Category Archives: Incarceration

Long Live the Armed Struggle!

Murdering Truthsayers 

I am thinking of Karen Silkwood for some odd reason. Murdered November 13, 1974 as a twenty-eight-year-old labor union activist and chemical technician working for a nuclear power plant, Kerr-McGee Cimarron River nuclear facility in Crescent, Oklahoma. The industry was supplying nuclear fission rods for reactors. She found violations of health and safety regulations, and well, the story of this ordinary woman with an ordinary life has turned into a cause celebre with Meryl Streep playing her in a 1984 movie.

Karen was pursued by some dark figures on a cold night, and the manila envelope she was carrying with the evidence of safety violations bound for the New York Times inside her crashed Honda car mysteriously disappeared. She lay there dying.

Run off the road of protest and combating injustices and war. So go the lives of political prisoners, but in a much more tortuous and protracted way as Linda G. Ford develops in her spot-on book, Women Politicals in America: Jailed Dissenters from Mother Jones to Lynne Stewart.

One such hero is Marilyn Buck, who was serving an 80-year sentence for aiding and abetting Assata Shakur’s escape, for a Brinks robbery and the bombing of the Capitol in protest of US role in Grenada and Lebanon. She was on the FBI’s “shoot to kill” list.

Women engaged in serious struggle with ties to Puerto Rican and Black liberation movements were given harsh sentences, and imprisoned where gulag-like, tortuous and isolating conditions were ramped up because of these political prisoners’ gender identity.

Exclusion and isolation are the tools of a fascist society, as these female politicals’ lives as activists, both peaceful and militantly violent, demonstrate over the course of four hundred years of this country’s white history.

“The women politicals jailed in the 80s would face a situation designed to destroy them as political activists, and as women,” Ford writes in the section of the book she tags as, “The Threat of Armed Struggle Against American Imperialism Posed by Defiant Revolutionaries Laura Whitehorn, Susan Rosenberg and Their Comrades Has The Facing Authoritarian Measures Designed to Destroy, 1960-1990.”

Jailers who willingly neglect the health of prisoners. Prison medical experts denying basic life saving treatment. Massive censorship of prisoners’ reading and writing. Male nurses ramming fingers up a political’s anus and vagina. Locked in High Security Units in what Silvia Baraldini called “a living tomb . . . a white sepulcher.” She was part of the May 19th Communist group and Black Liberation Army. She was charged with BLA robberies – however, she was in Zimbabwe when one of them took place.

I was arrested in 1982 on RICO (Racketeering Influenced Corrupt Organizations, laws mean for the Mafia) charges accused of having aided members of the Black Liberation Army in a conspiracy against the United States. In reality I participated in the escape of Black revolutionary Assata Shakur who now lives in Cuba.

Rosenberg was sentenced to 43 years in prison, three for refusing to testify before the grand jury or give the names of members of the May 19th Communist Organization group.

These are bombings against imperialist targets:  a federal building on Staten Island (January 1983), the National War College at Fort McNair (April 1983), the US Senate in November 1982, the Israeli Aircraft Industries Building in April 1984, the South African Consulate in September 1984, and the NYC Policemen’s Benevolent Association in February 1985.

Laura Whitehorn stated the last action (no person was targeted or hurt) was done because the NYC association supported cops “who had killed innocent civilians.” Whitehorn stated she readily participated in the bombings as an underground warrior as protest of US imperialism in Lebanon, El Salvador and Grenada.

“If you live in a country doing illegal acts, you have to take steps, or you’re complicit.” The author Ford follows up Whitehorn’s strongly put if you aren’t part of the solution, you are part of the problem rejoinder with …

And if you break a law doing that, you become a political prisoner. 

Susan Rosenberg is another hero of resistance Linda forges as a real icon of the revolution: she was charged with involvement in the Senate, War College and NY Police bombings, but those were eventually dropped. She would later be tried in a FISA court – foreign intelligence surveillance act.

Judge Frederick B. Lacey didn’t consider she and her co-defendant, Tim Blunk, were part of an organized illegal resistance movement acting out of conscience against US actions in Central America, racism in South Africa and the oppressive COINTELPRO, according to Ford.

Rosenberg and Blunk were hit with possession of guns and dynamite charges, although there was no link they used them. She got 58 years in the federal penitentiary, twice as long as for the average first degree murderer. Bail was $5 million and no parole recommendation was provided.  Ford:

To US authorities, she represented the absolute worst of the 60s rebels: she was a BLA, Independista and Weather Underground sympathizer/activist, and she was a female and a lesbian.

No food for two days, no time to wash up, and she was beaten and left in a cold cell, in solitary confinement. The entire process of the fascist police state in this country is a psychological hell, designed to strip people of who they are, to erase their identity.

There was absolutely nowhere to go; it felt like death. All that lay in front of me were the ruins of my life. I was losing even my favorite color, favorite food, favorite season.

There is something so compelling in Ford’s unleashing of the floodgates of truth in this book, and the tides have shifted even more dramatically against revolt, against resistance, against simple discontents. Imagine, this faux pacifism of the bourgeoisie, peering through their looking glass designed by Hollywood and a fine Merlot, even barely entertaining the idea that armed revolt and violent overthrow are necessary components in righting all the wrongs in this country. Those middle and upper middle classers look for total destruction in countries their tax dollars and sometimes their direct employment support, but when it comes to the assault of everyday structural violence meted out on their fellow citizens, these middlings — who take their marching orders from the elites who pull out the Clinton America Must Have 100,000 More Police card every single time Hillary Clinton declares we are in super predator country – do not question the complexities of cause and effect when a society is over-policed, under organized, and flooded with privatizing all things American.

The tough times for prisoners like Rosenberg always get worse in America. The High Security Unit at Lexington is a doozy – a maximum security hell-hole – a chamber of horrors —  and set up by the best and the brightest of American corporal technocrats who show their love of the macabre Russian prisoner gulag or Nazi concentration camp techniques.

Historian Laura Flanders called the HSU an example of punishment “designed to experiment with the effects of physical deprivation on female inmates.” The myth (lie) that the US doesn’t use torture to coerce people to give up their politics is busted every time in Ford’s recounting of the fascism deployed by the American political/policing corporate Mafioso. Spending your entire sentence in solitary confinement “unless one renounces her beliefs” is against the laws of international conventions on torture and against the US Constitution’s first amendment.

The day before Slick Willy Clinton left office, in January 2001 Rosenberg was granted clemency after 16 years and three months inside. She worked for a human rights organization — American Jewish World Service — and fought to reform prison. She taught literature at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York until the college caved and did not rehire her. In her 2011 memoir, American Radical, she is defiant, proving she was not destroyed by American fascism, but conversely overcame the illegal and unethical torture and censoring with her political beliefs intact.

I tried not to weep. If I did I was afraid I would drown in the waters of my soul . . . The government’s goal was to destroy us through isolation, through exile, life sentences, medical negligence, and horrible physical conditions. In that they failed.

In May 1994, Marilyn Buck, the remaining female member of the May 19th Communist Organization,  talked about why she was a political prisoner, then locked up at the Shawnee HSU at Marianna prison.

I am a white woman from the middle class who has refused to accept the great American social contract: democracy for the white few, unmitigated oppression for the colonized and exploited many. I am despised because I have rejected and betrayed the bonds of white privilege, have defended Black people’s rights, and have engaged in the struggle to defeat U.S. imperialism, to support national liberation struggles and the right of all peoples to self-determination. I am censored, locked behind walls, and watched.

After starting her second prison stint, Buck talked of the repression orchestrated in Capitalist America, after earning a degree in psychology, working for fellow political Abu-Jamal and thrown into solitary after September 11 as a potential terrorist. She served 33 years of her 80-year sentence. “The exclusion from society is their weapon”, she writes. “Isolation silences voices of resistance and reverberates into society to stave off action. Destroying one’s political identify renders them as un-beings, but more destructive is that police fascism of America stifles the context from which to organize social opposition and organized resistance within the society.”

Think of the isolation and torture of a Nelson Mandela and African National Congress in South Africa. This need in the US to repress/destroy revolutionary movements goes way back against those dissidents and others who refuse this imperialist state, as Mary K. O’Melveney opined: punishing “those who resist racism, genocide, colonialism and imperialism.”

It is a legacy of an existential nightmare, and endless justice denied to politicals because the US expunges the very fact (history of) it has pursued relentlessly political dissidents they have then caught, prosecuted, persecuted, tortured, and many times disappeared. The lives of these women individually and collectively have been resuscitated by Linda G. Ford, and her book serves as testimony and a testament of the great harm done by our government in the name of capitalism/imperialism utilizing the most crude and sophisticated methods of anti-democratic repression.

Buck wrote in 2000 that more women political prisoners will emerge, and with Code Pink rabble-rousers, the Native American water protectors around facing federal charges and decades of incarceration, and the many women who have drawn and quartered the racist and misogynistic history of modern America in the Black Lives Movement, she was right. She implored that we all have a duty to resist and buck “the rapacious, anti-human system.” One will not see this call to action in today’s political leaders and intellectuals; in fact, this country is about protecting the trans-financial, military and global corporatist forces that make up the police state that denies equality and justice.

Over the course of the past 19 years, America has turned on itself, thrown the gates of freedom into the scrap pile of gauntlets and barricades built to prevent or forestall unfettered access by both the government/police state and corporations/trans-finance to not only pry into our lives, but to exact more than a pound of flesh from us as citizens, a term now code-switched to “consumers,” and on a larger gradient of more applicable descriptors for we, by, for, because of the people tethered to this non-democratic morass of penury and punishment:  suspects, persons of interest, pre-accused, targets, marks, inmates, disenfranchised, dispossessed, the other, the accused, evicted, foreclosed upon, fined, levied, sterilized, patients, the sick, mentally infirm, audiences, focus groups, and the taxed and damned!

In this book, Ford exposes the Post 9/11 systemic sickness of oppression and disappearing all administrations on both aisles of the political heap have green-lighted. Here, a chilling account from Moazzam Begg, 2012, about another political, female, we go hand-in-hand with in Ford’s book:

Of all the abuses [prisoner Abu Yahya al-Libi] describes in his account, the presence of a woman and her humiliation and degradation were the most inflammatory to all the prisoners [at Bagram] – would never forget it. He describes how she was regularly stripped naked and manhandled by guards, and how she used to scream incessantly in isolation for two years. He said prisoners protested her treatment, going on hunger strikes, feeling ashamed they could do nothing to help. He described her in detail: a Pakistani mother – torn away from her children – in her mid-thirties, who had begun to lose her mind. Her number, he said, was 650.

So, little known Aafia Siddiqui is highlighted in this book as a victim of “American white supremacy and imperialism; enduring the consequences of an extreme anti-terrorist/anti-Muslim era which began with the September 11, 2001 bombings of the World Trade Center.”

She was educated at MIT as a neuroscientist and worked in the US for years. Her Muslim activism got the fascist Attorney General John Ashcroft interested, and he put her on his watch-list. All the accusations of terrorism proved baseless, yet the FBI, CIA and American military tribunals held on like a rabid dog. She was kidnapped by Pakistani bounty hunters on the payroll of the Americans, with her three children snatched up too.

The youngest was immediately killed, and the other two imprisoned separately for years. Dr. Siddiqui was beaten, raped, tortured and kept in solitary in black site prisons of the American empire.

Oh, the irony! January 15, 2019 and the Pedophile President Trump has nominated William Barr for attorney general. Barr served (sic) as George H.W. Bush’s AG from 1991 to 1993. That was a short time but enough to pardon six Reagan officials for the Iran-Contra scandal and then oversee Guantánamo Bay military prison opening up. Mass incarceration at home and designing a secret National Security Agency mass phone surveillance blueprint were two of his fingerprints that have followed us all into 2019. What would those women politicals say today about the Islamophobia?

What would they say about the limp, weak, conniving questioning by both sides of the political dung heap during this fascist Barr’s confirmation hearings? Barr sounds like the quintessential white supremacist, privileged, Ivy-League educated (sic)  elite that an Obama or Clinton or Trump or Bush presses the flesh with on a daily basis.

Ford puts a lot into context in her chapter titled: “The Empire Strikes Back: American Imperial Authorities Disappear, Torture and Destroy Aafia Siddiqui; and Routinely Jail Female Anti-Imperialist Dissenters, Muslim Women and Whistleblowers, 1990-Present.”

The three presidents in charge from 1990s until 2018, have had somewhat different doctrines of global empire: Clinton prepared the way, Bush implemented the 9/11 unleashing of new military adventures, and Obama (continued somewhat clumsily by Trump) streamlined, codified and expanded Bush’s new global warmongering.

A world of smart bombs, Bin Laden, Al Qaeda, Taliban, collateral damage. Invasions of Iraq. A world of 300 nuclear bombs in Israel, Saudi Arabia aligned with the Zionists, Israel First pledges by US elected politicians. A world of Exxon more powerful than most nation states. This new spasm of fascism was codified with the Bush Doctrine. Chalmers Johnson stated this concept of World Domination by the USA  was laid out in 2002 at a West Point Academy gathering: Bush stated that “. . . our policy would be to dominate the world through absolute military superiority and to wage preventive war against any possible competitor.”

Things from the ‘60s through the ‘90s are dramatically different in terms of how the police state operates and how far-reaching now the American project to dominate, steal, harass, kill and contain has grown. Let’s look at Chalmers Johnson in an article for the Nation September 27, 2001 and then from his 2004 book, The Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the Republic, which Ford includes in her book:

The suicidal assassins of September 11, 2001, did not “attack America,” as our political leaders and the news media like to maintain; they attacked American foreign policy. Employing the strategy of the weak, they killed innocent bystanders who then became enemies only because they had already become victims. Terrorism by definition strikes at the innocent in order to draw attention to the sins of the invulnerable. The United States deploys such overwhelming military force globally that for its militarized opponents only an “asymmetric strategy,” in the jargon of the Pentagon, has any chance of success. When it does succeed, as it did spectacularly on September 11, it renders our massive military machine worthless: The terrorists offer it no targets. On the day of the disaster, President George W. Bush told the American people that we were attacked because we are “a beacon for freedom” and because the attackers were “evil.” In his address to Congress on September 20, he said, “This is civilization’s fight.” This attempt to define difficult-to-grasp events as only a conflict over abstract values–as a “clash of civilizations,” in current post-cold war American jargon–is not only disingenuous but also a way of evading responsibility for the “blowback” that America’s imperial projects have generated.

The Nation, Johnson

Americans like to say that the world changed as a result of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. It would be more accurate to say that the attacks produced a dangerous change in the thinking of some of our leaders, who began to see our republic as a genuine empire, a new Rome, the greatest colossus in history, no longer bound by international law, the concerns of allies, or any constraints on its use of military force. The American people were still largely in the dark about why they had been attacked or why their State Department began warning them against tourism in an every-growing list of foreign countries . . . . But a growing number finally began to grasp what most non-Americans already knew and had experienced over the last half century – namely, that the United States was something other than what it professed to be,, that it was, in fact, a military juggernaut intent on world domination.

Blowback, Johnson

We are all terrorists, that is, those of us who use words, placards, hacking, bodies, grouped protests, and two-by-fours in an attempt to stop the juggernaut of corporate power and collusion with their government. Little Eichmann’s and henchmen and henchwomen in the Military-Pharma-Ag-Energy-Legal-Edu-IT-AI-Chem-Finance-Insurance-Med Industrial Complex. The new red scare is green, as in eco-terrorists. The anti-Boycott-Divest-Sanction movement is the new terror against the American Israel way of life. Anyone questioning Zionism or the Israeli policy of apartheid and genocide is the new-old-future enemy of the State of Fascist America.

You get arrested and prosecuted for setting up camps in public places, for throwing stage blood on the gates of Air Force installations that are harbingers of death missiles. You get thrown in jail/prison for torching a few internal combustion SUV’s. Jail-and-hard-time for protecting your Native American holy places. Jail time for putting water and food in the Arizona desert for migrating undocumented immigrants.

Jail-jail-jail, felonies-felonies-felonies, misdemeanors-misdemeanors-misdemeanors, eviction-eviction-eviction, bad credit reports-terminations from jobs, failure to pay taxes.

Americans are the enemy of the state, and when that American is a woman political activist – that can be a woman against death squads trained-supplied-abetted by USA, or someone wanting to expose the death camps of concentrated animal feeding operations, even a woman in a tree protesting the cutting of old growth forests, especially a woman on the streets proclaiming the end of violence against Black men, women, children. The enemy of this state is anyone, slipping into board rooms at college campuses fighting the rape culture, or getting into city hall meetings and decrying gentrification, or women building homeless camps or distributing clean needles.

You can be Sisters Ardeth Platte and Carol Gilbert, 78 and 68 years old respectively (in 2015), who committed themselves to nonviolent protests. Eric Schlosser interviewed them, and the two told of being “shackled and chained, strip-searched in front of male guards, locked in filthy cells with clogged toilets and vermin.”

That global war on terror hit these sisters broadside, including Sister Jackie Hudson, for coming onto the grounds of a Minuteman II silo in Colorado.

They wore white jump suits embossed with Citizen Weapon Inspection Team; hammered railroad tracks, drew a cross in their blood, banged on the silo, and prayed. After their arrest, they were left on the ground for three hours. (Ford)

The strongest bond of human sympathy outside the family relation should be one uniting working people of all nations and tongues and kindreds.

Abraham Lincoln, “Reply to a Committee from the Workingmen’s Association of New York,” March 21, 1864

I am now thinking about Maura Clarke and Ita Ford, Ursuline Dorothy Kazel, and Jean Donovan, three Maryknoll sisters and a lay missionary murdered in El Salvador. Thirty-eight years ago this past December 2, 1980, beaten, raped and murdered. They were working on international humanitarian aid projects, which were counter to the USA’s project of terror in Central America, under Jimmy Carter, who suspended aid to the Salvadoran Army, for a brief moment, and then reinstated it. The women were murdered by and with the collusion with US trained thugs who attended Fort Benning’s notorious School of the Americas.

Under Reagan and Bush Senior, the civilian murders in Salvador and Guatemala, to name two, continued with US backing, both material aid/advisers, and political and diplomatic (sic). In El Salvador’s Decade of Terror: Human Rights Since the Assassination of Archbishop Romero, Human Rights Watch reports:

During the Reagan years in particular, not only did the United States fail to press for improvements … but, in an effort to maintain backing for U.S. policy, it misrepresented the record of the Salvadoran government, and smeared critics who challenged that record. In so doing, the Administration needlessly polarized the debate in the United States, and did a grave injustice to the thousands of civilian victims of government terror in El Salvador. [23] Despite the El Mozote Massacre that year, Reagan continued certifying (per the 1974 amendment to the Foreign Assistance Act) that the Salvadoran government was progressing in respecting and guaranteeing the human rights of its people, and in reducing National Guard abuses against them.

I was in Central America then, and throughout the ’80s. The blasphemy of America then, and the outright denigration of those nuns by many in America, to include the media and politicos, was telling to me in my formative years as a newspaper reporter along the US-Mexico border. One can’t go back or turn one’s back on the act of bearing witness to crimes against humanity. For me going on 45 years of journalism and activism, America has lived up to its Murder Incorporated moniker.

The work of people like Linda G. Ford give some sustenance for me to continue fighting the oppressive and repressive mindset of the American individual and the system protecting those individuals.

I’m now thinking about Elizabeth Gurley Flynn.  I ended up in Spokane, May 2001, and quickly found out that Spokane, Washington, was where free speech was officially banned by the city fathers and thug cops. She was there, as a 19-year-old in December 1909, and arrested and jailed. She went to lumber camps in Montana and Washington, speaking at IWW meetings. She stated she fell in love with her country, calling it,

… a rich, fertile, beautiful land, capable of satisfying all the needs of its people – It could be paradise on earth if it belonged to the people, not to a small owning class.

