people. And hopefully when I get out, I will, thanks to my own efforts, not the state, be a better person. There are people who do that, especially with short, shorter sentences. Shit, some people pay a lot of money to go to Buddhist retreats and stuff. I’m trying to see it that way.
So yeah, I’m scared, I’m a white boy from the suburbs. Where I come from people don’t do time. And I will stick out like a sore thumb in there. But when I get out, and I walk through the door, I am free. And I have no parole. So this is the best, or the least shitty deal we could get. And I know that, and I’m just looking forward to getting through it and I know that people have my back and it’s really pretty amazing.
So if you find yourself in this situation, know that people will come together for you. People you’ve never met will do the most amazing things, will bend over backwards to make you feel loved and supported. It’s pretty awesome. So I hope to see some of y’all soon. Write me a letter!
The Ex-Worker: Thanks, David.
David Campbell: Thank you.
INTERVIEW: UPDATE FROM DAVID CAMPBELL’S SUPPORT CREW
The interview you’ve just heard was recorded in the fall of 2019. While doing time in prisons or jails is never easy, none of us could have predicted at the time how horrific the conditions inside so many facilities around the country would become—and Rikers Island is one of the worst. In April, a man jailed there on a technical parole violation died of COVID–19, and as dozens of cases spread among both inmates and COs, media reports described the New York City jail as “the epicenter of the epicenter.”.
And as if that wasn’t enough, with the explosion of popular anger over racist police violence in the aftermath of George Floyd’s killing shaking the foundations of the United States, Trump and Attorney General Barr decided to try to deflect attention and divide supporters by attributing the unrest to ANTIFA—usually described in all caps—as a group of supposed black-clad domestic terrorists responsible for wrecking peaceful protests. While this is transparently absurd for any number of reasons, this appeal to their right-wing and law enforcement base worked; we’ve heard many reports of cops harassing protestors and arrestees by asking if they’re “antifa.”
Let’s turn now to a brief interview with a member of David Campbell’s support crew, who shares some updates about his situation since he began his sentence.
The Ex-Worker: Hi, thanks for speaking with us. Can you introduce yourself and say a word about how you got involved in David’s support crew?
Maura: Yes. My name is Maura, I am an anarchist here in New York, and I’m involved with the David Campbell Support Committee. I am in the support committee because one, I want to support my friend who is an antifascist political prisoner. But it all actually began with a smaller working group called MACC Legal, which is the Metropolitan Anarchist Coordinating Council Legal working group—that’s a bit of a mouthful. But we were doing legal support for David during all of this. And many of us who were from that working group easily transferred over into the support group.
That’s the brief end of it. But it had been about a year and a half, almost two years of legal support, and when he took a plea and then went to Rikers, the support committee was already well under way at that point.
The Ex-Worker: So we heard David speak about the circumstances of his arrest and the case against him. Before the pandemic hit, how were things going for him? Were there any updates about him or his case?
Maura: Before the pandemic hit, David was doing actually pretty well. I think that because he had such a good support committee—I’m not just tooting my own horn; it’s full of people that he knows well and trusts, and we really tried to make this terrible situation as easy for him as possible. So he was able to do outreach right away with other anarchist organizations. He was also able to do a lot of French translation while he was inside. That was one of his goals: I’m going to spend my time not just wokring and giving my labor to the prison system, but also doing work that makes me feel empowered and makes me feel like I’m working towards what I antes to o had I not been incarcerated. He’s very passionate about these writing projects that he’s had and started those right away.
The emotional side of that, it’s been really hard for him. Before all of this kind if spiraled into a chaotic pandemic, being incarcerated during a pandemic, it was emotionally hard on him, but also I’ve been personally, and I think others can speak to his resilience and discipline of how he’s going to serve his time, and how he’s going to spend it with some of his own autonomy, some of his own decisions that he can have control over, I think has been helpful for him.
The Ex-Worker: Of course, none of us could have anticipated the pandemic, which has been especially brutal in Rikers Island, the facility where David has been stuck. What have you heard from him about the impact of COVID–19 inside? How is he responding to the health crisis?
