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Louisville: No One Expects the Conspiracy: Puppets and State Repression

August 20 2010

Contributed by: Alex Bradshaw

Anarchists in Trouble / Solidarity

The Conspiracy Tour whisked through Louisville on August 8, transforming the usual slow paced, muggy Summer evening into an evening promising anarchy and humor, learning about state repression, conspiracy charges, and grand jury resistance.

No One Expects the Conspiracy: Puppets and State Repression

Author's Note: This piece will be published in a monthly newspaper in Louisville called the FORsooth that is geared towards a more general audience, i.e., not just anarchists/ anti-authoritarians. Because of this, the piece speaks very generally about some things many anarchists/ anti-authoritarians may be very well-versed in, like CrimethInc. But I still feel it's a useful overview for anarchists/ anti-authoritarians for what the Conspiracy Tour was all about.

Louisville Joins the Conspiracy

The Conspiracy Tour whisked through Louisville on August 8, transforming the usual slow paced, muggy Summer evening into an evening promising anarchy and humor, learning about state repression, conspiracy charges, and grand jury resistance.

For those not familiar, the Conspiracy Tour is a group of anarchists from Minneapolis, Minnesota, joined by friends from the Mysterious Rabbit Puppet Army, who intertwined dialogue with the speakers on very serious matters with hilariously absurd questions from the puppets, who all stood above a street sign behind presenters that read 'Conspiracy Street.' A defiant owl named Olivia, a brash snapping turtle named Ben, a wise bear named Brian (who seemed to be the brains of the puppet cohort),and a naive fox named 'Donny Don't,' provided puppet irreverence. The human anarchists, Talia Narodnaya, Jude Oritz, and Carrie Feldman, arrived in their van from the previous location in Asheville, North Carolina, at 6:00pm promptly, to the Women in Transition space on Chestnut Street, an organization that serves as a mutual aid and solidarity network for working class women, and other folks under the poverty line.

CrimethInc, a decentralized anarchist collective with different cells around the world, usually has an annual convergence, where activists coalesce in different regions to dialogue and network. This year, CrimethInc made a different call, and proclaimed that 'We Are Everywhere' become an international slogan, and awareness campaign for anarchists to show the world what they do, throughout the month of August. The idea was to call out to all anarchists, to make their presence known more than ever before, through actions, educational events, and 'decentralized tours.' which is exactly what the Conspiracy Tour is.

The even consisted of four separate presentations, all connected to the other, broken up with hilarious song and dance from our puppet comrades: Talia Narodnaya started off with a brief history of state repression in the US; Jude Oritz told us all about the RNC 8; Carrie Feldman explained a personal experience resisting a grand jury and her four-month stint in jail; and lastly, Talia joined Carry to explain helpful ways for radical activists to avoid being entrapped and criminalized by police, and the State. We ended the evening with a roundtable, facilitated discussion with Talia, Jude, and Carry about what is going on in Louisville in regards to the anarchist movement.

A History of State Repression in 30 Minutes

Act I brought us Talia Narodnaya, who would tell us all about the ins and outs of state repression in a broader context, and of course comments from the animal cohort on 'Conspiracy Street.'

Donny Don't, the terminally na've fox opened up Talia's presentation with a question: 'Hey Talia, is this the first time in the history of forever that a movement, or community, such as ours has faced this kind of repression?' Talia, of course, answered kindly no, but engaged Donny.

So, you may ask, the history of state repression is pretty thorough, right? To the dismay of Donny, this certainly is not the first time 'in the history of forever' that these things have occurred. Talia tells us more.

'As long as there has been injustice, there has been resistance,' Talia stated. 'And as long as there has been resistance, those in power have tried to repress it.' Talia takes us back to 1956, when, as she points out, part of the FBI's mission statement was 'maintaining the social and political order.' Talia reminds us that this year marked the birth of COINTELPRO (Counter-Intelligence Program). She went on to explain that the objective of COINTELPRO was to inhibit groups or individuals in the US that were deemed 'subversive.' This title 'subversive' largely meant people of color groups like the Black Panther Party, the NAACP, other non-violent civil rights groups, the American Indian Movement, but also the New Left generally.

To many radicals and global justice organizers and activists, the history of COINTELPRO is relatively well-known; what may not be so well known was Talia's point that COINTELPRO provided 'covert aid' to white hate groups like the Ku Klux Klan, so as long as they 'promised to provide their attacks to COINTELPRO targets.'

Of course, the COINTELPRO history gets much more ominous: Talia mentioned the assaults, extensive jail time for activists, bombings of offices and homes of activists, and targeted assassinations of activists.