She wrote about the experience in Spokane in the Industrial Worker and The Socialist, two journal articles that inspired other protests to the authorities.  She wrote about being safer with others locked up, rather than being alone. In Spokane, a jailer approached her at night, and while all the other mostly prostitute women had complied, Flynn told him to take his hands off her and he left her alone. Her article  “resulted in matrons for women prisoners in Spokane.” She was acquitted after two trials of “conspiracy to incite men to disobey the law.”

By the age of 15, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn was a committed socialist and was arrested, with her father, for public speaking without a permit. They were finally released on bail at 2 am. At their trial, the judge advised Elizabeth to go back to school for a while longer before she became a teacher. (Ford)

Defiant, she read the theories of socialists Upton Sinclair and Edward Bellamy and of anarchist Peter Kropotkin, as well as delving deeply into Marx and Engels.

Here’s what Flynn said at age 73 in 1963:

I was a convict, a prisoner without rights, writing a censored letter. But my head was unbowed. Come what may, I was a political prisoner and proud of it, at one with some of the noblest of humanity, who had suffered for conscience’s sake. I felt no shame, no humiliation, no consciousness of guilt. To me my number 11710 was a badge of honor.

Being a member of the Communist Party of America (CPUSA), for Flynn and others was about following through with American roots and American ideals. Defending constitutional rights made them good Americans. It was Flynn who supported her constitutional right to political belief and free speech, yet these arguments were for naught, as she said: “in the United States – boasted citadel of democracy – we were prisoners for opinion under a fascist-like thought control act.” Ethel Rosenberg was not defended by the CP, until after her death row orders were imminent. The CP defendants were “arguing their Americanness, when the Rosenbergs were in jail after being convicted of being totally un-American and dedicated to the downfall of the USA.”

Ford goes into great detail about the Ethel Rosenberg case, but the final argument against her American assassination vis-à-vis a death sentence comes from many scholars, including the 2010 book, Final Verdict, written by Miriam Schneir and Walter Schneir:

The evidence against Ethel “was so weak that it seems incredible today that she was even indicted, much less convicted and executed.”

It is clear there are fractures in the American “left,” whatever that is, and to this day, many leftists distance themselves from Ethel Rosenberg, which Ford finds counter to what her book on Political Prisoners is attempting to do:

To me, it is essential to include her as a woman political prisoner, and the only woman executed by the federal government since Mary Surratt was hanged for allegedly being part of the conspiracy to assassinate Lincoln. Rosenberg was a victim of a terrible, extreme, and wholly antifeminist time, which saw women in stereotypical ways, ways which often contradicted each other, making it difficult for women to achieve any acceptable balance. Ethel Rosenberg had been a young activist, a worker and union leader, an aspiring singer/actress, and like a good 5os woman, gave it all up to be a (nervous and anxious) wife and mother. As it turned out, she never came up with the right combination of certified female traits to convince her jailers that she was worthy of any sort of fair treatment.

Reading about Lynne Stewart and Assata Shakur in Ford’s book is both insightful and complimentary, even though their lives are divergent, and the time periods of their incarceration and prosecution are separated by more than four decades.

Ford does both women justice in their own lives plagued with injustice. Shakur still is alive in Cuba; Lynn Stewart died of breast cancer.

Here, in her own words, Shakur:

My name is Assata Shakur, and I am a 20th century escaped slave. Because of government persecution, I was left with no other choice than to flee from the political repression, racism and violence that dominate the US government’s policy towards people of color. I am an ex-political prisoner, and I have been living in exile in Cuba since 1984.

— “I am a 20th Century Escaped Slave”, Counterpunch, December 30, 2014

I first introduced myself to Linda Ford when I read her work at Dissident Voice on Red Fawn Fallis. I wanted to interview her about the stories of women Native Americans prosecuted and imprisoned for their valiant and righteous stand against the energy thugs and US government goons protecting the illegal interests of the big energy purveyors.

Here’s what Ford wrote in her intro paragraph about Red Fawn Fallis:

What happened to Standing Rock water protector Red Fawn Fallis is what has happened to many women political dissenters who go up against Big Government/Corporate power.  After she was viciously tackled by several police officers (caught on video), she was brought up on serious charges of harming those who harmed her.  Fallis, after months of intense corporate/military surveillance and handy informant reports, was targeted as a coordinator and a leader, a symbol and an inspiration.  For daring to make a stand for her people against the encroaching poison and destruction brought by the Dakota Access gas pipeline, she became a political prisoner.

— “Red Fawn Fallis and the Felony of Being Attacked by Cops“, Dissident Voice, July 17, 2018

She was kind enough to submit to some lengthy questions by yours truly after the first part of this discussion/book review went live at Dissident Voice last week (January 13): “In The Eye of the Beholder: USA History of Imprisoning Women Politicals.”

Here is that Q and A:

Paul Haeder: Great book, great histories revealed. What one or two women you discovered in your research have inspired you to continue your own dissident writing? Why?

Linda Ford: There are many, many but I guess I would choose Assata Shakur and Elizabeth Gurley Flynn as the biggest inspirations.  Assata Shakur is my cover photo because that image represents a perfectly lovely woman, shackled by her countrymen, and dragged to a murder trial for a murder she never committed, which the authorities knew, all because she dared to be part of a real resistance movement in the 60s.  She had tremendous courage and the courage of having and living consistent principles.  She never gave in.  She fought back against white supremacist oppression—and also against sexism in the Black Panther Party.  Plus she got away!  She was one of the very few to get out and away from very possible execution in jail, helped by her comrades, including sister politicals. Go Assata!  Exiled in Cuba, she’s still considered an enemy of the US.  She’s an inspiration to me to reveal the oppression and racism that is American society.  I framed a quote from her:  “I just have to be myself, stay as strong as I can and do my best.”

Elizabeth Gurley Flynn was a political prisoner and proud of it and the reason I wrote the book, curious to see how many other women were political prisoners throughout America’s history.  Turned out there were a lot and it took me about 10 years to find out how many and how that evolved.  What I identified with as far as Flynn was concerned was that she was always, throughout her very long career, for the workers and always fighting against the horrible inequities of capitalism.  Coming from a rural working class background, and having come up against elitism disdain because of it, especially in my academic career, I share her politics.  I also like the way she insisted that socialism, especially Debs-style socialism, was American–and had a proud history in the worker and farmer rebellions starting in the late 19th century, against capitalist American authority, repression and violence.  At her trial in the 50s, she used the arguments of Lincoln to show how steeped Communists were in American political philosophy.  Good luck there, of course.  And I admire her for staying with her socialist convictions, her work for unions and fairness, in spite of unreliable (male) relationships.  She reminds me of what real socialism is and what real feminism is and how what purports to pass for them now—is not it.  She reminds me of how important it is to continue to challenge the pseudo socialists and feminists of today.

PH: Women political prisoners is a fact most Americans have a tough time squaring with their own delusional educations, magical thinking and exceptionalist crap. How do you talk to the average person about what you have found to be a massive, concerted and systematic system of our police state, going on 400 years?

LF: Talking to “average person”?  Well, they think I’m crazy.  That’s why I read CJ Hopkins, John Steppling, Glenn Ford—and Paul Haeder!  I read people who let me know that I’m not crazy—that being what Lynne Stewart called a “left-wing wingnut” is okay.  Especially since the Russia hysteria, and my stubborn refuting of it, people shake their heads and some recommend I read certain articles or attend certain lectures to put me on the right path. Others avoid me. It really is like the 50s!  Some people I talk to about women as political prisoners and what they fought identify with parts of it.  In rural New York you do have strong anti-capitalist/banker sentiment.  And some are willing to believe my huge amount of research probably did uncover some truth.  But the book presents way too much bad news for most people—whether rural small town neighbors or academics or liberal Democrats who don’t want to deal.  In order to accept the entirety of what I’m arguing—that an authoritarian American government with its police, military, and corporate-led structure has systematically worked to destroy political dissent—people have to deny an entire corporate media/education/government authority as they know it.  You would have to understand that NBC’s Lester Holt is lying.  So it’s a tough sell.

PH: There is a deep chill in this country that has solidified in the past 25 years, and especially after US Patriot Act and the Obama Administration’s move to curtail our freedoms, that stems from a country that is so fixed on giving corporations ALL the power to strip our Constitutional Rights as workers. How do we inspire young people to be dissidents and to risk a lifetime of penury and imprisonment (both in the carcel state as well as in their lives as workers, renters, precarious citizens)?

LF: Inspire youth to dissent—there’s another REALLY tough sell.  My last teaching job was at Colgate, so not a lot of worker activism for sure; they weren’t buying all the Native American or female tribulations I told them about for the most part.  They weren’t necessarily buying my relentless socialist feminist history.  But there were some pretty strong feminist students.  Some youth can identify with dissident heroism.  Some can see the reality of the job world, and the evils of war and racism.  I see groups of students who have lived through mass murders at their schools, doing rallies, going to legislatures and Congress.  And I see them turned away for their efforts.  That is a hard but very true lesson of what it might take to change the violence- as- fabric of this culture.  They need to decide to be in it for the long haul.  But it starts with a dose of reality eye-opening.

PH: Many Americans, unfortunately, relish the American police state and the war state, largely because of brainwashing and shifting baseline syndrome. Where do you see some of these heroic women of the past fitting in today in this Homeland Security loving populous?

LF: There’s a good question.  How about all those TV shows with cops, FBI, CIA, homeland goons?!  Wow, talk about brainwashing.  I think Mother Jones, Ma Bloor, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn—would be so appalled today.  These are socialist union people in a world where capitalism has gone completely insane.  All their work, all their suffering, jailing, all for naught.  Workers have less than zero power—so many have had to give up.  And the populace, as noted, brainwashed thoroughly that that’s their fault, that socialism or dissent is evil and un-American.  (Ohhhh—Venezuela!!)  People have been conditioned—and they can also see the evidence—that it’s hopeless to resist.  If you do resist our basic inequality, like Occupy, or like some teacher unions, there is a huge oppressive countervailing apparatus to put you down.  Some female protests continue though.  Anti-imperialist dissenters just keep it going.  As I wrote in Dissident Voice on January 8th, women like former nun Elizabeth McAlister continue to bear witness against nuclear insanity.  She fights even though she doesn’t expect success, with the “absurd conviction” that her protest can make a small difference.

PH: What key points have you learned in your research, interviews, studies and writing?

LF: Well, what I’ve learned has added to my radicalization big time.  I believe that socialism is the only way, that patriarchy and racism remain really really bad today; they’ve taken different forms over time but they are there.  Many American women remain heroes and still fight against what’s wrong in America anyway.  From my interviews I’ve concluded that these women radicals stayed radical.  It hasn’t mattered to them which administration is in power.  It’s depressingly obvious to me how incredibly strong our capitalist culture is now, and the close connection it has with government authoritarianism—fascism.  And how present-day fascism enhances patriarchy, racism and anti-Earth policy.  By the end of the book, I had some rants going against it all—it became a jeremiad for me, a` la Anne Hutchinson.

PH:  Naomi Wolf wrote about fascism under W Bush. In her book, The End of America.

The 10 essential steps the state must implement to take total control are:

  • Invoke a terrifying internal and external enemy.
  • Create secret prisons where torture takes place.
  • Develop a thug caste or paramilitary force not answerable to citizens.
  • Set up an internal surveillance system.
  • Harass citizens’ groups
  • Engage in arbitrary detention and release.
  • Target key individuals.
  • Control the press.
  • Treat all political dissidents as traitors.
  • Suspend the rule of law.

Seems like she was 300 years too late. However, this is United States of Amnesia, Groundhog Day, and plagued with consumerist and spectacle loving people. Discuss.

LF: Interesting choice.  Well, one thing I have to confess is that books like this—out in 2007—is about Bush fascism.  I get itchy about books that seem to indicate that such American fascism started with Bush, or grew appreciably more.  And she does seem to say that given time, Democrats can change the laws.  I liked Jules Boykoff’s book, 2006, Suppression of Dissent which talks about how American protest has been dismantled by a media-state partnership, by talking about Black Panthers (60s) and Judi Bari (90s); and also Bill Quigley, writing in 2011 about how police have become SWAT teams which have become military operations against protesters.  And in my book, I obviously argue that American fascism is from the way-back.  It’s like people who argue, “Well, hey Trump,” like he’s the be-all and end-all of bad American government, when mostly Obama did the same but he’s apparently now a god.  Anyway.  Wolf’s 10 steps—My women have seen all of that, and before 2007.  You’ve got internal/external enemies as in communism and terrorism, or wartime enemies leading to imprisonment.  Secret prisons we have as in black site prisons for Siddiqui, or the conditions for the women prisoners of the Lexington High Security Unit being kept quiet—conditions of extreme torture.  Plus most people don’t know we have many many political prisoners in jail, mostly in solitary—like Red Fawn Fallis and Aafia Siddiqui and Marius Mason at Carswell, TX.  The paramilitary was at Standing Rock, but also used against Mother Jones.

And surveillance—oh yeah—Standing Rock, Occupy, and also against the National Woman’s Party in 1917, done by the brand new FBI.  Government has harassed citizen groups from the pro-Palestinian to those equated with Communism in the 50s.  We’ve seen arbitrary detention of suffragists, Occupy protesters and, of course, lawyer Lynne Stewart.  Stewart was also a targeted key individual, as was Ma Bloor in the 40s, Wounded Knee resisters in the 70s and Standing Rock protectors a couple of years ago.  Occupy tried not to say who their leaders were to avoid that.  The press is totally controlled now, except Dissident Voice and a few stalwarts, but a controlled media was used against Shakur and the Panthers, Siddiqui, Judi Bari and (“Red”) Emma Goldman.

Political dissidents have been considered traitors—especially in wartime, WWI being an egregious example, as also the communists, the Ohio 7 and Weatherwomen, even 83-year-old Plowshares nuns. The lack of the rule of law is definitely horrible today—that’s why Lynne Stewart was jailed, because she tried to fight for that principle—no defender rights, especially against “terrorists”, but it was no picnic for Communists or Japanese-American women jailed for their race. Wolf’s is a useful list—and again, government control gets worse and worse and people don’t seem to notice, or want to notice, much less fight it

PH: Now universities, businesses, Homeland Security, police, FBI, banks, state, city, county governments, police forces, private corporations seemingly work together to quell dissent, quell debate, stave off any criticism of the vanguard and elites. Are we in very different times now, and how and why, than when the Weather Underground, BPP, et al were protesting and dissenting in the 1960s-’90s?

LF: Well, things are different now and mostly not better for dissent, but as I’ve argued, it’s never been good.  For instance, in the 1960s to the 90s, the media was not completely controlled, so you could have some truthful coverage, some anti-authority coverage, some sympathy for dissenters which is hard to find now.  It was not Standing Operating Procedure to use an all-out military attack on just about any or all serious protest.  After the Kent State student killings in 1970, as a student, I joined a very big rally which shut down the Northway in Albany because of what the National Guard did.  So a different time in that way—constant protest is needed now over police/military brutality in this country.  And look what happens—Sandra Bland was killed in her cell and Rev. Joy Powell was railroaded on a murder charge after they took on police brutality against Black Americans.  There is no habeas corpus or fair legal treatment; there is ultra surveillance—and there is a very tight and efficient bond between Big Business and global elitist government.  There is brainwashing with an emphasis on sexist, racist and vacant thinking; workers have no power, and no jobs.  So—here’s what’s the same as the 60s—we need a revolution!

Why Is Israel Afraid of Khalida Jarrar?

When Israeli troops stormed the house of Palestinian parliamentarian and lawyer, Khalida Jarrar, on April 2, 2015, she was engrossed in her research. For months, Jarrar had been leading a Palestinian effort to take Israel to the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Her research on that very evening was directly related to the kind of behavior that allows a group of soldiers to handcuff a respected Palestinian intellectual, throwing her in jail with no trial and with no accountability for their action.

Jarrar was released after spending over one year in jail in June 2016, only to be arrested once more, on July 2, 2017. She remains in an Israeli prison.

On October 28 of this year, her ‘administrative detention’ was renewed for the fourth time.

There are thousands of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, most of them held outside the militarily Occupied Palestinian Territories, in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention.

However, nearly 500 Palestinians fall into a different category, as they are held without trial, detained for six-month periods that are renewed, sometimes indefinitely, by Israeli military courts with no legal justification whatsoever. Jarrar is one of those detainees.

Jarrar is not beseeching her jailers for her freedom. Instead, she is keeping busy educating her fellow female prisoners on international law, offering classes and issuing statements to the outside world that reflect not only her refined intellect, but also her resolve and strength of character.

Jarrar is relentless. Despite her failing health – she suffers from multiple ischemic infarctions, hypercholesterolemia and was hospitalized due to severe bleeding resulting from epistaxis – her commitment to the cause of her people did not, in any way, weaken or falter.

The 55-year-old Palestinian lawyer has championed a political discourse that is largely missing amid the ongoing feud between the Palestinian Authority’s largest faction, Fatah, in the Occupied West Bank and Hamas in besieged Gaza.

As a member of the Palestine Legislative Council (PLC) and an active member within the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), Jarrar has advocated the kind of politics that is not disconnected from the people and, especially, from the women who she strongly and uncompromisingly represents.

According to Jarrar, no Palestinian official should engage in any form of dialogue with Israel, because such engagement helps legitimize a state that is founded on genocide and ethnic cleansing, and is currently carrying out various types of war crimes; the very crimes that Jarrar tried to expose before the ICC.

Expectedly, Jarrar rejects the so-called ‘peace process’, a futile exercise that has no intention or mechanism that is aimed at “implementing international resolutions related to the Palestinian cause and recognizing the fundamental rights of the Palestinians.”

It goes without saying that a woman with such an astute, strong position, vehemently rejects the ‘security coordination’ between the PA and Israel, seeing such action as a betrayal to the struggle and sacrifices of the Palestinian people.

While PA officials continue to enjoy the perks of ‘leadership’, desperately breathing life into a dead political discourse of a ‘peace process’ and a ‘two state solution’, Jarrar, a Palestinian female leader with a true vision, subsists in HaSharon Prison. There, along with dozens of Palestinian women, she experiences daily humiliation, denial of rights and various types of Israeli methods aimed at breaking her will.

But Jarrar is as experienced in resisting Israel as she is in her knowledge of law and human rights.

In August 2014, as Israel was carrying out one of its most heinous acts of genocide in Gaza – killing and wounding thousands in its so-called ‘Protective Edge’ war – Jarrar received an unwelcome visit by Israeli soldiers.

Fully aware of Jarrar’s work and credibility as a Palestinian lawyer with an international outreach – she is the Palestine representative in the Council of Europe – the Israeli government unleashed their campaign of harassment, which ended in her imprisonment. The soldiers delivered a military edict ordering her to leave her home in al-Bireh, near Ramallah, for Jericho.

Failing to silence her voice, she was arrested in April the following year, beginning an episode of suffering, but also resistance, which is yet to end.

When the Israeli army came for Jarrar, they surrounded her home with a massive number of soldiers, as if the well-spoken Palestinian activist was Israel’s greatest ‘security threat.’

The scene was quite surreal, and telling of Israel’s real fear – that of Palestinians, like Khalida Jarrar, who are able to communicate an articulate message that exposes Israel to the rest of the world.

It was reminiscent of the opening sentence of Franz Kafka’s novel, The Trial: “Somebody must have made a false accusation against Joseph K., for he was arrested one morning without having done anything wrong.”

Administrative detention in Israel is the re-creation of that Kafkaesque scene over and over again. Joseph K. is Khalida Jarrar and thousands of other Palestinians, paying a price for merely calling for the rights and freedom of their people.

Under international pressure, Israel was forced to put Jarrar on trial, levying against her twelve charges that included visiting a released prisoner and participating in a book fair.

Her other arrest, and the four renewals of her detention, is a testament not just to Israel’s lack of any real evidence against Jarrar, but for its moral bankruptcy as well.

But why is Israel afraid of Khalida Jarrar?

The truth is, Jarrar, like many other Palestinian women, represents the antidote of the fabricated Israeli narrative, relentlessly promoting Israel as an oasis of freedom, democracy and human rights, juxtaposed with a Palestinian society that purportedly represents the opposite of what Israel stands for.

