Michael Slate Interviews Sam Menefee-Libey on Fascist Persecution of Inauguration Day Protesters

“The appropriate response to crisis is for people to stand up and mobilize and take action…”

July 5, 2017 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us



The following is from an interview with Sam Menefee-Libey from the Dead City Legal Posse, on June 16, 2017, on The Michael Slate Show on KPFK Pacifica radio. Revolution/revcom.us features interviews from The Michael Slate Show to acquaint our readers with the views of significant figures in art, theatre, music and literature, science, sports and politics. The views expressed by those interviewed are, of course, their own; and they are not responsible for the views published elsewhere by Revolution/revcom.us.

Michael Slate: Joining us now to talk about what happened in Washington, DC during the demonstrations against the fascist Trump on his January 20 inauguration and the continuing assault against more than 200 demonstrators who were arrested that day and are currently being prosecuted on major charges. Sam Menefee-Libey, welcome to the show!

Sam Menefee-Libey: Thanks very much for having me!

Michael Slate: For those who don’t know, can you describe what was going on in DC on the day of Trump’s inauguration and the J20 Defendants?

Sam Menefee-Libey: Sure. I’m a member of the DC Legal Posse, which is a group that became a collective after the mass arrests on January 20. On January 20, Trump’s Inauguration Day, there was an organization called Disrupt J20 that pulled together folks who engaged in all forms of direct action. People from across the country and across the world did things like blockading checkpoints onto the Mall, for folks who would become spectators for Trump. So, if you go and see aerial photos of the Mall that day, you’ll see that the north half of the Mall is notably emptier than the south half, and I think it’s from a direct action undertaken by folks that day. There were parades of resistance, there were festivals, there were fairs, there were speak-outs, there were concerts, there was also an anti-capitalist, anti-fascist march. That anti-capitalist, anti-fascist march was met with hundreds of cops in full riot gear who indiscriminately deployed pepper spray and what are called stinger grenades, which are like concussion grenades with rubber cluster munitions in them. And they wound up kettling over 230 people. Over 200 of those people are still facing charges. They mass-charged all 230 with felony riot, and subsequently in a superseding indictment at the end of April added eight more felony counts including conspiracy to riot, destruction of property, assaulting a police officer. It’s been really crazy.

Michael Slate: Now tell me this, Sam, when you say that they kettled people, what does that mean?

Sam Menefee-Libey: Kettling is a technique that has been banned by the European High Court of Human Rights, amongst other things, where basically riot cops surround and compress and don’t allow people to escape. Oftentimes it means that they are creating a line with shields that you can’t break through, and then deploying, with so-called less-than-lethal munitions, into the kettle to basically try to do mass arrests. And that is brutal brutality.

Michael Slate: Now in this case what you’re talking about is they penned people up in this kettle maneuver, and then basically went in, did their beating, pepper sprayed them, and attacked them in other ways. Now, when they captured people in this kettle, there were a number of people who were simply marching in the demonstration as well as others who were simply crossing the street and, as I understand, there were also a number of journalists captured in the kettle. People were just rounded up, and many of them were also clubbed and gassed. When I read about it I was reminded of the kinds of assaults the apartheid South African police used to bring down on South African township demonstrators.

Sam Menefee-Libey: Exactly. There are dozens of videos online of police brutality both in and outside the kettle on Inauguration Day. You can go to our website, you can go to DClegalposse.org, there are numerous videos. Yeah, there were over 230 people kettled by the Metropolitan Police Department, which is the police department in DC. People were subjected to all sorts of so-called less lethal munitions, and then held for often, I mean, over nine hours without access to bathrooms, food or water, before being processed. And actually the MPD didn’t have the capacity to deal with over 230 arrestees, so they shuttled them all over the city, and most of those arrested didn’t have very much to eat, if anything. They didn’t provide any options for the vegans in the group, and no one had any opportunity to wash off any of the pepper spray, so everyone kept reactivating pepper spray all night and all through the next day.