Maura: One of the things that has stood out to me as one of his support people, and also getting information from places like the Legal Aid Society in terms of these rates in carceral settings of the pandemic of COVID–19 is how quickly it can spread. And not only being in such close proximity to other people, but also the negligence of the correctional officers that they’re surrounded by. So it’s a combination of not having enough PPE [personal protective equipment], not having—so even before this, Rikers Island is not a place that is sanitary, It’s not looked after, and neither are the people inside. So they’re already starting on a really unhealthy and dangerous place. Once the pandemic came, incarcerated folks were a lot more anxious about—they were fighting just to get cleaning supplies, and ended up using their bar of soap that they use for showering, to clean their clothes, to then also clean sinks, to clean around their beds. Here we are fighting for Chlorox wipes and toilet paper, and they can’t even get different soap to wash their hands with and clean the surface that they use to eat or sleep. So yeah, it was really bad, and there was also fear of, because you’re not supposed to cover your face while incarcerated because then COs will target you as a member of a gang, or you’re hiding something, or you’re trying to intimidate people. So he was also worried about covering up his face, for fear of being seen as trying to provoke something rather than just trying to protect himself and the people around him that he’s way too close to physically. So eventually they were able to get permission to wear face coverings, whether it was just a t-shirt, or eventually masks, eventually slightly more soap. No hand sanitizer ever really became an option. There’s also a lot to say about the health clinic (if you can even really call it that) at Rikers, that people were not treated with medical care that they actually needed; many people were not even able to go to the clinic and just had to stick it out on their own if they were feeling like they had COVID symptoms. Personally, he luckily hasn’t been sick; he’s not high risk. But he’s seen a lot of people that have been sick and are still inside, or were never diagnosed and just had to ride it out in these already really bleak conditions in super unsafe ways.
The Ex-Worker: I understand that a couple of months ago David was involved in a brief hunger strike relating to prisoner conditions there. Can you tell us a bit about that?
Maura: Yeah, so the hunger strike was back—it seems like a very long time ago now—on March 21st–22nd, so it was a really brief hunger strike. But it all started with a lot of people getting upset about not having enough PPE, the COs not wearing PPE around incarcerated folks, being shoved into a dorm with double bunked beds—I think they sleep two and a half feet apart, so there’s no way to “socially distance” six feet apart, it’s just impossible. And by the time that people were getting diagnosed with COVID in Rikers, instead of doing what they should have done (which is release all of them), they quarantined some people, and then if you were not showing symptoms, you were then shoved into a dorm with even more people. So the already over-crowded dorms doubled in population.
So they were starting to hear from loved ones about the Hudson County Jail strike, and decided to—and I think that David is a large reason why this hunger strike was able to happen, even though he’s kind of modest about it—but you know, organizing people saying hey, if we do this hunger strike and we want to put out a statement, I’ll let all my antifa/anarchist/activist friends put it out on their networks, and we can get some really major press about this.
So it happened really quickly. He called a friend from the support committee and just read this statement that they wrote up that night. We put it out on Twitter, and the next day they were all really hyped up about it because I guess it was Chicken Day, which is a big deal, because it’s one of the only meals that any of them actually enjoy eating. So skipping that meal was a big deal for them. I recommend that people read David’s Hard Crackers article because he gives a really good play-by-play about what actually went down for the hunger strike.
But yeah, in brief, it had to end early because ultimately they weren’t really able to continue the strike because of COVID conditions and not being able to go to the recreational areas and to the main areas that they would have been striking against; so they weren‘t able to go into work because of COVID. So that’s why the strike was brief, but it did get a lot of press; they saw [New York City Mayor Bill] De Blasio mention it, they heard all about it showing up on Twitter and Facebook and Instagram. They were really hyped. He expressed it as a moment of solidarity that he hadn’t felt yet while inside.
The Ex-Worker: Since the president and attorney general have decided to construct “antifa” as the scapegoats for the massive nationwide anti-police rebellion that have been going on. How has this impacted David as an openly antifascist prisoner?
