In Los Angeles, 11 members of Refuse Fascism and the Revolution Club have been criminally charged for engaging in and/or supporting non-violent civil disobedience and political protests which took place from September 2017 through March 2018. These protests included holding banners across the length of the Los Angeles 101 Freeway, with one stating “Trump/Pence Must Go!” and several protests at UCLA campus, including a disruption of Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin. These protests were aimed at sounding the alarm about the Trump/Pence fascist regime, and the need for millions to fill the streets in a mass nonviolent movement aimed at driving this regime from power.
The arrests and subsequent charges for these acts of political protests are unjust and illegitimate. With a fascist regime in power, tearing up what are supposed to be protected civil and legal rights, and ruling through open terror and violence, these protests were not just needed, they were right. They were meaningful forms of nonviolent civil disobedience and, on a changing political and legal ground, forms of protected speech!
It is NOT illegal to shout fire in a crowded theater IF THERE IS A FIRE. To say the least, what we are facing is, by analogy, a fire of such extreme proportions, it demands people defy protest as usual. The Trump/Pence regime is bringing into being a theocracy, with open white supremacy, ethnic cleansing, genocide, the ripping away of women’s basic and essential rights, attacking science and the basic understanding of truth… and as an essential part of this, the shutting down of what our supposed civil liberties, right to speech, protest, and the freedom of the press. With the threats of nuclear war and even more rapid environmental destruction, it is not hyperbole to say this is a regime that threatens to destroy civilization.
At the same time, the prosecution of these 11 activists and revolutionaries involves an escalation of the criminalization of political protests and a leap in state repression, moves that are greasing the skids for fascism. Some of the more serious and dangerous elements of these prosecutions include: two leaders of Refuse Fascism being singled out for criminal conspiracy charges related to the freeway protests, which have historically been used to specifically target political leaders (one person facing this charge was not even arrested nor on the freeway at the time of the protests); the LAPD’s “Major Crimes/Anti-Terrorism Division” is involved, a department which has a history of targeting progressive and radical social movements; and the LAPD’s admission that they sent in a “confidential informant” to spy on and illegally record members of Refuse Fascism and the Revolution Club. These are just some of the most egregious ways they are violating the basic legal rights of people in prosecuting these outrageous charges.
In this changing legal situation, what these protesters did—in the tradition of nonviolent civil disobedience—was necessary, right and should not be criminalized. Everyone who cares about justice should join in the demand to DROP THE CHARGES! People throughout society should draw inspiration from and emulate what these heroes did, and join the urgently needed movement to drive the Trump/Pence regime from power.
Righteous Protests, Unjust Arrests, Illegitimate Charges
In September and November, 2017, over five million people viewed on social media two early morning nonviolent actions of civil disobedience on the 101 Hollywood Freeway where traffic was stopped with signs, including a 60-foot banner sounding a clarion call that “The Trump Pence Regime Must Go!” (In the first of these two protests, they carried signs that stated: “Nov 4 It Begins!” calling on people to join the protests organized by Refuse Fascism aiming for millions to fill the streets in protest day after day, night after night, to drive this regime from power.) A total of eight people were arrested for these courageous actions. But nine are being charged in these two actions, including Michelle Xai, who was neither arrested nor on the freeway during these two protests. Both Michelle, who is also part of the Revolution Club, and USC professor and artist Perry Hoberman have been charged with conspiracy to commit a crime. Michelle and Perry are being singled out and targeted for being spokespeople and leaders of Refuse Fascism.
On February 12, 2018, Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel spoke at UCLA where his speech was disrupted by protesters, including organizers from “No Cops Academy” and the Revolution Club. They called out Emanuel’s role in the cover up of the police murder of Laquan McDonald (see here for report on the protest). Three people with the Revolution Club were arrested and currently, one is facing four misdemeanors.
On February 26, 2018, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin spoke at UCLA where he was continuously booed and hissed by protesters in the audience. As seen by millions on social media, he was also disrupted by three young women from the Revolution Club and Refuse Fascism. They spoke out with substance and determination, challenging Mnuchin, and exposed a regime “that is hell bent on consolidating fascism.” These three were brutalized and dragged out of the auditorium by University of California police and arrested along with two others who were also brutalized and arrested outside the event because they dared speak out about the arrests that had just happened inside the auditorium where Mnuchin was speaking! (See report at Countercurrents.) Currently, two of the five are facing charges but all were told (verbally, not in writing) that they were banned from campus for seven days (including a student and UCLA alum!).
On March 1, 2018, scores of UCLA students linked arms across Bruin Walk in response to a nationwide protest called by Refuse Fascism: 11 Minutes of Silence for 11 Million Undocumented: Immigrants Stay! Trump/Pence Must Go! No one was arrested at this protest, but two people have since been charged, for “disturbing the peace,” trespassing and violating the seven day ban mentioned above. One of the charges against the UCLA student is for resisting arrest. How the hell is this even possible when she was not arrested?!
