The Persecution of

Revolutionary Worker #1142, March 10, 2002, posted at

Sherman Oaks is an upper middle class suburb on the San Fernando Valley side of the Hollywood Hills. It's dotted with neighborhoods of well-kept homes nestled on quiet, tree-lined streets, and the commercial district offers a charming hodge-podge of upscale shops and eateries. Over the hill yet mere minutes away, it seems to offer a handy refuge from the gritty reality that is L.A.

On the afternoon of January 24, a small army led by the Los Angeles Joint Terrorism Task Force shattered that illusion when they raided the home where 18-year-old Sherman Austin lives with his mother and sister. In one of the first post-Patriot Act "anti-terrorism" raids, about 25 to 30 FBI, Secret Service, L.A. Sheriffs and LAPD literally filled the streets of the neighborhood with their vehicles. They surrounded the house with guns drawn, blocked the garage with a big barricade, and approached the front door with a battering ram. Then two agents knocked on the door. When Sherman answered it, they pulled him outside. Then the Feds began their search. When questioned about their aggressiveness, an FBI agent responded, "This is Los Angeles, after all. We don't go in with slingshots."

Sherman was questioned for over six hours. They also questioned his sister and his mother. According to someone familiar with the raid, "They asked about their work and their relationships, like `Do you know this person? Do you know that person?'" Sherman said, "The Secret Service person kept asking me if I'd like to see Bush killed. They were asking me a lot of loaded questions."

When the authorities left, they took with them just about the entire contents of his room. In an interview a few days later, Sherman told the Independent Media Center (IMC), "I have about 12 computers. They took all of the computers in my house which had a hard drive in them, which was basically all of them. They ransacked my entire room. ...They took all the hubs, DSL modem, etc., etc. I had thousands of dollars worth of equipment which was seized until further notice. They told me I probably won't be getting it back for awhile (I doubt I ever will be) because they have to go through all of the files on all of the hard drives. They also confiscated all of my political literature. Everything from independent political newspapers to protest flyers."

Right after the raid, the two websites Sherman hosted, and, were shut down. He didn't censor his sites, believing that the diverse opinions and open and often free-wheeling discussions that visitors engaged in via posts on the sites would help raise the consciousness and activism of the movement. According to a friend, "Sherman was trying to make the movement more politically aware. He was never a threat. He used his websites to promote a forum for discussion." After the raid, Austin told a reporter from Newsbytes, "If I go to jail, then I will go to jail not based on my actions, but based on what I think."


Who is Sherman Austin and why is the government going after him? According to Sherman, he has been targeted simply and only because he advocates social justice. He got his first taste of activism during the intense days of summer 2000 at the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles. He was there every day with his camera, documenting the week of protests.

He was at the 2001 May Day demonstration in Long Beach with his video camera when the police, with batons and rubber bullets, viciously attacked virtually everyone in the march. Austin got it all on tape. As he was documenting the police brutality, he was shot from behind, and a rubber bullet that lodged in his leg had to be removed at the hospital. After he was released from jail a few days later, the police gave his camera back to him. His videotape of the unprovoked police attack was also returned, although "edited" to send a pointed political message: only a few seconds of footage at the beginning and end of the tape remained; the entire body of the tape had been erased.

The government's 29-page search warrant, now posted on the Internet, is peppered with references to Sherman's politics. "[] contained anti- government (primarily the United States), anti-capitalism, and militant messages that promoted communism.... This website also had a section for the United Graffiti Front...which had the motto, `spray paint as weaponry against corporate lies.' " The warrant continues, "...Austin participated in many protests and demonstrations." It details his arrest at the Long Beach May Day march, and his citation by the San Diego Police Department for "pedestrian crossing against a don't walk...sign" during a demonstration against the Bio- technology Industry's international convention last summer.

It also refers to links on to other websites where "defense weapons (including the use and making of improvised explosives and weapons of mass destruction)..." were supposedly described. Not explained in the warrant is that, given RaiseTheFist's open publishing policy, anyone could have planted those links, including the political police.

Within days of the raid, RaiseTheFist .com was back up. A description of the raid was posted, including the message, "Anyone actively disagreeing with the policies of the U.S. is now automatically rendered a `terrorist' in the eyes of national security."

In the interview with the Independent Media Center, Austin made an important point. "The [search] warrant has information on me since I was 14. They have been monitoring the site very, very extensively long before the `incriminating content' which they were `concerned' about was posted onto the site. They simply used this content as an excuse to obtain a warrant for the raid."

Sherman said the site was dedicated to "the anti-corporate globalization movement.... Nothing illegal was being done, but the FBI likes to interpret things with a lot of prejudice against anarchists/ activists, especially now after 9/11." He thinks they wanted to shut down because "It had a lot of potential and was really moving, not just as a website, but essentially as an anarchist/activist collective. Kids were starting to set up clubs in their schools called `Raise The Fist.' "

He said the site had received about 700 visitors each day. "I believe one of the main things that got them scared about the site is that we called for an actual change. RaiseTheFist was a bit more radical than other websites, and seeing as how it was getting so popular, they wanted to shut it down. It's the same reason why Feds raid other activist organizations. They're effective. And effectiveness within our movement scares them. They're afraid,...and they're going to try and get away with anything, and everything."


