Category free speech

Johnny Cash Could Teach Peter King a Thing (or two) About Prison-Born Terrorism Plots

Yesterday Congressman Peter King held his second hearing into radicalization within Islamic communities in the United States. This hearing focused on the potential for radicalization within the state and federal prison industrial complexes, specifically highlighting a conspiracy by four California men to wage war against the United States through attacks against military recruitment facilities and other targets in and around Los Angeles in 2005. One of the four men, Levar Washington, who pled guilty to his involvement in the plot was confined to the same secretive federal prison program I was confined to in 2008 for my involvement in an animal rights protest campaign. Levar and I became friends while incarcerated together, we were both young, we were both vegetarians, we would work out together every day, we would discuss spirituality, politics, and every Friday we would sit together and watch animal planet’s ‘Whale Wars’ show on the prison TV. It was an unwritten code in prison to not ask much about someone’s case unless they brought it up in conversation first, so I never learned about Levar’s charges until one afternoon he opened up to me…

Levar, a once-outspoken member of the Rolling Sixties Crips had spent his adolescent and teen years in the California juvenile corrections system, he eventually turned 18 and served the remainder of his time on the yards of some of California’s hardest state penitentiaries — Pelican Bay, CSP, Sacramento, and Folsom State Penitentiary. His life on the yard was one of constant oppression, violence, and sorrow. Levar would spend weeks and sometimes months segregated in the “Hole” or “S.H.U.” (Secure Housing Unit).  It was in the hole at Folsom State Penitentiary that Levar first picked up the Quran. Also segregated to the hole at Folsom was Levar’s future co-conspirator Shakyh Shahaab Murshid (born to the name Kevin James) and during their time together in the hole Kevin turned Levar onto Islam and onto a secret organization he founded in 1997 called Jam’iyyat Ul-Islam Is-Saheeh (JIS) Arabic for The Assembly of Authentic Islam. Levar’s foiled terror plot years later was to be claimed by JIS according to a pre-drafted press release FBI agents found on the floor of his apartment during his arrest.

Johnny Cash at Folsom State Prison.  ”Folsom Prison Blues” Cash’s song about the daily oppression of prisoner life highlights the desperation of men living behind Folsom’s walls.   It was from this yard, rife with oppression, that Levar Washington and Kevin James allegedly hatched their 2005 failed terror plot.  Cash’s words resonated with the Folsom men and prisoners everywhere, a stark contrast to the xenophobic rhetoric Congressman Peter King and some of his hand-selected witnesses used when trying to quantify prisoner radicalization.  King and the “expert witnesses” displayed that the lens from which they view these serious issues through, retards their ability to confront real life issues of oppression and violence that impact all of us…

For Levar the Qur’an answered his questions about justice, it gave his life a new meaning, it healed old wounds, and his relationship with the text was purely restorative. Peter King’s witnesses made an attempt to argue that it was the cherry-picking of the scripture itself or Islam by it’s very nature that led Levar down the path that eventually ended with his involvement in a terror plot years later. King’s hearings did so without fully acknowledging the oppression, violence, and conflict that enveloped Levar Washington’s life prior to his introduction to the faith. It may be easier for King to scapegoat a religion and chase fictitious bad guys in a system he does not fully understand then begin to address the all-too-real looming problems of disempowerment in inner city communities, xenophobia, failing foreign policies, poverty, and lack of education. All of these factors enable and encourage radicalization to a greater extent then religious scriptures do.

King however is not alone with his approach. How often do we as a culture search for quick fixes to myriad ailments while disregarding our need to make lifestyle changes that challenge our personal comfort. From deeply personal individual battles with cancer to the global war on terror, human responses to these acute onslaughts are almost always reactionary and seldom preventative. Amidst the immediacy of our tragedies we rarely question what brought us to those malignant moments –instead we desperately reach for quick fixes– surgery, chemotherapy, torture, carpet-bombing. In the global war on terror preventative medicine is often practiced as pre-emptive military action, rendition, entrapment, torture, and sanctions. These means never challenge the cultural roots of the problem and often actually serve as a tool for recruitment. Like flourishing bacterial cultures in a petri dish, terrorism is a symptomatic cultural reflex that can be easily seen growing out of its own hospitable environments. Levar Washington is a reactionary by-product to poverty, oppression, and a life of incarceration, not a terrorist recruit of the Quran. Until King begins to acknowledge the predicate problems that spawn terror plots he will continue chasing his own xenophobic tail, will continue to offend America’s beautiful Islamic communities and will continue waisting US taxpayer money.

