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(en) US, Alt. Media, An Interview with Sherman Austin (risethefist.com) by Merlin Chowkwanyun - By MERLIN CHOWKWANYUN

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Sun, 17 Aug 2003 09:59:52 +0200 (CEST)

A - I N F O S N E W S S E R V I C E
News about and of interest to anarchists
http://ainfos.ca/ http://ainfos.ca/index24.html

On August 4th, U.S. District Court Judge Steven V. Wilson, a
Reagan appointee, sentenced 20-year-old Southern California
anarchist Sherman Austin to a year in federal prison, three
years of probation and a $2,000 fine. Austin is the webmaster
of the anarchist website www.raisethefist.com. Nearly two
years ago on January 24, 2002, federal law enforcement agents
raided Austin's Sherman Oaks, CA home and seized all his
computers and other possessions. In late 2002, after months
of legal limbo and harassment in between, federal prosecutors
formally accused Austin of distributing information on
explosives with the knowledge that some readers would use
such info to commit a federal violent crime. That became a
federal 'crime' in 1997, when Sen. Dianne Feinstein attached a
blatantly unconstitutional amendment to a defense spending
bill. The offending web material on his raisethefist.com was
part of an Internet tract called the "Reclaim Guide" that
Austin didn't even author -- but for which he had offered free
hosting on his site.

Although Austin initially planned to fight the charge and go to
trial, he later learned this could have entailed risking up to 20
years in prison under penalty clauses in the 1997 federal law.
Additionally, there existed terrorism sentencing enhancements
first enacted in 1995 that saw their reach broaden under
subsequent legislation, including the notorious 1996
Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, a Patriot Act
antecedent signed with much fanfare by Bill Clinton. Austin
thus accepted a plea bargain under which he was sentence.

His case has major implications for civil liberties and
cyberlaw. It also is a case study in post-9/11 judicial
railroading, the dereliction of duty by the establishment left
(Mother Jones et. al) to cover it adequately, and the
escalating clamp-down on dissent towards which many
socially and politically disconnected Americans seem
(sometimes cheerfully) oblivious. And the case demonstrates
that Ashcroft Justice existed long before spineless Democrats
abdicated the executive office.

Much discussion about Austin has come from inaccurate
secondhand information. The interview below, derived from a
series of lengthy conversations the author had with Austin,
allows Austin to narrate, in his own words, all the (sometimes
farcical) twists leading up to his sentencing.


MERLIN CHOWKWANYUN: Let's start from Point A. What
happened? How did this all begin? You were living in Sherman
Oaks, CA on January 24, 2002.

SHERMAN AUSTIN: It was around 4 p.m. in the afternoon. I
was just taking a nap. Luckily, my sister was home. She went
out with her friend, and when she was leaving, when she was
walking to her car, she noticed a lot of FBI-looking cars and
agents with those earpieces, parked all up and down the
street. She knew something wasn't right. She ran back into the
house and told me what was up, so I got up and went to the
front door. Two special agents at the front door pulled me
outside. By that time, they had already had the house
surrounded with loaded weapons, machine guns,
shotguns...about 25 federal agents.

MC: What was your first reaction? Did you know what they
were coming for?

SA: Yeah, I wasn't really surprised. Right when my sister told
me, when I woke up, I pretty much knew why they were there.
They had been monitoring the site for a very long time, and at
times, I received over 100 hits from the Department of
Defense on the website, so I wasn't the slightest bit surprised.

MC: What did the agents proceed to do?

SA: They showed me a search warrant, and I just glanced at it.
I was half-awake. I was just kind of taking it easy, not really
putting up a fuss.

They just went into the house. They searched all the rooms in
the house. They knew where my room was. They went back
there, looked at all the computers, asked me to come in and
tell them what all the computers were for specifically so they
knew how to dismantle the network I had been running. They
searched the garage, pretty much everywhere with their guns
still out and drawn. They still had people surrounding the
house with their weapons drawn.

MC: In addition to seizing the computer equipment, they also
seized political literature. Is that correct?

SA: Yeah, I had a big stack of political literature, everything
from just newspapers to basic literature, books, bios. They
just took that entire stack and put it in a big box as well as a
bunch of protest signs I had.

MC: The warrant refers to documents and materials with
keywords like, "International Monetary Fund," "IMF," "WEF,"
anything anyone involved with the anti-globalization movement
would read. After they seized this, then what happened?

SA: They came into my room, took out all the computers, and
mirrored each hard drive. When they were done downloading
all the information off each hard drive, they took all the
computers, all the literature, and loaded everything into a big
white truck and left.

