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Dominique Christina: Baltimore and Black Lives Matter

Editor’s Note: this first appeared on Denver Freedom Riders

It is difficult to be radical in Denver. We are so privileged here. There’s a Starbucks and a Whole Foods on every corner; and dog parks and community gardens and it’s all so…seductive. It has an almost soporific effect. One can be lulled right to sleep by the idyllic snow-capped mountains and trendy cafes that suggest there is no crisis here. Our hoods aren’t like hoods in Chicago, Detroit, Jersey, parts of New York, New Orleans, St. Louis…Baltimore. No gritty crime drama about the drug trade and the alarmingly high homicide rates in the inner city could ever be filmed here. We are a little too deft with our trash pickups and our gentrification. Let me start near the beginning.

Mike Brown died. We all got tickets to the show.

What I knew after the spectacle of horror that social media alerted us to on that Saturday afternoon in August in Ferguson Missouri was that I could not protect my children. That is an impossibly soul crushing thing to carry. Especially for somebody like me; somebody whose adolescence was punctuated by the slings and arrows of too many rapacious men and boys and all of the tripwire that accompanies growing up black and female. The one thing I felt certain about when I became a mother was that I would become a fortress. I would keep my children safe at all costs. They came from me; matriculated from my simple womb ands burst through this skin brilliantly. Being a woman in a patriarchal society makes you interrogate whether you can keep the softer parts of who you are and still defy the limitations of misogyny, but being a mother makes you a wolf. The way I love my children told me I was woman enough and wolf enough to keep them safe.

But then Trayvon happened and I felt the ground slipping underneath me. Still, I fought against the despair. I brought my children to rallies that called for Zimmerman’s arrest and I challenged out loud, the notion that Trayvon deserved to be seen as a threat and therefore murdered in the gated community his father lived in. The effort was exhausting and replete with all of the pushback that comes from those whose bodies have never been so undervalued.

Zimmerman was not convicted. I watched the verdict come in with my children and cried and lamented and then almost instantly felt naïve to hold out hope that our judicial system, the same system that criminalizes black and brown bodies to feed the prison industrial complex, would care about one black boy walking down a road at night who never made it home. A boy my community iconicized in hash tags and hoodies. See, we are so accustomed to being slain; so accustomed to the lynching ritual and the picnics afterward, sometimes the only fight we can manage is a blog post about white America and Facebook posts about the legacy of racism.


My grandfather was born in 1911. He grew up in the Jim Crow south. He knew all about the spectacle of black bodies dangling from trees, burned alive, castrated and beaten. What I could not personally reconcile was that I was having the same conversations about the same culture of violence that he was having as a boy growing up in the West End of Little Rock, Arkansas. Nothing had changed. Martin Luther King’s magnificent legacy did not result in black people being a protected class. Malcolm X’s unapologetic, larger than life, tell you the truth to your face way of being in the world did not stop the slaughter. Both of those men were cut down by bullets in their prime anyway, which should have been all the evidence the following generations needed that this country is willful about its acts of brutality against black and brown people. If we couldn’t be slaves anymore we could be prisoners. We could be disenfranchised. We could be economically dispossessed. We could be squeezed and starved and relegated to barrios and ghettos that would kill us one way or another anyway. We should have known better. But we couldn’t see it…too much blood in our eyes.

So Ferguson…it awakened in me the unsurvivable reality that my children could be “legitimately killed.” They could be snatched from me by someone who saw them walking down a road at night and concluded that they were the threat. They were the imposition. Their lives were not valuable.

The depression that reached for me was thick. I woke up every morning trying to convince myself that there was still a righteous fight somewhere. That life still held beauty. That I could still love my children seismically and urgently, and protect them from the insistent ugly of the world.

I don’t want to suggest that this feeling distinguished me from so many others in this country and around the world who felt uproarious about Big Mike’s body lying in the street for more than four hours and I don’t want to suggest that my suffering was somehow more pronounced than other people. I saw Leslie McFadden pleading with police officers to get her boy out of the street…her firstborn. And I saw those same officers tell her to get back behind the police tape. I saw and heard the eruption of rage that interrupted the consciousness of brothers on the block who were all too familiar with police brutality but who nevertheless could not forgive the offense of seeing that child’s body face down in the street. I carried the death of Mike Brown hard. I still do. I can’t think about him for too long without gnashing my teeth. I can’t think too long about the fact that my own firstborn son stayed up every single night all summer long watching CNN trying to understand what world this is. And I am his mother so it is incumbent upon me to do something, right? To get in between my child and the horror…but how do I do that? What does my fight look like? How can I arm him? I didn’t know.

What I do know is that somewhere in the course of grieving for a boy I had never met, killed in a town I had never heard of, was that I was starting to deny my children affection. I didn’t think it was wise to love them up close. I might lose them after all. I died a thousand times just carrying that thought.


At some point I did get up. School started up again. Lunches needed to be made. Field trips needed to be planned for. Mike Brown was not entering college but my youngest was starting Kindergarten. I had to have enough daylight in my body to acknowledge that. I couldn’t stop mothering just because I was unsure how to do it without defeat attached to it. Life, or something like it, went on.

There was an empty I kept though. Writing elegiac poems about these murdered sons was not sufficient. It was not the revolution I wanted; the revolution that was required. It was too convenient. Too safe. Too academic. I didn’t want to be guilty of that. I was looking for an opening; a way forward; a blueprint. How do I respond rather than react?