People were held in jail overnight before being arraigned for felony riot the next day. They sat there all day. They were kettled a little after 11 am, and the cops continued to be brutal to people both in and outside the kettle. A little after 1 pm, the MPD started indiscriminately throwing stun grenades and pepper spraying the crowd outside the kettle, and that lasted for hours. So people were actually terrified since there were explosions going on around them and massive amounts of pepper spray and screaming and they saw children getting hit with pepper spray, and people being indiscriminately attacked. Folks were terrified, they didn’t know what was happening and no one would tell them. They were just trapped there for hours and hours and hours.

Michael Slate: You’ve already mentioned this, but I want to get into it a little bit more, the charges that people are facing. You had these hundreds of people who were marching in a demonstration and they’re not facing individual charges, where the cops would charge people with what they claimed people did. But this was a group arrest and they are all faced with group charges and group punishment.

Sam Menefee-Libey: Right. Listeners can go online and find the superseding indictment that was released on April 27 and they can read through it. There are a couple of people here and there who are alleged to have committed specific acts, but most people are being charged en masse. Even the five counts of destruction of property are being charged against everyone, as if everyone was responsible for each effort, each act. And it’s really wild; the lack of particular suspicion here has lawyers across the country both baffled and up in arms.

Michael Slate: How many years in jail are people facing?

Sam Menefee-Libey: We’ve got different numbers from different people, but they average about 75 years, if they’re convicted on all counts and sentenced to the maximum.

Michael Slate: Seventy-five years in jail!

Sam Menefee-Libey: For showing up to a protest.

Michael Slate: This is extremely significant and it opens the door for this Orwellian-quality legal oppression. You know, the idea that people are guilty by virtue of being at a demonstration, not of anything that happened at that time or in the immediate vicinity.

Sam Menefee-Libey: Yeah, it stretched the capacity of the DC Superior Court, where the cases are actually being tried. They don’t know how to handle this many people. It’s been almost comical if it weren’t so scary and sad, to see the judge trying to deal with dozens of defendants in a single-status hearing, and to wonder how they are going to have the capacity to bring all these folks to trial. And they upped the charges afterward, and this seems a clear-cut case of punitive charging where they’re just trying to get people to plead out. They don’t have the capacity to actually grant people’s right to trial and respect people’s right to due process. So they’re just trying to stack on charges until people buckle under the pressure or the terror of the possibility of spending the rest of their lives in prison, and plead to some lesser charge.

Michael Slate: So basically these charges are piled or applied to each defendant indiscriminately, no matter what they can prove that individual did or did not do.

Sam Menefee-Libey: Exactly. So as you mentioned earlier, of the initial 230 arrests there were legal observers, journalists, lawyers, medics and a number of people had their charges dropped. But several medics and several journalists are still facing charges, the same charges as everyone else. And their charges are just as bogus as everyone else’s charges.

Michael Slate: This really is a fascist assault on democratic rights. In this case they are using existing laws to carry out this kind of oppression. You’ve spoken about this in relation to the trashing of the First Amendment. Let’s talk about that.

Sam Menefee-Libey: This is a weird case, but I guess it’s not weird, right? It’s totally typical. It’s the same sort of situation and experience that millions of people in the United States face in their confrontations with the so-called criminal justice system—especially people of color and especially people on the left. Here we have an instance where an assistant U.S. attorney, Jennifer Kerkhoff, who’s an Obama appointee, who is explicitly trying to overturn a standing case precedent that says that riot statutes can’t be applied to First Amendment activity and is blatantly trying to set a new precedent that allows all of these standing laws to be applied to protesters and resisters and dissenters and those who are trying to create a better world.

Michael Slate: There’s something else you brought out, in terms of all the people that have been arrested. We’re talking about the Nazification that’s going on across the entire country. Many people who have been arrested in demonstrations are careful not to bring names and addresses to the demonstration because it is possible if you get arrested, the cops will take down the names you might have on you and start adding them to the “keep an eye on” list. And in this case they took people’s cell phones and examined them for content, is that right?