These prosecutions represent a major escalation of political repression
The decision to file charges against the 11 came 10 months after the first freeway protest. Shortly after each of these arrests, when those arrested first appeared in court, they were informed by the L.A. City Attorney that criminal charges were not being filed BUT that charges could be filed any time within one year of the original arrest. This is a way the state can hold the threat of filing charges over you, in an effort to intimidate you and others from participating in future political protests.
In late July/early August 2018, 11 of the protesters received letters from the LA City Attorney ordering them to appear in court. While not all of them have appeared in court yet (some are scheduled for October), at least 10 are each facing multiple misdemeanor charges including failure to disperse, refusing to comply with a police officer, resisting or “obstructing the free movement of a person,” disturbing the peace, and trespassing onto to a college campus. Some of these people are facing up to over four years in jail and over $4,000 in fines.
Most serious and ominous, when Perry and Michelle first appeared in court, they first learned that Perry is being charged with three misdemeanors stemming from his arrest on the freeway at the first protest and one count of conspiracy. Michelle is charged with one count of obstruction of traffic and two counts of conspiracy for both freeway protests, even though she was not arrested nor on the freeway. Each conspiracy charge is punishable by one year in jail and $10,000 in fines.
How do they justify these outrageous charges? It turns out, the LAPD sent in a spy, a “confidential informant,” into Refuse Fascism meetings last fall “for the purpose of gathering intelligence.” In other words, they admit in their official police report, to surveillance of political discussions—a violation of people’s basic rights to assemble and protest. They also admit that this confidential informant recorded a conversation they had with one of the defendants. Recording people without their permission is illegal in California!
The police report admitting to all this came from the “Major Crimes Division” (also known as the Anti-Terrorist Division, ATD) of the LAPD which is part of the LAPD’s “Counter Terrorism and Special Operations Bureau.” This department has a sordid history of spying, harassment and deadly repression against a broad spectrum of political groups and individuals. (See box on Background on the LAPD’s Major Crimes Division/Anti-Terrorist Division.)
Historically, conspiracy charges have been used to specifically target political activists and especially, the leadership of political movements. If they can’t figure out an actual crime that you’ve committed, they target you with “conspiracy to commit a crime.” This is a wide ranging charge targeting protest organizers, the leadership of political movements and aimed at debilitating the movements themselves. In the 1960s, the FBI and local cops went after leaders of the anti-war and Black liberation movements by arresting them on bogus conspiracy charges that led to lengthy, expensive, and time-consuming trials. An infamous example was the Chicago 8 trial in response to massive protest against the Vietnam War. When people take responsibility to lead a political movement in the interests of humanity, this is precious and these leaders must be defended!
The fact that Perry and Michelle are charged with conspiracy is outrageous on its face, but there is more to these charges. Such a charge requires a minimum of two people to be involved in such a conspiracy. In the second conspiracy charge being leveled against Michelle, according to the official police report, the second conspirator’s “identity is unknown.” This statement by the LAPD’s Anti-Terrorist Division enables the state to carry out and justify a very dangerous open-ended fishing expedition and campaign of intimidation against all the defendants in the freeway protest, with this charge being held over their heads.
Ironically, even the DA’s office admits that the First Amendment is involved in this case. The detective writing the police report admits to having consulted with the District Attorney with a request to file felony conspiracy charges (vs. misdemeanors, which they are facing). The DA said that felony charges would be “contrary to the spirit of the law where First Amendment freedoms are concerned.” So how are misdemeanor charges any less “contrary” to their First Amendment rights?!
Even as these cases are in their initial stages, it is already evident that these prosecutions are politically motivated, being handled outside of the norm of criminal prosecutions. We won’t go further here with more examples but it’s evident from who is prosecuting these cases and how the defendants are being treated in court.
The Moves to Strip Away Civil Liberties, Criminalize Dissent and Ramping Up of Repression and Terror
All this is taking place at a time in which the basic rights to political protest and speech are being rapidly foreclosed by the Trump/Pence regime which has unleashed a wave of new state laws, gutting basic civil liberties and a movement of storm troopers carrying out mob violence, and violent threats, in order to intimidate and silence people. The dangers of this are even being pointed to among ruling class figures.
Even before he became president, Trump incited hatred and violence against protesters at his Nazi-like rallies with statements about longing for the day when “a protester would be carried out on stretchers”; in the wake of the murder of Heather Heyer in Charlottesville, Virginia, he refused to condemn the white supremacists and fascist thugs and described them as “fine people”; and called for revoking the citizenship and imprisoning people who burn the flag, in violation of Supreme Court protection; and urged the firing—and possible exile—of professional athletes who took a knee during the national anthem to protest racial oppression in the form of police violence and murder.
In 2017, state legislators in nearly 20 states have proposed or passed bills that would criminalize and physically endanger protesters, including making it legal to run over protesters as long as the driver claimed it was an accident. New penalties for protesting have been proposed in some states that would include fines up to $1,000,000 and up to 10 years in prison. Mass picketing aimed at blocking access to streets and highways, airports, train tracks, or places of business has been outlawed as has the wearing of a robe, mask or other disguises at a protest. There are cases at both Rutgers and UCLA that would make the criticism of the state of the Israel, and their policies of genocide against Palestinian people, a crime. (The case at UCLA is overlapping with attacks on the Revolution Club and Refuse Fascism for the protest against Steve Mnuchin mentioned above.)