Maura: Yeah, so I’ll start by saying that David has mentioned retaliation from correctional officers, specifically ones that were even a bit more friendly toward him. He doesn’t feel as though it’s necessarily because he’s an antifascist political prisoner; he did say that, I spoke to him yesterday about that specifically. But he did say that they are—because their egos are bruised at the moment; because cops have a bad rap globally, and definitely in this country; people are talking about how unfair prison systems are that haven’t really talked about it in the mainstream [before]. So when the news is on, when the radios are on, this is all being heard within Rikers. So COs are acting out, they’re doing multiple searches a day (whereas before because it is a pandemic, they weren’t doing any searches at all, because it’s unsafe). They’re also pretending that COVID is not even a thing, so to speak. They’re not wearing masks, they’re not wearing gloves, they’re not handing out new masks, they’re not keeping up with the cleaning supplies, they’re not socially distancing people. So they’re erasing the fact that there’s a pandemic and then also making life more miserable for people that are inside.
I guess a lot more people are being thrown in to Rikers, and he always gets freaked out when he sees other white people because he doesn’t know if they are going to be a Trump supporter and then come at him with their MAGA hat, so to speak. He has not had any issues about that, but he does worry about it as more and more people go in, because he is publicly an antifascist political prisoner, people there that he knows well (because he’s been there now eight months) respect him, he’s friends with them; if they don’t like what he’s about, they kind of leave him alone. So it feels unsettling again, in terms of who’s coming in; I don’t know them, but they know me. But he hasn’t had any—nobody’s saying antifa leaders or anything like that. Which is interesting, in terms of what we’re hearing versus what gets inside.
The Ex-Worker: In addition to writing letters, is there anything else we can do right now to support David or other antifascist prisoners?
Maura: Definitely writing letters. David even loves to talk to people that he doesn’t know super well on virtual visits. He really enjoys seeing new faces; he loves his support crew, but he really does like seeing new people. So I can share information on how to do a virtual visit with him.
Also, definitely writing letters to all of our political prisoners right now is the best way to make them feel less alone; to make them feel like, even though there’s all this kind of exciting shit happening on the outside, that they are very much a part of it, and in a lot of ways generate our more radical conversations around the police.
The Ex-Worker: Thanks for taking the time to speak with us!
[“Prison Song,” by Slug’s Revenge – Part 1]
PRISONER SOLIDARITY DURING THE PANDEMIC: THE SOUTH FLORIDA COVID–19 HOTLINE FOR INCARCERATED PEOPLE
Since the pandemic hit the United States earlier this year, some of the most urgent activism we’ve seen take place prior to the Justice for George Floyd uprising has taken place around prisoners. In March and April, as states began to put in place lockdowns, shelter-in-place orders, and other measures to slow the spread of the virus, reports trickling out from jails, prisons, and migrant detention centers indicated that the situation was dire. Health care in prisons, often operated by private companies with a financial interest in providing as little care as possible, was abysmal long before the pandemic; and with chronic overcrowding, limited access to information, and no hygiene supplies available, the conditions were in place for disaster.As a result, creative prisoner advocates began holding demonstrations in vehicles, making noise and showing prisoners they aren’t forgotten while attracting public attention to their plight. Demonstrations such as the caravan at the Eloy and La Palma facilities in Arizona and at the Hudson County Detention Center in New Jersey attracted well over 100 vehicles and sympathetic media attention. In some cities, such as Philadelphia, police attempted to harass demonstrators by pulling over vehicles, issuing tickets, and obstructing access to intended destinations, but in other cases, demonstrations proceeded successfully with minimal consequences to participants. In other places, protestors escalated tactics; as Fight Toxic Prisons reported, in April a supporter locked down to concrete barrels at the governor’s mansion](https://fight-toxic-prisons.org/2020/04/17/protester-locks-down-in-front-of-florida-governors-mansion-demanding-the-release-of-incarcerated-people/) in Tallahassee, Florida to demand the release of prisoners threatened by COVID–19.