Sam Menefee-Libey: They did. Yeah. Everyone who had a cell phone at the time, it was confiscated and it was held as evidence. No one has gotten their cell phones back. Most of the cell phones were encrypted and there was reporting done by Mashable, I believe, that said that an Israeli security company, Cellibrite, has been hired to hack into these encrypted cell phones. They also raided another activist’s house on April 3 and took every piece of electronics in the house that belonged to him and anyone else in the house, including the speakers he had attached to his computer. They’re clearly trying to data mine as much as they can. And there have also been multiple subpoenas for people’s online social media accounts and their online profiles. They really are trying to go in and track down every piece of public and private information they possibly can about people and weave it together into some sort of argument that will allow them to apply these laws and send people off to prison [essentially] for life for protesting.

Michael Slate: Now the other thing here is, you also talk about doxxing happening to some people. Tell people what it is and what it means when it’s happening.

Sam Menefee-Libey: Yeah, doxxing, d-o-x-x-i-n-g, sometimes with just one x, is a process where folks have personal and sensitive information put out online, oftentimes for the purpose of them being bombarded by harassment or sometimes even the threat of physical violence. There have been a series of doxxing incidents in this case. The first major one was actually a PDF with the charging documents for all 230 arrestees, with their full names and addresses, that was posted online, on, I believe, [right-wing troll] Chuck Johnson’s website. And metadata later suggested that that PDF came from an officer of the MPD. So we’ve seen both doxxing by online trolls hacking into people’s accounts but also doxxing by members of the police.

Michael Slate: Right now, what would you say is imperative for people to understand and for people to do?

Sam Menefee-Libey: That’s a great question. I think that it’s really important right now that folks start paying attention to these cases that are just criminally under-covered. There’s been some great reporting from Patrick Strickland at Al Jazeera, there was a great piece in The Baffler by Maximillian Alvarez, and if you go to our website at DClegalposse.org and there’s a website defendthej20resistance.org that has all the news clips and that has been updated consistently so folks can get a good handle on what’s going on. And as you mentioned earlier, Al Jazeera did a live video with time sync that gives an overview of the case to date that folks should be able to find online, through time sync’s Facebook page, through their website, through DClegalposse’s website or just by Googling my name Sam Menefee-Libey. So people gotta start paying attention. We’ve raised tens of thousands of dollars so far, but for over 200 defendants that’s just a drop in the bucket. We’ve gotta raise more money. You can donate at DClegalposse.org, or there are places you can donate to regional groups of defendants on Defendj20resistance.org, We’re also going to be pursuing the DC Council after the Office of Police Complaints issued a report condemning police brutality on Inauguration Day and suggesting an independent investigation. We testified to the DC Council and the DC Council has allotted $150,000 for an independent investigation into the Metropolitan Police Department’s actions on Inauguration Day. So people should pay attention to that and should call the DC Council and ask about that and pressure the council to start the investigation immediately. They can also get more information about that on our website.

Michael Slate: I just want to get this out to people—Crimethinc, tell them how to spell it. There is a video which people should see,  Fighting State Repression: An Overview of the J20 Prosecution.

Sam Menefee-Libey: Yeah, crimethinc is c-r-i-m-e-t-h-i-n-c, and you can find it on Facebook or at crimethinc.com.

Michael Slate: Now I want you to step back for a minute, Sam, and just look at this in relation to the day before January 20. What is it that made you and made others that you work with feel compelled to be out in the streets like that? And that continues to make you feel that you have to, beyond the camaraderie and the need to step in and support each other, what continues to make you feel that this is the most important thing that people can be doing, in terms of what you did—the demonstrating at the inauguration, and the seating of the fascist ruler. What is it that you think is so important about that and what can you say to people in terms of what they need to do?

Sam Menefee-Libey: You know, I think we’ve seen mobilization all across the country, millions and millions of people, many of whom have never shown up before precisely because things are horrifying right now. We have a looming climate catastrophe, we have a situation where eight men control as much wealth as the bottom half of the entire world’s population, we have a carceral state that houses and continues to engage in repression of millions of people, especially people of color, all across the country. We have money that can totally wreck the political process, we have under-funded political parties, we have an entire situation where we are in crisis, and the appropriate response to crisis is for people to stand up and mobilize and take action and demand that they have control over their lives.




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