Jarrar, a lawyer, human rights activist, prominent politician and advocate for women, demolishes, in her eloquence, courage and deep understanding of her rights and the rights of her people, this Israeli house of lies.

Jarrar is the quintessential feminist; her feminism, however, is not mere identity politics, a surface ideology, evoking empty rights meant to strike a chord with western audiences.

Instead, Khalida Jarrar fights for Palestinian women, their freedom and their rights to receive proper education, to seek work opportunity and to better their lives, while facing tremendous obstacles of military occupation, prison and social pressure.

Khalida in Arabic means “immortal”, a most fitting designation for a true fighter who represents the legacy of generations of strong Palestinian women, whose ‘sumoud’ – steadfastness – shall always inspire an entire nation.

Important Update on the Zionist Storming of the Gaza Freedom Flotilla, Al Awda, by Doctor on Board

Events from 29 July when the Israeli Navy stormed the Freedom Flotilla al-Awda hijacked and diverted it from its intended course to Gaza to Israel.

*****

The last leg of the journey of al-Awda (the boat of return) was scheduled to reach Gaza on 29 July 2018. We were on target to reach Gaza that evening. There are 22 on board including crew with US $15,000 of antibiotics and bandages for Gaza. At 12.31 pm we received a missed call from a number beginning with +81… Mikkel was steering the boat at that time. The phone rang again with the message that we were trespassing into Israeli waters. Mikkel replied that we were in International waters and had right of innocent passage according to maritime laws. The accusation of trespassing was repeated again and again with Mikkel repeating the message that we were sailing in international waters. This carried on for about half an hour, while Awda was 42 nautical miles from the coast of Gaza.

Prior to the beginning of this last leg, we had spent two days learning non-violent actions and had prepared ourselves in anticipation of an Israeli invasion of our boat. Vulnerable individuals, especially those with medical conditions, were to sit at the rear of the top deck with their hands on the deck table. The leader of this group was Gerd, a 75 year old elite Norwegian athlete and she had the help of Lucia a Spanish nurse in her group.

The people who were to provide a non-violent barrier to the Israelis coming on deck and taking over the boat formed 3 rows – two rows of threes and the third row of two persons blocking the wheel house door to protect the wheel house for as long as possible. There were runners between the wheel house and the rear of the deck. The leader of the boat Zohar and I were at the two ends of the toilets’ corridor where we looked out at the horizon and informed all of any sightings of armed boats. I laughed at Zohar and said we are the Toilet Brigade, but I think Zohar did not find it very funny. It was probably bad taste under the circumstances. I also would be able to help as a runner and would have accessibility to all parts of the deck in view of being the doctor on board.

Soon we saw at least three large Israeli warships on the horizon with 5 or more speed boats (zodiacs) zooming towards us. As the Zodiacs approached I saw that they carried soldiers with machine guns and there was on board the boats large machine guns mounted on a stand pointing at our boat. From my lookout point the first Israeli soldier climbed on board to the cabin level and climbed up the boat ladder to the top deck. His face was masked with a white cloth and following him were many others, all masked. They were all armed with machine guns and small cameras on their chests.

They immediately made to the wheel house overcoming the first row by twisting the arms of the participants, lifting Sarah up and throwing her away.  Joergen, the chef, was large to be manhandled so he was tasered before being lifted up. They attacked the second row by picking on Emelia the Spanish nurse and removed her thus breaking the line. They then approached the door of the wheel house and tasered Charlie the first mate and Mike Treen who were obstructing their entry to the wheel house. Charlie was beaten up as well. Mike did not give way with being tasered in his lower limbs so he was tasered in his neck and face. Later on I saw bleeding on the left side of Mike’s face. He was semi-conscious when I examined him.

They broke into the wheel house by cutting the lock, forced the engine to be switched off and took down the Palestine flag before taking down the Norwegian flag and trampling on it.

They then cleared all people from the front half of the boat around the wheel house and moved them by force and coercion, throwing them to the rear of the deck. All were forced to sit on the floor at the back, except Gerd, Lucy and the vulnerable people who were seated around the table on wooden benches around her. Israeli soldiers then formed a line sealing off people from the back and preventing them from coming to the front of the boat again.

As we entered the back of the deck we were all body searched and ordered to surrender our mobile phones or else they will take it by force. This part of search and confiscation was under the command of a woman soldier. Apart from mobile phones, medicines and wallets were also removed. No one as of today (4 August 2018) got our mobile phones back.

I went to examine Mike and Charlie. Charlie had recovered consciousness and his wrists were tied together with plastic cable ties. Mike was bleeding from the side of his face, still not fully conscious. His hands were very tightly tied together with cable ties and the circulation to his fingers was cut off and his fingers and palm were beginning to swell. At this stage the entire people seated on the floor shouted demanding that the cable ties be cut. It was about half an hour later before the ties were finally cut off from both of them.

Around this time Charlie, the first mate, received the Norwegian flag. He was visibly upset telling all of us that the Norwegian flag had been trampled on. Charlie reacted more to the trampling of the Norwegian flag than to his being beaten and tasered.

The soldiers then started asking for the captain of the boat. The boys then started to reply that they were all the captain. Eventually the Israelis figured out that Herman was the captain and demanded to take him to the wheel house. Herman asked for someone to come with him, and I offered to do so. But as we approached the wheel house, I was pushed away and Herman forced into the wheel house on his own. Divina, the well known Swedish singer, had meanwhile broken free from the back and went to the front to look through the window of the wheel house. She started to shout and cry “Stop! Stop! They are beating Herman. They are hurting him”.  We could not see what Divina saw, but knew that it was something very disturbing. Later on, when Divina and I were sharing a prison cell, she told me they were throwing Herman against the wall of the wheel house and punching his chest. Divina was forcibly removed and her neck was twisted by the soldiers who took her back to the rear of the deck.

I was pushed back to the rear of the boat again. After a while the boat engine started. I was told later by Gerd who was able to hear Herman tell the story to the Norwegian Consul in prison that the Israelis wanted Herman to start the engine, and threatened to kill him if he would not do so. But what they did not understand was that with this boat, once the engine stopped it can only be restarted manually in the engine room in the cabin level below. Arne, the engineer, refused to restart the engine, so the Israelis brought Herman down and hit him in front of Arne making it clear that they will continue to hit Herman if Arne would not start the engine. Arne is 70 years old, and when he saw Herman’s face go ash colour, he gave in and started the engine manually. Gerd broke into tears when she was narrating this part of the story. The Israelis then took charge of the boat and drove it to Ashdod.

Once the boat was on course, the Israeli soldiers brought Herman to the medical desk. I looked at Herman and saw that he was in great pain, silent but conscious, breathing spontaneously but shallow breathing. The Israeli Army doctor was trying to persuade Herman to take some medicine for pain. Herman was refusing the medicine. The Israeli doctor explained to me that what he was offering Herman was not army medicine but his personal medicine. He gave me the medicine from his hand so that I could check it. It was a small brown glass bottle and I figured that it was some kind of liquid morphine preparation probably the equivalent of oromorph or fentanyl. I asked Herman to take it and the doctor asked him to take 12 drops after which Herman was carried off and slumped on a mattress at the back of the deck. He was watched over by people around him and fell asleep. From my station I saw he was breathing better.

With Herman settled I concentrated on Larry Commodore, the Native American leader and an environmental activist. He had been voted Chief of his tribe twice. Larry has labile asthma and with the stress all around my fear was that he might get a nasty attack, and needed adrenaline injection. I was taking Larry through deep breathing exercises. However, Larry was not heading for an asthmatic attack, but was engaging an Israeli who covered his face with a black cloth in conversation. This man was obviously in charge.

I asked the Israeli man with black mask his name and he called himself Field Marshall Ro…..Larry misheard him and jumped to conclusion that he called himself Field Marshall Rommel and shouted how can he an Israeli take a Nazi name. Field Marshall objected and introduced himself as Field Marshall ? Ronan. As I spelt out Ronan he quickly corrected me that his name is Ronen, and he Field Marshall Ronen was in charge.

The Israeli soldiers all wore body cameras and were filming us all the time. A box of sandwiches and pears were brought on deck for us. None of us took any of their food as we had decided we do not accept Israeli hypocrisy and charity. Our chef Joergen had already prepared high calorie high protein delicious brownies with nuts and chocolate, wrapped up in tin foil to be consumed when captured, as we know it was going to be a long day and night. Joergen called it food for the journey. Unfortunately when I needed it most, the Israelis took away my food and threw it away. They just told me ”It is forbidden” I had nothing to eat for 24 hours, refusing Israeli Army food and had no food of my own.

As we sailed towards Israel we could see the coast of Gaza in total darkness. There were 3 oil /gas rigs in the northern sea of Gaza. The brightly burning oil flames contrasted with the total darkness the owners of the fuel were forced to live in. Just off the shore of Gaza are the largest deposit of natural gas ever discovered and the natural gas belonging to the Palestinians were already being siphoned off by Israel.

As we approached Israel, Zohar, our boat leader, suggested that we should start saying goodbye to each other. We were probably 2-3 hours from Ashdod. We thanked our boat leader, our Captain, the crew, our dear chef, and encouraged each other that we will continue to do all we can to free Gaza and also bring justice to Palestine. Herman, our Captain, who managed to sit up now, gave a most moving talk and some of us were in tears.

We knew that in Ashdod there would be the Israeli media and film crews. We will not enter Ashdod as a people who had lost hope as we were taken captive. So we came off the boat chanting “Free Free Palestine” all the way as we came off. Mike Treen, the union man, had by then recovered from his heavy tasering and led the chanting with his mega-voice and we filled the night sky of Israel with Free Free Palestine as we approached. We did this the whole way down the boat into Ashdod.

We came directly into a closed military zone in Ashdod. It was a sealed off area with many stations. It was specially prepared for the 22 of us. It began with a security x-ray area. I did not realise they retained my money belt as I came out of the x-ray station. The next station was strip search, and it was when I was gathering up my belongings after being stripped that I realised my money belt was no longer with me. I knew I had about a couple hundred Euros and they were trying to steal it. I demanded its return and refused to leave the station until it was produced. I was shouting for the first time. I was glad I did that as some other people were parted from their cash. The journalist from Al Jazeera Abdul had all his credit cards and USD 1,800 taken from him, as well as his watch, satellite phone, his personal mobile, his ID. He thought his possessions were kept with his passport but when he was released for deportation he learnt bitterly that he only got his passport back. All cash and valuables were never found. They simply vanished.

We were passed from station to station in this closed military zone, stripped searched several times, possessions taken away until in the end all we had was the clothes we were wearing with nothing else except a wrist band with a number on it.  All shoe laces were removed as well. Some of us were given receipts for items taken away, but I had no receipts for anything. We were photographed several times and saw two doctors. At this point I learnt that Larry was pushed down the gangway and injured his foot and sent off to Israeli hospital for check-up. His blood was on the floor.

I was cold and hungry, wearing only one tee-shirt and pants by the time they were through with me. My food was taken away; water was taken away, all belongings including reading glasses taken away. My bladder was about to explode but I was not allowed to go to the toilet. In this state I was brought out to two vehicles – Black Maria painted gray. On the ground next to it were a great heap of ruqsacks and suit cases. I found mine and was horrified that they had broken into my baggage and took almost everything from it – all clothes clean and dirty, my camera, my second mobile, my books, my Bible, all the medicines I brought for the participants and myself, my toiletries. The suitcase was partially broken. My ruqsack was completely empty too. I got back two empty cases except for two dirty large man size tee-shirts which obviously belonged to someone else. They also left my Freedom Flotilla tee-shirt. I figured out that they did not steal the Flotilla tee-shirt as they thought no Israeli would want to wear that tee-shirt in Israel. They had not met Zohar and Yonatan who were proudly wearing theirs. That was a shock as I was not expecting the Israeli Army to be petty thieves as well. So what had become of the glorious Israeli Army of the Six Day War which the world so admired?

I was still not allowed to go to the toilet, but was pushed into the Maria van, joined by Lucia the Spanish nurse and after some wait taken to Givon Prison. I could feel myself shivering uncontrollably on the journey.

The first thing our guards did in Givon Prison was to order me to go to the toilet to relieve myself. It was interesting to see that they knew I needed to go desperately but had prevented me for hours to! By the time we were re-x-rayed and searched again it must be about 5 – 6 am. Lucia and I were then put in a cell where Gerd, Divina, Sarah and Emelia were already asleep. There were three double decker bunk beds – all rusty and dusty.

Divina did not get the proper dose of her medicines; Lucia was refused her own medicine and given an Israeli substitute which she refused to take. Divina and Emelia went straight on to hunger strike. The jailors were very hostile using simple things like refusal of toilet paper and constant slamming of the prison iron door, keeping the light of the cell permanently on, and forcing us to drink rusty water from the tap, screaming and shouting at us constantly to vent their anger at us.

The guards addressed me as “China” and treated me with utter contempt. On the morning of 30 July 2018, the British Vice Consul visited me. Some kind person had called them about my whereabouts. That was a blessing as after that I was called “England” and there was a massive improvement in the way England was treated compared to the way China was treated. It crossed my mind that “Palestine” would be trampled over, and probably killed.

At 6.30 am 31 July 2018, we heard Larry yelling from the men’s cell across the corridor that he needed a doctor. He was obviously in great pain and crying. We women responded by asking the wardens to allow me to go across to see Larry as I might be able to help. We shouted “We have a doctor” and used our metal spoons to hit the iron cell gate to get their attention. They lied and said their doctor would be over in an hour. We did not believe them and started again. The doctor actually turned up at 4 pm, about 10 hours later and Larry was sent straight to hospital.

Meanwhile to punish the women for supporting Larry’s demand, they brought hand cuffs for Sarah and took Divina and me to another cell to separate us from the rest. We were told we were not going to be allowed out for our 30 minutes fresh air break and a drink of clean water in the yard. I heard Gerd saying “Big deal”.

Suddenly Divina was taken out with me to the courtyard and Divina given 4 cigarettes at which point she broke down and cried. Divina had worked long hours at the wheel house steering the boat. She had seen what happened to Herman. The prison had refused to give her one of her medicines and given her only half the dose of the other. She was still on hunger strike to protest our kidnapping in international waters. It was heart-breaking to see Divina cry. One of the wardens who called himself Michael started talking to us about how he will have to protect his family against those who want to drive the Israelis out. And how the Palestinians did not want to live in peace…and it was not Israel’s fault. But things suddenly changed with the arrival of an Israeli Judge and we were all treated with some decency even though he only saw a few of us personally. His job was to tell us that a Tribunal will be convened the following day and each prisoner had been allocated a time to appear, and we must have our lawyer with us when we appear.

Divina by the end of the day became very giddy and very unwell so I persuaded her to come out of hunger strike, and also she agreed to sign a deportation order. Shortly after that possibly at 6 pm since we had no watches and mobile phones, we were told Lucia, Joergen, Herman, Arne, Abdul from Al Jazeera and I would be deported within 24 hours and we would be taken to be imprisoned in the deportation prison in Ramle near Ben Gurion airport immediately to wait there. It was going to be the same Ramle Prison from which I was deported in 2014. I saw the same five strong old palm trees still standing up proud and tall. They are the only survivors of the Palestinian village destroyed in 1948.

When we arrived at Ramle prison Abdul found to his horror that he his money, his credit cards, his watch, his satellite phone, his own mobile phone, his ID card were all missing – he was entirely destitute. We had a whip round and raised around a hundred Euros as a contribution towards his taxi fare from the airport to home. How can the Israeli Army be so corrupt and heartless to rob someone of everything?

Conclusion

We, the six women on board al-Awda, had learnt that they tried to completely humiliate and dehumanise us in every way possible. We were also shocked at the behaviour of the Israeli Army especially petty theft and their treatment of international women prisoners. Men jailors regularly entered the women’s cell without giving us decent notice to put our clothes on.

They also tried to remind us of our vulnerability at every stage. We know they would have preferred to kill us but, of course, the publicity incurred in so doing might be unfavourable to the international image of Israel.

If we were Palestinians it would be much worse with physical assaults and probably loss of lives. The situation is therefore dire for the Palestinians.

As to international waters, it looks as though there is no such thing for the Israeli Navy. They can hijack and abduct boats and persons in international water and get away with it. They acted as though they own the Mediterranean Sea. They can abduct any boat and kidnap any passengers, put them in prison and criminalise them.

We cannot accept this. We have to speak up, stand up against this lawlessness, oppression and brutality. We were completely unarmed. Our only crime according to them is we are friends of the Palestinians and wanted to bring medical aid to them. We wanted to brave the military blockade to do this. This is not a crime. In the week we were sailing to Gaza, they had shot dead 7 Palestinians and wounded more than 90 with live bullets in Gaza. They had further shut down fuel and food to Gaza. Two million Palestinians in Gaza live without clean water, with only 2-4 hours of electricity, in homes destroyed by Israeli bombs, in a prison blockaded by land, air and sea for 12 years.

The hospitals of Gaza since the 30 March had treated more than 9,071 wounded persons, 4,348 shot by machine guns from a hundred Israeli snipers while they were mounting peaceful demonstrations inside the borders of Gaza on their own land. Most of the gun-shot wounds were to the lower limbs and with depleted treatment facilities the limbs will suffer amputation. In this period more than 165 Palestinians had been shot dead by the same snipers, including medics and journalists, children and women. The chronic military blockade of Gaza has depleted the hospitals of all surgical and medical supplies. This massive attack on an unarmed Freedom Flotilla bringing friends and some medical relief is an attempt to crush all hope for Gaza. As I write I learnt that our sister Flotilla, Freedom, has also been kidnapped by the Israeli Navy while in international waters.

BUT we will not stop. We must continue to be strong to bring hope and justice to the Palestinians and be prepared to pay the price, and to be worthy of the Palestinians. As long as I survive I will exist to resist.  To do less will be a crime.

• A version of this article appeared in 21st Century Wire.com

God Only Knows

If they would just confirm to us that my brother is alive, if they would just let us see him, that’s all we want. But we can’t get anyone to give us any confirmation. My mother dies a hundred times every day. They don’t know what that is like.

In July of 2018, an Amnesty International report entitled “God Knows If He’s Alive,” documented the plight of dozens of families in southern Yemen whose loved ones have been tortured, killed, or forcibly disappeared by Yemeni security forces reporting to the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The UAE is part of the Saudi-led coalition that, with vital US support, has been bombarding and blockading famine and disease-ravaged Yemen for three brutal years. The disappearances, and torture, can sadly be laid at the doorstep of the United States.

One testimonial after another echoes the sentiments of a woman whose husband has been held incommunicado for more than two years. “Shouldn’t they be given a trial?” she asked. “Why else are there courts? They shouldn’t be disappeared this way – not only are we unable to visit them, we don’t even know if they are dead or alive.”

The report describes bureaucratic farces in which families beg for information about their loved ones’ whereabouts from Yemeni prosecutors and prison officials, but the families’ pleas for information are routinely met with silence or intimidation.

The families are appealing to an unelected Yemeni exile government whose president, Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi, (when “elected” president in 2012, he was the only candidate) generally resides in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. The UAE has, so far, supported Hadi’s claim to govern Yemen. However, the Prosecutor General of Hadi’s government, as well as other officials, told Amnesty International the government of Yemen has no control over operations “spearheaded by the UAE and implemented by the Yemeni forces it backs.”
When months and years pass and families of people who are missing still have no news about their loved ones, some try to communicate unofficially with prison guards or with former detainees who have been released from various detention sites. They repeatedly hear stories about torture of detainees and rumors about prisoners who died in custody.

The Amnesty report implicates UAE-backed local forces in Yemen, as well as the UAE military, in the crimes of torture and other ill-treatment of detainees. Of seven former or current detainees interviewed by Amnesty, five said they were subjected to these abuses. “All seven witnessed other detainees being tortured,” the report adds, “including one who said he saw a detainee held in a cell next to him being carried away in a body bag after he had been repeatedly tortured.”