Many months later I got word that, Anthony Grimes, a dear friend of mine was going to be at a vigil being staged at a police station in Aurora because a black man had just been killed by officers in the middle of the day just a stone’s throw away from an elementary school. This particular man was not a man that was easy to advocate for. He had warrants and an extensive history of assault and domestic violence and had done a significant amount of time in prison. Still, he had been killed and when you choose to stick your chin out over your feet against extrajudicial killings you don’t really get to compartmentalize or choose which victims are deserving of your outrage. Even ex cons, even felons, even unsavory characters don’t deserve to be murdered at the hands of police without just cause.

I am notoriously opposed to marches and rallies because it has always felt like the pantomime of action to me. A lot of smoke and noise and signs and songs and 28 hours later another one of us is killed so my cynicism, while admittedly significant, is not without merit or historical context. But Anthony was going to be there and Anthony had gone to Ferguson and to Palestine over the summer and had become activated by the over-muscled need to defend us against such violence. He had risked much and sacrificed much. He started a group called the Denver Freedom Riders but this group was more a movement than a group; a deliberate call to action. For these reasons, I decided to attend the vigil and support my friend.

When I got there I saw Anthony along with many other community leaders gathered around the family of the man recently killed by Aurora PD. I could see Anthony’s grief and his rage. I could see his need to do something about what was happening and it mirrored my own need.


Thus began my relationship with the Denver Freedom Riders (DFR). It has not been easy. But how could it be? Gradualism and tokenism, which have been thematic to resistance movements involving black people in this country and abroad, can begin to pull at the hem of your garment. There are those that say they wish to fight with you to end the tyranny but the second they disagree with your position, they will call you crazy and disavow themselves from you. There is the quandary of fighting a dangerous fight with folk who think that it should be less inconvenient, more academic, more religious, less radical, more controlled, on and on. That’s not new. Any student of history can find that struggle in every movement. It does not tell me the sky is falling. It tells me the strong ones are rising. Hell, it feels like natural selection to me. If you do not have the necessary scrap and gristle to challenge power and acknowledge the tremendous risk involved, personal and professional, then you should go back to your campuses, your cubicles, and your 401K’s and keep writing papers about police brutality. That is not how I fight. That is not the stuff of DFR.

Weeks later, I was in a hotel in Chicago having just performed at the University of Illinois when the Baltimore uprising lifted off. Anthony and I had been talking about Freddie Gray, the young man who was illegally detained by Baltimore City police, roughed up and then subsequently brutalized in the back of a police van that resulted in 80% of his spine being severed from his neck, resulting in his death days later. We were seized by grief and levitating with rage from it all. I walked down to the lobby at the Hilton Hotel the day Freddie Gray was buried and saw young black people throwing rocks and bricks at police officers dressed in riot gear. It rocked me. I watched them climb on top of patrol cars and smash the windows with their feet. I saw them cuss officers and throw tear gas canisters back toward the line of police who were grossly outnumbered and outmatched by the sheer will and rancor of young folk who were done with the slow suicide of starvation and poor schools and miles and miles of boarded up row homes, (the evidence of Wells Fargo’s sub-prime lending practices and the foreclosures that threw so many black families into chaos), and the absence of recreation centers and resources, and the brutal practices of overseers who donned police uniforms and went looking for black men to criminalize, beat up, and murder. These young people were done.

I was captivated…and inspired. I’m sure that statement will make some people question whether or not we can continue to be relative to each other. How could I be proud of “looters?” Why would I ever support violence and the burning of buildings? I will tell you how. I am unwilling to keep waiting for America to count us in, to keep killing us and then vilifying us in death. I am tired of America’s violence being the inheritance of historically and contemporarily marginalized people who, when we finally erupt, are told to give peace a chance, and wait on the lord. I am tired of our anger being delegitimized. I am tired. Dog tired.


Anthony and I hopped a plane to Baltimore along with Corean, an 18 year old high school student and Kamau, a student at Howard university; two young people who have more courage and clarity than I ever did at their age. When we got into the city the first thing that assaulted us was the sight of tanks and the national guardsmen holding assault rifles, and cops, undercover and otherwise, peppering the steps of the capitol and hanging out in parks, watching more than a thousand protestors insist on justice. We got into things right away. That’s’ why we were there. We listened to the speeches, avoided CNN, talked to folks whose daily reality was the chaos we were seeing, and then finally made our way to meet with Reverend Sekou who was introduced into the consciousness of so many because of the role he played during the unrest in Ferguson. He was in Baltimore standing with the people there as well as conducting a series of civil disobedience trainings. He told us about the experience he and others had the night before when the police started cracking skulls once it was curfew, a curfew that was instituted after Baltimore City Attorney Marilyn Mosby gave a precedent setting press conference announcing that she was going to prosecute all six officers for the untimely death of Freddie Gray.

DC #1

Sekou warned us that if we were going to stay outside and deliberately defy the curfew, that we would need to be careful. We had not yet determined what we were going to do. We just wanted to be useful and needed to spend some time figuring out how to do that.

We went back out to North and Penn, the location that was the epicenter of the “rioting” just days before and when we got there we saw grassroots organizations getting kids to paint and Anonymous handing out various anti-capitalism pamphlets, and Black Israelites and anarchists and the Nation of Islam and churches and on an on. We parked our car and as we were passing a basketball court I noticed three young boys shooting hoops. I walked on to the court and spoke to the littlest that I later learned was five years old. I asked him if I could play with him. He looked at me hard and said, “You sure?” “Yes!” I replied. “I’m sure. Shoot the ball.” At the same time, Anthony and Kamau dropped their backpacks filled with water bottles and Maalox and gas masks, and all of the accoutrement of guerilla warfare, and started playing with the two older boys. We did this for more than an hour. It was 8:30pm when we started winding down. I asked the five year old, who told me to call him “Meek Meek” if he was bothered by all of the chaos and he said he didn’t think about it. I asked him if he liked school and he said he had not been able to go on account of his teacher getting shot and the National Guard coming in.