Talia discussed the demise of COINTELPRO in 1971, as well, when a group calling itself Citizens' Commission to Investigate the FBI broke into an FBI office in Pennsylvania to get their hands on thousands of pages of documentation. This documentation exposed a great deal of the ugliness of COINTELPRO, led to a public outcry, and a year later, J. Edgar Hoover, director of the FBI at the time, officially ended COINTELPRO. Talia, at this point asks the crowd a question: 'Does anyone believe that that counterintelligence program ended at that point?' Besides Donny Don't on Conspiracy Street who raises his hand, the rest of the crowd isn't so na've.

Talia brought to our attention that starting in the '90s, state repression has been heavily geared towards animal liberation, earth liberation, and anti-globalization organizers and activists. She specifically mentioned the 'SHAC 7,' which is a group that was merely reporting on direct action in the animal liberation struggle such as property damage via a website, but was never actually convicted of participating, or even advocating such actions. As we'll see with the next presentation, the act of incriminating folks for doing absolutely nothing but seemingly holding the wrong political views, is more common than one may think.

Conspiracy Charges and the 'RNC 8'

Jude Oritz's presentation was next on the agenda, and he started off by giving the audience a brief history of the RNC 8. The story of the RNC 8, as Jude explained, starts in 2006 when the Republican National Convention (RNC) announced they would meet in St. Paul, Minnesota. Starting at this point, as Oritz discussed, 'there were a series of open, public meetings in the Twin Cities, for people to get together and start talking about strategies, and forms of protest. From these meetings, the RNC Welcoming Committee formed.'

The RNC Welcoming Committee, in Jude's words, was an 'explicitly anarchist, anti-authoritarian organizing body, that was focused on logistics for the conventions, like convergence spaces, where we'd go for free meals, and meetings.' The RNC Welcoming Committee also, as Oritz told us on Sunday night, came up with a blockading, civil-disobedience strategy known as '3 S,' i.e., swarm, seize, and stay. 'The point was to swarm into an area of downtown St. Paul, seize it, and stay there as long as possible. And the purpose of that, like many civil disobedience strategies, was to create space to deliver a political message.' This message, Jude tells us, was to express dissent with the Republicans' policies 'in which ever way they chose, a diversity of tactics.'

'The St. Paul Principles' also arose out of this group, and this particular event. Oritz says these were 'different agreements that helped people with different ideologies, different political backgrounds, and different groups, to come together, work together, so that they weren't falling into state-sponsored paradigms of good protester/ bad protester, which could really perpetuate divisions and differences.

Some of those agreements included things such as agreeing not to talk trash about each other in the media, agreeing not to talk to the cops about any kind of investigation into the groups, and also agreeing to respect differences in time or space in actions, so that people could work together even if they didn't have the same politics, or choose the same tactics.' With a bit of background, enter Exhibit A, and actually the only piece of evidence used to persecute and repress the RNC 8: a satirical video called 'We're Getting Ready,' produced by the RNC Welcoming Committee. Oritz describes the video as poking fun at 'state-sponsored stereotypes of anarchists.' It involves individuals doing normal things like eating breakfast, taking a shower, and cooking dinner, who are donned in all black, with ski-masks. One of the more humorous and tongue-in cheek aspects of the video shows one of these individuals lighting a grill using a molotov cocktail, playing on one of the most banal and trite stereotypes, i.e., anarchist-as-bomb-thrower.

'The cops didn't think it was funny; they saw it as a threat,' said Oritz. This video launched a year-long investigation sparked by the Ramsey County (the county in which St. Paul resides) Sheriff's Office, and as far as Oritz and other organizers know, there were three infiltrators from the Sheriff's Office. Oritz says there was also one FBI agent involved in the investigation.

'One of the undercover agents was looking for the leaders in the [RNC] Welcoming Committee,' Oritz said. 'Which, if we look at anarchist, anti-authoritarian organizing, there's of course a non-hierarchical basis, there are no leaders, there aren't people telling others what to do. But the cops really don't understand that.'

Since there weren't leaders to target, the law had to find the most dedicated, passionate, and most involved in the RNC Welcoming Committee: these individuals came to be known as the RNC 8. The case is quite telling. Oritz tells us that the informants had to admit at a trial-hearing recently, that there is no incriminating evidence of any 'agreements to riot, or destroy property, or use dangerous weapons.'

This is where things get really strange. Members of the RNC 8′s homes were broken into with assault rifles and 'full riot gear, (cops) grabbed people out of bed, and off to jail,' Oritz says, while others were grabbed at the convention. Oritz went on to say they were all 'initially charged with conspiracy to riot in furtherance of terrorism. They were later on charged with conspiracy to commit criminal damage to property in furtherance of terrorism.'

Oritz points out that this is a common strategy of the State: politically motivated arrests that equate anarchism with terrorism.