In June 2017, Human Rights Watch and the Associated Press exposed a network of clandestine prisons operated by the UAE in Yemen. Their reports described ghastly torture inflicted on prisoners and noted that senior US military leaders knew about torture allegations. Yet, a year later, there has been no investigation of these allegations by the Yemeni government, by the UAE, or by the UAE’s most powerful ally in the Yemen war, the United States.

“It is shocking, to say the least,” the Amnesty report states, “that one year after a network of secret prisons operated by the UAE and the Yemeni forces it backs was exposed, these facilities continue to operate and that there has not been a serious investigation undertaken into credibly documented violations, including systemic torture in custody.” The Amnesty report calls on the US to “facilitate independent oversight, including by the US Congress, over US military or intelligence cooperation with Yemeni and UAE forces involved in detention activities in Yemen.” It further calls for investigating any involvement of US military or intelligence personnel in detention-related abuses in Yemen.

To date, the US continues selling weapons to the UAE and to its coalition partner, Saudi Arabia, despite several Congressional debates and a few increasingly close votes demanding a full or partial end to US weapons sales considering the terrible practices being carried out as part of the Yemen war.

Since March of 2015, a coalition of nine countries led by Saudi Arabia and the UAE and relying on crucial U.S. logistical aid, has bombarded Yemen while blockading its major port, despite Yemen’s status as one of the poorest countries in the world. Targeting transportation, electrical plants, sewage and sanitation facilities, schools, mosques, weddings and funerals, the vicious bombing has led to starvation, displacement, and the spread of disease including cholera.

On the same day that the Amnesty report was released, Saudi Arabia’s King Salman pardoned “all military men, who have taken part in the Operation Restoring Hope of their respective military and disciplinary penalties, in regard of some rules and disciplines.” It seems likely that the Amnesty report precipitated this royal decree.

Along with three countries in North Africa’s “Sahel” desert region, Yemen has been cited as part of the worst famine crisis in the 70-year history of the UN. In the past three years of aerial and naval attacks, Yemen’s key port of Hodeidah has remained partially or fully closed despite the country’s vital need for relief supplies. And, while Yemenis suffer the chaos and despair characteristic of war, the Saudis and UAE refer to the war as “Operation Restoring Hope.”

Many thousands of Yemenis, subjected to consistent bombing and threats of starvation and famine, have fled their homes. Many seek refuge out of Yemen. For instance, close to 500 Yemenis have traveled nearly 500 miles to reach a visa-free port on South Korea’s Jeju Island. On July 21, during an international phone call hosted by young friends in Afghanistan, listeners heard Kaia, a resident of Jeju Island, describe the “Hope School.” She explained how she and several other young people are trying to help welcome Yemenis now living in their village of Gangjeong. The young people are already committed to peacefully resisting U.S. and South Korean military destruction of their shoreline and ecosystem. Now, they have started an informal school so Yemeni and South Korean residents can learn from one another. Small groups gather for conversational exchanges translated from Arabic to English to Korean. Many South Koreans can recall, in their own familial history, that seven million Koreans fled Japanese occupation of their land. Their Korean forebears relied on hospitality from people in other lands. The Catholic Bishop of the Jeju diocese, Monsignor Kang Woo-il, called on Koreans to embrace Yemeni refugees, labeling it a crime against human morality to shut the door on refugees and migrants.

Kaia’s account of the newly launched school describes an effort that truthfully involves restoring hope. The cynical designation of Saudi and UAE-led war in Yemen as “Operation Restoring Hope” creates an ugly smokescreen that distracts from the crucial need to investigate war crimes committed in Yemen today.

US citizens bear responsibility for the US government’s support of these crimes.

The Yemenis mean us no harm and have committed no crime against us. Congressional votes have come quite close, with bipartisan support, to ending US participation in, and support for, the Saudi and Emirati led Coalition war against Yemen. Ending arms sales to the UAE and Saudi monarchies, supported by both sides of the aisle, will signal to the UAE and Saudi Arabia the US will no longer assist their efforts to prolong war and siege in Yemen. On cue from the initiative and energy shown by young South Koreans, people in the US can and should organize campaigns to educate their communities, educational institutions, and media outlets about the plight of people in Yemen. Conscious of the nightmare faced by Yemenis whose husbands, brothers, fathers and sons have been disappeared or detained by shadowy military enforcers, US people can work toward implementing each recommendation in Amnesty’s devastating report.

Witness Against Torture activists protest at the Embassy of the United Arab (Photo by Witness Against Torture)

God Only Knows

If they would just confirm to us that my brother is alive, if they would just let us see him, that’s all we want. But we can’t get anyone to give us any confirmation. My mother dies a hundred times every day. They don’t know what that is like.

In July of 2018, an Amnesty International report entitled “God Knows If He’s Alive,” documented the plight of dozens of families in southern Yemen whose loved ones have been tortured, killed, or forcibly disappeared by Yemeni security forces reporting to the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The UAE is part of the Saudi-led coalition that, with vital US support, has been bombarding and blockading famine and disease-ravaged Yemen for three brutal years. The disappearances, and torture, can sadly be laid at the doorstep of the United States.

One testimonial after another echoes the sentiments of a woman whose husband has been held incommunicado for more than two years. “Shouldn’t they be given a trial?” she asked. “Why else are there courts? They shouldn’t be disappeared this way – not only are we unable to visit them, we don’t even know if they are dead or alive.”

The report describes bureaucratic farces in which families beg for information about their loved ones’ whereabouts from Yemeni prosecutors and prison officials, but the families’ pleas for information are routinely met with silence or intimidation.

The families are appealing to an unelected Yemeni exile government whose president, Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi, (when “elected” president in 2012, he was the only candidate) generally resides in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. The UAE has, so far, supported Hadi’s claim to govern Yemen. However, the Prosecutor General of Hadi’s government, as well as other officials, told Amnesty International the government of Yemen has no control over operations “spearheaded by the UAE and implemented by the Yemeni forces it backs.”
When months and years pass and families of people who are missing still have no news about their loved ones, some try to communicate unofficially with prison guards or with former detainees who have been released from various detention sites. They repeatedly hear stories about torture of detainees and rumors about prisoners who died in custody.

The Amnesty report implicates UAE-backed local forces in Yemen, as well as the UAE military, in the crimes of torture and other ill-treatment of detainees. Of seven former or current detainees interviewed by Amnesty, five said they were subjected to these abuses. “All seven witnessed other detainees being tortured,” the report adds, “including one who said he saw a detainee held in a cell next to him being carried away in a body bag after he had been repeatedly tortured.”

In June 2017, Human Rights Watch and the Associated Press exposed a network of clandestine prisons operated by the UAE in Yemen. Their reports described ghastly torture inflicted on prisoners and noted that senior US military leaders knew about torture allegations. Yet, a year later, there has been no investigation of these allegations by the Yemeni government, by the UAE, or by the UAE’s most powerful ally in the Yemen war, the United States.

“It is shocking, to say the least,” the Amnesty report states, “that one year after a network of secret prisons operated by the UAE and the Yemeni forces it backs was exposed, these facilities continue to operate and that there has not been a serious investigation undertaken into credibly documented violations, including systemic torture in custody.” The Amnesty report calls on the US to “facilitate independent oversight, including by the US Congress, over US military or intelligence cooperation with Yemeni and UAE forces involved in detention activities in Yemen.” It further calls for investigating any involvement of US military or intelligence personnel in detention-related abuses in Yemen.

To date, the US continues selling weapons to the UAE and to its coalition partner, Saudi Arabia, despite several Congressional debates and a few increasingly close votes demanding a full or partial end to US weapons sales considering the terrible practices being carried out as part of the Yemen war.

Since March of 2015, a coalition of nine countries led by Saudi Arabia and the UAE and relying on crucial U.S. logistical aid, has bombarded Yemen while blockading its major port, despite Yemen’s status as one of the poorest countries in the world. Targeting transportation, electrical plants, sewage and sanitation facilities, schools, mosques, weddings and funerals, the vicious bombing has led to starvation, displacement, and the spread of disease including cholera.

On the same day that the Amnesty report was released, Saudi Arabia’s King Salman pardoned “all military men, who have taken part in the Operation Restoring Hope of their respective military and disciplinary penalties, in regard of some rules and disciplines.” It seems likely that the Amnesty report precipitated this royal decree.

Along with three countries in North Africa’s “Sahel” desert region, Yemen has been cited as part of the worst famine crisis in the 70-year history of the UN. In the past three years of aerial and naval attacks, Yemen’s key port of Hodeidah has remained partially or fully closed despite the country’s vital need for relief supplies. And, while Yemenis suffer the chaos and despair characteristic of war, the Saudis and UAE refer to the war as “Operation Restoring Hope.”

Many thousands of Yemenis, subjected to consistent bombing and threats of starvation and famine, have fled their homes. Many seek refuge out of Yemen. For instance, close to 500 Yemenis have traveled nearly 500 miles to reach a visa-free port on South Korea’s Jeju Island. On July 21, during an international phone call hosted by young friends in Afghanistan, listeners heard Kaia, a resident of Jeju Island, describe the “Hope School.” She explained how she and several other young people are trying to help welcome Yemenis now living in their village of Gangjeong. The young people are already committed to peacefully resisting U.S. and South Korean military destruction of their shoreline and ecosystem. Now, they have started an informal school so Yemeni and South Korean residents can learn from one another. Small groups gather for conversational exchanges translated from Arabic to English to Korean. Many South Koreans can recall, in their own familial history, that seven million Koreans fled Japanese occupation of their land. Their Korean forebears relied on hospitality from people in other lands. The Catholic Bishop of the Jeju diocese, Monsignor Kang Woo-il, called on Koreans to embrace Yemeni refugees, labeling it a crime against human morality to shut the door on refugees and migrants.

Kaia’s account of the newly launched school describes an effort that truthfully involves restoring hope. The cynical designation of Saudi and UAE-led war in Yemen as “Operation Restoring Hope” creates an ugly smokescreen that distracts from the crucial need to investigate war crimes committed in Yemen today.

US citizens bear responsibility for the US government’s support of these crimes.

The Yemenis mean us no harm and have committed no crime against us. Congressional votes have come quite close, with bipartisan support, to ending US participation in, and support for, the Saudi and Emirati led Coalition war against Yemen. Ending arms sales to the UAE and Saudi monarchies, supported by both sides of the aisle, will signal to the UAE and Saudi Arabia the US will no longer assist their efforts to prolong war and siege in Yemen. On cue from the initiative and energy shown by young South Koreans, people in the US can and should organize campaigns to educate their communities, educational institutions, and media outlets about the plight of people in Yemen. Conscious of the nightmare faced by Yemenis whose husbands, brothers, fathers and sons have been disappeared or detained by shadowy military enforcers, US people can work toward implementing each recommendation in Amnesty’s devastating report.

Witness Against Torture activists protest at the Embassy of the United Arab (Photo by Witness Against Torture)

Red Fawn Fallis and the Felony of Being Attacked by Cops

What happened to Standing Rock water protector Red Fawn Fallis is what has happened to many women political dissenters who go up against Big Government/Corporate power.  After she was viciously tackled by several police officers (caught on video), she was brought up on serious charges of harming those who harmed her.  Fallis, after months of intense corporate/military surveillance and handy informant reports, was targeted as a coordinator and a leader, a symbol and an inspiration.  For daring to make a stand for her people against the encroaching poison and destruction brought by the Dakota Access gas pipeline, she became a political prisoner.

Native-American women suffering dire consequences because of the ever-expanding needs of capitalist/white rule is nothing new.  Native-Americans have endured environmental racism for a very long time—from New England merchants to men seeking gold and to “tame” the West.  Late 20th century technology brought uranium mining and nuclear testing to the Southwest, bringing new and far-reaching disaster.  The Dakota oil pipeline, carrying explosive crude Canadian oil, goes through tribal lands, without tribal consent, potentially poisoning their water and desecrating their sacred sites.  Women have been on the frontlines of DAPL resistance, with their traditional ties to “Mother Earth” and to ancient matriarchal spiritual leadership.  But Standing Rock women resister/water protectors, faced all-out war from government/corporate forces.

In a militarized police state, colonized Native-Americans taking a stand to protect their land and water from rapacious banks and oil companies can expect what was unleashed against them.  In one battle late in 2016, troopers from North Dakota and neighboring states launched an attack against hundreds of united, unarmed Native-American protesters and their allies.  Rubber bullets, icy water cannons, concussion grenades, mace and tear gas did enormous damage.  As head of the Medic and Healer Council Linda Black Elk put it, she was attacked as part of the “continued legacy of oppression by the United States government.”  Native-American women have felt this legacy of oppression in particular ways directed at “squaws.”  Natïve women were raped, imprisoned, tortured, mutilated and killed by white colonial settlers, and that tradition and mentality still lives on in the experience of Red Fawn Fallis and her fellow women water protectors.

White police forcibly assaulted, stripped and searched demonstrators.  In a very familiar pattern, Prairie McLaughlin, daughter of LaDonna Brave Bull Allard, Lakota historian, was cited with “resisting arrest,” after objecting to being forcibly stripped.  An officer broke Apache-Navajo Laurie Howland’s wrist during her arrest.  Echoing Annie May Aquash, who was killed during the Wounded Knee uprising, Howland thought the white officers objected to her not being white and not praying to Jesus. Women dissidents against governmental authority, from Shaker Mother Ann Lee, to women militant suffragists, to black freedom riders, to revolutionary weatherwomen, have met male police violence, as “unnatural” noncompliant women.  For black and Native-American women, branded by a racist culture as even more beneath contempt, it is always worse.  So naturally, Red Fawn Fallis, singled out as a leader by the authorities, would be thrown down and arrested, and then brought up on serious charges which she would have no hope of beating.

It was October 2016, when 40-year-old Red Fawn Fallis was arrested after being tackled and pinned by several officers.  Fallis came from a family well used to resistance and its consequences.  Red Fawn is an Oglala Sioux from Pine Ridge.  Fallis’ mother Troylynn Yellow Wood was active in AIM (American Indian Movement) and was at the Wounded Knee protest in 1973.  She died shortly before the Standing Rock demonstrations.  She had taught her daughter to fight for “social and environmental justice” and to “stand up for her people.”  Red Fawn was serving as a medic at Standing Rock.  She was known as a “mother” to young activists, known to be “dedicated to peaceful tactics.”  When she was accused of shooting at a police officer, her supporters found it hard to believe.  Terrell Ironshell of the Indigenous Youth Council said that Fallis told them:  “You don’t have to be afraid of the government.  This is our land.”  Apparently the government has not yet been convinced of that.

On October 27, 2016, there was a 400-person rally near a DAPL construction site.  The police used the occasion to raid an “1851 treaty camp” and to take and destroy ceremonial and sacred items from a sweat lodge.  They dispersed the crowd with rubber bullets, tear gas and a “long-range acoustic device.”  There were 147 arrested that day and all were released except Red Fawn.  Deputy Thad Schmit said he spotted Fallis “being an instigator and disorderly” so he “took her to the ground.”  She allegedly fired a gun while down, and according to the arresting officers told them they were lucky she didn’t “shoot all you fuckers.”  [What military conference do they go to for this stuff?]  A video taken at the time clearly shows her being violently tackled by a dozen police, who then pinned her down, with a gun (according to witnesses) in her back.  The scene is horrific and typical of fascist militarized authorities quelling unarmed protesters.  It was the same response shown when black women protesters confronted Ferguson police and when Occupy demonstrators met up with the NYPD.

The initial (state) charge against Red Fawn Fallis was “attempted murder” of a police officer.  This was dropped in November in favor of federal charges of “civil disorder” and “possession of a firearm by a convicted felon” (a felon for allegedly driving the car while her male companion shot and wounded another man).  US authorities ordered her held without bail—standard for political prisoners, whether black Panther or Weatherwoman or water protector.  At a June 2017 hearing, she was denied bail, purportedly because the judge said Standing Rock protesters were “violent.”  In October she finally was released to a half-way house in Fargo, after being in North Dakota jails for months.

In January 2018, she had a trial, but, of course, the defense could not use the abrogation of treaty rights or the elaborate military-style surveillance and intelligence reports used to target her, reports which equated her with “jihadist fighters”; or the role of the swarmy FBI informant Heath Harmon, who insinuated himself into a relationship with Fallis, and said he provided her with the gun she allegedly fired.  With the defense hamstrung, as it always is when a woman political is a supposed terrorist, “eco-terrorist” in her case, she and her lawyer Bruce Ellison (Leonard Peltier’s attorney—hm), decided it’d be best to take a plea deal for civil disorder and possession of a firearm, with the dropping of the discharge of firearm (potentially a life sentence).  She also had to express remorse for causing any danger to the police [!].  After some delays, Red Fawn was finally sentenced on July 11, to 57 months in federal prison, with 18 months credit for prison time served.  She will serve about 39 months and three years probation.  She is appealing, but—vicious government prosecutors in North Dakota courts not known for Native-American sympathies–?  Not much chance.  Interestingly, Fallis said, before sentencing, she “wanted to move forward in a positive way away from Harmon and the things he tried to put on me while I was trying to push him away.”  Guess he got even.

When it comes to political dissent, the US government has a long history of violently suppressing it.  When it comes to women dissenters, US authorities have a long history of saving special kinds of punishments for them.  In 1973, black liberationist Assata Shakur was pulled over in a traffic stop, ended up being shot and then falsely accused of shooting her attacker.  Knowing she’d be killed in prison, her comrades helped her escape to Cuba.  In 1990, environmentalist Judi Bari was blown up with a car bomb in California, very likely by the FBI and the Pacific Lumber Company.  She was charged with “possession of an explosive device.”  She never recovered from her injuries.   Muslim- Pakistani scientist Aafia Siddiqui, a Boston doctor, was caught up in the horror of false terrorism charges in the early 2000s.  After years of imprisonment, rape and torture, she was set up for a staged shooting of US army officers in Afghanistan, was herself grievously wounded in the stomach, and, as an accused “terrorist,” got 86 years in prison.  Occcupy’s Cecily McMillan was sexually accosted by an NYPD officer, tackled by a number of other officers, and was charged with attacking the police.  She served time in Rikers and was released.  Black Lives Matter activist Sandra Bland was pulled over in Texas for not signaling for a lane change, was tackled with her head hitting the ground, charged with the felony of attacking an officer, and was found hanged in her cell a few days later under suspicious circumstances.  In a police state, you can be a New Jersey mother on a beach and get accosted by cops, a black woman at a waffle house and be tackled by officers, a young woman jaywalking and get attacked by the police.  This is the mark of an authoritarian, patriarchal power structure.

Red Fawn Fallis will serve hard time in federal prison because she stood up to government/corporate power.  The Free Red Fawn facebook page says—on July 12, 2018—that she is a “political prisoner.  She stood up for justice against environmental genocide, encroachment of our land and water.”  Like other Native-American and Puerto Rican women politicals, Fallis sees her status as a war captive of the US government.  She knows she faces a long prison sentence, but has heard her supporters sing outside her window.  She says, “So I stand strong. . .  I grow stronger every passing hour.”  She was treated brutally and with a punishment far in excess of any possible crime.  Such treatment of women political prisoners is the mark of a state which has little patience for defiant women resisters:  a fascist state, a police state –not one beginning with Trump—Standing Rock and Ferguson happened under Obama. The repression against those women who have fought for freedom and justice began with the first settlers.

NJ Weedman Versus the World

Through the metal detectors, past the indoor basketball court dotted with men in orange, and into a small, whitewashed room with six telephones, New Jersey’s resident marijuana activist sat behind a window. He sat at the fourth phone, his face framed by a thick border of blue paint around the polycarbonate glass, chipped in some areas. His dreadlocks were tied back and his calm, gray-colored eyes were underlined by dark bags. He was tired.

There is an irony unraveling inside this New Jersey jail. With the election of Gov. Phil Murphy, who campaigned on legalizing marijuana, the state is closer than it has ever been to seeing the drug become permitted. But at a time when activists are rejoicing the plant’s acceptance in the Garden State, New Jersey’s most ardent pot advocate is behind bars.