He asked me if I liked to shoot. I thought we were talking about basketball, so I said,

Yeah man, I shoot around sometimes but volleyball was my thing.

He said,

Nah. Do you like to shoot?

And then I realized we were talking about guns.

“Yes…I do know how to shoot, Meek Meek.” I said. “What gun you like best?” He asked. “Um…I like a 45.” I said, feeling strange about having a conversation like this with a child a year younger than my own baby.  He looked at me and said, “Oh that means you know how to shoot. I like a 9. No kickback on it.” And see, that is the distance your consciousness has to travel to understand Baltimore and how mighty the people there are, how warrior they have had to be. Theirs is a life that has to be muscled through. But be clear: during our time in Baltimore I didn’t meet a single victim. Not one. The politics of oppression are not always about the breaking and the broken. Sometimes it’s about the breaking and the undeniably unbroken. That doesn’t mean there are no bruises. It certainly doesn’t mean there are no casualties. There are so very many casualties. Those battle lines are drawn in this country over and over again and whether you will survive in spite of or because of is largely about your melanin content, your zip code, and your gender.

We said goodbye to the boys and it was hard to say goodbye. I fell in love with Meek Meek, the five year old who had the best shot out there and who looked longingly at me when I told him I had to go. I have thought about him every single day since the day I met him. I wonder if he is ok. I wonder if they opened his school, if he is getting at least two square meals again (because when they closed the schools in Baltimore they denied 85% of the children in those schools food since they rely on the Free and Reduced Lunch program.) I wonder if he knows how much he meant to me. And I wonder how I can see him again.


North and Penn at night was not what it was during the day. During the day it almost felt like a block party; like Juneteenth. Loud music, a DJ, people dancing, laughing, strategizing. But while that was happening, a militarized police force was surrounding us on all sides, watching everything we did. At night though, we could feel the shift in energy. Something was going to happen. You just knew that.

Joseph Kent suddenly walked to the middle of the street, bullhorn in hand, and started asking people to join him.

DC #2

Joseph is a fiery, prominent young activist who captured the attention (and concern) of many people when someone videotaped him being swept away by riot police just three nights earlier. But there he was, big as ever, leading us in a chant:

“I got a feelin…I got a feelin brother…I got a feelin…somebody’s tryin’ to hold us back, and there ain’t gonna be no stuff like that….”

We started following him as he led us in a march away from North and Penn and toward the inner harbor. We walked for about forty minutes. When Anthony checked his watch it was 9:30pm. Curfew was at 10pm. We knew getting back to our car by curfew was going to be tough. We were trying to decide whether we were going to stop right then and turn back when an 11-year-old kid walked up to me and asked if I was going to stay out there with him. He said he defied the curfew the night before and had witnessed police officers beating people once the clock struck ten. I asked him how he managed to escape and he said, “You just gotta know how to move.” Then looked at me again and said, “So…are you staying out with me or not?” “Of course I am.” I said. “No way are you gonna outlast me. If you are out here then we are too.” I continued and Anthony readily agreed. The kid looked at all of us and grinned then walked over to Anthony and asked if he could borrow his gas mask. Anthony accommodated him. The kid immediately put it on and kept marching.

Minutes later a CNN correspondent walked over to us and asked me if I was willing to talk to them. I am sure they were captivated by me walking shoulder to shoulder with a kid in a gas mask, but I also think they surveyed the crowd and determined that our crew would be the most “user-friendly.” Maybe I’m projecting but that’s how it felt to me. I looked at Anthony for direction and Anthony said, “No. We are not interested” and that was that. CNN’s coverage of Baltimore was abysmal and divisive and misleading anyway so that choice was the one with the most integrity, I think.

At ten minutes ‘til 10, riot police started moving in along with helicopters hovering overhead shining bright lights down on all of us. A tank pulled up on our right side essentially pinning us in. We couldn’t go back because the riot police were behind us. We couldn’t go right because the tank was there. We couldn’t reasonably go much more forward because we could see a line of officers already lined up behind their shields ahead. Suddenly there was an announcement over a loud speaker that curfew was imminent and that soon we would be in violation of it. The anxiety from the crowd was palpable. There were some white boys in Guy Fawkes masks rolling around on skateboards flipping cops off, there were others in gas masks trying to advise us, one lanky brother was moving through the crowd telling us to stay together by any means necessary. He was so frenetic it made me nervous. He was telling everyone to calm down but he himself was electric with worry and you could see it in him.

A second announcement came that it was three minutes until curfew and Anthony, Corean, Kamau and I were walking with our arms linked trying to quickly determine which way we were going to go. The lanky brother full of frenzy was passing by people, touching them on the shoulder ands telling them to remain calm. When he got to me he didn’t touch my shoulder, offer advice and keep going, but instead, put himself in front of me and put one hand on my breast and the other on my…ahem… baby box, and said “I wanna make sure YOU are safe.” It shocked me. Anthony told him to watch his hands, (I learned later that Anthony did not see that this young man had decided to molest me before the cops jumped on us. He just saw him being too close to me and didn’t like it.) I offer that part of the story only because what followed was so traumatizing, I actually forgot I had been molested until much later when we were all safely back at the hotel, debriefing our experience. For me to forget something like that is seismic. It means that what the cops put me through made that act seem insignificant. Oh trauma, you wanton bitch…

When it was 10pm the pepper spray came. Along with sirens and flashing lights and cops running after us with their guns out. People were screaming and fleeing and in my mind there was only one place to go that did not have the apparent presence of police. Down a dark side street to the left, which is where we went. We ran. We ran and felt all of the terror our ancestors must have felt when the slavers came, when the paddy rollers came, when the only thing in your head is NO. YOU WILL NOT TOUCH ME. It was an old feeling. It is a dangerous knowing.

