Strange Cultures, Interesting Times

There is no horror, no cruelty, sacrilege, or perjury, no imposture, no infamous transaction, no cynical robbery, no bold plunder or shabby betrayal that has not been or is not daily being perpetrated by the representatives of the states, under no other pretext than those elastic words, so convenient and yet so terrible: “for reasons of state”. ~ Mikhail Bakunin, Federalism, Socialism, Anti-Theologism, 1867

On ‘Hot Docs’, SBS, Tuesday evening…

Strange Culture : Traces the surreal nightmare of the internationally-acclaimed artist and professor, Steve Kurtz. Early on the morning of May 11, 2004, Kurtz woke to discover that Hope, his wife of 27 years, had died in her sleep. When police and paramedics arrived, they discovered petri dishes and sophisticated scientific equipment. Although Kurtz explained that the paraphernalia was part of an exhibition on genetically modified food, the police were not convinced and called the joint terrorism taskforce and the FBI, and Kurtz was detained as a suspected “bioterrorist”. In fact Kurtz and Hope had campaigned against genetically-modified food via their art and the bacteria found in the Kurtz home had been purchased online for arts sake. Was Kurtz’s freedom of expression being silenced in a bureaucracy gone mad in a post-9/11 world? Was this a corporate-backed attack on Kurtz? Or was the FBI completely ignorant about the art world? Acclaimed actor Tilda Swinton stars in re-enacted scenes. (From the US, in English) (Documentary) M CC WS

After four years of political persecution by the US Government, in June 2008 Steve finally had all charges against him dropped. The Critical Art Ensemble Defense Fund published this press release upon the Government finally ceasing their campaign of harassment and vilification :

June 11, 2008

Department of Justice Fails to Appeal Dismissal Kurtz Speaks about Four-Year Ordeal

Buffalo, NY–Dr. Steven Kurtz, a Professor of Visual Studies at SUNY at Buffalo and cofounder of the award-winning art and theater group Critical Art Ensemble, has been cleared of all charges of mail and wire fraud. On April 21, Federal Judge Richard J. Arcara dismissed the government’s entire indictment against Dr. Kurtz as “insufficient on its face.” This means that even if the actions alleged in the indictment (which the judge must accept as “fact”) were true, they would not constitute a crime. The US Department of Justice had thirty days from the date of the ruling to appeal. No action has been taken in this time period, thus stopping any appeal of the dismissal. According to Margaret McFarland, a spokeswoman for US Attorney Terrance P. Flynn, the DoJ will not appeal Arcara’s ruling and will not seek any new charges against Kurtz.

For over a decade, cultural institutions worldwide have hosted Kurtz and Critical Art Ensemble’s educational art projects, which use common science materials to examine issues surrounding the new biotechnologies. In 2004 the Department of Justice alleged that Dr. Kurtz had schemed with colleague Dr. Robert Ferrell of the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health to illegally acquire two harmless bacteria cultures for use in one of those projects. The Justice Department further alleged that the transfer of the material from Ferrell to Kurtz broke a material transfer agreement, thus constituting mail fraud.

Under the USA PATRIOT Act, the maximum sentence for these charges was increased from five years to twenty years in prison.

Dr. Kurtz has been fighting the charges ever since. In October 2007, Dr. Ferrell pleaded to a lesser misdemeanor charge after recurring bouts of cancer and three strokes suffered since his indictment prevented him from continuing the struggle…

Note that, not content with arresting Steve for a bogus crime within hours of the tragic death of his wife Hope, in a further act of bastardry, the enormously brave and resourceful men and women of the FBI also took it upon themselves to lock Steve’s cat Bean in the attic — without food, water or companionship. Bean the cat was recovered — and has since moved away. “We took him to Canada, where he’d be safe,” says Kurtz, smiling (When Big Brother Eats Pizza at Your House, Amanda Ripley, Time, July 14, 2008). Note also that over the last four years The Age has provided intensive coverage of Steve’s case: a review of Strange Culture by Phillipa Hawker (July 23, 2008) and a review by Robert Nelson of an exhibition (January 19, 2005).