Edward Forchion, known ubiquitously as NJ Weedman, has been locked up at the Mercer County Correctional Center for more than a year with no conviction—and he could be in jail when his decades-long dream of legalization finally becomes a reality.

The man who spent most of his adult life advocating marijuana reform is now fighting bail reform.

In January 2017, New Jersey enacted the Criminal Justice Reform Act, referred to as the bail reform act, after the measure was successfully passed by New Jersey voters by a ballot question three years earlier. The law made the state’s bail system dependent on risk as opposed to money.

The Reform

Since its passage, the courts are now using a computer-based pretrial risk assessment tool, created by the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, that considers a defendant’s criminal history to determine the risk of three components: failure to appear in court, new criminal activity and new violent criminal activity. With the bail reform also came a set of new standards. Defendants must have their first court appearance within 48 hours of an arrest, prosecutors have 90 days to indict a defendant, and, if indicted, a trial must be scheduled within 180 days.

The idea behind the state’s bail reform was to help low-risk, nonviolent defendants in jail simply because they could not afford to post bail. In many instances, the concept worked.

The New Jersey chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, which played an important role in creating the bail reform act, said that within nine months of the law being enacted, the state’s pretrial jail population decreased by 15 percent. But changing the bail system created some obvious opposition. In September 2017, an insurance company with ties to the bail bond industry unsuccessfully petitioned a federal court for an injunction to stop the bail reform act.

Alexander Shalom, a staff attorney with the ACLU-NJ who was a member of New Jersey’s Joint Committee on Criminal Justice, the taskforce created to address the state’s bail system, applauded the federal judge’s ruling and said: “No system of pretrial release and detention, including this one, is perfect, but the last thing we need is to heed the bail industry’s desperate call to increase reliance on money bail.”

Despite the risk assessment algorithm, the decision to release a defendant on bail ultimately comes down to the judge.

Previously in New Jersey, bail was typically only denied for those charged with capital offenses. Under the bail reform act, even for crimes considered nonviolent, a judge may still institute a cash bail when no other release conditions could ensure public safety or the defendant’s appearance in court. In the most extreme cases, a judge can order a defendant to be held without bail pending trial, usually if prosecutors argue that the defendant is a danger to the community.

Forchion, who is facing a third-degree witness tampering charge and has never been convicted of a violent crime, is considered by the court to be one of those cases. His charge stems from posting the identity of a police informant online.

The pretrial risk assessment algorithm recommended Forchion’s release with the condition of weekly reporting to the court. Prosecutors, however, argued that if Forchion were released, he would pose a danger to the community and may obstruct the criminal justice process. They argued that despite the risk assessment’s recommendation of release, Forchion should be held in jail without bail awaiting his trial, and the judge agreed. That was March 7, 2017.

“For 230 years, we’ve had the right to bail in this country,” Forchion said in one of many phone interviews from jail. “Now, New Jersey passed this bail reform act and now things like this can happen.”

The Restaurant

Before Forchion ended up in jail, he owned and operated a restaurant and a “cannabis temple” in New Jersey’s capital city, Trenton.

Like many other cities that relied heavily on manufacturing in the 19th and 20th centuries, Trenton saw an economic downturn before the turn of the millennia, financially depressing the city whose slogan is still “Trenton Makes and the World Takes.” The once-thriving city is now littered with boarded-up windows and dilapidated street corners. In a city where news coverage has been dominated by crime and violence, Forchion’s restaurant and sanctuary stood out as a positive addition to the community, and it was less than a mile away from the New Jersey Statehouse.

In 2015, the Wall Street Journal profiled the restaurant and noted that Forchion’s business received an honorary proclamation from the New Jersey Legislature commending the establishment and welcoming it to Trenton’s business community.

The restaurant, NJ Weedman’s Joint, served health-conscious dishes with a soul food twist, and although the food did not contain marijuana, the names of the menu items did. A meatball sandwich was dubbed the “Meatball Joint” and a vegetarian wrap the “Reggie Special.” The eatery garnered a loyal following and, before its untimely closure, boasted 4.8 stars out of 5 on Google reviews.

Attached to the restaurant but operating as a separate entity was Forchion’s cannabis church, the Liberty Bell Temple, which he referred to as a sanctuary and allowed people to come and take part in its sacrament: marijuana. The temple, Forchion said, was a place for the people of Trenton to gather and express themselves through music, dance and art. Some people have referred to the temple as Rastafarian-like, but Forchion, who has identified as a Rastafarian in the past, has never given it a specific label because he wanted it to be inclusive of all backgrounds and beliefs.

“I call it a cannabis temple or a spiritual temple,” Forchion explained. The restaurant and cannabis temple, situated side-by-side, were located directly across from Trenton City Hall. “I was making a statement when I moved there,” Forchion said.

Reality TV

Forchion, who is 53, opened the restaurant and temple in June 2015 with his business partner and girlfriend, Debi Madaio. Shortly after its opening, he retrofitted the buildings with 28 cameras and began filming a reality television show.

According to an article in the Trentonian, Forchion, Madaio and two silent partners created a media company called NJ Joint Ventures with the hopes of producing a television show to pitch to various networks. Their goal was to showcase marijuana activism and the lives of medical marijuana patients.

Before long, though, Trenton police officers began coming to the restaurant and temple claiming that Forchion was unlawfully operating a business past the permitted hours of operation in a residential zone.

“Everything was going fine for about six months,” Forchion said. “Then the police started harassing me for being opened late at night—for being opened past 11 o’clock.”

By the end of December 2015, police were a regular occurrence at NJ Weedman’s Joint and Liberty Bell Temple. Forchion wrote a letter in February 2016 to the mayor of Trenton and the city police informing them that his establishment was in a business zone, not a residential zone. “It was bad for business,” he said. “I had cops who kept showing up at my door.”

Towards the end of February 2016, police came to the restaurant with canines and, according to Forchion, told everyone that they had to leave because it was past 11 p.m. In the beginning of March, Forchion said he was approached by a police officer and again instructed to close his restaurant at 11 p.m. When Forchion didn’t comply, more than a dozen police officers showed up at his establishment a few days later demanding his patrons leave.

The incident, which took place on March 5, 2016, was captured on video and uploaded to the restaurant’s YouTube channel five days later. In the video, there are more than a dozen police officers crowding around the restaurant’s front door. Police lights turned the night-time streets blue and red.

“I didn’t want it to turn into a massive arrest, so I wound up telling everyone to leave,” Forchion said. “And that was the first time I’ve capitulated, telling everyone to leave, and I’ve never capitulated about nothing, but I knew I was right and that I could be open past 11.”

It was at this point that NJ Weedman decided to file a lawsuit against the Trenton Police Department.

On March 8, 2016 Forchion filed a civil lawsuit in federal court against Trenton and its police department, claiming his religious rights were violated when the police shut his business down after 11 p.m. For the next six months from March 2016 to September 2016, Forchion received 22 municipal violations from Trenton police for business-related infractions—more than half of the tickets alleging he was opened too late.

“OK fine, I’m a pain in the butt,” Forchion said. “I’ve made myself an activist, a protester, whatever you want to say, but at what point are the police allowed act like a gang?” The police presence began to scare his customers away. “It was a constant. Every couple of weeks they would do it.”

The Bust

Eventually, in April 2016, Forchion’s restaurant and temple were raided by Trenton police armed with assault rifles and tactical gear. He was one of 10 people arrested from the bust and is facing 11 marijuana-related charges. Since the arrest occurred before the bail reform act was enacted in 2017, he was able to post bail and was released.

“I was not selling weed,” Forchion said, “but OK, I have weed. Who doesn’t know that NJ Weedman has weed?” It’s been two years since his arrest and he has not yet been given a trial date for his marijuana-related charges. Forchion’s third-degree witness tampering charge that he is currently in jail for stemmed from the drug bust.

The police used a confidential informant to build a case against Forchion, and Forchion, mostly through social media, revealed the identity of the informant. He claimed it was within his constitutional right to gather information for his legal defense, and said anything he posted online is protected by the First Amendment. A conviction of third-degree witness tampering carries a penalty of three to five years in prison.

Originally, Forchion was charged with second-degree witness tampering in addition to the third-degree charge, but in November 2017, a jury found him not guilty of the second-degree charge. One juror, however, remained undecided on the third-degree charge. Prosecutors decided to retry him on the third-degree charge, and he has been in the Mercer County Correctional Center since.

According to the affidavit for the search warrant before the raid on NJ Weedman’s Joint, the police “initiated a narcotics investigation” on March 10—two days after Forchion filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the city and its police department. “Their investigation was retaliation,” he said. “That’s all it was; retaliation for filing a lawsuit.”

The affidavit also showed that the police used a confidential informant in building its case against Forchion.

“The Rat”

After finding out that a confidential informant was used, Forchion immediately had an idea of who the police had sent in. A man that Forchion had never met began to visit his restaurant and temple on a regular basis.

“He kept coming in and asking me for weed,” Forchion said, adding that it is not completely unusual for a random person to try to befriend him. “I’ve had this happen where people want to smoke with me, they want to hang out with me, strangers come and visit me,” he said. “Anywhere I go potheads know me all over the place.”

Each time Forchion declined to sell him marijuana, the informant would persist, Forchion said. That’s when he remembers the situation becoming a little “weird.”

“In fact, I was joking with my staff and I was calling him Barney Rubble because he kind of looked like him,” Forchion recalled. “He was following me around like a puppy dog like Barney Rubble does to Fred Flintstone.”

On one occasion, though, Forchion said he gave the informant some marijuana from his personal stash and “he left with some.” It was after the informant dropped $300 into a donation jar that he left at his temple, Forchion said. “We didn’t think he was undercover or anything like that,” he said. “We just thought he was a weirdo.” It was less than an ounce, according to Forchion. This led to his arrest in the drug bust on April 27, 2016.

It wouldn’t be for another year, however, that Forchion was charged with witness tampering.

“In April 2016, a month after I filed the lawsuit against the police for harassing me, they raided me based on the rat,” he said. “And then a year goes by and in March 2017 I’m arrested for witness tampering.”

Forchion has largely represented himself during much of his history in court. For his drug case, though, he had the help of an attorney. His goal was to get the government’s informant to testify in court in his drug-related case and he believed he could accomplish this by revealing the identity of the “rat,” which is Forchion’s choice noun for confidential informant.

“I started doing research—which is perfectly within my Sixth Amendment right to prepare a defense—to figure out who it was,” Forchion said. “I figured out who it was and I started blasting all of Facebook saying that there was a rat.”

This plan backfired and Forchion found himself charged with the two counts of witness tampering.

The idea of ousting the confidential informant was inspired by a Supreme Court of New Jersey case from 1976, titled State v. Milligan. The case considers the limits of the government’s privilege to protect the identity of police informants.

Milligan’s Case

In November of 1972, an undercover New Jersey State Trooper named Harry Roberson was involved in a Camden County narcotics investigation. Roberson was introduced to the suspected heroin dealer, Preston Milligan, through an informant, according to court documents. Milligan, according to the court’s opinion, informed the undercover cop that he had “good stuff” for sale at $8 per bag, and Roberson agreed to buy $88 worth.

Although the informant was present during the meeting, he did not negotiate the sale and was in the bathroom when the transaction took place. Six months later, Milligan was arrested for selling heroin. Before the case went to trial, Milligan requested through the lower court that the name of the informant be disclosed. Roberson testified during a hearing on the matter and the trial judge subsequently denied Milligan’s motion.

Not long after, Milligan was convicted of possession and distribution of heroin but appealed his case. The appellate court said that since the informant acted as a material of the crime, the state didn’t have much of a case without him. The court reversed Milligan’s convictions, therefore taking the case to the Supreme Court of New Jersey, which weighed the informant’s role in Milligan’s conviction.

“A consideration of the nature of the defense and of the informer’s role in the crime here alleged leads me to believe this is a proper case for either disclosure to the defendant of the informer’s identity or for an in-camera examination of the informer by the judge, alone, to investigate the possible helpfulness of the informer to defendant if called as a witness,” the Supreme Court panel wrote in its opinion.

Regardless of the case’s nature, the Supreme Court recognized the dilemma of setting a precedent where the identities of informants were allowed to be made known during the course of the trial.

“The dilemma is that ordinarily a defendant cannot know unless the informer is made available, while to require him to be made available will end the prosecution and deny society the services of informers,” the court wrote. “The defendant swore, in defense, that he had never encountered Trooper Roberson prior to the trial, or sold narcotics to him or to anyone on the date alleged by the State.”

The informant was Milligan’s “one material witness” and had “helped to set up the criminal occurrence and had played a prominent part in it.” Disclosure of the identity of the informer “is essential to assure a fair determination of the issues,” the court wrote.

“Perhaps a situation may arise in which some such procedure would be feasible and warranted,” the judges wrote. “At the moment a choice seems unavoidable between a disclosure of the witness-informer in all cases or in none at all. A policy-decision must be made and it must rest upon probabilities. In those terms the risk of loss to defendants is pure conjecture, while the loss to society in its efforts to cope with crime would be real and substantial.”

The balance was struck “in favor of law and order.” The Supreme Court reversed the appellate court’s judgment vacating Milligan’s convictions and agreed with the trial court, which found him guilty of the crime.

The affidavit for the search warrant of NJ Weedman’s Joint alleged that the informant had directly bought marijuana from Forchion. With the 1976 case in mind, Forchion began working to reveal the identity of the police’s informant, but instead of doing so through the courts, he took to the internet.

On his website, Forchion made many postings publishing the informant’s name. He posted photos of the informant, a home address, a phone number, his wife’s name and the number of children he had. Forchion argued that if an informant could make allegations against him, he should be able to use the power of subpoena to get the informant to testify in his drug case.

In August 2016, prosecutors filed a motion for a protective order of the identity of the confidential informant. The motion to keep the informant’s identity private wasn’t approved until February 2017, according to an article on NJ.com. By this time, Forchion had already posted the identity online of who he believed was the informant. He was then charged with witness tampering and was arrested after a SWAT team entered his girlfriend’s home in March 2017.

The court found that Forchion should be detained before his trial on his witness tampering charge because “no amount of monetary bail, non-monetary conditions, or combination of monetary bail and conditions would reasonably assure” the protection of the community. It was also determined, according to court documents, that if he were released, there would be no assurance the “defendant will not obstruct or attempt to obstruct the criminal justice process,” according to court documents. Prosecutors did not comment for this story, but did provide copies of court orders regarding pretrial detention motions.

Although Forchion represents himself for the lion’s share of his legal troubles, he does have a standby counsel for his witness tampering case.

Christopher Campbell, Forchion’s standby, said that he believes the state’s case for the third-degree witness tampering charge isn’t strong since the second-degree charge was already dismissed.

“I really can’t speak for them as to whether they’re trying to punish him or not,” he said of the prosecutor’s office, “but he does make himself a very vocal advocate against the system. Whether that means he’s a target for that reason, who knows.”

The bail reform can complicate pretrial hearings, as Forchion’s standby counsel pointed out. “I have seen some surprising things happen with bail reform since its inception,” Campbell said. “Ed just wants to go to trial, but anytime he tries to do anything he gets excludable time.”

Excludable Time

One of the biggest arguments Forchion has against the bail reform act is the tenet of excludable time. It is what has caused him to remain in jail for more than a year pending his trial. Under the bail reform act, there is a wide variety of reasons a defendant may receive excludable time against his trial clock. The bail reform act makes clear that prosecutors must bring a defendant to trial within 180 days of indictment and within 120 days for a retrial. Certain events, however, can augment these deadlines and put a pause on the trial clock.

There are 13 instances when excludable time can be applied, according to a bail reform factsheet on the New Jersey’s judiciary website, and perhaps the most encompassing of all is the time it takes a judge to decide pretrial motions. For any motion a defendant or prosecutor submits before trial, a judge has up to 60 days to respond, and however many days it takes for a response to be rendered is considered excludable time.

“For filing a motion asking for something, you get punished. To appeal something, you get punished. It’s all a part of the law,” Forchion said. “This is the dungeon system.”

On Nov. 17, 2017, shortly after Forchion’s second-degree witness tampering charge was dismissed, he filed a motion for his release. Prosecutors filed its response to the motion on Dec. 11, 2017. On Jan. 12, 2018, the judge made his decision, denying Forchion’s release and ordering 57 days of excludable time to count against his trial clock.

On March 1, prosecutors asked for more than 20 days of excludable time because Forchion filed an appeal on a judge’s order denying his release, which the judge made on Jan. 12. Jan. 20, Forchion appealed this decision to the appellate court. He also filed an appeal to the Supreme Court on Feb. 26, but the petition was denied.

Forchion was also given 67 days of excludable before he went on trial in November 2017 where he beat the second-degree witness tampering charge.

“It’s like I wasn’t here, like it didn’t count, like it doesn’t count, but I’m locked in a cage,” he said. “It counts to me. Every minute of the day counts for me.”

The bail reform can hold defendants with no bail for months on end, sometimes the cases result in acquittals. In December 2017, the Asbury Park Press reported that two men were detained with no bail under New Jersey’s bail reform act and were eventually acquitted of their charges. Both men were accused of binding, raping and robbing a prostitute at a hotel a year earlier. One of the men, who had claimed he was never at the crime scene, was in jail for almost 11 months before his acquittal, the report said.

In other instances, the bail reform act can release someone that draws the ire of the public. For example, in March a school bus driver who is currently accused of molesting at least nine children over the course of his 40-year career as a bus driver was released under the bail reform act. The story was shared on anti-bail reform websites across the country.

New Jersey’s Public Defender, Joseph Krakora, played a role in shaping bail reform. He, like Alexander Shalom of the ACLU, served on the Joint Committee of Criminal Justice. According to his biography on the state’s website, Krakora “assumed a leadership role in N.J.’s recently enacted criminal justice reform that eliminated its discriminatory money based system of pretrial release.”

Forchion questioned this connection and said that the public defender’s office and the ACLU would have been the two entities most likely to challenge the bail reform and its concept of pretrial detention with no bail, but since the two entities played a role in creating the bail reform, it makes it difficult for them to critique it.

Forchion said that the use of denying bail is essentially punishing people before a crime is even committed. He compares his situation to the “Minority Report,” a film starring Tom Cruise based on the science fiction novel by Philip K. Dick that takes place in Washington D.C. in the year 2054. The police have a “pre-crime” unit that uses a bizarre, anthropomorphic technology to see into the future, and a cop, played by Cruise, winds up being wanted for a murder he has yet to commit.

“They’re punishing me before I do crime,” Forchion said. “They’re punishing me for obstruction of justice saying they’re holding me because I will obstruct justice. Listen, if I obstruct then charge me and that’s a new charge, but how are they going to hold me in jail saying I will? That’s like locking someone up because they will commit murder one day or they will rob somebody someday.”

Forchion often finds himself comparing his trials and tribulations to movies or to his idols, which happen to be mostly Colonial era political dissidents.

“I talk about William Penn a lot,” Forchion said. “Right now, I’m talking about Peter Zenger a lot because he was put in jail for publishing and that’s what I was put in jail for.”

Zenger, who printed The New York Journal, was famously accused of libeling the governor of New York’s son, but when placed before a jury on trial, he was acquitted. Forchion, he’s quick to note while speaking of Zenger, has also been acquitted by a jury in the past. He relates to Penn because Penn, a Quaker, was ostracized and repeatedly jailed for his religious beliefs. Penn, in founding Pennsylvania, later drafted a charter of liberties guaranteeing a right to a fair trial by jury, freedom from unjust imprisonment and free elections.

John Vincent Saykanic, the attorney who has been assisting Forchion with his appeals for more than a decade, said that he “has been trying to get him out for a year from pretrial detention.”

He said that the bail reform act does away with a “defendant’s rights to appeal because by appealing you’re adding more time to your pretrial detention. Saykanic made it clear that Forchion “wants to go to trial ASAP. As soon as possible.”