One of the perpetual challenges of folks attempting to do prisoner support is simply communication: how do we know what’s going on inside? How can we keep in regular contact with incarcerated folks to respond to their needs and share information? One of the solutions that activists have devised is by creating hotlines for prisoners and detainees, offering a lifeline to the outside and a consistent source of information for advocates fighting for decarceration. To learn more about how this tactic has operated, we’ll turn now to an interview with a participant in the South Florida COVID–19 Hotline for Incarcerated People. In the past weeks, volunteers with the hotline have spoken with hundreds of people in south Florida jails, help secure bail or negotiate releases for a number of prisoners, contributed data to ACLU lawsuits, testified in court, pushed media to pay attention to prisoner experiences, and provided vital personal support and connection to a wide range of people. Let’s see what lessons we can learn about how we can wage effective prisoner solidarity efforts even in the most constrained circumstances.
The Ex-Worker: Hi, thanks for speaking with us. Could you introduce yourself and tell us a bit about how you got involved in prisoner solidarity during the pandemic?
CHIP Hotline: Hi! My name is Ruddy, and during the outbreak of COVID–19, comrades, friends, folks in struggle reached out to me and said that there is a need for getting data and connecting with prisoners and folks that are incarcerated inside jails and detention centers in so-called Florida. We got that message from folks from Fight Toxic Prisons and also from the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee. They did not have capacity to do it and also saw that there were some challenges specifically with Florida detention centers and jails. So we tried to respond as quickly as we could, getting a burner phone set up and going and doing car demos outside of jails in Broward County and Palm Beach County and blasting the phone number of the burner phone. With that, and also being connected with family members of people that were incarcerated, we were able to get the phone number in two different counties and five different jails rather quickly since April 5th.
The Ex-Worker: What sorts of stories have you been hearing from folks inside the jails about their health and conditions?
CHIP Hotline: So since April 5th, we have collected over two hundred individual accounts from the different jails that we’ve received calls from. And the reports of what we’ve been hearing are atrocious. It’s even worsened now because of COVID–19. With the pandemic, there’s a lot of whitewashing going on. Broward County claims that they’ve lowered their rates of incarceration, while a Black sheriff is claiming that he’s trying to do as much reform as possible to improve conditions inside and stop police brutality. The reports that we’ve heard on the inside really demonstrate that reforms are really not the answer, and reforms aren’t solving the problems, the institutional racism, and the actual absolutely dangerous conditions that are inside the jails.
We have gotten reports from the infirmary in Broward Main Jail, that it is extremely unsanitary: that there have been fecal matter and other bodily materials on the walls, on clothing; that people that have real serious conditions, multiple reports of people that have had broken body parts and that have only received Tylenol. We received reports of police assaults—that someone had an open, gaping wound, and instead of being able to get actual medical treatment, that they were assaulted by corrections officers, made bloodied, and left alone overnight before they could even get medical attention. It’s very clear that the system is broken and that the conditions are very unsanitary.
Again, with the coronavirus, we’ve had reports that the corrections officers and the nurses are going into known contaminated areas and then going from those contaminated areas into known not-contaminated areas (or at least not confirmed). And so are not helping—they’re not changing their garbs, their not changing their gloves, so they are literally one of the largest sources of bringing in and spreading the virus. And then the other source is continually bringing more people into the jails off the streets, not only into the jail itself, but also bringing people off the streets into areas where people have been incarcerated in the jails for over a year or two years, way before the pandemic even started, and so people that could definitely be isolated from it and [have] never been exposed to it are now getting exposed to it from folks getting pulled off the streets. We’ve had reports that people are thrown into solitary because they cover their face or they are asking for a mask, so there’s been retaliation for people trying to protect themselves. It’s a recipe for outbreak. There are known outbreaks in a Glades County detention center, and we know for sure that there’s definitely not enough testing happening. The conditions inside were already bad and already unsanitary, and now with the coronavirus, it has exacerbated it to the point where it is very life-threatening to the people that are in.
So, what is happening is very unjust, When we have done car demos outside of jails, we’ve heard of minor reforms, people calling in and telling us that that was the first time that they got a mask, or telling them that was the first time they got a new mask in over a week.