To conclude his presentation, Jude Oritz reminds us how the conspiracy laws are written, and the conclusion the prosecutors are taking in the RNC 8 trial at present: 'The fact that there was property destruction at the RNC [in St. Paul], the fact that there were convictions based on that property destruction, means that there was a conspiracy, and the RNC 8 are guilty. So, think about that logic: property destruction equals conspiracy, equals guilt. It doesn't really make too much sense, but the way that these conspiracy laws are written that may be legally sufficient to convict the remaining seven defendants (author's note: as of their stop in Louisville on August 8, they learned that one of the RNC 8 defendants, one Erik Oseland, will be accepting a plea agreement).'

Jude Oritz is part of the RNC 8 Defense Committee, and he, and others are still optimistic about the remaining seven defendants, and is asking that folks research it, do RNC 8 fundraisers, and come Minnesota for the trial to protest and stand in solidarity with the RNC 8. Unfortunately these are not the only legal shenanigans happening in the Twin Cities in regards to the anarchist community.

Carry Feldman gave us further insight in Act III.

Ham Sandwiches and Grand Juries: Carry Feldman's Case

Carrie Feldman has firsthand experience resisting grand juries, and she seems to have learned a great deal about them in the process. Feldman described 'a panel of 16 to 23 jurors who will hear evidence on a case, and decide whether or not to charge someone with a crime.' Feldman said, ironically enough, they were initially created to avoid 'arbitrary inditements.' There are some problems here, though.

First, as Feldman points out, 'they're incredibly secretive.' She said it's hard for legal defense, or anyone else for that matter, to find out what is going on. The track record of grand juries also are quite infamous, as Carrie pointed out: 'Grand juries almost always come back with an inditement. And 98-99 percent of the time they do. In fact, they do it so much, this chief judge in New York has this famous quote about grand juries, saying that they would indite a ham sandwich if the prosecution asked them to.'

To provide some context, Carrie Feldman was subpoenaed to a federal grand jury in Iowa, along with her partner Scott Demuth, in late 2009, in relation to an Animal Liberation Front (a well-known radical animal rights group) raid that took place at the University of Iowa in 2004. Feldman and Demuth were seemingly targeted for their politics and well-known stances on the issue of animal liberation, and nothing else. As Feldman discussed, showing a picture of herself when she was 15, she was interrogated about a picture of her with a rat on her shoulder, her hooded sweatshirt, and a t-shirt that appeared to say 'ALF,' the initials of the Animal Liberation Front. She was asked ridiculous questions about everything in the picture, including where she got the rat.

They had no information on the raid, but due to the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA), Scott Demuth was indicted on conspiracy charges. Carrie spent four months in jail for not cooperating with the grand jury on principle. She shared her eloquent, defiant statement with the crowd on Sunday night. 'First of all, I would like to state, unequivocally and most certainly for the record, that I have no intention of testifying before this grand jury,' Feldman read from the beginning of the statement.

She ended her grand jury statement by saying 'Today my voice may waver, as I stand alone in this room. But I know I speak with the voice of every one of my friends, loved ones, and comrades when I say this: We will not be intimidated. We will not cooperate. I have nothing more to say to you.'

Scott Demuth is still pending trial for his charges, and is scheduled for September 13th of this year.

The Conspiracy Comes to an End

The event closed with no easy answers, ending where we started: as long as movements of resistance challenge injustice, there will be state repression. Talia and Carrie briefly discussed tactics and advice for activism before the audience participated in a facilitated, dynamic discussion with the Conspiracy crew. Two of the most important aspects stressed in this short discussion is that you do not have to talk to the police, or let them in your living space, so as long as they do not have a warrant.

Since rats, t-shirts, satirical videos have been used to arbitrarily incriminate activists and organizers, if you're a radical activist, it's best to talk to the cops through a closed door, according to Talia. She shared an intense experience where one police officer alternated between the role of good cop to bad cop, banged on the door, threatened to take her child who was home, but went away, since she ultimately refused to cooperate, or open the door. The facilitated discussion, on a different note, yielded a well-known fact amongst radical activists and organizers in the Louisville area: the anarchist scene is very small, and fractured.

We all left enthused about changing the state of things by planning events, and pushing forward on projects we're working on. Different folks in the community talked about projects they were working on that others had no idea of, and made promises to work on organizing more events like the Conspiracy Tour, which local Brent Tinell did the legwork to bring to Louisville. The activists from Minnesota and elsewhere shared experiences, like political prisoner letter-writing meet-ups, that had worked in their respective cities, and other sustainable projects for inspiration.

The event seemed to bring excitement into our fractured and small anarchist community in Louisville, and brought us humor, knowledge, the ominous reality and ways of the State, as well as radical possibilities for building our movement locally. Not bad for a muggy, Sunday, Summer evening in a city that is sorely lacking regarding events like this.

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