Saykanic referred to Forchion’s pretrial detention as “punishment” and said that his case is an example of how the bail reform can be a “nightmare.”

“This is an example of a huge flaw in the purpose of the bail reform, which is supposed to help people who don’t have money to post bail, but here it’s punishing an individual,” he said. “He’s been there over a year now.”

He called Forchion’s situation “a grave injustice.”

Wins and Woes

When it came to his restaurant’s hours of operation, Forchion consistently argued that he was allowed to operate after 11 p.m. because his restaurant and temple are located in a business zone that permits being opened until 2 a.m.

He has so far has not been found guilty of any of the city violation tickets for hours of operation, and said that every time the municipal court date approached, the “city always postponed.” He said that he has been taken to Trenton Municipal Court on two occasions from his cell at Mercer County Correctional Center, but both times the city postponed the hearings.

Eventually, in September 2016, the city revoked Forchion’s restaurant license due to the litany of municipal tickets he received, forcing him to shut down. One week later, The Trentonian reported that Forchion’s license was reinstated because his restaurant, after all, was located in a business zone.

Forchion’s fusillade of municipal tickets were dismissed in February 2018. After two years had gone by since he was given his first ticket, a Trenton Municipal Court judge dismissed 13 of 23 tickets. The 13 tickets dismissed were all written for violations of hours of operations; the remaining 10 tickets were for other violations related to his business, Forchion said, such as having a lock on a fence and leaving a fire pit’s cover off.

He said the other 10 tickets would have never been given to him had the police recognized his business was permitted to stay open past 11 p.m. because they only showed up at his restaurant to order him to close shop. The other tickets were only auxiliary to the hours of operation violations, he claimed.

Likewise, Forchion said, he would have never filed his federal civil rights lawsuit if the police had not been coming to his restaurant and temple forcing him to close his businesses early. The federal lawsuit, he claims, led to his drug bust and witness tampering case.

Mario Williams, an Atlanta, Georgia attorney specializing in civil rights issues, police misconduct and business litigation, is representing Forchion in his federal lawsuit against Trenton and its police department.

“This is like the true definition of political prisoner,” Williams said of Forchion. “He just rubbed law enforcement the wrong day and they essentially said we’re going to shut you down, and that’s what they did.” He said Forchion was penalized for exercising his rights.

“They penalized him more so because he’s very active when exercising his First Amendment rights and freedom of speech against law enforcement officers,” Williams said.

As for the bail reform, Williams said that it “needs to be scrapped.”

Eventually, New Jersey’s bail reform act was slightly tweaked. On May 1, 2018, the Supreme Court of New Jersey ruled unanimously that in most instances a judge cannot rule defendants be detained pretrial solely based on the crime they are accused of committing. “A recommendation against a defendant’s pretrial release that is based only on the type of offense charged cannot justify detention by itself,” Chief Justice Stuart Rabner wrote in the decision. Charges such as murder, sex trafficking and other crimes that carry a sentence of life imprisonment can be the exception to this.

Third-degree witness tampering, the charge Forchion is facing, is not a crime that carries a sentence of life in prison. When the Supreme Court’s ruling came out, Forchion was detained for 421 days pretrial without bail.

In addition to Forchion, Williams is also representing a woman named June Rodgers who is suing New Jersey and former Gov. Chris Christie in an attack on the bail reform system. Her son, Christian, was killed after a man shot him dead in the streets. The man who allegedly murdered him, Jules Black, was released under the bail reform system just days before her son Christian was killed.

“Between that case and Forchion’s, you can see some serious flaws in the system,” Williams said. He questioned the computer risk algorithm designed by the Laura and John Arnold Foundation and its effectiveness. Williams isn’t the only one to have raised concerns over algorithms used to predict risk in defendants.

Aaron Clauset, a prominent computer scientist, made remarks in response to a study on machine learning applied in the realm of criminal justice. In 2016, Clauset was awarded the Erdős-Rényi Prize, given by the Network Science Society for achievements and outstanding contributions network science. The study Clauset responded to was published in justice published in Science Advances in January 2018.

“In the United States, algorithms are commonly used to predict the likelihood that a criminal will commit a crime, and these predictions influence pretrial, parole, and sentencing decisions,” he wrote. “Commercial software, such as the widely used COMPAS’s impressive-sounding 137-feature black box is nearly equivalent to a trivial linear classifier using two features, and both approaches are no more accurate or fair than predications made by people with little or no criminal justice expertise.”

Williams said that he is hoping New Jersey’s bail reform is fixed before other states adopt similar measures. According to Williams, other states are looking at New Jersey as a model.

States looking to amend bail systems stretch further across the country than just the east coast.

In January 2018, WNYC aired a program dubbed, “What Can New York Learn from New Jersey’s Bail Reform?” It mentions that New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo was championing a bail reform for the Empire State.

In 2016, voters in New Mexico chose to change the way bail is used in the state. The new method is similar to New Jersey’s and makes it more difficult for judges to hold a defendant in jail under monetary bail. Utah is also working to implement changes to its bail system.

In late April of 2018, New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez recorded a video warning Utah officials that changes to the bail system could result in risk to the public. Courts in New Mexico began using the same risk assessment algorithm utilized in New Jersey designed by the Laura and John Arnold Foundation. Martinez, in the video, said the results of the algorithm have been “devastating” in New Mexico.

“The whole country is looking at New Jersey and seeing how this really works or doesn’t work,” Williams said. “Everyone is looking to pass some type of bail reform on some level.”

Since the hours of operation tickets were dismissed, Forchion said he floated the idea of filing a writ of habeas corpus in his federal case.

“I want the judge to rule that my imprisonment is unconstitutional,” he said.

The Weedman has successfully argued on similar grounds before.

Forchion lived in California from 2007 to 2013, but was still coming back to New Jersey frequently. “I was bi-coastal,” he said. “That’s what I was calling myself back then.”

In California, in a case reminiscent of his current situation, he opened the first Liberty Bell Temple, which, like the one in Trenton, used marijuana as a sacrament with its congregants. It was incorporated as a 501(c)(3) religious organization, and the Trenton temple was incorporated as a subsidiary of the California incorporation. Unlike Trenton, however, Forchion was also growing weed at a warehouse in California. “They said I was violating the city dispensary laws,” he said. “My argument was that I was not a dispensary.”

His temple, located in Hollywood, was raided on a Los Angeles city code violation for failing to cease operations. The police said he was acting as a dispensary, but Forchion maintained it was a religious practice.

“For about a year we fought back and forth,” he said. Eventually, a California Superior Court judge ruled in Forchion’s favor. “He looked at my paperwork, saw that I had registered as a church, that I was incorporated as a church,” Forchion said. “I argued that I should be exempt from these marijuana laws, and I won.”

The Courts

The California case, the current witness tampering case and the restaurant drug bust are far from NJ Weedman’s only legal troubles. This isn’t the first time Forchion has fought the law, and it likely won’t be the last. He has been in court many times and his wrists are no stranger to handcuffs. Nearly every run-in Forchion has had with the legal system involved—as one could imagine—marijuana.

“I’ve only been arrested for marijuana and one time I got charged with receiving stolen property because somebody sold me something and I didn’t know they had reported it stolen as part of an insurance scam,” he said. “It was a gun.”

This was Forchion’s first foray in what would become his long relationship with the criminal justice system. It was in 1996, he had just gotten out of the Army and had no criminal record.

“That was my first charge ever,” he said. “I was three years out of the Army.” He was given pre-trial intervention.

According to an article in Philadelphia Weekly, Forchion was busted for smoking marijuana while in the Army and ran off with $6,000 worth of poker chips from the Trump Taj Mahal after getting drunk and losing $13,000 at the blackjack table. He got away with it, too, according to the article, until he was pulled over by police and was found with an “unregistered double barrel shotgun and a bag of pot.”

“I was down there, I was just drunk gambling,” he said. “At some point, I lost a bunch of money, I was drunk and I reached over and I grabbed a bunch of chips. I turned around and walked out.” Forchion, who said he hardly ever has a drink anymore, had a warrant put out for his arrest.  charged with theft by unlawful taking. He received pretrial intervention for the casino charge, but when he was pulled over for his warrant, police had found a gun in his truck.

“It was a little .410 shotgun,” he said. “It was double barrel, like a little tiny Derringer.”

A year after his gun case, Forchion was busted for acting as a middle man for a shipment of marijuana from Arizona. He, along with two other men, were found with more than 40 pounds of weed in Bellmawr, New Jersey.

“I got caught with 40 pounds, I represented myself,” he said. During the trial, the prosecution offered him a deal he couldn’t resist: 10 years in prison with parole eligibility after less than two years served.

He took the plea bargain and pleaded guilty to manufacturing or distribution of a controlled dangerous substance and conspiracy in Camden County in 2000. He represented himself on the marijuana charge and went from facing 20 years in prison to ultimately serving 18 months from 2001 to 2002.

“That was the only time I’ve ever went to prison. I’ve been on the cause ever since,” he said. “From that moment on, I told myself I would never, ever take a deal again. And I haven’t.”

In 2001, in a separate case that took place while Forchion was imprisoned in New Jersey, he went on trial in Pennsylvania for getting caught with a little more than a pound marijuana in Philadelphia. “I represented myself then, too,” he said. “The case got dismissed.” In 2002, though, Forchion found himself locked up again—this time his punishment stemmed from making videos.

When Forchion was released from prison after taking the plea bargain, he was put into Intensive Supervision Program, or ISP, which is a strict parole program providing alternative forms of community-based correctional supervision that allows some offenders to serve sentences outside the traditional prison settings.

He said his ISP parole officer was a “Bible thumper” and didn’t like that Forchion advocated marijuana legalization. “He really despised me, he didn’t like me. He acted like I was the anti-Christ because I advocated what he called drugs,” he said. “To me, I was talking about changing the law.”

While in ISP, Forchion made three commercials advocating the legalization of marijuana. The videos, still online, show a younger Forchion with shorter dreadlocks standing in front of large American flag.

“Have you heard our government’s claim that marijuana is dangerous, addictive, and has no medical value?” he said in one of the commercials, waving his finger at the camera. “I have! But I also know the scientific facts. Marijuana has never killed anyone, is beneficial to many, and has been used as a medicine for thousands of years.”

The theme for the commercials are all very similar: legalize marijuana and end the War on Drugs. Shortly after making the videos, Forchion was arrested for “advocating criminal activity,” he said. “There’s not even a law that says that, but I got locked up on that,” he said. “Just like I am now, it’s totally a bullshit arrest—but I got locked up.”

He served nearly five months in jail before a federal judge ruled for his release and said the commercials he made were within his First Amendment right. To get the federal judge to look at his case, though, Forchion first had to file a writ of habeas corpus, which ended up in the hands of U.S. District Judge Joseph Irenas.

“Federal Judge Irenas interceded, it was unheard of for a federal judge to intercede into a state case while the state case is still going,” he said. “But the judge, he’d been reading about it in the paper, not only did I file a habeas corpus, but I had my wife at the time mail him a copy of the videos so he could see a copy of the videos I was locked up for making.”

A federal judge must wait until a state inmate has exhausted all state claims before the defendant can move to appeal to federal court, but in Forchion’s case, an exception was made.

“The judge made an extraordinary go-around, and he interceded. It made newspapers, it made articles, it made law journals all across the country,” Forchion said. “He interceded in my case and ordered the court to release me. And I won my writ of habeas corpus.”

Forchion accomplished this all while representing himself, he said, adding that eventually the ACLU offered him assistance. The Irenas case is when John Vincent Saykanic, the attorney assisting Forchion in appeals with his witness tampering case, began helping Forchion.

“My case ended up being used as a prisoners’ rights, free speech case,” Forchion said. “It was a precedent case called Forchion called versus ISP.”

In Burlington County in 2012, Forchion went back on trial stemming from a 2010 marijuana arrest.

“I was living in California then but in 2010 I came home for a visit and flew home with a pound of weed in my luggage,” he said. As he was driving back from visiting his children, he was pulled over by a New Jersey State Trooper.

He was charged with intent to distribute and simple possession. The trial ended with a hung jury on the intent to distribute charge, but he was found guilty of possession. Forchion appealed his possession conviction until an appellate court panel of judges upheld the conviction in 2015, saying his arguments “lack sufficient merit to warrant discussion,” according to a write-up of the case in Politico.

He was retried on the distribution charge months later, but wound up beating it entirely after a jury returned a verdict of not guilty 12-0. This is around the time jury nullification advocates across the country began paying attention to Forchion.

“I made national news,” he said. He never denied to the jury that he had the marijuana; instead, he promoted it. “I consider a hung jury a victory for the defendant.”

He argued to the jury that the law was wrong, not him, and he was found not guilty. “I had the pound of marijuana, I asked the jurors to give it back,” he said. “I told them that I smoke marijuana every day.”

He even went as far as telling the jurors that he smoked marijuana that same morning, according to Forchion, and that he was eating pot brownies throughout the duration of his trial. “I didn’t hide anything,” he said. “I knew they couldn’t get 12.”

Tactics such as these are what he believes are holding him in jail under the bail reform act.

“And this is what the prosecutors in Mercer County know about me,” he said. “They can see my history. Not only have I won all these big cases where they’ve made news and all that, I’ve won a few municipal court cases, I’ve won a few civil cases.”

In 2013, he was sentenced to nine months in jail for the possession charge, but was granted a unique condition to his imprisonment. Forchion has a medical condition called Osteoclastoma in which tumors grow on his bones, and while in jail, he was permitted to serve an intermittent sentence where he could travel to California for 10 days per month to smoke marijuana as part of his treatment, and then return back to his cell in New Jersey.

“I got what they call giant cell tumors, usually on my big bones—my femurs, my shoulder bones, I could get it on my head or my sternum in my chest,” he said. He has gotten the tumors on his femur and on occasions on the inside of his hip. He currently has two tumors on his shoulders, but since they are small in size he decided to not have them removed.

Forchion was first diagnosed in 2001 while serving his prison sentence for possessing more than 40 pounds of weed, but he remembers discovering symptoms a decade before his diagnosis.

In 1991, for instance, his knee began incessantly aching. “I kept thinking it was an athletic injury,” he said. “I was diagnosed in 2001 when I first went to prison.”

Forchion said that just before he was arrested on the witness tampering charges in March 2017, his tumors came back. “It’s in my knee again,” he said. “Just above my knee.” During his pretrial detention under the bail reform act, Forchion has been taken to the hospital on several occasions for treatment.

In addition to the witness tampering charge, Forchion also picked up other charges stemming from his restaurant’s drug bust. He is facing other drug-related charges after police allegedly found him with marijuana when he was arrested for witness tampering charges at his girlfriend’s home. In September 2016 Forchion was indicted on a cyber bullying charge after he called a Trenton police officer a “pedophile” online. He’s also called a prosecutor a slut.

Weedman’s Fame

Forchion has pulled countless other outlandish stunts. He’s smoked pot in the New Jersey Statehouse and in front of the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia. He’s tried to legally change his name, twice, to NJWeedman.com. But perhaps the penchant that draws him the most criticism is his online behavior.

Forchion does do a lot of smack-talking online; it’s what got him charged with witness tampering in the first place. His Facebook has a photo that reads: “If you are shocked by anything I say, then you obviously haven’t been paying attention to who I am.” Whenever questioned on these tendencies, he’s always fell back on the defense that his speech is protected by the First Amendment, regardless of how inflammatory.

“He’s addicted to Facebook, Twitter and all those things,” Debi Madaio, Forchion’s girlfriend, said. “He got barred from Donald Trump’s because he was tweeting at him too much.” (A federal court ruling in late May of 2018 said it was unconstitutional for the president to block users on Twitter, but it did not force him to unblock critics already banished from his account.) Madaio, who met Forchion nearly five years ago, said that Forchion “calls himself a media whore.”

As a registered nurse, Madaio can’t smoke marijuana because she is drug tested, but she is still a tireless advocate. Working as a nurse manager at one of the state’s largest children’s specialized hospital, Madaio has seen a lot of children in rough shape. One day, she met a baby boy who was born prematurely and was in the state’s care. Not too long later, after raising two daughters of her own, she adopted him. He was three years old and diagnosed with autism, has seizures and spastic quadriplegia.

Her son Aidan, who is now 11, could benefit from medical marijuana, Madaio believes. That’s the reason why she first began advocating for marijuana, which is how she came about meeting Forchion. The two at the first annual cannabis conference in Trenton rallying for the legalization of pot. Flash forward about five years, and Forchion would be proposing to her from the court room.

It was November 2017 and he was in jail pretrial under the bail reform act for his witness tampering charges. He was waiting for the verdict to come back from the jury on his charges when he asked her to marry him.

“Since I’ve been here I did ask her to marry me. She didn’t answer me, she said, ‘Get out faster,’” Forchion said with a chortle. “So, that’s another reason why I’ve got to get out.”

“Ed is an open book,” Madaio said. “I just have to laugh at a lot of the stuff he does.”

Aside from his online persona, there is a lot about NJ Weedman that doesn’t make it into the papers.

For one, Forchion loves talking about the Colonial period and the history of the United States. “I’m kind of a nerd,” he said. “As much as people want to throw me into the realm of being a thug drug dealer—I’m not. I absolutely am not.” Since Forchion has been detained awaiting his trial, he spends nearly every minute in the jail’s library. Like a badger spending a winter deep inside his burrow, Forchion spends his incarceration among the legal texts and law books in the Mercer County Correctional Center.

Forchion for years has enjoyed a minor celebrity status. He has somewhat of a cult following throughout the Garden State, but it all began with a simple decision.

“Calling myself Weedman was a gimmick for publicity,” he said, “and it worked.” Forchion’s marijuana advocacy has landed him in the pages and on the home screens of publications like Vice, the Daily Mail, Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia Weekly and LA Weekly. His antics have been picked up by the Associated Press and shared with papers throughout the nation. He has been featured for years as a regular caller on the state’s widest-reaching radio station, NJ 101.5. He has spoken for various podcasts and had a column for The Trentonian, one of the most-read papers in New Jersey’s capital.

“Sometimes I say I’m infamous as opposed to famous. Sometimes I say I’m a counterculture celebrity, but,” he said, “all over the country I’ve been written about.”

He has been featured in television programs and documentaries including: “The Emperor Wears No Clothes;” “How Weed Won the West;” “1000 Ways to Die: Fatal Distractions;” and “Million Mask Movement.” Forchion is currently the subject of a documentary by filmmaker Brian Scully examining bail reform and the criminal justice system in New Jersey.

He even has his name listed on the International Movie Database, a fact that he is gleefully proud of.

If you search for Forchion on IMDB.com, you will see his name come up along with two other Forchions. NJ Weedman said he is related to Raymond Forchion who played O.J. Simpson in a dramatization of the football star’s 1995 murder case. Bill Forchion, another cousin of Forchion’s, is a famous circus performer. If you search for Forchion on Google, however, articles about NJ Weedman dominate the search results.

Forchion also has this uncanny ability to recall dates and times of specific events. He can recite full docket numbers of his legal cases, and the exact URLs of pamphlets he has published on his website, even while in a jail cell with no internet access.

“I have a memory like an elephant,” Forchion said. “I don’t know why but I have a very good memory. I may forget people’s names but I remember entire conversations.”

He has written books, too, including “Public Enemy #420” published in 2010, and “Politics of Pot, Jersey Style: The persecution prosecution of NJweedman” published in 2014. He’s also writing another book while in jail and said he is more 2,000 pages in.

Forchion is a frequent candidate for office, as well. He ran for governor of New Jersey and for Congress, both of which earned him mentions in The New York Times. In fact, when he ran for Congressional District 12, Forchion, who campaigned on the self-created Legalize Marijuana Party, received the third most votes at 6,094, which was more than what the Green Party and Libertarian candidates combined.

Whether these political ambitions are genuine or are, like his name, just a gimmick, he doesn’t seem to tire from them. Forchion recently announced a new candidacy and is running for Congress again, this time from behind bars.