The jails’ response has been a twenty-three-hour lockdown on all of the jails in Broward County. And so this twenty-three-hour lockdown, it has made it so people cannot consistently connect with family, and they only have about forty-five minutes to shower, call their family, contact their lawyers, do anything throughout the day. And because of our efforts, it’s gone to twenty-two hours a day lockdown, but that’s still absolutely not enough, and so there’s been a variety of responses. Because of the pressure of the lockdown itself, it’s causing more mental health conditions, it’s exacerbating the conditions inside, and it’s a lot harder.
The Ex-Worker: What sorts of support are you able to offer through the hotline, and what other sorts of tactics are you using to fight for decarceration through this project?
CHIP Hotline: The COVID–19 Hotline for Incarcerated People’s main goal is decarceration, is to get as many people out of these jails and prisons and detention facilities as possible. And we are an abolitionist group, and so we do want prison abolition, and we do absolutely want the end of the carceral system as it exists today. Some of the tactics that we’ve done is bonding people out that have low bonds. Some folks that are a part of the COVID–19 Hotline, also known as CHIP, have fundraised enough to get people out. The numbers that we want aren’t high, but we have had a hand in either directly or indirectly getting at least six people out by bailing them out or connecting with family that has been able to bail them out in a way that wouldn’t have happened otherwise without our facilitation.
I mentioned the car demonstrations before protests erupted, essentially now around the world because of George Floyd, there was a lot of car demonstrations as a solution to still protesting and opposing what is going on as well as keeping people safe, and so there was a variety of car demos from May Day, beforehand, and after, where people were at detention centers and jails, voicing their concerns and opposition, knowing that folks inside prisons and detention centers and jails are one of the most if not the most vulnerable populations during this pandemic.
We have helped a few people get out, but a lot of the work that we’ve been doing lately has either been support, uplifting voices of folks incarcerated, and a lot of networking. Some of the basic things that we do whenever we get a call from someone is we ask them if there’s anybody that they want us to call for them, and that can be really valuable. We’ve done very basic, simple things, like send “I love you” messages, which really, really touch people, or “happy birthday” messages to their mothers, things like that. Helping be that bridge for people to stay connected to family and loved ones is truly invaluable. Other things that we’ve been able to do is connect them with their lawyers. Sometimes people aren’t hearing from their lawyers in a timely manner. Sometimes their lawyers don’t know the physical conditions that they’re actually in. They don’t necessarily know the terrible medical state that they’re in. And so, we’ve been able to connect folks with lawyers to get them to actually get medical treatment and get it faster. So, we’re connected with public defenders in both counties, and so with that, we have been able to highlight cases that otherwise would’ve gone unnoticed because the pressure on public defenders right now is extremely high. It’s already high whenever they’re doing their cases, and it’s exceptionally high now that they’re dealing with the coronavirus as well.
And so, the other thing that we’re doing with the hotline is we’re getting stories out that otherwise would not be heard. The media narrative in Broward County through either radio or newspaper, that there’s a lot of reforms going on, that this is the lowest amount of people that have ever been in the jails—if it wasn’t for our hotline existing and taking these calls, the actual voices of people incarcerated would not be represented and would not be heard. What we have done is almost every single week release a press release with quotes from incarcerated folks—with their full consent, never doing it without that—but actually utilizing their voices and looking at the larger, broader picture to help paint the real narrative, the truth from their eyes and their perspective.
We are working with a lot of folks that are facing a lot of violent charges, and we are working on breaking that narrative, what I consider a very dangerous narrative, of pitting “non-violent” and “violent” folks against each other. And really, we’re advocating for and raising the voices of anybody, regardless of their charge, because the conditions inside is not what anybody deserves. So, whether through audio, through print, through video and things like that, we’re constantly working on exposing the truth from the eyes of the folks that are experiencing it.
The Ex-Worker: What successes have you had? What are the main challenges or obstacles that you’ve faced?