On January 20, 2017, at Trump’s inauguration in Washington, DC, over 200 protesters were arrested for simply being part of a demonstration during which some alleged destruction of property took place. The government was forced to drop the charges against most of the defendants after the first trial of six facing serious felony charges were acquitted of all charges. The attempted political railroad of the J20 defendants was not only a vicious act of revenge against the righteous protests on the very first day of the Trump/Pence regime—it was a major escalation of fascist repression as the government demanded detailed information on visitors to a website that was used to organize the protests, and the site’s web hosting provider said complying with the order would have meant handing over information on about 1.3 million visitors.
Recently, Trump said in response to those who courageously disrupted the confirmation hearing of Brett Kavanaugh that we shouldn’t allow protesters in this country because it’s an embarrassment. These are not just rants from a madman. These are the words of the commander in chief of this country’s armed forces: calling for the foreclosing of and crushing of dissent, the evisceration of the First Amendment, including people’s right to political speech and protest in relationship to calling out against injustices and crimes being carried out by its government, and this is even more dangerous as it is a key component towards the consolidation of fascism.
The Revolution Club in their sights
These protests have mainly taken place as part of the movement to drive out the Trump/Pence Regime, involving people from different perspectives. At the same time, these prosecutions may also include specific targeting of the Revolution Club. The Club is a force on the frontlines organizing forces for an actual revolution. They live in line with, and fight for, a radically different world: fighting the power, and transforming the people, for revolution.
In addition to the protests outlined here, members of the Revolution Club were also recently arrested for talking to people in a public park about revolution. These arrests were so outrageous, and so clearly in violation of people’s basic rights, the LAPD was forced to drop the charges. Most recently, a member of the Revolution Club was arrested for amplified sound in downtown LA at the monthly event, Artwalk. In LA, amplified sound is not illegal! In both instances, people in the surrounding area stood with the Revolution Club against these attacks.
This goes together with a pattern of assault and political persecution of the Revolution Club in Chicago. One member of the Club, Maya, is facing seven years in prison for taking part in the silent protest for immigrants which took place on March 1. And throughout the spring and summer, people associated with the Revolution Club in Chicago were repeatedly arrested, threatened with arrest, and ticketed for using legally permitted amplified sound. Including Maya’s case, people associated with the Revolution Club in Chicago currently face a full dozen cases in court.
We do not know to what degree, if any, there is national coordination in these attacks, but we do know that both in LA and Chicago, there is a pattern of harassment by the authorities. And we know that the attacks on the Revolution Club are politically motivated: they are being gone after for their determination to prevent the consolidation of fascism and for spreading the message and organizing forces for an actual revolution.
People from all different perspectives need to stand with the revolutionaries against these attacks. These are people fighting for a radically different world, free of exploitation and oppression. They understand the illegitimacy of this whole system, and its violent forces of repression used to enforce this system and they are organizing forces today to bring that better world into being. They reach throughout every section of society, including the students and youth and those catching the most hell who this system has no future for. This is a message this system, and those who sit atop it, don’t want you to hear.
Fascism Can Happen Here, It Is Happening Here and We Must Stop It!
A crucial component of implementing a fascist regime is the tearing up of the rule of law, and criminalization of what have been traditional forms of protest, aimed at gutting the basic right to political speech and dissent. As Bob Avakian has written: “Even supposedly fundamentally Constitutional rights throughout the history of the U.S. not only can be—but particularly in times of ‘stress’ or actual crisis in the system often are—sacrificed to the needs of the ruling class.” (From “The Social Content of Law and Its Interpretation” in the compilation Constitution, Law, and Rights—in capitalist society and in the future socialist society)
This is such a time.
As we stated above, in the face of these moves to criminal and punish political protests, it is imperative that people unite broadly to step out of the bounds of symbolic protest-as-usual. To do so in this changing legal context is a form of protected political speech—it needs to be defended and it needs to spread.
These 11 resisters are being punished for acting with courage and conviction at a time when history is demanding all people of conscience act commensurate with the grave danger humanity is being confronted with by the Trump/Pence fascist regime.
There are great stakes in these cases. Will a supposedly “sanctuary city” be allowed to violate the basic rights of people in these ways, contributing to the overall consolidation of fascism, with the right to dissent and protest foreclosed? Will people be able to act commensurate with the danger facing humanity without being shut down and criminalized?
All those who care about the future need to stand up against these outrageous prosecutions and demand the charges be dropped! In the Name of Humanity, We REFUSE to Accept a Fascist America.
Revolution newspaper/revcom.us, the voice of the Revolutionary Communist Party, provides the foundation, guideline, and organizational scaffolding for the whole process of carrying out our strategy for revolution. Through publishing works of Bob Avakian, and through many different articles, interviews, letters, graphics, and other features, Revolution enables people to really understand, and act to radically change, the world.
Originally published at revcom.us