My room was ransacked. After that, I just took pictures of my
room, the way they left it, and wrote an article about what
happened and posted it around. I was still planning to go to the
World Economic Forum (WEF) protest in New York [in early
February 2002], even despite what happened. I drove to New
York in my car. When I got there, I didn't get a chance to
march really. I was just standing in Columbus Circle, and then
about 15-20 police officers just rushed us. They completely
broke through this line of media people. They arrested about 26
of us. I was in jail for about 30 hours. I think mostly everyone
else was in there for about 20 to 25 hours.

While I was in jail, they handcuffed me and took me to a
backroom, where a detective from the FBI and a Secret
Service agent were, and they interrogated me for about three
or four hours. During this whole time, I kept noticing more and
more FBI agents walking in and out of the room. They asked
me stupid questions like if I was a terrorist or involved in any
terrorist organizations. I told them, "No," and it's funny, he [an
agent] looked at me like I was seriously a terrorist and that I
was lying to him.

You know how they use those interrogation tactics on you?
It's just unbelievable. There's no way to describe it.

MC: They knew you were coming to New York?

SA: What I had later learned was that the FBI knew I was
going to New York a couple days after the raid. The Secret
Service notified the Chief of Police to pick me up and arrest
me. I guess they just wanted to scoop a bunch of people up,
hoping they got me, and unfortunately they did.

MC: After your arrest and the 30 hours, what happened?

SA: I was released and waiting in the court for someone to
pick me up for about 30 minutes. About five, six FBI agents
walked into the courthouse and arrested me. They said I was
being arrested for distribution of information related to
explosives over the Internet. I asked, "Why didn't you arrest
me in California?" When I was raided in California, they said,
"You're in trouble, but you're free to go right now. You're not
going to be arrested. You can leave right now."

They grabbed my neck and hurled me out of the courtroom, put
me in this black SUV and then drove me to a federal building,
where they processed me. They put me in a maximum-security
federal jail facility in downtown Manhattan, where I was at for
about 11 days until I was taken to Oklahoma.

MC: How long were you in Oklahoma?

SA: I was in Oklahoma federal jail for about two days, so it
was a total of 13 days in custody. We were going to try and
see if I could get bail, but at the bail hearing, the judge denied
me bail because the FBI had said I was a "man on the
mission" and that I was coming to "carry out" plans of action.
When they searched my car, they said that they found a
gasoline canister and I think duct tape. Who wouldn't have a
gasoline canister on them when driving 3,000 miles across

MC: What exactly was on the website that they found so
alarming or that they claimed to find so alarming?

SA: There was a link posted on my site to another site, which
wasn't affiliated with raisethefist.com, but which was hosted
on the same server because I gave hosting space to different
people who wanted some free hosting. I just provided the link
to that site. It was called the Reclaim Guide. It was just a
general protest guide that went over security culture and stuff
like that. A small portion of that guide dealt with explosives
information. This information was just pathetic compared to
the type of stuff you could find in any library or any other
website. There's so much detailed information out there on
explosives and how to use and build explosives that you can
find on the Internet. If someone wanted to use explosives for
illegal purposes, I don't think they would rely on
raisethefist.com to get their information because there's so
much information out there readily available.

There's something on the Internet called the White Resistance
Manual. It's pretty much for white supremacists. It's a manual
to carry out a large-scale guerilla campaign through means of
assassination, threats, obtaining funds through fraud,
everything from firearms to explosives. I've seen, not
surprisingly, no action taken against those people, but here I
am, an anarchist website, not even close to what that is, not
even close to what else you can find on the Internet.

While they were at my house, interrogating me, they asked me
about seven times if I authored the Reclaim Guide. I told them
seven times I didn't author it. In the arrest warrant that they
had written after the raid when they arrested me in New York,
it says that I told them I authored the Reclaim Guide. It's
funny how they try to slip it by and build a whole fraudulent
case against you with things that you didn't do.

MC: Now what was the exact charge? Its not just that
information about explosives was on the server, but there was
also this clause on intent...

SA: From what I've heard, it's not illegal to distribute
information on explosives. What's illegal is the intent part. It's
such a weird charge because it's almost like thought crime.
How do you prove that someone has intent? I can go on to tons
of other websites that have explosives information on them,
especially white supremacy web sites. We obviously know
they have intent because they've used that type of information
before against people. They're not being prosecuted for it.