CHIP Hotline: I would say the largest successes are actually getting people out and keeping them out. And I would say that it’s also simultaneously the largest hurdle, getting them out. The thing that is in the way is the court system. From people having out-of-county holds, meaning that they can’t post bond, from people having holds on their bonds, or not even having a bond available; from the courts being extremely slow and shutting down as a result of a response to the coronavirus—it has been an exceptional challenge. What some people have been able to do is get people out on emergency bonds based on their medical conditions, but all of the paperwork that you have to get through to make it happen is ridiculous. And so, I would say the system itself is the largest challenge in terms of actually being able to do direct support to incarcerated folks.
There is a lot of profit around prisons, as most people know. What we have experienced firsthand is an exorbitant rate of expenses for contacting and maintaining contact with folks incarcerated. In the counties that we have been working in, we have seen changes for a single call as expensive as over $15 per call. And I’m not talking about an hour- or two hour-long call. I’m talking about a fifteen- to twenty-minute call. It is absolutely inappropriate that there is no free access to connecting with loved ones and people on the outside, in general, let alone this pandemic. And so, it’s extremely exploitative that Securus is able to profit like this off of countless numbers of people very single day so they can connect with their loved ones.
The Ex-Worker: How have the George Floyd rebellions impacted the folks you’ve been communicating with inside?
CHIP Hotline: So, we also have gotten some reports from inside the jails since the rebellions happening in honor of George Floyd and all of those who have been killed before him. And one of the reports is from Paul Rodriguez, and he was informing us that he is one of the many people that have been a victim of police brutality. And we’ve heard this story multiple times, over and over again, where people are assaulted by police officers, and then they get charged for assault on a police officer. I think one of the critical things is that George Floyd’s death, sadly and terribly, is emblematic of so many deaths. I would say a very high percentage of the people that we have talked to are Black. And so all of the terrible things that people have been exposed to are happening to Black, brown, and people of color inside these jails, and that, to remember when we’re doing this work, to not forget the folks that are incarcerated, and to remember that the slavery system is still alive and well inside jails, legalized by the Thirteenth Amendment that slavery can still continue inside prisons and jails, and that the conditions inside are emblematic of slavery conditions. I just want to always remind folks when we’re carrying these messages and carrying these narratives to always remember and do what we can to support he folks that are incarcerated during this time.
The Ex-Worker: What suggestions would you offer to folks elsewhere who want to do prisoner solidarity projects during our time of pandemic and rebellion?
CHIP Hotline: Well, as I mentioned before, we started the hotline actually just a couple months ago. And so, I think my first piece of advice as a rookie newbie is, go for it. I encourage you not to be afraid to do it because the need is there. And second piece of advice is before you go for it, see if there’s already a project around you that you can plug into or expand; or if there isn’t one, if there’s one that you can connect with to get some advice or get some experience before doing it. That’s what we did, and we did it rather quickly thanks to folks at IWOC and folks at Fight Toxic Prisons. And within a couple weeks, we were up, running, and we were getting phone calls. And it could have been even faster if we had gotten the number inside faster.
So, whether it is letter-writing, whether it’s setting up a hotline, whether it’s doing super duper rad amazing things, the time is now, and it is incredibly needed. Literally just connecting is invaluable to help break down the social walls that exist, that have been created as an intentional byproduct of the physical walls. And so, breaking down these social, invisible walls really helps bring to light the injustices that are happening to people every day. It doesn’t matter what crimes someone has committed. Getting exposed to the coronavirus and potentially dying from it or getting complications from it is not a sentence that society has agreed to give anyone. It has become very clear in South Florida that people are guilty until proven innocent, especially with the fat that they have to spend time incarcerated, sometimes years, before they ever go to trial. And I know this is not an isolated incident.
So I really encourage folks to get out there, to do it, to not shy away from being as rad as you can be, and please know that doing this sort of support work is super rad and valuable beyond what you can imagine until you’re connected into it.
[“Prison Song,” by Slug’s Revenge – Part 2]
PRISONER UPDATES AND BIRTHDAYS
To wrap things up for this episode, we’ll share a few updates about the cases of particular prisoners. Huge thanks to the folks from Anarchist Black Cross, the Jericho Movement, and other long-term political prisoner and prisoner of war support groups for their ongoing efforts to keep the health and well-being of incarcerated comrades foremost in our minds as we struggle to survive and resist amidst the pandemic.