Green Is the New Red

“Here comes the future and you can’t run from it. If you’ve got a blacklist I want to be on it” – Billy Bragg


What is it like to be on the FBI’s domestic terrorism watch list? How did you end up on that list? …perhaps it was your art, your advocacy, an email you wrote, or something as simple as sitting with the wrong group of folks at a coffee house in college. What some environmental advocates have labeled “The Green Scare” is a throw back to the domestic repression of the McCarthy era. It’s an analogy that just like the during the Red Scare special interests with influence on government are once again slinging muddy household buzzwords to slander, blacklist, and chill contemporary social movements. Scratch the label “communist” and replace it with “terrorist,” scratch the name Joe McCarthy and replace it with James Inhoff, and you get a new era of old tricks enhanced by fresh technology. Green Is the New Red: An Insider’s Account of A Social Movement Under Siege shows these old fashioned tactical models of repression are less about stopping the criminal activity of individuals as they are more about chilling mainstream justice movements that challenge the baseline of American comfort and the big businesses that sell comforting products.


Instead of presenting a detailed case study into the federal repression of animal and earth liberation activists, designer statutes, and draconian investigative grand jury probes, Will Potter decides to take us on an intimate journey along with the individuals most effected within these movements under siege. From the book’s opening in the Willamette National Forest 24 hours before environmental activist Daniel McGowan is set to be sentenced, to the sentencing, incarceration, and eventual release of the SHAC7, to the later arrest and persecution of environmental activist Tim DeChristopher, Potter brings us into the personal lives of the movement’s figures, shows us how they fight, shows us how some find a way to laugh even when everything is going wrong, and shows us how some decompress and move on with their lives after years of incarceration, some spent in solitary confinement.


“Part history, part action thriller and courtroom drama, part memoir, Green Is the New Red plunges us into the wild, unruly, and entirely inspirational world of extreme environmental activism. Will Potter, participant-observer and partisan-reporter, is the perfect guide… Green Is the New Red is an indispensable book that will change the way we think about commitment, the limits of protest, and the possibility of radical change.” - Bill Ayers


In the troubled wake of the recent conviction of climate change activist Tim DeChristopher, Monday’s U.S. Supreme Court’s decision not to hear the SHAC7 appeal, and the recent relocation of Daniel McGowan to the federal Communications Management Unit in Terre Haute, Indiana, (a secretive prison recently investigated in a 2-part NPR expose entitled ‘Guantanamo North’) Will Potter’s Green Is the New Red helps us make sense of systems of oppression by letting us see through the eyes of the individuals most effected.


Brilliantly written, meticulously accurate, and deeply emotional, Green Is the New Red is a collection of intimately personal stories of activists that every-day Americans need to hear, without these accounts the draconian chapters in U.S. history filled with senate hearings and blacklists are doomed to repeat themselves …repetitions like these, we as a nation cannot afford.


Green Is the New Red will be available in April, 2011 from City Lights Publishers and is currently available for pre-order through the City Lights Website or

Awake in my Cell

By Malik A. Uhmari, Sparrow Media Contributor

Here I sit in my cell, alone. Alone in my thoughts, yet no more than three-feet away, just outside my door, there is life. There is commotion; there is a variety of activity. A more accurate description would be “festivity.” I resist engaging in this orchestrated and organized madness induced by the prison experience.


I choose tranquility. The solitude allows me to exercise control over my own mind and thoughts. My (mental) strength increase as I avoid the debilitating views of the prison administration – which constantly promotes dependency on them – the misleading conjecture and commentary supplied by a Left or Right Wing media and the “idle” counter-productive discourse centered around who is the greatest “entertainer, athlete, or drug dealer” and how much money they have.


I am awake in my cell. “They” know this. My inactions betray me. Resistance is my only refuge. Greater men and women have attempted to camouflage themselves among the conformity only to be consumed and eventually silenced all together. Kwame Ture once said, “Years of struggle has allowed our vague, general views to become more precise and specific and provided us with the opportunity to correct previous mistakes.” And today we must continue to learn from these mistakes, as well.


The pandemonium outside of my cell forces me to stay awake. I refuse to be counted amongst the broken. Fear abated, I cautiously make my way toward the small window encases inside the door and peek out. The seconds seem like an eternity as my train of thoughts races through centuries of imagery – Slavery, Jim Crow, Black Codes, Colonialism, Apartheid, Civil Rights – toward its final destiny: Freedom, Independence, Sovereignty and Autonomy. This image of me, in my mind’s eye is reminiscent of another man, of another era, same cause, same enemy.