To me, it makes it better for them because that way they can
use that as a form of selective enforcement on whom they
want to bring charges against with that type of charge and
whom they just want to let by and let off the hook.
It's almost like how they prove intent is if maybe you're an
anarchist or a socialist or a communist or just anyone who
doesn't agree with the way things are currently going in this
political climate right now. It's interesting because...I'd said
this before...how do they prove intent? Bush made that pretty
obvious when he said, "You're either with us or against us." If
you disagree, you have intent, right then and there.

MC: I've read one affidavit in which the FBI still claims that
you wrote the Reclaim Guide, even though it's fairly obvious
that you didn't. If you go to archive.org, you can actually see
the old site, and it's very obvious that the site's structure links,
as you said, to a bunch of different sites. From what I
understand, the FBI knew that you didn't author it, and they
still persisted in claiming that you did. Is that correct?

SA: Yeah. We went through a number of different plea
agreements because things were always getting changed, and
every time they presented us with a new and different plea
agreement, the prosecutors or the FBI always put back in that
I authored the explosives information. The FBI even
interviewed the person who authored the explosives
information on that site that I was hosting. They knew, even
before the raid, that I did not author that information, but they
still tried to say I did in the search warrant and everything.

MC: So after the WEF protest, the arrest in New York and the
two days spent in Oklahoma in Feb. 2002, what happened?

SA: After that, I was pretty much released because the
prosecutors decided they didn't want to file an indictment. I'm
assuming they wanted to go through all my computers first.
My lawyer had a court order put in to send me back on a plane
to Los Angeles by myself, so I was flown back to Los
Angeles. I didn't have anything. All my clothes I took with me,
my car, my wallet, my money, everything I had with me was
still in New York. All I had with me was my belt. I received my
wallet about two weeks later from my lawyer in New York.

MC: How much time elapsed before you heard again from a
prosecutor or authority figure?

SA: It was about six months until we heard again from the
prosecutor, but in between that time, there was a lot of
harassment from authority figures and local police...being
followed by detectives, being followed by FBI agents at
protests. It was funny because the first protest I went to after
I got out was in Irvine. It was against Taco Bell because of the
way they exploit their farm workers, tomato pickers in Florida.
When I went there, they had an FBI agent there, and they had
another FBI agent there in the crowd, and he was just standing
two feet in front of me, taking pictures of me. He must have
taken at least 10 or 20 pictures of me. I had to be escorted out
of the protest by people with the National Lawyers Guild
because they were surveilling me the whole time. It was

Things like that have happened. I've been riding my bike down
the street at night, and a police officer will stop me, and he'll
know my name. Two other cops will come, and they both will
know my name and ask me about my website. They'll start
asking me about my website and ask questions like, "Why do
you hate cops so much?" They will try to debate me and argue
with me on anarchism and everything like that. It's just
ongoing harassment.

MC: Later in 2002, when you heard from a prosecutor again,
what happened?

SA: My lawyer told me that the prosecutor called him and said
that they didn't really find anything on my computers to get me
for -- but they didn't want to let me off the hook. At first I
wanted to fight the charges, but then I decided to take a
pre-indictment binding plea, which was going to be one month
in jail and five months in a community corrections facility. We
got that set up, and then I went to court to enter the plea
before the judge, and the judge rejected it because he wanted
me to serve more time.

After that, we went back to the drawing board and worked up
another plea, which was just a sentencing range between 6
and 12 months. It wasn't as specific as the first plea, where it
said one month in jail, five months in community corrections.
We went back with that, but by the time we went back to
court for that, my criminal history went back up another point
because of another conviction I had because I was pulled over
by the Long Beach police for a broken headlight. At that time, I
didn't know my license was suspended because I had never
received anything in the mail, so when they pulled me over,
they asked me if I knew my license was suspended, and I said,
"No." They took my car, and I was convicted because when
you're driving with a suspended license, it's a criminal
conviction. That went on my record, and since it was two
convictions, my criminal history category went up. My
sentencing range changed from between 6 and 12 months to 8
and 14 months.

MC: And now, you initially weren't going to do a plea bargain.
You were actually going to go to trial on principle.

SA: Yeah, at first I just wanted to go to trial because all I was
going to risk was three to four years in prison. We learned that
was different after we consulted a probation officer on the
case, and we learned that a terrorism enhancement was
applicable to what I was being charged with. What that is that
it's the judge's decision where he can add on up to 20 years
onto your sentence, so if I had gone to trial, I'd have risked
anywhere from 20 to 24 years in federal prison.

MC: The judge, Stephen V. Wilson, was unhappy with the
eventual plea agreement and expressed this during a hearing
on June 30, 2003. That's when you were initially scheduled to
receive your final sentence. What did he say then?