Currently, eight members of the RNC Welcoming Committee are facing charges under the Minnesota state version of the Patriot Act. To be precise: “conspiracy to commit riot in the furtherance of terrorism.” According to one source: ‘The complaint in the case of the RNCWC 8 (shades of the Chicago 8, from another political convention brouhaha) contains lurid allegations about kidnapping Republican delegates, throwing Molotov cocktails, attacking law enforcement officers and burning tires on the freeway. The allegations are based on statements made by police plants in the group — CRIs, “confidential reliable informants”.’ (First they came for the anarchists, Mordecai Specktor, September 16, 2008). Mordecai’s article is noteworthy for the fact that his son, Max (19), is one of those facing charges. It’s also noteworthy for the fact that — once again — the old li(n)e about dirty filthy protesters throwing urine at police has been trotted out:

Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher proudly displayed 5-gallon pails of “urine” at a press conference following the raids. The anarchists ostensibly were fashioning IUDs (improvised urine devices) to use against cops and Republicans, according to the police authorities. The search warrants for the Aug. 30 SWAT team raids specified “urine and feces.”

However, [Bruce Nestor, attorney for Max’s codefendant Monica Bicking and president of the Minnesota branch of the National Lawyers Guild] said that the “urine” seized was mostly “kitchen gray water” and had nothing to do with any of the defendants. Nestor also noted that “common household items” — glass bottles, rags and charcoal starter fluid, found in different locations in various houses — have repeatedly been referred to in news reports as bomb-making materials…

With regards the Minnesota version of the

Uniting and
America by

Required to
Intercept and

Act of 2001, Mordecai writes:

The prosecution of Max and the others, as Hedges noted, is the “first time criminal charges have been filed under the 2002 Minnesota version of the federal Patriot Act. The Patriot Act, which was put in place as much to silence domestic opposition as to ferret out real terrorists, has largely lain dormant. It has authorized the government to monitor our phone conversations, e-mails, meetings and political opinions. It has authorized the government to shut down anti-war groups and lock up innocents as terrorists. It has abolished habeas corpus. But until now we have not grasped its full implications for our open society. We catch glimpses, as in St. Paul or in our offshore penal colonies where we torture detainees, of its awful destructive power.”

See also : RNC protesters recount police tactics, Jana Hollingsworth, Duluth News Tribune, September 23, 2008: “…Joel Kilgour said national news media only vaguely touched on the experiences of protesters, and used the word “riot,” when civil disobedience was more accurate. He marched in the Poor People’s march, and said the heavy police presence was unnerving. “They had a $50 million budget and it seems they were trying to justify that budget and arresting hundreds of people that didn’t need to be arrested,” he said, noting that many police officers were friendly and helpful. But some appeared as if they would shoot pepper spray if asked even the most benign question, he said. Children were part of the permitted march, which passed riot police poised with tear gas, he said…”

A few months ago, in May, Eric McDavid (30) was sentenced to twenty years jail on the basis of the testimony of his two co-accused — Zachary Jenson and Lauren Weiner — and, crucially, the testimony of a paid FBI infiltrator named “Anna”, whose spirited contribution to combating subversion was recently celebrated in Elle magazine. Funnily enough, Tom ‘Baby, I’m An Anarchist’ Gabel of Against Me! has written a song dedicated to “Anna” titled — appropriately enough — “Anna Is a Stool Pigeon”.

For further information on the Green Scare, see Will Potter’s terrific blog:

In other news (to me), on August 19, 2008, Lacey Phillabaum was sentenced to three years in a federal prison and ordered to pay $6.1 million in restitution for her role in the arson in 2001 of property belonging to the University of Washington. For the same crime, on July 18, 2008, Jennifer Kolar was sentenced to five years in federal prison, five years of probation and ordered to pay $7.1 million in restitution. In February 2008, Kolar and Phillabaum were key witnesses in the trial of Briana Waters. On June 20, 2008, Waters was sentenced to six years in federal prison and ordered to pay $6 million in restitution. “Waters was the first of 18 suspects indicted on charges of involvement in the Earth Liberation Front, a militant Northwest underground group that between 1996 and 2001 claimed it carried out more than a dozen acts of arson and sabotage against targets deemed a threat to the environment or animals. Damage was estimated in the tens of millions of dollars. Targets included a slaughterhouse, timber-company headquarters and a ski lodge at Vail, Colo.”


“Sometime during a busy day of policing the Camp For Climate Action, near Kingsnorth Power Station in Kent, an officer dropped a so-called ‘Pocket Legislation Guide on Policing Protest’ [PDF]. The document, issued by the National Extremism Tactical Coordination Unit (NETCU), gives an overview of legislation the police can use to stifle all forms of legitimate protest. The document, which is supposedly not for public consumption, was subsequently posted on Indymedia UK by a camper attending the Climate Camp…”

About @ndy

I live in Melbourne, Australia. I like anarchy. I don't like nazis. I enjoy eating pizza and drinking beer. I barrack for the greatest football team on Earth: Collingwood Magpies. The 2023 premiership's a cakewalk for the good old Collingwood.
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