I can visualize “Malcolm” as he pulls back and peeks out of the curtains and scans the environment for any signs of danger – to himself, to his family, his community – all that is missing is my “M1,” semi-automatic weapon.    Am I Malcolm X? No. Am I his successor? No. Am I his student? No. However, what I (and I think to some degree most Blackmen and Women do, but black men particularly) share, understand and have in common with Malcolm is his “fear!” The fear that the Blackman (or any man who is subsequently not of the same race as the power structure) would not be allowed or systematically denies access to that position of power as a provider, protector and promoter of his family, culture, belief systems and governor of his own social and political affairs.  The reality that at the helm of power: power to decide; power to influence; power to control; power to penalize; power to promote; power to denounce; power to organize; power to legalize and legitimize; and power to define often lies in the hands/control of someone who does not support the cause and expansion of our interest, provides a tipping point. This is a reality check, not only as to “what is power” but who has power, and more importantly, “who doesn’t!”


The word “Power” of course has several meaning, but for what is necessary for our collective mission, Power refers to: the ability to do, the ability to be and the ability to prevail. Thus, Powerless means: not having the ability to do, not having the ability to be, not having the ability to prevail. In other words, it means: impotent, without effect or influence.


At some point – consciously/unconsciously – the Blackman/ and or woman, either individually or collectively realized that it isn’t designed for him to achieve the former definition of Power, but instead he/she is to be relegated to the latter – unless one is promoting the cause of someone else – and at this time a natural sense of frustration and/or fear begins to arise within us. A Fear of being made impotent. A Fear of being made of no accord or significance. A Fear of being Forced to endure mediocrity and not being allowed to tap into that source of greatness.


This Frustration/Pain/Fear is all to often something most men and women have experienced in their lifetime, but are afraid or cautioned not to discuss. How one attempts to overcome or avoid this frustration/pain/fear (which, depends on what stage they are in their growth and mental development) of being denied that manhood and womanhood training, which grants, bestows and establishes in increments, degrees of power, control, significance and being (depending on his or her ability) ultimately, (I think) determines the path one initially chooses and it explains why Malcolm X became engulfed in being a “Vanguard, Provider, Protector, and Promoter” of values, family, and race pride. It’s why those outside my cell become engulfed in B.E.T. sports, drugs, gambling and extreme levels of black-on-black violence: to avoid that pain/frustration/fear of being “insignificant, powerless and of no concern.” And it’s why I now realize that to “go to sleep (mentally) is to Die,” so in order to “Live my Dreams,” I must stay “Awake in my Cell!”

Race and Religion as Red Herrings

“Post-racial America.” Remember that term? Just two short years ago, when many progressives believed (or convinced themselves—I humbly admit that I was among this group, and broke my rule of never voting for a Republocrat) that Barack Obama was not, in fact, a marionette of Goldman; Blackwater; Boeing; General Electric, et al, this was a slogan of the proverbial dawn after the stygian horror of the Cheney presidency. Well, the hangover has hit hard, on many fronts and, true to form, post-racial America has proven itself to be as virulently racist as always; an ignominious tradition remains unbroken.


Throughout our history, different groups have been identified by the ruling class as “other,” as hostile to the virginal and perfect American way. First were the indigenous, who were dealt with in the most pragmatic way possible: they were deceived and exterminated. When Adolf Hitler, that paradigm of all things nefarious, once claimed that he admired the Americans because they/we saw a racial problem and solved it, it is time to take a sobering inventory of the nation’s record on race.


Today, the targets du jour are what I call the unfortunate M&Ms: Muslims and Mexicans. Of course, African-Americans, women, socialists and LGBTs, to name but a few, are always conveniently present as the majority’s punching bags, but the headliners in today’s newspaper of hate are the aforementioned. To anyone who doubts this, I simply point to the two main race/religion-based controversies garnering most of the nation’s attention: that vile piece of legislation, SB1070 and the 9/11 mosque controversy.


That some of these people are simply malevolent souls, drinking from the trough of hate, is undeniable. Most, however—and this I must believe, or else my fight is futile—are terrified people being misled by the power structure which has manipulated their very real fears to serve a status quo. This is an American tradition as ingrained as baseball and the Fourth of July. During the early independence period, many of the veterans of the revolution; people who believed in the lofty ideals of liberty and equality espoused by the gentry who simply wished to keep their ill-gained wealth, rather than share it with King George III, expressed their dissatisfaction with the fact that the new boss was, in fact, the same as the old boss. These defrauded souls (rightly) identified the problem as one of class. Naturally, they felt solidarity with enslaved Africans and the beleaguered indigenous. Here, arguably, is where the concept of racial identity was introduced into the American consciousness. The elite made a concerted effort—and succeeded—to deceive the white underclass that, through Draconian Calvinism, they too would raise their standing; that their identifying on class lines was erroneous and that their race made them superior. This was a flawlessly executed example of the British practice of divide-and-conquer. After two centuries, it appears that the student has outdone the teacher.