SA: We went in there, and my lawyer was telling the judge
how I just got caught up and I didn't really think about what
was posted on the website. My lawyer asked if he accepted
the plea.

The judge turned pretty defiant. It seemed like he already had
different plans made up. He said that this should be looked at
with more of a deterrent outcome to future "revolutionaries"
wanting to act in a similar manner. He just openly admitted
that he wanted to make an example out of me.

He said also to the prosecutors something like, "Out of all the
nonsense cases you bring me, you finally bring me something
serious but don't take it seriously."

The atmosphere of the courtroom was nothing but political at
that time. It was completely obvious that this was nothing but
a political case. He made it clear that he wanted to give me a
lot of jail time. He said that he wanted to give me at least
between 8 and 10 months in jail, but before making his final
decision, he asked the prosecutors what the Justice
Department thought about the case. It's pretty irrelevant to the
case because it's the prosecutors who are representing the
government, not necessarily the Justice Department. That's
what the prosecution told the judge.

The judge told the prosecution to get head FBI Director
[Robert] Mueller's opinion on the case. The judge wanted him
to consult on the case and get his opinion and recommendation
on sentencing.

MC: The judge used the word "revolutionaries." He seemed to
hint that you might also be a violent person, a harm to others.
Can you talk about the psychological study you underwent to
try and refute that?

SA: My lawyer said it was a good idea that I go see a
psychologist and go under a psychological analysis to prove
that I was a non-violent person by nature. I went into that, and
the psychologist wrote up an entire report on me, stating that I
was a non-violent person and that jail wouldn't be the right
sentence for me to serve. I think she recommended something
different like community service or something like that. I think
that pissed off the judge even more. He said that this had
nothing to do with psychology. He was pretty turned off by it.
He acted like it was completely irrelevant to the case.


MC: So now on June 30, 2003, he delayed the sentencing to
July 28, 2003. What happened then?

SA: Well, we went back to court on July 28, and when we got
there, we learned that the clerk never entered it into the
judge's schedule, so it was actually never scheduled that day.
So then, after that, we got it rescheduled for next Monday, a
week later. We went back on next Monday, which was on
August 4th, for sentencing. We went back, and the judge
asked the prosecutor what the FBI thought and what the
Justice Department thought. And the FBI and Justice
Department were both on board with the plea. They both
agreed with it...the sentencing guidelines of four months in jail
and four months in community confinement. And the judge just
asked my lawyer a few questions. My lawyer advised me that
I should just tell the judge a lot had changed since the
incident...I was 18 then, and I'm 20 now...and it was just try
and tell the judge that I was a good person, just try and set a
positive image. But all of that was pretty much completely
irrelevant to the judge. It looked like he already had his mind
set and his mind made up. He just announced that he wanted
to give me 12 months in prison.

MC: It seems like he had hoped that the FBI would also
propose a very harsh sentence, and then when it didn't do that,
he just basically ignored what it suggested. What was the
reaction of people in the courtroom?

SA: Everyone seemed pretty shocked. The FBI, I don't think
they were shocked. They pretty much came out with smiles on
their faces. I think the prosecutors were a little bit shocked.
Everyone else who was there was shocked. It was pretty
saddening. It was pretty horrible that this judge was just going
to give me 12 months in prison for no other reason really than
to set an example, for no other reason than my political views.

MC: Did he give a clear reason why he chose to go with 12
months even though the FBI had suggested four months?

SA: His only reason was that he wanted to set an example for,
in his words, future "revolutionaries."

MC: In addition to the one-year sentence in federal prison,
there are also three years of probation. When I read these
probation provisions, I was quite shocked. These are very
strict and draconian provisions. Can you tell us what they are?

SA: One of them is that I can't associate with any group or
persons who advocate violence or political or social or
economic change. Basically, I can't associate myself with
anarchists. It actually says that on the pre-sentencing report,
that I can't associate myself with anarchists or anarchist

If I have to use a computer for work, I have to consult with the
probation officer, but I can't use a computer for any type of
political organizing or any type of political use. It's just
obvious that they're just trying to keep me away from a

As long as I'm using it for work to make money for income, for
a job, it's fine, but even with that, I'm going to have very
intense restrictions. I'm going to have my computer probably
seized at least once a week or once every two weeks. I'm
going to have to have tracking software installed on my
computers. I'm going to have to surrender DSL phone bills and
everything like that so they can monitor every little thing I'm

MC: So there was this Reclaim Guide on there. You didn't
author it. You were merely loaning out some server space.
Right after you were sentenced, there was a lot of erroneous
media coverage. In particular, there was an AP article that a
lot of sources across the country seemed to pick up.

