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Feds Unable to Distinguish Art from Bioterrorism

by CounterPunch Wire

Steve Kurtz was already suffering from one tragedy when he called 911 early in the morning to tell them his wife had suffered a cardiac arrest and died in her sleep. The police arrived and, cranked up on the rhetoric of the “War on Terror,” decided Kurtz’s art supplies were actually bioterrorism weapons.

Thus began an Orwellian stream of events in which FBI agents abducted Kurtz without charges, sealed off his entire block, and confiscated his computers, manuscripts, art supplies… nd even his wife’s body.

Like the case of Brandon Mayfield, the Muslim lawyer from Portland imprisoned for two weeks on the flimsiest of false evidence, Kurtz’s case amply demonstrates the dangers posed by the USA PATRIOT Act coupled with government-nurtured terrorism hysteria.

Kurtz’s case is ongoing, and, on top of everything else, Kurtz is facing a mountain of legal fees.


Steve Kurtz is Associate Professor in the Department of Art at the State University of New York’s University at Buffalo, and a member of the internationally-acclaimed Critical Art Ensemble.

Kurtz’s wife, Hope Kurtz, died in her sleep of cardiac arrest in the early morning hours of May 11. Police arrived, became suspicious of Kurtz’s art supplies and called the FBI.

Within hours, FBI agents had “detained” Kurtz as a suspected bioterrorist and cordoned off the entire block around his house. (Kurtz walked away the next day on the advice of a lawyer, his “detention” having proved to be illegal.) Over the next few days, dozens of agents in hazmat suits, from a number of law enforcement agencies, sifted through Kurtz’s work, analyzing it on-site and impounding computers, manuscripts, books, equipment, and even his wife’s body for further analysis. Meanwhile, the Buffalo Health Department condemned his house as a health risk.

Kurtz, a member of the Critical Art Ensemble, makes art which addresses the politics of biotechnology. “Free Range Grains,” CAE’s latest project, included a mobile DNA extraction laboratory for testing food products for possible transgenic contamination. It was this equipment which triggered the Kafkaesque chain of events.

FBI field and laboratory tests have shown that Kurtz’s equipment was not used for any illegal purpose. In fact, it is not even _possible_ to use this equipment for the production or weaponization of dangerous germs. Furthermore, any person in the US may legally obtain and possess such equipment.

“Today, there is no legal way to stop huge corporations from putting genetically altered material in our food,” said Defense Fund spokeswoman Carla Mendes. “Yet owning the equipment required to test for the presence of ‘Frankenfood’ will get you accused of ‘terrorism.’ You can be illegally detained by shadowy government agents, lose access to your home, work, and belongings, and find that your recently deceased spouse’s body has been taken away for ‘analysis.'”

Though Kurtz has finally been able to return to his home and recover his wife’s body, the FBI has still not returned any of his equipment, computers or manuscripts, nor given any indication of when they will. The case remains open.


A small fortune has already been spent on lawyers for Kurtz and other Critical Art Ensemble members. Donations to his le gal defense can be made at help defray the legal costs which will continue to mount so long as the investigation continues. Donations go directly to the legal defense of Kurtz and other Critical Art Ensemble members. Should the funds raised exceed the cost of the legal defense, any remaining money will be used to help other artists in need.

For more information on the Critical Art Ensemble, please visit

Articles about the case:

On advice of counsel, Steve Kurtz is unable to answer questions regarding his case. Please direct questions or comments to Carla Mendes


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