On February 2, Sherman was arrested in New York City at a protest against the World Economic Forum. On February 4, a bench warrant for his arrest was issued from California, charging him with "distribution of information" about making explosives (referring to the links someone had posted on his website), and with allegedly possessing what the government calls an "unregistered firearm" (a Molotov cocktail). KPFK, the Southern California Pacifica station, reported that Sherman was taken from his New York jail cell by the FBI and other political police units of the U.S. government and interrogated for up to six hours. On February 5, inflammatory articles attacking Sherman appeared in a trio of major capitalist newspapers, each one designed to reinforce the official fable.

In an article about the WEF protests, the New York Times took pains to single out his arrest: "Of the 201 people arrested, only one stood out. Sherman Austin, 18, was originally charged with disorderly conduct and unlawful assembly after being arrested during Saturday's rally. But Raymond W. Kelly, the police commissioner, said that the FBI had been interested in a website of Mr. Austin's that gave bomb-making instructions and that a recent search of his...home...had found bomb- making materials."

The New York Post 's article was both outlandish and overtly political in its attack on Sherman: "A would-be teen terrorist, wanted by the FBI for allegedly posting a how-to-blow-things-up website, was nabbed during the World Economic Forum demonstrations.... When investigators raided his apartment [in L.A.],... [i]n addition to computers, they found literature advocating revolution...and an anarchist flag. Austin's car contained... cans of brake fluid and two gas canisters."

In their article about Austin's arrest at the WEF demo, the Los Angeles Times described the "shocking" details of what the feds had found when they searched his car in New York: "electrical wiring, electrical tape, one empty gasoline can, and anarchist literature."


At a February 7 detention hearing in New York, the government embellished its fabrications in an attempt to sharpen its political attack against Sherman. The prosecutor baldly waived the constitutional concept of "innocent until proven guilty" by declaring that "[A]ll of the factors [in this case] inexorably lead to the conclusion that this defendant will be convicted...." They characterized Sherman as "a man on a mission," and listed his previous arrests at political demonstrations and his possession of "anarchist literature" as key reasons why he should be detained. They even attacked his mother, saying, "The defendant lives at home with his mother, yet his mother has exercised little to no moral suasion over his actions." And they repeated the distortions of fact [lies] that they're trying to establish as "facts" in their case, like supposedly finding fertilizer and other "bomb making materials" in his car and Molotov cocktails in his bedroom.

Sherman's attorney at the hearing gave what she called "a more realistic version of the facts in this case." First she addressed Sherman's so-called "criminal history," saying it was noteworthy because the government had raised it in both its search and arrest warrants for Austin. She pointed out that all of Sherman's arrests had been at political demonstrations, and that he'd been charged only with minor offenses in Long Beach, with a traffic violation in San Diego, and that he'd been arrested but never charged at the WEF demonstration in New York. She said, "The government's attorney] claims that he came 3,000 miles to commit crimes of violence, and to disrupt, and use weapons and bombs and weapons of mass destruction. [Yet] Mr. Austin was arrested under his own name. He didn't commit any acts of violence. He didn't have a weapon."

Then she took on the allegations of "bomb-making materials" the government says Austin possessed. She pointed out that the so-called fertilizer supposedly seen by agents in Austin's car in L.A. "... was approximately a half-empty bag of potting soil...." In terms of what agents had found in his car trunk in New York, so luridly described in the Los Angeles Times ' article, Sherman's attorney said, "He drives to New York in a 1981 Toyota with 170,000 miles on it with a gas container, electrical wire [which she later explained were car stereo wires] and duct tape. Frankly, judge, if I was driving across the country with a 1981 Toyota with 170,000 miles, I may have that equipment in it also. But the significance of the fact that that was in the car was that when Mr. Austin was arrested, the empty gas container and the wire and the tape were locked in his car in Brooklyn while he was demonstrating in Manhattan." And she made the point that Sherman unequivocally denied ever having possessed Molotov cocktails or any other "weapons."

In terms of the charges about what was posted on the site, she emphasized, "...[T]here are significant First Amendment issues about the arrest and investigation of Mr. Austin based on his website."

She also pointed out, "In the four days or so since he's been in custody, he has not been permitted to make a phone call. He has not gotten a shower. The only clothes he has are those that he's wearing. I would note for the record ... that every time I've seen Mr. Austin he's been shaking because he's cold. It's cold in the back [the jail cells]. He doesn't have a sweatshirt, he doesn't have a jacket."

Finally, she raised concerns about his safety while being transported in custody from New York to face charges in California. "...[B]ased on my experience, he will take the slow boat to California. He will stop in county jails across the country, and I am very concerned about his safety given that already guards at the MCC [New York's Metropolitan Corrections Center] have called him a terrorist. And what's that going to mean? One of the stopping points for federal prisoners who are transported across the country is the Oklahoma City jail.... I am very concerned for Mr. Austin's safety, given that he has been labeled a terrorist, in terms of what will happen to him in county jails in places like Oklahoma City.... Austin is not a terrorist.... Nothing he has done would indicate anything to that extent...." Nevertheless, the government's judge ordered that Sherman remain detained.

On February 15, the federal charges against Sherman were dropped and he was released from custody. A spokesperson for the U.S. attorney's office stated, "We have opted not to seek an indictment at this time. We are continuing to investigate the matter, but as of right now, he's off the hook." However, as his attorney pointed out, "He still has the Sword of Damocles hanging over him. The government arrested him out of the blue and then reversed themselves out of the blue. Who knows what they're going to do next?"

In his interview with the IMC right after the feds had invaded his home, the interviewer had asked, "What can we do to protect ourselves?" Sherman's answer was strong and righteous: "They're afraid. And they're going to try and silence us any way they can.... My best advice is to not give in to their fear-tactics. Keep fighting, and fight hard. Don't stop."

This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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