SA: After my sentencing, the AP article was written to make
it sound like I was the one who actually authored the
explosives information, and not just that, but that my entire
website was also explosives information. They didn't point out
that raisethefist.com was just an open publishing website, and
just a small portion of that website contained a link to another
website that had explosives information on it. They made it
sound like I authored the information and the entire website
was about explosives, and they also made it sound like I
apologized for making the entire website, like I was just some
stupid little kid who didn't know any better and was just
completely intimidated by what the FBI had done.

MC: When will you have to report for prison, and do you know
where you are going?

SA: The date when I'm going to have to surrender myself is
September 3, which will be next month. I'm not sure exactly
where I'm going to be at, but I have an idea. They might send
me to Lompoc. They might send me to Boron or Nellis. They
might send me to Terminal Island. It's all up to the Bureau of


MC: You are an African-American male. What did you learn
about the racial dimensions of this case and this legal system?

SA: There are definitely racial implications in this case. We're
dealing with a system that has more people locked up in the
prison industrial-complex than any other country in the world.
The longest I've been to jail is 13 days, but every time I've
gone, it's obvious there are racial implications. We're dealing
with a very racist institution. I felt if I had been white and had
a lot of money, I could have bought my way out of this. It's just
disgusting what the system is doing, not just to people who
are politically involved but people who just happen to be black.

There've been times where I've been waiting in jail and seen
young black males come back in tears because they've had to
take a plea and gotten 14 years because they've basically been
convinced that they couldn't fight the system. Number one,
they're a person of color. They come from a low-income
background. They don't have the money to afford a private
attorney like a lot of other people do who happen to be white.
We can look at the people at Enron, who are just barely
getting a slap on the wrist, if anything. It's such blatant racism
if you look at it.

MC: The most outrageous irony to this case is that while you
will be going to prison for one year for raisethefist.com,
Kenneth Lay, the ex-head of Enron, has not been indicted on
anything. In your case, in terms of racial dimensions, the
person who actually did author the Reclaim Guide, he was
white and from a fairly affluent background.

SA: Yeah, and I think he realizes that too. It's just so obvious.
Why didn't they go after him? If you look at the charge, they
could have just as much indicted him as they wanted to indict
me, but they decided to go after me instead of him.


MC: What do you say to people who have fears and are
worried about getting involved politically?

SA: First of all, don't let them intimidate you. Don't let them
keep you into a state of fear where you become pacified and
too afraid to stand up and voice your opinion because that's
what they want to do. If they keep us pacified in a state of
fear, they have us under control. We have a very serious
problem if they're able to do that. If we don't speak up, who's
going to speak up? It's only up to us to do what has to be done
to stop this problem, to stop this system and this government
from doing what they're doing. The best advice I can give to
people is don't be intimidated. Don't let them scare you into not
getting politically active. There're more of us than there are of
them. They can't come after every single one of us. If we all
stand up, and we all take the initiative to take an active role in
challenging the system, they won't be able to do anything
about it. They don't have the capacity to lock us all up. They're
definitely going to try and lock a bunch of us away and silence
a bunch of us, but they don't have the capacity to silence us

MC: Will raisethefist.com continue to run?

SA: Yeah, I'm working on currently setting up a team to keep
the site going and to make sure, if something happens with our
current host, that we can get the site moved to another backup
server immediately so we can eliminate any long-term

MC: I must say that, in my opinion, liberal, bourgeois
organizations like the ACLU and institutional publications like
The Nation and Mother Jones really dropped the ball on this
case. I think the only publications that really deserve a pat on
the back are the Village Voice, the LA Weekly, the
Washington Post of all papers, and a very little-known
newsletter called the Progressive Populist, and of course,
IndyMedia. What's your take?

SA: It's kind of weird and messed up. It's confusing. Why
wouldn't the ACLU want to take something on like this? They
were contacted almost immediately after I was arrested in
New York by the FBI. They said they didn't do criminal cases
and couldn't do anything. It's obviously a case that deals with
civil liberties and freedom of speech. When the government
will come after us, they'll tack these charges on us as criminal
cases. It looks like there are going to be more and more
criminal cases that involve civil liberties than there are going
to be civil suits. I think the ACLU, if they want to really start
defending people on their civil liberties, should really think
about reorganizing the way they represent people in court.


MC: I have to ask you to address one issue -- and it's in many
ways not a relevant question because it wasn't even part of
that one final charge -- but I'm asking it because many
observers hostile to your political orientation may pounce on it,
and you should have a chance to respond. In the warrant and in
this FBI memorandum I'm reading now, there are sections on
alleged "defacements" of private web sites and such.