Sadly, nothing has changed. I engage, exhort and excoriate some white members of my class, yet still they adhere stubbornly to the canard that “anyone, regardless of status, can be president in the US,” and all the implications of that sad platitude; that naïve Algerism. I receive looks of disdain when I mention class-consciousness. These fellow victims of an iniquitous system subscribe to the lie that race and religion are the salient issues. Instead of looking upward at their enemy, they look laterally, at the very people of all races and faiths who are trudging with them through the morass created by those above. They are mesmerized by the diversions of race, ethnicity and religion.


Unless we are Choctaw; Arawak; Cherokee; Mohican, et al, we are all (with the exception of my African-descendent brothers and sisters whose ancestors were brought here, against their will) immigrants. Nobody has any right to own land, anyway; this is as preposterous as the idea of owning the air or the rain. Still, as this unhappy and exploitive system remains in place, it would be good to remind my white siblings that they are all children of immigrants.


As for the supposedly sacrosanct status of Ground Zero and its immediate environs, where is the outrage over New York Dolls, the strip club, just two blocks away? The McDonald’s within the same proximity? As a greater mind than mine has elucidated, this latter filthy entity has purveyed more suffering and death than any of the malignant souls behind 9/11 ever could hope to achieve. By the spurious logic of Donald Trump and his attendant cast of clowns, there should never be a church constructed in Oklahoma City because Timothy McVeigh identified himself as a Christian. Do we see the illogic? The hypocrisy?


The elites have once again succeeded, but there is time. Race and religion are red herrings. The real issue—the truism that makes the capitalists shudder in their overpriced shoes—is class. When we, the 95% majority are galvanized and unified, justice isn’t far away.

“I Love The Mosque” T-Shirts Benefiting Victims Of Hate Crimes { recently in the press }            Praise From New York Times Art Director Steven Heller & Print Magazine !,   Essay Challenging Xenophobia by Sparrow’s Andy Stepanian for The Huffington Post


- Arthur Smilios is an unapologetic anti-capitalist, musician rabble rouser.   Arthur was the co-founder of the seminal New York punk band the Gorilla Biscuits. Since his days of performing “Cats & Dogs” (a song that encouraged thousands to adopt a vegetarian lifestyle)  Arthur has strived to braid his art with his passion for social justice.  The Sparrow Project has invited Arthur to continue to sound off on the issues he holds most dear through their blog on .  Arthur’s articles are written exclusively in his own voice, and may not reflect the views of The Sparrow Project.

Peace Activists Targeted By FBI for Justice Work; Protests Planned Nation-Wide This Week to Show Solidarity & Support

Meet the New Boss, Same as the Old Boss – By Arthur Smilios, Sparrow Media Contributor

If, in fact, there is anyone left who still believes that Barack Obama is a progressive, I offer this past Friday’s raids on peace activists in Minneapolis and Chicago as proof to the contrary. The homes of eight activists were invaded and their belongings confiscated due to their support of the Palestinian cause and the resistance in Colombia, as well as their criticism of the hegemonic wars being waged by the US.

In a nation whose de facto motto is, in Randolph Bourne’s words, “War is the Health of the State,” this should come as no surprise. The powers that be (Wall Street; defense contractors; private militias, etc) and the government they control have a vested interest in maintaining and expanding the status quo of mass, state-sanctioned violence and misery. It is common knowledge that the oil cartels and the inner circle of elite corporations have made obscene profits off of the hell unleashed by the US on the Middle East. It is also a point of dark humor among the rest of the world that Israel is the 51st state in the Union, as the US government consistently, with no deviation, condemns any UN resolution critical of the former, however effete and benign that resolution may be. What is not as widely known is that Colombia, with its repressive (and capitalist-friendly—surprise, surprise) regime is, as former FBI agent Coleen Rowley points out in an interview on Democracy Now!, the third largest recipient of US military aid. It stands to reason, then, that anyone who is shining the light of truth on these horrible events is a target of the war machine.


The raids were clearly political, in nature; obviously a means of attacking an ideology, as the victims were affiliated with a number of groups opposed to US policies, including the Freedom Road Socialist Organization—not the “S” word! As Colombia solidarity activist Tom Burke, one of those handed a subpoena by the FBI, said, “[The raids] are designed to suppress dissent and free speech, to divide the peace movement, and to pave the way for more US military intervention in the Middle East and Latin America.”