We dipped into the projects. We didn’t plan on it. We had no plan except to get the hell away from the same old hands that have been chasing us for centuries. We went where we saw an opening. We found ourselves in a dark courtyard. There was no one around. I saw two chairs in front of someone’s apartment and suggested that we sit down in them and pretend to be at home. I figured they were looking for people who were running, people who were scurrying, people who appeared to have no belonging. I pulled one of the chairs out and at that moment, a fair skinned black woman with a stern face opened her door and asked us what was going on. Corean told her that we were running from police officers that meant to harm us; so many people had been harmed already. The woman told Corean to go inside then looked hard at me, Kamau and Anthony. Corean is a petite, baby-faced beauty, but Kamau is a young black man who, in that moment had a wild in his eyes having run from riot police, Anthony is 6’4” and undeniably black and I, myself, am 6 feet tall.  The woman looked at each one of us for a moment more and then opened her door wide and said “Go inside. But you be careful coming in my house because I don’t know you.” She let us stay there until it was safe to get away.

The kid in the gas mask we were walking with was arrested. Joseph Kent, the dazzling young activist, was arrested by the very officers who were telling him as we were marching that they would NOT do so. I saw a girl who looked to be about 13 years old, clotheslined by a cop as she was running away from riot police. Her head hit the pavement hard. I keep hearing her screams in my head and the terrible smack of her head crashing onto the concrete. Things CNN didn’t show you. I saw police officers snatching people off of their porches, their own front porches, and putting them in police wagons because of that ridiculous curfew. I saw it. I never saw the media seek to have the relevant conversations. I never saw them really expose and condemn the officers who kept the media safely behind the caution tape while they pepper sprayed people for exercising their rights as human beings before snatching them down to the ground by their hair and dragging them on their faces. Instead, I saw media talking to protestors about the burned out CVS and the legitimacy of defying the curfew without ever interrogating how criminal it was to issue that curfew in the first place and the way it squeezed and oppressed a community already rocked with appropriate grief and rage.

I should tell you about the “write-in” we went to the next day at a church for high school aged students who were there to talk about what was happening in their city. I should tell you that as well meaning as the organizers were who put the event on, none of them lived in the city. They lived in the suburbs. I should tell you that the kids who were in attendance (about 12 of them) came from private schools and therefore, could not really talk from the inside of things the way 5 year old Meek Meek could. Still, writing is a meditation. It is a balm and a blessing and in that regard what happened in that room was still important.

We went to a barbecue after that being held at the Gilmore Homes where Freddie Gray was arrested. We stood in the exact spot where Freddie was tackled and abused by Baltimore Police where a memorial now announces the birth and death dates of Freddie, spray painted on a brick wall with a halo over Freddie’s name. We met the man who videotaped Freddie’s arrest on that fateful day, who is a part of a group called Cop Watch. We saw Amy Goodman from Democracy Now interviewing the residents too and we ran into three brothers from Ferguson who had also flown in to offer their support. We saw the residents of the Gilmore Homes with their kids who were finger painting, playing touch football and rolling around on tricycles. They talked about Freddie and how they saw him everyday. They talked about a place called Mama’s that had been set on fire; a fire the police claimed was started by gang members but according to residents, was set by the officers themselves. We heard many stories like that.

DC #3

How the Baltimore Police Department claimed a “group of criminals” set fire to a trash can and then an independent journalist who was on the scene said on twitter that, in fact, the fire was set by a grenade thrown by the Baltimore Police that landed in that trash can, setting it ablaze.

I guess maybe that’s why I have decided to write all of this down. It is the acknowledgement that those in power always describe us as thugs and monsters, looters and thieves, rioters and hoodlums and if we do not challenge that narrative, if we do not stand up and tell our stories, the people in power get to keep killing us and claiming that we deserved it. Without the truth, they get to disappear us, they get to stop us about a tail light and then shoot us in the back, plant evidence and claim we threatened their lives; they get to arrest us because we made eye contact with them, beat us, hogtie us, and then throw us into a police van on our stomachs, unbelted, handcuffed and bruised to be thrashed against a metal partition until our spine is severed. No.

I am a mother to children who will outlive me. They will occupy their bodies brilliantly and without apology. They will inherit a world that does not shrug with indifference when people die, when the state sanctions that violence and then lies to cover it up. They are deliberately black. Unbroken. Unkillable.

And as long as my heart is beating I will wake up every morning and work long into the night making that the reality for us all. How could I not? I met a five year old and an eleven year old who are willing to do as much. And while I got to get on a plane two days later and leave hell, nothing in me will ever pretend I didn’t see what I saw, know what I know and go back to the convenience of dog parks and manicured lawns and let them stay there and burn.


Dominique Christina, MA, M.Ed

Author, Agitator, Freedom Rider
May 11, 2015

The Modern COINTELPRO and How To Fight It

Editor’s Note: this first appeared on Dissident Voice, June 7th, 2014

Crowdsourcing Repression

Let’s Be Honest

Despite the seeming popularity of environmental and social justice work in the modern world, we’re not winning. We’re losing. In fact, we’re losing really badly.1

crowd_DV

Why is that?