SA: They never proved anything. They sure had a bunch of
stuff about it in the warrant, arrest affidavit, and discovery
materials. We were thinking, since they included it so much,
why didn't the prosecutors just charge me with that -- instead
of the distribution of information charge since that was a
charge the judge was going to reject their suggested
sentencing range for. But they didn't want to do it, I'm
assuming, because they didn't have enough to prove it.

MC: Right. I mean, I've always found it peculiar that if those
other supposed accusations were correct, why they didn't just
go for that instead of this distribution charge with intent,
which is significantly harder to show.

SA: The same with the "firearm," Molotov cocktail charge.

MC: What about the actual crime some FBI documents were
claiming -- the defacements and admitting to it? Is the FBI
memorandum inaccurate when they say that you admitted to
the this stuff? Did they take something you said out of

SA: I don't remember their asking me to admit it. I remember
their saying, "Did you hack into any web site?" and "Did you
hack into any government computer systems?" I was about to
tell them, "No," then they kept cutting me off saying, "If you
did or don't know, then don't tell us."

I don't remember admitting anything to them except that I ran
raisethefist.com, and I was an anarchist, and again, I must
have told them seven times straight out that I didn't author the
reclaim guide when they were right there at my house, but they
put in that I told them I authored it.

MC: On some sites, there are citations to an interview you did
with some reporter, in which you supposedly admitted to the
defacing. Now, reporters screw up all the time or misquote. Is
that what happened there?

SA: It was probably a misquote, or I was answering a different
question of his. I remember that interview actually. It was over
AIM while I was on the east coast before the WEF.
I had tons of FTP servers and passwords stored on my
computers for web sites, which were my clients'. They
voluntarily gave them to me because I uploaded and installed
my software on their servers. They also said I did credit card
fraud too. It was the same thing with credit cards, which were
also in my client database, from clients who purchased my
software and at times would pay for things on a monthly basis

They said my whole client database, which had my clients'
credit cards and billing info in it, was a database of stolen
credit cards I was using for credit card fraud A lot of people
who also ordered my software were using stolen credit cards.
I'd find out every time I got a charge back. These charges were
always reported as fraudulent charges as well, so in my client
database I had people's orders with their billing info and credit
card numbers for orders that were made by other people doing
credit card fraud.

I was also running Linux 6.0, which had various exploits in it.
One I remember specifically was an exploit in the DNS, which
gave anyone complete access to my server. Several times
people used my server to try and break into the FDIC and
other government computer systems.

MC: I never asked you about the way the FBI interrogation
took place. Would you describe it as coercive? Were they
constantly interrupting you, bullying you into answers, trying
to pigeonhole you into saying certain things?

SA: They were playing the good cop, bad cop game. [FBI
Agent] John Pi tried to play nice like he was my friend. They
would ask questions, and if I didn't answer, go back to them
later and ask them again. The Secret Service, too, held up a
picture of Bush with crosshairs over him that he found on my
site and asked if I wanted to kill the president. I said, "No,"
then he asked, "Well would you like to see the president

MC: Do you wish you went to trial also so you could refute
those defacement claims? I know that wasn't in the eventual
charge, but I'm sure they would have tried to introduce it
somehow, perhaps to tar your character.

SA: If I knew I was going to get a year under the plea, yeah, I
would have taken it to trial.


MC: Can you talk about the Long Beach Police Department,
what sort of things they've been doing, and how long it's been
going on?

SA: I moved to Long Beach in 2002 around March, when I had
first got out of federal jail in New York and when I got
raisethefist.com back up and everything. I thought the LAPD
was bad. When I got to Long Beach, I'd never seen a police
force more crazy than the LAPD.

When I moved, I experienced everything from getting followed
to having undercover detectives parked in front of where I was
living, just watching people come in and out. I saw a lot of
weird stuff happen where undercover police have looked into
my car, walked around it, and then walked off after I saw them
and pretended that they were ordinary people listening to
walkmen. They'd have little headphones, earpieces in their
ears, but of course they weren't hooked up to any walkmen.
They were hooked up to a walkie-talkie or something.

I've seen so much, not just happen to me, but other people
around me. I can go back to May 1, 2001. That was actually
my first time coming to Long Beach. We tried to have a
peaceful march on the streets as a celebration of workers'
rights day. It was May Day, and just two minutes into the
march, police were already swinging their batons at us.

Eventually, they just lured us into this trap and opened fire on
us with all this riot gear and all these rubber bullets. That was
an outrageous brutal attack. That was a bloody brutal attack.
They broke people's arms. I myself was shot twice. I had
embedded penetrating wounds in my calf, which I still have
scars of today, and I still have one of the fragments embedded
in my leg today, two and a half years later.