Aside from the obvious problems with the national police arbitrarily invading citizens’ homes, what is even more disturbing is that, while virtually ignoring truly dangerous people, such as murderers of health-care providers and armed, racist paramilitary groups, they are targeting peace activists. But this is nothing new. Eugene Debs served years in jail for refusing to recant his statement that the First World War was “a capitalist’s war.” Emma Goldman was deported for similar sentiments.


Former Agent Rowley, when asked if there is any difference in the way the FBI conducts its business—consciously and deliberately abrogating civil liberties—now and during the Bush II years, categorically states that there is, in fact, no difference.  Rallies are scheduled for tomorrow, around the country. A full listing of where and when they are being held can be found at Fight Back!

Tuesday 9/28:

NYC, NY – 4:30 to 6pm Federal Building, 26 Federal Plaza

Newark, NJ – 5 to 6pm Federal Building Broad Street

Philadelphia, PA – 4:30pm Federal Building, 6th & Market,

Washington DC – 4:30 – 5:30 FBI Building, 935 Pennsylvania Ave NW.

Boston, MA – 5 pm, JFK Federal Building

Detroit, MI – 4:30 pm McNamara Federal Building, Michigan Ave. at Cass

Raleigh, NC – 9 am. Federal Building, 310 New Bern Ave

Asheville, NC – 5 pm Federal Building,

Atlanta, GA – Noon, FBI Building

Los Angeles, CA – 5 pm, Downtown Federal Building, 300 N Los Angeles St

Tucson, AZ – 5 pm Federal Building



















Wednesday 9/29:

Albany, NY -5 to 6 pm Federal Building




As Barack Obama proves that he is nothing more than a handsome, intelligent and eloquent version of Bush II, and this nation moves closer to outright totalitarianism, it is imperative that we exercise our right to freedom of speech while we still somewhat can. The word “terrorism” has been bandied about as carelessly as that other bette noir, “socialism.” Webster’s defines terrorism as “the systematic use of terror, especially as a means of coercion.” Following this definition, it is clear that the greatest purveyor of terror, at home and abroad, is the corporately owned, militarist US government and its agents. We have to let them know that we will not be cowed into submission and indolence by their Stalinist tactics and that we refuse to allow them to continue funding mass murder with our tax dollars. If you can, please attend these rallies and show your support for free speech and thought.


- Arthur Smilios is an unapologetic anti-capitalist, musician rabble rouser.   Arthur was the co-founder of the seminal New York punk band the Gorilla Biscuits. Since his days of performing “Cats & Dogs” (a song that encouraged thousands to adopt a vegetarian lifestyle)  Arthur has strived to braid his art with his passion for social justice.  The Sparrow Project has invited Arthur to continue to sound off on the issues he holds most dear through their blog on .  Arthur’s articles are written exclusively in his own voice, and may not reflect the views of The Sparrow Project.

Speak With It Too

The following video has been circulating around activist communities in the past few weeks, it’s a brilliantly animated typographic depiction of a poem by Taylor Mali.  The artist, Ronnie Bruce, made it as a class project over a year ago and  later posted on his vimeo page.  Without over analyzing, this video is a prime example of packaging & moving a complicated message in a way that feels good & resonates long after in the viewers mind.

The poem too is spot-on.  How often are we told to not be too political, or too affirmative in our tenor because we may potentially alienate a section of a (potential) audience.  Inarticulate melancholy is too oft celebrated.


When you care about something it’s ok to be adamant about it, especially if you feel it inside.  You don’t need to use big words, just strong ones.  There is a lot to be zealous about, war, animal abuse, environmental degradation, commoditization of everything, capitalism, you name it.  Watch, listen & feel then get out there and speak with conviction.

Muzzling A Movement 3/23/2010 NYU

The NYU Student Animal Legal Defense Fund presents “Muzzling A Movement” a speaking engagement with former SHAC 7 prisoner Andy Stepanian, and Dara Lovitz whose book, Muzzling A Movement, on the suppression of speech & first amendment protected protest within the animal protection movement, is due out this summer from Lantern Books.

Activist & former SHAC 7 prisoner Andy Stepanian tells his personal story of standing up to one of the worlds largest contract animal testing labs, being charged with “terrorism” for his efforts, and serving 3 years in a federal prison. To learn more about the SHAC 7 please visit .

Attorney and animal law professor Dara Lovitz describes the money, power, and politics behind animal enterprise terrorism laws in support of her claim that animal activists are being silenced, as set forth in her upcoming book, Muzzling A Movement.

Please support Lauren Gazzola & Kevin Kjonas two of Andy’s SHAC 7 codefendants who are still incarcerated write them a letter or send them a book today

You can RSVP this event on Facebook here.  You can download a flyer for he event here.