One reason is because few popular strategies pose real threats to power. That’s not an accident: the rules of social change have been clearly defined by those in power. Either you play by the rules — rules which don’t allow you to win — or you break free of the rules, and face the consequences.

Play By The Rules, or Raise the Stakes

We all know the rules: you’re allowed to vote for either one capitalist or the other, vote with your dollars,2 write petitions (you really should sign this one), you can shop at local businesses, you can eat organic food (if you can afford it), and you can do all kinds of great things!

But if you step outside the box of acceptable activism, you’re asking for trouble. At best, you’ll face ridicule and scorn. But the real heat is reserved for movements that pose real threats. Whether broad-based people’s movements like Occupy or more focused revolutionary threats like the Black Panthers, threats to power break the most important rule they want us to follow: never fight back.

State Tactic #1: Overt Repression

Fighting back – indeed, any real resistance – is sacrilegious to those in power. Their response is often straightforward: a dozen cops slam you to the ground and cuff you; “less-lethal” weapons cover the advance of a line of riot police; the sharp report of SWAT team’s bullets.

This type of overt repression is brutally effective. When faced with jail, serious injury, or even death, most don’t have the courage and the strategy to go on. As we have seen, state violence can behead a movement.

That was the case with Fred Hampton, an up-and-coming Black Panther Party leader in Chicago, Illinois. A talented organizer, Hampton made significant gains for the Panthers in Chicago, working to end violence between rival (mostly black) gangs and building revolutionary alliances with groups like the Young Lords, Students for A Democratic Society, and the Brown Berets.  He also contributed to community education work and to the Panther’s free breakfast program.

These activities could not be tolerated by those in power: they knew that a charismatic, strategic thinker like Hampton could be the nucleus of revolution. So, they decided to murder him. On December 4, 1969, an FBI snitch slipped Hampton a sedative. Chicago police and FBI agents entered his home, shot and killed the guard, Mark Clark, and entered Hampton’s room. The cops fired two shots directly into his head as he lay unconscious. He was 21 years old.

The Occupy Movement, at its height, posed a threat to power by making the realities of mass anti-capitalism and discontent visible, and by providing physical focal points for the dissent that spawns revolution. While Occupy had some issues (such as the difficulties of consensus decision-making and generally poor responses to abusive behavior inside camps), the movement was dynamic. It claimed physical space for the messy work of revolution to happen, and represented the locus of a true threat.

The response was predictable: the media assaulted relentlessly, businesses led efforts to change local laws and outlaw encampments, and riot police were called in as the knockout punch. It was a devastating flurry of blows, and the movement hasn’t yet recovered. (Although many of the lessons learned at Occupy may serve us well in the coming years).

State Tactic #2: Covert Repression

Violent repression is glaring. It gets covered in the news, and you can see it on the streets. But other times, repression isn’t so obvious. A recent leaked document from the private security and corporate intelligence firm Strategic Forecasting, Inc. (better known as STRATFOR) contained this illustrative statement:

Most authorities will tolerate a certain amount of activism because it is seen as a way to let off steam. They appease the protesters by letting them think that they are making a difference — as long as the protesters do not pose a threat. But as protest movements grow, authorities will act more aggressively to neutralize the organizers.

The key word is neutralize: it represents a more sophisticated strategy on behalf of power, a set of tactics more insidious than brute force.

Most of us have probably heard about COINTELPRO (shorthand for Counter-Intelligence Program), a covert FBI program officially underway between 1956 and 1971. COINTELPRO mainly targeted socialists and communists, black nationalists, Civil Rights groups, the American Indian Movement, and much of the left, from Quakers to Weathermen. The FBI used four main techniques to undermine, discredit, eliminate, and otherwise neutralize these threats:

  1.      Force
  2.      Harassment (subpoenas, false accusations, discriminatory enforcement of taxation, etc.)
  3.      Infiltration
  4.      Psychological warfare

How can we become resilient to these threats? Perhaps the first step is to understand them; to internalize the consequences of the tactics being used against us.

The JTRIG Leaks

On February 24 of this year, Glenn Greenwald released an article detailing a secret National Security Agency (NSA) unit called JTRIG (Joint Threat Research Intelligence Group). The article, which sheds new light on the tactics used to suppress social movements and threats to power, is worth quoting at length:

Among the core self-identified purposes of JTRIG are two tactics: (1) to inject all sorts of false material onto the internet in order to destroy the reputation of its targets; and (2) to use social sciences and other techniques to manipulate online discourse and activism to generate outcomes it considers desirable. To see how extremist these programs are, just consider the tactics they boast of using to achieve those ends: “false flag operations” (posting material to the internet and falsely attributing it to someone else), fake victim blog posts (pretending to be a victim of the individual whose reputation they want to destroy), and posting “negative information” on various forums.

It shouldn’t come as a total surprise that those in power use lies, manipulation, false information, fake identities, and “manipulation [of] online discourse” to further their ends. They always fight dirty; it’s what they do. They never fight fair, they can never allow truth to be shown, because to do so would expose their own weakness.

As shown by COINTELPRO, this type of operation is highly effective at neutralizing threats. Snitchjacketing and divisive movement tactics were used widely during the COINTELPRO era, and encouraged activists to break ties, create rivalries, and vie against one another. In many cases, it even led to violence: prominent, good hearted activists would be labeled “snitches” by agents, and would be isolated, shunned, and even killed.

As a friend put it,

“By encouraging horizontal, crowdsourced repression, activists’ focus is shifted safely away from those in power and towards each other.”

A page from a top-secret document prepared by the JTRIG unit.