Even after that, the repression from Long Beach Police
Department continued to intensify. They didn't just come after
me, but other people like Matthew Lamont [a Long Beach-area
anarchist], who's in jail right now. He just pleaded no contest
and got two years, and he has an appeal in October.

We used to have an infoshop in Long Beach. It was an
anarchist community empowerment center. On Hitler's
birthday, Matthew Lamont was followed from the infoshop by
two Long Beach detectives into Whittier, and he was pulled
over, and they arrested him on explosives charges. They were
saying that he was going to blow up a Nazi party that was
supposed to happen that day. There was no Nazi party
scheduled for that day. He was arrested and taken to Orange
County jail facility and put in solitary confinement.

He had court hearings at least a few times a month, and we
would always go to his court hearings. Every time I'd go to his
court hearings, I'd just come within a few blocks of the
courthouse, and all of a sudden I would have at least five cop
cars following me until I parked and got out of my car, and then
they would get out of the car and ask why I was there...just
basically harass me and intimidate me. I'd walk into the
courthouse, and sheriffs inside of the courthouse would come
up to me and ask if there was anything planned for that day.
They would treat me like I was some leader or something. I'm
just some ordinary guy with a website just coming to view a
public court hearing, which is supposed to be a constitutional
right, but the way they intimidate you, the way they harass
you, it seems like they don't even want you to come.

There's Javier Perez, who was deported after May Day. He's
actually in Mexico right now and doesn't have enough money
to make it back to the U.S. There's Robert Middaugh, who was
actually supposed to get out of jail after serving two years,
and then they arrested him again and put him back in. I think
he's out on bail now, but they're trying to get him back in for
even more time, even more years.

MC: What kind of things are they trying to charge them for?

SA: Javier Perez, he was in jail, and they got him to sign a
voluntary deportation form in which they would let him out if
they deported him to Mexico. I think when he first came to the
United States, he was two-years-old. He doesn't even speak
Spanish. He didn't even grow up in Mexico. What was he
supposed to do there? It's been really hard for him to make it
through all this.

Robert Middaugh, I can't remember the exact charge, but I
know that what they're trying to charge him with now is
assault on a federal police officer from an incident that
happened in Wilshire, in downtown at the federal building,
when an anti-immigrant group was there having a
demonstration on the fourth of July a few years ago. I think he
was arrested, and one of the police officers said that he threw
a soda at him with his right hand but in fact he's left-handed.

They're trying to give him some more time for that. It's just
absolutely ridiculous what they're doing, which is just coming
down on anyone and everyone they can.

They're not just coming down after those people, but the Long
Beach police have routinely just stopped people on the street
just because they're wearing black or they look like an
anarchist. They've stopped and harassed them, followed them
to the apartment, searched them. In one case, one guy came
into our center who was crying because he said the police
threw him to the ground and put guns to his head and asked
him if he was affiliated with the infoshop we were running, and
he said, "No." He had no idea who we were until that
happened. It was interesting because a lot of people started
coming in and telling us that police had been following them
and harassing them and trying to search them because they
were suspected of being anarchists. A wave of people were
coming in and telling us what was going on.

MC: Has any effort been made to file complaints or lawsuits
against these cops?

SA: Yeah, there've been a lot of complaints filed. From what I
know right now, there's a lawyer who's setting up individual
lawsuits from what happened on May 1, 2001. I'm not sure
how soon that's all going to go through, but I know that they
tried to do a big civil case, and I think it was denied. Since that
happened, she's trying to get individual lawsuits going.

MC: When you walk around Long Beach, they seem to
recognize you.

SA: They've told me my picture is hanging up in the Long
Beach police station. Ever since I've moved to Long Beach,
I've been pulled over so many times and harassed by police.

MC: What techniques did the FBI use to watch you?

SA: They were packeting my Internet line, which is basically
monitoring all incoming and outgoing information...all data
going in and out of my DSL connection. And through that, they
were able to get passwords and things like my e-mail
accounts, my instant messenger accounts. On numerous
occasions, they blocked me out of my e-mail accounts,
changed the passwords, used the e-mail accounts to change
the domain name server [DNS settings] on my domain and
make it non-accessible on the Internet...and then playing
around with me, sending me an instant message, using my own
screenname online, and telling me the password of the e-mail
account and warning me not to change it, saying that they
were watching me.