One of the most frightening and infuriating developments has been with Jalil Muntaqim, a former Black Panther who has been in New York prisons for nearly half a century. On April 27th, a judge ordered his release due to the threat of COVID–19—but the New York state Attorney General blocked the release by appealing it. And sure enough, he did contract COVID and was hospitalized. Fortunately, he has survived thus far, but is seriously weakened, and with the general quality of life and health care in prison, his life is still very much at risk. You can contact the governor, the attorney general, and other officials to let them know what indescribably miserable scum they are, or more politely to demand Jalil’s immediate release to convalesce among his loved ones.
Amidst the ongoing rebellions over racist police killings, we’re excited to report that Ramsey Orta has just been released from prison. He was the person who filmed the murder of Eric Garner by New York City police; in an effort to punish him for helping hold killer cops accountable, he was sent to prison on trumped up charges.
The Kings Bay Plowshares 7 are a group of Catholic activists against militarism who were arrested for an act of civil disobedience against the Trident nuclear submarine at a naval base in Georgia in 2018. As they explained in their statement, “Nuclear weapons eviscerate the rule of law, enforce white supremacy, perpetuate endless war and environmental destruction and ensure impunity for all manner of crimes against humanity. Dr. King said, “The ultimate logic of racism is genocide.” We say, “The ultimate logic of Trident is omnicide.” A just and peaceful world is possible when we join prayers with action. Swords into Plowshares!”
Earlier this week, the oldest of the activists, 80-year old Liz McAllister, was sentenced to time served plus probation. The remaining activists will be sentenced at the end of this month. The government is arguing that these elderly pacifists should have to spend time in jail during the pandemic in an effort to permanently silence them. To learn more about their case, check out KingsBayPlowshares7.org.
We’re pleased to report that Amadeu Casellas, an anarchist prisoner in Catalunya, has been released pending trial, and so will spend this birthday outside prison walls, if not quite in freedom.
And finally, last but never least as always, we want to share some info on prisoners who could use your support with birthdays coming up.
On June 12th, Jared Chase of the NATO 3, still locked up on trumped up charges from being entrapped by undercover police at a Chicago protest in 2012;
Also on June 12th, Kings Bay Ploughshares defendant Stephen Kelly, soon to be sentenced for his role in taking direct action against a nuclear submarine base in Georgia;
On June 15th, Jarreau Ayers, one of the Vaughn 17, a group of rebels involved in a 2017 prison riot in Delaware;
On June 17th, Jason Renard Walker, Texas prison writer and organizer associated with the 2016 prison strike, currently facing heavy repression for his ongoing attempts to expose the brutality of the prison system. We’ve got links to his prison writings as well as a Final Straw interview with him](https://thefinalstrawradio.noblogs.org/post/2020/04/18/harm-reduction-in-pandemic-and-jason-renard-walker/) on our website.
And June 28th has been tagged as an international day of solidarity for long-term anarchist prisoner Eric King, so please mark your calendars and do something for that.
If you’re new to writing prisoners, check out the link to a collection of Prisoner Support Basics from It’s Going Down we’ve got posted on our website.
And that wraps things up for this episode. Check out crimethinc.com/podcast for all of the mailing addresses, links, background info, and other references from this episode. Email us at podcast at crimethinc dot com to give us feedback or suggestions, and also please send updates or reportbacks from wherever you are about the shape that resistance is taking.
Even as we take courage from the rebellions and protests spreading everywhere, and from the tenacity and persistence of long-term prisoners who refuse to remain silent, let’s also never forget the folks we’ve lost: George Floyd, Breona Taylor, Ahmaud Aubery, Tony McDade, and so, so many countless others killed by police; Tom Manning, who died in prison last year; and the many others whose names we don’t know who, inside of prison and out, continue to struggle for freedom and dignity.
Thanks, everyone. Till next time, keep loving and keep fighting.