Are Activists Targeted?

Some organizations have ideas so revolutionary, so incendiary that they pose a threat all by themselves, simply by existing.

Deep Green Resistance is such a group. If these tactics are being used to neutralize activist groups, then Deep Green Resistance (DGR) seems a prime target. Proudly Luddite in character, DGR believes that the industrial way of life, the soil-destroying process known as agriculture, and the social system called civilization are literally killing the planet – at the rate of 200 species extinctions, 30 million trees, and 100 million tons of CO2 every day. With numbers like that, time is short.

With two key pieces of knowledge, the DGR strategy comes into focus. The first is that global industrial civilization will inevitably collapse under the weight of its own destructiveness. The second is that this collapse isn’t coming soon enough: life on Earth could very well be doomed by the time this collapse stops the accelerating destruction.

With these understandings, DGR advocates for a strategy to pro-actively dismantle industrial civilization. The strategy (which acknowledges that resisters will face fierce opposition from governments, corporations, and those who cling to modern life) calls for direct attacks on critical infrastructure – electric grids, fossil fuel networks, communications, etc. – with one goal: to shut down the global industrial economy. Permanently.

The strategy of direct attacks on infrastructure has been used in countless wars, uprisings, and conflicts because it is extremely effective. The same strategies are taught at military schools and training camps around the planet, and it is for this reason – an effective strategy – that DGR poses a real and serious threat to power. Of course, writing openly about such activities and then taking part in them would be stupid, which is why DGR is an “aboveground” organization. Our work is limited to building a culture of resistance (which is no easy feat: our work spans the range of activities from non-violent resistance to educational campaigns, community organizing, and building alternative systems) and spreading the strategies that we advocate in the hope that clandestine networks can pull off the dirty work in secret.

When I speak to veterans – hard-jawed ex-special forces guys – they say the strategy is good. It’s a real threat.

Threat Met With Backlash

That threat has not gone unanswered. In a somewhat unsurprising twist, given the information we’ve gone over already, DGR’s greatest challenges have not come from the government, at least not overtly. Instead, the biggest challenges have come from radical environmentalists and social justice activists: from those we would expect to be among our supporters and allies. The focal point of the controversy? Gender.

The conflict has a long history and deserves a few hours of discussion and reading, but here is the short version: DGR holds that female-only spaces should be reserved for females.  This offends many who believe that male-born individuals (who later come to identify as female) should be allowed access to these spaces. It’s all part of a broader, ongoing disagreement between gender abolitionists (like DGR and others), who see gender as the cultural lattice of women’s oppression, and those who view gender as an identity that is beyond criticism.

(To learn more about the conflict, view Rachel Ivey’s presentation entitled The End of Gender.)

Due to this position, our organization has been blacklisted from speaking at various venues, our organizers have received threats of violence (often sexualized), and our participation in a number of struggles has been blocked – at the expense of the cause at hand.

A Case Study in JTRIG?

Much of the anti-DGR rhetoric has been extraordinary, not for passionate political disagreement, but for misinformation and what appears to be COINTELPRO-style divisiveness. Are we the victims of a JTRIG-style smear campaign?

On February 23 of this year, the Earth First! Newswire released an anonymous article attacking Deep Green Resistance. The main subject of the article was the ongoing debate over gender issues.

(Although perhaps debate is the wrong word in this case: Earth First! Newswire has published half a dozen vitriolic pieces attacking DGR. They seem to have an obsession. On the other hand, DGR has never used organizational resources or platforms to publish a negative comment about Earth First.)

Here are a few of the fabrications contained in the February 23 article:

  • “Keith and Jensen [DGR co-founders] do not recognize the validity of traditionally marginalized struggles [like] Black Power.” (a wild, false claim, given the long and public history of anti-racist work and solidarity by those two.3 )
  • DGR members have “outed” transgender people by posting naked photos of them. (Completely false not to mention obscene and offensive.4 )
  • DGR is “allied with” gay-to-straight conversion camps. (The lies get ever more absurd. DGR has countless lesbian and gay members, including founding members. Lesbian and gay members are involved at every level of decision making in DGR.)
  • DGR requires “genital checks” for new members. (I can’t believe we even have to address this – it’s a surreal accusation. It is, of course, a lie.)

If these claims weren’t so serious, they would be laughable. But lies like this are no laughing matter.

Here is one illustrative list of tactics from the JTRIG leaks.

Screenshot3

“Crowdsourced Repression”

The timing of these events – the Earth First! Newswire article followed the very next day by Greenwald’s JTRIG article – is ironic. Of course, it made me think: are we the victims of a JTRIG-style character assassination? Or am I drawing conclusions where there are none to be drawn?

The campaigns against DGR do have many of the hallmarks of COINTELPRO-style repression. They are built on a foundation of political differences magnified into divisive hatred through paranoia and the spread of hearsay. In the 1960s and 70s, techniques that seem similar were used to create divisions within groups like the Black Panthers and the American Indian Movement.

Ultimately, these movements tore themselves apart in violence and suspicion; the powerful were laughing all the way to the bank. In many cases, we don’t even know if the FBI was involved; what is certain is that the FBI-style tactics – snitchjacketing, rumormongering, the sowing of division and hatred – were being adopted by paranoid activists.

In some ways, the truth doesn’t really matter. Whether these activists were working for the state or not, they served to destroy movements, alliances, and friendships that took decades or generations to build.

I’ll be clear: I don’t mean to claim that the “Letter Collective” (as the anonymous authors of the February 23 article named themselves) are agents of the state. To do so would be a violation of security culture.5 Modern activists seem to have largely forgotten the lessons of COINTELPRO, and I am wary of forgetting those lessons myself. Snitchjacketing is a bad behavior, and we should have no tolerance for it unless there is substantive evidence.