What is a lesser known fact about Forchion is that he is a veteran who has served in three separate branches of the U.S. military. He was also a big-rig truck driver.

In 1982, Forchion graduated from high school and joined the New Jersey National Guard. He served in the summer and on weekends for two years while he was in college. After he was in college for two years, he dropped out of school and joined the Marines. While in the Marines, he received a medical discharge because he had pneumonia and asthma, he said. In 1987, Forchion re-enlisted and joined the Army.

In between his time in the Marines and joining the Army, though, Forchion worked in Atlantic City at Donald Trump’s restaurant, he said.

“I waited on Donald Trump for two years,” Forchion said. The eatery he worked at was named Ivana’s Restaurant. He ended up suing Trump, filing a discrimination lawsuit alleging he was wrongfully fired, but the case was dismissed. After that, it was back to the service. “I’ve always wanted to be in the military,” he said.

Forchion was a combat and orthopedic medic and served in Germany when the U.S. invaded Panama. “I worked in the orthopedic ward,” he said. “I was there when Reagan came and said, ‘Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”

He loved the army. His family has a long history of serving in the military, and he regrets leaving the service to this day. “To be honest with you, one of my biggest mistakes was getting out of the military,” he said. Forchion left the Army in June 1990, just months before the Gulf War started. When he left the Army, he became an 18-wheeler trucker.  “I traveled this whole country,” he said. “I’ve been to every state but two: Hawaii and Alaska.”

Trucking was Forchion’s way of visiting different parts of the country, a dream that he always had. “I owned my own truck so I could travel the country and get paid,” he said. “If I wanted to watch a Ziggy Marley concert in Seattle, I’d just take a load to Washington state, get there, see the concert, and get back in the truck.” He still owns a truck, it’s sitting at his mother’s house.

Early Life

Although Forchion lived in California and traveled the continental U.S. for years, he has been a Jersey boy since birth. Growing up, Forchion’s mother took in a lot of foster children. He has two siblings, but there “were always like eight kids at the house,” he said. He was raised in Sicklerville, a town located within the boundaries of Winslow Township in Camden County.

“I grew up riding dirt bikes and fishing. It was really rural there.” The dirt trails that Forchion once rode on are now gone and have been replaced by peach farms and sprawling developments. “It’s mostly white with a few black families that have been there forever,” he said. “My family has been around in Winslow Township since the 1800s.”

Years later when Forchion moved to California, he lived an existence vastly different from his humble, rural beginnings.

“When I went to Hollywood, I became this little B-celebrity,” he said. “I was hanging out with celebrities. I was hobknobbing, I was on a couple of TV shows. I was on TMZ three times.”

When he opened up the first Liberty Bell Temple, the one that was closed down after he was raided, celebrities often stopped by.

“Celebrities were coming to my place,” he said. “I can’t even name all of the celebrities I ended up hanging out with just by calling myself Weedman.”

After his Hollywood business was raided, Forchion said he was out of money and had nowhere left to go but back home. “I was out of business, I was struggling for money, and I got sick,” he said. “So, I came home to my mom’s house in Sicklerville.” He stayed at his mother’s house for about a year and half and his bone condition was reemerging, he said. He had surgery, the tumor was removed, but he broke his femur after the surgery because his leg was weak from the tumor. He had a cast put on and by October 2014, the cast was removed.

“By November, I was itching to go do something again,” he explained. “I was going to go back to California, but I re-bonded with my kids and everything, so I didn’t want to go back to California.” He had to come up with another plan, another project for the unwearying Weedman.

“That’s when I decided I was going to go to Trenton,” he said. “I’m going to open up a spot in Trenton.”

April Appearance

On April 16, 2018, Forchion had his first court appearance since the day he beat the second-degree witness tampering charge in November. He entered the brightly lit courtroom wearing an orange jumpsuit with the words “Political Prisoner #420” scrawled on the back. His dreadlocks were pushed back. He still had bags under his eyes, he was still tired.

He asked the judge if his other charges, the cyber bullying charge and the marijuana charges, could be included in the trial for his witness tampering. The request was denied. Instead, Forchion was given another 22 days of excludable time for his appeal, and was given an estimated trial date of May 8. It’s what he’s been waiting to hear for the past year.

“I think I’m going to win,” he said. “I think I’m unconvictable.” He doesn’t plan on taking any sort of plea deal, now or ever again, for that matter. “I go through life never quitting, and taking a plea bargain would be quitting,” he said. “Taking a plea bargain would also be violating my constitutional right to a trial, and I insist that the constitution applies to me.”

He said that when he gets out, whenever that day is, he will be shifting his willpower, which he seems to have an endless supply of, from marijuana to New Jersey’s bail reform act.

“I’ve been calling myself NJ Weedman and advocating for marijuana legalization for years,” he said, “but when this is all said and done, I’m going to be the biggest advocate against bail reform there is. I will become the John Walsh of bail reform repeal.”

After spending 447 days in jail awaiting his trial, Forchion was acquitted of his third-degree witness tampering charge after he was found not guilty of the crime by a jury on May 24. He said he plans on amending his federal lawsuit to include grievances about his pretrial imprisonment.

Forchion also plans on finishing the book that he’s been working on. He said it is nearing completion. He feels compelled to tell his story of how he was affected by the bail reform. He’s hoping he can get a deal for the book, but if it not, it won’t bother him much. He’s writing it for a more crucial reason.

“I don’t even know if people will buy the book,” he said. “I’m writing this for history’s sake.”

Protect Immigrants’ Rights: End The Crises That Drive Migration

Immigrant rights are human rights (Susan Melkisethian from flickr)

The ugliness of US immigration policy is once again evident. There is national outrage that separating children, often infants, from their parents is wrong. There is also national consensus (nine out of ten people in the US) that people brought here by their parents, the Dreamers, should not be forced out of the country as adults. The highly restrictive, dysfunctional immigration system in the United States serves the interests of  big business and US Empire. Investors can cross borders to find workers who will accept slave-labor wages and dangerous environments, but workers cannot cross borders to find better wages and safety.

US-pushed corporate trade agreements serve the interests of transnational corporations, allowing them to legally take advantage of cheap labor and to steal natural resources, but workers cannot cross borders when their economy is destroyed or their communities are poisoned.

US militarism and regime change cross borders to replace governments that are working to improve the lives and autonomy of their people and install authoritarian governments, but people who are facing the terrorism of US-supported security states cannot cross the border to find refuge.

The violence of the drug trade that serves US consumers creates mafia and gang violence in other countries, but people who live with the violence of drug gangsterism cannot cross borders to escape.

Protest against separating parents from children. Photo by Scott Olson for Getty Images.

Separating Children From Their Parents

President Donald Trump claims he hates to have to separate children from their families at the border and that he is merely enforcing a law passed by the Democrats. This is a false description of why children are separated from their parents.

The reason for the separation is that the Trump administration has decided on zero tolerance criminal enforcement of immigration laws.  A 1997 court settlement in Flores barred children from being imprisoned with their parents. In 2014, President Obama put hundreds of families in immigration detention but federal courts stopped them from holding families for months without trial, resulting in the release of families to return for trial. Trump has taken the approach of arresting the parents and holding the children.

The Department of Health and Human Services, which is responsible for taking care of “unaccompanied alien children,” the label put on these youth, already has 11,000 immigrants under the age of 18 in its custody who haven’t yet been placed with relatives or other sponsors. Under the new Trump policy, 2,000 children have been separated from their parents in just six weeks.  These youth are held in tent cities and warehouse jails, which could fairly be called prison camps.

This is resulting in heartbreaking stories. A man from Honduras, where the US supported a coup, Marco Antonio Muñoz, killed himself in a detention cell after his 3-year-old son was taken. CNN reports agents ripped a Honduran  woman’s infant daughter from her arms while she was breastfeeding. The New York Times reported on one child, referred to only as José, also from Honduras, who refused to take a shower or change his clothes after being separated from his parents as he didn’t want anything else taken away from him.

The American Academy of Pediatrics says separation will cause “irreparable harm” to children. While Jeff Sessions and Sarah Huckabee Sanders have used the bible to justify the policy, there is a revolt among Trump’s religious base.  The Chicago Tribune reports “The Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, who delivered a prayer at Trump’s inauguration, signed a letter calling the practice ‘horrible.’ Pastor Franklin Graham … a vocal supporter of the president’s who has brushed aside past Trump controversies, called it ‘terrible’ and ‘disgraceful.’”  Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, described “a groundswell of opposition from virtually every corner of the Christian community.” The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Southern Baptist Convention issued statements critical of the practice. Even Evangelical Trump supporters are speaking out against it.

Separating children from their parents is justified as a deterrent to convince people not to attempt to cross the border, but it has not worked. The children are also a bargaining chip. Trump will not change the policy unless Congress agrees to his immigration demands, including the border wall, tightening the rules for border enforcement and curbing legal entry. In turn, the Democrats are using child separation as a tool for the 2018 election. Both parties are holding immigrant children hostage for their agendas.

A group of students lead the larger crowd that turned out and showed up in support of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) at Acacia Park and ended their rally at the office of Cory Gardner on Tuesday September 5, 2017 in Colorado Springs, Colorado. (Photo by Dougal Brownlie, The Gazette).


Immigrant Youth Brought to the US by their Parents

Trump’s repeal of policies protecting youth brought to the US by their parents has resulted in outrage and national consensus that these youth should not be punished. A CBS News poll found 87 percent believe the Dreamers should be allowed to remain in the US.

Dysfunction in Congress and an obstinate White House have left these youth in limbo-risk. Obama allowed certain immigrant youth brought to the U.S. without documents as children to live and work here without fear of deportation. Trump reversed that, announcing he would rescind the program, and gave Congress six months to find a legislative fix. His rescission has been blocked by a federal court.

President Trump sent mixed signals last week. First he said he would veto a bill that would protect Dreamers from deportation, then the White House reversed that statement saying Trump had misunderstood the question and would sign the legislation passed by Congress. People in both Chambers are trying to find a way forward, but sensible immigration laws have lots of barriers to overcome.

Rallies Call For Immigrant Rights Persist

Across the country there have been rallies for immigrant rights. Groups like Mijente and the Cosecha Movement are doing strong organizing for permanent protection for all immigrants. Last week, actions were focused on the issue of separating parents from their children. See: here; here; here; here; and here.

These types of immigration policies have existed for multiple administrations. Trump has not come close to Obama’s record level of deportations. From 2009 to 2016, Obama oversaw the forcible removal of more than 3 million undocumented immigrants. ICE under Obama averaged 309,887 arrests per year from 2009-2012, while ICE under Trump averaged 139,553 in 2017. Obama set records between 2008 and 2014 for the number of people arrested and placed in deportation proceedings.

Remember that there were multiple mass protests against Obama on immigration throughout the country. Protesters blocked traffic around the White House highlighting how “Obama deports parents.” Obama did not use the harsh anti-immigrant rhetoric of Trump, but he had strong enforcement policies against immigrants.

Immigration, as we noted at the outset, is tied into issues of corporate trade agreements, regime change, US Empire, the drug war and capitalism. These issues are forcing a race to the bottom for worker rights and wages and destruction of the environment. They are driving a growing security state, militarization of law enforcement and mass incarceration. Border patrols lock people into countries where they face poverty, pollution and violence with little chance of escape.

Immigrants are the scapegoats, but it is the systems that are driving migration. Most people would prefer to remain in their home countries where they have roots, family and communities. Extreme conditions drive people to abandon everything and endure harsh and dangerous travel in hope of finding safety and the means of survival.

This is typical divide and conquer – encouraging us to blame each other and fight while the wealth of the elites expands. We are all hurt by the systems and crises that drive mass migration. This includes climate change as well.

While we take immediate action to protect immigrant children and families, let’s also speak out about the connections between migration and the many crises we face. We need to educate those who are being misled into blaming immigrants for the conditions that force them to leave their homes.

We must work in solidarity to create democratized economic systems, demand trade agreements that strengthen worker rights and protection of the environment and transition to a clean energy economy and a foreign policy that respects the autonomy of peoples while we also end racist systems, militarism, imperialism and mass incarceration.

Imprisoned for a Day: A Personal Reflection

In a world defined by social atomization, bureaucratization, and ant-like regimentation along institutionally sanctioned channels that exist but to uphold hierarchies of power, it is practically a moral obligation for anyone who wants to be fully human to break out of his bubble and, if possible, experience the world as “the other” does. In particular, as those without a voice do. If such experience isn’t always literally possible, we ought at least to imaginatively inhabit other perspectives, say by reading primary sources or watching documentaries, or simply by talking to people from a different walk of life than our own. The result might be not only education but even, perhaps, inspiration.

A few months ago I had the opportunity to experience a bit of life from a perspective I’m not accustomed to: the inside of a jail cell. I was left with a kind of insight that an academic like me doesn’t always achieve, an experiential or empathic insight. And I thought it would be worth communicating my impressions, if only to play some tiny part in giving a voice to the “voiceless.” For, as much abstract knowledge as we may have about the evils of the system bearing the Orwellian name “criminal justice,” the matter appears in a different and darker light from within the dungeon cages underground.

The reason for my 24-hour incarceration is too trivial to mention, scarcely more than a petty misunderstanding. And the experience itself was, of course, a mere joke compared to what others experience, just a stroll in a sunlit park compared to what the 23 million or so imprisoned and released felons in this country—in addition to millions of those guilty of misdemeanors (not to mention millions of immigrants detained for weeks and months)—have gone through. But it was memorable enough, and perhaps worth relating.

I was struck, first of all, by the insidious psychological effect of having to place your hands behind your back so they can be handcuffed. This coerced action performed in the presence of onlookers instantly manipulates you into an unwanted self-categorization: you can’t help but see yourself as others now see you, an offender, a criminal, a bad ‘other.’ Or rather, while rejecting the value-judgment, you’re aware that that’s the category into which you’ve been placed, by the officers, the onlookers, and especially the handcuffs. All of a sudden you don’t unproblematically belong to society anymore; your personhood has been qualified and thrown into question. You’re now half-person and half-ominous-question-mark. (“What’s going on? What did he do? What crime did he commit?”)

I was careful to obey every command to the letter, since, as we know, there’s nothing a police officer likes less than being contradicted, so my treatment was far better than it could have been. Still, I was puzzled by the length of time I had to sit in the car while the officers talked outside in what seemed a rather nonchalant way, given my shackled hands. That’s another insidious technique of control for which you have a heightened appreciation when you’re on its receiving end: the power to elongate time. It truly becomes impressive once you’re behind bars.

After making it to the precinct, the trial-by-paperwork begins. More waiting, and more unscratchable itches on your back and face, as initial reports are filed. I came to have a better understanding of the social role of the police as I saw throughout the evening how much “paperwork,” or electronic work, they have to file whenever an arrest is made. I had already understood that the police’s true function isn’t so much to protect people (as is claimed) as to protect “order,” the given system of social relations, which is to say the power of the powerful. The police officer is the “bouncer” for society, whose job it is to keep out the undesirables, those who either refuse to conform or have committed the crime of being poor and dark-skinned.

But now I saw more clearly that, in effect, what the police are is just bureaucrats with guns. Bureaucrats who dress up in blue and walk among us to make sure we’re following the rules, and who take us in to be processed and labeled and categorized if we violate some rule or other (or even if we don’t), and ideally to be frightened into never violating that rule again (if, that is, we’re lucky enough to be released at all). None of this is to say there’s no value in such a role; surely there can be, particularly with regard to addressing violent crime. But, given the amount of paperwork and the continuous human “processing” the job entails, to belong to the “force” is to be a fancy-dressed bureaucrat-in-the-trenches.

At length, after being divested of various items of clothing and whatever is in your pockets, the shackles are taken off and you’re safely behind bars. Your company is your cellmates (if you have any), your worries, and time. Lots of time. I sat there for about eight hours, which seemed even longer, due to the human brain’s self-flagellating tendency to dwell lugubriously on moments of nothingness (while speeding through moments of joy). I was fortunate soon to have a couple of talkative cellmates, both of whom were there for having thrown a punch or two; but even their presence was of limited use in accelerating the ticking of the clock.

We were waiting to be transferred to the Brooklyn Detention Complex, where we would wait till the next day to see the judge. If all went well, we’d be free, at least provisionally, by that evening.

So after a suitably punishing length of time, the handcuffs were snapped back on and we were transported to our luxury accommodations for the rest of the night. Actually, the precinct was a far more agreeable place, as you might expect, being less populated and less redolent of sweaty unwashed bodies crammed together in tiny spaces lacking ventilation and windows. The initial holding pens, in particular, were noisome: it would be cruel and inhumane to pack pigs into those enclosures, much less dozens of humans. At least one’s nose grew numb to the smell.

Finally we were herded into the main area to be processed again (to have the mug shots taken and so on). Though it was around 1:00 in the morning there were serpentine lines, scores of shackled men and women shuffling along—nearly all of them African-American or Hispanic. A dreary semi-silence punctuated by commands from officers. Dull-looking bureaucrats from a Kafka novel sitting at desks, directing us where to go. It was a subterranean world we had entered.

At last the intake process was finished and we were taken down dark corridors to the cellblock area, in the bowels of the earth. You can imagine the conditions in each cell: a vomitous toilet in the corner, a metal sink next to it, benches against the concrete wall…and that’s all. So there we were, about thirteen of us in a cramped cell, as the bars shut behind us. I recalled Malcolm X’s admonition:

Any person who claims to have deep feeling for other human beings should think a long, long time before he votes to have other men kept behind bars—caged. I am not saying there shouldn’t be prisons, but there shouldn’t be bars. Behind bars, a man never reforms. He will never forget. He never will get completely over the memory of the bars.

To be sure, it’s easy to get over the memory when you’re confined for only a day. Still, the contrivance of the steel bars is an effective contribution to the psychological function of jails and prisons, viz. to dehumanize, to animalize, to infantilize. To fill with resentment and impotent outrage, and make hate.

Some of us claimed a bit of space on a bench; the rest sat or lay on the floor, settling in for a long night of sleeplessness. One guy made a pillow out of several inedible cheese sandwiches in little bags he had found strewn around the cell. (That’s the food we’re given, in addition to a small portion of cereal in the morning.) Those of us on the floor spent the night trying to avoid collisions between legs.

Sleep would likely have been impossible for me anyway, but it was made even more so by a few cellmates who had an impressive talent for remaining animated hour after hour, in a most vocal way. The guffaws were frequent. I listened to interesting conversations about, e.g., the relative merits of an astonishing galaxy of hip-hop artists, quite intelligent music criticism being expounded at great length, even to the point of heated debate. Later, conversation extended to those in the cage across the hall, questions being shouted as to where they lived, what acquaintances they all had in common, what they had been talking about over there, etc. “What’s your name, man? Oh, you live on Broadway? Me too! Monroe? I’m a couple blocks away, at Jefferson! You know Malik? He’s on Madison—works at the Subway there.” The irony wasn’t lost on me that this institution, meant to segregate and isolate, could also bring people together.

In fact, throughout the night and the next day I observed how easy it was for a camaraderie to develop among the inmates, the first inklings of a solidarity against the cops. While profanity-laced tirades against guards occurred occasionally—due to ignoring requests for food or for the time, or for being granted a phone call—more often the attitude was informal respect and easygoing familiarity. But that didn’t preclude a definite collective identity, an “us vs. them” mentality, based on a sense of shared injustice and oppression (or, more generally, shared interests). Everyone I talked to took it for granted that the criminal justice system is wildly racist—they were surprised that a “white boy” was in there with them. But the race factor, or any other divisive factor, didn’t really matter: when requests or demands or complaints were made to the guards, it was far more common to hear the words “we” and “us” than “I” or “me.”

Of course, this isn’t to deny that vicious divisions between inmates or groups of inmates can emerge in prisons. It was merely striking to observe the spontaneous appearance of a collective consciousness even despite, and because of, the radically anti-social environment we were trapped in.