They've gone into my instant messenger accounts, completely
taken control over them. They would start instant messaging
people, "You're next," and stuff like that. I remember one time
they came into my account, and I caught them one time, and
they threatened me like, "Your ass is going to jail." They said
a bunch of stuff. It was pretty obvious they were packeting my
line and looking through, basically downloading all the
information they were getting that was coming in and out of
my DSL connection. When they would talk to people on my
screenname, they'd use the exact same wording that I'd use.
They tried to impersonate me word for word, use the exact
same wording I was using. It was pretty obvious they were
monitoring my conversations pretty extensively on a daily
basis, and they were watching everything pretty closely.

MC: I understand you were also able to look at logs of IP
addresses [personally identifiable numbers assigned to
computers on the Internet] and things like that and that was a
second way of confirming they were packeting your line. Is
that correct?

SA: Exactly. When they were getting onto my screennames, I
was able to get their IP addresses, and I remember
tracerouting the IP address to a location in Los Angeles down
to a zip code, and within that same zip code was a federal
building. This happened on a lot of occasions. Once I started
getting their IPs, I noticed they kept changing their IP
addresses. I was able to find out they were the same people
going into my e-mail address and using that to knock my
domain offline. I remember when I was blocked out of my
e-mail address, I was assuming someone was in there
checking all the e-mails I was getting. I sent an e-mail to the
e-mail address with a little script that logged the IP of anyone
who opened up any message, and it was the same IP address
of the people that I was logging who were on my screenname,
so that meant it was the same IP address of the person who
logged into my e-mail account and then used my e-mail to
knock my domain offline by changing the DNS servers.

MC: When you were speaking with these people, did you ever
raise this issue with them?

SA: Yeah, I always raised that issue. Sometimes, they would
just play stupid and not say anything. Other times, they would
just openly admit it. They would tell me the name of my ISP.
They would know my name. They would know names of my
friends. They would know where I was living, what my phone
number was. They would know what I was looking at online,
what I was doing, and things like that.

They were saying a lot of racist and sexist things as well, not
just to me but to other people, and a lot of threats too like,
"You're going to jail." Even death threats sometimes. It was
pretty disgusting what they were doing. The funny thing is...do
they not know we know who they're working for and what
they're doing? It seems like everything they were doing was an
intimidation tactic to say, "We're watching you. You'd better
watch out.

MC: What was their rationale for shutting down the anarchist

SA: We had a benefit show for raisethefist last year in
December. About six police officers came with a noise
complaint. We decided to end the show early because we
didn't want to risk any more trouble or anything like that.
About three days later, our leasing company, Crestwave,
contacted us and said that the police called them and said that
when they went to show, the door was slammed in their face
and someone tried to assault them. The police told them that if
they didn't evict us, they were going to take legal action
against them. They put pressure on our leasing company to
evict us. On May 3, they evicted us. We had to shut down the

MC: People are stunned at how calm you manage to be
through this. The FBI, the prosecutors, were treating you at
some points like the most dangerous man in America. I know
some of your friends and your mother in the courtroom were
shocked. How are you so calm, and what's going through your
mind right now?

SA: I guess I'm so calm because I've probably gotten used in
the past few years to all the harassment and all the things that
have been going on, constantly in this legal limbo, having to go
back and forth to court, having the thought that I'm potentially
going to be facing a long time in prison just there in my mind
for a while now. I've gotten so used to it that I pretty much
expected them to come down on me the way they did. I wasn't
really surprised when the judge gave me a 12-month prison
sentence in federal prison.

If you really look at it, that's the nature of this government.
This government has been persecuting people for their political
beliefs ever since the day it was founded. Its been persecuting
people for the color of their skin ever since the day it was
founded. Look what happened in the 1960s and early 1970s.
They completely annihilated political organizations. They
assassinated political organizers, framed them up, locked
them up in jail. Some people just disappeared. They infiltrated
organizations. It's not surprising to see what they're doing.
That's the nature of this government. It's going to be the nature
of this system unless we continue to fight back and do
whatever we have to do that's necessary to put an end to it.

The most important thing is just to stay focused and have
determination. I don't want them to scare me into thinking that
I can't continue doing what I'm doing. The more they're going to
come down on me, the more I'm going to organize and continue
do things within the community and raisethefist.

Portions of this interview were previously aired on WBAR
87.9 FM NYC (www.wbar.org). Minor edits were made for
length and clarity.

Merlin Chowkwanyun is an investigative journalist and
student at Columbia University and can be reached at

To help Sherman and find out more about an upcoming
emergency benefit show in San Diego on Aug. 29th, visit
la.indymedia.org and www.raisethefist.com for updates.

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