But members of the “Letter Collective”, at the very least, have violated security culture by spreading rumors and unsubstantiated claims of serious misconduct. Good security culture practices preclude this behavior. In the face of JTRIG and the modern surveillance and repression state, careful validation of serious claims is the least that activists can do. Didn’t we learn this lesson in the 60s?

Divide and Conquer

By itself, verifying rumors before spreading them is a poor defense against the repression modern activists face. Instead, we must challenge divisiveness itself: one of the biggest threats to our success.

The 2011 STRATFOR leak included information about corporate strategies to neutralize activist and community movements. Essentially, STRATFOR advocates dividing movements into four character types: radicals, idealists, realists, and opportunists. These camps can then be dealt with summarily:

First, isolate the radicals. Second, “cultivate” the idealists and “educate” them into becoming realists. And finally, co-opt the realists into agreeing with industry.6

This is how movements are neutralized: those who should be allies are divided, infighting becomes rampant, and paranoia rules the roost. To combat these strategies, we must understand the danger they represent and how to counter them.

Fight Repression With Solidarity

We all want to win. We want to end capitalism, reverse ecological collapse, and build a culture in which social justice is fundamental. Many of us have different specific goals or strategies, but we must find similarities, overlaps, and areas where we can work together.

As Bob Ages, commenting on STRATFOR’s divide-and-conquer tactics, put it in a recent piece:

“Our response has to be the opposite; bridging divides, foster mutual understanding and solidarity, stand together come hell or high water.”

Many people across the left share 80% or more of their politics, and yet constructive criticism and mature discussion of disagreements is the exception, not the rule. We need more thoughtful behavior. Don’t spread rumors, don’t tear down other activists, and don’t forget who the real enemy is. Don’t waste your time fighting those who should be your allies – even if they are only partial allies. Let’s disagree, and let our disagreements help us learn more from each other and build alliances.

In the end, that’s our only chance of winning: together.

  1. For Example:
    U.S. Inequality is at its highest point since 1928.
    One in three women is beaten, raped, or otherwise abused in her lifetime.
    Obama has overseen more deportations — more than 2 million — than any president in history.
    Two hundred species are driven extinct every day. []
  2. The Koch Brothers get 40,600,000,000 votes. []
  3. The authors of the article come to this conclusion due to a statement by Lierre Keith that we should “abolish race” — apparently, they take this established and central theory of anti-racist organizing and theory to be instead a desire to erase culture – an absurd comparison. []
  4. Any DGR member who did such a thing would be removed, as this would be a violation of the Code of Conduct. []
  5. Security culture is a set of practices and attitudes designed to increase the safety of political communities. These guidelines are created based on recent and historic state repression, and help to reduce paranoia and increase effectiveness. Learn more about security culture on the DGR website. []
  6. Opportunists, who are generally involved in organizing for prestige and power, don’t even merit mention in this neutralization strategy. They should be excluded from our political organizing out of hand. []

Max Wilbert lives in the Pacific Northwest, where he works to support indigenous resistance to industrial extraction projects, anti-racist initiatives, and radical feminist struggles as part of Deep Green Resistance. He makes his living as a writer and photographer, and can be contacted at max@maxwilbert.org. Read other articles by Max.

(Not) Making Sense of Ferguson

By Will Falk, Deep Green Resistance

Let’s be clear: The decision not to indict Darren Wilson for killing Michael Brown Jr. was inevitable.

I do not write this to undermine, in any way, the justifiable rage being expressed around the country. I write this in the hopes that we can accurately diagnose the cancer characterized by the symptoms we have seen – symptoms like the death of another young black man at the hands of a white policeman, the failure of a grand jury to indict that policeman, and a mainstream media determined to paint acts taken in retaliation as somehow too extreme. Once we have accurately diagnosed the cancer, I want us to locate the tumors and remove them.

In the days leading up to the grand jury’s decision, I felt a certain amount of unease in the general message from the left. It seemed to me that the message went like this, “The Ferguson grand jury better indict or else.” This message, while completely justified, suffered from a lack of analysis and was the product of a misguided faith in the so-called criminal justice system to act in the best interest of the people it purports to protect.

I am encouraged by the displays of anger being displayed across the country, but I want us to be clear about what it is we want. The consensus seems to be that we want justice for Brown’s murder. But, what does that look like? Does it simply mean throwing Darren Wilson in prison? Does it mean a public statement from the Ferguson police department that they were wrong? Or, does it mean we convict an entire system for producing the murders of thousands of Michael Browns and sentence that system to the death it so clearly deserves?

BBC News/Getty Images

BBC News/Getty Images

In order to understand why the grand jury’s decision not to indict Wilson was inevitable, we have to dig to the very roots of our society. The philosopher Neil Evernden, author of the brilliant work The Natural Alien, explained that unquestioned assumptions are the real authorities of any culture. One of the unquestioned assumptions prevailing in our society is that police officers are here to protect and serve us.

It might be true that police officers get kittens out of trees, direct traffic, and sometimes even investigate crime, but is this why they exist? Is this their main function in society or do police officers fill a more sinister role?