What I found even more striking, and more poignant, was the casual familiarity with jail that most of the men displayed. None of them seemed particularly discomfited by it, except the next day when the waiting, prolonged hour after endless hour despite previous assurances of speed and efficiency, grew intolerable. More than a few guys took me under their wing, as it were, and explained how the system worked and why legally I had nothing to fear. “What did you do? Oh, that’s the lowest level of misdemeanor. You’ll be fine—they’ll release you and you’ll be on probation, and then the case will be dismissed. You have nothing to worry about.” Their expertise reminded me of Dave Chappelle’s bit: “Every black dude in this room is a qualified paralegal. If one of us even started to do something wrong, an old black man would pop out of nowhere—‘Nigga don’t do that, that’s five to ten!’”

It was clear that jail, and its ever-present possibility, was just a part of their lives, as, say, being paid very little is a part of the life of an adjunct professor. I tried to imagine what that would be like, how different all my frames of reference would be. I would literally perceive the world differently: my perceptions would incorporate and embody utterly different value-judgments than they do, different expectations from moment to moment, and I’d have to be cognizant of entire dimensions of experience—fears, worries, possibilities, factors to be taken into consideration—that are currently beyond my horizons. The understanding sank in on a visceral level of how incredibly privileged I am.

But more than that: I could see my own views of the world changing somewhat. After all, to sit on a floor against steel bars for twelve hours, and then several hours more when I was moved up to the even more crowded holding pen we wait in until the court is ready to see us, is an experience that encourages introspection. The situation felt both surreal and much more real than my ordinary life. I thought of my daily routines, the mindless reading of news in the morning and evening, the pleasantries exchanged with fellow professors and students, the Youtube-watching at night in between grading and perusals of academic journals. I thought of the throngs that flood the streets of Manhattan every day on their shopping missions or sightseeing missions, and the bar-socializing with acquaintances—the trivialities shouted across the table over the din. It all seemed more hollow than ever.

Millions of us chatting happily outside or going to movies, averting our gaze from every unpleasantness, while other millions rot in steel-enclosed windowless misery—for throwing a few punches or having marijuana on them, or not legally being an American, or being poor and black in a white society. At this point I could say that our usual complacent behavior is contemptible and unconscionable, but what hit me most forcefully was just how false and empty it is. We live in and through illusion; our entire quotidian existence is grounded in denial. We have a pathetically partial view of the world, a parochial little outlook conditioned by frivolity and routine, blind to the very foundation of society underground in these cages that police the “dangerous classes.” I felt that here was the truth, the beating heart of America.

For, as we know, we live in an overwhelmingly bureaucratized society, a world increasingly shorn of human connections—sacrificed on the altar of marketization and privatization—which is precisely why it’s hurtling towards doom. Humanity is simply a non-factor in the political-economic equation. In fact, for a long time I’ve thought that the Holocaust, the apotheosis of bureaucratic inhumanity, is the clue to the moral essence of capitalist modernity, the perfect symbol. But on a less murderous scale, mass confinement in cages is an equally apt emblem. The prisoners are almost totally helpless, totally at the mercy of bureaucratic diktats and the whims of guards and wardens. And we know how helpless we all tend to feel with regard to any bureaucracy—government bureaucracies, insurance bureaucracies, workplace bureaucracies, bank bureaucracies. We’re completely subordinated to power, with hardly any recourses. The arbitrary power over life and death is only more pronounced in the case of the “criminal justice” bureaucracy.

The prison bureaucracy takes the alienating tendencies of capitalist institutions to their logical and literal conclusion, in the separation of people into their own concrete cells and the enforcement of this atomization by armed guards. Actually, in a sense, jail or even prison might, perversely, be less atomizing than the broader capitalist civilization they reflect, given that the basic unit of society is no longer the community or the family but really the lone individual with his computer and his smartphone—and, for his social context, the bureaucracy in which he is embedded (as employee, consumer, and citizen). At least in jail a “collective consciousness” can emerge, together with real sympathy and empathy. And the human interactions tend to have a stripped-down quality, a directness and rawness, very different from the impersonal fakeness outside.

By around 11 a.m. the remaining conversations in the cellblock had died down. By 12:00, and then 1:00, and then 2:00, an absolute listlessness had settled on us, except for periodic ejaculations of disgust at whatever incompetence or malice was keeping us down there. Time had stopped. I began to wonder if I’d ever be released; the thought of freedom seemed too good to be true. Maybe I’d be stuck here another day, or longer. Would I have to miss work on Monday? Some of the guys had missed work that day, putting their jobs in jeopardy. I looked at the bodies sprawled on the floor and thought, This is what matters in the world. The rest is a lie, as long as this exists. The way I’d lived, immersed in thoughts of self, seemed absurd and shameful. All that mattered was to fight against this, and all suffering. I had to make changes, drastic changes in how I lived. That this could exist, or conditions infinitely worse than this, was completely intolerable.

To think that every day in cities and towns across the country tens of thousands of people were streaming, handcuffed, into jails, prisons, and detention centers, there to languish at the mercy of the System, was beyond horrifying. What would people outside think if they could see through the thick walls of the Brooklyn Detention Complex and know what was going on in here! All those free, relatively carefree people right outside, strolling down the streets blissfully unaware of the mass suffering just a couple hundred feet away. The moral imperative was to de-atomize, to bring to light and bring together. Arbitrary power thrives on atomization, and grows to Goliath dimensions as long as it can live in the dark. The necessity is to shine a light on it and kill it.

At long last the moment of deliverance arrived: my name was called. Full of hope, I left the cell…to be transferred to another cell. In which there were perhaps thirty people, though it was scarcely larger than the one I’d spent the night in. But at least I was closer—so I hoped—to freedom. I was also trepidatious, not knowing what to expect when I faced the judge, for instance whether he would set bail, or whether the DA would prosecute despite the pitiful triviality of the incident that had landed me there. Soon after I was in the new cell, a man came in cursing the judge, whom he had just seen. “That motherfucker set bail even higher than they asked for! $2000. As soon as I saw him look down at the sheet, I knew it was over. They said I had an old warrant for littering, so they went after me.” Littering.

To be sure, others had committed more serious crimes. One middle-aged guy, a jovial fellow, had been caught shoplifting at Macy’s (to sell the items later). “I know what I did wrong now,” he said. “I gotta be more careful when there aren’t crowds. In the holiday season it was different—I probably took $20,000 worth. Easy. There are so many people it’s easy.” I noticed that they all drew a distinction between stealing and taking. “You don’t steal,” one guy said. “You take. A woman steals, I take. You gotta take it, just take what you need, it’s yours, and walk out of there.” Earlier I had talked to a pregnant young woman, attractive, confident, and articulate, who said she regularly steals—no, takes—expensive items from Macy’s (again, to sell them on the street). It isn’t really theft because she thinks she’s entitled to it, in light of how much the government takes from her and how cruelly the System treats people like her (i.e., poor African-Americans). She has a job, but the pay isn’t enough for her to provide for her family. It was clear to me that this sort of theft is widespread.

The situation, then, is predictably absurd: people are denied the ability to earn a living, and, in addition, government steals money from them when they can find work—yes, steals, for the logic of government is, arguably, no different from that of a protection racket—so they have to turn to illicit means of surviving; but in that case, if discovered, they’re sent to prison. So it’s Scylla or Charybdis. Deprivation or—deprivation in prison.

Meanwhile, my own brief period of deprivation was about to come to an end. The last couple of hours weren’t particularly eventful, aside from when one of the inmates had a seizure, complete with foaming at the mouth. I can’t say if it was due to negligence by the authorities, but my guess is not, since they acted fairly promptly to get him medical assistance. At any rate, by this point I was more than ready for freedom. Not to mention food. The thought of both was sweeter than I had ever known.

In the early evening my name was called for the last time, and I made my way to the courtroom. Whence to freedom, a half-hour later. Having no criminal record, I was let off easy. What happened to the others, I don’t know. What I do know is that as I walked outside into the drizzling rain, the taste of freedom in the air, people in handcuffs were being ushered into the back entrance of the building, out of the rain-scented air and into the sweat-stinking holding pens. Many of them would be repeat offenders, and this latest arrest might have dire effects on their lives. It would be harder to get a job, which would tempt them to take what they needed, which would raise the possibility of another arrest, and so the cycle would continue. The System would continue to be fed fresh meat, and it would grow bigger in scale, and ever more lives would be ground up in its gears. The System would continue to dominate a diabolically regimented society—unless its victims and their advocates could, somehow, throw a wrench into its gears and grind them to a halt.

I didn’t know how that could be done, but, newly inspired, I knew I had to take part.

The Age of Petty Tyrannies

Whether the mask is labeled fascism, democracy, or dictatorship of the proletariat, our great adversary remains the apparatus—the bureaucracy, the police, the military. Not the one facing us across the frontier of the battle lines, which is not so much our enemy as our brothers’ enemy, but the one that calls itself our protector and makes us its slaves. No matter what the circumstances, the worst betrayal will always be to subordinate ourselves to this apparatus and to trample underfoot, in its service, all human values in ourselves and in others.

— Simone Weil, French philosopher and political activist

We labor today under the weight of countless tyrannies, large and small, carried out in the name of the national good by an elite class of government officials who are largely insulated from the ill effects of their actions.

We, the middling classes, are not so fortunate.

We find ourselves badgered, bullied and browbeaten into bearing the brunt of their arrogance, paying the price for their greed, suffering the backlash for their militarism, agonizing as a result of their inaction, feigning ignorance about their backroom dealings, overlooking their incompetence, turning a blind eye to their misdeeds, cowering from their heavy-handed tactics, and blindly hoping for change that never comes.

The overt signs of the despotism exercised by the increasingly authoritarian regime that passes itself off as the United States government are all around us: warrantless surveillance of Americans’ private phone and email conversations by the NSA; SWAT team raids of Americans’ homes; shootings of unarmed citizens by police; harsh punishments meted out to schoolchildren in the name of zero tolerance; drones taking to the skies domestically; endless wars; out-of-control spending; militarized police; roadside strip searches; roving TSA sweeps; privatized prisons with a profit incentive for jailing Americans; fusion centers that collect and disseminate data on Americans’ private transactions; and militarized agencies with stockpiles of ammunition, to name some of the most appalling.

Yet as egregious as these incursions on our rights may be, it’s the endless, petty tyrannies inflicted on an overtaxed, overregulated, and underrepresented populace that occasionally nudge a weary public out of their numb indifference and into a state of outrage.

Consider, for example, that federal and state governments now require on penalty of a fine that individuals apply for permission before they can grow exotic orchids, host elaborate dinner parties, gather friends in one’s home for Bible studies, give coffee to the homeless, let their kids manage a lemonade stand, keep chickens as pets, or braid someone’s hair, as ludicrous as that may seem.

A current case before the Supreme Court, Niang v. Tomblinson strikes at the heart of this bureaucratic exercise in absurdity that has pushed over-regulation and over-criminalization to outrageous limits. This particular case is about whether one needs a government license in order to braid hair.

Missouri, like many states across the country, has increasingly adopted as its governing style the authoritarian notion that the government knows best and therefore must control, regulate and dictate almost everything about the citizenry’s public, private and professional lives.

In Missouri, anyone wanting to braid African-style hair and charge for it must first acquire a government license, which at a minimum requires the applicant to undertake at least 1500 hours of cosmetology classes costing tens of thousands of dollars.

Tennessee has fined residents nearly $100,000 just for violating its laws against braiding hair without a government license.

In Oregon, the law is so broad that you need a license even if you’re planning to braid hair for free. The mere act of touching someone’s hair can render you a cosmetologist operating without a license and in violation of the law.

In Iowa, you can be sentenced with up to a year in prison for braiding hair without having attended a year of cosmetology school.

It’s not just hair braiding that has become grist for the over-regulation mill.

Almost every aspect of American life today—especially if it is work-related—is subject to this kind of heightened scrutiny and ham-fisted control, whether you’re talking about aspiring “bakers, braiders, casket makers, florists, veterinary masseuses, tour guides, taxi drivers, eyebrow threaders, teeth whiteners, and more.”

For instance, whereas 70 years ago, one out of every 20 U.S. jobs required a state license, today, almost 1 in 3 American occupations requires a license.

The problem of over-regulation has become so bad that, as one analyst notes, “getting a license to style hair in Washington takes more instructional time than becoming an emergency medical technician or a firefighter.”

This is what happens when bureaucrats run the show, and the rule of law becomes little more than a cattle prod for forcing the citizenry to march in lockstep with the government.

Over-regulation is just the other side of the coin to over-criminalization, that phenomenon in which everything is rendered illegal and everyone becomes a lawbreaker.

This is the mindset that tried to penalize a fisherman with 20 years’ jail time for throwing fish that were too small back into the water.

John Yates, a commercial fisherman, was written up in 2007 by a state fish and wildlife officer who noticed that among Yates’ haul of red grouper, 72 were apparently under the 20-inch legal minimum. Yates, ordered to bring the fish to shore as evidence of his violation of the federal statute on undersized catches, returned to shore with only 69 grouper in the crate designated for evidence.

A crew member later confessed that, on orders from Yates, the crew had thrown the undersized grouper overboard and replaced them with larger fish. Unfortunately, they were three fish short.

Sensing a bait-and-switch, prosecutors refused to let Yates off the hook quite so easily. Unfortunately, in prosecuting him for the undersized fish under a law aimed at financial crimes, government officials opened up a can of worms. Thankfully, the U.S. Supreme Court in a rare (and narrow) flash of reason, sided with Yates, ruling that the government had overreached.

That same over-criminalization mindset reared its ugly head again when police arrested a 90-year-old man for violating an ordinance that prohibits feeding the homeless in public.

Arnold Abbott, 90 years old and the founder of a nonprofit that feeds the homeless, faced a fine of $1000 and up to four months in jail for violating a city ordinance that makes it a crime to feed the homeless in public.

Under the city’s ordinance, clearly aimed at discouraging the feeding of the homeless in public, organizations seeking to do so must provide portable toilets, be 500 feet away from each other, 500 feet from residential properties, and are limited to having only one group carry out such a function per city block.

Abbott had been feeding the homeless on a public beach in Ft. Lauderdale, Fl., every Wednesday evening for 23 years. On November 2, 2014, moments after handing out his third meal of the day, police reportedly approached the nonagenarian and ordered him to “‘drop that plate right now,’ as if I were carrying a weapon,” recalls Abbott. Abbott was arrested and fined. Three days later, Abbott was at it again, and arrested again.

It’s no coincidence that both of these incidents—the fishing debacle and the homeless feeding arrest—happened in Florida.

This is also the state that arrested Nicole Gainey for free-range parenting when she let her 7-year-old son walk to the park alone, even though it was just a few blocks from their house. If convicted, Gainey could have been made to serve up to five years in jail.

Despite its pristine beaches and balmy temperatures, Florida is no less immune to the problems plaguing the rest of the nation in terms of over-criminalization, incarceration rates, bureaucracy, corruption, and police misconduct.

In fact, the Sunshine State has become a poster child for how a seemingly idyllic place can be transformed into a police state with very little effort. As such, it is representative of what is happening in every state across the nation, where a steady diet of bread and circuses has given rise to an oblivious, inactive citizenry content to be ruled over by an inflexible and highly bureaucratic regime.

Just a few years back, in fact, Florida officials authorized police raids on barber shops in minority communities, resulting in barbers being handcuffed in front of customers, and their shops searched without warrants. All of this was purportedly done in an effort to make sure that the barbers’ licensing paperwork was up to snuff.

As if criminalizing fishing, charity, parenting decisions, and haircuts wasn’t bad enough, you could also find yourself passing time in a Florida slammer for such inane activities as singing in a public place while wearing a swimsuit, breaking more than three dishes per day, farting in a public place after 6 pm on a Thursday, and skateboarding without a license.

This transformation of the United States from being a beacon of freedom to a locked down nation illustrates perfectly what songwriter Joni Mitchell was referring to when she wrote:

Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone.
They paved paradise and put up a parking lot.

Only in our case, sold on the idea that safety, security and material comforts are preferable to freedom, we’ve allowed the government to pave over the Constitution in order to erect a concentration camp.

The problem with these devil’s bargains, however, is that there is always a catch, always a price to pay for whatever it is we valued so highly as to barter away our most precious possessions.

We’ve bartered away our right to self-governance, self-defense, privacy, autonomy and that most important right of all—the right to tell the government to “leave me the hell alone.”

In exchange for the promise of safe streets, safe schools, blight-free neighborhoods, lower taxes, lower crime rates, and readily accessible technology, health care, water, food and power, we’ve opened the door to militarized police, government surveillance, asset forfeiture, school zero tolerance policies, license plate readers, red light cameras, SWAT team raids, health care mandates, over-criminalization, over-regulation and government corruption.

In the end, such bargains always turn sour.

We asked our lawmakers to be tough on crime, and we’ve been saddled with an abundance of laws that criminalize almost every aspect of our lives. So far, we’re up to 4500 criminal laws and 300,000 criminal regulations that result in average Americans unknowingly engaging in criminal acts at least three times a day. For instance, the family of an 11-year-old girl was issued a $535 fine for violating the Federal Migratory Bird Act after the young girl rescued a baby woodpecker from predatory cats.

We wanted criminals taken off the streets, and we didn’t want to have to pay for their incarceration. What we’ve gotten is a nation that boasts the highest incarceration rate in the world, with more than 2.3 million people locked up, many of them doing time for relatively minor, nonviolent crimes, and a private prison industry fueling the drive for more inmates, who are forced to provide corporations with cheap labor.

A special report by CNBC breaks down the national numbers:

One out of 100 American adults is behind bars — while a stunning one out of 32 is on probation, parole or in prison. This reliance on mass incarceration has created a thriving prison economy. The states and the federal government spend about $74 billion a year on corrections, and nearly 800,000 people work in the industry.

We wanted law enforcement agencies to have the necessary resources to fight the nation’s wars on terror, crime and drugs. What we got instead were militarized police decked out with M-16 rifles, grenade launchers, silencers, battle tanks and hollow point bullets—gear designed for the battlefield, more than 80,000 SWAT team raids carried out every year (many for routine police tasks, resulting in losses of life and property), and profit-driven schemes that add to the government’s largesse such as asset forfeiture, where police seize property from “suspected criminals.”

Justice Department figures indicate that as much as $4.3 billion was seized in asset forfeiture cases in 2012, with the profits split between federal agencies and local police. According to the Washington Post, these funds have been used to buy guns, armored cars, electronic surveillance gear, “luxury vehicles, travel and a clown named Sparkles.” Police seminars advise officers to use their “department wish list when deciding which assets to seize” and, in particular, go after flat screen TVs, cash and nice cars.

In Florida, where police are no strangers to asset forfeiture, Florida police have been carrying out “reverse” sting operations, where they pose as drug dealers to lure buyers with promises of cheap cocaine, then bust them, and seize their cash and cars. Over the course of a year, police in one small Florida town seized close to $6 million using these entrapment schemes.

We fell for the government’s promise of safer roads, only to find ourselves caught in a tangle of profit-driven red light cameras, which ticket unsuspecting drivers in the so-called name of road safety while ostensibly fattening the coffers of local and state governments.  Despite widespread public opposition, corruption and systemic malfunctions, these cameras—used in 24 states and Washington, DC—are particularly popular with municipalities, which look to them as an easy means of extra cash.

One small Florida town, population 8,000, generates a million dollars a year in fines from these cameras. Building on the profit-incentive schemes, the cameras’ manufacturers are also pushing speed cameras and school bus cameras, both of which result in heft fines for violators who speed or try to go around school buses.

As I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, this is what happens when the American people get duped, deceived, double-crossed, cheated, lied to, swindled and conned into believing that the government and its army of bureaucrats—the people we appointed to safeguard our freedoms—actually have our best interests at heart.

Yet when all is said and done, who is really to blame when the wool gets pulled over your eyes: you, for believing the con man, or the con man for being true to his nature?

It’s time for a bracing dose of reality, America.

Wake up and take a good, hard look around you, and ask yourself if the gussied-up version of America being sold to you—crime free, worry free and devoid of responsibility—is really worth the ticket price: nothing less than your freedoms.