Workers Vanguard No. 945

23 October 2009


Drop All Charges Against Elliot Madison and Michael Wallschlaeger!

The first day of the G20 summit last month saw the use of a “sound cannon” that emitted a directed high-decibel earsplitting noise with terrifying effect. This weapon is used widely by U.S. occupation forces in Iraq and Afghanistan for “crowd control.” And now, it is being deployed by U.S. police departments for use against protesters. Knowing that other law enforcement agencies were watching this new weapon being demonstrated, the Pittsburgh police chief boasted, “It served its purpose well.” With the business district locked down, up to a thousand jail cells freed up for use and protesters placed well outside the G20 security perimeter, the cops opened fire with tear gas, stun grenades and rifle-fired bean bags on assembled youth with no march permits. What followed was a violent cat-and-mouse chase of a marauding police army in pursuit of a few hundred fleeing youth.

“If you have 5,000 police officers and a quarter-million dollars in fancy equipment, you have to do something with it,” explained Witold Walczak, legal director of the Pennsylvania American Civil Liberties Union. “Might as well go after some amateur ham radio operators in a motel room.” The amateur ham radio operators in question here are Elliot Madison and Michael Wallschlaeger, New York anarchists arrested on September 24 after a police raid on their motel room in Pittsburgh. The police found the two sitting in front of computers, wearing headphones, perusing maps and listening to scanners for the purpose of tweeting anti-G20 protesters using the Internet social-networking site Twitter.

Twitter, in cooperation with cops, shut down the anarchists’ account, posting a notice that it “has been suspended due to strange activity.” This “strange activity,” according to the Pennsylvania criminal complaint, consisted of the two “directing others, specifically protesters of the G-20 summit, in order to avoid apprehension after a lawful order to disperse.” A typical tweet would have been: “Report received that police are ‘nabbing’ anyone that looks like a protester/Black Bloc. Stay alert watch your friends!” There can be no doubt that many demonstrators on this first day of G20 protests were saved from police injury and arrest by Madison and Wallschlaeger’s warnings. For this, the Pennsylvania prosecutors are now charging Madison and Wallschlaeger with “hindering prosecution, criminal use of communication facility and possessing criminal instruments.”

On October 1 Madison’s Queens, New York, home—an anarchist collective house known as Tortuga—was raided in search of “evidence” of violation of “federal rioting laws.” FBI and New York City police searched the home for 16 hours, from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., handcuffing several residents for hours. Madison, a social worker, had his confidential client list seized by federal agents. Other seized “evidence” included Curious George plush toys, Buffy the Vampire Slayer DVDs, artwork, correspondence with political prisoners, birth certificates, passports, videos, tax records, photographs, banners, posters, flags and a needlepoint of Lenin!

Although no federal charges have been filed yet, Madison and his wife, Elena, are now under investigation on trumped-up charges of violating an interstate rioting law. Passed in 1968, that law is known as the “H. Rap Brown law” because it was intended to target black militants and leftist activists. As the Madisons’ attorney pointed out, this law has been rarely used since the case of the Chicago Seven, who were arrested during the 1968 Democratic National Convention protests in Chicago.

Under the Obama administration, the “war on terror”—exemplified abroad by the continuing slaughter in Iraq and Afghanistan and the U.S. air strikes in Pakistan—continues to have a domestic reflection of furious repression of all kinds of dissent, including on an expanded electronic battlefield. While the U.S. government applauds the use of Twitter, Facebook and other social-networking sites by protesters in countries like Iran, such protesters in the U.S. are met with criminal charges.

In the case of the Madisons and Wallschlaeger, they are being gone after for distributing publicly available information. Their case is reminiscent of that of Sherman Austin, a black L.A. anarchist who was convicted in 2003 under a 1997 “anti-terrorism” law for hosting an anarchist Web site on which publicly available information was posted (see “Free Sherman Austin Now!” WV No. 809, 12 September 2003).

It is in the interest of the working class and all opponents of government repression to fight back against the capitalists’ assault on democratic rights, such as the encroachment on Internet use. Drop all charges against Elliot Madison and Michael Wallschlaeger now!