One way to answer this is to trace the formation of police departments in American history. Noted police historian and Emeritus Professor of Criminal Justice at the University of Nebraska – Omaha Samuel Walker identifies slave patrols, emerging in the early 1700s, as the first publicly funded police forces in the American South. North Dakota State University’s Carol A. Archbold writes in Policing: A Text/Reader that these patrols – or paddy-rollers as they were called – were “created with the specific intent of maintaining control over slave populations.” Archbold describes the three major actions conducted by these slave patrols as searches of slave quarters, keeping slaves off roadways, and disassembling meetings organized by groups of slaves. From the outset, police forces have existed to enforce an unjust order.

Another way to examine the true role of police forces is to ask yourself: What would happen if you were starving, noticed the large quantity of uneaten food piled at Wal-Mart, and decided to eat some of it? The police, of course, would arrive to take you to jail. The police would protect Wal-Mart’s right to stockpile food over your right not to starve. On your way to jail, the police officer will probably tell you that the law is the law, stealing is a crime, and if the officer has a heart, he (I prefer my villains to carry the male pronoun) will apologetically explain that it feels unfair to him, too, but he is after all, just doing his job. In court, the judge will shrug and tell you this is a nation of laws, not of men (never women, of course) and enforce the abstraction of property rights over the reality of hunger.

Before I go any deeper, I know I must address one of the most common objections to my line of reasoning. The objection goes like this: “We understand, Will, that the police often do bad things, but what about enforcing rape laws? If there were no police, who would protect women from sexual assault?”

The problem with assuming that the police are actually protecting women from rape is that they aren’t. The Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN) reports that only 10 out of every 100 rapes will ever lead to an arrest and only 3 of these rapes will lead to a rapist spending even one night in prison. (https://www.rainn.org/get-information/statistics/reporting-rates). Even worse than this is a national epidemic where police officers are being convicted at an alarming rate for on-duty sexual assaults. Rape victims are calling the police for protection only to be raped when the police show up.

***

My shovel has not reached the roots of our society yet.

Derrick Jensen gets to the heart of the matter in his work Endgame. He writes, “Our way of living – industrial civilization – is based on and would collapse very quickly without persistent and widespread violence.” Civilization, for Jensen, is a culture that leads to and emerges from the growth of cities. And, cities are people living more or less permanently in one place in densities high enough to require the routine importation of food and other necessities of life. Civilization eventually strips a land base of its ability to support life, so the civilized resort to violence when people in the next watershed over will not or cannot provide the civilized with the resources they require. This is easily seen in the atrocities the American government is willing to commit to gain access to a resource it requires: fossil fuels.

Jensen supports his statement that our way of life is based on persistent and widespread violence writing, “Civilization is based on a clearly defined and widely accepted yet often unarticulated hierarchy. Violence done by those higher on the hierarchy to those lower is nearly always invisible, that is, unnoticed. When it is noticed, it is fully rationalized. Violence done by those lower on the hierarchy to those higher is unthinkable, and when it does occur is regarded with shock, horror, and the fetishization of the victims.” The grand jury’s decision not to indict Darren Wilson is an example of how violence done by one higher on the hierarchy – a white police officer – to one lower on the hierarchy – a young black man – is fully rationalized.

Jensen goes on, “The property of those higher on the hierarchy is more valuable than the lives of those below…If those below damage the property of those above, those above may kill or otherwise destroy the lives of those below. This is called justice.” These words illuminate exactly what happened to Brown. Brown was accused of taking a $48 box of cigarillos from a convenience store and was killed because of it. Brown was lower on the hierarchy than the convenience store, and his life proved to be less valuable than a $48 box of cigarillos.

This is the system we live in. Michelle Alexander writes in her game-changing book The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, “The nature of the criminal justice system has changed. It is no longer primarily concerned with the prevention and punishment of crime, but rather with the management and control of the dispossessed.” I do not, however, believe that the so-called criminal justice system has changed. Change implies this system was designed for justice. It was not. We do not live in a broken system. We live in a system that was designed this way. The question is not, “How do we fix this?” The question is, “How do we destroy this system that is murdering so many?”

***

Finally, I do not need to prove that any one is intentionally driving the current system to perform the horrors it is to support my claim that this system needs to be destroyed. I do not need to prove that Wilson held hatred in his heart when he released a flurry of shots into Brown’s body.

As a public defender in Kenosha, WI, I saw first hand how terrorization by police officers benefited those in power. On November 9, 2004, Kenosha Police Albert Gonzalez shot 21-year old Michael E. Bell through the temple while two other officers were restraining Bell in the front yard of Bell’s home while his sister and mother watched on. No one knows why the police followed Bell to his home, but Bell was killed and Gonzalez was cleared of any wrongdoing.

Kenosha is not a large county and many of my clients knew Bell or the details of this story. On more than one occasion, I asked clients why they ran from the police when they were doing nothing wrong and were answered with incredulous stares and questions like, “Do you know what they did to Mike Bell?” I do not need to prove any police officer is personally hateful because the police operate to instill fear in the public.

Those of us engaged in resistance often look around, see the mess the world is in, and wonder why more are not joining us. Why are more of us not fighting back? The truth is most people are horrified of the police, of soldiers, of the government, of men – and I can absolutely understand why. The system will not correct the behavior of police officers like Wilson and Gonzalez in any meaningful way because it cannot. The system depends on the fear Wilson has instilled in all of us.

If we are going to achieve justice in the wake of Ferguson’s failure to indict Wilson, we must understand why this failure was inevitable, we must overcome our fear, and we must undermine an inherently hateful system.  I can’t help but feel the tinge of a wish that we would respond with the same cold, icily logical, workmanlike demeanor of the system producing Brown’s. We can see that jury’s eyes glazing over to the truth. Let our eyes glaze over to anything other than effectively stopping this shit. I cannot help but feel some shame that we have not escalated our responses to truly stop this madness.